Colton's Folly

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Abby Colton knew she’d been asked to teach at the reservation school only because they couldn’t find a better candidate. According to Cat Tallman, a better candidate would have been native American instead of a white woman. Determined to fight her in every way he could, there were moments when a look, even a touch, threatened his resolve and tested Abby’s certainty that letting him get too close would be a very foolish pleasure. Whether right or wrong, these two face a bumpy ride.

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Date de parution 14 mai 2013
Nombre de visites sur la page 0
EAN13 9781773623153
Langue English

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Colton’s Folly By Renee Simons Digital ISBNs EPUB 978-1-77362-315-3 MOBI 978-1-77362-314-6 WEB 978-1-77145-056-0 PRINT 978-1-77362-313-9 Copyright 2013 by Renee Simons Cover art by Michelle Lee All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights un der copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electroni c, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
Chapter 1 The flight to Rapid City had been canceled at the l ast minute, for no reason that Abigail Colton could ascertain. She was forced to f ly to Bismarck instead, and from there to take a six-passenger “puddle jumper” to so meplace called Christy’s Field, adding four hours in layovers to the original seven hours of flying time. Even worse, the change would put her out of reach of the Bureau of Indian Affairs representative who’d been assigned to meet her at the regional airport i n Rapid City. She called Arthur Koehler at her first stopover. “Don’t worry, my dear,” he reassured her. “I know C hristy’s well. I’ll call the reservation and have someone meet you. You should arrive at app roximately the same time. And by the time you make the drive to Crossroads, I’ll be there.” He’d wanted to say more, but the boarding announcem ent had come over the public-address system and Abby had rushed off. She made he r connections smoothly, and when she arrived at the small private airfield out on the North Dakota prairie a message was waiting at the courtesy desk. Her escort would pick her up at two p.m. “Oh, Lord,” she groaned. She’d been in transit sinc e one in the morning and now she had nearly two hours more to wait, but at least som eone was on the way. She looked around the pocket-size terminal and found a row of benches. “I’ll be resting over there,” she told the clerk, a nd motioned to the other side of the room. “If anyone asks for me, just point him in my direction.” The young man in the gray plaid shirt smiled sympathetically. “Rough flight?” Abby smiled back. “Just long. Unbearably long.” He reached under the counter and pulled out a small pillow. “Here, Miss Colton. Take this over there and sack out. When whoever it is ge ts here, I’ll send ’em over.” She smiled again and tucked the pillow under her ar m. Carrying the shoulder bags she’d brought with her, she moved to the far side o f the almost empty room; thirty seconds later she was stretched out on the hard woo den bench and sleeping soundly. Sometime later a presence intruded on her rest. She woke slowly, feeling her back stiffen against the unyielding surface on which she lay, wishing that whatever had roused her, hadn’t. Shielding her eyes against the glare of ceiling lights, she turned her head and found herself staring at a pair of muscula r, denim-clad legs that, as her eyes traveled upward, seemed to go on forever. She swung her own legs onto the floor and leaned ba ck in an effort to gain a normal perspective on the man who stood before her. The le gs ended at a narrow waist bounded by a worn leather belt, into which their ow ner had tucked a pair of equally worn calfskin gloves. Above that spread a wide expanse o f chest more defined than hidden by a plaid wool shirt and an open sheepskin-lined v est. She rose, finally, from her place, and was relieved at the improvement afforded by her upright position--this was indeed a person of human proportions. Even so, he stood a good head taller than she did, and she found hersel f grateful for her entire five-foot-nine-inches.
His stance was easy--weight evenly dispersed on tho se long legs of his, broad shoulders relaxed, hands hanging loosely at his sid es. Still, Abby sensed something slightly out of kilter, just a little bit off, some thing she could not yet identify. She took in the darkly handsome face with its deep copper tan, then focused on a pair of hard brown eyes that disclosed nothing of what h e was thinking. “Are you my ride?” “If you’re going to Twin Buttes.” She nodded silently, then put out her hand. “I’m Ab by Colton.” “Cat Tallman.” He didn’t see, or perhaps chose to i gnore, the hand she’d extended in greeting. “Got any luggage?” She indicated a single nylon tote and an overstuffe d shoulder bag. “Just these. I had the rest shipped.” He hefted the tote onto his shoulder, and Abby pick ed up her bag, then remembered the pillow. Unconsciously, she put her hand on his arm to detain him. “Wait. I’ve got to return this.” He looked at her, then at the hand resting lightly on his sleeve, and slowly eased away from her. The utter contempt behind the gesture stu nned her and brought a flush to her cheeks. She turned on her heel and went to the desk , where the clerk looked at her and gestured with a jerk of his head. “Watch out for that Indian, miss. He’s trouble.” “Oh?” “Yeah. He’s always stirring things up, getting his people worked up about this or that.” He shuffled some papers on the counter and made che ck marks on a typewritten form, then looked up again. “Someone ought to just take t he whole lot and ship ’em off to where they can’t bother the rest of us. Make life a lot simpler.” Abby put down the urge to respond; such stupidity w as common, and she wasn’t here to reform the world. She handed him the pillow, say ing only, “Thanks,” and walked back to where Cat Tallman waited. “How long a ride is it?” “About three hours.” “Time enough to get acquainted.” He turned to her just as they cleared the door lead ing out of the building. “It helps to know your enemy.” Aha! She thought. “Why should we be enemies?” “For one thing, I’ve been against your being hired, and I did everything I could to prevent it.” A smile twitched at the corners of Abby’s mouth. “Really? And what went wrong?” He shrugged. “Too near the end of the school year. It was you or no one.” He gave her a sideways glance. “Which makes me wonder why you t ook the job. What happened back there to make you available suddenly? Seems mi ghty odd to me.” When she didn’t respond, he went on. “Anyway, I figure I ought to b e able to find someone better than you for the fall.” Abby felt the first small buzz of anger. “What have you got against me?”
“I don’t believe you’ll be a friend to my people.” “If I weren’t a friend I wouldn’t have come.” “Others like you, who came before, didn’t always ha ve our best interests at heart. Most of the time they were here for some other reas on, and when they got what they wanted, they left. None of them really cared about what went on here.” “I’m different,” she responded with deceptive softn ess. She was furious. His dark eyes bored deeply into hers. “You’re new.. .but you’re not different. Your kind never is.” “You’re wrong!” she shot back. Brushing past him, she stood at the curb and took a long, deep breath, letting it out slowly in an effort to calm herself. This was what she’d sensed--an edginess beneath the surface calm, a hostility hovering very near ha tred. She felt him beside her. “C’mon, let’s go.” He led the way through the watery sunshine of a mid - April day. A jeep waited in a No Parking zone; with little wasted motion, they stowe d Abby’s bags, climbed aboard and belted themselves into the seats. While he concentrated on negotiating their way off the field and onto the highway, Abby tried to picture what lay ahead. She’d always known that none of the research she’d done, the books she’d read, the government re ports she’d studied, the interviews and indoctrination meetings she’d attended, had rea lly prepared her for the work she was about to begin. But if the attitude of the man behind the wheel was any barometer, she was in big trouble. She glanced at his strong, implacable profile. As l eader of the community that had hired her, he could make things very difficult for her, or smooth the way. Clearly, he’d chosen the former alternative. “You appear to have decided something about me with out even knowing me. How can that be?” she finally asked. “I know enough.” “To jump to conclusions.” “To know what to expect.” “That’s nonsense!” “Is it? Okay, tell me what you know about my people .” His tone implied that she knew nothing; Abby was determined to prove him wrong and spoke without hesitation. But she chose to take him at face value when she spoke. “They’re members of the Sioux nation, or the Lakota, as I think you prefer to be called. This particular tayoshpaye, or clan, broke away from a larger group migrating to C anada under the leadership of Sitting Bull. When they came upon a valley guarded by twin rock formations and saw the river and the rich grasslands, they decided to remain. “For some inexplicable reason, your ancestors manag ed to escape resettlement to one of the larger reservations in the Dakotas, such as Standing Rock, when the government was appropriating lands for white settle rs. Twin Buttes was put under federal protection in the late 1800s and gained sta tus as a reservation before the close of the century.
“It still retains most of its autonomy, and has man aged to escape termination, thanks to the farsightedness of your tribal council and tr aditional chiefs, of which you are the most recent. In fact, the community leaders rarely turn to the BIA for assistance, except in emergencies such as the one that resulted in my being hired.” Abby paused in her narrative. “What did happen, by the way?” “Your predecessor, Philip Carson, signed a three-ye ar contract. He broke it two months ago to go up to Alaska. When the school boar d failed to find a replacement through the usual channels they contacted the BIA f or help. That’s all I know. You’ll have to get the rest from Arthur when you see him.” Abby nodded. “To continue — the school board is com posed of five members and is essentially autonomous. The tribal council is made up of ten members. In case of a tie, the deciding vote is cast by you, as traditional ch ief. You’re a veteran of Afghanistan and the closest thing to a doctor on the reservatio n, having been trained as a medic during the war.” She smiled. “I hear you’re pretty good.” He merely grunted, so she continued. “There’s no po lice force inside the reservation, but your people have managed to live rather peacefu lly over the years, with rare incidents involving the neighboring town of Crossro ads. When anything does happen, the sheriff there responds, but things have been qu iet lately.” Abby thought for a moment. “Now, let’s see what I’v e left out. The economy, which is barely above subsistence level? Poor education? The poor housing? Or the problems with alcoholism? The isolation and bitterness?” She looked at him once more. “What else would you like me to tell you?” He grimaced. “At least you’ve done your homework.” “I told you I was different.” “You’re just smarter than the others, that’s all.” Abby rolled her eyes in irritation but said nothing as she turned her attention back to the road again. Cat, too, went silent, and she used the opportunity to observe the passing scenery. A highway marker indicated that th ey were running west on Interstate 94, a four-lane highway that lay like a velvety gra y ribbon of asphalt beneath the pale sky. On either side the prairie stretched to the di stant horizon, flat and never-ending, unbroken by either buildings, fences or billboards. Out here the evidence of man’s invasion was sparse--only the jeep and the highway itself and, faintly visible far in the distance, telephone lines and the poles supporting them. As the lone vehicle made its way westward, it broke the silence with rattles and wheezes and the whine of its tires, leaving behind pockets of sound that lingered briefly and then vanished in the vast open space, like drop s of rain in the ocean. Abby felt alien, as if she’d stepped back into the past, a ti me traveler out of sync, her passage an unwarranted intrusion. Her uneasiness increased as they swung off onto Route 85 and the distance shortened between them and their desti nation. If the land itself seemed inhospitable, what could she expect from the people ? “We’ll be stopping in town.” The sound of his voice disrupted Abby’s thoughts, and she turned to him, vaguely aware that he’d spoken. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear what you said.”
“Arthur’s waiting for you in town. I’ll take you to him, and you can go on to the Buttes together.” “That’s fine,” Abby answered noncommittally, her th oughts still turned inward. Forty minutes later they pulled up in front of a sm all restaurant and walked to the entrance, where a stocky, middle-aged man in a West ern suit and a Stetson raised a hand in greeting. After introductions and some smal l talk about the sorry condition of air travel, Cat left. Abby and Arthur--“Don’t be formal , my dear; first names are fine with me”--started on the last leg of the trip. “What do you think of Cat?” “He’s arrogant, opinionated, bigoted...and...well, you get the idea!” Arthur laughed heartily. “What a first impression!” He looked at her quickly. “But don’t kid yourself. There’s much more to the man than you ’ve seen today--much of it to be admired. Someday I’ll tell you more about him.” “I appreciate your riding shotgun on this trip, Art hur. I think your introductions will make things easier for me.” He shook his head. “We couldn’t very well send you in alone, but I’m not sure I’ll be doing you a favor, Abigail.” Abby’s brow wrinkled. “Why not?” “How would you describe Native American/Department of Interior relations?” “In a word? Lousy.” He smiled grimly. “That’s an understatement. Well, do you suppose that being associated with the BIA will work in your favor? I’ m afraid it may make winning the cooperation of those people more difficult for you.” “May?” “Well, I can’t be sure. Most of the leaders are pre tty open-minded, but you also have folks like Cat, so you just never know. The Twin Bu ttes people, like their brothers and sisters all over this country, have been duped, exp loited, mistreated, disenfranchised and ignored by the very institution charged with th eir protection, and that you and I represent. It’s an old story, and one I’m sure you’ ve heard before. Unfortunately, even well-meaning people are suspect.” “That may make your job very difficult and cause problems that have nothing whatever to do with your abilities as a teacher. You’ll have to work overtime merely to get them to accept you. Any progress beyond that could take a s uperhuman effort.” “Well, I’m no superwoman, Arthur. Just a teacher go ing down there to practice my profession. Performing miracles wasn’t in the job d escription.” He chuckled. “I always thought getting any group of youngsters to learn was a miracle in itself. You have impressive credentials. You’ve worked with Native American children before with good results. We’re only asking for ano ther small miracle, that’s all.” “I think the word you used was ‘superhuman’? Please understand, I’ll do my best, and that’s just going to have to be good enough.” “I’m sure it will be,” Koehler said with a nod. “I never intended to sound so pessimistic, merely to make you aware of what you might encounte r.” “I came out here with very few illusions, Arthur. I knew this would be a difficult assignment that it would mean a total commitment on my part of everything I have to
give. Well, I need that right now, to be needed, to be absorbed in something outside myself, to feel that I can make a difference. If al l I do is win their acceptance, I’ll still be ahead of the game.” He took a breath, then said, “Very well, it seems we are clear on where we stand.” “Cat told me about Carson, but not how you found me .” “We heard about you and your work with Mohawk child ren in New York City. You have quite a reputation, you know.” “How did you know I’d accept your offer?” “We didn’t. We could only hope that the challenge w e offered would be irresistible enough to lure you away. But from what you just tol d me, I imagine your own personal situation had more to do with your acceptance than anything else.” “Yes.” “I understand that you’re pretty well informed?” “I tried, but I still have a lot to learn.” Koehler nodded his approval. “Keep that attitude an d you’ll do just fine. A real desire to learn and to understand will go a long way with these people.” It was near dusk when they drove through the reserv ation gate. Apprehension lay like a knot in the pit of Abby’s stomach, and her hands were clammy and cold. She ran her fingers nervously through her short dark hair and took a deep breath. They pulled up to a frame house with a hitch rail i n front and a porch four steps up from the street. Light glowed above the door and th rough the curtained windows. “This is Martha Tallman’s house. Cat’s mother. She can be a good friend to the right person. She’s fair and tries to keep an open mind, more so than her son who, as you’ve found, has a rather biased view of white people. I have a suspicion that you’ll take to each other, especially if you are honest in your de alings with her and her people--and if you care.” Just then the front door opened. “I thought I heard voices. How come you didn’t knock, Arthur?” “Good evening, Martha. I was just about to when you anticipated me, as usual.” “Well, come on in. I got coffee waitin’, and a little somethin’ to eat.” Koehler ushered Abby in ahead of him, and they foll owed the older woman into her kitchen. Abby took in the room — the creamy white w alls; the warm golden oak cabinets and floor; the simple wooden chairs; and the table covered with a homespun oatmeal-colored cloth. When Abby turned to Martha Tallman the woman was op enly examining her. Abby found herself doing the same. In her fifties, Marth a was tall and slender, much like Abby herself, although Martha’s figure was more girlish, with small breasts and slim hips that barely filled out her faded T-shirt and jeans. Mart ha’s black hair was caught in a single thick braid that fell over her right shoulder. Gray frosted her temples, but above her wide, strong cheekbones, deep brown eyes sparkled w ith a youthful gleam. And her generous mouth smiled with a mischievous quality th at caused Abby to smile in response.
Abby waited for Martha’s appraisal of her to end. O ne eyebrow arched as if to question the result. The answer came as the woman p ut out a hand to her. “Welcome to my home, young woman.” “Thank you, Mrs. Tallman.” The woman waved a hand in denial. “None of that. Yo u call me Martha.” She looked at Abby owlishly. “What do I call you?” “Abby.” Martha nodded and pulled out two extra chairs, moti oning brusquely. “Sit, sit. Might as well get to business.” Confused, Abby looked at Arthur Koehler, who explai ned. “Martha is about to offer to put you up here until you can get your place ready. ” He watched Martha set down a plate of cold chicken and what looked like a home-b aked loaf of bread, then slide a trivet under a pot of hot coffee. “Am I right?” Martha eased herself into her seat. “They got a hou se for you next to the school. The teachers always use it. I cleaned it up myself. Got furniture inside, curtains, linens, utensils and such. The last teacher, he didn’t care how things looked, but when I heard they were sending out a woman, I figured you’d want to do some things to make it more homey. Now, we have nothin’ around here, but in tow n there’s a secondhand store, and you could fix the place up for a few dollars, if yo u’re of a mind to. And you could stay here, meantime.” “You’re very thoughtful. Are you sure there’s room for me?” Martha sighed. “Sad to say, yes. My two oldest girl s are married now and livin’ in Oklahoma. My two youngest have a place of their own a few houses down. It’s just me and my son, and he is gone a lot of the time.” Abby saw a faint trace of regret in the woman’s eyes. “You’ll be doin’ me a favor if you stay.” Abby gave her a soft smile. “Well then, how can I refuse?” Satisfied, Martha motioned to her guests. “Well, go on and eat, you two. You got to be hungry after that long ride.” Martha and Mr. Koehler kept the conversation going during the light meal; Abby listened silently, taking note of names and situati ons for future reference. They talked openly, and although she asked no questions, she ap preciated their apparent acceptance of her. As Martha poured a second cup of coffee all around, the door behind Abby opened, causing a draft in the warm room. “Evening,” a deep, velvety male voice said. Cat walked around the table and placed a kiss on to p of Martha’s head, his straight black hair falling forward over his forehead. “Even ing, Mother. How are you?” He stood up and combed back the heavy strands with his finge rs. “Fine, son, just fine.” Martha placed her hand on h is arm. “We’ve got guests.” “I can see that.” Without a greeting, he turned smoothly and took a c up from the cabinet, then poured some coffee and leaned gracefully against the edge of the sink, crossing his legs at the
ankles. Aware that she was staring, Abby tried to l ook away, but his eyes locked with hers, daring her to break the contact. When she felt sure of having met his challenge, Abb y pulled back, inspecting his face as she had been unable to earlier. Deep-set eyes of such a dark brown as to be almost black stared back at her as she mentally traced a f inger down his aquiline nose, across the high, oblique cheekbones, so like his mother’s, and along his jaw line to a stubborn chin. A smile played about the corners of his gener ous mouth, exposing a disarming dimple. Finally he broke the silence. “Well?” Devastating, she thought. Aloud she said only, “You ’ll do.” He had been examining her also, seeing what his mot her had but from a different perspective, one he didn’t want to admit existed. I nstead of the instant dislike he had anticipated, he found himself looking with admirati on at a damned attractive woman who possessed a seemingly open mind and a playful s ense of humor to balance her no-nonsense attitude. He knew instinctively that it would be difficult to remember that she was an enemy. Her head, with its short, dark curls, was held high . Blue-green eyes flecked with gold and rimmed by thick, black lashes sparkled in a tan ned face and looked at him candidly and with confidence. She would not be easily intimi dated, this one, even by the strongest adversary. Faint shadows above her high, shallow cheekbones in dicated her fatigue, but a firm chin and stubbornly set shoulders added to the pict ure of strength. Only her full lips, parted sensuously and trembling ever so slightly, g ave any hint of vulnerability; he wondered if she knew how her mouth gave her away, o r how it added to her appeal. She caught her tongue between her teeth and, with a hint of laughter, asked, “Well?” Unwilling to give her any edge in the battle, he ne vertheless found himself responding with a grudging smile. “Likewise.” He took a step forward and reached out to Abby with his right hand. “Before the hostilities progress any further, let me welcome yo u to my mother’s house.” Abby felt a tremor of anger that was quickly becomi ng a familiar reaction to the man. “You’re determined to turn this into a battle, then ?” “These will probably be the last civil words we’ll exchange, Miss Colton.” “All right, but I warn you, you’ll know you’ve been in a fight.” “I don’t doubt it, but in the end I’ll win.” “Cat!” Martha was visibly angry. “This is not right . I will not have rudeness in my house.” “You’re right, of course. Besides, I can say what I have to at the board meeting.” He turned and nodded, first to Arthur and then to Abby . “See you tomorrow.” Abby watched him head for another part of the house , feeling inexplicably sad as well as indignant. Then she felt Martha’s eyes on her an d turned back to face the other woman. “I am sorry for what he said. He knows better.” “He knows what he feels. I think I can understand that.”