«Sosa found gold,» Eve said, her voice vibrating with anger. «He paid the King’s Quinto and bribed the other officials and kept the truth about the mines to himself.»
Reno looked away from Eve’s flushed cheeks and pale lips, feeling something close to shame for pushing her so hard. Then he cursed himself for feeling anything at all for the saloon girl who had done her best to get him killed while she stole everything in sight and ran to safety.
«What was the truth about the mines?» Reno asked roughly.
«All of them weren’t listed for the tax collectors. The silver mines, yes, and the turquoise mine and even two of the gold mines. But not the third one. That one he kept to himself.»
Though Reno wasn’t looking at Eve any longer, she thought he sounded truly interested for the first time. She drew a discreet, relieved breath and kept talking.
«Only Leon’s eldest son knew about the secret gold mine, and then that son’s eldest son, and so on until the journal came into Don Lyon’s hands at the turn of the century,» Eve said. «By then, Spain was long gone from the West, the Leon name had become Lyon, and they spoke English rather than Spanish.»
Reno turned back to look at Eve, drawn by the shifting emotions in her voice.
«If there’s a gold mine in the family,» he asked, «why was Don Lyon making his living cheating at cards?»
«About a hundred years ago, they lost the mines,» Eve said simply.
«A hundred years. Was that when the Jesuits were thrown out?»
«The family was closely tied to the Jesuits,» she continued. «They had enough advance warning to bury the gold that had been smelted but not shipped. They covered over all signs of the mine and fled east across the mountains. They didn’t stop running until they came to the English colonies.»
«Didn’t any Leon ever try to find the gold they had left behind?» Reno asked.
«Don’s great-grandfather did, and his grandfather, and then his father. They never came back.» Eve shrugged. «Don always wanted the gold mine, but he didn’t want to die for it.»
She smiled sadly. «In some ways. He was far too gentle for this world, though.»
«A gentle cheater?» Reno asked ironically.
«Why do you think he cheated? It was the only way he had any chance at all against men like you.»
«A gambler who’s that bad at cards should find another profession.»
«That’s not what I meant,» Eve retorted. «Don was a small man. He didn’t have the strength to fight with his fists, the speed to fight with a gun, or the greed to be a good cardsharp. He was a kind man rather than a strong one.
«But he was good to Donna and to me, even through we were weaker than he was. That’s more than I can say of the big men I’ve met!»
One of Reno’s black eyebrows rose. «I suppose if you had been cheatingforrather than against me, I might feel more kindly toward you myself.»
Eve’s smile was as small and cold as the spring hidden against the cliff.
«You don’t understand, gunfighter.»
«Don’t bet on it, saloon girl.»
She tossed her head, sending her deep gold hair cascading over her shoulders.
«I thought you were different from Raleigh King, but you’re not,» she said. «You haven’t the least idea what it’s like to make your way in a world that is stronger, harder, and more cruel than you could ever be.»
«You won’t get into my good graces by comparing me to the likes of Raleigh King.»
«I’m not trying to get into your good graces.»
«You’d better start.»
Eve took one look at Reno and bit back the angry words that were crowding her tongue.
There was no gentleness now in Reno’s eyes or in the line of his mouth. He was dead angry. When he spoke again, his voice was as cold and remote as his ice green eyes.
«Be grateful Raleigh needed killing,» Reno said flatly. «If you had set me up to kill a country boy, I’d have let Slater have you. You wouldn’t have liked that. Slater isn’t one of those kind men you so favor.»
«He can’t be any worse than Raleigh King,» Eve said bleakly, remembering the night she had come back late from one of Canyon City’s saloons and discovered what Raleigh had done to the Lyons. «No one could be worse than him.»
«Slater has a reputation with women that’s too sordid to repeat — even to a saloon girl who cheats at cards.»
«Did Slater ever torture an old man who had tried to sell a gold ring to pay for medicine for his dying wife?» Eve asked tightly. «Did Slater ever pull the truth from an old man one fingernail at a time while his wife watched helplessly? And after the man was dead, did Slater ever take his knife to an old, dying woman and…»
Eve’s voice crumbled into silence. She clenched her fists and fought for self-control.
«What are you saying?» Reno asked in a low voice.
«Raleigh King tortured Don Lyon to death while he dragged out the truth about where the emerald ring was hidden, and the journal with the treasure map. Donna tried to stop Raleigh, but the wasting disease had left her too weak even to lift her derringer.»
Reno’s eyes narrowed. «So that’s how Raleigh knew about the map.»
Eve nodded tightly. «When Raleigh was finished with Don, he turned on Donna.»
«Why? Didn’t Raleigh believe her husband had told the truth?»
«Raleigh didn’t care,» Eve said bitterly. «He just wanted…»
Her voice dried up into a painful silence. No matter how many times she swallowed, she couldn’t force out words to describe what Raleigh had done to Donna Lyon.
«Don’t,» Reno said.
He put his palm gently over Eve’s lips, sealing in the bitter words she was trying to speak.
«I guess he and Slater were well matched after all,» Reno said softly.
Eve grabbed Reno’s hand, but not to push him away.
«’Tell me,» she said urgently. «You killed Raleigh King, didn’t you?»
She let out a long breath and whispered, «Thank you. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to do it.»
All gentleness vanished from Reno’s expression.
«Is that why you set me up?» he demanded.
«I didn’t set you up. Not in the cold way you mean.»
«But you saw the chance and you took it.»
Eve’s mouth tightened. «Yes.»
«And then you grabbed the pot and ran.»
«Leaving me to die.»
Reno made a sound that was too hard to be a laugh.
«We came closer that time, gata. We almost had it.»
«The truth is, I saved your life,» Eve retorted.
«Saved it?» Reno demanded. «Girl, you did your best to get me killed!»
«When I didn’t hear any shooting —» she began.
«Disappointed?» he interrupted.
«I turned back to see what had happened,» she said, ignoring his interruption. «Then Raleigh drew and you shot him, and a man called Steamer pulled his gun to shoot you in the back. I shot him first.»
Unexpectedly, Reno laughed.
«You’re good, gata. Really good. The wide eyes and the earnest, trembling mouth are first-class.»
«Save those lips for something better than lying,» Reno said, bending over Eve once more.
«I shot Steamer!» she protested.
«Uh-huh. But you were aiming for me. That’s why you turned back. You wanted to be dead sure I wouldn’t follow you to collect my winnings.»
«No. That’s not the way it was. I —»
«Give up the game,» Reno said curtly. «You’re trying my patience.»
«Why won’t you believe me?»
«Because a man who believes a liar, a cheat, and a saloon girl is more of a fool than Reno Moran is.»
His fingers closed around Eve’s thigh once more. And once more she wasn’t able to break away from his touch.
«I’m not a liar,» she said hotly, «and I hate being so weak that I have to cheat, and I was a bond servant with no choice about what kind of work I did or where I did it or what I wore while I did it!»
Eve’s voice shook with anger as she continued, not letting Reno interrupt.
«But you believe only the worst about me,» she said, «so you should have no trouble believing this — my biggest regret about yesterday is not letting Steamer shoot you in the back!»
Surprise loosened Reno’s grip for an instant. It was all Eve needed. She jerked from beneath his hand with a speed that startled him.
She stood, taking a blanket with her. With hands that showed a fine trembling, she wrapped the blanket around herself, concealing everything of her body but the hot flags of anger and humiliation burning on her cheeks.
Reno considered taking the blanket away from Eve. He had liked looking at the satin curves and velvet shadows beneath the old, thin cotton fabric of her underwear. Her anger both surprised and intrigued him. Women who were caught in lies usually became all soft and wary and eager to make amends.
But not the girl called Evening Star. Her eyes were measuring him for a shroud.
Wryly Reno admitted to himself that whatever else he could say about Eve — and none of it good — she had grit. He admired that in men, women, and horses.
«Don’t be so quick off the mark,» Reno drawled. «I might just get up and ride out of here, leaving you for Slater.»
Eve hid the shaft of fear that went through her at the thought of Jericho Slater.
«Pity you didn’t shoot him, too» she said beneath her breath.
Reno heard. His ears were as acute as his hands were quick.
«I’m not a hired killer.»
Her eyes narrowed warily at the flatness of Reno’s voice. «I know.»
His cold green glance searched her face for a long moment before he nodded.
«See that you remember it,» he said curtly. «Don’t ever set me up as an executioner again.»
Reno came to his feet in an unhurried, graceful movement that reminded Eve of the cat he accused her of being.
«Get dressed,» he said. «We can talk about the Lyons’ mine while you cook breakfast.»
Reno paused. «You do know how to cook, don’t you?»
«Of course. Every girl can.»
He smiled, remembering a certain redheaded British aristocrat who hadn’t been able to boil water when she married Wolfe Lonetree.
«Not every girl,» Reno said.
The gentle amusement in his smile fascinated Eve. It was as unexpected as a hot day in winter.
«Who was she?» Eve asked before she could think better of it.
«The girl who couldn’t cook.»
«A British lady. Prettiest thing a man ever did see. Hair like fire and eyes like aquamarines.»
Eve told herself that the feeling snaking through her couldn’t be jealousy.
«What happened?» she asked offhandedly.
«What do you mean?»
«If she was that fetching, why didn’t you marry her?»
Reno stretched and looked down at Eve from his much greater height.
She didn’t back up an inch. She simply stood and waited for the answer to her question as though there were no difference in size or strength between herself and the man who could have broken her like a dry twig.
In that, Eve reminded Reno of Jessica and Willow. The realization made him frown. Neither Jessica nor Willow was the kind of girl to cheat, steal, or work in a saloon.
«Wouldn’t the pretty aristocrat have a gunman like you?» Eve persisted.
«I’m not a gunman. I’m a prospector. But that’s not why Jessi wouldn’t have me.»
«She liked gentlemen?» Eve guessed.
To conceal his irritation, Reno grabbed his hat and pulled it down over his unruly black hair.
Eve looked from the crown of Reno’s black hat to the worn fleece-lined leather jacket that came to his hips. His pants were dark and had seen hard use. His boots were the same. He wore blunted brass cavalry spurs. Their metal had been so long without polish that they no longer were the least bit shiny.
Nothing about Reno gleamed or flashed, and that included the butt of the six-gun he wore. The holster was the same; it had been oiled for use rather than for looks. The bullets, however, were quite clean.
In all, Reno didn’t appear to be a gentleman. He looked every bit the dangerous gunfighter Eve knew him to be, a man drawn in shades of darkness rather than light.
Except for his eyes. They were the vivid green of early spring leaves, as clear and perfect as cut crystal against the sun-darkened skin of his face.
But a person had to be close to Reno to discover the light in his eyes. She doubted that many people got that close.
Or wanted to.
«Jessi is married to one of my best friends,» Reno said flatly. «Otherwise, I’d have been happy to try my hand at courting.»
Eve looked at the tangled bedroll where she had known her first taste of passion.
«Is that what you call it?» she asked dryly.
«Courting is for a woman you want to make your wife. That —» Reno jerked his thumb at the bedroll «— was a little rolling around before breakfast with a saloon girl.»
The blood left Eve’s face. She couldn’t think of anything to say except the kind of words that would give Reno a lower opinion of her than he already had. Silently she turned to her saddlebags, grabbed a shirt and a pair of jeans, and started walking away.
Reno’s hand shot out with startling speed, grabbing her arm.
«Going somewhere?» he asked.
«Even saloon girls need privacy.»
«Tough. I don’t trust you out of my sight.»
«Then I’ll just have to pee in your boots, won’t I?» she asked sweetly.
For an instant Reno looked shocked. Then he threw back his head and laughed.
Eve jerked free of his fingers and stalked off into the nearby forest as Reno’s words followed her.
«Don’t be long, gata, or I’ll come hunting you — barefoot.»
WHEN Reno came back from the forest with more dry wood, he looked approvingly at the small, hot, nearly invisible fire Eve had made. Woodsmoke from the hat-sized fire drifted no more than a few feet into the air before it dissipated.
He dumped the fuel near the fire and sat on his heels by the small, cheerful flames.
«Who taught you to make that kind of fire?» he asked.
Eve looked up from the frying pan where bacon sizzled and pan biscuits turned crisp brown in the fat. Since she had returned from the forest dressed in men’s clothing, she hadn’t spoken to Reno unless asked a direct question. She had simply gone about preparing breakfast under his watchful eyes.
«What kind of fire?» Eve asked, looking away from him.
«The kind that won’t attract every Indian and outlaw for fifty miles around,» Reno said dryly.
«One of the few times Donna Lyon took a cane to me was when I put wet wood on the fire. I never did it again.»
Eve didn’t look up as she spoke.
Irritation prodded Reno. He was tired of being made to feel as though he had offended the tender sensibilities of some shy little flower. She was a cardsharp, a cheat, and a hussy, not some cosseted child of strict parents.
«Did the Lyons have a price on their heads?» Reno asked bluntly.
«No. If they had, they wouldn’t have worried about attracting outlaws and gunmen and thieves to their fire, would they?»
Reno made a noncommittal sound.
«They just would have shot a buck and roasted it whole,» Eve continued acidly, «and then robbed everyone who followed the smell of cooking meat back to their camp.»
«Too bad Donna didn’t tell you about the difference between honey and vinegar when it comes to attracting flies.»
«She did. I’ve been using vinegar ever since. What sane girl would want to draw flies?»
A smiled flashed beneath Reno’s dark mustache. For an instant he thought how much Willow and Jessica would have enjoyed Eve’s tart, quick tongue — right up until the time she cheated or lied or stole something from them. Then he would have to explain to them, and to their irate husbands, why he had brought a saloon girl in red silk to their home.
Eve pulled a piece of bacon from the pan and put it on her battered tin plate.
Silently Reno admitted to himself that Eve didn’t look like a slut at the moment. She looked more like some waif blown in by the wind, worn and sad and frayed around the edges. Her clothes had once belonged to a boy, from the look of them — too narrow in the chest and hips, and too loose everywhere else.
«Whose clothesline did you steal that outfit from?» Reno asked idly.
«They belonged to Don Lyon.»
«Lord, he was a small man.»
Reno stopped, struck by a thought.
«I didn’t see any new graves when I passed by Canyon City’s graveyard on the way in, but you said the Lyons were killed by Raleigh King.»
Eve said nothing in response to the implied question.
«You know, gata, sooner or later I’m going to break you of lying.»
«I’m not a liar,» she said tightly. «I buried the Lyons at our campsite.»
«With a shovel.»
With a speed that startled Eve, Reno straightened and grabbed one of her hands. After a single look at her palm, he released her.
«If you handled cards that deftly with a mess of broken blisters,» Reno said, «I’d hate to take cards in a game with you when your hands heal.»
Saying nothing, Eve went back to tending breakfast.
«You should wash them with soap and hot water,» Reno added.
Startled, Eve looked up. «The biscuits?»
He smiled unwillingly.
«Your hands. Jessi says washing wounds prevents infections.»
«I washed before I went to bed last night,» Eve said. «I hate being dirty.»
«You used lilac soap.»
«How did you know? Oh, you found it when you searched my saddlebag.»
«No. Your breasts smelled like spring.»
A wash of pink went up Eve’s cheeks. Her heart turned over as she remembered the feel of Reno’s mouth on her breasts. The fork she had been using on the bacon jerked, and hot grease spattered on the back of her hand.
Before the pain of it registered on Eve, Reno was there, looking to see how badly she had burned herself.
«You’re all right,» he said after a moment. «It will smart for a bit, that’s all.»
Numbly she nodded.
He turned her hand palm up and looked at the abraded skin once more. Silently he took her other hand and glanced at the palm. There was no doubt that her hands had been hard used, and recently.
«You must have worked a long time to chew up your hands like that,» Reno said.
The unexpected gentleness in his voice made Eve’s eyes burn worse than the skin that had been scored by hot grease. A wave of memories swept over her, making her tremble. Preparing the Lyons for burial and then digging their grave was something she would not soon forget.
«I couldn’t leave them like that,» she whispered. «Especially after what Raleigh did…I buried them together. Do you think they minded not having separate graves?»
Reno’s hands tightened over Eve’s as he looked at her bent head. The acute sympathy he felt for her was as unexpected as it was unwelcome. No matter how often he reminded himself that she was a saloon girl, she kept sliding beneath his guard as easily as the fragrance of her lilac soap was absorbed into his body with every breath he took.
He took a deep breath, trying to control his physical reaction to Eve. The breath didn’t help. Her soft, golden hair smelled of the same lilac soap that her breasts did. He had never been especially fond of scent — any scent — but he suspected that lilac would haunt him almost as much as the memory of her nipples rising eagerly to his mouth.
Reno wanted Eve more than he had any woman in a long, long time. But if she discovered his weakness, she would make his life a living hell.
Reno dropped Eve’s hands and turned away to the fire.
«Tell me more about my mine,» he said curtly.
Eve took a deep breath and banished the Lyons from her mind as Donna had taught her to banish all things she couldn’t control.
«Yourhalfof the mine,» Eve said, and waited for the explosion.
It wasn’t long in coming.
«What?» Reno asked, spinning around to face her.
«Without me deciphering the symbols along the trail, you won’t be able to find the mine.»
«Don’t bet on it.»
«I have no choice but to bet on my skill,» she said. «And neither do you. Without me, you’ll never find the mine. You can have all of nothing or half of the gold mine that rightfully belongs to me.»
There was the kind of silence that precedes thunder after the arc of lightning from sky to ground. Then Reno smiled, but there was no humor in the thin curve of his mouth.
«All right,» he said. «Half of the mine.»
She let out a soft rush of air in relief.
«And all of the girl,» Reno added flatly.
Relief congealed into a lump in Eve’s throat.
«What?» she asked.
«You heard me. Until we find the mine, you’ll be my woman whenever I want you, however I want you.»
«But I thought if I told you about the mine, you would —»
«No buts,» Reno said coldly. «I’m getting damned tired of bargaining for what is already mine. Besides, you need me as much as I need you. You wouldn’t last two days out in that desert alone. You need me to —»
«But I’m not what you think I am, I’m —»
«Sure you are,» he interrupted. «Right now you’re wriggling like a worm on a hook, trying to find a way out of keeping your word. Only a cheat would do that.»
Eve closed her eyes.
It was a mistake. The tears she had been trying to hide slid from beneath her lashes.
Reno watched, savagely shoving down all feeling of sympathy, telling himself her tears were just one more in the arsenal of female weapons. Yet it was nearly impossible for him not to soften. The longer he was with Eve, the more difficult he found it to remember what a conniving little tart she really was.
For the first time in his life, Reno was grateful for the past’s cruel lessons in the ways a woman managed a man. There had been a time in his life when he would have believed Eve’s silver tears and pale, trembling lips.
«Well?» he said roughly. «Is it a deal?»
Eve looked at the dark, oversize gunfighter who was watching her with eyes as hard as jade.
«I —» Her voice cracked.
Reno waited, watching her.
«I was wrong about you,» Eve said after a moment. «I’m not strong enough to fight you and win, so you’ll take what you want from me, just like Slater or Raleigh.»
«I’ve never taken a woman by force in my life,» Reno said flatly. «I never will.»
Eve let out a long breath. «Truly?»
Despite himself, Reno felt a wave of compassion for Eve. Cheat or not, saloon girl or not, no girl deserved the kind of rough usage she got from men like Slater and Raleigh King.
«You have my word on it.»
Reno saw the relief in Eve’s golden eyes and smiled thinly.
«That doesn’t mean I won’t touch you,» he continued. «It just means that when I take you — and I will — you’ll be screaming with pleasure, not pain.»
A tide of crimson replaced the pallor of Eve’s face.
«Do we have a deal?» Reno asked.
«You won’t touch me unless I —»
«I won’t take you,» he corrected instantly. «There’s a difference, saloon girl. If you don’t like that bargain, we can go back to the first one — I get all of the mine and all of the girl. Take your pick.»
«You’re too kind,» Eve said through her teeth.
«Doubtless. But I’m a reasonable man. I won’t keep you forever. Just for as long as it takes to find the mine. Deal?»
Eve looked at Reno for a long moment. She reminded herself that he had no reason to trust her, many reasons not to respect her, was quite capable of taking what he wanted and to hell with her protests; yet he was willing to treat her better than any inhabitant of the Gold Dust Saloon would have, given the same opportunity.
«Deal,» she said.
When Eve turned away to tend breakfast, Reno moved with his customary speed. She froze as his hand closed over her wrists.
«One more thing,» he said.
«What?» Eve whispered.
She closed her eyes, expecting to feel the heat of his mouth over hers.
Instead, she felt Don Lyon’s ring sliding from her fingers.
«I’ll keep the ring and the pearls until I find a woman who loves me as much as she loves her own comfort,» Reno said.
Then he added sardonically, «And while I’m at it, I’ll find a ship made of stone, a dry rain, and a light that casts no shadow.»
Reno pocketed the ring and turned away. «Get saddled up. It’s a long way over the Great Divide to Cal’s ranch.»
«Why are we going there?»
«Cal is counting on the winter supplies I’m bringing. And unlike some people I’ve met, when say I’ll do something, I do it.»