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The year is 1892. The last thing sheltered Christian missionary Evelyn Gibbons expected upon arriving at the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota was to fall in love. Yet, from the moment she clashes with Black Hawk, the fiercely proud man of the Sioux, she knows he’s everything she could ever want—and everything she can never have.
Living in the hills with his young son, Black Hawk reveres the ways of his people and is determined to preserve Sioux traditions. But when he meets Evelyn, a woman from the society he abhors, not even his own prejudices can smother the flame of desire that burns for her.
Yet in the midst of their forbidden romance is a storm of treachery and hate that threatens to destroy their love—and their lives . . .
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Seth Bridges tipped a bottle of fine bourbon and swallowed, allowing himself a moment to savor the satisfaction of letting it slip and burn over his tongue and throat and into his stomach. He grinned through yellowed teeth, then smacked his thin lips. "Good stuff, boys. You tell whoever pays you to bring this stuff in that my own payment for helpin' you find a way past the soldiers is very acceptable."
Luke Smith laughed lightly, scratching at his dark, unkempt beard. "It's the ones like you, who help us get through, that get the good stuff. The bottom of that there wagon is stuffed with cheap, rot-gut whiskey — good enough for the Indians, but not for a white man who knows his liquor."
Seth joined him and his partner, young Marty Able, in more laughter. The campfire around which they sat flickered light against their faces, faces the gray-haired, unshaven Seth had come to know well. As long as he could keep getting his own supply of good whiskey, he would continue helping these men sneak it onto the reservation, as long as he had the cooperation of Sergeant Jubal Desmond, who could be easily bribed into looking the other way when patrolling for whiskey smugglers.
Luke was dark and hairy, his beard reaching to his big belly and mixing into thick hairs on his chest that came clear up to his throat and stuck out of where his shirt was left open because of the warm night. The crinkles around his nearly-black eyes showed he was a man in his middle years who had spent a good deal of time out of doors.
Marty was much younger, and forty-nine-year-old Seth, whose thinning hair was almost completely gray now, envied that youth. Marty was not a bad-looking young man, Seth thought, although he wondered why the boy bothered to keep himself so clean and closely shaved out in these parts. His sandy hair was neatly combed, and the kid was always rubbing baking soda over his teeth.
Seth considered cleaning his mouth and teeth a waste of time. Whiskey made a good enough mouthwash, and as for shaving, he only did that every few days. "Hey, boy, you like women, don't you?" he asked Marty. He took another drink and wiped his lips on his shirtsleeve as Luke guffawed and Marty just grinned.
"It's the other way around, Seth," Luke told him with the strong southern drawl of a man originally from Kentucky. "It's the women that love Marty. Every place we go up and down the river on my steamer, the whores are waitin' for Marty at every stop along the way. There's even a couple of married women down in Kansas City who open their back doors for him when their husbands are gone."
Seth grinned, and Marty drew deeply on a cigarette, shaking his head as though embarrassed; but his blue eyes showed a cocky pride. "Sure I like women," he answered Seth, "long as they're pretty and layin' in my bed ... or I'm layin' in theirs." He flashed a bright smile and rubbed at his privates. "You got a reason for askin' that, Seth?"
Seth shrugged. "Maybe. I got me two adopted daughters. The older one, Lucille, is broke in. She's sixteen, real pretty. I broke her in myself. For some extra fine wine, I'd consider lettin' you have at her."
Marty took a swallow from his own bottle of whiskey. "I'll think on it. Next time me and Luke bring the riverboat back up, maybe we'll have a case of French wine along. You like red wine? White wine?"
"I like any wine. Good wine and good whiskey. It's worth the risk of gettin' caught by the Army, helpin' you two get that wagon onto Indian land. And sharin' my daughter don't bother me. I'm thinkin' on somethin' different in my bed anyway. Her little sister is startin' to sprout in all the right places."
Luke chuckled. "How old is the sister?"
"Katy's twelve. A mite young yet, but watchin' her grow up has got me wantin' her."
"How in hell did you end up with adopted daughters?" Marty asked. He took one last drag on his cigarette and threw it into the campfire.
Seth held his chin proudly, enjoying what he considered his own cleverness. "Easy. Four years back I heard about an orphan train comin' west to find homes for kids from back East. My own wife ran off on me years ago, took a couple of kids with her. I wanted a woman in my bed, but I sure as hell wasn't gonna go takin' another wife; and I needed a woman around the house to cook my meals and help with chores. I went to Omaha and met the train, cleaned myself up real nice, gave them a real sad story about bein' a church-goin', Christian man who had an ailin' wife who couldn't have no kids of her own and always wanted daughters. I said it would probably help make her better if she had a couple of girls to keep her company, help take care of her and be like daughters to her. The man from the orphanage who brought the kids out believed my story. I swear to God the fool had tears in his eyes."
They all laughed and gulped more whiskey.
"So he just handed over the two girls?" Marty asked.
"Pretty as you please. They were eight and twelve then. I wanted them young so's I could do the job myself. I waited till the older one was thirteen."
"They got some surprise, didn't they?" Luke joked. "I bet they thought they were goin' home to some nice woman who needed their help."
Seth grunted in a laugh and took a cigar from his pocket. He pulled a burning stick from the fire and used it to light the cigar, then puffed on it a moment, remembering how much he had enjoyed that first time with a struggling Lucille. She didn't bother struggling anymore. "They got surprised, all right. He studied the cigar. "They're good workers, too, if you deal them a hard hand. They learned real quick."
"I'll see if I can't get one of our suppliers to throw in some good wine next time," Marty told him. "You try to bring your daughter along when you meet us."
"I'll think on it."
"I'm not so sure how much longer we can keep doin' this without gettin' caught," Luke put in. "Word is the government might send out even more soldiers to patrol the reservation borders."
"We'll find a way," Seth told them. He had never asked just who the actual whiskey suppliers were. That was something he knew Luke and Marty had sworn not to tell. The two men were simply the couriers for people of much greater wealth. Luke had a family back in Omaha, or at least he claimed he did. He owned a steamboat, and Marty, a kid who had been on his own most of his life, worked for Luke on the steamer, which Luke took up and down the Missouri River, picking up and delivering supplies from and to Omaha and Kansas City. Seth did not doubt that the man made his biggest money from land-grabbers and businessmen who wanted to keep the Indians drunk and in a helpless state in order to swindle them out of more land and also keep them too weak to ever try making war again.
Besides being paid by outsiders to smuggle whiskey onto the Sioux reservations, Luke made money from the Indians themselves. Those who were addicted to the watered-down whiskey Luke brought them would spend their last government cent and trade their last government-supplied blanket and pan for just one bottle of the stuff, which was only worth a few cents to begin with. Seth himself figured he did pretty good supplying food from his farm to the reservation trading post and to the Army at Fort Yates. His daughters did most of the hard chores, and he enjoyed the profits, always tacking on extra for anything he sold to the Army. It pleased him no end that the government didn't seem to keep very close tabs on what it was getting for its money.
"I have real good connections," he told Marty, "You bring the whiskey, and I'll —"
The man's words were cut off by a piercing war cry, and before any of them could react, a spotted Appaloosa horse came charging through their camp, its rump painted with red-and-yellow stripes, its rider's face smeared with red-and-white war paint. He wore only buckskin pants, his dark hair hung loose nearly to his waist, and his eyes looked more frightening in the firelight because of the white circles painted around them. His chest was bare except that it, too, was smeared with war paint.
All three men jumped back, and Luke reached for a rifle, but another Indian moved in from the darkness and rode his horse into the man, knocking him down. The first and most frightening-looking warrior charged them again, galloping his spotted horse right over the fire and sending embers flying.
"Black Hawk! You sonofabitch!" Seth Bridges cussed.
The one called Black Hawk turned his horse and pointed a lance at Seth, resting the tip of it on Seth's shoulder. By then, the second Indian, much older than Black Hawk, had dismounted and picked up Luke's rifle. He held it on Luke and Marty, and Marty shivered visibly with fright. "What the hell is goin' on here?" he asked, his voice squeaking.
"Ask this goddamn bastard!" Seth sneered, glaring at Black Hawk.
"Do you think I do not know what is in the wagon?" Black Hawk growled in the white man's tongue. "These men bring the firewater that makes my people sick and weak, and you help them get in!" He whirled the lance around quickly to slam the butt end of it across Seth's chest. Seth grunted and fell backward. Black Hawk quickly pressed the pointed end of the lance against the man's chest while he lay on his back. He looked from Seth to the other two men, whose terror was evident in their eyes. "You will not move!" he ordered. He let out a coyotelike yip, and four young men rode into the light of the fire. They tied ropes to the buckboard wagon, which was stacked with blankets, and tipped it on its side. They then dismounted and began chopping away at the bottom of the wagon with hatchets.
Black Hawk grinned wickedly at the sound of whiskey bottles breaking. The four young warriors who did the damage had been eager for some excitement, and Black Hawk understood their pent-up anger. He glanced at the old man who held the rifle on Luke and Marty. Night Hunter was a priest and medicine man who liked to tell stories about the "old days," when the Sioux under Red Cloud and Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull chased everyone with white skin off their land, even the soldiers. He grinned victoriously at the old man, who nodded in reply with a sly grin of his own. It felt good to spoil the plans of these white men who made money by filling the Sioux with rotgut whiskey.
"You can't do this!" Luke growled.
"Who will stop us?" Black Hawk asked Seth. "You?" He laughed. "I do not think so. The soldiers? We are doing what they should be doing. They should be glad we are doing this. Will you report me to Agent McLaughlin? How can you? You would have to tell him why you were out here. They would come here and find the whiskey bottles and would know you help these men bring the firewater to my people!" He poked the lance just enough to startle Seth and bring surface pain to his skin. Now Black Hawk could see real fear in the man's eyes, and he enjoyed it. "Do you think I am stupid? These men are paid by other white men who want our land! They think they can get all my people to depend on the whiskey, which makes them weak. It is easy to talk a drunk Indian into selling some of his land for firewater!" His dark eyes flamed with rage. "Not this Indian! There are some of us who will not touch the demon in your bottles that robs us of our powers! I cannot stop all of it from getting in, but any that I can stop helps my people."
The men destroying the whiskey bottles laughed and whooped as they smashed every last bottle hidden in the bottom of the overturned wagon. Then they began grabbing blankets, each taking an armful to give to mothers and grandmothers. Black Hawk watched with a note of sadness in his eyes, thinking how this was all that was left of once-proud warriors who fought enemy tribes and once successfully fought the whole United States Army. Now they destroyed whiskey wagons and stole blankets. He looked back down at Seth.
"I will not kill you this time." He looked over at Luke and Marty. "But if I find any of you on this land again, I will slice your bellies open! The soldiers will come after me, but I will make the sacrifice to see all of you holding your insides in your hands!" He let out a shivering war cry, holding his lance in the air, then rode off into the dark night, followed by the four men loaded down with their supply of blankets.
The old man who held Luke's rifle on him and Marty stood there grinning. He backed up, then leapt onto the bare back of his horse with the agility of a much younger man. He kept hold of the rifle, then raised it and nodded to Luke. "Thank you for the gift," he said with a wry grin. He turned and rode off after the others, sounding another war cry.
Marty let out a sigh of relief. "Damn! This is the last time for me. I'm not coming back here," he told Luke.
"Who the hell was that?" Luke growled at Seth.
Seth kicked at the fire. "He's called Black Hawk. He's one of them goddamn bastards that won't come into the agency and settle like he's supposed to. He lives out in the hills with a son. Most times the soldiers can't even find him. They gave up — figured if he didn't cause any real trouble, they could leave him be." He turned away and stomped a foot. "Shit! The sonofabitch knows I can't report this!"
"Well, I'm gonna be out a lot of money for not bein' able to deliver the goods!" Luke fumed. "The men I work for aren't going to like this. Idon't like this! I was countin' on that money!"
"I hate that cocky redskin!" Seth seethed.
"Let's get out of here!" Marty told Luke. "It's a long way to where the boat is docked. The quicker we get away from this camp and back to the boat, the better, before soldiers or scouts find this mess and link it to us!" Luke sighed, leaning down and grabbing up his hat to plunk it on his head. "You're probably right."
"And I'm not comin' back, Luke! You can fire me if you want, but I'm not comin'!"
"What about my daughter, and the wine you promised me?" Seth asked, stepping closer to the boy.
"Mister, your daughter isn't worth me gettin' caught, or gettin' my insides ripped open by that crazy warrior out there!"
"Black Hawk won't really kill you. He knows he could never get away with it."
"Well, he looked pretty goddamn sincere to me, and I don't aim to come back and test him out! I never have liked comin' onto Indian land. I don't trust the heathens. It wasn't that long ago that they were still killing whites."
Luke began packing some of his gear. "Get your stuff together, kid, and let's get going. There's enough moonlight to see our way back to the boat."
"Wait a minute!" Seth stood in front of Luke. "You're comin' back, aren't you? We made a deal — "
"To get through the soldiers' guard," Luke interrupted. "I didn't expect an attack to come from Indians. I'll have to talk with the men who pay me. If we come back, they're going to have to pay me a hell of a lot more to do it." The man opened a leather bag and began angrily ramming things into it.
Seth could see no argument was going to make them stay, and with all the whiskey destroyed, there was no reason for them to be here. He had already been given his own supply of the good whiskey, and he was glad Black Hawk had not looked into his own saddlebags. His biggest worry was that it would be harder to get his hands on more if Luke did not return. He clenched his fists in anger at Black Hawk, then turned and walked over to where his horse was tied, still saddled and carrying all his gear. He mounted up, watched Luke and Marty scramble to get their own gear together. He vowed then and there to find a way to get back at Black Hawk for interrupting what could have proved to be a very profitable business deal that would have kept him in good whiskey and wine for some time to come.
He turned his horse toward home. It was a long ride, but he decided he did not care to camp alone out here with Black Hawk prowling about. Besides, he had to keep a good eye on Lucille, who had tried to run away once. He figured he had probably taught her a good lesson that time, but he still didn't trust the brat. She might try again. "You let me know if you need my services again," he told Luke.
Luke glanced up at him and nodded, then returned to packing. Marty couldn't seem to get his own things together fast enough, and Seth shook his head and rode off. Maybe he could force some whiskey down Lucille's throat again. She didn't fight him as much when he managed to make her drink first.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Full Circle"
Copyright © 1994 Rosanne Bittner.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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