Terry Irene Blain
Terry Irene Blain was lucky enough to grow up in a large Mid-western family with a rich oral tradition. As a child she heard stories of ancestors’ adventures with Indians, wildlife, weather and frontier life in general, so she naturally gravitated to the study of history and completed a BA and MA then taught the subject at the college level. Married to a sailor, now retired, she’s had the chance to live in various parts of the U.S. and has traveled to Hong Kong, Australia, England and Scotland.
“My degrees and my teaching experience make me a natural to write historical romance. Writing historical romance gives me the opportunity to pass on stories of who we are and where we come from while exploring the relationship between men and women. What could be more exciting than that?”
To protect her sister, Juliette Lawson stole documents and fled west. Now Wes Westmoreland, undercover lawman, threatens both her plan and her heart.
Socialite Juliette Lawson fled west from Philadelphia on a train and in disguise. In Colorado she’d be safe; she’d take work with her uncle at the Rio d'Oro, his smelting operation. Her actions back east had been wrong, but to protect her pregnant sister from scandal she would have done anything. Then she met a man as hungry for answers as she was for independence. A handsome, honorable man. For him, she wished the truth was hers to tell.
From the first, Wes Westmoreland knew he couldn’t trust her. Having grown up in the saloons and brothels of San Francisco, he saw trust, like love, as a luxury an undercover lawman couldn’t afford. Not on a job like this one, not with gold involved. This woman dressed as a widow was clearly hiding something; he’d felt it the moment they touched. But he’d felt other things too, stirrings in his heart, and for the first time ever, he saw riches worth the peril
St. Louis, Missouri, 1889
Whistle shrieking, the train jerked to a stop, the sudden lurch throwing Julie Lawson forward. The black silk of her skirt slipped on the hard wooden seat and only the firm bracing of her feet kept her from slipping to the floor. She glanced down at the small valise that hadn’t been out of arm’s reach since she fled Philadelphia.
Julie shifted back in her seat, hearing the echo of her grandmother’s favorite phrase, your impulses will get you into trouble one day, Juliette Marie, you mark my words. Gran had certainly been right.
She let out a shallow sigh. The widow’s weeds she’d hurriedly dug out of the trunk in the attic required a corset so severely laced a shallow sigh was all she could manage.
The train whistle gave a short toot. “St. Louis! St. Louis! Thirty-minute stop in St.
Louis!” came the sing-song voice of the conductor.
She glanced at the watch pinned to her bodice. Enough time for her to walk down the platform and back. As she stood, the hat and heavy veil wobbled. Using her reflection in the dusty window as a mirror, she readjusted the long hat pins. The hat more secure, she peered through the glass.
The platform bustled with activity. Fellow passengers came and went, dodging
scattered trunks and carpet bags. The harried-looking conductor strode by, a piece of paper in his hand and a pencil tucked behind his ear. A small boy in corduroy knickers trailed a large, hairy dog, the boy clutching a piece of twine attached to the dog’s collar.
A telegraph office stood at the platform’s west end near the panting engine. Standing in front of a row of round-topped steamer trunks, a man waited quietly beside the office. His coat and trousers were the color of bitter chocolate. A perfect match to his wide-brimmed Stetson and western boots. A pair of saddle bags hung over one shoulder.
Leaving her coat draped across the seat, she lowered the black lace veil, and drew on her black kid gloves. Picking up the small valise, she left the railroad car.
She walked along the platform, the warm summer air smelling of coal smoke and dust. As she neared the west end of the platform, she noticed the man she’d seen from the window. A growing commotion behind her caused her to turn. All down the platform, people scrambled and yelled, their shouts mingled with a dog’s deep bark. A flash of tabby fur streaked past her skirt. The dog bumped her knees as he gallumped past.
Off balance, she stumbled backward. And into a solid, warm male body. Strong arms wrapped around her. Her flailing bag struck him, bringing a muffled exclamation. With a thud they came to rest against a steamer trunk. Turned sideways, she half-sat, half-lay over his long legs. She fought to regain her balance, thwarted by the slick silk of her skirts.
“Hold still, lady,” he muttered as he hitched her more securely over his lap. “I don’t want to drop you.”
Throwing her arms around his neck, the bag she still held thumped into his back.
Another exclamation, this one not so muttered, sounded in her ear.
With one arm about her shoulders, the other stretched across her lap grasping her hip, he kept her from sliding to the ground. For a few seconds neither of them moved. She started to breathe again inhaling a faint scent of leather, tobacco, and shaving soap.
The masculine scents made her instantly aware of the intimacy of their position with her draped across his lap, the surrounding warmth of his arms and body. She loosened her grip around his neck and brought the bag back over his shoulder where it plopped to the ground. Unable to get her breath, she blamed the too-tight corset. “I... I beg your pardon,” she managed to get out.
Her hat dipped so far forward it practically sat on her nose. The pins pulled hurtfully at her hair. Without thinking, she reached to fix it and flipped back the veil. She glanced up and got a good look at her rescuer.
His hat gone, his gold-blond hair curled slightly where it lay too long about his ears and collar. His muted green eyes widened in surprise. His gaze flicked from her face, to her hair, and back to her face. Julie’s stomach dropped like a stone. She jerked the veil back into place.
Without the obscuring veil, she looked even younger than her twenty-one years, her hair a pale, but unmistakable, blond. Not the gray-haired widow he’d obviously expected. “I do beg your pardon,” she repeated. “I’m so sorry.”
A grin tugged up one corner of his mouth, white teeth flashing under his blond
mustache. “I’m not,” he replied.
Her heart jumped into her throat, reminding her of her scandalous position on his lap. She squared her shoulders, stiffening in his grasp. She swallowed her heart back to its proper place. “Please, sir,” she said in her best touch-me-not voice.
His fabulous smile faded. “Yes, ma’am. Sorry.” Carefully, he loosened his grip,
allowing her to slide from his lap. Once she’d regained her feet, he stood. For some reason she still couldn’t catch her breath. Drat the corset for making her so breathless and lightheaded.
After a second, he stooped to pick up his hat. Her gaze followed his movement and she spotted her valise tangled with his saddle bags. “Oh,” she gasped.
He shot her a quick glance then extracted the small bag from the snarl of leather.
She twisted her hands together, resisting the impulse to grab for her bag.
“May I carry your bag?” the blond man asked as if to make amends. He gestured with the bag toward where passengers were re-boarding. His face showed a carefully neutral expression. But his green eyes reminded her of the waters of the Chesapeake in a storm. She didn’t want to imagine what thoughts those eyes might hide.
“No,” she stammered, “no, thank you.” She couldn’t even get a simple sentence out. When he handed her the valise, her hand brushed his strong, tanned one. Even through her glove, she imagined the warmth of his touch. “Thank you,” she was able to murmur as she turned.
She concentrated on walking with as much dignity as possible as she returned down the platform. He had to be watching, for she felt his gaze between her shoulder blades as she fought to keep her steps at a sedate pace. At last she regained the haven of the railroad car. Relief washed through her.
She took her seat but couldn’t resist looking out the window. He still stood in front of the telegraph office, hat in hand, looking down the platform toward her railroad car. After a moment, he slapped the hat against his thigh before resettling it on his head.
“Al-l-l aaaa-board!” shouted the conductor. The train whistle echoed with a toooo-tootoot! A loud clanking was followed by a sudden forward jerk. The whistle shrilled again. A series of short tugs became smooth forward movement. Through the window the train depot and platform began to slide away.
Don’t look. Don’t look. Her head remained straight forward, but in spite of her
admonishments her gaze crept toward the window as the telegraph office scrolled by.
Saddle bags resting near his booted feet, he scanned the train. His gaze seemed to penetrate the dusty window and her veil with no problem. His eyes held hers for a split second, making her breath catch. He briefly touched the brim of his hat and nodded as his figure slid past.
* * *
Wes ducked his head against the soot and sparks that swirled after the caboose. After the flurry died away, he raised his head to look down the tracks again. He absently rubbed his shoulder wondering if tomorrow he’d find a bruise where the widow’s small carpet bag had struck him.
He slapped the soot from his coat and turned to look toward the telegraph office. The operator shook his head. He returned to the steamer trunks clustered at the end of the platform. He leaned his butt against a rounded top and crossed his ankles.
Again he looked west, watching the receding caboose grow smaller. That was some widow. Under that obscuring veil her hair had been a striking silvery blond.
Of course, someone that young and pretty could be a widow, but something about her nagged at him. He closed his eyes and let his mind see her again. The widow’s weeds she wore were old fashioned. And there’d been a faint odor of camphor from the black silk. But if she’d been widowed suddenly, it wouldn’t be too surprising if she wore make-shift mourning.
What else didn’t ring true? Her eyes. There’d been no pain, no sorrow in her eyes. They’d been as clear and beautiful and innocent as the blue sky they resembled. He remembered the feel of her in his arms, half-lying across his lap. Remembered her eyes wide, her lips parted as she tried to get her breath.
His eyes popped open and he took off his hat to run his hand through his hair. Why in hell spend all this time trying to figure out what was wrong with a widow lady he’d never see again?
With a sigh, he resettled his Stetson, acknowledging he was suspicious because that was his business. Suspicion kept him alert and kept him alive, made him good at his job. His hand touched his coat pocket as though he could feel through the fabric the brown leather case with the shiny metal badge that defined his life.
“Mr. Westmoreland?” The telegraph operator’s voice jerked Wes from his reverie. The telegram from San Francisco you’ve been waitin’ for is here.”
Wes crossed to the telegraph window and took the piece of paper the operator held in his direction. He heard his boss’s sharp, hard voice as he read:
Congrats Rayburn job. Proceed Denver, instructions wait.
Ultimate destination, Durango, Colorado. Use own name.
Dan Challenge, Wells Fargo
Wes folded the note and put it in his pocket.
“Too bad that there telegram didn’t come a few minutes earlier.” The operator
“Why’s that?” Wes asked.
“That there’s the Denver train,” the operator said with unconcealed glee. He nodded where the widow’s train was nothing but a faint puff of smoke on the horizon.
“Figures,” Wes said with a sigh. Over the last ten years, he’d learned patience. But the telegraph operator’s amusement rankled. Keeping his voice neutral he asked, “When’s the next train and where do I get a ticket?”
“Next train same time tomorrow, goes to Denver and then on to San Francisco. Tickets just inside to the left.” He chuckled again. “Yessirre, too bad that there telegram didn’t get here sooner.”
Nodding a thanks he did not feel, Wes slung his saddle bags over his shoulder and started down the platform. He must be more tired than he thought to allow the telegraph operator’s attitude to put him out of sorts. Or maybe, he was more than just a little disappointed he wasn’t on that there train with the flaxen-haired widow.
After purchasing a ticket for Denver, he got a room in the hotel across the street. What was the chance, Wes wondered as he lay on the narrow, hard bed, that he’d run into the widow in Denver? And what might have happened if that blasted telegram had come an hour earlier?
* * *
Julie Lawson peered through the window as the train clattered over the wooden bridge spanning the Rio Los Anamis and headed south into Durango. By concentrating on the breathtaking scenery of the rugged mountain canyons and the swift river, so different from Philadelphia or the endless plains west of St. Louis, she’d pushed the thoughts of what brought her here to the back of her mind.
The sign on the Denver and Rio Grande train depot proudly announced Durango,
Colorado. Julie brushed her hand across the royal-blue skirt of her serge traveling suit, tugged at the black lapels and cuffs of the matching jacket. She took a deep breath, thankful to be in her own pliable corset. She’d hidden the widow’s weeds at the bottom of her trunk and changed into her own clothes during the layover in Denver.
Following a balding merchant to the exit, she descended the train steps. She shaded her eyes against the harsh noon sun, searching the people milling about on the platform. Had Uncle Frank received the telegram she sent from Denver?
Her name echoed over the noisy doings of the busy depot. She turned to see Uncle Frank striding toward her. He looked just as she remembered him. His Lawson family fair hair largely hidden under a bowler hat. With his white dress shirt, dark suit and tie he looked like any Philadelphia businessman.
“Welcome to Durango,” he said as he opened his arms. Julie threw herself into his embrace. She’d reached her destination. She was safe. Her knees shook at the relief.
Uncle Frank must have felt her tremble. “Here now,” he said, holding her away from him to look into her face. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, just tired. It’s been a long trip,” she reassured him. Just being with family made her feel better, feel more secure. She could do this. “Sorry I didn’t give you more warning, but you always said I could visit anytime.”
They headed toward the baggage area for her trunk. “Guess I gave in to one of my impulses as Gran would have said. With Papa in Europe and Cory in the country, the house was just too lonely.” Pretend this was just an ordinary visit. Forget the outrage and anger that propelled her to action. Forget the panic that followed in her dash from Philadelphia.
Uncle Frank retrieved her trunk and paid a man to load her baggage into his buggy.
“How is Aunt Marie?” She asked as Uncle Frank drove the buggy through the traffic of wagons, riders, and other buggies on Main Street.
Uncle Frank cleared his throat. “Actually, she’s in San Francisco, taking care of
“Is Grace sick?” she asked in surprise. Her cousin Grace lived in San Francisco with her husband and small daughter.
“No, it’s just that Grace needs extra help now that, ah, she’s, ah...” Uncle Frank looked uncomfortable.
Julie smiled. “You’re going to be a grandfather again. When?”
“Not for six more months, but Grace was feeling poorly, and Marie was worried about her.”
“I understand her worry.” More than Uncle Frank knew.
Apparently the conversation reminded Uncle Frank of Cory’s delicate condition as he asked, “How is your sister?”
“Cory’s doing fine this time. The baby is due in two more months. I wrote you that she and Mark are taking extra precautions this time. So to make sure she isn’t upset, two weeks ago he sent her to the country with a nurse.”
After two previous miscarriages Mark wasn’t taking any chances and had ordered quiet with no responsibilities for Cory’s mental as well as physical health. Nothing could be allowed to jeopardize this pregnancy. Julie looked at the carpet bag, resting in its usual spot beside her feet. Just two more months to keep herself and the contents of the bag hidden. For Cory.
Shaking off the uneasy thoughts, she glanced around. Here in the Rocky Mountains the
summer sun shone harsh through air that was somehow less substantial than in Philadelphia. The stark light gave a clear, sharp focus to the town and the landscape. She took a deep breath. Away from the train station and the main street the breeze carried a faint scent of pine from the western mountains.
As Uncle Frank turned east off Main Street, she caught a glimpse of a blond man in a dark brown hat. Her breath lodged in her throat. Then he turned and she saw he was clean shaven. Silly, she thought as she exhaled. How could it be him? She blinked away the memory of sea-green eyes and a devastating smile.
* * *
Three days after Julie Lawson arrived in Durango, the Denver and Rio Grande brought another visitor. As the train came in, Wes studied the lay of the land. Standing on the gently swaying platform between two cars, he had a widespread view. He spotted the smelters. Trailing dark plumes of smoke from a half-dozen stacks, the two smelters sat southwest of the city like dark giants against the mountainside.
The wire waiting for him at the Wells Fargo office in Denver had been brief.
Proceed Durango. Possible sabotage or subversion at smelters.
Production down. Determine problem and notify.
No contact available Durango. Wire Denver office for assistance if needed.
No contact available? That was odd. And why was the head of Wells Fargo’s
investigation department interested in trouble at the Durango smelters? He knew Wells Fargo transported the vast amounts of gold, silver, copper, and other mineral wealth that poured from the smelters, but something didn’t add up.
The train rolled into the Durango station. As the whistle blew to announce their arrival, Wes slid his hand inside his jacket to check the short barreled .32 nestled under his left arm. He hitched his saddle bags more squarely over his shoulder, reseated his hat, and stepped from the platform as the train pulled to a stop.
His first order of business was obtaining information. And there was only one place where a stranger could sit and talk, and find out what was going on without drawing attention to himself. At the end of the platform, he stopped a teamster loading boxes into the back of a wagon. “Which way to the nearest saloon?” he asked.
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