Maggie Shayne - Badland's Bad Boy, page 1
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Not so long ago Emerald Flat, this very spot, had been littered with painted tepees. On a clear, hot night like tonight, there probably would have been a huge fire in the center of the village. And men and women … even children, decked out in beaded ceremonial garb, would have been dancing in time with the steady throb of deep-voiced drums.
The vision was so vivid that for a second Taylor thought she could hear them. A drumbeat so faint it might have been imaginary. Or perhaps not. A flash of color in the distance, where the edges of this haven reached their green fingers out into the desert. And then another flicker, barely visible in the night. Animals? Birds?
Taylor McCoy rubbed her eyes, admitting it was probably nothing more than too many sleepless nights and a vivid imagination. Those things, and a little help from that old man who kept showing up. Turtle, he called himself. Said he was a Comanche shaman, and that it was his duty to observe her progress on the dig.
Funny that none of the tribal elders she'd spoken to had mentioned him. And neither had Dennis Hawthorne, the money behind the project. And the old fellow seemed more interested in telling stories late at night than in the progress—or lack of it—on the dig. Stories she'd rather not hear, and avoided listening to whenever possible.
No, none of her ancestors' ghosts were dancing in the desert tonight. And there were no beaded loincloths or painted tepees on the site. Tonight, and for the past two weeks, the oblong piece of Texas wildland that seemed to sit as a divider between the desert and the rest of the world was littered not with tepees, but with three modern dome tents. Instead of a central fire, there were a handful of portable cookstoves and Coleman lanterns. Sleeping bags instead of tanned hides. Boilable bags of dehydrated food instead of freshly killed game. ATVs instead of painted ponies.
Still it didn't seem to Taylor as if it had really been all that long.
Taylor sat down in the scraggly grass in front of her tent. A gas lantern hanging from a nearby tree bathed the area in white light nearly as bright as that back in her apartment in Dallas. Her temporary apartment. All her homes were temporary ones.
She picked a triangular piece of pottery from the boxful of bits the team had recovered today, and reached for the soft-bristled brush. Team. She grimaced at the word. Some team. Two grad students and one out-of-work archaeologist. The local big shot funding this dig wasn't exactly generous with his money. Or with time. But since she'd been between jobs when the offer came in, she'd had little practical choice but to accept.
As she gently, reverently whisked the dirt away from the clay, she wondered about the hands that had formed it. She wondered about the person attached to those hands. A woman, more than likely. Had she been old, or young? A mother? A grandmother? A young girl in love?
Taylor drew the piece closer to examine the design, absently humming, and then singing very softly. Barely aware of the words she was using. Comanche words, from an age-old Comanche love song. Kelly and Scourge had retired into the haven of their dome tents, zipper doors sealed up for the night. She sat all alone as she studied the bits of the past dug up today. It was her favorite time here. The silence, broken only by the occasional hum or chirp of an insect or the sudden flutter of a night bird's wings. There had never been enough time for silence in her life. And sitting here surrounded by it, she thought this was exactly how it must have been in this spot centuries ago.
She hadn't wanted to come here. In her career she'd excavated countless Native American sites, but never one belonging to the Comanches. And she wasn't even fully certain why. Fear, maybe. Fear of discovering a people and a past she'd been isolated from for all her life. Of connecting to it … of connecting to anything, really.
During her last dig she'd been working for a university—last semester in Dallas, that had been. No tenure. Temporary position—her students had referred to her as Solitary McCoy. Behind her back, of course. She supposed she'd earned the nickname. It had made her wonder why she'd become as isolated—as lonely—as she had.
The nicker of a horse brought Taylor back to herself with a jolt. Her head shot up, her eyes narrowing as she tried to make out the form in the distance, there on the barren ground just beyond the place where the grass gradually ended.
Her fingers went stiff, and the pottery piece fell into the brittle grass as Taylor slowly rose to her feet. A magnificent horse danced and pawed where the desert began. A dark horse, with a dark rider.
The unnaturally bright light of the gas lantern hanging beside her made it impossible to see details of the man and his horse in the darkness. She could only see that the rider was bare-chested, and that long tendrils of dark hair snapped like flags when the wind lifted them. The horse reared on its hind legs, and she realized the man was bare legged, as well. And wore … perhaps … a loincloth and little else.
A chill crept up her nape, and a whisper of the ghosts she'd been thinking about—and the one she'd thought she'd seen just before making the decision to come here—danced through her mind. She stood a little straighter, fought her own silly imagination. This was no ghost.
"Who is that?" she called, nervously brushing the loose grass and twigs from the seat of her pants. "What do you want?"
He sat exactly as he'd been, his hair dancing in the breeze. And she realized with a small shiver that there had been no breeze a moment ago. None that she could feel, anyway. She reached for the lamp to turn it off.
And then he spoke, and her hand froze in midair. The depth and power of his voice made her shiver. "You desecrate sacred ground, Taylor McCoy."
She was trembling now, for no good reason. Who in the name of God was the man? "You're mistaken," she shouted. She forced herself to move, reached for the lamp, but instead of shutting it off she lifted it, held it high and out in front of her as if she could see his face by doing so. Naturally she couldn't. "I don't work that way. Look, I was hired to determine whether there is a sacred site here—at the request of the Comanches who own this land."
"Do you not hear them?" he said very softly, so softly she was surprised his words reached her ears from where he was.
"Hear … who?"
"The great shamans of the past! They scream in outrage."
"There is sacred ground here, woman, but not for your prying eyes to find." Again the horse reared up.
She shivered, fought it. Heard the rustling coming from the other two tents, knew she wasn't alone. No reason to be afraid. Besides, she didn't believe in ghosts.
Then why have I seen two in one week?
"Why don't you stop behaving like a lunatic and talk to me about your concerns? You can start by telling me who you—"
"Wolf Shadow explains himself to no one!"
"Aiieeeeeeee!" His war cry split the night, and as he uttered it, he lifted a war lance high above his head, holding it tight in his clenched fist, the feathers dancing in that breeze she couldn't feel. "Leave here, woman, while you can!"
The rustling sounds from the other tents changed to more-urgent noises as her assistants jolted to life. But by the time Scourge and Kelly came shooting out of their tents, he was gone. The horse had galloped off at the speed of light, and she belatedly realized she couldn't even hear the hoofbeats.
Taylor blinked and shook her head slowly. "What the hell was that?"
Scourge shook his head, scanning the horizon while Kelly rubbed an apparent chill away from her arms and c
A gnarled hand fell on Taylor's shoulder, and she nearly jumped out of her skin as she whirled. Turtle. She hadn't even known he was still here. "God, you scared me half to death!"
He only smiled. "Your young helpers want to hear the tales of your people, Sky Dancer. Even if you do not."
Sky Dancer. He'd been calling her that since the first day he showed up here, uninvited. Said a Comanche woman needed a Comanche name, even if she did deny her heritage.
She bristled at his insistence on addressing her that way, but there were more-important things to do here than argue with an old man.
"What happened, Ms. McCoy?" Kelly asked. "We heard—"
"Are you all right?" Scourge came closer, twelve years her junior and nursing a bad crush, she suspected. She shook herself and tried not to look quite so terrified. Even if he cut that neon yellow dust mop and dumped the nose ring, she wouldn't want him playing hero to her damsel in distress. She was quite capable of being her own savior, thanks.
More calmly she asked, "Did you see him?" And she couldn't help looking toward where the horse and rider had been.
All three of her companions turned to follow her gaze. "No," Turtle said softly.
"Did anyone else see him?" She faced Kelly, then Scourge, hoping against hope. But it was silly to doubt herself like this, silly to need confirmation of what she'd seen with her two perfectly good eyes. Just because she'd awakened to soft sobbing one morning, opened hazy eyes to see a beautiful young Comanche woman silhouetted in morning sunlight near her bedroom window—a woman who'd faded as soon as Taylor rubbed her eyes—that was no reason to think she was suddenly prone to hallucinations.
And just because the phone had rung seconds later with this particular job offer didn't mean one event had a thing to do with the other.
Or with this latest … apparition.
Turtle's gnarled hand returned gently to Taylor's shoulder. "You did not imagine him, Sky Dancer. We all heard his cry." It was as if he could read her thoughts.
"You heard him?" she asked, searching Turtle's crinkled face, probing the faded eyes that resembled worn black denim.
He nodded hard, so hard his steel gray hair fell forward, so he had to push it away from his face. "Wolf Shadow. Legend says he appears still, to keep the sacred grounds of The People from desecration. To keep the place where his lover lies beneath the earth from the touch of any outsider."
Taylor grabbed his arm, remembered his age and gentled her grip. "Turtle, your tribal elders assured me they believe this site was an ordinary Comanche village. Even if it is older than anything excavated to date, it shouldn't be considered sacred ground."
"The legend tells you otherwise," Turtle said slowly.
Taylor sighed hard. "But that's why they brought me here. To find out which is true."
And again he nodded. His movements were always slow, so deliberate they were almost graceful, so that when he nodded, his head bobbed like a rubber ball floating in gentle waves.
"If you find no evidence that the legend is true, they will sell this land to Hawthorne."
"Because they desperately need the money that sale will bring," she said quickly, and then wondered why she sounded defensive. Why should she? It wasn't her decision. She had nothing to do with it.
"But if you find the evidence, if you dig the past from the earth, it will no longer be sacred ground."
She shook her head, exasperated. "You're making this thing sound like some kind of Zen riddle."
He shrugged and got that look on his face. The thoughtful one he got sometimes just before blurting something deep. "The legend says that if this place is preserved, treated with honor, its magic will ensure the prosperity of The People."
"Yeah, well it hasn't done that so far, has it? I saw the community where your people—"
"Correction, Sky Dancer," he interrupted. "Our people."
"Fine. Whatever. I've seen where they're living. The school isn't even safe, let alone conducive to learning. The houses are in disrepair. I don't blame the elders a bit for wanting to take Hawthorne's offer on this land. And if I don't find anything to indicate it's some kind of sacred place to them, they'll be free to do it."
"And if you do, Sky Dancer? You have your clearance from the state. You are within your rights under the law to be here. You have the permission of the tribe. Hawthorne is paying you to dig up this ground. He hopes you'll find nothing here, because he wishes to own it. And the elders hope you'll find nothing here, because they wish to sell it. These motives are selfish. But what if it is sacred ground? Would it even matter to you, a woman who has turned her back on her—?"
"Don't you dare say that to me." She faced him suddenly, ignoring the two young people who stared as if transfixed by this exchange. But Turtle's solemn eyes held no malice. And they practically dared her to deny what he'd said. And of course, she couldn't. But she hadn't turned her back on anyone or anything. She'd simply been raised white, by loving parents who'd lied to her with nearly every breath. She'd had no connection to her heritage, and now that she was grown she didn't want or need one.
"Would it matter?" he asked her again.
"Of course it would matter," she snapped. And then he smiled serenely at her, closed his eyes, gave a single, slow nod that made her think he looked remarkably like his namesake.
"It would matter, Turtle, but only if I found legitimate evidence of it. I'm not going to be scared off by some jerk in full costume trying to make me believe he's a ghost."
Turtle's eyes opened again, looking worried. "Then … you don't believe in Wolf Shadow?"
She blinked, and tried to soften her expression. She'd been filled in about this local legend, even before Turtle had told it to her. Wolf Shadow was a Comanche shaman of incredible power. He'd fallen in love with Little Sparrow, daughter of a chief, and—in Turtle's version at least—a woman of such beauty it weakened a man's heart to look upon her. But before the two became one according to tribal custom, there was a raid on the village. Horse soldiers attacked in retaliation for some wrong they blamed on whatever Indian village was handy and nearby. And Little Sparrow was killed in that raid.
The legend went that Wolf Shadow carried her body to the spot where he had first kissed her. Where he'd given her a pendant he'd made with his own hands, and where he'd asked her to be his woman. He'd buried her there. It was said Wolf Shadow blessed the earth in which she rested, and called on the shamans of his village to protect that spot. He promised that if they did this, prosperity would rain down on their descendants. And then he shed his ceremonial garb and put on the clothes of a warrior. He left the village to avenge Little Sparrow's death, and spent the rest of his days seeking out the soldiers who had raided the village that day, and killing them, one by one. The whites put a price on Wolf Shadow's head, and he was killed a few years later, though no one knew what had been done with his remains.
Turtle claimed the spirits of Little Sparrow and Wolf Shadow were still not at peace. That because she was taken before the two became one, their spirits wandered endlessly, each searching for the other. And that only when one of Wolf Shadow's descendants found true love with one of Little Sparrow's would the two ancient lovers be reunited and know peace.
Taylor had heard the tale from the elders, as well as from Turtle—him giving the more romantically embellished version. Believing it, of course, was another matter. But Turtle was asking her again.
"Do you, Sky Dancer? Do you believe in Wolf Shadow? In the legend?"
She drew a breath. Looked sideways at Kelly, who seemed to have set Taylor up as some kind of role model, a position Taylor didn't ask for or feel comfortable in. And at Scourge, ready to jump should she crook a finger. It wouldn't do either of them any good to hear her put some silly legend ahead of the important work she was doing. Nor would it help them much to hear her, a scientist, admit she believed in ghosts. She didn't.
"I didn't say that I don't believe in the legend, Turtle. I said I don't believe
Turtle shook his head slowly, then tilted it and studied her face as he spoke. Watching her a little too intently. "I am told he is a man so beautiful that the mere sight of him has weakened the hearts of many a woman. That his eyes are piercing and sharp, and his body as strong as that of his spirit brother, the wolf." He slanted her a sideways glance. "Was that how he looked to you?"
Kelly's soft sigh drew Taylor's gaze. The young woman lifted her brows and breathed, "Was it?"
Taylor thought of the powerful form she'd glimpsed, the black hair waving in the breeze. She licked her lips. "It seems a bit of an exaggerated description to me."
"He wasn't attractive to you, then?" Turtle asked.
"Well, I wouldn't say he was unattractive."
"Hmm." Turtle rubbed his chin. "It is said that Wolf Shadow appears only to the person in need of his warnings, Sky Dancer. He appeared tonight, only to you."
"Yeah, well, he'll think twice about pulling any more of this nonsense when I talk to the sheriff tomorrow."
"Good idea," Scourge said a little too quickly. "And I'll start keeping watch at night, outside your tent, if you—"
Kelly's elbow jabbed him in the rib cage. Scourge grunted, then shot her a confused glance. "What?"
"Subtle, Scourge," she said. "Real subtle." His face reddened, and he averted his gaze.
Turtle smiled very slowly. "Talking to the sheriff is a good idea," he said. "Garrett Brand is a good man. He will help you if he can."
Taylor frowned. "If he can? What's that supposed to mean?"
"I must go, Sky Dancer. Sleep now. Perhaps your dreams know the answers."
Turtle turned and loped off into the darkness, in the opposite direction from the one the alleged Wolf Shadow had taken. And not for the first time, Taylor marveled at his agility and grace.
Then she brought her attention back to the matter at hand. Someone didn't want her completing this dig. Someone with an incredible chest and a pair of muscled thighs that looked pretty good clenched tight around a horse. At least … as far as she could tell, it being so dark and all.
MAGGIE SHAYNE SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Twilight PhantasiesThe Littlest CowboyOklahoma Christmas BluesPrince of TwilightEdge of TwilightA Brand of ChristmasAngels PainDemons Kiss
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