Alaska's gold rush is no place for a lady, but that doesn't scare Ellie Webster.Ellie travels with her younger brother to the wilds of the Klondike gold rush to save the family farm. She’s prepared for hardship on the trail, but not for the sparkling blue eyes of Duke Masterson, a charming saloonkeeper. And Duke is surprised to find that Ellie and her apple pies are more valuable to him than all the gold nuggets in Skagway, Alaska. Now if he could only overcome Ellie’s fear of losing her newly-found independence and win her heart. Together they must defeat the conman corrupting the town and make their fortunes before the last steamship of the season heads south.
Ellie stood on the foredeck and watched the lush green coast pass by as the steamship chugged along. The fresh, cool breeze filled her lungs. A pod of killer whales broke the surface of the water in the distance, black and white bodies rolling, tall fins arcing toward the sky, then back into the ocean. The whales exhaled in puffs of spray. A seal rested on a small iceberg nearby, and Ellie couldn’t help but smile as she surveyed its dark, liquid eyes, gray fur, and white whiskers.
A killer whale knocked the seal off the berg and seized it in its mouth. Ellie gasped as the seal struggled for life. When the killer whale rolled under the waves—seal still in its jaws—Ellie, pulse beating at her temples, leaned forward over the rail, staring at the spot where the whale descended.
“Careful, there.” Ellie’s breath halted as a pair of strong hands grasped her waist and lifted her up and away from the rail. Her bottom brushed against someone as she was set down on the deck.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Turning to a wall of wool-clad chest, she looked up to see a young face with a thick, brown goatee and an arrogant smile.
“Pardon me, miss.” A twinkle pierced the man’s blue eyes. “If the ship had made a sudden move, you’d have been thrown into the water.”
“Well, I never.” Ellie dismissed him with a sniff. “I wasn’t that far over the edge.” She was not used to being manhandled and wouldn’t put up with male condescension.
“My apologies, miss.” The stranger tipped his hat. “May I introduce myself properly?” He extended his hand. “Duke Masterson at your service, headed for Skagway.”
Giving his hand the minimum two shakes to be polite, she then started to turn away as Billy ran up to them, forcing an introduction. “Miss Ellie Webster, and this is my brother, Billy.”
Billy and Duke shook hands heartily.
“Glad to meet you, Billy. Call me Duke. Are you headed to Skagway too?”
“Yep.” Billy grinned. “First Skagway, and then the gold country.”
“Ah, you’re going to try mining?” Duke smiled.
“We’re gonna get rich like everybody else,” Billy declared.
Handsome Duke raised his eyebrows. “A lot of people already beat you there. But maybe you’ll be lucky.”
“My brother and I are not relying on luck.” Ellie raised her chin. “We have determination and a good plan.”
“I’m sure you do, Miss Webster.” As he tipped his hat again, he was looking too closely at the cameo necklace on her bosom. Another man with low thoughts on his mind, just like the farmhands back home. And he doubted they could strike it rich. She would not encourage him with any more of her attention.
Refusing to be familiar and use his first name, she said, “Goodbye, Mr. Masterson.” She could still feel where he’d laid his hands on her waist.
Ellie turned on her heel, took Billy’s arm, and walked away down the port deck.
“Why’d we have to leave so fast, sis?”
She didn’t want to tell Billy about Duke’s rudeness. It would only make him angry. “That is not the kind of person we should associate with,” Ellie said, seeing the presumptuous man with his memorable blue eyes in her mind. “Just watch and let me do the talking when we meet people and, maybe one day, you’ll pick up on these things on your own.”
Her brother wasn’t stupid, but had never used his brain much. That’s why she was headed to the Klondike gold fields with him. Mama wouldn’t let Billy travel on his own, fearing he was too easy a target for a thief or con man. But Billy was only seventeen to her eighteen, so maybe there was hope for him yet. In the meantime, with Billy’s strength and Ellie’s mind, they’d be able to make their fortune and save their family’s farm.
Ellie looked up at Billy and patted his arm. “Come on, it’s almost dinner time. Let’s get back to our cabin.”