She turned to find a lanky man in a stationmaster’s uniform standing behind her. “Oh … I …,” she stammered, twisting to look for the man who she’d sent to get her bag. “You’re the stationmaster?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He touched his hat. “Lewis Jones.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jones. I’ve just sent your assistant to fetch my bag.” She smiled.
“My assistant?” Mr. Jones goggled back at her.
“Yes.” She hesitated. “The man with glasses?”
“Here you go.” The man in question reappeared on her other side. “Charlotte Baldwin,” he read the tag aloud then set her beat up old bag between them.
“Thank you so much.” She reached for the clasp of her carpetbag to pay the man.
The stationmaster’s laugh startled her. “Hey, Mr. West, she thought you were my assistant,” Lewis Jones told the man as if sharing a bad joke.
“Oh dear.” She lowered her carpetbag. “You’re not…?”
“No.” Mr. West’s eyes sparkled behind his glasses.
Color splashed to Charlotte’s cheeks. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed-”
“No offense taken.”
“Mr. West owns the general store,” Mr. Jones explained. Then, as if to rub her mistake in, he continued with a snort, “He’s one of the richest men in town. And you thought he was a porter. Can you imagine?”
Charlotte made herself laugh along with the man, in spite of her hot cheeks. “That’s what I get for taking a chance, I guess.”
“Wait ‘til the boys hear about-”
“Thank you, Lewis.” Mr. West cut him off with a strained smile. “Could you help Oliver unload the rest of the shipment?”
“Yes, sir.” Mr. Jones snapped to do as he was told, leaving Charlotte alone to start her new life at the mercy of the man she’d just insulted.
“Now what I need to know is where I and my young charges can stay while we’re in town getting to know you all.”
Michael glanced from the dark-haired beauty who had thought he was a porter to the dreadful woman causing a spectacle further down the platform. At her direction the rest of the floozies formed a line and were smiling and flaunting their assets at Cold Springs’ finest. He ignored them. Seen one loose woman and you’d seen them all. He had a shipment to receive and a store to run.
And an unexpected distraction.
“I really am very sorry I mistook you for the porter,” Miss Baldwin apologized again. She was well spoken, he’d give her that. Her soft black hair was tied up in a simple style that framed pale skin, deep blue-green eyes, and rosy lips. Her perfect figure was concealed in a modest, elegant dress. She hadn’t bought a dress like that anywhere nearby and the brooch pinned at the collar was genuine ivory.
“Not a problem.” He smiled. “I’m sure it was an easy mistake to make.”
He picked up his clipboard, scanning over the packing list. His eyes only made it halfway down the page before flickering back to Miss Baldwin. She studied the platform and the town beyond it with a resolute expression.
“You haven’t seen beauty until you’ve seen Katie,” the garish Miss Helen talked up another of the girls.
Michael begged to differ. He studied Miss Baldwin. She had her carpetbag open now and was sorting through its contents. Her lips were pressed in a perfect pink line of determination. There was no reason at all that he should find her more interesting than his work.
“You aren’t going to….” He nodded towards the others.
“Oh no.” She glanced up and shut her carpetbag, arching an eyebrow. “I don’t need that kind of attention.”
He closed his mouth and stood straighter. “That’s very … confident of you.”
“There are days, Mr. West, when confidence is the only thing I’ve got going for me.”
A lopsided grin tweaked the corners of Michael’s mouth. If this poised beauty expected to find a husband amongst the miners and cowboys of Cold Springs she was out of luck. Not one of them was up to the challenge.
“Do you want me to bring the wagon around, Mr. West?” Oliver asked as he jumped down from the train’s cargo car.
Michael continued to appraise the enigmatic woman in front of him until she noticed him watching her. “Yes,” he told Oliver. “See if you can flag down one of the Jones boys over there to help you while you’re at it. Tell them I’ll pay them a dime each to help with the shipment.”
“A dime?” The woman nodded her approval. “For that kind of money I’d help you myself.”
“Would you now?” He tucked the clipboard under his arm, work forgotten.
“Certainly. Are you hiring?” She kept a straight face but there was a sparkle in her bright eyes.
Genre – Western Historical Romance
Rating – R