A young Mandan Indian woman, Woape, flees her tormentors in the middle of the night. Gary Milton finds her but can't figure why three Indian men want to harm her. But of one thing he is certain: he must save her. So that's exactly what he does.
Feeling safe with him, Woape follows him home. Stuck in a white man's world and haunted by her past , she clings to him and becomes his wife. But Woape's past is not very far behind, and when it eventually catches up with her, much more becomes at stake. Will the peace and security she longs for ever find her? Or, will her life be in the hands of her tormentors forever?
Gary and Woape...
When he kissed her this time, she leaned into him. It felt right to be with him. She wished she could wrap herself in his embrace and stay there forever. She rested her head on his shoulder and held onto him, closing her eyes and listening to his heartbeat.
Finally, he stepped away from her and pointed to the town. "Come."
She nodded and got back on her horse.
He glanced in her direction. Smiling, he shook his head, said something, and hopped on his steed.
Sometimes it frustrated her that she couldn't understand most of what he said, for how could she decide if what he meant was good or not? As he reached for her hand and kissed it, her cheeks grew warm. There were some things they could communicate to each other that didn't require words. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze before he let it go. She could still feel his lips on it. Actually, her lips still tingled from his kiss.
No one had ever kissed her like he did. His actions were tender. They were a great relief from what she went through with-- She closed her mind to the memory. No. She wouldn't think of it. As horrible as it was, she wouldn't let it tarnish the memory of this moment.
Woape closed her eyes and forced her breathing to return to normal. If they heard her, they'd find her hiding place. She took deep breaths and counted backwards from a hundred. By the time she reached eighty, her heart rate slowed.
She opened her eyes and scanned the clearing in the moonlight. The tree bark dug into her skin, but she didn't dare let go of the large branch stable enough to hold her weight. Thankfully, the leaves hid her. She just hoped it hid her well enough.
She heard a horse neigh and tightened her arms and legs around the branch. Biting her lip so she wouldn't inadvertently cry out, she drew blood. She ignored the sting and the metallic taste.
Be quiet. Just be still.
The three hunters spread out, their bows drawn. The steeds methodically made their way along the quiet prairie. They were getting closer. And she'd run out of options. This was the last place she'd found to avoid them.
Gulping, she drew a shaky breath. She couldn't afford to lose heart now. Not when all they had to do was pass under her and keep their pursuit across the land. A coyote howled in the distance, but she kept her ears tuned into what the hunter moving in her direction was saying.
"She's not here," Tecumseh said, keeping his voice low.
"She's here. She has to be," Hothlepoya replied. "There's nowhere else she could have gone."
She shivered at the chill in Hothlepoya's voice. Why couldn't they just go? What made her so special anyway?
"I don't see her horse," Tecumseh said. "She wouldn't abandon it."
Hothlepoya and Tecumseh stopped their horses beneath her tree and studied their surroundings. She held her breath. They were right there! If they looked up...
Oh please don't let them look up!
Who she made that request to, she didn't know, but maybe whatever was out there guiding the fates of people was listening to her pleas now.
"Hothlepoya! Look!" the third Indian called out.
Woape's gaze followed the trail he pointed at, and she shifted her weight slightly to get a good view of the man leading the mare she'd let loose. She felt her heart rate accelerate. What was he doing? Who was he? Why was he doing it? She glanced back at the two men below her who nudged their horses in his direction. Did the stranger just buy her some time?
"That's Woape's horse," Tecumseh said. "Maybe the white man has her."
Hothlepoya nodded. "Maybe."
"Shouldn't she be on the horse?"
"Not if he hurt her. The white man can't be trusted."
Hothlepoya pulled out an arrow and got it ready. "We won't take our chances."
The other two men followed suit and the three made their way over to the stranger who stopped as they approached.
Whatever reprieve the white man had granted her was a temporary one.
But what should she do about it? Was there really any way to escape? Hothlepoya was an expert hunter, and the North Dakota prairie spanned for miles in every direction. No. She couldn't leave her hiding place. Her best chance was to stay in the tree and hope he and his two friends would continue their pursuit elsewhere.
She leaned forward slightly so she could see what the three were doing with the white man. They were too far for her to hear, but Hothlepoya lowered his bow and arrow--an indication that the white man wasn't the threat they feared. She wished she could hear them.
The white man shrugged and pointed behind him. That was the direction her horse went when she let the mare loose. He turned his attention back to the three Indians and handed the rope to Hothlepoya.
She realized her left arm had gone numb, so she shifted but a squirrel hopped onto her branch and startled her. Shrieking, she lost her balance and fell to the side. She managed to catch hold of the branch but the damage was done. They'd heard her.
The four men turned their gazes in her direction. She dropped to her feet, landing hard on a tree root jutting out of the ground. Ignoring the pain in her thigh, she bolted to her feet and ran. It was stupid. She knew it was stupid. There was no way she could outrun the horses, but instinct kicked into high gear and she wasn't thinking rationally. All she could think of was escaping.
They came after her. The sound of horses' hooves pounding into the ground thundered in her ears. A gunshot rang through the air. The horses came to an abrupt stop, and she dropped into the grass. She'd heard a gunshot only once in her life and it meant bad things. Unsure if she wanted to know what was happening, she looked over her shoulder.