San Francisco Honeymoon
He sat on the side of the bed and simply watched his wife sleep, and the soft, warm glow of the low lamp burnished her dark brown hair. It also accentuated the gentle movement of her supple body as she breathed and highlighted the elegant features of her face. Sometimes, to watch her like this, as he did so often in the mornings, caused him to ache with unrestrained passion, and the need to take her close to him. His long, tapered fingers brushed over the silken tresses, and his heart surged. With a slight shudder she moved, and her head turned to him. Her dense lashes fluttered, and then deep violet eyes opened and were his. She gave a little stretch, then smiled and reached her arms out to him. This was more than he could resist, and he leaned down against her. Their lips met, and he could feel her ruffle his heavy black hair. He loved this woman more than life itself, and he had wracked his brain to think of a special gift for her, and now he knew what it would be. Today he would get started on it, and he could hardly wait to see the look on her face when he presented it to her.
Angelica Cartwright flitted about the large parlor of the big log house like a bumblebee. The dust cloth in her right hand swiped over the low table before the dormant stone hearth, and she hummed a bright tune. Rays of yellow sunshine came in through the windows and played about the room like shafts of liquid butter. It was a splendid summer afternoon and it animated her with the joy of being alive.
The heavy pine front door flung open, and Adam Cartwright burst in. He jerked his hat off and tossed it onto the little cherry wood lowboy that sat against the wall just inside. “Pack your bags, woman.”
Her head jerked up, and she froze in place. “What?”
“I said pack your bags.”
“What in the world are you talking about?”
He shoved the door together with a slam and swaggered toward her. “You and I are going to have a honeymoon.”
She straightened and rested her fists on her hips. “A honeymoon? Oh, Adam, be sensible. We can’t just pick up and go. What about the ranch? What about all the work that needs to be done? It’s impossible to…”
He took hold of her arms and turned her to face him. “Nothing’s impossible if you want it bad enough. And I want this for you.”
“For me? I don’t need a honeymoon. I’ve got everything I need or could ever want right here. And if we did go, I don’t think the boys would enjoy it, and little ones are not conducive to a romantic getaway.”
“We aren’t going to take the boys. Siddon and Carolyn are going to take care of them while we’re gone. I had thought about sending them to our parents, but the Ponderosa is so far away, and I know for a fact that they can’t come up here. What with summer cattle drives, and other such things. And there’s nobody around here that I trust any more than I do the Bannings.”
He covered her lips with his fingertips. “Aht, aht, aht. I don’t want another word from you except to tell me where you would like to go. This is your anniversary present, and I’m leaving choice of destination up to you. Now, where would you like to go? What about Europe?”
“Adam, be serious. It would take us forever just to get there.”
A thoughtful frown creased his brow. “All right, how about Canada or Mexico. They aren’t so far away.”
“You mean to do this, don’t you?”
“For you, I mean to do anything that’ll make you happy.” He put his arms around her and pulled her close to him, and looked deep into her face. “On our wedding night, I secretly promised myself that I would give you a proper honeymoon, and I would do it before we were stooped and gray, and too old to enjoy it the way a honeymoon should be. Now, you still haven’t answered my question.”
He watched her as the idea sank into her brain, and the thoughts traced across her face. She had begun to really think about it, and he could see it plainly. Then a light went on in her eyes as if someone had just lit a candle behind them.
“San Francisco. For the longest time I have wanted to go to San Francisco.”
Adam initially felt a bit of a disappointment. He had been there so many times over the years that he couldn’t count it on both hands without running out of fingers. “Wouldn’t you rather go somewhere a little more exotic?”
“No. I want to go to San Francisco, and you did say we would go wherever I wanted to.”
His finely sculpted mouth spread into a smile. “I did say that. All right then, San Francisco it will be. And we’ll leave the day after tomorrow. Two days should be long enough for you to pack everything you’ll need.” He tightened his hold and pressed her even more against him. “And bring along an empty valise to tote back everything I know you’re gonna buy while we’re there.”
An ardent glow filled him, and his head had just lowered over her when the rapid pat of little feet interrupted them. Maggie O’Shea came through the dining room behind three excited little boys.
“They always get this way when their da comes home,” Maggie said, in her hearty Irish brogue.
Addy, by virtue of being the oldest and fastest, reached his parents first, and Adam snapped him up from the floor, to the boy’s giggling delight. Angelica got down onto her knees and gathered the other two into a mother’s warm embrace. She kissed little faces and smoothed back their hair, then her round, limpid eyes rose.
“Oh, Adam, I don’t think I can leave them, even for a day.”
His lone eyebrow rose. “I know what you’re thinking, but it simply wouldn’t work. And, besides, like you said yourself, little ones are not conducive to a romantic getaway, unquote.” He snuggled Addy into the bend of his arm and knelt beside her. “They’ll be much happier with the Bannings, and you know how Marjorie and Juliet will spoil them.”
“I know, but the idea of leaving my babies and going so far away.”
Adam’s mouth drew into a pucker. “It isn’t really all that far, when you get right down to it, and it probably won’t be for more than a week.”
“No. This is supposed to be a honeymoon, not a family holiday.”
Her eyes moistened, and she lowered her head and held Benjy and Hi closer.
Adam hardened his heart against her tears, he had to. This would be a rugged trip, and the boys would get restless and fussy and not have a good time at all. On this he refused to give in, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
Adam climbed into the stagecoach and gave the door a good slam then took his place next to his wife. They were the only passengers, and he had plenty of room, but this was where he wanted to sit. Angelica sat like a stone statue with cold eyes fixed straight ahead. Her lace-gloved hands clutched a little balloon purse in her lap, and her jaw had set like granite.
“Well, this is it. We’re on our way,” Adam said, in a cheerful attempt to mollify her.
Angelica just sat there and didn’t move, not even a hair.
“I’ve reserved a suite at the best hotel and San Francisco has some of the finest restaurants in the country. I’ll show you around, and we can do anything you’d like. We’ll have a wonderful time.”
She didn’t look at him, she didn’t smile; she didn’t even seem to be breathing. “We would have a more wonderful time if we were all together.”
“Angel, we’ve been all over that for the past three days and nights. We both agreed that the boys will be better off with the Bannings.”
Her icy eyes briefly flicked on him. “You agreed.”
Adam felt like a hand had been brought hard across his face, though he could swear that hers didn’t budge. He reached down and grasped her fingers, but she pulled away from him and focused her gaze out the window. He started to say something, but he knew it would only be wasted breath, so he took his hand back before he lost it to frostbite and said nothing. When Angelica got mad she could be as unbending as a fireplace poker, and making love to her could be like sideling up to a glacier.
He sighed and scooted back into the corner like a scolded child. This is gonna be a memorable trip, he thought.
The coach gave a lurch then began to move forward. Yes, they were indeed on their way, but things weren’t going as Adam had hoped. But the length of the journey would give Angelica a chance to cool down. And, maybe, the closer they drew to their destination the more excitement would take hold of her. He nestled back into the corner and pulled his hat down over his face. Things would certainly be bumpy, though, until she did, if she did.
As Adam helped Angelica down from the cab before the hotel; he could see the thrill that filled her round eyes. An involuntary gasp left her as they roved over the ornate stone façade of the multi-storied building.
“Oh, Adam, I’ve never seen anything so grand, not even in Bangor. It must be terribly expensive.”
“I can afford it.” His hand squeezed on her arm. “For you, I can afford anything.”
She looked at him, and a soft light radiated from her face. “Adam, I… You were right about not bringing the boys, and I want to apologize for my behavior on that first day. You should have slapped me.”
“Not in a million years. Now let’s not dwell on it. We’re here in a city that knows how to have a good time, and that’s exactly what I’m gonna show you.”
He gave instructions to the driver to wait until they registered then he would help to bring in the luggage.
The minute they entered the immense lobby, Angelica was struck with awe by her lush surroundings. Potted plants in gold gilt Grecian-style urns and Doric columns took her to another world. Not one, two or even three, but four overstuffed, red velvet covered circular couches were scattered about. Crystal and ruby glass chandeliers dripped with prisms that dangled from them like frozen drops of water that sparkled in the light and cast rainbows over the red flocked wallpaper. She looked down at her feet and the plush carpet that cushioned them, and wished she could remove her shoes and run barefoot over it. But the thing that took her breath away was the people. Hundreds of them milled and bustled and their voices ran together to form a roar that danced on her ears like that of a mighty waterfall.
Adam had to practically drag her to the expansive teak admissions desk that took up close six yards of wall space.
“Good day, sir. May I help you?”
“You’re new here,” Adam said, as he slipped a peek at Angelica.
“Yes, sir. I’ve been here just over a month.”
“Well, I’m Adam Cartwright, this is my wife, and we have reservations for the honeymoon suite.”
Angelica’s head snapped around from watching the throng about her, and her eyes glittered like faceted amethysts.
A broad smile widened the young man’s lean face as his gaze darted to the woman. “Just married?”
“No,” Adam’s hand covered Angelica’s where she had placed it on the desk, “we’ve been together for two wonderful years, but this has been our first chance to have one. It’s my anniversary present to her.”
The man’s sharp features softened even further. “Then we will do everything in our power to make it as pleasurable as we can. Now it won’t take a moment while I check.”
That moment seemed interminable as he read through a heavy, leather-bound book. His thin eyebrows arched and he scratched the side of his neck. “Are you sure it was for today?”
“Of course, I am. I sent the wire myself. Is there a problem?”
“I am afraid there is.” The clerk shrugged. “Your name hasn’t been taken down in the book. No reservations were made and, with the conventions in the city; we don’t have a single available room.”
The corners of Adam’s mouth pinched. “Not one.”
“I’m afraid not. I am terribly sorry. You could try another hotel.”
Adam’s eyes narrowed on the man. “I don’t want to try another hotel. I promised my wife the best and this is it.” The clerk tried to interject, but Adam cut him off clean. “I want to see the manager.”
“Adam, maybe we should…”
“No, Angelica, I won’t go back on my promise simply because of somebody’s oversight.” He gave her hand a gentle pat then turned his ire back on the hapless desk clerk. “Now let me please reiterate. I want, no, I demand to see the manager. And I don’t mean tomorrow.”
The young man ran a finger around his shirt collar as if it had suddenly gotten too tight. “Well, maybe, sir…”
Adam leaned forward on the desk and placed his hands flat against its polished surface. “No maybes. I’ve known Henry Mayweather for years, and maybe he can straighten this mess out.”
“Well, Mr. Mayweather…”
Adam’s eyes went sharp as broken glass. “It wasn’t a suggestion. Now do you go get him or do I?”
The clerk gulped. “I will send someone for him immediately.” He turned away and conferred quietly with another clerk then came back to them. “Mr. Mayweather has been sent for and should be here presently. If you would please take a seat…”
Adam leaned even closer to him. “We will wait right here.” A syrupy and wholly unconvincing grin curved his mouth. “We have nothing else to do.”
It must have been all of fifteen minutes when Adam heard his name called, and he turned to see Henry Mayweather headed in their direction through the crowd.
“Well as I live and breath,” the big man said, as he slapped a mitt of a hand into Adam’s. “How long has it been since you’ve graced this establishment with your presence?”
“Way too long.”
The man’s keen saddle tan eyes found Angelica. “And who is this beautiful woman? You know, you always did have a knack for finding them.”
Adam bit his lip as his attention darted to her. “This is my wife, Angelica.”
Mayweather smoothed back his mop of gray-tipped walnut brown hair, and became quite tongue-tied. “Oh, I didn’t mean…” His coloring drained even further. “I’m certainly not implying…” He glanced to Adam as if seeking help. “He’s not a roué.”
Angelica stifled her amusement. “I know.” She slipped her arm through Adam’s. “But I like a good challenge, and if he had been I would have mended his ways.”
Henry’s hearty, boisterous laughter caused heads to turn. “You certainly found a gem.” He gave Adam a hard slap on the arm. “It’s not many wives that would take it that way, much less make light of it.”
“Yes, I am very fortunate.”
“Now the man that came for me said that there’s a problem, but he didn’t go into great detail. I hope it’s nothing too serious that we can’t set it to rights in short order.”
“Over two weeks ago I made a reservation for the honeymoon suite, but now I’m told it was never made. And, what’s worse, there are no other rooms to be had. This is the first time that we’ve been able to get away strictly for ourselves. It’s our second wedding anniversary, and I wanted Angelica to have the best, and this is it.”
“I’m afraid they’re right about there being no rooms. Three conventions and a group of Pennsylvania war veterans hit us all at once.” Henry frowned, and his stern gaze ran toward the admissions desk. “I’ll see what I can do, even if it means hanging somebody’s hair from my war belt.” He threw up his hands in frustration. “These days the help I get is not necessarily the help I want, but I havta to hire somebody. What about your luggage?”
“It hasn’t been unloaded from the cab yet.”
“I’ll take care of it so don’t worry. I tell you what. Why don’t the two of you go into the dining room and have something to eat, on me, of course, while I handle this?”
“It has been a long trip, and we’re both famished.”
Angelica looked up at Adam with a reserved smile and nodded.
Henry’s pearly teeth flashed in the lamp light. “Wonderful. This may take a little bit, so don’t be in a hurry.” He grasped Adam by the shoulder. “And I want you to order whatever you want. Nothing is too good for my friends and their lovely wives.”
They watched him as he bustled off toward the desk.
“I like him. He personifies everything that this part of the country is about.”
Adam laughed. “Henry would like that description. He came out here from Wisconsin in ’49, and struck it rich after only about a month. They say he has the Midas touch and everything he puts his hand to makes money. He started this with a partner who sold out to him after little more than a year for two hundred dollars. This venture has made Henry Mayweather a very wealthy man and Sam Fischer died a pauper in a gutter with a bottle of cheep whiskey. He wasn’t the visionary that Henry is, in fact, I can’t think of anybody except my father and Siddon Banning who is as much.”
She placed a hand tenderly against his cheek and love illuminated her face. “I can.”
Maybe it was the little girl in her, but it pleased her when she made him blush. It brought out the amber in his eyes and gave a boyish quality to his ruggedly handsome features. And it made her love him all the more to know that he could be embarrassed like her and the other mere mortals.
He frowned archly. “I thought we were going to get something to eat.”
“Just take me to it, my dear.”
He wrapped his fingers about hers and squeezed. “You aren’t disappointed, are you? This isn’t exactly the way I had things planned.”
“I am in San Francisco, in the most fabulous hotel anyone could imagine, with the one I love beyond any words in any language known to man. I couldn’t possibly be disappointed.”
“Even if we wind up sleeping in a livery stable?”
A hint of deviousness flirted with her lips. “Even if we wind up sleeping in a water closet.”
Again he blushed, and it nipped at the roots of her hair and made every nerve she had tingle with joy. Oh, how much she did love him.
Adam and Angelica had stuffed themselves with a repast fit for royalty, and they were finishing it off with charlotte russe drizzled with champagne marinated strawberries.
“Adam, I heartily commend your friend on the cuisine in his establishment. I believe this is the finest meal I have ever had, and this dessert is to die for.”
“That’ll please Henry. He imported the finest European staff he could find for his kitchen to ensure that the food served in his hotel was without peer.”
“Well, he has succeeded, and then some.” She put a dainty bite into her mouth.
“His pastry chef – a fiery little Frenchman from Cherbourg – draws in people who aren’t even guests. In fact, I’ve heard of folks driving for miles just to eat his culinary masterpieces.”
“I don’t wonder. If I knew that Maggie would stand still for it, I would steal him and smuggle him back with us. He would make us the toast of Bantree.”
“I doubt Henry would let even such a beautiful woman as yourself get away with that. He’s very covetous when it comes to Pierre,” said a third voice.
Adam’s hand stopped in midair, and his head jerked around. “Will!”
“Hello, cousin.” Will Cartwright shook Adam’s hand then took Angelica’s and gallantly kissed the back of it. “I would say that you haven’t changed in a year, but that would be wrong. You’re lovelier than ever.”
“Careful, Will. You know how that sorta thing can go to a woman’s head.”
“I would not be one to talk about conceit, if I were you, Mr. Cartwright. It is not strictly a feminine wile.” Her eyes darted coyly in his direction then she took a bite.
Will laughed as he grasped the back of an empty chair at an adjacent table. “It’s part of a woman’s job to make sure us men know our place, and it’s good to see that you keep up with yours.”
She shot a quick look at Adam. “Certain people keep me well practiced.”
“Now you see what I havta put up with.”
Some of the brightness left Will. “I wouldn’t mind.” His cheerful mood reasserted itself. “Do you care if I join you? It’s been a long day, and I’ve been on my feet a lot.”
“I’m forgetting those manners that Pa drummed into our heads all those years. Of course you can. We’ll be disappointed if you don’t. Maybe you would like a cup of coffee or something to eat.”
Will pulled the chair over and sat down between them. “I don’t want anything, thank you.”
Adam had temporarily forgotten his dessert as he turned to his cousin. “I would ask how you knew we were here, but it isn’t necessary. Henry told you.”
“That’s right. He came to see me himself, said this was too important to trust to anybody else.”
“The only reason we hadn’t told you we were coming was because we wanted to surprise you.”
“I understand that, and I would have been here sooner, but I had to go home and talk with Lil first.”
Adam’s dense black eyebrows dropped into a frown. “Talk to Lil? Why?”
“Henry told me about the mix-up with the reservations, and that he’s packed solid. That gave me an idea, but I wanted to talk it over with Lil before I came to see you.”
Adam’s puzzlement only grew, and Angelica was too absorbed by her charlotte to care.
Adam cocked his head to one side. “Talk with her about what?”
Will grinned like a Cheshire cat. “You are both going to come and stay with us.”
At last, something came that drew Angelica away from her dessert.
Adam shook his head vigorously. “Oh, no, Will, we couldn’t do that. We don’t want to be an imposition.”
“It’s no imposition at all. On my say-so, Henry has already forwarded your luggage there, and Lil thinks it’s a wonderful idea. It’s a big house with ten bedrooms, and we only use three of them off on one side, since John shares one with his sister. Lil says we can put you in the one farthest away from ours so you can have your privacy. Henry told me why you’re here, and when I told her the handkerchief came out of her sleeve. You know how women are where romance is involved.”
“I do indeed.”
Will slapped his hands flat down on the tabletop with a loud thump. “Then it’s all settled.”
Adam started to object further, but Angelica cut him off.
“Oh, Adam, could we? From what you have told me about her, I can hardly wait to meet Lil, and I will adore seeing the children again.” She turned to Will. “I can just imagine that John is such a big boy now, and looks even more like his father than he did. And Peggy has probably blossomed into a lovely young lady.”
“Yes, they have definitely grown.”
“Oh, Adam, please.”
The corners of Adam’s mouth crimped. “I forced her to leave ours at home with friends, and she’s not gonna let me forget it.” He pondered for less than a second then reached out and took her hand. “The whole reason we’re here is because I wanted to give you something special. And I did say that we would do whatever you wanted to.”
She took on a girlish quality. “Then we can stay?”
Adam paused for effect. “We can stay.”
She began a squeal, but stifled it when she remembered where they were, and crimson tinted her cheeks. She dove back into her dessert with a vengeance, and the men just had to laugh.
As they alit from the brougham in front of the mansion – and there was no other word for it except maybe palace – Angelica’s mouth fell agape. A hand went to her throat, and a quick breath filled her. “My goodness, this is like pictures I have seen of Versailles.”
Will smiled as he closed the coach door and told the driver to wait. “Well, it’s hardly that impressive, but it’s comfortable and a good place to call home. But that’s more because of Lil than the house itself. Now we’d better go in before she comes out to get you. I haven’t seen her so excited since the children and I moved in.”
Inside was as spectacular as the outside had hinted it would be. A large chandelier made of real gold hung from the high ceiling and fine Italian marble covered the floor. She had heard of the flamboyance of those who struck it rich, be it in California or Nevada, but this was her first real encounter with it in a private home.
Will had just started to speak when a well rounded woman with upswept blond hair entered through a fresco covered wall to the right. She seemed to step straight out of the scene of idyllic peasant life.
“Adam,” Lil Manferd said, as she came closer, “it’s so good to see you.” She threw her arms around him and gave him a king-sized hug. “You’re just as handsome as ever.”
“Hello, Lil. Or maybe you would prefer I call you Aunt Lil.”
“You do, and I’ll put you back out into the street.” She turned to Angelica and grasped her hands. “And this is Angelica. You’re a beauty, my dear, just like Will said you are, but he didn’t go quite far enough.”
“I tell her that every chance I get.”
“He knows he has to,” Angelica said, with a saucy duck of her head.
“Will told me how good you were to him and the children when they really needed it.”
“That was the easy part, and I am only sorry I couldn’t have done more.” Angelica’s puckish violet eyes went to Will then to Adam. “But then I have never met a Cartwright that I didn’t like, and Peggy and John are so precious. I know that they are a pleasure to have here with you.”
“Oh, that they are. And you won’t believe how John has sprouted up.”
Angelica’s nose wrinkled. “I think I will.”
“That’s right. You have three of your own, so you know all about growing boys and you must tell me all about them,” Lil got between Adam and Angelica and hooked her arms through theirs, “but first I should show you to your room so you can unpack and get settled in. It’s a long, dusty, bumpy trip from Nevada, and I know you’re both worn out, and of course you’ll want to freshen up.” They started arm-in-arm up the wide, curved staircase.
“I’ll leave you two in Lil’s capable hands. I have to get back to work, but I’ll be home around five.”
Adam looked back as Lil continued to drag him upstairs. “It’s good to see you again, cousin.”
“And you. We’ll fill each other in on our lives over brandy tonight.” Then Will gave a nod, put his hat on and went back outside.
“Adam, stop dragging your feet, child,” Lil said, and gave his arm a tug.
As much as Adam had wanted to give Angelica Henry Mayweather’s La Grand hotel, he found himself glad there had been no vacancies. Though he would never admit it to Angelica, he felt the nibbling of homesickness. He didn’t regret coming, but he would be glad to get back to where his heart really belonged. And to have family to stay with took some of the edge off of his longing.
Angelica now found herself alone in the expansive bedroom with the unpacking. Adam, like most men, had chafed under the chore so she had run him off so she could get something done. He was an absolute love, but sometimes the male half of humanity could make more problems than they solved. And when he got amorous, which was often, he had more hands than any man she had ever known.
She took her scarlet ball gown from the trunk and shook the wrinkles from it then held it up for closer inspection. Grace Warring was indeed the finest hand with needle and thread in her encounter. She ran her fingertips over the moiré fabric, and her mind reeled back to when Adam had brought in the beribboned box. It hadn’t been for her birthday, and it hadn’t been Christmas, it had simply been because he had wanted to. “This is to replace some of those you lost in the fire,” he had said to her. With a soft sigh, she gave the dress a hug, and it rustled, then she took it and hung it up in the large ornately carved mahogany wardrobe.
She had just returned to the trunk when someone knocked at the door. Another interruption.
“If you are going to stay here I insist that you call me Lil,” she said, as she waltzed in with a flourish. “Adam said you chased him off, so I figured you could use some help.”
“Where is he?”
“I sent him to fetch Peggy. She went to a friend’s birthday party, and John went with her. They live on the next block, and I promised to send our driver for her, so Adam went with him. She is so fond of Adam, and this will be a nice surprise for her.”
“Adam thinks a lot of her, too.”
Lil grasped her shoulder and gave her a knowing nod. “And it’ll keep him out from underfoot. They mean well, but they just can’t help themselves.”
They closed in on the trunk, and Angelica took out a periwinkle day dress. “Adam told me that you were married once. How long?”
A shadow of sadness cast itself over Lil’s bright manner. “Not nearly long enough. Charlie was killed just two weeks after the wedding.”
Angelica took her hand and gave it a compassionate pat.
“I’m all right. It wasn’t like he went off and left me unable to take care of myself. The cave-in uncovered the largest silver shelf ever found in California, and made me a very wealthy widow. You might say it was his way of making sure I could take care of myself. Charlie always was one to think ahead.”
“How did you meet?”
Lil took the dress to the wardrobe and hung it up. “Society out here isn’t like it is back east. A good lot of it is made up of miners and what would euphemistically be called loose women. Now I was no loose woman, but I did sing in a dance hall just to make ends meet, which to some is tantamount to the same thing.” Lil snorted as she hung up another dress. “It was a Saturday night in ’51, and the Fandango was livelier as I had ever seen it. Needless to say, I wasn’t being heard much, and I’ve never liked to waste my time so I left the stage. But when you’re threatened with losing your only means of feeding yourself you go back to work.”
Angelica closed the emptied trunk and turned half her attention to a large leather suitcase.
“By midnight things had gotten so loud that a person couldn’t hear themselves think when a big burly man at the bar fired three shots into the floor. Needless to say, that got everybody’s attention.” Lil’s face drew into a scowl, and she made her voice as mannish as she could. “Let the lady sing. And the next man that gets outta hand I’ll shoot.” Lil’s voice became her own again. “And he laid his pistol on the bar where everybody could see it. I had no trouble being heard after that.”
“And that was Charlie?”
“That was my Charlie, but his friends called him Moose. Why I remember, when he used to put his arms around me I thought he was going to break me.” Lil grinned wryly and ran her hands down over her ample hips. “There was a lot less of me in those days.”
Angelica took a stack of Adam’s shirts to the dresser and put into a top drawer. “How long did you know each other before you were married?”
“Four years. We knew right off that we loved each other, but marriage, for one reason or another, was elusive.”
“Adam and I had known each other for only three weeks when he asked me to marry him. But that one has never liked to waste time either. I had three babies before we had even been married a year.”
Lil went wistful. “That’s one of the things I missed by losing Charlie so soon, we never had a baby. If I’d had a little girl or boy through those long nights, it wouldn’t have been so…” She pulled herself out of her musing and refocused on the unpacking. “Well, that’s enough of that. Charlie never cared much for what he called ‘sentimental mush’, and if he could hear me now, why he’d give me what for. Now why don’t you tell me all about those babies while we finish up here? Who do they favor?”
“They are their father up-and-down. I can just imagine what they’ll look like in twenty years.”
They settled into girlish chitchat about home and family and honeymoons, with little tidbits of gossip thrown in just to make things interesting. They laughed and were more like sisters than two women who had just met. And whether by happenstance or design, they were now family and family needed no special permission to delight in one another’s company.
Adam watched from inside the brougham as young people were conducted out of the big Georgian red brick house. Then his mouth spread into a smile. He got out, and removed his hat and gave a sweeping bow. “Your carriage awaits, my fine young miss.”
12-year-old Peggy Dayton’s face lit up like a lamp. “Adam!” She tried to run, but her little brother, whose hand she held, slowed her down. “Come on, John!”
The little guy tried but his shorter legs simply couldn’t keep up.
Adam met them half way and scooped the boy into his arms. “Hello, young Mr. Cartwright. Did you have a nice time at the party?”
The child bobbed his head, his brown eyes fixed right on Adam’s face.
“Oh, yes. We had gelato.” Peggy’s nose scrunched. “But it just tasted like ice cream to me.”
Adam chortled as they started toward the carriage. “It is, sweetheart, its Italian ice cream.”
Her eyes widened. “You don’t mean they brought it all the way from Italy?”
“No, dear. They made it here, but in the Italian style.”
He helped Miss Peggy into the carriage then handed her brother to her. “All right, driver, we’re ready.” Then he got inside and closed the door.
The vehicle had just jerked into motion when John clambered down from his seat then climbed up beside Adam, with some help. He pulled the boy into his lap. “So you remember me.”
“Oh, he remembers everybody. How long are you going to be in San Francisco?”
It amazed Adam at how quickly Peggy had transformed herself into the perfect lady from the child that had greeted him. “Probably no more than a week. Angelica and I are here on our honeymoon. We never got the chance to have a proper one.”
“How romantic. I can hardly wait to see her. She was so nice to me and John when mother passed away last year.”
For a brief second Adam allowed his mind to return to that terrible day. As long as he lived he didn’t think he would ever lose the vision of Laura lying there in the doctor’s examination room so terribly broken up and pale and dying. Nor would he ever lose the sight of his cousin as he wept over his wife’s body. “Well, it won’t be long. Things didn’t work out with our hotel so until we get ready to go home we’ll be staying at your house.”
“I think that’s wonderful. Did you bring the babies, too?”
“No, we felt the trip would be too long and hard on them.” He immediately caught the disappointment that flitted across her young face. “But maybe some time you and your family can come and stay with us, and you can spend all the time with them that you’d like. They’ll be good practice for when you have your own.”
Peggy gave him that chastising look that seemed to be common to all females. “Adam.”
Adam laughed, and John thought it was funny, too, even if he didn’t know what he was laughing about.
That night after supper the men left the women and children to their own pursuits and retired to the study for brandy. It had been way too long the cousins had seen each other, and the circumstances had been less than pleasant. Laura, in confusion and discontent, had tried to destroy two marriages and had, unfortunately, been successful at one.
Adam took the proffered snifter and sat on the brown leather covered sofa. He crossed his long legs and leaned back into its overstuffed comfort. “This is a nice room, but it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the house. Not exactly what I would call Lil’s taste.”
“This is my retreat.” Will poured for himself then took his place in a wide green velvet chair. “When we first came, Lil told me that all men need their own place to go and this would be mine. She let me have it decorated any way I wanted it. She paid for most of it, and I let her go ahead, but only with the promise that I would pay her back.”
“And what did she say to that?”
“She didn’t like it, and it hasn’t been easy, but she knows how important it is to me. I live here as family, not a kept man.” He shifted his long self in the chair. “So how do you like it?”
“It’s comfortable. I could spend a lot of time in here.”
“I do whenever I can, which isn’t as much as I’d like.” Will took a sip of his brandy. “So, how are Ben and your brothers? It’s been too long since I’ve seen them.”
“They’re fine. I don’t even get to see them as much as I’d like, and I haven’t been to the Ponderosa in close to three years. The Angel keeps me busy, and with a wife and three growing, rambunctious sons, I don’t get too far away a whole lot. But I’m not complaining. It’s a good life, and Angelica is all that any man could want in a woman and more. Still, how often does a man have a second wedding anniversary? She’s special, so I wanted to do something special for her.”
“Was she terribly disappointed about the hotel?”
“Not as much as you might think. In fact, I actually believe she’s happier here. She and Lil have hit it right off, and then there are the children. For the first day of the trip she wouldn’t talk to or hardly look at me because I insisted we leave the boys behind. But I thought this should be a time for us, and while children are a godsend, there are times when parents just need to be alone together.”
“I think that was one of the smaller problems that combined to make one big one between me and Laura. We never seemed to have enough time for just the two of us, and when I suggested we make some she didn’t want to. I think she didn’t really believe I was sincere about it. But I don’t blame her now, even though I did then. And I couldn’t see that I had more blame to shoulder than she did until it was too late.” He lowered his sorrowful eyes to the contents of his glass. “It’s sad that we always do that, see our mistakes after it’s usually too late to correct them.” He looked back at his cousin. “Don’t put yourself in the position of looking back on your marriage and seeing what a mess you made of things.”
“I’ve heard Angelica’s mother say that it takes one to make a mess, but it takes two to make a fine mess.”
“I suppose.” Will smiled, which was obviously forced. “So, what do you and Angelica have planned for your stay with us? San Francisco is a lot of city to try to cram into one week.”
“I thought we would just be spontaneous about it and not plan too much.”
“Sounds like a good idea, but if I know Lil, she’ll want to go all out. You’ll have trouble curbing her enthusiasm, I always do.”
“I figured that. Those two are thick as thieves. I don’t know when I’ve seen Angelica take to anybody like she has Lil. I caught them giggling like a couple of schoolgirls in the kitchen right before supper.” Adam shook his head and snorted. “And by the look they gave me, you would’ve thought I’d committed a terrible crime by walking in on them. No men allowed.” He laughed. “Women. It can be hard to live with them, and it’s impossible to live without them.”
“I’ve heard some of them say the same thing about us.” Will held his snifter out to Adam. “Here’s to the women in our lives. The ones we let get away, the ones we’ll never have, and the one that makes our life worth living.”
“To Laura, Angelica and Lil, and the woman Peggy will become.”
Their glasses clinked musically together then they took a long swallow of their brandy.
“Now you said something at the table about some new volumes of Keats. I didn’t even know you read Keats or any of the great poets.”
“You pick up things when you’re on the travel a lot, and it kind of stuck even after I came here to live with Lil and the children. They’re right over here in the bookcase. Would you like to see them?”
“I’d like that very much.”
Adam took a sip as he followed his cousin to the other side of the room. Will had indeed gone through a transformation, and how much of it Laura’s death had to do with he couldn’t be certain. He had never thought of Will as a settled down family man, yet here he was, and he seemed perfectly content in the role. But he did have no doubt that Lil’s presence had something to do with it, and it made him happy. Ah, the influence of a woman. He took another sip.
Peggy’s eyes went to the doorway as if she were a sentry that watched for an enemy at the gates. “But what if Adam doesn’t want to? It wouldn’t be very nice to force him to do it.”
“Angelica isn’t going to force Adam to do anything.” Lil’s devious gaze turned to Angelica. “But if done subtly, a man can be convinced of what he didn’t really know he wanted in the first place. Men are in many ways like children, and it’s up to us women to help them see what’s before them. Now I think he would have a wonderful time, and a wedding anniversary does come but only once a year.”
Peggy’s mouth spread, and a cunning light glistened deep in her eyes. She had just joined in on the plot. “Is there anything I can do?”
“I’ll ease it onto him tonight when we go to bed.” Purple sparks danced in Angelica’s crafty eyes. “It shouldn’t be a problem, but if it doesn’t work, then I’ll bring in my reinforcements.”
“Us?” Peggy asked.
“Us,” Lil said, as she put an arm around the girl.
For several seconds they only looked at each other then their conspiratorial laughter filled the main parlor.
John got up from his play and toddled over to see what was so funny.
Adam put out the light then climbed into bed with his wife. He put his arms around her, and she snuggled close and put her head on his chest.
“I know we made no definite plans for our stay here, but…”
Ah-oh, here it comes, he thought.
“…would you mind so terribly if Lil gave us a party? She does so have her heart set on it, and I think it would make a nice memory. And it would give me the chance to wear my scarlet gown you had Grace Warring make for me.” She nuzzled the side of his neck. “But if you don’t want to, we certainly don’t need a party.” She nibbled his ear lobe. “It’s up to you.”
He wasn’t one bit fooled. He knew exactly whose decision this would turn out to be. “Well, I don’t think…” her teeth clamped down. “…a party would hurt anything. And it would be a shame to disappoint Lil.”
“That’s nice, dear.”
Her lips moved to the dip at the base of his throat at the open collar of his nightshirt. Then she deftly undid the first three buttons, and he felt her fingers in the tight, coarse hair on his chest. Now who was being amorous? He pressed her closer to him. “If I thought having a party was behind this, we’d have one every night.”
“Hush and kiss me.”
He did as ordered and kissed her like her never would again. How did he bear his life before he found his Angelica? He kissed her ear, and felt her shiver. It didn’t matter, she was his life now. And if it took a party to make her happy, then a party there would be. Even if he wasn’t so gone on the idea.
Arm-in-arm Adam and Angelica came down the front steps of the Manferd mansion and stopped.
“All right, do you want to walk or take a cab?”
“It’s such a beautiful day.” She looked up at a seagull that flew overhead. “I would just like to be out in it, and being cooped up inside a stuffy cab cuts off that delightful sea air.”
“Then walk it is. Now where would you like to go? Is there anything special you would like to see or do?”
“I would just like to drink in the sights, and maybe shop a little bit. A lovely shawl or a new bonnet would make a nice memento of our visit, don’t you think?” She quivered with excitement. “Then maybe we could stop for a bite to eat. I have heard only good things about San Francisco’s seafood.”
“Whatever you want. Remember this is your gift.”
“And what a wonderful, thoughtful gift it is. And since you already know the city, you can be my guide.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
“Then what are we waiting for?”
Adam knew it was a fairly good stroll into the city, but this was what Angelica wanted, so this was what Angelica would have.
Their leisurely ramble took them to where many shops and small eateries and pubs congregated. The mingled aromas of a myriad of cuisines rose on the salt air that wafted in from the ocean. The call of gulls and the rhythm of life melded together to form the pulse of this thriving metropolis. California, at least this part of it, lived up to the word golden.
It took the couple close to an hour to get to where they wanted to be. And the childlike wonder it manifested in his wife made Adam smile. She had broken free of him and had wandered a couple feet ahead. His eyes traced down and a slight tingle spread through him. The back of her skirt had the most delightful sway to it when she walked. In fact, everything about this woman, both to the eye and the senses, was a delight.
“Oh, Adam, come look!”
He went to her side and followed her sparkling gaze. They stood before the large display window of a little shop that bore the name Le Chapeau de la Dame Française over the door which loosely translated to the French lady’s hat. A placard near the corner of the pane stated: French millinery. Styles straight from Paris.
“Oh, Adam, these are the loveliest hats and bonnets I have ever seen.” She looked at him with imploring eyes. “It couldn’t hurt to go inside for just a few minutes.”
“If that’s what you want. This is your day to do in it whatever you desire.”
In her excitement she didn’t wait for Adam to open the door for her. A small bell tinkled musically as they entered and ushered them inside. All kinds of millinery confections were displayed on polished wooden stands that no more resembled a human head than they did the tree they had come from. The scents of lace and muslin and straw and French perfume combined to give the small store a decidedly feminine air.
A striking middle-aged champagne blonde in a delicious lavender dress simply frothed with ecru lace came from a back room. “Welcome to my shop, madam.” She gave a nod to Adam. “Monsieur. I am Madam Dupree.”
“My wife was totally enthralled by your hats in the window.”
“Ah, madam has fine taste. These are my newest Paris creations.”
Angelica was in heaven. She had always wanted to go to France, but had never been able to. But here she was in a small slice of it in her own country being fussed over by a former resident of the city of light whose decided French accent added a romantic ambience. She could hardly wait to return home and tell all her friends about this enchanting experience.
Adam took a seat in a dainty chair in the corner and drank her in. He didn’t speak or move; he just sat and watched as Angelica tried on one pretty chapeau after another. With each one Madam Dupree gushed and told her how exquisite she looked as Angelica examined herself in a small mirror. And Adam had to agree with the Frenchwoman wholeheartedly.
They had been there for a little while when Angelica began to feel a twinge of guilt. She had caught sight of Adam as he sat stoically in the chair that wasn’t quite adequate for his powerful frame. She excused herself politely from Madam Dupree’s gentle ministrations and turned to Adam. “We can leave if you are bored.”
“I’m not bored. I’m having too much fun watching you.”
“Oh, you aren’t. No man could enjoy this, and I have been watching you. I don’t have to stay.”
He wound up from the dainty chair like a snake would uncoil from a basket, and stepped to her. “I would not for one second stop you from having such a good time.” He chuckled. “And you still haven’t made a selection. You said yourself that Madam Dupree has the loveliest hats you have ever seen. And if you go all the way back to Nevada without at least one it’ll cast a pall over your whole trip.”
“All right then.” Angelica resolutely jutted out her chin. “Maybe you would like to go somewhere while I’m here.”
“Don’t be argumentative. Maybe there is someplace you would like to go where wives aren’t allowed.”
“Well, the Bristol Club isn’t too far away, and you definitely couldn’t get past the front door.”
“All right then, you go right on. I’ll be just fine in Madam Dupree’s care.” She gave him a slight push toward the door. “This isn’t only my honeymoon. Now you just go on.”
“I’ll be back in half an hour.”
“Make it an hour. Visit with your friends and don’t worry about me.”
His dark eyes took in every inch of her face. “If I can stand to be parted from you that long.”
“If I can live through it I think you can.”
“You’re a jewel, Angel.” He glanced at Madam Dupree – he knew she wouldn’t mind, no true Frenchwoman would – then he took his wife’s face in his hands and kissed her. He snapped up his hat from the countertop, wished Madam Dupree a good day then took his leave.
The stately woman came to stand beside Angelica, and together they watched through the window as he dashed across the street.
“You are newlyweds?”
“No. We’ve been married for two glorious years, but we’ve never had a proper honeymoon.”
“Madam is indeed lucky.”
“Yes, I am.”
The Bristol Club – a large two storied building made of chiseled granite – sat on a corner of a busy intersection. Adam went up the four stone steps to the heavy mahogany door and quietly let himself in. He had been a frequent guest to this establishment whenever he came to San Francisco and had even stayed instead of opting for the usual hotel. He had made friends within these thick walls which effectively sealed out the bustle of the city, and it would be good to see some of them again.
“May I be of assistance to you, sir?”
Adam turned to find himself face-to-face with a thin, grizzled little man in a red weskit.
“Oh, Mr. Cartwright, it’s you. We haven’t been privileged to have you here for some time. It’s good to see you again.”
“Hello, Devers, it’s good to see you and be here again.”
“Will you be staying with us long this time?”
“No, I just came to visit with some of my friends and maybe have a brandy or two. Are any of them here today?”
“A few, sir, and I know they will be delighted to see you.”
Someone called his name enthusiastically, and Adam looked around.
“David Marshall,” Adam said, as a man in a brown tweed coat approached him.
“That’ll be all, Devers. I can handle it from here.”
The little man agreed politely and dismissed himself.
The sturdily built man took Adam’s hand and pumped it heartily. “So how long are you going to be staying with us this time?”
“Not very I’m afraid. I’m staying with relatives, and I promised my wife I would meet her in an hour.”
David’s thick eyebrows shot straight up his broad forehead. “Your wife? When did that happen?”
“We’re here for our second anniversary. I left her at that French milliner’s shop over on....”
“Madame Dupree’s.” David gave a knowing nod. “I know it well. I’ve bought many a hat there for…” he cleared his throat, “various lady friends.”
“You mean one of them hasn’t gotten a ring on your finger yet?”
“A few have tried, but I’ve always managed to slip their net. So, just out of curiosity, what’s your lady’s name? And I know she’s a lady or she wouldn’t be your wife.”
“Angelica and I’ll tell you all about her over a brandy. Who else is here?”
“Vincent, Lyles and Gregg, and I think I caught sight of Milton Caruthers a few minutes ago. We were just talking business, but what you have to tell will be far more interesting.” He took hold of Adam’s arm, and they started toward a large, arched doorway. “And I find myself more in the mood for scotch.”
“You know, that doesn’t sound half bad.”
“So now tell me…”
They disappeared beyond the dark paneled walls into the adjoining room where their voices seemed to be swallowed up by the silence.
Angelica went to the shop’s window and peered out. Two pink-and-yellow striped hat boxes dangled from her left hand and a little black balloon purse from her right. She looked first up then down then across the street.
“Madam would like a nice cup of tea while she waits?”
“No thank you. Adam said he would be here, and he doesn’t say what he doesn’t mean.”
Madam Dupree busied herself and returned hats to their stands, others to decorative hooks on the walls and still others would go into the back store room. When a woman came into her humble little shop she simply did not try on one or two of Madam’s creations. She had never known a lady to stay less than an hour, and a true connoisseur of fine millinery usually stayed at least two.
The bell over the door tinkled and Madam turned, a magenta bonnet lavishly adorned with white egret plumes and eyelet in her hands. “Madam Cartwright, you are not going to wait?”
“I’m just going outside for a breath of air and where I can see him better.”
“Does Madam wish me to come with her? It has gotten very busy.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll just be right outside. And once again I want to thank you for a most pleasurable two and a half hours. I don’t think I have ever had so much fun buying a hat.”
Madam tilted her head saucily and held up a couple fingers. “A hat and a bonnet.”
“And they will always remind me of the quaint little shop and the fine French lady who helped me to choose them.” Angelica ducked her head. “Merci beaucoup.”
“Vous étés très bienvenu.”
The bell tinkled again as Angelica went out.
The walk bustled more than it had when she and Adam had arrived at the shop. She had just pulled the door together when she got bumped. As she reeled backward her hatboxes hit the ground with a clatter. Then strong fingers gripped her arms and kept her from falling. As she was seized her foot caught, and she pitched forward. Arms went around her, and she found herself held firm.
“I’m terribly sorry, ma’am,” said a thin masculine voice. “I didn’t see you.”
Angelica gathered her wits and looked into a pair of grayed-brown eyes.
“Are you all right?” the ashen-haired man asked, as he released her.
“I’m quite all right.” She tugged at the tail of her jacket and smoothed her skirt. He handed the hat boxes to her, and she thanked him.
“The sidewalks usually get pretty crowded this time of day, and I should have known to take extra care to watch where I was going.”
“It’s quite all right, no harm done.”
“Well, if you’re sure I didn’t hurt you?”
“Honestly, sir, you didn’t injure me in any way.” She snickered. “Though I think a lot more than my pride would have been if not for your quick thinking.”
“Well, as long as you’re all right, I’ll be on my way.” He tipped his bowler to her then went on.
She watched as he melded into the bustle then dismissed the incident as she stepped close to the door so it wouldn’t happen again. Her gaze strayed across the street in hopes of espying her wayward husband.
“All right, give it back.”
She looked around, and the man had returned. “I beg your pardon.”
“I said, give it back.”
She glanced at his outstretched hand. “I haven’t the slightest idea of what you are talking about. I have nothing to give back.”
“I want my purse back.” He waggled his fingers in impatience. “Now hand it over, and I won’t call for a policeman.”
Angelica felt a sudden burn singe her cheeks. “I don’t care for your effrontery, sir. You are no gentleman.”
“And you are no lady. I’ve heard of women like you. You act all innocent and unassuming while you rob a man.”
Angelica turned a bright crimson. “Of all the impudence. How dare you call me a common thief!” She spun away from him and started to go back inside.
He grabbed her by the arm and jerked her back. “Police! Police!”
“Let go of me, you rude little man!”
Officer Kline was headed back to the stationhouse when the distinct sounds of a disturbance made their way to his ears. He had worked for the city in an official capacity long enough to learn all the nuances of a fracas. As he rounded the corner he saw that a crowd had gathered in front of the Frenchwoman’s establishment, and someone was yelling bloody murder. He took a firm grasp on his truncheon and trotted across the street, careful not to get rundown by a passing cab. He pushed his way through the gathered people and what he saw made his crest fall. A striking, dark-haired woman was in the act of accosting a man with her purse, while he screamed like a banshee for the police. He hated it when women were involved.
“All right, that’ll be enough of that.” Kline said, as he got between the two combatants. “Now tell me what’s going on here.”
The man jabbed an accusatory finger at his assailant. “She bumped into me, and when I tried to help her she robbed me!”
“That’s a lie! It was you who bumped into me.” Then the infuriated woman gave the man another good bop with her purse.
“I said, that’ll be enough! Now one of you tell me what this is all about.” They both started to yammer at once, and Kline felt the first beginnings of a headache. He held up his hands. “One at a time, one at a time.” He turned square to the woman. “You start, ma’am.” He smiled in the hopes of placating her. “My father always taught me ladies first.”
The man opened his mouth, but a cold, threatening glare from those intense purple eyes cowed him.
“Go ahead, ma’am.”
With one last, icy glower at her accuser, the woman turned to Kline. “Officer, I am no thief as this gentleman,” her eyes flitted menacingly to the man, “intimates that I am. I am here with my husband. We’re from Nevada, where he has a very large ranch, and I would have no need to do something so totally illegal, I assure you.”
“A likely story.”
She raised the purse to give it a swing, but Kline put himself between her and her target. “Go ahead, ma’am.”
The woman huffed and straightened the hat that sat askew on her dark head. “We went into Madam Dupree’s quaint little shop where I bought a hat and a bonnet.”
Kline’s gaze dropped to the two hat boxes that lay in disarray on the ground, one with its lid slightly ajar.
“He went off to see some friends while I continued to shop. When I finished I came out to wait for him. I hadn’t been out here a minute when this man bumped into me and nearly knocked me down. He was very polite at first and helped me to right myself, then he left, and I thought it was over, so I put it behind me. Then he comes back and has the unmitigated gall to accuse me of stealing his purse, which I tried to assure him that I didn’t. I would have no need to.”
“If you choose to believe that, which I don’t,” the man said, and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Mister, the next time she takes a swing on you I may not be able to deflect it, so I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself before you really get whacked. Now did you see her take your purse?”
“No, but it was right after I left her that I noticed it was gone. I went to buy myself some roasted peanuts and discovered to my shock that it was missing. No one else could have taken it.”
“That doesn’t mean a thing. I’ve known my share of pickpockets, and most are so slick you don’t even know you’ve been cleaned. It could’ve happened before you even met this lady.”
“There was no one else!” The man stabbed his finger at the woman like a pointer. “I tell you, she took it!”
“Why you odious little man, if my husband was here he’d put a hole in you big enough to drive a stagecoach through!” And she gave a vicious swing.
Officer Kline took the woman by the arm. “We’re not getting anywhere here, so we’ll just take this to the stationhouse.”
“But I have places to go.”
“You should’ve thought of that before you started this ruckus. Now you’re both coming with me.” He started to drag the woman away.
Kline huffed and snatched up the hatboxes then started to tow the woman away. “Come on, Mister, you, too.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Kline saw the woman stick her tongue out at her tormentor. He wanted to bust out laughing, but he didn’t. She wielded that purse of her like a fail, and he didn’t want to get caught alongside the head. His day had been bad enough already.
Adam had lost track of the time and stayed at the Bristol Club longer than intended. It had been good to see old friends after so long and share tales – both new and old – and more than a couple drinks. He felt guilty, but he didn’t really expect to get his hair lifted. Angelica had been having such a wonderful time that he hadn’t minded leaving her, and he doubted she had even noticed his absence.
The bell over the door announced his arrival as he stepped into the milliner’s shop and found himself to be quite alone. But it didn’t concern him, since he figured Angelica had gone into the back room with Madam Dupree for whatever reason.
He had just started to sit down to wait when the Frenchwoman came out, and she went pale as a wraith when she saw him. “Monsieur. I am so glad you are back.”
Adam felt a cold stripe run down his spine. “What’s wrong?” He looked about him. “Where’s my wife?”
“Oh, monsieur, I fear she is arrested.”
“Arrested? What for? What happened?”
“She went outside to wait for you. I offered to go with her, but she said she wanted some air, and assured me that she would be all right.” She took a handkerchief from the waistband of her skirt, and daubed at her eyes. “Oh, monsieur, I should have gone with her.”
“That doesn’t matter now, and I certainly don’t blame you. Now please finish.”
“I went straight back into the storeroom, so I did not see what transpired. I was putting away some of the hats that I had brought out to show your charming wife. I did hear what I thought to be an altercation, but I am used to such sounds so I did not go to look. I am sorry I did not. But when I did come out it was in time to see a tall, young policeman take your wife and a man I had never seen before away. I am so sorry, monsieur.”
“That’s quite all right, madam, you couldn’t have known. And I think I know where they would’ve taken her.”
He gave her a reassuring pat on the back of the hand then dashed back out.
Sergeant Mahoney was a squat, broad man whose bullet head sat on no neck, and his wide shoulders could have born Atlas’ burden. And there were times – many times – when he felt they did just that. He had worked the desk at the precinct for the past five years, and he had seen it all, or he thought he had until now. He had experienced angry women before, but never anything like this, and he counted his blessings that she didn’t have a gun.
Kline stood off to one side just far enough away to be out of range of that flying purse. This little hellcat was lethal, and she had already struck him once. It had been an accident when he got between her and her intended victim, but it had smarted nonetheless, and he didn’t want the experience repeated.
“Ma’am, please just calm down.” Mahoney said, as he riffled his fingers in what remained of his hair.
“I will not! I come to this wretched city for what I think will be a wonderful holiday, and this happens! Accused of thievery and arrested, for the love of Heaven! How dare you tell me to calm down!”
“Make her give me back my purse.”
Mahoney leaned forward on the sturdy oak desk, and one indigo eye scrunched together. “Well, now, as I understand it, you don’t know for sure that she has it.”
“Then search her. You’ll find it”
“The first man that lays a finger on me will lose it all the way to the elbow. And when my husband finds out…”
“Hey, Ian, it looks like you and Joe have your hands full.”
Mahoney looked around, and his face brightened into a smile. “Adam Cartwright, you’re a far way from home.”
“Too far, I’m afraid.” He stepped to the desk and looked at his wife in all her miffed glory. “Hello, Angelica.”
“I take it you know this woman,” Mahoney said.
“I should say he does,” she said, in a huff.
“We haven’t been able to get a name or anything out of her except that her husband is going to kill us all in a pile,” Mahoney said.
The little man looked first at her then at the newcomer. “Did she rob you, too?”
Adam thought she was going to beat this man to death before he could stop her. “Angelica, mayhem isn’t going to solve a thing. Now give me that before you do somebody an injury.” He pulled the purse away from her.
She eyed the little man with the harshest contempt. “That’s what I intended.”
“Now, Adam, you still haven’t told me if know this woman.”
“You could say I do. This is my wife.”
Mahoney went white as a sheet, and his eyes stood out like frozen bits of midnight sky. “I didn’t even know…” His chin continued to fall. “Then you’re the husband that’s…”
“I’m the one.”
Mahoney groaned and capped his hands over his face then his eyes zeroed in on the complainant with something just a tad less than blood. But at that moment another officer stepped up to the desk with a frowzy-looking redhead by the arm and a bulging burlap sack in his free hand.
Mahoney’s eyes narrowed on her then turned to the officer. “I’ll be right with you, Nat, as soon as I finish with this mess.” He turned his attention back to the little man. “Now, Mr. Sturtevant, I think under the circumstances that…” But then inspiration lit his face like a beacon of hope, and he turned back to Nat. “What’s in the bag?”
“Oh, what you’d figure with Sadie. She’s been plying her trade again.”
Sturtevant peered around Adam and Angelica. “I’ve seen her somewhere before.”
“Nat, empty it out up here on the desk,” Mahoney said, and gestured in front of him.
“Sure thing, Sergeant.” While Kline held onto his pinch so she wouldn’t bolt, Nat emptied the sack’s contents out before the desk sergeant. “She got quite a haul this time.”
Mahoney looked at what lie in a heap before him then spread them out with his hand as a gambler would a deck of cards. “Mr. Sturtevant, look these over and see if you recognize any of them.”
Sturtevant moved closer, and looked over each leather wallet but stopped at a worn brown one. He picked it up, and examined its contents. “This is mine. And it’s all here.” His face crumpled. “But she …”
Mahoney’s mouth drew into a knot. “Sadie here is one of the best pickpocket’s on the Barbary Coast, but sometimes she drifts our way and graces us with her talent. She’s just not so smart when it comes to getting away with it.”
“I beg your pardon, gov’ner,” Sadie said, in her heavy Cockney accent. “If iss ‘ere bloke ‘ahn’t been spyin’ on me, ‘e’d never o’ caught me. I’m too good at me craft.” Her cat-like eyes turned with disapproval to Nat. “Bleetin’ nosey copper.”
Sturtevant suddenly looked as if he had just swallowed a frog. He clutched his property close to his chest, and made a point of avoiding the venomous purple gaze locked on him.
“I’m sorry about all this, Adam. And you have my sincerest apologies, Mrs. Cartwright.” He glowered at Sturtevant. “But when somebody registers a complaint, I havta act on it. I’m just glad things turned out the way they did. Now you and your lady can go and try to enjoy the rest of the day. I’ll clean up the rest of this.”
Adam shook Mahoney’s hand. “Thanks, Ian. Let’s go, Angelica.” He handed her back her purse then took the hatboxes from where they sat on the end of the desk.
Sturtevant, his wallet still clutched like a life line, moved with caution closer to her. He stammered around in an attempt to apologize, but he didn’t get very far when he caught that death dealing purse across the side of his neck. Then she whirled and flounced for the exit. Adam shrugged and followed after her.
Mahoney crossed his arms on the desktop and leaned on them. “Mr. Sturtevant, the next time you accuse somebody I suggest you be sure of just who you’re accusing.” He glanced at the two officers who snorted and muffled laughter with their hands. “I gather you haven’t any idea who Adam Cartwright is.”
“I see no reason I should.”
Mahoney leaned closer, and his voice went cold. “He is the oldest son of Ben Cartwright, one of the most powerful men in Nevada, and a powerful man in his own right. Ben is very protective of his sons, and Adam has a long memory and judging from what I saw of Mrs. Cartwright, I’d rather have a tong mad at me. Now I’m gonna let you have your purse. We’ll use these others as evidence against Sadie. But if you want to follow my advice – and I strongly suggest you do – I would go back to Philadelphia as soon as I could. And if you ever decide to come back to San Francisco, I think it would be a good idea if you make sure Mr. and Mrs. Cartwright aren’t here first.”
Angelica burst out onto the stoop while Adam held the door for her.
“I have never been so infuriated or humiliated in all my life!” She swung the purse at the air. “Oh, if I ever see that misbegotten wretch again I’ll…” She groaned and cast her eyes upward. “Oh, I don’t know what I’ll do, but it won’t be pleasant!” She stalked back-and-forth like a caged animal. “A thief! He called me a thief! When I think about it I just I could…” She clenched her hands into fists and turned to him. “Oooooh, I could commit murder, I’m so angry!”
“Try to settle down. It’s over.”
“Don’t you tell me to settle down either. You aren’t the one that was accused of stealing or manhandled like a common strumpet.” She groaned again. “I just want to go home.” With a puff she started down the steps.
“Angelica, slow down before you hurt yourself.”
As he started after her, his toe caught on the raised edge of a brick,
and he pitched forward. He made a grab at the railing but missed. The lids
came off the hatboxes and ladies’ millinery tumbled down the steps along
with him. Angelica watched in helpless horror as he fell and landed in a
heap at her feet.
“Adam!” She dropped to her knees before him. “Adam, sweetheart.” She tried to raise his head so she could look into his face. “Look at me.”
He grunted and held his right hand close as he leaned back against the railing post.
She held his face in her hands and blinked back tears. “Please tell me you are all right. You didn’t strike your head did you?”
“No, I’ve gotten worse falling out of bed.” He winced, and his grip tightened on his hand. “But I definitely did wrench something.”
“Are you all right, sir?” a uniformed policeman asked, as he stooped next to Adam. “That was quite a fall you took. Do you want me to send for a doctor?”
“I don’t think a doctor’s necessary. I just crumpled myself up a little bit. But I would appreciate it if you would get a cab for us. I’ll just sit here until it arrives. And would you mind rounding up my wife’s hats?”
“Sure thing, sir.”
“I’m not worried about the hats.” She placed a gentle hand against his cheek. “I’m only concerned about you.”
“Stop fretting so. I may be black-and-blue in places, and there may be a few cracks where there didn’t use to be, but it could’ve been so much worse.”
“We’ll let a doctor be the judge of that.”
“Angel, I don’t think I need…”
She put her fingertips over his lips and shushed him. She then sat beside him and leaned her head on his shoulder while they waited for the cab. It had been a very loooong day so they just sat there quietly as people walked past.
Adam sat on the long, ornate settee in the main parlor, and he felt foolish. He had lived a rugged life since he was a baby, and it wasn’t like he hadn’t gotten hurt before. And regardless of what brought it about, he had always accepted it as a way of life. But to come to San Francisco and fall down three steps, and do it in front of his wife, no less, made him cringe. He was just glad his father and brothers hadn’t been there to see his performance. He watched as the doctor splinted his wrist, and he wished he didn’t have an audience. He looked back at Angelica and forced a smile, and he felt foolish.
“Well, that should take care of it,” the doctor said, as he tied one last knot to secure the binding. “Now remember what I said about the pain. If it gets too bad,” he held up an amber bottle, “a spoonful or two of this should take the edge off of it. But take no more than that. I’ve had patients who think if a little will help, a lot will work miracles, and just wind up making matters worse.”
Angelica stood behind the settee and rested her hands on Adam’s shoulders. “I’ll take care of him, doctor, and I’ll see that he follows your instructions to the letter.”
“Very good. I can’t ask for more than that.” The doctor returned his scissors to his battered black bag then closed it up. “Well, I can go now since I can see I’m leaving you in very good hands.”
“I’ll show you out, Evan,” Lil said, as she stepped away from the dormant marble fireplace.
Lil and the doctor got to the wide doorway then she turned back. “Come along, Peggy.”
“Can’t I stay with Adam and Angelica for a little bit longer?”
“I think they need to talk about some things, so we should leave them alone. Now come along.”
Peggy started after her aunt then stopped. “I’m glad you weren’t hurt too badly, Adam.”
“We know you are, dear,” Angelica said, and her hands tightened on her husband. “And thank you again, doctor.”
“I’m glad I was able to help, Mrs. Cartwright.”
Peggy left the room with reluctance, and Lil slid the pocket doors together. They were alone at last. Angelica came around and sat down next to him. Tenderly, she took his injured arm into her lap and wrapped her warm hand over his cool fingers.
“Do you believe this?” He shook his head, and his eyes darkened. “We haven’t even been in the city for two days, and things have done nothing but go from bad to worse. First the room reservations aren’t made, then you get arrested, and I fall down a flight of steps that a four-year-old could navigate and break my wrist.”
“Well, I know I will never come back here again.”
He looked at her and a smile softened his disgruntlement. “Not even to see Will and the children and Lil?”
“Well, I guess maybe I could for that…,” purple fire sparked in her eyes, “but I won’t leave this house or the grounds to go back into that, that den of iniquity.”
He laughed and it only fanned the flames.
“I fail to see any humor in the situation. You could have been seriously hurt.” She carefully raised his hand, and lightly kissed the backs of his fingers. “And I still feel sullied from the episode. When I think of that reprehensible little man everything just turns a bright shade of crimson.” Her mouth drew into an annoyed bow. “I’m afraid I can’t find anything to laugh about, and I don’t see how you can either.”
“You must admit that the image of you standing there like a ruffled chicken – threatening the police with a fate worse than death – is funny. And did anyone ever tell you that you swing a mean purse.” He snickered. “I bet it’s an aspect of Mr. Sturtevant’s visit that he isn’t likely to forget any time soon.”
She managed a weak chortle. “I did give him a few good whacks, didn’t I?”
“You most certainly did.” He gave her a long look. “And I don’t think you should be proud of the fact.”
“I’m not, but he did have it coming. Of all the nerve.” She leaned her head over on his shoulder. “I’m sorry things haven’t turned out the way you’ve wanted them to.”
“So am I, but things have certainly made for a memorable honeymoon.”
“Maybe, but those kinds of memories I can do without very nicely, thank you.” She snuggled her head closer to his neck. “I’m afraid I don’t feel much like a party now. I’ll just tell Lil to cancel it.”
“After everything we’ve been through? If ever there was a time when we needed one, I think this is it.”
“But do you feel up to it?”
“I broke my wrist, not my neck. And it won’t prevent me from holding my wife in my arms for the anniversary waltz.” He pulled his arm away and put it around her. “I didn’t want a party at first, but now I find myself looking forward to it.”
“If you didn’t want it then why did you agree to it?”
“You make it hard for a man to say no to anything. You have very persuasive ways about you, my dear. And it would take a stronger man than me not to succumb to them.”
“You don’t always. You wouldn’t let me bring the boys.”
“And aren’t you glad I didn’t? I can just imagine you trying to take care of all four of us. Don’t give me that look. I know you.”
“I’m too exhausted to argue.” She closed her eyes and wrapped her arm around his broad chest.
They had just settled down in an effort to recuperate when the doors were opened wide, and Will stood there. And it didn’t take a scholar to grasp at once that he was vastly disturbed.
“Adam. Angelica. Lil just told me what happened.” He sat down on the table before the fireplace. “Are you both all right?”
“Angelica was almost guilty of murder,” Adam held his injured arm up, “and I broke a couple of bones, but we’ll survive. I’ve just been reminded that it could’ve been worse.”
Will’s soft cocoa brown eyes flitted to Angelica. “She’s right. It isn’t always the fall that does the harm, but the way you land. And a brick walk isn’t exactly a feather bed. You’re lucky you didn’t hit your head.”
Adam snorted. “I think maybe if I had landed on this hard Cartwright head I wouldn’t have been hurt at all.”
Will laughed. “You have a good point.”
Angelica got up off the settee.
“Where’re you going?” Adam asked.
“Up to our room to get some of that police station and that grubby little man off of me.” She leaned down and gave Adam a soft kiss. “So I’ll leave the two of you to your men talk.”
They watched her as she floated out and closed the doors.
“Will, in all my dealings with women I have never seen one as furious as my Angelica. Even the police weren’t immune from her wrath. As I got it on the way home, she even slugged Joe Kline.”
“He wasn’t the intended target, but she caught him in the side of the head with her purse nonetheless.”
Will leaned forward on his knees and clasped his hands in front of him. “Tell me all about it, and don’t leave out a single thing.”
Angelica cuddled close to her husband in the darkened privacy of their room. His good arm went around her as she put her head on his shoulder. The longest day in her collected memory had finally come to an end, and she just wanted to put it behind them. She gently ran her fingers over the splint, and it brought forth the image of him as he tumbled down the stationhouse steps, and she shivered.
“I’m all right. It’s just that in the dark it’s easy to see things again.” His arm squeezed around her and soothed what remained of her anxiety. “Really, I’m fine. Adam, I think we should just go home.”
“I know things have gotten off to a rocky start, but it’s only been a couple days.”
“A rocky start doesn’t even begin to explain it. I feel like I have been dragged over a cobblestone street by a herd wild of horses, and then trampled by them.”
He kissed the top of her head. “All right, if that’s what you want.”
Some things couldn’t be sequestered, and the quality of his voice betrayed his disappointment. The darkness hid his expression from her, but she knew there would be nothing there to pick up on even if she could see it. Adam had what the ranch hands called ‘a good poker face’ which made his emotions not at all easy to read. But when he spoke he couldn’t always keep them from creeping into his tone.
“No, you’re right. We should give things another chance. This is, after all, our honeymoon and no matter how many we have there will only be one first. And it would be a shame to spoil all of Lil’s plans.”
She felt his lips on her forehead, and she knew she had made the right decision. But right now she wasn’t going to let anything encroach on her time with him. In June and this afternoon she had known the fear that she could possibly lose him. It drove home the realization of how fragile a thing life was. She huddled close to him in her relish of the moment, and knew he was worth any sacrifice she would have to make. And remaining for a few more days in this abysmal city would be a small price to please him.
It had been two days since Black Tuesday, and Angelica had been true to her word. She had not ventured back into the city, and it distressed her when Adam did. When he and Will were together it wasn’t so bad, but when he went in alone she seemed to walk around on pins and needles.
“I would like to know when he will be back.”
“I’m sorry; madam, but he didn’t tell me. He simply said he needed to run an errand, and asked if I would send for the driver. I did, but I don’t know what they talked about. Mr. Cartwright was very secretive.”
She thanked him, and the butler returned to the pantry. Her hands twisted the lace-edged hankie into a white coil as she chewed on her lower lip.
“That’s just like a man.”
She spun around with a start.
Lil could see by the wide violet eyes and the heave of the young woman’s chest that she had caught Angelica in an unguarded moment. “There’s nothing to be frightened of. Its not like Adam hasn’t been in San Francisco by himself before.”
“I know, but after the other day…” Her hands closed over the handkerchief. “He should have told me instead of slipping off that way.”
“He didn’t slip off. He told me.”
“And he didn’t want you to tell me where he went or why. I know him.”
Lil smiled and shook her head. “And I promised that I wouldn’t. I also promised that I would keep you from being a wreck.” She stepped next to Angelica and took her arm. “I think we should go for a walk in the garden. You have stayed too much in the house, and you haven’t even seen it yet.”
“I really don’t…”
“There’s nothing like the perfume of roses for clearing the head. And I have a birdbath that I think is a favorite haunt of every bird in the state.”
Angelica sighed with a lifeless nod. “But I’m afraid my heart won’t be in it.”
“You just wait until you see it.”
Lil Manferd’s garden had been the talk of San Francisco society since Charles DeGroot – one of the city’s finest landscape architects – had completed it ten years earlier. Topiary trees trimmed into fanciful shapes, marble statuary that seemed to sprout from the ground, and rose bushes in every color imaginable filled plots that were surrounded by a wide cobbled path. It wound and meandered its way to the largest, most ornate bird bath that had to be in existence. And beyond it was a maze comprised of dense evergreens that were at least twelve feet high, and covered enough area for a small house.
“I suppose there are those who have gotten lost in there.”
Lil cackled with glee. “Oh, my goodness, yes. I was the first, and the most recent was Lionel Trumbull.”
“The shipping magnate from Boston.”
“The same. He had come for one of my famous parties, or infamous if you prefer. He’d had a little too much to drink, and when somebody wagered him he couldn’t get through it without getting lost he took the bet.” Lil laughed riotously and shook her head. “He was in there overnight before anybody even thought to look for him.”
“I would have thought the one who bet him would have said something.”
“I’m sure he would have if he had remembered, but the night before eluded him.” Lil extended her hand toward the entrance. “Let’s go in, and I assure you that we won’t get lost.”
Inside was a whole other world. The living walls cut out some of the light this time of day and allowed very little of it to reach the ground. Benches were strategically placed as markers, and so that an explorer could take a rest before they ventured on.
Their talk had nothing to do with anything of significant importance as Lil watched her intently. That something disturbed this young woman hadn’t escaped her, as very little did. They made another turn, and a third bench came into view. “Let’s sit down.”
They sat on the weathered seat, and skirts were spread just so to hide feminine limbs. Angelica set her eyes on the patch if sun that made it in and settled just beyond their feet.
Lil reached out and took one of Angelica’s hands. “All right, tell me what this is all about. And don’t tell me nothing is wrong, and it’s my imagination. I have seen the way you watch Adam when you think he isn’t looking.”
Doleful eyes turned to Lil. “I guess the easiest way to put it is that I’ve gotten so afraid when he leaves me. It was bad enough before, but the fall only heightened it.”
“In May right around his birthday, Adam got hurt, badly hurt. Then he became terribly ill, and we thought we could lose him. I stayed at his bedside, never wanting to leave. I had the most hideous thoughts of this wonderful creature leaving me.”
“But this is more than just fear; I detect guilt, too. There is nothing to feel guilty about.”
“I was having such a marvelous time at Madam Dupree’s that it didn’t occur to me that the city could be just as dangerous as the range he rides everyday. There was a tinge of the old fright when I watched him run across the street, but childish delight quickly pushed it aside. Then I was accosted by that vile little man, and I was too furious to think of anything except that.” Angelica began to twist the handkerchief again. “Then he took that tumble…,” her hands strangled on it, “and I was rudely reminded.”
Lil took Angelica’s face in her hands, and she hoped that she could smooth away at least some of the girl’s self-reproach. “Everyday we live we run the risk of losing those we love – it’s an unfortunate part of living. But we can’t go through the rest of our days in constant dread of it, life is simply too short. And we must take pleasure and enjoyment when and where we can find it or we’ll go insane. I used to say that I would rather have one day with my Charley than none at all. Then the reality came, and I realized that I hadn’t known what I was talking about, because I wanted a lifetime with him. It’s not selfish and it isn’t greedy, it’s just the way people are. I know you love Adam, I can see it plain as day, but you can’t let it turn you into a frightened and nervous person. He would be the first one to chastise you for it, except that I got to it before he did.” Her smile became more puckish.
“I know all that, but I can’t help feeling that I put something trivial before him, and it’s eating me up.”
“Nonsense. You were being a woman which is exactly what Adam wants, or any man for that matter. Sure they complain when we behave like one, and then they’re disappointed when we don’t. Now enough of this.” She took the hankie from Angelica and blotted away the tears. “We still have plenty to do to get ready for tomorrow night’s party.” She leaned closer and lowered her voice. “And I don’t think Adam will shoot me for telling you that his errand has something to do with it.” Lil stood and pulled her to her feet. “Everything will be all right, my dear. Now I want you to promise me that you will get this foolishness right out of your head and have a good time. And if you won’t to it for yourself, do it for Adam.”
The corners of Angelica’s mouth quivered as she forced a faint imitation of a smile. “I think I can do that.” She threw her head back with a haughty toss. “I can do anything for him.”
Lil patted the backs of her hands and took her by the arm, and they started out. The promise had been made, but Angelica wondered if it was one that could be kept. It had fallen to her – more by her own choosing than by command – to endeavor to see that it was.
The supper table had become tomb-like except from the scrape of forks and knives against plates, and the thump of glasses and bowls as they were put down. No one seemed to want to talk so Adam decided to break the oppressive silence.
“It’s too bad Will had to be sent out of the city.”
“The demands of his job.” Lil’s eyes floated to Angelica. “But he promised that he will be back in time for the party. He said he wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Then he’ll be back. If a Cartwright says he’ll do something, then you can bank on it.” He took a bite as his gaze met with Lil’s. “I made Angelica promise to wear her scarlet ball gown.” A devious twinkle gleamed in his rakish eyes as they flicked to his wife. “She has to now.”
Finally something penetrated the wall Angelica had put up, and she looked at him. “That’s an odd thing to say. We both know that it’s the only thing I brought with me that is appropriate.”
“All the better.” He dropped his head over his plate and took another bite.
“You’re being awfully cryptic tonight. And I suppose it will do me no good to ask you to tell me why.”
“You’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to find out like everybody else.” He used his wine goblet to discourage a budding grin. “But I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The man I bought it from said it is one of the most exquisite things he had ever seen.”
“I know you think you’re being entirely clever, and won’t you be disappointed if I don’t like it.” Angelica took a petite nibble of her roll.
Adam went a couple shades of pale but quickly rebounded. “Oh, I think you will. Only a crazy woman wouldn’t, and my wife isn’t crazy.”
“I have to be some or I wouldn’t have married a man who forces me to live in such a wild place.”
Adam caught the sharp purple glint as she glanced at him. The old Angelica fire was toying with him, and he loved it. “Well a wee bit of craziness doesn’t hurt any of us. It makes things a little less tedious.” He took her hand under the table, and his grip tightened around the slim fingers. “But even if I were the type to force a woman to do anything, you’re not one I think I could sway into anything.”
“I don’t sway, Mr. Cartwright, I go of my own accord or I don’t.”
As she returned her attention to her meal, he felt her pull her hand away. Her fingers tripped along his thigh and stopped on his knee. This was an invitation if ever he had been privy to one, and he didn’t have to strain his mind to guess what she had in mind. He cleared his throat and tried to concentrate on his food, but it was nigh onto impossible. Next to him sat the most voluptuous woman in the universe in a low-cut green satin dress that exhibited every curve of her well-rounded figure. Oh, boy, Cartwright, how did you ever get so lucky? he thought, and took another bite that he had suddenly lost his appetite for.
Angelica stood before the full length floor mirror while Adam finished fastening the back of her scarlet moiré gown. She fluffed the ebony tatted lace that gathered into a flounce around the top of the low neckline and sleeves that fell below her shoulders. A brooch of jet and pewter was pinned to the lace and accented her alabaster skin.
“There, all finished.” He gave her a swat on the backside.
“Adam Stoddard Cartwright, mind your vinegar.” She finished her primping then turned from her image to him. “Let me have a good look at you.” Her bosom swelled with a deep breath as her gaze ran over him. “Just like that night when I first saw you.” She straightened his string tie and brushed imaginary lint from his shoulders. “Black shows every little piece of fuzz and particle of dust it comes into contact with.” She smoothed the front of his coat where it draped over his full chest. “That’s better. Now you’re presentable.”
He put his arms around her, careful of his injured wrist. “I don’t think I need to ask if you’re happy. I haven’t seen you look this radiant since our wedding day.”
“I see no reason why I wouldn’t be.” She put her arms around his neck, and her fingers twined together. “When I was a little girl I used to dream that some day a handsome prince would come and take me to his kingdom. But as I got older I began to believe that it was just an adolescent fantasy. Then I met you, and my girlhood dream came true. Of course, the one I imagined then had golden hair, but I think black is far more dashing.”
“Close your eyes.”
She let her arms drop and looked perfectly disappointed. “You certainly know how to kill the moment.”
“Close your eyes or better still, put your hands over them.”
“Adam, this is no time for games.”
“And I’m not playing one. Now, please, put your hands over your eyes and turn back to the mirror.”
“You don’t trust me not to peek.”
“It’s not you particularly that I don’t trust, but all women in general. Your gender’s curiosity is legendary.”
“All right, if only to please the little boy in you.” She capped her hands over her eyes and turned to face the mirror as he had asked her to. “I hope this doesn’t take long.”
She could hear him as he rummaged around behind her and a drawer slammed. Then something thumped down on the bed. Her inquisitive nature was about to get the better of her when something cool and hard and of many pieces rested on her breast. She started to pull her hands away but thought better of it. She could feel his large, mannish fingers at the back of her neck, and she wished he would hurry before the suspense caused her to explode.
“You can look now.”
She let her hands fall away from her face, and her mouth went agape with a gasp. For one of the few times in her life she was speechless as her fingertips ran over the rubies that seemed to drip around her throat. They were teardrop shaped, and perfect round cut diamonds nestled between them. “Oh, Adam.”
“I don’t think I need to ask if you like it.”
“This is the most beautiful thing I think I have ever seen. It must have cost a fortune.”
“Only money. You and my sons are my fortune.” He grasped her shoulders and turned her to face him. “I’m gonna havta be on my guard tonight or some handsome young man will steal you away from me.”
“Then he would just be out of luck. I already have my handsome man and any other would pale by comparison.”
His head lowered over hers as they held tight to one another, and he kissed her. He had just started to kiss her when an inconvenient knock at the door interrupted them.
“The guests have begun to arrive.”
“All right, Will, we’ll be right down.”
Adam waited until the footsteps faded away before he turned his attention back to her. “Well, we might as well go make our grand entrance. I want to see the look on every man’s face when I walk in with you on my arm.”
“And every woman will be green with envy.” She fingered the necklace. “And this is only a small part of it.”
He gave her a little peck then wrapped her arm around his, and they left the room.
Lil must have invited every prominent man and woman in San Francisco, for the grand ballroom of the big mansion was filled near to capacity. A small group of musicians – to have a larger one meant to take up space that additional guests could fill – were at the back by a large bay window. The gowns of the ladies – mainly white and pastel colors – softened the dark somber shades the men wore. Punchbowls, with the men’s on the right side of the room and the women’s across to the left, lined the tops of small tables. The large chandelier blazed like a crystal bonfire to cast its light upon the merry and chatting couples.
“Would you give me your attention, please,” Lil said, in a clear, loud voice. “I would like for you to please welcome Mr. and Mrs. Adam Cartwright on the occasion of their second wedding anniversary.” Then she sidestepped away from the arched doorway.
Adam and Angelica, her arm still around his, swept in and the room fell into a complete hush. Every admiring eye, and some covetous and envious ones, centered on them and it remained silent for close to a minute before the applause erased the silence.
The first to come forward to congratulate the elegant couple was David Marshall. Ever the gentleman, he pumped Adam’s left hand and kissed the back of Angelica’s. “So this is the one that finely made a captive out of you. And a willing one, I dare say.”
“None more.” Adam gave her arm a discreet squeeze. “Angelica please let me introduce you to David Marshall. David and I met at the Bristol Club a few years back and have shared many brandies.”
“It’s always a pleasure to meet any of Adam’s friends.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Mrs. Cartwright.” His dark eyebrows rose, and his eyes darted to Adam. “You know, you may have something here. But I doubt I could ever find anybody quite so charming, so I guess I’ll just have to be content with a bachelor’s life.”
“When you least expect it, and when you aren’t looking you’ll find each other, just like we did.”
“We’ll see.” David looked around at the people that had gathered behind him. “Well, I’ll leave you to greet your well-wishers.” He gave Adam a swat on the arm. “Congratulations and a wish for many more of these.” Them he drifted off.
The first piece of music played was the anniversary waltz, and, as the guests of honor and the reason for the gala, Adam and Angelica took the floor first. For this dance no one else would participate. This one was theirs and theirs only.
Angelica’s gown and petticoats swished and rustled as Adam twirled her about the floor. And for the moment she saw nothing but him, and the light in his eyes that spoke to her heart alone. She didn’t see the jealous, desirous gazes that roved over the gloriously happy couple, and she didn’t hear the malicious words.
“Would you just look at that garish necklace? I wouldn’t be caught dead in it.”
“Oh, now, Myrtle, you know full good and well that you would give your right arm for such a thing. And I would give everything I own for that man. I have heard that he has been to San Francisco many times; it was just my misfortune not to make his acquaintance. But that can be rectified.”
He had been hitting the punchbowl since he had gotten there and had lost count of how many he had had. The one he had just poured for himself could be his sixth or sixteenth for all he knew or cared. He took a slug as he eyed the splendid vision in the red dress over the rim of his cup, and a lecherous glimmer rose in his eyes.
The small ensemble finished the waltz then struck up another tune, and this time Adam and Angelica were joined by other couples as the party got into full swing. Adam and Angelica stayed together as the night moved along for the most part, but they still mingled and danced with others when asked. They didn’t want to be separated for any reason but decorum dictated otherwise.
Adam’s eyes probed the throng as he tried to catch sight of his wife. A glimpse of scarlet moiré or the glitter of ruby or diamond would be enough. But someone tapped him on the shoulder, and he forced himself to look around.
“I find myself without a dance partner and an empty space in my dance card.”
“A gentleman doesn’t turn down a lady, I have always been told.”
His mouth drew into a hardened knot as he gave a last glance toward the crowd. “Very well, Miss…”
“It’s Viveca, Mr. Cartwright, and I wish you would just call me that.”
With reluctance, he took her in his arms, and they swirled out onto the floor. And his eyes continued to travel from face-to-face.
Adam couldn’t remember the last time he had been so bored out of his skull. This woman chattered like a magpie, but he was so preoccupied with his search for Angelica that he heard little of it. But then she made a suggestion that he couldn’t ignore. He looked at her straight.
“Mr. Cartwright, I think you have heard very little of what I have said. You should be ashamed.”
“My apologies, Miss…”
“Viveca.” She gave a saucy tilt of her golden blonde head, and her cornflower blue eyes sparkled in the light from the immense chandelier. “Now, at the expense of repeating myself, I asked you to take me out to the garden. It is such a lovely night.”
“I don’t think…”
“Mr. Cartwright.” She shook her head and frowned. “That’s so stuffy. I think I’ll just call you Adam from here on. Now, Adam, I think your wife can manage without you long enough for us to take a stroll in the moonlight.”
No one had to hit Adam over the head with a tree trunk for him to know what this little flirt was angling for. He had met females like this one before, and it didn’t matter two wits to her that he wore a wedding ring and another woman’s brand. “Oh, I’m sure that you can find somebody else who would love to go for a walk with such a lovely young lady as yourself.”
She glanced ar his left hand, which held tightly onto hers. “I don’t think your wife would mind. And it won’t be too hard to slip away unnoticed among all these people. Now I think…”
He reeked of brandy punch and had the appearance of an unmade bed. Through the years Angelica had noticed that a drunken man – even one in the finest evening attire – could become rumpled very quickly without even trying. She excused herself politely and tried to step around him, but he refused to let her pass.
“Ah, now, is that any way for a lady to act? I only asked if I could kiss the bride.”
“Please, step aside. I need to find my husband.”
But as she tried to get around him he gripped her arm, and his harsh fingers bit into the soft, white flesh. She glanced at his hand and purple flame mingled with fear in the depths of her violet eyes. “Please, sir, let go of me. You’re hurting my arm.”
A distinguished gentleman with steely gray hair stepped forward from a group of men that stood near the doorway. “Come on, Hugh, you’ve had too much to drink. Let the lady go.”
“You mind your own business, Joel. I’m talking to her so you go find your own.” And he gave the man a violent shove.
Adam looked around just as the gray-haired man fell back through a cluster of ladies and hit the floor. Adam didn’t even bother to excuse himself as he pulled loose from his dance partner and made his way toward his wife.
By the time Adam got to Angelica, the music had stopped and people stood speechless. “I think I just heard my wife ask you to let go of her.”
“I don’t need your interference.” Then the drunk pushed Adam back as hard as he could with one hand while the other kept its hold on Angelica’s arm.
Adam staggered backward but managed to keep his feet under him. He could see how upset Angelica was and it lit a fire inside him.
Adam pushed the man away as he tried to garner a kiss from Angelica, and put himself between them. “I won’t ask you again to leave her alone. Now go sleep it off some place before I havta break you in half like a piece of dry kindling.”
The man snickered with derision. “I’d just like to see you try with that bad arm.”
But as Adam started toward him, a hand flat against his chest caused him to stop and look around into the face of David Marshall. “Allow me, my friend.”
Adam gave a slight nod then pulled Angelica back out of the way. David grabbed the lapels of the man’s coat and – with a roundhouse punch – flattened the drunken masher.
Lil flounced over to where the man lay. “Some of you men get him out of here.”
Will and three other men gathered him up and left with him.
“That should take care of him for a bit,” David said, as he slapped his hands together as if getting dirt from them. “I detest an obnoxious drunk.”
Adam examined Angelica’s arm, and his slow burn reignited. The red spots where the drunk’s fingers had clawed into her skin had already begun to discolor.
“Are the both of you all right?” Lil asked, as she came to them.
“We’re all right.” Adam pulled Angelica close to him. “But I think this kinda tainted the party.”
Lil’s features drew into a black scowl. “Yes and he had help.”
Will returned and joined them. “We put him into a cab and sent him home. I don’t know how he got in here unless he came with one of the guests. But if I know Hugh Wells, he won’t even remember this in the morning. ”
Lil’s face just grew more ominous. “I’m afraid the rest of us will.” With a huff, she stepped away from them out into the center of the floor.
“Ah-oh,” was all Will could say.
“Well, I hope that some of you are happy,” Lil said, and rested her fists on her ample hips. “I’ve heard the spiteful, envious talk, and I saw how one of you moved in on another woman’s husband. I won’t name any names because it would serve no purpose, and most of us know who you are. At least, Hugh had an excuse. He simply had too much to drink, and tomorrow he’ll be a gentleman again while the rest of you remain malicious.” A faint murmur of voices circulated through the room, but Lil’s angry glare quickly squelched it. “Now I’ll leave it up to Mr. and Mrs. Cartwright to decide if the party should continue or not.” She turned back to Adam and Angelica. “It’s entirely up to you.”
Angelica’s hold pressed on Adam’s arm as she turned pleading eyes to him. “Up to this it has been a perfectly marvelous evening, and I am having a wonderful time.”
Lil patted her cheek. “Then I’ll go tell the musicians to play something
lively.” Her expression darkened. “But they needn’t think this is the end
of it.” Then she went off toward the back of the cavernous room.
Will puffed through pursed lips. “I should’ve seen that coming. She adores both of you, and this won’t go down lightly. And with her money and influence, Myrtle Crabtree, Viveca Loudry and a few others will feel her displeasure, as well as never being invited back. Lil isn’t vindictive, but she doesn’t take slights to her family and friends well.”
Adam’s eyebrow rose. “She doesn’t need to do that, not because of this.”
Will snickered. “It’s best to just let her alone. Besides, there are some that it’ll be good for. A little discomfort can go a long way.”
“Well, I admit that I had a part in it, too, so I apologize for my…”
“You have nothing to apologize for, Mr. Marshall. I don’t like to think what could have happened if you hadn’t been here.”
“I’m glad I was, dear lady.” The music started up again, and David glanced at those that slowly took to the floor. “Now if you’ll please excuse me. I need to find myself a dance partner.” Then he bowed politely and melded into the crowd.
“He’s a good man,” Will said, as they watched him go. “And after tonight, he’ll always be welcome in this house. Lil will make sure of that. Now I think I’ll follow his example.”
He excused himself and followed after David.
Adam turned to Angelica and took her hand. “Would you care to dance, Mrs. Cartwright?”
“I would love to, Mr. Cartwright.”
Then he took her in his arms, and they whirled away to join the others.
In the sanctity of their room, Adam kissed the inside of her arm where the grip of the man’s fingers had left ugly blue marks.
“Adam, I don’t mean to seem rude or ungrateful. Will and Lil have been wonderful, and I appreciate everything they have done. But do you think we could start home tomorrow instead of waiting until Monday like we had originally planned? I want to see my boys, and get back into my house.”
His lips moved along her arm to the side of her neck. “I thought you might so I talked to them before I came up, and they understand.” He kissed the line of her jaw. “So Will went to set things up…,” he kissed an earlobe, “and we leave on the noon stage tomorrow.” He kissed a cheek bone. “We’ll have plenty of time to pack,” he kissed the tip of her nose, “if we get up a little earlier.”
“I certainly don’t want them to think…”
But the words were smothered as his lips found her mouth. Her hands ruffled the heavy black hair at the back of his head as she let herself sink into his ardent kiss. The moiré of her gown crinkled as his arms squeezed around her, and she put the bad part of the evening behind her. He had the most marvelous ability to erase unpleasantness, and she wasn’t going to squander it. Tomorrow they would begin the long return home, but tonight was theirs. Tonight he was hers to share with no one else.
After another round of hugs and kisses and weepy good-byes, Adam helped Angelica into the coach but lingered with his family.
Will shifted his son in his arms. “Maybe we can try this again some other time.”
Adam leaned closer to his cousin and lowered his voice. “That may take a while. After the fiasco this has turned in to it would be easier for me to talk Angelica into shooting herself. But more than likely it would be me for suggesting it. The only thing that’s saved me this time is that it was her idea to come here, and she was very insistent about it even when I tried to talk her into somewhere else.”
“You just leave that up to me,” Lil said, with a sly nod. “I can be very persuasive when I want or need to be.”
Will chortled. “Truer words were never spoken. So don’t worry. We’ll just leave it up to Lil, and you’ll both be back in no time.”
“We’ll see. But when she sets her mind to it my Angel can out stubborn an ox and two mules put together.”
Angelica’s stern face appeared in the coach window. “I heard that, Mr. Cartwright.” She directed her gaze past him to Lil. “But he neglected to say that it is purely in self defense.” The corners of her mouth turned and a teasing glint filled her eyes as she looked to her husband, then she leaned back out of sight.
“I guess I’d best get aboard.” He gave Lil and Peggy a final hug and tousled John’s hair and shook Will’s hand. “It’s always good to be with family and sad to part.” Then he climbed into the coach and slammed the door.
With a snap of the long reins the six horse team headed out and the big vehicle jerked after them. Lil daubed a lace hankie at her eyes and sniffled as she and Will and the children watched the stagecoach drive away.
“Do you think they will come back?” Peggy asked.
Will put an arm around the girl’s shoulders. “We’ll just have to wait and see, and rely on your Aunt Lil.”
After dust, gritty way stations, less than palatable food, and long grinding hours in the stagecoach, they were finally almost home. They had rumbled into town shortly before noon in a thick brown cloud behind panting horses, and Bantree had never looked so good.
Adam and Angelica decided to walk from the stage depot to the Banning house while their luggage was loaded into the buckboard he had rented. Angelica’s legs propelled her out in front of Adam, and it amused him. The whole long trip she had talked of little else but their boys, and now they were only a few yards away. “Angel, you’re gonna trip and fall if you aren’t careful.”
But she didn’t seem to hear him, and her pace quickened. As they came to the driveway that wound up to the Banning house, she almost took flight. She gathered her skirt and petticoats into her hands, and Adam stopped trying to keep up with her.
As Adam stepped onto the pillared portico, Angelica rapped the knocker against the heavy door. He grinned as she fidgeted and pranced in place. If impatience were a virtue, his Angel would be the most virtuous woman in the world right now.
She had just raised her hand to knock again when the door opened back to reveal Mason Giles, the Bannings’ houseman. A single gold eyetooth glinted in a smile that filled his angular face. “Mr. Adam, ma’am, we didn’t expect you back for a couple days yet.” His brow drew into a frown. “I hope nothing’s wrong.”
“No, we just got eager to see the boys, and San Francisco will always be there.”
Angelica harrumphed. “The less said about that the better.” Then the disgust vanished. “Where are they?”
“In the main parlor with Miss Marjorie and Miss Juliet,” Giles said, as he conveyed them into the large entryway. “Mr. Banning isn’t here right now, but Mrs. Ban…”
“Adam! Angelica!” Carolyn Banning brushed over to them in a rustle of taffeta. “That will be all, Giles.”
“Yes, Mrs. Banning.” Giles closed the door then went toward the back of the house and disappeared past the grand staircase.
“We weren’t expecting you until the end of the week,” Carolyn said, as she hugged Angelica. “But I understand why you came home early. I have always had trouble staying away from my children for very long, too.”
Angelica’s expression soured. “I’m afraid homesickness is only a small part of it. And I have no future plans of returning to that abysmal place anytime soon, now I must see my boys before I pop.”
“Of course.” Carolyn looked to Adam as Angelica started for the parlor.
Adam only frowned and mouthed the word ‘later’.
Marjorie and Juliet Banning were in the floor on a warm blanket spread near the center of the room. The girls would stack the boys’ blocks then let the little guys knock them down. As they clattered against one another and tumbled to the floor, the children would laugh as if at the funniest thing ever. And their exuberant laughter brought their mother straight to them like a magnate.
The blocks were instantly forgotten as the boys saw their parents. They scrambled to their feet – small butts bobbing up as they did – and toddled toward their mother’s widespread arms.
Angelica got down into the floor and received her sons. She kissed and hugged and stroked small, black-capped heads as the boys climbed on her. Adam knelt beside her and put his good arm around his wife.
Hiram’s inquisitive eyes went to his father’s injured arm. His head turned from side-to-side in pure curiosity, and his brow pulled into a perplexed scowl. He reached out to it then pulled away and looked up to his father’s face as if for understanding. Adam took the precious little hand and placed on top of the splint and held it there.
For a few seconds Hiram sat in silence then his mouth drew down at the corners, and he grunted. “Umm-boo.”
Angelica smiled and touched the back of Adam’s hand that held the child’s. “Yes, sweetheart, Daddy got an umm-boo.”
Adam’s arms closed around his family, and he rested his cheek against the side of Angelica’s head. Addy clambered into his lap while the other two stayed with their mother. The little boy’s arms went around his father’s neck, and Adam got a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss.
Adam reined in the team on the other side of the pines that ringed in the clearing where the big log ranch house and its out buildings were. Angelica held Hiram in her lap while Addy and Benjy – who had started to become squirmy – sat between their parents.
“Home. It is so good to be home.”
“It’s fun to get away once in a while,” Adam reached out and grasped her hand, “but it’s always so nice to get back.”
She turned sharp violet eyes on him. “I can call that disaster we went through a lot of things, but fun is definitely not one of them.”
He grinned. “Not all of it, you must admit that there were some good parts. Such as the night you convinced me that we needed a party.”
Her cheeks went a deep pink, and she turned her attention back in the direction of the house. “I simply thought you might enjoy it.”
An impish gleam filled his dark hazel eyes. “I did.”
Adam gave the reins a snap, and the horses started toward the home place. Soon they would be ensconced in their house again. Maggie would put out a fine spread for supper to welcome them home in proper Irish fashion. And tomorrow he would get back into the routine toil and drudgery of running a ranch the size of the Angel. But for tonight, he would devote everything to his wife and sons. After all, he was home.