Will Martin’s racist father, Kevin, hates Native Americans and wants to keep them off his property, never mind that part of the ranch land is sacred ground for the Sioux. When they request access for prayer, Kevin refuses—but Will doesn’t share his father’s views. Ever since he first saw Takoda Red Bird during one of the Sioux sacred ceremonies, Will has been fascinated. He grants the tribe access.
Takoda defies Kevin on a regular basis. He often sneaks to the sacred site on the rancher’s land for prayer and knows Will has seen him there. When, out of spite, Kevin places the land up for auction, Takoda knows it is time for action and bands together with Will to stop the sale.
In the fight that follows, Will gets more than he expected. He starts out helping the tribe preserve their identity… and ends up finding his own.
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When Will opened his eyes again, movement caught his eye. A lone man sat cross-legged on the ground, gently swaying back and forth. He didn’t seem to be wearing a shirt, his skin almost providing a type of camouflage against the red-brown land. Slowly, Will led Midnight down the far side of the rise, closer to where the man sat. As he approached and dismounted, the man’s posture stiffened, but he made no move to get up.
“If you’re here to kick me off, you can just go about your business,” the man said in a deeply rich voice.
“Why would I do that? You aren’t hurting anything,” Will said. He didn’t come too close. “You might get trampled by the cattle if they wander this way, but that’s the only kicking anyone is going to do.”
The man opened his eyes, and Will stared into the deepest set of brown eyes he’d ever seen in his life.
“I know you, and I know this horse,” the man said, and he slowly unfolded his legs and stood up, tall and proud. “I saw this horse and probably you a long time ago.” He met Will’s gaze. “I was coming to say hello when your grandfather pulled you away.”
Will swallowed as his gaze traveled over the man’s body before quickly returning to his face. He didn’t want to be too obvious, but damned if this guy wasn’t some sort of god come down to earth. “I remember you,” Will said, his mind conjuring up the memory. “I was watching the ceremony when I was a kid, and I remember you on your horse, riding bareback. I wondered at the time if I could ride like that on Midnight here, but I never tried it.”
“How do you know it was me?” the man asked.
“I remember the scar on your shoulder. The boy I saw had the same one, but it was fresher then. Now it’s an old wound, but not then.” Will met the man’s gaze. “What are you doing here?”
“Praying,” he answered. “This place is very special to me and my people. I come here sometimes to pray to the gods to help my people, but they don’t listen.” He sounded angry. “Instead, they let your father keep us away from this land and bar us from coming here.”
“He did that?” Will asked. Not that he was surprised. Thinking back, his father had probably stopped them from using the land as soon as Grandpa died. Even now, Will didn’t know why his father hated Native Americans so much, but he’d found out that the man he’d thought his father was through young teenage eyes turned out to be far different from the man Will saw through adult eyes.
“Yes. He stopped my people from coming here two years ago. Now I’m the only one who comes. Your father would call the police if he found me, but I don’t care. It’s more important to practice my people’s beliefs than it is to obey the wishes of some small-minded, hard-hearted white man.”
Will didn’t move, but Midnight began to stomp and pull on the reins. He was getting impatient. “My father isn’t so bad,” Will said.
“Then why does he keep my people from this place? We do no harm, and we only commune with nature and establish a connection to our heritage and customs. This place is sacred, and it figures into one of our earliest stories.”
“I know. My grandfather used to tell me the stories he knew. He said he had a friend who was Sioux, and he shared the stories with him. I think that’s why Grandfather understood and didn’t interfere with you.” Will began to move to appease Midnight. “He told me the day I watched you that you’re coming here was the same as us going to church.” The man nodded. “Then I give you and your people permission to come here and to hold your ceremony.”
Will led Midnight farther away and got ready to mount, but stopped when he heard the other man laughing. “I know it’s your father who owns the land, or thinks he owns the land. But no one can own nature or the land. Not even you.”Will stomped over to where the man stood, knowing Midnight would stay. “Look, you can play the stereotypical stoic Indian all you want. But I meant what I said. I happen to believe you should be able to practice your beliefs. So you can either act like an ass or say thank you.” Will stared at the annoying man, wondering why he was bothering at all.
“Native American,” the man said. “I’m Native American, not Indian, and why should I say thank you for allowing my people to practice beliefs we’ve held and passed down for thousands of years?”
God, the man was a smartass. “Okay, then don’t practice your beliefs and stay away. It’s no skin off my nose,” Will said as he climbed back into the saddle. “I was trying to help.” Will turned Midnight’s head toward home and clicked his teeth to start the horse moving.
“You were,” the man said, and Will pulled Midnight to a stop. “I should be grateful. At least my people will be able to come here for the ceremony this year.” When Will nodded, the man extended his hand and said, “I’m Takoda Red Bird.”
“Will Martin,” he said as he shook the offered hand, once again looking the man over. He had to stop that, but he couldn’t seem to help himself.
“You know your father is going to raise hell if he finds out what you said,” Takoda added. “You don’t have to do this. Your father has something against my people, and none of us knows what it is, but you don’t have to provoke his temper. Your grandfather was a good man, and I believe he understood, but your father doesn’t. You don’t have to put yourself in harm’s way for us.”
“It’s the right thing to do, Takoda. I’ll deal with my father.” Will nudged Midnight, and he started up the rise. It was the right thing to do, and what his grandfather had done. When they reached the top, Will raised his hand in greeting, and Takoda did the same. As his grandfather would say, his dad would have two strokes and a hemorrhage if he found out what Will had done. But it was still the right thing to do. Too bad he had forgotten that no good deed goes unpunished.