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To Seduce a Texan
By GEORGINA GENTRY
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One Early October 1864 The president's office of Prairie View Bank
He was either going to have to murder Rosemary or marry her. Right now, he couldn't decide which would be the most distasteful. Banker Godfrey St. John leaned back in his fine leather office chair and cleaned his nails with his pocket knife. He gazed out into the busy lobby where customers gathered, excited about the coming celebration. From every post and beam hung large banners adorned with bright ribbons shouting, "Welcome Home, Rosemary!" "Rosemary, We Missed You!"
Like I'd miss an impacted tooth. Godfrey grimaced and brushed a speck of lint off his expensive striped suit. As far as the town folk, they hardly knew her, but any kind of a celebration was welcome with the war dragging on.
It was a hot day for early October, he thought as he snapped his pocket knife shut and dropped it in his coat pocket. With a resigned sigh, he pasted a smile on his handsome face, ran his finger over his tiny mustache, and walked out into the lobby to mingle with the customers. He hated being so close to such hicks. "Ah, good day, Mrs. Hornswaggle, you're looking well."
The fat widow gave him her brightest smile. "Thank you, Mr. St. John. But I'm feeling poorly. My lumbago, you know."
"So sorry." He walked past her before she could engage him in more conversation. As a rich widower, he knew he was a target for every woman in town.
"We're all excited about Rosemary's return," she shouted after him.
"Aren't we all?" He turned and nodded, thinking about his stepdaughter, and frowned. Plump and plain Rosemary was due in on the noon stage and he could only hope it got attacked by Indians or fell off a cliff, which wasn't too likely on the flat plains of southern Kansas. Damn her mother, anyhow. Agatha must not have trusted Godfrey after all since he'd discovered after her death that her only child, Rosemary, was to inherit the bank on her twenty-first birthday, less than three weeks from now. Godfrey only inherited if Rosemary should die, and she was healthy as a draft horse and about as appealing. Ye Gods! He was out of luck unless he took matters into his own, well-manicured hands. And after all the trouble he'd gone to get his fingers on this fortune.
So to maintain control of the bank and the estate, Godfrey would either have to marry Rosemary or murder her. There would be gossip, of course, if he married his own stepdaughter with her mother dead a little over a year, but he had gone too far to give up all this money now. Besides, he was such a pillar of the community that folks would soon forgive him. He thought about wedding Rosemary and frowned. Ye Gods! Maybe he ought to reconsider murdering her.
Godfrey continued walking through the lobby, greeting people, shaking hands.
The local minister hailed him. "Great day, isn't it, Mr. St. John, Rosemary due home and all?"
Godfrey shook hands with the frail man. "Yes, indeed, Reverend Post, I've missed her so much. However, you know, I thought a Grand World Tour would be good for her after the death of her mother. Agatha's loss was so tragic for all of us."
Reverend Post murmured agreement.
Actually Godfrey had hoped Rosemary wouldn't survive the Grand Tour. He'd hoped she might fall off the Great Wall of China, clumsy as she was, drown in a Venice Canal, or get carried off to some sheikh's harem or maybe trampled by an elephant. No such luck.
"So tragic, Agatha's death," the old minister said.
"Certainly was," Godfrey nodded, "but life goes on."
Or would, if I could figure out what to do about my stubborn, plain stepdaughter. He returned to his office, sat down in his expensive chair, and reached for his pocket knife. He cut off the tip of a fine Havana cigar and lit it, considering his options. The new Union fort that was being built just outside town was drawing more settlers and more money. With that in mind, Godfrey didn't intend to give up control of the only bank in Prairie View.
In the early autumn heat, his office window was open and he watched four weather-beaten men ride down the dusty street and rein in near the bank's entry. Looked like country yokels, maybe cowboys, Godfrey thought as he watched them dismount.
The tallest of the four tipped his Stetson and nodded to a passerby. "Howdy, stranger, where can we find a stable for our horses and a good saloon?"
Texans, Godfrey thought, sneering at the drawl. Now what are they doing so far from home, especially with a war going on? The quartet looked tan and dusty like they'd been on the road a long time. The tall one listened to the local and nodded. "Much obliged. We're mighty thirsty." Then he led off with long strides, followed by a younger man with red hair and big ears and two old codgers sporting ragged gray beards.
Godfrey glanced at the big clock in his office and sighed as he smoked. If Indians and nonexistent cliffs didn't stop her stagecoach, his stepdaughter should be arriving within the hour.
Rosemary's stage rolled down the dusty road at a fast clip, moving toward Prairie View. She was the only passenger as she leaned back against the coarse horsehair cushions and sighed, wishing she was headed some place, any place but there. It was hot, so the isinglass curtains had been rolled up. While she sweated, fine dust blew in to coat her face, clothes and big plumed hat.
Ladies don't say "sweat." She could almost hear her dead mother's scolding voice. Men and horses sweat, ladies glow.
"Well, I sweat, Mother," she said aloud and then felt foolish to be talking to herself. She and her mother had never had a good relationship, and it had worsened when Agatha Burke had married that sleazy Godfrey St. John. But then Rosemary had always disappointed her mother for looking too much like her plain and rotund father. She had disappointed her father, too, who wanted a daughter as beautiful as his upper-class wife. Rosemary could never please either of them, no matter how much she tried. When Rosemary finally realized that, she had retaliated by becoming stubborn and difficult. Even being sent off to the fancy finishing school that Mother had attended back East hadn't done much to turn Rosemary into the fine and elegant lady Mother had longed for. Neither had that Grand Tour her stepfather had insisted she take after Mother's death.
Rosemary took out a handkerchief and mopped her steaming red face. Her corset was so tight she could hardly breathe, but her silhouette was still rotund.
Well, she didn't like herself much either. With the disapproval and disappointment of her parents, Rosemary never felt loved, and so she comforted herself with food and romantic novels, which only led to more disapproval.
Speaking of food, she wished she had a sandwich or some cookies right now. That would keep her mind off her unhappiness. Godfrey would think she should have worn the light gray of mourning, but she'd gotten grease from a fried chicken leg on her light gray silk dress and she wasn't certain it could be cleaned.
Maybe Agatha was right, Rosemary would always be a disappointment and no one would ever love her except for her money. So now, as the stagecoach bumped along toward Prairie View, Rosemary daydreamed as usual that she was someone else.
Today she was Lady DuBarry, the beautiful mistress of kings and the most slender, elegant woman in all France. Of course her powdered wig was coiffed in curls beset with diamonds, and a beauty mark accented her lovely face.
She leaned back and smiled in her fantasy. She wore a gold and silver ball gown, rolling along in her private carriage toward the chateau where a giant ball in her honor was waiting. There handsome dukes and earls, no, it would be marquises, would vie for Lady DuBarry's attention while she laughed behind her dainty fan and men begged to drink champagne out of her tiny slipper and threatened duels in her honor.
"Oh, please, gentlemen, no sword fights over my affections." She laughed behind her lace fan. "There really are other mademoiselles here."
"Ah, my cherie," the most handsome one bent over her fingertips for a kiss, "but none so beautiful as you."
She blushed prettily and drew her hand back. Which dandy would receive her favors tonight while other women looked on and frowned with jealousy?
The billowing dust brought on a fit of coughing, and that jerked Rosemary back to harsh reality. France with its chateaus and vineyards faded into the dusty Kansas plains as the stagecoach bumped along. She coughed again, straining the tight laces of her corset, and wiped her round face with a lace hankie, which only made muddy streaks, she knew. No doubt her plain brown hair was full of dust, too. Rosemary tried to straighten her hat with its big plumes, then she raised one arm and looked at the dark circle under the armpit. She should have worn a lighter color. Plum probably wasn't a good color with her complexion anyway.
Oh, Daddy, I never really got to know you. Mother always had me back East in fancy schools. How was I to know you would drop dead suddenly of a heart attack in the bank lobby while I was away?
That had been more than three years ago. Then Mother had married that slick and too handsome teller, Godfrey St. John, and made him president of the bank.
Rosemary scowled. All that was about to change. She had never liked Godfrey, and now she vowed that on her twenty-first birthday, she would send the rascal packing. With the help of that old reliable teller Bill Wilkerson, Rosemary would take over control of the bank herself. Was she smart enough to do that? Mother had told her over and over that she was not clever at all.
All right, so if she wasn't clever or pretty, she'd have to rely on her stubbornness and common sense. After she fired St. John on October thirty-first, Rosemary would make some other changes. First, she would get herself a dog. Her parents had never allowed Rosemary to own a dog; they complained that pets were dirty and shed hair.
Yes, a dog, and not the prissy little pup that ladies favored, but a real dog-a big, hairy dog to romp and play with, and yes, it could sleep in the house and it would love her no matter how plain and stubborn she was. She smiled to herself. Her parents would probably roll over in their graves.
She stuck her head through the open window of the rolling stage and looked down the road ahead. In the distance, she could see the barest silhouette of the town. Her brown hair blew loose and she pulled back inside the stage and tried to readjust her plumed hat. Gracious, she probably looked a mess, but she couldn't do much about that now.
Rosemary stuck her head out the window again and yelled up to the driver. "Could you just pass through town and take me on out to the house?"
The old man shook his head and yelled back," Can't do that, Miss Burke, ma'am, they're plannin' a big homecomin' for you at the bank."
Oh, of course Godfrey would do that. She leaned back against the horsehair cushions and tried to straighten her hat, mop the dust off her face, and smooth the wrinkles and early lunch crumbs from her dress.
She could almost hear Mother's disapproving voice. "You look a fright, Rosemary. Next time you buy a dress, take someone with good taste with you."
Who would I take, Mother? she thought. I have no friends in Prairie View. You never allowed me to play with the local children or go to school here; everyone in Kansas was too low class for you.
"I swear, you surely didn't get any of my looks, you take after your father's side of the family."
"Yes, Mother," Rosemary said without thinking and smiled. On Halloween, Rosemary would be of legal age and the first thing she intended to do was toss that handsome rascal Godfrey out into the street. He might have fooled Mother, but he hadn't fooled Rosemary.
Waco and his men had stabled their horses, had a drink at the nearest saloon to wash the dust from their throats, and presently, they were walking around inside the bank, looking up at the banners and the big cake a teller now carried into the lobby and set on a table. The crowd inside and out seemed to be growing.
"What's goin' on?" Waco asked an old man.
"Oh, ain't you heard? Banker's daughter comin' in on the noon stage. Been gone quite a while now."
"Don't say?" Waco muttered.
"Stick around," said a blue-clad soldier, "there'll be cake and punch."
"Sound good." Waco surveyed the crowd and then caught the eye of his men, nodded his head toward the outside.
The four of them ambled out onto the wooden sidewalk.
"I don't like it," Tom said. "You ever see so many Yankee soldiers? They make me as nervous as a deacon with his hand in the church collection plate."
"Gawd Almighty! Keep your voice down," Waco cautioned. "You want to be grabbed this minute? We got to keep a low profile."
"Is that the reason you ain't wearin' them silver spurs?" Tom asked.
Waco nodded. "Attract too much attention. I'll keep them in my saddlebags."
Zeb took a chaw of tobacco. "Knew it was too good to be true about that fat bank bein' easy pickin's. Never seen so many blue-bellies; town workin' alive with them."
"I never said it was gonna be easy," Waco reminded him. Privately, he was shocked himself. When he'd been told about this bank, what he hadn't been told was that the town was a beehive of Union soldiers.
Zeke combed his fingers through his beard and took his mouth organ out of his shirt pocket. "Who's this Rosemary everyone's talkin' about?"
"The banker's daughter," Waco answered.
Zeke began to play an off-key version of "Dixie."
The other three glared at him.
Waco said, "Why don't you just wave a red flag at all them Yankee soldiers?"
"I plumb forgot." Zeke looked sheepish and changed over to "Camptown Races."
"That banker must set a heap of store by her," Tom offered, "judging from all the whoop-de-do that's goin' on."
"Must," Waco agreed, shrugging wide shoulders. "Think she's been gone awhile."
A growing crowd gathered on the wooden sidewalk in front of the bank.
"Hey!" someone whooped. "I think I see the stage in the distance!"
"Somebody tell the banker!"
A short man pushed through the crowd and into the bank to carry the news.
Waco caught a freckled-face boy by the arm. "Hey, son, how come there's so many soldiers around?"
"Ain't you heard?" The boy pointed. "New fort bein' built just west a town."
"Yes siree bob," a snaggled-tooth older man said with a smile, "bringin' lots of prosperity to our little Prairie View."
The four Texans exchanged glances and moved away.
"A whole nest of soldiers guardin' that bank," Tom muttered under his breath. "So now what do we do?"
"Shh!" Waco ordered. "We got to think about this. There has to be a way."
"We don't dare go back without the money," Zeb said, putting a chaw of tobacco in his mouth.
His older brother took the mouth organ away from his lips. "You think we don't know that?"
"Hush up!" Waco drawled. "Y'all keep your minds open and your mouths shut."
"Hey," yelled a beefy Yankee sergeant, leaning against a store front.
Waco felt the sweat break out on his tanned face. "Yes, Sergeant?"
"You got the time?"
Waco relaxed and reached for his gold pocket watch. "Just about noon."
The sergeant frowned. "You sound like Texans. What you doin' so far from home?"
Tom, Zeke, and Zeb looked at each other, obviously panicked, but Waco grinned, remembering their cover story. "Up here to see if we can sell beef to the army."
The other's beefy face turned hostile. "Big, healthy bunch like you ought to be in one army or the other."
Waco gritted his teeth but forced a smile. "We got no dog in that fight, Sergeant. We ain't about to get shot by either side."
The sergeant snorted his scorn and moved away.
Tom doubled up his fist, but Waco grabbed his arm so hard, the younger man winced.
"You're gonna get us killed for sure," Waco cautioned under his breath.
A cheer went up and people pushed forward toward the sidewalk from all the surrounding stores and out into the dusty street, looking north.
A tall, handsome man came out of the bank, smoking a cigar. From the scent, it must be an expensive one. The man wore a fine, gray pin-striped suit and his hands looked as if they had never done any work, not like Waco's big, calloused ones. People greeted the newcomer with deference and respect.
Excerpted from To Seduce a Texan by GEORGINA GENTRY Copyright © 2009 by Lynne Murphy. Excerpted by permission.
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