Coming in 2019!
The Fathers of Victoria Gallen
A Historical Western Romance
Discover the 1870’s West with mystery, danger, fun, and love in the beautiful Sierra Nevadas.
Two Moon Junction, Nevada Territory, 1849
“A bastard will be born tonight.” Preacher Calvin Duprees voice was as rough and high as the new log rafters in the Lucky Prospector Saloon. He thrust his worn bible over his balding head and shouted in such a woeful way that a tent-revival evangelist would have taken notice. “Forgive me, Lord, for this fruit of my sinful seed. My flesh was weak.” His eyes shifted to the other men who’d also been called to the saloon. “Lord, forgive these eight fornicators for planting their sinful seed in your fallen daughter, as well.”
“Shut your bone-box and sit-down, preacher,” Dead-Eye Thornton growled, slamming his empty whiskey glass on the bar. He was tired of listening to the self-appointed holy man’s useless words. “Save your hell and damnation sermon for Sunday services so I don’t have to hear it.”
Dead-Eye jerked his finger toward an empty chair at an old scarred table in the middle of the room. He wasn’t surprised when the Preacher sat on it. People in Two Moon Junction tended to do what he told them. It had been that way since the day he arrived and shot a gold nugget off the shoulder of a man without leaving powder burns on his shirt. That was also the day he put a bullet between the eyes of a man who tried to steal his saddlebag. The town folks started calling him Dead-Eye Thornton, due to his dead-on accuracy with a gun—and his useless left eye which he hid under a black patch.
“The nine of us here are Nellie’s regulars.” Dead-Eye tossed downed a whiskey, swiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and stood. He was a big man and didn’t mind using his size to intimidate. He didn’t mind using his lone, ice-blue eye to bore a hole in a man’s courage either. He did a little of that as he walked to the bar and slammed his empty glass down for a refill. “That puts us all in a hell of situation.”
“We’re not in no situation,” Herb Meyers, the proprietor of the town’s only hotel shouted. “It’s Naughty Nellie’s situation. “She’s the one who’s birthin’ a baby upstairs, not us. That makes it her problem.”
“I’m making it your problem, Yankee.” Dead-Eye glared at Herb with cold disapproval. The man’s nerve to disagree like that burned Dead-Eye’s gut more than what the man was saying. Hell, probably all but two of the men in the room considered Nellie’s getting knocked-up as her problem. He had too, up until a couple of hours ago.
“I’ll admit I’m partly responsible,” Preacher Duprees said clearly trying to soothe Dead-Eye’s temper. “I, too have sinned.”
“At least twice a week by my count,” Herb huffed.
Preacher Duprees leaped to his feet, casting his narrow eyes heavenward. “The Wisdom of Solomon declared, it is easier to capture a city than to be in control of our spirit. Proverbs 16:32.”
Smiley, the owner of the Lucky Prospector Saloon where Nellie conducted business, scratched his greasy head and stared at Preacher Duprees. A puzzled look twisted his craggy face. “We ain’t talkin’ about capturin’ no city,” he began, “we is talkin’ about Nellie birthin’ one of our bastards upstairs.”
Preacher Duprees opened his mouth to speak but Dead-Eye silenced him with a piercing stare. He sat with a heavy frown on his lips.
“Well, I’ll admit it’s my problem,” Smiley shouted, drawing the attention away from Dead-Eye and Preacher Duprees. “Nellie’s the only calico queen I got left.” He slammed the dusty rag he used to clean the glasses onto the bar. “She stayed here in this lonely, emigrant trail town when the other gals high-tailed-it out to find theyselves a place with more men and money. I’m beholden to her.”
“Getting a free poke now and again can make a man real beholden.”
“Free poke? Why you low down…” Smiley’s words trailed off as he tried to climb his rickety body over the bar to go after Herb. He stilled when a powerful, piercing wail cut through the smoky room.
Faces paled. Eyes widened. The nine men looked to the ceiling as if they could see through the wood planks and into the room where they’d found their pleasure.
Nellie was now paying a big price for it.
“My God,” Preacher Duprees moaned. “What have we done to that woman?”
Smiley dropped his head into his arms, forgetting about Herb. “Had I known this would happen to Nellie, I never would’ve poked her.”
“That’s a lie and you know it,” Herb said as he stood. He adjusted his tailored vest and straightened his custom fit shirtsleeves before continuing. “When she’s all healed up from birthin’ we’ll all be lining up again with two bits in our hands.”
“Well, my whoring days are over,” Shawn O’Malley, the owner of the dry goods store announced in his slurred Irish brogue. No one doubted the middle-aged man’s words considering it was Mrs. O’Malley who was upstairs helping Nellie birth their bastard.
Dead-Eye surveyed the remaining four men who hadn’t voiced their opinion. They were in various stages of getting drunk. Dirk Boggin was the soberest of the bunch. That didn’t surprise Dead-Eye. Boggin was a good-looking prospector who was as poor as the dry Nevada dirt that clung to his shabby clothes. Sitting next to Boggin was Stan Williams. Stan had knocked-back a few whiskeys, five by Dead-Eye’s count, but remained as steady as a petrified log. Dead-Eye’s hard gaze skidded to the last two men in the room, Valentine and Tex. Whiskey had made their limbs loose, but they were upright and alert. Before Dead-Eye could determine just how far past sober they’d gone, Dirk Boggin stood and walked toward the stairs. He paused at the bottom step and looked up.
The young man wasn’t more than nineteen and visited Nellie only a couple of times a month. Prospecting the nearby foothills hadn’t earned him more than a few specks of gold flakes so he couldn’t afford to visit her more than that.
“This is a dried up, good for nothing dying town with gold- less hills surrounding it,” he said, still looking up the stairs. “If it weren’t for the poor emigrants passing through to the Overland Trail, this place wouldn’t exist. Hell, it barely exists now with only four businesses, two of which are still in tents.” He turned to the men. “And, I don’t own any of them. Don’t want to.”
He stepped away from the stairs. “I feel sorry for Nellie, but we can’t prove who put that baby in her. It could be one of those emigrants who drifted through.” He shook his head. “This meeting is a waste of my time when a gold vein bigger than the Mississippi has just been discovered in Coloma. No disrespect to you, Dead-Eye, but bastard or no bastard, I’m leaving…”
The click of a gun’s hammer silenced Boggin.
“It’s best you sit down prospector.” Dead-Eye flicked the gun he was pointing at Boggin’s belly toward a chair. Boggin dropped his shoulders and did as he was ordered. “Nobody’s leaving until this is settled.”
“For God’s sake, Dead-Eye, put down the gun,” Stan Williams said. He was known for being handy with a gun too. “The boy’s only speaking his mind.” Dead-Eye kept his weapon aimed at Boggin. “He’s saying what most of us are thinking.”
Dead-Eye’s frown deepened. “No more talk.” He took a step back to keep all the men in his sight. “I made a promise to Nellie and I’m obliging her wishes. We’re going to do as she says.”
“What exactly does the lassie want?” Shawn O’Malley asked in a calm voice as the other men shouted similar questions.
Before Dead-Eye could answer, Nellie began screaming sharper and louder than before.
Stan leaped to his feet. “I have no purpose here. Birthin’ a baby is woman’s business,” he shouted to be heard over Nellie’s cries. “I’m leaving. Prospector, you coming with me?”
Boggin stood. Dead-Eye dropped his gun back in his holster, steadied his hands above his weapons and widened his stance. The young man didn’t move to follow Stan. “Don’t reckon I’m coming with you.”
Stan tipped his hat in farewell to Boggin but his eyes, bright with arrogance and a hint of fear didn’t waver off of Dead-Eye. “I’m leaving. The only way you can stop me is with a bullet in my back.”
Dead-Eye didn’t move. He kept his ice blue eye on Stan, willing him to change his fate. Stan smiled and turned away.
The tick of the saloon’s old grandfather clock echoed in the room, seeming to drown out Nellie’s whimpers and the two steps Stan took toward the door. Before he took a third step, Stan whipped around with his lightning hands drawing his weapon. Dead-Eye fired first.
Stan was dead before he hit the floor.
“Why’d you go and do that?” One of the other men who’d been silent, shouted.
“Because I promised Nellie to oblige her wishes. Now, all of you sit down and listen to what we’re going to do.” Boggin’s eyes remained fixed on Stan’s lifeless body as he dropped into a chair. “And, make no mistake. We’re going to do things the way Nellie wants.” The hint of fear in Dead-Eye’s voice didn’t go unnoticed. “You see our darling Naughty Nellie has the upper hand.” Dead-Eye smirked. “Apparently, we all confessed a secret or two when we laid between her thighs. She’s using that information to do right by her bastard.”
The room fell into silence, no doubt each man remembering what sins he’d confessed to Nellie. Shawn found his voice first. “Are you saying she’s blackmailing us?”
“That’s right.” Dead-Eye looked from one man to the next. “And, by the look on your faces, I’d say she has a winning hand.”
“Maybe, she’s bluffing,” Preacher Duprees said tucking his bible under his arm.
“Can you take that chance?” Boggin asked.
“There are ways to deal with blackmailers,” Herb growled, looking at Stan and the growing puddle of blood around him.
“She’s no fool,” Dead-Eye snapped. “She’s written all our secrets down and given it to some emigrant lawyer who passed through. She also gave the lawyer instructions of what to do with that information if he doesn’t get a letter from her twice a year.”
“What if we kill the lawyer?” One of the men in the room shouted.
Dead-Eye looked at the man long and hard, without a hint of his thoughts crossing his face. Then, he shook his head. “Don’t know who the lawyer is and don’t know where he was headed.”
“Nellie’s too smart to let you find out, too,” Smiley quipped.
Dead-Eye wiped the sweat off his forehead. “Besides, Nellie’s assured me that the lawyer has details on how best to ruin each of us if we don’t do what she says.”
“She’s got more smarts than smoke on a wet wood fire,” Smiley added, a grin spread across his face. “Yes, sir. If you saw how she’s keepin’ track of this business right and proper with notations in the ledgers and all, you’d know’d it for youself.” When he began to laugh some of the other men snarled at him.
“Mark my words. She’s determined to protect that bastard,” Dead-Eye said, ending further discussion on how to fight Nellie’s blackmail.
“Damn,” Herb said, his tone a waving of a white flag. “All this time we thought we were plowing into her and she was plowing us for information.”
Dead-Eye poured a glass of whiskey and downed it in one gulp. He’d rather take on a dozen desperados then deal with Nellie’s blackmail. Worse yet, he had to deal with it with this bunch of misfits. For a man who trusted no one, his life now depended on trusting men he didn’t really know. What were their secrets? Were they as scandalous as his own? Bad enough to keep them from risking having Nellie expose them?
“Like it or not, we’re in this together,” he began. “If you’re thinking of calling Nellie on her blackmail, you’re a dead man. I plan to see she gets what she wants.”
“What does the lass want?” Shawn asked.
“She wants her baby to be raised right and proper.”
“A whore’s bastard?” Herb scoffed.
“The baby will never know where it came from.” Dead-Eye raised his voice as Nellie’s screams pitched around them. “We’re going to chip in to pay for our bastard to get a new start back east,” he shouted so the men could hear him. Before he finished explaining Nellie’s plan, her fevered screams quieted.
No one moved nor said a word as the undeniable change in the air settled over them. They exchanged knowing glances ten seconds before a baby’s mewling cry filled the silence with as much power as two hundred heads of stampeding heifers. Still, no one spoke.
Mrs. O’Malley walked onto the landing at the top of the stairs. She held the new life in her arms. Tears streamed down her full cheeks as she looked at her husband. “It’s a girl,” she cried, her Irish brogue thick with emotion. She lifted the baby for the men to see as she raised her voice to be heard over Nellie’s anguished sobs.
“God have mercy on her.”
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