Full Steam Ahead
The old saying, “Be careful what you wish for. You just may get it” is one the heroine of this novel learns the truth of. Her prayer to find the right husband leads her on a madcap adventure across Texas and into the arms of a handsome, eccentric scientist. I enjoyed the experience just as much as she did.
Nicole Renard returns to her home in Texas from her posh boarding school on the East Coast when she receives a letter from her mother notifying that her father is seriously ill. Her first night not only contains the shock of seeing just how ill her beloved papa is but involves fending off a break-in from the Jenkins boys. Their family has long desired the Lafitte Dagger which was often linked Renard Shipping’s amazing good fortune in business. Nicole might not believe in the talisman’s legend but she isn’t about to let a bunch of ruffians make off with it. After bashing one brother over the head with a vase and forcing the other from their home at gunpoint she is feeling pretty good about her ability to defend the heirloom. But while her father admires her courage he is adamant that a young unmarried woman will not be able to hold off their enemies or hold on to their business for long. Nicole needs to marry, the sooner the better.
Vowing to do whatever it takes to make her father’s last days as comfortable and peaceful as possible, Nicole agrees to head to New Orleans and look over some prospective grooms her father has lined up for her. But she plans to give the trip a twist of her own – she’ll look for a husband to protect the family fortunes but she’ll take practical steps to keep the Jenkins from breaking in again, too. She’ll take the dagger with her on the trip – and let the Jenkins know she’s done so!
The morning of Nicole’s voyage dawns bright and glorious but her plans are foiled when it is discovered the Jenkins are waiting for her at the dock. They hadn’t been meant to know she had the dagger until after she had left Texas. It’s obvious they plan to wrest it from her before she can get safely to her friends in New Orleans. Thanks to some quick thinking and misdirection Nicole is able to avoid being caught by the nasty cretins but her escape finds her in something of a pickle. She has little money and no way of getting to Louisiana without passing by her attackers. Instead she takes a boat to Liberty, TX. Once there she determines to earn some money to get the rest of the way to The Big Easy. But finding a job proves easier said than done. Turns out the only one available is working for the local mad scientist.
Darius Thornton is haunted by a river boat boiler explosion that killed hundreds right in front of him. He has vowed to be worthy of being a survivor and to that end he has become a man obsessed, constantly experimenting with prototype steam engines to determine how to fix the problem. But he’s had trouble hiring a secretary to help him with his work. Seems word around town claims the job is highly dangerous. He hadn’t planned on hiring a woman but when Nicole shows up not only is she the only applicant, she proves to be a far better one than he could have hoped for. Understanding the shipping industry gives her a distinct leg up from any of the landlubbers he could have hired from town. But will he be able to keep his mind on his explosive job with such a beautiful distraction just an arm’s length away?
The morning I picked this book up I had planned to do a tiny bit of reading while drinking my morning tea. I didn’t get up again till I was done. Rich in history and delightful in composition this story pulled me right in, in addition to charming me with the sweet romance between the two main characters.
Nicole and Darius meet each other and sparks start to fly almost right away. Darius, whose work actually is rather dangerous, is reluctant to have a woman on the premises. The fact that he has a housekeeper and butler keep it from being completely dishonorable but the situation borders on the questionable. He also isn’t sure that a woman can do the job. Nicole, for her part, is tired of being found lacking merely because of her sex. While Darius is more than ready to show her the door she refuses to walk out of it until she’s given a chance. And because she knows shipping and she really is good at math, she proves herself quite worthy. It felt good to see a woman succeed on her merit and not just the author’s ability to wave a magic wand, which so often happens in books. Or worse, to have the hero fall for her waifishness and neediness and hand the job over in pity. Nicole is portrayed throughout as a competent young woman. She can shoot. She can throw daggers with skill. She can think and read and learn. She is warm hearted but not to a fault and is precisely what our hero needs. Darius for his part is openminded. Once he sees Nicole can do the job he is happy to give it to her. From that moment on he sees her as more than just a pretty face. He finds in her someone who is his equal and a wonderful partner in his endeavors.
I have to add that I loved Darius’ experiments. The author did more than just give lip service to the idea he was a mad scientist, she showed us some of the work being done and why exactly it was so dangerous.
And I loved their love story. From mutual attraction to mutual respect and affection to passion. The two generated a lot of heat while managing to stay fully clothed till the marriage. There is a lot more to them than the heat, though. The fact that they share interests and prove themselves a true partnership are what sold me on their romance.
They also share a faith. That factor is handled very naturally in this novel. On a scale of one to ten, with one being almost no mention of God and ten being downright preachy, I would put this at about a three. The issues of God’s will for our lives, prayer, and trusting God with what’s important to us are all brought up within the context of the story. None of the characters sermonized, the issue was brought naturally into the story through their thoughts and conversations.
The ongoing issue of the Jenkins brothers and the dagger was well handled also. Nicole was shown to be able to put up quite a good fight on her own and Darius lent something besides brawn to the occasion.
I found this a fun, adventurous read. Good humored rather than humorous but it still brought a lot of smiles to my face. I am happy to be able to heartily recommend it.