Today's Reading

"I've never seen you before at Bert's." He rolled up the rawhide strip. So this was the daughter he'd heard about but never met. "Why didn't you know Tarak died?"

She stared with sullen eyes and pushed back her hair. "I've been away, teaching English to the Apache under the government assimilation program." She sighed and looked away, blinking hard. "You said you'd take me to Tarak's grave."

"Hold on a minute, will you? Let the sun finish coming up first, for God's sake." He couldn't think very well with her anger slapping him in the face. He coiled the rope and tossed it in a corner. "A man has to have his coffee. Want some?"

She glanced at the fire on the floor in the center of the small room. "No, thanks."

"Suit yourself." He filled the pot with water, added coffee, and set it on the glowing embers at the side, instead of directly on the flames. "Might as well sit." He lowered to one of the rugs around the fire. "You're not a prisoner."

Arms crossed, she spat, "Aren't I? You tied me up."

"Lady, you can leave anytime you like. I'm not stopping you."

The wolf-dog ambled in and lay down next to Sam, giving Cheyenne a baleful look.

"I'll just sit a minute to warm. It's cold out." She lowered herself to a colorful rug opposite him.

"Why aren't you still there teaching?" He ran a hand across Shadow's fur, watching Ronan's daughter.

"A long story."

He could believe that, with her ease at using a knife.

Cheyenne seemed at home with the simple accommodations, which showed she'd spent a lot of time here with Tarak. They sat in silence. Sam reached for a short block of wood and started whittling. When the coffee had boiled, he took it off the fire to let the grounds settle and picked the wood back up.

"What are you making?" she asked, glancing at his project.

"Don't know yet. I'm waiting for the wood to tell me. Mostly, it's a way to pass time." When the grounds had settled, he filled a tin cup. "Are you sure you don't want some?"

"I might take a little if it's no bother," she said quietly.

Sam handed her what he'd poured, then reached for a second tin cup and blew the dust out of it. He stifled a chuckle. Cheyenne was working hard to be mad but seemed to find his manners baffling. The devil in him liked to keep her guessing. She took a sip and made a face.

"I should've warned you it was strong. That's the only way I like it."

"Would you have a smidgen of sugar?" she asked.

"Nope." He poured himself some coffee. "Why choose midnight to come calling?"

"Wanted to catch you off guard. I'd been hiding and watching all yesterday. It scared me when I didn't see Tarak, and you look mean. Catching you with your guard down seemed the best strategy."

He snorted. "So your first thought was that I killed him?"

"Of course. With the godforsaken town of Tascosa within a stone's throw, it made perfect sense to me. Killers and cutthroats are about all that live there."

"Your argument might make sense if I lived on the outskirts of town. I'm a little over fifteen miles north," he pointed out, taking a sip from his cup. "You couldn't have asked your parents what happened to Tarak. Oh no, that was too easy."

She gave him the kind of smile she probably reserved for two-year-olds. "My father's hired man said they left for Adobe Walls ten days ago to visit my father's friend Billy Dixon, so I've yet to see them."

Sam tried to keep an impassive expression as she took another small sip of the strong brew and made a face, shaking her head. "Look, I'm sorry about tying you up. I was afraid of what else you'd do."

Her green eyes swung to him. Clearly, she hadn't expected an apology. "I'm sorry too for...you know...the knife and everything. I wouldn't really have cut you."

"That's small comfort now." He studied her clothing, adorned with hundreds of tiny beads. "It's none of my business, but why are you wearing a deerskin dress that belongs to the Native people?"

"Number one, the dress was a gift from a dear friend. Number two, it's comfortable. Fits much better than any of my other clothes."

All this talking had exhausted Sam. He'd already said more in the last ten minutes than he'd said all month. "The rain last night created quagmires. Best wait a couple of hours to go to Tarak's grave." Sam slid his coat on, grabbed his coffee, and went outside in the weak sunlight....

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