Here’s a bit of the story from when Aleksandra and Xavier have just met… and clashed, just a little… 🙂
She saw the men exchange glances over her head.
‘Aleksandra, is that safe? You know about the unrest between the Pah-Utes and the settlers’ army, don’t you?’ Xavier brushed his hair back from his face with his hand, the light reflecting off the signet ring on his middle finger.
She scowled at the dark Californio. ‘My father is blood-brother to the ShoshoneChief,’ she tossed her head at him, ‘of course I’ll be welcome in their village.’
Xavier’s face shadowed and his lips tightened to a fine line. ‘It’s your funeral.’ He turned from her and moved to stand just outside the door, staring off into the distance.
‘Children, children,’ Scotty muttered under his breath and shook his head. ‘Aleks, I’m sorry to remind you of him, but who’s this “Vladdie”? We need to get word ’round so we kin bring ‘im to justice.’
She dragged her gaze back to Scotty from where she found it, perusing the handsome stranger’s broad shoulders and trim hips in snug leather leggings.
‘That’s the scary part, Scotty,’ she paused and looked back at Xavier. Despite her anger, she had to admit he was a fine figure of a man, with raven blue-black hair past the collar of his buckskin shirt and sparking brown eyes, nearly black when she fell into them as she awoke…
She shook her head and refocused, turning to Scotty.
‘Vladimir Chabardine. Cossack arms master, servant of the Tsar, armed and extremely dangerous. Papa’s nemesis.’ She looked down at the ground, pausing until her voice returned.
‘OKyy….’ Scotty ventured, eyebrows raised. ‘How will we know ‘im?’
‘Unfortunately, I don’t know what he looks like. He’s Russian or Ukrainian. Papa said he had blond hair, probably gray by now, and a strong accent. He’s ten years older than Papa. He’ll handle a horse and a shashka like a Cossack, but further than that, I know nothing,’ she said, dropping her eyes to the floor and looking away.
‘Sure that’s all y’know?’ Scotty raised his eyebrows at her.
Why do I get the feelin’ there’s somethin’ she ain’t tellin’ me?
‘Well, Rogan’s missing,’ the trader saw Aleksandra bite the side of her cheek, ‘so I imagine he’ll have taken him. He’s an unusual horse for these parts, wouldn’t you think?’ Aleksandra’s eyes seemed to hold a challenge and this time she didn’t look away.
Scotty tilted his head sideways and pursed his lips. ‘What else, girlie?’
Aleksandra squirmed and was silent for a moment before she burst into action and spun toward the door. ‘Well, gentlemen, thanks for the shut-eye, but it’ll be dark before I get home as it is, so I’d best get going,’ she said, then stopped short.
‘Oh no, the Furs! And Dzień!‘ she wailed and turned back to face the men.
‘Dinna fash, mo nighean. I kept the buyer here since yeste’day ’cause I knew ye were comin’. He’s paid fer yer pelts ‘n gone.’ Scotty rumpled her hair.
She smiled her thanks, color returning to her cheeks.
‘And that pony, he’s got a heart o’ gold. Ye dinna need to go, yon wee man’s in the stable, munching’ away with me old geldin’.’
Aleksandra’s chest heaved in a deep sigh. ‘What would I do without you, Scotty?’
‘It’s the least I kin do fer you and yer da,’ Scotty remarked, his voice becoming gruff as he spoke, and a tear glistened in his eye.
‘Papa wouldn’t have been pleased to see Dzień abused so, but there was nothing else for it. He never even slowed down.’ She looked at the floor.
‘Aye, but he’s a bonny one.’ Scotty smiled.
‘It would’ve meant the world to Papa, knowing we made it on time and our year’s work wasn’t for naught.’ Scotty was pleased to see a hint of the girl’s normal glow showing in her eyes, beneath the wet lashes.
‘Right ye are, missy.’ He raised his brows at her. ‘Now, d’ye want me to hold some o’ the money fer now so it canna be taken off ye by highwaymen?’
‘Thanks, Scotty, please keep it all here. I don’t need it yet.’
‘Are ye sure ye need t’leave tonight?’ Scotty was unconvinced. ‘It’s getting’ mighty late, we could make you a bed o’sorts.’
Aleksandra’s eyes narrowed at the dark man still standing in the doorway.
‘I’d rather risk the highwaymen and the wild animals for tonight, thanks. I’ve got my shashka and bow.’
There was a choking sound from the entrance, then Xavier mumbled something about checking the horses and disappeared outside. Scotty turned away and coughed to hide his chuckle from the pair.
Xavier was harnessing Dzień to the wagon when Aleksandra came outside.
‘I can do that,’ she snapped, rushing to the side of the pony, her blue eyes icy and cheeks flushed pink. Xavier smiled at her back as she hurried around to the pony’s other side to finish.
‘I’m sure you can, Querida, but I’m happy to help,’ he said, wrapping a breeching strap around the shaft and buckling it snugly.
‘Thanks,’ she gritted out, looking away as her hands slid down Dzień’s rump towards the crupper.
‘Any possibility you might tell me just why you went loco on me back there?’ Xavier watched her brows drop as she stared at a strap she’d just buckled too tightly. Her lips tightened further as she readjusted it.
‘I want nothing to do with people who insult my friends.’
‘Como, what?’ He shook his head and blinked at her.
‘My friends, the Shoshone, the only friends I have left alive, other than Scotty,‘ she said from between clenched teeth, and then slumped, sobbing, against Dzień.
Cautious of her all-too-effective looking sword, Xavier slowly approached her. He slid his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him, watchful for any fast moves on her part, not caring if her tears soaked his shirt. How long they stayed like this, he neither knew nor cared. Once her sobs quieted, he slipped his fingers under her chin, lifting her face to stare into the watery depths of her blue eyes.
‘OK now, Querida?’
‘As OK as possible, I guess.’ She dropped her head again. ‘The Shoshone are like family to me, especially since Mama died,’ she murmured into his shirt.
‘Are you sure you won’t stay here? I’ll sleep in the stable, if it would make you happier.’
She closed her eyes and was still.
‘No, it’s OK. I’m sorry, Xavier. I’m upset, but that’s no excuse for my nastiness. Thank you for this.’ She nodded her head at his tearstained chest.
‘De nada. It is nothing.’ He smiled. ‘May I accompany you to your home, at least?’
‘No, really, I’m fine, thank you again. I’d better go farewell Scotty, it’s getting late.’
‘If you’re sure…’ Xavier shook his head and followed Aleksandra back inside.