When plotting my first book, Darlin' Irish, I planned for my characters to meet at the Union Pacific Railroad Station in Omaha, Nebraska, and travel west on the U.P. I wanted them to stop somewhere along the route and spend several days there, giving romance a chance to bloom. Having the hero get wounded protecting the heroine provided a reason for their stopover, but where to stage the incident?
After hunting up a train schedule from the period, 1872, I chose Grand Island, Nebraska, as the setting. The town was a dinner stop, allowing passengers about 30 minutes to purchase and wolf down a rushed meal in the nearby eating house. It was also located far enough along the route to make it dark out when my characters arrived, uh-hum, after a conveniently staged delay back in Omaha.
While preparing to write the section about Jessie and David's stay in Grand Island, I researched the town's history. My favorite source was and is a book titled The Town Builders by Robert N. Manley. I ordered it from the Sturh Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, located in Grand Island.
In 1857, 35 German settlers traveled into central Nebraska from Iowa. They settled on an island called La Grande Isle, meaning large or great island - likely named by French traders. It lay between the Platte River and a narrow channel that branched off the main river. They arrived there on July 4 and by September had built log houses out native ash, elm and cottonwood timber. Over the next nine years, the settlers faced hardships including blizzards, conflicts with Native Americans, and among the Germans themselves, some of whom scattered, staking squatters' claims in the Platte River valley .
During this period, advocates for a transcontinental railroad agreed that the most practical route should follow that same valley, the path so many covered wagons had rolled along. There would also need to be feeder lines connecting major cities to the main trunk line, and it was thought a good place for these lines to meet the U.P. would be in central Nebraska, where Grand Island lay.
|Grand Island, 1867; wikipedia public domain|
Eventually, Union Pacific surveyors laid out a town called Grand Island Station slightly inland from the island. Many settlers on Grand Island moved to the new town site. In 1868 the railroad arrived, bringing more business and settlers. By 1870, 1,057 people lived in the "new" town and in 1872 Grand Island was incorporated.
Grand Island never became quite the railroad hub envisioned by some or the nation's capital as other starry-eyed dreamers predicted. However, it did serve as an important stopping point for weary, hungry U.P. passengers, a fact I took advantage of in Darlin' Irish.
A sickle moon hung low in the blue-purple sky over
, as Jessie ambled along
the tracks. This was their first meal stop, and they were late due to the delay
back in Grand Island,
Soon it would be pitch dark. And thank goodness for that! With the onset of
evening, the heat had finally begun to let up. Omaha
The aroma of fried meat carried on the ever-present wind, coming from the nearby eating house, which was crammed to overflowing with ravenous passengers. They only had thirty minutes to wolf down their supper. It must be a regular bedlam in there.
She and Tye had already eaten from their store of food, as had others with little funds to spare. Her brother now stood near their coach, deep in conversation with the two would-be miners she had overheard earlier. Tired of listening to talk of silver mining, Jessie had slipped away, needing a few minutes alone, especially after enduring David Taylor’s company.
Aye, and after he’d finally returned to his coach, she’d had to put up with Tye’s maddening prattle. He had teased her, accusing her of being “taken with” the insolent captain and laughing at her adamant denial. Worse still, he’d asked if David Taylor might be the man she searched for, the man in her fateful vision. Naturally she had scoffed at the idea.
“Impossible!” she muttered, swatting a windblown curl out of her eye as her thoughts circled around the captain. She kept seeing that look of pity he’d given her. It still raised her hackles, but it also made her wonder. Might that spark of humanity mean he hid a softer heart beneath his steely exterior? She had told herself over and over again that he couldn’t be the gentle hero from her dreams. Was she wrong? . .
Caught up in her thoughts, Jessie was nearing the caboose when she suddenly became aware of footsteps behind her. Turning, she saw a large male form approaching her. “Tye, is that you?” she called, unable to make out more than the man’s silhouette in the deepening gloom.
When he gave no answer, her skin prickled with fear and her heart began to race. She spun around and attempted to flee, but she’d taken barely two steps when a rough hand clamped over her mouth, smothering her terrified cry. She was hauled against a foul-smelling, buckskin-clad body.
“Surprise, sweetheart,” her captor rasped. “You lookin’ to meet that uppity bluecoat back here? Seems like he ain’t comin’. But Wolf’s here, and we’re gonna have us some fun, girlie.”
Oh God! Not Gerard! Flooded with fear, Jessie kicked and twisted and attempted to bite his filthy hand, but he merely laughed as he dragged her around the caboose. Her puny strength was no match for him. She couldn’t even reach up to claw his face with his arm fastened around her like a vice, pinning her own arms to her sides.
Help me, someone! she screamed silently.
* * *
As he left the eating house David heard Tye Devlin shout his sister’s name. Jessie did not reply. Standing by the train, the Irishman peered back and forth in the growing darkness.
“What’s wrong?” David asked, striding up to him.
Devlin pivoted, his face grim. “I can’t find Jessie. She was here a few minutes ago. Then she was gone. I was talking to two other gents and I didn’t see her leave.”
David clasped his shoulder. “Take it easy. Did you check your coach?”
“Aye, but she’s not there. And I’ve a terrible feeling she’s in trouble. I know she is!” Devlin glanced wildly toward the tender, where coal was still being loaded. “I was about to look up front. Will ye check the back end?”
“Be glad to.”
With a quick nod, Devlin trotted off toward the engine, while David headed in the opposite direction, hoping the Irishman’s bad feeling was wrong.
“Miss Devlin,” he called, but got no response. Didn’t the little greenhorn even have sense enough not to wander off by herself in the dark? And she thought she could take care of herself. “Fool girl!”
Damn, what if Gerard and his pals had gotten hold of her? At the thought, he broke into a run.
“Jessie!” he shouted. Still no reply.
Then a woman screamed. The sound was cut off, but it clearly came from the other side of the train. Cursing, he drew his gun and vaulted over the coupling between the last two cars.
“Bitch! Quit your bitin’!” a familiar ugly voice snarled, followed by the crack of a slap and a pained cry.
“Gerard, you bastard! Leave her alone!” Seeing the struggling figures in the deep shadows by the caboose, David charged forward.
The buffalo skinner roared a curse and shoved Jessie aside. She cried out as Gerard rushed at David. Recalling the man’s knife, David raised his gun but hesitated to fire, fearing he might hit the girl in the dark. His hesitation cost him. Spotting the glint of moonlight on metal, he started to twist aside, but Gerard’s blade caught him in the chest and slashed upward across his right shoulder.
The impact sent his gun flying, and he cried out as pain lanced through him. Instinctively, he knocked Gerard off balance and spun away. Sucking air between his teeth, he clutched his shoulder, feeling blood ooze between his fingers. Gerard regained his footing, growled, and rushed at him again. David dodged aside, forcing himself to ignore the pain.
“Want the next one in your belly, blue-leg?” the buffalo skinner taunted, circling him. “Or should I mark up your pretty-boy mug first? Think that little Mick would take to yuh with a few scars?”
“You won’t get away with this,” David ground out.
“Hell, I’ll be long gone on this here train before they find yuh. Or the girl.” Gerard gave a guttural laugh. “I watched yuh jawin’ with her and that buck she’s with. When I seen her sneak off from him, I hoped you’d come after her so’s I could even the score. Only I figured on havin’ a might more time with her first.”
David wanted to throttle him. “You need muzzling, cabrón, and that’s what I aim to do.”
“Why, you meddlin’ yahoo! Think you’re gonna wup me, do yuh?” Gerard lunged, knife slashing wildly.
Evading him, David grabbed the man’s knife arm and tried to wrench the blade from his grasp. He failed but hung on tight.
“You’re a dead man,” the buffalo skinner growled, hammering at him with his other fist.
David attempted to block the blows, but the pain was almost more than he could stand, and he was losing blood. He could smell it mingled with Gerard’s rank odor, and he was beginning to feel cold, not a good sign.
Stumbling, the buffalo skinner fell, and David went down with him. He gasped in agony when they hit the ground but maintained his death grip on the other man’s knife arm. They rolled in the dust, ending up with Gerard on top, straddling him.
“I’m gonna gut you like a downed buffalo, bluebelly,” he threatened, attempting to drive his blade into David’s throat. “Then I’ll have me some fun with your little friend.”
“Like hell!” David snarled. With a cry of pure rage, he heaved the heavier man upward enough so that he could jam his knee into the bastard’s groin.
Gerard shrieked and slumped forward. Gagging, he attempted to clutch himself. Still, he hung onto the knife, forcing it lower with his weight. Staving off pain and weakness, David tightened his grip on Gerard’s forearm and grabbed his wrist. He gave a swift, sharp twist and heard bones snap.
The buffalo skinner let out a bloodcurdling howl and dropped the knife. David shoved him away. Landing on his backside, Gerard cradled his broken arm and rocked back and forth, keening shrilly.
Slowly, David levered onto his knees. His breath came in labored gulps, and he swayed precariously. Marshalling the last of his strength, he delivered a roundhouse left to Gerard’s jaw that silenced him abruptly. He toppled backward onto the hard earth and lay there like a felled log.
David slumped over. Gotta tie the bastard up, he told himself, but he was used up. Dizzy and hurting all over, he collapsed near his unconscious enemy.
Huddled against the caboose, Jessie could barely make out the two men lying still and silent on the ground. Quaking from head to foot, she gathered her courage and forced herself to move. She had to find out if David was alive.
Dreading the worst as she approached him, she dropped to her knees and hesitantly reached out to touch him. When she felt his chest move under her hand, she released a cry of gladness. His face was a pale blur, but she thought she saw his eyes open.
“Thank heaven!” she said in a reedy voice. “I feared ye were . . . .” She broke off, unable to say the word.
“Not yet,” he muttered weakly. “He knifed me. Have to stop . . . the bleeding.” He fumbled with a button on his coat.
“Let me,” Jessie said, finding his hand and gently pushing it aside. Her own hands trembled as she worked open his heavy jacket. She longed to weep, but that would do him no good.
“Help!” she cried as loud as she could, praying someone would hear. Why hadn’t she run for help before, instead of cowering like a terrified rabbit while David fought to protect her? And why had she stupidly put herself in danger in the first place? This was all her fault!
“You shouldn’t have . . . left your brother,” David mumbled, echoing her guilty thoughts.
She choked down a sob. “I know. I’m so sorry.”
He grunted and lay silent while she unbuttoned his blood-soaked shirt. When she probed gingerly beneath it, he jerked and inhaled sharply. Jessie bit her lip, hating to cause him more pain, but she could barely see him in the dark, and she had to know the position of his wound.
“Oh God,” she whispered, finding a long, gaping furrow that ran from near his breastbone, diagonally across his right shoulder. With such a wound, how had he managed to best Gerard?
Hastily, she tore a strip of cloth from her petticoat, folded it into a pad, and pressed it over his wound. She tried to be gentle, but still he groaned. Touching his cheek, she found it cold and clammy, and she couldn’t contain a whimper of fear for him.
“Help! Please!” she cried again, still getting no response. What should she do? She had to keep pressure on the gaping wound, but she couldn’t just sit here while he slipped away.
Dear God, don’t let him die, she prayed.
Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and a pair of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, genealogy, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.
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