I’m sure all of you recall that Stolen will be released on Tuesday, November 23rd. Thought I’d give you a taste of what you’ll be missing if you don’t rush out and buy it IMMEDIATELY.
Southern Ohio, Winter, 1850
Dr. Parker Quinn stared into the still darkness that surrounded his home. As always when he anticipated receiving cargo, he’d stayed up later than usual. Still, had he not known someone would be approaching his house at approximately this hour, he never would have seen the slim figure stealthily making his way from the trees that stood like sentinels in a row from the edge of his property to his barn. The huge harvest moon that lay low in the sky had been concealed by cloud cover for most of the evening. His visitor had been silhouetted against the barn by a brief break in the clouds. Parker knew he never would have seen him otherwise. He frowned. In the years he’d worked the Ripley line, he’d only had a few conductors, and he’d never worked with this particular conductor before.
Ordinarily he wouldn’t be all that bothered by the change. In fact he would’ve welcomed it. It was never a good idea to become too familiar with other members of their network, but right now both the Ripley and Gist lines were more than a bit unsettled. Two conductors and a stationmaster had been caught — with cargo — making it clear there was a traitor in their midst. Not the best time to have a new conductor show up. He shook his head. There was nothing for it now; he’d simply have to deal with the situation as it played out.
He continued to peer into the darkness, trying to discern how many passengers he’d have tonight. Eventually he saw them — two men — similar in height to the first one, but significantly larger in build. They weren’t nearly as good as blending into the shadows as their leader. Fortunately, Parker was fairly certain slave catchers weren’t watching him tonight. He’d deliberately let it be known that he was going up to Fayette County to tend to some cows with hoof-and-mouth disease. The disease outbreak was factual enough, and the farmer with the unfortunate cattle was a friend who would be happy to cover for him. Of course, if this was a trap, it was clear that his little deception hadn’t worked. Parker waited until all three of his visitors had slipped into his barn; then he picked up his specially shuttered lantern and stepped out into the darkness to meet his fate.
* * * * *
As Parker raised the shutters on his lantern, he looked around for the three men he’d seen slip into his barn. He had several horses in the barn, so there was no need to meet in darkness, but he was still grateful they were wily enough to conceal themselves. Then, almost like an apparition, their leader was there, reappearing from the shadows as though he’d been there the whole time. Parker was well over six feet tall, and the young man was only a few inches shorter. He stood ramrod straight though the oversized coat and loose-fitting trousers dwarfed both his height and scant weight. Parker sucked in a sharp breath. For a moment he’d thought…but no, it had to be a trick of the light. He looked again. It was hardly more than a boy.
A very pretty boy… Jesus, it was the young man he’d met at the Adams’s — Joseph Adams, he believed. Parker scowled. He’d only met the youngest Adams son twice, and very briefly each time, but he hadn’t liked him. The boy had made him uncomfortable.
Parker pushed his fingers through his hair. It was a bad habit that only showed itself when he was nervous or frustrated. Realizing what he’d done, he brought his hand back down to his side. The other man’s skin was dark, a dusky pecan tone. The dim light washed out most colors but could not conceal the deep rose flush of his lips.
He squinted when Joseph shot him an impatient, fiercely angry look. Parker focused on his large brown eyes. Quickly, Parker looked away, only to feel embarrassment creep up his throat a second later as even he heard the loud gulp he’d involuntarily made. Embarrassment didn’t keep him from wondering what the hell the boy was angry about. The anger appeared to be directed solely at him.
“If you’re ready,” the boy said in a gruff voice that also expressed anger and impatience, “the cargo is in the last stall. They’re young and healthy, so other than a meal or two, I suspect they’ll be ready to move on to the next station.”
“Thank you…Joseph. Is that right?”
There was a long pause before the boy answered. “Yes, Joseph will do.”
Parker paused a few seconds, sure the boy had muttered something. It sounded like he’d said, “It will do as well as any other.”
“Sorry?” Parker queried.
The tone was bland. Evidently, I’ll get no more information, Parker thought. Exasperated, he shook his head. “Never mind. Is this your first job on the line? I haven’t worked with you before.”
Parker watched as Joseph stiffened, and then he noticed Joseph’s hands balling into fists. What did I do? he wondered. He continued to watch as Joseph clearly made an effort to calm down. The fists unfurled, balled again, unfurled, and then Parker heard more muttering. “Why are you counting to yourself?” he asked in surprise.
Joseph didn’t look at him. “I don’t know what you mean, sir,” he said to the floor, and Parker could tell that each word was said through clenched teeth. “As to your other question, I’ve been conducting for a while, but this is the first time I’ve been here. Another conductor got sick, so I took his place.”
Parker scowled again. He knew he’d heard numbers falling like weighted stones from the boy’s mouth. The counting had been slow and deliberate. He pushed his hand through his hair again but decided to let the issue go. Joseph’s answer about conducting had solved one mystery; now for the other. “Have I done something to offend you? Why do you resent me? I’m not imagining it,” he said before Joseph could deny it.
However, in the next few seconds, he learned that Joseph had no intention of entertaining any more of his questions. The young man took his leave, melting into the darkness in a way that left Parker perplexed. Parker turned to walk to the last stall, still feeling the effects of their odd encounter and finally admitting to himself why Joseph had always made him uncomfortable. There always seemed to be a strange tension in the air whenever they met.
Parker had never focused on that tension before because deep down he’d known what was causing it but hadn’t wanted to face it. But now he forced himself to do so. For some god-awful reason, he was sexually attracted to the younger man. A horrid despondence settled over him. He’d never felt that way about a man or boy before, no matter how pretty. He’d indulged in many perversions when he lived in London, but he’d never had any urgings to fuck another man. Still, that mouth…with its upper lip protruding ever so slightly over the lower one…well, it simply lent itself to visions of a particularly favorite act for which he usually paid. Parker shuddered as an instant wave of lust, followed quickly by self-disgust, surged through his body. “He’s no more than a boy, for Christ’s sake,” he muttered despairingly.
Just what in the hell is going on? “Must be all the work I’ve been doing. I just need a break.” He’d been very busy lately, and there’d been no time to pay a visit to the whorehouse over in Fayette County. Well now he’d be sure to make time. He needed to get his ashes hauled, and in a goddamned hurry. Clearly celibacy was having an odd effect on him. His newly discovered lust justified and his burden lifted, he continued on to the stall to meet his new passengers.