THE SCENT OF ROSES
A WOMAN’S SMILE
Rosalyn Delaney’s husband, Josiah, had vanished six years ago. Following a private detective’s lead, Rosalyn leaves Salt Lake City and boards a train heading t the mining town of Whiskey Ridge, Arizona. She arrives at Rose House, an old mansion reputed to be haunted, only to discover her missing husband has been killed, and his business partner, Whip Kincade, is wanted for his murder. Determined to uncover the secrets surrounding Josiah and his death, Rosalyn decides to stay-even when she begins to receive nightly visits from a charming “ghost”…
A GHOST’S KISS
Escaping a troubled past, Whip Kincade had hoped he could make a fresh start by coming to Whiskey Ridge and opening a saloon with his friend, Josiah. Now as a murder suspect hiding in his own house, Whip’s future looks bleak indeed…unless he can find the real culprit. But the unexpected intrusion of Rosalyn ruins his plans of sneaking out at night to investigate. Scaring her away is the first step in clearing his name, but Rosalyn doesn’t rattle easily. And Whip isn’t sure he wants the lovely widow to walk out of his life—especially when she would take his heart with her…
THE SCENT OF ROSES
The big house brooded on its lonely hill. Inside, the walls echoed with stillness. A teasing breeze whispered through tiny crevices to lift thick dust, swirling it through abandoned rooms and along hidden passageways no guest had ever seen. Then, like a phantom, the breeze vanished in slanted rays of sunlight. The dust settled, the stillness returned, and the house heaved a sigh of boredom and regret.
Once, the walls had sung with cheerful sounds, with the chatter of women, and the laughter of children. Hopes. Dreams. Plans for the future.
Dashed forever by the crack of a bullet.
After that, years of silence . . .
Outside, valiant roses scented the air. Virginia creeper and trumpet vines choked the house’s proud facade, nearly obliterating doors and dust-caked windows. Hummingbirds whirred and hovered and supped from blazing blossoms. Bees sought their own nectar, and birds tended nests, ignoring the midnight-black cat skulking below. Masses of dangling green tendrils screened the empty porch swing, as if to shelter young lovers, stealing a kiss.
Years had passed since the walls last quivered with passion or sung with ecstasy. Gone were the pleasant sounds, the peaceful, happy sounds the house yearned to hear again. Sounds now relegated to the past, as well as to some future day the house knew would come.
And so the house brooded, and waited.
April 1889, Arizona Territory, Just Below Utah
“What in hell else can go wrong?” Whip Kincade muttered as he and his men headed for the entrance to the Memphis Miss Mine. He hated rain. Today’s shower pounded mercilessly on his head and shoulders, as well as those of his men. Minuscule waterfalls poured off hat brims and streamed down sunshine-yellow slickers. Lightning ripped the sky, followed by a drum roll of thunder.
Hearing his name called through the din of the storm, Kincade turned and peered down the rough slope of the mine yard. The deluge was a gray haze, blurring everything, but he knew the long-eared shape plodding toward him. On the mule’s back rode the rotund figure of his partner, Josiah Bullock.
Kincade wondered what the man was doing there. Usually Josiah was too busy running their billiards parlor in Whiskey Ridge to visit the mine.
“Go on in,” Whip told the men beside him. “I’ll be along in a minute.”
Brodie O’Brien, Kincade’s best single-jacker, swiped rain from his ruddy face and grinned. “Sure, an’ a pleasant mood you’ll be in, I’ve no doubt, after goin’ another round wi’ Bullock.”
“Full of yourself these days, aren’t you, O’Brien?” Kincade said, irritated by the man’s comment. “Think you’re the only man who ever got a woman pregnant?”
The Irishman’s grin broadened. “Ooh, boss’s getting angry, boys. Watch out or ’e’ll knock yer blocks off. Mean as a cornered cat he is, when ’is dander’s up. Granger can vouch for that.”
“And don’t you forget it,” Kincade tossed back, trying for a lighter tone.
As a boy Whip had worn constant bruises as the result of trying to solve every problem with his fists. Now, as a man of twenty-six, he’d well learned the value of self-control. Unluckily, knowing the value and resisting the urge weren’t the same, and being reminded of the last time he’d lost his temper sorely tested him, even if Granger had deserved what he got.
“Go on and get to work,” he said in a voice made soft as rain by the prudent employment of that control now.
The men wisely vanished into the dark adit, leaving behind only the glow of their carbide lamps. Kincade watched Josiah Bullock’s progress toward him, wondering again what could have brought the man up the mountain. Whatever it was must be serious.
The image of Kincade’s little girl hopscotched into his mind, her sweet face and brown eyes full of innocence, her mop of russet hair as untamed as ever. This morning she’d complained of a tummy ache and her forehead had felt warm. What if . . . ? His heart jackknifed into his throat.
No, he was being paranoid again. Damn it, he just couldn’t seem to be reasonable when it came to Lenna.
A year ago he hadn’t known he had a daughter, hadn’t expected to ever be a father, since he’d made up his mind not to remarry. To keep the little girl out of an orphanage after her mother died, he’d immediately taken her into his care. From the first moment the child laid her head on his shoulder, and looked up at him with trusting eyes, she’d become his life, and the reason he wanted desperately to succeed with the Memphis Miss.
So far the mine hadn’t produced much high-grade ore. But Kincade was known for his mining instincts, and his gut told him the Miss would eventually produce big. More work, a little luck . . . and he’d be able to lay the world at his little girl’s feet.
Unless something happened to her.
Overcome once more with worry, he broke into a run, splattering mud as he hurried to meet his partner. Fear bunched like a fist in his lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Grabbing the mule’s bridle, he shouted over a growl of thunder, “What are you doing here? Is Lenna okay?”
“She’s fine, I just needed to talk to you,” Josiah replied.
A minute passed before the words penetrated the roar in Kincade’s ears. Relief was closely followed by anger at having been frightened half out of his wits. “Then what are you doing here?” he demanded, towing mule and rider through the rain to the mine shack. He hoped his partner hadn’t come about money. All they’d done the past few weeks was argue about finances.
He couldn’t understand Josiah’s sudden desire to pinch pennies. Neither the mine nor the B&K House of Billiards was making them any great fortune, but they were doing well enough. They paid their employees decent wages, and Kincade had put a little aside for the future. Suddenly, Josiah argued against every purchase, and took to ordering the cheapest supplies he could find. A saloon might get away with serving lower quality bourbon to its customers, but mining was dangerous work, and Whip wasn’t willing to risk the lives of his miners with inferior equipment.
He helped his partner dismount, careful of the older man’s leg which had never healed right after a bad break. Seconds ago his men had been storing away tools and fetching empty bait pails to take home. Now they milled about, worried expressions on their dirty faces. Josiah Bullock’s unusual visit had them concerned, too, Kincade realized. They were loyal, his men, God love them.
“I’m busy, Josiah. Got men waiting to be shown where to drill so we can blast. Can it wait until I get home in an hour or so?”
The older man shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked haggard and edgy, like dynamite ready to blow. “I have to meet someone in town. I won’t be there when you get home.”
Lightning flashed, momentarily blinding Whip. Blinking, he studied his partner. Josiah’s usual motto was Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you. The way the man had acted lately, Whip feared trouble had caught up with him. Maybe that was what Josiah had come to talk about. “All right, come in the office. Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it.”
He’d barely opened the door when a loud crack came from deep inside the mine. A grinding rumble shook the ground. A burst of air blasted out of the tunnel, extinguishing the carbide lamp Whip had left outside the entrance. His pulse leaped.
“Cave-in,” he roared.
As he raced for the mine, fear ripping at his innards, he thought of the men he had just sent into the drift. Of never again hearing Ryan play the fiddle. Of how Jeb Dailey’s family had tried to keep their young son out of the mines. How O’Brien hoped to give his child a better life than he had known. A gory image of those same men crushed under tons of debris invaded Kincade’s mind. Acid flushed into his throat, stinging as he swallowed it back down.
Behind him men shouted as they joined the race for the mine. Boots pounded. The bell atop the office pealed out a bid for help from town and other mines. Josiah and financial difficulties were forgotten.
How long since the three miners had entered the drift? Five minutes? Ten? How far had they gone?
A cloud of dust blurred the entrance. Whip knelt and dug in his pocket for a Lucifer to light his lantern. Grit from the explosion filtered through his clothing and abraded his skin. His eyes watered. He coughed. The thick air, as he ducked inside, smelled of disturbed earth, and fear. Especially fear. His own body reeked of terror. Blinking at the dust, he pulled his kerchief over his mouth and nose. Except for the clink and thud of rocks still falling from the ceiling, the mine was eerily silent. Whip dodged a piece of falling timber from the shoring and kept going. Had to find his men.
Fifty feet into the drift the way was blocked by a wall of debris. He held up the lamp and scanned the rocks, dirt, and broken lumber. No sign of his men. The pounding of boots coming behind him echoed his rapid heartbeat. His only hope was that Ryan, Dailey and O’Brien were trapped on the other side, alive. Dropping to his knees, he set aside the lamp and clawed bare-handed at the blockage. Again and again he called to the missing men, praying they would answer. Praying they could answer.
“Get picks and shovels,” Whip shouted when his mine foreman Rob Flaherty caught up with him.
Other tough, callused hands soon dug alongside his. Other voices muttered prayers. Overhead, the timbers supporting what was left of the ceiling creaked and moaned. Fresh dirt sifted down. Whip shoved a jagged rock behind him, knowing at any moment there could be another cave-in, and Lenna could still end up in an orphanage. Clenching his jaw, he worked faster. No child would go fatherless today if he could help it.
A pick appeared magically in his grimy hands. His head rang as metal clanged against rock. Desperation kept the work at a frantic pace. Desperation and panic. They all knew the danger they were in. Labored grunts and curses accompanied the ringing shovels. Reinforcements arrived and formed a relay line to clear the wreckage.
Despite the extra help, it seemed a decade before Rob Flaherty yelled, “Here! Found somethin’.”
Whip rushed to help. A boot, then a leg, twisted at an odd angle, emerged as they flung aside rocks and dirt. When they at last pulled the man free, Whip cursed.
Ignoring the green eyes gazing sightlessly up at him, Whip searched for his friend’s pulse. “Come on, you obstinate mick, breathe.”
Hands tugged at his shoulders. “He’s gone, boss,” Flaherty told him. “Nothing more ye can be doin’ fer him, poor laddie.”
Guilt and grief slammed into Whip. He hung his head and fought back an urge to bawl. No time for sorrow. Two men still needed to be found. He went back to work.
Hours later, dozens of filthy, exhausted men stood in the mine yard, staring at three crushed and mangled bodies covered with bright yellow slickers. Rain pummeled bowed heads as hats were placed respectfully over aching hearts. Nearby, women waited silently while the hot coffee and soup they’d brought went cold. Except for the fading rumble of thunder and the patter of rain, silence reined. The very lack of feminine wails troubled Whip. Molly O’Brien hadn’t come running to the ringing of the emergency siren.
“I’ll take O’Brien home,” he told Flaherty. “When you get to town, let them know at the store that I’ll be picking up Molly’s tab. And have the bardog at the B&K set the men up with drinks. They’ll need a taste of whiskey to see them through the night.”
“Ye’ll not be comin’ yerself, boss?” the foreman asked.
Whip shook his head. “Molly’ll need consoling. Maybe you could ask a couple of the women to come, though. She’ll need a woman’s touch. For all we know she could be having her babe right now. It would explain her absence.” Addressing a thin, young man standing nearby, he said, “Doc, can you come with me?”
“Of course. You ought to let me tend to your hands first, though.”
“My hands . . . ?” Whip looked down. His fingers and the backs of his hands bore a dozen bloody cuts and scrapes he hadn’t noticed before. But that was the least of his problems. “They’re all right, Doc.”
Questions crowded his mind as he walked away. He’d failed his men, hadn’t protected them well enough. They’d just put in new timbers to brace the ceiling. Why had it collapsed?
Seeing his partner standing aside from the others and appearing as though he were about to fall apart, Whip walked over to him.
“Oh God, Whip, it’s my fault,” Josiah mumbled, a look of horror on his aging face. “My fault.”
Whip frowned. His partner was known for taking on the troubles of others, but how Josiah figured to take the blame for the cave-in escaped Whip. “How is it your fault?”
“The timbers, I . . .” Josiah shook his head and let the words trail off.
For a long moment, Whip stared at him. Something niggled at the back of his mind, like the buzz of a half-forgotten conversation. He tried to shoulder it aside, but it persisted. Tension held him rigid. His heart pounded in his ears with the volume and repetition of a stamp mill.
“The new timbers,” he said finally with deceptive calm. “You bought them from the Balzack Brothers, didn’t you?”
Josiah’s mouth opened but no sound came out. The guilt and agony plain on his lined face weren’t enough to appease Whip. He needed words, something clear and open and verbal that would damn Josiah for the cheap bastard he had become, and would relieve a little of the guilt gnawing at his own conscience.
“Answer me, damn you!” He grabbed Josiah by the collar and yanked him up onto his toes so they were eye to eye. “I told you the Balzacks’ pine couldn’t be trusted, that it wasn’t strong enough. But you bought it anyway.”
Josiah nodded. “It was cheaper. I needed money. That’s what I came to talk to you about. I need—”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what you need.” Whip thought of the men lying in the rain with pennies on their sightless eyes. He thought of Molly O’Brien and her babe, who would never know its father.
“Three men died because of you.” Anger and grief roughened his voice. “Why?”
Whip shook the man like a wet rat and shoved him toward the three bodies. “Tell me why. What could possibly be so important that three men had to give up their lives for it? My God, man, I could kill you for this, do you know that? Talk to me. Give me a reason not to blow you to bloody hell for what you’ve done today.”
Josiah held up a hand in self-defense. “You don’t understand . . .”
No, Whip couldn’t understand. The partner he’d known the past year as Josiah Bullock, the friend he had respected, had looked up to, would never have done this, would never have risked a man’s life for the mere sake of money, not even to save his own life.
The world slipped out of focus. Crimson spots blurred Whip’s vision. Voices screamed in his head. Knowing physical pain was all that could blot out the anguish ripping at his gut, he clenched his fists, stretching and reopening the scratches that crisscrossed the backs of his hands until they bled anew.
Three men dead. Because Josiah needed money.
“You would’ve done the same,” Josiah said with quiet resignation. “If you knew—”
Even as his fist slammed into Josiah’s jaw, as the pain shot up his arm to his brain, even then, Whip was promising himself he wouldn’t lose control.
Coop Donovan ignored the rain beating down on him as he parked his twelve-year-old body in a patch of yellow lampshine spilling out from Dodd’s barber shop in town. Beneath his bare feet the rain-soaked ground grumbled from the muffled wheels and thudding hooves heading his direction. Excitement sparked inside him. She’d be on board this time, sure as gold sank to the bottom of a pan. Not that Coop gave a damn. He didn’t care one way or another where his mam was.
“Hey! You there, kid,” a voice called behind him. Coop turned and saw a barrel-chested stranger in a black Prince Albert coat peering down at him. The man’s fancy top hat kept some of the rain off his face, but did nothing to hide the cruel slash of his thin mouth.
“Yeah?” Coop said sullenly. The man didn’t scare him none.
“You know where Rose House is?”
Coop knew all right. Any other day of the week he’d be on duty in the Rose House stable this time of day. “Why d’ya wanna know?”
“That’s none of your business. Just tell me where the place is.”
Coop shrugged. “Sounds like some sorta fancy place to me. Do I look like I’d know ’bout a place like that?”
The man glowered at him and turned to a short, burly fellow with dark brown face hair as thick and curly as a buffalo’s. “You know where to meet me after the coach comes in. Make sure you’re not alone.”
“Yes, sir,” the buffalo replied.
Coop heard the barrel-chested man in the top hat stalk off. He ignored the buffalo. A few minutes later the buffalo got into an argument and had the sass knocked out of him, but Coop didn’t bother to watch.
Finally, the stagecoach careened around the corner and barreled up the road. Coop’s heart jack-knifed into his throat.
Dailey’s old mutt, Moses, was nipping at the wheels and eating mud for his trouble as the coach thundered through the puddles. Men poured out of saloons onto boardwalks, laughing, cursing, betting each other who’d get first poke at any whores that might be aboard, whores being about the only women who ever came to Whiskey Ridge.
Clell Tompkins came out of his restaurant, wiping his hands on a greasy apron. Coop could tell without seeing the menu, what Clell was offering today. Even the rain couldn’t wash away the smell of boiled cabbage and charred side-pork.
Being supper time, there wasn’t a woman in sight except Miss Emmy. Coop got a funny feeling low in his stomach when he saw her leaning over her balcony above the Silver Lady Saloon. She was wearing something silky that gaped open at the neck. What he couldn’t see of her bosom was plainly outlined by the clinging, rain-dampened material. Coop dreamed sometimes about what it would feel like to touch that bosom.
The coach’s four buckskins whinnied in protest as the driver sawed the reins and drew to a halt in front of the Empire Hotel. Coop snaked his way through the crowd and squeezed between a couple of Cousin Jacks from the Memphis Miss just as Reverend Noble climbed out of the coach, followed by a peddler so fat he barely got through the door.
A slender ankle peaked out from under bottle-green skirts as a woman felt for the step with her foot. Her head, covered with a straw bonnet, was bent over, preventing Coop from seeing her face. Onlookers grinned and shouted. They oughtn’t leer at her that way, the boy thought. Anybody could see she weren’t a painted cat come to work with Miss Emmy or down to Cora’s. She was a lady, the prettiest he’d ever seen.
But she wasn’t his mam.
From beneath her black worsted umbrella, the lady glanced around at the crowd, and shrank a little inside. Not a woman in sight, only men, rough and crude as the adobe buildings they inhabited. They stared at her, their lustful expressions causing her stomach to churn. None looked familiar, or wore solid black, as did the army of a certain church leader. Still, she moved away cautiously, isolating herself on the rain-darkened boardwalk.
On the other side of the street, a smallish man in hobnailed boots and worn, fawn-colored denim, stood out of the deluge on the mercantile’s roofed porch. A miner, she guessed from his clothes. He appeared more sober than the other men. Then a little boy ran out of the store, a peppermint stick in his mouth. The man scooped him up in wiry arms and hugged him close, candy and all.
Deciding they seemed harmless, she hoisted her two satchels and, trying to keep her umbrella over her without dropping the bags, crossed the road. She skirted the worst of the puddles and saturated piles of fresh horse dung. When she reached the man with the little boy, she said, “Excuse me?”
He gaped at her, then slammed shut his bucktoothed mouth. Jerking a thumb at himself, he said, “You talking to me, miss?”
“Yes.” She stayed just out of reach. “Could you possibly tell me where I might find Mr. Josiah Delaney?”
“Delaney?” He screwed up his face. “Don’t know anyone by that name.”
“Forgive me,” she said, heat rising to her cheeks. “I meant Josiah Bullock.”
Shaking his head, he said, “Still don’t know him. I’m new here. You might want to go down to the sheriff’s office. He ought to know most of the folks hereabouts.”
She glanced toward the building the man indicated, thanked him, and walked quickly the opposite direction. Three buildings down, she came to a restaurant. Through the window she saw a man in a long, greasy apron clearing off a table. The only other occupant was a gaunt, bearded miner drinking coffee. A bell jangled as she opened the door.
“Something to eat, miss?” the man in the apron asked.
“Actually, I came for directions,” she said, and told him who she was looking for.
“Ol’ Josiah’s most likely at his saloon across the street,” he told her. “The B&K House of Billiards.”
“Why you telling her that, Clell?” the thin miner said, putting down his cup. “She cain’t go there. She’s a lady.”
“Well, you don’t want me sending her to the house, do you, Henry?”
Henry frowned. “No, you sure don’t want to be going there, miss.”
She ignored the unease that shimmied over her skin. “Why not? Are you speaking of his home?”
“Yeah,” Clell said, “and a miracle it is them folks up there haven’t had something awful happen to them yet. Rose House, they call it. Spook House would be more apt, you was to ask me.”
“It’s haunted,” Henry explained in an awed tone.
“That there’s Rose House,” said Clell, pointing out the front window, “up there on the hill.”
Peering through the rain and growing darkness, she saw that the land beyond town rose gradually a good two hundred feet, one of the fingers that jutted from the rugged bluffs that surrounded the area. The house occupied a plateau partway up, shaded by the only trees to be seen for miles, except for the twisted junipers dotting the top of the hill. A jagged line of willows, indicative of a rare spring, curved from above, around the house, and down to the flat land where the town sat.
“You cut ‘tween Dodd’s barber shop and Hop Sing’s laundry, you come to a bridge over Drunkard’s Wash,” Henry said. “That’s the name o’ the stream. Path leads from there up to the house. But like Clell here said, you don’t want to be going there, specially not with it stormin’ and night coming on. Better to go to the hotel an’ have a boy sent to fetch Bullock.”
Nodding, Clell said, “That’d be the thing to do, all right.”
“Thank you,” she said, still squinting at the house through the gray sheets of rain.
The glare of a sudden burst of lightning did give the house a sinister appearance, squatting there alone on the hillside like a great gargoyle watching over the town below. But haunted? Nonsense. No such thing as ghosts.
Her father had promised her, years ago, as he lay coughing up bloody spittle in his bed, that his spirit would always be with her, that he would watch over her and protect her. But he hadn’t. When she’d grown up, she’d realized once a person was dead, he no longer had control over his life, or a way to keep a rash promise made to a grieving child.
That wasn’t exactly what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints taught, of course. Mormons believed in a heaven that went beyond what any other church offered—not only eternal life in a Garden of Eden, but a reunion with loved ones and a continuation of life as they’d known it on Earth. Nice as it sounded, she had never quite been able to believe in that particular bit of her church’s gospel, however.
Ghosts or no ghosts, she couldn’t afford to let herself be put off by the unpleasantness of the task ahead of her. Within the hour, the stage would be leaving, and her very life depended on her being aboard. To be stuck in Whiskey Ridge, Arizona, until the stage came through again could prove quite deadly.