Bestselling Author

Category: Steam! Romance & Rails

Myths, legends and inspiration

In my novel Redbird, elements from Cherokee myths are woven into the love story, which is set during a historical event in the 1870s involving the Cherokee Nation and the Katy Railroad. Read on to find out more about these fascinating legends that inspired me.

Uk-ten-a

Jake crept next to the dark side of the locomotive. Tonight, Uk-te-na didn’t hiss or spew its dark breath. The smoking dragon crouched on metal rails with its nose pointed south, directly at the heart of the Tsa-la-gi nation, silent and still like a predator anticipating a kill.

Most cultures have legends about supernatural serpents. In Cherokee lore, they call this mythical creature Uk-te-na.  Described as a monstrous beast with horns, similar to a dragon, Uk-te-na is originally created at the behest of men to destroy their enemy. Instead, it wreaks havoc on the people of the earth. It makes sense, then, that Native Americans would liken locomotives to this fearsome beast.

This powerful imagery fit beautifully within the framework of my story about a Cherokee hero who sets out to stop a powerful railroad from devastating his homeland. His quest takes an unexpected turn when he abducts a railroad heiress who it seems might be the personification of a legendary goddess.

Wa-ya and the little bird

How did the cardinal get its beautiful coloring? In this Cherokee tale, Raccoon (gv-li) loves to tease Wolf (wa-ya). One day Wolf is chasing Raccoon so long he becomes exhausted. While he sleeps, Raccoon covers Wolf’s eyes with mud, which hardens. After Wolf awakens, he can’t get the mud off and he can’t see. He begs for help, but Raccoon just runs off.

At long last, a little bird hears Wolf and she flies over. “What’s the matter Brother Wolf? Can I help you?”

Wa-ya cries: “I can’t open my eyes, Please help me to see again!”

“I’m just a plain little brown bird. but I will help you if I can.”

“U-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua (little brown bird), if you can help me to see again, I will take you to a magic rock that oozes red paint. We will paint your feathers red.”

The little bird pecks away the mud until Wolf can see. True to his word, Wa-ya takes U-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua to the magic rock and uses a chewed stick as a paint brush to paint right red over the little bird’s plain, brown feathers. She becomes to-tsu-wa--the beautiful Red Bird.

Similarly, in the novel Redbird, the heroine Kate is instrumental in saving the hero, Jake (whose Cherokee name is Wa-ya). In turn, Jake’s gift to the woman he calls Redbird is a new awareness of her beauty and strength.

The Sun and her daughter

This traditional Cherokee legend contributes a core element in my love story and the hero’s journey. As a boy, Jake is enthralled by the story about the Sun’s daughter. He forms an image in his mind about what she might look like, and even sees her in a vision, which later directs his path in ways he could never have predicted. The original legend is rather long, so I’m going to paraphrase most of it.

The Sun lived on the other side of the sky vault, but her daughter lived in the middle of the sky, directly above the earth, and every day as the Sun was climbing along the sky arch to the west she stopped at her daughter’s house for dinner. Now, the Sun hated the people on the earth, because they could never look straight at her without screwing up their faces. But the people of the earth smiled at her brother, the Moon. The Sun was jealous and decided to kill the people, so when she came to her daughter’s house, she sent rays down that created a great fever and many people died.

The people went for help to the Little Men (supernatural beings), who changed two people into snakes (Copperhead and Spreading-adder), but they were unsuccessful at killing the Sun. Then the Little Men created a monster, the great Uk-te-na and the Rattlesnake. They surprised the daughter of the Sun when she came outside, thinking it was her mother who was knocking.

After the Sun finds her daughter dead, she goes away and the world is plunged into darkness. Representatives of the people go to the land of the dead to retrieve the Sun’s daughter and bring her back alive, but along the way, they mistakenly let her out of a box she’s being kept in and she flies off,. A moment later, they hear the song of a red bird. The daughter of the Sun can’t return to her mother in her previous form, but she is brought back to life as the beautiful Redbird.

In my novel, Jake associates Kate with the Sun’s beautiful daughter and nicknames her Redbird. His fascination with her allows him to lower his defenses and open his mind and heart to new possibilities.

As far as Kate is concerned, Jake is the only man who accepts her on equal terms. With him, she feels beautiful and strong. She also comes to believe she is uniquely suited to help Wa-ya and his people. In the end, she is transformed, like her namesake.

Redbird, Book 2 in the series, Steam! Romance and Rails

A rich, white heiress. A Cherokee outlaw. They have nothing in common except a desire for peace…and each other.

Railroad heiress Kate Parsons has spent a lifetime trying to win her father’s respect. Her heart isn’t in the marriage he demands for her, but she is eager to help him peacefully resolve a land dispute between his railroad and the Cherokee Nation. Instead, her life–and her future–take a sharp turn when she is abducted by outlaws.

Jake Colston longs for peace, but not at the price the railroad wants his people to pay. Rather than fight a war against the smoking dragon, he devises a scheme to stop it. But a split-second decision to abduct Kate pitches his plans into chaos and creates havoc in his heart. Like the legendary goddess Redbird, his captive is brave and quick-witted, curious and compassionate. Is she the incarnation of a vision? Or does she portend the end of his dreams?

A captivating, cross-cultural love story, which unfolds during a fast-paced race through historic events. Redbird was originally released as a novella under the title Kate’s Outlaw. This new edition has been expanded into a novel with exciting new scenes and renamed after the Native American legend that inspired it. 

Read Redbird

Have you read the series yet? If not, get started on the first book, Her Bodyguard.  Right now, if you sign up as a new subscriber to my newsletter, you’ll receive a link to a free download. Sign up today!

Steam On!

E.E. Burke

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A new edition, a new book and a brand new look

My bestselling series is better than ever.

 

The Steam! Romance and Rails series was inspired by my love for Western movies and TV shows that deliver exceptional drama, passion and suspense in authentic historical settings. I’ll give a nod to Hell On Wheels as one of those inspirational shows. And you can really see the influence in these new covers for the latest edition of the series. I’ve tweaked and polished the stories, given them new covers that are closer to my original vision, and expanded the second book into a full-length novel.

The series begins with Her BodyguardAn 1870 railroad race plagued by crooked politics, angry mobs, liars, cheats and killers sets the stage for a story about betrayal, love and redemption.  A wanted man with dark secrets falls in love with the woman who hires him to protect her.  Packed with passion and suspense, it’s a thrilling ride with twists and turns right up to the end.  Buck O’Connor is one of my favorite heroes. I think this new cover fits the book and this character perfectly! Her Bodyguard is a BookBub Featured Deal on Aug. 19 and you can pick it up for 99 cents through Aug. 23. Buy it now!

Redbird was originally released as a short novella under the title, Kate’s Outlaw. I’ve expanded the storyline, added new scenes to extend it into a novel, and renamed it after the Cherokee legend that inspired it. This cross-cultural love story is set against the historical backdrop of a bitter battle between the Katy Railroad and the Cherokee Nation. Through this story, I strive to present a perspective that often gets lost in our glorification of Western expansion. Its central theme is hope–for peace, understanding, respect, and, ultimately, a sense of unity despite our differences.

At the end of Redbird, we leave Indian Territory and return to Kansas, where the Katy Railroad has a new headquarters in Parsons, and a new general manager. Henry Stevens is charismatic, courageous and ambitious. Could he also be a murderer? A clever young woman, who has more to lose than her heart, sets out to discover the truth about the fascinating man the loyal railroaders call Chief.

In A Dangerous Passion, the character of Henry Stevens was inspired by bigger-than-life stories about the real “Colonel Stevens,” the man who led the Katy Railroad to victory. I do a lot of research when planning a series. This one, in particular, follows the historical journey of the Katy Railroad as the underpinning for both settings and plot lines.

Oh, and this cover! When I first starting working on A Dangerous Passion, I pinned some “inspirational” images to my Pinterest board.

To the left is how I envisioned Henry Stevens might look. The cover model is a dead ringer, right?

No, I didn’t pay Richard Armitage to pose for the cover, but if this book ever gets made into a movie, I know who I want to play the lead role!

In Fugitive Hearts, two runaways take a wild ride through Indian Territory where outlaws and train robbers plague the new Katy Railway line.

A hotel owner confesses to accidentally killing her husband, which sets off a scandal and an investigation. When the widow sets out to find her missing foster child, what follows is a passionate, suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse between Claire and the sheriff, who is determined to uncover the truth. When he does, it will challenge his preconceived notions about justice—and love.

I’m currently writing Book Five in the series, Lawless Hearts, which will be released in early 2022. Get a sneak peek at the cover and read the blurb here.

Another word about the covers. I owe a special thanks to photographer Matthew Malkiewicz for his inspiring images of the old steam locomotives that grace my book covers. His photography really captures the mood and drama of this series. (You can see more of his amazing work at www.losttracksoftime.com.)

What other authors say about Steam! Romance and Rails

“Gripping, realistic western writing at its best! E.E. Burke is an exceptional storyteller!” ~ Rosanne Bittner, USA Today bestselling author

“I thoroughly enjoy E.E. Burke’s historical romances. Her portrayal of strong, realistic, well-defined characters and meticulous research transports readers back to the American West of old.”  ~ Jill Marie Landis, New York Times bestselling author

“Pure passion and romance that will steal your breath.” ~ Linda Broday, New York Times bestselling author

“E.E. Burke understands the heart of romance…and delivers it!” ~ Maggie Shayne, New York Times bestselling author

Give me your take on this series if you’ve read it. I’d love to know which hero was your favorite.

Steam On!

E.E. Burke

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10th Anniversary Celebration: Passion and Photography

Steam train image by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

One of the greatest challenges and pleasures in self-publishing is partnering with other artists to conceive the book cover. It’s the physical representation of your story, and so it has to be right. For the Steam! Romance and Rails series, I didn’t just want pictures of trains, I wanted images that would capture the passion and drama of a long-ago time and bring it alive.

When I came across a website featuring the photographic art of Matthew Malkiewicz, I knew I’d found perfect fit. His photography visibly defines the era and captures the mood I want to evoke. His trains are featured on eight of my books, and his iconic images are also featured in the banner of my website and on my newsletter.

Contrary to what some might say, authors can’t launch and sustain careers without great partners, such as critique buddies, editors, illustrators, and designers, photographers, to name a few.  In this post, I wanted to extend a special thanks to someone who has been a valued partner and friend on the journey, Matthew Malkiewicz.

I’ll let him tell his story in his own words:

How did you get started “shooting” trains?

Photo by Matthew Malkiewicz

It was more an awakening than an idea, it all started at the age of 4 months. I have a photo of myself watching a toy train run around the Christmas tree as a baby, it must have hooked me well. As a kid I had a model train layout on a piece of plywood in the basement, and in my teens I received my first camera, which I aimed at every train I saw. After a long period in my life without cameras or trains a job assignment in Colorado (a train mecca) during 2005 rekindled both hobbies, driving me to buy my first digital camera. At the same time I discovered the power of Photoshop, soon after I created my website to showcase my rapidly growing collection of photographs. It’s been a snowball effect ever since.

What are some of your favorite locations or settings?

I concentrate on vintage steam locomotives from all across the United States. Now they have second lives as tourist operations, the fortunate trains that survived the scrapping after the fleet was retired in the middle of the last century. Modern day railroading, both passenger and freight revenue, are pulled by either diesel or electric engines. My passion gravitates to the machines of yesteryear, fire-breathing monsters that seem to be alive whether you have your hand against the polished steel or you are two bluffs away looking across acres of prairie grass. I envision how it must have been back in the day and try to create photographs as timeless as possible to depict what I consider a vibrantly better and sadly vanished time.

What drew you to photographing old steam engines?

Photo by Matthew Malkiewicz

The allure of capturing images that stimulate one’s senses is what drew me to photograph steam-powered locomotives. I wanted to bring to life the smells of the coal fueling the engine, the sound of the steam hissing, and the earth rattling as these magnificent machines sit idling or are in motion. These machines of steam are alive. Each is unique, its own personality, which changes from day to day. At a state of rest the locomotive is groaning, sweating, simmering, creaking, spitting. At speed it’s controlled madness – the ground shakes, sound deafening.

What’s the coolest train you’ve ever photographed and why?

Halloween weekend 2011 at the East Broad Top Railroad in Pennsylvania. Nothing, and I mean nothing; can keep me away from capturing that awe-inspiring shot of a majestic steam locomotive.  However, the Halloween nor’easter would certainly test my fortitude. The storm produced unusually early season snowfall across the northeastern United States, breaking records for total accumulations. As the morning passed on, the snow intensified. By the time the train made its way out of town for its first run of the day, we had experienced near whiteout conditions and things got real quiet. With a typical steam train, you would expect to hear wheels clacking against the rails and steam puffing from the stack. But to my surprise, the snow seemed to envelop and muffle the familiar sound of the locomotive. As the train bellowed down the snowy rails, it was visible that the pine trees struggled to support the weight of the fresh snow, and the cornfields became covered in a white blanket. The autumn-colored leaves indicated that perhaps the trees were also caught off-guard by the storm. An image from the day, aptly named “Train on a Snow Day”, placed second in the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s 2014 Awards Program.

Photo by Matthew Malkiewicz

Do you enjoy seeing your work interpreted on book covers? Is it how you might have imagined, or completely different?

Yes I do. We all interpret a scene differently, it’s what makes us individuals. I enjoy seeing how others, such as the graphic artist of a book cover, takes my photograph and add their own style, flair, and techniques to enhance. The final results have been beyond my expectations; very pleasantly surprised every time.

Here are some of Matthew’s images on book covers designed by the very talented Erin Dameron-Hill.

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

What dreams have been realized as a result of your photography?

Throughout life, we all seek our own way in the pursuit of happiness, to find something that’s going to set us apart from the pack, mold our life into something special, and discover the sense in it all.  We test different things to determine what will help us in our quest, push us beyond our own limits, and achieve our dreams. My galleries capture my travels and experiences across our countryside.  Some near home, others far away and remote, all uniquely memorable.  It’s a passion that has taken me to where I am in life today.  My hope is that someday my portfolio will be an inspiration to others interested in this hobby I truly love.  I’m confident that one day I will capture my most spectacular image.  Until then, each photo tells the story of lost time, remembered.

While Matthew continues to pursue his dream of capturing soul-stirring images of an era long past, I continue to pursue my dream to write stories that will transport readers to the past and connect them to the hopes and dreams of others and themselves.

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to share them with you, dear reader.

Enjoy a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

With fondness and gratitude,

E.E. Burke

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On the Journey with an award-winning photographer

Seven years ago, I launched my first novel in the Steam! Romance and Rails series. The covers of several books in this series, and in the subsequent Bride Train collection, feature the work of award-winning photographer Matthew Malkiewicz. His breath-taking photos of authentic steam engines captured my fancy and provided a perfect backdrop for book covers that looked as lush and evocative as the time period they represented. (In fact, the header for On The Journey features one of my favorite images!) I asked Matthew to share a memory about each of the photographs featured on my books. Come with us on the journey to visit the last of America’s steam railroads.

E.E. Burke

“Opening a window to the past”

Matthew Malkiewicz is a widely recognized photographer specializing in steam railroad history, “keeping a window to the past open for us to see.” His work has appeared in print and online. He is the recipient of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s prestigious John E. Gruber Creative Photography Award, and is a Hasselblad Masters of Photography 2016 finalist, and has been published on CNN International, The Weather Channel, DPReview and PetaPixel websites. He earned honorable mention in the 2017 Monochrome Awards in both the professional fine art and landscape categories. His entire portfolio can be viewed at his “Lost Tracks of Time” website.

Take a journey with Matthew:

Photos used in Steam! Romance and Rails series

A Dangerous Passion cover: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Chama, New Mexico, March 16, 2014 

A long day of plowing the line after a recent winter storm, #489 catches its breath with snow still on the front pilot. Living at sea level, this day winded me from being in the upper elevations of the Rocky Mountains. I was at the rear of the train and hustled getting into position to capture this image while daylight was quickly turning to night. The things we do for fun.

Fugitive Hearts cover: Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, Cumberland, Maryland, December 10, 2009

Sunrise as the train pulls into the station to pick up its passengers. I remember well capturing this image. The dramatic smoke and steam combined with gorgeous morning light spoke to me.

Photos used in American Mail-Order Bride Series

Santa’s Mail-Order Bride cover: Steam Into History, New Freedom, Pennsylvania December 8, 2013

This location is only a few hours from my house. I knew of an oncoming snowstorm and arrived extra early in the morning. My 4×4 kept me safe, and the train crew put on a great show in the falling snow. The Christmas garland, ribbons, and illuminated lanterns on the locomotive add to the festivities.

Photos used in The Bride Train novella collection

Valentine’s Rose cover: Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, Yacolt, Washington, October 13, 2014

One of the all-time favorites in my portfolio – a foggy morning in the Pacific Northwest. Two minutes earlier there were horses grazing in the field. The train scared them away. The ground fog would soon burn off, taking with it a lot of the mood and atmosphere.

Patrick’s Charm cover: Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, Alamosa, Colorado, August 22, 2011

Sadly, this steam excursion railroad is no loner in operation. The locomotive sits locked up in a dark engine house. But on this summer day it was in all its glory. I don’t know why the smoke plume goes from black to gray to almost white to black and then gray again; but it draws my eye as much as the train in the surrounding Rocky Mountains.

 

Tempting Prudence cover: Cass Scenic Railroad, Cass, West Virginia, May 17, 2008

A workhorse from the days of a thriving logging industry in the West Virginia Mountains. A shay locomotive, its cylinders and drive train on one side with the boiler offset to the other for balance. A timeless reproduction on a foggy rainy day.

Seducing Susannah cover: Cass Scenic Railroad Cass, West Virginia, May 17, 2008

The same locomotive used on the Tempting Prudence cover. The three vertical steam cylinders in front of the engineer, connecting to the horizontal drive shaft are much different than a traditional steam engine with rods on both sides. One of the few times it was not raining on this day.

Born too late…

My hobby of photographing steam trains across our country has taken me well off the beaten path – without it I doubt to have ever visited any of these locations. I truly believe that life is about the journey and not the destination–the people met along the way and the stories they share, or that moment that takes you back to a better, vanished time. E.E. Burke and I have collaborated quite a bit over the years. I am thankful for her vision in selecting these images for her stories. Her choices were perfect.

Thank you, Matthew! You and I share a love for the grand old age of steam. My historical romance novels set during this period feature many characters and events straight from pages of America’s railroad history. If you are interested in reading the Steam! Romance and Rails series or The Bride Train collection, I’ve provided a handy guide for the reading order here.

You can see Matthew’s full gallery at www.losttracksoftime.com.

Steam on! 

E.E. Burke

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Can Love Eclipse Hate?

On Aug.21, 2017, parts  of Kansas witnessed an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime event: a total eclipse of the sun! Ironically, this solar event occurred on the 154th anniversary of another historical, never-to-be-forgotten event in Kansas.

The Day Hate Eclipsed Decency

On Aug. 21, 1863, Confederate ally and guerilla commander William C. Quantrill rounded up three hundred Missouri “bushwhackers” and descended on Lawrence, Kansas, wreaking a terrible vengeance on a town known for its strong stance on the abolition of slavery.

Image courtesy of KansasMemory.org, Kansas State Historical Society. “The Lawrence Massacre,” black and white illustration of Quantrill’s raid that appeared in the Sept. 5, 1863, issue of Harper’s Weekly magazine. Artist unknown.

What forces drove these men to attack a town filled with civilians? Some would say a thirst for revenge. Tit for tat after a disaster in Kansas City when a building where Confederate women prisoners were kept collapsed on top of them, and other perceived injustices. By this time, deadly conflicts had raged along the Missouri-Kansas border for nearly a decade, costing innocent lives on both sides. The violence continued to spiral as the nation grappled in a civil war.

Years later, these men who’d given in to violence and hatred had to find their way back to decency. Some, like Jesse James, never did.

Although the series, Steam! Romance and Rails, begins five years after the end of the American Civil War, the two main characters in this novel are still struggling to find healing.

Her Bodyguard, part of the series Steam! Romance and Rails, weaves history and suspense together in a tale of deceit and betrayal, heroism and sacrifice, and the unfailing power of love.

Can love eclipse hate?

For America “Amy” Langford, investing in the railroad isn’t about chasing riches. The savvy businesswoman is after bigger stakes: influence, respect, success her father didn’t live to see. Rioting settlers and underhanded competitors can’t stop her, but a killer might.

Buck O’Connor has put his violent past behind him, but being a wanted man dictates a life of deceit. So what’s one more lie? He becomes Amy’s protector so he can secretly thwart her railroad’s progress to help his cousin avoid financial ruin. A great scheme—until he falls in love.

While Buck hides his true purpose, Amy lies to herself about her growing feelings for her bodyguard. But the price for deceit is steep, and secrets from the past could destroy their future—if they survive.

“E.E. Burke understands the heart of romance…and delivers it!” New York Times bestselling author Maggie Shayne

“Her portrayal of strong, realistic, well-defined characters and meticulous research transports readers back to the American West.” Jill Marie Landis, New York Times bestselling author

“Amy and Buck had chemistry and steam between them to power a train! Their push-pull relationship and witty banter was riveting.” Melanie Friedman, Bookworm2Bookworm Reviews

In this excerpt, Buck has just discovered that the railroad promoter he’s supposed to remove is, in fact, a woman–the same woman who offered him a position as her bodyguard.

Buck opened the door to the newspaper office and stepped inside.

Two men were engaged in a discussion. A bearded man behind a desk piled high with newspapers glanced up. The other man sitting in front of the desk twisted in his chair, and then bolted to his feet, his eyebrows arching nearly to a sweep of black hair.

Buck met pale blue eyes similar to his own, but untainted with the icy gray of the cold-hearted bastard who’d sired him. He took an uncertain step forward, waiting a heartbeat for the familiar grin. “Sean?”

Relief flickered across the matured face, however Sean didn’t embrace him as he’d always done in years past. He offered a handshake instead. “”Buck, we wondered if you’d show up.”

Buck gripped his cousin’s outstretched hand and squelched a twinge of disappointment. He hadn’t really expected to be greeted with open arms. They’d not seen each other for years and in between had served on opposite sides of a war. Yet, he had hoped for a warmer welcome than this.

His gaze flickered over his cousin’s shoulder to the grizzled man who’d stood, waiting to be introduced. Sean did his duty. “Buck, this is Amos Sanford. He’s the editor of the Workingman’s Journal. I wrote to you about him. He’s helping us settlers organize.”

Sanford inclined his head but didn’t come out from behind the desk to shake his visitor’s hand. “Mr. O’Connor, good to see you could make it here to help us out.”

Buck held a neutral expression. “What kind of help would that be?”

“What kind?” Sean looked startled. “Well, the kind I wrote to you about.” He sent a worried glance the editor’s direction.

“We need your help with removing an obstacle,” Sanford said smoothly.

Aggravation churned in Buck’s stomach. “An obstacle? Is that what you call her?”

When neither man answered, he strolled over to the desk and picked up a newspaper. The headline urged settlers to rise up and defend their rights. Where had he heard that kind of rhetoric before? Simmering, he rolled the paper like a club and tapped it against his palm. He had a good mind to beat these two over the head with it. “You got the wrong man for the job. I don’t kill women.”

Sanford sat and leaned back in his chair, stroking a gray beard that reached to the top button of his vest. Canyon deep lines rearranged themselves into a paternalistic frown. “You must have misunderstood, Mr. O’Connor. We haven’t asked you to kill anybody, much less a woman.”

Buck tossed the newspaper aside and snatched Sean’s letter out of his pocket. He slapped it on the desk. “States here you want me to get rid of a railroad promoter. That don’t mean sending a body away on a pleasure excursion.”

The chair creaked as Sanford reached for the letter. He peered through round spectacles perched at the end of his nose, perusing the lines like he’d never seen them. The crafty old fox had probably helped Sean craft the damn missive. After a minute, he folded the letter and crossed his arms over his chest. “There are many ways to remove obstacles, Mr. O’Connor. I suspect you’re bright enough to figure it out. Sean told me you led a company of irregulars during the war. The fact you’re alive proves you’ve still got a few tricks up your sleeve.”

An alarm tripped in Buck’s head. So that’s why the Land League wanted to hire him. They thought he was still in the ambushing business. He looked at Sean, who wouldn’t meet his eyes. He’d risked getting his neck stretched by returning to Kansas, but honor demanded he at least try to right a wrong done to his kinsman. Now it looked like he was a fool who’d walked into a trap.

His cousin stood at rigid attention, his tanned face drawn tight as the hide on a drum, not meeting Buck’s eyes. An ache started in the center of his chest. Despite their past, they were the only family each other had left. How could Sean have betrayed him like this?

Pulling back his coat, he revealed the twin Navy Colts at his side before pinning the editor with a cold stare. He hadn’t killed anyone since the day he’d left this godforsaken state, but he would reinforce the perception he was a dangerous man to cross so they’d think twice about hiring him to do their dirty work and then trying to collect a reward. “My wartime sentiments don’t have a damn thing to do with this.”

Sanford huffed. “We don’t care about your sentiments. It’s your skills we’re interested in.”

“So, you admit it. You want to hire a big gun to take care of one little lady.”

“Don’t be fooled by that pretty face,” Sanford blustered. “Amy Preston will do anything to advance that cursed railroad. With this Young Ladies Immigration Society she’s using the age-old strategy for dividing men. Women.”

Buck snorted a derisive laugh. “What’s so dangerous about importing wives for a bunch of horny settlers?”

The editor swelled up like a toad. “She’s dangling petticoats as an enticement to get us to pay those exorbitant prices her boss is charging for land. These boys were soldiers and most of them are unmarried. I suppose you’ve noticed how few decent women there are out here. It’s a devilishly brilliant scheme concocted by a woman who’d sell her soul for thirty pieces of silver.”

It was a brilliant idea, but Buck had already figured out Amy was smart. Her motives, however, weren’t so clear. Was she really that greedy? “I met her already, so I know what she’s up to, but she thinks somebody’s trying to kill her.” He narrowed his eyes in a way that put most men in a fearful sweat. “If I decide to help, I need to know whether you’ve hired somebody else—and don’t even think about lying to me.”

“We don’t have enough money to hire somebody else,” Sean grumbled. “If somebody’s trying to kill her, it’s probably ‘cause she robbed him blind.”

Sanford grunted an agreement. “Maybe she’s making that up so you’ll feel sorry for her. Where did you say you met her?”

Buck didn’t say, nor was he interested in providing the details. “I happened across her. She was waiting on some fellow who was supposed to help with that immigration society you mentioned.”

Sanford’s eyes sharpened with interest. “We had a talk with him. I don’t think he’s interested in volunteering anymore. Did she happen to mention her next move? We can’t afford to lose any more leverage against the devil who’s behind this fraud.”

James Joy. The force behind the Border Tier and Satan incarnate if the settlers were to be believed. He was Amy’s boss. So what did that make her? Last night, she’d looked downright angelic, even wringing wet.

If Sanford hadn’t hired another gun, then her attacker was likely a renegade. Was he an irate settler, an unhappy farmer, one of the men who’d signed up for her program and gotten an ugly wife? The list could be endless.

“She didn’t mention her plans.” Buck lifted his hat and threaded his fingers through his hair, his unease getting worse. She hadn’t told him much, but she’d played him masterfully to gain his promise of protection, something he’d offered to no woman since being betrayed by another smart, pretty one.

Still, he’d given his word and he wouldn’t go back on it. He adjusted his coat, covering the guns at his side. “Just so we’re clear, I’m not using violence against a woman, so I don’t know what it is you want me to do.”

Sanford jerked to his feet. “Distract her. Deceive her. Discredit her. We don’t care, so long as you prevent her from succeeding in her schemes.”

The frown melted as he came out from behind the desk and clapped a hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Why don’t you boys go over to the saloon and get reacquainted? Tell them I’ll pay for your drinks. I’m sure after you hear Sean’s side of things, it will clear up any misgivings you might have about ridding us of that troublesome woman.”

Buck shrugged off the unwanted familiarity. He hadn’t signed on for this kind of work. On the other hand, he couldn’t walk away without at least hearing what his cousin had to say.

Sanford casually laid his fingers on a dog-eared Bible at the corner of his desk. “You recall the story of Samson and Delilah? Makes a man think twice about falling for a pretty woman.”

Her Bodyguard, the second book in the series Romance and Rails, weaves suspense and history together in a tale of deceit, betrayal and the unfailing power of love.

Read Her Bodyguard today.

Or purchase the entire Steam! Series in a boxed set at a special price!

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Did you see the eclipse yesterday? What did it look like in your part of the world?

 

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