When Phillip feels well enough to talk, Nan begins to interrogate him about how he was injured. She’s worried that the river pirates and low-life rats that infest the Ohio River below Illinois may be moving their operations to the upper Mississippi, putting her tavern at risk. Phillip tells her about a supposed gentleman he met along the way who turned out to be a scoundrel. From Duke in Name Only, out in April 2023.
That she guessed exactly right didn’t help his self-esteem. “Yes, and before you say it, I said too much about my plans.” He scowled at the inquisitive woman. “At least I kept my belongings close. He never meddled with them.”
“Didn’t need to. Not yet. When did things change? Smithland?” she asked.
“Am I the only man on the planet who doesn’t know the ways of the river?” he sighed.
“No. There are plenty who walk into traps. He suggested an inn and you walked right into it, right? Did he drug you?”
“I think so. I woke up in some camp. My belongings were strewn all over the ground being divided by three bully-boys.” He scowled at the thought.
The woman leaned closer “What did they look like?”
“Your brother Luke,” he said without hesitation.
Her bark of laughter lightened his mood.
“Sounds about right. I wonder why they didn’t just kill you outright and take your goods.”
“Carpenter had bigger game. He wanted information and papers.”
Her brows drew together, and she paused for a few moments. “Land,” she said at last. “He was after your land? Explain.”
“You’re worried about eastern land speculators. You should worry about bandits in your own midst,” he said.
“He wanted you to sign it over?”
“That was the first plan. I refused. He laughed, broke my fingers to take my ring, and had me trussed to drag overland for two days. Maybe three. One of the bully boys left. The other two did the dragging.”
“To Kaskaskia.” She didn’t’ make it a question.
“Nearby. Then the beating began. He was keeping me alive but just barely.”
“Did he give up?” she asked.
“Did I look like he gave up? No, he had a change of plans. Some others met us, one of them better dressed. He looked like Carpenter. He turned out to be an expert forger. They didn’t need me after that.”
“Is that when they stabbed you?”
“Must be. I don’t remember. By that time, I was too beaten up. I think they threw me in the river; I washed up later half drowned. When your brother found me, I thought they came back.”
She shook her head. “It sounds like a much more educated operation than the usual banditry,” she said. “I don’t figure they’re a threat to Archers’ Roost. The farm may be a different story.” The gesture appeared again, firm white teeth biting her lower lip.
“My family’s. A whole section—six hundred and forty prime acres—over in Illinois.” She said it with pride that would rival any duchess Phillip had yet to meet.
Entranced, he could only gape at her, their eyes meeting. They held for a moment before she grinned and gave her head a self-deprecating shake. “Ours and the bank’s, of course!”
Phillip tried to remember the total acreage he owned. Mountglen, his primary seat, had well over ten thousand acres. There were four smaller holdings. What an odd little world this is. “Impressive nonetheless, Miss… Archer, is it?”
“Archer yes, but no one calls me Miss Archer. I’m merely Nan.” She surprised him by blushing slightly before rising to leave. “Get well Artie, if that’s your name. You’ll need your energy to work off what you owe.” The governess was back.
Phillip’s eyes widened. “I can pay you, of course.”
Her amused snort put him in his place. “Not likely. Not soon in any case. Get well Artie, or whoever you are.”
“Phillip,” he said in clipped tones.
“Flip it is.” She turned to leave.
“Send Nate back, please,” he called after her. He couldn’t reach the chamber pot on his own. That would be his first goal for healing. “Please. I need personal assistance.”
Again, amusement sparkled in her eyes. He’d find it attractive if it wasn’t at his expense.
“I will. I’ll add it to what you owe us.”
She was gone then, and the room felt unbearably empty.
Note: excerpts from works in progress may have not yet been edited, will likely undergo change, and may not even make it into the final work!