Grey Coyote stands on the knife edge of desperation. An ancient curse dooms his people to a half-life in the mists, neither living nor dead—unless he can solve a deceptively simple riddle. As time runs short, he’s sure the answer lies in beating a white trapper in a game of chance. Among the trapper’s possessions, though, is a prize he never expected. A golden-haired woman as beautiful, delicate and stubborn as a prairie rose. One moment Marietta Welsford is wondering how long it will take her hired guide to finish his game so she can hurry home to Rosemead, the English estate to which she hopes to lay claim. The next, she is abandoned with a man whose magnetism tugs at her body and soul, and makes her heart out-thunder the storm. With so little time to lift the enchantment, Grey Coyote at first views Marietta as a trickster-sent distraction. But as sure as the star that guides him, it soon becomes clear she is the clue that could ultimately free his people…and capture his heart.
At last, they reached the top of the little mesa, and as soon as they did so, Marietta was no longer left in doubt as to what was in Grey Coyote’s mind. It wasn’t from necessity that they were here. Indeed not. Grey Coyote had come here by choice.
Standing quite still, he gazed at the sunset laid out before them. As though only now remembering her, he looked behind him, and Grey Coyote motioned, indicating that she should slip down from the pony.
Wasn’t he going to help her down? Disappointment washed over her. It was too bad, for she had begun to think of Grey Coyote as a savage sort of gentleman.
“Sir,” she said, “do you mean not to aid me in getting to the ground?”
Grey Coyote spun back toward her, and she at once wished she had remained silent. It was one thing to ride next to the man with scant inches of clothing between them; it was another to bear witness to the wide expanse of the man’s muscular and naked chest. Perhaps she would do well to hand him back his shirt.
She gulped instead.
Frowning up at her, he asked, “Help you to the ground? Do you have an affliction that does not allow you to jump off the pony on your own?”
She bit her lip. “No, I can jump.”
His frown deepened.
“It is only,” she continued, “that in my society, a gentleman helps a lady down from her mount. It is considered good manners.”
Grey Coyote nodded. “And so you think I am ill-mannered?”
“This is not a custom in my country. Here, most women would be offended if I offered help. Here, a woman might wonder why I was assisting her instead of attending to my duty to guard her.”
“Hau, hau, it is so. She might even be angered if I tried to aid her, for in her mind, for me to do this, would be as to say that she was not worthy of defending.”
“Truly?” Marietta gazed off at the panorama of beauty. “It’s strange, isn’t it?”
“How different are some of our customs.” Bringing her attention back to the matter at hand, she started to vault down from the pony. But she had only begun when he was there in front of her.
He tossed her a lighthearted grin. “Let me help you.”
Looking up at her, he stopped cold, staring at her as though she had sent a poisoned arrow to his heart. His smile faded, and time seemed to have developed a warp, for she could have sworn it stood still.
He recovered swiftly enough, and without further hesitation, his hands came around her waist, and he lifted her easily from the pony. On the descent, she rubbed against him, the action sending a jolt of energy surging through her body.
Briefly, he held her closely, and then with a chuckle and a shake of his head, he said, “I never realized how clever is the white man.”
“Hau, hau, it is so.”
“And what makes you say that?”
He grinned. “A red man would need a very big reason to hold a woman such. But the white man excuses himself with manners. Hau, hau. I think the white man is very clever, indeed.”
Marietta, too, grinned. “Indeed.” Gazing up at him, she stepped out of his arms.
For a fleeting moment, their eyes met, held. Then, unexpectedly, he turned away.
To her surprise, she felt suddenly bereft. “Mr. Coyote,” she said, stepping up to him. “Did I say something to offend you?”
“Hiya, you did not. In truth, I am uncertain that you could do something which would offend me. But I came here to see this.” He gestured toward the western side of the prairie, where the sun was announcing its departure by means of a glorious, golden sunset.
Marietta gazed the way he indicated, and saw that the sun, which had been hidden from them most of the day, was practically screaming at them now. As they gazed outward, the sun sent streaks of light upward through clouds, clouds that were awash in various shades of golds, reds, pinks, blues and greys. Moreover, the sky itself was painting the once brown-drab prairie, transforming it into shades of amber and scarlet, the land appearing as though it were a gigantic mirror, set afire in color.
Then the strangest thing happened. Coming down onto his knees and lifting his hands to the sky, Grey Coyote began to sing.
Watching, Marietta stood aghast. The moment was unusual, yes, for Marietta was not accustomed to men opening their arms and breaking out into song. But unaccountably, the event was also stunning, and she hardly dared breathe, afraid she would disturb its remarkable charm.
In due time, she allowed herself to take a breath as she gazed toward the west. From here one might very well be able to see forever. In truth, so much space was there, she felt as though her soul expanded.
It was then that it came to her. Grey Coyote was praying. He had climbed all this way to do no more than communicate with his Creator. Was he even now thanking the Lord for the beauty set here before them?
Looking on, Marietta was aware that her throat felt tight, and worse, there was a tear forming in her eye. Not because of him. No, more likely it was because of the enchantment of the prairie, or maybe even the crisp feel of the pure air. Or perhaps it was no more than the incessant wind, which was now blowing directly in her face.
How curious to discover such artistry here, here where there was nothing but the earth, the sky, the winds. Unforeseen, unexpected, the beauty seemed to take hold of her.
“It reminds me of you,” said Grey Coyote, and Marietta was awakened to the knowledge that it had been several moments since he had stopped singing.
“What was that?” she asked. “What did you say?”
“The sunset.” He pointed outward toward the west. “It is golden like your hair, red like your cheeks, pink like your lips. You should be called Little Sunset, I think. Even now, your hair reflects the colors, looking as though it is set afire.”
The praise was simply said, yet it was one of the most excellent compliments she had ever received. Certain she was blushing, Marietta turned away.