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The Plot Thickens – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 16

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. 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 16 The Plot Thickens

   https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

MIKE FRANKS waited until the St. Vyr women had disembarked in Junction City to approach Iris. She and Jeanne were waiting while Gran negotiated with the dockworkers to take their baggage to the hotel.

“Miss Iris, what a nice surprise to find you here,” Franks said. “Can I help you ladies get your luggage to the hotel?”

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary,” Giselle told him. “These gentlemen have already agreed to do that for us.

“Then may I find you a cab to take you there?”

“That has been arranged, but thank you,” Giselle’s voice was perfectly polite, but dismissive.

Franks scowled at her back as the three women mounted closed buggy drawn by a large brown tricorn.

“Excuse me, but you tell me where you’re taking the baggage?” Franks asked the nearest dockworker.

The man scowled over at him. “Seems to me the ladies weren’t too anxious to make your acquaintance,” he said. “You want to know so bad, you’ll just have to follow us.”

Irritated, Franks waited until the dockworkers had loaded up their wagon with luggage to take on into the town. It was doubly annoying because he discovered as he followed them on foot, that they made stops at several places along the way to drop off goods and baggage. The last stop was the Grand, an upscale hotel that boasted a café as well as rooms for rent.

He was at the front desk, trying to convince the skinny clerk to let him see the register when he saw Samuel Johnson enter the lobby. Instead of his usual cowman’s pants and boots, Johnson was dressed in a grey suit. When he saw Johnson approaching the desk, Franks ducked behind a large potted plant a few feet away.

“Tom Clancy,” Johnson told the clerk. “I believe you are holding a room for me.”

“Yes sir,” the clerk agreed. “Here is your key. The room is at the top of the stairs on the right. Do you need assistance with your luggage?”

“No thanks, I just have this.” Johnson held up a single valise. “I’m staying here overnight to meet my fiancée. We’ll be leaving tomorrow afternoon after the wedding.”

“Congratulations, Sir.”

“Thanks.” Without having seen Franks, Johnson started up the stairs.

Franks whistled to himself. Now just what was Johnson up to? And why had he given the clerk a false name?

So, one of the Johnson cubs was getting married, was he? And under a false name too. Franks knew enough about the Johnson family to think none of the sons made a move that hadn’t been sanctioned by old Ira Johnson, so this must tie in with one of Johnson’s schemes. If he found out what the Johnsons were up to, it might be worth money to keep quiet about it or if that didn’t work, then to talk to the right people. Considering matters, Franks decided to stay a while. Tracking down Iris St. Vyr could wait.

Down The Rabbit Hole – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 15

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. 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 15 Down The Rabbit Hole

   https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

THE THREE men sat there on their tricorns dumfounded. Red looked back over his shoulder at the bushy forest they had just left and then back down into the fertile valley. “What is this?” he asked.

“Beats me,” Durango opined, scratching his head. “It sure doesn’t look like any outlaw hideout I ever saw.”

“Oh, and you’ve seen so many,” Red retorted.

“Well, I haven’t seen that many either,” Carlos said, “but this place looks more like a prosperous farm than a place where outlaws would go to escape a posse.”

He studied the area for a few minutes and then started his tricorn over to a stand of Indigo trees. Silently, Red and Durango followed him. Once there, Carlos swung down off the glossy red striped tricorn. He loosened the cinch and let the animal drop his head to feed. The men followed his example and then sat down to wait. Carlos opened his saddlebags and took out a pair of binoculars. The binoculars were new and a rarity on St. Antoni where the glass had to be ground and set into the polished wood by hand. Michael St. Vyr had given these to him on his last birthday, but Carlos had seldom needed to use them. He sat down with his back against the smooth bore of a tree and turned the lenses on the farmhouse and garden. After several minutes, he handed the glasses to Red. “Have a look,” he said.

Red swept the gaze of the binoculars over the house and barn and then wordlessly handed them off to Durango, who did the same. After a moment, Durango handed them back to Carlos.

“There’s a woman and kids down there,” Red said.

“Yep,” said Carlos.

“Un-huh,” Durango repeated.

“Well,” Carlos said. “I guess I’m just going to have to go down there to figure out what the set-up is.”

“Ah—maybe you should let one of us go,” Red said diffidently.

“Why,” Carlos asked sharply.

“Well, the fact is Boss, you won’t pass as a tramp drover down on his luck,” Durango said.

“Yeah,” Red agreed. “I’m sorry, Boss, but no out of work drover would have a fancy ‘corn like yours.”

“He’d have sold him for eating money,” explained Durango. “Now, Red and me, our ‘corns don’t look like anything out of the way special. If that is an outlaw hideout, one look at your ‘corn and they’ll think you’re a bounty hunter or a lawman so they won’t talk to you.”

“Either that or tell you a pack of lies,” Red added.

Carlos looked at them in frustration. What they said made sense, even if it went against the grain to let them take the risk instead of himself. “Okay,” he said, “you’ve got a point. But both of you go. I’ll sit here where I can give you cover if you have to make a run for it.”

“Watch that place where we came out too,” Durango suggested. “They might get a visitor.”

Carlos nodded and got up to move his tricorn further back into the stand of trees. Durango and Red tightened up their cinches and headed down into the valley toward the farmhouse. Carlos sat back down against the tree and raised his binoculars.

He watched as Durango and Red rode up to the farmhouse. A tall, gaunt man with reddish hair stepped out from the barn to meet them. Although he couldn’t see what was said, Carlos could tell that man was telling them to move on by his gestures. Finally, however, he pointed at a small building near the edge of the cultivated property with an undersized corral, and the two rode toward it.

It looked as if they had talked their way in. Carlos rose and stretched. He had just straightened back up when he heard a branch crack behind him.

“Don’t move, mister,” a young voice said. He felt the pressure of a gun barrel against his back as his pistol was slipped from its holster.

“Can I turn around now? I’d like to see who’s holding me up,” he said.

When he turned, he found him facing the girl he had seen through the binoculars earlier. “Let’s take a walk,” she said, motioning for him to head down toward the farmhouse. “Leave your ‘corn. I’ll come back for him.”

Sourly, Carlos allowed himself to be herded toward the farmhouse.

“What’s your name girl?”

“Karin,” she said.

“You have a last name Karin? Mine is Carlos Madonna.”

“Smith. Our last name is Smith.”

“Smith,” he repeated. “I see. Is that your father down there or your husband?”

“My husband, not that it’s any of your business.”

Since the conversation appeared dried up, he said nothing more.

The man was waiting for him as they walked up. “He was watching us through glasses,” the girl said. “I thought that was a bad idea, so I brought him down to meet you.”

Smith nodded, looking Carlos over carefully. “Well,” he said, “You’re sure no out of work puncher.”

“That’s right,” Carlos agreed. “My name is Madonna. I was trailing two outlaws, and I saw them come down here. Have you seen them?”

“You don’t look like the law, neither,” Smith continued as if Carlos hadn’t spoken.

“No, I’m not the law. I was hired to find two outlaws who held up some miners a while back.”

Smith hawked and spat. “No one like that here. There’s two drifters just came by asking for shelter for the night. I told them they could use the old farm shack out by the trees.”

“You do that often, put up strangers?”

“Sometimes. Like the good book says, I cast bread upon the waters. Someday I might need it.”

“I’d like to meet these drifters.”

Smith gave him a suspicious look. “Don’t believe me? Well, they’re right over there. Go ahead, but I’ll have no shooting started here around my family.”

“Fair enough. Your wife took my gun anyway.”

“Well, you look peaceable enough. Give him back his pistol Karin.”

“Thanks.” Carlos took his gun, rechecked the loads, a fact that did not escape Smith’s notice, and re holstered the pistol. He walked down toward the shack, watched by Smith and his wife.

Durango came to the door of the shack as he approached. “Hello, the house,” Carlos called. “May I come in?”

“Come ahead,” Durango said, just as loudly.

As soon as he got within talking distance, Carlos lowered his voice. “You were right about not passing as a down on his luck drover. The Smiths think I’m a bounty hunter.”

“Who are you supposed to be hunting?”

“I told the truth there. Said I was hunting the men who held up the miners. Smith seemed to accept it. He allowed me to come over here anyway. Did he accept your story?”

“Seems to have. I think it’s best if we stay here and then leave early in the morning.”

Carlos nodded. “I’ll tell him that you aren’t the men I’m looking for, and ask if there is another way out of the valley. You do the same in the morning and we’ll meet up when we get out of sight of the farm.”

“Sounds okay.”

“Well, thanks boys,” Carlos turned and walked back toward Smith.

“They aren’t who I was looking for. They’ve been over in Tago Crossing for the last month working roundup on the K-B spread. Lost their pay in a gambling game.”

Smith nodded. “What will you do now?”

“Start over, I guess. Is there another way out of here?”

“Nope. Just the one you came in.”

“Okay, well, I guess I’ll start back then. I’d like to clear that trail before it gets too dark to see. Thanks.”

He turned and started back up the hill to where he had tied his tricorn.

Carlos took his time before tightening the cinch and heading back into the brush tunnel. He reached the mine camp where they had spent last night just as dusk was falling. Carlos picketed the tricorn and built a small fire in the fire pit used by the miners. As a precaution, he made his bed over behind the cabin and close to the tricorn, whose alert senses would warn him if anyone approached.

Back in River Crossing, a tall skinny man named Marvin Chamber stepped onto the docks and looked around. His rifle dangling from his hand, he slung a battered warbag over one shoulder and headed for the Hotel. Seth Lindsey, the desk clerk, eyed Chamber with disfavor, but he had been given a large tip so he led Chamber up the backstairs to the Johnson suite.

Johnson dropped a gold chip into the clerk’s hand, reminding him, “You didn’t see anyone.”

“No sir,” Lindsey said as he shut the door.

“Trip out here okay?” Johnson asked.

Chamber shrugged. “It went. What’s the job?”

“I need two men taken out. I’m not to be connected with either one.”

Chamber waited patiently.

“The first one is Alec McCaffey. Be careful with him. He’s gun savvy, so don’t let him spot you. He’s son-in-law to Michael St. Vyr. You’ll find him somewhere around the Golden Tricorn Ranch, east of town.”

“You got a description?”

“About medium height, brown hair and eyes. Usually rides a gold striped tricorn. He’s worth three pounds of gold chips.”

“McCaffey. Would that be the McCaffey that runs a range detection agency over in Bitterstone?”

“Yes, that’s the man.”

“Uh, huh. I know him. He’s going to cost you.”

“Three pounds is a lot of money.”

“Yeah, but the way I hear it, he runs with Henry Miller, and Miller is a tiger-bat on wheels in a fight.”

“Four pounds.”

Chamber nodded. “Alright. Who’s the other one?”

“Another of St. Vyr’s son-in-laws. Name of Carlos Madonna. He runs the Lucky Strike Mine. Dark eyes, dark skin, black hair. About six foot. Dresses nice. Not so gun savvy as McCaffey, but the word is he’s good with a knife.”

“Thrown or hand to hand?”

“Both from what I hear.”

Chamber nodded. “Twelve pounds silver, delivered to my account in Copper City.”

“Half now and half when the jobs finished. I set you up with a room here—”

“No thanks. Too high-toned. I’ll get a room across the river.”

“Suit yourself.”

Winds of Change – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 14

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. 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 14 Winds of Change

   https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

THE ENTIRE family came down to the loading docks to see Gisele and her two granddaughters off on their buying trip to Junction City. Neither Giselle or Jeanne showed any sympathy for either Carolos or for Iris this morning: Carlos appeared sullen and he winced at the loud noises the rivermen were making as they prepared the boat for the trip up river. Iris was pale and heavy eyed and she avoided looking at him or standing anywhere near Carlos.

Bethany frowned at the pair and whispered to Jeanne, “What’s wrong with them?”

“Lover’s quarrel,” Jeanne replied succinctly. “They’ll get over it.”

She flung her arms around Bethany and hugged her hard, before handing her sister a sealed letter. “Don’t read it until you’re alone, okay?”

“Why, what is it?” Bethany asked. “What’s wrong? Are you in trouble?”

Her sister gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I’m not in trouble, and I’m going to be very happy. Please believe that. I love you Sis.”

She gave her father a dutiful peck on the cheek before following her grandmother and sister up the ramp.

Michael St. Vyr rolled his chair back toward the street, stopping at the edge of the wooden walkway where his carriage waited.

“Mom convinced me the pair of you should a little time alone without all of us in your faces, so Carlos and I are going to stay in town for a couple of days,” he told Bethany and Alec.

“Mike—” began Alec.

“No, you take a little time for yourselves boy,” St. Vyr said, holding up a hand to stop him. “Those yahoos Johnson hired are still licking their wounds from being run off Ruby Canyon. We’ve got time before they start something else.”

“Thank you, Papa,” Bethany said, bending down to kiss him. She slipped her had under her husband’s arm and looked up at him. “It’s going to be fun, having just us at the ranch.”

“Henry’s got a report for us,” St. Vyr told Carlos as they watched the carriage roll away. “Let’s head over to the Hotel and find out what he’s learned.”

The found Henry sitting in a dark corner of the bar at the Hotel, sipping a whiskey.

“Better if we’re not seen keeping company,” Henry said dryly to St. Vyr. “So far no one’s noticed that I came into town with Alec, so they haven’t associated me with you and they talk to me.”

Henry took a sip of his whiskey. “Sometimes I get some mighty queer notions hanging around the bad elements in town.”

“Oh? What kind of funny notions?” inquired Carlos.

“How much do you know about a gent named Lutz?”

“Jeramiah Lutz?” demanded Michael.

“That’s the name.”

“Why, he owns the local bank,” Michael said slowly. “Kind of a fussbudget; nobody really likes him because he’s a sharp operator. I wouldn’t borrow money from him. He got rich on foreclosures. Why?”

“Well, the rumor is he got a man named Franks on the payroll.”

Max Franks?” Carlos demanded.

“Yep, I think that was his handle.”

Carlos swore. “That’s the gent who was hanging around Iris when we went to the revue, and later at the wedding reception. I told her he was un hombre malo, but she didn’t believe me.”

“Word on the streets is when he wants to foreclose on a farm or a mine claim, Lutz uses Franks to convince folks to give up on paying back a loan.”

“Well, that’s interesting,” Michael said, “but I don’t see as it’s got anything to do with what we asked you to find out.”

Henry took another sip. “Maybe nothing, but Franks doesn’t just work for Lutz. On his own time, the word is he makes spending money by robbing honest miners. This may not have anything to do with what you wanted to know either, but last night Franks spent some time at Lutz’s house and later he was having a drink with Ben Sykes.  I was too far away to hear what was said, but looked to me like he was giving him orders.”

“Sykes is a gutter rat who beats up honest men for money,” Michael stated. “If everyone wasn’t afraid to testify against him he’d have been locked up a long time ago.”

“The miners look away when I asked about Sykes,” Henry added. “I think he’s forcing them to do something. Something they don’t want to do, but they are afraid not to do what he wants.”

“He’s not smart enough to organize the high-grading,” Carlos said thoughtfully.

“Jeramiah Lutz is,” Michael said. He looked at Henry. “Can you find out more about what Sykes is making honest miners do? Without putting yourself in a hole, I mean?”

Henry nodded. “Probably. Right now, most of them think I’m just a nosy old man who used to be a hard rock miner, so they talk to me. What are you going to do?”

“Watch Franks,” Carlos said. “When he leaves town, I want to follow him. If I can locate his hideout, maybe I can find proof he’s the one running our miners off their claims. I need to pick up a couple of good trackers from the ranch; Red and maybe Durango if Alec can spare them.”

Miller shook his head. “If you’re waiting for Franks to leave town so you can follow him you’re wasting your time. He got on the same steamer your fiancée did.”

“What!” Carlos exclaimed in outrage.

The two older men exchanged an amused glance. Both of them knew Madonna was more worried about Franks paying court to Iris than whatever else he might be up to on his trip up river. Michael St. Vyr shrugged. “Relax, son. What if Franks is on the steamer? None of my girls is silly enough to fall for a slick charmer like Franks. Even if they were, Mom would send him on his way.”

After a brief struggle, Carlos agreed. “Well I think I still need those trackers. I want to look at where the three miners were robbed. Maybe we can find where Franks came from. It’s been pretty dry up in the hills, so the tracks should still be there.”

Accordingly, he rode out to the Tricorn that afternoon, intending to leave in the morning for the hills. Alec was happy for him to take the two trackers with him.

Durango was a short, thin man of Hispanic ancestry who fancied himself one of the Vaqueros he read about in the western romances smuggled through the portal. He dressed in tight pants, a loose shirt and a large sombrero. His boots carried huge roweled spurs that jingled when he walked. Despite his fancy dress, he was excellent on a trail. Red was a tall, skinny carrot top whose freckled face always showed sunburn. He had learned to track as a boy when finding game for the table because if you missed a shot you might not eat that night.

When the three men arrived at the first claim that had been raided, it was late afternoon the next day. A hand cranked dry washer still stood up the hill from where the men had worked, although it was listing badly to one side, and pieces of the broken sluice box were scattered along the shore of the bubbling creek. Most telling was a dark splotch of dirt where a body had lain. Up the hill by a rough built wooden cabin there were two freshly dug graves.

The man who had reported the attack to Carlos had taken the time to bury the two dead miners before he came into the headquarters of the Lucky Strike.

“I’m through,” he said, spitting on the floor. “It ain’t worth it Madonna. Them claim jumpers was on us before we could blink. They just up and shot Jase and Carl point blank. They’d have got me too, except I was up the hill skinning out a pronghorn I’d just shot. I had time to get undercover, but they cleaned us out of everything but this.” He dropped his own small bag of gold nuggets on Carlos’s desk.

“What will you do, Lin?” Carlos had asked him.

“I ain’t figured that out yet. But I got a daughter over to Copper City. I figure I’ll go spend some time with her and the kids.” He had signed the quitclaim papers on the mining claim and stomped out.

They dismounted and baited the tricorns before beginning a slow sweep around the camp, looking for the trail the raiders had made coming into camp. It was dusk before Red found it; a faint scrape of several tricorn hooves following each other and leading back into the canyon.

“I wouldn’t recommend following it in the dark boss,” he told Carlos. “I’d just as soon catch whatever we find in daylight.”

Carlos nodded and went to unsaddle his own mount and unload the pack tricorn. Durango was already making up a fire in the cabin’s fire pit.

The trail into the canyon the next morning was dark and spooky. It wound a serpentine path under overhanging vines that hid the sun, and sticker bushes tore at their clothes. It was impossible for more than one tricorn to travel it at a time. After flipping a round flat disc to decide who would be the trailblazer, Durango led off, followed by Carlos with Red bringing up the rear with the pack animal.

They finally came out into a shaded valley of lush green grass. A sparkling creek gurgled merrily through the center of it. At the far end of the valley, they could barely make out a cabin, a barn, and what seemed to be a fenced garden in the distance. Red had stopped when he exited the opening in the bushes, moving just enough so the others could come off the trail.

The Arena – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 12

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. 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 12 The Arena   https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

GISELLE HAD decreed the wedding reception be held on the Saturday after the wedding and she and Iris had worked hard to make it a success.

When Saturday came, the ballroom in The Hotel was lit up by the new-finagled gas lighting system.  The owner was proudest of the huge chandelier in the center of the ballroom.  Giselle St. Vyr eyed the man engaged in the intricate task of lighting one hundred individual gas lamps and expressed the hope he would not blow the entire Hotel off its hinges.  It was entirely safe Georges Coudoual, the owner, hastened to assure her, the very newest technology.

Giselle sniffed.  “Candles,” she stated regally, “were good enough in my day.”

“Yes, but only look how beautiful everything looks,” exclaimed Bethany.

Giselle, Margo and the three girls were conducting a last-minute inspection before the reception.

“It looks wonderful Henri,” Giselle said. The long mirrors beside the French doors all along one side of the room let in more light.  French doors on one wall opened into Madame Coudocal’s prized rose garden. It was a famous landmark in the city states. The hotel owner’s wife had developed it from plant cuttings her husband had paid to have smuggled through the Portal during his travels around the City States.  The raised dais near the kitchen doors was waiting for the Hotel orchestra (a string band accompanied by a piano, but Georges insisted on calling it the orchestra since he had persuaded two flute players to move from Port Breakwater).  Buffet tables were set up along the other wall and the polished wooden floor shone like glass.

“They look beautiful, don’t they,” Giselle said to Margo, looking fondly at her three granddaughters.

“Si, Senora,” Margo agreed, but her gaze lingered the longest on Iris. Tonight, the girl was an ice princess in pale blue silk, her hair piled high on her queenly head, the color of her gown making her blue eyes even more striking.  The pair were still children when Iris had left with Giselle, but even then, Carlos had felt something special for her.

Bethany, as the bride, was naturally wearing her wedding dress.  The dress was of the style popular when the Portal was first discovered, off the shoulder and cut low across the breast, with a huge hooped skirt made of yards and yards of tulle and lace.  The buttery white color made the perfect foil for Bethany’s bright hair and creamy complexion. Giselle blinked away tears.

Her gaze was caught and held by her youngest granddaughter who was spinning around in the middle of the floor in exuberant good spirits. Jeanne looked beautiful tonight, she thought. Jeanne’s dress was a turquoise blue with wide skirts that clung lovingly to Jeanne’s tall, lush body. It brought out golden highlights in her honey colored hair, the vivid blue of her eyes and natural red of her lips. Despite her high spirits, something was bothering Jeanne, Giselle could see it in her eyes when the girl thought no one was looking.  She made a mental note to coax the problem out later. Tonight was for Bethany to celebrate her wedding and Iris her engagement.

Georges came back to inform Giselle that the guests were arriving.

“Where is your husband?” Giselle asked Bethany.

“With Papa and Carlos, in the saloon.  Where else?”

Giselle made a face and directed Georges to fetch their absent menfolk and gathered the women for the reception line. There had been trouble with Margo when she had discovered Bethany expected her to stand with the family.  To her protests that the elite of River Crossing would be offended by her presence, Bethany had retorted this was her reception and she would be offended by Margo’s absence.  The town, Bethany stated with some of Giselle’s regal arrogance, could like it or lump it

“You are my foster mother,” Bethany had concluded. “After Mama died, it was you who came and held me when I had nightmares and dried my tears and washed my face.  I don’t give a—a damn what the rest of the town thinks! I want you there.”

Unable to protest in the face of this insistence, Margo now stood next to Giselle in one of Giselle’s gowns.

To prevent gatecrashers, Bethany’s announcement of the reception had invited all the inhabitants of the Crossing who lived on this side of the river.

“I know you won’t mind, Mrs. St. Vyr, but I brought a gate crasher to the party. You remember Jake Lancer, don’t you?”

“Indeed I do,” Giselle said smiling. “Jake and I are old friends. If I had known you were in town, Jake, I would have asked you myself.”

Johnson frowned, but quickly recovered. “Why you sly dog, Lancer. Why are you keeping such a pretty flirt in the shadows?”

“It sure was a surprise when the prettiest girl in the district marries a stranger a week after she met him,” Johnson declared. “I guess with your daddy not able to lead his men, he decided he needed a fighter to run his ranch. I’m sorry my boy didn’t win your heart, and I know he is too.”

Giselle intervened hastily when she saw Alec stiffen and Henry Miller move to the side for a better position when the fight started.  Long experience with masculine responses to provocation of this kind told her a SCENE was about to occur.

“Oh, but this was not the first time Bethany and Alec have met!” she exclaimed.  “Alec’s family is from Copper City where I used to live you know.  His mother and I knew each other. She bought several necklaces from me.” Giselle told that whopping lie without a blink.

“Surely,” Bethany seconded her grandmother, opening her eyes very wide, “Mr. Lancer, you don’t think I would marry a man I had never met!” She brought the pointed heel of her dancing shoe down hard on McCaffey’s toe to prevent him denying the claim. A spasm of pain crossed his face.

“I can assure you Bethany and I were well acquainted before our marriage,” McCaffey’s voice was pleasant, and although he was speaking to Lancer, the warning was plainly meant for Johnson, “and I can and will deal with any insinuations that imply otherwise.”

Lancer was too canny a politician to be caught in the crossfire he could plainly see was building. He ignored most of the preceding conversation and blandly requested Giselle’s hand for the first dance.

Giselle, who could see from the expression on Emery Johnson’s face he was eager to make further inflammatory remarks, gladly assented and began stage-managing a retreat from the looming social disaster. She would not have a scene here.

“I will be delighted, Jim.  Bethany, you and Alec must begin.  If you will go to the center of the floor, Carlos will direct the musicians to begin and then he and Iris will join you.  Michael, I know your legs are tiring.  Do you sit down. Jeanne—”

“If you don’t mind ma’am,” Samuel Johnson intervened.  “Miss Jeanne has already consented to give me the first dance.”

Giselle’s mobile brows rose.  “Indeed. Very well, the music is starting.”

Three hours later Bethany slipped outside into the darkened rose garden and sat down on one of the stone benches to pull off her high-heeled shoe.  Her feet hurt.  She had danced almost nonstop since she and Alec had opened the dance.  By a minor miracle she had so far avoided Emery Johnson.  She avoided him not because she had a guilty conscience, but because like Giselle, she didn’t want to become involved in a nasty public scene. Bethany was under no illusions about why Emery Johnson had wanted to marry her. He would enjoy embarrassing her in public because she had dared to refuse his suit.

Ira Johnson wanted the Golden Tricorn and the Lucky Strike silver mine.  As Michael St. Vyr’s eldest daughter, she would be assumed to be his heiress.  Her husband would be able to ‘manage’ the ranch and mine for three helpless females. When she had refused him, Emery had seemed stunned. He was a handsome man. Bethany suspected he had expected her to be an easy conquest. She was glad that except for that scene at the door, Emery had seemed content to be avoided.  She felt safe in coming out to the garden because she thought she had seen Emery going into the Hotel Saloon.

She had changed shoes so she could rub the other foot when Johnson loomed up out of the darkness.

“Hiding from your new husband?” Emery Johnson voice was slurred with drink, and he swayed a little on his feet.

Speak of the devil, Bethany thought resignedly, putting her shoe back on.

“My feet hurt,” she said.  “Alec is bringing us some punch.  I’ll just see what is keeping him.”

When she stood up and attempted to go around him, Johnson grabbed her arm and attempted to pull her to him. Bethany immediately slapped his face and kicked him in the shin with the toe of her pointed shoe.

No gentleman, Emery slapped her back with enough force to make her head spin. “You little bitch,” he sneered. “You belong to me and you might as well know it.  I will teach you a lesson you won’t ever forget.”

Ears ringing, half blinded by tears, she stomped down hard with the heel of her shoe and missed his foot. There came the sound of a fist hitting flesh, and just as suddenly, she was free. She stumbled backwards and was caught and supported by a strong hand. “Easy,” Samuel Johnson said.  “I’ve got you.”

He and Jeanne guided Bethany back to the bench and helped her sit down.  Jeanne put her arm around her sister and looked up at the man who was watching the fight indecisively.

“You aren’t going to help him, are you?” Jeanne demanded scornfully.  “He deserves what he’s getting!”

Bethany had been trying to shut her ears to the sounds coming from the other end of the garden, but now she turned her head.  In the full moonlight, she could see the combat. Johnson was reeling from her husband’s blows. Alec systematically delivered punch after punch. Johnson fell in front of the bench where she and Jeanne were sitting and could not get up. Bethany looked at his ruined face in shock.  Johnson’s nose was smashed and blood poured over the lower half of his face.  His eyes were swollen as to be unrecognizable. Slowly she raised her eyes to her husband’s face, almost afraid of what she would see.  To her relief, Alec was unmarked except for a swelling bruise on his cheek, and his expression was calm, almost dispassionate.

“Johnson, you want the same?” The hair rose instinctively on the back of Bethany’s neck at her husband’s soft voice, and she felt Jeanne make a protesting move beside her as both women realized he was addressing Samuel.

Samuel Johnson held up both hands.  “Not me buddy. Emery deserved what he got.  You just got here before I did.”

He turned to Bethany.  “On behalf of my family, I apologize for my brother.  I know Dad always led him to suppose—well, no matter.  He still had no call to attack you. I guess I better take him upstairs.”

He bent and pulled his brother’s body over his shoulder, heading for the back stairs.

“Are you all right?” Jeanne asked her sister anxiously.

“You tell your grandmother, Bethany and I have gone to bed for the night.  I’ll take care of her, thanks.”

Something in Alec’s voice prompted Jeanne to say defensively, “It wasn’t her fault you know.  Samuel and I saw the whole thing.  She came out here because her feet hurt and she tried to leave the minute he spoke to her.”

Her brother-in-law looked at her in exasperation.  “I’m not going to hurt her for Christ’s sake!”

He extended his hand to Bethany.  “C’mon honey, I guess we better take the back stairs too.  Can you walk or do you want me to carry you?”

The minute he touched her, Bethany, dissolved into a quivering puddle of goo, shaking and clinging. Alec sighed, and picked her up.

“Er—do you need any help?” Jeanne inquired.

Alec turned at the foot of the stairs.  “No thanks.  I told you I could manage.  You should stop off in the ladies’ powder room though before you go find Giselle.  You could do with some repair work,” he added dryly.

Despite her small size, she was a hefty handful to carry upstairs and down the hall to their room. Once inside, Alec fell rather than sat on the bed.  Bethany had not said a word since he had pulled Johnson off her.

“It’s all right,” he soothed, rubbing her back. “He’s gone.  I took care of it, okay?”

“I’m sorry to be such a baby,” she gasped out. “I never saw men fight before—and…”

“No reason you should have.”  He tilted up her chin and kissed the tip of nose.  He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her.  “Here, wipe or blow.  I think we could both use a brandy.”

Obediently, she blew her nose and wiped her eyes.  “I don’t like brandy,” she objected, but she took the glass he handed her with shaking hands.

Alec sat back down on the bed beside her, settling them both back comfortably against the carved headboard. “Don’t argue with me, woman. Drink it.”

Her teeth chattered against the glass and the liquor left a fiery trail down her throat, but she could feel her nerves settling as the brandy took its effect.

“Feel better?” he inquired.

When she nodded, he said, “Good.  Why were you dumb enough to go off by yourself when you knew Johnson was around?”

Stealing a look up at his face, Bethany couldn’t for the life of her tell if he was angry. She sighed.  It was Best to get over heavy ground as lightly as possible Gran always said.

“I thought he had left,” she said honestly.  “It never occurred to me he would do anything physical.  I mean, it’s not as if he wanted to marry me because he loves me.  the Johnsons just want the ranch and the mine. I always thought any of us would do for that!”

She stopped because Alec suddenly squeezed her against his chest, hard.  “Idiot woman,” he said, his voice muffled by her hair.  “Johnson ´didn’t just want the ranch and the mine. I saw the way he looked at you tonight, even if you were too dumb to notice.  He wanted you too.”

Bethany shook her head.  “Not really.  He doesn’t like being told no.”

Alec made a rude noise.  “For a smart woman you aren’t great reading men.  From now on, you don’t go off by yourself when Johnson is around, hear me?”

“I hear.” She touched the bruise on his cheekbone, which was now swelling nicely.  “Does it hurt much?”

He smiled down at her.  “Yeah, it hurts.  Bastard got in a few good punches.  Want to kiss it and make it better?”

She rose on her knees and brushed her mouth lightly across his face, afraid she would hurt him.

Alec turned his head and caught her mouth fiercely with his own. Her lips parted, heat finally creeping into her chilled body. When she felt his hand slip into the bodice of her dress to find her breast, she freed her mouth long enough to say, “Gran made this wedding dress and she wants it passed down.  You must help me out of it.”

“Turn around,” he said, resigned. The small stroking movements of his fingers as he worked on the tiny hooks and eyes holding the gown together insensibly blended into a soothing sensual haze. When Alec had undone the last hook, and slid the dress off her shoulders, she leaned back against him, enjoying the trail of his mouth on her neck. His hands slid around to cup her breasts, his thumbs finding the hard peaks.

“Better stand up so I can get the rest of this off,” he said, and obediently she stood up so he could push the dress down over the hooped petticoats.

“Good Lord,” he exclaimed, when the hoops sprang back at him.  “What on earth is that thing?”

Bethany laughed.  “It’s called a hoop. Women used to wear them under fancy dress in Grans day. There’s a tie in the back.”

The hoops hit the floor with a metallic clang.  Bethany turned and put her arms around his neck and kissed him.  “Now that you’ve undressed me, why don’t you let me return the favor?” she whispered.

He pulled her to him, smothering her mouth in a long kiss. “That sounds like a wonderful idea,” he said hoarsely.

The next few hours were a revelation to Bethany.  Alec let her undress him, responding to her touch with masculine groans of enjoyment. His response made her feel immensely powerful, all woman.  His response fed hers so that when the climax finally came, she felt herself splintering in pleasure so immense it was almost pain.

She fell asleep almost at once, her cheek pillowed on his bare shoulder and her arm flung across his stomach.

Alec’s thoughts kept him awake.  He felt good, he realized, his hand absently stroking her arm.  Bethany did this to him, made him feel this way. And she belonged to him. He had taken a gamble on Michael St. Vyr’s offer and it had paid off. His arm tightened involuntarily around Bethany. Somewhere in his mind, he realized the ranch had become of secondary importance. Losing the ranch would hurt, but losing Bethany was unthinkable.

The Ties That Bind – Warriors of St. Antoni – chapter 11

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 11 The Ties That Bind  https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

BETHANY’S wedding to Alexander McCaffey four days later was attended by the whole town.  Bethany wore a wedding dress especially made for her by Giselle with help from Lisette and Margo.  Jeanne and Iris both looked beautiful as bridesmaids.

Jeanne pinned on a bright smile whenever anyone looked at her.  Today she could not help reflecting that a wedding of her own was extremely unlikely.  Too many obstacles, too many people stood between her and Samuel Johnson.

The Johnsons did not attend the wedding.  When the marriage announcement and the engagement of Carlos Madonna to Iris had appeared in the town paper, Ira Johnson had abruptly remembered business up the river that required the presence of his two remaining sons. They had left on the regular steamboat that evening.

The wedding ceremony had been performed just after the evening service.  The family walked back to The Hotel afterwards and had a quiet celebratory supper. While Alec, Carlos and Michael had a drink in the bar, the other women escorted Bethany upstairs to help her out of her wedding dress.

When they had dressed her in a soft green nightgown and brushed out her hair, Margo produced a small bottle from her pocket and poured a minuscule amount of the liquid into the water glass.

Jeanne stared at the glass. “What on earth is that?”

“Brandy. To help her relax,” Margo explained.  She thoughtfully regarded her foster daughter.  “Did your grandmama explain what is going to happen?”

Bethany nodded mutely.

“It is better not to be afraid,” Margo explained to Jeanne.  “A good man does not like his wife to be afraid of loving.  There will only be pain the first time, Nina.  After that if you are persistent, you can teach him to help you enjoy loving too.”

Giselle kissed Bethany on the brow, and whispered, “It will be fine, you’ll see.”

Margo drew the girls out of the room.

Bethany obediently sipped her brandy, and curled up in the chair to wait for her husband.

Apparently Alec and Margo were of the same mind, because he brought up a bottle of champagne with him. He set the bucket of ice on the table, looking at her glass with surprise.

Bethany saw him looking at it and said defensively, “Margo gave it to me.  I guess she could tell I’m a little nervous.”

“Me too. I mean I’m a little nervous too,” Alec responded.

“You? What do you have to be nervous about?”

He succeeded in in removing the cork from the champagne bottle and poured two glasses. He handed one to her. “I’ve heard some real horror stories about wedding nights and I didn’t want this to be another one.”

Alec picked up Margo’s offering and sniffed.  “Brandy?” he inquired.

Bethany sipped cautiously at the champagne.  The bubbles tickled her nose.  “Yes. I must say, your remedy tastes much better than Margo’s,” she admitted.

When he held out his hand she allowed him to pull her to her feet.  To her surprise, he sat down in her chair and pulled her back down onto his lap.

“Relax,” he said, feeling the stiffness of her body against him. “Let’s just talk for a while.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

She tensed a little as she felt his hand begin to stroke her hair.

“Let’s talk about you. Did you spend much time out here growing up?”

“Not really, Gran came and got us when I was ten and took us back east. We came back to visit a few times, but mostly I lived with Gran. It was exciting traveling on the railroad.”

Under his gentle prompting, Bethany told Alec a great deal about her early life.  Insensibly she relaxed.  It was some time later that she realized her champagne glass was empty.  By this time, she was beginning to feel a little light headed.

When Alec pressed the first light kiss on her lips, she found it easy to kiss him back. Under her fingers, she could feel the trip hammer pulse of his heart. Tentatively, she slid her arm around his neck.  Alec made a soft masculine groan of satisfaction against her lips and his tongue thrust into her mouth, deepening the kiss. He cupped her breast in his hand. Bethany gasped with surprise and pleasure when his hand grazed her upstanding nipple.

He lifted his head so he could watch her face while he caressed her. “Unbutton my shirt,” he said hoarsely.  “I want you to touch me the way I’m touching you.”

Obediently, she undid the buttons and slid her hand inside to touch his chest. When she found the hard masculine nipples, and brushed them lightly with her fingers, he moaned, and caught her hand, bringing it to his mouth.

“Sorry, Darling,” despite his best effort, his voice was shaken.  “Bad idea.  I’ll never last if I let you touch me.  I want to make it good for you this time.”

Bethany regarded him under lids made lazy by a combination of desire and champagne.  “I feel good now.”

Alec stood up with her in his arms and walked to the bed. “You’re going to feel even better,” he promised, letting her legs slide down him. He caught the hem of the gauzy green nightgown and pulled it up as she sat down on the bed. The gown had been made for a wedding night and slipped easily over Bethany’s head, leaving her body bare.

He stood holding the gown, mesmerized by his first sight of his prize.  Her skin was creamy white, the full breasts ending in upstanding pink peaks, sweeping down to a narrow waist. Her legs were long and white, crowned by a fiery thatch at the apex of her thighs. Alec closed his eyes and swallowed. He imagined those long thighs wrapped around his hips and had to resist the urge to throw himself on her and bury himself in her body.

She was a virgin, he reminded himself. He mustn’t frighten her.  She was willing now, but if he scared her she might not be, and he realized suddenly that he wanted her to be willing. He wanted that sweet response she had showed him earlier.

He opened his eyes and smiled at her. “Get up in the bed,” he said, softly. “I’ll join you as soon as I get undressed.”

Obediently, she lay back against the pillows and eagerly watched him remove his clothes.  The champagne had removed her inhibitions; she felt no embarrassment about being naked before him. She was conscious only of the ache between her legs and the way her breast still tingled where he had touched it. When he was naked, she could see the heavy muscles in his chest and shoulders, his small round buttocks, and powerfully muscled thighs and calves. She couldn’t help a gasp of surprise however when he turned around and her eyes fixed on his engorged shaft. A sharp answering thrust of pleasure lanced in her groin.

Misunderstanding her gasp of surprise for fear, Alec quickly gathered her into his arms, hiding his shaft from her sight. He smothered her mouth in an endless, aching kiss, his hand sliding down to cup her buttocks and press her against himself. She clung to him, thrusting her tongue into his mouth, delighting in the feel of his smooth skin under her hands.

His mouth left hers and began a trail of fire down her throat to her breast.  When he took her engorged nipple in his mouth, Bethany moaned and bucked against him, and her legs parted involuntarily.

“Easy, Darling,” he whispered, his voice shaking.  “We’ve got all the time in the world.”

His hand slid into the red curls, seeking and finding her small bud of pleasure. “O God, you’re already wet for me,” he moaned.

His fingers thrust inside her and she lifted herself against his hand. “That’s right, come for me baby,” he encouraged her, thrusting in and out against her nether tongue with his fingers.

When he bent and took her nipple in his mouth again, Bethany went over the edge, moaning in pleasure as she climaxed. It was too much. When he felt her fluttering against his fingers, he hurriedly pulled his hand out of her.  Rolling between her legs, he thrust hard into her still quivering channel. Dimly, he was aware of her pleasure turning into a gasp of pain, but he was too far gone, thrusting in and out of her with frantic need. “I’m sorry,” he gasped. “I can’t wait. O God, I’m going to come now.”

Bethany had been jerked back to reality when the sharp pain of Alec’s penetration hit her, but his frantic movements lubricated her channel, and she began to feel a thrumming echo of her earlier pleasure. There was not enough time for the feeling to come to fruition; Alec was stiffening and moaning as his seed pumped into her.

Afterwards, he lay like an exhausted log on her, his face buried in her neck, as his breathing finally slowed.  When his weight began to feel uncomfortable, she pushed tentatively at his shoulder. Obediently, he rolled off her, but pulled her with him so she was lying half on him, one of her legs across his hips.  There was a dull ache between her thighs, and she could feel wetness beginning to leak back out, but a vast feeling of contentment washed over her as she remembered the pleasure that had preceded the pain. I think I’m going to like being married, she thought drowsily.

He turned his head to look at her.  “Are you alright?” he asked.

“Mmhum,” she answered sleepily content.

“I’m sorry it hurt.  I wish there was some other way,” he said tentatively, giving her the opportunity to rail at him if she wanted to. He vaguely remembered the girls at Madame Tousands saying that new brides were always angry after their first experience with sex. He was answered by a soft snore. After a moment, he reached down and pulled the covers up over them

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.

A Pan-full Of Trouble – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 9

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 9 The Highgraders  https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

DAWN WAS just breaking when Iris entered the dairy goat barn to be greeted by eager bleats of welcome. She had a small dairy herd, only about twenty grown nanny goats and King George. There was a larger herd kept for meat and wool up in the hills. But these were hers. She knew every one of them by name and their quirks. Evolution on St. Antoni had taken a slightly different track than it had on earth. Iris’s goats were larger and hairier than those of earth, and both sexes carried heavy horns curving alongside their faces. She braced herself when King George butted her playfully as she went by. Despite her fragile appearance she was sturdy enough not to stagger when the large animal knocked against her. She opened the milking stalls as she moved into the barn and each nanny goat went to her favorite one. King George followed her up to the gate that separated the milking stations from the feed bins, bleating at her imperatively. She loaded up several buckets with feed made from native grass seeds and walked along the line scooping some into each bin. When she reached the end, she sat the bucket down and allowed the King of the barn to scarf up what remained in the pail. She then dumped an armful of hay made from native grasses in the bins. The spiced cheeses she made from the milk her goats produced were highly prized.

By this time, Patrice and her assistants had arrived to help milk. One man checked the separation tank to make sure it was clean and that all the drains leading into the other two tanks were shut. Another of them started the fire under the small homogenizing tank below the separation tank. The milk produced from her goats would be run through a separation tank to pull out most of the butterfat and then through the homogenizer tank before being poured into glass bottles and sent down to the deep cold cellars to chill. This evening when it was cool enough to travel, the milk and butter products would be loaded up and taken into the town icehouse where they would be stored for sale to the town or loaded onto a steamer to be taken into one of the larger city-states for the same purpose.

As soon as each goat finished being milked, Iris let her loose to run back out to the enclosure. She had just finished supervising the scrubbing of the tank for tomorrows milking when she heard Paco scream a welcome to the man who had just arrived.

She felt a sharp stab of excitement and took a deep breath before she turned to face the new arrival. Paco’s cousin, Carlos Madonna was a figure out of the romances she liked to read. He was a tall, well-built man with a shock of curly dark hair and melting brown eyes. Although Carlos spent much of his days inside the Lucky Strike in his role of supervisor, he worked outdoors a lot checking the progress of the miners who share-panned for gold on the St. Vyr claims along the river and streams in the mountains above the ranch.

Carlos set Paco down and moved towards Iris who was drying her hands on her apron.

“Good morning,” he said, filling his eyes with her.

“Good morning,” she responded, willing her voice not to squeak. “Did Margo know you were coming?”

“Probably, since Mike sent for me,” he said. “Do you know what he wants?”

Just then, King George, tired of being ignored, butted Iris in the behind. Surprised, she stumbled and would have fallen if Carlos hadn’t stepped forward and caught her. For just an instant, she rested against him, feeling that strong lithe body against hers. With a gasp, she caught her breath and pushed away from him.

“Thanks,” she said. She turned and smacked King George smartly on his nose in retaliation before opening the gate to the goat pasture just outside the walls. All the dairy goats except George streamed out into the pasture where they would spend the rest of the day.

“I suppose Papa just wants a report,” she said hesitantly in response to his question as she closed off the indoor gate. George bleated in protest at being left behind.

“Hush up,” she told him. “You know you aren’t allowed in here until the flowers have quit blooming!”

In fact, Iris was almost sure a general report wasn’t all Michael St. Vyr wanted, but she wasn’t about to say so. “Have you had breakfast?” she asked.

“No, I left too early for the cooks to be up,” he admitted. “Come and join me in the kitchen, I’m sure Tia Margo will be awake and cooking.”

She lifted her hands. “After I clean milk and other less savory stuff off, I’ll be there.”

After breakfast, Jeanne, Bethany and Alec departed for River Crossing and Michael St. Vyr summoned both Iris and Carlos to the Den.

“Why do you suppose he wants both of us?” Carlos asked her as he opened the door.

“Come in and sit down, both of you,” Michael said genially.

Iris sat with her hands folded tightly in her lap and her lips pressed together. She was a tall woman, but the oversized chair made her seem delicate and fragile. Carlos cast a curious look at her face before he too sat in one of St. Vyr’s massive chairs.

Michael steepled his fingers together and regarded the young couple over them out of narrowed eyes. “The doctor was out here last week,” he said. “That bullet in my spine moved since the last time he looked at it.”

“Papa why didn’t you say something?” Iris exclaimed. “Are you in pain?”

“What else did he say?” asked Carlos. “Is it dangerous?”

“The answer to both questions is yes. The pain is increasing and if it moves closer to the spine, it could cause my lungs to shut down and I will die.”

“He’s an old quack!” Iris cried, coming to kneel by his chair. “We’ll go into Junction City and get another opinion—”

St. Vyr reached out and stroked her bright hair. “No darlin’. That won’t help, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t have told you, but you need to know why I want to get this done as soon as it can be.”

Carlos frowned at him. “Get what done?”

“I need to be sure my girls are safe,” St. Vyr said simply.

Carlos’s frown grew. “Surely you don’t doubt that I will stand by them?”

Mike smiled at him. “I know that boy. Just as I know you don’t need what I’m about to propose as an incentive to do that. But you see, I regard you as the son I never had and I want you to be taken care of too. If all my girls marry other men, it might be their husbands wouldn’t feel that way about you. That’s why I want the two of you to get married.”

Iris jumped to her feet and stepped back from her father. “I’m not a side of meat!” she cried.

St. Vyr tried to hide his exasperation. He said, “I know that girl. But the pair of you have been making goo-goo eyes at each other for the better part of a year and neither one of you seems to want to do a thing about it. I’m just pushing it along a little.”

Carlos too, stood up. “Michael,” he drawled, “I won’t do this if Iris is opposed to it.”

“That’s the whole point,” St. Vyr said. “I don’t think she is opposed to marrying you. I think she’s just being—a woman. They take funny notions.”

He turned to his daughter. “Iris, let’s have the truth now. Do you dislike Carlos here?”

“No of course not,” she said. “But—”

St. Vyr held up a hand to stop her. “Wait, I’m not finished. Are you afraid of him for any reason?”

“No, I’m not afraid of him. In fact, I think he’s a fine man. But that isn’t the point. He doesn’t care for me that way, and I don’t want to be married to a man who—”

“You’re saying he’s never courted you,” St. Vyr pursued ruthlessly.

His daughter made a frustrated noise. “Papa, you don’t understand.”

“I understand better than you think,” her father retorted. “I’ve been married three times, remember.”

He looked at them consideringly. “All right, here’s what I propose. The two of you will announce an engagement and spend time together. That ought to keep the wolves away for a little while. If after three months, you still aren’t convinced, I’ll drop the entire matter. Hell, I may be dead by that time anyway.”

He looked at Carlos who had been watching him in silence. “Is that agreeable to you?”

“Yes.”

“Iris?”

“Oh, all right Papa it will be as you say,” she said submissively. “Was there anything else? If not, I need to turn over my cheeses.”

At St. Vyr’s nod, she practically ran from the room. He looked over at the man he regarded as a son. “You will have to court her to convince her that it’s her you want and not the third of the mine and ranch. Think you can do that?”

Carlos chuckled. “It won’t be hard—I always loved her, you know. How much of that story you fed us just now was the truth you old rascal? Did the Doc give you the long face?”

“Not really, but he said the bullet had shifted,” he admitted. “You got any problems at the Lucky Strike?”

“Some. My biggest problem is I’m not two people. I can handle the High-graders and the crew scaring our people off the placer claims but not at the same time. I have a good idea who is behind the scare tactics. I think it’s Max Franks and his gang. The high-graders are a different kettle of fish. I need an investigator to find out who is behind it; because I’m sure it isn’t just a few men slipping a little dust or nuggets into their pockets. It’s too organized, and the amount that seems to be missing each night is too consistent for that.”