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Broken Shackles

It’s Friday, so it’s time  to post the next chapter in my ongoing serial for the Warriors of St. Antoni.

Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal World Tales. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni, you got tough or you got dead. The only defense is a gun; your safety depends on your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her baby sister, Iris chooses an arranged marriage with a beloved old friend. Jeanne and the son of their greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

 

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Broken Shackles

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

 

Max Franks woke up shackled and with a raging headache. He soon discovered he was not the only deckhand wearing chains. Tom and Jeff Bardeoux, who owned the Tumbling Gem, ‘hired’, if it could be called that, some of their crew from the jails in the towns they traded with. The practice of renting prisoners out for work saved a town the expense of housing and feeding the prisoners, and it was cheap labor for the rivermen. In return for a small fee, rivermen like the Bardeoux brothers agreed to put a town’s prisoners to work as deckhands feeding and housing them for the term of their sentence. When a prisoner’s sentence was over, the Bardeoux brothers dropped the prisoner at the city he came from on their next trip, or let him leave the ship at the next port.

Franks was an angry, unhappy man when he woke up and discovered what had been done to him, and the longer he stayed aboard the madder he got. For the past three weeks, he had been stuck on a cargo barge traveling slowly up the Black River. His chains allowed a shuffling walk around the deck but he knew if he dived into the river they would drag him under and he would drown. There were small outposts and towns along the river, but they were small oases of civilization between vast stretches of wild lands. Thick forests of Skinwood trees (so called because of their flesh colored bark) stretched up into the rugged mountains. In some places the brush and vines were so thick no boat could land even if it had been wise to do so.

The fierce Dire bear clans made their homes in the thick bushes along the river. Higher up in the mountains, striped lions hunted game in prides of two or three. Both would find an unarmed human a tasty meal. Franks had no intention of attempting to traverse the wilderness on foot.

The Tumbling Gem kept to the deeper waters in the center of the river and away from the banks the further north they traveled, because if they were hungry enough the bears and lions had been known to board a ship moored to close to the shore at night, and ocassionally during the daylight when a ship was moving.

Franks was determined to escape. He knew that while one man couldn’t handle a ship the size of the Tumbling Gem, but he was confident that if he stole a smaller steam powered boat, he could make it back down the river. The Tumbling Gem stopped at small outposts on its way upriver and usually there were a few boats docked at each hamlet. First, he had to find out where the Bardeoux brothers kept the key to the shackles. Then he needed to steal a gun and wait for the proper time.

Franks watched the brothers and the free deckhands, looking for weaknesses he could use in his escape. While he waited, and watched his captors, a deep and bitter anger toward Iris St. Vyr built. It stung his pride that the two women had trapped and drugged him. When he got back to River Crossing, that sweet-face liar would be taught something. He would teach her a lesson she wouldn’t forget.

The deck crew comprised three other chained men like himself, the two Bardeoux brothers Hank and Jim, and two free deckhands. Franks and the other three prisoners got the dirty jobs of cleaning cabins, swabbing the decks, washing dishes, and cleaning the fish caught in the nets thrown over the side each morning and evening when they dropped anchor for the night. The Bardeoux brothers steered the boat, and the other two freedmen kept the Tumbling Gem away from sandbars and other obstacles with long poles. Each evening before sunset, the Barge dropped anchor. Without lights, traveling the river at night was suicidal. If they didn’t run aground on a sandbar in the dark, they could hit a fallen log or a boulder.

When they stopped each night, one of the brothers lit a fire under a steam powered grill on the deck. Jason Bourteen usually cooked the meal and boiled the next days drinking water pulled from the river. The other freedman, Leo Miller was in supposed to keep an eye on the chained crew.

The other three prisoners had their own pecking order. It was an old story to an outlaw like Franks who had fought his way to the top of many outlaw groups. Ray Ponce was a big blond man, but Franks judged him to be too soft to give him much trouble. Of the other two men, Franks figured that only John Waters would be trouble. A medium sized, gray-haired man, he was manifestly the leader and the most dominant of the three. Jeff Bridger, the third man hung around Waters and visibly curried favor with him. The first day after Franks awoke, Waters attempted to assert dominance by making Franks move from the place he had sat down to eat.

Aware that the little scene was being watched by Ponce, Bridger, and Miller, Franks stood up and faced Waters.

“I like it here,” he said.

“I said to move. That’s my place,” Waters snarled.

Franks wasn’t interested in challenging Waters, but he knew if he ignored the man it would get worse. He set his plate down and sneered.

“Make me,” he hissed.

Waters took a swing at him, which Franks easily sidestepped, and followed it with a smashing blow to the man’s gut. Waters was out of shape. He let out a whoosh! of air and doubled over. Franks hit him a second time, this time beside the ear, and Waters went down hard.

“That’s enough of that!” Miller yelled. “You,” he pointed at Franks, “sit back down. Waters you go back where you were. Any more trouble like this and both of you will get ten lashes. Got that?”

Franks sat back down and picked up his plate. “He started it,” he told Miller.

Miller glared at him. “I don’t care who started it. It ends now.”

Franks shrugged and went back to eating.

It was several days before he was assigned to clean the cabins. Franks had already realized Miller was lax in keeping an eye on them. When he left Franks alone in Hand Bardeouxs cabin, he saw the keys for the shackles were hanging on the wall, along keys to the desk and several other items. Chuckling at the foolishness of leaving the keys out in plain sight, Franks used the desk key to open it and search for a weapon. He found an old percussion type pistol and ammunition for it in one drawer. He stuffed it down in his pants and carefully re-locked the desk. Removing the shackles key from the ring, he pocketed that too. Tomorrow they were stopping at Grayson’s Landing to take on cargo. That was where he would make his move.

They docked the next morning. Grayson’s landing was small, two or three houses set against the sheer cliffs behind them. A larger building bisected the end of the short wooden wharf built out over a sandy beach. A small cultivated field ran down to the edge of the river. Tied to the wharf were three steam powered fishing boats that could safely be handled by one or two men.

While everyone was distracted as they docked, Franks overloaded the bluestones used to make the Tumbling Gem’s steam engine run. When mixed with water, a chemical reaction caused the stones to produce heat. Enough stones and you had enough steam power to run an engine. It was tricky knowing the right amount of stones to mix with the right amount of water to get the correct controlled chemical reaction. Too little and you didn’t get enough heat; too much, and you got a nasty explosion. Franks was counting on an explosion. To make sure it would be a big one, Franks also added more water to the engine, and bent to unlock his shackles. When he spotted Waters watching him, he tossed the keys to him before he slipped over the side. He swam to the nearest boat and boarded. He was in luck, it was fully stocked with bluestones. He added water to the amount in the engine and waited for the water to produce enough steam to start the engine.

In the meantime, Waters had used the keys to unshackle the other prisoners and he and Bridger had jumped Hank Bardeoux. Jim and Leo Miller came to help while Ponce stood there watching. In the melee that followed, no one noticed Frank’s absense or that the gauge on the engine showed it was dangerously overheating.

The brothers had just realized they were short a p prisoner when Franks finally had enough steam rising to start the engine on the boat he was stealing. Looking over his shoulder as he left, he heard a massive blast and saw the great gout of flames streaking toward the sky that tore half the dock away and most of the Tumbling Gem. As everyone ran to fight the fire created by the explosion, Franks laughed as he headed back down the river.

 

It’s Friday when I post the next chapter in my serials. I also decided that Friday would be the day I choose to pay it forward to other independent authors by sharing their books on my timeline. Please keep in mind that I haven’t read most of these books. Please check them out for yourself.

Gail

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.”

 

Winds of Change – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 14

This is the first of my new Portal Worlds series. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni you got tough or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

Technology to find and open gateways to alternative worlds was found on earth in the late 21st century. Those expecting to get rich off the tremendous resources on these new worlds controlled Access to them. People talk though, and it wasn’t long before the new technology became common knowledge and unregulated Portals cropped up. Illegal settlers passed through Forbidden gates looking for new places to live and find adventure and liberty.

With only the technology they could carry or build from raw materials on St. Antoni they built a new way of life.  To survive they must rely on themselves. The learned to master deadly plants and animals. On St. Antoni, Adventure was a one-way trip to a hardscrabble life and Freedom meant relying on yourself for food, a roof over your head and safety.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Chapter 14 Winds of Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mike—” began Alec.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jeramiah Lutz?” demanded Michael.

“That’s the name.”

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

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

Max Franks?” Carlos demanded.

“Yep, I think that was his handle.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What!” Carlos exclaimed in outrage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtship – Warriors of St. Antoni chapter 10

Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal Worlds Serials.The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni you got tough or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

Technology to find and open gateways to alternative worlds was found on earth in the late 21st century. Those expecting to get rich off the tremendous resources on these new worlds controlled Access to them. People talk though, and it wasn’t long before the new technology became common knowledge and unregulated Portals cropped up. Illegal settlers passed through Forbidden gates looking for new places to live and find adventure and liberty.

With only the technology they could carry or build from raw materials on St. Antoni they built a new way of life.  To survive they must rely on themselves. The learned to master deadly plants and animals. On St. Antoni, Adventure was a one-way trip to a hardscrabble life and Freedom meant relying on yourself for food, a roof over your head and safety.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll stay with you,” Iris said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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