The Gunslinger's Untamed Bride. Stacey Kayne
and bustled in San Francisco’s finest fashions. You need to get out once in a while, Lily. Strut your fancy wares.”
“I’m a businesswoman, Reginald, not a peacock.”
“You hardly need to be an exotic bird to get some fresh air. Take time for a social tea, a stroll through Ghirardelli Square for heaven’s sake. You need a lover, Lil, not more work.”
One brief interlude had been plenty to keep her focused on the finer things in life—business and chocolate. No one had been complaining about her social life while she’d doubled the family fortunes. Regi was the only one who’d made any attempt to understand her, or at least humor her ambitions.
“You socialize enough for both of us,” she said. “Someone has to run this place.”
“If your aunt Iris knew how I’ve aided and abetted your spinster ways, she’d turn over in her grave.”
Regi also knew how to get under Lily’s skin.
“Doubtful,” Lily said, her frown deepening at the thought of her late, harping guardian. “The old biddy could hardly be troubled to lift a finger in life, much less ‘roll over.’ And you are deliberately toying with my temper.”
“On the contrary, I’m simply pointing out the obvious. You already work nonstop. This isn’t a small undertaking, Lily.”
“A successful lumber company will be a perfect addition to L. P. Industries.”
“Yes, love, but we’re talking about a bankrupt lumber camp. According to the latest financial records, McFarland hadn’t paid his employees in over a month, which is why he was looking for outside funding. Are we to make good on those back wages? All we have is a list of names, with no hint of their position in the company or pay rate. We don’t even know if the camp is abandoned or filled with disgruntled employees.”
“We’ll gather a team to assess the situation and obtain the payroll files. We’ll send a messenger immediately with notices explaining the change of ownership and temporary freeze of financial assets.”
Reginald scooted to the edge of his cushion and braced his hands wide on her desk. “Just for a moment let’s be reasonable. What do you know of lumberjacks?”
“They chop down trees.”
Regi laughed. “Oh, bravo. And when these jolly beasts of labor, who ‘chop down trees,’ come tromping from the woods demanding to be paid, what then, my darling?”
Lily refilled her cup and smiled brightly. “Refer them to you, of course, my financial counsel.”
Regi arched a dark eyebrow. “I’d laugh if I didn’t know you have a streak of viciousness in you. I can hardly counsel a woman who does not heed my advice.”
“I’m neither naive nor inexperienced. Anything worth the effort is seldom easy.”
The glint in Reginald’s brown eyes told her he was quite aware of that fact.
“If they want their jobs they’ll have to be patient while we work through McFarland’s mess. Otherwise they’re welcome to take up banners with those obnoxious men of the labor unions and harping ladies of Women’s Suffrage, and march the streets. Goodness knows one can never please the masses.”
“You have never tried to please the masses,” Regi said. “So why not just please your cousin. Let this one go.”
Regi’s gaze narrowed. “When this lumber-camp jaunt goes up in smoke, I will expect a full I-should-have-listened-to-Reginald apology.”
“I always listen to you, Regi,” she said as she began thumbing through the box of files. “You’ve been my trusted friend since I arrived in San Francisco.”
“Which says little of my sensibilities,” he muttered.
“We will split the list of employees and see if we can’t match them to job references buried in the rest of this mess.”
Reginald stood and snatched the stack of paper she held out to him. “You realize we do employ secretaries?”
“Yes. Tell Emily I’d like another pot of hot chocolate.”
“Right after I notify some of the staff that they’ll be taking a trip to the mountains.”
Lily slid her chair up to the desk and opened the file with rows of names listed in alphabetical order, management mingled with the most common of workers. It was no wonder McFarland’s company had gone under. The man clearly had no business sense.
Her gaze scanned down the first page. A name caught her attention, forcing her to reread the line.
Barns, Juniper. Juniper Barns.
The name slapped across her senses like a razor strap. A name she’d heard over and over in her mind since she was twelve years old, since the night her father’s business partner had stood on the front porch of her childhood home in Missouri, holding a hat and a gun belt.
“I’m sorry, Rose. Red won’t be coming back. He was killed in Mason by a gunslinger named Juniper Barns. Gunned him down with those pearl-handled six-shooters.”
Her mother had been devastated. Folks had said the influenza had killed her a few weeks later, but Lily knew better. Rose Palmer had stopped living that night on the porch. She’d let the sickness take her.
He’d killed her. The gunfighter had shattered Rose’s heart by taking her husband.
Juniper Barns. The man who’d stripped the sun from Lily’s sky. He’d stolen her parents, her life, forcing her into the care of strangers, relatives her mother had shunned so she could be with the man she loved. Lily didn’t have to wonder why her mother had run off to Missouri, preferring her quiet life in the small cottage on a flower-filled meadow with her and Daddy. Dear Lord, how Lily’d missed her home, the wide-open sky, the scent of spruce and aspen, the sound of her mother’s soft voice, her father’s strong embraces.
Old rage welled up and coiled across her shoulders. How many nights had she lain awake in her fancy prison, anger burning away tears she had refused to cry as she wished for the opportunity to shoot down the outlaw who’d stolen her family and turned her life into endless torment?
Juniper Barns. Lily’s hand trembled as she brushed her finger over the letters. Not exactly a common name.
A man ain’t no better than his name.
Her father’s voice echoed in her mind. They were some of the last words he’d spoken to her. She remembered the last time she’d stood with him in the sun-sprayed meadow filled with tall grasses and wildflowers, his strong arms closed around her, his big hands helping her to steady the revolver as she took aim at a bottle sitting on a rock in the distance.
He stepped away. She squeezed the trigger, kicking off a shot. Glass exploded into glistening shards.
“That’s my girl!”
There was always the threat of raiders in the high country. Daddy had insisted she practice with a revolver as well as a rifle. He said she was to tell her mother about neither.
“Your mama would have my hide for teaching you to handle a six-shooter, but she’s a delicate sort of flower. My baby girl is pure Palmer. You don’t have to be a man to defend your name and protect what’s yours. Out here, we look out for our own. You got that, Lily girl?”
“I got it,” she said, thinking of the gun belt tucked safely in her wardrobe upstairs.
You don’t have to be a man to defend your name…. A name the Carringtons had forbidden her to speak in their presence. She’d gotten even with the Carringtons, making her true initials, L. P., the prefix of the company name when she’d taken over Carrington Industries.
“Lily Palmer,” she said to herself, the name sounding