Tough Prospect: A Buffalo Steampunk Adventure by Laura Strickland

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    Mitch Carter's a hard man. He's clawed his way up from Buffalo's gutter through a combination of ruthlessness and stark loyalty to become the King of Prospect Avenue. But when he sees lovely Tessa Verdun, a crack appears in his tough veneer. He wants her for his wife even if making it happen requires coercion, dirty dealing, and a touch of blackmail.

    Mitch is the last man Tessa would choose to wed, but he's forced her into marriage, even though she's ready to give her heart to another man. Now he tries to win her with lavish gifts and watches her with veiled passion in his eyes. But when everyone else turns against Tessa, it's Mitch who's there offering strength. And when vying factions in the city place Tessa in danger, it's Mitch for whom she longs, though loving such a man is certainly a tough prospect.

    Rating: Spicy
    Page Count: 310
    Word Count: 68710
    978-1-5092-2381-7 Paperback
    978-1-5092-2382-4 Digital


    Chapter One


    Buffalo, the Niagara Frontier, November 1884


    “Show me the first one again.” Mitch Carter, lounging in the doorway of the small shop on Chippewa Street, made the request in a lazy drawl, belied by the intense expression in his narrowed hazel eyes. A tall man wearing a good-quality coat and a pair of workman’s boots, Mitch rarely raised his voice; he rarely had to.

    People tended to jump and fulfill his requests.

    Like this shopkeeper whose establishment he now visited, a thin fellow with scarred and work-stained hands, who seemed overly nervous. Under Mitch’s gaze he hurried to bring out the first mechanical dog and once more set it in motion.

    The damn thing, as Mitch had to admit, had been cleverly fashioned to walk and part its mechanical jaws in a pretended pant. It sat on command and could even, presumably, learn its own name.

    Would Tessa like one? If he brought it home now, this afternoon, would she be favorably impressed?

    The shopkeeper, who claimed to be the only craftsman in the city of Buffalo manufacturing these dogs—clockwork, rather than steam-powered—had three models for sale, varying mostly in size and shape. For reasons unknown to him, Mitch favored the first and smallest one. It would potentially fit in his wife’s lap. Lucky dog, permitted to touch her so intimately.

    Unlike Mitch himself.

    “Not very cuddly, is it?” he observed, more to himself than the shopkeeper.

    But the man answered, “Maybe not, sir. I couldn’t come up with a viable way to attach fur that wasn’t…disturbing. The toys kept turning out looking like they’d been skinned by a taxidermist and reanimated. I actually had one lady pass out.”

    Mitch couldn’t imagine his new wife passing out; she was much too angry.

    The shopkeeper rattled on, “There are a lot of other advantages to this model, though, unlike a real dog, I mean. You never have to walk it or clean up after it. You can shut off the bark feature if it becomes annoying—can let the whole thing run down if you get tired of it. You don’t need to worry about grooming or fur around the house. And since these are clockwork, there’s no expenditure for coal.”

    The man met Mitch’s gaze briefly and faltered, “Not that you need to worry about that, sir.”

    Mitch grunted, “You know who I am?”

    “Sure. You’re King Carter—the King of Prospect Avenue.” The man swallowed. “Everyone knows.”

    Mitch smiled inwardly, though it didn’t show. Everyone in the City of Buffalo had at least heard his name—and feared it. You couldn’t beat a measure of healthy fear, in Mitch’s opinion.

    And, by God, he’d earned it.

    “So”—Mitch made a gesture with one big hand—“I could buy all these dogs.”

    “Yes, sir. Sure you could, sir.”

    “On the other hand, me having one would be a good advertisement for you. So it would behoove you to give me one.”

    The shopkeeper’s expression became interestingly conflicted. Caution flashed across his face along with honest dismay.

    “You wish me to give you one of my models? But sir, they take a long time to make. I’m the only man in this city with the ability to build these clockwork ones.”

    “Right. And they work real good. You should be proud of that.”

    The shopkeeper licked his lips and said, greatly daring, “I feel I should be compensated.”

    “And you will be. Just think about it; if the wife of the King of Prospect has one of these, people will come flooding in to buy them. You won’t be able to keep up with the orders.”


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Tough Prospect: A Buffalo Steampunk Adventure

Tough Prospect: A Buffalo Steampunk Adventure

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