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Chapter One


Lady Isabella’
Missouri River
1845

RC gazed across the smoke-filled lounge and spotted the dark haired beauty and decided that she looked sadly out of place among the gaily dressed group on the riverboat.  She looked like a schoolgirl playing dress-up, and there was a huge part of him that was tempted to cross the room and take her across his knee and spank her and then scrub the rouge from her cheeks and lips and send her home to grow up!  It didn’t escape his observant gaze that she was uncomfortable, or that she was obviously waiting for someone to appear.  Finally, her dark eyes showed relief as a man a few years older than himself walked into the lounge and approached her, wrapping his arm around her possessively.  He leaned close to whisper something in her ear, and her cheeks turned a bright pink.  RC felt like punching the other man in the nose!  He was obviously using the young girl to draw attention from himself.  She straightened the man’s tie and then smiled at him, and he sauntered off to invite himself to join in a poker game at one of the tables.

RC slowly made his way across the room, casually bumping into the girl.  “Oh, pardon me, Miss.  How very clumsy of me.”

“Yes, it was.  Please excuse me,” she softened the words with a smile of pardon, and tried to step away, but RC took her arm in his grip and held her there.

“You are too young and innocent to be in this salon, Miss.  Would you permit me to buy you a ticket home?” he asked, wondering why he was putting aside his normal principles, namely not to butt into anyone’s personal life.

“And how would I pay for that ticket, sir?” she asked softly.

“You don’t have to pay me, honey.  Consider the ticket home to your folks a gift.  I hate to see a young girl being taken advantage of, and the man you are with is using you.”  At that moment, the man in question looked up and frowned in disapproval.

The girl tugged on her arm.  “Let me go.  Edmund is waiting for me.”

“Is he threatening you?” RC persisted.

“No.  Now mind your own business, please,” she turned up her chin in stubborn determination, and her brown eyes were flashing with irritation.  She hurried over to the table and to Edmund’s side, a false smile on her lips.  RC stood at the bar for several minutes, just watching, but finally decided he couldn’t walk away.  He crossed the room when one of the men decided to retire and offered to take his seat.  The man called Edmund welcomed him with a practiced smile, but the smile on the young girl’s face did not meet her snapping brown eyes.  RC determined she wouldn’t make a very good poker player because her cards would show on her pretty face.

Edmund shuffled the cards while sizing up RC.  “My name is Edmund Montrose.  The gentleman to my left is Barry Watkins; to his left is Ace Conroy.  To my right is Blake Murphy, and Jasper Smith is to his right.  And your name, sir…?” he asked politely.

“RC Bishop,” RC said with an easy smile.

“Well, I hoped to make your acquaintance someday, Mr. Bishop.  I’ve heard you have a real knack for the game.”

“I get lucky some days,” RC drawled.  “You forgot to introduce the lady,” he added quite deliberately, his blue eyes seeking out her pretty brown eyes and daring her to smile for real.  She didn’t.

“Oh, this is Teresa.”

“Tempting Teresa,” RC said teasingly.  “With her sweet face to distract the rest of us you have a decided advantage, Montrose.”

The man gave him a sharp look, but his easy smile told RC that he wasn’t going to take offense, at least not in the moment.   RC didn’t need many hands to realize that Teresa was very good at distracting the other players, and one of the other players seemed to realize it, too.

“Your woman needs to go and find a chair to sit on or go and peddle her wares elsewhere,” Jasper Smith spoke up after he lost another hand to Edmund.

“Teresa stays with me; she is my good luck charm,” Edmund said with a smile as he turned to look at the pretty girl.

“She’s helping you cheat!” Jasper angrily accused.

“Mister, that is a harsh accusation,” Edmund said quietly, shrugging off the hand Teresa rested on his shoulder in an attempt to quiet and calm him.

“Let’s go and take a break, Edmund.  It’s a lovely evening to be on deck.”  Her voice was a soft purr.

Again Edmund ignored her.  “I repeat, that is a harsh accusation.  If you have proof, I would see it now, or you will apologize, sir.”

“I ain’t apologizing, Montrose.  You’ve been winning too much for it to be luck.”

“Edmund is not cheating!” Teresa declared, her cheeks stained red with anger.

“He might not be, but you sure as hell are!”  Jasper pulled a gun and aimed it at the young girl.  Edmund jumped up to stand in front of her just as Jasper fired.  RC knocked the gun from Jasper’s hand and it fell to the table, while several other men grabbed Jasper from behind and held him. Teresa screamed in anguish as Edmund fell to the floor. 

Teresa knelt beside him but it was RC who pushed her out of the way and used his clean white handkerchief to press against the wound.

“No use, Bishop.  I’m dying.  Take care of Teresa; I’m giving her to you to care for.  Please?” he begged.

“Nooo, Edmund!” Teresa sobbed.  “You aren’t going to die!  No!”

“Hush, baby.  Let Bishop take care of you.  Please…”  He closed his eyes and died.

“Nooooooo! NOOOOOOOOO!” Teresa wailed in despair.  “Edmund, don’t do this!” she begged.

RC got to his feet and then pulled her up from the floor.  “There is nothing you can do, Teresa.  Edmund is gone.”

“It’s your fault!” she screamed angrily, lunging for the gun that was still lying on the table. 

RC grabbed the gun and held it high over his head while she beat on him, kicked him, cursed him, and raged against the world.  Help arrived in the form of the Captain and crew members, and those who witnessed the entire episode told the truth.  It galled Teresa to hear him proclaimed a hero for trying to save their lives, and she demanded that RC Bishop be arrested along with Jasper Smith.  The Captain did his best to be polite and understanding, but he finally decided to be firm and stated, “Young lady, I am sorry for your loss, but you need to respect Montrose’s last requests and permit Mr. Bishop to take you under his care.  You’re too young to be out in this world by yourself, honey.  Now go and have a good cry.  We’ll lock up Smith and turn him over to the law when we dock in a week’s time.  We’ll prepare Montrose’s body for sea burial and have a service tomorrow morning.  Try to get some sleep now.”

“Come with me, Teresa,” RC said kindly, reaching out to take her arm, just above the elbow.

“I have no intention of going anywhere with you!” she hissed angrily, trying to free herself.

“You are distraught,” RC said, tamping down his irritation.  “Come along and I will see that you have some privacy.”

“I am capable of taking care of myself.”

“You are little more than a child, and it isn’t safe for you to be alone right now.  There are enough unscrupulous men aboard this riverboat that will think it the perfect time to try and rifle your rooms to see what kind of money or jewelry Montrose has hidden.  And others will find it the perfect time to force themselves on you with the hope of getting any money that comes to you from Montrose.”

“I will shoot them dead!” she promised, her snapping brown eyes telling RC that she was furious at the very idea.  “I am not some naïve child who needs protecting, Mr. Bishop!  I demand that you release me this very second.”  When he continued toward the door, pulling her along, she raised her foot and brought the heel of her shoe down on his toes.  That move succeeded in earning her release, and she ran for the door with every intention of outrunning him and seeking refuge in her cabin behind a locked door.  She didn’t account for the fact that RC Bishop had several younger sisters and was used to their tricks.  Before she reached the double doors of the salon, Bishop overtook her, and much to her horror, he picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder, his left arm wrapped securely around her legs to hold her in place.  “Put me down at once!” she hissed.

“I will, when we reach my rooms.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you, you murdering son of a bitch!”  She used her fists to pummel his back.  “Put me down NOW!”

“If I put you down right now, you will get your skirts flipped up and your backside warmed right here in front of anyone who cares to watch,” he informed her, giving credence to the threat by reaching up to give her backside a firm swat.

“Ouch!” Teresa complained.  Her short temper exploded and she called him every rotten name she could think of.  It didn’t matter that people were staring; she only wanted to lash out and hurt the handsome man.  If not for him, Edmund would still be alive.  “I HATE you!” she screamed, raining blow after blow on his impervious back.

“Hear now!  The child has been through a traumatic experience,” Ace Conroy sputtered in consternation.  “Put her down and show some compassion.”

“I prefer to show her compassion once I get her alone, Conroy,” RC said with a grin.  “Please excuse us now.”

In spite of her best efforts, Teresa soon found herself alone with the gambler and in his private cabin aboard the Lady Isabella.  “I am going to put you down, Miss Teresa, and I expect you to behave yourself.  If you continue to behave as a rebellious child, I will treat you like one and turn you over my knee for a sound spanking.”

Teresa waited until RC put her on her feet and then she gave him a shove and made a mad dash toward the door.  She had her hand on the knob when he reached over her head and held it shut.  “Let me go!” she stomped her foot once again.

“I don’t think so, little girl.  I think you are the type of female who needs to have her attention captured and on the subject at hand before a person can attempt to reason with you, and I know just the way to do so.”

Teresa gasped in shock and outrage as he pulled her over to the bed, took a seat, and then upended her across his knee.  “Don’t you dare do this!” she screamed at him, mortified beyond belief.  “I will kill you if you strike me!”

RC started spanking immediately, not really to hurt her, but to get her attention.  Teresa reacted as if he was murdering her, and screamed.  The third and fourth spanks were a bit harder, and by the sixth she suddenly stopped fighting and crumpled, sobbing as if her heart was breaking in two.  He gently lifted her to a sitting position and let her cry, holding her close and offering comfort.

Teresa simply couldn’t believe that Edmund was dead.  He’d stepped in front of a bullet meant for her; a completely selfless act from a man who’d known her for less than a year.  If she’d ever doubted he loved her, she now knew the truth of the matter.  It wasn’t fair!  And what would she do now?  She couldn’t stay with RC Bishop!  She didn’t know the man, and he’d already raised a hand to her!  No man had dared such a thing before.  She felt like shooting him, but now he was holding her and giving her comfort and her temper was gone.  She felt so incredibly sad. 

RC continued to hold the pretty girl, and he permitted her to cry until her even breathing told him she was sound asleep.  Careful not to wake her, he got to his feet and put her on the bed.  He removed her shoes, and then covered her with a blanket, and then he took a seat in the chair while trying to decide what he should do with the girl.  She looked so young, and it truly bothered him to think of a man of Montrose’s years taking advantage of her.  The way the man handed her over to him, as if she was a possession, angered RC.  Still, the man had been dying, and Edmund seemed desperate to protect Teresa.  RC would give the girl a few days to mourn for her lover, and then he would have to send her to school, or someplace where she could live safely, and where she would learn to behave like a lady; someplace where she wouldn’t be expected to wear rouge on her cheeks and lips.  If she had parents to go home to, he would take her home.  That decided, RC got to his feet and answered the quiet tap on the door.

“Mr. Bishop, I wanted to check on the young lady and see if she is doing all right?” the Captain stood there, a look of concern on his weathered face.

“She cried herself to sleep, Captain,” RC answered.

“Poor little thing.  What do you plan to do with her?” he asked RC curiously, his dark eyes watching RC with interest.

“I’m going to find out if she has any family I can take her to, and if that isn’t an option, I’ll enroll her in a school so she can get an education and learn to be a proper lady.”

“I can see you aren’t the type of man to take advantage of a child, and as a father I am happy to hear that.  If you have difficulty, I could ask my Mary if we might take her in and put her with our three girls.  I’m sure they would get on well enough.”

“That’s kind of you, Captain,” RC answered.  “I’ll keep your offer in mind.”

“You do that now, and if the lass needs anything, ring the bell and it will be taken care of.  I’m going to move the gentleman in the next room to Mr. Montrose’s room, and have the young lady’s belongings put next door so that you can keep an eye on her for the rest of our trip.  She will be safer if the riffraff on board knows she has a guardian next to her.  Less temptation that way, if you know what I mean.”

“My thoughts precisely.  Thank you, Captain.”

“I’ll send for you when we are ready for the burial service, Mr. Bishop.  Goodnight.”

********************

Teresa’s head was pounding when she woke, and she let out a cry of dismay when she remembered the previous evening’s events.  Edmund was dead, and she was all alone in the world.  What would she do now?  Edmund spent the last of their money on tickets to board the ‘Lady Isabella’, positive he could win enough money on this trip to support them for a few months.  He felt that if she dressed provocatively she would distract the other gamblers and make it easier for him to win, and while that worked for a couple of nights, once RC Bishop entered the picture, their luck changed for the worse.  Edmund paid with his life to protect her from harm.  She started crying once again, and immediately realized she wasn’t in the cabin alone when someone moved.  Grief was replaced with fear and she raised up to glare at the man who was moving from the chair to the bed, concern in his blue eyes.  “Get out of here!” she commanded firmly.

“This is my room, Teresa,” he said with a smile.  “I can’t leave.”

“Then I will leave,” she announced, jumping from the bed and heading for the door.

“Your cabin has been moved to the one next door to mine.  Your belongings are in there.”

“Who gave you permission to do that?” she demanded.

“I am now your guardian,” he reminded her of Edmund’s final words.  “The Captain thought you would be safer if everyone knew I was next door to your cabin.”

“I’m not a child!” she fumed.  “I do not need you or the Captain making decisions for me.  Is that clear?”

“Montrose asked me to take care of you, Teresa.  It was his dying wish, and I will do as asked, whether you like it or not.  The first thing you are going to do is wash your face and get rid of that rouge staining your cheeks and lips.  I don’t want to see you with that stuff smeared on your face again.  You are too young to look like a floozy.  And,” he added, “Put on a dress that covers your bosom.”

Teresa’s face turned a shamed red.  She hated the revealing dresses and the make-up.  It made her feel like a painted lady of the night, but Edmund insisted she wear them.  She wasn’t about to let RC Bishop tell her how to dress, however.  “I will dress as I please, Mr. Bishop.”

“Not if how you please is to dress like a saloon girl, Teresa,” he replied firmly.

She opened her mouth to argue just as there was a perfunctory knock on the door.  RC answered.  “The Cap’n sent me to tell you that the Burial Service will be in one hour.”

“Thank you,” RC replied.  “We’ll be there.”

“I do not want Edmund buried at sea,” Teresa said tearfully.

“There isn’t any way around it, Teresa,” RC said softly.  “There is no way to keep his body on board until we reach our destination.  Now go and get dressed, and remember, no rouge.”

“I’ll dress as I please, Mr. Bishop.  Just because Edmund asked you to care for me does not mean I have to accept your word as law.  I am an adult, and I won’t be told what I may or may not do.”  She opened the connecting door and swept through to the other side.  She shut the door with a snap, and then leaned against the door, trying to catch her breath.  The very idea of attending Edmund’s funeral was daunting, and she had no idea how she would bear letting him go to a watery grave.  First her mother and now Edmund.  Why did life have to be so hard?

She looked around the cabin and it was immediately obvious the room was much larger than the ones she and Edmund were staying in.  All of her material possessions in life were in this room, and someone had packed all of Edmund’s things, too, and put them with her things.  It nearly broke her heart to see how little he’d accumulated in his thirty-seven years of life.  Teresa held one of his jackets and wept again, and then she squared her slender shoulders.  She needed to say goodbye to Edmund, and she would do it with style, just as he would want her to.

When RC knocked on Teresa’s door, he was pleased by her appearance.  She wore a black cape over her clothing, and with the early morning chill in the air it would keep her warm on deck.  Her face was covered with a heavy black veil, and the hat on her head was somber.  A little firmness was exactly what Teresa needed, but RC couldn’t help but wish she’d done without the veil.  It was a bit too much for someone of her tender years, and was inappropriate for the circumstances.

The Captain said a few words and offered a couple of prayers and read from the Bible before asking if anyone had any kind words to say about the deceased.  RC doubted that anyone would step forward, and he was shocked when Teresa’s soft voice said, “I wish to speak, Captain.”  RC was shocked even further when the little brat removed the black cloak to reveal the bright red dress she wore beneath, and it was no surprise that the dress was cut low in the front, exposing nearly all of Teresa’s breasts!  She then flipped back the veil to show her face, which was painted more heavily than the night before!  RC was scandalized, and by the frozen expression on the good Captain’s face, he was too!  RC could hear the whispers from the few people gathered on the deck and vowed he was going to bare Tempting Teresa’s fanny and spank her bottom cheeks to match her rouged cheeks just as soon as he got her alone!  Her behavior was shameful in the extreme!

“Dearest Edmund, my heart is breaking and I am devastated to have to say goodbye to you so soon.  You were truly a wonderful man and my only regret is that I did not have the opportunity for more time with you.  I hope you find a wonderful game in Heaven and you are dealt nothing but winning hands from now on.  You certainly deserve the best.  Thank you for loving me, and for believing me.  I will never forget you.”  Teresa’s voice broke then, and she cried as she watched as he was ‘buried’.  She took off running, her heels clicking on the deck as she ran to get away from the curious eyes staring at her.  Teresa desperately wanted to be alone to mourn Edmund… and to decide what she was going to do now that she was all alone in the world, and for all intents and purposes, destitute.

RC followed the brunette to her cabin, but when she would have shut the door in his face, he gave it a push and entered her cabin right behind her.

“Get out, Mr. Bishop.  I wish to be alone now.”

“What you wish and what you are going to get are two different things.  I have never in my life witnessed such a shameful display of bad manners!” he scolded.  “Wearing a red dress to a funeral!  And your face!  A harlot wears less paint!” he stated coldly.  “Scrub it off now or I will do it for you, little girl.”

“I am not a little girl, and you have no right to tell me what to do!”  Teresa was furious with the man.  “Get out before I tell the Captain you are harassing me.”

RC said nothing to her threat.  He gave her cape a toss on the bed and advanced on her.  The young girl backed up three steps for each one he took, and it did not take long for her to back against a wall.  He grabbed her and pulled her close, and then pulled the hat and veil from her head, managing to pull out several pins in the process.  Her hair fell around her shoulders and down her back, making her appear even younger as he marched her to the washstand in the corner.

“NO!” Teresa protested as she realized what he intended to do, but she was powerless to stop the aggravating man as he pushed her face down to the basin and splashed her with water before picking up a bar of soap and methodically scrubbing her cheeks and her mouth to rid her of the offending red color.   “Stop!” she yelled, and then wished she’d kept her mouth shut when he stuffed soap inside. 

“Now, young lady, I am going to have the pleasure of making your bare backside match that dress you dared to wear to a funeral!  Have you no shame at all?” he railed at her, not caring one little bit that she was still trying to spit out soap, or that her eyes were stinging from the tears she shed.

To be continued…

 

 

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