an excerpt from Private Treaty
One soft newcomer meets one hardened survivor...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North Dakota, 1896

She's never seen anthything like it--friendly sky turned savage in an instant--and she's never met anyone like the man who sweeps her to safety, sheltering her from the storm with his body. From facing down one fierce force to testing the power of another, a man and a woman from different worlds are drawn together in the still of the night by the kind of magnetism that defies all obstacles.

 

From CHAPTER 2

The veranda felt friendlier than the big empty house. A breeze fluttered the leaves on the cottonwood trees, and a bullfrog sang to its mate. The MacAllistairs’ big yellow dog squirmed out from under the steps and came to her, wagging his whole body.

“Hello, dog,” she whispered.

“Hello, Carolina.”

The deep, soft voice physically startled her, but the dog deserted Carolina to welcome the dark figure, exchanging an enthusiastic tail wagging for a pat on the head.

“You said you hoped we could visit again soon. Is this soon enough?” Jacob raised his hand to his mouth, and the ash at the end of his cigarette glowed against his face.

“I didn’t see you in the dark.”

“Did I scare you?”

“No, I . . . I’m a little on edge, I guess. The house is terribly quiet.” She gestured toward the wooden bench behind her. “Will you sit and talk a while?”

Soundlessly, he stepped close to her, ignoring the offer of a seat. He leaned against a pillar and peered at her face through the darkness. “We’ll talk quietly. Culley has already made a few comments.”

“Did you have a disagreement with Mr. Culley since we returned?” Carolina whispered.

“Culley disagreed with my actions. I had no words to waste on him.” He paused. “You’ve been in the kitchen for a long time.”

“Were you watching the house?”

“If Culley had acted on his boast and presented himself at the door, I would have been there, too.”

She raised her brow. “Then the two of you might have caught me bathing, and I would have used the broom on both your heads.” He laughed softly, and she touched his arm. “I don’t want you to have trouble with that man on my account, Jacob. He probably won’t bother me again.”

“Culley is not to be trusted.” Jacob turned from her, drew slowly on his cigarette, and blew the smoke into the night. “I’ve been thinking of you.”

“What have you been thinking?”

“Good thoughts. Thoughts like, pretty sure I did a good thing when I kept that woman from blowing away today.”

She gave a little laugh. “Pretty sure I was worth saving?”

“I’m pretty sure you were.” He took another quick drag and blew the smoke in a series of puffs in the way of a man who was pleased with himself. “You learned something. A lesson learned the hard way becomes a story used to teach others.”

“Ah, the madness had some method behind it.”

“After the madness is over, we make reasons.”

“Well.” She stepped past him to the porch railing. “I was standing in a bad place. From my perspective, it’s good you came along.” She could see the stars crowding the infinite night sky, smell the wet earth, hear nighttime creatures chirping, and she could almost feel the air within her feeding her blood. She was alive, thanks to this man. “You’re not like most of the men I’ve known.”

“No, I’m not. We both know the difference.”

“There are many differences beyond the obvious,” she said.

“But the obvious is what makes the difference. I’ve been thinking you are not like other white women.”

“You agreed not to call me that.”

“So I did.” Jacob shifted against the post. “But that was before I found myself imagining that you were bathing. I imagined the softness of your skin, not the color.”

Her breath seemed to skitter over her ribs as she took it in, slow and deep. “I’m not sure you should imagine either.”

“You asked me not to think of you as a white woman. When Culley talked about coming up to the house, I tried reminding myself that you are as white as he is.” He shook his head. “It didn’t matter.”

“Because I have little in common with Mr. Culley. He has no interest in what I think, and I’ll never ask his opinion. But you’re different. I’m different.” She took a breath and lowered her voice. “Differences can make our friendship more interesting.”

“Maybe.” He leaned away from the post. “MacAllistair is a fair man, and he’s white. I’ve learned from white teachers, and I’ve had my arm fixed by a healer who didn’t wish me dead. He was white. But your nation is like the storm that came crashing over us today. Where you came from, Carolina, what happened to the people who lived there first? Where have they gone? I’ve been there, and my schoolmates were the only ones there who looked like me. Red Indians, they called us. You see this?” He tucked his cigarette between his lips and sucked fiercely, brightening the ember. “That’s red.” Smoke drifted from his lips as he spoke. “When the white men were defeated in your War Between the States, they were allowed to return to the land they knew as home. They were permitted to keep their arms, their horses, their way of life. What happened to ours?”

“I don’t know. I should have some idea, but I don’t. I’m sorry.”

“Who does?”

“The army, I guess. The government.”

“It’s hard to understand.” He puffed on his cigarette. “I have met a woman who proposes an interesting friendship with me, who comes from the side of the country where big things are decided, comes from the people who make the decisions, and she knows of their madness toward me, but she can’t make up reasons for it.”

“I know some reasons—not necessarily good ones—and I think you do, too. But our friendship has nothing to do with that, does it?” She stepped closer. “Our friendship has to do with a man who saved my life today, a man who was kind to me. We ate together, and we talked about many things. There was no need for pretense between us.”

He looked back at her. “When I stop thinking of you as a white woman, I think of you as woman. And I am a man.”

“I know that,” she said softly.

“A Lakota man.”

“Yes.”

“I do not seek friendship with women.”

“Why not?”

“It isn’t my custom. Our custom. When he’s ready, a man seeks . . .” He glanced away, into the night. “How does the thought of your womanliness instead of your whiteness in my head sit with you, Carolina?”

“I’ve been thinking of you, too,” she confessed.

“While you bathed?”

He wasn’t looking at her, but she nodded once anyway. “And while I dressed. And while I peeled potatoes.”

Jacob chuckled, drew on his cigarette, and then crushed it under his foot as he blew the smoke from his mouth. He turned to her, gave her a moment’s pause—a chance—but she would not back away.

“You smell like flowers.” He brushed her hair back from her temple with the light touch of his thumb. “It’s cool and soft, this hair of yours.” He combed through it with his fingers, lifted it and let it fall, watching as though he were playing in water. “Different from mine.”

“How so?”

“It’s part of you. All evening I have wanted to touch it.” He steadied the back of her head in his palm and lowered his mouth to hers.

His lips teased the corner of her mouth, and hers quivered. They were dry, which couldn’t be a good thing. She was unsure of herself, her appeal, her next move, but improbably sure of him. His breath was warm against her cheek, his hands comforting, his body steady. He plied her patiently with slow, moist kisses, gently urging her response.She felt some small thing come to life deep in her stomach. It quivered like a hatchling, fluffing itself. Her hands, usually the coldest part of her body, were suddenly sweaty. Worse, she didn’t know where to put them. She lifted them and found Jacob’s slim waist. His shirt felt cool.

Jacob raised his head and whispered, “I have come to enjoy this custom.” He touched his lips to hers again. “This kissing.”

“As you can probably tell,” she whispered breathlessly, “I have little experience with it.”

“Little?” Jacob leaned back, and Carolina opened her eyes. She hadn’t realized they were closed. He moved both hands to her shoulders, caressing her as though soothing a nervous filly. “Or none?”

“None.” The answer was little more than mouthed.

“Good.” He smiled and drew her to him slowly, watching her as he enfolded her in his arms. “If I’m different, it won’t matter.”

She put her arms around him and spread her fingers over his back. His lips parted and covered hers. Her response was tentative at first, but his tongue was gently persuasive, turning her kiss from shy to sure. She moved her lips against his, touched her tongue to his, breathed air warmed by his body, charged by his blood. She groaned when he broke their kiss.

“Now you have a little experience,” he whispered.

“Not enough.”His kiss came on harder this time. He pressed her so close to his body that she could feel his heartbeat. Or maybe it was hers. Or both, two together, each challenging the other. The hot moisture of his mouth mingled with hers. She tingled wherever he touched her, and the tingling spread through her like a bright shower of sparks. She clung to the back of his shirt, lifted herself to him on tiptoe.

Again, he swept her away. 

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