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Authors: Constance O'Banyon

Savage Winter

BOOK: Savage Winter
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Stolen Passion

Windhawk grabbed Joanna by the shoulders and pulled her close.

“You always say no when you mean yes, Joanna,” he said. “I have hungered for your lips,” he whispered against her mouth.

Joanna felt a sob building in her throat. No, she wouldn’t allow Windhawk to make her forget all that was wrong between them.

“Do you think to win me with your soft ways?” she taunted.

She knew in a moment that she had gone too far. Enraged, Windhawk picked her up in his strong arms and carried her kicking and struggling toward the buffalo robe at the back of the lodge.

Joanna began to tremble as Windhawk’s eyes moved hungrily over her body. He bent down and removed her moccasins. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth as his hand moved up her leg. Don’t feel, she warned herself, make your mind a blank. When she gained the courage to open her eyes, she saw that Windhawk had removed his clothing!

He pulled her roughly into his arms. She gasped at the warm, wonderful feelings of pleasure that spread throughout her body with the intensity of a raging forest fire. She felt like a puppet in Windhawk’s soft, stroking hands, and knew that he had only to pull the strings and she would helplessly respond…

Savage Winter
Constance O’Banyon

This is to the unsung heroine and hero of my books, my editor, Leslie Gelbman, who never fails to give me her support and encouragement. I realize when my work is completed on a book, yours has only begun. Thank you for being my mentor and my friend.

SAVAGE WINTER

When winter covers the land and the trees are stark and bare,

I cry out for my true love with the dark raven hair.

I need to feel him touch me as the heart within me dies.

Oh, cruel fate, you have deceived me as the winter snowflakes fly.

When the seeds of doubt are planted, and they begin to grow,

Will he seek the truth from his need to know?

The dark web of silence widens to break love’s tender embrace.

The signs of love are hidden behind an expressionless face.

Constance O’Banyon

Chapter One

Blackfoot Territory, May 1840

Sometimes, when Joanna closed her eyes, she could still see her Uncle Howard’s hateful face and hear the sound of his voice. He was an actor by trade, and when it had suited him, he had been able to mimic the aristocracy. She could remember all too well the feel of his hot, sweaty palm moving over her arm, and she shivered, remembering how disgusted and degraded she had felt whenever he had touched her.

Joanna was sitting on her horse, Fosset, gazing down at the lush green countryside below. She watched the Milk River as it wound its way lazily over the hills and down through the valleys to be lost among the dense forest. From her vantage point, the river appeared no more than a long, narrow ribbon dividing the canyons and mountains in half.

Her eyes moved to the northern bank of the river, where she could see the Indian village that relied on the life-giving water of the Milk River for its survival.

It was at times like this, when she was alone, that Joanna questioned what she was doing living in that Blood Blackfoot village. How far away her home in Philadelphia seemed to her now!

She dismounted and stood silently gazing toward the rising sun. Each time she looked upon the beauty of this land, it was as if she was seeing it for the first time. The sweet grasses of the prairies fed a multitude of wild game. There were large herds of buffalo, deer, elk, antelope, big horned sheep, and many other game animals that Joanna had never seen before she had come to live with the Blackfoot tribe.

Fosset nudged Joanna’s hand, and she absentmindedly stroked his silky white mane. Time had a way of passing here in Blackfoot country without one’s being aware of it, she thought.

Joanna plucked a leaf of sweet, green grass and chewed on the stem thoughtfully. She remembered how dramatically her life had changed within the past two years. Her eyes narrowed with hatred and anger when she remembered the cruelties of her father’s sister, Margaret, who had been disowned by her family for marrying an actor, and her husband, Howard Landon.

Aunt Margaret and Uncle Howard had arrived one day at her home in Philadelphia. If only Joanna had known that day what the future had in store for her and her brother, Tag, she would never have allowed her aunt and uncle to move into her home, no matter how they had played on her sympathy. At the time, her mother had just died, and Joanna’s father had been away on business in the Oregon Country. How was she to know that her uncle was an evil, ambitious man who would soon be in control of her own and Tag’s future?

Joanna felt tears in her eyes, remembering the day she had received word that her father had drowned at sea while on his way back to Philadelphia. Howard Landon had lost no time in going to the family lawyer to have himself declared Joanna and Tag’s legal guardian. That in itself had been bad enough, but when Howard had threatened to send twelve-year-old Tag to sea and began to shower his unwanted attentions on Joanna, she had realized that she and Tag would somehow have to escape.

In a strange quirk of fate, Joanna, unbeknownst to her aunt and uncle, had later received a letter from her father, who had not drowned, but was gravely ill. In the letter he had instructed Joanna and her brother to come to him in Oregon. Joanna’s Uncle Howard had gotten his hands on the letter and had threatened Joanna and Tag. They had been locked in their bedrooms to prevent them from going to their father.

One night, with the help of two faithful servants, Simon and Franny, Joanna and Tag had made good their escape, hoping to reach their father before their Uncle Howard could stop them. At the time, they dared not take a ship to Oregon
Country, knowing their uncle would expect it of them and would have men watching the docks to intercept them.

Simon and Franny had helped Joanna and Tag hide out for several weeks. Finally, in desperation, Joanna had realized that the only way to reach her father was to join a wagon train heading for Oregon Country, which was being settled by many Americans, even though the English claimed it belonged to them.

Joanna ran her hand down the front of her soft doeskin gown, remembering a time when she had dressed in silks and velvets and lived in a huge manor house, with servants seeing to her every need. She and her brother had been born and raised on a country estate in England. Her father, Russell James, had built a shipping empire in the Americas and had eventually moved his family to Philadelphia. Joanna had been a happy, carefree young girl. Little had she known that within a few short years her mother would be dead, and she and her younger brother would have to flee for their very lives, to escape their uncle’s desperate plans to take over their lives and fortune.

Joanna shook her head. She had thought at the time they joined the wagon train that she was being very clever. That had not been the case, however. The wagon train had been ill-fated from the beginning. Somewhere on the vast, never-ending prairies, the wagon train had been attacked by the Piegan Blackfoot tribe, and most of the families had been killed.

Sometimes, at night, Joanna still had nightmares about the Indian raid on the wagon train when so many people had died, including her beloved Franny. For many months Joanna had thought her brother had been killed in that raid. She hadn’t known that he had been taken prisoner by the Piegan Blackfoot and had been forced to endure many cruelties at the hands of their chief, Running Elk.

Running Elk, the chief of the Piegans, had seen Joanna when the wagon train was camped alongside the Platte River. He had wanted her and had attacked the train. During the
raid, Joanna’s team horses bolted, carrying the wagon she had been riding in down a steep embankment. Running Elk had left her for dead, but took her brother as his captive.

Joanna had lain injured at the bottom of the gully for two days until Windhawk, the chief of the Blood Blackfoot tribe, had found her and nursed her back to health.

Joanna had thought Windhawk responsible for the raid. Thinking her brother was dead, Joanna had blamed him for that, as well. Instead, she learned that Windhawk had rescued Tag from Running Elk so Joanna and her brother could be reunited. Windhawk was like no other man Joanna had ever known. To the people of the Blood Blackfoot tribe he was like a god; to his enemies, he seemed indestructible. The white race thought of him as only an Indian legend, not believing he existed. But to Joanna, he was very real.

Joanna became aware that she was thinking in Blackfoot. It was the most natural thing in the world to her now. How strange it seemed that she seldom spoke in English anymore. She knew she would never have any desire to return to the white world. Her heart was too full of love for the darkly handsome chief of the Blood Blackfoot—Windhawk!

When Joanna had first seen Windhawk, he had made her young heart yearn for something she hadn’t understood at the time. Torn as she was between loving and hating him, it had taken a long time for the two of them to overcome the difficulties that kept them apart. But now Joanna was Windhawk’s wife, and she wanted nothing more than to stay with him forever.

Joanna knew the time would come when Tag would return to Philadelphia to face his Uncle Howard and reclaim his inheritance. But that time was not now—Tag was still but a boy. She knew, though, that the day he reached his twenty-first birthday, Tag would be leaving her. She would miss him, but she knew deep in her heart that she would have to let him go.

Looking upward, Joanna could feel the warm sun on her
face. Her world was here beside the man she loved. She was content to bask in the love of her tall, dark husband, Windhawk!

Seeing the morning was passing, Joanna picked up Fosset’s trailing reins and mounted. Turning him toward the village, she nudged him forward into a lope.

Joanna looked about the Indian lodge that had become her home. There were soft buffalo robes for her and Windhawk’s bed. The lodge was larger than the others in the village, because Windhawk was chief of the Blood Blackfoot, and many council meetings had to be held in it. On the floor were five huge bearskin rugs, each symbolizing Windhawk’s bravery and skill as a hunter. In the middle of the room was a cook-fire. There was a hole at the top of the lodge, which allowed the smoke to escape. At one time, human scalps had hung from the lodgepole, but at Joanna’s pleading Windhawk had removed them. The lodgepole now held baskets and Joanna’s cooking utensils. Windhawk’s weapons hung on the wall, and several spears were stacked neatly beside the entrance.

Joanna hummed happily to herself as she rotated the spit over the cook-fire so the deer roast would brown evenly. The juices from the meat spattered onto the fire, giving off a delicious aroma.

Her mind turned backward to the time when Windhawk had first brought her to the Blackfoot village. At that time, she had believed herself to be his captive.

She remembered the struggle that had taken place within her because she had been attracted to the young chief. Against her will, she had been drawn to him. Her attempts to draw away from him had become futile because she loved him so desperately. She remembered the time she had escaped from him, only to have him find her and bring her back. She smiled to herself, thinking that nothing could ever induce her to leave Windhawk again. With him, she had found unbelievable happiness.

She realized that grown men often quaked with fear at the mere mention of Windhawk’s name, but she knew him to be a gentle man. He had a deep understanding of a woman’s heart and was always loving and tender with her. She was constantly amazed by his patient and generous nature.

She picked up one of his buckskin shirts and held it to her cheek before folding it neatly and putting it in a leather satchel. Windhawk was no legend, as the white men thought, nor a young god, as the Indians believed. He was a man…the man who had won her heart.

Glancing about the lodge once more, she felt her heart swell. Like any wife who loved the man she was married to, Joanna felt pride in keeping house for Windhawk. She felt such pleasure in doing the little things that made the lodge their home.

Realizing the hour was late, Joanna moved to the cook-fire. Seeing that the meat was now done, she removed it from the spit and placed it on a wooden platter. Soon Windhawk would be home, and her young heart raced as she thought of her tall, dark husband.

BOOK: Savage Winter
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