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West End Train Station, Boston Massachusetts
Lady Margaret Travers stared at the three steps leading up to the train and took a deep breath. The sounds of people talking, laughing, and shouting, and of the hissing steam coming from the locomotive engine all faded as she contemplated stepping onto the train. Three steps and their escape was complete. This was the moment she and her sister Millicent had planned for six weeks on the ship crossing over from England to Boston. And yet she hesitated to board.
"Hurry up then, Maggie. Let's get on! This is stellar!" Millie's voice whispered in her ear.
Millie was excited. She always was the one who craved adventure and something new. Maggie was more grounded, the one who liked safe, predictable events. And this ... this was definitely not safe or predictable. It was dangerous, some would say foolhardy.
But truth be told, there was no way on God's green Earth that she was going to marry a man she'd never met, regardless if he was an earl or that her father signed a marriage contract.
Maggie grabbed the handrail with her right hand, gripped the valise with her left and stepped onto the train. An enormous weight seemed to lift off her shoulders as her feet touched the wood planked floor of the landing. She took a deep breath and walked into the train car. Millie was right behind her, practically dancing with exuberance.
"Millie," she turned to look at her younger sister. She stood on her tiptoes and gazed around with mischievous brown eyes.
She shook her head. "It's not an adventure, puss."
Millie smiled that wide, mischievous grinof hers. "Oh, yes it is! It's a grand adventure! I wish I could see Mrs. Rutherford's face when we don't appear at the hotel as planned! The old biddy will likely have apoplexy!"
Maggie found their private compartment and slid the door open. Two long seats with a smattering of cushion. Not a luxury accommodation, but within their limited funds. All they had was in Maggie's reticule, carefully exchanged at the bank before they came to the train station. Between them, they had five hundred American dollars to start a new life in Corpus Christi, Texas. She hoped it would be enough. She sat down and dropped the valise, packed only with a few essentials, on the floor.
"It's not nice to be so mean spirited toward Mrs. Rutherford. After all, she agreed to be our chaperone at Papa's urging and left behind her life for at least three months. She's well ... she's just ... all right, she's an old pickle," Maggie said as she sat down and spread her purple traveling suit comfortably.
Millie practically bounced into the seat across from her. Her red curls blew around her face like a sunset halo. She set the basket of food they'd purchased beside her.
"I can't help it, Maggie," Millie said as she turned her attention to the window. "Oh, look, you can see Wind Dancer being loaded!"
Maggie looked out to see her thoroughbred mare being walked into the train's cargo section. She was going to be their transportation when they got to Texas. If necessary, to be sold for funds. She didn't even want to contemplate that. She was the only other thing they took with them from the ship. The rest of their clothes and belongings were left behind with the others to be transported to the hotel to await them. A hotel they would never step foot in. Their maids and chaperone would find out this evening when the letter Maggie had written would be delivered. It would take another six weeks before their father found out what they had done.
Maggie unpinned her hat and laid the purple concoction down on the seat. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, willing the tears away. She would not cry over this. She was twenty-five years old. Old enough to know her own mind and make her own decisions. This was one she could not, would not, regret. Her life in London was gone for good. She was going to be an American now, a Texan. Life as she knew it would never be the same.
It seemed like hell had taken a lesson from the train companies in America. Maggie firmly believed that hell could not be any less comfortable, smell worse, or have a lower caliber of people than the train she had the misfortune to be on.
There was the widow with five ill-kempt, ill-mannered children. The overweight leering bible salesman. A couple of cowboys that snickered and eyeballed them. And she was sure there were at least one or two fallen women selling their wares in the dining car. Millie absorbed it all like the adventuress she was.
Maggie was beyond annoyed. She was disgusted and ready to simply buy a house in the middle of the Texas prairie. Forget Aunt Gertrude.
Sighing, Maggie tried to put her hair back into a semblance of order, but it was extremely hot on the train. Apparently it was extremely hot in Texas, and very humid. Her normally wavy, honey-brown hair was sticking in all different directions, including to her neck. And the plum wool of her traveling suit made her itchy in various unmentionable places on her body.
She had taken off the jacket, although her blouse was still buttoned up to her neck and down to her wrists. Millie had unbuttoned at least three buttons, exposing her neck. And no amount of chastising changed her mind. Millie was going to be Millie. Sometimes it was hard being an older sister to such a stubborn little hellion, but she loved her sister. She was her best friend and confidante. Maggie didn't know if she could have made the journey without her.
She took Aunt Gertrude's letter out of her reticule and unfolded it again. Rereading her missive was a way to pass the time, which she'd done dozens of times over the past two days. She hoped when they made it to Corpus Christi that she would be as kind and giving to her wayward nieces as she always had been. Maggie's stomach clenched at the thought that she would force them on the next ship bound for England. No one was going to force her to do anything ever again.
Millie was staring out the window again at the passing countryside. It really was quite lovely, with lots of trees and tall grass. She leaned forward and pressed her forehead to the dirty glass.
"Millie, we're dirty enough without you rubbing your face on there," she admonished.
"There are some horses back there, Maggie. They are riding right up to the locomotive," she gasped. "Bloody hell! I think the train's being robbed!"
Before Maggie could gather her thoughts, the sound of screaming brakes assaulted her ears right before she was thrown off the seat and onto Millie. They collided, knocking heads and squealing like little girls.
Maggie couldn't even get up off Millie as the force of the train stopping kept her pinned against her.
"Good thing we haven't eaten much on this trip, Maggie, or you'd have flattened me," Millie chortled from below her.
"Are you all right?"
"I think so. My head's banged up, and you kicked me in the shin, but otherwise, top notch."
The train gave a great shudder and stopped completely. Maggie was still clutching Aunt Gertrude's letter, which was now a crumpled heap. She pushed herself up to her knees and shook her head to clear it. She stuffed the crumpled letter in her reticule and stared out the window.
"Did you say the train was being robbed?" Maggie finally replayed Millie's words in her head.
"I think so! There were men on horses and..."
Millie's words were cut off when the door to their compartment was thrust open. Maggie's back was to the door, but she saw her sister's eyes widen. Those brown orbs flicked to hers and she saw something she'd never seen there before. Fear.
Brit Spalding narrowed his gaze at the two women he found in the most expensive car on the train. They were bound to have money. There was a brunette on her knees on the seat and a little redhead peeping out from behind her.
"Okay, ladies, hand over your jewelry, money, and anything else of value."
The brunette stood and smoothed her skirt before turning to look at him. It was good thing he was wearing a neckerchief over his face or she would have seen his mouth drop open. His cock jumped to attention and pointed like a compass.
She was exquisite. Creamy complexion, narrow face and nose, eyes almost the color of amber, deep pink bow shaped lips, high arched eyebrows the color of dark honey. She had a beautiful body too. Curvaceous, tall, with graceful limbs, and an abundance of thick hair that he would love to sift through his hands and bury his face into.
Lord but this was a gorgeous piece of feminine flesh.
"Pardon me?" she said.
The sound of a clipped British accent almost made his soldier lay down again. It reminded him of his mother. Of a place he would like to forget.
"You heard me. Hand it all over. Now," he said.
He took a step toward her, pistol raised. He gave her points for bravery. Her eyes flickered to the gun and then back to his. She didn't move a muscle.
"I have no intention of giving you anything," she said. "So be on your way."
Brit threw back his head and laughed. "You've got brass, honey. I'll give you that."
"What's brass?" piped up the redhead.
"Be quiet, Millie," the brunette said through gritted teeth.
"Brass balls. Ya know? Being able to stick it to the best of them without backing down."
"Brass balls?" the redhead named Millie repeated.
He saw the brunette flush. Oh, she knew what brass balls were. Obviously the other didn't.
"Millicent, be quiet!"
She shushed her with one hand in a chopping gesture. "That's enough!"
Maggie sure did have a lot of gumption, not to mention a habit for giving orders. Well, Brit wasn't going to take them.
"Yup, that's enough all right. If you don't give them over, I take them."
He reached for her reticule, clutched in her hand, and she slapped his hand. Slapped him hard enough that it stung. A lot.
He grabbed her wrist and wrenched the reticule out of her hand.
"Nobody hits Brit. Do you hear me? Nobody."
"And you, I suppose, are Brit?" she spat.
"At your service."
All he wanted to do was kiss the hell out of this one in the purple dress and press himself close. She definitely had passion. What she would do in a bed was enough to feed his dreams for weeks.
"You are definitely not at my service or you would not be taking my reticule. Give it back."
He grinned under his neckerchief. "For a kiss."
He heard Millie start to protest and Maggie shushed her again.
"I will appeal to you as a gentleman. Do give back the reticule and go rob the other patrons on this conveyance. They are all in dire need of your services."
Brit laughed again. Damn, he hadn't laughed in so long and now she had made him do it twice in five minutes.
"Nothing doing, Maggie."
He started to back out of the compartment when she lunged for him. For a heartbeat, that beautiful body was pressed up against him. He smelled lilacs, soap, and woman. His cock was pushing against the buttons now, reaching for her. He rubbed himself just slightly up and down, then lifted his neckerchief and kissed her once, before releasing her.
Good God, that was the best five seconds he'd had in years.
"Stay here, woman. I don't have time for that now. Maybe later."
She stumbled backwards into the seat then sprang up with her hands clenched into fists.
"How dare you!"
"Oh, I dare a lot, little lady. Gotta go."
He ducked out of the compartment and ran. Sorry to leave Miss Maggie behind. She was the first person that made him feel anything. It had been such a long time.
Maggie was breathing hard and felt on the verge of tears. That ... that arrogant ass! He stole all their money! And Aunt Gertrude's letter! How would they survive or even find her!
"Millie, I've got to go after that man."
"What?" Millie asked.
"He's got all our money and the letter! I have to get my reticule back!"
"But Maggie, he's a bandit! With a gun!"
Maggie didn't care. All she could focus on was the fact that he had taken all their money. Without a backward glance. She wasn't about to allow him to steal her future. She snatched her hat and jacket and stalked out of the compartment with Millie at her heels.
"What are you going to do Maggie?"
She marched out of the train car and into the next. Out the window, she could see the outlaws mounting the horses. She had to hurry.
Maggie put on her jacket and hat as she walked. She found the conductor in the third car she went through.
"Sir! Excuse me, what is the next stop?"
The conductor was an older white haired man who looked dazed.
"The next stop? Beaumont."
Maggie turned to Millie and grabbed her hands. "Listen, you need to stay on the train and get off at the next stop. Beaumont. I will find you. Do you understand puss?"
Millie nodded her head, her brown eyes wide.
Maggie hugged her tightly then took off running to the cargo car, her skirt hiked up, petticoats flying. The other patrons on the train stared at her as she held onto her hat and ran like no lady should. There wasn't a choice. She needed her horse.
When she finally arrived at the cargo car, it took a few minutes of arguing with the train engineer and the cargo person. They were adamant, however, they didn't know Lady Margaret Travers. In the end, they relented and she took Wind Dancer and her tack off the train.
She quickly saddled her, then used the stump of a tree to mount. She turned back to the train and saw Millie standing at the open door, staring at her.
"I will find you, Millie! Stay in Beaumont!"
She nodded and waved. "Be careful, Maggie!"
Maggie looked in the distance and saw a cloud of dust from the bandits' horses. She kneed Wind Dancer into motion and took off after them.