Hearts in Defiance (Romance in the Rockies Book 2) (10 page)

“He was drunk.” She crossed her arms across her chest, which was
the same thing as a mule settling its back hooves.

McIntyre had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. “Yes, he was
in a fair state, to be sure. But a soft answer turneth away wrath.” He raised
an eyebrow at her, pleased he could pull out a verse of Scripture to use on
her. “It wouldn’t hurt you to learn to keep your head down every now and
again.”

Surprising him, she loosened her arms a little. “Turn the other
cheek?” She deflated, dropping her arms to her side, and he felt a bit like a
cad for scolding her. “He thought I was one of your Flowers.”

McIntyre absorbed the comment that felt like a punch to the gut.
He had hoped she hadn’t caught that. He tossed the half-smoked cheroot into the
dirt, determined not to run from the situation. “He won’t be the last either,
Naomi. Should I say I’m sorry? I am.”

She didn’t respond to the question. Instead, after a thoughtful
moment of silence, she said, “He was terrified of you.”

A thousand illustrations as to
why
leaped to his mind, but
he remained quiet. He had no wish to explain the dog-eat-dog world a man had to
conquer in order to build a mining town in the wilderness. Show no weakness.
Give no quarter.

“And, he hates you,” she added.

The observation surprised him because it sounded vaguely like an
accusation. “Most likely.” He shrugged, wishing he could as easily shrug off
his past. “Men out here only understand one thing, Naomi—strength.” He’d been
arguably merciless when building the town because that was the way it had to
be. “His fear will keep him out of trouble … and away from what is mine.”

~~~

 

 

Twelve

 

 

McIntyre held the hotel door for Naomi.
The place was as quiet as a church on Saturday night, a sign that
their guests were still asleep. The dining room was closed on Sundays, allowing
the girls one leisurely day to call their own. McIntyre wanted to spend it with
Naomi. It felt to him as if he had some ground to smooth over.

She let her shawl slide into his hands. As she hung it and his hat
on the tree just inside the door, she touched his elbow. “I’ll get the coffee
and meet you in the dining room.”

McIntyre nodded, and watched her go. Her completely natural
gesture, a light brushing of her fingers across his arm, coupled with their
walk arm-in-arm, warmed him all over and he chose for the moment to ignore his
concerns over his sordid past.

“How do you feel about pancakes this morning, Mr. McIntyre?” From
the stair landing, Rebecca followed the trail of his gaze, her lips twitching
with amusement.

He bent his head, embarrassed that he’d been caught staring after
Naomi with stars in his eyes. He couldn’t begin to fathom what this woman had
done to him. Nevertheless, he returned Rebecca’s smile with a devilish one of
his own. “You’re trying to put as much weight on me as you have on Ian.”

She finished twining the braid in her chestnut hair as she
descended the steps and winked at him. “Yes, it’s an insidious plot. Fat men
can’t outrun us.”

Chuckling from the banter, McIntyre stepped into the dining room,
separated from the front of the hotel by a false wall. The laughter died on his
lips when he discovered Matthew stoking the fire. Feeling like someone had just
shoved a burr under his saddle, McIntyre pulled another cheroot and match from
his breast pocket. A good smoke helped him relax. After the run-in with
Thatcher, his patience was edgy at best and he didn’t want to show any
agitation around Matthew. A desire based on his gambler’s instinct. That
instinct told him not to turn his back on this man. “Good morning, Mr. Miller.”

Matthew glanced over his shoulder and smiled, but not before
McIntyre saw a flash of irritation. “Mr. Miller was my pa. Please, call me
Matthew.”

“All right,
Matthew
.” The two shook hands then McIntyre struck
the match on the mantle’s river rock. He puffed on his cigar, bringing it to
life. Exhaling, he asked, “So what is it you do in California?”

Matthew rested a boot on the hearth and watched the flames build.
As if to hide fidgety fingers, he shoved his hands into his pockets. “Timber.
Tell me, Mr. McIntyre, are you the same Charles McIntyre who owns the Iron
Horse Saloon?”

McIntyre stopped in mid-puff, but resumed quickly. Wary, he
exhaled. “I am, although, it’s closed now, of course.” Matthew’s fingers
drummed inside the pockets. He rocked on his heels and ran a hand through his
chopped, blond hair. McIntyre knew the signs of someone spoiling for a fight.
Wisely or not, he decided to oblige. “Is there something you want to say,
Matthew?”

“What do two men who want the same woman say to each other?”

Masterfully hiding his surprise at the blunt question, McIntyre
rolled the cheroot between his thumb and index finger for a moment. A year ago
he would have started with
No woman in the world is worth fighting for
.
Perhaps even added
besides
,
there’s plenty more where she came from.
Now,
he couldn’t imagine those words coming out of his mouth, especially regarding
Naomi. Instead, he had the burning desire to say something chivalrous like
why
don’t we step outside and settle this?
Of course, that approach yet again
seemed at odds with his new-found faith. Falling back on his honed skill of
bluffing, he waved the cheroot. “If memory serves, I believe
Victori exuviae
would do.”

Matthew straightened and turned his mass on McIntyre. Not a small
man himself, McIntyre was taken aback by the towering wall of flannel that
masqueraded as the man’s chest and shoulders.

“I don’t know Latin, but I get the meaning.” Matthew’s lip curled
as he sized up McIntyre. “A fancy education doesn’t clean up somebody like you,
though. The kind of man you are.”

That sneer rankled McIntyre, challenging his patience. He ran his
tongue over his teeth, and fought to keep the bluff.

“Why, I bet there isn’t a man in the West who doesn’t know your
name,” Matthew mocked. “‘Charles McIntyre hires sportin’ gals with all kinds of
talents.’”

McIntyre inhaled on the cheroot, pondering how best to deal with
this swaggering giant. Seemed his faith was getting tested every which way as
of late. He almost longed for a time when he would have ruined the man at a
game of poker merely for the insult. Now, however, something restrained him. He
heard the echo of
vengeance is Mine
and tried to listen
.

Matthew cocked his head to one side. “We’ve got two of your girls
in Red Pine. My men speak very highly of them.”

“That is no longer my vocation. It’s true I have a reputation, but
it’ll die down in time.” Which might be true, eventually. “I’m a legitimate
businessman now and I plan on bringing industry into Defiance.”

“But not before you drag Naomi and maybe her sisters through your
muck?”

McIntyre had to remind himself not to bite through the cheroot,
but the muscles in his jaws turned to iron. “I’m not dragging Naomi through
anything. And I don’t see how my relationship with her is any of your
business.”

“Hmmm. Seems you haven’t had any compunctions about dragging
other
women into your quagmire. All those gals you’ve corrupted. How do you sleep at
night?” Matthew clutched McIntyre’s shoulder and raised his voice. “Sure, we’ll
have to talk about some potential logging business. You’ve got pretty timber in
these mountains.”

A hard smile tipped his mouth and McIntyre knew Naomi was coming
up behind him.

Matthew’s gaze shot past him. “Good morning, little sister.”
Matthew left McIntyre and hurried to meet Naomi.

Her eyes widened with surprise. “Oh, good morning, Matthew.”
McIntyre hoped she was disappointed as well. “I didn’t expect you to be up.
I’ll have to get another cup from the kitchen.”

“That would be greatly appreciated. Here—” Matthew took the tray
of coffee from her. “Let me help you with that.”

The pleasantries fell apart abruptly as the front door burst open
and deputy marshal Wade Hayes, all six-feet-four of him, lurched into the
lobby. Sliding to a stop in the center of the entrance, the long and lean
deputy scanned the room. Chest heaving, he found McIntyre and rushed toward
him.

“We got a problem over at the Lucky Deuce, Mr. McIntyre, and
Sheriff Beckwith is out serving a warrant.” He pushed unruly strands of copper
hair off his forehead as he resituated his hat. “I could use some help.”

“What seems to be the matter, Wade?” McIntyre wasn’t sure if he
should welcome or curse the intrusion.

“Joseph Black Elk woke up in a surly mood. He’s got one of Jude’s
gals by the arm and is threatening to cut her.”

Naomi gasped. McIntyre sighed. Life in Defiance. Tossing the
cheroot into the fire, he motioned toward the door. “All right, let’s go.”

“Hold on a second.” Matthew set the tray down. “Maybe I should go
along. I could probably be a little help.”

McIntyre barely stopped a sneer before it surfaced. “Those muscles
won’t stop a bullet or a blade.”

“No, but it’s been my experience that my size can have a
calming
effect on people.”

Tension like a tight-wire hung between the two men, but McIntyre
realized quickly they were wasting time for no good reason. “Fine.”

~~~

 

 

From a hundred feet away, the Lucky Deuce sounded as if a randy
buffalo had gotten loose inside. McIntyre could hear furniture crashing, glass shattering,
and the booming voice of a man bellowing what sounded like gibberish. The
terrified scream of a woman split the morning air, sending a chill skittering
up his spine. He and Wade, guns drawn, pushed through the gawking crowd at the
door and burst into the saloon, with Matthew on their heels.

The place was indeed a mess. Not one table or chair sat upright in
the ramshackle tent saloon. Dozens of shattered bottles and the dangling shards
of a large mirror lined the one real wall behind the slab bar. The stench of
cheap whiskey alone was enough to cause inebriation. Black Elk, a tall,
broad-chested Ute Indian, had Dolores by the wrist and was whipping her around
like a rag doll. Waving his eight-inch blade about and hollering at the top of
his lungs in Ute, he froze at the sight of the men at the door.

Black Elk’s eyes narrowed and he pulled Dolores to him, hooking
his arm around her throat. Pointing the knife tip at her jugular, he warned the
men, “Come near me and I’ll kill her!”

“Joseph,” McIntyre spoke calmly, “you don’t want to hurt Dolores.
Let her go and we’ll all have a drink together.”

“Ha!” the Indian yelled, his nostrils flaring with rage. Shaking
his head, black tendrils snaking around his face, he snarled and pricked the
girl’s throat, drawing blood and a whimper from her. “I will kill her graveyard
dead. Stay away from me!”

Slowly, one careful step at a time, the three men started fanning
out. Matthew inched his way to Black Elk’s left, Wade to the right, and
McIntyre stayed in the center, trying to draw the man’s attention. “Joseph,
what’s this all about? You haven’t caused this kind of trouble before.”

The Indian blinked and then flinched when the action poured sweat
into his eyes. “Put that gun away, McIntyre, or you’re going to have
another
dead white woman on your hands!”

Another
? McIntyre squinted at Black
Elk. He saw the man flinch again and almost bend over, as if he’d been hit with
a cramp. “You’re not looking well, Joseph.” Something about the man’s face
struck McIntyre as odd, sort of drawn. His skin appeared thin and he was
flushed. “You don’t look well at all, as a matter of fact.”

Black Elk waved the knife at him. “I’ll kill her!”

McIntyre tilted his head. Black Elk’s gaze was confused and
wandering, as if he couldn’t focus. “Black Elk, you’re sick.”

The Indian tightened his grip on Dolores. “Put your guns down and
I’ll walk out of here.” He jabbed the girl in the ribs with the knife.
“Otherwise, she’s dead—” His features contorted into a hideous grimace and
Black Elk staggered. Dolores whimpered and kept him on his feet, clearly afraid
he might accidentally stab her if he fell.

Knowing this could go bad in the blink of an eye, McIntyre dropped
his gun back into his holster and motioned for Wade to do the same. All three
of the men raised their hands. “All right, Joseph.” McIntyre took a small step
forward. “We want this to end on a high note for everyone. Now put your knife
away before you cut her by accident.”

McIntyre messaged Matthew with a subtle nod. Someone strong needed
to subdue this man. Put him down with one punch, if possible. It was Matthew’s
lucky day.

Matthew returned the nod, almost imperceptibly, and inched a bit
closer to Black Elk.

“Black Elk, where have you been the last few days?” McIntyre
asked. If the crazy Indian was carrying something contagious, they’d have to
try to retrace his footsteps.

The question set Black Elk to yelling. “I have been off killing
white men and their women!” He shook his head and blinked again, as if trying
to clear his vision. “One-Who-Cries is riding! War is coming with him!”

“What are you doing with One-Who—” Before McIntyre could finish
the question, Matthew leaped on the man. Instantly McIntyre dove into the fray
as well, followed by Wade. Black Elk’s blade slashed crazily and McIntyre
snatched a screaming Dolores out of the fracas. In a blur of blows, he and
Matthew both landed punches to Black Elk’s ribs as all three scrambled to grab
the knife. The Indian howled and roared, the men grunted as fists pounded
flesh, and boots scraped across the floor. In the tangled scuffle, the steel of
Black Elk’s knife flashed mere inches from McIntyre’s nose. McIntyre swiped at
the man’s wrist but missed. The nauseating, muffled sound of a blade plunging
into flesh brought a pained growl from Matthew. Like a crazed grizzly, he
brought down a crashing blow from his huge right hand and Black Elk’s eyes
rolled to the back of his head. As limp as a rag doll, he slid to the floor.

Unfortunately, he then vomited violently at their feet. As the men
jumped back, McIntyre caught sight of the blood seeping from between Matthew’s
fingers.

~~~

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