Ch. 1 Excerpt:
Matthew Black Wolf, great, great grandson of the Lakota warrior, Black Wolf, drove his new candy-apple-red convertible with the top down through the beautiful late spring afternoon. He had almost reached Rosebud, where his grandparents lived. Matthew's good looks matched his success. His brothers and he had formed their band, Black Wolf, in Austin, Texas and were just now beginning to enjoy national popularity. His oldest brother, Caleb, was getting married the following week at Rosebud to Sara Bradford, a popular blues musician. Instead of flying in with the rest of his family, Matthew drove up because he planned to stay for a few weeks after the wedding.
He had tied back his long, black hair to keep it from tangling in the wind. Dark sunglasses shaded his coffee-brown eyes from the South Dakota sun. As he drove past the landscape, his mind wandered to his past, to his heritage.
He had never been to a Sun Dance, nor participated in an inipi, but he had learned of them and of their significance. The Sacred Way had been taught to him, but, being brought up in a military family always on the move, he had been surrounded by other faiths. Now, as guardrails and rest stop signs flashed by, he tried to picture the land two hundred years ago. His imagination conjured pictures of his great, great, great grandfathers on their horses, painted for war, or for a great hunt.
Glancing at the instrument panel on his dashboard, Matthew made a mental note that he needed gas. A few miles later, he spotted a filling station and slowed to pull in.
Three young Lakota men leaned against an old red-and-white soda machine while they talked, drank beer and killed time. They had all dropped out of high school, and now, only a few years later, two were on probation. All wore faded baggy jeans and oversized t-shirts.
"Hey, look," Joe pointed his chin toward Matthew's car as it slowed. A cloud of dust billowed behind the car as Matthew rolled to a stop in front of a gas pump.
"Whee-yuuu!" Len stood and made a slow, admiring circle as he inspected the car. "Now that's purty."
"This yours or did you rent it?" Gil asked, taking another swig of beer.
"It's mine," Matthew nodded amicably as he got out and closed the door. Lifting the handle out of its slot on the pump, he began filling his car. An old man, wearing an equally old grease-stained jumpsuit, stood inside the office behind a large rectangular, flyspecked window, watching him. Faded stickers advertising different brands of motor oil covered the pane. Once the pump clicked off, Matthew put his gas cap back on and walked the few short steps toward the station door.
The three vagrants stood shoulder-to-shoulder to block his way. They didn't like Matthew, or his good clothes, or the fact that he owned a new sports car.
"Excuse me." Matthew stopped and waited, knowing he was being challenged. His tall frame loomed over them.
"Or what?" Gil jeered and took a belligerent drink, the beer making a sloshing sound in the bottle.
 inipi - [ee NEE pee] Lakota for ‘sweat lodge'
Ch. 4 Excerpt
Matthew arrived at Lainie's house that evening promptly at seven. He wore slacks, a dress shirt and sports jacket, but no tie. His hair was pulled back into a low ponytail. Lainie watched him through the window as he walked to her door. She thought again about how handsome he looked.
Lainie answered the door in a straight black mid-calf skirt with dozens of tiny buttons all the way down the front. The skirt buttoned to her knees, but was left open below that, revealing her shapely legs set off by T-strap high heels. A dark rose satin camisole, with the lace around her shoulders and neckline, peeked out from underneath a bolero jacket. The black waist-length jacket had lush, vibrant pink, smoky blue, and plum-colored flowers delicately embroidered around the neck and down the front.
Anxious about her appearance, Lainie watched Matthew's eyes and smiled when they lit up.
"You look amazing!" Matthew took her hands and stepped back to study her. Spinning her around once, he shook his head. "I need to change into a tux or something."
"I'm glad you like it," she laughed. "It only took Helen and me two entire closets of clothes and a bottle of antacids to put this together."
Matthew grinned. "Only two closets?"
Lainie playfully pushed his shoulder before she invited him in. He noticed her place was small, but well kept, with simple, uncluttered furnishings.
"You have two choices, madam," he said. "First there is the steak house or, if you prefer, the ever popular seafood."
"Oh, I love steak," she said. "You can't beat the beef we raise around here."
"Good choice." He raised one eyebrow in deference to her logic. "Shall we?" He gestured toward the door and followed her out.
Once they were seated at the restaurant and had ordered dinner, Matthew leaned across the table. "I know I said this earlier," he said quietly, "but you look beautiful tonight. Absolutely beautiful."
"Why, Mr. Black Wolf," she blushed, not at the compliment, so much as at its intensity.
"What's more," he continued, "you are easily the most beautiful woman in the room."
"I'm not kidding, Lainie." He sat back. "Easily the most beautiful."
"Are you angling for a goodnight kiss already?"
"Is it working?" he grinned. "′Cause if it's not, let me know and I'll try something else."
Ch. 7 Excerpt
Once inside the theater lobby, Dan steered Lainie toward the snack counter.
"What would you like?" He leaned both hands on the glass top and studied the assortment of candies in the case.
"I'm still too full from dinner," Lainie rubbed her stomach for emphasis.
"You can never be too full for candy." Dan shook his head in disagreement and looked sideways at her. "Popcorn? At least let me have some popcorn."
"You can have candy if you want it."
"But I want to share. So, will you eat popcorn? At least some?"
"Yeah. Some. But why do you have to share?"
"′Cause it's what you do when you're on a date."
"Oh, I see."
Dan faced the girl behind the counter. "One medium popcorn, please. And two sodas." Once their items were paid for, they carried their drinks and popcorn into the theater and found their seats. Dan balanced the popcorn box in his lap and took his drink from Lainie. Putting a handful of the snack in his mouth, he frowned. "I meant to get extra butter."
Lainie rolled her eyes and giggled.
He smiled at her laughter. He hadn't made a woman laugh in a long time. Twice in one night felt good. When the lights dimmed a few minutes later, Dan put his arm around the back of her chair. She scooted a little closer to him and, encouraged, he moved his hand to rest on her shoulder. Without giving it much thought, Lainie laid her hand on his thigh, but her touch sent an electric jolt through him. While she watched the coming attractions, Dan watched her, hoping that the evening would end as well as it had started.
* * *
Two hours later, with his arm around her, Dan and Lainie walked out of the theater, talking about the movie. When they got back to her place, he parked his truck and turned off the engine.
"I had a good time tonight," he said as they sat in the darkness.
"Me, too. Thanks for dinner," Lainie added as she reached for the door handle.
"Yes?" She turned to face him.
"I haven't been out with anyone since my wife died, so this is a little uncomfortable for me." He reached for her hand. "I've wanted to ask you out before this, but I wasn't sure." Taking a deep breath, he continued. "I really enjoy your company, and I would like to see you again." He tried to read her face in the shadows.
"Oh, Dan, I enjoy your company, too."
"So, you'd go out with me again?"
Seeing the vulnerability in Dan's dark eyes, Lainie touched the side of his strong face. "I'd love to. I really would."
Dan put his hand on hers and held it against his cheek for a moment as a soft smile filled his lips and an even softer light filled his eyes.
"I'm a bit out of practice," he warned as he leaned in to kiss her.
Ch. 14 Excerpt
Matthew grabbed his keys and hurried to his car. When he got to Lainie's, Dan's truck sat out front. Matthew didn't knock; he simply walked in. Lainie sat on the couch while Dan stood in the middle of the living room, gesturing. They both looked up when he came in.
"Dan," Matthew challenged, "what are you doing here?"
"You know what I'm doing here!" Dan snapped, his eyes flashing. "I told you to stay away from Lainie, and now I'm telling her to stay away from you."
"It's none of your business!" Matthew growled as he took a step closer to him. "You can't control her like that."
"I'm not trying to control her. You are!" Dan's voice got progressively louder. "I'm trying to keep her safe."
"From what? A real future?" Matthew shouted at him, furious at Dan's bullying of Lainie.
"From your kind of life!" Dan shouted back. Fury and anger consumed both men, filling the room until there was no place for reason or calm thought.
"Stop it! Both of you!" Lainie stood and walked over to them. "I've had enough." Matthew put his arm around her to comfort her.
"Get away from her!" Dan grabbed Matthew's arm and pushed him back two steps.
Matthew's eyes went deadly. "I told you I wouldn't hit you and I meant it," he hissed. "Please - hit me first."
Dan raised his fist and started to swing, eager to oblige, when Lainie stepped between them. Before he could pull the punch, Dan slugged her viciously in the face. Her head snapped back and she flew across the room, landing in an unconscious heap by the sofa.
Both men looked in horror at her for a split second.
"Ohmigod!" Matthew yelled. "What did you do?"
He wanted to rip Dan's beating heart out of his chest with his bare hands. Matthew leapt to Lainie's side, checking to see if she was still breathing. Dan picked up the phone and called an ambulance, his eyes wide with fright at the awful thing he had done.
When the paramedics got there a few minutes later, they found her awake but dazed, her lip split open and her head bleeding from where it hit the coffee table.
Helen had seen the ambulance stop in front of her sister's place and came running. "What happened?" she asked as she ran inside. Her parents quickly joined her.
"There's been an accident and Lainie got hurt," Dan explained.
"An accident?" Matthew couldn't believe it. "You knocked her out!" All his rage and frustration exploded as he lunged for Dan, shoving him against the kitchen table, sending chairs flying.
Ch. 21 Excerpt
Jay walked into the room and watched Lainie and Greg with some concern. Joaquin was involved in a conversation about his drums with one of the stagehands when Jay walked over and tapped him on the shoulder. Quin looked in the direction Jay nodded just in time to see Lainie throw her hot coffee into Greg's face.
Greg leapt to his feet, cursing, temporarily blinded. The two brothers crossed the room in long, angry steps. They each grabbed one of Greg's arms and halfway carried him out the room, down the hall, and outside to the back parking lot. Greg protested all the way, but couldn't break free from them. They finally let go, Quin standing just inches away from Greg.
"You'd better be glad Matthew wasn't here just now. You'd be in six bloody pieces!"
"What's the big deal?" Greg asked, honestly confused. "She's just a groupie. I figured if she's giving it to you for free, she might do the same for me. Those kind usually aren't too picky." He grinned and winked at Quin, hoping to ease the situation with a little humor.
Quin drew back his fist, furious, when Jay stopped him. "No, Quin. He's not worth it." Jay reached for Greg and yanked the pass off his neck.
"Hey, I need that!"
"Too bad." Jay and Quin walked back into the building, stopping long enough to point Greg out to security. He was not to be allowed back in under any circumstances.
When the brothers returned to the dressing room, they went straight to Lainie. "Are you all right?" Jay asked, sitting beside her.
"Yeah. I am now." She gave them a small smile. "What'd you do with him?"
"Well, he's still breathing, if that's what you're worried about." Quin wasn't being funny. His jaw muscles flexed angrily. "But that's only because Jay wouldn't let me loose."
"He won't be back, Lainie. We saw to that," Jay added.
"Thank you. Both of you." She spoke to Jay. "Sara said you brothers looked out for everyone in the family - that if anything happened to her, you'd all come running. She said you'd do the same for me. But, man, I didn't think I'd ever need to see it."
Matthew and Caleb came in, the interview done. As they walked over, Jay stood up so Matthew could sit beside Lainie.
"What's going on?" Caleb asked as he saw the expression on everyone's faces.
"Some guy was bothering Lainie," Quin informed them.
"What?" Matthew's head snapped around to look at her. "Are you okay?"
"Better than he is," she laughed. "After I scalded him with hot coffee, these two rode to my rescue. I don't know what they did with the body. They won't tell me."
Matthew looked up at his two younger brothers. "Thanks. I owe you. Where is he?"
"He's long gone," Jay said, dangling Greg's pass in the air. "And he ain't coming back."
Matthew reached for the pass and studied the picture. "Greg, huh? If he's smart, he'll stay gone." He leaned back against the couch and put his arm around Lainie. He didn't understand why someone would bother her in their dressing room - surrounded by Black Wolf brothers - unless he was a complete idiot.
When it was time to go on stage, Matthew gave Lainie a quick kiss. "You gonna be okay here or do you want to wait on the bus?"
"I'll be okay here," she smiled. "I'll stay by the side of the stage."
"Okay." He kissed her once more before he followed his brothers down the hall. When he caught up to Jay, he asked, "Why was he bothering Lainie? I mean you guys were right there!"
Jay shook his head. "He thought she was part of a floozy posse, čhiyé. Thought he could help himself."
Matthew grimaced. He knew a lot of bands operated that way. But Black Wolf didn't. They never had. "Well, thanks again for watching out after her."
"Don't think twice about it. She's one of ours, isn't she?" Jay slapped Matthew on the back as they stepped into the spotlight together.
Ch. 23 Excerpt
The brothers walked into a radio station for an on-air interview. Lainie had stopped for a drink of water, and they had already been led to the studio when she arrived at the front desk.
"May I help you?" the young receptionist asked.
"Oh, I don't think so," Lainie responded as she looked down the hall for Matthew.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"Then I'm sorry, but I must ask you to leave."
Lainie noticed the superior expression on the woman's face and frowned. "I don't think you understand. I'm here with Black Wolf."
"Really?" The receptionist didn't sound like she believed her.
"Yes. Really. Ask Matthew, or Caleb, or any of the brothers."
Just then, Matthew ducked into the lobby. "There you are! I thought I'd lost you."
"No, I'm here. Just running a little slow," Lainie smiled.
"Take care of my girl, now," Matthew admonished the receptionist.
"Yes, Mr. Black Wolf." The receptionist gave him her most winning smile, stood and motioned toward a waiting room. "If you'll follow me, Miss..."
"Two Kettles. Lainie Two Kettles."
"Right. Well, this way, please. Can I get you anything? A soda, or coffee perhaps?"
"No. I'm fine. Thanks." Lainie wondered if the woman had whiplash from changing faces so fast.
"All right. Just let me know if you need anything." With an insincere smile, the receptionist pivoted on her expensive high heels and returned to her desk.
Shaking her head, Lainie couldn't help but feel like a pet dog, only welcomed in places because its owner was there. She looked over the reading material on the coffee table. The usual set of industry magazines sprawled across the top. But a tabloid caught her eye, mainly because her picture filled the front page.
"Who is Matthew Black Wolf's Mystery Date?"
On the heels of Caleb's wedding, another Black Wolf woman has emerged, this one connected to Matthew, keyboard player for the band. When asked about her, Matthew refused to comment. Though her name remains a mystery, she is thought to be the daughter of a wealthy oil baron in Texas. She and Matthew were spotted together at a Dallas gala, intimately draped over each other.
"Not!" Lainie muttered angrily.
They have also been seen in New York buying expensive jewelry at Tiffany's. Matthew is said to have spent over forty-thousand dollars on that spending spree.
"I've never been to New York!"
One source close to the band said that Lainie might be expecting and that wedding bells are in the air.
"Oh, for heaven sake!" She threw down the paper, making it slap against the table.
Ch. 26 Excerpt
When he drove down her street, he saw her car was gone. He drove slowly by her trailer, wondering what he should do next. "Gramps," he said to himself and turned the car toward his grandparents' house.
When he pulled up to their driveway, Dan's truck was there. Matthew got out of the car, wondering how this was going to go. He walked up the porch and knocked on the door.
"Gramps?" he called.
"Yeah?" Billy called back. Matthew pushed open the door and walked in.
"Hi." Matthew took a few steps into the room, looking at his grandfather sitting in the recliner and Dan on the sofa. Both men had surprised looks on their faces; one was of happiness, the other of concern. His grandmother came through their bedroom door.
"Matthew!" she exclaimed as he walked over and hugged her. "We didn't know you were coming."
"Yeah, it was a last minute decision." He and Dan exchanged warning glances.
"Last minute, huh?" Dan asked pointedly.
Matthew faced him. "Yeah, somebody's been messing with Lainie, and I'm here to straighten it out."
"Only one messing with Lainie is you, Cuz. She was a wreck when she got back home."
"Says who?" At the tone in Matthew's voice, Gram grew concerned.
"You didn't see her." Dan shook his head, his jaws clenching. "Matthew, she's not used to running twenty-four, seven. What were you thinking of, throwing her on a bus for days?"
"I wanted her to see how I lived." He sounded defensive and angry.
"Oh, she saw all right. And, believe me, it's not how she wants to live. You're not from around here, Matthew. You wouldn't understand our ways." Dan's voice was belittling, insulting.
"So, you think she wants to live here chained to no money and no future?" Matthew spit his words at Dan. The vein in his forehead throbbed angrily.
"It beats being chained to the world you're offering her. You're not Lakota; you're a sell-out!" Dan rose to his feet, equally angry.
"Daniel!" Gram's cry went unheeded. With wide eyes, she stepped back to the wall, afraid of what might happen. Warrior blood ran through both her grandsons, and it boiled now.
"Listen here, you son-of-a..." Matthew jumped at Dan, grabbing his shirt, and pushed him backward a few steps. "I'm as much Lakota as you are!"
The powerful men tussled for a moment before Dan shoved Matthew hard, breaking free of his hold. As Matthew stumbled backward, Dan lunged for him, eager to finish the fight they'd started months ago in Lainie's trailer.
Ch. 27 Excerpt
Matthew let his older brother into the house. He hadn't turned on any lights, and it was getting dark outside. Caleb clicked on a lamp as Matthew flopped down on the sofa where he had spent most of the afternoon. Caleb sat next to him.
"Talk to me. What happened?"
"She ripped my heart out. That's what happened." Caleb waited, knowing the rest would come in Matthew's own time.
"She wasn't home when I first got there, so I went to Gramps' place. Dan was there."
"Oh, that had to be good," Caleb said sarcastically.
"We got into it - bad - and Gramps stepped in. Made us make a pact that we'd keep the peace no matter who she chose. I was glad to make the deal, because I knew she'd choose me." He took a deep breath before he continued.
"I went to her place. We talked for about ten minutes and she said it was over. The end. Goodbye, Matthew." He sounded bitter.
"Did she say why?"
"Yeah, my life is too hectic for her." He looked at Caleb in amazement. "How do you like that! I'm busting my butt making a living to give her all this," he gestured to the beautiful house, "and it's too hectic for her."
Caleb let him vent.
"She could have had anything she wanted. She could teach - stay home - whatever. It was all hers for the asking." He shook his head in disbelief. "Caleb, I love her. I've never loved anyone as much as I love her. I have absolutely no idea what's next." He sat there for a moment, his mind and his heart in turmoil.
"I pleaded with that woman not to do this. I begged her! And she did it anyway."
Caleb said softly, "I know you don't want to hear this right now, but maybe it's for the best." Matthew gave him a look that let him know he was right. Matthew didn't want to hear it.
"Well, misúŋ, take a few days off. Regroup. Our next concert date isn't until next week, so you've got time," Caleb said.
"If I take time off right now, I'll lose my mind. I need to keep busy."
"Okay, sure. You could go see Pops for a while. He's a pretty good listener."
Matthew nodded. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do.
"For now," Caleb stood, "you're coming home with me and having supper."
Matthew started to protest, but Caleb stopped him. "I'm not kidding. If I don't bring you home, Sara will kill me. And, as afraid as I am of upsetting you right now, I'm much more afraid of her." He grinned and winked. "So, come on."
Matthew followed Caleb home in his car. When they went in, Sara hugged Matthew hard and kissed his cheek. She didn't mention Rosebud or Lainie or his trip. He was very grateful for her tact.
"There's beer in the fridge. Help yourself," she said.
Supper was soon ready. Matthew sat down with them, but he wasn't hungry. Sara kept the conversation going with funny or interesting stories - anything that would distract him. It didn't help much, but he appreciated her effort.
As they were clearing the table after dinner, he walked into the kitchen with the salad bowl in time to see Caleb reach for Sara, pull her close, and kiss her. He saw the loving look Sara gave his brother. It was the same look he had gotten from Lainie so many times before. He turned away, hoping the knife in his heart would quit twisting.
Sara's cell phone rang. When she answered it, it was Lainie, in tears. Matthew was standing in front of Sara, so she walked into another room.
"Hi," Sara said. "I heard what happened. Are you okay?"
"I feel so bad - I don't know how I'm going to get through this. I've never seen anyone more hurt. And I did it to him."
"Oh, Lainie, you had..." Before she could finish her sentence, Matthew grabbed the phone from her.
"Lainie, it's me."
"Matthew?" She sounded surprised.
"Please say you've changed your mind. I can be there in a few hours."
"I - I can't," Lainie sobbed. As badly as this was hurting both of them, she knew she had made the right decision.
"Please don't do this." The pain in Matthew's voice brought tears to Sara. All he could hear was Lainie crying. "Please, Lainie," he asked one more time, his heart in his hand.
"G-Goodbye, Matthew," Lainie managed to say before she hung up. Matthew clicked the phone shut and handed it back to Sara. Without a word, he left their house and drove home.
When he walked into his kitchen, he opened the cupboard. He picked up a plate with the lovely blue and cream border and little blue flowers. It was a plate she had bought for them. He threw it as hard as he could against the wall. One by one, he smashed them all into shards of jagged glass and broken dreams.
Ch. 32 Excerpt
"Well, sir, you've certainly come to the right place." Alyssa refilled his glass and handed it to him. "I'm an expert at not knowing what I'm doing." She grinned and raised her glass in a silent toast.
This time, Matthew only took a sip of whiskey before he set the glass down. "How've you been?"
"Me? Fine, I suppose. Kinda lost, trying to figure out where I'm going. I keep taking classes, hoping some kind of major will jump out at me. But so far, no luck. My brother has accused me of being a professional student."
Matthew was feeling the effects of his third whiskey. "Lost? Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I've never been more lost in my life."
Alyssa decided to broach the sore subject. "She really kicked you in the gut, didn't she?"
"At the very least," he sighed heavily.
"I told you before I want to help."
"I remember. Maybe that's why I'm here." He drank more whiskey and studied her for a silent moment. "You've been through this before. How'd you get over it?"
"It took a long time, Matthew. And I didn't do it alone."
He nodded and took another sip. "Well, if you can help me, please do."
Alyssa studied his sad face, his tormented eyes, for a moment, as if trying to decide something. "The first step is to be honest."
"Honest? About what?"
"About why you're really here, to start."
"I told you. I'm not sure why I'm here."
"Yes, you are," she frowned. "You just need to admit it."
"Maybe you can clue me in," he scowled, confused.
"You're here for sex and sympathy. You need someone to wrap you in her arms and tell you everything is going to be all right."
Matthew stared at her for a long moment before draining his glass. Thumping it loudly on the coffee table, he faced her. "Sex and sympathy? Yeah. Okay. That is why I'm here."
Alyssa nodded. "That's better. Now you're being honest - not lying to yourself anymore.
"And you don't mind that's why I'm here?"
"No. Maybe I could use a little sex and sympathy myself tonight."
The beautiful, young woman leaned over and kissed him once - twice. Before he knew it, he returned her kiss, his arms wrapped around her like a drowning man hanging on to a life preserver.
Alyssa enjoyed being in his tight embrace, his lips on her throat, his hands moving across her breasts. She wanted this man - honestly wanted him. Taking him by the hand, she led him to her bedroom.
With her hand on his chest, she said softly, "I don't know who hurt you so deeply, but I can make it better. Matthew, everything is going to be all right. I promise." Her words felt like a balm to him.
She began unbuttoning his shirt while he kissed her. He pulled her t-shirt over her head and threw it on the floor beside his shirt. Then he turned her around and pushed her hair out of the way to undo her bra. With that on the floor, he pulled her to him, her back against his chest. He kissed her shoulder and her throat, his hands caressing her breasts. She laid her hands on top of his, enjoying their strength. It took only a few seconds for her to step out of her jeans and lay across the bed.
"Please, baby, hurry," she moaned, arching her back. "I need you so badly right now."
Matthew finished undressing and lay beside her. "You really need me?" It felt good for a woman to need him again.
"Yes, I do," she whispered, her hand on his face. "I need you desperately."
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