E.E. Burke Interviews Buck O’Connor from Victoria, Bride of Kansas & Her Bodyguard.
Today I’m interviewing one of my all-time favorite characters. Buck O’Connor makes a cameo appearance in my upcoming Christmas novella, Victoria, Bride of Kansas. But readers first met him in my debut historical romance novel, Her Bodyguard.
Her Bodyguard is set in 1870, a tumultuous year in Kansas history. Two railroads raced each other to be the first to construct track through Indian Territory into cattle-rich Texas. Eastern investors snatched up land through political maneuvering and outright bribery. Settlers in southeastern Kansas, many of them former Union men, felt betrayed by their government and manipulated by the railroads, so they revolted.
Her Bodyguard is set in the midst of this historic settler’s revolt, against the backdrop of a cutthroat railroad race.
E.E.: Buck, where and when were you born, and how did your family situation influence you?
Buck: When was I born? Which time? Never mind, I’m being a smart ass. Twenty years ago when I married my wife, Amy, I got the chance to start my life over. I tell her I consider it my second birthday.
But to answer your question, I first entered this world on March 29, 1840, near Westport, Missouri, the only child of an Irish drunk and his long-suffering wife. Oh, he was a sweet fellow, was Da. Loved his whiskey and beat his wife. Took his frustration out on me when I got old enough to get in the way. Ma tried to protect me, but he was a big man. I grew up to just as big, and for a time, just as mean. But I’ve never lifted a hand against a woman or a child.
My sire got himself killed in a knife fight when I was ten, so we were finally rid of the bastard. Ma got remarried to a good man. Mr. Campbell didn’t adopt me, but he gave me a home and taught me the mercantile business. We lived in Osceola, which at the time was a real nice town. I liked working in the store. Least I did until Jim Lane and his army of cutthroats crossed over the Kansas border to attack what they viewed as disloyal Missourians. They burned down my stepfather’s store, along with the rest of the town. Then those murderous dogs killed Mr. Campbell and nine other men and abused our womenfolk. It happened while me and my stepbrothers were gone on a trip to buy merchandise. Had we been there, I imagine we’d be dead, too.
I took up arms to exact revenge, and that put me on a bloody rampage in a war that lasted five long years. The history books called it the Civil War, but there wasn’t anything civil about it, especially along the Missouri-Kansas border. I won’t excuse what all I did—some of it I can’t even bear to think about. After the war, I drifted with thugs and outlaws. By the time I met my wife, Amy, I was one sorry son-of-a-bitch.
E.E.: Sounds like you had a rough start. When you met your wife, what goals did you have? What did you hope to accomplish?
Buck: Does staying alive count? That was my only goal for about ten years. Then, one day in March 1870, I got this letter from a cousin, Sean Murphy. He asked for my help. He’d settled on land in southeastern Kansas, and the railroad was trying to take it away. At the time, he was my only living kin, and I’m loyal to family no matter what. My life wasn’t worth a plug nickel anyway, so I went back to Kansas with a price on my head and the stupid idea I could somehow evade capture. Figured it wouldn’t take long to help Sean solve his problems with railroad. That wasn’t the first time I misjudged a situation.
My goals got more complicated about the time I met the railroad promoter, who, much to my surprise, turned out to be a pretty widow. Though what I’ll call a twist of Fate, I became her bodyguard. Yeah, like I said, it got real complicated. Save Amy, save my cousin, save my own worthless hide–and I was arrogant enough to think I could do it all.
E.E.: How did you feel when you first saw the love of your life?
Buck: She tried to claw my eyes out! Her buggy had broken down out in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, and she feared—rightfully so as it turned out—that it wasn’t an accident. She thought someone was trying to kill her. So when I showed up out of the blue, looking like a bear fresh out of hibernation, she was understandably concerned. Never mind I was trying to rescue her.
What did I feel? Cold. We had to find shelter to get out of a blizzard. Protective. She was alone, scared. Soon as we got to a barn and I got her warmed up and trusting me enough to talk, I also found out she sat on the railroad board and owned several businesses. So, she was smart, as well as being the most gorgeous woman I ever laid eyes on…a deadly combination. Which brings me to the third feeling, which I won’t elaborate on. Wish I could say I fought that feeling, but it was a losing battle.
E.E.: What drew you to Amy?
Buck: You mean besides her pretty face and luscious body? Like I said, she’s smart. She’s also persistent as hell. Those two qualities are why she got as far as she did in a man’s world, and why I never could figure out a way to outwit her when I was trying to stop her railroad. But what put the cinch on my heart was her faith in me.
When I met Amy, my life was one big lie. I knew if she discovered my secrets, she’d hate me. That was all there was to it. So I didn’t tell her. But lies have a way of catching up no matter how fast you run. Amy did find me out, and I was right, she hated me. For lying, for what she thought I’d done, for letting her care about me without knowing who and what I really was. I reckoned she would hate me forever, and I deserved it. But she didn’t. She forgave me. Amy gave me a heart. She gave me back my life. She’s not just my better half. Without her, I wouldn’t be whole.”
E.E.: That’s a beautiful tribute. You sound like you have a great deal of respect as well as love for your wife. Can you tell us why you believe women are or are not the weaker sex?
Buck: The “weaker sex” is a fallacy. Women are different from men, generally smaller, but that doesn’t make them weak. Even though my mother couldn’t stand up against my father’s fists, she stood up for me. She taught me that I should respect women and protect them, not because they’re weak, but because that’s my duty as a gentleman. Real strength protects, it doesn’t overpower. Men who need to make women feel weak so they can feel powerful are the most pathetic creatures on earth.
E.E.: I knew there was a reason I like you so much, aside from your rugged good looks. Thanks so much for being with us today. One last question: if you could pick a talent, what would it be?”
Buck: Let’s see. I can still shoot a fly off a fence at twenty paces, I already know how to juggle and I’m a fair dancer. What’s that leave? Singing. I’d like to sing well enough to serenade my wife without getting a shoe thrown at me.
For America “Amy” Langford, investing in the Border Tier Railroad isn’t about chasing riches. The savvy businesswoman is after bigger stakes: influence, respect, success her father didn’t live to see. Rioting settlers and cutthroat competitors can’t stop her, but a killer might. When a ruggedly handsome drifter comes to her rescue, she trusts her instincts and hires him on the spot as her bodyguard.
Buck O’Connor has put his violent past behind him, but being a wanted man dictates a life of deceit. So what’s one more lie? He becomes Amy’s protector so he can secretly thwart her railroad’s progress to help his cousin avoid financial ruin. A great scheme…until he falls in love. But the price for deceit is steep, and the secrets he hides could destroy their future…if they survive.
Weave together rich historical detail, passionate romance, add a dash of suspense and you have books by E.E. Burke. Her chosen settings are the American West, and her current series takes place during the tumultuous era of America’s steam railroads. The series includes: Fugitive Hearts, A Dangerous Passion, Her Bodyguard, and Passion’s Prize.
Her writing has earned accolades in regional and national contests, including the prestigious Golden Heart®. Over the years, she’s been a disc jockey, a journalist and an advertising executive, before finally getting around to living the dream…writing stories readers can get lost in.