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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BETHANY accepted Alec’s edict of not leaving the ranch without an escort the following morning with good grace. Jeanne was furious. Since it had been left to Bethany to impart this good news, her father and McCaffey having retreated to the den to look at maps, Jeanne’s wrath was directed at her sister.
“Jeanne be sensible,” Bethany begged. “It’s not forever, only until—”
She ducked as a coffee cup sailed past her head, and the rest of her argument was drowned in Jeanne’s shriek of outrage. The cup hit the wall just as McCaffey opened the door to investigate the commotion.
“Don’t you try to give me orders! You’re not my mother! I don’t give a damn—”
“That’s enough.” McCaffey’s voice was quiet, but that quiet voice had intimidated men who killed for hire. Unfortunately for him, Jeanne was made of sterner stuff.
“Who are you to be giving orders?” her voice dripped venom, and her blue eyes snapped fire.
McCaffey calmly pulled off his bandana and wiped coffee off his sleeve. He stuck the handkerchief in his pocket before he answered her. “I’m the man who gave those orders you’re objecting to. I am the man who will marry your sister. I would appreciate it in the future if you would not throw things at my wife.”
“And just how do you think you can keep me from riding when and where I please?” Jeanne hissed.
McCaffey shrugged. “I ´could lock you in your room, but since I don’t want to tie up a man to keep you from sneaking out, I figure the easiest way to keep you from riding is to spank you hard enough that you can’t sit a tricorn.”
Jeanne stared across at him. He meant it. She usually found that if she yelled enough, people gave in just so she would shut up. This man was different. Only one other man had ever stood up to her this way, and with him, she had a weapon she sensed would do her no good with her new brother-in-law. It was apparent that McCaffey was unmoved by blue eyes and honey colored curls. Oblivious to these attributes, he was continuing in a reasonable voice.
“You and your sisters would be a high card in Johnson hand. A man who’d shoot another man in the back wouldn’t stop at kidnapping a woman.”
Jeanne tossed her head. “I can take care of myself!”
“Under most circumstances, you probably can. These aren’t most circumstances.”
“Oh, all right! I guess I can stand it for a few days anyway.” She sat down in her chair with an ill-tempered thump.
“You can also,” McCaffey continued deliberately, “apologize to your sister for throwing hot coffee at her.”
“In for a penny, in for a pound, is that it?” Jeanne inquired. She gave Bethany a rueful smile. “Sorry, Sis.”
Jeanne had insisted on riding into town with Bethany and McCaffey this morning when they went to see Pastor Meeker. Since he had restricted her from going on her own, she informed Alec, he couldn’t well object to acting as escort. They dropped her off at the general store to do her shopping on their way to the Parson’s house. She did, in fact go into the store and buy a hair ribbon, but as soon as her sister and McCaffey had disappeared around the corner, she came back outside and mounted her tricorn.
Nestled at the foot of the mountains with easy access to the river, River Crossing was a town divided. On one side of the river was the older part of town, a general store, a blacksmith shop, a seamstress, a courthouse, a small eating-house, three churches, a schoolhouse and three saloons on the main street.
There was The Hotel, spoken of in capital letters by everyone. The Hotel was new. It had been built on the site of the fourth saloon with money from the silver mines up in the hills behind the town. The Hotel had a grand dining room, a ballroom (used for the weekly dances the shrewd owner had instigated as a way of bringing in money), new finagled bathrooms on each floor and gas lighting. The Hotel had a very elegant saloon with red velvet draperies and a mirror that ran the whole length of the bar. The town leaders had frequenting the saloon in The Hotel, citing the rarefied atmosphere and good conversation. Liquor was served by waiters in black velvet suits who carried weighted clubs to enforce the house rules. Ordinary miners were not allowed in The Hotel saloon.
On the other side of the river was Minerstown. It was reached by ferryboat hence the name River Crossing. Minerstown was wild. Decent women didn’t come across the river. Several long bunkhouses owned by the various mines were at the far end of town. A railroad line ran up into the hills to the mines and made trips twice a day, taking miners to work their shifts and bringing down ore from the mines to be processed. A few of the miners had families, but most of those preferred to locate their families across the river. There was no school, no churches, and no courthouse. The mining companies owned several eating-houses and a general store. The laundry was run by a Chinese emigrant named Wong who had a sharp knife and a short way with people who took liberties. Since the mine owners knew his business was essential to the town’s operation, they protected him and the other business owners brave enough to open shop in Minerstown. Of course, in Wong’s case, this protection consisted of not prosecuting him after he cut up three miners who attempted to take liberties with his wife and daughter. Cuttings were nothing unusual in Minerstown; it was a rare evening when three or four didn’t take place. Since the mine owners disapproved of their employees shooting each other (rendering them unable to mine silver), they enforced a strict ordinance not allowing guns to be carried on this side of the river. The weapons of choice were knives and clubs.
The six saloons on the main street had drinks served by waitresses who served upstairs. None of which cut into the business at the far end of town where for a price a man could find a better class of feminine companionship. The woman who ran this pleasure house used six big, tough knuckledusters to keep order, and herself carried a sharp stiletto and an equally deadly pistol.
The ferryboat was still run by the man who had started it when he slipped through the Portal fifty years ago, Old Man Grainger. No one knew Old Man’s first name, and since he was a cross-grained codger with a sawed-off shotgun and a short temper, no real effort had ever been made to find out. The area around the ferry was frequented by the rougher elements; ranch and farm hands who wanted to prove they were tough enough to have a good time across the river on one side, and on the other side by miners who wanted to prove they couldn’t be intimidated by the more law-abiding elements.
Just below the ferry landing on the edge of the Crossing, there was a bend in the river shaded by a huge broadleaf tree. Jeanne tethered her tricorn where it couldn’t easily be seen and leaned against the tree, watching the river’s lazy flow. It was deceptively peaceful here by the river. Minerstown was quiet since most of the miners were at work or sleeping off last night’s debauchery. The next shift change wouldn’t be for at least two hours.
A large, hard hand came across her mouth and she was dragged back against a man’s body. Jeanne bit down hard and kicked back hard with the heel of her riding boot with its sharp spurs. A grunt of pain was her answer as teeth and spur bit home. Involuntarily, the man’s hold loosened, and she jerked away from him, drawing her gun. Fast as she was, he was faster. He had her gun hand and pinned her against him.
“Hellcat,” he remarked. “It would have served you right if I had been someone else.”
Jeanne had collapsed against him in relief. “It was the only way I could see you,” she said. “I was hoping I would see your tricorn in town—”
“I saw your tricorn too,” he retorted. “That’s why I followed you down here. I ought to blister your fanny for this stunt. Do you know what would have happened to you if I had been someone else?”
“Samuel, will you please shut up! I don’t know how long it’s going to take Bethany and McCaffey at the preachers. ´He threatened to beat me too if I rode out alone anymore. Said I was a liability—”
“Who said? Who threatened to beat you?” Jeanne read the incipient violence in his voice and smiled. All the Johnson men were handsome, tall and golden haired with blue eyes except Samuel. He had the dark gold hair, but his steady eyes were brown, and a closer inspection showed an obstinate jaw.
“My new brother-in-law—at least he isn’t yet, but he’s going to be.”
Samuel Johnson drew back a little and looked at her. “Let’s sit down and start over. Why can’t women tell a story straight instead of always starting in the middle?”
“If I didn’t love you I’d shoot you for remarks like that. Give me back my gun.”
He pulled her down with him on the bank and kissed her until she was breathless. Faintly, from across the river came a woman’s scream and the sound of breaking glass. Samuel reluctantly lifted his head.
After a moment, he said. “This isn’t a good place, Hellcat. Tell me about this new brother-in-law.”
“That gunfighter Dad was waiting for arrived last night. Bethany is going to marry him. They came into town to make wedding arrangements today.”
Samuel pulled thoughtfully at his lower lip. “Emery sure will not like that.”
“Who cares what Emery likes? My sister can marry anybody she wants, you know.”
“I know,” he agreed absently. “Does this gunfighter have a name?”
“McCaffey is what Dad called him, but I don’t know if that’s his real name.”
“I think so, but he goes by Alec. Why?”
“Whatever else he is, Emery is my brother. We may not see eye to eye about some things just now, but I don’t want to see him killed if I can help it.”
Enemy lines. There it was, between them, just as it always was.
“Let’s go away,” said Jeanne impulsively. “The next steamboat that comes up the river, let’s just get on it and go away. Away from both our families.”
“It wouldn’t stop Dad,” Samuel replied honestly. “If he thought we were together, he would still think he could use you if—if something happened.”
“You mean if my Dad and sisters were dead,” Jeanne said in a hard voice.
Samuel didn’t answer her. He pulled her to her feet and put her on her tricorn where he stood looking up at her. “I wish it was different, Hellcat.”
Jeanne stroked his soft, dark gold hair back from his face. “Me too.”
He stood there in the shadows, watching to make sure she got safely back to town.
The interview with the parson was not going well. Bethany studied the minister of the church she had attended since she came back to the Crossing with exasperation mixed with affection. She could tell that Parson Meeker was unhappy about her coming marriage because he kept fidgeting in his chair and tapping his foot. He frowned at the young couple across from him.
“I think you should consider this more carefully, Bethany,” he said. “Marriage is a very big step. You have just met this man. I really think you should wait until you know each other better before making a lasting commitment.”
“I’m sorry, but we intend to be married this Sunday,” she said firmly. “Of course, there is always Margo’s priest,” Bethany added thoughtfully, throwing down the gauntlet. “I really would rather be married in my church of course…”
Mrs. Meeker, silent until now, gave a soft shriek of consternation. “Get married in another church? John, what can you be thinking of? Of course, he will marry you!”
Parson Meeker pushed up his glasses with his finger and tapped his foot again. “You always were the most obstinate, self-willed child,” he said, at last. “Very well, Bethany, I will perform the ceremony after church on Sunday.”
He gave McCaffey a minatory look. “If you don’t treat her right, you must answer to me, young man.”
McCaffey looked at Meeker with amused respect. “I promise I will take good care of her.”