Jannifer Hoffman

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Ceremony of Deception Sample Chapter

Below, I offer you Chapter Four of Ceremony of Deception.




Chapter Four


It was close to dawn before Jessie fell asleep, but she slept knowing what she would do. What she must do. She had a plan. It was born out of desperation. But then, she was desperate.

The next morning staring out at the light of day, she was, however, suddenly plagued by uncertainty. Perhaps she was making a mistake. But, she reasoned, there was no other way. Trying not to dwell too long on her doubts, she dressed quickly. She had to go to Koltees. She needed his cooperation. Her Shoshone father was not a man easily persuaded, and she knew that what she intended to propose to him would test him to the limit.

The busy chatter of the women preparing the morning meal continued uninterrupted as Jessie walked toward her father’s lodge. There was much to talk about this morning. Six women had chosen husbands last night, and two strange men were still held captive in the center lodge. All knew of course their reason for being there and the conversation buzzed with anticipation.

Jessie found Koltees seated on a thick bed of pelts, dressed and patiently waiting for her. In his hand he cradled a long curved pipe—a gift from Tim McGerrett. He acknowledged her, motioned her to sit, and then calmly waited for her to speak.

Jessie seated herself before him, glancing apprehensively at his expressionless face. He had the most amazing ability to conceal his thoughts.

Unknown to Jessie, Koltees had no advantage over her this particular morning. He had risen very early to wait for her, and by now curiosity pressed him. Her hesitation drew more curiosity—and suspicion. He remembered her stubbornness as a child and those memories led him to believe she would not rest until the murderers of her white father were brought to some kind of justice.


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

Drawing a deep breath she began. “I have come to a decision.” She clasped her hands in her lap to still their shaking. She dared not show her fear in this mission or it would fail. Koltees said nothing, waiting. So she drew another deep breath and blurted it out.

“I wish to marry one of the captives.”

Koltees’ eyes widened and she saw more emotion on his usually stony face than he’d ever displayed in his life. Before he had a chance to object, she rushed on.

“It will not be a real marriage, but the white men won’t need to know that. They will be forced to take me with them. Even if they desert me, I will have an excuse to follow. You see, I found out they do know Tom Keel and they are planning to meet with him soon. And when they do—”

“And then what.” Koltees interrupted. “What could you possibly do in the midst of five men, three of them already known to be killers? And you know nothing of the captives. They will probably take you willingly enough because you are white, perhaps too willingly. Neeva, you are a beautiful woman—”

“But I haven’t finished,” Jessie said quickly. “They will not know I am white. I will rub my face and arms with berry stain then apply a makeup of red clay. I will wear an old dress and carelessly braid my hair, make myself very unattractive. They will not welcome me.”

Koltees’ features darkened with disapproval. Even for someone as daring as his daughter this plan was insane. And dangerous. And it would not be an easy matter to make her see this. He could simply refuse to allow it but then she might be tempted to do something even more foolish—if there possibly could be something more foolish. He would have to handle this delicately.

“These men are not fools, Neeva. Don’t you think they will question this marriage?


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

“No they won’t. They can’t. They do not speak our language. They understand a little, but very little. I am the only one here who can speak their language. All you have to do is talk to them, tell them anything. The only thing you need to make clear is the part about the marriage. Many marriages are arranged this way. One man is a scout, I’m sure he knows enough about our ways to accept it for reality. And no harm will come of it, the marriage will not be binding.”

“I will not lie to them, Neeva. If I am to tell a man there is to be a marriage, there will be a marriage.”

Jessie hesitated, frowning, this she had not considered. A pink flush rose to her cheeks. “By our laws it will not be binding unless—unless I lay with him. And I certainly have no intention of doing that. And I will make myself very undesirable. I only need to follow them for a few days, until they meet with Keel. I no longer care about the other two. I only want one man. I am very skilled with a knife, and I will make certain I have the advantage of surprise. Even he will not recognize me in my disguise.”

“You think you have the ability to kill a man in this way, even hating him as you do.”


The cold, hard look in his daughter’s eyes answered his question. Yet, for two hours he tried to stay her, pointing out all the reasons why she should abandon this plan and stay where she was safe. He urged her to forget about Tom Keel, to marry someone from the village if she wished to marry. But her chin was set stubbornly, her ears closed to his warnings.

Jessie refused to yield. She had already gone over all the arguments he presented. This might not turn out to be the wisest decision she ever made but right now it was the only plausible one.


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

Her determination wore him down. Reluctantly, he agreed to help her. Koltees had no great love for the white men, but he respected them. They had done no wrong and even now were held unjustly. The ceremony would take place at noon, in less than two hours.

The chatter of the women and children ceased as they watched the prisoners being led across the grounds to the lodge of their chief. Jessie kept herself hidden until they disappeared inside. She had asked to sit in the shadows while Koltees talked to the men but he flatly refused. He was not proud of what he was about to do, and if he suspected for one minute the men might do her harm, he would not continue.

With a friendly gesture of welcome, Koltees beckoned the two men to sit opposite him on the ground. They seated themselves, passing uncertain glances between them while Koltees somberly studied their faces.

Likewise the white men observed the aging leader. In spite of his many years, he held his shoulders proudly and his sunken eyes appeared keen enough to penetrate a man’s very soul. His long white hair parted in the center, and braided halfway down, hung in silvery wire tufts dangling nearly to his waist. His richly adorned buckskin garb displayed the colorful artistry of his tribe while his long lean fingers caressed the white man’s pipe. When he spoke at last it was in his native tongue.

“What are your names?”

The bearded man answered in English. “I am called Buck Mallory. This is Scott Cordell.” He indicated his silent friend.

Koltees went on. “It is not often white men enter our lands for anything but their own greed. They kill many buffalo but do not eat the meat; they roam the hills searching for the yellow metal many times destroying each other in their lust for riches. What is it you seek here? Why did you come to the mountains that belong to the Shoshone?”


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

When Buck didn’t answer, Scott spoke, his eyes fixed on Koltees. “What does he want?”

“I’m not sure,” Buck admitted, “something about his mountains I think.” To Koltees he said, “Do you speak English?”

Koltees shook his head. He understood somewhat but the words he could not speak. He went on then with more idle chatter, thinking that at least this part of his daughter’s plan would work.

Buck answered as best he could until Koltees aimed his words for the first time directly at Scott. He spoke as slowly and clearly as he could.

Realizing the words were for him, Scott frowned dubiously. He looked to Buck for help. “What did he say?”

Buck didn’t answer but the corners of his mouth twitched as though he stifled a grin.

Scott became irritated. “What did he say?”

Buck was now clearly amused. “You’re not going to like it, I’m thinking?”

“Well it couldn’t be too bad if you can sit there grinning like a court jester. He was obviously talking to me. So what did he say?”

“Oh, he was talking to you all right. It seems he wants you to marry his daughter.”

“What! You’re crazy! Talk to him again!”

Buck questioned Koltees forming his words as best he could. Koltees responded slowly with the same words he’d used before gesturing to Scott.


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

“This one will marry my daughter.”

Buck shrugged. “Nope I’m sure of it. I don’t know a whole lot of Shoshone, but I know the word daughter and I know the word marry. And like you said he was talking to you. He wants you to marry his daughter.”

“Why would he drag us up here hog-tied like criminals then ask me to marry his daughter?”

“He didn’t exactly ask you.”

“Well, tell him to go to hell. I’m not marrying his daughter, his mother, or his grandmother, or anybody else.”

“I think you better reconsider Scottie. He didn’t seem to be giving you a choice in the matter.”

Scott stared at him incredulously. “You mean he intends to force me into a—a marriage.” Buck nodded and Scott’s face darkened angrily. “That’s insane. Tell him I refuse.”

Buck sobered quickly. “It’s not that simple Scott, you don’t just refuse the daughter of a chief. We could both find ourselves staked to one of those hot poles out there after all.”

“Then you marry her.”

“He didn’t ask me to marry her, he asked you. Must have been those baby blue eyes of yours.” When Scott turned a heated glare on him, Buck said to Koltees, “my friend will be happy to marry your daughter.” Under his breath he murmured, “nod your head Scottie, and smile.”

Scott’s smile resembled more the snarl of an angry wolf; however, Koltees appeared satisfied and dismissed them.


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

Jessie watched intently as the two men were led back to their lodge. One man was smirking beneath his red mustache, while the other scowled darkly. It had worked. She wasted no time racing to Koltees. He was unhappy with her as well as with himself, but it was done. The ritual would take place at noon, and they would be released immediately afterward. After that she was on her own.

Casting a wary eye toward the sun Jessie hurried to find Lishana. She had less than an hour and many preparations to make. Her biggest stroke of luck was the fact that Samar had left early in the morning to recover some runaway horses. He undoubtedly would not approve of what she was doing. She found Lishana already gathering the things she had requested.

It took only minutes for the story to spread throughout the camp. Kintoca came offering his help and Jessie sent him after the red clay. Several other inquisitive youngsters were sent to gather a basketful of fruits and nuts. Lishana hesitantly handed Jessie the bowl of berry paste she had made. Then frowned when Jessie asked her to get one of her mother’s old dresses.

“But Neeva, my mother is very large. Her dress will not fit you. I wish to give you one of mine, one of the softest brown doeskin. It is very fitting for a wedding and will look beautiful—”

“Oh, no Lishana, you don’t understand. It is kind of you to offer your dress but I do not wish to look beautiful, that, in fact, is the last thing I want. Come help me smear this stain on my body I will explain while we work, there is so little time.” When Jessie’s exposed skin was covered with stain, Lishana went after the dress while Jessie did her hair. She parted it in the center then formed two long untidy braids with careless ends straggling here and there. She then secured the braids with strips of rawhide and tied another around her head.


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

Lishana returned with the clothes to regard Jessie’s hair with a curious frown. She became even more mystified when Jessie wrapped a wide piece of buffalo hide around her narrow waist. It covered her from below her breasts to her hips and was then held in place by a wide leather strap.

Lishana quickly lent a hand when Jessie slipped on the oversized skirt. It covered her mountainously down to her ankles and was so wide around the waist she needed another leather belt to hold it up. The tunic cotton top was likewise very large but was perfect in that it had long sleeves and fit close at the throat to successfully cover her arms and neck. Yet another leather strap held it around her waist giving her the appearance of being quite heavy. Any exposed skin was hastily covered with the berry stain.

Concerned for Jessie’s welfare, Lishana remained subdued while they worked. She knew her words of caution would not be heeded or welcomed. But when they had finished and she stepped back to survey her husband’s sister, her disapproving frown became an instant grin and she couldn’t stop the giggles.

“I must admit Neeva, you certainly are very unattractive. I think your husband will not be anxious to bed you.”

Jessie found herself laughing too. “Good, very good. That is exactly what I had hoped for.”

But as Jessie began to pack her few belongings to leave, her cheerful mood dissipated. Not allowing herself to think about what she was doing, she concentrated on the task at hand. She took only the things she brought from the cabin along with a heavy blanket to wrap it all in.

From outside Kintoca announced his return and Jessie bade him enter.

His eyes were wide with astonishment. “What have you done to yourself, Neeva?”


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

Jessie twirled around to give him a full view. “How do I look?”

Kintoca regarded her somewhat bemused, not wanting to offend her, but he could not keep from laughing. “Your face is still pretty, but the rest of you…ugh…very distasteful.”

She took the lumps of clay from his fingers laughing. “And you my dear friend, Kintoca, are very wise. But soon you will not know my face either.” She crumpled the red dirt into a fine dust then rubbed it over her face. Her skin took on a dry, wrinkled look. The dirt was gritty and uncomfortable as were her clothes, but a little discomfort would not keep her from her mission. She wrapped the remaining clay in a small pouch to take with her.

Lishana shook her head. “It is amazing. If I did not know it was you I would not recognize you.” Kintoca chuckled in agreement.

Jessie grasped Lishana by the arm. “You think it will work then? Will they believe I am Indian?”

An angry voice boomed from the doorway. “Yes, and a very stupid one too.” All three whirled to face Samar. His dark features a mixture of fury and concern.

“My father has never lied to me, but when he told me what you were doing—what he was allowing you to do—I refused to believe him. What spell have you cast on him? He could not have agreed to this foolishness without—”

“Please, Samar, don’t be angry. I’m doing what I must do.”

Samar groaned. “Neeva have you thought this thing through? Do you realize the danger you may be facing? What is to stop these men from killing you as soon as you’re out of sight of the village? I cannot go against my father’s decision, but I beg you Neeva, forget this foolishness. Allow me to set the men free and stay here with us where you belong.”


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

Realizing Samar was not going to force her to abandon her plan she quickly threw her arms around him. “I love you Samar and I do want to stay here. But I know you understand why I’m doing this. You would do the same.”

“I am a man, Neeva. These things should be left to men.”

“I can take care of myself. You know that better than anyone, Samar. It was you who taught me to handle a knife and shoot a bow and ride a horse like a man.”

“Yes, and perhaps it was a mistake.” Samar’s gaze softened. “I’m begging you one last time, do not do this. It tears at my heart when I think of the things these men could do to you.”

“I don’t believe these men are dangerous,” Jessie replied sounding far more certain then she actually felt and not wanting to hear any more of his warnings. She was already apprehensive enough, if she continued to listen to him he may just talk her out of it. She backed away, spreading her arms. “Look at me, do you really think they will want anything else from me?”

Samar regarded her stoically. He saw no trace of the slim beautiful girl he knew her to be. She actually looked plump, her body draped in ragged clothes, her smooth white skin hidden by a mask of stain and…and dirt? Even the bruises on her pretty face were obscure. Her hair was messier than he’d ever seen it. The only thing he recognized were her knee-high moccasins.

In spite of his determination to do exactly the opposite, he chuckled. Too late he recalled his anger. “See what you’ve done. Now you have me under your spell.” He cast a helpless glance toward his smirking wife. “I should have learned by now not to be surprised by anything she does.” With that he turned and left.


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

Moments later the drums signaled the beginning of the ceremony. It was time. The fear that Jessie had so carefully veiled now jumped to her throat. Misgivings descended on her. Maybe Samar was right, this idea was insane and the men would kill her the first chance they got. White men, after all, did not need a reason to kill. Her stomach lurched and she swallowed hard to quell the rising nausea.

“Are you ready?” Lishana asked.

Jessie took a deep breath, turning to Kintoca. “Will you please get Paco ready. Make sure there is nothing on him that will give me away. I will need an Indian saddle and tie this to it.” She handed him the bundle of belongings she’d packed earlier.

“It will be done,” he said hesitating, then quickly added, “Be careful, Neeva, I have become very fond of you and I do not wish to see further harm come to you.”

She grasped his arms. “Thank you, Kintoca, you have been a true and faithful friend. Do not worry, I will be careful.”

Scott Cordell, followed by Buck Mallory, was led to the center of the perimeter. Giggling children crowded close snatching curious glimpses at the mysterious white men. This occasion was quite different from the one that had taken place the night before. There were no fires and no dances of celebration, only the monotone beat of a single drum and the inquisitive stares of the spectators who were forming a line between the prisoners and the lodge that housed the bride.

“Stop grumbling, Scottie,” Buck quipped, “she might not be too bad.”

Scott was not amused. “You can afford to talk so bloody smart. You’re not the one in this mess. And by the way, why was I chosen to be the groom. Why not you? And is it my imagination or are all these people laughing? So help me if this is some kind of a joke you clowning Irishman—”


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

“Don’t be an idiot. Even I couldn’t have planned anything this good. Here she comes, and behave. At this moment our necks are more important than your bachelorhood.”

“Oh, my god, it is his grandmother.”

The fact that the youngsters were giggling uncontrollably did nothing to appease Scott’s fury. At least one thing was clear. Why they had to drag a stranger in to marry the chief’s daughter. And small wonder the monotonous drum sounded more like a funeral than a wedding.

Jessie moved down the narrow aisle toward the men clutching the basket of nuts thrust into her hands by an impish boy. Outwardly she appeared in full control but her insides played an agitating dance and she wasn’t certain if that obnoxious beat was a drum or her heart. Thankfully her legs were covered so their trembling went unnoticed.

She kept her eyes lowered, carefully avoiding the two pairs of eyes that seemed to be boring holes into her. Her only hope was that they wouldn’t scrutinize her too carefully.

Jessie need not have worried. Buck was intent on consoling Scott and the last thing Scott wanted to do was make eye contact with her. After the first glimpse of the unkempt little minx, he had cursed under his breath, then fixed his glaring gaze accusingly at Buck.

Buck bestowed on his friend a helpless shrug of his shoulders, but was unable to hide the amusement that twinkled in his eyes.

Jessie’s mind was anywhere but on the union that was taking place. Blood roared through her veins, dizzying her senses. The earth spun around her and she wished for something to hold on to. She caught a glimpse of Samar standing on the sidelines in a granite pose, his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes locked intently on her face. It wouldn’t take much for him to step in and forbid this to go on. She dared not swoon or so much as hesitate. If only his eyes would stop boring into her.


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

Little did she know Scott’s mind was on one thing—the quickest way to be rid of her. The ceremony meant nothing to him and he accepted the basket only because of Buck’s warning stare.

Jessie turned away quickly as the ritual ended and Kintoca led the horses forward. Those belonging to the men were saddled and bridled with all gear intact. Nothing had been tampered with and they were in fact supplied with additional food. Paco wore a rawhide saddle just sturdy enough to keep her small bundle secured to it. An extra heavy blanket was also tied to it. Jessie winked her approval and drew a proud smile from the youth.

Tears stung in Jessie’s eyes as she hugged Lishana goodbye, her friendship would be missed in the days to come. She then approached Samar uncertainly; he would be embarrassed if she hugged him. Instead she clasped her hands firmly on his solid upper arms, looking mistily up at him.

Samar’s hard eyes softened. “Be assured I will follow, Neeva, until darkness covers your path. If they harm you—”

“There is no need for you to follow, Samar, but since I know you will anyway,” she smiled, “thank you, I will take comfort in your offer.”

By the time Jessie stood before Koltees the men were mounted and waiting.

Scott watched impatiently as she went from embracing the handsome young buck to her father. His irritation, however, was mixed with confusion. The round little mouse was obviously well thought of, so why this marriage? She didn’t appear to want to leave and he could see no indication that she was being forced to go. He groaned. What did it matter though. As soon as they had put a few miles between them and this village they could dump her easy enough. A few harsh words and she would go howling back to her daddy in tears.


Ceremony of Deception by Jannifer Hoffman

Koltees gazed sadly down at his daughter. “Take care, little one, and remember the things we spoke of. You are a brave girl, Neeva, but do not allow this bitterness inside you to take possession of your heart.”

“I hope, father, that some day I will be wise enough to know the meaning of your words, but for now I am doing what I must do.” Before he could protest she threw her arms around him then just as quickly turned to leave.

Samar lifted her up on the rangy stallion, handing her the leather reins. He was not fooled by her tranquil smile, but she had made her decision and, though he opposed it, he admired her.

As Jessie followed the two men out of camp, she saw them buckle on their gun belts. A web of helpless uncertainty began to weave itself throughout her innards and though the sun was warm overhead, a chill crept up her spine. For a small measure of comfort she reached down to the pocket on the inside of her moccasin. Her fingers touched on the smooth handle of her Bowie knife and she assured herself she would be all right.

Valiantly attempting to hold her chin high, she faced the mountains to the south, heading into a territory totally unfamiliar to her. Uncertain danger and an unknown future lay ahead, not to mention a way of life she knew little or nothing about and yet strange feelings of excitement began to flood unsolicited through her veins. Her heart was doing tiny flip-flops that had nothing to do with fear. Could she actually be looking forward to this venture?

When Scott Cordell suddenly turned in his saddle to reward her with a frigid glare, her thoughts scattered like feathers in the wind. His brows were drawn into a heavy scowl and even from a distance Jessie could feel the icy chill of his blue eyes. As he removed his jacket she became exceedingly aware of his broad shoulders and hard muscular arms. She could only imagine the cruelty in his hands if he should touch her. Had she made a grave mistake thinking she could stand up to him?