Read Savage Autumn Online

Authors: Constance O'Banyon

Savage Autumn

A Night to Surrender

“Please let me go,” Joanna whispered to the handsome Indian warrior.

Windhawk drew Joanna closer to him, fearing that he had frightened her with the overwhelming love he had displayed. “I have not the words to say to you in English. If you could understand my language, I could tell you how I feel.”

Joanna felt his lips brush her forehead, and she felt a weakness wash over her. He lifted her chin and gazed deeply into her eyes.

“I want you for my woman, Jo-anna. I believe that it was meant for you and I to be lovers.”

Joanna closed her eyes and felt his lips softly touch her eyelids. She wanted to leave, yet she wanted to stay. She was experiencing a new feeling so consuming it pushed all other thoughts out of her mind. She could feel his warm breath upon her flesh and it sparked a deep pain of longing within her. Her young body yearned for something from him, but she didn’t know what it was. As he lowered her to the ground, she cast all doubts and fear to the wind. He was her destiny, the man of her dreams—her sweet savage lover…

Savage Autumn
Constance O’Banyon

This book is dedicated to John and Beatrice, whom I lovingly call Mom and Dad. You gave the gift of life to my husband, you gave the gift of love to me.

This is also for my friend and secretary Jean

for the times we laughed together and the long hours you labored tirelessly without complaining. I thank you.

Windhawk

He came down from the north with the
swiftness of the wind,

With a noble spirit that would not break nor
would it bend.

He is not of my world and not of my kind,

Yet he touches my heart and troubles my
mind.

With his hair black as ebony and dark eyes
flashing and bold,

I love him, yet I fear him, for I know he seeks
my soul.

Constance O’Banyon

Author’s Note

Fort Union, which is mentioned in this book, was built by the American Fur Company in what is now known as North Dakota. It is not to be confused with Fort Union which was built by the United States Army in New Mexico Territory in the year 1851.

Introduction

It was a time when America was young. The white man had recently landed on her shores with his eyes moving restlessly westward. He was cutting down her forests to build his villages and farms. He would take from her bounty without giving back to her. America’s plentiful resources would be loaded onto great cargo ships and transported across the seas to be sold to the highest bidder.

It was a time when America was old. On her lands the mighty Blackfoot Indians had coexisted with Nature long before the first white man had sailed the uncharted oceans.

The Indian took from Nature only that which he needed to survive, without upsetting Nature’s delicate balance.

The Blackfoot was undisputed gladiator of his vast domain. His territory stretched from the Saskatchewan River in the north, and south to the present day Yellowstone National Park. The Rock Mountains formed the western border, and the mouth of the Milk River was the eastern limit.

The white man would soon become greedy for the land that by birthright belonged to the Black foot, but that time had not yet come.

Journey back with me in time when the mighty Blackfoot was lord of these vast prairies and mountains. Walk with me in the savage autumn of time.

Chapter One

Philadelphia, 1838

It had begun to sleet. A strong wind swirled the frozen particles into Taggart James’s face, stinging his cheeks like the prickle of tiny needles.

Taggart felt his sister, Joanna, tighten her grip on his hand and he looked up at her, wishing he could cry, but knowing he must be strong for her sake.

A strong gust of wind lifted the black veil that Joanna wore and he saw that there were tears on her face. He swallowed a lump in his throat when he felt her hand tremble.

Taggart James was twelve years old. He was trying to be grown up, but he felt very much like a young boy who needed comfort. Joanna’s arm slid around his shoulders and he looked into her face. He could read in her eyes the same pain and confusion he was feeling and somehow it comforted him.

He heard the sleet hitting against the wooden coffin that contained his mother’s body and he shivered. It was the first time in his young life that he had experienced the death of a loved one and the tears he had tried so hard not to shed spilled down his face. The pain in his heart was so intense that he no longer felt the cold.

As the preacher spoke glowing words about his mother’s goodness, Tag’s mind transferred itself to another time and place. His heart ached for the time before his whole world had come crashing down around him. He remembered sunny afternoons and picnics in the park. He thought of winter sleigh rides and snowball fights at his boyhood home back in England.

There were very few people who had come to his mother’s graveside services, but then they knew so few people here in America. If only his father were here, Tag thought miserably.

Tag blinked his eyes in astonishment. The people had begun to leave. Was that all there was to it? he wondered. He stared down at the coffin, wanting to cry out at the injustice of it all. He would never see her again. Death had robbed him of his mother.

Tag felt Joanna lead him toward the carriage that would take them back to the house. He was reluctant to leave, feeling that he was abandoning his mother.

Tag and Joanna were silent on the ride home. He leaned back against the black leather upholstered seat and closed his eyes as Joanna tucked a wool coverlet about him.

Their home was located in the more fashionable part of Philadelphia. As the buggy pulled through the iron gates and stopped in front of the huge, three-story brick mansion, he could see the housekeeper, Franny, standing on the steps. Her husband, Simon, the coachman, opened the door and helped Tag and his sister out of the buggy.

They were home, and the terrible ordeal was over. How quiet the house seemed. The servants talked in whispers, and all the curtains were drawn, making the dark, dismal day seem even more depressing.

Joanna removed Tag’s coat and handed it to Franny, then led him into the huge sitting room where a bright fire was burning in the marble fireplace.

Tag sat down on a stool before the fire, staring into the bright flames without really seeing them. The warm fire did nothing to remove the chill in his heart.

Joanna handed him a cup of hot apple cider and then sat down beside him, placing a comforting arm about him. Neither of them spoke. It was somehow comforting just to sit together silently, feeling a kinship in their shared loss.

Joanna had removed her black veil, and her red-gold hair spilled down her shoulders to her waist. The reflection of the burning fire fell on her hair, and it almost seemed as though her hair was on fire. For the first time Tag realized that his sister was beautiful. Her violet-colored eyes were sad as she placed a kiss on his cheek.

“Everything will be all right, Tag. Before too long Papa will be home, and besides, we still have each other.”

Tag leaned his head against her shoulder. Somehow her words gave him comfort as nothing else could. Through all the long weeks of their mother’s illness, and finally her death, Joanna had always been there for him. Sometimes he had felt closer to her than he had to their mother. He knew that he and Joanna shared a special bond that time and distance would never destroy. He felt her hand cover his and he closed his eyes, feeling drowsy.

Joanna stood at the window, staring out on the front lawn which was now snow covered. It was late March, but winter retained its grip on the land. She sighed as she looked at the mound of paperwork that was stacked on her father’s desk. He had been gone for almost a year. Tears gathered in her eyes. He would be so devastated when he learned of her mother’s death.

Russell James had left on one of his cargo ships last spring, heading for Oregon Territory. His ships often sailed to Oregon taking men and supplies to the new frontier. Joanna wished he had been with her mother at the end. Althea James had always been in fragile health, and in January, she had developed the lung sickness, and within a month had died.

Joanna was only seventeen, but at the moment she felt much older. It was as if she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. There were so many things that needed attention.

They had very few friends here in America for until two years ago their home had been in England. Her father had decided that he would move his headquarters to America, since it was where most of his trade was located. Joanna hadn’t minded the change; it had been exciting for her and Tag. She had known, however, that her mother had not been happy about the move, although Althea James had never complained.

Joanna walked over to her father’s desk and sat down. Picking up a sheet of paper and a quill, she tried once more to write to her father about her mother’s death.

She crumpled up the piece of paper and threw it into the fire. It was so difficult to tell her father about her mother’s death in a letter.

The truth was that she hardly knew her father. While they had lived in England, more often than not, he had been in America. Joanna knew the only reason her mother had consented to move to America was with the hope of seeing more of her husband, but that had not been the case. He had installed them in the great house in Philadelphia and had sailed away.

Joanna stood up and walked over to the huge portrait which hung above the mantel. It had been painted but a year ago, and to the naked eye it seemed to portray a happy family. Althea James’s blond beauty complemented her husband’s handsomeness. Russell James had bright red hair and Joanna and Tag had a combination of both their parents’ hair coloring. Joanna couldn’t help but smile at the portrait where Tag stood so straight and proud beside his father. Both she and Tag had their father’s blue eyes. Joanna looked at the likeness of herself, and thought that the artist had flattered her. She felt no kinship with the lovely girl in the portrait who had such a wistful look in her eyes. The artist had painted her as she had always wanted to be, she thought, and not as she actually looked.

If you had asked Joanna if she was pretty, she would have said no. Her hair was a golden color until the sunlight hit it, and then it seemed to come alive with fiery red highlights. Her eyes were such a deep blue that they seemed violet in color, and she thought they were too big for her delicate features. Joanna thought she was much too tall for a girl. Most of her friends in England had been petite and pretty, while she had always felt very awkward, towering above them. Sometimes she had even been taller than her gentleman acquaintances.

Joanna’s mother had been a bit of a snob, and had not wanted her children to mix socially with the “colonists,” as she had called them, so Joanna had never had a young gentleman
tell her that her face was breathtakingly beautiful. No one had ever told her that her hair was a glorious curtain of fiery spiraling curls. No one had said to her that her violet eyes with their long silky eyelashes were a startling combination with her creamy white skin. She had no idea that her sweetly curved body had disturbed many young men’s thoughts.

She had been only fifteen when they had moved to America, and they had lived such a secluded life for the past two years that Joanna had no idea that she had blossomed into a lovely young woman.

There was a tap on the door of her father’s study, and Tag poked his head into the room.

“Are you busy, Joanna?”

“Never too busy for you,” she smiled.

He ambled into the room and plopped down on the window seat. “I don’t think winter will ever be over. I detest staying in the house all the time,” he said, staring out the window wistfully.

“If you would like, you can bundle up warmly and go out and play for a while.”

“It’s no fun playing alone. Why don’t we have any friends like we did in England, Joanna?”

Joanna was thoughtful for a moment, wondering how to answer him. When they had first moved into the house they had been visited by their neighbors and sent many dinner and party invitations, which her mother had always declined. Soon the invitations stopped coming, and the James family was all but cut off from their neighbors.

Tag had been the one who had suffered most, Joanna thought. It wasn’t good for a young boy to have no friends to play with. “How would you like it if I read you a story?” Joanna suggested.

“I would like that,” Tag said with little enthusiasm.

Joanna took a book from the bookshelf and sat down beside Tag on the window seat. Soon they were both lost in the world of make-believe, as Joanna read
The Last of the Mohicans,
by James Fenimore Cooper. It was a book about Indians
and the early days of the American frontier. The story seemed to come alive for them both.

Joanna glanced down at Tag and noticed he was absorbed in her reading. She felt an almost maternal love for her brother. In the two weeks since their mother’s death he seemed to look to her for guidance. There were times when Joanna was frightened about what the future held, but she had to put up a brave front for Tag’s sake. She couldn’t let him suspect that she was every bit as lost as he was. She only wished their father would come home soon.

It was but a week later. Joanna had climbed up a ladder and was dusting the books on the top shelf in the library.

Franny, the housekeeper, came bustling into the room with a disapproving frown on her face. She had been with the family since before Joanna was born, and had sailed with them to America. Joanna loved the stern-faced housekeeper whom she had relied on so much lately.

“Miss Joanna, you won’t believe who just showed up on our front doorstep. With your permission, I’ll show her the door without hesitation,” Franny said, looking as if she would be able to do just that.

“To whom are you referring, Franny?” Joanna asked, climbing down the ladder.

“That woman, Margaret, your father’s sister, that’s who.”

“Aunt Margaret’s here?”

“In the flesh. Says she just arrived from England three days ago. She’s got that no-account husband with her. I think you should allow me to tell her you aren’t receiving guests.”

Joanna tried to remember all she had been told about her Aunt Margaret. Joanna had never met her, for her mother hadn’t allowed her into their home.

Joanna’s mother had come from the British gentry, and her family had all but disinherited her when she married Russell James, for at the time he had been a struggling shipbuilder. Her mother’s family had looked down on anyone who was in trade.

All Joanna knew about her Aunt Margaret was that there had been some kind of scandal when she had joined a traveling acting group and had married one of the actors.

“Where are they, Franny?”

Franny sniffed. “I left them in the hallway. I told them that your mother had died and you weren’t up to seeing anyone.”

Joanna smoothed her hair into place. “Send them in here. I am curious to know what they want, and after all, she is my father’s sister.”

“That don’t make you obligated to her. If your father were here, he wouldn’t see her. Mark my word, that woman means nothing but trouble.”

Joanna gave Franny a stern look. “My father isn’t here, and I feel we should at least see them since they have come so far.”

Franny looked as if she would have liked to object, but she clasped her mouth shut and left, shaking her head and mumbling to herself.

Shortly afterward the door opened and a pudgy, round-faced woman rushed toward Joanna. “My dear child, I was just told about your tragedy,” she said, gathering Joanna into her arms and hugging her tightly. The woman reeked of cheap perfume, but Joanna suffered the ordeal in silence. “Don’t you worry, your Aunt Margaret’s here now and I’m going to look after you.”

Joanna was finally able to step back a pace, and she studied the woman who in no way resembled her father. Margaret Landon looked years older than her brother. Joanna had never seen anyone who wore makeup, but she was sure the bright red cheeks and the white, powdery look on her aunt’s face must be artificial. Her gown was of bright red satin, and was too low-cut for daytime wear.

“I am pleased to meet you, Aunt Margaret. I have heard about you.”

Her aunt poked Joanna in the ribs with her elbow and winked. “I can just imagine what you heard.” Her laughter was lewd and high-pitched. “Come, you must think me rude. I want to introduce you to your Uncle Howard.”

For the first time Joanna noticed the man who accompanied her aunt. He was tall and heavy-set and wore a bright purple coat with a lemon yellow waistcoat. He looked every bit the stage actor with his overstated clothing. His eyes were small and beady, and Joanna felt uncomfortable at the way he was staring at her.

“So this is my little niece,” he said, taking her hand and raising it to his lips. Joanna had the strongest urge to jerk her hand free of his grasp. “Margaret, you never told me your niece was such a beauty,” he drawled through thick lips.

Margaret looked Joanna over. “She ain’t too bad. Looks a lot like her mother. Now me, I wasn’t so skinny when I was her age. Had the bulges in all the right places, and all the gentlemen noticed, including yourself, Howard.”

Joanna felt her face flame at her aunt’s salacious remark. She was already wishing she had taken Franny’s advice and refused to see them. Never had Joanna met anyone like her aunt and uncle, and she was at a loss as to what to say to them.

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