“No. The accommodations leave much to be desired, in my opinion. And where is my breakfast?” He glanced over his shoulder, eyeing the length of the car. “Why anyone would choose to travel in a public car is beyond me. It’s barbaric.”
He was an even bigger snob than her brother. “I don’t mind it. I like the anonymity and the sense of adventure.”
Henry gazed at her as if she’d advised him to buy high and sell low. “I suppose,” he muttered. “But once you’ve been granted your annulment, we’ll be staying in New York.”
Her eyes grew wide. That had sounded proprietary, as if Henry had a right to make decisions on her behalf—which he definitely did not.
The waiter set a china plate in front of Henry along with a matching cup filled with coffee, cutting off what she’d been about to say. Henry took a bite of food and grimaced. “This is worse than what they attempted to call a dinner last night.”
“You may get off the train at any stop. Return back to New York. No one is forcing you to accompany me.” No one had even asked, in fact.
“Lizzie.” He gave her a patronizing, crooked smile. “I cannot let you face this alone. We’re friends. Besides, this journey is not safe for a woman alone, especially not one such as yourself.”
“What does that mean, a woman such as myself?”
He scratched his sideburns. “You know, one with your upbringing. With our upbringing. This is dangerous for a gentle woman like you.”
Gentle? She nearly snorted. If Emmett heard that word used to describe her, he’d laugh. Further proof she and Henry were mismatched. He didn’t know her at all if he really believed she was “gentle.”
“And that investment firm idea of yours . . . I’m afraid you’ll need to put our family first, Lizzie.”
“It’s more than an ‘idea,’ and I plan to pursue it, Henry.”
A muscle jumped in his jaw, his nostrils flaring, before he forced out, “Of course, my dear.”
Though his insincerity was obvious, she dropped the issue and attended to her breakfast. She and Henry had no future together, not one in which he would have any control over her life.
Once breakfast had concluded, they returned to the first-class parlor, where she noticed that the train was pulling into a station. Good. Perhaps she could step out for a bit of fresh air and space from unwanted companions. And most bizarrely, she missed Emmett. Spending time with Henry had only served to remind her how much.
Obviously, she needed to clear her head.
“I think I’ll walk around a bit on the platform, Henry. Perhaps we’ll see one another this afternoon.”
She started for the vestibule, but his hand stopped her. “Wait, Lizzie. I want to talk to you.”
“Isn’t that what we’ve been doing all morning?” she asked him pointedly. “I need some air, Henry.”
“Please, Lizzie. For me?”
Why was he pushing so hard? She would much rather be alone. Sighing, she resigned herself. Maybe if she heard him out, he’d give her some space. She nodded, and he led her to the sofa, where they both sat on the plush cushions.
“Have you thought any more about what I said yesterday?”
“Which part, exactly?”
“About how I want to marry you.” He searched her face before leaning in closer than was proper. “Do you believe me?”
She edged away slightly. “It hardly matters whether I believe you or not, Henry. I think you have made assumptions based on our friendship, assumptions I do not share.”
“They are not assumptions. But I realized the reason you doubt me is because I’ve been too tentative with you. I should have shown you long before now how I felt.”
The back of her neck prickled. She didn’t care for the strange light in his eyes. “No, that’s not why—”
“Of course it is.” He reached out to clasp her upper arm in a firm grip. “Let me show you. Let me prove to you how much I want you.”
“That’s not necessary,” she said quickly, trying to pull her arm free and glancing wildly around the car. There was no one else about, no one to help her. The other first-class passengers must be outside on the platform or still in the dining saloon. Where were the porters? “Really, Henry. You do not need to demonstrate—”
Without warning, he jerked her toward him and slammed his mouth down on hers. Surprise rooted her to the spot, frozen, as his lips, cold and determined, moved forcefully on hers. They had kissed once or twice before, but the exchanges had held no passion. No excitement. This time was no different—and she was married.
Using all her strength, she pushed him away. “Henry, stop. We should not be doing this. I’m married.”
“Your husband is not here,” Henry said. “He doesn’t want you like I do.”
“That does not change the fact that I am married to him. I cannot do this.”
“Of course you can.” His brows flattened into a disbelieving line. “Let me show you how much I want you.”
He leaned in, and she arched away, attempting to scramble to her feet, but he grabbed her shoulders with both hands. He pushed her into the corner of the sofa, blocking her with his body. A sliver of fear worked its way down her spine. How far would Henry go to “prove” his feelings to her?
“You need to let go. This is not right, Henry.”
“You’re wrong.” He bent his head and pressed his face into her throat. “This is exactly right. You need me, Lizzie.”
A hand cupped her breast, and she began to struggle in earnest. “Stop, Henry!”
“Shh,” he told her. “I’m a very generous lover. Everyone says so. Let’s depart here, and I’ll find us a hotel room. Allow me to pleasure you. You’ll enjoy it, I swear.”
She continued to push against him, trying to get up. When that didn’t work, her foot connected with his shin. He didn’t flinch. “Stop! Let me go. Stop, Henry.”
He didn’t even acknowledge he’d heard her. Panic seized her, and she did the only thing she could think of: she balled up her fist and landed a swift uppercut to his jaw. His teeth clacked shut, and surprise loosened his grip enough for her to slide away.
She lunged for the vestibule, intent on escape or calling for a porter. Throwing the heavy panel open, she opened her mouth to scream, then promptly closed it.
Emmett Cavanaugh was rushing toward her, his face full of murderous rage.
* * *
Emmett’s gaze raked his wife, who stood quaking with fear in the doorway, her hair and clothing disheveled. He’d heard her cries as he approached, the panic in her tone causing his blood to run cold. Thank God she appeared unharmed, at least physically.
So Rutlidge would live. Barely.
“Emmett,” she breathed, blinking up at him.
“Hello, Elizabeth.” He wanted to take her into his arms, crush her to him. Kiss her senseless. Drop to his knees and beg her forgiveness. But he did none of those things, just stared at her instead. Once the surprise wore off, how would she react to his presence?
Emmett suspected Brendan might have been correct. Based on what he had overheard a few minutes ago, Rutlidge was not Elizabeth’s lover. So what was he, then?
“What are you doing here?” Rutlidge stood in the middle of the first-class parlor, a deep scowl on his face.
“I’ve come after my wife,” Emmett said slowly, with a heavy measure of menace he hadn’t exuded in years.
Elizabeth stiffened, which he hoped was caused by surprise and not disappointment. Still, he would deal with her after he divested Rutlidge of a limb or two.
Two porters appeared at the opposite end of the car, passengers directly behind them, so Emmett called, “This car is closed for the next fifteen minutes.”
“Yes, sir,” one of the porters said, before hurrying everyone out of the car.
Grasping his wife’s shoulders, Emmett turned her to him. His thumbs lingered to stroke the delicate bones beneath her clothing as he studied her face. Luminous gray eyes sh
“I’m fine. But what are you—?”
“All in good time, Elizabeth.” He took her arm and led her to a chair. “Wait here.”
Like a curtain falling into place, all the relief and tenderness inside him was locked firmly away, replaced by cold, hard resolve as he advanced on Rutlidge. The younger man at least had the sense to start backing away once he saw the look Emmett wore. “Did I hear that you were touching my wife against her wishes, Rutlidge?”
The man held up his hands, his face draining of color as he hit the wall. “Listen, Cavanaugh. There was no harm. We were merely talking.”
“Even if I hadn’t heard her protests with my own ears, I still wouldn’t believe you.” He wrapped one hand around Rutlidge’s throat and squeezed. “Kelly!”
“Yeah, Bish?” Kelly strode into the car, tipped his hat to Elizabeth. “Mrs. Cavanaugh.”
“Hello, Kelly,” she said with a smile.
“Kelly, take Mrs. Cavanaugh back to my private car.”
“Right.” He held out his hand. “Come with me, ma’am. I’ll get you settled.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Emmett, I think I should stay.”
“Absolutely not. Go with Kelly.” He shot her a look over his shoulder, gentling his tone. “Please, Elizabeth.”
She stared at him for a beat, her expression unreadable. Things were unsettled between them, and he didn’t blame her for hesitating. He did, however, need her gone.
“I’m staying. I think you’ve misunderstood—”
He held up his free hand. “Was he touching you without your permission?”
She bit her bottom lip. “Yes.”
“Did you ask him to stop?”
“Now, wait—” Rutlidge started, and Emmett flexed his fingers to cut off the man’s air supply.
“Elizabeth?” Emmett said. “Did you ask him to stop?”
She nodded carefully. “I did, but—”
“Then I did not misunderstand. You and I will speak after I’m through with Rutlidge.” He jerked his chin at Kelly.
“Come now, Mrs. Cavanaugh. He’ll be worryin’ if you don’t go peacefully.” Kelly took her elbow and towed her out of the car and into the vestibule. She appeared concerned, but did not argue further.
When the wooden door clicked closed, Emmett relaxed his fingers to allow Rutlidge to breathe. The other man slumped against the side of the car, air wheezing in and out of his lungs.
Emmett dropped into a seat, brushed a piece of lint from his trousers. “You get one chance to explain yourself, Rutlidge, and it best be good.”
“She left you,” Rutlidge panted. “Anyone can see you make her miserable. She’s headed to California for a migratory divorce.”
The news shredded the inside of Emmett’s chest with the precision of a straight razor, but he kept his face impassive. Could Rutlidge be lying? “I am still uncertain how that involves you.”
Rutlidge straightened off the wall, vibrating with anger. “She is too good for you. Everyone says so. I belong with her; I’ve always belonged with her.”
Emmett folded his hands in his lap. “Is that so? Then remind me why she married me and not you?”
“Because her fool brother didn’t forbid her to see you as I’d hoped!”
As he’d hoped? “Ah, so you sent Sloane the note, the one telling him Elizabeth and I were dining in the private room at Sherry’s.”
“Yes! I was trying to get him to intervene, to put a stop to the ridiculous idea of you and Lizzie together.”
“And how did that plan work out?” Emmett asked dryly.
“It should have succeeded,” Rutlidge snarled. “Lizzie is mine.”
Emmett sighed. Rutlidge was nothing but a spoiled, sheltered little prick, hardly even worth Emmett’s time. If the man hadn’t attacked Elizabeth, Emmett would almost have been tempted to let him go unscathed.
But he had attacked Elizabeth, which was absolutely unforgivable.
“Rutlidge,” Emmett started, “do you know why they called me the Bishop back when I ran with the Popes?”
Rutlidge swallowed, but did not cower. He raised his chin. “Why?”
Emmett stood to his full height, hands on his hips to take up as much space as possible. “Because it was my job to decide the punishments that were meted out. Anyone who wronged us, anyone who tried to cheat us or take over our territory, had to kneel before me and plead his case. Then I would give him two choices. After that, I’d ask one question before making my decision.”
“Wh-What was the question?” Rutlidge stammered, his eyes big and round.
“Perhaps you should hear your choices first. One is a broken arm because you dared to touch what is mine. The second is a toss off the train because you dared to follow her.” Emmett advanced, his hands curling into fists. “Now I’ll ask you the question. What punishment do you think you deserve?”
“Neither!” Henry shrieked, backing away with his palms out. “You’re insane. You can’t do either of those things to me. Don’t you know who I am?”
“I know precisely who you are, you snobbish, over-privileged sack of shit.” Emmett leaned in and snarled, “She’s my goddamned wife, and you have no right to breathe her same air. Choose, Rutlidge. Either I’m breaking your arm or I’m throwing you off this train.”
With an unexpected burst of speed, Rutlidge slipped around Emmett and dashed to the door. Emmett turned to give chase and tripped over the leg of an armchair. Damned cramped cars.
He hurried toward the vestibule, intent on grabbing Rutlidge. He ran hard, grateful the car remained empty, his long legs eating up the distance. Rutlidge got into the enclosed vestibule, but Emmett was right behind. Just as Rutlidge opened the door to the next car, Emmett caught up, snatching the man’s shirt collar.
Kelly emerged from the other car. “Tried to run, did you?” he said, shaking his head at Rutlidge. “That’s a mistake. The Bishop may be big, but he’s fast.”
Rutlidge struggled. “Let me go!”
Emmett drew his right arm back and let fly with a powerful hook—and Rutlidge bounced against the side of the small enclosure. “Kelly, tell them I’m ready for the train to start up. Rutlidge is going to decide whether he jumps off now or I throw him off with a broken arm when the wheels start moving.”
Rutlidge groaned, holding his cheek, as Kelly hurried back inside the train car. “You can’t do that,” Rutlidge wheezed. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. Some godforsaken little farmland—”
“Exactly. It’ll do you some good to have to figure out how to get back to New York. That is, unless you’re killed in the fall.”
“You’re a thug,” Henry spat. “You’re nothing more than the filth you were born in. She’ll never stay with you.”
“That’s too bad, because I have no intention of letting her go. She means everything to me.”
Rutlidge’s lips twisted into a smug smile. “Wrong. Money is everything to you. Everyone knows that. And if I’d been able to take that away, she would have seen it, too.”
Emmett blinked. “Jesus. You started the fucking rumor. The one that drove down the East Coast Steel stock.”
A gasp sounded behind him. Elizabeth’s beautiful, yet surprised face peeked out from the adjoining car. “Henry! How could you do such a thing?”
One of the greatest disciplines of human life is that which teaches us to yield our will to others.
—American Etiquette and Rules of Politeness, 1883
At that moment, the train’s whistle, long and shrill, pierced the air, and the wheels jolted forward. Emmett watched as his wife emerged, her eyes shooting fire at Henry Rutlidge. Figured she would not do as told.
Rutlidge tried to plead with her. “I wanted to show you, Lizzie. If he lost his money, you would leave him. Then I’d be able to take ca
“I don’t care about Emmett’s money. His wealth had nothing to do with why I married him. How could you think me so shallow?”
“There has to be a reason you want him instead of me!”
Emmett had often wondered the same thing. He held his breath, waiting to see what Elizabeth would say.
Stature tall and straight, she put her hands on her hips, formidable as a queen. “Because he’s a good man, one who has made his own way in this world. One who has ambition and does not begrudge a woman for sharing that same trait. He treats me like an equal, not like a silly little female who should sit at home and do nothing.”
The last remaining piece of ice surrounding Emmett’s heart cracked and melted. He’d done nothing to deserve this woman, but he’d do everything in his power to keep her happy for the rest of his life.
“Yes, an equal,” Rutlidge sneered. “Just as he no doubt informed you of his plans to take over Northeast Railroad.”
Elizabeth’s expression did not change, and Emmett realized this was not a shock to her. Hell. How had Rutlidge learned that piece of news?
“Yes, he has withheld certain information from me—and he has plenty of explaining and apologizing to do. But he is my husband, Henry.”
She hadn’t looked at him, and Emmett’s gut clenched at the idea that he might lose her for good. He wanted to explain things, tell her how he felt, but he couldn’t do that in front of Rutlidge.
Still, Emmett had to say something. Bending, he put his lips near her ear. “I have never lied to you. No matter what else you believe, whatever lies this piece of filth has told you, believe that.” She dipped her chin in a barely perceptible nod, and the knot inside his chest eased slightly.
The wheels began picking up speed, the vestibule rocking as the train rolled faster along the track. “Don’t listen to him, Lizzie!” Rutlidge screeched, grasping the wall for support. “He’s—”
“About to toss you over the side of the train if you do not shut your trap,” Emmett said. “And considering you are the one who sent William Sloane the note that night at Sherry’s, I wouldn’t say another word about keeping secrets.”