Welcome. If you're a regular visitor, come on it, grab a seat and get comfortable. If you're new, have a virtual cup of coffee or some tea. If you came from The Romance Review Year End Splash Party looking for a clue, you're in the right place. No matter how you got here or why you came, I'm sharing the blurb, cover, the prologue and first chapter of Comanche Forever from Rebel Ink Press.
It's my latest - at least at this posting - and it's something different. Read on to see just how much!
It releases November 3 at all the usual retail outlets, Amazon.com, All Romance Ebooks, Barnes and Noble, Bookstrand...so depending on when you arrived, it may be available now.
It's my latest - at least at this posting - and it's something different. Read on to see just how much!
It releases November 3 at all the usual retail outlets, Amazon.com, All Romance Ebooks, Barnes and Noble, Bookstrand...so depending on when you arrived, it may be available now.
As one of the last free Comanche warriors, Pea’hocso surrendered with Quanah Parker at Fort Sill in 1875. As if that wasn’t enough of a tragedy, an encounter the same night with a woman bent on revenge against his people turned him into a vampire, a blood drinking creature of the night. Now it’s the 21st century and Pea’hocso goes by the name of Ned Big Eagle. He deals cards at an Oklahoma casino and lives a solitary life on the edge of the Wichita Mountains. His undead existence is anything but enjoyable but Ned endures – what else can he do – until he meets history professor Anne Delahanty. Anne evokes emotions and desires he hasn’t known since he was still human but Ned tries to resist the temptation. He can’t bring the woman he realizes he loves into his vampire life – or can he? The question gnaws at what’s left of his soul as he wonders if revealing the truth will cause him to lose Anne forever. When she rejects his efforts to tell her, Ned figures the reality will crash down on them both. And it will when they least expect it and if they survive the tragedy, there may be a future after all.
June 2, 1875
Not a breath of wind rippled the tall prairie grasses as the band of warriors rode in silent defeat toward the fort. Pea’hocso stare toward the western horizon, at a blue sky filled with tall, thick white clouds. They’d bring storms by evening and he wondered if the gods mourned with the Quahadi or raged at them. Time would reveal which, he thought as his heart weighed heavier than the oppressive summer heat. Although some of the others slumped, Pea’hocso sat straight and tall, the way a Comanche warrior should. He’d ride during these last moments of freedom with pride and skill. Saddle sore and heartsick, he refused to yield anything to the Indian agent or taibo, the white man. Often, Pea’hocso wished he’d died in battle, an honorable death and then he would never have been forced to endure the coming bondage. But although the ta’siwoo had all but vanished from the earth, Pea’hocso would continue and outlive the buffalo. He just didn’t know why.
Quanah Parker, son of Comanche Chief Peta Nocono and a woman stolen from the whites long ago led their ragged band. A year and a half ago Pea’hocso counted a thousand warriors in the Quahadi but less than four hundred rode behind their leader now. In their last war against the taibo, the final effort to expel the intruders from tribal lands and save their people, they’d lost many. Some to death, more to disease, and many didn’t who didn’t wait. Many Comanche had trudged back, broken and bitter, to the reservation and tried to learn the new ways. Pea’hocso rode among the final Comanche warriors, the last of the people to live free. Their efforts had failed and so they returned, disgraced and broken, to Fort Sill. The 4th Cavalry had driven them to this end, hounding them through the seasons under Colonel McKenzie. If Quanah hadn’t brought them here, the blue coats had vowed to kill them. Pea’hocso thought it might’ve been better to die as a warrior but it hadn’t been his decision.
The storm struck before they reached the Kiowa-Comanche Agency at the fort. Winds howled with fury as rain descended from the heavens and drenched everyone. Accustomed to all weathers, none of the Quahadi flinched but rode faster. They arrived at the agency office on post in a wild tattoo of hoof beats and noise. Lightning streaked the skies overhead with vivid fire and the voice of thunder boomed. The rain turned to hail, which pummeled and punished Pea’hocso until he decided the gods were angry. It would’ve been better to die free beneath the wide prairie sky than live confined by the white man, tied to a post the way they did their cur dogs.
He had no woman, children or family left. His brothers died as warriors, faces painted, weapons in hand. Their mother died long ago and their father ended his life an old man, sad to see the last of the once great buffalo herds. Pea’hocso might still have a sister somewhere but he didn’t know if she lived or had died. His wife, Aiyana, died giving birth to his third son and the child followed her in death. Pea’hocso’s boys had defended their village from blue coats at McClellan Creek. One died there, the other of smallpox at Fort Concho far from home. Two of his daughters died of some fever, one in his arms.
Other Comanche had all yielded with the Medicine Lodge Treaty after the war that divided the white men against each other but not the Quohada. They’d fought the buffalo soldiers, the white men with black skins, across the plains for two full seasons but were ordered to go to the place called ‘reservation’. While other Comanche donned the calico shirts and heavy pants white settlers wore, took up plows and learned to speak the white tongue, the Quohada rebelled. They returned to the open plains and lived free, joined by other Cheyenne warriors and renegades. Time defeated them along with the ceaseless trek of the white faces into the Comancheria. If the ta’siwoo hadn’t been slaughtered for their hides and tongues, the Comanche people might’ve survived. But the buffalo provided all to the people: food, shelter, clothing, tools, and life. Without them, their existence would end. Hearts like the one deep within Pea’hocso’s chest refused to accept the reality and struggled but now he knew the time of the Comanche was no more.
Their horses were put into a corral with Army livestock. Pea’hocso watched, silent. He said nothing when they filed into a barracks building to spend the night. The taste of the beans they brought in kettles was strange upon his tongue and he didn’t care for the hard baked rounds called biscuits. Hunger forced him to eat but the strange food wasn’t what he’d choose. Nor were the close quarters where odors of sweat and stench rose into his nose with force. He preferred fresh air and solitude so wrapped his blanket around his shoulders and walked outside. No one stopped him. Pea’hocso wandered away from the barracks and felt better. He stared upward at the clearing sky. Clouds scudded away to reveal the full moon, the one Texans called the Comanche moon, a time when warriors had prowled and raided. A powerful longing rose up within Pea’hocso’s soul to slip into the night and let his stallion gallop across the open country. He ached to go into battle, to take horses or plunder. Pea’hocso’s skin prickled with blood lust. If he could hunt buffalo, he wouldn’t want to kill but with few ta’siwoo left, he desired revenge.
Pea’hocso might’ve vanished into the humid night. He could’ve taken his mount from the corrals and bolted. And if not for the woman, he would’ve done so. His calf muscles tensed, his body stiffened in preparation to launch in flight when she spoke.
“Good evening.” Her voice carried the same kind of deepness as the blooming honeysuckle he smelled nearby. Although he understood a great deal of English, Pea’hocso preferred not to soil his tongue with it or use the translation of his name, Big Eagle. He turned to see who spoke, expecting a white woman in bonnet and shawl. Her skin gleamed pale in the darkness but she wore neither hat nor bonnet. Hair black as midnight streamed over her shoulders and down her back with abandon and he stared, struck by the sight. Comanche women often kept their locks short for ease unlike the men who let their hair grow. She gazed back at him, from eyes deep blue as a lake beneath a summer sky. “This is a wild place, isn’t it? But then you’re wild, too.”
Her voice didn’t sound like any woman he’d heard speak before so he thought she might be from a distant place. He’d ignore anyone else, but this woman tempted him and so he said, dredging up English with difficulty. “I am Comanche.”
Laughter poured from her mouth, pretty as moonlight and as tinkling as a small creek over rocks. “I thought so. I’ve seen Comanche before. Although I’m Romany, a gypsy woman, I lived for a time in Texas.”
If she’d seen Comanche warriors, then she should know how dangerous he could be. His hand strayed to his belt, fingered his knife and he knew how easily he could take her life. It would be swift and savage. A part of him would glory in the act, but her eyes mesmerized him, held him captive. Something about her hair, so wild and almost wicked intrigued him and drew him closer. His restlessness shifted into something different, toward another way of release and his cock hardened inside his buckskins. He wouldn’t kill this one but he’d use her to forget his pain, to steal a bit of sweetness to lighten the bitterness of his life. She might be beautiful but she deserved nothing more.
He hadn’t used a woman for pleasure in a long time. The last one he’d loved had been his wife. Pea’hocso remembered his wife’s soft skin, her scent, and her strong legs wrapped tight around his. A flood of want swamped him and he grasped the Romany woman into a harsh embrace. Without thought, without courtesy and for no reason but to vent physical release he took her mouth and owned it. He kissed her with harsh abandon, his lips ground hard against hers. He hoped she’d struggle. He wanted her to fight or to fear but she didn’t.
No, this one gave back the fire he lit and burned him. She didn’t struggle against his arms but gripped him with hot hands so tight it hurt. The woman used her tongue to enter his mouth as she mimicked sex with rapid in and out motions. Pea’hocso yielded and stood without protest, more used than user now. Her heated lips seared his mouth and left it to trail down his throat. She sucked and nibbled and kissed her way down to the left side of his neck. He felt her powerful need in his blood and the strength of it hastened his heart like a drum. He stopped thinking, forgot where he stood and why as he got lost in the passion. Pleasure surrounded him and he sank into it, mindless and heedless.
He drifted until she bit him, hard and fast. Her teeth punctured his skin and pain exploded outward. The woman latched to him like a snapping turtle and as he thrashed in an effort to break contact, he found he couldn’t work free. Something warm and liquid flowed down his throat and Pea’hocso smelled the sharp, familiar scent of blood. She bit again, another spot and then a third. Each hurt with sharp pain. His head whirled and he weakened. He no longer enjoyed the encounter and when he heard the unmistakable sound of sucking, he realized she drank from him. With fear and sick horror, he knew what she was. There were many names for such creatures, things of darkness who hunted human prey. He’d heard a white man call such ‘vampires’ but Pea’hocso remembered stories from other tribes who talk about Two Faces and a few wandering Navajo who spoke of skin walkers. The name didn’t matter, not now. All were evil and delivered consequences.
Whatever they were, he hoped death came first.
The sole thing worse than surrender, defeat, humiliation, and the end of the Comanche world would be to live. Pea’hocso chanted his death song, using old words, some so ancient he didn’t even know the full meaning. He prayed for an end but when the woman raised her blood-smeared mouth from his throat, she laughed.
“You are cursed,” she told him in her odd accent. “Your kind, Comanche, killed my family in a raid. And I did not die, but became what I am, a vampire. You will live forever by night and have all eternity to pay for what you did as a warrior. If you walk by day, you will look sick but when dark falls, you will become strong and seek blood. Who you bite thrice will become what you are. And you’ll live to the end of time.”
She laughed then, with a terrible and crazy sound both witch wild and eerie. She slipped away into the shadows and although he heard her footsteps, Pea’hocso couldn’t see the woman.
He lifted a shaking hand and touched the blood streaming from three wounds.
An hour ago, he would’ve thought things could never be worse and but now it was, his life beyond imagining. By the time he sought the company of the others, the bites healed of their own accord. He tried to bring death. Pea’hocso stabbed his knife deep into his heart and pain followed. Blood rushed from him in a river and he sank into black nothing. Death came to meet him but retreated. Everything reversed and within an hour, he stood in his blood stained shirt, not living, not departed but undead.
The narrow track led away from the two-lane blacktop and snaked its way across the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. If there hadn’t been a sun faded, much dented mailbox on a crooked post with hard to read letters spelling out his name, ‘Ned Big Eagle’, no one would guess it was a driveway. Ned preferred it this way. He didn’t want visitors and few people came to his humble home. He could count how many had entered his place over the past century without running out of fingers. Privacy mattered to Ned and he liked his solitary life. Living on the edge of what he considered some of the last bits of unspoiled prairie and a place where the buffalo still roamed pleased him too. From his front door he could gaze out across the open country and view some of the mountains. Although he seldom saw the buffalo herd grazing, he knew trails and paths, which led to their location. If he tasted loneliness, he never complained and he wasn’t a recluse. He went out almost daily into the world and into the bustling world of Lawton, Oklahoma. At times he went during daylight hours, but most of the time he waited for darkness to move among people.
Ned sat on the front step of his house and watched the sun slide down the western sky. The vivid blaze of orange tempered with purple shadows soothed him and the beauty bridged his early life with the present. He’d watched many sunsets out on the open plains long ago and they remained one of few things that hadn’t changed over time. He named Mount Sheridan and some of the smaller mountains in his mind and then sighed. He crushed out his unfiltered cigarette, one of his few vices but it didn’t matter. Health risks didn’t matter for someone immortal. He headed in and changed into his black jeans and the long-sleeved white dress shirt required for work. Ned donned his tie and name tag, tamed his long hair into a single braid then filled his pockets. He strolled outside and climbed into his old pickup. On the way into Lawton he reflected on his existence and his mundane job at one of the Comanche nation casinos. As a dealer, he interacted with the public nightly. He didn’t enjoy the work or hate it. Like many other things, his job existed.
En route, he stopped for a burger. A carnivore at heart, Ned adapted to the white man’s food with effort. In the beginning, much of what they ate sickened him but he learned what he could eat, what he tolerated and what he liked. He preferred meat over all else, buffalo if he could get it, beef as a close second. Ned ate pork on occasion, but he refused to eat chicken or any other poultry. He didn’t know if he liked the taste or not, but Comanches never ate birds. They were weak and foolish, nothing a warrior wanted in his mouth or belly. Steaks ranked at the top of Ned’s favorites but he’d come to enjoy a good hamburger too. Dressed with lettuce, onion, tomatoes, and pickles, a burger provided about all the vegetables he ever ate.
Seated inside What-A-Burger at a booth, he relished the thick burger. He didn’t need to eat, but sometimes he liked to for the taste. As he finished the meal, he tossed his trash. I’ll need blood, soon. Probably tonight, tomorrow at the latest but I’ve gotta have some. If lack of blood would destroy him, Ned would endure whatever torment necessary but it wouldn’t. He’d wither and waste away but he wouldn’t die. He knew because he’d tried. Unlike some of the few vampires he’d come across over the last hundred plus years, Ned didn’t like blood. He didn’t enjoy the hunt because there was no sport. Humans made it far too easy. So he drank when necessary, once or twice a week and kept it to a minimum. His job at the casino made it simple to find prey. Someone was stumbling around at any hour and approaching them proved to be effortless. Most never knew what happened and he’d never taken more than the minimum necessary. Ned made a vow when he first became a vampire he wouldn’t inflict his endless torment on any one else and he hadn’t. He took care not to bite any individual three times and his outstanding memory made it possible.
He reported to work, clocked in and headed to the tables. Mindy, a bright-eyed, fresh faced blonde, grinned as he approached. “Hi, Ned. I’m ready to go if you’re ready to take over for me.”
“Sure,” he replied. He tried to keep contact with his coworkers friendly but at arm’s length. Over the long decades, he’d made a few friends but none lasted more than ten or twelve years. When they aged and he remained the same, questions followed, ones he’d rather not answer. Lying came hard to his tongue. “How’s it been tonight?”
“Busy for a Wednesday,” she told him. “How are you doing?”
“I’m good.” Learning the polite responses kept him challenged because they changed with each generation. “Everything going all right? How’s your daughter?”
“Peyton’s great. She just started 4-H and loves it. After I pick her up from the babysitter I promised I’d take her out to get some chicken nuggets.”
“Have a good evening.” Ned turned to the table but Mindy lingered. She let her fingers trail down his arm and leaned too close. Her admiration for him was obvious, but he ignored it. Getting involved with a woman would be a disaster larger than a tornado, more damaging than a prairie fire. A woman, the Romany gypsy he’d never seen again, destroyed his shattered life and turned him into a monster. He’d met a few rare ladies he would’ve liked to know better, but Ned walked away. If he ever met one who mattered, how could he explain his undead status? It’d be impossible and he had nothing to offer but trouble. Ned looked, but seldom touched and when the need reared up within his body, he indulged in sexual pleasures but for the physical pleasure alone.
He sometimes craved companionship and longed once in awhile for what he’d shared with Aiyana, but Ned knew such things were out of his reach. If he dreamed of a woman in his simple home or imagined sitting across the table from a pair of beautiful eyes who drank him with their gaze, he reminded himself he couldn’t have either.
“You have a good night, too.” Mindy’s hand dropped to pat his rear and he stiffened. His aversion to being touched stirred up the occasional speculation he might be gay but he wasn’t. Some Native American tribe had such, but not among his people. What the Comanche of his time believed no longer mattered and Ned went his own way, mostly celibate and uninterested in what others did. While he met his own needs on rare occasions with a woman, more often he pleasured himself. As a warrior he hadn’t, saving his strength for battle but now, a table dealer in a casino, Ned saw no harm in the act.
Before Mindy exited the card room, players showed up at Ned’s table. He dealt blackjack, three card poker, and traditional poker. Other dealers played Texas Hold ‘Em, but Ned seldom did. At break time, he headed for the Mustang Bar. One of the few buddies he’d made in recent years, Gary, sat at a table there and nibbled from a platter of buffalo wings. Ned shuddered at the name. First time he’d heard about the dish, he reacted with shock and then disdain. His friend glanced up. “Hi, want a wing?”
“No, thanks.” Gary knew he wouldn’t touch one but always offered anyway. Part Comanche, part Kiowa, and part white, Gary’s ways were different than Ned’s. Ned often used him as a barometer to gauge current life so he could pass without attracting notice. “I ate before I came to work.”
“Figured you did,” Gary said. “Hey, are you off this weekend?”
“I’m off Saturday. Why?” Sometimes they made a fishing trip to one of the manmade lakes in the area or did a little hunting. They often fished a little in Medicine Creek out by Ned’s place or down to the Red River. Dropping a line or going hunting were two things Ned enjoyed enough to get out in broad daylight to do. Although the myths about sunshine killing vampires proved to be just that, Ned looked so pale that he seldom ventured out until dark. But he’d also learned if he wore a hat or ball cap and stayed in the shade, Gary didn’t really notice.
“There’s a powwow up at Anadarko. I’m going and I thought you might like to go.”
Ned had attended a few and seldom enjoyed them. To him, the efforts to keep the past alive with powwows had turned into some freakish version of a red man’s rodeo. He’d danced at them many times, everything from war dances before facing an enemy to the dances to bring the buffalo, because there were few places where he could. Out beneath the wide skies of his country, with people who understood and lived the old ways every day, there’d been a kind of holiness in dancing. The ancient songs and chants were handed down and were taken as serious business. Powwows, even the Comanche nation’s annual fair, were intertribal events these days. The fancy costumes, the arenas with multi-colored pennants overhead like a used car lot and announcers booming information over loud speakers lacked reverence. There were no fires but harsh lights to illuminate the dance ground. What had been holy to Ned when he was still Pea’hocso, what he took seriously and respected the way a lot of whites did church had turned into entertainment. Oh, he’d seen some dancers who hearkened back to the old days in their hearts but they were few. And some of the powwow grounds were simpler, just a field and a crude dance area with rudimentary seating. Ned preferred those if he attended at all. The best were those held in private, not for public exhibition but they were rare. Powwows weren’t bad, he thought, but they lacked the honesty he’d know, the simple balance between nature and the people. In his life, dances mattered but in this time and place, they were for fun. Still, as a Native American man, Ned was expected to view them as a person of these times, not his own. And the one thing he liked, the drum, heartbeat of the people and all things, remained constant.
“Yeah,” he said after he gathered his thoughts. “Sure.”
Gary’s face brightened. “Good. You can ride with me if you want. I’m dancing. Are you?”
“No, I won’t.” No one knew but sometimes Ned danced alone, his feet finding the steps he’d learned early, his voice echoing the words he’d known so long ago. He found a sense of rightness in his dancing, a purpose and peace the powwows lacked. The closest he’d seen to anything public with the same qualities had been up at the restored Fort Gibson once. A group of Cherokees did an impromptu stomp dance, one not regulated and listed on the Old Fort Days brochure. Their dancing touched him enough he’d joined them, but it ranked as a rare experience. He might dance but never in a way he might consider mockery. Powwows weren’t bad for modern Indians but they weren’t good for Ned.
“Okay.” Disappointment tempered Gary’s voice. “Well, I’ll come by and pick you up late Saturday afternoon then.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Ned replied as he stood. “Well, it’s back to work.”
As he returned to gaming, he reflected how the English words rolled from his tongue with such ease. He’d spoken the white tongue so long now he often thought in it as well but sometimes he reverted to Comanche in his mind. His thoughts strayed through his shift, hands dealing the cards with deft skill as he drifted through his mind. Ned remembered the distant past along with recent years. He hadn’t felt so much a Comanche for a long time as he did at this moment, lost in memories. Talk of the powwow evoked things he often pushed aside and Ned forgot to ponder where he might find blood. His shift as a dealer lasted until 2am on weeknights but he stayed until dawn. Ned filled a security position in the early morning hours and walked through the casino, eyes alerted to anything out of the ordinary.
He could spot the serious drunks, the ones about to puke or pass out, and he noticed potential troublemakers faster than anyone else. His psyche, long tuned to a warrior’s outlook, possessed awareness so profound it was almost psychic. Ned passed the lines of slot machines, but saw nothing different. As the hours waned until dawn, the numbers of gamblers dropped and he’d decided to step outside to find a donor when he saw her.
Her hair caught his attention. Masses of reddish-brown hair cascaded from the crown of her head past her waist in wild abandon. Some of it curled, some didn’t, but the color reminded him of the prairie. As light fell across it, he noticed the different shades, the auburn, the rich vibrant undertone of copper, the brown of tall grass in the late fall, the hint of gold the sun sometimes lent the sunset. Ned thought he’d never seen anything more lovely. An urge to stroke her hair, to run his fingers through it tempted him, but he resisted. He couldn’t look away from it, though. Her back faced him as she sat at a machine, intent on the game. She shifted and then whooped aloud as she hit a few bonus rounds. He watched as she racked up a few dollars in winnings and cashed out her ticket. I want to see her face.
Ned stood, arms crossed, and waited. No woman had intrigued him since at least the 1920’s when he had battled an attraction to a flapper who frequented the speakeasy where he’d worked. The appeal had been pure lust, not love, and he’d kept aloof since. When he took a woman, he used his body but never let her touch his heart or soul. This one stepped from the stool with graceful motions and turned. He had expected blue eyes, bad medicine for him since the Romany woman’s eyes had been blue but hers were brown. They reminded him of a mare’s eyes or those of a deer. Her heart-shaped face boasted dainty features and when she paused, he realized she’d noticed his intent stare. Those eyes swept over him and as if he could read her mind, he caught her admiration, her interest. Heat rippled between them with invisible power, potent enough he felt it like a fever. Cold-blooded since the night he’d been turned, Ned found it remarkable. Even on the warmest summer day, he never became hot but now he burned.
Time stood still as he devoured her with his gaze. He noted the way her creamy skin appeared translucent and he realized she wore little make-up. Jeans hugged her bottom tight and accented her slender, long legs. Her bright red blouse fit as if she’d been born wearing it and Ned couldn’t help but admire her full breasts above a small waist. If he were still a man, if he lived as a human, he would’ve wanted this woman. He longed to taste her mouth, stroke her skin and fill her spaces with his firm cock. But he ached for more and hated himself for being so weak. Ned thought he’d like to wake up to her body curled against his. He’d like to ride with her behind him on his paint pony and drink coffee with her.
He wondered who she was, what she liked, how she made a living. Ned stared at her left hand and found it bare of rings. Not that it mattered, he knew he couldn’t have her and he’d have to turn away in a moment. He gave her a curt nod and would’ve but she came near and spoke.
“Hi,” she said. Her voice flowed into his ears like the melody of a spring flowing out of rocks. He liked the pitch of it, deeper than most women. “It’s late and I wonder if you’d mind walking me to my car. I came with some colleagues but they left over an hour ago. I’m a little nervous.”
Part of the security end of his job involved accompanying customers to their cars so Ned had no room to refuse. He didn’t want to but he should. Instead, he nodded. “Yes, I’ll be happy to escort you out. I’m Ned, Ned Big Eagle.”
She stuck out her hand. “I’m Anne Delahanty and thank you. Are you security?”
“I’m a dealer,” he said. “But I work some security, too. Are you ready to go now?”
Anne shifted her purse strap from one shoulder to the other. “I thought I was,” she said. “But maybe not yet.”
“Just let me know when you’re ready. I’ll be around.”
She smiled. “I know. I’ll find you.”
Ned walked away from her, pacing his steps. He hustled over to one of the cigarette vending machines near the restrooms and bought a pack of Native American smokes. The aroma and flavor reminded him of ceremonial smoke back in his original life. It soothed his nerves and they needed a calming influence. Between Anne and his growing need for blood, he required help. Outside, he sized up the almost empty parking lot. He watched a wobbling man trying to get into a pickup. Ned sprinted over and offered help. He also took a moment to sink his fangs into the man’s shoulder. He’d learned long ago it wasn’t necessary to bite the throat or even hit a major blood vessel. By the time he pulled back, he’d taken what he needed. Ned offered the man a smoke and headed back to the entrance. He finished the cigarette and went inside. He’d find Gary and ask him to walk Anne to her vehicle.
When he scanned the room, however, he didn’t see his buddy anywhere but Anne appeared. She linked her arm through his and he inhaled her rich, sweet fragrance. Ned knew little about perfumes but he liked the scent, floral and yet mysterious. “There you are, Ned,” she said. “I’m ready.”
Unless he wanted to be rude, he lacked options. “Okay, let’s go.”
Anne chattered all the way to her light blue Nissan sedan. By the time she crawled into the seat, she’d shared more than he should know about her life. She hailed from Texas and named a town he’d never heard of until now. It proved to be in east Texas, in the forested part of the state. As Pea’hocso he’d been through the country but hadn’t liked it. He preferred the wide open spaces and rugged terrain of the Comancheria to the piney woods. Anne taught American history and lectured at the local university. “I practically majored in Native American history and it’s my specialty. Are you Comanche?”
Her question startled him because most taibo couldn’t tell one tribe from another. Ned could usually sometimes differentiate someone of Irish descent from Dutch or German. “Yes, I am.”
“I thought so. You have a Comanche look about you. My thesis was on Quanah Parker and the Quohada.”
Ned looked down at his uniform and shook his head. His black denim, the white dress shirt, tie, and name tag little resembled what he’d worn as a free man. “If you mean I look like a casino Comanche, maybe so.”
Anne laughed. “I don’t mean what you’re wearing. It’s your features and your hair. You seem so familiar, but I know I haven’t seen you before. I’m sure I would remember.”
So would Ned. “I imagine so. Well, I need to get back to work so be careful and drive safely.”
“I will. I’m sure I’ll see you again, Ned. I plan to come back.”
“Oh, I’ll be around.” If he didn’t leave now, he’d yield to temptation. He might stroke her hair or lean into the car to kiss her. If his lips touched hers, he might lose control and the idea shamed him. A warrior should rein in all desires but he hadn’t been one in almost a hundred and forty years so maybe he expected too much. “See you around.”
He waved and removed himself. And he didn’t look back to see if she watched him. Ned didn’t dare.