Sacred Ground - Someone wants Brett Turner’s land badly enough to sabotage him, and he knows just who the culprit is: his neighbor, Willow Howling Moon.
They don’t see eye-to-eye on anything. When their sons, who are best friends, run away into the mountains just before a blizzard hits, Willow and Brett have no choice but to go after them—together. In the course of the rescue, they discover an unexpected and unwelcome mutual love. The realization that both their lives are in danger finally convinces him she’s not his enemy. This heartwarming love story is set in Montana.
"Keep your damn buffalo on your side of the fence," Brett Turner shouted.
Willow Howling Moon watched the most irritating man she knew stand in the stirrups and stare down the fence line, his glare unmistakably fueled by his anger. If she could get past his arrogance and narrow-mindedness, she might admit he bordered on handsome, with that curly wheat-colored hair edging his collar beneath a worn Stetson hat. Ranch work rendered him lean and muscular and in better shape than most men who worked out.
"My damn buffalo haven't crossed onto your property since 1890! As usual, your mouth is speaking before you've had a chance to think, if you think at all," she snapped, gritting her teeth.
"You think twenty head of my prized cows died from brucellosis without one or more of your ancient beasts giving it to them?" He wiped his brow on the back of his leather glove.
The gesture didn't fit the spoiled, rich-boy image she had of him. Uncomfortable under his steady gaze, she swung into the saddle. This cowboy had a way of unraveling her nerves. She raised her chin and stiffened her back.
"My buffalo have been tested for brucellosis," she informed him, looking directly into baby blue eyes flanked by too-long dark lashes. They gave him a look of innocence she knew didn't exist. "Your sickly cattle didn't die from any buffalo of mine." She gave his herd a glaring once-over. "Find someone else to blame for your misfortunes." She reined her mount away from the barbed fence, then into a slow trot away from Brett Turner.
"I catch one of those ugly horned beasts on my property, and I'll shoot it!" Brett shouted.
"You'd better think long and hard about firing a gun at my stock." She reined and turned in the saddle to face him. "You can't afford to spend any time in jail now, can you?" Noticing his clenched jaw, Willow Howling Moon paused. She caught a glimpse of a faraway gaze, an almost sad expression, before he quickly covered it with a look of defiance.
"Keep them on your side of the fence and you won't have to worry about it. I suggest you keep that wild kid of yours on your property, too!" A smug smile tipped the corners of his mouth.
She brought her horse to a complete turnaround and raced back toward him, moving as one with her mount. Her hair had escaped from the leather tie and flew behind her like the mane of her horse. She didn’t care how it looked at this point. She glared at him. If he had any smarts he'd read the fury and back down.
"Listen, Brett, I can take your accusations and insults with a grain. But, I won't tolerate them when it comes to my son. Lance hasn't been on your property―"
"Since 1890? I've heard that one," Brett interrupted. "I thought I'd remind you, again. I don't like Sean associating with any―"
"Indians?" she spewed the word out with an inflection of disgust. "I know how you feel about Indians. Bear in mind, I don't have control over your son. He comes over to play, and I'm not about to make him feel unwanted. He's welcome; it's more than I can say for you."
Lifting the reins, she moved her mount closer. "Sean doesn't seem to notice Lance is Indian. Prejudice is a learned behavior. I'm sure, given time, you'll have him hating us too."
"I don't hate you, Willow, but I do hate drunken Indians as a whole. Always have their hands out, expecting to be paid for the injustices done their ancestors. Hell, we've all had life kick us in the ass. We all could be waiting for a handout. You have this great ranch, and you're still out there fighting for Native American rights. Makes me sick."
Willow took a deep breath. "You’re so narrow-minded, you wouldn't know the right and wrongs of it if I spent hours explaining. I don't expect you to change nor to understand. You have no idea what we face today."
"They face large handouts and do squat with the money."
"Shows how much you know," she snapped. "The average Indian lives in poverty. The reservations are nothing but a place to hide from the rest of society. Many are still waiting for forgotten promises."
"They should close those damn reservations and make the Indians mix with society. This Indian revival thing is crazy. Learning the language of their ancestors . . . how stupid. Who are they going to talk to?" Brett snickered.
"Somewhere in that ignorant persona you must feel a certain respect for other cultures. Native Americans were forced to forget their belief in Napi, the Great Spirit. They were forced to speak English and punished if they spoke their native language. They weren’t allowed to dress or practice the old ways. Their code of ethics would put today’s society to shame." She wondered why she bothered explaining anything to this man.
"Native Americans should be a thing of the past, like Vikings and knights in shining armor. Indians have to learn to blend with society. You're wasting your time trying to convince me otherwise. Nothing would, or could, change my mind." Brett adjusted his hat. "And I repeat; I don't want Sean playing at your place. Indians don't supervise their kids. They just let them run wild."
"That's a crock and you know it!" Willow exploded. "We don't raise our children any different from the typical American. Where do you get these warped ideas?" She shook her head in disgust. "Sean’s a nice kid. He and Lance love feeding the ponies and―"
"I don't want him at your place," Brett interrupted. "It's as simple as that! Nine-year-olds don't think about consequences. If Sean gets hurt, I'm holding you personally responsible."
"It's surprising he doesn't have that spoiled little rich kid syndrome like his father."
"You may have a cute little ass and a face that puts most women to shame, but once you open your mouth, a man forgets all the rest. I don't want Sean playing with Lance. That's all there is to say. Remember it!" He whirled his chestnut around and pushed the animal into a hard, full run away from her.
Willow couldn't remember them ever talking without arguing. It always ended with one or the other running in the opposite direction.
Amidst her anger, his comment about her cute behind and a face that put most women to shame came to mind. Did he really think that? She refused to allow his semi-compliment to soften her anger . . . she told herself, even though it already had.
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I'm honored and humbled . . . thank you ARe Staff. Rita