Behind the Ranges, Book IV
An independent woman and a contrary cowboy flee from their pasts across a winter landscape. Catastrophe threatens each step of their journey. Can they transcend danger to find lasting love?
eBook ISBN 978-1-60174-012-0: Trade Paperback ISBN 978-1493793242
"Get ready for a wild, rollickin', hold-onto-your-hat ride. The American West comes to life in...a story of love, honor, and revenge."~~Lisa Jackson
Shortly after the conductor passed through lighting the lamps, Luke walked the length of the car and into the vestibule. When he came back he said, "Cold out there! I smelled snow, somewhere far off. Sure hope we ain't headed right into it."
"It won't snow," Katie told him, although to herself she admitted she wasn't any too certain. Those clouds had been low and full. And it was cold--too cold for rain. She shivered. This time it had nothing to do with Luke.
The train stopped several more times to take on coal, to take on water, to let off passengers. Katie didn't see anyone board. She supposed there weren't many folks traveling west from here by train. Unless you wanted to go somewhere along the Union Pacific route, the stage was more convenient.
They pulled into Medicine Bow, just after six. "Do you know if we'll be here long enough for me to go for a walk?" Katie said, once the train had stopped.
"Half an hour or so, but it doesn't look like there's anywhere much to go." He dug into an inside pocket, pulled out a small book. "I'd take it kindly if you'd stay here, keep an eye on things. I need to send a telegram."
Walking would have been a relief. Her bottom was tired of the hard bench, her body tired of sitting up to sleep. But he was right. Where would she go in the dark in a strange place?
She handed one of the canteens to him. "See if you can find some water. I want to keep these full." Just as he was about to turn away, she said, "Luke, you were right."
He smiled down at her, his almost-dimples showing as deep crevasses in the shadowy light. "He...heck, Katie, it doesn't matter who's right or who's wrong. The idea is to get you to your Pa in one piece."
"I know. That's what I keep forgetting. It's just that, well, I'm so used to taking care of myself."
"So am I, sweetheart. Don't be surprised if you have to remind me that we're partners." He touched his hat brim and turned away.
Katie watched him walk up the aisle. Pa had always said you could tell a lot about a man by watching how he handled himself. If that was true, Luke Savage was brave and strong and decent.
He was also just about the most attractive man she'd ever met.
Was she the same young woman whose heart had been impervious to the cream of Boston's masculine crop? Feeling lonely when he'd been gone ten minutes? If she wasn't careful, she'd find herself falling in love with him.
And that would never do. He'd already made it perfectly clear he had dreams of his own, and they didn't match hers. She wanted a family like the one she'd grown up in. Luke seemed afraid to risk his heart again. He'd lost so much....
Sighing, Katie leaned against the window, staring out across the small platform. A lantern cast a wavering circle of light at one corner of the small depot. Otherwise, it was too dark to see details. After Luke rounded the corner, the area was completely deserted--definitely not a good place for an evening stroll, she admitted.
A figure moved across in front of the lighted circle. A tall man, clad in an overcoat and carrying a cane. His hat was more in the style of the cities than of the West, with narrow brim and rounded crown.
He paused, facing the train, head turning slowly as he seemed to look into each window. Instinctively Katie moved back, turning her face away, lowering her chin. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him.
His face was in shadow, yet something about him was familiar. She moved farther from the window, still watching.
His gaze seemed to fasten on her window. Then he stepped forward, removed his hat and bowed slightly in her direction.
"Oh, my God!" Grabbing her fiddle case, Katie scrambled from her seat and dashed to the women's necessary at the end of the car. She knew from experience that its door did not lock, so she wedged her back against it.
Her hands shaking, she clawed at the catches on her fiddle case. They released suddenly and it fell open, its contents tumbling out.
"Darn it!" She slid to the floor, back still against the door. Hastily she stuffed what she could reach back into the case, until she found the hard leather case containing her ammunition.
I am not scared, she told herself as, with still-trembling fingers, she loaded the second derringer and slipped it into a coat pocket. Then she checked the load of the first. There's nothing to be frightened of. Nothing! Her knife was securely strapped to her calf, but she still wished she dared carry it openly.
Should she...? No, this would be enough. If she couldn't defend herself with two pistols and a knife, she might as well give up and go back to Boston with Mr. Bloodhound Whitney.
How had he gotten here? They had made good time from Laramie, considering the condition of the roadbed. No trains had passed them while they were taking on water or coal.
Don't be an idiot, she told herself. There's a perfectly simple explanation.
She didn't want an explanation. She wanted him somewhere far away.
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