Today's Reading

A noise warned him of Cheyenne's presence. He didn't acknowledge her.

"Did Tarak suffer?" she asked softly.

"Went in his sleep." Sam stared into the horizon and softened his tone. "I woke one morning to find him dead."

"That's good. He suffered enough while he lived."

Shadow sauntered over and nudged Sam's hand. "I was half-asleep last night. Who was he again to you?"

"A very dear friend. Tarak taught me to ride and rope. He gave me the knife you took—stole—last night." She gave him a look of reproach. If she thought to shame him, she was barking up the wrong tree.

Damn, he didn't like all this talking before breakfast. Or during. Or after. He drained his cup, set it down, and walked off.

"Hey, where are you going?"

"Gotta feed the horses."

"I can help."

"No, thank you. I need the quiet."

She stood and placed her hands on her hips. "Are you saying I talk too much?"

When she started to follow, he turned, pointing. "Stay."

"Hey, you never told me your name!"

Sam kept walking, praying she'd gotten the message.


THREE

It was hard to stay furious at her host, even though she did her best. After a breakfast of roasted rabbit that the stubborn man killed, Cheyenne finally found herself at Tarak's grave.

She took an oilskin from her saddlebag and spread it on the wet ground and knelt on it, drawing her duster closer to block out the chilly wind. A lump filled her throat at the sight of the mound of dirt. Tears welled up at the cherished memories crowding her mind. Separated from his people, Tarak was the grandson of a respected chief and one of the best bladesmiths she'd ever seen.

Thank goodness the grouchy man who'd brought her had left. She didn't want him seeing her tears. This alone time with her dearest friend was special.

Cheyenne brushed dirt and mud from the stone marker the bear-looking man had set. Tarak's chiseled name and dates revealed obvious caring, so she had to believe Tarak had possibly been a friend to him as well.

"I stayed away too long, my friend. Should've come home sooner." She ought to have done so many things. Taking him back to his tribe ranked at the top of that list. But he'd always seemed so frail, and maybe he couldn't have made the journey.

What was that Apache prayer he'd taught her?

Oh yes. Looking behind I am filled with gratitude. Looking forward I am filled with vision. Looking upwards I am filled with strength. Looking within I discover peace.

"Peace be with you, Tarak."

The dog wandered up and lay down beside her. The uncouth hairy man had called the female dog Shadow, and it fit. Cheyenne ran her hands across the lovely silver-and-gray fur. "You're a pretty girl. I don't know how you put up with your master, though."

Shadow yawned and released a half moan-half word.

"My sentiments exactly." She glanced at Tarak's peaceful resting spot under the only real tree that must grow away from the winding Canadian River that ran south of here. The owner of the property now had her a little baffled. He pretended to share no sentiment for anyone, but he'd cared deeply for the old Apache. Actions didn't lie.

And despite her brazen assault in the middle of the night, he'd also cared for her comfort. Else, why give her a blanket and tuck it around her to shield against the cold? Also, why had he left the rope so slack around her hands and feet? Had she not been so cold and tired, she could've easily gotten loose.

Memories of last night swirled. The dim light of the fire had revealed confusion, then fury in his dark eyes. He'd examined her with such a sharp, calculating gaze, both then and this morning, that had warned her not to test him further. Turn the other cheek? Not a chance. Something said he would give back in equal measure whatever he got.

Another memory swept that one away. This one of his large body and muscular arms. He'd lifted her as if she'd been a child and had been on top her before she could blink.

His deep, husky voice she'd remember to her dying day. And how it vibrated against her skin. That hadn't belonged on a bear of a man, a recluse. It was more suited to nobility.


This excerpt ends on page 13 of the paperback edition.

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