Notorious in the West(10)By: Lisa Plumley
He hoped it wouldn’t come to that. But as a pair of ragged miners saw him coming down the street, gave a yelp of surprise when they saw his face then scurried to the side to avoid him, Griffin changed his mind. Suddenly, he felt in the mood to crush anything or anyone that displeased him...and he felt like starting now. Grimly, he shook out his wild, dark hair, pulled his flat-brimmed hat low over his eyes and took himself off to The Lorndorff Hotel, where—if they knew what was good for them—everyone from the merest maid to the most autocratic manager would be on their toes. Otherwise, he’d know the reason.
* * *
In retrospect, Olivia Mouton knew she should have realized something was amiss from the moment she finished breakfast in the sunny dining room of her father’s Lorndorff Hotel and heard the bellman chin wagging with the desk clerk as she passed by.
“I heard he’s the terror of Boston,” the bellman was saying in a scandalized tone, “with eyes like the devil and a fancy dark coat that drags along on the ground when he stomps by—prob’ly on his way to put some orphans on a chain gang or some such.”
“Pshaw. The way I heard tell, he could put grown men on that chain gang of his and get no guff,” the clerk replied with an offhanded wave hello to Olivia. “I ain’t the one who saw him, mind, but the night clerk told me he was about seven feet tall—”
“Seven feet? Holy moly!”
“—with a fully loaded gun belt and knives strapped to both legs. Dressed all in black, he was. Couldn’t scarcely see his face, ’specially with all that hair. Like a mountain man—”
“I heard he brung a huge ole bag of money with him.”
“—only fancier,” the clerk said with a nod, “but with that same no-good attitude. As if he’d sooner sock you than say hello. I heard he commandeered the train that brung him. Forced ’em to turn off their track and go his way to Morrow Creek.”
At that, the bellman whistled, apparently impressed. “Do you reckon he’s really him? I know Mr. Mouton got that telegram yesterday, but I thought Griffin Turner was practically a ghost.”
“Nobody’s ever seen him,” the clerk agreed, “so I’d say—”
Olivia cleared her throat. “Gentlemen,” she said gently, “you know we’re not supposed to gossip about our guests. This is a guest of the hotel you’re discussing, I assume?”
Both men met her inquiry with disbelieving stares.
“You haven’t heard?” the bellman asked. “I heard about him even afore I got to the hotel for work! The whole town’s abuzz.”
This did not enlighten Olivia as much as she would have liked. Patiently, she said, “Well, the whole town’s not been here, in the hotel where I live,” she said with a good-natured smile—one that the bellman, who’d proposed to her just last month, returned readily. “Not yet. So I haven’t heard a thing.”
“It’s The Boston Beast,” the clerk confided, leaning on his desk. He nearly smudged his guest register and upset his inkwell in the process. “The Tycoon Terror. The Business Brute!”
The bellman nodded vigorously. “It’s him! Plain as day! Or night, at least. He didn’t even take his own private train car. He just showed up, lickety-split, in the middle of the night!”
“Hmm. The Boston Beast, eh? You’ve been reading those tabloid journals from the states again, haven’t you?” Olivia guessed, shifting her gaze from one talkative employee to the next. She shook her head. “I’m going to have to ask the O’Malley & Sons book agent to stop bringing them with her.”
“It ain’t the press. It’s the truth.” Wide-eyed, the desk clerk turned his guest register. He pointed at the aggressive scrawl penned on the very last line. “See? There’s his name!”
“His name?” Olivia stifled a grin. She raised her brows. “Would that be The Tycoon Terror or The Business Brute?”
“Just look!” The clerk waggled his finger at the scribble.
Dubiously, Olivia peered at it. “That could be anything. It looks as if an especially tetchy chicken got a hold of a pen.”
The bellman guffawed. He traded glances with the clerk, then returned his attention to her. “You’re funny, Miss Mouton.” He hitched up his suspenders, then nervously wet his lips. “I don’t s’pose you’ve given any more thought to my proposal?”
Uh-oh. That was Olivia’s cue to skedaddle. No good could come of it when men talked about marrying her. She’d spent the past several years dodging proposals, having learned long ago that finding what she truly wanted—a man who’d value her for her genuine self—was as likely as finding gold in a guppy bowl.