Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sweet Romance Bargain Book & Excerpt-Lyn Cote

My historical Journey to Respect is on sale for 99 cents. 

And here's an excerpt of chapter one:

Chapter One
Prairie of Eastern Kansas, Early Summer 1825
Buffalo herd stampeding. Full out on all sides. Deafening. The dust tossed up by buffalo hooves choked Rafe. He leaned forward. His body one with his racing horse. Tall grass brushing his thighs. In the uproar of the hunt, he felt the buffalo hooves pounding the earth all the way up into his teeth.
To his right, he glimpsed Tristan. Only a flash of darker skin and curly hair flattened by the wind. All around Rafe, his bare-chested and painted Osage cousins threaded in between buffalo. Rafe raised his rifle. Concentrated on the bull he had in his sites. Squeezed off a shot. It hit its target. Heedless, the huge bull plunged onward with the melee.
Then Rafe felt it.
His mount stumbling. He’d be defenseless on the ground! Fear screamed through him. His horse fell. He leaped onto the nearest mount—a buffalo. Letting go his rifle. Bouncing, he clutched the thick dark mane. The buffalo, unaware of him, plunged on.
Then Tristan appeared at his side, keeping pace with Rafe’s mount. “Jump!”
Rafe raised himself and leaped, just managing to throw one leg over Tristan’s horse. He grabbed Tristan’s belt and hung on. Tristan kept his horse running with the herd. Other braves fired bullets and arrows. Buffalo fell on all sides—thumping the earth.
Abruptly the hunt ended. The remaining buffalo rushed on while the Osage party turned to the harvest. In the sudden quiet Rafe coughed on the dust in the air and felt the sun blazing down on his shoulders under his buckskin shirt, his heart still pounding.
Tristan slowed his horse. He glanced over his shoulder at Rafe. “You all right?”
“Fine.” Then Rafe’s mind went to his horse. He looked over his shoulder.
Understanding, Tristan turned his mount and headed back over the prairie littered with silent dead or thrashing wounded buffalo. Finally Tristan pulled up his reins beside Rafe’s horse.
Rafe slipped from behind Tristan and onto the flattened prairie grass around the horse. At first he thought his horse must already be dead from being trampled. Then one eyelid flickered open. The horse Rafe had raised from a colt stared up at him. Stricken, Rafe dropped to his knee beside the animal and stroked his head. The large brown eye stared at him, suffering. Rafe stroked him and murmured his name, “Bon Ami.” Pain gripped his heart. Then shielding the large eye, he drew his pistol and ended his friend’s pain.
As Tristan removed his saddle for him, Rafe rose, waves of shock rolling through him. Closing his eyes, he raised his face toward the hot sun, letting it dry the moisture in his eyes.
Washington, DC, Early Summer, 1825
In her thin, white chemise, Eve stood in the guest bedroom in the afternoon sunlight that filtered through the gauzy sheers over the tall narrow windows. Hands on her hips, she stared defiantly at her aunt Letitia who held up the dress under debate.
“I don’t like that dress at all,” Eve said with conviction. The dress—fussy, voluminous—was of a watery blue silk, embroidered lavishly.
Her tone more a military command than a compliment, Letitia said, “You will look charming in it.” Her aunt, a small round woman with silver in her light brown hair, mimicked Eve’s stance, one hand on her hip.
“I prefer my new yellow muslin afternoon frock. It is a perfectly fine dress for this garden party.” Without taking a breath, she continued, “And I absolutely refuse to wear that.” She pointed to the whalebone corset over the maid’s arm.
The Negro maid stood just behind her aunt, her head bowed as if trying to be invisible. Corsets had been worn in the past century during the Revolutionary War, for goodness’ sake. Eve had heard they were coming back into style. Well, not into her style thank you very much.
Her aunt’s expression hardened, became fierce. “Eve, you are going to become a lady of fashion. It’s time you settled down. How can I find you a suitable husband if you refuse to dress in the genteel mode?”
Eve stared at her aunt. She’d seen this coming over the past year’s visits. Letitia was her father’s eldest sister. “The dragon,” as Eve secretly called her, was set on furthering her family’s fortunes. She deemed Eve’s fair looks and pretty face as assets to be exploited to further her social ambitions here in the capital city.
“There’s no time for argument,” the dragon said, thrusting the dress into the maid’s hands. “Get her dressed and coifed and downstairs before the guests arrive.” With that command Aunt Letitia swept out the door.
The maid gazed at Eve, obviously worried.
Eve took pity on the girl, one of the free blacks who lived in Washington City. Pennsylvania was one of the first free states, and her uncle had abolitionist leanings. Eve sighed. “Very well. I’ll please my aunt today. It is, after all, her special occasion.”
It was. Her uncle Eustace had been elected to the U. S. House of Representatives from a district of Philadelphia. That occasioned today’s garden party, the ending of the social season that formed around the congressmen and senators’ legislative calendar. At her aunt’s invitation, Eve and her father had come to visit in the large rented house in Washington City. Eve had thought it odd that her father had declined earlier invitations yet accepted this one. And where was he today?
From behind, the maid slipped the corset around Eve’s waist. “Waistlines are dropping, miss. And need structure.”
The heat of the day filled the room. Eve pressed a handkerchief to her upper lip and forehead. “I suppose so, but that doesn’t mean I’m forced to like it.” Just forced to wear it—but only for this one event. Eve sincerely hoped so. Her father had left that morning after a cryptic comment: “Uncle Eustace isn’t the only one who’s entering government service.” What did that mean?
“That’s tight enough,” Eve insisted as she felt the whale bone pressing against her ribs uncomfortably.
“Miss, the dress is tight at the waist.”
“If you tighten it any more, I won’t be able to breathe. You’ll have to stand me up against the wall or lay me down on a chaise longue.”
Eve fanned her face with the handkerchief. “If the waist is too tight, we’ll take out a dart or two from the bodice.”
The maid gasped. “Oh, miss, I couldn’t do that. This dress came all the way from New York.”
“You won’t. I will.” In the mirror’s reflection, Eve watched the maid shake her bowed head. But Eve would bend her own wishes only enough to be able to attend this party for her uncle whom she held in affection. She’d even play the part of genteel young lady in the market for an up-and-coming husband, but she would go no further to please the dragon.
Standing beside Rafe, Tristan held his horse’s reins, his presence comforting. Finally he nudged Rafe’s shoulder. “We must find your rifle and help with the harvest.”
Rafe nodded and claimed his saddle, threw it over his shoulder, and turned to face the task ahead. The waist-high prairie grass hummed with bees and grasshoppers. They began walking around the downed buffalo, lending a hand where needed. Dust and the smell of blood filled his nose. Under the endless, cloudless blue sky, the sun glared down on them, no shade anywhere.
Rafe chanced upon his rifle covered with dirt beside the carcass of a buffalo. He lifted it to his shoulder and found it unbent, unbroken. But it would need a good cleaning.
The Osage brave, Ka’-wa-sab-be or Black Horse, swung down from his mount. His chest, arms, and face painted in red and white bands, he wore fringed buckskin leggings and breechcloth. “Did you enjoy your buffalo ride?”
Rafe wondered how this man managed to lace this mild question with vibrating hostility. Ignoring the jibe, Rafe merely shrugged as if leaping onto a buffalo were an everyday occurrence. No doubt this feat had stung Black Horse’s pride and no doubt he’d have preferred to find Rafe trampled into the dirt.
Unable to get a rise out of Rafe, Black Horse turned and strutted away.
“Have you figured out yet why you irritate him?” Tristan asked, close to Rafe’s ear.
Again Rafe shrugged and brushed away a fly. Yet Rafe knew. His white blood from his father was what irked Black Horse. Rafe’s late mother belonged to the Osage Earth clan. Since Rafe’s father was not Osage, Rafe’s position in the tribe was uncertain. However, the respect due his mother’s father made a difference. His grandfather was one of the hon-zhin-ga, or “little old men,” who’d been initiated into the clan rituals and had the right to perform such rituals. This distinction usually offset Rafe’s lack of clan membership.
Two of Rafe’s cousins hailed him, and he and Tristan moved to help them as they worked. They needed to get the huge animals ready to drag back to the hunting camp where the women would do most of the work of preparing pemmican and curing the hides. Nearby, shrieking eagles gathered in a hostile group to eat and argue over the little that the Osage discarded from the buffalo. Flies buzzed over them, loud and insistent. Rafe tried not to think about losing Bon Ami or Black Horse or...Nadine.
Rafe worked, side by side, steadily with his family, who’d always accepted him. He’d shrugged off Black Horse’s scorn, yet the issue of family still tugged at him. His thoughts drifted to his other family at Beau Rivage, or Beautiful Shore, his father’s plantation just miles from New Orleans. Faces streamed through his mind and then stopped on one...the one he should never think of but the one he always did. Nadine.
In the end Eve wasn’t forced to open a dart. She merely opened the side seams and gained an inch. She could breathe. After the maid had pressed the re-sewn side seams flat, she’d dressed Eve’s hair. Eve liked to wear her hair braided and circled as a crown. The maid countered that Eve’s aunt had chosen a different style, an arrangement of high knots and side curls. With a glance at the clock, Eve allowed the girl to follow orders. If they didn’t hurry up, the dragon would mount the stairs, breathing fire.
As the girl slipped in the final hairpin, Eve rose, thanked her, and snatched up her lace gloves. Drawing them on, she hurried out onto the landing and down the grand staircase. As she observed the butler open the front door to guests, she slowed her steps. She was late. She paused in hopes that she would not be noticed.
But in vain. One of the guests, a young gentleman, glanced up and saw her. Instead of politely turning his attention away, he stared at her. She felt herself blush but straightened her spine and swept down the stairs.
“Good afternoon,” she said. She walked past the guests and into the large drawing room with French doors that opened onto the large, well-tended rear garden. Aunt Letitia hadn’t been able to afford a house with a ballroom but she’d found one with a “suitable” room for entertaining. The large room with open doors to the garden had been furnished with excellent taste in ivory and turquoise blue. Other guests had already arrived. Her aunt sent her a veiled glare which Eve ignored. She drew a deep breath of the warm air and smiled at her aunt with hidden triumph over not letting the dragon “corset” her in any way.
The young man followed her as she passed into the festive garden where most guests had sought the cooler shade. The scent of gardenias and French roses floated in the air. The man moved to Aunt Letitia and spoke amid the voices to her. The dragon beamed at him and nodded, drawing him toward Eve.
Eve stood her ground and prepared to be charming. If she weren’t, she didn’t want to later endure in silence another of her aunt’s tirades. Especially since they always fell on her father, whom Aunt Letitia called “the black sheep of the family” to his face. At the thought Eve gritted her teeth.
“Eve dear, I’d like to present to you Marshal Phillips. His father is a senator.” Aunt Letitia spoke in such a sugary tone Eve nearly gagged.
Eve formed her face into a shy smile. “So happy to meet you, sir.” She curtseyed as he bowed over her lace-gloved hand.
He tried to hang onto it but Eve slipped it from his grasp and furled her fan as if raising a shield. She fanned herself, stirring the oppressive air.
“Mr. Phillips has offered to introduce you to the other young people here today,” Aunt Letitia said, sending a clear signal with her eyes that Eve go with the man.
“How nice,” Eve prevaricated. “I’m eager to meet them.” And then forget them.
The hunting party finally dragged the harvested buffalo into the hunting camp. Women began the work of cutting meat to roast and then more to dry and the work of skinning the buffalo for their hides. It reminded Rafe of harvesting rice or cotton in Louisiana. Everyone working, some chatting, and all busy. Sweating in spite of the constant wind, Rafe worked steadily beside his cousins—two male and three female—and their mother, his mother’s younger sister. The work was messy and hard but Rafe felt the balm of family working together.
He was aware that Tristan was attracted to one of his cousins. Though Tristan was the mixed-race son of one of his parent’s servants, formerly a slave, he’d been raised almost like a brother to Rafe. It saddened Rafe that the likelihood of Tristan being approved as a suitor for his cousin were slim, not because of his mixed race but because Osage marriages were usually arranged between clans and Tristan was an outsider. Rafe’s father had also been an outsider but had somehow prevailed in courting and winning his Osage bride. Rafe’s cousin giggled at something Tristan said.
Then the peaceful scene changed.
Hoofbeats racing—their only warning.
Rafe wiped his hands in the dirt so he could hold his gun without it slipping. Tristan and the cousins mounted and with a nod, Rafe—horseless—promised to protect the women. He checked his weapons and hurried the women behind him though his aunt and female cousins—not defenseless—kept the knives they’d been using in hand.
Just beyond the camp, the Osage warriors met the other band head on. Gunfire exploded. Whistling arrows flew. Rafe watched for any brave that might slip past the Osage to penetrate the camp. But the raiding party had misjudged. The Osage warriors shot a few enemies from their horses and then drove the rest into full retreat.
The skirmish over, Rafe and the women went back their work.
Hearing Tristan’s voice, Rafe looked up.
His friend was leading a horse that had evidently lost its rider. “I guess you won’t be on foot after all.” Tristan grinned.
Rafe returned the grin with warm gratitude. “Merci!”
After Tristan handed him the horse’s reins, Rafe approached the new horse slowly, murmuring words in French, the language he’d used when training Bon Ami. The new horse, a neat-looking brown and white mare, was skittish but didn’t bolt.
“So the mixed blood stayed behind with the women.”
Rafe didn’t have to look up. Black Horse’s voice and sneer were unmistakable. Rafe ignored him. He heard Black Horse swing down from his mount and sensed the man’s glare. Still Rafe didn’t look up, but concentrated on calming his new mount and letting the animal become used to his scent. A cicada shrieked nearby. Rafe waited the other man out.
Finally Black Horse moved away.
Rafe’s aunt came close to him. She wore her long graying hair parted and pulled back into a tail and her ears were decorated with many gold rings and ornaments which jingled as she moved her head emphatically, punctuating her words. “You did well. When a man speaks without thinking, it is better to return silence.”
Rafe sent her a smile in reply.
Tristan drew nearer and gestured toward the mare. “I don’t think this one is saddle-broken.”
“No doubt. I’ll ride bareback till she gets to know me and trust me. I’ll call her Jolie.” Still stroking the mare now named “Pretty” in French, Rafe looked over his shoulder toward where the skirmish had taken place. “Which tribe tried to steal our hunt?”
“Looked like Pawnee,” Tristan responded. “I wouldn’t expect them this far east and south.”
Rafe shrugged. “Perhaps the Sioux to the north were giving them a hard time and they decided to take it out on”—he infused his tone with humor—“the poor defenseless Osage.”
Tristan laughed at Rafe’s suggestion. Every tribe with any sense feared the Osage.
But the situation was not amusing. Whites more and more were pushing westward, breaching even the natural boundary of the Mississippi River. This brought the Osage not only into conflict with the whites but also with the Eastern tribes the whites were forcing westward. The Osage had always occupied the territory of what Americans called Missouri, now a state. In the end, after a bloody battle, the Osage had agreed to move westward into eastern Kansas, but the conflict with whites and other dispossessed tribes continued.
Living on the frontier was dangerous for so many reasons. Bear, panthers, herds of buffalo, white men and other tribes all vying for the same land. Home—Louisiana with its thick groves of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss or cypress at water’s edge so different from this vast prairie of tall grass. Then New Orleans came to mind. The narrow cobbled streets, the houses with their balconies festooned with wrought-iron railings, the sweet memories of home drew him. Then reality asserted itself. Walking down the streets of New Orleans at night could be dangerous too.
And today’s attack would not go unavenged. He had yet to be included in a war party. He might be included this time. No doubt Black Horse would want that. If he could catch Rafe in cowardice, he could mark him as a squawman. Avoiding that humiliation could force Rafe to leave, just what Black Horse wanted. And maybe what others wanted as well.
Eve had twice tried to shake off Mr. Phillips with his soft hands and carefully coifed dark hair but he refused to be shaken off. So Eve made sure that the two of them stayed always within a group of young people that had gathered together within the party. She tried to recall the names of the young women near her, dressed in the new jewel tones and in the latest fashion, with cinched waists and puffed sleeves. But since she didn’t plan on seeing them again, she had difficulty concentrating.
Somehow Aunt Letitia had managed to snare as guests two senators and a Supreme Court justice and, flushed with social success, was moving through the crowd, chatting and flattering everyone in sight.
Eve kept glancing toward the door. Her father had promised the dragon that he’d attend today. His profession as a country doctor would not impress any guests, but he was an exceptionally handsome man and “showed well.”
Mr. Phillips pressed closer and Eve moved another step away from him. She sent him a totally false smile. “Why don’t we visit the buffet table?”
As she’d planned, the young ladies around her seconded her suggestion and the party of three ladies and four gentlemen moved through the crowd to the laden buffet table inside.
She’d just accepted a gilt-edged plate from the white-gloved Negro servant when she heard her father say her name. She turned and, surprised by what she saw, drew in a sharp breath.
The main work of butchering had been accomplished before nightfall. Around the fires, women now roasted fragrant buffalo steaks on heated rocks. The feasting would begin soon. One of the first things he’d discovered when visiting the Osage as a child was that when food was provided here, one ate as much as one could hold against leaner times. Osage dried meat and vegetables for future use but they didn’t can or preserve or breed animals for meat or keep chickens for eggs. With the Osage it was quite literally, feast or famine.
His empty stomach rumbling in anticipation, Rafe sat with Tristan outside his family’s place. Since this was a hunting camp, it was a hide tent. They would follow the buffalo for weeks, and when they’d gathered enough buffalo meat and hides, they’d return to their permanent village in the Verdigris River valley where the crops of corn and squash had been planted in the early spring.
His grandfather, Honga, which meant something like Noble Eagle, walked to Rafe and Tristan. They both rose. The woman who’d raised them, Rafe’s stepmother, Sarah McKuen, had instilled deeply into them both manners that could not be denied. Rafe wondered what Honga had come to say. He had that look about him.
Honga nodded in reply to the courtesy. He motioned them to sit and sat down between the two men. Honga wore his gray hair in the Osage style. His eyebrows and hair on both sides of his head were kept plucked so that his remaining hair formed what resembled a rooster comb and was adorned with “roaches” or ornaments of feathers and polished bone. His silver hair had also been dyed red in places.
One of the things that marked Rafe as different was that he did not pluck his eyebrows and hair into the Osage style. He’d decided not to try to masquerade as a full-blooded Osage, so he wore his dark hair long and pulled into a tail, the style of many fur traders. But he always kept his face shaved. Osage described bearded white men as furry hedgehogs. Rafe had no desire to be described thus.
Honga finally spoke. “Tomorrow a war party will pursue the Pawnee to repay them. You two will be included.”
Though the final sentence had been stated as a straight declaration, Rafe sensed it really posed a question: Would Rafe and Tristan fight the enemy?
A mourning dove cooed in one of the few poplar trees bordering the nearby creek, a mournful sound. Rafe searched his mind and heart. Was he prepared to kill enemies of the Osage? He’d never shed human blood. He’d been raised a Christian, but Christians carried out wars all the time.
Aware he must reply, Rafe cleared his throat. “The Pawnee could have hunted their own buffalo.”
Honga nodded.
“Instead they chose to steal from us. Food is life. And a man must defend his life and the lives of his family.”
Honga nodded again. “Black Horse wants you to leave.”
Rafe didn’t feel the need to respond. Black Horse had not been subtle. Women’s voices rose and fell around them.
Tristan spoke up. “Black Horse should learn to pick his fights better.”
Honga chuckled, so softly at first it could barely be heard. Then he let loose and laughed out loud. He rose and walked away, still laughing.
Rafe grinned also. He didn’t fear the Pawnee, but in the midst of a skirmish he’d have to watch his back. Black Horse might sense that he wouldn’t be able to force Rafe out. But if the “half-breed” fell in battle, wouldn’t the blame attach to the Pawnee? Sadly, treachery lived in the hearts of all men. That came straight from his stepmother’s Holy Bible.
“Father,” Eve said, shock tingling up her spine. “You’re in military uniform.”
“I am indeed, daughter.” In a navy blue uniform with brass buttons, he stood in front of her, beaming. “Today I finished the process of enlisting as a doctor in the U.S. Army.”
Eve’s thoughts jumbled but she managed, “Congratulations, Father.”
“I applaud you, sir,” Mr. Phillips said from his place beside her. “Where will you be serving?”
“West. We’re going west.” Her father sent her a glance, one assessing her reaction.
Hiding her confusion even from the father she so loved, she introduced him to her companions. The young men in her party began peppering him with questions. She looked over her father’s head and glimpsed her aunt’s face. The dragon was not pleased. Had her father really meant that they were going west?
The last of the guests had departed. The servants, sensing the coming storm, had with surprising speed gathered up the dishes and leftover food and vanished. Eve didn’t blame them. She felt shaken.
So Eve, along with her father, her uncle, and her aunt, stood facing each other in a circle in the small parlor in the front of the house.
Her aunt checked that all the windows were closed and then snapped the pocket door shut. “What in heaven’s name were you thinking, Samuel?” Her tone scalded the air in the room.
Eve moved closer to her father where he stood in front of the cold fireplace, his hands clasped behind his waist, rocking on his heels like a boy about to receive a treat.
“After seeing Eustace’s success in entering government service, I decided I also needed a new challenge, a new way to serve. Long before we left Pennsylvania to join you for this event, I received a letter from an old medical college classmate. He’s served with the army since the War of 1812—”
“I don’t care if he’s served since the War of the Roses, what were you thinking?” Aunt Letitia demanded. “Your daughter is nearly twenty-one years of age, almost on the shelf. I was certain I could find her an advantageous marriage here in Washington City. Don’t you care anything for your daughter, your family?”
Her father’s expression drew down into serious lines. “Whatever I’ve ever done has been for my daughter and for the betterment of all. What you mean is that you could use my daughter’s beauty to forge a marriage that would link you to the powerful here in the seat of our national government. That’s not what interests me, Letitia. We’ve never had the same goals.”
Her father’s candor shocked Eve. Usually he employed misdirection and charm on the dragon. What had caused this change?
“So you think it will do your daughter good to take her away from civilization to the West where Indians still threaten us. Why do you think the army needs soldiers on the frontier? To protect us from savages.”
Eve had never considered leaving their home on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
“Death finds a person wherever he or she is, Letitia. Eve and I aren’t like you. We don’t want the life you want. You’ll just have to accept that.”
No doubt aware that she could not undo her brother’s enlistment, Letitia glowered at him and swept from the parlor.
Leaving Eve, her father, and her uncle in her wake.
Eve moved closer to her father, seeking his reassurance.
Uncle Eustace cleared his throat. “Samuel, your decision has taken me by surprise. But are you sure your daughter wants to go west? Won’t that be too dangerous for her?” Her uncle glanced at her, eliciting her comment.
And she recalled once more why she liked her uncle. He was honestly interested in her opinion, her welfare. But since her mother’s death when Eve was only twelve, it had been just her and her father. He deserved her loyalty most. “I will go with my father,” Eve said, taking her father’s hand. “I’m sorry this has upset my aunt, but when I came here, I never planned to marry.”
Her uncle nodded. “Just remember, Eve, you are always welcome under my roof.”
Eve left her father’s side and kissed her uncle’s cheek. “Thank you. You’re very dear.”
Now she needed to find out why her father had enlisted and was taking them west. Something didn’t add up.
Uncle Eustace chuckled and patted her cheek. “Don’t waste your youth and beauty. It’s all this world values in women—sad to say. There’s so much more you have to offer a man but—”
“Usually they only look at a woman’s face and figure,” her father finished for Eustace.
“Yes. And Eve,” her uncle continued, his hand lightly on her shoulder, “I know you’ve turned down several offers, but you must consider your future. You need to find a man you want to settle down with, a man worthy of you.”
Touched, Eve had to blink away moisture in her eyes. “I will, Uncle. I have been looking. I just haven’t found a man I thought would...suit.” Eve didn’t consider herself a romantic but she did want to marry a man she respected and one who would respect her.
Her father had never treated her like “just a female.” And so far every man who’d courted her had subtly or openly let her know that they viewed her as exactly that. And she was definitely much more than “just a female.”

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