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Night Falls Like Silk
Cassandra Westbrook languidly lifted her paddle for the man with the silky voice. The ornate fireplace poker was an unusual selection for her, but it was listed in the catalog as mid-eighteenth century, a gift from the ambassador of Sweden to railroad baron J. P. Hill. One could always use another poker.
It was a good thing the item she sought this trip was finally coming to the auction floor. She had started bidding on other items out of boredom, which could lead to mistakes. Cassandra seldom made a bad art or antique purchase unless she was bored.
It was the set of century-old Native American ledger drawings that had caught her eye in the Sotheby's of Chicago catalog. Primitives fascinated her. She loved knowing that the piece had been part of an ordinary person's everyday life in a world that to her would be, if she could drop in on it somehow, anything but everyday. Ledger drawings were particularly interesting. They were made during a transition period for Native Americans. The buffalo hides they had used to record their pictographic histories had become so scarce that they were forced to use ledger paper, often given them by their agency supervisors or their army jailors. No matter how bad conditions were, there were memories to be recorded, stories that had to be told.
A man named White Bull had made the drawings. Cassandra had no idea who he was, but his figures were especially strong in character and color, and the pages had been beautifully preserved. She expected to pay a high price. The initial barrage of bids soon became a four-way volley. When it came down to two, she permitted herself a glance in the direction of the auctioneer's polished gesture. A handsome black man accepted the challenge with a nod. He was simply dressed -- black dress shirt, black slacks -- and neatly groomed, but that was all she could tell about him. No jewelry, no flash, no sense of urgency or desire. Cool simplicity underscored his masculine beauty. She couldn't guess how old he was or where he came from, what language he spoke, or why he would want the drawings she now thought of as hers.
It was Cassandra's turn to bid. She nodded. This time when she glanced askance, she caught him looking at her. He didn't seem to mind being caught or being contested. His dark eyes did not hint at how far he would go, betrayed neither competitive passion nor resentment. She couldn't guess what his impressions were of her, or whether he cared what she thought of him, or what his next move might be.
"To you, sir."
He appeared not to hear the auctioneer.
Cassandra lifted one eyebrow. Will you?
He prolonged the wait a moment longer, somehow fixing Cassandra so that she couldn't breathe, couldn't move until he did. Finally, he turned from her. With a slight shake of his head he put an end to it.
The ledger art was hers.
She wanted to speak to him, but not there in that airless, windowless room with crystal sconces and opulent chandeliers. When he left, she followed his lead, but not his path. She told herself that she would not chase him down. Her pace was leisurely; she stopped in the office to drop off her check, giving the man time to take his leave completely if that was his intention.
But he stood near a huge bronze cougar, which was perched on a pedestal for display in the huger foyer. He was watching her. She greeted one of the auctioneers, who congratulated her on her latest acquisition and asked about her plans for it. She gave a vague answer, as much for her unsuccessful competitor's benefit as for the auctioneer's. If he waited for her, planning to make her an offer, he would soon find out that he had nothing she wanted more than those drawings. Oh, she would take a congratulatory handshake, and, yes, she wanted his name. But the drawings would still be hers.
His stare seemed to heat up, as though he'd just read her thoughts and didn't much like them. It occurred to her that perhaps she should turn and walk the other way, go back to the auction even though she'd already settled her account. Handsome as he was, he had an unsettling way about him. But she decided to be the courteous winner.
"That was quite a bidding war we had going," she said. "Thank you for not running it up any higher. I was prepared to pay much more."
"I could see that. That's when I came to my senses."
She offered a pleasant smile. "And allowed the more foolish bidder to win?"
"I wouldn't say that. It's a nice set of drawings. Some people would say you got more than your money's worth." His smile chilled her. "But I doubt if those people would be anybody you'd know."
"I know a lot of people."
"Now, that's something I don't doubt." He shoved his hands into his pockets. No name. No handshake.
"I came down for this auction just for the ledger drawings. I wasn't about to let anyone else get them."
"Came down from where? Cloud or perch?"
"What would you call Minneapolis?"
"Home," he said.
"Ah, well," she enthused, refusing to let him get away without warming up to her, at least a little. "Maybe we're neighbors, in which case you're welcome to come over and visit the drawings."
"I just might do that. Did you buy them for display in your home?"
"I haven't decided. I bought them because they spoke to me." "That's interesting," he allowed. "They speak to me, too. They speak of those people I mentioned and of their ancestors."Night Falls Like Silk. Copyright © by Kathleen Eagle. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.