Authors: Catherine Wolffe
Tags: #romance, #love, #civil war, #historical romance, #indians, #western, #cowboys, #frontier, #cowboys and indians, #american frontier
Claudette turned her attention to Broken
Horse. “How long has it been since you’ve seen her, Broken
“Celia’s been back east for a very long
time, almost twelve years. This is her first trip home.” He smiled
“Well, she appears to be coming around now.
That’s good.” She rested her hand on Celia’s. “Your color is
It was the flush of embarrassment at her
lack of control under the circumstances, Celia mused. She frowned
at the fog of her brain and shook her head. The room needed to stop
spinning! Closing her eyes, she prayed for calm.
“I think the salts are working. You’re going
to be fine, dear.” Claudette patted her shoulder absently before
turning again to Broken Horse.
Irritation replaced the better part of the
fog in her brain and now the urge to take out her frustration on
someone proved unmistakable. The precocious Miss Harding was a good
Unaware she was in Celia’s line of fire,
Claudette continued to ask questions of Broken Horse, “You
represent the Comanche in the talks?”
“Yes, I speak for Lone Eagle when we parlay
with the white leaders.” Broken Horse met her gaze squarely.
Claudette nodded affably. “You mentioned
Celia had been back east. Where?”
“Charleston. She went to school there and
worked as a nurse.”
Celia rubbed her temple where the tension
centered. “I can speak for myself, thank you,” she snapped. Pinning
Broken Horse with one cool stare, Celia then turned to Claudette.
“Yes, I went to the white man’s school and got an education.
Amazed?” Celia cocked her head. “Or perhaps, you’re just wondering
how a Comanche half-breed got accepted into a white man’s school,
hum?” She winced inwardly with the sarcastic attack. Assumption was
dangerous. The woman hadn’t given her reason to think Claudette saw
her as nothing more than a Comanche.
Claudette’s smile never faltered as her eyes
traveled from her to Broken Horse and back again in intrigued
attention. “I am pleasantly surprised to be honest. It’s not every
day I get to hold a conversation with not one but two Comanche. The
fact you managed to learn our language and gain an education is
quite spectacular.” Glancing from one cousin to another, Claudette
broke the awkward silence. “Come now. I mean no harm. I’m impressed
to say the least. How long were you in Charleston?”
Her blue eyes moved slowly over Celia taking
in every detail with a smooth and surmising scan. It wasn’t the
first time Celia had witnessed the open curiosity in someone’s
“Almost twelve years.” Guilt started to pry
at her will.
“Well, my dear,” Claudette said, showing a
newfound interest in Celia. “You must have some wonderful stories
to tell. We would love to hear all about them. Wouldn’t we, Seth?”
Claudette peered up at his ruggedly handsome face as he
“Indeed we would.” Seth offered the glass to
Celia, his face as unreadable as ever. “Here now.”
The contact with his fingers was like a
brand she could feel to the depths of her soul. Desperation danced
in her stomach. He was too close. His eyes were too blue, his face
too gorgeous to believe. With the glass in both hands, she managed
to produce yet another embarrassing moment by spilling water down
the front of her suit.
“Oh, dear. Seth, get me a napkin,” Claudette
Celia recovered enough to dab at the water
and murmur a feeble “thank you” when he handed her his own
handkerchief. With a flick of a glance upward, Celia found him
watching her with a keenness, which set her pulse to racing. His
face was as bland as unleavened bread. With nothing more than his
cool regard, Seth had the color in her face rising once more.
Claudette peered closely at Celia once more.
“Her eyes are clear now and her cheeks are pink again. She’s going
to be all right.” Claudette announced and patted Celia’s arm. “She
needs something to eat though.” Seeking agreement from Broken
Horse, Claudette announced emphatically. “You’ll both dine with
Celia’s eyes grew wide. “
reached for Broken Horse’s arm. “That’s very kind of you, but…”
“We’re grateful to you both for your help,
but...” Broken Horse said. Celia didn’t know if he’d read the
trepidation in her face or remembered the time it would take to get
to Lone Eagle’s camp, but she was grateful for his next words. “We
have a long trip ahead of us still and it’s getting late.”
“Nonsense! We insist on your company,”
Claudette stated firmly.
With the blonde’s emphatic response, Celia
fell in behind her cousin and Claudette and let Seth lead her to
the dining hall.
At the entrance, their progress ceased,
halted by a male resembling a boney scarecrow. The skinny fellow
wore a drab, gray suit and was emaciated enough to be a skeleton.
His eyes bugged behind thick spectacles perched precariously atop
his crooked nose. A light emanating from the dining hall shone off
the man’s shining baldhead giving him the appearance of a freshly
polished newel post. Celia recognized the disdain in his face
before he said a word.
“Miss Claudette, Mr. Loflin, may I be of
Their host glanced briefly at Celia before
his neck ran out of his starched, white collar like one of the
cranes she’d seen along the inlets of the Atlantic.
Celia marveled at the man’s coloring. He
reminded her of one of the cadavers they’d used in school to
practice on. At least the cadavers had an excuse for being so pale.
Celia raised an eyebrow at the man in mild irritation.
“Mr. Loflin, Miss Haden, would you like to
be seated?” The man afforded Broken Horse and her one more frigid
“Yes, Alfred. That would be lovely. Thank
you.” Claudette’s reply was warm and seemingly clueless. With
Broken Horse at her side, Claudette moved toward the velvet ropes
barring the entrance to the room.
Celia’s internal battle over Seth’s close
proximity became quickly forgotten as she sensed what was about to
happen. Back east, an Indian provided the curious an exotic oddity
to examine and appreciate like a fine wine. But in Texas an Injun
was less than dirt to most whites. Alfred was most whites.
Lifting a skeletal hand, Alfred effectively
halted their progress. “I’m sorry, Miss Harding.” The man then
turned his attention to Seth with a chilly demeanor. “Mr. Loflin,
we don’t serve Indians.”
Celia was familiar with the tone Alfred
used. Prejudice was still the order of the day in Texas. Releasing
Seth’s arm, she turned for the lobby once more. It would do no good
to cause a scene.
Seth’s hand snaked out and gripped hers like
a vice. Wheeling her to face him, his chin hard and unyielding, he
Celia was surprised. Would he argue the
Reluctant to stay, she stilled, offering him
no resistance but watching his eyes.
Turning, Seth squared his shoulders and took
a step in Alfred’s direction, making the host swallow
His tone was pleasant with just an edge.
“I’ll be paying with good ol’ American money, Alfred. I don’t think
there’ll be any problem.”
He may have been trying to help, but the
implication stung. She could pay her own way. Did Seth assume just
because she was a woman and Comanche she couldn’t pay for her own
meal? She might be overreacting, but she didn’t need his help.
Celia took a step forward. “We’ll leave.” Her words came out cooler
and more clipped than she’d intended. A quick glance at Seth told
her he wasn’t happy with her interference as a muscle jumped in his
jaw. Celia pointedly ignored him and turned to her cousin for
affirmation. “Broken Horse?”
Broken Horse’s eyes remained on Alfred. “No,
Celia, we’re staying.”
Celia blinked. She’d been so sure he would
agree they should leave before causing a scene that she couldn’t
speak. The decision had been made it seemed. Despite her
misgivings, she had to admit she admired Broken Horse’s
determination. He exuded the cool, stoic persona of The People.
Intended to intimidate one’s enemy, his stance invited her to join
him in standing up for themselves.
Glancing from Broken Horse to Seth, she made
her choice and stepped in line with the men. She would discuss her
displeasure with Seth later and she
intend to explain a
few things to the arrogant Mr. Loflin. But for the moment, there
was prejudice to defend against. Glancing back at Seth, who stood
braced for a fight, Celia gathered her fortitude and nodded at him
Out of the corner of his eye, Seth gave her
a cocky wink and then turned his full attention to the host.
“Alfred, please show us to a table.” The tone of his words sliced
coolly through the silence like a filet knife cutting through
Alfred began to fidget. “I’m afraid that’s
not possible.” Swallowing hard, the host lifted his chin another
inch. Finding a point to stare at over Seth’s right shoulder,
Alfred set his mouth in a thin line.
“Why may I ask is that?” Celia imitated
Alfred’s haughty expression. Oh, yes, today was certainly one for
Celia took in the fact all eyes in the
dining hall were on them and the patrons had grown hushed. Small
town gossip, Celia mused. This little standoff would be fodder for
the local gossips for days to come.
Seth broke the silence. “Alfred.” He drew
the man’s name out on his tongue. “I believe the young lady asked
you a question.”
Celia liked the way his voice resounded with
authority. His challenge was clear. She appreciated his support.
Apparently, no one was backing down.
Alfred’s nose wrinkled briefly with disdain.
He never met her eyes as he uttered his next words with dry
contempt. “Madam, I’m afraid this establishment has a policy of
They may as well have been vermin. Vermin
always needed removing, Celia mused. With the blood, pumping in her
ears Celia’s eyebrows flew up in exasperation. “Of all the nerve…”
She made a show of fanning her face in agitation.
Alfred actually flinched, and then gave
every indication he would run given half a chance head start.
Celia clamped her hands on her hips and
stood up as straight as possible. “I suppose you’ve never heard of
the Taylor-Bryant Treaty of 1856?”
Their reluctant host opened his mouth, but
then shut it again.
Armed with her most proper English, Celia
pounced. “Would you like me to contact the Fort and have the Major
explain the finer points of the treaty to you?” Another beat passed
as she tapped her slender booted foot. “I’m sure the Fort commander
would be happy to enlighten you on your obligations and
responsibilities as it pertains to
like us. Don’t
you agree, Broken Horse?”
“Indeed.” Her cousin’s deep voice resounded
Alfred flinched when Broken Horse leaned in.
“Show us to a table.”
Satisfied, Celia folded her gloved hands and
waited. Having to keep the smirk off her lips was difficult.
Alfred’s gaze ran right and then left as if seeking assistance. He
tugged viciously at his starched white collar. Staring imploringly
at Seth and then Claudette before dropping his eyes to the menus on
the sideboard, Alfred swallowed hard. He desperately searched the
hall for another employee, but none appeared.
It didn’t escape Celia’s cool gaze the
host’s pallor had grown even whiter than before.
Finally, without anyone coming to his aid,
Alfred admitted defeat by unhooking the velvet rope from its brass
pole and ushering them in.
Claudette took Broken Horse’s arm and
preceded Celia and Seth to their table. “Well, that was exciting,”
she said to the room at large. “We’ll have to eat out more often,
won’t we Seth?”
The cool glance Seth gave her rolled off
like water. Was she oblivious to what had transpired? Celia glanced
at Broken Horse but gained no idea as to his opinion of her
statement. Unwilling to offer any affirmation to Claudette’s
babbling, Celia concentrated on arranging her suit in the tiny
wooden chair and remained quiet.
After the waiter took their drink orders,
Broken Horse leaned close to Celia. “You realize there is no such
Unable to contain the genuine satisfaction
she felt at having gained a small victory for her “kind”, Celia
gave him a wicked grin before answering. “Really? Well, wherever
did I get that silly notion then?” She shook her head gently as her
words dripped with the warm southern belle dialect she’d mimicked
so many times back east. She batted her eyelashes dramatically for
her cousin while the corners of her mouth curled upward in a
triumphant little smile. Broken Horse and Claudette’s laughter
floated around them as Celia placed the napkin primly in her lap
and concentrated on perusing the menu.
From across the table, she noted Seth shift
his silverware and looked up in time to catch a glimpse of
steely-blue eyes staring hard at her. He’d said nothing since
they’d settled. It needled her she would’ve enjoyed some kind of
reaction from him as well. Then from those dark blue eyes, Celia
saw the briefest of flickers, something akin to admiration in his
depths? The slight curve of her lips was the only sign she’d
noticed the brief response. A small tingle of warmth spread through
her. If the fates were with her, perhaps she could weather this
brief repast unscathed.
“Honey, you sure told him.” Claudette smiled
approvingly and patted Celia’s wrist.
Feeling exuberant, Celia smiled back at
Claudette. So the blonde was a little slow on the draw, so what?
With a wink, she turned her attention to her own menu.
The meal progressed without further
incident. The conversation was light and centered on Tyler and its
people. Claudette proved to be a virtual fountain of information.
Celia was silently grateful for the knowledge Claudette provided.
She learned there was a doctor in town and if there were medicines
she needed, the man could be of assistance. Claudette continued to
dominate the conversation until their coffee arrived.