Yellowstone Redemption by Peggy L. Henderson (Book 2)
Chase woke from dozing. He groaned at the pain in his shoulders. The sky was still gray, and an eerie mist hovered over the river. It must be early morning. He’d drifted in and out of sleep all night, wondering what was happening with Sarah. She hadn’t come out of that tipi, as far as he could tell. Dammit! If anything happened to her because of his stupidity.
The village came alive, as men and women milled about. His stomach growled loudly in response to the smell of food in the air when women set to work preparing their morning meals. Some of the warriors began to crowd closer around him. He stared up at them unflinching. Let them do what they wanted to him, as long as they didn’t harm Sarah. Several women stepped forward and began beating him with sticks. The men all laughed. He ground his teeth. Hell would freeze over before they'd see him cower. This was no worse than a fraternity hazing during pledge week.
Suddenly, the beatings stopped and the men and women stepped back, parting a path to one of the tipis. Sarah crawled from the opening and hurried towards him. Chase let out a sigh of relief. Thank God she was alright. She approached him, and the anguished look in her eyes alarmed him. What had they done to her?
She looked into his eyes when she stood before him. Hesitantly, she cupped his face between her hands and kissed him lightly on the mouth. Her lips lingered. The unexpected gesture sent a shock of adrenaline through him, and he leaned into her as far as his restraints allowed. At that moment, he knew he would give his life for her. The intensity of his feelings overwhelmed him.
She broke the kiss, and he leaned forward, touching his forehead to hers, not wanting the contact to end. He cursed the binding that prevented him from reaching out to her, aching to hold her in his arms. His breathing came fast, still basking in the sensation of her soft lips pressed to his.
“Now what did I do to deserve that?” he whispered. His raspy voice had gone husky.
“How fast can you run?” she asked, still holding his face between her hands, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears.
He gave a short laugh. “Angel, I’m not in any position to run anywhere right now. I’m kinda tied up at the moment.” He hoped his grin belied the cold fear that swept over him. She wasn’t planning an escape, was she? “How did the pow wow go in there?” He gestured with his head towards the tipi she’d come from.
“They are willing to let me go,” Sarah said softly, her lips trembling. Her fingers caressed his stubbly jaw. “They know who I am, and don’t want to jeopardize trading with my father.”
“Then go,” Chase implored without hesitation. “What are you waiting for?” He knew there was no hope for him.
“How fast can you run?” she asked again.
Chase’s brows furrowed. “I can hold my own. Why?”
“You will be given a chance to run for your freedom,” she answered. “The Blackfoot enjoy making sport of white men.”
“And exactly how is this game going to work?” Hell, if he was given a chance to run for his life, he’d take it.
Sarah inhaled deeply. “You will be stripped of all your clothing and your shoes. They will give you a knife, nothing else. You will be told to run, and the young warriors will then hunt you down.”
Chase shrugged. “Sounds like fun.” He flashed her a cocky smile.
“Why do you make jokes?” Sarah stepped away from him, her eyes blazing in sudden anger. “You will die. This is not a game they will let you win.”
“Have a little faith in me, Angel. I know I’ve screwed up, but maybe I can prove that I’m not completely incompetent.” He hoped his voice projected confidence. His insides certainly didn’t feel it. His face grew serious. The blue pools in Sarah’s eyes threatened to spill over.
“Kiss me again, Angel, and I’ll run to hell and back,” he growled and leaned his face toward hers. She hesitated before stepping up to him, and she pressed her lips to his again. He strained against the leather bindings, feeling them slice through his wrists. He pulled harder, deepening the kiss, claiming Sarah’s lips with an intensity of a condemned man savoring his last meal. She didn’t back away. Slowly, he felt her arms creep up and around his neck, and she stepped closer to him, molding her body to his. He groaned.
A sudden hard yank brought him back to his senses. He panted, even as two Indians pulled him away from Sarah. She tried to reach for him, but another set of arms prevented her. Their eyes met. Tears spilled down her face. He’d give anything at that moment to take away the pain in her eyes.
“Run north from here, across the river and meadow. The forest leads over a mountain to a valley. You will see steam rising in the distance, coming from a place my mother calls a geyser basin. Once you reach that basin, and cross the Firehole River there, you will be safe. I will wait for you.” The warrior holding Sarah’s arms shoved her roughly back the way she’d come from. Chase watched her stumble along. Her head kept turning back towards him.
“I’ll be there, Angel,” he yelled out to her.
Sarah disappeared inside the tipi again. As long as she was unharmed, he didn’t give a damn what happened to him. He eyed the warriors who now circled him, most leering with contempt. One man, who wore a fox fur over his head, stepped forward. He spoke directly to him. Chase didn’t have a clue what he said.
Foxhead motioned to one of the other warriors, who pulled a knife from his belt and approached him. Chase didn’t move. He wasn’t going to cower in front of them. If they were going to kill him right now, at least he’d have the satisfaction that he wouldn’t die begging for mercy.
The warrior sliced the ropes that bound him with one quick jerk of the knife, then held the sharp blade to Chase’s throat with a cold smile on his face. Chase held the Indian’s stare, while rubbing circulation back into his raw and tingling wrists.
The man wearing the fox on his head spoke sharply to the other Indian, who backed off. Chase guessed he must be some kind of chief or leader. Foxhead motioned with his hands as he spoke again to Chase. The other warriors around him laughed. The message became clear. He was being told to strip. Slowly, Chase pulled his shirt over his head, then waited. The chief motioned to his britches and moccasins.
Chase shot him a cocky grin. Yeah. If they wanted a peep show, they’d get one. He eyed the women standing around the periphery of the circle. Leisurely, like a practiced male stripper, he pulled first one, then the other moccasin off his feet. Then he released the thongs loose at his waist, and unhurriedly slid the britches over his hips and down his legs. He raised himself to his full height, and held his arms out at his sides, like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. The chief actually flashed him a smile. Chase was suddenly glad that Sarah wasn’t here to witness his humiliation. She’d be mortified, anyways. He glanced in the direction of the tipi.
He counted about twenty young men who now stepped forward and began yelling and whooping, punching the air, holding spears and knives, or tomahawks. So, this must be the opposing team. Okay, Russell. Scorpions against Blackfeet. The odds were not good, he realized, but he’d brought his team back to victory after things looked dismal on more than one occasion. All you have to do now is think of your game plan. You’re the quarterback. It’s your responsibility to lead your team to victory.
The trouble was, he didn’t know his opposing team’s tactics. This game would have to play itself out on the fly. You weren’t all star for nothing, Russell. Prove that you haven’t lost your touch.
The chief thrust a hunting knife in Chase’s hand, and pointed in the direction across the river. The shouting and hollering of every Indians in the tribe grew deafening. Chase glared at Foxhead, and tipped his index and middle fingers to his temple in a mock salute. He inhaled deeply, then expelled the air quickly through an open mouth. With a war cry of his own, he took off running.
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