Hannah and Shadow had played together as children. He taught her to fish. She shared her mother's cookies with him because he had no mother of his own. Then, abruptly, Shadow and his people left the valley. When he returns, Hannah is a beautiful young woman and Shadow is a full-fledged warrior of the Cheyenne Nation.
Their friendship quickly turns to something much deeper and Hannah finds herself falling in love with the handsome man who sweeps her into his arms, awakening a fierce longing she has never known.
But there is talk of war between the whites and the Cheyenne, and Hannah knows Shadow will be considered the enemy. When Hannah's homestead is attacked, Shadow comes to her rescue. Though their love grows stronger, Hannah fears the day when she will be forced to choose between his world and hers.
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April 04, 2012
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Excerpt from Reckless Heart by Madeline Baker
I was nine years old the first time I saw the Cheyenne warrior who would one day be known as Two Hawks Flying. Of course, he wasn't a warrior that day near the old river crossing--just a boy a few years older than I. And since he had yet to earn his proud warrior's name, he still was called by the name his mother had given him at birth: Shadow.
I had been gathering wildflowers that lazy Sunday afternoon. Overhead, the sky was a vivid azure blue, so bright and clear it almost hurt your eyes to look at it. The grass was thick and green, wondrously cool beneath my bare feet. Birds warbled high in the tree-tops, their cheerful melodies occasionally interrupted by the fierce screech of a blue jay, or the wild, raucous cawing of a crow.
Lacy ferns of emerald green and flowers in pastel colors grew abundantly in the rich black earth. Bright yellow butterflies flitted lightly from one aromatic blossom to another, while the gentle hum of winged insects made soft music in the air.
A pine tree forest bordered this side of the river, and as I skipped along my favorite path into its sun-dappled heart, I pretended the forest was an enchanted fairyland and I was the fairy queen. The fat brown frog croaking on the riverbank was a handsome prince under an evil spell, and the masked raccoon washing its hands was a wicked witch in disguise. The distant snow-capped mountains were really a crystal palace filled with riches.
Humming softly, I penetrated deeper into the woods, my footsteps muffled by the thick layer of pine needles that carpeted the forest floor. At every turn a new bunch of daisies or a mustard yellow dandelion tempted me on, until I had wandered much further than I had intended.
It wasn't until I glanced up and saw the big, old boulder rearing up at the end of the forest path that I realized just how far from home I had roamed. It was an unusual hunk of rock, gray in color and shaped like the head of a jack rabbit with its ears laid back. I had been warned time and time again never to venture past it. Stretching beyond Rabbit's Head Rock lay a vast sea of yellow grass, in many places taller than I was. Somewhere out there lived the Cheyenne. And beyond the Cheyenne, the Sioux.
I was about to turn and head for home when I caught sight of a dazzling red flower, the likes of which I had never seen, shining like a beacon in a yellow sea. I glanced thoughtfully at my bouquet of pale-colored flowers, and it seemed to cry out for a bright splash of color. Surely it wouldn't hurt if I went just a few feet out past the old rock! It would take less than no time at all to run out, grab the flower, and run back. And so, knowing I'd never be happy until I possessed that gorgeous crimson bloom, I darted across the few yards of dusty ground that separated the forest from the grassland and quickly, but carefully, picked the coveted red bud.
Smiling happily, I placed it in my bedraggled bouquet. It added just the right touch, and as I glanced around, hoping to find another, I heard a horse blow softly behind me.
Startled, I whirled around and felt a quick surge of fear as I found myself staring up at a half-naked savage mounted on a prancing, bald-faced bay mare. My carefully picked bouquet cascaded from my hands in a profusion of color as every lurid tale of redskin treachery tumbled through my mind, grisly tales of trappers who had been skinned alive, pioneers who had been covered with honey and staked out over ant hills, women and children carried off by painted warriors, never to be seen again.
Horrible visions of being tortured and scalped flooded my mind, and my knees went weak as I imagined my father finding my mutilated body lying face down in a pool of blood. Why had I come out here? I had been warned to stay close to home. Why, oh why, hadn't I listened to Pa?
The Indian was looking at me strangely, as if I were some kind of rare oddity. Somewhat surprised that he hadn't killed me immediately, or even made so much as a threatening gesture in my direction, I decided to take what might be my first, and last, opportunity to study a "wild" Indian up close. And as I took a good long look at him, I realized he was not a warrior at all. Relief gushed through me like water through a sieve.
"You scared me!" I accused, suddenly angry because he had frightened me so. "What's the big idea, creeping up on a body like that? What are you doing sneaking around on our land, anyway?"
"I am not sneaking around," he replied haughtily and in surprisingly good English. "I am hunting old Pte."
I didn't know who old Pte was, and in an effort to hide my ignorance, I said rather imperiously, "Well, you've no business hunting on our property."
"This is not your property," he remarked coldly. One brown-skinned hand went out in a broad gesture that encompassed all of Bear Valley and our homestead as well. "This is the land of the Tsi-tsi-tsis. And it is you who are trespassing."
"I am not!" I retorted indignantly.
"Warriors do not argue with little girls," he said scornfully.
"You're no warrior!" I cried, stung by his arrogance and by his obvious disdain for my sex. "You're just a little boy!"
A boy he might have been, but he was not little. Even then Shadow was tall and well-proportioned, with the promise of great strength in his broad shoulders and long, muscular legs. His hair was long and straight, blue-black in the harsh sunlight, but unadorned as he had not yet counted coup or killed an enemy in battle. His dark eyes were like twin chips of obsidian, glinting with anger because I had dared call him a child.
Feeling suddenly contrite, I turned on my sweetest smile and asked if he would like a cookie.
"What is cookie?" he asked suspiciously.
"Well, really!" I declared, pulling a small bandana-wrapped parcel from my pocket. "Don't you know anything? This is a cookie."
Stunned by his ignorance of the finer things in life, I handed him one of my mother's delicious, melt-in-your-mouth oatmeal cookies.
Shadow took the proffered treat like it was some kind of deadly poison, sniffed it like a cat inspecting a questionable piece of meat, and then popped the whole thing into his mouth.
"Good," he allowed grudgingly. "You have more?"
Well, my mother had sent me off with a dozen cookies, and Shadow wolfed down ten of them in less than a minute.
"I guess your mother doesn't ever make cookies," I remarked drily, grinning as he licked the last crumbs from his fingertips.
"I have no mother," he replied flatly, and his dark eyes warned me not to feel sorry for him.
An uncomfortable silence fell between us after that and while I was trying to think of something cheerful to talk about, a brisk wind blew down out of the mountains, sighing mournfully as it rattled the leaves on the trees. A second gust caused the tall yellow grass to bend as if in supplication to its power. In minutes, scattered powder puff clouds veiled the setting sun, and I realized with dismay that it soon would be dark and that I had a long, cold walk ahead of me.
"I must go," I announced abruptly. "Pa will skin me alive if I don't get home before nightfall."
"You have a long way to go," Shadow remarked. It was not a question but a statement of fact, causing me to wonder, briefly, how he knew where I lived. But I had other more important things to worry about, so I said, "Yes... Well, goodbye," and set off down the mossy trail that led to the river, my carefully collected bouquet completely forgotten.
The path I had taken through the woods earlier that day was the quickest way home, but I was afraid of the woods at night. So I hurried down the long, narrow trail that ran along the river, knowing I'd never make it home before dark and already feeling Pa's angry hand on my backside.
I had gone only a few yards when hoofbeats rumbled behind me. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Shadow bearing down on me, and I gasped with fear. He had decided to kill me after all!
Really scared now, I cast about for a place to hide, but it was too late. Petrified with fright, I mumbled a hurried prayer as he reined up alongside me. He looked disgusted by my fear as he plucked me from the ground as easily as I had plucked that desired red flower.
Plopping me down in front of him, he said gravely, "I would not want to see such a skinny girl-child skinned alive," and kneed the bay mare into a gallop.
It was exhilarating, racing along the dusty river road. The wind's icy fingers tangled my hair and stung my eyes, but I only laughed and begged Shadow to go faster.
We were careening around a sharp bend in the road when a white-tailed deer bounded across our path. With a war whoop that sent shivers down my spine, Shadow steered his mount after the frightened doe, but the bay mare was no match for the deer's agile speed. With a flick of its tail, it leaped gracefully over a bramble bush and disappeared from sight.
Minutes later, Shadow deposited me at my front door and rode away without a word.
Our place wasn't much to look at in those days, just a three-room log cabin on a dozen acres of newly plowed ground, but it was solid and well-built. Pa had seen to that. A split-rail fence housed our stock, four cows and a yearling calf, two draft horses, Pa's Tennessee Walker, and my old mare Nellie. A pig and a litter of curly-tailed piglets lived in a separate pen behind the outhouse. Six Rhode Island Reds scratched in the dirt near the wood pile, clucking and cooing as they searched for worms and bugs.
Gently rolling hills, lush with grass this time of year, rose behind our house. Wild roses grew on either side of the front door, and crisp white curtains fluttered at the front windows. I thought our place was perfect!
It caused quite a stir when I told my folks an Indian boy had brought me home. Pa bawled me out 'til he was blue in the face. Had I gone mad? Had I taken leave of my senses? Didn't I realize I might have been kidnapped? Or killed? Or worse?
"What could be worse than getting killed?" I asked innocently, and Pa's color changed from blue to red as he mumbled something unintelligible under his breath and stomped out of the house.
Strangely, my mother didn't seem too worried. She even smiled, pleased, when I told her how Shadow had gobbled down ten of her cookies and would likely have polished off ten more if I'd had them.
"I'm glad you found a friend, dear," Mother said, caressing my cheek in that special way that told me louder than words that I was loved.
Let me tell you about my folks. My father is a big man--not just tall, but big, with arms like trees and shoulders as wide as our barn door. Pa's name is Samuel Obadiah Kincaid, but Mother calls him Curly on account of his hair is curly brown. I think Pa would take a stick to anyone else who dared call him Curly, but he kind of glows when Mother says it. Pa has long sideburns, blue eyes, and a red moustache. Bright red! And let me tell you, he has a temper to match that moustache! But he never stays mad for long. My mother is beautiful--not just pretty, but beautiful inside and out. She has clear ivory skin that refuses to tan even in the hottest weather, lovely chestnut hair usually worn in a severe bun at the nape of her neck, and the warmest gray eyes in the world. Even her name is beautiful, Katherine Mary Kincaid. I never heard my mother raise her voice in anger or an unkind word pass her lips. If ever there was an angel, it was my mother. Pa says I'll look just like her when I grow up, except for my red hair. My eyes are the same quiet shade of gray, though they lack that special something that makes Mother's shine. Once, when I asked her how she got that sparkle in her eyes, she smiled mysteriously and said Pa put it there. When I asked how, she blushed prettily and told me I'd understand when I was older. I have mother's ivory skin, too, only mine tans to a deep golden brown in the summer.
I never knew two people so right for each other or so much in love. Pa told me once that he met Mother on Thursday, courted her on Friday, kissed her on Saturday, and married her on Sunday. Mother insists things didn't happen quite that fast. Almost, but not quite.
The day after I met Shadow, I took Pa's old fishing pole and rode Nellie down to the river. Mother had mentioned she would like some fish for dinner, and I was determined to catch her some. Pa usually did the fishing, but he was busy planting and I knew he wouldn't have time. Grimacing a little, I baited the hook with a fat red worm, tossed my line into the water, and then sat back to wait. I guess I'd been there drowning worms for almost an hour when I decided to give up. I was pulling in my line when a familiar voice said, "You would have better luck from this side of the river."
"How do you know?" I asked sulkily.
"Because the fish cannot see your reflection from over here."
"My reflection? What difference does that make?"
"Try it and see," Shadow suggested.
Frowning, I rode Nellie across the river, skewered a fresh worm, and dropped my line into the still, blue-green water. In minutes I had a bite.
Crowing with delight, I reeled in a good-sized trout. In less than twenty minutes I had three fat fish.
When I offered Shadow my thanks, he just shrugged and said, "If you are going to fish, you might as well do it right."
I saw a lot of Shadow after that. Sometimes we met down at the river crossing, but more often than not he showed up at the house. I tried to tell myself he liked my company but honesty forced me to admit it was Mother he really came to see. Not having a mother of his own, I could understand why he was so taken with mine. Sometimes it made me jealous, the way she fussed over him. She spoiled him with cookies and praise and lots of special attention, and Shadow lapped it up like a starving kitten devouring a bowl of fresh cream. Still, I was glad for his company. There were no other families in the valley and I'd been kind of lonesome for someone to play with. Of course, Shadow never really played. He thought "girl things" were foolish and a waste of time and refused to do anything he considered silly or undignified--which was practically everything I wanted to do.
So he taught me how to read trail signs instead, and how to find my way home at night by using the stars. He taught me how to skin a deer, too, and then showed me how to tan the hide. First, the skin was staked out on the ground. Then all bits of flesh were removed with a buffalo leg bone. Next the hair was removed--unless you were going to use the hide for a robe, in which case it was left on for added warmth. Next, brains and liver mixed with melted fat were worked into the skin. After that, the skin was soaked in water. Later, the excess liquid was stripped out with a long stone blade and the skin was hung up to dry. Lastly, the skin was worked and pounded until it was soft as velvet.
Personally, I thought the whole process was disgusting, though I didn't say so for fear of incurring Shadow's scorn. But then I disgraced myself forever in his eyes the day he ate the raw heart of a buffalo calf--and I threw up all over him.
With the coming of winter, the Cheyenne moved south. Shadow's absence left a void in my life--one that could not be filled. I was lonely again and spent most of my time reading in front of the fireplace, losing myself in stories of pirates and treasure and ill-fated lovers.
Shadow came with the spring, bringing gifts for us all--a bone-handled hunting knife for Pa, an intricately woven Indian blanket for Mother, a headband beaded in black and yellow for me. That year Shadow instructed me in the fine art of distinguishing one set of animal tracks from another. He also taught me how to recognize the print of a Cheyenne moccasin from that of a Sioux. He began teaching me his tribe's spoken tongue as well as sign language, which was the universal language of the plains, enabling warriors from different tribes to communicate with each other.
One afternoon he told me how wolves mark their hunting grounds by urinating on the rocks and trees, then further astonished me by declaring that if a warrior made water across the entrance to a cave, no wolf would dare enter!
Of course, Shadow was learning, too. His English became less stilted with everyday use, and he picked up some American expressions as well as a handful of cuss words from Pa. But Mother was his best teacher. I remember she was quite upset the first time Shadow had dinner with us and ate the mashed potatoes with his fingers! Right then and there she insisted he learn American table manners. And when she discovered he could not read or write, out came pen, ink, paper, and my old McGuffey's reader.
Shadow proved to have a quick mind and he rapidly mastered the art of reading and writing the English language. Reading especially appealed to him and he read everything in sight, labels on tin cans, old newspapers, my books, a volume of Shakespeare (which neither of us understood), my mother's cookbooks, and Pa's mail order catalog.
But his favorite book was the Bible, and he read it through twice!
"The white man respects nothing," he remarked one night after reading the 27th Chapter of Matthew, which is an account of the crucifixion of Jesus. "Not only does he kill the buffalo, and the Indian, and his own white brothers, but his God as well!"
Shadow openly adored my mother. He frequently brought her gifts, a pair of soft doeskin moccasins, an exquisite necklace of turquoise and silver, a set of delicately carved wooden combs for her hair. I was sure Shadow would have walked barefoot over flaming coals if my mother asked him to, so you can imagine my surprise the day she asked him to please fetch some water from the well and he refused.
I stared at him in open-mouthed astonishment. He swelled up like a toad and coolly informed us that such menial tasks as hauling water, gathering firewood, curing hides, sewing, weaving, food preparation and child care were squaw work, and that a warrior never did squaw work when there was a woman around. He further informed us that he thought it quite strange that my father worked in the fields when he had two healthy females in his lodge.
"Well, we do things a little differently here," Mother explained calmly, completely unruffled by his arrogant outburst.
But I noticed she never again asked Shadow to do any chore he considered "squaw work". When I asked why, she said it was all right to teach Shadow to read and write, and even show him how civilized people behaved at the dinner table, but that it was wrong to interfere with his customs and beliefs. She went on to explain, somewhat sadly, that Shadow would one day be a warrior and would find it hard to live as a Cheyenne if he acquired too many American habits.
Pa was less than enthusiastic about Shadow's frequent presence in our home, though he made the best of it because of Mother. Often, after Shadow had ridden off for home, Pa would go around mumbling about taking a viper to our bosom--whatever that meant.
"Dammit, Mary," I overheard him say one night, "that half-naked savage is gonna be a warrior before too long, and Hannah's gonna be a young woman!"
"Yes, Curly, I suppose so," Mother agreed serenely.
Pa pounded the table with one ham-like fist. "Don't be deliberately obtuse, Katherine Mary Kincaid," he growled. "You know what I mean."
"Don't be absurd," Mother chided gently. "Hannah isn't going to run off with him."
I gasped in astonishment. Was that what was worrying Pa? Me running away with Shadow? I ducked out of my hiding place and ran outside where I burst into gales of laughter. Me and Shadow! Now that was funny! Even though I was only eleven going on twelve, I already knew the kind of man I wanted to marry. He would be tall and handsome and rich and we would live on a big ranch somewhere in Bear Valley and raise blooded horses. We'd have lots of kids and travel to New York, and I'd buy lots of pretty dresses--all silk and satin and lace--and we'd go to the theatre and dine in a fancy restaurant with velvet chairs and crystal chandeliers. And we'd ride in a fine carriage pulled by a team of matched black stallions...
Oh, I had a lot of ambitious dreams for a girl on the shy side of twelve, and you can be sure there wasn't a half-naked arrogant Indian boy in any of them!
When Shadow turned fourteen, he began the rigorous training boys undergo to become full-fledged Cheyenne warriors, and we saw him less and less.
By the time I was twelve and Shadow was going on sixteen, his visits to our place had ceased altogether. I missed him more than I would admit, but I think my mother missed him most of all.