DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I've been interested in the history of Deadwood, South Dakota ever since reading Pete Dexter's Deadwood (ISBN: 978-1-4000-7971-1) many years ago. Then along came the HBO series which ran all-too-briefly for three seasons. Lately, I've been re-watching all of the episodes so of course my sick mind asked "What would the Otalia story be like if it was set in Deadwood at the end of the 19th century? Hence the birth of this story. It is, in effect, a re-telling of the love story of Olivia and Natalia only set in the town of Deadwood instead of Springfield. Obviously, some things will be different. Also, this is set in 1880, which is after the events of the HBO series. Much was made of the use of language in HBO's Deadwood. Many criticized that the people of the time did not speak that way. This is true to a certain extent. No, they did not use words like 'motherfucker' and 'cocksucker,' but they did use different terms to mean the same thing. Were the writers of the series to write the exact dialogue of the time, modern audiences would find it utterly ridiculous and the show would have suffered for it. It may not be as historically accurate as it can be, but the spirit remains intact. I will attempt to do my best to maintain that spirit in this story and that includes using language that is racially offensive, but it will not be gratuitous. Yes, there will be use of the "N" word; in fact, one of the character's name includes the "N" word. (BTW: he was a real person.) I don't like the word, I don't use it in my own speech and I don't like writing it, but were I to not use it, it would make for a lesser story I believe and that would do it and the readers a disservice. So you will hear familiar GL characters using language they never did before, but remember, this is AU. If you are offended by this kind of language, stop reading right now and close the page. The title comes from the Deadwood 3x01 episode. Also, climate change has come to Deadwood; there will be no glaciers in the Black Hills.
WARNING: At various points in this story, both Natalia and Olivia will be with other people. If this is not your cup of tea, then stop reading right now and close the page.
DEDICATION: To my wonderful sounding board, my Louisiana sister mirandyscrow. You are the Clarisse to my Ouiser.
SPOILERS: Yes. Everything in GL and Deadwood is fair game.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To Skeeter451[at]mysticmuse.net


Tell Your God to Ready for Blood
By Susan L. Carr


Part 1 – Genesis


Chapter 1 – True Colors

Gus Aitoro took a final look up and down the main thoroughfare of Deadwood just to make sure nothing was going on, then he stepped on to the wooden walkway and through the always open door of Company Restaurant and Boarding House. Looking around, he noted that they were doing a brisk business as they normally did during the regular dinner hour. Seeing that all was well, he stepped up to the counter which also served as a bar and nodded to the short, but stocky man standing behind it.

"Evening, Buzz," he said with a nod.

"Evening, Gus," Buzz replied. "May I get you a whiskey? Natalia finished cooking supper a short while ago and headed on upstairs, so I don't think she's quite ready for you yet."

"Just coffee, if you please," Gus answered. "It was mighty gracious of you to give her the evening off, Buzz."

"She deserves some time off, as hard as she fucking works," Buzz said as he poured a large mug of steaming coffee and handed it to Gus. "Busy as we are, we'll make due."

"Still, I am much obliged," Gus said as he took a deep drink of the strong brew, sighing with pleasure as he felt it warm his bones.

"Tell your niece happy birthday for me, will you?" Buzz asked. "And tell Olivia I'm sorry I couldn't get away, but you see how busy it is here."

"I sure will, Buzz," he replied with a short nod. "And I'm sure she'll understand. Olivia Spencer understands business."

As Buzz went to serve another customer, Gus took a longer look around the busy dining area. He took note of Frank Cooper leaving the kitchen with a plate of food and sitting down at a small table. He picked up his coffee mug and strolled over.

"Evening, Deputy," he said.

Frank looked up. "Marshal," Frank nodded. "Grab yourself a plate if you can make your way past those fucking hoopleheads hogging the line and set on down."

"I will take a chair, Deputy, but decline on the food," Gus said as he placed his coffee and package on the table. He pulled another smaller package wrapped in soft leather from his coat pocket and slid it across to Frank. "New notices from the Federal office in Yankton," he explained. "Can you see that gets to Bullock? I didn't have time to drop it off to him at his store."

Frank nodded. "My pleasure, Marshal. Anything worthy of note within?"

"Not much as far as the goddamned reprobates go," Gus said. "Just the usual 'wanted' and 'at large' notices. Update on the fucking census, requests for our numbers. That sort of thing. Nothing pressing, is all."

"Good enough," he said, taking another bite of his food. "Mmm, this is delectable. As regretful as I am that things didn't work out between you and my sister, I do have to say that you are one fucking lucky fella, Marshal. That fine lady of yours sure can cook."

Gus smiled wryly. "Thank you, Deputy," he said. "As far as brothers-in-law go, you were acceptable."

Frank nodded amiably and then turned his glance to the stairwell. Gus followed the gaze and felt his heart begin to pound.

Descending the staircase like a vision of celestial beauty, Natalia Rivera smiled shyly as she caught his look, her dimples causing his breath to catch. Both men stood quickly as she approached and Gus was pleased to note she was wearing the dress he had bought her for just this occasion, despite her protests. Even though they were engaged to wed, Natalia refused to take any support from him which is why she worked both here at Company in the evenings and at the Beacon as a chambermaid during the day. Gus admired her pride and strength of will, but it only made him feel guiltier about abandoning her to raise their child all by herself.

As she approached, she held out her hand for Gus to take. Placing a quick kiss on her knuckles, he said, "Miss Rivera, you are an utter delight to behold."

"Thank you, Mr. Aitoro," she said and then turned to Frank, who had stood up. "Deputy Cooper…I trust you are enjoying your meal?"

"Miss Rivera, I was just making comment to your fiancé that it is divine, a meal fit for God's glorious angels themselves," Frank answered. "If I may ask, what do you call these?" Frank pointed at a pile of fried fritters taking up most of the room on his plate.

"In Spanish, they are called bacalaítos," Natalia answered. "Or as you would say, cod fritters."

"Cod?" Frank said with delighted surprise. "Oh, so that's what Pop did with that old batch of salted cod we had taking up room in the pantry. I always knew the man was genius. Hiring you just proves it, ma'am."

Natalia smiled. "I don't believe in waste, Deputy," she said. "Especially when it comes to food."

Gus cleared his throat. "I think we should be getting along, Miss Rivera," he said.

"Of course," Natalia agreed. "I do hope you enjoy your evening, Deputy Cooper," she said.

"And you, yours, ma'am," he said tipping his head and then sitting back down as Gus took Natalia's arm and led her from the restaurant.

Once outside, Gus turned in the direction of the Beacon Hotel and asked, "Is Rafe working this evening?"

"He is," Natalia said. "Would you like to stop by and see him?"

"I would, if you don't mind," he said. "I know you worked all day and must be tired."

"Not as tired as I would have been serving up a hundred meals tonight at Company," she said. "Thank you for this evening out, Nicky. I am already enjoying myself."

"Good," he said and gave her a smile so wide the torch lights illuminating the street made his teeth shine. "That dress looks wonderful on you, Natalia," he said. "Thank you for accepting it."

Natalia's mouth turned into a small frown. "I accepted it for your sake, Nicky," she explained. "It would not do for the future wife of a Federal marshal to show up at a social event in an old frock. Next time though, I shall be better prepared so as to spare you the expense."

"That won't be necessary, my dear," he said. "We'll be married soon and you won't have to work as hard as you do now."

"I don't mind working," she said. "It's what I'm used to."

"Nevertheless, you shouldn't have to," he pointed out.

"And nevertheless, you still have another family to support," she said, closing the book on the discussion for now. "We're here now, let's wish our son a good evening and then be on our way. Shall we?"

Gus nodded his head and led his fiancée through the open doors of the town's largest livery. The livery's proprietor, a dark skinned man wearing buckskins and an old army hat with a feather sticking up from it, stood up from his rocking chair near the potbelly stove. He pulled off his hat and gave a small bow to the couple. "Marshall…Miss Rivera," he said. "It's my pleasure to see you this evening."

"Mr. Fields," Natalia greeted him with a wide smile. "I hope we're not disturbing you. We just wished to say good evening to Rafael if it's not too much trouble."

"Never too much trouble for you, good lady," Fields said and then raised his voice. "Rivera! You've got company!"

A sound of an iron tool being dropped onto something made of wood preceded the appearance of Rafael Rivera. He was wearing a stained white shirt and a leather apron over his leggings. He wiped his hands on a dirty rag as he approached his parents and then leaned down to kiss Natalia's cheek. "Mama, it's good to see you," he said.

"You as well, Rafael," she said. "You left early this morning before I was even up."

"I'm glad I didn't wake you, then," he said. "Mr. Utter left a message with Mr. Cooper last night after you had retired requesting I come early and check on his mare. He fears she may be coming down with founder and asked could I take a look at her."

"And what do you think?" Gus asked.

"She's easing a bit on that hoof, sir, but she's not pointing yet, so I'd says she has a good chance to recover," he said. "I got her unshod and the other hooves look good. We'll let her rest and see how she progresses within the next few days."

"Good job, son," Gus said, proud that one of the town's most respected businessmen would trust the care of a valuable mare to his son.

"Thank you, sir," Rafe said, flushing slightly under the praise. He turned back to his mother. "I'll stay here for the next few days to make sure Mr. Utter's horse is doing all right, Mama, so please don't expect me back at the boardinghouse."

"All right," Natalia said and then asked, "Have you eaten yet?"

"No, Mama," he answered. "Not since afore noon. I brought a couple of your cold pasteles along with me when I came to the livery this morning, but that's all."

"When Mr. Fields permits, run to Company for your dinner and bring back enough for his as well," Natalia said.

"That's mighty kind of you, ma'am," Fields said. "The boy can go now if he's hungering."

"Indeed I am, Nigger General, thanks," Rafe said and turned quickly, his mind obviously on his mother's cooking.

"Rafael!" Natalia stopped him before he could run out the door. "You will respect your employer by addressing him as 'Mr. Fields.' Is that clear?"

"But Mama," Rafe protested and Gus gave an internal wince at the slightly whiny tone in his son's voice. "That's who he is! Everyone calls him the Nigger General."

"And you are a bastard, so shall we all call you that as well?" Natalia asked sharply and Gus watched as Rafe's face flushed a deep red in anger. He narrowed his eyes and prepared to step forward if the boy made any sudden move.

Rafe opened his mouth to protest again and Gus said in a low voice, "You will mind your mother, boy."

Rafe's jaw snapped shut and Gus noted the way the muscles in his cheeks clenched. He'd seen that same look on foolish men right before they met their maker. Natalia had done a fine job raising their son, but the boy had to learn to control his temper. Gus vowed to himself that he would spend more time with Rafe. It would not excuse his past absence in his son's life, but God willing, he'll be able to help the boy transition into manhood.

"Yes, sir," Rafe finally said. "My apologies, Mama." He turned to Fields. "And to you, Mr. Fields. With your permission, I'll take my leave to go fetch our meal."

Fields nodded and Rafe leaned in again to kiss Natalia's cheek and left with a nod at Gus.

Natalia smiled at Fields. "We too must take our leave, Mr. Fields. Please enjoy your supper."

"I'm sure I will, good lady," Fields said. "Enjoy your evening. And yours as well, Marshal."

"General," Gus said with a nod and escorted Natalia from the livery. As he turned in the direction of the Beacon, he felt a moment's anticipation for the evening ahead.

It was a man's world, but not even that would stop Olivia Spencer from what she wanted. Her desires were simple, she believed. Two happy and healthy daughters, a thriving business, a random, but good-looking stud to scratch an itch or two, a fine bottle of scotch and a cigar to take the chill away at night. Olivia felt no shame in her lavish indulgences such as the best clothing or her chef imported from Paris – she had earned every single one and more. Hard work and sheer determination had taken her from a penniless orphan burdened with raising two younger siblings on a small Caribbean island to eventually becoming one of the richest and most successful women in Deadwood, Dakota Territory.

Olivia Spencer enjoyed her luxuries, it was true, but that didn't mean she'd deny her guests the same. The Beacon was the most opulent hotel in town and her guests were glad to recompense her for the privilege. It was one of the things that set the Beacon apart from the other hotels in town and it was one advantage Olivia intended on keeping no matter what.

Moving over to the ornate full length mirror, Olivia inspected her appearance. She was wearing a dark burgundy gown made from silks imported from India, with a built-in corset made of whale bone stays. She frowned when she noticed one of the stays had come undone.

"Jane," she called out and not more than a moment later Emma's governess entered. "Please help me with this, Jane."

"Yes, Miss Spencer," the young woman said and moved to efficiently fasten the errant stay.

"Emma is dressed?" she asked.

"She's all ready, Miss Spencer," Jane said. "She's drawing pictures right now."

"Very well," Olivia said. "Please make sure she doesn't get any charcoal on her dress this time. I want her perfect when you bring her down to the party."

"Yes, Miss Spencer," Jane said nervously and hurried from Olivia's room to check on her charge.

Olivia smiled at the thought of her beautiful young daughter, her strong and often stern features softening as they always did when thinking of Emma. However, a stray thought of Emma's father caused her face to darken. Phillip Spaulding was still at large after kidnapping his children – including Emma – and if it hadn't been for the efforts of Marshall Gus Aitoro, Phillip would have gotten away with them.

Olivia knew that despite her many employees and social sycophants, she had very few friends and many more enemies in Deadwood. Gus Aitoro was one of the few people in town she could really trust, which was ironic considering he was Alan Spaulding's bastard. However, Gus had been raised by decent, hardworking folks who had instilled in him a strong sense of morality. Much to the dismay of many in town, Gus was one of the rarest breeds of all – a Federal official not open to bribes. And he even proved steadfast against the evil influence of the corrupted Spauldings, despite him being one of them. Since being assigned to Deadwood, Marshal Aitoro had helped to make the town more civilized.

"And that's good for business," Olivia said to her reflection. "And what's good for business is good for me."

She gave her gown a final smoothing and then strode to the door to open it. "Richardson!" she called from the balcony, seeing the stoop-shouldered man scampering across the lobby.

"Yes, Miss Spencer?" he asked, looking up at her, his long white beard hanging limply against his boney chest.

"Go to the ice house and bring back a fresh block. Emma likes it shaved with maple syrup. And be quick about it."

"Yes, Miss Spencer," he said and turned to scurry away, but then looked back up with a sickening look of adoration on his face. "You sure are pretty tonight, Miss Spencer."

"Just go," she waved her hand and rolled her eyes, once again wondering what had possessed her to hire the idiot. After Bullock had bought the Grand Central Hotel for a song when it had practically burned to the ground in the fire that nearly gutted the entire town a little more than a year ago, Richardson came to her and begged for a job at the Beacon, claiming he was too scared to work for the sheriff. The Beacon itself had been damaged in the same fire, but it had proved a blessing for the town when most of the riff raff had left for easier pickings, leaving open an opportunity for hard working entrepreneurs such as herself to prosper.

Thoughts of the fire that nearly destroyed Deadwood made her think of nearly losing her eldest daughter and she staunchly pushed such disturbing thoughts aside. Besides, her guests were staring to arrive. She began her descent to greet the first ones.

Natalia Rivera quirked a small smile as the Beacon's doorman held open the door and blinked at her in surprise. He started to object, but one dark look from Nicky put an end to any protest he might have made.

Natalia couldn't blame the man; it wasn't every day a chambermaid walked through the front doors instead of entering through the rear entrance off the filthy alley, especially fancily dressed and on the arm of a U.S. Marshal. Nicky patted her hand in reassurance as he led her across the lavish lobby to the large ballroom where the hotel's owner was standing court. Natalia knew who Olivia Spencer was and knew of her – one needn't be in town long before tapping into the gossip mill – but until now she hadn't personally drew her employer's attention. As long as the Beacon ran smoothly Olivia Spencer left her employees alone, but one time Natalia had seen her nearly verbally flay a dishwasher alive after he dropped a stack of expensive china. After that, she did her best to avoid her employer's wrath if at all possible.

Straightening her stance a bit higher, Natalia walked with confidence through the crowded room as they approached the imposing woman. As Olivia turned to greet them, Natalia could feel the sharp jade of the woman's eyes on her. She felt her heart begin to pound as Olivia's eyes moved from her head, down and then back up again, finally coming to rest on her eyes. Natalia was suddenly glad she had allowed Nicky to buy her the gown.

"Olivia Spencer," Nicky said. "May I present my fiancée, Natalia Rivera, formerly of Chicago, Illinois."

Olivia's eyes bored penetratingly into hers and Natalia steeled herself not to wither under the weight. She recalled every rumor she had heard about Olivia Spencer – from her many husbands and dalliances to her less-than-ethical business dealings – and she resolved that, employer or not, she would not cower in front of this woman.

"You work for me," Olivia stated, and Natalia felt goose bumps raise along her skin as she heard that silken voice directed at her for the first time.

"Indeed, I do," she answered, glad that her own voice did not waver. "Thank you so much for having Mr. Aitoro and I here tonight, Miss Spencer. Your reputation for hospitality is legendary as is reflected in every inch of the Beacon."

Olivia was silent as she regarded Natalia, this time, she guessed, as she evaluated Natalia's speech and accent.

"Please, call me Olivia," she said with a smile that did not quite reach her eyes. "After all, we are family, blood of course being stronger than any legal consideration. Wouldn't you agree?"

"I have found that true as well," Natalia answered. "Very well, Olivia. I'm Natalia."

The pretty girl standing next to Olivia stepped forward. Like her mother, Natalia had often seen Emma about the hotel, but had never had any contact with her before tonight. "Is Rivera a Spanish name?" she asked.

"It is," Natalia answered. "It means the bank of a river."

"Do you speak Spanish?"

Natalia smiled at the charming little girl. "Sí, niña. Hablo español muy bien."

Emma giggled. "Derek at school thinks he's so smart because he can count to five in Spanish."

"Well, how about I teach you to count to ten in Spanish, then?" Natalia said.

"Would you?" Emma asked eagerly.

"Not tonight, Jellybean," Olivia said. "You've got presents to open, but what do you say to Natalia?"

"Thank you, Miss Natalia," Emma said.

"You're very welcome, Emma," Natalia said. "I'll stop by your room before I leave tomorrow."

Nicky handed his niece the package he was carrying and Emma ran off to put it with the others. Natalia noted the warm smile that brightened Olivia's face – this time her eyes as well – as she watched her daughter race off. Finally Olivia turned back to Natalia and said, "Thank you so much, Natalia. I'll be sure to compensate you for your efforts on Emma's behalf."

"That won't be necessary, Olivia," Natalia said with a smile. "After all, as you pointed out, we are family."

"So I did," Olivia agreed. "Oh! Please excuse my lack of hospitality. Can I get you something to drink? Sarsaparilla, maybe?"

"Whiskey, if you please," she answered and while she kept her gaze on Olivia, she could see from the corner of her eye Nicky's surprise.

"A whiskey it is, then," Olivia said with a smirk. She walked briskly over to the sideboard and poured three shots. Handing one each to Nicky and Natalia, she raised the third in a salute. "To new friends and family."

Natalia echoed the sentiment and then threw back the shot.

Rafe Rivera carried the basket of his mother's food down the thoroughfare, carefully weaving in and out of the foot and horse traffic clopping along the wood paved street. Once again Rafe wondered if leaving Chicago to come here was a wise decision; not that he had much choice in the matter. He liked Deadwood and the adventure of living in the territory, but he missed Chicago and his friends.

When Rafe was growing up, he always had questioned his mother about his father, but all she would say was that his father was gone. So Rafe had assumed that his father had died in the war like many of his friends' fathers had. He would spend many a night lying in his bed before sleep imagining a brave Captain Rivera riding his horse against the Confederate rebels only to be struck down by a lucky shot, his final thoughts of his beautiful bride and infant son waiting in vain for his return.

However those childhood fantasies were dashed when his mother sat him down one day and said that he was finally man enough to know the truth. The truth about how she had met the handsome young Nick Augustino while she was a student at a Catholic boarding school, how they fell in love and planned to marry when she graduated, but before Nicky could ask Natalia's parents for permission, they were caught. Natalia was expelled and then discovered she was pregnant around the same time that Nicky disappeared.

"Papa wanted me to marry his business partner's son, but I only wanted Nicky," his mother had said. "When I refused to give you away, he threw me out."

Left to fend for herself on to the rough streets of Chicago, Natalia struggled to support herself and her sickly son. Rafe never remembered a time when she wasn't working one job or another, sometimes more than one at a time, no matter how base or hard it might be. She also spent every spare moment teaching him to read and write, making sure he received the education that was denied most children of their class.

"I never gave up looking for Nicky," she had told him that day. "Whenever I saved up a bit of money, I would hire a detective agency to look for him, but it was if Nicky Augustino had simply ceased to exist. Until now."

Then she had handed him an old and worn copy of The Black Hills Pioneer and pointed to a grainy photograph of a stern faced man identified as Gus Aitoro, newly appointed U.S. Marshall for the Dakota Territory.

"That's him, Rafael," Natalia had said. "That's your father. We're going to Deadwood to find him."

And with that declaration, she immediately set about selling their few possessions and booked transport on the next train heading west. Rafe spent the majority of the journey staring at the newspaper photo until it was smudged and worn from repeated handling. At first he was stunned, but that quickly turned to anger. He wasn't the son of a fallen Civil War hero; he was the bastard offspring of some cowardly cur who had tricked his mother into spreading her legs for him and then took off at the first sign of trouble. To add insult to injury, he also had rich grandparents who sat on their fat asses in their mansion on Lake Michigan while he and his mother froze in a rat-infested tenement. One day, he vowed, he would return to Chicago and teach his grandfather a lesson.

Things hadn't been easy for the Riveras once they reached Deadwood. Yes, they found his father, but he was married to a woman with three children. However, things did improve over time. His father's marriage had failed and his parents had rekindled their romance and Rafe had learned how respected his father was. Now they were just waiting for the paperwork for the divorce to arrive and his mother's shame would be erased and he would finally shed the stigma of illegitimacy.

Arriving at the livery, Rafe breathed deeply of the warm smell of hay and horses. Gus had gotten him the job at the livery, calling in a favor of the proprietor. Rafe liked the general and enjoyed working with the horses. Since coming west, his health had improved and his body had bulked up with muscle as he learned the farrier's trade. Fields had said he had a good touch when it came to horses and that made Rafe's heart swell with pride.

"Bout time you got back, boy," Fields said. "Food cold?"

"Shouldn't be," he said, setting the basket down and folding back his mother's clean towels. He lifted out two containers and handed one to Fields. Opening his, he breathed deeply as the warm smell of crisp fried fish and succulent beans and rice filled his senses.

"Mmm, this is good!" Fields exclaimed, his spoon moving rapidly between the container and his mouth. Rafe chuckled as a grain of rice stuck to the man's beard. "Boy, how come you so skinny if you et food like this your whole life?" Fields asked after a few minutes, finally coming up for air.

"I never fared too well as a child," he said with a shrug. "I always had trouble breathing and had the grippe more often than not. Mama spent a fortune on doctors and cures for me, but nothing seemed to help until we came here. Guess it was just the bad air in Chicago."

"Yeah, most cities are like that," Fields agreed, mopping up the last of his food with the crust of homemade buttered bread. "Which is why I prefer the open range, although I've been in Deadwood so long I forget sometimes what it's like to sleep under the open sky."

While Fields went out back to use the privy, Rafe finished his food and packed up the empty plates back in the basket to return to the boarding house later. Just as he had placed the basket aside, there was a commotion from outside and the door crashed open.

Standing in the doorway like an angry mastodon was a tall woman dressed like a man with a linen shirt that used to be white, but was now and forever gray, a dark woolen vest and soiled buckskins. She was wearing a pistol at her hips. On her head was a black hat with a jaunty white feather sticking straight up from the band.

She peered at him through the darkness and Rafe felt his body grow cold under the scrutiny. "Jane Cannary here looking for the fucking Nigger General. Where the fuck is he, you fucking Mexican bastard?"

"Evening, Miss Jane," Rafe said politely. "He'll be back shortly."

"Then why the fuck are you just standing there, stupid?" she yelled. "Get me a fucking drink."

As Rafe went to the cabinet where Fields kept his whiskey, the general returned, hitching up his britches. "Hello, Jane," Fields said to the woman.

She squinted at him. "Where the fuck have you been?"

"Oh, just taking care of business," he said. "How you doing, Jane? How's Miss Joanie?"

Jane ignored the questions and turned to Rafe, who had paused to watch the pair. "What you have failed to understand, you fucking cocksucking Mexican, is my impending and somewhat urgent need for a drink, and by that I mean, if you can manage to get it past those pretty and effeminate curls atop your empty head, is that I fucking need it now!"

"Yes, Miss Jane," he said and carried the bottle over to her.

She grabbed it, pulled the cork with her teeth and spit it out at him. It bounced off his head and he managed to catch it before it hit the ground.

Fields laughed and said, "Why don't you go return that basket to Company, boy? Then take a few hours off for yourself. I'll keep an eye on Charlie's horse."

"All right, Nigger General," he said with a smirk.

Fields rolled his eyes. "Shit, look who's talkin.' Your daddy may be white, boy but to the good folks of Deadwood, you are just another nigger. Go on, get out of here."

Laughing, Rafe pulled off his apron, grabbed his coat and left the livery.

Olivia smiled as she watched Ava help Emma open her presents. Her little girl had an array of dolls and wooden toys surrounding her, Olivia was pleased to see. Her baby girl deserved only the best. As Emma finished opening the last one, Olivia caught the eye of Jack Langrishe and gave him a nod. The jolly thespian returned the nod with a bow and then signaled his small orchestra to begin playing.

As the music started, she glanced over at Gus who was standing with his fiancée. Natalia Rivera certainly was a surprise. In appearance, she was beautiful and her refined speech and bearing indicated a woman of a far higher social status than a mere chambermaid. However, she knew that despite being a chambermaid, she had somehow attracted the attention of the marshal after his marriage with Harley had ended.

Suddenly wishing more information, she looked around the room until she spotted the widow Marler, who was standing near the corner speaking with Alma Ellsworth. Olivia smiled as she made her way to the pair, who broke off their conversation upon her arrival.

"Ladies," she greeted. "Alma, I was wondering if I might have a bit of conversation with Mrs. Marler?

Alma smiled at her and said, "Certainly, Olivia."

"My thanks," Olivia said and drew the redhead away from the banker.

"Enjoying the party, Blake?" she asked.

"I was until you interrupted me," she said with annoyance and Olivia almost laughed in her face. Blake was the best source for information of what was going on in Deadwood and Olivia knew that Blake had probably been probing Alma Ellsworth in search of more gossip. "I heard the widow was involved with someone new and I was trying to find out with whom," Blake added.

Olivia nodded, "I heard that as well, but as to whom she's fucking I have no idea," Olivia lied. She already knew who the banker was having an affair with, but she liked her ex-husband Josh too much to reveal that to Blake, especially when she could get a better bargain for that bit of information at a later date. Gossip was one of the most valuable currencies the women of Deadwood possessed and Olivia was a master at using it to her best advantage.

She then came to her purpose. "I do believe this is the first time I've seen Marshal Aitoro out with his fiancée," she said.

Blake's steely gaze zoomed in on the couple, now dancing to the slow waltz being played. "Interesting that she works as a cook and maid, yet she conducts herself as a lady," Blake said, echoing Olivia's own observations.

"That she does," Olivia agreed and then went fishing for more. "She's been a resident of this town for how long?"

"Going on a year, I believe," Blake answered. Her eyes began to glitter and Olivia sensed the other woman was about to share a particularly salacious piece of information. "I heard she came here to find and snatch the father of her bastard son for herself and did just that, never minding one fucking whit he already had a wife."

"Indeed?" Olivia said, raising her eyebrows. "I hadn't heard the reason why his marriage to the Cooper woman had ended."

"Oh yes," Blake said, nodding emphatically. "It's true. Miss Rivera there used every trick in the book, culminating with Mrs. Aitoro discovering her handsome marshal engaged in activities with Miss Rivera not deemed suitable with a woman other than his wife."

"Really?" Olivia leaned back as she stared at Natalia, feeling impressed. So despite her fine clothing and cultured speech, the lady liked to fuck and that was something Olivia could admire.

"Well, some say that Gus and Harley never would have lasted anyway," Blake continued, waving a dismissive hand. "You more than anyone in town know how those fucking Spaulding men are. Jumping from marriage to marriage like a miner jumps from whore to whore. It was only a matter of time before the marshal showed his true colors."

Olivia bristled at Blake's implication because she had been married to two Spaulding men. "You would also know, dear," she shot back with her eyebrow and one side of her lip quirked upwards.

Blake's eyes narrowed and Olivia could see the other woman was searching in vain for a sharp retort. Finally, Blake said, "I heard from Buzz Cooper that his daughter ran all the way to Greece to erase the sight of her husband fucking another woman, especially a goddamned Mexican papist."

"Puerto Rican," Olivia said absently, still watching the dancing couple.


She turned to Blake. "She's Puerto Rican," she answered with certainty. "You can hear it in her accent."

Blake blinked and shrugged. "Puerto Rican, Mexican, what difference does it make? They're all the fucking same."

Olivia just rolled her eyes and turned to look at the couple again, thinking about all she had just learned about Natalia Rivera.

"Are you enjoying yourself, Natalia?" Nicky asked as the orchestra finished one waltz and began another.

"Yes, Nicky, I am," she answered. "Are you?"

"I am indeed," he said. "I'm happy that we do not have to conceal our feelings for each other anymore."

Natalia inwardly sighed, once again feeling dismay at being partially responsible for the end of Nicky's marriage. When she and Rafael had made the journey to Deadwood, she knew there was a good chance Nicky would have a wife and family already and indeed, that had proven the case. She had considered making plans to move onward, perhaps trying their luck in San Francisco rather than returning to Chicago, but when Nicky learned Rafe was his son, he insisted on being a part of their lives, that it was time he assumed responsibility for his son.

However, his wife Harley did not feel the same, even though Nicky was responsible for her children by different men. In her jealousy, she had spread rumors and half-truths about Natalia and Rafael, which had caused many problems for them both. Natalia had lost her job at Company when Harley insisted her father Buzz fire her and Rafe had gotten into several brawls when he was insulted over his illegitimacy.

Nicky had been furious with his wife and things with Harley deteriorated even more when the father of her eldest child made it clear he wanted Harley back. Not wanting to be embroiled in the conflict, Natalia once again made plans to leave Deadwood, but before that could happen, Nicky showed up at her room at Shaunessey's boarding house, desolate with the belief that his wife had been unfaithful to him. Nicky had come seeking solace and, feeling a resurgence of the unbridled passion they had shared as youngsters, Natalia had taken him to her bed.

Discovery and the final death knell of Nicky's marriage soon followed and Harley had left Deadwood. Nicky had gone after his wife, just missing her in New York City before she boarded a ship for Europe. Nicky returned to Deadwood and instigated divorce proceedings against his wife.

While he was gone, Natalia and Rafe continued to have a hard time, but at least they were able to eat from Rafe's small salary from the livery and through the help of Deputy Remy Boudreau who had taken a shine to Natalia. It was Remy who had pointed her in the direction of the Beacon Hotel where, she had learned, the owner didn't care about anyone's sordid past as long as she got full value for the coin she gave to her employees.

After Nicky returned, he convinced Buzz to give Natalia her job back at Company, but Natalia insisted on keeping her job at the Beacon as well. She felt she needed the extra security as it was more difficult for her to find work in a small town like Deadwood than it was in Chicago.

In time, she agreed to marry Nicky, but only after she made him promise to continue his support of Harley and her children and also that they would not share a bed until after the nuptials.

Nicky had readily agreed to the former – he was not going to abandon his vow to take care of Harley's family – but he saw no reason for the latter. They had enjoyed being lovers before, but Natalia pointed out that both her and Rafe had suffered because of their actions.

"What kind of example are we setting for our son, Nicky?" she had asked. "You saw the bruises on his face after those fights. Even after we are wed, do you want him to still have to defend himself because his mother is an adulteress?"

With that, Nicky gave Natalia his word and now they were in a vague state of limbo as they waited for the final dissolution of his marriage. Things had improved for the Riveras over time; with Harley no longer spreading her vitriol and with Nicky's reputation, Natalia's hard work ethic and Rafe's skill with his charges, the townsfolk began to accept the new family. Tonight was the couple's first appearance in society and so far Natalia was pleased.

As Nicky swung her around the floor, Natalia caught a glimpse of Olivia speaking with the Episcopal minister. She felt a pang at the sight of him, although she had immediately liked Josh Lewis when they met for the first time. The Reverend Lewis and Nicky were friends and the former had agreed to marry them when the time came.

Natalia had spoken with Father Ray, but the priest had said that he could not perform a ceremony for them while Harley lived. Natalia keenly felt the loss she would not be able to wed in the church, but when Father Ray had added that if she did indeed marry in another church, her soul would be damned if she engaged in conjugal relations with her husband, she stopped attending his services at St Ambrose.

Natalia gave a snort at the memory of the priest's admonitions. She and Nicky had engaged plenty when they were teens, so she supposed her soul was already damned – at least by the church; God she was not so sure about, no matter what Father Ray claimed. It was through those youthful dalliances that He had given her the greatest gift in her son and she would never regret that, nor would she regret Nicky's presence in their lives now either.

"Something amusing, Natalia?" Nicky asked.

She shook her head. "Just thinking. Can we stop for a bit?"

"Of course," he said and led her to the bar where he handed her a drink.

She sipped at the whiskey and then smiled as a short woman shuffled toward them, dragging her brace-encased leg and precariously balancing a tray of finger foods in her hands.

"Hello Natalia. Marshal," she said in a thick voice, one side of her face twisted upwards.

"Evening, Jewel," Nicky said.

"You're working here tonight, Jewel?" Natalia asked.

"Sure am!" the other woman replied with a big smile. "When Miss Spencer asked Al if she could hire me for the party, I told him that I was gonna do it if he said I could or not. And you know what that cocksucker said?"

"What?" Natalia asked with an amused grin on her face.

"Not a goddamned word! Just waved his hand and here I am!" Jewel smiled proudly.

Natalia laughed at the image. Jewel had been her first friend when they arrived in Deadwood and the first thing she had done was to warn her away from seeking work at the Gem, the saloon and whorehouse owned by Al Swearengen, one of the most powerful men in town. Instead, Jewel had directed her to Company and Natalia was grateful for both the lead and the friendship offered by the handicapped woman.

Natalia glanced across the room and saw Richardson approaching Olivia with a package held in both hands, looking like a supplicant bestowing an offering to his angry god. Natalia frowned as she wondered why the Beacon's odd-job man would be giving Emma a birthday gift.

Nicky's eyes followed Natalia's and they both watched the hotel owner slide a sheet of paper out from under the twine that held the wrapping together. As Olivia read the paper, her face turned deathly white and she stumbled, managing to escape falling by the support of the minister.

"Come on," Nicky said and took her arm. "There's trouble."

Gus was relieved to see that Olivia had recovered quickly from the shock of learning Phillip Spaulding had returned. He and Josh, followed by Natalia and Ava, had quickly bundled the stunned woman away from the party and back to her suite.

Emma's governess was writing at the small desk in the anteroom when they arrived and looked on in concern as Olivia rushed into Emma's room. She glanced at Gus with a questioning look on her face.

"Go on to bed, Miss," he said. "Miss Spencer will take care of her daughter for the rest of the evening."

Jane simply nodded and, gathering up her writing supplies, she quickly left. Moments later, Olivia returned and Josh asked, "She's all right?"

"Fine," Olivia said briskly and turned to Ava. "Honey, will you see to the guests for me, please?"

"Of course, Mother," Ava replied and quickly left.

Olivia turned to Gus with frightened eyes and said, ""You told me that fucking cocksucker was far away from Deadwood, so what in Heaven's fucking name is this?" She thrust the paper at him, her fist thumping against his chest.

Gus grabbed the note before it could fall to the floor and read it: Happy birthday to my darling Emma. Daddy loves you and I promise we'll be together soon."

Gus felt his anger rise, once again regretting he had failed to put a bullet through his cowardly brother's heart as he fled town when Gus rescued his children.

"Is this from his hand?" he asked Olivia, holding up the note.

"Yes, it is from his fucking hand," she spat. "I'd know that blackguard's writing anywhere."

Gus nodded, then turned to Josh. "Can I impose on you to go ask Richardson who gave him the package?"

The minister nodded and strode from the room, his boots clocking against the floorboards.

"If I see one hair on that bastard's head, I'm going to blow it the fuck off," Olivia spat.

"You'll have to get in line, Olivia," Gus said grimly.

"Where the fuck does that cocksucker get off sending a present to Emma?" Olivia yelled, her ire rising.

Natalia stepped forward and laid a hand on Olivia's arm. "Olivia, please calm down," she said and Olivia swung a pair of wild eyes at her. "You'll wake up Emma and you don't want to frighten her."

Gus watched as Olivia breathed heavily through her nose as she stared at Natalia, who returned the look without flinching. Finally, Olivia looked down at where Natalia's hand was and then she shrugged off the touch.

"Don't tell me what the fuck to do," she said, but even though her words were harsh, Gus noted that Olivia had indeed calmed down. Olivia then turned to Gus and said in a hoarse voice, "Open the present."

He looked at the package lying on the cabinet where Olivia had tossed it when they arrived. He pulled his knife from the sheath he kept concealed under his coat. The twine parted with a quick flick and the paper fell away. Under it was a highly polished five inch by five inch box made of dark-stained walnut and trimmed with gleaming brass fittings. He undid the catch and the lid rose silently on its hinges.

Inside, cushioned on a pillow of pink satin, was an intricately carved shell cameo set in gold and attached to a red silk ribbon. Gus lifted the pendant to look at it closer and could tell by its weight that the setting must have been made of nearly pure gold. He estimated it was worth a small fortune. The image of the carving was clearly that of Olivia's youngest daughter and must have been done fairly recently.

Olivia grabbed the jewelry and looked at it for a few moments. "That fucking son of a bitch," Olivia breathed out in a voice filled with fury.

Natalia looked at Gus with a confused expression on her face.

"It's Phillip's message to Olivia," he explained to his fiancée. "His way of flaunting the fact that even though he is a fugitive, he has the resources and power to give his daughter anything he wants. That, combined with the note, is a clear indication he intends on getting Emma back."

"Oh," Natalia said, her face pale in the light from the oil lamp.

Gus looked at Olivia who was still staring at the gift. He gently took it from her hand and placed it back in the box. With one finger, he closed the lip, blocking the necklace from her view. He replaced his knife in its sheath and said, "Olivia." He waited until he was sure he had her attention. "I'll ride out to Spaulding before dawn to see if, as unlikely and unrealistic the chance may be, that cocksucking brother of mine is there. I find the prospect highly doubtful, but one day his devil's-given luck has to run out and God willing, tomorrow will be that day."

"If you're right and tomorrow is, I'm going with you," she replied.

"No, you're not," he said, shaking his head.

"Gus, I can't let him get Emma!"

"He's not going to get Emma," he said, soothingly. "I won't let him. I didn't let him before, did I?"

"No," Olivia answered and then took a deep breath. Gus guessed that she was gathering together that famous strength of will she possessed in abundance. "All right," she continued. "Ride to the ranch, but don't go alone. I don't trust Alan to keep the son of a bitch from killing you in cold blood."

"Alan couldn't keep me from killing the son of a bitch," Gus vowed. "But my folks didn't raise any fools." He glanced at Natalia. "Now I fear we must take our leave. Natalia has to report to work very early in the morning and I want to ascertain what the Reverend Lewis has found out."

Olivia nodded and Natalia said to her, "Good night, Olivia and please, do not hesitate to ask for any assistance you might require of me."

"Thank you," the hotel owner replied. "I am glad we finally met; in an official capacity that is to say. My apologies for the disturbance my former motherfucking ex-husband caused tonight."

"It was not your fault, Olivia," Natalia said, shaking her head. "From what I have learned of him, your ex-husband will, and I say that to mean hopefully one day soon, burn in the deepest reaches of hell."

Olivia's lips quirked upward. "Of that I have no doubt, good lady, "she said. "May the rest of your evening with your handsome and virile fiancé be pleasant…and most satisfying."

Gus was inwardly amused as he noted the faint blush creep up Natalia's cheeks, but he turned a disapproving look on Olivia, who merely smirked at him. He leaned in to kiss her cheek and said, "Good night, Olivia. I'll let you know what I find out as soon as possible."

"Good night, Gus," she said. "Be careful tomorrow."

Gus held the door to the sweet open as Natalia walked through, her skirts billowing in her wake.

The main street was still busy with traffic despite the late hour. Deadwood, for all its newly coated veneer of civilization, still maintained its mining camp mentality at its heart. The saloons, brothels, gambling dens and theaters remained open nearly all night every day of the week catering to the myriad tastes of residents and visitors alike.

Natalia's fiancé paused outside the Beacon to look up and down the main thoroughfare as he lit a cheroot. She watched him as his eyes scanned the street for signs of trouble and she felt a rush of desire for him which she had to quickly tamp down as such things were unseemly in public. As a young man, he had exhibited confidence and strength – two qualities that caused her to be smitten with him – but now, as a grown man seasoned by experience and maturity, he was intoxicating.

"There's the reverend," he said, pointing his head. Natalia saw the dark-suited man striding rapidly toward them along the board walk.

"Anything of note?" Nicky asked.

Josh dipped his hat toward Natalia, then answered, "Richardson said the package came by way of Charlie Utter's messenger boy. I went to his place, but Charlie wasn't there."

"All right," Nicky said with a nod. "My thanks for your assistance tonight."

"No trouble at all, Gus," the reverend replied. "Olivia remains one of my most valued friends and I would do anything to help her, especially against that Satan's spawn Phillip Spaulding. Do you want me to wait for Charlie?"

"No," Nicky replied. "I'll look for him after I escort Natalia home."

"Then I'll bid my good night to you both," Josh said and with a small bow to Natalia walked quickly away toward his church.

As they continued to the boarding house, Natalia asked, "What will you do?"

Nicky paused before answering. "I'll ask Charlie and the sheriff to go with me in the morning to Spaulding Ranch. I doubt we'll find Phillip there, but I want to see what Alan has to say about this."

Natalia nodded, her mood growing somber as she thought about her future father-in-law. Alan Spaulding was one of the most powerful men she had ever met, even more so than her own father.

After making his fortune in Illinois, Alan had moved his operation west. Soon after Deadwood was annexed into the Dakota Territory, he had started buying up huge tracts of land around the Black Hills and built one of the largest ranches in the area. As well as being the prime stockholder in the newly formed Deadwood Central Railroad, he also was the main supplier of beef for Deadwood and the surrounding area, even as far as Yankton.

Physically, Alan was a big and imposing man who always dressed in the finest clothing shipped in from back east. When he first met the Riveras, he had contemptuously dismissed Natalia as a common whore and his grandson as a worthless bastard who was two steps away from the hangman's rope.

However, not long after Harley had left Deadwood with Nicky in pursuit, Alan had shown up at her room at Shaunessey's offering her his financial support as well as a home for her and Rafael at his ranch. He had even offered to let them have one of the outlying buildings off of the main house for their own. Natalia had refused, not trusting the man's motives, certainly not when Nicky himself did not trust his own father.

Alan had taken her refusal graciously, but Natalia could see a steely glint of anger in his eye that indicated she had made a wise decision. Since then, Alan had always made a point of seeking her out when he was in town, whether she was at work or with Nicky. His manner was friendly, but slightly disturbing, so Natalia felt she always had to remain on her guard.

"I shall worry for your safety on the morrow, Nicky," she told him.

He smiled at her. "All shall be well, my dear," he told her as he clamped his cheroot in his mouth. "Now, let's get back to Company so that I may bid you a proper good night."

Wandering through the back alleys near the Chinese section of Deadwood, Rafe pulled his coat tighter against himself to ward off the dropping temperature of the autumn evening. His money pouch jingled satisfyingly with coins hard-won at dice. He had been playing with some Mexican cowboys from Texas camped just outside of town. They were leaving the next day to drive a herd of Spaulding cattle to Yankton for slaughter, so Rafe felt safe enough in chancing his good fortune and it had paid off. The vaqueros had thought him an easy mark; his Spanish dialect and accent branded him an island Hispanic and in their eyes that made him an easy fleece.

Rafe chuckled at the memory of their anger when he ended up with their days' wages and more in his pouch. They had thought to take it back from him by force, but it was only his unflinching declaration that he was the grandson of their patrón that had stopped them. They let him go with a warning that if they found out he wasn't the bastardo he said he was, he would die when they returned. Rafe laughed again, already thinking about hustling them when they got back to town. He knew they would want to recoup their losses from tonight and they wouldn't stand a chance.

Coming around a corner, his boots crackling through the thin crust of frost coating the mud, he heard the squealing of excited hogs. As he walked, he saw a stout middle-aged Chinese man incongruously dressed in a Western suit and wearing a Mandarin cap. The bearded man glared at him, then, as Rafe drew near, held out one hand.

"No!" he spat in a heavy accent. "You go, cocksucka!"

Rafe stopped. Although he hadn't encountered him before, he recognized the Chinese as Mr. Wu, the leader of the Celestials.

"Fine, whatever," he said with a shrug and turned to walk past the pen.

Wu stepped to block his path and jabbed a finger in the direction Rafe had come.

"That way, cocksucka!" he said, giving another jab in emphasis.

Rafe narrowed his eyes in anger and thought of telling the chink to go fuck himself. His father was a U.S. marshal and a Spaulding and no chink, no matter how much influence he had, had the right to insult him like that. His breath quickened, but then the image of the expression on his mother's face whenever she found out he had gotten into a fight appeared in his mind and he took a step back.

"Come mierda y muérete, hijo de puta," he said and, hoping the son of a bitch did indeed choke to death on his own pigs' shit, he turned and walked the other way, leaving Wu to his grunting hogs.

Natalia was tired, but content as Nicky escorted her to her room at the Company boarding house. She opened the door and stepped inside, moving quickly to light the oil lamp. The room was sparsely furnished. A table and chair served as her combination dressing and writing desk, a stand for her water basin, a worn wardrobe for her clothes, a long mirror and a small bed. She didn't mind her Spartan living conditions; she was used to much less and preferred to spend her free time downstairs socializing with the customers. The light from the lamp cast a warm glow over the room and she turned to smile at Nicky.

"May I come in?" he asked.

"For a moment only," she replied and pushed the door closed behind him, but did not lock it. She moved to her dressing table and poured them both a shot of whiskey, mentally commanding herself this was the last one for her for the evening. Nicky dropped his hat on the table and threw back his shot. Natalia took a small sip and then placed her glass back on the table.

"I enjoyed your company this evening, Nicky," she said, her smile widening to show him her sincerity.

"And I yours, Natalia," he replied and took her hand to pull her closer.

Natalia felt the familiar rush of yearning for him as Nicky took her in his arms and kissed her, first lightly, but then with more passion. Natalia wrapped her arms around Nicky's neck and pressed her body closer against his. She opened her mouth, welcoming him inside and enjoying the taste of whiskey on his breath.

Before she realized what was happening, Nicky had pushed her back until her legs bumped against the bed. Already weak, her knees gave out and she sat down heavily. Nicky tried to press her back on the bed, but through the fog of ardor she remembered her vow and pushed against his chest until he relented.

"No, Nicky," she gasped out as she tore her lips from his.

Nicky fell to his knees in front of her and held her tight as he nuzzled her breasts. Natalia ran her fingers through his hair as she allowed him to indulge himself, enjoying the sensation. Nicky pushed aside her bodice and began to suckle gently against her nipples, laving them eagerly with his tongue. Natalia again allowed him a few moments, but then pushed him back. He looked up at her with lust-filled eyes.

"No, Nicky," she said again, this time more firmly. "Remember your promise."

"I know, but God damn it, Natalia, I want you so," he said.

"I know," she said. "I want you, too, but we can't…not until after the wedding," she said as she stood up from the bed and rearranged her bodice.

Nicky sat back on his heels and breathed deeply. Finally, he rose to his feet and finished off Natalia's whiskey shot. "All right, Natalia," he said, his voice hoarse with his barely restrained lust. "I'll go for now, but soon you'll be my wife and won't be in a position to deny me."

Natalia gave him a slow smile. "Who claims I'd even want to?"

Nicky laughed and inwardly Natalia breathed a sigh of relief. She held open the door for him and gave him another warm smile as he passed over the sill. "Sleep well and may your dreams be happy ones, Nicky."

"They will all be of you, I'm sure," he said and placed his hat on his head. With a tip of the brim, he said, "Good night," and walked quickly down the corridor.

After locking the door, she went to the window and watched as Gus left the boarding house. He turned to walk down the street, obviously not heading for home, but he was probably going to seek out Mr. Utter, suspecting that Nicky would not get any sleep at all this night, despite his assurances.

After he disappeared from her view, she closed the curtains tightly and began to disrobe, feeling the weariness settle into her bones now that her very long day was coming to an end. As she reached for her shift, she caught a glimpse of her naked form in the mirror.

Her nipples were red and swollen from Nicky's attention and as she cupped her breasts in both hands, they hardened even more, pressing deliciously against her palms as she squeezed. Already aroused from earlier, she groaned in response to her own touch. Still keeping her gaze in the mirror, she backed up until she was once again sitting on her bed. Leaning back on one hand, she spread her legs and ran the fingers of her other hand through her soaking sex.

As her fingers worked between her legs, Natalia continued to watch herself, the sight of her heaving breasts and moving hips turning her on even more. As her hand moved faster, she finally had to close her eyes and her head dropped backward. Unable to hold herself up longer, she fell against the bed. She lifted both legs on to the edge of the bed and pushed her hips up so she could plunge two fingers of her now-free hand inside herself.

Ay Dios!" she whispered into the quiet room, the only other sound that of the wet noise of her pleasure. She felt her sex begin to clench and as an unbidden image of a pair of verdant eyes entered her mind, she came with a muffled cry.

While her body tingled with the pleasant release, she thought about those green eyes again and made a determined effort to push the image firmly out of her mind. When her breathing returned to normal, she rose from the bed and quickly washed herself from the basin. Donning her discarded shift, she extinguished the lamp and crawled under the blankets. Within minutes, she fell into a contented sleep.

Outside of Wu's establishment, a figure dressed in black watched in satisfaction from the shadows as the hogs finished their meal. The pigs hadn't dined well this evening, but he was sure he would need to employ their services again soon.

Wu approached him and held out an imperious hand in demand. The man dropped a heavy pouch into it and Wu glanced inside. Apparently satisfied, Wu jabbed his finger the way he had done earlier with the young Mexican boy. The man nodded his agreement and placed his wide brimmed hat on his head to hide the pale yellow color of his hair. Climbing on to his horse, he rode quickly out of the alley.

As he rode past the Beacon, he hunched his shoulders to hide his features even more just on the chance Olivia was still awake. He gleefully suspected she might very well be after his little surprise. Turning to take the road out of town, he whispered to himself, "Soon, Emma darlin'. Soon."


Chapter 2 – Reconnoitering the Rim

As she did every morning, Natalia rose an hour before dawn to start preparing the morning board for Company's residents and diners. Buzz's income had risen considerably when he had hired Natalia to cook for him and she suspected that he would have asked her back after Harley left even if Nicky hadn't requested it. She felt a strong sense of pride and security with the knowledge that her skills as a cook were valued by many.

After starting the large pot of porridge to cook and setting the bread to rise, she poured herself a cup of coffee and took it outside. The sky to the east was beginning to lighten as the sun found its way through the hills. The air was cold yet pure as a brisk breeze blew away the odors of humanity – wood smoke, manure and mud. It was this time of day she loved the most. Deadwood might be a rough town still full of danger and strife, but in the peace of the early morning, Natalia sensed its potential for greatness. She suspected it would never lose the storybook charm that had marked its beginning, no matter how large it might grow. She was glad she and Rafe were here to help it grow and be a part of its history.

As she sipped from the steaming mug, a cock's crow invoked the dawn. She pulled her shawl tighter and glanced down the street at the Gem. She noticed the saloon's proprietor standing on his second floor balcony and drinking from his own mug. His dark gaze swept the lightening street, pausing when he spotted her. He raised his mug to her, then continued his inspection of the town he had helped to build.

Natalia knew from her friend Jewel that Al Swearengen was one of the most ruthless bastards to ever walk the Earth, yet Jewel had told her how Al had rescued her from the orphanage where they had both grown up. Of course, Al had gutted the owner who had beaten them every day and forced them to work like slaves while under her care. Natalia shivered with the memory of the glee in Jewel's eyes as she related that story.

Swearengen also served the town's interests, Natalia had learned from other various bits of news and gossip, just as long as the town's interests served his own and he made no apology for that. In that, he was a sharp contrast to Alan Spaulding, whose underhanded machinations gave him an outward appearance of respectability.

Hoofbeats sounded through the dawn and Natalia turned toward their source. She saw three riders approaching. Once again, she felt a twinge of worry as Nicky, flanked by Sheriff Bullock and his deputy Charlie Utter, rode past her, each man tipping his hat courteously in her direction. Each man wore side arms and she saw that Mr. Utter had a rifle in a holder attached to his saddle.

Natalia's eyes met her fiancé's and she immediately felt reassured by the strength and confidence within them. As the three men continued on, she saw Al Swearengen following them with his keen eyesight.

Tossing the now chilled remains of her coffee toward the street, she went back inside to finish her work before she needed to leave for the Beacon.

The sun was well on its journey to midday when Gus and his companions approached the sprawling main house of the Spaulding Ranch. Gus had already informed the sheriff and his deputy of the events of the night before. Bullock's eyes had flashed dangerously at the mention of Phillip Spaulding's name and his hand had crept unconsciously toward the gun he wore at his hip.

Charlie had no knowledge of the package's existence and certainly had not given it to his messenger boy to deliver. The three men had swung by the boy's home on their way out of town, but his mother had said he hadn't come home the night before and had probably gone hunting as was his wont. Charlie had asked the woman to send the boy to his place when he returned.

"Nice spread," Charlie commented in his usual gruff voice.

"That it is," Gus said tightly.

Charlie glanced at him. "Must be hard knowing Spaulding means all this to go to that cocksucking, murdering son of his and not the one more deservin' of it."

Gus breathed through his nose. "I have no interest in Spaulding, Charlie," he said. "And there is no fucking way that bastard will live to inherit anything."

"Not if I have anything to do with it," Bullock said quietly from Gus's other side.

Gus smirked. Phillip's crimes ranged from blackmail to kidnapping to murder and Bullock was as committed on bringing him to justice – or seeing him dead – as Gus was.

"No one's luck can hold out forever," Gus told them both and then pulled his horse to a stop as they arrived at the house.

Built of the finest materials, the house stood in the center of a valley like a sentinel guarding the surrounding hills. The three men tied their horses to the post and then stepped up the stairs to the porch. Gus rapped sharply on the door and a few moments later it was opened by an oriental man of average height and dressed in a blindingly white jacket with a Mandarin collar and crisply pressed black pants. His keen eyes quickly assessed the three men and then, with a slight bow, held the door to allow them to enter.

"Morning, Li," Gus told his father's butler who also acted as his bodyguard. "We're here to see Mr. Spaulding."

"Very good, Marshal Aitoro," the Chinese replied, with barely a trace of a foreign accent. "Please wait here while I announce you."

Gus watched as Charlie looked around the grandiose entrance hall, his eyes taking in the lavish decorations and portraits lining the walls. Bullock, who had been here before, barely noticed the surroundings.

"A man who has to spend this much in order to impress must be lacking in certain other fucking aspects," Charlie commented, eliciting a rare laugh from Bullock.

A soft sound drew their attention. Entering from another room was a richly dressed elderly woman wearing a gown made of the most expensive materials and bedecked in opulent jewels. Gus inwardly winced as his aunt approached and he schooled his features into a pleasant mask of respect. Years ago, in an attempt to preserve the beauty of her youth, Alexandra Spaulding had resorted to quacks and snake oil salesmen and the result had been to give her features a wooden appearance. These days, she rarely left the ranch, but Gus knew she was adept at utilizing her keen intellect to control and manipulate from behind the scenes. Her exploits in controlling the various men she encountered were legendary and some even said she had the ability to make men lose their minds. Gus knew that Alan would not be where he was today without her by his side.

"Gus, darling," she said in a musical yet deep voice. "How pleasant it is to see you."

He removed his hat and leaned in to kiss her cheek, noting how cold and unyielding the flesh felt under his lips. "The pleasure is mine, Aunt," he said. "You know Sheriff Bullock and his deputy Mr. Utter."

"Of course," she said charmingly as she turned toward the two men who had also pulled their hats from their heads. "Sheriff Bullock, how are your lovely wife and daughter?"

"They're well, thank you for asking after them, ma'am," Bullock replied.

Alexandra turned to Charlie. "And business is doing well, Mr. Utter?"

Charlie's eyes widened and Gus suspected he was not used to being asked about his business by a woman of Alexandra Spaulding's station, such topics not considered appropriate for women of high society, but Gus knew that his aunt took no notice of such nonsense, especially when it interfered with Spaulding interests.

"Oh yes, ma'am," he finally answered. "With the town's population booming, the freight business is doing real well, indeed."

"How fortuitous for you," she said and then turned back to Gus. "You're here to speak with Alan, I presume?"

"Yes, Aunt," he answered. "Li went to fetch him."

"My dear brother was up with the dawn to supervise the castration of some first year bulls," Alexandra explained and Gus felt his ears flush; like Charlie, he was not used to women like Alexandra casually discussing such things. "He'll be back shortly," she added and indeed at that moment, Li returned and indicated he wished them to follow.

"It's been a delight to see you again, Aunt," Gus said.

"It has for me as well, darling," she answered with a stiff smile that barely reached her eyes. "Do come for dinner one night with that charming fiancée and handsome son of yours."

"I will mention it to Miss Rivera when next I see her," he promised then walked toward Li, glad that such ersatz pleasantries were over.

Along with Bullock and Charlie, he walked down the hallway to his father's library. Alan Spaulding was standing by the sideboard pouring a drink. He was dressed in denim breeches and a plain linen shirt, but even those simple clothes had obviously been custom made for him. His dirt and mud crusted boots were finely tooled and he wore on his wide leather belt a large knife in a decorated sheath.

"Ah, gentlemen, please come in," he boomed, waving his hand. "Thank you, Li. That will be all."

The butler bowed and closed the door behind him. "Drinks, good sirs?" he asked and at their refusal, shrugged and tossed his back. "So, son," he said directly to Gus, wiping a drop of liquor from his graying beard. "What brings you and these distinguished gentlemen to Spaulding this fine morning?"

"Emma's birthday party was last night," he began.

"Ah, yes," Alan said. "For some odd reason Alexandra and I never received an invitation to my granddaughter's party." He turned to Charlie, "I'm sure such a missive from Olivia was not lost by your establishment, Mr. Utter."

"Fuck, no," Charlie spat out. "My customers can trust delivery on what I fucking say I'll deliver."

"How reassuring," Alan said blankly.

"Alan, last night a package was delivered to the Beacon with a note written in Phillip's hand," Gus told him, getting back to the purpose of their visit.

"Indeed?" Alan said raising his eyebrows. "And do you believe your brother has returned?" he asked turning back to Gus.

"I believe there is a very good chance he has," Gus answered.

"Hmm," Alan said, rubbing his beard thoughtfully. "If that is truly the case and Phillip has come home, then it is a day for rejoicing."

"Rejoicing?" Charlie sputtered. "You mean a day for mourning if you, as your manner seems to indicate, you care for the son of the bitch, because I can assure you, Mr. Spaulding, that cocksucker is going to hang."

"Nonsense, Mr. Utter," Alan said swinging his broad frame toward Charlie. "My son is innocent and the sooner he faces a jury of his peers, the sooner he will be cleared of all charges."

"The sooner you can bribe said jury, isn't that what you really mean, Mr. Spaulding?" Bullock growled through his teeth.

"Again, you Sheriff, like your deputy, are jumping to false conclusions," Alan said, shaking his head yet Gus could see his father's eyes glittering with glee at the prospect of circumventing the legal system. "Phillip will be cleared because he is innocent."

Charlie spat in the direction of the spittoon and Gus guessed he purposefully missed, hitting the polished floorboards instead.

"Thank you for bringing me this news, son," Alan said to Gus. "And, in anticipation of your as yet unasked questions, no, I have not seen Phillip. He is not anywhere in the house or on the ranch or, to my knowledge, even in the Territory. Now, does that just about cover the purpose of your visit?"

Gus stared at his father for several long moments until at last Alan's gaze slid from his.

"That's all for now, Alan," he said in a low voice. "But on the off chance you do see the son of a whore, remind him that the federal warrant grants his apprehension dead or alive. Your plans of bribing that jury, Alan, won't come to aught if he's brought to Deadwood in a box rather than wearing manacles."

Without waiting for a reply, Gus turned on his boot heel and clocked to the door, throwing it open and walking through, trusting his colleagues to follow him. Before he reached the exit of the house, he saw Li watching him intently. The oriental man was standing perfectly still, except for his hands. Each hand held a hard rubber ball and were squeezing spasmodically. Gus could see the man's arm and shoulder muscles rippling with each contraction. With barely a pause, Gus left the house.

Olivia Spencer walked swiftly down the boardwalk of Deadwood's main street, her long skirts brushing against the slats as her high heeled boots echoed through the wood. The fall day had warmed pleasantly as the sun rose higher in the day, yet her mood remained cold after the events of last evening.

As she walked by the offices of the Pioneer toward her destination, the smell of ink and turpentine filled her nostrils and she found her path suddenly blocked by the tall and stout figure of A.W. Merrick, the newspaper's publisher.

"Ah, Miss Spencer, I wonder if I can have a moment of your time," he began and Olivia inwardly sighed. A moment for the loquacious Merrick usually meant more than an hour.

"I am in a hurry, dear Mr. Merrick," she said, giving him a charming smile. "Perhaps later?"

"Oh," he said, visibly deflating. "It's just that at the celebration for your charming daughter last evening, I couldn't help but notice you were suddenly taken ill. Miss Ava said you were fine, but I wanted to personally ascertain that you are in nothing less than the most robust health you have unceasingly displayed."

Olivia maintained her smile. "As you can see, sir, I maintain that strong constitution you so admire, Mr. Merrick." She paused as she thought quickly, her mind swiftly running various scenarios and outcomes as if she were calculating a complex series of moves in a game of chess. "However, I do have some disturbing news that might be of interest to a journalist of your esteemed ilk, and, as I said previously, it pains me that I do not have time for you at this moment. Perhaps you would be so kind as to come to the Beacon later and we can discuss how this dire news will affect the good people of the town?"

She reached out a hand and gave his arm a slow squeeze. Merrick's breathing caught and his face flushed. "Of…of course, Miss Spencer," he stuttered. "I am, as always, at your service."

"It eases my worries to know that, Mr. Merrick," she said and gave a final squeeze. "Now, I simply must go."

With that, she quickly turned on her heel and entered the Gem. Immediately her senses were filled with a miasma of tobacco smoke, whiskey and unwashed bodies. The interior had changed little since she first saw it, despite it having burned to the ground in the fire. Al Swearengen did not believe in changing what worked or wasting money for fancy decorations for hoopleheads who were just going to spend their money on booze or pussy no matter what the decor was.

This early in the day, the saloon was sparsely occupied. Two men, miners by their dress, sat at a table with a bottle of whiskey between them. Three of Swearengen's whores watched Olivia as she walked inside, their tittering telling Olivia they were gossiping about her. Behind the bar, Dan Dority stood polishing glasses with a rag and across from him stood Al Swearengen.

The saloonkeeper turned his head at Dan's signal and Swearengen's eyebrows rose as he took in her appearance. It wasn't too often Olivia had occasion to visit the Gem. Out of the side of her eye, Olivia noticed Merrick enter the bar from behind her and sidle up to the bar, his attention fixed between her and Swearengen.

"Well, well…" Swearengen began. "Look who it is. See Dan, I told you if we lent her the gimp, the illustrious Miss Spencer would come show her appreciation in person. Was I not right?"

"You did say that, Al," Dan agreed with his boss. "When you're right, you're right."

"And I'm always right, isn't that true, Liv?" Swearengen said with a smirk.

She ignored his question and looked at Dan.

"Get you something, ma'am?" he asked.

"Whiskey," she said and slammed it back the moment he finished pouring it, to an increase of the whores' snickering. Ignoring them, she said to Swearengen, "Upstairs."

Swearengen let out a long whistle. "This is my lucky day, Dan," he said with a sneer. "Cancel my appointments for the next hour or so."

"Sure, Al," the tall and burly man replied.

Olivia headed for the stairs, again ignoring the whores as she passed them by.

Following her, Swearengen growled to them, "Don't you fucking cunts have anything better to do? Go peddle that pussy outside if you have to, just fucking stay away from Bullock's cocksucking deputies."

At the top of the stairs, Olivia waited by the door to Swearengen's rooms for him to open it for her. She entered and sat in the chair in front of his desk and waited as he poured them both a drink.

Olivia savored the shot, feeling the smooth warmth of Swearengen's private stock flow down her throat and calming some of the panic that had gripped her since last night. Finally, she opened her eyes to see Swearengen watching her intently. She sighed.

Swearengen pursed his lips and said, "Judging from your obvious lack of sleep which wasn't, I'm assuming, caused by an evening of carnal bliss, and also from the departure of fucking Bullock and party at the break of dawn, that this rare, yet always welcome, visit of yours is caused in some way by that cocksucking ex-husband of yours."

Olivia nodded. "Your perception is, as usual Al, spot on." She reached into her reticule and removed the note.

Swearengen donned his spectacles and read it silently. "So Bullock and Aitoro went to Spaulding to see if the prodigal son was there and took Utter with them as backup." Swearengen looked toward the balcony doors as he stroked his mustache. Olivia felt a tinge of sympathy when she noticed his missing finger. She knew her friend had tried many times to get revenge on the bastard who did that to him, but there were some men in this world who were beyond his reach. Finally, he muttered, "Idiots."

"Have you heard any word of Phillip?" she asked.

"Nothing," he said. "His trail went cold a while ago, but if he is slinking about again, there might be new developments."

"Would you put some more feelers out?"

"I could," he said and then added. "And for you, Liv, I will. However, on the chance said feelers produce results, what then?"

Olivia pinched the brow of her nose in frustration. "I want him dead, Al," she said. "I want him dead and out of our lives forever, but…" she trailed off.

"But you don't want that sweet girl of yours finding out you had her cocksucking father murdered," he said. "Not like you had to with your older girl."

She glared at him. "I never asked you to kill Jeffrey, Al," she said through her teeth.

He smiled. "No, but after I found out O'Neill had worked for those fucking Winslows, killing the cocksucker for you was simply an added bonus." He poured them another drink. "Besides, I don't care for cocksuckers who steal pussy. It's bad for business and it sets a precedent I can't afford to encourage."

Olivia swallowed the drink all at once, this time not bothering to relish the taste. Her mouth felt as if it were filled with ashes. Setting down the glass, she said, "There are a federal and a territory warrant against Phillip. Gus promised he wouldn't let Phillip get his hands on Emma again.

Swearengen raised his eyebrows. "And you trust the marshal to apprehend the cocksucker, deliver him for trial and watch him hang?" Swearengen asked, then added. "And all this in defense of his niece?"

Olivia narrowed her eyes at him. "Gus said he'd kill Phillip if he had to."

"Oh, sure," Swearengen said. "I'm just saying that Aitoro's an honest man – he'd do his job by the book, but I'm also saying that you may want to consider he'd have a little more incentive to blow the fucker's head off were he protecting more than just his good friend and lovely little niece."

Olivia sat there stunned for a moment as the implications of what Swearengen was saying hit her. "Gus already has a fiancée," she pointed out.

"And what a lovely cunt she is, too," Swearengen said. "So lovely I'm sure she won't have any trouble finding another dupe to give her bastard a name."

"Surely not you, Al," she said with a smirk.

"No," he drawled, shaking his head. "Not I, but I do know another fucking Spaulding who has been sniffing around her skirts."

"Alan?" she asked. "That's just…disturbing."

"Will you look at the fucking pot," he said to the air, waving an arm in her direction.

"All right, fine. Point taken," she said. "I mean, look at the two he's had. I'm not the kind of woman Gus goes for."

Swearengen gave her slow smile and raised one eyebrow. "You're every fucking kind, Liv…when you want to be."

She returned his smile and for the first time since last night, it wasn't forced.

The average working shift at the Beacon for Natalia usually consisted of cleaning the guest rooms as quickly as possible and then cleaning the public areas, including the lavish dining room. Although she never asked him, Richardson often followed her around as she progressed from room to room, silently removing the used spittoons and chamber pots as she replaced them with clean ones. With his help, she usually was able to finish before the Beacon's restaurant opened for business and she needed to attend to her duties at Company.

Glancing at the highly polished grandfather clock that dominated the dining room, Natalia noted that she was indeed ahead of schedule today and would have plenty of time to visit with Emma before she had to leave.

Shaking out another crisply starched tablecloth, she allowed it to balloon gently over the table, and then used her hands to smooth the white linen over the table. While she set the table with the Beacon's custom-made china and silverware, she felt a presence and glanced up to see Olivia Spencer standing in the doorway quietly observing her.

"Good afternoon, Miss Spencer," she said with a nod and continued her work.

"Afternoon, Natalia," the hotel's owner replied. "And I told you, it's Olivia."

Natalia shook her head. "That would not be proper during the time I am in your employ, Miss Spencer."

Natalia could see the woman quirk her lips in amusement as she kept her attention focused on her even as she worked.

"All right," Olivia said finally, then asked, "You're almost finished for the day?"

"Just about," Natalia answered. "I will come up to see Emma shortly."

"Good," Olivia said. "I was hoping you hadn't forgotten to visit her after last night's excitement."

Natalia paused to stand straight and look directly at Olivia. "I never forget a promise, Miss Spencer."

Olivia stared at her for a few long moments and once again Natalia felt herself being appraised. Finally, Olivia nodded and said, "See you soon, then. Emma's looking forward to your visit."

Natalia watched her leave then placed another monogrammed napkin on the table.

Upstairs, Natalia paused outside the door to Olivia's suite to smooth the black dress with white trim that was her daily garb for work at the hotel. Satisfied, she knocked briskly and a moment later, it was opened by Emma's governess.

"Hello, Miss Natalia," Jane said standing aside to let Natalia enter. "Miss Spencer said to expect you."

"Hello, Jane," Natalia said with a smile as she stepped into the room.

"Miss Natalia!" Emma said jumping up from her child-sized desk where she had been studying her lessons, Natalia guessed. "You came!"

"Of course, I did," Natalia said. "Are you ready to learn some Spanish?"

"Yes, please," Emma said and sat back at her desk picking up a piece of chalk and preparing to write on her slate.

For the next hour, Natalia patiently sat with the young girl as she learned to speak and write the first ten numerals. Natalia was impressed with Emma's keen intelligence as she quickly mastered the new words. At some point, Natalia became aware of Olivia's presence, again silently watching the lesson before disappearing into her bedroom.

Finally, Natalia sat back with satisfaction as Emma perfectly pronounced the string of numbers, then smiled, obviously satisfied with herself.

"That was very good, Emma," Natalia said. "Your accent is perfect as well."

"Thank you, Miss Natalia," Emma said. "Will you teach me more?"

"Claro que sí, niña," Natalia said and then added, "That means of course I will, baby girl." She tapped Emma on the nose causing the little girl to giggle.

The master bedroom door opened and Olivia stepped out. Natalia saw she had changed into a new dress, obviously in preparation for supper. Natalia guessed she was planning on entertaining this evening.

"Jellybean, why don't you go lie down for a bit before it's time for dinner?" she said.

The little girl nodded and said to Natalia, "Thank you again, Miss Natalia."

"You're welcome, sweetheart," Natalia said and gave the little girl a hug before she went to her room, followed by Jane.

After the door had closed behind them, Olivia turned to Natalia and said, "Thank you, Natalia. Emma likes you so any time you can spend with her is most appreciated."

"I enjoy her company as well, Olivia," she said in reply. "She is a beautiful and charming girl."

"That she is," Olivia said.

Natalia glanced at the lengthening shadows outside the windows, noting that evening was fast approaching. "I really must take my leave now," she said to Olivia. "I must start the evening meal for Company.""

"Then I shan't keep you," Olivia said. "Have a good evening."

"You as well," she replied.

Hurrying from the hotel, her mind already on the tasks she had ahead of her, she heard her name being called. Turning, she saw Nicky rapidly approaching as he crossed the street.

"Have you just now returned, Mr. Aitoro?" she asked, noting the smell of horse and cold air that surrounded him.

"Indeed, we have, Miss Rivera," he answered, removing his hat for her. "We spent most of the day searching the ranch and the surrounding hills."

"All to no avail, I suspect?"

"No sign of Phillip," he agreed. "I just came to apprise Olivia of the events of the day."

"She knows you are coming tonight?" she asked, her eyes barely narrowing.

"I promised her last evening so I imagine she is eager for news," he answered.

Natalia bit her lip as she remembered how Olivia had dressed for the evening. It was definitely not in the manner of a woman receiving a visit from a government official. Then she smiled at her fiancé. "You'll join me for supper after you speak with her?" she asked. "I am frying chicken tonight."

Nicky's grin widened. "My absolute favorite," he said. "When we left the horses with him, Rafe said he would once again stay at the livery tonight. Charlie's horse is improved, but our son wishes to make sure she is fully healed before releasing her back to his care."

"All right," she nodded. "Then it shall be only you and I for supper.. I look forward to it."

"I as well," he said. "See you soon, my dear."

She watched as he disappeared into the hotel, and then glanced up to the top floor of the hotel. Olivia Spencer was standing at the window watching her. Natalia looked back a moment, then turned to quickly make her way to the boarding a house, a disquiet thread of insecurity running through her.

Olivia Spencer watched as Natalia Rivera hurried down the thoroughfare on her way to her other job, then she turned to Jane.

"Jane, I want you to keep Emma with you tonight. I'll have her supper sent up to your room," Olivia ordered.

"Of course, Miss Spencer," the governess said and Olivia knew Jane would ask no questions. There was knock on the door to the suite and, waving Jane aside, she answered the door herself.

Gus Aitoro stood on the other side, hat in hand. "Olivia," he said.

"Gus, do come in," she said as Jane disappeared into Emma's room.

"I'm afraid I haven't much to report," he said. "We searched everywhere we could think of for Phillip. Alan claims not to have seen him."

"Alan is a lying, cocksucking bastard, Gus," she spat. "Pardon my saying so since he is your sire."

"The true father of my heart will always remain Joseph Augustino, who raised me as his own."

Olivia nodded. "Will you join me for supper tonight? I wish to repay you for the effort you put forth on my behalf today."

Gus shook his head, much to her consternation. "That is not necessary," he said. "It's my job."

"Still, it would ease my conscious," she said.

"I have already promised to dine this evening with my fiancée," he said.

Olivia schooled her features to remain neutral as she placed a hand on his arm. "There are matters I wish to discuss with you – options regarding ways to safeguard Emma from Phillip." She watched as he thought.

"Still, Natalia will be waiting for me," he said.

"I shall send Richardson immediately to tell her not to wait for you," Olivia said. "She did say she wished to help in any way she could."

Gus nodded. "Very well, Olivia."

"Then please," she said, pointing to her bedroom door. "Feel free to freshen up before we eat."

"Oh, I couldn't possibly…" he started.

"Don't be ludicrous, Gus," she said and pushed him toward her bedroom. "Emma is your niece so it is perfectly acceptable for me to receive you in private. However, if it will make you feel more comfortable, I will go and send Richardson to Company and see to Emma's supper."

"All right," Gus said, finally relenting and Olivia watched in satisfaction as he disappeared into her bedroom.

Jane had Emma up and dressed and Olivia walked them to Jane's small room across the hall from her own. It was not uncommon for Olivia to ask Jane to keep Emma while she entertained in her suite and the governess was well compensated for her discretion.

Then Olivia walked downstairs and found Richardson scrubbing pots in the scullery.

"Richardson, tell Chef to have my private table ready in fifteen minutes," she told him. "I'll be dining with a guest."

"Yes, Miss Spencer," he answered.

"Then tell Chef to arrange Emma's supper sent up to Jane's room," she added. She waited while he nodded and then she said, "Then I want you to go visit with Jewel at the Gem for an hour, but try not to get in Al's way and stay inside. Don't go wandering around the fucking town, understand?"

"Yes, Miss Spencer," he said and grabbed his coat on his way to the kitchen to speak with her chef.

Her next stop was to the sommelier to personally select the wine for the evening. She knew Gus was not usually impressed by outward displays of wealth, but she thought a little warmth inside of him from a fine wine would inspire him to other pleasures. As she climbed the stairs to her rooms, she was eagerly awaiting the upcoming evening, which hopefully would have a most satisfying conclusion.

Company's dinner crowd was at its usual size as Natalia finished cooking the chicken. She directed Buzz's youngest son Coop to carry the last pot of turnip greens to the buffet while she placed the platter with the chicken. Looking around, she noticed it had grown late and that Nicky was probably not going to make it tonight. She was used to it; his duties as marshal often called upon him at all hours, but tonight she suspected he was detained by something – or rather someone – else.

Buzz brushed by her. "Delicious repast as always, dear," he said, pausing.

"Thank you, Buzz," she said, removing her apron.

"Have you eaten yet?" he asked and at her negative head shake, he said, "Go ahead then and enjoy your dinner. I'll have Coop start on the kitchen so don't worry about it." Then he swatted the hand of a man who was reaching for an extra piece of chicken from the platter. "Don't be a greedy son of a bitch," Buzz growled. "The lady hasn't yet had a chance to partake of this delicious meal she has prepared for you sorry cocksuckers."

"Sorry, ma'am," the man said and quickly moved away from Buzz's glare.

She smiled at her employer and filled a plate for herself. Looking around, she saw Charlie Utter eating with two women she recognized, but had not yet met. Walking to the table, she said, "Deputy Utter, how good to see you. May I join you and your companions?"

Charlie hopped up from his seat. "Miss Rivera," he said and then hesitated as he looked at the two women. "Um…well, I don't…"

Natalia sensed the reason for his hesitation and placed her plate at the empty spot beside Charlie's and said to the women, "Good evening, ladies. I'm Natalia Rivera. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise, Miss Rivera," the finely dressed women with long blonde curls said. "I'm Joanie Stubbs and this is Jane Cannary."

The other woman with her brown hair tied in a bun was dressed as a man, but Natalia noted she was attractive in a masculine sort of way, said, "Since this rude cocksucker has no manners, sit the fuck down and eat your meal." Jane gave Charlie a glare. He frowned at her, but sat down a moment after Natalia had taken her seat.

"Thank you," Natalia said. "And it's Natalia, please," she added to Joanie.

"I wish to thank you for your assistance toward Mr. Aitoro today, Mr. Utter," she said to Charlie as she picked up her fork and knife and cut into her chicken.

"Oh, that wasn't nothing, ma'am," he said. "More like a pleasant ride in the hills than any real law enforcing."

"Still," she said after swallowing a bite. "From what I understand, Phillip Spaulding is a dangerous man."

"Is that the crazy cocksucker who carved up the widow Marler's husband?" Jane asked as she shoveled another spoonful of Natalia's mashed turnips into her mouth.

"Yes, he's the one," Charlie answered.

Natalia noted the look that passed between Jane and Joanie, the fear flashing on their faces was brief, but unmistakable.

"Don't suppose this cocksucker would do the town a favor and hang himself," Jane said to Charlie.

"He's too crazy for that," Charlie answered. "And with his rich pappy willing to buy off an entire jury, he's not likely to lawfully hang. Best we can hope for is someone puts him down like the rabid dog he is."

Natalia felt a shiver run down her spine as if a sudden cold wind had touched her, although Company was quite warm with all the bodies inside. Deciding to end this thread of conversation, she said to Charlie, "Again, it eases my mind to know you and the sheriff are there in support of my intended." Then she turned to Joanie and said, "I believe you run a saloon, Joanie, but I don't think I've ever seen it."

"That's because it's located outside of town a ways," the pretty woman said with a smile, then added, "You should come by one night, but leave that handsome fella of yours at home."

Charlie coughed into his fist. "Now Joanie," he said and Natalia could see his cheeks above his beard blushing. "Miss Rivera is a lady. She'll want nothing to do with that joint of yours."

"Why Charlie Utter," Joanie said, her smile growing. "You know that every night is ladies night at Boston West."

Charlie coughed again. "All the same…" he began.

"All the same, you numb fuck, why don't you just let the lady enjoy her fucking meal?" Jane growled.

"Jane," Joanie admonished and Natalia saw Jane look at the blonde-haired woman with a look of chagrin – and something else. Then Jane turned to Charlie and shrugged.

"Sorry, ma'am," Charlie said to Natalia although he kept his eyes on his plate.

Natalia was curious about her two new acquaintances, especially their reference to the hanged man, but such things were not polite to discuss unless the information was offered, even when in the company of people who cared little for such things. Instead, she asked, "So you don't allow men in your establishment?"

"Some men, we do," Joanie answered. "Depends on the man."

"There are those cocksuckers who get their kicks looking like women," Jane explained. "Nancy boys you know, and of course the fucking inverts."

Natalia noticed Joanie smile indulgently at Jane and roll her eyes affectionately, the gestures giving truth to the rumors that these two women indeed shared the type of marriage the name of their saloon implied.

"And is it true that you were a scout for General Custer?" she asked. "I saw him one time at a reception my father held for General McClellan, on whose staff Custer was a member of. Although my sisters and I were not allowed to attend, we always tried to see who Papa was entertaining."

"Then if you saw the cocksucker, you know how he liked to prettify himself," Jane began as she launched into her story and Natalia sat back to enjoy her dinner and the company of two of the most fascinating women she had met. Then her thoughts turned to another woman and she wondered just what Olivia Spencer's intentions were for her future husband.

Olivia Spencer smiled across the table at the marshal as he spoke of the various contacts he had in Yankton who might be able to help her keep Emma safe. As he spoke, she studied his features in the low and intimate light of her private corner of the Beacon's restaurant. His face was long and lean, offset by his neatly trimmed mustache. His dark hair and eyes spoke of his Italian mother, but he had obviously inherited his fair skin from his father. While Gus had been her friend for some time now, especially since he rescued Emma and Phillip's other children from the hands of that madman, Olivia had never had any designs on him, she being too interested in the various Spauldings and Lewises – until now.

Of course, Gus was a Spaulding and while his familial loyalty was strong, his father walked too far on the side of lawlessness to suit Gus's tastes, which is why he suited her purposes. Al's suggestion she marry him was a sound one and one goal she intended on fulfilling as quickly as possible.

"While the warrants against Phillip stand," Gus was saying, "there is no chance he can take any legal action against you in regards to Emma."

"Phillip, yes," Olivia said, "but what about Alan? As the head of the Spauldings, he has constantly threatened to sue for custody."

"Threatened, maybe," Gus said, with a shrug. "But he knows that with the local authorities so far against him, any paper coming out of Yankton will be largely ignored. He won't risk the embarrassment. Better to stick to threats and posturing rather than get laughed in the face. He knows Bullock will ignore any such order, as will I." Gus paused to take a sip of his wine. "But with Phillip back, he might be concentrating on getting the warrants dropped and not even worrying about Emma. So I think your concern is premature," he concluded.

Olivia also took a sip of wine, then set the glass down. "Which is why I need to be fortifying my fucking defenses now. I need to know what those cocksuckers are planning so we can prepare."

Gus paused in thought for a moment as he chewed a bite of his steak. "I need to be in Yankton within the next few days to meet with a representative from Washington," he said finally. "I can try to prospect for any information from my contacts while I'm there. Perhaps see if Alan or Phillip has anything in the works."

"Would you?" Olivia said and reached a hand across the table to squeeze his forearm. She could feel the strong muscles under the cloth of his coat and she felt a stirring inside her that made her even more determined to have him in her bed before the evening was over. "I would be ever so grateful."

"I do not want to see sweet Emma come under the influence of the Spauldings any more than you do, Olivia," he said.

Olivia smiled warmly at Gus then looked up as someone approached the table. Towering over them was the large form of A.W. Merrick.

"Good evening, Miss Spencer," the newspaperman said, then added to Gus, "Marshal. So good to see you this evening."

"Merrick," Gus greeted with a nod.

Olivia motioned to her maître d' and the man swiftly carried another chair to the table. Merrick looked at it confusedly.

"Please sit, Mr. Merrick," Olivia said waving a hand at the chair. As the portly man seated himself, Olivia turned to Gus and said, "I thought maybe informing Mr. Merrick of the events of last night might enlist some aid to our cause."

Gus nodded and said, "A wise idea. At the very least it will inform the citizenry that Phillip Spaulding is back."

Merrick paused in opening his notebook to look sharply at Gus.

"Phillip Spaulding has returned," he said. "Oh my. This is dire news indeed."

Briefly, Gus outlined the facts as they knew them while Merrick scribbled, his pencil moving furiously across the paper. Gus also reminded him of the outstanding warrants and rewards while Merrick asked a few pointed questions regarding Phillip's prior victims and the kidnapping. Olivia only interrupted once to ask him not to mention Emma's name in print, to which he readily agreed. As the two men continued their discussion, Olivia watched Gus closely, impressed with his intelligence and poise. Finally, Gus reminded Merrick of Phillip's threats should his name appear in the Pioneer again.

Olivia looked at Merrick sharply. "Mr. Merrick, if printing this will endanger you in any way, then please do not."

Merrick smiled and leaned forward as he said, "My dear lady, if I can endure a thrashing at the hands of that dastardly cur George Hearst's minion, then I certainly can stand up to that lesser bastard Phillip Spaulding. Please excuse my language."

Olivia waved off the apology. ""Mr. Merrick, that cocksucker Hearst is long gone from Deadwood, but Phillip is not. You saw what he did to poor Ross Marler."

Merrick nodded soberly. "Indeed, I did, Miss Spencer," he said. "However, fear cannot fetter the press. The integrity of my paper is more important than my safety. Besides," he added, "after the incident with Hearst, Mr. Blazanov felt it necessary to arm himself and has even taken shooting lessons from Miss Cannary. He has assured me should anyone again threaten my person or my newspaper, he is well prepared to meet violence with violence."

Gus laughed. "Well, good for Blazanov," he said. "You might want to consider emulating your friend, Merrick. It doesn't hurt to go about armed, even if it's just a small Derringer concealed on your person."

Merrick held up a hand as he tucked his notebook inside his jacket. "No, Marshal, I am armed only with the power of the written word. That's enough for me."

"Promise me that you'll be careful, Mr. Merrick," Olivia said, concerned. Merrick had barely survived the beating he took for merely printing a condolence letter to the family of one of Hearst's murdered employees and her ex-husband was crazy enough to do more than that to the newspaperman.

"You have my utmost assurances, Miss Spencer," he said as he pushed his chair back and stood. "Now, I have interrupted your meal long enough, so I'll just head back to my office and make room for this in tomorrow's edition."

"Thank you for all your help, Mr. Merrick," Olivia said.

"You are most welcome, Miss Spencer. Enjoy your evening," he said with a small bow. "And yours as well, Marshal."

"Good night, Merrick," Gus replied.

After the stout man left Olivia said, "Do you want anything else to eat, Gus? Dessert, perhaps?"

Gus wiped his mustache with the linen napkin. "No, thank you," he said. "That was a superb repast. My compliments to your chef."

Olivia smiled. "Then, since our discussion is now at an end, perhaps you'd be so kind as to escort me back to my suite."

"Of course," he said and quickly jumped up to hold her chair for her.

Upstairs, she motioned him to enter behind her and then moved to pour him a glass of whiskey.

"I really should get home," Gus said, holding out a hand toward the glass. "It's getting late."

"Just one drink, please," she said and smiled inwardly when he accepted the glass. She poured herself a drink and sipped the fine whiskey, feeling it burn its way down her throat and warm her stomach.

"Oh, that's fine stuff," Gus said taking a long pull from his glass.

"Finest aged Scotch whiskey," she agreed. "I prefer only the best."

"You are indeed a woman of taste," he said and then finished his drink. "But I really must be going. I'll drop by before I leave for Yankton."

"Gus, please don't go," she said and put her glass down. Moving over to him, she placed a hand around his neck and pulled his face down to hers. For a few wonderful moments, he responded to her, pulling her body close against his own, but then to her disappointment, he pushed her away.

"No, Olivia," he said hoarsely as he stepped away from her.

She followed him. "Why not?" she asked in a sultry voice. Reaching out her hand, she ran it along the front of his pants, feeling the prominent bulge within. "You obviously want me."

Gus stepped away again. "I'd have to be a corpse not to want you, Olivia," he said. "But I am betrothed to Natalia and I will remain true to her."

"Why?" she asked. "A woman who steals a married man for herself will not remain true. Surely you know that."

"I don't believe that of her," he said. "Natalia has remained faithful to me since we were young."

Olivia laughed. "And you really fucking believe that?" she asked. "She what? Raised your boy all by herself? In Chicago? And you never once considered for a moment that she sold that cunt of hers for the money to support him?"

"Natalia would never whore herself," he insisted. "She's an intelligent, hard working woman who did the best she could after I abandoned her."

"That's no reason for you to waste your life for a youthful indiscretion," Olivia said. "Look, Gus…she's only a maid and a cook. I'm a wealthy woman. What does she have to offer you that I don't?"

"She is the mother of my child," he said.

"Who's nearly a grown man," Olivia said. "So be a father to your boy. I'll even adopt him if you want and add him to my will along with Emma and Ava, but don't you realize how much of a force you and I could be in this town if we were together?"

"I know why you're doing this, Olivia," he said. "And it's not necessary. I gave you my word that I would protect Emma and I shall, but as soon as the divorce papers arrive, Natalia and I will wed. Good night."

Before she could stop him, he strode quickly to the door and flung it open. Olivia sighed as his boot heels clocked swiftly down the stairs.

As she closed the door, she considered her next move. "You will be mine, Gus Aitoro," she announced to the empty room. "Fucking Puerto Rican whore or not. You will be mine."


Chapter 3 – Sold Under Sin

As was his habit, Gus Aitoro woke at dawn in the small wooden house he had shared with Harley and her three children. He would have to find additional lodgings soon; the house was already sold to a family from Kansas City who had agreed to allow him to remain in residence until they arrived. The proceeds of the sale had already been sent to Harley as part of their divorce agreement. Gus was hoping to find something more suitable for him, Natalia and Rafe. He had his eye on an abandoned property outside of town that had the potential to become a lucrative working farmstead and he was already working with the bank to secure it. Hopefully, that would be finalized before he and Natalia wed – it would make an excellent wedding gift for his new bride.

As he washed himself from the basin, he thought about Olivia's accusations of the night before. He felt no anger toward his former sister-in-law; she was simply a frightened and desperate woman grasping at anything which might help her keep her daughter safe from a crazed fiend. He felt sympathy for her, but nothing more. After the collapse of his marriage, he had set his sights on rebuilding his family – the family he should have had all along.

He finished his ablutions and dressed quickly, strapping his gun belt at his waist and pinning his federal marshal's badge to his coat lapel and left the house.

This area of the town was beginning to stir as residents began their day. He could see lights already blazing at the livery. No doubt his son would already be stoking his forge in preparation of the day's work. And closer to the town center at Company, Natalia would already be hard at work preparing the day's meals.

He was very proud at how hard they both worked. When he first met Natalia all those years ago, she had been the pampered daughter of a rich businessman, never having had to work a day in her life. The boarding school where he met her was filled with the children of Chicago's elite, a school designed to prepare girls to fulfill their predestined roles as dutiful wives and mothers. But Natalia had surprised him with her fierce intelligence and inner strength and her passion for him was equal to his own for her. He had looked forward to spending the rest of his life with her until fate had intervened and he was forced to leave her behind in pursuit of avenging his father's murder. He had always meant to return for her, but events had kept it from happening and eventually he figured she had moved on with her life and he did the same.

Now he had a chance to make up all the years he wasn't there for her and his son and he wasn't going to let anything get in the way of that – especially Olivia Spencer. He would help her the best way he could within the bounds of the law, but he would not become another one of her ex-husbands.

At Utter's freight office, which still served as the town's jail, he found Charlie already at work organizing crates and supplies. Gus had never seen the office so disorganized, but at least he noted the drunk tank was empty.

Charlie looked at him and said, "The Turner boy still hasn't returned home. His mother came by last night frantic with worry."

Gus frowned and Charlie continued, "We already searched the area around Spaulding and saw no sign of him so Bullock and I will check the hills. Not that I think it's gonna do any fucking good."

Charlie threw the crowbar he had been using to open crates and it clattered against the bars of the cell, the sound causing Gus to wince. "You think he's come to harm?" he asked.

"I think he's been murdered by that cocksucker Spaulding," Charlie spat. "That's what I fucking think."

Gus shook his head. "Then you probably would be wasting your time searching for him," he pointed out.

"Not 'less we start with Wu's fucking pig pen," Charlie said. "Which is where Bullock is now."

"All right, then," Gus said. "Let me know what happens. If nothing else, we can add the disappearance to the outstanding warrants when I go to Yankton."

"You going soon?" Charlie asked.

"I'm thinking I need to," he answered. "And I'll stop in at the other communities in the district to warn them to keep an eye out for Spaulding."

"Good idea," Charlie said and shook his head. "I was just saying to your fiancée last night that the only justice the cocksucker deserves is a bullet in his fucking head."

"You saw Natalia last night?" Gus asked.

"At Company," Charlie answered. "She joined us for supper after her shift was over."

Gus chewed on that for a moment, thought about asking Charlie who 'us' was, and then said, "I think I'll go get some breakfast there now. Care to join me?"

"I've already et," Charlie said. "And I need to finish this before Bullock gets back. You gonna ride with us today?"

"Maybe," Gus answered. "I'll see if Rafe can join us if that's all right with you and the sheriff?"

Charlie shrugged. "Suits me," he said.

Gus left the freight office and walked swiftly to Company, noting that people were crowding the thoroughfare as they went about their morning business, quite a few of them entering and leaving the boarding house where Natalia worked. He pushed his way through the line at the buffet table and to the kitchen. Natalia was standing over the stove stirring a large cast iron skillet full of scrambled eggs.

"Good morning," he said, removing his hat.

Natalia glanced around at him and gave him a sweet smile. "Good morning," she said. "These are almost ready. Pour yourself some coffee."

"Thank you," he said as he did just that. He watched her as she finished the eggs and then spooned some into a plate for him and then the rest in the big serving platter. She added a few rashers of bacon and a huge slice of her freshly made bread toasted and slathered with butter and handed him the plate.

"Have a seat," she said and pointed to the chair near her prep table. "I'll be right back."

He nodded and did as she said while she took the fresh platter of eggs into the dining room and then returned a moment later, carrying the empty platter. "They're shoveling it down faster than I can cook it today," she said as she started cracking more eggs into her bowl.

"Because it's so good," he said around a mouthful. He washed it down with a long sip of coffee.

"Thank you," she answered, smiling at him as she worked.

After he finished his meal, he wiped his mouth on a napkin and drank the last of his coffee. "So I heard you had supper with Charlie Utter last night."

"Yes," she answered, brushing away a tendril of her hair. "Also with Jane Cannary and Joanie Stubbs. It was a pleasant end to my day after you didn't show up."

He frowned. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Didn't Richardson find you and tell you I was dining at the Beacon with Olivia?"

She shook her head. "I suspected that's where you were. No, Nicky, Richardson did not 'find' me. I'm sure if Olivia had told him to, he certainly would have. The man follows me around the hotel as if he was a puppy dog."

"But Olivia said she would let you know that I was not going to join you for supper," he said, suddenly feeling foolish at the look she gave him.

"And just what was on the bill of fare at the Beacon last night?" she asked. "Wild game? Leg of lamb? And what? Beautiful hotelier for dessert?"

"Natalia…" he started.

"What happened last night, Nicky?" she said and he could see she was in full ire now. "Wait, let me guess. Dinner, drinks in her room and then fucking in her bed?"

"Natalia!" he said, surprised at her language knowing she rarely swore outside of love making. "No! It wasn't like that. She just wants my help keeping the Spauldings away from Emma."

"You already promised her you'd do that," Natalia reminded. "So what happened?"

"Nothing!" he said again. "Just…"

Natalia stood there with her arms crossed staring at him from across the table. "She's just desperate," he said, running his hands through his hair. "She thinks if she and I were together that I'd do more to protect Emma. But Emma's my niece, I'd protect her any way I can. And I told her that."

Natalia's eyes narrowed. "Did you sleep with her?" she asked.

"No!" he hissed.

"But she wanted to, right?" Natalia said and he opened his mouth to deny it when she gave him a warning look.

"Yes," he admitted and watched as she threw her towel across the kitchen.

"I knew it," she said, angrily. "She wants to steal you away from me for herself."

"Natalia," he said and she again focused her fury-filled gaze at him. "What she wants and what she'll get are two different things. You and I will wed as we planned, as soon as the papers from Harley arrive."

She stood staring at him as he watched, her breathing starting to calm. "You're mine, Nicky," she stated, pointing a finger at him.

"Yes, I am," he said finally moving around the table to take her into his arMiss

"You are going to marry me," she said.

"Yes, I am," he repeated.

"You will not have anything to do with that woman that doesn't involve helping Emma, understand."

"Yes, Natalia," he said and then he covered her mouth with his own, effectively shutting her up.

"Just what are you trying to do?"

Olivia looked up from the ledger she was working on to see an obviously angry Natalia Rivera standing in the doorway to her office.

"Please, do come in," she said as she sat back in her chair, making sure to inject a healthy dose of sarcasm into her voice.

"Nicky told me about last night. How you conveniently forgot to tell Richardson to give me the message he wouldn't be meeting me," Natalia said as she closed the door behind her and then crossed her arms across her chest.

"Richardson's an imbecile," Olivia said, wondering just how much the marshal had revealed to his fiancée – enough judging by the angry look on the other woman's face. "And I certainly don't need to justify my actions to one of my employees."

"What are you trying to do, Olivia?" Natalia asked again, ignoring Olivia's question.

"Olivia?" she asked, quirking an eyebrow. "What happened to 'Miss Spencer' during business hours?"

"I'm on my own time at the moment," Natalia said. "Not yours. So, what are your intentions toward Nicky?"

"His name is Gus now, Natalia," Olivia said. "That other name is a part of his past…like you."

"No, I'm his future. Me and Rafe and the life we're going to build," Natalia said.

"Oh, that's rich," Olivia said with a sardonic laugh. "A life built on what? The ashes of his marriage to Harley?"

"His marriage with Harley is over, but that doesn't mean he and I can't have a wonderful life together. And that does not include you."

"You're deluding yourself, my dear," Olivia said, getting up and moving over to the sideboard to pour a whiskey. "Gus will never love you the way he loves Harley. I've known them both a long time."

"You're trying to evade answering my question," Natalia said.

Olivia looked at her. "Why do you think I have any intentions toward Gus, Natalia?" she asked. "I mean other than the fact he's trying to protect my daughter and me from my crazy ex-husband. And why would Gus do that? Oh yeah, because it's his job. So what is this all about, Natalia? Don't you trust Gus or are you always this suspicious?"

"I trust him," Natalia answered quickly. "I don't trust you. I've heard about you."

Olivia smirked as she stepped closer to Natalia. "What have you heard, Natalia?" she asked. "That I devour men? That I steal husbands?"

"Do you?" Natalia asked, narrowing eyes. Olivia could practically feel the angry heat rising from the other woman.

"Yeah, I do," she said with a sultry smile. "So if I wanted Gus, I would have already fucked him by now." She stared directly into Natalia's eyes as she drank.

"Nicky and I are engaged." Natalia said. "Let him do his job and keep your hands to yourself."

"What are you so worried about?" Olivia asked. "Worried that he's going to find someone who's better in bed? Afraid you can't keep him satisfied? Need some advice on how to take care of a man in bed, Natalia?"

"I don't need any advice on that," Natalia spat. "Especially not from you, so I would appreciate if you would stop shoving it in his face and let him do his job."

Olivia laughed. "It?" Olivia asked. "Why, whatever do you mean, Natalia?"

"False modesty doesn't become you," Natalia answered. "You know what I'm talking about." Olivia could feel Natalia's gaze raking her from head to foot and back again, briefly pausing at the swell of her hips and breasts accentuated by the gown she had donned this morning.

"Oh, I think I do, Natalia, but this conversation is over," she said, then moved over to the door and opened it up. "Tell me, why shouldn't I discharge you this instant?"

Natalia shrugged and shook her head, "I don't know. Maybe because that would be too easy? Maneater or not, you look like a woman who doesn't do easy, Olivia." With that she stalked out of the office.

Olivia stared at her departing form, noting the way her Beacon dress hugged the woman's form and once again she congratulated herself on her excellent design choices for her hotel.

Then a grin broke out onto her face. This is going to be fun, she thought as she closed the door and returned to her work.

An hour later, she finished with the receipts and secured the strongbox holding the hotel's proceeds. She wrapped her woolen shawl around herself and opened the office door. Waiting for her outside in the hallway were Richardson and Mose Manuel, the Beacon's daytime watchman, his bulk nearly filling the space of the hall.

"Ready, boys?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Mose said, tipping his hat as he picked up his shotgun where it had been propped against the wall. Richardson scurried past her and lifted the heavy strongbox and cradled it to his boney chest, his head bowed as he left the office.

Olivia closed the door and locked it and then led the way down the stairs and into the cool afternoon outdoors. Richardson followed behind her while Mose brought up the rear, the shotgun firmly held in his hands and pointed upwards, his porcine eyes rapidly scanning the street for any signs of trouble. Olivia walked swiftly toward the Bank of Deadwood which was located only a mere half dozen businesses from her hotel. She nodded at acquaintances, but did not stop for idle chitchat. That might come later after her hotel's receipts were safely ensconced in Alma Ellsworth's safe.

The bank's armed guard opened the door for Olivia's entourage. This late in the day, the bank was nearly devoid of customers. Trixie stood ready at the clerk's station and smiled at Olivia as she approached.

"Good afternoon, Miss Spencer," the bank clerk said in greeting. "How's that cute little one of yours?"

"She's good, thank you, Trixie," Olivia answered. "All is well at your home?"

"Oh yeah," Trixie answered. "The fucking Jew is always fucking well, thanks for asking."

Olivia laughed. Trixie's relationship with the town's mayor was one of those open secrets that were part of the intrigue of life in Deadwood. She turned to Richardson and motioned him to get moving. He gently laid the box on top of the clerk's desk as Olivia removed the key to the box from her reticule and then unlocked the box. Trixie opened the lid and pulled the ledger and various bags of currency, coins and gold and began her count. Olivia watched her for a few moments and then turned to her employees.

She noticed Richardson already scampering out the door to wait for Olivia to finish her business so he can carry the box back to the hotel. Olivia knew the man didn't like to lurk among his betters. She shook her head and then turned to Mose. "You can go, Mose," she said. "Are you working tonight?"

The big man nodded. "Yes, ma'am," he said. "Miss Joanie expects me at sundown."

"Well, get yourself something to eat first at the Beacon before you go, and we'll see you in the morning."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied as he tipped his hat. "Have a good night, Miss Spencer."

"You as well, Mose," she answered and watched as he left, cradling his shotgun against his shoulder, wondering yet again just when the man slept. He spent his days prowling the Beacon and his nights as the bouncer for the invert's saloon outside of town; although Olivia knew he was not inclined that way. Shrugging off the thought, she walked over to Alma's desk and sat down in the chair across from the banker with a tired sigh.

"Long day, dear?" Alma asked as she opened her desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses. Olivia accepted the glass gratefully and downed it in one quaff.

"My fucking ex-husband," Olivia explained and then shrugged in apology at Alma's disapproving frown for her profanity.

Alma nodded. "I read about that in today's Pioneer," she said. "Are you and the girls all right?"

"For the moment," Olivia answered. "But he's made it clear he wants Emma and knowing Phillip, he'll do anything to get her."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Alma said. "I don't know what I'd do if anyone threatened Sofia like that."

"Listen, Alma," Olivia said, leaning forward in her chair and lowering her voice so the others in the bank wouldn't hear, "Can you do me a favor? Can you let me know if Alan Spaulding makes a large withdrawal? I need to know if he's making a payoff to get the warrants against Phillip dropped."

Alma sighed. "I wish I could, but Alan Spaulding and Spaulding Enterprises no longer have accounts with the Bank of Deadwood."

"Alan closed his accounts?" Olivia asked, shocked. "When?"

"Some time ago, "Alma answered. "So you see, I'm sorry, but I can't help you with that, Olivia."

"That's all right," Olivia said absently, her mind considering the various possibilities of why Alan had abandoned the bank closest to his base of operations. Of course, she knew that he kept part of his vast fortune in other financial institutions – as did she, it only made sense not to place all your trust in one bank – but not using the Bank of Deadwood would be a great inconvenience to him. Unless…

"Alma, pardon me for asking, but the bank is doing well?" she asked.

"Oh yes," Alma answered. "You know that deposits are backed by the proceeds from the sale of the mine and the board of directors is doing well managing that. So yes, the bank is fine."

"Good, I'm glad to hear it," Olivia said, and she was. Both for the sake of her own investments and deposits in the bank and for Alma's sake. Alan could simply have withdrawn his funds exactly to avoid the favor she had asked of Alma; with Seth Bullock on the board of directors, he would not want to give the lawman access to information regarding his and his company's finances.

Olivia glanced up as Trixie approached. "Here you are, Miss Spencer," she said as she handed Olivia the handwritten receipt. Olivia quickly scanned it to make sure Trixie's figures coincided with her own. Satisfied, she smiled at the bank clerk and said, "Thank you, Trixie." She turned back to Alma and said, "Thank you for the information, Alma. Why don't you and Sofia have supper with Emma and me sometime next week?"

"We'll do that, Olivia, thank you," Alma replied. "And please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you with this situation regarding the Spauldings."

"All right," she said. "I will."

Outside, she was about to head back to the Beacon when she heard someone calling her name. Turning, she was pleased to see Gus Aitoro approaching her.

"Afternoon, Olivia," he said when he approached.

"Hello Gus," she said, giving him a warm smile, but then she took note of his concerned face and felt a stab of worry. "What is it?"

"Sheriff Bullock believes that Phillip Spaulding murdered young Matt Turner, the boy who delivered Emma's gift to the Beacon," he answered.

Olivia gasped. "Oh no!" she exclaimed."Is he certain?"

Gus nodded. "Bullock and Utter are on their way to deliver the news to his family."

"That poor boy," she whispered, and then her face hardened. "You've got to stop him, Gus. That cocksucker is just going to keep hurting and murdering people until he gets to Emma. I can't let that happen."

"I will get him, Olivia," he said. "I promise. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure he's brought to justice."

From the certainty in his voice, Olivia had no choice except to believe him and it made her all the more determined that Gus Aitoro would soon be hers.

No new signs of Phillip Spaulding appeared over the next few days, which only increased Olivia's worry. She felt like she was trapped at the edge of a cliff with a rattlesnake blocking her path of escape. It was a feeling of helplessness which only served to infuriate her all the more. To compensate, she increased her efforts in seducing Gus Aitoro, but the steadfast marshal continued to evade her advances, which left Olivia not only irked, but frustrated as well. She was used to getting what she wanted, especially when it came to men.

To that end, she left the Beacon after reading Emma to sleep, leaving Jane and the hotel's night watchman to guard over her child. She walked quickly through the town center toward the residential area. The main thoroughfare was crowded with pedestrians and horses. Being a weekend night, many of the workers from the mine were in town spending their week's wages on whores and games of chance. The Beacon did not cater to that type of clientele, but their presence brought the type of patrons her business did attract.

The streets here were lit with burning torches. There was talk that electric light would soon come to Deadwood and Olivia looked forward to it. She already employed gas lighting at the Beacon, despite the expense of shipping in coal. It was one of the many amenities that made her hotel one of the finest in the territory.

Olivia had never been to the Aitoro home before, but she knew where it was located. As she walked quickly past the row of homes toward her destination, she found herself eager to see the marshal again. The more time she spent with him and the better she got to know him, the more she felt for him. Gus was no longer someone who could provide safety and protection for her and her daughters, he was someone Olivia could envision spending the rest of her life with. With that realization came an increased determination she would win him away from Natalia.

After their last encounter in her office, Olivia had not interacted directly with the other woman, but she had observed the chambermaid while she was working many times. Yes, Natalia was beautiful and a hard worker, but a man like Gus Aitoro deserved better. Olivia just had to convince him of that.

Gus's house was a simple two-storey set back from the street with walk stones leading the way to the front porch. As she strode quickly up the walk, her high heels clacking sharply against the stones, she caught a glimpse of a familiar form silhouetted in the window. She stepped off the path to look through the window and felt her stomach lurch in pain.

A smiling Natalia was leaning over a seated Gus who had his head tilted back exposing his shaving cream-covered neck. As Olivia watched, Natalia expertly ran a straight razor smoothly over the taut skin, carefully shaving her fiancé. When she finished, Natalia used a towel to clean the remaining bits of cream and water from Gus, then she leaned down and gave him a thorough kiss. When Gus pulled Natalia onto his lap, Olivia turned away and retraced her steps up the walk, tears falling unnoticed from her face.

Natalia broke the kiss and pushed herself off of Nicky's lap with a hand to his chest.

"Wait," Nicky said, grabbing her hand and trying to pull her down again. "Where are you going? I was just getting started."

Natalia laughed. "I'm not done yet," she said as she picked up a pair of gilded scissors from the table where she had laid out Nicky's shaving equipment. Turning back to Nicky, she tilted his head back again and started to trim his mustache. When she finished, she noticed him looking at her.

"What?" she asked.

"You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, Natalia," he said, an amused smile gracing his lips under his freshly trimmed mustache. "You were so beautiful when we were younger, but now? Now, you're absolutely stunning."

She gave him a sweet smile. "You're just saying that because you're hoping I'll spend the night with you."

His smile grew. "Is it working?"

"No," she said, as she shook her head. "But I appreciate the effort."

"Damn," he said.

Natalia moved over to the stove where her stew was bubbling away nicely. She picked up the spoon to taste it and, satisfied with the results, ladled it into two bowls. "It's ready, Nicky," she said, placing them on the table along with a basket of sliced warm bread.

Nicky retied his string bow tie and smoothed down his vest before taking his seat at the table. "Thank you, my dear," he said. "Smells divine."

"Will you say the blessing?" she asked, taking his hand in her own.

Nicky nodded. "Bless us Oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

"Amen," she echoed. After a few silent minutes as they ate their food, she asked, "What time is your departure?"

"Afore sunup," he answered. "I told Rafe to have our horses ready so we can get an early start."

"I'm glad you're taking him with you," she said. "And it was kind of Mr. Fields to give him leave from his duties."

"Fields is a good man," Nicky agreed, sopping up the stew's juices with bread. "I do, however, regret leaving you to fend for yourself."

"I'll be fine," she said to reassure him.

"Still, I don't like the idea of you being all alone here in town."

"I'm hardly alone, Nicky," she said. ""There's Buzz and Deputy Cooper, as well as Remy."

Nicky gave her a dark look at the mention of the deputy who had courted her and she gave him an unapologetic shrug. Nicky had still been with his wife at the time and Natalia was free to welcome gentlemen callers as she wished. And Remy, despite losing her affections to the marshal, remained a good friend.

"We will return as soon as we are able," Nicky said and Natalia was grateful he had decided to drop the subject. "My business in Yankton should not take more than a few days."

"I shall look eagerly for your return, but please do me a kindness and send word of your safe arrival to ease my mind?" she said, smiling gratefully as he nodded in agreement. "I have apple pie for your dessert. Are you ready for a slice?" she asked.

"Please," he said, giving her a wide smile.

The Bella Union saloon was brightly lit and crowded with men and women of all types as Olivia entered through the doors. She took a moment to glance around, noting her daughter Ava seated at one of the faro tables where she was dealing. Ava had been making her living as a gambler and dealer for a long time and even though Olivia would gladly provide for her daughter's support, Ava preferred to remain independent. It was just one of the many things she admired about her eldest daughter and once again Olivia was grateful they had established a firm relationship with one another.

Making her way over to the bar, she said to the bartender, "A bottle of your finest, Jack."

"Yes, Miss Spencer," the man replied and efficiently produced the requested bottle and glass. Olivia poured a glass, shot it down and poured another.

"Now you look like a woman on a mission," a smooth voice said from next to her.

Olivia glanced to her side and saw Eddie Sawyer, the saloon's manager. "Hello Eddie," she said.

"Hi honey," he answered back. "Always a pleasure when you grace the Union with your presence."

She snorted and took another shot. "Business booming, Eddie?"

"Fair enough," he answered in his laconic way. Olivia had always admired Eddie from the moment they had first met. A skilled card sharp, Eddie had worked for Cy Tolliver, the missing owner of the Bella Union, for nearly two decades. Eddie had left town for a while, but had returned around the same time of Tolliver's disappearance and taken over the operation of the saloon, presumably until Tolliver's return. However, Olivia strongly suspected that Eddie knew Tolliver would never return to Deadwood. She had heard there had been bad blood between the two, the kind of bad blood that could only end with the spilling of one man's or the other's and she, for one, was very glad it was Eddie who had come out on top.

"Good to hear," she said. "How's Ava doing?"

"Oh, she's in fine form tonight," he answered and Olivia followed his gaze to see her daughter removing the chips from the players at her table.

As they watched, Ava dealt another hand and Olivia could hear her daughter say, "Praise the Lord and place your bets. I'll take your money with no regrets, boys."

"Thanks for watching out for her, Eddie," she said, sipping at her drink, enjoying the warmth replacing the coldness she had felt upon seeing the intimate moment between Natalia and Gus. "I appreciate it."

"No thanks are necessary, honey," the bearded man answered with a shrug. "She pays her dues to the joint and doesn't cause trouble. That's all I ask."

"You fucking do more than that and you know it," Olivia insisted, but decided not to press him any further. "So what other action is going on tonight?"

Eddie looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "Depends on what kind of action you're looking for," he answered. Olivia smirked at him and he laughed. "Well, I don't think you'll have any trouble on that count tonight, honey." He jerked his chin toward the other end of the bar at a pair of dandies who were looking at Olivia with interest. They were both dressed in nearly identical frock suits, but the shorter one had sandy-colored hair while the taller one was a dark brunette with a mustache styled in the same fashion Gus employed.

"Mmm," she said to Eddie with a wicked grin. "Yes, I think that will do just fine."

"Enjoy yourself, then," he said, moving off to the cashier's cage.

Olivia smiled at the two men making their way down to her end of the bar. As they approached, she examined them and decided they would do quite nicely.

"Hello, boys," she said, her lips quirked into her trademark smirk.

"Ma'am," the shorter one said, removing his hat.

"Howdy, ma'am," the taller echoed, also tipping his hat to her. "I'm Zach and this here is my business partner Cody."

"I'm Olivia," she said, keeping her voice low and smooth. "And what type of business are you gentlemen into?"

"We are representatives for the Bissell Manufacturing Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, ma'am," Cody said.

"Is that right?" Olivia said. "Carpet sweepers, if I'm not mistaken."

"Yes, ma'am," Zach answered with a wide grin. "I do appreciate a woman who is well informed."

"Well, I should be," she answered with a touch of sarcasm. "I am the owner of a hotel."

"Really?" Zach said. "Well ain't that the most fortuitous event that has happened to us in a long while?" He turned to his partner. "See, Cody, I told you coming to Deadwood was a good idea."

Cody didn't look convinced. "What's that got to do with anything, Zach?"

The tall man rolled his eyes and shrugged at Olivia. "Please excuse the slow witted comprehension of my partner, Miss Olivia," he said. "Cody here isn't quick to understand that a fine establishment as I'm sure yours must be, is in need of the very device we are purveyors of, but I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that you readily grasped the significance of the event, an intelligent woman such as yourself."

"Indeed, I did," she said. "And I will be delighted to discuss business with you at a later time, however this evening I am in search of other…diversions." She pointedly looked at her empty glass and then back to Zach.

Taking the hint, the man refilled her glass and watched as Olivia downed it in one shot. He said grinning, "Well, well…I do appreciate a woman who can handle her liquor."

"Lots of practice," she said with a smirk.

"What other diversions do you aspire to, Miss Olivia?" Cody asked.

"Well, Cody," she said. "Why don't you get us another bottle of whiskey and I'll tell you all about it."

An hour later, Olivia was standing at the craps table with her new best friends Zach and Cody on either side of her as she threw the dice. She was playing with their money, distracting them so they didn't realize how much they were losing. Olivia enjoyed playing games like this. It made her feel good to know she had that kind of power over men and she was sure that Natalia Fucking Rivera didn't have that it, despite her success with Gus Aitoro.

Pushing the thought aside, she stumbled a bit as she reached for the dice the croupier pushed toward her.

"Whoa, Miss Olivia," Zach said. "Maybe you've had a bit too much whiskey?"

"Bite your tongue," Olivia slurred. "Or I'll fucking bite it for you."

Zach laughed and then blew on the dice she held up to his mouth.


Turning she saw her daughter.

"Ava, honey!" she cried happily. "Come meet Zach and Cody." She paused. "Or is that Cody and Zach? Oh well, no matter."

Olivia felt herself being pulled away from the table. "Be right back, boys!"

Ava dragged her outside where the cold night air served to revive her some.

"What are you doing, Mom?" Ava asked.

"What?" Olivia countered defensively. "Just having a little fun. I'm a big girl, you know."

"Of course you are, but this won't look good if Alan gets news of it. A woman gambling in a whorehouse with two men is not the proper conduct for a single mother who wishes to retain custody of her daughter."

"Oh, and me having another daughter who does the same thing is proper?"

Ava rolled her eyes. "Come on, Mom," she said. "My reputation is already established in this town and is no reflection on you. This isn't about me. Where's Gus? I thought…"

"What?" Olivia asked, once again feeling a stab of pain as she remembered where Gus was and what he was likely doing.

"I've seen you with him lately, Mom," Ava answered softly.

"So what does that fucking mean?" Olivia asked, angrily.

Ava sighed. "It means you're falling for him, Mom," she said. "So why aren't you with him instead of those two clowns?"

Olivia felt tears threaten to fill her eyes and she willed them back. Even though Ava was her daughter and a good friend, she would not cry in front of her. "Gus is busy fucking that God damned Spic he's engaged to," she said bitterly, her anger succeeding in pushing the heart ache away. "Look Ava, I'll be fine, but you have my thanks for the reminder about Alan. You're right; he doesn't need any more fuel against me. I'll head back to the Beacon."

"That's good," Ava said with a smile. "And don't worry about Gus, Mom. Natalia might be beautiful, but she doesn't compare to you. Gus will see that soon, I'm sure."

Olivia felt a wave of love for the strong and intelligent daughter she had nearly lost.

"How about you?" she asked. "Are you done with faro for the night?"

Ava nodded. "Some of the marks I was dealing for think they'll have better luck against me at poker, so Eddie is setting up a game. I was just taking a break."

"Go grab something to eat then, and I'll see you tomorrow, right?" Olivia asked, knowing such games usually lasted all night and well into the following day, at least not until Ava had relieved her marks of every bit of gold in their possession.

"Sure," Ava answered. "I'll stop by after Emma gets home from school."

"Sounds good, baby," Olivia said. "Good luck."

Ava smirked at her. "I don't need luck, Mom," she said. "I'm a Spencer."

Olivia laughed as she followed Ava back into the Bella Union and watched as her daughter headed for the small kitchen at the back of the saloon. She grabbed her coat from the rack near the entrance and was putting it on when she was approached by the two salesmen.

"Hey, pretty lady," Zach said with a smile. "Where you going? We thought this party was just getting started."

She looked over them both as she buttoned her coat. "You bet it is," she said with a sultry smile. "Just a change of venue, boys. Let's go."

Without a further word, she turned her back and left the saloon, fully expecting them to follow her back to the Beacon like two dogs after a bitch in heat.

From the balcony of Al Swearengen's office above the saloon he owned, two men watched Olivia Spencer's progress down the thoroughfare toward her hotel.

"It appears the fair Olivia has baffled those two poor fools," Jack Langrishe commented to his companion. Swearengen did not reply. He simply kept his eyes trained on the woman, trying to judge her level of intoxication from her stride. Knowing Olivia as he did, he guessed she had already consumed a lot of alcohol even though her posture remained steady as she stepped over a drunk passed out in the street. Swearengen grunted as the shorter of Olivia's companions gave the drunk a hard kick in the ribs causing Olivia to scowl at him.

Jack puffed on his cigar. "Ah, the grande dame of our fair metropolis's Pharos seems displeased with the bumpkin's rude behavior," he observed. "I wonder if he's going to be a beneficiary of her charms as well as the other Lothario. What think you, young man?"

"I think those two cocksucking hoopleheads should get on their knees to their fucking creator for whatever they get from that woman," Swearengen said, rolling the toothpick between his teeth from one end of his mouth to the other.

"Why Al, I knew you were as fond as I am of the radiant and elegant Miss Spencer, but I didn't realize the true depths of your affections," Jack said, his eyes brows raised as he turned to Swearengen.

"My affections matter not, Jack," Swearengen said. "Olivia can take care of herself and that's what fucking matters." And hopefully, with her help, the town will finally be rid of those cocksucking Spauldings, he thought. She had been useful in bringing about the downfall of those goddamned Winslows and he had no doubt that her desire to take Alan Spaulding and his clan of bastards down was nearly as great as his own. To that end, he knew she would willingly join forces with him. Already he had heard news of her pursuit of the federal marshal and with what he knew of Olivia, he figured it was only a matter of time before she reached her goal of enticing him to her bed. With Aitoro on their side, the Spauldings wouldn't stand a fucking chance.

"Still," Jack continued and Swearengen inwardly rolled his eyes as he continued to watch Olivia stroll toward her hotel. As much as he liked the theatre owner, Jack did have a tendency to burn his ass with his inability to let go of a subject. "The longer one resides in this delightful hamlet, the more one hears and as such, young man, the more one learns that your connection with the esteemed hotelier is a lot more than it appears to be on the surface. Is not one correct in this regard?"

Swearengen turned to look at Jack, his brow furrowed. "What's it to you, Jack?" he asked.

The other man shrugged as he looked into his whiskey glass. "Don't forget, Al, I was here during that entire episode with George Hearst. Miss Spencer has strong ties with the patriarch of the Spaulding faction, so it is only logical that in order to prevent them from getting too out of control, she be enlisted to ally herself with those who also oppose them. As a resident and business owner of Deadwood, of course I wish to avoid an encore performance of the Hearst fiasco. Wouldn't you agree, young man?"

Once again, Swearengen was reminded of his old friend's astute insight. "I would be a fucking fool would I not, Jack," he answered. "Just when you get rid of one cocksucker, another comes to town."

"Alas, one of the hard facts of life, my friend," Jack responded.

"And something I have to fucking deal with, seemingly on a daily basis," Al groused in agreement. "Cocksucking Spauldings are trying to get their hands into every business in this town. I tell you, Jack, I did not put all of my blood and sweat into building this fucking town to allow it to fall prey to that cocksucker Alan Spaulding."

"Bravo, young man!" Jack exclaimed, clapping his hands together. "Bravo on your strong resolve. Be assured that I, and my august company, shall do all we can to assist you in your worthy endeavor."

The two men remained silent for a while after Olivia had disappeared into her hotel, her two lackeys eagerly following her inside. Swearengen continued to watch over what he considered his town, his mind constantly turning over the possibilities and permutations of the various scenarios being played out moment by moment. As always, his focus was on how such situations could better him and his myriad interests.

"Lovely couple, don't you think?" Jack said, interrupting Swearengen's musings.

Following Jack's gaze, Swearengen's eyes immediately caught sight of Marshal Aitoro walking with the chief cook of Company, Olivia's biggest obstacle. "If you say so," he answered with a shrug.

Jack turned raised eyebrows at him. "Have you had the chance to partake of the fare at Company lately, young man?" he asked. "The board is second only to that of the esteemed Aunt Lou's and the Coopers have the lovely Señorita Rivera to thank for their recent success."

"I wonder if it speaks more to her skill as a cook than as a seductress which is an indication of her success in luring away the marshal from his wife that the Coopers continue to hold her in high regard," he said, more to himself than to Jack.

"Indeed," Jack agreed. "It seems to me that there is more to the sultry Latina than just a pretty face and sound body."

"You think so?" Swearengen asked, wondering if the woman could be useful to him some way in the future.

"I do," Jack answered, emphatically. "In the timeless wisdom of the ages, young man, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. It is my opinion that the greatly-born Natalia, while having already achieved some measure of greatness in raising a fine young man, has yet to face her greatest challenge."

Swearengen did not reply, but his mind continued its endless processing as the two men watched the couple disappear into the Company boardinghouse.

Olivia tilted back her head and drank directly from the whiskey bottle clenched tightly in her hand. The fiery liquid flowed smoothly down her throat as she swallowed. "Oh fuck yeah," she said throatily, feeling the heat hit her stomach as strongly as she felt the cock deep inside of her. She looked down at the body she was riding, whatever his name was.

"Oh, that's right," she said, remembering. "Zach is your fucking name."

"Fuck," the dark-haired man grunted and reached for her breasts.

Olivia swatted the hands away. "You do what I fucking tell you, when I fucking tell you," she growled. "Hear me, cocksucker?" She waited until he grunted again in agreement and then she continued, "Right now your job is to fuck me, and I fully expect it to be a right and proper fucking. And don't you dare fucking come until I tell you. Understand?"

Zach nodded, his eyes squeezed tightly shut in concentration, his hips quivering with the effort to keep from thrusting even deeper inside of her.

Olivia turned to look over her shoulder at Zach's companion, who was sitting on a chair avidly watching them. One hand was massaging his prominent crotch through the fabric of his trousers.

"Take it out," Olivia ordered.

Cody's eyes snapped to hers in surprise. "What?" he said, dumbly.

"Take out your cock," Olivia said, enunciating each word slowly and clearly. "We want to see it."

Cody glanced quickly to Zach and Olivia was amused to see his bulge grow even larger. Yeah, that's what I thought, she said to herself. "Go on," she urged. "Take it out."

The short man stood and unbuckled his gun belt and dropped it to the floor. Then he unbuttoned his suit trousers and let it pool around his ankles as he undid the buttons on his underwear. Finally, he reached inside and pulled out his big cock.

"Well, well, well," Olivia said and glanced down at Zach. "Maybe it's your friend I should be fucking, eh Zach?"

"What?" the taller man asked opening his eyes. He blinked stupidly up at her.

"Go back to sleep, Zach," she laughed. "Just stay hard and don't fucking come."

Cody groaned as Zach arched his back as Olivia continued to ride. She was enjoying the feeling. She took another drink from the bottle and then rested it against Zach's stomach as she used her other hand to wipe a drop of whiskey from her chin.

"That's all you're really fucking good for," she said, not caring if he heard her. "Goddamned cocksuckers. All you ever want to do is stick your fucking pricks in. Doesn't matter what you stick it in either, does it, Gus? Any woman will do, won't she…no matter who she is, what her fucking age, race or social standing, whether she wants it or not. You goddamned men will even stick it in animals or each other if that's your fancy, ain't that right Cody?" She continued to move, feeling her cunt clench tighter against Zach's cock. Closing her eyes, the image of Natalia kissing Gus was clear in her mind. "Stick it in that goddamn cocksucking Puerto Rican whore, Gus, see if I fucking care."

With that she gave an extra hard thrust. Zach convulsed underneath her and she felt him spill inside her. She rolled her eyes. "Fucking useless," she said, grinding down on the bottle resting against his stomach until he grunted again, this time in pain.

"What the fuck?" he said, glaring up at her.

"I told you not to fucking come, asshole," she said in his face. Swinging her leg over him, she sat back, resting on the cushions against her ornate headboard. With one foot, she pushed Zach over and then cocked a finger at the other man.

"You," she said and his eyes widened. "Come here." She took a long pull on the bottle as she waited for him to approach the bed, his feet getting tangled in his discarded trousers and nearly tripping him to the floor.

Cody climbed up on the bed, holding his cock out in front of him. As he approached, Olivia pushed back on his chest with her foot. "Not with that, cocksucker," she said. "Use your mouth."

Olivia laughed as the short man's eyes widened even further and he sputtered, "But…but…"

"What's the matter?" she cooed, still laughing. "Don't want your buddy's sloppy seconds? Come on, Code, I know you want to."

Zach, having recovered, was now lying next to Olivia with his head propped on his hand. "Yeah, Cody, come on," he urged. "I want to watch you eat that hot pussy. And believe me when I tell you, she's fucking hot."

"Thank you," Olivia said, accepting the compliment as her due. After another drink, she looked impatiently at Cody. "Well? What are you fucking waiting for? Get to it!"

She grabbed a tasseled bolster and wedged it under her ass, then ran her fingers through her neatly trimmed hair, feeling her own wetness mixed with Zach's spunk. "See, Cody," she said in her most sultry voice. "I'm all ready for you. So let's see if you've got what it takes to make me come. Your buddy here couldn't do it, but I'm betting you can."

"Fucking right, I can," Cody finally spoke and with a lick of his lips, he moved forward until he was lying between her legs. She tilted her hips upward, getting comfortable. As Cody approached her, she grabbed the back of his head and pulled it forward until he was pressed against her cunt. As his tongue got to work, she sighed, enjoying the feel of his smoothly-shaved cheeks on her thighs.

"Oh yes, that's it," she said, closing her eyes and throwing back her head. As the short man used his mouth on her, the image of Natalia and Gus once again entered her mind. "Fucking whore," she whispered, drunkenly. "You think you know how to satisfy a man? You think you can do it better than me?" Keeping her eyes closed, she lifted the bottle to her mouth and drank deeply. Her brain began to swim from the heady combination of alcohol, the man's eager tongue on her clit and the image of what Gus was likely doing to the beautiful Latina at this exact moment.

"Do you eat her like this, Gus?" she asked the absent marshal. "Do you use that tongue of yours on her cunt? In her cunt?" She yanked on Cody's head so hard, he squeaked. "Do it, cocksucker," she ordered. "Stick that tongue inside me."

She ignored Zach's groan of arousal as Cody complied with her demands. "And you, you fucking cunt, are you too pure to suck his dick? How do you like it, bitch? You like it when he pounds that cock into your pussy? Or do you like it in your ass? Come on, Natalia, how do you want it?"

She opened her eyes to look at the head furiously working between her legs. "Come on, cocksucker," she said. "Suck it now. Suck it hard!"

Again, Cody obeyed and he latched on to her clit and pulled it into his mouth.

"God yes!" she cried, closing her eyes, frustrated at the image of Natalia that persisted in her mind. "Fucking cunt," she grated through her teeth as she felt her body approaching orgasm. "He won't have you, understand me? You'll never be his." With a cry of "Never!" Olivia's body arched itself off the bed as she held Cody's head tight, grinding her cunt frantically against him as she rode through her climax. "Fucking cunt!" she gasped out as her body finally went limp against the cushions. "Goddamn fucking cunt."

Natalia hadn't been at work at the Beacon very long before she had heard the gossip circulating about the hotel's owner by her employees. She wondered how some people could take such delight in other people's business and as the day wore on and the stories of Olivia and the two men she was entertaining in her suite grew more and more outrageous, Natalia's anger grew in direct proportion. To her chagrin, she found herself snapping at Richardson, who treated her with such a whipped puppy dog look that made her instantly contrite. To make it up to the man, Natalia sent him to fetch a cool drink for her from the kitchen while she went out the back entrance to the alley that ran behind the hotel.

Of course, she had heard about the hotel owner's exploits before. Married four times, twice to Spaulding men and twice to men of the almost as powerful Lewis clan, she also had a number of liaisons with some of the other prominent men – first with the royal Winslow family of San Cristobel – then with the Coopers, both father and son. A person would have to be blind, Natalia thought to herself as she stood shivering in the cold morning air, not to notice that Olivia Spencer was the type of woman attracted to powerful men.

On one level, Natalia understood Olivia's desire for Nicky. A Spaulding by birth, Nicky's position as Federal marshal for the Dakota Territory also made him one of the most powerful men in town and one of the few who did stand a chance of protecting Emma from the Spauldings who had many of the area's judicial and legislative officials in their pocket. However, Natalia knew that Nicky would help Olivia regardless; he had already given her his word and for Nicky, that was his bond.

Hearing a shuffling noise approaching her, she turned to see Richardson, his head down and a large mug held in his outstretched hand. She barely glanced at the contents before chugging it down, the sweet, icy apple cider flowing smoothly down her throat. She closed her eyes in appreciation as she drained half the contents. After a few moments, she opened them to see Richardson standing in silence, his white beard touching his chest as he stared at the mud of the alley.

"I'm sorry, Richardson," she finally said.

The skinny man lifted his head high enough to glance at her as if judging her sincerity. "It's all right, Miss Rivera," he said.

"No, it's not. Really," she said with a heavy sigh. "I shouldn't take my anger out on you. You did nothing to deserve it."

"Neither did Miss Spencer," he said in his small voice and Natalia looked at him sharply. For all of his seeming dimwittedness, Richardson often surprised her with quick bursts of intelligence indicating that he had several layers of depth about him that most people would not suspect he possessed.

Natalia snorted. "Really?" she asked. "Fine. If you say so."

He shrugged.

She handed the mug back to him. "Thanks for getting me the drink. I'm going to go finish up so why don't you go see if Chef needs your help."

"All right," he said, cradling the mug to his chest as if it was made of gold and not ordinary glass. He turned and went back into the hotel.

Taking a few deep breaths, she followed him and headed up the stairs. Using the master key she received from the concierge each morning when she arrived, she entered one of the rooms, her attention focused on not spilling the bucket she was carrying in one hand and the linens she held in the other and not on where she was going. Therefore, it came as a complete surprise to find the room occupied.

"Oh!" she exclaimed when she glanced up and saw a tall bearded man sitting at the writing desk with his boots propped up on the table. Natalia frowned at the mud that was now littering the blotter. Sitting on the bed, his boots also soiling the coverlet, was a shorter blonde haired man with an anticipatory grin on his face that she did not care for. "I'm sorry, gentlemen, I thought this room was unoccupied."

"Well, well…" the man at the desk said in a slow drawl. "Olivia told us you were pleasant on the eyes, but I gotta say sweetheart, you exceed all of our expectations."

"What?" she said, blinking in confusion.

"Yeah, Zach, she's beautiful and all," the man on the bed said. Natalia looked at him and saw he was massaging his crotch. "But if I don't fuck something soon, someone's gonna be sorry."

Natalia reached for the door, but before she could open it, the taller man was suddenly blocking her path.

"Don't worry, honey," he said with a leer. "Your boss will take care of the bill."

"I'm not for sale," Natalia said, trying to reach around him for the door handle.

"Not interested in what you have or do not have for sale, darling," he said and jerked his chin toward the bed. "Now Cody there is in need of a good fucking, which he was denied by your lovely employer, but who gave her heartfelt assurances that you would be receptive to providing in a most efficient manner. Therefore, I suggest you get that sweet little ass over there and get to work."

"No," she said, glaring at him. "Now get out of my way."

Intending to push him away from the door, she suddenly found herself grabbed from behind and before she could utter a cry, was thrown on the bed.

With a smirk, Cody approached the bed, unbuttoning his trousers. "Let's have some fun, cunt."

Olivia drifted in that state of consciousness between sleep and fully awake, feeling like she was drifting dreamily on the waves of the whiskey still coursing through her bloodstream. With a small part of her mind, she was aware that the repercussions from her drunken binge the night before would soon take a harsh toll on her body, but for now she was enjoying the feeling.

She vaguely remembered the boys waking her up some time after dawn looking to continue the party from the night before. Having all ready had her fill of them, she mumbled a description of the woman who had so dominated her thoughts recently and told them the chambermaid would be amenable to their advances. After extracting a promise it wouldn't cost them anything, they had finally left her alone.

Olivia rolled over in her luxurious bed, feeling the pleasant pull of muscles in her lower buttocks and thighs, muscles that she hadn't had to use in some time. She would have liked to have spent the energy with Gus, but until she was able to break through his wall of stubbornness, substitutions would just have to be made. Natalia might have him at the moment, but Olivia was sure it wouldn't be for long.

With a contented sigh, she felt herself crossing that line toward sleep, but the loud report of a gunshot, quickly followed by another snapped her into full consciousness. Feeling her heart thudding wildly in her chest, she reached for her robe.

Olivia pushed her way through the press of guests and hotel employees all trying to see through the narrow doorway. She could hear several male voices raised in anger, but over them all was the booming tones of Mose Manuel. She finally gained entrance to the room, only to be blocked by the huge bulk of her daytime watchman.

"What the fuck is going on?" she yelled, feeling the headache she had known was coming finally make its appearance.

Mose didn't turn around, but he did shuffle sideways to allow her to fully enter the room. He was holding his Winchester ready, his beady eyes quickly scanning from one occupant to another. Lying on the bed was a bleeding Cody, his figure bent over in pain as he clutched at his groin, whimpering in pain. The other man, Zach, was sitting on the floor and holding his bleeding hand with his uninjured one. Olivia could see the bullet had passed cleanly through his flesh. Lying on the floor were two pistols, the six shooter she recognized as belonging to Zach and the other a double-barreled Derringer, similar to the one she herself carried at all times.

Most surprisingly, Natalia was standing in the corner of the room, leaning against the wall with her arms folded across her chest and glaring at the hotel owner with righteous anger in her eyes.

"Your friends here haven't learned that when a lady says no, she means no," Natalia said slowly, her gaze never faltering from Olivia's. "I had to explain it to them in a way their little minds could understand."

Olivia felt her eyes widen as Natalia's meaning sank in. She shook her head in amazement and then turned to the crowd at the door. Spotting her concierge, she snapped at him, "Get these people out of here. And send someone to fetch Bullock and Doc Bauer."

Closing the door, she turned back to the scene which had not changed, except Cody's whimpers had increased.

"Shut up that whining, before I give you something more to whine about," Mose ordered.

Cody hissed through his teeth. "Fucking cunt."

"Hush now!" Mose ordered.

"Are you all right?" Olivia asked Natalia who continued to stare at her.

"Now you're concerned about my well-being?" she asked back, raising an eyebrow. "Where was all that thoughtful regard when you were throwing me to these rapists?"

Olivia noted that Mose kept his gaze fixed on the bleeding men. "Were you raped?"

"No, thanks to God and not you," Natalia shot back.

"So what's the fucking problem?" Olivia asked, the headache starting to pound behind her eyes.

Natalia's eyes flashed and Olivia braced herself for another onslaught, but there was a sharp rap on the door. Olivia gratefully opened it to see Sheriff Bullock and Charlie Utter on the other side. She moved aside to let them in.

Bullock's eyes quickly scanned the room assessing the situation while Charlie moved to pick up the discarded weapons from the floor. He examined them as he removed the rounds from the revolver.

"Derringer's been fired," he said in his gruff voice. "Twice."

Bullock turned to Olivia and asked, "Did you send for the doc?"

"On his way, I hope," Olivia said.

The sheriff nodded and then focused his gaze on Natalia. "I assume this pea shooter is yours, Miss Rivera?" he asked and on her nod he continued, "Gift from the marshal?"

"No," she answered. "I've had it for some time now."

Olivia raised her eyebrows at that. Like Bullock, she also had assumed that Gus had given her the gun.

There was another knock on the door and again, Olivia opened it to reveal Rick Bauer dressed in a somber black suit that belied his jovial visage. "Good afternoon, Olivia," he said. "I heard there's been an accident."

"Not exactly, Rick," she answer letting him in the door. He looked around and headed straight for the bleeding men. He grabbed a towel from the stack of clean ones near the water basin and wrapped it around Zach's hand, then turned his attention to Cody.

"Mose, perhaps you best step outside and allow us more space to talk with Miss Rivera," Bullock said. "Charlie and I can keep a close eye on these fellows."

"I'll be right outside," the large man said and finally eased his rifle down. He gently pushed his way past Olivia and took position in the hallway. Bullock motioned Natalia away from the wall and he and Charlie positioned themselves so they were blocking the women's view of the doctor working on Cody.

"Now, tell me what happened, Miss Rivera," Bullock said.

"Fucking cunt shot us, that's what happened, Sheriff," Zach growled, from the floor.

Bullock turned to him with a pointed finger and a glare. "You keep your mouth shut until you're asked a question." Turning back to Natalia, he nodded.

"I was just finishing up cleaning the rooms and thought this one was empty, but when I came in I found them both here," Natalia said. "They thought I was for sale, I told them I wasn't and when they pressed the issue, I was forced to defend myself."

"You're a goddamned lying whore," Zach growled out again.

Charlie strode over to him and gave him a kick in the buttocks. "You've been warned, cocksucker," he said. "Now quit it." He turned back to Natalia. "Please excuse the language, ma'am. Go on."

Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose at the entire surreal situation she found herself in. She hitched her robe tighter around her and looked up to see Natalia shrug again.

"I shot the blonde one first, and then when his friend pulled his gun, I shot him in the hand. Mose arrived just a few seconds later, but by then the fight had gone out of both of them," Natalia concluded.

Olivia looked closely at Natalia, wondering why the other woman didn't mention her role in the incident. Surely the Latina knew that Bullock would tell Gus how Olivia had set up his fiancée for harm.

Bullock turned toward Rick. "Well, doc?" he asked. "Will they live?"

"Oh sure," he said. "Fortunately for this young fellow, pending he remains free of complications from infections, then he'll go on to sire an heir or two. Another inch to the left and that would not have been a possibility. Take me just a few minutes to remove the bullet and close him up."

"And the other?"

"A bit more serious," Rick said with a frown."I'll stitch him up as best as I can, but it looks like a nerve was severed and he'll lose some feeling and use of that hand."

Zach struggled to get to his feet, but was pushed down by Charlie. "Goddamn whore, I'll fucking kill you," he spat out.

"You listen to me," Bullock started. "And you listen good. This woman is not a whore for sale. She is engaged to be married to the Federal marshal of the Dakota Territory. Do you understand what I am saying? The only reason you and your partner here have any chance of making it out of this town alive is because he is out of town. So I strongly suggest that the moment you are able, you both withdraw from Deadwood and never, ever return."

"What are you going to do to her?" Cody asked in a strained voice and Olivia noted that his pasty complexion hadn't improved any since she first entered.

"Nothing," Bullock said. "A woman's got a right to defend herself in this town."

"I'm gonna fucking make you sorry, bitch," Cody gritted.

"The only thing I'm sorry about," Natalia said, "is that I missed what I was aiming for."

Olivia had to bite back a laugh. Her headache and the situation did not seem to warrant any hilarity on her part.

"Charlie, please make sure these two are off the premises as soon as the doc is done with them and then point them on the road headed out of town," Bullock said.

"All right," Charlie agreed.

"Ladies," Bullock said opening the door for them. "Let's leave Doc Bauer to his patients."

Olivia followed him out of the door, the pounding in her head reaching a crescendo as she felt Natalia's glare on her again.

Natalia watched as Olivia made a beeline for the whiskey bottle the moment the three of them entered the suite. She shook her head at the offer, as did Sheriff Bullock. Olivia downed the shot and muttered to herself, "God bless the hair of the dog."

Natalia frowned at the blasphemy and crossed her arms over her chest. She turned to the sheriff as he asked, "Are you all right? And by that I mean more than just physically all right."

She nodded. "I'm fine," she said.

"Shall I send a message to the marshal beseeching for his immediate return?" he asked.

"No," she shook her head. "His work is more important than me needing coddling. I'm fine." She glanced at Olivia and could see the other woman's surprise. Natalia guessed that Olivia thought she would have jumped at the opportunity of recalling Gus since he had gone to Yankton mainly for Olivia's interests.

Bullock squinted at her as if judging the validity of her words. She did not waver under his scrutiny until he finally nodded, satisfied. "Very well, then," he said and then handed her the Derringer and Natalia slipped it into the garter hidden under her skirts. "Please let me know if there is anything you need," Bullock continued. He turned to Olivia and tipped his hat. "Miss Spencer, my apologies to you and your guests for the disturbance of your business."

Olivia nodded and closed the door behind him. She then turned around and once again Natalia felt herself being closely scrutinized. "What?" she finally asked, her patience almost at an end.

"I'm impressed," Olivia said. "Where did you learn to use a gun?"

"In Chicago," Natalia answered.

"From one of your tricks?"

"I was never a whore, Olivia," Natalia answered, her eyes flashing angrily. "I was a single mother at sixteen, all alone and working to keep my son fed, clothed and with a roof over his head. It wasn't easy, but I never sold myself." Natalia tried to read Olivia's expression, but she couldn't decipher what the other woman was thinking. However, she was exhausted and even though she just wanted to go back to her room so she could regroup, she was curious about the hotel owner. "What about you, Olivia?" she asked, taking a seat in the plush armchair. "Were you born to the purple or did you earn your wealth on your back?"

Olivia smirked. "Oh, I earned every cent I own, that's for sure," she answered. "But I didn't have to whore to do it. Maybe I did make a few profitable mergers a time or two, but that's just business."

"You must have been young also when you had your older daughter," Natalia pointed out. "How did you manage?"

Olivia's face darkened. "I didn't," she said shortly. "Ava was raised by a family in Illinois. I didn't know her until after I'd moved to this country." Olivia paused and then quickly asked, "You were right, you know – you could have been raped. Why didn't you tell Bullock that it was me who set you up? I don't think Gus will take too kindly to that information."

Natalia blinked at the abrupt change of subject. Then she answered, "It was an incredibly stupid thing you did, Olivia," she said. "I could have been hurt or worse and those men could have been killed. Why did you do it?"

Olivia shrugged. "Seemed like a good idea at the time. Not one of my finest, mind. However, you never answered my question. Why didn't you tell Bullock?"

This time it was Natalia's turn to shrug. "I figure that's between you and I."

"Well…thanks," Olivia said, scratching her head.

"That doesn't mean I'm not furious with you," Natalia said, feeling her anger running through her. "Why did you do it, Olivia?"

After a long moment, Olivia answered. "I went to Gus's house last night and saw you there."

Natalia was confused. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"So how was he, Natalia?" Olivia shot back angrily, answering Natalia's question with a question. "Did he fuck you good?"

Natalia felt her whole body flushing under Olivia's words. "That's why you did it?" she asked incredulously. "You set me up to be attacked because you were jealous when you thought I slept with my fiancé? Oh, that's just perfect!"

"Thought?" Olivia asked and Natalia felt a small stab of unchristian satisfaction that it was the other woman's turn to be confused.

"Yes, thought," she answered. "Nicky and I enjoyed a pleasant dinner and then he escorted me back to my room. The same routine we follow every time I have a night off."

"Oh," Olivia said. "You didn't sleep with him?"

"No!" Natalia said emphatically. "Not that it's any of your business, but Nicky and I are waiting until after we're wed."

Olivia's mouth dropped open and then she threw her head back with laughter. "Oh, that's rich, Natalia," she said as she poured another whiskey. "You'll fuck him to steal him away from Harley, but you won't fuck him until you make a vow in a dusty old church. That, my dear, makes you a hypocrite."

"What about you, Olivia," Natalia retorted, still flushed from Olivia's words. "You brought those two yahoos where your daughters live and incited violence. What does that make you?"

Olivia smirked as she sipped her whiskey. "I'm a woman who knows what she wants. And do you want to know something, Natalia?"


"I always get what I want," she answered.

Natalia shook her head. "Not this time, Olivia," she said. "Nicky and I will do all we can to help keep Emma safe, but that's it." She sighed, the anger draining out of her as exhaustion began to set in her bones. She glanced at the clock. "My shift is over," she said. "I've got to get to Company."

She started to get up, but Olivia stopped her. "Wait," she said.

Natalia turned back around. "What?" she asked with a sigh. "Is this where you tell me my services are no longer required by the Beacon?"

"Just the opposite, in fact," Olivia said. "I'm promoting you."

Natalia shook her head, once again feeling confused. "Excuse me?"

"I'm offering you a new job," Olivia said. "With that cocksucker Phillip Spaulding slinking around, I don't have as much time to devote to the day to day operation of the hotel, especially with the personnel. You can manage things, leaving me to concentrate on protecting Emma."

"I'm a chambermaid, Olivia," Natalia said, incredulously. "I've never done anything like that in my life and I just can't go from a maid a manager. No one will take me seriously."

"Natalia, by now the news of the shooting has spread from the maître d'hôtel to the retard that cleans the outhouse. Believe me, they'll listen to you."

"But what about Buzz?" Natalia asked.

Olivia shrugged. "That's none of my business," she answered. "Stay at Company or quit, it's your choice, but at your new salary of five hundred a month, I expect your first priority will be to me."

Natalia was staggered. That figure was more than four times her current income, including what she made at Company. She hated to leave Buzz in the lurch, but then again when he was pressured by his daughter to let her go, he did. Even though she had a fondness for him, she couldn't forget how he had left her and Rafe hanging. On the other hand, Olivia was likely just trying to manipulate her as a way of getting closer to Nicky and Natalia thought it would be she who was left with a knife in the back.

"Well?" Olivia asked.

"I'm not sure about this," Natalia said. "One minute we're screaming at each other, the next you're offering me a job with more money than I've seen in a very long time."

"That's life in Deadwood, sweetheart," Olivia said with a smug smirk. "From rags to riches."

"To rags again," Natalia said thinking of the story Mose Manuel had told her one quiet afternoon when the hotel had been sparsely occupied. He recounted about how he had been co-owner of one of the richest gold claims in the hills and then he lie near death in an empty brothel without a cent to his name.

Olivia chuckled. "There is that," she conceded. "Tell you what. Think it over tonight and if you decide to take the job come back in the morning dressed in something nice – that pretty frock you wore to Emma's party will do."

"And if I don't want the job?" Natalia asked.

"Then don't bother coming back," Olivia answered, her tone hard. "You'd be stupid not to take it and I don't want stupid people working for me."

Natalia was silent, ignoring the implied insult. "All right, I'll think about it and let you know one way or the other in the morning.

"My beating heart is filled with fucking anticipation," Olivia muttered and poured another drink.

"And that's another thing," Natalia said, stepping closer to Olivia. "I would appreciate if you wouldn't use that kind of language in my presence."

Olivia's eyes flashed angrily. "Listen. I only censor myself for Emma, so I advise you to fucking get used to it."

Natalia stopped inches from Olivia, the angry sparks of energy flowing between them. She breathed in deeply through her nose in an effort to control herself. "I'm glad you can control yourself at least as far as your daughter is concerned." Her nostrils flared as she took another breath. "Now why don't you get yourself cleaned up before she gets home from school? You stink of sex and whiskey." With that, she turned her back and headed for the door.

Olivia reached it before her and opened it. Mose was standing outside, his ever present shotgun held at the ready. "Escort Miss Rivera to Company, Mose," she ordered. "And make sure she's not alone on the streets while those two cocksuckers are still in town."

"Yes, Miss Spencer," he said.

"See you in the morning," Olivia said to Natalia with a smirk in her voice.

"Maybe," Natalia said and started down the stairs with the bulky man following her. Despite the noise of his heavy steps on the stairs, Natalia thought she could hear Olivia's haunting chuckle behind her.

Mose was silent as they walked down the crowded main street of Deadwood until they both stopped in front of the restaurant and boarding house. "Are you really all right, Miss Rivera?" he asked, his piggish eyes showing his concern.

Natalia laid a hand on his muscular arm. "I'm fine, Mose," she said. "I've got a lot of work to do tonight and I'm already late, but why don't you stop by later and I'll have a plate made up for you as a way to show my thanks."

"There's no need for that, Miss Rivera," he said. "What time do you come to the hotel in the morning?"

Natalia paused, not sure if she'd be going to the hotel. "Come here seven in the morning and I'll have breakfast waiting for you then, if you won't eat my supper." She smiled at his faint blush.

"All right," he said, dipping his head. "You have a good night, ma'am."

"You too, Mose," she said and entered the restaurant.

Buzz was busily serving the crowd of men who had gathered in anticipation of getting a meal. She went over to the bar and said, "I'm sorry I'm late, Buzz."

"It's all right, Natalia," he said. "Marina's covering in the kitchen and Coop's getting things ready to serve. Why don't you take tonight off?"

"Heard what happened, did you?" she asked with a wry smile.

"Small town, darling," he drawled with a shrug.

"No, I'm all right and want to work. If you could just give me a few minutes to clean up and change and I'll be right down," she said.

He looked at her for a moment. "All right, but take your time," he said and went back to serve the next customer.

Natalia made her way wearily up the stairs to her room, already trying to mentally brace herself for the long night of cooking and serving the evening board. Inside her room, she carefully set the latch and jiggled the door to make sure it was secure. Then she slowly peeled her clothes off of her, wondering if she could find someone to run the uniform over to Celestial Alley for cleaning the stink of gunpowder and fear off of it.

She poured fresh water into the basin and began soaping a wash cloth, then she dropped them both into the water with a splash and fell to the floor, her hands over her face as the sobs which she had been holding in finally emerged.


Chapter 4 – Full Faith and Credit

Rafe was exhausted and hurting by the time Gus finally called a stop. They had reached a small meadow nestled against the side of a sharp embankment, the ponderosa pines and spruce filtering the late afternoon sun. Rafe estimated they had travelled nearly forty miles since leaving Deadwood that morning. As Rafe eased his careful way off his horse, muscles in his lower back and thighs protested, but he bit back a groan and shot a glance at his father to see if the man had noticed his discomfort. He had not spent so much time in the saddle since first learning to ride and his sore body was letting him know that in a big way.

Gus was working at the cinches of his saddle, his slim cheroot clamped between his teeth and his dark eyes focused on his task. Rafe started to do the same, but Gus interrupted him.

"Why not let me take care of that, son?" he said, glancing over at Rafe. "There's still some daylight left and I've a hankering for a taste of rabbit. Think you can secure us a fat one?"

"I'm willing to give it a try, sir," he answered through his teeth after a long moment, feeling a flash of anger. All he wanted to do right now was collapse on the ground in agony. The last thing he needed was to go tramping through the hills hunting for a stupid rabbit.

Rafe tried not to limp over to Gus's horse and he slipped the coach gun from its sheath. He carefully checked the load as Gus had taught him and then untied the small pouch holding the extra shells.

"Don't go far," Gus said, as he lifted his saddle off of his horse. "Watch for bears and bring back some extra wood on your way back. I'll get the fire started, but the extra warmth will be right welcome tonight."

"Yes, sir," Rafe said and headed off along the creek.

Before moving to Deadwood Territory and meeting his father, Rafe had never hunted or ridden a horse. He had been deeply embarrassed to learn that even his mother knew how to ride and had participated in the fancy fox hunts of her privileged youth. Rafe, on the other hand, was city bred; his skills came with growing up on the rough streets of Chicago. He could hustle at dice, pilfer and, of course, fight with his fists and a sharp knife, but that was it. However, in the past year, Gus had slowly been teaching him the skills Natalia could not – how to shoot, how to ride, how to hunt game and how to survive out of doors with nothing but miles of wilderness around him.

He and Gus had spent time in the hills surrounding Deadwood, but this was the first time his father had taken him on a long journey. Rafe hated leaving his mother alone, but he had been eager to take the trip. Gus was a patient and subtle teacher, Rafe had realized and as he walked following the creek upstream, each step eased the cramped muscles in his body. Rafe's anger dissipated as he finally understood that his father's suggestion he hunt for their supper was just another lesson in horsemanship.

As his body relaxed, he finally began looking for an area where a cottontail could be hiding. He spotted a pile of brushwood and began to slowly pace toward it, the shotgun held at the ready, his finger gently resting on the trigger guard. He paused for half a minute and then walked again. On his third pause, there was a flurry of movement as a gray blur broke from the cover and dashed away. Aiming carefully just beyond the head, Rafe pulled the trigger and to his delight saw the animal fall and tumble forward from its own momentum. He lowered the gun and ran toward it and was happy to see that his shot had killed the rabbit neatly. He picked it up by the ears and carried it to the creek to clean and skin. He was proud that it was a nice sized one that would satisfy both of them this evening.

By the time he returned, Gus had their camp set up neatly and a fire burning within a circle of creek stones. Gus had apparently gathered some wild onions, groundnuts and sage while Rafe was gone and had them already cleaned and waiting near the fire. Rafe smiled inwardly at his father's show of confidence that he would bag a rabbit. He replaced the gun and pouch and then grabbed a saddle bag to fetch their cooking supplies. Gus took Rafe's game bag and began cutting up the rabbit.

"This is a nice one, son," he said. "I thought I only heard one shot ring out. Get him on one?"

"Yes, sir," he said. "Luck was with me."

"Not luck, Rafe," Gus said, shaking his head. "I said your skills would improve with time and practice and I was right."

Rafe flushed under the praise as he placed the Dutch oven on the coals at the edge of the campfire and added a scoop of lard to melt. They both worked in silence as they prepared stew. By the time it was simmering, it was nearly full dark. Gus got out a bottle of whiskey and gave Rafe a small bit in his cup.

"Thanks," Rafe said.

"Just don't tell your mother," Gus said dryly and lit another cheroot from a small branch he held in the fire.

"Believe me, I won't," Rafe said as he added water to his cup and took a sip. He wondered how adults could bear to drink it straight. His eyes watered and he manfully suppressed a cough. "She'd pitch a fit."

"At both of us," Gus agreed.

The two of them sat companionably by the fire as they sipped the whiskey and waited for the stew to thicken. Finally, Rafe asked, "Do you miss Illinois?"

Gus appeared to chew the question around in his head. "Not really," he finally answered. "Most of the folks from Springfield came to Deadwood during the rush so there's no one left back there to miss. The rest, well…it's just a place, like any other."

Rafe nodded and thought about his father's words. Chicago was so completely different than Deadwood, but it could be just as exciting and as dangerous. "What's Yankton like?" Rafe asked. "Mama and I picked up the coach there, but didn't get to see much of it."

"It's like most any other town, I suppose," Gus answered. "Being the territory capital, it has more than its share of politicians."

"Don't care much for the politicos, do you?" Rafe said, hearing the tone in his father's voice.

"No," Gus answered, his tone acerbic. "Useless waste of food and air, they are."

"And yet, that's why we're going to Yankton, isn't it?" Rafe asked.

"One of many reasons for taking a trip this far," Gus said. "I do have to meet with my superiors at the agency offices, but I also need to contact a slimy commissioner for Olivia."

Rafe thought about the woman who owned the hotel where his mother worked. He had seen her around town, but had never officially met her, although they were related through the Spauldings. "What do you hope to accomplish?" he asked.

"For one thing, for him to come to Deadwood to speak with Olivia directly," Gus answered. "I can't be involved in any exchange of bribes."

"Because you're a U.S. Marshal?"

"That and because I refuse to be a part of any such dealings," Gus said and Rafe felt his father's eyes on him. "In Illinois, the Spauldings gained their wealth and power through illegal and underhanded dealings. Here in the territory, the corruption is so much worse, which is why Alan moved his base of operations."

"You're not like him," Rafe said with certainty in his voice. He knew that his mother could never love anyone who was evil and corrupt.

"I try not to," Gus affirmed. "As a Spaulding, you'll have to decide for yourself on that issue, son." Gus paused and then added, "I know about the confidence games you've been playing, son."

Rafe felt his whole body flush in shame. "Does Mama?"

Gus shook his head. "No," he answered. "At least, I don't think she does, but Rafe…there's no reason for you to put yourself at risk like that. Sure, you're only an apprentice, but your needs are taken care of and you know if you want anything extra, you can come to me. I'm your father and I can help."

"Mama doesn't take your help," Rafe pointed out.

"Your mother can be a stubborn woman," Gus said and Rafe could hear the frustration in his voice. "However, soon we will be married and I'll finally be able to provide for you both, as I should have been since you were born."

Rafe once again felt a stab of anger at the memory of the years his mother had spent working her fingers to the bone struggling to raise him without any support from her family. "Did you know my grandfather?"

"Florencio Rivera?" Gus asked and at Rafe's nod, he added, "Only by reputation. My family did not move in the same circles as your mother's. We were working class and Natalia's family was Old World aristocracy."

"She doesn't talk much about her family," Rafe said as he added another branch to the fire. "I knew nothing about them growing up and didn't even know they existed until Mama told me we were coming to Deadwood to find you."

Gus was silent as his dark eyes watched the flickering flames. "There is nothing I wish for more, son, than had I been there for your mother when you were born," he finally said. "But the sad fact is that I wasn't. And we can never get that back, the three of us. We can only go forward from now on."

"What about Harley and her children?" Rafe asked.

"I love Harley, son," Gus said. "I always will, but the time for her and I is over. Now is the time for our family."

"A time for every purpose under Heaven," Rafe quoted. "Mama says that often."

"Stubborn, but wise," Gus chuckled. "She's always been like that."

"What was she like, sir?" Rafe asked, curious about his mother's life before his existence affected her so much.

"She was so beautiful," Gus said with a wistful smile on his face. "I first saw going into the botanical gardens in Chicago. She was there on a school trip. I tried to speak with her, but the whole group of girls she was with was surrounded by nuns and I couldn't get close, so I followed them back to the convent school and eventually I managed to catch her by herself in the exercise yard."

Rafe laughed. "What a stalker you were."

"I was," Gus joined in the laughter. "I scared her at first, but when I kept hanging around the school, eventually she fell in love with me. It was the most amazing thing that had happened to me."

"But you left her," Rafe said, the old familiar bitterness replacing the laughter. "Pregnant and alone. Why couldn't you have done the right thing by her and married her? Given her your protection?"

"I didn't know she was with child, son," Gus said, shaking his head. "My father had been murdered and I took off after his killer. I planned on returning to Chicago for her, but events kept me away. There was always one more job to do, one more criminal to take down. Before I knew it, years had passed and I reckoned she had gotten on with her life and after a while, I figured she would have moved on and it was time for me to do the same. I never thought to see her again."

Both men once again fell silent for a bit, as Rafe retreated once again into his thoughts about the injustices of life. Both of his grandfathers were rich and powerful men. Both came from Illinois and both made their fortunes through cattle, one raising them and the other slaughtering them. Yet his parents had both grown up untouched by their sires' influence.

Rafe thought about how he too, had grown up without his father and what kind of effect it would have on the rest of his life. Would he grow up to be like Gus Aitoro, a seemingly good and honest man or would he be more like his grandfathers, evil and corrupt, using exploiting the endless loopholes inherent in the system for their own personal gain? And just how sincere was Gus with his declarations of wanting to do the right thing? Was his engagement to his mother an honest attempt to do the right thing by the woman who had born his child out of wedlock, or was she simply consolation for the ruin of his marriage to Harley?

He knew that answers to these questions would not be immediately forthcoming. Even in his short years, he understood that things were not always what they appeared to be. There were always layers within layers to people and sometimes it frustrated him when he was not able to perceive what lay beneath. Sometimes, he just wished people could be the same on the outside as they were on the inside. It would simplify things so much.

Gus got up to check on the stew and pronounced it done. Rafe eagerly ladled a healthy portion into his bowl and started to eat the second he sat back down again. "Man, this is so good," he said between bites and Gus grunted his agreement. The rabbit meat had cooked down to tender morsels and the savory wild vegetables added a loamy, piquant flavor to the thick broth. For just a moment, Rafe wished he had one of his mother's fluffy biscuits to mop up the juices, but decided that just slurping from the bowl would do just fine. His father did the same, apparently not following his mother's fine manners one whit, so Rafe felt no guilt in emulating the other man.

The two of them continued to eat in silence until they were full. Rafe moved the stew to the side and set the fire to keep them warm for the night, while Gus lit a final cheroot and allowed Rafe another draught of whiskey. They then chatted about inconsequential things until both felt the call of sleep. Rafe lay down that night under the stars sated from the rabbit he had hunted and buzzed from the liquor and his dreams were filled of Wild West adventures.

In the morning, Gus put on coffee and the leftover stew to heat for their breakfast while Rafe checked and saddled the horses. He enjoyed working with the proud animals. Their needs were simple and he sensed they were appreciative of his efforts to fulfill them, not like more complex and confusing humans.

After the two men rode away from their campsite, Rafe took a moment to enjoy the peace of the morning. Chicago was a dirty and smelly city; the overcrowded tenements he and his mother had lived in were a small step above stinking sewers. In contrast, the Black Hills were clean and pure, the cold autumn air fresh and so sharp it made his nostrils tingle. It was at moments like this, that Rafe was glad they had come west. When he glanced at his father riding along beside him, he felt a rare stab of love for the man.

Later that afternoon, they saw a cloud of dust in the distance ahead of them. "Freight wagons," Gus identified and in a short while they met up with the train. It was comprised of six wagons being pulled by teams of four oxen each. Rafe recognized the man sitting on the leading wagon as one of Charlie Utter's drivers.

"Marshal," the man greeted Gus and gave a nod to Rafe.

"Mr. Lindstrom," Gus said. "Coming from Yankton?"

"Ayah," Lindstrom answered in heavy accent. "No trouble, happy t'say. You headin' dat way?"

"We are," Gus said. "No trouble from here to Deadwood. You might have a bit of a haul going down into the gulch from recent rains, but other than that, you'll be fine."

"Good t'know," the man hopped up and jumped down from the high seat. "Got somethin' fer you, Marshal." He went to the back of the wagon and dug around for a bit, then finally pulled a package.

Rafe and Gus both dismounted from their horses and Rafe was happy to note that his muscles were not as sore as they had been yesterday. He stretched to loosen them while Gus opened the package. When walked over to Gus, he saw his father was holding a stack of papers with an odd look on his face.

"What is it?" he asked.

Gus sighed. "Divorce decree," he answered. "From Harley. It's official."

"Oh," Rafe said, not sure how to react to the news. "I mean, that's…that's good, right? You and Mama can get married now."

"Yeah," Gus said with a nod. "That's good." He replaced the papers into the package and handed it back to Lindstrom. "No sense dragging these back to Yankton. Will you be so kind as to deliver the package to my fiancée Miss Natalia Rivera? You can find her at Buzz Cooper's place or at the Beacon Hotel."

"Will do, Marshal," Lindstrom replied, and returned the package to the wagon. "You'n yer son have a good journey."

"Thank you," Gus said.

Rafe noted that Gus's silence lasted well into the day and he wondered what his father was thinking about. He hoped it was of his mother and not of Gus's now ex-wife.

After staying up late the night before cooking and cleaning up from the evening board, Natalia made sure she awoke even earlier than usual to prepare breakfast. She started her bread while her coffee brewed, then sat down with a cup to start peeling potatoes to fry. After the first batch of home fries was in the pan, she started on her pancakes, which she normally reserved for Sunday morning service. Buzz came in carrying the eggs he had purchased on his way to the restaurant. His eyebrows rose when he saw her working at the griddle.

"What's the occasion?" he asked as he set the eggs down on the work table and began cracking them into a clean bowl.

Natalia pushed a sweaty strand of hair off her forehead and tucked it behind her ear. "Olivia Spencer offered me a new job at the hotel," Natalia began, not wanting to put this off any longer. "More authority, more responsibility and more money."

"Well, that's terrific, darling," he said with a wide grin on his face.

"I haven't accepted it yet," she admitted. "In fact, I have less than an hour to decide. She told me not to bother showing up if I don't take the job."

Buzz chuckled. "Yeah, that's our Olivia, all right. All or nothing."

"I'm not sure what to do, Buzz," she said.

"Take it, of course," he said. "You'd be a fool not to."

"I know you trust her," Natalia said, warily, remembering the stories she'd heard that Olivia had been romantically involved with Buzz and had nearly married him. "But what if she's setting me up to fail? I'll be worse off than before."

"And, if you don't mind my saying so, you're very wise not to trust her with too much," he said, "but I've known Olivia Spencer a long time. All the way back to our Springfield days and I know she doesn't do things like that. if she's offering you an important position in her hotel – her main source of income, I might add, then believe me when I say that she must know you can do the job."

"Still, it's just crazy…maid to manager in one day? Yesterday, I was cleaning chamber pots and today I'm supposed to run a hotel?"

"Again, Olivia wouldn't risk her operation on someone incapable and I know you, Natalia – you're a remarkable woman. You can do it."

"Why are you encouraging me?" she asked. "I'll have to leave Company if I take the position."

He shrugged. "We'll manage," he said. "Marina has learned a lot from you and her cooking has improved. Mind, she'll never be as good as you, but at least this time she won't chase away the customers. At least, not with her cooking."

Natalia snorted at Buzz's wry comment about his granddaughter. She had always maintained a cool relationship with the volatile woman. Then she grew serious as she thought about Olivia Spencer. "You don't think she's out to get me? Yesterday, I almost got hurt because of her."

Buzz shrugged. "I don't know what all happened, except that you had to defend yourself against two cocksuckers, but if Olivia precipitated that event, then perhaps this is her way of making it up to you?"

"An apology?" Natalia scoffed. "Somehow I don't think she's the type to apologize."

"No, she's not," Buzz admitted. "But sometimes she does the right thing without even being fully aware as to exactly why she's doing it."

Natalia was silent as she contemplated Buzz's words while the two of them completed the breakfast preparations. Hearing a noise, she looked up to see Mose Manual entering the kitchen, his omnipresent shotgun over his shoulder.

"Good morning, Mose," she said. "You're early."

"I'm on my way from the saloon, Miss Rivera," he explained. "I thought I'd save a trip and came directly here, if that's all right with Mr. Cooper." He turned to Buzz and added, "Miss Spencer directed me to make sure Miss Rivera arrives at the hotel unmolested in case those two blackguards she was forced to shoot yesterday are still about."

Buzz nodded. "Good man," he said and then turned to Natalia with a questioning look in his eyes.

She grabbed a plate and piled it high with food and pushed it at Mose. "Get yourself some coffee and eat while I get ready."

"Yes, ma'am," he said as he took the plate and retreated into the dining room.

Natalia looked at a smiling Buzz. "I quit," she said, simply.

His smiled widened even more. "Good luck, darling."

Natalia was certain she was going to need all the luck she could get when it came to dealing with Olivia Spencer.

The morning's dawn promised to be the start of a beautiful day, Alan Spaulding thought as he and Mr. Li rode through a remote corner of Spaulding Ranch toward his son's campsite. Every week or so, he and Li would take a ride to a different part of the sprawling property as Phillip kept changing locations to avoid detection, especially from that nosy cocksucking Sheriff Bullock, who apparently thought it was his God given right to trespass whenever he felt the urge. Such actions annoyed Alan to no living end.

As the pair came over a small hillock, Alan finally spotted smoke rising through the trees and the two men pointed their horses in that direction. The trail led to a small copse and soon after entering it, they came to the camp. A field tent was set up near the fire where a dark haired man was sitting. He rose to his feet as the pair rode up.

"Mr. Spaulding," Cyrus Foley greeted in an Australian accent. Alan noted he ignored Li's presence, which was exactly how Li preferred.

"Where's Phillip?" Alan asked. "And your brother?" he added, looking around the camp site and not seeing the younger Foley brother.

"Taking a shit," Cyrus answered with a grin. "Grady's gone along to watch his back, so to speak."

"Indeed," Alan said dryly. He dismounted his horse and handed the reins to Li, who led both horses over to where Phillip's and the Foleys' were hobbled as they grazed on sweet meadow grass. He helped himself to a cup of coffee from the pot that was keeping warm near the fire, first grabbing a tin mug he assumed was Cyrus's and tossing its contents to the side.

"By all means, Mr. Spaulding," Cyrus said in a polite tone, but to Alan's amusement, the other man was clearly annoyed. "Help yourself."

"I believe I will, Cyrus," he answered as he squatted near the fire to drink the brew while waiting for his son.

The morning was quiet except for the small sounds coming from Mr. Li as he unloaded supplies from the horses' pack bags and the soft scraping of metal on wood as Cyrus widdled on a branch. Alan didn't bother to see what the man was making. He disapproved of his son's companions and would have preferred Li protect Phillip instead, but as an oriental, Li stood out and could have drawn unwarranted attention whereas the Australian brothers did not in a territory filled with Westerners from every corner of the planet who had come seeking gold. Besides, they were stupidly loyal, something Alan begrudgingly admitted. As long as they got cash money, whiskey and cunt on a regular basis, they were content to ride with Phillip and watch his back.

Alan was broken from his musings by the sound of his son's deep baritone laugh, followed by Grady's higher pitched tone. The two men entered the meadow a few minutes later; Phillip carrying a leather satchel and his companion a bucket of water. It was clear from Phillip's slick hair and freshly shaved face that he had taken the time to bathe.

Seeing Alan at the fire, he tossed his satchel at Cyrus. "Oh Father, my Father," Phillip sang with a maniacal grin on his face. "Have you come to take your long lost son home at last?"

"Not yet, son," Alan said and internally winced at the insane anger that crossed Phillip's face that cleared a moment later.

"This living out of doors is fucking bullshit, Pa," Phillip growled. "Why can't we at least stay in the bunkhouse or the fucking barn even?"

Rather than answer his son, Alan turned to Cyrus and said, "Why don't you take your brother and make yourselves useful while I speak with my son. Go chop fucking wood or something."

"Sure thing, Mr. Spaulding," Cyrus said agreeably. "Come on Grady."

The other brother looked up from where he had been rummaging through one of the supply sacks. "I'm fucking hungry," he whined.

"Go!" Phillip said sharply and Grady immediately dropped the sack and sullenly followed his brother. After they were gone, Phillip turned back to Alan and said, "Let me guess…my dear Aunt Alexandra?"

Alan nodded. "She still hasn't forgiven you for getting her son killed," he said.

"That was an accident," Phillip said.

"You rigged the boiler to explode," Alan pointed out, thinking about the events that occurred on the Mississippi years ago where his nephew's sweetheart had been held after she was kidnapped. The two cousins had rescued her, but Alexandra's son had been killed.

"It wasn't my fault the stupid cocksucker didn't get off the boat in time," Phillip said, petulantly. "And that happened a long time ago, Pa."

"Ancient history, I know," Alan said waving a hand in dismissal. "But dear Alexandra still grieves for her son and I simply can't trust that she won't turn you in, son." Secretly Alan thought it more likely his sister would shoot Phillip on sight, but he would worry about that when it came time for it. Right now, he had to concentrate on getting the charges against Phillip dropped.

"She's only a woman, Pa," Phillip said with a shrug and Alan noted the fire was back in his eyes. "She'll get over it or die with it on her mind and a lot fucking faster than God intends if she fucks with me."

"You forget about Alexandra, Phillip," Alan said, hardening his voice. "Let's just get you home, all right?"

Alan waited while Phillip retreated into his own thoughts for a few minutes. He poured himself more coffee and was sipping it when Phillip finally asked, "So what's the plan, Father?"

"After I leave here, Li and I are heading into Deadwood," he answered, glad that today Phillip was having more lucid moments than he had been exhibiting in recent weeks. "I'm going to send a telegram to a territory commissioner named Hugo Jarry who, I'm told, with sufficient incentive, can arrange to have the federal warrants against you cleared and all charges for your crimes up to this point, dropped.

"Cocksucking politicians," Phillip muttered under his breath. "How do you know you can trust him?"

"Son, one can never trust a politicians, especially one of Jarry's ilk – like you said, cocksuckers all – however, this is how the game is played. This is why you need to continue to lie low and not pull any more stunts like you did with the Turner boy."

"I just wanted to give my darling Emma a birthday gift," Phillip said and then added with a predatory grin, "the boy was just for fun."

"I admire your paternal devotion, Phillip," Alan said, pushing the matter of exactly what his son had done with the boy out of his mind. "But such stunts only serve to agitate Olivia even more. As it is, she has enlisted your brother's assistance. From what I understand, Gus is on his way to Yankton to speak with Jarry on Olivia's behalf."

"She can't outbid you," Phillip pointed out.

"No, but she may have other incentives at her disposal, but again, it's all part of the game," Alan said, thinking about how formidable a woman Olivia Spencer was and with Gus on her side, they stood a chance of winning, something he would not admit to his volatile son.

"We have to get Emma back, Pa," Phillip said. "God only knows what kind of influence that cunt is having on sweet Emma."

"And we shall get her back, Phillip," Alan assured, patiently. "Just follow the rules and things will work out."

"Other people's rules and what they think doesn't matter, my dear Father," Phillip said in a low voice that caused shivers to run down Alan's back. "They're always gonna hate us anyway. No, the only people that I care about are Spauldings. Those Spauldings who stand with us – with our vision of the future of the family – those are the ones who will reap the benefits of what I do for them. Those who don't, like my cocksucking brother Gus or even your dear sister, are useless and will be eliminated. No one is going to stand in my way in getting my daughter back, Pa…understand? No one and certainly not Emma's fucking mother."

"Have patience, my son," Alan said in a soothing tone. "First, we take care of your problem so you can come home, then we get Emma back and then…we destroy Olivia Spencer."

Phillip's eyes seemed to glow at Alan's words.

A knock on her office door interrupted Olivia who was writing correspondence. She had been at work for a while, sorting through tasks that needed to be done into two lists, one for her to handle and the other, longer list, for Natalia to perform. Putting down her pen, she walked around the desk to open the door. In the hall stood her eldest, and obviously exhausted, daughter who smelled of whiskey and cigar smoke.

"Ava, dear, come in," she said and closed the door behind the taller woman. She took Ava's hand and drew her over to the settee. Once they were settled, she asked, "Have you been out all night?"

Ava nodded. "I had a good night, too, Mother," she said with a smirk. "Very lucrative and I learned there's a poker tournament being arranged with some of the biggest players invited. I aim to be there for it."

"Where and when?" Olivia asked, knowing that even though Ava would not be invited, she would still be able to earn a spot at a table.

"New Orleans in two months," Ava answered.

Olivia thought a moment. "That gives you just enough time to get there."

"So I figured," Ava agreed. "There's a stage leaving in a couple of days for Yankton. The office isn't opened yet, but I'll go there later and book it."

"No, honey, you get some sleep," Olivia said, shaking her head. "I'll take care of it."

"Are you sure, Mother?" Ava asked. "You're always so busy."

There was a knock on the door and Olivia smirked. "I'll just have my new assistant handle it."

"Assistant?" Ava asked, confused.

Olivia got up and opened the door revealing, as she had been certain, Natalia Rivera. "My assistant," she said to Ava.

"Good morning, Olivia," Natalia said and Olivia was amused to note that Natalia had dropped the 'Miss Spencer.' She supposed Natalia had earned that right after yesterday's events and allowed it to pass without comment. "Miss Peralta," Natalia said to Ava.

"Miss Rivera," Ava said, rising from the settee. "Congratulations on your new position."

"Thank you," Natalia answered and then turned to Olivia with an expectant look.

"Ava is travelling to New Orleans and needs to be there in two months' time," she said in a no nonsense tone. "I want you to arrange her passage, first by coach to Yankton and then by steamer. Find out if any are going directly to New Orleans so she doesn't have to change ships. If I know my daughter, she'll already have a game going and won't want to interrupt it for something as tiresome as changing steamers."

Ava's smirk mirrored her mother's.

"Then send a telegram to a Antonio Monteleone at the Commercial Hotel in New Orleans and book her a suite for the duration of her stay." Olivia walked to the desk and quickly wrote a note. "Stop by the bank and give this to Alma, she'll have a draft sent to the hotel to cover Ava's expenses."

"Mother, you don't have to do that," Ava protested.

"If I don't, you'll end up staying at the worst flophouse in the Quarter," Olivia said with a fond smile for her daughter. Then she turned back to Natalia. "After you get back, I want you to spend some time with the concierge and have him explain his job to you. I want you to do the same with Chef and the sommelier. Do you need to write any of this down?"

"No," Natalia said simply.

Olivia eyed her for a moment, satisfied when Natalia didn't back down. "Are you still working for Buzz?"


"Good," Olivia said with a nod. "Bring some of your things here for those nights when you have to work late and believe me, there will be plenty of those. Go to the dressmaker and ask her to come here as soon as she can. I want her to alter some of my older gowns for you."

"Olivia, that's not necess…"

Olivia held up a hand to stop the protest. "With this new position, you are even more visible to my guests and clients than you were before and as such you are expected to reflect that in your manner and appearance. Consider it no different than the chambermaid uniform you were assigned."

"All right," Natalia said with a nod of agreement. "Is there anything else?"

"Can you pick up Emma from school?" Olivia asked, her voice softening. "Last night she asked if you could teach her more Spanish and I'd appreciate it if you could spend some time with her."

"Of course," Natalia said.

"After that, you can head home." Olivia said. "Now that Ava is travelling soon, I want to spend extra time with her before she leaves." She turned to Ava. "If that's all right by you, honey?"

"Certainly, Mother," Ava said. "But right now I need to get some sleep. I'll join you and Emma for supper."

"I'm sorry to have kept you so long," Olivia said, kissing Ava's cheek.

"Quite all right," Ava said then turned to Natalia. "Once again, congratulations and good luck, Miss Rivera."

"Thank you, Miss Peralta," Natalia replied.

"Ava, please."

"Then please, call me Natalia," Natalia said gracefully. "Enjoy your rest and I'll have your travel arrangements completed as soon as possible."

"Thank you, Natalia," Ava said.

"Sleep well, honey," Olivia said and closed the door behind her. She turned to find the other woman regarding her thoughtfully. "What?" she asked.

"You may not have raised her, but she's very much like you," Natalia replied

Olivia nodded. "Strong and independent," she said. "Which is why I need to keep Emma away from those cocksucking Spauldings. She has too pure a soul for them to corrupt."

Natalia was silent a moment longer, then said, "The stage office will be open by the time I get there so I'll take my leave now."

"Good," Olivia said and watched the other woman's departure. Then, sitting at her desk she picked up her pen and resumed her writing.

Mose Manuel approached Natalia before she left the hotel and told her that Deputy Utter had stopped by on his way to his office with the news that the two men she had shot had indeed left town the prior evening.

"The one was not sitting too comfortably on his horse, Mr. Utter had been sure to note, Miss Rivera," Mose informed her with an amused glint in his eyes. "However, the good deputy reported the doc had said they in all likelihood would be fine."

"Thank you, Mose," she said, lightly touching his muscular arm. "It will make my errands easier to perform if I don't have to constantly watch my back. However, Miss Spencer has requested I fetch Emma from the schoolhouse. Will you accompany me, for the child's safety, not my own."

"Indeed I will, ma'am," he said. "And if you don't mind my saying so, you watch your back regardless."

"Good advice, my friend," she said with a nod and headed out of the hotel.

The day was crisp yet already warming as the sun rose higher in the gulch. As ever, the town was bustling and busy as men and women went about their business. Commerce was flourishing and this was reflected in the new enterprises that were popping up. Charlie Utter had mentioned at supper the other night that Seth Bullock and Sol Star were building a brickworks to handle the demand for new construction. Natalia was hopeful for their future, especially for her son. As Rafe learned his trade and gained proficiency, he had the opportunity of one day owning his own business. Natalia resolved to put aside some of her new salary for that possibility.

Her business at the stage office was quickly concluded and she then headed to the combination telegraph/newspaper office. Inside, her senses were immediately assaulted with the strong smell of ink and ozone, which she assumed was emanating from the complex telegraph equipment. The large man she knew to be the publisher of the Pioneer immediately approached her.

"Good morning," he said politely.

"Good morning," she said. "Mr. Merrick, I believe."

"You are indeed correct, good lady," the man said.

"Natalia Rivera," she said, holding out her hand.

"Oh yes!" Merrick said, enthusiastically shaking her hand. "The good marshal's fiancée." He turned to the other man who was standing stiffly off to the side. "Blazanov, this is the wonderful cook whose board we have enjoyed many an evening at Company."

The mustachioed man gave her a bow. "Madam," he said in a thick accent. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"I regret to inform you, Mr. Merrick, Mr. Blazanov, that I am no longer in the employ of Mr. Cooper," she said. "I am now working full time for Miss Spencer at the Beacon."

"Oh that is sad news for us, Miss Rivera, but I'm sure the assumed improvement of your situation is indeed fortuitous for you and, I also am certain, a reflection on your abilities and intellect," Merrick said.

"Thank you, Mr. Merrick," Natalia replied with an inner smile, immediately liking the journalist and not only for his compliments. She had heard he was an honest man who had put his life on the line in defense of the town.

"How may we be of assistance, Miss Rivera?" Blazanov asked.

"I will need to send several telegrams, Mr. Blazanov," Natalia replied and then turned to Merrick. "And do you have the current timetables for riverboats departing from Yankton, Mr. Merrick."

"Indeed, I do," he answered and began shuffling through some papers. "Now where did I put those schedules?" he muttered to himself.

In the meantime, Blazanov handed her several sheets of telegraph forms and directed her to a table supplied with writing instruments neatly organized. She thanked him, then sat down to begin writing out the telegrams. Merrick approached her and handed her a sheaf of papers.

"If you need anything else, Miss Rivera, please do not hesitate to call upon me," Merrick said. "I and the Pioneer are at your disposal."

"Thank you, Mr. Merrick," she said. "Your kindness is as boundless as your courtesy."

Merrick gave her a wide, pleased grin and then left her to her work. Forty minutes later, she handed Blazanov the completed forms. "Does the Beacon have an account with you, sir?" she asked.

"Indeed," the Russian replied. "All expenses are billed once a month."

"Good, and thank you for your assistance," she said and turned to Merrick who had been working at his press. "And for yours, Mr. Merrick."

"You are most welcome," Merrick said as he approached her, wiping his hands on an inky rag. "Miss Rivera, I was wondering if you had any information regarding an altercation that occurred yesterday at the Beacon. I had heard that you were involved somehow, yet Sheriff Bullock was quite reticent to provide the Pioneer with details."

Natalia felt her stomach dropped at the memory. She had no desire to be to be the object of even more gossip around town, but since she had been seen by several guests and employees and Buzz had already heard, she could only hope to minimize the damage.

"There was an incident, yes Mr. Merrick," she finally answered. "Two men were shot while attacking one of the hotel's employees, however, I'm told they suffered no permanent damage and have already left town." She paused as Merrick scribbled furiously in his notebook, she glanced at Blazanov who was working at his telegraph, then added, "While I understand that you have an obligation to report the news, Mr. Merrick, however, I would appreciate if you could keep my name out of the paper."

Merrick's eyes widened as he apparently grasped the situation. "My dear woman!" he said moving closer and lowering his voice. "Are you all right?"

"I assure you, sir, they did not harm my person," she answered, wondering if people would stop asking her that question. "However, I do not wish my name associated with the incident as part of the public record."

Merrick nodded vigorously. "Certainly, certainly!" he said. "I will keep my report to the bare facts and no more. Thank you for the information and for your candor, Miss Rivera."

"You're welcome, sir," she said, giving him a wide smile and was amused to see his cheeks flush. "Now I really…" she was about to make take her leave when she glanced at the pile of newsprint that Merrick had been working on and one of the headlines caught her eye. She moved closer. "Excuse my forwardness, Mr. Merrick, but I couldn't help but notice this announcement. This will be in two weeks?"

Merrick joined her. "Yes, I am hoping to make the trip to see him," he said. "He visited our fair camp not long after our founding, but he hasn't been in the area since."

Natalia ran the information quickly through her head, her mind racing with possibilities. She remembered Olivia's expression, that combination of confidence and contempt regarding her ability to perform the job she had suddenly found herself with. Natalia came to a firm decision. "Mr. Blazanov, another telegram, if I may? And this time, charge me directly and not the Beacon's account."

Later that afternoon, Natalia was back in Olivia's office as the hotel owner reviewed the accounts with her, when there was a knock at the door.

"Cheyenne and Black Hills Telegraph," a voice that Natalia immediately recognized as Blazanov's said through the door.

"Come in," Olivia called out and the door opened to reveal the Russian telegraph operator.

When the man approached the desk where they were sitting, Olivia held out her hand, but Blazanov pulled the sheet of paper closer to him as he said, "Telegram for Miss Rivera."

Olivia's eyebrows rose in surprise and Natalia could feel those powerful green eyes on her as she opened the telegram. Reading its contents brought a smile to her face. "Thank you so much, Mr. Blazanov," she said, handing the telegram to Olivia. "Would you mind sending a reply?"

"Of course, madam," he said making a small bow.

Natalia quickly wrote out the telegram and handed it and a coin to Blazanov. He accepted both and with a click of his heels, turned and exited the office. Natalia turned to see Olivia looking stunned.

"How did you manage this?" Olivia asked, holding up the telegram.

Natalia smiled. "Mr. Merrick was printing an announcement that he'll be in Rapid City so I sent him an invitation to come speak here at the Beacon. As you can see, he said yes," Natalia answered, feeling very proud of herself.

"So I see," Olivia said, slowly, rubbing her lip thoughtfully. "And did it occur to you that maybe you should have fucking checked with me first?"

"It did," Natalia admitted. "But I saw the opportunity and took it. You stand to earn a big profit from this and you didn't have to do a thing. That's why you hired me, isn't it?"

"It is," Olivia conceded and Natalia could see in Olivia's eyes that she was amused. "Very well, then, since this was your idea, you handle it. I'll want a reception supper for after his lecture; I'll give you the guest list and you can get the invitations sent out right away. Any other fucking details you can handle yourself."

"Right," Natalia said. She glanced at the clock. "It's time to go get Emma," she said. "Is there anything else for now?"

"Don't tell Emma about this, I'll want to surprise her," Olivia said. "He's her favorite author and she's going to be very happy to meet him." Olivia paused and Natalia waited while Olivia scrutinized her again. Finally Olivia said, "Go on, get the fuck out of here for now."

As Natalia left the office a huge smile broke out on her face. She knew that she had impressed Olivia on the very first day of her new job and even though the woman was trouble, for the first time Natalia felt glad for their association.

Olivia held Emma's hand as they both watched Natalia direct two of the Beacon's porters who were lifting Ava's steamer trunk up to the freight rack on the roof of the coach. Her assistant had proven herself extremely competent when it came to making Ava's travel arrangements. In fact, Natalia had efficiently completed every task she had been assigned, Olivia thought. The only time she had ever shown the slightest hesitation in the performance of her duties had been when dealing directly with the hotel's staff. She suspected that Natalia had never been in a leadership position before, but Olivia felt confident enough to know that the other woman's skills would only improve with time.

The sun was shining brightly as the loading of the coach was completed. Olivia turned to her daughter who was riffling through her carpetbag.

"Got everything?" Olivia asked. "Cash, cards, dice?"

Ava gave her a rueful grin. "Hey, what can I say? They're the tools of my trade."

Olivia laughed. "I guess that's true," she said and glanced at her younger daughter. "Emma, it's time to say goodbye to Ava."

Emma let go of her mother's hand and clambered on a shipping crate. She held out her arms toward her sister and wrapped them around Ava's neck. Ava lifted the girl in a firm grip, spun her around twice and then set her back on her feet again. "I'm gonna miss you, Ava," Emma said.

"I'm going to miss you, too, little sister," Ava said.

"Will you bring me back something from the big city?" Emma asked, her arms still draped loosely around Ava.

"Sure will," Ava said. "What do you want?"

"Jodie says that people play with funny dolls in New Orleans," Emma said. "I want one of those."

"A funny doll?" Ava asked, her face twisting.

Olivia let out a bark of laughter. "She means a voodoo doll, honey," she told her eldest daughter.

Ava gave her a scandalized look and then turned back to Emma. "Is that really what you want, Emma?" At the little girl's nod, she rolled her eyes and said, "Well…all right, I'll see what I can find for you."

Emma leaned forward and kissed Ava on the cheek. "Thank you, Ava!" she said.

"Love you, little sister," Ava said. "Can you promise me you'll be good for Mother?"

"I promise," Emma said seriously and Olivia's heart swelled with pride.

Ava gave her sister a final kiss, then helped her down from the crate. By this time, Natalia had finished supervising the loading of Ava's baggage and Olivia noticed she had dismissed the porters. Olivia motioned with her head toward Emma and Natalia walked over to join them.

"Emma," she said, taking the little girl's hand. "How about we get some ice cream?"

"Oh yes, Miss Natalia!"

Natalia turned to Ava. "Enjoy your trip, Ava and good luck," she said.

Ava's smile was huge. "Thanks, Natalia, but us Spencer's don't need luck."

Even Emma laughed, although Olivia suspected her youngest daughter didn't quite comprehend all the subtle meanings in Ava's statement. She watched Natalia and Emma head down the street and then turned back to Ava who was watching her with a curious look on her face. "So, honey, seriously now, are you going to be all right?" she asked.

"Of course, Mother, I'll be fine," Ava answered. "Will you?"

Olivia's eyebrows clenched in confusion. "Me? I'm fucking terrific," she answered, shrugging her shoulders.

"Are you sure?" Ava said again. "You've been all over the place lately, Mother. Between Gus and the pressure from Alan and his cocksucking son and this thing with Natalia."

"This thing with Natalia?" Olivia said, getting annoyed. "What fucking thing are you talking about, Ava?"

"Olivia, she's your rival," Ava pointed out. "You don't give your rivals high paying jobs, you eliminate them. Remember Reva Shayne?"

"Reva is alive and well back on San Cristobel," Olivia pointed out. "Where she belongs."

"Exactly," Ava said. "She's in the Caribbean and not in Deadwood. Why haven't you sent Natalia back to Chicago or wherever the fuck she came from?"

"She's a good worker," Olivia said defensively, not liking the direction Ava's questions were taking. "I might as well make use of that and besides, she's not the type to give up that easily, for money or anything else. I can use that against her as well."

"You can?" Ava said and Olivia could hear the doubt in her voice.

"Trust me, honey," Olivia said with a smirk. "I can handle Natalia Rivera just fine. Come now; give your mother a hug goodbye."

Ava paused a moment, her eyes scanning Olivia, but then the doubt in them cleared and she shook her head as she moved to embrace her mother. "You and Emma be well, Mother."

"We will. Write often, honey," Olivia said. "I want news and details of your journey and adventures in New Orleans."

"I promise," Ava said. "You and Emma please do the same, all right? I fully expect you to have a new surname by the time I return. You've been single much too long now."

Olivia laughed. "Agreed," she said. "Goodbye, my darling. Be careful." Reluctantly letting Ava go, she watched as the coach driver helped her daughter up the steps and inside. He tipped his hat to Olivia and then climbed up and sat next to another burly man carrying a large shotgun. She sent a mental command to them both to keep her daughter safe from road agents and marauding Indians. With a snap of the reins, the team of horses began to pull the big coach. Olivia watched for a few minutes as they headed up the gulch, and then with a sigh, she went to join her daughter and Natalia in their treat.

Before she reached the tiny shop, she was stopped by a large man who smelled strongly of animals. "Miss Spencer, ma'am?" he said tipping his hat.

"Yes?" she asked.

"Lindstrom, ma'am," he said, with another hat tip. "Work for Mr. Utter, I do. Do y'know where I can find a lady named Rivera? Buzz over t'Company said dat she works fer you."

Olivia noticed he was carrying a package under his arm. "Is that for her?" she asked.

"Ayah," he said nodding vigorously. "From t'marshal. He ast I bring it t'her."

Olivia's mind was racing. "Well, she's off running an errand for me, Mr. Lindstrom," she said. "I don't know when she'll be back."

"Oh," Lindstrom said with a disappointed tone in his voice. "Need t'get this t'her, but Mr. Utter needs me t'head to Cheyenne t'day."

"Well, I certainly will see to it that she gets the package the moment she arrives back at the hotel, good sir," she said with a bright smile on her face.

"Oh, but t'marshal ast me to give it t'her direct," he said.

"Of course," Olivia said. "And I admire your dedication to your work, but I assure you that I will personally place this package in Miss Rivera's hands."

Lindstrom paused a moment and then with a nod, gave her the package. "Thank you, ma'am," he said. "'Preciate it, I do. Long way t'Cheyenne and I need t'get a'goin'"

"Then by all means, be on your way, Mr. Lindstrom," she said and with a wave sent him on. As she glanced at the package, a small smile played across her lips. "Stupid hooplehead," she muttered and quickly turned toward the Beacon.

Gus eyed his son who was sipping from a mug of coffee as they ate their breakfast in the dining room of the Yankton hotel they were staying at. Rafe looked tired and no wonder, Gus thought. He had heard the boy come to their room long after midnight and quietly slip into his pallet.

He suspected Rafe had been out gambling – hustling the young men of the territory capital who probably thought they could in turn hustle Rafe. While Gus understood Rafe's motivations – it certainly wasn't anything Gus hadn't done himself as a boy – he still worried for his son. The Dakota Territory was not Chicago, mean as its streets may be, and life here was more dangerous. As a marshal, he had seen too many cocky young men like Rafe end up in trouble or worse through gambling, whoring or thieving.

However, Gus had been impressed on how well Rafe had handled himself on the long trip from Deadwood. Once his body had toughened to the saddle, Rafe had easily handled his father's hard pace and he showed promise that one day, likely soon, his son would be the type of man other men would be proud to ride with. Gus knew that Rafe was on that rocky precipice between the boy he had been and the man he would become. He was more grateful than ever that Natalia had brought his son to him so he could help Rafe fulfill his potential to be a great man.

"Rafe, this morning I'm meeting with that commissioner I told you about," he finally said.

Rafe looked up from his plate and asked, "Need me to watch your back, sir?"

Gus chuckled. "No son, I can handle the weasel just fine, but when you're done with your breakfast, I want you to go see Mr. Szabó at his tailor shop near the levee. I've commissioned him to make you a new frock suit for the wedding."

Rafe's eyes widened in surprise. "I already have the suit Mama bought for me before we left Chicago," he said. "It's old, but serviceable enough for the wedding I suppose."

"I don't think you've quite realized it yet, Rafael," Gus said with a snort. "But you have filled out considerably since arriving in Deadwood. That old suit might have some use left in it if we take it to an alterationist, but I want you to look fine for your mother's special day. Therefore, you will wear a new suit specially made just for you. Szabó is making one for me as well."

"That's right sweet of you, Father," Rafe said with a wide smile and Gus felt a surge of love for his son. It wasn't very often that Rafe called him anything except sir. "I thank you for your gift and I'm sure Mama will be mighty pleased when she sees her two handsome men on her wedding day."

A shadow darkened their table before Gus could respond and they both looked up.

"Marshal Aitoro?" a tall, doughy man wearing spectacles and a bowler hat asked.

"Commissioner Jarry, I assume? Gus said as he stood up.

"The one and the same, sir, at your service," Jarry said and glanced at Rafe.

"My son, Rafael," Gus said in introduction.

"How do you do, young Master Rafael?" Jarry asked.

"Rafe is fine, sir," Rafe said, also standing up to shake the hand Jarry offered.

"Handsome and such fine manners as well," Jarry said turning to Gus. "You must be exceedingly proud of him, Marshal."

"That I am, sir," Gus remarked and then said to Rafe. "Son, why don't you head over to the tailor's now and start getting measured? I'll meet you there when my business with the commissioner is done."

"All right, sir," Rafe said and stood. The two men watched as the young man left the dining room.

"Is there a special occasion to warrant new garments, Marshal?" Jarry asked.

"I'm wedding the boy's mother," Gus said and then to divert any further questions, he asked, "Do you mind if we walk while we speak, Commissioner?"

"A wise idea, my dear Marshal," Jarry agreed and they left the hotel. Outside, Gus paused to light a cheroot and then led the way toward the river where he was to later meet his son.

"Upon commencement of our discussion, Marshal," Jarry began after they had walked for a few moments, "I will state upfront in full disclosure to ensure the enmity of our future negotiations that I have been contacted by Alan Spaulding."

"Cocksucker," Gus muttered under his breath. "And what was the gist of your correspondence with Mr. Spaulding, if I may be so bold as to inquire?"

"You may, sir," Jarry replied. "In fact, I do encourage your inquiries, hence my motives for introducing the subject." Jarry paused. "To avoid the dangers of being unsuccinct, Mr. Spaulding wishes in regards to the charges pending against his most cherished son Phillip, that I, like an illusionist plying his trade on the stage, ensure that the aforementioned charges vanish into the thin air of the Black Hills."

Inwardly, Gus had to roll his eyes at Jarry's frilly words, upsetting as they were, but he made sure to keep his outward appearance calm. "I have no doubt that the ability of accomplishing such feats of conjury are within your skills, Commissioner."

"You are an astute man, Marshal," Jarry said. "Mr. Spaulding's request is certainly within my purview."

"For a price, no doubt," Gus pointed out.

"Indeed, for a price," Jarry said. "Which brings me to your problem, Marshal. From your correspondence, it appears to me that your request and Mr. Spaulding's are at opposite purposes."

"This is correct, Commissioner," Gus acknowledged. "However, there is something I need to make clear in the interest of full disclosure. I will not be dealing with you directly in regards to this transaction. Your business is with Olivia Spencer who is willing to pay a princely sum to insure that Phillip Spaulding is brought to justice."

"And what a formidable woman Miss Spencer is, Marshal," Jarry exclaimed. "However, from what I understand, the beautiful Miss Spencer could not possibly match Spaulding's quite considerable counteroffer should he decide to negotiate beyond that royal amount."

"I'm aware of Alan's resources, Commissioner, however think on this for a moment if you will – isn't the not doing of something far, far easier than the doing of something?" Gus paused and eyed Jarry. "Not to mention less apt to land you in prison."

"Fortune has favored my stars thus far," Jarry said, waving an arm.

"There's an amusing thing about fortune, Jarry," Gus said, putting steel in his voice. "It has a tendency of abandoning you when you least expect it. Why, in fact, just before I left Deadwood, I received notice that you were involved in the disappearance of Federal funds intended for the starving residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation."

"Indians really have no concept of currency, Marshal," Jarry said. "I have found they are unable to comprehend the difference between ten dollars and a hundred dollars."

"Also allegations of election tampering," Gus continued as if Jarry hadn't spoken.

"Election tampering!" Jarry exclaimed. "Why the unlawful folks of Deadwood promptly ignored the entire election and just went back to the way things had been before with Bullock as town sheriff and the legal winner reduced to a fire chief."

"The good people of Deadwood have sense enough to ignore a politician's bullshit, Commissioner," Gus said. "Be that as it may, those allegations are on my desk and I am prepared to begin my investigation as soon as I return to Deadwood. In fact, I may just start right here in Yankton to save some time and effort."

Jarry eyed Gus. "And how enthusiastic will said investigation be if I choose to deal with Miss Spencer and not Alan Spaulding?" he asked.

"My upcoming nuptials will be a deciding factor, Jarry," Gus said. "If Miss Spencer is happy, then I will be free to plan my wedding. If she is not, then I will have to spend more time looking for other ways to fulfill my promise to protect her and her daughter, my niece. Neither I, nor my intended will care for that solution and I can assure you that the file on my desk will be at the top of my priorities."

"I see," Jarry said and then looked out over the Missouri river. "Very well then, Marshal. I will go to Deadwood, despite the horrid way I have been treated by its inhabitants in the past, barely escaping with my life several times. I will speak with Miss Spencer and give her offer first priority."

"Thank you, Commissioner," Gus said and drew deeply on his cheroot to wash the bad taste out of his mouth.

"Tell me, Marshal," Jarry said. "Other than your solicitude for Miss Spencer and your niece, it seems to me you stand to gain much more than just their gratitude for this. You are Alan Spaulding's bastard son and with his youngest son dead, if Phillip hangs for his crimes, that makes you sole heir to the Spaulding fortune."

"I have no interest in Alan Spaulding or his money, Commissioner," Gus said firmly. "Right now my concerns are with helping Olivia Spencer and finally wedding the mother of my child. Good day, sir. We'll be in touch."

With that he turned on his boot heel and headed to join Rafe at the tailor shop, leaving the wily politician behind.

"You need to switch Doris Wolfe with Alma Ellsworth," Olivia said as she handed back the seating chart for the dinner party. "As much as I hate doing this to Josh, it's better to seat him next to Doris rather than Alma."

"All right," Natalia said making a note. "Anything else?"

Olivia scanned the chart. She felt bad she couldn't invite the mayor's lady Trixie, but her status as a former prostitute prevented her from doing so. Ironically, she was able to invite both Jane Cannary and Joanie Stubbs, themselves also former practitioners of the craft, but Jane's notoriety and Joanie's reputation as a solid businesswoman and early founder of the town, allowed them access to society. Perhaps in a few years Trixie's past would be forgotten, especially since Alma regularly included her head bank clerk to her events, daring the rest of the town's elite to stay away. None did, of course; Alma's status as the richest woman in town meant she could do damn near anything she pleased with little care for what people thought.

"I think that's all for now," Olivia finally answered. "Make sure Jane is available to sit with the girls. Emma is very excited about having Sofia and Clarissa to visit."

"That she is," Natalia agreed, folding up the chart. "Oh, I spoke with the woman who raises the high quality fowl. She'll deliver the geese for the foie gras to Chef in the morning."

"Excellent," Olivia said. "About fucking time we had civilized ingredients available in the Hills. Chef is going to be ecstatic. Make sure she's well paid and on time. I want a steady supply for the restaurant's menu."

A knock on the office door interrupted them. "Come in," Olivia called.

The door opened slowly and Richardson stuck his head in. "Miss Rivera, the coach is coming over the ridge."

"Thank you, Richardson," Natalia said, standing up and smoothing her hands down her gown and then throwing her shawl over her shoulders. "I'll be back shortly," she told Olivia.

Olivia nodded. She stood and walked to the window. Looking out, she could see Natalia hurrying down the thoroughfare on her way to meet the stagecoach. Natalia was wearing one of the old gowns that the dressmaker had altered, Olivia's noted approvingly. The dress was much better looking on Natalia than it had been on her and showed off Natalia's curves in a flattering way without being too revealing.

Another knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. "Come in," she called out.

Mose Manuel entered and Olivia could see he was carrying a bulky package. "Delivery boy from Utter's, Miss Spencer, with a package."

"On the desk, Mose," she said. Walking over she pulled a note from under the string and broke its seal. Her stomach sank at the sight of the familiar script.

"My dearest Olivia," the note read. "News of your esteemed guest has reached my ears and I have taken it upon myself to secure this collection for our dear Emma's enjoyment and edification. I pray that soon I will have occasion to sit by the fire in the parlor at the ranch and read to her from them. Until that time, I remain your ever faithful servant, P.S."

"Cocksucker!" Olivia exclaimed, throwing the note away from her. She picked up one of the volumes and saw it was a first edition, richly bound in leather with gilded end pages. All of the books were of similar quality.

Mose shifted nervously on his feet. "Shall I get rid of them, Miss Spencer?" he asked.

"Yes," she said, then pinched the bridge of her nose. "No. Take them to the schoolhouse," she said. "There's no reason the children should not benefit from them."

"That's right kind of you, ma'am," he said as he picked up the package. She waited until he had closed the door behind him, then poured herself a shot of whiskey. "Cocksucking bastard," she mumbled under her breath and threw back the liquor.

By the time Natalia arrived at the stagecoach office, Merrick was already there and nearly bouncing on his heels in excitement. His face lit up with a smile when he spied her. As always, his friend Mr. Blazanov was lingering nearby.

"My dear Miss Rivera!" Merrick said. "Is this not an exciting day?"

"Yes, Mr. Merrick, it is very exciting," she agreed with a laugh. "Mr. Blazanov, how good to see you."

"And you as well, Miss Rivera," the Russian said with a bow.

"The town owes you a great debt for your contribution to this thrilling event, dear lady" Merrick said.

Natalia shook her head. "I was just doing my job, Mr. Merrick. Miss Spencer hired me to help her with her business and this is simply a part of that."

"You showed great ingenuity and quick thinking, Miss Rivera. Any words lessening your role will not annex a negative influence on my high regard of you," he said.

Natalia smiled. "Thank you, sir," she said and then turned to watch the approach of the coach.

The big carriage pulled to a stop in front of the stage office and the driver and his partner quickly hopped down from the high seat. The door to the coach opened and the driver helped two women passengers out and then a man dressed in a brown suit with a thin bow tie emerged. He had a sharp-beaked nose with a bushy mustache underneath and his eyes were piercing and intelligent. He immediately lit up a black cheroot and looked around, running his fingers through his unruly hair just beginning to show some grey in it in a futile attempt to organize the locks. Both Natalia and Merrick approached.

"Mr. Samuel Clemens?" Natalia asked and the man turned in her direction.

"Indeed I am," he answered with a smile. "And you must be the wonderful Miss Rivera whose correspondence I have enjoyed this past fortnight."

"At your service, sir," Natalia said. "And I believe you've met Mr. Merrick of the Black Hills Pioneer."

"Mr. Clemens, what an honor it is that you have graced our town yet again with your presence," Merrick said shaking his hand vigorously. He turned to Blazanov and said, "Mr. Blazanov, this is the famous author who writes under the nom de plume Mark Twain."

"Mr. Twain," Blazanov said, clicking his heels. "It is an honor to meet you and I look forward to hearing you speak on the morrow."

"The honor is mine, good sir," Clemens said and turned to Merrick. "When last I was in Deadwood, it was barely a camp full of tents given to the lawlessness of a raw pioneer town. It is to my fascination to see how it has grown in the years since." He turned to Natalia. "And from what I understand, your employer's hotel is one of the most luxurious in the Black Hills."

"I'm proud to say that's true, Mr. Clemens," she replied. "I'll have our porters fetch your baggage to the hotel. Shall we?"

Clemens nodded and said to Merrick. "I trust we'll see each other again quite soon, Merrick."

"Indeed we will, sir," Merrick said. "I'm invited to the dinner party the good Miss Spencer is giving in your honor."

"Excellent, excellent," he said. Turning back to Natalia, he said, "Then indeed, let's walk."

As they strolled toward the Beacon, Natalia asked, "I have prepared the schedule of your lectures while you're here, as well as the contract detailing terms we agreed upon in our correspondence, Mr. Clemens. I left a copy of both for you in your suite at the Beacon."

"Excellent, my dear," Clemens said, puffing on his cheroot.

A poster nailed to the front of the newspaper office caught her eye. It was one of the advertisements she had commissioned Merrick to print announcing the dates and times of Clemens's lectures at the Beacon. She had to smile at the final line on the poster – "The doors will open at 7 o'clock, and the trouble will begin at 8." Clemens himself had suggested the wording as it was one of his trademark jokes.

"Also," Natalia continued. "Mrs. Bullock, the sheriff's wife and our school teacher, has asked me to convey her request you might perhaps speak with the children this afternoon?"

"I should be delighted to do so, my dear," he said, nodding his head as he puffed on his cheroot. "The children of this town are your future leaders and businessmen and parents for the next generation. Their views are a delight to me as they see the world without prejudice or avarice." He turned his head toward her. "Do you have children, Miss Rivera?"

"A son, Rafael," she answered. "He's sixteen and traveling to the territory capital in Yankton with his father, my fiancé U.S. Marshal Gus Aitoro."

"Sixteen!" Clemens exclaimed. "I believe you jest, dear lady. It surely is not possible that one as young as yourself should have a nearly grown son."

Natalia smiled. She had been a little leery about meeting the famous author and lecturer, but now that she had, she immediately warmed to him. From his friendly personality to his instant disregard of the fact she was not currently married to her son's father, all let her know that here was a man whose outlook on life was refreshing and not prone to vagaries of falsehood or strictures of social expectations. "I first read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to Rafe when he was twelve or so," she said. "It immediately became his favorite book and I constantly had to check the volume out of the library in Chicago for him to enjoy."

Clemens chuckled. "I have heard a similar tale from New York to San Francisco, Miss Rivera," he said. "And my heart warms with each telling, to be sure."

"I imagine it brings you much satisfaction to know that your efforts are rewarded so over the wide world," she said.

"It does," he acknowledged. "However, I have found that fame is a vapor and popularity an accident. There is only one certainty in life and that comes sooner or later to all men of all walks of life. It behooves me to enjoy life on a day by day basis."

"A good philosophy, I'm sure," she said. They had finally reached the hotel and paused while the doorman allowed them entrance.

Clemens looked around and nodded in appreciation. "Rumors of your employer's lavishness have not been exaggerated, my dear."

"Thank you, sir," Natalia said, leading the way to the concierge's desk to get him checked in. As she was filling in the register, the door to Olivia's office opened and the woman herself emerged.

"Mr. Clemens," Natalia said. "May I present the Beacon's proprietor, Miss Olivia Spencer, formerly of San Cristobel and Springfield, Illinois? Olivia, Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens of Hartford, Connecticut."

"Mr. Clemens," Olivia said in her deepest tones, holding out her hand to the man. "What an honor it is to have you grace my humble establishment with your august presence."

"Miss Spencer, the honor is indeed mine," Clemens replied, taking her hand and leaning over it to kiss. "And may I be so bold as to say that your loveliness far exceeds that of your prestigious hotel."

"Thank you, sir," she said. "I expect you'll wish to freshen yourself after your journey, however, first may I inquire if you would be so kind as to join me for supper this evening?"

"I'll look forward to it," he answered and then turned to Natalia. "Will you be dining with us as well, my dear?"

"Um," Natalia hesitated and glanced at the other woman.

"Of course she will," Olivia answered. "Natalia is my right hand."

Natalia gave her a doubting look and was glad when Clemens didn't seem to notice. "Yes, Mr. Clemens," she said.

"Excellent!" he said exuberantly.

"Gregory," Olivia said to the concierge. "Please show Mr. Clemens to his suite."

Natalia added, "Sir, I will come for you when it's time to go to the schoolhouse."

"I'll see you ladies, soon," Clemens said and followed Gregory up the stairs.

"He agreed to speak with the children?" Olivia asked when he was gone.


"Good," Olivia said and then paused with a sigh. "That fucking cocksucker Phillip sent over Twain's complete collected works as a gift for Emma. I figured it would be put to better use in the schoolhouse and sent them over with Mose. Perhaps you can ask if Clemens will sign them for Mrs. Bullock."

"All right," Natalia said and then bit her lip in thought. "I'm surprised you didn't burn the books on sight."

Olivia let out a bark of laughter. "Believe me, I considered it." She paused as she glanced at Natalia. "Good work with Clemens," she said. "The man is smitten with you. I'd say you've got it as well."

Natalia looked at Olivia and a blush suffused her face as she remembered their previous conversation. Olivia was standing quite closely to her and as always when in Olivia's close presence, she felt off kilter. The weeks since she had become Olivia's assistant had eased their tumultuous relationship somewhat as it was clear the two women worked extremely well together, however Olivia's unhidden resolve to procure Nicky for herself had not abated and the tension between them remained unchanged. It also didn't alter the fact that whenever Olivia got this close to her, she became flustered. Taking a deep breath, she finally answered, "Perhaps he is." Then she shrugged. "Doesn't matter though. Unlike you, I'm not the type to take advantage of it."

"More fool you, my dear," Olivia said with a smirk. "Now, get back to work."

"All right," Natalia said and went to make sure the porters had delivered their guest's baggage. She was a little apprehensive about dining with Olivia this evening. She would much rather head back to her room at Company to relax as tomorrow would prove to be an extremely busy day, but it seemed to her that once again her time would have to be devoted to Olivia Spencer's needs.

The presentation at the schoolhouse that Samuel Clemens gave to the children of Deadwood was a great success, Olivia thought as she dressed for dinner. Emma and the other children had been delighted by his warm humor and colorful tales and afterward Mrs. Bullock had thanked Olivia personally for hosting the famous author. Olivia had glanced at Natalia who was speaking with Emma and Alma Ellsworth's ward Sophia Metz. She knew the credit went to her assistant for bringing the man to town, but she simply thanked the teacher for her kind words and told her she looked forward to seeing her again at the dinner for Clemens.

Natalia came for her right before seven, having taken a few hours to relax and change for their dinner. Olivia looked her over approvingly, noting that the pair of them would pose a striking scene in the Beacon's restaurant this evening, especially with their illustrious guest joining them.

"Come in," she said and closed the door behind Natalia. She took another moment to look over the other woman.

"Am I acceptable?" Natalia asked with a smirk.

Olivia nodded. "You'll do, but you need something…a bauble." She went over to her jewelry box and rummaged through it until she found a string of fresh water pearls interspersed with gold beads. "Here, this will compliment the gown and show off your décolletage."

"All right," Natalia said as she fastened the necklace on herself.

After a final look at Natalia's appearance, Olivia said, "Emma wishes to say good night to you."

"Of course," Natalia agreed.

Olivia followed her to Emma's room and paused in the doorway. Her daughter was already dressed in her night shift.

"Miss Natalia!" Emma jumped up and threw her book on her bed. "Thank you for coming to see me."

"De nada, niña," Natalia said with a smile. "What are you reading?"

"Mr. Twain's story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," Emma answered.

"Oh, that's one of my favorites," Natalia said. "Did he sign it for you?"

Emma nodded eagerly. "He did," she answered. "I like the story, but it's a little hard to read because the narrator talks funny."

"That he does," Natalia said. "But that's one reason why Mr. Twain's work is so well-loved."

Emma nodded. "I'm glad he's here."

"Me too, sweetie," Natalia said, tickling Emma's tummy and making the girl giggle. "But you need to get to sleep and your mother and I have our dinner, so we'll say good night. All right?"

"Good night, Miss Natalia," Emma said and Natalia leaned down to kiss her head.

"Buenas noches, Emma," she said. "Sleep well."

Olivia moved forward to help Emma get into bed and pulled the quilt up to cover her. She leaned down to kiss her daughter. "Good night, my darling girl," she said.

"Good night, Mother," Emma said and closed her eyes.

Olivia smoothed her hand over Emma's hair and then turned down the lamp before leaving the room, closing the door softly behind her. She said to the governess, "Please stay with her until I return, Jane."

"Of course, ma'am," Jane said, nodding her head.

Olivia looked at Natalia. "Ready?" The other woman nodded and Olivia said, "Then let's go."

The room she shared with Jane was an odd amalgamation of their differing styles and personalities, Joanie Stubbs thought as she took a final glance in the mirror to check her appearance. Most of the space was decorated to suit her own expensive tastes. Gold-trimmed cushions adorned the horsehair settee and complimented the velvet wallpaper. The ornate wardrobe with the large matching chest contained her gowns and possessions. A reproduction of Gustav Courbet's Le Sommeil in a gilded frame that still caused Jane to blush whenever she looked at it, hung on the wall over the bed. Joanie's love of beautiful things was reflected in her belongings.

On the other hand, in the one corner of the room that Jane had claimed as her own was a rough-hewn crate liberated from Utter's freight office to store clothing and other odds and ends. A half-full bottle of whiskey and Jane's bullwhip rested on top of it and her shotgun leaned against it. Jane's spare hat hung from a nail she had pounded into the wall, much to Joanie's exasperation. Jane's most prized possession, Wild Bill Hickok's buffalo robe bequeathed to them by Charlie Utter, covered the bed. Joanie was quite fond of the object, not because of its previous owner, whom she had only met once before he was murdered and knew him to be a gentleman, but because Jane always left it behind when she went off on her drunken binges, sometimes being gone for months at a time. Jane leaving the robe with her let Joanie know that Jane would always come back.

Satisfied with her appearance, Joanie left the room and paused on the second floor balcony to observe her operation. Eschewing the high end elegance of her first failed venture, Boston West was decorated in a simple, but sturdy style. A long bar made of dark-stained walnut ran most of the length of the interior with padded stools in front. Rather than a mirror behind the bar, shelves filled with bottles of liquor lined the wall. The windows were covered with heavy drapes that let in little light and the atmosphere inside was dim. Boston West's patrons preferred privacy and discretion and Joanie was more than willing to give it to them.

This early in the evening, the place was sparsely populated, but Joanie knew that it would fill up as the night moved on. Becca the bartender was standing behind the bar and chatting with a customer. Janine, one of the three girls who had formerly worked at the Bella Union, but now worked for Joanie, was dealing cards for three women players at one of the tables. Joanie was pleased to see a large pile of chips littering the top, which meant the house's cut would be considerable.

She didn't see any sign of Lila or Tess, the other girls who had 'retired' from the Bella Union and Joanie wondered if they were with tricks or in town. Joanie didn't take as large a percentage from the working girls as the pimps and madams did at the other houses, but even so her income from the transactions was considerably high, which was the main benefit of dealing with a specialist clientele.

Jane Cannary, the person she wanted to see the most, was eating her supper at one of the tables and Joanie walked down the stairs to join her.

"Hello, hello, Miss Stubbs," Jane greeted her with that smile that always warmed Joanie's heart.

"Hello yourself," she answered sitting down. "What's for supper?"

"Elk steak, if you will," Jane answered and tucked a large chunk in her mouth.

"Get him yourself?" she asked as she signaled to Becca to bring her a plate.

Jane nodded, and then swallowed audibly. "Got the bastard on the western ridge near the Whitewood Creek," she answered. "Kept the loin for us and sold the rest to that cocksucking Chink Wu." Joanie could hear the pride in Jane's voice.

"Good job," she said with a smile and Jane beamed with pleasure.

Becca came to the table carrying a tray. She put a plate full of food in front of Joanie along with utensils and a large mug of cold beer. "Thank you, Becca."

The woman nodded and returned to the bar. Joanie cut a much smaller bite of steak than Jane's and tasted it. The meat was tender and succulent. "Mmm, this is delicious, Jane. Thank you."

"Nothing tastes better than late season game you've kilt yourself," Jane agreed, cutting another hunk.

"I had your good set of buckskins sent over to be cleaned today," Jane remarked as they continued to eat. "They should be back by tomorrow."

"Why'd you do that?" Jane asked. "Did I fucking shit myself again?"

"No," she answered with a laugh. "It's for the dinner party tomorrow night over to the Beacon."

"Is it time for that already?" Jane asked.

"Sure is," she said with a nod. "I'm excited about it, ain't you?"

Jane shrugged. "Don't see what all the fucking excitement's about," she said. "So the cocksucker wrote some books. I could write a fucking book if I fucking wanted to."

"Why don't you, Jane?" Joanie asked. "You could write about your life."

Jane leaned back in her chair and looked at her. "Who the fuck would want to read a book about a fucking inebriated drunk like me?"

"Why, I'm sure lots of folks, Jane," she said.

"I highly fucking doubt that," Jane said, sawing at her steak. "Why the buckskins, though? Don't you usually nag me until I wear a fucking dress for these cocksucking high-fucking society dinners?"

"Normally," Joanie agreed, knowing Jane would always concede to her requests after much grumbling. "But I spoke with Natalia and she said Mr. Twain would most likely appreciate a little Deadwood color."

"Color?" Jane said and Joanie guessed what was coming next. "How about I fart during the soup course and they can call it fucking flavor enhancement? How's that for fucking color?"

Joanie laughed and shook her head. "Anyway, I like you in your buckskins, Jane," she said and Jane blushed at the compliment.

More patrons had arrived by the time the women finished their meal. Jane cleared their table while Joanie went to check on the progress of the card game, then went to speak with Tess who had arrived while she and Jane were eating.

"Got anything lined up tonight, Tess?" she asked.

"I'm expecting a couple of gals to drop by later," Tess said. "Then Laney said she'll probably be by around midnight. That's when her husband usually passes out drunk and is down for the night."

Joanie laughed. "Well, you have fun then. Seen Mose around?"

"Saw him lurking about outside when I came in," the redhead answered.

"How about Lila?"

"Sleeping. She has a date tonight with She Who Must Not Be Named," Tess said.

"Oh God, let's hope the fucking hat doesn't scare away any customers," Joanie said and rolled her eyes. Lila's regular trick was a woman who liked to pretend she didn't exist and that no one saw her when she came to the saloon, hence the elaborate hats to hide her appearance. However, she also paid top dollar for the privilege, so everyone at Boston West indulged her. Lila always took a nap before since the woman kept her busy all night long.

Back at the bar, Jane was drinking a whiskey and eyeing the room. Becca poured Joanie a drink just as Eddie Sawyer came in. Joanie smiled as he approached.

"Eddie Sawyer," she said.

"Hey, honey," he replied then said to Jane. "Hi Jane."

Jane tipped her hat to him.

"Got a date tonight, Eddie?" Joanie asked.

"Sure do, honey," he answered. "She's getting dressed."

Joanie nodded. She kept a special room with an unmarked door to the outside where clients could enter and exit with anonymity, often with a drastic change in their appearance. A Chinese woman served as a dresser. "Things all right over to the Union?"

"Business as usual," Eddie answered and he looked around. Someone dressed in an elaborate gown had just entered, looked around and then headed for a table where a lone woman sat nursing a drink. The two women embraced. "Things look good here."

"They are, thanks for noting," Joanie said.

"Are you going to Twain's lecture tomorrow evening?" Eddie asked.

"Yeah, and the fucking dinner for the cocksucker after," Jane said.

Eddie smiled. "Good, so am I," he said. The door to the special room opened and a figure dressed in a gown as elegant as the other woman entered the saloon. Jane gave a snort and Joanie recognized under the makeup the concierge from the Beacon Hotel. "Well, I see my date's ready. Have a pleasant evening, ladies," Eddie said, taking his leave.

"You too, Eddie. See you tomorrow." Joanie said and Jane simply gave a wave.

After Eddie left, Jane shook her head and said, "As long as I fucking live, I will never get used to the sight of a cocksucker dressed in a woman's gown sporting a mustache."

Joanie laughed in delight. "Look who's talking, Miss I Want to Suck Your Cock."

"Ha!" Jane said and stuck out her jaw proudly. "Yeah, that fucking Finland fella with his Finland accent or whatever the fuck it was sure was sweet on me. Almost felt badly I didn't have a cock for him to suck on."

Joanie gave her an appraising look. "You know, I'm feeling kinda tired this evening. I'm thinking maybe I will let Becca handle things here and head for bed."

Jane looked at her. "Yeah, you know, I'm feeling on the fucking weary side myself."

Joanie smiled at Jane's resulting blush.

"And that, my dears, is how in the space of a single day, I was given the keys to the fair city of Hamburg and then run out of town," Samuel Clemens concluded, then sat back to puff on a cheroot with a satisfied smirk.

Natalia joined Olivia in laughing at the ribald tale of their guest's adventures abroad.

"I do hope you'll tell that story at your lectures, Mr. Clemens," Olivia said, wiping her eyes.

"To be sure, I shall, Miss Spencer," he said. "It suits nicely with my just published travelogue and such yarns, I have observed, invariably increase book sales."

"Are there any new novels on the horizon, Mr. Clemens?" Natalia asked.

Olivia glanced at her assistant. Natalia had proven to be a pleasant dinner companion, her wit and intelligence adding delight to the conversation throughout their meal. Now, as they relaxed with tea and sherry, Natalia seemed at ease and Olivia almost found it incredible that only mere weeks ago, she had been a chambermaid.

"Oh yes," Clemens answered. "One in a similar vein as my Tom Sawyer, only with a somewhat more serious tone in theme."

"Indeed?" Natalia asked. "I found young Tom's adventures to be exactly the sort my son often dreamed of as a boy."

"And a boy's imagination should be full of many such dreams, Miss Rivera," Clemens said. "However, there comes a time in every boy's life when reality overshadows those dreams and the boy must become a man. In the case of my protagonist, he must choose between what he knows in his heart is right and what society itself has stated is right. Standing against the majority is a daunting task and one not easily overcome."

"It sounds intriguing, sir, and I look forward to reading it," Natalia said and took a sip of her drink.

"My daughter just remarked earlier this evening of the challenge reading your jumping frog story in the vernacular," Olivia said. "How do you manage to capture your character's voices so accurately, Mr. Clemens?"

"By listening, my dear," he replied. "I have long been a student of the art of human observation and I take special note of not only what people say, but how they say it. For example, I can tell that despite your excellent American accent, your origins are not from this great nation, but rather you hale from a small Caribbean island, a British colony I suspect."

"Close," Olivia said with a smile. "I'm from San Cristobel, which was founded by Duke Reginald Winslow in 1650 and cut its ties from Britain in 1723 to become an independent monarchy."

Clemens laughed, obviously at his own cleverness, then turned to Natalia. "And you, my dear, were born on U.S. soil, most likely in the Midwest, but the lilt in your voice and, dare I say, the lovely hue to your skin indicates a Spanish heritage, also from an island source."

"Very good, Mr. Clemens," Natalia said. "And you are quite correct. I was born in Chicago, but my parents emigrated from Puerto Rico. Originally our family was from Barcelona."

"Chicago, eh?" Clemens asked. "Are you any relation to Florencio Rivera of the Midwest Meat Processing and Packing Company?"

Natalia nodded. "My father," she stated in a tone that caused Olivia to look at her sharply. Natalia's face was guarded.

"I've met him on several occasions," Clemens said and Olivia suspected he hadn't noticed Natalia's change of mood."Charming man," he continued as he pulled out another cheroot from his case. "I was sorry to hear of the death of your mother last year, my dear. May I offer my condolences?"

Olivia watched as Natalia's face grew pale. "Thank you," she whispered and reached to push the box of matches lying on the table toward Clemens.

"Are you sure you won't have one of my Piedras?" Olivia asked to move the conversation to another topic.

Clemens huffed as he lit up. "No, thank you, Miss Spencer," he said. "My preference is not to smoke any cigar that costs more than five cents. Now, should you have occasion to visit me in Hartford, why I should be glad to let you have all you want from the stock of Cubans and Dominicans gifted to me over the years. I remain perfectly content with these." He clamped the slim black cigar between his teeth and pulled deeply on it making the end glow.

Olivia shook her head with a chuckle and then glanced at Natalia, who was staring across the dining room with a worried look. Following her gaze, Olivia felt a stab of anger as she saw Alan Spaulding striding toward them.

"Good evening, Olivia," he said when he reached them. He looked down at Natalia. "Why, Natalia, what a surprise to see you out socializing while your fiancé is out of town. Does Gus know you're entertaining men while he's away? I certainly expect it of Olivia, but not you, my dear."

Before either of them could respond, Clemens stood up and offered his hand to Alan. "Samuel Clemens, sir, at your service," he said.

Alan looked at him warily, then shook the proffered hand. "Alan Spaulding, of Spaulding Enterprises." Olivia was not surprised Alan had no idea who Clemens was.

"A pleasure, sir," Clemens replied. "Miss Spencer and Miss Rivera were kind enough to provide me with their pleasant company during my supper."

"I see," Alan said then turned to Olivia. "May I see my granddaughter?"

Olivia blinked at his rudeness. "She's sleeping, Alan," she answered.

"I see," he said again. "You're right, it's getting late. Perhaps I can have a room for the night, then I can see her in the morning?"

"Sorry, Alan," Natalia spoke up, startling Olivia. "We're full up."

"We?" Alan asked. "Tell me, Natalia, how comes a chambermaid privy to the vacancy status of the hotel?"

"Natalia's no longer a maid, Alan," Olivia answered. "She's working as my assistant now."

"Assistant?" Alan's eyebrows rose. "Quite a feat, I imagine. How did you manage that, Natalia? By getting…closer to your employer?"

"That's enough, Alan," Olivia said, annoyed. "Like she said, we're full up. Go see if there's any room at the Grand Central, but thanks to Mr. Clemens's visit, I'm sure there's not a room free anywhere in Deadwood tonight."

"Oh?" Alan turned back to Clemens. "And how does your presence elicit such a phenomenon, sir?"

"It's been my humble experience, Mr. Spaulding, to find that folks seem to enjoy reading and hearing my words," Clemens answered.

"A writer, eh?" Alan said and smoothed his beard. "Intriguing. Since I am, like our lord and savior, denied room at the inn, would you care to join me for a drink and maybe some cards at the Bella Union?"

"Cards?" Clemens said. "Why, I haven't had occasion to play cards since I don't know when. In fact, I don't even know if I remember how."

"Really?" Alan said with a look in his eye that Olivia was quite familiar with. "I'm sure I can reacquaint you with the process. Shall we?"

Clemens turned to Olivia. "Do you mind, my dear lady?"

"Not at all, Mr. Clemens," she said. "Natalia and I are looking forward to hearing you speak tomorrow."

"I look forward to entertaining you ladies, then," he said and placed his hat on his head. "Come, Mr. Spaulding. Let's see if you can teach me a thing or two about cards."

Olivia watched as the two men left the room, Clemens chattering away at Alan and acting the fool. She turned to Natalia and said, "Something tells me Alan is about to get the fleecing of his life."

Natalia smiled. "I was just thinking the same thing," she said.

Olivia looked at her and then asked softly. "You didn't know, did you?"

"What?" Natalia turned to her.

"About the passing of your mother?" Olivia clarified.

Natalia shook her head. "No, I didn't know," she said. "I was able to hear news of my family through the society pages and such when I lived in Chicago, but since moving here, I haven't heard anything until now."

"I'm sorry," Olivia said. She knew all too well the pain of losing a mother, even one she was estranged from.

"Thank you," Natalia said and looked down at her hands. "I received a telegram from Mr. Aitoro today. He and Rafe are at Fort Pierre and will be home in a few days. He had some business to take care of there."

"Good," Olivia said shortly, strangely feeling annoyance rather than gladness at Gus's imminent arrival. With his return, she could proceed with her campaign of stealing him away from the woman sitting beside her. "Stay here tonight," she said standing up. "I don't have anyone to fucking spare to see you safely home. I'll see you in the morning." Before Natalia could protest, Olivia strode quickly from the dining room and headed for her suite.

The Beacon's large ballroom was packed with people, almost literally to the rafters as the crowd had taken over the second floor balcony and every inch of standing room was filled. Natalia looked around the room from her vantage point near the raised dais where Samuel Clemens was entertaining the residents of Deadwood and those from the surrounding communities who had traveled to see him. She caught the eye of Olivia, who was sitting in the front with Alma Ellsworth and the Bullocks. Olivia raised her eyebrow with a smirk and then turned her attention back to Clemens. Natalia smiled, knowing that Olivia was well pleased with the event.

Clemens had been speaking for over two hours and the large room was growing warmer from the combined body heat of the crowd and the lamps. Natalia could see a bead of perspiration roll down Clemens's face. Both he and the crowd ignored the conditions and the people burst out in laughter yet again. Natalia's stomach grumbled and she wondered if they would ever get to the elaborate dinner waiting for them as it seemed Clemens was content to speak all night.

"A rousing success, my good lady," Jack Langrishe said in her ear over the roar of the crowd. The theater owner had warmed up the audience with his amusing introduction of the famous author.

"I'd say that is a valid assessment, Mr. Langrishe," she replied, giving him a smile.

It was, too, Natalia thought. Advance ticket sales had sold out early for both tonight's and tomorrow's lectures and the revenue from the standees had bumped the profit up considerably. Natalia felt proud of herself and was delighted to find she liked working as Olivia's assistant, even though the volatile woman remained a challenge.

She did, however, miss Nicky and, especially, her son. This trip with his father marked the longest they had been separated since his birth. She had encouraged Nicky to take Rafe with him in the hopes of them growing closer and of Nicky exerting a positive influence on their son. Natalia had been growing increasingly worried about Rafe's shady activities and hoped Nicky would put a stop to it before the boy got in trouble. She understood her son well enough to know such restraint would be better received from his father than from her.

Clemens was wrapping up his remarks, Natalia was grateful to see and as the man took a deep bow, the audience erupted in applause, those who had seats rising to their feet in a standing ovation. Natalia joined in the applause, wincing from Langrishe's high pitched whistles. Clemens walked off the dais to her and Natalia opened the door that led to the back service area with Langrishe following them.

"Won't you take your curtain call, Mr. Clemens?" he asked the author.

"I shall leave those to you thespians, Mr. Langrishe," Clemens answered. "Always leave them wanting more, I say and hopefully they are ready to eagerly part with their gold in exchange for books."

"Gregory has set up a table in the lobby for you to sign books, Mr. Clemens," Natalia said. "He will assist you. Then if you will care to join Miss Spencer and her other guests in the private dining room, I shall be much obliged."

"Excellent, Miss Rivera," the author replied. "Please inform Miss Spencer I shall endeavor to make quick work of my sales."

"Thank you, sir," Natalia said.

"Allow me to be your first customer, Mr. Clemens," Langrishe said, clapping the author on the back.

Natalia watched them leave, then she headed to the kitchen to check on the progress of the dinner. The chef and his assistants were busy at work and the room was filled with a marvelous aroma that caused Natalia's mouth to water. Jewel, dressed in a Beacon uniform and ready to assist with the service, was waiting as Natalia had earlier asked her to. Natalia could tell her friend was nearly bubbling with excitement.

"The guests should be starting to arrive in the dining room, Jewel," Natalia said picking up a knife to slice herself a bit of Gruyère. "If you could make sure the appetizer plates are kept full until Mr. Twain is done with his signing, I would appreciate it."

"I will be glad to," the woman said and shuffled off to the dining room.

Natalia nibbled on the cheese, the creamy morsel barely making a dent in her hunger. She gave some final instructions to the cooks and other waiters she had hired for the evening, and then headed to the water closet to check her appearance to make sure she was presentable for the rest of the evening.

Al Swearengen glanced up over his glasses as another customer walked through the door, followed by a nicely dressed Trixie, who pushed the man out of her way. He watched as she slammed her hand down on the bar in demand of a drink. Dan returned her scowl with a frown as he poured her a shot. Trixie slammed back the shot and then grabbed the bottle out of Dan's hand and brought it and her glass over to Swearengen's table.

Swearengen watched as she slammed back another shot, then he looked at his newspaper again. "No domestic bliss tonight?" he asked.

"Fucking Jew is at the fucking hotel with the rest of fucking cocksuckers dining with the great man himself," Trixie answered with much sarcasm in her voice.

"I couldn't help but notice the higher quality of your frock this evening, so I'm assuming you went to hear said cocksucker speak?" he asked.

"I did," she answered and Swearengen could see she was starting to relax finally. "Star parted with some of his fucking precious funds for a seat for me."

"Did he sit with you?" Swearengen said looking at her.

"Yeah, he did, the fucking lunatic that he is," she said with a fond smile.

"Then be content with the honor he showed you," he said and looked at his paper again. "As for your own fucking repast, if you want, you'll have to make it yourself as the fucking gimp is working at the Beacon tonight."

"Kind of you to let her earn some extra money," Trixie commented.

Swearengen huffed as he adjusted the paper to easily read another article. "Keeps me from having to listen to the fucking squeak, squeak, squeak of that goddamned brace that cocksucker Cochran built for her."

Trixie lit a cigarette and gave it a deep pull. "I miss the Doc," she said after blowing out the smoke.

"Fucking cocksucker couldn't follow simple orders and had to go and die on me," Swearengen said with another huff. Although he would never admit it, he also missed the old curmudgeonly doctor who had passed from consumption the previous winter.

"Ain't always up to you who fucking lives and who fucking dies, Al," Trixie said and refilled her glass. "Bauer's all right, I suppose. Dolly says he's good to the whores."

"Dolly thinks any cocksucker who doesn't kick her ass on a weekly basis is a gentleman," he said.

Trixie snorted and said, "Then that fucking leaves you out, Al."

Swearengen hid his smirk behind the paper.

They sat in companionable silence for a while as Trixie smoked and drank and Swearengen read his paper and kept an eye on the comings and goings of the hoopleheads looking for whiskey or pussy. Now that the event at Liv's hotel was finished, The Gem was starting to do a brisk business with all the extra traffic that had come to see it.

"How was his lecture?" he asked. "Twain's, I mean."

Trixie shrugged. "Fine, I suppose," she answered. "I don't have much fucking experience with such and all."

"You will have more opportunity if the Jew keeps taking you to those kinds of events," he said.

"I earn my own fucking wage that is totally fucking independent of any fucking thing I get from him," she said, her eyes flashing angrily. "I don't need any fucking cocksucker to pay my fucking way."

"No offense intended," Swearengen said. He considered giving her a good smack across the face just to remind her of her place, but he was in a mellow mood tonight. He was enjoying her company since these days she spent most of her time with the mayor and Swearengen didn't want her storming off in a snit.

Trixie sniffed. "None taken," she said with a shrug. After a bit, she commented, "I'll tell you though, the cocksucker is highly entertainin'. He had that audience eating out of the palm of his hand as he told a fucking funny story about bilking a mark at the Bella last night."

"He say who the mark was?" Swearengen asked.

"Nope, but talk afterwards said it was that cocksucking Spaulding patriarch," she answered as she turned her head to the side and spit out a bit of tobacco.

"Now that is something I would have liked to fucking see," Swearengen commented. Spaulding's reputation for being a killer at poker was widely known.

"I'm sure it was a fuckin' sight to see," Trixie agreed. ""Especially if it went down the way Twain said it did."

"Those who make their living with the pen tend toward embellishment and hyperbole," he said. "Merrick being a fucking case in point."

Trixie made a sound that Swearengen took for amusement. After a few moments, she pushed to her feet and said, "Think I will get something to fuckin' eat. Want anythin'?"

"Before she dragged that fucking brace out of here, the gimp mentioned there is a cold roast pig in the icebox," Swearengen said, glancing at her over the paper. "A sandwich of that might hit the fucking spot."

Trixie nodded and gave him pat on the shoulder as she walked past him. Swearengen hid another smile behind his newspaper.

As the uniformed waiter wheeled in the cart so the chef could prepare the Canard à la Rouennaise, Olivia smiled inwardly. She was happy the dinner party was going so well. While the chef began to prepare the duck, she looked around the large table from her spot at the head. To her left sat the guest of honor. He was chatting charmingly with Martha Bullock. Across from Clemens and to her right was her assistant, who was speaking quietly with Sheriff Bullock. Next to him sat Jane Cannary. The loud frontierswoman was constantly making comments to Joanie Stubbs, so many that Deputy Utter, who was sitting between the two women, had to lean back and forth in order to maintain his own conversation with Mayor Star and Doc Bauer who were across from him and Jane.

Olivia was amused to see Vanessa Lewis carrying on a lively conversation with Eddie Sawyer. Eddie might be a con artist and pimp, but it was just an indication of his personality that he could easily charm the wealthy socialite. That he had cleaned up the Bella Union after taking it over, also added to his reputation.

Looking further down the table, Olivia saw that, as she had expected, Doris Wolfe was expounding on the need for more temperance and morality in Deadwood to Reverend Lewis. Her ex-husband had a pained expression on his face, although she knew anyone else would interpret it as polite. Josh was being the perfect gentleman and nodding at all the right places, but Olivia could tell that Josh would simply ignore most of Mrs. Wolfe's suggestions. Why the woman had chosen Deadwood to relocate to from her former home in Philadelphia, Olivia could not fathom, but the woman possessed wealth and political clout, which had made her a fixture in the town's society. However, to most of the business owners, the founder of the local chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union was a royal pain in the ass.

Across from Doris was Alma Ellsworth who was speaking with Vanessa's husband Billy. Even from her spot at the opposite end of the table, Olivia could hear Billy's side of the conversation as the big man described the Lewis family holdings in Oklahoma. Opposite her former brother-in-law, was the newspaperman Merrick. Olivia had purposefully instructed Natalia to seat him at the extreme opposite from Clemens and a smirk played across Olivia's face as she watched Merrick's frustration at being unable to eavesdrop on the conversations going on at the head of the table. Occasionally, Merrick would give Billy Lewis a thunderous glare when the big Oklahoman got loud enough to drown out even the guests at that end of the table.

Glancing to her left, she saw that Natalia was watching her, an amused smirk on her lips. She gave her assistant an unapologetic shrug and then turned her attention to the duck preparations. The sound of the breaking bones in the presse à canard drew everyone's attention to the chef.

"Magnificent contraption, Miss Spencer," Clemens said. "I have only had occasion to see such in France. How did you manage to acquire one?"

"I assure you it was neither easy nor inexpensive, Mr. Clemens," she answered. "The short of the tale is that my chef made the journey to his home in Rouen and returned with one for our hotel in Illinois. He refuses to divulge any details on how exactly he did so. When we moved west to Deadwood, of course we brought it with us. I believe it is the only such device in the territory."

The chef added the finishing touches to the blood sauce and then lovingly spooned it over the breast portions on each plate. The waiter hurried to serve the guests. Everyone waited until all had been served and then eagerly cut into the tender flesh. Olivia savored her first bite, the succulent meat enhanced by the strong sauce. They didn't often serve the dish at the Beacon, so it was always a treat.

"Wonderful," Natalia murmured from beside her.

Olivia smiled at the look of pleasure on her assistant's face. She said to the chef, "C'est délicieux, Chef."

"Merci, madame," he said with a bow and then left.

"Where did you find your chef, Miss Spencer?" Martha Bullock asked.

"I stole him from the palace kitchen on San Cristobel," she answered with a smirk as she cut another morsel. "Prince Winslow was none too happy about losing his prized French chef, I can tell you that."

"How fortunate you did not cause an international incident," Clemens remarked. "I have heard the Winslows can be quite…prickly at times."

Olivia laughed. "Prickly is an understatement, Mr. Clemens," she said. "They can be downright vicious if I say so myself. Fortunately, I have managed to keep one step ahead of them so far."

The conversation continued to flow easily and Olivia was enjoying herself immensely as were, she felt, her guests. However, that changed halfway through the dessert course when her concierge came in to the room.

Leaning down, Gregory whispered in her ear, "Miss Spencer, Deputies Cooper and Boudreau are here and need to speak with the sheriff."

Olivia glanced at Bullock whose sharp eyes were fixed on hers. "And this can't wait until after dinner, Gregory?"

"No, ma'am," he answered. "I had to stop them from barging in here as it was."

Olivia nodded and stood up. "Excuse me, please," she said as all the men rose to their feet. "There is something that requires my immediate attention. Please continue and I'll return shortly. Sheriff?"

Bullock nodded and followed her out of the room, trailed by Gregory. Outside, the two deputies were fidgeting.

"What's so important you had to interrupt my event, Frank?" she asked.

The deputy ignored her and handed the sheriff a piece of paper. "I have an arrest warrant, Sheriff," Frank said.

"For whom?" she demanded.

Once again, Frank ignored her, but Bullock answered instead. "Mr. Clemens."

"What the fuck?" she asked, her eyes flashing at Frank.

"What's happening?" Olivia turned to see Natalia by her side.

"These two idiots want to arrest Mark Fucking Twain," she exclaimed, waving her hand at the two deputies.

"What?" Natalia asked, her face whitening.

"Judge Russo has issued a bench warrant ordering us to search Mr. Clemens's room and seize any stolen property found. Upon such findings, we are to arrest him for theft," Bullock said.

"Stolen property? And how the fuck does that cocksucker know there's stolen property in Clemens's room?" Olivia asked, then turned to Natalia. "Go get him." To Gregory, she ordered, "Go clear the floor his suite is on. I don't want anyone seeing this."

The concierge nodded and hurried off to do her bidding. A moment later, Natalia returned with the author in tow.

"Is there a problem, Sheriff?" Clemens asked.

Bullock handed him the paper and Clemens scanned it. "An 'anonymous tip' this reads," he said. "Tell me Sheriff, does this judge have any special relationship with local persons of wealth?"

Olivia spat out, "That cocksucker Alan Spaulding, him that you outwitted last evening, owns Russo lock, stock and barrel."

"Indeed, good lady," Clemens said, giving her an amused look. He turned back to Bullock. "Then Sheriff, I dare say, it is a foregone conclusion that you will most certainly find said property in the lovely suite Miss Spencer has kindly assigned to me."

Bullock sighed deeply, then said to Frank, "You two wait here." He motioned for the others to follow, then led the way up the stairs.

Gregory was waiting in the empty hallway outside of Clemens's suite.

"Have you been inside?" Bullock asked.

"No, sir."

"Good," Bullock said and squatted down to examine the door's lock at eye level.

"Anything?" Olivia asked.

"Scratches," Bullock said. "Could mean the lock was pried, but it also could be caused by normal wear."

"Not in my fucking hotel," she exclaimed. ""Everything has to be perfect every single day."

Bullock gave her an amused glance and tried the door handle. It was locked. He motioned to Gregory who stepped forward and used his master key to unlock the door.

"Who has keys to this room?" he asked as he stepped inside.

Natalia answered him. "Gregory, Olivia, myself and of course, Mr. Clemens."

There was nothing unusual in the outer room of the suite. Inside the bedroom, all also appeared normal until Bullock opened up the clothing wardrobe. Piled on the bottom was a variety of goods including fine linens from the hotel, china, jewels, men's and women's clothing and cash wallets.

"God damn it," Olivia swore.

"Well," Clemens said, lighting up a cheroot. "It appears I am guilty as charged."

Olivia rolled her eyes at him. "This is not a joking matter, sir."

"Indeed, it is not, Miss Spencer," Clemens said, his tone finally serious. "Someone has gone to quite a bit of effort to embarrass you and for that I am deeply sorry."

"You're sorry?" Olivia said, incredulously. "You are the one who has been accused."

"A minor technicality, I'm sure," he said."I trust in the good sheriff's ability as an investigator to quickly clear me of any wrongdoing. This cache of goods was clearly stolen from you and your other guests probably within the last several hours and since I have not been out of sight of you, dear Miss Rivera and Sheriff Bullock himself, I could not have been the culprit. However, the stain on your reputation as a fine and upstanding hotelier is, I suspect, the main target of this dastardly fabrication, rather than any revenge for my skill at cards, I suspect."

"Mr. Clemens is almost certainly correct, Miss Spencer," Bullock said. "Judge Russo has repeatedly demonstrated in the past he cannot be bothered to exert himself in any capacity unless his effort netted him a profit and his main source of that has proven time and again to be Alan Spaulding. This was most likely an attack against you. Mr. Clemens's role was merely an extra bonus for embarrassing Spaulding at the table."

"And what a fine pleasure that was, sir," Clemens said proudly. "Hindsight being what it is, I only wish I had doubled my efforts."

Olivia sighed and glanced at Natalia.

"I'll get with Gregory and we'll start speaking with the guests," her assistant said. "If we can explain this was merely a misguided prank and not a real theft, then perhaps we can avoid any anger."

"Good idea," Olivia said gratefully, knowing that Natalia will easily charm any guest who took offense. "Offer them what you need to in order to smooth any ruffled feathers."

Natalia nodded and quickly left. Olivia turned to Bullock. "What about the arrest warrant?" she asked.

Bullock sighed. "Unfortunately, I will have to take Mr. Clemens into custody until this is cleared up."

"Mr. Clemens, while I appreciate your kind words, I can't help but regret this inconvenience is causing you," she said.

"Nonsense, my dear," he said, giving her a warm smile. "This will not be the first night I have spent in jail, and I dare say it shall certainly not be the last."

Olivia shook her head at his attitude, a smile finally gracing her lips. "I will go make your regrets to our other dinner guests, sir," she said and then turned to Bullock. "Make sure nothing happens to him," she said sternly. "I wouldn't put it past that cocksucker Alan to make another attempt to attack him."

"No ma'am," Bullock said. "I promise you that Mr. Clemens will be safe while in our custody."

"Thank you, Sheriff," she said and they all headed off to try to clean up this disaster.


Chapter 5 – Advances, None Miraculous

The two brothers rode into town from the south approach and stuck to the back alleys to avoid the thoroughfare. Pulling up near Wu's, the two dismounted and tethered their horses, then headed off in opposite directions.

"Wait a minute, Grady!" Cyrus said, grabbing his brother's arm. "Where are you going?"

"To the Gem," Grady answered with a smirk. "I'm in need of a piece of pussy."

"No, no, you can't," Cyrus said. "Phillip's orders were clear. Get what we came for and no diversions, especially for cunt."

"Fuck Phillip and fuck his fucking orders," Grady said. "The nights are getting colder and so are my balls. I aim to warm them in a woman's cunt."

"Grady, come on," Cyrus said. "If Phillip finds out…"

"How's he gonna find out, little brother?" the taller man asked. "You gonna fucking tell him?"

"No," Cyrus answered with a frown.

"Good," Grady said. "Then all is well. Now, you go play that cocksucker Phillip's errand boy and by the time you're done fetchin', I'll be done fuckin'."

With that, Grady turned and headed for the back entrance of the Gem. Cyrus watched his brother for a moment, then rushed off to quickly gather the supplies they needed.

Natalia was just returning from the bank when she spotted two familiar figures riding down the thoroughfare. A wide grin broke out on her face. Her men had finally returned safe.

Both Nicky and Rafe were dusty and travel worn, but other than the strain of exhaustion around her fiancé's eyes, he looked well. Rafe looked even better. She could see he had put on a few pounds and all that was muscle. The two stopped their horses near where she stood waiting and then they dismounted.

"Miss Rivera," Nicky said, lifting his hat.

"Mr. Aitoro," she said unable to contain the smile on her face. "I am overjoyed at your return." She turned to her son. "Rafael, you look well."

"Thank you, Mama," he said, leaning down to kiss her, his scraggly beard tickling his face. Natalia wondered when he had grown taller than her. "It's so good to be home. You are looking fine as well."

"I agree with the boy," Nicky said, looking at her. "I don't recognize this gown."

"Much has happened since you left," she said. "I will explain. Perhaps the three of us can rendezvous at Company for supper this evening?"

Nicky nodded and handed his reins to Rafe. "I'd be much obliged if you could drop our things off at the house and then take care of the horses, son."

"Of course, Father," Rafe answered, mounting his horse. "I'll see you later, Mama."

Together, they watched him ride toward the residential area. "Things went well with him?" she asked.

"Extremely," he answered. "He's a good boy, Natalia and he will make a fine man. I hope you are as proud of him as I am."

"I am," she agreed. "And well pleased he conducted himself well. So I can assume your business was successful?"

"It was," he said. "I urgently need to speak with Olivia to advise her of the results of my meeting with the commissioner on her behalf and what she can expect when he arrives to speak with her."

"I am heading to the Beacon myself," she said and added flirtatiously, "You are permitted to accompany me there, Nicky."

He smiled and held out an arm for her to take. "It would be my pleasure, my dear."

As they walked leisurely toward the hotel, he asked, "So, Natalia, how does it come about that you are so finely dressed in that pretty dress rather than the chambermaid's uniform, which, I wish to stress, you always seem to make so flattering."

"You're the flatterer, Nicky," she said with a laugh. "To answer your question, the short of it is that Olivia promoted me to her personal assistant."

"Indeed?" he said, raising his eyebrows. "That is…surprising."

"I thought so as well," she said with a wry grin. "I suspect her motive was to keep a closer eye on me, but it turns out I seem to be rather good at the job."

"Such news surprises me not one bit, my dear," Nicky said. "On our way through Sturgis, I saw someone taking down an advertisement for a set of presentations at the Beacon given by Mark Twain. Was that your work?"

"It was," she admitted proudly. "Although I fear the good author's opinion of our town might have been tarnished thanks to the underhanded machinations of Alan Spaulding."

"Oh?" he asked and Natalia could see anger mixed with concern on his face.

Briefly, she told him about Clemens's visit and how, despite Alan's efforts, the author had been cleared of all charges. "Mr. Clemens was very gracious about it, even jocular, but both Olivia and I were embarrassed."

"I am deeply sorry, Natalia," he said as they finally reached the hotel.

"You are not responsible for your father's or your brother's actions, Nicky," she said.

"Still, I regret the trouble they both have caused," he said, his eyes dark.

"In any case, overall the event was a great success and it was an honor and pleasure to make the famous author's acquaintance," she said.

"I am very pleased our absence did not cause you any undue stress, my dear," he said and then took her hands in his. "Natalia, after my business with Olivia is done today, I would like your leave to speak with the Reverend Lewis," he said.

"Oh?" she asked, her heart giving a thump. "What shall you speak of with the good reverend?" She boldly smoothed a finger along his mustache.

"Now that our son and I have returned, it would greatly please me if we could do what we should have done long ago and that is join together in holy matrimony," he said, his eyes sparkling. "Perhaps three days hence would suit you?"

"Three days?" she asked, her heart now racing. "But what of your divorce?"

Nicky's eyebrows furrowed. "Didn't you get the package from Utter's man Lindstrom?"

She shook her head. "No," she said. "I just dined with Mr. Utter a few days ago and he never mentioned any such package."

"How odd," he said, his head tilting to the side. "Rafe and I encountered Lindstrom on the way to Yankton and bid him to deliver the package with the divorce papers to you at Company or the Beacon. You should have received it weeks ago."

"No," she said shaking her head. "Although, I suspect if Mr. Lindstrom attempted to contact me at the Beacon, he may have been circumvented by someone else."

"You think he gave the package to Olivia?" he asked, his face troubled.

She nodded. "I find it likely," she said. "Olivia has not disguised her intent of having you for her own, neither your will nor mine posing any hindrance to that motive."

Nicky shook his head. "I don't believe that, Natalia," he said. "I made it quite clear to Olivia before I left that my commitment in assisting her in protecting little Emma is in no way influenced, and certainly not dependent upon, her and I entering into a more intimate union other than the one we currently share as friends."

"Be that as it may, Nicky," she said, "Olivia has repeatedly proven that once she has set her mind toward a specific goal, she will do everything she can to attain it. She wants you and she won't scruple against any act to get you."

Nicky moved closer to her and lowered his voice. "I have made it quite clear that I intend to marry you and after what happened with Harley, I shall remain faithful to you no matter how diligent Olivia intends to pursue me," he said.

"I have spent a lot of time with Olivia in the past few weeks," Natalia said. "She is intelligent, beautiful and, when it comes to protecting those she cares about, utterly ruthless in how she goes about it. In her mind, the best way of keeping Emma from the Spauldings is to get you into her bed."

Nicky chuckled. "I also know Olivia, my dear," he said and Natalia felt a stab of anger at his condescension. "And believe me when I say I am neither rich enough nor powerful enough for her tastes."

"Be that as it may, Nicky, you are the most powerful lawman in the territory with influence in Yankton and Washington," Natalia said firmly. Your mandate to bring Phillip to justice and oppose Alan in his maneuverings is stronger than that of Sheriff Bullock's. In addition, you are a Spaulding yourself, and while your influence with Alan is not as firm, you are still his son and as such, in Olivia's mind, all of which adds up to a lot of force. That makes you a very attractive ally in the battle she's engaged in." Natalia paused and chuckled. "If you were not Rafe's father and my fiancé, I would be very impressed with her logic."

Nicky was silent for a few moments. "This is all speculation, Natalia," he finally said. "We don't know for sure that Olivia intercepted the divorce papers."

"Even if she didn't, she still wants you, Nicky," she pointed out.

"Well, she can't have me," he said with a laugh. "And in three days' time, we will belong to only each other."

Natalia looked at him and then nodded. "Very well," she said. "Let's go see if we can find those missing papers."

She turned and quickly walked toward the entrance, causing the doorman to scramble to open the door for her. Natalia didn't give the man a passing glance as she strode inside, intent on proving to her fiancé that Olivia Spencer had not given up her quest to possess him for herself.

The door to her office slammed open and Natalia, her eyes flashing angrily, strode into the room.

"So I take it the business at the bank didn't go well?" Olivia drawled as she leaned back in her chair.

Before Natalia could reply, Gus Aitoro entered the room. Olivia stood up. "Gus," she purred, ignoring Natalia. "How lovely to see you."

"Olivia," he said, a small smile playing across his otherwise stern mouth.

Olivia had a moment to enjoy looking at him before Natalia demanded, "Where is it?"

With an inward sigh, Olivia turned her gaze from Gus to Natalia. The dark haired woman was breathing heavily as if she had run here. Olivia decided she liked the flushed look on her assistant's face. "Where is what?" she asked.

"The package with Gus's divorce papers," Natalia said.

Olivia tapped her chin with a finger. "Package?"

"Stop playing," Natalia said, angrily. "Where is it?"

Gus stepped forward. "Olivia, a few weeks ago, I asked one of Charlie's drivers to bring a package to Natalia. She never received it. Do you know anything about it?"

"Hmm," Olivia said, enjoying Natalia's reactions and Gus's cluelessness. "When was this again?" she directed to Gus.

He sighed. "Olivia, please."

"Hmm," she said again. "You know, I do seem to remember meeting some huge hooplehead in the street one day."

"Lindstrom," Gus prompted.

"Yes," she nodded. "Oh that's right, I remember now. He did give me a package." She turned to Natalia. "I left it on your desk."

"No, you didn't," Natalia said as she shook her head.

"I most certainly did," she said.

"You know I'm very careful about what you put on my desk," Natalia said.

Inwardly Olivia admitted that was true. "There are always exceptions to the rule, Natalia," she said.

"I never received the package, Olivia," Natalia said moving closer. "What did you do with it?"

"I put it on your desk," Olivia said, enunciating carefully. "It's not my fucking fault you didn't receive it."

"Where is it, Olivia?"

"I said, I don't know," she spat as she felt the heat radiating from her assistant.

"Come on, Natalia," Gus said, moving closer to them as if he feared they would come to blows. "If Olivia said she left the package on your desk, then she did."

"Oh, and you believe her?" Natalia asked angrily, turning to him.

"Well, why shouldn't we believe her?"

"Maybe because she's a lying bitch?" Natalia said and Olivia fought an urge to laugh.

"Natalia," Gus admonished with shock on his face. "Don't speak to your employer that way."

"No, no, it's all right, Gus," Olivia said, holding up a hand. "Natalia and I have an agreement to keep our personal and professional lives separate."

"Well…good," Gus said. "But still, Natalia, show some respect. There is no proof that what Olivia claims isn't true."

"Except she thinks by stealing the divorce papers, she'll stop us from marrying so she can have you for herself," Natalia said. "But guess what, Olivia? It doesn't matter, because we don't need those papers to get married. They're only a copy of the originals filed in Yankton. Isn't that right, Nicky?"

Olivia looked at Gus, who looked surprised at Natalia's acumen. "Yes, that's true," he said with a nod. "I can request a copy of them anytime, but we don't need to have them present for our union to be legal."

Natalia gave her a triumphant look. "So you see, Olivia," she said. "You wasted your time for nothing." She turned to Gus. "You'll speak with Reverend Lewis today?"

He nodded. "It's on my agenda of things to do today, yes," he answered.

"Thank you." Natalia turned back to Olivia. "I was going to send you an invitation, but I think I've changed my mind."

"Natalia," Gus chided again.

"I've got to get back to work," Natalia said. "I'll see you this evening, Nicky."

"All right," he said and they both watched Natalia leave.

She turned to Gus. "Are you really sure you want to marry a harpy like that, Gus?"

"Don't you start now, Olivia," Gus said with a sigh.

"I'm just saying," she said. "A woman like that will nag you the rest of your life. You deserve better."

"You mean, I deserve you," he said, a smile playing across his lips.

Olivia smiled and moved closer. "I have so much to offer you, Gus," she said and before he had a chance to react, she pulled his face down to hers. His lips were wind and sun chapped, his whiskers scratchy against her smooth skin and the aroma of road dust, sweat and horseflesh surrounded them both, but when she felt him begin to return her kiss, her body exploded in arousal.

Gus wrapped his arms tighter around Olivia and backed her up until she was pressed against her desk. Olivia reached behind her and pushed the items aside, hearing them crash against the floor. The small part of her mind not filled with lust wondered if the noise would cause her assistant to investigate and at the thought of Natalia seeing them like this, her desire shot up to the heavens.

She used one hand to boost herself to the desk as Gus continued to ravage her mouth. She kept the other hand clenched tightly around Gus's neck, but let go to pull up her skirt, bustle and petticoat, then she pulled him close until she could feel his hardness against her with only the barrier of his trousers and her drawers between them. As she fumbled with his buttons, she wished she had known he was returning to town today so she could have left them off. No matter, she thought. Gus was a strong man, she was sure he could easily tear them off.

As Olivia reached into his trousers to touch him, he suddenly pulled away.

"No," he croaked, the hunger in his voice exciting Olivia even more. He moved to the other side of the room.

Olivia hopped off the desk and sauntered over to him. "Oh, I'm certain you mean yes," she purred and reached for him again.

He backed up even further and put up a hand to ward her off. "No," he said again, his face pained. "Stay away."

"Gus, Gus, Gus," she said smiling and shaking her head. "You want me. I know you do. Now come and take me."


"I'm getting fucking tired of that word, Gus Aitoro," she said. By this time she had him backed into the corner. "Why bother resisting me, Gus? No man can, you know. Here, let me show you." With sure fingers, she began to unfasten her dress, each button springing open to reveal her creamy white bosom, her cleavage enhanced by the silky black corset wrapped tightly around her torso.

"Oh god," Gus whispered. "I can't Olivia. I belong to someone else."

"You belong to me, Gus," she said. "I've staked my claim and it's time for both of us to reap the rewards." Olivia shrugged out of her dress and untied her bustle and petticoat, allowing the voluminous fabric to fall to the floor as she stopped closer to Gus. "So what do you want, Gus?" she asked. "Do you want to fuck me? Or do you want me to suck your cock? Hmm? Shall I wrap my lips around your prick? Is that what you want, Gus?"

Gus was silent as Olivia's hand continued to work the stays on her corset until finally her bountiful breasts sprang free. "I'm sure Saint Natalia wouldn't even think about doing something so sinfully dirty like suck cock, would she, Gus?" Olivia's breath caught in excitement as she imagined watching Natalia's full, wet lips doing wicked things to Gus's strong body.

"That's enough," he said firmly and gently pushed her aside as he walked to the door. "I'm sorry Olivia, but it's not going to happen."

"Gus…" she began, but he cut her off.

"No, I said!" he barked with a tone she had never heard before. "Now listen to me carefully. Commissioner Hugo Jarry will be here soon, probably within the week. He will expect from you a large contribution to his coffers and in return he will ignore any counter offers intended to circumvent Phillip Spaulding coming to the justice he so richly deserves." Gus buttoned his trousers and took his hat from the rack next to the door. "Don't try this again, Olivia," he said as he put his hat on his head. "If you'll excuse me, I have a wedding to plan. Good day."

"Gus, wait," she said, but he was through the door and gone before she could stop him.

"Fuck!" she cursed in frustration. As her breathing went back to normal, she began to make alternate plans. It was time to stop a wedding.

Phillip Spaulding crouched at the edge of the rim as his sharp eyes tracked the progress of the Foley brothers riding through the gulch. He could tell by their heavily laden horses they had completed their task. At least they had gotten that much right. What they hadn't gotten right was obvious in the presence of Sheriff Bullock and his deputy sidekick Charlie Utter, both men following at a discrete distance and undetected by the two idiots who were heading straight for Phillip's campsite.

He watched without moving as the brothers began to climb the steep path that led up to the rim. As he expected, Bullock and Utter stopped and waited, nearly invisible in the brush. Phillip knew he had a short interval of time before the two lawmen would risk exposing themselves on the path. Just enough time for him to teach a couple of Australian jackaroos a lesson they wouldn't soon forget.

The two men gained the ridge and Phillip watched them carefully as they approached him. He could tell by Cyrus's tense posture and wary face that the younger Foley was worried about something. His gaze kept flitting between his brother and Phillip. On the other hand, Grady sat relaxed in the saddle with the satisfied smirk of a man who had just gotten laid.

"Hey, boss," Grady said as he dismounted and reached for the supply straps on his mount.

"Hold on that a moment, Grady," Phillip said, softly. "I want you two boys to come over here a moment."

Cyrus eyed him suspiciously and stood some distance away. Grady bounded over and squatted down next to Phillip.

"What's up, boss?" he asked.

"Did you boys have any trouble in Deadwood?" Phillip asked.

"Not a one," the older brother answered, shaking his head.

"I see you got the supplies all right."

"Yeah, no fucking problems on that front, boss," he said.

"And you followed orders?" Phillip questioned. "Didn't make any side trips perhaps?"


Phillip eyed him. "Come on, Grady," he said. "I'm a man, I understand how things are. Who'd you fuck?"

Grady grinned rakishly. "Well, you know that sweet piece of pussy named Dolly down to the Gem?"

Phillip thought a moment. "Plump piece of ass with the round face?"

"Oh fuck yeah," Grady laughed. "I love me a fleshy woman I can sink my cock into."

"Yeah, I know how that is," Phillip agreed. "But tell me, Grady, did you even pause to consider who owns the Gem?"

"Phillip," Cyrus started, but Phillip held up a hand to stop him.

"Answer me, Grady," he said.

"Yeah, everyone knows it's that cocksucker Al Swearengen," the brother replied.

"He's a fucking cocksucker all right," Phillip said in agreement. "He also hates the Spauldings."

"Oh well, not to be insulting, boss, but most folks in the territory do," Grady smiled with a shrug.

"No offence taken," Phillip said, shaking his head.

"So ready for some chow?" Grady asked.

"No, I don't think so," Phillip said. "Unless you were planning on inviting those two gentlemen?" He pointed toward the copse of trees concealing the two lawmen.

"What?" Grady asked looking down into the gulch.

"There over by that mess of brush. See 'em?" Phillip asked.

"Who's that?"

"Why, it's the intrepid Sheriff Bullock and his faithful dog Charlie Utter," Phillip answered.

"Phillip, it was just a mistake," Cyrus said.

Phillip turned his head to glare at the younger brother, "Shut the fuck up, Cyrus," he said and turned back to Grady. "Your little fucking interlude with the pretty whore led them straight here, Grady."

"Aw gee, boss," Grady said sheepishly. "I'm sorry, I never meant to cause trouble. Just wanted to wet my cock is all. So you want me and Cyrus to ambush 'em?"

Phillip laughed. "You really think you and your limp dick brother could outgun Bullock and Utter?"

"Fuck yeah," Grady answered.

Phillip shook his head. "You know something, Grady," he said. "You're stupid and the one thing I don't need is stupid people."

"Phillip, no!" Cyrus warned.

As he sprang to his feet, Phillip had to wonder at just how idiotic Grady truly was to not even realize his imminent demise. While the other man stared in confusion at his brother, Phillip reached out his booted foot and shoved it against Grady's back, launching the man over the edge of the rim into the gulch below.

Grady screamed as he flew through the air, the cry cut off abruptly as he crashed against the rocks far below. Phillip had a moment to see the two Deadwood peace officers kick their horses into action, and then he turned to Cyrus.

The other man was looking at him in fear, his hand inches away from the pistol holstered on his belt.

"So Cyrus," he said with a smirk. "You gonna go for it?"

Breathing heavily, Cyrus asked, "Why?"

"I can't afford to have assholes working for me, Cyrus," he answered. "You know your brother was an idiot and eventually he would have gotten us both killed."

Cyrus swallowed heavily as he eyed Phillip. "Yeah," he finally said. "Yeah, he would have."

"Right," Phillip agreed. "Now I suggest we get the fuck out of here before those two cocksuckers get here. Agreed?"

"Yeah," Cyrus said again. "Let's get the fuck out of here."

"I'm glad we agree, Cyrus," he said and, turning his back on the Australian, he walked quickly to his saddled horse.

St. John's Episcopal Church was one of the newest buildings in town and Olivia had to admit it was one of the prettiest. She started climbing the steps to the front door, but she heard the sound of hammering coming from the rear of the building. Walking around to investigate, she found her ex-husband with his shirtsleeves rolled up and a mallet in one hand.

"Now that's what I call a real hands-on reverend," she quipped after watching him work for a few moments.

Josh's face broke into a smile as he looked up at her. "Olivia," he said, putting down the tool and picking up a rag to wipe his hands. He kissed her cheek and said, "You're looking lovely, as always. What do I owe this wonderful visit to?"

"I need a favor," she said, caressing his cheek and then tugging gently on his beard. "Can we go inside?"

"Sure," he said and grabbed his suit coat.

"What are you building?" she asked as she waited for him to don the coat.

"Pews," he answered. "I'm doing my part to save the building budget for the stained glass windows."

"I know you can do a better job of them than any other craftsman in town," she said.

"Thanks for the compliment," he said with a grin as he held open the rear door to the church for her. "But I really don't need it. You know I'm always willing to help you when I can, Olivia."

"That's good to know, Josh," she said following him into the small kitchen that was part of the pastor's residence. Josh came from a wealthy family, but he had chosen instead to live the simple life of a man of God. Olivia often wondered if Reva ever returned would he abandon his calling. She suspected he wouldn't, but then again Josh was never rational when it came to that woman.

Josh took the pot of coffee from the stove and poured them two cups of coffee. "So what can I do for you?" he asked as he handed her the cup.

"Actually, I'd like you to do nothing," she said as she picked up a muffin from the basket on the table. She took a small bite. "See how simple I can be?"

"You're far from simple, Olivia," he said with a chuckle. "I'm sure it's a little bit more involved than that.

"Marshal Aitoro will be by later to ask you to perform his wedding ceremony to Natalia Rivera," she said. "I'd like you to refuse."

Josh's face registered his surprise. "Olivia, I have already promised them I would since Father Santos can't. Why are you asking me this?"

"I have my reasons," she said. "Don't be a fucking cocksucker and just do what I ask, Josh."

"You want Gus for yourself, don't you?" he asked, shaking his head. "Olivia, when are you going to learn that stealing other women's men isn't going to make you happy?"

"You let me be the judge of that, Josh Lewis," she said. "And you're certainly one to talk, when you're fucking Alma Ellsworth."

She watched as Josh's face flushed red. "Olivia, don't," he said, his voice low with warning.

"How do you think the good congregants of St. John's would feel if they knew you were sticking it to the banker?" she asked.

"Olivia, you don't want to do this."

"Why not, Josh?" she asked. "What have I got to lose? Phillip and Alan are not going to stop until they've taken Emma from me. I need Gus more than Natalia does."

"It's not right, Olivia and I can't believe you're even threatening me with this," he said, slamming down his coffee cup on the table. "Despite everything that happened between us, we were able to remain friends. At least, I thought we were friends."

"We are friends, Josh," she answered. "But I need to protect Emma and Gus is the key."

"Gus will protect Emma regardless to whom he is married, Olivia," he said. "He's a sworn peace officer and Emma's uncle."

"Just tell me you won't marry them, Josh."

He shook his head. "I gave them my word, Olivia."

"Is your word worth more than your reputation?" she asked. "Alma won't care, but you know you could be defrocked, right? Last I heard, the Episcopals are as narrow-minded as the Catholics when it comes to their shepherds banging the sheep."


She surged forward and grabbed his lapels. "Don't fucking do it, Josh," she said desperately, already knowing in her heart he would because that was the type of man Josh Lewis was. "I'm begging you, please don't!"

"No, Olivia," he said, gently taking her hands and pulling them away. "I'm sorry, but I can't do as you ask."

"Fuck you, Josh Lewis," she said bitterly and turned away as she brought the tears that threatened to fall under control. She walked toward the door. As she opened it, she finally felt composed enough to turn back. "Tell me something, Josh," she said, her voice steady.

"What?" he asked.

"Why haven't you married Alma?" she asked. "Reva is never coming back, you know."

"I know Reva won't," he answered, looking at her sadly. "And I would marry Alma in a heartbeat, but she's refused my proposals."

"Why?" Olivia asked. "I've seen the way she looks at you, Josh. She loves you."

"She does," he said with a small, sad smile. "Which is why she refuses to marry me. She's already buried two husbands and she doesn't wish to bury a third. So I am forced to live my life in secrecy and fear of exposure. Olivia, if you ever cared for me, do not carry out your threat. I wish you nothing except happiness and I would hope you'd want the same for me."

"A life lived in the shadows will not bring you happiness, Josh," she said sadly.

"Maybe not, but when it's the only chance for any kind of happiness, then I'll take it," he said. "You would too, Olivia."

"I've never been one to hide, Josh," she said.

"If it was for the right person, you would," he countered.

"And Alma is that person for you?"

He nodded. "She is," he answered. "What are you going to do, Olivia?"

She stared at him for a long moment. "I'm going to get Gus whether you marry them or not, Josh."

"I meant about Alma and me?"

"I don't know," she said, opening the door and. quickly walking down the steps. She whispered again to herself, "I don't know."

Natalia noticed Nicky's strained face the moment her and Rafe had arrived at the house. She didn't say anything as she placed the basket of food she bought on the table. While she started to prepare the three of them a simple meal she thought about what might have caused her fiancé distress and felt a stab of anger that it might have been something Olivia did.

With a determined effort, she put aside all thoughts of Olivia and concentrated on the joy she felt for the safe return of her men. As they sat around the table and joined hands while their son said the blessing, Natalia caught Nicky's eye and was pleased to see him finally relax when he returned her smile.

While they ate, Natalia listened to tales of their adventures to Yankton and back. At one point Rafe enthusiastically told her about the night an elk that had wandered into their campsite, spooking their horses, and how Gus had tried to scare it off while dressed only in his long underwear and boots. Natalia's laughter joined theirs and the happy sound seemed to make the room glow.

After supper, Rafe cleaned up the dishes while Natalia and Nicky sat at the chess board. Natalia had first taught Nicky how to play the game when they were younger and the resumption of their matches brought Natalia much pleasure. She had also taught Rafe to play, but he didn't care for the subtle strategy the game required and his direct attack approach left him vulnerable. Natalia had always refused to let him win on principle. She thought it best he learned to accept defeat with grace. Briefly, Natalia wondered if Olivia knew how to play and guessed that if Olivia did, with her Machiavellian mind, she was probably a master at the game.

When he finished, Rafe bid his father good night and offered to walk Natalia back to the boarding house.

"I'd like to finish this game first, Rafael," she said. "However, I'm sure after your long absence, Mr. Fields has need of you, and so I won't keep you. Mr. Aitoro will be kind enough to see me home."

"Of course, my dear," Nicky said with a nod.

"Before you go though, I have something for you," Natalia said standing up. She went to her satchel and pulled out a small package wrapped in paper and tied with string.

Rafe took it from her and said, "Thank you, Mama."

"Go on and open it," she said, smiling.

Rafe untied the string and the paper fell away to reveal a richly-bound leather book. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," Rafe said with delight as he read the gold embossed title. "Thank you again, Mama. I've always wanted my own copy."

"Oh, it's not from me, mi hijo," she said, thriftily gathering up the paper and string for later use. "Look at the inscription inside."

Rafe opened the book and his eyebrows rose in surprise.

"Read it aloud, son," Nicky urged.

"To young Rafael Rivera," he began. "Your charming mother tells me this modest tome was a favorite of your early life. Always remember that one gets large impressions in boyhood, sometimes, which he has to fight against all his life. A young man needs to control his baser impulses, while at the same time enjoying all life has to offer. Balance is the key, my boy. Your servant, Mark Twain." He looked up in surprise. "Mama, this is amazing."

"He is an amazing man, Rafael," she said. "I wish you had been here to meet him."

"So am I, but I enjoyed spending time with my father," Rafe said with a smile at Nicky. "Thank you again, Father."

"It was my pleasure, son," Nicky said. "You're a good traveling companion and can ride with me anytime."

Rafe flushed with pleasure at the compliment.

"Good night, mi hijo," Natalia said and presented her cheek for him to kiss.

"Good night, Mama," he said. "Good night, sir."

"Go straight back to the livery, Rafe," Nicky said.

"Yes, sir," Rafe said obediently and Natalia hoped he kept to his word.

After he was gone, Nicky tended to the fireplace while Natalia poured them a small glass of whiskey. She set both on the table next to the chessboard and sat down.

"Thank you, Natalia," Nicky said returning to his seat. He picked up his glass and tapped it against hers in a silent toast.

The warmth from the fire and whiskey added a pleasant note to the evening as they continued their game. She waited until Nicky had tipped his king over acknowledging his defeat, and then she asked, "So what did she do now?"

"She?" Nicky asked looking up at her.

"Olivia Spencer," Natalia clarified. "What did she do after I left this morning?"

Nicky sighed. "Olivia actions were overshadowed by Sheriff Bullock's news of the events of the afternoon."

"Oh?" she asked.

"He and Charlie Utter had word from Swearengen that the Foley brothers were in town today," Nicky explained.

Natalia shook her head. "I don't believe I'm familiar with them."

"No reason for you to be," he said. "No good blackguards from Australia who have been a headache for Territory law enforcers for some time now. Bullock has reason to believe they are aligned with Phillip Spaulding, so when Swearengen let slip that Grady was paying a visit to his joint, he and Utter thought it prudent to follow them when they headed out of town in hopes of discovering Phillip's location."

"What happened?"

"Bullock said they had followed them some miles down the gulch when the two brothers took a path that climbed to the top of the rim. He and Charlie were waiting for them to move on when suddenly a screaming Grady went hurtling down the cliff."

"Oh my God," Natalia said, her blood running cold. "Do they think it was an accident?"

He shook his head. "Bullock said they found signs on the rim of three men standing around with two of those leaving on horseback leading a third. They gave chase, but lost them in the Hills. They would have gone on, but they didn't want to leave Grady's body lying exposed to scavengers."

"That's still not proof Phillip murdered him," Natalia pointed out.

"True," Nicky said, draining his whiskey and standing up to pour some more. "But both Bullock and Charlie believe it was no accident and once they find Cyrus, they'll know for sure."

Natalia thought a moment. "Why would Cyrus ride off with a man who just murdered his brother?"

"Fear? Greed?" Nicky said, staring into the amber depths of his drink. "Perhaps there was bad blood between the brothers. Lord knows, it wouldn't be the first time that happened." He gave a rueful chuckle at that and took a large sip.

Natalia sighed as she stood up to tend the fire. The windows had a rim of frost and she shivered at the idea of the walk to her cold room at Company.

"Nicky," she said as she replaced the poker in the iron stand. "You said Olivia did do something after I left you with her. What happened?"

Nicky shook his head. "Natalia, it's not important. Nothing happened."

"Oh Nicky, I think it's very important," she said, her eyes flashing. "Furthermore, I believe something fucking happened, didn't it?"


She glanced down at the front of his trousers and her mouth watered at the thought of Olivia being the cause of the prominent bulge hidden under the fabric. At that moment she decided to do something to prove to her fiancé that he belonged to her and not to that woman.

"I can just imagine how it went, Nicky," she said, stalking closer to him. "I'm sure she barely waited until I was out of the office before making her move, am I right? What did she do? Did she kiss you?"

He shook his head. "What's the point of this, Natalia?" he asked. "I told you, nothing happened."

"I know Olivia, Nick," she said, placing both hands on his chest. "I've seen her in action with men. How did she start, Nicky? I'll bet it was just like this."

She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled his face down to hers. Nicky paused a moment and then wrapped his arms around her tightly, pulling her close, responding in kind to her demanding kiss. She could feel his hardness through her dress. She rose up on her tiptoes, rubbing against him.

"Oh God, Natalia," he croaked hoarsely with pain in his voice. "Please don't tease me."

"I know she wouldn't tease you, Nicky," she said against his mouth. "Did you fuck her?"

"No," he answered and let out a ragged gasp when she grabbed his lower lip between her teeth and bit sharply drawing blood.

"Don't lie to me, Nicky," she said.

"I'm not," he said. "She…she kissed me, but I backed away."

"And then what happened?" she demanded, knowing Olivia wouldn't give up so easily.

"She tried again," he said. "She began to unclothe herself."

"Is she beautiful, Nicky?" Natalia asked. She felt herself grow wet as she pictured the scene in Olivia's office, closing her eyes as she imagined Olivia's creamy skin emerging from her clothing as an aroused Nicky looked on. She licked her lips and opened her eyes again, her gaze hard on him. "I know how beautiful she is on the outside, but is she as beautiful under her expensive garments?"

Nick nodded. "She is, but nothing happened, Natalia," he repeated. "I pushed her away, said what I had to tell her and then I left. I swear. That's all."

"Oh, I believe you, Nick," she said lightly and pulled his arms from around her waist.

He moaned in protest. "Natalia, please."

"Don't move," she ordered and walked around to embrace him from behind. She leaned up and whispered in his ear, "I believe you didn't fuck her, Nicky, but I know you wanted to. Didn't you?"

"Natalia, please don't," he moaned.

"Say it, Nicky," she said and moved her hands down to her trousers. She began to unbutton him. "Say you wanted to fuck her."

"I…oh God, I did." He looked down as her hands released him and Natalia felt him grow even harder.

"Say it, Nick," she demanded again, her hands working along his shaft.

"I wanted to fuck her," he obeyed.

She pulled on his earlobe with her teeth. "Say her name," she whispered harshly as she pulled on his cock, the other hand cupping his balls. He was rock hard under her ministrations.

"Olivia," he panted. "I wanted to fuck Olivia."

"She's such an exquisite woman, isn't she?" she asked, increasing her pace. "With those piercing eyes and full, sensual lips. Did she show you her breasts, Nicky?"

"Yes," he breathed out in a whisper.

"Are they beautiful?" she asked. "Are they round and plump with perfect nipples?"


"I know you wanted to touch them, and wrap your lips around them," she said and felt his cock begin to quiver as he approached orgasm. "Did you want to throw her on her desk and shove your cock into her dripping cunt, Nicky?"

"Oh God, yes!" he cried out as his body jerked in release.

Natalia purred in contentment as she milked his cock until it began to soften. She placed a kiss on his neck as his labored breathing began to go back to normal. She tucked him back inside his pants and efficiently re-buttoned his trousers.

"Natalia," he said softly, turning around in her arms.

She leaned up for a deep kiss, her tongue working inside his mouth as her body buzzed in arousal. After a few minutes, she pulled away.

"Please, let me touch you," he said.

She shook her head. "No," she said, hearing the way her own voice had deepened. "No, the way I feel right now, I'd want you to do more than just touch me, Nicky."

"It's all right," he said. "We're going to be married in a few days. What does it matter?"

"It matters to me, Nicky," she answered. "I won't have you until we're joined together before the eyes of the Lord." She gave him a slow smile and looked into his eyes. "Don't worry. I'll take care of myself when I get back to my room. There's no reason either one of us should have to suffer because of that woman, wouldn't you agree?"

He laughed and shook his head. "I highly doubt Olivia Spencer has any idea what a temptress you can be, my dear."

She joined his laughter and began to don her coat. Olivia might have attempted to seduce her fiancé, but she would, in the end, fail to have him. Nicky belonged to her and Natalia was determined to keep him.

Sunday morning had dawned with a scent in the air that promised the first snow of the season. Olivia sipped her strong coffee as she watched the pedestrian traffic scurry along the thoroughfare. She sneered as E.B. Farnum scampered past the Beacon and then suddenly dash into the street, nearly colliding with a mule cart. She wondered what had spooked him, and then she spotted Seth Bullock striding down the sidewalk in his usual determined pace. Olivia chuckled, remembering the story she had heard from Blake Marler about how Bullock had beaten the squirrely little man because he believed Farnum had spread rumors of Bullock's affair with Alma.

Olivia continued to watch the passersby as she thought about the social dynamics of even a small town like Deadwood and the challenges it presented. The affair between the town's sheriff and the widow had been an open secret at the time it was going on, but the moment Bullock's wife stepped off the stagecoach the day she had arrived, it was as if all knowledge of it had been shoved into a locked closet. Martha's respectability and her work contributing to the benefit of the town, had kept the talk to a minimum. It was only gossip mongers like Blake who kept the story alive at all.

Olivia knew that was how things worked in small towns. Gossip was a tool to be used to secure political and social capital and Olivia had often used it to her advantage. However, this time she would not use it against Josh Lewis in her quest to have Gus Aitoro. She would have nothing to gain since Josh's reputation and status would not be affected in time to stop the wedding. Olivia now needed to try something else, but she did not have any idea what.

Might as well try the seduction route again, she thought to herself, a little depressed at the thought of her failure the last time, but with the wedding scheduled for tomorrow and Bullock's news about Grady Foley's possible murder at the hands of Phillip, she was quickly running out of time.

Leaving Emma in Jane's care, she made her way through the cold morning to Gus's house, but huffed in frustration when she found it vacant. She then headed for the freight office and found Charlie Utter sitting outside enjoying the morning sun and sipping his coffee.

"Mornin' Miz Spencer," he said, springing to his feet.

"Mr. Utter," she said. "I was wondering if Marshal Aitoro is here."

"Uh no, no he's not," Charlie said. "His day off an all, he's gone over to his new place getting it ready for him and his bride to take up residence."

Olivia closed her eyes, red anger filling her vision and making her want to strike out at the deputy. After a moment, she opened them, her gaze steady on Charlie. "I see," she said. "I have an important matter to discuss with the marshal. Can you tell me where his place is?"

Charlie scratched the back of his neck. "I can take you out there if you want," he offered.

"Oh no, that's fine," she said quickly. "It's a beautiful morning and I'm feeling up for a ride."

"Yes, ma'am, that it is," he said with a nod. "It's easy to find. You know the road to Black Tail gulch?"

"Yes," she said, thinking quickly. "That leads to the farmstead those hoopleheads from Iowa sunk all their money in, and then ran off after their first winter in the Hills."

"That's the one," Charlie said. "I went out with him when he was looking for a place to buy. The house and barn show some wear and tear from neglect, but the marshal is confident he can get things ready by tomorrow."

"Thank you, Mr. Utter," she said.

"Sure I can't accompany you, Miz Spencer?" he offered again.

"I'm sure, Mr. Utter," she said. "Enjoy your morning."

A short time later, she left orders with Gregory to have her horse saddled and brought around to the alley. She rushed upstairs to change into her riding outfit. It had been hand tailored just for her from the softest deerskin and consisted of a long skirted coat that modestly concealed padded britches that allowed her to ride astraddle. Her boots were also handmade and had seen a lot of use over the years, but clearly showed much care.

Before she left the hotel, she unlocked the weapons cabinet in her office and took the gun belt and strapped it around her waist. She then carefully loaded her single action Army revolver with the .45 caliber bullets and slipped it into the holster. Finally, she loaded her Winchester and carried it with her after carefully re-locking the case.

Gregory was holding the reins to her palomino. The mare nickered softly in greeting as Olivia spent a few minutes petting her nose. Finally she took the reins from Gregory and slid the Winchester into its sheath on the saddle.

"Have a good ride, Miss Spencer," Gregory said as she swung up into the seat.

"Thank you, Gregory," she said. "Keep an eye on Emma."

"Of course," he said.

She guided the horse slowly through the crowded street before finally the traffic thinned enough that she could kick the mare into a brisk trot. The Iowan family's farmstead was about five miles outside of town, nearly due west of the Homestake mine and Olivia could hear the sound of the pile drivers long before she reached the mine. The noise faded after she had turned west taking the road along the Black Tail Gulch.

When the trail forked, Olivia directed her mount to take the right one and shortly after, she arrived at the farmstead. To her dismay, she saw two horses grazing in the field behind the barn. As she rode closer, she looked around the nicely-sized farmstead. A modest two-storey house sat center to the other buildings, a large barn, a smokehouse and an empty chicken coop. An outhouse was located some distance from the other buildings and away from the creek that bisected the property. Off in the distance, she could see a small pond.

Gus Aitoro was stripped down to just his trousers and standing before a chopping block and swinging an axe. So engrossed in his work, he didn't notice Olivia's approach until she called out, "Looking good, Marshall."

Gus put down his axe as Olivia dismounted. "Olivia," he said in greeting as he took his shirt from the pile of logs waiting to be cut and started to put it on. "Is there a problem in town?"

"No, no problem," she said. "Who's here with you?"

"Rafe," Gus answered. "He's cutting down some more trees. I suspect it's going to be a very long and cold winter this year."

Olivia nodded. "This is a nice place," she said. "I assume you bought it from those Iowan hoopleheads."

"From the bank," he clarified. "Mrs. Ellsworth foreclosed when they went back east. It's a wedding gift for Natalia's."

"Oh?" Olivia said. "She never mentioned it."

"She doesn't know about it," he said. "I was going to surprise her so please don't say anything."

"So the wedding is still on for tomorrow?" she asked.

"Yes, it is," he answered.

"Gus, please," she said. "Look, give Natalia her farm, but don't marry her. I need you. Emma needs you."

"Olivia," he began with a sigh. "I've been over this again and again with you. Please stop."

Both of them turned at the sound of heavy breathing. Rafe Rivera was pulling a small pine attached by chain to a harness across his chest. He dragged the tree over to the others and dropped the harness. He walked over to them and tipped his hat to Olivia. "Miss Spencer," he said. "How's my little cousin?"

"She's fine, Rafe," she said. "Thank you for asking."

Rafe turned to Gus. "Do you want me to chop a bit, sir?"

"Please," Gus answered. "Olivia, come inside for some coffee and we can continue our discussion."

Inside, the kitchen was warm from the heat generated by the stove. Gus placed two cups on the table and waited for her to take a seat. "Olivia, I don't see why you are so obsessed over this. I will protect Emma with my very life if need be. She is my niece. These tactics are a waste of your time. Have you heard from Jarry yet?"

"No," she answered looking into her cup instead of him.

"He'll be here soon so I suggest you have ready the bribe money," he said. "It's very important you pay him off before Alan does."

"That cocksucker has more money than I do, Gus," she said. "What's to stop Jarry from taking me and then selling out to Alan anyway?"

"Burial of a federal investigation pending against Jarry regarding election tampering and embezzlement," Gus said.

Olivia sat there stunned. Gus had just admitted to obstruction of justice and he was doing it for her sake. She felt a swell of feeling for him and grabbed his arm. "Gus, please, give me a chance," she said. "I need you. Natalia doesn't."

"She's waited almost two decades for me," he said. "She gave up everything to raise my son who has lived with the stain of illegitimacy all of his life. It's not only for Natalia's sake that I'm marrying her, but for his as well. Please, give up this madness and let's concentrate on bringing Phillip Spaulding to justice."

"Gus, when I want something, I have it," she said. "Marry the fucking whore if you will, but I'm still going to have you."

He stood up. "Do you want me to accompany you back to town?" he asked.

"I can find my own fucking way," she said standing up as well. "I can take care of myself, Gus Aitoro." Her boots pounded down the wooden steps as she made her way to her horse with a heavy heart.

Reverend Lewis was allowing Natalia to use his small apartment within the church to change her clothing and Natalia had arrived early with her wedding dress and other essentials. After depositing her things in the reverend's room, she went in search of coffee to settle her nervous stomach and she found Nicky waiting for her.

"I need to go meet Rafe at the house," Nicky said. "He's helping me get ready. Oh, and Merrick asked to attend the wedding and take some photographs if that is all right with you."

Natalia made a face. "Is that really necessary?" she asked.

"I'm afraid it is, my dear," he said. "I regret any inconvenience it might cause you, but it is a part of being a public official. At certain times, it is expedient we maintain a public presence. Wedding announcements being just one tool to accomplish that."

"I understand, Nicky," she said. "However, that does not mean I have to be comfortable with it. Please assure Mr. Merrick that his presence shall be welcome at the ceremony."

"He will be delighted I'm sure," Nicky said. "He seemed quite taken with you."

Natalia felt herself blushing under the praise. "This is strange," she said. "I've been waiting seventeen years to marry you and I don't want you to leave now."

"Well, I could get married in my regular clothes, but then that would be a waste of a handsome new frock suit."

She chuckled. "No, I suppose I'll have to wait a bit longer then. Promise me, Nicky that you'll come back here."

"You don't think I will?" he said. "I've waited my whole life to marry you, Natalia Rivera."

"I think about the day Rafael was born," she said. "And when the midwife put him into my arms for the very first time. All I wanted in that moment was for you to be there. I prayed, but I didn't think that God was listening, but now I know that he was. It's just that he does things in his own time, not in ours."

"His wonders to perform," Nicky quoted softly.

Not caring if anyone was nearby, Natalia leaned up to kiss him. After a few minutes, she pulled back. "Jewel should be here soon to help me get beautiful."

"That's not possible, my dear," he said.

"Oh?" she asked, still breathless from their kisses.

"As you are in this moment, the most beautiful woman in the world, Natalia," he said.

She laughed as she shook her head. "You don't need flattery, Nick," she said. "I've already agreed to marry you."

"All right," he said stepping away from her. "I really have got to go. Our son is probably getting into trouble while we tarry here. I shall see you soon."

She nodded and watched as he left. Taking a deep breath, she continued her search for coffee. In the parsonage kitchen, she found Josh sitting at the table drinking from a mug. He immediately sprang to his feet when she entered.

"Please sit, Reverend," she said. "I'm just going to help myself to some coffee."

"By all means, do," Josh said. "Anything else I can get you?"

"No, thank you. I don't think I can stomach anything right now." She sat down and took a sip of coffee. "Oh, that's good. Thank you."

He nodded. They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes and then Natalia said, "Thank you so much for performing the ceremony, Reverend.

Josh smiled warmly at her. "Of course," he said. "I'm only sorry you cannot be married in the manner of your faith."

"I find Father Ray to be much more rigid than my last priest in Chicago," she said. "Despite him being younger than Father Damon."

"That is often true of provincial clergy, Natalia," he said. "Especially in a town such as Deadwood."

"Yet, you're not like that," she pointed out.

"Oh, I had my calling late in life," he said. "I've been married and divorced several times so I'm certainly not one to object to the necessity of divorce. I, more than Father Ray, understand that we frail humans, no matter how hard we strive to be more Godlike, do, more often than not, make mistakes."

She regarded him over her coffee. "One of your marriages was to Olivia Spencer, was it not?" she asked.

"It was," he replied with a nod.

"I'm not sure I should say this, Reverend, but she has been trying to stop Mr. Aitoro and me from marrying," she said and at his unsurprised expression, she added, "You knew?"

He sighed. "She asked me to not perform the ceremony, but of course I refused her request."

Natalia felt a stab of anger and had to bite off a comment that was not fit for the ears of a man of God, even one as self-admittedly worldly as the Reverend Lewis. "Thank you," she said quietly.

He looked at her. "Natalia, please do not judge Olivia too harshly," he said, his voice kind. "She is frightened and desperate and not thinking straight. You were not here for the horrors she and others suffered at the hands of Phillip Spaulding."

"That's no excuse for her actions, Reverend," she said. "She has relentlessly tried to seduce Mr. Aitoro. I only thank God that he has remained faithful to me. No doubt men view her as an alluring woman."

"She is," he nodded. "The marshal is a good man and I respect him greatly for his character. I'm sure that after today, Olivia will realize that Gus is permanently unavailable."

"I hope you're correct," she said and stood up. "More coffee?"

He leaned back and pulled his watch from his vest pocket. "No, thank you," he said glancing at the time. "I have an appointment with a parishioner, but you go ahead and make yourself at home."

"Thank you," she said and refilled her mug.

She wandered over to the window and glanced out at the beautiful, sunny sky. It was a good day for a wedding, she thought with a happy smile. She was about to go begin her preparations, when she saw Richardson scuttle past the construction materials in the back yard toward the rear door of the church.

She opened the door just as he walked up the steps.

"Hello Richardson," she said.

He kept her head down and looked at her from under his bushy eyebrows. "Hello Miss Rivera," he said. "Miss Spencer sent me to find the marshal."

"He's not here," she said and saw a piece of paper pinned to his grimy shirt. "Is that a message for him?"

"Yes," he drawled.

"I'll see that he gets it," she said.

"Okay," he said.

When he made no move, Natalia unpinned the note. "Thank you, Richardson."

"You're welcome," he said.

Natalia opened the note and read: Gus, I apologize for interrupting you on your wedding day, but I have had important news that you must hear right away. Please meet me at the farmhouse as soon as you can. I'll be waiting. O.S.

She glanced up at Richardson. "The farmhouse?" she asked. "Where's that?"

Richardson was quiet for a moment as he appeared to think. "She told Miss Jane that she was going to be away from the hotel all day and night and if it was urgent to send someone to that farmstead in Black Tail Gulch."

Natalia searched her memory and then asked, "That's the one abandoned by that family last winter?"

Richardson simply shrugged his bony shoulders. "You look purty, Miss Rivera."

"Thank you, Richardson," she said, having heard the compliment from him many times. "You may go back to the Beacon now."

He turned and hurried back the way he came, the antlers clutched firmly in both hands. She glanced at the position of the sun in the sky and calculated that if she hurried, she might have enough time. Closing the door behind her, she walked quickly toward the livery and knocked on the open door.

"Hello?" she called. "Mr. Fields?"

The dark-skinned man stepped out of a horse stall, a shovel in his hand. "Good day, Miss Rivera," he said with his usual wide smile on his face. "Rafe's taken the day off for the wedding, so he's not here."

"I know," she said. "Thank you for giving him the time, Mr. Fields. No, I was wondering if I might have a horse. I have an urgent errand to run."

"Certainly," she said. "I have a nice roan with a good disposition that should suit you well. Sidesaddle?"

"Please," she said with a nod. She waited while he saddled the horse, enjoying the warmth and smell of the clean and organized building. She had first learned to ride as a child and it was something she had missed doing after Rafe was born. Lately, she had more time to enjoy it, often going riding with Nicky and Rafe for summer picnics.

Fields led the sorrel-colored gelding outside and then helped her mount.

"Thank you, Mr. Fields," she said, taking the reins firmly in her grasp as she adjusted her seat.

"In honor of your wedding day, Miss Rivera, there's no charge," he said, his smile growing almost flirtatious.

She dipped her head at him in thanks. "I'll return him to you shortly," she said.

"Have a good ride," he said and stepped back as Natalia urged the horse into motion.

Once outside of town, she gave the horse his rein and despite her anger at Olivia, she felt exhilaration at the wind rushing across her face as the miles flew by. She slowed down after leaving the main trail, heading for the farmhouse. There was smoke coming from the chimney and as she passed the barn, she saw there was an unsaddled horse stabled inside. Obviously Olivia was planning on spending some time on the farmstead.

She rode around to the back of the barn and locked the rear door from outside, leaving her horse tied to a post. She then walked around to the front and closed one side of the double doors. Looking around, she noted a stack of horse blankets that looked musty, but serviceable. Olivia's mare watched her in silence.

Leaving the barn, she strode across the yard and up the front steps. A few seconds after her knock, it was opened by Olivia.

"Gus!" she said, but then as Natalia pushed past her, her expression changed to shock.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you not to fuck with a bride on her wedding day?" Natalia asked.

"What are you fucking doing here?" Olivia asked as she looked at Natalia.

"Stopping you from ruining my wedding day," Natalia answered.

"Look, I'm expecting someone, so fuck off," she growled.

"Oh, Nicky's not coming," Natalia said as she looked around the parlor. "I intercepted the note you sent with Richardson."

"I've gotta fire that fucking idiot," Olivia muttered under her breath.

"Oh, don't blame him," Natalia said. "He's just a simple little man who doesn't know any better. So what was the plan, Olivia? Lure Nicky out here and seduce him into bed?"

Olivia smirked. "Sounds like a good plan to me," she said.

"In your dreams, Olivia," Natalia said. "Nicky and I are getting married today. Not only am I getting the husband I've been waiting seventeen years for, but my son is finally going to get a father."

Olivia barked out in laughter. "You know something Natalia," she said. "You're living in the past. You've got some idealized image of the boy that Gus used to be. You can't even call him by his right name. Why don't you let the poor man go? He doesn't love you."

"Yes, he does," Natalia spat out.

"Maybe does in some small way, but you know what? You're not the love of his life."

"Well, it sure as hell isn't you," Natalia said.

Olivia shook her head. "He might have loved you first, but he's always going to love Harley the most."

Natalia narrowed her eyes as she stood so close to her that Olivia could almost spell her anger. "Stay out of our lives, Olivia," she growled.

"No fucking way," Olivia said, enunciating each word slowly.

The two angry women stared at each other, both breathing heavily and for a fleeting moment, Olivia wondered if Natalia was going to hit her or kiss her.

"Leave us alone!"

"Make me," Olivia challenged.

"Oh, I will," Natalia vowed. "I promise you that."

Olivia gave a bitter laugh and turned away. "Since Gus isn't coming, I need to get back to town." She gathered up her things and left the house, not paying any attention to Natalia following her. She walked quickly to the barn to saddle her horse, when the bright daylight coming through the door was suddenly cut off.

"What the fuck?" she said, dropping the saddle to the ground and rushing to the door. The sturdy double doors barely gave under the full weight.

"Natalia!" she cried. "Let me the fuck out."

"I don't think so," Natalia called through the door. "At least, not until tomorrow."

"You crazy cunt, I'll fucking freeze to death in here," Olivia cried.

"No, you won't," Natalia said calmly. "There are plenty of blankets and your horse can keep you warm." She laughed. "I'm sure she even smells better than the last animals you slept with."

"Open the Goddamned door, Natalia," she ordered.

"See you in the morning, Olivia," she said.


The only sounds were the hoof beats of Natalia's departing horse.


By the time Natalia had returned the gelding to the livery and rushed back to the church, she barely had time to get ready. Jewel was waiting for her in Reverend Lewis's apartment and shuffling in agitation. She glared at Natalia when she hurried through the door.

"Where have you been?" the feisty cleaning woman asked.

"Sorry," Natalia said and began stripping her clothes.

"You stink like a fucking horse," Jeweled grumbled.

"Jewel," Natalia said in a low voice. "Just help me get cleaned up. All right?"

Jewel frowned, but reached for the basin of water.

After she was clean, Natalia sat at the table in front of the mirror to dry her hair. Jewel shuffled around the room, laying out her gown and underclothing, but stopped to answer a knock on the door.

"Hello Jewel," the madam Joanie Stubbs greeted as she stepped into the room. She was carrying a large case and she placed it on the table in front of Natalia. "And hello to the lovely bride," she added to Natalia.

Natalia smirked. "Not quite yet," she said, picking up a clump of damp hair.

"Well, that's what we're here for," Joanie said and opened her case to reveal a wide assortment of pots full of creams and paints and various application tools. Natalia had not seen so many cosmetics in one place in a very long time.

"Where's Jane?" she asked Joanie while still eyeing the contents of Joanie's case.

Joanie turned toward the door she had left open behind her. "Jane?" she called softly.

Slowly, Jane Cannary poked her head around the door jam.

"Why don't you come in, Jane?" Natalia asked.

"Uh, I wasn't sure if I should just barge into a lady's room." Jane did not move.

"Jane, I asked you to come help me get ready in addition to Joanie and Jewel, so why wouldn't I want you to come in?" Natalia asked.

Jane shrugged and finally entered the room. Natalia smiled. The usually rough woman was clad in a dress made from a pretty pink tea-rose print. "Why Jane!" Natalia exclaimed. "You look lovely."

Jane looked down and shook her head. "Was Miss Stubbs's doing," she said. "My habitual choice of attire, be it for special occasions or lying fucking drunk in the mud, is more often than not, my regular masculine accoutrements."

"In either case, I think you are quite handsome," Natalia complimented and was charmed to see Jane blush.

"As do I," Joanie agreed and the two women shared a smile in the mirror. "Now," Joanie continued, "I think we should keep things simple as to allow your natural beauty to shine through, Natalia."

Natalia took a deep breath and gave her friend a nod.

A short hour later and with the three women's help, Natalia was ready and gazing in amazement at herself in the mirror. She was wearing the wedding gown she had bought with her earnings from the Beacon. The high-collared ivory silk gown hugged her slim figure while accentuating the feminine curves of her hips. Below the waist, the skirts flared out only slightly and gathered horizontal folds again emphasizing her womanly attributes. The neck, sleeves and skirts terminated in ruffles. Under the skirts, her feet were clad in a brand new pair of matching high-heeled boots that had taken Jane nearly fifteen minutes to lace.

"Beautiful," Jewel commented as Joanie helped Natalia attach the floor-length veil to her hair which had been gathered into a bun at the base of her neck.

"Thank you," Natalia said to her maid of honor. "You look wonderful too, Jewel."

The cleaning woman gave her a broad smile. "I borrowed the dress from Trixie," she said proudly.

"It looks very pretty on you," Natalia said.

There was a knock on the door. Standing outside the door was the tall figure of her son.

"Are you ready, Mama?" he asked.

She looked at her son in wonder. He was dressed in a new black suit that she had never seen and his face was shaved close and his hair newly trimmed. "Oh Rafael," she whispered moving closer to him and reaching to caress his cheek. "You are so handsome, mi hijo," she said with awe. "When did you become a man?"

Rafe laughed. "Oh, Mama," he said, his cheeks flushing pink. He looked down at himself. "Do you like the suit?"

"It's very flattering," she said. "Did you buy it yourself?"

"No," he said shaking his head. "Mr. Aitoro engaged a tailor in Yankton to make it for me for your special day."

"I'm very happy, Rafael," she said.

"We'll go take our seats with the other guests," Joanie said as she took Jane's hand.

Natalia nodded absently, her mind still trying to grasp that the moment she had waited such a long time for had finally arrived. She was about to marry her childhood sweetheart. The boy whom she had loved with so much passion and the man he had grown into.

"Mama?"Rafe asked, looking at her with a grin. "Are you ready to become Mrs. Aitoro?"

She took a deep breath and nodded. "Yes," she said firmly. "Yes, I am."

Rafe held out his arm for her to take. Jewel handed her a small bouquet of wildflowers and opened the door for them.

Natalia was proud of her son when he offered his left arm to Jewel and led them both to the vestibule. Merrick was standing by the entrance to the nave, his face beaming.

"You are exquisite, Miss Rivera," he said with a bow.

"Thank you, Mr. Merrick," she replied.

"The marshal is a very fortunate man."

"That's kind of you to say, sir."

"Shall we proceed?" he asked.

"Please," she said in a small voice and squeezed Rafe's arm nervously.

While Jewel went to stand in front of the closed door, Rafe patted her arm in assurance. Merrick opened the double doors with a flourish and stepped aside to allow Jewel to enter.

"Here we go," Rafe murmured.

Ay Dios!" she whispered.

Despite the turmoil in her stomach, she responded to her son's gentle tug and allowed him to lead her to the door.

The church was sparsely populated with guests come to witness the wedding, mostly Nicky's fellow peace officers and their families such as Sheriff Bullock with his wife Martha and their daughter Margaret. Natalia smiled at the pretty toddler who was dressed in a frilly pink frock. For a moment, she regretted that Emma could not be there, but then she pushed all thoughts of Olivia Spencer from her mind.

Also present were Buzz Cooper and his son Frank and their wives, along with Deputy Boudreau. Natalia was pleased to see Remy sitting with Aunt Lou's granddaughter Christina. She had heard they were courting and if Remy had brought the lovely young woman to the wedding, it was clear signal of his intentions.

Mayor Star and his companion Trixie and Alma Ellsworth and her daughter Sophia occupied the same pew. Deputy Utter sat with Jane and Joanie and Natalia wondered if he had a wife somewhere. She remembered reading tales of his adventures with the colorful Wild Bill Hickok, but could not remember if he had ever been married.

As she swept her glance around the room, she saw Merrick slip into a pew beside Mr. Blazanov, but notably absent were any of Nicky's Spaulding relatives, including his Aunt Alexandra whom her fiancé was on fairly good terms with considering. Nicky had mentioned he had invited his aunt but that Alan most likely forbade her from coming.

She barely noticed the mandolin music playing. Everyone stood as her and Rafe stepped forward and began the march down the aisle. Her eyes were fastened on the tall and handsome man standing at the altar near the Reverend Lewis.

Dimly, she noted that Nicky was also dressed in a new suit similar to their son's and his cheeks and chin were so freshly shaved they gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows. His hair and mustache had been trimmed and to her eyes he had never looked more handsome.

Rafe led her to the altar and presented her hand to Nicky to take. Natalia smiled as he gently cradled her hand in his strong one. As Rafe took his place beside his father and Jewel beside Natalia, Nicky leaned close to whisper, "You are a vision, my dear. You take my breath away."

She turned her head slightly and moved her lips next to his ear. "It is most fortunate we are being wed today, Mr. Aitoro," she whispered. "I do not think I could wait past tonight."

Nicky's eyes glittered in amusement and something Natalia strongly suspected was desire. Natalia's face flushed as they looked at each other until the reverend cleared his throat, breaking the spell. They both turned to face the smiling minister and the congregation took their seats.

"Dear friends of Gus Aitoro and Natalia Rivera," Reverend Lewis said. "We have come today to witness as they join together in the holy union of matrimony before you all and before the eyes of God. Should any have objection to this marriage from taking place, speak now or remain forever silent."

There was a stirring among the witnesses as they settled in their seats, but no one spoke out.

Natalia barely heard the minister as he conducted the ceremony. Her thoughts were on the man standing beside her and the new life they would begin today. It seemed to her it had been such a long journey, not only in time, but also in distance. From the moment she realized she was carrying their child to his disappearance to raising their son alone. And then when she finally discovered Nicky was alive, she knew in that instant she would travel to the ends of the planet to find him. That they had found a home here in Deadwood was simply an extra blessing from God.

"Natalia," Josh said drawing her attention back to the present. "Do you take Gus Aitoro to be your lawful wedded husband, to have and to hold, to honor and obey, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?"

"I do," she said firmly.

"Gus," the reverend continued. "Do you take Natalia Rivera to be your lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold, to honor and protect, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?"

"I do," Nicky said, his voice only breaking a little.

"Do you have a ring?" the reverend asked.

Rafe fumbled in the small pocket of his suit vest and pulled out a gold band. He handed it to his father.

"Say after me, 'with this ring, I do wed'," Josh said.

"With this ring, I do wed," Nicky repeated and slipped the band on Natalia's finger.

"Then, by the power vested in me by God, the church and the Territory of Dakota, I do hereby declare you man and wife." Josh's face broke into a big smile. "Congratulations, Marshal and Mrs. Aitoro."

"Huzzah!" Someone called from the guests and the cheer was echoed by the rest.


With the continuing good weather, they had decided to hold the reception outdoors behind the church and Natalia was surprised to see the construction materials had been cleared aside and tables made from planks and sawhorses had been set up and were covered in platters of food and drink. The rotund figure of the best cook in Deadwood was directing the two serving girls who worked for her. Natalia's stomach growled in anticipation. Leaving Nicky for the moment, she went up to the black woman.

"Thank you so much, Aunt Lou," she said, leaning forward and bussing the woman's cheek. Aunt Lou always smelled of warm bread and exotic spices and she was one of Natalia's favorite people in town.

"Now don't you worry none about that Miss Rivera," the woman said. "Oh! I done plumb forgot. It's Miz Aitoro now."

Natalia smiled. "I suppose it is," she said, the words warming her heart. Then an idea struck her and she grinned as she leaned in close to the other woman. "How about your recipe for peach cobbler as a wedding gift?"

"Now, now, you know I don't mess with no recipes, Miz Aitoro. It's all just a handful o' this and a handful o' that." The big woman's grin matched Natalia's as she whispered conspiratorially. "You know that seasoning, the one known by some as Jamaican pepper?"

Natalia nodded. "Yes, it's also called all spice," she said.

"That's the one! Praise Jesus!" Aunt Lou said. "A lil pinch o' that and a dash o' nutmeg might do your cobbler just fine."

"Thank you, Aunt Lou," Natalia said, knowing she had just received the secret ingredients for the woman's famous cobbler.

She turned when she felt a hand on her elbow.

"Mama," Rafe said. "Mr. Aitoro requests your presence in front of the church. The newspaperman has his camera ready."

Natalia sighed, but followed her son. "How do I look?" she asked.

"Not a hair out of place, Mama," he said.

The Pioneer's publisher was fiddling with his camera equipment as an amused Nicky looked on.

"Ah, thank you very much for your consideration, Mrs. Aitoro," Merrick said when they approached. "I think if you and the marshal stand near the church's steps, we would have the best light."

"Certainly," she agreed. "However, I was wondering if I can impose on your good nature and ask you to take a second photograph of my husband and I with Rafael. I would, of course, pay you for it."

"A family portrait on such a happy occasion!" he exclaimed clapping his hands together. "Mrs. Aitoro, I would be delighted to perform such a happy service for your family. Delighted! And of course, I shall in no way accept any payment from you."

The photograph for the newspaper was quickly taken then Rafe moved to stand on her opposite side as Merrick readied the second plate.

"I've never had my photograph taken before," Rafe commented as they waited.

"I assure you, son, it is not a painful process, despite your good mother's reluctance," Nicky said in a serious tone, but his mustache twitched in amusement.

Rafe gave his father a hard look.

Natalia chuckled and stood stiff as Merrick indicated he was ready.

Once back at the reception, Natalia picked at the plate of food Nicky had handed her. The food was, as usual, exquisite, but her stomach was too excited after the events of the day to digest well. She took a few more bites, then handed her plate to Rafe who made quick work of emptying it.

As the guests finished their meal, the sun set and the reverend lit the torches. The area became quite festive in the torchlight as the musicians tuned their instruments.

"Now that we've fucking ate, I say it's time we fucking dance," Jane called out in her rough voice and the people roared laughter. Jane slapped one of the players on the back. The friendly contact nearly caused the hefty man to stumble to his knees. "Start the fucking music, cocksucker!" Jane ordered.

The music began and the party really got underway as more people, even strangers to her and Nicky, joined the festivities. Natalia danced with her new husband and son and also took a turn with Sheriff Bullock and Deputy Cooper. After dancing with Remy Boudreau, she asked him to fetch a cool drink and waited near the fence close to the street as the deputy went to get it.

"Here you go, Natalia," the tall man said as he handed her a glass of lemonade.

"Thank you," she said, taking a long drink of the sweet and tart beverage.

"Sure," he said with a smile. "Congratulations, by the way. I'm very happy for you."

"No hard feelings?" she asked, knowing that even though she had not been serious about him, he had been about her.

"No, of course not," he said. "Besides, Christina is the best thing to happen to me since you broke my heart." The last was said in a tone that Natalia knew hadn't been too heartbroken.

"She's a good woman," Natalia said.

Before Remy could say anything, a familiar voice interrupted. "So Natalia," Alan Spaulding drawled in the way that always set Natalia's teeth on edge. "Here you are only married for a few hours and already you're without your husband and drinking with niggers."

"Alan," Natalia scolded, then turned to the deputy. "I'm sorry."

"You don't have to apologize for him, ma'am," he said ignoring Alan. "I've been called worse by far better cocksuckers than him."

"Don't think that badge is enough to protect you, boy," Alan warned.

"Don't think your money is enough to protect you, asshole," Remy retorted and Natalia admired his backbone.

"What are you doing here, Alan?" Nicky said from her side. She welcomed his presence.

Alan turned his gaze away from the deputy to his son. "Mr. Li and I were passing by when we heard the celebration," he explained and Natalia could see the imposing Chinese man standing across the street holding the reins for their horses.

"And that gives you leave to insult my guests?" Nicky asked.

Alan looked around at the people crowding the backyard of the church and into the street. "It seems your guests include drunkards, reprobates, niggers and whores," he commented.

"Then I'm sure you'll fit right in if you'd care to join us," Nicky said and Natalia suppressed a laugh.

Alan frowned. "I have business to conduct," he said haughtily. "I have no time for frivolities. Enjoy your wedding night, son. Of course, you have before and the good Lord only knows who else, her being spoiled goods and all."

Nicky moved forward, but Remy held him back. "He ain't worth it, man," the deputy said.

"Remy's right, Nick," Natalia said, putting a hand on her husband's arm. Then she turned to her new father-in-law. "Better to be spoiled goods than an arrogant and pompous cocksucker."

Alan's mouth dropped open in surprise and Natalia heard Remy snigger. Alan turned to Nicky again. "Well son, you have made your bed and now you have to lie in it," he said and put his hat on his head. He turned and walked to where Li waited. Still laughing, Remy went back to the party.

"My apologies, my dear," Nicky said to her.

"It's all right," she said, shaking her head at the apology. "My father would not be any more civil to you either." She took his large hand in hers. "But it's all right. We now have our own family."

He nodded, his handsome face ruddy in the torchlight. "More dancing, my dear?" he asked.

After a moment, she shook her head. "No," she said with a slow smile. "May we perhaps, instead, retire to Company?" She left unspoken her desire for another form of exercise.

"Of course," he answered, returning her smile. "I'll have Rafe bring around the buckboard."

While he went to find their son, Natalia went to give her thanks to Jewel for being her maid of honor and to Joanie and Jane for attending to her. Joanie's whispered suggestion on how quickly Nicky could get her out of the dress made Natalia blush, but she did file away the advice for later.

By the time Rafe pulled the wagon up to the front of the church, most of the crowd had followed her and Nicky to see them off. The newlyweds sat on a bench in the back of the buckboard holding hands and waving to their well-wishers as Rafe urged the horse into motion. The ride to the boarding house was short, but festive, as people in the streets offered congratulations to the marshal as well as ribald advice on his performance concerning the wedding night. Despite the chill in the night air, Natalia's face was hot with embarrassment and excitement.

As they passed the Gem, Natalia's eyes locked with those of Al Swearengen's. The brothel owner was leaning against his balcony in a relaxed pose and Natalia could see he was rolling a toothpick around in his mouth. Just before she turned her gaze away, he bowed his head, perhaps in congratulations or maybe even admiration, although for what Natalia could not imagine. She squeezed Nicky's hand a bit tighter and felt his squeeze back in response.

Rafe stopped the wagon in front of a quiet Company, most of the popular eatery's guests enjoying the food and party at the church. Nicky bounded over the side and, placing his strong hands on her waist, easily swung her to the ground.

"Bring the buckboard back here at sunup, Rafe," Nicky said.

Their son's teeth gleamed whitely in the flickering firelight. "Let me offer my sincere doubts that either of you shall make an appearance prior to mid-morning," he joked.

"Don't insult your mother, you cheeky bastard," Nicky said and Natalia knew he was amused at their son's good-natured jibing rather than angry.

"Not anymore I'm not," Rafe laughed. "And it only took you seventeen years, you lazy cocksucker."

"Rafe," Natalia admonished, but secretly she was pleased at their banter.

"Sorry, Mama," he apologized with a grin. "Seriously, I'm very happy for you both."

"Thank you, mi hijo," she said.

"Don't stay out too late," Nicky said.

"I won't," Rafe promised and snapped the reins. "Good night."

Nicky led her through the dim dining room and up the stairs to her room. She opened the door, but he stopped her from entering with a hand to her arm. She turned to him questioningly and then laughed in delight as he picked her up and carried her over the threshold.

In a dark and cold barn on a small farmstead some miles outside of Deadwood, green eyes flashed angrily as their hungry owner huddled under several musty and scratchy horse blankets. The woman shifted in a futile attempt to get more comfortable. After pulling away a stray stalk of hay that had been poking her in the ass, Olivia settled back and sighed in frustration.

"Fucking cunt," she muttered.

Her mare nickered.

"Not you, stupid."

In a large building which had served as the Lawrence County Courthouse since the original structure was destroyed in the fire of '79, three imposing men sat around a plain wooden table.

Alan Spaulding motioned to the fourth man standing behind his chair. Mr. Li stepped forward and produced two large and heavy pouches. He dropped them on to the table in front of the other two men. The gold-laden bags landed with a heavy thump.

"Now gentlemen," Alan began. "Shall we get down to business?"

Gus had some while ago determined that when he finally got Natalia in bed after her ridiculous waiting period, that he would be the perfect gentleman and make sure that her needs were attended to before even thinking about any of his own.

However, he found that with a nearly nude Natalia sitting astride his hips and sliding her dripping cunt along the shaft of his cock, that it took all of his will to keep lying there and not flip her over and fuck her into the mattress. His breathing hitched as the lace on the bottom of her black silk camisole tickled his abdomen.

Gus felt his wife shiver as Natalia rubbed her clit over the head of his cock, her hips jerking under his clenching hands. She obviously felt the movement, because she looked down at him. Her eyes were dark and glittering in the low light from the oil lamp. Gus watched in fascination as a bead of sweat slowly made its way from her temple down her flushed cheek until it splashed against his chest.

"Oh God," he croaked as she shuddered again against his cock.

"Sit up," she commanded and he eagerly obeyed. Natalia repositioned herself, wrapping her legs around him and sitting in his lap. Gus's face was now parallel with her gorgeous breasts and he couldn't resist taking a plump and juicy nipple in his mouth, the texture of her camisole a pleasant contrast against his tongue. Natalia threw her head back in pleasure.

"¡Ay Dios mio!" she cried. "Please be inside me, Nicky."

Happy to oblige, Gus lifted her until she was position over his cock and then he lowered her slowly until she took all of him inside her. He thought that she had never felt so tight since he had taken her virginity so long ago. The sensation of her hot and slippery cunt engulfing his prick, nearly caused him to come undone, but he forced himself to remain in control for her sake.

"Natalia," he panted against her breasts, his eyes squeezed shut.

She clutched at his head tightly, her nails scratching painfully against his scalp was a welcome distraction.

"Tell me," he gasped. "Tell me what you want."

"Fuck," she squeaked, the air hissing through her teeth. "Hard."

Nearly out of his mind, he used his strength to flip them over until she was lying on her back. As he began to pump inside her, Natalia grasped the brass posts of the headboard and used the leverage to push against him. Gus grasped one of her thighs and held it tight against him as he fucked her as hard and as deep as he could.

"Oh god, yes!" she cried, the walls of her cunt contacting spasmodically around him.

Although Gus had his eyes firmly clenched shut, he saw red as his orgasm overtook him. He continued to thrust inside her until his cock began to soften, then he collapsed in a sweaty heap on top of her.

Natalia's cunt continued to cling to him in aftershocks that gradually tapered off. Eventually, Gus became aware that her arms were wrapped around his back and her legs entangled with his.

"So fucking good," Natalia sighed in contentment.

"God yes," he said. Realizing his weight might be too much, he rolled on to his back. Natalia followed and cuddled against him, her fingers playing with the hairs on his chest.

"So that's what it's like when it's legal," she quipped.

Gus chuckled. "That's what it's like," he agreed. He ran a hand up her arm and felt her flesh rise in goosebumps. "Cold?" he asked.

She nodded and he reached down to pull the covers over them.

"Thank you," she said and snuggled deeper into him. "Nicky?"

"Hmm?" he said sleepily.

"Do you want to have more children?" she asked.

His eyes, which had been half closed, snapped open. "Oh," he said.

She looked up at him. "I'm sorry," she said. "That was silly of me. We already have a son."

"No, Natalia, no, that's not it at all," he said. "I'm the one who should be sorry. I should have expected you'd want more children, but honey, I can't."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Harley wanted more children also and we tried for a long time, but it never happened," he explained. "Finally I spoke with old Doc Cochran about it and he asked me if any of the kids had come down with the swelling sickness. Zach had it when he was seven and I got sick, too. Doc told me that sometimes when it happens in adult males, it causes sterility and that I probably can't sire any more children. I'm afraid that Rafe is the only child I'll have of my own."

Natalia was silent for a while. "It's all right, Nicky," she said. "We're married and we have son. I'm happy."

He smiled and hugged her tighter. "Me too," he said. He leaned in to kiss her. She responded eagerly to him, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him closer. After a few minutes of exploring each other's mouths, he felt her hand on his cock.

"Too soon?" she asked wistfully.

"Not as young as I used to be, darling," he said with a wry shrug. "But what kind of cocksucker would I be if I didn't take care of my new bride?"

Natalia gave him a sultry smile and lazily rolled over onto her back, pushing the blanket to the side. As he watched, she undid the laces on her camisole and allowed it to fall open to fully expose her perfect breasts. He leaned over to nuzzle them and she giggled.

"Tickles," she said. "You were clean shaven when we first met."

"Uh huh," he nodded, sliding his mustache over her nipples, which immediately hardened. "Shall I shave it off?"

"Don't," she said, breathing harder.

He moved his way down her torso, kissing every bit of skin he encountered and tracing the faint lines left behind from her pregnancy. "Shall we see what else it can tickle?" he asked.

"Please, Nicky," she panted and lifted her hips to meet his mouth.

Gus remembered the first time he had done this to her. He and his friends had talked about such things with the tougher guys always denying they did it, but Gus knew they lied. When he and Natalia had become lovers, he was eager to go down on her and now he was overjoyed to discover she tasted even sweeter than he remembered.

"Oh Nicky," Natalia cried as his tongue found her clit and began to massage it.

She arched her back giving him even better access to her cunt. He spread her thighs even more and she grabbed his head in encouragement.

"God, yes," she said, her juices flowing even more. "Right there, Nicky."

By this time, Natalia's clit was throbbing under his tongue and he sucked it hard into his mouth.

"Oh god, yes!" she yelled, her body nearly arching off the bed as she came in his mouth.

Gus continued to lick at her as she rode out her orgasm. Finally, with a wide grin on his face, he looked up at her.

"Come here," she said weakly, twitching a finger.

He climbed back up her body and with one hand she grabbed the back of his neck, kissing him hard.

"God, you're fucking good," she whispered, licking his wet mustache.

"And you're fucking perfect, my dear," he said and laid back down next to her.

"Thank you," she said and curled up into his side.

Gus smiled in contentment as he felt himself drift off to sleep.

The party at the church was just beginning to wind down, Joanie Stubbs noted as she finished dancing with Charlie and Jane like they had been all night.

Charlie was short of breath from the exercise. "You'll have to forgive me, ladies, but I'm done in with the dancing," he said.

"As am I, Charlie," she said and then turned to Jane. "Are you ready to go home, Jane?"

"I fucking am if you are," Jane answered.

"I'll be glad to give you a ride home," Charlie said. "If you will pardon me for a minute, I'll be right back."

"Sure, Charlie," Joanie said. She smiled at Jane and took her hand. "Did you have fun?" she asked.

"Most fun I've had being almost entirely sober in a fucking long time," Jane said.

"Thank you for that, by the way," Joanie said. "Not drinking, I mean."

"Oh, I fucking drank," Jane admitted. "Just not up to my usual drunken standards."

"Still, I appreciate it," Joanie said.

Jane eyed her. "I seem to remember someone promising to make it worth my while if I did not pass out drunk tonight."

"Hmm," Joanie said, thoughtfully. "I seem to remember something like that as well. So Jane, what's your pleasure?"

Jane smiled and blushed at the same time. "Ready to go?" she asked.

Joanie nodded in agreement. Still holding hands, they left the party and found Charlie with his wagon waiting for them. Jane helped Joanie into the wagon, and then allowed Charlie to help her up, albeit with a glare.

Charlie ignored Jane and climbed up into the wagon. He took the reins and set off for the saloon.

A short time later, Charlie pulled up in front of Boston West and jumped down to help them from the wagon.

"Why don't you stay a bit, Charlie?" Joanie invited. "Tess likes some prick now and then and I'm sure she'll be glad to entertain you."

"Uh, no, thank you. I'm just going to head back to the freight office," he said. "But I appreciate the offer though."

"Suit yourself," Joanie said. "Night, Charlie. Thanks for the escort."

"My pleasure," he said tipping his hat. "Good night. Night, Jane."

Jane merely grunted in reply.

Mose Manuel was standing at the door to the building, his shotgun over his shoulder. "Evening, Miss Stubbs. Evening, Jane," he said. "Miss Rivera get wed all right?"

"She was one of the most beautiful brides I've ever seen," Joanie answered. "You should have come."

"Oh no, ma'am," he said. "That's no place for the likes of me."

"Good play, Giganto," Jane said. "Don't want to scare half the people in the town, especially the children."

"Jane," Joanie said and Jane glared at Mose. "Any trouble?" she asked her night watchman.

"No, ma'am," he answered. "It's been quiet."

"Well, I expect it'll pick up some now that the party is over."

"I'll keep watch," Mose said and opened the door for them.

"Good night, Mose," Joanie said.

Jane gave Mose a look of triumph as if to gloat over the fact that they'll be sleeping in a warm bed while Mose might catch a few winks out in the cold or, if the temperature fell below freezing, by the stove in the kitchen. However, Joanie knew that Mose was not bothered by such things. Ever since he had survived multiple gunshot wounds, Mose had changed his life around and petty discomforts no longer concerned him. Joanie also knew that Jane's attitude toward him was also an affectation. Over the years, Jane had come to respect his quiet and unassuming dedication and loyalty to the two women who had nursed him back to health.

Inside Boston West, Joanie automatically scanned her eyes around her establishment. Her three girls were mingling with few customers present. As Mose had said, it was a quiet night and Joanie was all right with that. She wanted some private time with Jane and didn't want to be distracted by business.

Lila came over to them. "Hey Joanie, Jane," she greeted. The dark-haired woman was dressed in her usual working clothes, basically sultry under garments and Joanie automatically scanned the woman's eyes for signs she was high. Lila was clean, as she had been for some time now. "Did you gals have a good time at the wedding?"

"It was lovely," Joanie said.

"We danced all fucking night," Jane added.

"Ain't that sweet?" Lila said with a smile.

"Any dates lined up?" Joanie asked.

"Not a one," Lila answered with a shrug.

"That's okay," Joanie said. Boston West's specialist customers came to them and paid a premium for the services provided. "You girls just amuse yourselves as you will. Jane and I are going to bed and don't wish to be disturbed."

"Sure thing, Joanie," Lila said. "Have fun."

"We will," Joanie said and noticed that Jane's face was blushing furiously.

Joanie smiled to herself as she pulled Jane by the hand up the stairs to their room. Inside, she locked the door as Jane lit the oil lamp and then closed the curtains. When Jane turned around, Joanie was standing near the bed looking at her.

"Jane," Joanie said softly and the other woman closed the distance between them in two quick strides.

"Joanie," Jane said softly and Joanie closed her eyes as Jane's warm breath kissed her face. It was fragrant with the scent of Aunt Lou's pies, lemonade and just a small hint of whiskey. A second later, she felt Jane's warm lips on hers and she wrapped a hand around the other woman's neck to pull her closer.

Joanie loved it when Jane took the initiative. In the beginning, Jane never did, but Joanie, not wanting to pressure the skittish woman, always waited until Jane asked. Now that they had been together for some time, Jane was not as shy as she used to be, much to Joanie's delight.

Jane deepened the kiss, making Joanie's head swim. After a few minutes, Joanie pulled away and looked at her lover. Jane's face showed not only her desire, but a hint of wonderment as if, even after all this time, she could not believe that Joanie wanted her. And Joanie did indeed want her. She had never wanted anyone like she wanted Jane Cannary, even with her rough ways and drunken binges. Jane had come into her life at time when Joanie was ready to give up and had given her a reason to live. Joanie would forever love her for that sweet gift.

"Help me undress, Jane?" she asked against Jane's sweet lips.

"All right," Jane said, her voice husky.

As Jane began to unfasten the many buttons of her gown, Joanie watched Jane's eyes. They began to darken as more of Joanie's body was revealed and Jane's actions became less hesitant and more confident. Bold Jane never failed to excite Joanie.

When Jane had stripped her and removed her boots, Joanie laid back on the bed, feeling the luxurious buffalo fur of Wild Bill's robe against her back. Jane made quick work of removing her own clothing, only fumbling a bit because she never took her eyes off of Joanie waiting for her on the bed.

When she was nude, Jane paused as she placed one knee on the bed and asked, "Do you want me to…uh…wear the…you know?"

Joanie looked at her lover and smiled. "The 'you know'?" she teased.

Jane's face flushed brightly. "You know what I fucking mean."

"Yes, I know what you mean," Joanie said, letting Jane off the hook. "No dildo tonight, honey. I only want you inside me, if that's okay with you?"

Jane climbed the rest of the way on the bed and lay down on top of Joanie. "That's more than fucking okay with me," she said and kissed Joanie hard.

Joanie wrapped her legs around Jane's strong back. "I love you, Jane."

"Oh god," Jane breathed as Joanie began to move underneath her. "I fucking love you, too, Joanie."

Bright sunlight streamed through the window as Natalia looked down at the thoroughfare. Nicky had gone downstairs to get them some coffee and had been gone some time. She wrapped her shawl around her and was about to go investigate, when the door to her room slammed open causing Natalia to jump. Nicky barreled through the door and closed it with a bang.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"Olivia's missing," he said, his face grim. He pushed his suspenders off so he could don his shirt. "Bullock thinks she's been snatched by Phillip. He and Charlie are heading to the ranch. I need to hurry to catch up with them."

"Oh shit," she said, putting a hand on his arm. "Nicky, no, the Spauldings don't have Olivia."

He stopped dressing and looked at her. "How do you know that?" he asked.

Natalia took a deep breath. "She's at some farm outside of town," she said, hesitant to confess more to her husband.

"You mean the one near Black Tail?" On her nod, he asked, "What the fuck is she doing there?"

"She sent you a note yesterday asking you to meet her there," she explained. "She was going to seduce you to keep you from marrying me."

"I see," he said, slowly as if digesting her words. "Not that she would have succeeded, but why is she still there?"

"I locked her in the barn," she reluctantly admitted and her face flushed with embarrassment. In retrospect, her actions seemed childish even to herself.

"You what?" he exclaimed, his face shocked.

"She was going to ruin our wedding, Nicky," she said.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" he asked.

"Look, I'm sorry, okay, but I was not going to have that woman spoil my day." She was getting angry now. Nicky was her husband and should not be taking sides against her.

"Natalia, you've only been here a year," he said. "This time of year the weather can turn in an instant. She could have frozen to death."

"Well, look outside!" she said flinging her arm in the direction of the window. "It's not freezing and I'm sure she's fine.

He finished buttoning his vest and picked up his gun belt. "You have no idea what you've done, Natalia."

"Then why don't you fucking tell me?" she demanded.

He shook his head as he buckled the belt around his waist. "I can't talk to you right now, Natalia," he said, his eyes flashing dangerously. He pulled on his coat and hat. "Get dressed and meet me downstairs."

"Where are we going?"

"To get Olivia, where else?" he opened the door. "I'm going to see if Rafe brought around the fucking buckboard. Hurry up." He slammed the door behind him.

With shaking hands, Natalia started to dress.

The ride to the farmstead was, Natalia thought, extremely uncomfortable. She had tried several times to engage Nicky in conversation, but he kept his gaze on the trail ahead. She had never felt so ill at ease with him since she had arrived in Deadwood and discovered he had a wife and family.

She pulled her coat tighter around her, more to ward off his coldness rather than against the temperature. Nicky turned the horse off the trail and onto the drive leading to the farmstead.

"It's pretty here," she commented, not expecting him to answer.

He gritted his teeth. "Glad you fucking like it."

"Nicky!" she said angrily. "I understand you're angry with me, but I am still your wife and I expect some fucking respect."

Nicky breathed deeply through his nose as his jaw clenched spasmodically. Finally, he said simply, "My apologies."

"Thank you," she said quietly.

He guided the horse up to the house and with a quick leap, jumped down from the wagon and hurried to the barn. By the time Natalia climbed down, he had removed the post holding the double doors closed. Olivia rushed out of the barn and into Nicky's arms.

"Oh Gus," Olivia cried, holding him tightly with her head buried in his neck. Natalia felt her stomach churn with jealousy.

Nicky allowed the contact for a few minutes, then removed her arms and stepped back. Olivia glanced up and spotted Natalia still standing near the buckboard.

"You fucking bitch!" Olivia ran quickly forward. "I should fucking kill you."

Nicky rushed to intercept her, putting himself between the two woman.

"I'm sorry," Natalia said, bracing herself.

"You're sorry?" Olivia exclaimed. "You're fucking sorry?"

"Olivia, stop," Nicky said. "I've got some bad news."

Natalia's heart nearly stopped. She had suspected there was something he hadn't told her.

"Oh my God, Emma," Olivia said and turned back to the barn where, Natalia saw, her horse was already saddled.

"No, Emma's fine," Nicky said. "She's with Frank and Remy at the Beacon."

Olivia stopped and turned to him. "Why? What happened?"

"Commissioner Jarry was here yesterday," Nicky said.

Natalia searched her memory at the familiar name. She recalled he was politician Nicky had arranged to meet with Olivia regarding Phillip.

"He went to the Beacon, but you weren't there," Nicky continued. "Then he met with Alan and Judge Russo."

Olivia glanced at Natalia and then back to Nicky. "Go on." Her voice held a note of danger that Natalia had never heard before.

"Alan bribed Jarry to have all of the charges against Phillip dropped," he answered. "Bullock also said that Alan filed a petition on Phillip's behalf with Russo to have custody of Emma transferred to him."

"Can he fucking do that?" Olivia asked.

"He can and he will," Nicky said. "Russo would have done it right away, but according to the law, he's required to hear from you first."

Natalia watched as Olivia stood staring at Nicky. Then, before either of them could react, Olivia closed the distance between them and swung her hand against Natalia's face in a powerful smack, nearly knocking her to the ground.

"You fucking cunt!" Olivia screamed. She went to strike Natalia again, but was stopped by Nicky.

Natalia's vision was blurred and she tasted blood in her mouth. She held a shocked hand to where Olivia's hand had contacted with her cheek.

"Olivia, stop it!" Nicky said, wrestling with the enraged woman.

"I swear, you bitch, if anything happens to Emma, I'll fucking kill you," Olivia yelled. "Do you hear me?"

"I hear you," she said woodenly and spat blood onto the ground.

"Calm down, Olivia," Nicky said.

"Calm down?" Olivia asked. "Calm down? That cocksucker Phillip is free to come and go as he fucking pleases and you want me to calm down?"

"Olivia, I am so sorry," she started but the angry woman cut her off.

"Congratulations, you fucking cunt," Olivia spat. "You got the ring, the dress, the man. It's only going to cost me my daughter. I hope it was fucking worth it." She shook off Nicky's hold and stalked over to her mare. The agitated horse shied around before Olivia got control of her and she climbed into the saddle. She wheeled the horse over to them.

"Oh, and Natalia," she said. "You're fucking fired. I see your cunt face at the Beacon and I'll fucking shoot you for a trespasser."

Natalia just stood there and bit her lip.

"Where are you going, Olivia?" Nicky asked.

"I need Emma," she said and spurred her horse into motion.

They silently watched as Olivia rode away.

"What's going to happen with Phillip?" she asked. "Can he really take Emma away from Olivia?"

"Oh, so now you're concerned about Olivia?" he asked, turning to her.

"How many ways do you want me to say I'm sorry?" she asked."I did not mean for this to happen."

"Fine, you didn't mean to hurt her, but what about us?"

"Us?" she asked.

"Yes, us," he answered. "You don't trust me. How many times do I have to tell you over and over again that Olivia and I are just friends? That's all."

"You're not just a friend to her, Nick," she said, feeling reluctant tears forming in her eyes. "And she tried to ruin our wedding day."

"So you lock her in a barn?" he sputtered. "Do you think she could have actually stopped me from saying 'I do'? Is that what you think?"

"It was our wedding day and I wanted it to be perfect," she said.

"I don't know, maybe this is my fault," he said and she frowned. "Maybe being with me makes you selfish and cruel. You were never like this before, Natalia. What is it about Olivia Spencer that brings out this side of you?"

"I'm not the girl you knew in Chicago," she said, ignoring his question. "I've come a long way since then and I've made mistakes, but it's only because I've wanted to marry you so much."

"Well, you got what you wanted, Natalia," he said. "We're married." He turned his back and started toward the wagon. "Oh and by the way, welcome home," he said over his shoulder.

She looked at him. "What?"

He waved an arm around. "This," he said. "The farmstead, the house, the barn." The sarcasm dripped from his mouth on the last word. "It's all yours."


"It's a wedding gift," he said. "From me to you. I hope you enjoy it." He climbed up into the driver's seat of the wagon.

"Where are you going?" she asked automatically, too shocked to say anything else.

"Back to Deadwood," he said. "I've got to see what I can do to undo what my cocksucking father has done. The pantry is fully stocked and I'll send Rafe back with the wagon and your things from your room at Company. You'd best stay out of town for a while, at least until Olivia has a chance to cool off. I don't doubt she would shoot you at this point and not that I fucking blame her."

"You're not coming back?" she asked.

"No, Natalia," he said. "I need to stay close to Emma."

"And Olivia," she spat out bitterly.

He let out a rueful chuckle. "Oh, don't worry, my dear," he said. "I'm not going to fuck Olivia Spencer, no matter how insecure you are. I said my vows and I fully intend to fucking honor them, but I owe this to Olivia. You owe this to Olivia."

"Nicky, please don't go," she begged, looking up at him.

"My name is Gus," he said and Natalia's heart clenched in agony. "Enjoy your new home, Natalia," he continued. "I'll move in when this business with Phillip is over." He snapped the reins and the horse pulled away.

Natalia followed the wagon for several feet and then stopped when it picked up speed and drove away. Tears flowed freely down her bruised face as she stood watching her husband ride away to be with another woman.


Chapter 6 – Here Was a Man

The wind picked up and Natalia shivered in the cold, finally turning and going inside the farmhouse. It was time to accept the fact that her husband had left her and was not coming back. For the second time in as many days, she stood in the parlor of the house, only now she knew it was hers. She gave a bitter laugh at the irony that the first time she set foot in her home it was with her rival and not her husband.

The parlor was furnished and Natalia recognized some items from Nicky's house in town. She suspected the Iowan family who had abandoned the farm had left most of their belongings behind. She ran a hand across the coverlet draped over the settee. The fabric was soft and comfortable, as were the rest of the simple, yet sturdy, furnishings.

Off of the parlor was a room furnished with a desk, a comfortable chair. The built-in bookshelves were mostly empty. A small safe occupied one corner of the room and a piece of paper with numbers on it rested on top. Natalia committed the combination to memory then used it to open the safe. Inside was a small bag of gold and the papers to the house. She frowned when she saw the note was held by the Bank of Deadwood. She estimated his salary would cover the payments, but probably not much else and she promised herself to discuss it with Nicky later on.

She wandered into the dining room, the contents matching the style and taste of that from the living room. Through the open door, she caught a glimpse of what was obviously her kitchen and, deciding to save exploration of that for last, she took the narrow flight of stairs that led upward.

Upstairs, there were three bedrooms. In one of the bedrooms, she recognized a leather shaving kit that she had given her son when his whiskers had started to darken. She opened the cupboard and smiled when she saw a few articles of Rafe's clothing. He had obviously claimed this room as his own and Natalia's heart warmed at the thought that his father had honored his promise to provide a home for their son.

The other, smaller bedroom was simply furnished with a small bed and a dresser, but the largest bedroom came with a set of French doors that were draped in a dark burgundy fabric. The chest, wardrobe and vanity all had come with the house she thought, but she couldn't help but notice the large bed was brand new. She turned the handle on the doors and stepped out onto the small balcony that overlooked the farmstead. From this vantage, she could see the cleared fields that were overgrown with weeds and waiting for cultivation.

She remembered a conversation she and Sheriff Bullock had during the dinner for Mr. Clemens and how he said that traditional Midwestern crops did not do well in the rugged soil of the Black Hills. It was his assertion that alfalfa would prove to be a lucrative cash crop, especially with the costs associated with transport of cattle from the southern regions. Natalia had made note of the subject of their discussion because of the Spaulding interests in cattle. An available source of feed would mean local ranchers could undercut on the high prices her father-in-law demanded for his beef. She made a mental note to herself to get more information from Bullock on the planting of alfalfa at a later date.

She also noted the stacks of freshly cut firewood drying near the barn. Nicky had obviously spent some time preparing the farmstead for their occupation with Rafe's assistance. She turned back to the bedroom, carefully closing the doors behind her. She sat on the bed, the support ropes barely giving under weight and felt an intense stab of anger.

Olivia Spencer had intended on tempting her husband into this bed, Natalia's matrimonial bed. Even though she hadn't succeeded in her nefarious plans, Olivia had still ruined things. Nicky would not be sleeping in this bed with her tonight and Natalia resented the other woman for it. However, there was nothing she could do about it at the moment and decided to explore what was to her, the most important room in the house.

Natalia smiled as she walked into her kitchen and saw that Nicky had outfitted it with all of the latest conveniences and, much to her delight, an indoor water pump. She immediately headed for the new cast iron stove and began to set the fire going for coffee. While she waited for the water to boil, she looked around, opening cupboards and inspecting and inventorying the cookware.

Like Nicky had said, the small pantry was fully stocked with canned goods and a trapdoor leading to a root cellar revealed the fragrant aroma of stored vegetables, fruit, cured meat and salted fish. Another small room off of the kitchen contained a small cot and a dresser and was probably intended as a maid's room.

She opened the door leading out to the back yard and looked around. More firewood was stacked against the house and also near a small building that, upon investigation, proved to be part smokehouse and part chicken coop. Further back from the house and well away from the creek that ran through the property, a small privy stood by itself.

Heading back inside for her coffee, she remembered a conversation her and Nicky had back in Chicago. He had promised to marry her and told her that one day they would live in a big house on a farm. She had laughed at the notion at the time. They were both city kids, what did they know about farm life, but Nicky had apparently been serious about it because here they were. Or at least she was. God only knew when Nicky would come join her.

After she finished her coffee, she went to the pantry to get a cured ham and began preparation it for when Rafe arrived. The simple domestic activity settled her nerves and by the time the scents of cooking food filled her kitchen, she was feeling much more optimistic about things.

Just after noon, she heard the wagon approaching the house and went outside. To her surprise, there was a second figure sitting next to the dark-haired form of her son. As the wagon approached, she saw the long white beard and bald head of Richardson. A second horse was tethered to the wagon.

Rafe directed the wagon to the house and stopped it in front of the porch. The back of the buckboard was filled with her things from Company as well as more supplies including several crates filled with live chickens. Two western saddles and a sidesaddle were secured to the buckboard and Natalia recognized the gelding she had borrowed yesterday from Mr. Fields pulling the wagon.

"Hello, Mama," he said, putting down the reins and hopping off the buckboard.

"Rafael," she said. "Richardson."

"Hello Miss Rivera," he said after Rafe had given the old man a hand down from the wagon, he was holding a large basket and kept his eyes on the ground. "Miss Spencer told me I couldn't work at the Beacon anymore."

Natalia nodded. "I'm sorry, that was my fault," she said. "But you're welcome to stay here if you want. I could use the help."

"That's what Gus thought," Rafe said. "There's an old stove in the shed we can set up in the barn for him."

"All right," she said. She hadn't missed her son's use of his father's first name and suspected he and Nicky might have had words. She filed the information away for later.

"Are those your belongings?" she asked Richardson.

He shook his head. "Aunt Lou sent some food," he answered and handed her the basket.

"Thank you," she said, then turned to Rafe. "Is Mr. Fields letting me borrow the gelding again?"

"No, Mama," he answered as he unloaded the wagon. "He's yours. Gus purchased him from the general as well as your saddle." He examined her face, his hand coming up to gently touch her cheek. "What happened, Mama?"

"Not now," she said. "Go ahead and get Mr. Richardson settled and then you both come in to eat."

She picked up two of the chicken crates and headed around to the coop.

By the time the chickens were settled in their new home, the birds happily pecking at the feed she scattered for them, the sun was low in the sky. Rafe had come inside, but Richardson stood at the back door with his head hanging down. Natalia watched him a moment to see if he would come in and when he didn't, she grabbed a plate from the table and filled it with food for him.

"Thank you, Miss Rivera," he said when she handed him the plate. He turned and scampered for the barn.

"He'll be all right out there?" she asked as Rafe cleaned up at the sink.

"Oh, sure," Rafe answered. "I converted two of the horse stalls into a small room for him. He's got a pallet to sleep on, the stove and a couple of crates for his books. I even nailed up a small shelf for his antlers. He'll be right cozy."

"Good," she said, satisfied and proud of her son's handiwork.

They sat at the table and held hands while she said grace. Then Rafe dug into the food with gusto. Natalia at more slowly, enjoying the first meal she had prepared in her own kitchen.

Finally, Rafe asked, "Did Gus do that?"

For a moment, she was confused, then she brought a hand up to her bruised cheek. "No, he didn't," she answered. "And I don't want to talk about it, all right."

"Who hit you, Mama?" he said, his eyes flashing.

"Just drop it, Rafael," she said firmly and was relieved to see him go back to his meal, although she could tell from his stiffness that he remained angry. Her son had a a fiery temper that matched her own, but had not yet learned to fully control it.

"You knew about the farmstead, Rafael?" she asked when he had finally slowed down.

He nodded and swallowed a bite. "Gus told me of the surprise on the trip to Yankton and enlisted my help in getting things ready for you. I think I must have cut a ton of trees." He displayed his work-worn hands that were covered with newly healed blisters.

"Thank you," she said. "Everything is perfect."

"Except for one thing," he said, his eyes flashing with anger again. "Gus is not here. What happened, Mama?"

"Did you argue with your father?" she asked.

"We had words," Rafe admitted. "When he said he was moving into the Beacon instead of here, I expressed my opinion on his worth as a man."

"He's moving in to the Beacon?" she asked, feeling her stomach churn with jealousy.

"The family he sold the house to finally made it to town and want to get settled in before winter sets in," Rafe explained.

Natalia had wished he had taken her old room at Company, but knew it made more sense for him to go to the Beacon to be closer to Emma. However, that didn't mean she had to like it. "It's because of his honor that he has to stay there," she said, trying not to show her anger to her son.

"It's that woman, isn't it?" Rafe asked. "Olivia Spencer. She's trying to steal Gus from you, isn't she, Mama?"

"She tried," she said, standing up and taking her plate to the galvanized bucket she had filled with water from the pump and had heating on the stove while they ate. "She tried, but she didn't succeed. He's my husband now and nothing's going to change that."

Rafe finished his meal and brought his plate over to her, then began to put the leftover food away. "So why is he there instead of where he belongs?"

"Because of something I stupidly did," she answered. "And he has to be there to fix it. It's all right, Rafael. He'll come home when he can."

"It's not right," he said. "Someone should be here to protect you besides some old man. I'll leave my apprenticeship with Mr. Fields."

"No!" she said, emphatically. "You need to learn a trade, Rafael, and you're good at it. You'll make a good farrier. I can take care of myself. I have for a long time now."

Rafe was silent as they finished cleaning up the kitchen, but Natalia could tell her son remained unsettled. "I don't like that woman," he finally said.

"I'm not too fond of her myself, Rafael," she said with a rueful chuckle and then decided to drop the subject of Olivia Spencer. "Do you want coffee before you go back to town?"

He shook his head. "No, I better get going before it gets dark," he said.

"All right," she said in agreement. "It's getting dark earlier now."

"Winter is coming," he said darkly and put on his coat.

She followed him outside. Rafe had stored the wagon in the barn and her gelding was contentedly munching on hay in his stall. While Rafe saddled his horse, she spent a few minutes getting to know hers.

"Do you have a name for him?" Rafe asked.

"Hmm," she said, thinking. "His color reminds me of cayenne or paprika, so maybe Pimentón, or Píme for short." She stroked the horse's muzzle. "What do you think, guapo? Do you like that name?"

The horse nickered and nodded his head as if answering her question.

Rafe laughed. "Leave it to you, Mama, to name your horse after a cooking ingredient."

"What can I say, mi hijo," she laughed. "It's who I am."

"It's a good name," he said. "And he's a good horse. Mr. Fields bought him from a breeder in Cheyenne with a reputation for good stock."

"Please thank Mr. Fields for me," she said.

Richardson came out of his corner of the barn. He was holding his antlers in one hand and his plate in the other.

"Did you eat well, Richardson?" she asked, taking the plate from him.

He nodded. "Thank you, Miss Rivera."

"Are you comfortable in here?"

"Yes," he said. "Thank you for letting me stay."

"Thank you for your help," she said in return. "I'm afraid I don't know much about farming or raising livestock."

"Not much to know," he said, shrugging his bony shoulders. "Just hard work."

"That I'm not afraid of," she said. "Please let me know if there's anything you need."

"All right," he said.

Natalia followed Rafe out of the barn, then gave him a hug. "Thanks for coming, Rafael."

"It was no trouble, Mama," he said. "I'll come early Sunday morning to escort you to church, if that's all right with you."

"I'll look forward to it," she said and stepped back to allow him to mount. "Be careful."

"I will," he said and tipped his hat to her. "Good bye, Mama."

She watched him ride away and then looked at the sky. Storm clouds were beginning to gather over the ridge and she shivered as she realized the temperature was dropping. She suspected they were about to get the first storm of the season. Pulling her shawl tighter against herself, she headed back into the warm house.

Olivia opened the door and saw Gus standing outside. His face was grim. She stepped aside to let him in. He walked into the room and placed his hat on her writing desk.

"Did you see Phillip?" she asked quietly.

"No," he answered. He glanced through the open door to Emma's room. Her daughter was studiously bent over the schoolwork Mrs. Bullock had sent over, Olivia too fearful to let Emma out of her sight. Gus watched his niece for a moment, and then walked to the window. The lamplighters were making their way down the thoroughfare, lighting the torches against the deepening gloom. "Alan was at the ranch, though," Gus continued. "Very proud of his accomplishments, I might add."

"He always has been a smug cocksucker," Olivia said.

"Is that why you married him?" Gus asked, glancing at her. A smile played on his lips under his mustache.

"One of many reasons, none of which related to any sort of affection on my part for him," she quipped with a small chuckle. She tilted a head in thought. "You're nothing like him," she said.

"Thank the good Lord for that," he laughed.

"It's odd how different you are than Phillip," she mused. "He might have been a good man like you are, but Alan's lust for wealth and power has warped him so." She turned to look at her beautiful daughter, thankfully oblivious to all the tension and undercurrents swirling around her.

As if sensing her mother's gaze, Emma looked up and smiled. "I'm hungry, Mommy," she said.

"We'll eat soon, Jellybean," she promised, keeping the panic she had felt since learning of Phillip's escape from justice from her voice. "You finish your school work and I'll get us dinner. All right?"

"Thank you, Mommy," the little girl said and went back to her studies.

Olivia turned back to Gus. "That's why I can't let the fucking Spauldings get their hands on her, Gus. Emma is pure and sweet and innocent. They would destroy that. I can't let that happen."

"No," Gus agreed. "And it won't. I won't let it."

"I feel like you're the only thing standing between me and the darkness," she said. "Between me and Phillip's madness. You're my only friend, Gus."

"You have friends, Olivia," he said softly.

"Not like you," she said, thinking of her association with Al Swearengen. Al would do a lot for her, she knew, but only as long as it coincided with his own interests, whatever they may be. "I mean just the fact that you're here instead of enjoying your honeymoon with your new bride speaks to a high measure."

"Natalia is a patient woman, she'll wait as long as she has to," Gus said. "Right now, there is nowhere else I have to be."

She breathed deeply at his words and glanced out the window he was standing near. She almost expected to see Phillip Spaulding riding down the thoroughfare at the head of a column of hired thugs coming to take Emma from her. Then she noticed the tired slump of the marshal's shoulders and realized he was as exhausted as she was.

"Will you join Emma and me for supper?" she asked.

He nodded. "I'll just go next door to freshen up first if I may?" he asked.

"Of course," she said and after letting him out of her suite, she went to order their meal.

Despite her weariness, Emma's enthusiasm gave Olivia enough energy to get through the meal. Emma adored having the extra attention from her uncle Gus and to his credit the marshal utterly charmed the little girl. Watching their interactions, Olivia couldn't help the fond smile on her face.

After supper, Gus helped Emma write a letter to her sister Ava while Olivia reviewed the day's receipts from the hotel. Despite the chaos in her personal life, business was good. Deadwood was a booming town and that was reflected in her net worth. Unfortunately, so far it hadn't helped her keep the Spauldings away from her daughter.

By the time Emma's bedtime arrived, Olivia was feeling her exhaustion, but she gamely put on a brave face for her daughter.

"Good night, Mommy," Emma said as she snuggled under the covers.

Olivia leaned down to kiss her daughter's perfect cheek. "Good night, sweetheart," she whispered.

Emma looked expectantly at Gus who was standing in the open doorway and held out her arms. Gus walked into the room with a smile and leaned down to kiss his niece's cheek. Emma squeezed Gus's neck for a moment, then let go. "Good night, Uncle Gus," she said, giggling as Gus's whiskers tickled her cheek. "Thank you for helping me to write to Ava."

"Sure," he said. "Good night, baby."

Emma rolled on to her side and closed her eyes. Olivia watched her a moment and then closed the door almost all the way. She made her way to the table with the whiskey bottle and, without asking, poured them both a drink. She handed one to Gus.

She studied his face as he sipped the liquor. The strong lines of his features were softened by the warm glow of the oil lamp and she felt a swelling of emotion filling her heart. "Stay with me tonight," she whispered.

Dark eyes turned to capture her own and Olivia could see the infinite sadness within and knew that although he wanted to, his principles would not allow it. Silently, Gus drained the glass and set it gently on the table. He leaned over and kissed her cheek as he had his niece's. Olivia closed her eyes and breathed in his warm, masculine scent.

"Good night," he said softly and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Warm tears fell silently down her cheeks.

Alan Spaulding sat in the plush wingback chair and puffed on his expensive cigar. Sitting across from him in an identical chair was his beloved son. Phillip's eyes reflected the flickering flames of the fire burning warmly in the big fireplace.

"Now son," Alan started. "It's very important you stay out of Deadwood until the agents arrive."

"I thought you said I was free to come home," Phillip said with a frown. He was holding a whiskey in his hand and Alan could see his son's knuckles tightening around the glass.

"You are," he answered. "I've spent a great deal of money to keep you safe from the law, but you are still not safe from cocksuckers like Al Swearengen who would be all too happy to cut your throat. I'm afraid that Mr. Li is simply not enough to protect you. You'd best wait until our agents arrive."

"I want to see Emma," Phillip said and Alan closed his eyes to gather his patience.

"I understand, son," he said. "But please do as I say. It won't be for much longer."

Phillip stared at the amber liquid in his glass and then drained it in one swallow. Placing it on the table next to his chair, he stood up.

"I'm going to bed," he announced. "It's going to be good to sleep in one for a fucking change."

"Good night, son," Alan said and then took another deep puff as he looked into the fire. He had made his move and now it was Olivia's turn to respond. He was starting to enjoy this game with his former wife.

Olivia knocked on the door to the suite next to hers and waited until Gus opened it. He stood there a moment looking at her and then stepped aside to let her in.

"I don't suppose you care overmuch about the propriety of entering a married man's room," he said with a wry grin.

"Fuck propriety," she said with a growl and jabbed the air with her finger. "It's my fucking hotel. I'll do whatever I want and any cocksucker who says otherwise can go fuck himself."

Gus laughed. "Well, I'd say you're ready to deal with Judge Russo."

"It's good, right?" she asked not surprised he recognized she was posturing. "Not too over the top?"

"No, no," he said shaking his head. "You almost scared the shit out of me. Russo hasn't got a chance."

"Good, good," she said absently and looked out the window. The thoroughfare and buildings were covered in a thick layer of snow that had fallen overnight. The wan morning sky was heavy with clouds and more snow was coming down hard. She didn't relish the thought of having to go out in the storm. She thought about fucking Natalia all warm and snug inside her new home and felt a stab of resentment against the other woman.

Gus strapped on his gun belt and donned his coat. "Did you sleep well last night?" he asked. "Your color is better this morning.

"Better than I did the fucking night before," she said with a bark of sarcastic laughter. "I sent Gregory over to the courthouse to tell Russo to expect us, but he returned and said it's closed because of the storm. The schoolhouse is as well. Remy's here with Jane watching Emma."

"Good," Gus said peeking out the window as he put on his hat. "It looks like it's getting worse, too." He looked at her. "Make sure you're warm enough."

"I will," she said.

"Ready to go?" he asked.

"As I'll ever be."

The fierce wind followed Richardson's entrance into the kitchen, blowing rock-hard ice pellets through the door. Richardson pushed the door closed behind him, then turned to face Natalia with an almost stunned expression on his face.

Natalia had to suppress laughing at the snow-covered man. "Are you all right?" she asked and on his nod, added. "And the animals?"

"They're fine," he answered. "The barn is well-insulated. I started the fire in the smokehouse oven and the chickens are all huddled against the bricks. They looked happy to me."

"Good," she said, relieved that her husband had made a good investment. In the short time she had occupied the farmhouse, she had realized she could not have received a better wedding present.

In the middle of the night, as she lay sleepless in her empty marriage bed, she listened to the win screaming across the eaves and was reassured by the sturdiness of the house's construction. The Iowan family may have run from the rigors of life in the Black Hills, but they obviously had been the type of people who put quality first and care into their belongings. Natalia had sent up a prayer of gratitude to them.

"How bad is it outside?" she asked Richardson, motioning him to sit at the table. He shrugged out of his coat and scarf and hung them and his hat on the coat tree near the door. She ladled him a bowl of hot stew and set it down as he sat.

"Thank you, Miz Aitoro," he said and picked up the spoon. "This storm won't last long," he answered her question after taking a bite of the hearty stew. "Maybe two, three days."

"This storm?" she asked, worriedly.

"Yes," he drawled. "It's going to be a hard winter."

"How do you know?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Just do," he said.

Natalia nodded thoughtfully. Long winters were not something new to her. Chicago was one of the coldest cities in the Midwest and she and her son had not always had the warmest places to live during the cold months. However, her first winter here was spent in town and she had been so caught up in the drama with Nicky and his breakup with Harley that she had barely paid attention. However, she suspected that this year, winter was going to play a more important role in their lives.

"Did you start on the hams?" she asked, thinking about the crates of fresh meat that Rafe had delivered with the supplies.

Richardson nodded. "Yes, and the bacon," he answered. "I'll get to the salt beef and jerky also."

"Do you think we should freeze some in the pond?" she asked.

"Hmm." Richardson thought a moment, then shook his head. "Not yet, but maybe by November we won't take the risk of a sudden thaw."

"November, eh?" she said.

"Yes, ma'am," he said. "It's going to be a long winter."

Natalia sipped her coffee and chewed on the thought. She hoped by the time they were permanently snowed-in, she would have more to keep her company than the old man.

After Olivia and he had entered the house and shaken off the snow, Gus looked up at a surprised Mrs. Russo who had let them into the house.

"Our thanks for letting us in, ma'am," he said tipping his hat.

"Goodness Marshal!" the elderly woman with the thin gray hair exclaimed with a thick Southern accent. "Why ever did you venture forth in this horrible weather?" Her gaze switched between him and Olivia who was removing her heavy outer coat.

"We have important business to discuss with His Honor," he answered.

"Oh my," she said, putting a hand over her heart. "It certainly must be important if you had the need to brave this storm to call on my son." She motioned for them to follow her from the foyer into the parlor and then she clapped her hands imperiously. "Daphne!" she called.

A young dark-skinned woman dressed in a simple flannel dress entered the parlor and waited.

"Daphne, we have guests," Mrs. Russo said. "Please bring a tray to Judge Russo's study and be quick about it!"

"Yes, mistress," the servant said quietly and turned away.

"Please, Marshall, Miss Spencer, come this way," the old woman said and headed down a different corridor.

Olivia leaned close to Gus and whispered, "D'ya think this old bag heard about the Emancipation Proclamation yet?" she asked.

"Shh," Gus admonished, trying to hide an amused smile.

"I mean, really?" Olivia persisted. "Slavery ended twenty years ago."

"Olivia," Gus said and to his relief she dropped it.

At the end of the hallway, Mrs. Russo knocked once and then opened the door.

"Vincent?" she said and motioned for them to enter. "You have visitors."

Judge Russo looked up from the paperwork he was perusing on his desk as Gus and Olivia entered the room. "Well, well," he said. "Marshal Aitoro and Miss Spencer. To what do I owe this wonderful, yet unexpected pleasure?"

Olivia turned to Mrs. Russo and said, "Thank you so much for your hospitality, Mrs. Russo."

The elderly woman blinked at the obvious dismissal and then nodded. "I'll see that Daphne brings in your refreshments as soon as possible," she said. "Please do not hesitate to ask for anything you might need."

"Thank you," Gus said.

Olivia waited until the woman had closed the door behind herself and then she turned on the judge. "What the fuck, Vince?" she growled, stalking up to his desk.

"Now, now, Olivia," Russo said, putting his hands up as if to ward her off.

"Don't try to placate me, you cocksucker," she shot back and Gus had to suppress a smile.

Russo turned to Gus. "Are you going to let her speak to me that way, Marshal?" he asked.

"Vince, you let Phillip Spaulding go free," he said, ignoring the question.

"Not me!" Russo protested. "That was Jarry."

"And the custody suit?" Olivia sneered.

"Oh well, yes, that was me," he answered with a sly grin. "Nice work, don't you think?"

"You motherfucker!" Olivia said.

"Olivia, Olivia," Russo said, shaking his head. "Alan Spaulding requested me to review his claim to custody of your daughter. I have not done so…yet."

Gus knew what was coming next and didn't have long to wait. He felt a twinge of unease for his presence here, but he owed it to Olivia to back her play despite the illegalities involved.

"So how much is it going to cost me for you to lose his claim?" Olivia asked.

Russo smirked. "Alan was quite generous."

Olivia cursed under her breath and reached into her handbag, but stopped when a knock from the serving girl interrupted. They all waited while Daphne laid out the refreshments and then silently left the room. Gus watched as Olivia took a deep breath and then pulled out a small, but heavy pouch and dropped it on to the desk in front of the judge.

Russo eyed the pouch as if assessing its contents. "That's a good start," he drawled. "However, I'm sure you can do better."

Olivia glared at him for a long moment, then reached into her bag again and pulled out a second pouch.

Russo smiled. "Very nice," he said with a nod. "That will do the trick. When next Alan inquires about the progress of his case, I will endeavor to delay as long as possible."

"Make sure that delay is permanent," she said, the warning in her voice clear. "I need to concentrate on protecting Emma and I can't waste energy fighting a custody suit."

"Then perhaps a little added incentive might ensure that, Olivia," Russo said and Gus inwardly rolled his eyes as Russo's gaze flicked over Olivia's body in a blatant leer and then repeated the action with Gus. "In fact, if you wish to save a bit of your gold, I'm sure the three of us can come to some other arrangement." Russo slid one of the pouches toward Olivia.

"You really are a cocksucker, aren't you, Vince," Olivia said, her voice laced with wonder.

Russo smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "What's the point of gaining power if you don't enjoy the benefits that come with it?"

"Son of a bitch," Olivia swore under her breath. "Keep the fucking gold, Vince," she said. "And keep the fucking Spauldings away from Emma."

"I will utilize every legal trick I can on your behalf," Russo said agreeably with a bow of his head.

"Come on, Gus," Olivia said, turning on her heels and flinging the door open. Gus looked at Russo for a moment. The judge raised his eyebrow questioningly. Gus shook his head and then followed Olivia out of the room.

The blizzard lasted three days, as Richardson had accurately predicted. The snow fall had been fast and fierce and the wind howling through the gulch had at times, raised the hackles on her neck from the sound. Then Indian summer had returned and the creek swelled dramatically with snow melt, giving Natalia a hint of what would come in the spring. She was glad the farmstead's buildings were situated far enough away from the creek that they wouldn't have to be too concerned with flooding.

Natalia also sent a silent thank you to God for sending her the old man. Richardson truly was a godsend. Despite his age, he possessed a wiry strength that was vital in tending to the animals and his skill with preserving the fresh meat Nicky had sent had impressed even her. During one visit to the barn to check on her horse, Natalia had spied him with his nose buried in a book. He tried to hide it, but not before she saw it was a copy of Voltaire's Candide. She wondered if it was a translated version or in the original French. Considering what she had observed of the man, she would not have been surprised if it was the latter.

Once the majority of the snow had melted, she and Richardson had ventured into the hills surrounding the farmstead in search of wild buffalo berry bushes. Normally very sour, the freezing temperatures had sweetened the dark red berries which reminded Natalia of currants. The two of them gathered as much as they could and brought the teeming baskets back to the farmhouse where they spent the next two days making jam, jelly and a relish that, to Natalia's delight, reminded her of cranberry sauce, only with a flavorful tang that left a refreshing tingle on the tongue. At the end of the two days, Natalia eyed the rows of glass jars safely stored in her pantry with immense satisfaction. Other than the eggs her hens had started to lay, the buffalo berry preserves represented the first foodstuffs produced on the Aitoro farm.

As promised, Rafe arrived at the farmstead on Gus's horse early on Sunday morning. Natalia already had breakfast waiting for him and, as she expected on a cold October morning, her son dug into the hearty meal.

"How is the road into town?" she asked as she sat down with a mug of hot coffee.

"Not too bad," Rafe said, chewing a slice of fried ham. "But Mr. Utter said the road to Sturgis is still blocked in as it goes over the ridge."

Natalia nodded, thinking of the narrow track that climbed over the high pass of the gulch. The first time she had traveled over it on the stagecoach coming in to Deadwood, she had closed her eyes against the dizziness she experienced looking down the sheer drop.

"I found an old sled out behind the livery," Rafe continued. "Mr. Fields said I could fix it up. The runners are rusted out, but I've got enough scrap iron lying around to fix it up. I would have had it finished by now, but we've been extra busy with folks boarding their horses because of the storm. I'll bring it out when it's done, Mama."

"That's wonderful, Rafael," she said, then shot to her feet and grabbed a wicker basket from a shelf.

"What are you doing, Mama?" Rafe asked.

"Making a basket for you and Mr. Fields," she answered, as she started to pack the container with some of the preserved food she had.

Rafe chuckled. "Always giving away food, Mama," he said as he stuffed half a slice of ham in his mouth, Natalia noted wryly.

"The sharing of food is an important ritual that binds people together," Natalia said. "For example, look how many times it's mentioned in the New Testament in relation to Our Lord? From the wedding feast where he turned water into wine and the feeding of the multitude to the Last Supper; those were all occasions where Jesus provided sustenance for the body as well as the soul." She looked up at his soft chuckle. "What?" she asked.

"You," he said, wiping his mouth with the linen cloth. "You never miss an opportunity for a lesson, no matter how old I am."

"I'll be a toothless old woman and you with grandchildren of your own and I'll still be giving you lessons, Rafael Rivera," she said with a laugh. She tucked a cloth over the top of the basket to protect its contents. "You finish cleaning up while I go get ready for church, mi hijo, and then we can leave."

"All right, Mama," he said.

Natalia enjoyed the ride into town. The day was chilly, but as the sun rose higher over the hills, the morning grew pleasantly warm. She sat next to Rafe on the front seat of the buckboard and relaxed against the back rest. Rafe gave Píme free rein and the young gelding's eager pace kicked up a breeze that was pleasant against Natalia's face.

As usual, the streets of Deadwood were filled with pedestrians, wagons and horses. Not even the Lord's Day could curtail the commerce of the boom town. Rafe carefully guided the wagon to the church, only pausing at Aunt Lou's rooming house to let off Richardson. The lanky old man nimbly jumped down from the buckboard and gave them a jaunty wave before disappearing inside.

Gus was standing in front of the church talking quietly with Reverend Lewis, but hurried down the stairs to help her down from the wagon. While they waited for Rafe to park the wagon, Natalia took the time to observe her husband.

"You're looking well, Mr. Aitoro," she said, quietly.

"As are you, Mrs. Aitoro," he replied, his eyes bright. "All is well at the farm?"

"They are, thank you for asking," she said. "Richardson is of great assistance. Thank you for sending him."

"I'm glad he's working out well," he said. "The animals fared well in the storm?"

"They did," she answered. "The barn and hen house is well-insulated as is the farmhouse itself. You made a good purchase, Nicky, but I'm not too pleased with the large debt it incurred."

"My wages as marshal will easily take care of the payments to the bank," he said. "Any proceeds from the farm can be used to reduce the principal."

Natalia thought for a moment. "You're expecting to turn a profit right away?" she asked.

"No," he said, shaking his head. "But I do expect to turn one within two years. In the spring, I plan on clearing as much land as possible and planting wheat."

"Alfalfa," she said firmly.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Alfalfa," she repeated. "Wheat is a good crop, but we can fetch higher prices for alfalfa."

He blinked in amazement. "It's a feed crop for cattle, isn't it?" he asked.

She nodded. "The ranchers pay a fortune to have feed imported into the Hills for their cattle. If there was a steady source of feed locally, they will pay top dollar for that."

"You're right," he said. "Will it grow in the hills though?"

"Sheriff Bullock seems to think it will," she answered.

"I will consult with him next time I have a moment," he said. "Thank you for the suggestion, my dear. You are quite astute."

"Isn't that why you married me?" she said with a wry grin.

"Among other reasons," he laughed.

Rafe ran up to them, only slightly out of breath. "Good morning, Father," he said to Nicky.

"Morning, son. Are you ready for church?" he asked.

"Yes sir," he said and offered his arm to her. She took it and then linked her other arm through Nicky's as they climbed the steps into the church.

After the service, the three of them took a leisurely walk through the town to Aunt Lou's. Inside, the big woman greeted Natalia with a warm kiss and then led the three of them to a free table. The dining room was, as usual, packed with diners of all colors and social status. Aunt Lou's cooking was renowned even beyond Deadwood and people came from all the surrounding communities and beyond.

"What's special today, Aunt Lou?" Natalia asked the cook.

"Praise Jesus!" the cook exclaimed clasping her hands together. "I's got pork roasted with sweet potatoes and seasoned with ginger and cinnamon. Sound good?"

"Sounds wonderful, Aunt Lou," Nicky said and looked at her and Rafe for agreement. "We'll have that, please."

"Comin' right up!" she said and waddled off to the kitchen.

After their food was served and they had said grace, the conversation consisted mostly of the events of the past week, with Rafe recounting the work he had done at the livery as well as his progress on the sled. Natalia told them about making the preserves and Nicky was impressed.

"I can't wait to try it," he said, using a piece of bread to mop up the juices from the roasted pork. "I didn't even know those berries were edible. The ones I've tasted were horribly sour on the tongue."

"Neither did I," she said. "It was Richardson who told me about them. He said the frost sweetens the fruit. I was pleasantly surprised."

"I look forward to sampling it," Nicky said.

"Me too," Rafe said. "Did you include a jar in the basket for the general and I?"

"I did," she answered.

"Thank you, Mama," he said.

Aunt Lou's serving girl came to remove their plates and asked if they wanted dessert.

"None for me please," Rafe said and placed his napkin on the table. "If I may be excused for now? Mama, I'll return in an hour to escort you home."

"Of course," she said.

Nicky ordered apple pie for both of them as Natalia watched Rafe walk over to Aunt Lou and say something to her. The big cook nodded jovially, and then opened the pastry case and took out a small fruit tartlet. She quickly wrapped it in paper and tied it closed with a bow and handed it to Rafe. He handed her a coin and then quickly left the dining room.

She turned to Nicky and asked, "What was that?"

He laughed. "Our son is going courting."

"Really?" she asked, surprised. Rafe had never mentioned being interested in a girl before. "Who?"

"A lovely young girl named Ashlee Wolfe," he said. "Have you met her?"

"No," she answered. "But I have met her mother. She's…not a pleasant woman."

Nicky laughed. "You're too kind in your assessment, my dear," he said. "Doris Wolfe is not well-liked in town, but her daughter fortunately does not take after her."

They were silent as the girl placed their plates in front of them, each overlarge slice of apple pie a vision of perfection. Natalia eagerly used her fork to cut into the flaky crust and brought a bite to her mouth. She closed her eyes in pleasure.

"Oh that's good," she said.

Nicky nodded in agreement and quickly took a second bite.

"Is it serious?" she asked. "Rafe and this girl?"

"I don't think so," he said. "They're both too young, of course. I think he just enjoys spending time with her."

"He must if he endures Doris Wolfe hovering over them as I'm sure she does when he calls," she said.

Nicky laughed. "Good point," he agreed.

They finished their meal and Natalia went outside to sit on the porch swing while Nicky paid for their fare. He joined her and lit a cigar before taking her hand in his. They sat in silence for a while.

"Nicky," she finally said. "What's happening with Olivia?"

He sighed. "At the moment, we're just waiting for Alan and Phillip to make their next move," he answered. "Alan is suing for custody of Emma, but Olivia bribed Judge Russo into burying the papers."

"What do you think they'll do?" she asked.

"I have no idea," he said.

"Is it worth it, Nicky?" she asked unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.


"Abandoning your family for that woman?" she clarified.

"I haven't abandoned you, Natalia," he said. "You have to understand that as a U.S. Marshal, my job will, on occasion, take me away from home. Such as when I have to travel throughout the territory."

"That's not the same, Nicky, and you know it," she pointed out. "You are not on marshal business. This is personal."

"No, it's not," he said.

"There are others who can protect Emma," she said. "Sheriff Bullock and his deputies, for example."

"And they are doing all they can," he said and puffed on his cigar. "Natalia, I made a promise to Olivia and I will see this through until the end."

"What end is that?" she asked.

"Until my brother is either in prison where he belongs or dead," he said and Natalia felt a chill go down her spine.

"In the meantime, our lives are on hold," she said.

"Not really," he said. "Look at all you accomplished this week at the farm."

"That was just busywork," she said. "There is always a lot of work to do and I don't mind it, but you need to be sleeping in our bed and not with that woman."

"I am not sleeping with Olivia Spencer," he said. "And I have no intentions of doing so. Why don't you trust me?"

"I believe you, Nicky and I trust you to keep your word, but why can't you protect Emma while living with me?"

"It's easier to do that when I'm close to her and not miles outside of town," he said with an edge in his voice.

Natalia sighed. "You gave me a beautiful home, Nicky," she said. "But I'm afraid it'll never be a home as long as I'm there all by myself. It's just an empty shell devoid of love and warmth."

He squeezed her hand gently. "Soon, my dear," he said. "Soon."

Natalia sighed again, breathing deeply of the chilly air as they both waited for Rafe's return and the time for them to part again.

"I hope so, Nicky," she said in a whisper. "I can only hope so."

Dan Dority was leaning against the open door of The Gem and puffing on a cigar as he scanned the traffic moving along the thoroughfare. Saturday nights were always the busiest nights of the week since many of the working hoopleheads were off the following day. And when the whores were busy and the liquor was flowing free, his boss was happy and for Dan, that meant he had less aggravation in his life.

Something drew his attention to the street and he saw a long line of torches being carried by men on horseback riding into the gulch.

"Motherfucker," he muttered and quickly walked into the saloon.

"What's up, Dan?" Johnny Burns asked from his position behind the bar.

"My fucking aggravation," he growled and stomped his way up the stairs to throw open Al's door.

"That's a good fucking way to get your fucking throat slit, Dan," Al growled from behind the desk.

Dan shook off the warning. "You may want to see this, boss," he said and strode over to the balcony doors.

Al threw his glasses on the desk and followed, grabbing his coat from the rack.

"What the fuck?" Al asked a moment later as both men watched the column of nearly two dozen men ride into town.

"Looks like that cocksucker Phillip Spaulding hired hisself his own private army." Dan said and chanced a glance at Al. The man's eyes were narrowed and his jaw clenched in anger as they watched Spaulding's progress down the thoroughfare. "Fuckhead must think he's fucking Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon with the pace he's setting," Dan continued. "Want I should take a shot at 'im, Al?"

"No," Al said. "Send Johnny to alert Bullock. Then you and Adams get over the Beacon and warn the marshal. You back his play and you better fucking make sure that Olivia and the little one are not harmed. You got that?"

"Got it, boss," he answered bobbing his head.

"Then fucking go!" Al ordered.

Dan turned on his boot heels and quickly left the office, trying to push past Jewel limping her way down the stairs.

"Get the fuck out of my way, Jewel," he yelled.

"What's your fucking hurry?" the cleaning woman yelled back.

"Just move," he said, finally sliding by her on the landing. "Johnny! Go find Bullock and bring him to the Beacon. Adams, you're with me." He reached behind the bar and grabbed the shotgun stored there. Out of the corner of his eye he noted Adams grabbing the other shotgun from the auxiliary bar.

"Don't you want your dinner?" Jewel shouted from the stairs. Dan ignored her.

"Spaulding's heading for the Beacon," Dan explained as the two men raced down the sidewalk toward the hotel.

"What's the cocksucker want?" Silas asked.

"Fuck if I know," Dan replied. "But Al wants Olivia and her girl kept safe and that's what we need to do."

"All right," Adams said in his laconic way.

Dan eyed the moving column of horse mounted men riding down the thoroughfare, forcing pedestrians and other riders out of their way. Spaulding rode at the head, an insane grin plastered on his pale face. While Dan watched, Spaulding said something to the man riding next to him. The other man laughed as Spaulding kicked his horse into going faster.

"Come on," Dan said, turning down a side street and quickening his pace. "Let's go in the back way so the cocksuckers don't see us."

The kitchen staff of the Beacon's restaurant looked up in startlement as the two armed men burst through the doors. Ignoring the protests of the head chef, they rushed through the kitchen and into the dining room. Dan paused a moment as he scanned the room, first noting Bullock's nigger deputy sitting at the bar and then his gaze focused on Olivia sitting with her daughter and Marshal Aitoro.

Olivia's eyes flashed anger and then fear as he and Adams approached. Dan looked at the marshal and then at Emma and back to Aitoro again.

"Emma, honey," Olivia said and Dan could tell she was trying to control the fear in her voice. "Please go upstairs with Deputy Boudreau."

"But we're still eating, Mommy," the little girl protested.

"I'll have Jane bring your dinner upstairs along with a big piece of almond cake, all right?"

"All right, Mommy," Emma replied and hopped off her chair.

Aitoro motioned over the deputy who quickly walked over and held out his hand for Emma to take. Dan was aware that all attention in the dining room was focused on the exiting pair. While such drama was a regular occurrence at the Gem, he was sure it was rare here among the luxurious elegance of the Beacon.

Olivia turned to Dan and barked, "What the fuck is going on, Dan?"

Before Dan could answer, sounds of a commotion came from the adjourning lobby. "Spaulding," Dan said succinctly and Olivia's face turned white.

"Stay here," Aitoro ordered Olivia.

Dan and Adams followed the marshal to the lobby where Phillip Spaulding and two of his men were trying to get past the Beacon's concierge. To the effeminate cocksucker's credit, he was doing a good job of holding them off.

Phillip noticed their approach and a broad smile broke over his face.

"Ah, it's my brother the bastard," he said to the marshal. "It has been a while, hasn't it, Gus?"

"What are you doing here, Phillip?" Aitoro asked, moving his hand to his sidearm.

Spaulding's eye caught the movement and Dan's grip tightened on the barrel of his shotgun. Then Spaulding's smile widened again as he said, "Why, I'm here to get Emma, of course."

"No fucking way, you son of a bitch!"

Dan groaned inwardly when he realized Olivia had ignored the marshal's simple fucking order.

"Well, hello Olivia," Spaulding drawled, looking at his ex-wife. "Thank you for taking good care of sweet Emma while I was away, but I can take it from here. Please get her for me."

"You don't have custody, Phillip," Aitoro said.

Spaulding turned back to his brother. "Our dear father is speeding his way to the federal court in Illinois as we speak," he said. "So it's only a matter of time before that court grants me the custody. I figured my men and I might as well fetch dear Emma now so we can start to get to know each other."

"Bullshit," Olivia said. "This is Dakota, not Illinois so who gives a fuck?"

"Exactly, Olivia," Spaulding said. "This is the territory of Dakota. And since Emma was born in Illinois and you took her out of the United States without my permission, you violated the terms of the custody agreement."

"That agreement was signed before you became a fugitive so you broke those same terms first, you stupid fuck," Olivia growled.

"Yet now my good name and reputation is restored," Spaulding purred with a satisfied grin and Dan wanted to blast it off the cocksucker's face. "So you see, Olivia," Spaulding continued, "it's only a matter of time before my father and his formidable attorney will convince the federal judge that it is you who is in the wrong and therefore, Emma is mine to have and to hold forever."

Dan watched as Olivia's face blanched as she grasped at Aitoro. "Can he do that?" she asked the marshal.

Aitoro's face seemed set in stone except for the hard clench of his jaw. "With a sufficient amount of gold, I would imagine he can."

"As our dear father races eastward on his valiant quest, the Hills are alive with the sound of clinking gold." Phillip's smirk nearly overtook his face.

The doors of the Beacon flew open letting in a blast of cold air and the three figures of Sheriff Bullock flanked by Charlie Utter and Frank Cooper. Johnny Burns trailed behind them and Dan was glad to see Johnny wasn't armed. The last thing they needed in this powder keg of a lobby was a perpetual spark like Johnny blowing them all to hell.

"What the fuck is going on here?" Bullock barked.

"I've come to get my daughter, Sheriff," Spaulding said and Dan wondered if the man really believed they would allow him to take the little one even with the group of armed cocksuckers he brought with him, or if Spaulding really was insane as the talk in town claimed.

"That's not happening, Phillip," Aitoro said through his teeth. "Emma stays here."

"Sheriff, I want this man off my premises," Olivia said. "He and his men are trespassing."

Bullock turned to Spaulding. "You heard the lady, Mr. Spaulding," he said. "It's time for you to leave."

"I would really like to discuss the genuineness of the term 'lady' as it applies to Olivia Spencer, Sheriff, but I really am growing impatient." Spaulding turned back to Aitoro. "Fuck Olivia all you want, brother, but don't stand between me and my daughter. I give you my word that you will regret it."

"Did you just threaten a U.S. Marshal, Mr. Spaulding?" Bullock asked.

Spaulding slowly turned to face the sheriff. Dan worriedly glanced at Adams who gave a slight shake of his head.

"I don't appreciate you poking your nose into my business, Bullock," Phillip said, his former playful tone gone. "This is the last time I say this – bring me my daughter. Now!"

Dan thought for a moment the windows and doors were going to explode from the built up pressure inside the lobby. Then Bullock quickly stepped forward and with one hand grabbed Spaulding by the ear and twisted. As the blond-haired cocksucker's face squirmed in pain, Bullock deftly removed Spaulding's sidearm from its holster. The two bodyguards moved for their weapons, but in perfect synch, he and Adams raised their shotguns.

"Hold still, you cocksuckers," Dan growled.

"Let me go!" Spaulding cried and Dan rejoiced at the pain in his voice.

"You're under arrest for trespassing, threatening a federal peace officer and disturbing the peace," Bullock hissed. He looked at Spaulding's men. "You assholes will stay out of this if you know what's good for you."

One of the men motioned to the other and then both left the lobby. Bullock handed Spaulding's gun to Utter and then grabbed the squirming man by the upper arm and marched him out of the door, eliciting a grunt of pain. Utter and Cooper, their own hand guns drawn, followed the sheriff.

Outside, Dan saw that the two bodyguards were talking quietly with the other men who had ridden into town with Spaulding. Everyone in the street watched as Bullock led Spaulding to the jail.

"That's a sight I would of paid real gold for," Adams said from beside him.

"You'n me both," Johnny muttered.

"Excuse me, Marshal," Dan said to Aitoro. "You do realize Bullock can't hold that cocksucker long."

"I know," Aitoro replied, not looking at Dan.

"Al's gonna wanna know what Miss Spencer's plans are," Dan persisted.

"While I appreciate your help this evening, I respectfully suggest this is none of Al Swearengen's fucking business." Aitoro turned the full force of his gaze on Dan.

"Gus, it's all right," Olivia said. "Thank you, Dan and tell Al that I'll let him know as soon as I know."

"All right," Dan said with a stern nod. "At least some one around here can recognize when a body puts their life on the fucking line backing the play of an unappreciative cocksucker."

Aitoro simply stared at him.

"Thank Al for sending his men for me, will you Dan?" Olivia asked.

Dan finally tore his gaze away from the marshal and said to Olivia, "Sure. Send word if you need help again and we'll come a-runnin'."

With a signal to Adams and Johnny, they stomped down the sidewalk to the Gem.

"Dan," Johnny said when they were halfway back to the saloon. "I recognize some of those cocksuckers from when Hearst hired 'em."

"Pinkertons," Adam noted.

"Pinkertons," Dan agreed. "Al ain't gonna fuckin' like this development, I'll tell you that."

"Al sure does get irritated when his peace is disturbed, especially by Pinkertons."

"Then I think I'll let you be the one to tell Al they're back in town, Johnny," Dan said and was amused at the look of alarm that washed over Johnny's face.

After Bullock, still leading a cursing Phillip by the ear and followed by the two deputies, disappeared behind the crowd in the thoroughfare, Gus turned to Olivia and said, "It's cold out here, we better get inside."

Olivia nodded and together they entered the hotel.

Gregory was nervously standing by the concierge's stand. "I'm so sorry, Miss Spencer," he stuttered. "But the three of them were inside before I could stop them."

"It's all right," she said. "You did fine and fortunately no one was hurt."

"I don't think we've seen the last of him," Gregory said.

"No," Olivia said darkly. "Gregory, please have Emma's meal sent up to her and whatever sweet Chef has on hand tonight."

"Right away, Miss Spencer," he replied and Olivia suspected he was happy to have a task to do.

"I need a drink," she said to Gus and walked purposefully into the dining room and up to the bar. Without a word, the bartender put a bottle of the Beacon's finest scotch and two shot glasses in front of them. Gus uncorked the bottle and poured.

Olivia closed her eyes and took a drink. The smooth liquor slid down her throat warming her, but not entirely abating the cold fear the encounter with Phillip had caused. She breathed out a heavy sigh and said, "If Alan returns with a warrant as my fucking ex-husband has threatened, will we have to turn Emma over to them?"

"Yes," he said through his teeth. "As a U.S. Marshal, I am duty-bound to uphold a federal court ruling."

"Duty-bound," she repeated and ran a hand through her hair. "I have to take Emma and leave Deadwood, don't I?"

Gus was quiet for a moment. "Maybe it would be best, just for a while," he said. "With Phillip able to come and go as he pleases, it might be a good idea to stay away from him. To put Emma as far away from the reach of the Spauldings as possible."

Olivia felt tears track slow progress down her cheeks and she wiped it away angrily. She had worked so fucking hard to build a life for her and her daughters here in Deadwood. It was just so Goddamned unfair.

"Where will you go?" Gus asked quietly.

She took a deep breath. "New Orleans," she answered. "Ava is already there and if I need to, I can book passage to San Cristobal. I still have plenty of contacts there who can help us disappear."

"I'm going with you," Gus said.

Olivia stared at him in shock. "To New Orleans?"

"No." He shook his head. "Only as far as Yankton so I can see you and Emma safely out of the territory. I'll arrange to have a deputy marshal from Missouri meet your steamer. You and Emma will have protection all the way to New Orleans."

"What about Natalia?" Olivia asked. "She's not going to like this development."

"No, but it doesn't matter," he answered. "She's the wife of a U.S. Marshal and she'll have to learn to live with it."

Gus poured them a second drink as the tears continued to stream down her face.

While Dan recounted the events of the night, Al sat quietly at his desk, a toothpick rolling languidly around in his mouth.

"So what do you think Olivia's gonna do, Al?" Dan concluded his tale with a question.

"Where are Spaulding's hired cocksuckers now?" he returned.

Dan shifted in his chair. "Couple of 'em headed over to Utter's and are just standing about in the cold," he answered. "Rest of 'em headed out of town, my guess is they're going back to Spaulding's ranch."

Al nodded thoughtfully. "Have Davy keep an eye on the jail," he ordered. "Spaulding's gonna be sporting a massive case of pissed off when Bullock releases him. His next move will, I strongly suspect, be violent."

"All right, Al," Dan said and left him to his thoughts.

"Fucking Pinkertons," Al muttered to himself.

Natalia glanced over at her unexpected guest sleeping in Rafe's bed. Earlier, she had found Jane Cannary lying on the ground near the duck pond in a drunken stupor, one booted foot tied to a rope attached to the saddle horn of her grazing horse. Together, she and Richardson had managed to get Jane to the house and up the stairs, Jane muttering profanities the entire way.

After sending Richardson to Deadwood to let Joanie Stubbs know her partner was safe, Natalia had stripped the filthy clothes from her unconscious friend and then gently bathed her. She had then gone about her day's chores to allow the drunken woman to sleep it off.

Now, late in the evening, Natalia sat in the chair reading a book and occasionally sipping from a mug of tea. Her eyebrows rose as Jane stirred, rolling over in the narrow bed and letting out a dry cough.

"Good evening, Jane," Natalia said and put her book aside as she stood up. She placed a hand against Jane's forehead. The woman was slightly warm, but not feverish. Natalia was relieved the woman had not suffered much from her exposure the night before.

Jane cracked open one eye. The irises in the pale orbs were moving in an attempt to focus on her. "Natalia," she rasped, then violently cleared her throat. "Where the fuck am I?"

"At my house, outside of town," she answered.

Jane groaned as she rolled over and attempted to sit up. Natalia used a gentle hand to help her. "Thank you," Jane whispered and settled back against the headboard. She peeked under the blanket covering her. "I'm assuming from my present decrepit and disrobed state that you discovered me drunk, dragged my sorry carcass here and cleaned me up."

"Precisely right," Natalia said. "I take it this is not an unusual occurrence?"

Jane snorted. "Not for me," she answered. "Regular fucking affliction of the drunkard, although, more often than not, I land in the hands of cocksuckers not inclined to do me a kindness. So I thank you for that."

Natalia frowned. Life was hard enough, especially for women, without having to suffer abuse afflicted on themselves through their own self-depredations.

"Not to sound ungrateful," Jane continued, "but where are my fucking clothes?"

"They're still a little damp from being laundered," Natalia said. She moved over to the side table where she had left a covered bowl draped with a cozy to keep warm. "Here, drink this," she said, handing it to Jane who took it with shaking hands.

"I'm not much one for tea, if that's what this is," Jane said. "Coffee being my drink of choice after hard liquor of course."

"It's beef broth," Natalia said. "I don't think you've eaten for a while and this shouldn't upset your stomach."

Jane sniffed at the bowl tentatively, and then took a small sip. Her eyes closed in appreciation. "Yet again, I have to offer you my fucking gratitude."

"It's all right, Jane," she said and returned to her seat. "We're friends and I want you to know that you are welcome here any time. Joanie, too."

"Never had many women friends," Jane said. "Other than Joanie, that is."

"Yes, but that's different though, isn't it?"

Jane eyed her for a moment and then took a deep sip of her broth. "I suppose you're right on that point." She shrugged. "As a general observation, and this is in no way a judgment on your character, fuck knows a drunken invert such as myself is certainly in no fucking position to judge, but prior to our formal introduction by that cocksucker Charlie Utter, who can, on rare occasion, show a level of astuteness bordering on genius in that regard, it was previously my general opinion, based on various talk by ignorant cocksuckers in town, that you were a pious and God-fearing woman who was living out a life of repentance due to the youthful sin of bearing a bastard out of wedlock." Natalia's eyebrows rose and she blinked at her friend who continued. "Now that our acquaintance has, as you previously mentioned, moved into the realm of friendship, I find you are not of such beliefs and are indeed, of an ilk of the more open-minded."

Natalia smiled. "Mr. Utter isn't the only one with an aptitude for astuteness, Jane, as I believe your observation is not general at all." She paused in thought for a moment, looking out the darkened window. "My parents expected my sisters and me to be dutiful, God-fearing wives and mothers. And growing up, that's what I expected my life to be. Until I met Nicky." She glanced at Jane. "Gus," she added, remembering how her husband had, in his anger, demanded to be called the name he was known as to the rest of the community. Nicky Augustino, the young man she had been so in love with, had been replaced by Gus Aitoro. She had always imagined her life with Nicky, but for the first time, she realized she had no idea how her life would be with Gus and she felt a stab of fear and apprehension.

"The marshal," Jane clarified.

She nodded. "He was Nicolas Augustino in Chicago," she said. "I've always called him Nicky, even after learning he was Gus Aitoro now."

Jane shifted in the bed. "From what I've observed, he's a good man."

"He is," Natalia smiled, warmth filling her heart. "It was my love for Gus that changed everything for me. I lost my home, my family, my heritage, but in return I gained the greatest gift I could ever imagine – my son Rafael. I wouldn't change that for anything." She took a deep breath. "So after going through all that, Jane, I would never judge anyone else for love, no matter what people think they have against it."

Jane eyed her. "So in effect, what you're trying to say is 'fuck society'?"

Natalia burst into happy laughter. "Why, I believe I am, Jane. Fuck society."

"A sentiment I am in complete and utter agreement of." She paused and then asked hopefully, "Got anything to drink?"

Natalia chuckled as she stood up, shaking her head. "Finish your broth and get some sleep, Jane. I'll see you in the morning." Still chuckling, she closed the door behind her.

In the morning, Jane was up before her. Natalia found her friend in the barn, dressed and currying her horse as she cursed at a cowering Richardson.

"Good morning," she said in greeting.

"Mornin'" Jane mumbled.

"Good morning, Miz Aitoro," Richardson said.

"Richardson, will you saddle Píme after breakfast, please?" Natalia asked. "I feel like riding to church today while the weather is still nice."

"Yes, Miz Aitoro," he said and cast a nervous glance at Jane who was standing between him and Natalia's gelding.

"Have you checked on the chickens yet?" she asked, giving him an out.

"No, ma'am," he said and sidled past Jane. "I'll go do that."

Jane shook her head. "Most men in this fucking town are useless," she said, giving her horse a final swipe of the brush. Natalia was about to reply to that when Jane added, "I was fixing to ride into town with you, but it looks like your husband wants the courtesy of escorting you this morning. So I reckon I'll be on my fucking way." She jutted her chin and Natalia turned to see Gus riding toward them.

"Will you stay for breakfast first?" she asked her guest.

"No, that's all right," Jane said as she saddled the horse. She smiled bashfully. "After our conversation last night, I'm feeling rather eager to making Miss Stubbs's re-acquaintance."

"I understand," Natalia said with a smile. "Remember that you're both welcome here anytime and come soon for supper when you've a night free. I'd enjoy the company."

"I'll let Joanie know," Jane said and led her horse outside with Natalia following. "Thanks again for…well, for everything."

"You're welcome, Jane."

Natalia watched as the rough woman mounted her horse and with a wave of her feathered hat, rode off. As she passed the marshal, she nodded her head and then kicked her horse into a trot.

Gus pulled up near her and swung down from his saddle, looping the reins over the hitching post. "Richardson around?" he asked.

"In the henhouse," she answered and then felt herself wrapped in a warm embrace. After a few moments of kissing her, he pulled away. "Is there fresh coffee?"

She blinked up at him, breathless from his kisses. "Uh, sure," she finally answered. "Come inside."

"What was Jane doing here?" he asked as they walked to the house.

"Sleeping off a drunk," she answered. "I let her stay in Rafe's room."

He frowned. "Do you really think that's proper, Natalia?"

"I wasn't about to let her freeze to death, Gus," she said, annoyed.

"Of course not," he said. "All I meant was she could have stayed in the barn with Richardson, not in the house."

She eyed him as he opened the door and held it open for her. "She's my friend, Gus," she said. "Not a hired hand like Richardson or an animal."

"Natalia, Jane Cannary is…"

"I know what she is, Gus!" she snapped, turning her back and entering the house.

He followed her inside. "I don't think that's the type of woman you should be associating with now that you're a married woman."

"Excuse me?" she said, crossing her arms and glaring at him.

He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look, Natalia, Deadwood is still a wild town, but it has a social hierarchy that we, me as the marshal for the Dakota Territory and you, as my wife and mother of our child, must fit in. You should be associating with respectable women such as Vanessa Chamberlain and Alma Garret, not Sapphists like Joanie Stubbs and Jane."

"I don't care what people think, Gus," she said.

"Well, I do, and as your husband I say that it's no longer proper for you to associate with such people."

"Is that right?" she asked.

"Yes, that's right," Gus said with an emphatic nod and Natalia could tell that in his mind, the matter was closed. Just as she was about to tear into him, he held up a hand and said. "Look, I didn't come here to fight with you, Natalia. I have to leave for Yankton tomorrow and I was hoping we could spend the day together."

She looked at him, her confused mind trying to catch up with the abrupt change of subject. Then she felt her stomach lurch. "But you just got back from there," she said. "You said you wouldn't have to go again for some months."

"Phillip Spaulding showed up in town last night demanding custody of Emma," he said.

"Is she all right?" she asked, her first thought being for the charming little girl.

"Yes, she's fine for the moment," he said and then related to her the events of the night before, ending with the news that Phillip had already been released from jail and had returned to the Spaulding ranch. As Natalia listened, her anger grew as she realized that once again Olivia Spencer was getting between her and her husband.

"Why does it have to be you?" she said, starting to pace around the kitchen. "I don't believe this, Gus. You're going to New Orleans with Olivia fucking Spencer?"

Gus took a deep breath. "I am escorting a child and her frightened mother, both of whom are being threatened by a madman, to the edge of the territory. As U.S. Marshal for Dakota, this falls within the purview of my duties. I would be required to do the same thing for anyone else and you damn well know it, too. Why do you have such a problem simply because it's Olivia Spencer?"

"Because she wants you, Gus!" Natalia hissed. "And if you think she'll let you leave her in Yankton, you're a fool. She'll find some excuse; make up some imaginary threat to get you to go all the way to New Orleans with her."

"I've already sent a telegram to the marshal in Missouri," Gus said. "He's agreed to meet us in Yankton where he'll take over the job of protecting them."

She looked at him. "Don't do this, Gus," she said, appalled to feel tears swelling in her eyes. "Don't abandon us again."

"I am not abandoning you, Natalia," he said loudly, slamming his hand angrily on the wooden table. Natalia jumped.

"Yes, you are!" she shrieked back, grateful for the anger that pushed back the tears. "You're leaving us just like you did in Chicago."

"I am not! Natalia…" he started, but she cut him off.

"No! I don't want to hear it, Gus," she said and then strode to the door and flung it open. "You know what? Just fucking go. Rafe and I did perfectly fine without for you for years and we will again. So just go be with the town whore and fuck her every night if that's what you want."

"Natalia, I told you…"

Again she stopped him. "I'm tired of hearing it."

With that she turned her back on him and ran to the barn where a nervous Richardson, who obviously had heard the yelling, was holding Píme's reins. She grabbed them from his shaking hands and leapt into the saddle, riding off into the hills away from her cheating husband.

It was near dark by the time she returned to the farmhouse to find her son chopping wood with Richardson stacking the cut logs. As she dismounted Píme and handed the reins to Richardson, he set down the axe and picked up his shirt.

"You shouldn't be out here in just your long underwear and trousers, Rafael," she scolded. "It's too cold."

"Yes, Mama," he said with a smirk and leaned in to kiss her cheek. "Good evening, Mama."

She rolled her eyes. "Thank you for doing this on your only day of rest, mi hijo."

"It's no problem, Mama," he said. "I enjoy the exercise."

She chuckled as he manfully flexed his muscles. "You're filling out nicely, Rafe," she said, once again content that the sickliness which had plagued him as a child was left behind.

"I missed you at church," he said as they walked to the house. "Gus had sent me word last night that he would come get you this morning."

Her jaw hardened at the mention of her husband. "I decided to go for a long ride instead," she said. "Now go and get cleaned up and I'll fix us something to eat."

"All right," he said, always eager for her cooking.

As Natalia feared, over dinner Rafe, asked again about his father. "Did Gus come out to see you?"

"He did," she answered, then inwardly sighed before adding, "Rafe, Gus is going to Yankton tomorrow."

"Really?" he asked, shoving a hunk of bread in his mouth. "Marshal business?"

"Yes," she said gritting her teeth.

Despite his concentration on his dinner, Rafe noticed. "Mama? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she evaded, standing up to bring her half-eaten meal to the waste bin.

"Mama, what's going on?" he said, putting down his fork. "Wait, does this have anything to do with Olivia Spencer? I heard there was trouble at the Beacon last night."

She kept her back to her son, concentrating on putting the leftover food away. A moment later, Rafe put his hand on her shoulder. "Mama? Please, tell me."

She sighed. "Yes, it does," she finally answered. "He's escorting her and Emma to Yankton to protect them from your uncle Phillip."

Rafe was quiet as he thought about that. "Well, that's his job isn't it?" She looked him to see him scratching his nose. "But you think there's more? That something's going on. Is that it, Mama?"

"Rafe, your father is a good man," she said.

"Yes, but she's not a good woman," he said his eyes flashing in anger. "I've heard the things people in town say about her. About how she steals other women's husbands and spreads her legs for any cocksucker with a big prick and an even bigger wallet."

"Rafe!" she admonished. "Watch your language, young man."

"I'm sorry, Mama, but it's true, isn't it?" he said, breathing heavily. "You said before that she tried to keep you and Gus from marrying, and now they're going all the way to Yankton together? Seems to me that she'll have plenty of opportunity to lure him into temptation, good man or not."

Natalia felt a stab of pride as she realized that despite his youth, she had not raised him to be a fool. Her son's rationalizations were on par with her own. "I think so, too."

"So you're just going to let him go?" he asked.

"I can't stop him, mi hijo," she said mournfully. "Like you said, it's his duty to protect the innocent and despite her mother, Emma needs protecting."

Rafe ran the fingers of both hands through his hair. "This is so not right, Mama," he said angrily. "That woman is hurting our family."

"I know, Rafael," she agreed. "But we'll just have to have faith that God's will is in our favor and, if we're patient, He'll bless us with the happiness I know we so deserve."

He stared at her. "Sometimes, I think God's will never makes any sense to us mere humans."

She smiled ruefully. "Me too, mi hijo," she said. "Me too."

After sending Rafe back to Deadwood with the leftover food, Natalia retired to bed with a book. She intended on immersing herself in Emily Brontë. It had been years since she had read Wuthering Heights and the pondering crags and valleys of the novel's setting reminded her of the geography of the Black Hills. However, this night, the upsetting and high emotions of the day took its toll on her body and she fell into an exhausted, yet troubled, sleep before she could finish a page.

She was floating down the hallway toward a menacing darkly-stained door. She recognized the tasteful wall paper lining the walls as her own, but the bedroom door loomed ominously over her, growing taller and taller the closer she got. She could hear voices, a man's deep baritone and a woman's lighter, but husky, alto.

Natalia felt her hand reaching for the door knob and she shook her head in denial, desperately fighting the urge to open the door. She knew what was behind it. This was her own wedding night, only instead of Natalia foiling Olivia's plan, she had failed and Olivia had succeeded in her nefarious scheme of seducing Gus.

"No," she whispered in horror as the door opened on its own accord and she was helplessly swept forward.

The room was sensuously lit with soft flickering candles, the amber glow highlighting the slick flesh of the couple entangled together on the bed. The room was also filled with the pungent aroma of the primeval essence of life. Natalia recognized Gus's chemical combination of masculine sweat and spunk, but mingled with that was a heady mix of something else. Something lighter, yet no less tantalizing to her senses. It reminded her of her own flavor when she kissed Gus after he gave her oral pleasure. It was a blend of alchemy designed to entice and conquer. It was…

"Olivia," Gus moaned and Natalia felt a stab of jealousy shoot through her.

She watched as Olivia sat up, wrapping her legs around Gus and positioning herself in the man's lap. Natalia recognized the position when she and Gus had made love that way on their wedding night. Will make love that way. Natalia shook her head in confusion, not knowing what was reality and what fantasy.

Olivia leaned back to allow Gus access to her voluptuous breasts. Gus eagerly paid homage to them, taking first one nipple in his mouth, then the other.

"Oh yes," Olivia moaned and Natalia felt the sound reverberate through her core, the edges of her vision clouding with desire.

In slow motion, Olivia's head rolled around and her vibrant green eyes fastened on Natalia's. The smoldering look stole the breath from Natalia's lungs.

"Mine," Olivia husked, a smirk forming on her plump lips.

"No," Natalia said. Olivia didn't belong with Gus.


"No," Natalia repeated, reaching a hand to touch Gus's shoulder. "You're…"


Natalia felt the world shift as she found her mouth filled with Olivia's succulent nipple. Instinctively, she bit down on the lush morsel.

"Yes!" Olivia cried in pleasure, her arching back pushing her further into Natalia's craving mouth.

As she administered to Olivia's perfect breasts, Natalia's mind barely registered her own body, the hard muscles and wiry hair of her chest pressing against Olivia's curvaceous torso fueling her lust. She scratched her mouth over Olivia's pale flesh with the roughness of her upper lip as the writhing woman clasped to her ran hands through her short hair. And the throbbing hardness between them made Natalia's head swim.

"Olivia," she croaked in her thick, deep voice. "I need…"

Olivia looked down, the smirk still playing on her lips. "I know what you need," she rasped. "I need it, too."

Natalia's felt as if she would pass out as Olivia expertly guided herself onto Natalia and began to move. She clasped Olivia tighter to herself, trying, but unable, to capture those wicked lips with her own. She needed those lips. She had spent a lifetime waiting for those lips and if she was denied them any longer, she would die.

As her frustration grew, she could hear Olivia chanting her name, but she wasn't sure what the words meant or who or what she was.





"Miz Aitoro!"

Natalia jerked upright in her bed, her heart pounding, her entire body throbbing and her woolen shift soaked and clinging to her skin. She looked around the room, but the afterimage of those vivacious green eyes filled her with bewilderment.

"Miz Aitoro!" The panic in Richardson's voice sent her running for the balcony doors.

"What's wrong?" she called down.

"Look!" He pointed toward the town.

Natalia looked at the amber glow demonically dancing among the hills and felt a surge of fright as memories of a horrible night nine years ago when her and Rafe had both nearly died flooded her sleep addled consciousness.

Deadwood was on fire.

Gus looked up as the door to Utter's Freight office opened and his son determinedly strode through it and up to the desk he was sitting behind.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Rafe demanded, hands on his hips, his spiky hair pointing in several directions. The aroma of horseflesh and cold air that followed his son into the office told Gus that Rafe had probably just come from the farmstead and he had ridden hard.

Charlie Utter, who was reclining with his feet propped against some boxes coughed awkwardly and stood up. "I'll…uh, I'll just go check on that…uh." He coughed again. "Thing," he finished lamely.

Gus nodded and waited until Charlie had left, softly closing the door Rafe had left open behind him. "You will speak to your father in a tone of respect, Rafael," he finally said, moving around the desk and glaring at his son.

"Respect?" Rafe railed, waving his arms. "Where's your respect for my mother?"

"And you think this behavior is showing your mother respect?" Gus asked feeling the anger he had kept in check since his argument with Natalia flare to the surface. He and Rafe had made great strides lately, but the rocky start of their relationship, which had been helplessly entangled with the unraveling of his marriage to Harley which meant any reminder of that time, such as the behavior Rafe was displaying now, put him on edge.

"This is not about me, Gus," Rafe said, his voice rising. "This is about you finally showing your true cocksucking colors and leaving my mother for that cunt Olivia Spencer."

Gus's right arm swung violently in an arc that ended with his fist connecting solidly with his son's jaw.

Rafe barely kept himself from falling to the floor, catching himself on the shipping crate next to him. Gus waited, his vision a red haze and his fists clenched at his side. His breathing was fast, but controlled. He had never struck his son before. He had only ever punished his step-sons when they deserved it and certainly not with the anger that possessed him now.

Rafe moved one hand to his mouth and grimaced as it came away bloody. "Son of a bitch," he swore.

"Yes," Gus agreed and relaxed imperceptibly when he realized Rafe wasn't going to attack. "Now, you listen to me, boy," he began. "Like it or not, and I'm sure there will be more fucking days of the latter than the former, I am your father. Your mother taught you right from wrong and that includes respecting your parents, your elders and your betters and that Goddamn well includes Olivia Spencer."

"Gus, no! She's a…" Rafe's jaw clamped shut with a snap at Gus's warning look.

"She is your family, Rafe," he said. "You share blood with her through Emma and that, if nothing else makes her worthy of your respect."

"I also share blood with Grandpa Alan," Rafe pointed out and inwardly Gus had to concede his son had a point. "I never see you kissing his ass."

"That's because I am an adult and until you are, you will show him respect a grandfather deserves, even if he hasn't fucking earned it. " Gus took another deep breath. "As for Olivia, while some in this town may question her morals and business ethics, she is fundamentally a good person and I say you will not speak or think such things about her. Understand me?"

"What if I don't agree?"

"Too fucking bad," he answered. "You make your own judgments when you have earned the right to do so. Until then, you'll do as I say."

Rafe's jaw worked for a moment, and then he leaned over and spat a bloody wad into the spittoon. "All right," he finally said and Gus could hear the acceptance in his voice. Gus suspected Rafe had decided to bide his time – it's what he would have done when he was Rafe's age – and he knew that he and his son would undoubtedly repeat this conversation in the near future. "May I inquire as to your intentions toward my mother? I think it not unreasonable to know if you shall honor your obligation to her."

"You may inquire," he said conceded with a nod. "Yes, I have every intent on fulfilling the promises I made to her." Then he added, "To you as well, Rafael."

Rafe shook his head. "I don't need anything," he said. "She's the one who deserves all you can give her. Mama sacrificed so much for me. You have no idea what she went through day in and day out to give me a halfway decent life."

"I know, Rafe," he said softly. "I look at you and I can see her. Everything that is pure and good and strong in you is all Natalia."

Rafe smirked. "And the fucked up part of me is all you, I suppose?"

Gus had to bite back a bark of laughter. He was about to speak when there was a shout from outside. The two of them looked at each other and then ran for the door. Rafe followed him down the stairs that ran along the outside of the building to the confusion moiling in the thoroughfare.

Charlie Utter was waiting for them. "Fire over on Wall Street, Marshal," he said. "Harry Manning is mustering the brigade. We gotta go."

Gus looked in the direction of Charlie was pointing and then turned toward the Beacon. He could see the fire's reflection off the side of the hotel and knew it was in danger if the fire spread. He was torn between the two, knowing that Olivia needed him, but without every man available to fight the fire, Deadwood could burn to the ground by morning. Then he spotted Deputy Cooper and ran into the street to intercept him.


Frank violently reined in his horse. "Marshal," he said. "Sheriff Bullock told me to join Remy guarding Emma in case this is a diversionary tactic. He wants us to bring her and Olivia to where Missus Bullock and the other women and children are gathering and stay with them."

"All right, go," Gus said, immediately seeing the sense in Bullock's plan. Harry Manning had drilled into the townsfolk the necessity of getting as far away from a fire as possible and so far it had saved lives. The more people around Olivia and Emma, the safer they would be if Phillip had set the fire. And if he had, then he was crazier than Gus had thought. Arson was not only a capital crime, but it was likely to get him hanged by an angry mob. The people of Deadwood did not take kindly to anyone threatening their homes and livelihoods. He turned to Rafe. "Get to the livery," he ordered.

"But Gus…"

"No!" he snapped. "Your responsibility is to Fields and seeing the horses to safety. He needs you, so go."

Rafe hesitated a moment and then with a nod, took off at a run.

"Come on, Charlie," he said and together they headed toward the quickly spreading fire.

The moment Olivia had heard the fire alarm she felt a jolt of mindless panic. The fire of last year that had nearly destroyed the entire town was still fresh in the minds of Deadwood's residents and Olivia had nearly lost her hotel and, most importantly, her eldest daughter.

However, after that flitting instant, Olivia forced herself to calm down. After dressing herself in her riding leathers, she strode quickly to Emma's room and shook the sleeping girl.

"Emma, honey," she said. "Wake up, Jellybean."

"Mommy?" the little girl said, rubbing her eyes.

"Please hurry, Emma," she said, grabbing her daughter's clothing and dropping them on the bed. "Get dressed. I'm going to get Jane."

Outside her suite, Remy remained on guard. "Gregory's alerting the guests," he said.

"Good," she said. "Don't you dare let Emma out of your sight. Got it?"

"No, ma'am," he said.

Olivia ran to Jane's room and pounded on the governess's door until the confused woman opened it. "Fire," she said succinctly and Jane's white face paled even more. "Help Emma get dressed and meet me in the lobby right away."

"Yes, Miss Spencer," the girl answered and hurried toward Emma's room.

Olivia raced down the stairs and found Gregory directing guests out of the hotel. "Send someone to get my horse," she ordered, then ran to get her gun belt from the office while Gregory grabbed one of the bellmen to do her bidding.

"Olivia!" she heard when she returned to the lobby. Frank Cooper was there waiting for her.

"Frank," she said. "Remy's upstairs."

"Good," he said. "Bullock says to get you and the little one to the meeting spot."

"Jane's getting her ready," she paused to give him a pleading look. "I need to make sure the Beacon is safe first. Please keep my little girl safe, Frank."

"I will," he promised.

Outside, the cold night air was filled with the shouts of people running to and from the fire. Olivia looked and could see that two of the buildings on the block adjacent to the Beacon were engulfed in flames. As she watched, one of them collapsed in on itself with a roar. Harry Manning was leading the brace of horses pulling the steam-powered fire wagon, while the rest of the volunteer firefighters had formed a bucket brigade. Olivia noted that Gus was at the head of the line. She could see his muscles rippling as he tossed another bucketful of water on the fire and grabbed another from Charlie Utter standing behind him.


Olivia turned to find her daughter dressed and bundled in her warmest coat and holding her governess's hand. Standing behind them were the two deputies. Emma glanced toward the burning buildings and her bottom lip started to quiver.

Olivia kneeled down in front of her daughter and gently turned her face away from the fire. "Emma, honey," she said. "Don't be afraid, okay?"

Emma nodded her head shakily.

"I want you to go with Jane and Deputy Frank and Deputy Remy, okay?" she asked.

"Where, Mommy?"

"Over to where the women and children are waiting until the fire is put out," she answered. "Your classmates will be there, okay?"

"Aren't you coming, Mommy?" Emma asked.

"Yes, I'll be following right behind you as quickly as I can," she answered. "I just need to make sure all of the Beacon's guests are safe. Okay?"

"Okay, Mommy."

She stood up and said to the lawmen. "Take good care of her."

"Of course, Miss Spencer," Remy said and Frank nodded his agreement.

Olivia watched as the small group headed for the creek, then looked at the fire fighter's progress. Manning had the steamer running and the bucket handlers had shifted to allow him and his men access to the building. Steam began to mix with the smoke as water from the pump started to pour on. She looked up and could see burning embers and sparks riding the thermal currents generated by the flames dancing dangerously close to her hotel.

She was relieved when Mose Manual rode up to the hotel and for such a big man, nimbly jumped off. She noted he was sweating despite the cold air.

"Come on," she ordered after he had tied his horse next to hers. He silently followed her inside. "Is everyone out?" she asked her concierge.

"Yes, Miss Spencer," he answered.

"Good." Then she headed for the stairs and motioned for them to follow. "You boys come with me."

After the last big fire, she had a cistern installed on the roof of the hotel, which supplied the hotel's water closets, but now would help save the building. There was a thin skim of icy crust covering the surface, but they easily broke through it with the buckets. Together the three of them spread water over the roof of the hotel and put out any stray embers before they could alight the tar-covered planks.

After what seemed an eternity, she finally noticed a change in the light and realized Manning and his crew had the fire next door beaten back. From the edge of her roof, she watched as the firemen began to pull down the still smoldering walls. She spied Gus, his upper torso stripped down to his soot-stained underwear, working alongside the sheriff and fire marshal.

"I think they've got it under control," she said trying to catch her breath. Her hands were freezing and she could see they were reddened and cracked from the icy water. She ignored the discomfort and turned to Gregory. "Stay here and keep an eye on the fire just in case it flares up again."

"Of course," he said.

"Good job tonight, Greg," she said, putting a hand on his forearm. "Thank you. When they're finished, please open the bar for Harry and his men." She turned to Mose. "Come with me. I need Emma."

Leaving the hotel in Gregory's capable hands, she and Mose went outside where their horses were waiting for them. She spent a moment calming her mare, then stepped into Mose's waiting hands and settled into the saddle. After he handed her a flaming torch, he took another for himself and mounted his own horse, the mount looking incongruously small under the big man's ponderous bulk. The two of them set off at a quick trot through the still chaotic thoroughfare toward the creek.

Soon after crossing, they came upon Martha Bullock leading the column of townsfolk returning to the town.

"Mrs. Bullock," she called, reining in her horse. "Where's Emma?"

"Down the line, Miss Spencer," the school teacher answered. "She had trouble with her boots and they fell behind. The two deputies and her governess are with her."

"Thank you," Olivia said and rode on, sighing at her daughter's apparent willfulness. Recently, Emma had learned to tie her own shoes and since had insisted on doing it herself without any help from anyone, even her own mother. Olivia had no doubt that her daughter's stubbornness was what had delayed them.

As they rode past the end of the line and the few stragglers, without seeing her daughter, Olivia's apprehension began to rise. By the time they reached the woods near the rim of the gulch, she was nearly panicking.

"Mose!" she cried helplessly.

The big watchman looked around the darkness, his torch held high.

Then they both heard the sound of someone moaning in pain.

"This way," Mose said and spurred his horse, Olivia following on his heels.

She could smell the carnage in the clearing before the light from their torches illuminated the scene. The first thing Olivia saw was Jane. The governess was lying on her back, her eyes staring sightlessly at the unforgiving sky. Her plain coat was drenched in the blood that had gushed from the gaping wound that ran across the width of her pale neck.

She heard a creaking noise and looked up just as Mose jumped off his horse and ran toward the sound. Hanging by the neck from a pine tree, Deputy Boudreau's lifeless face was swollen grotesquely and bore signs of the savage beating he had received before being strung up.

"Oh God," she prayed in a whisper. "Please don't have let Emma see that."

Mose cut the deputy down as Olivia searched the rest of the clearing. Lying in a crumbled heap, she finally found Frank Cooper.

"Frank!" she said, jumping off the horse.

The deputy moaned again. His scalp was torn open and blood was still running from it. She pulled open his coat and then tore off a scrap from his linen shirt, folding it over to form a compress.

"What happened, Frank," she demanded the groggy deputy. "Where's Emma?"

Frank groaned his answer and impatiently she shook his shoulder causing him more distress, but she had no time for his pain. Her daughter was missing. "Frank," she said again, the volume of her voice causing him to wince. "Emma! You were supposed to protect Emma."

"Spaulding," he croaked, just as Mose joined them. She glanced at her watchman and he cut his eyes to where Remy was lying and then shook his head. Olivia felt another stab of pain in her heart, but then returned her attention to Frank.

"Where did he take her?" she asked.

"They jumped us," Frank whispered. "Too many. Remy…"

"Frank, which way did they go?"

"Don't…don't know," he said.

Olivia shook him again, but he had once again fallen unconscious. After tying the makeshift bandage securely to his head, she and Mose both stood up to search the clearing, their torches held close to the churned up dirt.

"Here!" Mose finally said.

Olivia looked and saw the majority of the hoof prints leading off directly toward the Spaulding Ranch. She suspected that Phillip was going to stop there before taking off with their daughter. She didn't have any time to waste.

"Take Frank to Doc Bauer," she ordered, mounting her horse. "Then find Gus and Bullock and tell them what happened.

"Ain't you coming?"

"No," she said, her jaw clenched. "I'm going to get my daughter."

"But Miss Spencer…"

"The quicker you go, Mose, the faster you can get help." Without any further argument, she kicked her horse in the direction of the retreating tracks.

Toward Emma.

Having declined the free drinks flowing freely at the Beacon's bar, Gus and Bullock spent a few minutes examining the burned rubble. They quickly determined from the overbearing stink of kerosene oil filling the sooty air, that the fire had been deliberately set.

"Why burn a grain and feed office?" Bullock asked. "It's clearly arson, so it wasn't for the insurance money."

"Maybe another business was the intended target," Gus said, looking across the street at the bulk of the Beacon Hotel.

"Then why not set fire directly to the hotel?"

"Would you, if your daughter was sleeping inside?" Gus asked in return.

Bullock's dark eyes glittered at him. "There's nothing more we can do here. I'm going to go make sure Mrs. Bullock and our girl's all right."

Gus nodded. "I think I'm going to take a ride out to the ranch."

"You won't wait until morning?"

"No," he shook his head. "If Phillip did this, I don't want to miss any evidence being destroyed by morning."

"All right," Bullock said. "Charlie and I will meet you at the livery shortly."

"Sure," Gus said and they parted ways.

After stopping at the jail and grabbing a rifle, he walked swiftly to the livery. The horses were still agitated from the stink of smoke still in the cold air and Rafe and Fields had their hands full in calming them down. With just a nod to them, he set about saddling his own horse. He had just mounted and was waiting for the other lawmen when he heard his name being frantically called.

"Mose?" he asked, eyeing the big man and his straining horse with concern.

"Emma," Mose started and then stopped to breathe.

"What about Emma?"

"Kidnapped," Mose finally got out. "The governess and Deputy Boudreau are dead and I just took Deputy Cooper to the doc's. He's hurt bad."

"Where's Olivia?" he asked.

"Gone after her daughter," Mose said. "The tracks left behind by those cocksucking reprobates lead straight to the Spaulding ranch."

"Oh God," Gus whispered, trying to think. "Wait here for Bullock. He should be here any minute. Tell him what happened and to send help as soon as he can."

"Where are you going?"

"To stop Olivia before she does something stupid." He kicked his heels against his horse and quickly left Mose behind.

One moment, she was racing along the darkened trail, the next Olivia was flying through the air as her mare suddenly dropped out from under her. White hot pain filled her as she crashed heavily against the ground. There was a sickening wet pop in her shoulder and her vision grayed out for a few moments. Then she realized she was staring at the icy stars above her as a chilling voice reached out to her from the darkness.

"Ohhhhh…livia!" Phillip's nauseating singsong churned through her abdomen.

Then came the sharp report of gunfire and the dirt kicked up beside her head, dry particles stinging her eyes.

"Fuck," she cried. Ignoring the pain in her shoulder, she scrambled though the dirt and took cover behind the body of her horse.

"Give me my daughter back, you fucking cocksucker!" she yelled as she tried to pull her gun from its holster. "Motherfucker," she whispered, nearly weeping because she couldn't reach it with the hand dangling uselessly because of her dislocated shoulder. Finally, she unbuckled the belt and was able to pull the gun free with her left hand.

"She's my daughter too, Olivia," Phillip called out.

Olivia cocked her pistol and fired off a shot in the direction of the voice. It was met with her ex-husband's maniacal laugh.

"Are you sure you want to do that, Olivia?"

To Olivia's horror, another voice rang out. "Mommy?"

"You bastard!" she screamed. "Let her go, Phillip!"

"I can't do that, Olivia," Phillip howled. "You've denied me my daughter for far too long. It's time I took what's mine and after tonight, Emma will be mine forever."

Olivia closed her eyes trying not to picture the horrors Phillip's words conjured up. She remembered the atrocities he had committed against his other children, which she had only learned about after she was pregnant with Emma. Both Lizzie and James had never recovered from it; Lizzie remained confined to the mental ward in the hospital back in Chicago where Alan paid a small fortune to ensure she received good care and James was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It's why she had fought so hard to keep Emma away from her father.

She needed to get close enough to Phillip to avoid the risk of hitting Emma, so she crawled on her belly toward the nearest tree, her entire right side a mass of torment. Ignoring it, she used the tree to help lift herself to her feet. She took a moment to breathe deeply to control the pain and then quickly darted to the next tree. She felt the whiz of another bullet zoom much too close past her head.

"Cocksucker," she muttered under her breath as she rested for a moment. "Hang on, Jellybean, Mommy's coming."

She dashed for the next tree, but jerked to a stop when Phillip stepped out from behind it, his insane grin plastered across his face.

"Going somewhere, Liv?" he asked, his hand gun resting by his side.

"No, but you're going to hell, fuck face," she growled as she lifted her pistol. Her weaker hand was not as fast as his and in the next instant all of her breath was stolen out of her body as his bullet slammed into her chest.

The world around her collapsed inward, focusing on the point of contact the small bit of metal made hitting her body. She barely registered flying backward or hitting the ground a second time that night. Once again she was lying face up in the dirt staring at the cold stars only this time they were tinted a blood red she was sure matched the color of the liquid escaping her body.

Phillip's face moved into her view, his eyes dancing with glee as he bent over her. She tried to speak, but the only sound that came out of her was the sickly sucking noise from the center of the mass of pain radiating throughout her torso.

"Well, look at you now, Liv," he said. He ran the barrel of his gun down the side of her face. Olivia barely registered the heat emanating from it. "Looks like I've got to take Emma now as you're obviously in no position to care for the little one. Fact is, my dear, doesn't look too good on you making it till morning."

Olivia knew that tears were running down her face. "Bas…bas," she finally got out.

Phillip laughed heartily. "I'm a bastard? Yeah well, with a father like Alan Spaulding, what the fuck did you expect?" He paused as if expecting her to answer, but then continued, "I so look forward to my time with Emma, you know. You've had the pleasure of her company for so long now. It was really selfish of you, but now that she's all mine, we'll have plenty of time to get to know each other. Just like you and I did when we were married. Do you remember that, Liv? All those fun nights we spent fucking like rabbits? So you know exactly what dear Emma will…"

Phillip's rant broke off and his gaze snapped toward the trail leading to Deadwood. She could hear the sound of racing hoof beats growing louder by the moment. He sighed and glanced down at her again. "I have something to take care of, Liv. I'll be right back. Do be a good girl and don't die on me. At least, not yet, okay?"

Without waiting for an answer, he jumped to his feet and disappeared from her sight.

The sound of the racing hoof beats pounded closer and closer until she thought they would crash over her prone body.


The sounds of the running horse stopped short and she heard someone dropping to the ground. A few moments later, Gus appeared in her view.

"Olivia!" he cried, pulling off his coat. "Oh my God."

"Guh…" she breathed out.

"No, shh, don't try to talk." He folded his coat and pressed it against her chest causing her to cry out. "Shh, I know it hurts, sweetheart," he said, his rough, yet warm hand caressing her face. "As soon as we get you to the doc's, you'll be fine."

"Guh…" she tried again, but to her horror she saw Phillip's lanky form looming over Gus. Her insane ex-husband lifted his cocked gun and pointed it at Gus's head.

"Nuh…" she gasped.

"Bye, bye brother," Phillip drawled and pulled the trigger.

Hot crimson splashed over her face as Olivia felt her heart breaking inside her chest. Gus slumped forward and landed on top of her. Her body erupted in agony and the world dissolved into black nothingness.

By the time Richardson, who insisted on going with her, had readied the buckboard and they reached the road leading to Deadwood, the glow on the horizon had faded. Worried about Gus and Rafe, Natalia continued on. The road was quiet as it usually was on a Sunday night when the mine was closed for its only day of rest, but when they finally reached Deadwood and turned onto the main thoroughfare, the street was full of excited men. Richardson hopped off the wagon and spoke with a man covered in soot. Natalia paused only long enough to let Richardson back on before continuing.

"He said there was a fire, but Harry Manning and the other volunteers put it out," he told her. "A block of buildings burned, but the fire didn't spread."

"Did he say where it was?"

"Over to Wall Street," he answered.

Natalia felt her stomach lurch in fright at the news it had been near the hotel where her husband was living. "Anyone hurt?"


"Good," she breathed a sigh of relief and a few minutes later she could see the painted boards of the familiar building. She stopped the buckboard in front of the hotel and looked at the rubble of the buildings in the block next to it, again feeling that suffocating terror of that long ago night in Chicago.

She shook off the feeling and stood up to go inside, but then saw a grim-faced Mose Manuel driving a wagon. He stopped when he drew even with them.

"Miz Aitoro," he said tipping his hat.

Natalia's gaze was drawn to the cargo space of his wagon where two-human shaped forms were lying covered by a blood-stained burlap tarp. "Mose?" she asked. "I thought no one was hurt in the fire."

"No one was, ma'am," he said, his voice sad. "This is the foul work of that devil-spawn Phillip Spaulding."

Natalia gasped and clutched her neck with frightened thoughts of Rafe, Gus, Emma and Olivia flashing through her mind. "Who?" she asked in a whisper.

"Deputy Boudreau," Mose said. After a pause, he added, "And young Miss Jane, the governess."

"Oh my God!" Natalia exclaimed.

"Does Aunt Lou know about this?" Richardson asked.

Mose nodded sternly. "She's comforting Miss Christina. I'm taking them to the doc's." He waved a hand at the bodies behind him.

"And Phillip?"

"The marshal and the sheriff have gone after the cocksucker," Mose said, his voice finally releasing his anger, but then he looked contrite. "Please pardon my language, ma'am."

Natalia waved off the apology. "We better get over to Aunt Lou's, then," she said to Richardson who nodded. "Mose, can you please send word when Mr. Aitoro has returned, or at least let him know where we are when he gets back?"

"Of course, Miz Aitoro," he said and then reined his horse into motion.

"Poor Christina," Natalia commented as she guided the buckboard to the famous cook's boarding house.

"And poor Aunt Lou," Richardson added.

Natalia estimated that nearly every Negro resident of Deadwood was packed inside of Aunt Lou's, in addition to quite a few Chinese and whites. For a large crowd, they were mostly quiet, small groups talking amongst themselves in low tones. She spotted Samuel Fields standing near the door to the kitchen, his arms crossed.

"General," she said as she approached, Richardson on her heels.

"Miz Aitoro," he said removing his hat. "Terrible business, this."

"I'm so sorry," she said.

"He was a good man," Fields said. "He made all us niggers right proud."

"Every resident of this town should be proud of him, no matter their skin color," she said. "Is Aunt Lou here?"

"In her kitchen, ma'am," he said, jerking his head at the door behind him. "Why don't you and Mr. Richardson go on in? She'll be glad to see you."

"Thank you," she said and briefly touched his buckskin covered arm before opening the door and going inside.

Natalia knew that the portly cook and boarding house owner always drew comfort from her kitchen, just like Natalia herself did. Aunt Lou's kitchen was large, spotless and bright and filled with the comforting smell of warm broth simmering on the stove and yeasty bread rising on the shelves. Aunt Lou was sitting on the threadbare settee with her granddaughter, the diminutive woman nearly enveloped by the larger one's hug.

"Aunt Lou?" Natalia dropped to her knees in front of the crying women. Richardson lingered by the door, wringing his hands nervously, tears streaming down his face.

"Oh Miz Aitoro," Aunt Lou cried. "Oh Jesus. This is a terrible day. A terrible day."

"I'm so sorry," Natalia said. She put a hand on Christina's knee. "He would have been a good husband for you, Christina."

The caramel-skinned woman nodded. "He spoke kindly of you, Miz Aitoro." She sniffed and wiped her eyes.

"Natalia, please," she said. "He was a good friend."

"You courted. You and Remy, didn't you?" Christina asked.

"Yes, but never seriously." Natalia smiled softly. "And that ended the minute he laid eyes on you the day you came to town."

"Lord yes!" Aunt Lou interjected. "Smitten in an instant. Praise Jesus."

Christina sighed. "Why him?" she cried. "Why Remy?"

"Oh honey," Aunt Lou said. "Niggers been gettin' lynched ever since we was brung here. Your man was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the job he was so proud to have."

Natalia inwardly gasped at learning how the deputy had died. Christina burst into a fresh set of tears and buried her face in her grandmother's ample bosom.

"Oh Lord!" Aunt Lou cried as she rocked the weeping girl. "A terrible day."

Natalia left the two women to their grief and set about finishing the cooking Aunt Lou had started before the news interrupted her. Within a short time, she began to send Richardson to the dining room with heaping platters of steaming food. Aunt Lou sent her a grateful look as she continued to comfort her granddaughter.

Natalia had just started a new batch of biscuits when the door to the kitchen flung open and Samuel Fields rushed in, his eyes wide.

"Oh Lord, now what?" Aunt Lou cried.

"Miz Aitoro," Fields began, then swallowed hard. "You need to get to Doc Bauer's."

"Rafe?" she whispered in a soft voice, fear choking her.

"No ma'am," he answered. "It's your husband. He and Miz Spencer, they've been shot." Fields paused and then added softly. "It's bad, ma'am."

"Oh Lord!" Aunt Lou cried again.

Natalia's vision grayed and she felt herself falling until the strong arms of Fields steadied her.

"You all right, ma'am?" he asked.

"No," she said. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and then released it. Without another word, she left the kitchen. By the time she reached the street, she was running.


The sheriff paused, turned and looked up at Al Swearengen glaring at him from his office balcony. "I don't have time right now, Swearengen," he called up.

Swearengen pointed a finger at him. "Inside, now," he growled and disappeared.

Bullock breathed through his nose in an effort to rein in his annoyance, then entered the Gem, his long coat swishing around his black-clad legs. The saloon was sparsely populated. There were only a few men drinking at tables and a clump of whores lazing about. Bullock walked to the bar as the sound of Swearengen's heavy footsteps rushing down the stairs.

"You cunts get busy fucking," Swearengen said to the whores, buttoning his vest over his grey underwear. As he joined Bullock at the bar, he motioned to the bartender to pour them drinks. Swearengen slammed his back, then turned to Bullock and said, "What the fuck is going on, Bullock?"

"I've got work to do, Swearengen," he said, his eyes flashing.

Swearengen ignored the warning. "I'm not fucking waiting on Merrick to set his free fucking gratis type and you're the one using my men to go after that cocksucker Spaulding, so why don't you simply take a few minutes to do me the fucking courtesy and tell me what the fuck is going on."

Bullock clenched his jaw a moment and then finally answered. "Phillip Spaulding doused the grain and feed office with kerosene and set it on fire as a diversion to get his daughter out of the Beacon. When the refugees were returning, Spaulding and his men ambushed my deputies assigned with protecting the girl, killed the governess, beat and hung Boudreau and incapacitated Cooper. Spaulding's men then took the girl to the ranch while Spaulding waited behind. When Miss Spencer went after her daughter, again using the ambush technique, which apparently is a useful fucking tool for the cocksucker, he shot Miss Spencer's horse from under her, injuring her in the process and then shot her."

"Olivia's dead?" Swearengen asked and Bullock was surprised to see a brief flash of alarm in Swearengen's eyes.

"No, but she's hurt bad," he answered.

"What else?" Swearengen asked after a moment.

"Marshal Aitoro," he said. "Cocksucker shot him in the head. He's still breathing, but the doc says he won't last much longer."

"And Olivia's girl?"

"By the time we got to the ranch, Spaulding's hired guns, except for Foley, had abandoned him," Bullock said.

"Yeah, those fucking Pinkerton's," Al interjected. "String up a deputy, kill an innocent woman, kidnap a kid, but the cold-blooded murder of a fucking U.S. Marshal was a bit too much for the cocksuckers."

Bullock could hear the anger through the sarcasm in the brothel keeper's tone. "I agree," he said. "Fortunately, the girl is safe. Her great-aunt Alexandra held Spaulding and Foley off at gunpoint to keep them from escaping with her. Between her and her manservant, they chased the cocksuckers off."

"You mean the Chink?"

"No, Fletcher Reade," Bullock clarified. "He's been with her for years."

"Don't think I've seen him around town," Swearengen said, smoothing down his beard.

"He never leaves Alexandra's side and she's not one to slum in town," Bullock said. "From what Aitoro has told me, she was furious when her brother dragged her here from Illinois."

"Well, the old cunt certainly has some spunk in her if she managed to hold off two armed cocksuckers," Swearengen said, admiration tinting his voice.

"Spaulding and Foley fled since they knew we weren't far behind them and Charlie and your men are giving chase, but I don't expect much luck," Bullock said, wanting to conclude the tale so he could go make his report to Yankton. "I told Charlie if they didn't catch them by tomorrow to come back. Spaulding has managed to evade capture this long. We'll have to track him by other means."

Swearengen nodded. "At least he's a wanted man again," he said. "Spaulding senior wasted a huge amount of bribe money with his cocksucking son's business tonight."

"So, was that to your satisfaction, Swearengen?" Bullock asked. "Can I get on with my fucking business now?"

"Sure Bullock," Swearengen said agreeably.

Bullock finally downed the shot glass in front of him and walked to the door.

"That was a good fucking story, Bullock," Swearengen said behind him. "You always did have a way with words. If you ever get tired of enforcing the law, you could get a job with Merrick. I'm sure the Fourth Estate would benefit from a man of your high morals."

Bullock ignored the rest of Swearengen's rant as he left the Gem.

There was already a crowd of people gathered outside the small building Doctor Bauer used as a combination clinic and residence, but Natalia ignored them as she rushed through the front door. Frank Cooper was sitting upright on a cot. His wife Eleni was beside him holding a towel filled with crushed ice to his head. The deputy's face was contorted with pain. Looking around, Natalia spotted her husband lying on a cot in one corner of the sizeable room. She ran over to him and then fell on her knees by his side.

Bloody bandages were wrapped around Gus's head. His face was ashen, the skin drooping and accentuating the normally handsome lines of his face. She picked up his hand, shocked at how cold it was.


Gus's lips were moving, but only the occasional word was understandable among the nonsensical syllables.

"Nicky?" she said again. "It's me…Natalia."

"Harley?" Gus said, his eyes remaining shut. "I love you, baby."

Natalia felt her heart clenching as Gus's brief moment of vocal clarity came to an end. Wiping away a tear, she looked around and spotted Doctor Bauer working beside another cot. She got to her feet and strode purposefully over to him. "Doctor," she said. "Why aren't you helping my husband?"

The tall physician turned to her. "I'm sorry, Natalia," he said, his grim tone matching his words. "I've already done all I can for him. He's gone."

"What are you talking about?" She tried to keep the panic out of her voice. "He's breathing. He's talking."

"Not for long," Bauer said. "I'm surprised he's lasted this long."

"No!" she said. "You help him now!"

"Natalia, I don't have time to waste on a dead man," Bauer said firmly. "I have another patient to try to save."

For the first time, Natalia looked at the other occupant of the clinic. Olivia Spencer's face was pale and drawn and her breathing was shallow. She was unconscious and had been stripped to the waist. Her chest was covered with a bloody covering and Natalia could see the dark bruising that was radiating from the hidden gunshot wound.

"This is her own damn fault," Natalia said bitterly, the tears escaping from her eyes a symptom of the inner turmoil she was feeling at seeing her former employer in this state. She tore her gaze away from the stricken Olivia and looked back at Bauer. "You help my husband, Doctor."

"I'm sorry, Natalia," he said. "Say goodbye to Gus. Now excuse me, I have to get some help so I can save this woman's life."

He pulled away from her clutching hands and left the cabin. Natalia glanced once more at Olivia and felt a wave of despair flow through her. She closed her eyes for a moment and then returned to her dying husband's side.

Outside the doctor's office, the gathered crowd waited for news. Four women stood together shivering in the cold. Their faces were grim. They all had made similar vigils before. Each of them had waited to learn who would live and who would die.

"What the fuck is that limey cocksucker doing here?" Jane Cannary asked, her words gathering steam in the frigid air.

The other three turned to where Jane's gaze led them. Leaning against the side of a shack across the street and out of sight to most of the crowd was Al Swearengen.

"Maybe he's feeling poorly," Jewel speculated. "All the goings on tonight put him off his feed. He refused to et a single bite!"

Trixie snorted her derision. She was standing next to the Gem's charwoman. The former whore spat, her spittle landing on the frozen mud at her feet. "He's worried for Olivia."

Joanie Stubbs turned to Trixie, her eyebrows raised in surprise. "Swearengen doesn't seem the type to be as overly concerned for others as he is for own interests," she said.

"He ain't," Trixie agreed. "But there are a few, very few I might add, that Al considers a part of his interests and Olivia is one of those few."

"That cocksucker and a high-class lady like Olivia Spencer?" Jane said. "I heard she was some kind of princess on some fucking island somewhere. Don't seem the type to be slumming with the likes of that cocksucker."

"Far as I know, Al's never fucked her," Trixie said taking a pull on her cigarette. "But we all know there's more than one way to get in bed with someone."

The crowd stirred as the front door to the cabin opened and the doctor stepped out. His eyes scanned the street and then stopped when it came to their little group. The doctor quickly walked over to them.

"Miss Jane," he began. "I'll need your help with an operation, if you're willing."

Jane gave a short nod. "Always willing to help those in need, Doc."

"Hey, Doc!" Swearengen called out.

Bauer glanced at Swearengen, who was waving him over. The doctor held up a hand and then turned back to Jane. "Put on a clean apron and then go wash up, there's water boiling on the stove. Don't touch anything with your clean hands."

"I know the fucking drill," Jane grumbled and stomped to the office.

The assembled townsfolk fluttered again as the marshal's son raced down the street, the leather farrier's apron flapping against his legs. The boy disappeared into the doctor's office. A minute later, he was followed by the Reverend Josh Lewis and the Catholic priest Ray Santos. As the door closed behind the two men of God, the waiting throng grew still again.

Bauer walked over to Swearengen. "I need to get back inside," he said.

"How's Olivia?"

"Fucked up, Al," Bauer answered, his face bleak. "I've got to cut into her to get at the bullet."

"You can't leave it in there?" Swearengen asked.

Bauer shook his head. "I think it's too close to her heart," he answered. "Leave it in and it could shift. If it nicks an artery, she could bleed to death in minutes. As it is, she might not make it through the surgery. She's coughing up blood so most likely the shot pierced a lung. She's breathing fine, but I don't dare risk using ether on her."

Swearengen chewed on his lip a moment and then he poked a blunt finger hard into Bauer's chest. "You fucking save her, Doc. You get that?" he said, making the question a statement. "She lives and it's free drinks and pussy for you at the Gem."

"Olivia's a good friend, Al," Bauer said. "I'm going to do my best to save her no matter the incentive."

"Then go fucking save her!"

Bauer nodded and went back inside.

For one moment, Trixie and Swearengen's eyes met and the silent communication that comes from years of familiarity passed between them. Then Swearengen turned around and walked slowly back to his saloon.

Natalia barely registered the presence of Jane Cannary until the frontierswoman placed a rough hand on her shoulder and gently squeezed. She turned her gaze from her husband's pallid face and looked at her friend.

"I'm sorry," Jane whispered. "I know it ain't much, but if you need anything, just say so. I'll…" Jane stopped and cleared her throat. "Me and Joanie will be there for you."

"Thank you, Jane," Natalia said and returned her attention to her husband, but then looked up when her son crashed through the door and ran to his parents.

"Mama?" he said as he fell to his knees next to her. He looked at Gus. "Oh God, no," he whispered. He pulled at his hair. "No, no, no!"

Natalia pulled both of her son's hands and held them in hers.

Rafe searched his mother's face. "Mama?" he said again. "He's going to be fine, right?"

"I'm sorry, mi hijo," she said, shaking her head. "He's dying."

"Oh God, Mama," Rafe said, tears streaming down his face. "Why? What happened?"

"Not now, Rafael," she said, shaking her head. "Let's just pray your father's soul can find its rest."

"That's always an excellent thing to do, my child."

They both looked up at the man dressed in a severe black suit. Father Ray set down a small leather case on the cot across from Natalia and Rafe and then lowered himself to his knees.

"My sympathies for your loss, Natalia, Rafael," the priest said as he removed a stole from his case and kissed it before draping it over his neck.

"Thank you, Father," Natalia murmured. Rafe echoed the sentiment.

"I'm sorry that this has happened," Ray continued. "I did try to warn both you and Mr. Aitoro that God's will is extreme. Divorce is an abomination in His eyes. This horrible tragedy is the result of that sin."

"Father Ray?" Natalia said softly.

"Yes, my child?"

"Shut the fuck up and give him his last rites," she said.

Stunned silence reigned as Ray looked between both mother and son. He opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by Rafe.

"You heard my mother," he said firmly and Natalia was proud of the manful tone in her son's voice. "Do as she says."

Ray's face firmed in a disapproving frown, but then pulled a vial of oil from his case and began the ritual.

Natalia tried her best to ignore the screams from the other cot in the room as Gus's breathing slowed and then came to a final stop.

To Be Continued

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