The outcome of their battle was a foregone conclusion, and Loretta knew it. His friends encouraged him, whooping with ribald laughter each time her ruffles flashed. She snatched the dirty peace flag from the wooden shaft and threw it to the earth, grinding it beneath the heel of her shoe.
After fending off several more passes, exhaustion claimed its victory, and Loretta realized the folly in fighting. She stood motionless, breasts heaving, her eyes staring fixedly at nothing, head lifted. The warrior circled her, guiding his stallion’s flashing hooves so close to her feet that her toes tingled. When she didn’t move, he reined the horse to a halt and studied her for several seconds before he leaned forward to finger the bodice of her dress. Her breath snagged when he slid a palm over her bosom to the indentation of her waist.
“Ai-ee,” he whispered. “You learn quick.”
Raising tear-filled eyes to his, she again spat in his face. This time he felt the spray and wiped his cheek, his lips quivering with something that looked suspiciously like suppressed laughter, friendly laughter this time. “Maybe not so quick. But I am a good teacher. You will learn not to fight me, Yellow Hair. It is a promise I make for you.”
In that moment, what she felt for him went beyond hate, a black, churning ugliness that made her want to seize the lance he brandished and skewer him with it. I claim her. He planned to take her, then? Her gaze traveled from his woven wool belt of army blue to the muscular tracks that rippled in his belly. The hilt of his knife protruded from a leather scabbard on his hip. How many soldiers had he killed? One, a hundred, perhaps a thousand?
Her hair hung from his belt, trailing in a spray of gold down the dark leather on his pants. She felt certain she had never seen him before. Yet he had her hair. The Indian down by the river must have given it to him, and he had come from God only knew where to get her.
With a start, she noticed the warrior had stretched out a hand to her. A wide leather band encircled his wrist to protect him from his bowstring. Staring at his dark palm and strong fingers, she shook her head in denial.
“Hi, tai,” he said in a low voice. Guiding his stallion closer, he bent to touch her chin. Her eyelid quivered when he brushed at a tear on her cheek. “Ka taikay, ka taikay, Tohobt Nabituh,” he whispered.
The words made no sense. Puzzled, she met his gaze.
“Tosa ehr-mahr.” Raising his hand, he showed her the glistening wetness on his fingertips. “Silver rain, tosa ehr-mahr.”
He compared her tears to silver rain? She searched his eyes for some trace of humanity and found none. After a moment he straightened, raising his lance in what looked like a salute.
“Suvate!” he yelled, his glittering eyes sweeping the line of encircling riders.
A low rumble of answering voices replied, “Suvate!