It’s Friday, so it’s time to post the next chapter in the serial the Warriors of St. Antoni. This week I’m giving you a bonus – 2 chapters of the serial.
Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal World Tales. 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 got dead. The only defense is a gun; your safety depends on 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 baby sister, Iris chooses an arranged marriage with a beloved old friend. Jeanne and the son of their greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.
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: To Have & To Hold And the next chapter Queen’s Gambit
SINCE IT WAS considered bad luck for Carlos to see her today, Iris had stayed in her room this morning while everyone else started cleaning up after the fire.
Patrice, her head milkmaid peeked around the door at her. “Oh, you do look beautiful,” she said.
Iris laughed. “Thank you, but this is just the underdress. Come in and tell me how things are going with the clean-up.”
“We did fine in the dairy, although I must say it was a real relief to get those dead outlaws out of the cheese room! I told Tim and the other men to wrap the bodies in the used cheese cloth like you said, and even Tim had to admit it cut down on the smells.”
“Did they get the graves dug?”
“Mrs. Giselle had the graves dug in Outlaws corner of the cemetery. The preacher did a fine funeral, even though those murdering outlaws didn’t deserve it.”
“Is George behaving?” Iris asked, referring to her pet Billy goat who considered himself king of her milk goats.”
Patrice grinned, “Well he’s still pretty full of himself after his he beat up all the other Billy goats when we were across the river.”
Bethany came in just then carrying a tray with two plates. “I brought you lunch, and I thought I would eat up here with you.”
She set the tray down on the dresser and picked up a sheet to drape over her sister. “Here this should protect that beautiful dress while you eat.”
“I’m not very hungry,” Iris confessed.
“That’s nerves,” Patrice told her. “You need to eat something, anyway.”
“Yes,” agreed Bethany. “You don’t want to have an empty stomach when you and Carlos drink champagne on your wedding night.”
“We gave you brandy, and you said it was awful,” protested Iris.
“Yes, but Alec brought up the champagne with him. It was much better.”
Patrice left the two sisters, closing the door softly behind her. It was a shame that Jeanne couldn’t be here as well, she thought.
After pushing her food around on her plate enough to satisfy her sister, Iris stood in front of the mirror in her room as Lisette and Bethany helped her into her wedding dress.
Iris and Carlos were married on the Patio. The heavy scent of Giselle’s blooming bushes filled the air. In deference to Mike’s wheeled chair, he waited at the Altar with Carlos and Preacher Meeker. The afternoon sun cast glittering sparkles on Iris’ white-blond hair. The wide brimmed, flower covered hat she wore instead of a veil shielded Iris’ face from Carlos, but she could easily see his expression as she walked toward him. She hoped she was correctly interpreting the combination of tenderness and lust she read there as love.
For Iris, the small private wedding attended only by close family and friends was perfect. She detested the limelight and intense focus that had been on Bethany and Alec when they married. She knew there had been reasons for it; by the public display the St. Vyr’s had declared to the world around them that the St. Vyr family was still strong enough to defend itself and that Bethany was off limits as a lever to be used against her loved ones.
It had been decided during the prior night’s midnight conference that Iris and Carlos would spend their wedding night at the St. Vyr’s suite in River Crossings Hotel. Alec, Bethany, Henry and Giselle would ride into town as well, but later in the day so attention would not be drawn to the fact that only Mike and the hands would be left to mind the ranch.
Iris smiled when Bethany and Giselle slipped into her hotel room as she was removing the traveling outfit she had worn from the ranch. They brought up an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne and two long stemmed glasses.
“It tastes better than the brandy they gave me, and it will be just as effective to help you relax,” Bethany explained, setting the bucket on the dresser.
“I’m not afraid of Carlos,” Iris said mildly.
“I wasn’t afraid of Alec either,” Bethany replied, “But this is going to be the first time you and Carlos will be naked in front of each other. At least I assume it will be.”
Iris’ pale skin flushed with embarrassment. “Do you have to talk like that?”
“Why not?” Bethany inquired.
“Girls,” Giselle intervened. “Bethany lay out Iris’s nightgown, the blue one. Iris turn around so I can undo these buttons.”
The blue nightgown had been designed to complement the wedding trousseau; the silky material clung like a second skin, barely covering Iris’ full breasts and it was slit up the sides to her hips. Underneath it, she was naked. Iris blushed red again when she looked at herself in the mirror.
Bethany had popped the cork on the champagne and poured Iris a glass. “Here,” she advised, “take a good sip, it will help you relax.” She didn’t bother asking Iris if she knew how a man and woman made love; Giselle had made sure all her granddaughters were acquainted with the facts of life.
Both women kissed Iris goodnight and slipped out the door just as Carlos was coming up.
“Goodnight,” Giselle told him.
“You better treat her right,” Bethany warned him as they left.
They had no need to warn him to treat Iris gently. She was his dream girl, a fragile woman to be cared for tenderly and adored. He had no intention of repeating his performance in the hallway after they had come up from the revue, or his behavior after the fight at Bethany and Alec’s reception. Frowning a little, Carlos shut the door and turned to look at his wife, stopping dead in his tracks as an enormous surge of lust caught him unaware. The wedding dress had muted her sexuality, but this gown revealed all that the dress had shielded.
Iris took another gulp of the champagne. “They left this,” she pointed to the bucket. “Would you like some?” Despite her confident words to her sister, her voice squeaked a little.
Carlos heard the underlying nervousness and caught hold of himself.
“That sounds good. Why don’t I sit here while you bring me a glass,” he sat down on the overstuffed armchair by the window.
Very conscious of his eyes devouring her, Iris went to the dresser and poured a second glass. When she brought it to him, he took it and set it on the table and then pulled her down into his lap.
“You aren’t afraid of me, are you?” he asked.
“No, of course not,” she said, a little defensively, “but this is new to both of us. What if I don’t do it right?”
Carlos snorted. “So, we keep trying until we get it right. Just like learning to ride a horse.”
Iris gave a gasp of laughter at the image is words provoked, almost spitting the champagne. He caught her glass before it spilled on them and set it on the table with his.
Carlos slid his hand into the silky mane of her hair and pulled her mouth to his own, parting her lips with his tongue. The invasion of his mouth started a pleasant tickling sensation in her groin, and she could feel the fabric of her thin gown and his shirt against her hardening nipples. When he cupped her full breast with his hand and rubbed a thumb across them, she moved restlessly against him, her hands skimming over the tight muscles under his shirt.
When she fingered the buttons tentatively, he encouraged, “Go ahead, I want to feel your hands on me.”
His skin was smooth, with a light sprinkling of hair on his chest. Iris combed her fingers through it, sliding her hands over his hard ribs to the waist of his pants. Carlos moaned in pleasure against her mouth, and abruptly stood up, keeping hold of her so she felt his hard arousal as her legs pressed against his.
Iris turned to face him, pressing a kiss on his throat while her hands pushed the shirt off his wide shoulders. Carlos dropped both hands to cup her bottom under the nightgown, lifting her against him. The slit sides of the gown allowed Iris to wrap both legs around his waist, soothing the need in her nether mouth.
She made a small protesting sound when Carlos let go and let her legs drop.
“Hold on Darling, let me get my pants off,” his voice was guttural. He stepped out of his pants and lifted the edge of her gown, pulling it over her head before catching her under the buttocks and lifting her again. Iris flung her arms around his neck and kissed him back, her tongue dueling with his as he walked toward the bed. Turning around, he fell backward on the bed with her riding his hips. He rocked, his shaft rubbing against her nether mouth, and Iris moaned.
“Ride me,” he whispered, and she rubbed herself against him frantically, going over the edge when he stroked both her nipples with his thumbs.
When she collapsed atop him after her climax, Carlos rolled, lifting them both further up on the bed. Frantic now to assuage his own lust he thrust himself between her already spread legs. Iris gave a gasp of pain and stiffened under him as he broke through the tight barrier inside her womb.
Carlos kissed her again, lifting himself so he could rub her nipples again to bring her back with him. She was too sated to be fully roused, but when she wiggled against him, he couldn’t resist, and began moving inside her. His movements softened and lubricated her channel and pleasure returned. When he gave a final thrust, and pumped into her, she felt an echo of that earlier intense gratification.
Iris was yawning when they joined the family at breakfast in the dining room the next morning. Carlos had woken her three more times in the night to make intense love to her. She had enjoyed it each time, but she was conscious of a little soreness between her legs.
Iris ignored the amused and knowing looks her sister and Grandmother gave her when she and Carlos both ordered a hearty breakfast.
“I spoke to a couple of folks last night after you married folks all went to bed,” Henry said. “Hennessy hasn’t been seen here in town for a couple of days, so he may be hiding out up at the mine.”
Alec nodded. “Henry, you and I will go to his house and ask his wife if she knows where he is.” He looked at Carlos and Iris. “You two be careful up there. Hennessy may be a cowardly rat, but rats have teeth.”
“Then it’s good that both of us are going,” Iris said, adding as she correctly interpreted the scowl on Carlos’ face, “No, I will not stay here and hide, so don’t even think about it.”
Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading: The Queen’s Gambit
FOR SOME time after Iris and the men had left the Hotel to find Hennessy, Giselle and Bethany sat at a table dining room, thoughtfully sipping their coffee.
The plan the family discussed earlier had Alec and Henry paying a visit to Hennessy’s home to search for evidence of his complicity in forging the loan papers and searching the town for him if he wasn’t home. Iris and Carlos intended to take the train up to the mine and search Hennessy’s office and rooms there to see if they could find evidence he had forged St. Vyr’s signature on loan papers.
“He is a very painstaking man,” Carlos had said. “If he made an agreement with Lutz, he will have kept a written record of it to avoid being cheated.”
Giselle had an additional plan she chose not to share with her son and grand-sons-in-law.
“Bethany,” Giselle said rising from the table, “come upstairs, put on some old riding clothes and put your hair up under an old hat. You and I are also going to pay someone a visit.”
“Why do we need old clothes?”
“Because we don’t want to be seen visiting Antoinette Larrabee. If anyone knows something we can use against Lutz, it’s her.”
“Why would she tell you what she knows?”
“She and I once lived in the same emigrant camp,” Giselle said, as they headed upstairs. “At one time, we were friends.”
On the way to their rooms, she stopped and ordered the hotel clerk to send to a note to the local stable requesting two saddled tricorns be brought to the back of the Hotel.
She nodded approvingly when she saw their nondescript appearance. Mounting, Giselle led the way upriver, walking the animals until they passed the edge of town so as not to attract much notice leaving. Once they were out of sight of the town, she urged her tricorn to a faster pace.
Bethany hadn’t asked many questions, but seeing the direction they were riding, she was puzzled enough to ask, “Where are we going? There is nothing out this way.”
“We’re going the back way into Minerstown,” Giselle informed her. “We don’t want to be seen going there, or have it known who we are going to see, so we will be using the ford about ten miles upriver.”
“Ah—who are we going to see? I thought you said we would be visiting Antoinette Larrabee. Does she live up here?”
“Antoinette owns La Belle Sans Merci.”
Her granddaughter gasped. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“But—Gran—that’s a bawdy house!”
“Yes, and we are going to be talking to the head bawd. Treat her like a lady when you meet her. And for the love of Pete, don’t go telling your husband about this visit!”
“No kidding,” Bethany muttered to herself.
For an hour, they traveled north along the edge of Black River, arriving finally at a wide ford not much used by anyone. The ford wasn’t exactly shallow; the water was high enough both women ended up soaked to the tops of their boots, but it was crossable on the tricorns.
Once across, Giselle kicked her tricorn into an easy lope to traverse the trail into the back side of Minerstown.
Unlike River Crossing with its clusters of houses extending behind the businesses grouped around the center of town, Minerstown had one long street. Saloons, hash houses, sleeping dormitories, the Chinese laundry, a dry goods store and those places advertising feminine company lined both sides of that long street. At the very end of town, La Belle Sans Merci occupied a large two story building. Unlike most of the other buildings, it had been painted, and was surrounded by a neatly kept garden and white picket fence.
From the rear, the building looked to Bethany like just a very large mansion. A stable and corral were set off to the left.
Giselle rode right up to the stable and dismounted. The young boy who came to take their mounts, stopped dead when he realized he was facing two women.
“Ma’am,” he blurted out, “you shouldn’t be here!”
Giselle tied her tricorn to the hitching rail. “Never mind that. Please give Madam Antoinette this,” she handed the boy a small pouch. “Tell her an old friend wants to talk to her. We will wait here until you come back.”
He accepted the pouch and bowed to her. “Better you wait in here, Missus,” he said, opening a door to a small office. “No will see you there.”
“Thank you. Come, girl.”
Bethany dismounted and followed her grandmother. She waited until the boy had closed the door before she whispered. “He acted like he knew you. Have you been here before?”
“Not for a long time. Antoinette and I lived together in the emigrant camp in Gateway City after your grandfather was murdered.”
“I never knew that. You don’t usually talk much about that time. I’d like to hear more if you want to tell me.”
Giselle sat down on a dusty couch she suspected doubled as the boy’s bed and patted the seat beside her. When Bethany joined her, she said, “I don’t talk much about it, because I was forced to do some things I’m not proud of to keep your father and I fed and housed.”
“Were you a—I mean—”
Giselle laughed. “No, I didn’t have to sell myself, but for a time I was a Portal Runner, a thief and a grifter. I told fortunes and read cards. A woman alone in a place like that—well it’s hard. The Tresoni family ran the camp and the City then. There was a set of rules serving as laws, but unless you killed someone they pretty much left us to settle things ourselves. I learned to use a knife and a gun to defend Michael and myself. That is why I made sure you girls could shoot and defend yourselves. Several of the women in the camp banded together to help each other. At first, there was only Antoinette and myself but eventually there were seven of us. We formed our own network of influence to help each other as much as we could. Some of us made different choices in our lives, but the bond is still there. Or so I hope.”
She had given Bethany a lot to think about. When the boy opened the door, she looked up in surprise. “Madam will see you now, Missus,” he said. “Please to follow me.”
He led them in through the kitchen, and up the backstairs to a sitting room. Madam Antoinette was not at all what Bethany expected. She was tall and slim, dressed in an afternoon tea dress that any lady might have worn. Her face bore a minimum of makeup, and her once gold hair, showing only the barest touch of gray, was bound up in a chignon, fastened with a single gold clasp. She greeted Giselle with both hands held out.
“Giselle, how wonderful to see you. You look just the same. And this must be one of your granddaughters.”
“It’s good to see you as well Antoinette. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, but as you may have heard, we’ve had a lot of trouble keeping us busy lately.”
She drew Bethany forward. “This is my eldest granddaughter, Bethany. Bethany just got married.”
“How do you do, Ma’am,” Bethany said, dropping a curtsy.
Antoinette chuckled. “My, what lovely manners! It’s nice to meet you Bethany. Congratulations on your marriage.” She turned to Giselle, “I heard about your son. I’m so sorry.”
Giselle nodded. “Thank you. He will live. That is what matters. You said you wanted to talk to me about something?”
“Yes. Oh, my goodness where are my manners! Please sit down.”
Once they were all sitting, Antoinette nervously pleated a fold of her dress. “I don’t know if you heard, but my daughter Sandra and her husband were killed in a rock slide four years ago.”
“I’m sorry,” Giselle exclaimed. “We have lost touch, haven’t we? Why didn’t you let me know?”
“I sent a message to the house in Copper City, but I guess you didn’t get it.”
“No, the war between the Jones and the Smiths was heating up, and everyone was having a hard time getting any communications out; both sides intercepted private messages right and left during those years. Didn’t they have a child? Was she killed too?”
“No, she was staying with her father’s parents at the time. They asked if that could continue, and since I didn’t want her living here, I said yes. That is why I wrote you.”
“What can I do for you, old friend?”
“Glenna is old enough to get married now. She wants to come out here to see me. She doesn’t understand that if she lived with me, people—men—would assume that she is what I have become.”
“Are you sorry you chose as you did? If you want to start over somewhere else—”
“No, I made my choices, and I will live with them. But I don’t want Glenna to have to make that choice. If she had a respectable family to sponsor her when she comes…”
“Why couldn’t she stay with us?” inquired Bethany. “We could arrange for the two of you to meet away from here, if that’s what troubles you. I think there is a cabin on this side of the river that could be fixed up. The two of you could spend time there together.”
Both older women turned to look at her in surprise. “Have I said something wrong?” she asked.
Giselle smiled at her. “No, you haven’t. I think that would be an excellent idea. If you will give me her direction, Antoinette, I will write to her and invite her to stay with us. We will say she is a friend of Bethany’s.”
Antoinette wiped tears from her eyes. “Thank you, Giselle. I shouldn’t have doubted you, but when I didn’t hear from you after Sandra and Frank died, I thought—well you can probably guess what I thought.”
“I saw Amy in Junction City. I know she would be glad to hear from you. Why don’t you write to her?”
“I’ll do that. I am glad you came, Giselle, but I know you are still having troubles, and if what I hear is true, they aren’t over yet.”
“What have you heard?”
“I heard that Frank Lutz plans to foreclose on your ranch and mine with some papers a man named Hennessy forged for him.”
Giselle nodded. “I need an edge,” she admitted. “What do you know about Lutz?”
“I know that isn’t his real name. His real name is Smith, and he’s originally from Copper City.”
“It’s strange he didn’t go back when they came to power last year.”
“He can’t. He’s hiding from Caleb Jones.”
“But the Jones, lost the war,” Bethany said, puzzled. “Why would he still be hiding?”
“Caleb Jones didn’t die, and he’s been hunting Jake Smith for years. Caleb was Jones’s toughest enforcer. He can use a variety of weapons, including martial arts, and he’s mean as a sander. You see, Jake Smith raped and killed his baby sister ten years ago.” She paused and looked at Giselle. “Caleb Jones is in Bitterstone right now, or at least he was two weeks ago.”
“And he still wants revenge on Smith, alias Lutz?”
“The grapevine says he does. He adored that little girl. The man who told me this recognized Lutz and wanted to warn me about him. Lutz likes to rough up the girls, and he prefers them very young. My friend didn’t need to tell me that though. Two years ago, I had a young girl working in the kitchen. She was only thirteen, too young to work the backstairs, but Lutz saw her. He cornered her one night when we were especially busy and tried to rape her. I threw him out, but he told me unless he got to use her, he would see to it that I was put out of business. I got her away and he backed off, but Lutz still comes around and threatens me. My friend gave me the name of a man in Bitterstone who knows how to reach Caleb Jones.”
She rose and went to her desk and took a piece of paper out of a drawer. “Here, this is the address.”
Giselle took it. “Don’t you want to keep it in case you need it?”
Antoinette smiled grimly at her. “I already used it, but Lutz doesn’t know that, does he? If you tell him you won’t use it, to make him give you the forged documents, who is going to tell him you aren’t the only one who knows who he is?”
The two older women exchanged looks of understanding. Bethany kept her mouth shut.
Giselle stood up, “I need your granddaughter’s address as well.”
As they mounted and rode away from the pleasure house, Bethany looked over at her grandmother in wonder. “Gran,” she asked, “is there any place on St. Antoni where you don’t know someone with information when you need it?”
“A few places,” Giselle admitted. “It’s time for you girls to begin to know about the women’s network and meet the next generation. This is what we do, honey, this is how we survive.”
Returning to the Hotel by the same route, they left the tricorns tied to the back of the building, letting the porter know to have them returned to the stable. Once back upstairs, Giselle and Bethany put on the clothes they regularly wore in town.
Outside the bank, Giselle looked over at her granddaughter. “You remember what I told you to do?”
Bethany nodded, nothing in her face showing how nervous she was. She held open the door so her grandmother could enter.
Giselle nodded at the smattering of customers and acquaintances in the bank lobby they passed on their way to Lutz’s office. His office was off to the side, with glass halfway up the walls so he could watch his employees while they worked. Giselle entered without knocking. Lutz rose from his chair as she entered.
“Why Mrs. St. Vyr, what a pleasant surprise. How can I help you today?” he asked genially.
Giselle seated herself on the leather chair opposite Lutz’s enormous desk. Bethany closed and locked the office door and then pulled down the shades on the windows before coming to sit in the chair beside Giselle’s.
Lutz’s eyebrows rose. “I take it this is a private matter?”
Giselle folded her hands in her lap, allowing her eyes to run over him. Lutz was short with a round, moon shaped face and sandy hair.
“Yes, Jake Smith, this is a private matter.”
Lutz quickly hid his startled expression under a surprised one. “Jake Smith? Who is that?”
“Don’t bother to pretend you don’t understand me, Mr. Smith. I used to live in Copper City, remember. Survival there meant becoming very familiar with all the prominent members of both the Smith and Jones families. You are a little fatter, but you haven’t changed that much.”
He sat back down in his chair slowly, his benign expression hardening. “What do you want?”
“I still have ties to some of the Jones family. Caleb Jones is still alive, you know,” she said, watching his face, smiling a little when she saw the flicker of fear.
“What do you think he will do when I tell him where you are?”
“He can’t do anything,” Smith, alias Lutz blustered. “The Jones family is no longer in power.”
Giselle laughed, a light rippling sound. “I don’t think he will care about that, do you? You killed and raped his baby sister, Smith. Caleb has a long memory.”
Smith was breathing a little fast. “I had an alibi,” he said.
“Your brother and his wife? The Jones think your alibi was a lie, they just didn’t have time to prove it because the war was going on. In any case, I don’t think Caleb Jones will care about that. You should have left my family alone, Mr. Smith.”
“What do you want?” he repeated.
“I certainly think that not passing on this information to Caleb Jones will be worth my price. I want every piece of paper you have about the ranch, the mine, and the railroad stock, signed or not, and I want them right now.”
Smith’s teeth drew back over his lips in a snarl. “I don’t have them all here in this office.”
She waited, just looking at him.
“Some of them yes, but the others are at my home.”
“Then we will visit your lovely wife while you retrieve them,” she replied.
He looked at her slyly. “There might be other copies out there; I don’t have them all.”
She smiled at him. “Hennessy’s copies are being retrieved as we speak.”
He glared at her and went to the safe behind his desk. Bethany rose and followed him. He glanced at her and flinched when he saw the pistol in her hand. He opened the safe and reached inside.
“No,” Bethany said mildly. “Go and sit down over there in the corner. I will look for them.”
Glaring in impotent fury, Smith did as he was told.
Bethany removed the pistol inside the safe and took several bundles of papers out and put them on the desk, along with several heavy bags of gold and silver chips. Setting these aside, she carefully went through the papers, removing any that had any connection to her family, the ranch or the mine. After returning the money bags and the other papers to the safe, she closed it and stuck the pistol in her shoulderbag. Picking up the papers she had selected, she folded them and tucked them inside it as well.
Meticulously, she also went through all the drawers in the desk and in the file cabinet next to the wall. “I think this is all he has here, Gran,” she said.
“Excellent,” Giselle said. She gestured for Smith to get up. “Let’s go and pay a visit to your lovely wife, shall we?”
Sullenly, he stood up and led the way out of his office. Bethany tucked her gun back inside her shoulder bag and followed Giselle and Smith. She kept her hand on it though. She didn’t really think he would cause any trouble; it was broad daylight and there were too many potential witnesses around for him to try any tricks, but it never hurt to be safe.
Bethany and Giselle left Smith, alias Lutz fuming at his house and attempting to explain to his irate wife why he had allowed the two women to search their home.
“I’m sending you back to Copper City to visit your family,” he told her. “It isn’t safe here right now. I’ll follow you as soon as I can.