Behind the Ranges, Book II
She wants to be safe, he needs to be free. No place offers both, so where can they go?
eBook ISBN 978-1-60174-010-6
Trade Paperback ISBN
"...a look at the history of the West in a way that will make the reader stop and hope that such things will not happen again. It is hard to look into the dark mirror of history; it is easier to whitewash the bad...makes us remember that we must always be vigilant against prejudice and hatred."~~Sandy Taylor, Librarian
The eddy at the river's edge formed a pool perhaps six feet across. The steep bank behind it suggested that a tree had once grown there, and had toppled into the river during spring floods. Although the small pool was shaded for much of the day, now, in the early afternoon, it received full sun. Flower hung her buckskin dress and leggings on a sagebrush and waded into the water, shivering when she felt its chill. Clenching her teeth, she sat, armpit deep, and waited for the shivering to stop.
The scrap of soap had nearly disappeared when her hair and body were clean to her satisfaction. Carefully she laid it on a rock, then leaned back until only her face and toes were out of the water. Eyes closed, she let the summer sun lull her into almost total relaxation, as she half-floated in perfect comfort.
Perhaps she slept. Perhaps not, but she felt totally at peace.
The voice startled her, harsh and strained. "Consarn it, woman! You like to scairt me to death."
In her hurry, she lost her precarious balance and went under. Spluttering, spitting, she pushed herself upright and glared at William where he stood on the bank. "You surprised me," she said, shaking the water from her short hair. "I did not hear you coming."
"I hollered. When you wasn't at the camp, I hollered to beat the band." He squatted at the water's edge. "When you didn't answer, I reckoned you was hiding, so I got real quiet, wantin' to see what you was hidin' from."
Instantly contrite, she reached a wet hand toward him. "Oh, William, I am sorry. I would have left a note, but--" She hesitated, not wanting to shame him.
"You coulda' scratched it in the dirt. I'd have seen it."
"I can't read good like you do, but I knows...know my letters. Hattie taught me, last fall."
Now she was shamed. "I did not know. You never told me."
His shrug showed her he was hurt but trying to hide it. "It don't matter. I reckon most folks don't 'spect a big Nigra buck to read or write." He picked up a twig and scratched in the sandy riverbank. "I can't write good yet, but I knows my name." Another series of scratches. "And yours."
She leaned forward, but could not see what he had written. "Turn your back," she said, "so I can get out."
His eyes gleamed, but he did as she asked.
Quickly she shook the worst of the water from her body, then used the petticoat to dry herself. In this heat, the linen would not be damp long. Both garments fit almost snugly at the waist, telling her she had gained weight since leaving Grande Ronde. About time, too. I had become little better than a dry stick. Her breasts, which had looked shriveled in early spring, now were full and proud on her chest. Her belly was rounded and firm, rather than a hollow between her hipbones. How I wish I had a mirror. The water in the eddy was constantly in motion, so that her reflection showed nothing but pale eyes in a tanned face, surrounded by a crown of black hair. The tiny buttons closing the bodice resisted her efforts, but at last she had all twelve of them forced into their buttonholes.
Once dressed, she bent to look at what William had scratched in the sand.
Crooked letters, but readable. William King.
And underneath, Flower Jones.
"I did not know your name was King."
He turned, smiled down at her. "It is now. Hattie and me, we had lots of time to talk last fall. She told me I needed two names, now that I'm a free man and a landholder. So since I come out here lookin' for my place to be king, that's what I named myself."
Biting her lip. Flower swallowed past the lump in her throat.
"You smell good." His voice was low and husky. "Good as you look."
When she looked up into his face, she could read desire there, desire as she had seen on many faces. But on his it was sweet and loving. There was no demand. Only patience holding his man's hunger in check.
The surge of answering longing took Flower by surprise. Her heart grew icy at the very thought of a man's body ramming into hers, of his arms holding her helpless, his hungry mouth sucking and biting at her breasts. But she knew, as surely as she knew her own name, that if she did not make love with William--now, today--she might never be able to let any man lay hands on her.
Without touching him, without stepping nearer, she spoke. "It is time." There is no going back now.
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