Authors: Leona Bushman
Tags: #Steampunk Romance
Traincoach of Death, Book 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Leona Bushman
Cover Artist: Victoria Miller
Editor: Jen Bradlee
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in reviews.
Many thanks to Jen for stepping in as editor. I appreciate you filling the breech and taking on a writer-come-editor who will ask all sorts of questions. To Victoria, the amazing cover artist who never fails to amaze and delight with her cover art. Also to my husband and children for loving me and being excited when I have a new contract. Love you all!
North American Continent, British Empire, Summer 2011
Victoria Elizabeth Hastings rolled her eyes—after she passed her father’s eagle sight. A habit she saw no reason to break. She allowed herself the one rebellious act when in her father’s presence. It kept her from doing something worse.
Only a few more months.
She tugged the lacy, black, fingerless gloves up with her manicured hands and then stepped up to get into the family traincoach. The silk lining of her skirt, the same emerald green as the leather corset she wore over the top of the sleeveless black lace v-neck top of her dress, swished as she walked. Victoria’s father, the Earl of Louisiana, still held power over her until she turned twenty-five. Then perhaps she would break the habit...or snap at him.
“Victoria! Are you listening to me?” her father demanded.
“I heard you, Father,” she replied. “I know the drill. You bring in the man; I behave. Then he acts as if I’m his property; I resist. Then he leaves. When will you give up?”
“When you’re settled down properly with a man, like a woman should be, and stop gallivanting about with those ridiculous paints of yours. You think you’re the next Picasso?” he questioned derisively. “Just get in the traincoach and prepare for our guests. I expect you to play the gracious hostess, as befits a Hastings’ daughter.”
Resentment coursed through her at his words and his tone. The thought of prepping for another one of the men thrust at her did not help. Men he approved of to help run the railroad were men he thought he could control.
I wish he’d get with it. We’re in the twenty-first century, and I’m no longer a child!
Tears smarted in her eyes as she stared out the window at the metal traincoach lines dispersing into the horizon like a lesson on perspective from her art classes. So many of them, extending into the seeable distance, the older wooden ones disappearing faster to the naked eye in the landscape around them. Along with the public and commercial lines, which were co-opted between many different railroad companies, there were a few personal lines for those like her family who owned the railroad, or people with money to burn on private lines.
Money hardly motivated Victoria. Still, she was no innocent. She saw what happened with the lack of it. Her sister—no, she would not think of Alexandria. She needed her wits about her to fight her father’s nefarious scheming. Turning her focus back to the problem at hand, she again told her father what she thought. Probably an exercise in futility, but she had to try.
“You’re wasting your time, Father. I will marry when I choose, not before. Particularly not to money-grabbing buffoons who treat me poorly at best.” Crap. Why had she done that? Now he’d be harder than ever on her about the marriage situation.
“They are all not money-grabbing buffoons. Besides, as an heiress, you need to get used to it. People will always
want you for your money,” he replied, anger underscoring his words.
She refused to say anything to him, and with a huff of frustration, he left her alone. Again, tears threatened.
Why did he insist on saying such hurtful things?
Why couldn’t he see her for more than just her wealth? Her heart, her soul longed for the acceptance she’d had when her mother was still alive. Not normally a girl who cried, she still couldn’t stop the few tears that escaped when no one watched.
Her anger at herself for wallowing in self-pity overrode her fears of the long trip and the consequences. Her father remained unaware of her knowledge that he would get most of her titles from her grandmother if she married before age twenty-five. Also, she knew the extent of his underhanded plans, and therefore he could scheme all he wanted. But if he chose to invite another one of his protégés to travel cross-country with them, then he could be the one to entertain the gold digger. She blew out a breath in frustration and stood up to check that her things were stored on board properly.
Victoria stepped across the small space of the couplings from the family’s dining car to her personal sleeping car. Hers was the last one on the train in the way she preferred. The guest car lay on the other side of the family lounge, then the storage car, her father’s car, the other normal running cars, and then the engine. The whole thing appeared very sleek, painted in her family’s official colors of black, green, and copper, the logo big and bright on the engine. It was all very ostentatious but also good advertising. She loved trains and all the adventures.
Once, when a little girl, she took her laptop, bought herself a ticket to her favorite aunt’s home, and rode the public fast train which ran from Louisiana to New York taking only a few hours. Her parents didn’t notice her absence until her Aunt Penny called and told them of Victoria’s unexpected arrival. Upon learning of her whereabouts, her parents both wanted her to come home, her mom in a near panic. However, Aunt Penny argued that as long as Victoria was already there, she should stay for a few days. Despite her father’s protests, her mother gave in, and Victoria enjoyed the greatest weekend of her young life. To this day, Aunt Penny remained a bit of a maverick and Victoria’s most stalwart supporter in getting rid of the men who came at her father’s behest.
Victoria sat down in front of the Louis IVX vanity set, took her voicelet’s earwing out of her right ear, and set it off to the side. With a quick press of the button, the long tentacles that strapped her voicelet to her arm whirred. One by one, they separated themselves from the bracelet they formed to track back into the device. When the device finished detaching and reshaped itself into the voicelet and case, she sat it next to the earwing.
She suspected her father inserted a tracer when he ordered them for her, either in her earwing or the smart voicelet, or both, but really did not care. She had nothing to hide. Once again, she wished for her aunt’s company on what promised to be a tedious train ride, or that her best friend, Lily Hargrove, could be there, mocking the elaborate set up of her family’s personal conveyance.
Most people owned an engine, small storage car, and one large car with sleeping quarters for the whole family in the one car. Some smaller, compact designs comprised of storage on top of the family car, the compartments accessible from the inside. Lily’s family owned a large storage car and family car, with an elite Louisiana Engine pulling it all. The Hargroves possessed the best without the ostentation the Earl of Louisiana favored.
Why couldn’t her father be more like them? Times like this, she missed her mom more than ever. She would just need to get rid of the man on her own. It would be a great story to tell her best friend.
Keep telling yourself that. Maybe it’ll help your imagination as to how to go about doing it without alienating some higher up in the company.
Victoria frowned at her reflection in the glass. Her long auburn hair had purple streaks near the front, currently braided in a complicated assembly she found impossible to do without her maid’s assistance. Whenever she stayed in her own home rather than the family home, her father refused to allow her maid to accompany her. This trip wouldn’t be the first time without her maid. Nor the last.
Though her art sold well, it did not provide enough for maids and luxurious coaches. Plus, she suspected some collectors merely bought them to say they owned a Hastings original.
Even the little bit of freedom she’d earned for herself after college had been bought with her family’s name. Not that there was anything wrong with her name.
They manufactured the best trains in the world, and the earnings from the engines alone provided well for them ever since her great grandmother on her Scottish side, at the age of sixteen, invented the assembly line—and what a coup for women everywhere that had been. A smile flitted across her face as she recalled her grandmother’s stories. The Louisiana Rail and Engine Company had provided an option of engines, steam, coal, and diesel, at lower cost than their competition. As a result, their family remained quite wealthy.
“You will not let Father coerce you into forfeiting your inheritance,” she firmly told her reflection.
With a quick freshening of her makeup, she went through her belongings to check everything needed for the next week. Although she could buy whatever she wanted at any of the longer layovers, she didn’t want to hassle with it or waste the money. Another quick grin crossed her lips, this time for her Scots grandfather. He’d approve of her frugal ways, no doubt. Her grin dipped as she return to the mundane chore of preparing for departure. The trip already promised to be longer than she would have liked, and her maid remained at home because her father had decided not to attach the servant’s quarters. A move not lost on her. It would be much easier to marry her off with no chaperone around.
Well, she had no intention of giving her father cause to extend it. Ostensibly, they were stopping to do a surprise check on all the stations. In reality, although they would check on the status of every one of The Louisiana Rail’s stations, her father did not care for her to be along for the business end of things. He wanted her in a confined space with his latest choice of beaus for her. A space she could not escape.
Sighing angrily one last time over her father’s annoying schemes, Victoria put the earwing in her ear and turned her voicelet to vibrate. Maybe Lily would call her and end the tedium already swamping her. She crossed over the threshold of the couplings and sat in a window seat, awaiting the rest of their party.
She stared out the window lost in thought about plans for her future and the changes she would make in her life when she inherited her full fortune. The walls of her offices would be redecorated with some of her favorite artists and a few discreet pieces of her own work. Mentally rearranging the paintings, she did not hear the man enter until he cleared his throat. She jumped, jerking toward the noise. To her mortification, she slapped him in the gut as she swung around.
“Oh,” she gasped, embarrassment making her angry.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the tall, suntanned man said, white beret in hand. “I didn’t mean to startle you, but your father told me to come right in.”
Her anger deflated as quickly as it had risen. Another of
men. Time would tell if he was an innocent dupe or a willing victim. She turned back to stare out the window.
“No harm done,” she replied.
“I’m glad to hear it,” the man joked. “I’d hate to see what you would do to me if I had harmed you in some way.”
Startled again, this time because his attitude proved so different from the others her father usually brought around, she looked back at him and assessed him more thoroughly. His dark blond hair, streaked with white blond as common to men who spent their lives in the south, tempted her to ask how much time he spent in the sun tanners even though his tan seemed natural and not the results of long hours in a tanning salon. His muscular, broad shoulders appeared more like a farmer or rancher. The gray power suit definitely fit the bill of the businessman her father mentioned would be along.
Despite herself, she found him intriguing. She returned his smile and stood to properly introduce herself. “I’m Victoria Hastings.”
“I’m William Howell. Please call me Bill. We’ll be at close quarters, it seems. I’m the new CEO for the southern part of North America.”