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Authors: Peggy Ann Craig

The Color of Ivy

BOOK: The Color of Ivy
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The Colo
r of Ivy

 

Copyright 2014 Peggy Ann Craig

Published by
Peggy Ann Craig

 

 

This book is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places and incidents either are 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.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.  This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people.  If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.  If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy.  Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Prologue

Ireland, 1884

 

A child’s pitiful sob echoed from the floor of the barren valley.  A dreary fog had descended and hovered over the earth while dusk slowly approached.  Three lone figures made their way across the lowlands.

A man of robust size and strength walked quickly, dragging behind him a girl of the age of twelve.  Next to them a boy of slightly older years
danced merrily along.

“Make haste
, child,” the man barked.

A set of unusual
colored eyes looked up in earnest.  “Please, I’ll be good.  I promise.”

“Too late for that,” he said.  “Next time ye take care to think before ye speak, lass.”

“Ivy is a wicked little girl and deserves what she gets,” the boy next to them scoffed, wrinkling his smooth fat face into a scowl as he added, “Father says there is a demonic spirit living within Ivy McGregor.”

Aye, many ti
mes the Earl had cried out when Ivy looked his way with her nearly albino hollow gaze, declaring it was Lucifer himself staring at him.  His words smarted so terribly she did her best to keep her eyes downcast when he was about. 

“Enough of that young master.”

The boy’s animated expression grew harsh.  “Don’t speak to me in such manner.  I’ll have you know I can have you thrown in the well too.”

“Aye,” the man growled under his breath.  “And take great pleasure.”

From out of the fog, the stoned well appeared.  Ivy instinctively recoiled.  The man’s grip on her arm only tightened.

The boy’s gaiety returned.  He ran to the stone ledge and peered over.  His cruel laughter
reverberated deep within the cavern as he peered down into the blackness.

“Think of all the creatures down there.  S
limy little buggers, crawling on your skin and into your hair.”

Her hand flew to her mop of red curls.  The
vision of snakes and rats utterly terrified her.  Her efforts to escape accelerated.

“Come lass,” the man said, becoming impatient.  “
Pay the young lad no heed.”

E
yes huge, she reached for him and grasped hold of his arm with both hands.  “Please, don’t put me down there.”

He ignored her and proceeded to tie the draw rope around her
waist.  Her tears fell on blind eyes, her pleas on deaf ears.

“Over ye go now, lass.”  With
a single heave he hoisted the girl.

A surge of terror flooded her veins.  The pulse in her neck beat rapidly, her tiny chest heaved in terror.  Survival instincts
kicked in snapping the terrified child into a frenzy.  Like that of a wildcat snared in a hunter’s trap, Ivy kicked and thrashed wildly in her captives hold.  However, the man placed her with ease over the ring opening. 

“Settle down,” he said
, irritated by her squirming.  Then in one swift motion, deposited her over the side.  “Ye ain’t goin’ wanna snap the rope.  It’s a darn mighty drop.”

Ivy clawed the wall,
terrified of falling below, her fingers gouging the slimy surface, but his warning stills her frantic movements.

Then, with no care in the world, he pushed her over.  She instinctively
cried out, her arms flaring, her feet kicking.  The rope went taunt and her body snapped hard against her restraints.  She gripped the rope for dear life while overhead the strained line creaked.  An image of it snapping and Ivy falling down the narrow well to her instant death, taunted her horribly.

“Please, I
don’t like it down there.  Let me up.”  Her oddly colored eyes glittered even more eerily in a pool of tears as she stared up at the man.

He instinctively turned away as if to shield himself from her sight. 
“Hush now, lass.”

“Ivy
is wicked, Ivy is wicked,” the boy chanted, wagging his finger at her.

Her gaze fell below where a black abyss loomed
.  An icy chill had her trembling horribly.  Then, slowly, she felt herself descend.

“Bye-bye, Ivy.”  The boy flapped his hand at her with an ugly smirk
on his lips.

Her cries, though soft, echoed
louder within the muddy walls.  The stone surface behind her back scraped through her thick muslin dress as he lowered her inch by lower inch.  Even in the growing darkness, she could make out the slick walls glistening in the last trace of daylight.

The familiar damp, pungent smell from below rose to greet her.
  Her stomach lurched.

Ivy
forced herself from being sick, knowing she would only be engulfed in her own vomit once he lowered her into the foul water below.

Lips quivering,
she searched the dim well for the approaching water.  Then, like an icy hand, it encircled her ankle, drawing her down within the murky depths.  Her trembles accelerated while the black water crept up her legs, over her chest, until it engulfed her completely leaving nothing exposed below her shoulders.

Ivy tried to still herself, attempted to ignore the feel of
vile surrounding her.  When something passed between her legs, she bit down hard on her bottom lip to stop herself from screaming.  Her misery would only create enjoyment for the young master.

The sound of heavy wood scraping against rock had her chin snapping up.  A
large shadow slid across the opening above.  A horrifying realization had the blood draining from young Ivy’s face.

“No, please,” she
pleaded as the heavy wooden well covering was dragged shut.  “Don’t close me in.”

“It’s going to rain, lass
,” he hollered down.  “Nice and hard.  Ye don’t want to go and drown, now do ye?”

Ivy
’s chin trembled horribly as she began to sob, uncaring how the young master reveled in the sound.  “Please, I beg of ye, don’t leave me.”

“No fear, I always come back.”

The snickering of the boy was the last thing she heard as the wooden covering slid into place and sealed her in, shutting out the final rays of sunlight and throwing Ivy into utter darkness. 

On the surface, the sound of her cries w
as smothered completely.  The man took his leave and the boy pranced happily behind.

Chapter 1

Toronto, 1902

 

The meek looking female sitting demurely in the station’s terminal, hardly resembled the image of the most notorious female killer in America.  However, Sam Michalski was no fool.  He knew only too well the darkest of souls could be disguised in the purest of creatures.

As he drew closer,
he noticed she appeared rather somber looking, as if in mourning, in a dark gray cloak and even blacker skirt.  In contrast, her ghostly white complexion was marred only by a dark set of twin shadows beneath her downcast eyes.  And barely noticeable beneath the dark hood tugged low over her brow, he spotted a rather shocking head of bright hair.  From what he could observe, Sam figured it was somewhere between a lighter shade of red, or a darker shade of orange.

A tingle of elation made him pick up his pace. 
The same first thrill of excitement he received whenever successfully tracking down his outlaw, right before he hauled their sorry rumps off to face justice.

Reaching up, he pulled his Stetson low in order to cast a shadow over his eyes before narrowing his gaze on the woman.  He had been tracking her a long time.  His sources had finally led him here.  Still
, he had to approach slowly and with caution.  If she suspected anything, she could very well bolt.

He would love nothing more than to apprehend his fugitive on the spot, however
, had been known in his adolescent days to arrest the wrong criminal in his youthful eagerness.  Mistakes which caused some mighty embarrassing and at times sticky situations for Roy, the US Marshal who had practically raised Sam since the day he dragged his fourteen year old hell-raising ass off the streets.  Over the years Sam had reined in his excitement and taught himself some self-control.

And at the moment, truth was, he wasn’t entirely certain this woman was Ivy McGregor. 
The description he was given was of a redheaded Irish woman with a thick brogue and a distinct limp.

Thus far, he had not spoken with her to determine whether an accent was discern
ible, and if she bore a limp, he had yet to witness it.  As for the color of her hair, he thought as his gaze strayed to the barely visible locks, he concluded they leaned more toward a copper hue than what he considered red. Such as the dark, fiery locks his mother’s had been.

She definitely wouldn’t be considered your typical criminal.  Not a sol
e at the station would think this meek looking creature with her unassuming guise and soft transparent skin, was capable of bludgeoning a man to death.

Except for Sam.

Even as it was apparent he was approaching, she refused to make eye contact.  A sure sign of a nervous outlaw.  But, in all honesty, he hadn’t seen her gaze shift in the least since spotting her in the depot.  She kept her attention focused firmly on the polished floor of the terminal.

A
loud horn suddenly filled the station announcing the arrival of the train.  All at once the place was bustling with activity.  Folks sitting idle on the many benches lining the terminal, were now moving about the depot excitedly.  Actually, it surprised Sam to see so many travelers this time of year as most folks preferred travelling during the warmer months.

He lost sight of the woman momentarily
before he caught a glimpse of something copper-colored moving toward the exit to the boarding trains.  He swore and pushed through the crowd.  It wasn’t often he made a mistake, but he was beginning to wonder if he should have apprehended his prisoner earlier after all, as he had foolishly miscalculated the station’s activity.

Passing through a set of double glass doors
, he left the building only to find the platforms just as crowded.  The smell of burning coal filled the chilly air as the engineer stoked up the locomotive’s engine.  If she were in there, Sam bemused as he scanned the thick crowd, he wasn’t able to tell.  Releasing a low growl, he shoved his way through the drove of travelers.

Men and women attired appropriately
in heavy twill coats for the cool autumn weather, began boarding the train.  To Sam’s dismay though, he realized most of the people at the terminal were not passengers.  They remained crammed on the platforms, blocking his view while flapping their arms in farewell like idiotic weeds caught in a northern storm.

He sighed
angrily and glanced around.  No sign of her.  The train’s whistle let out a long and languorous siren.  Billows of smoke rolled out from beneath the steam engine.

Hell, he had no in
tention of boarding that train.

His eyes searched the
mass of people to no avail.  He had lost her.  When the throng finally thinned and the last passengers embarked, Sam looked one way down the platforms, then the other.  But still, no darkly cloaked woman.

Damn.

He figured if he moved his keister fast enough, he might be able to catch up with her before the train pulled out of the station.  Leaping up onto the nearest boarding steps, he cursed under his breath when passengers taking their sweet old time finding their designated seats, obstructed his way.  A couple of heavy ladies deep in chatter and reeking of cheap cologne blocked the vestibule door leading to the rear cars designated for first class passengers.   Sam turned and headed toward the front of the train.  From the simple attire of his suspect, he guessed she more than likely purchased a coach ticket.  Coach trains were always placed closest to the locomotive and the loud clanging engine.  Only the wealthy and prestigious occupied the cars furthest from the intrusive engine.  The service cars finished the fleet and tagged along at the end.

H
e moved swiftly but with determination down the long aisle, his gaze fixed and alert, taking note of every female, every face.  Yet surprisingly, there was no sign of the copper-haired woman.  It was almost as if she had disappeared.

Re
aching the last of the coach cars without any luck, Sam released a frustrated sigh before retracing his footsteps back toward the rear of the train, thankful passengers at last were taking their seats.  He was able to move much swifter and faster through the aisles and between cars.  Considering the huge crowd at the terminal, the actual amount of travelers was minor after all.

Outside, another whistle blew and Sam
muffled a growl.  Was it possible she hadn’t boarded the train?  Perhaps she had spotted him and realizing she had been recognized, ran.  Hell, she could have slipped off the train unnoticed for all he knew.

Just then the floor beneath him gave a sudden lurch.  Sam looked out the closest window to see the train, in fact, begin to slowly creep away from the station.  He
swore for the umpteenth time, hovering on the brink of which direction to take.

Then he saw her.

Or rather, that copper-colored hair of hers.  It stood out like a lighted match.  And was doused just as swiftly when she disappeared through a vestibule door.  His glimpse of it was short, but it was enough to have him heading down the car aisles.

He brushed past a few
late boarding passengers, shouldering them non-too-politely.  Offering a swift apology, he hurried on to the next car, sliding the door behind him as he passed through the vestibule and into the next passenger vehicle.  Coming to an abrupt halt, he stood in the narrow corridor and felt a glow of satisfaction.  There she was.  She slipped modestly and without fanfare into a posh seating compartment.

G
lancing outside the large cubicle window closest to him, he watched the landscape rush past in a fury as the train picked up speed.  No chance of disembarking now.

Turning his attention back to the woman, he glanced down and noticed her skirts swish gently across the carpeted floor as she stepped into
her compartment, and slid the door shut behind her.  Without a limp.

A r
ush of disappointment wiped the grin from Sam’s face.  He had been so certain he had gotten his woman.  Doubt toyed with his conscience now.

“Do you require assistance finding your seat, sir?”

Sam glanced at the lanky but tall porter who now blocked his view of the copper-haired woman.  He didn’t even bother to crane his neck in order to peer past him.  She would be out of sight by now.

“I wasn’t able to purchase a ticket.”

The man’s brows rose briefly, but otherwise didn’t look too worried.  “I trust you have the means to pay for one now?”

Sam nodded and dug into his coat pocket and handed some folded bills to the porter.

“Very well, sir.  Breakfast will be served in one hour in the dining car.”


And that would be—?”

“The third last car, sir.”

He glanced once more to the compartment where the woman he suspected was Ivy McGregor had disappeared.  With a sigh, he turned and followed the porter to his seat several cars back and not nearly as fancy as the one occupied by his murder suspect.

He
would have preferred clearing her identification before boarding, but perhaps this was for the better.  The small and limited space on the train gave him the time he needed to make a proper identification without fear of her fleeing.  If the woman did turn out to be Ivy McGregor, he would apprehend his prisoner and haul her off at the next stop to collect his just reward.

 

* * *

 

“Moira, do close the door and sit down,” Allison Radford shooed her servant away from the door.

“It’s already beginning to feel claustrophobic in here without you blocking out our only
source of light,” Harold Radford proclaimed, heedless of the fact a huge glass window on the opposite side spanned the width of their entire compartment.

With one final look to where the stranger she noticed watching her had disappeared, she closed the door the remaining few inches shut.  She had
noticed him first at the train station.  Watching her.  His blunt and hard gaze had unsettled her terribly.  A set of very disturbing eyes bore into her as if she wore nothing but a thin sheet of parchment.  She had hoped he wouldn’t board the train, but to her dismay he had.

She studied him as he left her sleeping car.  He was tall, very broad and had a head of sandy colored hair that hung in long shaggy locks beneath his black Stetson.  However, it was the holster
hanging from his waist, barely noticeable beneath his thigh-length duster, which made him appear threatening.  And for some reason she knew she had a reason to be threatened.

“For pity’s sake, Moira, did you not hear me?”

She turned away from the door at last.  “Aye.”

Allison Radford released a huge
breath as she flapped a fan in front of her face.  “The air in here is dreadfully stale.  I’m certain I shall get frightfully ill by the end of this trip.”

Her husband, sitting across from her, waved one of his gloves in front of his own face.  “The air is appalling.  Truly, where is that porter?  We must open this window immediately.”

“Moira, see what you can do.”  The madam waved her wrist in the younger woman’s direction.

Without hesitation, she did as was bid.  The
small latch hardly constituted any strength to undo.  With a heave she opened the window and allowed air into the compartment.  Cold late September air.

She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply the crisp but fresh breeze
.  It caused the tendrils of hair along her temples to flap like a pair of wings.  If only she could slip out of the cramped cubicle and take flight.

“Good heavens, that feels much be
tter,” Allison Radford declared, relaxing her head against the upholstered headrest of her seat, while her husband mumbled something in concurrence.  It was amazing how the Radford’s continually fell under hot spells.  And in unison.  Even in the dead of winter.

Taking her seat between Allison Radford and the window, she ignored the fact she wore less clothing than the madam.  Truth was
, she didn’t particularly like the small confines of the train compartment either.  The cool air on her face felt refreshing.

And free.

“These next few days will be undeniably troublesome.  We must speak to the porter about improving the conditions of this compartment.”  Her madam was saying.  “My allergies are reacting horribly to this filthy dust.”

She
ran a finger over the armrest of her seat, then turned it upside right as if expecting to come away with a layer of dirt.  As it was, it came away clear.  Brushing her hands together nevertheless, she shrugged in disgust before leaning back into her seat.


Perhaps if you had adhered to my suggestion to have taken a boat for the first half of our journey to Calgary, we wouldn’t have had to endure such conditions,” Harold commented, bringing up not for the first time since they embarked on this excursion, the same argument over mode of transportation.

“Don’t speak of such lunacy.  You know right well my legs are not meant for the sea,” Allison reminded him.

“I hardly believe the Great Lakes constitute as the sea.”


And I hardly see the difference.  One enormous body of water is the same as the next.”

BOOK: The Color of Ivy
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