The further adventures of Lily Granville and Ace Diamond, continuing on from my Spur Award-winning first novel, Double Crossing. Here’s a tidbit from Chapter One. This old photo is Sacramento around the time Double or Nothing is set.
I jumped at a screeching whistle. Men swarmed over the distant slope like bees over a wax honeycomb in a mad scramble. “Good heavens. What is that about?”
Uncle Harrison pulled me out of harm’s way. “They’re almost ready to begin the process of hydraulic mining,” he said and pulled his hat down to avoid the hot sun. “You’ll see. This is far better than panning for gold in a creek bed.”
“I can already see how destructive it is, given the run-off,” I said, eyeing the rivulets of dried mud that marked each treeless incline. “I’ve read about how the farmers can’t irrigate their fields and orchards due to the gravel and silt filling the rivers—”
Water suddenly gushed from two hydraulic nozzles in a wide, powerful stream. The men’s bulging arm muscles strained their shirts, their faces purple with the effort to control the water. I turned my gaze to the ravaged earth. Mud washed down into the wooden sluices, where other men worked at various points to spray quicksilver along the wide stretch. Others worked at a frantic pace to keep the earthy silt moving.
An older man with a grizzled goatee and worn overalls held out a canteen. “Have a sip while you’re waiting, miss,” he said. “A body gets mighty thirsty out here.”
I sipped the cold, refreshing ginger-flavored liquid that eased my parched throat. Dirt from the canteen streaked my gloves. Not that it mattered. At least the spatters of fresh mud wouldn’t show on my black mourning costume and riding boots. Two days of rain earlier in the week had not helped.
The kind man offered the canteen to Uncle Harrison, who brushed it aside with a curt shake of his head. Steaming, I bit back an apology. The man had already headed back to his position near the sluices.
Bored of watching the ongoing work, I wandered over to several horses that stood patient in the sun and patted their noses. A tooled leather saddle sat atop one gelding’s glossy brown hide, and the silver-studded bridle looked as rich. The horse gave a low whicker in greeting. If only I’d pocketed a few carrots or sugar lumps from breakfast.
“You’re a beauty. I wish I could ride you for a bit.”
The gelding’s ears dipped forward. One of the men left the knot of others in a huff. His dusty open coat swung around him as he stalked, spurs jingling, and closed the distance. He passed by me with a mere tip of his wide-brimmed hat and untied the reins. The horse pawed the ground, jittery, as if sensing the man’s foul mood while he mounted. I noted his scowl. Was he upset that I’d dared touch his property? A scruffy beard and thick black mustache hid his mouth. He rode off, keeping the gelding’s gait easy, down the gully toward the Early Bird’s entrance.
“Who was that?” I asked a miner.
The worker wiped sweat from his forehead with a sleeve. “Señor Alvarez? He’s got a burr under his blanket as usual. Pay him no mind, miss.”
I rubbed the remaining horse’s flank and glanced around the mining site. My uncle continued to chat with the foreman close to the shack near the head of the sluices. Another section of the wooden troughs was raised from the ground further north at a different bank of earth. My curiosity increased. I walked to the sluice and stared down at the filth in the bottom. No glints of gold flecked the bits of rock and slag. I had no idea what quicksilver looked like either. This whole business seemed crazy, although Uncle Harrison disagreed.
In the distance, pines smudged the lower half of the Sierra’s tiny white-capped peaks. To the west, gray clouds threatened the pale blue sky. No doubt rain would soak everything again by morning. My uncle had mentioned how winter was wetter here than back home in Chicago, or even St. Louis. I hadn’t known what to expect for autumn in California. Now that it was close to October, the stands of golden aspen on a ridge high above sported various shades of green, gold and hues of orange.
Homesickness overwhelmed me. I longed to see the brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow oaks, the thick forest of elms and birches behind my father’s house in Evanston. To ride along the shoreline of Lake Michigan’s navy waters, and watch the snow falling fast on a chilly winter’s day. I wouldn’t even mind listening to Adele Mason’s endless chatter about the latest dinner parties she attended with her many beaus.
It seemed like an eternity since I’d crossed two thousand miles of prairie and mountains on the Union and Central Pacific railroad. Donner Lake had resembled a sapphire jewel nestled among pristine snow fields. Perhaps it was frozen already.
I shivered, remembering the darkness of Summit Tunnel. It also brought back the delicious memory of feeling safe, nestled in Ace’s strong arms. Feeling the sudden shock when his tongue sought my own…
“Miss? It’s dangerous standin’ that close to the sluice. Over yonder is best.”
Guilt flooded my heart. Nodding to the man, I twisted around and glanced in the direction he indicated. My uncle remained at the shack. “Will they ever stop talking business?”
“Doubt it.” The miner was the same one who’d offered me water earlier. He carried a roll of canvas slung over a shoulder. Shrugging, he swiped his muddy goatee and cheek against his burden’s nubby surface. “Reckon they’ll yammer on for a while more.”
“Thank you. I’ll be careful.”
“Sure thing, miss.”
He passed by and handed the canvas to a pair of men. They unrolled it and laid the fabric inside the wooden sluice. I walked across the shifting ground, trying to avoid the worst of the mud’s damp patches. One claimed my uncle’s shoe when we arrived that morning. I fought hard not to laugh aloud, watching Uncle Harrison hop about on one foot, so comical with his blustery red face. At last a worker retrieved his shoe, mud up to his elbow, half his face coated as well. My uncle had not thanked the man for the rescue, either.
On higher ground, two workers held long snaking hoses that spurted water at the high bank. Two others sprayed quicksilver over the sluice. It didn’t look like anything but dirty water. I sighed. This entire trip had been a waste of time. Uncle Harrison resented the questions I’d peppered the foreman with and ignored my opinions on how the operation damaged the countryside. Why had he suggested I tag along in the first place?
I should have stayed back in Sacramento. My sketchbook drawings needed work. I had yet to finish anything I’d glimpsed during the journey on the train. Etta had brought all my watercolor supplies from Evanston, and most of my books too.
But I didn’t want to read or paint. A deep melancholy robbed me of energy. Nightmares haunted my sleep, of the deep ravine and the lizard I’d caught, of the sandy slope I climbed on Mt. Diablo, desperate to escape my father’s killer. Of being trapped, with no way out, and facing death, and of seeing that shocked surprise… and hearing the gunshot.
Self-defense, as Ace claimed. My uncle and the sheriff agreed.
Poor Ace. He’d felt bad afterward, forced into a cowardly deed. I had never shot anything except a badger with Father’s Navy revolver. Missed, too. But I’d tried to protect my darling pet lizard’s clutch of eggs in the garden back home. The thought of shooting a human being turned my stomach. I suppose stabbing someone wasn’t any less of a sin. Heavy guilt weighed on me. Had it been self-defense? I shuddered at the memory.
As Mother used to say, it was water under the bridge. Nothing I might say or do now would change the past. But I’d rather avoid making such a horrible choice again.
Instead I trudged toward the shack. The foreman held a large piece of blueprint paper between his hands while my uncle pointed at various sections. Two other men argued with them, their heated words carrying over the whooshing of hoses and creaks and jolts of skeleton wagons over the rutted ground. Most of their argument was peppered with technical jargon that didn’t make any sense. Even Chinese sounded more familiar.
“We haven’t made enough headway,” said a man in a tailored suit, whose gold watch chain glinted in the sun. “I say we dig out the ridge all the way.”
“You take that ridge down any more than we have and we’ll never get equipment to the furthest point of the claim, over here,” my uncle said and prodded the map. “That was Alvarez’s advice. He knows this land better than you, Williamson.”
“I agree, it’s too dangerous,” the foreman said.
“I’m the engineer! Are you implying I don’t know my business?”
“I’m saying it’s stupid to undermine that ridge. You’re being a stubborn coot.”
“You’re a fine one to call me stubborn—”
Good heavens. I reversed direction and headed back toward the sluice. They were sure to argue for another few hours. I wanted to ride that horse, even if it meant hiking my skirts to my knees and baring my ankles. The poor animal looked like it a good run, or at least a trot over the rough ground. I had to do something productive or I’d go mad.
Steering around the same boggy patch of mud, I cut close to the sluice. A blood-curdling yell halted everyone. I whirled to see the entire bank of earth, a huge avalanche of mud, rocks and two large trees root-first, rushing straight for me.
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A mysterious explosion. A man framed for murder. A strong woman determined to prove his innocence.
October, 1869: Lily Granville, now heiress to a considerable fortune, rebels against her uncle’s strict rules in Sacramento, California. Ace Diamond, determined to win Lily, invests in a dynamite factory for a quick “killing,” but his status as a successful businessman fails to impress her guardian. An explosion in San Francisco, mere hours before Lily elopes with Ace to avoid a forced marriage, sets off a chain of unforeseen consequences.
Despite Lily’s protests that her new husband has been framed, Ace is dragged off to jail as the culprit. Evidence mounts against him. Lily must learn who was actually behind the diabolical plan… and save Ace from the hangman’s noose. Will she become a widow before a true wife?
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