Marsh Canton, the scion of a wealthy Georgia family, spent four years fighting the war of a divided nation. When he returned home, he found his family gone and his way of life destroyed. Turning his back on his heritage, he struck out for the west, achieving notoriety as a stone-cold gunslinger. Now, reinventing himself yet again, he arrives in San Francisco to take over the saloon he won in a poker game.
Natchez born-and-bred Catalina Hilliard is haunted by her violent past. Dubbed the Ice Queen, she sleeps with a Derringer under her pillow and runs the elegant Silver Slipper saloon. With the help of the local law, she keeps a monopoly on the trade by running all her rivals out of town. She’s about to meet her match in Marsh Canton, who has also spent a lifetime running. But they can’t run forever, and the passion igniting between them has just changed the stakes. Even with the odds against them—and a dangerous man gunning for Marsh—it’s their last chance to make things right and choose love.
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About the Author
Patricia Potter is a USA Today–bestselling author of more than fifty romantic novels. A seven-time RITA Award finalist and three-time Maggie Award winner, she was named Storyteller of the Year by Romantic Times and received the magazine’s Career Achievement Award for Western Romance. Potter is a past board member and president of Romance Writers of America. Prior to becoming a fiction author, she was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal and the president of a public relations firm in Atlanta. She lives in Memphis, Tennessee.
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By Patricia Potter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Patricia Potter
All rights reserved.
San Francisco, California
Cat bolted upright, her hand sliding under her pillow to seize the derringer she always kept there. She heard a loud bang, then muted thumping. Fear engulfed her, and she struggled to calm herself.
So much had changed. So very much. But not the fear. Loud noises at night brought it back ... along with images of another time when men tramped the hallways and banged on doors. Years later, banged on her door. And forced their way inside.
It wasn't night, she realized. It was nearly dawn, and the noises that had awakened her were coming from outside, not from within the safe home she'd made for herself above the Silver Slipper Saloon, where she, Catalina Hilliard, reigned. She slipped the derringer back to its hiding place and got out of bed, walking slowly to the window, throwing aside the blowing pale-green curtains as she searched outside for the source of the sound. San Francisco was a raucous town, haven to the newly rich and the recklessly adventurous — a town of mavericks, like her, and the city was never still. But the banging noise was different, oddly compelling and demanding of attention.
The window was open as always. She loved the cold wind that blew off the bay, fresh and tingly, so unlike the humid, almost suffocating, heat of Natchez Under the Hill and so many other towns up and down the Mississippi.
The sharp bang came again, and through the silver glow of an oncoming dawn, her gaze found the culprit: a wooden sign on the building across the street. One end had fallen from its hinge and was banging against the wooden side of the building. She could barely make out the words from the awkward position: "Glory ole." It should have been the "Glory Hole," but one of the letters had faded, and now the rest of the sign was joining it in ignominy.
The sight almost revived her spirits. She'd had no small part in its present abysmal condition. She'd run four owners out of business, and she would continue to do the same to anyone who tried to revive the saloon.
She'd seen her competition try everything from cheap watered whiskey to prostitutes, two practices she abhorred, and she'd defeated them so completely that no one had tried to reopen the saloon in the past two years. The empty building had sunk into disrepair, most of its furnishings taken to pay the bills of its last owner, and the interior was used now by a variety of human and animal flotsam.
Little remained within its fairly strong walls other than a long scarred bar and a damaged piano too big to cart off. She didn't even know who owned it, though she had heard that one of the creditors of the last owner had taken the deed.
If anyone did try to reopen it, she would ruin them as she'd ruined the others.
The sign banged again as if to accentuate that vow. No one in his right mind would try a fifth time. Everyone in San Francisco knew the Glory Hole's history of failure.
With that happy thought, Cat turned away from the window, her hand pushing back the thick mane of dark hair that had fallen partially over her face. She'd been too tired last night to braid it as she usually did, so she would have to fight the tangles. She lit an oil lamp and glanced in the mirror, looking at herself critically. Her face was still smooth, her eyes still a vivid green. No lines yet, thank God, despite late nights and long hours. She was thirty-seven, maybe thirty-eight years old; she didn't know when she had been born, not the day or even the year.
She knew she was beautiful, but in the past her face and figure had been a curse. They had, however, become assets in making the Silver Slipper successful. Beauty at a distance. Out of reach. No one laid a finger on Catalina Hilliard. People called her the Ice Queen, a name she relished. It was part of the image she had assiduously cultivated. In a few years she wouldn't have to worry about her looks or her image because she would have enough money to fulfill her heart's desire. She longed to pull up stakes and move into the countryside, somewhere near the sea, to a place where she could enjoy anonymity and the security that meant to her. A few more years. A few more years without competition.
The Glory Hole sign banged again. Now the noise comforted her, proclaiming her success, her competitors' failures.
Cat decided that she liked that noise very much indeed.
The lawyer looked at Marsh Canton as if he had suddenly contracted leprosy. Or insanity.
Marsh didn't much care for the expression on the lawyer's face or the peculiar feeling he was getting. Something was wrong, very wrong. He fixed the lawyer with a stare that quelled most men.
It had an impact, though not as great a one as Marsh was used to; but then, lawyer David Schuyler Scott was not a man who was easily impressed or intimidated.
The lawyer had been recommended to Marsh by the owner of the hotel where he was staying, a man named Quinn Devereux. Scott was a rarity, Devereux had said, an honest lawyer in San Francisco. Now that Marsh thought about it, Devereux had also looked at him a bit strangely when he'd mentioned the Glory Hole.
"You plan to do what?" Scott asked.
"Take possession of the Glory Hole," Marsh repeated as patiently as he could. His eyes narrowed. "This is a legal deed, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes. It certainly seems to be. But why don't you try to sell the property? It would be suitable for ..." His voice trailed off. What would the property be suited for with the Silver Slipper across the street? Not a home, or a school, or even a respectable store. Respectable women didn't patronize that area.
"A saloon," Marsh finished for him.
David Scott leaned toward his new client. The man disturbed him in more ways than one. He called himself Marshall Canton, and the name had an odd familiarity to it, though David couldn't place it at the moment. But he did perceive a certain aura of trouble exuding from the man. Trouble and danger. His first impulse had been to turn away Marsh Canton, but Quinn Devereux, an old and valued client, had sent the man to him, and David owed Quinn and his wife, Meredith, a favor or two.
"I think I should warn you, Mr. Canton, that the last four owners lost everything they had with the Glory Hole."
Marsh Canton shrugged. "Why?"
"The lady across the street doesn't like competition," David said.
"Catalina Hilliard. They call her the Ice Queen of San Francisco. She owns and operates the Silver Slipper."
"A woman saloon owner?"
"Yep," David said, a bit pleased that he finally startled the stoic man across from him. "A very pretty one. And a very determined one."
"And how does she get rid of her competitors?"
"Various ways, I hear. An unexpected visit from the police. A small riot. Accusations of watered whiskey and card cheating."
"Were they true?"
"I expect some of them were."
"I don't intend to allow either."
David cleared his throat. He suspected if Catalina couldn't defeat him by legal means, she'd find extralegal ways to drive him out.
"It's in very bad shape," David said quickly.
"I'll fix it," Marsh countered.
"It will take a lot of money."
"I have a lot of money."
Frustrated at the way his new client so casually pushed aside objections, David sighed. Canton's clothes weren't fashionable, but they were made from expensive fabric. And striking. All black. Shirt, trousers, coat, even his gunbelt. The gunbelt was disquieting in itself; guns were becoming a rarity now in San Francisco, where once they had been as common as boots. His client's dark gray eyes and ebony hair matched the darkness of his clothes, and the gaze, though steady, was most unusual. David had never seen eyes that betrayed so little; they were like glass, reflecting pools that caught images of others while safeguarding the person behind.
"Why, Mr. Canton?"
Marsh's eyebrows arched. "Why what?"
"Why are you so insistent on the Glory Hole?"
"I won it."
"You won trouble."
"I'm used to trouble, Mr. Scott."
David didn't doubt that for a moment. But this was, he suspected, a different kind of trouble. He was acquainted with Catalina Hilliard.
"There are other properties," the lawyer said.
Marsh didn't know why the Glory Hole had become so important to him, but it had. All the way from Colorado he had thought about it, thought that maybe this was his one chance to get away from the gun. It had become an obsession with him, even if he didn't understand all the reasons why. He did know, however, that when he set his mind on something, nothing changed it. And he had his mind set on the Glory Hole. So he simply said, "No."
"What do you plan to do with it?"
Marsh shrugged. "Gambling. Whiskey. What else do you do with a saloon?"
"And you're prepared to run it?"
"You don't exactly inspire frivolity," David said with the slightest of smiles as he thought Marshall Canton's eyes alone would daunt most customers. Not to speak of the grace with which he wore the gun, a grace that came only from familiarity and long use.
Marsh's lips twisted in an approximation of a smile. There was so little warmth in it, David thought, that Canton might as well have frowned.
"That's why I know I need someone else. A front man. I hoped you could help me."
The last was said with obvious reluctance. It was easy for David to see that Marshall did not like asking for help. And for the first time, he warmed up to this client. There was something to say for honesty, for a man who realized his limitations. "Perhaps," he said. "But why don't you take a look at it before you make a decision?"
"It's not necessary."
David shook his head. "I won't have anything to do with it unless you do."
Marsh stood, studied David with such a measured gaze that he had the sudden feeling he was being sized for a coffin, then nodded. "I'll be back."
David watched him turn and leave the office and felt relieved. Canton wouldn't be back, not after seeing the condition of the Glory Hole.
Still, he thought, Marshall Canton would make an interesting client. A very interesting client — and an interesting challenger to Catalina Hilliard. David grinned suddenly. His client wasn't like the others who had tried to make a success of the Glory Hole. Now that he thought about it, there were certain similarities between Canton and Miss Hilliard. Both seemed to have a streak of stubbornness that would make a mule proud, and their eyes ...
He was suddenly struck with the thought that both Canton and Catalina had the same look in their eyes: wariness and detachment, a warning not to venture too close. It was part of Catalina's appeal, that touch-me-not aura that alternately challenged and bewitched.
David Schuyler Scott leaned forward on his chair and rested his elbows on the desk, a thoughtful look on his face.
Marsh took one look at the Glory Hole and understood the attorney's reluctance to proceed.
A wooden sign dangled on one chain, hitting the side of the building with an occasional thud. He stood transfixed, remembering a similar scene fifteen years before. A thud, just like this one, reflecting the same bleakness ...
Someone shouted, and he realized he was standing in the middle of a street, in the path of an oncoming carriage. He moved deliberately to the wood sidewalk, making the cursing driver slow his horses. Danger was a word that had little meaning. He had no fear of death, only a reluctance for a certain kind of dying.
He could touch the sign from where he stood now, and he did, his fingers running over the faded H. Appropriate, he thought, for something essential was missing, too, from his life.
He turned to the front entrance. Only one of the pair of four-feet tall swinging doors remained in front of a substantial door. He tried the solid door and found the lock gone. The door opened easily, and he stepped inside.
He heard a growl. A dog — if you could call it a dog — was rising from where it evidently had been sleeping. It was the ugliest animal he had even seen — as ugly, he thought with dry humor, as the wrong end of a Winchester rifle.
He looked over at a broken window, guessing that was how the animal had entered. The dog was fairly large, his sides bony and scarred, his head not distinctive of any breed and his salt-and-pepper coat layered with dirt. Only the dog's teeth seemed to be in decent condition, and they were bared threateningly. It crouched, growling, and Marsh spoke evenly. "I won't hurt you," he said as if conversing with a human, "if you'll grant me the same courtesy." His tone of voice pacified the animal, which relaxed slightly and lowered his growling to a warning rather than threatening sound.
Marsh took several more steps inside. There was only a bar and a piano in the huge room. He thought of another piano, one from years back, and looked down at his hands, hands that had once been so facile on piano keys before they had become even more talented at delivering death. He walked over to the forlorn-looking instrument, detouring around the wary dog. He stroked an ivory key and heard a dull thud. The sound sent anguish through him; it seemed to echo his own dead soul.
He shook his head at the morbid thought. He'd given up on his soul and heart long ago. There was nothing left of either in him, nothing of grace or worth. Only survival drove him now, a survival that was becoming more and more difficult.
Like this place. Perhaps he did fit here in this rotting, desolate building. He grinned at the dog, feeling at one with it. The dog cringed, and Marsh chuckled mirthlessly. "Don't like the comparison?" he asked in the same conversational tone he had used before, and the dog growled more forcefully.
The dog had a great deal of sense, Marsh thought, as he took a more searching inventory of his property.
Windows were broken, the paint on the walls peeling, and there was the inescapable odor of unwanted visitors. He leaned against the wall and took from his pocket a long, thin cigar, lit it, and studied the interior by the light that filtered in through the broken windows.
He had lied to the lawyer. Well, not exactly lied, but certainly he'd left a misconception. He had said he had money. He did. But not a great deal. He had been well paid for his jobs, but he had expensive tastes, and there had never been any particular reason to save. God knew there wasn't anyone to leave it to. So he always stayed in the best hotels, ate the best food, and bought the most expensive wines. And he gambled, often not really caring if he won or lost but finding it a way to wile away time. Or to ferret out information.
His gaze went to what remained of a mirror over the bar. Not much. A couple of pieces of glass, just enough to catch a glimpse of his black coat. Jagged pieces of glass ... like those he'd found in the charred ruins of his home.
The room started spinning, and he placed his hand against the wall for support....
He was leading his horse up the once-broad drive that led to the main house, to Rosewood. Both he and the horse were weary and half-starved. The animal had served him well, and despite his need to get home Marsh was damned if he was going to kill the horse to do it.
He fought his anticipation. Anticipation and a terrible gnawing fear. He had passed too many burned and abandoned plantations in this part of Georgia not to worry about what he would find. While fighting in Virginia, he had heard about Sherman's brutal march to the sea and the subsequent occupation, but the reality of what he had found surpassed any horrors he had imagined.
He'd thought he had few illusions after four years of bitter fighting, but he'd somehow managed to keep his image of home, of the green grass, rich fields, and fine Greek Revival house. But most of all he remembered the gentleness of his mother and sister. His brother and father were both gone, killed in the early days of the war, but a distant cousin had taken on responsibility for the plantation, and though he hadn't heard from his mother and sister in a year, he'd forced himself to believe it was only because a Union army lay between them.
He took the bend of the road, looked up eagerly, and stopped in his tracks. Where the house had stood, only the skeletons of two of the six chimneys of its fireplaces remained.
There was an eerie silence, perhaps because there was little left to harbor birds or block the slight hot breeze. Even the oaks that had once led to the house were gone ... cut for firewood, perhaps, or burned by sparks from other fires.
Excerpted from Notorious by Patricia Potter. Copyright © 1993 Patricia Potter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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