Dec 5 2012 11:32am
Just who does Rebel Runs Fast think he is? Dr. Madeline Mitchell, the new doctor on the White Sandy Lakota Indian Reservation, knows there’s a good answer to that question. Somewhere.
Sure, the Lakota medicine man is every cowboy-and-Indian fantasy she ever had, but he sends patients to sweat lodges instead of clinical trials, talks them out of flu vaccines. Even more irritating, he makes her heart race.
Rebel swore off the white man’s world—and its women—years ago. Madeline doesn’t speak the language, understand the customs, or believe he’s anything more than a charlatan. Yet she stays, determined to help his people. And he keeps finding excuses to spend more time at the clinic.
When he discovers her in the throes of dangerous heat stroke, Rebel’s efforts to cool her down set fire to a passion neither thought they wanted. But when the people start falling violently ill, the cultural gap stretches the connection between their hearts to the breaking point…
Get a sneak peek at Sarah M. Anderson's Mystic Cowboy (available January 1, 2013) with an exclusive excerpt of Chapter 6.
If possible, her cheeks shot even redder than a summer tomato as everything soft about her in his arms turned to steel. “Excuse me? Your ex-wife?”
He didn’t want to talk about Anna. He wanted to get Madeline into the water, get her cooled off so he could heat her up again. But, as usual, Anna had popped up out of nowhere, leaving him to deal with the wreckage. “Not a big deal. One of those starter marriages. Over before it got going, really.”
Which was kind of how his afternoon was beginning to feel. Over before it got properly started.
“Why?” she demanded, managing to look a little ferocious even as she sounded like she’d been swallowing sand.
“She took one look at the rez and ran screaming.” Against his will, his hands began to slide down, grabbing more of what he couldn’t see. Her skin had a give to it that just begged a man to grab another handful.
“Don’t,” she snapped, lurching away from him.
He caught her around the waist. Too much more distance, and he might accidentally look. Which would only make her madder—and that wasn’t what anyone needed right now. “You need to cool off.”
Her eyes darted to the river behind him, and she bit her lip. She wanted to go—she needed to go. But would that second nature of hers override what was just a simple, basic need?
“I won’t look,” he said, trying hard to sound like it didn’t matter to him one way or the other. “I promise.”
He felt the sigh start low in her chest before it moved up to her eyes. Which just about turned his brain to jelly. Her, right here. No sexless coats. No patients. No Jesse. Just her. She tried to glare at him, but all she could manage was some pitiful version of her normal sneer.
“Fine.” She sounded like she was doing him a favor, but he’d take it. “But I’ll do this myself, thank you very much.”
He stared into those icy blues for a second longer before he scrunched his eyes shut. “You tell me when I can open them again, okay? Just go slow getting into the water. Watch your footing. There’s a little bit of an undertow.”
She nodded. Reluctantly, he let go of her waist and pivoted in the direction of his water cooler. “You need some water,” he called over his shoulder as he fumbled around for a cup.
“I am not going to drink river water. Do you have any idea what kind of microbes or contaminants could be in that stuff?”
He wanted to laugh at her, but he didn’t want to spill the cup he was filling. “Madeline, do you really think I’m dumb enough to drink this straight? I have a purifier system. My water is cleaner than what comes out of your tap, I bet.” Besides, he didn’t think she needed to be worried about the water.
The trickle of water told him the cup was full, while the sound of grunting behind him said she was struggling with those boots. Again. “I’m going to set this on the stump. You come in the water when you’re ready, okay? You need to cool off.”
“What about you?
“I’ll be in the river.” Flinging his towel onto a bush to dry again, he waded in.
She gasped, a quick, involuntary sound. The sound tickled over his nerves like Magic Fingers. Oh, yeah. She’d looked.
The water welcomed him back, the current swirling around his legs as he went deeper. He sidestepped a sinkhole as the cold water hit his groin like a slow-swung sledgehammer, which was just as well. She wasn’t the only one who needed to cool off.
He needed to get his head together right now. He could not even think about thinking with his dick. She’d been in Rapid City. She’d bought that green bag—God only knew how much she’d paid for that.
But more importantly, she’d talked to Karen. Karen, who treated him like a god descending from Olympus. Half the white world treated him like that—some mystic Indian god at whose feet they desperately wanted to worship. Just like Anna. Which was good for his brand image, but bad for his soul.
And now Madeline knew about Anna, about his art—about everything. He knew why she was here. She was pissed. She had merely underestimated the prairie in summer, that was all. As soon as she unwilted a little, she’d probably let him have it.
He could hope, anyway.
His ears looked for him. Over the gentle lap of the river, he could hear her sniff the cup, then take a drink. He heard her swallow the rest in huge gulps. “There’s more in the cooler, but don’t drink it too fast. You’ll upset your belly.”
“I know that,” she snapped. A little less wilted with every second. “If I get dysentery, I’m holding you personally responsible.”
Like this was all his fault. Well, maybe just a little. “I’m not the one who walked a mile and a half during the hottest part of the day, you know.”
She snorted, but he still heard the water give way to her foot. “Don’t change the subject.”
“Which was what again?” The way her bare legs were slicing through his river? The way she’d shiver when the coldness hit the hidden spot between her legs? How hard her nipples would get when they got wet? He cleared his throat and moved deeper into the water, in case she was still looking. She’d made no such promises, after all. “Is that your lack of preparedness for a summer hike?”
“We were discussing why you have a real name that you hid from me. You lied.”
“Rebel is my real name. Albert gave it to me.”
“I don’t understand a damn thing you say.” She waded up next to him, and, despite sounding pissier than hell, let out a deep, satisfied sigh. She was crouched way down in the water, so that it covered everything important but her shoulders. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see their round, shimmering softness. “I didn’t say you could look,” she snapped, taking another step into deeper water. “I don’t understand why you didn’t just tell me you’re this big, important artist. I don’t understand how you know things if you don’t have a phone out here, things like when Mr. White Mouse has an appointment or when the vaccine was coming in. I don’t know a damn thing about you.”
“Sure you do. You know I went to college, I make bags and that some people pay way too much money for them. You even know I was married. What else is there to know?”
“And when were you going to tell me about that, huh? For all I know, you’re secretly a serial killer, Jonathan. Go to hell.” In slow motion, she walked away from him.
And right toward a sinkhole. “Madeline—stop!” But he was too late. In a heartbeat, she disappeared under the water, leaving nothing more than an errant ripple in the water. It was like she’d never even been there.
Couldn’t she swim? Maybe not. Maybe the current had her. Oh, shit. Without thinking, he ducked under the murky water and grabbed for her. And came up empty. She was slipping through his fingers just as surely as the water was.
Panic struck at him. Where was she? The river would keep her, if it wanted. But that wasn’t what he wanted, not by a long shot. No. Not her. Not now.
He kept grabbing, kept coming up empty. Finally, after what was probably no more than ten seconds, but ten seconds that took five years off his life, he got hold of her arm and hauled her to the surface.
Sputtering, she spit water in his face before she choked down a tortured breath. “Madeline! Are you okay?” Please, please be okay, he prayed. Just be okay.
She threw her arms around his neck. Her whole body was shaking. “Don’t let go, Rebel,” she pleaded as she coughed up more of the river. “Don’t let go of me.”
She was okay. Scared, and probably about a minute from worrying about dysentery again, but otherwise okay. Relief surged through him. No matter what, she was okay, and he’d keep her that way. He hugged her to his chest as he silently thanked the river for giving her back. “I won’t. I promise.”
Nodding into his neck, she coughed a few more times. But then she relaxed in his arms a little.
And he remembered they were both naked. And holding each other. And there were no zippers to intrude on anything this time around. Each part of hers was pressing into each matching part of his.
Holding tight, he shifted her so both of her legs trailed off to one side, so he was holding her like he held Nelly when she wanted him to spin her around. One arm under her shoulders, the other around her waist. Safer this way. She didn’t let go of his neck, though, didn’t demand he unhand her this instant. She just let his arms hold her against his chest, let her hand rest on his shoulders.
He found himself spinning in slow circles, letting the river get to know her, letting her get to know the river. Dancing, in a way, to the music of his land. The water burbled by in apology for scaring her, while the wind shushed through the grasses with a murmuring calm. Peace filled him.
It was working on her too. He could tell that, despite the dunking, she was doing better. Her skin was much cooler to the touch and she’d calmed down. In fact, she was letting her toes peek out of the water as they went around and around. After a while—he didn’t know how long, and he didn’t care—he felt all the steel leave her body as she let him and the water carry her.
Suddenly, this position didn’t feel any safer. His left hand was on her ribs, just below her breast. His other hand was in the small of her back, itching to get back to where it had been headed earlier. He willed his hands to be still on her skin. He was just helping her cool down. He was just making sure she was comfortable in the water. He was just helping a friend. That’s all. He was not going to find out what secrets her body was ready to give up. He was not going to push her. He was not going to do anything with Dr. Madeline Mitchell.
Nothing she didn’t want, anyway.
Soon enough, her calm passed. “Tell me about it.” Instead of anger or frustration, instead of the superior pissiness that was her second nature, she sounded contemplative. She wasn’t pulling. She was just asking.
One hand left his shoulder and trailed down his chest until it reached the water, where it joined her toes in having a nice time. The slow suction of her breast pulling free from his chest almost sent him to his knees. Without even trying, she was going to bring him to his knees. “All of it.”
Goose bumps danced up and down his skin—an involuntary reaction, and one he hadn’t had in a long time. What he wouldn’t give to see if she had any, but he’d promised. Damn it. To keep temptation at bay, he rested his chin on the top of her head. “Albert had a vision when I was born.”
She jumped in shock, but said, “Really?” like it was no big deal.
White people. They never believed in the spirit world, except when it was convenient for them. He chuckled into her hair. “Really. He is a powerful man. Who just happens to have a job mopping floors.”
Her fingers cut small waves in the never-ending river. “Are you a powerful man too? A medicine man?”
“Yes. I’m not trying to steal your patients, you know. We just believe in trying the traditional ways first—although I’m not about to set any bones. If it came down to a life-and-death situation that only antibiotics could fix, then bring on the drugs.”
He could actually feel her weighing that statement. “Do you keep souls?”
He chuckled again. “Karen is…reliable in her gossip. But yes, I do. I hold onto a person’s soul for a year after they die, and then I release it so it can make the final journey to be judged by Owl Woman. Like Saint Peter at the Gate,” he added. Everyone knew about Saint Peter.
She thought on that for a moment, which was a change of pace. She was trying to understand, really trying. His respect for her grew. “And this is connected to your name? Albert gave you your name, you said.”
“He did. When I was born, he saw that I had one foot in a moccasin, and one in what he called ‘those shoes people wear when they want to walk on their money’.”
“Penny loafers?” She giggled, and he felt her head move up. She was looking at him. “He had a vision of you in penny loafers?”
He waited for the water to carry her disbelief away. “Crazy, I know. He said people tried to get me to wear the moccasins, but I was not happy. Then people tried to get me to wear the loafers, but I wasn’t any happier. I was unhappy until I chose for myself. And then I was happy. And that was the vision. He said I would rebel in both worlds until I found my place. Hence Rebel.”
“And?” She wasn’t sure she was going to believe it, but at least she wasn’t dismissing him outright. Which was a pleasant thing—that and the way her fingers were lying flat against his neck, digging in with just enough pressure to make sure he wouldn’t forget she was there.
As if that were a risk. “And that’s what happened. People recognized my talent early on. Walter White Mouse taught me to tan leather. Irma taught me how to string the beads on sinew. Burt taught me to carve. Everyone taught me something.”
“What did Albert teach you?”
“Everything.” Everything he was, everything he would ever be was because Albert had raised him right. “He taught me how to be Lakota.”
“What about your parents?”
Old memories, memories he’d long ago tried to make peace with, ran free again. “My father left to find work and never came back. Mom—well, after she had Jesse, she got more and more gone. She died of alcohol poisoning.” But after all these years, the memories didn’t run far. He managed to get himself back under control again.
She made a pained little noise. “I…I didn’t realize…”
Desperate to avoid pity, he forged ahead. “That’s just how it is on the rez. That’s why I wanted out.” Out of the crushing poverty, out of the way of life that wasn’t living at all. He hadn’t wanted to be an Indian, not if that was what being an Indian was. He remembered opening the acceptance letter to the university, and knowing for sure that it was the best day of his life, because he could leave and never come back.
“So you put on penny loafers?”
He found himself hugging her, making sure she stayed close. Making sure he could feel all of her against his chest. And she didn’t protest. Not even a thread of steel tightened her body. “Not literally. Someone knew someone, who pulled a few strings, and I got to New Mexico. And it didn’t take long to figure out that no one wanted anything by a dirt-poor red man. When people buy Indian art, they want a little piece of the Indian. And the Indian they want a part of is this…this…this thing that only exists in the imaginations of Hollywood directors and romance writers.” It still got his hackles up. No one—not a single damn person—had ever seen just him. They’d only seen what they wanted to see. “So if you want to be a serious Indian artist, you have to be this Indian that you never were and never will be.”
She was silent, but then she looped her arms back around his neck and held him even tighter than he’d been holding her. “That was surprisingly cynical.”
“That is life in the art circuit. I just had to figure out which pieces of myself I could give away with each painting, with each sculpture, with every single thing I made—and which pieces I could keep.”
“And you got married.” There wasn’t a single note of pity in her voice, not a single tone of poor-little-you. Neither was there any recriminations, no accusations of betraying his people, his family.
That, more than anything, was why he was dancing in the water with a white woman in the middle of a summer day. He wasn’t an object, a thing to be bought and sold, but he wasn’t a thing to be pitied or ashamed of either. He was just a man. Holding a woman.
“Anna.” The memory of her came rushing back to him. This memory was harder to contain. He told himself it was because it was newer. He barely remembered his father, after all. “She was not that different from Karen at the gallery.”
“Are you sleeping with Karen?”
Now, that was a distinctive note of jealousy. “No. I gave up women a long time ago.”
She leaned back, way back, in his arms, until her head was half dipped in the water again. Then she pulled his face down until he had no choice but to look at her. “That comes as somewhat surprising news to me.”
Hell, she was beautiful. Just beautiful. The water had her yellow hair slicked back, and she had a teasing, flirting grin on her face. Her eyes, always so ice cold, held nothing but unresolved challenge for him. Like he was only halfway up the glacial wall he was climbing.
“Recently, I’ve thought about reconsidering that stance.” Careful not to lose his grip on her, he shifted to free a hand and stroke her face. Then he noticed her hair.
Trailing behind her in the water, it was wavy. All of it. He lifted her head out of the water a little and the wave didn’t stay in the water. It only got wavier as the water dripped free. “You have curly hair?”
She jumped in his arms, her hands flying to her head. The exact same motion she did every time she saw him. “Oh! Uh, well, uh…damn. The water.”
The light bulb was bright when it went off. She had curls. That she hated. At least now he knew why he thought she always looked a little off. She was just hiding her true self. “No, I like them.” He pulled her hand away from her hair and held it to his chest. She splayed her fingers out against his skin on contact.
“I bet it only makes you prettier.” But probably not as pretty as the pink-rose blush that started on her cheeks and went south. Suddenly, he was feeling a lot warmer in the water. “I’d like to see it all curly.”
“You’re doing it again,” she murmured, her eyes dropping back to watch her toes. “Changing the subject. You got married…”
When he was done with this subject, he’d show her changing. “Yeah. Anna. My ex-wife.” He forced himself to look away from the woman in his arms and think about the woman who would never be in his arms again. “She was the daughter of this wealthy collector. She worked at an influential gallery for a major player in the art world. She was, well, beautiful. Pale skin, black hair—like Snow White, but without the silly dress.”
He felt the shock pass through her body. “You were married to a white woman?”
Again, there wasn’t any pity, and absolutely no accusations. She was just surprised.
“Yeah. For about eight months.”
She nestled her head back into the crook of his neck and was silent. Maybe eight months wasn’t too long of a time. He wondered how long she’d been with the one her father had loved—the one she’d left to come here.
“And then it ended?”
“It…I…” The guilt reared its ugly head. If he hadn’t been so convinced that she was his ticket to the big time, if she hadn’t been so convinced that he was her ticket out of Taos… “She wanted to own a piece of this Indian I was supposed to be, this brand image I’d built.”
“Is that who you are in that picture? The one in the gallery?”
“Oh, that.” Now it was his turn for his face to get hot. He never felt less like his brand image than at this exact moment. “Yeah. That’s me as a commodity. Jonathan Runs Fast. Serious Artist.”
She stilled, but just for a second before her chest was rubbing against his. She was laughing. “Which piece of you did I overpay in commissions for?”
Yeah, she owned a piece of him. No doubt, she considered it leverage of some sort. “The piece that waits for the first day of summer sun to come set the world free from the spring rains.” He’d thought of that bag from his spring spot, up higher in the hills, where he could look down on the prairie and watch the world wake up. “But don’t worry. I’ll get that piece back next spring.”
“Jonathan. I think I like Rebel better,” she murmured as she touched his reddening cheek.
God, he wanted to kiss her, but that would be pushing it right now. She’d get mad and flustered and accuse him of changing the subject again. “By the time I married her, I’d given away so many pieces that I didn’t have much left.” The emptiness had clawed away at him until his dreams were filled with nothing but grass and river, wind and sky. “I needed to come home, come back to this land and remember what it meant to be a Lakota again. What it meant to be a real Indian again.”
“Did she come with you?”
“For about three days. Then she left. And I never did.” For eight months, Anna had treated him like he was the Indian, the noble savage she was personally educating. And then she’d see Albert’s shack, seen the wasteland that was his home, and in a heartbeat, everything had changed. The noble devotion had sunk under the weight of disgust. Horror. Sheer shock that he would even consider coming home to a bunch of Indians too drunk to do anything but drink some more. Which is how the other half of the white world treated him. A thing to be feared. A thing to be contained. A thing.
The divorce had been quick and uncontested. He’d signed the papers by mail.
Her hand was back on his chest, like she was checking his heartbeat. “Did she ever see this place?”
“No.” This place stayed pure, unfouled. And now Madeline was here. “The only people who come here are people looking for a medicine man.”
“Really?” Suddenly, she was leaning up against him, her mouth as close to his ear as she could get and stay covered by the water. “I came here looking for you.”
Her voice trickled down his neck, down his chest, until its warmth overpowered the cold water. “You found me.”
While he looked down at her, hoping to kiss those lips, to finally taste that mouth, she was grinning at him. She was toying with him. Maybe he had a little of that coming his way.
“But you wear cowboy boots now, not moccasins or loafers.”
Don’t push it. But he didn’t know how much longer he could not push it, because she was pushing him. He laughed. It felt good. “True. Visions are always open to interpretation, you know.”
She stretched out, her skin moving under his until he was afraid he would have to let her go, just to keep from touching her in all the wrong, right ways. “You have visions too?”
Her body—her body was begging him to come on in, the water was fine. But her brain was still tap-dancing around things, like it was some sort of test he had to pass. She was going to drive him mad.
“I had to learn how to see them. It took a lot of practice. I have to be patient and completely still.”
Now she laughed, throwing her arms wide into the water. If he looked down… Mad. He was absolutely mad. For her.
“How much practice?”
He wasn’t looking, but he couldn’t help touching. He moved his hands over her ribs, half-stroking, half-tickling. And she responded by splashing him.
“Years,” he said, finding a belly button that was a surprising outie. His fingers moved over it with something that was far less tickling and far more something else. “Years of practice.”
Her breath caught in her throat as he rubbed her belly. A nice belly, gently rounded out under smooth skin. Firm, but soft. His fingers itched to find out if the rest of her was just as soft, just as firm. He’d touched so much, but it wasn’t enough. Not enough to make up for the last six years of no one to touch.
And then she was gone, twisted right out of his arms and moving toward his side where he couldn’t see her. She moved slowly, testing her footing. She was in no mood to be rescued again. Damn. He stood there, surprised by how cold her sudden absence left him.
“I think I’ve cooled off enough now. I’d better get out of this river before I catch something. I’d like another drink of water.”
She sounded like she was trying to convince herself.
Rebel sighed and closed his eyes. He’d pushed instead of letting her pull, and Madeline had slipped right through his hands.
She’d come here looking for him, but what would she take with her when she left?
Copyright © 2012 by Sarah M. Anderson
To learn more or to pre-order a copy of Mystic Cowboy by Sarah M. Anderson:
Sarah M. Anderson may live east of the Mississippi River, but her heart lies out west on the Great Plains. With a lifelong love of horses and two history teachers for parents, it wasn’t long before her characters found themselves out in South Dakota among the Lakota Sioux. She loves to put people from two different worlds into new situations and to see how their backgrounds and cultures take them someplace they never thought they’d go.