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Before the Dawn
Ryder Damien's black eyes glowed with grim satisfaction as he read the wire informing him that his father, was dying. So, the old man's finally getting his due, he thought. Hope Satan makes the pit nice and hot.
Hardly the expected filial response, but Ryder hadn't seen his father in thirty years. He tossed the telegram onto his desk and walked over to the windows that looked out on the world from the second-floor office of the Damien Mining Company. According to the calendar, spring was coming, but you couldn't tell by all the snow on the mountains. The Colorado mountains never surrendered to warmer weather without a good fight, and this year proved to be no exception. Ryder hoped that by concentrating on something else, the news about his father would fade from his mind, but as much as he disliked admitting it, thoughts of Louis Montague wouldn't leave him alone. Why make contact now, after all these years? With all the suffering Ryder had been forced to endure, surely Louis didn't believe he'd come running to his deathbed, mouthing absolutions?
Ryder turned from the window and went back to his desk.
Thirty-two-year-old Leah Barnett moved slowly through the nearly deserted tavern, collecting the last of the empty mugs and tankards. Her day at the Black Swan had begun at dawn, and now that night had fallen, she didn't know which felt wearier, her body or her feet. She looked over at the last of the regulars seated at one of the dark wood tables, and called out, "Tom, you should be getting on home now.Don't want the wife to have to come get you again."
Tom Pollard met Leah's frank dark eyes, then hung hishead sheepishly. His wife, Bess, had paid a visit to the Swan four nights ago, and it hadn't been a pretty affair. Bess Pollard towered over her elderly husband by a good six inches, and she'd issued such a blistering lecture on demon rum and familial responsibility that every man in the place had gotten up and slunk home. Leah hadn't been pleased watching the night's profits go streaming out the doors, but witnessing the look of fear on Tom's face when his wife blew in like a November gale had almost been worth the loss. Leah had been telling him for months that he should be spending more time with his young bride and less time with his cronies playing dominoes and backgammon.
In response to Leah's warning, Tom shuffled to his feet and put on his coat, saying, "Caught a lot of ribbing about that. Don't want it to happen again." The slight sway in his old legs interfered with his attempts to fasten his coat buttons. "How's Monty doing?"
"Doctor says it won't be long," she responded sadly.
Louis Montague, her mother's lifelong companion, lay upstairs in his bed, dying. "I'm going up to check on him as soon as I'm done here."
"Well, you want me to stay until you lock up?"
Leah smiled tiredly in reply. Tom had been coming to the Swan since she'd been tall enough to see over the tables, and she appreciated his concern, "No, Tom. I'll be fine. You go on. I'll see you tomorrow."
He nodded and headed out into the early-April night.His exit left Leah alone, and she went back to cleaning up. Usually she savored the silence that settled over the place after locking up, but not tonight. Tonight her thoughts were heavy with Monty's fate.
Last April, the death of Leah's British-born mother, Reba, had broken Leah's heart. Now, Monty lay at death's door, too. Leah's world had always included the two of them, and she couldn't envision a future devoid of their presence and love.
The Black Swan had been passed down to her upon Reba's death, and Leah supposed she'd spend the rest of her life there, washing tankards and hauling in kegs. At the advanced old age of thirty-two she stood little chance of snagging a husband and having children, so she'd stopped hoping long ago. She'd also stopped wanting to see the world and its many wonders; women of her ilk weren't destined for such things. She'd been born in the Swan and would undoubtedly die in the Swan, just as her mother had.
The small drinking establishment, with its sturdy wooden tables and packed-earth floor, would provide her a frugal life at best. One of the few remaining coastline taverns that catered to Black British seamen, it turned enough profit to pay bills and buy necessities, but nothing more. Unlike her old friend Adele Sears, who'd married well and constantly ordered new gowns in order to rub shoulders with Boston's Black elite, Leah had to make due with gowns that had seen better days and shoes with pasteboard in them to cover the holes in the soles. Granted, because she had a way with numbers, Leah earned a few extra coins balancing the ledgers of some of the other businesses on the waterfront, but that went to pay the salaries of her two employees: a bartender and a waitress.
Done with the washing and sweeping, Leah checked the door's bolts, doused the tavern's lamps, and slowly headed upstairs to look in on Monty.
Leah had lived on the tavern's upper floor her whole life, and the space was as familiar as her own heartbeat. Reba and Monty had shared the big room in the back that overlooked the often moody Atlantic Ocean. Reba had drawn her last breath in that room. Monty seemed destined to do the same.
Leah entered the firelit room quietly. In the big walnut bed lay Louis Montague...Before the Dawn. Copyright © by Beverly Jenkins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.