Authors: Anya Karin
Tags: #Historical Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #western romance, #romantic comedy, #romance adventure, #cowboy romance, #wild west romance, #Romance Suspense, #inspirational romance, #western historical fiction, #chaste romance
Also by Anya Karin
Her Highland Hero
Thistle and Flame - Her Highland Hero
Passion and Plaid
The Unmasked Series
Unmasked (New Adult Romance)
Wild West Brides
The Outlaw's Kiss (Sweet Western Historical Romance)
An Old West Romance
by Anya Karin
August 20, 1878
Omaha Road train depot, Yankton, Dakota Territory
here on Earth have we gotten ourselves, father?” I
stepped off the train and faced the morning sun, raising a hand to block both
the burning light, and a surprising burst of dust. “This certainly doesn’t look
like anyplace that would have gold. All this dirt, this dust. My clothes are
going to be
Twisting the corner of the mustache he’d grown
especially for this trip, Jefferson James, my father, snorted a laugh. “The
very edge of civilization, Clara. And no, this isn’t where I bought the claim.
That’s a few hundred miles off still. We’ll be taking a carriage west. If I’m
reading this missive correctly, we’re to load up with a handful of other
pioneers and depart before the day’s out. And anyway, weren’t you the one who
insisted on coming? I tried to leave you home. Those clothes of yours will
survive the dust.”
Father’s tongue curled around the word
He, a banker from New York, treated himself to a ride across half the country
in the finest railcar on the tracks then was about to hop on a carriage caravan
to some backwater where he’d bought a gold claim. And he thought himself a
pioneer. I covered my mouth to keep my giggling a secret.
Of all the ideas I’ve ever had, I believe this
one to be the worst.
Across from the train depot was a run-down saloon, the
likes of which I thought only existed in dime novels. Here it was, just past
first light, and some disheveled cowboy stumbled out the swinging doors, fell
down on his rear, and went right to sleep.
Pulling my eyes off the slovenly drunk, I turned
to my father. “Why are we here? I mean, does the train not go any further west?
And you know very well that I came because someone has to keep you on the
straight and narrow.”
Father smiled down at me and adjusted his cravat,
making sure the pin was fixed tight. “Not the way we’re going, dear daughter.
This is going to be quite an adventure. I hear tell that the cowboys and the
miners in the parts we’re about to see are truly wild, near savages who live
without law. Except for one fellow, who is pretending to be a kind of sheriff,
hailing from Montana.” As he spoke, I could almost feel his chest puff up.
A sheriff from Montana, who moved to a wild
gold-mining camp – there’s a pioneer. A banker from New York is not as
convincing. I bet the sheriff even has a mustache he’s worn for more than three
weeks. And I bet his mustache reaches past the top of his lip as well.
The train’s engine let out a great whistling noise
that almost sent me reeling to the floor of the depot in surprise, and a plume of
black coal smoke filled the sky shortly afterward. Father grabbed one of my
arms, and pulled me aside.
“Loudest damned thing I’ve ever heard. Come along
Clara, we’re to meet a man in the stationhouse who’ll be leading our caravan. A
Mr. Horatio Barber – quite a name for a trail guide, I assume him to be English.
At any rate, we should –”
Father’s talking was interrupted by a tremendous
“This yours?” the train’s porter clenched his
teeth and dropped the first of our trunks with a heavy thud.
“Oh yes, my boy, and those there.” My father
pointed to a pile of similarly colored trunks which represented every shred of
clothing we owned. “Those as well. Must be prepared, should the worst happen.”
As the poor man groaned, stooped, and strained to
get the seven crates onto a sled to be pulled around front where we were to
meet the caravan, father smiled and tugged on his suspenders. I wasn’t entirely
sure why he insisted on bringing our entire wardrobes; especially since we were
only to be staying in this gold mining camp for a half a year.
“Prepared,” the porter squatted and pushed the
last of the boxes onto the sled. “Yes sir, prepared. Whew! Prepared for what,
exactly? I don’t think you’ll need any fashions to wear to the opera house
where you’re going.”
My father continued smiling and tugging at various
parts of his clothing to make sure it was all in the right places. Before we
left New York, he purchased everything he expected he’d need. Hip waders,
chaps, that comical bowler, all of it. In honesty though, he’d used the covers
of adventure stories and descriptions from travel journals for his guide. I
don’t think he was in any way ready for what we were actually going to find.
Of course, I’m not sure exactly why we
in the first place.
Father had got the idea that buying a gold claim
in a new boomtown four-hundred miles from the nearest train station was the
sure path to riches and fame. The deal was brokered by someone he promised to
be honest and upright, and who said the plot he purchased was reconnoitered by
the legendary George Hearst himself. Hearst had tried to buy up all the land
around this town as he was sure that when the Comstock Lode ran dry, he’d be
able to make three times as much in Dakota Territory gold.
And then there was me. Father was convinced that
bringing me along was for the best. I’d never seen the world outside of New
York, nor had I even seen much life
New York. Our home consists of
a flat of apartments right next to a Pinkerton office, and down the boardwalk
from the bank where my father was a part owner.
I touched the side of my face when I felt a wet
trickle run down. My fingers, to my horror, came away caked with that red dust
that seemed to settle into every pore.
“Clara!” My father’s shout broke my momentary
lapse into reminiscence. “Come over and help your father!” He had in his hands
a rope, which he offered me. “Take ahold! Or ‘grab ‘er’ as they say here. The
rough folks here are so wonderfully quaint, don’t you think?”
Someone walked past and prickled at the insult
until the man saw my father trying to drag Lord-knows how much weight by
himself on a sled. That spectacle got a hearty laugh.
“You want me to pull this? I can’t possibly do
that. It’s all I can do to breathe in this dress.” I took the rope anyway,
holding it helplessly. Dressed in what I admit were clothes a bit more suited
for a New York society club luncheon than a day of hard labor, I wasn’t much
“Ma’am?” A young man, perhaps five or ten years my
elder – one of the few I’d seen who didn’t wear a beard – approached me from
behind and tipped his hat. “Mind if I take that from you? I’d probably be more
help than someone so finely anointed as yourself.”
Turning, I saw the man was dressed as
men do in these parts, with hard trousers, leathers on his legs, and a gun at
his hip. He tipped his hat a second time when I smiled. Father looked to be
straining so hard his eyes were about to burst out of his skull, but the kind
man helping him tucked the rope over his shoulder and took most of the burden.
So easily was he able to move the load that he had time to cast a look in my
Dark blue eyes that reflected the sea, framed by
the slight stubble of maybe a days’ worth of growth struck hard.
I turned to leave but when after catching that
bedeviling gaze, couldn’t force myself to turn away. The cords in his
shoulders, running down his arms stood out as he pulled the sled. Sweat that
escaped his hat trickled down his face, around shapely cheekbones, to his
strong chin. To my astonishment, and with a great deal of rudeness, I found
myself staring at him, utterly entranced by his strength and more than that,
the gentle politeness he’d shown in such an obviously rough place.
“You two headed west?” He asked my father. “You
look like a gold miner.” I caught the sarcasm, though father did not.
“Yes sir, we are. Have you been out that-a-ways?
And – oh, my manners. What may I call you?” He was trying so hard to fit in
that he stuck out even more. I covered my mouth to hide my soft laugh.
“Eli Masterson, and –”
“Eli, you been out west?” father cut in.
“Just came back from leading one caravan out that
way a day ago. It’s the damndest – ah, excuse my language.”
Father grinned briefly in between gritting his
teeth. “No problem at all, I’m damned used to such speech, I’ll have you know.”
I’m quite sure I saw the man shake his head and
hide a laugh. “Anyways, it’s a hell of a thing out that way. Couple Sioux raids
into the settlement there, not long past. Week or two. First in a while though,
I believe they’re the first raids since Wild Bill was shot.”
Following close behind the two men, I heard my
father gasp. “Wild Bill?” he said. “As in Hickok? Indian raids?”
“Uh-huh,” he cut in. “You two are headed to
Deadwood, ain’t you?”
“That’s,” father paused, “no, not exactly. That’s
the nearest town to where my claim lies, yes, but I had no plans to spend much
time in the town proper. Though I heard it had become more, uh, civilized, of
Straightening his back and letting my father take
a break, Eli turned to me. “Maybe best for the lady to take a seat around front
of the depot? This sun, it’s a bit much in all that finery, don’t you think?”
I took his hint – he wanted to say something to my
father without my hearing – but I also took his consideration. And he
right, after all. Even in the early morning, the heat was more than I was
accustomed to feeling. “Yes, I think that would be fine.” In truth I was
thankful for a short respite from the tingling he’d put in my chest. “Just
“Yep. Er, yes ma’am,” he said. “Caravans’ll be
around shortly to take you lot on your way. As you can tell, there’s a lot of
dust here, so it’s good you brought enough clothes to hold you.” He barely
contained a laugh as Father mopped his brow with a handkerchief that came away
soaked and caked with red powder. “Anyways, head on around there. We’ll be
“Thank you kindly, sir,” I said and curtsied
slightly, which seemed to amuse him. When he left, I couldn’t begin to explain
the tightness I felt at the back of my throat. Certainly I was too reasonable
to just up and fall for the first half-way articulate cowboy I happened across.
Indian raids? Wild Bill Hickok? What in the
world is Father thinking?
I clenched my jaws tight until the tiny flecks of
sand gritting between my teeth were too much to bear.
My stomach felt like a knot had twisted itself up
in there. I supposed that gentleman may have simply been joshing around with
Father, trying to get a rise out of the obviously underprepared Yankee. On the
other hand, he had a look that was quite serious. If he
telling fibs, he could have continued right on in front of me, and father, who
just reappeared, would not be mopping his face quite like he was, no matter how
much energy he’d exerted.
“I’m beginning to think I’ve made an awful
mistake, Clara,” he said as he hopped down from the platform. Mr. Masterson
tipped his hat to me, which I must admit put a bit of a swoon inside me. “Bah!”
he quickly corrected himself. “Came for an adventure, didn’t we? Seems like
that’s what we’ll get.”
“Come along, father,” I said. “This seems less an
adventure and more an insane charge into the wilderness with nothing but a
half-lamed horse to guide you. Before we do anything we can’t change, why don’t
we just get right back on that train and avoid this town altogether.” Even as I
spoke, something with dark blue eyes and a very easy, graceful smile remained
firmly in place at the back of my mind.
. And it’s only recently been
on top of that,” he was chewing on the corner of his
mustache. “I’m sure our friend was just telling us a cautionary tale. Still
though, if you wish, you could be back in New York in three weeks’ time, put on
display at society balls to try and attract a good husband, like my bank