A Lady in Defiance
By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2012 Heather Blanton
Inside the Iron Horse Saloon, McIntyre drummed his fingers on his desk. [THERE IS A BIKER BAR OUT ON THE HIGHWAY NAMED THIS; I PASS IT EVERYDAY ON THE WAY TO WORK.] The letter did not bring him the news he wanted and he despised not getting what he wanted. He read that one particular line again: “while Defiance is in an excellent location to provide a hub for spur lines up from Animas Forks and Pinkerton Springs, the town’s lack of civil organization, or for that matter, civility, distresses us.”
The same complaint…again.
So Defiance was a bit on the wild side. He looked out the window of his office at the bustling horde of scruffy miners. These men suffered from the consuming malady of Gold Fever and he was there to nurse them through it with wine, women and song. After all, what more could a man really want?
Possibly a hotel room without a female already in it. A night without the eruption of gunfire. A duly elected mayor. A legally deputized marshal. Law and order. Churches. Schools.
He sighed like a man accepting his fate. Defiance had to be tamed. If he wanted the railroad to come in, he was going to have to get on with it. He heard the front doors squeak and looked up. His office afforded a view of the entire length of the bar and he straightened attentively as a pretty little blonde entered and removed her bonnet. Hands clenched tensely at her waist, her eyes were glued to the nude painting over the bar.
Whoever she was, she had never seen anything like that and he smiled as she looked away. How long had it been since he had seen a woman blush? He couldn’t honestly recall. He enjoyed gazing upon her for a moment, taking in the slim, curvaceous figure and that long, golden braid running down her back like Rapunzel’s. She was tanned from the sun and her dress showed a fair amount of wear. Still, she was enjoyable to study and it wouldn’t take much for his mind to wander…
She looked around the rest of the empty saloon and finally her eyes found him. He stood as she approached his office door. “Are you Mr. McIntyre?”
“I am,” he agreed in his most charming Southern accent. He skirted his desk and met her in the entrance, momentarily struck by the contrast of ocean-green eyes in a beautiful, tanned face. High cheekbones, freckles and a slightly pug nose, she was a fresh-faced, wholesome change from the women currently populating Defiance. And he had picked up on her accent before she had spoken her second word. “A fellow southerner.” Extending his hand, he admitted, “Though I can’t quite place the accent, Ms…”
“We’re from North Carolina and it’s Mrs. Naomi Miller.” [HER SUBTLE CORRECTION JUST HINTS AT THE FEISTY RELATIONSHIP TO COME.]
He nodded, accepting her correction. “Mrs. Miller. To what do I owe this distinct pleasure?”
He held on to her hand much too long as he boldly appraised her up and down. Frowning slightly, she pulled her hand away. He grinned at her obvious discomfort, enjoying the sport. He could tell she didn’t like him already.
“I was wondering if we might talk a little business?”
“Why certainly.” He motioned to one of the green-topped poker tables behind her. “Please have a seat and I’ll get us some refreshments. I have everything from whiskey to coffee.”
“Coffee?” [HAVE TO ADMIT, COFFEE IS ONE OF THE THINGS I WOULD WORRY MOST ABOUT RUNNING OUT OF ON THE TRAIL. I TRIED FASTING IT ONCE; I AM GLAD GOD IS FULL OF GRACE. THOSE WERE TWO LONG WEEKS.]
He chuckled at the longing in her voice, knowing full well that coffee was always the first supply to run out on the trail. “I’ll just be a moment.”
Going behind the bar, he caught sight of himself in the mirror and wondered if she admired his wavy, jet-black hair, brown eyes and painstakingly trimmed, pencil-thin mustache and beard. Tall, slender and well-dressed in a perfectly tailored dark grey suit, he was a far cry from the war-weary Southern ex-patriot who had discovered this valley. Or, for that matter, the green lieutenant who had spent four years covered in blood and guts for his beloved Confederacy. He would never live like that again he vowed as he poured the coffee. For further proof, he admired his clean hands and superbly manicured nails. [ONE OF MY FAVORITE PARAGRAPHS IN THE BOOK. WE LEARN QUITE A BIT ABOUT MR. MCINTYRE HERE. BUT HIS VANITY IS REALLY A REFLECTION OF HIS CORRUPTION. LOOK FOR HIS APPEARANCE TO CHANGE SUBTLEY TOWARDS THE END.]
McIntyre re-joined Naomi, bearing a silver tray dotted with sugar and cream vessels, sterling silver spoons and two delicate china cups filled with steaming coffee. The saloon was a rough and gritty-looking affair reeking of cigar smoke and sour whiskey so this touch of elegance was, he hoped, a pleasant surprise for her. With fluid, confident movements, he set her coffee before her, poured in cream at her nod, and stirred in one spoonful of sugar.
She sipped the coffee and for a fleeting moment was the very picture of contentment, as though she’d forgotten where she was and why she was there. Still, he thought she looked tired; her calico dress had seen better days and her bonnet, resting on the table beside her, was faded and fraying. He assumed she had been traveling for quite some time. It pleased him to offer her this little moment of rest, though he couldn’t say why. Probably for the same reason he gave a stray dog a scrap−he still claimed a morsel of unjaded humanity.
“Mrs. Miller, please forgive me for asking,” McIntyre began as he prepared his own cup, “but I am not used to doing business with a woman. Might I enquire about your husband?”
She swallowed the coffee and huffed a heavy breath before answering. “My husband. He was killed nearly a week ago on the trail.”
McIntyre’s brow furrowed deeply more out of disappointment than sympathy. Just another Flower for the Garden. And he had been hoping for something more interesting. “I am very sorry to hear that. However, it happens rather frequently in the west, especially in mining towns. Women are left with so few options under such circumstances.” His spoon clinked against this cup as he stirred in sugar. “You are a very beautiful woman, though, Mrs. Miller. I can promise you won’t starve. And generally speaking, I believe my Flowers are fairly satisfied with their working conditions. I pay a generous percentage and the rooms are large and comfortable. You also receive all your meals for free−”
Naomi threw up her hand, cutting off the rest of his words. “Stop talking!” McIntyre blinked, feeling a bit like a court jester failing to properly amuse the queen. Hand still up, she acknowledged with firmness, “I can see where that would be an assumption someone in this God-forsaken town could make about a woman, but it was rude, nonetheless, and wrong. Very, very wrong.” [HOW DO YOU SHUT SOMEONE UP WITHOUT SAYING “SHUT UP”? IT’S ALL IN HOW YOU TOSS UP THAT HAND.]
Amused by her imperious reaction, but also honestly apologetic, he lowered his head. “I am sorry.” He could have easily added, “Your Highness,” but bit it back. Leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs, he made no attempt to hide his confusion. “Obviously I misconstrued the reason for your coming here. My assumption was inexcusable.”
Naomi’s cheeks were positively glowing. “To say the least.” Hiding a smile behind his coffee cup, he gave her time to compose herself. “My sisters and my husband and I were on our way to California to join his brother there. Since his death, we’ve had a rather astonishing change of plans.” He could see she was warring with the final statement and waited patiently for her to frame it. “We feel strongly led to stop our journey here in Defiance.” [THIS IS WHERE I BEGAN TO SEE WHAT FUN THEIR RELATIONSHIP COULD BE IF THEY REALLY FOUGHT THEIR ATTRACTION TO ONE ANOTHER.]
“Led?” He didn’t miss the use of the word. “Are you Mormon missionaries?” His voice had sounded vaguely disdainful, though he hadn’t meant for it to. God had no time to waste on Defiance and McIntyre was happy to return the favor.
“Not missionaries, so to speak, and not Mormons. We are Christians and we feel that God…” He saw sadness in her eyes, and didn’t miss the sound of disapproval in her voice as she explained, “Well, we feel he wants us to settle here, at least for a while. Believe me, this place wouldn’t be my first choice, but we met a Mr. Whicker as he was leaving town and we learned that his building is vacant.”
Whicker’s name got his attention and he listened carefully, watching her over the top of his cup. “In fact,” she continued, “he said his building was originally designed as a hotel though he had used it as a mercantile. That’s what got us thinking and why I came to speak with you. My sisters and I were toying with the idea of opening up a hotel and restaurant.” She looked out the window at the flowing street and the crowded boardwalk. “The town at first glance seems busy enough. Could it support such a venture?” He heard hope in her voice, though he wasn’t convinced she was hoping for a yes.
But the plan to open a respectable hotel was exactly the reason he had reclaimed Whicker’s building in that less-than-fair game of Texas Hold’em. [HERE’S ONE OF THE ISSUES WITH WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION. I HAD TO MAKE SURE TEXAS HOLD’EM ACTUALLY EXISTED IN 1877.] The one flaw in this scheme, though, was the troublesome issue of finding respectable innkeepers. Looking at Naomi Miller, McIntyre believed the answer had, quite fortuitously, fallen into his lap. This thought triggered an entertaining idea.
He sat up, set his coffee off to the side and started shuffling the deck of cards that was a fixture at every table. “So what you’re saying is that you believe God has sent you to Defiance? To open a business? And then what? Will you try to save the town? Convert us all to Jesus?” There was no malice in the questions, just bland curiosity.
Naomi inclined her head to one side and bestowed a haughty look on him. “Forgive me, Mr. McIntyre, but why is the town named Defiance?”
He allowed a well-practiced, but admittedly insincere, smile to creep across his face. “Are you familiar with the writings of Milton, Mrs. Miller? He wrote that it is better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
Her face softened and she nodded slowly. Had he seen a glint of compassion in her eyes, he wondered, uncomfortable with anyone’s pity. Nonetheless, he briefly shared his story. “I came to the San Juan range with a group of fourteen other prospectors just after the war. We broke up into three groups to better scout the valley, but in dividing, one group fell under attack by a superior force of Ute Indians. I watched while men two and three times my age begged God for death as their skin was flayed from their bodies.” Goosebumps rose on her skin. “God did not save them; God stood silent while those men suffered and died.” He fanned the cards out on the table, gathered them up with practiced skill, and shuffled them again.
“Couple that with all the atrocities I saw during the war and I’ve pretty much decided that God is about as useful as an absent father.” He shrugged, surprised that he had told her so much. “Perhaps the name was my way of shaking my fist at God, daring him to set foot in my town.” [IN THE FIRST DRAFT OF MY STORY, MCINTYRE CAME TO THE SAN JUAN AREA TO LOOK FOR GOLD WITH OTHER PROSPECTORS JUST PRIOR TO THE WAR. THIS IS PART OF A TRUE STORY. MEN FROM THE SOUTH CAME SEEKING GOLD, FOUND IT, THEN BURIED IT AND RUSHED HOME WHEN THEY HEARD ABOUT THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES. FIVE YEARS LATER WHEN THEY RETURNED TO THEIR COLORADO VALLEY, SETTLERS HAD MOVED IN, CUT DOWN THEIR LANDMARKS AND THE GOLD WAS NEVER FOUND. MY EDITOR, HOWEVER, FELT THAT THIS INFORMATION UNNECESARRILY COMPLICATED THE STORY. SO I SIMPLIFIED.]
Naomi bit her lip as she pondered his tale. “A sort of line in the sand, is it?” Shadows of pain flitted across her face. “I wish I had answers for why God does what he does, allows what he does, but I’m still working on that one myself.”
“Oh, I don’t mean to make it sound as if I’m angry or to be pitied, Mrs. Miller. I’m truly content.” He placed cards on the table with skilled, easy movements as he talked. “Taking God out of the equation frees a man to find his own destiny, make his own way without worrying about divine whimsy…There.” Naomi looked down and saw that he had placed two cards in front of each of them; a ten and an eight stared up at her. He was graced with a king and a five. “The French call this Vingt-Et-Un. We call it Blackjack,” he explained. “The object is to get as close to twenty-one as possible without going over. Whoever is the closest wins. If you win, Mrs. Miller, I will give you that building for your hotel. If you lose,” he paused. “If you lose, you will run the hotel for me.”
Her face paled. “I can’t agree to that.”
“You’re fifteen hundred miles from the Carolinas and still a thousand miles from California. I’d say your options are limited.” While the statement was true, he didn’t wish to frame things in such a grim light. “I’ve got fifteen,” he said tapping his cards. “You have eighteen. The odds are in your favor.”
Naomi eyed him warily. “Why not just sell it to us? Why play a game of cards−” But as the question left her mouth, he saw her expression change. She looked down and touched the two cards. “Eighteen?”
Fascinated by the way this day was turning out, he set the deck of cards between them. “I was just wondering if God speaks my language,” he answered in truth.
“So you want to hear from him despite your defiance?”
Their eyes locked in an unspoken battle of wills over the assertion. McIntyre suspected this might be the first of many skirmishes with the little princess from the South. The thought amused him and he chuckled good naturedly at her assumption. “That’s not what I meant exactly but you can put it that way if you like. I make my living with cards. They speak to me.”
“All right,” she nodded. “I think you ducked the question, but all right. So all I have to do is get twenty-one?”
“You can stand on eighteen. I would. However, the house is going for another card.”
“No, I want another card.”
He liked her spirit. “You’re feeling lucky today, are you?”
She speared him with a somber gaze. “There’s no such thing as luck, Mr. McIntyre. Like it or not, there’s only the hand of God.” [ONE OF MY FAVORITE LINES. IT ADDRESSES SPECIFICALLY THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS LUCK OR COINCIDENCE.]S
Her words hung in the air, throwing him off track for a moment. He saw great emotion behind her eyes, but couldn’t tell of what ilk. “Perhaps,” he muttered. He recovered quickly, though, shifting in his chair and changing the subject. “Indeed, Mr. Whicker’s mercantile was originally designed as a hotel. I built it knowing that the Brunot Treaty would be ratified and this corner of Colorado would explode with settlers.” He whistled in amazement. “I didn’t count on my geologist finding a sixty-foot thick vein of quartz in my own mine. Silver, gold and even a little copper.” He was still unable to comprehend his growing fortune. “Silver took precedence over the inn-keeping business so I sold the building.” [LOOK UP THE HISTORY OF MINERAL POINT, NOW A GHOST TOWN IN THE SAN JUAN MOUNTAIN RANGE. THE VEIN WAS A STUNNING FIND.]
He looked at the deck of cards in the middle of the table and knit his brows together. “I have to admit, the timing of your arrival is, well, strangely opportune as I was pondering this venture again. It’s the very reason I helped Mr. Whicker leave our little community.”
“Then why would you want us to get the hotel,” she asked with an I-don’t-trust-you-as-far-as-I-can-throw-you look on her face.
“It has come to my attention that Defiance could be passed up for some opportunities if the town doesn’t become more civilized.” He raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I must give up a portion of my kingdom to decency if I want the town to grow. Most likely you’ll do a far better job of running a nice place than I would.”
Naomi stared intently at McIntyre and he could see the wheels turning behind those stormy green eyes. She was questioning everything about him and this situation. Though he knew, somehow, she would go through with his challenge. “Maybe that’s what this is all about, Mr. McIntyre,” she suggested, sounding both wistful and melancholy. “Maybe, now and then, we have to give up a portion of our kingdoms−the things we hold dearest−to find what it is God wants for us.” The thought intrigued him and he decided he was looking forward to doing business with her Ladyship.
She shook her head and heaved a great sight. “This is absurd. I should look at the building first, haggle with you over a price, discuss it with my sisters…but I think that would defeat the purpose of why I’m here.” Inexplicably, he sensed a confession in the statement.
“Well, this shouldn’t be an issue since you’re going to win,” he joked, light-heartedly mocking her faith, “However, if you do lose, I want your word you’ll run the hotel for at least two years.”
Naomi opened her mouth, to protest he assumed, but thought better of whatever she started to say. Instead, she sagged a bit and offered softly, “I wish I could tell you−” A million things? If they could sit and talk like two polite people from genteel Southern society, what would she tell him, McIntyre wondered. Naomi shook her head again as if clearing her thoughts. “Let’s just play this hand.” He liked the grit he heard in her voice, her determination to face things unflinchingly. Oh, yes, he was quite sure he was going to enjoy having her in Defiance. Pun intended.
Without hesitating, he drew a card for himself and laid it next to the other two. A red queen of hearts gazed coolly back at him. “Dealer busts; if you go over twenty-one, we play another hand.” Enjoying the drama, he slowly slid a card off the deck and pushed it to her, face down.
Naomi drummed her fingers for a moment then reached for the card, hesitated, then flipped over a three of spades. “Twenty-one,” she whispered sounding incredulous. A slow, sad smile spread across her face. She looked up at McIntyre. He was surprised by the weary expression on her face. “I guess we own a hotel?” [ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT THESE TWO CHARACTERS AND ONE OF THE MORE DIFFICULT THINGS TO KEEP TRACK OF IS THAT MCINTYRE ALWAYS REFERS TO HIMSELF IN HIS POINT-OF-VIEW AS “MCINTYRE.” HE ALSO ALWAYS REFERS TO NAOMI AS NAOMI. NAOMI, ON THE OTHER HAND, WHEN IT’S HER POINT-OF-VIEW, ALWAYS REFERS TO MCINTYRE AS MR. MCINTYRE. HER WAY OF KEEPING DISTANCE BETWEEN THEM.]
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