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Ruth let her fingers linger on Jacob’s hand, enjoying the feel of his rough, warm skin. He looked
half-wild, but considering the past two years, he didn’t frighten her. On the contrary, there was something reassuring in his eyes and touch. Almost as if she was making contact with an old friend.
It was an odd, fleeting feeling, but it left an impression.
She turned the bundle over, admiring the soft, white ostrich feather, the creamy yucca blossoms, and especially the blue ribbon. It had been a long time since she’d had a ribbon for her hair.
He fetched the cane-bottomed chair from the corner and set it a few feet from her bed.
“Thank you, Jacob… that’s your name, isn’t it? Nellie said it was.”
“Yes, ma’am, my name is Jacob Wells.”
“So, your father was…”
“A white man. Yes, ma’am. A soldier.”
“Oh, and you’re a soldier, too?” She gazed at his deerskin jacket, fringed along his forearms, wondering why he wasn’t in uniform.
“No, ma’am, I’m not a soldier. Just a scout. Half breeds are seldom allowed…” He stopped and cleared his throat. She thought she detected a hint of flush on his tanned face. “That is, ma’am, I’m not—”
“My apologies again. I wasn’t thinking. I know Nellie mentioned you’re a scout.” And she understood his half-spoken, bitter words and shame.
When she’d been carrying her child, she’d often wondered what would happen to him. If he’d stayed with his father’s people, he would have been accepted. But she’d dreamed of escaping and taking her baby to safety.
The Comanche way of life was hard, and she doubted they could last much longer. Their numbers were dwindling, as they fought the onslaught of soldiers and settlers.
But if she’d brought her child back to civilization, would he have been shunned and made to feel inferior?
Gazing at Jacob’s strong face and seeing the wounded look in his eyes, her heart squeezed, knowing she had her answer. Even though her son would have been treated… “different” by her people, the knowing didn’t lift her sorrow. She would have found a way to protect him, no matter what.
He crossed his legs. “Mrs. O’Connor said you had questions for me?”
“Yes, I do. Could you tell me what happened when you found me?”
He lowered his head, and his face flushed redder. That didn’t surprise her. The last thing she remembered was pushing her baby out and not having the strength to lift him. If he’d found her like that, she hadn’t been a pretty sight.
He lifted his head and gazed directly into her eyes. The slant and color of his eyes hinted at his Comanche heritage. His nose resembled a knife’s blade, and his lips were fuller than most men’s. Altogether, he had a nice face.
Inclining his head, he said, “All right. I will tell you what I know.” He paused, as if gathering his thoughts. “I tracked your captors to the box canyon and brought the soldiers there. You left your camp, but the tracks were confusing. The Comanche do that, double back and cover their tracks and—”
“Yes, my Comanche husband…” Now it was her turn to blush because in her people’s eyes, she hadn’t been married. Not really.
“My husband, Tasiwoo Pihi or Buffalo Heart…” She glanced at him. “But you speak Comanche. Don’t you? You knew what my name meant.”
He smiled—his first smile—and she realized he was handsome. “Yes, I speak the People’s tongue.”
“I speak some, but my husband was always encouraging me to learn more.” She sighed and plucked at the quilt. “I was very fortunate in my husband… though it was hard at first. His tribe attacked my family’s ranch about two years ago. My husband wasn’t there; he’d suffered a serious leg wound in a fight with some Kiowas. The Chief, though aged, led the raid. My father and brothers fought hard, but it was three against twenty.”
“So, your husband didn’t take part in the raid on your ranch?”
She knew what he was asking; the conclusion he’d drawn. “No, he wasn’t there.” She bit her lip. “It was fortunate that…” She stopped. Tears threatened again, not for her Comanche husband but for what she’d endured. For all the deaths and sorrow tugging at her heart. She swallowed hard and forced the tears back.
She put his improvised bouquet on the table beside her bed. “My mother was a good shot; she stood beside my father and fought, but she was killed, too. I hid in the root cellar, but they fired our home and smoked me out. They took me captive and made me take care of my husband, who was laid up with his leg.
“I nursed him as best I could, and he was fascinated by the color of my hair.” She twined a strand around her finger. “I wasn’t… that is…” She licked her lips and swallowed. “I wasn’t taken against my will. Well, not exactly. Buffalo Heart appreciated me caring for him and he treated me kindly, wanting to win my regard.”
“It is often the way with some captives,” he said. “Buffalo Heart honored you.”
“Yes, he did, and he tried to protect me from the hardest work and the other squaws who… who… wanted to be looked upon with favor by my husband.”
“You were fortunate then, for the squaws can be brutal in their treatment of captives.” He grimaced, and she knew it pained him to speak badly of his mother’s people. “My mother was a kind soul and a devout Christian, but I know from talking to other hostages how they suffered.”