Happy Wednesday, and thanks again to Angelica Dawson for organizing the MidWeekTeases!
This week’s tease comes from my WIP, the dark frontier romance RED BLACK DAWNING.
Tókwar is the sole survivor of a Cheyenne attack on a group of white settlers. Reeling, he wanders in shock when he suddenly hears a noise.
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Pulse beating like a drum in his chest, Tókwar stood, walked to the wagon, and circled the dead oxen on the ground. On the driver’s seat, a man sat in a crooked, half-lying position, his eyes open but blank, a filet of blood running from a hole in his shirt. He wore different clothes than the ones of the Mormons, who traded with the Ute west of Wasatch.
Tókwar gazed past him, through the oval opening of the white canvas. Inside, among scattered belongings, lay three little girls’ bodies, faces shot beyond recognition, blood and brain mass splattered up the walls. Partly underneath one of them, a woman, with only her back and legs apparent.
He had heard wrong. No survivor.
A violent surge of grief went through him as he acknowledged each small body, then conjured up the image of his own newborn son who had been brutally cut out of his mother’s womb and left to die on the cold ground.
Why, Creator? Why butcher children? The wars of the adults don’t concern them!
This massacre was completely unfair, proof of the lowest of human conduct, and made no sense since it would only provoke retaliation from the whites. More blood spilled, more revenge, more tears.
Had there been at least one survivor, he might have regained some faith. But in the company of these dozens and dozens of victims, he felt like the loneliest person in the world.
He glanced at his wrists and the bloody fringes pressing on his cut veins. Maybe time to untie them and finish what he had started.
He was about to retreat when a movement in the corner of his eye snapped him back.
The woman. She had moved, he was sure.
He grabbed the driver’s limp arm and pulled until the man fell to the ground like a heavy bag. Holding his breath from the stench of death and defecation drifting out of the wagon, he climbed up to the seat, leaned over the dead children’s bodies, and touched the woman’s back. Yes, her skin was warm, and she trembled underneath his fingers. She lived!
Heart palpitating, he tugged on her, tried to turn her around, but couldn’t get a grip on the glistening, blood-covered fabric of her clothes.
All of the sudden, she jerked up with a squeal of terror, brown eyes so wide their whites showed, and scrambled backward until hitting the end of the wooden box.
He drew a sharp breath and worked to conceal his surprise.
Her white apron bulged. The big, round stomach beneath gave her pain, for she held it and winced while fixing her eyes on him and heaved for breath. Unruly dark hair framed her tanned, sweaty face, she had to be a blend of white and black people. She looked to have lived at least twenty-five winters. She seemed unharmed, but the shock provoked by the attack had probably started her labor. He hoped it wasn’t too early.
He turned up both palms in the air. “Don’t be afraid,” he said in English, having learned the language from communicating with Mormons. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
With a grimace of pain, she emitted a cry and clutched her stomach harder, but still kept her wild gaze fixed on him.
“I’m a Ute,” he explained, voice soft. “I don’t belong to the band that attacked you. They were Cheyennes and Arapahos. I’m a man of peace.”
Panting, she looked down, as if to indicate she understood. Sweat rolled down her temples and throat and landed as small droplets on her heaving gray dress.
He lowered his hands, too. His pulse beat at a quick pace from the tension and a chill landed on his neck, raising the hair.
What was he going to do with her? She would need help soon, and he had never assisted the birthing of a child. It was women’s business. All he could do was provide water, food, and a shelter, and then Mother Nature would have to take over. She looked scared, but Ute squaws often left the camp to deliver on their own, so she should be able to, too.
She closed her eyes and rode a new contraction, whimpering through gritted teeth and rocking back and forth on her folded legs to alleviate the pain.
He had to find her a different place. She couldn’t stay inside this box turned slaughterhouse. He spun, jumped down from the driver’s seat, and circled the wagon to join her on the other side, in the back opening of the canvas.
Still clutching her stomach, she turned and snapped her untrusting glare to him.
“You have to get out,” he said. “Let me help you.” He put a hand on her shivering arm.
Widening her eyes, she jerked back and swatted at him. “Get back! Don’t touch me!”
He withdrew, trying to keep his voice calm. She needed time to adjust to him. “Listen, this place will be full of bacteria soon.” He nodded to the cadavers behind her. “You and the baby will get infections and die. You can’t stay here.”
“J-just don’t t-touch me.” She whimpered and grimaced again, a coat of sweat covering her face. Her voice sounded lighter than the Ute women’s, and held a slight hint of the accent he had heard some of the southern settlers speak.
He took a step back. “Then get out on your own.”
Taking quick breaths, she peeked over the side of the box and grimaced again. “I c-can’t.” She clutched her stomach. “It’s t-too high. I’ll fall.”
With a little goodwill, it was possible to climb down in her condition, but she seemed too panicked, too frozen to do the simplest thing.
“No,” he said, “you won’t, but if you do, I’ll catch you.”
She retreated, eyes wild. “N-no.” Her breaths came erratic.
He held back a sigh and repeated, “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to help.”
She shook her head. “Get away from me.”
“Listen. With all these dead rotting in the sun—” he swept the landscape around them “—wild animals and raptors will come soon and it’ll be dangerous to stay here. I promise, you won’t survive the night.”
“Oh, God. The night.” She brought a hand to her trembling mouth and sobbed, eyes filling with tears. “What the hell am I gonna do? What’s gonna happen to m-me? And my baby?”
His chest tightened. He honestly didn’t know. Even if he did everything in his might to help, he couldn’t guarantee they would live. There were too many unknowns. But he couldn’t tell her that and aggravate her mental state. “Just let me help you. I’ll watch over you.” He extended a hand.
“No!” She jumped back, watery eyes so suspicious it almost stung his pride.
Would he have to use force? No, she was irrational, in despair. The best thing he could do was be patient.
He ground his teeth, took a deep breath, and bore his gaze into hers. “You have to understand. You’re on your own. No one else is going to help you. Certainly not the Cheyenne dog I tied over there.” He nodded to the wagon in front of hers. “The first chance he gets, he’ll kill you. But with me, you’re safe.” He crossed his arms and waited.
“W-what a nightmare.” Sobbing, she leaned over the edge again and measured the height. Tears rolled down her face and plopped on the dusty ground beneath. After a while, she gazed up into his eyes and swallowed. “T-tell me about you f-first.”
That, he could do, if it helped her calm. “I am Tókwar Sin-av of the Tabenague Nation. Have you heard of it?”
“Have you heard of the Utes?”
“Yes. Where do you live?”
“Near what your people call Great Salt Lake. We’re camped west of the Wasatch Mountain, at the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.”
“What does your name mean?”
“Okay.” She nodded. “How c-come you speak English so well?”
“I’m a hunter. I trade with your people.”
Nodding again, she sniffed and wiped her face.
He was grateful she had temporary relief from the contractions.
She glanced at his wrists. “W-what have you done to yourself?”
His heart squeezed, but he didn’t reply. It was a private matter.
“Why have you come here?” she insisted. “What are you doing here alone, far from your tribe, with your wrists cut?”
He didn’t have to answer that.
Her dark eyes gleamed. “Your name suits you. The lone wolf.”
Ignoring the spite in her words, he gazed at the lifeless bodies in the wagon. Flies buzzed over the open wounds and would soon lay eggs in the rotting flesh. He needed to remove all the dead on the site somehow, so they wouldn’t attract wildlife. He didn’t have the strength to dig graves and bury them properly. The only immediate solution was dumping them into the river. What a horrid task.
As if reading his mind, she gasped. “God, so many people.”
He gazed back at her, when she grabbed her stomach and leaned forward with a wail of pain, the long brown hair sliding over her face like a waterfall.
He wanted to do something to soothe her, but felt useless. Thankfully, he hadn’t been present during Isareta’s delivery and witnessed her extreme pain.
Ugh, old grief bubbled right under the surface of his conscious, but he had to stay focused on the present.
Beside him, the pony whinnied. Maybe it was thirsty. Now that he thought of it, thirst scratched at his throat, too, and he would have to get water for the woman as soon as possible. He sighed, the overload of feelings and physical exhaustion weighing him down.
After a long moment, she rose, panting hard, wet hair sticking to her face. “What do you … want from me?”
He regarded her. He didn’t want anything from her. Life wasn’t only about giving and taking. One could do something that felt right and not expect anything in return.
Her tired eyes searched his.
After a beat, he stated more than he asked, voice low, “You think I can just walk away?”
“Most people would.” She reached him a trembling hand.
Leaning against the wooden box, he pulled her slender arm around his neck, scooped her into his arms, and lifted her out. Her clothes were wet with sweat, blood, and birthing fluids. She was surprisingly heavy and he weakened by the ordeals of the last days and his blood loss, but he wouldn’t falter.
Gathering all his forces, he spun on his heels and walked past the wagon. The pony stared at him with pointy ears. He gave it a wry smile and said in Ute, “Soon, I’ll need your help.” After he carried the woman to a safe place, he would make good use of the pony’s strength to drag the cadavers to the river.
She shifted in his arms and pushed at his chest. “Let me down! I can walk on my own.”
He ignored her.
“God, what have I gotten myself into?” She let out a cry, not of pain this time, but of what sounded like despair.
When he passed the unconscious Cheyenne, she leaned her head against his chest and sobbed, her soft curls brushing his jaw.
Touched by her acceptance and trust in him, he held her tighter.
Stand by me, Creator. By us.
Copyright (c) 2018 Lea Bronsen
Anno 1865. Three regional conflicts, three conflicted hearts.
As the Indian Wars rage in Colorado, Ute hunter Tókwar wanders without purpose after finding his wife and unborn son murdered and mutilated by white trappers. Sick with grief, he’s about to leave for the Spirit World when he witnesses a joint Arapaho/Cheyenne attack on a convoy.
Heavily pregnant Annabelle is the daughter of a cotton plantation owner and his black slave. While her fiancé, a renegade Confederate soldier, is imprisoned at Camp Douglas, she flees the Civil War-ravaged Arkansas with a group of settlers to build a new home at the western frontier.
Dog soldier Hevo thirsts for blood. With his band of warriors on the prowl, he aims to avenge the innocents slaughtered at Sand Creek and wipe out all Pale Faces. His plan comes to an abrupt halt when he’s wounded during a raid gone wrong and forced to assist an enemy Ute deliver a baby.
Becoming responsible for a newborn amid the chaos and pain gives Tókwar some solace, but he knows it’s temporary. The beautiful, feisty mixed-blood mother is restless, and despite his growing attraction for her and fatherly love for her son, he and Hevo must travel east and return her safely to her man. But how will he enter the Pale Faces’ war zone without risking his life—or once more losing his heart?
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