New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Diana Palmer presents a classic romance about a woman with big dreams and a man who has nothing left to believe in
Tess Meredith and Raven Following grew up on the beautiful, wild Montana plains. But their friendship and love were doomed by Raven's Sioux heritage and his departure from the land of his people. In Chicago, he built a new life, haunted by thoughts of the lovely, spirited young girl he'd left behind. Until she arrived back in his worldbringing with her the past he'd tried to bury. But Tess had changed, too. She'd matured into a woman, and was determined to fight for her rights in societyand for the love of a man who felt he was savage at heart .
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The telegram read: "Arriving Chicago depot 2:00 p.m. Saturday. Tess."
Matt Davis had read the telegram several times and cursed it several times more. Tess Meredith had no business moving to Chicago. Her father had died only two months ago. Matt hadn't got the news until long after the funeral was over when he returned from working in another state. He'd written Tess right away, of course, and she'd written back. But she'd never so much as hinted that she had this in mind.
He'd visited Tess and her father many times and kept up a regular correspondence with them all through the years after he'd gone east to be educated, then changed his name to begin work as a Pinkerton detective. Raven Following had become Matt Davis and had changed in a hundred other ways, too, but never in his regard for Tess and Harold Meredith. They were all the family he could claim. And he'd looked forward to each visit with them more than anyone would ever know.
Tess at sixteen hadn't been quite so outgoing as she had been two years before. She'd become somewhat shy, remote. Tess at eighteen had been a very different proposition. Mature, prettyand more reckless than he remembered. Last year, he'd made another pilgrimage to Montana, which he combined with work on a case for his own new private detective agency, and the sight of a grown-up Tess of twenty-four had shocked him speechless. No longer the grinning fourteen-year-old sprite, no longer the shy sixteen-year-old or the reckless eighteen-year-old, Tess was mischievous, forceful, outspokenand so beautiful that she made him ache. And she was driving her father wild. He'd confessed to Matt that she wouldn't even allow talk of marriage that she'd ridden her horse through town wearing pants and a shirt and carrying a sidearm that she'd organized a women's suffrage group in town and that she'd actually attacked a local man with a pistol when he tried to get fresh with her. The aging doctor had asked Matt for advice. But, confronted by this new and challenging Tess, Matt, too, had been at a loss.
Now her father was dead and he was inheriting Tess, a legacy of feminine trouble he knew was going to change his life. It was a worrying and exciting proposition.
The train pulled into the station, huffing and puffing clouds of smoke. Wary of the cast-off cinders from the engine, elegantly dressed men and women began to disembark, porters came and went unloading baggage, but there was no sign of Tess.
Matt sighed irritably as he stared around the platform. Suddenly, a shapely woman clad in natty green velvet, wearing a Paris creation of a hat with a veil, and impatiently tapping a prettily shod foot, ceased to be a stranger to him. The years fell away and the elegant woman was again the girl with long blond pigtails he'd known so long.
At that very moment Tess spied him. All her elegant poise vanished, and she raced across the platform shouting his name, then hurled herself at him.
His arms swallowed her and he lifted her high, laughing as his dark eyes met her green, green ones through the misty veil.
"Oh, Matt, I've missed you so," she crooned. "You haven't changed a bit."
"You have," he said, slowly lowering her back to her feet.
"Only because I have breasts now," she said.
His cheeks went ruddy, he knew, for he could feel the heat in them. "Tess!"
She propped her hands on her hips and stared up at him. "It's a new world. We women are done with hypocrisy and servitude. We want what men have."
He couldn't help it. He grinned. "Hairy chests?"
"Yours isn't hairy," she said belligerently. "It's very smooth." She looked at him soberly. "Does anybody here know who you really are, where you came from?"
Matt's brow lifted just enough to make him look arrogant. "It depends on which version of my past you prefer. My banker is convinced I'm exiled Russian royalty. My old Pinkerton buddies believe I came here from Spain. The elderly Chinaman who does my laundry thinks I'm an Arab."
"No," he said, his eyes narrowed. "You don't. You have the right to speak your native language and dress in clothing familiar to your forebears. A Sioux isn't even allowed to participate in a native religious ceremony, not even the Sun Dance."
He straightened the tie that so beautifully complemented his elegant vested suit. He wore a derby, his long hair contained in a ponytail that rested under the neck of his shirt. Few people in Chicago knew that he was Sioux. "Let people think what they like about me," he said, refusing to admit that it disturbed him to reveal his ancestry. "I'm a mystery man, Tess," he said gleefully. Then he sobered again and added, "Nothing will ever be the same because of Wounded Knee. Now it's illegal for an Indian at a government school or holding a government job to wear his hair long or dress in native clothing or speak his own language."
"And," Tess added morosely, "you can't even vote in your own country." She brightened. "Just like me. Well, Mr. Davis-Following, we're going to have to change all that."
His onyx eyes regarded her somberly. She was delightfully pretty. But underneath the beauty, there was character and an independent spirit. "I'm sorry about your father," he said. "I know you must still miss him."
"Don't get me started," she said through stiff lips, glancing around her to stay the tears. "I've tried very hard to be brave, all the way here. Even after two months, it's still very new, being an orphan." Her small gloved hand went to his waistcoat pocket and rested over it. "Matt, you don't mind that I came?" she asked abruptly. "I had no one in Montana, and one of the soldiers was pestering me to marry him. I had to get away before I gave in out of sheer exhaustion."
"The same soldier your father mentioned in his last letter to me, a Lieutenant Smalley?"
"The very one." She withdrew her hand and twisted the handle of her frilly parasol. "You remember the name very well, don't you?"
"It's hard to forget the name of a man who helped kill most of my family at Wounded Knee," he said harshly.
She looked around them, finding people going their own way. Nobody paid undue attention to them. It would have been a different story back in Montana, where the sight of a young blonde woman with a full-blooded Sioux would have raised more than just eyebrows. Lord, she thought, everyone would have been glaring furiously at themas they had in the past.
"I remember the way you were," she said gently. "Dressed as a warrior, on horseback, with your hair flying in the wind and your arrows winging toward the center of a bull's-eye." Watching her watch Raven, her father had teased her that she was losing her heart.
Matt didn't like remembering his past. "I remember you trying to skin a deer and throw up at the same time."
She held up a hand. "Please, I'm a gentlewoman now."
"And I'm a detective now. Shall we agree to let the past lie without further mention?"
"If you like."
"Where are your bags?"
"The porter has them on the cart, there." She pointed toward a steamer trunk and several smaller bags. She glanced up at him. "I suppose I can't live with you. Or can I?"
He was shocked. Did she know more about the past than she had ever let on? He held his breath.
"I don't mean with you," she said, embarrassed at her own phrasing of the question. "I mean, you live in a boardinghouse, and I wonder if there's a vacancy?"
He let out his breath and smiled with relief. "I imagine that Mrs. Mulhaney could find a room for you, yes. But the idea of a young single woman living in a boarding-house is going to make you look like a loose woman in the eyes of the community. If anyone asks, you're my cousin."
"You are," he said firmly. "It's the only way I can protect you."
"I don't need protecting, thank you. I'm quite capable of looking after myself."
Considering that she'd handled her father's funeral alone and gotten here, halfway across the country, without mishap, that was apparent.
"I believe you," he said. "But you're a stranger here and totally unfamiliar with life in a big city. I'm not."
"Aren't we both strangers here, really?" she asked, and there was a deep sadness in her tone. "Neither of us has anybody now."
"I have cousins in South Dakota and in Montana," he replied.
"Whom you never visit," she shot back. "Are you ashamed of them, Matt?"
His eyes glittered like black diamonds. "Don't presume to invade my privacy," he said through his teeth. "I'll gladly do what I can to see you settled here. But my feelings are my own business."
She grinned at him. "You still strike like a rattler when you're poked."
"Be careful that you don't get bitten."
She dropped him a curtsy. "I'll do my best not to provoke you too much."
"What are you planning to do here?" Matt asked. He'd arranged with the station agent to have her bags stored until he could settle Tess and send for them. "I'm going to get a job."
He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at her. "A job?"
"Certainly, a job. You know I'm not rich, Matt, and besides, it's 1903. Women are getting into all sorts of professions. I've read about it. Women are working as shop girls and stenographers and in sewing plants. I can turn my hand to most anything if I'm shown how. And I'm quite an experienced nurse. Until Papa died" her voice broke and she took a few seconds to compose herself "I was his nurse. I can get work nursing in a hospital here. I know I can." She abruptly looked up at him. "There is a hospital here, isn't there?"
"Yes." He remembered making a keen shot of her with both bow and rifle. She was a quick study, and utterly fearless. Had he started her down the road to nonconformity? If he had, he knew in his bones that he was about to regret it. Nursing was not considered by many as suitable for a genteel woman. Some would raise eyebrows. Of course, it would raise eyebrows, too, if she worked in a shop, or
"The very notion of a woman working iswell, unconventional."
Her brows rose. "What would you call a Sioux Indian in a bowler hat pretending to be exiled Russian royaltytraditional?"
He made an irritated sound.
"You shouldn't debate me," she muttered. "I was first in my class in my last year in school."
He glared at her as they started to walk again down the broad sidewalk. Exquisite carriages drawn by horses in decorated livery rolled along the wide street, whose storefronts were decorated for the holiday season.
Tess caught sight of a store window where little electric trains ran against a backdrop of mountain scenery that had actual tunnels running through. "Oh, Matt, look. Isn't it darling?"
"Do you really want me to tell you how I feel about iron horses?"
"Never mind, spoilsport." She fell into step beside him once more. "Christmas isn't so very far away. Does your landlady decorate and put up a tree in the parlor?"
"How lovely! I can crochet snowflakes to go on it."
"You're assuming that she can find room for you."
She gnawed at her lower lip. She'd come here on impulse, and now for the first time, she was uncertain. She stopped walking and looked up. "What if she can't?" she asked.
Even through the veil, Matt could see plainly the expression of fear on Tess's face. He was touched in a dozen ways, none wanted. "She will," he said firmly. "I won't have you very far from me. There are wicked elements in this city. Until you find your feet, you need a safe harbor."
She smiled. "I'm a lot of trouble, I guess. I've always been impulsive. Am I trading too much on our shared past, Matt? If I'm in your way, just tell me, and I'll go back home."
"Home to the persistent lieutenant? Over my dead body. Come on."