Authors: Phoebe Conn
Tags: #Indian captivities, #Dakota Indians
This book made available by the Internet Archive.
/ would like to dedicate this book to the valiant spirit of the A merican Indian, and to all of us who proudly claim to share that magnificent heritage.
The excellent research materials available from the Minnesota Historical Society proved to be a valuable resource for this book. Their publications allowed me to create a work of fiction firmly based on fact, and for that wonderful assistance they have my sincere gratitude.
Mark wound his fingers in Erica's glossy blond curls to hold her mouth fast to his as he deepened his kiss. He loved her with a passion that made his soul sing, and that she returned his enthusiastic affection with such unabashed delight was a source of endless joy and wonder. The lithe beauty lay in an enticing pose, reclining across his lap amid a heap of lavender silk and frilly sachet-scented lace. Although they were seated upon a velvet settee in her parlor, he had no fears her father would suddenly enter the room to spoil the beauty of the moment by angrily accusing him of leading his lovely daughter astray. The hour had grown quite late, but Lars Hanson trusted him completely with his beautiful daughter. Ashamed at how far he had led her this time, Mark pulled away. "Erica," he began, his deep voice hoarse with desire, but she simply pulled him back into her arms to claim his heart anew with another of her wild and delicious kisses.
Erica knew instinctively what Mark had wanted to say, and since it was the very last thing she wished to hear, she gave him no opportunity to speak it. Her tongue toyed seductively with his, insuring his silence as her fingertips combed lazily through the tawny curls at his nape. She longed to take their love for each other to the limits of physical expression, and that he still refused to do so both hurt and maddened her. She wanted him, all of him, and the desire that filled her heart gave her sweet kiss the
intoxicating flavor of fine wine. When he again drew away, she was disappointed her ploy had failed and began her argument in a breathless whisper before he could restate his.
"We still have a week before you have to report for duty, Mark. Why don't we wake the priest and get married tonight? When you insist you want me for your wife, how can you bear to wait another minute to make that dream come true?"
Mark Randall took a deep breath and let it out slowly, hoping to clear his mind, but the aching need Erica's lavish kisses had aroused within him still throbbed painfully in his loins, providing a terrible distraction to coherent thought. "More than anything in this world I want to make you my bride. Erica, but not yet, not until the war is over and won."
Thoroughly exasperated by Mairk's continual refusal to see reason. Erica slid off his lap. Taking a step away from the small sofa, she began to pace restlessly, her gestures filled with the fury of her mood while her tone remained very much that of a lady: soft and sweet. "If we were married, then you'd have a home to which to return at the war's end, and possibly a family. We have a week, Mark, don't throw it away when there's the chance we can create a child we'd both love dearly."
Mark's admiration shone in his smile as the graceful blonde turned toward him, for he was certain she was the loveliest woman ever bom. Even with her fair curls falling about her shoulders in casual disarray she had a more vibrant beauty than he had ever seen in another woman. Her eyes, the deep blue of plush velvet were framed by long, dark lashes, and her skin had the luscious pink blush of peaches and cream. Her features were delicate, and yet so wonderfully expressive he could not fail to see how badly she wanted him to agree to her request. Holding out his hands, he tried to coax her back into his arms, but she remained proudly aloof and he had to respond with words.
"Erica, you are barely seventeen, and while marrying so hurriedly mi^ht sound wonderfully romantic to you, I'll not risk leavmg you alone and pregnant. It is precisely because I love you so much that our marriage will have to waiit. I'll not take the chance of making you a widow, or
worse yet, seeing you tied to an invalid for the rest of your I life. The conflict with the South can't last much longer. Truly it can't."
"It has gone on for more than a year alreadyl" Erica reminded him with a defiant toss of her disheveled curls. [e frequently called her too headstrong for her own good, but their marriage was too important an issue for her not to defend it as aggressively as she possibly could.
Mark nodded sadly. "That's true, and a lot of brave men won't be coming home no matter when it ends. I want only to spare you that grief."
Erica stared at her fiance in angry disbelief. "How can you imagine my grief would be any the less deep if you were not my husband? If you were to suffer the slightest injury I would be heartbroken but I'd never stop loving you. If the war left you an invalid, I'd still want to be your wife. You aren't protecting me from sorrow by insisting we not marry until peace is declared. You are only causing me needless grief nowl"
Since Erica hadn't returned to his embrace on her own, Mark rose and went to her. He slipped his arms around her narrow waist and drew her close. "Thank you for swearing to love me no matter what happens, but one day you will thank me for being so cautious. Erica, I'm sure of it."
"I'll never be grateful to you for denying us this chance at happiness, Mark, never 1" Erica placed her hands uF)on his broad chest to shove him away, but he was far too strong a young man to be bothered by even her mightiest efforts to elude his grasp. When she looked up at him, ready to scream in frustration, he lowered his head and captured her mouth in a searing kiss that left her clinging to him when he finally drew away. But still she would not give in. "I'll not change my mind, Mark. I want to marry you now, or tomorrow morning if you'll not agree to having the ceremony tonight."
Mark stood with the slender beauty enfolded in his embrace. He could rest his chin quite comfortably upon the top of her head and did so as he talked to her in the most soothing tone he could manage. "Your father's plan is the best, my love. With both of us leaving Wilmington next week, you'll be far better off in Minnesota than here in Delaware. Your mother's people are already expecting
you, and I'm certain you'll find New Ulm a charming j community."
"It can't possibly have even an ounce of charm when i you won't be there with me," Erica insisted darkly. "I am f old enough to be married and run my own household ) instead of being shipped off to live with relatives as though I were some pathetic little orphan who is incapable of taking care of herself."
It took a long moment for Mark to think of an optimistic way to refute that sorry opinion, since he was convinced Lars Hanson's motives for joining the army were self-destructive rather than noble like his own. The man was a physician who had once been pKjpular and widely respected, but since the death of his wife two winters past he had shown scant interest in his lovely daughter and even less in the other f)eople who touched his life. Indeed, Mark had always feared the primary reason Erica loved him so desperately was because she had an extremely affectionate nature and craved the attention her mother could no longer provide and her father was too lost in his own sorrow to notice she needed. Emotionally abandoned by her only parent, she seemed already to feel like an orphan, and he was afraid she would soon actually be one, for more than one physician had lost his life while tending the wounded on the front lines.
"You mustn't fear the future, Erica. Someday soon we'll be able to make our life together, and I promise you it will be a happy one," he finally said.
He had relaxed sufficiently for the lively blonde to move back a step, and as she slipped from his arms she asked a probing question. "If you are positive our life together will be wonderfully happy, why won't you agree to begin it now?"
"Because I love you enough to want to wait," Mark reminded her softly, not taking the bait to begin their argument anew.
Erica smoothed out the folds of her full skirt so the whisper-soft fabric would fall in a graceful cascade over the hooped petticoat. But she knew it was wasted effort to be concerned about her appearance when her father wouldn't be awake to wish her a goodnight. He had gone up to his room right after supper with the bottle of brandy
that seldom left his side. Knowing no matter what they did her father would undoubtedly be too sound asleep to overhear, she suggested the only alternative she had left. "If you won't marry me, will you at least make love to me?"
Mark was so shocked by that provocative invitation that he simply stared at the persistent young woman until he finally realized she was serious. "Dear God in heaven. Erica. What are you trying to do to me, simply tear me apart?"
Feeling surprisingly calm, the lovely blonde explained what she wanted. "Since you won't gi\e me your name, won't you at least give me your love? My father seldom awakens before noon, and our housekeef>er left for her own home after supper. We can spend the night together in my room and no one need ever know. It will be our secret."
Mark swallowed hard, unable to catch his breath for a moment. Here was the beautiful young woman he adored asking politely if he would make love to her, and he knew the only honorable answer was a firm no. It took more willpower than he had thought he possessed to say it, though. "If you got pregnant it wouldn't be our secret for long, Erica and you would be in twice the trouble you would be in if we were married. I love you with all my heart, but we'll have to wait until after we're married to make love."
"And you'll not marry me until the war is over, no matter how many years it takes, will you?" Erica complained as her midnight-blue eyes filled with tears. She knew a lady should never ask a gentleman to make love to her, let alone beg for affection as she just had, but it was not her own boldness that appalled her but the fact that Mark had turned her down. She thought him incredibly handsome. He was tall and well-built, with curly light brown hair that the sun had kissed with golden highlights and warm brown eyes that were always filled with a loving glow. He was also so incredibly stubborn she didn't think she could bear to see him again before he left to become a lieutenant in the Union Army.
"I want you to go on home, and don't bother to come back until you're ready to bring the priest with you. I can't
face another night like this one where you've kissed me as though I'm your woman one minute and then treated me as though I'm still a child who must be shielded from all possible adversity in the next."
"Erica, please don't say that. Don't even think it," Mark begged. "I want to see you every chance I have. Tomorrow we can spend the whole day together if you like. We could go riding or go on a picnic, or—"
"What's the point, when the evening would end with this same pathetic scene? I want to enjoy every last moment of today and hope for the best from tomorrow, while you're determined the worst is going to happen to us both. You're making me feel as though I were already a widow, only I have no beautiful memories of a happy marriage. You know the way out," Erica sobbed as she raised her hand to muffle the sound of her tears. No longer able to argue, or to bear the confusion of his glance, she fled from die room and dashed up the stairs, hoping Mark would finally feel every bit as lost and alone as she did.
For the briefest of instants Mark considered pursuing her, but he knew he couldn't trust himself to keep his passions in check should they continue their argunient in ner bedroom since he could barely control his emotions in the parlor. "Damn it all, but you are still a child at times, Erical" he muttered under his breath as he let himself out the front door. He knew he had made the right choice. As a man who prided himself upon being a gentleman, he was positive of that fart, but he had never imagined his decision to postpone their weddin^^ would hurt Erica so terribly, ana her sorrow touched him deeply.
When he returned to the Hanson home late the next morning, Mark held a large bouquet of colorful spring flowers. His sister, Sarah, had packed a scrumptious lunch in the picnic basket he had left in the buggy, and he was confident that with a wily combination of humor and charm he could coax Erica into spending the day with him no matter how furious her mooa had been when they had parted. When her father opened the door, he greeted him warmly. "Good morning. Dr. Hanson. Will you please tell Erica I've come to see her?"