The Silver Heiress
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by Sarah Winn
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: All Victoria Chandler wants to do is marry a gentleman of quality and live in comfort in a cosmopolitan city. Her father, however, insists she move to the Territory of New Mexico where his mining properties are located. There, she is kidnapped by Mexican bandits, forced to marry the man who rescues her, and expected to live on his isolated ranch! Thomas Hawkins sees rescuing Victoria Chandler as his last chance to save his nearly bankrupt ranch. He never dreams he'll end up married to the pampered heiress who'll find his homesteader's cabin totally unacceptable. Will he send her back to her life of privilege or teach her to live and love in his world? [Cover art Mary Z. Wolf]
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 1998
eBookwise Release Date: September 2003
20 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [406 KB]
Reading time: 267-373 min.
"A delightful tale guaranteed to keep the reader reading as rapidly as possible. I derived a great amount of enjoyment from The Silver Heiress and would like to pass the word that Ms. Winn is an excellent writer who understands characterization, pacing, and, above all, romance. This is a keeper! Highly Recommended."--Under the Covers Book Reviews
"Sarah Winn has written a sensual love story about two totally different people--a rugged, capable man and a spoiled, pampered woman. This book will appeal to readers who like a western romance with a strong, yet understanding hero."--Bookbug on the Web
Territory of New Mexico -- 1886
Victoria Chandler stepped down to the depot platform. She made sure her skirt was free of the train steps before looking about for her father. Miss Pritchard, her paid traveling companion, followed her, giving crisp orders to the porter about the removal of their hand luggage.
A tall, slightly built man wearing wire-rimmed spectacles approached them. He doffed his bowler hat to display thinning hair. "Miss Chandler? Miss Pritchard? I'm James Dinsdale, Mr. Chandler's chief clerk. He sent me to meet you."
"He didn't come himself?" Victoria asked, fighting to keep a scowl from marring her features.
"Mr. Chandler wanted to come, but the new crusher at the refinery is being tested today, and he felt he had to be there. You know how he is about business," Mr. Dinsdale said in an apologetic tone.
As she nodded curtly, Victoria pressed her lips tightly together to control her anger. She certainly did know about her father and business. A new crusher, whatever that was, would definitely be more important to him than his only daughter whom he hadn't seen in four years!
He should have meet her when she returned to their family home in San Francisco. Instead, he'd sent orders for her to travel on to this godforsaken part of the country. Why did he want her here if he didn't have any time to spend with her?
"Is this all of your luggage?" Dinsdale gestured to the valises and hat boxes piled around them.
"No, there are three large trunks in the baggage car," Miss Pritchard said.
"If you'll give me the claim checks, I'll be happy to see to those for you," Dinsdale said.
Miss Pritchard dug into her purse for the checks as two burly men in rough clothing arrived and gathered up their luggage. Mr. Dinsdale suggested that the ladies might like to wait inside where it would be cooler and then rushed along the platform toward the baggage car.
Victoria found no relief from the heat inside the small clapboard station. She took a lilac scented handkerchief from the pocket of her traveling suit and dabbed at the dots of moisture on her forehead. Stepping to an open window, she looked at the dusty main street of Lordsburg and wondered who had chosen its totally inappropriate name. On their way from San Francisco, they had passed through many towns just like this one, wooden buildings clustered around the railroad tracks with no apparent reason to be there.
At least she knew why this town existed. Precious metal -- silver -- rested in the nearby mountains and her father, T. J. Chandler, owned much of it. His determined efforts to acquire it had given her a life of luxury, and after her mother's death, a lonely childhood.
She flicked her handkerchief toward the window. "Will you look at this poor excuse for a town. There's not one decent shop in sight."
"With all the clothes you brought, you won't need to go shopping for a long time," Miss Pritchard replied with the patient little smile she often wore when speaking to Victoria.
"And where am I going to wear my beautiful new dresses. I should have stayed in New York, and had my debut like Aunt Chloe wanted, or in San Francisco with Richard and Melissa. I can't understand why father insisted I come here." Her head moved so vigorously as she spoke that a strand of her curly hair popped free and fell on her neck. Victoria tried impatiently to push it back into the fold of hair that ran along the back of her head.
"He said in his letter that he wanted you to see the new house he's built," Miss Pritchard said.
"That house! Why in the world has he spent a fortune to build a mansion in the middle of a desert?"
"I'm sure an important man like your father has a good reason for everything he does, and it's not your place to question those reasons."
Victoria glared at Miss Pritchard. The woman couldn't seem to remember that she was no longer Victoria's teacher, but now her employee. A commotion in the street drew her attention to a road-coach stopping in front of the station. Large enough to be a public vehicle, the coach had a shiny black exterior, a team of four matched grays, and a large golden "C" painted on the door. It looked quite out of place among the freight wagons and buckboards that populated the street. A wagon loaded with her trunks followed behind the carriage.
Victoria told Miss Pritchard their transportation had arrived, and they left the station. Once they were settled in the coach, Mr. Dinsdale called to the driver and the vehicle jerked to a start. Victoria glanced out the window. Mounted men armed with both pistols and rifles formed lines on either side of the coach.
"Are they with us?" she asked Mr. Dinsdale.
"Yes, Miss. You'll be perfectly safe. No need to worry."
"But I thought the Indians had been subdued."
"They have, mostly. The Army is chasing down the last renegades now. Your father is, however, one of the richest men in the Territory, so he doesn't take chances."
"I see," she murmured, and tried to interest herself in the passing scenery. Tuffs of stiff grass and dark green creosote bushes dotted the flat land around them. They moved toward low hills that looked similarly covered. Just as I expected, a desert.
She glanced across the coach at her traveling companion and suppressed a laugh. The heat had finally melted Miss Pritchard's rigid Bostonian backbone, and the woman had slumped sideways into an uneasy nap. The thick cushions pushed her pointed straw hat into a rakish dip over her face and the bouncing of the coach made her head bob up and down. In the more than two years Victoria had known her, this was the first time she'd ever been amused by the woman. When Miss Pritchard first came to the Hartford Academy for Young Ladies, some of the girls said she came from a prominent family that had lost its fortune through bad investments. The sympathy Victoria felt for her quickly faded. As the social graces teacher, Miss Pritchard made it her mission in life to constantly watch and reprimand her students. Slouching, foot dragging, talking too loudly, laughing, or any trait she deemed unladylike brought sharply worded criticism. Victoria had almost fainted when Aunt Chloe told her Miss Pritchard had been hired to accompany her on this cross-country journey.
She began to worry about how long she would have to stay here in New Mexico. She definitely needed to be back in San Francisco by the start of the social season. After all, she was nearly nineteen and didn't have a single proposal to her credit. Not that she had ever lacked for male attention at parties or cotillions, but the close supervision of either teachers or her many New York relations had prevented any romantic developments.
It would be difficult, however, to manage her entrance into San Francisco society without her father's help. Her brother, Richard, as consumed by business interests as their father, would have a perfect excuse to avoid social functions now that his wife, Melissa, was expecting their first child.
Why didn't her father just hire men to manage his empire, while he lived in the comfort and safety of the city? She glanced over at Mr. Dinsdale. He looked just like the kind of clerk her father always hired, a man who would take orders, never assert himself, and let T. J. Chandler make every decision.
Her father should be enjoying the money he had worked so hard to acquire. Somehow, she must persuade him to return to San Francisco for his sake as well as hers.
Then she smiled at her own foolishness. He must be planning to do just that. He had to know it was time for her to find a husband, and that suitable candidates couldn't be found in this wild country. Most likely he didn't trust Aunt Chloe or Richard to attend to such an important matter. She would have to wait until he had time... but he was always busy. She could wither into a dried-up spinster, just like Miss Pritchard, while waiting for his help. Heaven forbid!
A loud cracking noise -- like thunder -- exploded, and the coach lurched forward with a burst of speed. Victoria reeled against the cushions. Miss Pritchard jerked awake with an unladylike squeal. Outside, men's voices raised in coarse shouts, the driver's whip popped, and those reverberating explosions sounded again and again, coming ever closer.
"What is it?" Victoria shouted at Mr. Dinsdale, but the man seemed paralyzed with fear.
"Indians!" Miss Pritchard shrieked. "Indians!"
The coach moved faster and lurched and bounced so violently that Victoria had to fight to stay on the seat. A horse -- or a man -- screamed. For a moment, the coach seemed completely air borne, then tilted crazily on its side, and Victoria's temple cracked against a padded post. She plunged into murky confusion. A terrible weight pressed down of her. She could hear a wheel spinning wildly and soft groans. Then other voices spoke excitedly, but she didn't understand their words.
The weight, pressing so unmercifully against her, lessened. She opened her eyes. Mr. Dinsdale's lifeless face hung above her, then disappeared. Another man leaned into the coach and reached toward her. He wasn't an Indian, but he didn't look like one of the guards either. His clothes and the bronze color of his skin were different. He pulled on her arm until he could get both of his hands under her and then dragged her along the floor of the coach toward the open doorway.
Another man, standing on the side of the coach, bent down and continued lifting her until her body could be shifted into the arms of the first man, who had jumped down to the ground. As she stared at the man curiously, he gently laid her on the ground and began to examine her arms and legs with firm squeezes. He turned her slightly and poked at her bustle. Then he started to pull up her skirt.
"What are you doing?" Victoria gasped and slapped at his hands.
A sudden squawk drew her attention. Miss Pritchard, her hat gone and her upswept hair pulled loose so that it stuck out from the side of her head like a grotesque bush, staggered toward them. "Leave her alone!" she shrieked. Her face twisted into a mask of fear and outrage.
Another man casually pushed Miss Pritchard backward, causing her to stumble and fall over Mr. Dinsdale's crumbled body. Incredibly, the man looked down at her billowing petticoats and thrashing legs, encased in knee length drawers, and laughed. Before Victoria could recover from that shock, the man bending over her whipped her skirt up and deftly untied the drawstrings that held both her bustle and her ruffled petticoat in place.
Then he pulled her to her feet, leaving a semi-circle of stiff ruffles on the ground.
She looked around in frantic disbelief. Men rifled through the trunks strapped to the wagon. She saw her beautiful new dresses, even petticoats and more personal articles, held up for inspection. Other men pointed rifles or pistols at the guards who lay or sat on the ground. One of the guards, with a growing red stain on the front of his shirt, groaned as a bandit bent over him and began going through his pockets. The two horses hitched nearest to the coach were down, their legs thrashing, their screams terrible to hear. The acrid smell of burnt gunpowder filled the air.
Victoria stared at all this in amazement. Who were these men? Didn't they know who her father was? How dare they treat T. J. Chandler's daughter like this!
The man who had removed her bustle shouted to his companions. He spoke in a foreign language. These men must be Mexicans! They hurriedly mounted their horses, many of them carrying stolen articles from Victoria's luggage. A man came toward her leading a riderless horse. Did they expect her to ride it? Is that why her bustle had been removed?
She tried to pull away from the hand that guided her toward the horse. "I can't ride that! I have to have a sidesaddle -- a lady's saddle!"
Two burly men lifted her up and plopped her into the saddle. As her legs were pulled on either side of the horse and her feet crammed into the stirrups, her skirt rose shamefully to her knees. Before she could pull it down, one of the men grabbed her wrists and roughly bound them to the saddle horn with a piece of rope. A mounted rider grabbed the reins of her horse and yanked it into sudden motion. She squealed in fright and clung to the saddle horn as she looked back at the dead and wounded members of her father's caravan. Surely someone would help her. No one did.
The riders left the road and moved into the arid countryside. Victoria had never been astride a horse before. Without the security of a knee firmly locked around a leaping horn, she feared slipping from the saddle. The pace of their travel and the rough terrain caused her backsides to pound on the leather so hard that she had to lock her jaws to keep her teeth from rattling. When the horses finally stopped, she slumped in grateful relief. The man who had first pulled her from the coach came to untie her hands and lift her down from the horse. Short and stocky, with a droopy mustache, he seemed to be the leader of these bandits, as Victoria had decided they must be. He left her standing among the milling horses as he called instructions to the others.
Then he turned back to her and extended a large leather bound canteen. When she made no move to accept it, he lifted the vessel to her lips. As the water began to run down her chin, she opened her mouth and gulped greedily.
"Bueno," he said.
Victoria wiped her chin with the back of her hand. "Where are you taking me?"
He shook his head.
"Do you know who my father is?" She reached toward him, stopping just short of grabbing his vest. "He's a rich man. He'll pay you a lot of money if you take me to him. Do you understand? Money -- a lot of money?"
The man suddenly smiled broadly. A gold tooth gleamed from beneath his shaggy mustache. "Si, papa pay!" he said as he nodded vigorously. "I'm being kidnapped?" Victoria's eyes widened in both surprise and indignation.
He pointed to a spot of ground several feet away. "Sit, no talk!"
She again opened her mouth to speak, but he grabbed her arm and gave her a vigorous shove in the direction he had indicated. Victoria walked to the spot and sat, wrapping her skirt around her legs, and hugging them toward her chest.
They had stopped in a depression between two hills that shielded them from the afternoon sun and made the air cooler. Hobbled nearby, the horses grazed on sparse patches of grass. Most of the men sprawled in the shade. Some pulled their hats over their eyes as though they intended to nap. A young man, no more than a teenaged boy, moved among them and passed out flat corn cakes from a cloth bag. He came to Victoria, smiled shyly, and extended one of the cakes with a grimy hand. She shook her head briskly. She certainly wouldn't eat one of those dirty things.
In an hour or so, the camp began to stir. The leader, Victoria had heard him called Eduardo, approached with a coil of rope in his hand. She quickly scrambled to her feet. Before she could move away, he wrapped one end of the rope around her waist, knotted it securely, and began to pull her along after him. He led her reluctant figure a short distance from the others and stopped in front of some large boulders bordered with scraggly bushes. After uncoiling several feet of rope and letting it fall to the ground, he pointed at Victoria then at the bushes. "You go!"
She realized he meant for her to relieve herself behind the bushes while tethered by the rope like a dog on a leash. She took a deep breath and her fists automatically rose to her hips. Before she could tell the man that she would not be treated like this, he grabbed her upper arm and shook her until her head bobbled. Then he pushed her toward the bushes as he yelled, "Pronto! Pronto!"
Victoria briefly considered refusing to obey, but she did need to relieve herself, especially if they were going to start riding again. She was sure her father would have mounted a furious search for her by now, so the best way to help herself would be to slow these brigands down. She went behind the bushes and stayed there until a sharp tug on the rope forced her into the open, where the man angrily grabbed her arm and began to pull her along.
He led her to the horses and boosted her into the saddle. Using the end of the rope still around her waist, he again tied her hands to the saddle horn. As the torturous riding started, Victoria struggled to hang on to the saddle and ease her painful bouncing against it.
She feared the men who had captured her and the desolate country they were traveling through, but she didn't allow her thoughts to dwell on her fears. Instead she focused on her father, who at this very moment would be racing to her rescue. He may have left her in the care of servants for long periods of her childhood, and he had required her to go back East for schooling, but he had always demonstrated his devotion by making sure she had the best of everything. She knew he would never stop searching for her, and his vengeance against the men who were mistreating her would be terrible to behold.
The sun beat down on her unmercifully. The bodice of her traveling suit became soaked with sweat. She longed to remove the long-sleeved jacket to gain some relief from the heat. The skin on her cheeks began to burn and feel tight. She knew her face must be turning red, for at the second rest stop, Eduardo pulled her small, peaked hat from her head and replaced it with a large-brimmed, straw one. He also removed the rope from around her waist, apparently realizing she wouldn't dare try to escape in this wilderness.
They rode at a grueling pace until darkness made it dangerous. When they stopped, the boy again brought the dirty corn cakes. This time Victoria ate hers. Then she fell asleep with her head resting on her knees.
Copyright © 1998 by Sarah Winn