Authors: Susan Kay Law
Tags: #Romance - Historical, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Man-woman relationships, #Love stories, #Historical, #Romance & Sagas, #Biography & autobiography, #Voyages and travels
It was a hard thing to lose a friend. It…
“Get down.” Mrs. Bossidy yanked on her skirt.
Once they left the station in Papillon, Laura had allowed…
Kearney was not a large city, as such things went.
“What?” The word burst from her, an echo of the…
Everyone but Sam protested Laura’s plan to unhitch twenty miles…
He couldn’t have said how long they stayed like that.
Desperate measures, Lucy Bossidy thought as she rapped on the…
He haunted her sleep. What little sleep there was. Laura…
His breath seized in his chest. He sprang up, the…
Laura scanned the area, trying to pick out a path,…
The shriek yanked him from sleep, a banshee yell that…
It took them most of a day to reach the…
Haw Crocker really knew how to set a table.
Lucy Bossidy had had some difficult days in her thirty-six…
Laura didn’t understand why she kept dreaming about men.
“They tried awfully hard to keep us from the mines…
Sam plunged out of the door seconds later. Because whatever…
They led their horses out of the compound, lifting into…
The horses couldn’t maintain the hectic pace for long. They…
Of all the things she’d left behind on the train,…
“Laura?” he whispered. “Laura, sweetheart, I’m sorry. It’s time to…
Sam’s hands shook like a hopeless drunk’s as he stripped…
Sam and Laura were captured only minutes later, of course,…
He’d bought her a few hours. Maybe a few days.
Laura squinted at the canvas propped on the easel before…
Hell’s Pass, Wyoming
t was a hard thing to lose a friend. It was harder yet when you could number your friends using less than one hand. When, if it came right down to it, it took but one finger.
The fact that Sam Duncan called no one else friend was his own choice. It was a lesson he’d learned hard; when people around you dropped like flies in August it was far easier to remain alone than to get to know someone just to lose them.
But Griff…Griff had been the one who, just like Sam, hadn’t died. He didn’t know if they’d been too lucky or too stubborn or just too damn stupid to give in when everybody else had. Though he had to admit “friend” didn’t really cover it. When you’d spent nearly half a year together in a hole too small for a grave and managed not to kill each other, you had a bond that
most people—the lucky ones who skipped through life happily unaware of the really vicious things people could do to each other—could never understand.
He winced, gingerly probing his jaw where it throbbed to beat hell, despite the ice he’d slapped on it an hour ago when he’d finally stumbled into town and found himself a saloon full of people who barely blinked an eye when a fellow weaved in looking like John L. Sullivan, the Boston Strongboy, had used him for a sparring partner. Sooner or later he was going to have to wash out the blood matting his beard, but he was shooting for later.
When he’d crawled away from the Silver Spur, it would have been closer to head to Salt Lake City. But that was a Mormon town, and he’d known he was going to need a place where he could get some whiskey.
He downed another slug from the bottle on the table before him, noting that his hand only quivered a bit when he lifted it. The room was small and rough, and the saloon keeper had charged him too much for it because it usually rented by the hour. But Sam knew that once he dropped into bed he wasn’t going to be able to haul himself out again for a good twelve hours.
Outside the single grimy window, the sky had grayed, as if the sun were too tired to keep shining, not going out in a burst of flashy color, but simply fading away like a harlot’s henna when her hair had gotten too gray to soak up the red anymore. A piano squawked from the main room below. It was probably supposed to sound gay and cheerful but instead it was brassy and off-tune, setting his brain to throbbing behind his eyes. Now and then a spurt of laughter—the nasty-edged laughter of people trying too hard to convince themselves they were having fun—burst through and clashed with the tune.
He was obviously getting too old to have the shit beaten out of him. He felt every wound: the bruise that spread over half his chest and made him groan every time he moved, the kick that had caught him in the back, the swollen and split knuckles he’d earned trying to fight back. He couldn’t open his left eye, and the fact that his knees still worked was nothing short of a miracle.
He didn’t recall it ever
so much. Maybe a fellow was allotted only so much pain tolerance for his life and he’d used his up before he’d hit twenty, because he was doing a piss-poor job of tolerating the pain at the moment.
He contemplated the whiskey for a while. He had to work up to another drink, because the stuff set his split lip afire every time he touched it, a burn that was almost as bad as all the other aches combined. Maybe if he just didn’t move, didn’t twitch, didn’t
, it’d be okay.
Lord, if anybody could see him now…
ow, ow, ow
. Chuckling was a
bad idea, he quickly discovered. But he’d spent all these years building up a reputation as a really ruthless piece of work, so much so that the mere rumor that he’d been hired had snuffed more than one strike and range war before they’d ever gotten started. And right now he doubted he could defend himself against a six-year-old.
Yeah, there’d been a lot of men coming at him.
Maybe a dozen
, he thought, though his vision had blurred early on, and that just might be his pride talking. And they’d caught him by surprise—but that was the whole point, wasn’t it? Nobody had caught Sam Duncan by surprise in a good fifteen years. But it had all seemed routine. They’d answered his questions with such mild disinterest before cordially escorting him off the Silver Spur that he’d been pretty close to assuming
that they were telling him the truth and that Griff had never gotten there in the first place.
But Sam hadn’t gotten to be the highest-paid hired gun in seven states by taking anybody’s word for anything. He’d nosed around the nearest town for a bit—no information to be had, the most close-mouthed bunch of ostensibly “friendly” people he’d ever met, and that
make him suspicious—before heading back toward the Silver Spur. They were waiting for him before he’d ever gotten close…and since there were at least four other routes he could have taken back, he wondered just how many men Haw Crocker, the owner of the Silver Spur,
sent out to make sure that Sam Duncan regretted it if he didn’t go quietly on his way.
It had gotten dark enough in the room that he could no longer read the two papers he’d spread out on the rickety pine table. He gritted his teeth against the pain of moving his arm and nudged the lamp closer.
The first one, small and crumpled even though Sam had done his best to smooth it out, he didn’t need the light to decipher because he knew it by heart: the last letter he’d received from Griff Judah.
They didn’t see each often, not in years. Didn’t need to—it was enough to know the other one was out there, alive and whole. Once in a while they wandered into the same town at the same time and spent a day or two in a place very much like this one, trying to prove to themselves and the world that, yeah, they’d survived, plunging into wild sprees that never seemed to be as much fun as they’d sounded no matter how hard they pretended they were.
But Griff’s luck hadn’t run as true as Sam’s after they’d left Andersonville. He hadn’t gotten his strength back as quickly. And, while Sam’s six-shooters soon
became as much a part of him as his hands, Griff would just as soon have never seen a gun again. Sam had tried to help him out more than once—he had more money than he knew what to do with, considering he had nothing and no one else he cared to spend it on—but Griff had too much pride for that.
But in Griff’s last letter he’d sounded hopeful. Excited that he’d finally found a job that he might settle into. Haw Crocker’s Silver Spur was the biggest, richest ranch between Denver and San Francisco, and there was plenty of opportunity for a fellow to get ahead. It was the biggest and richest, of course, because the vein of silver Crocker had discovered had allowed him to buy up another fifty thousand acres and handpick the finest stock from Texas to Wyoming. Rumor had it, Griff wrote, that the mine still produced darn near eight hundred thousand dollars of ore a month, and wasn’t that something?
Not that he was interested in the mine. They’d both had more than enough of holes in the ground. But Griff liked the wide-open spaces, where the mountains flattened into a broad valley, and the cows and the horses and the fact that a man could work alone with them most of time. And all that silver could run a lot of cattle for a long time, couldn’t it?
But then Sam had never heard from him again. Griff had been pretty regular in his correspondence if nothing else and when two months passed without a word Sam had sent his own letter to the Silver Spur. Six weeks later the unopened envelope, ragged as if it’d had a hard journey, showed back up, NOT AT THIS ADDRESS printed in hard black letters across the front.
So Sam had finished his current assignment—roust up a gang of bank robbers that the sheriff of Mill City hadn’t
been able to handle himself—and headed for Utah, straight for that unsatisfying visit to the Silver Spur and his brutal little meeting with the men who were supposed to ensure he didn’t return and snoop around.
Not that they would scare him off. But it wouldn’t hurt to heal up a bit first, he thought, and lifted the bottle again, noting a bit hazily that it was only half-f. The pain was finally receding, aching low beneath a warm, pleasant buzz, and the printing on the page was beginning to blur.
He squinted at the newspaper he’d picked up on the stage to Hell’s Pass. The driver had balked at taking on a man who’d looked like he’d just escaped from hell instead of wanting to be driven there, but a wad of cash and pretending to be a tenderfoot traveler who gotten in over his head had done the trick. Sam’d called himself Artemus Kirkwood, a pansy-assed name appropriate for a fellow dumb enough to get himself clobbered. He offered an outrageous amount to get the coach to himself, then stretched out on the seat and passed out for the first couple of hours.
When he woke up, the now-friendly driver, undoubtedly eyeing a hefty tip from his clueless passenger, had offered him a copy of the
. Not much interested in anybody else’s troubles at the time, Sam had intended only to give it a quick scan before using it to block out the vicious sun that had interrupted his nap. Instead, his gaze snagged on a headline halfway down page 1.
PAINTER TO VISIT THE SILVER SPUR
Miss Laura Florence Hamilton, the renowned panorama painter, is scheduled to traverse the length of the transcontinental railway in preparation for her newest project,
The Rails at 15
, a celebration of the fifteenth an
niversary of the driving of the silver spike and a recording of the changes that massive achievement has wrought along its path in the years of its existence.
Miss Hamilton, while famous in her own right, is even better known as the only child of Leland Hamilton, the Baron of Bankers, a man who has taken his place alongside such captains of industry as Vanderbilt and Gould. One of his most profitable ventures has been his partnership with Utah’s own Silver King Haw Crocker. As the railroad passes within three miles of the Silver Spur, Miss Hamilton will take the opportunity to rest and paint at Mr. Crocker’s luxurious abode.
Miss Hamilton’s party is due to leave Omaha May 12 by private rail car, though their schedule from that point is uncertain, subject to the demands of her profession. Certainly there will be much in our grand state to hold the eye of such an artist. Perhaps, like so many before her, she will fall under the spell of our lovely landscape and never leave again.
would like to extend our warmest welcome to such an esteemed visitor, and…
May 12. Sam calculated the distance between Hell’s Pass and Omaha, pondered his own healing rate, and winced. It was going to be a damned painful trip. Planting both hands on the table, he pushed himself to his feet and swayed there for a blessed moment before going in search of some wash water.
With any luck, Miss Hamilton liked her men a little rough around the edges.
“I do believe,” Mrs. Bossidy said, “that man intends to rob the train.”
“Who?” Laura Hamilton twisted around, her motion
cut off in midswivel when Mrs. Bossidy’s hand clamped down on her knee, a hearty squeeze even through the layered poufs of skirts and petticoats.
“For heaven’s sake, don’t
at him,” she whispered fiercely.
“At who?” Laura asked again.
“That one out there on the back platform.”
Laura dropped her chin to her shoulder, peering as discreetly as possible toward the back of the car. The man stood framed in the window: an angled slice of sturdy shoulder, clad in dusty black…dark hair, too long to be contained by his hat, cropped unevenly at the shoulders, whipped violently by the wind, slashing across one cheek like a scar and disappearing into a beard of the same shade…a face made all of angles and planes, uncompromisingly harsh, the eyes deep-set, the right one surrounded by the purple-blue stain of a horrible bruise. She couldn’t read their color from here, but she was certain his eyes must be dark. A sunny, happy blue simply wouldn’t do.
He filled the frame well, she thought automatically. But the composition was all darkness, brutally severe. It needed some softness, some light, for contrast. But an interesting face, unforgettable, eminently paintable if one’s talent lent itself to portraiture. If fact it would be almost irresistibly tempting to do so, even to Laura, who understood very well that her talents lay in another direction.
“I told you not to look.” The grip on her knee tightened until Laura reluctantly faced forward again. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately. You used to be such an obliging child.”
“I’m still obliging,” Laura said, then allowed, “almost always.” She’d been far too obliging for too long,
she considered. It was past time for her to be a bit less reflexively obedient.
“When it’s convenient for you. That’s not obliging, that’s strategy,” Mrs. Bossidy said, softening her words with a fond smile.
Laura could scarcely remember a time when Mrs. Bossidy had not been in her life. For so many years as her nurse, then she’d become Laura’s companion. Laura loved her parents, but Mrs. Bossidy knew and understood her better. When Laura had proposed this trip, Mrs. Bossidy had been the only one who’d supported the idea from the first.
Which did not mean, in any way, that Mrs. Bossidy agreed with Laura on every point.
“I would feel much better,” Mrs. Bossidy went on, “if you would at least return to your own car.”
Once Laura’s father had finally agreed to this expedition, he had put forth many conditions—a
many, Laura recalled wryly, which he had required her to repeat word for word before he’d allowed her to step one foot out the door. Mrs. Bossidy’s presence was a given, but he’d also insisted upon not one but two guards, Hiram Peel and Erastus Hoxie, a prerequisite that was fine with Laura, for their presence in her life was as much an accepted fact as Mrs. Bossidy’s. Her party actually traveled in not one but two private cars, both built precisely to her father’s specifications, the construction of which had forced her to delay the trip for nearly a year. She and Mrs. Bossidy had one to themselves; the men, all her equipment, and their supplies filled the other. One more car, which Leland Hamilton had allowed to be bought standard, carried their riding horses.