Unbridled and Unclaimed [The Double Rider Men's Club 6]By: Elle Saint James
The Double Rider Men's Club 6
Valentina Petrova got a wretched feeling in the pit of her stomach the moment she stepped down from the train and onto the rustic wooden platform in Ryder, Colorado. The lonely, hollow feeling was likely due to the lack of breakfast this morning. Or possibly, it was the additional lack of dinner the night before.
After nearly two days on a train she was just so grateful to have reached her final destination. So she dismissed the ache in her belly as unimportant for the moment and took a few steps into the crowds, dragging her luggage. Her singular bag, sporting a seriously wobbly wheel, was filled with everything she had left in this world.
People, streaming off the train and dressed in light autumn coats and sweaters, bustled around her. She rubbed one of her arms with a palm, wishing she’d been able to pack a heavy coat. The travelers gathered luggage and greeted loved ones who’d come to fetch them with kisses, hugs, or friendly pats on the back. Valentina took a circuitous route around the small groups of static people. She pulled her battered, burgundy, gimpy rolling bag slowly behind her.
Several steps away from the loud humming engine of the train, she searched through the throngs of people milling around for her friend, Henry Foreman. He was her lifesaver. Her only link to a life in this country hopefully filled with new opportunities. He’d promised to help change her dismal former life in Russia for the better.
In only the quiet recesses of her mind did Valentina dare admit that she desperately needed better.
She looked to her left and saw only a square white post supporting the center of the overhang roof. She looked right and only saw dwindling people making their way to the parking lot and new destinations. She didn’t see anyone who stood out or seemed to be looking for her.
Here she was, a stranger in a land that had obviously forgotten her. She hoped Henry had not, and searched the surrounding area once more. Did she look different from her college days? She had not thought so.
Her friend Henry was a doctor. And when she’d known him long ago, he’d always been late to everything. Back in college, his tardiness was likely forgiven due to the fact that he was from a very rich family and president of his fraternity. His overall popularity probably helped keep him out of a lot of different kinds of trouble.
For today’s tardiness, it was not out of the realm of possibility that he’d be late due to his job as an ER doctor. She was, however, slightly surprised to not find him waiting. His few messages to her had been very enthusiastic about her pending arrival.
The last communication she’d had with Henry was a written one over two weeks ago. She’d had to give up her cell phone months ago as an extravagance she couldn’t afford. Her computer went next. She used the public Internet at the library as her primary communication source. And seemingly old-fashioned handwritten letters, too.
Henry had graciously sent the money for her tickets to Colorado all the way from Russia. She’d cried in relief, swore she’d live only to pay the debt back, and then planned the most inexpensive trip she could find. The one which put her on this train instead of an airplane for the final leg of her journey so she would have a bit of money for food along her journey.
With nowhere to go and no one to see until Henry came to get her, Valentina inhaled a deep lungful of fresh mountain air and crossed to a bench seat facing the train tracks. She sat down and consulted her wristwatch, trying to estimate how long she’d have to wait and how best to broach the subject of lunch as soon as possible when he arrived.
The beauty of the mountains from her viewpoint already made this arduous journey worth the difficulties she’d endured.
She was no shrinking violet, but the air today had a particularly powerful chill. It reminded her a bit of Russia. She shook her head to dismiss her previous life. No need to go back there again, even in her mind. Ever.
After fifteen minutes, she noticed two very handsome men saunter onto the platform. They looked around a bit and walked over toward the train. The large conveyance still rested on the tracks. The two men looked exactly like what she expected to see in an American cowboy. Not that they had ten-gallon hats or rode in on horses. They didn’t. But they wore well-fitted jeans and fleece-lined blue denim jackets and tooled leather cowboy boots.