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Playing For Keeps




Philadelphia, 1850


Luke stared in silent horror as glowing red flames devoured the warehouse.


What have you done this time?


The words resounded through Luke’s brain, condemning and inevitable, in his father’s disapproving tones.


What had he done? He’d secured the warehouses. He had, he was sure of it. He’d made certain all the forges were out.


Hadn’t he? Or had his head been too full of the play he’d been studying in secret, the characters he was determined to flesh out, the pages he’d obsessively filled with his own dreams and interpretations?


Clanging bells and pounding hooves hammered in his ears.


Thank you, God.


But as quickly as relief flared, terror chased close on its heels.


Dear God, was anyone still inside? Tobias, his father’s most trusted clerk—surely he’d left long ago. And the two young men Matt hired last month—hadn’t they spoken of going to The Dancing Horse to spend their first pay packets?


He struggled for breath, the acrid smell of burning wood and molten steel tearing at his throat.


Bleak realization swept through him. It was his fault. It had to be. But it was an accident


Matthew. Matt would take care of everything. Matt always cleaned up his little brother’s messes, covered up Luke’s many shortcomings.


“Mr. Lucas? Mr. Lucas!”


Dazed, Luke stared in disbelief at the normally impeccable clerk. Tobias had lost his coat, his once pristine white linen shirt was torn and covered with soot. Luke’s gut clenched as he took in the other man’s wild hair, the bloody gash slashed cruelly across one cheek.


“Mr. Lucas!”


Luke grabbed Tobias’s arm, his head thudding, his fingers gripping convulsively. Fear struck ice cold in his heart. His entire body shaking, he ran his dry tongue over his ash-covered lips.


“Tobias, where’s Matt?”


The clerk gazed at Luke, pity darkening his eyes. Tears trailed slowly down his soot-blackened face.

“Mr. Matthew’s dead, sir.”














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