Authors: Margaret Brownley
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance, #Historical
© 2015 by Margaret Brownley
Print ISBN 978-1-62836-627-3
Adobe Digital Edition (.epub) 978-1-63409-457-3
Kindle and MobiPocket Edition (.prc) 978-1-63409-458-0
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted for commercial purposes, except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without written permission of the publisher.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version
. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.
Cover design: Müllerhaus Publishing Arts, Inc.,
Published by Shiloh Run Press, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., P.O. Box 719, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683,
Our mission is to publish and distribute inspirational products offering exceptional value and biblical encouragement to the masses.
Printed in the United States of America.
Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
Arizona Territory, 1882
aggie Taylor spotted the thief the moment she stepped off the Southern Pacific train and onto the open-air platform.
As a Pinkerton operative, she’d dealt with her share of pickpockets through the years, but this one put the profession to shame. He made no attempt at discretion; he simply bumped into a male passenger and walked away with the man’s gold watch.
Normally Maggie wouldn’t hesitate to pursue the culprit, but today she had bigger fish to fry. Chasing after a third-rate thief could jeopardize months of hard work and careful preparation, and she couldn’t take the chance.
That is, until he targeted a young mother with three small children. Maggie changed her mind. He had to be stopped.
Threading her way through the crowd, she reached the woman ahead of the thief and picked up the drawstring handbag she’d carelessly left next to a carpetbag.
“Your purse, ma’am. There are thieves around. Better keep an eye on it.”
The harried mother took the bag from her. She looked no older than nineteen or twenty. “Thank you,” she murmured, as if thieves were the least of her problems.
Satisfied that the pickpocket’s latest attempt at larceny had been thwarted, Maggie pushed him from her mind and swung her gaze over the crowd. Never before had a new assignment filled her with such anxiety. But then again, never had she attempted such a daring venture.
Would she recognize the suspect on sight?
According to Pinkerton files, Garrett Thomas stood six feet tall, was forty-five years of age, and had dark hair and blue eyes. His one outstanding feature was a scar along the side of his face—a war wound. He was also extremely clever. Some said even lucky. A suspected thief and murderer, Thomas had endured the Battle of Gettysburg and a year in the Andersonville rebel prison—an impressive record of survival by anyone’s standards.
Though he was suspected of committing a daring train robbery, his most notable achievement was evading Pinkerton’s best detectives for nearly two years.
We’ll see how long your luck holds out this time, Mr. Thomas.
Eventually even a cat runs out of lives.
After checking that her feathered hat was angled just right, she pushed a strand of auburn hair behind her ear and smoothed the bun at her nape. Her wardrobe had been chosen with utmost care, and her demeanor meticulously polished.
The goal was to look fashionable but not ostentatious: to act domesticated without appearing dull. At all times she had to be charming, well spoken, and industrious. In matters of politics, religion, and finances she must take care not to express a contrary view as she was often inclined to do. In other words, she had to look and act like a woman that any man would be proud, indeed anxious, to wed.
Given her somewhat opinionated and independent spirit, curtailing her impulsive nature would be her greatest challenge. She couldn’t afford to do or say anything without careful consideration of the consequences. Not this time.
Not only did she have to make a fine impression but one that would throw no suspicion her way. “Dazzle Thomas with your charm and good looks,” Mr. Pinkerton had said. “He won’t suspect a thing.”
In her current state, she’d be lucky to dazzle a horsefly. She was hot and she was hungry and more than anything, travel weary.
Despite the desert heat, she donned her kid gloves and smoothed the wrinkles from her blue velvet-trimmed suit. Steam hissed across the platform, and passengers sidestepped the heated blast.
A barefooted boy of nine or ten raised a folded newspaper in the air and yelled something about a fire. “Readallaboutit!”
A man bumped into her and almost knocked her off her feet. Regaining her balance, she pivoted just in time to see the same thief she’d spotted earlier snatch the paperboy’s money bag and dart into the crowd. The nerve! It wasn’t bad enough trying to steal from a young mother, but a child?
The youth’s face turned red. “That man took my pouch!” His eyes brimmed with tears, though he tried not to let them fall. “Now I gotta pay the money back.”
Maggie hesitated. If only the boy didn’t look so needy. His tattered shirt was a size too small, and his threadbare trousers fell six inches short of his dirty bare feet. “Stay here!” she said and took off after the robber.
The thief moved at a fast clip, but the crowded platform and a limp kept him from altogether running. His long dark coat was more suitable for cold weather, and it made him stand out among a crowd dressed mainly in calico dresses and boiled white shirts.
Something was definitely wrong with his left leg. He dragged it along, toes pointing away from his body. She’d almost caught up to him when a dark-skinned porter pushed a cart of baggage in her path, momentarily blocking her way.
By the time the cart moved, the pickpocket had vanished. She ran to the end of the platform and immediately spotted him lumbering along the railroad tracks. Had he been physically able to run she might have given up the chase, but he looked like an easy mark.
Jumping to the ground, she raised her skirt above her ankles and took off after him.
Here I go again, tossing common sense to the wind.
But she couldn’t seem to help herself. Not where children were concerned.
Running on the gravel in high-button shoes and a straight skirt wasn’t easy, but she quickly gained on the man. She just hoped he didn’t force her to pull out her pistol.
No more than a couple of yards separated them when the heel of her boot caught on a wooden railroad tie. All at once her feet flew from beneath her. Arms and legs windmilling, she fell facedown on the ground.
The wind knocked out of her, she fought to gather her wits. Now look what she’d done. Grimacing, she ever so slowly pushed to her feet and squinted against the blazing sun. On the left side of the tracks a bleak desert stretched for as far as the eye could see. Since the thief was nowhere in sight, he’d probably ducked through the adobe brickyard that paralleled the tracks on the right.
What kind of town was this anyway that a man could steal from a young boy in plain sight and get away with it?
Gritting her teeth, she stared down at her stylish blue traveling suit now covered in dust.
She brushed herself off with quick angry swipes and straightened her feather hat. When would she ever learn? One impetuous moment could jeopardize six months of careful planning.
The sound of crunching gravel made her whirl about. A tall, broad-shouldered man stood but a few feet away staring at her with eyes the color of a deep blue sea.
“Is everything all right, ma’am?”
Her mouth fell open, and her hand flew to her parted lips. The red scar slicing down the side of his handsome square face told her he could be no other than the suspect Garrett Thomas, the man she had traveled all this distance to wed.
Maggie’s mind scrambled. Normally able to think on her feet, she had a hard time coming up with a plausible explanation for standing on the railroad tracks.
God, don’t let me mess up this job.
Not like she did the Madison case, which had landed her in jail. This time she would get her man if it killed her. Reminding herself to “dazzle,” she lifted her chin with a brilliant smile.
“I’m quite all right, thank you.” Taller than she’d expected, he towered over her five-foot-seven-inch height by more than six inches. He was clean shaven with high cheekbones and a straight nose. His brown hair, neatly trimmed to just above his collar, was combed from a side part.
“Mr. Thomas, right?” she said, extending a gloved hand. At least the Pinkerton report got the color of his eyes right, though listing the color as merely blue hardly did them justice.
He stared at her for a brief moment before his hand swallowed hers in a firm grip. His wide shoulders filled his boiled shirt and low-cut vest with no room to spare. A large-brim hat shaded his face.
“And you must be Miss Taylor.”
“Yes.” She smiled and lowered her lashes as she imagined a woman meeting her fiancé for the first time might do. Under Allan Pinkerton’s guidance, she had answered this man’s advertisement for a mail-order bride and corresponded with him for nearly six months.
Much to her dismay, he didn’t look particularly dazzled. Instead he frowned. “What are you doing here on the railroad tracks?”
“I was hoping to… convince a thief to return his haul.” Sticking as close to the truth as possible was the key to creating a realistic illusion. She’d worked long and hard to arrange this meeting and would play her role to the hilt.