The tall, lean, dark-haired man left Del Mathison’s office, shutting the door behind him. He stood there, muscles in his jaw working, as if he were contemplating what he’d just heard. After a moment, he left the hallway and went into Mathison’s richly furnished parlor.
In that room a man was leaning against the mantel of the empty fireplace. He was also tall, but he had the soft, cared-for look of a man who’d lived inside a house all his life. His blond hair was perfectly trimmed, his suit of clothes perfectly cut.
“Ah,” the blond man said, “you must be the man Del hired to take me to his daughter.”
The dark man merely nodded. He looked a little uncomfortable and his eyes constantly strayed to corners of the room, as if he thought someone might be hiding there.
“I’m Asher Prescott,” the blond man said. “Did Del tell you about my part in this mission?”
“No,” the dark man said in a voice that was felt as much as heard.
Prescott removed a cigar from a box on the mantel and lit it before he spoke. “Del’s daughter has a penchant,”—he stopped and gave the dark man a quick look up and down—”I mean, she has the capacity for getting herself in trouble. For the last few years, Del’s allowed her to have her head and she’s been in one scrape after another. I guess you’ve heard of Nola Dallas the reporter.” He paused. “But then maybe you haven’t.”
He took a draw on the cigar, waiting, but the dark man didn’t answer. “Well, her father is tired of it and he’s decided to force her to come to her senses. She’s north of here now, staying with some friends of friends.” He made a grimace of disgust. “Poor girl is convinced that Hugh Lanier, the man whose family she’s visiting, is inciting Indians to massacre missionaries. The charge is ridiculous and Del’s right that it’s time she ended this folly.”
Prescott studied the dark man as he stood looking out the window. Del had said this man could guide them through any part of Washington Territory. In fact, Del had said he even knew how to get through the rain forest—a place that was said to be impenetrable.
“The plan,” Prescott continued, “is to take Mathison’s daughter from Lanier’s house, by force if necessary, and return her to her father. You’re to lead us through the rain forest so it’ll give me time alone with Miss Mathison. I plan to be engaged to her by the time we return.”
The dark man turned to stare at Prescott. “I don’t force women.” “Force her?” Prescott gasped. “She’s a twenty-eight- year-old old maid. She’s traveled all over the world writing those ridiculous bleeding-heart stories of hers and no man has ever wanted her.”
“But you do.”
Prescott clamped the cigar between his teeth. “I want this,” he said, looking about the room. “Del Mathison is a rich and powerful man and all he has to leave it to is one horse-faced, sexless daughter who thinks she can save the world from all its evils. Now, I want it straight between us from the beginning. Are you going to help me or fight me?”
The dark man took a while answering. “She’s yours if she wants you.” Prescott smiled around his cigar.
“Oh, she’ll want me all right. At her age, she’ll be glad to get any man she can.”