Jade

Jade

Jill Marie Landis

August 2017 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-776-2

Can a mysterious beauty win the heart of the most eligible bachelor in San Francisco in this tender western romance?


 
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Jade Douglas is a determined young woman who risks it all to travel to San Francisco in the late 1800’s to learn the truth about her father’s mysterious death.

J.T. Harrington is a handsome, rugged rancher who has just inherited a vast estate. When he finds the radiant beauty on his doorstep, he is tempted to ignore his vow never to love again and offer Jade both his name and his heart.

Before their scandalous wedding can unveil the secrets of the past, J.T. and Jade find themselves torn apart by a dangerous deception, but brought together again by a desire too powerful for either one of them to deny . . .

Jill Marie Landis is the New York Times bestselling author and seven-time Romance Writers of American Finalist for the RITA Award. Long known for her historical romances, Jill Marie Landis also now writes The Tiki Goddess Mysteries (set on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she lives with her husband, actor Steve Landis.)

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Excerpt

Prologue

Man cannot stir one inch...

without the push of Heaven’s finger.

China

1874

NEITHER LIGHT OF day nor the heat of the summer sun penetrated the interior of Li Po’s cave. Tin oil lamps hung suspended from slender lengths of chain imbedded in the rock; their smoke stained the ceiling of the cave with ever-widening, black circles of soot. The cloying scent of incense weighed heavy on the air, yet even it was unable to disguise the odor of must and time.

An age-old, slate-topped table banked the back wall of the cave; a work space covered with blue and white porcelain jars, clay pots, and glass vessels filled with the grains and powders essential to an alchemist’s work. Granular cinnabar, fine-dusted gold, slivers of jade and silver lay beside pieces of bark and snippets of pine tree boughs, baskets of peach pits, and dried cuttings from the divine herb, chih. A weathered basket with an unrav­eledrim housed a dozen or more eggs of tortoise and crane, ingredi­ents vital in the mixing of medicinal elixirs.

A bulbous glass still with a triad of extended arms took precedence be­side the instruments of weights and measures on the worktable. Hot coals burned brightly in a brazier, blinking like the glowing red eyes of a demon against the shadowed walls of the cave.

Everything stood in readiness. The hushed sound of footsteps sliding over the earthen floor and a soft mumbling and grumbling grew louder as an ancient alchemist, stooped and white haired, entered his shadowed realm. Li Po paused for a moment inside the large room in the earth’s interior and surveyed his worktable. His eyes, shaped like midnight black almonds, shone with inner light; they were quick to note that all was ex­actly as he had anticipated. The pine in the brazier had burned low until it was reduced to the fiery ash he needed to heat the still.

Stray white whiskers grew from the corners of the old man’s mouth and chin like long blades of dried grass. They formed a pointed beard that Li Po repeatedly stroked as he whispered to himself in the flickering light of the cave. The villagers thought him a wizard. Indeed, his fame was renowned throughout the countryside. For generation upon generation Li Po’s ancestors had been alchemists. His father’s father had once served the emperor.

Only Li Po knew the truth.

He was no more a wizard than the humblest village beggar. He was a charlatan, a fake who had held the people enthralled with little more than explosions of sulfur and simple predictions for which he carefully orches­trated the outcomes. Whatever valuable secrets his ancestors had possessed had long since been lost to time. Had his father or his father’s father truly been wizards they would still walk among the living—for it was well known that true alchemists possessed the very secret of life itself.

Now that he was stooped with age, he could see the doubt in the young men’s eyes when they watched him. He could feel their disbelief when he tried to hold onto his power over them. Even the high-soled shoes he had ordered made in Canton so that he might appear taller than any man in the village failed to bring him proper respect anymore. He often heard the young ones laughing whenever he passed by.

For years he had tried to discover the elixir of immortality supposedly known to the ancients. Today he would try again, and hope that he would succeed before death claimed him.

The old man had taken great care with his appearance this day so that he might please the goddess of the stove. He had followed every pre­scribed precaution in order to insure success. On his head he wore a tall, nearly square black hat. The headdress was covered with gold and red beads. He had donned the sacred crimson alchemist’s robe handed down from generation to generation. Unlike Li Po, whose wrinkled body showed all of his eighty-nine years, the robe had not aged, though it was hundreds of years old. The silk fabric, as red as blood, was emblazoned with dragons and tigers, lions and cranes. Stars, crescent moons, and images of the sun were worked in threads of spun gold.

Mingled with the images were symbols, characters of an archaic form of Chinese long since forgotten by most. He was happy the robe was red, for it insured success. Red was the color of the female deity of the stove, the goddess who blessed all those who transmuted metals, brewed medi­cines, or merely prepared meals.

Li Po’s father had failed to rediscover the exact proportions of the magic life-extending elixir, but he had passed on one important clue to Li Po. On his deathbed, the father of Li Po whispered the same words his father before him had whispered with his dying breath: "The robe itself is magic, it is part of the transmutation.”

After years of futility, Li Po had nearly given up, but then, a month ago, after his last miserable attempt to transform himself into a youth, he realized where he had gone wrong. As he had cursed himself, his forefa­thers, and then the sacred robe, he suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. He slipped off the robe and ran his long fingernails over the symbols. He stared at the ancient script, at the lions, tigers, cranes and dragons, and a revelation came to him.

Merely wearingthe robe and mixing his own elixir would not insure suc­cess. The secret formula itself had been carefully embroidered on the robe in gilded threads. As he looked closer, even his faded vision could not miss the fact that the robe, which had been in his family for generations, was as new as the day it had been made.

The magic had kept the robe from aging.

It had taken Li Po almost a month to transcribe the ancient symbols into a formula that made any sense to him at all. Now he was ready to proceed. Not only had Li Po fasted as ancient custom dictated, but he had purified himself with jasmine perfume and burned incense at a shrine outside of the village. He knew as well as any that one must enter the mountains to produce efficacious medicines. And so he had come to his cave deep in the heart of the mountain outside of Sin Ngan Hien.

This night, even the stars were aligned in his favor. All he needed to do was believe. Disbelief assured failure.

With an iron ladle he measured the white-hot ash into the bed below the still. His blue-veined hands were steady and sure. Li Po thought of the many years he had conducted the tan, the search for the secret formula that would produce the life-extending elixir. He chuckled to himself when he realized what a cruel trick fate had placed on his ancestors. The correct proportions of gold and mercury that would assure his immortality had always been within their grasp. They were emblazoned on the robe. He reminded himself to hurry. Time was of the essence.

He was fast becoming a very old man.

Li Po sifted the cinnabar and then gold dust into the still while he repeat­edly whispered the words of an incantation that had also been handed down to him.

"Gold, you will not rot or decay. You are the most precious of all things on earth. Make me a lusty youth. Help me escape the perils of life and pain of death. Let me live to be as old as the universe itself. I pray that once I have ingested the elixir of life that I will regain my lost years and live forever. Change me as easily as the wind changes direction before a storm. As I say these words aloud, make them so.”

Li Po chuckled to himself—a rasping, choking sound—each time he re­peated the line about the lusty youth. He alternately smiled and frowned as he bent stoop-shouldered over his worktable, sifting and measuring, mumbling and mixing. Soon now, thought Li Po, I will achieve the status of True Man and live forever. Far past eternity will I walk the earth as I have these many, many moons. I will watch the stars rotate through the heavens again and again.

And just as the philosopher Lao Tzu practiced magic, so too did Li Po.

Carefully he continued to sift ingredients into the glass crucible that topped the still as he chanted and chuckled over the words of his prayer. The old man’s mind was so attuned to the moment at hand, his concentra­tion so focused, that he failed to hear the muffled sound of hushed whis­pers or the scuffling feet of the half-dozen men who crept stealthily toward him through the shadows.

They were upon him before he was aware of their presence.

Li Po turned, his withered, parchmentlike skin bleached with shock un­til it was as white as his whiskers. The fire behind his eyes blazed bright with anger. He recognized these men; they were the bearded foreigners who rode the tall-masted sailing ships.

Quickly, he turned and lifted the vial of elixir that had simmered above the still. He swirled it, made a great show of holding it to the light and watched it shimmer. It pulsated with life and glowed iridescent in the darkness.

He had to stall these intruders while the liquid cooled, for to drink it now would surely scald his throat beyond healing.

One of the men started to creep toward Li Po.

With the elixir clutched in one hand, he raised his arms high in a dra­matic gesture of power. The wide sleeves of the royal red robe fanned out to give him the appearance of a huge bat ready to swoop down upon them. The golden animals on the robe shimmered in the lamp light, mov­ing and swaying within the garment’s folds.

In unison, the men fell back a step.

Good, Li Po thought. Let the spineless creatures quiver! He reached down with one hand, scooped up a few grains of sulfur, and tossed them on the brazier.

They exploded with a shower of light and an ominous hiss.

The men scurried farther away.

For good measure, Li Po waved his arms and shouted curses at them.

Fiercely he stared at the burly fon kwei, the foreign devils who dared sur­round him in the inner sanctuary of his cave. They were certainly thieves of the lowest sort, for their clothes were strange and rough, tattered and filthy. Their faces were covered with thick, shaggy beards. One man wore an eye patch; another was missing his front teeth. Typical of other Caucasian devils he had seen, they reeked of grease, liquor, and unwashed flesh.

When Li Po spoke again, the strength in his tone belied his age. The words sounded clear and true against the walls of stone. "Be gone, devils! Take what you will and be gone!”

He glanced at the vial. It was still glowing, but the steam had died down. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow move; one of the men had ventured away from the others and was steadily creeping toward him. Slowly Li Po carried the glass vial to his lips, and just as he did, another man shouted and rushed forward.

In the struggle that followed, the vial fell from Li Po’s hand. It fell to the ground, where it shattered into hundreds of tiny shards. The precious elixir mingled with the broken glass on the floor of the cave. The liquid seemed to pulsate. As if it were a live thing, the liquid danced. Its irides­cence flared, wavered, and then died.

Before Li Po knew what was happening, the foreigners moved for­ward in a pack. Someone grabbed his arms, twisted them behind his back, and bound his wrists together.

Li Po began shouting, commanding, summoning the gods for help. But when the first devil remained unharmed, the others failed to heed him.

Helpless now, he watched while they threw all of his precious items into baskets and cursed him in their harsh foreign tongue.

Li Po hung his head in resignation. If he had only swallowed this latest elixir, he would now be immortal. Fit and youthful, he would have been able to fight the devils off.

As the men prodded him out of the cave and along the crooked path that wound down the mountain, Li Po realized with aching clarity that unless he could retain possession of the robe and escape his captors, he would remain a captive, powerless old man doomed to meet the fate of all mortals.


 

 

Chapter One

Good deeds stay indoors...
Evil deeds travel many miles from home.

San Francisco

1875

ALTHOUGH SHE WAS anxious to see her hostess, Jade Douglas was glad she had arrived before her old friend had awakened. She needed the time alone to collect her thoughts. Jade stared around her borrowed re­treat, studying its overblown opulence. Fall sunlight, diffused by fog, barely lit the second-story room, but even the weak, early morning light could not diminish the shining surfaces of the various gilded frames, pol­ished mirrors, and crystal droplets that adorned the wall sconces. Pausing just inside the door, Jade ran her fingertip over the textured wall covering flocked with gold highlights, and then crossed over to the high, four- poster bed swathed in crushed velvet curtains and spread—a verita­ble sea of emerald green.

Despite the richness of the room’s appointments, there was a look of untouched perfection about the place that made it lifeless and uninviting. When she set her satchel on the bed, the faded, lopsided bag reminded her of an old tramp that had somehow crept into a place where it definitely did not belong. She quickly moved it to the floor.

The same muted light that filled the room highlighted the golden strands woven within the red of her hair. Within seconds of closing the door behind her, she had released the wild mass from the severely wound knot tied at the slender nape of her neck. Now, as she ran her fingers through the thick, shining tresses, they sprang to life with curl. Jade shook her hair once more, enjoying the way it swayed past her shoulders.

She retrieved her buttonhook from the satchel, then sat on the edge of the bed and slowly unhooked the buttons of her well-worn shoes. Once they were undone, she sighed with relief, and slipped them off of her feet. They fell to the floor, the sound muffled by the thick Persian carpet. After tossing the hook back into the bag, she paused to admire the ornate detail of the rug’s green and gold pattern. She wriggled her stockinged toes, then stretched, arms skyward, and crossed the room to linger before the win­dow. She opened it and leaned out to welcome the chill October air that chased away the stuffiness of the room. Jade stood in silent contemplation, relishing the tangy scent of salt on the air, and stared out at wisps of fog that crept along and eddied about the other homes that lined Powell Street.

How different San Francisco was from Paris, where she had spent the last five years! Beyond the window lay a city grown wild and unencum­bered as a storm at sea. Miners, stockbrokers, bankers, and thieves moved shoulder-to-shoulder with immigrants of every land along the crowded streets in this sprawling city on the edge of the world. Fortunes were made and lost in a day. Everyone in San Francisco was caught up in the fever of speculation, even hotel maids and milkmen purchased stocks on the San Francisco exchange.

People were afraid not to spend their hard-earned wages on a chance at riches, not when so many of the city’s most wealthy residents had made their fortunes in speculation, even though just as many had lost. The city was much larger than she remembered, sprawling wherever it was not held in check by the water that surrounded it. Compared to the ancient, winding streets of Paris lined with aged stone buildings, San Francisco seemed new, raw, and barely tamed.

Jade crossed the room again and reached down into the satchel. When she found her hairbrush, she worked it through her hair until it shone, then tossed it aside and slipped off her faded, travel-weary gown. After she draped the dress over a nearby chair, she donned a robe of rich, topaz silk to cover her short-sleeved chemise and cotton knickerbockers. As she tied the sash, she lowered herself to the floor and sat cross-legged—back straight, body relaxed. Closing her eyes, she tried to still the inner chatter that plagued her thoughts as they tumbled one after another.

Jade took a deep breath and sat very still. Her daily meditation period was a habit she had learned long before she went to Paris to learn Chinese. These contemplative moments had long been a custom of her grandfather, Philo Page. As a small child, she had taken to sitting quietly beside her grandfather whenever he and his companion, Chi Nu, meditated. Before she was twelve, she was able to sit in silence for nearly an hour.

She had barely begun to breathe evenly—taking the slow, rhythmic breaths prescribed by ancient Chinese philosophers—when the bedroom door opened without so much as a warning knock and an effervescent Barbara Barrett swept in.

Casually wrapped in a satin dressing gown with matching ivory slip­pers, Babs was a picture of elegant dishabille—her luxurious brunette hair swept up off the back of her neck and tied with a wide ribbon in a loose, sensuous style. She looked as beautiful as Jade remembered her.

When they were both thirteen, Babs’s figure had already blossomed, while Jade’s had remained reed thin. Now, at twenty-three and nearly the same height, Babs was a stunning brunette with dark, flashing eyes and a complexion that glowed the color of ripened apricots. Jade considered herself lucky not to have inherited her father’s freckles. Her skin was the palest ivory; beside Babs, Jade had always felt like an ugly duckling.

Babs halted just inside the room and stared down at Jade as if she could not believe her eyes. She took a tentative step forward then halted again. "What are you doing sitting on the floor?”

Jade smiled and stood up, careful to keep her robe modestly closed. She hurried to embrace her old friend with a warm hug. "Oh, Babs! I’m so glad to see you! You look wonderful. You’re too good, taking me in like this.”

Babs laughed and hugged Jade tight, then pulled back to study her care­fully. Her expression sobered. "You look tired, Jade.”

Leading Jade across the room, Babs sidestepped the satchel without comment and sat on the edge of the bed. She pulled Jade down beside her. The scent of Babs’s expensive perfume heavily scented the air about them.

"You poor thing. If I had known you were arriving so early, I would have been up to meet you. I felt just awful having to cable you in France about your father’s murder, but I knew you would want to return as soon as possible.” Babs hesitated while she watched Jade’s reaction to her words. "You did want to come home, didn’t you?”

Jade nodded, reassuring her friend as the two held hands in silent soli­darity. She stared down at Babs’s well-manicured nails and was suddenly all too aware of her own uneven and neglected ones. "I suppose it was time I came back. My studies were at an end. I’m able to speak Cantonese fluently now, which is what grandfather dearly wanted. So yes, returning to San Francisco was the logical thing to do.”

"But what a horrible thing to have to face,” Babs said, giving Jade’s hand a final squeeze before letting go. "You can’t imagine Reggie’s reac­tion to your father’s murder—”

"Oh, I think I can.” It was no secret that Babs’s husband, Reginald Barrett, hated scandal of any kind. He had never hidden his disapproval of Jade. Even when the three of them were younger and he and Babs had first become engaged, Reggie’s feelings were clear. To his way of thinking, Jade was too eccentric, too headstrong, and far too intellectual for a woman. A bluestocking, he always called her. "I know Reggie’s penchant for keeping up appearances,” Jade added.

Babs shrugged. "Well, one can never be too careful. There’s nothing San Franciscans enjoy more than someone else’s scandal. Have you re­ceived any details aside from the Chroniclearticles I sent you?”

Bothered by disturbing thoughts, Jade was unable to sit any longer. She stood and began to pace, pausing here and there to gingerly touch whatever piece of bric-a-brac caught her eye as she spoke. "A few. I stopped at the police station this morning while I was waiting for a decent hour to come knocking on your door.” She lifted the lid of a crystal bon­bon dish. It was empty.

Babs brushed at a stray wisp of hair that had escaped the pile atop her crown. "We were out late last night, but you could have come right over. The servants are here to answer the door anyway. "

"I met your maid when she let me in.”

Babs leaned back on her elbows and jiggled her foot, admiring her fash­ionable slipper. "Doreen is utterly useless.” Jade paused for a moment and contemplated a Staffordshire vase on a side table. She wondered if Babs truly meant the insensitive remark. The maid had struck her as very young, inexperienced, perhaps, but very pleasant and hardly useless.

"Well?” Babs prodded.

Jade started. "Well what?”

"What have you learned about the murder? What did the police say?”

"Not much. The detective on the case wasn’t there, but the man at the desk was able to tell me that they think my father was connected to a kidnap­ping of some kind. I’m to meet with the detective in charge of the case later this morning to learn the details.”

"This morning? But you just got here. Surely they’ll give you time to rest?”

Jade shrugged. "It’s not every day a Caucasian is found in Little China with a tong war axe buried in his skull.”

"God, it’s awful, for a man to die that way, isn’t it? I mean, I know there was no love lost between you and your father, but... ”

Jade walked over to the window again, took a deep breath, and stared out at the city. Babs knew her well enough to know what a strain Francis Douglas’s drinking and gambling had put on her childhood. The girls’ mothers had been close; both women encouraged the children’s friend­ship. Jade used to relish her visits to Babs’s home; compared to her own, it was a haven, a place filled with love where both parents lavished affection on their child.

Francis Douglas had never hidden the fact that he had not wanted the burden of his only child. Jade and her mother had been the victims of his constant verbal abuse. After her mother’s death, Jade’s grandfather had urged her to study in France. He’d insisted that he needed her to help him catalogue and translate markings on the piece of his Chinese art collection. In reality, they both knew it was a way to escape from her overbearing and increasingly irrational father.

Looking back now, she wished she had possessed the foresight to re­turn before her father had placed the very collection that was essential to her grandfather’s dream in jeopardy.

"It’s just horrible,” Babs went on, unaware that Jade had not been pay­ing attention. "God knows we’re probably not even safe in our own beds. That’s the trouble with having so many Chinese around. They’re taking over the city, you know. I won’t even have a Chinese servant in the house.”

Jade spun around to face her friend. The Chinese she had known were hardworking and intelligent—fighting to make a place for themselves in a culture that was alien to their own. Amazed by her friend’s prejudice, she held her temper, nonetheless. She was, after all, a guest in Babs’s home. "Even the police aren’t sure it was the Chinese that killed my father, Babs. It could be that the murderer just wanted it to look that way.”

"But why? Why would anyone have wanted him dead?” Babs won­dered aloud.

"You know my father wasn’t the most scrupulous of businessmen, Babs,” Jade said softly. He had made more enemies in business than she could count. Some he had duped through sales of bogus silver mine certifi­cates, others he had outgambled, and then there were those whose proper­ties he had gained through illegal real estate transactions. It could have been any one of them. "He was always involved in one scheme or another, always losing as much money as he made.” She had been too young and frightened then to do anything about his thieving. Now it was too late.

Jade turned and crossed the room again. She stood beside the bed and toyed with one of the tassels on the satin braid that held the bed drapes swagged open. Babs had shifted on the bed and lay curled up on her side, her feet tucked beneath her dressing gown.

"Right now I’m more concerned with recovering Grandfather Page’s Chinese collection than finding out who killed my father. The Hibernia Bank contacted me before I left Paris, and it seems that before he was murdered, my father managed to go through all of the money mother had inherited.” She took a deep breath, nearly unable to relate her next bit of bad news. "He even took Grandfather’s collection... my collection,” she amended, "and used it as collateral against his debts. The bank is holding it until I can find a way to pay off the sixty thousand dollars my father owed them.”

"Sixty thousand?” Babs sat up.

Jade shook her head. "Exactly. Where am I supposed to get that kind of money in thirty days?”

"Are you sure there’s nothing left of your grandfather’s estate?”

"Father sold everything off but the old adobe and the land around it, which he could not touch, but that was only because I was named on the deed when I was a child. Grandfather didn’t leave a will, so everything that would have been mother’s reverted to my father when she died. All that’s left is the house and the land it sits on.” She flicked the tassel once more before she dropped it. "I’m sure that wherever Grandfather is now, he hates knowing that. If there was any money left at all, I wouldn’t have arrived here this morning, bag and baggage, on your doorstep.”

Babs leaned back on her elbows. "Don’t even think about it. I want you to stay for as long as need be.”

Jade had no idea when her affairs would be settled, and at this very mo­ment, she felt too tired to care.

"Maybe you should talk to them. Tell them you need more time,” Babs suggested.

Jade shook her head. In his absent-mindedness, her grandfather had not thought to safeguard the collection for her. He had been a self-taught scholar of things Chinese, living not in the present but in the distant past, trying to understand a culture very different from his own. His dream was to find a way to house and display the collection of Chinese antiques he had collected over the years, so that the people of San Francisco could begin to understand the history of the many Chinese that lived and worked among them. He had passed his dream on to Jade.

She couldn’t even imagine what state the adobe might be in. The house and grounds were in disrepair even before she left San Francisco, for sadly enough, crumbling adobe bricks had never taken precedence over Philo Page’s studies.

Compared to the new homes she had heard were rising on California Street, the place was little more than a hovel of adobe clay. The surround­ing garden had once been filled with native plants as well as exotic herbs and flowers able to withstand the climate. It was the place where she had planned to live, and yet, as much as she loved it, she knew she would gladly give it up if it meant saving the collection of Chinese lacquer, pottery, bronzes, and paintings her grandfather had amassed.

"Maybe if I ask Reggie, he might advance you the money you need,” Babs volunteered.

Jade turned to her friend. "Sixty thousand dollars?” She shook her head, her eyes wide but dry. "I can’t accept your offer. Besides,” she said, shrugging, "Reggie has never been more than decidedly cool toward me. I’m sure my father’s scandalous murder hasn’t endeared me to him, not to mention what happened the night before I left San Francisco.”

She had been eighteen then, emotionally drained, her nerves on edge. Caring for her mother had been an ordeal she had yet to put behind her when her father insisted she accompany him to dinner at Cliff House, the restaurant perched on a point across from Seal Rocks.

Determined to stand up to her belligerent, overbearing father as she had always wished her mother would have done, Jade agreed to accom­pany him to dinner because she felt it would be safer to tell him she was leaving for Paris if they were in a public place where he would not be able to vent his fury. She had asked that she be permitted to leave once the meal had ended and he had agreed, but once they reached Cliff House, the evening began to reel out of control.

As usual, he had gathered together a group of his cronies and began to drink heavily. Jade stayed until the meal had ended, then asked the man­ager to hail her a hack. Her father told her to sit down, that she was going nowhere until he said she could, and began to lash out at her verbally, seeking to humble and bend her to his will—as he had always done to her mother.

But unlike Melinda Douglas, Jade lashed back. She refused to let his irra­tional ranting upset her as she stood in a darkened alcove that did little to shield her from the startled, curious expressions of the other diners.

"I’m going now, Father, and tomorrow I’m leaving for France.”

He took a menacing step toward her. "You will do no such thing. Get back to the table.”

"Grandfather has arranged everything. He’s found a traveling compan­ion and a family I can live with in Paris. Now that Mother is gone, there is no longer any reason for me to stay.”

Francis Douglas had grabbed her arm as she turned to go. "Where in the hell do you think you’re going? After all the years and money I had to spend on you, don’t think you’re going to just walk away.”

Jade fought to keep her voice low, tried to ignore the growing number of stares. "If you think I’m going to cower and crawl like my mother used to, think again.”

He raised his fist, glanced over his shoulder, then pushed her away. "Go ahead and go!”

Jade stumbled back and fell against the window seat in the alcove. "I hate you.”

He raged out of control until there was not a single person in the restau­rant who could not hear him. "You’re not even mine! I never wanted you.” His face was flushed. Threatening to burst, the veins at his temples stood out blue and throbbing against his pale skin.

Laughter had bubbled up in her throat, uncharacteristically sarcastic and cold, as she spurned his cruel remark. There was no denying her flam­ing hair or emerald eyes, the even brows and finely tapered nose. She looked so much like Francis Douglas that she might have been an artist’s miniature. He had used that taunt once too often to ever hurt her with the lie again. But this time he had said it before a crowd of onlookers.

"No,” she said softly as she slowly stood up to face him again. "Sadly enough, I’m yours. But I wish with all my heart that I wasn’t.” She stood toe-to-toe with him and refused to cower now that she no longer had to submit to his tantrums to protect her mother. "I’m leaving. If you lay a hand on me, or try to stop me in any way, I’ll have the manager fetch the police.”

She wanted no part of him, his money, his schemes, or his twisted ha­tred. Then, just to spite him, to pay him back in kind for every harmful word he had ever inflicted on her mother, Jade lowered her voice to a menacing whisper and said, "I’m not coming back unless it’s to dance on your grave.”

Now, while Jade had been lost in memories of the past, Babs re­mained unusually silent for so long that Jade was afraid her friend had fallen asleep. "Babs?”

"You know, Jade,” Babs said, propping herself up against the mound of pillows against the carved headboard, "I’ve been thinking.”

Jade tried to remember what they had last discussed. "About Reggie?”

Babs waved the idea away. "Don’t worry about Reggie, I can handle him. No, I’ve been thinking about your predicament.”

"And?” Jade couldn’t keep the suspicion out of her voice. In the past, whenever Babs got to thinking, it had only led to trouble for them both.

Abruptly, Babs sat up and scooted off the bed. She crossed over to Jade, took her hand and patted it sympathetically. "And I think you should rest.” She pulled her dressing gown up and tightened the sash at her waist. "Don’t worry about a thing.” She turned and headed for the door. Before she left the room, she paused and looked back at Jade. "I’m going to send Doreen in with some of my things. You can’t run around town looking like a pauper.”

"Which is exactly what I am at the moment.”

Babs mumbled something that sounded like, "Not for long,” then said, "Leave everything to me,” before she hurried out and closed the door behind her.

Jade exhaled, only just realizing she had been holding her breath. There was not much time left before she had to dress and meet the detec­tive assigned to her father’s case. She lowered herself to the carpet once again, folded her legs beneath her, and closed her eyes. But it was hard to clear her mind while it still echoed Babs’s parting words.

Leave everything to me.

THE BRICK-LINED path between the carriage house and the service porch of Harrington House was carefully manicured and edged with brightly colored blossoms. Pansies turned their faces skyward to drink in the fall sunshine as Jason Terrell Harrington III stood at the far end of the walk and surveyed its precisely laid herringbone pattern before he stepped onto the rich red bricks. When he did, the sound of the worn heels of his leather boots blended with the lilting jingle of the rowels of his spurs as he walked toward the servant’s entrance to the grand mansion he could now call his own. Three stories high, the place loomed over the surrounding gardens and cast its shadow over the carriage house and long row of sta­bles behind it.

As he reached the back door, J.T. paused, set down his satchel, saddle­bags, and guitar, removed work-hardened leather gloves, and used them to beat the trail dust off his Levi’s and the long duster that flapped around his calves. Then he knocked.

The summons rang hollow and went unanswered. Matt Van Buren, his father’s lawyer, had alerted him to the fact that the house was unstaffed, the servants dismissed pending the immediate sale of Harrington House. Still, J.T. was not one to walk into an empty house, even if it was his own. He was relieved when no one appeared in answer to his knock. What he needed now was food, a good long bath, and a nap.

Jason pushed aside the edge of his long duster, reached down into the pocket of his denims, and hooked his finger around the key that would gain him entrance. It had been his father’s home, yet the place held no boyhood memories for him. J.T. had never lived here. Nor, for that matter, had his father, who had built the mansion merely as a showplace little more than a year ago. J.T. had learned as much from Van Buren when the man wrote to inform him of his father’s death and his own subsequent inher­itance. J.T. hadn’t mourned the loss of a man he had never really known.

The door swung wide to reveal a large service porch that opened onto the cavernous kitchen, silent now, but far from cold due to the warm fall sunshine that had burned away the morning fog. The attorney had prom­ised to send around a grocer’s delivery of foodstuffs and assured Jason the wine cellar was still well stocked. Jason was to make himself at home.

Home? He could never imagine this cold mausoleum as a home, nor this city, for that matter. He had not been out of New Mexico for three weeks, and yet he was already anxious to return. He had come to San Francisco only to settle the estate, sell off his father’s coffee import com­pany, the mansion, and stocks, and then go back home to New Mexico.

As he looked around the kitchen, he wondered why his father had even built the place, for it was obvious no one had ever used the shining new pots and pans lining the open cupboards. Compared to the crowded, very noisy kitchen at his uncle’s ranch in New Mexico, this one had all the appeal of an empty tomb. As he surveyed the place in the late afternoon light, he tried to imagine his Uncle Cash Younger teasing Aunt Lupita as she bustled about. It was as impossible as trying to picture the ranch hands gathering here for cups of strong black chicory and boisterous talk on cold winter mornings or after the day’s work was through. When his stomach rumbled with neglect, Jason wished he could smell some of Lupita’s tortil­las frying on the griddle, instead of the mustiness of a long closed-up house.

He had lived with Cash and Lupita for fifteen years now, although it seemed as if it were just yesterday that his mother had taken him to New Mexico to live with her brother and his wife. The sterile emptiness of the mansion made him thankful he would never have to live in this showplace his father had built for no apparent reason other than to impress others with his wealth.

J.T. walked across the deserted kitchen and soon his boot heels and spurs rang out hollowly in the long, wood-paneled hallway. No paintings brightened the walls. The doors spaced at intervals down the hall were all closed, casting the passageway in deep shadow. As he moved along, his saddlebags in one hand, his guitar under his arm and satchel under the other, J.T. took care not to bump his possessions against the close walls. He didn’t think it would do to scar up the place since he was trying to sell it.

Walking down the darkened hallway was like strolling through a tun­nel toward the past, as he pictured the night his uncle had told him the story of his parents’ divorce. He’d been working with Cash, herding wild mustangs into a box canyon when they set up camp for the night. Cash had casually mentioned the rotten hand his sister had been dealt when she married Harrington, and J.T. immediately asked if Cash knew what had happened between them.

All his mother had ever told him was that she and his father had differ­ences they could not resolve, but that his father was a good man, an upstanding citizen, and that it was because of her that they finally divorced.

Jason remembered the night as if it were yesterday. The crackling, open fire, the call of the night owl in the trees on the hillside behind them, even the crisp fall air was still as real to him as his uncle’s words.

"Hell, yes,” Cash had said before he flipped his cigarette into the fire, "you could say it was because of Louisa. It was because your ma wouldn’t put up with his livin’ part-time with his mistress. Harrington wouldn’t give the woman up, either. Not for you, not for Louisa, not for nothin’. Let his wife walk out and take his only son and never put up a fight at all.”

Since J.T. had taken his mother at her word—that his father had cared about him, that the money he sent to Louisa Younger Harrington’s bank account was for Jason’s upbringing and education, that he felt his son was better off living with his mother—he never wondered why his father had never contacted him personally. When he was a child, he had been able to rationalize that his father was an important man who was just too busy to see him. But once Cash had told him the truth straight out, when he learned that his father had placed his love for his mistress above any feel­ings he had for his wife and son, Jason’s illusions vanished, and with them went any shred of respect or admiration he might have ever held for his father.

For years he had nurtured an image of his father that had been built on a lie, and there was nothing J.T. hated worse than a liar. Ever since Cash’s revealing conversation, he became angry when he thought of his father and his desertion. His uncle often ribbed him about his unbending idealism and the resultant intolerance he displayed whenever anyone failed to live up to his expectations of them, but his emotional reaction to a deception of any kind was not something he was willing or able to change.

The long, paneled hallway opened onto a foyer as large as the sitting room back home. Shaking his head, J.T. stared up at the huge crystal chande­lier that hung a good twenty feet above him in the high open ceiling of the foyer. A wide, curving staircase that led to the second floor beck­oned, so he decided to choose a room of his own before he explored the rest of the place and made himself something to eat.





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