Hadn't she defied upper-class conventions to become
a doctor? And now a troubling secret would send her
north in search of answers and adventure with the
exasperating Colt Hunter. Everything he said made her
blood boil yet everything he was made her heart race!
Mountie Sergeant Colt Hunter had sworn to protect, and
he'd never met a woman more in need of protection than
the headstrong doctor. Why couldn't she understand that
the untamed wilderness of the Yukon was no fit place for
a genteel lady? Together they traveled a dangerous road
where duty warred with passion, and even Colt couldn't
foresee which would win out .
About the Author
Award-winning author and USA TODAY bestseller Kate Bridges enjoys writing sexy historical romances set in the Canadian and American West. Her novels have won numerous awards and are sold worldwide. To find out more, please visit www.katebridges.com.
Read an Excerpt
"All you have to do is pretend I'm your sister," she said.
Frustrated, Sergeant Colton Hunter of the North-West Mounted Police stared at the bold young woman sitting across from him in the first-class compartment of the train. Her posture stiffened. Colt pressed his shoulder to the velvet drapes of the rumbling window and assessed her money-bought looks.
"Miss, I can no more pretend you're my sister than I can pretend you're my maid."
"Try harder. You can start with the name. It's not Miss. It's not Doctor. It's Elizabeth. Just plain Elizabeth."
There was nothing plain about her, yet there was no way on earth he wanted to be stuck with Dr. Elizabeth Langley. to her father, knew otherwise. He would never trust her again. What she'd done to him in his personal life had been reckless. Maybe accidental, but reckless nonetheless.
And now this.
The morning sun billowed over the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, through their window, and lit the red sleeve of his Mountie uniform. They'd only been riding east for fifteen minutes and were still making stops on the outskirts of Vancouver when Colt stood up and slid the aisle door closed to prevent anyone from overhearing.
He had one last chance at trying to convince her. "Listen, miss, I don't know why you think I'm supposed to be your savior. Take this train across the country like you planned. Take that ship to England. They're expecting you." He tossed his Mountie Stetson to the seat and eased in beside it.
"I have no intention of doing that," said the young doctor. "I'm getting out at the next stop with you and your men. Furthermore"
"Why do you always make things difficult?"
"They don't have to be. Just escort me to the Klondike. You're going anyway"
"Sh." Exasperated, he leaned forward on the cushion. His long legs, straining beneath dark breeches, penetrated the swirl of her gray satin skirts. "Miss, I beg of you, lower your voice. Or better yet, pinch your lips together. You're jeopardizing my mission and the safety of my men. Surely even you can understand that."
Her face colored as ripe as a berry.
Her dark blond hair, pulled tight above her ears, exposed flushed cheeks and searching brown eyes. Soft amber stones dangled off her ears.
It was hard to believe she was a newly graduated doctor. Her youthmidtwentiesand her gender contrasted sharply with the gray-haired doctors most folks were accustomed to seeing. Dressed from head to toe in shiny gray satin, she looked untouchable. But then, she'd always been above his station. Lace and satin were buttoned up to her throat. They might rouse another man's curiosity as to the spoils that lay beneath, but Colt would be damned if he'd give in to those thoughts.
Nonetheless, he tugged at his hot collar. A small gray hat, adorned with a burgundy feather that plucked the air as she spoke, topped the blond curls pinned on her head. A highly ridiculous outfit for traveling.
"My father doesn't think I'm jeopardizing your mission." Elizabeth straightened her spine again on the red velvet seat. "When you get to the Yukon border where the crimes are occurring, you're to escort me to my grandfather's door while the rest of your men finish the investigation."
"Perfect," he said with sarcasm. "Just what every officer wants to hear. To be on the brink of adventure and freedom. To head the team directly into the heart of danger, only to be cut short and forced to escort a " His gaze swept over her.
Her lips pressed together. Her cheeks grew taut. "A what?"
"A coddled young woman to Dawson City."
She gasped. "I'm a doctor."
The light in her eyes flared. "I beg your pardon?"
"You're a doctor of rashes and fevers or whatever else ails the female population of high society Vancouver." He wondered what else she spent her time on, when privately summoned by a lady's maid. Childbirth? The menstrual cycle? "You've no business interfering in the lives of working men. Hardworking men you don't understand."
"I'm not here for your insults. I know all about the differences between men and women."
Elizabeth reeled to the window, but not before he saw the dewy sheen that sprang to her eyes.
He fought the urge to feel sorry for her.
She would have to come to terms with her father's limitations on what she could and couldn't practice in medicine. Her father, the Finance Minister of Canada, liked to call himself a champion for women's education, but there were natural limits to his generosity.
Folks weren't comfortable with female doctors. It was said they took business away from men, that women didn't have the constitution needed to handle gruesome illness or surgery. Being the Minister's daughter put her in an awkward social situation, as well. She couldn't very well work beneath her.
And her father had forbidden her to practice medicine on men. She was forbidden to touch male strangers, and forbidden to have a man "drop his drawers" in front of her. It was indecent, Colt agreed.
"I know what your anger stems from." She turned stiffly toward him, the ruffles on her bosom fluttering.
"And I can't seem to apologize enough for the heartache I caused you at Christmas"
"Perhaps you did me a favor."
"I did you no favor. Please, let's not pretend. And you're doing me no favor in taking me north. You're doing your duty."
Who the hell was she, telling him what his duties were? Perhaps this quality of hers was why her own engagement had fallen apart.
His muscles flexed beneath his uniform. It was no use fighting her. Her father was too powerful. "I shall do my duty, miss, as promised."
The train screeched around a curve. Sunlight slanted across her cheekbones. "Why do you insist on calling me miss? One would think that after eight years' time"
"It's my duty."
"I'll escort you to the Klondike." He shifted his legs in the tight space between them. "But first we've got to go over the rules."
She leaned back. "All right. I'll listen to your rules. Colt." He hated when she used his first name. He hated her ability to weave in and out of his private life. For the next five weeks, she'd be doing exactly that.
His plan had been simple until two days ago, when she'd confided to her father that she wanted to join her grandfather in the Klondike for the summer. Apparently, she preferred to practice medicine on the hundreds of migrating women instead of touring England.
Gold had recently been discovered in Dawson City, Yukon. The gold rush was creating a frantic pitch heard around the world. Most stampeders wereAmerican, but the Klondike belonged to Canada and was policed by the Mounties. With a population that'd swelled overnight to thirty-five thousand, the area had an overabundance of gold but few resources to feed, clothe and house the miners.
Food items that sold for pennies in Vancouver sold for one hundred times their value in gold dust in Dawson City. Criminals infested the trails. A Klondike crime ring was targeting incoming food supplies. Since the Finance Minister was responsible for some of those supply lines getting through, he was sending Colt as part of a team of six Mounties to infiltrate the ring. They would travel in disguise as a group of brothers. They'd be hauling a ton of sausages to exchange for a fortune.
What better way to attract thieves than with a cache of goods literally worth its weight in gold?
But she wanted to be their sister. Colt pressed his hand to his thigh. "You're not a doctor."
She smiled in disbelief. "Pardon me?" "Rule number oneon this journey, forget you're a doctor."
Her smile faded. "What on earth for?" "We're supposed to be a modest family of ranchers seeking a great fortune. We don't want anyone thinking you're educated. Or wealthy."
An artery at the base of her throat pulsed. "But the whole purpose of my going is to treat women when I get there."
"I understand that, but I'll need to get you there without compromising my duties." He glanced at the suede bag by her feet. "Since you're not a doctor, you've got to leave your medical bag behind."
"But the patients when I get there"
"You can borrow supplies. From the two or three doctors already at the hospital"
"That hospital is nothing more than two log huts. They don't have enough"
"If you can't abide by the first rule, then you can't"
"What if someone falls ills on the journey? Someone in distress" "You'll ignore them."
Elizabeth stared at him in dismay. The train careened around a corner and they braced themselves. She looked, quite simply, as though she wanted to throttle him.
"We'll be traveling in the wilderness. No help, no towns, no shops to buy supplies. Nothing but the wind and sun around us. What about wild animals and accidents that might befall us? What if someone on the team gets ill? One of your men? Maybe you."
"We can take care of our own bruises."
"Bruises? Is that what you think I do?"
"Look, we can't risk you taking the bag. Some folks might have heard of your father. Or maybe his unusual daughter."
"But I've got a whole trunk of badly needed gauze and tonics"
"Sorry. Not on this trip."
She snapped to the window and stared at the passing shanties. The woods were getting thicker. They were leaving Vancouver behind.
Her cap and feather shifted on her head. "What if I take some essential supplies and tuck them into my clothing bag, but leave the medical bag behind?"
Colt leaned back into the plush upholstery. "That might work. But you can only lend us the supplies. No strangers. You can't let on you're a doctor."
She pressed her mouth closed and yanked off her hat. "Rule number two," he continued. "We're changing our names."
"Yes, of course. But how am I to"
"I'll make it as simple as possible. Our surname will be Blade. Your first name will be Liza. It's close enough to Elizabeth so if your real name slips out, no one will blink. I'll keep mine as Colt, Tommy will remain Tommy. As for the other four men you haven't met yet, I'll introduce you by their new names so it won't confuse you. You think you can heed that?"
She nodded. "The Blade family. From where?" "Ottawa. We sold our ten acres of farmland to buy supplies for the trip and payment on a gold claim. You know the Ottawa area from your travels with your father almost as well as we do, so picture it in your mind if someone asks."
"And our parents? Where are they?"
"They died in a terrible fire."
"How awful." She sniffed. "How old were we?"
"No one's going to ask that."
She surveyed him. "They might."
"You were the youngest at six, okay?"
He watched her lashes flicker. "That's so tragic." Colt sighed. "I'm the oldest. Ten years older than you. I'm bossy, okay? I boss everyone around and you all listen." He was the commanding officer on the team, so this would make sense.
"I bet you're the least liked."
Colt scowled. "The final rule. Number three. You've got to look and act the part of my obedient sister. You're not above my station. You're not an eyelash better than me. Got that?"
"Huh," she moaned softly. She wove her satin-gloved fingers together, looked down at her lap and fingered her cap. Sunlight streaked the blond hair amassed on top of her head.
With a swoop of his broad Stetson, Colt rose. He glanced through the window at the jagged mountains. "We're almost there. Twenty more minutes."
She had bought tickets to London months ago to visit friends. Colt was supposed to escort her partway by train, so they were still using the story as a cover to hide their new trip to the Klondike. Everyone in Vancouver would think she was spending the summer in London. When she didn't arrive in London, everyone there would think she'd changed her mind and was remaining back home. But her real journey was about to start.
He opened the door that led to a private bath and sleeping quarters. "It's time for you to change. I'll change out here and then flag Tommy back in."
She rose, and by the color in her cheeks, was finally catching on that he was boss here. She brushed by him in a womanly sway, a bundle of satin and feathers. Colt inhaled her fresh scent and observed how the delicate fabric fell against her ample curves.
She had a hell of a walka way of penetrating into a man's private thoughts, making him imagine all sorts of things and lingering in his imagination when she wasn't welcome.
Abruptly, he turned away.
He'd never confess it aloud, but rule number three would be the most difficult one for him. He swallowed hard.
Sister. Elizabeth was his devoted sister.
Why did he provoke her at every opportunity? Alone and half-naked in the private quarters of the train, Elizabeth tugged a chemise over her corset, shoved her bare arms into a simple white blouse, then fastened the multitude of buttons, silently criticizing Colt.
What could be wrong with a woman wanting adventure and freedom, the very things he'd mentioned?
Men and women were similar in many regards. Weren't they equally cheered at seeing the sun rise on a warm spring day? Didn't they both enjoy the taste of a strong cup of coffee? Weren't they equally touched by the sad tales of the weary traveler?
Her enthusiasm for adventure didn't mean she didn't want home and family, too. When Elizabeth had ventured to tell someoneher dear Gerardabout her bigger dreams, he had been dismayed.
Gerard. Her stomach fluttered at the thought of seeing him in the Klondike. A twinge of guilt followed, at how he must have felt reading her goodbye letter. How sad that in six months' time, he hadn't written back. Was he that angry with her?
It seemed anger was the only sentiment she was able to evoke in men. First her father. Then Gerard. Now Colt.
With a sigh, Elizabeth stepped into a brown muslin skirt. Cool mountain air whisked up her bare thighs. She pulled the skirt over her hips and clasped the buttons.
She'd prove that her abilities as a doctor were equal to any man's. That no one could bar her from treating male patients. If she could ease someone's discomfort in sickness or injury, no matter what their sex, then why should it matter to a bunch of other healthy men who ran the country?
And there was her other personal dilemma, her uncle's secret whispered on his deathbed she'd see to that in the Klondike, too. Gerard would have to answer directly to her.
She thought she knew Gerard, yet if he was involved in the theft with her uncle
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1898 North West Mounted Police Colton Hunter is assigned to escort Dr. Elizabeth Langley from British Columbia to the Klondike. He is outraged because he has better things to do than baby-sit. Colton informs Elizabeth she is to obey his orders on the trail and to act as his sister as she suggested although he believes that will prove impossible. She frustratingly agrees because she needs his protection and escort to reach her grandfather in the gold fields. --- However, Colton is even more upset with himself for having non-sisterly thoughts about his ward. On the trail, they face danger from nature and a nasty felon, but it is their feelings that both fear. As they fall in love and he learns to respect her medical prowess, her fiancé Dawson refuses to let Elizabeth go. --- Kate Bridges returns her fans to the late Victorian age in Canada with a fabulous action-packed road thriller. No one writes about the Canadian wilderness and the sexy North West Mounted Police like Bridges. Her heroes are the strong, silent type, and it's simply delightful to watch them fall in love with her headstrong heroines. Not only is the romance wonderful, the unique backdrop adds another fascinating dimension to a terrific story. The exciting story line stars two ¿siblings¿ whose skirmishes make for a fun tale of love. However, the superstar in this vivid historical, as with the previous Bridges to the late nineteenth century (see THE COMMANDER) is Canada circa 1890s. --- Harriet Klausner