Authors: Connie Mason
“Connie Mason’s steamy narrative and spirited dialogue are recognized by fans of romance everywhere.”
—Affaire de Coeur
Casey grasped Belle’s wrists and brought them to her sides. “I’m only thinking of you and Tommy, Belle. How long can you keep running? You need someone to take care of you.”
Belle pulled from his grasp, breathing hard, her eyes flashing angrily. “Are you suggesting you’re that man?”
“Is that such an outlandish idea? We’re explosive together, Belle!” Seizing her arms, he pulled Belle against him. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I had to try one last time to—”
His lips came down on hers. And Casey’s words were lost to her in the heat of his mouth and the melting strength of his arms….
© 1997, 2011 Connie Mason. All rights reserved.
Yuma Territorial Prison, Arizona
his his is the last time I’ll be able to visit you for awhile, Mark. I’m leaving for San Francisco in the morning. Try not to worry about a thing. I’ve hired the best lawyer in the territory to get you out of this murder rap, so don’t give up.”
It nearly broke Casey Walker’s heart to see his younger brother behind prison bars. Two months ago he had been convicted of murder and sent to Yuma Territorial Prison to serve his life term. Once a happy-go-lucky young man, Mark had aged quickly during his trial. His hazel eyes were shadowed with hopelessness and resignation. He was far too cynical for his twenty-four years and much too apathetic Sure, Mark had always been a little wild, but he wasn’t a murderer. He had shot that card cheat in self-defense, and the only witness to the shooting had fled to parts unknown before Mark’s trial came up.
Mark raised defeated hazel eyes to Casey, looking as if he wanted to believe him but feared to get his
hopes up. Casey’s younger brother had never recovered after that day several months ago, when a gambler at the Dry Gulch Saloon had falsely accused him of cheating and drawn on him. Mark had been faster, his bullet going straight into the gambler’s heart. The jury hadn’t believed his plea of self-defense and the judge had sentenced him to life in prison.
“San Francisco?” Mark asked listlessly. “Does Allan Pinkerton have a job for you?”
“Yeah, one I can’t refuse. The man who contacted Allan wanted the best detective in the Pinkerton Agency, and offered a bonus for finding a missing person.” Casey grinned, revealing the deep dimple in his left cheek. “And since I’m the best man, and have need of the money to pay your lawyer, I’ve accepted the assignment.”
The shadows in Mark’s eyes deepened and he shrugged with a marked lack of enthusiasm. “You’re wasting your money, Casey. You’ll never find the man who can clear my name, so it doesn’t matter how much you pay that fancy lawyer. I’m going to die in prison, I know it. I’m resigned to my fate, why don’t you just forget about me?”
Casey drove strong fingers through his thick black hair, nearly defeated by Mark’s apathy. He had to get Mark out of prison before it destroyed him. Unfortunately the money needed to offer a reward for the missing witness just wasn’t available. Without the witness, filing an appeal was useless. This job had come at a time when Casey had nearly given up hope.
“Dammit, Mark, don’t talk like that. I’ve tried my best to locate the missing witness. Before I leave I’m going to tell lawyer Levy to spare no expense in
finding the man who was present during the shooting at the saloon that night. We can’t reopen the case without positive evidence. Offering a substantial reward is a surefire way to bring the witness forward. Whatever it takes, I’ll get the money for that reward.”
Casey’s strong jaw clenched with determination and his eyes, a curious greenish-brown flecked with gold, were incandescent with purpose. No one who heard him could doubt his utter confidence or sincerity.
His eyes downcast, Mark turned away. “It’s all right, Casey, I know how hard you’ve worked on my behalf and I know you’ll do everything in your power to set me free, but I fear it’s out of your hands. No man could ask for a better brother. I won’t think any less of you if you fail to find the witness. God knows you’ve neglected your job and run yourself ragged in my behalf these past few months. I really appreciate it. I haven’t always been the best of brothers. You’ve put your own life on hold trying to clear my name. I know for a fact you’ve turned down assignments. I’m glad you’ve taken this one, for whatever reason.”
If Casey could have reached inside the bars, he would have shaken some sense into Mark. The boy was far too accepting of his fate. Drawing himself up to his full, impressive height, Casey flexed his shoulders, sending tense muscles rippling across his broad torso. Somehow, some way, he was going to get the money to offer the kind of reward that would bring the missing witness forward. If he didn’t do it, and do it soon, he feared Mark would lose all hope.
“I won’t let you give up, Mark.” His voice had taken on a hard edge and the chiseled planes of his rugged features were utterly ruthless with resolve.
“I’ll get that money for the reward and I’ll see you free again. Nothing or no one will stand in my way. I swear it.”
’m Casey Walker, from the Pinkerton Agency. And you’re Mr. McAllister, I presume.”
Casey held out his hand to the owner of the McAllister Winery, a robust man with piercing dark eyes and thinning brown hair just beginning to turn gray. Though past his prime, McAllister possessed the vim and vigor of a much younger man. One totally obsessed with his own power. Intuition told Casey that and more about the wealthy businessman.
“T.J. McAllister, here,” McAllister said heartily, shaking Casey’s hand. “What took you so long?”
“It’s a long way from Fort Yuma to San Francisco by stage,” Casey said by way of an explanation. “Allan Pinkerton didn’t elaborate on this assignment, so if you’ll tell me who it is I’m looking for I can get right on the case.”
“Sit down, Walker, and I’ll tell you what you’re
up against. I want you to find a woman. A conniving whore, to be exact. Belle Parker trapped my only son into marriage. She plied her trade at a local brothel, where she met my son. When young Tom announced his plans to marry the whore I flew into a rage. I tried to tell him she was after his money, but he wouldn’t listen to reason.”
Casey nodded sympathetically, committing McAllister’s every word to memory. He’d met plenty of whores in his life, some schemers, some honest, but Belle Parker sounded like a woman who knew what she wanted and went after it.
“Tom went ahead and married the woman against my wishes,” T.J. continued. “I promptly disowned him. Told him I wouldn’t acknowledge him until he got rid of the conniving bitch. I made it clear that he was being cut off without a penny. The young fool had more spunk than I gave him credit for,” McAllister allowed with a hint of admiration. “He got a job on a ranch and somehow managed to support himself and his wife without my help. By then the bad blood between us made it impossible for either of us to cave in. The little slut Tom married did a fine job of alienating my son and I.”
“Is your son missing?” Casey asked, growing impatient with McAllister’s rambling.
“I’m getting around to it, Walker,” McAllister groused. “A few months after they married, Belle gave birth to a son. I refused to acknowledge the child, even though he is my only grandson by my only son. You have to understand how bitter I was over Tom’s defection. I expected him to become disenchanted with the whore once he got his fill, but instead he had a child with her. I couldn’t find it in my heart to forgive him.”
“Begging your pardon, Mr. McAllister, but you still haven’t told me the name of the person I’m to locate.”
McAllister gave him a blistering look and continued. “My grandson is five years old now, and I want him. The tragedy in all this is that my son drowned on a trail drive over a year ago. Now my grandson is being raised by a woman unfit to raise pigs. To my knowledge she still plies her trade somewhere. Belle Parker is a money-hungry bitch who knows I’d do anything to get my grandson. She doesn’t want the boy, I’d stake my life on it. She’s just holding out for the right price, and I refuse to barter for my own flesh and blood, or give that whore a penny of my money. The law is on my side. I have every right to take the boy from his mother and raise him properly.”
Walker thought it was rather late for McAllister to worry about his grandson’s welfare, but maintained his silence. He was in desperate need of the bonus the man had offered and didn’t want to risk losing this job.
“If the law is on your side, why don’t you just go and take the boy?” Casey asked.
“I wouldn’t need you if I knew where he was,” McAllister countered caustically. “His mother got wind of my plans and took him away. They’ve disappeared from the face of the earth. I’ve been searching over a year for him.”
“How old did you say your grandson is?”
“He’s five, and old enough to know that his mother is a whore who sleeps with a different man every night. I have to get him away from her before she ruins him. The boy is the last remaining McAllister. There is no one else to inherit my fortune.
“Allan Pinkerton said you were a top-notch detective. I hope to God he’s right. I want that boy, McAllister, and I’m offering an extra bonus of two thousand dollars in addition to your regular fee. The way I figure it, Belle will give up the boy with the right kind of persuasion.” He gave Casey a searching look. “You’re a good-looking man, I’m sure you’ve had experience with women. Find Belle, sweet-talk her, hell, bed her if you have to, promise her anything, if she’ll give up custody of the boy without a fight. After you find her, if you fail to convince her to give up the boy peaceably, I’ll be forced to do it my way. I have the law’s approval to take my own flesh and blood away from a woman like that. Hell, she even has a whore’s name.”
Casey’s heart pounded with excitement. Two thousand dollars was a helluva lot of money and he needed every penny of it. But something about the job stroked him the wrong way. Taking a child from his mother, whore or no, didn’t seem right. If Belle was willing to give up the boy, she wouldn’t have gone into hiding in the first place. Unless, he reflected, she
holding out for money, like McAllister said.
“You’d be doing the boy a favor by taking him out of an unhealthy environment,” McAllister persisted when Walker hesitated. “Tell you what I’ll do, bring that boy to me without creating a messy scandal and I’ll increase the bonus to three thousand dollars. I’d prefer to take the boy without a fuss. I don’t like the idea of dragging my name through the mud or digging up family secrets. Gossip can be cruel. I don’t want the boy to go through life known as the son of a whore.”
“Would you be willing to pay the bonus in
advance, Mr. McAllister?” Casey held his breath. An advance of that size meant he could send the money to Simon Levy right away. The sooner the money was in the lawyer’s hands, the sooner he could post a reward for the missing witness.