But would she have undertaken such a brash plan if she had not been so driven to outwit the stubborn Mr. Ramsey? Of course, it was a bit too late to ask that question because there was no time to figure out an alternative plan.
The sound of heavy footsteps coming up the steps of the train car jolted Mary Rose out of her morose flour-caked musings. “What is all this flour doing all over the floor?” It was Jacob Ramsey who boomed the question. An absurd thought presented the idea that she liked the sound of his voice. He would not be half bad if he wasn’t such a solid unmovable stubborn rock of a man.
With the prettiest hair.
“I don’t know Misser Ramsey, we load and everything clean after loading too,” a Chinaman responded.
Their footsteps came closer. “Maybe we got a critter getting into the barrels.”
Mary Rose began to perspire through her thudding pulse. Had she and Lucy left clues about which barrel she was in? How stupid they were not to consider the mess they were making unloading the flour to make space for her. Still, it had been dark, so it was no wonder they overlooked this detail. They were in too much of a rush with the added fear of being caught driving them.
Besides Ramsey, what man would even notice a bit of flour here and there? At that…who besides a crazy person would go about inspecting the train in the wee hours of the morning?
Drat the man anyway. He would have to be one of those fussy types, noticing everything that her brother and father would never notice, but she and her mother would see immediately and without effort.
What a meddling, difficult man he was indeed!
The scrape of wood a few feet away lodged her heart in her throat. Thank goodness they had the foresight to pick a barrel in the middle of the maze rather than on the edge.
If she were lucky, he wouldn’t be able to figure out which barrel the flour came from without opening them all.
And surely even he would not do that.
A heavy foot hit a nearby barrel. Oh gracious, if only they had taken the time to clean up!
How did a suffragette bring dignity to hiding in a barrel?
“I think it this barrel Missar Ramsey,” the Chinaman said tapping the cracked lid of Mary Rose’s barrel prison.
With her heart slapping her ribs she sank lower, digging her head into the barrel and holding her breath.
“Indeed, it is cracked.”
Mary Rose felt the swoosh of the lid coming off and looked up in flour-faced-defeat at the looming giant that was Jacob Ramsey.
He brought his lamp up and peered down into the barrel. “What the hell is this?”
The Chinaman’s lantern joined Jacob’s casting blinding light into the barrel. “I think it a girl, all covered in flour.”
Mary Rose shot up, sending flour dust everywhere including a glaring Ramsey. “It is a girl, and in fact, it is that madcap girl from earlier this evening! What do you think you are doing? Get out of that barrel this instant young lady!”
Mary Rose stood up and was assaulted by a pins and needles sting coursing through her cramped legs, “Ouch!”
He was incredulous. “What kind of rattlebrained woman would do something like hide in a flour barrel?”
She immediately defended herself by going on the attack. “No, I am not scatty. I just need a ride and you are the only person who can possibly take me to my brother. You would not give me a ride, so you left me with no choice!”
His booming laughter nearly knocked her out of her skin. Those startling eyes gleamed and glittered in the lantern light and his dark auburn hair curled silkily around his shoulders.
“Don’t laugh at me you arrogant, brutish man!” Mary Rose wiped flour from her face sending out clouds of dust with her movement. He extended his large hand. “I want you out of that barrel you senseless woman and I am going to lift you.”
She slapped at his bulky hands moving toward her. “I can manage by myself.”
His outsized hands attached to tree trunk arms grabbed her around the waist and plucked her from the barrel setting her to the ground. “You can’t get out fast enough by yourself and without making a bigger mess than you have already…how did you think no one was going to notice…not very well done.”
When her feet touched, the flour dust puffed off of her in clouds and rained on the floor. Jacob laughed loud, kicking his head back. “But you sure have a lot of gumption, I give you that.”
She gritted her teeth, beyond furious and humiliated that he found such accurate fault with her plan. “This isn’t funny, I am desperate, you dolt....you are a hulking idiot.”
Her words cut through his large laughter turning his eyes cold. He pinned her to the spot with the intensity of his icy cobalt gaze. “I should skin your hide for doing something so dangerous. You could easily have suffocated. As it is, you have wasted a whole barrel of flour. The question is how are you going to pay for all that flour that you have ruined girl? You are an attempted stow away on my train and I could take a whole lot of offense to that, let alone that you have spoiled my cargo. Now get that pretty bottom of yours off this train before I decide to press charges or better yet, give you a good hide-tanning …. maybe both.”
The Chinaman faded back into the shadows, his eyes averted.
“Please Mr. Ramsey, can’t you see I am wretched, I need to get out to my brother. Please, just let me ride with you. ” To her complete horror, humiliating tears welled up and spilled down her floured face.
Mary Rose quickly rubbed them away, feeling like a foolish, idiotic child… all made worse by doing it in front of him.
Ramsey swore, “Aw hell, now don’t be going and crying like that.” His voice dropped to a low, gentle growl. “Listen girl, it will be a long time before I am coming back here. This isn’t a Saturday afternoon drive, because if it were, I would let you onto that train. When we get out there to the end of the line, we are working on tunnels through the mountains.”
His voice dropped to husky. “You don’t understand how difficult it is. It is very cold and rough out there. And it is going to get colder and rougher as time goes on. More than that, it is dangerous. It is no place for a pretty miss, do you understand?” His eyes poured dark cobalt in the shadows of the lamps.
Mary Rose’s heart shifted and her stomach fluttered. This was not a side of him she needed to see if she were to keep her senses. She could not let those beautiful eyes distract her.
She grasped his muscled arm. “No, I can do it, I can. I don’t care how long it takes to get back, I will go and if he isn’t there, I will help you by cooking and cleaning. I am really tough.”
He moved his arm from her grasp. “I got Chinamen to do that, there isn’t anyone better than them…I already told you that.” His gaze was hard and unyielding. “You are not going and that is final. If you hide on my train again, I am going to call the Sheriff and have him put you up for the night until I get on my way.”
She gasped at this. “Would you really do that?”
He smiled large and his eyes twinkled over her skin. “That is after I give you a good spanking over my knee.”
Annoyed and flustered more by his brief but moving perusal than his words, Mary Rose colored heat but pressed on. “But I..”
His brows drew together over stern eyes. “It is for your own good. What you did here was dangerous and stupid.” His voice dropped lethal. “You don’t want to make me mad girl. Up to now, your antics are a little annoying and largely amusing, but you do anything else and you are going to see a side of me you aren’t going to like, do you understand?”
“Who made you the boss of the world?”
His eyes moved over her, burning her flesh, leaving a shiver in their wake. “I am the boss of this train. You leave on my train and I am the boss out there and I can do anything I please. Out on that line, my word is law…so you get past notice and on my train you are going to do what I want.”
He paused and his voice dropped to a husky timbre. “Anything I want. Do you understand what I mean girl? Even the kind of things that the saloon girls do.”
Images illustrating his words popped into her head. “How dare you say something like that! You are just trying to scare me.” She puffed with outrage. “The nerve of you to imply you would force your manly attentions on a woman who wasn’t willing just because she rode out on a train to find her brother!” She paused and turned her words to a hiss. “You are not a gentleman; you are a very crude and rude man.”
He leaned closer, his scent tempting her in a most inappropriate moment. “I dare a lot of things…a whole hell of a lot of things, and I am warning you to stay off of my train.”
“You are a most hateful man,” she hissed through her teeth, her hands balling up into frustrated fists.
“I think you better get yourself back home and clean off all that flour. I don’t want to see you near this train again before we pull out tomorrow morning, do I make myself clear?” His voice was suddenly low and deadly, but laced with a husky undertone that made Mary Rose’s insides quiver.
Mary Rose turned on her heel and with as much pride as she could muster, she tramped to the exit of the train car and stepped back onto the ground leaving clouds of dust with every movement.
“I clean up train car,” she heard the Chinaman say behind her.
“Thank you Win.”
Jacob watched the flour-coated young woman walk with the gait of a queen down the quiet dark street. He had been thinking of her all day, damn her. Besides that he had been thinking thoughts that should not be reserved for a woman like her.
She was damned pretty with hair the color of spun gold…Oh…she was pretty alright…to distraction, especially when she looked at him with those big blue eyes framed by flour.
And ouch but did she have fire and passion …. and backbone. Hiding in a barrel as a stowaway, what guts she had! What a woman.