Silver Dollar Duke – Sally Britton

One never expected to find the son of a marquess at a pub of questionable reputation, which explained the exact reason Evan A. Rounsevell occupied a stool at the Llandoger Trow. Evan had no wish to be found. Especially with his knowledge that the marquess—his father— had arrived in London with the express purpose of forcing Evan to take up family responsibilities. Without raising his eyes from the amber liquid in his glass, Evan put more coins on the slick and greasy counter to pay for his drink. A shine of one particular silver coin caught his eye. Evan snatched the coin up again, his heart thudding against his chest, just before the barkeep scooped the rest of the money into his apron pocket. With a single careless action, he’d almost parted with his most prized possession. He clutched the coin tightly in his palm, feeling its edge press into his skin. Slowly, he opened his hand and studied the glimmering silver. The head of Lady Liberty faced upward, the year 1879 stamped below her. What a remarkable year that had been. Although he hadn’t been as tall then as he was at present, Evan had the same features in place. Angular chin, sharp nose, dark hair, and copper-green eyes. He’d been a strapping youth, well-practiced in every art an English nobleman’s son ought to master.

Which was why he had pleaded to go to the performance the Americans had put on for Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, the moment he’d heard of it. Evan could shoot as well as any Englishman—but he’d heard the Americans did it better. Evan turned the coin over to the side bearing the eagle, its wings widespread, talons clutching arrows and olive branches alike. Americans made strong, bold statements with everything, even their coinage. He smiled to himself as he remembered the day he had received the coin, eight years previous, from a man wearing more leather than one found at a tanner’s booth. The man who had wrestled Indians, fought in a war, rode wild horses, and could shoot a gun and throw hatchets with equal skill. A man who challenged everything Evan knew about the world simply by existing. A hand landed upon Evan’s shoulder, startling him into clutching the coin tightly lest he drop it. He looked up, ready to give a set-down to whoever dared disturb him, when he met the shrewd eyes of his elder brother. William D.

Rounsevell, heir to their father’s title as Marquess of Whittenbury, smirked down at him before perching on the stool beside Evan. “Thought I’d find you here. You always have preferred the more interesting pubs.” His eyes lingered on the dusty glasses on the shelves, his nose wrinkled with distaste. “Perhaps.” Evan hastily tucked away the coin, having no wish to give his brother reason to mock him. The family thought Evan’s interest in the American West no more than a sign of eccentricity, and a shameful one, at that. Of course the marquess would send William after him. William was the least annoying member of the family, which consisted of his father, an uncle and aunt, his brother, and a handful of first cousins. Although William was not a bad sort, he tended to share their father’s views on Evan’s behavior.

So it was no surprise that he immediately took up their father’s cause. “You need to come home, Evan. Father has a particular interest in speaking with you about your responsibility for the Shropshire estate. You know he wishes you to show some interest in family matters, but if you continue to neglect it—” “I know.” Evan rubbed at his forehead before taking hold of the drink in front of him. “But I have no wish to settle on that land and look after sheep until the end of my days.” “Father thinks if you marry you will settle.” William folded his arms, eyeing the barkeep suspiciously when the man came forward to offer William a drink. “Have you a brandy worth more than a few pennies?” he asked loftily. The barkeep bowed and went in search of a bottle and glass.

Evan encircled his glass in his hands but did no more than stare into it. If only one could divine the future in the bottom of a cup. “I have no intention of marrying. What is the point to a union for me? Even if I tend to the Shropshire estate, it goes to your heirs, not mine. Why spend my life toiling on another man’s property like a blasted tenant farmer?” He snorted into his cup before taking one last sip of the drink. He much preferred a strong cup of tea but trying to get that sort of drink at a pub as rough around the edges as the one in which they sat would only get him laughed out of the building. William accepted a glass of his own and turned a bored sort of smile onto Evan. “It is the way things are. If you marry well, your wife’s funds will see to any children you may have. It is not as though I will turn them out into the cold the moment you die.

” “But if you go first, your son might.” Evan tapped his fingers on the smooth wood, worn down from years of patrons sitting in his exact spot. “Or if I irritate you. Or if I die, what will happen to a widow and children too young to have chosen their paths? The situation is intolerable, William.” “Second sons have braved such circumstances for centuries.” William eyed his drink dubiously before taking a small sip. He winced and put it back onto the counter, pushing it away from himself with enough force to make the liquid slosh over the brim. “Not in America,” Evan muttered, his eyes on the swirls in the woodgrain. A deep laugh made him jump in his seat, his gaze coming up to see his brother’s head thrown back as he roared. Others in the pub turned to look, some appearing annoyed that the quiet, smoky atmosphere had been disturbed.

Finally, with a last guffaw, William reached out to clap Evan on the arm. “Your sense of humor does you credit, Evan. America.” William snorted and picked up his glass, but he must have remembered he held the liquid inside in contempt, for he lowered it again. “Land of the self-made man. More like land of illiterate, unwashed, uncultured upstarts.” Saying nothing was safer than arguing. And less likely to get him laughed at again. “Come home. Father wishes to speak to you.

” William scattered coins upon the bar without regard to denomination, then stood. “It is time to accept your responsibilities, little brother, and to stop living in a fantasy of cowboys and outlaws. You are a man of ancient and noble blood. Our family line comes first.” Then he saluted with two fingers and strode leisurely out of the pub. Blood always came first. The family honor held more value for the marquess than the wealth of his estates combined. Lord Whittenbury, their father, would not rest until Evan came to him, bowing and scraping, accepting his meager inheritance and responsibility for one of the family’s lesser estates. Evan’s only hope to escape managing his father’s Shropshire estate was to take up the practice of law, which he had no interest in, or marry an heiress, which he desired to do even less. The silver dollar in his pocket reminded him of yet another option.

The so-called fantasy his brother mocked. The American West, where fortunes were won or lost in a night, where a man could work to accomplish what he wished, and where expectations and futures were self-made. Without familial support, he couldn’t afford a ticket to cross the Atlantic. Everything he had belonged to his father. Everything—no. Not everything. Evan pulled out his gold pocket-watch and examined it. Worth a small fortune. A gift from an uncle. The stickpin in his cravat, his cuff-links, all real jewels.

All his to do with as he pleased. The idea that had been no more than the seed of a dream his whole life sprouted and grew like climbing vines upon his mind. A slow smile stretched across Evan’s face as he took out the silver dollar, a gift to him from none other than Buffalo Bill himself. An electric thrill ran up his spine, and a slow grin spread across his face. Despite the faint light in the pub, Lady Liberty seemed to wink at him. It wouldn’t be forever. But it would be something that was his and his alone. Not his father’s, not a responsibility, but a dream the likes of which few could ever attain. An escape from his title, his duty to his family, and the chance for a real adventure. He left the pub, his pulse thrumming with the cadence of a galloping horse, and he didn’t look back.

R C H A P T E R T W O May 1, 1895 Tombstone, Arizona aising dust with her boots to search out her little brothers was not how Daniella Bolton wanted to spend her time in Tombstone. The city crowds unnerved her, though during daylight hours everything about the town was perfectly safe and respectable. Tombstone was nothing like Boston, but the hundreds of people shuffling down the boarded walks still reminded her entirely too much of that hated period in her life. She’d needed to come. Tombstone, as the county seat, was a place of business. With her father still recovering from an illness, it fell to Dannie to send telegrams on his behalf to their buyers in California. Running a cattle ranch meant doing a lot more than riding herd. It meant doing a lot more math and cozying up to strangers than she liked. She headed down Safford street, peering through each window until she spotted her brother, Travis, leaning in the barber’s doorway. The seventeen-year-old boy didn’t even notice her, his attention completely arrested by something inside the shop.

Dannie adjusted her straw hat, hating the round-brimmed, brown-ribboned thing when she could have on a sensible working hat. Her blue calico dress had enough dust on its skirts to appear nearly the same shade as the ribbon. Dressing up to come to town always irritated her. She liked to look as nice as the next woman, but it just wasn’t practical when the roads were a dusty mess. “Travis Lincoln Bolton,” she snapped when she was still several steps away. The boy jerked upright and nearly fell out of the doorway in his haste to respond. “Dannie.” He cast a glance into the shop, then gave her a grin which suggested he hadn’t any idea how long she’d been searching for him. Or how much she wanted to drag him away by the ear. “You need to come hear Mr.

Rounsevell.” As she’d never heard of, nor seen hide of, any Mr. Rounsevell, she didn’t care a lick about whatever the man was saying. “Where’s Clark?” Their fifteen-year-old brother usually stayed glued to Travis’s side. Travis pointed inside the barbershop. Dannie narrowed her eyes at him and went to the doorway. Walking into a barbershop wasn’t nearly as scandalous as walking into a saloon, but it was rare a woman needed a barber’s services. She peered inside the shadowy interior, her eyes adjusting from the brightness of the afternoon sun. A crowd of men stood along the walls, everyone’s attention riveted to a man sitting in one of the barber chairs having his hair trimmed. He was tall.

She could tell by the way his boots stuck out from under the barber’s tarp. He had dark brown hair and a strong jawline. But what struck her immediately was the sound of his voice. Cultured. Deep. Foreign. His had to be a British accent, given its nearness to the New England tongue she was all too familiar with. He was holding court like a king, surrounded by drovers and stock boys. “Yes, it’s true that Her Majesty is a woman of diminutive stature, but she has a presence about her that fills the room with her prestige. She is an empress, a woman of fiery spirit and a brave heart.

She has survived assassins and mothered all the crown heads of Europe.” Dannie snorted. Loud enough in the awed silence following the stranger’s pronouncement that everyone turned to where she stood framed by the doorway. Including the British man. The boy at his feet turned, too. “Clark.” Dannie narrowed her eyes at him but tried to keep her tone even. “We need to get on the road if we’re going to be home in time for evening chores.” She wasn’t about to take him to task in front of so many of his peers, but he’d get an earful as soon as they were in private. The man in the chair raised one dark eyebrow at her as he stood, sweeping off the white cloth from his shoulders as he did.

He wore a full suit and vest, white shirt and dark blue tie. His boots were well shined, his face clean-shaven. Everyone followed his movement, then realized the Englishman had turned his attention away from them. A few cowboys frowned, likely irritated she had disturbed their entertainment. The Englishman bowed. As though they were in a drawing room and an old cowhand hadn’t just spat his tobacco into an urn on the floor. She wrinkled her nose at the stranger. The people of Tombstone might be used to people coming and going, and this man’s accent and charm might make him particularly interesting to the average citizen, but she didn’t trust him even an inch-worth. Travis came forward and bumped shoulders with her. “Dannie, this is Mr.

Rounsevell. He’s from England.” He grinned at her, then nodded to the man still standing in the middle of the room. “He’s looking for work. Think we could take him back with us?” After sparing a glance to the man who dressed like he was going to Sunday church rather than looking for a job, she leveled a hard glare at her brother. “Travis, get Clark and meet me at the wagon.” She cast the tall stranger one last look, then spun on her heel and left, her boots hammering the wood in a staccato rhythm. Mr. Rounsevell was as out-of-place in Tombstone as a peacock in a chicken run. It didn’t take long for her to hear the quick clomp of her brothers’ feet behind her.

But a harder step came after theirs. Dannie stopped and turned around, hands on her hips. Travis. Clark. Mr. Rounsevell, now wearing a felt hat nicer than anything her father owned. All three came to a stop under her glare. Then Rounsevell moved between the boys, and another step put him directly in front of her. “Miss Bolton. I hope you will forgive my forward behavior, especially given our lack of proper introduction, but your brothers have encouraged me to speak with you regarding employment on your ranch.

” His vowels rolled like gentle spring hills, not with the stretched-out drawl she’d come to expect from the local cowboys and merchants, or the twang which characterized her father’s words of wisdom. She gripped her purse strings tighter, her stiff-clothed gloves creaking. “You may have noticed, sir, that my brothers are boys.” She glared at Travis. “A might young for talking business.” And lacking her experience with charming men who said one thing and did another. Travis squared his shoulders. “I’m learning, Dannie, and Dad said we could use some extra hands.” So he had. But there was a reason they were short on help.

All their hands had taken part in the spring cattle drive, taking the animals all the way down to Benson for the best prices, where they had collected their pay; most hadn’t come back. She didn’t blame them. After the drought of ’91 and the second in ’93, ranchers were desperate for cash. They all lived with tightened belts and long-faces.


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