Can a hero lurk inside the heart of a villain?
Life in a small New England village is too quiet, too ordinary for a free spirit like Lucy Forbes. When her father lands a job out West, she packs her books and her dreams and eagerly sets off to pursue the kind of grand adventures she longs to experience and write about. Yet the moment she steps off the train, she’s thrust into the gritty reality of an untamed frontier…and into the arms of a scoundrel.
Henry Stevens, the ruthless railroad executive her father has been sent to investigate, is as passionate as he is ambitious. Brave and charming, as well as clever, and possessed of a sharp wit. He is, in fact, the most fascinating man Lucy has ever met. However, his opponents are vanishing, and strangers are shooting at him. Fearing for her father’s life, Lucy resolves to unmask the secretive Mr. Stevens and expose a villain. What she doesn’t expect to find is a hero.
A shrill, warning whistle came from behind. Henry whirled around, his gaze sweeping the busy rail yard. His heart nearly stopped when he spotted Lucy chasing a ragged youth across the tracks—behind a backing train.
Fear jolted through him. Good God, she could be killed!
He dashed to close the distance. Gravel crunched beneath his shoes as he vaulted over multiple sets of tracks. He waved at the brakeman atop the line of moving cars, motioning for him to bring the train to a halt. A moment later, there was a loud squeal. Steam hissed from the engine’s stack as the slow moving cars came to a shuddering stop.
“Lucy!” he yelled.
She darted behind a stationary boxcar a few yards away. Couldn’t she hear him? He’d gotten the attention of everyone else in the rail yard.
He caught up just as she was climbing inside the open door.
“What the devil are you…” Henry grasped a stocking-covered ankle. “Get down.”
Something whacked him hard on the side of the head. The force of the blow sent him staggering to one side. What had she hit him with? That bag?
Lucy twisted around, her expression shifting from anger to dismay. “Oh, I didn’t realize…”
A small form hurtled out of the opening, hit the gravel with both feet and took off running. She pointed excitedly. “Stop him, Henry. It’s not safe out here.”
“Really?” he drawled. Seeing her running around without a thought for her safety had scared ten years off his life.
Then she’d laid into him with that satchel, and now she was giving him orders. He’d deal with the disobedient child later. Right now he had his hands full with Lucy.
She scooted backwards out of the freight car. Her legs were a fraction too short to reach the ground without her having to drop down.
He let her dangle. Served her right for getting into this predicament. Problem was, he couldn’t tear his gaze from her bustled backside. He’d give up another year of his life if he could see what was beneath those layers of petticoats.
She searched for the ground with her toes. “Will you kindly assist me?”
“If you don’t brain me with that bag again. What do you carry around, bricks?”
“Books. And I didn’t realize it was you.”
Somehow, he didn’t think that would’ve mattered.
He circled her waist with his hands. Lust, anger, and a host of other feelings he couldn’t even name, heated his blood. Quick as he could, he set her on the ground.
Without so much as a “thank you,” she started off in the direction the child had fled.
“Not that way.” He nabbed her arm. “Those other cars are still moving.”
Taking a firm grip on her arm—and his anger—he escorted her out of danger. As they left the rail yard, he gave a wave to let the men know they could resume their work.
Lucy tugged at his grasp. “Let me go.”
He caught her bag before she could think to swing it at him again. Although she seemed bright, she might also be crazy. After all, normal women didn’t haul around a library in their satchels, or chase urchins around busy switchyards.
“Mr. Stevens. Henry…. Please.” She twisted her arm, and winced. Was she so desperate to get away from him she’d hurt herself?
He relaxed his hold. His insides, already knotted with worry, tightened with regret. “Didn’t intend to hurt you.”
Her gaze accused him as she held her arm protectively against her chest. “Then why did you grab me?”
“Why?” What kind of stupid question was that? The answer burst out of him. “Unless you’re deaf, you must’ve heard the squealing brakes. Noticed that train bearing down on you. Do you always behave recklessly?”
Hurt flickered across her face, but was soon replaced by a mulish expression. “Do you always snatch women’s bags?”
He dropped the heavy satchel next to her. It landed with a thud.
Lucy picked it up and brushed it off, hung the strap over her shoulder without blinking at the weight. She might not need a gun, after all. “I wasn’t being reckless. At every moment, I knew where the cars were and was keeping an eye on them. They weren’t moving fast.”
Henry let fly with sarcastic retort. “That’s why they had to stop suddenly.”
“As a precaution, I suppose.” She lifted her chin, not a bit repentant. “If that boy hadn’t run out in front—”
“Why were you chasing the little wildcat?” He still hadn’t figured that out.
“Why did he run away?”
“Stop replying to my questions with more questions.”
Lucy threw an anxious glance over her shoulder. “I’m worried about him. He shouldn’t be out here. And it appears he might be homeless. He’s very young…”
Not only did she adopt stray dogs, she went after stray children, as well. That wouldn’t work with Billy, who had the instincts of a feral cat. No matter where Henry placed him, he ran off. No doubt, he’d found this chase amusing and invigorating. Henry’s heart was still pounding from the fright Lucy had given him.
“You nearly got yourself killed for no reason.”
“No reason?” With a frown, she pointed in the direction Billy had run. “That’s a child, Henry, a child wandering around in a rail yard. I wasn’t in danger, he was.”
“That child knows this rail yard as well as I do.” Henry removed his hat and wiped his damp forehead. Annoyingly enough, she didn’t appear to have broken a sweat. “I’ve told him to stay away, but he’s a poor listener. Like someone else I know who was supposed to be in the carriage.”
“Does Billy have a home?” She ignored the jab, just as she’d ignored his questions and his commands. She tried his patience worse than the boy.
“Last time I checked, he did. But I’ll deal with him later—”
“You’re not sure?”
Henry threaded his fingers through his hair. He’d be pulling it out before long if she didn’t start listening to him. He replaced the bowler, struggling not to lose his temper. “This isn’t about Billy. I want your promise that you’ll not wander off alone. Or I won’t allow you to accompany us when we go out to inspect the line.”
“You won’t allow? Her eyes flashed with anger. “You have no authority over me.”
Her response flipped a switch inside him. He took hold of her shoulders. The thought of turning her over his knee was tempting, but as he’d pointed out to Forbes, she wasn’t a child, and he ought not even contemplate spanking her.
That brought up a whole host of images that shouldn’t be in his head.
“My authority extends to anyone on railroad property,” he ground out. “That includes you.”
The high color drained from her face. Her throat worked convulsively as she swallowed. A romp around the rail yard hadn’t frightened her, but apparently he’d succeeded in doing so.
His anger drained about the time his conscience started putting up a fuss. She wasn’t one of his workers to be ordered around or berated for bad decisions. She was a gently bred young lady and required a gentler hand.
He softened his tone, and his grip. “Lucy, look at me.”
He noted her color was returning to a pink, healthy glow. His skin warmed in response.
“You have a smudge,” he observed. With his thumb, he rubbed her chin. His heart thumped with something much different than fear or anger. He slid his hands down her shoulders. Maybe her recklessness drew out his protective nature. Or was that a convenient excuse for putting his arms around her? “I want to keep you safe. That’s why I’m insisting you stay close.”
She craned her neck to look up at him. The stain on her cheeks deepened to a rosy blush. His hungry gaze fastened on her lips. Full and pink and just begging to be kissed. “But…I’m not in danger.”
Such an innocent. Brave, but naïve.
“You’re in danger now, and you don’t even know it.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
E.E. Burke writes sexy, suspenseful historical romance set in the American West. Her latest book, A Dangerous Passion, is part of the series, Steam! Romance and Rails, which also includes Passion’s Prize and Her Bodyguard. Her writing has earned accolades in regional and national contests, including the prestigious Golden Heart®.
Over the years, she’s been a disc jockey, a journalist and an advertising executive, before finally getting around to pursuing her dream of writing novels. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and three daughters, the greatest inspiration of all.