slightly at the end. It seemed somehow a sin that manhood would soon coarsen those delicate features. 'How old are you, ragazzo? Eleven? Twelve?'

Wariness crept into eyes that were a surprising shade of deep violet. 'Old enough, I guess.'

'What about your parents?'

'My mother died when I was born. My daddy died at Shiloh three years ago.'

'And you, ragazzo? Why have you come here to my city of New York?'

The boy popped the last bit of tart into his mouth, tucked the bundle back under his arm, and stood. 'I've got to protect what's mine. Thank you kindly for that tart. It's been a real pleasure makin' your acquaintance ' He began to walk away, then hesitated. 'And just so you know… I'm not a boy. And my name's Kit.'

As Kit made her way uptown toward Washington Square according to the directions she'd received from a lady on the ferry, she decided she shouldn't have told the old man her name. A person bent on murder shouldn't go around advertising herself. Except it wasn't murder. It was justice, even though the Yankee courts wouldn't see it that way if she got caught. She'd better make certain they never found out that Katharine Louise Weston of Risen Glory Plantation, near what was left of Rutherford, South Carolina, had ever been within spitting distance of their damn city.

She clutched the bundle more tightly. It held her daddy's six-shot Pettingill's self-cocking army percussion revolver; a train ticket back to Charleston; Emerson's Essays, First Series; a change of clothing; and the money she'd need while she was here. She wished she could get it over with today so she could go back home, but she needed time to watch the Yankee bastard and get to know his ways. Killing him was only half the job. The other half was not getting caught.

Up until now, Charleston was the largest city she'd seen, but New York wasn't anything like Charleston. As she walked through the noisy, bustling streets, she had to admit there were some fine sights. Beautiful churches, elegant hotels, emporiums with great marble doorways. But bitterness kept her from enjoying her surroundings. The city seemed untouched by the war that had torn apart the South. If there was a God, she hoped He'd see to it that William T. Sherman's soul roasted in hell.

She was staring at an organ grinder instead of paying attention to where she was going, and she bumped into a man hurrying home. 'Hey, boy! Watch out!'

'Watch out yourself,' she snarled. 'And I'm not a boy!' But the man had already disappeared around the corner.

Was everybody blind? Since the day she'd left Charleston, people had been mistaking her for a boy. She didn't like it, but it was probably for the best. A boy wandering alone wasn't nearly as conspicuous as a girl. Folks back home never mistook her. Of course, they'd all known her since she was born, so they knew she didn't have any patience with girlish gewgaws.

If only everything weren't changing so fast. South Carolina. Rutherford. Risen Glory. Even herself. The old man thought she was a child, but she wasn't. She'd already turned eighteen, which made her a woman. It was something her body wouldn't let her forget, but her mind refused to accept. The birthday, along with her sex, seemed accidental, and like a horse confronted with too high a fence, she'd decided to balk.

She spotted a policeman ahead and slipped into a group of workers carrying toolboxes. Despite the tart, she was still hungry. Tired, too. If only she were back at Risen Glory right now, climbing one of the peach trees in the orchard, or fishing, or talking to Sophronia in the kitchen. She closed her fingers around a scrap of paper in her pocket to reassure herself it was still there, even though the address printed on it was permanently stamped in her memory.

Before she found a place to stay for the night, she needed to see the house for herself. Maybe she'd catch a glimpse of the man who threatened everything she loved. Then she'd get ready to do what no soldier in the entire army of the Confederate States of America had been able to. She'd pull out her gun and kill Major Baron Nathaniel Cain.

Baron Cain was a dangerously handsome man, with tawny hair, a chiseled nose, and pewter-gray eyes that gave his face the reckless look of a man who lived on the edge. He was also bored. Even though Dora Van Ness was beautiful and sexually adventurous, he regretted his dinner invitation. He wasn't in the mood to listen to her chatter. He knew she was ready, but he lingered over his brandy. He took women on his terms, not theirs, and a brandy this old shouldn't be rushed.

The house's former owner had kept an excellent wine cellar, the contents of which, along with the home itself, Cain owed to iron nerves and a pair of kings. He pulled a thin cigar from a wooden humidor the housekeeper had left for him on the table, clipped the end, and lit it. In another few hours he was due at one of New York's finest clubs for what was sure to be a high-stakes poker game. Before then, he'd enjoy Dora's more intimate charms.

As he leaned back in his chair, he saw her gaze linger on the scar that disfigured the back of his right hand. It was one of several that he'd accumulated, and all of them seemed to excite her.

'I don't think you've heard a word I've said all evening, Baron.' Her tongue flicked her lips, and she gave him a sly smile.

Cain knew that women considered him handsome, but he took little interest in his looks and certainly no pride. The way he saw it, his face had nothing to do with him. It was an inheritance from a weak-willed father and a mother who'd spread her legs for any man who caught her eye.

He'd been fourteen when he'd begun to notice women watching him, and he'd relished the attention. But now, a dozen years later, there'd been too many women, and he'd grown jaded. 'Of course I heard you. You were giving me all the reasons I should go to work for your father.'

'He's very influential.'

'I already have a job.'

'Really, Baron, that's hardly a job. It's a social activity.'

He regarded her levelly. 'There's nothing social about it. Gambling is the way I earn my living.'


'Would you like to go upstairs, or would you rather I took you home now? I don't want to keep you out too late.'

She was on her feet in an instant and, minutes later, in his bed. Her breasts were full and ripe, and he couldn't understand why they didn't feel better in his hands.

'Hurt me,' she whispered. 'Just a little.'

He was tired of hurting, tired of the pain he couldn't seem to escape even though the war was over. His mouth twisted cynically. 'Whatever the lady wants.'

Later, when he was alone again and dressed for the night, he found himself wandering through the rooms of the house he'd won with a pair of kings. Something about it reminded him of the house where he'd grown up.

He'd been ten when his mother had run off, leaving him with his debt-ridden father in a bleak Philadelphia mansion that was falling into disrepair. Three years later his father had died, and a committee of women came to take him to an orphan asylum. He ran away that night. He had no destination in mind, only a direction. West.

He spent the next ten years drifting from one town to another, herding cattle, laying railroad track, and panning for gold until he discovered he could find more of it over a card table than in the creeks. The West was a new land that needed educated men, but he wouldn't even admit that he knew how to read.

Women fell in love with the handsome boy whose sculptured features and cold gray eyes whispered a thousand mysteries, but there was something frozen inside him that none of them could thaw. The gentler emotions that take root and flourish in a child who has known love were missing in him. Whether they were dead forever or merely frozen, Cain didn't know. Didn't much care.

When the war broke out, he crossed back over the Mississippi River for the first time in twelve years and enlisted, not to help preserve the Union, but because he was a man who valued freedom above everything else, and he couldn't stomach the idea of slavery. He joined Grant's hard-bitten troops and caught the general's eye when they captured Fort Henry. By the time they reached Shiloh, he was a member of Grant's staff. He was nearly killed twice, once at Vicksburg, then four months later at Chattanooga, charging Missionary Ridge in the battle that opened the way for Sherman's march to the sea.

The newspapers began to write of Baron Cain, dubbing him the 'Hero of Missionary Ridge' and praising him for his courage and patriotism. After Cain made a series of successful raids through enemy lines, General Grant was quoted as saying, 'I would rather lose my right arm than lose Baron Cain.'

What neither Grant nor the newspapers knew was that Cain lived to take risks. Danger, like sex, made him feel

Вы читаете Just Imagine aka Risen Glory
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