ALWAYS A LADY
By Victoria Chatham
Lady Serena Buxton follows her husband from England to Bandit Creek, Montana. Randolph is a partner in the Ellis gold mine, but when she arrives, she is horrified to find that Randolph is missing.
Sheriff Wilson seems to be keeping a watchful eye on her. Why? Douglas King, the mine manager, treats her as if she is already a widow. What does he know? The bank manager refuses her request for access to Randolph’s account. With no husband and no money, what is a girl to do?
Serena has an unsuspected and quite shocking talent. She can belly dance. With the help of two enterprising local ladies, Serena prepares for a public performance. But when the news leaks out, she finds the only venue she can secure is in the Men’s Club owned by King. Like it or not, she has no option but to ask him regardless of what terms he may insist on. Billed as Ayesha, Oriental Dancer Extraordinaire, she prepares for her show which she hopes will make enough money for her to stay in Bandit Creek until Randolph is found.
The whole town, as well as a train full of people from nearby Missoula, turns out for her performance. The Club is packed. But who is in the crowd, watching? Will King insist on exacting his fees? And will Serena be reunited with the husband she loves?
About the Author:
Victoria Chatham is a writer of Regency romance and credits her late husband for giving her a well needed push – make that kick-in-the-pants – to take her writing seriously.
It was his opinion she should write a historical novel but, having disliked history at school because she couldn’t remember dates, was an idea she firmly resisted. Her first completed novel was a contemporary romantic suspense, but she never quite felt comfortable with the book. But then a glimmer of an idea grew into a Regency romance, a genre she always felt comfortable with. Her favourite books are those of that doyen of the Regency era, Georgette Heyer, and more recently Mary Balogh, Sabrina Jeffries, Stephanie Laurens and others.
Victoria was born in Bristol, England and grew up in an area well known for its Regency style architecture. She frequently visited both Cheltenham and Bath, the latter famous for its water. She and her cousins, under the eagle eye of their grandmother, learned what many a young Regency lady may have learned. Manners, deportment, elocution and what knife and fork should be used for which course at dinner and which wine is served in which glass – and why. A writer is encouraged to ‘write what you know’ so many of these early lessons have proved extremely useful in adding small details to her writing.
Already at work on her second Regency novel, Victoria has also written a historical novella for the Bandit Creek book series, and a short story for the April Fool’s Bandit Creek Anthology, Fool’s Gold to be released on – when else – April 1st, 2012.
Apart from her writing, Victoria is an avid reader. Her love of horses gets her away from her computer to volunteer at Spruce Meadows equestrian centre and Dare2Dream, a horse-rescue ranch. Her constant buddy is her dog, Jay, who allows her to take him for a walk every day. As Jay is now 105 years old in people years, she firmly believes she is the only seeing eye person in existence.
Bandit Creek, Montana
She should have let him know she was on her way to meet him. She could have telegraphed before she left San Francisco, or at any stop on the way between there and Bandit Creek.
But then, Lady Serena Buxton reflected, when had she ever done what was expected of her?
She sat back against the velvet upholstered railway carriage seat, thankful that she had the compartment to herself. The wheels hummed steadily along the rails but changed to a rattle as the train crossed a trestle bridge spanning the creek below. She peered out of the window. The town itself was an unprepossessing sprawl of buildings along the valley floor beside the creek that gave the town its name.
Beyond the town, the jagged peaks of snow covered mountains reached up into a clear blue sky that seemed to go on forever. It was picture-perfect and a moment later she wished it was a picture. Stepping down from the train she gasped with shock as the wind, sweeping down from those snowy slopes, sucked the air out of her lungs. The cold bit into her cheeks like a hungry dog.
It made her eyes water. Serena dabbed the resulting tears away with the edge of her sable wrap as she drew it across her face.
“Dammit, Randolph, why couldn’t your gold mine be somewhere warm?” she muttered.
She ducked her head and scurried across the bare platform to the stationmaster’s office, almost tripping on the doorstep in her hurry to escape the cold.
A glowing potbellied stove stood in the center of the room. Wisps of black smoke leaked from the stack that reached up through the roof. Serena ignored the sooty haze and moved into the circle of warmth the stove provided. Her fingers were stiff with cold within her gloves and she peeled them off, held her bare fingers over the stove top until feeling returned to them. Only then did she begin to relax.
A quick glance around the room assured her this was all the comfort she was likely to find. Two solid wooden benches were placed on opposite walls beneath weather grimed windows. The window on one side offered a view of the station platform. The other looked out onto a street scored with deep wheel ruts. Sunlight glinted off their ice encrusted edges and Serena blinked in the glare.
“Can I help you, Ma’am?”
Serena looked over her shoulder at the man who emerged from behind the ticket counter. From his clothes and cap she deduced he was the stationmaster and smiled at him.
“When I have warmed myself a little,” she replied, still holding her hands over the stove.
“You chose a mighty cold day for traveling, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
She heard the curiosity in his voice. “Traveling in mid March was hardly a choice. More of a necessity, if anything.” She rubbed her hands together then stamped her feet a little.
“I’ve got some coffee going back here, if you’d like some.” The man jerked his thumb towards the area behind the counter.
“That’s very kind of you but no, thank you.” Serena feared the coffee would be as black as tar, very strong and not at all to her liking. “I would, however, like directions to the Golden Nugget Hotel. Is it far?”
“It’s across the street behind us and down on the end of the next block.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any form of transport available to take me there?” Serena held her hands over the stove again.
The stationmaster laughed. “You could walk there by the time I get the station hitch harnessed or start the automobile.”
“Then I shall just have to walk very quickly.”
The door opened again, letting in an icy blast of air followed by a lanky boy dragging a loaded trolley.
“And here’s my luggage.” Serena eyed the piled trunks, hat boxes and valises. “These I would like delivered, if you please.”
“I’ll take care of that right away and, if you have no objection, I’ll have young Joe here walk you to the Nugget.”
“Thank you, Mr...?”
“Wilberforce, Ma’am. Sam Wilberforce.” Sam tipped his cap.
“Well, Mr. Wilberforce, I thank you again.” Serena turned to the boy who twisted his cap nervously in his hands. “And are you sure you don’t mind walking me to the hotel, Joe? It is very cold to be outside today.”
Joe blushed. “I d-don’t m-mind at all,” he stuttered, overcome with embarrassment at being made the object of her attention. “If you’ll c-come w-with me I’ll show you the way.”
Sam watched the young woman cross the street. Joe stumbled along beside her, trying to keep up. Her long, athletic stride made the dark green skirt of her traveling suit swirl about her legs. No doubt about it, she was a good looking woman. He’d noticed the wisp of dark hair that escaped the confines of her fur hat and her pink cheeks and clear gray eyes certainly brightened his day.
When they were out of sight he crossed to the trolley. He ran his hand over the top of a valise and eyed the trunks it was perched on. He’d never seen Louis Vuitton luggage but he knew it was expensive and sure knew the name. Her accent was unmistakably English and everything about her spoke of a quality he normally didn’t see passing through his station.
Why was she traveling alone and what was she doing in Bandit Creek? He lifted one of the luggage tags.
Lady Serena Buxton, Golden Nugget Hotel, Bandit Creek, Montana, he read.
He immediately recognized the name and his heart sank. He turned the tag over to make sure there was no mistake.
Lady Serena Buxton, Buxton Hall, Stoneton, Gloucestershire, England.
“Aw, hell,” he muttered. “Now there’ll be trouble.”