Until You (Westmoreland Saga #3) - Page 8

Until You (Westmoreland Saga #3) - Page 8

"You're right," he said, laughing, then he took her advice after bidding Dog Lies Sleeping a polite goodnight. The lighthearted exchange didn't win even a glimmer of a smile from the stoic Indian, but across the fire, he gave Sheridan a long, intense look, then rolled to his feet and vanished into the woods for the night without a word.

The following morning, Dog Lies Sleeping offered to let her ride his horse—an honor that Sheridan suspected sprang from his desire to ride in the more comfortable wagon without actually having to admit it, and thereby save face. Sheridan, who had never ridden anything but the old, swaybacked horse that pulled their wagon, eyed the beautiful, spirited animal with a little excitement and a great deal of nervous panic. She was about to refuse when she caught the challenging look in the Indian's face. Carefully injecting a regretful tone into her voice, she pointed out that they didn't have a saddle. Dog Lies Sleeping gave her another of his lofty, superior looks and informed her that Indian maidens rode b.a.r.e.b.a.c.k and astride.

His unblinking stare, combined with the feeling that he knew she was afraid, was more than Sheridan could endure. Prepared to risk her life and limb rather than give him a reason to have a low opinion of her, and all Irish children as well, she marched over to him and took the horse's rope from his hand. He didn't offer to help her mount, so she led the horse over to the wagon, climbed into it, then spent several minutes trying to maneuver the horse into a position close enough to swing her leg over its back.

Once she was mounted, she wished she weren't. From atop the horse, the ground looked very far away, and very, very hard. She fell off five times that day, and she could practically feel the Indian and his obstinate horse laughing at her. As she prepared to mount for her sixth attempt, she was so furious and so sore that she j.e.r.k.e.d on the lead rope, grabbed the horse's ear and called him a devil, using a German word for it that she'd been taught by a German couple heading for Pennsylvania, then she hoisted herself aboard and angrily took command of her mount. It took several minutes before she realized that Indian horses apparently responded better to rudeness than timidity, because the animal stopped sidestepping and bolting and settled into an exhilarating soft trot.

That night, as she sat at the campfire watching her father cooking their supper, she shifted her position to ease the pressure on her sore backside and inadvertently met the gaze of Dog Lies Sleeping, something she'd been avoiding since she'd retied the horse to the wagon earlier that day. Instead of making some embarrassingly frank observation about her lack of riding ability in comparison to that of an Indian girl's, Dog Lies Sleeping looked at her steadily in the leaping firelight and asked what seemed an entirely inconsequential question: "What does your name mean?"

"What does my name mean?" she repeated after a moment's thought.

When he nodded, she explained that she'd been named for a flower that grew in her mother's land of England, a place across the sea. He made a disapproving grunt, and Sheridan was so startled that she said, "Well, then, what should my name be?"

"Not flower, you," he said, studying her freckled face and unruly hair. "Fire, you. Flames. Burn bright."

"What? Oh!" she said, laughing as understanding dawned. "You mean my hair looks like it's on fire because of its color?" Despite his aloof manner, abrupt speech, and ill-behaved horse, Sheridan was, as usual, naturally friendly, incurably curious, and incapable of carrying a grudge for more than an hour. "My papa calls me 'carrot' because of my hair," she said with a smile. "A carrot is an orange vegetable… like… like corn is a vegetable," she added. "That is why he calls me 'carrot.' "

"White men are not as good as Indians for giving names."

Politely refraining from pointing out that being named for a dog wasn't exactly preferable to being referred to as a vegetable, Sheridan said, "What sort of name would an Indian give me?"

"Hair of Flames," he announced. "If you were boy, name you Wise for Years."

"What?" Sheridan asked blankly.

"You wise already," he clarified awkwardly. "Wise, but not old. Young."

"Oh, I do like being called wise!" Sheridan exclaimed, instantly reversing her earlier decision and deciding she liked him very well, indeed. "Wise for Years," she repeated, tossing a happy look at her amused father.

"You girl," he contradicted, dampening her glee with his attitude of male superiority. "Girls not wise. Call you Hair of Flames."

Sheridan decided to like him anyway and to stifle her indignant retort that her papa thought she was very smart indeed, contrary to his opinion. "Hair of Flames is a very nice name," she said instead.

He smiled then for the first time, a knowing smile that took decades off his face and made it clear he was aware of her restraint in the face of his provocation. "You Wise for Years," he said, his grin widening as he looked at her papa and nodded.

Her father nodded his agreement in return, and Sheridan decided, as she often did, that life was really quite wonderfully exhilarating, and that no matter how different people seemed on the outside, on the inside they were much the same. They liked to laugh and talk and dream… and pretend that they were always brave, never in pain, and that sorrow was merely a bad mood that would soon pass. And which usually did.

5

At breakfast the next morning, her father complimented the beautiful braided and beaded belt that Dog Lies Sleeping wore around his deerskin breeches and discovered that the Indian had made it himself. Within moments, a business deal was struck, and Dog Lies Sleeping agreed to fashion belts and bracelets for her father to sell along their route.

With their new "partner's" permission, she named the horse Runs Fast, and in the days that followed, Sheridan rode him constantly. While her father and Dog Lies Sleeping made their more dignified way along the trail in the wagon, she galloped ahead, then raced back to them, crouched low over the horse's neck, her hair tossing in the wind and mingling with the horse's flying mane, her laughter ringing out beneath the bright blue sky. On the same day she conquered her fear of a racing gallop, she proudly asked Dog Lies Sleeping if she was beginning to ride as well as an Indian boy. He looked at her as if such a possibility were absurd, as well as impossible, then he tossed the core of the apple he'd been eating into the grass beside the road. "Can Wise for Years pick that up from back of running horse?" he replied, pointing to the core.

"Of course not," Sherry said, baffled.

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