Authors: Phoebe Conn
Tags: #Indian captivities, #Dakota Indians
The Indian's features had lit up with such unabashed delight when he had seen her that Erica felt the warmth of his pleasure wash over her. She was then pained with a sharp stab of guilt for having wasted so much time getting there. She scarcely knew the man, but all she did know about him suddenly made her long to know far more. While it was difficult to understand precisely why she had so litde respect for the danger that knowing him
presented, she did not hide the fact that she was happy to see him again, too. "If there's no hope I will get your name right in English, may I call you Viper as others do?"
While he had hoped Erica would run into his arms and cover his face with kisses, the Indian was so pleased to see her he did not complain that she had not shown enough enthusiasm in her greeting. "Viper is all right," hea^eed. "Not as nice as Beloved, but it will do." He stood simply staring at her then, thinking the blue of her eyes far prettier than the summer sky. "Who was that man?" he finally had the presence of mind to ask, and instantly his smile vanished at the thought that he had a rival for her affections.
Relieved that he had not immediately tried to kiss her. Erica replied with a careless shrug. "His name is Ernst Schramberger. He's a farmer in need of a wife, and unfortunately he has set his sights on me. I have tried to discourage his attentions, honestly I have, but he just doesn't seem to notice I am not thrilled by them."
"You could tell him you are my woman," Viper offered graciously. "He would stop coming to see you then, wouldn't he?"
"Oh yes, he most definitely would!" Erica agreed with a sparkling laugh, for she could not even imagine herself saying such an outrageous thing. "But since it isn't true, I'll not use you as an excuse to avoid him."
Momentarily confused. Viper frowned slightly, then he reached out to take Erica's hand and drew her near. "What do you mean it is not true?" he whispered softly as he lowered his mouth to hers.
Erica had no time to reply before the Indian's kiss made a hopeless muddle of her thoughts. Again his gentle touch was remarkably soothing, while the feel of his warm, bare back beneath her fingertips provided a heady rush of excitement. His lips caressed hers sweetly, then his tongue slid into her mouth with the easy familiarity of a lover long held dear. The moment she had entered his embrace she had been overcome, as before, with the same reassuring sense of belonging Mark's presence had always created within her. Vijjer was not Mark, however, but a tender savage whose sensual magic enveloped her in a warm blanket of desire.
"This is wrong," Erica's conscience whispered faintly,
barely heard above her wildly beating heart. They were standing at the river's edge, in plain view of anyone going by in a boat, but the danger discovery presented failed to faze her. She was so lost in the Indian's delicious kiss that she ceased to care about anything save pleasing him. When he pulled her down into the soft grass at their feet the wantonness of her behavior still failed to shock her back to her senses.
She kissed the affectionate brave again and again, holding him so close she felt him shudder with the effort to keep his passions in check. Her hands moved down his back then over the soft buckskins that covered his narrow hips. In her mind's eye she recalled the perfection of his lean yet muscular build in such explicit detail it brought a bright blush to her cheeks. She felt his fingertips brush lightly over her breasts, burning her flesh with a possessive caress that seared right through the thin fabric of her pale green gown, making her long to feel her cool bare skin next to the fiery warmth of his. With irresistible affection he lured her to the very brink of rapture, before Erica recalled she could not even pronounce his name.
Viper held the blond beauty cradled in his arms as he lay stretched out by her side. His kisses grew increasingly insistent, but seemingly able to read the half-formed doubts that had suddenly filled Erica's mind, he sensed her reluctance to give their passions free rein and drew back.
"Tell me what is wrong," he encouraged with light kisses that teased her ear lobes before sli£ng down the elegant curve of her throat. "Tell me."
Erica waited until his gaze again met hers before she tried to explain her misgivings tactfully. "I don't really understand why I came here today. I know nothing about you. You are very handsome, of course, and wonderfully affectionate, but—" she lost the thread of her complaint then as the gray of his eyes took on a hypnotic silver gleam. He seemed to see clear through her, past the glowing curls and soft silk gown, past the pretense fine manners required, past all subterfuge to the desolate depths of her heart. "I don't even know you," she whispered in a voice filled with wonder, for while she felt she knew nothing whatsoever about the Indian, somehow their souls had already touched, and each had found the joy of recognition in the other.
"Does it frighten you so that I am Indian?" When she did not respond he made a confession of his own. "It merely surprises me that you are white."
That was such an odd thing for the man to say, that Erica recalled something her uncle had mentioned and asked him about it. "My uncle says you must have white blood to have such light eyes. Is that true?"
"No/* Viper replied with a teasing grin. "My blood is as red as yours."
Erica was certain he was only pretending not to understand her. "You know what I mean. Viper. Someone in your family must be white."
"Would that please you?" the Indian whispered as he continued to lazily nibble her earlobes.
Everything about the man pleased her, but she could not admit that, since it implied an invitation she could not give. Instead, she told him what no one else in New Ulm knew. "It would make no difference," Erica suddenly blurted out in a breathless rush. "I've already promised to marry another man."
"What!" It was Viper who was shocked then. He sat up quickly, and placing his hands upon Erica's shoulders he yanked her up into a sitting pwDsition facing him. "Is it that farmer? Is he the one you've promised to marry?"
"No, it's not he," Erica assured him with a shudder, for she would never a^ee to wed Ernst Schramberger.
Since he had no interest in playing guessing ^mes, the Indian turned his ar^ment in another direction. "You are lyingl If you were m love with another man you would not be here with mel"
"Yes, I know that should be true," Erica agreed, as confused as he by the contradiction between her words and the wild abandon of her behavior.
"Well, if you know it, then why are you here with me?" the Indian snarled with a flash of the same evil temper he had displayed at their first fiery confrontation. He wanted to wring from her lips the confession that she preferred him to any other man, but, sadly, he failed.
Erica swallowed hard, for his lingers were digging into her flesh and sending pains shooting clear to her fingertips, and it was difficult for her to gather the breath to speak. "Oh, it is the damned war," she explained with
a half-choked sob. "The war has ruined all our lives!"
Huge tears welled up in the distraught blonde's eyes and then poured down her cheeks, but Viper did nothing but stare at her in mystified silence. Finally he released her with a disgusted shove and went to check his fishing line. The bait had slipped off the hook, so he added more and tossed the line back out into the river.
Erica could tell by the Indian's rigid jDOSture that he was furious with her. She couldn't blame him, either, when she was furious with herself. She had been drawn to him by the most primitive of human needs, but she thanked God she had not satisfied them at his expense.
When the delicate blonde knelt down by his side, Viper asked angrily, "Why do you think I am fishing?"
"Because it is a relaxing pastime?" Erica guessed incorrectly.
"No! Because I am hungry. I thought you would end another kind of hunger, but now you say you belong to some other man!"
Erica reached out to touch his thick black hair lightly, the sight of his feathers and braids no longer strange to her. When he did not flinch at her touch she rested her cheek upon his bare shoulder as she tried to find a way to tell him good-bye. "Please do not think badly of me. It is only that I am so lonely and frightened that—"
"That savages seem amusing!" Viper taunted her rudely.
"No," Erica murmured softly. Fearing any explanation she offered would only make matters worse, she regretfully rose to her feet. "I think you are a fine man, with both a handsome appearance and a compassionate heart. I am truly sorry to have disappointed you so greatly." She waited a moment, hoping he would forgive her for beginning a romance she now had to end.
Viper's frown deepened to an angry scowl and he stared out at the river as though he were alone. Finally, certain he would never speak to her again, Erica turned away. The Indian heard a soft rustle as the hem of her dress brushed over the leaves, and he knew she had meant her good-bye to be a final farewell. He turned then to watch her until she had disappeared down the trail, but the fierce gleam in his silver eyes said something far different than good-bye.
Erica was relieved when she didn't see Viper in town again. She knew she had handled their brief romance very badly and was grateful he had departed without taunting her with that fact. When Gunter presented her with a handsome carving of a cougar, she thanked him for the unique gift and immediately put it away in the box with the claw where she would not be constantly reminded of why she had asked for a keepsake of the animal. Even after several weeks had passed, her encounter with the amorous brave was still quite vivid in her mind, but she blamed embarrassment, rather than the heady joy of his kisses, as the cause.
Viper, however, made not the slightest effort to forget Erica. He kept the soft curl of her silken hair with him always, so whenever he was alone he could twist it slowly through his fingers. At those times he would recall the luscious taste of her kiss and the gentle swells of her figure until his whole body ached with longing. What did it matter that she had promised herself to another now that she had met him? Was he not fine enough a man for her? It was all too obvious that her answer to that question was different than his. Still, he remembered the startling blue of her eyes and the way the excitemept of their arguments had brought a bright blush to her cheeks, and he knew fate would not have allowed him to meet such an enchanting woman if he were not meant to have her for his own. He
knew that eventually a way to impress the white woman favorably would occur to him. He tried to be patient while he waited for such an inspiration, but unfortunately, he had very little patience.
Viper awakened the instant Two Elk's hand touched his shoulder. He had already drawn his knife before the young man spoke, but after recognizing his friend's voice he slid his weapon back into its sheath.
"What has happened that cannot wait until morning to be discussed?" he asked crossly in the dark as he swept his thick black hair out of his eyes.
Squatting down beside Viper, Two Elk inhaled deeply to have breath enough to explain all that had transpired during the night. "Four braves from Chief Red Middle Voice's Rice Creek Camp killed five settlers at Acton today. Two of them women I"
His full attention captured by that horrifying news, Vif)er sat up auickly. "Do we know the braves, or those who died? Tell me all you know," he ur^ed hoarsely.
"It was those fools Brown Wing, Breaking Up, Killing Ghost, and Runs Against Something When Crawling. They chose shooting whites to prove their courage. The trader Robinson Jones, his wife, her son, a daughter, and another man all died."
Viper knew the braves, for while they had been Upper Sioux, they had married Lower Sioux women. Troublemakers all. He thought them crazy to have killed Jones and his family, for the man had always been friendly to the Sioux. "How did you learn of this?"
"Red Middle Voice has come here with Shakopee to talk with Little Crow about the killings and what must be done. They have sent for the omer chiefs: Mankato, Wabasha, Traveling Hail, and Big Eagle. They are meeting in Little Crow's house right now. Come, we must listen, for the talk is of war."
"War?" Viper was now fully awake and needed no coaxing to follow his friend to the frame house the government had built for their chief, Litde Crow. Two Elk was of medium height with a tough, wiry build. As they joined the warriors who had already crowded into the
chief's dwelling, he jostled his companions this way and that, slipping fetween their ranks until he and Viper had moved to the front where they could not only hear, but also see the chiefs' expressions while they talked. It soon became apparent that the leaders of the Sioux were divided upon what course of action to follow. The two friends listened closely as Chief Red Middle Voice described what he had been told.
While the chief had only the word of the culprits as to what had happened, he reported it along with the fact that the four men involved knew they had created a great deal of trouble for themselves by choosing to prove their bravery by killing whites. They had stolen horses and hastily ridden bade to Rice Creek, where their ^isly tale had quickly stirred cries for an all-out war on whites. Since Shakopee's village was larger. Red Middle Voice had gone to consult with him about the incident. The two chiefs, unwilling to go to war without the backing of all the Lower Sioux, had then come to seek Little Crow's aid.
Viper shook his head, disgusted to think that dares exchanged amon^ four men well known for making trouble had resulted in the senseless deaths of five whites. Regrettable deaths for which he knew they would all be made to suffer. "We will never get our annuity goods and money now," he whispered to Two Elk who nodded in agreement, for he was also certain the government would punish them all rather than only the four guilty men.
Recently defeated by Traveling Hail for the important post of speaker of the Lower Sioux, a bitter Little Crow at first refused to provide any advice on the dilemma the four fools from Rice Creek had created. He made only the dire prediction that white men so outnumbered the Sioux that any thought of war was simply the talk of foolish children. His ridicule did not stop the arguments in favor of an uprising to drive all white settlers from the Minnesota Valley, however. Wabasha and Traveling Hail also insisted it would be folly to make war on the whites, but while they were respected for their wisdom, even as chiefs their influence was limited.