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NEW BOOK, FREE BOOK, AND A PEEK AT INSPIRATION

How exciting to announce that my latest release, O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, McClintocks book 2, is now available. I hope you love this book as much as I loved writing this one!

One of the difficulties of writing numerous books is trying to find a fresh twist for each one. Readers know that in a romance there will be a happily-ever-after ending, but getting there needs unexpected action. For O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, I decided to take my ranch hand hero on a difficult undercover assignment to capture the culprit responsible for disasters at a Texas coal mine. My decision meant lots of research into coal mining in the 1880s.

What I found was lots of information on mining from prehistoric times to today, but not much about the period I needed. At last I found details on late 19th century mining. Additionally, my critique partner’s father had been a miner and she provided important details about daily life in a mine town.

Hero Finn O’Neill is an honorable man who has spent his life trapped by circumstances beyond his control. Through his sister’s marriage to Dallas McClintock in THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE, McClintocks book one, Finn and his family finally experience good fortune. Finn dreams of a life in partnership with Dallas raising horses. To achieve the dream, he must purchase land. Problem is, he has no money other than the generous salary paid him by his brother-in-law.

Stella Grace Clayton is a loving daughter and school teacher also trapped in a life she hates. No, she doesn’t hate teaching, just that her family lives in a coal town. Knowing her father won’t live a full life as a coal miner, she dreams of a better life for her and for her family. What’s more, she’s determined her younger brother will not be forced into that life. Nor does she want her sister or herself faced with only miners from which to choose a husband—but so far mine workers are the only men they meet.

ONeill's Texas Bride Final front cover_3

How do two people from two diverse backgrounds meet? Thank you for asking.

Here’s the blurb for this romantic mystery titled O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE:

Finn O’Neill longs for his own ranch, his own horses, his own home and family but thought the lofty dream beyond him. Now the opportunity has arisen but to achieve his dream, he bargains with Grandpa McClintock and his nephew to pose as a miner and seek out the person or persons causing disasters at the Farland Coal Mine.

Stella Clayton has witnessed the heartbreak and tragedy of a coal miner’s life. Her family came from England to the promise of a better life only to find the same hardships. She is determined that her young brother will never follow in their father’s footsteps. And she vows she will never marry a man who engaged in that work. She fights to resist charms of the handsome Irishman who’s recently come to work in Lignite, Texas.

When Finn arrives in Lignite, he immediately falls for the beautiful schoolteacher, Stella Clayton. But her father is one of the men suspected of causing destruction. What Finn discovers soon puts him and members of the Clayton family in peril. Can he salvage his dream, fulfill his promise, and protect the woman he loves and her family?

Here’s an excerpt of Finn in his undercover job:

This [mining] was no life. At least the married men had families to offer comfort and support and a wife to cuddle with at night. How did the single men keep going?

He didn’t mind working from before dawn until after dark on the ranch, but he hated being underground. ‘Twas not a fit place for a human, only for worms and moles and gophers. Plus the repetitive hacking at the coal wrecked his back and shoulders.

Solve this puzzle soon or go mad. Think of Lippincott’s fine ranch, boyo. ‘Tis going to be yours if you can ferret out the troublemakers.

He figured there were multiple problems at work. He no longer suspected Karpinski either. The man was full of dark looks but he worked hard as he played. That left Swensen and Hartford. Neither man was on his crew. Mayhap he could strike up a conversation with Hartford at dinner or breakfast.

Swensen was married and lived in one of the houses near Clayton. What excuse could he find to talk to Swensen? Didn’t he have a son working in the mine? Yeah, a kid about the same age as Lance Clayton.

Hmm, that fact set him to thinking, but he’d have to work on that another time. His mind had given all he could for this day. He laid the apple core beside his boots and fell asleep.

When he woke the next morning, the apple core was gone. Worse, his knife was visible inside his boot. Last night, he’d carefully covered his boots to conceal his weapons as he did each time he undressed.

He checked around him, but others appeared engrossed in dressing and making their way to the dining hall. Quickly, he pulled on his clothes and then his boots. He knelt and looked under his bed. Sure enough, the apple core was there next to his concertina and duffle bag.

James called to him, “Hey, come on if you want to make up for missing supper last night.”

“Coming.” Shoving his shirttail into his britches, he grabbed the core and tossed it in the rubbish bin as he followed James.

He longed for a hot bath and his own bed at the ranch. The only reason he slept soundly in this bunk with a thin, lumpy mattress was his complete exhaustion. One thing was for sure, he was building muscles in his arms that would help him later on the ranch. He hoped that’d be on his ranch.

O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, McClintocks book two, is available at these sites:

Amazon      AmazonUK     Apple     Nook           Kobo           Google Play

Right now, to celebrate the release of book two, THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE, McClintocks book one, is FREE in the USA. Here are the links:

Amazon      Apple                   Nook          Kobo          Google Play

I’m already at work on Nettie Sue Clayton’s story. She’s the younger sister of Stella Clayton by two years. Where Stella is a redhead with a fiery temper, Nettie Sue is a blonde with a sweet, mischievous nature. Well, sweet until she tangles with Josh McClintock in McCLINTOCK’S RELUCTANT BRIDE.

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NEW AMERICAN-SET VICTORIAN RELEASE

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?

CarolineClemmons_StoneMountainChristmas_frontPOD

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:
Amazon

http://amzn.com/B00OQUTDXA
Amazon UK

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00OQUTDXA
iTunes

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id932587647
Barnes and Noble Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/stone-mountain-christmas-caroline-clemmons/1120622158?ean=2940046278842&itm=1&usri=2940046278842
Kobo

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/stone-mountain-christmas-1

 

Thanks for stopping by!

DANGEROUS JOURNEY ACROSS TEXAS

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THE MOST UNSUITABLE C OURTSHIP is book three in my Kincaid series. In the first two in the series, Pearl was the heroine of THE MOST UNSUITABLE WIFE and Sarah the heroine of  THE MOST UNSUITABLE HUSBAND. Book three centers around their half-brother, Storm, and his quest for justice.

One of the things that inspired the heroine of my latest release is a magazine story of Gruene, which is pronounced by its residents as if it were spelled Green. That area of the Texas Hill Country has numerous communities settled by German immigrants. Many families still speak German at home. It’s a lovely part of Texas that my family enjoys visiting over and over.

When thinking of a heroine for Storm Kincaid, I wanted one unlike any I had written about in previous books. That’s a problem for authors who have multiple books already released. Each hero and heroine must be strong and independent, but at the same time be different from any other couple. Everything must be new and fresh, yet fit within the genre and in the voice and story style the author’s readers expect. You’re correct—that is hard! In fact, for me that’s one of the hardest parts of writing.

Here is the blurb:

Storm Kincaid wants justice; Rena Dmitriev wants vengeance.

When Storm’s best friend and the friend’s wife are murdered, Storm secures a temporary appointment as Federal Marshal so he can capture the killers. He follows them to twenty one year old Rena’s home, which is in flames when he arrives. She has survived by following her elderly husband’s strict instructions and watched in hiding while the men murdered him.  Storm intends to take her to the nearest town where she will be safe. She can identify the men who killed the person who had been her husband in name only and like a grandfather to her, and she vows to kill at least one of them. Whether or not Storm allows her to accompany him, she assures him she will go after the murderers.  She is the only person alive who can identify the evil foursome whose policy has been to leave no witnesses. Storm agrees to take her with him. She’ll be safer with him to protect her than she would riding alone.

As a powerful and passionate love blossoms, they unite to rescue three orphaned children, fight the elements, and encounter the killers. Will their love be enough to protect them?

THE MOST UNSUITABLE COURTSHIP Excerpt:

She emerged from the brush straightening her trousers and shoving her pistol back into her waistband. “Where do you think those men are going?”

“Indian Territory. They’ll steal all they can before they reach the Red River and leave no survivors to identify them. They’re selling off the stolen stock along the way, so that will slow them some.” He wondered if she knew how to use the gun.

“But I saw their faces.”

He sent her what he hoped was a frightening stare. “If they knew that, you’d be dead for sure.”

She shivered, but glared at him. “Do not think to frighten me. I will do everything I can to kill these men and reclaim my gold and my mother’s locket. It is not that I care about the jewellery that once belonged to Abram’s wife. But to him, it meant a great deal, and I want it because he gave it to me.”

Storm wanted to shake her. Not that he hadn’t lived all his life with stubborn women. At least his oldest sister Pearl made sense. He’d worried about shy Sarah, especially when she’d appeared head over heels with a con man. Now that Sarah and Nate were married, she had life figured out. Nate had surprised everyone, even himself. Storm suppressed a smile and worked up his anger again at his traveling companion.

“We can be in Llano by nightfall. We’ll get a couple of rooms there and you can rest.”

She shot him a suspicious glare. “You think to abandon me in that town. If we stay somewhere, we will be in the same room so I can watch you.”

Shocked, Storm wondered what he could do with this woman. “We wouldn’t be allowed to stay in a decent hotel. You want to sleep over a saloon? Besides that, folks will be shocked when they see you in those trousers. You want people to think you’re a fallen woman?”

With her chin raised, she placed her hands on her hips. “I am a good woman. You can tell them we are married and I wear britches to ride more easily.” She held up her hand and wiggled her fingers. “I have a wedding band, see?”

He raised his hands and backed up a step. “Oh, no. I’m not even pretending to be married. If I were ready to marry, which I’m not, I’d pick a woman who knew when to let a man do his job.”

“Ha, and when I recover my dowry, I will marry a man who knows a woman can do as much as a man.”

He swept a formal bow. “And when you marry, will you be wearing the lovely gown you now wear?”

She appeared angry enough to use that Colt on him. “You are wrong to…to talk so. I do not have the English words to tell you what I think, but do not try to leave me behind. If you do, I will go after the men alone.”

Disgusted, Storm stomped over and retrieved the horses. “Then let’s go.”

They rode into Llano in late afternoon. Since they arrived mid week, the town appeared peaceful and quiet. Storm spotted a hotel by the livery he remembered.

“If you’re determined to stick to me like glue, let’s stable the horses.”

At the stable, she staggered when she dismounted and he thought she might fall. He grabbed her arms. “Steady. You’re not used to riding so long.”

“Ja, my legs do not work so well. Do not worry, I will be fine in a minute.”

She remained quiet while he dealt with the hostler and insured his rifle and saddle would be safe. He threw his saddlebags over his shoulder and retrieved the two pillowcases and box he’d tied to the saddle pommel. They ambled the block toward the hotel.

He indicated a mercantile. “Just what we need. After we get our room, let’s head for that store before it closes. You probably need to replace a few things that burned.” When she glared at him. “I’ll give you the money, all right? I don’t want folks thinking my wife runs around in men’s clothes. If anyone gets nosy, tell them you lost your bag crossing a river.”

She sniffed and sashayed as if she wore a ball gown instead of ill-fitting men’s trousers. “I will keep track and repay you when I kill those men.”

THE MOST UNSUITABLE COURTSHIP buy links are:

Smashwords

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361261?ref=CarolineClemmons

Amazon for print and e-book:

http://www.amazon.com/Most-Unsuitable-Courtship-Kincaids-ebook/dp/B00G5YXI6I/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1384191747&sr=1-4&keywords=caroline+clemmons  

Barnes and Noble Nook

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-most-unsuitable-courtship-caroline-clemmons/1117264325?ean=2940045350990

ABOUT CAROLINE CLEMMONS

Caroline Clemmons is an Amazon bestselling author of historical and contemporary western romances whose books have garnered numerous awards. Her most recent novel, THE MOST UNSUITABLE COURTSHIP, is a poignant tale of tender redemption. A frequent speaker at conferences and seminars, she has taught workshops on characterization, point of view, and layering a novel.

Caroline is a member of Romance Writers of America, Dallas Area Romance Authors, Yellow Rose Romance Writers, and Hearts Through History Romance Writers. Her latest publications include the acclaimed historical Men of Stone Mountain series: BRAZOS BRIDE, HIGH STAKES BRIDE, and BLUEBONNET BRIDE.

Caroline and her husband live in the heart of Texas cowboy country with their menagerie of rescued pets. When she’s not indulging her passion for writing, Caroline enjoys reading, travel, antiquing, genealogy, painting, and getting together with friends.  Find her on her blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST FEAR?

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?

The Blurb:
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!

The Excerpt:
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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