Once again, I'm very happy to introduce another lovely author, E.E. Burke. She's a talented writer and has worked hard to build her career. A finalist and winner of many contests including a Maggie Award, a Daphne Award and RWA's most prestigious Golden Heart, Elisabeth has certainly earned the right to publish her wonderful story, Kate's Outlaw.
This is the last in our series of interviews with three award-winning authors whose fascination with the TV series “Hell on Wheels” led to a historical romance anthology they wrote together. E.E. Burke, author of the novella Kate’s Outlaw, which is featured in the anthology Passion’s Prize is sharing her story with us today.
Now, about our project:
(Excerpt from Kate’s Outlaw)
Jake crept along the dark side of the locomotive, which his people had named after a mythical serpent. Not because they believed it had special powers. Everyone knew it was just a machine. But like its namesake, the “smoking dragon” had been created as a tool of domination. Its owners were the real monsters—and they had to be stopped.
Clouds skated across the sky. Light from a full moon struck the engine’s iron skin, turning it silver. Jake crouched lower, trying to make himself small. An impossible task when he was taller than most men, including the one in front of him. He stood out when he’d rather fit in.
As he passed between two cars, he glimpsed a bonfire on the other side. Orange flames leapt above the heads of dancers, their writhing silhouettes casting eerie shadows over a patch of ground cleared for the celebration. Strains of fiddle music mixed with shouts of drunken revelry.
The railroad chief’s party had been underway since sunset and wouldn't end anytime soon. Members of the Tribal Council hadn’t attended, even though they were the honored guests, and they’d warned their people to stay away. But there were always those happy to take advantage of free liquor.
Jake and Charley weren't here to drink. They'd come to steal the payroll.
The rhythmic crunch of footsteps came from the other side of the train.
Charley halted. His black clothes and dark coloring concealed him from view, but Jake was close enough to see his cousin’s fingers curl around the handle of his revolver. The gun slithered out of the holster.
Jake’s heart kicked in his chest. If his cousin started shooting with all these armed workers around, they'd both get killed. Of course, if they were caught stealing, they'd be hung from the nearest tree.
Holding his position, he peered beneath the train. Denim-clad legs scissored past. As the footfalls faded, he released a slow breath. By Thunder, this job would be his last. After tonight, they ought to have adequate funds to defend their land from those who wanted to take it.
"There, at the end, the fanciest car," he whispered. "I wager the owner brought the payroll with him."
A moment later, he swung up onto the metal platform, taking care not to tread loudly, and eased the door open. The compartment was dark, quiet.
"I’ll cover the windows. You find a lamp.”
His cousin slipped past. Circling the room, Jake pulled down tasseled curtains, which were rolled up on brass rods. A match rasped, followed by a sulfurous smell, then a soft glow filled the compartment.
Charley lifted the lamp. Light splashed across his features, making the scar more noticeable. During the war, he'd been struck in the face with a saber and the injury pulled his mouth down in a permanent grimace. The worse scars, however, couldn’t be seen. They were the ones on his soul.
“Where do think they stashed the money?” Charley rasped.
Jake scanned the paneled room, which looked more like a fancy office than a railcar. There was a sitting area, a table spread with papers and maps, a large desk positioned in front of bookcases that were pushed up against a partial wall, and beyond that, probably sleeping quarters. Last time, the money had been in a safe, something they’d been able to easily discover. But if there was no safe…
“Maybe it’s in the desk.” He checked the drawers—locked—then ran his hands underneath, feeling for a release that might trigger a secret compartment. "Nothing. I'll bet he keeps the key on him. We'll have to pry it open."
Pulling a knife from a sheath on his belt, Jake went to work on the top drawer.
Charley flipped open the lid on a fancy cigar box and stuffed the contents inside his coat. He threw a frowning glance over his shoulder. "Hurry up. I hear something."
From outside came a scrape on the metal platform.
Jake scrambled to his feet.
"Stay there. Distract them,” Charley hissed. He pressed his back against the wall to the left of the door and pulled a knife from a sheath in his boot.
Growing nervous, Jake shook his head. No bloodshed. That was the deal.
The knob turned and a woman stepped inside, one with hair as bright as a sunset.
Recognition jolted through him. Even though he'd only seen her from afar, there was no mistaking her fiery crown. It was the same woman who’d been following the railroad for months, mostly on the arm of the chief.
Fear flickered across her face, but instead of screaming, she raised her chin and leveled a stern look. "What are you doing in here? This is a private office."
Charley eased up behind her, his eyes glittering with grim intent. Surely, he wouldn't harm a woman.
The knife flashed.
"Tsali, no!" Jake shouted.
Confusion flickered across Redbird’s face a second before Charley clapped one hand over her mouth and jerked her back against him, putting the razor-sharp blade to her throat.
She froze, her eyes huge with terror.
Jake placed his palms on the desktop, prepared to leap over and grab the knife. But he checked himself. If he startled her, she might bolt, and the glint in Charley's eyes made it clear she wouldn't get away.
"Don't hurt her," Jake continued in Tsa-la-gi.
Charley scowled and jerked his chin toward the door. "See if someone followed."
Taking care to be quiet, Jake looked outside. No one lingered by the car and the only sounds were the strains of music and drunken laughter. He shut the door.
Redbird hadn't moved a muscle. Good thing she was smart enough to keep her wits about her. Now he had to calm Charley down.
"Don't see anybody, but we can't risk staying long enough to find the money. Let's tie her up and get out of here."
Charley flicked a dark glance at the petrified woman in his arms. "She's seen us. It'll ruin our cover."
"Only if they connect us with the other theft."
"You know they will if she squawks."
Redbird's frightened eyes darted back and forth and her brow knitted with confusion. Better she didn't understand.
"I’ll cut her throat and we can run. No one will be the wiser." Charley made the remark as casually as if he were discussing the weather.
Horror thundered through Jake, and in a burst of protectiveness, he moved closer. Charley might be right about the danger of letting her go, but killing her was out of the question. "I've got a better idea. Give her to me."
***For one lucky commenter, Elisabeth will be pleased to present a
Amazon gift copy of her new E-book, Kate's Outlaw.
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You can get Kate’s Outlaw as a separate novella on
or as part of the anthology
which is available as an e-book or print book also at Amazon
E.E. Burke writes sexy, suspenseful historical romance set in the American west. Her writing has earned accolades in regional and national contests, including the prestigious Golden Heart®. Over the years, she’s been a disc jockey, a journalist and an advertising executive, before finally getting around to pursuing her dream of writing novels. Her stories are as deeply rooted in American soil as her family, which she can trace back to the earliest colonists and through both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and three daughters, the greatest inspiration of all.