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Authors: Kat Martin

Lover's Gold

BOOK: Lover's Gold
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LOVER’S GOLD

KAT MARTIN

It’s only a kiss, she told herself . . .

I have just this one chance to know the kiss of a man I desire before my life belongs forever to a man I can hardly abide. She reveled in the touch of Morgan’s warm lips and gave herself up willingly to the excitement he stirred.

Shivers ran down the length of her. His lips were firm, full and insistent, his tongue hot, moist, and searching, probing the inside of her mouth. She entwined her fingers in his thick dark hair and slid her arms around his neck . . .

 

It was more than she’d bargained for
.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher
.

 

Kindle Edition

Copyright © 2012 by Kat Martin (originally published by Charter/Diamond)

 

All rights reserved. The right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form must be obtained in writing.

 

Printed in the U.S.A.

 

ISBN: 978-1-62918-073-1

 

Wolfpack Publishing

48 Rock Creek Road

Clinton, Montana 59825

 

 

LOVER’S GOLD

KAT MARTIN

 

To my mother,
for her years of unwavering love and support.

 

Chapter 1

April 15, 1878
Keyserville, Pennsylvania

T
HE DEAFENING ROAR
, then the echo of the blast awoke her.

Heart beating like a frightened butterfly, she sat bolt upright in her narrow iron bed, her mind fighting images of grinding timbers, billowing clouds of thick black dust, and the terrible earthshaking rumble of the mountain as the mine caved in.

Elaina McAllister took several calming breaths and glanced at familiar surroundings: the high-ceilinged room, the chipped blue porcelain pitcher on the scarred oak stand beside her bed, the sienna-hued daguerreotype of her father. Only a dream. The end of a hazy nightmare that had haunted her since childhood.

Running her slim fingers through the dark hair curling at her temples, Elaina brushed the still-damp strands away from her cheeks. The dream, now no more than an indistinct memory, faded completely with the sharp rap at the door and the gust of cool air as it opened.

“Sorry, Laina honey.” Ada Lowery, skirts flying, bustled noisily into the room. “The dinin’ room’s fillin’ up in a hurry this mornin’, and Lizzy Miller’s brother says she’s sick. I ain’t sure I believe him, but you’ll have to come down early.” The gray-haired woman handed Elaina a light cotton wrapper, little protection against the brisk morning chill. Padding efficiently toward the window on tiny squarish feet, Ada parted the threadbare curtains, pushed open two rippley glass panes, and hustled back across the room.

“I’d best git back to the biscuits and mush, honey. I’ll see you downstairs.” Rosy-cheeked and smiling, Ada pulled the door closed behind her.

As Elaina swung her long, slender legs to the floor, she felt a surge of affection toward the buxom little woman. Robust. That was how Elaina thought of Ada. Robust and unflagging. And a very dear friend.

Because yesterday had been her nineteenth birthday, Elaina felt a little different today, a little more in charge of herself. Even working extra hours couldn’t dampen her spirits. She would wear her yellow batiste, she decided, to match her sunny mood. The dress dipped a little too low in front, but Ada. who was the hotel manager, thought the scoop neckline was good for business.

“What harm could there be in givin’ them poor miserable miners a little somethin’ to brighten their day?” she would say, smiling broadly and patting Elaina’s cheek. Elaina had never really liked the idea. If she had her way, she’d have worn something a little more modest while serving the men their meals.

After a hurried toilette that ended with a last glance in the mirror to check her appearance, Elaina headed down the two flights of stairs to the dining room, noticing once again the flowered paper peeling from the walls of the old hotel and the dark stains that marred the ceilings. Several windows were cracked and the cook stove smoked up the kitchen. Sometimes Elaina felt the old place called out to her, cried out to her for help. When the rusted plumbing dripped water on the once-gleaming floors, Elaina imagined the drops were tears.

Elaina sighed. When her father had owned the Hotel Keyserville, it had been a showplace. It sorrowed her to see it in such a state of disrepair.

As she neared the dining room, Elaina heard the echo of voices and whiffed the aroma of fresh baked biscuits.

“Thanks fer hurryin’, honey.” Ada pushed open the swinging door, brandishing a wooden spoon that threatened to drip pancake batter on the just-swept floors. “They’ll be poundin’ on the tables if’n we don’t get ’em fed soon.” Ada grinned, used the back of her hand to swipe at a few stray tendrils of gray hair, and ducked back into the kitchen.

Used to the men’s impatience, Elaina tied an apron over her dress and quickly set to work. Once elegant, the dining room was now merely serviceable. Ornate brass chandeliers still hung from the ceiling, but several of the frosted glass shades had been broken, and the room was now lit with a bit of a glare. Fresh white tablecloths spoke of the room’s cleanliness, and Elaina’s addition to the stark surroundings, a single pink or red rose from the bushes near the side of the hotel, adorned each rough-hewn table.

“Mornin’, Miss Elaina.” Josh Colson seated himself in a rickety straight-backed chair while his nine-year-old son, Johnny, climbed up beside him.

“Good morning, Josh, Johnny.” Elaina smiled down at the little red-haired boy, and he glanced away shyly. After taking their orders, she brought Josh a steaming mug of coffee and Johnny a mug of cocoa. She liked the Colson family. The men reminded her of big red-headed bears, and the women were polite and friendly.

“Do any good this morning, Josh?” she asked. “I heard you had a meeting with Ben Taylor.” Taylor was foreman at the Blue Mountain Mine.

“Nah. Same old story. All we get is excuses and delays.” Josh clenched his fist.

“I’m sorry, Josh. I really hoped this time—”

“They got us over a barrel and they know it. We gotta work to feed our families. Either the miners’ con rots us or we starve to death. Not much of a choice, is it?”

Elaina swallowed hard. Why did she always feel so guilty? Hoping to make him smile, she patted little Johnny’s hand.

“Need some butter over here, miss,” a burly miner broke in. Elaina obliged, waited on several other customers, pouring coffee and clearing away their dishes, but kept up her conversation with Josh.

“Even that wouldn’t be so bad,” Josh was saying, “if the shifts were shorter and the tunnels safer. Safety. That’s the most important thing.”

“Maybe things’ll change, Josh.” He looked at her as if to say there was a snowball’s chance in hell and finished the last of his eggs.

Most of the customers had eaten and left by the time Elaina picked up the last two half-eaten platters of sausage and flapjacks from a table near the window. She was off work now until the noon meal, a scant hour away, and looking forward to a moment’s peace.

She was less than halfway to the kitchen when the jingle of the bell above the door drew her attention to a tall dark-haired man who stood in the doorway. He paused just inside the entrance, his pale blue eyes taking in every nook and cranny while his clothes and air of confidence set him apart from the miners who frequented the hotel. As he hung his broad-brimmed black felt hat on a peg beside the door, Elaina caught the gleam of silver on the band.

Still carrying the platters, she slowed her steps, the man’s dark looks striking a distant chord. Surely it couldn’t be, she thought, but her heart pounded and her eyes frantically searched for another glimpse of the man’s compelling face. As he spotted a table in the corner with eyes that missed nothing but paid her little heed, Elaina took a few more uncertain steps.

When he turned in her direction, she was sure her heart would stop. For a long, dizzying second the plates teetered precariously on the palms of her trembling hands. Then they crashed to the floor. Broken china, greasy bits of sausage, and clumps of flapjack slid across the pine planks.

Ignoring the tangle of glass and food at her feet, and the surprised stares of the last remaining customers, Elaina ran, skirts flying, as fast as her long legs would carry her, into the arms of the astonished dark-haired man.

“Ren!” she breathed as she hugged him, arms wrapped tightly around his neck. She clutched him fiercely, afraid he might fade, just like her dreams.

“Hold on a minute, miss,” he cautioned, but she heard only his husky voice.

“I prayed someday you’d come back,” she said. “I just knew you would. Is Tommy with you?” She glanced toward the door, then self-consciously to the mound of broken dishes. “I was just so surprised to see you—” She kissed his sun-brown cheek and smiled up at him. “How long can you stay? When did you get here?”

He smiled wryly. “Much as I’m beginning to wish it were otherwise, I’m afraid you’ve mistaken me for somebody else.” Gently he unwound her arms from behind his neck and set her away from him.

“Don’t you recognize me?” she asked, crestfallen.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, miss, but I’m not . . . what was his name?”

“Ren,” she said, trying to read his expression. “But you must be Ren. You look just like him . . . I think.”

“You think?” His pale eyes glinted with mischief. “How long has it been since you’ve seen this fellow?”

“About nine years.” She knew exactly how long it had been. October first, just less than nine years ago. She would never forget that day. But the boy she’d known only briefly was another matter indeed. She eyed the stranger and began to have her doubts.

He grinned broadly, a flash of white against his darkly tanned skin. “And you think you would know this man after all that time? A man can change a heap in nine years.” Elaina followed the line of his gaze and realized it rested on the swell of her bosom above her scoop-necked dress. Swallowing hard, she felt the warmth in her heart spread rapidly to her cheeks.

“You’re not teasing me, are you? I mean . . . you’re really not Ren?”

“Sorry. No, I’m not Ren. But I appreciate the kiss.” He ran a long-boned hand across his cheek, and she reddened even more.

“I feel so foolish,” she said as one of the kitchen boys arrived with a mop and pail to clean up the mess. Gratefully she smiled at the youth and felt more foolish than ever. Nine years
was
a long time. Besides, Ren was probably married by now with a whole passel of children. Seeing him again was just a silly schoolgirl dream.

When she returned her attention to the stranger, she found him smiling indulgently, as if she were a child, and Elaina’s temper flared. “Well, if you’re not Ren Daniels, who are you?”

His smile broadened. “Name’s Dan Morgan. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss . . . ?

“McAllister. Elaina McAllister. Morgan, you say?”

“That’s right.”

“Dan Morgan?” she repeated. There was something familiar about the name, but she couldn’t quite remember what it was.

Suddenly she knew. “You’re Black Dan!” It was the name the newspapers had dubbed him, in their typically dramatic way. “You’re the gunman Dolph Redmond hired.”

“At your service, Miss McAllister.” He inclined his head in a mocking bow, but his eyes had turned vague and distant.

Of all the men she could have mistaken for Ren! Stepping away, she took a long, cool look at him. He was as tall as Ren—no, he was taller. His shoulders were wide, definitely broader than Ren’s, and she didn’t remember Ren’s waist ever being so narrow. Though the gunman’s hair was as dark as Ren’s, it was graying at the temples and not quite as unruly as she remembered.

And his eyes were different. The stranger’s eyes were blue, just as Ren’s had been, but not sparkling and full of life. These were the color of the sky on a hot day. Light blue—and hard. And there were tiny wrinkles near the corners, though she didn’t believe the man had yet reached thirty. A long scar began behind his ear, ran down his neck, and disappeared beneath his collar, making him look every bit the dangerous man he was and convincing her completely that this man was not her Ren. This was the gunman, Dan Morgan. A man who was here at the mine owners’ request—paid to stop the miners from staging a walkout. The kind of man Elaina McAllister despised.

“Care to join me for a cup of coffee?” he asked.

Elaina bit her lip in an effort to stifle the scathing retort on the tip of her tongue. It didn’t help. “Not on your life. I know why you’re here, and I think you’re . . . you’re despicable!” As she whirled to leave, Morgan caught her arm and pulled her up short.

BOOK: Lover's Gold
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