Elizabeth Sanders isn’t afraid of anything, except what will happen to her beloved town if the Big Mountain Lumber Mill is destroyed. When she overhears a plot to do just that, she vows to put a stop to it, even if it means dressing as a young lumberjack to expose the saboteur. There’s only one problem with her plan—her brother’s handsome friend and fellow logger Garrett Jones, who arouses a desire within her soul as fierce as the river rapids.
When Garrett discovers that the odd new lad on the crew is in fact Beth, he’s shocked. A logging camp is no place for a young woman—especially the spirited beauty he’s admired for so long. Keeping her safe is easier said than done, however, as the attraction between them flares into true passion. As the danger mounts, Beth and Garrett must work together to survive the last log run down the wild rapids and claim any chance of saving the mill—and their chance at a future . . .
“Well written, well researched. Like the river, this plot runs faster and faster. Readers won’t be able to put it down.”
—New York Times bestselling author Jodi Thomas
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Missoula Montana, 1888
Elizabeth Sanders could vanish right now, and no one would notice. She blended in with every other woman by wearing her matching pinstriped walking skirt and blouse. Each store clerk and patron in Missoula, focused on their affairs without a care to their neighbor, would fail to notice if she walked through Higgins Street naked, let alone disappeared into thin air. They certainly wouldn't look twice when she came back this way a different person.
Hundreds of people bustled in the heat of the Montana sun doing the same old things, the same old ways, with nothing to show for their trouble but dirty shoes. If Elizabeth was going to get her shoes dirty, she preferred to have fun doing it ... the Devil May Care way.
Navigating the pedestrian-riddled streets was treacherous at best. Times like this made her wish she'd taken her grandmother's buggy. At least then she wouldn't be jostled around like a dirty shirt in a churning wash bin. A deep exhale boosted her determination enough to risk a step to the side to duck around a particularly slow matriarch. The small triumph lasted only a moment before she slammed into a hard chest.
The soft fabric of a well-tailored suit skimmed her cheek a split second before warm hands reached out to steady her. The touch — firm, yet gentle — made her feel like she now balanced on the back of a high-strung and wild mustang as it fled down a hill with uncontrolled freedom. She hadn't needed the extra hand. Wasn't in danger of falling over. What sort of dullard rescues a woman in no need of liberation? She pulled away and adjusted her skirts as he let go. Her mind focused once more.
"Pardon me." She glanced up to a familiar face. One she'd seen many times in her dreams. Her breath failed as her brother's friend, Garrett Jones, peered down at her with silver-clouded eyes. Oh, how he made the world spin whenever he drew near. His handsome, yet rugged, face made her fingers ache to touch the severe lines of his jaw. The rich scent of tobacco infused with lavender and some sort of citrus drifted on the breeze. Eau de Cologne. A fragrance only the wealthiest of men in Montana could afford. A scent belying the canvas pants, spiked boots, and sturdy cotton shirt he sported every time she'd seen him on the train platform.
"Elizabeth." Did he say her name, or did she dream the word? Oh to be noticed by a man like Garrett Jones. The only man who could make butterflies flit around in her stomach and fear slide through her chest in the same confusing moment.
The hem of her dress hovered mere inches from his feet. Her face heated and heart began to pound. Try as she might, she couldn't keep her eyes off the man who led the Devil May Care boys. The man who held her future in his hands if she succeeded in becoming part of his crew at the logging camp. If things went the way she planned, she'd be staring into his amber and steel speckled eyes for the rest of the season. Did he truly recognize her after all these years of no more than a passing glance?
"Terribly sorry, sir." She shifted her bag to the other hand. "I didn't see you."
He shook his head, but remained silent. The gray in his eyes shone in a color she couldn't quite name, but it softened his jagged expression enough to make her blush once more. A slight movement in his right hand caught her attention as he tapped his leg with his index finger and shuffled his feet, but his chest remained still. After a brief, uncomfortable silence with Garrett offering no more than a fleeting glance, she chewed on her lower lip.
"I suppose I should get going." She took a half step around him, and stopped.
He nodded and gave a bow with an air so refined she paused in surprise. Throughout her years in Montana, she'd grown used to the hard and less-than-mannered ruffians who usually passed her on the street. Even those on the social circuit rarely bowed in such a stiff and crisp manner. He'd certainly never shown such niceties where she was concerned. With one last look at his emotionless face, she nodded and stepped around his broad frame. She locked eyes with him, and felt his gaze follow her while she walked by. Beth forced herself to keep a steady breath as she left.
She hugged her satchel and skirted the shadows until she rounded the corner of a residential street, and all but ran the remaining distance to her friend Carrie's house. She rapped on the large pine door, and took a quick step back as it swung wide open. Finally, she was here. Now she had to force herself to follow the plan.
"It took you long enough, Beth." Carrie grabbed her arm and yanked her into the foyer.
As the huge front door closed behind her, Carrie shoved her forward, causing her to trip quite improperly into the adjoining parlor. Swinging around, Beth flinched as Carrie peeked down the hallway and slammed the parlor door. Carrie pivoted, and shifted her weight onto one leg. "Well?"
"Well, what?" Beth dropped her satchel next to the cold fireplace, trying not to smile at her friend's trepidation, letting the emotion bring her focus back to the issue at hand. She faced Carrie as if nothing out of the ordinary were about to happen.
"Well, what did he say?"
"He?" The image of Garrett on the street took over her thoughts. His strong shoulders, the stiff way he'd bowed, and the whisper of her name on his lips. There was no way Carrie could have seen the awkward exchange, was there? Beth peeked out of the large bay windows across the room, but as she already knew, the view to where she'd bumped into Garrett was blocked by several houses and streets.
Carrie rolled her eyes. "You darned well know who I'm talking about. Your brother."
"Yes, of course." Gracious be, where was her head? Stuck back on Higgins Street and Garrett's disarming gaze. "Simon said yes." Beth raised her chin, and silently dared her friend to argue. She couldn't be swayed. "Tomorrow, I will become a logger."
Carrie dropped her shoulders in defeat, but she folded her arms and glared in a blatant show of disapproval. "Please tell me you are going to help with the cooking, or at least cut the trees like your brother."
"Nope." Beth felt the lack of air plaguing her lungs. Carrie was like a sister, and perhaps a voice of reason, so it was hugely important to get her approval for this adventure — a blessing of sorts.
Carrie frowned and the disapproving look in her eyes deepened. "Don't tell me —"
"Yep, a riverman." Her heart shouldn't run away at such a statement, but it did. To be a riverman and experience the sheer sensation of total control over Mother Nature would be the boon she needed. And in her plight, she'd save not only her brother's job, but an entire town from certain destruction by a saboteur. If she could control those logs down the river, she could easily squash a snake in the grass ... or rather trees. It didn't hurt that Garrett would be there. With him at the helm — the man her brother had talked about so often over the last few years — she knew she could accomplish anything.
"Didn't you see the journal last month? They did an exposé on the Missoula rivermen. They said they're ruffians ... vagabonds. The men who ride the river have a devil-may-care attitude toward life, and the social skills of a spring hog."
"My brother hasn't said such things, and I'm inclined to believe him over some two-bit reporter. I am going to be a Devil May Care boy."
"I honestly don't know why you want to do this. It is pure madness, not to mention dangerous. I can't believe Simon agreed to your foolish scheme."
"Simon's word isn't law. Please don't tell me you still have that silly schoolgirl crush on my brother."
Carrie's cheeks dusted in a pink hue. "No, but he's a voice of reason."
Beth pursed her lips to stop all the dirty secrets on how she tricked her brother from spilling out like a waterfall. The secret buggy rides where he insisted he needed to go alone to clear his mind. The midnight voices in the garden beneath her bedroom window. All of which allowed Beth this small handful of leverage over her beloved brother. "I don't want to risk making him a target for the saboteur, or losing his job if I end up being wrong. I know it's dangerous, but I have to do this. You don't know how important it is I go."
"I figured you'd say that, and when you get an idea in your head, not even a blizzard in July can stop you. Just promise you'll be careful. Perhaps you should take along someone else to help you, or let me write my godmother. She is a cook somewhere up there. You can see if there are any other positions at camp, one more suitable for a woman. You cannot traipse around like a wild woman in the mountains. It isn't proper." Carrie mimicked the look of a concerned mother.
Beth shook her head and waved off her friend's trepidation. "I want to be a riverman, not a cook. I need to have complete access to the camp, including the dangerous areas. From what Simon has told me in the past, cooks aren't always allowed up there. I can't get close enough to the action while working as a cook. I'll be fine, trust me. Simon wasn't happy about letting me tag along, but after I convinced him — quite forcefully, might I add — he had no choice." She plopped down on a chair. "He or one of his friends will watch me every second of the day. As per his direction, I'm to try to stay away from trouble."
"Everything you've ever dreamed of, a man to watch over you every second of the day." Carrie's mouth twitched in an unsuccessful attempt to hold back her 'you got what you deserved' grin.
Beth wrinkled her nose and sat back in her chair. She wasn't fool enough to think this summer would be easy, but Carrie was right. She didn't want someone watching her every move, especially when she was investigating. There were ways to get around a guard. "A little imagination could serve me well I should think."
"Are you really going down the river?"
"If I can manage it, I will. The log drive is the target, and that's where I need to be."
"You do realize the men who do that particular job are considered wild and touched in the head. Most aren't allowed in polite society."
"I can't go into the upcoming season without helping to secure a future for my brother. I'm to be presented to every eligible bachelor this year." She took a deep breath, and shook her head. "We've always been close, and I don't want to see him suffer while I go off to a life of marital bliss. He needs this job, and I need to know he's happy."
"Why would Simon need you to help? He's done fine at the lumber camp without you so far." Carrie rolled her eyes. "Really, Beth. You must think these things through."
"I have." Beth dropped her shoulders and wiggled to the edge of the seat. "There was a man. On the platform a week ago."
Carrie scooted to the edge of her own chair, and furrowed her brows. "What man? A handsome one? Are you in love already? Oh, I knew it. Just the other day I ..."
Carrie's words were lost on her as the memories of the man on the platform flooded back to her.
The early spring chill had penetrated her wrap, and she'd snuggled deep into the fabric as she waited for her brother to return from his pre-season meeting at the mill. Off in the distance the train bellowed and made her sit up tall to look for the engine.
That's when she heard the man with the drawl. A voice she'd never forget. "And they are willing to pay one thousand dollars if the drive never gets to the mill. Destroy the drive, destroy Big Mountain Lumber Mill. The mill will have to pay severance, and they won't be able to recover."
The deep mumble of another man's voice sounded, but he spoke so low she couldn't make out his words. Was that a hint of a Spanish accent? She couldn't be certain.
After the man with the possible Spanish accent finished speaking, the first man continued, "I suppose the families of Bonner will be forced to find a home elsewhere?"
There was a hint of sadness in the man's words — or was it cold-hearted malice? Who were these men?
Beth's breath grew shallow. Whoever they were, they planned to destroy the mill without a care to anyone else involved. What would Simon do for work? What would the families who lived in Bonner do once the mill closed and their livelihood was torn from them? Dear Lord, she had to do something.
"Well, is it?" Carrie's voice penetrated Beth's thoughts, but the question was lost on her.
Is it what? Blast. What was the best response when faced with a question you didn't hear? "Yes."
"So the man from the platform is the man you danced with from the Mayfield's ball?"
Oh good Lord. Beth waved her had across her face. "No, no, no. I overheard two men plotting on the train platform the other day. After they finished their vile conversation, the man with the cane hobbled around the corner with a smug smile. As if he hadn't been plotting Great Mountain's downfall. A place my brother loves dearly. Not that he knew Simon works there, but that's beside the point. Someone wants to destroy the Big Mountain Lumber Mill. Imagine what would happen to all of the families if the mill were shut down. The babies would starve. The fathers would have to leave their homes and families behind to find new work, and who's to say they will? There's an evil plot afoot, and I'm the only one who can identify the culprit."
"Oh my God!" Carrie's eyes flashed in concern. "You need to tell Simon."
Beth nodded. "I will. Eventually. After I've found the man in question, I'll let Simon know. As I said before, I don't want to risk his life, or job, if I'm wrong. I'll go up and identify the culprit, and then tell him once I'm certain. My brother has done so much for me since our parents' deaths. I need to do something for him in return. If I tell him now he'll only leave me behind, and they may never find the saboteur."
Carrie slouched in a show of defeat. "Promise me you'll take care to not get into trouble. If you see the man from the platform, tell Simon. Don't go getting yourself killed."
"Of course. I'm not a fool. I have no intention of getting myself into trouble."
"But how will you pass as a man? With your curves and long hair, you're the perfect example of a woman." Carrie waved toward Beth's hair, piled high on top of her head in the latest fashion.
With a secretive smile, Beth reached into the satchel and searched through the clothing within to pull out her mother's old silver-handled scissors. She reached up to her perfect coif, a style she often worked hours on perfecting. How would she feel without the familiar weight of her hair?
Carrie eyed the sharp tool. "Please tell me you brought those to cut paper."
"Not paper." Beth forced a smile. If she was going to do this, she would do it right. Although set in her decision, she reached up to touch the silky tendrils she'd grown to love. Her best feature. She forced back the tears burning behind her eyes. The sacrifice of her hair was worth saving her brother and his job. She firmed her lips, and held the scissors out to Carrie.
"What will your nana say?" Carrie asked.
"She has taken to her bed as of late, and only leaves to visit her matron friends for tea on Tuesdays. Her maid is there with her every second of the day, so I'm of little help. I asked her if I could accompany you to visit your sister for the spring, and she agreed. I'll come home after the drive, and she'll be none the wiser. My hair will grow again, and I'll either pin it back, or I'll say your little niece Tawny cut my hair while I slept because she wanted it for her doll. Your niece is quite the troublemaker. Nana will have no trouble believing me."
"Tawny's done worse, I suppose." Carrie pinched her lips shut and stared with a calculating, but disapproving, look. Beth smiled as Carrie plucked the scissors from her hand with a sigh. She could always count on her dear friend to cave when logic and passion were at the heart of her arguments.
Two hours later, Beth sauntered down the stairs and out the door like she'd seen her brother do on many occasions. She enjoyed the feel of the trousers tight against her legs. The harsh scratch of the blue denim a vast difference from the soft cotton of her dresses — not to mention a distinct lack of a bustle strapped to her backside. The sensation of nothing but the rough work pants lent a sort of wicked freedom she could get accustomed to. The satchel swung as she walked, and she ignored the odd looks from the women passing by on their way to the shops — a few of which she recognized from the Missoula Women's Society tea three weeks past. Did they recognize her? Even if they did, she didn't care. In a few days she would be on her way to Bonner to work for the Big Mountain Lumber Mill.
Excerpted from "White Water Passion"
Copyright © 2017 Dawn Luedecke.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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