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Authors: Marilyn Yarbrough

Payton's Woman

BOOK: Payton's Woman
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EXCERPT

 

He turned to Julia. “Looks like I’m your man.”

 

A cold, hard glare of
anger lingered on his face. She sucked in her breath at the chilling sight. She
didn’t doubt he could protect her from the other men, but who would protect her
from him?

Quickly, she gathered
her wits. A man’s ego could be a powerful thing. She’d boost it up so if he
felt tempted to fall short of her expectation of him, he’d be in fear of
crushing his own ego.

“I can see that you’re a
man of courage and honor...and decency,” she added to boost her own courage. “I
know I can depend upon you to see me safely away from here.”

The coldness vanished
from his face. “Courage, yes,” he said as a warmth gathered in his eyes, “but
if you want a man with honor and decency, the Devil’s Lair is the wrong place
to look.”

Her forehead crinkled
with worry. “I was relying on you to help me.”

“That I shall do,” he
swore, “just as soon as we agree upon a price. And I don’t want your money.”

As the leering crowd
snickered, her anxiety grew. “What do you want as payment?” she asked, although
fairly certain what he desired.

The captain touched her
hair. Slowly, he pulled a handful of the long strands over her shoulder. His
fingers slid the length of it until the back of his knuckles touched the swell
of her bare breast.

A queasy feeling gripped
her insides. Her heart beat so rapidly she thought it would burst from her
chest. She shifted her gaze from his face and focused on a neutral object on
the far side of the room in an effort to keep her body from trembling
violently.

Any hope of getting away
unscathed immediately dissolved. She knew what price this pagan, savage pirate
would demand from her.

 

****

 

 

 

PAYTON’S WOMAN

 

By

 

Marilyn Yarbrough

 

****

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are
either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and
any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments,
events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

 

Payton’s Woman

COPYRIGHT ©2013 by Marilyn Yarbrough

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any
manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case
of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Contact Information:
www.marilynyarbrough.com

Cover Art: Sheri L. McGathy

www.sherimegathy.com/sheri/book-cover-design

Publishing History

Marilyn Yarbrough, 2013

Published in the United States of America

 

****

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Summer 1865

San Francisco,
California

 

A single gunshot
shattered the tense atmosphere. The acrid smell of burnt gunpowder hovered in
the air as the lifeless form of Wilber Hennigan crumpled into a heap on the bed.
Julia Anderson shuddered and her stomach lurched. She clamped one hand over her
mouth to hold back the retches.

His death might’ve been prevented,
but it’d happened too quickly. She hated him, but she didn’t wish him dead—not
yet anyway. Not until she found Lawrence Dunbar, his partner in their vile
crimes.

But Hennigan no longer
considered them partners. He’d planned to keep all the money for himself and
leave the country to hide from Dunbar and the authorities. And he’d wanted
Julia to run away with him.

“Go with me to Europe,”
he’d pleaded. “You’re so innocent and sweet. I must have you. I’ll divorce my
wife and marry you if that’s what you want.”

“Marry you?” she’d
repeated. Only his audacity surpassed his stupidity. “Just holding your hand
makes my flesh crawl.”

“But I love you.”

“And I despise you.” All
her hatred for Hennigan and Dunbar had spilled from her lips. She’d not known
her soul capable of such cruelty, but the words had tumbled out as her anger
exploded. “You’re responsible for my brother’s death. You may not have pulled
the trigger, but Dunbar did. The two of you planned this so you could line your
pockets with money—blood money.”

His mouth agape, he’d
sat quietly on the edge of the bed while she unleashed her fury.

“My brother was a good
and decent man. I’ll see both of you in Hell before I allow either of you to
profit from the evil schemes that took his life.”

Iron manacles dangled
from his headboard. The taste of vomit had risen in her throat at the thought
of the depravity that must have transpired in this room. She’d swallowed down
her disgust, for she’d planned to use the cruel device to her advantage. She’d
tried to shackle him to the bed so the authorities could arrest him in the
morning, but when she’d attempted to secure the cuff around his wrist, he’d
suddenly snapped out of his stupor. He’d wrestled the derringer from her, but
instead of pointing the weapon at her, he’d pressed the barrel against his
temple and pulled the trigger.

In one brief moment, her
efforts to receive justice for her brother’s death had vanished. Without
Hennigan’s confession, no one would believe Dunbar and this dead man lying on
the bed had been conspirators in piracy and treason.

Her back stiffened. She
could not be found with him. These last several months of sacrifice and
planning would count for nothing if the wrong people discovered she hunted for
Dunbar.

She scrambled about the
room collecting her things. A black, beaded reticule lay on the seat of the
padded leather chair. Her woolen cloak sprawled over the armrest. She slipped
the satin drawstrings of the little bag around her wrist and tossed the cloak
over her arm.

Silk gloves, matching
her sapphire-blue gown, had been flung in the middle of the bed when she’d
first entered the room. The fingertips peeked at her from beneath Wilbur
Hennigan’s body. She’d have to roll him over to retrieve the gloves, but first,
she’d have to pry the derringer from his hand.

When she gripped the
cool metal of the pistol, her fingers brushed against his still-warm skin. She
jerked away as if burned. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t touch his lifeless body.
Her gloves and weapon would stay where they were.

Flinging her cloak
around her shoulders, she dashed out into the night. The cool, damp fog swirled
around her as she hurried down the street. After several blocks, she stopped
running and leaned her shoulder against the side of a building to catch her
breath.

Disorientated by the
dense fog, she peered through the misty darkness to regain her bearings. Nothing
looked familiar, but a shiver of terror crept through her. Anyone living in
California had heard the stories about a certain section of San Francisco where
decent women dared not venture. In her haste to flee, she’d run in the wrong
direction and now stood in the worst place she could be—the hellhole of the
Barbary Coast.

Despite the labored
breathing roaring in her ears, she heard footsteps behind her on the boarded
walk. Her heart hammered wildly as morbid thoughts whirled inside her mind of
what could happen if someone accosted her. She pushed away from the building
and resumed her rapid pace down the street.

Thankfully, the thick
fog helped conceal her presence, but her mind fogged also. Only one clear
thought remained. She had to get away from here. But how?

She possessed money—a
little anyway. If luck accompanied her, she could hire someone as an escort to
her hotel.

A shiver rippled through
her. So far tonight, all her luck had been bad.

At this late hour, no
carriage was available for hire. The few men loitering nearby were probably
drunk, or up to no good. She guessed the man following her fell into one, if
not both those categories.

A sudden burst of
laughter and raucous voices startled her, but she hurried in the direction of
the noise. The voices continued to reverberate through the heavy mist, drawing
her down an alleyway until she discovered a dingy-looking tavern.

Light filtered through the
windows, but the filthy glass panes blocked any view of the inside. She feared what
she might find. The stories related to her about this lawless area included
tales of murderers, whoremongers, and drunkards. One decent person must be among
them, although finding him may prove an impossible task.

Julia clutched at her
skirt and stepped over the body obstructing the tavern entrance. She reassured
herself he wasn’t dead, just passed out from too much drink, for she’d seen
enough death for the night.

Cautiously, she pushed
open the door and peered inside at the inhabitants. If it didn’t look any safer
than being outside, she wanted to slip out unnoticed. She’d rather take her
chances with one man instead of half a dozen, and that’s about how many
converged inside the tavern.

They all gathered in the
middle, their backs to her so she couldn’t see their faces. No one noticed when
she entered the room. A haze of smoke hovered in the air, but that wasn’t what
prevented them from seeing her. Their attention seemed riveted on the tallest
in the midst of their group.

After taking another few
steps into the room, she spotted the knife the tall man held. The long, wide
blade glinted with reflected light as he tossed it into the air. The knife turned
end-over-end before he caught it again.

The crowd hushed when he
grasped the blade firmly in his hand. He drew it slowly over his shoulder. With
a hard, swift motion, he threw the lethal weapon. It cut through the air with a
whirling sound before landing dead center on a target at the far end of the
room.

Roars of triumph and
dismay mingled in the tavern. The men clapped each other on the back and
exchanged money, although the knife thrower appeared to collect the largest
share. He dropped the coins into a leather pouch and shoved it inside his shirt.

His head turned. He
looked at Julia. His forehead wrinkled; his smile faded. His gaze never swerved
as he elbowed his way past the other men. One-by-one they turned to see what
lured the knife thrower from them until all eyes focused on her.

A cold chill crept up
her spine. She wanted to flee, but her body froze at the sight of him. He
looked like a bloodthirsty pirate straight out of her childhood nightmares.

A black leather patch
shielded one eye. A white shirt, unbuttoned to the waist, covered his broad
shoulders. The sleeves were rolled up, revealing a winged serpent tattooed on his
left forearm. The wicked looking knife he’d just hurled through the air seemed
equal to a cutlass, at least in her mind. A gold earring would complete his
resemblance to the dreaded pirate in her terrifying dreams.

His stride unhurried, he
approached as if a wild animal stalking his wounded prey. He stopped so close,
his formidable frame occupied her entire scope of vision. He also seemed to
take up the very air she breathed.

Her eyes opened wide.

This fearsome-looking
pirate wasn’t an illusion from any nightmare. Flesh and blood formed this
creature. Black, shoulder length hair swept back from his face, but his short beard
and moustache appeared reddish in the lamplight. Dark, curly hair swirled
across his muscular chest. His naked skin stretched taunt over the rippled
muscles of his flat belly.

His gaze settled on her
face. “A woman like you deserves to be looked at with two eyes.” He grasped the
patch that covered his eye and pulled it from his head.

Julia envisioned the
horror about to be revealed. She clasped her hand to her throat as a scream
built there, but instead of a hideous, empty eye socket, a brilliant blue eye
that matched his other, stared back.

He pushed the hood of the
cloak gently from her head. “What’s an angel like you doing in the Devil’s
Lair?” His voice rumbled low and husky.

In her mind she reasoned
the patch existed merely as a device to prove his knife-throwing ability, since
both eyes scanned her body as though searching out her every secret. She pulled
the cloak together to stop his perusal.

Her throat had gone dry.
She swallowed hard before speaking. “I’m in need of assistance.”

His lips curved into a
smile. “Then you came to the right man, Angel. I’d be more than happy to assist
you.” He paused to look at the men gathered around them. His smile turned more
devilish. “In fact, I’d like to assist you all night long.”

The crowd chuckled and
snorted, but she kept her gaze directed on the man in front of her. “I’m
willing to compensate you for any inconvenience.”

BOOK: Payton's Woman
13.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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