The Return of Barbary Red
Prologue: A Chance Meeting
The tall, dark haired man walked into The Lucky Lady Saloon and took a moment to adjust to the dim lighting. It was unlikely to be called The Lucky Lady without at least a poker table, and he was not disappointed. He stopped by the bar first to order a whiskey, then made his way to the table where a group of cowhands were anteing up. "May I join you gentlemen?" he enquired, then sat down and began playing earnestly. He looked up halfway through the first pot to find a beautiful red-haired woman standing next to him. He took her for a saloon girl, but a second glance revealed far too business-like an air to be of that ilk. She had an odd expression on her face that he could not at first read. "If you're The Lucky Lady," he said, "do feel free to lend me some of it."
She shook her head. "Not me," she said, gazing at him somberly. She took a pair of wire framed spectacles out of her pocket and put them on, examined him closely, then took them off and sighed.
"Have I disappointed you?" he asked.
She shook her head again. "I'm sorry, it's just - well, you look like someone I know. Used to know."
"Lucky fellow," he said, looking her over appreciatively. "Perhaps we can amend that." He laid his cards on the table and stood, tipping his hat. "Gentleman Jack Darby, at your service."
"Barbara Redfern," she replied, offering him her hand. He bowed over it handsomely and she smiled ruefully. She studied him closely. "So like, and so unlike," she murmured.
He took her elbow and steered her aside. "That someone wouldn't be Jarrod Barkley, would it?"
She started. "Yes! You know him?"
It was his turn to smile ruefully. "All too well," he replied. "I owe him a debt I doubt I'll ever be able to repay."
"So do I," she said grimly. "But then there are many ways to owe a debt, and many ways to repay."
Jack squinted at her with an appraising look. "Well, beautiful lady, if you would care to have dinner with me, perhaps we may discuss the matter more fully."
It was her turn to appraise him. "I think I might enjoy that," she said.
The tall, sandy-haired man walked into The Lucky Lady Saloon and took a moment to adjust to the dim lighting. He made his way over to the bar and said, "I'm looking for Barbary Red."
The bartender wiped the bar with a rag. "No one by that name here," he said tersely. "You wanna order a drink?"
"Barbara Redfern, then," the man said, slapping a coin down on the bar. "I'll have a beer. And don't put me off - I know she's here."
The bartender drew the beer and slid it down the bar. He disappeared into the back room and returned a moment later. "She says you can go back." He went on with his wiping.
The sandy-haired man left his beer on the bar and slipped through the open door, closing it behind him. Barbara sat at a desk writing in a ledger. She looked up and over the rim of her spectacles. "Yes?" she said. "You wanted to see me?"
"Barbary Red?" the man asked.
She frowned. "I don't use that name anymore - it has some bad memories. So what do you want?"
"I'm Darren Smith," the man said, offering her his card. "You've probably heard of me."
She took it and read it. "An attorney? I don't need a lawyer. And I don't believe I have heard of you."
"I represented Molly Barkley a few years ago - when you tried to frame her." He gauged her reaction - but he was bound to be disappointed.
"I know Jarrod Barkley," she said coolly, "and I've met his wife, but I never tried to frame anyone. Why should I?"
Darren huffed. "Don't play coy. You as much as admitted it to Jarrod - he told me so."
"I did no such thing," she said heatedly, "and if I had done anything like that, I'd know better than to admit it to you. Lawyer." She tossed the card at him, angrily.
"Now calm down, ma'am," Darren said. "I'm here to make you an offer. I have a problem I believe you can help me with."
"And what is that?" Barbara said, still heated.
"You can aid the course of true love," Darren said, wheedling.
"I've long since stopped believing in such a thing," Barbara said.
"Do you believe in money?" Darren countered. "I'll give you two thousand dollars."
Barbara raised her eyebrows. "I'm listening."
Darren began to pace, running his fingers through his hair. "You said you know Jarrod. Do you know his sister Audra?"
"I know of her - I've never met her."
Darren stopped and stared off into space. "Lovely girl, beautiful, spirited. . .just the sort to make an excellent Governor's wife."
"You want to be Governor?"
Darren nodded. "I'd make a good one, and I could, too, if I had a wife like Audra by my side." He slapped the wall angrily. "I courted her for four years. Then just at the moment when we should have been wed, she told me she didn't want to get married and ran off to the Amazon."
Barbara quirked an eyebrow. "The Amazon? That's a long way to run."
"She has an idea she wants to be a scientist or some such thing. Well, I might have borne that - but now she tells me she's engaged to another man." Darren began pacing again. "I know he must be the real reason she turned me down."
"So woo her back," Barbara said, shrugging. "It's none of my affair."
"Audra's too much of a lady to listen to my suit while she's engaged to another. But if this other man were out of the picture, I know I'd have a chance. That's all I want." Darren gazed at her earnestly.
Barbara shook her head. "You want me to break up a happy couple, someone I have no reason to harm, for money? You must have an extremely low opinion of me."
Darren's face hardened. "All right then, how about to stay out of prison?"
Barbara glowered. "That's an empty threat and you know it!"
Darren pulled an envelope out of his pocket. "Is it? I have a signed affidavit – this is a copy. The original is in a safe place." He threw the envelope down on the desk. Barbara picked it up, her face white, and began to read. Darren continued speaking as she did so. "Part of the 'evidence' against Molly Barkley was a forged journal. You probably didn't realize that the forger had been a client of mine – I recognized his work. It wasn't difficult to track him down and extract a confession out of him."
Barbara finished reading and slowly folded the paper and put it back into the envelope. She glared up at Darren. "That's not what Molly Barkley wanted. She wanted me to have a second chance."
Darren shrugged. "I have no desire to see you in prison, but I will have Audra Barkley for my wife. I don't care what you have to do, just keep my name out of it, hear?"
"What if I can't bring it off?" Barbara asked.
"Just see that you do," Darren insisted. "Audra's out of town until Christmas - she's off gallivanting on some lecture tour, so you have well over a month. I want her free by then, you understand?"
"Why are you doing this?" Barbara asked, blinking back a tear. "Why not just get on with your life - other people do. Why involve me? Why go to such lengths?"
"True love," Darren said, without a trace of irony. "I can't live without Audra and in time she'll realize she can't live without me. I just don't want her married to the wrong man when that happens. And I have faith in your abilities as a plotter - you almost got an innocent woman sent to prison - not for a crime she didn't commit, but for a crime that never happened. That takes brains, and talents." He looked at her pale face. "I'll still give you the money," he said, conciliatorily.
"Half now, half when it's done," Barbara said bitterly, bowing to her fate.
"All right," Darren said agreeably, taking out his wallet and counting out the money. He handed it to Barbara and she pursed her lips and took it.
"I hope you rot in Hell," she said.
"Even Hell would be Heaven if Audra were with me," Darren said, tipping his hat and exiting.
Barbara sat, clasping the money and retching. Since that day in the alley when Molly had first slugged her then freed her, she had made her own decisions. Maybe they had not always been the right ones, but they had been hers. Who was this shyster who thought he could force her to do his bidding? She shivered - his bidding was just what she would have to do if she were to avoid prison. The wheels in her brain began their spinning. She thought she might need help for this, but who could she trust? She wrinkled her brow - no, not trust exactly - who could she count on?
She pulled over a piece of paper and began composing a telegram, the first of many she would send over the next several days.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Are you sure you're not related to Samantha Crawford?" Gentleman Jack asked several days later when she told him her plan.
"Who's Samantha Crawford?"
Jack shrugged. "An old friend - or she used to be. She could come up with plans as twisty as yours. Why don't we just go straight to the badger game, instead of fiddling with all this folderol? Simple is better."
"Because blackmail is a dirty game - the dirtiest. I don't want to stoop that low unless I have to.”
"Even though you're being blackmailed yourself?" Jack quirked an eyebrow.
"I have my limits, or I hope I have." Barbara bit her lip. "I'll be getting my hands dirty enough, if Plan A doesn't pan out."
"I certainly hope it does - it's the simplest solution. I admit I don't like Plan B at all. It could all backfire and I'd hate to see Audra get hurt."
"Would you rather see me go to prison?" Barbara countered.
"No." Jack shook his head. "But Audra's been nothing but kind to me. Nursed me back to health and all that. I owe her. And I always pay my debts."
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were in love with her, too." Barbara scowled.
"A little," Jack admitted. "Well, that’s what happens when you're brought back from certain death by a ministering angel. Especially a beautiful one." Jack smiled reminiscently.
"Consider you're doing her a favor. She should marry the man who loves her the most, shouldn't she?”
Jack frowned and shook his head. "If I ever met a woman who was capable of knowing her own mind, it would be Audra."
"Very well, Jack." Barbara threw up her hands. "Forget I'm being blackmailed, forget I'll wind up in prison. But consider this - if I fail, what else might that blackmailer stoop to? For her sake, as well as mine, it has to be made an end of."
"All right," Jack sighed. "You have a point. I only hope I don't live to rue this."
Barbara handed him a sheet of paper. "I got her itinerary from the college - you should be able to catch up with her in New Orleans." She examined his face. "If you're going to get cold feet, then tell me now."
Jack shook his head. "No, Barbara, I'm with you. If only to pick up the pieces if it all goes sour." He stood and put on his hat. "I'll send you a nice long telegram from New Orleans."
"I'll be waiting," Barbara said, standing also. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the money. "Here, you're entitled to a share."
Jack waved his hand. "No, please, not blood money. I do have my limits."
Barbara scowled, puzzled. "Then why?"
Jack smiled and bowed. "Always have had a weakness for damsels in distress." He tapped his hat and left, still smiling.
Barbara stared for a long moment at the closed door, then sighed and went back to her ledger. Until she had to go to Stockton, she still had a business to run.
An Old Friend
"Was that your brother I saw out in the audience?" Emerson asked Audra in the dressing room after the lecture.
Audra's brow furrowed. "I wouldn't think so - none of my brothers would have come to New Orleans without letting me know."
There was a tap at the door and Audra opened it. "Jack? My goodness, what are you doing here?"
"This isn't your brother?" Emerson asked, shaking his head confusedly.
"Emerson, allow me to introduce Jack Darby. Jack is, well, a friend of the family, I guess I'd say.”
"And I'd be honored to hear that," Jack replied, bowing over her hand. "It's good to see you again, Audra."
"You're sure you're not related?" Emerson asked again.
"Quite sure, Professor," Jack said. "I was wondering if you’d care to have supper with me, Audra. I know a great little place in the Vieux Carré . It'll give us a chance to catch up."
"All right," Audra said, after a moment's consideration. She took his arm as they walked out of the lecture hall. "What are you doing here, Jack? The last I saw of you was in California."
"Oh, New Orleans is my old stomping grounds - I always seem to find myself drawn back here." He assisted her into a cab at the stand in front of the hall. "I saw the notice for your lecture and couldn't resist. I must say you're looking well - positively glowing."
"Thank you," Audra blushed. "You're looking well yourself. Quite recovered from your wound?"
"Never better, thanks to you, and your family. How are they all?"
Audra filled him in on her family's happenings on the ride to the restaurant - Nick and Samantha's baby, Heath's marriage, her engagement. Jack listened somberly, noting every detail. "I wish you every happiness," he said, helping her out of the cab.
"We haven't announced it yet," Audra warned, taking his arm. "It only happened just before I left on this tour."
Jack pulled out a chair for her at the table. "I'm surprised he let you go," he said, seating himself across from her.
"It was already planned," Audra said, "and he wanted me to have the reward for all my hard work." She smiled, thinking about it.
"Sounds like an unusual man," Jack said, summoning the waiter. "Shrimp etouffé for the lady and crawfish etouffé for me."
"I'll have the crayfish," Audra corrected.
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Really? Most non-natives steer away from them."
Audra shrugged. "I spent six months in the jungle. I've eaten stranger things."
"Very well." Jack nodded. "And bring us a bottle of your best wine." The waiter scurried off.
Audra's eyes narrowed. "Why do I have the feeling you're up to something?"
Jack widened his eyes innocently. "Moi?"
"Why the wining and dining?"
"It's always a pleasure to treat a pretty lady," Jack said, "even if she is unavailable. Besides, it's the least I can do for you after all you've done for me. I wouldn't be here now if not for you. I never really got a chance to express my thanks properly.”
"It was a group effort," Audra said. "You should thank Samantha mostly."
"I would, except I expect her husband is still gunning for me." Jack smiled ruefully.
"I expect so - Nick can hold a grudge." Audra smiled back.
The waiter brought the wine and Jack poured out two glasses. "So tell me about your engagement," Jack said. "Who's the lucky fellow?"
"Owen," Audra said and Jack felt a flash of jealousy at the way she said it, which he quickly tamped down. "Owen Grigsby. He's a doctor."
The waiter brought their food and Audra took a bite, washing it down with a swallow of wine. "My, this is good."
"The best in New Orleans, I told you so," Jack smiled. "Do tell me more." He topped off Audra's glass.
So Audra proceeded to tell him all about Owen, Jack keeping her glass carefully topped off while she did so.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Barbara shuffled through the pages of Jack's telegram, making careful note of the salient details. The man was thorough, she had to give him that. There was more than enough here to carry out Plan B, with refinements, if it came to that.
She could procrastinate no longer - time to set her first plan into motion. She sighed and listened to the pounding of her pulses. For all the risks of Plan B, and the moral depths she would have to sink to in order to carry if off, she found she really preferred it, because she had every reason to believe that Plan A would break her heart.
Barbara made a last check of her appearance. She hoped she looked respectable enough - it had been five years since she had last seen Jarrod Barkley and she blushed to consider those long ago circumstances - her gloating over the pain she had caused him, his wife punching her out then offering grace all unlooked-for. According to Jack, much had changed for Jarrod since then - a judgeship, a house in town, four children. She wished she could see them - see if any of them looked like Him, or if they looked like Her. But that was not in the cards. She sighed and entered the courthouse, making her way to the judges' chambers.
Barbara presented her card to Jarrod's secretary and waited while she went into the judge's chambers. The moments seemed enormously long before she returned with a, "He'll see you now."
Putting on respectability like a mask, Barbara entered the lair. "Good afternoon, Jarrod."
"Barbara," Jarrod said tersely. "You have some nerve."
"I need your help," she said.
Jarrod glared at her. "No."
Barbara started. She had expected some resistance, but not this. "You won't even hear me out?"
"Whatever trouble you're in is your own affair," Jarrod said. "I'm sure it's far less than you deserve."
Barbara bit her lip. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I don't deserve your help, but you're the only one I can turn to."
Jarrod turned livid. "Because of you!" he shouted, "my wife almost went to prison! Because of you! Our little girl was almost born there! How dare you ask me to help you!"
Barbara shuddered. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't know."
"When you attack a woman the day she returns from her honeymoon, you might consider that it's a possibility!" Jarrod's face was red as a beet now and Barbara found, to her surprise, that she was afraid of him.
Tears began to stream unbidden. "I'm not that person now. Your wife gave me a second chance and I've tried to live up to it. Truly I have."
"I don't care," Jarrod said harshly. "I don't care what you do, or where you go, just leave me and mine alone."
Barbara looked up into his face and knew there was no help there. If she told him her tale, he would move to protect his sister and leave Barbara to the wolves.
"All right," she said. "I suppose some sins are unforgivable. I'll not trouble you again." She turned to go.
"See that you don't," Jarrod said as the door closed behind her.
Barbara wiped her eyes as she walked down the street, downcast and humiliated. She was honest enough to know she had had it coming - she had been living on the Barkley mercy for years now - but that only sharpened the pain. She had been right - Plan A had broken her heart. On to Plan B.
She made her way to the lodgings she had taken near the waterfront. She shuddered to be back in her old haunts, but at least it was familiar. She unlocked the door and sat down before the cracked mirror. She paused as she considered what she was about to do - it would cost her what little soul she had gained, but she would rather consign her soul to Hell than her body to prison. She opened her makeup case. Time for Barbara Redfern, Barbary Red, to disappear.
She stained her hair a dull brown, then ran her comb through it backwards, tousling and matting it. She went to the wardrobe and pulled out her costume - old, rough clothes, torn and stained. She walked down the long staircase to the alley, where she rubbed dirt into her hair, across her face, into her clothes, her nose wrinkling in disgust. She climbed back to the top of the stairs. Gazing down them, she almost lost her nerve, but she considered the long agony of prison against the short agony of a fall and she threw herself down them, rolling into a ball to protect her limbs. At the bottom, she examined herself, climbed to the top and threw herself down again.
She climbed back wearily to her room and threw herself on the bed, waiting for dark, waiting for her bruises to blossom. She tried not to think, to make herself a blank and so await the passing of the hours.
She awoke with a start - it was pitch dark outside and she hurriedly glanced at the clock. After midnight, but not near dawn yet. Good. She stood and collapsed back on the bed, pain in her ankle like a sharp knife. It seemed she had injured herself after all. She swore softly, then stood again, gingerly. She could put her weight on it, a little. It would have to do. She smiled ruefully. She was going to see a doctor after all. Maybe it would do well, at that. She took a bottle off the dressing table and checked the contents, grimacing. She hated laudanum, hated its effect on her, hated the way she would feel afterward, but it was necessary. She slipped the little bottle into her pocket and set out.
Limping, clinging to walls on the way, it took her longer than she thought it would, but at last she arrived at the doctor's doorstep. She sat down on the bottom step, took out the bottle, swallowed some of its contents, then laid herself down. She grimaced as sleep overtook her.
Miss Fannie Jones
Barbara awoke to full daylight, groggy and confused as laudanum always left her. She squinted against the light and a lock of hair fell across her face. Red hair. She swore to herself - she'd been cleaned up, thoroughly, and she hadn't counted on that.
"Ah, you're awake," a warm masculine voice said. She looked up into soft brown eyes, warm and kind and sparkling. How could this man believe he was repulsive to women? The eyes alone. . . .
Remembering her role, she clutched the blanket to her chest and shrank back. "Where am I?" she said, her voice soft and frightened.
"I'm Dr. Grigsby," Owen said. "You're in my infirmary. You've had a nasty fall, but you'll recover." He smiled reassuringly.
Damn. He was supposed to think she'd been beaten. This was not going to be as easy as she had thought. Well, best to work with what she had. She looked down at herself - she was attired in a clean nightshirt, her hair washed and, apparently, scrubbed. She tried to move her foot and found it splinted. "Is it broken?"
Owen shook his head. "It's a bad sprain, but you should be up and around within a week. Miss. . . ?"
A week. What could she do laid up for a week? But if the way to this man lay through his kindheartedness. . .maybe it would work at that. "Jones," she said. "Fannie Jones." She pulled down a lock of hair and looked at it. "Who cleaned me up? You?" She looked wide-eyed into Owen's face.
He shook his head. "No, don't worry. I have a lady who sometimes helps me with my women patients."
No one I know, I hope. But if it had been, he wouldn't be acting so calm, would he?
"Why did you color it?" Owen asked.
Barbara clutched the covers again. "He's after me," she moaned. She threw back the covers and sprang up, tottering on her bad ankle and falling into Owen's arms. "I have to get out of here." She clutched at his lapels.
Owen gently lowered her back onto the cot. "Now, now," he said, "you're not going anywhere, not on that ankle." He reached up and unclasped her hands from his lapels. "Are you in trouble? Would you like me to call the sheriff?"
Barbara clutched at his arms. "No, no, please. Not the law." She shivered.
"All right," Owen said, gently. He grasped her feet and slid her back under the covers. He pulled up a stool and sat next to her. "If you're in legal trouble, I have a friend who's a judge. You can rely on his discretion - I'm sure he'd be able to help you."
Good Lord, he's talking about Jarrod. This time her panic was real as she clutched at him again. "No, no, no, please. No one must know." She whimpered. "No one."
"Don't be afraid," Owen said, disentangling himself from her and pulling the covers up. "Will you tell me what's wrong, then?"
Barbara shook her head and buried her face in the pillow. "No, I can't."
Owen sighed. "Perhaps when you're better." He laid a hand on her head. "Why the laudanum?"
Barbara sighed. "It helps me. Can I have it back, please?"
Owen shook his head. "No, you won't need it while you're here." He looked at her closely. "Do you have pain, Miss Jones?"
Barbara thought a moment. Better not lie about that - this doctor was too smart to be fooled that way. She shook her head. "No, but it helps me feel better."
"Are you with child?"
Barbara's head snapped up. "No!" she said, caught off-guard.
"Are you sure? When was your last flux?"
"You ask some awfully impertinent questions," Barbara said.
"I'm a doctor," Owen said, unapologetically. "It's my job."
"Last week, if you must know," Barbara humphed.
Owen grinned. "I was wondering if you had any spirit at all. I'm glad to see that you do. Maybe you can make use of it, if you stay off the laudanum. Do you have someone you can stay with, who can care for you until your ankle heals?"
Barbara shook her head.
"Very well." Owen stood and walked toward the door, picking up his medical bag and putting on his hat. "I have to go see some other patients now - I'll have Mrs. Smith come by and give you your dinner. You'll be fine until I return."
"Don't leave me alone," Barbara whimpered.
"I'll have her come by right away then," Owen frowned. "Don't be afraid, no one will bother you here." He turned the knob and went out.
Barbara took stock. Things had not gone according to plan, but she thought she might get on well enough. She bit her lip - she was a bit concerned that, when she had fallen into his arms, he had not reacted at all - not as she thought he should have, given what she'd been told. It also seemed she should show a bit more of her fiery nature, which frightened her. Better to keep herself completely hidden behind that mask, but not if doing so threw the entire plan off. She was still lost in thought when Myra Smith blew in, plumping pillows and mitering bed sheets, until Barbara pleaded fatigue and asked to be left undisturbed.
Myra went home after dinner, saying she needed to take care of her children and Barbara pleaded only weakly for her to stay. After she was gone, Barbara found herself feeling almost as jumpy as if someone really were pursuing her. The house was too quiet, too unfamiliar, and she had too much time to feel her aches and pains. She breathed a welcome sigh when Owen finally returned.
"How are you feeling, Miss Jones?" he asked, feeling her forehead and taking her pulse.
"You can call me Fannie," she said shyly.
"Oh, I think doctors should treat their patients with respect, don't you? Doctoring can be such a humiliating process otherwise," he said, smiling.
"Everything hurts," she said truthfully.
"I daresay it does," Owen looked at her sympathetically. "You should try to stretch your limbs, even if you can't get up, so you don't get too stiff."
"Please, may I have some laudanum? I don't think I can sleep without it." She looked at him helplessly, nearly certain he would deny her.
"No," he said, "it's not good for you, Miss Jones, and your injuries are not serious enough to require it. I'm sure once you compose your mind, you'll sleep quite well. Is there anything I can fetch you before I retire?"
Barbara looked at the clock.. "It's only nine thirty. Could you stay and talk to me for awhile?"
"I'm usually up before dawn," Owen said, "but I can stay a little while." He pulled up a stool and sat by her cot.
"There's a dance in town tonight," Barbara said, glancing down at her foot. "Why aren't you at it?"
"Too busy," Owen said, "and I'm not much for dancing."
"How are you going to find yourself a lady friend if you never go out?" she asked flirtatiously.
Owen laughed. "I already have a lady friend, thank you. I'm certain she'll teach me to dance when she has a mind to."
"Why not tonight?"
"She's traveling for the next few weeks," Owen said. "She'll be home for Christmas."
"Is she pretty?" Barbara asked.
"Yes," Owen smiled.
"Prettier than me?"
"Prettier than anyone," Owen said warmly, in such a way it was impossible to take offense. "But that's enough about me, Miss Jones. Are you ready to talk about yourself?"
Barbara shook her head, panic in her eyes. Owen's eyes grew sympathetic. "All right then," he said, "it's time I got some sleep. Shall I bring you some books, if you're not sleepy yet?"
Barbara nodded and Owen left, returning a few minutes later with a stack of novels. "Sleep well, Miss Jones," he said and she heard him climb the stairs to his room and shut the door. The stairs that were an insurmountable barrier to her right now.
She took a book from the pile, but did not open it. She propped her arms on her knees as she considered what to do next, and if any of it would do her any good at all.
Barbara was bored. Used to an active life, she chafed at being bedridden. The doctor was attentive enough when he was there - bathing her foot in salts, even helping her to hobble about a bit after a few days. She took every opportunity for flirtation - complimenting him whenever possible, leaning more heavily on his arm than was necessary, but he treated her with nothing but courtesy. It was frustrating. And alarming. She felt the days slipping by her, each one a bite of freedom that she would miss terribly.
If this was freedom. She chafed at the splint on her leg, chafed at the blackmail that held her here. Chafed at the lies hanging in the air between herself and this man. Each day Owen's gentle questioning became more probing, although he never insisted when she refused to answer.
They began to fall into a routine - Owen would check her each morning, tending to her ankle before leaving to tend his other patients. Sometimes he would be home to eat dinner with her, but most nights he only had a late supper and some conversation before retiring. Once he found she could play chess, however, the nightly conversations were conducted over the chess table, Barbara taking the opportunity to lean suggestively on his arm as he helped her hobble to the parlor.
Time was running out - her ankle was nearly healed and she knew she could not fool him into believing it was worse than it was. Soon, she would be well and what would he do then? Find her a safe place to stay? Consult with Jarrod about her supposed troubles with the law? Even though she had asked him not to, she was uncertain that he had not done so already. It was too much to hope that once she was healed, she would be allowed to stay in any case.
Such thoughts distracted her from the game and, although she could usually hold her ground quite well, she made stupid blunders and swiftly found herself checkmated.
"What's wrong, Miss Jones?" Owen asked. "You usually play much better than this."
"I wish you would call me Fannie," Barbara said irritably.
Owen gazed at her warmly. "Why? Why is that so important to you?"
"No one else calls me Miss Jones," she said, truthfully enough.
"They should," Owen said. "But that doesn't answer my question."
Barbara sighed. "Worried about the future." She looked into his eyes. "What's going to happen to me? I feel safe here, but I can't stay forever."
"I've been giving that some thought," Owen said, standing and assisting her to her feet. "Come sit on the sofa and we'll discuss it."
Barbara threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, hard. She put everything she had into it, but felt nothing back from him, not even surprise. He tried to push her away, but she clung tighter, pressing her body up against him. He reached up and grasped her arms, untwining them from around his neck, and set her away from him. Taking her by the shoulders, he gazed into her eyes and said calmly, "Miss Jones, you don't have to do this. Even if you owed me anything, be sure I wouldn't exact such a payment."
"What do you mean?" she asked, genuinely puzzled.
"I mean you don't have to prostitute yourself anymore. No woman should have to," he said fervently.
He thinks I'm a prostitute. He thinks I'm a prostitute. "Why do you think I'm a prostitute?"
"Come now," Owen said, taking her hand, "you're obviously poor, but this hand has never done a hard day's work."
"But. . .the way you've treated me, you've never. . ." Barbara's voice trailed off and she found she was shaking.
"I understand how it can be for poor women, especially those who have no one," Owen said. "But if you'd just tell me the truth about yourself, I'm sure I could help you."
"I can't," Barbara said.
"Could you tell me why you wanted me to believe you were dependant on laudanum? That one puzzles me mightily."
She hung her head. Had she fooled him at all? Well, he hadn't figured everything out, but if she stayed any longer, he probably would. "How did you know?" she asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
"Your skin is clear, your eyes are clear, you had no symptoms of withdrawal," Owen said. "You may as well tell me all. Certainly you know you can trust me by now."
She shook her head, still trembling.
Owen took note of her state and sighed. "All right, in the morning then." He helped her back to the infirmary and into her cot, resting his hand gently on her head for a moment. "Sleep well." He turned to go, then turned back. "You can trust me, you know."
She pulled the covers over her head until she heard him climb the stairs and shut his bedroom door. Part of her urged her to climb those stairs, too. Surely she had not lost all her seductive powers. She sat up and stripped the bandages off her foot, discarded the splints, threw the blanket over her shoulders. She made her way through the surgery and out the door into the street. A light snow was falling, but she barely noticed as she ran, down the street, through alleyways, paying no heed to direction in her haste to get away.
She also paid no heed to the voice calling behind her. Calling her name, asking her to stop running. She stumbled on her sore ankle, on her cold, bare feet, and leaned against the wall, somewhere. She turned her face to it, sobbing, tears running cold down her cheeks. She felt warm hands grasp her, turn her around, found herself looking into deep blue eyes. "Barbara? Barbara, what's happened?"
She clung to him, burying her face in his chest, still sobbing. "Oh, Jack, Jack," was all she could say.
He put his arms around her and she continued her sobs, wondering why. What was this dark, chill thing that filled her bones? Was this shame? She wondered if this was what kept good people good, the desire to avoid this thing at all costs. "Barbara," Jack said, "you're not dressed, and where are your shoes?"
She shook her head, unable to speak. He wrapped the blanket around her and scooped her up, carrying her like a baby, but she could not cease her sobs.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
She woke up a little after dawn, in a soft hotel bed, feeling pale and drained. She rolled over to find Jack slumbering peacefully next to her. She sat up and put on Jack's robe which lay across the foot of the bed. He stirred and his eyes fluttered open. "Ah, my dear, you're awake," he said, throwing back the covers, revealing silk pajamas. "Now do you want to tell me what that was all about?"
"First tell me what you're doing here. How did you just happen to be outside the doctor's when I ran out?"
"I told you I'd be around to pick up the pieces, didn't I? If it went sour? Be glad I was there watching for you." He stripped off the pajama top and began dressing. Barbara quickly turned her back, so she didn't see his grin.
"You were watching the entire time?" she asked.
"Off and on, but I only got into town a couple of days ago. Didn't you know that if you're going to run the badger game, you need to have an irate husband handy, or a camera? Preferably both."
"I wasn't running the badger game." Barbara shivered. "Not blackmail. Certainly not with him. I thought if I could, well, if I could tempt him sufficiently, he'd give her up on his own."
"So what went wrong?"
"It's hard to say." Barbara bit her lip.
"He thought I was a prostitute."
Barbara wasn't sure if he was joking or not. "No, that's not the problem. He thought I was a prostitute and he still respected me. I just couldn't go through with it."
"So that's why you were crying your heart out."
"I don't think I ever will understand women," Jack said with a sigh. "You can turn around now - I'm dressed. You look quite fetching in my robe, but you're going to need some clothes if you're going to go out at all. I presume you have some somewhere?"
"At my lodgings," Barbara answered.
"I'll go get them, but first we have to decide what we're going to do next."
"I'm leaving the doctor alone," Barbara said firmly. "I'm leaving the Barkleys alone. There's nothing else I can do."
"Of course there is, darlin'," Jack said. "I said from the beginning we should fight fire with fire."
"You mean we should go after Darren Smith." Barbara shuddered.
"Do you want to go to prison?" Jack asked sternly.
"No, of course I don't, but I don't want to stoop to blackmail, either."
"It's a rotten choice, I agree, but you have to make it. It would only be justice, after all. Maybe not lawfully just, but just all the same."
Barbara considered a long, long moment, wringing her hands. Finally, she nodded her head. "All right, but I don't have to like it."
"There's one thing you're going to have to do first," Jack said.
Jack went down on one knee and took her hand. He whispered into her ear.
She snatched her hand back. "You're joking."
Jack stood up. "Think about it - for this to work, one of you is going to have to be and, since he's not, that leaves you."
Her eyes narrowed. "It would only be temporary," she said firmly.
Jack raised his hand. "I swear on my grandmother's grave."
She thought awhile longer. "All right, I guess I don't have any real choice, do I? But don't go getting any ideas."
"Where would you be if I didn't have ideas?" Jack said. "Heading to prison, that's where." He put on his hat. "I'll go fetch your clothes and buy a camera." He looked at her face. "Probably should wait a couple of days for those bruises to disappear. We can rehearse in the meantime, since you've never done this before."
Barbara humphed and let him go. She sat on the bed to wait, not sure what she felt anymore, just wishing this were all over so she could get back to her life. Hope was fading quickly that that would ever happen and she contemplated the future with growing apprehension.
The Denver snow lay in deep drifts along the road - Barbara and Jack had to hire a sleigh, although Jack had taken the precaution of removing the bells. He reined the horses to a halt in front of Darren's house. The windows spilled the warmth of fires and gaslight out into the darkness, yet cold as Barbara was, she felt no desire to enter.
"Now you know what to do," Jack said, reaching into the back of the sleigh and picking up the camera and flash lamp.
"Yes, Jack," she said irritably. "We've gone over it a hundred times."
"Remember, if you can get him to go along it'll be easier, but it's not necessary. Just make it look good, and we'll have him."
"I'll do my best," she said.
Jack's eyes grew sympathetic. "I know you're new at this, and I know you don't like it, but it's the only way, Barb."
Barbara sighed. "I know, I know. Let's get it over with."
Jack leaned over and kissed her. "For luck," he said hurriedly. "Don't take umbrage."
She pursed her lips. "All right. Let's get to it."
"There's a big window in the drawing room - try to maneuver him in front of it. And remember, I'll be right there, so don't worry."
She nodded and got out of the sleigh, wrapping her shawl around her, not nearly warm enough. She made her way up the shoveled walkway while Jack trudged through the snow to the side of the house. She didn't envy him his task - at least she'd be playing her part indoors. She rapped the knocker and waited anxiously for Darren to answer it.
He opened the door and started back in surprise. "Miss Redfern? What are you doing here?"
"May I come in?" she asked. "It's brutally cold out here."
"Of course." Darren opened the door wider and stepped aside. He led the way to the drawing room, then turned and faced her. "What are you doing here?" he repeated. "If you've done what I asked, a telegram would have been sufficient."
Barbara moved to the fireplace and warmed her hands. "I tried," she said, "but it was impossible." She turned and looked into his eyes. "Please don't - don't send me to prison. I did my best, truly I did."
Darren frowned. "You haven't held up your end of the bargain."
Bargain? What bargain? She felt her temper start to rise and she tamped it back down. She might enjoy giving this weasel his comeuppance after all. She glanced over at the window. The shyster was in a perfect position. She moved over to him, swaying her hips provocatively. She looked up and batted her eyes at him. "Please," she said, "I'll do anything you want." She curled a hand behind his head. "Anything," she murmured as she kissed him.
Darren's response was immediate and heated - much more so than the doctor had been, yet for all the shame that encounter had engendered, she found she certainly had enjoyed it more. Darren's kiss made her want to retch, but she continued it just the same. She dropped her shawl and reached up to the shoulder of her dress, prepared ahead of time, and jerked down on the fabric, ripping the weakly sewn seam. She let out a scream at the same moment that a bright flash came through the window. She stepped back, pleased by Darren's shocked face, but was taken aback when he began to laugh heartily.
"Really, Miss Redfern," he said once he had caught his breath. "The old badger game? You don't really think I'm that gullible, do you?"
In shock, Barbara hurried over to the window and threw it open. She helped Jack climb through, her face white.
"Jarrod?" Darren said, all the color draining from his face as well. "What are you doing here?" Then it dawned him. "You can't be Jarrod. Who the hell are you?"
Jack bowed. "Gentleman Jack Darby, at your service." He brandished the camera. "Now, I think you'd better give the lady what she wants, don't you?"
Darren narrowed his eyes. "I don't know what you have to do with this, but you must be insane. So you caught me in an embrace with some floozy. A minor peccadillo - no one will care."
"I would ask," Jack said sternly, "that you be careful what terms you use to describe my wife."
Darren laughed again. "You think I didn't check her out before I hired her? She's not married," he scoffed.
Barbara had taken the opportunity to pin up her dress during this exchange. "Hired me? Blackmailed me, you mean."
"And you're trying to even the score? You'll have to do better than that."
"Let me handle this, Sweetheart," Jack said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. "It seems Mr. Smith has not caught up on current events." He held up the piece of paper, and Darren made a grab for it, but Jack pulled it back out of his reach. "Now, now, look - don't touch."
Darren looked at the marriage certificate, and began to fume. Jack smiled, and Barbara could practically see Darren's political ambitions going up in smoke. It was obvious Darren could, too.
"That's a forgery," Darren said.
"It most certainly is not," Jack said in an injured tone. "There's a copy filed in the Reno courthouse. You may telegraph them in the morning, if you so desire."
"I'll call the police," Darren threatened.
"Please do," Jack said amiably. "I would be quite happy to turn over this camera as evidence."
Darren's eyes narrowed, thinking. "Why are you doing this?" he asked, seemingly genuinely puzzled. "All I want is to marry the woman I love."
Barbara gasped. It seemed he actually believed it. She was at a loss for words, but apparently Jack was not.
"Few of us get what we want," he said. "Now stop dawdling and give the lady her affidavit. It's a fair trade, now isn't it?"
Darren frowned, but led the way to the study, Jack and Barbara following. He moved aside a painting, revealing a safe in the wall, and proceeded to dial the combination. He took out an envelope and handed it to Barbara, reluctantly. She opened it eagerly and read it over.
"Is it the original?" Jack asked.
She nodded and threw the affidavit into the fire, holding it down with the poker until it was completely consumed. She broke up the ashes and put the poker away, a satisfied smile on her face.
"Now you have what you wanted, give me that camera," Darren demanded.
"No," Barbara said. "I want something else, too."
Jack looked up in surprise, and Darren said grimly, "Don't press your luck."
"I want you to stay away from Audra Barkley," Barbara said.
"What's that to you?" Darren said.
"She's a nice girl, by all accounts," Barbara said, looking over at Jack, who nodded back, "and she deserves better than you."
"There's no way I'm going to promise that," Darren said.
"Then I think we'll just keep this," Jack said, holding up the camera. "See that you do, or we'll turn it over to the newspapers. See if you become governor then."
Darren looked like he was about to explode. "What's to keep you from turning it over anyway?"
Jack shrugged. "We'd have no reason to, now would we?"
Darren turned on Barbara. "You haven't won," he said, fists clenched. "It's easy enough to get another affidavit."
"Not so easy," Barbara said. "I gave Frank your thousand dollars, and he's high-tailed it to greener pastures. You'll never find him again."
Jack looked startled, but merely said, "Come on, Darling. Time for us to go. I'm sure Mr. Smith has better things to do." He put his arm around Barbara and led her out of the house, Darren shouting at them as they left.
"You won't get away with this!"
Jack helped Barbara into the sleigh and flicked the reins. "Darn it, I forgot my shawl," Barbara said, shivering.
Jack shrugged out of his coat and handed it to her. He tossed the camera into the back of the sleigh. "Be careful with that," Barbara said, "that's our insurance."
Jack shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I don't know how to use a camera."
Barbara's eyes widened, then she laughed, long and heartily. Laughed until she had tears streaming down her face. Jack grinned back. "You're a good bluffer yourself," he said. "I don't recall us meeting any Frank, much less giving him a thousand dollars."
Barbara wiped her eyes. "Funny how he called the wrong bluff, isn't it?"
"That's the nature of a good con, darlin' - make the mark see what you want him to." Jack grinned, then sobered. "He'll check it out, though. Once he finds your Frank, he'll just get another confession and come after you, you know that, don't you?"
Barbara sighed. "I suppose. At least I have a little breathing room until he does."
"You need a better plan than that, Sweetheart."
"What do you suggest?"
"Stay married," Jack said.
"Now listen here," she said heatedly, "we had an agreement."
Jack held up a hand. "Just hear me out, OK? His hands are tied as long as he believes we have proof he was entangled with a married woman. If we get that annulment, you'll lose whatever protection I can give you."
She squinted at him, trying to read him in the darkness. "That all sounds perfectly logical, except it's my entire life and future we're talking about."
"Mine, too," he pointed out. "I've been thinking about settling down, moving back to New Orleans - this last trip pretty much cemented that for me. I have a little money put aside - if you sell The Lucky Lady, we'll have a nice little nest egg to get started with."
"I don't love you, Jack," she said. "If I'm attracted to you at all, it's because you remind me of Him."
"Perhaps I prefer to think that he reminds you of me."
Barbara nearly laughed again. "You would." She sobered. "You remember when we first met, and you asked me if I was The Lucky Lady? Well, I did name it after someone - Molly Barkley." She waited for his reaction.
"All the more reason to get rid of it then," he said. "How long have you had your nose pressed against the window of that candy store?"
Barbara sighed. "Too long," she admitted.
"Come with me to New Orleans, and we can buy our own candy store."
"Why, Jack?" She held up her hand. "The real reason - you don't ask someone to marry you for convenience."
Jack shrugged. "We're already married. I'm asking to make it permanent. Don't you want a home, Barbara? A place to call your own, the pitter-patter of tiny feet?"
She turned and stared at him. "Why me? Surely you're not saying you're in love with me?"
Jack shrugged again. "Maybe not. It just feels right, is all. The right time, the right person. Doesn't it to you?"
She sat in thought a moment. "Yes," she said in wonder, "I guess it does, at that."
Jack reined the horses to a halt. "Then, madam, may I kiss the bride?"
When they resurfaced, some time later, panting and disheveled, Jack said, "We should change our names. Make it harder for him to come after us."
"What do you suggest?" Barbara said, winded but smiling.
"My mother's name was Randolph. It's an old New Orleans family, lots of history."
"Barbara and Jack Randolph," she said, trying it on for size. "Yes, I think that will do nicely."
Jack flicked the reins, and she nestled next to him, resting her head on his shoulder as they drove off, into the night and a new life.