As nighttime activities turned to daytime activities in the Bend, Lucky awoke with a crick in his neck. He sat up from his slump outside Tempest's door and stretched his cramped muscles. He quickly stood, glanced in both directions, and was glad nobody was in sight. He preferred not to be seen loitering outside a lady's door, even if it was for a good cause. Maybe he could trust Tempest. Maybe he couldn't. Either way, now that he'd found her, he wasn't taking any chances on losing her.
He knocked on her door. “You awake?”
For a long moment, he heard nothing, and then came the sound of a chair being moved. When the door opened, he was struck anew by her beauty. Those violet eyes set in a heart-shaped face could move mountains, or men. But looks were the least of her attributes. He had to keep that in mind. She was most likely used to men ogling her and wanting her, so he was betting she'd be immune, or even annoyed, by male reaction to her.
She was all dolled up in her new clothes and looked more vibrant out of black. She was wearing a fancy chatelaine bag clipped to the waistband of her green skirt. With a silver filigree clasp across the top of a black, crocheted purse, it looked old, expensive, and not much like her. He wondered if it was a family heirloom from better times. Fortunately for him, she'd given the impression that she needed money.
He looked past her at the neatly made bed, the stacked dishes, and a folded pile of black clothes. He liked the fact that she'd gotten up early, and then made ready for the trip. That spoke well for them getting along.
“Good morning,” she said, giving him the once over. “You have a rough night after you left me?”
He glanced down at his wrinkled shirt. He adjusted his gun-belt. “I got some sleep.”
“You didn't change your mind, did you?”
“In that case, I'd like to have my money.”
“You want to be paid up front?”
“Yes.” She straightened her shoulders. “At least, I'm thinking half up front and half when the job is done.”
“How much do you want?”
“I don't know how much a Spirit Rattler gets paid.”
She chuckled, shaking her head. “We're a pair.”
He smiled, liking her more than he thought was prudent. “What about a double eagle?”
“That's twenty dollars.”
He didn't want to lose her by not valuing her enough. “And another one when we're done.”
“Forty dollars? That's a lot.” She cocked her head to one side, as if considering his offer.
“Maybe a bonus, if all goes as planned and I get what I want.” He liked the fact that she was smart enough to get the best deal.
“I won't know till it's all said and done.”
“If I perform as expected, no matter how long it takes, then I deserve a bonus.”
“I'm not going to quibble with you. If you deserve more, you'll get more.”
She smiled, revealing pearly white teeth. “Okay.”
“Are you ready to go?”
“I don't know what to do about the dishes.”
“Saul will see to them.”
“I'd like to donate my black clothes to someone in need.”
“Saul will take care of that, too.”
“Guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be.”
“Where's your nightgown?”
She blushed, pink spreading over her pale skin. “I don't have a carpetbag, so I'm wearing it under my outer clothes.”
“We'll get saddlebags for your things.”
“Is that part of my payment?”
He hesitated, realizing the question was fraught with danger. He knew that she wouldn't accept charity or gifts from a man, so there was only one answer. “Yes. I'm paying for the expenses of the trip. That includes everything you need to accompany me. When we're done, you may keep what you've used as part of your payment for the job.”
She nodded. “That'll do.”
He was glad that he'd settled it so well. He was also glad that he wouldn't see her wearing those black clothes again. Now he just needed to keep everything moving along at a brisk pace.
“I travel light. Don't want to overburden my horse,” he said.
“Wait a minute. Aren't we going by train?” She crossed her arms over her stomach. “Mrs. Bartholomew said they were going to march in the towns along the Katy tracks. Atoka. Stringtown. McAlester. Places like that.”
“That's all well and good, but any liquor sold in Indian Territory is illegal, so you won't find it out in the open. It'll be sold in the countryside, or out of backrooms in towns.”
“I'd still like to carry the message of temperance to Indian Territory.”
“Mrs. Bartholomew and her ladies will take care of that.”
“I'm sure they will, but stillâ”
“You're working for me now. We won't have time.”
“In that case, we must amend our partnership.”
“I told you before. You're not the only one who has something important to do.”
“Care to enlighten me?”
“No. It's a personal matter. I need to go where whiskey is bought and sold.”
Lucky stared into her violet eyes, trying to figure out what was going on inside her head. He needed to be on the east side of the Choctaw Nation, not the west side where the trains ran.
“I see you don't believe me.” She clasped her hands together. “Okay. I'll forgo the bonus if you'll help me find whiskey peddlers.”
“That's dangerous. Those men don't want to be found. If you do locate them, you'll most likely wind up facing the wrong end of a revolver or a rifle. They won't take a chance on setting foot in Judge Parker's court in Fort Smith. They're good at evading Deputy U.S. Marshals and Lighthorsemen. What makes you think we have a chance of finding them? Indian Territory is a big country.”
“That's discouraging news.”
“I hope so. We don't have time for dangerous games.”
“This is no game for me.” She bit her lower lip. “We finish my business first, and then we'll tackle yours.”
“You forget who's paying for this trip.”
“And who has what you need.”
He groaned at her obstinacy. “You can't do what you need without me. I can't do what I have to do without you.”
“That leaves us where?”
“We work together. No way to know what we'll learn when or where. If we get a lead on your peddlers, we'll follow up. Otherwise, we go where I need to go.”
“Maybe our goals are somehow connected and can be followed at the same time?”
“I doubt it.” A thought struck him. “If you're planning to destroy whiskey when we find a peddler, forget it. That's too dangerous.”
“I want a lot more than that, although I wouldn't mind dumping whiskey in a river.” She cocked her head, eyes darkened with thought.
“Don't even think it.” He reached out, drawn to touch her, but lowered his hand. “If you can come to trust me more, this'll all go smoother.”
“That goes for you, too.”
He nodded. He'd eventually have to trust her, but not till it was absolutely necessary. “Come on in to my room. I need to stuff a few things in my saddlebags.”
“I'll wait downstairs.”
He clasped her upper arm, glad that he had a reason to touch her. “Not so fast. I prefer to keep you in my sight till this job is done.”
“I insist on some privacy.”
“Not this morning.”
He heard footsteps coming up the stairs and glanced down the hall. Big Jim and Saul came into view, looking like trouble.
“Temperance Tempest,” Big Jim called. “You're just the gal we want to see.”
“We've got big plans,” Saul added.
When they stopped in front of Tempest, she put her hands on her hips, ready to dissuade them from whatever they had in mind for her.
“Seeing as how you chopped Lulu in half and got my saloon in an uproarâ” Big Jim started.
“And gave both your businesses a boost,” Lucky said.
“Be that as it may,” Big Jim continued, “Tempest still owes me. She agreed to spend a night in jail and here she is in the Lone Star's best room.”
“I didn't ask for it,” Tempest said.
“That don't make no never-mind,” Big Jim added. “The fine patrons of the Red River Saloon have taken a vote.”
“On what?” she asked.
“We agreed that you'll be forgiven your rash behavior if you'll find the bar's artist and get him to repair Lulu.”
Tempest cast a quick glance at Lucky to see how he was reacting to this outrageous statement.
“She has no way to find the artist and you know it,” Lucky said. “What do you really want?”
“Nobody can settle down until the artist fixes Lulu,” Saul said.
“He could be anywhere,” Tempest said. “California. Back East.”
“Nope.” Big Jim puffed out his chest, appearing pleased. “He's in Indian Territory.”
“How do you know?” Tempest asked.
“Man came in last night and drank at the bar. He said he'd seen some art like it in Burnt Boggy Saloon. Not as good, mind you, but the artist is swilling whiskey north of the Red River. It's your duty to get him back here.”
“If I did find him,” Tempest said, “how could I persuade him?”
“Offer him something,” Saul said.
“Tempest is famous now.” Big Jim glanced around at the group. “She could offer to pose for him.”
“What?” Tempest cried out.
“Not in the altogether,” Saul quickly explained. “We'd never ask that of a lady.”
“We decided that a color painting of you in a fancy red gown in a big gold frame would look right proper above the bar. Course, he'd fix Lulu, too,” Big Jim said.
“Forget it,” Lucky said. “She's too busy.”
“That would be expensive.” Tempest didn't look at Lucky, knowing he wouldn't want any part of this scheme. But Elmira and Lamira needed help. Up to this point in life, she had always been good. She'd been a lovely bride and a respectable lady, but Haig and Mrs. Bartholomew had set her on a new path. Now she felt as if she had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“We took up a collection.” Big Jim pulled a leather pouch out of his pocket and held it out to her. “If they come from miles around to see the bar, they'll come clear from Dallas or Paris to see a painting of you.”
“And I'm hoping he'll paint a small portrait for the Temperance Tempest Room,” Saul added.
Tempest couldn't imagine anybody riding any distance to see her. She wasn't famous. She was just a discarded bride. Yet she couldn't turn down the money. “I suppose you've included a model fee, the costume price, and the artist's payment.”
Big Jim frowned.
“Add this to the pot.” Saul pulled out an eagle.
“You sure?” Big Jim pulled open the drawstring pouch.
“There's only one Temperance Tempest and the Bend's got her.” Saul plopped the gold coin in with the others.
“Okay,” Big Jim agreed. “It's bidness.” He thrust the bag toward Tempest. “Take it. Find the artist. Get us our painting. And we're even.”
“Two paintings,” Saul insisted.
“She doesn't have time,” Lucky said. “She's working for me now.”
Tempest took the pouch and felt its weight. “This is a big collection from the saloon.”
“If it's not enough, we'll get more,” Saul said.
“Don't tell her that,” Big Jim said. “You can see she's a lady with a mind for math. That's dangerous.”
“All right,” she said. “I'll look for the artist, but don't expect results soon.”
“Great!” Saul said. “Come on, Big Jim. Let's get two signs made up that say
FUTURE HOME OF THE TEMPERANCE TEMPEST PAINTING.
“She accepted my job first,” Lucky said.
“We all agree she's a popular lady,” Big Jim said. “We'll wait, but not too long.”
“Let's go plan our signs.” Saul headed for the stairs. “I want curlicues around her name.”
Big Jim joined him. “Red. I want the letters to stand out.”
As they disappeared down the stairs, Tempest couldn't help shaking her head. She'd gone from trying to stop the sale of liquor to helping sell it. Delaware Bend was obviously setting her free from the restrictions she'd felt all her life.
Lucky whirled her around to face him. “We don't have time to go gallivanting around Indian Territory for them.”
She stepped back. “We're going to look for whiskey peddlers anyway. When we find the artist, he can make some sketches, finish the painting in the Bend, and repair Lulu. It won't take that much of our time.”
“I can see why they want your portrait. But what's more important is that you're a Spirit Rattler.”
“Are you a Rattler, too?”
“This isn't about me.”
“I told you before. I need the money.” She opened her chatelaine, tucked the pouch inside, and felt the extra weight drag on the waistband of her skirt.
“I'm paying you.”
“They are, too.”
“What would Mrs. Bartholomew say if she saw your painting hanging in a saloon?”
“I don't much care what she'd say, but paintings are never accurate. I doubt anybody would recognize me.”
He shook his head. “You're stubborn as a mule. I don't know how you expect to be a man's ladylove.”
She smiled at the idea of being his ladylove.
“What are you smiling about?”
“We'll be covering a lot of miles together. Maybe you'll see another side to me.”
He chuckled, revealing his dimple. “I'd like to see every side of you.”
She leaned in close, feeling daring and a little naughty. “And I'd like to see more of you.”