Excerpt from Starlight

     Cade rolled backward, catching Sam's arms as she came at him. He squeezed hard, making her drop the knife and at the same time lifting his knee to her stomach to easily throw her up and over him. She landed with a grunt of pain and outraged fury. He was amazed when she did not hesitate to bounce up and come at him again. Was she crazy? As far as she knew, he was an authentic warring Indian, vicious and brutal. And no matter how angry and desperate she might be, she was no match for his strength.
     With hot tears of rage blinding her, Sam cried, "You'll have to kill me, you spawn of the devil."
     He wrestled her back to her bed, laid her face down, then pressed firmly to indicate she was to stay there. When she continued to struggle, he put his foot on her back to hold her still.
     "Damn you, damn you, damn you," she muttered between clenched teeth, banging her chin up and down and beating the ground with her fists. "Damn you straight to hell, you son of a whore."
     Cade's lips quirked slightly. How he would love to be a fly on the wall when the newlyweds had their first fight. Jarman Ballard would probably drop dead of a heart attack when he heard how his supposedly genteel, well-bred bride could unleash profanity that could make some men blush.
     He found another rope and trussed her again, this time making sure she could not wander about. He had to get some sleep but knew if she weren't properly tethered, she'd come after him again.
     She spat another oath, and he clamped his hand over her lips and motioned he would gag her if she didn't shut up. She understood and fell silent, not wanting the rag stuffed in her mouth again. He sat and watched her for a while, thought about offering her something to eat but knew she was too mad to care about food. Eventually, when she came to realize that no one was going to harm her, maybe she would calm down. If not, he knew the next weeks were going to be miserable.
     Finally he slept, but Sam was awake much longer, emotions torn between fear and anger.
* * *
     The next morning she awoke with a start, and the nightmare came flooding back as she saw the Indian. He was sitting with his back against the wall, his hands folded casually on his knees, which were drawn up to his chest. Was he smiling? She could not be sure, for it was difficult to tell because of the way his face was painted. But she did notice something odd—his eyes were blue.
     Sam didn't know much about Indians, actually knew nothing except what she'd heard, and most of that had been on the train, but somehow she knew they didn't normally have blue eyes. She'd noticed the others had dark eyes, almost black.
     And there was more to bewilder, such as the way he didn't really appear to be hostile. This morning she could see, feel, a warmth in his piercing gaze.
     She also noticed something else, something she'd not seen in the dim light last night. There was a scar on his chest, perhaps six inches long. No doubt he had been seriously wounded in the past.
     "I wish you spoke English," she said dolefully. "Maybe I could talk you into letting me go."
     His expression did not change.
     "The entire army will be out looking for you, because my fiancé is a commander there. By now he knows what you've done, and they have hundreds of soldiers out searching for me."
     He did not even crook a brow, which told her he wasn't trying to understand. She might as well be talking to someone unable to hear. But even the deaf tried to read lips; this brute just kept on staring, which was maddening. She decided to try again. After all, what did she have to lose? He might know a word or two.
     "Let me go, and we'll forget it ever happened. I'll persuade the soldiers not to go after you."
     Cade was fascinated. Not only did he find her lovely, despite being potentially dangerous if he dared turn his back, but he also admired her spirit. Most women would never have fought as she did, much less sit before their enemy and try to reason despite a language barrier.
     He looked at her mesmerizing eyes and realized she strangely reminded him of a bobcat with which he'd once come face to face. It was during the war, while on a raid into Alabama. He had made his bed away from everyone else in his regiment that night, wanting to be alone. The moon was full, the night bathed in an eerie, silver glow. He was just about to fall asleep when the cat had suddenly dropped from the tree above to land only inches from his face.
     At first Cade had been too stunned to move; then, as shock subsided, he'd realized it would probably be a fatal mistake to go for his gun. The creature was close enough to leap right for his throat and would no doubt do so if threatened. So he had lain there, fascinated, looking at the cat and realizing that as the beast's emotions seemed to change, so did the sheen and color of its eyes.
     At first the animal had been angry to encounter a human, an intruder in its world. Its lips curled back in a snarl, fangs gleaming ominously, and its eyes had seemed to glow with dark red embers. Then, evidently deciding there was no danger, a golden hue appeared, wary but not so menacing. The bobcat took a few steps in retreat, then hesitated as their gazes continued locked for long, tense moments. Gold. Green. A wary flash of red, an eventual blending to hazel.
     Cade had watched each transition of feeling, and now he found himself intrigued once again with the mirror of intense emotion—only this time he had an idea there would be no peaceful retreat.
     "Why are you staring at me like that?" Sam asked, suddenly annoyed. "And why can't you untie me? If you keep me trussed like this, I'll be so stiff I can't move. And the ropes hurt, too. They're too tight, see?" She held up her hands.
     Cade knew she was lying, because he had made sure the ropes did not cut into her flesh. Still, he knew he had to free her long enough to allow her to tend to her personal needs.
     He got up and untied the end of the rope from where he'd looped it about protruding roots, then led her through the tangled passageway and into the morning sunshine. After unbinding her, he pointed to a clump of bushes about twenty feet away, then to the narrow branch before them that fingered off from the main channel of the river.
     Sam took a hesitant step, afraid he would follow. Realizing he was apparently headed for his own privacy in the opposite direction, she quickly appraised the situation, heart pounding, and realized there might be a chance to escape. She rushed into the shrubs, relieved herself, then kept on going.
     There was a spot just up ahead, narrow enough that she could wade across. Then she would be at the river and could hide among the brush until a boat passed. The current was strong, but she was sure she could stay afloat long enough to be spotted. It was risky, but she had to try.
     Cade had anticipated what she planned and had circled about. As she came out of the bushes, he was standing to block her path, arms folded across his chest, legs apart.
     "Oh, damn you!" she exploded at the sight, and without pause turned sharply and plunged right into the water.
     Cade was right behind her, lunging to catch her as she threw herself out into the stream and began to swim. They both went down, but Sam did not stop struggling. The water was not deep there, and they rolled and scraped against the rocks on the bottom. Surfacing, she gasped for air, at the same time kicking out at him, her foot slamming into his stomach to stun him momentarily. Again she started swimming, but he caught her, and she continued to thrash wildly as he managed to stand and hoist her up over his shoulder as he'd done the night before.
     Hearing laughter, she lifted her head to see two Indians, a man and a woman, standing on the bank. But it was only the man who was amused, because the woman, who appeared to be near her age, was not smiling. Her expression was grim and severe as she watched them approaching.
     "You were the one who said there would be no problems." Bold Eagle spoke in his own language. "And what do I find? You fighting with her in the middle of the stream. Dog Eyes told me she was a she-wolf to be reckoned with, but I never thought the great warrior Wild Spirit would find himself doing battle with a mere woman."
     Unsmiling, Cade walked on by to take her inside the cave and drop her unceremoniously onto the buffalo skin. With a flashing glare of warning to let her know she'd better stay right where she was, he left her.
     Sam was too worried over the sudden change of events to rail after him. What did the arrival of the others mean? Dear Lord, when was she going to find out what they planned to do with her? The anger was worsened by not being able to communicate with them.
     Then she thought of her purse. Obviously robbery was not among their motives, or they would have already taken it from her. Still, she grabbed it and hid it in a crevice in the dirt wall.
     Back outside, Cade greeted Bold Eagle in exasperation. "I'm glad you're here. Maybe Sun Bird can make her see she's not going to be harmed."
     He nodded to the girl and was not surprised to see that she was defiant as well as reluctant to bring any kind of comfort to this white woman, who was pledged to marry the man who had denied justice for those responsible for raping Little Fawn. It had been Sun Bird's brother who was married to Little Fawn, and well she knew how he had anguished over the tragedy.
     Bold Eagle was also aware of Sun Bird's resentment, but he assured Wild Spirit, "She has agreed to do what she can."
     "Anything to make the white demon suffer," Sun Bird said with vehemence.
     Cade saw that she was carrying a bundle of clothes. He had ordered the Indians just to grab Celeste de Manca and get off the train. There was no time to get her luggage. He doubted she would like buckskin but had no choice unless she could stand wearing what she had on, without change, in the coming weeks, which he doubted. Despite her ability to hurl oaths and obscenities like a guttersnipe, it was obvious she took pride in her appearance. "Just let her know she's not going to be harmed, Sun Bird. That's very important."
     Sun Bird picked her way through the maze of roots. Reaching the hollowed-out cave, she saw that the girl appeared more angry than anything else. She dropped the clothes at her feet and stood back.
     "What's this?" Sam unrolled the bundle. There was a dress, which appeared to be made of some kind of animal skin. Nonetheless, it was soft and looked as though it would be comfortable. There were beads sewn across the bodice, and the artistry of the handwork was exquisite. And there were shoes, also decorated prettily with beads and fringe.
     Sam raised questioning eyes. "You want me to put these on?" Then, assuming the girl was equally as uncommunicative as the others, she said defiantly, "Well, I won't. I've no intention of looking like you people." She tossed everything aside and lay back, folding her arms behind her head. She was starting to feel a bit more confident since the big Indian hadn't punished her for trying to escape, so she wasn't worried about this puny female harming her. No doubt she carried a knife, but Sam would give her a good fight if she attacked and watched her out of the corner of her eye for any sign of threat.
     "You can glare at me all you want to, I'm not scared of you. Now why don't you get out of here and leave me alone? The soldiers are going to come soon, and then you'll all be sorry you ever did such a stupid thing."
     Sun Bird stooped to pick up the clothes, then threw them in Sam's face.
     Sam bolted upright. "I told you, dammit, I'm not wearing your clothes. I'd rather wear what I've got on, even if it is dirty. Now get out of here."
     "Perhaps you like dirty clothes to go with your dirty mouth."
     Sam gasped. "You speak English."
     "I went to a settlement school, not that it is any of your concern. Where did you go to school to learn such ugly words?"
     Despite her situation, Sam could not help feeling embarrassed. Normally she did not curse, and the times she had were during her street days, when it was sometimes necessary to show that she had no fear and could match anything others threw at her. She lifted her chin imperiously, not about to be chastised or intimidated by the current enemy. "I demand to know why I was abducted and why I am being held prisoner."
     Sun Bird matched her arrogance and declared frostily, "It is not for you to know. But you need not be afraid. No harm will come to you if you do not make trouble. Now I have brought this for you to wear. It is clean. But if you want to wear that dirty rag"—she paused to grimace in distaste—"then so be it."
     Sam looked down at her dress. Twice she had been in the river, and now it was muddy, filthy. One sleeve was nearly ripped off after the scraping on the bottom of the stream, and the skirt was torn in several places. She had to look a sight but wondered dismally what difference it made. Still, pride dictated cleanliness. "All right. I'll put it on. But why can't you at least tell me the reason I am here?"
     Sun Bird merely stared at her.
     "Well, what about last night?" Sam said, exasperated. "You tell me not to be scared, but one of your friends was about to scalp me."
     "He was only after a piece of your hair. But do not worry. The one who guards you now will not touch you. He finds you are disgusting." Sun Bird had been in love with Wild Spirit for as long as she could remember and knew him to have great resolve. He had said the white woman would not be touched, and she knew he would keep his word.
     "That one?" Sam yelped to think of the blue-eyed Indian. Dear Lord, he was the last person she wanted around her, especially when he seemed to be able to read her mind and anticipated her every move. "I don't want to be near him. Send someone else."
     Sun Bird sneered. "You have no say. Just do as you're told, and when the time is right, you will go free. On this, you have my word."
     Now Sam was truly baffled. "Do as I'm told? You are the first person who has spoken to me in a language I understand, so how am I to know what's expected of me when everyone else speaks in gibberish?"
     "It does not matter, because I will be coming every day to talk with you and find out if there is anything you need. I will go now and bring you food while you change."
     Food. Sam's stomach growled. "I haven't eaten since yesterday."
     "You were not offered anything last night?" Sun Bird saw the food bag and looked inside. The pemmican and buffalo meat Wild Spirit had taken from camp was still there. "Why did you not eat this?" She took it out.
     Sam's nose wrinkled at the sight of the brown, stringy things the girl pulled out of the bag. The gooey seed concoction balled in her hand was even less appetizing.
     Sun Bird threw the sack at her feet. "You will eat if you get hungry enough. And you will not be catered to. Understand..." she took a step forward to point a finger in warning. "I do not like your people. I do not like you. And you would be wise to give me no trouble as you have given Wild Spirit. He is reluctant to thrash a woman. I have no such hesitation." Head high, Sun Bird walked out.
     Sam made a face at her back. True, she had lived a life of gentility and luxury the past few years and no longer considered herself a street scrapper. And she had come to enjoy the good life and behaving, and being treated, like a lady. But if that girl tried anything, Sam vowed she would quickly discover she had a fight on her hands.
     And so would Wild Spirit, as she had learned he was called. But at least she felt a bit better after hearing the promise of no mistreatment and eventual freedom. All she had to worry about was whether or not the girl kept her word and whether Wild Spirit went along with it.
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