Known as Flame for her fiery red hair, not to mention her temperament, beautiful Reshelle Russell wants only one man, the one she can’t have—or so she is told. But since childhood, Flame has known that the proud Chippewa warrior, White Fire, is meant for her. Now a grown woman, she has embarked on her quest for him, in defiance of her father, an elite army commander.
Imprisoned for three years by an enemy tribe, White Fire has returned only to discover that his wife is dead and his young son has been taken by a wealthy white couple. It seems nothing can penetrate his cold, embittered heart, much less heal it—until he lays eyes on Flame once more. And soon it is clear that together they can fight to regain all he has lost, amid a passion that was destined to last for a lifetime…
Praise for Cassie Edwards
“A sensitive storyteller who always touches readers’ hearts.” —RT Book Reviews
“Cassie Edwards captivates with white hot adventure and romance.” —Karen Harper
“Edwards moves readers with love and compassion.” —Bell, Book & Candle
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By Cassie Edwards
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Cassie Edwards
All rights reserved.
If ever any beauty I did see, Which I desired, and got, 'twas But a dream of thee.
— John Donne
St. Louis, 1820
The cottonwoods whispered in the gentle breeze as the sun filtered through their large, fluttering leaves, onto a fresh mound of dirt. The heart-wrenching military funeral for his father now over, Samuel White Fire Dowling stood over the fresh grave in his stark, jet black suit. Behind him he could hear people talking in polite, soft mumbles as they left for their horses and buggies.
But in his mind, White Fire was hearing way more than that: the kind voice of his father who had taught him the morals by which White Fire now led his life.
Morals, he thought bitterly as his thoughts strayed to his mother.
His hands circled into tight fists at his sides when he thought of how she had betrayed his father. Just prior to his death, his mother had informed his father that she wanted a divorce ... that she had found someone else she wished to marry.
"Samuel, everyone is gone."
His mother's soft and tiny voice drew White Fire quickly out of his angry reverie. He turned on his heel and gave her a cold gaze.
"Samuel, son," Jania May murmured.
She reached a hand out for him and flinched when he stepped quickly away from her.
She slowly dropped her hand to her side. "Samuel," she said, her voice breaking, "please do not hate me. If I had known your father was going to die in such a way so soon after I told him of my wishes to marry someone else, I would never have told him."
White Fire cringed at how she kept calling him "Samuel." He stood there for a moment, unresponsive, thinking about how he had not yet told her that from now on he was going to use his Indian name, White Fire, to totally distance himself from this life, which had only brought him pain, silent suffering, and degradation.
He was ashamed that he hadn't gone by his Indian name sooner, yet his reasons not to were valid. It was enough that his skin color, his Indian looks, had been the cause of him being labeled a 'breed. Using the name White Fire while in school would have only increased the whites' taunts, which he would never forget until the day he died.
"You telling Father about the divorce, about falling in love with another man in such a cold, callous way, is surely what caused his mind to be elsewhere, to be off guard and not realize that he was being stalked by gunmen," White Fire suddenly blurted out, his words bitter as sour grapes as they crossed his tight lips.
He glared at his mother. Then just as quickly his eyes wavered when he saw, as he had always seen when he had looked at her, just how beautiful she was. Born Pretty Cloud into the Miami Indian tribe, his mother's dark, slightly slanted eyes, her smooth, copper skin, and luscious body, and her long, black hair worn to her waist, could intrigue any man. She looked so sweet and innocent. But looks were deceiving.
As were the black veil which hung down over her lovely, copper face, and the black mourning dress she wore today.
All those things were deceitful ... a mockery to the man who lay cold in his grave.
"Mother, just go away," White Fire said, swallowing hard as he turned his back on her.
He still could not believe that she could be such a fickle person.
Yet when he thought of all the social functions that she had managed at their large, two-story mansion, which sat high on a cliff overlooking the Mississippi River, downstream from the hustle and bustle of the St. Louis waterfront, and how she had playfully flirted with the men in attendance, he knew that she surely had been that way since she had discovered how to use her charm on men.
"Son, I beg you, please do not hate me," Jania May said, her voice breaking. "I am sorry for everything. Everything."
White Fire would not allow her hurt, her apologies to sway him. He turned again and glared at her. "Mother, I doubt I have ever truly known you," he said thickly. "I am certain that even when you were called Pretty Cloud by your people, when you lived with them, you practiced the same sort of deceit that you are so skilled at today."
"Samuel, I have done many things in my life that I am ashamed of, but have I not been a good mother to you?" she asked. "Have I not protected you, heart and soul, when you were taunted as being a half-breed?"
"You did not have to speak up in my behalf when I was able to do it, myself," White Fire mumbled. "I am proud of my Indian heritage. That is why I have chosen now to be called White Fire by my friends and associates, instead of Samuel."
"Yes, I, personally, gave you that name, as well as Samuel, when you were born," Jania May answered. "White Fire was my father's name."
Her eyes dwelled on her son's handsomeness. He was a young man of nineteen, whose skin was the color of copper, whose hair was coal black and hung down to his waist, and whose eyes were as black as midnight.
There was a reason why he showed none of his father's traits. But he would never learn the secret that she had kept from him through the long years since his birth. That, above all else, would infuriate him even more against her. He would hate her forever for such deceit.
Jania May swallowed hard and pleaded with her eyes as she continued to speak. "White Fire," she said, "I went through so much after ... after ... the attack on our Miami village those many years ago.
"Most of my Miami people were killed. I ... I ... managed to wander off." She cast her eyes downward. "If not for Samuel, your father, I would have died."
"I am certain these past days, before he died, he was regretting the very day he set his eyes on you that first time," White Fire said, starting to walk away, stopping only when she reached out and grabbed his hand.
"But he did take me in," she said, her eyes still pleading with White Fire. "He did marry me. Then you were born to us, ah, such a blessing."
"Yes, Father and I were close," he said, looking away from her. He looked toward the tall bluffs that rose up from the mighty Mississippi on the opposite shore and to where the Jefferson Barracks, a military establishment stood. "I just wish I had been with him when the ... the ... outlaws chose him to gun down in St. Louis."
Frustrated, he raked his long, lean fingers through his thick, black hair. He gave his mother a look of deep hurt and sadness. "Mother, Father was a military officer who never received even as much as a scratch during his tour of duty,"' he said thickly, "only to then be gunned down by outlaws on the streets. This, only a few days after you told him you were leaving him for another man. After he married you and gave you a wonderful life. What of any of that is fair?"
"Samuel," Jania May said, a sob lodging in her throat as he turned and stamped away from her. "Samuel! Samuel! White Fire, please stop! Don't leave!"
"Don't pretend you are truly worried about me, Mother," White Fire sarcastically threw at her over his shoulder. "My leaving gives you all the freedom you need to play house with your new husband. Keith Krantz? Isn't that his name? A stockbroker who is going to move you into a house even more grand than the one Father had built for you."
"Please don't go to the Minnesota Territory!" she cried, running after him. "Samuel, I may never see you again!"
"As though you care," White Fire said bitterly.
He truly knew that she cared, but it was hard to think anything positive about her at the moment. In truth, he would never stop blaming her for his father's death. Had his father been more alert, White Fire knew that he would have realized that he was being trailed by men who meant to rob, then kill him.
White Fire had longed for adventure these past years, anyhow, and now he was going to follow his hunger into the Minnesota Territory.
He was already packed to leave. His heart throbbed excitedly at the thought of riding his sorrel horse into unknown territory.
He was not going to accept any of his mother's inherited money. To pay his own expenses, he was going to use his own meager inheritance. Then when that was gone, he was going to trap and trade his way north.
His throat constricted and he doubled his fists at his sides to think about how much his father had trusted his mother by leaving almost everything to her. He had not had the chance to change his will before he died. He had not had a clear enough mind to think of doing it after being stunned to the very core of his being by the discovery of his wife's infidelity.
A smooth, deep voice caused him to stop and look over at Colonel Frederick Russell, the commandant of Jefferson barracks.
But his gaze did not linger for long on the tall, lanky, middle-aged man. It was the girl standing at his side that drew his quick attention.
White Fire's heart skipped a beat, for never had he seen anyone so beautiful. With her long, flaming red hair hanging in deep waves over her shoulders, and her green eyes smiling at him in a most flirtatious way, her lashes fluttering, he was taken aback and suddenly at a loss for words.
But he quickly reminded himself of the girl's age. He had heard his mother and father discussing the child, remarking how pretty she was, and commenting on how mature and well developed she was for her age of ten.
"Samuel, I wish to again extend to you my sympathies for what happened to your father," Colonel Russell said stiffly. "Is there anything I can get you or your mother?"
White Fire was aware of the colonel speaking to him, yet the man's eyes moved as White Fire's mother stepped up beside him. As always, the colonel, whose wife had been too ill to attend the funeral, was openly enjoying looking at White Fire's ravishingly beautiful mother.
White Fire blazed inside as his mother smiled up at the colonel in her flirtatious way, then lowered her eyes demurely and portrayed the new widow.
Reshelle Russell, the ravishing daughter of the commandant, stood in her tight-fitting green velvet suit, her chin proudly lifted as she continued to smile at White Fire, captivated by him. Not only by his handsomeness, but by the fact that he was a 'breed.
She entered her own world of pretend as she continued to gaze at him and waited for the discussion between her father and the handsome half-breed to be over. She had heard her parents talking about how Samuel Dowling had the Indian name of White Fire. That was almost as intriguing to Reshelle as the man.
She could see herself at age twenty, walking hand in hand with White Fire Dowling along the river, their hearts joined as one. She could even feel what it might be like to be kissed by him....
"Daughter, we must hurry back home now and see how your mother is faring," Colonel Russell said dryly. He took Reshelle's hand and whisked her quickly past White Fire and Jania May.
Just as Reshelle brushed past White Fire, she leaned against him and spoke into his ear. "I am known as Reshelle by everyone," she whispered. "But to you I am Flame. When you think of me, think of me as Flame, not Reshelle."
The young man was taken aback by her boldness, by her realization that he had been silently admiring her. He watched her walk away beside her father, so straight-backed and confident.
He watched her hair fluttering in the breeze. It was so bright red in color, it looked as though it had been touched by the flames of the sun.
When Flame sent him another smile across her shoulder, White Fire returned her smile.
His smile quickly faded. He felt foolish for having, for even one minute, seen her as someone he might pursue in the future.
Forcing her from his mind, White Fire hurried on in the opposite direction. He saw that his mother was trailing behind him, panting for breath as she tried to keep up with his fast pace.
When he reached his sorrel horse tethered at a post just outside the fort, he stiffened as his mother caught up with him. He could feel her gaze on him. He tried to ignore her. He doubted that he could ever feel close to her again, as he had as a child when he was ignorant of her deceiving ways.
"Son, please don't leave me," Jania May pleaded.
Still White Fire ignored her. He removed his black jacket and shoved it inside one of his saddlebags. He slid into a fringed buckskin jacket, then swung himself up into his saddle.
He turned and checked the blankets rolled up behind him on his saddle. When he saw that they were secure, he checked the buckles of his saddle bags and made sure they were tight.
Seeing that everything was ready for his long travels ahead, he finally turned and gazed down at his mother.
Suddenly he felt sad to leave her. He did love her. He always would. It was just impossible to forgive her for what she had done to his father.
"Mother, whenever possible, I will send you wires and letters," he blurted out. "I assure you, Mother, I am not abandoning you, like —"
He stopped short of saying, "Like you abandoned Father."
"Son, always remember that I have always done what I could for you," Jania May said, a sob lodged in her throat. "Until recently, when I fell in love with another man, everything I did was for you."
White Fire gave her a perplexed stare, wondering if she truly believed this. Had she fooled herself into believing such nonsense as that?
He sighed heavily, then wheeled his horse around and rode off, concentrating on the adventures that lay before him, leaving all sadness and heartaches behind him.
"White Fire, I love you!" Jania May cried, waving at him as he gave her a quick look over his shoulder. "Samuel White Fire, I shall so terribly miss you!"CHAPTER 2
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appear, And true plain hearts do in the faces rest!
— John Donne
A book of poetry resting on her lap, Flame sat at her ailing mother's bedside, her gaze and her thoughts elsewhere. She was looking through the bedroom window, watching the sky and how the setting sun was sending the most beautiful shades of crimson across the horizon.
Flame could not help but wonder where White Fire might be at this moment. She had heard her father discussing with some of his soldier friends how White Fire had planned to leave today after his father's funeral, to journey alone into the wilderness.
A thrill coursed through Flame to think of how wonderful it would be to join White Fire on his exciting adventure. Although Flame's life was filled with many activities, and she had just discovered the wonders of dancing and enjoyment of the glances from boys her own age, and even of older men, she was bored more often than not. She hungered for adventure.
She loved to ride on horseback, feeling the freedom when she rode through the knee-high grasses on her father's broad expanse of land along the Mississippi River.
She wished she were outside now, instead of in her mother's bedroom, the bitter smells of medicine wafting up her nose. Ah, how she would, instead, love to be walking amidst swirling, clambering vines and starry flowers!
But now wasn't the time to think of herself. She was there for her mother. She was dedicated to her mother who was ill quite often, with first one ailment, and then another.
"Reshelle, why have you stopped reading poetry to me?" Elizabeth Ann Russell asked, drawing Flame's eyes quickly to her. "Daughter, what's taken your thoughts away? What are you fantasizing about now? I do wish you wouldn't wish on things that can never be."
Flame flipped her long, red waves back from her shoulders and forced a smile as she gazed at her mother, when truly, looking at her mother only saddened her. Elizabeth Ann was frail and pale, not only because she was so prone to illness, but because she scarcely ever went out into the sunlight, saying that it was bad for her ivory skin.
"Mother, I'm sorry," Flame said softly.
She again opened the poetry book where she had marked the last page that she had read with a pale blue velvet ribbon. "I shouldn't have stopped reading," she murmured, "but, Mother, something happened today that I can't get off my mind."
She closed the book again and laid it aside. She leaned over and straightened her mother's blanket, then smoothed some locks of her mother's auburn hair back from her pale brow.
"I saw a man today, Mother," she quickly said. "I have seen him many times before, but never so close." She sighed. "I shall never forget him, Mother. Never."
"Reshelle, Reshelle," Elizabeth Ann said softly, "you are only ten. You shouldn't be thinking of men."
"Perhaps I shouldn't call him a man," Flame said, cocking an eyebrow. "I believe he is only eighteen or nineteen."
"Reshelle, anyone who is eighteen or nineteen is a man and much too old for you to be thinking about," Elizabeth Ann scolded. She turned her head away from Flame and coughed.
"I truly wish you would call me Flame," Flame said, sighing. "Reshelle is such a cold, assuming-sounding name."
Excerpted from White Fire by Cassie Edwards. Copyright © 2017 Cassie Edwards. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Flame has known her destiny was the warrior White Fire. They find their journey together in Minnesota of the early 1800s. This author is known for her Native American books and have always enjoyed them. Ebook from Netgalley and publishers with thanks. Opinions are entirely my own.