by Sarah M. Anderson
Published: September 1, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Desire
Length: 191 pages
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Multiracial
About A Man of Distinction:
He’d said goodbye to his life on the reservation without regrets. He’d asked Tanya Rattling Blanket to come with him too many times, and Nick Longhair never begs. But when business brings him back to his ancestors’ land, he finally understands what he exchanged for money and power.
In the years he’s been in Chicago, Tanya has been raising his baby, a son he didn’t know…. Determined to give his child every advantage, Nick isn’t about to leave again…at least not alone. But that means winning back the love of those he left behind.
Nick Longhair got out of his Jaguar, his Italian loafers crunching on the white rock that made up the parking lot at tribal headquarters for the Red Creek Lakota. The building might have had a fresh coat of paint in the past two years, but otherwise, it was as he remembered it. Narrow little windows, low ceilings and an overall depressing vibe.
For the past two years, he’d worked out of a corner office on South Dearborn, one of the priciest blocks in Chicago. Marble floors, custom furnishings and floor-to-ceiling views of Lake Michigan. It had been the height of luxury, and a true measure of how far he’d come.
He looked around his current surroundings. A three-legged dog hopped across the lot a few feet away from him. The other vehicles weren’t Bentleys or Audis or even Mercedes, but rusty pickup trucks and cars with mismatched hoods and plastic sheeting for windows. This wasn’t a measure of how far he’d come. It was a measure of how far he’d fallen.
All he had ever wanted was to get off this rez. He could still remember seeing The Cosby Show on the working TV at a friend’s house and discovering that other folks lived in great big houses where kids had their own rooms, water came out of the sink and lights turned on with the flip of a switch. The shock of realizing that some people had those things—and that those people weren’t always white—had made him look at his childhood with brand-new eyes. The discarded trailer with cardboard patched over the windows and the holes in the roof? Not normal. Having to share a bed with his brother and mom? Not normal. Having to haul buckets of water from the stream and then hope he didn’t get sick drinking it? Not normal. Not even acceptable.
Yeah, it sounded stupid to say that a sitcom had changed his life for the better. But at the age of eight, he’d realized there was a different life off the rez, and he wanted the big house, the fancy cars, the nice clothes. He wanted it all. And he’d spent his entire life earning it.
So being forced to come back to the rez felt worse than any demotion. If he hadn’t been ordered to take this case—and if his future promotions didn’t rest upon a clean victory—he wouldn’t be here. Maybe he should have quit instead of taking this assignment. He didn’t want to feel the stink of poverty on his skin again. It had taken years to clean the poor out of his pores. But he was the best at what he did, and what Nick did was lead lawsuits against energy companies. This was the kind of case he couldn’t walk away from. This was the kind of case that made a person’s career.
Nick shook his head, forcing himself to focus on what he was here to accomplish.
As the youngest junior partner in the history of the law firm of Sutcliffe, Watkins and Monroe, he’d won judgments for clients against BP for the oil spill in the Gulf, coal mines for the toxic runoff they dumped into the groundwater and even nuclear power plants with lax security. In the past five years, he’d gotten very good—and very rich—being environmentally friendly. He’d earned his place at the table.
Then his tribe, the Red Creek Lakota, had hired Sutcliffe, Watkins and Monroe to sue Midwest Energy Company for polluting the Dakota River when they used hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to drill for natural gas. The tribe claimed the chemicals used in the drilling had seeped into the groundwater and contaminated the Dakota. They wanted Midwest Energy to clean up the water and pay for any health problems that resulted from the pollution. But this kind of case was beyond the scope of general counsel. The tribe’s lawyer, Rosebud Armstrong, had needed someone who specialized in this kind of case. And that someone was Nick.
Nick had been surprised the tribe could afford the Sutcliffe, Watkins and Monroe price tag, but they’d recently built a dam and the funds from the sale of hydro-electricity had actually put the tribe in the black for the first time ever. Of course they’d picked Nick’s firm. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised that Rosebud had gone looking for him, but it still irked him. He’d always felt his tribe didn’t want a damn thing to do with him when he was a dirt-poor nobody.
Now that he was a somebody who’d made something of himself, though, the tune had changed. No one had missed him when he’d left—not even Tanya Rattling Blanket, his high school sweetheart. But now that they needed him and his uncanny ability to win in the courtroom, they wanted him to come home. Nick had been informed that the tribal council wanted him to lead the legal battle on-site. It wasn’t enough that he had to work for people who’d rejected him. Now he had to go back and live with them.
Marcus Sutcliffe, the founder of the firm, had never been one to turn down a paying client. In no uncertain terms, Marcus had told Nick to pack his bags. And he did it in such a way that made it clear “no” was not an option. “Those are your people,” Marcus had said, a look of distaste flitting across his face as he waved Nick away. “You handle them.”
The hackles on Nick’s neck still stood up just thinking about Marcus’s dismissive tone. With a wave of his hand, Marcus had reduced Nick to the token Indian. His legal victories, top-notch law degree, his years of experience and dedication to the firm—meaningless, if Nick only earned them in the name of affirmative action. He’d fought for years to be recognized for what he could do, not what he’d been born. Apparently, he still had a long way to go.
The question Nick hadn’t been able to answer was if Rissa Sutcliffe, Marcus’s daughter, felt the same way. Nick didn’t think so. He and Rissa had been dating for almost two years—exclusively dating for the last year. He knew she was attracted to what she called his “tall, dark and very mysterious” appearance, but that had never bothered him until Marcus had thrown “those people” onto the table.
But the fact was, if Nick won this case, he’d be first in line to succeed Marcus when he retired—an event that was only a few years off. So Nick nodded and smiled and acted like he was thrilled to be handling “those” people and their case. Better than giving the case to Jenkins, Nick’s rival in the office.
So Nick wasn’t here for the rez. He was here for his career. The sooner he won this case, the sooner he could get back to Chicago.
Then he took a deep breath, the smell of last night’s rain and the grass surrounding him. No, this wasn’t the Magnificent Mile. But that smell—the scent of wide-open spaces—was something he couldn’t find in Chicago. Last night, he’d sat on his new front porch and done something he hadn’t been able to do in two years. He’d watched the stars.
Maybe some time away from Sutcliffe, Watkins and Monroe would be a good thing. The interoffice sniping had reached new levels of Machiavellian backstab-bing—so much so that Nick spent more time fending off sideway attacks from the likes of Jenkins than he did building cases. Some days, he felt less like a lawyer and more like a pawn struggling to be a knight.
If that had been all he’d been dealing with, Nick could have sucked it up and dealt with it. But it wasn’t. For the last few months, Rissa had been buying bridal magazines and discussing an outdoor summer wedding versus a Christmas-themed wedding. Even Marcus had been calling him “son” more and more. On paper, that had been the plan—marry the boss’s daughter and take over the family business. No doubt about it, Nick would have arrived. No one would have been able to take that success away from him.
Nick should have proposed to Rissa before he left to seal the deal. Should have, but didn’t. He had always enjoyed Rissa’s company, but he couldn’t wrap his head around Rissa and the Red Creek Reservation in the same thought. Rissa wasn’t exactly high-maintenance, but she required a certain amount of upkeep—shopping, spas, servants. Nick had enjoyed the hell out of being on the receiving end of that upkeep, but the moment the tribe had barged back into his life, his expensive lifestyle had suddenly felt forced. Almost unreal. Untrue, at the very least. Up until that exact moment, he’d been so certain of his plan, but now…he didn’t know if he loved who Rissa was or the fact that she had been born a Sutcliffe. Which meant he was in real danger of being the world’s biggest living hypocrite.
So he’d taken the job. He’d given Rissa a little talk about how some time apart would be good for them, help them know for sure if they were meant to be together. She’d taken it well enough, he supposed. “So you won’t mind if Jenkins takes me to the Parade of Sails, then,” she had said, her voice needle-sharp and her words just as pointed.
But Nick had already made up his mind. He was a big fan of clean breaks anyway. He’d reassured Rissa that she was free to see whoever she wanted, and when Nick’s case was over, they’d “catch up” and “reevaluate” where their relationship stood. He needed a break from the whole lot of them—Jenkins, Rissa and Marcus. As much as he told himself he was back on the rez involuntarily, a small, hidden part of him was relieved to be here. Even though he was no longer the same man who’d left this rez behind, he still felt more like himself just being here.
The case would probably take a year, maybe two, before all the dust settled. That left him plenty of time to catch up with his family. He could look up Tanya Rattling Blanket for starters. True, he hadn’t seen her in—man, it had to be almost two years—but he knew she was still here. She was one of those idealistic people who was determined to make a difference. She had made her preference for the rez over the real world clear back when they were dating. But if she was here and Nick was here, he didn’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be here together. As he remembered her, Tanya was whip-smart, bitingly funny and the kind of beautiful that most women spent their lives chasing and never catching. Thinking of Tanya was like watching the stars—he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed her until he’d crossed the South Dakota state line.
In this distracted state, Nick walked into the tribal headquarters.
“Good morning, Mr. Longhair.” At the sound of that voice, Nick tripped over his own foot and came to a stumbling halt. He looked up and saw Tanya sitting behind the front desk, wearing a fake smile and a pale pink blouse. “How are you today?”
For a moment, all Nick could do was stare. He hadn’t seen her since the last time he’d come home to the rez, to celebrate his little brother’s high school graduation. She’d been there, as radiant as he’d ever seen her. They’d done a little celebrating together—one more time, for old time’s sake. Despite the fact that that had been almost two years ago, he suddenly felt as if it had been just last night. He remembered her as beautiful. He hadn’t done her justice. His pulse began to pound. No, he’d been a fool not to realize how much he’d missed her—but now he did. “Tanya? What are you doing here?”
The fakeness of her smile grew more forced. “I’m the receptionist. Would you like some coffee?”
They’d dated all through high school, but their contact since then had been sporadic. Intense. Satisfying—but only when he’d come back to the rez. He’d always been glad to see her, and this time was no different. Except this time, she didn’t seem happy to see him. What—was she mad that he hadn’t called? This wasn’t the 1950s—she could have picked up the phone just as easily. But not calling was a small thing, and Tanya seemed one shade short of furious. They’d lost contact before. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but it felt huge. What were the odds that he’d wind up with coffee thrown in his face—or worse, his lap? Not in his favor. “No, thanks.”
She stared at him for a few more seconds until he thought that smile was going to crack right off her face. “Ms. Armstrong is running late, and Councilwoman Mankiller is on a call. They asked me to show you around.”
When he’d been here, Nick and Tanya had had the most intense, passionate relationship he’d ever been in. In the beginning, especially when they’d started having hot-and-heavy sex, he’d dreamed about taking her with him when he left. But Tanya wasn’t the kind of girl who would blindly follow a boy to the ends of the earth. As much as he’d wanted her to go, she’d wanted him to stay. They’d had huge fights about it, then had the kind of makeup sex that made a man willing to admit that he’d been wrong.
In the end, the sex—and his feelings for her—hadn’t been enough. He’d left. She’d stayed. Those were the choices they both had to live with.
Still, that wasn’t enough to explain the animosity he was picking up on right now. The last time he’d seen her, she’d welcomed him back with open arms—and much more. The sex had been amazing—as passionate as anything he’d experienced with her before. He’d sort of been expecting the same kind of reception—but it was clear he wasn’t going to get it. He hadn’t exactly been burning up the phone lines during the years before he’d last been with her. She couldn’t possibly have expected him to start calling just because they’d spent another night together—could she?
Nick squared his shoulders. He’d gotten very good at pretending he belonged someplace he wasn’t truly welcome. Why should this be any different? “That would be fine, Ms. Rattling Blanket.” He didn’t need a tour—he’d been here before, in high school, when he’d come to talk to Rosebud about law school—but he wasn’t about to stand in the lobby in total awkwardness until hell froze over.
This is a little different than the books you might usually find here on our Thursday Harlequin Spotlight but that would be because I am doing it instead of Harlie this week. Guess you know where my taste lies. 😉
Nick is an angry young man. He arrives on the reservation with a huge chip on his shoulder and a bad attitude about the job he is there to do. Not acting like he cannot win the case nor that he doesn’t want it but that he was only chosen for this particular job because of his race. Well guess what? That played and plays a big role in it. Seeing Tanya again was shock as her reception was not as warm as he would have liked. Tanya, on the other hand, is trying to protect her broken heart and keep it intact while keeping the knowledge of Bear from Nick. In her own way, she too has a chip on her shoulder and it is in the best interest of the Tribe, their son and themselves to work it out between them. But can they?
The Good: This is again one of my favorite types of books – one that is driven by good, strong characters. Both Nick and Tanya are well described with great dynamics between them. You know as you read that they are still drawn to one another and that none of what lies before them is going to be easy. As they tiptoe around the real issues that broke them apart – their lack of communication and misconceptions – we begin to see glimpses of the good man that lies under all the bravado and Chicago trappings. Tanya is portrayed as the truly good mom that she is, loving and protecting her son with all her might. When tragedy strikes, Nick shows his true colors and Tanya is in for a huge shock. Their interaction is both delightful and realistic. Ms. Anderson was able to write the story in such a way that she continually surprised me as I read. This kept me very focused and very interested, page after page. The secondary characters – Nicks boss, Tanya’s Mom, Nicks girlfriend – they all had a significant role to play and helped to provide the issues Nick and Tanya had to try and work through. It was interesting, engaging and very enjoyable to read.
The Bad: This is where I usually express any concerns I had about holes in the plot, poor timing issues, or unfulfilling characters and endings. I really have none of those. While this was perhaps not the glitziest or most pulse-pounding book I have ever read, it was one of the most sincere and heartfelt. I loved it.
The Snuggly: Books in the Desire line of Harlequin books are described as ‘Contemporary, sensual, conflict-driven romances that feature strong-but-vulnerable alpha heroes and dynamic heroines who want love—and more! Reads that are always powerful, passionate and provocative.‘ The romance between Nick and Tanya is completely sensual and provocative. Not only were there great memories and a baby between them but a spark and passion that made me want to be a part of it! (Fans ladies, fans!) Their intimacy was descriptive enough to make me as a reader want more but there was plenty left to my imagination as well – a perfect combination. I would say 18 and over recommended.
A romance by definition concludes with a HEA or at least a HFN. Sarah answered the questions, silenced the drama and completed the storyline seamlessly. The Epilogue was perfectly placed and a brilliant insight to the future. This is not a book strictly for people who love the West and American Indian romances. This is a story for those who like vulnerable alpha heroes and the women who love and save them from themselves.
About Author Sarah M. Anderson:
Sarah M. Anderson is an award-winning author of modern-day Cowboys-and-Indian stories. Her debut novel, A Man of His Word, won the Grand Prize in the 2010 Hot Prospect contest as Indian Princess and was published by Harlequin Desire in December, 2011. Since then, she’s sold seven more books to Harlequin and Samhain, all due to come out in 2012 and 2013.
Combining snarky humor with shirtless cowboys on horseback, Sarah also strives to raise awareness of the realities of life on Lakota Indian reservations. She uses proper Lakota translations when her characters speak their native language.
Sarah also self-published her grandmother Goldie M. Lucas’ novel, Eleanore Gray in 2011. A sweet inspirational historical, Eleanore Gray is set in the Ozark Hills in 1902.
Sarah lives in Illinois with her husband, son, and Gater the Four-Legged Mutt. She is a writer and editor at Mark Twain Media, Inc., an educational publishing company. When not chasing her son around or writing, she attempts to read, knit, and complete home improvement projects on her historical 1895 Queen Anne house.
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