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The American Frontier, 1871
Holding her mount to a steady pace, Miranda again scanned the sunswept distance behind her. She laughed triumphantly when she saw no sign of soldiers pursuing her across the wild terrain. She had done it again! With an innocent expression and a practiced flutter of long lashes, she had talked the guard at Fort Walters's gate into believing her father had given her permission for a short outing. She'd soon reach the Calhoun ranch to keep her promise that she'd be there when her friend's prize mare foaled.
Miranda's smile broadened. The baggy male clothing and oversized hat that was her present riding attire aside, she had learned to use the curving proportions of womanhood to full advantage, when necessary. Private Will Blake hadn't been immune to her appeal. As a matter of fact, he hadn't seemed able to think past her ... smile. She hoped he didn't suffer for it when her father found out she was gone, but she had already decided that wasn't her problem.
Miranda's smile faltered. Her father's overprotectiveness, however, was her problem. Never had that been demonstrated more clearly to her than when her father, Major Charles Thurston of the US Cavalry, had refused to allow her to travel to the Calhoun ranch because he wouldn't "put her or her escort at risk on a whim." She had suffered her father's overprotectiveness most of her life -- since her mother's death when Miranda was born. At the age of eighteen, she had become adept at circumventing it when necessary, and this was one of those times.
Cheyenne raiding parties in the area -- Miranda scoffed. She had no doubt that the storiescirculating were nothing more than the "Cheyenne fever" that had dispatched Fort Walters patrols out on countless false alarms during the past weeks. Besides, she could take care of herself. She had lived on the frontier all her life, and she --
Miranda's thoughts halted cold at first sight of the riders coming into view in the distance. Seeing her at that same moment, the horsemen began racing toward her.
They weren't military. Nor were they civilians.
Miranda gasped, then dug her heels into her mount's sides to spur him into a gallop.
The riders were Cheyenne!
Miranda awakened slowly to the steady rhythm of a horse underneath her. She opened her eyes to a world that was somehow turned upside down, then groaned at the realization that she was bound hand and foot and thrown over a horse like a piece of old baggage.
Furious at being so treated, Miranda twisted around to look up at her captor. Her heart jumped to an erratic beating at the sight of the Indians fierce war paint -- his face a mask of jagged color, with lightning bolts meticulously drawn on each cheek, and dark eyes outlined in startling red. She recalled with sudden clarity her mad race to escape the pursuing Cheyenne. She remembered her panic as the Indian ponies steadily dosed the distance between them -- then her moment of mindless terror when an Indian pony drew alongside her galloping horse. She remembered swinging out wildly with the rope on her saddle, striking her pursuer across his painted face.
The last thing she recalled was the rage that flashed in those dark eyes before everything went black.
Her captor looked down at her unexpectedly. He held her gaze for an extended moment and Miranda realized abruptly that the rage she had formerly seen in his eyes was gone. Clearly visible there instead was another equally startling emotion.
No, she would not tolerate this Cheyenne's contempt! She was Miranda Thurston, daughter of Major Charles Thurston of the US Cavalry. She would erase the scorn from her captor's eyes if it was the last thing she ever did.* * *
Shadow Walker acknowledged the hoots of approval from the welcoming crowd that had gathered on the edge of the camp to observe his party's return. Yet his mood was far from festive as he pulled his captive down from his horse and stood her up on shaky legs. He stared at her coldly. His face still throbbing from the lash of her rope, he remembered the wild chase that had ensued after he had sighted her. He recalled his surprise when he drew up alongside his quarry and saw that she was female -- only to be stunned into fury when he was almost whipped from his horse by the unexpected swipe of her rope.
With satisfaction, Shadow Walker remembered that a quick grab had rendered the girl his captive -- but thatthought now gave him little comfort. With light hair hanging in tangled disarray across her dirt-covered face, her baggy male clothing filthy and torn, she was small and thin, little more than a child, an unimpressive captive worth far less than the great black mare she had ridden. She served poorly his need for vengeance against the military who held his father's brother, Red Shirt, prisoner in a dark fort cell where he would never again see the sun.
Shadow Walker stared at his captive a moment longer. She was good for only one thing.
Cutting the bonds on her feet with quick efficiency, Shadow Walker pushed the girl forward. He saw the spark of defiance in her light eyes before she stumbled ahead of him, dodging glancing blows from those she passed as they made their way across the camp.
Jerking the girl to a halt when they reached the lodge he sought, Shadow Walker noted the trembling she attempted to conceal, and scorn for her faltering bravery returned. His attention was drawn back to the lodge when the flap lifted and Rattling Blanket appeared in the opening. He spoke to the old squaw gently in their native tongue. He waited for the nod that signified Rattling Blanket's acceptance, then walked away without a backward glance at the uncertain captive he had left behind him.Avon True Romance: Miranda and the Warrior, An
. Copyright © by Elaine Barbieri. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.