Come Home With Me
What in the hell happened, and where in the devil was he? Lightfoot’s body throbbed as if a herd of wild horses had trampled over him. He lifted his hand to the bandages across his aching shoulder. The wooden aroma of brewing white willow bark drifted to his nose, easing some of his tension. I must be home, he sighed. Where were the sounds of the Cheyenne medicine woman’s, Ma’heona’e, humming?
A moist cloth dampened his forehead. The touch was gentle, not rough or hurried like Ma’heona’e. He tried to open his mouth to question his caregiver. His throat burned with the effort.
Soft words… English words, whispered against the silence. Instead of easing his tension the sound only added to his discomfort. Lightfoot realized the bed beneath him didn’t feel like the lumped furs of the medicine woman’s lodge. Dawning came over him. He was in the prison of his enemy.
He struggled to open his eyes. A woman scurried from his bedside. White women, they were all the same, scared to death of any man whose skin was cast in red. She would call for the guard now. Sound the alarm their prisoner was awake. He scanned the dwelling for an escape route. If today was the day he would die, it would be like a warrior, not some caged animal. The single room had a dirt floor and three walls as if carved into the land. The one wooden wall, with enough cracks to see daylight, made up one side of the lodging, sporting the dwelling's only door. A table with two chairs sat off to one side of a makeshift fireplace; the bed he laid in took up the wall at the far side of the room.
He cleared his dry throat, managing to speak. “Where am I?”A visible shudder came over the woman at the sound of his voice.
She appeared disheveled, mussed brown hair strewn about her head running in a heap of tangles down her back. Her long brown skirt was worn and torn. She stood next to the fire as if afraid to continue dipping what could only be white willow bark into a chipped cup.
“I asked where I am.” He kept his tone firm.
“You speak English?” Her words crackled out as another tremor shook her.
“Yes, I speak English. Now for the third time, where am I?”
“You were wounded in a battle…” her voice wavered.
“Why do you tell me what I already know? Tell me where in the hell am I?”
She spun on her heel and the cup in her grasp fell to the floor. “If I knew where the hell I was I would tell you.”
Tears pooled at the rims of her green eyes, making them sparkle like jewels. If there were a husband, father, or even some other male close by, as he had feared, this woman would not look distraught. No, she was alone and had no idea where she was.
“Tell me of the area. What does it look like?” His lungs burned with the air it took to speak. His eyes drifted closed with overwhelming weakness.
The shuffle of her feet across the dirt floor met his ears. Her quivering fingers brushed over his chest. The light pressure of her fingertips rested against his heart. It pounded rapidly as if he had run for miles. As quick as she had touched him, the pressure of her fingers vanished. “You need your rest. We can talk more about this when you’ve recovered.”
He grabbed her wrist halting her departure, forcing his eyes open again. Fear lined every inch of her face, but she didn’t struggle for release as he thought she would. She froze as though she was one of the marble statues he’d seen erected in the towns sprouting up all over.
For the first time, he got a good look at her face. She couldn’t be more than twenty-two or twenty-three seasons old. Too young for the tiny lines of worry marking her forehead and eyes. A large scar lined one cheek, pink and puckered. Did this scar come as a result of why she found herself here alone? Those green eyes held a mountain of emotion. Fear, was the prominent one. Yet, something else looked back at him, curiosity. He was used to white women’s inquisitiveness about his kind. Yet, somehow, this woman’s look went deeper. Not like desire or lust, as the others, but a genuine thirst for knowledge.
“I’m known as Lightfoot.” He released her arm, as his eyes drifted closed again. He heard her dash across the room, before the soft bang of the door hitting its wooden frame announced her departure. His presence alone frightened her. If she feared his kind, then why had she brought him here? She could have left him to die.
Something about this scared, timid woman made him want to know more. It also stirred old feelings from days gone by. When another frightened little girl had needed someone to look after her, watch over her, protect her. He had looked out for Rae Black, now Rae Davis, from the time she was five and he was ten. He had sworn never again to get mixed up in white women’s affairs after he’d seen Rae was happy. However, something told him the woman in his midst, was in over her head.
Dusty Carmichael eyed the sleeping form, watching the gentle rise and fall of his chest. At least this time Lightfoot’s sleep seemed restful. She deposited the bucket of water on the table. What had gotten into her bringing a man back to her makeshift home? Her husband barely in the grave and already she had a man sleeping in her bed.
Her mind drifted back to her home in the Appalachians. She’d never known the severe heat she’d experienced in a month in this God-forsaken barren land. If only she knew where she was, maybe then she would be able to figure out a way to get back home.
“Home to what?” she asked under her breath.
When she’d met Jonas, her whole life had been in a shambles. Her pa had died from a bear attack. Her mother had passed on two years prior. The youngest of eight children, one would have thought at least one of her siblings would have survived over the course of the years and took her in, but none had.
Jonas had taken advantage of her predicament. Told her he was heading to California. He was going to be rich from the gold they would find there. When he had asked her to go with him, his tales of a better life had turned her head. All she had found since leaving her cabin in the hills was misery and torture.
She glanced at the stranger. Red brown skin glistened with sweat from fever. Her fingers flinched with the memory of how firm his muscular chest felt beneath her touch, bringing a slight quiver to her body. Never had she set eyes on a warrior of this magnitude. Sure, they had Natives in the Appalachians, but nothing like what she had witnessed here. They roamed this wild country on horseback, barely clothed. Her memory fell on the first time Jonas had caught her gawking at one of these warriors, rubbing her shoulder to soothe the imagined pain of his beating.
How could she have been so stupid as to bring a man here? The only place she had found safe from men and their dominating ways. For the first time, she was free. However, she couldn’t leave him there to die. It would have eaten at her soul even more than having his large frame filling up her tiny bed.
She sunk down into the chair at the far side of the table, keeping a trained eye on her patient. Healing she knew, and she could easily have this warrior back on his feet in less than a month. Then she could send him on his way. Hopefully, he wouldn’t tell anyone about her, and she could live her life out in peace in this unnamed land.
A soft moan slipped past his lips, bringing her to his side. His dressing needed changed, but to do so would stir him from his rest. She brushed a finger over the area of the wound. To leave it would inspire infection. The decision made, she lifted the bandage from his chest, depositing it in the wooden bowl on the floor. His body remained still. Good, he still slept. Lifting the cloth from the wild cherry bark tincture, she wrung the excess from the dripping rag, cleansing the gash.
“The bleeding would slow if you held it more firmly over the injury.”
Shock overwhelmed her when his hand clutched hers, pressing her hand down on the wound. His gaze rested on her face. She turned her head toward the wall. His touch scorched her hand beneath his. The pounding of his heart against her palm was as strong and powerful as the one beating in her chest. She was incapable of stopping the quake of her body.
“Please, let go of me.” Her words were barely audible, but he must have heard them, for fresh air whipped into her lungs with his release. The moment she was able to put distance between them, she did.
“I won’t harm you. Why would I hurt the medicine woman who heals me?”
Dusty turned away as if by doing so she would disappear from his sight. Men made her uncomfortable. One who actually made her take notice of the fact she was a woman only made her more uneasy. He may have been injured and unconscious when she’d brought him here, but she’d seen how finely built and robust he was. Every inch of his thickly muscled frame drew a reaction from her body. It had intensified when he had awoken and watched her every move. Even now, from his simple touch, the place between her thighs pulsated.
“You need your rest.”
“This gash will not bandage itself. I swear I will not touch you, if you come to complete your task.”
Dusty knew he was right. The abrasion needed dressed. Moving to her hope chest, she took out fresh bandages. Taking a deep breath, she mustered the courage to turn around. Gingerly, she made her way back to his bedside. His large frame moved closer to the wall, giving her more room to sit beside him. She perched on the edge of the mattress, lifting a fresh strip of fabric to the wound. Lightfoot kept to his word. His hands lay unmoving at his sides on the outside of the blanket. He turned his head toward the dirt wall, easing some of her discomfort.
She resumed her task, applying more pressure as she went. She watched his chest rise and fall with ragged breaths. His face winced against the pain. At least, it seemed the fever had subsided. Once she had the clean bandage in place, she hurried back to the fireplace.
“Nea’ese, this means thank you in my language.”
“Nea’ese,” Dusty repeated the word. “You’re welcome. You should rest now.”
“Before I do, can you tell me your name?”
She closed her eyes, allowing the deep baritone of his voice to seep into her pores. She couldn’t remember a time when a man’s voice had brought any kind of comfort to her. “Dusty… Dusty Carmichael.”
She heard him repeat her name as she had repeated his Native word for ‘thank you.’
“Nea’ese, Dusty Carmichael, for saving my life.”
Dusty busied herself with the evening meal of rabbit stew, keeping a close eye on her patient. She knew her appearance was ugly. How often in the past, she had been reminded of how her hideous appearance would ensure no man would ever want her? Jonas had told her as much every day of their one year marriage.
She hated the drab heavy wool skirt she wore. Like most of her things, the clothes on her back, her hope chest containing a few dishes, a handful of rags, and a small variety of her healing herbs, the table and chairs, and her bed were the only things left of the life she once had. If only she had something nice, something that would make a man like Lightfoot take notice. Do I really want him to notice me? The area between her thighs began to throb when she glanced over at his sleeping form. How could her body betray her in such a way? When Jonas had died, she’d never wanted to look at another man, let alone take one to her bed. Then Lightfoot entered her world of solitude. His body radiated strength and power. Something she would normally fear.
Dusty shook the strange feelings from her thoughts. Work, that’s what she needed. She lifted the bucket of water, pouring some into the kettle. His blood moistened the bandages again. She had hoped she wouldn’t need to stitch the wound. Lightfoot seemed to be resting comfortably. She brushed her hand over his forehead, cooler now. Maybe the bandage could last a while longer.
Lightfoot awoke with a start. Things were too quiet. He eased himself from the bed, wrapping the blanket about his waist. If Dusty was around, he didn’t want to frighten her any more than he already had. He glanced around the room in hopes of finding his clothing. His loincloth lay over the foot of the bed. His shoulder throbbed and blood soaked the bandage, but he managed to dress. He made his way outside. The sun set over the hillside. He scanned the area and the river was straight ahead of him. Nothing else drew attention to the dwelling in the hillside. No fences, no garden spot, nothing indicated anyone lived here. Lightfoot subconsciously applied pressure to his shoulder. The blood oozed from the bandage, sticking to his hand.
“We need to see to that before you bleed to death,” Dusty’s voice chimed out from somewhere by the banks of the river.
“I will be fine,” he grumbled, eyeing up and down the river to locate her.
“No you won’t if you don’t let me see to it.” Dusty’s voice, now confident, drew his attention. Was this the same woman who’d been caring for him all day?
She appeared out of nowhere, taking him by the arm to lead him back inside. Once she had him seated she placed a bowl of wild cherry wood tincture on the table, lifting the compresses from the sticky wound. “I should have stitched this yesterday.” She dipped a rag into the warm tincture, sopping up the oozing blood from his shoulder. “I need to stitch this. It will ease the bleeding and help it to heal faster.”
She pulled the needle from her skirt, slipping a piece of thread through it with expert skill. “It will only hurt for a moment. I’ve been sewing since I was five. I can make quick work of this so as not to prolong the pain.”
Lightfoot nodded. Her method seemed strange to him, but he’d never before questioned the medicine woman, he wouldn’t start now. He flinched when the needle penetrated his inflamed flesh, but he held to the chair. He studied the long scar lining Dusty’s cheek, the only mark on an otherwise flawless face. Even with her hair appearing as if it hadn’t seen a brush in a long time, her beauty radiated from every aspect of her. Soft green eyes, slanted in concentration. Her lips a becoming shade of rose. The sun had added a slight pink tint to her cheeks and browned her face, giving her a breathtaking loveliness. Something in his soul stirred, bringing about a sudden desire to know all there was about the woman in his presence.
She made short work of the process, the bleeding ceased almost immediately. She gathered up the bowl of bloodied water, disappearing back out of the cabin, breaking the spell swarming around him.
“If you think you can sit up for a short while, I can bring you some stew. You must be famished,” she called from the other side of the door. Before he could respond, she was back inside setting a bowl of steaming stew before him.
“What is your story?” he asked aloud before lifting a bite to his mouth.
In the two short days Lightfoot had been here, Dusty found herself longing to be able to attract a man such as him. She was clueless where to even begin. Men didn’t look at her as pretty or beautiful. They looked at her as simply, Dusty, a woman who would endure what they had to dish out then discard as easily as yesterday’s gossip.
She had told him the sunshine would do him some good. But truth be told, she needed a bit of distance between them. Anything to ease this desire she couldn’t let go of. She lifted the pillow to her nose, taking in Lightfoot’s earthy scent. It was a mixture of wilderness and man, calling out to her lonely soul.
Lightfoot was kind to her because she was helping him. Things would’ve been different if they’d met under other circumstances. Men like him weren’t attracted to women like her. If all she had was this one moment in time with him, she knew it would be enough. To hope for anything more would only be setting herself up for heartbreak. She would take the time she had with him, for whatever it amounted to, and move on from there.
“Are you okay?”
His question startled her. She tossed the pillow back onto the bed, straightening the quilt up over it.
“I’m fine,” her voice quivered. Was this dwelling getting smaller? “You should try to rest. I have biscuits baking and potato and carrot soup almost ready for the evening meal.”
“Do you want to tell me what happened? How you came to be here?”
Dusty heard him take a seat at the table. Why couldn’t he just be happy with his healing progress? Why couldn’t he just leave anymore intimacies between them alone? She fussed over the meal, stirring the mixture in the cast iron pot. “I was on a wagon train headed to California.”
“Were you traveling alone? I mean, were you journeying with family?”
She knew this would eventually come up. “You need your rest.”
“I’m fine. I’ve had worse wounds in my time. See it’s not even bleeding anymore thanks to your stitches.” He brushed a hand over the dry bandage.
“I was traveling with my husband.” She couldn’t bring her eyes to meet his, even though the heat from his stare burned into her flesh.
“Where is your husband now?”
“Dead.” She knew her voice sounded cold, but nothing about Jonas brought forth anything other than bitterness.
“Is he the one who hurt you?”
Tears welled up in her eyes, blurring her vision. She struggled to pull the pan of biscuits from the heat with her skirt, only for it to slip from her shaky grasp, falling to the floor. “I can’t seem to do anything right.”
Lightfoot’s hands clutched her shoulders. His breath warmed her neck. “Not all men harm their women. Some of us treasure them.”
“Men don’t look at women like me. I can’t even put a decent meal on the table.” She struggled to regain her composure, to no avail.
His thumb rubbed the soft base of her neck, sending tiny pierces of excitement coursing through her. His lips were a breath from her ear. Her whole body ached to melt into his arms. “I see you.”
“What do you see?”
His lips brushed against the soft flesh beneath her ear. The wetness between her thighs tingled. “I see a beautiful, caring woman who has lost all belief in herself.”
Lightfoot enjoyed the feel of her against his chest. It had been a long time since he’d held a woman like this. “You were going to tell me what happened to you.” She tried to move away, but he enfolded her to him with his good arm. “Who was cruel to you?”
“Why are you doing this? It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s gone. Nothing will bring him back. He won’t ever harm me again.” Her words sounded rehearsed, like something she told herself over and over like a mantra. If only her tone sounded as if she believed the words she uttered.
He brought a finger to the scar on her cheek. “But the effects have lingered. Even now, your body tenses beneath my touch. You fear me even though you’re sure I won’t harm you.”
“To harm me would take more energy than you have, I’m afraid.” She gave a tearful laugh.
He absorbed her enticing scent into him before releasing her. He bent to pick up the biscuits she’d dropped.
“You dip the stew, I’ll see to this,” he interrupted her words. It was time she was shown a different side to men.
After dinner, he lay back against the lumpy mattress, exhaustion filling every inch of his body. He heard Dusty busying herself around the room, bringing back to life how she had felt in his embrace.
Something was definitely changing in her. Two days ago she would have run from the dwelling in a desperate fear to get away from him. This evening, she had remained in his touch, even though his presence scared her to death, an admirable quality to say the least. He watched her place the few mismatched dishes back on the mantle. He tried to sit up, but his shoulder screamed out in pain. Dusty was at his side, cup in hand. “Drink this it will help with the pain.”
“What is it?”
“White willow bark.” Her arm wrapped about his shoulders, helping him to sit up. He liked the closeness of her. Something about having her near made him feel whole. Her scent was fresh, assaulting desires he thought had long died away when Rae had married another. He had never wanted to look at another white woman, and until he had awoken in Dusty’s home, he hadn’t. When she placed the cup on the bedside table, he slipped an arm around her waist, holding her to his side. He didn’t want this quiet moment between them to end. If he had his way, he would deepen this intimacy into something lasting.
“You need your rest,” she stuttered.
“I do. Tell me, where do you sleep while I use your bed?” he asked a breath from her lips.
She pulled from his touch. “Get your rest. I’m sure your tribe will be wondering where you are.”
His eyes drifted closed with the soothing tone of her voice. He could hear her movements around the room, the soft hiss of the fire as she banked its embers for sleep. “Come home with me.”
The clatter of the coffee pot falling against the hearth jolted his eyes open. She quickly bent to retrieve the item, scurrying about as if the end of the world would take place if she did not hurry.
“I want you to return to my village with me. I promise no one will harm you.” The need to reassure her all would be fine overwhelmed him.
“Why? I have nothing to offer you or your people. Why would you want me to return with you?”
He looked about the dimly lit room. “What do you have to keep you here? By your own admission you have no idea where you are.”
She pulled a few quilts from the corner closest to the fireplace. How was it he had never noticed them before now? “I may not know where I am, but at least here I can hold onto my pride. I didn’t bring you back here to have yet another man feel it necessary to take care of me.” She flipped the blankets in the air, making her bed by the edge of the fireplace.
“Why did you bring me back here?”
She lay down, pulling the quilt up to her neck. “I brought you back here because you needed help. Now please, get some rest. You need to let your wound heal. Talking about this is fruitless. Your world and mine should only mingle on rare occasions such as these. They are not meant to remain together.”
He lay back down, looking up at the dirt above his head. Did she believe their worlds did not belong together? A few days ago, he would have agreed with her. Not now, however, he felt the change of the tides in his heart. The bonds a man chooses toward a woman when she belongs at his side. Dusty Carmichael made him want to know her forever. He wanted to learn everything there was about her, and once he had achieved this, he wanted to start all over again getting to know her.
What had been done to her at the hands of the male gender was wrong. Maybe that was all it was. Maybe he wanted to right a wrong, a repayment of sorts for giving him back his life. Had she not brought him here, he would have surely died.
Dusty lay listening to the even breathing of Lightfoot. Why had he asked her to return to his tribe with him? Surely, it was because he felt sorry for her, out here in the middle of no man’s land all alone. She wouldn’t stand for his pity or anyone else's for that matter. She had lived long enough under the woeful stares of others.
Everyone who knew them knew of Jonas’ dark side. He’d never made it a secret when she burned a meal or forgot to wash his favorite shirt. It had not mattered to him their journey had begun with snow still on the ground and ice thick on the waters they passed. No, for Jonas everything had to be how he demanded it. If not, she’d paid the price for not being a good wife.
She’d tried. Lord knew she had. She’d made herself available to him at his every beck and call. Sometimes until her body was so sore from his entrance that she could barely move. She had learned early on in their marriage not to deny him the intimate part of her. Like everything else, he took what he wanted.
Why was Lightfoot insistent to know it was her husband who had left the scar on her face? What would he think if he saw the rest of her disfigurements? All she wanted to do was forget. Forget her life before Jonas and the hell he’d brought her after she’d married him. How could someone like Lightfoot even begin to understand the world she had found freedom from? She may not have a clue as to where she was, but she knew one thing for sure, it was freedom as long as she could remain here alone, without the presence of another human being.
Lightfoot had been the only survivor of the wagon train battle over the hills from her home. It was his kind who had set her free in the first place. Maybe not him, maybe not even his tribe, but those like him. She had watched from under the upright wagon of Sarah and her family as the knife had penetrated her husband’s chest. She cursed herself daily for the elation she had felt. Surely, God would punish her one day for rejoicing in another human life being taken. For now though, she would live with the curse.
Lightfoot's uneasy movements and light moan of pain drew her attention. Rising from her makeshift bed, she went to him. Gently pushing the blanket aside, the bandage remained dry, giving her a sigh of relief. The stitches were working. She stared down into his restless face. What did a man like Lightfoot dream about? Her dreams had been simple, freedom from the torture of her life. But what did warriors, who seemingly had everything, dream of? She brushed a ginger hand across Lightfoot’s brow. For now, the fever was at bay.
“Do you ever sleep?” His question sounded groggy, though his eyes never opened.
“You were restless. I wanted to make sure your wound hadn’t started bleeding again,” she whispered, readjusting the blanket over his chest. Her heart raced wildly when his hand reached out ceasing her movements. He brought her palm to his lips kissing it tenderly.
“Sleep, quit worrying over me. I’ll be fine.”
A foreign emptiness filled her with his release. She backed away from the bed, the quiet intimacy stirring her soul. She would hold onto the image of his lips brushing against her hand for as long as she lived. Never in her life had a man touched her in this manner. To have this handsome stranger do so spurred her imagination beyond its realms.
A week had flown by, and Lightfoot felt his connection to Dusty growing. She avoided him as often as was convenient. Their nights, though, were all their own. He could tell she was growing used to his presence in the tiny space, no longer afraid of conversing or even looking at him when he spoke to her.
It was as if once the door to the outside world closed behind them, she left behind the fears embedded into her. He found he was growing attached to her. He loved the meticulous way about her. How everything had to be put into its place before she could end her day. She would spend long moments scrubbing the wooden table, bringing the wood to a high polished shine. It looked out of place for the dirt home she resided in, but she cared for it as if it were sitting in the finest of homes.
She stirred his blood. At first, he was sure it was by way of appreciation for saving his life. When he had seen the horrid scar marking her face, the need to heal her soul as she had healed his body consumed him. He saw what abuse and hate could do to a woman, turning vibrant women into recluses right before one’s eyes.
As he stood there staring across the short distance between her home and the river bank, it was none of these things that came to mind. Instead, he couldn’t help thinking how her white button down shirt accented her slight bosom. His mouth watered with the expectant taste of those same breasts submersed between his lips. The brown wool skirt seemed out of place in this heat. The only feature it accented was her tiny waist. His body grew hard with the ache of a man toward a woman. No pity, no sense of obligation, nothing more than desire, raw need, and hunger filled him.
He watched as she sat on the banks washing the bandages. She had been too quiet this morning. “Is everything okay?” he asked, settling down on the boulder a short distance from her.
“It feels like so long ago since I was a part of the wagon train.” Her eyes never left her task, as she spoke.
“Do you wish to go back from where you came?” He held his breath before uttering his final statement. “I can see to it.”
A distant look came over her, her motions stilled as she stared out across the river to the far bank. “There’s nothing to go back to.”
“You have no family?” His heart resumed its beating.
She simply shook her head.
A strange ache came over him. “Come home with me?” Over the course of the last week, he had asked this question of her at least a dozen times a day.
“I’ve told you. I don’t belong with your tribe.”
He came to kneel behind her, his hands pressed into her shoulders, his lips a breath away from her ear. “Do you belong out here, with no one to protect you?” His touch tightened on her shoulders. Her breathing picked up its pace. Her knuckles turned white as she twisted the material between her fingers. Lightfoot smiled. Normally she would have trembled beneath his touch. Not this time. He brushed a kiss along the soft sensitive flesh beneath her ear. Her eyelids fluttered closed. “Come home with me, na-me’oo’o.”
“Na-me’…oo’…o?” The word whispered past her lips dispensing on the summer breeze.
“Agree to come home with me, and I will tell you what it means.”
She rested her head against his good shoulder for a brief moment before shrugging from his touch. “I can’t.” She tossed the last of the rags into the wooden bowl before bounding to her feet and heading back inside.
Lightfoot drew in a heavy sigh as he watched the door close behind her. “One day, you will be my bride.”
Dusty wished she could figure out what Lightfoot was up to. For a week he had asked her to return to his tribe with him. Why? He didn’t owe her anything, and no longer than they had known one another, the thought of it being some undying love for her was out of the question. So what reason could he have for wanting her to go back to his tribe?
She’d heard the horror stories every day for the six months she’d been on the wagon train. How Indians would slaughter the men and take the women and children back to their tribes to be used in any manner they saw fit. This behavior didn’t seem to fit Lightfoot, but then again, she was a lone woman with no obstructions, no men, no children, just one single female.
Not that she would even consider the possibility of returning with him. She no more belonged there than she belonged back home. At least here, wherever here was, was better than what she’d had and more secure than her uncertain future.
Dusty stepped out into the late evening, the heat unbearable, even with the setting sun. She looked at the cooling waters of the river. If only Lightfoot weren’t here. She had no doubt she would have stripped down and soaked for an hour.
He had healed much faster than she’d anticipated. The lesion on his shoulder had not bled for days, nor had his fever returned since she’d stitched the injury. Soon, he would go back to his people and she would resume her life of solitude. Somehow this thought was unsettling.
He stood a few short feet away. No air moved in the stifling heat, as the moments ticked away. His eyes caressed her from head to toe, adding to the uncomfortable feeling. “Do you want me to go?” he asked as if he’d read her thoughts from moments before.
Dusty lowered her head to examine her bare feet, her big toe marking thick dusty lines in the dirt. The temperature felt as if it had rose a hundred degrees. “Wouldn’t it be best if you did?”
She never heard his movement toward her, but the electric feeling of his fingertip beneath her chin sent shockwaves coursing through her veins as he lifted her chin. She drank in those deep onyx eyes staring into hers. Every part of her wanted to scream out; she never wanted him to leave her. Her arms ached to hold him. Surprising and making her nervous all at the same time. After Jonas, she never thought she would crave the touch of another man. Yet, here she stood, wanting Lightfoot as some common whore hanging from a saloon window.
“Would it?” His deep husky voice melted into her soul, calling out to her empty life.
His lips descended to her mouth. They felt like velvet against hers as they barely made contact. He made no move to hold her, his fingertip remaining beneath her now trembling chin.
Her hands reached out, grazing his bare waist. The band of his loincloth was soft against her fingers. He scooped her cheeks up into his palms, locking his eyes with hers, studying her face.
His head tilted to the side. “Do you want me to go?” His breath, warm and sensual, washed over her.
The agony of his lips close yet seemingly far away drove her mad. She stepped closer, embracing him. “You have duties to your tribe.” The excuse sounded weak considering their close proximity and the erotic thoughts coursing through her mind with this half-naked Cheyenne in her arms.
“I do.” He held his lips from hers, delaying the kiss she expectantly awaited.
Coherent thought was fast slipping from her mind. Those firm strong hands holding her face between their grasp. The rapid rise and fall of his chest as he awaited her next uttered word matched her own. She was not sure if the harsh pounding of a heartbeat was his or hers or both.
“Ask me to stay. Even for a time…” His lips brushed hers, sending lightning through her. “If I can’t make you want to come back with me, at least give us this time together.” Her eyes drifted closed. He made her feel like the most treasured woman in the world. His lips descended on hers in a delicate simple kiss. Her lips moved in time with his.
He pulled his mouth from hers, and the loss of intimacy brought a sudden emptiness to her soul. A strange reaction, seeing as she’d never wanted to know this kind of familiarity again with a man. His arms wrapped about her shoulders, completing their embrace. She rested her head against the heated flesh of his good shoulder, relishing in the strange comfort she found in this man’s arms. After a long while, she moved away from his touch. “I would like to bathe before the sun sets.”
A slow easy smile formed on those full lips. The heat rose up her chest swallowing her face. “Bathe, na-me’oo’o.”
Lightfoot watched her disappear back into the dwelling she called home. Her touch still burned into his flesh. He had told himself repeatedly he would not force his touch upon her. Nor would he, ever. What he hadn’t expected was that she would want it. Had she not moved away he would not have trusted himself to keep the kiss uncomplicated, nor stop at an unpretentious kiss. She felt all too right in his arms.
When she returned from gathering her things for her bath, Lightfoot had the fleeting thought to return to the inside. Something in the way she met his eyes then quickly looked away, begged him to remain. Could he be imagining things? Did she truly wish him to stay?
Dusty unbuttoned the waistband of her skirt, letting it slide from her body, pooling in a heap of brown material around her ankles. Turning her back to him, she pulled the pins from her hair, sending it cascading down her back. Since his arrival she had found a way to manage the tangles of her hair, always keeping it tightly bound at the nape of her neck. His breath caught in his chest at the sight of her long, dark, brown locks glistening in the sunset, teasing her waist.
His fingers ached to run through their masses. Feel the softness against his skin. His heart picked up its pace as the white material of her shirt joined the pile of brown wool. Did she realize how lovely she was at this moment? He would guess not if their past was any indication. The impact of her actions struck a deep cord within him. She trusted him.
He stood there between her and the dwelling, watching her display of modesty, yet, boldness, as she slipped out of the last of her garments. She walked slowly toward the river, placing her soap and washing cloth on the large boulder before making her way into the waters. She never turned around, keeping her back toward him. For long moments, he stood there watching. Her body submersed beneath the water; when she resurfaced her hair looked almost black. He could take no more of this torture.
Making his way to the river, he absentmindedly grabbed up the bar of soap in his hand, before submerging himself in the cooling waters. Her back was still to him, but she did not flinch when he rubbed the bar of soap between his palms, stirring up a rich scent of lavender. Nor did she seem frightened when she held out her hand to take the soap from him, before his palms gathered up the lengths of tendrils in between them. The shiny puckered skin of more scars crisscrossed along every inch of her back, a pang of rage consumed him.
He remained silent, smoothing the suds over her scalp and down the lengths of hair. He would prove to her not all men were like the ones she’d known. He reached for the soap, lathering his hands again. His hand lingered over hers before closing his fingers around her hand. Withdrawing, he left the soap in her touch.
Beginning at her shoulders, he slid her hair aside, revealing the telltale scars even more. She shuddered against his stroke, but he continued to wash over each jagged disfigurement, lining a tender finger down each one before moving to the next. He progressed down her arms, reaching around her, rubbing the thick lather over the flat plains of her stomach, stopping only an inch beneath her breasts.
The heat between them intensified as the moments ticked by. With one arm about her waist, he dipped the other beneath the water. Her legs parted for his touch as his soap covered hand slipped between her thighs, touching her intimately. Her body stiffened then relaxed against his chest. His heart sailed as her eyes drifted closed. He permitted himself the pleasure of letting his hands roam to her breasts, cupping them within his palms. They felt heavy even in their slightness. Smooth, almost like leather which had been scrapped and tanned, worked until soft beneath the touch.
“You should rinse your body.” He needed to regain some control over his senses if he was going to continue to take things slow with her.
Dusty didn’t say a word, moving from his touch, she sunk beneath the water, submerging herself. Her dark hair drifted below the surface, brushing against his waist. He didn’t fight the urge to let his fingers drift through the masses, eliminating the foam from its lengths.
When she resurfaced, she turned to him, lathering the soap between her palms as he had. He followed her lead, dipping himself fully beneath the water, soaking his hair. Lifting her arms, trembling hands rubbed over his scalp as her bright green eyes locked with his. He kept his expression soft, trying to hide the excitement coursing through his veins from her gentle, nervous touch.
She inched her way behind him. Faint fingertips swept across his shoulders as she mimicked his, pushing her hair aside. She ran her hands down the length of his back, brushing over the scars of his battles fought. As her fingers lingered over one scar then another, he spoke aloud. “Arrow wound from fighting the Comanche. Gunshot from fighting the Mexicans.”
When her fingers stopped on a scar from his shoulder to his waist, he swallowed deeply. “Knife wound I received as a boy when I tried to save the women of my village from a brutal attack.”
She moved to stand before him, lathering the soap over his torso, hesitating above the water, staring into his eyes and dipping her hands beneath the surface. Her hands trembled as they slid over his hardened cock. As much as he wanted to scoop her up in his arms, throw caution to the wind, and ravish her lovely body, he restrained himself. She needed his patience more than his passion right now. His eyes drifted closed as her fingers moved over him. Her touch was nervous yet gentle, increasing his needs. When she brought her hand back to his chest, it rested over his pounding heart.
“You need to rinse.” Her voice shook. Her eyes diverted to the gentle waves of the water.
Lightfoot put distance between them, slipping beneath the water’s surface. The space gave his body a little relief from what it ached to have with this woman. When he resurfaced, he expected her to be gone. But she stood there, a few short feet away, reaching out to brush the wet locks from his face. The urge to grab her up, crush her body against his chest, seethed through his veins. Instead, he let her come to him, knowing she needed more than his animalistic desires. Come she did, slowly, her eyes locking with his. He kissed her lips, as his hands clutched her waist. The bare flesh beneath his palms enticed him. Her hands no longer shook as they slipped about his waist.
“Please stay with me awhile.” Her breathless request begged when her head came to rest against his chest.
“I know no other place I would rather be.” He groaned against the top of her head, lifting her in his arms carrying her from the water.
“Are you sure you’re strong enough to carry me?” Still her eyes wouldn’t meet his.
He nuzzled into her neck before shoving open the dwelling door with his foot. “You weigh no more than a feather.” He laid her on the bed, staring down at her. She shifted, grabbing for the quilt.
“Please don’t cover yourself. I plan to drink in your beauty this entire night.”
Her motions stilled. The closer he moved to her the more tightly she held her eyes closed. Her body stiffened beneath his touch as his fingertips made their first pass across her breasts and down her stomach. He would show her how real men loved their women, not brooding animals unfit to be called men.
He savored the feel of her calves beneath his palms, leisurely running his hands up her thighs, spreading them apart to give him better access. She reluctantly opened for him, granting the access he sought. He ran his mouth along her inner thigh, tasting the saltiness of her flesh. A tremor shook her body against his. His mouth closed over her heat already soaked with readiness.
His tongue ran along the outer edge of her needs, drawing another tremor from her body. He wrapped her thighs more firmly in his arms, holding her legs apart as he leaned deeper into her essence. Her body tensed then relaxed against his mouth. Soon his actions brought an involuntary gasp of pleasure from somewhere deep in her throat. His hands moved over her stomach, feeling the contraction of her orgasm against his fingers as her body began to convulse with pleasure. He rose above her. Her eyes remained closed, growing tighter with the pressure of his body upon hers.
“Open your eyes. Look at me.” She clamped them tighter against his spoken words. Anger rose in his chest. What had been done to her?
“Open your eyes, know it is me who touches you now,” he pleaded with her, brushing a few tendrils of hair from her cheeks.
A single tear slipped beneath her eyelid. “I can’t.” Her words no more than a hoarse whisper on the darkness surrounding them.
His body screamed out for its release, but he willed himself to move to the bed beside her. “When you’re ready to make love to me, I’m ready for you.”
Dusty's hand flew to her mouth, trying to stifle the cry escaping her throat. She jumped from the bed, running from the dwelling, tears streaming down her face.
“Damn it!” Lightfoot scurried from the bed, after her.
Dusty shuddered with the aftermath of the pleasure Lightfoot had brought out in her. Never in her entire existence had she felt such bliss. Jonas had never thought of her pleasure, only his own when he forced his attentions on her. Yet, here was Lightfoot, a virtual stranger to her, pulling out passions within her she never dreamed possible. She stopped running when she reached her clothing, lifting the chemise with trembling hands. Lightfoot’s presence ceased her actions of feebly trying to replace her garments.
She clutched the muslin material beneath her grasp, drawing it to her chest. “I’m sorry, I should have never…”
He came to her, closing her trembling body in his arms. “You should never do anything which doesn’t feel right to you.”
Still clutching the material between them, she rested her head against his chest. The hot tears burned her cheeks, spilling from her eyes, dampening his chest. “Nothing in my life has ever… felt right,” she confessed, but no amount of will would let her look into his handsome face. Realistically, there could never be anything more than this moment with him, but as much as she wished there could be more, she knew it wasn’t possible. Their worlds were too different.
“I know someone has harmed you. I never wish for you to see me as another who would. This is why I asked you to open your eyes, no other reason.”
Her tears fell harder, and the comfort of this man’s arms surrounded her, holding her tight against him. Could she truly feel reassurance within the arms of a man? He waited until she had cried herself out before he held her from him. There was something in the way those large hands clasped her damp cheeks, lifting her face to his, melting her heart.
“Let’s talk awhile.” His deep baritone voice soothed her raw nerves as he guided her to the place she used for cooking outdoors. He said nothing more until he had a low burning fire going and had sat down across from her, giving her the space she needed.
“I was ten summers when the men from our village left the women, children, and elders alone while they hunted.” His voice sounded distant even with the close range. “Life was good. We were Cheyenne, a peaceful people.” His deep voice soothed her raw nerves. “A group of blue coats came down on our camp. My nahko’e, mother to your kind, hid my brother and me in the forest. We could see what was happening, but she made us swear to remain where we were. I dishonored my mother that day and almost lost my life. I couldn’t sit idle by while these animals tortured my people.”
The urge to touch this strong warrior grew deep, but Dusty remained where she sat, clutching the material of her chemise to her chest.
“Many of our women died that day. They were the lucky ones.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. The look in his eyes as he peered over the fire into hers, told her he believed her.
“My aunts and two of my sisters died. My oldest sister and my mother did not.”
A strange ache filled her, causing her to shift uncomfortably.
“I cannot say I know what you have gone through, but I know what I saw my mother and sister live through. I swore no woman, Indian or white, would know this kind of hatred from my hand.” She moved to his side. It felt strange to have him welcome her to him, opening his arm to enfold her waist.
“Please don’t think you made me feel this way.” Dusty's fingertips rested against his chin. The searching look in his eyes didn’t deter her. “Until I found you out on the range, I never thought I would ever want a man to touch me again. I saw someone who needed help, and nothing else crossed my mind.” The world around her closed in. The nearness of their naked bodies sent a tremor of nervousness and excitement coursing through her. She held his gaze as she slipped onto his lap. His eyes drifted closed. “Open your eyes, my warrior.” She breathed against his lips.
“Are you sure?”
Dusty wrapped her arms about his neck, “I may not be sure about a great many things in this life. But making love to you is not one of them.”
His large staff pulsated beneath her heat. The strange sensation of expectation filled her. When he did enter her, she held his gaze to hers, letting the invasion of his body consume her. Tiny tingles of pleasure slipped past her shocked mind. Every nerve ending hummed with contentment. She clutched her arms about his neck as the tremors of ecstasy inched their way up from the pit of her stomach. His hands gripped her waist, holding her against his staff as her body began to jerk from the pleasure.
When his seed spilled within her, Dusty collapsed against him. “I never knew… I… never knew loving could be-” Her words choked to silence. Strong arms wrapped snuggly about her holding her to him. For the first time in her life she felt safe, cared for.
“Come home with me.” His voice was husky from the passion they had shared.
“I can’t. I don’t belong in your world any more than I belong in my own. Here at least I can live free. Thanks to you.”
Lightfoot’s heart sank. If he had thought before loving her he would be able to walk away, after loving her he knew it would be impossible. He traced the scars on her back, causing her to try to slip from his touch. “You have nothing to feel shame for. What we did-”
Her green eyes flashed to his. “Never believe for one moment I am ashamed of loving you this way.” Her chin dropped a notch as the fire in her eyes drifted to a dull shine. “I’m ashamed of how ugly you must think me to be.” She nudged his hands from her scar lined back, only resuming any comfort when his hands rested once again at her waist.
“Who did this to you?”
Her body tensed against his touch. “First, my father, then Jonas, my husband. I have always been a stubborn woman, even as a child. I never could be good.”
Anger welled up in his chest. He grabbed her cheeks forcing her to look at him. “No woman or child should ever-”
She shook her head, releasing his hold. “Please, all you know of me is what you have seen while you were sick. Truly, there are things about me you don’t understand.”
He leaned into her, breathing his next words into her ear with hard conviction. “I know for certain my mother and sister didn’t deserve the treatment they received at the hands of the men like your father and husband. I suspect the same for you. When a man mars a woman’s body, or even a child’s, it’s not because the woman or child has done anything wrong as to deserve such treatment. It is because the man has no control of his own temper. Did your husband ever love you gently?”
Her tears welled up, turning those green eyes as dark as a rainy forest. He said, “Women should be treasured not misused.”
“No one has ever touched me such as you have.”
“I could give you a better life than the one you’ve had thus far. Please come back to my people.” Dusty rose to her feet, breaking the connection between them. Lightfoot followed her into the dwelling. “Dusty…”
“Why would you want me to come home with you? Because I’m alone out here in the middle of nowhere? Because you feel me another charity case in need to mend my battered soul?”
Rage consumed him along with something deeper than he had ever felt before. He grabbed her arms turning her to face him. “No, because, God help me, you have touched a place long dead within my soul. The moment I opened my eyes to find yours staring down at me-” Her eyes drifted from his. “Look at me, damn it!”
She stiffened against his hands the instant his words became gruff. “Let go of me. Please.”
Lightfoot released her. His heart crushed, unsure if it was his own breaking for wanting her. Or her reluctance to let him close to her, that brought about the heaviness in his chest. “It is far from pity that makes me want you.”
She put distance between them. “Then why? What could possibly make you want me if it has nothing to do with feeling sorry for the white woman who has no idea where in this world she is?”
He clutched the table until his knuckles turned white. “You are in the white man’s Texas.” He lifted his head, watching the confusion lining her face. “I have only loved once before. She was a white woman such as you.” He cleared his throat, before continuing. “I lost her because she never knew I loved her.”
Dusty shook her head. “What are you saying? You love me? You don’t even know me.”
He laughed but the sound was forlorn. “I know you as intimately as I know myself. I hear your heart within my own. Until our worlds collided the day I was wounded each of our souls walked this earth alone.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t want to continue walking this earth without you. Whether it is here or with my people, one thing I know for certain. Without you by my side, I would only be a shell of a man.”
“Men don’t love me,” she stammered.
Those simple two words brought fresh tears to her eyes. “Only because I healed you.”
Lightfoot went to her, scooping her up into his embrace. “Our medicine woman has healed me often enough, and never have I felt this way toward her.”
He brushed his palm against her cheek. “Come home with me. Live in my tepee. Make love to me every night. Know you will always and forever be safe. No one will ever again lay a hand to you in a manner in which you do not choose.”
“Be my wife from this day until eternity.”
Tears pooled in her eyes as she stared up at him, and his heart swelled with love. Her hand quivered as it touched his cheek. Her head nodded. “Yes, I will come home with you.”
His lips crushed hers beneath his own. Elation filled his heart. She was his for now and always. “Na-me’oo’o,” he breathed against her lips.
Dusty pulled her lips from his, looking into his face. “What does na-me’oo’o mean?”
“I’ll tell you when we get home.”
Copyright November 2015 J.J. Devine