Tiana Slickpoo bent down and lifted another box from the storage room floor. When she opened it, she discovered a small collection of pots from a Hopi artist in Arizona. Fortunately, the woman had packed the items carefully in bubble wrap and peanuts; nothing was broken. The hand-fired pots were black and a few had polished stones embedded in the clay, a nice added touch to the asymmetrical Pueblo designs. Tiana was sure she could sell them quickly and for a good price. Both she and her friend would make a good profit.
The door opened, and the cool spring air picked up the bells fastened to the front door. On the breeze, she smelled something else: men’s cologne, and one she recognized. She had only known one man who wore the expensive cologne the son of a Tribal Chairman, James Waters.
Tiana refused to turn around and look at him. Instead, she stayed in her crouched position, holding one of the pots. Even though her legs were cramping, she knew she would not move, would not look at him. It was bad enough she had to smell the scent of his cologne and remember what loving him was like.
“No kind words for a weary traveler come home to the rez?” He leaned up against the counter and looked down at her bent head.
“James,” she said through clenched teeth.
She looked up at him then, her black eyes shooting sparks. “Get lost.”
He sighed. “I can’t, Tiana. I’m here to help investigate the thefts, both the ones from the tribal museum and your art gallery. Are you going to help me or not?”
Tiana wondered how he could have heard about the thefts with all the traveling he did. The last she had heard, he had been in Australia investigating the loss of some Aboriginal lands. She did not think the Indian grapevine was that good, but what did she know. There was no way she could handle him being in her space, no way at all.
“No,” she whispered.
She still refused to look at him as she got up from her crouched position. Tiana headed for the back room for the pictures she had taken of the items. Returning to the showroom, she handed them to him. “Here, these are the items that were stolen. We don’t have to see each other again. Just let me know when you’ve caught the culprit.” She handed him her business card, then opened the door. “Goodbye.”
“So that’s it, just here’s the photographs and get lost?” James asked as he took hold of her arm.
“That about covers it.” Tiana knew she was being rude but did not care. Too much time had passed. He took a deep breath as she jerked her arm free.
“Right, I’ll call you when I know something more.”
“Yeah, you do that.” She turned her back on him and resumed unpacking the day’s shipment.
The bells on the door rang again and a cold wind, a sadness for what could have been, moved through her. Breathing deeply through her nose, she did what she had always done; she hardened her heart to him. There was no way he was going to get past her guard again. She had let him close once, and he had betrayed her trust by not answering her letters, by being unwilling to live near to the reservation so they could maintain their relationship. Tiana shook her head in anger. She should have seen it coming at the time.
Tiana’s breath caught in her throat with the memories of their time together. She would not think about him anymore. What was done was done. Tiana’s stomach churned. Why does he have to come back now, just when I was starting to get a handle on my life?
* * * *
In the six years he had been gone, she had not changed at all. She still had the same slender build and the same long, black hair. God, he thought, she was even wearing the same beaded barrettes with the white background and red roses that she was wearing the last time I saw her. He settled into the driver’s seat and rested his forehead on the steering wheel for a moment. The thefts were not the only reason he had returned to the reservation; they merely provided the opening he had been looking for. This is going to be much harder than I originally thought.
Lifting his head, he turned the key in the ignition, fired the engine up, and then eased his way into traffic. James knew that Tiana might not be willing to allow him back into her life again. He should not have pushed her in the studio; clearly, she was holding a grudge. I wanted a reaction, any sort of reaction, that might tell me where I stand and if Tiana still feels anything for me, and boy, did I get it, he thought ruefully.
When he had left the reservation, he had known in some small part of his spirit that it was a mistake. Six years out in the world of the soyaps had made the point even clearer to him. He knew he still loved Tiana, and wanted her for his wife. However, based on her reaction to him just now, he was going to have to be very patient and go slow, if he wanted to earn her trust and love again.
Fifteen minutes later, he pulled into a parking slot in front of the tribal museum and turned off the truck. His mind was made up; he would do whatever was necessary to win her back.