*SNEAK PEAK* The Bride Star - The Civil War Brides, Book #6
Feet stomping the ground, voices raised in unison, the arena roared back to life after a moment of calm. Rayne Green stood backstage and listened to the large mob yell for an encore while her childhood friend and tour manager, Shaye, talked over her headset, frantically giving instructions to the concert staff bustling around them.
Having just delivered a two-hour sold out concert to a highly receptive crowd at the Allstate Arena just outside of Chicago, Rayne waited backstage for Shaye to give her the cue to perform an encore.
“Rayne! Rayne! Rayne!” they screamed to the beat of an imaginary drum.
Rayne’s head of security, Trevor Miller, watched Shaye intently while Shaye’s assistant, Kimber LaRue, watched Trevor. Rayne smiled as she observed Shaye in her element, oblivious to the daggers her assistant was sending her. Trevor adored Shaye and would do anything for her. He would not, however, do the same for Kimber.
“Time to go.” Shaye pushed Rayne back out onstage.
Sprinting into the middle of the stage, Rayne faced her fans. “Thank you, Chicago! You’re a great crowd.”
The stadium erupted in applause. Motioning to her band, Rayne waited for the music to start and launched into her latest number one hit. Barely able to hear herself above the crowd, she smiled with satisfaction. She lived for this. Her music, received enthusiastically by other people, helped her forget about the current state of her life, and the realities that encompassed it.
As she finished the song, Rayne looked stage right to see if she could do another. Shaye held up one finger, so Rayne turned back to the crowd with a smile. “We’re going to play something brand new for you guys. It’s going to be on my next album and I hope you like it.”
She signaled the band to start the song and smirked as her drummer missed the beat. He recovered quickly, but she couldn’t wait to give him hell later. They referred to him as a living metronome and it was rare for him to screw up.
She chose a slower number for the encore, and she almost laughed out loud as cell phones, instead of lighters, went up in the air. As the song ended, the crowd went wild, demanding one more, but Shaye motioned it was time to go.
“Good night, everyone. Thanks for coming. I love you!” Rayne yelled and ran off the stage as the crowd went wild.
“Great show, Reggie,” Shaye said. “Time to meet and greet, then off to the hotel.”
Shaye had given Rayne her nickname in high school when she’d found out Rayne was a baseball fanatic and her initials were R.E.G.
“What’s tomorrow again?” Rayne wiped the sweat from her face.
“You have your show at the House of Blues, then it’s off to Akron.” Rayne’s make-up girl powdered her face and fixed her lipstick as she and Shaye confirmed her itinerary. “The foundation wants to meet with you as well if you have time. I can fit them in over lunch tomorrow, but only if that’s okay with you.”
Three years ago, Rayne had started a charity to assist battered women and children escape from their abusers, and part of the sales of every concert went straight to the foundation.
“Yes, that’s totally fine.” Rayne handed her towel back to the woman. “Let’s go meet the vultures.”
Shaye led her to the press area, Trevor close behind, and then stepped back to let Rayne do her thing. Rayne noted Trevor stood sentry behind Shaye, his hand on her back. Rayne raised her eyebrow in his direction, but he didn’t budge.
“Rayne, how do you like Chicago?” one of the reporters asked.
“I love Chicago, are you kidding me?” Rayne glanced at a piece of paper Shaye handed her as she answered the reporter’s questions. “It’s one of my favorite cities, even with the humidity.”
“What’s going on with Shaunessy?”
Without missing a beat, Rayne said firmly, “We’re just friends.”
“So, no truth to the rumor you’re pregnant?” another reporter asked.
Rayne laughed. “Not with him or anyone else.”
“What’s your reaction to the critics who say you aren’t as good as Pink?”
Rayne rolled her eyes. “The critics would be correct. She’s amazing! She can sing rings around me.”
“What about a romance?”
“Is that Jake Fox?” Rayne held her palm over her eyes to shield them from the lights. “How are you? We haven’t seen you in a while.”
Shaye put a hand on Rayne’s shoulder, effectively stopping any other answers from the star. “Time’s up, folks!” Shaye interrupted. “Rayne has a tight schedule.”
Amidst disappointed rumblings from the reporters, Shaye escorted Rayne from the press box and into the hallway, where she shook hands and signed autographs. A group of local contest winners were a little rowdier tonight, so Trevor and his staff were working double-time just to keep hands from grabbing at her.
“It’s a good thing you’re not wearing anything loose,” Shaye whispered. “This crowd would rip it straight off you.”
Rayne’s skintight, patent leather pants sat low on her hips, a black lace bustier pushed her full breasts up and left her navel, complete with piercing, exposed. Her steel-toe, black, leather boots stopped just below the knee, zipper and buckles working together, as both form and function, finished the outfit.
The tattoo of Pegasus on her left shoulder blade was the perfect accessory, as was the diamond-studded snake wrap that wound her shapely bicep. She had a small diamond stud in her nose and large gold hoops in her ears.
“I thought you hated what I was wearing?” Rayne whispered.
Shaye smiled. “I don’t hate it. It’s just a bit revealing and something I could never wear.”
Rayne laughed. “You could so wear this, Shaye, you just wouldn’t.”
Shaye scrunched up her nose. “Oh, please! I’d reveal the muffin top from hell in those pants.”
Rayne groaned. “Quit with the fat talk, missie. You have a killer body.”
“Says the woman with zero body fat and the courage to show her belly ring.”
“You’re such the prude, Shaye Butter. It’s a wonder I keep you around.” Rayne used the nickname she’d given her when they were teenagers.
“I’m the only one who calls you on your crap.”
Rayne nodded. “Oh, right. I forgot about that.”
“You might want to hand me those hoops, Reg.” Shaye held her palm out. “Someone could rip them out.”
Rayne removed the earrings and placed them in Shaye’s hand just as an eager fan separated from the group and made an attempt at them. Trevor grabbed the man by the throat and pushed Shaye out of the way simultaneously.
“Shaye! Watch what you’re doing. The vultures will grab you to get to Rayne,” Trevor reprimanded as Rayne grabbed her arm and pulled her further within the group of bodyguards.
Before Shaye could comment, her cell phone went off and she raised her eyebrows when she looked at the screen.
“Why the look?”
“My mom.” Shaye hit the ignore button.
Rayne raised an eyebrow. “Are you arguing again?”
“Of course we are.” Shaye shrugged. “Never mind, I’m going to ignore it.”
“Rayne, is there anything I can assist with?” Kimber interrupted in an obvious attempt to get face time with the star.
Kimber LaRue, Shaye’s pseudo assistant, hovered. Although, Shaye wanted to hire someone more qualified, Kimber was the record company CEO’s niece, so Shaye ultimately had no say in the decision. She was stuck with her and in pure Shaye fashion, tried her best to be gracious. Rayne referred to her as the dingbat and several of their staff did so as well.
“Shaye’s got it all under control, Kimber,” Rayne said.
“Okay. Great.” Kimber wisely shut her mouth.
Trevor moved away from the group of fans and pushed the girls further down the hall. People lined the walls all the way to the limos and buses waiting outside. Rayne tried not to laugh, but the look on Kimber’s face was entirely too much for her. Shaye got pulled away, but not before she heard Kimber swear under her breath.
“I heard that,” Rayne said to the girl. “Watch it.”
“What did she say?” Shaye asked.
“Nothing, Butter. Ignore her.”
Interrupting their conversation, the venue manager had several questions for Shaye, so Rayne turned again to greet her fans and let Shaye take care of the paperwork. Shaye joined Rayne again a few minutes later and continued her vent as though she were never interrupted.
“I just don’t get her!” Shaye scowled. “Why is she so hostile? I’m her boss.”
Rayne let out a snort. “She’s jealous.”
“Trevor.” Signing an autograph, Rayne didn’t look up, seamlessly catering to her fans while still holding a conversation with Shaye.
Rayne giggled. “He has a huge crush on you and she has a huge crush on him. Never a good combo.”
“He does not.” Shaye shook her head.
Before Rayne could respond, someone pushing their way through the crowd distracted them. “Hey! Raining cats and dogs!”
The girls turned and, while Rayne’s face lit up, Shaye scowled in disgust. A tall skinny man rushed toward them. Tattoos and piercings covered his extremities, and his Mohawk was dyed several shades of red.
Trevor moved to grab the man quickly, but Rayne stayed him. “Jared? What are you doing here?”
“I followed you, babe. Wanna get out of here?”
Shaye grabbed her arm. “Rayne, we should get back to the hotel.”
“Don’t you have a church service to go to?” Jared piped in.
“Jared, be nice.” Rayne sent him a look of admonishment.
Jared snickered. “Maybe you’ve got some injuns you need to save.”
“Jared!” Rayne scowled. He held his hands up in surrender. “I’ll be back before midnight, Shaye, I promise. Come with us?”
Shaye sighed. “I can’t. I have work to do. My boss is a slave driver.”
Rayne laughed. “You can always take a break. You might actually have fun.”
“Fun with Jackass Jared?” Shaye retorted. “I’ll pass thanks.”
“Okay, okay.” Rayne laid her hand on her arm. “Seriously, Shaye, I’ll be back soon. I just need to blow off some steam.”
Shaye took a deep breath.
“Come on, Shaye-No-Lay, don’t be a prude,” Jared interrupted, using the name he used to call her in high school.
“God, Jared. Are you still twelve? Lay off,” Rayne snapped.
Shaye shook her head. “It’s fine. He’s stunted, Rayne.”
Jared snorted. “You wish I was stunted.”
“That was a really good comeback, Jared.” Shaye gave him the thumbs up. “Do you even know what stunted means?”
Jared snapped an expletive and Shaye laughed. Pulling her headset off and looping it around her neck, she drew Rayne aside, out of Jared’s earshot. “I don’t trust him, Rayne.”
Rayne smiled. “He’s harmless, Butter. You know that. He’s a blowhard—always has been. Even in high school.”
Shaye frowned. “He’s been accused of some pretty major stuff, Reggie.”
“Come on.” Rayne glanced to Jared. “Who would believe a wimp like him would actually be able to hurt anyone!”
Shaye rubbed her forehead. “I just don’t have a good feeling about this.”
“It’s all good, Butter. Seriously. I just want time away from the crowds, you know? Be with a familiar face for a few hours?”
Shaye’s head whipped up. “I’m a familiar face.”
Shaye’s hand flew to her heart. “You’re sick of me already? It’s only been ten years!”
Rayne wrinkled her nose. “You know what I mean.”
“I know it gets old, Reg.” Shaye sighed as she pulled out a stick of gum and offered a piece to Rayne. “I just don’t want you to do anything stupid.”
“Me? I’ve never made a bad decision in my life.” Rayne popped the proffered gum in her mouth.
Shaye laughed as she shrugged the backpack she’d been lugging around all night from her shoulders. “Okay. Here’s your bag with your cell phone and a change of clothing. Go and have fun. Just be careful.”
“Yes, mom.” Rayne hugged Shaye and then let Jared lead her away from the crowd and into his car.
The further Jared drove from the concert venue, the more uncomfortable Rayne grew. She took a deep breath in an effort to calm her frayed nerves.
Shaye was right, damn it.
“Are you taking me to your school?” Rayne asked with a nervous laugh. “Or your dorm?”
“No.” Jared changed the radio dial and then looked at her quickly. “We’re going somewhere less public. Although, people might join us later.”
Rayne’s head whipped to her left. “What people?”
“Well, not really people, per se. Ghosts. The place is haunted.”
Letting go of the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, she snapped, “Whatever!”
“No, it really is.”
“Where are we really going, Jared?”
Jared hit the turn signal and pulled off onto a side street. “My roommate, Kevin had this friend from New Zealand—”
“Fascinating,” Rayne said sarcastically.
“If you’d let me finish!”
“Anyway, Hannah was a dancer and was also studying forensic law, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, she had a dance studio in this old building and disappeared one night.”
“So?” Rayne took a swig of water from the bottle Shaye left in her bag.
“So...her roommate, Victoria disappeared like a month later.”
Screwing the cap back on her water, Rayne rolled her eyes. “From where?”
“The same place.” Jared pushed in the lighter on his console. “She had a photography studio across the hall.”
“Seriously?” Rayne pulled the lighter out before it was finished.
“Yeah, the whole university was in an uproar. They condemned the building and boarded it up.”
Rayne narrowed her eyes at him. “No, I mean, are you seriously going to smoke right now?”
“Don’t tell me you’re turning into Shaye?” Jared pushed the lighter in again.
“You’re not going to smoke, Jared, I have a show tomorrow. Live with it.”
“Fine!” Jared snapped. “I’ll smoke when we get to the building.”
“And you’re taking me there, now?” Rayne asked somewhat irritated. “To an abandoned building?”
“Yes. But it’s cool. A bunch of us go there to drink sometimes.” Jared glanced at her. “Come on, Rayne. You were the one who wanted to get away from the crowd for a while. This is the perfect way.”
Rayne settled her head on the headrest. “Fine. But I have to be back at midnight.”
“When did you become such a prude? Shaye-No-Lay is rubbing off on you.”
Rayne glared at him. “Don’t call her that! She’s totally cool and if you weren’t such an ass, you’d find that out.”
“Are you suggesting I get to know the ice queen?”
“You know what? Forget it. Just take me back.”
Jared set the brake and turned off the ignition with a smirk. “We’re here. Come on, it’ll be really cool.” Jumping out of the car, he made his way around the front and lit a cigarette as he walked toward the side door, effectively ignoring his passenger.
Disgusted with herself for not listening to Shaye, Rayne eased her way out of the seat, grabbed her backpack, and followed Jared into the building. As they made their way down the hall, Jared pointed to an unremarkable doorway. “Don’t go through this door. If you do, you’ll get stuck. It’s the stairwell and in order to get out, you have to walk up and then cross to the opposite side.”
Nodding, her heart raced. “Okay.”
He led her down a dark hallway and into what she assumed was the dance studio. There was a large set of mirrors with a bar on one side of the room and the floor was hard wood.
“Is this where the kiwi girl danced?” Rayne walked the room.
Pulling out a metal water bottle, Jared poured the contents into a cup as he watched Rayne investigate the room. “Yep. Victoria’s photo studio is across the hall.”
Rayne’s eyes swept the room. “Doesn’t seem haunted.”
Jared moved closer to her and handed her the cup he had just filled.
“What’s this?” she asked suspiciously
She pushed it away. “I don’t drink.”
“On tour,” she clarified.
Jared shrugged and handed it to her again. “Right. Well, it’s just water.”
“Okay.” She peered inside. “Thanks.”
Taking a small sip, she was relieved to find it tasted just like water, but the way he watched her made her pause. She didn’t remember him being so intense in high school, always the class clown. Heavily pierced and tattooed, but harmless.
After a few minutes, Jared ran his hand down her arm. “I’ve missed you.”
She shrugged him off. “Don’t be weird, Jared.” She stepped away and tried to put distance between them. “You know we’re friends.”
Jared dragged his lower lip ring into his mouth and smiled. “But I’ve always wanted you, Rayne. You were the goal.”
He caught her again and settled a hand on her hip. “Yes, the goal. Everyone wanted you. You must know that.”
Rayne blinked as the room began to swim slightly. “I’m not feeling so hot.” The cup fell to the ground and the remaining contents spilled across the floor.
“Oh?” he said a little too innocently. “Sit down over here.”
Rayne rubbed her forehead. “What did you put in my drink?”
“Nothing.” He wrapped an arm around her waist. “I would never do that.”
“What did you slip me, Jared?”
“Shhh,” he crooned. “Baby, we’re all alone. I know you’ve dreamed about this for a while.”
Pushing her against the wall, he started to kiss her neck. Rayne was disgusted, but also losing her ability to think. Pushing at him, she tried to pull her face further away from him.
“Get off me,” she snapped.
“Please. You were always the biggest slut in school.” He slid his finger down her collarbone and slipped it into her cleavage. “Don’t go prudish on me now.” Moving his hand lower, he grabbed her breast and squeezed.
“Stop, Jared, you’re hurting me.”
He wrapped his hand around her throat and painfully forced her face up. A tear slipped down her cheek as she tried to get her emotions under control. “Shhh. Just let the stuff do it’s magic. You’ll love this.”
“No, Jared. Stop.”
He continued his assault, so she waited for just the right opportunity and as soon as she had it, shoved her knee between his legs as hard as she could.
“You bitch!” he screamed as he fell and doubled over in pain.
She ran with no idea where she was going. Rayne tried to stay upright as the world spun around her and went through the first door that opened. The stairwell. The door closed with a loud click. She tried the handle—it was locked. “Crap!”
The stairwell was hot humid and smelled of old age, compounded with the heat outside. She likened it to Shaye’s grandmother’s house, only mustier somehow.
She tripped several times walking up the stairs, her legs growing heavier with every step. At the top, she found herself facing a large room that looked as though it hadn’t been touched in a hundred years. It was a perfect replica of a Victorian Era parlor, and she moved forward, running her fingers along the back of a deep green horsehair sofa. A wave of dizziness overtook her and she grabbed the back of the sofa, its coarse texture rough against her palm. She attempted to dig her cell phone out of her purse, but with her vision blurring, coupled with confusion, she couldn’t manage even this simple task.
She stepped around the sofa, her legs feeling like hundred-pound lead weights. It grew harder and harder to put one foot in front of the other, and when she made an attempt to sit down, the sofa seemed to disappear and she was staring at a muddy road unfamiliar to her.
Shaking off her confusion, she looked down and the rich oriental carpet swam before her. No longer able to think straight, and missing her opportunity to sit on the sofa, the carpet loomed closer and as she went down hard, the floor was no longer the floor. Mud and dirt seemed to greet her as everything went black.
* * *
Samuel Powell sat in his office, a stack of outstanding paperwork piled before him. He was head of Special Prison Task Forces, and he stared at the invoices on the top of the stack. The prisoners received the highest level of care and ate better than any soldier out on the field.
“Hell, they eat better than I do,” Sam grumbled out loud.
Despite his young age, only twenty-four, he was a highly respected lawman. One who had in the past, apprehend some of the most dangerous criminals in the area. He specialized in the most difficult cases of missing persons and murder, the cases no one else wanted.
He took his current position as a favor to his friend, Christopher Butler, who worked in President Lincoln’s war cabinet. The war office needed someone they could trust to ensure the prisoners did not escape and someone to interrogate the ones coming in. Sam decided settling down for a while might be a good idea, so he accepted the job.
He’d originally thought it would be more of a challenge. Christopher’s wife, Hannah, had commented several times on the slowness of his job, even going to so far as giving his special assignment a new name. Babysitter of the Elite Accused of Treason – or B.E.A.T., as she had once joked, and the title stuck. He smiled at her strange term. Sitting back, he ran his hands through his hair with a deep sigh.
“Is the B.E.A.T. that bad today?”
Looking up in surprise, Sam saw his friend, Laughing Crow. The tall Indian grinned as he leaned against the doorframe; his arms were crossed over his wide chest.
“Slow,” Sam grumbled.
“You should have told Christopher, no.”
“I thought you were doing something useful with your weekend.” He smirked.
Crow chuckled as he pushed his large body away from the doorframe and moved further into the office. “She bored me.”
Leaning back in his chair, Sam stretched his legs out onto his desk. “Quit choosing whores and you might find a woman who offers a challenge.”
“White women are never a challenge.” Crow grunted as he sat across from Sam’s desk. He’d left his long hair free and it slid over his shoulders as he shook his head.
“Why don’t you marry a Muskogee?”
Crow pulled off his gloves and slapped them across his thigh. “As I’ve said many times before, I will never marry.”
“Why don’t you join me this weekend?”
“I have to head out to the farm to check on the staff.” Sam picked up his nib pen and signed a sheet of paper. “With the decision to free the slaves in Maryland, I need to make certain they don’t need assistance with friends or family.”
Crow raised an eyebrow. “Or others?”
Sam smiled. “Or others. Yes.”
“Do you think there will be trouble?”
Sam frowned. “I don’t know. It’s possible. There are southern sympathizers close enough to us to be concerned.”
Crow nodded. “I’ll come with you.”
“Thank you.” Sam dropped the pen on the desk. “Will you be joining us for Thanksgiving?”
Knowing full well that Crow was stalling, Sam cleared his throat. “No, in Virginia at the home of General and Mrs. Robert E. Lee.”
Crow leaned forward, bracing his forearms on his knees. “I have not decided yet.”
“What is there to decide?”
“Whether or not your friends will take issue with a half-breed in their home.”
Sam scowled. “Who’d take issue? They all know you.”
“No, they don’t, Sam, and you well know it.”
Sam knew he was right. Crow had endured years of prejudice. His Indian name was Laughing Crow, but when missionaries came through their village and discovered his mother was white, they gave him a Christian name. He was known from that point on as Douglas Smith. They cut his hair and made him wear white man clothing, but Crow was smart. He did his best to hold onto his grandfather’s teachings, and as soon as he grew big enough not to be manhandled, he’d stopped the mandatory haircuts. His hair now hung halfway down his back.
Sam met Crow five years ago when working on a missing child case. Crow tracked the little girl to a remote area in the mountains and they rescued her. But it was he, not Crow, who was given a hero’s welcome. Crow, however, was happy to stand in the back and let Sam take the glory. They formed a close friendship and because of that fact, Sam had lost a few friends and colleagues.
“You have over a month to decide, but in the meantime, the Butlers have invited us for dinner,” Sam said.
Sam frowned. “What do you mean, why?”
Standing, Crow raised an eyebrow at him in response.
“Look. The Butlers like you. They don’t care that you’re a half-breed, and I have a feeling Victoria might take offense to that term,” Sam pointed out.
“Are you saying Quincy and Victoria will be at dinner?”
“Yes, they will.”
Crow shrugged. “I will attend.”
Sam laughed. “Victoria apparently made an impression.”
Crow didn’t say anything as he turned and walked out the door.
* * *
Something foul stung Rayne’s nose as she tried to force herself to wake up, but she was having difficulty opening her eyes. A cold breeze feathered her skin.
Funny…the room had been so humid.
“We got a live one here!”
Pounding footsteps and the sound of men’s voices pushed her to urgency, and she opened her eyes to find she was no longer alone. Just as suddenly, she realized she was lying in mud—and something less pleasant.
“Ain’t never seen a whore look like that before.”
“What?” Rayne grasped her pounding head and sat up.
“Lyle! Get a load of this one!”
She found herself staring into the face of a ragged looking man with pockmarked skin and rancid breath. “Ugh. Where am I?”
He leaned forward from his hunkered position, his thin lips puckering. “Ain’t you perty?”
Rayne pushed at his face. “Go away!”
“We’re gonna have a heap o’ fun. You ain’t never had someone like me before.”
“And I won’t now! Leave me alone.” Bile crept up her throat when she was hauled up and away from the foul smelling man. Turning, she faced a large man with a heavy beard and scar down the left side of his face. He grasped her bicep, squeezing much harder than necessary, and shoved her against what she could only surmise to be a building of some form.
“Let me go,” she whimpered.
“Lyle!” the smaller man whined. “I found her first.”
Lyle narrowed his eyes. “Shut your mouth, Curtis.”
“I said, shut yer mouth! You kin have her when I’m done.”
“Done?” Rayne whispered. “Let me go!”
Lyle hauled her into the middle of the street. Rayne tried to fight him as her stomach heaved and her head pounded. She had to get away, but didn’t know where to go.
Letting her powerful lungs work for something other than singing, she screamed as loud as she could. Even though she received a slap from Lyle, she continued to scream.
“Lyle!” Curtis warned. “The sheriff.”
“Damn it,” Lyle growled and promptly let go of her.
Rayne was dropped in a heap to the ground and she heard the men scurry into the alleyway to her left. She took a deep breath and mustered all of her strength to scream again. The shadow of a large man loomed over her and she was lifted off the ground.
She tried to scream again, but the man wrapped a large arm around her waist and gave a gentle squeeze. “You’re safe now. I’m going to take you to the jail and we’ll get you sobered up.”
“What do you mean? I’m not drunk.” But as her speech slurred she knew he wouldn’t believe her. He wrapped a warm coat around her shoulders and carried her down the street and into a large brick building in the middle of the square.
“Ow! My head,” Rayne complained. “Could you perhaps not shout?”
Another man strolled out from a back room and his eyes widened as he gave her the once over. “Whatya got there, Jimmy?”
John nodded toward her. “Drunk whore.”
Rayne pushed at him. “I’m not a whore! Jerk!”
“Put her in cell one,” John said.
“You’re locking me up?” Rayne bellowed as she tried to pull herself away.
“You need to sober up.”
“I’m not drunk, you idiot!” Rayne grasped her head and realized that no one was listening. They pushed her into a tiny space, three sides surrounded by bars, the other one solid brick, and a small cot in the corner. “It stinks. I can’t be in here. It smells like rotten feet and sweat. Let me out!”
The men ignored her as she ranted. Jimmy locked her cell door and left her alone.
* * *
Crow arrived back at the jail just before dinner. Grabbing his jacket and hat, Sam followed Crow outside to their tethered horses and mounted.
Navigating the busy streets of D.C., they took off toward the Butler’s townhouse. The rain from the night before created the occasional puddle, but it was better than the constant dust. Arriving at their destination, they pulled their horses to the back and handed them off to a stable boy.
“Thank you, Jack,” Sam said.
“Sir.” Jack nodded.
They made their way to the front of the townhouse, and knocked. Christopher’s housekeeper opened the door and ushered them into the parlor. Crow removed his hat, nodding to the group.
Victoria jumped from the couch and ran to hug him. “I didn’t think you’d come.”
Her husband, Quincy rolled his eyes, which only made her laugh as she wrapped her arms around the large Indian. Sam stifled a grin at his friend’s discomfort.
Crow smiled, but only slightly. He seemed a little off-guard at her show of affection. “I was threatened.”
She glanced up at him. “By whom?”
“A petite woman with violet eyes.”
Victoria smacked his arm with a girlish giggle. “Oh yes, I’m certain you could be persuaded by a threat. I simply requested your presence. I would never threaten!”
Crow raised an eyebrow. “A request from you, Mrs. Butler, is not a simple request.”
Victoria had been kidnapped shortly after her marriage to Quincy and Crow was instrumental in finding her. Since then, Victoria considered Crow part of her family and refused to let him hide from them.
“Well, never mind. I’m thrilled you’re here.” She pulled him further into the room. “Come and sit down.”
Once the rest of the greetings were finished, Crow and Sam settled in the parlor with the drinks Christopher poured for them.
“How’s the BEAT tonight?” Christopher asked.
“Slow.” Sam sat in the chair closest to the fireplace.
“Is that a bad thing?” Victoria asked as Quincy pulled her back onto the sofa.
Sam smirked. “No, not necessarily. It’s just not what I’m accustomed to.”
Just then, the housekeeper led a young man into the parlor. Samuel frowned. “Robert?”
“I’m sorry to interrupt, sir.” Robert twisted his hat in obvious nervousness. “We have a situation.”
Sam raised an eyebrow at the Sheriff’s deputy. “A situation?”
Robert nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, don’t just stand there.” Sam rose to his feet. “Spit it out.”
“It’s somewhat delicate,” he said, rolling the rim of his hat between his fingers.
Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. “Just tell me.”
“John brought a woman over and asked that we house her.”
John Patton ran the local jail and was good ‘muscle,’ but women were not his strong suit. Sam crossed his arms. “Why?”
“She’s drunk.” He cleared his throat. “And she’s not entirely dressed.”
Sam frowned. “What do you mean by ‘not entirely dressed?’”
“She’s wearing black, shiny breeches...and...uh…not much else.”
“Is she a prostitute?”
“It would appear so, sir. Although I’ve never seen a whore dressed as such.” He turned to the ladies with an expression of contrition. “Sorry.”
“Why would John need to bring a working girl to you, Sam?” Christopher asked. “The general jail should be sufficient.”
“No, sir. The woman is causing a ruckus. John was hoping Mr. Powell would keep her isolated.” Robert’s head bobbed as he retold the story.
“A ruckus?” Victoria asked.
“Yes, ma’am.” Robert lowered his gaze. “She’s a distraction to the other prisoners.”
Victoria’s eyebrows rose, but she didn’t comment.
“John needs to develop a backbone,” Sam grumbled. “How is it that a grown man cannot handle one woman?”
“Go and take care of it, Sam. We’ll save you a plate,” Hannah offered.
Crow stood to join Sam. Sam shook his head. “Crow, you should stay.”
“Yes, Crow, you should stay,” Victoria said pointedly. Crow rolled his eyes at her, but she responded with a giggle. “No, my friend, you don’t get to escape dinner with us.”
Sam walked out the door with Robert, promising to return later.
* * *
Rayne couldn’t think straight, her mind cloudy from the drugs, and it didn’t help that she was shivering from cold. Lying on the filthy cot in the dark cell, her head pounded and the nausea wouldn’t leave her alone. She groaned as she tried to sit up.
“What?” Rayne snapped.
“Stop calling me ma’am!” She glared up at the man. “Why am I in jail?”
“Ma’am, if you’ll wait for Mr. Powell—”
“Stop calling me ma’am!” she yelled and immediately regretted it. She gagged and lay back down.
John lowered his head. “Sorry, ma—”
“John? Where’s this whore you apparently can’t handle?”
Hearing the new voice, low and strong, Rayne sat up, but she was not prepared for the man heading toward her prison cell. Tall, taller than even Trevor, with sandy blond hair and the lightest blue eyes she’d ever seen. They reminded her of ice-blue satin—and Paul Newman. He was gorgeous. She shook herself from her thoughts and scowled. “I hope to hell you aren’t referring to me.”
* * *
Freezing in place at the authoritative voice, Sam stared at the vision in black. The woman had short blonde hair in a pointy style he’d never seen before. Her clothing, what there was of it, seemed to have been painted onto her body, and his only thought at that moment was that she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Although her makeup appeared heavy, she looked young. Not at all used up.
“Ma’am?” Sam made his way to the cell.
“Why does everyone keep calling me ma’am? It’s starting to piss me off.” She stood angrily and walked to the bars. “Oh, God, I’m going to be sick.” She found what looked like a bowl and leaned over it.
“Stop calling me ma’am!”
Sam reached out toward the woman in caution. “Ma’am, you may not want to use—”
“Stop calling me ma’am! Can’t you see how sick I am?” she interrupted as she leaned over the porcelain bowl.
Sam frowned as he watched her sit up again and lean her back against the cot.
She rubbed her head. “Why am I in jail?”
“You were drunk and disorderly from what I’ve been told.” Sam leaned against the bars of her cell.
“I’m not drunk.” The woman dropped her forehead onto her raised knees. “I was drugged. There’s a difference.”
“There is the prostitution as well,” John provided.
“John.” Sam pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Prostitution?” She squeaked and scrambled onto the mattress. “I’m not a prostitute.”
“But you’re dressed like one.” John shifted from one foot to the other.
Sam stepped in front of John in silent rebuke.
“I am not!” She laid her hand over her mouth. “I had a concert tonight and this is what I wore to perform.”
“A concert, ma’am?”
“Oh, my God,” she groaned. “Stop calling me ma’am.”
Sam smiled gently. “What should we call you?”
“My name is Rayne…Green.”
Sam tried again. “All right, Miss Green. Do you know who drugged you?”
“Yes. Jared Weber. He put something in my water.” Rayne shook her head. “I should have listened to Shaye.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “Who’s Shaye?”
Rayne dropped her face into her hands. “My best friend, but that’s beside the point!”
“Who’s this Jared Weber?” Sam wrapped long fingers around the cell bars. “Where can we find him?”
“He’s a student at DePaul, but he took me to an abandoned building in downtown Chicago.” She shivered.
“Chicago? Are you certain?”
Her head whipped up. “Hel-loh! Isn’t that what I just said?”
“That would be impossible,” John interrupted.
“Why would it be impossible?”
Sam realized she might be somewhat addled. “You’re currently in Washington, ma’am.”
Rayne’s eyes widened. “State?”
Sam shook his head. “D.C.”
“Who are you?” she rasped. “Where have you brought me?”
John cleared his throat. “Ma’am, you were found stumbling through the streets of D.C.”
Sam glared at John, angry with the man, but not entirely sure why. He felt an odd connection to the woman, which made no sense.
Rayne ran her hands through her hair. “I can’t be in D.C.”
Sam watched her closely as she put her hand to her forehead as though to jog her memory. Just then, he heard the rustling of skirts and turned as Victoria Butler walked in the room.
“Rebel, sweetheart, slow down,” Quincy said from behind her.
“What are you doing here?” Sam turned in surprise.
Victoria walked over to the cell and gasped. She turned slowly and glared at Sam. “Unlock this door, right now, Samuel Powell. I know this woman and she is no prostitute.”
Rayne frowned. “I don’t know you, do I?”
“How do you know this woman?” Sam narrowed his eyes.
“This is Rayne Green.” Victoria stared pointedly at him. “She’s a friend of a friend.”
Victoria nodded. “Yes, Shaye. Exactly. I’m Victoria Butler. I think we met at that party a few months ago.”
Rayne raised an eyebrow. “The party. Right.”
Victoria glanced back at Sam. “Let her out, Sam. She’s coming home with us.” Quincy started to protest, but Victoria stayed him. “She’s like me, Gus.”
Quincy’s eyes widened. “Yes, Sam, she’s coming home with us.”
“Where’s my backpack?” Rayne asked.
“Did you have it with you?” Victoria wrinkled her brow.
Rayne nodded. “Yes.”
One of the guards retrieved the bag and handed it to Sam. Rayne let out a hiss. “Why are you giving it to him?” Before he could respond, though, she made a run for the bowl.
“Rayne, no!” Victoria warned and Rayne paused. “Don’t touch that.”
Rayne groaned in agony. “I’m going to be sick.”
“Okay, but don’t use that.” Victoria stood away from the door. “Get her out, Sam. Now, please.”
Sam unlocked the cell and stepped aside so that Rayne could exit. She moved toward the door and then suddenly grasped his arm. “I don’t feel so good.”
Sam caught her as she dropped. Lifting her into his arms, he drew her close and felt the overwhelming need to protect her.
Victoria rushed to her side to feel her forehead. “She doesn’t have a fever, but she’s definitely out cold. And look at her lip! It’s swollen and bloody.” Turning to John, she waggled a finger at him in accusation. “Did one of your men do this?”
“No, ma’am. Jimmy found her that way.” John backed up slightly.
“Why didn’t you treat it?” Victoria laid her hands on her hips. “Fresh water at the very least. She’s a lady in distress and has obviously been ill used by someone!”
John frowned. “We thought she was a prostitute.”
“So?” Victoria snapped. “She still deserves medical attention.”
John lowered his head and wisely kept his mouth shut.
“Did she say what happened?” Quincy asked as he flattened his hand on Victoria’s back.
Sam appreciated Quincy’s apparent attempt to calm his wife and save the jailer from her barrage. Sam tightened his arms around his burden. “She said someone drugged her.”
Victoria laid a hand on the woman’s arm. “Well, let’s get her home so that we can tend to her.”
“Where’s Crow?” Sam raised an eyebrow.
“He’s at the house.” Quincy rolled his eyes. “Victoria threatened him with death if he left.”
Victoria’s head whipped up. “I didn’t threaten.” Quincy smiled at her. Victoria raised an eyebrow. “What? I don’t threaten!”
Sam chuckled quietly. “We have never known anyone like you, Victoria. Crow is not certain how to handle it.”
Rayne started to stir. She opened her eyes slowly and looked up at Sam. “Hi.” She winced and put her hand to her mouth. “Ow.”
Sam smiled down at her.
“Wow,” she whispered. “You’re a hottie.”
Rayne once again drifted into oblivion. Victoria giggled.
“What does that mean?” Sam asked her.
Victoria shrugged. “I’m certain I have no idea.”
Sam grunted, knowing she knew a lot more than she admitted.
“Let’s get her home.”
Sam followed the couple out to the buggy. He decided to go with them, not wanting to stop holding his vision in black. He pulled her close and marveled at her scent. He knew without a doubt she was not what she seemed and he intended to find out everything he could about her.