The Last Warrior
Their sweet harmony could tame the wrath of a god… or separate them forever.
THE LOST CLAN, BOOK 4
Black Lion was sent into the real world to break the curse that dooms his clan to a half life in the mists. Yet no matter how many times he has shown an enemy mercy, the Thunderer’s spell remains intact.
In his beseeching prayers, he hears a song that leads him to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show on its travels to London. There he encounters the daughter of two opera singers—the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. A woman already engaged to another man.
Months later, Suzette Joselyn travels to America, a woman changed. Friendless, abandoned by her former fiancé—and pregnant—she finds it impossible to refuse the gentle Lakota Sioux’s proposal to save her child from being born a bastard. Even if it means flashing a pistol to force a reluctant parson to marry them.
Yet her brave new husband is consumed with a mission that may force him to choose between his people and the woman he loves. For the Thunderer is waiting, watching for the perfect time to work his evil deed.
Warning: Sensual scenes that may make you want to make a little sweet music with the one you love. Happily ever after could ensue. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Black Lion awoke with a start. Had he overslept?
It appeared he had; the signs were not good. Sunlight poured in overhead from the ear- flaps of the canvas tepee, and glancing up through the lodge poles, Black Lion caught sight of the sun, which was already positioned mid-sky.
What had caused him to oversleep? And this on a day when he had been cautioned to arrive for the performance in a timely manner. Needing to pull on his jeans over his naked body, he had no more than stepped foot into them when he remembered he was supposed to be attired in traditional dress.
“Damn.” He uttered the white man’s word.
Tossing his jeans to the side, Black Lion grabbed hold of a breechcloth lying on the floor, stretching the softened leather through his legs and tying the long string securely around his waist. Sliding his feet lightly into his moccasins, he decided he wouldn’t bother with leggings today—the kind of riding he was doing was traditionally done naked anyway.
The Long-haired Show Man—Buffalo Bill—might have things to say to him later, but
Black Lion couldn’t consider that now.
He grabbed his quiver full of arrows—mere sticks with rubber tips, since they were now minus the traditional bone arrowhead—and his bow. Then he heard feminine laughter outside the tepee.
Black Lion shook his head as though the simple action might serve to enlighten him. What was wrong with these European women that they followed him? Why did they wait for him? Touch him? Ask for his autograph?
Sighing, he realized he was doomed. Not only would he be unable to hurry to the arena as was needed, he was going to have to humor these females. That or face a dressing-down if one of them complained.
And this would never do, not when he acted in his friend’s stead.
Accepting his fate, Black Lion seized hold of his headdress, as well as his shield, and stepped out of the lodge. Frowning, he inhaled the moisture-laden air as he quickly counted the number of women in his audience. At least there were only fifteen this time. Last night there had been more than fifty.
Giggles sounded around him. “May I have your autograph?” asked one of them.
He smiled at the girl. “For twenty-five bucks.” He uttered the words good-humoredly, however, for he accepted the young lady’s pen and paper without further argument.
“My parents have given me permission to ask you if you would like to join us for dinner this evening,” said another one of the women as Black Lion attempted to scribble out his name—although it wasn’t his name, it was his friend Two Bears’s name.
Black Lion nodded at the golden-haired, pretty and immaculately dressed girl. In truth, if duty were not so heavy on his shoulders, he would have liked nothing better than to spend more time in this young lady’s presence. But he could not. Not only was he a man haunted by a responsibility to his people, he was also here representing his friend Two Bears, who was married.
“Stop it, Sadie, I wanted to ask him.” The owner of that voice pushed in toward him. “Maybe you could come to see me tomorrow?”
He breathed out another deep lament. Here before him was yet another beauty. Black Lion jerked his chin to the left—a Lakota gentleman’s gesture—and grinned first at one of them, then at the other woman. “I would like nothing better than to get to know you all,” he admitted. “Alas, I cannot.”
“Why can you not?” came several voices all at once.
“Because I have work to do and because—”
“I…be jealous.” The voice was low, feminine and came from behind him.
Looking around, Black Lion recognized the wife of Running Fox, a fellow Hunkpapa tribal member. He smiled at this woman whom he knew to be called Little Star.
Meanwhile, the giggling of those surrounding him had stopped. Each of the beautiful young women was staring at the speaker.
“I…often jealous of…women,” Little Star stated, “who ask…husband to dinner.”
It did not escape Black Lion’s notice that Little Star omitted saying exactly who her husband was.
“I didn’t know you were married,” observed one young lady.
“I didn’t either,” chipped in another.
“Sorry,” voiced Black Lion simply. “But Buffalo Bill rarely hires an American Indian man who is not married.” He cast Little Star a quick wink as well as a grateful smile. Little Star nodded. “And now,” said Black Lion to the girls at large, “I must leave you. I am late for my performance.”
Without a backward glance, he struck off toward the livery.
Once he was far enough away from the women, he didn’t waste another moment, but ran as though he were in a race, bolting over anything in his way, which included a rather large hitching post, as well as several mud holes.
“Where’s Ranckles?” he asked Old Doe, the man who attended to the animals.
“Son, you’re late,” the old-timer remarked.
“I know,” panted Black Lion, barely catching his breath. “I must hurry.”
“He’s over there in the stall. He’s saddled.” Old Doe winked.
“Thank you, Grandfather. I will honor you for this.”
“Honor? Forget about the honor, and just get in there. He’s come down here twice to check on ya.”
Black Lion had no need to ask who he was. Shoving a gift—a pouch of tobacco—into the old-timer’s hand, Black Lion adjusted his headdress over his hair, grabbed hold of Ranckles’s reins and hurriedly headed toward the arena.
It had rained the day before the show was to open. This was both good and bad. The good was that the air was clear, fresh and invigorating, if a little humid. The bad was that there was muddy water everywhere.
Black Lion had no choice but to leap over the many mud holes, as he pulled Ranckles, an Appaloosa, after him.
In an effort to determine the time, Black Lion glanced upward toward the sun, not the best action to take when one is also running. Momentarily blinded, he rammed straight into an obstacle, sending whatever it was to the ground, and unfortunately for it, directly into the mud. Luckily for Black Lion, Ranckles seemed to have more sense than his owner and stopped quickly enough so as to avert a real disaster.
Looking down to see what it was he had run into, Black Lion was disconcerted to behold yet another female. Grimacing slightly, he rolled his eyes.
“I saw that,” said the female heap who had landed at his feet. Her voice was surprisingly beautiful.
Black Lion, however, was not so easily impressed, since it was still a female voice. He looked passively at the woman and uttered, “I am sorry,” then he groaned a little as he gave her a closer look.
The woman had raised her eyes, and they were the deepest, most clear blue eyes he had ever seen, and Little Blue Eyes, as he immediately dubbed her, stared back at him. Unwillingly, he found he was not immune to her charm.
“You rolled your eyes at me,” she complained indignantly.
“Forgive me. I am late for my performance. I hurry when I should perhaps tarry.” He heaved a deep sigh then turned to leave.
“That is all? I get no more apology than that? Will you at least help me up?”
Black Lion frowned. Lovely though this young woman might be, he couldn’t help but compare her to the well-brought-up Lakota women with whom he was acquainted. No polite Lakota woman would dare to use a voice on him that, for all that it was pretty, was filled with antagonism. Indeed, in the country of the Lakota, it was considered the height of bad manners to speak to a man with anything but a pleasant demeanor. “Where I come from,” he vocalized, “women speak softly and pleasingly. And they do not contradict a man.” Perhaps he should have kept the observation to himself, however.
She scoffed at him. “I beg your pardon. Do you, an American Indian, seek to lecture me on manners? You, who have not even offered your hand to help me out of this mud? Where were you raised? With wolves?”
He stepped toward her. Obviously, he did not understand what a white man was required to do. “Forgive me. I am not from here. I do not know your customs.”
“Pray, is it really that difficult to understand? Look at me.”
He did, which was part of the problem. She was enchanting…as well as… There was something about her that pulled at him.
At the moment, she was a mass of dark hair and sky-blue material, except where she had rolled in the mud, of course. It occurred to him that she wanted him to help her up, something no Lakota woman would ever expect or need. For it was a man’s job to protect and to provide, and a Lakota woman knew this. She would never interfere with a man or with his work.
But here in this England, Black Lion was out of his element. With one more apology, he bent over the young lady, and as though she were as lightweight as the headdress he wore, he picked her up.
She was rounded and soft, he noted at once, and she was probably the most shapely young woman he had ever had the good fortune to hold in his arms.
However, this embarrassed him. In his country, men and women who were not married did not touch. Rarely did they even speak.
As he grasped her tiny waist, his fingers tingled at the contact. For a moment, he yearned to hold her closer, to breathe in her sweet scent.
He quickly set her on her feet. “Sorry,” he repeated, and turned away.
Apparently white women here were more than a little different than Lakota women. “That’s it? That’s all? You have nothing more to say? You knock me down like some colonial gun-barreling, Wild West gunslinger. You ruin my dress and my umbrella. And all you have to say is sorry?”
Spinning back toward her, he spared the delicate creature a glance, but for all that it was fast, the look was thorough. Long dark-brown hair that cascaded into ringlets over her shoulders; creamy, pale, pinkish complexion; blue eyes that were made bluer by the color of her clothes. In truth, she was more than beautiful. She was…exquisite.
He said, “I am late.”
“I have to…hurry.” Was she comely but not very smart?
“Look at me. You have ruined my dress.” She held out a muddy piece of the material as evidence. “You slung me into the mud, and then turned away without helping me up.”
“I helped you up.”
“After I complained.”
“I still helped you up.”
She sighed impatiently. “That’s not the point.”
Black Lion realized he probably appeared stupid, but he could only gape at her. She wanted something else? Wasn’t it enough that they had touched, that he was speaking to her when there was no chaperone here to thwart him? Did she not fear for her reputation?
He was not left long to wonder, however, for she continued, “Do you not understand that I will have to pay to have the dress washed and pressed tomorrow?” She blew out a breath. “And that’s tomorrow, what about today? How am I supposed to endure the rest of the day with all this guck on me? And look here, my jacket is torn too.” She put a hand to her head. “Where’s my hat?”
For a moment, Black Lion felt as guilty as a wayward boy. Once, long ago, one of the women from the tribe had scolded him in much the same manner. It had been so demeaning an experience that it had never happened again. He had ensured it.
But this was not then, and he was not a young boy to take offense so easily. What was wrong with her? Couldn’t she grant him quarter? After all, he was new to this land. He didn’t know this town, he hadn’t yet learned their rules…
“Oh, my hat,” she complained. “Where’s my hat?”
Looking around, Black Lion noticed an object of similar coloring to the woman’s dress. It was probably the object in question.
Letting go of Ranckles’s reins, he recovered the article, though the action little aided his cause. Mud had worked its damage on the hat. A long blue feather, instead of standing straight up, limped to the side. Carefully, he tried to make it stand upright. The action was useless.
Shrugging, he offered the item to her. “Back in my country, men and women who are not married, or planning to be married, do not speak, let alone touch one another. I have done both with you this day, and I fear that either I must bring our conversation to an end, or I will be forced to marry you.”
Though he smiled a little, she gasped. “Are you trying to insult me?”
“I flatter you. Or I try to. There are many women who would be honored by such a declaration from me.”
“Well, I am not one of them.”
His smile broadened. “Do not worry. If I am forced to add you to my family, my first wife will tame you.”
Her second gasp was even louder than the first. He had known, of course, that the taunt would hit a chord with her, since he had come to understand that white people married only once. But, the Great Spirit be praised, he couldn’t seem to help but tease her.
As though to add further insult, in the process of handing the hat to her, their fingers accidentally touched. At once, excitement burst through him. He even swayed toward her.
He said, “I will pay for the damage to your dress, or I will buy you a new one. People here call me Two Bears. You have only to ask for me, and others will bring you to me.”
“I do not want your money. I want you to—” She stopped suddenly.
Waiting, Black Lion raised an eyebrow at her.
“I want you to go away and leave me alone,” she finished, although as she spoke, her hat fell from her fingers, the cap landing in the mud. The feather fell over as if it might drink in the substance. Her possession was now beyond repair.
Still, he couldn’t help but grin at her. “If all that you require of me is my absence, it will be my pleasure to obey.” His smile widened, and without another word, he turned his back on her.
“Wait. It is not my duty to seek you out. A gentleman should always solicit the lady.”
He sighed. “Please, I do not have time for more talk about manners. I am late.”
“And you expect me to be sympathetic? Perhaps you should arise earlier if you have trouble arriving in a timely manner. Or better yet, maybe you should watch where you are going.”
“I think you are right. I should, and I will,” he said, just as if he might be agreeing with her. “But at least I have only a change in my schedule to consider.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Only this. Where I was raised, young women do not venture out into the day alone, and if they did…” he let the insinuation dangle between them for a moment before finishing, “…they are what the white man calls fair game.”
“What? Why, that’s as barbaric to a modern woman as—”
“And when they speak,” he continued, cutting her off, “only soft words of comfort and pleasure come forth from their lips.”
“Meaning that I…? How dare you,” she sputtered. “That’s the second time you have spoken offensively to me.”
“I mean it not as ridicule, but as instruction because you…” He shook his head. There seemed little point in explaining it was his duty to protect a young lady’s reputation. Besides, such a declaration would hardly be true. He had meant to be as forward with her as she was being with him. “If you will stay until after the show, I will seek you out then, and I will make good on my obligation to you.”
“Pray, do not bother. I will see to the repair of the dress myself.”
“If you wish it to be so, then it will be so.” He turned to leave.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “A real gentleman would press his cause.”
Once again, he turned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “Either I will pay you for the damage, or I will not pay. The choice is up to you. Now be clear on this matter. Do I look for you after the show? Or not?”
“You do not. And, sir?”
He raised an eyebrow.
“You are no gentleman!” She said it arrogantly, lifted her chin and swung around to stomp off in the opposite direction of his destination. He might have watched her for a moment. She was certainly pretty enough he would have liked to memorize her every feature. But he had wasted enough time.
Picking up Ranckles’s reins, he hurried in the direction of the arena.