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.
“Wow,” she said, her gaze scanning him from his toes to his feathers. “You look amazing and authentic. On you, it looks so real and natural.”
It should, Ned thought, although he’d become as comfortable in his blue jeans and Western shirts. He liked the feel of the deerskin leggings against his flesh, the wind against his chest. He’d made the knife stuck in his belt. It along with his shield and lance were museum pieces. “Thanks,” he said. “Come on back to the lodge.”
Anne accepted his offered hand and walked with him to the secluded spot, already deep in shadow. Ned crouched down on his haunches to gauge the fire and decided the gray-white coals were ready to cook the meat. He snuck glances at Anne, dressed in khaki pants and a tank-top. She’d brushed her hair into a high ponytail and after a moment’s hesitation she sank to the ground and sat cross legged beside him. Anne craned her head back to gaze at the lodge. “Those are real, right?” she asked, pointing to his shield and lance.
“Yeah, family heirlooms,” Ned replied.
“What about the tipi?”
“It’s authentic but I made it. Took me a long time to get enough hides but I did.”
She came to her feet and inspected the lodge. “Are they all buffalo?”
“Yeah.” He’d been on some managed hunts at various lodges and places throughout the Southwest and West, something he didn’t enjoy as much as the genuine thing. To finish it, though, he’d taken a couple more from the protected herds, the ones grazing the preserve but he wasn’t admitting poaching to Anne or anyone else.
“And you did the work, all of it? Scraped the hides, tanned them, and sewed them together?”
Ned joined her beside his lodge. “I sure did and it was a helluva lot of work. Took me years to finish but it’s something I wanted.”
“It’s awesome. Do you ever sleep here?”
“Often. I thought we could tonight if you want.” Pink flushed her skin, subtle but noticeable. “I’d like that,” Anne said. “Can I go in?”
“Sure,” he said as he pulled aside the flap. “After you.”
Anne ducked her head and came into the conical interior. Ned tried to imagine how it must look to her modern eyes. Although he doubted it’d be cold enough, he’d laid a fire in the middle below the smoke hole and the bedding, a couple of buffalo robes and other skins, appeared inviting. His bow and quiver of arrows rested against one wall. The cooler he’d carried down with the steaks was the sole anomaly.
“It’s cozy,” Anne said. “And except for the ice chest, I feel like I’ve stepped back in time.”
“That’s the idea.” Ned pulled the meat out and carried it outside. He’d brought plates too, big paper platters they could toss. They weren’t either, but convenient. “I’m hungry, what about you?”
“I’m starving.” The way she said it made him think she craved sex as much as he did. There’d be time for that later, he thought, and headed back outside to throw the steaks into the flat iron pot. He’d put the potatoes into the ashes earlier and with any luck, they’d be done to a tasty turn about the same time as the steaks. Ned put the pan over the coals and let the steaks slow cook, searing first one side then the other. He added no seasoning until he removed them and then sprinkled a small amount of salt on each.
As he’d cooked, Anne shared her day with him. She told tales from the classroom and described the student who’d been hooted down after he’d informed the others Custer massacred the Indians at the Little Big Horn. She talked about her American Indian students and told Ned one of them planned to do his thesis on Quanah Parker’s surrender. “I told him I knew a descendent of Pea’hocso,” she said. “He seemed impressed. Actually, I mentioned it to the class and they were awed. They’d be even more if they saw you out here, like this. Maybe you could talk to my students about your ancestor sometime. It’d be great.”
Maybe so, but it’d be risky as well as a little scary. “I’m no man of letters,” Ned said. “I don’t know, Anne.”
“Just say you’ll think about it.”
Ned nodded. “Okay, I will.”
They ate the steaks and baked potatoes outside. Anne raved about the tenderness of the meat and the intense flavor of the grass fed locally raised buffalo. Her delight made Ned happy. They ate the steaks, devoured the potatoes with nothing but a bit of salt. It was the best meal he’d had in ages, made better with Anne’s company. After the meal they sat out beneath the stars, talking. Ned kept Anne within the curve of his arm, her body leaned against his. The delicious taste of the meat lingered on his tongue and he smoked a cigarette, somnolent and lazy. The smoke lifted toward the heavens in slow spirals. He’d taken blood in sufficient quantity the night prior and all Ned’s wants were sated but one and he’d meet it soon.
He savored the anticipation, enjoyed the sweet torture of waiting to make his body and hers into one. Time stretched into momentary infinity as Ned willed these moments to continue. If he could stop time, he would and remain in this now forever. If only this could be his eternity, he wouldn’t mind being immortal so much. Ned stared upward at the star filled sky and the truth came to him. It struck with force and hugeness strong enough to rob his breath for some seconds. He tried to deny it, blame it on the moonlight but he couldn’t. Certain she’d never understand but possessed of need to speak it, Ned stroked back Anne’s hair and whispered words he’d never said to any woman but one, “U kamkuto nu.”
No one much spoke Comanche any longer so he figured she wouldn’t understand but he’d made a mistake. Her body stiffened as she twisted her head to look into his eyes. “Kee!” she exclaimed, ‘no’ in his first tongue but in a way he took to mean ‘yes’.
“Haa,” Ned said to affirm it. He hadn’t spoken the words in so long, not since before any living person on the earth had been born, but he meant them. Speaking them moved him and brought thick tears into his throat until he doubted he could say more now. Joy lit Anne’s features with a soft beauty. Her hand cupped his cheek and she smiled at him. “I’m glad, Ned,” she whispered. “I love you too.”
From Sweet to Heat: The Romance of Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
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