How Not To Date a Skunk by Stephanie Burke

How Not To Date a Skunk by Stephanie Burke

How Not To Date a Skunk
How Not to Date…, Book 3
by Stephanie Burke

Changeling Press

eBook ISBN: 978-1-60521-675-1

Chaska is a powerful Dakota warrior in full regalia, defending his right to pick the mate of his choosing. But when Bilana stumbles into a centuries-old rite, he finds himself having to save the beautiful black woman’s life by claiming her for his own.

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Chapter One

The three-day migraine Bilana had been fighting had finally enlisted the help of the intense South Dakota sun in its efforts to make her bawl like a baby and drop her level of usefulness to that of a used condom.
Awake was better than dead, Bilana thought, but after the day she’d had she might just have to disagree with that sentiment.
Her headache had retreated into a little minor soreness, and the alligators in her stomach had finally stopped trying to chew her new ulcers. And it was all because of her new drugs. Treximat was wonderful at getting rid of the aches and pains, but it also had a habit of knocking her on her ass faster than three shots of moonshine on an empty stomach.
She ran her hands over her face and tried as hard as she could to remember where she actually was. She remembered having to spend some time in a medical tent…
Yes, she was in South Dakota, and there were tents, and she was… Yes, she was covering the Sioux Nation pow-wow, the annual Sisseton-Wahpeton Wacipi in Agency Village.
She had taken her pain pills and sucked down a whole lot of water helpfully given to her by the team of medics in the first aid tent, and then took their advice and found someplace quiet to rest.
Since she could not drive as doped up as she was, and there were more pressing cases of heat exhaustion to deal with, not to mention a few possible heart attacks, she found herself a nice, empty tent and made herself at home on top of some discarded blankets. That her little pallet on the grass was shielded by a few unused tables and chairs was all the better. She was too ill and dizzy to even make it to her car to stash her cameras.
Thinking about the extremely expensive Canon EOS Mark Three reminded her to reach down and check to see if the masterpiece of plastic and circuitry was still around her neck.
When she had found her hiding spot, she was in too much pain to see anything, so she’d wrapped both hands around her camera baby and cradled it as she gave in to the call of her pain meds.
Now, she was relieved to find her main claim to her paycheck was still functioning. She turned it on, and the lens extended perfectly as it hummed to life. She spent a moment staring at her precious camera before other sounds caught her attention. She peeked over the mound of tables and collapsed chairs and saw something that made her catch her breath.
Her client had requested several photos of native garb, and she was now facing the most beautiful examples of regalia, and warriors, she had ever seen. It was almost instinctive for her to lift her camera and line up the shot, breathless at the sheer perfection of the men she was looking at.
There were two of them, one a little younger than the other, and they were facing each other across a circle. Both had high cheekbones and the hooked nose that spoke of their Native ancestry even more than the regalia they wore.
But the regalia was almost otherworldly.
Both men wore straight-cut shirts of creamy white leather. Both shirts were longer than what she was used to seeing, coming down to almost mid-thigh. Up and around both arms and trailing down the chest on each side was a thick strip of black beadwork patterned into broad triangles interspersed with scarlet beads. Running along the side of each beadwork stripe were strips of alternating black and white fur.
There was a difference between the two, however. The younger man’s fur strips were not as long or luxuriant as the ones on the shirt worn by the older one. Around each of their necks was a necklace of black beads that glistened in the candlelight that brightened up the tent.
She held her breath as she beheld the same creamy leather that made up their breechcloths. The inverted arrow-shaped swath of cloth came down to their knees and was edged in the same luxuriant fur that outlined the beadwork on the shirt. The strips of black fur touched the ankles of their well-muscled bare legs.
On their feet were ankle-length moccasins of black leather edged in white fur. The fur of the younger warrior was shorter and fluffier, while the fur edging around the ankles of the elder was long and silky, falling to the ground as they began to move faster, spinning and stomping their feet to an beat that only the two of them could hear.
Banded around the tops of their calves were strips of beaded white fur with the same distinguishing features, fluffy for the younger, longer and silkier for the elder. Unlike most regalia, their clothing held no bells or jingles. As the men moved, they were totally silent.
When they spun, her attention was captured by the bustles that covered most of their backs. Instead of bird feathers, the half circles that swayed with the movements of their butts and backs were made of black fur, with long strips of white fur that hung from the tips of each fur shaft. They swayed, touching the ground in a familiar pattern, but the animal they emulated eluded her.
Both their War Bonnets had the same traditional shape, outlining the men’s foreheads in a soft bonnet with tails that hung to the ground. But again, the headdresses of each young warrior were made of fur. The bands that touched their foreheads were beaded in the same black, white and red pattern, but above that was a band of fluffy white fur. And in place of the usual upright feathers were the same black shafts of fur tipped in white.
She had never seen anything like this in all her travels or research.
The two warriors began to dance faster, their feet lifting and dropping in a syncopated rhythm, the younger obviously challenging the elder while trying to keep up with his ever more complicated foot work. The elder seemed to be enjoying the challenge, leading the younger man to try and top his every move.
They moved closer together and then further apart, never losing the implicit beat she swore she could begin to hear.
As she watched, both men bent low, swaying from side to side, their bustles bouncing to the beat of their movements. They rose up, stamping harder and harder before dropping low again, constantly circling each other.
Then, in a move she had never seen before, the younger seemed to leap into the air and land on his hands. In a perfect handstand, he began to circle the elder, his legs waving in the air, making complicated movements in time to the soundless beat.
Not to be intimidated, the elder leapt into the air, landing on his hands, and began to duplicate the complicated legwork. But he also added another element. He moved his arms, the same arms that supported his whole weight, in the same complicated movement as his feet.
The younger was clearly at a loss. He tried to duplicate the elder’s movements and almost fell on his face for his efforts. But he quickly recovered and tried again and again, never getting the movements perfectly.
Finally he dropped to his feet again and took a lunging step toward the elder. The elder retaliated by bouncing from one hand to the other, still keeping up with the complicated footwork while upside down.
She could almost feel the frustration coming off the younger man. The two warriors circled each other, one upright, one on his hands, as they danced, spinning and challenging.
Finally the elder dropped to his feet and spun, his movements a clear dismissal of the younger as he began to move away. The younger stomped harder, following, and finally, as if tiring of the game, the elder turned and stomped just once.
As he did, a wave of something seemed to waft over Bilana, making her heart stutter, and she blinked, trying to decide what that move had just done to her. But despite the breathless effect it had on her, it had an even greater impact upon the younger man. He was actually lifted off his feet to land on his bottom several feet away from the elder warrior.
All movement stopped.
The elder finally broke the tension by dancing over to the younger, his feet still keeping the beat of their dance, and offering him a hand up. The younger sneered at the hand for a moment, before he accepted and rose gracefully to his feet.
And Bilana found herself exhaling quietly, her finger sliding off the shutter button. She had been taking photos the whole time and forgot she was doing it, so entranced with the dance was she.
Then, before she could lower the camera, a small group of people was ushered in. She watched as the younger man left the circle of battle and the people who entered took seats around the ring.
There was a mixed bag, to be sure. There were young women who looked to be in their teens. There were young warriors dressed in regalia and face paint of their own. And there was a group of obviously pregnant ladies who all eagerly took seats in the ring.
As she watched, the younger man returned, handing the elder a round, warrior’s shield of white leather edged in black fur. The elder nodded and took the shield carefully in his left hand. After he had settled the shield securely in his grasp, the younger warrior handed him a long, thin pipe of wood.
Bilana nearly crowed in excitement! She had never seen such a beautiful example of a Dakota pipe in her life. It was made of a red stone called catlinite. Its tube was about three feet long, and the bowl a classic T shape. Wrapped along half its length, from the bowl to the center of the pipe itself, was what appeared to be copper wire. And along the back of that wire was tied the same luxuriant fur that covered the elder warrior’s regalia.
She watched as the warrior carefully took the pipe in hand before turning to the people in the circle.
The younger warrior left the ring and quickly returned with a double-sided round drum. The drum was only a few inches thick and was covered in a thin skin. There was not much decoration on this drum, and Bilana could tell it was old, probably handed down from generation to generation, as evidenced by the darkening patina that covered the hollow frame. Its beaded black handle fit perfectly around the younger warrior’s hand as he took a seat near the center of the circle and began to pound out a slow beat.
The elder, now complete with his dancing items, dipped low to the ground and rose up on his toes, spinning gracefully as his feet matched the beat that filled the tent.
Bilana could feel her heart race as the speed of the drumming increased. And the elder, like the consummate professional he appeared to be, kept pace. He dipped low and spun in circles, emulating an animal she still could not place. He spun on his toes, he stomped his feet, and never dropped his shield or his pipe, instead using them to emphasize certain movements.
As he spun and danced, the people in the circle began to chant softly, swaying in time to the beat of the drums.
Soon he was approaching each and every member, nodding and waving his pipe over them, giving each of them a very public private moment, before moving on to the next.
Bilana was still snapping photos of the dancer and his graceful movements, her heart racing as a strange scent began to fill the air. She inhaled, finding herself liking the woodsy, musky scent. In fact it was becoming more and more desirable to her. She inhaled again, feeling her nipples tighten into hard buds. Her breathing was becoming labored, and suddenly she felt her blood heat in her veins.
She tried to get a closer look at the dancer, but his fast movements prevented her.
Finally, after a few moments that felt like hours, the drum stopped. She strained her hearing, wanting the beat to continue, feeling bereft as the deep, hollow sound came to a halt, but there was no more music to be had.
As silently as they entered, the people exited the ring.
Two elders, dressed in beautiful regalia of their own, entered the ring. The younger warrior came forward and took the shield and the pipe and exited quietly. But this time the older dancer followed, the two elders bringing up the rear.
Just as fast as they appeared, they disappeared, and Bilana felt the world around her exhale, almost as if she had been in the middle of an otherworldly place and was suddenly thumped back to the hard, unforgiving earth.
She rose to her feet to get a closer look, but everyone was gone. It was like they had all disappeared.
Well, Bilana didn’t believe in magic. She had seen too much, been through too much to let even the slightest bit of belief in the other plane affect her life. There was science, and there were explanations for everything.
She had just witnessed a private ritual. It was the drumming, the burning sage, and the scent of the unusual candles that had her mind twisted.
That, and maybe the dregs of the medication were still affecting her. After all, the stuff was so powerful it had knocked her flat on her ass in a public place.
That decided, she rose, dusted off her ass, ran her fingers through her braided hair, and set out, determined to follow those people and ask the questions she wanted answers to.
As she rounded the tables, she completely avoided the circle that had been used for the dance. She decided that bit of caution had to do with respecting religious boundaries and nothing to do with the electric tingle that shot up her spine as she approached the place where the warriors had danced. She followed the trail of footsteps beaten into the tent’s dirt floor and came to an annex built onto the tent.
She would apologize and explain about falling asleep because of the meds and witnessing the dance. Then she would offer to delete the photos, though she hoped they would let at least her keep them for her private collection. She had shot some of the best photographs in her life in those few stolen moments, and it would pain her heart to have to destroy them.
Yes, that was what she was going to do.
But when she slid back the curtain that separated the annex from the rest of the tent, she froze.
It wasn’t because both of the warriors who had danced were exotically good looking. It wasn’t because their hair was as white as snow, though the elder looked to be no more than thirty and the younger in his early twenties. It wasn’t even because both men were now standing bare-assed naked before both elders, and the carpet and the drapes definitely matched.
What had her pausing and her eyes growing as wide as dinner plates was the fact that, as she watched, the eldest shuddered, whipped his hair free of the top knot it was held in, and turned into a huge-ass skunk.

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