Come Home With Me... J.J. Devine
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.