Grayson Rhodes' father had always warned him that he would
bum in hell, but he had never expected to arrive at the
damnable place while he was still alive.
Sitting in the rear of the wagon, Grayson suffered through
the sweltering heat that clung to his body. Flies and
gnats joyfully buzzed around his ears as the vehicle
bounced over the rough road. He would have thought the
seven men crowded into the abominable mode of
transportation would have kept the damn thing on an even
keel. How the man to his left â€” Christian Montgomery â€”
could sleep through the incessant jostling was beyond
Grayson's comprehension, but he had to admire Kit's
ability to do so.
Unlike his traveling companions, Grayson had long ago
given up any pretense at being a gentleman. He'd tossed
his cravat aside, removed his jacket, loosened the top
buttons on his white linen shirt, and rolled his starched
cuffs past his elbows. But none of his efforts diminished
the suffocating heat.
With his sleeve, he wiped the sweat from his brow. He
could do nothing to prevent the beads trickling down his
He sliced his narrowed gaze to Benjamin P. Winslow, who
sat on the bench seat beside the driver. The rotund man
had convinced the fathers of every man in the wagon into
paying him five hundred pounds to bring their wayward sons
to Texas and make men of them.
Grayson shifted his weight, wincing as a splinter jabbed
his backside. If he ever had occasion to travel by coach
again, he would not take its comforts for granted.
And although he was beginning to have doubts that fortune
truly awaited him here, after this excursioninto hell, he
knew he now had a chance to gain with hard work what his
father could not bequeath himrespect.
"What do you make of that?" a deep voice grumbled.
Grayson cut a quick glance to Harrison Bainbridge, second
son of the Earl of Lambourne, before gazing in the
distance. Heat rose from the earth, creating walls of
shimmering white flames. Beyond them, shadows of two or
three buildings hovered.
"Satan's throne, perhaps?" Grayson suggested drolly.
Harry flashed the easy grin for which he was famous. "I'll
wager five pounds that it's an inn, and we'll finally have
beds in which to sleep."
"I would take you up on it, but you've already managed to
swindle me out of the two shillings I had jingling within
"I'll be glad to mark you down for it. I know you're good
for it â€” or you will be, once we've reached our
"How can you be so certain?" Kit asked.
Grayson snapped his attention to the man sitting beside
him. "I thought you were asleep."
Kit gave him a laconic smile, his pale blue eyes
effectively shielding the windows to his soul. More than
one woman had referred to them as eyes of the devil after
she'd succumbed to his infamous charms. "'I've merely been
pondering our situation and trying to remember what
possessed us to climb into this wagon once we'd docked at
"Winslow's promise of fortune had us eagerly clambering
aboard," Grayson reminded him. "The notion of becoming men
of means in our own right and rubbing our fathers' noses
into it appealed to us."
"An appeal that lessens as each day progresses. Perhaps we
should consider jumping ship, as it were, and heading back
to Galveston. I'm certain we could find a gaming hall or
two." He smiled in anticipation. "Along with some feminine
"And abandon fortune?" Grayson asked. "I think not."
The driver guided the wagon onto a narrower, rougher dirt
road than the one upon which they'd been traveling. On one
side of the road, dark green cotton stalks reached toward
the sun. Grayson had seen the crops growing in a few
fields along the route. The abundance of growth in Texas
As the wagon continued on, he was able to distinguish the
shapes of women and children toiling between the neatly
planted rows. They ceased their labors and began walking
through the fields toward the road, toward the wagon,
falling into step behind it.
"Winslow, shouldn't we offer them a ride?" Kit called out.
"It's not much farther," Winslow assured him.
When they neared what Grayson had taken for Satan's
throne, he realized it was nothing more than a barn. A
simple clapboard house stood nearby, blue gingham curtains
fluttering through the open windows. He doubted extra beds
awaited them here. He cursed himself for not taking Harry
up on his wager.
The driver drew the team of horses to a halt. The wagon
rocked as Winslow lifted his portly body from the bench
seat and turned, tottering as though he were a child's toy
until he gained his balance. His smile broad, his black
eyes gleaming beneath his black top hat, he folded his
fingers around the lapels of his brown wool
tailcoat. "Gentlemen, we have arrived!"
Grayson felt as though he'd just stepped into the middle
of a boxing ring with his eyes closed. Apparently, he was
not the only one. His traveling companions' mouths went
agape and their eyes bulged. Harry struggled to his
knees. "Exactly where have we arrived?"
"To the fields where you'll work."
"Are you telling us that all this time when you assured us
that fortune awaited us, you were talking about our
working in bloody fields?"
"Indeed I am, lad."
"Bloody hell, who would have thought he meant for us to
become common field laborers?" Harry demanded.
"Obviously, none of us," Kit said. "Or we wouldn't be
"Come on, lads, hoist yourselves out of the wagon. The
ladies are waiting!" Winslow exclaimed.
Against his better judgment, Grayson climbed out, his
booted feet hitting the ground and creating a cloud of
dust. His aching body protested the movement. He longed
for a soft bed and an even softer woman. Unfortunately, he
doubted either was in supply at this rut in the road.