Authors: Amanda McIntyre
Closer To You
Tales of the Sweet Magnolia, Book One
Inspired by the song “Cowboy Take Me Away”
To the wild and unruly in each of us.
Forward from the Author:
The history of the Old West has always held a particular fascination for me. It was a rugged time, difficult for many and especially for women. These pioneering souls followed their men to the new frontier battling the unknown, forging the way for those who would follow. Some of them were families, true, but many were single women, looking to find their piece of the American dream, to make for themselves a better life. Some sought their fortune, seeking the gold and silver that were said to be plentiful out west, while others found their success in opening businesses that served the gold seekers.
Then there were the stout-hearted women who opened saloons, bordellos, and parlor houses. Many were stubborn, unruly, and cantankerous taking on with determination and a pride the challenges of the Old West, and oft times, the prejudices brought along by settlers. They were called the
, by some,
by others, and
by their clients. Many of the houses of ill-repute secretly funded many of the businesses in their towns, though the support was kept private as it was socially unacceptable to acknowledge money from such an establishment. But there were a handful that accepted the struggles of these women, recording their journey, their lives against the hardships of a new frontier, so that the part they played in forming the old west would not be forgotten. Some are more notable than others, Madams beloved by clients and townspeople with such esteem that their accomplishments are forever etched in the history books, but there are the countless others—nameless faces, forgotten people who left their blood, sweat and tears on the landscape of history. It is to the memory of the unsung heroines, the anti-heroines of the Wild West; if you will that I dedicate this story
Her eyes held to his in a silent display of wills. She knew the kind of man he was. A loner set in his ways, beholden to no man or woman for that matter, but in those dark orbs burned a fire that only she could satisfy. “Tell me that you don’t want me, as much as I want you,” she spoke, her breathing shallow, intensified by her tight corset. His eyes dropped to her breasts, aching to be touched.
“I may be many things, ma’am, but a liar ain’t one of them.” He yanked her to the bed with such force that her corset strings snapped, freeing her breasts. He wasted no time, closing his mouth over one soft tip, his rough fingers caressing the other until she thought she’d faint clean away from need. “You’re a naughty little thing, Miss Allie.”
His unshaven cheek, rough against her sensitive skin made her body squirm with delight. “And aren’t you a lucky man that I am,” she sighed breathlessly.
“Hey, Miss Lillian has a different color sweater on. You’re lookin’ fine today. Watch out, ya’ll, she’s a man-eater.” A young man and his friends, who’d been in every day for the last week, chuckled. He offered a high five to the boy beside him.
Lillian’s head snapped up from reading the heated passage in the book. Her cheeks were flushed from the depth she’d allowed herself to get lost in the story. She blinked, pulling her mind back to the present. As the sole curator of the first library of Virginia City, she was among the few items in the small institution less than fifty years old. It was her love for books and the history of the community that prompted her to accept the position of head librarian when a friend from Save the Libraries explained that due to lack of interest, the library might close with the retirement of Mrs. Clausen, its caretaker over the previous fifty plus years. Originally, she was to hold the position until they found a solution to their financial problems. However, with the declining economy and fewer people taking advantage of libraries, a year or two turned into five. Since, she’d taken a personal responsibility to keep its doors open by creating various programs designed to showcase the importance of reading and utilizing the library’s many features. The same group of young teens often spent their afternoons on the two computers given as a donation by a generous patron. Their frequent visits, coupled with their cantankerous attitude had not helped with patron numbers.
The gangly teen, jeans hanging low on his hips, knit cap pulled over his eyes, sauntered up to the desk. “If you’re lookin’ for someone special,
, I’m your willing and able pupil.” He puckered his lips and made kissing noises as he walked past her. His friends followed behind, snickering and tossing her suggestive looks.
Lillian raised a brow of indifference. They lacked maturity, and on previous occasions she been the brunt of their muffled laughter and darted glances. Despite the strides in technology and the positive changes in society, there remained, for some, a prejudicial view of librarians as meek, clueless spinsters— geeks, to be precise. Geek or not, deep down Lillian was not the woman they believed her to be… far from it.
She was careful not to let anyone see her private persona, the one that poured over the books of the Old West. Such stories made her heart come alive, spawning fantasies about the lives of the bawdy women who worked and ran the bordellos, and of the rebellious, strong women in saloons who flirted with dangerous renegades and outlaws. She found it amusing how those who shunned that lifestyle, in secret, were often the most frequent clients. The truth was that many a struggling new town, fighting off the other dangers of an untamed west, were built on the springs of those bordello mattresses.
A sudden chill caused a shiver to crawl over Lillian’s shoulders, and she rubbed her arms for warmth. An odd awareness often occurred when she pondered what it might have been like to live back then. Men were different, or so she believed. There were many with a determination to forge the way west, men dedicated to keeping the law, who lived by a code of honor and justice. Perhaps in her musings she had romanticized what would drive a man to such a lifestyle. What kind of women would it take to harness a passion of that intensity? And if she was able to capture it, how long could she hold on to it?
The old grandfather clock in the foyer struck the quarter hour, pulling her from the reverie, and just like clockwork, she heard the familiar
of Miss Clausen’s walker. She hobbled up to the counter, a look of pure pride shining in her eyes as she looked at Lillian through thick lenses. “I would like to check this out,” she stated emphatically, pushing a book toward Lillian.
“Two more weeks then, Miss Clausen?” Lil adjusted her reading glasses and peered at the old woman who, for the fourth consecutive time was checking out the libraries only, albeit worn, copy of
The Flame and the Flower
by Kathleen Woodiwiss. The joy of anticipation shone on the woman’s wrinkled face. A premonition flashed in Lil’s mind, and she saw herself as Miss Clausen, some forty years down the road.
“Thank you, dear. You know how I love this one.” Her rickety voice trembled as she clutched the dog-eared book against her pale pink cardigan sweater.
Lillian glanced down, hiding her grimace as she realized how closely it resembled the sweater she wore.
“You know, honey, you remind me of myself in my younger days. You’re such a good girl, and so organized. I know our precious books are in the best of hands.”
The woman smiled and though Lillian knew she meant well, it wasn’t her wish to grow old alone, taking comfort only in the books surrounding her. Still, given the sad state of her social life, there was always the distinct possibility that she’d wind up like….
Lillian pushed away a brief flutter of anxiety, tamping down the nausea in her throat. She forced a pleasant smile on her face.
What I would give to prove that I’m not a good girl! I want to be unruly. I want to take risks and live on the edge… oh, where have all the cowboys gone?
She tucked away her dreams of adventure in the Old West.
“See you next Saturday, my dear girl.” The old woman teetered toward the front door, her book bag slapping against her walker. “Burt, how nice to see you. I trust you’re staying out of trouble?”
Lillian smiled as she listened to Burt’s response.
The old man removed his ball cap, freeing his tufts of silvery hair. “I’m doing
my best, Miss Clausen. You have a nice evening, now, won’t you?”
A slight hesitation in their conversation caused Lillian to glance up. She saw Miss Clausen leaning on her walker, her head bent toward Burt.
“Thank you, Burt. You know that I will.” She waved the book under his nose.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered politely as the door closed behind her.
Burt had been around as long as Lillian could remember. He possessed an Einstein-looking head of hair, long and snowy white; it stuck out from beneath his ball cap. His bushy silver brows perched over intense blue eyes and his quiet demeanor lent an air of mystery about him. He was polite to everyone and had often listened to her musings about being trapped in the wrong time.
She smiled as she looked at the stack of books waiting to be shelved. One in particular,
Lucky Lil and the Tales of the Sweet Magnolia
, caught her eye. A strange chill ran through her entire body as though a cold glass of water had been poured over her head.
She glanced nervously around the library to see if the teens had maybe planted it and were now watching for her reaction. There was no one else in the building that she was aware of. Lillian eyed the biography again, and her fingers itched with curiosity to understand why she felt such an intense connection to it.
Lillian dismissed her silly thoughts and went back to work, checking the bindings for damage and straightening the dog-eared folds of the pages. Though she tried to ignore it, her heart beat faster as she neared the place where the book lay. As she closed her fingers over it, the deep bong of the grandfather clock reverberated in the front hall signaling closing time.
Startled, she looked up to find Burt standing before her. In his hand was a small box. He laid it on the desk, tapping it once with his finger. “I found this in the back, in the history section, where that lovely old stained glass window is. The pretty one with the magnolia blossoms.”
The beautiful detailed scrollwork in the wood entranced her. Such fine artisanship had to be laser-cut or carved by a very patient, determined hand. Flecks of gold paint clung to the tiny crevices, causing it to sparkle when the light hit it at just the right angle. “This appears to be very valuable. Who do you suppose would leave something like this behind?” She held the exquisite piece in her hands, realizing how sick the owner must feel about misplacing it.
Burt shrugged as he scratched his neck. “That does seem a might odd.”
“It looks like some type of a case. It might be worth a lot.” She fingered the intricate lock. “Perhaps, I should call the police.” She eyed the small chiseled image on the box lid, discovering it was in the shape of a shamrock. Her gaze flicked to the old leather binding on the book about Lucky Lil and another shiver ran over her shoulders. She shook her head. Clearly she was letting her imagination get away from her. “Maybe we could just put it in the safe until Monday. No one’s likely to come looking for it tonight. ‘Sides, haven’t you been talking about some big date tonight?” Burt flashed a smile that made his eyes twinkle.
Her conscience burned with guilt. Between Burt and one of the other clerks, they’d been relentless in urging her to get out more and date. But there was always an excuse, some reason why she couldn’t go out on a Friday night. The truth was, she was disillusioned with the variety of men she’d come in contact with. So all week to stave them off, she’d been talking about her “date.” Little did anyone know, however, that her “date” consisted of renting a favorite western movie and getting Chinese takeout on the way home. “I suppose you’re right, Burt. I can always call them tomorrow.” She stared at the package, mesmerized by how warm it felt to her touch.
“That’s sounds like a plan to me,” Burt replied. “Well, I think I’m about done here. Guess we’ll see you Monday morning.” Her fingertips tingled.
Burt’s voice buzzed like florescent lighting above her head. “Lillian… Lillian?”
She looked up, blinking from her daze. Burt’s concerned expression came into focus. Her hand flew to her face, sensing the heat of her cheeks.
“My dear girl, do you feel all right? You look a mite flushed.”
She dropped the box, trying to ignore the effervescent rush of tingles coursing to parts of her body untouched by another in years. “I’m fine, Burt. I probably just need to get out in the fresh air.” She smiled hoping her façade convinced him.
Inside, she quivered with the anticipation of something she could not pinpoint. One thing she knew, that box was not going into the library safe. Not yet. She wanted to take it home where she could study its markings further. Besides, it was safer there than in the empty library over the weekend.
He nodded with a short clip to his hat. “Enjoy yourself. Of course, I want to hear all about your date come Monday.” With that, he disappeared down the hallway and into the shadows.
Lillian snapped off the desk lamp and prepared to remind the teens in the computer room that it was closing time. She started around the front counter and her heel caught on a section of an old wool area rug she kept under her chair. Her body lurched forward, and screaming, she grabbed for whatever she could find to keep her from falling face-first to the floor.
The challenge to her existence caught her by the arms and she was hauled upright, coming face-to-face with the young man’s cocky grin.
“Hey there, mama, I gotcha now.” He glanced at his buddies as if to say ‘look what I got’ and she followed the collective gaze of his friends to where her skirt rode high on her hip, giving them a free view of her bare thigh.
Mmm, mm, mm
, Miss Lillian, you know, if I was just a little older….” His dark eyes rolled back to hers. She knew where this was headed, and she’d had enough of their intimidation. “The library is closed.” She kept her tone professional. “You’ll have to leave.” Breaking his grasp, she straightened and smoothed down her skirt.
“Chill, no need to get unfriendly.” He backed away, stumbling over his feet as he bumped into Burt.
Lillian breathed a silent sigh of relief, glad for whatever reason that Burt had returned.
“It’s time for you boys to get on home. The library is closed for the weekend.” He pointed toward the door to make his point.
The trio glanced back, whispering and laughing as they shuffled down the steps and out the front door.
“Thanks.” She watched him dip the ancient mop into his bucket. There surely were more modern tools available to him, but Burt preferred what he called ‘ole reliable’ to anything thing else.’
“I plum forgot to wipe down the front hall. Guess my poor memory has some advantages.” He smiled, its gleam reaching his aging, blue eyes.
“You’re a gem, Burt.” Lillian smiled at him.
He waved his hand, dismissing her compliment with a shake of his head. “Problem with young men these days is that they’ve forgotten how to treat a lady.” He swabbed the floor, back and forth, as he spoke