The Heart's Pursuit

The Heart's Pursuit by Robin Lee Hatcher Read Free Book Online

Book: The Heart's Pursuit by Robin Lee Hatcher Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robin Lee Hatcher
Tags: Ebook
him, he could tell she wanted to argue with him. Her expressive eyes always gave away her true feelings. But to her credit, she nodded in agreement and said nothing more.
    He left the restaurant and walked to the nearest saloon. Inside, smoke formed a cloud above the two tables where men played cards. Several women were scattered around the open-spaced room, two lounging against the bar, three others seated at the card tables with the players. The tinkle and bang of a piano sounded from a far corner.
    Jared strode to the bar, and when the man behind it asked what he wanted, he answered, “Information.”
    The bartender cocked an eyebrow.
    “I’m looking for a gambler by the name of Carlton. A dealer. I was told he works in Central City. Do you know him?”
    “Sorry. Can’t say as I do. You a lawman?”
    Jared gave a slow shake of his head. “I was asked to pass along a message about a family friend if I happened to run into him while in town.” The lie came easily to his lips. Subterfuge and deception were a necessary part of tracking down fugitives. It no longer bothered him when the situation called for less than truthful answers, although occasionally he wondered what his mother and father would think if they could see what he’d become.
    The bartender took a glass from behind the counter and wiped it with a towel. “Try the Crystal Palace.” He jerked his head to the left. “They’ve got a dozen or so dealers on their payroll. Might be the guy you’re lookin’ for is one of them.”
    “Thanks.” Jared touched the brim of his hat. “I’ll do that.”
    A short while later, he leaned against another bar, this one inside the Crystal Palace. The large room held few similarities with most saloons that lined the streets of mining towns. Somebody had spent a lot of money so the place could live up to its name. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Red velvet curtains framed the large windows. Leather-upholstered wing chairs were grouped together as if this were a gentlemen’s club rather than a gambling establishment.
    Although it was not even suppertime, the green felt tables had plenty of men seated at them. Smoke from their cigarettes and cigars curled toward the high ceilings. The women who worked in the Crystal Palace were clad in satin gowns. Their makeup was discreet, their hair perfectly coiffed. One could almost believe they were ladies of quality, the sort who used to attend balls at Fair Acres as guests of his parents.
    But Jared was not deceived by appearances. He could tell the difference between a harlot and a lady. His mother had been a true lady, a woman of character, full of charity and kindness. There’d been an innocence about her too, despite the hardships endured during the war.
    Come to think of it, he’d recognized that same strength of character in Silver Matlock. She was both fragile and tough, determined and uncertain, innocent and wise. Those were just a few of the reasons it was so hard for him to say no to her.
    There was nothing innocent about the women in the Crystal Palace. Despite their refined appearance, he saw other things in their eyes—cynicism, pain, bitterness, greed, hate, avarice.
    “Excuse me, sir. There’s an opening at the tables if you’re interested in playing cards.”
    He turned toward the silken voice.
    The woman’s fire-red hair was caught in a mass of curls atop her head, and her green eyes looked up at him while afriendly smile played across her rosy mouth. “If you would rather, we could sit at a table and talk.”
    “I’d rather talk than lose money.”
    Her smile broadened before she turned, the hem of her gown sweeping the shiny black-and-white tiled floor, and led the way to a table in a more private corner of the room. She waited beside a chair until Jared pulled it out for her.
    “You’re not from around here,” she said as she sat. “I would remember you if you’d been in before.”
    He shook his head. “No, miss. I’m not from

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