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Authors: Alice Duncan

Tags: #historical romance, #southern california, #great dane, #silent pictures, #borax mining, #humpor

Miner's Daughter

BOOK: Miner's Daughter
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THE MINER’S DAUGHTER

 

Alice Duncan

 

Book #3 in the “Dream Maker” series

 

 

 

 

 

The Miner’s Daughter

Copyright © 2001 by Alice Duncan

All rights reserved.

 

Published 2001 by Kensington Books

A Ballad Book

 

Smashwords edition December 31, 2010

 

Visit:
http://aliceduncan.net

Or write:
[email protected]

 

 

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respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Mojave Wells, California

1910

 

With one hand pressing his sore stomach and
the other tugging on a lock of hair, Martin Tafft stared at the
girl who stood before him He couldn’t believe his ears. “But-but—”
He swallowed, a sense of unreality creeping over him “But I thought
it was abandoned.”

The girl snorted. An interesting specimen,
she. Tall and willowy—sort of rangy, actually—she had her dark
brown hair pulled back and stuffed under a disreputable old hat
that looked as if it had once—say, twenty or thirty years
ago—belonged to a cowboy and then been kicked around for another
ten or twelve years before she inherited it. She had fine, regular
features and huge brown eyes that might have been lovely had she
been in a serene mood. At the moment, her eyes crackled fire.

The most unusual thing about her was that she
had chosen to present herself to the world this morning in pair of
men’s trousers. The trousers were old, stained, and patched, and
they were topped with an oversized khaki shirt that looked as if
it, too, had been around the world several times before it had
landed on her

Martin, a natty man who, although not vain,
tried to observe the prevailing fashion, couldn’t conceive of a
lady wearing such an outrageous costume. From this circumstance, he
deduced Miss Marigold Pottersby to be no lady.

“Obviously, you were wrong,” she said,
contempt dripping from the words.

“My God.” Reginald Harrowgate, who had honed
his facial expressions to perfection in the few years he’d been
acting in the moving pictures, sneered. “I can’t believe this is
happening, Martin.”

“I can’t, either.”

“You said the matter was concluded and we
could begin filming in two weeks.” Harrowgate spoke as if he
thought Martin had deliberately lied to him for some fell
purpose.

“I thought it was.”

The pain in his stomach led Martin to fear he
was getting an ulcer. He understood people could develop ulcers
from having to deal with too much stress. He definitely dealt with
too much stress. If Harrowgate would just go away and leave him to
deal with this female, the tension might be reduced considerably.
But the blasted ham seemed determined to stick, darn it.

Attempting to ignore his audience, Martin
tried again. “Listen, Miss Pottersby, can’t we at least rent the
mine for a few weeks?”

“No.”

Martin’s stomach gave a hard spasm. This was
terrible. Awful. How could he have made such a mistake? He’d gone
over this detestable desert with a fine-tooth comb, spending a week
and a half in blazing heat, dirt, and overall suffering, and he’d
been positive this mine had been abandoned eons earlier. It looked
like it “But—”

“No. You’re trespassing. Please go away.”

“But . . .”

The girl turned and whistled through her
teeth. The noise shot through the air like an arrow and stabbed
Martin’s ears.

Great. Now his head could throb along with
his stomach. He had no idea why she’d done such a thing, unless it
was to make herself even more detestable than she already was.
Maybe she was calling on a band of wild Indians to stake him and
Harrowgate to the floor of this god-awful desert so the red ants
could sting them to death. Maybe she was—

“Good God!” Martin stared wide-eyed at the
phenomenon that had popped out of the old mine shaft at her whistle
and was now lumbering toward them at an alarming clip.

Reginald wheeled around, shrieked, “Help!”
and started running in the opposite direction. He worked up
admirable speed, considering the weather.

The girl put one fist on her hip and
grinned.

Martin didn’t dare move. He’d never seen such
a thing in his life. Terror gripped him by the throat and held him
tongue-tied for a second. Finally, after swallowing painfully, he
asked in a small voice, “Um, is that a dog?”

The creature, black as pitch, gleaming like
polished onyx in the vicious sun, and with a head the size of a
crate, barreled past him—thank God—and the girl and, with a wagging
tail and what looked like a good deal of joy, pursued Harrowgate.
The actor peered over his shoulder once, shrieked again, and kept
running.

It was no use. The dog, if dog it was,
overtook Harrowgate with ease. Martin had to hide his eyes when it
leaped at Reginald’s back and he went sprawling.

The girl whistled again. With seeming
reluctance, the animal ceased washing Harrowgate’s face with a
tongue the size of Kentucky and trotted back to her. There he
turned, sat at her side, panted, and looked up at her as if he
expected to be lauded for his performance. Martin would have taken
a solemn oath the thing had a grin on its gigantic face.

The girl laid a hand on his neck. “Good boy,
Tiny.” She grinned at Martin. “To answer your question, yes, this
is a dog.”

Martin drew in about an acre of scalding
desert air. “I’ve, ah, never seen one quite like it before.”

“I’m sure.”

They both heard Harrowgate sputtering and
cursing a few yards off. Miss Pottersby said, “Better take care of
your friend. I don’t think he likes the weather here in Mojave
Wells.”

Martin scarcely heard her. His attention sat
squarely on the monster dog sitting beside her. “Um, what kind of
dog is it?”

“Great Dane.”

“Oh.” Great Dane. Like Hamlet. Only bigger.
Much, much bigger. Whatever would Shakespeare have done with a dog
the size of a brontosaurus?

He shook off the spell of the dog, and made
one last stab at convincing this obstinate girl that it would be to
her advantage to rent her mine to the Peerless Studio for a few
weeks. “Listen, Miss Pottersby, please take some time to reconsider
your decision. The motion pictures pay well, and ah, I understand
the mine has been in your family for years now, and nobody’s struck
anything but dirt so far.”

It was the wrong thing to have said. Martin
knew it as soon as he saw the expression of fury cross Miss
Pottersby’s face. He glanced at Tiny with misgiving, hoping she
wouldn’t set the black beast on him next.

“Get off my land now, Mister, and take that
simpering fiddlestick with you.”

Martin blinked, confused, until he realized
the fiddlestick was Harrowgate. “But—”

“Dagnabbit, go!” She pointed a slender brown
finger in a direction Martin assumed would take him off her
property.

He hesitated for one more minute, glanced at
the dog, and shrugged. “Very well, but I’ll come again. Please take
time to think about it, Miss Pottersby. We can offer you a
substantial rental for two or three weeks’ work. It would be to
your—”

“Go away now!”

Her voice seemed to nudge her protector,
because the dog stood and frowned at Martin. Hackles bristled along
its shiny black back, which came up to Miss Pottersby’s waist. Its
head almost reached her shoulders. Since Martin had seen it attack
Harrowgate with his own eyes, he knew it was taller than a grown
man when it stood on its hind legs. Probably weighed more, too. He
gave up.

“All right. I’ll have to talk to our
investors about this, Miss Pottersby.” He was also going to look up
the records on this stupid mine to see if there wasn’t some
loophole he could use to his advantage. He didn’t understand why
the blasted girl was being so obstinate. Heck, if she allowed
Peerless to rent the ugly mine, maybe she could buy herself a dress
or something.

He could feel the dog eyeing him as he walked
away. Its scrutiny made his shoulder blades itch.

 

Anthony Ewing, son of Maurice Ewing, one of
the richest men in New York, sighed. He felt kind of sorry for
Martin, whom he knew worked too hard, but he couldn’t allow
personal feelings to interfere with business. His father had taught
him as much in the cradle.

“Listen, Martin,” Tony said, “I know she’s a
tough nut, but you’ve got to persuade her. Everything’s set to
start, and you can’t change locations now. It would cost another
fortune, and my father would be furious.”

Poor Martin looked as if he might pull that
hank of hair right out of his head if he kept yanking on it. “I’m
trying, Tony. Trust me.”

“She has a rabid dog that she turns on people
when they annoy her,” Reginald Harrowgate grumbled. He was at
present soaking his scratched right hand in a pot of hot water and
Epsom salts. Tony didn’t bother to respond to the comment, having
learned after five minutes in Harrowgate’s company that the man was
an effete fusspot.

“Maybe I should talk to her,” Tony mused. He
didn’t want to do it. He neither admired nor approved of moving
pictures. Although he believed women had a place in the world, he
didn’t think it was in running mines. Frankly, he couldn’t conceive
of such a thing.

Tony’s opinion, about motion pictures at
least, wasn’t shared by his father or by Martin. The elder Ewing
had sunk a whole lot of money into this latest Peerless production,
and Tony’d been treated to several of Martin’s impassioned lectures
on the subject of the growing “flicker” business.

Martin considered motion pictures as
something akin to the salvation of mankind. If everyone who worked
in them was as good hearted, broad minded, scrupulous, and honest
as Martin, the pictures might be. But the people weren’t, and Tony
knew it. Most folks were out for a buck, and they didn’t care how
they got it. If one needed an example of this, one needed look no
farther than Tony’s own father.

“Let me check out the records on the mine
first, Tony,” Martin advised. “If we approach her again, it had
better be with more ammunition than we have now.”

Tony nodded and mopped his sweaty brow with a
once-pristine handkerchief. “Good idea.”

Harrowgate muttered, “Why don’t you try a
loaded gun?”

Although Tony knew the actor was joking, he
wasn’t amused. “I’m sure that would thrill her.”

Harrowgate humphed.

Martin ceased tugging at his hair and
commenced fiddling with a pen lying on the table in front of him.
“Listen, Tony, I’m really sorry about this. I checked out all the
mines in San Bernardino County, and I would have sworn on a stack
of Bibles that the Marigold Mine was abandoned. I’m sure it should
be. It doesn’t look like any profitable silver mine I’ve ever
seen.” He lifted his, head and grinned. “Not that I’ve ever seen
any silver mines before this.”

Tony grinned back. He really liked Martin,
whom he’d known since his college days. “It’s all right, Martin.
Frankly, I’m astonished that you can do half of what you do. It’s
not surprising that a mistake slips by once in a while.”

Martin shook his head and sighed. “It
shouldn’t have happened. Mistake, heck. I’m the one who’s
slipping.”

“Nonsense. You just have too much to do. My
God, you do everything for Peerless. You do all the casting,
hiring, firing, write most of the scripts, direct some of the
pictures, maintain equipment, keep up with innovations, and deal
with the actors.” He cast a scornful glance at Harrowgate, who was
too busy worrying about his scratched hand to notice. “Add finding
suitable locations to shoot the pictures in, and your plate is
filled to overflowing. I couldn’t do it.”

“Well . . .” Martin did look frazzled.

Tony wished he could help, but he didn’t know
a single thing about the pictures except that he’d been sent out to
make sure the money his father had invested in this one came to no
harm.

Martin murmured, “Maybe you’re right. I love
the work, but I’ve been at it for several years solid now. I’m a
little tired.” He pressed his lips together. “But that’s no excuse
for this catastrophe. Where in God’s name can we get another mine?
And the Marigold is so perfect.”

“Give yourself a break,” Tony advised. “I’ll
visit the courthouse with you, and we can look up the records
together.” He unbuttoned the top few buttons on his shirt. “Damn,
it’s hot here. Thank God for electric fans.”

BOOK: Miner's Daughter
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