A Man of Distinction
Sarah M. Anderson
“You don’t have to love me. But let me see my son. A boy should know his father.”
That was a low blow, one that blew past her anger and went straight for her heartstrings. Who would she be hurting if she fought to keep Bear from Nick? Sure, she could exact some revenge for Nick’s repeated abandonment of her. But in the long run, it was Bear who would suffer. Would she really do that to her son?
Could she really do that to Nick?
As if he could feel that the attention of the adults had shifted away from him, Bear began to get upset. Tanya took a step toward him, but Nick put a hand on her shoulder. “I got him,” he said, a peaceful smile on his face.
Tanya watched as the man of her dreams swooped her son up into a big hug and then grabbed a book and settled down to read him a story. Tears swam across her vision.
She couldn’t keep Bear from Nick. She just couldn’t.
But what would letting Nick back into her life do to her?
Welcome back to the Red Creek Lakota Reservation! This time, a new set of challenges faces the Red Creek Lakota. Rosebud Armstrong has hired Nick Longhair to come back to the reservation and lead a case against a natural-gas company that may have polluted the groundwater.
Nick’s a native son of the tribe who went off to law school and never came back. He’s made quite a name—and fortune—for himself as an environmental lawyer. He’s not exactly thrilled about being back home. The reservation is a reminder of the poverty he left behind.
Poverty wasn’t the only thing he left behind. His childhood sweetheart, Tanya Rattling Blanket, is the only bright spot he has to look forward to. The last time he saw her was two years ago. He’s hoping to pick up where he left off, but Tanya has other plans.
Tanya’s changed, in more ways than Nick can imagine. When he meets her baby boy, Nick finds himself wondering if he’ll ever be able to leave the reservation again. Will Nick turn his back on the love of his life—and the family he always wanted—to keep chasing his dreams of wealth and power?
A Man of Distinction is a sexy story of coming home and finding yourself. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Be sure to stop by www.sarahmanderson.com, and join me when I say, long live cowboys!
About the Author
Award-winning author SARAH M. ANDERSON may live east of the Mississippi River, but her heart lies out west on the Great Plains. With a lifelong love of horses and two history teachers for parents, she had plenty of encouragement to learn everything she could about the tribes of the Great Plains.
When she started writing, it wasn’t long before her characters found themselves out in South Dakota among the Lakota Sioux. She loves to put people from two different worlds into new situations and see how their backgrounds and cultures take them someplace they never thought they’d go.
When not helping out at school or walking her two rescue dogs, Sarah spends her days having conversations with imaginary cowboys and American Indians, all of which is surprisingly well tolerated by her wonderful husband and son. Readers can find out more about Sarah’s love of cowboys and Indians at www.sarahmanderson.com.
A Man of
Sarah M. Anderson
To Jason, for being my hero as a father and husband.
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 backstabbing—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?”