The most dangerous man may be the one she hired…
For America “Amy” Langford, investing in the Border Tier 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. When a ruggedly handsome drifter comes to her rescue, she trusts her instincts and hires him on the spot as her bodyguard. Too late, she discovers the most dangerous man may be the one she hired.
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 the secrets they both hide could destroy their future—if they survive.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
While I was visiting the national historic site at Fort Scott, Kansas, I came across a pamphlet that had information about an 1870s railroad race. I researched it and discovered a story that was far more exciting than anything I could dream up. Her Bodyguard is based on this historical event. In fact, the house where my heroine lives was inspired by a Victorian era home, now a bed & breakfast, the Lyons Twin Mansions Inn.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
All the characters in this book are based on actual historical characters (or an amalgam of various different people). Buck was inspired by the stories I read about Missouri’s “bushwhackers” during the Civil War. Amy was inspired by stories of early suffragettes who came from Kansas.
March 1, 1870
Former Cherokee Neutral Lands,
Hell must be like this. Not lit with blazing fires, but cold and gray, barren as the dead prairie. Even the wind howled like a deranged demon, flinging bits of ice into Buck’s face. He drew the blanket and oilskin tighter, though nothing warmed the persistent chill in his bones that had gotten worse as he’d ridden north through Indian Territory. He was a walking dead man here in Kansas, so it seemed somehow fitting he’d entered the abode of the damned.
He patted Goliath’s neck, glad for the company of his horse. He had few acquaintances, even fewer friends, and none who would risk their necks for another man’s cause. Buck wouldn’t have risked getting his neck stretched had the plea not come from his only remaining kinsman. At this point, however, freezing to death seemed more likely than being lynched.
The saddle creaked as he straightened. All around, he could see nothing but mounds of switch grass and stunted trees. No houses or barns, not even smoke from a chimney. He swore, his breath sending out a white cloud. The wind snatched it away. His plan had been to reach Girard before dark, buy a hot meal and a warm bed before meeting with his cousin to get details on the job he’d come to do. But he couldn’t risk going on. He had to find shelter.
The fading daylight and worsening sleet made it difficult to see, but was that something just ahead? Buck touched his heels to his stallion’s sides, moving closer to the mass taking shape. A buggy, slumped to one side. In front of it stood a single horse with its head down and a woman huddled in a cloak, removing the traces. What the hell was she doing out here all by herself?
Buck sat back in the saddle, uneasy. He’d made it a habit to avoid damsels in distress after being betrayed by one. However, he couldn’t very well leave a woman out here on a lonely road in the middle of an ice storm. With a muttered curse, he kicked Goliath into a fast trot.
On his way to her, he passed the buggy’s rear wheel, lying on its side in the brush like a wounded animal. Odd, he’d never seen a wheel fly off like that. Generally, the metal rim popped or a spoke snapped. Had the axle nut been loose when she started out? She was damn lucky the buggy hadn’t rolled on top of her. He had seen that and it wasn’t pretty.
His stallion whinnied, excited by the scent of the woman’s horse. The mare threw its head and answered.
The lady hadn’t noticed him because she was so focused on unhitching the fidgety bay. But now she whirled around. Her hood, drawn low over her face, shadowed her expression but it was clear by her startled response she hadn’t expected anyone to come up on her. Rather than calling out for help, as he anticipated, she dashed toward the buggy’s compartment.
The mare shied away from the sudden movement, then reared up, squealing. The buggy started to rock.
“Look out,” Buck hollered.
The woman didn’t move away from the danger. Instead, she dove into the compartment.
“Goddamn it!” The curse was lost in the wind. He came out of the saddle, dropped the reins on the ground. In a few long strides he’d reached her. “Get out of there.”
What the hell was she doing? Trying to crawl beneath the buggy’s seat?
The contraption tipped dangerously to one side. Buck snaked an arm around her middle and hauled her out of the death trap.
She twisted around, yowling like an enraged cat. “Get your hands off me.”
Her horse squealed and tried to run. The lame buggy hopped.
“Stop screechin.’ You’re scaring the hors—” Something blistered Buck’s cheekbone. “Ouch! What the devil?”
“Let me go!” She went for his face again with her claws.
“Stop that.” He swatted her hands away, but managed to keep hold of her while he backed away from the buggy. “I’m just tryin’ to—”
Her sharp teeth sank through the leather glove into his finger.
“Blazes!” He yanked his hand away and then grabbed a flailing arm, pinning her against him. Splaying his fingers over the side of her head, he smashed her cheek against his chest to prevent her from biting him again.
Furious screams became muffled growls. Her booted feet, dangling above the ground, lashed out to kick him. Thank God her skirts got in the way or she would’ve hammered his shins.
“Stop fighting, you loony woman.” He sucked in a breath and checked his temper. Large as he was, and with her no bigger than a minute, he could easily break her.
As he adjusted his hold on her, the hood of her cloak fell back. His fingers slid through a silken mass of hair. In an instant, he became aware of the woman he held—her soft breasts and flaring hips, a delicate fragrance like wildflowers. Something hot and primitive coursed through him. His body responded before his brain could catch up.
She must’ve sensed his reaction because she started swinging her legs again.
He held her tighter. “Will you listen? I’m tryin’ to help.”
“Not…helping.” She gasped the words. “You’re…choking me.”
Buck eased his hold. His physical reaction couldn’t be helped, but he could sure as hell control his strength and keep from hurting her. “All right. I’m setting you down.” He hesitated a moment before releasing her. “Don’t fly at me with those nails.”
She raised her eyes. The black centers swallowed the golden irises like an eclipse of the sun.
His gut clenched. He’d seen that look in the eyes of men he’d faced down, but not women he aided. He hadn’t meant to frighten her. He frowned, more comfortable with being annoyed. “That horse about pulled the buggy over on top of you. That’s why I grabbed you.”
Her dark brows winged up. “You…you were helping me?”
“That was the plan.”
She seemed further confused when he snatched his blanket off the ground where it had fallen during their tussle and flung it around her. Then he set off to retrieve her horse. That buggy wasn’t going anywhere.
He approached the nervous mare with soft, shushing sounds and laid his hands on its quivering withers. The frightened creature stilled and let him remove the traces.
Sleet peppered the brim of his hat, although the worst of the storm seemed to have passed. He took a look around the bleak surroundings. They were still were in danger of freezing if he didn’t find shelter soon.
After unhitching the harness, he brought the horse around. Thankfully, the woman hadn’t run off. She’d inched over to the buggy compartment and was rummaging around again, maybe looking for something.
“Unless you’ve got an axle nut in there, we can’t fix this buggy. Can you ride?
She whirled around with a tiny pistol clutched in her hands. “I’m not g-going anywhere with you.”
Buck’s pulse kicked up a notch. Her hands shook so hard he worried she might actually fire the damn thing before he could talk some sense into her. “You plan on staying here?”
Her chin came up. “I plan on taking my horse.”
He bit back a curse. Did she think he was stealing the nag? Why was he even bothering to help her? He might as well head off down that road, leave her to her own devices. No one could blame him. Only…he’d never abandon a woman. Not even one that was stark raving mad.
“Christ, I don’t have time for this foolishness,” he muttered.
He offered her the reins, but when she reached out to take them, he locked his fingers around her wrist and nabbed the gun. Then he hauled the reluctant damsel to where he’d left Goliath.
The stallion had remained, as trained, right where they’d stopped. He didn’t dare put the woman on her horse. Frightened as she was, she’d probably race off and end up breaking her neck. He looped her mare’s reins around his saddle horn.
“Wait!” she burst out. “I have m-money. I can p-pay you more.”
“What are you clatterin’ about? I don’t want your money.” Buck nearly added if he’d wanted to rob her, he’d have done it and been gone by now. “We got to find shelter before we freeze to death. You live nearby?”
The woman stared up at him, her eyes rounding. Was she so addled she couldn’t understand what he was asking? Maybe the cold had gotten to her. He’d take her and head down that road, which he assumed led into Girard.
He lifted the woman onto Goliath and mounted behind her. There wasn’t enough room in the saddle for two, especially with all those skirts, but somehow he managed to get her situated across his lap. Thank the saints she didn’t go into conniptions.
The ends of her cloak snapped in the wind. She shuddered so hard it made his teeth rattle. He opened his greatcoat then wrapped them both in the blanket and oilskin.
She burrowed into his chest like a baby rabbit. Her vulnerability tugged at his heart. Wouldn’t kill him to offer her comfort.
He curled his arm around her. “Warmer now?”
She nodded her head.
“Where do you live?”
“I…we have a farm…I’ll see to it you’re well compensated if you take me there.”
So, she was married. No surprise. With so few women out here, even a crazy one would be snatched up, especially one smelling this sweet and with soft curves in all the right places.
“How far is it?”
“Up the road, just a little ways.”
“A little ways? As in few minutes?”
“I…I’m not sure exactly.”
Buck snorted in disbelief. She didn’t know where she lived? “We can’t wander around. It’s getting dark.”
“We could make Girard. It’s maybe a half hour’s ride.”
Maybe? He turned the stallion and peered in the direction she’d indicated, gave a grumbling assent. He was going to Girard anyway. Although he wasn’t sure they’d make it before night set in and the temperatures dropped even lower. “Anything else nearby?”
“That you can’t find.”
Grudgingly, Buck nudged Goliath onto the road. According to his cousin’s letter, thousands of settlers had poured into these former Indian lands. If so, where were they? Did they all live in town? Or was this strip of land reserved for the railroad’s use? The exorbitant price they’d put on a godforsaken wilderness seemed ludicrous. Of course, why anyone would want to farm it was also a mystery. Didn’t matter though. Sean had settled here, had worked the land, and now the railroad’s owner—rich bastard—was trying to cheat him out of it.
Buck tilted his head down to keep the wind from snatching his hat. The woman turned her face into his vest like she was trying to warm her nose. He cradled her closer, felt her relax in his arms. Warmth spread through him, and not just from the heat of their bodies, it came from someplace deep inside, a part of him he’d thought was long dead.
He squelched a flare of alarm. Concern for another living creature, that’s all it was. Nothing more. He didn’t give a tinker’s damn about anybody, save his family—what was left of it.
They’d gone only a few miles when something caught his eye. He straightened and peered at a shadow. Whatever it was, it was big. Then he sighed with relief. “There’s a barn over there.”
She peeked out from beneath her hood. “It’s abandoned, and the house was burned down. We can’t stop there.”
The hell they couldn’t. “So long as there’s a roof, we’re stopping.”
About the Author:
E.E. Burke writes sexy, suspenseful historical romance set in the American west. Her latest series, Steam! Romance and Rails, features stories based on true events from America’s golden age of steam railroads. Her writing has earned accolades in regional and national contests, including the prestigious Golden Heart®.
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