Last week, we met Cole Shepherd and Guinevere “Gwin” Pierce at the tender ages of sixteen and fourteen. This week, we jump ahead several years to Topeka, Kansas, 1878, when neither one has a conscious recollection of that eventful first meeting.
Gwin and her ten-year-old brother Arthur are the only survivors of the murder of their troupe after playing a tent revival in San Francisco. They’ve fled California in fear for their lives but have since been apprehended by the authorities.
Cole Shepherd is a brand new Pinkerton detective. His first assignment? Escort the beautiful con artist and her precocious little brother across country by train to testify. His only directive? Don’t “misplace” his wily charges along the way. Simple. Right?
Gwin sat, restless and stewing, on a stool next to Cole Shepherd and Arthur at the bar in the dining area of the Topeka train station. She’d barely touched the food on her plate. This was because she’d been unable to resist staring at Cole Shepherd’s handsome profile as he’d blithely shoveled away his own midday meal.
She was entranced by the lines and angles of his princely face despite her efforts to be objective. Lancelot. Gwin had recognized him immediately. How could she not? Hadn’t he lived in her dreams for as long as she could remember?
Cole stabbed a piece of beefsteak with his fork and turned to catch her gaze before she could look away. He gave her an infuriating grin. “What’s the matter, Miss Pierce? Do I have gravy on my chin?”
Gwin scowled. “No. Why do you ask? Do you normally dribble at meals?”
He shrugged and turned back to his plate. “It’s just that you’ve been staring at me ever since we sat down. Either I’ve got gravy on my chin or you’ve fallen in love with me.”
Before Gwin could retort, the blast of a train’s whistle cut the air. She heard the rhythmic chufa-chufa of a locomotive’s steam engine as it pulled into the depot and turned her head in time to see the Union Pacific Express come to a squealing halt in front of the open dining hall. The number on the side of the engine read 840. This was the train that, if Cole Shepherd had his way, would carry the three of them most of the distance to San Francisco. This was the train that, if Gwin had her way, would pull out of this station without them.
So, what do you think? Does Cole have his work cut out for him?
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