Blurb: Lee Stone didn’t want a heart-shaped box of boring chocolates for Valentine’s Day. She didn’t want a trip to Vegas. She’d been there and done that. What she longed for was one Valentine’s Day that didn’t invite tragedy and chaos. The last three years with her boyfriend, Tank Begaye, had been host to a blizzard, a fire, and a heart attack. For once, she wanted to spend the day nestled in her lover’s arms.
Tank Begaye had weathered the long-distance relationship with Lee for years. Now, he meant to make her a permanent fixture in his life—as his wife. Avoiding the cliché Valentine Day’s proposals at restaurants and public landmarks, Tank knew exactly where to go—his family’s Hogan, deep in the heart of the Navajo Reservation. Surrounded by his ancestors’ spirits, he would ask Lee to join their family’s circle.
Lee Stone frowned as the bite of another cold blast tore across the mesas and threatened to tear through her coat. Shuddering inside her parka, she could not fathom another Valentine’s Day mired in tragedy or random acts of chaos. Slivers of icy wind streaked through her ebony parka and her sweater, directly to her very bones. With her fingers growing numb inside her leather gloves, she yanked her hat farther down over her ears, and not for the first time, cursed the Valentine’s Day gods. It appeared that for the fourth year in a row, her sweetheart day would end in utter disaster. She looked around.
What could possibly be out here?
Biting her lip, she cast a glance at Tank Begaye. One eyeful of him never satisfied her. It never quenched her constant craving for him. His cowboy hat was tugged low over his eyes, and his arrow-straight black hair tied in a ponytail that hugged the nape of his neck. After four years, most couples’ fires had cooled to a comfortable temperature. Not theirs. Her desire burned blue-hot for him, just like the first day they met. Feeling the familiar tug of hunger skirt across her clit, she squeezed her thighs together before taking the next step forward. Her gaze moved downward from his neck to his leather-clad back, wide and delicious.
Whatever plans he had, she knew that the calloused hand of Fate would knock them off, scattering them into oblivion and the Navajo desert. They crested a ridge that looked out over the valley below. Speckled with Western-style houses, Hogans, and mobile homes, the sheep and yuccas outnumbered the living structures.
“Tank…” She detested the whine threading through her voice, but the suspense threatened to overtake her.
When she sighed, a stream of condensed air flew from her lips. They’d met at a freak party in Las Vegas and she’d lassoed his heart. He lived in Colorado and she resided in New Mexico. Each year they planned to meet on Valentine’s Day, and each year Fate fucked it up. The first year a blizzard tore through the Southwest and dumped a foot and a half of snow on the Four Corner region. The second year, a fire exploded in Tank’s ranch-style home the day before he’d planned to leave. Last year beat the mother of all tragedies. Tank’s ancient grandmother died two days before V-day. He was devastated. Maybe that was why he had them out here on the rez.
Road weary and exhausted from hiking through the high hills and low valleys of the reservation, Lee put her freezing hands into her pockets and fondled the thin, gift-wrapped box. She’d bought Tank a necklace, one with turquoise and silver crafted by a Zuni silversmith. As a Navajo, Tank had access to Native American crafts, but she’d had this piece crafted just for him. One of her students in Gallup was Zuni and her father a silversmith. Despite the cold outside burning her nose and making her ears sting, the gift warmed her.
“Where are we going?” she asked, calling above the sharp whistle of the wind.
He turned to her in that slow, seductive manner of his. “It’s a surprise.”
She bit back the retort she had in her throat. His sable-brown eyes peered out from beneath the shadow of his cowboy hat. Heat washed over her as if he’d touched her. Feeling better, Lee smiled and found her hope reassured. He did that all the time, sometimes with his voice over the cell phone, and other times with his eyes via Skype. The long distance between them had made maintaining their love a challenge, but when they were together, like this, it was all worth it—every mile, every minute, and every bit of money to keep and nurture what they had. She huddled deeper into her coat. Still, this hiking thing was not how she’d intended to spend her Valentine’s Day.
“This had better be good,” she mumbled.
He nodded and took her hand into his big one. His much larger hand engulfed hers.
“How much farther?”
“Just down this side path.” He inclined his head to the west.
Through the sparse grouping of trees, she saw the small, single-story structure. The door faced east, and puffs of fluffy smoke huffed out of a black circular chimney. Tank stepped in front of her, and led her down the narrow pathway that wound through the desert’s untamed brush. Lee had taught in New Mexico for the last fifteen years, so she recognized the Navajo Hogan when she saw it. A five-sided structure sat alone on the flattest section of the land. Packed adobe covered some of the walls, but harsh New Mexico winters had worn some of it down. The gusty winds whipped it down over the decades.
Lee had no idea what to expect and her feet failed to move. Tank must have felt her hand fall away, and he turned to her, concern on his face.
“What’s going on?” She couldn’t shake her rearing. There were places black folks just didn’t go. Besides, sacred places like Hogans and cemeteries were not normal destinations for Valentine’s Day.
Tank sighed. “It’s Valentine’s Day…”
“Not a sacred Navajo day…” she interjected.
He grinned at that. “No, no it isn’t.”
“So follow me and I’ll give you a surprise.”