Fiona by Linda Andrews (chapter Two)

Chapter 2
— Ha! Milton glided between the three men. See how he places himself between
your person and those cads? Not that flesh would stop anything at this
range. Ghostly hands measured the distance between the pistol and her rescuer’s
chest. No, indeed. Milton clapped his hands then frowned at the lack of
sound. I’ll wager the bullet smashes through him and lodges in you.
“Milton.” Under her cape, Fiona set her hands on her hips. Someone must
have chiseled “Rest in Peace” off his tombstone. Someone who hated her.
The stranger squared off against Bosson and his henchman. They seemed
to have forgotten her altogether. She had to think, while she had time.
— Oh, right. I’ve sworn off betting. Arms crossed his translucent chest as he
tilted his head. Really, Fi, it’s not as if I can die again. Gray lips puckered. The
pout was sharp against the yellow fog.
“Not now,” Fiona hissed. Why had she ever mourned his passing? Why
had she ever wanted a spirit of her own? She could have waited for Gran. Enjoyed
those blissful solitary years. Unease troubled her conscience. Surely,
mentioning him a time or two in passing wouldn’t have caused this haunting?
— You should have heeded my advice. Hiding that telegram from your parents,
haring off to England and slipping off the boat. Milton wagged an unsubstantial
finger at her. Really, Fi, you’re positively reckless with your life.
Outrage tightened her throat and immobilized her vocal cords. She was
reckless with her life! The man had died trying to win a race! He adjusted the
cuff on his best suit, but rose tinged his shadowy face. She’d talk to him about
recklessness later.
“Oi thinks we’ll cage these pigeons in the alley.” Bosson jerked his pistol
towards the narrow street.
Fear iced Fiona’s spine. Would she die just as the new day dawned? Would
Mam and Da remain ignorant of her fate? If only Uncle Andrew had met the
boat. If only…
Scenarios swirled inside her skull. It served no purpose other than to
paralyze her will.
Her fingers swept over the Colt shoved into her waistband. The pads
bumped over the C-S-A carved into the grip. Too bad Da never let her practice
with his gun. Now, when she needed the expertise, she was liable to shoot her
rescuer rather than Bosson.
Her hand dropped to her whip, caressed the cool leather then brushed the
hemp lasso. Which would be most effective against her enemy?
“The lady stays.” The growl rumbled from deep between her rescuer’s rigid
shoulders.
“Now, why would Oi do that?” Crooked yellow teeth flashed in Bosson’s
sneer.
— See, I was right. A smug expression enveloped Milton’s shadowed face.
He’s a trustworthy fellow. Led you out of that hell, and now he’s willing to die for
you.
Leave it to Milton to take credit for a fortuitous coincidence. No doubt he
would gloat for weeks about his triumph over the shady sailors. Air hissed between
her teeth, freeing her muscles of irritation. Of course, she still had to
triumph over Bosson.
Fiona shoved at her rescuer’s shoulder. Heat seared her palm, muscles
trembled. Her view remained blocked. She stepped to the side. He shadowed
her movements.
His hand shot out, closed around her hip and held her firmly behind him.
“You’ll leave the lady alone to avoid bloodshed. Yours.”
His answer rumbled inside Fiona’s skull. Her gaze slid over his broad
shoulders to the white-knuckled fists, down his muscled legs and stopped on
his worn shoes. No doubt her rescuer could take Bosson in a fair fight.
But the pistol emphasized the edge held by the old salt.
Alarm thundered in her chest. Truly, any blood spilled would be his. Leading
her from the river’s edge was one thing, this was another. She tossed the
warm velvet cape over her shoulder.
Fiona Grey took care of herself.
Her hand hovered over her cache of weapons. John Bosson was nothing
compared to the obstacles she’d overcome. As soon as her Don Quixote stepped
out of the way, she’d prove it.
— Pluck to the backbone. Though I still say he’s hiding something. Transparent
fingers met in a pyramid underneath Milton’s pointed chin. Look—only
two days on English soil, and I already have the habits of that chap from the papers.
That chap from the papers. Milton was no more Sherlock Holmes than
she was Watson. Heaven knew she made a better detective. Too bad Milton
offered nothing more than distracting commentary.
“’E’s a bit nickey for a swell.” Bosson tapped a tobacco-stained finger
against his temple.
“Leave now, and I’ll spare your life, Bosson.”
Fiona blinked. Her rescuer was obviously mad to take on a pistol with
fists. And just how did he know Bosson? Later. She’d think about it later.
Leaning, she peered around his shoulder. Think, Fi. Think. You must stop
him before he gets you both killed.
Bosson’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Kill me, ‘e says. Open yer peelers. Oi’ve
the barker, and me mate has the shiv.”
Crimson followed the knife’s progress along his rumpled companion’s
finger. Milton clapped his insubstantial hands.
— I say, this is better than that shoot-out in Phoenix.
Fiona glared at him. This was nothing like the gunfight in Phoenix. There,
both men had been armed…
Armed. Her hand closed around the revolver’s grip. She relieved the
weight pressing against her belly. Cold steel ringed her finger. With a flick of
her wrist the gun spun. She caught the barrel with a slap then ran the butt of
the weapon down her rescuer’s arm and tapped the top of his hand.
He patted her hand.
— Give him your gun, Milton hissed in her ear.
Fiona’s throat burned with a silent shout. What did he think she was doing?
Trying to hold the man’s hand? Wood smacked bone. Her rescuer grunted
and dropped his hand from her hip. Was he ignorant of her offer or had pride
stopped him from accepting the firearm?
Frustration clawed her. Men. Mr. Darwin’s time would have been better
spent studying the mysteries of his own gender’s behavior.
“You won’t get what you want.” Boredom saturated the stranger’s provoking
statement.
Fiona sighed. Maybe the man wanted to die on the docks. Well, he’d rescued
her, she would return the favor.
“Oi thinks oi will.” Bosson sneered.
“You’re very much mistaken.”
— The chap’s liable to talk the man to death. Don’t worry, Fi. I’ll give them
what for. Milton spat into his palms then raised his fists. One jab than another
found its mark in Bosson’s stomach. Dirty fingers rubbed the first mate’s belly
as his frame shuddered from Death’s touch.
— I did it, Fi. I did it. You saw him shudder. That was me. Milton pummeled
the man a few more times. Wait till I tell Gran. I’ll bet I could knock the
gun from his hand.
Golden light infused his translucent form as he raised his fists above his
head.
“Wild Bill.”
She glanced at the pistol. How difficult would it be to fire? Surely, she
could hit the rather large target Bosson presented.
Milton’s head jerked towards her.
— Eh?
“Wild Bill,” she hissed. The code from their childhood pastime penetrated
his skull. Seconds ticked by until understanding lit his features.
— You want me to distract them like Brianna used to do to your parents
while we hid the evidence of our shows.
Fiona jerked her head. His smoky chest puffed out.
— Right.
Fiona transferred the gun to her other hand. Steady fingers jerked on the
leather thong hooked around her belt. Her whip tumbled into her right palm.
She eased one step to her right. No hand rose to stop her. Another step. The
men’s attention was completely focused on each other. With the third step, she
cleared her human barrier. She pinched the whip’s handle. The lash uncoiled
down her leg and lay like a rattlesnake waiting to strike.
— Ahh, the whip. Excellent choice. Milton rubbed his hands together. I’ll
take the knife, you can take the gun. He drifted into position and raised his
hand. Ready.
Bosson lifted his chin. The instant his finger twitched on the trigger, Fiona
flicked her wrist. The whip cracked. Metal clattered to the ground a second
before the blast ripped through the fog.
“What the hell!” her rescuer cursed.
Time slowed. Bosson clutched his hand to his chest. Blood dripped
through his fingers. His partner stared at the knife winking at his feet. Rage
twisted Bosson’s features. He lurched at her rescuer.
Fiona stepped forward, aiming the gun at his paunch.
“I wouldn’t.”
Bosson halted mid-step. His beady eyes trained on the shiny Colt.
“It’s quite old but functions perfectly.”
Bosson’s adam’s apple bobbed.
“Ye ‘aven’t the—”
“Haven’t I?” Her brave words barely penetrated the pounding in her ears.
Stare him down, Fi. Just as you did that hydrophobic wolf at Gillian’s ranch. She
willed her hand not to tremble.
“The territories are a violent place. Why, so far this year, three men have
already expired at my feet.” She forced her stiff lips into a smile. “Of course, it
is only May. I have seven more months to make up the slack.”
“By all means, let’s add to your collection, my dear.” Warm hands closed
around her hand, eased the Colt from her grip. The barrel tapped Bosson’s
forehead and followed him as he straightened. “The Thames won’t notice the
extra refuse.”
“Knew ye two were trouble,” Bosson spat. With a vile curse, he and his
crony turned on their heels and sprinted into the fog.
Victory jangled along Fiona’s nerves. She had done it! Not that she’d had
any doubts…
“Of all the harebrained—”
The world spun as her rescuer whirled her about. He loomed over her, his
face inches from hers. His nostrils flared. White rimmed his full lips.
“Harebrained?” Fiona tossed back her shoulders, jerking out of his grip.
The whip wiggled against the canvas leg of her Levi’s, chased the throb from
her upper arm. “You were unarmed and threatening them.” Her voice rose on
the last word. Warm adrenaline receded, leaving behind cold flesh, a chilling
reminder of what could have happened. She cleared the hysteria from her
throat. “What were you going to do? Attack them with your bare hands.”
“Trust me.” The words slipped between clenched white teeth. He stepped
closer, forcing her to tilt her head back or stare at his adam’s apple. “I am more
than capable of ripping someone limb from limb.”
Fiona retreated a pace. Typical male, bullying when charm failed. Well,
she’d print a special edition just for his pride. No man intimidated Fiona Grey.
Especially not one who gambled with his life.
“He would have shot you before you took the first step.”
“You were more likely to shoot me than he was. Your hands shook so
much I thought the earth quaked beneath your feet.” Her rescuer jammed the
gun into his trouser pocket. “Have you ever discharged a weapon before?”
“Once.” Guilt splashed her anger. She stoked the embers, felt warmed by
the rush of rage. How dare he make her feel guilty? Her quick thinking had
saved his life.
“Once! And that gives you leave to wave it in front of a man?”
“It is not difficult. Point and pull the trigger.”
“Point and pull…” His blunt fingers delved into his brown locks, cutting
white furrows across his skull. Anger and fear warred in his brown eyes.
Fear. He had been afraid for her. His concern blanketed her, smothering
her fury.
“I did attempt to hand you the pistol, but you kept patting my hand like I
was some sort of faithful hound nipping at your heels.”
“You tried to give me the gun?” Shock colored his question. His brows
met over his nose.
“Of course. I am well aware of my limitations. The only reason I took Da’s
gun—”
“Your father gave you a weapon?” He crossed his arms over his chest and
glared down at her.
“Not…precisely.” The truth bumped against her lips. Fiona resisted the
urge to chew on her fingernails. Her reasons had been sound, and the gun had
proved useful.
“How precisely did you end up with your father’s revolver?”
She raised her chin and looked him in the eye. He would not make her
regret her actions. He would not.
“I took it.”
“Indeed.” His left eyebrow soared halfway up his forehead. “You’re
deucedly lucky, Miss—”
“Fi–Fiona.” She cleared her throat. “Given all that has transpired…”
He nodded. “You’re deucedly lucky, Miss Fiona. I doubt many experts
could have knocked a gun out of a man’s hand with one shot.”
“Oh, but I didn’t use the firearm, Mr…” Stagnant breath filled her mouth.
Would he reciprocate with the use of Christian name? Her heart thudded
dully in her ears.
“Hugh.” He blinked then nodded once as if agreeing with a voice inside
his head. “Please call me Hugh.” A dimple flashed in his left cheek. “And while
I beg to disagree with a lady, I distinctly heard…”
Hugh. Her rescuer’s name was Hugh. And he still thought of her as a lady.
Joy breezed through Fiona,curving her lips.
“Alice did sound like a shot, didn’t she?”
“Alice?” Confusion furrowed his brow. “Is she your…your late companion?”
Late companion? Their first conversation rushed back to Fiona.
“Oh, no. Alice was a wretched girl at Miss Maple’s Academy for Young
Ladies. She did not approve of much—and of me, in particular. Mister Greenbottom
had struck it rich in the mines before my father, and well, she thought
that entitled her to certain privileges.” Including passing judgment. Fiona
shook out her fists.
“You should have seen her face when she found out that all her daddy’s
gold couldn’t get her into New York society whereas Da’s mother practically
ran it.” Fiona snapped her mouth shut. More information knocked against her
teeth. She had already stepped so far from propriety she might have to circle
the globe to get back in.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“When I began to practice for our Wild West show, I pretended Alice was
the target. It became a code. I would tell Brianna that I wanted to play with
Alice, and my sister would make certain my parents never found out about the
whip. After a couple years, I just called her Alice.” Fiona tugged on the lash.
Finger-thick leather snaked across her palm.
— I called her Alice first, Milton huffed. I suppose this will be just another
thankless task performed by the dead.
“You used a whip?” The words strangled in Hugh’s throat. His eyes bulged
in his head as they traveled over her flannel shirt, down her Levi’s, flicked over
her boots then whisked back to her face.
“I thought it better than the lasso. I am quite proficient in both.” Unease
itched her spine. She glanced over her shoulder. Nothing menacing lurked in
the shadows. She turned back to her companion. A purplish cast hung over his
face. Disappointment pinched her insides. The excitement must have been too
much for him. “I think—”
“I bloody well doubt that.” Hugh closed the distance between them in one
step and jerked her cape closed, pinching the ends together with one hand. He
raised his free hand and placed two fingers to his lips. An earsplitting whistle
rent the air. “Good God, woman, you should have at least dressed.”
“My attire is perfectly acceptable.” She plucked ineffectually at the fingers.
“Oh, I see—you’d both rather I slithered out a ship’s window in a dress and
bustle.”
“You climbed out a ship’s window?” A vein throbbed at Hugh’s temple.
The man obviously suffered from a nervous condition.
Fiona patted his hand. She’d give him one of Brianna’s soothing tonics.
And perhaps take something to slow her racing heart. Except the tonics were
still on the ship with her trunk. Ah, well, she’d just have to use her voice. Brianna
always quieted at the sound of her voice.
“Well, I couldn’t very well walk across the deck while Bosson entertained
his guest.”
“I suppose it never occurred to you to stay put.” Muscles corded his neck,
like strands of rope lashing his head to his body.
Fiona’s temper frayed. A nervous disposition excused only so much. She
raised herself on her toes and stared into his chocolate-colored eyes.
“I waited for two long days.”
“Proper young ladies do not—”
Hooves clomped on cobblestones. Harness jingled. Black filled Fiona’s
peripheral vision. She turned to stare at the hansom stopped along the curb.
“Mil…er, sir. Madam.”
The carriage rocked as the burly man jumped from his perch behind the
passenger’s seat. The lantern in his beefy fist cast a jaundiced pall over his broken
nose, pockmarked cheeks and puckered lip.
— Egad, I’ve spied corpses who looked less gruesome. Milton soared between
the newest threat and her. You cannot intend to go with that…that brute. I’ll hail
another cab, Fi.
Two pistols winked from the brute’s open coat. Beady eyes peered into the
yellow mist while he fingered one revolver.
“Your carriage, milady.” Hugh bowed and offered her his free hand.
— Dammit, Fi. Milton stopped in front of her, arms spread wide. Red
suffused his gray body. Don’t you dare climb into that coach.
“Perhaps this conversation would be best suited for a rapidly retreating
cab.” Ignoring Milton, Fiona slipped her hand in Hugh’s. She’d ride with the
devil to get to her uncle’s house. Fortunately, a ride with Hugh promised to be
much more entertaining.

About Linda Andrews

Linda Andrews lives with her husband and three children in Phoenix, Arizona. When she announced to her family that her paranormal romance was to be published, her sister pronounce: "What else would she write? She’s never been normal." All kidding aside, writing has become a surprising passion. So just how did a scientist start to write paranormal romances? What other option is there when you’re married to romantic man and live in a haunted house? If you’ve enjoyed her stories or want to share your own paranormal experience feel free to email the author at www.lindaandrews.net She’d love to hear from you.
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