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Authors: Dallas Schulze

Saturday's Child

BOOK: Saturday's Child
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Saturday's Child
Dallas Schulze
Harlequin (1990)

Daughter of immigrants, child of the footlights, San Francisco seamstress Katie McBride has never known a day without work. Her industry finds its rewards when she's hired to sew the trousseau for the Nob Hill wedding of the 1905 season.

Former Rough Rider and gold miner, Wyoming rancher Quentin Sterling hopes to find a suitable bride among the debutantes at his sister's wedding. But when calamity strikes, Quentin sees that a strong woman like Katie is what he needs at his side.

It's a gamble for happiness, but Katie embraces a new beginning. She believes in the generosity of the land, of setting down roots, in her courage and Quentin's strength . . . and in the stirrings of a young love as fresh as the spring breezes that sweep the vast and glorious Wyoming plains.

Saturday's Child

    Dallas Schulze

About the Author

The decade of 1900 to 1910 is a fascinating one for Dallas Schulze. She says, "It's a transitional time, where the United States hovered between history and more modern times, when much of what we know today had just begun to be invented or developed."

Just as the heroine of Saturday's Child, Katie McBride, longed for roots, Dallas can trace her own back to 1637 when ancestor John Jessup left his Sheffield, England, estate and settled in the New World, in Connecticut. Through the years, Dallas has had ancestors who fought in the American Revolution— Captain Silas Howell, with the First Regiment of New Jersey Continental Line—and on both sides of the Civil War. Her grandfather was in the Cavalry Artillery Division, stationed in Wyoming, the setting of Saturday's Child, in the early 1930s.

Today Dallas makes her home in southern California, with her husband and two cats, Kitty and Blot. With her flair for writing emotional stories peopled with memorable characters who touch readers' hearts, she has garnered a loyal following of fans.

The year is 1905....

On the Wyoming plains, life has changed little since the Civil War. Automobiles are rare, the telephone and electric light are urban wonders, and though the Wright brothers took flight two years before, no one has seen an airplane.

Water is pumped from wells for cooking, cleaning and for the weekly bath in a wooden tub. Neighbors are few, but women gather for quilting bees while men meet to buy and sell livestock.

Young lovers, wrapped in buffalo robes against the winter cold, glide in brightly painted sleighs over the snowy landscape.

It is a time of hard work and rich reward: the birth of colts and calves, the dazzling rainbow of wildflowers blooming in spring.

It is a time with endless possibilities and new beginnings.

It is the time of Katie McBride and Quentin Sterling.

Published July 1990

First printing 1990

First Australian Paperback Edition August 1990

ISBN 0 373 16349 5

Copyright © 1990 by Dallas Schulze. All rights reserved. Philippine copyright 1990. Australian copyright 1990. New Zealand copyright 1990.

Published by Harlequin Books 72-74 Gibbes Street Chatswood, NSW 2067 Australia

The Harlequin trademark, consisting of the words HARLEQUIN INTIMATE ENCOUNTER and the portrayal of a Harlequin, is registered in Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of the Philippines.

Printed and bound in Australia by The Book Printer, Victoria

Chapter 1

ying in bed, Katie McBride stared up at the dark ceiling, waiting. She'd been waiting for over an hour now, listening to every creak of the stairs, every closing of a door.

The church bells had long since tolled the hour of midnight. In respectable neighborhoods, respectable people were abed, sleeping peacefully in anticipation of waking the next morning to take up their respectable lives.

There were many words that could be applied to San Francisco's Barbary Coast but respectable was not one of them. The hours of darkness were peak business hours for the area's gambling halls, saloons and bordellos. The Barbary Coast never slept. An hour's sleep would cost an hour's profit—and profit was the one essential.

Profit was not on Katie's mind, though money was seldom far from it. But for Katie, money wasn't profit. It was survival. Survival and maybe, someday, a way out. Out of this shabby room in an even shabbier building; out of this tumbledown neighborhood that bordered on neighborhoods even more worn and tattered.

She'd spent most of her life in rooms much like this one. Her parents' finances had dictated their living conditions and their finances had fluctuated with all the regularity of the ocean's tide. If the show was going well and the theater was filled most nights, then they dined on oysters, roast beef and champagne. When the crowds were thin, they counted themselves lucky to have food at all.

Katie had spent all her nineteen years moving from place to place, never sure where the next meal was coming from or if there was going to be a next meal. Sean and Maggie McBride had come from Ireland, determined to make a new and better life for themselves in a fresh new land.

The theater was in their blood and they'd been sure that, in America, the footlights would shine brighter than they had in Ireland, the applause would be louder and every opening would herald a new success.

They'd brought their infant son with them, and a few years later, Katie had been born during a brief stop in Cleveland. The McBrides had dreamed of founding a new theatrical dynasty, like the Booths of years past and the Drews and Barrymores of more recent times. The name McBride would come to mean the finest in theater, the plays everyone wanted to see.

Katie rolled over in bed, staring at a patch of peeling wallpaper. Odd, how she'd given so little thought to her parents' dreams and aspirations when they'd been alive. It was only now that they were dead that she wondered if it had bothered them that Ibsen and Shakespeare had given way to vaudeville. If it had, they'd never let it show.

Katie had been on the stage before she could walk, a living prop for a play whose title even her parents had forgotten by the time she was five. She'd danced and sung in theaters from Boston to Los Angeles. Once she'd even had a role in a Broadway play with Ethel Barrymore.

The McBride family had seldom been in one place for more than a few months at a time. Her parents had always believed that a great hit awaited them in the next town, the next theater, just around the next bend in the road. Katie had grown up to the sound of applause, the clicking of wheels on the railroad track and the smell of greasepaint.

In a way, this dingy room was the closest thing to a home she'd ever known. Certainly she'd lived here longer than she'd ever lived anywhere else. Her older brother, Colin, had left the McBride family act almost three years ago, tired of the endless wandering. Liking San Francisco best of all the endless succession of cities they'd traveled through, he'd settled there.

Katie had stayed with her parents, of course, until their death eight months earlier in New York City. They'd been crossing the street in front of their hotel when an automobile careened around the corner at a speed far in excess of that demanded by safety—nearly thirty miles an hour, one witness had guessed.

The impact had killed them both and Katie was suddenly an orphan. But not quite alone in the world. Colin had sent for her and she'd come all the way across the country to join him.

On the journey, she'd tried not to hope for too much. Colin had said little enough in his few letters, which had often taken months to reach his family. Katie knew nothing of his life. Still, she'd allowed herself to dream—just a little.

A small house maybe—nothing fancy—just a cottage where she'd perhaps be able to grow a rose or two. They'd rented a house one summer in Connecticut and she'd never forgotten the scent of the roses that grew over the porch. She'd learn to cook and to clean and take care of Colin and for the first time in her life, she'd have a home.

But there was no cottage. No plot of ground to garden. There was just this one room, with a bathroom down the hall and one window that looked out on a street lined with shabby buildings inhabited by shabby people.

She didn't blame Colin that reality had fallen short of her dreams. In her nineteen years Katie had learned that life rarely did anything else. And prosperity was not as easily found as Mr. McKinley's political slogan had implied. A "full lunch pail" was still a dream for a large segment of the population. One could hardly blame Mr. McKinley of course, cut down in the prime of life as he had been. Most seemed to agree that Mr. Roosevelt had done a good job—hadn't he been elected in his own right, just last year?

Still, there was little enough work to be had, even for a strong-bodied man who was willing to work. Labor on the docks did not pay enough to live on and turned young men into old men before their time. Colin had done a bit of that and he'd worked as a clerk in a drugstore for a time. He'd been getting by, spending money as he made it, for he'd not been expecting to have someone depending on him.

When Katie arrived, he'd taken a job as a dealer in a saloon on the Barbary Coast. It was no job for a man of his talents, and Katie had told him so, but it put food on the table. It hadn't taken her long to see the necessity of finding work herself. She could, perhaps, have gone back to the theater. There were those who'd remember her parents and be willing to help her in their memory. Heaven knows, they'd always been willing enough to help anyone who crossed their path.

But her future didn't lie in the theater. Though she'd liked it well enough as a child, the excitement had long ago worn off. She was tired of the tawdry trappings and the only certainty in life being uncertainty. She wanted a home and a family, a place to put down roots.

She turned over and stared at the ceiling again. Nearly three o'clock in the morning and Colin still wasn't home. Not that he hadn't worked this late before, but it never failed to worry her. He'd laughed at her fears, telling her that she wasn't to be worrying about him. But she'd read the stories of men being knocked over the head and shanghaied onto a ship in the harbor. Colin was all she had left in the world. She couldn't help but worry.

Still, he'd be furious if he knew she'd been lying awake, waiting for him to come home. She closed her eyes, willing herself to relax. If she didn't get rest, she'd be falling asleep over her stitching work tomorrow. She had to believe that Colin could take care of himself.

But what if something had happened to him?

Her eyes flew open and she stared up at the darkened ceiling, waiting, listening.

The crowd at the Rearing Stallion was reaching its nightly peak. Customers filled every table, drinking, gambling and spending their money. The midnight show had been a rousing success. Lily and her girls had shown a scandalous amount of shapely leg and sang songs that would have brought a blush to a maiden's cheek, were a maiden so foolish as to venture into the smoky room.

But the women who frequented the Rearing Stallion would have been hard-pressed to recall just when they'd lost their claim to that title. The brilliant silks and satins of their gowns glittered in the light of the newly installed electric chandeliers. They moved amongst the more somberly clad men like colorful birds in summer's brightest plumage.

The huge glass mirror that backed the bar reflected the crowd, making it seem twice as large. A wide mahogany staircase swept up along one papered wall, leading to the second floor, where rooms could be had for business requiring more privacy than the tables on the floor. Private card games as well as more romantic meetings made the second floor almost as profitable as the first.

Colin McBride paid no attention to the glittering swirl of people. When he'd first come to work at the Rearing Stallion, he'd been impressed by the sparkle of lights, the richly flocked walls and the warm gleam of wood. But it hadn't taken him long to see that it was only a facade.

In daylight, it was easy to see the dirt that marked the walls, the scars in the wood where too many feet had scuffed over the floors, too many glasses had been slapped down on the bar. There was a crack across one corner of the huge mirror behind the bar. At night, a fancy feathered fan covered the crack, but during the day no one bothered with trying to hide it. The Rearing Stallion, in all its tawdry glory, was nothing more than a thin facade over a flaking background.

Colin didn't mind. After spending most of his life in the theater, he understood facades. Most things in life weren't entirely what they seemed and most people had one face they showed to the world and another face entirely that they wore in private.

There was no clock in the Rearing Stallion, nothing to remind the patrons of the hour, but Colin knew it must be nearing three. Three o'clock, and the game had been going on since ten. There was a small crowd gathered around the table, sensing the tension.

He dealt another round of cards, his face impassive. The game couldn't last much longer. Of the five players who had started, three had dropped out, their money gone. For the past two hours, it had been just two men facing each other across the table. But it couldn't last much longer.

"Damn you, Quentin." Joseph Landers threw down his hand in disgust when his opponent displayed four queens.

"Careful, Joseph. A gentleman always loses gracefully." Colin watched as the winner scooped the pile of money from the center of the table.

He knew Joseph Landers, by reputation at least. And the reputation wasn't good. The man was related by marriage to the Sterlings, one of San Francisco's wealthiest families. No one knew for sure where his money came from, but he always had enough to gamble. He was a poor loser and Colin had no doubt he'd be a cheat also, if given the chance.

The other player was new to the Rearing Stallion, or at least new to Colin. He was a tall man with thick, dark-gold hair that would probably look much lighter in the sunlight. Strong features and eyes of a startling shade of blue, explained several of the ladies who stood nearby, their attention more on the players than on the game.

Colin dealt another hand, sensing that this would be the final one. Landers had little enough left to gamble and he'd get no credit at the Rearing Stallion.

The hand was played out with cruel speed. Landers asked for two cards, which Colin dealt him silently. After a moment, the stranger requested a single card, his expression unchanging as he accepted it and slipped it into his hand. Colin had already seen the light flare in Landers's eyes as he arranged his own cards. He shoved the last of his money into the center of the table, the slightest tremor shaking his hands. The stranger arched one eyebrow but silently matched the bet.

Landers placed his cards on the table with a triumphant flourish, a grin breaking over his thin features. A full house, aces and eights lay on the green felt. He reached for the pot, sure of his triumph.

"You're always in such a hurry, Joseph." At his opponent's quiet words Landers's hands froze over the money. The other man spread his cards on the table and Colin had to choke back a laugh. A royal flush seemed to gleam as if lit from within.

Landers stared at it in disbelief, his eyes bulging. His hands twitched over the money and then clenched into fists before slowly withdrawing.

"Damn you, Quentin."

"You've already said that once. You really shouldn't repeat yourself so often. It makes for a boring conversation." Quentin's long fingers neatly stacked the money. He seemed oblivious to the hungry way Landers's eyes followed the bills as he tucked them inside his coat.

"Here." The stranger handed a bill to Colin, giving him a friendly smile. "My apologies for keeping you up well past the time when civilized men are abed."

"Thank you," Colin murmured, taking the bill. It wasn't until the man had turned away that he looked at it and realized that he was holding one hundred dollars, more than two months' wages. He started to call the stranger back, but stopped. Considering the thousands the man had just pocketed as casually as if they were pennies, the tip was probably not a mistake.

With the stranger's departure, the small crowd dispersed. Landers had left the table abruptly, striding off with quick, angry steps. Colin found himself hoping the stranger had the sense to pick up a hack. He wouldn't want to be on the street at this hour after having just won so heavily from Joseph Landers. Landers struck him as likely to have any number of undesirable acquaintances who'd not object to knocking a man over the head.

Minutes later Colin shrugged into his coat and left the saloon. There'd be little more money to be earned tonight. What small spark had enlivened the night had left with the stranger.

Outside, the air was cold and damp and he hunched his shoulders, buttoning his too-thin coat against the chill. He lingered near the wall of the saloon, waiting until a horse and buggy had passed by, the driver huddled beneath the warmth of a thick coat and blanket.

Fog swirled around his legs as he stepped into the street. The light from the street lamps struggled futilely against the white mist, winning only a tiny patch of ground before giving up the battle. Long stretches of dingy gray marked the distance between the lamps. Objects were only half seen until you stepped right up to them.

The fog slowed Colin's stride only slightly. He'd traveled this road so many times, he could have walked it blindfolded. He'd grown accustomed to the thick, white fog that often blanketed the city, cloaking everything in pale tendrils of dampness. There was a certain pleasure to these late-night hours. With the fog shrouding everything in mystery, he might have been the only person in the city.

He was just a few short blocks from the saloon when a vague sound caught his attention—a muffled shout. He slowed his stride, cocking his head trying to pinpoint the sound. The fog distorted sound as well as sight.

He hesitated at the mouth of an alleyway. Through the haze, he could just discern the vague outlines of four men. If there was one thing Colin had learned in this life, it was that it paid to mind your own business, and that was a rule that applied even more here on the Barbary Coast. People who forgot it were lucky if they lived to regret their nosiness.

Still, it looked as if the odds here were far from even. Three men faced a fourth and Colin doubted that they were having a cozy chat. He hesitated a moment longer, knowing that the wise choice was to walk away. Katie would be lying awake, waiting for him, though she thought that was her secret. He had a responsibility to her.

The three closed in on the one and the sound of fists striking flesh echoed eerily down the alley. Muttering a curse at his own stupidity, Colin turned and ran toward the men.

The fight was short and savage. The ruffians hadn't been prepared for two opponents and Colin's entrance into the battle threw them off balance. He bruised his fist against an unshaven jaw before burying the other fist in a belly grown soft with too much gin. There was a muffled grunt from his opponent, and then a cry of pain from where the other two still faced their intended victim.

Colin dodged a blow that would have laid him out and planted another solid fist on the man's chin. Glancing around as the ruffian staggered back, he saw that the victim had dispatched one of his opponents and was now facing the second.

With the odds suddenly evened up, the thugs lost their taste for the game. The two still standing turned and ran, leaving their compatriot stretched out on the hard ground.

The silence was suddenly as thick as the fog. At first, all Colin could hear was the ragged beating of his own heart. His hands ached and he hoped they wouldn't stiffen up to the point where he couldn't handle a deck of cards.

"I thank you, sir. Your aid was most well-timed."

Colin turned toward the husky voice, aware of a niggling sense of familiarity. But in the density of the haze he could not identify the face.

"It seems they had little stomach for a fight when the odds were not so heavily in their favor," Colin said.

"Well, it's my good fortune that they weren't more dedicated to their task." He broke off, reaching one hand up to his shoulder and swaying slightly.

"You're hurt," Colin exclaimed, stepping over the form of the fallen man with no more than a cursory glance. It was enough to tell him that the ruffian lived, which was probably more than he deserved.

"A matter of a small knife wound. Nothing too serious, I think."

"You should have it tended to." Colin glanced around the alley and came to a decision. He'd already interfered more than sanity recommended. Now the man was hurt and there was certainly no way to tell just how badly until they got him to a source of light. "Come with me. My sister will tend to you."

"It's not so bad that it can't wait for attention. I doubt your sister will be overjoyed to have you arrive on her doorstep with a stranger in tow and ask her to tend his wounds."

Despite the light amusement in his tone, Colin saw him sway again. He bent to pick up the man's hat, dusting it on his leg before handing it to the stranger.

"Katie won't mind. She'd not forgive me for leaving you here, alone and bleeding, at the mercy of those men should they return."

"Well, I certainly would not want to be a cause of bringing your sister's wrath down on your head. That would be churlish of me after you came to my aid in such a splendid manner."

He took the hat Colin proffered and set it on his head before bending to pick up the walking stick that had been wrenched away in the fighting. A quick intake of breath said that the movement had been unwise and he didn't spurn the hand that Colin set under his arm to steady him as he straightened.

They'd gone only a short distance when Colin became aware that the stranger's unsteadiness was caused as much by alcohol as by any damage done in the fight. He frowned, wondering if this was such a good idea after all. His doubts grew even stronger when they stepped beneath a lantern and he caught a glimpse of the stranger's face. It was the man from the Rearing Stallion, the fair-haired gambler who'd walked away with his pockets full.

Something told him that he was going to regret bringing this man home. He had a feeling this stranger was not the sort of gentleman he should be introducing to his sister, particularly not at nearly four in the morning. Still, it was too late to change his mind now and there was no denying that the man was hurt.

Katie started up in bed at the sound of footsteps in the hallway. She'd dozed off still listening for Colin's return and now her heart was pounding with the suddenness of her awakening.

The footsteps stopped outside the door and she reached up one hand to clutch the neck of her nightdress. Colin would be alone, yet she could hear the mutter of voices. Thieves? But surely thieves would not be so loud, nor would they waste their time on a building such as this, where they could hardly expect to find anything worth their while.

"Katie?" Her brother's soft voice followed on the sound of a key in the lock and then the creak of the door. "Katie, I've brought a man who's hurt. Will you help?"

Katie swung her legs off the narrow bed, reaching for the light flannel wrapper she'd laid ready for morning. Buttoning the collar high on her throat, she patted a hand over her hair in a vague attempt to curb its thick waywardness.

She brushed aside the curtain that separated her bed from the rest of the room, blinking in the sudden light as Colin lit the lamp. Colin turned from the table, an explanation on his tongue, but Katie hardly heard him. She was staring at the stranger who stood near the door.

He was tall, taller even than Colin. His shoulders were broad, filling out the formal black jacket in a way that must have made his tailor happy. His hair was a shade that seemed not quite gold and not quite brown but was somewhere between the two. His features were strong, too strong to be considered handsome perhaps, but compelling all the same.

But it was his eyes that threatened to steal her breath away. They were blue, but more than blue. They were deep in color, not like a summer sky but more like a sapphire she'd seen once.

BOOK: Saturday's Child
7.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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