Thursday, March 14, 2013

Read a Free Chapter of Send Him an Angel!

Elizabeth and Gabriel—more than one war is brewing in the Black Hills…

Send Him an Angel

Book One in Angels of Deadwood Gulch
(Elizabeth Bonner and Gabriel King's Story)

Tabitha Shay

Chapter One

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

~Alexander Pope
An Essay on Criticism

New Orleans
June 30, 1875

“Another letter arrived, mademoiselle.
“Only one?” Elizabeth Bonner quelled her impatience at yet another interruption and turned from the Queen Anne desk where she busied herself scribbling names on an invitation list for her wedding. “What is it, Henri, someone else hinting for an invite?”
“Henri can’t say, mademoiselle.”
“Can’t or won’t?” she teased, quirking a brow. “Just put it over there with the rest of them.” She motioned toward a Hepplewhite Game table standing across the room. A large silver server set on it smothered with white envelopes. Henri had started stacking wedding presents from day one near the table until now, the entire south wall was stacked four deep in gifts. She didn’t even want to hazard a guess how wide.
“Aren’t they one and the same?” he asked politely, showing remarkable restraint at her lack of interest in the packet and gifts.
She knew very well Henri peeked at every letter that arrived though he was always very careful to reseal it. But why bother to read it when she knew the servant would inform her of anything of importance? She didn’t mind that he perused the mail first. It saved her time, and Elizabeth had no secrets from her staff. Most of them had been with her since the day she was born, and with her Nana Marie before that. In all honesty, she loved the staff more than she loved what little family she had left.
Elizabeth smothered an urge to laugh. Poor Henri, he always referred to himself in first person. Over the years, she’d grown used to it, but for some, it was a bit startling. She knew the aged butler was as tired of all the endless presents and letters as she was.
He made dozens of trips to the front door, graciously accepted all deliveries, and brought them to her as they arrived even though he knew she wouldn’t look at them. It exhausted her just watching him.
“Two more gifts arrived today,” he informed her.
“We’re running out of space, Henri.”
“They will keep coming, mademoiselle.”
“Yes. I know.” Elizabeth swiped a strand of loose hair out of her eyes and tapped the quill on a piece of stationery. “Perhaps we should have the furniture removed from the blue room and all the presents moved in there.” That way she wouldn’t have to look at them when she was working at her escritoire.  “I’d be glad to hire you a helper,” she offered, noting his red face.
His snowy-white brows beetled together. A scowl settled on his lined face. He drew back as if she’d insulted him. “The day Henri can’t handle bringing the mail from the front door to the parlor, mademoiselle, is the day he will have the monument erected in the cemetery.”
“I meant to help move the furniture out of the blue room and move the gifts in there.”
“You doubt Henri can perform his duties?”
“Of course not, Henri, how thoughtless of me to make the offer.”
His faded blue eyes twinkled. “Henri accepts your apology.”
Indeed. She felt properly chastised and forgiven. Elizabeth sighed. She was surprised that today had only brought one letter. Not that she wanted more. She didn’t. Her wedding was still a year away, the date not even set yet, and already she was inundated with daily reminders that so-and-so had been friends with her family for five generations.
She thought at least five different people had made the same comment, ‘Did you know my cousin Beau is a fourth cousin to your great-great grandmother twice removed?’
Elizabeth always nodded politely and hurried away before she gave into a fit of giggles. She doubted a cousin Beau even existed, at least for that person. She didn’t think her family had been here for five generations either, three or four, maybe, yet she remained gracious, not contradicting anyone.
The quest from strangers to wring an invitation out of her boggled the mind. She’d had no idea so many people would claim friendship or kinship just to attend her marriage ceremony. Everyone was predicting it to be the social event of the year.
It didn’t matter that the big day was still in the planning stage, everyone wanted to attend. Every day she added more guests. At this rate, come next spring, her wedding was indeed going to be the biggest social event of the season. The list was out of hand, but she didn’t dare snub anyone. Snubs in the South carried a lot of weight. She could ruin someone’s life by doing such a thing. She didn’t want something like that on her conscience.
“Henri thinks the mademoiselle should not ignore this letter.”
Elizabeth drew a resigned breath and accepted the creased envelope off the mini silver tray the butler held before her. Blowing aside a pudgy blonde curl bobbing in front of her eyes, she placed the quill back in the inkwell and set it aside. “Who’s it from, Henri?” Without doubt, not only had the butler opened and read the letter, but also very carefully perused the envelope before he brought it to her. Nothing got past him, especially if it was one of her mother’s outlandish bills.
A warm fuzzy feeling settled in the pit of her stomach. She adored the elderly butler. He had been the father she never had. Henri always smelled like pipe tobacco, though she’d never seen him use it. Henri had always dwelled in this house, his father before him and so on. Looking dignified in his black and gold butler suit, soft white gloves and powder-gray hair, he tried to stand straight, but his knees bowed outward with age and his bones popped and creaked when he walked.
In all honesty, he should have retired years ago, but he refused to give up his position and she didn’t have the heart to break his. When this Henri finally retired, there wouldn’t be another to take his place. So she ignored the creaking, the bow-legged creeping when he walked, and his shaky hands.
Looking directly ahead, he reminded her of an aged statue, though deep inside he was a softie.
 “Who’s it from?” he repeated. “Do you accuse Henri of snooping?”
Elizabeth remained straight-faced. “Of course not, Henri, I know you would never do such a thing.”
“Then Henri has no idea who the letter is from, mademoiselle.” He sniffed. “Henri doesn’t recognize the name on it.”
Elizabeth glanced at the butler. Hiding a grin, she decided against a second apology. “Thank you, Henri.”
The butler nodded. “Qui, mademoiselle,” he replied crisply. “The letter, it has traveled a far distance, all the way from the West.”
“The west? What west?”
“The West-west. Mademoiselle surely knows of this place where the west savages dwell?”
“West savages?”
“The ones who shoot buffalo with little arrows?”
“Ahh, I see. Well, yes, I’ve heard of them and the West, but…I don’t know anyone from there.”
“Of course not, mademoiselle, it’s a distant land. You’d never consider leaving New Orleans to visit it.”
Curious, Elizabeth read aloud the name on the return address. “Gabriel King.” It wasn’t one she recognized, either. “Perhaps it’s someone Nicholas is acquainted with, someone sending us well wishes for our upcoming nuptials.”
The gray-haired butler tightened his lips with silent disapproval. “Qui, mademoiselle. Perhaps.”
Elizabeth lifted a brow. She shook her head and sliced open the envelope with a pearl-handled letter opener. For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why her staff disliked her fiancé so much. Even though Nicholas was a bit stuffy at times, he was always kind and polite.
“Will there be anything else mademoiselle requires?”
“No, Henri. You may go. And thank you.”
He nodded a curt move of his head, slowly crossed the room, and pulled the double doors closed behind him. Elizabeth hesitated a moment, but curiosity got the better of her. Intrigued, she unfolded the single slip of paper and read.

Dakota Territory
May 26, 1875

~Dear Miss Bonner,
My name is Gabriel King, and it is with heavy heart I find myself penning this letter to you. Sadly, Pete Bonner was killed by the warring, murdering, scalping Sioux yesterday. At present, I’m the closest thing to an attorney in Deadwood, so your father left a copy of his last will in my trust.
 I’m sorry to say your father left a widow behind, a lovely woman who grieves deeply for Pete. Although he left her a reasonable amount of gold, the bulk of his holdings were left to you. His widow is quite content with her share and so will not give you any problems.
The short story is you have inherited most all of Pete’s earthly treasures, except for the five hundred thousand in gold he left his wife. He left his personal items—a gold pocket watch that keeps perfect time, a sound horse named, Bother, along with fine equipment, saddle, bridle, reins and bit, a set of pearl-handled colts that are precisely balanced and dead on the mark, a rifle, a nice pair of leather boots, a few coins, five shirts, two pair of trousers, two pair of socks, two pair of long johns, and one Sunday suit—which I made certain he was buried in—a shaving mug, straight razor, a leather strop, multiple bags of gold dust that are currently locked in my safe with your name listed as the owner, a rich producing gold ore mine in the Hills, and a general stock and trade store with the shelves fully stocked, to you.
For your peace of mind, Pete was given a right nice send off with his widow and close friends in attendance. His final resting place is Boot Hill overlooking Deadwood Gulch. I wasn’t stingy with the cost, but had a nice pine box made for him with a good tight lid attached so no critters could get to the leftovers, although by the time the savages finished chopping him up, there wasn’t much left to bury.
 Above the store is spacious living quarters your father called home. Here in Deadwood, that is like gold, much better than a tent. Considering the rapid growth and development of my fair town, the store is quite profitable. It will be even more so once I add lumber and building supplies to sell with the current merchandise.
I completely understand your desire not to uproot your life in New Orleans and move to Deadwood to oversee the adverse challenges your properties here represent to a delicate, city-bred Southern lady such as yourself, or even risk a visit here on the frontier, a quite lawless land to be sure.
I’m most happy to offer you a fair price for the mine, store, and its contents. If you wish to keep a token to remember your father, I’ll be glad to mail you his gold pocket watch. I’ll disperse the rest of his property to the needy, if this meets with your approval.
Included with this letter, you’ll find a generous bank draft for the afore mentioned properties. I hope it suffices your expectations. If you’re careful, it is sufficient funds to last a lifetime. Please feel free to deposit it anytime. If you will sign the deeds to the properties I’ve enclosed and return them to me, I’d be most grateful.
Please accept my sincere condolences at the loss of your father.

Your humble servant,
~Gabriel King

Elizabeth blinked, read the letter a second time, then folded it with rock-steady hands and stuffed it inside the envelope. Underneath, she simmered like a wash pot over a blazing fire. Good grief! She didn’t know whether to laugh or spit out a few unladylike words.
Swallowing hard, she studied the deeds made out in her name, an X on the lines for her to sign and return. The papers appeared to be authentic, but she was no expert when it came to documents such as these.
The amount of the bank draft from Mr. King both amazed and appalled her.
If you’re careful, it is sufficient funds to last a lifetime.
He was right, indeed, a generous sum—enough money, as he’d written, to last her a lifetime and three times over. Thanks to the munificent inheritance from her Nana Marie, she was already wealthy and those resources, with careful management, would last her a lifetime as well, but if she accepted the bank draft from Gabriel King, then her funds would be limitless. She wouldn’t have to be so thrifty, watch every nickel she spent and wonder if she shouldn’t do it.          
If she held her ground and continued to refuse to cover her mother’s extravagant charges, which only last month she’d warned Charity she was no longer willing to pay, then the money Nana Marie left her could remain untouched, grow, and passed on to her children and their children one day.
Thoughtfully, Elizabeth rubbed a hand over her dry mouth. She needed tea. A lady simply couldn’t make such decisions without tea to fortify her. She snatched up the little gold embossed bell and shook it.
Queenie, the housekeeper, who walked as slow as Henri and was just as ancient, entered the room carrying an oval tray with a pretty pink and blue floral tea pot, sugar bowl, creamer, and a slice of pecan pie.
Elizabeth hurried to unfold the server table.
“Will da missus have need of anything else?” Queenie asked, setting the tray on the round table.
“No, Queenie, thank you. I can serve myself.”
Queenie nodded. “Has da missus had time to read dat strange letter from dat foreign land yet?”
Elizabeth nearly choked on her swallow of tea.
Foreign land?
Of course she knew the servants considered anything a mile east, west, north, or south of New Orleans foreign soil. It wasn’t surprising the housekeeper already knew of the letter’s arrival, either. The servants had a well-oiled gossip mill and it flourished during times of news.
“I did, Queenie.”
“And?” The little black servant tapped her slipper.
Elizabeth felt a flush heat her face. Why, she hadn’t a clue, except Queenie tapping her shoe reminded Elizabeth of when she was a little girl and her hands were caught in the cookie jar. The old servant never thought twice about smacking her hands. “Well, it’s from a man who is both rude, crude, and believes he can have his way with me.”
Queenie’s raisin-dark eyes lit. “Indeed? Dat sounds like a good man to me, the very kind you need.”
Elizabeth pictured the housekeeper rubbing her hands together, hatching some kind of plot. “Don’t get any ideas, the man lives in a foreign country.”
“Miracles do happen, honey lamb. Indeed they do.”
Elizabeth poured herself a second cup of tea and watched the housekeeper exit the room, a new spring to her steps. She shook her head. Queenie had just more or less verified her suspicions of how the servants felt about her fiancé. They didn’t like Nicholas and would do anything to stop the wedding. She’d have to be on her toes. She set her tea cup aside and reached for the letter, re-read it again, and frowned.
If she refused Mr. King’s draft, how much would it change her life?
Would she have to travel out West? Possibly. She didn’t know if she was ready for that huge of an alteration in her life. Neither did she like being rushed into making hasty decisions. She sure didn’t like being bamboozled—sign on the dotted line, indeed. This amount of the bank draft was certainly intended to rush her into making a hasty decision. Curling her lips with distaste, she was beginning to detest that slip of paper.
Elizabeth eyed the bank draft with revulsion.
For some reason, she felt if she didn’t accept the money, her entire future would change.  She’d go down a different path from the one she had planned. Rubbing her shoulders, she wondered at the chills snaking down her spine.
Ridiculous. This was simply unbelievable. Incredible. What is wrong with me? Why do I feel so restless lately?
Of course, she’d accept the bank draft. She had no desire to uproot her life and go to the West, plus she had a wedding to plan, Nicholas to consider. He wouldn’t approve of her leaving New Orleans for an unspecified amount of time.  
She tapped her shoe, much like Queenie had done. The nerve of the Westerner, to simply assume she was too weak-livered, too pampered to make the trip—too–too―female to manage her business and assume responsibility for her properties. That she’d just sell when—
Well, she wasn’t her mother!
She was neither a wastrel nor without a thought in her head. She didn’t appreciate some unknown, uncivilized male from a foreign land assuming she was a feather brain with nothing but hats, gowns, and umbrellas on her mind.
And the way Mr. King described the poor man’s brutal death by the hands of the savages, good heavens, quite barbarous. Did he have no fathom of a lady’s sensitivity? One simply did not write such gruesome details to a gently bred lady.
Marching across the room to the petite, ultra-feminine desk, Elizabeth sat down on the thickly padded chair and reached for quill and paper. Stabbing the tip in the inkwell, she slashed a date across the top of the paper.
Besides the obvious, there was one major mistake in Gabriel King’s letter. Her father drowned in the Mississippi when she was an infant, but aside from that, her father’s name wasn’t Pete Bonner.
As soon as she penned her reply to the overzealous Mr. King, she sent Henri to post it. Then she sat back down and scribbled a hasty note to her mother. Folding it, she paused, ripped it to shreds, and dropped it in a bowl on her desk. No. Much as she dreaded another confrontation with her mother, this wasn’t something they could discuss via cold, impersonal notes.
This was much too personal.
Her mother wouldn’t like her showing up unannounced, but for once, she didn’t care what Charity Bonner liked or didn’t like.
Elizabeth sent a maid for her shawl and gloves, and ordered her carriage readied. She took a deep breath and pressed a hand against her stomach. No, her mother wouldn’t appreciate a visit from her only child, but then that was nothing new. Elizabeth accepted the lacy white gloves from her personal maid and slipped them on. She tilted her chin at a stubborn angle. Too bad Charity wouldn’t welcome her.
She had questions.
And she wanted to know who her father really was.
Charity was going to tell her, even if Elizabeth had to choke the information out of her in a most unladylike fashion.          
* * * *
Henri slipped into the kitchen where Queenie and the housekeeper’s brother, Tutee, the groundskeeper, waited patiently to hear what he had to convey. Their lined and wrinkled faces were filled with anxiety.
“Well?” Queenie demanded, hands on her scrawny hips. “Wat dat letter says all da way from out da West? I couldn’t pry hardly any answers from Miss Elizabeth’s tongue. Dat girl can be real closed mouth when she wants ta be. Does it gives us da way to stop dat infernal weddin’ Miss Elizabeth’s been planning?”
Henri shook his white head. “No. The letter has nothing to do with that pitiful wedding. It’s from some attorney type fellow informing Miss Elizabeth she has inherited a gold mine at a lawless place called Deadwood.”
“Lawless? Humph!” Queenie snorted.
“Maybe da missus, she move dere and give up dis ‘diculous notion of marryin’ dat leech, Nicholas,” Tutee said.
“We gots ta plot a way to stop dat dreadful weddin’,” Queenie stated wringing her hands.
“I know,” Henri agreed with a sigh, “but the letter isn’t going to provide us a way. The stranger’s offering to buy everything Miss Elizabeth inherited. I have no doubt she’ll accept. It would be the sensible thing to do.”
“Sensible?” Queenie snorted again. “What’s sensible about dat weddin’? Dat man gonna git rid of da three of us as soon as he takes charge, and Miss Elizabeth won’t have no say in da matter. Mark my words. We gots ta find a way to stop dat horrible marriage from happening.”
Henri agreed. “I know, but the way isn’t through that letter. It’s just going to provide more funds for Nicholas to steal from our sweet mistress.”
“Dat poor, poor lamb,” Queenie said and flopped down on a chair beside Tutee. She wrung her hands and sniffed. “Dat sorry Nicholas, he a bad man. He gonna hurt our angel. Wait and see.”
“We gots ta find a way,” Tutee said patting his sister’s slender shoulders.
Henri remained standing, although his poor legs quivered with weakness. “What we need is a miracle.”
“What we need is another man to steal Miss Elizabeth away from dat horrible Nicholas man,” Queenie stated. “A man who can make her see dat dey’s better men out there.”
“Like I said, a miracle,” Henri replied.
“We gots our work cut out fo’ us,” Tutee stated, scratching his white frizzy hair. He bowed his head. “Shall we pray?

Available now at Secret Cravings Publishing.

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