The Outlaw’s Secret Bride
A Teacher and An Outlaw in an
Emily Parker came to Dakota Territory to
escape an unwanted suitor so the last thing she wants is to get married . . .
and certainly not to the rough-mannered Drew Rutledge, whose illegal
dealings with renegade Indians make him a less than ideal choice of husband.
But when Emily's brother and Rutledge's adopted Lakota family team up in a
matchmaking effort, the unexpected fire Drew ignites in her threatens to rage
out of control, threatening her respectability. For all his strength and
resolve to protect her, Drew can’t resist his feelings for Emily. As conflicts
between the Black Hills settlers and the Lakota flare, Emily and Drew are
caught in the crossfire. A secret marriage could save them both—or carry them
This week marks the ebook release of my first backlist
title, a historical romance originally published by Avon Books in 1990. Now
titled The Outlaw’s Secret Bride,
available as an ebook from Amazon
, and Smashwords
. This is an
unabashedly big romance from the heyday of the historical western. I tidied up
some of the extra adverbs and adjectives, but as I read it through again I was
pleased with how well it holds up—aside from that little problem with pheasants
in Dakota Territory in 1880—WRONG, they weren’t introduced until 1882, and I do
believe every single person in South Dakota knows that and made sure I did,
too. I got it, folks. No pheasants this time. Still lots of meadowlarks and
eagles, but no pheasants.
Writing The Outlaw’s
was the most joyful thing I’ve ever done. I’d wanted to write
since I was in elementary school. I’d tried lots of things. Poetry. Short
stories. Literary fiction. Then one September night shortly after I started my
doctoral program at Cal, I couldn’t sleep, and I found a historical romance on
my mother’s coffee table. I devoured it. I’d read romance in college, then
stopped, mostly because I lived in Switzerland and was so poor I couldn’t buy many
books. I read what my friends passed around. There weren’t a lot of romances in
As soon as I finished reading that big historical, I knew
what I was going to write. I lugged three giant backpacks into the stacks at
Cal and gathered enough books and journals to damn Bear Butte Creek in a rainy
June. I spent most of that semester researching and plotting. I don’t know how
I got any course work done, but I did. I also read every bestselling romance I
could get my hands on and analyzed the stories and the language. By winter
break I was writing. By the end of March, I had a 150K draft. There were days I
spent ten hours in a folding chair at a kid-sized desk in a dumpy family-student
housing apartment, and never took my head out of my story or my eyes off the
tiny screen of my Mac SE. I didn’t eat. I lost track of time. For me, that was
I loved this book. I loved writing it. Some might quibble
with my stylistic choices, but I made them carefully. Every freaking word. I didn’t
take no for an answer until I got an agent (not a great one, as it turned out),
and then an editor (who was pretty great) and a publisher, and I have been
writing romance ever since.
Here’s a sample:
Butte, Dakota Territory, 1861
The small flags of colored cloth snapped
against their poles like wild ghosts in the night as the west wind lifted them.
The wind brought the scent of new grass, damp earth, and promised rain, yet
there were no clouds. A waning crescent moon dipped toward the horizon, and the
boy sitting on a bed of sage, enclosed by the four poles, shivered as the
breeze rippled over his bare, sunburned body. Goosebumps rose on his arms and
stomach, but he didn't notice them. His eyes were fixed on a small, dark speck
far away in the western sky, beyond the pale buffalo skull atop the cottonwood
pole before him, beyond the dark humps of Mato
, or Bear Butte. Without blinking, the boy lifted the pipe that rested
in front of him and raised it to the four winds, to the earth and the sky, and
finally to the dark shape approaching him.
He stood motionless. Tiny sounds
began to fill his ears, growing until they were almost deafening in the predawn
stillness. He heard the grass stems bending and shifting in the wind, and the
insects marching upon the moist spring earth. He heard the horses at the camp
whinnying and snorting. And though the camp was far from him and beyond his
sight, he heard the even breathing of the sleeping people, the small cries of
babies, the snores of old men, and the creak of the lodge poles in the gusting
wind as if he were present in each lodge.
The sounds spilled into the night.
Then there were new voices, and harsh, metallic noises coming from the east.
Noises he remembered from his childhood encroached on the prairie night: crowds
milling, engines churning with cranking gears and hissing steam, wheels
screaming against steel tracks, and heavy wagons thundering over uneven roads.
The roar built in his ears until he could no longer hear the earth and the
people, but only the chaotic din of machines and white men's shouting voices.
Suddenly, the rush of beating wings
drowned out all other sound, and the boy stared in wonder as the dark shape
above him descended, wide wings blocking out the stars. Instinctively, he held
his pipe aloft, and a sob escaped his lips. Tears streamed down his face, and
he thought he would faint from the excitement and fear that coursed through
him. Then the great bird dropped onto the buffalo skull and looked curiously at
the boy. It was an eagle, strong and powerful, his dark feathers touched with
lighter spots that glinted in the faint moonlight.
The boy ceased trembling and forced
himself to meet the eagle's gaze. Should he ask a question? Overwhelmed, he
waited, saying nothing.
The eagle continued to regard him.
Finally, the boy felt words forming in his mind and heard his own voice in the
, Grandfather. I am honored that you have come. What can
I, a man born to the white eyes, learn from you, Wambli Gleśka
, the Spotted Eagle?"
As soon as he had spoken, he wished
he hadn't. He sounded so young, so weak. But the eagle seemed pleased and
answered the boy.
, the Great Mystery, knows you, Iśte Śkan Niyapi
, you who have eyes that are alive with the sky,
and I have come as a messenger. I will show you things you will need to know to
serve the Lakota. Come with me."
The words died away, and the boy
felt himself drawn up into the air with the eagle, sweeping ever higher into
the night sky, until he thought they would brush the very stars. High and far
they flew, into the east. The boy saw the great rivers below them shimmering
like ribbons. As the sun lifted over the distant horizon, throwing a pale
yellow light into the sky, they reached a land of rolling hills and low
mountains covered with dense forests. Among the trees were farms and fields,
and along the rivers were towns, white people's towns, and many, many white
people. The boy had seen these places years ago, when he had traveled through them
with his father, before they had met the Oglala. Yet something was different
about the hills and towns. Looking closely, the boy saw an ugly pall of smoke
overtaking the land and flashes of fiery light glinting red through the trees.
The eagle drifted downward on the wind currents, and soon the boy heard
terrible sounds. People were crying everywhere, and explosions and gunfire
erupted all over the land. Then the noises faded, and he and the eagle kept
flying toward the east, finally reaching a city that the boy recognized as the
place where the White Grandfather lived, the laws were made, and the white
councils met. He had visited this city with his uncle once when he was very
young, perhaps five or six. It seemed very strange and frightening now. He
wondered why the eagle had brought him here.
In answer to the boy's thoughts,
the great bird swept low over the city, so close that they could hear people
talking. There was talk about the war, and about the need for land, more land
in the west. People talked of cattle and railroads and gold. And they spoke of
The boy listened hard to hear what
was said about the Indians, and his heart grew cold at the words he heard.
Savages. Animals. Murdering heathens. Let the army take care of them after the
war is over. They're sitting on land we need. Push them off. Eliminate them.
Make room for good Christian people. The boy was ashamed that he was of the
same race as these callous men, and he was shocked by their ignorance.
Indignation and fear burned his spirit. Their own country in war-torn ruins,
they calmly spoke of taking the Indians' country and carrying their ugliness
onto the plains, bespoiling them forever. There were men who defended the
Indians, but they were few, and even they did not seem to understand the horror
of what the others said.
Then he heard the eagle's voice in
his ear. "You will be able to help the Lakota. You know this world, and
they do not."
The eagle bore him high above the
city again, and they turned back toward the west. The boy thought about what
the eagle had said. He didn't feel as if he knew this world at all. He knew the
prairies and hills of Dakota and the Powder River country. He knew horses and
hunting and how to survive on the high plains. He had been a child in the white
man's world, but he didn't know it any longer. He was becoming a man in the
world of the Lakota, and he was happy there. He didn't wish to return to his
old life. Would he have to? Was that what Wakantanka
wanted him to do?
The dawn caught them again, and the
eagle carried the boy back and forth above the earth between the Missouri River
and the Bighorn Mountains. He showed the boy the bands of people traveling with
their horses and their travois from camp to camp, from south of the Platte
River to the Canadian border. The land was wide and lovely, full of game and
wild fruits and herbs. Buffalo blanketed the prairies, moving like a dark cloud
through the broad valleys and across the hills, and the people were happy.
But each time the boy and the eagle
crossed the land, they didn't go as far as they had the time before. Soon they
didn't go as far south as the Platte. They didn't go as far west, or north or
east, either, and the people didn't travel as much from place to place. There
were large camps along the Missouri that never moved, and the people were not
so happy. The buffalo and the other animals began to disappear, and the people
grew weary. When the boy and the eagle flew only between the Black Hills and
the Missouri, the people were starving. Then the boy caught his breath.
There were white people in the
Black Hills. The Lakota were being chased away, sent to the river to die of
white men's diseases and grief. Everywhere now there was the sound of mourning.
Hunters returned with empty hands, and children and old people cried because
their stomachs were empty and their hearts remembered better days. The land
itself sighed with sorrow for the people and all the relatives, the buffalo,
the elk, the birds, and all who were disappearing.
The eagle flew back toward the
Hills, where the boy saw a single buffalo cow below on the prairie, trotting
toward the Hills. The eagle followed it.
The buffalo picked its way through
the trees, sometimes lost to sight in the narrow gulches it followed. After a
long time, it disappeared into a thick grove of pines and spruce beside a
meadow and did not reappear. The eagle soared above, and the boy looked down on
a small waterfall and a pool. A tall pine rose like a spire next to the falls.
The eagle glided down to perch in its uppermost branches, and they waited,
looking for the buffalo. It was so beautiful and peaceful in the meadow that
the boy forgot the suffering he had seen.
There was a sudden movement below.
The boy and the eagle looked down immediately, but instead of the buffalo, a
woman walked from beneath the trees. At least the boy thought it was a woman.
He couldn't see her clearly; a cloud of mist from the falls obscured her from
view. The eagle lifted his wings, and they dropped to the earth before the
woman, yet still the boy couldn't see her. Then the mist cleared, but only for
an instant. All the boy saw were her eyes, the most beautiful, mysterious eyes
he had ever seen, as brown as the moist earth below his feet, and as green as
the dark pine boughs above him; eyes that beckoned him with expectation and the
warm promise of invitation. His heart leapt into his throat as he instinctively
reached toward her, his hand grasping for hers through the tattered wisps of
clouds and fog. Then the mist wrapped around her once again, as quickly as it
had cleared, and he felt the powerful thrust of the eagle's wings as they rose
into the air together. He strained his eyes, hoping for another glimpse of her,
but he was too far away. She was gone.
Soon he saw the familiar shape of
Bear Butte below, and he was falling, falling back to the ground, back onto the
bed of sage within the square marked out by the four poles and colored flags.
He hit the earth facedown and knew no more.
Labels: historical romance, L.G.C. Smith, The Outlaw's Secret Bride, western romance