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Authors: Kat Martin

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BOOK: Lover's Gold
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When the buggy rounded a bend in the lane and the big top came into view, Elaina sucked in a breath. The massive tent was awesome: Flags waved from each of four pinnacles, and myriad people swarmed over the grounds outside the tent. She could hear the music of the calliope, a whimsical melody familiar from a ride she’d taken on a steamship once, and the sound matched her lighthearted mood. Morgan helped her down solicitously, careful not to catch her pretty pink dress in the wooden spokes of the wheels. The usual deep lines of worry were gone from his handsome face.

As they walked through the ankle-deep grass to the entrance, gaily dressed clowns with white faces and bright-colored costumes cavorted and danced. Elaina sniffed the pungent, earthy smell of fresh-mown hay and sawdust. With each glimpse of something new she felt a shiver of delight.

“There’s an elephant!” she gasped, hugging Morgan’s arm as he escorted her through the crowd and pointing to a great gray beast with two tails. “But what on earth is that?” A giant cow, taller than a man, with two humps on its back, padded by on huge cloven hooves.

Morgan laughed heartily, totally charmed by his lovely companion. “You really have led a sheltered life, pretty lady.” He squeezed her hand, enchanted by her naïveté. “You can remove a bullet from an injured man, but you’ve never seen an elephant or a dromedary.”

“That’s a camel?”

“Wait till you see a unicorn.”

“Now you’re teasing me,” she said as they passed beneath the flap of the high-ceilinged tent.

He grinned broadly. “Yes, but only because you’re so much fun to tease.”

They took their seats—dead center in front of the middle ring. Morgan could feel the girl’s excitement, her curiosity, her utter joy at being there, and he didn’t regret for a moment his decision to bring her, even though he’d promised to stay in line—a promise that would be sorely tested on the long ride home.

He insisted she try a candied apple, and the sweet cinnamon flavor seemed to please her as she ran her tongue over the hard smooth surface. The sight conjured delicious memories he’d been fighting to suppress.

She ate popcorn, fed peanuts to a monkey riding high on a clown’s shoulder, even accepted a small hand-painted wooden circus horse he insisted on giving her to help her remember the day.

“I’ll have to hide it,” she told him. “If Chuck were to see it, he’d probably be madder than my mother.”

Morgan laughed. “I’m afraid if he tried to lock you in his room, I might be tempted to shoot him.” The thought wasn’t far from wrong, and the fact disturbed Morgan more than he cared to admit.

Elaina fought a blush. “Don’t tell me you’re jealous, Mr. Morgan.” She was seeing a different side of him today, a man without worries to keep him on guard. He seemed caring, gentle, and solicitous. She was sure it wasn’t an act. Today he reminded her of Ren, or at least the way she’d always imagined Ren would be. She hadn’t really known him well enough to be certain. She decided Ren Daniels was nothing more than a fantasy, and for the first time she didn’t really care. Dan Morgan was the man who haunted her dreams now.

One incredible performance followed another, each one more stupendous than the last. There was a lion tamer with long blond hair falling to his waist, massive metal-studded black leather belts at his hips and wrists, and a twenty-foot bull whip in his hand, who looked as wild as the beasts he controlled. Another favorite was the aerial act, which kept Elaina’s heart securely wedged in her throat throughout the performance. Morgan kept reassuring her the men and women above had years of practice walking the thin wire and dangling from the trapeze, but his words were little comfort. Only when the none-to-modestly dressed sequin-clad performers were safely on the ground could she release her sigh of relief and clap loudly for their death-defying skills.

Morgan held her hand off and on throughout the afternoon and she found its gentle warmth reassuring. It seemed to add just that extra touch of pleasure the wonderful day demanded.

When the show came to a close, Elaina felt almost as exhausted as the entertainers. She’d walked through a cage of wild beasts, been slung from a trapeze, been nearly crushed between the giant pad of an elephant’s foot, stood bareback on a beautiful dapple gray steed as it circled the ring, and been shot from a cannon. Other than that, it had been just a typical sunny spring day.

“You look pleasantly exhausted,” Morgan told her as he helped her aboard the buggy.

“I had the most wonderful time. I’ll always remember this day, no matter how old I get.”

“And I’ll never forget the pretty lady I took to the circus for her very first time.” He pinned her tawny eyes with his light ones. Then, as if needing to break the spell, added, “Or the look on your face when that clown tossed his bucket of confetti at you. You were sure you were about to be drenched.”

She poked him in the ribs, and he grunted and hugged her against him playfully. Forgetting his promise, he dipped his head and captured her lips, feeling them warm and pliant beneath his mouth. He felt them part and tasted the sweetness of her breath. When his tongue slid between her teeth, the contact sobered them both.

“You promised!” she exclaimed, tearing herself away. He could feel her pulse racing, matching his own, and sighed resignedly. “I guess I did, but somehow I didn’t think, surrounded by a pasture full of people, one little kiss would put you in danger.”

She glanced around, saw all the people leaving the circus just as they were, and rolled her golden eyes skyward. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m a little keyed up from all the excitement. I didn’t mean to cause a scene.”

“And I didn’t mean to kiss you.” He grinned and clucked the mare into a brisk trot. “You’re even harder to resist than I thought.” They moved onto the dusty road behind other wagons departing the grounds. “I apologize for forgetting myself, even for a moment.” He hoped his eyes didn’t betray the fact that he wasn’t sorry at all. He only wished he could have explored her sweet mouth further.

She seemed to forgive him and nestled her head on his shoulder, the heat of the day and all the excitement beginning to take their toll. The gentle sway of the buggy and the clip-clop of the mare’s hooves against the dusty road lulled her, and she drifted to sleep.

Morgan looked down at her trusting face as she slept peacefully against his shoulder. Protectively, he eased his arm around her, hoping she wouldn’t awaken till their arrival outside of town. He couldn’t have seduced her today, even if he’d had the chance. Not when she’d trusted him so completely, not after the hours they’d spent together—not unless she’d wanted him to. Pressing against him, her shining hair spilling across his chest, she stirred feelings in him he hadn’t known he had.

Again his past rose up to haunt him. Was he always this way with a woman he desired? He hardly thought so. This one seemed different, special somehow. A nagging suspicion he’d known her at some other time haunted him, but that possibility didn’t fit into the past he was beginning to remember.

It was all a tangled web, but one he hoped to untangle soon.

“It’s time to wake up, pretty lady. We’re getting close to town. I think you’d better take the buggy the rest of the way alone.”

Elaina roused herself, yawned, and smiled. “I wasn’t much company, was I?”

“Better than you might think,” he assured her gallantly. He drew the buggy to the side of the road and pulled up on the reins.

Elaina eyed him with a bit of melancholy, hating to see the lovely day end. “I had a wonderful time, Dan.”

“So did I.” He touched her cheek with a sun-browned hand. “Do you suppose a good-bye kiss would be breaking my promise?”

She knew she should say yes. That any contact with the handsome gunman might lead to disaster, but the day had been so perfect she just couldn’t. She shook her head and heard his deep, throaty groan as his lips claimed hers. They felt warm, firm, and gentle at the same time, teasing and delighting her with their touch. When his hands cupped her face, the kiss deepened, and she heard her own tiny mew of desire. His tongue touched the inside of her mouth, and warm shivers surged through her veins. The kiss, no longer gentle, threatened to destroy her control. With shaky hands she pressed against his chest, hoping he would stop, but not really wanting him to.

He surprised her by pulling away.

“You see,” he said in a husky whisper. “Even a gunman can be honorable. Your virtue remains intact, my promise unbroken.”

Unconsciously she pressed her fingers against her kiss-swollen lips, trying to recapture the wonderful tingling he’d aroused.

“Will I see you back at the hotel?” he asked. Unwinding his tall frame from the buggy seat, he jumped lightly to the ground.

“Not tonight.” She struggled to find her voice. “I have to help Mrs. Lowery, and I think . . . Chuck is going to stop by.” She could barely choke out the name.

“Then this is good-bye until I see you again.”

She nodded numbly, wishing he didn’t have to go. Urging the mare into a trot, she headed down the dusty lane toward home. Unable to resist a glance back over her shoulder, she spotted his departing figure as his long-legged stride carried him swiftly from her view.

As she moved through the late day sunshine, she felt an uncommon emptiness without him.

“All right, Mr. Redmond, then our company will plan on taking control of all outstanding shares in the Blue Mountain Mine within ninety days.” Philip Gilmore of the Anthracite Mining and Colliery Company addressed Dolph Redmond, who sat across from Henry and Chuck Dawson, late in the afternoon at Blue Mountain headquarters. A clean-cut young man in a well-tailored navy blue suit, Gilmore glanced up from his paperwork, removed his spectacles, and turned toward Chuck and Henry. “Does that meet with your approval, gentlemen?”

“Sounds fine to me,” Henry Dawson agreed. Rising from his chair, he clapped the young man on the back. “You men are makin’ a fine investment. Times have been tough fer mining what with the slump and all, but this year is the start of an upswing that could make you boys rich. Why, if it weren’t for these tired old bones of mine, you couldn’t pry the Blue Mountain away from me!”

“I agree wholeheartedly, Mr. Gilmore,” Dolph Redmond added, rising from behind his wide mahogany desk. “My other interests are beginning to take up far too much of my time, but it is with mixed feelings I sell such a fine holding.” Redmond glided from behind his desk and extended a thin hand. Chuck Dawson rose from his chair, and his father followed suit. The young man accepted Redmond’s handshake along with Chuck’s and Henry’s.

Chuck ushered the younger man to the door. “Then we’ll expect to see you, with the capital, here in this office on the tenth of July,” Chuck confirmed.

“That is correct, Mr. Dawson. And we’ll expect to receive the shares in return at that time. We’ll assume full control within the following thirty days.”

“Understood,” Chuck said. He walked Gilmore as far as his buggy, then watched from the porch as the man whipped up the bay and waved a good-bye. Gilmore headed toward Keyserville where the Lehigh Valley train would return him to Scranton.

Dawson closed the door and leaned nonchalantly against the jamb, allowing himself a satisfied smile. “Free of the damned, miserable mining business at last,” he said, voicing the thoughts of the others.

His father grinned broadly. “Yeah, and the price they’re payin’ us makes the deal even sweeter. Whaddaya say, Dolph? Makes all the dirty work worth it, eh?”

Redmond smiled thinly. “Let’s don’t be counting our chickens too soon, men. Chuck, you just make sure you get the McAllister girl to the altar. I’m sure I needn’t remind you two she still controls fifty percent of the shares in the mine, even if she doesn’t know it. Once you’re her husband, Chuck, the stock will be yours. We can all rest a little easier after that.”

Chuck frowned. “We should have forced the marriage long ago, when she was younger, more biddable. If anything goes wrong”—he scowled toward his father—“it’s going to be on your head.”

“Weren’t no need to force the girl afore now,” Henry Dawson defended. “You had yer lady friends to warm yer bed. Girl needed a little time to git used to the idea of marriage, that’s all. She’s agreed. She’ll stand by her word. If there’s one thing them McAllisters is, it’s prideful.”

“You’d better be right,” Chuck said.

“Don’t worry,” Redmond soothed, “there’ll be a wedding— one way or another.” Moving back to his desk, he opened the bottom drawer and lifted out three crystal snifters and a fine decanter filled with brandy. Chuck and his father moved back to their tufted burgundy chairs. The office wasn’t large, but Chuck could see Redmond’s excellent taste throughout. In addition to the desk and chairs, there was a small settee, and the floor was covered by a wide Persian rug depicting a bloody scene from the Crusades. An Oriental vase adorned a carved rosewood stand.

“This calls for a drink to celebrate our good fortune,” Redmond said. He poured two fingers of the rich amber liquid into each of the glasses and handed them around. “And Chuck’s forthcoming marriage.” The glasses clinked together and all three men smiled.

Chapter 7

D
AN
M
ORGAN LOOKED
through the open window at the bustling streets below his room. His shoulder was nearly healed. It was time he found the men who had shot him.

Morgan buckled the heavy strap of his gun belt around his hips and secured the leather thong to his thigh. Instinctively his hand reached for the butt of the weapon, and as always, it slid with precision into his palm. His slim fingers curled around the trigger. Then he checked the load, feeling the comforting metal cold against his skin, eased the hammer back down, and replaced the gun in his holster.

Plucking his wide-brimmed hat from the iron headboard of his bed, he pulled open the door, descended the two flights of stairs to the first floor, and walked briskly through the lobby.

“Dan?” Elaina’s gentle voice drifted from the parlor. She leaned against her broom, a questioning look on her face, her hair tied back in a kerchief that matched her blue gingham dress. “You aren’t going out there again are you?” He walked into the parlor, not wanting to upset her, but determined to get on with his task. “I’m headed to the marshal’s office. I want to see if he or the sheriff have turned up any new leads. I told you, I’m going to find out who shot me, with or without the law.”

BOOK: Lover's Gold
12.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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