Millie Powell stows away on a wagon train. She's on a mission. She has to get to Nebraska Territory north of Independence Rock to marry Matt Hudson. It isn't that she's in love with Matt. She is afraid of him, and what he might do to her family. And then Joe Modoc barrels into her life and things begin to change.
"Promise me one thing," She said as they laid the blue blankets on their shoulders. The Shaman was busy blessing the land around them, then the people. Everyone wore colorful clothes and there was music too, a flute played in the distance.
"What's that?" He asked, glancing at her.
"Don't you dare tell anyone we did this."
"That's a promise I can keep." Amused by her sense of humor he quirked a rare smile at her.
She stared uncontrollably at him. She wished he wouldn't do that. His smile was so absorbing.
"What's wrong?" He sobered quickly.
"You're smiling…" she murmured.
"Must mean I'm human after all, huh?" his smile began to fade.
"You should do it more often, Mr. Modoc, it becomes you."
"Becomes me?" this time the smile was sarcastic.
It was as short ceremony, there was an Indian blessing and things she didn't understand, as they took the blue blankets from them and the Shaman draped a white blanket over them both signifying the unity of their marriage. Bringing them closer together, Millie felt strange being this close to a man that barely tolerated her. After all, he was doing this to save her neck and his job. But perhaps it was good practice for when she really married Matt Hudson.
There was a great celebration afterwards, and much food. There was dancing and merriment, to celebrate their marriage.
An Eagle circled above them, and all stared up at him. The Shaman said something to Joe, but he didn't tell her what he said. She wondered.
"It's an eagle?" She stared now too.
"Yes, I saw."
Millie sat mystified by the whole thing. "This is kind of nice. Isn't it?" She remarked feeling the euphoria it created. "This might sound a little strange but I've never been in a wedding or around one."
He watched the dancers and nodded, "Yeah…This is pretty nice. The ceremony was one of great meaning, and the eagle that circled above us, is believed to cause much good luck."
"That's why everyone was so impressed with the eagle, well, I have to admit, I haven't seen one that close up myself." She smiled. "I guess you are used to these sort of celebrations by the Indians. I mean you probably witnessed many of them for yourself."
"Never been to a wedding before, especially my own." He almost chuckled as his lazy gaze flitted over her. But his gaze was thorough stopping at every interesting point of her.
"Mrs. Granger said you'd been married and had a child. So I'm sure this means little to you…"
He cleared his throat. "Well…I guess I can tell you. Sometimes you say things to shut people up."
"You lied?" She shrieked with a giggle. "I can't believe it. I heard you talking about it, I was suckered into it too. I believed every word, the way you were talking. The sadness in your voice."
"I thought if it was sad enough, she'd respect it and leave me alone about marrying some girl on the train."
"You mean she tries to marry you off?" She turned her nose to the air.
"Mrs. Granger is a sweet lady, I love her, but she is a busybody for unmarried people. Probably because she really has been married three times." He glanced at her smiling face, "She says you're going to the Territory to marry this Hudson fella. Is that true?"
Millie hung her head, he could have brought anything but that up. She nodded dully her smile disappearing as though it had never been.
"If you don't love him, why are you marrying him?" Joe frowned, waiting for her answer.
"Not all marriages are based on love, including this one." She glanced at him. "Especially this one!"
"Is it true you studied medicine?" He asked out of the blue.
Her head jerked about in question. "Wilma told you that too?"
He firmed his lips and moved a little restlessly. "Mrs. Granger was on a tirade to explain exactly why I should try to understand you. She told me most of it. It was quite a story."
"I only told her because I owed her." She bent her head. "I'm an open book so to speak. No secrets."
"So you're going to marry a man you can't stand, to save a piece of land?" He frowned at her now as though he didn't quite believe her story.
"No, that's not why. It's more complicated than that. I'm sure you are not interested in my troubles."
"Interested or curious? I've heard a lot of stories, but none exactly like yours…"
"True most women don't want to be doctors. Look, suffice it to say, my parents sent me to medical school for four years or nearly. They spent every dime to help me get my degree in medicine. They believed in me, especially my mother. But, my mother took ill, and died, causing a mountain of bills to pay. Bills my father could no longer pay unless he let the farm go…so he did. He let the farm go. He didn't make payments. My father and brothers worked that farm, it's the prettiest most well kept place in Missouri. I grew up there, thinking we had to be rich to have such a beautiful place. But we weren't. I was so terribly naïve. Life caught up to us like anyone else. My mother so believed in me and what I wanted to do. Not once did they ever complain to me. I know they had to have been doing without. Just for me…How can anyone be that naïve? I was ashamed of taking their money once I found out."
"And now you're just giving it all up? After she had so much faith in you?"
Millie's back straightened. "I'm not giving it up…I'm letting go of a dream and facing reality. There comes a time when you have to. When reality outweighs dreams."
"Is that what they scrimped and saved for, so you could give up?"
"That's so unfair! You don't understand."
"Then make me understand." He insisted.
She was quiet for a while until he seemed to focus on other things, then she told him. "Matt Hudson promised to absolve all the debt if I would marry him. He sent the letter directly to me, to my school. It was the only chance I had of repaying my folks, and I intended doing it. They had faith in me, now I'm going to prove to them that I have faith in them."
"Very noble, but pretty stupid if you ask me. So what's wrong with this fella Hudson. He got two noses or something?"
"No!" She turned away from him. Trying to choke down the raw anger inside her. "I suppose there is nothing wrong with him. I've known him for years. Not well of course, but seen him almost every year since my thirteenth birthday. It's just…" she stopped and looked at him squarely. "He leers at me all the time. I guess it sort of scares me. I don't know."
"What if he finds out about this?"
"What?" She jerked her head about to look at him.
"This isn't lawful…" She smirked. "You said so yourself."
"I guess it wouldn't be in most instances, but…you see, I'm a breed."
"You're a what?" She looked totally confused.
"I'm part Indian. It would hold up, if contested." He smirked now.
Millie's mouth hung open.
"You're not serious?" She shook her head. "But you promised you wouldn't say anything." She stood up and paced about anxiously. "You said it meant nothing."
"Normally, I wouldn't, especially since you aren't the least interested in it. But legally, you are my wife, and so my responsibility." He argued. "This man is blackmailing you. I can't let him do that, if you are telling me the truth. You may not have any feelings for me, but it is a marriage and I will respect my end of it. As I don't intend repeating it. You can't…let him do this to you or your family! It is wrong."
Secretly, she liked his indignation. She admired the fact that he even said it. He saw it for what it was, she didn't have to explain further. She stood staring at him as though he'd lost his mind though. "Oh no! I'm not about to involve more people in this. No, it isn't your responsibility. I release you from any and all responsibility." She shrieked. "This has nothing to do with you. You don't even like me, why would you want to help me?"
He shook his head slowly as though considering her words. "It's a bit too late for that. I didn't say I didn't like you, but Mrs. Granger has been trying to pair us up, and I didn't like that. If I want a woman, I'll do the choosing."
"Oh, so that's it, huh? She's pushing you off on me. I'm sorry. I didn't understand you! You haven't liked me since the day you found me. You don't like me any more than I like Matt Hudson. So why would you interfere? For that matter, why would you even care?"
Now he stared, and brought her chin around to stare into her dark brown eyes.
"To be honest, I don't know. But when they wrapped that white blanket around us just now, I began to realize what it meant. And there has to be a reason why I'd even consider doing this in the first place. You might say the Indian part of me responded to you. You are my responsibility now, and you are not going to marry Matt Hudson. Is that clear?"
"Well you…this…it's…"She stomped her foot and walked away. She found a tree and leaned on it for a moment. Dear God, how could she confound her troubles so?
But as it was late, they were herded to a tipi to be alone.
Once they were inside, they saw the blankets together and she started to move one of them on the other side of the fire. "Don't get any ideas." She told him, her face flushed.
"Don't worry, I don't have any." The way he said that, she was sure he had no intention of touching her.
Everything seemed grand until an old squaw came in and sat down inside the tipi with them. She folded her legs and sat staring at them.
Millie watched her for a long time, then looked at Joe.
"Why is she here?" She whispered.
"She's a witness…"
"Witness to what?"
"Exactly. They expect us to…" He nodded with his head.
Millie's mouth flew open. "You're just saying that to put a scare in me…"
"Until we do something, she's not going to leave and if we sleep separate she'll tell the chief or the son and you could be hanging from that pole again."
Millie went straight to Joe's side. "W-what do we do?"
"We're going to have to make like we are doing something. That will satisfy them and she'll go away." Joe reasoned.
Millie's face flushed. Exactly what did he consider, 'doing something' meant?
"You're not just telling me this to scare me are you?" She questioned, watching his facial expressions.
He frowned at her now, looking straight into her dark eyes. "You have the prettiest damn eyes…" He cleared his throat as though he hadn't meant to say that. "Look, I don't like this any better than you. But, I think I could persuade a woman to, if I put my mind to it, without a witness."
Millie blinked hard and nodded. "Sorry. What do you expect me to do?"
"Lay down beside me." He instructed casting the squaw a look.
The squaw smiled.
He stood up and took his chaps off.
Her eyes widened.
"Why are you doing that?" She squeaked.
"Well, a man can't…"
"You're not about to…."
"No I'm not."
Millie stared at him a moment, realizing for the first time how well built Joe Modoc was, and how masculine. Laying with a virile man might be a little tricky. She'd never lain with any man. She'd been so wrapped up in her education she hadn't taken much time for the social side of life. She'd been kissed a few times, but nothing more and never by a man that knew how, she was sure of that. Some of her friends at school had told her that kissing was quite enjoyable but she'd never experience any kiss she enjoyed, so she thought they were exaggerating. According to her friends kissing was an art with some people and quite pleasurable. Only, she hadn't experienced that so called pleasure yet, and doubted she ever would.
Her nerves were on edge. Her body tensed. Her mouth pursed.
She laid down on the blanket beside him.
He leaned over her, bringing them closer. He stared into her eyes. Something in his expression changed, and quickly. He bent close, so only she could hear, he whispered. "We have to make this look good, so a moan or groan or two wouldn't hurt. I've got to kiss you and I don't want you jumping up and slapping my face. Do you understand?"
"Kiss m—" She nearly hollered but he put his hand over her mouth and replaced it quickly with a kiss as one hand gently touched her cheek, his thumb caressing her there. His gentle touch was unexpected.
The word soft, hit her. The way his thumb kept moving against her cheek, and the way his mustache tickled her upper lip, all these sensations were new to her. No man had touched her in quite that way and it startled her.
What started out to be a harsh punishment turned instantly into a commanding kiss that awakened her senses to the man. He knew what he was doing to her, he had to. For once a man was in control and she didn't seem to mind if her soft moan was any signal. He raised his head for a moment and saw the transformation he'd caused. Desire softened her eyes on him. Slowly his head bent once more to the temptation she offered. Their lips met in a storm of passion now, unaware of what the squaw was doing, nor caring. Millie's arms floated up and around his neck, as her lips moved slowly against his, following his lead. When he raised his head they broke apart in total astonishment.
To recover her dignity, she quickly asked, "Was that a good enough performance?" She didn't blush either. How she had pulled it off she didn't know because inside she was shaking like a leaf.
No man had ever kissed her like that! Pleasurable? Her body went into some kind of shock.
He stared at her strangely, "Yeah, just fine." He said drily.
After recovering from embarrassment, she made light of the situation. "Well, I guess we showed her, huh?" Millie said on a breathless note, trying to disguise her inner feelings quickly. He'd never know she hadn't been kissed like that before.
The one thing that really shocked her was she liked it. She wanted to explore the sensations he created.
He turned to look at her, as though he couldn't quite make out what just happened. "Yeah…I guess we did!"
"Now everything will be all right, huh?" She asked, not looking directly at him as she slowed her thundering heart to a steady beat once more. He had no idea what she'd gone through in that kiss. She'd never really been kissed before, not like Joe Modoc kissed at least. She knew she couldn't explain what was so different about his kiss, but she knew there was a difference in his and every other man she'd ever kissed. Everything in her body seemed to come alive at once. It was hard to straighten up and act like an adult after having lost herself in his kiss. She was still reeling from the impact, but she couldn't let him know. He didn't even like her, and maybe he liked her less now! It sure sounded like it from his gruff voice.
"Everything is fine, put your blanket up against mine and go to sleep now." He commanded.
"Why?" She asked innocently, "she's gone."
"Not far I'd wager. Just do it and go to sleep will ya?"
The sound in his voice was barely controlled, like when she'd first met him and she realized they were back to square one. He still didn't like her. What would it take to get this man to soften like he did when he kissed her? That was a different man entirely. And the strange sensations still made her lips tingle. Amazed at her own reactions, she was reeling and he had no clue what he'd done!
She lay against him, dazed by the kiss. Every nerve in her body was alive now. In fact, she never felt this alive before. She closed her eyes and she could still see the expression on his face when he started to kiss her. He looked almost as though he desired her. But that couldn't be!
She could still feel his mustache move against her lip, caressing her. It was a curious feeling. One she wouldn't mind repeating, but that would happen in a pig's eye. This was just one big performance for him. He probably kissed women like that all the time.
She thought she knew about kissing, she suddenly realized she knew nothing. It angered her that she couldn't control things when he kissed her.
She'd known men with lots of money, and tons of sophistication, but none of them kissed her like that! What made the difference? This man didn't like her, so why was his kiss any different from the rest? She wished she had an answer for that, but she didn't. Perhaps he had a lot of experience.
What he'd done was open up a whole new world to Millie. Tears fell as the thought of marrying Matt Hudson now. Why oh why had she let him kiss her? Before she hadn't known there was a difference in men. Now she knew. It created a restlessness in her she couldn’t explain.
What she knew now startled her.
She'd been right the first time. Joe Modoc didn't even like her. So what was that kiss about? Why had he been so amorous with it? He could have simply put his lips to hers and moved away. Instead he'd kissed her, really kissed her. Instead his lips had devoured hers with a soft warmth she wouldn't soon forget.
She wanted to forget, she needed to forget. But the one thing she knew for certain, she wouldn't forget.
But her moan of pleasure was real. No one had ever made her moan like that. Out of control, she had lost herself to the moment.
That's why she never let a man court her before. There was nothing in the kisses she'd shared before Joe Modoc came along. She'd only been putting her lips together with someone.
She couldn't say the same for Joe's kiss. Joe had awakened her to something new, something wonderful, something spellbinding.
And now he had some cockeyed idea he was going to save her from Matt Hudson, just because of some simple little ceremony performed by a Shaman. He wasn't going to change her plans.
Naturally, she wouldn't allow it.
But good sense had her reasoning it all out. Joe Modoc was sent to bring her back, and he'd do it, no matter what he had to do. Including marry her. And he had kissed her like that to get a response from her so the squaw would go away. That made sense. Yes, that made a lot of sense. That kiss had temporarily blinded her to his sound reasoning. Now she had her head on straight.
Reasoning the moment out in her mind, made things simpler.
Of course it wasn't a legal marriage, but then it was done by a Shaman and it had been the full ceremony. And now she knew a little more about Joe, he was part Indian. That intrigued her. What had he called himself, 'A breed'. She knew nothing of Indians except they were people and had to be dealt with.
Secretly, she wished the marriage had been real. She shivered and kicked the blanket off of her. She sat up and cried the rest of the night. Because the reality was, she still had to marry Matt Hudson.