“Part of the service?”
This time she didn’t blush. This time, unspoken, she’d clearly decided that she was as intrigued with him as he was with her.
“I do this for just about everybody, actually. My uncle says guests come back if we kind of coddle them a bit.”
He stuck his right leg out and she pulled his boot off. She was close enough that he could smell the natural perfumes of her body, of her hair. It was difficult to keep from grabbing her.
Left foot. She leaned over, slid his boot off. But this time, whether by accident or design, she lost her balance momentarily and started to pitch forward.
Right into Fargo’s arms. He held her there for a moment. Her face was so close, her lips so ripe, he didn’t want to let her go. She must have shared the same feeling because she gently pushed him back on the bed, her open mouth on his even before his spine touched the covers.
She was no innocent, which pleased him. She quickly found the buttons on his trousers and brought forth the stern proof of his desire. She put her lips to it and made him twist and gasp in pleasure. No innocent at all. She knew exactly what she was doing.
He rolled on his side so that while she was bringing him to even greater need, he was able to unbutton the back side of her dress. As he’d suspected, she was naked beneath. Now it was his turn to push her flat on the bed. Her turn to twist and gasp in pleasure as his mouth found the pink nubs of her nipples and his fingers found the hot dampness of her sex. Her hips began to wriggle as his finger found her most sensitive spot. Her breath came in warm bursts. He wanted to move his face down her body but she stopped him moments later. Her own fingers found him, made him even more needful of her. She guided him up into her, giving a small cry when he was fully in her. A cry of both pleasure and pain because of his size.
They made love as if they were participating in an intricate dance, tiny, expert thrusts and touches and shifting positions. The dance became increasingly frenzied, his hands clutching her buttocks, her fingers clawing his back with such urgency that it was as if she wanted his entire body inside her.
Then her legs were up over his shoulders and he was riding both of them home. Deeper and deeper he drove as she clung to him with a desperation that bordered on madness. And then he felt her entire body lurch with great, profound, overwhelming pleasure as she began thrashing left, thrashing right in completion. And he was only thirty seconds right behind her.
They lay, temporarily exhausted, on the bed in silence until Fargo said: “I can see why your guests keep coming back.”
“You’re the only guest I’ve ever done it with. The others are—” She didn’t finish the sentence. She didn’t need to. Fargo had seen for himself the shabby drinkers and broken-down criminal types who were sitting in the lobby when he came in.
She touched him, found he was getting ready for more. “Darn.”
“I have to get back to work.”
“You couldn’t just—”
“Afraid not. If my uncle doesn’t see me for fifteen minutes, he comes looking for me. And this would be a little awkward.” She grinned and kissed him on the nose.
Then, with amazing speed and grace, she got up off the bed and into her clothes.
“You tell your uncle I’ll definitely come back,” Fargo said as she opened the door. She left him with a girlish giggle.
Since last time Fargo had been there, Sacramento had settled into the feeling of a large city. It was nestled along the edge of the Sacramento River and the place often had the smell of the river floating among the buildings. Not only were there a lot of two-story buildings now, but many were made of stone and brick instead of wood. The town was starting to gain a level of respectability, even with the thousands of miners who poured in and out of the area every day.
He was particularly interested in a gilded, imposing hotel called the Gold Strike. A liveried coachman helped a rich lady from a hansom cab. A doorman in a foppish military coat gave instructions to a Negro worker. A fat man in a cape, dark suit, and spats stood on the front steps looking around imperiously as if he owned all he saw.
It had been a long time since Fargo had seen a hotel like this one. He decided to go inside.
The lobby of the Gold Strike had a high ceiling, plush furniture that Fargo thought looked uncomfortable, and a carved-wood banister that ran up a grand staircase to the right of the front desk. Fargo glanced up the steps to see a stunning woman in an emerald linen dress descend the stairs.
She had freshly scrubbed skin that glowed almost pink, dark eyes, pitch-black hair, and a body that shouted to be looked at, especially with her bosom pressed upward by the tightness of the dress.
And did she know how to move, taking every step down the staircase slowly as if showing off her features to a crowd, even though Fargo knew he was the only one looking.
He didn’t mind being an audience of one. He could appreciate a woman’s beauty just as much as the next man, and this woman had beauty to spare. So he just stared, letting the faint click of her heels on the staircase lull him into her charms.
She smiled at him as she neared the bottom of the steps, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes. That was enough to send his warning bells ringing and snap him out of the enjoyment of watching a beautiful woman.
He had always believed that the real beauty in a woman was in her eyes. Sure, beautiful bodies helped, but what showed in the eyes was what mattered.
He was still watching her when he heard a familiar voice behind him. “I was right behind you in the street. You and that cleaning gal made a lot of noise.” Cain’s grizzled laugh spoke of tobacco and whiskey.
As the woman neared them, she glanced at Cain and seemed to stutter in her perfect stride just slightly. She recovered quickly, but her eyes seemed to take on a level of anger Fargo wanted nothing to do with, even though her overall expression never changed. The woman would be deadly in a poker game if you didn’t have a read on her and had fallen for her ample, mostly exposed charms.
At that moment Cain glanced up. “Miss Brant,” he said, nodding slightly.
Fargo could tell that his old friend had no love for this woman. Hatred seemed to come closer to the emotion dripping from his words.
“Mr. Parker,” she said, nodding and stopping beside the desk, staying one step up on the staircase as if to keep the upper hand in the conversation. “It is a
to see you here.”
Cain said nothing, ignoring her and turning to Fargo. He cursed under his breath loudly enough for the woman to hear him. Then Cain walked away.
The woman ignored the snub as if expecting it. She put out her hand to Fargo. “Sarah Brant. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.”
Fargo knew a seductive look in a woman when he saw one, and this woman had the look going like a lighthouse trying to light up a foggy night. He took her offered hand, not really enjoying the moistness of her skin. He nodded slightly while looking into the dark pools of her eyes. “Skye Fargo.”
“The Trailsman?” she said, yanking her hand away like she’d touched a hot stove. Now the surprise at seeing Cain had turned to worry in those dark, soulless eyes.
Fargo smiled. “Some people call me that. Some call me other names.”
for Cain now, Mr. Fargo?” she asked, her voice cold and low with clear disgust.
“He’s my friend,” Fargo said. “My
Her fair skin seemed to pale even further. With only a glance at Cain, she stepped down off the staircase and headed for the front door, no longer moving slowly. The way she was stomping, her dress was going to be lucky to hold her bosom in place.
“Nice meeting you, Miss Brant,” Fargo said to the back of her head and her swishing dress, holding his laughter until she slammed the front door behind her.
Fargo turned back to his friend. “I see you have a way with women. Some history there?” Fargo knew that Cain’s wife, Sharon, had been dead for ten years now. The man deserved to move on, but he hoped not with a woman like that one.
“That’s not a woman,” Cain said. “That’s pure rattlesnake, the daughter of Henry Brant, the owner of the mine around the ridge from Sharon’s Dream. And from what I hear, she’s my son’s fiancée.”
Now it was Fargo’s turn to be surprised. “You haven’t been talking to Daniel?”
The last time Fargo had seen Cain and Daniel, the kid had been maybe fifteen. He and his dad had been trying to get a mine started.
“Not for six months, since he tangled up with that thing,” Cain said, nodding at the door where Sarah Brant had gone. “She poisoned him against me and Sharon’s Dream and now he’s working for the Brants.”
“No wonder she was surprised to see you,” Fargo said.
“She shouldn’t have been,” Cain said, shrugging. “She knows I stay in Sacramento after every gold shipment.” Then he said: “And her old man’s been hiring gunnies like Mick Rule to help him.”
Fargo thought. Gunnies didn’t come any meaner than Mick Rule. But Fargo said nothing as they headed back to their hotel. There was no doubt she had been genuinely surprised to see Cain. And that could mean only one thing. This time she hadn’t expected him to make it to Sacramento with his gold.
Fargo wasn’t certain, but he had a hunch now which stable those horses had come from. And who had hired those men. But with Cain’s son working for them, he just wouldn’t let himself believe that yet.
At least not until he had a little chat with Daniel.
Daniel Parker sighted, then pitched his horseshoe. The shot was bad enough that the two men he was playing with laughed even while the shoe was in midair.
Daniel swore, shook his head. Ned Hughes snorted. “You don’t have no concentration, kid. That’s your problem.”
Bill Peck grinned. “It’s all that lovin’ he’s getting from the Brant woman. Can’t think of nothing else.”
Hughes and Peck were some more of Brant’s hired guns. Every time things quieted down, they set up for horseshoes. Now they played in a patch of grass that ran between two birch trees. The Brant mine was down the hill. They always played for money but never for much, so Daniel joined in. He’d always considered himself good at the game but in recent days he’d played badly. Maybe they were right. Maybe it was Sarah and how much she’d changed him.
And how much she’d confused him.
His old man had never had money till lately. Like too many others in this state, his father could have turned outlaw. That was a much easier way to make money than honest labor. But the old man never did. And he spent his time with his son trying to persuade the boy to follow the same lawful path.
“Hey, your throw again,” Hughes said. “Lessen you’re off with your lady somewhere.”
Both Hughes and Peck laughed. But it was just joshing. No mean intent. A lot of the other gunnies made sarcastic remarks about how a beautiful woman like that could sure do a lot better than Daniel. He knew they were jealous but that didn’t make their comments any easier to take. Hughes and Peck were older. They seemed more tolerant of Daniel and his situation.
Daniel forced a smile. “Hang on to your money, boys. Just you watch this.”
He took his time. He sighted carefully. He almost threw but then stopped himself. He didn’t really care what they thought of his playing. It was himself he wanted to impress. He wanted to feel he was in control of his life again. Being with a woman like Sarah and turning bad had completely changed him. He felt different now and he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. He wished thoughts of his old man would leave him alone. He knew what his father would think of what he was doing.
“You did it again, kid.” This time Hughes’s laugh had an edge to it. “Your mind started driftin’ away again. Now you want to play this game or not?”
And damned if it wasn’t true. One moment he’d been concentrating on throwing a masterful pitch, and the next his attention was wrenched away to mull his situation again. It was worse than being drunk.
He grinned. People liked his grin. “I was just thinkin’ about how I’m gonna embarrass you two with this one.” He held up the iron shoe for them to see. “You ready?”
“We’re ready,” Peck said. “But are you?”
This time Daniel made quick work of it. He took careful aim, angled his elbow the way he always did, and then let fly.
The horseshoe rose in the air and then began its descent. A soft mountain breeze cooled Daniel’s face as he watched it. And then came the
, the satisfying sound of victory.
“Well, looks like the kid’s got his brain back,” Hughes said.
The playing went smoothly from then on. Hughes and Peck were good at it but Daniel was better. But he could tell that they appreciated the competition. He was uncomfortable around gunnies—maybe you got used to people who killed in cold blood after you’d done it a few times yourself—but these two didn’t brag and threaten the way the others did. They might have been his uncles.
The game was winding down when a stout man came uptrail and stood there for a time watching them. He looked amused. Hughes saw him first. He said, “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Brant himself.”
Peck and Daniel now turned to face Brant. None of the gunnies liked the man. He was too cold, too arrogant. Even killers liked a little friendliness in their relationships.
“Hell of a way to waste your lives,” Brant said.
“You a preacher now, are you, Brant?” Hughes snapped. “Tell us how to spend our time.”
“I believe in bettering your lot. That’s why people came west. To improve their lot. And you don’t do that by pitching horseshoes all day.”
“Yeah.” Peck laughed. “We should be fritterin’ our time away in whorehouses. That’d be better now, wouldn’t it, Mr. Brant?”
Daniel was surprised at how openly sarcastic the gunnies were around Brant. He might be their boss in the short term but their guns made them more powerful and more dangerous than he could ever be no matter how much money he had. For Brant it had to be like keeping panthers on a leash. He just had to hope they never slipped that leash and attacked him.