Delsie Radford is going to make it to California, no matter the danger or difficulty. Her father may have kept her and her sister apart, but Delsie refuses to miss her sister's weddingeven with only eighteen days to get there. And she's found the perfect escort in Pony Express rider Myles Patton.
Myles can't believe it when a pretty socialite hires him to take her cross-country through rough terrain and dangerous territory. Surely she'll quit before they reach their destinationhe's known girls like her before. But the longer they ride together, the more Myles notices Delsie's toughness and kindness beneath her polished exterior. And though they may be worlds apart they might just be perfect for each other.
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.90(d)|
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Saint Joseph, Missouri, June I860
Can I help you, miss?" The horseman cocked an eyebrow at Delsie, his surprise evident in each line of his weathered face. Clearly he wasn't used to finding ladies standing around the Pony Express Stables. Especially at this early hour.
Delsie forced her lips into a smile, despite the nervousness making her stomach roil. Good thing she hadn't eaten any breakfast at the hotel. "I'd like to speak to your fastest Express rider."
The man rubbed his stubbled chin. "I suppose that'd be Myles Patton, miss. But if you need a letter delivered right quick, you ought to take it to the office at the Patee House hotel."
"This concerns more than a letter." She drew herself up to full height, although the top of her rounded hat still didn't reach the man's shoulder. "May I speak with him please?"
The man shrugged. "I think he's inside the stables. His run begins in less than an hour. If you'll wait here, I'll get him."
"Thank you." She exhaled with relief. One obstacle down. Now if she could only convince this Mr. Patton to go along with her plan.
Delsie turned her back on the open stable doors and brought her handkerchief to her nose. The smell of manure, permeating the morning air, made her nausea worse.
Hold on, Lillie. Delsie clutched her leather valise tighter in her hand as she thought of her sister. I'm coming.
Her luggage held a change of clothes, a nightgown, a few toiletries, money she'd received in exchange for selling nearly all of her inherited jewelry and the most recent letter from her older sister. One of many unopened letters Delsie had just discovered inside her father's desk back home in Pennsylvania.
A man strode toward her, his face shadowed beneath his hat. He wore an elaborate riding uniform, complete with silver decorations and a scabbard hanging at his side. Delsie blinked in surprise; she'd been expecting a ruffian in a rawhide jacket and trousers.
"Mr. Patton?" She tucked her handkerchief into the sleeve of her blue riding habit.
He tipped up his hat, revealing black eyes and a dark beard that accentuated his strong jaw and bronzed skin. Delsie gulped. He was rather handsome, in a rough sort of way, minus the scowl on his face and the way he sized her up as if she were a pampered child.
"Who are you?" he asked in a tone bordering on rudeness. "And what do you want?"
He certainly wasn't taken in by the beauty of her dark hair or her midnight-blue eyes like her would-be beau Flynn Coppell always claimed to be. But perhaps that was a good thing. If this Mr. Patton agreed to help her they'd be spending a great deal of time in each other's company.
"My name is Delsie Radford," she said with feigned cheerfulness. "I'm here to request a ride."
"Livery stable's down the street." He turned away.
"Wait. You don't understand." She hazarded a step toward his retreating figure. "I need a ride to California."
He spun back, his eyes traveling the length of her again. Delsie tried not to squirm under his scrutiny. "I'm guessing that fancy getup you're wearing means you can read."
She frowned. "Of course I can read."
"Good. Then you'll notice the sign above the building here says Pony Express Stables and not the Overland Stagecoach. Good day, Miss Radford." He twisted on his spurred heel once more.
Throwing propriety to the wind, Delsie rushed after him. "I can't take the stage, Mr. Patton. That's a three-week journey and I must be in California in eighteen days. Not a day later."
"Can't be done," he barked over his shoulder.
Delsie finally caught up with him, close enough to reach out and grip his sleeve. He froze immediately at her touch. An almost panicked expression flickered across his shadowed face, but at least he'd stopped.
"I read about the incredible feat the Express riders performed with that first run in April. Bringing the mail to California in ten days." She hadn't exactly read the newspaper article herselfPapa didn't think perusing the paper a worthy pastime for womenbut he'd read the news out loud to her and Flynn over dinner one evening.
Myles shook his head. "That wasn't done by one Express rider. We ride a hundred miles or more along our assigned routes. Then we return with the eastbound mail a few days later to our starting point and do it all over again."
He shrugged off her hold. "We carry mail, Miss Radford, not passengers. Besides, I've heard talk that Indian trouble has likely closed parts of the Pony Express between Utah and Californiasome of the mail might not even be getting through. What would you do once you reached Salt Lake City?"
"I am aware of the situation and the dangers, Mr. Patton." She'd heard plenty of talkfirst on the stagecoach and later on the train after she'd left her aunt's home in Saint Louis. "But I'm willing to pay you."
He harrumphed. "I doubt you've got enough to make it worth"
"How's five hundred dollars?" She patted the front of her valise.
His eyebrows rose and a flicker of emotion skimmed across his features. Was it interest?
"I recognize the absurdity of my request," Delsie admitted. He needed to know she hadn't worked out this solution with no thought to the consequences. "But I'm willing to pay you five hundred dollars, if you'll help me get to California by the twenty-first of this month."
With her request out in the open, she pressed her lips together and waited for his response. Please, Lord, she prayed through the ensuing silence. I know this may be a foolhardy venture, but surely Lillian is that important to You, and to me, to make this work.
Myles blew out his breath. Was he relenting? "What's so important you gotta get to California for?"
A flush heated Delsie's cheeks. "I'd rather keep the reason to myself."
"Look, miss." He readjusted his hat, pushing it up and pulling it back down again. "If I'm going to attempt this, even for five hundred dollars, I need to know what I'm getting myself into."
"So you'll do it, then?"
"Didn't say that. What's your reason for going all that way, Miss Radford?"
Delsie heaved her own sigh. "It's for my sister."
Myles frowned. "Is she dying or something?"
"No." But there were things that would die if she failed to reach California in timelike Delsie's promise to her mother on her deathbed and the chance to restore the close relationship she'd once shared with her sister.
A whisper of sadness swept through her at the reminder of their sweet and gentle mother. Lillian and their father, Owen Radford, were far more impetuous and stubborn, more prone to harbor a grudge. For this reason Delsie's mother had made her promise to look after the other two in Lydia Radford's absence.
Delsie had diligently done so, smoothing things as best she could between her father and sister for the past six years. At least until Lillian had refused to marry the man their father had chosen for her and instead followed her farmer beau to California ten months ago. Delsie hadn't known where her sister had been living or if Lillie was even all right until she'd found the letters her father had hidden from her. Now the only way to keep her pledge to her mother was to go after Lillie herself.
"I know it may sound silly." Delsie tilted her chin to meet Myles's stern look. "But it's imperative I be at my sister's wedding on June twenty-second. If I'm not there, I will never see her again. She and her husband are bound for Oregon the following day and I don't know where they'll be living once they reach their destination." Gripping her valise tighter, she added in a clear voice, "I'm willing to risk whatever this journey may bring to be there and fulfill a promise I made a long time ago. Surely helping family is something you can understand."
The lines around his dark eyes tightened. "I don't have any family."
Compassion filled her, but she schooled her tongue, certain he didn't want her pity. This loneliness must be what Lillie felt, without family there in California, thinking Delsie had no desire to contact her.
"Why me?" Myles asked, jerking Delsie from thoughts of her sister.
"That other gentleman said you were the fastest"
"No. Why have me take you the whole way? Why not ask a different Express rider at each home station? Pay each one?"
"Because convincing one man to help me is proving to be most difficult," Delsie quipped. The barest hint of a smile twitched at his masculine lips before he suppressed it. "I also don't want to end up in the middle of Nebraska with no one willing to help me move forward or back."
He folded his arms, stretching his shirt tighter and hinting at the sinewy muscles beneath. Delsie glanced away. She watched the toe of his boot kick at a dirt clod and resisted the urge to do the same. Would he refuse to help her? If he did, there'd be no hope for reaching Lillie by the twenty-secondshe'd be gone forever, assuming Delsie wanted nothing to do with her.
At last, Myles emitted a low growl and lowered his arms to his sides.
"Here's what I'll do, Miss Radford. I'll take you with me on my route today." A rush of gratitude prompted Delsie to step forward, with the intent of reaching for his arm again, but she stopped when Myles held up a hand. "I expect to be paid twenty-five dollars when we reach Guittard's tonight. I'll decide then if I think we can go the rest of the way to California."
She nodded. "Thank you, Mr."
"I wouldn't thank me just yet." He pulled off his hat and ran a hand through his thick, black hair. "We have a hundred and twenty-five miles to ride, changing horses every ten to twelve. I can't deliver the mail fast enough if we ride together, so you'll have to ride your own horse."
"I know how to ride."
A glimmer of amusement flashed in his eyes as he replaced his hat on his head. "We'll see. Since the station owners know me, I think we can get you a fresh mount each time I get one. But it'll cost you a few dollars for the extra horse and we don't waste time at any of the stations. We're in and out in two minutes or less. The moment you start to slow me down, I'll drop you off at the next station and collect you when I return to Saint Joseph. Is that clear?"
The reality of what she was about to do pressed down on her, momentarily bringing doubt and a panicked throbbing to her pulse. Could she really do this? A hundred and twenty-five miles in one day sounded suddenly dauntingand she had eighteen hundred to go to reach California.
The memory of Lillie's tear-stained face as she'd ridden away from the house rose into Delsie's mind. This same image still haunted her dreams. Surely she could endure anything to help her sister and keep her promise to their mother.
"I'll keep up," she said, infusing the words with haughty confidence, even if she didn't feel it.
The merriment returned to Myles's gaze, though she wasn't sure if it meant he, too, doubted her abilities or if he found her show of bravery humorous. No matter, he'd agreed, at least for today's ride.
"In that case, Miss Radford," he said, doffing his hat and giving her a mocking smile, "let me be the first to welcome you to the Pony Express."
Myles had plenty of reasons to suspect Delsie Radford, determined as she was, would falter in her resolve to travel to Californiaand soon. She was the epitome of a wealthy young lady, with her fine clothes, spotless gloves and a bag containing more money than he could make in six months working for the Pony Express.
Just like Cynthia. Myles ground his teeth against the thought.
Sure enough, the first crack in Delsie's confident facade came the moment he led the horses out of the stable.
"You um don't have a sidesaddle, do you?" She eyed the trimmed-down saddles on the two horses.
"Nope." Myles walked toward her, his spurs clinking, his scabbard and revolvers bumping the legs of his decorative trousers. The morning sun glittered off the silver decorations adorning his uniform and his horse. He plucked at his collar with one hand, counting down the minutes until he could change out of the fancy getup. "We use these lighter 'California tree' saddles with the shorter, broader saddle horn. Not a sidesaddle in sight." He stopped the horses beside her. "Change your mind?"
He saw her visibly swallow, then a grim smile graced her mouth. "If you'd be so kind as to help me up, Mr.
Myles cocked an eyebrow. Did the girl possess more gumption than she first appeared to? He quickly dismissed the ideaall these rich girls were alike. She'd be lucky if she made it the fifteen miles to the Troy station, let alone the hundred and twenty-five to Guittard's home station by tonight.
Once he'd helped her sit astride her horse, Myles swung up onto his own. Delsie did her best to pull down the hem of her dress, but she couldn't quite hide her button-up shoes or the section of her lower calves clad in stockings that peeked above them. Myles jerked his gaze away.
"We'll ride to the office at the Patee House to collect the mail, then we'll"
The blast of a cannon from the direction of the hotel silenced the rest of his words. It was time to go. He nudged his horse in the direction of the Patee House.
Glancing back over his shoulder, he made sure Del-sie guided her mount behind his. The only telltale sign of her embarrassment at straddling the mare could be seen in the pink blush that stained her cheeks. But she kept her ridiculously flowered hat tilted high, even as they rode down the street past the few people out and about at this hour.
"Wait here," he told her when they reached the office. He swung down and went inside to collect the mail. "Morning," he called to the man at the counter.
"Morning, Patton. Here's the mail from back East." The man handed over the leather mochila or knapsack, which fit over the horse's saddle and contained the mail inside four padlocked boxes.
Myles grunted in response. If he hurried out, maybe the other fellow wouldn't notice Delsie outside. He figured the less he had to explain about his tagalong passenger, the better. He exited the office, the mochila in hand, but the other man followed him outside.
"Looks like a nice day for a" The man's friendly remark died the moment his eyes caught sight of Del-sie. "Morning, ma'am." He removed his hat. "Are you in need of directions?"
The color in her face increased as she shook her head. "No. I'm waiting for Mr. Patton."
Myles felt the man's gaze boring into his back as he placed the knapsack over his horse's saddle.
"Didn't know you had yourself a new girl, Patton "
Myles scowled and mounted his horse again. "I don't," he bit off the words. "Let's go, Miss Radford." He swung the animal around. "We ride full out down the hill to the river. The ferry will be waiting."
Not stopping to see if she followed or not, he charged his horse forward. They tore through the street at a full gallop. The boom of the cannon sounded behind him, signaling to the ferry that he was coming. He and his mount raced down the hill. The wind tore at his face and hat, and he had to keep a hand on the brim to keep from losing it. A few passersby cheered as he rode past and he lifted his chin in greeting.
At the river, he jerked his horse to a stop. The beast danced with energy from the spirited ride. Myles twisted in the saddle to see Delsie gallop toward him. Just when he thought her mare would ram into him, she yanked back on the reins and stopped the animal. Her hat had slipped off her hair to hang down her back by its ribbons, but her blue eyes, the color of deep twilight, glittered.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was such an enjoyable read! The history, the romance, the friendships, the writing, the setting – all of it together put me right in the heart of the story as I journeyed with these characters. Let me just go ahead and talk about the romance first (because we all know that’s my favorite part of any book). Myles is one of those heroes who … should I happen to actually come face-to-face with him … would turn me into a blushing, giggling schoolgirl of a mess. He’s rugged and protective. Tender when he needs to be. Scruffy. Watching his transformation – the thawing of his heart & his faith – over the course of the story was deliciously swoon-worthy. And Delsie? Well, watching her transformation from society girl to skilled trail rider was a highlight of the book for me. Mainly because – if I were in her boots – I would have turned around after about an hour and called it a good attempt. Certainly after the first day’s worth of … uh …saddle chafing. And most certainly after someone tried to teach me how to skin and gut a critter. At that point, I’m not sure if I would have laughed or cried on my way outta Dodge – possibly both. I for sure wouldn’t have lasted long enough to face the risk of Indian attacks. But Delsie? Wow. You just have to read The Express Rider’s Lady to get a new appreciation for the grit and determination that ladies had to possess during the Westward Expansion period in our nation’s history. I adore Amos – he is perhaps my favorite character in this latest book by Stacy Henrie. His separate friendships with both Myles and Delsie bring a new level of tenderness and depth to the story. The three of them together make a priceless team. Without revealing anything spoilery, I absolutely have to mention that the last chapter is perhaps the best. Sometimes – especially in these shorter novels – the ending suffers from “hurry up and squeeze it all in” syndrome. Not so with The Express Rider’s Lady. Though I needed copious tissues for part of this final chapter, Stacy Henrie ends the book on such a marvelous note, especially the last few pages (which I’m not ashamed to admit nearly made me swoon with romantical delight!). Bottom Line: The Express Rider’s Lady by Stacy Henrie not only provides a sweet romance but also gives readers a compelling glimpse into the perilous conditions once common to cross terrain we now take for granted. Smooth writing, vivid settings, and heartstopping action bring the characters and the history to life. A quick read, as typical to the Love Inspired line, but very entertaining! (I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)
Delcie might seem like a pampered young woman, but she shows grit and courage in her determination to reach her sister before her wedding. Not many socialites could weather the rough Western terrain the way Delcie does. I had to laugh in a few spots, with the situations she found herself in, as well as feel some pain and heartache in others. Myles is a rough and tough, not to mention a bit grumpy, Pony Express Rider, and he's not sure Delcie's up to the cross-country ride to California. First impressions can often be misleading and it's hard to judge what a person is really like without seeing that person in many different situations. I enjoyed the descriptions and characters in this sweet historical story. I've always been a bit fascinated with the Pony Express and how their system worked. Imagining the speed, danger, and dedication these riders experienced is exciting and I loved getting a taste of that. I always enjoy situations that bring an inward glance into a character's life and this book provided those glimpses often. Watching friendships and relationships form and strengthen is such a joyous part of any story and there were many bridges developed throughout these pages and each one wormed their way right into my heart. I've been a fan of Stacy Henrie for awhile and I'm excited to see what she'll write next! Content: mild violence (moments of peril, attacks, injuries, death--nothing graphic); mild romance (kissing); mild religious elements. Clean! *I received a copy in exchange for an honest review*