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Authors: Tracey J. Lyons

A Changed Agent

BOOK: A Changed Agent
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ALSO BY TRACEY J. LYONS

The Women of Surprise Series

A Surprise for Abigail
(Book 1)

Lydia’s Passion
(Book 2)

Making Over Maggie
(Book 3)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2016 by Tracey J. Lyons

All rights reserved.

No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Waterfall Press, Grand Haven, MI

www.brilliancepublishing.com

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Waterfall Press are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781503934818

ISBN-10: 1503934810

Cover design by Kirk DouPonce, DogEared Design

This book is for my grandchildren, Nicholas, Colyn, Christopher, and Caroline—you are my inspiration. And for my husband, TJ, who has been there for me since the beginning.

Chapter One

1890s Adirondack Mountains

New York State

 

“My trunk!” Elsie Mitchell watched in horror as her trunk fell off the over packed porter’s wagon, spilling its contents onto the platform at the Albany train station. Grasping at her skirts, she ran along the damp cobblestones to rescue her garments. The porter rushed to right the trunk while Elsie knelt in the cold drizzle and began stuffing her skirts and blouses back inside. “Thank you for your help.”

Steadying the trunk, he said, “I’m afraid I got caught up wanting to get everyone to the train on time and I overloaded the cart.” The rotund man looked at her in dismay. “There won’t be another train heading up to the Adirondacks until next week.”

Elsie cast a furtive glance at an older well-dressed couple who scurried by her. A plume of black smoke belched from the great engine. She had to be home later today. After a two-week break, she needed time to prepare for the upcoming school session. She gathered up another blouse and a lace petticoat, cramming them inside the trunk. “I must be on this train.” Needing the porter’s help, she reached into her reticule, retrieving a coin from the last of her travel allotment. She gave the money to him.

An older woman stopped by and whispered some words to the porter, who shook his head. Then she opened her hand to show off not one but two coins. Giving Elsie a brief “Sorry, miss,” he hurried off to earn the tip.

If she was to make this train, there wasn’t a moment left to give the porter’s desertion another thought. She knelt among her things, praying she’d be able to leave today.

The answer to her prayer came in the form of a Good Samaritan who bent down next to her, handing her a pair of white pantaloons. Ever so grateful for the extra help, Elsie took them and then gasped in shock when she realized the hand helping her belonged to a man ruggedly dressed like a lumberjack about to head up the mountain. A thick, reddish-brown beard covered most of his face, making it hard for her to discern what he really looked like.

“Thank you, but I don’t need any help.” Embarrassed that this stranger had a full view of her underthings, she avoided meeting his gaze, quickly putting the garment in the trunk.

“The train will be pulling out in a few minutes. I’m thinking you mean to get on board before then,” he said.

Deciding it would be better to accept this benevolent stranger’s help than miss the train, Elsie gave him a brisk nod. Past his shoulder she spotted two young children standing a short distance behind him, a boy and a girl, similar in height. Elsie guessed them to be about seven or eight years old. Safely under the cover of the platform canopy, the boy held the girl’s hand snugly inside his while she had her free arm wrapped securely around a rag doll with golden hair that was a near match to the child’s. Elsie straightened for a better look at them, her heart thudding against her rib cage.

As a schoolteacher in the Adirondack mountain village of Heartston, New York, where she was returning, Elsie prided herself on how intuitively she knew the needs of her students. And now captivated by the expressions on these little ones’ faces, she couldn’t take her eyes from the pair.

The children seemed to be watching them, their expressions lost and forlorn. She swung her gaze back to the man helping her, asking, “Are those children with you?”

“They are.”

When a moment passed and he offered no more explanation, her natural curiosity had her wondering where he’d come from and where he would be heading with the children. They looked so alone. What had happened to them? There didn’t seem to be anyone other than this man accompanying them. She wondered where their mother was. She said, “I can handle the repacking of my trunk. You should get back to your children.”

“The children are fine, and I’ve no doubt you can finish this on your own.” The stranger’s mouth quirked upward, and then he said, “But if you don’t get a move on, you’re going to miss the train. So why don’t you let me be of service?”

Much to her vexation, he began again to hand her odds and ends of undergarments. Shaking his head, he asked, “How can one woman possibly need all these things?”

She thought surely his wife must have all these basics in her wardrobe. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw him pick up a pair of black stockings. These were one of the few things she splurged on with her schoolteacher’s salary, and she didn’t want him to ruin them. She forced herself to stand stock-still as they slipped through his worn fingers into her outstretched hand.

Elsie put the stockings in the trunk, then pushed the lid down, only to be met with resistance. Leaning her full weight into it, she let out a very unladylike grunt. When that didn’t work, she sat on top of the trunk, trying to push the bulging mess closed.

She gave one last little wiggle, hoping that would do the trick. She felt the gentleman’s hand on her shoulder. She stood, stepping aside to give him room to try his luck. Laying his large hands on top of the stubborn trunk, he pressed down hard. The top resisted his strength, too.

“I think I see the problem.” Settling the open lid back on its hinges, he reached in and pulled out a small pistol that had jammed itself in the hinge when the trunk was upended.

He dangled the butt of the gun between his forefinger and thumb.

“The derringer was a gift from my father.” She’d pleaded with him for the chance to travel unchaperoned, and he had finally given in, agreeing to let her go unaccompanied only if she carried the pistol for protection.

She took the gun from the stranger’s hand and confidently placed it in the only empty space left in the trunk.

“And this?” He held up the black leather-bound Bible with a questioning look.

“If you must know, my mother insists I travel with one of our family’s Bibles.”

Now he didn’t hide his wide grin. “You sound like an interesting woman, one who travels with petticoats, a pistol, and the Good Book. Though it seems to me the book and the gun won’t do you any good locked away in your trunk.”

“There wasn’t room in my travel bag for any of it.”

Finally able to slam the trunk shut, she secured the lock and motioned for the porter to put it on the train. Turning, she quickly thanked the man who had helped her, hiked up her skirts, took one last look at the children, and boarded the train.

Shaking his head, William Benton watched the young woman disappear into the train car. Wrangling with the pretty young lady with the astonishing violet eyes had been the one bright spot in his week.

He glanced over at the two small children in his company—the little girl who hadn’t spoken to anyone other than her brother since the day of their parents’ death and the boy who protected her. Seven-year-old twins, Minnie and Harry Harper were the children of his late sister and brother-in-law, Amelia and Jason.

Mustering up a smile, Will made his way over to them. He’d been preparing for this trip from Albany to Heartston while recovering from a gunshot wound. The relocation had been planned. The hole in his shoulder and taking in the children had not. As a Pinkerton agent, William Benton’s life was a secret. Even his family had no idea how he’d been making a living. They thought he was a drifter. Which was why he still couldn’t believe his older sister, Mary Beth, had arrived on his doorstep earlier this week expecting him to take in these children with no more than a mere minute’s notice.

Helping the children gather their belongings, he led them to the steps where they would board the train.

Looking down at the two little ones, Will felt a heaviness settle in his heart. He couldn’t begin to imagine the changes these children had had to bear over the recent months. And now they were dependent on the likes of him.

Squatting down to be at eye level with them, he asked, “Have you two been on a train before?”

“Nope. I read about them in a book Ma bought me for Christmas last year,” Harry replied. Scuffing his toe in the dirt, the boy looked downright dejected. “Aunt Mary Beth threw it away. She said it was too tattered to keep.”

Swallowing hard, Will forced down the anger he was feeling toward his sister. “Looks like we’ll just have to find you a better book.”

“Okay,” the boy replied, even though he didn’t sound very convinced. “Uncle Will, how long is this train ride going to take?”

“We’ll be there before sundown.”

A fleeting look crossed the boy’s face as he gave his sister’s hand a quick squeeze. Will didn’t have time to discern what all that could mean because it was their turn to board. As he escorted the children onto the train, he couldn’t help what came naturally to him. He cautiously scanned the space around them to find some empty seats.

Seated to their right was an older couple. Up ahead was a young man slouched down with a cowboy hat pulled low over his brow, and in the row behind him sat the young woman with eyes the color of spring violets. Will noticed she’d gotten herself in order and her black hair was now tucked up under her plain brown bonnet.

He couldn’t resist tipping his hat to her when they walked by. He barely made eye contact with her before she turned her head to stare out the soot-stained window. He gave a slight shake of his head, amused by how set she was on ignoring him. He settled the children in some empty seats five rows past her. Minnie and Harry shared the inside seat while Will took the aisle one. Stretching out his long legs, he crossed his feet at the ankles, staring ahead at the seat back in front of him.

He liked to use his travel time to think about his next assignment. According to the updated dossier he’d received last week, there was intelligence reporting that the thief the agency had been tracking could be making his way to the mountains with stolen railroad bonds worth thousands of dollars.

Masquerading as a foreman for the Oliver Lumber Company, Will had let his hair and beard grow long as part of his disguise. He swept his hand down the length of his scraggly beard in frustration. How was he going to be able to do his assignment and care for these children at the same time? Would he be able to provide a decent home for them once they arrived in Heartston? At least he’d had the wherewithal to send a telegraph to his Pinkerton contact in Heartston two days ago informing him of his change in circumstance. The reply had been simple . . . his charges would be looked after.

Not knowing what to expect, Will was certain of one thing: his priorities had changed. He’d gone from a loner to a man who had two children trusting him with their lives. He would not leave these children in the care of just anyone. Trust and faith had never come easy for him, and now both were being tested. The sharp twinge of pain in his arm reminded him that things could go wrong in an instant. Getting shot hadn’t been in his plan when attempting to capture the pickpocket, but he was dedicated to his job and what it stood for. He knew full well that once a Pinkerton’s real identity was discovered, he was rendered useless.

They were two hours into the train ride when it became apparent to Will that something was drastically wrong with Minnie. Her face had become as white as a sheet, and the poor girl was clutching her brother’s hand so tightly her knuckles were bleached. The hairs on the back of Will’s neck prickled as a sense of unease settled over him like a dark storm cloud. Leaning forward in his seat, Will whispered to Harry, who looked as scared as he felt. “Harry. What’s wrong with your sister? She doesn’t look well.”

The boy’s lower lip trembled. Turning toward him, the boy whispered, “I think it’s her stomach. She gets sick whenever we travel.”

Suddenly Will remembered the look the two of them had exchanged before boarding the train. He had a feeling that sooner rather than later Minnie would be emptying her stomach.

He spotted one of the wrappers that had held the sandwiches they’d eaten when they first boarded the train. Minnie made a strange sound. Just as her mouth opened, Will shoved the wrapper underneath her quivering chin.
Who knew that small of a stomach could hold so much food?
Will thought grimly as he opened the window and tossed the offending wrapper out. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he did his best to wipe her face and hands.

The poor girl was shivering. He didn’t know what to do. He reached out to her, but Minnie shrank back toward her brother. He felt all thumbs and realized with a tug in his chest that his efforts were woefully inadequate. If he couldn’t handle an upset stomach, what was he going to do when something major happened?

BOOK: A Changed Agent
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