Overview

The riverboat?s newest showgirl has no idea what she?s getting into
Raised on a houseboat, Nevada Hamilton has spent her whole life on the river. At night she sings for her father and his friends, and when they go to bed, she gazes across the water at the paddleboat gambling palaces, dreaming of the day when she can take her place on one of their stages. When her father is killed in a bar fight, Nevada must pursue her dream. She puts on her make-up, dons her finest dress, and ...
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Silken Bondage

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Overview

The riverboat’s newest showgirl has no idea what she’s getting into
Raised on a houseboat, Nevada Hamilton has spent her whole life on the river. At night she sings for her father and his friends, and when they go to bed, she gazes across the water at the paddleboat gambling palaces, dreaming of the day when she can take her place on one of their stages. When her father is killed in a bar fight, Nevada must pursue her dream. She puts on her make-up, dons her finest dress, and walks into the greatest adventure a young girl could ever imagine. Her first night on the job, she meets world-class gambler Johnny Roulette, who quickly falls for the delicate, innocent Nevada. Depending on how the dice fall, she could win Johnny’s heart forever—or she could break her own heart in two.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781453282441
  • Publisher: Open Road Media
  • Publication date: 10/23/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 387
  • Sales rank: 722,934
  • File size: 956 KB

Meet the Author

Nan Ryan is an award-winning historical romance author. The daughter of a Texas rancher, she began writing in 1981, inspired by a Newsweek article about women who traded corporate careers for the craft of romantic fiction. She found success with her second novel, Kathleen’s Surrender (1983), a story of a Southern belle’s passionate affair with a mysterious gambler. Ryan continued writing romances, publishing novels such as Silken Bondage (1989), The Scandalous Miss Howard (2002), and The Countess Misbehaves (2000). Her husband, Joe Ryan, is a television executive, and his career has taken them all over the country, with each new town providing fodder for Ryan’s stories.  
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Read an Excerpt

Silken Bondage


By Nan Ryan

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1989 Nan Ryan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-8244-1


CHAPTER 1

"Johnny Roulette's back in town!"

"Johnny's here in Memphis? Lilly, are you sure?" asked the excited Julia LaBlanc, clutching the lapels of her blue dressing gown together over her ample bosom.

"Do you suppose he'll come to see the show tonight?" said red-haired, brown-eyed Belle Roberts, a heated curling iron poised in her right hand, a gleaming lock of copper hair in the other.

"My lord, you know he will! If Johnny's in town, he'll be aboard the Moonlight Gambler as soon as the sun sets," Betsy Clark Stevens assured with a smile as she reached for a pot of coral lip rouge, then she added, "Julia, can I please borrow your green satin gown ... the one that matches my eyes? You know you can't get into it since you gained those five pounds."

"Damn you, Betsy," Julia snapped. "You and Lilly monopolized Johnny last time he was aboard the Gambler. It's my turn!"

"And mine." Belle's hands went to her hips and her usually soft voice lifted loudly.

"Who is Johnny Roulette?"

For a second there was near total silence in the cluttered below-decks dressing quarters of the floating gaming palace, Moonlight Gambler. Only the gentle slap of calm waters against the Gambler's gleaming black hull and the shouts of men loading cargo on the many vessels lining the bustling Memphis levee could be heard.

The four seasoned showgirls—Lilly St. Clair, Julia LaBlanc, Belle Roberts, and Betsy Clark Stevens—stared in disbelief, then exclaimed in unison, "Who is Johnny Roulette!"

Nevada Marie Hamilton swallowed nervously and looked up at the women crowding around her, shaking their heads piteously as though she had just confessed she didn't know who was President of the United States of America. "Should I know this Johnny Roulette?"

The women went into peals of laughter at such a question. Platinum-haired Lilly St. Clair, the tallest and oldest of the group, finally wiped the tears from her eyes, stuck a satin-slippered toe around the leg of a straight-back chair, drew it up beside Nevada, and sat down. "Honey, you've got to be joking."

Not particularly pleased with being an object of ridicule among these women whom she had met only hours earlier, Nevada proudly lifted her chin, turned from the mirror, and met Lilly's eyes squarely. "No, Miss St. Clair. I am not joking. I have no idea who Johnny Roulette is. Is there some reason I should?"

Lilly, crossing her long legs and signaling the others to stop laughing, reached for Nevada's hand. Holding it in her own, Lilly said, "Don't mind us none, Nevada. You just came aboard the Gambler today; no reason you'd know Johnny. You're just a kid and you've spent all your life on your daddy's flatboat. Forgive our manners. We've all known Johnny so long, we forget there could be anybody up and down the Mississippi who hasn't met him." She smiled kindly at Nevada.

"Well, what's so special about Johnny Roulette?" Nevada asked.

Lilly squeezed Nevada's small hand, released it, and leaned back in her chair. A wistful expression came into her violet eyes and she repeated Nevada's words. "What's so special about Johnny Roulette?" Lilly sighed. "Honey, just wait until you meet him."

And Nevada listened, as did the others, while the sophisticated Lilly St. Clair spoke of the elusive man they all adored, the half French, devil-may-care, darkly handsome gambler, Johnny Roulette.

"There's a cloud of mystery that surrounds Johnny Roulette," said Lilly. "Nobody seems to know exactly where he's from or if he has any family or if he ever had a profession, other than gambling. Johnny never talks about himself or his past. And anybody that's ever asked got no answer other than a shrug of his shoulders and a shake of his head." She smiled then and added, "But nobody really cares, least not here on the Mississippi. He's so damned good-looking, he hurts your eyes. Johnny's one of the biggest men I've ever met—stands well over six foot three—and not one ounce of fat on him. His hair is dark and wavy, his eyes are black as midnight, and he has a smile that can melt the coldest of hearts."

Nodding, Nevada listened with interest as Lilly continued to describe the imposing gentleman she obviously thought was a man among men. The others joined in, speaking dreamily of Johnny Roulette's muscular physique and his sleek mustache and his quick wit and his deft gambler's hands. They told how it felt to be chosen, after the show, to stand at Johnny's side while he gambled—to blow on the dice, to bring him luck, to be the envy, however briefly, of every other female on board. Johnny was more fun than anybody, they said; he made them laugh and he himself always wore an irresistible smile.

The white silk robe Lilly had loaned her falling off her slender shoulders and her long raven hair spilling down her back, Nevada Marie Hamilton listened attentively, her blue eyes wide with interest, her soft red lips pursed. Still, she was skeptical.

Surely no man could be quite so handsome and charming as this tall, dark, always smiling Johnny Roulette.

Johnny Roulette had a toothache. A mean, nasty toothache. Scowling, Johnny followed a uniformed steward into a huge, richly carpeted suite of the elegant Plantation House, the finest hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. Clutching his throbbing right jaw with a big hand, Johnny jerked at his tight, choking tie while the steward rushed forth to throw the tall French doors open to the balcony.

Turning then, the slender little man said, "Our most luxurious suite, as always, Mr. Roulette. You'll get the nice breeze off the river and I'll bring up ice water immediately. Will there be anything else, sir?"

"Yes," said the suffering Johnny Roulette. "Whiskey."

"Whiskey, Mr. Roulette?" The steward's pale eyebrows lifted. He'd never known Johnny Roulette to drink hard liquor, not in all the years he'd been staying at the Plantation House. Nor anything stronger than an occasional after-dinner brandy. Thinking he had surely misunderstood, he repeated questioningly, "Whiskey?"

"The best Kentucky bourbon you've got," Johnny Roulette answered, shrugging impatiently out of his custom gray linen suit jacket He smiled weakly then and added, "I do so enjoy a glass of good bourbon in the afternoon."

"Y-yes, sir, right away," murmured the dumbfounded steward, bowing and backing away.

In minutes the little man returned with a tray bearing a large silver pitcher of ice water, a tall cut-crystal tumbler, a heavy lead shot glass, and a bottle of fine Kentucky bourbon.

Johnny, barechested now, nodded his thanks and immediately uncorked the whiskey. Ignoring the glasses, he turned the bottle up to his lips and took a long pull.

"God Almighty, that tastes awful," he said, making a face and gratefully accepting the glass of ice water the steward hastily poured and handed to him. "Thanks," he managed, still feeling the fire from the bourbon burn its way down into his chest and race into his long muscular arms.

"Mr. Roulette, I do not mean to intrude, but my employer and your good friend Mr. Robin mentioned while I was downstairs that you are suffering from a toothache. I happen to know a skilled dentist whose office is not two blocks from the Plantation House. He would be—"

"No dentists," said Johnny, shaking his dark head decisively. "Ben Robin should mind his own affairs. Tell him I said so. I don't need a dentist."

"But if you've a toothache, I'm sure—"

"Just a slight one," said Johnny. "Nothing that bothers me that much. All I need is a little nap." He grinned then to show he was really feeling fit.

"Very well," said the mannerly steward, smiling back at the big towering man. "I've turned down your bed. You'll be wanting your evening clothes pressed, I assume." Johnny nodded. "Mr. Robin says the dice have been rolling hot on the Gambler, of late." The steward reached the door. "Get some rest, sir."

"That I'll do," promised Johnny Roulette, smiling easily but frowning again as soon as the door closed.

"Owwww!" Johnny groaned as he headed for the whiskey bottle. And Johnny Roulette—a big strapping man who had looked down the barrel of a gun on more than one occasion and who had fought in the War between the States when he was still in his teens—hoped no one would suspect that he was so deathly afraid of the dentist, he couldn't have been dragged there by a team of wild horses.

And so it was that Johnny Roulette, in agony, terrified of dentists, sat alone in his river-view hotel suite on that humid June afternoon in the summer of 1876 and got pleasantly and profoundly drunk.

Soon he was so delightfully tipsy that his throbbing tooth stopped throbbing, his aching jaw stopped aching, and his pain-dimmed black eyes began to sparkle with their usual devilish light. By the time the sun was westering across the placid river, Johnny Roulette, grinning between pulls on along thin cigar, thought to himself that he had been such a fool. All these years he had eschewed the delicious taste of good Kentucky bourbon. What a mistake!

He held a half-full tumbler of the whiskey up before his face and admired its pale amber hue, deeply inhaling its unique bouquet. Crushing out his cigar, he took a drink of the smooth, warm bourbon and, sighing with contentment, decided he would skip dinner.

At dusk Johnny Roulette, loudly singing a bawdy song he'd learned years before from a bearded riverboat pilot, splashed about in his bath, cigar in one hand, bourbon in the other, while in the outer room the hotel steward hud out a suit of freshly pressed black evening clothes along with a starched white shirt, gleaming gold studs, and polished black leather shoes.

Shortly after nine o'clock that evening, an impeccably groomed Johnny Roulette, smiling broadly, weaving slightly, descended the wide marble staircase into the opulent lobby of the Plantation House. When his old friend Ben Robin, the hotel's rich young owner, who was engaged in conversation with a pair of downriver planters, looked up and saw Johnny, he knew immediately that he was drunk. Excusing himself from the guests, Ben Robin crossed the spacious lobby.

"John," Ben said, placing a companionable hand on Johnny's left shoulder, "how about the two of us having dinner in my suite this evening? The dining room is very crowded tonight."

Wearing a foolish grin, Johnny blinked down at his friend. "Thanks for the invitation, Ben, but I'm not hungry. I'll allow you to buy me a drink though."

"Johnny, you don't drink."

Johnny frowned. "I don't?"

"No. Never."

"In that case, I'll be on my way."

"Where to? It might be best if—"

Smiling once more, Johnny Roulette interrupted. "Think I'll stroll on down to the levee and check the action on the Moonlight Gambler."

CHAPTER 2

A stranger looked back at Nevada from the mirror. She didn't know herself, couldn't believe that the pretty young woman with heavily lashed blue eyes and ruby-red lips and shimmering black curls could actually be her. She stared with frank admiration and astonishment at the unfamiliar reflection, her cheeks hot with excitement.

The gown she wore, a vivid blue satin with a tight bodice and low, revealing neckline and flounced skirts, was the most exquisite garment she'd ever laid eyes on. Exactly the kind of dress she'd dreamed of wearing all those nights when she'd stood in the pale moonlight aboard her papa's keelboat and sung her heart out while the crew clapped and whistled and shouted their approval.

Old Willie and Luke and Big Edgar. Slim and Teddy and "Black Jack" Jones. They'd all applauded and encouraged and assured her that she truly "sang like a nightingale." And of them all, her papa had been her most loyal admirer, the one who spun golden dreams of the future triumphs that awaited her.

Nevada Marie Hamilton never knew the small raven-haired woman who was her mother, nor the wild untamed land for which she had been named. Newton Hamilton, a restless young Southerner who in the autumn of 1857 drifted to the silver mines of the West, had stayed less than a year in Virginia City, Nevada.

A big sandy-haired man with a bass voice and twinkling green eyes, Hamilton had fallen in love with Beth Davis the first time he saw her. She was attempting to cross a busy street in boisterous Virginia City. She'd looked so young and fragile and helpless as she carefully picked her way along a wooden plank that bridged a loblolly of deep gummy mud.

Enchanted, Newt Hamilton hurried to her, reaching the small startled beauty in three long strides. Ignoring her cries of indignation, he plucked her up into his strong arms and carried her across the muddy street. By the time they reached the other side he was in love. In less than a month so was Beth.

They married in the judge's chambers and spent their one-night honeymoon in a second-floor room of the Silverado Hotel, right in the heart of loud, rollicking Virginia City. Beth Hamilton, the happiest of brides, never noticed the sounds of rinky-dink piano or the clatter of dice or the shouts and laughter coming from downstairs. Swept away by newfound passion, she gloried in the ecstasy of that long snowy November night spent in a soft featherbed with her amorous new husband.

And exactly nine months later, on a hot August evening when the thin mountain air was oppressive and not a hint of a breeze stirred the lace curtains in the stuffy little bedroom of her home, Beth went into painful labor that was to last throughout the night. Finally when the first streak of gray lightened the summer sky behind the towering Sierras, Beth, totally exhausted, her blue eyes dull and sunken, gave birth to a perfect baby girl with silky raven hair and a cute button nose and curved rosebud lips.

"You'll have to name her, Newt," whispered Beth, "I'm just too tired." Those were her last words. She died before the sun came up.

A month later a brokenhearted Newt Hamilton closed the door to the cabin where he'd lived with and loved his Beth, leaving everything just as it was. He took only the squalling tiny infant he called Nevada; and together they left forever the state for which she was named.

Nevada's earliest memories were of the constant easy roll and pitch of the creaking old keelboat beneath her feet as she glided endlessly up and down the swirling waters of the Mississippi. And of the big, smiling, sandy-haired man who, more times than not, smelled of whiskey when he kissed her good night.

Nevada loved both with all her heart.

The treacherous, eddying, muddy Mississippi. And the big, heavily muscled, indulgent man who guided them safely down it. Save for those four awful years when Newt had left her, crying and screaming, in a fancy girls' boarding school in New Orleans while he went off to fight in the war, she had not been away from her papa. Or from the Mississippi.

Except for those lonely years when she'd been taught by stern-faced teachers to read and write and do her sums, her home had been the keelboat her father owned and operated. The necessary comforts were contained in their quarters—a boxlike dwelling with two small bedrooms, dining room, pantry, and a big room in front for the crew with a fireplace where old Willie did the cooking.

The top of the boat was flat and had seats and an awning under which she could sit protected from the fierce sun glinting off the river. From there she could watch her papa skillfully pilot the boat from one port to another, transporting tons of commodities. Bacon, flour, corn, lard, oats, butter. Barrels of cider and whiskey. Hemp and yarn and lumber and shoe leather. Apples and dried fruit and beans and tobacco. And sometimes even horses—spirited, beautiful Thoroughbreds sent from upriver to the racetracks of the South.

It was a life any adventurous little girl would have loved. Nevada was sure the children she waved to on the crowded levees envied her the lazy days of floating downstream with the current, trailing her bare toes in the muddy water, making elaborate plans for the future.

What she most wanted, she decided when she was ten years old, was to be a singer on one of the grand showboats plying the waters of the Mississippi. An entertainer like the beautiful ladies her papa told her about while she listened, awestruck.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Silken Bondage by Nan Ryan. Copyright © 1989 Nan Ryan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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