The Ranger and the Redhead [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lynna Banning
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: 19th Century American West.... Rescued by a ranger... Kidnapped by Indians, Charlotte Greenfield thinks her life is over. Yet when a Texas Ranger comes to her rescue, she soon discovers it has only just begun! Rugged Will Bondurant sees her not as a buttoned-down schoolmarm, but as a vibrant woman with a passion for adventure--and for him! Meeting every challenge their westward trek throws at them, Charlotte's fire and determination warm Will's troubled heart. But Will is unaware of Charlotte's biggest secret, one that leads to danger, and could easily destroy the fierce bond they share...
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Historical
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2007
2 Reader Ratings:
The column of black smoke spiraled into a noon sky so blue it looked painted. Will reined in his mare and watched the smoke dissipate in the hot wind. Seven, maybe eight miles ahead, he calculated.
He didn't have time to ride out of his way, but he had to know. McCray's orders would have to wait. Might even save him a few hundred miles of tracking a man through sage scrub and dried-up water holes. He nudged the mare forward across the scorching plain.
By the time he reached the smoldering remains of the wagon, he'd pulled his neckerchief up over his mouth and nose to block the acrid smell.
No horses. No oxen. Just the sheared-off leather lines where the reins had been cut. Sioux, most likely. Must be a wagon train up ahead; stragglers didn't last long out here.
He dismounted and prodded the piles of blackened cinders with the toe of his boot. Nothing. No bones, anyway. The wagon occupants must have fled on foot.
Will remounted, pulled his hat low to shade his eyes from the sun and scanned the flat plain in a slow circle. A person on foot would head west, toward water. Will turned his horse in that direction.
* * *
The old man lay facedown about four miles from the trail, an arrow in his back and a strip of his scalp missing. Poor bastard. Will slid off the horse and dragged the corpse into the shade of a cottonwood, untied his camp shovel and sweated for an hour digging a shallow grave.
He had just shoveled the last spadeful of dirt over the body when something caught his eye. A bit of white fabric fluttering on a branch of sage. He strode toward it with a sinking feeling in his gut.
Lace. A scrap of white lace, maybe torn off a petticoat.
A cold chill crawled up his back. A woman.
He thought over the possibilities. If they'd wanted her dead, she'd be lying alongside the man, an arrow in her back. If they'd taken her alive, they'd use her for ransom or trade or…worse.
He mounted and rode in widening circles until he found another piece of lace trapped against a tumble-weed and the tracks of an unshod horse. They were moving north. Sioux country.
By the time he'd traveled another hour he'd recovered three more bits of white petticoat and the horses were easy to track. He figured it had to be White Eagle's band, and now he knew exactly where they were taking her.
Hell and damnation. That's the last thing he needed now, a dustup with White Eagle. But he spurred the horse forward anyway.
* * *
The air inside the stifling tepee smelled of dust and something dark and smoky. With each choking breath Charlotte thanked God she was alive and tried not to think about the fate of Mr. Thomas. Tried desperately not to think about her own fate, after the Indian had unceremoniously dumped her off his pony and shoved her inside the deer-hide structure.
Would they kill her? Charlotte swallowed. How did Indians kill their captives, starve them to death? Torture them?
Or would they force her to…She shut her eyes. Surely this was not the sacrifice Papa had meant when she'd told him of her plans. Why, why had Mr. Thomas not stayed with the wagon train? A weakened axle, he had said. When the Indians had swept toward them, the old man shouted for her to run.
She managed to get only a few hundred yards before she was snatched off her feet and tossed onto a hot, almost bare lap. By the time the Indian slowed the horse to a walk, her stomach felt as if it had been pounded with a sledgehammer. Unable to help herself, she had vomited onto the horse's withers, and the brave had backhanded her. Her jaw still ached.
It felt unreal, like a terrible nightmare. As if she were sleepwalking, not thinking or feeling, just sitting here like a trapped animal, trying to force her lungs to draw air in and out. Her mind felt as sluggish as cold molasses. And she was tired, so tired.
How long had she been here? From the heat inside the tepee, and the amount of light filtering in through the stretched skin wall, she guessed it was late afternoon. No one on the wagon train knew what had happened. No one would even know where to look for her.
Her throat was parched. Her belly was knotted, whether from hunger or terror she didn't know. It just hurt. Oh, God, what was going to happen to her?
She crept to the door flap, pushed it aside and peeked out through the crack. An old woman, her spine bent like a twisted hairpin, labored slowly across an open area surrounded by other tepees. She disappeared into the largest tent and did not reemerge. Charlotte's heart sank. Weren't they going to feed her? She would give anything for a sip of water.
Dropping the flap, she slumped down on the pile of buffalo robes stacked opposite the door flap and tried to pray. Dear God, I feel so alone. Please, please help me to be brave.
The buzz of insects in the stifling interior made her head pound. She rubbed her forehead to ease the dull ache.
An hour went by, she guessed. Maybe two. Lord help her, was she going to die here in an Indian camp? Would her life end before she had a chance to put her dreams to the test?
Copyright © 2005 by The Woolston Family Trust.