Rails & Romance: Passion’s Prize

One day last July at the RWA Conference in Atlanta, I wandered into the very crowded room where two thousand (mostly) women had gathered for lunch and a keynote address.  I found a table with a couple of empty chairs and found myself sitting next to a writer called E.E. Burke.  I’d never met Elisabeth Burke before, but we soon discovered a shared love of Hell on Wheels and American historical romance.  Elisabeth told me that she and two other writers (all three of them Golden Heart finalists), Jacqui Nelson and Jennifer Jakes, would soon release an ebook, Passion’s Prize, Passion's Prizecontaining three related short novels set during the post-Civil War construction of the Katy Railroad.  I downloaded it as soon as it was available (the three parts are also available separately, but if you are interested, you’ll enjoy them all).

Adella’s Enemy, by Jacqui Nelson, opens the collection with the story of Adella Willows, photographer and one-time Rebel spy, who has come West seeking vengeance for the death of her brother in a Yankee POW camp.  She blames the man behind the Katy, and if she can derail the Katy, figuratively or literally, she’ll have her revenge.  But she didn’t figure on falling for the Irish railroad foreman, Cormac McGrady.

In Eden’s Sin, by Jennifer Jakes, we meet Eden Gabrielli, a brothel owner in the railroad town, and U.S. Army Major Sinclair Bradford.  The investigation of a rape committed by a railroad worker brings them together, but the secrets of their pasts, blackmail in the present, and the future of the railroad may drive them apart.

E.E. Burke wraps up the book with Kate’s Outlaw.  Kate Parsons is the daughter, and only heir, of the Katy’s owner, but she has yet to prove her worth to her father as more than someone to be married off to a male successor.  When she is accidentally kidnapped by Jake Colson, a Cherokee bent on stopping the railroad’s path through the Indian Territory, she finds unexpected passion for both her captor and his cause.  But can she save both the railroad and Jake?

A brief epilog reconnects our three heroines, who each appear in the others’ stories, and sets the stage for the next volume, E.E. Burke’s Her Bodyguard.  That one’s waiting on my Kindle, and I’ll be looking forward to more books in the Steam: Romance and Rails series.

Passion's Prize 3

Railroads and Romance

Last summer when the second season of Hell on Wheels ended with the murder of Lily Bell, the destruction of the town, and the well-deserved but possibly unsuccessful hanging of the odious Swede, I was shocked and heart-broken by the loss of Lily and wondered if I’d be able to watch the show again.  By the time the third season started last night, I was eager for its return.

The first two episodes, “Big Bad Wolf” and “Eminent Domain,” did not disappoint me.  (If you’d like a full recap, visit TV.com or the AMC site.)  Still wrapped in animal skins after a winter spent dodging hallucinations and wolves on the site of the burnt out town, Cullen collects Elam in Omaha and drags him to New York City.  After a bath, a barber, and a good tailor, Cullen faces down the board of the Credit Mobilier and talks his way back into the position of Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific, snatching the job away from the son-in-law of a crony of the imprisoned but far from powerless Durant.

By the second episode, the moving town of Hell on Wheels is back at work.  Eva has delivered a baby girl (even she may not be sure who the little one’s father is, but Elam doesn’t care).  Ruth is setting up her church and giving Cullen advice, the McGinnis brothers, Mickey and Sean (who is in way over his head) are back, and Elam is not too pleased to be working for a new police chief.  Meanwhile, back in New York, Durant is out of prison and determined to take back the railroad.

I was delighted to see a new character appear, Louise Ellison, by her own description “neither a lady nor a whore,” but something Hell on Wheels hasn’t seen before, a reporter for a New York City newspaper, determined to see all sides of the town and the railroad, an outsider with her own viewpoint.

Hell on Wheels being the show it is, there are a couple of deaths, a moral dilemma or two for Cullen, and the promise of complications to come.  Not to mention those AMC promotional photos proving that the Swede will be back.  You didn’t really believe he’d drowned, did you?  I didn’t.

Passion's PrizeIf you’d like stories of railroad building and tough-minded women with guaranteed happy endings, you’re looking for a romance, and I have a suggestion to offer, in fact three in one volume.  Passion’s Prize, a new anthology by three prize-winning authors, kicks off the Steam! Romance and Rails series.  “Adella’s Enemy,” by Jacqui Nelson, pairs a former rebel spy with a railroad foreman.  The heroine of “Eden’s Sin,” by Jennifer Jakes, is a madam (yep, that kind of madam) who needs help from an Army major.  And “Kate’s Outlaw,” by E.E. Burke, features a railroad heiress caught up in a land dispute with the Cherokee.

Whether there will ever be a happy ending for Cullen Bohannon remains an unanswered question, but I have no doubt his journey will continue to fascinate me.