A Dangerous Passion by E.E. Burke
Part of the series Steam! Romance and Rails
Can love survive when passion and ambition collide?
Henry Stevens has sacrificed everything, including his honor, to build a railroad empire. At the worst possible time a rival shows up who could destroy him—unless he can come up with a plan.
Life in a small 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 romantic adventures she’s only read about. The moment she sets foot in Kansas, she is thrust into the gritty reality of an untamed frontier and into the arms of the enemy.
The ruthless railroad chief her father has been sent to investigate is as passionate as he is ambitious. Brave and charming, as well as cunning and controlling. But his opponents are vanishing and strangers and trying to kill 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.
The shouted order startled Lucy out of her frozen shock. She jerked her attention to the conductor, who clung to the rail, his mouth twisted in a grimace of pain. Had someone shot him? Her heart raced, as her mind tried to make sense of what seemed incredible. Horrible.
Another loud crack resounded. She instinctively ducked.
“Get back inside the train!” The repeated command came from a bearded man in a bowler hat. He crouched by the depot door, aimed his gun at the dark interior and fired.
Behind Lucy, a woman screamed and dragged her children back into the rail car. Other passengers crowding the exit panicked. They crawled over each other in their haste to retreat
“Lucy, where are you?” Her father’s cries came from behind the frenzied crowd.
“I’m all right, Father.” She craned her neck trying to see him. He’d be frantic with worry. In her eagerness to start her new life, she’d rushed to be the first off the train—which meant she’d be the last to reach safety.
With a groan, the conductor collapsed onto the platform.
Lucy agonized for a moment. No, she couldn’t leave anyone in harm’s way. Dropping her satchel, she leapt down to aid the wounded man.
His face, florid before, was now pasty white. “Miss,” he gasped. “Go…”
“Sir, we have to get back onto the train.” She grasped beneath his arms and tried to help him stand, but he was apparently too weak to get up and too heavy for her to lift.
“What the hell are you doing?” The man who’d barked the order to retreat had backed up. He positioned himself between her and the depot door, hovering like a guardian angel.
“Jump down and crawl underneath to the other side.” He motioned to the space between the platform and the train.
Squelching a fierce desire to flee, she shook her head. “This man needs our assistance.”
Her guardian angel swore an oath. Yet, his glare seemed more anxious than angry. “I’ll help him. You get away.”
He hoisted the conductor’s arm over his shoulder. The wounded man’s knees sagged, his considerable weight pulling the taller man down. He might not be able to move them out of danger quick enough.
“You need my help.” Lucy wrapped her arm around the conductor’s waist. Her fingers encountered wet, sticky warmth. She pulled her hand back, stared at it. Blood. Her stomach did a slow flip. Aware of the imminent danger, she swallowed her fear and met the gaze of the man who’d come to their rescue. His expression was one of determination, perhaps the slightest bit of fear. She covered the conductor’s wound with her palm and pressed hard.
“I can do this,” she whispered. She didn’t want to. She had to.
Another shot rang out. The frightened faces of passengers disappeared from the windows of the train. The moment felt surrealistic, like stepping into a Ned Buntline tale. All that was missing were the bloodthirsty Indians.
“Hurry,” the tall man urged. “Over there, behind that rain barrel, and keep your head down.”
Together, they dragged the conductor across the platform. The toes of the wounded man’s shoes made a scraping noise that sent shivers racing across her skin. Her rescuer didn’t have on boots like those images of Western luminaries featured on the covers of dime novels. He wore the Congress style shoes popular with businessmen back home. What an odd detail to notice, much less care about in midst of a life-threatening situation.
Light shifted as they carried the wounded man from beneath the bright lamps into the shadows. Groaning, the conductor fell to his knees. He curled up against the clapboard wall. She dropped down beside him and put her hand on his shoulder to let him know he wasn’t alone.
“Stay here.” The bearded man’s voice rang with authority. He punctuated the order with his forefinger. Maybe he thought she was slow, like that little neighbor boy back home, the one who had a bad habit of wandering into the street in front of carriages.
Her rescuer flattened his back against the side of the building and inched towards the depot door. From inside came the heart-stopping crack of a gun.
Lucy bit down on her lip to stifle a cry. Screaming wouldn’t help. If she had a weapon…but shooting at cans wasn’t like shooting at people. She didn’t think she could kill someone even if she had a gun.
Keeping her fear in check, she dragged her attention to the conductor. “Let me see how badly you’re hurt.” Her hands trembled as she undid the buttons on his vest. The side of his shirt was blood-soaked and stuck to his skin.
Her head grew light. She took a deep breath to clear it. During the war, she’d volunteered at the Union hospital in Boston. The soldiers had already been patched up and she’d read to them. This man was bleeding. He didn’t need to hear a story.
She did the only thing she could think of to do. Took a clean handkerchief from inside her sleeve, folded it and pressed it against the wound in his side.
He grimaced. So did she. Hated hurting him. “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you,” he murmured, covering the makeshift bandage with his hand. His lips thinned in the semblance of a smile. “Not sure what you was thinking to come after me, miss…”
Reality struck with a sickening punch. She hadn’t been thinking. Only reacting. What if she’d been shot, or that brave man? He might’ve been killed when he shielded her with his body.
Lucy eased over and peeked around the barrel to see if she could locate him. He was still by the depot door, single-handedly holding off whoever was firing on them. She couldn’t see his face, yet she was sure he must be scared. Only a crazy person wouldn’t be.
Her brother had written to her after he’d seen the elephant in his first battle. Courage wasn’t the absence of fear he’d told her, it was doing what one had to do in spite of fear. Like that brave man over there. He was behaving with remarkable valor in a frightful situation. She would write a story about him—if she lived long enough.
Three burly men in railroad denims dashed past where she was hiding. Hoisting rifles in their hands, they crouched next to the bearded man. His hat was still visible above their heads. He was tall, even squatted down. He dared a look inside the depot and then yelled, “They went out the other door.”
All four men dashed to the end of the platform and trampled down a set of stairs. Lucy couldn’t see past the corner of the building. In fact, she couldn’t see much of anything beyond where the light shone. But she could hear shouting.
The gunfire stopped. After a moment, so did the loud voices.
Her shaking legs gave out. She sank into a clump of skirts, rested her head against the side of the barrel and exhaled the breath she’d been holding. The conductor remained curled around his wounded side, but his chest moved with comforting regularity.
“I believe the shooting is over.” Her voice sounded calm, surprising given her uncontrollable trembling. “That gentleman who came to our rescue told us to wait here.”
For once, she was content to obey.
Had it been just an hour ago she’d been sitting in a stalled train, impatient to reach her destination? How eagerly she’d looked forward to seeing their new home, Parsons, Kansas, dubbed by newspapers as “The Infant Wonder of the West. For weeks, she’d anticipated a great adventure. The kind of spine-tingling excitement found in her favorite books. Reality was grittier, bloodier, and utterly more terrifying.
At last, help arrived in the form of an engineer and a soot-stained fireman. They carted the wounded conductor away on a door. Another man in a railroad uniform ushered her into the cramped depot, where she was reunited with her father and instructed to wait with the other passengers. Her newfound hero hadn’t come back. She tried not to be disappointed.
In the small, cold room, men spoke in comforting tones to their wives. Mothers shushed fretful children. Soon, more railroad workers arrived, handing out blankets and shoveling coal into a pot-bellied stove. Lucy watched the proceedings, feeling distant even though she was sitting on a crowded bench.
Her father laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. Thus far, he hadn’t fussed at her about ignoring the command to get back on the train. No doubt he would, at a more opportune moment.
“If you’re recovered,” he said in a low voice, “I’ll go ask where we can find Mr. Stevens.”
Henry Stevens. She’d forgotten all about the man her father had been sent to investigate. Irritation flicked at her raw nerves. “Find him?” Why isn’t he here already? He was supposed to meet us.”
If the Eastern newspapers were to be believed, the Katy’s general manager was an unprincipled scoundrel. Was he also a coward who’d run at the first sign of danger? No wonder the board wanted him replaced.
Shivering, she hunched over and hugged her cloak tighter. Normally, the cold didn’t bother her. With family roots in New England, she came from hearty stock. The shakes were no doubt from the aftermath of fear. She clamped her jaw shut to keep her teeth from rattling and stared at the ground. Capitola, the heroine in her favorite book The Hidden Hand, never fell apart.
A pair of shoes appeared in Lucy’s line of vision. The polished leather uppers were partially covered by the dirtied hems of gray trousers and the edges were caked with mud.
“Miss? Are you all right?” The stranger’s deep voice matched his shoes, cultured…and familiar. She raised her eyes and a thrill shot through her. Her rescuer. He’d returned.
Coming November 18. Pre-order now through Amazon:
E.E. Burke writes romance from the heart, woven with history the way it really happened in the wild American West. Her work has received accolades in numerous contests, including the RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart®.
Praise for E.E. Burke’s historical romances:
“I thoroughly enjoy E. E. Burke’s historical romances. Her portrayal of strong, realistic, well-defined characters and meticulous research transports readers back to the American West of old.”
~ Jill Marie Landis, New York Times bestselling author
“E.E. Burke understands the heart of romance and delivers it! The undeniable pull between Amy and Buck, two people who have every reason to hate each other, the sizzle of a passion that can’t be denied, those moments that put a knot in your chest…This is romance, my friends.”
~ Maggie Shayne, New York Times bestselling author
A Dangerous Passion is the latest in my series Steam! Romance and Rails. As with the other books in this series, this one takes place in real locations and features historic characters and events.
For example, I drew inspiration for the main character Henry Stevens from the life of Colonel Robert S. Stevens, the actual general manager of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway (affectionately dubbed the Katy). Colonel Stevens’ cleverness, ambition and fierce zeal to build the railroad in spite of impossible odds made him a fascinating study. A number of the exploits featured in my book are taken from stories written about him.
The setting where most of the action takes place, Parsons, Kansas, is located in the southeastern corner of Kansas close to the Oklahoma border, which at that time was Indian Territory. It was a wild frontier, as my adventurous heroine, Lucy Forbes, soon finds out. (Yes, those are covered wagons in the middle of town–a frequent sight in those days.)
This busy town was headquarters for the Katy Railroad. Unlike many hamlets along the rail line—which sprung up as a collection of saloons and brothels before morphing into civilized communities—Parsons was selected and carefully designed by the railroad’s general manager. Wisely, he named the town after his boss, the Katy’s president, Levi Parsons.
Parsons is also close to a site where the Bender family, who ran a wayside inn, murdered more than a dozen travelers over a period stretching from 1871 through early 1873. The legends surrounding this family of serial killers served as great fodder for some of the mystery elements in my story. Pictured are the inn (really, just a cabin on the prairie), murderess Kate Bender and an advertisement for her special services.
Unwary visitors were lured in, fed dinner, then bashed in the back of the head and had their throats slit. Afterwards, they were stripped of their clothes and valuables, and dumped in a cellar until their bodies could be disposed of—most of them being buried in the field behind the inn. This went on for two years before authorities figured it out. Some residents reported seeing the old man plowing at midnight, but attributed it to his eccentricities.
Chilling, isn’t it?
Other books in the series, Steam! Romance and Rails
Passion’s Prize by E.E. Burke, Jennifer Jakes and Jacqui Nelson
In a race for riches, anything can happen.
Outlaws, soldiers and spies bedevil the Katy Railroad as crews rush to reach Indian Territory border before their rival. The stakes are just as high for three women whose lives hinge on the outcome.
A spy pursuing an old enemy must choose to live for revenge or die for love. A woman with a soiled past must trust the one man who could ruin her future. And a railroad heiress abducted by outlaws must escape before her Cherokee captor steals more than her fortune.
Passion’s Prize, a novel in three parts written by award-winning authors E.E. Burke, Jacqui Nelson and Jennifer Jakes, is first in the series, Steam! Romance and Rails.
Her Bodyguard by E.E. Burke
The most dangerous man may be the one she hires
Passion and ambition collide when a woman embroiled in a bitter war between a powerful railroad and rioting settlers hires a bodyguard to protect her from a killer.
For America “Amy” Langford, investing in the Border Tier Railroad isn’t about chasing riches. The savvy businesswoman is after bigger stakes: influence, respect, success her father didn’t live to see.
Rioting settlers and underhanded competitors can’t stop her, but a killer might. When a stranger comes to her rescue, she trusts her instincts and hires him as her bodyguard.
Buck O’Connor has put his violent past behind him, but being a wanted man dictates a life of deceit. So what’s one more lie? He becomes Amy’s protector so he can secretly thwart her railroad’s progress to help his cousin avoid financial ruin. A great scheme—until he falls in love.
While Buck hides his true purpose, Amy lies to herself about her growing feelings for her bodyguard. But the price for deceit is steep, and secrets from the past could destroy their future—if they live long enough.
For the icing on the cake E.E. Burke is running a Historical Hotties giveaway and there are five autographed copies of A Dangerous Passion up for grabs.
Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/15pxcl3