Gene Redhouse believes in signs. But when Lori Baker literally jumps into his life, the Navajo wisdom he's learned disappears. Lori is being stalked and she's never been so frightened, or so alone. Although it seems they belong to different worlds, the connection between them is instant and intense. And if he can keep her alive long enough, he vows to explore every inch of her.
With his chiseled features and powerful build, Gene is the safe harbor in Lori's stormy sea. And yet with her past weighing her down, Lori must decide which is more dangerous: the stranger trailing her every step, or the one daring her to trust him.
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There was nothing like death to make you appreciate life. His foster father, Hosteen Silver, hadn't been gone long, just a little over two months now, but his unexpected passing had reminded Gene Redhouse of just how unpredictable life really was.
Lifting the large bag of sweet feed his horses loved from the back of the truck, he glanced over at Grit. The horse, his foster father's favorite mount, was prancing around the corral, tossing his head and snorting. He was beautiful, with a graceful arched neck and a strong muscular body. A black-and-white pinto, Grit had a black head with a white blaze down his muzzle. The rest of him, legs included, was white except for the rounded black spots over his body.
"Maybe Hosteen Silver mixed up some of the letters he left for the six of us and I got yours by mistake. That's the only way things make sense, if you stop to think about it. Otherwise, why pick me to become friends with Grit?" Paul Grayhorse said, shaking his head. "You can communicate with animals in a way that's nothing short of amazing. If anyone can befriend that surly creature, it's you."
Gene glanced at his foster brother, who stood well back looking at the horse. Paul was tall and muscular, but the former U.S. Marshal was still stiff from the bullet that had sliced through his shoulder a few months back while on assignment protecting a federal judge.
"Be grateful he didn't ask you to climb up the cliff face to Winter Hawk's nest, like Daniel and I had to do," Gene said.
Paul nodded slowly. "Yeah." After a moment of silence, he continued, "When I first came out to the Rez with him, I thought he'd want us to call him by his first name, like the Anglo fosters did, but he explained that Navajos don't do that. Names have power and weren't to be used lightly. He said we should call him Hosteen Silver. I had no idea what that meant, and I think that surprised him. That's when he explained to me that Hosteen meant 'mister,' and Silver was the nickname others gave him because of his white hair. He also told me I could call him 'uncle,' if I preferred, since it also showed proper respect."
Gene smiled. "It was the same for Dan and me. To his face, we always called him 'uncle,' but now that he's gone, he remains Hosteen Silver to us."
"Hey, now that we're talking about him," Paul said, "do you have any more ideas why he left that Changing-Bear-Maiden story for us in his safe-deposit box?"
"Not yet, but he did everything for a reason, like with those letters. I guess it's just another puzzle we'll have to figure out over time," Gene said.
Paul shrugged, flinching slightly with the gesture.
Although Paul had insisted on helping him unload the truck, Gene had taken the heavier sacks of feed and grain himself. "If I were you, I'd put off working with Grit awhile longer," Gene said. "You're still favoring your shoulder and there was no deadline on what Hosteen Silver asked you to do. Why not put it off until you're a hundred percent again?"
Paul shook his head. "Time meant little to Hosteen Silver, but I want to put this behind me."
"You'll have to rethink your tactics, then. You can't force a horse to do anythingthey outweigh you, and they're stronger. You'll have to persuade and outthink him. I'd advise you to befriend Grit first with some apples or carrots. Get him to come to you. If you rush it, it'll be rodeo time and you'll get thrown. Count on it."
"Don't worry, I'll make it work. I'll start by lunging him and making sure he's tired." As Paul took the halter and lunge line, Grit, who'd been watching him, spun, bucked and started trotting around the corral. Finally, he ran to the far end of the corral, stopped and stared at them, ears pinned back.
"He's not in a good mood. If you try to corner him now, he might just run over you," Gene said. "Back off for a while."
"Who are you kidding? That horse is never in a good mood," Paul said. "I remember when Hosteen Silver first brought that foul-tempered beast home. He asked me to exercise him, but every time I tried to ride him, I ended up facedown in the dirt. I was the one who named him Grit because that's what ended up in my mouth each time I was tossed."
"No big deal. The ground was there to catch you," Gene said, trying not to laugh.
Paul leaned against the fence rails and shot his brother a dirty look. "Eventually, you ended up with the job of riding him. Hosteen Silver knew that, one way or another, I'd always end up on the ground."
"That wasn't exactly a big secret, bro. You never showed Grit enough respect."
"It's a horse. You want me to bow?"
"As you said, Grit's a horse, not your Jeep," Gene said.
"Give me a Jeep any day of the week. Something goes wrong, you tune it up. It doesn't toss you flat on your butt just 'cause it's in a bad mood."
"Hang out and do nothing for a while. Let him watch you," Gene said. "I'm going to finish unloading."
Gene went to the tailgate, then climbed up into the bed of his truck. Just a few more mineral blocks to put away, then he'd start topping off the water troughs. Work at Two Springs Ranch never ended, but he loved it here. This was his world, a place that fit him perfectly.
Eventually, he intended to start looking around for a wife who enjoyed ranch life as much as he did, but love wasn't nearly as important to him as finding a compatible mate.
His brother's shouts broke through his thoughts.
"Get back!" Paul yelled.
Gene cursed and rushed out of the barn. Paul was trapped against the rails at the far corner of the corral. Grit had him blocked off completely, and was snorting and reaching out with his mouth, making repeated bite threats.
"Stop yelling," Gene said, slipping through the gate. "I thought you were going to wait."
"The fool thing played me! He looked like he'd calmed down, so I came over holding the halter. He let me get close, but when I tried to slip it over his head, he went nuts," Paul said, trying to sidestep past the horse. Grit shifted, blocking his way.
As Gene came up he sang a soft Hozonji, a good luck song Hosteen Silver had taught him. With each note, the animal visibly relaxed and soon Gene was able to reach out and grasp Grit by the mane.
"Back up," he said, clicking his tongue and tapping Grit on the chest. "Come on now, back up!"
The horse did as he was told, and Paul, seeing his chance, ducked out through the wooden rails of the corral. Once outside and in the clear, he waited for Gene to join him.
"If you say one word about patience, I'm going to deck you," Paul growled.
"Something set him off like that. You gonna tell me what really happened?"
Paul gave him a slow, sheepish grin. "My cell phone went off with that new Native American tribal drum ring tone."
"That's going to cost you big-time, bro," Gene said, shaking his head. "He won't forget it. You lost ground today."
"Yeah, I know." Paul expelled his breath through his teeth. "Grit's worse than ever, at least with me. These days he won't even let me get close."
"I think, in his own way, he misses Hosteen Silver. If it makes you feel any better, when he first came here, Grit had me running in circles" Gene abruptly stopped speaking.
"In the letter Hosteen Silver left for Dan and me, there was a special message at the bottom intended for me only. He said I'd see my future evolve from endless circles in the sand, and as the unlikely happened, the lost one would show me the way."
"Any idea what that means?"
"None, but maybe Grit will play a part," Gene said.
As they stepped out of the corral, a gentle breeze swept by, cooling Gene's sweat-soaked chest. "Wind's a messenger. Something's coming, a change maybe."
"Good or bad?" Paul asked.
"Things are good right now, so that narrows the options." Placing his hand over the medicine pouch on his belt, Gene looked at the storm clouds overhead and heard their ominous rumbling. "Time to start watching our backs."