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Authors: Bobbi Smith

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Romance, #Western, #Westerns

Sweet Silken Bondage (7 page)

BOOK: Sweet Silken Bondage
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"You say your men have searched everywhere?" he
digressed.

"Everywhere," Luis confirmed. "That's why I'm here.
I came to double check myself. But they were right.
There's no trace of Reina to be found"

"What are you going to do next?"

"I don't know," he responded tightly. "You know my
problem. I must make this alliance with Marlow if I am to have any hope of keeping the rancho intact."

"We could always fight the challenge to your ownership of Rancho Alvarez in court," Rafael suggested,
hating to see his friend backed into a corner this way.

"There's no point to it," Luis despaired. "I've seen my
friends mortgage everything they own to prove the
validity of their land grants and deeds in the American
courts, only to lose anyway and end up in poverty."

"I see your point." The attorney agreed reluctantly.
He knew well the unfair workings of the new American
judicial system. The general feeling among the gringos
ever since they had started trying to take over the state
was that it was unfair for so much land to be owned by
only a few dirty Mexicans. The newcomers had begun
challenging the ownership of many of the various
ranches, forcing the Californios to prove their claims,
even though the land may have been in their families for
many generations. Very few had been able to win their
cases. Many had lost just about everything.

"There's no use in beggaring myself to fight a losing
battle. That's why I've worked out this arrangement
with Marlow. With a rich, powerful Yankee for a sonin-law, my holdings will be safe." Luis's expression grew
thunderous as he turned his thoughts once again to his
daughter. "If I can just find Reina, everything will be all
right."

They were both lost in thought for a moment, Luis
imagining himself locating Reina and dragging her
home and Rafael wondering how he could help him in
his search. Silence stretched heavily between them until
the lawyer remembered the man he'd encountered at
the jail earlier that afternoon.

"I have an idea..." Rafael offered tentatively, not
sure how his friend would react to what he was about to
suggest.

"What?"

"I'm not sure you'll like it..."

"Rafael, I'm desperate. I'll listen to anything that might help."

"Clay Cordell's in town. I saw him at the jail today
while I was there meeting with the sheriff."

"Clay Cordell? Who is he? I've never heard of him."

"He's one of the best bounty hunters in the state. He
and his partner, a big Irishman named O'Keefe,
brought in Ace Denton today," Rafael supplied.

"Ace Denton, the gunfighter?"

"Yes. They tracked him down and brought him back
alive to stand trial."

"You think I should hire this bounty hunter to find
Reina?" Luis was doubtful. He knew what kind of men
bounty hunters were.

"You need help, Luis. Reina's very clever, but Cordell could find her. I'm familiar with his reputation.
He's good at what he does."

"But I must keep this quiet!"

"The man makes his living tracking people down. I'm
sure for a price you could hire him to find Reina and
keep his mouth shut while he's doing it." When Luis still
looked unconvinced, he went on. "What have you got to
lose? You won't be able to keep her disappearance a
secret forever. What will happen if Marlow finds out
that she's gone?"

"I know, I know," he agonized. "All right. I'll do it.
Where can I find this gringo?"

"He and O'Keefe are probably in one of the saloons
celebrating their good fortune. Cordell's a tall man with
dark brown hair and a beard. He was wearing all black
when I saw him earlier. O'Keefe's almost as tall as
Cordell, but he's brawnier. He's clean-shaven and
black-haired."

Luis got slowly to his feet, his reluctance obvious. He
knew he had to do it, for Reina had left him no other
choice. If hiring this stranger to find her was the only
way he could get her back in time to avoid a scandal, he
would do it.

"I'll be waiting to hear from you," Rafael said as he walked him to the door.

"I'll come back after I speak with him."

"Good, by the way..." He put a hand on his arm to
stop him from leaving. "I almost forgot to tell you.
While I was speaking with the sheriff, someone came in
with the news that Pedro Santana is dead."

"Pedro?" Luis was startled by the news. Santana had
not been a close friend, but they were acquaintances.

Rafael nodded. "He was found out at his ranch north
of town. He'd been shot in the back."

"Pedro was a good man, well liked and respected in
the community," Luis mourned. "Why would anyone
want to kill him?"

"Robbery, I guess. No one knows for sure. No witnesses have come forward yet. I'll let you know if
anything develops."

"Please do. I liked Santana, and I want to see his
murderer brought to justice."

With that, the two men said good-bye, and Luis
headed off to find the man he hoped would be able to
track down his. wayward daughter.

"You boys ready for anything else?" Josie, the blonde,
buxom saloon girl, asked as she sidled up to the table
where the two strangers sat in the crowded, noisy bar.
Though both men were covered with trail dust, they
were the handsomest things to grace the Perdition Saloon in a long time. She knew from experience that men
who'd been on the trail as long as they obviously had
were ready for a little feminine company, and she was
more than ready to supply what they needed.

"What have you got to offer, sweetheart?" Devlin
O'Keefe asked in his deep, booming voice, his blueeyed gaze hot upon the lowcut bodice of her scarlet silk
and black lace dress.

"What d'ya want?" she returned archly, leaning toward him a bit to give him a better view of her barely restrained breasts. "More whiskey?" She had served
them a full bottle a short time before, and it was already
better than half-empty.

"The whiskey will do for starters, then come back and
join us, and bring a friend," Devlin instructed expansively, glancing back to the bar where another girl
stood.

Josie's eyes lit up at the prospect. "I'll be right back."
She sashayed back to the bar to place her order and to
speak to Frenchie, the other barmaid.

"What do you think, Clay?" Devlin teased. "Are you
in the mood for a blonde or a brunette?"

Clay shrugged. "One woman's the same as any other,
Devlin. Seems the blonde's caught your eye, so I'll settle
for the brunette."

Devlin grinned wickedly at his friend as he finished
off his glass of whiskey and poured another. "Your
generosity knows no bounds."

Clay returned his smile as he, too, refilled his glass.
"Anything for a friend."

The girls approached the table then, carrying another bottle and the extra glasses, and Clay reached out
to snare the dark-haired saloon girl around the waist.
She gave a squeal of delight as he hauled her down onto
his lap, then quickly threw her arms around him and
planted a hot, wet kiss on his mouth. She'd been watching this one since he'd come in a short time before and
definitely thought him the handsomest of the two, with
his broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped physique. She
even found his beard intriguing, although she imagined
he'd look even better without it.

"What's your name, handsome?" she cooed when she
came up for air.

"Clay, what's yours?"

"Frenchie," the brunette told him with a wide, inviting smile.

"Well, Frenchie, let's have a drink and see what kind
of excitement the rest of the night might bring."

Frenchie giggled loudly as she wriggled her hips
suggestively in his lap. "I can hardly wait to see what
comes up..."

Josie did not wait for Devlin to grab her but went
willingly into his arms. She kissed him excitingly as she
lay half-prone across his lap. Without preamble, she
took his hand and pressed it to her ample bosom, not
caring that most everyone in the saloon was watching.

"We're going to have a good time tonight," Josie
promised him in a husky voice, unaware that an elderly,
distinguished-looking Californio had approached their
table and was watching them with something akin to
distaste.

"Excuse me."

The stern precision of the intruder's tone stopped
both Clay and Devlin in their playful pursuits. Both
men glanced up in annoyance at the stranger who'd
dared to interrupt them. The last, long weeks they'd
spent tracking down Denton had taken their toll on
them. They were here to relax for a while, to live it up
and enjoy life, which they were obviously trying to do.

"What can we do for you?" Devlin asked, eyeing the
dignified, Hispanic man and wondering what he
wanted.

"I'm looking for a gentleman by the name of Cordell-Clay Cordell, to be exact." It irked Luis to think
that this dirty looking, bearded man might be Cordell,
but he certainly matched Rafael's description.

"Who wants to know?" Devlin demanded.

"My name is Luis Alvarez, and I have a business
proposition to discuss with Mr. Cordell. If one of you
gentlemen is he." Luis tensed, annoyed that this lowlife,
who was so boldly and openly fondling the whore
sprawled across his lap, would dare to question him.

Clay maintained an aura of coolness as he studied
this Alvarez. He kept one arm nonchalantly around
Frenchie's waist, yet his gun hand was resting on the
handle of his revolver, just in case this man's business proposition wasn't friendly.

"I'm Cordell" he answered curtly, his gaze never
wavering from the man's face.

"I must speak with you, Mr. Cordell," Luis announced in his usual imperious tone. "Alone."

Clay, however, took orders from no man, and this
man's attitude put him off. "I don't think so, Mr....
What did you say your name was again?"

"Alvarez, Luis Alvarez," he snapped, unused to such
treatment.

"Well, Mr. Alvarez, I'm a little busy right now, as you
can see. Why don't you look me up tomorrow? Maybe
we can talk then." Clay dismissed him.

"I have a very profitable business offer to make to
you, Mr. Cordell. It can't wait until tomorrow" Luis
insisted, though it infuriated him to have to plead his
case to a man such as this.

Frenchie's eyes had widened as she'd recognized the
name. She leaned closer to Clay to whisper. "This is the
Luis Alvarez!"

"So?" Clay responded indifferently as he took another
drink of his whiskey.

"He's a very rich, very powerful man in these parts.
He's not one you'd want to anger, and it might be worth
your while to listen to what he has to say," she encouraged.

Clay leaned back with seeming negligence in his
chair, giving Luis a cursory look. "I'm a reasonable
man, Mr. Alvarez, and since you seem to think that this
can't wait, what exactly is it you want?"

Luis stiffened visibly. He did not want to discuss his
personal affairs in the middle of a crowded saloon. "I
must speak with you privately."

"What's wrong with right here?"

"I prefer to keep it just between us," he replied with
what dignity he could muster. He would not beg for
anything.

"You can use my room," Frenchie offered.

"All right" Clay agreed.

The saloon girl stood up and, taking Clay's hand,
pulled him up from the chair and started across the
room to where the steps led upstairs.

"Wait a minute." Clay resisted her lead long enough
to grab the new bottle of whiskey off the table. He
flashed Devlin an easy grin when his friend would have
protested. "It might be a long meeting, you never know."

"I suppose if Josie, here, keeps me busy, I won't even
miss you," he returned, pulling the more than willing
saloon girl up for a kiss.

"Let's go," Clay urged Frenchie and Luis, and they
disappeared upstairs.

"This is it," she told them, opening the door to a small
room that contained only a single bed and small washstand. She drew Clay inside, but Luis hesitated in the
hall.

"I need to speak with you alone, Mr. Cordell," he
insisted again, looking pointedly at Frenchie.

"Get lost, Frenchie. I'll call you when we're through
talking," Clay told her.

"I'll be waiting downstairs." She ignored Luis's icy
regard and kissed Clay one more time before strutting
from the room.

Luis watched her move off down the hall, waiting to
make sure that she went back down to the saloon, then
entered the bedroom and closed and locked the door
behind him.

There was something about Alvarez that Clay didn't
like or trust, and always being one to rely on his
instincts, he monitored the man's every move just in
case. Though Clay appeared relaxed and at ease, in
truth he was tense and on edge. Bottle in hand, he
stretched out comfortably on the bed, bracing himself
against the headboard, and took a deep drink.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Alvarez?" Clay's eyes
narrowed as they watched the old Californio come to
stand at the foot of the bed.

"I understand that you make your living 'locating'
people, Mr. Cordelell."

Clay gave a short laugh. "I guess you could describe it
that way."

"In that case, I want to hire you." Luis's pride was
taking a battering, having to deal with a man like
Cordell, but he knew there was no other way out.

"You want to hire me?" Clay repeated. "I don't usually hire myself out."

"I'll make it worth your while, sir. Name your price."

Clay couldn't believe what he was hearing. Name his
price? Only a fool or a very desperate man would give a
man the power to name his own pay. He was intrigued,
but he was also growing more and more uneasy. He was
not a hired gun, although he didn't hesitate to use force
if it was necessary "Just what is it you want me to do?"

Luis looked uncomfortable, but he answered honestly. "I want you to find my daughter."

"You what?" Clay's expression reflected his surprise
at the request. He'd been anticipating any number of
possibilities, but this had not been one of them.

BOOK: Sweet Silken Bondage
3.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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