“You don't give a damn about my arm.” She was trying not to cry as she struggled to get out from under him. She could feel every inch of his hard, aroused body along the length of hers. Her gray shirt had come open, and his brass buttons pressed into the flesh of her breasts.
“You little liar,” he swore, and she felt the warmth of his breath on her neck, “I ought to turn you over my knee for running away.”
“Why not whip me to death!” she screamed in defiance.
“Don't tempt me, Yank.” One of his big hands went to cover her bare breast.
“You're going to rape me. I knew it.” She gritted her teeth and glared up at him.
He shook his head and sighed regretfully as he stood up. “Unlike you, my little Yankee whore, I'm not a liar.”
She reached to jerk her shirt closed because in the moonlight, she could see the way he was staring down at her with hot desire in his dark eyes. “IâI was afraid.”
He snorted with derision. “A whore afraid of men? I doubt it, slut.” He reached down, caught her hand, and pulled her to her feet. “So why did you run?”
She didn't look at him. “IâI figured the Yanks would pay better than a bunch of poor crackers who can't even afford new boots.”
“Now, that I can believe, you greedy little tart. Our troops haven't been paid in a while. Come here.” He held out one hand.
She backed away. “Why?”
“You want to walk back to camp?”
“I'm perfectly capable of walking.” She didn't want those hot hands on her body again.
“Oh, hell, I'm tired of fooling with you, girl.” Before she realized what he was about to do, he caught her wrist and swung her up in his strong arms, turned, and strode back through the darkness. She was exhausted, and he probably was, too. She sighed and laid her face against his wide chest, wondering what might happen next.
Jim Eagle tried not to look down at the slender girl he carried. Her flesh was soft, and her tumble of hair smelled of scented soap. She was no common camp follower, this one, yet he still wasn't certain she was nothing more than a high-priced whore. If she knew anything, he was going to find it out, and one thing was certain: if he got a chance, he was going to bed her and see if she was as skilled as she was beautiful. It was time the Confederates shared a few of the delicacies Yankee officers were enjoying!
In silence now, he carried her back to his fire and sat her on the ground. The camp had grown quiet except for an occasional horse whinnying and, somewhere, a dog barking.
She studied him, trying to decide what to do next. Maybe she could make a friend of him and gain his trust. As a last resort, the way he stared at her told her she still might seduce him. “I'm cold; is there any more coffee?” She put her arms around herself, letting her unbuttoned shirt hang open so he could see her breasts.
“Help yourself.” He seemed to be attempting not to look at her nakedness as he squatted on the ground by the fire.
As she poured herself a cup, she considered splashing him with the boiling liquid and making a run for it again, but decided against it. “You want some?”
He shook his head. “Look, I've been on patrol all day. What I need is sleep, not coffee.”
She sat down on the log next to him. “I'm sorry I'm so much trouble, but thank you for bandaging my arm.”
He didn't move. “I'd do it for any prisoner.”
“You really hate me, don't you?” She sipped her coffee.
“You disgust me,” he snapped. “To think a Cherokee girl would work as a whoreâ”
“Might as well be a Cherokee as any other. I'll wager you never give a thought to the hundreds of women working soldier camps in this war.”
“The Cherokee are a proud people with a long heritage,” he said. “I'm ashamed for you.”
Tears came to her eyes, and she blinked them away. “I hate my Indian blood. Up north, the white girls made fun of me. They called me a âsavage,' âredskin,' and âhalf-breed. '”
“The Cherokee are one of the Five Civilized Tribes,” he said, “and we had a high civilization, fine homes, even black slaves before greedy white people found gold on our lands in Georgia.”
“Then why do you support the South?” she asked. “Did your family own slaves?”
He shook his head. “I support the Confederacy as the lesser of two evils. I've never trusted the Union after President Jackson forced our people to walk the Trail of Tears in the chill of winter. I lost many relatives on that long, deadly trek, as did your mother, I'm sure.”
She didn't answer.
He sighed. “We were betrayed by the Union after we were their allies and friends, fighting on their side against the British in the War of 1812.”
Again April said nothing, only sipped her coffee. She knew the Creek tribe had fought on the side of the British in that war until they were defeated in the bloody Battle of Horseshoe Bend. The Cherokees had been treated no better than the Union's enemies. No wonder Jim Eagle was bitter.
“Besides,” her captor said, “the Confederates have hinted that if they win, they will let the Indians have their own separate state with no white people invading it.”
She thought about it. “Maybe they lie, too.”
“Maybe, but we already know the Union lies to us, so I'm willing to take the chance.” He picked up a stick and began to scratch in the dirt.
April looked at his worn boots and faded uniform. “It doesn't seem to be going very well.”
“I don't need a Yankee whore to tell me the obvious.” He continued to scratch in the dirt with his stick.
In the firelight, she watched him and almost felt sorry for this weary, bitter warrior. Then she took a good look at the marks he was making in the dirt. A row of X's. What was it the major had said to herâsomething about their only clue? She took a deep breath and stared. Was Jim Eagle sending her a signal or was he fishing to see what she knew? There was no doubt she'd found either her contact or the spy she sought.
“What's the matter with you?” He paused and looked directly at her.
“Nothing.” She was afraid to comment on his marks in the dirt. Was he the spy she sought, or was he attempting to trap her?
Trust no one.
If she made the wrong choice . . . ? She feigned a yawn. “I'm tired, too. If I gave you my word of honor that I won't run off, would you not tie me?”
“The word of honor of a whore?” He raised one eyebrow.
She hesitated. “What about the word of honor of a half-Cherokee girl?”
Now he threw back his head and laughed. “You just got through denying you were Cherokee. You can't have it both ways, you littleâ”
“All right; I can see you'd never believe me, no matter what I told you.” She held out her wrists, and when he began tying her, she looked up at him and ran her tongue across her lips. “I won't charge you for kissing me,” she whispered.
“You think pretty highly of yourself, don't you?”
“Men tell me I'm skilled at what I do.” Before he could react, April slipped her arms around his neck and kissed him. She didn't know much about kissing, but she followed her own emotions, putting her warm, wet mouth over his, her lips half open, her tongue tracing a path across his until he opened his lips and took the tip of her tongue inside. Then he took over the kiss with a deep, sharp breath and pulled her so close that her breasts were crushed against his chest.
She had never been kissed before, but she was bedazzled by the sensation and never wanted it to end. She put all her pent-up passion into her kiss.
He seemed to pull away with great difficulty, breathing hard. “Damn, you are skilled. If you kiss every man like that, no wonder they're willing to pay so much.”
She smiled up at him. “That was just a free sample. Maybe when I get to know you better, there'll be more.”
If she gave him her virginity tonight, he'd realize that her whole story about being a whore was a lie, and then he might figure out she was a spy. On the other hand, if he was the agent she sought... “Some other time. Looking forward to a treat is half the fun.”
He cursed under his breath. “Maybe for you, you little tart. You get men to pay more that way?”
“I told you I'd give you a free sample. That was it. I don't reckon you have the gold cartwheel I charge.”
“Twenty dollars? You are joking.” He looked shocked and angry.
April drew a sigh of relief. She had figured correctly that he didn't have that much money.
“You conniving slut, I could just help myself.”
She smiled a little too sweetly. “But it'll only be enjoyable if I'm willing, and the more I'm paid, the more willing I become.”
He swore under his breath. “And to think that long ago, I once thought . . .”
“Thought what?” She settled herself on her blanket.
“Nothing. I reckon there's not much left of the girl I once knew.”
His harsh words stung, but she would not cry even though she blinked rapidly. Once she had been in love with this man, once when she was too young and she had been pledged to his brother. “You're wasting my time, reb. Let's get some sleep, shall we?”
He smiled without mirth while reaching into his jacket. “I never thought I'd do something like this, but I just happen to have the money.” Almost triumphantly he held up a handful of silver dollars, and the campfire made them gleam in the darkness.
April's mouth went dry. He was calling her bluff. “Maybe you should think it over, reb. I'll wager you have better use for the money.”
A shadow crossed his rugged, handsome face. “I planned to spend it on things for the ranch, but I may not live to see the end of the war, so maybe I should take some pleasure while I can.” With a contemptuous nod, he tossed the coins into her lap.
Oh, God, now what was she going to do?
“IâI really am tired. Why don't we put this off until another night?”
“A whore turning down hard cash?” His tone was faintly mocking and dripping with contempt.
She had to make him believe she was a whore, for her own safety. “All right, we'll do it, but at least give me a chance to wash up a little.”
“Sure. I've got some soap, and the river is close by.”
She tucked the money into her shirt and stood up. Maybe when she got to the river, she could escape. “Now, you just wait hereâ”
“You think I'm that naive?” He glared at her. “I'll go with you to make sure you get back.”
“I'm not going to let you watch me wash,” she protested.
“Whores let men see them naked all the time; why are you suddenly so modest?”
“All right, if you must. Bring the soap and a towel.”
Her heart was beating with trepidation as she started for the river with the big Cherokee following along behind. Was there any place along the way that she could dart into the woods and lose him? It didn't seem likely. She walked slowly, but in only moments they were standing by the water.
Now what? Slowly she began to unbutton her shirt.
Behind her, Jim Eagle complained, “At this rate, we'll still be standing here at noon tomorrow. Hurry it up.”
“The anticipation is half the pleasure,” she said, not looking at him.
“I thought whores are like any businessâtime is money.”
There was nothing to do but keep undressing. She could only hope for some interruption. She turned her back to him and slipped off the shirt.
“Don't I get a look at what I'm buying?”
“Don't be in such a rush.” She tried to sound coy, but her mouth was so dry, she could hardly swallow. She sat down on a rock, took off her boots, then stood up. Her hands went to her belt. What kind of mess had she gotten herself into? Was all that money she'd been promised worth losing her virginity? It might be a choice between that and her life.
“Stop stalling,” he demanded. “If there's any kind of action back at the camp, I might get called away.”
She'd been counting on that, but it didn't seem to be happening. To be believable, she was going to have to let this man use her body for the evening or risk being shot as a spy. Ever so slowly she took off her trousers and stood with her back to him.
She heard a deep intake of breath. “You're worth the money, all right.”
“Toss me the soap and towel.”
“Come and get them.”
There was nothing to do but turn around and walk toward him in the moonlight, feeling his hungry eyes devouring every inch of her. April forced herself not to cross her arms over her body. She smiled archly. “So you like what you see, reb?”
“You know I do. Forget the bath. I'll have you right here and now.” He reached for her, but she slipped away from him, grabbed the soap and towel, and hurried into the water.
“I choose the time and place,” she answered. “Now, why don't you go back to camp and give me some privacy?”
He shook his head. “You're too desirable. I could watch you all night.”
“Then we'd never get to the best part, would we?” She grinned at him and began to bathe, feeling his hot gaze sweeping her body even as she moved deeper into the water.
She washed with one hand, keeping the bandaged arm out of the water, while he leaned against a tree and watched her silently. How on earth could she get out of this? She spent a long time washing until finally, Jim Eagle seemed out of patience. “Hell, you've washed every inch of yourself twice. Come on out.”
There was nothing to do but come out of the water and reach for the towel she'd left hanging over a tree limb.
Jim Eagle watched her emerge, wet and naked. Her beautiful, lush body shone in the moonlight, and he had never wanted a woman so badly. Without a word he reached and caught her, pulled her into his embrace. She was stiff and wooden as he tried to kiss her.
“Not here,” she protested. “Let's go back to camp.”
He was loath to let her go, but grudgingly he turned her loose. “No wonder you command so much moneyâyou really know how to make a man lust for you.”
She smiled up at him with those full lips half parted as she wrapped the towel around her body. “Part of the job.”
He took a deep breath, needing her so badly, his hands trembled. “And to think, I doubted you were a whore. Here, let me carry you back to camp. You're wounded and barefooted, and there's stickers in the grass.”
She hesitated, then nodded. “All right.”
He had never had such pleasure as he felt now, reaching for her. Her lithe body was wrapped in a towel, but the bare skin of her shoulders and arms was wet and warm. He grabbed up her clothes and held her close as he turned to walk back to camp, then bent his head and kissed the wetness of her throat. “You are really something,” he murmured.
“You'll find out,” she promised.
He strode toward camp, carrying her. She weighed hardly anything and fit into his arms as if she belonged there. She seemed to be trembling, which puzzled him. Maybe it was part of her actâexciting men by pretending to be reluctant.
He carried her back to camp and laid her gently on his blanket near the fire, then tossed her clothes nearby. Her skin was still wet, and her hair had come loose and hung around her shoulders. Now he stood looking down at her and very slowly unbuckled his belt. “Take off the towel.”
She ran her tongue over her lips and looked around as if searching for escape. “Wouldn'tâwouldn't you rather take it off me?”
He reached down and jerked the towel away, tossed it on the grass. He never took his eyes off her as he peeled off his shirt and then his pants. He was wearing nothing underneath.
April looked up at him, her heart hammering. She had never felt so vulnerable as she did at this moment with his hot gaze sweeping over her. His dark, naked body bore several battle scars, and the taut muscles rippled as he came toward her and dropped to his knees. She leaned back on her elbows and tried to smile at him. The poultice on her arm was workingâshe barely felt any pain. “IâI'm about to prove to you I'm the best whore you ever topped.”
“It'll be my pleasure.”
Again she managed to quell the reflex to cover herself with her hands. “You like what you see?”
His eyes were dark with desire. “You know I do. The question is, will your performance be as good as you look?”
Would it? She barely knew anything about sex, much less how fancy whores pleased men. If she couldn't fool him, he'd know she had been lying and start asking questions that she didn't want to answer. “I'll prove it, and then you can tell the others. Some of them might be willing to pay plenty to enjoy me.”
He frowned as if he didn't like that thought, even as he reached out and caught her bare shoulder, jerking her to him. He kissed her then, deeply, his tongue going into her mouth as he pulled her against him so roughly, she could feel the hard muscles of his chest against her bare breasts. One of his big hands went to explore her breasts, and in spite of herself, she felt her own excitement rising.
She put her small hands on his wide shoulders, feeling the sinewy strength there as he shifted her so that his hot mouth was on her breast, kissing and caressing. She gasped at the sensation and couldn't hold back a moan of pleasure.
Now they lay together naked on the blanket, his strong hands roaming her body while her soft ones explored his. He was narrow-waisted, small-hipped, and steel-muscled. She imagined what it was going to be like when he put his manhood inside her, and the thought scared her, but she knew she must not protest or he would know she had lied.
“You really know how to excite a man,” he gasped against her breast, and she felt the heat of his breath on her bare flesh. “I never should have doubted you were a whore.”
She was scared, but she knew she'd have to go through with it. His hands stroked her skin until she had goosebumps all over and was clinging to him, wanting this union as his fingers went to stroke between her thighs, making her shudder with pleasure.
“I never believed I could want a woman like I want you,” he whispered, his voice thick with desire. “You may get my entire paycheck for the next few months.”
She didn't intend to be here any longer than it took to search out the spy and receive the reward, but at this moment, she didn't want to think about anything past loving this savage, virile man.
“Now,” he whispered, “I'm going to do what I've wanted to do since the first moment I saw you the day my brother brought you home to the ranch.”
He had wanted her then? How much time had they lost by not admitting their attraction to each other? And now he thought she was a whore, and she dare not tell him the truth. Nothing mattered now except that she wanted to mesh with this man for a few wild moments of passion in the moonlight.