The rigors of the Sante Fe Trail are nothing compared to the horrors Tess Fallon left behind in Arkansas. Marriage to Seamus McKenzie rescued Tess from starvation in Ireland, but the luxury of the plantation where Seamus is overseer is no relief from the brutality of slavery and humiliation of her marriage.
When Tess tries to stop the whipping of a pregnant slave, Seamus turns the whip on Tess, leading her to escape with pregnant Sonia.
Joaquin Morales, a comanchero trader from Taos, is headed home when he encounters the two survivors of an Indian massacre; a wounded African-American and the fiercely protective white woman caring for her.
Joaquin, son of a Mexican rancher and a Cheyenne woman, finds Tess unlike any white woman he knows. Tess' initial fear gives way to attraction.
Both know their feelings are hopeless, for Tess is married and Joaquin believes he has little to offer, but as they run, they find they may escape Seamus, but not their feelings.
Ms. Samuels draws her characters so skillfully that even her villain has depth, but it's the lovers who hold center stage. DANCING MOON is an enchanting performance. SENSUAL (Sept., 260 pp., $4.99)