From the moment Jesse Baker collides with Erin O'Grady on a Boston train platform, he faces a dilemma. For once, Jesse doesn't want to lie about who and what he is. Yet if she learns he's a con artist, not a cowboyand the urchin with him is certainly not his brothershe'll never give him a chance.
Erin suspects there's more to the enigmatic cowboy than meets the eye. But the sheltered socialite is certain his deep compassion is real. On the long Christmastime train ride to Wyoming, hearts and courage are tested and true motives revealed. And the journey that began in a charade may end with redemptionand a very real love.
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author LACY WILLIAMS is a wife and mom from Oklahoma. She has loved romance from childhood and promises readers happy endings in all her stories. Her books have finaled in the RT Reviewer's Choice Awards (three years in a row), the Golden Quill and the Booksellers' Best. Lacy loves to hear from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org. She can be found at www.lacywilliams.net, www.Facebook.com/lacywilliamsbooks or www.Twitter.com/lacy_williams.
Read an Excerpt
December 1890Boston, Massachusetts
"You'd best hurry, miss. The train's leaving now."
A loud whistle drowned out her thanks, so Erin O'Grady simply smiled at the man behind the ticket counter and turned to the companion at her elbow.
"Are you certain this trip is all right with your father?" he asked.
The query from the man beside her was one of the two reasons she wouldn't consider marrying Patrick MacKennaher dear friend was far too concerned about her father's opinion. And Erin wanted the freedom her father refused to give her. At nineteen, she'd never been away from home on her own. Until now.
The second reason was that she'd known Patrick since he'd worn short pants and there was no attraction between them. But he was her closest friend, as evidenced by the fact that he'd brought her to the train station this morning. And he'd never lied to her, not like her father had.
"By the way, you look horrible," he continued. "Where did you get that awful dress anyway?"
Sometimes her friend could be a little too honest.
"One of the maids let me borrow it." The housedress in question was drab brown and did nothing for Erin's figure. It was inches too long, and Erin had stepped on the front hem several times in the short time since she'd donned it this morning before leaving her father's house.
But the dress served an important purpose. If her father managed to figure out she was leaving Boston by herself and sent someone to fetch her, they'd never recognize Erin in the ugly dress. She hadn't recognized herself when she'd used the looking glass to pin her hair up.
She couldn't wait to get far enough away from Boston to change into the traveling dress she'd packed.
Erin accepted her valise from Pat and checked over his shoulder. She was gratified to see he'd entrusted her other luggage to one of the porters.
"Are you certain this is what you want to do?" Pat asked.
"I'll be fine." It wasn't quite the answer she knew he wanted, but it was all she could give him. She only hoped it was true, was still raw from the confrontation with her father several days ago. Her anticipation for the trip was muted by the familial discord.
Ignoring the worried crease between Pat's auburn brows, she bent to retrieve the packages she'd bought for her brother and his family on her way to the train station. Christmas gifts that she hadn't had time to stow in the trunk that would make the trip with her. She bobbled the armful as she straightened, and Pat steadied her with a hand to her elbow.
"I'll be sure to tell Da you tried to dissuade me from going."
Patrick blanched, his freckles standing out against his pale cheeks. "But"
"I'll be fine," she repeated, fervently praying that it was true. She'd never done anything like this before.
The train's whistle blew again and she stood on tiptoe to buss his cheek, then turned to the crowded platform.
She was on her way to Wyoming. On her own.
Two days out of Boston's Deer Island House of Corrections and all Jesse Baker could hear was the ring of his stepfather's voice.
You'll never amount to anythingnever be more than a petty thief.
He remembered the disgusted look that had accompanied the shouted words as if it had happened yesterday instead of nearly a decade ago when he'd been a boy of fifteen.
He wasn't a thief. People gave him their money, once he persuaded them to his line of thought. A confidence man wasn't a thief, even if he'd been sentenced to five years for swindling.
Although he wasn't exactly a con man any longer. He'd been out of the game for five years, while he'd been in prison. Two days of making his own decisions had muddied the waters he thought were so clear upon his release. He hadn't had any intention of returning to his life of tricks and schemeshe'd intended to find honest work if he could.
But a visit to the family of Jim Kenner, his former cell mate, had changed everything. He'd promised to bring Jim's brother home to Boston, and he'd hoped that would relieve his guilt.
Now he needed money to get to Chicago. To fulfill his promise made to Jim as he'd died. And he needed to leave now, today. There was no time to get an honest job and save up the funds it would take to buy a train ticket. Even though his mother was still alive, he didn't ask her for help. She wouldn't have forgiven him, not even after all these years.
Jesse blinked away those thoughts. He needed to concentrate, needed to find a lemonsomeone who would give him the money he needed.
He scanned the crowd on the platform, some people headed for trains and others disembarking. Men in suits, families with children, porters juggling luggage There! He spotted the perfect woman, across the platform.
She was tall, wearing a dress with an oversized bustle. White gloves up to her elbows. An ostentatious hat complete with a garish purple feather covered her perfectly coifed hair.
She was obviously made of money. And seemed to be alone. The perfect target.
Jesse began moving through the crowd, already spinning a story in his head. My sister's eloped with an unscrupulous man. Need to get to Chicago to stop the wedding. Or maybe, I've got a sick aunt and need to visit before she dies. The best stories always evoked sympathy. And the truth was too convolutedand who would believe a man fresh out of prison?
What he really needed to do was figure out a way to incorporate his borrowed clothing into the story. Jim's sister, the only person who'd shown him any kindness since his release two days ago, was a laundress and had given him the clothing that someone had left behind. The denims, woolen shirt, leather overcoat, boots and Stetson had turned Jesse into a cowboy. Albeit with boots that pinched his toes a little and a hat that felt uncomfortable after going without for such a long period of time.
What would a cowboy be doing in Boston?
He kept the ugly plume in sight as he followed her through the thicker part of the crowd. Someone bumped into him and for a second Jesse was back in the prison yard amid crooks with burly shoulders and cold eyes. He shook himself into the present. This wasn't prison. But what were all these people doing here?
Then all the packages and cheerful faces began to make sense. It was only a few days until Christmas.
Jesse hated Christmas.
He shoved the emotion down into the blackness inside. Don't get distracted. Just focus on getting to Chicago.
But then he nearly stumbled on top of a young woman in a brown dress crossing his path. For a moment he froze as everything else around him faded and he met her startling blue eyes.
Then she turned to rush toward another departing train and the moment was broken.
He couldn't help glancing over his shoulder and saw that an unsavory-looking character followed the girl a few paces back. He knew the look on the man's facepredatory, focused. As if he were chasing the girl and not merely a fellow passenger who happened to be going in the same direction. He doubted the girl was even aware of the man a few steps behind her.
Don't lose focus. Jesse fought the distraction again and forced his eyes back to that feather as it bobbed above other passengers' heads.
But the young woman had reminded him of his little sister, Helenwho he hadn't seen in a decadeand Jesse couldn't just ignore that this girl was in danger. Maybe in danger just of losing her wallet, but his time in prison had taught him there were many evil-minded men who would do much worse to a young woman alone.
Jesse changed direction in time to see the unscrupulous man's shoulder connect with the girl, sending her sprawling. On the crowded platform, it could've been an accident, but Jesse knew it wasn't. He twisted and elbowed his way past several people toward the girl who scrambled to gather several brown-wrapped packages scattered at her feet.
Jesse glared at the man who'd knocked her down, and the fellow hurried away. Jesse knew the other man had hoped no one would stop for the girl, making her more vulnerable.
"You all right, miss?" Jesse asked, squatting and reaching out to help her gather her packages. She was older than he'd first thought, maybe twenty. And prettier, too, with long sweeping lashes against her cheeks and a button nose. But her plain dress and shapeless coat showed Jesse she wasn't anyone that could help him get to Chicago.
She barely glanced up at him, just a flash of those bright blue eyes. "Yes"
The hiss of a train's brake releasing interrupted her.
"I mean, no. That's my train!"
She speared him with a frantic gaze as she reached for the two small packages he held and darted toward the nearest trainone that had already started to depart.
He could see she was never going to make it.
A glance behind him revealed the woman in the feathered hat was long gone.
He still needed a way to get to Chicago. Surely there were other wealthy people in this crowd, someone who could be convinced to turn over their money to Jesse.
But that girl As he watched, she bumped into someone else and nearly fell again.
Jesse knew she wasn't someone who could help him. But she obviously needed looking after.
He'd come out of prison intending to start a new, honest life. Was this a test to see if he could put someone else's needs above his own motives?
The maid's ill-fitting dress was going to keep Erin from boarding her train. Carrying all her packages, she didn't have a free hand to hike up the front of the skirt, and she nearly tripped on it again. The train was picking up speed!
She couldn't have come all this way not to make it onto the train. She couldn'twouldn'tgive up!
And then the cowboy was there, propelling her forward with his large hand under her elbow.
"Need a hand, miss?"
"Yes. Thank you," she panted, glancing at him only long enough to get a picture of molasses-brown eyes and hair just a shade too long, curling beneath the brim of his hat.
She had no idea how he was going to get her onto the moving train. They were nearly there, the steps of the train car looming
Snow blew in from the outside gap between train and station. The sharp wind threatened to tangle Erin's skirt around her legs. She fought forward, feet pounding loudly with the cowboy's boots. They were running out of platform.
The cowboy ran so fast and pulled her with him until Erin felt as if she was almost flying.
"Ready to jump for it?" the cowboy asked. Wind whipped her hair out of its pins and into her eyes, but she could still see his rakish grin, as if he were enjoying their flight to board the train.
Erin opened her mouth to let him know that an O'Grady would never do something so commonplace as jumpif she could get the words past her burning throatbut her feet tangled in her skirt and she stumbled, coming precariously close to falling onto the tracks. The smell of heated metal filled her nostrils
A strong arm clamped around her waist and hauled her against a muscled chest. Then her feet left the ground entirely, and she was bodily dragged onto the train car's steps. With a jolt and huff as his boots clanged onto the step, the cowboy gripped a handle on the outer wall as they sped out of the station and into the open air.
They'd made it!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I started off not to fond of the characters but ended up loving them. I passed this book off to a friend and it was a hit. This story of a lost boy and man finding the love of God through a caring young woman was touching. Would that more of us would follow her example. Lacy Williams is one very talented writer.
He Might be a Counterfeit Cowboy, but this Story is the Real Deal From the time his stepfather kicked him out of the house, Jesse Baker survived using his wits. Trained to be a confidence man by an older lad, Jesse managed to avoid the law until a scam earned him five years in prison. Now released he’s on a quest to take care of a promise he made to a cell mate. I really sympathized with Jesse’s dilemma. No matter how much he wants to go straight, his cross-country train journey will test his resolve. First there’s beautiful Erin O’Grady, an easy mark who has no idea how vulnerable she is. Then there’s Pete, the street urchin who sees through Jesse’s cowboy disguise and blackmails him into pretending to be his older brother. With every mile, his lies stack higher and higher. I truly enjoyed this winsome story full of strong characters on an exciting trip across 1890 America.
The Counterfeit Cowboy is a charming tale of a man fresh out of prison and a naive but kind-hearted woman fleeing her restrictive father. Jesse wants to changes his ways but he's a man of no means. Erin takes him and his brother under her wing on her trip west to visit her brother. Friendship blossoms as do sparks of romance, but will the secret he's keeping drive a wedge between him and Erin? Lacy Williams has penned another intriguing western that kept me riveted to the pages. I didn't want to put the book down to tend to things that needed my attention. Her writing just keeps getting better and better.