Read A Touch of Camelot Online

Authors: Delynn Royer

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Romantic Comedy, #Western, #Historical Romance, #Westerns

A Touch of Camelot

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A TOUCH OF CAMELOT

 

 

 

Delynn Royer

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Published by Delynn Royer for Kindle

Copyright © 2012 Delynn Royer

Revised and Updated Edition

Original Copyright © 1994 Donna Grove

 

All Rights Reserved

 

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Cover art by Hot Damn Designs

 

 

 

Dedication

The original paperback edition of this book was dedicated to my sons. The ebook edition remains dedicated to them as well as to the memory of my Aunt Dorothy, a big sister who took very good care of her baby brother.

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue

PART ONE

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

PART TWO

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

From the Author

Excerpt from Search for Camelot

 

 

Prologue

 

 

Abilene, Kansas. June, 1871.

 

"Ladies and gents! Are you bothered by the rheumatism? Consumption? Night sweats? Cold feet? Are you haunted by headaches? Back pains? A sick and nervous stomach? I have in my hand the answer to your prayers!"

The gentleman on the makeshift stage was dressed all in white. His dark hair was swept back into a pompadour. He stood in relief against the side of a tall wagon, upon which was painted in bright red calligraphic letters:
Professor Throckmorton's Restorative Cordial and Blood Renovator
.

Cole Shepherd might have been only sixteen and from a backwater Kansas town nobody had ever heard of, but he sure wasn't stupid. He'd already pegged the "professor" as a fast-talking charlatan. Still, the fellow was a consummate showman, and until a few minutes ago, even Cole hadn't been able to tear his eyes from the stage.

Now, though, his attention was reserved for an adolescent boy who stood no more than three yards away in the crowd. Like so many of the avid listeners around them, the boy appeared to be watching the pitchman onstage, but only seconds before ...

Cole would have given just about anything to get those last thirty seconds back. After all, it might have been one of the most important moments in his life, but it had happened so fast, Cole wasn't sure he could trust his own eyes.

The kid stood motionless, his hands tucked idly into the pockets of an oversized duster, his expression rapt. A dark blue engineer's cap sat low on his head, hiding the color of his hair, but Cole judged his height and weight and guessed him to be a scrawny thirteen.

"... and so it is only by the grace of God and Professor Throckmorton's Restorative Cordial and Blood Renovator that my own lovely wife, Emmaline, stands glowing and healthy before you today!"

Cole looked back to the stage. The professor wasn't lying about one thing anyhow. The lovely Emmaline Throckmorton was certainly that and more. Her complexion was pale and flawless, her eyes were emerald green, and her hair was the color of a flaming summer sunset.

Earlier, she had charmed the crowd with a singing voice as sweet as that of the legendary Jenny Lind. Then she had amazed them all with a daring exhibition of pistol marksmanship, neatly flicking the ashes from a burning cigar Throckmorton held clenched between his teeth at the opposite end of the stage.

Now, as Mrs. Throckmorton smiled prettily at the crowd, Cole looked back to the kid only to realize that he'd vanished. Cole scanned the crowd anxiously. He couldn’t have gotten far.
Where in the dickens had he gone?

Cole felt a light tap on his hip and looked down to see a small boy in knickerbockers, not more than four or five years of age. "It's free," the child said solemnly, offering up a pamphlet.

Cole snatched the pamphlet, noting that its front featured a lithograph of the professor and his miracle elixir. It was just as he shoved it into his shirt pocket that he caught sight of that telltale engineer's cap peeking in and out of the throng near the back.

Cole pushed by a matronly woman and a few cowboys, determined not to lose sight of the boy again. When the kid reached the back of the gathering, Cole paused, breath bated. His heart began to pound as he watched the kid sidle along the outside of the crowd, mingling in and out of its fringes in an aimless manner Cole knew wasn't aimless at all.

Then it happened again.

The kid stumbled against a well-dressed gentleman. Smooth as silk, slick as sin, the kid's hand dipped in and out of the man's side coat pocket. A flash of gold was there and then gone, vanished into the kid's own pocket.

The man who’d been fleeced glared at the boy, who touched his hat humbly and backed away. This time there was no room for doubt. Cole had just witnessed a bona fide pickpocket in the act!

Cole's sense of justice was inflamed. His appetite for adventure was kindled. He felt his muscles tense and his heart gear up for double duty.

Back in his home town of Beaver Creek, Cole's father, a general merchant by trade, was also that small settlement's only peace officer. It was rare, though, that he was ever called upon to draw his gun. Except for an occasional saloon brawl, sleepy Beaver Creek was probably the most God-fearing, crime-free settlement west of the Mississippi.

This suited most of the town’s residents just fine, but for Cole, who, when not working or pursuing his studies, could be found with his nose buried in the latest issue of the
Police Gazette
, this dull state of affairs proved a radical disappointment. This was because, for as long as he could remember, Cole had wanted nothing more than to become a Pinkerton detective.

"… and I could recount dozens, no,
hundreds
, ladies and gents, hundreds, of equally astounding testimonials, but
seeing is believing
!"

The pickpocket looked to his right to be sure he hadn't been observed, then to his left, and it was in that moment his gaze clashed with Cole's. An understanding struck between them. The boy knew he'd been discovered, but to Cole’s grudging admiration, he didn't panic. He merely turned and began to stroll away.

Cole started after him.

"For today only, ladies and gents, I am offering two bottles for the low, low price of one! Try it for yourself and
feeeeeel
the results!"

The boy was moving faster now, up Texas Street toward the center of town. Abilene bustled at this time of year with out-of-towners. Cole had to push through the foot traffic along the boardwalk, all of which seemed to be moving against him, just to keep the top of the boy’s hat in sight. 

Strains of tinny piano music fell on Cole's ears as he passed the swinging batwing doors of a dance hall, but he barely heard it. He'd been overtaken with a sudden, exhilarating vision of himself apprehending the criminal, his name on the front page of the
Abilene Chronicle
, Allan Pinkerton wiring his pa from Chicago:
"Whenever that young man of yours is ready, you send him to me. He's Pinkerton material!"

Knowing he’d never catch the little pilferer if he kept to the boardwalk, Cole skirted along the edges of the dusty street. The boy, however, chose that moment to fling a glance over his shoulder. He spotted Cole and broke into a run.

Cole sprinted after him. "Hey, you! Wait!"

Dirt flew out in divots from beneath the kid's boots as he rounded the corner of a livery and shot into the narrow alley that separated it from the bathhouse next door. Cole turned the corner in time to catch sight of the kid's coat tails as they disappeared around the back of the bathhouse.

Cole emerged into an open yard to see his suspect darting toward the cattle pens at the edge of town. By the time he closed the distance between them, the kid was already scrambling up over one of the stock pen fences. Inside the pens, hundreds of longhorns milled about, shoulder to shoulder, hoof to hoof. The air was pungent with cowhides and manure.

Got you now, you little crook
, Cole thought as he gripped the top slat of the fence and pulled himself up.

From his new vantage point, he could see the busy staging area where cattle cars lined up on the tracks. Men poked cows single-file up a ramp to fill one of the cars, but they were too far away to notice the drama being played out between Cole and his pickpocket. The kid was negotiating a thready route toward the opposite end of the pen, scuttling sideways between bawling cattle.

Cole dropped to his feet and cleared a clumsy path of his own. "Hey, kid! Give it up!"

The boy ignored him as he pushed through the dense bovine forest, nearing the far end. Cole felt his boot heels sink into one steaming cow patty after another and gritted his teeth. Enough was enough. This was boiling down to a matter of pride. If he couldn't catch one lousy pickpocket, what business had he aspiring to the future rank of Pinkerton operative?

The kid reached the fence and scaled it, fleeing in the direction of more cattle pens behind the train depot. Cole cleared the fence seconds later. They garnered a few amused stares as they streaked past the depot, but no one followed.

The kid climbed the fence of another pen, this one empty, and Cole let out a whoop. He scaled the fence and hit the ground running, now only seconds behind his half-pint nemesis. Close, closer.

The split tails of the black linen duster flapped as the kid tried in vain to pull ahead. When he reached the corner of the pen, he whirled around, his arms raised as if preparing to take a stand and fight. But that was ridiculous. Cole was nearly twice his size. Only a watering trough separated them.

"Let's have the watch," Cole said, gasping to catch his breath. "I saw you take it."

The kid threw an anxious look around, apparently trying to figure a way out. But he was cornered. He faced Cole again, wary and panting.

"Come on," Cole said, taking a step. "Just give it up and come with me. I won't hurt you."

To Cole's surprise, the kid flashed a grin. His voice was high and bright. "Why don't you come on and get it?" Then he darted to the right and Cole started after him.

By the time Cole realized it was a feint, he was already three steps gone. The kid went left instead, moving for the fence.

"No you don't!" Cole swiveled back to the left. He leaped in an attempt to pull the kid down, but the feat was badly mistimed. His shins slammed into the side of the water trough.

With a cry of pain, Cole catapulted forward, missing the kid and knocking the trough onto its side. Gallons of water sloshed out. He just missed gashing his forehead on a sharp corner of the trough as he went down with it, soaking himself in a sea of mud.

By now, the kid had reached the fence and was getting away. Cole glared at those dusty boots as they climbed first one slat and the next. He lunged, reaching out just in time to snag the kid's pant leg. He refused to let go even as the boy kicked back at his face.
"Give it up! Give it up now, and it'll go easier on you!"

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