Authors: Destiny's Surrender
Drew roared, “What!”
“I’m not marrying him!” Billie yelled.
But the sight of Alanza’s wintry visage froze them both in mid-protest. “This has nothing to do with either of you, but with his needs. Andrew Yates, how dare you not offer your protection when you know there is someone out to harm him!”
“Silence! And you,” she snapped at Billie. “I’ve never heard such foulness from a woman’s lips before in all my life.”
“I’m a whore, ma’am!”
“I don’t care. You have a child now!”
Drew and Billie seethed, but Alanza’s eyes dared them to say another word. “If the two of you never speak to each other ever again, so be it, but you will be civil in this house and around your child.
Both dropped their eyes and muttered something that sounded like agreement.
With that settled, her tone gentled as she said to the baby, “Come little worm, let’s see if Bonnie’s made cookies.” Baby in tow, bullwhip in hand, she exited. Alanza had no idea where her demand came from. It was as if the words suddenly sprang to life on their own. A marriage between them would be fraught with complications, but she knew Billie cared for Drew, and if Billie had been truthful about Drew’s treatment, he cared for her in ways far more heartfelt than he’d ever exhibited with Rosaline Ruiz. That she, Alanza Maria Vallejo Yates had demanded her son make an honest woman out of a whore so the whore could be her daughter-in-law, left her reeling. However when she looked down at the precious child riding in her arms, and his smile touched her heart, she knew she’d said the right thing.
In the aftermath of his mother’s forceful departure, Drew dragged his hands across his face and eyed his opponent. His mother’s solution was insane of course, but her furious manner told all. She would not be denied, and expected him to marry Billie regardless of his thinking.
“I’m sure your mother let her anger get ahead of her brain. She’s not serious.”
“Oh, she’s serious. Very much so.”
“I’m not marrying you.”
“Yeah, you are.”
“The hell I am!”
He exhaled his frustration and looked away. This marriage was probably going to be unworkable in so many ways, but he loved his mother. When he and his brothers were young and their world was falling down around their ears after the untimely death of their father, she’d gone without food to make sure her sons were fed. She also worked harder than most men to keep a roof over their heads. Only after he was older did he learn from Logan just how dire their lives had been back then, and the full extent of her many sacrifices. Because of her, he’d been able to attend universities in Europe and Mexico and have a life that was both full and blessed. Never once had she asked him to do anything but marry. She’d even been willing to take Rosaline into her life, knowing she couldn’t stand the ground Emmalina Ruiz walked on, all because she loved her son. And now. She was asking him to give his name to a child Drew didn’t even know existed until yesterday and marry his mother. He could only imagine the gossip and whispering this union would cause, but if she wanted a marriage, that’s what she’d have. “We’ll leave shortly.”
“Where are we going?”
“To get married.” And he walked out.
illie found Mrs. Yates and Tonio outside seated on a blanket beneath a tree. Her son smiled happily at her approach and threw up his arms. She picked him up, and whispered against his velvety cheek how sorry she was for frightening him. Mrs. Yates still looked upset, which made Billie decide to choose her words wisely, but before she could say anything, she was asked:
“So? What did you two decide?”
Caught off guard, she mentally righted herself. “Drew thinks you were serious and wants me ready shortly.”
Billie froze. “You were serious?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I—do you know what a whore does, Mrs. Yates?”
“Sells her body to men for a price.”
“And you want me to marry into your family.”
“If Tonio is to get the life he deserves, what choice do I have?”
“But the gossip—”
“What about it? The gossips have hounded me since I was fifteen years of age. I’ll tell you the story sometime.”
Billie found this unfathomable.
“Do you have another dress?” Alanza asked.
Billie glanced down at her worn secondhand dress. “No, ma’am. My madam kept all my clothes. I’ll tell you the story sometime,” she said, echoing Alanza, who raised an eyebrow in response to the impertinent tone, but Billie didn’t flinch or apologize.
“Careful, young woman. Smart-mouthed females are prized here.”
That certainly wasn’t the reply Billie expected to receive.
Alanza got to her feet. “Come let’s find you something more suitable.”
Alanza drove Billie and her son across the ranch to a smaller house. “This is my son Logan’s place,” she explained as they left the wagon. “He and his wife, Mariah, are back East visiting her family. Mariah’s a seamstress. If we’re lucky she’ll have something in her shop that you can wear.”
Inside, the home was quiet and spotless. The curtains were a beautiful shade of dark blue. The wood floors gleamed, as did the well-placed high-quality furniture. A lovely glass-faced curio holding small crystal figurines stood in a corner. Billie wondered what kind of people Drew’s brother and his wife were, and if they’d be accepting of her or judgmental. She also wondered where she and Drew would live after this farce of a wedding took place.
The shop was in the back and filled with bolts of fabric, notions, and half-completed gowns on dress forms. Brown paper patterns were stacked neatly on the edge of a cutting table and a black sewing machine held court over by the far wall. Alanza opened the doors to a large armoire filled with dresses and began to look through them. She removed her choices and draped them across a nearby chair.
Billie could see her son’s interest in all the wonderful items he wanted to get his little hands on, and although he intimated mightily that he wanted to be set on his feet, she refused to play along. “Nope. You’re staying right here. Miss Mariah won’t be happy coming home to a wrecked shop.”
He struggled a few more times, then gave up and placed his head dejectedly against her shoulder. She shook her head, gave him a kiss, and focused her attention on her soon to be mother-in-law holding up a smart-looking green sateen gown.
“What about this?”
Billie found the choice quite lovely, but had reservations. “Your daughter-in-law won’t mind?”
“No. Especially once we explain your circumstances.”
“But isn’t this how she makes her living. She’ll expect to be paid.”
“Yes, and I’ll make sure she is.”
“But I can’t pay you back.”
“Consider it a wedding gift. Now, try it on. There’s the screen. Give me the baby.”
As they made the exchange, Billie cautioned, “Hold on to him. He wants to explore and that means a lot of things broken.”
“We’ll be fine, won’t we Tonio?”
He was grinning up at his grandmother when Billie stepped behind the screen.
To her delight the dress fit. The bustline was a bit snug and pushed the tops of her breasts up a bit farther than was probably decent for a small town, but such a neckline would’ve been downright modest back home in the Barbary. She did a slow turn before the stand-up mirror and thought the long-sleeved green gown with its gray underskirt reminiscent of one of Drew’s gifts. It was fashionable and finely made. “It’s a little tight up top, but you tell me whether it’s too much for around here.”
She stepped out. By the smile on Mrs. Yates’s face she guessed she looked okay. “You look wonderful.”
Billie always felt like someone else when she was dressed in finery and she often pretended that she was. Now, the pretense was on its way to becoming a reality. The woman she’d been would be replaced by Mrs. Drew Yates.
Back at Alanza’s home, Alanza took the baby. “You go up and get ready. I’ll keep Tonio company.”
“Is it okay if I take a quick bath?”
“Of course. Help yourself to the bath salts there if you like as well.”
For a moment, Billie was so overwhelmed by the woman’s kindness and generosity, she had trouble forming the words to express her gratitude. Even taking into account the unwanted marriage, the entire situation could have been so much messier and hard had Drew’s mother chosen to act differently; her baby now had a true home and she would owe Alanza Yates for the rest of her life. “I promise you’ll not regret taking me in.”
“I’m holding you to that. Now go on. I’m going to introduce Tonio to my horses, then we’ll return.”
rew pulled out his watch and checked the time. Where the hell is she! His headache had decreased measurably but his mood was still foul. If his mother wanted Billie to be his wife, so be it. He wasn’t going to pretend to be happy about it however.
He heard footsteps and turned to see his mother and the baby. “Do you know where my bride is?” His sarcastic emphasis on the word didn’t seem to faze her.
“She’s on her way. So, how angry are you with me?”
“Let’s not talk about that right now.”
“As you wish.”
He ran his eyes over the baby. His son. “I’ll be returning to San Francisco in the morning. I’ll leave you money to buy whatever he needs.”
Her audible sigh made him ask, “Surely you didn’t expect me to stay here and live happily ever after? He and his mother will have my name and I’ll be faithful to my vows, but my office is in San Francisco, so that’s where I’ll be.”
On the heels of that, Billie entered. He ran cold eyes over the fetching curls piled fashionably atop her head, the tasteful strand of his mother’s emeralds gracing her lovely neck and the tempting rise of her soft breasts framed by the gown’s bodice. When he moved his gaze to her beautiful face now devoid of the layers of paint he’d grown accustomed to seeing, her eyes were a mixture of mockery and challenge. It was as if she knew that seeing her this way would remind him of times together he’d rather forget, and she was correct. “Let’s go.”
She paused a moment to give her son a kiss on his cheek and to say thank you to Drew’s mother before walking with him out to his waiting coach.
Once they were under way, she asked, “Are we going to a courthouse?”
“No. Reverend Dennis over at the church will do the honors.”
“Don’t we need papers of some sort?”
“Yes, but I’ll take care of that when I get back to San Francisco.”
Billie noted that he only referenced himself returning. Not that she wanted to return with him and be confronted by Prince. “Where will Tonio and I stay?”
“Here. With my mother. I’ll arrange for a house to be built soon. I’ll be leaving in the morning.”
“And returning when?”
“I don’t know.”
“I see.” So, he wasn’t going to live with them. Dismissing the tiny ache in her heart, she supposed the arrangement would be the best. Finding a secure place for her son was all she’d wanted. “In spite of our arguing, thank you for doing this for the baby. I know you don’t want to be married to me.”
“You’re welcome,” was all he said. “How’d you find me?”
“You mentioned living near Sacramento, so when I got to the train station, I asked around.”
“You took the train to Sacramento?”
“No. One of Miss Addy’s friends brought me and the baby in his boat. We left in the middle of the night because Prince was coming to take Tonio that next morning. I’m real worried about what he might’ve done to her once he found out we were gone. Would it be too much to ask for you to look in on her when you go back?” For all Addy’s talk of powers and spells, she was still an old woman and Billie doubted Prince would view that as a deterrent.
“Where’s the house?”
Billie described it and the area around it. “Mr. Arroyo, the bootblack, can help if you have trouble locating her place.” She studied his hard set face. “So, will you see about her?”
His terse nod allayed some of her worry. “Thank you.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence.
When they arrived at the church, he helped her down. The brief joining of their hands set off a familiar spark, but still simmering over the cruel words he’d flung at her earlier, she refused to let the response take root. It made no sense to acknowledge her attraction to a man who held her in such low esteem.
The building was small but sturdy and surrounded by a large open field of grass. The ring of an axe split the silence. Billie couldn’t remember the last time she’d set foot in a church.
“This way,” Drew said, so she walked with him around to the back where a man with his sleeves rolled up stood chopping wood. He was handsome and of average height and build. Their arrival made him pause. “Drew. What a surprise. Do you need something?”
“I’d like for you to marry us.”
He seemed caught off guard. “But I thought you—” He immediately waved off whatever he’d been about to say and turned his attention to Billie.
“Billie Wells,” she said by way of introduction. “Real name’s Wilhelmina. I prefer Billie.”
“I’m Paul Dennis. Nice to meet you, Billie.”
His confusion continued to show, making her wonder if he’d known about Drew’s engagement to the fairy princess and was attempting to figure out why she was standing beside him instead.
“Do you have the license?” he asked Drew.
“No. This came on rather suddenly, so I’ll send all the legal documents to you when I return to my office tomorrow.”
“I see.” His eyes moved to Billie. She kept her features masked.
“Well, come on inside. We really need a witness.”
“I’m sure my mother will sign whatever is required after the fact.”
“Give me a few minutes to wash up and put on a fresh shirt.”
While he was gone they waited in his office. Neither said a word, but the angry gazes they shared spoke volumes.
The reverend returned, and after inviting them to stand before him, began to read the words that would bind them together until death. When he reached the question that asked if she took Drew as her lawfully wedded husband, she hesitated.
The puzzled reverend glanced between them.
Drew drawled, “Well, darling. Are you going to answer him or not?”
In spite of the shadow of annoyance on his face, looking at Drew made her also remember better times, and with them the painful knowledge that they’d never come again. “Sorry. Yes. I do.”
When the question was posed to Drew, he answered readily, albeit curtly.
“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss your bride.”
He tilted up her chin and gazed down at her with unfathomable eyes. Never once had he kissed her mouth because whores eschewed such intimate contact, and she was unsure what he’d do. In answer he placed a solemn kiss on her brow and turned back to Dennis. “Thank you, Reverend.”
Billie offered her softly spoken thanks as well and did her best to ignore the unspoken concern displayed on the reverend’s face.
Drew paid the bill and moments later they were on their way back to Destiny.
Seated beside him, she wondered where this would all lead. Truthfully there was nothing about her or in her background that would make her an asset to his illustrious family, yet a few moments ago, she’d been pronounced Mrs. Andrew Antonio Yates. She shook her head at the convoluted twists and turns life could bring. From the Black Pearl to being pregnant to becoming a wife. It was enough to make a girl’s head spin but she was determined to find a way to be of value and to make sure Alanza never regretted welcoming her into the fold.
When they entered the house, Billie’s first thoughts were of the baby, so leaving Drew at the door, she hurried up the stairs and found Alanza in the bedroom rocking Tonio to sleep. It was a somewhat deflating sight because each night since his birth she’d been the one to shepherd him into sleep, her motherly kiss of love the last act of their day. Hoping he might be still awake, she quietly crossed to Alanza’s side and saw that his eyes were closed, as were his little cherub lips. Learning to share him was something she’d have to accustom herself to. Denying him the love his grandmother so obviously felt wouldn’t be right.
Both women ran soft eyes over his sleeping form and Billie stroked a whispering hand over his curly head. At the moment she couldn’t imagine him grown up and as fierce and tall as his father, even though he would be one day. “How’d he do?”
“He cried after he realized you were really gone, and nothing his
did consoled him. I sang and rocked him and tried to bribe him with another slice of orange, but he wanted his mama.”
Billie caressed his head again, and yes, a part of her cheered knowing his heart hadn’t been completely stolen by his
, at least not yet.
“So I got him ready for bed and then we sat here and rocked and I told him all about the adventures of the brave Queen Calafia, and after a while, the whimpering faded and he fell asleep.”
Poor little gent. They’d never been separated for very long, ever. “You should go ahead and put him in the crib. Once he’s asleep, a train could roll through and he wouldn’t wake up.”
“You don’t mind me putting him in the cradle?”
“Of course I do, but I need to learn to share him so this will be my practice.”