Nebraska Territory 1866 CHAPTER ONE Elizabeth Stemple stood on the station platform, next to her wooden trunks, waiting for the man who should have been here to meet her train. The station master, a handsome man with warm chocolate eyes and nice broad shoulders, had already stopped by to check on her. It wasn’t often that she met a man who was taller than she was. Usually she saw over most women’s heads and was on eye level with most tall men. But this brawny station master almost made her feel petite. He didn’t just check on her once either but twice. He stopped once on his way to help the steam engine take on water and once on the way to the back of the train to help unload cargo. Having run a train station for seven years, more than four of those by herself, she watched him with a critical eye. He was good. He knew when to be where, and how to keep a conductor on time who wanted to dawdle and chitchat. Too bad he wasn’t the one who had written the advertisement in the Lowell Gazette looking for a wife. Her gaze swept the nearly empty platform. With a sigh of impatience, Elizabeth lifted the large pocket watch she wore around her waist. She paused for a moment and rubbed a loving hand over the ornate letter S. She’d given that watch to her husband on their wedding day. When he’d stepped on the train that last day, he’d said for her to hold it until he came back. She let another sigh escape, this one filled with sadness. If not for that dreadful war, she and Henry would still be running their train station. She tucked a stray brown curl back into her bonnet, rubbed the cover of the watch one more time, then popped the cover open in a swift, experienced motion. Just as she’d suspected. Mr. Roger Nelson was sixteen minutes late. Closing the watch and sliding it back into the pocket of her skirt, she looked around the platform one more time. “All righty, then.” Elizabeth picked up her carpetbag with her smaller valuables and the keys to her trunks and headed into the station. Just as she would have done with an abandoned passenger standing on the platform, the station master had been waiting just inside the door. When she’d started to move, he came out. He stopped a few paces from her, close enough for a conversation but far enough to be respectful. “Ma’am. I’m William Holt, the station master here in Tribilane.” She placed the heavy bag down at her feet. “I’m pleased to meet you Mr. Holt. I’m Mrs. Stemple.” She held out her hand and after a brief hesitation, he shook it, neither holding her hand too long nor dropping it too quickly. Elizabeth was intrigued by Mr. Holt’s perfect manners. “Mrs. Stemple, the pleasure is all mine. Is there anything I can do to assist you?” “Yes. Yes, there is something you could help me with.” Elizabeth checked the time on her watch and glanced quickly about the platform again. “Would you be able to tell me where I can find a Mr. Roger Nelson? He is now eighteen minutes late meeting me.” The man did a slow blink as if trying to put together puzzle pieces in his mind that wouldn’t fit.
CHAPTER TWO Elizabeth was getting a bad feeling. Her friend, Lillian, warned her not to jump at the ad. But Elizabeth had been desperate to get out of Lowell. After living in her own home and being on her own for all those war years, having to share a single dorm room with five other women had been hard. Now seeing Mr. Holt’s expression at the mention of her intended future husband, she was beginning to think she should have listened to her friend. “Is there something wrong with Mr. Nelson?” she asked. Holt rubbed his hand along his clean-shaven chin. “Well now… at the moment, he’s a guest of the sheriff’s, if you know what I mean.” Elizabeth hadn’t really thought about what could go wrong with this mail order bride idea. Even if she had, the man not meeting her because he was in jail would not have been on the