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Cheyenne Sunrise

By Janalyn Voigt

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CHAPTER ONE

Boston, May 1865

An arm clamped Bry's waist and hauled her backward into an unyielding embrace. Her heartbeat surged in her ears. The carved rosewood door gaped tauntingly ajar mere steps away. She twisted, her fingernails gouging flesh.
Her assailant rasped in a breath. "Fight if it helps your pride, Irish." Jeffrey Wainwright’s familiar voice snarled in her ear. He gripped her tighter. "We both know you want this."

Bry turned her head to give her employer's son the glare he deserved. "You flatter yourself."

He slid moist lips over her cheek, but she ducked her head before they reached her mouth. "Let me go." She struggled to free herself. "This minute!"

"Never mind trying to cozy up, now." He laughed at his own joke and turned her toward him, his hold loosening. With his blond head tilted and shadows carving hollows in his cheeks, he appeared older than his nineteen years. He stroked her back. "I've seen the way you look at me."

He must have noticed her keeping an eye on him, something she'd done since he'd started watching her. "What would your mother say?" She spoke without conviction. They both knew that Audra Wainwright exerted little control over her son.

"Who's going to tell her? Not you if you want your job." Jeffrey pulled her closer. "Slip away to my bed now and again. I promise you'll never find yourself cast upon the road."

"Like Deirdre?" Bry shoved against his chest. "Shame on you for what you did to her, Master Wainwright!"

He tugged her closer. "My, but you're a little shrew, aren't you?"
"And you're a bully."

"That's not what Deirdre said."

Bry drove her heel down Jeffrey's instep. He grunted, his arms slackening. She wrenched free but spun back. Her slap echoed through the bedchamber. She closed her stinging hand into a fist. Tremors ran down her spine. "Never touch me again." The sharp words matched her staccato footsteps as she put distance between them. She whirled to look back from the doorway.

"Harpy!" He rubbed his cheek. "That will cost you."

Bry tossed her head. "Deirdre Connery told me more than you'd care to have your mother know. Keep that in mind."

The smile that spread over his face made him look almost charming. "If you think she'd take your word over mine, you're a fool."

Bry slammed the door between them.

The bedchamber belonging to his mother stood blessedly empty. Bry sagged against the tall door and clasped her arms about herself. Tears trembled on her lashes, but she brushed them away with a sigh. Why cry over Jeffrey Wainwright’s misbehavior when she’d shed her share of tears over a man more worthless than him.

Bry caught sight of herself in the gilded mirror above the dressing table. A pale woman stared back, eyes sparking green fire. Fresh alarm jangled through her. She looked a fright. How would she ever conceal what had happened? And yet she must to keep her job. Jeffrey had spoken the truth. His mother would never take her word against his. She hastened to tuck her tumbled black hair into her cap and smooth her serviceable frock.

The door burst open. As if conjured by Bry's thought of her, Audra Wainwright swept into the room. Her gaze locked on Bry's. Mrs. Wainwright halted abruptly, and her silk faille day dress swung about an ample figure. "What are you doing? You should have finished the bedrooms by now. Instead, I find you admiring yourself in my mirror."

Bry gaped at her employer, too stunned by her hostile tone to answer.

"Stay, however. I want a word with you." Audra settled into a rose velvet chair in front of draperies in the same unfortunate shade, which clashed with the woman's determinedly red hair.

"Yes, Ma'am." Bry waited with as much patience as she could muster, but she yearned to shut herself into her little room in the attic.

Audra folded her hands in her lap and looked Bry up and down. "My son tells me you've made improper advances toward him."

Bry started. Jeffrey had lost no time in seeking his revenge. "I made advances?"

"Yes, well. . ." Audra smoothed her skirt. "Under the circumstances, I no longer require your services."

"But I'm innocent."

"That's not what Jeffrey tells me."

"Mrs. Wainwright, you are mistaken. Your son—“ Bry choked on her outrage. Your son—“

"Mind you, as another widow, I understand loneliness. And Jeffrey is handsome enough to tempt a saint. However that may be, I won't allow you to seduce my boy."

The urge to laugh burbled up within Bry. She fought to quell it.
Audra waved a plump hand. "That's all I have to say. Leave me."

"But--"

Audra's face turned as red as the handprint had on Jeffrey's cheek. "You are dismissed!"

Bry straightened her spine. She would leave all right, but not before she spoke the truth. "Your son made improper advances to me, Mrs. Wainwright, and I'm not the first to draw his eye. He's the one who ruined Deirdre and made Mary run away."

"Liar!" The veins stood out in Audra's temples and her face turned red.

"Mrs. Wainwright!" Bry feared she would suffer a stroke.

Her employer waved a hand. "Go this minute, or I'll have Grayson put you out. And don't think you'll receive a reference from me."

"I'll pack my things." Bry flung open the door and stumbled down the corridor to the back stairs. She climbed the two steep flights to the bedchamber she'd shared with Mary, the quiet blonde scullery maid from County Kerry who had run away to escape Jeffrey's advances. Bry had always found the view from the dormer window fascinating, but today she didn't linger to watch tall ships ply the sparkling waters of Boston Harbor.
Holding back tears, she placed a clean shift, a change of clothes, and a few oddments in her satchel. She glanced around the small room she'd called home for more than two years, then slipped down the stairs and let herself out by the servant's door.

The harbor wind scoured her face in an icy blast. Bry turned her back on the manor that had seemed a haven when she'd first come to it in the days after Ian's death. The disastrous marriage she'd made to escape a life of squalor had left her battered and destitute. But she'd survived to stand over Ian's grave, delivered by his death from the violence of his life. She would endure now, even if it meant returning to the slums of Manhattan.

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