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By Caroline Clemmons
Welcome, readers! Today, I’m so pleased to announce the release of my new American-set Victorian romance, WINTER BRIDE. This western historical romance is a stand-alone part of the Stone Mountain, Texas series set in the Palo Pinto Mountains of North Central Texas.
Here’s the blurb for WINTER BRIDE:
Sweet western historical romance of 60,000 words by bestselling author Caroline Clemmons is a stand-alone novel of the Stone Mountain Texas series including murder, danger, and adventure.
When Kendra Murdoch’s brother in law murders her sister, she takes charge of her nephew and two nieces. Fearing the man plans the same fate for her, she seeks shelter in Radford Crossing where she operates a café to support her small family.
Determined to be self-sufficient, Kendra shuns all advances from the handsome sheriff as danger hangs heavily over her head. But can she safeguard her family alone?
Butch Parrish battled a snowstorm and a killer to rescue Kendra and the children. He’ll do whatever is necessary to protect the independent young woman who rekindles sensations he hoped were dead long ago. Protecting her, chasing a killer, dealing with the town gossips, and investigating a stagecoach robbery, Butch has a battle on his hands.
Here’s an excerpt from WINTER BRIDE involving hero, Sheriff Butch Parrish:
As he turned onto the faint trail he sought, he spotted fresh tracks in the snow. He pulled his rifle from the saddle scabbard and slowed his horse. Instead of heading along the trail, the tracks led around the boulders.
Scout’s ears twitched forward, the chestnut’s signal of trouble. Even more slowly, Butch eased forward. He dismounted and crept along the boulders. If he could climb up to the taller rocks, he could spot where the tracks led and if Tucker waited for him.
Quietly as his boots allowed, he climbed. As he gained height, he spotted a horse tied to brush twenty yards from where he stood. Tracks crisscrossed in the snow, but where was Tucker? The man had the advantage of knowing this area’s terrain better than Butch.
“Sheriff?” The yell came from below and behind him.
Butch crouched and turned. A streak of fire burned into his chest. The impact sent him tumbling from rock to rock until he hit the snow-covered ground. He landed on his back, stars lit the backs of his eyelids, and his breath whooshed from his lungs. His rifle lay just beyond his grasp.
WINTER BRIDE is a romance, but the storyline includes mystery, murder, and mayhem. I like stories where something happens. I hope you do, too.
Here’s the buy link for Amazon http://amzn.com/B00VC9C31W
To celebrate my new release, I’m giving away a free download to someone who comments on this post by April 5th. Thanks and happy reading!
If you’re like me, you’re already eager for the days from Thanksgiving up to Christmas Eve. That’s my favorite time of year. I love the decorations, the songs, and the anticipation associated with choosing gifts for my family.
I confess to feeling letdown once the gifts are opened and the dinner eaten. The Christmas tree looks letdown, too, with no gifts underneath. I can’t explain why Hero and I leave our tree up until after Twelfth Night, but we always have. Probably this year will be no exception.
You can see why I love reading Christmas stories. In fact, I read them all year, but especially from October until Christmas. However, this is the first time I’ve written a Christmas story.
For this novella, I blame Darling Daughters 1 and 2. Each of them asked me to write a Christmas story. Guess the spirit is genetic, right?
Kim Killion did the perfect-for-the-novella cover. I chose the woman’s photo from Kim’s studio stock and she used the photo to create exactly what I had in mind. Don’t you love when that happens?
Here’s the blurb of STONE MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS:
Christmas has been Celia Dubois’s favorite time of year as long as she can remember. When she moves back with her parents a year after the death of her husband, the young widow is appalled at the town’s lack of Christmas spirit. Two months earlier, banditos had burned the church and crushed the townspeople. Celia vows to return holiday joy to the town. Perhaps doing so might help mend her aching heart. Will Celia’s plan work magic on the town?
Rancher Eduardo Montoya knows Celia is the woman for him. She enchants him with her winning smile and vivacious nature. When her father warns Eduardo away from Celia, Eduardo is both angry and frustrated. After he stops a robbery in the mercantile, will Celia’s parents change their minds about him? Can handsome Eduardo heal Celia’s sorrow?
Here’s an excerpt of STONE MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS:
Radford Crossing, Texas, November 1874
Eduardo Montoya focused on the beautiful redhead who swept the walk in front of Sturdivant’s Mercantile across the street. He turned to speak to his friend. “She is a vision, is she not?”
Micah Stone, his cousin’s husband, asked, “Have you met her or spoken to her?”
Eduardo’s gaze returned to Celia Dubois. He refused to let anyone shatter his dreams. “See how graceful she is even when performing a menial chore? When we are wed, she will not have to be concerned with such things.”
Sounding incredulous, Micah said, “I repeat, have you even met or spoken to her?”
Eduardo had no doubt his friend believed he had taken leave of his senses. He wasn’t so sure he hadn’t, but he placed a hand over his heart. “In good time, my friend. All in good time.”
Micah clapped him on the shoulder. “Come on, Romeo. We’ve finished our business with Joel. Hope’s expecting us for lunch. You can daydream about the pretty widow on our way home.”
“I suppose we must go.” He exhaled, reluctantly willing to leave town but unwilling to let anyone derail his plans.
Micah untied his horse from the hitching rail in front of his brother’s law office and mounted. “Have to say this is the first time I’ve known you to be shy about flirting with a woman.”
Determination steeled Eduardo’s resolve as he swung onto his gelding. “Never before has a woman been so important to me. You will see. One day, she will become my wife.”
The two rode toward Micah’s ranch.
From where she stood on the walk, Celia had known the men watched her. One was the youngest Stone brother. Identifying him was easy because the three Stone men looked so much alike.
But she hadn’t yet met the handsome man dressed as a Spanish Don. He fit the description she’d been privy to of Eduardo Montoya, one of the wealthiest men in this part of Texas. At least, that’s what she’d overheard while helping in her parents’ store.
He certainly cut a dashing figure in his black clothes trimmed with silver buttons. She wondered if he was entitled to dress like Spanish nobility or if he merely played a part. The silver on his saddle flashed in the sunlight and she questioned the safety of such a display.
One thing she’d noticed in her few days in town and working in her father’s mercantile, she heard tidbits of local gossip whether intentionally or not. She wondered what the gossips had to say about her. Probably best she didn’t know. Most people she’d met were friendly but there were a few prunes eager to criticize everyone.
Wasn’t that true everywhere? Yet she thought an unusual pall lay over Radford Crossing. The town definitely needed a large dose of cheer. As a matter of fact, she wouldn’t mind a measure of good spirits for herself. With a sigh, she went back inside the store.
You can purchase STONE MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS:
Barnes and Noble Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/stone-mountain-christmas-caroline-clemmons/1120622158?ean=2940046278842&itm=1&usri=2940046278842
Thanks for stopping by!
Hello again, Victorians and Victorian-era fans, and thank you for having me again today. I’m thrilled to be returning to Slip Into Something Victorian, and I’m happy to be talking about my new novel, Keeper of the Light, Book II of The Wild Geese Series.
Keeper of the Light is a very special story to me because it allowed me to combine several different elements into one book: Ireland and Irish mythology, a darkly sensual, brooding Irish hero, a story that’s close to the sea (one of my favorite places in the entire world), and best of all to this proud Canadian, a little- known but very important bit of Canadian history.
Shortly after the end of the American Civil War, the Fenian Brotherhood, a group of Irish Catholics dedicated to freeing Ireland from Britain, attempted to invade Canada.
Made up mostly of former Union soldiers, they hoped to take areas of the country, then known as British North America, hostage. The ransom? Irish freedom, of course.
Keeper of the Light was inspired by the Fenian Brotherhood’s “invasion” of Campobello Island.
Many of these “invaders” were former soldiers of the Irish Brigade who fought on both sides of the American Civil War. Their aim was to take Canada – then a British colony – hostage and force Britain to ransom the country with Irish freedom.
The raid, led by John O’Mahony, took place in April of 1866 at Campobello Island, New Brunswick. A war party of over 700 landed on the shores of Maine. The British responded with Royal Navy warships carrying over 700 British regulars. The fleet sailed to Passamaquoddy Bay, where the Fenian force was concentrated. Discouraged and out-manned, the Fenians quickly dispersed, but the attempted invasion had far-reaching effects for the fledgling country of Canada.
The attempted invasion reinforced the idea that New Brunswick would be protected by joining with the British North American colonies of Nova Scotia and the United Province of Canada to form the Dominion of Canada. The greatest impact of the raids was the increased sense of Canadian nationalism, which eventually led the provinces into a Confederation.
To this day, the Fenian raids are viewed as an important factor in creating the Canadian nation.
About Keeper of the Light
…Like the Wild Geese of Old Ireland, five boys grew to manhood despite hunger, war, and the mean streets of New York…
She was everything he despised…but he didn’t know it
Cathal Donnelly washed up on the shores of an Atlantic island one stormy night, with no memory of who he was or why he was there. But is his lovely rescuer his salvation…or his doom?
She dreamed of a very different life
Laura Bainbridge has spent her entire life on tiny Turtle Island, but she dreams of a Season in London and a presentation to Queen Victoria. Can a handsome Irish stranger with a golden tongue and a disturbing past change her heart and convince her to stay?
As Cathal’s memory slowly returns, both he and Laura must come to grips with his painful past…and fight for a future free of hatred and loss.
He moaned again, but made no further response. A cloud skimmed across the moon and away again, leaving her with an unimpeded view of his sleeping face. She caught her breath.
He was beautiful.
His skin was fair but for the nasty gash at his temple. A livid scrape slashed across one high cheekbone. His long black curls flopped wetly over his forehead, and Laura fought the urge to brush them back…
His brows were long, dark slashes against the pallor of his high forehead, the two vertical lines between them the only sign of his conflict. A soft moan spilled from his full lips, making her wonder what it might be like to be kissed by that oh-so-masculine mouth.
Her fascinated gaze roved over the freckles sprinkled across his long straight nose, the tiny dent in his chin that surely must deepen into a cleft when he smiled. He shifted restlessly, drawing her gaze to the broad shoulders encased in white wool, down the long body and along his well-muscled legs. His hands were large and square, calloused and bleeding. One of them clutched a canvas bag in a death grip.
“They’re coming for us.” His deep voice vibrated with raw anguish. “We’ve got to…get out of here. Now!” He tried to rise, but fell back with a helpless half-groan.
Buy Keeper of the Light
I believe I was destined to be interested in history. One of my distant ancestors, Thomas Aubert, reportedly sailed up the St. Lawrence River to discover Canada some 26 years before Jacques Cartier’s 1534 voyage. Another relative was a 17thCentury “King’s Girl,” one of a group of young unmarried girls sent to New France (now the province of Quebec) as brides for the habitants (settlers) there.
My passion for reading made me long to write books like the ones I enjoyed, and I tried penning sequels to my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries. Later, fancying myself a female version of Andrew Lloyd Weber, I drafted a musical set in Paris during WWII.
A former journalist and lifelong Celtophile, I enjoyed a previous career as a reporter/editor for a small chain of community newspapers before returning to my first love, romantic fiction. My stories usually include an Irish setting, hero or heroine, and sometimes all three. I’m the author of The Claddagh Series, historical romances set in Ireland and beyond. The first three books in The Claddagh Series, In Sunshine or in Shadow, Coming Home, and Playing For Keeps, are all available from Highland Press. Deceptive Hearts and Keeper of the Light, the first two books in The Wild Geese Series, have just been released.
I am a member of the Romance Writers of America, Hearts Through History Romance Writers, and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. A lifelong resident of Montreal, Canada, I still live there with my own Celtic hero and our two teenaged children.
At any rate, it’s out. Generally, announcing a book here on the Vic’s blog I would like to give you the piece of history that called me to a book, since history of the era is mostly what we’re about here. For Wicked Woman it was a fascination with the Boston Brahmins. With The Wild One, it was a continuation of that fascination, along with that of San Franciscan society and acting in the Victorian era. I suppose The Wild Half was a fascination of cowboys in general, but because the book was such a launch point for my historical research, there is really no one thing to talk about. Sure, there’s a lot of ranching history. But there’s also research on cholera in the Victorian era and research on tuberculosis (which is only a few lines, but many hours of work). There’s the research on laudanum, and research on Custer’s last stand and Colorado’s statehood. There’s treasure in the Sangre De Cristo’s, lots and lots of slang, and quite a bit of psychology as well. In the end, this book encompasses most of the posts I’ve made here at Slip Into Something Victorian over the years, some my fellow Vic’s have written, and some I’ve yet to write up.
So really, historically, it’s a mishmash. What I did with this book was try to put the characters not in the Wild West so much as put them in the Victorian era. It wasn’t on purpose; what I’ve learned over the years just bled into this book. In the end though, I’m happier with that. If there’s anything I would like to accomplish, it’s to write books that integrate the history of Victorian America, and maybe eventually the rest of the Victorian world. Sure, The Wild Half is a Western, in that most of it takes place on a ranch, but these characters are part of Victorian America, not just Colorado, 1876. It’s 11 years past the Civil War, 13 years past slavery, but it’s still in their minds, it’s still part of their lives. They’re excited about the invention of the telephone and Colorado’s statehood, and are emotionally and mentally affected by Custer’s last stand.
Sometimes I feel like we view history in a kind of vacuum. As if, for example, the Civil War ended in 1865 and that was it, no more thoughts on it. Sometimes it feels like we look at the history of the West like it was a separate country. Neither is true. Today, in 2013 we still, on a subtle level, feel the effects of the Civil War. It’s only realistic to consider that the people of the West also felt it, especially since the history of the Civil War was the history of the West. A lot of the cowboys were displaced southerners, and part of the need for beef back East was due to the destruction of that war.
And so. . .I hope that’s what I did with this book. I hope when you read it, that’s what you read, that’s what you feel–all the history of the era, and the characters living it just as we today live the triumphs and tragedies of our parents and the other parts of our country and our world. Let me know!
Blub: The Wild Half
Chasing her was his first mistake. . . .
Lilah Martin is a hunted woman who has roamed the West for three years, staying one step ahead of men who are trying to kill her. Fear is her only friend; staying alive is her only goal. Then she lands a job at the Bar M, a prosperous and well-protected ranch in Colorado, where she finds friendship, sanctuary and a life that is almost normal. Or so it seems until she falls prey to the wildly seductive and dangerously inquisitive Rick Winchester. . .
A former outlaw, Rick has spent five years searching for distraction from guilt over his wife’s death. He finally finds it in the simmering sexual attraction between Lilah and him, and the dark intrigue surrounding her. But the more he delves into her secrets, the more of a mystery she becomes, until, frightened, she flees the Bar M. Determined not to lose this woman, Rick races after her, catapulting them into a clash of wills, which can only end in the discovery of a deadly secret locked away in Lilah’s mind. A secret that could make them both rich. Or get them both killed. . . .
Excerpt: The Wild Half
In the mirror, Lilah watched Rick settle into a sagging, blue upholstered chair that she’d shoved into the opposite corner. The room was plain, with bare plaster walls and scratched floors, and so small Rick could sit in the chair and prop his feet up on the rope bed.
She tightened her grip on her glass. “Why are you here?”
“For you, naturally.” His honeyed voice glided over her body like a caress, promising hours of illicit—possibly deadly—pleasure.
As his eyes drilled into her back, she took another gulp of whiskey. “For what? What do you want?” Her voice sounded tight, nervous, not cold and repelling like she wanted.
“So suspicious, darlin’. Can’t a man visit an old friend without having ulterior motives?”
“We’re not old friends.”
He paused a minute. “New friends, then.”
“We’re not new friends, either.”
“All right,” he said slowly. “What are we? You tell me.”
She opened her mouth, then shut it abruptly. “Lovers” was not the right answer. Damn, but she had to get rid of him. Three weeks away from him, and she’d yet to regain control of her senses. Worse still was the fact that he’d followed her here, all the way from the Bar M, proving that he didn’t want her to regain that control.
But, a tiny voice asked, wasn’t that a little flattering?
As flattering as a mountain lion stalking an elk.
“I came to help you,” Rick interrupted her thoughts
“I don’t want your help.”
A movement in the mirror. He rose and approached the dresser, where he poured himself a drink. He brushed against her and her skin heated, anticipating a more erotic touch. Clenching her jaw, she stepped over to peer out the dirty windowpane to the dark alley below and waited for him to settle in the chair again. The bed creaked.
He’d seated himself on it, to her left. The dresser was behind her, to the right. To reach the door, she’d have to push past him. He’d trapped her. Her breath caught in her throat.
He peered at her. “A few weeks back I met a man who was looking for you.”
She froze as blood rushed to her head. Grabbing the windowpane to steady herself, she worked her features into blankness, then turned. “What did he look like? What did he want?”
His eyes were intense, penetrating. “Dark hair, medium height, thirty or so, with a mustache. He said his name was John Carpenter, from New Orleans. He claimed he was trying to help your brother find you, that you’d run off with some fella after quarrelling with your father.”
Lilah looked to the floor, combing her memory. Thirty with a mustache? That description could match many men. Had she heard the name before, though? She rubbed her temple. “I don’t remember.”
The words slipped out, more pieces to a puzzle she wanted to hide. With a harsh thump of her heart, she lifted her head. Their gazes locked. The tamped-down anger she’d seen when Rick first entered the saloon flickered to life. “You don’t remember what? Carpenter? Your family? Or the man you ran off with?”
“It’s none of your business!” she snapped. “How many times must I tell you that before you leave me alone!” He was too near—to the truth, to her. The air between them grew heavy and thick. If he’d just move back. . .
“And how many times do I have to tell you it is my business?” he growled. “I’m here to help you, whether you want it or not. Get that straight.”
It didn’t make sense. Unless Carpenter had told him about the price on her head. Had they’d joined forces? Rick had had a lot of money at that card game, more than she could attribute to a forty-dollar-a-month cowhand. Betrayal. . .
Her heart shook and then rose to clog her throat. “I don’t want your help,” she said, digging in her pocket for her derringer. “And I don’t have to take it.” She stepped toward the door.
He rose, blocking her exit with his large body as he grabbed her arm to prevent her from lifting her weapon. The smell of leather and dust and stale cigarette smoke enveloped her, making breathing even harder. “Give me the gun, Lilah.”
She swallowed. “No.”
A muscle jumped in his cheek and his eyes flashed angry blue lightning. “God damn it, woman,” he ground out as he slid his hand down to her wrist. “I spent three weeks traveling through this god-forsaken country looking for you. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you shoot me, now.” His fingers grasped her wrist so tightly her hand went numb. She loosened her grip, and he pulled the gun free. Stepping backward, he emptied the two barrels and pocketed the bullets. He slapped the gun down on the dresser. “You’re taking my help.
By Paisley Kirkpatrick
Everyone likes to be entertained. The arrival of a theatrical troupe or a famous personality has always been exciting, and the early days of the West were no exception. Entertainers were always a welcome sight, especially in the mining towns and camps of the Mother Lode where the audience was mostly masculine. The miners wanted pleasing performers, and they were happy to reward them.
The early entertainers were a hardy group. They traveled long, uncomfortable miles over rugged mountains, dangerous trails, and arid deserts to see the glitter of gold and to achieve fame.
Once the actors and actresses reached their destination, they often had to perform under primitive conditions. There were no dressing rooms or sanitary facilities. Many times their stage would be the floor of a blacksmith’s shop with a wagon canvas for a curtain. They would appear in a tent, schoolroom, or a saloon. The orchestra was usually a flute, violin, and guitar played by musicians who had never read a note.
They offered medicine shows, drama, and variety. There were special rooms with cheap decorations, where the patrons could meet an actress for a price. Many times a miner would pay $100 for a seat and toss more gold on the floor when the show was over.
In Virginia City, the Queen of the Comstock, the first theater, opened in 1860. It was called the Howard Street Theater and ladies were not admitted. Business was good so Maguire’s Opera House opened its doors in 1863. It was an opulent establishment. The auditorium was carpeted, ornate crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, spectators were seated upon gilt chairs and there were velvet railings for the boxes. The enthusiastic audiences were wealthy, but not necessarily elite. They came for entertainment and had the money to pay for it. The shows ranged from Adah Isaacs Menken in the “Mezeppa” to minstrels and dog fights.
Taken from Women of the Sierra by Anne Seagraves
MARRIAGE BARGAIN, the second book in my Paradise Pines Series, was released March 21, 2013
Marriage Bargain is set on the dusty trail of a wagon train traveling from St. Joseph, Missouri, to the California gold rush area at Placerville, California, in 1849. Betrayal and embarrassment drives Darrah Benjamin to run away from home to take a tutoring job in San Francisco. Darrah finds her journey a pathway to love and forgiveness when an arranged marriage to the wagon scout becomes much more than a convenience. Chase challenges her determination to keep their marriage in name only with his promise — she’ll give him her heart and invite him to her bed before they arrive at their destination. Darrah has an immediate attraction to the rogue, but holds her emotions tight because she doesn’t want her heart broken again.
Charles Danforth, a scout known as Chase, leads a wagon train of emigrants west through plains plundered by murderers. As an undercover agent of President Polk, he has sworn to stop the massacres. Darrah’s inadvertent comment gives him the clue he needs to achieve his assignment. His Sioux blood brother helps Chase end the killings, but almost ruins Chase’s chance of winning Darrah’s heart when he takes matters in his own hands to demonstrate the depth of love Chase has for his wife.
Footsteps crunched on the rocks a few minutes later. He spun around and froze on the spot. The drowned rat? At least he thought the young woman walking toward him was the drowned rat. Her appearance was a far cry from the woman he’d saved during the storm. Unable to pull his gaze away from the gentle sway of her hips and the firm round breasts pressing against her crisp white bodice, he shook his head trying to clear his thoughts. Light filtered through the branches giving her an ethereal appearance, and touching on pouting lips begging to be kissed. All logical reason vanished. His reaction staggered him as his mounting desire for the woman coursed through him. She was everything he’d remembered and more. She was a liar.
He dropped the last of his gear alongside Cappy’s wagon as she stopped in front of him. “What’s your game, lady?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Cut the act, Rose. You know very well we’ve met before. Or maybe you were such a good actress I actually believed you were in trouble during the thunderstorm.”
Her eyes grew wide as saucers. Her hand pressed against her bosom as she gasped. “You can’t be the man who rescued me.”
Cappy cleared his throat. “What’s going on here? Who is Rose?”
“I didn’t tell you a lie, Captain. My name is Darrah Rose Benjamin. It’s true your friend pulled me off my runaway horse. I was cold, wet, and tired. He suggested I remove my clothes before he kissed me, and then he had the nerve to invite me under his fur.” She glared at him. “Under the circumstances I chose not to tell him my full name.”
“What’s she talking about?” Cappy’s voice cracked with anger. “I raised you better.”
Chase shrugged. “It didn’t happen exactly as she says, Cappy. I may have misjudged the lady. She was such a fetching little thing I couldn’t resist kissing her. Besides, she needed thawing out.”
“Wipe that damned grin off your face, boy. You get into town and find a Justice of the Peace. There’s goin’ to be a wedding tomorrow.”
“Hold on a minute.” Darrah grabbed Cappy’s arm. “If this man is the scout you want me to marry, I won’t do it. He obviously doesn’t trust me or believe in bathing.” She stalked toward the clearing where she’d tethered her horses.
Watching her march across camp, Chase wished he’d handled the situation better. Cappy’s glare shot daggers at him. He’d been a fool for stomping on her pride. Damn, but she’s far too high-strung and beautiful for her own good.
“Why’d you hurt her feelings and how will you fix the mess you made?” Cappy asked.
He set his attention on the old man. “Me?”
“You’re the one who acted an ass.”
“Wait one damned minute. I told you this was a foolhardy idea in the first place. I only agreed I would talk to the girl, nothing else.” His gaze slid over the gentle sway of her hips. He remembered the soft touch of her lips and the seductive way she looked with her hair in ringlets around her shoulders when she dried her hair by the fire.
“You can’t let her walk out of our lives.”
Chase took off his hat and raked his fingers through the tangled mess. “You’re a stubborn old man. It’s not so simple. I was close to being drunk the night of the storm. When lightning struck the ground in front of her horse, I thought I was hallucinating. Her screams brought me to my senses so I went after her. While I had her on the horse with me, she wriggled that little bottom of hers against my crotch until I was nearly out of my mind. Once I got her settled in camp, I went after her horses. It gave me a chance to cool off. She looked so damned desirable dripping wet I couldn’t think straight. When she stole away from camp early the next morning, I figured I was done with her.”
“You didn’t cool off enough, boy.”
“Dammit, Cappy, I’m not proud of my actions.”
“Talk to her. What if she hooks up with someone else? If she attempts the trek on her own as she’s threatened, she could die. I couldn’t bear the weight of another death.”
He didn’t have room in his life for a woman and he sure as hell didn’t have time to babysit. At this point he wasn’t ready to tip his hand and let her know his true identity.
What is your greatest fear? I don’t mean rational fears like losing a loved one or having a car crash. I mean those for which we have no explanation. For me, one is claustrophobia, so I don’t like elevators. Not at all, except they are easier than climbing flight after flight of stairs. I ride elevators, and I don’t collapse when the doors close me in or run screaming when the doors open. Only my family members (and now you ☺) know each ride in one of the tiny, closed-in, closet-like boxes has me forcing myself not to panic. Don’t even ask me about riding in a the very small, private elevator at my cousin’s home.
When I wrote THE MOST UNSUITABLE HUSBAND: The Kincaids, Book Two , I tried to think of the most frightening things to torture my hero. I remembered my father telling me my grandfather had known a man who was buried alive and clawed his way up from the grave. Even thinking about it has me shuddering. So, that’s what I did to my hero, Nathaniel Bartholomew, to open this book. Not only does he face his claustrophobia once in the opening, but two more times in one book. After all, a hero is not someone who is unafraid of danger; he is someone who faces fear to do what is right.
Now don’t think that Nate is immediate hero material. He has the innate qualities, but the process of discovering who he is takes him most of the book (as you knew it would, right?). He’s lived most of his life in rebellion and scorned those who labor in honest toil. In short, he’s a gambler and a con man. His friend Michael “Monk” Magonagle is a steadying force in Nate’s life. In spite of Monk’s watch, trouble and Nate are well-acquainted.
Sarah Kincaid is Nate’s opposite. She is one who has always led an exemplary life and tries to please those she loves and admires. Her half-sister Pearl (heroine of THE MOST UNSUITABLE WIFE: The Kincaids, Book One) is the person Sarah most admires. To fit in socially, she also emulates the dress and deportment of her adopted aunt, Lily Stephens. Lily is not easy to love, but Sarah is so kind she is even fond of the waspish Lily. Well, at least she tolerates her. Sarah needs to discover her identity, too, and learn to be her own person, not a reflection of others.
Sarah, Pearl, and their half-brother Storm shared the same father with very different mothers. Sarah’s mother was a bordello/saloon owner who eventually married a man she loved and together they owned a casino in St. Louis, Missouri. As we meet Sarah in THE MOST UNSUITABLE HUSBAND, she is at her mother’s funeral, after nursing her tubercular mom’s last days. Since no lady can travel alone, Aunt Lily has accompanied Sarah on the trip. Is Lily a dependable chaperone? Only when it suits her.
What would bring Sarah and Nate together? How about a trio of homeless orphans on their own in winter? Sarah plans to take them home with her to Texas, and she enlists Nate to help her rescue them from desperate circumstances. Don’t worry, she also hires a kind woman to travel with her. Is it her fault Nate insists on traveling along?
Sarah Kincaid wants only the simple things: a home, a family, and a place in the community where she can set a good example and lead a moral life. She launched her plan by establishing a school for the poorest children in the county. When she discovers that the terms of her mother’s will have made her the owner of a saloon, she is surprised. Even more shocking, is Sarah’s reaction to Nate. She doesn’t realize he is the son of her mother’s husband and his real name is Nathaniel Batholomew. He uses Barton in his con game with the Kincaids and their neighbors. Tall, dark and unmistakably tempting, Nate is a gambler by trade–and hardly an upright citizen.
Taking in a trio of starving orphans is not the way to conduct a romance. Sarah and Nate soon learn that the only proper thing to do under the circumstances is to let love take them where it will, and get ready for a passionate adventure. Sarah vows to reform him and finds him an eager pupil. Reforming a rogue is easier said than done and Sarah and Nate learn a great deal about themselves and others in their journey!
Set up: Sarah Kincaid is on her way home from her mother’s funeral in St. Louis. She repeatedly encounters a strange man and wonders if he’s following her. She’s traveling with an odious couple as chaperone’s, the Welborns, and they chose the hotel. In 1885, respectable hotels put single women and families on separate floors from single men.
That man in black–he’d introduced himself as Nathaniel Barton–had been at the cemetery. He was always around on the boat, too, and now he was here in their hotel in Memphis. He trailed behind her as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Surely it was coincidence. Lots of people traveled from St. Louis to Memphis every day.
The porter stopped in front of a room and opened the door. He stood back for her to enter, but not before she saw Mr. Barton at the next door. He even glanced her way and smiled as he nodded in greeting.
My stars, he’s staying in the very next room to mine.
What kind of hotel would allow a single man on the same floor as a single woman? She fought down panic as she dealt with the porter, then locked the door behind him and slid the bolt. Alone in her room, her imagination ran its course as she paced. Had she strayed into a den of iniquity?
No, that couldn’t be. Mrs. Welborn assured her this was a family hotel suitable for a young woman. After all, the Welborns registered here, too. How did Mr. Barton come to be in the very room next to her? It wasn’t proper. What would people think? What would they say?
She caught herself. The Welborns were the only people here she knew, and she hardly cared what they thought other than their reports back to the Vermillions and Aunt Lily. Even they could hardly blame her for the hotel’s room assignments.
This Mr. Barton could not mean her harm. There’d been ample opportunity on the paddle wheeler had he intended to hurt her. They’d never had a conversation on a personal level. His comments had centered on the trip and the weather, not a hint of anything improper and always with others nearby. Perhaps his constant presence was a coincidence. Just the same, he made her nervous. She felt like a rabbit waiting for the wolf to pounce whenever Mr. Barton was near.
In the midst of her concern, she admitted his presence offered reassurance to her that she was protected from others. Surely he would rush to her aid if she needed assistance. Her instincts proved right regarding Mr. Welborn. Perhaps she should rely on intuition in this instance. She wished she were more decisive, not a victim of warring emotions.
She raised her skirt and checked the little double-shot derringer given her by her brother, Storm. Best to be prepared. The little gun still rested securely in its garter holster on her thigh. Storm had insisted she practice until she was a fair shot. Would she have the courage to use the weapon against a human? She doubted it, but its weight reassured her.
Sarah spied the door connecting her room with the one in which Mr. Barton resided. Rushing to check the lock, she stopped. She must not let him know she suspected him of following her. Very slowly she turned the knob of the connecting door. Locked. She released a heavy sigh.
Curiosity nudged her. Kneeling, she peered through the keyhole. The opening framed him as he pulled a fresh shirt from an open valise on the bed. Shucking his jacket and waistcoat, he took a pistol from his waistband and placed it on the bed beside the satchel. He unbuttoned his shirt.
She knew she should move away but couldn’t. Oh, my stars! He might dress like a riverboat dandy, but this gorgeous man was no weakling. Trouser fabric pulled taut against trim hip muscles when he turned and bent over the things on the bed.
Her mouth went dry as a Texas dust storm. She watched him turn back to face her. He removed his shirt and tossed it behind him on the bed. Then she saw the bandage across his shoulder and another at his waist. She wondered which side of the law he was on when he got those, but thought she knew. The wrong side, of course.
He picked up a fresh shirt and she caught the ripple of muscles across his chest as he slipped the shirt on. His movements were swift and powerful, not the sluggish ambling she had witnessed in public.
Occasionally in summer she had caught glimpses of her brother, her brother-in-law, and the hands at the ranch with their shirts off. Unlike their tanned torsos, Mr. Barton’s pale skin made her fingers tingle to touch the brown chest hair that converged in a vee at his belt. She wondered how far below his waist the pelt descended. A pool of warmth gathered at the base of her stomach.
My stars, what disgraceful thoughts. Where did they come from? They weren’t proper. No, not at all suitable. Being away from home must be having a poor effect on her.
Never before had such scandalous ideas entered her head about any man. She didn’t have these thoughts about Peter Dorfmeyer, and everyone expected her to marry Peter. Mr. Barton was the most attractive man she’d ever seen, but she must get her wayward thoughts under control.
Buttoning his shirt, Mr. Barton stepped from her view. When he returned and glared at the keyhole, she froze. Surely he couldn’t know she watched him. She sank further to the floor and sat with her back against the door.
Sarah pressed her hands to heated cheeks, shocked at her own behavior. She was no better than a window peeper. What on earth had come over her?
A sudden thought assailed her. What if he planned to look through the keyhole as she had? Taking a hanky from her cuff, she draped it over the doorknob so it hung across the tiny opening. No, that wouldn’t do. It kept sliding off. She rose and opened her traveling bag and took out a shirtwaist. Hanging it on the knob, she stepped back. Perfect. It looked as if she used the handle for a hook.
She crossed to the vanity. Not taking time to change from her traveling suit into a dress, she contented herself with pushing stray hair back into her chignon and grabbing her shawl. With any luck, she could purchase her train ticket while her neighbor had his dinner.
Sarah walked briskly to the train station. A line greeted her at the ticket window. Oh, well, she loved watching people, so she wouldn’t mind the wait. Taking her place in the row, she surveyed the other prospective passengers wandering to and fro. She studied the clothes of other women, compared them to her own black clothing. In her head she made up stories of who they were and where they might be headed.
A young boy bumped with a wham into the man in front of her. The child’s hand darted into the man’s pocket and out with a flash and secured the lifted wallet under his shirt. Probably no more than seven or eight, the lad wore the dirtiest clothes Sarah had ever seen. His hair might have been blond at one time, but it and his skin had gone a long time without touching soap and water.
“Oh, excuse me, sir.” The boy’s large blue eyes were the picture of innocence when he gazed up at the man.
Sarah gasped. What should she do? She couldn’t bring herself to cause a scene by screaming, but neither could she stand by and let the child rob this man.
“Steady, you little ragamuffin.” The victim placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Slow down and see you’re more careful next time.”
“Yes, sir, sorry. I will, sir.” The boy moved swiftly away into the crowd.
Sarah took off after the little thief. He looked over his shoulder and she motioned to him. His eyes widened in alarm and he ran. She gathered her skirts and rushed after him, weaving around groups of people.
When she had almost caught up with the light-fingered boy, she thudded against a solid wall of chest.
Mr. Barton grunted and clutched Sarah’s shoulders, then dropped his hands and made a slight bow. “Why, I believe it’s Miss Kincaid, is it not? Are you in some sort of distress?”
“No, it was nothing.” She peered over his shoulder but the thief was nowhere in sight. “I thought I saw someone I knew, but I was mistaken.” She felt her cheeks flush again with guilt. Their collision must have jarred his injured chest, but she couldn’t ask him about it. How could she explain that knowledge?
“Your traveling companions–Welwoods or Welworths–are they with you?”
“No. The Welborns were tired and planned to have dinner sent to their room.” She thanked heavens for that. Eating with the odious Mr. Welborn soured her stomach. But now this man who, for all appearances, followed her everywhere had neatly trapped her. A shiver of apprehension skittered down her spine, but she stood mesmerized by his tawny eyes.
As if he sensed her fear, he offered a crooked smile and proffered his` arm. “May I escort you back to the hotel?”
“I was…” she stopped. Her nerves jangled with alarm, but she strove to appear calm. She preferred buying her ticket in private. If he hadn’t yet learned where she headed, she didn’t want him to know her exact destination. “That would be very kind, um, Mr. Barton.”
“Bit cool this evening, isn’t it?”
My stars, didn’t the man ever talk about anything but the weather? Maybe he was one of those gorgeous physical specimens with the brain of a rock.
She sighed and answered, “Yes, there’s a chill in the air. I suppose we’re in for more winter.”
What should she do? Panic turned her stomach in knots. She should send him on his way, but didn’t know what to say or do. Hating herself for her timidity, she once more flowed with the easiest course and allowed herself to be escorted back to the hotel.
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