Tag Archives: sci-fi western

Best Laid Plans- Warriors of St. Antoni

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.

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 17 Tactics of Blackmail

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

THE DRESSMAKER Giselle went to in Junction City was an old friend. In her front display window was a calf-length white dress with a low-cut lace bodice and three quarter sleeves.

“Jeanne, I think that would fit you,” Giselle told her youngest granddaughter. “What do you think?”

“It’s pretty, but all that lace isn’t practical.”

“It’s your wedding dress,” Iris exclaimed. “It doesn’t have to be practical. Let’s go see if it fits you.”

“I’m sure Belinda will be willing to make a few alterations when she learns we want it tomorrow,” Giselle said, guiding the girls into the shop.

The proprietor, a thin, dark woman looked up from explaining something to a sales clerk when the bell over the door jingled. “Giselle! How lovely to see you. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

“It was a last-minute decision,” Giselle explained, giving her a hug. “Belinda, these are two of my granddaughters, Iris and Jeanne. They are both getting married soon. I knew we couldn’t do better than come to you for the dresses.”

“How soon are the weddings?”

“Well, Iris hasn’t set a date yet, but we would like to have the gown before we leave. Since Jeanne is getting married tomorrow at noon. I think she might like to try on the dress you have on display.”

Giselle’s friend cocked her head. “Are you assisting in an elopement?”

“You could say that.”

“Ah.” Directing them to back, Belinda bustled forward and turned the sign on the door to closed. Calling for her assistant to get the dressing room ready, she went to the window and began unfastening the lace dress from the dressmaker form.

The dressing room was a rarity in St. Antoni where glass was still being blown by hand, as it had six mirrors, angled to show all sides of the dress at once. While the assistant helped Jeanne out of her dress, Belinda seated Iris and Giselle on a low couch and sent a second assistant for a rolling rack of dresses.

“These were from a trousseau ordered for a bride who decided she did not wish to be married after all. Poor thing, she was set to marry the son of a wealthy family when she discovered him in bed with another. The clothes have never been worn; if your granddaughters do not object to trying them?”

“Not at all,” Giselle agreed smiling. “My granddaughters are no so foolish. Jeanne will be marrying a prosperous farmer and Iris the manager of our silver mine though, so the trousseau must be good but also serviceable.”

While Jeanne was being buttoned into the bride’s dress, Giselle and Iris began looking through the rack of clothes. “These will do very well; the cloth is of excellent quality and the designs are not too frivolous. As always you are an excellent judge of a customer’s needs Belinda.”

“Oh,” Jeanne said softly, looking at herself in the mirrors. The low-cut bodice and flared skirt made her waist look impossibly tiny below her full breasts. She turned shinning eyes to her grandmother. “This is the one.”

“Yes,” Giselle agreed. “Tomas will be stunned at your beauty.”

Belinda hustled forward and began tweaking the waist and sleeves. “It needs only a little letting out in the bust. I will have it sent over this afternoon. Susan,” she gestured to the assistant, “help Miss St. Vyr out of the wedding dress and then take it to Mary so she can begin letting out the bust. About an inch, I think.”

She pulled out a second wedding dress and held it up to Iris’s face. “Yes, I thought this off white would look good with your complexion. Come, I will help you out of what you are wearing while your sister and Giselle pick out a traveling dress and some day gowns.”

The dress Belinda threw over Iris’s head had long full sleeves and a high collar made of thin transparent material over a low-cut slip. The slip barely covered her nipples and clung lovingly to her body. The diaphanous overdress kept the outfit from looking vulgar by veiling Iris’s body just enough that her sexuality looked ethereal rather than strident.

“Carlos is a goner,” remarked Jeanne when her sister turned to face her.

“Do you think it’s too revealing?” Iris asked anxiously.

“No child,” Giselle assured her. “A bride should remind her husband he is getting a prize worth winning.” She shrugged, “For a man that includes making him want to bed you. He will look back on his wedding day as being fortunate to marry a beautiful desirable woman.”

The girls picked out six more dresses apiece and then a selection of fine linen nightclothes. Belinda promised to have the wedding gown and traveling clothes for Jeanne sent over by noon the next day. The others she would pack herself and send to the station by tomorrows evening train.

“And yours will be ready by the end of the week, Miss Iris,” she said as she showed her profitable visitors out the door.

Mike Franks had followed the women to Belinda’s establishment. He purchased a newspaper and sat down at an outdoor café across from the dressmakers. By the time the women left the shop, he had been forced to order several cups of coffee. He also annoyed both the owner and his daughter the waitress by getting fresh with her.

When they had finished their business, Belinda sent a runner to find a rickshaw to pick them up so Giselle and her granddaughters would not have to walk back to the hotel.

The rickshaws were faster than a man walking casually, so Franks had to trot to keep them in sight. In the process of tailing them, he managed to enrage several other rickshaw drivers and their passengers by cutting in front of them, forcing them to stop abruptly. Their annoyed shouts and curses drew Giselle’s attention.

“Don’t look now girls, but I think we’re being followed,” she said. Leaning forward, she tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Make a sharp turn at the next corner, and then turn down that alley to the right.”

“But it is a longer way,” the man protested.

“I will pay you the extra charge to do as I ask,” she assured him.

The new route took them into the back of a stable, where she told the driver to turn and start back. “Walk slowly,” she said. About halfway back down the alley, she ordered him to stop and wait.

In a hurry now, Franks was nearly running. As they watched, he dashed past the mouth of the alley, swinging his head back and forth in search of his quarry.

“Is that who I think it is?” Giselle asked Iris.

“Yes, it’s Max Franks.”

“The man from the docks who wanted to accompany us to the hotel,” Jeanne exclaimed.

Iris sighed. “Carlos claimed he was up to no good. I think he might be right.”

They watched Franks for a few minutes as he tried to see where they had gone. Finally, he turned and went back the way he had come.

“Excellent. You may proceed, driver. Go left when we come out of the alley, and then around the block to the hotel.”

“You didn’t warn me you were being followed,” the driver complained. “Is this man dangerous? If he is, I should get paid more.”

Iris laughed, “Not dangerous, just annoying.”

When tired Franks returned to the hotel after several hours of fruitless searching, he was disgusted to find that his targets had returned earlier.

He handed the front desk clerk to take his card up to the suite, and was met with the flat statement that the ladies were tired and not receiving visitors this evening.

Having accomplished his errands, Samuel, now called Tom, joined his fiancée and her family for the quiet dinner Giselle ordered sent up to their rooms.

Franks tried to see Iris again the next day and was denied when he couldn’t produce an invitation to the private event being held. The wedding of Jeanne to Samuel took place in the parlor of the hotel suite.

By the time he followed the four of them to the train depot, he was riding a bad temper. Arms crossed over his chest, he leaned against the depot porch, watching sourly as Jeanne hugged her grandmother and sister goodbye.

Waiting on the platform for the train to pull out, Giselle was hailed by another old acquaintance.

“So your baby sister married Sam Johnson,” Franks drawled as he came up beside Iris.

She looked a little startled, but responded gamely. “I’m afraid you are mistaken. My sister has married a farmer named Tom Clancy.”

“That’s a good line, honey,” he said with a smile, “but I’m pretty well acquainted with the Johnsons and I know the boys by sight.”

Iris was frightened, but she wasn’t Mike St. Vyr’s daughter for nothing. “I can’t help your poor eyesight. The preacher will be filing the papers this afternoon at the registry office. I assure you Jeanne is now Mrs. Tom Clancy.”

She started to turn away, but he caught her arm in a bruising grip. “Don’t run away, little bird. How much is it worth to you for me not to tell Sam’s papa where he’s gone and who his new wife is?”

Iris jerked her arm out of his grasp. “You— ”

“It might be worth something,” Giselle interceded smoothly. “Why don’t you accompany us back to the hotel so we can discuss it?”

“I have nothing to say to you old woman,” Franks sneered, trying to get hold of Iris again, but she stepped back out of his reach. “My business is with your granddaughter here.”

Giselle lifted her shoulders. “If you change your mind, we will be in our suite this evening. Good day, sir. Come Iris.” Slipping her hand through her granddaughter’s elbow, she turned away.

Franks glared at their backs as he heard Giselle give the order to return to the hotel.

“What are we going to do?” Iris whispered. “If he tells Ira Johnson where they went— ”

Giselle patted her arm. “I have a plan. Is he following us?”

Iris cast a quick look back over her shoulder. “He’s trying to get a rickshaw. It doesn’t look as if there’s an open one, though so he’s trying to make a driver take him anyway. Oops! That man in the red shirt just yanked him back out of it. Franks hit him. Here comes the station constable. I think he’s going to be tied up for a while.”

“Excellent, that will take some time if the station guards are involved.” Giselle leaned forward and tapped their driver. “We need to make a stop at the Roman Stable before we return to the hotel.”

Joe Wong, who owned the stable, was a short, tough-looking man about Giselle’s age who greeted her with affection.

“So this is one of your beautiful granddaughters,” he said. “It is a real pleasure to meet so lovely a child.”

“This is Iris, Astrid’s girl. You remember Astrid was my son’s second wife.”

A sad expression crossed his face. “Yes, I believe you wrote Amy that she was killed by raiders. This is a hard land.” He looked at Giselle shrewdly, “But you would not come to the stable unless you needed something. If you only wanted to visit, you would come to the house. What is it you need?”

“I could never fool you or Amy,” Giselle admitted. “We do have trouble, and I’m hoping you can advise me on the best course of action.”

He opened his office door and gestured for them to enter. “Jim!” he called, I do not wish to be disturbed for a time.”

“Okay, boss,” said a tall, skinny kid, cleaning out a stall.

Over cups of heavily sweetened tea, Joe listed in silence while Giselle told him the rest of the story. For several minutes afterward, he sat running a string of beads through his hands. “You know well enough what must be done,” he said. “I don’t do that kind of work anymore. The new identities—that was nothing, but this— ”

She nodded. “I would not ask for myself, but this is for my granddaughter. I know you retired, but I thought you might still have contacts in that world.”

He shook his head. “Not for you. If it is not a killing matter, I might know a couple of rivermen who could use a deckhand. They travel far upriver. They owe me enough of a favor to keep him on their boat for a few months. It’s all I can promise.”

Giselle stood up. “You and Amy are true friends. It is more than enough.”

“I will tell the men to be ready tonight. You are sure he will come to your suite?”

“He’ll come,” Iris stated. “He wants something from me. I think he’ll be there.”

On the way back to the hotel, she asked. “What are you planning?”

Giselle gave her a bland look. “Why to have tea with one of your suitors’ child. You must look especially charming tonight. And do not give in to the desire to smack his face until after he has had his tea.”

“The blue dress darling,” Giselle told Iris when they were back in their suite. “And put a touch of color on your lips and cheeks.”

Iris went to do as instructed, conscious of her grandmother rummaging through her jewel box, selecting the ring she wanted. Iris remembered watching Giselle open that ring once before. This time she added a small amount of white powder to the hollow base.

“What’s that?”

“It is a form of poppy. It can be distilled and dried into a very strong sedative. The plant and the distilling pattern were shown to me many years ago by Old Cinders. Now remember, your part is to distract him so that he doesn’t see me add this to his tea. It won’t hurt to flirt with him a little.”

When Franks knocked, Lisette opened the door to him, taking his hat and coat.

“Ah, Mr. Franks, how kind of you to join us,” Giselle said with a smile. “Iris has told me so much about you. Please, sit down. I ordered tea to be brought up when you arrived and it should be here shortly.”

There was a second knock, and Lisette admitted a waiter who rolled a tray into the room and made a small business of setting a tray with a small pot, cups and a plate with a variety of finger sandwiches on a low table in front of Giselle, before he bowed himself out.

While her grandmother busied herself pouring tea, Iris smiled at Franks and asked. “It was such a surprise to see you on the boat. What brings you to Junction City, Mr. Franks?”

He eyed her warily, but responded, “Why the pleasure of your company, Miss Iris.”

“Oh, come sir,” she said breathlessly, fluttering her eyelashes at him, “surely you didn’t come all this way just to see me. Why you could have done that back home in River Crossing.”

Lisette made a strangled sound and ducked into Giselle’s bedroom before she laughed aloud. Iris was channeling preacher Meeker’s sister who taught the River Crossing school with deadly accuracy.

“One lump or two, Mr. Franks?” inquired Giselle holding a lump of sweetening in tongs over his cup.

“Ah, just one,” he said, barely glancing at her.

Obliging him, Giselle dropped a single lump into the cup and stirred it with a small spoon. She handed the cup and saucer to Iris who leaned forward to hand the cup to Franks, ensuring he got a good look down her décolletage as she did so, before picking up her own cup and sipping it.

“You really must try these,” Iris said, holding out a small plate with red cookies. “If I had these at home, I declare I’d be as fat as one of my sister’s geese.”

“Thank you,” Franks said, wondering what was going on. Perhaps Iris had simply decided to try to charm him out of reporting the marriage to Old Ira Johnson. It wouldn’t work, but if it made her do what he wanted he was willing to let her think she could convince him not to sell the information to Johnson.  Women were there to look at or to use not to make plans or change his course of action.

It wasn’t until he had finished his tea that he began to feel woozy. He threw the cup down and tried to stand, falling back into the chair when his legs gave out. “Bitch!” he hissed. “You’re going to pay for this.”

“Good night Mr. Franks,” Iris said. “I won’t wish you sweet dreams. In fact, I hope you have nightmares.”

Franks eyes closed, and he slid down the chair seat, landing on his knees on the braided rug.

Lisette opened the door to Joe Wong and two burly rivermen. Joe didn’t bother to introduce them. “Over there,” she said, pointing at Franks.

“How long will he be out?” the nearest man rumbled.

“Most of the day and part of tomorrow. I gave him a very strong dose,” Giselle responded. “Thank you Joe. How much do I owe them?”

“Nothing,” Joe said. “They are doing this because they owe me a favor. Remember, you too, this man doesn’t get away until you are as far north as your route takes

you.”

One of them stooped and slung Franks dead weight over his shoulder. “We go out the back way the way we came in,” Joe reminded them. He dropped a kiss on Giselle’s cheek. “Amy and I will expect the two of you to dinner tomorrow.”

“We’ll be there. Thanks again Joe.”

 

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.

No Glass Slippers – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 13

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 13 No Glass Slippers

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

SAMUEL dumped Emery on his bed in the suite Ira had rented. He was pulling off his brother’s boots when his father spoke from the doorway.

“Is he alive?”

“Yes,” Samuel answered curtly. He set the boots beside the bed and threw a light blanket over his brother.

“Let’s talk a minute,” Ira said, gesturing to the sitting room.

Suspiciously, Samuel watched his father pour whiskey into two glasses. When he was offered one Samuel shook his head. “No thanks.”

Ira sat down in a chair and made a gesture for Samuel to do the same. Samuel did so, his eyes wary.

“I saw you and St. Vyr’s daughter out in the garden tonight. How come you didn’t tell me we didn’t need the older girl anymore?” he asked.

His son gave him a straight look. “Because it’s none of your business what goes on between Jeanne and me.”

“None of my business!” his father exclaimed. “Of course it’s my business. We can go forward with the plan, just using her instead of the other girl.”

“No.”

“We still need to get rid of that gunfighter and—what did you say?”

“I said no,” Samuel’s voice was quiet, but Ira could hear the steel in it. “You will not use my relationship with Jeanne to hurt her family. I won’t stand for it.”

Ira glared at him. His first instinct was to backhand the boy for sassing him, but he was smart enough to realize he couldn’t bully Samuel into submission this time. Samuel wasn’t a boy anymore either. While Ira wasn’t looking, his son had grown into a man and he could sense Samuel was prepared to fight him over this. He looked his son over the way he would a potential adversary and abruptly came to the shocking conclusion he wasn’t sure he could beat Samuel in a fight. It didn’t change his plans for moving in on St. Vyr, but it changed how he would have to do it. He would have to make sure Samuel didn’t find out what he was doing.

“All right, son,” he said soothingly. “I didn’t realize you had deep feelings for the girl. You don’t want to hurt her kin. You concentrate on getting her to marry you. Nothing will happen. You have my word.”

Samuel said, “Sure Pa,” reflecting bitterly that Ira had just lied to him again. He stood up, went to his room, and shut the door, where he stood indecisively for several minutes. Finally, he nodded to himself and slipped out the open French doors to the outside landing. He slid over the railing and dropped softly to the ground. When he reached the gardens, he saw Jeanne with her arm around a weeping Iris heading for the inside stairs.

“What happened to her?” he asked.

“She and Carlos had a fight,” Jeanne said. “I’m going to take her upstairs and I will probably stay there. I’m sorry, but—”

“That’s okay. We need to talk though. Dad saw us kissing this evening.”

“Come up with us. You can wait in the sitting room until I get her settled.”

Jeanne put Iris to bed with a cup of tea laced with whiskey and tucked her in. As soon as she saw her sister had drifted off, she returned to the sitting room. She found Samuel staring moodily at the landscape painting over the fireplace.

She sank down into a chair with a sigh, accepting the glass of light wine he brought to her.

“This hasn’t been a good night for your sisters, has it? It was a good thing they had you to handle stuff like this for them tonight,” he said.

She shrugged. “I did very little for Bethany, and all I’ve done for Iris is put her to bed.”

“What were she and Madonna fighting about?” he asked curiously.

“Well, Papa made Carlos the same offer he made Alec except he wants him to marry Iris.”

“She doesn’t like Madonna?”

“No, I think they do want each other but neither of them believes the other one does, and that’s what’s causing the problem. Carlos has a jealous streak—he accused her of flirting with Jeramiah Lutz and then with Max Franks tonight when they asked her to dance. She accused him of acting like a dog with a bone. If Carlos wants her he will need to convince her it’s her he wants and not the third interest in the mine and ranch.”

He regarded the love of his life curiously. “Considering the way my family is acting, how come you never worried about that?”

Jeanne sipped her whiskey and a chuckle slipped out. “Oh, I think I was born knowing what a man really wants. In your case honey, all I had to do was take a gander at the front of your pants when we met on the train coming out here. You didn’t even know who I was.”

“Yeah that day was magical, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was,” she agreed smiling. “So your father saw us tonight. I suppose we couldn’t keep it a secret forever. What happens now?”

“Well, he said he would back off when I told him I wouldn’t let him hurt you or your family.”

“Do you believe him?”

“No,” he said flatly. “Did you mean it when you said we should go away together and leave all this behind?”

“Yes, I meant it.”

He nodded. “Okay, let’s do it. I need to go back out to the ranch to pick up the money I have put away. When I get back, we’ll catch the steamer to Junction City and then take a train to either Breakwater Port or Azure City.”

“And just when were you planning on getting married in all this traveling?” inquired Giselle from the door of her room.

Jeanne jumped in her chair. “How long have you been listening?” she demanded.

Giselle shrugged. “I was already up here doing repairs to my gown after that oaf Lancer stepped on it. I heard you come in. I didn’t tell you I was here because I thought I would find out more about what’s been bothering you if I eavesdropped.”

“You won’t stop me,” Jeanne warned.

“I don’t intend to, my dear. However, I do intend to see that you’re properly married, so this is what we will do. You, Iris and I will leave for Junction City on our shopping trip for her trousseau tomorrow as planned. Samuel will go back home and get what he intends to take with him and follow us on a later steamer. He will meet us at the Rainbow Hotel in Junction City and the two of you will get married.” She gave Samuel a minatory glance. “When you get off the steamer, go to the Roman Stable. Tell Joe Wong that your name is Tom Clancy. He’ll help you get your stuff put on the train for Azure City. The pair of you will go to Lisette’s sister there. I have the deed to a farm just outside Azure City I’m going to turn over to you, Jeanne. Marie bought it in my name and has been taking care of it for me. You can move onto it as Mr. and Mrs. Tom Clancy who came to farm and raise geese.”

Samuel had opened and shut his mouth several times during this speech. All he finally said though was, “Yes Ma’am.”

“Excellent,” Giselle replied. She turned to Jeanne.

“Kiss your fiancé good night so he can leave to get his stuff. Come to my room and I will give you a letter for Lisette’s sister Marie.”

The door to her room shut behind her and Samuel and Jeanne were left staring at each other.

It was quite twenty minutes later when Jeanne entered her grandmother’s room. Her hair was coming down and the shoulders of her gown weren’t quite up as far as they should have been.

Giselle had undressed and put on a loose robe over her nightgown. She had laid out a cloth belt on the dressing table and a handful of small gemstones were set out. A large square-cut red stone sat on the table sparkling in the gaslights.

“Pull up a chair,” Giselle instructed Jeanne, “So I can show you how this works.” As she spoke, she slipped the smaller stones into pockets in the belt.

“Where did those come from?” Jeanne asked.

“I brought them with us when we left Copper City,” she said. “They were part of the stock I had left over when we closed the store.”

“But, I thought the Smiths took your entire inventory,” Jeanne exclaimed.

“They took a fair amount of it,” Giselle agreed, “But I never kept all my stock out where it could be seen or found. This is part of what I had put aside as a stake for you girls. I took these out of hiding the day we left for the Golden Tricorn.”

She tapped the cloth belt. “This is a money belt. She pushed six of the smaller stones towards her granddaughter. “Keep these where you can easily get at them. You can exchange them for money to buy supplies for the farm. This,” she held up the large red stone, “is an earth ruby and its worth around twenty thousand gold chips on the open market. Keep it for emergencies. Wear the belt under your clothes when you’re traveling. When you get to the farmhouse, you can have Samuel build you a good hidey-hole to keep these in.”

Ira Johnson wasn’t much pleased to discover Samuel’s absence the next morning, but he supposed Samuel had gone back to the ranch to avoid any further discussion about St. Vyr’s holdings. By this time, he had heard about the scuffle in the garden between Emery and McCaffey, and he held a short, pithy conversation with Emery about his behavior and sent him home. Samuel could deal with him when he got there. It was a good thing Samuel had left he reflected; otherwise he would have had to hide sending a runner to Copper City with a letter to Martin Chamber offering him three thousand silver chips to come to River Crossing. Chamber had the reputation as a sniper who “handled” situations for a price.

It wasn’t until three days later when he came back to the ranch himself that he found Emery drunk and discovered Samuel was gone.

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

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.”

 

A Warrior Comes – Warriors of St. Antoni chapter 6

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

THE MORNING her prospective bridegroom was expected to arrive, Bethany woke early after a fitful night’s sleep. The darkened sky was just showing the first streaks of light when she got out of bed to sit on the window bench in her room. A light breeze floated in through the open shutters. She propped her chin on her hands and looked out over the ranch. From here, she could see the kitchen gardens outside the walls, and the groves of fruit and nut trees leading up to the mountains. Everything was quiet, but she knew it wouldn’t last; already she could hear Iris’s goats and Jeanne’s geese stirring around. Below a cooking pot clanged, and a door slammed as Margo Alvarez, the housekeeper started a fire in the iron stove for breakfast.

Life began early in the valley, even up here in the foothills; by three o’clock, the temperature would have reached one hundred degrees, and everyone was eager to get chores done to avoid working in the heat of the day.

The train bringing Alec to the Crossing wouldn’t arrive until noon so he couldn’t get to the ranch itself for several hours, Bethany assured herself. He would ride out from town and that was at least a two-hour ride. Although there was a railway stop about a mile away from the ranch, it wasn’t used except during roundup to load animals for the markets in the big City States. There was plenty to do to get ready for Alec’s arrival. She stood up and dressed for the day.

By lunchtime, Bethany had worn out her welcome with most of the household. She had squabbled with both her sisters, snapped at Margo and accomplished nothing the entire morning. In exasperation, her Grandmother, recognizing the ill temper for the nerves it was, thrust a broom into her hands with instructions to sweep the flagstones on the courtyard and stay out of everyone’s hair.

Both the large, arched wooden gates in the courtyard had been thrown open for the day allowing the breeze to cool the house and grounds. Bethany had barely begun her task when she discovered both Iris’s and Jeanne’s especial pets had again escaped confinement and invaded the courtyard.

King George, Iris’s irascible Billy goat, was sneaking toward her Grandmother’s prized flower bushes. He loved the taste of them, which was why he was not allowed in the courtyard when they were in bloom. Lulubelle, Jeanne’s pet goose, felt the courtyard was her property, fiercely resenting any encroachers human or animal. When she spied George, she hissed and spread her wings, attempting to drive him out of her territory. King George responded to her threat by lowering his head and stomping his feet. It was obvious battle was about to be joined.

Out of the corner of her eye, Bethany noticed the two riders dismounting just inside the gates. She ignored them and started toward the combatants, intending to use her broom to separate the pair. She was too slow. Just as she approached, King George lowered his head and charged. Lulubelle, back-winging to avoid his rush, smacked into Bethany. Furious at what she considered an attack from behind, Lulubelle hissed and honked, battering Bethany with her powerful wings and bill. Reeling backwards from the impact of the forty-pound goose, Bethany threw up her hands to protect her face and didn’t see King George charging until he butted her in the stomach. Still shielding her face from Lulubelle’s wrath, Bethany stumbled backward and landed on her rump in the raised flowerbed around the well. Lulubelle shrieked in anger. Meanwhile King George, the picture of innocence, ambled over to nibble on the forbidden flowers.

Bethany discovered the uproar had drawn an audience—the two riders, Grandmother Giselle, Iris, Jeanne and several of the stable and dairy hands had all rushed into the courtyard to see what was happening. The younger of the riders booted the indignant Lulubelle, still shrieking madly, off Bethany and knelt beside her.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

Bethany wiped away a trickle of blood from under her nose, noticing as she did so that her hand was covered with dirt and blood. Her dress had a streak of white bird poop all down the front. She looked up into concerned dark brown eyes and blew out a breath before she answered. “No, I’m fine, thank you.” She wiped the dirt off her hand as well as she could and let him pull her to her feet.

“I’m Alec McCaffey, ma’am,” he said, still retaining her hand.

“How, do you do,” Bethany said, resigned to the ridiculous first impression she was making. “I’m Bethany St. Vyr. I’m sorry for the rude welcome. We don’t greet our guests with this kind of hullabaloo. May I present my sister Iris,” she gestured to the ethereal girl with the silver gilt hair who was detaching the goat from the flowers. “And this is my other sister, Jeanne.” He looked over at the honey-haired amazon checking for injuries on the still complaining goose whose cries had turned from wrathful to pitiful.

“That dratted goose!” Giselle came bustling up, firing off orders. “Just look at you! Bethany, go in the house and let Lisette help you clean up. Jeanne! Iris! Get those critters off my patio! Paco,” she called to one of the watching stable hands, “Come and take the gentleman’s Tricorns.”

She turned to the younger man, who had reluctantly let go of Bethany’s hand. “You must be Alec McCaffey. I’m Giselle St. Vyr. My son has told me so much about you.”

“Pleased to meet you ma’am,” he bowed over her hand. “May I present my friend and mentor, Henry Miller?”

Henry laughed. “No need, son, I remember Mike’s mother well. Nice to see you again Mrs. St. Vyr.”

“If you don’t mind, we like to see to our own Tricorns,” Alec intervened. “We’ll join you in the house as soon as that’s done.”

Giselle nodded. “I remember. Just come in that door and Paco will show you where to clean up. We’ll have tea when you join us.”

Bethany had retreated to the house where she was pounced upon by Lisette, her grandmother’s maid, and led off to change her clothes and wash her face.

“I can’t wear that,” she protested, when she saw the afternoon tea dress Lisette had picked out. “I’ll look overdressed.”

“You need to make a better impression,” Lisette retorted. “You want to get the upper hand in this marriage you use your best assets.”

“Lisette, he just saw me with a bloody nose and covered in bird poop! Nothing can change that kind of first impression!”

“He watched you all the way to the door,” Lisette retorted, undaunted. “Play your cards right and you’ll have him right where you want him.”

After washing their hands and dusting off the trail dust, Alec and Henry were led to a room on the ground floor overlooking the patio garden. Giselle St. Vyr greeted them, offering tea or coffee and a selection of small cookies and sandwiches.

“My son will join us soon,” Giselle promised. “After the shooting, he takes some time to maneuver his new transportation.”

“Rumor has it he was shot from ambush?” inquired Henry.

“Yes. We were lucky that we found him as soon as we did.”

“Who is investigating the shooting?” Alec wanted to know.

He frowned when Iris responded, “The sheriff supposedly, but since he almost never leaves town, I don’t see how he could find out anything!”

“Well, if he investigated,” Bethany added, seating herself on the sofa, “he would have to go into who had the best motive to shoot Papa, and that would lead to his biggest campaign supporter—Ira Johnson.”

She accepted the cup her grandmother handed her and passed it to Alec.

“Lulubelle suffered no injuries,” Jeanne announced from the doorway. “No thanks to you kicking her.” This last was directed at Alec with a glare. Lulubelle, he concluded, must be the goose.

“What about your sister?” he demanded indignantly. “That bird gave her a bloody nose and might have pecked out an eye!”

“She was defending herself!” Jeanne declared, “She thought she was being attacked from behind as well as by that miserable Goat!”

“Did you discover how he got out again, Iris?” Bethany interjected hoping to change the subject before the argument could continue.

“Well, there were hoof marks on the fence, so I’m thinking he must have climbed it. Goats are brilliant, you know, unlike geese,” Iris responded sweetly.

“Lulubelle’s smart—” Jeanne began.

“Ah, I see my girls are making you welcome,” Mike St. Vyr boomed out. Jeanne and Iris exchanged glares but quieted down at the sound of their father’s voice.

He rolled the chair into the room. “If that’s coffee, I’ll take a cup.”

Giselle poured it and handed it to Jeanne to take to her father, along with a small plate of sandwiches.

After tea, Michael St. Vyr and Alexander McCaffey retired to the den, while Henry went out to check on the tricorns. Iris went to examine the repairs to the goat enclosure she had ordered. Giselle and Bethany went up to her room to decide on her dress for this evening and Jeanne claimed she needed to check on Lulubelle again and disappeared.

In the den, McCaffey sat forward in the cowhide-covered chair and glared at St. Vyr. “Your letter made me curious enough to come out here, but I’m just not sure what I think it said is what you meant.”

St. Vyr rolled a brandy glass around in his huge hands. In the light from the windows, iron gray shone through what had once been a fiery head of hair. St. Vyr had been a powerful man before the rifle shot had crippled him, and immense power still showed under the blue homespun shirt he wore.  Since McCaffey knew St. Vyr owned a rich silver mine and could have afforded to wear a silk shirt had he wanted to do so, it was obvious he was more comfortable in homespun.

“You didn’t make a mistake. I will make out the papers deeding you one third of the Golden Tricorn and the Lucky Strike, the day you marry my daughter, Bethany.”

McCaffey’s face showed none of his inner turmoil. To be offered everything he and Henry had worked for years was a tremendous temptation.

He knew from the gossip they had picked up In Junction City what St. Vyr was facing. He wasn’t surprised St. Vyr wanted a gunman, but the nature of the offer had thrown McCaffey off balance.

“You’re offering an awful lot more than fighting wages, St. Vyr. Why?”

St. Vyr looked at him. “The Doc says I may not last much longer.” He lifted the brandy glass. “I like this painkiller better than laudanum.  You’re right. I could hire a bunch of gunmen and take care of Johnson and his sons. But what about after I’m gone?  Besides, anybody I hired, well if he didn’t have some stake in the pot, he might get to thinking there was only three women to keep him from taking over. If he was married to one of my girls, he’d be family.”

McCaffey snorted. “If I was that kind of coyote, St. Vyr, I don’t reckon being married would stop me.”

St. Vyr set the glass down on the desk with a bang. “Dammit!” he roared, driven to the last ditch, “I want my girls to be happy. I always wanted one of them to marry a man who could take care of things. Well, they ain’t done it.”

“Why did you pick me?”

St. Vyr smiled a little wryly.  “You recall a job up North for a man named Bill Spears?”

McCaffey was surprised. He had brought that job to a successful conclusion avoiding the usual blood bath.

“Spears is kind of my brother-in-law. My second wife Louisa was sister to his wife.  We were courting about the same time and we got to be friends. He still writes to me. Bill told me quite a lot about you.”

McCaffey got up and stood looking out the window. It was a measure of how disturbed he was that he turned his back on St. Vyr.

St. Vyr watched him in silence, trying to see him as his daughter would. The boy was well enough looking he supposed, although Bethany had never seemed impressed by good looks St. Vyr reflected, if she had been, she would have accepted the oldest Johnson boy’s proposal.  McCaffey was a little below medium height, not slim, but not fat either and he moved with the smoothness of a well-honed blade. His dark hair was clean; his wedge-shaped face clean-shaven, dark brown eyes looked out over a large, well-shaped nose. The nose had a scar across it, the obvious legacy of a knife fight.

“St. Vyr,” said McCaffey at last, over his shoulder, “what makes you think you can order a girl to marry someone? Here on St. Antoni women have rights.”

St. Vyr took another sip of his brandy. “Bethany’s a good girl. She knows her duty. You needn’t be thinking I’m going to foist an antidote on you either. She’s got her mother’s looks. ‘Course she got my hair, but on her it looks good. And she will always tell you the truth. There’s been times when I wish she wasn’t so truthful, but that’s another story,” he added hastily.

“St. Vyr,” said McCaffey grimly, trying to take control of the conversation, “let me make this real plain. I am not about to marry any girl who feels she doesn’t have a choice. The very last thing I want is a wife who resents having to marry me.”

St. Vyr chuckled.  He levered himself up out of his oversized chair with his crutches.

“I think it’s time you and my daughter got better acquainted. Let’s go to dinner.”

Exasperated, McCaffey followed his prospective father-in-law out of the room.

Bethany was nervous.  It was too early to go back downstairs, so instead she fussed with her hair which Margo had helped her sweep into a loose knot at the crown of her head. Soft red curls wafted around her face. She checked her dress again in the mirror, and decided, again, that it was perfect for a dinner at home ‘en famille’. The dress was a soft green made of thin material in deferral to the heat and in the new style. The bodice was deceptively modest, the sheer cloth descended from a high collar to the waist. Only if one stared hard, it could be seen that the sheer overblouse covered a low-cut chemise of the same color. The nipped in waist showed off Bethany’s hourglass figure to perfection and the full skirt swayed enticingly when she walked. Gran had picked out the dress, and Bethany wished for that strong presence to be in here giving her a pep talk. Bethany was sure there was no social situation, not even this one that Gran wouldn’t have been able to handle with aplomb.

I can’t do this! She thought in panic. And then that other voice, the one she had listened to all her life said, Oh, yes you can. You must. Do you want to be out in the street earning money for food on your back, like those Jones women in Copper City after the Smith clique took over?

After Momma Clara was killed, Giselle had come and taken all three girls back east to live with her. Iris had stayed with her other grandparents in Port Breakwater a lot, but Bethany and Jeanne had lived with Gran in a modest house in Copper City.

Gran had supported them with the profits from her gemstone business Until the clique war between two rival factions had destroyed her livelihood. Michael St. Vyr had come east to remove his family when he heard about the trouble, but it had taken him days to get to Copper City using the trains and stage routes. Bethany understood the only thing standing between herself, her family and poverty was the Golden Tricorn and the Lucky Strike.

When her father had explained his plan to keep them all safe to her, she had agreed.  If I am going to sell myself to save my family, she had thought grimly, it won’t be for a few dollars.  At least I’ll be a married woman so no one will call me a whore the way they did poor Priscilla Jones.

Her father had promised her he would try to find her the best man he could, but he had explained that the kind of man who could lead the firefight  to rid themselves of the threat the Johnsons posed, might not be cultured or refined.

The dinner bell chimed. Bethany opened the door to find Margo’s son Paco waiting in the hall.

“You look muy bueno, senorita!” he exclaimed.

Bethany laughed. Paco’s juvenile admiration was soothing to her nerves. “How come you’re not at dinner?” she asked.

He skipped ahead of her down the stairs. “Mama said to come and tell you how you look, so you feel better,” he chortled, and ducked into the hallway leading to the kitchen before Bethany could catch him.

Despite Margo’s suburb food, dinner could not have been called a success. Since Margo preferred for her and Paco to eat in the kitchen, Giselle, Iris, Bethany, St. Vyr, Henry and McCaffey sat down at the dining room table.  The dinner conversation about the latest campaign to notify Earth of St. Antoni’s existence was stilted.

Jeanne came in halfway through dinner and made herself disagreeable to her father, hoping to divert St. Vyr from delivering a scold because she disobeyed him and rode out alone.  The tactics succeeded, despite St. Vyr recognizing them. Clara, Jeanne’s mother had often done the same for similar reasons. Giselle and Iris fled the dining room as soon as dinner was over. Giselle claiming the privilege of old age to retire early, and Iris to help Margo in the kitchen.

Although Bethany was glad to escape to the parlor after dinner, Margo having told her not to help to clear the table tonight, she was annoyed with her youngest sister for making a difficult situation harder. So when she saw Jeanne sneaking off up the stairs, she called after her. “You had better get Margo to help you get those grass stains off your blouse, if you hope to wear it again.”

Jeanne frowned at her, trying to look at her back over her shoulder. “What grass stains?” she demanded

“You can’t see them, dear,” said Bethany sweetly. “They are all in the back.”

Jeanne opened her mouth to retaliate and then heard her father coming out of the dining room. With a gasp, she fled upstairs. Bethany stalked into the parlor and sat down with a thump in a chair.

When Paco brought in the tea tray, she gestured to him to set it on the low table in front of her. “Bed for you, young man,” she said. Paco gave her a hug before he left.

McCaffey sat his cup down on the table with a decided click. “St. Vyr, I think your daughter and I need to talk. Will you excuse us?”

“Now, see here,” St. Vyr blustered, “it’s hardly proper—”

“Papa,” Bethany interrupted him peremptorily, and added a short sentence in French.

Michael opened his mouth and then shut it again. There were some things a man just didn’t say to his female offspring, no matter what the provocation. “I’ll be in the library,” he announced, just as if that was what he had planned to say all along.

McCaffey, who had learned his French in Madame Tussaud’s House of Pleasure in the French settlement in Azure City, was not sure he had just heard his prospective well-bred, ladylike bride say what he had thought he’d heard.

“What did you say?” he demanded.

Bethany eyed him speculatively. Papa had promised he would not force her to marry a man she found repulsive and so far, she had found nothing in McCaffey to dislike. It was time for another test. Composedly, she said, “I told him that unless he planned to lie between us in the marriage bed, he would have to leave us alone sooner or later.”

McCaffey choked on a mouthful of tea and had a coughing fit.

Eyes watering, he looked at her. “Your father said you were truthful to a fault. I see now what he meant!”

“Truth is always preferable,” Bethany said. “If you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember later what lie you told.”

McCaffey came over and sat down opposite her in the comfortable wing chair. “Since you prefer the truth, you may as well know I told your father I will not marry a woman who is being forced to marry me.”

Bethany was taken aback. It had not occurred to her that a man who hired out his gun would have scruples about marrying her. Something inside her that had been tense uncoiled at that moment. McCaffey’s attitude was something she recognized—she had seen it in her father.

“But you are a Romantic!” she exclaimed. “How extraordinary!”

“Don’t be a damn fool!” snapped McCaffey, annoyed. “I’ve seen enough marriages to know it is rough enough when both parties want to get married.  Marrying a woman who has been forced into it is a recipe for disaster.”

“No, you are right, of course,” Bethany said. Papa, she remembered did not like to be thought of as a romantic either. “Both parties in a marriage must have good reasons for entering the marriage. Papa is not forcing me to marry you, you know. He would never do that.”

“I don’t mean he would beat you. Look, being forced by circumstances isn’t much different from being forced in other ways. It isn’t right.”

It suddenly dawned on Bethany that unless she changed his mind, McCaffey would not cooperate with the plan.  She would have to be very careful she realized, if she judged wrong, he would get up and walk out.

“My mother’s grave is up there under one of the trees,” she said. “So is Iris’s mother.  My mother didn’t have to come out here with Papa to this wild land. Gran had a good house then, and she made a comfortable living supporting herself. Mama came here because she and Papa had a dream to build a home. It was the same with all Papa’s wives. I remember the day Jeanne’s mother died, you know. Margo had taken us out to pick berries. We were on our way back when we heard the shooting and saw the fires. Margo wouldn’t let Carlos, Iris and I come here until after she had made her decent. It wasn’t fit for us to see, she said.”

“Your father has done a fine job here. I understand how proud you must be of him.”

“No, you ´don’t understand,” Bethany said. “Do you know what happens to women like me, like my sisters and grandmother when they have no income? Do you know what they do to survive? Well I do. I saw what happened to some of Grans customers when the Smith Clique took over in Copper City. You are a man; you can work.  For a woman, there are very few places for women to work and stay respectable.  I can’t sew a straight line, none of us can cook, and I am a terrible teacher; you should have seen me attempting to teach Jeanne how to dance. I thought we would pull out each other’s hair! Jeanne and Iris are no better. Besides, our mothers died for this land. I will not let that awful man and his cocksure sons come and take it away from us. They shot Papa in the back! Oh, I know the sheriff said he couldn’t arrest anyone without proof. But I know who did it.”

She turned around and looked McCaffey straight in the eye. “I can’t shoot a gun well either, and I am no warrior woman that men will follow me into battle, even if I knew how to win a fight like this. But I can marry a man who can do these things.  I don’t know what you want in a wife. I don’t know that I could be other than I am. If it turns out I’m not the kind of woman you want to marry, I can’t change that. I can’t pretend either that I have been struck by a bolt of lightning and fallen in love with you.  But I will pledge to you that I will do everything I can to make a marriage between us work. But you are correct; we must both be willing for the marriage to be a good one.”

There was a long silence. McCaffey got up and went over to the open French doors. Dusk was turning the sky a faint mauve color. He wanted to believe her. He wanted it so badly in fact that he didn’t trust his own judgment. If she was telling the truth, she was offering him everything he had worked for since he had walked out of his stepfather’s house at fifteen; a home, a family, and work he could be proud of. If her words were a trick, it was a good one. Could Bethany be so good an actress? He looked at the clear gray eyes, the soft rounded chin, and the firm mouth. He simply wanted to believe what she was offering. Still, if it was a trick, he could apply a simple test.

“I guess we can go into town tomorrow and get married,” he said.

Bethany, who had been thinking bitterly that she would have to tell Papa she had failed, was stunned. “What?” she blurted out.

“I said,” he repeated, “that we can go into town tomorrow and get married.”

“Tomorrow? No, we can’t get married tomorrow. There must be an announcement in the paper, we must see the Preacher and send out invitations.”

“Tomorrow,” he said.

Bethany eyed him a little warily. She wasn’t sure what had changed his mind, but she wasn’t about to let him ride roughshod over her either. “Tomorrow,” she stated firmly. “We will go into town, put the announcement in the paper, and talk to Preacher Mayer about holding the ceremony after church on Sunday. We will also,” she added, “make arrangements to hold a reception at the hotel the following Saturday.”

She stacked the cups and saucers on the tea tray so she could take them to the kitchen. Aware that he was watching her with a slightly proprietary air, she suddenly felt shy, so to make conversation, she asked, “Did Paco tell you which room is yours?”

McCaffey took the tray from her and set it back down on the table. “No, he didn’t.”

“The first one at the head of the stairs. Your friend is next door.”

She stopped, because he had taken hold of her shoulders. She could feel the warmth of his hands through the thin material as if she were naked to his touch. After a moment, he tipped her chin up with his finger, forcing her to look at him.

“It’s going to be a long time until Sunday,” he said ruefully before he kissed her.

Bethany had been kissed before. When she had gone east a few times with Gran to see Iris’s grandparents, several men had tried. After all, she was more than passably good looking and her father owned a silver mine. She had been little impressed by the procedure.  Emery Johnson had tried, but his kiss had been brutal. This was different. McCaffey’s hold was firm, but she could have released herself if she had tried. His mouth was warm and tasted faintly of brandy and the mint tea she had served after dinner. Without realizing it, she felt herself relaxing into his arms. When he felt her response, the kiss deepened. He coaxed her lips apart with his tongue and his arms came around her, one hand slid down over her buttocks, pressing her up against him so she could feel the hard bulge of his arousal. Bethany had spent a lot of her growing up years around animals; she knew what pressed against her. She was startled to feel an answering heat between her thighs. When she felt herself lifting against him so she could feel more, she came back to herself with gasp of shock.

McCaffey let her go, smiling down at her.

“Good night,” she gasped, and fled upstairs, leaving the tea tray behind for Margo.

McCaffey stood in the doorway and watched her run up the stairs. She had felt good, he realized, and it was obvious her response to him hadn’t been planned. He whistled to himself as he gathered up the loaded tray and took it out to the kitchen.

It wasn’t until he was undressing for bed that it occurred to him the interview with Bethany had not gone as he had planned. He had intended to explain gently to her that he would accept the job, but not the marriage unless some real feelings developed between them. He scratched his head. How he had ended up engaged to her with a wedding planned for next Sunday? Furthermore, that sweet faced girl had virtually told her own father to mind his own business and Michael St. Vyr had obeyed her.