Courtship – Warriors of St. Antoni chapter 10

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

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Chapter 10 Courthship  https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

IRIS WASN’T in the goat barn and she wasn’t down in the cheese-curing cellar. When she had run out of the den after the discussion with her father concerning their engagement, she had said she needed to check her on cheeses. Carlos and King George eyed each other over the sturdy gate enclosing the goat pen. George reared up and put both front hooves on the gate giving Carlos an assessing stare. He was large enough he could see over the top of it if he stood on his hind legs. Briefly Carlos wondered if the damn animal was deciding if he was worthy of his mistress or not.

“Where do you suppose she is George?” Carlos said aloud. He was wondering if Iris was avoiding him.

“I hear you want to do business,” said a voice from behind him. Carlos turned to find Henry Miller regarding him thoughtfully. He had heard about Henry from Mike. After Iris had left, Mike had suggested he hire Henry to investigate the high grading at the mine.

“I need an investigator,” Carlos agreed. “Someone familiar with how shifts at a silver mine work.” He walked over to a stone bench under the fruit trees, indicating the older man should join him. “Let’s talk.”

Peeking around the corner of the goose cote, Iris saw the two men talking with every appearance of comfort. Obviously, Carlos hadn’t tried too hard to find her, she thought to herself or he would have checked in here too. She jumped as Lulubelle, Jeanne’s pet goose nipped her upper thigh from behind. Angrily, she slapped at her and Lulubelle hissed back in retaliation. She would have to leave the cote before the bird become more aggressive.

Why was she hiding in here anyway, she thought resentfully. So what if Carlos was on the patio. She would just ignore him and walk across the patio to go up to her room.

As she started across the patio, she heard Carlos say, “You can start whenever you feel is right. I’ll tell the day shift supervisor to expect you.”

She had almost made it to the door when Carlos caught up to her. “Where were you?” he asked.

“I was looking for Jeanne,” Iris said. “I thought she might be in the goose cote, but she wasn’t. Was there something you wanted?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I thought we might go for a ride this afternoon.”

Iris hesitated, “I don’t know if I can. I need to make sure Gran doesn’t need my help with the Wedding reception arrangements. She said something about driving into town to talk to Georges Coudoual about them.”

“Let’s talk to your Gran,” he said, smiling. “If she wants to go in, I’ll drive the both of you in the buggy. We can stay at the hotel tonight. It will be a good chance for the two of us to spend time together.”

“I have to do the morning milking—” she began.

“Oh, I’m sure your helpers can handle it for one day,” he said. “I know how much you like to be involved in the day-to-day stuff, but if we are going to spend more time together the way Mike wants, you’ll need to train a supervisor to handle stuff for you.”

Giselle was in the parlor waiting for lunch to be ready. Accurately reading Iris’s flushed face and Carlos’s amusement, she  threw herself into the plan to stay in town overnight. Directing her granddaughter to tell Lisette to pack for both of them, she sent Paco to tell Iris’s head milkmaid she would need to be in charge the next day. She smiled conspiringly at Carlos as she demolished Iris’s excuses for not going into town.

That evening when it was time for dinner, Giselle pleaded a headache and declared her intention of going to bed to sleep it off.

“I’ll stay with you,” Iris said.

“No, Lisette will do all I need. The pair of you go eat in the dining room. I intend to have a bowl of soup sent up and then take my powders. They will put me to sleep almost instantly.”

Iris opened her mouth to argue, but Giselle cut her off. “Please dear,” she said. “I need the quiet.”

Once she had shooed the pair out the door, Giselle collapsed into one of the comfortable chairs in the sitting room.

“You are a sneaky old woman,” announced Lisette coming out of her bedroom.

“Yes, I am, aren’t I?” Giselle agreed with some satisfaction. “At least the boy is finally courting her. I was thinking he didn’t have the gumption. Did you order dinner?”

“Yes. We’re having cold melon consommé, roast chicken with mashed potatoes and new peas. I asked them to send up a bottle of that bubbly wine.”

“Do you think it will work out between that pair?” Giselle asked her longtime friend.

Lisette shrugged. “They have further to go than Bethany did. Iris needs to see him as a real man, not some character out of a book and Carlos needs to see her as a woman to walk beside him, not a fragile doll.”

Georges Coudoual the Hotel owner came to their table  during dinner, to give them tickets to the revue held on Monday and Wednesday nights. The revues were a place where families and courting couples could have a night out. Coudoual set up chairs and tables in there for guests, sold tickets and during the breaks between skits made lot of money selling refreshments to the crowd. The entertainment was a little risqué but still suitable for families and his black clad servers kept any singles from causing too much of a ruckus.

Iris had a good time. She had been nervous at the idea of spending time with Carlos while he was supposed to be courting her. She was focused on Carlos so she wasn’t aware she had caught the attention of one of the handsome men leaning against the refreshment bar.  The skits were funny and the singing surprisingly good. During an interval when Carlos obligingly went to get them two glasses of wine, a man sat down at her table uninvited.

Taken aback, she told him. “I’m sorry, but that seat is taken.”

He smiled at her. “Such a lovely lady as yourself should never be left alone.”

Her eyebrows rose. “I’m not alone, and I don’t believe I know you. So, if you don’t mind—”

“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said with a flourish. “Mike Franks, at your service, lovely lady.”

Despite herself, Iris was amused.  “How kind of you. All the same, I assure you I am in no need of help from you. Any services I need, I am sure my fiancé can provide. And that seat is taken.”

“Yes, it is,” Carlos growled, stepping between her chair and the one Franks had taken as he set the two glasses of wine down on the table.

Franks grinned up at him before rising with a great show of reluctance. “Oh, it’s yourself, is it Madonna? I’ve seen you around. Don’t you run the Lucky Strike for this lovely lady’s father? How clever of you to become so well acquainted with your boss’s daughter.”

She saw Carlos’s back stiffen and recognized the signs. Several times when they had been children, she had seen his hot temper in action. It had usually ended with Carlos on top of the other boy beating the tar out of him. With a lively dread of being thrust into a public brawl, Iris intervened. “Oh, Carlos and I have known each other since we were children, Mr. Franks. I’m afraid you will have to excuse us now though; the music for the next act is starting.”

She tugged on Carlos’s sleeve. He resisted but two of the black clad servers had come up. “I’m afraid we need to ask you to sit down, sir. You are blocking the view of the stage,” one of them said politely, stepping between him and Franks.

Franks hesitated but decided he if he persisted it would ruin the impression on Iris he was trying to make, and he walked away.  Carlos sat back down.

“How did you meet Franks?” he demanded sharply.

The tone was so at variance with the one he usually used with her that Iris looked at him in astonishment. “He came up and introduced himself,” she said, amused. “I assure you he isn’t the first man to do so. It’s nothing.”

His mouth tightened, but the couple at the next table made shushing noises at them. He would take it up with her later, he assured himself. For the rest of the evening he continued to brood about the fact that his fiancée seemed to attract men like flies to a honey pot. He had always thought Iris was a pretty girl, but it had dawned on him when he had seen Franks flirting with her that she was beautiful enough for him to have to compete with other men for her affections.

Iris had dismissed the encounter from Franks. As she had told Carlos, Franks hadn’t been the first man to flirt with her. If the man kept his attentions polite, the attempts usually just amused her, and Gran had seen to it that all her granddaughters knew how to deal with less than polite attempts to court them.

She had never associated Carlos with that type of crude behavior, so when they came upstairs she startled to find herself pinned against her room door and thoroughly kissed. Carlos held her head still with one hand and his mouth crushed hers, demanding a response, forcing her lips apart so he could thrust his tongue inside. She could feel the carved panel design on the door flattened against her back, and his other hand gripped her buttock pulling her against the hard bulge of his arousal. Iris had bred her goats for years; she knew what was pushing against her lower body. What she wasn’t prepared for was her own answering excitement and need. An aching, tickling sensation started between her thighs. Hardly aware of her own actions, her body softened against his.  She freed her hands to slide them up around his neck. Carlos was beyond caring that her grandmother was sleeping inside the room on the other side of the door, or that they were still in a public hallway.  He was conscious only of his need to assert his claim on her and have her accept it. He might have taken her in a scrambling tumble against the door if a raucous laugh from down the hall hadn’t jerked him back to his senses. Abruptly, he pushed away from her and turned the key in the door. When it opened, he shoved her inside and pulled it closed.

Iris stumbled over a footstool when Carlos thrust her into the darkened sitting room. She caught herself from falling by grabbing the back of a chair that scraped noisily as it moved several inches on the polished wood floor. Vaguely, she heard the key he had used to open the door hit the floor near her foot as the door closed behind her.

She stood unsteadily for a moment, her heart still pounding, her breath coming out in gasps before walking toward her own room. Gran had left one of the gas lamps turned on low for her. Turning it up, she caught sight of herself in the mirror and gulped. Her hair was coming down; one sleeve of her dress had been torn and her breast was almost hanging out. Her lips were swollen from being kissed and there was an unsatisfied ache in her groin.

Outside in the hall, Carlos stood with one hand braced against the closed door, out of breath for several minutes, before he straightened up. He walked back down to the regular bar and ordered a stiff drink. He downed it in one gulp and ordered another.

“You okay, son?” inquired Henry Miller who had come up to the bar. He, studied the young man curiously

“Yes. I’m fine,” Carlos bit out. “Did you have something to report already?”

Henry gave him the fish eye. However, he was familiar enough with the behavior of young men in love to keep his thoughts to himself. “I made connections and picked up some rumors,” he said.  “Let’s go sit at that table in the back. We can talk there without being noticed too much.” He turned and threaded his way through the crowded room heading for a table in a darkened corner. After a brief hesitation, Carlos followed him.

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