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Mallery Susan

Spirit Of The Wolf

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«Spirit Of The Wolf» - Сьюзен Мэллери

Be swept away by this fan-favourite story of love, healing, and family in 1800s Montana from New York Times best-selling author Susan Mallery.Caleb Kincaid has always carried a secret torch for the beautiful Ruth Whitefeather, who lives on the nearby Cheyenne reserve, but things never quite worked out between them. And when Caleb learns that his girlfriend is pregnant he does the honourable thing and marries her,even though the love between them has long faded and Caleb could never quell his feelings for Ruth.Years later, Caleb's wife passes away, and he finds himself a widower,ill-equipped to deal with his rambunctious son, Zeke. When Zeke runs away, and turns up on the Cheyenne reserve, he is returned to his father by none other than the woman Caleb has always secretly loved—Ruth Whitefeather. Ruth sees immediately that Caleb needs help keeping his house in order, and that Zeke is desperately in need of a mother's love and affection. But can Ruth's gentle touch heal Caleb's heart? And can a second chance bring the promise of lasting love for both of them?
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Be swept away by this fan-favorite story of love, healing, and family in 1800s Montana from New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery.

Caleb Kincaid has always carried a secret torch for the beautiful Ruth Whitefeather, who lives on the nearby Cheyenne reserve, but things never quite worked out between them. And when Caleb learns that his girlfriend is pregnant he does the honorable thing and marries her, even though the love between them has long faded and Caleb could never quell his feelings for Ruth.

Years later, Caleb’s wife passes away, and he finds himself a widower, ill-equipped to deal with his rambunctious son, Zeke. When Zeke runs away, and turns up on the Cheyenne reserve, he is returned to his father by none other than the woman Caleb has always secretly loved—Ruth Whitefeather. Ruth sees immediately that Caleb needs help keeping his house in order, and that Zeke is desperately in need of a mother’s love and affection. But can Ruth’s gentle touch heal Caleb’s heart? And can a second chance bring the promise of lasting love for both of them?

“Susan Mallery is warmth and wit personified. Always a fabulous read.”

—New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd

Susan Mallery is the bestselling author of over forty books for Harlequin and Silhouette. She makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her handsome prince of a husband and her two adorable-but-not-bright cats.

Spirit of the Wolf

Susan Mallery




Back Cover Text

Title Page








Whitehorn, Montana

April, 1896

“I WANT to be an Indian.”

Ruth Whitefeather glanced up from the herbs she’d been examining. A boy of about seven or eight stood beside her garden. He wore worn Levi’s and scuffed boots, and held the reins of a bay gelding in his right hand.

Ruth took in the firm set of the boy’s mouth, the defiance in his blue eyes, not to mention the too long blond hair brushing the bottom of his frayed collar.

A runaway, she thought, trying not to smile. How often did the children from the nearby ranches, or the town of Whitehorn itself find their way to the Indian village? Those children, mostly boys, had great plans for running away. They imagined a life of endless bareback riding across wide plains, hunting game, not going to school, never having a bedtime. Life with the Cheyenne was not so undisciplined, but the runaways never wanted to hear that.

The job of the tribe was to convince these children that life at home was not so very horrible. Usually the visitors could be convinced to return before their parents had much time to worry.

Ruth allowed her mouth to soften slightly. “I believe you would make a fine Indian,” she said softly. “You look strong.” She nodded at the horse. “Obviously you can ride.”

“Yup. And rope. I help my pa with the cattle all the time.” He glanced toward the wooden structures that made up the main section of the Indian village.

“You got cattle? I could help with them.”

“We have a few dozen head. We raise them for food, not to sell. And there are already several men to tend them. If you wish to stay, we need to find you other work.”

The boy nodded. At least he understood that he couldn’t stay without giving back to the community. That was something. Ruth rose to her feet and wiped the damp earth from her skirt.

“What is your name?” she asked.

“Zeke.” He squinted up at her. “Who are you?”

“Ruth. Ruth Whitefeather.”

His nose wrinkled as he frowned. “Ruth’s not an Indian name. My friend Billy has a grandma named Ruth and she’s from Boston.”

“My mother wasn’t an Indian. She named me.”

Zeke accepted her explanation without asking any more questions. She picked up the basket of herbs she’d already gathered and led the way toward the Indian lands.

Spring had come early to Montana, giving the residents a longer growing season. Ruth had been busy planning her herb garden, and thinking about the different plants and roots she would harvest for her healing tonics and potions. Spring was always her favorite time of year, when the earth renewed itself and all of life was given a second chance.

“Why did you leave your home?” she asked as they walked down the main path of the village. “Do your parents beat you?”

“Nah. My ma died just after Christmas and my pa…” His voice trailed off. “He’s not mean, but there’s gonna be a new school teacher and he says I gotta go to school.” He turned toward Ruth, his expression earnest. “I don’t need to read. I can ride and rope and when I turn ten, Pa said he would teach me to shoot so when I grow up I’ll be the best cowboy ever.”

“An admirable goal,” Ruth said, no longer paying attention to all of Zeke’s words. His mother had died? She tried to remember hearing about the death of a rancher’s wife in the past few months. There hadn’t been any except—

She stopped in the middle of the path and stared at the child. The sound of her heart was suddenly loud in her ears. “What is your last name, Zeke? Tell me.”


She tried to speak but could not. Zeke Kincaid. Caleb’s son. She forced herself to start walking again, wondering why she hadn’t noticed the similarities in the eye color, the smile. Even the attitude of defiance was the same.

She told herself it didn’t matter where the boy came from. His parents—his father especially—were not her concern. She told herself that it had been nearly nine years and that she could barely remember what Caleb looked like. They had been friends for a brief time. Nothing more.

Then she tried not to think about any of it because what was the point of lying to herself?

She saw someone walking toward them. Relief filled her when she recognized her brother, John, and she nearly broke into a run. John would take care of Zeke, finding him work, then escorting him home when he was ready to return to his father.

“This is Zeke,” she said by way of introduction and quickly explained how the boy wanted to join the tribe.

John listened solemnly, then offered to take Zeke so they could find some work for the boy. Ruth waved as they walked toward the barn. She remembered the recently slaughtered steer and thought that her brother might set Zeke to work scraping the hide. A smelly, difficult task guaranteed to convince any seven-year-old boy that he did not want to be an Indian after all.

Ruth returned to her small house. The herbs she’d collected required preparation before they could be dried. She would have to…

She sighed when she realized she didn’t remember what she had to do. It was as if everything she’d ever known had been thrust from her head, leaving her empty except for her memories of Caleb Kincaid.

“Foolish dreamer,” she murmured as she stepped into the workroom at the rear of her house and closed the door behind her. She set her basket on the floor. “That time is long finished. My future is here.”

She clutched the familiar, wooden table that stretched the length of the room. The wood had been rubbed smooth. A shelf held her bowls and grinder. Dozens of glass jars and bottles sat on the far wall, each filled with different leaves or roots, extracts or combination of plants.

It was here she blended the teas and poultices that healed those in need. Long ago she had made the decision to dedicate herself to her people. Upon her birth she had been granted a gift, and using that gift was her destiny. There could be no other.

For much of her life she was content with the solitude that healing demanded. But sometimes, when she heard the laugh of a child or the soft conversation of a couple in love, she longed for something different. To have had the life offered to everyone else. Sometimes, like today, she remembered a man’s passionate kisses.

Without meaning to, she became lost in the memory of the strength of Caleb Kincaid when he’d taken her in his arms. He’d been tender. So very understanding. His large hands had slid around her body, drawing her close, yet allowing her the freedom to escape if she needed to. She’d thought she would be afraid, but instead she’d welcomed him. Even now her body heated as she recalled their passionate kisses.

He’d claimed to love her and had asked her to be his wife. When she’d refused, he’d married someone else within a few months. As if she, Ruth, hadn’t mattered at all.

“It doesn’t hurt anymore,” she said aloud, as if speaking the words forcefully would make them true. “He doesn’t matter.”

She had never loved Caleb, would never have married him. She was content with her place in the world. Healing others was a great gift and she was grateful to have been honored by the sacred trust. Her life here was what mattered—not the past.

* * *

THREE HOURS LATER, Ruth had nearly forgotten Zeke Kincaid was still in the village. At least that’s what she told herself as she hung tender roots to dry. She wasn’t listening for his voice, nor that of his father. For Caleb would know where his son had run to.

It was late in the afternoon when someone knocked at her back door. Her heart jumped into her throat and she had to take a steadying breath before she could cross the scarred wooden floor to let in her visitor.

Her brother stood on the rear step, a dirty and obviously tired Zeke behind him.

“Our young friend has decided he wishes to return home,” John told her.

“I see.”

She noticed dried blood staining the boy’s fingers and knew that John had set Zeke to work on the hide. She couldn’t blame the child for giving up. If she had to spend her day on that particular chore, she would take off for parts unknown as well.

“You might like to take him home,” John said. “Zeke has told me there has not been a woman in the house since the passing of his mother. Caleb and Zeke are in need of a temporary housekeeper. It would just be for a short time. I knew you would welcome the opportunity to repay the family for its kindness to you.”

Ruth opened her mouth to protest, then pressed her lips together. Not only couldn’t she think of a single thing to say, but she had no breath with which to speak. John’s words hovered in the afternoon, echoing like the call of the wolf.

She wanted to tell him no, that she would not, could not go to the Kincaid ranch. It was sad that Zeke had lost his mother and Caleb had lost his wife, but they weren’t her family. As for her debt—she didn’t want to think about that.

The thought of seeing Caleb again, speaking with him, made her light-headed. She felt as if the world had started to spin and she was afraid she would lose her balance and fall.

“I would not have suggested this if I thought you were disturbed by going back to the ranch,” John said, his dark eyes seeing far more than they should.

Pride came to her rescue, stiffening her spine and making her straighten. “I’m not afraid.” She gestured to her workroom. “But it’s spring and there are many plants for me to gather. I’m very busy.”

John kept his attention on her face. “The boy has no one but his father. Caleb has only the boy. Caleb’s brothers are gone.”

She wanted to scream her protest. John might be wise and a good leader of their people, but sometimes he was nothing more than her annoying brother.

She knew that if she told him she couldn’t face the ghosts from her past that he would insist she stay here. John would never do anything to hurt her. But she couldn’t bring herself to admit that truth—not even to herself. It had been nearly nine years, she reminded herself. Why would she think that seeing Caleb again would bother her?

Zeke stepped around John and stared at her. “Can you make biscuits? Pa makes stew and he can fix eggs, but his biscuits are hard enough to be horseshoes.” He grinned. “At least that’s what my ma used to say.”

His humor lasted for a heartbeat, then faded as if he’d just remembered his mother was gone forever. Ruth could have stood against anything except the sadness in the young boy’s eyes. John was right—Zeke was now alone in the world. How long had it been since he’d seen a woman smile at him? When was the last time he’d heard a soft voice speaking words of comfort?

“Zeke tells me that his father has hired a new housekeeper. She’s due to arrive at the end of the month. That’s only two weeks away. Surely your plants can spare you that long.”

She bowed her head to the inevitable. “I’ll go with him. Please ready my horse while I pack my bag.”

In less time than she would have liked, she and Zeke were on their way. He rode his horse, while she sat in her small cart pulled by a single black gelding. She had brought her healing herbs along with clothing and personal items. Zeke chattered about the ranch and all the things he would like her to cook but she found it difficult to concentrate. Her mind wandered to the past and what it had been like when she’d stayed with Caleb and his family before.

It had been so many years, yet she could recall certain details as if they’d just occurred the previous week. As they approached the ranch, her stomach tightened and her fingers twisted around the reins. She and Zeke crested a low rise and suddenly she could see the ranch house, the barns and stables. Everything was different, yet nothing had changed. Nearly nine years after Caleb had promised to love her forever, she had returned.

* * *

“STORM COMING in tonight, boss,” Hank said as he reached the barn. He turned and squinted at the setting sun, studying the dark bank of clouds heading their way.

“It won’t snow,” Caleb Kincaid replied, not even bothering to look at the potential threat. He was too tired to raise his head that far.

He hadn’t slept in three nights and he didn’t doubt he’d be forced up sometime before dawn this morning. Spring was always a busy time at the ranch.

“I swear those damn cows are deliberately stupid,” he muttered as he swung down from his saddle. “The way I see it, they know when they’re gonna have trouble giving birth and they find the most difficult place to hide, then dare me to find them.”

Hank lifted his hat and scratched his nearly bald head. “I don’t think they’re out to get you, boss. It just happens.”

Caleb grimaced. “You’re wrong. They talk about it. One of them finds a new canyon or gully and spreads the word.”

Hank’s dark eyes narrowed in concern. “You need some rest.”

“I know. But until they’re done dropping their calves, none of us is going to get it.” He led his horse into the barn, handing him over to Tully. “Everyone in?” he asked the fifteen-year-old boy who had started work at the ranch the previous fall.

Tully had hair the color of fire and enough freckles to share with every person in the state of Montana. He was short, had a stammer and looked skinny enough to blow away in a good wind. But there was magic in his touch. In all his thirty-one years, Caleb had never seen anyone so good with horses.

“All the m-men are b-back,” he said. “Zeke brought back c-company.”

Caleb scowled. “Who? A boy from town?”

Just what he needed right now. Some stray kid for him to look after. Dammit, they were in the middle of calving. Zeke knew better than to—

“No. A w-woman.”

Caleb stared in surprise. Hank raised his bushy eyebrows. “Looks like your boy done found you a new wife.”

Caleb didn’t even bother responding to that outrageous statement. Instead he glanced in the direction Tully pointed and saw a small black gelding with a white star between its eyes. The creature looked dainty, but Caleb knew it was a strong, sturdy horse. Dependable. Familiar.

He’d sold that horse to John Whitefeather nearly five years before. John had wanted the animal for his sister to use when she visited sick folks in the area.

Caleb felt as if he’d been poleaxed. The pain inside was white-hot and unrelenting.

“Ruth,” he said, barely able to speak her name.

“Yes, s-sir,” Tully stuttered. “S-she’s up at the h-house.”

Ruth. Here. He didn’t know what to think. It had been long enough that her being here shouldn’t matter. But it did. Because once, she’d been all he’d wanted. Once he’d thought they would get married and have half a dozen children together. He’d imagined the Kincaid ranch becoming a dynasty—something he could be proud of.

But as much as he’d wanted her, she hadn’t wanted him. Instead she’d walked away. And he’d married Marie.

He cursed his own rule of not keeping liquor in the barn, then turned his back on Tully and Hank and headed for the house. He was halfway there when he realized his foreman hadn’t said a word about Ruth being here. Hank had been around for nearly fifteen years. He knew what had happened the last time she’d visited. He’d been the one who’d suggested Caleb needed to get away when he’d lost the only woman he’d ever loved.

The house loomed in front of him. Bright lights spilled out the kitchen windows, but the pulled curtains kept him from seeing more than shadows. He felt weary beyond feeling, yet oddly alert. Why was she here?

It couldn’t be because of Marie’s death. His wife had been gone nearly five months, so it was a little late for condolences. No one was sick. Tully would have mentioned Zeke being injured. So why now?

He climbed the single step that led to the mud room and quietly opened the door. Voices came from the kitchen. Voices and a sound Caleb hadn’t heard in too long. Zeke’s laughter. Caleb stepped through the doorway and stared into the kitchen.

In the second it took him to find Ruth, he saw the mess he hadn’t had time to notice before now. Once sparkling floors were scratched and dirty. Filthy dishes had been stacked on counters and in the sink. Once white curtains had turned gray with grime. If he wasn’t careful, the mail-order housekeeper he’d sent for would turn tail and run as soon as she saw the place.

When he could no longer avoid the inevitable, he turned his attention on the woman and the boy. They sat together at the big kitchen table. Ruth sat with her back to him. He saw her crisp white blouse tucked into a dark skirt. Her long hair had been pulled back in a thick braid. Something hot coiled in his belly as he recalled what it had felt like to unfasten that braid and run his hands through her silky hair.

She sat straight and proud—still slender. She hadn’t turned to face him, but he knew she was beautiful. Eyes the color of chocolate. Honey-colored skin. A full mouth so tempting it had taken every bit of willpower not to kiss her the first time he’d seen her.

Zeke knelt on the chair next to hers, watching intently as she spooned biscuits onto a pan. There was trust in the way the boy leaned close. Trust and an ease he’d never had around Marie.

This is what he’d wanted, Caleb thought as pain filled his chest. This is what he could never have.

Suddenly there was anger. Anger that she’d left and anger that she’d dared to return. He didn’t need her pity or her gentle ways. She’d said she didn’t want to live in his world. So what the hell was she doing here now?


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