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Melting Silver

The Red Petticoat Saloon

By: Livia Grant
Published By: Blushing Press
Copyright: 2016© Blushing Books® and Livia Grant
12 Chapters / 67,000 words
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Emelie Svennson’s dream is to sing on stage. When a musical troupe passes through her home in Wisconsin, she believes her dream will be fulfilled when the leader invites her to be the star of his show. By the time she realizes that he is nothing more than an abusive bully and her dream is now her nightmare, she finds herself stranded in San Francisco with no money and on the run from the law.  As she tries to make her way home to her family, she stops in Culpepper Cove and is drawn to the amazing melodies coming from the Red Petticoat Saloon.  The handsome piano player is almost as remarkable as his music. 

Charlie Walker adores all of the gems he works with, but from the minute he meets Emelie, he knows there is something special about her. As much as he wants her to stay in Culpepper Cove, the thought of her putting on red petticoats and entertaining men upstairs as Silver cuts him to the core. 

As their pasts clash, Charlie will have to work hard to convince his new gem that he will not only love and honor her, but that he won’t hesitate to drag her across his knee for a bare-bottomed spanking that promises to warm more than just her backside.  Can he convince the woman with the voice of an angel that dreams can come true?

About The Red Petticoat series:

The Red Petticoat Saloon series is a collection of books written by #1 and USA Today bestselling authors. Each book tells the unique story of a different woman, 'a gem', who comes to the saloon to find a safe haven and discovers they become part of a family. Recurring characters appear in each book to allow readers a continuity as they learn about the women who have learned to bend but have not broken under the harshness that life has to offer. It is a series where strong, loving men find not only entertainment at the saloon but the special women who reside under its roof.

*** Currently availably exclusively at Amazon ***

Chapter One

San Francisco, California

August, 1850

 "Hey. You there! How did you break in here?"

The gruff shout came at Emelie from stage right. She looked down in time to see a portly man with the longest beard she'd ever seen huffing as he bee lined through the tall-backed plush seats towards her. She'd been so caught up in awe admiring the crystal chandeliers, she'd gotten careless.

She shouldn't have been there.

Emelie turned and took off running up the thick red carpet of the center aisle towards the main entrance of the brand new theater, vowing she'd be back again one day—on the grand stage instead of sneaking peeks like the trespasser she was today.

She didn't stop running until she was able to lose herself in the hustle and bustle of California Street, blending in with the dozens of people, horses, carriages and even cows and chickens crowding one of the bustling city's popular streets. She had to watch her feet to avoid stepping in piles of smelly deposits as she weaved through the commotion, noting how low the sun was to the west.

She'd lost track of time again. Albert wasn't going to be happy. Despite the stifling heat, a shiver slithered through her at the thought of an unhappy Albert.

What a fool she'd been to trust him. Familiar regret crushed her as she forced her feet to move faster towards her doom. With any luck, he'd got caught up in his poker game and would be delayed long enough for her to beat him to the run-down shambles of a building he called a theater.

The Eagle Theater, where she was currently performing daily, was nothing like the grand Dramatic Museum she'd just left. The seats were old pallets or chairs scrounged from castoffs. The stage was a rickety platform made of old crates. She felt lucky it hadn't collapsed yet under the jarring weight of the scandalous dancers surrounding her each performance.

Emelie caught a glimpse of her likeness as she passed the glass window of a rowdy saloon. Her rosy cheeks flushed hot from the sweltering summer heat and burning shame that consumed her every minute of her life. She couldn't meet her own eyes in the reflection; unable to bear the reproach she'd see there.

Her life hadn't been so bad. Why had she thrown it away on a whim to trust vermin like Albert Snyder?

Two blocks later, she turned down the narrow alley. The smell of rotting garbage mingled with horse dung, and she pressed her scented handkerchief to her nose in an attempt to keep from gagging. She was soaked in perspiration by the time she burst through the back door of the brick building, rushing through the narrow hall to make her way backstage to the open room, which doubled as a dressing room and storage for props.

A sigh of relief escaped as she found herself alone. She'd beat the troupe there. She allowed herself to relax slightly, wrapping her arms around her thin waist, taking gulps of air to try to catch her breath from her dash across town. Sweat trickled down her neck, pooling between her heavy breasts as she reached to remove her damp bonnet.

What she'd give for a real bath.

A pile of paper stacked on a table near the door to the stage caught Emelie's attention. She crossed the room to pick up the top playbill and read:

 

Eagle Theater Presents

 

Angel's Follies

 

Don't miss the fun and games

Featuring the talented Angel Dixon and her troupe of well-endowed friends

Sponsored by Albert Snyder, Esquire

 

Corner of California and Gold Streets—Nightly Shows at Dusk and 11:00 pm

 

The worst part was the drawing of a busty woman in a scandalous gown, her face painted, her hair stacked on her head and her bosom almost spilling from the bodice. She was surrounded by four equally tawdry showgirls. The image reminded Emelie of the playbills she'd seen passed out in Union Square advertising the wares available at the local whorehouses.

"How do you like our new advertisement? I have Moses out posting them all over town. We'll be packing them in soon, exactly like I promised you."

She jumped at the sound of Albert's calculated voice. She'd heard this tone before. His words didn't match the evil lurking just under the surface of the rumpled suit he wore—his attempt at portraying himself as the savvy businessman he liked to pretend he was. Emelie knew the truth. He was a liar—a cheat and… a rapist.

She took a step away from his malevolent anger, conditioned to fear him. She was tempted to turn and run, but like usual as the thought crossed her mind, reality consumed her. She had nowhere to go and no money to get there.

"Where have you been, Emelie? I went back to the hotel to pick you up and Mrs. Johnson said you left hours ago." Grateful for the dim lighting, her eyes focused on his feet, too afraid to look up to see the anger in his eyes. "Did you meet another man? Is he fucking you?"

Her startled gaze flew to meet his at his crude comment. As horrific as the things were he did to her, he'd never spoken to her in such a scandalous manner. His accusation was insane.

"Excuse me? How dare you speak to me with such vulgarity?"

"How dare I?" His voice raised with rancor; his fake facade crumbling. "What else am I to think? You pretend you're this prim and proper lady, but I know the truth. You may try to fight the feelings I've awakened, but your body doesn't lie, Emelie. You love everything I do to you."

God, she hated him. For what he'd done to her against her will, of course. But especially for speaking the truth about how her own body had betrayed her time and again at his abuse.

She didn't answer him. There was nothing she could say to change what was going to happen. In the four months since she'd left the safety of her home and family in Waukesha, Wisconsin, to travel across the wilderness chasing her dream of singing on stage with the devil in front of her, she'd learned one thing very well.

Albert was a bully and he would take what he wanted from her.

"Come closer."

He'd been hidden in the shadows of the dark room, lit only with the rays seeping in from the one small window facing the setting sun to the west.

She took reluctant steps towards the corner, moving slowly in an attempt to delay long enough so the rest of the troupe would arrive—not that their presence would stop him. She'd just learned that having the whole troupe there at least helped spread his crazy across more unfortunates and no one person took the brunt of his anger.

This was her worst nightmare. They were alone.

"Look at me." He sat in front of her, his legs casually stretched out, crossed at the ankle as if he were relaxed. His locked jaw and daggers in his eyes were the true reflection of his current state of mind.

She was in real trouble.

"You disobeyed me. You left your room without me and without permission. You did not leave a note and you caused me worry. This city is not safe for a woman alone, Emelie." Excitement danced in his eyes as his pupils dilated in anticipation. "You've earned a punishment."

Like that was anything new. She could have been perfect and he'd still find a reason to hurt her. It was his favorite thing in the world—well except abusing her body sexually. Unlucky for her, the two things were one and the same to Albert.

Emelie raised her chin, refusing to let him break her. It worked until he moved his right hand to his hip, pulling the two-foot long thick leather strop from the hook on his belt. He habitually wore the implement, ready to mete out lashes to any member of the troupe who dared displease him.

"Take that hideous gown off. I've told you to start dressing for the part of an entertainer. You insist on looking like a preacher's daughter," he spat.

Her anger flared. "I am a preacher's daughter."

"Not any more. Your family disowned you, remember?"

Oh boy, did she ever. She lived with that regret every moment of her life.

"We're running out of time. Unless you want the whole troupe to witness your shameful reaction to your coming discipline, I suggest you disrobe and assume the position." When she stood frozen, he shouted, "Now!"

Emelie scrambled into motion, her trembling fingers working to unbutton the last gown she owned from her days as the youngest daughter of Reverend Gustaf Svensson. As much as she dreaded the coming pain, she hurried, knowing from past experience that Albert would rip the gown from her body if she didn't move to his satisfaction. Even her experienced seamstress skills could no longer repair the damage done to her other dresses. She needed to protect her one remaining piece of attire for when she left.

And she would leave. She'd already decided. She only needed to find a way of getting some money of her own.

When she stood in her thin chemise and drawers, Albert pushed to his feet. His six-foot stature dwarfed her five-foot, three-inch frame. She'd thought him handsome when she'd met him, but knowing the truth of his nature had transformed him to the devil incarnate. The predatory gaze he poured over her as he approached turned her stomach. She swore she could feel the skin of her bottom crawling, knowing it was about to pay the price for her afternoon adventure.

It had been worth it. Seeing a real theater only a few blocks away gave her renewed hope that she would find her dream after all. It gave her strength to face an angry Albert.

"I said assume the position. Do I need to tie you down again?"

Oh God, not that. She hated losing control of her body by being bound. "No."

"Excuse me?"

She didn't understand what he was waiting for. She remembered in a rush. "No, sir."

The position. It was bent over the nearest piece of furniture that would support her while the strop did its vile job. She moved slowly to the nearby high-backed wooden chair, which sat in front of the small table covered in rouge, lipstick and other cosmetic items used by the women to prepare for their time on stage. Too late, she realized it also put her directly in front of the large mirror they used to apply the make-up. She would now have a front-row view to the sadistic glee on his face as he pummeled her ass.

Her stomach folded across the wooden slat at the top of the chair while her sweaty palms reached forward to grip the sides of the flat seat. She focused on the whiteness of her knuckles as she held on for dear life, saying a small prayer it would be over quickly.

Albert stepped up behind her, pressing his overweight body and his already hard erection against her as he hugged her from behind, reaching to her front to untie the string holding her drawers up.

She'd graduated to bare-bottom punishments promptly after he'd got her far enough away from her family that he knew she was completely at his mercy. Heated humiliation filled her as she realized she stood in front of a man who was not her husband, naked from the waist down—well, save her shoes and stockings.

Albert allowed his hands to linger, stroking her smooth globes before starting. She imagined he liked to inspect her before his correction began because he would usually do the same at the end of a punishment, as if he were admiring his handy work.

Today, he took the time to lift her chemise up her back to pool near her neck. She made the mistake of looking up; catching the hungry glee in his eyes as his gaze devoured her nude body. Emelie snapped her eyes closed, trying to shut out what was happening to her.

She hated to feel him step away from her body, knowing it meant the pain was near. She let her mind wander, trying valiantly to think of something that would distract her from her plight. The swish of the heavy implement in the air as it connected with her delicate skin refused to let her think of anything else but pain. The line of fire lighting her bottom demanded her full attention.

Tears filled her eyes, but she fought hard to keep them from falling to the chair seat below, knowing her tears enhanced Albert's domination over her.

The second thud landed a bit lower and this time, the small leather loop at the tip of the strop flicked against her right hip, snapping her so hard she was sure it had to break her skin. An unwanted cry burst from her lips as the agony sunk into her deeper.

The third and fourth licks came quickly—so fast they left her breathless as she struggled to maintain her composure. Two more. He usually stopped at six lashes with the damnable device. She could take two more. She repeated it like a mantra in her mind as she waited for the next strike.

When the fifth lash connected low across the back of both thighs, her hands released of their own accord. Her howling cry filled the space. Their eyes met in the mirror as she reached back to rub her injured legs. The glee she was met with was added injury. The man in front of her loved to hurt her.

"You broke position. You know what that means." His words were jovial. He was having fun.

No. Not more. "Please. I'm sorry. I promise. It won't happen again."

His smile told her he loved driving her to beg about as much as he loved to see her cry.

"I'm afraid I have no choice. You know the rules. You broke them. You'll pay the consequences." When she stood frozen, he barked his next order. "Return to your position, and this time you will look up into my eyes as you take your licking."

The bastard.

Emelie moved back into position as slowly as she thought she could get away with, giving her body as much time as possible to swallow the current pain, making room for the next bite coming soon.

It terrified her to watch. He pulled his arm back so far, gathering all his strength to deliver the most pain he could muster as the next stroke landed on her thighs for a second time. He was testing her—trying to make her break position so he could add even more strokes. The disappointment in his eyes when she failed to let go of the chair was a small consolation for her flaming skin.

Albert changed positions slightly and too late she realized his intended next target. He'd never whipped her back, but there was a first time for everything. The two-inch wide stripe he painted the center of her back with hit her spine where there was no padding to absorb the blow. The pain felt different. If possible, more brutal.

The lashes rained down on her body. Her sobs were a gift, producing enough tears so she could no longer make out the sadistic glee in his eyes. She lost count at thirteen strokes, recognizing he'd more than doubled his normal dose of correction.

Eventually he stopped. She knew it was over when the sound of the leather falling to the dusty wood floor could be heard over her wails. She held her vulnerable position, knowing he would want her to remain on display while he admired his hard work.

This is when she prayed the hardest.

Please don't let him take his manhood out. Please don't let him take his manhood out.

Over and over she repeated her prayer, knowing he still had many tortures up his sleeve.

The sound of him fumbling with his trousers had her heart racing. His torture took on many horrific levels. Where would he be putting that tool of his today? She held her breath as snot dripped from her nose and tears fell to the wood below her.

Emelie was relieved when he pulled her up by her hips only to press her to the floor, hard. The crack of her knees as they hit the wood added to her pain level, but she knew it was better than the alternative.

Albert had proved he was as depraved as they came by repeatedly insisting on poking his hard erection into her most secret hole. It mortified her that he had violated her rosebud more times than she could now count.

She'd learned her lesson after the first time had hurt so painfully. She'd bled for hours to the point that Albert had wished they could call for a doctor. Considering it had been while they were on the long trail ride across the wilderness of Montana, she'd known no doctor would come to her aide. In fact, no one at all would help her. She was at the mercy of an abusive madman.

When he pressed her to her knees, it was the lessor of two evils. He shoved his stale penis into her mouth, the bent tip hitting the back of her throat in the first thrust, forcing her to gag. She was now grateful for the mucus from her crying because it helped lubricate her throat as Albert held her head still, weaving his fingers through her blonde hair, using it like a handle to control the tempo and depth of his pokes.

Emelie struggled to breathe. The man raping her mouth was oblivious to her distress, choosing to chase his own pleasure instead. She panicked when she couldn't catch her breath, struggling against his thighs, trying to push him away. Instead, he stopped his gyrating hips, pressing his cock down her throat completely and holding her in his vice grip. His wiry hair around his crotch tickled her nose as he held her against him until she was sure she would pass out.

Stars blurred her vision by the time he pulled out of her gaping mouth, allowing her to gasp air into her lungs as more tears streamed down her cheeks. Her throat hurt and some far away thought made her worry her singing voice would be damaged for tonight's show, as if that were somehow more important than acknowledging the abuse she was currently suffering.

"Lift your chemise. Show me your titties."

 Relief.

How sad she could feel relief that he might spill his seed on her breasts instead of making her swallow the vile tasting goop.

The man in front of her grabbed his ugly cock, stroking it quickly only inches from her face. She used the time as she waited to be sprayed with his hot cum to review the never-ending list of regrets.

Regret she'd trusted this man when he'd passed through her hometown with his traveling troupe of entertainers, telling her she had the voice of an angel.

Regret she'd disappointed her parents her whole life by not dreaming of becoming the preacher's wife they wanted her to become.

Regret that it was now commonplace to see a man's penis. She was ruined. She'd never marry. She'd never have children, or if she did, they would be out of wedlock. Bastards.

It was as she enumerated on the word bastard that the one in front of her barked his next order.

"Press those breasts together. Give me a nice target."

She palmed her globes, pressing them together to create the cleavage Albert desired. It was the same cleavage he insisted on her displaying night after night in front of the rowdy crowd of men who paid to see their raunchy show.

His spunk was warm as it spattered across her already damp skin. Globs dripped down as he flicked the last spurt higher, gleefully depositing it on her cheek.

She knew better than to break position. She held there as he caught his breath from his exertion knowing he would be reaching out to scoop up his seed. With a look of satisfaction, he moved his cum-filled finger to her mouth.

"Open. Eat it," he grounded out his command.

God she hated him. She hated how he treated her. She hated how he made her feel. But most of all—she hated the slickness she could feel between her legs. Not once in their time together had he bothered to touch her for her own pleasure, which suited her fine. Still, the aching for something she wasn't even sure existed was growing stronger as her body betrayed her again and again under his harsh treatment.

His fingers tasted of cigars, which was only slightly better than the sour taste of his cum.

"I see you've started having fun without me, you silly boy."

Emelie jumped at the sound of a woman's voice standing directly behind her. Out of sight, but who was in a position to see her naked body covered with the marks of the leather. She didn't recognize the voice.

"Yes, Albert does so like to have his fun with the new girl." That voice Emelie recognized as the bitter hag, Helen Harvey. She wasn't exactly sure what had transpired in the past, but she'd put together that Helen had once held the spot of Albert's favorite play thing and she was not taking being replaced well. If only she knew how much Emelie hated replacing her.

Albert tucked his deflated tool back into his breeches and crossed the room to greet the unseen woman.

"You made it. This is wonderful. I thought you might not arrive until tomorrow night."

"Of course I made it. I wouldn't want to disappoint my fans now, would I?"

"Of course not. Let me show you to your seat. You can begin to prepare for the show." Albert ushered her to the chair Emelie had used minutes before to hold her up for her punishment. The new woman now sat in front of the mirror where Emelie could watch her.

It took all of Emelie's self control to keep from bursting out laughing. The harlot in front of her did not need any more makeup. She was already painted, her eyes rimmed with black coal, her cheeks bright with obvious rouge, and her lips the brightest whore-red. In spite of all the make-up, she was still not an attractive woman. She might have been twenty years before, but today she looked like a ridiculous grandmother insisting on recapturing her youth.

Emelie's observations were cut short by Albert stepping in front of her holding a new dress—if you could call it that. It was more like a corset with a tad bit of material at the bottom, which might barely cover her bottom.

"Stand up and get to work. You need to put your dress on for the show."

"Where's the dress?" Emelie inquired with trepidation.

"Are you blind? Here take it." He thrust the scratchy red and black fabric into her arms as he yanked her to her feet.

She was trembling. He had made her wear low-cut gowns before. Even gowns showing her ankles to her shame. But only the back-up dancers of the troupe had ever been asked to wear clothing like this on stage. Being on display with them was humiliation enough. There was no way she would dress this part.

"Where is the rest of the outfit?"

"I'm sick of your virginal routine, Emelie. We are not putting on a play for your daddy's church congregation. Your job is to entertain the hard-working men of San Francisco, most of them miners are here to stock up before returning to the solitude of their mines for weeks or months. They want to be entertained. They want to see skin. They want release. It's your job."

"No, Albert. My job is to sing," she argued.

"Watch your tone, little girl. Your job is to entertain. Period. I've given you more than enough chances to sing, but you insist on only singing puritan tunes reminding patrons of their mother instead of the hot-blooded women they came expecting. I warned you to start singing the songs I requested."

"Those songs are scandalous—like this outfit. I won't do it."

Anger rolled off the man in front of her until the newcomer slid next to him, slipping her arm through his and facing off with Emelie with an odd smile on her face. The harlot's eyes raked up and down, taking in the thin, petite body in front of her.

"Look at her, Albert. She's completely wrong for my show. She's skin and bones and clearly frigid."

It didn't happen often, but Emelie watched as Albert looked uncomfortable. He rarely took the time to listen to anyone else, let alone a woman. "I agree. That's why we're going to fatten her up and I'll begin a more personal training program with her. I'll whip her into shape—eventually."

Emelie's ass throbbed—evidence his whipping had already started.

"No. She simply won't do."

Who was this woman who dared stand up to the bully she hated? More importantly, why was she here acting like she owned the place?

"Angel, you can't do a show alone. You need backup singers and dancers," Albert countered.

The forgotten other women in the room spoke up. "And you will have them: me and Martha, Sally and Esther."

Emelie's mind raced at the use of the word Angel. It took a few minutes to put it together. When she'd read the playbill, she'd assumed he'd given her a new stage name as he'd promised he would. Never for one minute had she considered that Angel Dixon was someone else.

The new woman was Angel.

She had to know for sure. Her voice was but a whisper as she choked out, "What is your last name?"

Sheer glee shone in the older woman's eyes. "Why, Dixon of course. Don't you recognize me? I'm famous in these parts. Been entertaining for years. Fans come from miles away for my shows."

Emelie turned her heated gaze towards Albert and he had the decency to look sheepish for a split second before replacing any guilt with a dominance that took her breath away.

He had lied to her at every turn. She left home to chase the promise of singing on stage, entertaining gentlemen and ladies of fine society. Instead she had turned into a vaudeville sidekick, relegated to salacious fodder for dirty men who came only for a roll in the sack or visual aides as they stroked themselves to completion on the filthy floor.

An anger she never knew she could possess overcame her and Emelie launched forward to pummel her fists against Albert's chest, clipping his face and head several times as he cursed her. She had the advantage of surprise and she got in a couple hard licks before strong arms grabbed her from behind, pulling her off the vile man in front of her.

She recognized the smell of whiskey and stale women's perfume clinging to the unbathed body of Calvin "Squirrelly" Powell, the piano player for the troupe. If Albert terrorized her, Squirrelly nauseated her. The word she used to describe him was slime. Pure slime.

And now he held her against him, his own erection poking her bottom as he fondled her breast as if he had every right to touch her.

"Take your stinking hands off me!" She kicked, struggling to free herself from his grip, but the musician had subdued her enough that when Albert lifted his arm to backhand her across her face, he struck with full force. Her neck snapped and she tasted blood as her teeth bit into her cheek. The whole right side of her face throbbed and her eye watered under the abuse. She took small comfort as Albert shook his hand as if he'd hurt himself.

The man had struck her face.

Pure hatred consumed her. She would have launched herself at Albert if she could, but in that moment Moses arrived and pulled her away from Squirrelly, taking her into his arms to shield her from further misuse.

Moses Campbell was the closest thing she had to a friend since leaving Wisconsin. Despite the fact that he was a head taller and a hundred pounds heavier than Albert, the gentle giant refused to resort to violence. The more she got to know him, the more she realized that Moses wasn't the smartest man to walk the earth, unable to read or write and often unable to follow complex instructions. Albert had conditioned him, worn him down—training him to be the henchman he needed. So despite their friendship, Emelie knew Moses would not cross Albert. Not even for her.

"Take the little bitch back to the hotel. I'll move forward with selling her off to the highest bidder sooner rather than later."

Emelie's mind reeled. What was he talking about?

She didn't get a chance to press for answers. Moses simply threw her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes before reaching down to grab the gown she'd worn that afternoon.

"Good idea, Moses. We'll need a gown like that to prove that she's the virginal lass I'll portray her as. You'd better bind her when you arrive there and then high tail it back here. We need to get setup and ready to go. The show will start in less than an hour."

A sob caught in Emelie's throat as she lay limp in defeat over her friend's shoulder. Albert's betrayal she expected. Moses'—never.

He carried her all the way out into the foul smelling alley before setting her on her own feet. She tried to break away then, only to realize she was close to naked. She wouldn't make it far without clothes.

He'd gratefully picked up her corset, petticoats and bonnet as well. She noticed his hands were trembling as he tried to right her dress. She grabbed it from him, sorting it out before stepping into it, pulling the fabric high to gratefully cover her nakedness. As she fumbled with the buttons meant to restore her modesty, Moses pulled a small burlap sack from his back pocket and thrust it at her.

"Here, Miss Emelie. I'm so sorry I can't do more, but tis all I have. You take it and get as far away from here as ye can."

He thrust the little bag into her hands. It felt heavy. She shook it slightly and could make out the sound of coins clinking against each other.

"Tis only ten dollars. I'm a terrible saver and an even worse card player. Lose money all the time."

Moses was her true friend. He was giving her his last dollar.

"I can't take this, Moses. You need it too."

"I'll make out okay. Master Albert needs my help and he knows it."

"But what will he do to you when he finds out you let me escape?"

"Oh, he'll just beat me. Nothing I can't handle."

Emelie had witnessed one such beating while they traveled across the Great Plains when one of their horses broke a leg climbing through rough terrain. They'd had to put the poor beast down and Albert blamed Moses, furious because it slowed their progress greatly. He'd taken his anger out on Moses' back with a bullwhip, making the entire troupe watch. She didn't want him to suffer that ever again, especially because of her.

"I can't take it, Moses." She tried to press the money back in his hand.

"Yes, Miss Emelie, ye can. You ain't the first young woman he's done this to. I didn't help Miss Mary a few years back and I've regretted it every day since. I can't let him sell ye off to some rich bloke with unnatural desires. Ye need to hightail it back home to Wisconsin and fast."

Emelie's heart contracted, knowing that would never be possible. Her family would have written her off by now. They wouldn't want a soiled woman back to further damage their family reputation.

"I couldn't go home even if I wanted to, and no offense, but ten dollars is hardly going to purchase a ticket across the country."

"I sure wish I had more. Maybe ye can take a job and make enough to take a ship to New Orleans. I hear they have steamboats that go up and down the Mississippi now. That might move ye closer to home."

He shoved the sack back into her hands before scooping her up into a mighty bear hug. When he set her down, she saw tears in his eyes. He was a good man.

"Now start moving to the hotel. Collect yer belongings and run as far away from here as ye can, hear me?"

She was terrified. She didn't want to be alone in the wild city. Gold rush fever was gripping the town and there was a lawlessness that put her in danger. "Please, don't send me away. Come with me. We can stick together."

Moses looked miserable. "I wish I could, Miss Emelie, but I owe men money and they're the kind of men ye don't run away from. No, my best chance is sticking with Master Albert. He pays me right regular. Ain't no one else gonna give an old oaf like me a real job."

Unfortunately, she knew her friend was right. He leaned in and placed a platonic kiss on her forehead before turning and pushing back into the small theater without a backward glance.

Emelie forced herself to put one foot in front of the other until she exited the narrow alley into the busy California Street hustle and bustle.

She rushed back to their rundown hotel a few blocks away, staying only long enough to throw her meager belongings into the small traveling bag she'd brought with her. She slipped the small bag of money, her only coin, inside the bodice of her dress for safekeeping.

Only when she exited the hotel and stood on the sidewalk looking up and down Front Street did it hit her.

She was alone with no place to stay and ten dollars to her name in the wild west.

She fought back tears, fortifying herself. She could do this. She would be better off without Albert, the scum, anyway.

That lasted three minutes until she was approached by a foul smelling man asking how much she charged for a roll in the sack. She took off running in the opposite direction, unsure where she'd end up at the end of the night and hoping it wasn't dead.

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