After escaping robbers intent on murder, Katherine Grant says, "I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Before long I'll be dancing on the coals." The highwaymen were the frying pan; the handsome young Apache who saved her from them was the fire; and the coals? Gaetan.
Rage against the enemies of his people has consumed Gaetan from boyhood. The only use he ever found for any white was to test the sharpness of his knife. Forced by his brother to endure Katherine's company, Gaetan tries to deny what he sees -- the white woman has a man's temper and a lion's courage. She has an Apache heart.
In spite of hate, distrust and fear, surviving in the rugged country of southern Arizona and northern Mexico forges a strange bond between Katherine and Gaetan. When the bond turns to love, can they admit it? Can they bear the consequences?
She rolled down the hill. Faster and faster -- Katherine landed at the bottom with a moan and sat up to see three bearded men running toward her. A rush of nervous excitement cleared away the last of her lethargy.
"Are you Americans?" she asked the barrel-chested man who arrived first.
"We sure are, darling. Who, or what, are you?"
"My name is Katherine Grant. I've been hoping to find someone like you for days. Maybe it's too late, but I hope.... I need help."
"Where did you come from? Where's your people?"
"I'm -- I'm alone. I was on a stage that was robbed, and then...."
Admitting to being alone was a mistake. The big man grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet so hard her chest smacked into his. Her cry of pain had no effect on him. Wrapping a fist in her hair, he forced her head back and closed his mouth over hers in a bruising kiss. She kicked at his shin hard, only to hit the leather of his high boot. He laughed at her. "You want help from us, you're going to have to be a lot more cooperative."
Before Katherine could tell him what she thought of that -- and of him -- one of the other men said. "Come on, Cal. The lady needs help. Stop scaring her."
"Lady." The big man made a sound of contempt. "You ever seen a lady with pants stretched over her ass like that? If you don't want any of what she's peddling, I do."
He squeezed one cheek of the body part he referred to as he talked. Katherine kicked at him again, aiming higher, but she was slow, and he avoided her easily. Gripping her left arm hard, he twisted it behind her back. For a moment she floated on the wave of pain. When her vision cleared, she saw more men joining the crowd around her.
"I mean it," the second man said. "There's no reason to hurt her. Let her go."
"I ain't gonna hurt her. She needs help. That means giving her food we paid for, letting her be extra weight on one of our horses. You going to be a Nancy boy and just give her what we scraped to pay for? I'm saying she has to pay her way is all. That's fair."
The men exchanged wary looks. Some of them sidled closer to Cal, some to the other man, but the way the men opposing Cal wouldn't look directly at him told her Cal would get his way in the end. If she weren't so tired, she could organize her thoughts, could tell them about ransom, could....
A ululating scream split the night. The sound scraped across Katherine's nerves and down her spine as did another and another. The thunder of horses stampeding sounded with the last ungodly shriek.
"The horses! Damn it, you stupid sons of bitches, you left the horses!"
Cal let her go, yelling and cursing as he charged across the campsite. A few men followed him. Most of them looked too scared to move. "What the hell was that?"
"Apaches," Katherine said, and she turned and ran.
She ran in the direction the horses had gone, even as the sound of them faded in the night. Stumbling over rocks and crashing into brush and cactus, she ran until she fell to her knees.
Rifle fire sounded behind her. She should pray for a bullet to the heart. Instead she lurched to her feet and ran again, her blood pounding in her ears, a knife tearing at her side, her lungs burning. She fell and rolled.
Staggering up, still she ran, but slower now. When she fell, she screamed a last time.
Or maybe it wasn't a scream. Maybe it was only a weak cry. She huddled on her knees in the dirt, sobbing as she gasped for breath.
The quality of the air around her changed. The ground gave off the faintest tremble. She held one heaving breath long enough to listen. The tremble swelled until the night vibrated with the drumbeat of galloping hooves. She made it to her feet, waved her arms hoping he'd see the light-colored shirt, and waited until a large shadow separated from the darkness, racing toward her.
She stumbled a few steps forward. His outstretched arm hit her middle like a blow. She hung there against his leg and the side of the running horse until they were far from the camp, from the men and their guns. As Gaetan pulled the horse to a halt, Katherine didn't wait for him to drop her. Whatever his intention, she wasn't letting go. She kept a death grip on his arm and flailed until she got a foot on top of the stirrup and crawled onto the horse behind him. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she locked her hands together. He could pry her off or cut her off, but that was the only way he was going to get rid of her.
Afraid he might do just that, she didn't relax until the horse started forward, slow now. The steady clop of hooves and the roll of the easy gait soothed her hammering heart and heaving lungs. Her arms and legs stopped quivering.
Close to full now, the moon showed grass, brush, and rocks in otherworldly relief, black, charcoal, and silver shadows passing in the night. Cool air whispered like silk across her fevered face. The sharp scent of horse sweat rose so thick in the air, she tasted salt on her tongue. Or maybe she tasted tears.
She sat erect, touching Gaetan only where her arms clutched his waist so desperately, but her hands rested against his stomach, bare skin against bare skin, and against all reason she took comfort from the size of him, from the muscular feel of him, warm and alive. He had used her to get the horses and never intended to come back for her. She knew it and decided her ghost should haunt him for it, but only for a little while. All that mattered was that he did come back.
Running like that had probably pumped the poison through her body faster, but it would make no difference in the end. She fought to keep her eyes open, fought the returning fog of fever, wanting to hold on to awareness, to the soft caress of the night, but she lost the battle. Her eyes closed; her head drooped. She sagged against Gaetan's back, her cheek resting on his shoulder.