Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal Worlds Serials.The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.
On St. Antoni you got tough or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.
Technology to find and open gateways to alternative worlds was found on earth in the late 21st century. Those expecting to get rich off the tremendous resources on these new worlds controlled Access to them. People talk though, and it wasn’t long before the new technology became common knowledge and unregulated Portals cropped up. Illegal settlers passed through Forbidden gates looking for new places to live and find adventure and liberty.
With only the technology they could carry or build from raw materials on St. Antoni they built a new way of life. To survive they must rely on themselves. The learned to master deadly plants and animals. On St. Antoni, Adventure was a one-way trip to a hardscrabble life and Freedom meant relying on yourself for food, a roof over your head and safety.
This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017
Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni
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THE MORNING her prospective bridegroom was expected to arrive, Bethany woke early after a fitful night’s sleep. The darkened sky was just showing the first streaks of light when she got out of bed to sit on the window bench in her room. A light breeze floated in through the open shutters. She propped her chin on her hands and looked out over the ranch. From here, she could see the kitchen gardens outside the walls, and the groves of fruit and nut trees leading up to the mountains. Everything was quiet, but she knew it wouldn’t last; already she could hear Iris’s goats and Jeanne’s geese stirring around. Below a cooking pot clanged, and a door slammed as Margo Alvarez, the housekeeper started a fire in the iron stove for breakfast.
Life began early in the valley, even up here in the foothills; by three o’clock, the temperature would have reached one hundred degrees, and everyone was eager to get chores done to avoid working in the heat of the day.
The train bringing Alec to the Crossing wouldn’t arrive until noon so he couldn’t get to the ranch itself for several hours, Bethany assured herself. He would ride out from town and that was at least a two-hour ride. Although there was a railway stop about a mile away from the ranch, it wasn’t used except during roundup to load animals for the markets in the big City States. There was plenty to do to get ready for Alec’s arrival. She stood up and dressed for the day.
By lunchtime, Bethany had worn out her welcome with most of the household. She had squabbled with both her sisters, snapped at Margo and accomplished nothing the entire morning. In exasperation, her Grandmother, recognizing the ill temper for the nerves it was, thrust a broom into her hands with instructions to sweep the flagstones on the courtyard and stay out of everyone’s hair.
Both the large, arched wooden gates in the courtyard had been thrown open for the day allowing the breeze to cool the house and grounds. Bethany had barely begun her task when she discovered both Iris’s and Jeanne’s especial pets had again escaped confinement and invaded the courtyard.
King George, Iris’s irascible Billy goat, was sneaking toward her Grandmother’s prized flower bushes. He loved the taste of them, which was why he was not allowed in the courtyard when they were in bloom. Lulubelle, Jeanne’s pet goose, felt the courtyard was her property, fiercely resenting any encroachers human or animal. When she spied George, she hissed and spread her wings, attempting to drive him out of her territory. King George responded to her threat by lowering his head and stomping his feet. It was obvious battle was about to be joined.
Out of the corner of her eye, Bethany noticed the two riders dismounting just inside the gates. She ignored them and started toward the combatants, intending to use her broom to separate the pair. She was too slow. Just as she approached, King George lowered his head and charged. Lulubelle, back-winging to avoid his rush, smacked into Bethany. Furious at what she considered an attack from behind, Lulubelle hissed and honked, battering Bethany with her powerful wings and bill. Reeling backwards from the impact of the forty-pound goose, Bethany threw up her hands to protect her face and didn’t see King George charging until he butted her in the stomach. Still shielding her face from Lulubelle’s wrath, Bethany stumbled backward and landed on her rump in the raised flowerbed around the well. Lulubelle shrieked in anger. Meanwhile King George, the picture of innocence, ambled over to nibble on the forbidden flowers.
Bethany discovered the uproar had drawn an audience—the two riders, Grandmother Giselle, Iris, Jeanne and several of the stable and dairy hands had all rushed into the courtyard to see what was happening. The younger of the riders booted the indignant Lulubelle, still shrieking madly, off Bethany and knelt beside her.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
Bethany wiped away a trickle of blood from under her nose, noticing as she did so that her hand was covered with dirt and blood. Her dress had a streak of white bird poop all down the front. She looked up into concerned dark brown eyes and blew out a breath before she answered. “No, I’m fine, thank you.” She wiped the dirt off her hand as well as she could and let him pull her to her feet.
“I’m Alec McCaffey, ma’am,” he said, still retaining her hand.
“How, do you do,” Bethany said, resigned to the ridiculous first impression she was making. “I’m Bethany St. Vyr. I’m sorry for the rude welcome. We don’t greet our guests with this kind of hullabaloo. May I present my sister Iris,” she gestured to the ethereal girl with the silver gilt hair who was detaching the goat from the flowers. “And this is my other sister, Jeanne.” He looked over at the honey-haired amazon checking for injuries on the still complaining goose whose cries had turned from wrathful to pitiful.
“That dratted goose!” Giselle came bustling up, firing off orders. “Just look at you! Bethany, go in the house and let Lisette help you clean up. Jeanne! Iris! Get those critters off my patio! Paco,” she called to one of the watching stable hands, “Come and take the gentleman’s Tricorns.”
She turned to the younger man, who had reluctantly let go of Bethany’s hand. “You must be Alec McCaffey. I’m Giselle St. Vyr. My son has told me so much about you.”
“Pleased to meet you ma’am,” he bowed over her hand. “May I present my friend and mentor, Henry Miller?”
Henry laughed. “No need, son, I remember Mike’s mother well. Nice to see you again Mrs. St. Vyr.”
“If you don’t mind, we like to see to our own Tricorns,” Alec intervened. “We’ll join you in the house as soon as that’s done.”
Giselle nodded. “I remember. Just come in that door and Paco will show you where to clean up. We’ll have tea when you join us.”
Bethany had retreated to the house where she was pounced upon by Lisette, her grandmother’s maid, and led off to change her clothes and wash her face.
“I can’t wear that,” she protested, when she saw the afternoon tea dress Lisette had picked out. “I’ll look overdressed.”
“You need to make a better impression,” Lisette retorted. “You want to get the upper hand in this marriage you use your best assets.”
“Lisette, he just saw me with a bloody nose and covered in bird poop! Nothing can change that kind of first impression!”
“He watched you all the way to the door,” Lisette retorted, undaunted. “Play your cards right and you’ll have him right where you want him.”
After washing their hands and dusting off the trail dust, Alec and Henry were led to a room on the ground floor overlooking the patio garden. Giselle St. Vyr greeted them, offering tea or coffee and a selection of small cookies and sandwiches.
“My son will join us soon,” Giselle promised. “After the shooting, he takes some time to maneuver his new transportation.”
“Rumor has it he was shot from ambush?” inquired Henry.
“Yes. We were lucky that we found him as soon as we did.”
“Who is investigating the shooting?” Alec wanted to know.
He frowned when Iris responded, “The sheriff supposedly, but since he almost never leaves town, I don’t see how he could find out anything!”
“Well, if he investigated,” Bethany added, seating herself on the sofa, “he would have to go into who had the best motive to shoot Papa, and that would lead to his biggest campaign supporter—Ira Johnson.”
She accepted the cup her grandmother handed her and passed it to Alec.
“Lulubelle suffered no injuries,” Jeanne announced from the doorway. “No thanks to you kicking her.” This last was directed at Alec with a glare. Lulubelle, he concluded, must be the goose.
“What about your sister?” he demanded indignantly. “That bird gave her a bloody nose and might have pecked out an eye!”
“She was defending herself!” Jeanne declared, “She thought she was being attacked from behind as well as by that miserable Goat!”
“Did you discover how he got out again, Iris?” Bethany interjected hoping to change the subject before the argument could continue.
“Well, there were hoof marks on the fence, so I’m thinking he must have climbed it. Goats are brilliant, you know, unlike geese,” Iris responded sweetly.
“Lulubelle’s smart—” Jeanne began.
“Ah, I see my girls are making you welcome,” Mike St. Vyr boomed out. Jeanne and Iris exchanged glares but quieted down at the sound of their father’s voice.
He rolled the chair into the room. “If that’s coffee, I’ll take a cup.”
Giselle poured it and handed it to Jeanne to take to her father, along with a small plate of sandwiches.
After tea, Michael St. Vyr and Alexander McCaffey retired to the den, while Henry went out to check on the tricorns. Iris went to examine the repairs to the goat enclosure she had ordered. Giselle and Bethany went up to her room to decide on her dress for this evening and Jeanne claimed she needed to check on Lulubelle again and disappeared.
In the den, McCaffey sat forward in the cowhide-covered chair and glared at St. Vyr. “Your letter made me curious enough to come out here, but I’m just not sure what I think it said is what you meant.”
St. Vyr rolled a brandy glass around in his huge hands. In the light from the windows, iron gray shone through what had once been a fiery head of hair. St. Vyr had been a powerful man before the rifle shot had crippled him, and immense power still showed under the blue homespun shirt he wore. Since McCaffey knew St. Vyr owned a rich silver mine and could have afforded to wear a silk shirt had he wanted to do so, it was obvious he was more comfortable in homespun.
“You didn’t make a mistake. I will make out the papers deeding you one third of the Golden Tricorn and the Lucky Strike, the day you marry my daughter, Bethany.”
McCaffey’s face showed none of his inner turmoil. To be offered everything he and Henry had worked for years was a tremendous temptation.
He knew from the gossip they had picked up In Junction City what St. Vyr was facing. He wasn’t surprised St. Vyr wanted a gunman, but the nature of the offer had thrown McCaffey off balance.
“You’re offering an awful lot more than fighting wages, St. Vyr. Why?”
St. Vyr looked at him. “The Doc says I may not last much longer.” He lifted the brandy glass. “I like this painkiller better than laudanum. You’re right. I could hire a bunch of gunmen and take care of Johnson and his sons. But what about after I’m gone? Besides, anybody I hired, well if he didn’t have some stake in the pot, he might get to thinking there was only three women to keep him from taking over. If he was married to one of my girls, he’d be family.”
McCaffey snorted. “If I was that kind of coyote, St. Vyr, I don’t reckon being married would stop me.”
St. Vyr set the glass down on the desk with a bang. “Dammit!” he roared, driven to the last ditch, “I want my girls to be happy. I always wanted one of them to marry a man who could take care of things. Well, they ain’t done it.”
“Why did you pick me?”
St. Vyr smiled a little wryly. “You recall a job up North for a man named Bill Spears?”
McCaffey was surprised. He had brought that job to a successful conclusion avoiding the usual blood bath.
“Spears is kind of my brother-in-law. My second wife Louisa was sister to his wife. We were courting about the same time and we got to be friends. He still writes to me. Bill told me quite a lot about you.”
McCaffey got up and stood looking out the window. It was a measure of how disturbed he was that he turned his back on St. Vyr.
St. Vyr watched him in silence, trying to see him as his daughter would. The boy was well enough looking he supposed, although Bethany had never seemed impressed by good looks St. Vyr reflected, if she had been, she would have accepted the oldest Johnson boy’s proposal. McCaffey was a little below medium height, not slim, but not fat either and he moved with the smoothness of a well-honed blade. His dark hair was clean; his wedge-shaped face clean-shaven, dark brown eyes looked out over a large, well-shaped nose. The nose had a scar across it, the obvious legacy of a knife fight.
“St. Vyr,” said McCaffey at last, over his shoulder, “what makes you think you can order a girl to marry someone? Here on St. Antoni women have rights.”
St. Vyr took another sip of his brandy. “Bethany’s a good girl. She knows her duty. You needn’t be thinking I’m going to foist an antidote on you either. She’s got her mother’s looks. ‘Course she got my hair, but on her it looks good. And she will always tell you the truth. There’s been times when I wish she wasn’t so truthful, but that’s another story,” he added hastily.
“St. Vyr,” said McCaffey grimly, trying to take control of the conversation, “let me make this real plain. I am not about to marry any girl who feels she doesn’t have a choice. The very last thing I want is a wife who resents having to marry me.”
St. Vyr chuckled. He levered himself up out of his oversized chair with his crutches.
“I think it’s time you and my daughter got better acquainted. Let’s go to dinner.”
Exasperated, McCaffey followed his prospective father-in-law out of the room.
Bethany was nervous. It was too early to go back downstairs, so instead she fussed with her hair which Margo had helped her sweep into a loose knot at the crown of her head. Soft red curls wafted around her face. She checked her dress again in the mirror, and decided, again, that it was perfect for a dinner at home ‘en famille’. The dress was a soft green made of thin material in deferral to the heat and in the new style. The bodice was deceptively modest, the sheer cloth descended from a high collar to the waist. Only if one stared hard, it could be seen that the sheer overblouse covered a low-cut chemise of the same color. The nipped in waist showed off Bethany’s hourglass figure to perfection and the full skirt swayed enticingly when she walked. Gran had picked out the dress, and Bethany wished for that strong presence to be in here giving her a pep talk. Bethany was sure there was no social situation, not even this one that Gran wouldn’t have been able to handle with aplomb.
I can’t do this! She thought in panic. And then that other voice, the one she had listened to all her life said, Oh, yes you can. You must. Do you want to be out in the street earning money for food on your back, like those Jones women in Copper City after the Smith clique took over?
After Momma Clara was killed, Giselle had come and taken all three girls back east to live with her. Iris had stayed with her other grandparents in Port Breakwater a lot, but Bethany and Jeanne had lived with Gran in a modest house in Copper City.
Gran had supported them with the profits from her gemstone business Until the clique war between two rival factions had destroyed her livelihood. Michael St. Vyr had come east to remove his family when he heard about the trouble, but it had taken him days to get to Copper City using the trains and stage routes. Bethany understood the only thing standing between herself, her family and poverty was the Golden Tricorn and the Lucky Strike.
When her father had explained his plan to keep them all safe to her, she had agreed. If I am going to sell myself to save my family, she had thought grimly, it won’t be for a few dollars. At least I’ll be a married woman so no one will call me a whore the way they did poor Priscilla Jones.
Her father had promised her he would try to find her the best man he could, but he had explained that the kind of man who could lead the firefight to rid themselves of the threat the Johnsons posed, might not be cultured or refined.
The dinner bell chimed. Bethany opened the door to find Margo’s son Paco waiting in the hall.
“You look muy bueno, senorita!” he exclaimed.
Bethany laughed. Paco’s juvenile admiration was soothing to her nerves. “How come you’re not at dinner?” she asked.
He skipped ahead of her down the stairs. “Mama said to come and tell you how you look, so you feel better,” he chortled, and ducked into the hallway leading to the kitchen before Bethany could catch him.
Despite Margo’s suburb food, dinner could not have been called a success. Since Margo preferred for her and Paco to eat in the kitchen, Giselle, Iris, Bethany, St. Vyr, Henry and McCaffey sat down at the dining room table. The dinner conversation about the latest campaign to notify Earth of St. Antoni’s existence was stilted.
Jeanne came in halfway through dinner and made herself disagreeable to her father, hoping to divert St. Vyr from delivering a scold because she disobeyed him and rode out alone. The tactics succeeded, despite St. Vyr recognizing them. Clara, Jeanne’s mother had often done the same for similar reasons. Giselle and Iris fled the dining room as soon as dinner was over. Giselle claiming the privilege of old age to retire early, and Iris to help Margo in the kitchen.
Although Bethany was glad to escape to the parlor after dinner, Margo having told her not to help to clear the table tonight, she was annoyed with her youngest sister for making a difficult situation harder. So when she saw Jeanne sneaking off up the stairs, she called after her. “You had better get Margo to help you get those grass stains off your blouse, if you hope to wear it again.”
Jeanne frowned at her, trying to look at her back over her shoulder. “What grass stains?” she demanded
“You can’t see them, dear,” said Bethany sweetly. “They are all in the back.”
Jeanne opened her mouth to retaliate and then heard her father coming out of the dining room. With a gasp, she fled upstairs. Bethany stalked into the parlor and sat down with a thump in a chair.
When Paco brought in the tea tray, she gestured to him to set it on the low table in front of her. “Bed for you, young man,” she said. Paco gave her a hug before he left.
McCaffey sat his cup down on the table with a decided click. “St. Vyr, I think your daughter and I need to talk. Will you excuse us?”
“Now, see here,” St. Vyr blustered, “it’s hardly proper—”
“Papa,” Bethany interrupted him peremptorily, and added a short sentence in French.
Michael opened his mouth and then shut it again. There were some things a man just didn’t say to his female offspring, no matter what the provocation. “I’ll be in the library,” he announced, just as if that was what he had planned to say all along.
McCaffey, who had learned his French in Madame Tussaud’s House of Pleasure in the French settlement in Azure City, was not sure he had just heard his prospective well-bred, ladylike bride say what he had thought he’d heard.
“What did you say?” he demanded.
Bethany eyed him speculatively. Papa had promised he would not force her to marry a man she found repulsive and so far, she had found nothing in McCaffey to dislike. It was time for another test. Composedly, she said, “I told him that unless he planned to lie between us in the marriage bed, he would have to leave us alone sooner or later.”
McCaffey choked on a mouthful of tea and had a coughing fit.
Eyes watering, he looked at her. “Your father said you were truthful to a fault. I see now what he meant!”
“Truth is always preferable,” Bethany said. “If you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember later what lie you told.”
McCaffey came over and sat down opposite her in the comfortable wing chair. “Since you prefer the truth, you may as well know I told your father I will not marry a woman who is being forced to marry me.”
Bethany was taken aback. It had not occurred to her that a man who hired out his gun would have scruples about marrying her. Something inside her that had been tense uncoiled at that moment. McCaffey’s attitude was something she recognized—she had seen it in her father.
“But you are a Romantic!” she exclaimed. “How extraordinary!”
“Don’t be a damn fool!” snapped McCaffey, annoyed. “I’ve seen enough marriages to know it is rough enough when both parties want to get married. Marrying a woman who has been forced into it is a recipe for disaster.”
“No, you are right, of course,” Bethany said. Papa, she remembered did not like to be thought of as a romantic either. “Both parties in a marriage must have good reasons for entering the marriage. Papa is not forcing me to marry you, you know. He would never do that.”
“I don’t mean he would beat you. Look, being forced by circumstances isn’t much different from being forced in other ways. It isn’t right.”
It suddenly dawned on Bethany that unless she changed his mind, McCaffey would not cooperate with the plan. She would have to be very careful she realized, if she judged wrong, he would get up and walk out.
“My mother’s grave is up there under one of the trees,” she said. “So is Iris’s mother. My mother didn’t have to come out here with Papa to this wild land. Gran had a good house then, and she made a comfortable living supporting herself. Mama came here because she and Papa had a dream to build a home. It was the same with all Papa’s wives. I remember the day Jeanne’s mother died, you know. Margo had taken us out to pick berries. We were on our way back when we heard the shooting and saw the fires. Margo wouldn’t let Carlos, Iris and I come here until after she had made her decent. It wasn’t fit for us to see, she said.”
“Your father has done a fine job here. I understand how proud you must be of him.”
“No, you ´don’t understand,” Bethany said. “Do you know what happens to women like me, like my sisters and grandmother when they have no income? Do you know what they do to survive? Well I do. I saw what happened to some of Grans customers when the Smith Clique took over in Copper City. You are a man; you can work. For a woman, there are very few places for women to work and stay respectable. I can’t sew a straight line, none of us can cook, and I am a terrible teacher; you should have seen me attempting to teach Jeanne how to dance. I thought we would pull out each other’s hair! Jeanne and Iris are no better. Besides, our mothers died for this land. I will not let that awful man and his cocksure sons come and take it away from us. They shot Papa in the back! Oh, I know the sheriff said he couldn’t arrest anyone without proof. But I know who did it.”
She turned around and looked McCaffey straight in the eye. “I can’t shoot a gun well either, and I am no warrior woman that men will follow me into battle, even if I knew how to win a fight like this. But I can marry a man who can do these things. I don’t know what you want in a wife. I don’t know that I could be other than I am. If it turns out I’m not the kind of woman you want to marry, I can’t change that. I can’t pretend either that I have been struck by a bolt of lightning and fallen in love with you. But I will pledge to you that I will do everything I can to make a marriage between us work. But you are correct; we must both be willing for the marriage to be a good one.”
There was a long silence. McCaffey got up and went over to the open French doors. Dusk was turning the sky a faint mauve color. He wanted to believe her. He wanted it so badly in fact that he didn’t trust his own judgment. If she was telling the truth, she was offering him everything he had worked for since he had walked out of his stepfather’s house at fifteen; a home, a family, and work he could be proud of. If her words were a trick, it was a good one. Could Bethany be so good an actress? He looked at the clear gray eyes, the soft rounded chin, and the firm mouth. He simply wanted to believe what she was offering. Still, if it was a trick, he could apply a simple test.
“I guess we can go into town tomorrow and get married,” he said.
Bethany, who had been thinking bitterly that she would have to tell Papa she had failed, was stunned. “What?” she blurted out.
“I said,” he repeated, “that we can go into town tomorrow and get married.”
“Tomorrow? No, we can’t get married tomorrow. There must be an announcement in the paper, we must see the Preacher and send out invitations.”
“Tomorrow,” he said.
Bethany eyed him a little warily. She wasn’t sure what had changed his mind, but she wasn’t about to let him ride roughshod over her either. “Tomorrow,” she stated firmly. “We will go into town, put the announcement in the paper, and talk to Preacher Mayer about holding the ceremony after church on Sunday. We will also,” she added, “make arrangements to hold a reception at the hotel the following Saturday.”
She stacked the cups and saucers on the tea tray so she could take them to the kitchen. Aware that he was watching her with a slightly proprietary air, she suddenly felt shy, so to make conversation, she asked, “Did Paco tell you which room is yours?”
McCaffey took the tray from her and set it back down on the table. “No, he didn’t.”
“The first one at the head of the stairs. Your friend is next door.”
She stopped, because he had taken hold of her shoulders. She could feel the warmth of his hands through the thin material as if she were naked to his touch. After a moment, he tipped her chin up with his finger, forcing her to look at him.
“It’s going to be a long time until Sunday,” he said ruefully before he kissed her.
Bethany had been kissed before. When she had gone east a few times with Gran to see Iris’s grandparents, several men had tried. After all, she was more than passably good looking and her father owned a silver mine. She had been little impressed by the procedure. Emery Johnson had tried, but his kiss had been brutal. This was different. McCaffey’s hold was firm, but she could have released herself if she had tried. His mouth was warm and tasted faintly of brandy and the mint tea she had served after dinner. Without realizing it, she felt herself relaxing into his arms. When he felt her response, the kiss deepened. He coaxed her lips apart with his tongue and his arms came around her, one hand slid down over her buttocks, pressing her up against him so she could feel the hard bulge of his arousal. Bethany had spent a lot of her growing up years around animals; she knew what pressed against her. She was startled to feel an answering heat between her thighs. When she felt herself lifting against him so she could feel more, she came back to herself with gasp of shock.
McCaffey let her go, smiling down at her.
“Good night,” she gasped, and fled upstairs, leaving the tea tray behind for Margo.
McCaffey stood in the doorway and watched her run up the stairs. She had felt good, he realized, and it was obvious her response to him hadn’t been planned. He whistled to himself as he gathered up the loaded tray and took it out to the kitchen.
It wasn’t until he was undressing for bed that it occurred to him the interview with Bethany had not gone as he had planned. He had intended to explain gently to her that he would accept the job, but not the marriage unless some real feelings developed between them. He scratched his head. How he had ended up engaged to her with a wedding planned for next Sunday? Furthermore, that sweet faced girl had virtually told her own father to mind his own business and Michael St. Vyr had obeyed her.