A hothouse flower in the parched, rugged desert of the Arizona Territory, beautiful, headstrong Leonida Branson isn’t about to waste her youth in a duty-bound marriage to a pompous general. And her resolve only strengthens when she sees Sage, the fierce Navaho chieftan her fiancé has sworn to crush. For the comforts of civilization are no match for the adventurous passion the handsome warrior awakens in her.
Each time Sage catches sight of Leonida’s porcelain beauty, his dark eyes smolder with forbidden heat. Nothing has prepared him for the feelings that suddenly rage within him…or for his overwhelming desire to sweep this exquisite woman into his powerful embrace, to teach her the ancient ways of his people…and the timeless ways of love.
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 © 2016 Cassie Edwards
All rights reserved.
Shall I love you like the wind, love,
That is so fierce and strong,
That sweeps all barriers from its path,
And reeks not right or wrong?
— R. W. RAYMOND
Fort Defiance, Arizona
She looked out at the cliffs, painted with red and purplish brown and luminous shadows. It was a country that changed with the positions of the sun, a land of narrow canyons, great mesas, and unending sand. Deep-green pinyons and juniper bushes dotted the distant, arid hills.
Her straw bonnet shielding her face from the hot rays of the sun, Leonida Branson strolled arm in arm with her fiancé, General Harold Porter, before the many colorful tents that had been erected in the shadows of the high walls of Fort Defiance. A band of Navaho had traveled down from the mountains to trade their beautifully woven blankets and rugs with the soldiers. In exchange they would take knives for shearing their sheep and other manufactured items. Especially prized were silver buttons and ornaments to adorn themselves, as well as calico, ribbon and lace for their women.
With her delicate white-gloved hand Leonida swept the skirt of her blue silk dress up away from the dusty sand, yet she was scarcely aware of it. She was too taken by the beautiful displays of all sorts of jewelry and handwoven woolens ranging from small mats to blankets, rugs, and tapestries that lay spread on the ground before the tents, their Navaho owners proudly standing beside them.
Leonida smiled at the lovely Navaho women as she moved from tent to tent, searching for one in particular. Harold had told Leonida that this young woman's skills at making blankets had gained her a reputation that reached far and wide.
Harold's left arm was even now heavily laden with special yarns to give to the talented lady, in hopes that she would weave a lovely blanket from it to be one of his many wedding gifts for Leonida.
Leonida glanced over at Harold, who today had abandoned his usual uniform to impress upon her that he was more than just a soldier. He wore high-buffed black boots, a pair of dark breeches, and a white shirt that was ruffled at the sleeves and throat, with a sparkling diamond stickpin in the folds of his satin ascot.
Nearing forty, Harold was handsome, with golden, wavy hair, and eyes almost as golden, and a complexion unmarred by the hot sun of Arizona, or by a hard life in general. His had been a life handed to him on a silver platter, or so it seemed to Leonida, and his brash, arrogant personality bespoke of his having been spoiled as a child.
Wanting to find excuses for him because she had promised to marry him, she wanted to blame Harold's shortcomings on having been an only child. But she knew that was not a valid excuse for his arrogance. She was an only child, and she did not see herself as spoiled. She always looked at everyone as her equal, even the poorest people who begged for food on the street corners of San Francisco, where she had lived with her mother after her father left them. Leonida even went out of her way to help the needy, by handing out food and clothes to them from time to time, as well as sometimes finding them decent housing and paying for it from the allowance that both her mother and her father gave her.
This had all come to an instant halt when her mother died and Leonida was forced to live with her father at his military establishments.
A wave of sadness descended on her as she was catapulted back in time to another death. Her father's.
He had been dead for only four months, and the pain was still sharp. His death had seemed to imprison her in a trap from which she had not yet escaped: this engagement to Harold.
She had agreed to marry him only because her father had wanted it so badly. He had seen many possibilities in Harold, both as a military officer and eventually as a civilian. Harold had the money to make Leonida comfortable for the rest of her life.
Her father had wanted to make sure that his daughter was well cared for when he was no longer around, but Leonida knew that if he could see how Harold's arrogance, especially toward the Indians, had worsened, he surely would not have expected her to marry him. Since Harold had taken over her father's post at Fort Defiance, she could hardly stand being around him at all.
The chances of traveling back to San Francisco during this time of warring between the states seemed an impossible wish that could not be fulfilled. She had to bide her time until it was safe for her to travel alone.
"My dear, there she is," Harold said in his languid way. He nodded toward a tent where many blankets and other items were spread on the ground. "That's Pure Blossom. Many army officers like to have her blankets because they are so tightly woven they are practically waterproof." He smiled down at Leonida. "But my reasons for getting one for you is not so much for durability as for the loveliness of the blankets." He pointed at Pure Blossom and frowned. "I imagine that's all she's good at. Look at her, all bent up and out of shape and as frail as a dove. I imagine she spends her days weaving and dreaming of what life could be for her if she weren't so downright disgusting and pitiful-looking."
Leonida paled and her jaw went slack as she gazed up at him, aghast at his scorn for this unfortunate little Indian woman whose back was hunched, and whose fingers were gnarled with some sort of wasting-away disease.
"That's a horrible thing to say," she gasped. "Harold, have some compassion. It isn't her fault that nature has been cruel to her. Besides, she obviously possesses a sort of beauty. Just look at her face. There is such a serene innocence in her smile."
Leonida turned away from Harold and tried to forget his unfeeling remarks as they stepped into the shadows of the huge tent, where Pure Blossom stood over her beloved blankets and jewelry, her eyes filled with pride as she looked up at Leonida.
Leonida smiled warmly in return, her gaze sweeping over the Indian woman's beautiful clothes, jewelry, and hair. She had beautiful black hair that hung nearly to the ground and teeth so white that surely they outshone the stars at night. Pure Blossom wore thick strings of turquoise and coral around her neck, over a bright-blue velveteen blouse. Her skirt was of bright calico, very long and full, and she wore moccasins with silver buttons.
"For trade?" she said in halting English as she gestured toward her wares. "Lovely? They please beautiful lady? You take?"
Pure Blossom's gaze fell upon the yarn across Harold's arm, and her eyes brightened. "You trade for the pretty yarn?" she asked anxiously.
Leonida only half heard Harold explain that the bright-colored Saxony and Zephyr yarns had been shipped from the East, and that he had not come to trade with her at all. Instead he was willing to pay her well to make a special blanket for his future bride.
Leonida's gaze had been arrested by a Navaho warrior who had stepped from the tent and now stood protectively at Pure Blossom's side, his muscular copper arms folded across his powerful chest.
Both his handsomeness and his intense dark eyes, which locked with hers, made Leonida's heartbeat quicken and caused a strange, mushy warmth at the pit of her stomach.
Even after living among so many soldiers, Leonida had never become infatuated with any of them. None had touched her heart, nor had they caused strange sensations within her. Not until now had she known how it felt to be attracted to a man — and this was not a soldier, or an ordinary man.
He was an Indian.
Her heart pounding, Leonida turned her back on the handsome warrior. Yet she had been so taken with him, she had noticed every detail about him.
He was a tall man with jet-black hair that he wore long and loose over his shoulders, with a red silk headband to keep it in place at his brow. He had flashing dark eyes, and a smooth bronze face with sculpted features.
Broad-shouldered and lean-hipped, he was breathtakingly, ruggedly handsome, dressed in a shirt of handwoven woolen cloth with a V-neck. His dyed buckskin trousers had silver buttons down the sides and were tied with woven garters. He wore silver-buttoned moccasins, a concha belt of round silver disks on leather, and a ketoh, a leather wrist guard with silver ornaments.
Leonida felt a sudden hush at her side that roused her from her trance. She blushed when she saw Harold's jaw tighten and anger flash in his eyes as his gaze slowly turned from her to the warrior. Leonida realized that Harold had seen her interest in the Navaho warrior and had become instantly jealous.
She smiled wanly as he again looked her way, glad that his attention was drawn back to the business at hand. But she could tell that he was rushing things along now to get her away from the Indian.
"You will weave the blanket for many pesos, money?" Harold asked, smiling smugly when Pure Blossom accepted the beautiful yarn and draped it across her arms.
"Yes, Pure Blossom will do this for you," she said, her eyes bright with excitement as she gazed down at the yarn. "It delights Pure Blossom to have the ready-made yarns. The yarn is so fine and even. The result will be a magnificent blanket for the lovely white woman's wedding. Pure Blossom will weave the yarn into a pattern of stripes and zigzags, and even some in the shape of diamonds."
She looked from Harold to Leonida. "I promise to have the blanket ready for you ... when did you say?" she asked.
"In three months," Harold said stiffly, unnerved by the Navaho warrior's cold gaze. Harold had had few dealings with Sage, the young Navaho chief, but enough to know that he was the most stubborn of all the Indians in the area and that he had too much control. Harold had thought long ago that something had to be done about this powerful chief. He smiled to himself, knowing that things were in the works even now to make changes that would affect Sage.
"Uke-he, thank you," Pure Blossom said humbly, feeling the heat of her brother's eyes on her and knowing why. The Navaho rarely said thank you to anyone. Normally when a thank you was necessary, thanks were given by other means than humbling themselves by saying it.
Glad to be on their way, Harold placed a firm hand on Leonida's elbow. She eased away from him, though, and knelt down on a knee to admire a striking necklace among those laid out on a colorful blanket. He nervously moved his finger around his tight collar and shifted his feet. Then he did a slow burn as Sage knelt down opposite Leonida, his eyes intent on her.
"You see one that you especially like?" he asked, smiling.
Leonida's pulse raced. The Indian's deep, smooth voice reached into her heart like warm splashes of sunshine. To keep from making a fool of herself, she looked away from him, and again down at the beautiful necklace that had caught her eye.
"This one," she said, pointing to a string of hollow silver beads with a large crescent-shaped pendant ornament called a Naja. "It's so very pretty, unlike anything I have ever seen before."
Her face became hot with a blush, and she was embarrassed by the strange huskiness of her voice. This Indian had affected her much more deeply than she had realized. And she knew that she must hide her feelings. Not only from Harold, but also from the warrior. It was forbidden to have feelings for an Indian, especially the sort of sensations now troubling her.
Sage picked up the necklace and spread it out between his large, callused hands. "This is called a squash blossom necklace," he explained. "The floral design represents pomegranates, and the crescent at the bottom is to ward off the evil eye."
He paused to sweep his eyes slowly over Leonida. He was quite taken by the color of her hair, where wisps of her golden curls were revealed at the sides of her straw bonnet. He also admired the azure of her eyes, having seen such a beautiful color of blue only in the sky on the clearest of days.
Where her low-cut bodice revealed her porcelainlike skin, the swell of her breasts was smooth and creamy. While she had been standing with calm dignity, he had noticed how tall and willowy she was, a blonde beauty.
If he allowed himself, he could have many feelings for this woman, most sensual.
"It is so beautiful," Leonida said, trying to draw the Navaho warrior's attention back to the necklace. She could hear Harold's hastened breathing, a sure sign that he was growing angry.
"Yes, it is a thing of beauty," Sage said thickly. "The Navaho call the crescent 'big snake,' the Navaho's name for the constellation Draco."
Before Leonida could rise, the Navaho warrior moved quickly behind her, placing the necklace around her neck. Having already been mesmerized by his smooth voice and dark eyes, she felt almost swallowed whole by her heartbeats when he touched the flesh of her neck with his fingers while fastening the necklace around it.
"It is yours," Sage said, placing a hand on her elbow and helping her to her feet. "Wear it as a token of gratitude for coming to my sister with your lovely yarns."
Red-faced, Harold stepped between them. Glaring at Sage, he yanked the necklace from Leonida's neck and flicked it onto the ground. "She needs no gifts from you," he growled. "The blanket is the only reason we have come here today, and your sister will get paid well for her services."
Leonida was stunned by Harold's sudden burst of jealousy. She half stumbled when he grabbed her hand and pulled her from the tent. Awkwardly she looked over her shoulder, feeling that an apology was needed. When she saw the warrior's cold contempt, she was stung to the core.
Then she turned away, ashamed and angry. The more Harold jerked her along beside him, the angrier she became. Suddenly she yanked herself free and stopped to glare at him. "Why did you have to behave so — so terribly about that necklace?" she said, her gloved hands doubled into tight fists at her sides. "You humiliated not only the Indian but also me. Was that necessary? Did you feel that threatened by the Indian's attentions toward me? You don't own me, Harold. Please quit acting as though you do."
Harold's eyebrows narrowed together into one line as he leaned down close to her face. "Don't you appreciate anything?" he snarled. "I'm paying a lot of money for that blanket. Would you rather I go back and get the yarn and forget it? Would you rather I didn't get you anything for your wedding gift?"
"I don't care what you do with anything," Leonida snapped, then stamped away from him.
He caught up with her immediately. "I'm sorry for upsetting you," he said, glad to be away from the Indian tents and walking toward the fort. "But, Leonida, I must warn you against being so easily swayed by the Indians. I'm being too trusting myself to believe that I will ever see anything made from the yarn I handed over to that crippled wench."
Leonida cringed at his reference to Pure Blossom as a "wench," but she now only wanted to get to the privacy of her house. "Who was that Indian warrior?" she asked cautiously. "It is obvious that you don't like him."
Setting his jaw tightly, Harold did not answer her right away, but he finally responded, knowing that he would have to sooner or later, anyhow. Leonida was not the sort to let anything get past her. Especially the name of a man with whom she was so obviously infatuated.
"Sage," he grumbled. "A Navaho chief." He glared over at her. "Pure Blossom is his sister."
"He's a chief," Leonida said to herself, still tingling inside from Sage's touch, his voice, and the way he had looked at her with his midnight-dark eyes.
The sound of hooves behind her drew her eyes around just in time to see Sage riding away on a magnificent chestnut stallion with a saddle of stamped leather. The silver ornaments hanging from his saddle flashed in the sun. For a brief moment he turned his head her way. When their eyes met, a silent promise seemed to be exchanged between them, yet she did not know why.
Shaken by her feelings, Leonida tried to focus her thoughts elsewhere. She stared at the fort as they approached it. The high adobe walls surrounding it offered protection to the barracks, hospital and officers' quarters inside. The fort had been built within a green valley, supplied by water from a sparkling river that flowed down from the nearby mountains. Unable to shake the Navaho chief from her mind, Leonida turned and watched him as he rode toward the river in the distance.
It was her keenest desire to follow him.
Excerpted from Wild Splendor by Cassie Edwards. Copyright © 2016 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
Certain transitions make the novel confusing. For example, in one paragraph Leonida is walking her horse by the reins, but a few paragraphs later she's being pulled off her horse by Sage. Also, the connection between Leonida and Sage is somewhat cheesy. They both fall in love quick and there's no conflict or antagonist to really keep the novel from becoming a teenage love affair. I gave 2 stars because the research Edwards obviously put in concerning the Navaho is interesting .
This was one of the best book to read.