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Stowaway Bride

A steamy Western from the author of Badlands Bride, in which a rich businessman looks for a saboteurbut finds an heiress.

Adrianne Wood lays the track for a steamy westward journey when a plucky heiress and a rugged railroad tycoon make sparks fly on the rails.

Emily Highfill Grant is done with the rules of Boston society. She wants adventure—to see things she’s never seen before—and that’s exactly what she gets when she sneaks onto a train bound for San Francisco and finds herself face-to-face with a handsome, bare-chested stranger...who is also her wealthy grandfather’s nemesis.

As stowaways go, the breathtaking woman who turns up in Lucien Delatour’s private Pullman Palace car is most intriguing. Though she refuses to reveal more than her first name, Emily creates a lot of scintillating commotion on their cross country journey. But when Lucien discovers her true identity, the real trouble begins, and he faces a choice between the trailblazing railroad he invested everything in, and the feisty lover who captured his heart.

Stowaway Bride

Skirt weighed down by the gold coins she’d sewn into the hem of her dress the night before, Emily Highfill Grant managed to dodge the porters on the train platform and haul herself up into her grandfather’s Pullman Palace car without being seen—or at least stopped. She eased the door shut behind her with a puff of exertion and relief and then looked around.

Inside the car, one kerosene lamp was lit, allowing her to see enough to avoid bumping into the gilt-edged chairs and table. Not much had changed since she, her sister, her mother, and four servants had traveled down to New York from Boston last week in the private railcar. The interior looked neater now than when they’d stepped down onto the platform and into the hustle and noise of New York—somehow her sister Annabelle had managed to impose chaos in the single-day trip from metropolis to metropolis. But someone had tidied up, readying the car for her mother’s cross-country trip to San Francisco.

It was a trip her mother had intended to take alone (well, alone with two servants), and Annabelle and Emily were supposed to travel back to Boston by themselves (with the other two servants).

But Emily had no intention of missing this opportunity to go west and see the rest of the country. After all, her older sister, Lily, had traveled to Denver when she was only twelve. Emily was twenty and had never gotten farther west than New York.

Tonight, that would change.

Good—they hadn’t removed the tablecloth from the card table. Although cards wasn’t considered proper recreation for young ladies, Lily had taught Annabelle and Emily games such as euchre and pitch last winter, and they had played for several hours on the ride to New York.

Emily smiled. The long tablecloth would hide her admirably.

A whistle outside blew a long blast, making Emily’s heart jump, and the noise level on the platform ticked up. The train was at least two hours away from departure, but not everyone trusted the timetables to be correct, and passengers began to put themselves and their belongings on the train.

Her mother could arrive at any moment.

Peeling her jacket off first, Emily crawled under the card table. Ugh. Grit clung to her palms, and dust crept up her nostrils. Well, it would only be for a few hours. Once they were well under way and she revealed herself to her mother, Emily could go back to sitting in an armchair instead of hiding like a sneak thief.

Emily tucked her jacket behind her and leaned back against the wall. If it weren’t dirty, and dark, and cramped, and a bit too warm, this nook would be a nice place to spend some time alone, thinking her own thoughts. . . .

*  *  *

Emily sat up straight, knocking her head on the tabletop. Blinking didn’t help her see more—it was black as midnight under the table. The cloth, like everything of her grandfather’s, was top-notch quality and woven tight.

Beneath her bottom, the train shuddered like a hypothermia victim. They were moving, and at a fast clip, too. How long had she been asleep?

Outside the tablecloth, the car was silent.

Emily leaned forward, grimaced against the pins and needles that bit her stiffened limbs, pressed her cheek against the gritty carpet, and lifted the edge of the tablecloth.

The windows were black, and the lamps had been turned down so low that shadows curled up in the corners of the car. She must’ve been dead asleep for hours. Perhaps everyone had already gone to bed in the small bedchambers off the salon.

Waking her mother from a sound sleep was not how she’d imagined revealing herself, but she couldn’t wait until morning.

Emily’s stomach rumbled. There was another good reason to announce her presence. She’d napped through at least two meals.

Flipping up the tablecloth, she scooted out into the open and took a deep breath of non-dusty air.

A pair of bare feet thumped down inches from her left hand. Emily shrieked. She whipped her head around so fast that her vision blurred, but she instantly knew she was staring up into a face she didn’t recognize. She promptly upgraded her shriek into a full-blown scream.

Another scream—not her own but familiar nonetheless—tried to rupture her right eardrum.

Emily whipped her head around again, almost smashing her nose against her younger sister Annabelle’s face. Where had Annabelle come from? Well, it didn’t matter—not when they were under siege from some . . . some . . . stranger. Emily reached behind her, grabbed Annabelle’s hand, and dragged the two of them across the length of the car, where she pulled her sister behind her and twisted to stare at the man. A man who should not be there.

“Who are you?” Emily demanded. “You are in the wrong car, sir.”

He looked more like a ruffian than a gentleman, with his bare feet and his shirt unbuttoned and showing more male chest than she’d ever seen in her life, but her mother would be deeply disappointed if Emily couldn’t retain her good manners even in a crisis.

A tiny part of her—the part of her that wasn’t gibbering with a mixture of indignation and terror— pointed out that she had smuggled herself on the train to gain more adventure in her life, and she was already achieving that goal quite effectively.

Too effectively.

The dark-haired man stood, and he was taller than she’d expected him to be. Emily tried to back up one more step but succeeded only in treading on Annabelle’s feet.

“Who are you?” he countered. “And I must disagree—I am very much in the right car. I hired it only thirty minutes before the train departed the station. You are in the wrong car, lady.”

Somehow lady coming out of his mouth didn’t sound nearly as respectful as sir had coming from hers.

“Did you think to steal a free ride in an empty car?” he asked.

Emily shook her head, more to unscramble the muddle in her head than to reply to his question. She looked around frantically. Yes, this was the right Pullman car. Beneath Emily’s feet was an autumn-hued rug her grandfather had ordered specially only last summer, and over the desk in the far corner hung an oil painting of her, her two sisters, and her parents that had been commissioned seventeen years ago, when Emily had been two and Annabelle only a newborn.

More confident, she said, “Sir, I am afraid you are mistaken—”

“The lady who was going to take this car changed her mind at the last minute,” he interrupted—and rather rudely. “There was not enough time to decouple the car before the train was scheduled to depart, so it was rented to me.”

“Oh,” she said weakly. It made hideous sense. Her mother hated train travel with a passion. She’d been pale throughout the daylong trip from Boston to New York, and she’d spent most of the past week lying on her bed in the hotel, a cool cloth pressed to her eyes. Emily simply hadn’t considered that her mother would refuse to continue her trip. Emily’s sister Lily was expecting a baby in a few months, and their mother had been adamant that she would travel to San Francisco to be there at the birth. Apparently that adamantiousness—was that a word?—had evaporated after a single day of train travel.

“Oh,” Emily said again. And then she didn’t know what else to say, so she looked at the stranger more closely.

The low lamplight concealed most details—for instance, she found it difficult to judge his age precisely—but the way he stood with his hands propped on his hips, uncaring that his shirt was open, and the impatient manner in which his dark eyes drilled into her spoke volumes about his personality. If the meek were to inherit the earth, he’d be lucky to get a measly half acre in the deal.

“Emily,” Annabelle said breathily from behind her, “introduce us, please.”

She’d completely forgotten about Annabelle. It was an unusual thing to do—Annabelle loved being the center of attention and took pains to stake a claim on that spot—but apparently Annabelle had correctly deduced that being quiet for a change was the smart thing to do. At least until now.

Emily flicked a glance over her shoulder. Annabelle was looking at the inconvenient stranger like he was a French dessert.

When Emily turned back, the stranger was, finally, buttoning up his shirt.

Somehow that gesture, that minor attempt at decency in an awkward and bizarre situation, gave her the courage to say what she did next. “We are two young ladies escaping to a new destiny, and we throw ourselves on your mercy, sir.”

At least she was escaping to a new destiny. Why Annabelle was there, she had no idea. Annabelle’s destiny was to be the Belle of Boston, and while Emily didn’t envy her that role, it had never seemed much of a hardship.

Being “the nice sister of the Belle of Boston” . . . well, that was absolutely not a role to be envied. An easy role? Oh, yes. Interesting? No.

He didn’t look impressed by her speech. “Names?” he said, and buttoned the final top button of his shirt. Emily got the impression from his brief grimace that he rarely used that button, but she would have concealed as much skin as possible if Annabelle were ogling her so voraciously, too.

“Emily.” She pointed at herself. She couldn’t use a fake name, as Annabelle had already called her Emily. “And my sister . . . Anna.” Better not to use Annabelle’s real name, in case it helped the man identify them.

Annabelle, bless her heart, didn’t blink at having to relinquish the part of her name that meant “beautiful,” though it must have been a blow to her dignity.

The stranger waited, clearly expecting Emily to supply her surname.

“And you are . . . ?” she asked quickly.

“Lucien.” And he raised his eyebrows a fraction, daring her.

She took a step forward, closer to him. From the way his eyebrows popped up all the way, she knew she’d surprised him. “Mr. Lucien, we are in the unfortunate position of needing to entrust our good reputations to a man we do not know. We must know more of you than your first name.” She paused. “And at the same time, we must not tell you more than we already have.”

For as soon as he knew their identities, he would put them off at the first train stop, send a telegram to their grandfather or their stepfather, and leave them there to be picked up and hauled back home like misplaced baggage.

She had gotten on this train. And she was going to stay on it until she reached San Francisco.

“Are you always so dramatic?” Lucien asked dryly. “Or is this a special performance just for me?”

Emily smiled at him. No one had ever accused her of being dramatic before. “Just you,” she assured him.

He stared at her, and then the corner of his mouth quirked up. “All right. Have it your way, Miss Emily the Mysterious. I am Lucien Delatour.”

The name was familiar, but Emily couldn’t pinpoint why. “Are you a businessman?” Her stepfather and grandfather were well-known among the most successful industrialists in the entire country. It would be quite unfortunate if Lucien Delatour traveled in the same circles as they did.

“Isn’t everyone?”

“I’m not,” Annabelle said coyly.

“Indeed,” Lucien replied with a little bow.

Emily was going to press him for more details but her stomach growled at that moment in an embarrassingly noisy fashion. Well, in for a penny . . . “Would you happen to have any food?” she asked.

“Your wish is my command.” There was an edge to his voice that hinted he was being more sarcastic than courteous, but Lucien padded out of the salon on his bare feet and disappeared into the small hallway that held the pantry. Hopefully a well-stocked pantry that included many of her mother’s favorite foods, such as biscuits and lemon curd. The thin door snicked shut behind him.

Emily rounded on Annabelle. “What are you doing here?” she hissed.

“I saw you sneak out of the hotel, and so I followed. I thought you might be meeting a man.” Annabelle sniffed, and her lovely brunette curls bounced around her equally lovely face. It was a face that artists in the public parks chased after, begging Annabelle to sit for them. “I might have known better. And then once you do find yourself practically alone with a handsome man, you ask him for food ?”

Emily put her hand on her stomach. “I was hungry!”

“This is why you’ve remained unmarried, Emily.”

Because she ate when she needed to? Surely a good husband would want an intelligent wife, not one who forgot to eat and fainted on a regular basis.

Annabelle settled into one of the plush seats. “Where are we going?” she asked, sounding completely unconcerned.

“I am going to San Francisco to visit Lily and help her with her new baby. Where are you going?”

“With you, I expect. We should not tell Mr. Delatour who we are, though. He’ll send for Mother or Grandfather to come get us.”

“Precisely!” Emily heaved a sigh of relief and suffered another furious stomach growl.

The door to the salon swung open, and Lucien appeared balancing a tray practically overflowing with bread, butter, and cheese.

“Let me handle him,” Annabelle whispered, and then flowed gracefully to her feet. “My, what a feast!” she gushed. “You did a wonderful job choosing the food.”

Emily was fairly sure she managed not to obviously roll her eyes. Well, if Annabelle could wrap Lucien Delatour around her little finger, it would make the whole journey much easier, she supposed.

Lucien stepped all the way into the room and placed the tray on the card table. “I’m sorry, Miss Anna. This is for your emaciated sister. Did you want some victuals as well?”

The food he’d brought in could have fed four people. Had her stomach truly growled that loudly?

“Thank you,” Emily said, and took a slice of bread and cheese. Then she proceeded to eat as much as she could while her sister babbled away and Lucien watched both of them with an expression on his face that she couldn’t quite identify but thought might be amusement from the way his eyes occasionally crinkled in the corners.

Lucien Delatour. A French name, of course, which loosely translated to Light of the Tower. He was not light in any way, with walnut brown hair trimmed fashionably short, dark eyes and brows that she thought could be mightily intimidating, and skin that had spent a fair amount of time in the summer sun. Only his feet, still bare and bright against the dark-hued carpet, were light in any way. Presumably he didn’t frolic with his boots off very often.

The “tower” part of his name suited him. While he was not alarmingly tall, he held himself in a way that added several imaginary inches to his height. A most effective tool to convey superiority, or at the very least confidence.

Her grandfather Charles Bertrand Highfill held himself the exact same way.

Emily swallowed the last bit of bread she could fit inside her happily full stomach, waited for Annabelle to finish her monologue on how tedious she found all the horse manure on the New York streets to be, and asked, “Are you a self-made man, Mr. Delatour?”

He nodded, then drawled, “My mother and father had an early hand in the process as well, I understand.”

Humph. He was either making fun of her or trying to embarrass her. Well, Highfills were made of sterner stuff than that. She blinked at him innocently. “Oh, no, Mr. Delatour; you must have been misinformed. I understand that hands are rarely essential to that process.”

Again his eyes crinkled. “Not essential, no—but certainly helpful.”

Annabelle was staring at Emily like she’d decided to douse her head with kerosene and light her hair on fire. What? Emily mouthed at her when Lucien turned away to snag a piece of cheese for himself, but Annabelle shook her head.

As Lucien reached out one of his tanned hands for a second piece of cheese, Emily noticed a map was on the table. She leaned forward to get a better look. It was not a map she’d seen before, so it must be Lucien’s.

“What is this?” she asked, touching one finger to the paper. The plate covered the heading of the map, but she could see dark, straight lines crisscrossing its width. Lines she recognized from other maps. “A railroad chart? But of what area of the country?” She bent closer to read some of the town names. “Oh! This is Iowa, of course.”

“You are well educated in your geography,” Lucien said.

“I love maps.” She traced the path of the Illinois Central Railroad. In her position at the Boston Immigrant Aid Society, she’d recommended that route to many headed for the Dakotas. Would they be following that line themselves? Her decision to join her mother on her cross-country trip had been made only two hours before she’d sneaked out of the hotel and onto the train. She hadn’t had time to examine the train’s route in detail.

“Bedtime, I think,” Lucien said. “You ladies look worn-out.”

A gentleman never commented when a lady appeared less than perfect, but perhaps Mr. Delatour hadn’t ever learned that. Or perhaps he didn’t care.

Then Emily seized on the most important piece. “You are allowing us to stay?”

“For now.” He looked both of them up and down, and Emily was suddenly aware of how wrinkled she must be after napping for hours under the card table. She glanced down and self-consciously brushed a few dozen bread crumbs off her chest. Given how she looked and acted, it was the height of hypocrisy to be mentally criticizing Mr. Delatour’s manners. “I can’t in good conscience throw you out the window,” he continued.

He could always make them find seats in the passenger section of the train, but Emily wasn’t going to tell him that. She’d already slept upright this evening and didn’t care to repeat the experience when a flat bed was offered.

She supposed she should be more worried and less relieved that a strange man was giving her and her sister a place to sleep in a secluded private railcar, but, surrounded by the knickknacks of her family and satiated by food, she couldn’t stir up the emotion. Besides, he was still in his bare feet. What kind of man would molest ladies without wearing boots?

“Thank you. That is very generous of you,” she said.

Annabelle gushed more words of gratitude and admiration at Lucien while Emily fished her jacket out from under the card table. Then she silently followed Lucien to the skinny passageway that led to the tiny private bedrooms for which the Pullman cars were so famous. Lucien pointed Annabelle into one and Emily into another. Another bedroom door was half-open at the end of the passageway, and Emily knew that was the largest room in the car—though calling it large in any way was rich hyperbole. Presumably Mr. Delatour was sleeping there.

Emily stepped inside her room and tossed her jacket on one of the pair of seats facing each other next to the night-black window. Then she propped her hands on her hips and stared at the angled panel attached to the ceiling above the seats. Theoretically, that panel should unfold down between the two chairs to create a flat bed. She’d never seen it operated, though.

“Allow me,” Lucien said, reaching past Emily to flick open a latch on the left that she hadn’t noticed. He then had to lean to her right to open another latch. This near to him, she could see a glimmer of beard stubble on his chin.

She tucked her arms around herself. She’d been close to men before, of course, during parties, picnics, and dances, and the like. Never with a man with naked feet, though. In a bedroom.

“Can you show your sister how to open the bunk?” Lucien asked. As he stepped back, he touched the top button on his shirt as if to verify that it was still fastened.

Emily squelched a smile. A man with a healthy sense of self-preservation around her sister was almost as rare as one who didn’t wear his boots around ladies. “Yes, I can. And thank you again.”

“Good night, and see you in the morning.” He stepped backward into the passageway. Before he disappeared toward his own room, he added, “If you get hungry again, feel free to plunder the pantry. It’s quite well stocked.”

With her mother’s food. “I will indeed,” she assured him. “Good night.”

Emily listened carefully until she heard his door click shut, then hustled across the passageway to Annabelle’s tiny room. Annabelle was struggling with the bunk the same as Emily had, and Emily released it for her. Annabelle flopped down full-length on the mattress with a sigh, and Emily perched next to her hip. While she would have dearly loved to lie down and be rocked to sleep by the motion of the train, they had Things to Discuss.

Emily spoke in a low voice, even though the sound of wheels on the tracks would certainly obscure their words enough that Lucien wouldn’t be able to pick them out through the thin walls. “We didn’t conclude our conversation. Why do you want to go with me to San Francisco instead of back home to Boston? The trip will be long, the city is not very sophisticated, and unless I’m mistaken, you have no deep love for babies.”

Annabelle seemed to be trying to avoid her eyes, but the room was too small for such a maneuver, so she went on the attack. “I can’t believe you were flirting with Mr. Delatour,” she said accusingly. “We hardly know the gentleman—if he is indeed a gentleman at all. Really, Emily.”

Flirting? She wasn’t—Emily pulled her thoughts back on track. “Annabelle, you’re avoiding my question.”

“Fine. Did you know that Mother and Mr. Grant want me to marry Judson Bacon?”

Emily tried to recall who he was. “Short, with blond hair and a ridiculous beard?” They had fallen into conversation once in the park about farming in the Dakotas. At least he seemed to have a brain in his head; her sister could do worse.

“No, that’s his older brother. Judson is the good-looking one.” When Emily shook her head, Annabelle said, “Well, he’s completely in love with me, and he doesn’t take no for an answer. Someone saw him kissing me, and Mr. Grant is going to marry me off to him. To a nobody!”

Their stepfather’s reaction sounded extreme. Annabelle was caught kissing someone, oh, every few months, and Emily was certain that Annabelle kissed gentlemen far more often than she was caught. Emily had once overheard a young man tell his visiting friend that he wouldn’t truly sample Boston’s delights until he’d sampled one of Annabelle’s kisses. “Judson forced you to kiss him?”

“He didn’t ask my permission.”

Emily had been Annabelle’s big sister for a long time; she knew a dodge when she heard it. She waited.

“Oh, all right! I didn’t mind it that much, and it wasn’t the first time.” She huffed a few times before adding belligerently, “A few of my buttons were undone as well.”

“Ah.” Perhaps the engagement was Mother and Mr. Grant’s not-so-subtle way of reining Annabelle in. “Well, the engagement can be broken later without too much talk,” Emily said. “If you truly don’t wish to marry Judson Bacon, Mother and Mr. Grant won’t make you.”

Annabelle didn’t seem reassured.

Uh-oh. “Were, um, more than a few buttons undone when you were caught?”

Annabelle covered her face with her hands, confirming Emily’s suspicions. “Oh, Emily, it was so embarrassing. And the worst part is, I think Judson meant for us to be caught! He had a self-satisfied smirk on his face even while he was helping me get my dress back on.”

Emily winced at the words get my dress back on. No, Mother and Mr. Grant would not allow Annabelle to wriggle out of the engagement even if Annabelle managed to convince them that Judson had arranged it. Unless:

“Did he force you, Annabelle?”

“Um, not precisely. I didn’t expect we’d be caught, though! And for Judson to arrange for us to get caught is the height of villainy.”

Annabelle usually tried to deflect blame from herself when she got in trouble, and Emily normally would have disregarded her excuses, but there was something in her sister’s lovely eyes that Emily had never seen before.


“You see now why I have to come with you,” Annabelle said. “I must escape Judson. If he arranged for us to get caught, what kind of husband do you think he’ll make?”

“A selfish one.” Which would be the absolute worst kind of husband for Annabelle.

Annabelle nodded vigorously. “Yes, exactly. Oh, it’s just so unfair.”

“Indeed.” For everyone. Emily loved her sister, but babysitting her during a transcontinental trip was not how she’d envisioned the next few weeks.

In addition, if Annabelle weren’t with her, Emily suspected Mother and Mr. Grant would probably not chase after her. They’d often remarked how blessed Emily was with common sense, and due to her years of work with the Boston Immigrant Aid Society, she had friends in every major town across the country. A telegram at the next station would settle their minds, and Mother might even be pleased that someone from the Highfill family would be with Lily at the birth of her first child.

Unfortunately, Annabelle was both engaged and lacking a modicum of common sense. Mother and Mr. Grant were probably frantic. If a hue and cry was raised to find both girls—as it would be—Emily would have to be clever to stay ahead of the hunting dogs.

She reached out and took Annabelle’s hand. “Don’t worry. We’ll both get to San Francisco. Once we’re there, and you’re away from Judson Bacon for a while, maybe Mother and Mr. Grant will reconsider your engagement.”


“Mother and Mr. Grant are going to be worried about us,” Annabelle said.

Emily nodded, trying to conceal a tiny surge of annoyance. She could not allow their parents to think that they were in any sort of danger. A telegram must be sent at the next station to save them from unneeded anguish. After that, they would need to dodge pursuers sent by their parents.

“Why are you traveling to San Francisco, Emily? You, too, have no love for long trips, unsophisticated cities, or babies.”

“I like babies,” Emily said, surprised at Annabelle’s certainty. “Not as well as I like children, but babies become children soon enough. And I have never been to an unsophisticated city, or been on a long trip.” She leaned forward and touched Annabelle’s hand. “I’ve helped hundreds, maybe thousands of immigrants reach their new homes out in Nebraska, Kansas, and Nevada through the aid society. I research train routes for them, give them timetables, help them learn what supplies they’ll need. But I’ve never been west myself, and Mother has refused to let me go. This trip is my opportunity to see what’s happening in other parts of the country. To see how people other than the famous Boston Highfills and their friends live.”

Annabelle looked so perplexed by this desire that Emily added in a burst of from-the-heart honesty, “I was living in a cage, Annabelle. And I needed to get out.”

“A cage, Emily? Mr. Delatour is right—you have become quite dramatic.”

*  *  *

Lucien shut the door to the bedroom and, for good measure, locked it. It was a strange world when a man had to be more in fear of losing his virtue than his life, but that gal, Anna, had the hungriest eyes he’d seen on a young lady. And he wasn’t in the mood to be supper.

Unbuttoning his shirt, he threw himself down on the bed. It bounced, but not too much, and he sighed with pleasure. Getting this private car at the last minute had been a mind-boggling stroke of luck. Lucien had been lucky often in his life, and he’d recognized and welcomed the tingle that swept like sunshine over his skin when Lady Luck had graced him again. But perhaps the Lady had been laughing at him behind her hand, for she’d deposited two pieces of unwanted baggage in the Pullman Palace car with him as well.

Lucien slid open the window over his bed, and the gentle thundering of the train’s steel wheels echoed into the small bedroom. Some men complained that they could not sleep on a train, but the sound reminded him of why he was on this train in the first place: the Great Mountain Railroad line that he and his partner, Chuck, were building in the wilds of Wyoming Territory.

After the line was built, and passengers and freight were paying to use it, Lucien would be able to afford his own private car like this one.

He probably wouldn’t, though. He didn’t want anyone at all thinking that he was trying to ape that bastard Charles Bertrand Highfill, who everyone knew owned a Pullman Palace railcar of his own.

Lucien shook that thought away. He needed to look forward, not backward. And, barring any more construction accidents on the Great Mountain, success was only a half year away. Dreams should come easily tonight.

Except now, even after three nonstop weeks of rushing around Washington, D.C., and Manhattan to gather more financial and political support for his and Chuck’s railroad project, his eyes refused to close, and he was thinking about his distracting stowaways.

We are two young ladies escaping to a new destiny, and we throw ourselves on your mercy, sir.

A strange contrast, those two girls. Both were lying through their teeth, of course, but there was enough family resemblance that their claims to be sisters were credible enough. Aside from that, though, they couldn’t be more different. He’d do well to steer clear of Anna; she looked as dangerous as a mountain lion. But there was something about the Emily girl that reminded him of Chuck’s wife, Jacqueline Winthrop, especially when Chuck had first brought her out west from her home in Washington, D.C.

Lucien had visited the nation’s capital first in this most recent “money-grubbing dog-and-pony show,” as he and Chuck called them. Good thing he had: With Lucien’s reputation for building profitable enterprises, and his and Chuck’s substantial seed money as proof that they could build a much-needed rail line, the politicians had thrown their support—as well as some under-the-table investments—behind Lucien. The one holdout had been Senator Hutchins from New York.

His daughter had been an enthusiastic supporter, though.

Lucien realized that, even lying down, his shoulders were trying to hunch up to his ears, and he forced himself to relax. Susan Hutchins was a lovely girl, and he was lucky to have met her and, apparently, won her regard.

Well, all right, he hadn’t been lucky. Luck had nothing to do with it. Jacqueline had arranged the introduction, and Lucien had been well aware of Jacqueline’s not-so-secret intentions that Susan and Lucien make a match of it. From a purely practical point of view, having a senator’s daughter in the family would open doors to investors Lucien and Chuck had been turned down by before. People like John D. Rockefeller, James J. Hill, and Andrew Carnegie. Equally important—at least to Lucien, who had a major stake in the whole marriage idea—Jacqueline knew Susan and believed she and Lucien would be “comfortably compatible.”

Gossip of an impending engagement had spread ahead of him like a wildfire fed by hurricane winds, and when he traveled to New York for the final week of his trip, his welcome there had been doubly warm because of it.

Damn it, he’d left his writing case in the salon. He’d planned to pen at least ten letters tonight to the top investors who’d bought shares or pledged support and mail them off when they hit the town of Marion, where the train would next stop. But the two girls without last names had distracted him. Well, he’d just have to write the letters tomorrow morning, as well as ten more letters to the second-tier investors. In all, Lucien had gained about twenty investors during his New York and D.C. trips, including several key politicians. Keeping all of them apprised of the railroad’s progress would suck additional hours out of his day. And as the cofounder, president of the board, and lead engineer of the Great Mountain Railroad, he already didn’t have enough hours.

One investor he had not called on was Charles Highfill. A few of the other investors had asked if Highfill or his son-in-law William Silas Grant was involved, and upon Lucien’s abrupt no, their expressions had flickered toward . . . well, he wasn’t sure what. On some faces he thought he’d read satisfaction. On others, concern. But none of those people had declined to join the Great Mountain, and no one had suggested outright that he approach Highfill, so perhaps he’d been imagining things. Good thing Highfill’s participation had not been a requirement, because Lucien wouldn’t ask Highfill for money even if Lucien had less than two pennies in his pocket.

He’d done it once and ended up as close to ruined as a man could be. Jacqueline had even lost her brother because of that decision.

Never again would he put his fate in the hands of a Highfill. Never again.

Annoyed, Lucien punched his pillow and rolled over. He usually managed to avoid thinking of Highfill—so why was the man haunting his thoughts tonight?

He would think of Susan instead. Tomorrow he should write Susan as well and tell her he was safely away from New York. She’d laughingly told him to be on guard against New York’s marriage-minded society maidens. Or maybe she hadn’t been joking—Lucien often found it hard to tell. Either way, he owed her a letter, too.

Hmm, he probably shouldn’t mention his stowaways to her. If she was worried about New York maidens ensnaring him, the news that he had two of them cozily ensconced in his private Pullman car would not be well received.

Before he dropped off to sleep, Lucien made another resolution. He had to get rid of the mystery sisters. While their cross-country flight was intriguing, and that Emily girl had a sense of humor that made him smile almost against his will, he had too much to do and too much at stake with Susan.

Tomorrow, they had to go.
Photo by Terry Watson

Adrianne Wood is an East Coast transplant to the gorgeous Northwest. A veteran of the book publishing industry, Adrianne is one of the lucky few who managed to parlay her English degree into an actual job. After eight years in go-go-go New York City, she and her husband moved to Seattle, bought a lawnmower and grill, and promptly started a family. The nonhuman members of Adrianne's family include two gentlemen cats and sometimes foster kittens, all of which like to fight for space on her lap while she reads.

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