Max lay on the cot, Madeline held tight against him. What a fine mess. He was checking out a potential mineral deposit. Madeline shows up with her maid Bridget in tow and throws his engagement ring in his face. He’d spotted Riley’s thugs approaching and dragged the women deeper in the cave and stowed them in an alcove, then headed back to the men, his Remington Repeater at the ready, only to wake up here. Shit, he’d fallen through the looking glass.
“I’m sorry I acted that way and hurt you.” Madeline started to roll away from him.
“You’re forgiven.” He held her fast, draped across him, lips pressed against her ear, her hair covering his mouth, shielding him from view of the all-seeing eye. “Hold still.” He pulled a cube the size of a die from his waistband, slipped it between them and pressed the single dot. “AID3C gave it to me.”
“When and what’s it do?”
“When we got the bed linens. According to him, it creates something called white noise and keeps them from hearing us. The screen in the corner is a spy device.” He jerked his head toward the framed blue-green glow. “It not only sees us but hears everything. If we whisper, it reads our lips. It reports everything we say.”
He nodded against her neck, pressing light kisses from her ear down to its curve.
“Are we prisoners?”
“Don’t know, but we need to work together. The moment you woke, you became my wife.”
“Me or the chip and brothel. I made the decision for you.” He stroked Bridget’s—no, Madeline’s—back as she clenched her hands into tight fists against his chest. “My reading of this is that Doctor Roberts knows something or at least suspects Doctor Helen Carson killed your maid, Bridget.”
“Who’s Doctor Roberts?”
“The quadroon, according to Helen and the medical insignia on his suit, he’s a doctor. The other male’s a cyborg.” He quietly relayed what he’d learned. With each word, she stiffened more to the point he feared she’d snap in two. “AID3C also knows more than he’s said.”
“Will they help us?”
His lips brushed her neck. At her shiver, he smothered a smile. “Who?”
“AID3C and the doc?”
Max closed his eyes and sighed. “I don’t know, love. I’m not even sure why they woke us.”
She tipped her head back. “Do you really have a lot of money?”
“No. I had a bloody fortune in gold, silver, emerald and sapphire mines, but not any longer. According to AID3C, when we disappeared the Riley Family claimed the holdings as Madeline’s heirs and leveraged their way to power.” He rubbed the pad of his thumb over her lips. “The way I see it, we’re the true leaders of the Riley Family and that claim might save us, long enough to escape without being chipped.”
“Why are you being so kind to me? I’m just a maid.”
“And I was just a poker player with aspirations.” He chuckled. He’d been a fool to think Madeline Riley wouldn’t have discovered the truth. After all, he’d stripped her father of all his money and offered to let him pay off his IOUs with his daughter’s hand in marriage and his ticket to the upper class. “Never forget one thing, Maddie, together we survive, alone we, or at least you, disappear.”
“Madeline Turner, nickname Maddie,” he hissed. “Bridget was a friend of yours, nothing more. She’s dead. As my wife, I can get you out of here alive, with luck un-chipped. You’re a beautiful woman, love. If they discover the truth, say hello to the brothels.”
Pulling back, he brushed auburn strands of spun golden fire off her face and gazed into eyes filled with calculation. Ah, not such an innocent. “What are you?”
“Maddie,” he drawled, grinning at the fleeting look of shock replaced by cunning. “We both know you’re so much more. Like recognizes like.” Bending down, he pressed a kiss to her forehead and tucked the blanket around her. “Trust me, Maddie. Trust me. We’ll make a great team.”
They spooned together on the small cot, Max tucked against her back. For the first time in her life, she felt cosseted and protected, and by a gambler, cheat, and con artist no less.
She wanted to scream her name wasn’t Bridget or Madeline. She frowned. There had been so many names she had trouble remembering her birth name. Until she was five, she had been Maddie. Now at twenty-three, or was that six hundred thirty-two, she had come full circle.
Not that it mattered. Max was right. If she wanted to live, she’d be his wife, Madeline Turner. Her thumb rubbed and rotated the wedding band on her ring finger.
He twisted her in his arms until they were facing one another, his face a little too close for her comfort.
“I thought you were asleep.”
“Kinda hard to do with you pressed against me making me as horny as a stallion around a brood of mares.” He stopped nibbling her earlobe and stared at her. “Talk. I need to know more about you if we hope to escape alive. Because trust me, Maddie. That bitch wants us chipped so her boss can kill us.”
The low-lit walls increased to a soft glow and she met an amused navy-ringed turquoise stare framed by sinfully long soot-colored eyelashes. “Escape where, Max? We're over six hundred years in the future. We don’t know anything about this world.”
“Yes, we do. The doctors don’t trust each other. I think the government controls people based on someone’s whim. That’s why I won’t allow us to be chipped. But we need more information to escape.” At her arched brow, he sighed. “Information is power, Maddie. I never play poker against someone I can’t beat. I never cheat someone who will catch me. I never go into a con where I didn’t know more about the person or business than they do themselves. And I never take on a partner, without knowing everything they bring to the table. Now, talk.”
“I’m great at picking locks and pockets and I can open any safe without getting caught.”
“I was right; we’ll make a good team. What were you doing in Denver?”
“Almost got caught in Boston and fled to Denver planning to make another large score before heading to San Fran.”
“Great city, lots of money, a perfect place to start new. So why were you still in Denver?”
“That’s your fault. My mark, old man Riley, lost everything to you the day before I hit his safe.”
He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the simple gold Claddagh wedding band on her ring finger.
“And this? Did you have a husband?”
The soft laugh always in his voice was missing, in its place, a harsh rasp. She bit back a none-of-your-business retort. He was right. To survive they needed to work together and without knowledge they’d blow the con. “No. It’s all I have left of my mum. When she was dying of consumption, I started wearing it for protection against those rich toffs in Boston. It kept them at bay...most of the time.”
He drew her finger into his mouth and sucked, his tongue twirling the ring. Pulling back, he winked. “You see those doctors staring at it in awe.” He spun the band.
She jerked her hand free. “And yes. Roberts said it could buy us a mansion in New Chicago and keep us in style the rest of their lives.” If this unassuming ring was worth that much, then Max’s hidden treasure was enough to buy a country. “Do you realize how much danger you have put us in with your big talk?”
“Uh huh. I think she killed our friend, but we should be safe until she learns where my treasure is.”
“I’m making an educated wager.”
His mouth covered hers. A shock wave ripped through her. She’d had wealthy men grab her, grind themselves against her, and slobber over her. But she’d never experienced the whisper of lips on hers, the moist tracing of them with a tongue, the asking, begging for entrance, instead of taking.
On a sigh, she allowed him entry then stiffened as his fingers flicked open the buttons on her gown and spread it open to her waist. “I’m glad the gown is silk. You deserve the best.”
“You, too, Max.”
His hands petted, stroked and caressed every inch of her. “You’re beautiful, Maddie. A sight for my poor eyes.” His mouth covered her nipple and suckled her.
She sighed again and her thighs relaxed, spreading as she grew wet and needy. Her hands slid under his lightweight shirt, fingers tracing his backbone down the bare skin, savoring the feel of it.
As he lifted his head, she moaned. A second later, she almost fainted at the wicked thoughts filling her as his mouth again covered hers. His tongue stroked and caressed, only to retreat and thrust back in, mimicking the action of his hips against her and he gathered her gown along her legs.
In spite of the all-seeing blue-green screen, it took all her willpower not to help him and she groaned, “We can’t.”
“Ah, Maddie, we’re married and missed our honeymoon. Let’s celebrate.”
“Not tonight. They’re watching.”
“They’re always watching,” he murmured, the back of his fingers caressed her cheek. “We could stay under the blankets.”
“Not now.” Maddie jerked her gown free of his hand and bit her lip to prevent a laugh from escaping. He looked like a little boy denied a piece of penny candy. God help her, if she didn’t stop him now she’d never be able resist him. She’d been a thief most of her life but never a fallen woman. “You’re a very bad and dangerous man, Max Turner.”
He winked. “But I’m all yours...when you’re ready.”