Park City, Utah Territory, April 1886
“Emma, wake up! Billy John’s been shot!”
The pounding on the lean-to at the back of the boarding house jarred
Emma O’Toole awake. She jerked upright in the darkness, her heart
“Open the door!” She recognized the voice now. It was one of the
miners who bunked upstairs and took his meals in the dining room
where she worked. Scrambling off her thin straw mattress she lifted
the latch with shaking fingers. A blast of wind swept into the tiny
space, almost ripping the door from her hand.
“You got to come now. He’s hit bad, askin’ for you.”
Emma was already jamming her bare feet into boots and reaching for a
shawl to fling over her flannel nightgown. This had to be some kind
of awful mistake. How could anything bad happen to Billy John
Carter, the only boy who’d ever loved her?
“Where is he?” she managed to ask.
“Crystal Queen Saloon. Some slick gambler done it. Bastard claimed
Billy John was cheatin’ at cards. Hurry!”
She followed him, bracing into the wind as she stumbled through ruts
where the lumbering ore wagons had passed. From the sprawl of
Chinese huts in the gulch below, the rising odors of cabbage, soy
vinegar and incense mingled in a sour stench that touched off
ripples of nausea in her stomach.
Just that morning, she’d told Billy John she was with child. Kissing
her, he’d promised to marry her the next day and make a home for her
and their baby. Pretty words, but she’d seen the flash of
desperation in his pale eyes. Supporting a wife and child would take
money. And apart from the small pouch of silver he’d scratched out
of his mountainside claim, Billy John scarcely had a cent to his
That would explain the card game. But when it came to gambling,
Billy John was no better than a lamb asking to be fleeced. What an
innocent! When she found him, she was going to give him such a piece
of her mind...”
Emma stumbled to her knees as cold reality struck home. The father
of her unborn child could be dying. By now, he could even be dead.
The miner helped her stand. Looking ahead, she saw that they’d
reached the upper end of Main Street. Even at this late hour, the
saloons were teeming. With the discovery of silver in the hills
above Park City, gamblers and shysters had come flocking like
buzzards to a dead mule. Night and day they plied their sleazy
trade, robbing honest men of their hard-earned treasure. And now one
of them had shot her darling Billy John.
The Crystal Queen – a dingy gambling den, far less grand than its
name – was in the second block. People swarmed around the door,
craning their necks to see inside. Someone spotted Emma. A shout
went up. “It’s his girl, Emma O’Toole! Let her through!”
She stumbled forward as the crowd gave way. In the smoky lamplight,
she could make out something – no, someone – sprawled on the floor
beneath a rumpled blanket. Long, thin legs. Worn, mud-caked boots.
It could only be Billy John.
He lay white and still beneath the blanket, a rolled leather coat
supporting his head. She hesitated, suddenly afraid. What if she’d
come too late?
“He’s alive.” The low voice, a stranger’s, spoke from somewhere
beyond her vision. “He waited for you. Go to him.”
Billy John’s eyelids fluttered open. His gray lips moved, shaping
her name. She pressed his cold, limp hands to her cheeks.
“You dear, crazy fool!” she murmured. “What did you think you were
doing? Don’t you know we could have managed somehow, as long as we
had each other?”
“Too late...” He coughed weakly. “You can have my share of the
claim. You and the baby. These folks here will witness to it.”
“No! It’s not supposed to be this way! We had our whole lives ahead
of us, and now – ”
“Promise me somethin’, Em.” His fingers gripped her hand, their
sudden strength hurting her.
“Anything,” she whispered, half-blinded by tears.
“The gambler...the bastard who shot me...See that the no-account
pays for what he done.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes, I’ll see to it somehow. Oh, Billy John,
don’t die! You can’t – ”
“Promise me!” His eyes were like smoldering coals. “Swear it on your
mother’s grave - ” He’d started coughing again.
“I swear it...on my mother’s grave!” Emma battled the urge to throw
back her head and scream her anguish into the smoke-filled room.
“Em...” The coughing had left him even weaker. She could feel him
going slack against her. “Em, I’m so cold...”
“No!” She flung her arms around him, binding him to her. But she
couldn’t hold his spirit. Even as she pressed him close, she felt it
quiver and rise, leaving his young body lifeless in her embrace. Her
head dropped to his chest, ears straining for the sound of his
heart. But he was gone.
Slowly Emma became aware that the room was full of people. She felt
their curious eyes on her, and she knew that she had no friends in
this place. Somehow she would have to get to her feet and walk out
the door. But first she had a promise to keep.
Slowly she sat up. Her eyes found the marshal, a big, ruddy man
she’d often seen in town.
“Are you all right, girl?” the marshal asked her.
Emma shook her head. Lifting the edge of the blanket, she tugged it
over Billy John’s face to protect him from staring eyes. Then she
turned on the crowd in sudden ferocity.
“Who did this?” she demanded. “Where’s the man who shot him?”
“Here.” The voice was the one she’d heard earlier. It came from
directly behind her, its tone soft but harsh, like velvet-cloaked
Slowly she turned, forcing her gaze to travel upward, over the
expensive calfskin boots and along the length of lean, muscular legs
encased in fawn-colored merino trousers. Her eyes skimmed the
masculine bulge at their apex, then darted to the polished belt and
fine woolen vest. The clothes alone were probably worth enough to
feed a poor family for a season. But the details of the gambler’s
costume evaporated as Emma looked up to meet a pair of eyes as black
as the infernal pit. His face was dark, rugged and, except for a
faint, slanting scar across his left cheek, so handsome that he
might have acquired it in exchange for his soul.
He stood coatless, his arms pinioned behind him, his cravat askew
and his white shirt speckled with blood. His eyes were laced with
red, his black hair mussed and tumbled. He looked, Emma thought, as
if he were standing on the brink of hell, about to be shoved into
“I shot your young man.” His voice was drained of emotion. “My name
is Logan Devereaux. The last thing I wanted was to kill the boy. I’m
“You’re sorry?” She flung the words at him. “Billy John Carter was
only nineteen years old! He never harmed a soul in his life! We were
going to be married tomorrow. That’s the only reason he was here at
all, to get money for us. Now he’s dead – and you’re sorry! You can
go to hell and burn there, Mr. Devereaux!”
She stumbled to her feet, ready to fling herself on the stranger and
do as much damage as possible before the crowd could drag her off;
but the emptiness in his eyes stopped her like a wall. It was as if
he was indifferent to any punishment she might inflict on him – as
if she could set out to kill him, and he wouldn’t care.
She would have to find another way to hurt him.
She drew back into herself, gathering her strength. Then, abruptly,
she wheeled toward the marshal. “Take this man away! Lock him up in
your stoutest cell and, no matter what he tells you, don’t let him
The marshal raised a shaggy eyebrow; then, with a shrug that implied
he’d had the same idea all along, he unfastened the handcuffs from
his belt and clicked them around the indifferent wrists of Logan
Only when he’d finished did Emma turn back to face the man who’d
murdered Billy John. His bloodshot eyes met hers, mirroring Emma’s
own helpless rage. His mouth twitched as he swallowed, then spoke in
a hoarse whisper.
“You must believe me, Emma O’Toole. I never meant to – ”
“No!” she snapped, determined that his words would not move her. “It
was a foul and brutal thing you did, Mr. Devereaux! Whatever it
takes, so help me, I won’t rest until I see you hang!”