Missouri Territory, 1828
The bright golden sun sent gentle waves of warmth to
the land below. Spring would soon be in full bloom. It
ruled the land, slowly replacing winter’s barren
vegetation with the birth of tender green growth.
Spring brought change and the renewal of life. It was
nature’s promise that life continued, even when it
seemed lifeless and hopeless. Nothing could stop it.
Not even death.
How symbolic of her life since Pa died, Sarah
thought, staring from her loft wistfully. Her eyes shut
out the early-morning scene as a single tear escaped.
Shuddering, she wondered if life would ever be fresh
and sweet for her again.
“Oh, Pa, why?” Sarah sobbed, looking toward a
small plot of land bearing three carved burial markers.
Only the wind answered as a blast of frigid air swept
into the room.
Sarah closed the shutters, resting her forehead
against the rough wood and drew a deep breath. Tears
wouldn’t wash away her problems. And since her Pa’s
death four months ago, her problems had only grown.
Straightening her shoulders, she poured a small
amount of water from a chipped pitcher into a wooden
Susan Edwards 13
bowl and splashed her face. The shock of ice-cold
water checked the flow of tears. Today’s tears weren’t
for the death of a loved one. They were tears of selfpity
Unconsciously, she sought comfort and courage
from the golden chain that was always around her
neck, a last birthday gift from Pa on her sixteenth
birthday. Her fingers found two glass beads, one on
each side of the heart-shaped locket that had belonged
to her ma.
Daydreams of the young warrior who had saved her
life when she was but twelve beckoned, but Sarah
resisted. Wishful thinking and daydreams would not
help this time.
Peering cautiously from the loft, Sarah saw only
Mary busy at the age-worn table kneading bread
dough. With a great sigh of relief, she left the safety of
the loft and descended into the warm cozy room.
Mary, dressed in a plaid shirt and men’s breeches,
turned at the slight sound, her gnarled hands stopping
the rhythmic kneading. She gathered the yeastsmelling
dough and put it above the old stove to rise.
Turning, she wiped flour-covered hands on an apron
tied around her plump waist.
Refreshing her cup of cooling coffee, Mary took
the seat next to Sarah and cursed the fate that had left
the child she loved as her own looking so pale and
14 White Wind
She’d give anything to see the sparkle back in those
downcast eyes and the tilt of that determined chin.
More than anything, she missed that mischievous grin.
The one that usually meant trouble!
“Come now, Sarah,” Mary said encouragingly,
breaking off a hunk of hot bread and holding it out to
the silent girl. “Have some bread. He left early this
morning. Ben sent him to check traps. Won’t be back
till dark, I expect.”
Staring blankly into space, Sarah dropped the bread
that her fingers were shredding into a pile of crumbs
on the table. Her voice was taut with months of
suppressed emotions as she buried her head in her
hands and moaned.
“Oh, Mary, why did Pa do it? We don’t need Willy
here. He’s caused nothing but trouble for all of us,”
she hoarsely whispered.
Mary slipped her arm around the thin hunched
shoulders and fingered blond curls as she sought the
words that would explain John’s motives.
“There aren’t many women out here, and I know
your pa worried about the soldiers from the fort posing
a threat to you. They respected and even feared John—
Mountain Man John, as he was known to most. By
making your guardian a member of his family, he was
Sarah’s head snapped up as she pushed her chair
from the table and started pacing. “Protection! Mary, I
have you and your husband, Ben, to protect me.
You’ve been the only mother I’ve ever really known.
You and Ben are my family, not some distant cousin
Susan Edwards 15
I’d never even heard of before!” Sarah declared, her
boot-clad feet pounding the wooden floorboards. Her
voice turned harsh as she flung out a hand. “Ben can
protect and provide for me a lot better than that weak
Both were large imposing men, but Ben had the
build and stamina that a trapper developed from a
lifetime of living off the land, whereas Willy’s body
had turned soft from preying on what others provided.
“Thinking of me indeed.” Sarah laughed bitterly. “I
need Pa’s horrible cousin Willy like I need…fire in a
Mary frowned and narrowed her eyes in
displeasure, ready to defend her longtime friend. “Now
you listen to me, Sarah. Your pa thought he was doing
what was best for you. He rested easy in those last
days after his long-lost cousin arrived unexpectedly.”
What Mary didn’t say was that she agreed with
Sarah. Willy was useless, and a meaner-looking man
she’d yet to meet. There weren’t many men out here
willing to tangle with him, and she suspected that was
one of the reasons John chose Willy as Sarah’s
guardian rather then Ben.
Mary stood before the angry girl. “Do you honestly
think your pa would have made Willy your guardian if
he’d known what kind of man he was?”
Sarah lowered her head in shame, but Mary
continued. “Remember, Willy convinced your pa that,
as a relative, he was the only choice for a guardian. He
promised he’d look after you and would even choose a
good husband for you. What was your pa to say?”
16 White Wind
Sarah raised tear-filled eyes and threw her arms
around the motherly woman’s neck. “I’m sorry, Mary.
I know Pa was trying to help make my life easier, but
it hasn’t worked out like that.” Tears fell as she asked,
“What am I going to do? I can’t stand much more of
Mary gathered Sarah fiercely to her bosom for long
moments before leading her back to the table. “We’ll
think of something. But for now you are going to
please an old woman and eat.”
That evening, in Sarah’s own small cabin, the soft
patter of rain dancing off the roof slowed, the spring
shower nearly spent. She curled deep into a chair
padded by thick fur scraps and covered with a
patchwork of old material, as dusk gave way to inky
She rose to add more wood to the red-orange
embers in the hearth. All was quiet except for the
occasional hiss or crackle as the embers burst into
flames to eagerly lick the newly added logs.
Returning to her chair, she pulled forth a small
stool and rested her quilt-covered feet before her. The
lantern bathed her in a gentle glow of light as the fire
kept the cold at bay.
Sarah stared into the hypnotic dancing flames,
drowsiness claiming her as eyelids slowly lowered.
Suddenly, the door to the tiny cabin flew open.
With a startled cry, Sarah bolted upright, her head
snapping toward the open doorway.
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A cold draft crept along the floor, sending shivers
of dread down her spine as the door slammed shut.
Eyes following the intruder, she watched the large man
stumble across the room to stand before angry
flickering flames that matched her wildly pounding
“Well…lookee what we have here. Sure haven’t
seen much of you lately, cuz. Haven’t been avoidin’
me now, have you?” slurred a loud, caustic voice.
“What do you want, Willy?” Sarah asked, carefully
keeping her tone indifferent.
Her freckle-covered nose wrinkled in distaste. The
noxious, stale smell of alcohol came at her in waves,
turning her stomach.
“What’s a matter, sweets? Ain’t I good ’nough for
you?” Willy sneered, eyes narrowing as he studied his
Embroidered curtains hid closed wooden shutters,
brightening the dark room. Steam rose from a
blackened pot hanging over the fire, and bread lay on
the table ready for the morning meal.
Sarah sat in silence as her guardian paced the room,
carelessly picking up objects and tossing them down.
Her eyes watered as Willy picked up an old torn quilt
made by her ma. It had been draped across bare
wooden slats in an area under the loft where her pa had
slept and died. That too was tossed to the floor.
“Say—sweetie. Sure is cold out tonight,” Willy
18 White Wind
“Sure would be nice to share this here cozy place,
seein’ how’s we’s family ’n’ all.”
Sarah continued to ignore him, knowing how much
he hated the silent treatment she reserved for him.
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched his jaw
clench and his face redden as she held her tongue.
Willy cursed and turned to leave when it became
evident he’d not receive an invitation to stay.
At the door, he stopped, one shaky hand delving
into his coat pocket to pull out a flask of home-brew.
Taking a hefty swig, he wiped his mouth on the sleeve
of his grubby coat, then turned back to her abruptly.
“Think anymore ’bout wha’ I asked ya last time?”
Sarah shrugged, masking revulsion with aloofness.
“What’s to think over, Willy? I already told you I
wouldn’t marry you.”
“Damn! Ya thinks yer real smart-like, don’t ya?” he
hissed, kicking the stool from beneath her feet as he
returned to stand before her. “Think you’s too good for
yer poor cousin Willy. Well ya best think again,” he
warned as his big beefy hands landed on the arms of
Sarah leaned back, turning her head to the side to
avoid being nose-to-nose with his pockmarked face
and sour breath. A small cry escaped her as rough
fingers yanked her chin around.
“Listen closely, dear cousin. I mean to have you,”
he uttered menacingly, inches away from her face.
Willy’s cold gray eyes narrowed to mere slits and he
laughed without humor. “Whoever marries you gets
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John’s share of tha’ fur business and the money he
stashed away for you. That person is gonna be me!”
Sarah watched his gaze lower to her chest, and
shuddered as his tongue snaked out to lick coarse lips
as if in anticipation of a treat. A wave of nausea swept
through her, and she crossed her arms protectively in
front of her.
She didn’t dare give in to fear, and desperately
grasped at anger instead to give her the courage
needed to stand up to Willy.
“I won’t marry you, Willy, and you can’t make me,
either.” Sarah breathed a sigh of relief as Willy
straightened angrily and paced in front of her. Sarah
met his rage-filled glare with a scornful look of her
Inwardly, she trembled. Willy had never been so
bold before. Sarah rose abruptly, intending to flee to
the loft, expecting he’d slam out in anger and leave her
alone for the time being.
As soon as she placed her foot on the first rung of
the ladder, Willy grabbed her arm, spun her about and
shoved her hard against it.
“Oh, no, you don’t. Yer not walkin’ out on me this
time.” His eyes spewed hatred and venom as he
tightened his hold on her arm.
“You thinks about this, missy. You’ll be mine
whether or not ya marries me. I’ll have you one way or
Laughing, Willy narrowed lust-filled eyes and
squinted at Sarah’s terror-stricken face.
20 White Wind
“Ya knows I can take what I want any time, dear
girl. Would be wise for you to be nice to ol’ Willy. Ya
know, be friendly like.” He took another swallow from
the flask as he continued. “Yep. If you was a mite
nicer ta me, maybe I would treat ya gentle like.”
Sarah clenched her teeth against the pain from
Willy’s biting fingers. Her heart thudded in panic.
Willy’s eyes gleamed with lust, but it was his voice
that frightened her most of all.
His shouting, tantrums and whining she’d learned
to shut out, but now his flat monotone chilled her to
Sarah’s eyes widened, and she gulped. “You
“I can. Ya will,” Willy informed her, his eyes hard
and menacing. He noted Sarah’s rapid breathing. “I
ain’t takin’ no for an answer, and don’t look to them
ol’ folks to help you none. I haves it in me to gets rid
of ’em if they turn innerferin’,” he warned, tightening
his grip. “This here’s dangerous territory. Accidents
happen out here.”
“You wouldn’t,” Sarah gasped, shocked that he
would threaten the lives of the two people she loved
Willy’s lips curled in a self-satisfied sneer as he
released her arm to take another gulp of the amber
“I would, girl. Believe I would. Of course, Ben
does all the work round here. No way am I doin’ all
that back-breakin’ work. Course, before I do away
with him, I’d hafta find a way to make Ben tell me
Susan Edwards 21
where John hid your money. He seems mighty fond of
Mary and you, though, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Willy studied his ragged dirty nails and rubbed
them on his shirtfront. “But if you marry me, the
money will be mine, you’ll be mine and nobody gets
hurt. It’s up to you.”
“No!” she cried, closing her eyes against the fearful
images. Sarah could only stare in frightened silence at
the crazy man before her. Willy was dangerous,
unbalanced, more so than any of them had thought.
She had to get help. Slowly, she inched away.
A hand slammed beside her head, effectively
blocking her escape. Sarah froze and swallowed her
fear. Hands held palm up, she appealed to him. “Look,
Willy, it’s late. Why don’t we discuss this in the
morning? You’ve had too much to drink and I’m tired.
Tomorrow we can settle this.”
Sarah was determined that starting tomorrow she
would have Mary and Ben move into this cabin, or
she’d move in with them. And she would keep Pa’s
rifle at her side at all times.
“I ain’t drunk. Yet.”
Sarah’s eyes followed his, and she gulped when she
saw the bulge growing under his breeches.
“We’s gonna settle this tonight One way or
’nother.” Willy grinned, suddenly confident.
“What do ya think would happen if the soldiers and
trappers found out you’re a…half-breed?” he asked
22 White Wind
Sarah’s hands flew to her throat, her eyes widened
and she shook her head. “How do you know about
that?” she whispered hoarsely. “No one knows.”
With the rising feuds between whites and Indians,
she would be regarded as a “breed” or “squaw” by
most. She would lose the respect her father had
worked so hard to secure for her, which was why it
was a closely guarded secret. Who would think with
her blond hair and blue eyes that one of her parents
was an Indian?
The liquor began to loosen Willy’s tongue even as
it slurred his speech. “The good, trusting ’n’ loyal
friends of John will all find out tha’ he married a
redskin’s pregnant whore. Worse ’n’ that, they’ll find
out he’s lived his life a lie, that they have the seed of a
savage in their midst,” he gloated.
Willy flung his hands out and shook his head in
mock sympathy. “Why, with all tha’ raidin’ ’n’ killin’
and bad feeling’s startin’ to build, I just don’t see how
yer gonna be able to survive out here unless it’s as
“But… How did you find out?” Sarah stammered.
Only Ben and Mary knew of her heritage, and surely
they of all people wouldn’t have said anything to him.
Willy sneered triumphantly. “Dear John couldn’t
keep secrets from me, ya know. He and I were such
‘buddies’ as we was growing up.” Shaking his head
slowly back and forth, an evil glint deep in his eyes, he
continued. “Some of them secrets came in mighty
handy in those days.”
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He shifted his wild-eyed gaze back to Sarah.
“Though I’ll hafta hand it to him, he sure kept this
secret for a long time.”
Willy smiled a fiendishly toothy smile. “And like
so many of his secrets, this one will be very useful to
me, won’t it, my sweet?” he said hatefully, running a
calloused finger down her soft pale cheek.
“Why are you doing this to me? Why do you hate
me so much?” Sarah cried out, flinching from his