This is the first of my new Portal Worlds series. 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. 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.
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 Plots & Schemes
JOHNSON WENT out to the bunkhouse where he found his range crew idly playing a hand of cards. “Why aren’t you men out working?” he demanded.
Jones, a short thin man with a wispy mustache, looked up from his cards. “We ain’t had no orders to do anything, boss.”
“What do you mean? Didn’t my son give you orders this morning?”
“We ain’t seen Sam in more than a week,” volunteered Tom Wright.
“Where did he go?”
Jones shrugged, pushing two chips into the center of the table. “I call,” he said. “If you mean Sam, he packed up stuff and took off more than a week ago,” he said.
“If you mean Emory, he’s been drunk since he got here,” Larry volunteered.
“Yeah,” complained Bert Johns, “He got fresh with the cook and she and her family up and left. We ain’t had any decent food since.”
“I’ll take care of the cook,” Johnson said. “You men get out to the south pasture and check on the herd.”
He turned and went into the house. Samuel’s room was bare. The bed was made up and the room tidy, but everything Samuel owned was gone.
When he went out to the tricorn corral, he saw that Samuel’s favorite mount was gone. Returning to the house, he sat down at the table and stared at the place where his middle son usually sat. Ira Johnson sat there for some time before he noticed the folded paper on the mantle.
“Dear Pa,” it read. “I’m sorry to leave this way without saying goodbye, but it has now become necessary. Please don’t look for me. I expect nothing from you, and I wish you and Emory luck in making the J-4 into a prosperous ranch.
Your son, Samuel
- s. Stay away from St. Vyr and his womenfolk.”
Samuel was gone. He had left his family. Ira was furious. He kicked the table across the room and followed it up with the chairs.
“What’s all that racket?” The noise of the breaking table and chairs roused Emory, and he staggered into the doorway, holding onto the jamb to keep from falling over.
“You stupid worthless drunk!” Ira roared. He backhanded his son and Emory went down on his butt. Instead of getting up, he lay there snoring.
Breathing hard, his father stared at him in impotent fury. Going to the sink, Ira pumped a bucket of water and sloshed it over his son, following it up with a kick.
Emory rolled over on his stomach and puked. Getting another bucket, Johnson slopped it over the mess Emory had created. Grabbing his son by the collar and his belt, he hauled him outside to the water trough and dunked him in it until he was convinced Emory was too drunk to be sobered up and would have to sleep it off. He left him lying there in the dirt and went into the house to get rid of any liquor he found.
When Emory sobered up several days later, Johnson had located another cook for the men and put them back to work. Emory staggered into the kitchen and fell into a chair. Johnson put a cup of coffee in front of him and waited until he had drunk it before slapping cold biscuits leftover from breakfast in front of his son.
Emory looked at the biscuits with disgust. “What’s this?”
“Breakfast. You may as well know your brother is gone.”
Emory blinked. “My head hurts. Did you say Samuel is gone? Where did he go?”
“He didn’t say. That means it’s up to you and me to make the plan work.”
His son broke off a piece of the cold biscuit and chewed it. “What do you mean Pa?”
“You’re going to marry St. Vyr’s girl.”
“She’s already married,” Emory pointed out, “and the other one is about to be.”
“So? We make her a widow.”
“Pa, I don’t think I’m fast enough to beat McCaffey to the draw.”
“You ain’t going to face him in a gunfight. I got that part covered. You will go over to St. Vyr’s spread, grab the girl and bring her back here.”
Emory sipped his coffee in silence, considering the order. Finally, he said, “Won’t work Pa. Too many people around. What if she screams? I can’t keep her quiet and fight off the hands at the same time. Say I get her away from the ranch, even if he’s crippled, St. Vyr can still send his hands after us, and it ain’t like she’s some whore out of a pleasure house we drug up here. She’s a respectable married woman. Even some of our own men would turn on us for kidnapping her.”
Ira sat back. “Well if you’re too yellow to do it…”
His son flushed red and lunged to his feet. “You take that back! That’s a lie!”
“Glad to see that beating didn’t take all the sand out of you,” his father said coolly. “Sit back down and listen. We’re going to set fire to St. Vyr’s pastures near the house. It’s been a dry year and that grass will go up like tinder. That will draw almost everyone to fight the fire. In the confusion, it shouldn’t be too hard to grab the girl; if she screams, it’s likely everyone will just think it’s got to do with the fire.”
“Go take a bath. You stink. And stay away from the cook and her daughters. Save it to use on Bethany St. Vyr.”
Johnson was out of town, so he didn’t get the news that the first part of his plan had already failed. Martin Chamber was one of the bodies shown to Tim Gonzales, the town Sheriff who rode out to the ranch with the doctor and Paco. By this time, the St. Vyr’s had quite a collection of corpses to turn over to him.
The sheriff eyed the stiffs being piled into a buckboard for him to take back to town with disfavor. “Hell,” he said, “I don’t want them. Just bury them out here and charge the town for it. I’ll take any papers and money to hold for their next of kin, but that’s all I want besides your signed statements about what happened.”
“Certainly, Sheriff,” Giselle agreed. “You can use my parlor to take witness statements.”
After setting Gonzales up with a table, writing paper and some coffee, she went upstairs to check on the doctor’s progress.
“Well, Garth, how is our patient?” she inquired.
The Doctor, a portly man in his forties, looked up from taking Carlos’ pulse and smiled at her. “An excellent job, Giselle. I wish I had you as a nurse more often.”
She laughed. “Shame on you! What would your wife say?”
He laughed too. “Skin me, probably.”
“If you are through talking about me as if I’m not here,” Carlos interjected irritably, “When can I get out of this bed?”
Doctor Ruggles grinned at him. “Son, I thought the idea was for you to get into Miss Iris’s bed.”
Carlos glared at him. “You are hilarious. The idea is for us to get married. I can’t do that flat on my back.”
“Actually, you can get up now. I’d put off any marital gymnastics until your shoulder heals a little more though.”
“I want my clothes,” Carlos told Giselle.
“Over there on the chair,” she replied.
“Can I offer you a cup of coffee Garth before you start back?”
“I’d love one,” the doctor replied, following her out of the room.
Alec looked for Bethany and found her out in the stables, checking on her prize racers.
“You both did just fine,” she told Tessa and Paco. “They are in great shape.”
“Does this mean I can ride Stinger in next month’s races?” Paco asked eagerly.
Bethany nodded. “I spoke to your mother, and she agreed to allow it, so yes you can ride him.”
“What about me?” inquired Tessa.
“You will be up on Glory for the sprints,” Bethany said. “As of today, both of you will be spending a lot of time with my racers, so you are excused from any other duties around the house and barns.”
Tessa gave her a big smile.
“They act like you gave them a gift instead of a prescription for work,” Alec said.
She smiled at him. “Yes, they do, don’t they?”
“We need to talk, honey,” he said.
A little wariness came into her eyes. “About what?”
“It’s time to take the fight to the Johnsons,” he said. “So far, all we’ve done is make defensive moves. That won’t end the war.”
She leaned against him. “What do you want to do?”
“I intend to ask Carlos to go into Junction City and file a complaint with the District Court so we can get it legally on record that Johnson has attacked us twice.”
“Does that mean you are turning the fight over to the Marshals?”
“No, it just gives me cover when I take Johnson and his son down.”
She looked troubled. “What about Samuel?”
“As far as I know, he’s out of it. From what Giselle says, he left without intending to return.”
“He’s Jeanne’s husband now. I don’t want a rift in the family.”
He dropped a kiss on her brow. “I know you don’t. I won’t fight Samuel if I can help it. This is the way it has to be though.”
“Have you told Papa?”
He nodded. “We talked about it this morning before Gonzalez got here.”
“I see. You will be careful, won’t you?”
“Worried about me?”
“Oh, I know you can beat them in a fair fight, but they don’t fight fairly—”
Tessa came running back in the stable, followed by Paco. “The pasture is on fire!”
Bethany grabbed her arm. “Get up to the cupola and ring the bell.
“Paco, take a tricorn and open the pasture gates. Try to herd the goats toward the river. Go! Alec, open the stall doors in here. I will open the back doors.”
“Wait,” he said. “We need to keep enough saddled here to run if the fire gets away from us.
Bethany went to the tack room and dragged out saddles. Quickly she and Alec readied all the tricorns in the barn and led them into the courtyard.
Iris’s goats came running through and she opened the rear barn doors to let them out, ducking back inside the barn when Paco, who was screeching like a mad thing rode by.
She saw that Alec had organized the men to dig a firebreak between the house and the burning grass. Bethany headed to the house leading her father’s saddled tricorn. Unable to move, Michael St. Vyr would be trapped in the house if it burned.
Inside the house, Iris was handing out buckets and pails, instructing everyone to pour water down the house walls. Margo and Giselle were packing food and blankets into the buckboard in case they needed to make a run for town.
“Where’s Papa?” she asked Giselle.
“I told Stevens to help him out to the courtyard,” her grandmother replied.
“They aren’t there. I’m going to check his room.”
She nearly tripped over Stevens prone body when she entered her father’s room. Looking down, she saw that Stevens head was bleeding, bending to check on him, she realized that Michael was struggling with Emory Johnson over a knife.
“Leave him alone!” Bethany shouted. Jumping up, she grabbed Johnson’s knife arm, but he shrugged her off with a blow that sent her to the floor.
Screaming for her Grandmother to come and help, Bethany tried again to pull Johnson off her father. This time she saw stars when he hit her. Falling back against the bed, she banged against Michael’s holster hanging over the bedpost. She took a second to realize what had hit her. Grabbing the gun from the holster, she cocked it and pulled the trigger. There was a double boom in the small room as Bethany and another gun both fired.
A bloom of red exploded in Johnson’s back. He fell forward, still clutching the knife which cut a deep slash in Michael’s leg, before he slumped the rest of the way to the floor.
“Papa!” Iris shoved Carlos out of the doorway and ran to the bed. “He’s been cut. Bethany! Snap out of it! Get me a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.”
“Here,” Carlos handed her his neck bandanna, which she quickly wrapped around Michael’s bleeding leg and tied over the slash.
“It needs stitched,” she said.
“I’ll get Gran,” Bethany said.
She returned a few minutes later with Giselle who carried her first aid kit. Giselle shoved Emory Johnson with her foot. “Get this mess out of here. Carlos, see if Stevens is alive.”
Giselle took scissors and cut her son’s pant leg so she could reach his flesh. She cleaned the wound with an iodine mixture she made herself and then directed Iris to hold the edges of the skin together while she made her stitches in the wound, finishing by wrapping the wound tightly with linen strips.
Michael had lain there in tightlipped silence while his mother worked.
“What happened Mike? How did he get in here?” Carlos asked.
“He must have already been in the house. He followed Stevens when he came in hollering about fire and saying I needed to move out to the courtyard. Next thing I knew this Johnson whelp hit him over the head with the fire iron. He came at me with a knife when I reached for my pistol to shoot him. What is this about a fire?”
“The south pasture is on fire,” Bethany said. Alec hitched up two plow tricorns, and he’s got men taking turns plowing a firebreak between the house and orchards and the fire.”
“C’mon Mike, let’s get you out to the courtyard,” Carlos said. He went to the bed and slung the older man’s arm over his shoulder, grabbing him by his belt with his other hand. Iris came up on her father’s other side and helped steady him as Carlos took him outside.
“Is Doctor Ruggles still here?” Bethany asked Margo.
“Yes, I think he set up in the parlor to tend burns people will get from fighting the fire,” she replied. “Gonzales is out with the others fighting the fire. If you are going out there, take a wet bandana and wrap it around your face.”
Bethany nodded. Tying the bandana around her face, it occurred to her that the fire might not have been an accident, so she went to the gun cabinet and loaded her favorite pistol. Buckling on a holster to carry it.
She filled a bucket with water and grabbed as many bandanas as she could carry out of the cupboard in the hallway on her way to find Gonzales and tell him there was another body.
Outside the front door was beldam. As Bethany stood on the steps searching for Gonzales, she saw Ira Johnson as he dismounted from his tricorn. She set down the bucket and drew her pistol, keeping it hidden along her leg as she waited for him to come up to her.
When he was about five feet away, she raised the gun. “If you are looking for your son, his body is inside.”
Johnson checked his approach. “His body?” he repeated.
“Yes. I killed him. Can I assume it was you who set this fire?”
He stared at her, noticing for the first time how much she looked like her father. St. Vyr’s cold gray eyes stared back at him above her hard-set mouth in her pretty face. “You killed him? You?”
“That’s right. Do you want his body, or shall I just turn it over to the sheriff with the others?”
“Oh, the sniper you hired to kill my husband? He’s dead too. Alec took care of him. Carlos took care of the men who were robbing the miners. Now, if you want to claim your son’s body, you will have to wait until the sheriff has seen it.”
“You mean you’ve got another one?” Gonzales had come up while they talked and now stood at the base of the steps listening.
“I’m afraid so, sheriff. He is inside in my father’s room. I shot him when he was trying to knife Papa.”
“By the way, Johnson here probably started the fire. I don’t know if you can arrest him for that, but—”
“I want my son’s body returned!” Johnson said, turning to face the sheriff. “He stayed drunk for a week after she threw him over for that gunfighter. Today I found he’d headed over here, and I followed him. I didn’t set any damn fire!”
“Now why do I think that is a damn lie?” inquired Carlos. He shut the door behind him and stood looking down at Johnson, his hands resting on his hips, close to his holstered gun.
“Probably for the same reason I do,” answered Alec who had followed Gonzales to the house.
Gonzales looked uneasily from one young man to the other. He had been a sheriff too long not to recognize bad trouble brewing when he saw it. He decided the safest path would be to answer Bethany. “I’m sorry Mrs. McCaffey, but unless you have some proof, like a witness, I can’t arrest Johnson for starting that fire.”
“Maybe you can’t arrest, him Gonzales,” Alec said implacably, “but I can damn well issue a warning. Don’t come back here again, Johnson. I’m issuing orders to shoot on sight if you, or any of your riders’ come onto the Golden Tricorn.”
“And I will double that for the Lucky Strike,” added Carlos.
Johnson glared at them. “Yeah? From what Lutz tells me you won’t own either of them for long. I may just come along when he forecloses. I want to see it.” He turned to Gonzales, “I want my son’s body brought out to the J-4 when you are done with it.”
“I’ll take care of that,” Gonzales assured him. As he walked back to his tricorn, mounted and rode away.
Carlos turned to look at Bethany, “What the hell is he talking about? How could Lutz foreclose? We don’t have any loans. Did Mike sign a loan without telling me?”
She shook her head. “Not as far as I know.”
Alec turned to his wife. “We think we have the fire contained. We plowed a circle around it, and right now it’s burning itself out. Let’s go talk to Mike about Lutz.”