You Never Can Tell

You Never Can Tell
Kathleen Eagle

June 2012 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-136-4

She tracks him until he catches her...  Some say Native American activist Kole Kills Crow is an outlaw; others say he's a hero.
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Some say Native American activist Kole Kills Crow is an outlaw; others say he’s a hero. To reporter Heather Reardon, he’s a must-have story. Her friend Savannah, who’s married to Kole’s half-brother, Clay, can vouch that Kole won’t hurt Heather, even though a brush with the law has turned him into a fugitive.

When Heather locates Kole in an isolated Minnesota cabin, she quickly learns that he’s a loner with no interest in sharing his side of the story with the world. Yet neither Kole nor Heather can resist the attraction that complicates their relationship, along with Heather’s persuasive arguments. Years ago Kole gave up a daughter for adoption because he couldn’t raise her on the run. His daughter is now seven and deserves to know what kind of man her father really is.

Kathleen Eagle expertly mingles passion, suspense and Native American political issues into an unforgettable story of love and healing.

Kathleen Eagle retired from a seventeen-year teaching career on a North Dakota Indian reservation to become a full-time novelist. The Lakota Sioux heritage of her husband and their three children has inspired many of her stories. Among her honors, she has received a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times, the Midwest Fiction Writer of the Year Award, and Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA Award. Visit her


"Kole Kills Crow is a perfect romance hero.”—Publishers Weekly

"Best-selling and award-winning author Kathleen Eagle provides readers with an exciting ethnic romance . . . a classy reading experience.” -- Harriet Klausner,

"You always can tell that a Kathleen Eagle book is going to be an enjoyable, intelligent read.” -- The Romance Reader

"Kathleen Eagle never fails to enthrall.” – The Best Reviews



The man she wanted was sitting kitty-corner across the bar, big as life.

Heather Reardon felt hot and damp all over, her gut gone goosey, like a silly teenage groupie, but one with no friend along to poke her and remind her not to stare. The tinny chords from a steel guitar looped round and round her, while a dying bulb in a beer sign above the door marked "Can” did a crazy dance.

Can, indeed, she thought giddily. Can and did. Searched and found. She had followed her leads and her instincts deep into the backwoods, nearly to the Canadian border, and found the man she’d been looking for perched on a run-of-the-mill bar stool.

She wasn’t staring. She didn’t have to. Heather Reardon was a professional. She had the eavesdropping ear of an owl and the peripheral vision of a horse. Staring was no way to get what she’d come to the Minnesota backwoods for, which was not so much the man as his story. But the man—seeing him in the flesh, hearing his voice live, remembering his public deeds as well as the personal stories she’d been told—the man was something else.

His name was Kole Kills Crow, and he was acting remarkably ordinary, minding a beer on the stained bar, the sportscaster on the small screen above the fat bartender’s head, and the occasional comment from the younger Indian man sitting two stools down on his far side. He didn’t resemble any fugitive she’d ever encountered—and she’d met a few—nor did he strike her as a martyr. He didn’t look like a rabble-rouser or a terrorist or a messianic leader of Native people or a convict. He certainly didn’t look like a murderer, but Heather had interviewed enough murderers to know that you couldn’t tell by looking at them. And he knew she was watching him. That much she could tell by the way he studiously ignored her.

She was fairly certain that being the only woman in the Cheap Shot Saloon rendered her somewhat noticeable. She was also the only Caucasian, although the bartender was probably more white than Indian. He was the only person who’d said anything to her so far—"What’ll it be?” and then "Never heard of it. You got a second choice?” She’d ended up with red wine vinegar in a juice glass.

"How is it?” the bartender asked her after he’d delivered a couple of beers at the other end of the bar. "The wine.”

Heather looked down at the glass. Not that she’d forgotten, but she couldn’t bring herself to look the guy in the eye when she said, "Fine.”

"Didn’t know if it would keep. Opened it up for a lady last month.”

"Last month? Well...” She flashed a tight smile. "As long as you keep the cap screwed on tight.”

"Lost the cap, so I just—”

"Are you palming off some of that stuff you make yourself, Mario?”

The bartender raised his voice as he shot the younger man a scowl. "Put a cork in it.”

"Damn, we lose more tourists that way.”

The exchange drew a chuckle from the reticent Mr. Kills Crow as he set his beer down after taking a sip.

"They come all this way to soak up the flavor of, uh, the native...” The young guy made a rolling gesture. "What do you call it, Kola?”

"Hooch,” Kole said.

"Not that. The atmosphere. The whole cultural—”

"That ain’t hooch, hey. That there’s genuine—” The bartender grabbed the bottle, checked the label, then shoved it under the younger man’s nose. "Italian. It’s Italian wine. Imported from Chicago. I got a cousin there.”

Heather slid Kills Crow a quick glance. She had the edge. She knew who he was, knew from her reading that kola was the Lakota word for "friend,” knew that they were both visitors to the woodsy Northern Minnesota Blue Fish Indian Reservation that was home, not to the Lakota, but to their traditional rivals, the Chippewa. He, on the other hand, knew nothing about her.

Not that he was interested. Clearly he meant to spare her no more than a glance as he lifted his beer, but he stopped short of a sip and lowered the bottle. A spark flashed in his dark eyes, like a secret smile. "You’re supposed to let the lady check the cork, Mario,” he said.

He no longer wore his hair in the braids he’d sported when he’d waved an assault rifle above his head and defied the South Dakota National Guard with a chilling whoop that echoed across the airwaves into living rooms across the country. Heather had only had a passing interest at the time—much like the look he was giving her now—but she’d since gathered every piece of news he’d made. His hair had been jet-black then. It was shorter now and streaked with an abundance of silver for a forty-year-old man. She could count the years in his tawny face, too, but he wore them well. And his eyes promised a fascinating story.

"Ain’t nothin’ wrong with the cork. See? Just a cork.” Mario snatched it out of the sink and thrust it under each nose along the bar, as though he wanted them to sniff for spoilage. "Damn, you guys,” Mario said, flicking the cork in the young man’s face when he grimaced. "She said herself, it’s good wine. Right?”

"I said it was fine.” She offered another tight smile to the bartender as she grabbed the glass, then cast a quick glance at the man she’d come two thousand miles to find.

Dare ya, said his eyes with a secret smile.

She drank, willing her tongue to let the stuff pass quietly, finishing off by turning a sour pucker into a savory lip smack, then a grin. "Mighty fine wine,” she declared.

The secret smile turned public.

The younger man applauded.

Bartender Mario looked worried. "You’re the wine expert, Jack,” he said to the younger man. "How many days does it have to age before it’s safe to drink?” He laughed at Heather’s quick double-take. "Just kidding. You’re a good sport.”

"What is your sport?” Kole’s friend, Jack, asked. "Hiking, fishing, canoeing? What brings you way out here from way over...”—he gestured with a revolving index finger— "... yonder?”

"East,” she said with a nod as she lit a cigarette. "A little of each, along with the fact that I’ve never seen this part of the country.”

"Do you know you’re on an Indian reservation?”

"Yes, but it’s not closed to non-Indians, is it?” She glanced at Kole through her smoke. "I actually have a little Indian blood. Cherokee, I think.”

"That puts you in with about ninety-nine percent of the population,” Jack said.

"I suppose that sounds...” She waved her own claim away with cigarette smoke, embarrassed to have made it to these people in this place. "Family fable, I guess. Am I not allowed to be here? I’m staying at the lodge, which was advertised on the Internet.”

"What kinda net?” somebody beyond the bar put in.

"Internet,” Jack said. "They use it to fish for tourists.”

"It’s legal,” Mario reported with a grin. "No limits, no season.”

"Is it covered by treaty?”

"Some white guy invented it,” another voice reported, the conversation spreading like ripples from a pebble plunk.

"Then we’re safe. You’ve got a home page, Mario?”

"They gave it to me free with the Internet service.”

"You got a computer?”

"No, but I’m gonna get one pretty soon.”

"He uses mine,” Jack said.

"It’s the cheapest kind of advertising you can get, and it works.” Mario jerked his chin in Heather’s direction. "Reeled in a real nice one.”

"Without even mentioning the fine wine,” Heather said.

"Mighty fine wine. Would you care for another hit?”

With a quick hand she covered the glass. "Oh, no, thanks, I’m fine.”

"Mighty fine.” Mario winked at her, went to brace an arm on the bar and tipped over a bowl of peanuts, which he quickly brushed onto the floor behind the bar. "What are you fishing for?”

" Whatever bites.”

"You’ve got three or four of us swimming around the hook here,” Jack said, grinning. "But Mario can’t do any serious biting since his ol’ lady wired his jaws.”

Other baiters chimed in.

"Stuffed and mounted is what he is.”

"When Mario has a few beers, his ol’ lady does all the pissing. That’s how close they are.”

With lips rather than fingers, Mario pointed past the bar. "What about you, Dogskin? You’re caught, too.”

"But I’m about to be released. She kicked me out two days ago.”

"I have a feeling I’m in way over my head here,” Heather said with a laugh. "But I really do need a guide.” As long as everyone seemed easy with her now, she slid Kole a dare ya look of her own. "Would you be interested?”

"That’s not my line,” he said quietly.

"Mario knows every trail around here,” Jack said. "But if you’re looking for an outfitter, you probably should have—”

"Is that what you’re looking for?” Kole asked, his eyes telling her he knew better. "An outfitter?”

"Well, all right, maybe I will have something in a sealed bottle,” she said with a pointed glance at his beer.

Kole signaled the bartender, who served her a bottle and a glass. The glass appeared to be Mario’s special favor to her, since no one else had one. She figured the bottle was safer, but she didn’t want to hurt any feelings or cause any offense, so she poured, sipped, grimaced—she wasn’t a beer drinker—nodded, smiled, and thanked them both. She was, she decided, making progress.

"I’m Heather Reardon, from New York,” she told Kole. "I’m a writer, and I’m here for a much needed getaway and a little of that ambiance you mentioned.”

"I mentioned? That must be something you saw on the Internet, Heather Reardon from New York.” Kole Kills Crow had a formidable scowl. "Did you advertise our ambiance, Mario? Is that what we’re selling these days?”

"There’s plenty here,” she said.

He laughed. "Yeah, but you gotta pay for it. We’re not giving it away. Not even to the great-great-granddaughter of a Cherokee princess.”

"I’ll pay.” She laughed, too, because he couldn’t drive her away with a stick, not when his eyes kept inviting her back. She stubbed out her cigarette in the black plastic ashtray. "What would a dance cost me?”

"You want a guide or an escort service?”

"Just a dance.”

He tipped his head to one side, drew his mouth down, considering.

Jack slapped him on the shoulder. "Where are your manners, Kola? The lady’s askin’ nice.”

Kole surprised her when he slid from the stool. "I’ll risk it if you will. No charge.”

"The man is priceless,” Jack said.

Not as a dancer, she thought as their feet tried to agree on the steps. The honky-tonk rhythm was foreign to her, but at least she had him to herself for about a minute and a half. Somehow she had to parlay that into about a month and a half. Once he agreed to work with her, she would need that much time to get to know him well enough for the story to emerge. This would be more than an interview. She believed him to be one of a rare breed, maybe even a dying breed of men. He was, unless she was badly mistaken, a true champion of the people.

Breed was probably not the best term under the circumstances, and she was using men in the universal sense, of course, the gender-neutral sense. Except that his arm around her, his hand riding her hip, his hard shoulder under her hand—these were things she had thought about over the years, watching him in news clips and listening to the musings and memories of her friend Savannah Stephens, who had known Kole Kills Crow when he was a teenager. These things, once imagined, were suddenly real and titillating, hardly gender-neutral. But they weren’t part of the story.

"Did you come all the way out here alone?”

Was he serious? She glanced up, checking his expressive eyes for a clue. She found none.

"I get around pretty well on my own,” she said, "as long as there are roads, and I have a map. When I get lost, I’m smart enough to ask for directions, and when I run out of road, I’m smart enough to look for a guide. Someone who’s native...” She smiled. "To the area.”

"You’re barkin’ up the wrong tree there. I may look native, but I’m not from this area.”

"Where are you from... Kola?”

"All over.”


"West of here. South and west.”

"I’m pretty good with geography. Mention a country, state, even a town, and I’ll probably know where it is.”

"Indian country.”

"Are you the same Kola who makes the flutes?” She knew he was. She’d already figured out that the handmade flutes sold under the name Kola—Lakota for friend—were made by Kole Kills Crow.

"Among other things. Are you a musician?”

"I’m an avid listener.” She smiled again. She’d cracked her share of tough nuts. "And a writer. I know a little bit about a lot of things, but I’m always trying to learn more. Your flutes are very much in demand.”

"I’m getting tired of flutes. I make a lot of stuff. Workin’ on my first canoe now.” He looked her in the eye and returned the smile. "What are you workin’ on?”

"I’ve got several things in the works right now.”


"Not if I can help it.” She was getting the hang of his two-step, beginning to relax a muscle or two. "If I can find my way through the woods, I might write a travel piece. That would be free advertising. Even cheaper than the Internet.”

"Talk to Mario. He’s the one who needs the advertising.” He glanced toward the bar. "I don’t know if I’d follow him into the woods, though.”

She followed the direction of his glance and counted five pairs of eyes looking back. They were the only show in the place.

"I think I’d rather follow you,” she said. "I could do an artisan piece. Couldn’t you use the advertising?”

"I can’t keep up with the orders now. New Age musicians love Indian flutes. There’s also a big demand in Europe.” He raised his brow. "But don’t let that stop you.”

"From writing about you?”

"From following.”

"You’re available, then?”

"Sure.” He tripped her up with a quick turn, putting his back to their audience. "My place or yours?”

"I meant to take me, guideme on a...” Damn, where was her clever quip? She should have been ready, undoubtedly would have been if he’d been anyone but Kole Kills Crow.

"If you want me to lead, try movin’ with me, okay?” He indulged her with a smile. "If you want me to lead you, expect to encounter some temptation.”

"Where? On the garden path?”

"Not around here. You’re sojourning in the wilderness now. Or maybe the Garden of Eden.” The smile fell away. "You wanna go someplace else?”

It was a natural question, and she knew it, but she wished he hadn’t come out and asked. "I want to go hiking, but seriously, I need a guide.”

"Like I said, that’s not my line. Especially the serious part.” He drew away as the music ended, letting her make the first move toward the bar. "Thanks for the dance,” he said to her back. "It’s been a while.”

She turned, assured him with a smile. "For me, too.”

"That’s what I meant.” He gave a cocky wink. "Enjoy the ambiance, Heather.”

He said something to Jack, still sitting at the bar, and then he left.

Stinging, she waited only a moment before she left, too, just in time to catch sight of his pickup’s taillights. The men in the bar would assume she was meeting him, but who cared what they thought? She had come to this neck of the woods to find Kole Kills Crow, who was about to disappear into its bowels, thinking he’d gotten in the last and best word. The arrogant... like he was some kind of Fred Astaire.

She followed him in the four-wheel-drive mountain-man vehicle she’d rented at the Minneapolis airport that morning. She hadn’t been able to pass up the opportunity to try one out, in case she had to go "off-roading.” It was late September, and this was northern Minnesota. Who knew when the first snow might fall, or what some of these unpaved roads might be like when it rained? Heather was prepared to find out.

Now that she’d seen the man, it would be handy to know exactly where he lived. She turned on her tape recorder and talked herself down the road, referring often to the car’s odometer and to the glow-in-the-dark compass that had been part of her gear since she’d traveled into the Arkansas outback to interview the deposed leader of the Aryan Nation. She’d gotten to him two weeks before he’d pitched over the edge of a cliff and tumbled into a picturesque gorge. Time magazine had already had her interview in the pipeline. Fortunately she’d been able to attach a postscript.

But this north woods reservation was even more remote than the Arkansas hill country. Scoping out her subject’s digs was a wise move, if she could just keep those red taillights in sight. The man drove like a demon, the road was a meandering moose trail, and the forest was dark and deep—all of which she reported on tape as the two red lights disappeared over a hill. When she topped the hill, the lights were gone. She proceeded through the tunnel of low-hanging branches as the moose trail turned into a rabbit path. The trees seemed to come alive, closing in on both sides of the car and bending low to snatch at the door handles and snap the antenna. She’d driven into her worst childhood nightmare. There wasn’t even enough room to turn around, which suddenly seemed like a wise thing to do. Wiser than scoping out any digs.

Heather threw the Explorer into reverse and started to back out. She’d always had trouble driving in reverse. She’d failed her first driver’s test because she was such a crooked backer. "Just take it slow and easy,” she told the tape recorder. "Hold the wheel steady. Can’t be more than a mile or two. Those two Indian chicks in thatSmoke Signals movie drove this way all the time.”

She laughed. She’d loved that movie—Indian people enduring all kinds of adversity—and now it had her smiling through her own dark moment. But her smile slid away when the headlights flashed behind her. Thank God, another human being.

Oh God, let it be one of the good ones.

She locked her doors and waited. The lights shone through her back window, but no face appeared. She rolled down her window and stuck her head out. "Am I trespassing? Forgive me, but I seem to be...” Not lost. That was the last word you ever want to say in a dark alley. "... in the wrong...” Shifting shadows. Did somebody move? "I was just trying to...” She shut up and listened to the rumbling motors. "Hello?”


"Kola?” It sounded like his voice, but how could he have slipped behind her? "It is you. Isn’t it?”

"If you want me to forgive you your trespasses, you’ll have to confess.” Coming from the bright light, it sounded more like the Great Oz.

"To what?” Heather barked back. Be damned if she’d be the small and meek.

"Whatever it is you’re up to, lady.”

"I seem to be up to getting lost.”

"Told you I wasn’t much of a guide.”

"You got me lost on purpose.”

"If I did, you made it possible. Step out of the truck, Heather.”

She rolled the window up a few inches. "Come out where I can see you first.”

"Is that an order?” Faceless, his laughter sounded sinister. "You’ve got guts, I’ll say that much for you. Toniga. What you guys lack in sense you try to make up for with brass.”

"Or maybe cold steel. Maybe I’ve got a gun.”

"Maybe not. I’m a bettin’ man, and I think I’ll bet not.”

"What do you mean, ‘guys’? What guys?”

"You’re right. If you were a white guy, I might bet differently. You people.”

"I’m not you people. I’m...” Her voice dropped when his silhouette finally appeared in the headlights. "I’m not getting out of this vehicle. Once you get out, you’re dead meat.”

"No. Once you get intothe vehicle, you’re dead meat. You’re a live one is what you are. But foolish.” The tall, lean silhouette moved a step closer. "Now, get out of the truck.”

"The doors are locked.”

"So I can’t get you? What makes you think I want you? You had your chance.”

"And I’m sure I’ll always wonder about the road not taken.”

"Which one is that? You don’t even know which one you took.”

"If you’ll just let me pass—”

"I won’t hurt you,” he promised quietly as he approached. "People who do things backwards get special consideration in Indian country. But we only let them go so far, and you’ve reached your limit, so you might as well jump out.”

"And go where?”

"Guess we’re down to my place. That’s what you’re lookin’ for, isn’t it?”

"Well, yes,” she admitted as she stepped down from the sporty vehicle. She was trapped. She was going to have to brazen her way through this showdown. "I thought I might stop in during business hours and buy a flute.”

"You don’t need a flute, honey. You’re blowin’ sunshine up my ass just fine.” He grabbed the door before she could close it behind her. "I can tell you’re going to be a great source of entertainment for me.”

"I don’t think so.”

"I’m easily entertained. Been living in the woods a long time. Remember that crazy redneck bastard in Deliverance?I think I’ve become the redskin version,” he said as he scanned the interior of her vehicle. "I prefer women, though, so I’d be inclined to let Burt Reynolds and the boys float right on by.” He punched off the headlights, turned off the engine, and took her keys. "Maybe you’re related to Burt. I understand he’s part Cherokee, too.”

"Would it get me any points?”

"No more than the Cherokee thing gets you.”

"You’re saying I’m pointless.” Not to mention brainless for not taking the keys herself.

"Not at all. You’ve put a few points on your side of the board.” He chuckled as he pocketed her keys. "Hell, you showed up. A woman walks into the Cheap Shot alone, she scores without even batting an eye.”

"I’m not much of a batter.”

"That’s good. You don’t wanna blink during this next round.”

"Don’t you mean inning? If you start mixing your metaphors, you’re liable to strike out.”

"You’re forgetting my home field advantage. I get to make up the rules as we go along. You could be in for some serious trouble.”

"Yes, I guess I could be.” She gauged the distance to his pickup, which he’d left running.

"You play nice—tell me who you really are, who you’re working for, and what you want from me—and maybe in a couple of days I’ll send you back to your relatives, relatively unharmed.”

"You said you wouldn’t hurt me.”

"I did, didn’t I?” He reached into her vehicle again, muttering something about hurt, like everything else, being relative.

As was stupidity, she thought wildly as she bolted for his pickup. He tackled her from behind as she sprinted headlong into the headlight beam, toppling her onto the hood. She was pinned under his body.

"This is like playing with a mouse,” he whispered close to her ear. "What are you up to, little mouse? Who’d be dropping a pretty little white mouse down the back of my shirt?”

"Nobody dropped me,” she insisted, straining to keep her face off the pickup hood. "Let me get my purse. I’ll show you.”

He let her up. She squared her shoulders and marched back to the Explorer, quickly retrieving her big leather purse from under the front seat. She shoved her wallet at him first, as though he were holding her up at gunpoint, then supplied him with a penlight, which she took back and clicked on for him.

"I told you who I really am, and I told you what I want. I work for myself.” She speared a finger at her New York driver’s license, her National Press Women’s Society membership card, her platinum Visa and gold American Express cards, all in the name of Heather Reardon. "Satisfied?”

"Not hardly. You white girls all look alike to me, especially in the dark.” He shoved her wallet into her hands as he reached into the car for something else that might answer his questions—her tape recorder. He rewound the tape a bit, then played her travel notes back to her.

"I wanted to make sure I could find my way back.”

"After you located my place?”

She nodded. "I’m doing a travel piece. I’m interested in your work. I met a man who has three of your flutes when I was doing a story on Native theater. Donald Yellow Earring?”

"No points for that name, either. We don’t all know each other, you know.”

"He talked like he knew you. Said you were the best—”

"People order my flutes through an agent. I don’t know who they are, and they don’t know me.”

She folded her arms around her purse. "Lena Murphy handles the orders.”

He slammed the Explorer door. "Shit.”

"But she didn’t tell me how to find you. I figured that out for myself.”

"Are you a cop?” he demanded, grabbing her arm.

"Without a gun? Not hardly,” she said, echoing him. "I’m not even a reporter. I’m just a freelance journalist.”

"No matter what you’re calling yourself, you smell like trouble to me.”

"I showered this morning.”

"Trouble’s a scent that don’t wash off, lady. I’ve been wearing it all my life.” He leaned down, dipped his nose close to her hair, and inhaled audibly. "But I’ve got a feeling you know all about that, having followed your freelance nose all the way to God’s country.”

"I thought this was Indian country.”

"One and the same. ’Bout all the country God’s got left. The rest is all covered with cement.”

"Oh, that’s right.” She tipped her head back and smiled. "Is that an original quote?”

"You tell me.”

"I think it’s been attributed to Barry Wilson, the act—”

"I know who Barry Wilson is,” he told her as he opened the Explorer door again and hit the automatic lock. "Guess I must’ve stole it, then.”

"What are you doing?”

"You don’t wanna leave the thing unlocked. Makes it just as easy to steal as words, and twice as tempting.” He stepped back, eyeing the fancy vehicle. "Course it might get stripped. I hope you took the insurance option on the rental contract.”

"I nev—what are you doing?” Besides walking away with her keys?

"I’m going home.”

"You’re not going to leave me out here!”

"That wouldn’t be very nice, would it?” He became a silhouette in the headlight again as he turned to her. "Tailing people isn’t very nice, either.”

"No, but I...”

He was already climbing into his pickup. The slamming of the door echoed down the road. The engine roared, missing on one spark plug until he put it in gear and the pickup crawled forward. Heather backed up against the door of the locked Explorer. The pickup’s passenger side door swung open. She figured it was the only invitation she was going to get.

She took it.




Kole neither spoke to her nor glanced her way as he drove down the gravel road, deep into a dark tunnel of trees. Heather had given up counting turns. She was already lost when she’d climbed into his pickup truck. Taking his cue, she kept her eyes on the road ahead and told herself it might be time to start worrying. Be afraid, she and Savannah used to whisper to each other after a clumsy come-on from some guy. Be very afraid.

But it was hard to fear any man Heather’s best friend had vouched for as unstintingly as she had Kole Kills Crow. Before becoming a leader in the American Indian Movement—rabble-rouser to some, champion to others—he’d been Savannah’s childhood hero. But she’d known him personally. Heather had only known of him.He was a man who championed his people, who believed in a cause. In a country full of causes, his was one that had touched Heather’s idealistic soul for as far back as she could remember.

And she had a memory that, present predicament notwithstanding, rarely failed. Her father had taken her to a powwow in Oklahoma when she was about five years old, and she remembered the bold, swirling colors, the enticing smell of deep-fried yeast dough, and the throbbing music, the night’s pulse beat. But mostly she remembered her father’s rare attention.

Her mother had stayed home, uninterested in watching the Indians dance, and Heather alone had been her father’s companion. As young as she was, she had sensed a special bond with her father that night, something that made her more like him. Something that made him like her more. Whatever it was, it ran deep and true, and it was rooted in that night.

She had not shared another time with her father that was as memorable as that Oklahoma powwow. She would have to admit that her mother had truly raised her, but her father’s absence had not been his fault. He was a military man. Her mother often said—sometimes angrily, other times wistfully or enviously or even lovingly—that Heather favored him.

Heather didn’t know about that. There was the obvious physical resemblance, but in the end, she hadn’t known her father very well, and she doubted her mother had known him much better. She only knew that she wished he could see how far she had come and how close she was to achieving something of importance. A story.

Her father had been a storyteller. She was a story seeker. She also told them—wrote and published them—but for a journalist, the trick was finding the story that would mean something to people. And her friend Savannah’s infamous friend, Kole, meant something to his own people. It was Heather’s intention to see that he—and, by extension, the cause of his people—would come to mean something to a broader community. To a journalist, injustice that had once been denied, then forgotten, was like an heirloom discovered in the closet. Unless Heather was uncharacteristically mistaken, the time for Kole Kills Crow’s message had come. Savannah would be pleased for the man. Heather was pleased for the message.

Nearly a dozen years ago Heather had met Savannah Stephens in Manhattan, the Mecca for hungry writers and hopeful models. The timing was perfect. They were both struggling with tight budgets, loneliness, and the tired feet and sore knuckles that came from knocking on too many doors.

Heather had been a reporter for a small newspaper in Virginia and a stringer for a couple of women’s magazines when she was in college, but she had her sights set on starting out in New York. She’d landed a job as a copy editor for the Daily News, and with it, the chance to fulfill her dream, which might have been cut short by high rent and slave wages had she not met Savannah, a sister dreamer. They’d first shared a cab, then an apartment, then peanut butter sandwiches, subway tokens, stockings, and secrets.

Heather had assumed the lead. She was, after all, the one with the more serious aspirations. Savannah was too beautiful to be taken seriously, and she’d grown up in the back of beyond.

"Is that the way they do things in Wyoming?” Heather would tease, eliciting Savannah’s mystical, slightly vulnerable smile. She’d mocked that western drawl, even though Savannah soon learned to turn it on and off to suit the occasion. Heather came to realize that Savannah’s "smarts” were different from her own, oddly more down-to-earth, more practical.

Savannah knew exactly who she was, where she was going, what she wanted to be. In her business, appearances meant everything, and eventually she became a familiar face and figure—if not a household name—on the pages of Lady Elizabeth’s Dreamwear Catalog.

It seemed a good balance after a time. Savannah’s face was her calling card, while Heather traded and built on her name, her "people skills,” her instinct for getting to the heart of the story, her talent for telling it well. Oddly—at least it seemed odd to Heather—Savannah was more the realist. Heather would not have guessed they shared a hero. The first time Savannah had shrieked his name when she’d seen Kole in a news clip—God, he looked good in handcuffs—Heather had asked enviously, "You know him?”

After he and his sidekick, Barry Wilson, were arrested in South Dakota and charged with every criminal act known to man, Savannah and Heather had subscribed to the Rapid City Journal so they could follow the trial.

"He’ll beat this,” Savannah had said. But Heather had known it didn’t look good from the moment the change of venue had been denied. Vigils, protests, and counter-demonstrations were held outside the courthouse. Savannah had just landed her first print ad job and couldn’t get away, so Heather had taken the bus to South Dakota. Night after night she’d stood in the crowd of mostly Indian people and held her candle for the two men who were, she believed, simply trying to reclaim what rightfully belonged to their people. She hadn’t been surprised when Kills Crow was convicted. But Wilson had been acquitted, and that was the shocker.

Heather stole a glance at the man behind the wheel of the rattletrap pickup truck. Not only did her most trusted friend once know him well, but she was also raising his child. Being privy to that secret was Heather’s ace in the hole. She figured it made her the next best thing to family. And Indians, from what she’d seen and heard, were big on family. She was plunging deep into the woods with a man who’d been arrested so often he’d once coached his arresting officer—a rookie made nervous by the news cameras—on the proper procedure.

But Heather was no rookie. She knew a hero from a hard case con. She knew how to get a great story out of either one, and she had the National Press Awards to prove it. She would have been totally on top of the story at hand—and getting the Kills Crow story would be such a coup—which she, too, could count if she could check her files—if only she had some idea where the hell she was.

Not to worry, she told herself. If she could find her way to Kole Kills Crow’s world, she could find her way back out when the time came.

The headlights suddenly illuminated a small cabin. A head popped up from the scraggly grass, a pair of feral eyes glowing back at them. "A wolf,” Heather whispered, leaning forward to get a better look before the animal ran away. Surprisingly, it bounded into the headlights.

"Part wolf. We’re a pair of mixed-bloods.” Kole cut the lights, then the engine. The pale gray animal greeted him as soon as he opened the pickup door. "Yeah, yeah, I brought you something to chew on.”

Heather hoped it wasn’t her leg. She believed in keeping only small pets and viewing wildlife from behind a fence, but she couldn’t view much of anything until her eyes adjusted to the darkness.

"C’ mon out.” Kole gestured to her with one hand while the other stroked the animal’s pale fur. "He doesn’t eat until I give him the word. I’m the alpha male.”

"I suppose I’m chopped liver,” Heather grumbled as she slid gingerly off the high seat on the driver’s side, hanging on to the steering wheel until her feet touched the ground.

"What do you say, boy?” Kole asked as the dog nosed Heather’s palm. She flinched when the animal barked, but he immediately wagged his tail in truce and licked her fingers.

She hesitated to close the pickup door quite yet, even though the dog seemed friendly enough. "What’s his name?”

"He just told you. Woof.”


"Woof. His tongue doesn’t do L’s.”

"Woof, then.” She patted the dog’s head, gave a small laugh. "I was afraid he was saying ‘Good’ and thinking chicken.”

"If he smelled chicken, he’d let me know.” He grabbed a small cardboard box out of the back of the pickup. "Let’s go inside.”

"And do what?”

"I’d say ‘get to know each other better,’ but you’re obviously way ahead of me. So I figure we’ll spend our first night together kinda evening things up. I’m gonna get to know you.”

"You wouldn’t hurt me.”

"You’re sure?”

"Absolutely. I’m not afraid of you.”

"Then let’s go inside.” He tucked the box under one arm, laid a hand on her shoulder, and directed her toward the cabin.

"And you don’t have to be afraid of me, either.” She spoke with more enthusiasm than her dragging heels implied. "Because I would never hurt you. You have my word.”

"What if I want you to hurt me? You know, a little pain for starters. You wanna start with your word, fine.” He leaned close to her ear as he reached around her to open the door. "Lie to me, baby.”

Oddly his warm breath gave her a shiver. She stiffened her whole body against it. "I’m a journalist. Truth is my stock-in-trade.”

"Yeah, right.” The door creaked when he pushed it open. "Watch your step.”

"Yeah, right,” she echoed softly in the dark as she used fingers and feet to find doorjamb and threshold. "Is this your lake cabin or something? I’ve heard that all Minnesotans have lake cabins.”

"Like I said, I ain’t from around here.” He set the box down somewhere in the dark. "This is my hideout.”

"It certainly is a good one,” she said cheerfully, anchoring herself to the doorjamb. The door was still open, but the dog was stationed on the step. Heather tried to imagine leaping over him and taking off into the woods.

In the dark she heard a ripping sound.

"Come and get it, pal.”

Woof trotted past her and claimed his prize from a piece of butcher paper. "Better than bird’s legs,” Kole told the dog, who brushed against the legs of Heather’s jeans as he headed for the great outdoors.

"I don’t have bird’s legs.”

"Who said anything about you?” A match flared, briefly illuminating his angular face, full lips hinting at a smirk. He lit a kerosene lamp, which cast a yellow glow when he fit the glass chimney in place. Beside it on a small wooden table was the box he’d brought in, sprouting the paper he’d ripped, a loaf of French bread, bottled water.

Sustenance for his prisoner, she decided.

He pulled a ladder-back chair away from the table. "Have a seat.”

"So... so this is where you live?” Wide-eyed in the dim light, she found the seat by feel as she surveyed the rustic cabin, taking in the stone fireplace, the wood-stove, the iron bedstead in the corner. She folded her arms around herself against the chill, tucking her hands inside her camel-hair blazer. "Year round?”

"I don’t get out much in the winter.” He pulled two pieces of firewood from a box on the hearth and started laying a fire. "Or summer, for that matter. Is this the kind of ambiance you had in mind?”

"I would never have found this on my own. You could take me back to the bar, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to find my way here again. Never. I wouldn’t even try.”

"Is that so?” He eyed her over his shoulder. "You seem pretty resourceful to me.”

"I probably seem pretty reckless to you, too, but I’m really not. I was just trying to locate your, um...”

"Hideout,” he supplied again.

"Studio. Shop, or whatever. I thought I had all the bases covered, and I didn’t intend to—”

"I don’t play games, Heather.”

"You don’t play baseball. Basketball was your game. Probably still is. I’ll bet you have a hoop out here somewhere.”

He sat back on his haunches, eyed her for a moment. Slowly he reached for another piece of firewood. "Yeah, us Indians are real big on hoops and baskets.”

"I don’t know about us, but—yikes!”

An orange cat had dropped from the rafters into her lap.

Kole laughed as he tucked the butcher paper into the firewood and set it aflame.

"How many animals do you have here?”

"Just the three of us.” He brushed his hands on the legs of his jeans as he stood. "And the reporter makes four.”

"I’m not a reporter.”

He turned from the fire to stare through her, implacably showing her how little her protests impressed him. She stroked his cat and met his gaze, letting him see how little his doubts disturbed her. She had her own upper hand. Knowledge was power.

"The privy’s out back,” he told her finally. "And there’s plenty of water, but no electricity. Whatever your story is, this is the perfect setting, right? Too bad you left your camera behind.”

She smiled down at the purring cat. "Maybe we’ll get it later, after we talk and you realize that I’m not really that bad.”

"I can see that you’re not half bad.” He stripped off his denim jacket and dropped it over the arm of a tattered recliner near the hearth. "We don’t have to talk. After you tell me what it is you want from me, the less you say, the better. All it takes is one lie to set the mood.” He wagged a finger at her. "But make it a good one, worth saving up for. I’ve been holed up so long I’ve started eyeing the cat.”

"I have a feeling you wouldn’t hurt her, either.”

"I can’t get her to lie to me. She’s too damn honest to please me.” He dragged another chair across the plank floor—this one a kitchen chair with vinyl back and seat—spun it on one leg, and straddled it, leaning over the back, his face inches from hers. "So, who are you, Heather Reardon? That is your real name, isn’t it?”


"I thought so. Doesn’t do a thing for me, so it must be truth. What do you want from me?”

"A story.”

"Mmm, a little tingle.” Smiling, he rubbed his chest, caressing the shoe logo on his T-shirt. "Half-truth mostly leaves me cold, but there’s promise in the omission.” He leaned closer. "Come on, honey, do me one better. Who sent you?”

"No one. I came on my own. I’ve been looking for you for a long time.”


"Because you don't want to be found, and that makes your story even more interesting—the fact that you’re not dying to tell it.” She offered a sympathetic smile. "I know who you are, Kole.”



He lifted one eyebrow, his dark eyes establishing his distance. "You haven’t done your homework as well as you think. I’m already disappointed, Heather.”

"Kola means friend.”

"Yeah, well, that’s me. So how about a little exposure?” He pinned her to her seat with a cold stare as he rose to his feet, still straddling his chair. Quickly he unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned his jeans, and peeled them over his right hip. She glanced down. Kolawas tattooed over the ridge of his hipbone. "In case they find my body in a ditch somewhere, they won’t have any excuse for cutting off my hands.”

She met his challenge with her eyes. His mother, a founding member of the Indian movement, had supposedly died of exposure somewhere out on the Plains. Claims that the authorities had robbed the body of hands were widely denied, then muddied with counterclaims. The general public had paid little attention, but Heather knew about the incident from her research. Clearly he assumed that she knew, which also clearly made her suspect. Anyone who knew about him and wasn’t with him was surely against him. He assumed he knew all his friends.

How different he was from his former partner in protest, the now semi-famous Barry Wilson. How contrary were their circumstances. She had to be careful how she presented herself, for Kole had every reason to suspect anyone who had any interest in the man he had been ten years ago.

But he laughed as he buttoned his pants. "How long have you been in the news business, Heather? Seems like you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to track down a story that’s missing the key elements of mass appeal. No corpse, no celebrity, no big money and no sex.” He sat down again, smiling. "Yet.”

"You have a story, and I want to tell it.”

"I don’t think your world’s going to be too interested in the story of a reclusive Indian flute maker, which is who I am. But go ahead and report on me. Debunk, demystify, and otherwise do me down and dirty. Whatever juices you up, lady.”

"Kole Kills Crow has a story.”

"Kole Kills Crow has been dead for years.”

"And I’m not out to expose him or do anything to hurt him.”

"I’m sure he’d be relieved to hear that. I’ll send him a smoke signal, soon as you tell me exactly who it is he wouldn’t have to worry about if he was still in a position to give a damn.”

She gave a tight smile. "So you know him.”

"Knew him,” he amended as he pushed himself off the chair. A step back gave him refuge in shadows. "Knew him as well as anybody knew him. I was with him at the end.”

"When his wife died?” Her question only gave him slight pause as he turned his attention to a wall shelf. She dropped her tone a notch. "Or when he gave his baby away.”

"Both. I was there both times.” He came away from the shelf with a carving knife, eyed her for a moment, then snatched the loaf of French bread from the box on the table. "What do you know about the baby?”

She drew a deep breath as the cat leaped from her lap to the table. Her connection to Savannah was her calling card, but it had to be the closest possible connection. It had to be above reproach.

"She’s a beautiful little girl,” Heather said. "Almost seven years old. The man she calls Daddy is really her uncle Clay, Savannah’s new husband.” She looked for some change in his expression, but he seemed completely intent on slicing bread. Quietly she added, "She looks just like her real daddy.”

He flashed her a smile as the cat crept close to investigate another butcher paper package in the grocery box. "I hope you like it here, Heather. You might be stuck here for a while.”

"How long is a while?”

"How long does it take for a seven-year-old to grow up? I promised Kole I’d never let anyone bother that little girl.” He took out the package that interested the cat, tore into it, let the cat sniff the chunk of yellow cheese. "You want some of this, you little sneak?”

"I’m her godmother.”

"What the hell is a godmother?” He sliced into the cheese, gave the cat a piece, then shooed it off the table. "God gave her a mother, and then He took her mother away. So I gave her a different mother.”

"A wonderful—”

"I gave her a mother who was so far removed from my world that no one would ever link her back to Kole Kills Crow. I gave her to a woman I trusted.”

"I know. She’s—"

He wagged his head as he continued with his slicing. "I can’t believe she’d tell somebody like you.”

"What do you mean, ‘somebody like me’? You don’t know anything about me. And you’re not going to know anything as long as you refuse to listen.”

"I’m listening.” He set the knife on the far side of the table, reclaimed his seat, looked her in the eye. "The part of me that isn’t eyes and nose is all ears.”

"Claudia is my godchild. Savannah is my best friend.”

"Then obviously she’s no longer my friend.”

"She didn’t tell me where you are.” When the stony look in his eyes didn’t waver, she pleaded, "How could she? She doesn’t know. And if she did know, she would never tell me. She would never tell anyone. You know that’s true.”

"Because you say so?”

"You trusted her with a life you value more than your own.”

"That ain’t sayin’ much, though, is it? I have no life.”

"Then let me tell your story posthumously.”

Even his smile had turned cold. "Make it a novel. Then you can say anything you want.”

"I’m a journalist,” she insisted. "I don’t write fiction.”

"Beautiful. Perfectly deadpan. You’ll do well in Indian country with that kind of humor.” He snapped his fingers. "Damn. I’ll bet you left your paper and pencil behind in the car.”

"I brought a laptop, along with an extra battery.”

"That sounds kinky. Like I said, whatever turns you on. You keep pushing the right buttons, honey, I’ll give you plenty to write about.” He lifted one corner of his mouth, his eyes suddenly flashing unexpected delight. "The kind of stuff that really sells.”

"I believe in the truth.”

"I’ll just bet you do.” He slapped a slice of cheese on a slice of bread. "Help yourself here. I believe in sharing. How did you find me?”

"I followed a trail you didn’t know you left. Savannah had very little to do with it. The clues she gave were given unwittingly.”

"Because she trusted you?” he asked, eyeing her as he brought the food to his mouth.

"I didn’t exactly...” She hadn’t asked about Kole straight out, but she’d noticed a postmark on an envelope that had come to Savannah through the art dealer who handled Kola’s work. "She trusts me because she knows me well. And I didn’t track you down on a whim. I’ve been interested in you for a long time. Since before you went to prison.”

"You must’ve been about twelve then.”

"I’m older than Savannah,” she claimed, but his dubious look prompted her to add, "a little bit. But I was interested in you before I met her. I’ve always been fascinated with the American Indian Movement and all its offshoots.” She watched him tear off a hearty bite of crusty bread. "And so little has been written about it.”

"What are you talkin’ about?” He had to chew a bit before he could go on, gesticulating with his free hand. "People like you keep getting the scoop from the ones who’ve suddenly developed a need to run bare-assed through every bookstore in the country. I’m waiting for Wilson to take a shot at it.”

"I’ve already interviewed Barry Wilson.” Oh yes, she had the upper hand, but the captive could ill afford to sound too smug. She tried for an artless shrug. "Interesting man.”

"He is that.”

"He talks about Kole Kills Crow the same way you do. As though he was dead.”

"Must be true, then.” He swallowed hard. "When did you talk to him?”

"I flew out to California a couple of weeks ago. He’s got a part in a new movie with Viggo Mortensen, so I got to go on the set.” She smiled as she eyed the bread and cheese he’d sliced, but she kept her hands tucked in at her sides. "I interviewed Viggo, too. Very nice man. Very funny.”

"Good actor, too, just like my buddy Barry.” He reached for more bread. "You need something to wash this down with?”

Heather had still made no move toward the food, and now the cat had jumped back into her lap. She stroked her new ally into settling down and showing Kole how likable his guest was.

"I didn’t tell Wilson this, but you’re the real reason I interviewed him. I’m very good at finding a worthwhile story and then getting to the heart of it. You’re the heart of this story. What makes it exciting to me is that very few people know that.” She smiled. He was reaching for the bottled water, looking at her as though she’d just turned down steak in favor of hamburger. "Maybe nobody else knows.”

"Maybe nobody else gives a damn.”

"Maybe not. Which gives me a purpose, doesn’t it? It’s up to me to write the story in a way that persuades people to give a damn.”

He lifted the bottle in salute to her. "Baby, you were born too late.”

"I don’t think so. I’ve made quite a name for myself writing stories that speak to the American social conscience. Granted, it’s not as easy a sell as celebrity crime, but that just doesn’t—how did you put it? Juice me up?” She watched his Adam’s apple bob as he drained half the bottle in long, slow gulps. "By the way, I don’t answer to ‘baby.’”

He tried to swallow reaction and water at once and nearly choked. His eyes blamed her for it as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "You will if you get hungry enough,” he said after his throat was clear. "You sure you don’t want any of this? You never know when you might get fed around here.”

"Your cat looks pretty well fed,” she said, stroking affectionately.

"She’s an excellent hunter.”

"So am I.” Heather looked up from her ardent stroking to find Kole leaning over the back of his chair, his face closer to hers than she’d anticipated. "I found you, didn’t I?” She hadn’t meant to whisper, but that was how it came out.

"Let the feeding frenzy begin,” he whispered back as he braced his left elbow on the back of the chair and cupped her face in his right hand.

His eyes were hard, hungry, resolute. She saw his kiss coming, but those eyes mesmerized her. She didn’t close hers until his lips covered her mouth, stealing her breath along with her senses. Good Lord, he was as demanding and as deft and as delicious as she’d imagined when she was a green girl watching him make news. His tongue tasted of beer and bread, but better, bolder, spiced with the zest of his masculinity. She sampled it with wonder, even as she stanched the urge to reach for him and take more than a sample. She kept her hands on the cat.

Kole came up smiling. "Your lyin’ lips taste very sweet.”

"I haven’t lied to you,” she said in a voice that was remarkably steady, considering she didn’t know where her next breath would be coming from.

"You said you weren’t hungry?”

"You’re misquoting me.” She met his amused gaze. "Something I promise never to do to you.”

"Promises don’t faze me, honey. I inherited a pretty good immunity to promises.”

"And I’m allergic to ‘honey.’”

He drew back with a laugh. "Reporters always did bring out the smart-ass in me.”

"Not always,” she recalled. "But that was the role you generally played, wasn’t it? You were the tough guy. Wilson was the philosopher. Still, you let your guard down once in a while, and so did he. When that happened, it was pretty clear that you believed in the cause, while Barry Wilson believed in Barry Wilson.”

"How’d you come up with that?”

"Short of searching a subject’s closets and drawers, I really do do my homework.”

"Good girl. If I had a red pencil, I’d give you an A.” He pushed himself off the chair and turned to clean up the bread and cheese. "But you won’t be taking your report card home for a while.”

"I’ve been looking for you for a long time. Why would I want to go home now?” She reached for a slice of cheese, again politely shaking off his added offer of bread. "I wouldn’t mind going back to the lodge, though. I don’t see an extra bed here.”

"No closets, either, and you can search me all you want for drawers. What you see is exactly what I’ve got. Do you prefer one side over the other?”

"I prefer, um...” She shared her cheese with the cat as she glanced from the bed to the recliner to the door.

"Exactly what I’ve got.”

She assessed him with a frank look. "If I decide to leave, you’re not going to stop me.”

"Who says?”

"I know you. Savannah and I were roommates for several years. We followed you in the news. That time you took over the post office, she said there was nothing to worry about because you would not harm those people.”

He twirled the bread in its plastic sack, tied off the end, then speared it into the box and walked away from her, putting his back between her and the stone hearth. Hands low on his hips, he watched the crackling fire. When he finally spoke, she had to strain to hear him.

"We occupied a store. Just because they had a few mailboxes and sold stamps, they call it a post office.”

"But you let the people go.”

"Yeah, well, we held them for a while.”

"That’s not what most of them said,” she recalled. "In their initial statements they said they were free to go, but they were more afraid of the police outside than the protesters inside. Later one of them changed her story.”

"Terrorists.” He grabbed an iron poker and used it to reposition the burning logs. "The governor of South Dakota called us terrorists. I think that’s the preferred term nowadays.”

"Misapplied in this instance.” Drawn to the fire, the cat bounded to the floor. Heather felt the same pull, but she remained in the chair, a soft, sympathetic voice in the shadows. "The woman only changed her story after hours of questioning.”

"Poor, simple Verna was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

"Were the hostages volunteers?”

He gave a dry chuckle, glancing over his shoulder before he set the poker aside. "Is that what you are? A volunteer?”

"I’m not afraid of you. According to Savannah, you wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

"See, now that’s how much she knows about me,” he said lightly as he added more wood to the fire. "I know exactly how long it takes to smother a fly under a cup. I know how many appendages you can rip off a fly before it dies. You spend some time behind bars, you learn these things.” He stepped to one side, rubbing his hands over the side seams of his jeans. Firelight burnished his strong profile, flames dancing in his eye. "Savannah remembers a boy she knew once,” he reflected absently.

"What about your brother, Clay?”

"My half-brother.” He retraced his steps, boot heels scraping the plank floor, then he straddled the other chair and confronted her across its tattered back, nose to nose. "What about him? You were roommates with him, too?”

"No, but I’ve met him. He’s another one who thinks you’re innocent.”

"I pled not guilty. I never said I was innocent.” Gripping the backrest he started out of the chair, then sat back down again, suddenly agitated. "When did you last see Clay?”

"A couple of months ago.” She smiled. "They’re all fine. Clay and Savannah and little Claudia—they’re all doing just fine.”

"I didn’t ask.”

"For the record, you didn’t ask. Not with words, anyway.”

"You know what? Sometimes when I trap a fly, the buzzing starts to annoy me. Then I’m liable to squash the damn thing.”

"Okay, so you’re a big fly killer.”

"They say that’s not all.”

She met his challenging gaze with a nod. "Did you know him? The man who was killed in prison?”

"Sure, I knew him. First thing you learn is there’s some security in numbers, and you mainly stick with your own kind.”

"He was Absaroka.”

"Very good,” he acknowledged with a nod. "More popularly known as Crow, enemy of the Sioux. Nice little piece of irony there.”

"That your name is Kills Crow,” she said. "No one really believes you killed him.”

"Really.” He smiled as though he were indulging a roseate child. "Outside Indian country or the state of South Dakota, you can probably count on one hand the number of people who’ve formed any kind of opinion on the matter.”

"You only had a few months left to serve,” she reminded him. "Your escape is what they point to as proof of your guilt.”

"I was standing two feet away from Daryl when they did him. They never found the gun, but they know damn well he wasn’t shot at close range. There were plenty of witnesses, but they’re all cons.” He lifted one shoulder. "They hit the wrong man. That was the scuttlebutt.”

"Someone was trying to kill you?”

The answer in his haunted eyes chilled her.

"Why?” she asked.

"Who the hell knows?” Abruptly he quit the chair. "Are you sure you’re not hungry? I don’t want you saying I made you go to bed hungry.”

It seemed foolish to think she could hurt his feelings by refusing his food, but it was a sweet notion all the same. She reached into the grocery box. "Do you have any butter for the bread?”

He laughed. "I would have to kidnap a fussy eater.”

He found her a jar of peanut butter. She slathered it on the bread, remarking that it reminded her of late-night snacks in the dorm kitchen in college. "My personal favorite was peanut butter and jelly on Ritz crackers.”

He folded his arms and watched her eat. She had the feeling she wasn’t supposed to waste anything.

"Your mother was involved with the movement, too, wasn’t she?”

His bemused look turned into a hard glare.

"Okay, you start. What would you like to talk about?” She sucked peanut butter from her thumb. "It’s just the two of us in this little cabin. We have to talk about something.”

"You can give me a small break anytime now.”

She noticed another table, tucked in the corner between a window and the fireplace. His workbench. "How about your flutes?” She moved toward the table as she finished off her bread. "Flute making. I’d love to know what goes into the making of such a beautiful...” Four of the wooden instruments lay side by side in a cloth-lined tray. She touched the open beak of the one that was carved in the shape of a long, slender bird. "May I?”

He nodded, watching her closely as she fit the wooden tube to her lips. It took her several tries to get a sound out of it. "So I skipped a lot of music lessons when I was a kid,” she confessed as she experimented with finger placements on the holes.

"What did you play?”

"Violin. I wanted to play the drums, but according to my mother, real ladies don’t drum.”

"She’s right,” he said, moving behind her. "Drumming is a man thing.”

She caught his eye over her shoulder as his arms came around her. "Do ladies play the flute?”

"I don’t know much about ladies. I know you don’t play the flute.” He placed the index and middle fingers of her left hand over the first two holes. "Flute playing is a man thing, too, but women have gotten pushy with it, like everything else.” He covered her right hand with his, placing three fingers on the remaining three holes, then lifting the middle one. "Now blow.”

She lipped the bullet-shaped mouthpiece as though she planned to suck on it.

"Whoa, let’s try a little subtlety, woman. This is sensitive equipment. Curl your lips back a little bit, like you’ve never done it before, and you’re not sure you want to. Look at me.” He demonstrated, drawing his lips around his teeth. "Only not that much. Like maybe you’d sip through a straw.”

"Do I have to swallow?”

"Damn, you’re sassy.” Delight danced in his eyes. "You can’t slobber too much. This one’s already sold. We’re just breakin’ it in gently. Try it now.”

He lifted her fingers, pressed them down, and she blew until she thought she was probably blue in the face. She managed to produce a dolorous tweedle.

"You’re trying too hard.” He laughed when she gave up, gasping. "You’re allowed to breathe.”

She turned the instrument over to him for a real demonstration. "What do women get to play?”


"Can I quote you?”

"Hell, no, you’ll ruin my business. I sell these to women all the time. I figure they’re buying them as gifts. Or hints.” He played a quick scale. "They’re used for courting. The music is seductive.”

He played a slow, soft, drifting melody that reminded her of a birdsong in a canyon, a warm breeze, the taste of an unexpected kiss. When he was finished, the music lingered. She could barely move, barely breathe, even though she was allowed. She dreaded breaking the spell, hesitated to lift her gaze from the magic fingers, which were still now, blunt tips resting lightly over the five holes. The lower hand stirred, stroked the length of the instrument from its stops to its carved head.

He smiled when she finally looked up. "You hear that sound around the camp at night, you know there’s some guy out there who’s feeling a little horny.”

"It’s a haunting sound.”

"It’s a haunted feeling.”

Slow down, she told her galloping heart as she stepped away, looking for something safe, anything innocent. Seizing upon the peanut butter, she spun the cap off, scooped, licked her finger. She’d taken some foolish chances before, but emotionally she always, alwayshad the upper hand. She could feel him watching her, sense his amusement.

"What are you going to do with me now? I mean, you can’t just...” She shrugged, took another casual lick. "You really should take me back to the lodge. I’m sorry for following you. It was foolish. It was downright rude.” Another lick, a sheepish smile. "I didn’t come here to make trouble for you. You really should let me go.”

"There’s the door.”

"And the darkness beyond, and the woods, and the unmarked trails that pass for roads. Wolves, bears, snakes.” She stood her ground as he approached her, a wolfish gleam in his eyes. "But am I any safer with you?”

"You know me. I wouldn’t hurt a fly.” He closed his hand around hers, drew her buttery finger into his mouth and slowly sucked it clean. His breath cooled her wet finger as he finished off the underside with his tongue. She knew then what a flute must feel like on the inside as his electrifying breath rushed through it, end to end.

He smiled into her eyes. "But neither would I let one go when she’s such a great source of entertainment.”

"I’m not going to sleep with you,” she blurted out.

His laughter hit her in the face, the backwash of her own foolishness. He walked away. "I’m not going to stay awake with you,” he told her as he flipped open the lid of an old steamer trunk. "I generally sleep in the middle, but I’m willing to compromise since you’re more or less a guest.”

"I’ll take the chair.”

"Suit yourself.” He tossed her an army blanket. "You wanna go outside first, or should I?”

"Outside?” She caught the flashlight he tossed her. "Oh, that’s right, outside. Is the wolf, um, dog—”

"Interested in your ass? I don’t think so.” He caught her scowl, pitched her a grin. "You need help?”

She pushed the door open, stepped outside, then stuck her head back in. "Is it directly behind... ?”


"Well, it’s dark out here.”

"You’re a big girl, now, you’ll find it. Just reach back.”

She slammed the door. It wasn’t so much the dark that worried her as the wildlife. She’d run into a rattlesnake in a gas station restroom in Arizona and a black bear in Glacier. She had a healthy respect for a wild animal’s survival instincts.

She nearly jumped out of her skin when her light flashed on a pair of glowing eyes.


The dog answered. Relief. Nice dog. Good dog. It wasn’t every dog that could say his own name. He escorted her to the privy, stood guard while she used it, then shepherded her back again. Very considerate dog.

At the cabin door she called out, "Can Woof come inside?”

"You wanna clean up after him?”

"Sorry, boy,” she whispered. "You’re such a gentleman, I naturally assumed...”

Kole appeared at the door. "The advantage to an outhouse is that people don’t usually take so long,” he grumbled as they crossed paths over the threshold.

"Well, excuse me, but I couldn’t see my watch.”

It surprised her to discover a basin of clean water, a towel, and soap on the table where moments ago the grocery box had been. Put there for her use, she decided. Even more surprising, the water was warm. She looked up to find a cast iron kettle on the hearth and something white draped over the back of the recliner. A nightgown? He had put out a nightgown for her?

Close. It was a long thermal shirt, which was preferable to sleeping in her clothes. She changed quickly and made her bed in the chair in front of the fire, which would have been fine if it actually reclined. All it did was tip back a little. The seat sagged. The springs were sprung.

"You gonna be all right there?” Kole asked when he returned.

"Fine, yes.”

She watched the fire and listened to the water trickle into the basin, the boots fall to the floor, followed by the belt buckle. The light dimmed, and still she stared at the fire. Her feet were cold. Sleep would not come easily in this lumpy chair. She wondered if her breathing sounded as loud as his did. She wondered if he snored.

She wondered if she snored.

It was a small cabin, and he wasn’t far away. Hissing. No, that was the fire. Grinding his teeth. No, that was outside, probably the dog.

The fire popped. Her feet were getting hot.

The chair groaned with the slightest shift of her body, as though she weighed a ton. The bed squealed. The chair squawked. The two pieces of furniture carried on this conversation until Kole threw off his blankets.

"You take the bed. You’re making so damn much noise, I can’t get to sleep.”

Heather jackknifed in the chair. "I haven’t made a peep, not one peep, even though it’s impossible to get comfortable in this chair.”

"Peep is about the only sound you haven’t made. I’m gonna call you Wheezie.” He started up. "Get over here.”

"Stay there,” she ordered as she padded across the floor, dragging her blanket like a three-year-old. "I’ll share the bed with you. It’s not that I’m being prudish or anything. I’m used to having a bed to myself, and I toss and turn a lot, and I just don’t want to punch you in my sleep.”

"Damn right you don’t, because I’m liable to retaliate in my sleep.” He gave her his only pillow as they tucked themselves in quite separately, back to back. "You shut up, settle down, stay on your side. I’ll stay on mine, and we’ll get along fine.”

"In our sleep.” She speared her arm beneath the pillow, plumped it up, and rested her head. She had the fireside view. That was nice. So was his bare chest, she recalled. Strong, smooth, firm. Was that a bare butt just behind hers? Behind her behind? She smiled in the dark. He’d given her his pillow. He wasn’t half as tough as he made out. She was going to get her story for sure.

She sighed. "What are we going to do tomorrow?”

He vaulted out of bed. She went still, thinking he’d be back momentarily. When that didn’t happen, she sat up. He’d thrown a shirt on, and he was already pulling on his boots. And his butt was not bare. Before she could form a question, he was out the door. By the time her feet hit the floor, he was revving up his truck. When she got to the door, the headlights arced across her face.

"Was it something I said?” she called out to his red taillights. "Don’t leave me alone out here in the middle of...”

The engine’s roar dwindled to a distant hum.

She looked down to find Woof sitting at her feet. "... God’s country.”

Please review these other products:

The Last Good Man

Kathleen Eagle

March 2012 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-092-3


Our Price: US$14.95

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