Seneca warrior White Thunder discovers a near-drowned beautiful white woman by The-Lake-That-Turns-to-Rapids. In the safety of a nearby cave, he revives her and cares for her, but she has no memory of past events—nor even her own name. Gradually, Sarah’s memory returns, and she knows that another young woman, Marisa, whom she once traveled with, is in grave danger. Only Sarah holds the key to saving them from an evil man who holds the power of life and death over both women. Honor-bound by his oath to his wife, Wild Mint, who was murdered fifteen years earlier, White Thunder is torn. How can he help Sarah when he must finish his sworn mission to find Wild Mint’s killer? With the French and Indian War raging around them, White Thunder and Sarah fall in love against all odds—but will they survive to share the life they’ve hoped for together?
It was only a few days later when, with the aid of the cane White Thunder had fashioned for her, she struggled onto her feet and slowly, with one foot placed carefully after another, began to walk. Soon, within a matter of days, she was walking without aid. And though her muscles still spasmed with pain now and again, neither she nor White Thunder had dared to repeat the deep massage.
It was liberating to be able to amble about again, and she realized a limited truth. Lack of movement created, to a greater or lesser degree, a sort of enslavement. Certainly it made one dependent on the goodwill of another.
Within days, she could leave the cave on her own, and although at first she was reluctant to venture too far, eventually she conquered her fear and strolled out farther and farther into the woods. As she became stronger, she realized that for all practical purposes she would be able to leave this place soon. Not yet, because her legs wouldn’t always obey her every command. But soon.
Where would she go? What would she do? The worry hung over her like a dark cloud, since, to date, her past life remained a mystery to her.
It happened late one afternoon, suddenly and without warning. One moment she had been safe and warm in the cave, the next she had ventured out of it to come face-to-face with a bear—a big, fully grown black bear.
The bear growled, stood onto its hind legs and pawed at the air. She was dwarfed by it. It howled, the sound terrorizing. Adrenaline and fear washed through her.
She remained frozen to the spot. Though the bear made no forward movement, it was close enough that the air around her became scented with the animal.
Without warning something changed, and the bear came down on all fours and started toward her.
Stunned at the noise, the bear stopped, and looking right and left, it pawed at the ground. Bringing its attention back to her, the bear slowly, carefully, closed the distance between them.
“Put your arms up over your head and growl!” It was White Thunder. “Do it. Now!”
She did as White Thunder ordered. Raising her hands over her head, she opened her mouth and snarled at the bear.
As before, the bear stopped, sniffed at the air and gave her a cautious look, but plodded forward.
“Keep growling. Louder! Make your voice more savage,” ordered White Thunder, who was crouched atop high ground next to the cave. “He’s tired and looking for a place to sleep. He may decide you’re too much for him. Keep growling.”
Adrenaline pumped through her as, following White Thunder’s orders, she mustered up her loudest voice, as well as what she hoped was her most ferocious-looking face.
Again the bear hesitated, but hearing White Thunder, the bear finally took notice of him. Sensing he was the greater danger of the two, it came up onto his hind legs and growled at White Thunder, as though warning him away from his find.
When White Thunder did nothing but stare back and snarl at it, the bear came down to all fours, and ignoring White Thunder for the moment, turned back to continue its path toward her, as though it had decided she was the least likely to give him problems.
Step by step, the bear progressed dangerously close. All at once it rose to its hind legs and roared at her, this time extending its sharp paws outward. Only one thought surfaced: She was dead. She was dinner. Never had the desire to own and have a gun in her hand been more prevalent than it was at this moment.
Then it happened so quickly, she could hardly credit it. White Thunder shot straight in front of her, placing himself directly between her and the bear. The noise was deafening, for White Thunder was roaring and kicking up as much commotion as the bear.
It was either the most courageous act or the most reckless, for what White Thunder did next startled her. He bent forward, sticking his face into the bear’s, which was only a few feet away, and he snarled and snapped as though he were the more dangerous creature of the two.
The animal yowled right back at White Thunder, and so shrill was it, she thought her eardrums might never mend. Then it changed, and White Thunder was yelling directions at her. “Make noise!”
Without delay, she screamed and clapped her hands.
“Now we back up,” he shouted at her, “so as to tell him we give him the cave. We are no threat. Slowly, we back up, all the while we make as much noise as possible.”
Although White Thunder was holding his gun pointed directly at the bear, she knew it wouldn’t be protection enough against a head-on attack. After all, the musket had only one shot, the next attempt requiring priming and reloading.
He took a step back. She followed suit.
The bear came down onto all fours. It roared so vehemently, she wanted to run for cover. But it was impossible.
“If he starts toward us,” yelled White Thunder, “and paws at me, you are to turn and run—do you understand? Run downhill. A bear cannot easily follow if you go downhill. You are to run as fast as you can and don’t look back.”
“I won’t leave you!”
“You have no choice. I give you no choice. If I say run, you are to run. If I am to fight him, I cannot worry about you.”
Another step back followed these instructions, another and another.
Abruptly, the bear chose to take a leap toward them.
She turned to do exactly as told, but her legs refused to move. What was she to do? Even taking painfully slow steps was impossible. It was as if she were inadvertently crippled.
That was when she spotted it. Fire! Weren’t all animals afraid of fire?
The bear was already attacking White Thunder. She could hear their struggle, though because of the fear gripping her, she didn’t dare look back. But her legs responded at once, and rushing back into the cave, she picked up several of the sticks that were burning red-hot at their tips.
Without thinking of what she was about to do, she rushed out of the cave. Later in life, she would wonder where her courage and strength had come from. Until this moment, she’d never been aware of being particularly brave. She could only thank the good Lord that when valor was necessary, it was lying dormant within her.
White Thunder was on the ground, the bear over him. She rushed at the bear with the fire.
“Shoo! Get out of here!” Her voice was piercing and loud. She waved the weapon at the bear and tried to get close enough to light its fur on fire.
Her attempts did almost nothing to the beast. Its fur was too matted. Startled, the bear jumped back, allowing White Thunder a moment to bring up his musket and take careful aim.
White Thunder shot off a ball aimed straight into the eyeball of the bear.
Still animated, the bear struggled forward. Had the shot served no purpose? White Thunder was reloading as fast as was humanly possible, and as she watched him struggle against time to prime and reload his weapon. She wondered, was this it? Was life suddenly over? This easily?
Memories instantaneously rushed through her mind. They came with no fanfare, no bells. Rather, they swamped her. Moments from her past flickered before her so quickly, she could barely take hold of them.
So overwhelming was it, she rocked back on her feet.
Meanwhile, the battle with the bear was coming to a close. The animal took one final step forward and fell over, dead.
She watched in horror, almost afraid to turn away from it, fearful it might only be catching its breath. Even as she looked at it, she wondered, what damage had it done to White Thunder?
No sooner had the thought formed within her mind than she was struck with another truth. She cared for White Thunder. Sexual tension aside, she honestly cared for this man.
She was breathing hard and fast, and she could hear White Thunder behind her, doing the same. At least he was still alive.
Though out of breath, he called out to her. “I told you to leave!”
“I could not do it, sir,” she cried. “You forget that my legs do not always obey me.”
At last she turned toward him. He was on the ground, his shirt torn with claw marks. There were several gashes on his chest and arms where the bear’s claws had found their mark. As she caught her breath, she could only thank the Lord in Heaven that because of the cool weather, White Thunder had worn a shirt this day. But his clothing was blood-soaked and was becoming more so by the minute.
“Look at what he’s done to you,” she said as she took several steps toward White Thunder, and came down on the ground beside him.
“They are scratches.” White Thunder did the unthinkable. He opened his arms to her, and she went into them willingly, both of them uncaring that he was bleeding all over her.
“You saved my life,” she whispered.
“As you did mine.”
“You came to my defense. You jumped in front of me and confronted the beast head-on.”
“Of course I did. Did you expect me to leave you to fight a bear on your own?”
“I didn’t expect anything, sir. I…I thank you.” Then a little shyly, she added, “I think also that my mistress will thank you as soon as I manage to find her again.”
He pushed her back from him and stared at her.
Tears were streaming down Sarah’s cheeks. “It’s true. I have remembered my past life and who I am. It happened suddenly. I remembered everything.”
“This is good.” He was smiling.
“Yes, it is very good. I will tell you more about it later. But come, you are hurt, and first I must do something about that.”
“I think I will need little attention. They are only scrapes,” he reiterated.
Sarah drew back to look at him. “I will be the judge of that. Come.”
Placing her arms about him, she helped him to his feet, taking a great deal of his weight upon her. Together they limped into the cave.
Using a piece of torn-off petticoat that had been soaked in water, Sarah washed the blood from White Thunder’s arms and chest wounds. There was something very intimate about sitting with White Thunder as he reclined on his bedding. She tried to ignore the feeling, realizing it was not an easy feat to accomplish.
“Why did the bear not back down?” she asked him. “Did he not understand that we were retreating?”
“He was threatened by me, and a bear’s temper is bad even in the best of circumstances. He must have been hungry too, for he dared much to come after you. So although we were retreating, he could not pass up the opportunity to place his brand upon me and at the same time have a tasty dinner.”
“Place his brand on you?” She looked up at him in open astonishment. “He was trying to kill you.”
“And he might have done so had you not rushed in upon him and startled him into backing away.”
“He did not back away, sir.”
“No, but he was frightened enough to pause, giving me time to aim a shot.”
“Yes.” Sarah resumed her work over him. “Thank Heaven you are a good shot.”
“Do not thank Heaven. Thank my uncles and my father, who taught me to shoot.”
“Aye, I shall do so. I will send them my praises, and the Lord in Heaven too, thank you very much.”
He grinned at her, then winced as she dabbed at a deeper cut on his arm.
She frowned. “You will need stitches there, sir, at least on this one cut that is deeper than the rest.”
He gazed down at the open wound on his arm. “Do you know how to do it?”
She shrugged. “I saw a doctor do it once. I think I might be able to sew it together, if I can find the right material to use as thread.”
“Sinew from the deer can be used once my wound is cleaned, and a piece of bone might be made into a point so as to poke holes in the skin to pull the thread through. Did you spit on it?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Did you spit on the wounds?”
“Of course not, I know better than to—”
Bending over double, he spit onto the wounds himself, leaving Sarah to watch, gaping. She said, “There are germs in your mouth, sir.”
He grinned at her. “Nyoh, and there are other good things there too.”
Sarah shook her head but held her tongue…