Excerpt, A Good Man Comes Around
Book 8 in the Sweethearts of Jubilee Springs Collection
The Corner Saloon was obviously called such because of its corner entrance that straddled both Telegraph Street and River Road. Abigail stepped into its shadowy doorway and peered over the batwings. A gray haze hung above the felt-topped tables and obscured the milling, moving bodies. A less-than-gifted pianist eagerly hammered out “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The raucous music almost drowned out voices raised in song.
“…He is trampling out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored,” a chorus of drunken voices bellowed. Quite the exuberant crowd for the hour. Men who should be home with their wives and families.
Should she even be here?
Before Abigail could decide, she felt a hard slap to her bottom, albeit one muffled by her large bustle.
“Hey, sugar, you lookin’ for work?”
Abigail gasped and spun on the stranger. A man with stringy hair, a long face, bulging, bloodshot eyes, and big, crooked teeth leered at her.
The stranger’s unruly behavior outraged Abigail as indignation colored her cheeks. “I beg your pardon.”
“You’re at the wrong saloon, sister.” The man snaked his hand around her waist. “You want the Silver Dollar over near the mine. I’ll show ya.”
Sputtering in shock, and grimacing at the man’s body odor, Abigail knocked his hand off her waist and stepped back. “How dare you. I am not looking for employment, you—you,” she scanned his filthy, unkempt frame, “you slovenly, odiferous drunkard.”
His brow dove and his face lost its good humor. “You got a mouth on you, girl, that could sure be put to better use.”
“All right that’s enough, Wilkins.” In spite of herself, Abigail was relieved to hear a familiar voice. Mr. Martin ambled up the boardwalk. “Leave the lady alone.”
Wilkins glared. “Oliver, you ain’t won a fight in this town since you got here, including with me. Don’t make me whup you again in front of the lady.” He emphasized the last word as if it was delightfully entertaining. “Now run along before you embarrass yourself.”
Mr. Martin regarded Wilkins with a solemn expression. Abigail would not have classified the dark look as thoughtful. Rather, she would have labeled it resignation.
“Did you touch her?”
Mr. Martin sighed, an exasperated sound. He looked at Abigail. “Did he touch you?”
“Yes, he slapped my—I mean, yes.” Mortified, she didn’t wish to say more.
He shifted back to Wilkins. “Apologize to her.”
“What?” The man shook his head as if he couldn’t believe his ears.
“Apologize to her for your rude behavior.”
Wilkins turned his head like a puppy discovering a new sound. “You drinking already today?”
“Unfortunately, no. I am heading to the café for some eggs and bacon. I’d like to get there before they’re all gone. But first I have to hear you tell Mrs. Holt that you mean her no harm and that you are sorry for embarrassing her.”
Wilkins scratched his ear. “What are you gonna do about it, if I don’t?”
“What am I gonna do about it?” There in front of the odd-shaped entrance to the Corner Saloon, Mr. Martin raised his chin, as if resolving something in his mind. “What I should have done the first time we tangled. Kick your—” The profanity was lost in a blur of motion and a fleshy thud.
Mr. Martin drew back and punched Wilkins square in the nose, so hard and fast if Abigail had blinked, she would have missed it. Blood gushed. She squealed. Wilkins hollered and clutched his face, moaning and bewailing the attack.
Mr. Martin drew himself up to his full height and raised his fist again. “You can’t treat a lady that way and not expect to suffer some harm.”
“You broke my nose,” the man cried.
“Get out of here or I’ll break something else.”
Attempting to singe Mr. Martin with a baleful glare, Mr. Wilkins yanked a bandana from his pocket, crushed it to his face, and staggered off. “I like you better drunk.” His voice now had a muffled, nasally quality. “You’re not friendly sober. Not at all.”
Abigail watched the ruffian for a moment, but quickly snapped her gaze back to Mr. Martin. He stood with his shoulders straight, chin up, ice-blue eyes trained intently on the departing man. In her estimation, this almost-groom seemed taller, stronger somehow. She realized she was clutching the handbills in front of her bosom like a frightened child, and lowered them.
The movement brought him back around to her. “What are you doing?” He sounded annoyed, which in turn annoyed and puzzled her. “Here,” he added. “What are you doing here? Lookin’ for me?”
“I was looking for the owner. Believe it or not, my every waking moment in Jubilee Springs has not been focused on resolving our disastrous arrangement.”
He scowled, raised his cowboy hat, shook his hair, then deposited the cap back in place. “I didn’t mean to imply that. But I couldn’t figure any other reason for you being here.”
His assumption made sense and Abigail tamped down her anger. After all, the man had just rescued her. However, he had resorted to violence so quickly. She glanced down the boardwalk one last time. “Thank you for intervening.” She almost admired him for it, but his willingness to fight also showed a potential hair-trigger. “I have to ask, was it necessary to strike him?”
Mr. Martin turned to face her and cocked his head a little, openly studying her. “Wondering if my temper is another disqualification?”
“About that. Actually, Mr. Martin, we should talk.”
“Why I came here today. After breakfast, I was gonna come by the inn.”
Then why was he near the saloon? How many times had she and the boys come after a beer or two … or twenty?
Her fond memories of life with a drunkard must have shown on her face. Mr. Martin ducked his head. “I know what it looks like, but I wasn’t coming here.”
“It’s none of my business.”
An awkward silence fell. He licked his lips. “I just don’t seem to be able to give you the right answer about anything.” Suddenly he pulled his hat off and pressed it to his chest. “Look, I’ve gotten off to a bad start with a lot of people before, but this has to be the worst. And I’d like to apologize.”
He sounded honestly contrite. A little crease just above his left eyebrow, almost covered by a sprig of molasses-colored hair, argued for it. Abigail decided she could be magnanimous. After all, things were looking up for her, ironically in part thanks to this mail order fiasco. “Apology accepted. I think everything is turning out for the best.”
At least for me.
What a shame Mr. Martin was a shiftless, no-good drunk. She wanted to shake her head in pity, but refrained. All the wasted potential. To her surprise, Abigail realized she was a little disappointed.
Excerpt, A Lady in Defiance
Naomi’s eyes hid nothing of her heart. McIntyre saw right away that where once a friendship had started to blossom, now there were only ashes. She blamed him for Daisy’s injuries and he supposed, in a roundabout way, it was his fault.
“Where’s the man who did this to her?”
“What will he be charged with?”
He sensed no answer would be the right one, but he told the truth nonetheless. “Assault and battery. He’ll get thirty days in jail and a $75 fine.”
“And you? Will he compensate you for lost revenue?”
The disgusted, embittered look in her eyes affected him, though he couldn’t say just how. He had almost seen a spark of happiness in her eyes lately when she looked at him. Not now. The passion he saw burning there at the moment was not the kind he ever wanted to see again. She hated him, even loathed him. It left him speechless−the heat of it, the disappointment of it.
“What kind of a man are you? How can you live with yourself? These women are human beings, not horses to hook up to a freight wagon. In fact, you probably treat your horses better.” Shuffling sounds behind him drew her eyes to the hallway. He knew his Flowers had gathered in the shadows to listen.
Naomi raised her chin. “We’re moving Mollie out of here tomorrow. She has a room at our hotel as long as she wants it.” She shifted her attention to the audience in the hallway. “None of you have to live like this.” Her voice was choked with anger, but she was pleading as well. “You are beautiful, valuable children of God and He loves you. He doesn’t want to see you living in this filth. Mollie discovered that, which is why she said ‘no more.’”
McIntyre heard Iris’s cynical cackle. “Yea, and look where that got her.”
“Heaven,” Naomi fired back. “And eternity with the King. Until then, a home with us.” Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the shadowy figures shift under the weight of Naomi’s pleading stare. She moved to the door and spoke in a softer, kinder voice. “We have room for you. Any time you want to leave this place, this life, knock on our door.”
A strange, tense silence hung in the air. No one breathed, no one moved. Finished, Naomi stepped back and gestured toward the door. “Mr. McIntyre, please . . .” He studied her for a moment, searching for even the most ghostly hint of compassion towards him. There was only a chill in her eyes so brutal it burned him and his heart was inexplicably heavy.
He walked toward the door and stopped just before the threshold. Without looking at her, he straightened a bit and whispered a painful confession. “I am what I am, Mrs. Miller . . . but for the first time in my life, I’m sorry for it.”
“Then choose to be a better man.”
He wondered if he had imagined the slightly desperate plea in her voice. It didn’t matter. He had made such choices long ago. Focused on the darkness, he left the room.