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The Devil's Daughter
By Laura Drewry
Copyright © 2008 Laura Drewry
All right reserved.
Redemption, Texas Summer 1881
I want him." Lucy pointed her long slender finger at the quiet man near the back of the restaurant, the tall one with the dark eyes and the wavy hair that begged to be touched.
Oh yes, he'd do quite nicely.
"I ... Wha-?" The fat lady in charge of the auction whirled around. "Who ...? Where did you come from?"
"Lucy Firr," Lucy answered without taking her eyes off her man. "And I'll take him."
Necks stretched and craned as twenty or more men twisted in their seats to get a look at the man she wanted; the man with the long, unwavering stare; the man she'd chosen to be her savior-or her accomplice, depending on how you chose to look at it.
He didn't move a muscle, didn't nod in agreement or even acknowledge he was the topic of conversation. He just stared back at her with those too-dark-to-read eyes.
The fat lady sputtered, gaped, then stammered, "Y-you mean Mr. Caine?"
Lucy smiled and nodded toward the back of the room again. That was exactly who she meant.
"Yes, him," she repeated.
Why did the fat lady keep staring that way-as if Lucy had suddenly sprouted horns?
Had she sprouted horns?
With calmness she didn't feel, Lucy fingered her hair back from her face, carefully probing for any unusual bumps.
Finally, the woman turned and stretched on tiptoe to see over the crowd, then teetered back on her heels. She fidgeted with her high lace collar, tucked the coin box tightly beneath her elbow and turned her wary gray eyes on Lucy.
The other women up for bid at the wife auction sought out Lucy's man, too, then bowed their heads in a circle as furious whispers buzzed among them. Each woman wore her hair pulled back in a tight knot or braid at the back of her head, with not a single bow or earbob in sight.
Lucy shuddered. How could any self-respecting woman, mortal or not, allow such dresses-if that's what you could call those horrid garments-to touch their skin? To make matters worse, each dress was exactly the same as the others, plain cotton frocks buttoned neck to waist, with plain straight skirts.
No imagination whatsoever.
These poor women didn't have a prayer. Then again, neither did Lucy, but that was an entirely different story.
She smoothed the deep green silk of her skirt and tossed her long, glossy black hair over her shoulders. The small restaurant-turned-auction-house was near to bursting with the crowd of men, but there were only four women on the auction block. Five if Lucy included herself, which she didn't. She was not up for auction. She was here for one man-and one man only: The man who stood between her and the baby she needed.
Mr. Jedidiah Caine wanted her. He needed someone else, but he wanted her. There was no doubt what was going on inside that gorgeous head of his; inner turmoil stewed beneath his frown and clouded his already dark eyes. He was going to be difficult, no question, but she'd overpower him soon enough. If she didn't, she would have to stand before her father empty-handed, and she could not let that happen. Again. The consequences would be far too severe this time.
Whether Jed Caine knew it or not, he was going to help Lucy avoid eternal damnation. He'd be sacrificing his own soul, but he didn't need to know that. Not yet, anyway.
The heavy stench of the unbathed crowd, mixed with cheap cigars and manure-covered boots, fogged the air. Yet even with the space of the room separating them, Lucy knew her man wouldn't stink. There was something about him, something about the way he stood there, so quiet, so sure of himself.
Lucy bit back her laughter. His lust would be easy enough to work with on its own, but he was obviously a proud man, too. This was going to be easier than she'd hoped. Was it possible her father had finally underestimated her abilities?
Grumblings between the men started low, then grew louder. Coffee cups rattled on the tables, and a few men motioned toward the door, but not a single person left.
Lust seeped from them like blood from gaping wounds. It was in the way they ogled her, the way they curled their lips and nodded toward her as they muttered among themselves.
But his want burned hotter than the rest. It smoldered in those dark eyes, in the firm set of his jaw and in his deepening frown. Oh, he wanted her all right, but he certainly wasn't going to admit it. And he certainly wasn't happy about it.
"Yes," Lucy purred. "He'll do just fine."
The woman in charge cleared her throat and adjusted her wire-framed glasses. "I'm sorry, Miss Firr, but that's not how the wife auction works." She indicated the room full of men, each one raking Lucy with shameless, lust- filled gazes. "The gentlemen decide which woman is suitable and then the bidding starts. Highest bidder wins." Her thin lips curled into a nervous smile. "The women don't get to choose."
Lucy seared the fat lady with a glare but refrained from commenting on the woman's easy use of the word "gentlemen."
"What if I don't want the man who buys me?" Lucy wrinkled her nose as the man closest to her spat a wad of tobacco juice toward a nearby bucket and missed. It splatted against the plank floor and spread out in a tiny, dark puddle where many others had obviously landed before it.
Again, the fat lady smiled in that nervous way as she took a step closer. A sour waft of body odor hit Lucy's nose as the woman stopped in front of her. "It doesn't matter what you want."
An odd aura surrounded the woman. Lucy was unable to define it, but whatever it was, it troubled the woman's soul something awful.
Lucy shook it off and focused her attention back on the group at hand. She was surrounded by souls in various stages of decay, yet the only one that mattered was his.
His clean, honorable, yet proud soul. She would use that honor and pride to get him. If she worked it right, he wouldn't even know what she'd done until it was too late. By the time he realized what had happened, she'd have secured his soul and his sister-in-law Maggie's as well. Individually, neither meant anything to Lucy, but together, they stood as protectors over the one soul she desperately needed-that of Maggie's baby. The second it was born, Lucy would claim its soul and secure her freedom.
The baby was key to everything. Without its soul, nothing else mattered.
Lucy held her gaze on her man, but spoke to the fat lady. "I will choose who I leave with, and the money he pays, instead of going to me, will go directly to ..." She hesitated a second, knowing she had to choose her words carefully. After all, guilt was a great motivator with these God-fearing, conscience-bearing humans. "The school."
Another murmur rose, this time accompanied by a few more tobacco spits from several of the men and more whispering by the women. The fat lady's eyes bulged with excitement.
"New books," she breathed. "Oh my!"
"Furthermore," Lucy continued. "I'll only have him." She pointed at her man again. "If he doesn't want me, I'll simply be on my way."
Again, every head swiveled in his direction, waiting. Lucy waited, too. If she walked out of this auction now, she'd forfeit her only chance of succeeding, her only chance of retrieving the one soul she most desperately needed.
"This is highly irregular," the woman muttered, but she, too, stood waiting for the man to speak.
Every passing second deepened Lucy's doubts and deepened her man's frown.
An icy chill shot through her. Her man needed a woman, but surely he couldn't want one of these others instead of her.
That was ridiculous. They were as homely as hedgehogs and there must have been month-old corpses that smelled better.
Lucy gave herself a hard mental shake and refocused on Mr. Jedidiah Caine. She knew two things about this man and two things only.
The first was that if it hadn't been for his brother's "disappearance," Jed wouldn't even be at the auction, bidding on a wife he didn't want. And the second was that he'd never let his own desires get in the way of what his family needed.
"Mr. Caine?" the woman finally said, her voice wavering. "Will you have Miss Firr as your wife?"
Amid heated murmurs and pointing fingers, he finally stepped through the crowd, weaving his way toward the front of the room. His gaze never left Lucy's, even as he bobbed a quick nod at the fat lady.
A hush fell over the room as everyone strained to hear.
Mr. Caine spoke quietly, his voice deep and sure. "You're a beautiful woman, Miss Firr. But you already know that, don't you?"
Lucy smiled. Of course she knew it-temptation would be one of her strongest weapons.
Strangely, he didn't smile back. His dark eyes never wavered from hers as he spoke. "Given the number of honest men here today, I appreciate your interest in me."
Yes! This was going to be easier than-
"And though it pains me to say it," he continued, "I've no need for a beautiful woman. I'm not even looking for a wife."
Shocked silence hung in the air. He must be toying with her. Every man wanted a beautiful woman-the proof sat all around them. What made Jed Caine think he was any different?
Humiliation wasn't new to Lucy, but she'd never gotten used to it-and when it came from the likes of a mere mortal ...
She swallowed her anger and forced a seductive smile.
"You have no need of a wife, you say." She coyly tipped her head a little to the right. "Yet here you are at a wife auction."
Her facial muscles pinched against the smile, but she held it in place as Mr. Caine explained what she already knew.
"I need to hire a woman to help my brother's wife. I need someone who's not afraid to get dirty, who'll work hard and who doesn't mind living without frills." Color crept up his neck and over his face. His lips curled upward in an awkward, uncomfortable smile. "If you don't mind my saying so, Miss Firr, you sure don't look the type to collect chips for the fire."
Snorts and chuckles filled the room, followed by giggles and twitters from the other women. Lucy silenced their taunts with a blistering glare. These people had no idea who they were dealing with; she was here to win, and whether he liked it or not, Jed Caine was going to help her do just that.
"Why is it then, Mr. Caine, that you are here and not your brother? She's his wife after all."
A painful hush fell over the room. Mr. Caine swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing slowly with the movement, and his eyes darkened to near pitch.
"My brother ... Sam ... is missing, and until he returns, Maggie and I need a little help." His jaw clenched, as though waiting for someone to voice what the entire room was thinking: that Sam Caine was dead, and he'd probably killed himself to get away from his crazy wife.
With practiced ease, Lucy slinked closer until they stood toe-to-toe. Broad across the shoulder, he stood like a rock wall, his sleeves rolled to the elbows and his faded blue shirt tucked neatly into the waistband of his wool pants.
Yes, Jedidiah Caine was a man to behold-tall, but not towering. Lucy had only to tip her head slightly to look into his eyes. There was a warm, musky scent about him. He was what humans referred to as a "good man." A good man meant a good soul, a trusting soul, a weak soul.
"I can be ugly if you want me to."
He quirked his left eyebrow. "I doubt that."
She opened her eyes wide and blinked up at him with all the false innocence she could muster.
"The work is hard."
"I like things hard." She murmured as she toyed with the button nearest his navel.
"The dirtier the better." She waggled her brow, and slipped her tongue out to moisten her lips.
Tiny crinkles formed at the corners of his eyes, but he didn't laugh. Instead, he cast a telling glance down the length of her skirt.
"And living without any frilly dresses?"
Lucy waved her hand down her skirt. "Do you see any frills?"
The fat lady cleared her throat again. Tension built throughout the room, but Mr. Caine remained perfectly calm, apparently unmoved by any of Lucy's actions or words.
"Move it along, Caine," someone called as grumbling began to roll around the room.
"Can you cook?" Mr. Caine ignored the other man and eyed Lucy suspiciously.
"Yes," she lied. The rest of the crowd, especially the women, seemed disinclined to believe her, given the way they rolled their eyes and snorted, but Mr. Caine did neither.
"And you can keep the house?"
"Of course." Another lie.
One of the men near the back stood up. "Caine already said he don't want her, so let's give the rest of us a chance."
An odd look flashed across Jed's face, then disappeared. He hesitated a moment, and licked his lips.
"What about children?" he asked.
Lucy trailed her fingers up to the next button. "I believe that's what the dirty work will produce."
One of the women sucked in a shocked breath, and several of the other men grumbled louder, but neither Lucy nor her man spared them a glance.
He still didn't look convinced. "You're awfully skinny; you don't look strong enough for the work."
Lucy leaned closer and trailed her finger in a long, slow path down his cheek, laughing softly when his jaw twitched beneath her touch.
"I've got all the strength you'll ever need, Mr. Caine."
More gasps and groans filled the room.
"Miss Firr, please!" The woman in charge fanned herself with her hand.
A tiny smile tugged at his mouth. He was enjoying this as much as she was, yet there was still something wrenching him away, something he was bound to by honor: caring for his brother's wife.
"As tempting as that sounds"-Mr. Caine wrapped his fingers around her wrist and tugged her hand away from his face-"and as tempting as you are, Miss Firr, I doubt very much you'd last a week."
"Move on!" the man in the back yelled. "We ain't got all day."
"M-Mr. Caine," the fat lady stammered, "I need a decision."
After a moment's hesitation, with the internal battle playing out in his eyes, he sighed in resignation.
"I'm sorry, Miss Blake," he said to the fat lady, his smile gone. "As much as I'd like to agree to this, Miss Firr isn't the type of woman I'm looking for."
Desperation flooded Lucy's veins. He was a stubborn one, this human. Well, so was she. If only she could think of something else to tempt him with.
"B-but," Miss Blake stammered. "If you don't want her ... what about the school?"
Mr. Caine tipped a short nod at Lucy and headed back to his place at the far end of the room as the other men all started calling out at once.
"I'll take her!"
"I like 'em skinny."
Miss Blake turned desperate eyes on Lucy, who shrugged nonchalantly, smiled and made like she was going to leave, all the while fighting the fear and anguish that had begun to overpower her. She had about five seconds to figure something out, something that would save her from her father's wrath and the desolate eternity that beckoned.
She hadn't taken two complete steps when Miss Blake started offering her own services.
"If it turns out she can't cook, I'll teach her myself." The woman sounded almost as desperate as Lucy felt. The school must really need those books.
Judging by the excited nods and murmurs going on around them, it was safe to assume the woman could cook. And from the size of her, she must cook well. Lucy cocked a taunting brow at her man's back and waited.
He continued to make his way to the back.
"And I'll help her with the cleaning and the wash." Miss Blake's voice went higher with each word.
He stopped, but took his time turning around.
A loud whisper carried across the room. "Maybe Caine should marry you instead."
Chuckles and snorts followed, but Mr. Caine held Lucy's gaze, his lips pressed together as though fighting back what he wanted to say.
"Mr. Caine, please." Miss Blake mopped her brow with a lace handkerchief. "You need a woman to make you a home, to give you a family, and to help you make something of all that land you bought."
He didn't look the slightest bit swayed.
"And think of the children." She lifted her chin and pinned him with what must have been a well-practiced frown. "One day your brother's child will attend that school-do you not think it's your responsibility to help ensure him the best education possible?"
Lucy felt the uncertainty ebb over Miss Blake's soul first, then Mr. Caine's. He seemed to falter for a moment, but remained rooted to where he stood. His mouth tightened into a thin line, his dark eyes staring straight back at Lucy.
Guilt-it worked amazing feats in humans. Lucy was certain that if the fat lady-Miss Blake-could produce one of these bookless, unschooled children, the man would no doubt hand over his last penny.
Excerpted from The Devil's Daughter by Laura Drewry Copyright © 2008 by Laura Drewry. Excerpted by permission.
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