Authors: Rosanne Bittner
Climb the Highest Mountain
(Savage Destiny #5)
Copyright © 2012, Rosanne Bittner
Cover Design by Patricia Phelps Lazarus
Betray me not, my love,
Tho others come to tempt us
And hardships make us tired.
Neither death, nor war, nor the pain of parting
Should beat us into resignation.
The pathway could be easy,
If we would choose it.
But the easy path means the sacrifice
Of our love, and so would bring more pain
Than all our sufferings from being together.
We are one, my love,
And we know not the meaning of betrayal.
—F. Rosanne Bittner
Some called it the Battle of Sand Creek, some the Chivington Massacre—Chivington led the Colorado Volunteers that day—but most people call it the Sand Creek Massacre. Whatever its title, it is a shameful chapter in American history. On November 29, 1864, an uncalled-for attack on the Cheyenne peacefully encamped at Sand Creek left grotesquely mutilated bodies of Indian women and children strewn across the village and the surrounding area. The reason for the Volunteers’ attack is debated to this day, but the actual event and its consequences cannot be denied. The Sand Creek Massacre gave the Indians cause to retaliate, perhaps more cause than all the broken treaties had given them.
This massacre and other such brutal assaults eventually devastated the Plains Indians, despite the desperate last stands of the red men. Yet to this day their mourning cries can be heard on the west wind as it groans through canyons and howls across the open
plains. Red men’s bones lie beneath concrete sidewalks and deep reservoirs, but they do not rest. Such greatness and spirit never die, just as great love never dies. This is a story about that kind of spirit, that kind of love … the spirit of the red man, the love between Zeke and Abigail Monroe.…
He stood at the hotel window, a glint from the afternoon sun accenting the hard lines rugged living had etched into the dark skin of his handsome face. His sleek black hair was braided down his back, bereft of the Indian ornaments he usually wore in it. He was in town—in civilization. He must not look too “Indian,” although that was almost impossible, for everything about him was Indian. The most he could do was don the cotton pants and shirt of a white man, and leave off the paint and decorations he so dearly loved to wear. But he longed for the softness of his normal garb—buckskins—longed for the peace and quiet of his ranch along the Arkansas River, longed for the days when he rode wild and free with his next of kin, the Cheyenne.
“What are you thinking?” The soft voice came from the bed. He turned to look at his woman, his Abbie girl, who had just stirred from an afternoon nap. It had been a hard journey to Pueblo from the ranch, and it irritated him that she had had to come at all. But that was the law. Abbie was white. He was half Indian. Only Abbie could sign the papers to ensure that they retained ownership of their ranch. His eyes drifted from her lovely face back to the window, down to the
rutted streets over which wagons clattered amid the bustle of a growing town.
“I’m thinking about Lean Bear … shot down in cold blood by soldiers while riding toward them with a white flag in his hand. I’m thinking about the rumors of moving the Cheyenne to Kansas. I’m looking down on the streets of Pueblo and seeing the end of the People. It’s only a matter of time, isn’t it, Abbie? Soon Colorado will be rid of all its Indians. Look at me—standing here in white man’s clothes because I don’t dare come to town dressed as an Indian.” He met her eyes again. “And you have to wear that tight, uncomfortable ‘proper’ white woman’s dress instead of the tunics you like so well, just so you aren’t scorned in the streets.”
She lay on her side watching him, studying the lean, muscular body that remained hard and strong despite his forty-four years. There was nothing soft or aging about Zeke Monroe, except perhaps a few extra lines on his face. The thin scar that ran from temple to jawbone down his left cheek had not faded over the years, and it reminded her of the savageness that lay beneath the white man’s clothes. A Crow Indian had put the scar there, and Zeke had acquired many other scars over the years: for he was accustomed to living by fists, knives, and guns; to dealing out his own form of justice; to living off the land and setting his own rules. Yet it was that side of him that brought out her wildest passion.
That was also the side of him she understood best, which was why she understood the pain he was suffering because his way of life, the way of his Cheyenne relatives, was fast disappearing. This was 1864, and as the Civil War was drawing to a close, more and more white people were arriving in the West. Abbie and Zeke knew that when the war ended the
westward surge of whites would surpass anything they had seen so far. Too many families had been displaced by the war, too many had lost their homes and land—lost everything they had ever known and loved. Changes would come. People would leave the south and look for new horizons, for new places in which to settle. There was only one direction they could take.
“Come lie down, Zeke,” Abbie spoke up. “We have enough on our minds, what with getting those papers signed. Attorney Dearborn has to get them ready so let’s rest until five o’clock when we can go and sign them.”
He sighed and ambled over to the bed, his animal grace reminiscent of wild things and the outdoors. He unbuttoned his shirt and began to remove it, revealing a broad, firm chest and muscular arms. White scars marked his dark skin, souvenirs of numerous battles and of the torturous Sun Dance ritual he’d endured when very young.
“You mean when you can sign them,” he answered, bitterness in his voice. He threw down the shirt and lay wearily down on the bed, stretching out on his back.
She sighed and reached over, lightly tracing her fingers over his high checkbones and finely etched lips, then trailing them down over his muscular chest and resting her hand lightly on his firm, flat stomach. “There’s nothing we can do about it, Zeke. It’s the law.”
He laughed sneeringly. “White man’s laws stink,” he grumbled.
Abbie just smiled. “Now you sound like Swift Arrow,” she teased, referring to his younger full-blood Cheyenne brother who now lived and warred with the Sioux in the north.
“I’m right and you know it,” Zeke answered.
She sighed and lay back on her own pillow, staring up at the ceiling. “I know. But what else can we do?
Those tax men have told us to file a legal claim or get out. With seven children and only the ranch to keep us going, what else can we do? We certainly can’t live with the Cheyenne any more. It’s not like the old days, Zeke, much as I hate to think about it myself. Remember when we first came here and we lived with the People? We were always warm, always had full bellies. Not anymore. And if they want to survive at all, they’ll have to go wherever the government tells them to go.” She pulled a comb from her lustrous dark hair, hating to wear it in the uncomfortable bun. “Surely they are going to move them, Zeke. Why else are we expected to file this silly claim? Our ranch is on reservation land. This can only mean that soon it won’t be reservation land anymore. It will be open to anyone who wants to settle there. Suddenly the papers William Bent signed years ago verifying our claim are no good. Suddenly everything is changing, and it frightens me. But we’ve been threatened before. We’ve fought and suffered and been apart, yet we’ve never been beaten … and we won’t be beat this time.”
He rolled to his side, resting on his elbow and looking down at her. She always felt dwarfed beneath his tall, broad frame. He had inherited his powerful body from his white father, who had been a very big man. His hard-edged leanness came from his Indian side, as did his dark skin and the piercing dark eyes that sometimes could almost hypnotize her, even after all the years they had been together. He ran his fingers lightly over her throat and chin.
“Still the scrapper I married, I see,” he told her, forcing a smile for her. Things had been hard enough on them the last two days. At least he could try to keep his mood even. “Every time you talk like that I think about the fifteen-year-old girl I met on that wagon train, and how she shot those Crow Indians and how
she took that arrow and then let me cut it out of her.”
She smiled sadly at the memory. She’d lost her whole family on that trip west, but she had found Zeke Monroe. She studied the provocative smile that he still flashed quickly and unexpectedly, the smile that had made her melt when she was fifteen, that still made her melt, nineteen years and seven children later.
“Well, I don’t like what’s happening any more than you do. And I especially don’t like having to be the one to sign those papers, just because I’m white. You’re my husband. You’re the man, and you’re the one who runs that ranch—with more intelligence than most white men I know.” Her brown eyes began to glitter with anger. “Imagine! After all the years you’ve run that place, with all your knowledge of horses and ranching, you can’t even sign as owner! It’s ridiculous! Everybody in Colorado Territory knows you raise the finest Appaloosas in the West!”
Now it was she who was getting upset, despite her intention to calm down her husband.
“They’re even saying Indians aren’t citizens!” she said in a louder voice. “Can you imagine? They’ve been on this land for centuries, and they aren’t citizens?”
She met his dark eyes and they were dancing as he studied her lovely face. Her skin was still soft, thanks to the creams she used, and her thick, dark brown hair showed no sign of gray. Her breasts were full and firm, her form trim. With seven children to care for in an untamed land, a woman didn’t have time to get soft and fat. Zeke’s Abbie girl was still firm in the right places. He moved a big hand down over her breasts and rested it on a protruding hip bone that he could feel through her dress.
“Why on earth are you smiling, Zeke Monroe?” she asked with a frown.
“Because I enjoy seeing you get angry,” he answered.
“You’re prettier when you’re angry.” He leaned down and kissed her lightly. “Besides, if we can’t see a little humor in this damned life, we might as well end it here and now, Abbie.” His smile faded then. “Things are going to get worse, I’m afraid. The day is coming when it will be a lot harder to smile.”
Their eyes held, a million memories flashing through both their minds … years gone by … those first years spent with the Cheyenne until he built the cabin for his “white woman” … the hardships of surviving in a wild land … the pain of birthing children … her near death from some of those births. The operation in Denver, five years ago, had ended her ability to bear children. Her depression over that had lasted a long time.
There had been so many tragedies, so many deaths since she’d come west and had fallen in love and married the half-breed scout who’d led her father’s wagon train. Fate and necessity had separated them far too many times, but always he’d come back. Always her Zeke had returned to hold her, protect her, provide for his children.
But their last separation had brought the most pain. The Civil War had torn them apart, sending Zeke east and leaving Abbie vulnerable in a lawless land. Their eldest son, Wolf’s Blood, had tried to save her that fateful day; he’d risked his life to help his mother. But there were too many, and the outlaws paid by the wealthy Winston Garvey had whisked her away to the place where Garvey and two of his men had tortured and raped her in an effort to obtain information about the half-breed son Winston Garvey had fathered by a Cheyenne woman. Stubborn and proud, Abigail did not tell where the child was, only she and Zeke knew. She held out against pain and horror, trusting Zeke to find and rescue her. And not longer after Zeke
Monroe’s return home, Winston Garvey had mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. Only Zeke Monroe and his son Wolf’s Blood knew what had happened to the man; only they knew just how cruelly Winston Garvey had died. For Zeke Monroe’s big knife was as much a part of him as his skin, and when he was out for vengeance, the blade did a fine job of prolonging pain and suffering.
Even though she’d been hidden away in a cold, deserted mine shaft deep in the mountains of Colorado, Zeke had searched out his woman, whose body was almost lifeless by the time he’d found her. That had been sixteen months ago. She had been a long time recovering, and there were times when he could tell that ugly memories tortured her. She loved Zeke, heart, soul, and body; but to have had men force themselves on her had been devastating despite her strong countenance and the bravery she had shown living in this land. She still could not sleep without a lantern lit. If she awoke to darkness, her mind would race with fear. She imagined herself in that horrible cave again, thought that Garvey and his men would come to hurt her.
Zeke’s pain at not being there in her most dire time of need could be read in his dark, loving eyes, especially in their intimate moments. Over all their years together, he had always protected her. He’d risked his life for her more than once, and he’d always sworn he would not allow her to be hurt. Yet he had failed her that one time, and he would never forgive himself, never forget it. Abbie! His beautiful, faithful Abbie-girl, abused by other men! He wished he could kill Winston Garvey all over again, torture him, dismember him piece by piece! In times of vengeance, Zeke Monroe was the Cheyenne Indian, Lone Eagle, a man capable of inflicting the worst torture on a foe. Winston Garvey’s screams for
mercy had rung like music in Zeke’s ears, as had the screams of the other two men who had helped to create Abbie’s days of horror. He had left the other two to Wolf’s Blood, only sixteen at the time, a boy almost totally Indian in nature and beliefs. It had been the first time Wolf’s Blood had killed, but doing so had come naturally to him. He had sought vengeance. The men had abused his mother! There could be no better cause for making them suffer. Still, what Zeke and Wolf’s Blood had done could not change what had happened to Abbie. Even now as Zeke leaned down to kiss her again, she could see the remorse in his eyes, feel it in his lips as they suddenly searched deeper.
So much! They had been through so much together … and survived! Always it seemed that their pain and loss came through in their lovemaking, mingled with their joy and laughter. Each time they made love the experience was enhanced by the deep secrets they shared, the special things that only two people who had been through what they had and who had survived could appreciate.
He was removing her dress, and she let him. She always let him. This was Zeke. Only in the last few months had she been able to give herself this way again, and he still moved carefully, always afraid of bringing back some terrible memory. The first time after her ordeal had been very difficult, but she had forced herself to open to her husband again, determined that men like Winston Garvey were not going to destroy her marriage and the deep and special love she shared with Zeke Monroe. After all, she had never given herself willingly to anyone but Zeke … her Zeke … her first man—her only man. He had taken her one lonely night in the wilds of Wyoming. She’d been only fifteen. She had belonged to him ever since.
His sweet kisses smothered her, and within moments
they were both naked and touching. How many times had they done this? Why was each time as good as the last, even after all the children? It was as though this was all, as though this was the only way they could prove that as long as each had the other everything would be all right. This was something no one could take away. No one!
His hands moved gently over her, fire in his fingertips, sweet Indian words of love on his lips as they caressed her throat, her breasts. In these moments it was difficult to picture him violent and vengeful. But others knew just how violent Zeke Monroe could be. How well they knew! Still, when bedding his woman there was nothing violent about him, although he took her more passionately than usual when he thought about other men using her body. Then he needed to ensure that his brand was burned into her forever.