In Which an Inventor’s Daughter Meets a Dashing Man of Mystery, a Villain Wreaks Havoc, and Tragedy Strikes
Wyoming Territory, 1875
Violet Whitcomb clutched the papers in her trembling hands. Black ink stained her fingertips, but she barely noticed. Her heart rate sped up while she contemplated her next move. Dare she continue reading? Could she continue reading? Anticipation–or was it dread?–drove a sharp spike into her spine.
She swallowed hard. Continue she must, or forever wallow in a pit of desperate yearning. With a deep, lung-bursting breath, Violet tightened her grasp upon the flimsy booklet and cast her gaze downward.
When we last left the story, Pinkerton agent John “Wild Wolf” Wallace had rescued Miss Henrietta Dearheart from the dastardly clutches of Mad Bull, the heinous outlaw and scourge of the West. Read on for the next Thrilling and Explosive chapter of Destiny Rides Again!
Wallace raised his Colt, ready to march Mad Bull directly to the local jailhouse. Justice demanded nothing less than this vermin’s eternal imprisonment. Miss Henrietta’s cousin, Charles Hammond, could rest in peace now that Wallace had brought his killer to light. He glanced at the angelic woman on his left. As for Miss Henrietta herself, she had become someone of whom Wallace had grown quite fond.
“Stop right there, Wallace!” boomed a male voice.
Marshal Adams pushed his way forward through the ogling crowd, wielding his signature shotgun. He directed a wary gaze toward the intrepid agent. “I have a witness here who places you at the scene of the murder of Charles Hammond!”
The marshal jerked his thumb toward a scraggly weasel of a man with a drooping eyelid. Said weasel nodded far too eagerly. Wallace frowned. Was he one of Mad Bull’s accomplices?
Miss Henrietta gasped. “How can that be?”
Wallace narrowed his eyes. Wasting words was not his way. But the so-called witness was lying. “Marshal, you know as well as I that men can be bought. If you don’t have any real evidence, then quit wasting my time. Mad Bull is the man you want.”
Adams shook his head. “You always were a stubborn ox.” The lawman unwrapped an item from a piece of dark cloth and held it forth. The bloodstained blade of a Bowie knife with a wooden handle and brass spacers gleamed in the sunlight.
Wallace clenched his teeth. His knife had been missing for months. Now he knew why.
“This item was found on the victim’s body by this here witness. I do believe these are your initials engraved on the handle. John Wallace, you’re under arrest for the murder of Charles Hammond. Drop your weapon–now.”
Wallace refused to comply. His body tensed as he gripped his Colt harder. Somehow, Mad Bull had found a way to frame him for murder. How else to explain this dastardly turn of events? There was only one solution to this new problem and it involved the use of raw violence.
He pushed the protesting Henrietta out of harm’s way and then swung his revolver in a glorious arc, aiming straight for his nemesis.
But he was too late. The marshal’s men leapt forward, surrounding him. A ring of glinting weapons pointed straight at his head. Miss Henrietta broke into sobs. Wallace felt a keen pang of regret. Was this how the mission was going to end, after everything they had been through together?
Heart pounding, Violet hastily dropped that week’s issue of The Lady’s Fireside Collection onto the red velvet seat beside her. She looked across the table at her father. The distinguished, gray-haired gentleman was waving for her attention.
“Yes?” she said breathlessly. “What’s wrong?”
Joseph Whitcomb chuckled. “Our breakfast has arrived.”
“Oh. How wonderful.” Violet watched the server arrange the dishes of steaming food upon the fine white linen. From the snatches of excited conversation and clinking silverware around her, she could tell the other diners felt equally enthusiastic about their own meals.
Her plate nearly overflowed with a mound of scrambled eggs, two generous slices of hot buttered toast, and a large, savory sausage dripping with juices. Even though it was half-past eight, she’d been so engrossed in Destiny Rides Again that her rumbling stomach had gone unnoticed, as had her surroundings.
Her goblet of orange juice vibrated, mesmerizing her with its dance. Outside the bustling dining car of the Golden Arrow Express, the raw autumn beauty of the Wyoming countryside drifted by, punctuated by occasional puffs of steam.
Joseph proceeded to stuff the corner of a cream-colored Irish linen napkin into his collar. “Honestly, my dear, is my company so horrid that you feel compelled to perpetually bury your nose in those outlandish tales?”
“Oh, Papa, of course not.” Horrid, no. Humdrum, yes. An enthusiastic smile escaped her even as she strove to maintain composure. “It’s simply that the stories I read are all so very exciting.”
Joseph frowned at her while adjusting his spectacles. “Hmmm,” he said pointedly, and not for the first time.
“I only crave a bit of distraction now and then, Papa. It’s quite harmless.”
And she believed that last part was true. But even as she spoke those words, Violet couldn’t help but feel that something was missing in her life. She deeply appreciated the exquisite surroundings her father’s profession afforded them. The most luxurious passenger train in existence since the launch of the Pacific Railroad, the Golden Arrow was equipped with numerous amenities, including game rooms, shops, a beauty salon, and even water closets. Like something out of a dream, the dining car walls sparkled with a gold petite fleur design while thick brocade curtains augmented the windows’ scenery.
Likewise, their work amply stimulated her mind. But where was the level of excitement in real life that The Lady’s Fireside Collection gave her in print? Was it too much to wish for?
Joseph regarded her more sternly. “Be that as it may, I can hardly think of anything more exciting than our…you know.” He cleared his throat to dismiss the hovering waiter and picked up his fork.
She dropped her gaze. Her smile died. Violet did know.
Their ultimate destination was San Francisco, California. In two weeks, they would be attending the Thirtieth Annual Symposium of Mechanical Engineers. Global in nature, the event attracted the very best minds in the field. Members came from America, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Brazil, and even the Orient. Once there, her father–inventor, genius, visionary–would reveal the most astounding creation of the nineteenth century.
The event was going to revolutionize everything.
Funded by both private investors and government grants, Joseph Whitcomb’s greatest–and most secret–invention had taken almost twenty years of his life, and nearly half that of hers. Spurred by atrocities of industrial exploitation and abuse he’d witnessed as a child of poverty, Joseph was determined to apply his intellectual gifts toward the greater good.
Several days prior to their departure from Boston, he had announced his forthcoming unveiling before a group of prominent politicians and reporters. Hence, said invention resided in a highly secure location aboard one of the cars. Other than Joseph and her, the only other person to have witnessed the fruits of their labor was President Grant during a private showing at the White House.
While her father’s greatest accomplishment would undoubtedly introduce sweeping changes across the American continent–nay, the world–Violet couldn’t help but wonder if she’d ever have a life outside of his Boston laboratory. Ever since her mother’s passing, her father had lost not only his greatest love, but also the greatest supporter of his work.
Once Elsa Whitcomb died in that tragic carriage accident seven years earlier, Violet had became her father’s full-time assistant and default confidante. While their various experiments involved engaging tasks, a rampant sense of loneliness made it unbearably stifling. Violet had two hobbies, of which The Lady’s Fireside Collection was one, but it was hardly a substitute for close friends–or a husband.
As soon as the server left, Joseph launched into another one of his monologues. She suppressed a sigh. The man would forget to eat if Violet weren’t there to remind him. Regardless, her own appetite emerged in full force in response to the delicious smells arising from the platters. She ingested the food with relish. The sausage was so thick she could barely wrap her mouth around each bite. Her lips quirked. At least the long train ride involved some measure of excitement.
As her father waxed on–and on, and on–Violet responded with appropriately timed responses, such as “Is that so?” or “Fascinating, indeed.” As was increasingly the case during these one-sided conversations, her mind drifted. Then her gaze followed suit. Her father’s voice faded into the background.
That’s when he appeared.
The handsome stranger entered the dining car as if driven by a sudden gust of wind. Once inside, he strolled forward with the confident prowl of a panther. Violet assessed the hard contours of his tall, lean form, one framed by broad shoulders and well-muscled arms. Her stomach fluttered with the wing beats of at least a thousand butterflies. Despite previous exposure to some of the world’s most prominent men, she’d never seen anyone like him. Power seemed to swirl around his body with every step he took.
As the man approached, more details became clear. The rakish tilt of his boss-of-the-plains. The butt of a weapon jutting proudly from its sleek holster. Seasoned leather boots that hinted of extensive–and perhaps exotic–travels. Bronze skin wrapped the chiseled features of his face with sensual abandon.
A commanding presence charged the very air around him, prompting her to surmise he was someone of great importance. Was he a marshal, or one of the train’s security personnel? She didn’t see a gold star on his brown vest, and his white shirt seemed more crisp and fashionable than what a frontier marshal could probably afford.
Violet speculated that he might be the latest in a line of prominent railroad tycoons or… She glanced down at her copy of The Lady’s Fireside Collection.
Or a hero materializing from the pages of her favorite weekly.