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Fiona wished that when trouble visited her family, it would come with some kind of warning. A shiver up the spine, gooseflesh. Any tangible signal that could have given her more time to think. To plan.
Stifling her own frustration, she twitched the heavy braid over her shoulder and hurried as quickly as she could down the boardwalk. Jefferson Boulevard teemed with people busy completing their noontime errands. Curses smattered the air like buckshot, commingling with the chatter of shoppers and passersby. Carriages and trolley cars struggled to make their way through the congested streets. Drays jammed the thoroughfares as drivers stopped the conveyances to unload their passengers or goods.
As far as Fiona was concerned, nothing could be worse than Chicago in mid-August on a sultry afternoon. The smells of summer-baked earth and humanity clashed with the muskier scents of livestock and manure. Everyone appeared intent upon some urgent business, causing the walkways to be crowded with more bodies than a person could count. Certainly more than Fiona found necessary to make a quick escape comfortable.
Her bootheels thumped on the weathered planks, beating out a hasty staccato rhythm that underscored her urgency. Glancing behind her from time to time, she tried to ensure that she was not being followed, but in the constant flow of people, the task was nearly impossible. She would have to rely upon her instincts, instincts that told her that she had a little time. Not much. But a little.
Her goal inched closer, from four blocks, to three, to two. Fiona's fingers itched to lift her skirts so that she could bolt that last slim distance, but she knew such an action would not only be foolhardy, but dangerous as well. Rushing pell-mell down a city street, petticoats flying, never failed to draw attention from the wrong sorts of people. People who had the power to make life difficult for the McFees: spies, interfering busybodies, or lawmen.
She clutched the basket she held more snugly to her waist. Since discovering the extent of her predicament, the hairs at the base of her neck had prickled as if a thousand sheriffs were watching her. Such fears were nonsense for the time being, she reassured herself. Utter nonsense. Although a deputy had come to find her at the laundry, she'd been able to duck away unseen. No one had followed her.
A gentleman wearing a bowler jostled her arm, and forgetting to consider the possible repercussions, Fiona muttered, "Mind where yer goin', y' big ox!" Fortunately, her words were lost in the noises of a hawker selling slippers on the corner. Fiona set her sights on her destination. One block. Only one block remained.
A trickle of sweat began to inch down the hollow of her spine. The tight ball of worry exploded in a flurry of silent accusations.
How could Papa have done this to her? How? She'd heard the deputy asking the manager at the laundry questions, so she had no doubts as to the current reason for their brush with the law. Drat it all! Mickaleen McFee had promised his daughter that he'd had enough of his capers. That he was going to be an honest businessman, settle down, retire.
Retire her foot! Not twenty minutes earlier, Fiona had discovered he was up to his old tricks again. Trying to pass himself off as the Duke of Buckingham. Hmph! As if anyone with the brains God gave a piss-ant wouldn't be able to fathom that a portly Irishman with a brogue as thick as clotted cream was in no way related to Her Majesty — or anyone else in the British hierarchy.
The Duke of Buckingham indeed. Didn't Mickaleen know that his escapades were beginning to wear a little thin? Didn't he know that nearly every lawman from Illinois to Virginia had locked the McFees in jail at least once and was determined to do so again? Papa was daft to put them both in such a position and endanger the first real job Fiona had managed to keep in over half a year. If he'd merely been content to stay out of his perpetual scrapes, she would have been collecting her pay come the end of the day. Instead, she was being forced to forfeit her hard-earned coins in order to arrange for the McFees to flee the law. Again.
Her stomach knotted in a fresh surge of panic. She knew who had sent that deputy after them. She'd heard rumors that Jacob Grey had been seen in town, and she had no doubts whatsoever that he was responsible for the search. If Fiona had known so many years before that abandoning Deputy Jacob Grey in a field of foxtails would have earned her more than her share of repercussions, she would have acted a little differently. She would still have left him lying in the pasture, that's for certain. But she wouldn't have approached him, wouldn't have spoken to him. Anything to avert a decade spent with that man tailing their every move, charting each indiscretion, documenting each fault.
Her heart sank as she remembered the last occasion the McFees had met up with the lawman: three years ago in the western territories. Her father had been masquerading as the Vicar of Doncashire, collecting monies for the heathens of the New Hebrides. Mickaleen McFee had gathered nearly seven hundred dollars. Then he'd been recognized by Jacob Grey. Shouting that the money was for the "charitable preservation of all things New Hebridian," he'd been dragged off to the nearest town. Discovering that the current sheriff had been shot in a barroom brawl and now refused to press charges, Grey had been forced to let the McFees go since they'd had the good fortune to be caught twenty miles outside Jacob's jurisdiction as a territorial marshal. But he'd warned them both that if Mickaleen McFee so much as dipped his little toe into a puddle of trouble in an area where Jacob Grey had any say, the lawman would lock her father in jail and throw away the key.
The week before, Fiona had heard that Grey had been made a U.S. marshal. Unless Chicago had seceded from the Union in the last twenty-four hours, she and her father stood smack in the middle of that particular jurisdiction.
The weathered stoop of the Honeycomb Hotel loomed in front of her. Fiona dodged inside and hurried up the front staircase, praying that her father was still napping. If so, it wouldn't take long to change into the disguises she'd managed to find, make their way to the railway station, then board the first train leading as far away from Illinois as she could afford to send them. Once she'd put a little distance between Jacob Grey and the McFees, she would formulate a more thorough plan.
Slipping the worn brass key into the lock, she moved into her own quarters. Studying the narrow cubical with its cot and wardrobe, she noted that the door leading into the adjoining room was ajar.
The rustling of bedclothes and the squeak of the bedframe were her only answers.
"Papa, it's time ye were up." Dropping her basket on the floor, she yanked open the wardrobe and dragged out a faded carpetbag. Not bothering with niceties, she stuffed her few belongings inside, then began to strip off her clothes. She'd managed to steal some garments from the parochial school's washline across town. She would dress her father in one of the priest's flowing robes, then don a pair of overalls and a floppy jacket herself.
"Papa? Time's a-wastin'."
She reached for the buttons to her blouse, quickly pulling the fasteners from their holes. The minutes ticked in her head like a death knell. She was sure that since the deputy had appeared at MacGinnally's Laundry, Jacob Grey would soon be on her trail.
Hefting the carpetbag to a spot next to the door, she returned to the basket. Dumping the "borrowed" clothing onto the bed, she wormed out of her blouse and stepped from her skirt.
"Papa?" she called more loudly. Her haste added an edge of irritation and more than a touch of the Irish to her tone. "Papa, be gettin' yer shoes and stockings on quick as ye please. We'll be needin' to —"
Fiona had just begun to release the closures of her corset cover when the deep male voice eased out of the shadows from the opposite room. One word. The man had only uttered one word, but she'd felt the gravel- toned growl to her toes.
She didn't bother to retrieve her blouse or shield the bare skin of her shoulders with her hands. That would be the same as admitting that Grey disturbed her. He did. But she didn't have to admit it. Nor by any sign of discomfiture did she have to reveal the way she felt his gaze trailing down the hollow of her spine as if it were the touch of a bare finger.
"Well, if it isn't the high and mighty Jacob Grey." The words melted from her mouth in a slow drawl. One that clearly relayed her caution and the overwhelming disappointment she felt at having once again been bested by this man. Moving with great care and deliberation, she pivoted to face him.
The first thought that raced through her head upon seeing her long- time nemesis was that Jacob had changed a great deal in the ten years she'd known him. Although she'd been just shy of thirteen the first time they'd met, she'd taken every advantage of that glimpse of a genuinely naked man. True, she hadn't seen Jacob without his clothes since, but she'd still been observant enough to mark the passage of the years. Each time she saw him, the cotton of his shirt stretched a little tauter over the width of his shoulders and the breadth of his chest. In the three years since she'd last encountered him, the most dramatic changes had occurred. He'd grown whipcord lean. Hard. His face had become blunter, all lines and angles.
She tried not to stare, tried not to let him see how much the mere sight of him sent a shot of adrenaline through her blood, but he must have sensed something.
"Fiona McFee, as I live and breathe. Has it only been three years?"
His coffee-colored eyes slid over her with an unwavering thoroughness, moving from the wisps of hair clinging to her damp forehead, to her neck, to the wedge of skin revealed by her corset cover. He held a revolver in her direction, the tip lazily pointed at her navel, but they both knew such a precaution was unnecessary. Fiona had done a lot of things in her life — on the right and the wrong side of the law. But she had never carried a gun.
His glance flicked to the carpetbag on the floor. "Going somewhere?"
There was no sense in denying her preparations. Not when he could see the evidence so clearly in front of him. But that didn't mean she had to kowtow to him either. "I thought I'd take tea with the Duke o' Wales," she retorted flippantly.
"Don't you mean the Duke of Buckingham?"
Seeing her guilty start, he chuckled, making a tsking sound of regret. "The two of you can't stay out of trouble, can you?"
He was toying with her, baiting her like a cat baited a mouse. Fiona knew it was a game, one they had indulged in often enough in the last few years when Grey invariably popped up during the most embarrassing moments. But he always played by the rules, never stepping beyond the bounds of his authority.
The thought that his authority had recently been extended caused a real fear to twine inside her. "What have ye done with him?" Her nervousness and her fear brought a thick brogue to her tongue. One she had nearly eradicated over the years. If he only knew how much her speech betrayed her, she would never hear the end of it.
"What have ye done with him?" she demanded again.
"Nothing that shouldn't be done. As far as most people are concerned, Mickaleen McFee should be strung up from the nearest tree — and I've a good mind to listen to them this time."
"No!" She flew forward, her hand upraised, but he caught her before she could scratch him, twisting her arm behind her and drawing her close.
"Is that any way to treat an old friend?"
"One I wish I'd never made."
"True as that may be, perhaps you should reconsider your position and adjust it accordingly."
Fiona knew he was speaking of her militant attitude, but the double entendre of the threat hit her about the same time as the realization that she was pressed intimately to this man, thigh meshed with thigh.
A bolt of iced lightning shot through her system. By all the saints, did Jacob Grey have to be so big? He towered over her, his chest broad, his stomach flat and hard, his legs ruthlessly fit.
Pushing at his ribs, Fiona tried to gain her release but only succeeded in bringing their bodies into even more intimate contact. Their hips ground together, making her succinctly aware that it was not just his gunbelt that nudged into her flesh.
Jacob Grey must have noted the same thing at about the same time, because his hold imperceptibly lessened and his eyes became a rich slumberous black.
"You've grown up, Fiona," he murmured. "Last time I saw you, there was still a bit of the child in you. Is that what they call a late bloom?"
She didn't bother to respond to such a question. His attitude had been irritating beyond belief, but comfortably familiar, like a pair of scuffed boots one had outgrown yet continued to use.
Unfortunately, that well-worn sense of familiarity had altered since the last time they'd clashed wills. She'd always been able to look upon this man as a bit of a pest, but today, Fiona felt his visual inspection as if it were a branding iron. With each pulsing second, she became overtly conscious of the scantiness of her attire. Her naked arms, the half-buttoned corset cover. The way her breasts pushed above the restraint of her stays and spilled into the tatted yoke of her camisole. Because of the heat of the day, she'd forgone her customary four petticoats and worn only two. The flimsiness of the fabric offered no resistance to the warmth of his legs and the buckles and ridges of his holster.
The words were barely distinguishable, more a gruff whisper than coherent speech.
"When what?" she ground out between clenched teeth, trying to deny the thundering sensations that spilled through her veins like the bubbles of a natural spring.
"When did you ... blossom?"
The comment sounded as if the transformation was to be regarded as a miracle of gargantuan proportions. "Ye can go straight to bloody hell!" Her curse was punctuated by a hard kick to his shins.
Grey yelped in surprise, but his arms tightened rather than loosening. "You little wildcat!"
"Let ... me ... go!"
"Not until you promise to behave."
Wriggling, she fought to free herself as the scalding tide flooding her cheeks began to singe her hair. "As ye so plainly pointed out t' me, I am not a child t' be ordered about according to yer whims."
"No, you're the daughter of the man I've arrested."
His statement effortlessly reminded her of what Fiona had so nearly forgotten. Papa had been here. Jacob Grey had probably stormed into his room, taken him captive — and who knew what else. Beaten him? Humiliated him? Dragged him off to some horrid prison?
"What have ye done?"
"Will you stay calm if I tell you?"
"Damn it, what have ye —"
He brought her flush against the cradle of his hips and a certain area of his anatomy with which she would rather remain a stranger. The heat in her face increased threefold. Since Fiona had a tendency to blush at the drop of a hat, she could only pray that Grey attributed her heightened color to the airless room and the fervidness of her protest.
"Not until you promise to remain calm."
Her teeth snapped together with an audible click, but she schooled her features into a concerted blandness.
He studied her suspiciously. "You will sit on the bed, arms folded, and listen."
Her lips pursed at his patronizing tone, but she nodded.
"Very well." He loosened his grip, bit by bit, as if expecting her to bolt at any moment. When she remained true to her agreement and didn't try to lash out at him, he gestured to the cot.
Whirling, she marched to her assigned place, sat stiffly on the edge, and folded her hands in her lap.
"What ... have ye done with me father?"
Jacob propped his shoulders on the doorjamb, effectively cutting off her escape should she foolishly think to try such a thing. But Fiona was not a foolish woman. She knew the futility of such an attempt. Grey could outrun her should she try to dodge into the other room. Besides which, he had her father. Until she knew what Grey meant to do to him, she couldn't leave. Wouldn't leave.
"Mickaleen is safely tucked away."
Grey didn't immediately respond, and she glanced up. There was no softness in him, no hint of vulnerability. He could have been carved from stone.
"He's been taken into custody."
"At ... which ... jail?" she repeated.
"He's not in a jail."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Silken Promises"
Copyright © 1994 Lisa Bingham.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is book 2 of this series. Good read with lots of sexual tension packed into the entertaining story line. 237 pages
This book was very well written and edited. Some of the characters were quirky and endearing. There was murder and mayhem but through it all true love endured. Some sexual content but it was very tastefully written and not offensive at all. I would definitely read more from this author and have archived this book to read again.
I loved the romance and mystery suspence of the story line.
Loved it some parts was so funny excellent read
Kept me going. Had to finish the book.
Held my attention and was good story all around
Good writing interesting plot, I didn't think all the murders were necessary to story line