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Authors: Fran Baker

King of the Mountain

BOOK: King of the Mountain
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King of the Mountain
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

2013 Loveswept eBook Edition

Copyright © 1989 by Fran Baker.
Excerpt from
Roman Holiday 1: Chained
by Ruthie Knox copyright © 2013 by Ruth Homrighaus
Excerpt from
Claimed
by Stacey Kennedy copyright © 2013 by Stacey Kennedy
Excerpt from
Loving the Earl
by Sharon Cullen copyright © 2013 by Sharon Cullen

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States of America by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

L
OVESWEPT
is a registered trademark and the L
OVESWEPT
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.

eBook ISBN 978-0-345-53527-6
Cover design: Susan Schultz
Cover photograph: Eye Candy Images/Getty Images

Originally published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House Company, New York, in 1989.

www.readloveswept.com

v3.1

One

Kitty Reardon would almost rather face a beating than attend tonight’s special bargaining session. But her family had always come out against the coal barons at contract time, so she had no choice.

Her shift ended, she headed straight for the main shaft and rode out of the tunnel alone. Above-ground, the cold Kentucky rain kept her company as she dashed across the parking lot—no mean feat in steel-toed boots.

Her car smelled musty and she needed some fresh air after being cooped up all day, so the first thing she did was open the side vent. Then she laid her coat on the front seat, set her pit helmet on the floor, and opened her black metal lunch pail.

The neatly folded neckerchief that she’d packed
along with her sandwich that morning had been her grandfather’s most prized possession. While time had dulled its purity of color, nothing could dim its purpose. Her grandfather had worn this to bargaining sessions, and she planned to wear it tonight to show her solidarity with her family’s past.

October thundered an angry omen as Kitty tied the red kerchief around her neck. She knocked on wood, her own head, then reached to adjust the rearview mirror. A glimpse of her reflection in the glass gave her a moment’s pause. Her face was blackened—the trademark of a miner.

She’d never met Benjamin Cooper, the coal baron; she’d seen him only from a distance, but she was no stranger to his brand of scare tactics. This time he was threatening to close shop unless the miners took a twenty percent pay cut. And that was what had her up in arms right now. She could not let him get away with it.

The other reason was economic survival. A four thousand dollar a year pay cut might be pocket change to a playboy-industrialist, but to a single working mother like Kitty it was the difference between a living wage and a corn bread existence.

Bolstered by the strength of her convictions, she fastened her seat belt and started the car. Driving through the gates that served both entering and exiting vehicles at Cooper’s No. 9 she shook a mental fist at the large sign that warned
THE BEST SAFETY DEVICE IS A CAREFUL MAN
.

“Someday …” she vowed on behalf of women miners everywhere. For now, though, she had her hands full.

Everyone joked that the road down the mountain was crooked enough to run for Congress. No one laughed. In truth, it looked as if a tar pot had overturned at the top and trickled a wicked course to the bottom.

Tonight Kitty drove slower than usual. Lightning had felled a tree just outside the gates, blocking an entire lane. She maneuvered around it cautiously and found that the rain combined with the coal dust that coated everything nearby had made the shoulderless asphalt surface dangerously slick.

At each bent-back curve, the headlights of her trusty old Chevy shone off into the clouds that hung over Cooperville. The wet mountain gloom obscured her view of the valley, but she knew what lay below: a long gray town built on hope; a copper-roofed mansion built on a hill; a graveyard built on heartache.

She’d cut her teeth on tales of her grandfather’s heroics in forming the union and her father’s hand in organizing the Black Lung Association. But even with her place at the bargaining table preordained, she worried she was biting off more than she could chew.

Her actions tonight would not get her fired; a fading neckerchief and a fomenting speech were not grounds for dismissal. Still, the coal baron
had his supporters among the miners—men and women who believed that a job at lower pay was better than no job at all. If they thought she was jumping the gun and decided to join forces against her …

Kitty shrugged aside her misgivings, thinking there was no point in borrowing trouble. Besides, with lightning trying to outdo thunder in scaring her, she’d be lucky if she didn’t lose her nerve!

Without taking her eyes off the next hairpin curve, she leaned down and searched fruitlessly in the plastic floor caddy for a stick of gum or a piece of candy. She remembered that when she dropped Jessie off at school for basketball practice that morning her daughter had had a suspicious wad in her cheek. She made a mental note to replenish her stash when she went to the store.

Something made her sit up suddenly and check the rearview mirror. Her heart stalled as a pair of headlights cut around that last curve and glared back at her. The other car drew rapidly nearer and, too late, she realized it was going too fast to stop. It would hit her.

The thin mountain air vibrated with the squealing of tires, the crunch of metal, and the shattering of glass.

Kitty felt the impact of the crash in the very marrow of her bones. Her seat belt protected her from serious injury, but nothing could have prepared her for the shock of feeling the Chevy lurch forward and roll toward the edge.

Reacting instinctively, she clutched the steering wheel as if it were a life preserver and laid on the brakes. The car’s front end swung left, its damaged rear end right as it slewed down the rain-and-dust-slick road.

With the precipice looming, visions of her beloved Jessie flashed before her eyes, and prayers she’d thought she’d forgotten tripped from her lips.

“Lay off the brakes!”

Though Kitty heard the voice through the open side vent, she didn’t question its source. She simply eased up on the brake pedal.

“Now steer into the slide!”

Once again she did as ordered. She turned the wheel to the left as smoothly as any Grand Prix champion.

The Chevy glided to a stop mere inches from the edge.

When the car was still, Kitty just sat there, her head reeling at the horror of how close she’d come to being killed. Then her heart danced for joy—she was still alive.

The other driver yanked her door open, leaned inside, and pried her clenched fingers off the wheel. She was too dazed to protest being manhandled, yet senses that only moments before had been used to register stark terror now registered the bay rum fragrance that clung to a hard jaw and the cashmere jacket sleeve that grazed her cheek.

Another bolt of lightning and a loud, sulphurous
blast of thunder rattled the little Chevy, propelling it even closer to the edge and yanking her back to harsh reality.

She began struggling in earnest to get out of the car, but she was shaking too badly to unbuckle her seat belt. Panic-stricken, she realized that the very thing that had earlier saved her life now held her prisoner in this slowly moving death machine.

“Hold still,” the voice ordered, “or we’ll both be doing free falls. I’ll get you out.”

The man reached down and released the buckle on her seat belt with the flicks of steady fingers.

Kitty’s legs felt like gelatin from aftershock, and she was grateful for the strong hands that lifted her to safety just in the nick of time. No sooner had her feet touched solid ground than her car took the plunge.

Horrified, she watched it make a nose dive off the mountain. She heard the rip of pine trees being uprooted and the crushing of brush. Then there was only the raging storm to break the terrible silence.

Sinewy fingers grasped her arm in support. “Can you walk?”

“Yes.” But she just stood there, her eyes glued to the spot where she’d last seen her Chevy. She’d bought it secondhand after her divorce, and she couldn’t believe it was gone.

“Let’s go,” he ordered curtly.

“Go where?” she asked in confusion.

The warm imprint of his fingers penetrated her coverall sleeve, making her aware of how cold she felt without her coat. As if sensing its advantage, the wind shifted and hit her full in the face.

“I’m taking you to the doctor.”

She balked on hearing that. “But I don’t need a doctor.”

“All right,” he agreed, tightening those guardian fingers. “I’ll take you to the sheriff’s office and we’ll fill out an accident report.”

“I don’t have time for that right now.” She tried to draw her arm away; failing that, she dug her heels in. “We’ll just exchange insurance information here, then I’ll walk back—”

“Like hell you will,” he taunted with a dry laugh.

“What do you mean by that?”

The dark hid his face from her view, but it couldn’t hide his cocky tone of voice. “I mean
I
hit you,
I’ll
take care of you.”

“For your information, mister, I can take care of myself!” Even as she said it, Kitty shivered from the night’s chill. But as desperate as she was for heat, she was equally determined not to place herself into another man’s keeping, especially one who exuded arrogance as if it were his own personal scent!

“Come on, you little fool.” The first wolf of winter was in the wind, but the warm arms he wrapped about her shoulders held it at bay. “We’ll continue this discussion on the way to town, with the heater running.”

There was no point standing there in the rain arguing with him. She went quietly to his car, consoling herself with the reminder that she was just along for the ride.

Ah, but what a way to go! When he bundled her into the leather passenger seat of a sleek black Coupe de Ville, she cast an envious eye at his mobile telephone and the high tech radar detector on the dash. She could probably pay off all her bills with what he’d spent on the extras, she thought.

“Here,” he said, shrugging off the cashmere jacket that was damp outside but dry inside. “Put this on.”

“Thanks.” She slipped her arms into satin-lined sleeves that still held his body heat, wishing that just once he’d say “please.”

He cut around to the driver’s side and slid in, tilting the padded steering wheel to suit his tall frame. In the brief glow of the overhead light, Kitty finally got a glimpse of the man who’d come on like king of the mountain.

With his black hair going to gray, he looked to be well into his late thirties. More important yet, he looked familiar to her.

He shut his door, plunging them into darkness before she could place him, then he loosened his paisley silk tie and unbuttoned his collar button.

Comfortable now, he looked her way. “You’re sure you don’t need to see the doctor?”

BOOK: King of the Mountain
12.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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