Authors: Connie Mason
“I want to kiss you until your lips are swollen from my kisses and your knees grow weak.” Adroitly Storm stepped out of Thunder’s reach, fearing his next words. “I want to make love to you, Storm Kennedy.”
Storm’s mouth gaped open, unable to give voice to all the despicable names she wanted to call him. Swallowing convulsively, she managed to say, “Get—get out of here! How dare you say such terrible things to me.”
“Among the Lakota it isn’t terrible to want a woman. It is right and natural. You are a widow, not unaccustomed to a man’s desires. And you want me, I can tell.”
“You can tell no such thing! That’s evil.”
Thunder laughed as if sincerely amused. “We’ll see, Storm Kennedy, we’ll see. Just remember, lady, one day Thunder and Storm will come together in a brilliant display of passion. The confrontation should prove a spectacular one.”
© 2001, 2011 Connie Mason. All rights reserved.
To Alicia Condon and her new daughter Zoe
The People called him Thunder because of the restless fury trapped in his tormented soul. His family had named him Grady. Grady Farrell Stryker, son of Shannon Branigan and half-breed Swift Blade Stryker. He was three-quarters white; yet except for the pure deep blue of his eyes he looked all Indian. His father was the son of a princess of the mighty Lakota Nation. His grandmother was daughter to a chief.
He stood tall and proud on a high bluff, his magnificent body silhouetted against the stark beauty of the territory called the Black Hills. A violent storm raged around him, illuminating the sky with an awesome display of nature’s most powerful destructive force. Rain lashed his massive sun-bronzed body, ill protected
against the elements in brief breechclout and moccasins. But Thunder neither noticed nor responded to the biting sting of pelting rain.
His arms were raised in open defiance, challenging the heavens, defying death, daring Wakantanka, the Grandfather Spirit, to shoot a lightning bolt through his tormented heart. He feared nothing, called no man master.
Grady Farrell Stryker had been an idealistic young man before he fled from his home near Cheyenne, Wyoming. But heartsick and bitter over the tragic death of his young wife, Summer Sky, he had joined his father’s tribe looking for revenge. There, among the People, he had gained maturity and strength, if not peace of mind. He had participated in the sacred Sun Dance and had the scars on his chest to prove it. He had ridden with renegades and taken the lives of men like those who were responsible for Summer Sky’s death.
Most White Eyes called him “Renegade,” but the People thought him brave and majestic. He was despised by the whites for the havoc he wrought in their lives. He knew no peace; he knew only the thunder of discontent in his heart. He worshiped no White God but rather the Earth, the Sun, the Sky, the Moon, and the elements that provided him sustenance. He believed in the Grandfather Spirit because He was the mighty provider who nourished the People.
A wild cry of protest and outrage flew past Thunder’s mouth as he raged against the whites
who stole Indian reservation land and opened it up to settlers despite treaties. The People were forced to exist on smaller and smaller tracts of inferior land where food was scarce or nonexistent. Food promised by Indian agents never arrived, and Thunder had stolen many a shipment of beeves and grain destined for white consumption to give to the People.
Jagged streaks of lightning struck the ground around him, but Thunder neither flinched nor moved, standing as if carved in granite. His face was set in stone, his tawny muscles sculpted from sturdy oak. Yet he survived the storm to live another day, though it mattered little to him if Wakantanka called him to join his ancestors.
“Why, Grandfather?” he called out in a mighty roar that rivaled the very name he was given. “Why have you spared me? Of what use am I to the People? Little by little our culture is dying and the People scatter like leaves before the wind. The day of the mighty Lakota is long past.”
Suddenly the heavens parted and a glimmer of sun shone through the dark clouds. And for the first time in all the years since he had joined the People, Grandfather spoke to him.
“Go forth, Thunder, your destiny lies not with the People. The time has come to seek the future for which you were destined. You have learned and prospered, but your greatest challenge lies in another direction.”
“You would have me leave, Grandfather? What of my son, Summer Sky’s child?”
“Little Buffalo will be safe with the People until you return for him.”
“Why must I leave, Grandfather? My spirit will not rest until I have avenged Summer Sky’s death.”
“Riding with renegades brings no honor to your name, Thunder. There is no peace in your heart; it craves vengeance and thrives on violence.”
“How will I find peace, Grandfather?”
“The peace you seek will come with the Storm. Until you meet and conquer the Storm your spirit will know no rest. Always remember that Thunder is the harbinger of Storm, but Thunder can only exist in the bosom of Storm’s soul.”
Puzzled, Thunder mulled over Grandfather’s words, awed by the wisdom that went beyond mortal comprehension.
“Grandfather, I do not understand.”
The heavens were silent; Wakantanka spoke no more.
September 12, 1893
Grady Stryker viewed the territorial capital of Oklahoma with a jaundiced eye. He had arrived the day before purely out of curiosity, and now he pushed and shoved his way through the crowded streets and wondered what in the hell he was doing in Guthrie four days before the biggest land rush in the country’s history. He’d heard that six million acres had been purchased from the Cherokee tribes and that 100,000 people were expected in Guthrie to participate in the run. If the crowded streets were any indication, Grady suspected most of those 100,000 souls were already in town.
Pausing a moment to get his bearings, Grady was jostled from behind as someone plowed into his broad back. Gaining his balance, he turned to scowl at the man. It took only one look at Grady’s dark visage to make the man turn and flee. Grady gazed after him, a lopsided grin hanging on one corner of his mouth. He wondered what the man would have done if he’d seen him six months earlier, wearing only breechclout and moccasins, his muscles rippling beneath his smooth, sun-bronzed skin.
In deference to civilization, he was wearing buckskin trousers now, made especially for him by Laughing Brook, and a butter-soft shirt of the same material. But he stubbornly clung to the moccasins and adamantly refused to cut his shoulder-length hair, which he wore tied back with a leather thong. His features were proud and intrepid, his Indian ancestry evident in the bold slash of his cheekbones, finely chiseled nose, and sun-bronzed skin. Only the deep blue of his eyes, inherited from Shannon, his Irish-American mother, marked him as having white blood.
There was no denying that Grady Farrell Stryker was handsome, as handsome as his father, Swift Blade. And dangerous. There was a dark, brooding sensuality about him that most women found irresistible. As for his heart, Grady had none. From the moment his pregnant wife, Summer Sky, had been killed by irresponsible white men looking for a good time, he had erected a shell of bitterness around
himself and disavowed his white heritage. Then he had fled to the People with his small son, where Jumping Buffalo, Summer Sky’s father, had welcomed him. From that day until the day on the mountaintop when Grandfather spoke to him, advising him to leave the reservation, he had been known as Thunder, most feared of all the renegades roaming the plains.
Snorting in disgust, Grady wondered again what he was doing in Guthrie. It wasn’t as if he intended to take part in the rush for land. Had he wanted land he could have gotten it from his own father, who owned countless acres in Wyoming. Thinking about his family gave Grady an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach. He hadn’t seen his father or mother in over three years and assumed that they had heard of his lawless existence by now and disowned him. Until the day Summer Sky was killed he had been a most dutiful son.
He had been but twenty-two years old that fateful day and had grown up instantly as he held his dying wife in his arms. Before then his life had been idyllic, with nothing to overtax him but the changes in the weather. He had married his childhood playmate at age nineteen and by twenty-two had one child with another on the way. He knew no hardships, encountered no difficulties, faced no challenges. Until his wife had been taken from him in a single act of violence.
Grady ambled down the street, his mind a thousand miles away, to a place where only
happiness existed. Fortunately he had grown older and wiser since then and had learned that happiness was only a myth. Distracted by his thoughts but ever aware and watchful for potential danger, his attention was captured by an errant ray of sunlight as it caught a reflection and sent it back to him, nearly blinding him.
If it wasn’t such a clear, sunny day, Grady would have sworn a flash of lightning had descended from the sky. But there wasn’t a storm cloud in sight. When his vision cleared he saw that the brilliant light was the result of sunshine reflecting off a woman’s long shiny hair. And what hair it was! The color of molten gold, it cascaded down her shoulders to her waist, hampered only by a length of ribbon to keep it from flying around her face. He couldn’t see her features, for her back was turned as she peered down the street as if waiting for someone, but instinctively Grady knew she would be beautiful.
He watched her, arrested, unable to turn away from the spectacle of her glorious mane of hair, brushing her waist in so provocative a manner. Grady’s own mother’s hair was a deep, rich chestnut, but somehow this particular shade of blond was much more titillating. Suddenly the woman turned, and Grady saw that the rest of her was just as enticing as he supposed. He hadn’t looked at another woman with desire since Summer Sky had been taken from him. His brief
encounters with the opposite sex had taken place merely to appease his healthy body and lustful urges, usually with widows of the tribe who made themselves available to unmarried males.
Storm Kennedy tapped her foot impatiently. Where was Buddy? she wondered as she peered anxiously down the street for the wagon they had driven all the way from Missouri. Married less than a month, Storm and Buddy had decided to take advantage of the free land offered by the government. They had left their home in Missouri to take part in the land run in Oklahoma the moment they learned the Cherokee Strip had been opened to settlement. It seemed the only way they would ever be able to own land, and since neither were fainthearted, they had bid their families good-bye, pulled up stakes, and set out for Guthrie. They had arrived just this morning, and Buddy was out now trying to find them a place to sleep until the actual day of the land rush. While she was waiting, Storm had mailed a letter to their parents, informing them that they had arrived safely.