The MacGregor Legacy - From Scotland to the Carolinas

(Book 1 - For Love or Loyalty) (Book 2 - For Love or Country) (Book 3 - For Love or Liberty)

Path of Freedom, Quilts of Love series

1858 North Carolina - When Quakers Flora Saferight and Bruce Millikan embark on the Underground Railroad, they agree to put their differences aside to save the lives of a pregnant slave couple..

Highland Sanctuary, (Highland series - Book 2)

1477 Scotland - A chieftain heir is hired to restore Briagh Castle and discovers a hidden village of outcasts who have created their own private sanctuary from the world.

Highland Blessings, (Book 1 - Highland series)

1473 Scotland - The story of a highland warrior who kidnaps the daughter of his greatest enemy and clan chief to honor a promise to his dying father.

Awakened Redemption (Inspirational Regency)

1815 England - A story that pierces the heart and captures the Regency era.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CFBA Blog Tour - "Stars in the Night" by Cara Putnam


Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Stars In The Night
Summerside Press (July 1, 2010)

Cara Putman


A Word From Cara:

I graduated from high school at sixteen, college at 20, and completed my law degree when I was 27.

My writing journey started in 2005 when I decided to write my first novel. Now I have eleven books published with more on the way.

People say I've accomplished a lot and that I must have life by the proverbial tail. Hardly! I grew up as a home schooled kid when home schoolers were misunderstood and oddities.

I struggle with balancing my writing and law career, plus being a good mom and wife.

I often fear people won't like my books.

I've walked through the deep pain of miscarriage.

Really, I'm just like you – I don't have it all together and have gone through tough times. But in His strength, I've discovered a strength I never knew I had. A strength I want you to discover, too.

In the end I'm just an ordinary mom who has seen God do some wonderful things as I've been obedient to step into the calling He's led me into.

Stars in the Night Background

Stars in the Night was an idea that had begun to percolate in my mind. I’d written two World War II series and was actively looking for my next setting. My husband, a huge World War II history buff, and I were kicking ideas around, and I’d decided Hollywood was probably the next place for me. I’d gone to the library and gotten a stack of research books when I got the call. An editor I knew but had never worked with wanted to know if I might be interested in a new line they were starting. As we talked, I got so excited. And then she emailed me their guidelines, which listed that Hollywood was a location they were interested in setting books.

Only God could have known ahead of time. But because I followed His prompting I was ready to run with an idea. Stars in the Night is the result.


Hollywood 1942. When attorney Audra Schaeffer's sister disappears, Audra flies to Hollywood to find her.

Any day Audra might have been flattered by the friendly overtures of Robert Garfield, a real-life movie star. But on the flight from Indianapolis to Hollywood, Audra can think of little else than finding her missing sister. When Audra arrives in the city of glitz and glamour, and stars, and learns her rising starlet sister has been murdered, all thoughts of romance fly away.

Determined to bring the killer to justice, Audra takes a job with the second Hollywood Victory Caravan.

Together with Robert Garfield and other stars, she crisscrosses the southern United States in a campaign to sell war bonds. When two other women are found dead on the train, Audra knows the deaths are tied to that of her sister.

Could the killer be the man with whom she's falling in love?

If you'd like to read an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Stars In The Night, go HERE.

Contest: Lots of opportunities to win and great prizes, and the grand prize contains some of Cara's favorite classic movies as well as all of her WWII novels: Launch Contest!

Purchase it on Amazon, here.

Learn more about Author Cara Putnam, here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Going Over or Under Your Word Count

Most publishers have a word count range. Some are 60K-65K, while others are more broad such as 75K-100K. How close does your word count have to be? I always shoot for the middle of the range. That way if I'm a little under, I'll still be over the minimum, and if I'm a little over, I'll still be within the range limit.

My advice is to make sure you have plenty of words--especially on the first draft. When you are writing, plan accordingly whether you write out an outline or have it all in your head like most pansters. It's better to go over than to be under. You can always cut, but if you don't have enough, it is much harder to try and create valuable scenes to slide into your manuscript that won't seem like added fluff. Editors are experts in spotting this scenario. They know every little trick we writers try to use.

When I say I'm over my word count, I mean that I'm over my projected, self-appointed word count, not above the limit for what is allowed by my publisher. 

To avoid going too far over or arriving at my ended destination at being too far under, I always stop writing the first draft around 75% of the way through the manuscript. I evaluate what I've already written, and take an objective look at what is left to write. I try to pinpoint each unwritten scene, estimate word count for each, and make a determination as to what scenes need to be eliminated, combined, or if there are loop holes that don't give closure to all the problems in the story.This is where I may add scenes or change a scene I had planned to write. 

What about you? Do you tend to over-write, under-write, do you always hit your mark? Do you ever stop like me and re-evaluate before you finish?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wild Card Book Tour - "Love on a Dime" by Cara Lynn James

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between!  Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Thomas Nelson (June 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Katie Bond of Thomas Nelson for sending me a review copy.***


Cara Lynn James is a debut writer who has received numerous contest awards from Romance Writers of America chapters and the American Christian Fiction Writers. She resides in northwest Florida with her husband Jim. They have two grown children, Justin and Alicia; a grandson, Damian; and Papillion named Sparky.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (June 1, 2010)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1595546790

ISBN-13: 978-1595546791


P rolo g u e

N e w Y o r k C i t y , M ay 1 8 9 3

Jack slowed his pace, his courage once more waning at

the sight of the Westbrook home across the way. Anxiety

twisted his stomach in a knot. But in the dusky light,

Lilly’s glow of confidence reignited his own flame. She

understood her parents far better than he did. Since she believed her father

would agree to the marriage, why should he hesitate?

Arm-in-arm they strolled across the road. Among the row of

fine brick townhouses facing them, the Westbrook house stood

three stories tall like all the rest, with long, paned windows overlooking

Washington Park.

Mr. Ames, the ancient butler, opened the front door. Jack and

Lilly entered the dimly lit foyer.

“Where is my father this evening?” Lilly asked the butler.

“In the back parlor, miss.”

“Shall I go with you, Jack?”

“No,” he whispered, squeezing her hand, “I’d rather do this

on my own. Say a prayer all will go well.”

Jack strode toward the parlor, determined to plead his case.

Every nerve ending in his body fired with life—and more than

a few with apprehension. He’d calm himself and then ask Mr.

Westbrook for Lilly’s hand in a respectful tone, solicitous, but

not fawning. He’d restrain his usual brash attitude and hope Mr.

Westbrook would consent to a marriage most would deem unsuitable.

If he weighed the odds of success, he wouldn’t even try.

Jack inhaled a steadying breath and increased his pace down

the narrow hallway leading to the back of the house. Gas sconces

threw a pale light along the Persian runner that muffled his footsteps

to a soft shuffle. The house lay silent except for the noise of

a sledge hammer beating against his chest.

Lord, I need a large dose of Your strength. Don’t allow me to cower.

I’ve never been a quitter and I don’t want to start now.

He hadn’t asked God for much in the past, but this was too

important to rely on his own untested powers.

Jack paused before he came to the door of the back parlor,

straightened his bow tie, and squared his shoulders. Voices stopped

him before he moved forward. He recognized Mrs. Westbrook’s

high, girlish tone. He’d wait for a lull in the conversation, excuse

his entry, and then ask to speak to Mr. Westbrook. Jack waited for

several minutes before he heard his name.

“Thomas, I noticed Jackson Grail seems especially fond of

Lilly. You don’t suppose he wants to marry her, do you?”

Jack winced at the worry in her voice. With his back to the

wall he stepped closer to the parlor.

Mr. Westbrook chuckled. “No, my dear, he’s George ’s friend,

not Lilly’s. She ’s hardly more than a child.”

“For goodness’ sake. Lilly’s nineteen, certainly old enough to

catch the eye of a young man.”

“All right, she ’s not my little girl anymore. But ready for marriage?

No, Nessie, I don’t believe so. She has lots of time to choose

a mate. There ’s no rush.”

“Hmm. I wouldn’t want her to delay too long. I’ve given considerable

thought to her future.”

“I’m sure you have,” Mr. Westbrook murmured. Jack pictured

his wry smile.

“Well, it’s my duty as her mother to guide her. Oliver Cross

or Pelham Mills come to mind as possible suitors. Maybe Harlan

Santerre. He’s such a polite young man and his mother and I have

been friends since childhood. Yes, he’s most definitely my first


Jack let out the breath he’d been holding, knowing he should

break away, cease his eavesdropping—

“They’re all acceptable to me. But what about young Grail?

You say he might be interested in her. He’s got a good head on his


“But no money in his pocket. Need I say more?”

Jack frowned and tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry.

Mr. Westbrook sighed. “No, my dear. You’re absolutely right.

He’s not suitable, though I do like him.”

“I do as well. And now he’s as finely educated as our own

George. But he would have to strike it rich quickly in order to court

Lilly,” Mrs. Westbrook added. “And that’s highly unlikely.”

“Nearly impossible, I’m afraid. So I hope you’re wrong and

young Grail hasn’t set his heart on Lilly.” Her father sighed. “He’s

an intelligent boy. I’m sure he’d know better. Especially when she

has an ambitious mama anxious to make her the perfect match.”

Mrs. Westbrook laughed. “Thomas, do stop your teasing.”

Jack bumped his shoulder against the curlicues of a large gilt

picture frame. Turning to give it a hard shove, he stopped himself.

He wouldn’t let his temper get the better of him. Leaving the oil

painting crooked, he stumbled down the patterned runner, away

from the awful voices. When he came to the foyer he dropped into

a rosewood chair and ignored the curious stare from Mr. Ames.

Jack buried his head in his hands and tried to gather his wits

before he had to face Lilly. But the Westbrooks’ conversation

resounded through his mind. Poor. Unsuitable. Why had he ever

thought they’d accept him as a son-in-law? His love for Lilly had

banished all reason. He’d lived in a fog of hope these last several

months, but now it cleared.

At the sound of light footsteps he looked up. “What did Papa

say?” Lilly asked, grasping his hands.

He glanced at her without speaking and then saw his own

anguish reflected in her eyes. He so wished his answer could bring

her joy. She gently pulled him into the dimly lit sitting room. The

sheers and heavy velvet curtains blocked all but the final rays of

daylight from seeping through the windows overlooking the park.

They faced each other in front of the unlit marble fireplace, his arms

tight around her slim waist, her hands lightly touching his vest.

“Tell me,” she said in a rasping voice, barely audible.

“I never had the chance to ask, Lilly. When I got to the back

parlor your parents were already discussing appropriate husbands.

And my name wasn’t on the list.”

“That’s because they don’t know we love each other. Papa

has never refused me anything. It might take some persuasion, but

you can do it. We can approach him together.”

Lovely, pampered Lilly, who owned her father’s heart—

except when it came to marriage partners. And marriage among

the rich was certainly a business transaction. Their kind never

married Jack’s kind. He’d gone to St. Luke ’s and Yale with the

wealthy, but as a scholarship student, he didn’t belong to their set

no matter how hard he tried to fit in. Maybe he would’ve accepted

the impenetrable barrier if Lilly hadn’t swept into his life.

He gazed at her, drinking in her passion, memorizing her

large, expressive eyes and flawless skin, her tall, slender form and

thick brown hair framing her face.

Her eyes blazed like blue fire. “Come. We ’ll speak to Papa.

Right now.”

Jack caught her wrists. “No, I can’t. I’m so sorry. He won’t change

his mind. It’s pointless to even ask.” Save me the humiliation.

Her strangled cry pierced his heart. “You won’t even try? We

love each other. Isn’t that worth fighting for?” Lilly’s voice rose

with disbelief.

How could he explain he couldn’t abide her father’s rejection?

He refused to hear again that he wasn’t good enough to court

Lilly—once was enough. And he didn’t want her to elope with

him without her parents’ approval. Jack groaned. As much as he

adored Lilly, he wasn’t acceptable to the family. The daughter of

a prosperous banker, Lilly couldn’t marry a man without a family


“We can marry without their consent. You’ll find a good job.

I know you will. Don’t you see, Jack, we don’t need my parents’


“But I want their respect.” And he’d never gain their esteem

by stealing their daughter away. He turned from her, running a

hand through his hair. He ’d been fooling himself. How could

he provide for Lilly, care for her in a manner in which she was

accustomed? What could he promise her? A one room apartment

in a dingy part of town while he made his way in the world,

if he ever made it at all. How long before his beautiful, young

and idealistic bride would realize she ’d sacrificed too much for

an improbable dream? He ’d harm her if he stole her from her


He glanced at her and could see in her face the stubborn, naïve

hope that lingered there. But he understood reality as she never

would. He ’d let his love blossom before he should have.

Jack slowly moved away, steeling himself for the hurt yet

to come. “Your parents are right. I’m in no position to marry. I

should never have proposed, because I have nothing to offer.”

Lilly rushed to him and flung her arms around his neck, tears

spilling down her cheeks. “What about our love? Why do you

need more than that?”

“Lilly, we can’t exist on dreams. I have to earn a living. And I

can’t support you on a clerk’s salary. You’d miss your old life.”

Her lovely, soft features hardened. “You must think my love

is too weak to withstand hardship. It’s strong enough to survive

anything. Why do you doubt me so?”

Jack shook his head. “I doubt myself, not you.” What if her

confidence in his abilities weren’t warranted? What if he never

rose above petty clerk, despite his fancy education? A girl from a

society family, proud and successful for generations, could never

be content washing laundry, cooking meals, and scrubbing floors

on her hands and knees. She ’d grow bitter and resentful.

“I can adapt to less. I don’t care about a beautiful home. I only

want you,” she said, her voice rising with frustration.

He wouldn’t argue about the effects of poverty and how it

wore on a person. She wouldn’t understand. “If we came from

the same background, I wouldn’t hesitate to speak to your father.

But we didn’t.”

“But you will. I know it. I’ll wait until you feel ready to marry

me. There’s no hurry. I’m patient. I can wait forever.” She pleaded

with beautiful eyes glistening with tears.

“No, please don’t wait for me.” Jack’s voice cracked like ice.

He wanted her to wait, but he couldn’t ruin her chances of

making a suitable, maybe even a happy marriage. The odds of

succeeding in the business world without connections were small.

If and when he’d proven himself, he’d return and hope she ’d still

want him. And forgive him. But he couldn’t ask her to wait.

He blotted her tears with his handkerchief, but they kept

streaming down her face. Her slender shoulders heaved with soft

sobs. He kissed her again gently and then retreated to his bedroom

before he was tempted to crush her in his arms and beg her to

elope. He’d planned to stay for the week as George ’s guest, but

now he needed to leave quickly.

Within ten minutes he was gone.

Jack’s heart slammed against his ribs. The past two weeks had

been a misery. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t eat. Go back, go back!

his mind and heart screamed. You’ve made a terrible mistake!

His stomach roiling, Jack fought to keep a dignified pace and

not run all the way to Washington Square. At last, he stood before

the Westbrook home and tapped the front door knocker against

the heavy wood.

He’d explain he couldn’t manage without her and his infernal

pride had blocked his common sense and their tender love. Would

she accept his apology? They’d work something out. He didn’t

know how exactly, but they would. He knew their union was sanctioned,

indeed designed, by God.

Mr. Ames pulled the heavy door open. “May I help you, sir?”

“Yes. Is Miss Westbrook at home?”

The hunched-over butler shook his head. “They’ve all gone

abroad. They sailed yesterday.”

Jack’s cautious optimism collapsed in a heap of despair. “And

when will they return?”

“Next spring.”

Next spring. Jack groaned. “G-Good day,” he mumbled, turning

from the door.

I’m too late. I’ve lost her.

On e

N e w p o rt , R h o d e I s l a n d — J u ly 1 8 9 9

Six years later

With a deep sigh of satisfaction, Lilly Westbrook

whipped the last page of her manuscript out of

the Underwood typewriter. Carefully she shredded

the carbon and threw the messy strips into the wastebasket. No


maid could possibly reconstruct her work and tattle

to Mama.

For a moment, a wave of sadness overshadowed the pleasure

she felt at finishing another story. How she longed to share her

secret with her mother, but as much as Lilly hated deception, she

knew Mama would never understand. Mama was proud of her for

dabbling in poetry, but this?

No. It was best to stay behind closed doors to write her dime


Lilly shuddered to think of the disgrace she ’d bring upon herself

and, even worse, upon her family, if her secret was revealed.

The very notion of social ostracism weakened her knees and left

her legs wobbly. A twinge of guilt pinched her conscience as it

often did when she considered her concealment. Yet why look for

trouble when her work was progressing so well?

Lilly scrubbed her hands until all evidence of the carbon paper

and inky ribbon disappeared into the washbasin near her bed, then

covered the typewriter Mama had given her as a birthday gift a

few years before. Mama thought a typing machine unnecessary

for a poet, but she wasn’t one to begrudge her children anything

within reason.

Lilly withdrew a letter from her skirt pocket and smiled as she

re-read the last lines.

My dear Lilly,

I want to again express my thanks for all you’ve contributed to

the Christian Settlement House of New York. We so value the time

and effort you have devoted to assisting our young ladies with their

sundry life skills and English fluency. Your exceptional generosity

and financial support have enabled us to continue our work in accordance

with the Lord’s purposes.


Phoebe Diller, Director

Miss Diller’s kind words sent a rush of warmth to Lilly’s heart

and strengthened her resolve to continue writing. For without the

profits from her novels, she couldn’t afford to donate more than

a few dollars to her favorite charity. How could she possibly quit

writing when her romance novels provided so many blessings to


Lilly locked the final chapter in the rolltop desk by the bay

window and hid the key beneath the lining of her keepsake box.

Time for a well-deserved walk by the sea. She removed her reading

spectacles and placed her straw hat decorated with bright

poppies squarely on top of her upswept hair. After a last furtive

glance toward the desk, she left her bedroom to the morning sunshine

that splashed across the shiny oak floor and floral carpet.

All the way down the staircase she congratulated herself for

typing “The End” of her story, though it was only a few days

before deadline. That was much too close for comfort. She sighed.

Too many social events had disrupted her normal writing routine

this summer. But she had no choice but to force a smile and

attend the functions, even though most of them bored her to


She wouldn’t think of that now. At least she’d finished the manuscript

before the deadline and for that she’d treat herself to a few

minutes out of her room. With a light heart, she strolled through

the deserted foyer, past Mr. Ames, the butler, and out the front

door. A beautiful day greeted her with its sun-blessed smile.

As she crossed the veranda, her sister-in-law Irene Westbrook,

seated at the end of the porch, peered over a small, familiar book.

The lurid cover of Lilly’s latest novel, Dorothea’s Dilemma,

popped out in garish color. Lilly stopped short and pressed her

palm over her gyrating heart.

“Oh my,” she murmured. She’d never expected to see one of

her novels in her own home, let alone in the hands of her brother’s


Irene smoothed her halo of silky blonde curls caught up in a

loose pompadour. She laid the slim paperback on her lap, her eyes

gleaming with curiosity. “Why hello, Lilly. Where have you been

on this beautiful afternoon? Cooped up in your bedroom again?

My goodness, what do you do in there all day?”

“Sometimes I enjoy a few hours of solitude.” Lilly’s nerves

seized control of her voice and it rose like the screech of a seagull.

“I’m sorry I interrupted your reading.” Heat crept into her skin as

Irene watched her, face aglow with interest.

“Do sit down, Lilly.”

She slipped into a wicker chair opposite Irene. A gust of

salty air, typical of Newport’s summer weather, blew in from the

Atlantic and brushed its cool breath across her cheeks. She prayed

it would fade the red splotches that came so easily when embarrassment


Irene cocked her head. “Is something wrong? You look positively


“No, I’m fine.” Though every fiber of her body continued to

quiver, Lilly steadied her breathing. She folded her hands in the

lap of her charcoal-gray skirt and willed them not to shake.

“You aren’t shocked by my novel, are you?” Irene smirked.

“Of course not.” Lilly squirmed around on the soft chintz

cushion and avoided Irene ’s skeptical stare. “Why should I be


Irene leaned forward. “Some people claim dime novels are

trash, and from your reaction I thought you might be one of those

faultfinders. Of course they’re wrong. These books are filled with

adventure and I love adventure.” She rolled the last word around

her tongue like a stream of honey.

Irene, the niece of Quentin Kirby, one of San Francisco’s

silver kings, fancied herself an adventuress, but Lilly inwardly

disagreed. Irene merely appreciated fun and frivolity more than

most. That hardly made her a woman like the heroines of Lilly’s

books. “I’m so sorry, Irene. I didn’t mean to criticize your choice

of books. I just wondered where you obtained your copy.”

“I discovered it in the kitchen while I was searching for a

blueberry tart.” Irene grinned as if Lilly ought to admire her


“One of the scullery maids must have left it there.”

“You took it without asking permission?” Lilly could scarcely

believe Irene had wandered downstairs to the basement kitchen,

the domain of servants who strongly disapproved of visitors,

even the family.

“Why yes. Well no, not exactly. I borrowed it. As soon as I finish

reading, I’ll give it back. Of course.”

Irene tapped the big, red letters spelling out the author’s name

across the cover. “Fannie Cole. She’s a splendid writer, the very

best. Have you ever read any of her books? I devour them like


Lilly’s heart lurched. “Naturally I’ve heard of her. I believe

her stories are rather popular.”

“They’re enthralling.”

At the sound of the front door squeaking open, Lilly looked

away with relief.

Mama bustled onto the veranda, a frown knitting her eyebrows.

“What’s that about Fannie Cole? She’s quite infamous, I

hear.” Glancing from Lilly to Irene, Mama’s eyelashes fluttered, a

sure sign of agitation. “Oh, I see you have one of her books . . .”

Lilly knew her mother couldn’t let this breach of propriety

pass without comment. On the other hand, the kind and ever

tactful Vanessa Westbrook would hate to offend her new daughter-in-


“Mama, Fannie Cole writes harmless fiction. You needn’t

worry.” Lilly smiled her assurance, hoping she’d veer off to

another topic.

Her mother sunk into a wicker chair beside Irene. “Perhaps,

my dear, but you must admit, there are so many more uplifting

novels.” She patted Irene ’s arm, which was robed in a cream silk

blouse that matched the lace of her skirt. “Lillian is a poet, you

know. Her work is delightful. You must read it. I’ll go fetch you

a copy.”

Lilly cringed. “No, Mama. I wrote those poems years ago. She

wouldn’t be interested in the meanderings of an eighteen-yearold

ninny. It’s sentimental tripe.”

“Nonsense, my dear. You’ve always been much too critical of


“Nevertheless, I’m sure Irene would prefer Fannie Cole.”

Who wouldn’t? Lilly thought. Still, she appreciated her mother’s

enthusiasm for her meager literary efforts.

Irene tossed her a wide, grateful smile. “There, that’s settled.”

Mama’s round, girlish face tightened with distaste. “I wish

you wouldn’t read dime novels because . . .” She looked toward

Lilly for support.

“Really, Mama.” Lilly softened her voice, not meaning to

scold. “While some of the dime novels are sensational, others are

written to help working girls avoid the pitfalls of city life. They’re

moralistic tales that encourage virtue. Nothing to be ashamed of

reading.” Or writing.

“Exactly.” Irene beamed. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Of course, I read for the story, not the moral lesson, but I’m sure

it’s beneficial for those who enjoy a good sermon.”

Lilly suppressed a sigh of resignation. “No doubt Miss Cole

hopes and prays her words touch the hearts of her readers and

bring them closer to the Lord.” Lilly looked at Mama and Irene,

hoping they’d somehow understand her purpose and approve.

But both looked puzzled over her words.

Irene ’s gaze narrowed. “An odd way to spread the gospel,

don’t you think?”

“Not at all. The Lord is more creative than we are.” Lilly

bristled and then glanced away when she found her mother and

sister-in-law still staring at her.

She’d spoken up much more forcefully than she intended.

With a sinking heart, Lilly realized Mama would never accept her

viewpoint; it flew in the face of beliefs and opinions ingrained

since childhood.

Irene picked up a sheet of paper resting on a small table between

two pots of ferns and waved it like a flag on the Fourth of July. Lilly

immediately recognized Talk of the Town, a gossip rag published

by that scandalmonger, Colonel MacIntyre, the bane of Newport

society. He shot fear into the hearts of all upstanding people and

others who weren’t quite so virtuous. Lilly swallowed hard.

Mama gasped. Her pale skin whitened. “Oh my dear, that’s

hardly appropriate for a respectable home.”

Irene shrugged. “Perhaps not. But if you don’t mind my saying

so, it’s great fun to read. I’m learning the crème de la crème

of Newport are up to all kinds of mischief.” She laughed with


“Listen to this.” Irene leaned forward. “One hears that Miss

Fannie Cole, author of wildly popular dime novels, has taken up residence

at one of the ocean villas for the season. The talk about town

claims this writer of sensational—some might even say salacious—

stories, belongs to the New York and Newport aristocracy. Which of our

fine debutantes or matrons writes under the nom de plume, Fannie Cole?

Speculation runs rampant. Would the talented but mysterious author of

Dorothea’s Dilemma, Hearts in Tune, and several other delectable

novels please come forward and identify herself for her public?”

Lilly’s throat closed. She clamped her hands down on her lap,

but they shook like a hummingbird’s wings. Had a maid or a footman

stumbled across her secret and sold the information? Colonel

Rufus MacIntyre of Talk of the Town paid handsomely for gossip.

No one was safe from his long, grasping tentacles, including some

of the most prominent people in society.

“The colonel has mentioned Miss Cole in his column for the

last two weeks, so I expect we’ll hear more about her during the

summer.” Irene grinned as she studied the sheet. “I wonder who

she is. I’d love to meet her.”

Mama’s mouth puckered into a small circle. “Undoubtedly

someone from the wrong side of the tracks. No one we’d know.”

She punctuated her words with a firm nod.

Irene persisted. “You must have an idea, Lilly. You seem to

know everything that’s going on in society.”

Lilly turned away, sure that a red stain had again spilled across

her pale skin. Her sister-in-law was right. She did listen to all the

tittle-tattle, but she prided herself on her discretion. The foibles

of her set provided grist for her novels, not for spreading rumors

and innuendo.

“You give me far too much credit, Irene.” She hated to dodge

questions to keep from lying, but what was her option short of

confessing? She twisted the cameo at the neck of her tailored


Mama wagged her finger. “Mark my words. By the end of

the summer someone will discover Fannie Cole’s true name and

announce it to the entire town. Oh, my. What humiliation she ’ll

bring upon her family. They’ll be mortified.”

“How delicious,” Irene murmured.

Lilly groaned inwardly. Her subterfuge gnawed at her conscience,

worsening day by day, but she couldn’t turn back the

clock and reconsider her decision to write in secret.

She rose. “Will you excuse me? I need to take my walk now.”

With her head held high and as much poise as she could muster,

Lilly descended the veranda’s shallow steps. She strode across

the wide, sloping lawn that surrounded Summerhill, the old

twenty-two-room mansion the Westbrooks rented for the season.

Once she reached the giant rocks that separated the grounds

from the ocean, she picked her way over to a smooth boulder that

doubled for a bench. As she ’d done every day since her arrival

three weeks ago, Lilly settled onto its cold surface. Instead of

watching the breakers pound against the coast and absorb the majesty

of nature ’s rhythm, she rested her head in her hands and let

the breeze brush against her face.

What would happen if her beau, Harlan Santerre, discovered

that she and Fannie Cole were the same person? The wealthy railroad

heir, a guest of the family for the eight weeks of summer,

miraculously seemed ripe to propose. Her mother kept reminding

her how grateful she should be that such a solid, upstanding man

as Harlan Santerre had shown interest in a twenty-five-year-old

spinster with no grand fortune and no great beauty. Mama and the

entire family would be humiliated if her writing became public

knowledge and Harlan turned his attention elsewhere.

Yet the Holy Ghost had urged her to compose her simple stories,

and as she wrote, her melancholy gradually faded. Her enthusiasm

never waned thanks to the joy she received from doing the Lord’s


Why would He allow someone to ruin her and end the good

deeds she accomplished? He should smite her enemies instead. All

her life she ’d trusted the Lord to guide her and protect her, but

never had she needed His help more than now. But would He continue

to shield her?

Trembling, Lilly tossed a stone into the roiling surf and

watched it sink into the foamy white waves. What if the surge

of curiosity aroused by Colonel MacIntyre didn’t fade away and

everything she held dear was threatened?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Free Kindle Downloads - How Do You Feel about Them?

Recently, my publisher offered a free Kindle download on Amazon for a one-week campaign. I saw advantages and disadvantages to it. Now that the campaign is over, I'd like to offer a few of my thoughts and get your input. 

Main Advantage
People love free things and there are tons of blogs and tweeters out there promoting ANYTHING that's free. I didn't realize how many blogs and Tweeters until we ran this campaign. People I've never heard of were tweeting and blogging about my book--just because it was free. The result? I sold lots of print copies on Amazon--not just free Kindle downloads. My sales rankings were the best they've been since the book was released. Lots of people heard about my book that might have never heard about it if it hadn't been for this campaign. 

One Disadvantage
The only disadvantage I noticed were reviews from Kindle readers who would have otherwise not picked up my book if they'd had to pay for it--probably because it isn't one of their favorite subgenres. When someone gives a review of a book they wouldn't normally read anyway, it does make me wonder about the bias of that review. It's hard to make someone who dislikes historicals, enjoy an historical. That's the bottom line. But because it's free and they have nothing to lose, they'll read it or make the attempt. If they can't resist writing a review, is that review pre-biased? 

What are your thoughts? Do you download free books on Kindle? Do you read genres you otherwise wouldn't try if you don't have to pay for them? If so, have you found new authors you like and will pay for in the future? 

In my case, the number of sales I received outweighs the few "not so favorable reviews", because there weren't that many, and I'm so thankful for that. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

My First Experience at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

As a native North Carolinian with lots of Scottish ancestry, I've always wanted to attend the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. It was a special weekend to be selling my debut novel, Highland Blessings, as my first experience at the games. To put it into perspective for you, the Highland Games to those with Scottish ancestry is like the Olympics to the rest of the world--and even more with a tradition of culture and history combined.

The first thing I want to tell you is that I had a wonderful time. There was such great hospitality and I have a lot of respect and admiration for the Director, Frank Vance, and his whole team who pulled off a spectacular event--even with stormy weather. The program is excellent and detailed, I'm still reading about the people who were there and those who have made an impact during the early years to make the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games what they have become today. it is full of so much history that this program is a keeper. 

The rains kept me from wearing my 16th century highland gown as I didn't want the hem ruined. Unlike a kilt, my gown reaches the ground. I'll have other opportunities as I hope to attend the Renaissance Festival in October and the Foothill Highland Games in November. 

I sold out of books by 2:30 on Saturday afternoon. Next time, I plan to bring more books! It did give me an opportunity to walk around the games visit with some of our clan tents. We are members of the Fraser, Henderson and MacFarlane Clans. I plan to join Clan Gregor as soon as I can get around to it. I purchased my daughter a Scottish Clan bear and some bagpipe earrings for myself as souvenirs. 

The games are actually held on McRae Meadow with a gorgeous view of Grandfather Mountain in the near distance. Bagpipes played the whole time and I can honestly say I was still hearing bagpipes in my head a couple of days later. The feeling and nostalgia of the Highland Games stays with you for a while and I think that is part of the magic of the event. 

What kind of Games and Entertainment are at the Highland Games?
Competitions range from telephone pole toss (called cabers), bags of hay or (sheafs), Lochaber trump, pipes and drums bands, highland dancing, Scottish country dancing, Grizzly Bike Race, The Bear--a 5-mile foot race, hammer throw, stone toss, weight-bar throw, wrestling, rope tug-of-war. Children even have their own set of competitions and rules.

Track & Field events include: the 100, 220, 400, 880 yard dashes, 1-mile and 2-mile runs, long jump, high jump, triple jump, 26-mile marathon.

You'll experience modern Celtic bands, harpists, parade of tartans, border collies who are trained to herd sheep, fiddle playing, wool weaving, Scottish food and vendors with all kinds of Scottish memorabilia. Individual clan tents surround the outside of the track field where you can get information about the history of your surname an which clan your family line might have belonged to and how to join clans of interest and connections to your ancestry.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wild Card Book Tour - "Hopes Promise" by Tammy Barley

Tammy Barley and I are both represented by Terry Burns of Hartline Literary Agency and so I am very excited to be a part of her Wild Card Book Tour in posting this review of of Hopes Promise!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between!  Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Whitaker House (August 3, 2010)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***


With Cherokee heritage and such ancestors as James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, Tammy Barley inherited her literary vocation and preferred setting: the Wild West. A longtime freelance writer and editor, Tammy is also an accomplished equestrian who homeschools her three children. Book One of her Sierra Chronicles, Love’s Rescue, sold out its first printing within a week of its release in 2009.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (August 3, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603741097
ISBN-13: 978-1603741095


Western Nevada Territory

      May 1864

      “Would you care to rest awhile, Jess?”

      Withholding a smile, Jess leaned forward in the saddle as her horse clamored beside Jake’s to the top of the rocky bank. When the ground leveled out, she glanced at the progress of the small herd of Thoroughbred stallions close behind, then tossed a lightly accusing gaze to her husband.

      “Rest awhile? Are you coddling me, Bennett?”

      In the shadow of his hat brim, Jake’s whisky-brown eyes sparkled at her as he grinned the crooked grin she loved. “No, ma’am, I wouldn’t dare.” He nodded sagely to Taggart and Diaz, the hired men with bandanas pulled up against the rising dust, who wrangled on the opposite side of the herd. “But the boys haven’t stood on their own feet twice since sunup, and they’re looking peaked.”

      “Peaked?” Jess looked to the burly, orange-haired Irishman and the sinewy, born-in-the-saddle Spaniard and burst out laughing. “Those two wouldn’t walk to their dinner plates if       The sleek, long-limbed Thoroughbreds continued, heads bobbing, toward the mountains, whistled on by the two cattlemen. From her position riding flank, Jess took in the beauty of white nose blazes and white socks flashing amid the bays, chestnuts, and blacks, framed by the red earth and green pines of the Sierra Nevadas.

      They were going home.

      Jess quieted, but her smile remained. “I couldn’t stop now, Jake. We only have ten miles before we reach the ranch.”

      Ten, out of seventeen hundred, she mused, and eight months since she had seen this part of the country. When they left the ranch, they hadn’t been married and she hadn’t been certain she’d ever come back. Even so, she hadn’t forgotten the beauty of the mountains, her love of the ranch in Honey Lake Valley, and her dream to raise horses with the good man beside her.

      Jess’s horse stumbled, then recovered. Amid the scattered rocks and fragrant clusters of gray-green sagebrush around them, desert flowers added brilliant splashes of purple, red, and orange. When they left the ranch, the land had been brown, dry from a year of heat and draught. Clearly winter snows and spring rains had come, for now life bloomed everywhere.

      Well, almost everywhere. With a twinge of sadness, Jess pressed a gloved hand to the flatness of her stomach.

      She and Jake had married in the fall, on one of the most beautiful autumn days God had ever created. As a wedding gift, Jake had given her the herd of Thoroughbreds, which grazed in the Bennetts’ paddock while the pastor stood with them beneath an arch of trees and joined them as husband and wife.

      All she had wanted was to give Jake a child in return. And now, it seemed, she was barren.

      “What do you suppose they’re thinking, your horses?”

      Jess dropped her hand and smiled. “Our horses,” she corrected. “They’re probably wishing they had taken a train instead.”

      Jake chuckled, his broad shoulders threatening the seams of his white cotton shirt. “Is that what you wish, Jess? That the transcontinental was nearly finished instead of only beginning?”

      “No, I wouldn’t want to be packed into a noisy passenger car any more than you would. I’d rather see the land, be a part of it.”

      “Well this land looks as though it’s seen some rain this year.”

      “I was just thinking the same.”

      “What else were you thinking?”

      Jess glanced at him. Since the day they met in Carson City more than a year before, she’d often been startled by how closely he paid attention, how he seemed to know her thoughts. “Mostly I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the ranch,” she evaded. “Ho Chen, Doyle, all the Paiute women, and Two Hands. I wonder how many of the mustangs Lone Wolf was able to breed.”

      The Bennett Mountain Ranch. Their ranch. Tickled by the thought, Jess laughed out loud in pure joy.

      “Jess?” The curiosity in Jake’s voice pulled her gaze to his.

      “We’re going home,” she said, a pleasant tightness in her chest. “I feel . . .” She lifted a hand, uncertain how to describe it. “I feel like a young falcon, about to leap into the wind for the first time.”

      He smiled his understanding, then suddenly turned tense, alert. He drew his Remington. An instant later, Taggart and Diaz did the same.


      A rock burst on the ground beside Jess. The sharp report of rifle fire echoed across the desert. All at once shots exploded, pelting the road around them with shattered stones and dust plumes. Drawing her own revolver, Jess whipped her mare around and looked past Jake to an outcropping of rocks where rifles barked and gun smoke curled away.

      The mare abruptly jerked then reared high, spilling Jess’s hat and tumbling her long braid free. The horse teetered on its hind legs then went over backward.

      Pain exploded through Jess’s back and lungs.

      Then, darkness.

      An image flashed through her mind—the ranch, only not as they left it. Where the workshop, supply shed, and stable had once sat, large black smudges marred the ground. Eerie dread filled her at the vision, and at the realization that though she could see the ranch compound, she heard no wind, no movement, no sound at all.

      A flash of daylight, then Jess felt sharp rocks beneath her back and smelled the pungent tang of gun smoke. Pain seared her right arm. Beside her, its neck bearing a bullet hole and spattered with blood, her horse thrashed once more then lay still.


      Her gaze shifted to the back of Jake’s boots which stood rooted a few feet away, his long legs and broad shoulders tense. Jake had positioned himself and his horse between her and the outcropping. The gunfire had stopped. “I’m all right, Jake. You?”

      His hat shifted with his answering nod, but his attention remained fixed on the distant rocks. Finally, he turned and went down on one knee near her hip. “The gunmen are gone.”

      “And the Thoroughbreds?”

      “Taggart and Diaz just rode after them. They’ll bring them back.” With great care, he leaned over her and felt her ribs, but pain whorled through her side, and she winced and caught her breath. Then winced again. “Anything feel broken, Jess?”

      “I don’t believe so, but my ribs hurt when I breathe in.”

      He pressed gently on her left side where she indicated, shifted his big hand, then pressed again. “I can’t feel any movement through your corset. I suspect that contraption just saved you from anything worse than bruising. Your ribs will likely hurt for a few weeks, especially when you breathe in, but they should heal fine.” He glanced at the cut on her arm that had begun to burn like fire, then stood and retrieved a bottle of whiskey and a clean bandana from his saddlebag.

      With her good arm, Jess carefully pushed herself up, forcing herself not to groan at the pain in her side. Ranchmen never complained, even when shot. She had become one of them, and she wasn’t about to fuss over a little bruising and a cut.

      Jake walked a few paces to where her hat had fallen on the other side of the dead horse then hesitantly returned it to her. She pulled it on, sensing his concern for her with the simple gesture, and felt overwhelming relief that he hadn’t been injured in the attack. “Jake, those men couldn’t have been outlaws. They must have been Paiute.”

      He looped his horse’s reins around his arm and handed her the folded bandana. “That was my thought as well. If they’d been outlaws, they would have gone after the horses.”

      He’d known, Jess realized. That was why she’d seen him fire only warning shots into the ground; she and Jake had friends among the Paiute. Several families worked at their ranch.

      “Bands of Paiute have been trying to warn off immigrants for the last few years,” he said, “shooting from the hills along the Lassen Trail and north of Pyramid Lake. Apparently things have gotten worse, and the Paiutes have gotten bolder. You’re wearing britches and your braid was up under your hat. When your hat fell and your braid came free, they took off, so apparently they’re just warning folks away. None of the Paiutes I’ve met have ever killed innocent settlers.”

      “But why attack this far south? You’re not the only rancher around here who employs them.”

      “I agree; it doesn’t make sense.” Jake looked to where Taggart and Diaz had regained control of the Thoroughbreds less than a mile away. One man rode on either side of the herd, heading toward them at an easy pace to calm the skittish horses. “Let’s see your arm.”

      Blood had soaked into the blue flannel shirtsleeve along her forearm, and from the feel of it dripping down her arm and the throbbing pain, she knew it was more than a simple cut.

      Something flickered in Jake’s eyes. “You were shot?”

      “No, I wasn’t. I must have hit it on a rock when I fell. Come to think of it, I lost my gun.” She briefly scanned the ground for it, but then he eased the sleeve up her arm and she looked away, certain that if she saw the wound, it would hurt more. “How bad is it?”

      Jake held her forearm in his hand and gently turned it from side to side. “It’s a gash, but I won’t have to stitch it.”

      The cork made a dull thunk as he pulled it from the whiskey bottle. The bottle glugged, then searing liquid ran over her arm with the piercing sting of a branding iron. She drew in her breath. Her ribs screamed.


      “Do you know you only call me Bennett when you’re put out with me?” He poured again.

      Jess hissed through her teeth, then smiled a little at the tease in his deep, mellow voice. “I think it’s a habit.”

      “To be put out with me?”

      For the sake of her ribs, she fought against a chuckle. “No, to call you Bennett in front of the men.” Jess knew he intentionally kept the conversation light. “If the men hear me call you Jake, it might change your status in their eyes. They don’t need to see you as my husband; they need to see you as their boss.”

      “Only on the range, Jess. When the doors close at night, there will only be you and me.”

      Jess stiffened as though she’d been struck. He’d wanted to reassure her with his words, she knew, yet it was a painful reminder that she still wasn’t expecting after nearly seven months of marriage. But, she told herself, what mattered most right now was the ranch, and building it with Jake. A quarter of a mile away, Taggart and Diaz had stopped and stood talking together, keeping a casual watch on the desert while the horses grazed. Their horses, hers and Jake’s. Horses which would enable them to be less dependent on cattle for their income, and to be one of the first ranches in the northern Sierras to raise horses to sell. If only . . . Now that they were out of danger, she allowed herself to ponder the odd vision. The cold fear returned, and her knees and legs trembled.

      “Jake, I saw something . . . in my mind, when I fell.”

      In the shadow of his hat brim, his sun-bronzed face turned thoughtful. Jake corked and set aside the whiskey, took the cloth from her hand, and bound the wound. “What is it that you saw?”

      “The ranch compound, except some of the buildings were gone, and two of the corrals,” she recalled. “Only one corral remained. Where they had stood, the ground was black as though barrels of gunpowder had spilled. Seeing it scared me, Jake. I only saw it for a second or two, but in that instant, it felt as real as if I was actually there. Then I opened my eyes and saw the horse beside me, and then you. I think something bad is going to happen.”

      Rather than wave away or make excuses for what she’d told him, he remained beside her, elbow on his knee, as he considered. She loved him for always listening to her.

      “Has this ever happened before?”

      “No. I have felt strongly about the outcome of various events, though, so strongly that I knew what would or wouldn’t happen. A year ago, when Ambrose was listed as missing in the war, I knew my brother wasn’t dead. I knew it.”

      “I remember. You also told me last autumn that you believed outlaws would attack the ranch, and then they did.”

      “So you believe me?”

      “I don’t doubt that you saw what you say you did. Yes, I believe you.” He briefly scanned the foothills; there was no unusual movement among the rocks and sagebrush. “Do you remember my pa’s neighbor, the older lady who walked with two canes?”

      “I only met her once, but I remember her.”

      “When I was a boy—no more than nine or ten—she hurried over one night in a fluster and told my pa a tornado was coming, no more than an hour out. Almost exactly an hour later, it struck and took out half our corn before it dissipated. Later she told my pa that she occasionally had feelings about such things, and even saw a number of events before they happened. Premonitions, I reckon. I’ve occasionally heard similar about other women, whether or not their husbands had the good sense to listen to them. No, I won’t discount what you’ve told me, Jess.”

      “But you don’t believe it.”

      “I won’t lie to you, Jess. I’m not sure if I believe it or if I don’t.” He reached over and lightly squeezed her good arm. “Let’s just take things as they come.”

      Jess struggled with disappointment, but she was glad Jake had listened. Within hours, they would learn firsthand if what she envisioned had, in fact, happened.

      As Jake helped her to her feet, she dearly hoped they would find the ranch to be just as they left it, but she didn’t believe it would be.


      At Jess’s insistence that she would not ride double due to her injuries any sooner than Jake would in her place, Jake had pulled the saddle, bridle, and gear from Jess’s dead horse and saddled the Thoroughbred stallion he would ride while Jess rode his calmer quarter horse—the only concession she would make.

      Jess was more willful and determined than a Chicago storm.

      Lord above, he loved that about her.

      Unfortunately, it also made his guts churn in agony.

      When her horse went over and crushed her beneath, his heart nearly exploded. Then, injured and struggling to rise, the gelding rolled over her again before it thrashed then lay still beside her. Years ago, about twenty miles to the south of where they rode now, his first wife and their baby daughter were on their way to visit family when outlaws attacked and killed them both. He nearly died himself when he discovered their bodies, Olivia’s and Sadie’s. He couldn’t endure losing Jess or seeing her harmed again.

      What she had said about a premonition sat like a passel of thorns in his mind. He could work through whatever came, but what about Jess? She had been raised the daughter of a horse breeder in Lexington, Kentucky, and when the Hale family had moved west, she had kept books for his import business. She had not been raised to this life. She was strong and determined now, but what if years of hardships of living and working on a ranch in the wilderness became too much for her as it did for many ranchers’ wives? The fear entered his mind weeks ago when he lost several of their Thoroughbreds to Plains Indians, and the gunmen’s attack—and what she suffered as a result—solidified that fear. Would he eventually lose her?

      “Bennett? Your face has turned grim and stiff as iron,” she said. “You’re worried about something. What’s on your mind?”

      Rimmed with long, sooty lashes, Jess’s sage-green eyes bore into his as she brushed loose strands of her brown hair from her face. Her soft, rose-red lips revealed she was all woman, though she rode with the ease a man, albeit having a care for an injured side. He and Jess hadn’t been alone a single moment in weeks, even after nightfall, and now her ribs were injured. Though he’d waited with great patience all this time to be alone with her in the ranch house, what he’d had in mind would have to wait until she’d healed. All that mattered was that he keep her safe and give her a horse ranch to replace the one she’d loved and left behind years ago in Kentucky.

      He eyed her revolver which was holstered once again in the gun belt at her narrow waist. Seeing to it that she was safe and happy was no small task. Trouble seemed to follow her. That is, when she wasn’t out looking for it.

      One of the Thoroughbreds started to break from the herd. Jake changed its mind with a quick wave of the coiled rope in his hand, and forced a new thought into his own mind so he could answer her without dishonesty. “Well, Missus Bennett, I was just hoping there’s been enough rain that the river’s running high again. I plan to sink right into it, boots and all.”

      Jess’s rosy lips curved into in a smile. “You’ll rust your spurs.”

      “Hardly. After riding for weeks behind this herd amid all the dust they’re raising, my spurs’ll need a good soaking just as much as I will.”

      “Perhaps,” she agreed, “but that’s not what turned your jaw to iron, and a muscle in your neck stood out when you glanced at my gun.”

      Jake sighed. A dozen or so yards ahead of him and Jess, Taggart and Diaz rode in comfortable silence, their attention on the herd they wrangled. There was little chance they would overhear. Even so, Jake discreetly lowered his voice.

      “What’s on my mind is that for the past few years you held your family together despite the war trying to pull you apart, and you were strong for your ma before she died. You didn’t have anyone to depend on but yourself for a long time, and I respect all you did for them. But—”

      “But I’m impulsive.”

      “No. Courageous.”

      Jess blinked. She hadn’t expected that.

      “You weren’t born to this life, Jess, and the Almighty must have known you’d need plenty of courage, because He surely gave you a barrelful.” He grinned, then more soberly looked to the bandana he’d knotted as a bandage on her forearm. “I’d just like you to tell me if this life becomes . . . hard for you. I’ll do whatever I can to keep that from happening, even if we have to give up the ranch and move on.”

      Her eyes flashed green fire. “Not born to this life? Bennett, do you think I’d rather be dungeoned up in the dank corner of a store tallying rows of numbers than be here with you? And what about Olivia? You married her.”

      “Times weren’t hard for Olivia and me. Besides, she was born to this.”

      “I grew up in the South amid political stirrings and secessions, and the knowledge that during my lifetime war would come and possibly destroy all I held dear. What would you reply if I had said that to you?”

      Jake lifted a shoulder, acknowledging her point. “I probably would have said that trials build character. But I was brought up this way. You and I are different.”

      “Look again.” Jess huffed indignantly. “I thought I was the one who fell off a horse and had the sense knocked out of—”

      “I don’t want to lose you.”

      At his confession, her anger abruptly vanished, and her face held only understanding and love. “Then I’ll be careful not to get ‘lost.’”

      Jake returned his attention to their herd. Her words sounded nearly as soothing to his mind as the smooth, Southern accent with which she had spoken them.

      Lord above, he loved that about her too.


      “Hey, boss,” Diaz called over his shoulder to Jake. “Those vacas are on your ranch, but they don’ carry your brand.”

      Jess peered at the herd of eighteen or twenty cows grazing about an acre’s length distant. Diaz was right. Instead of Jake’s sideways B brand with the flat side down, each red-and-white hide bore a circle with an M in the center. They leisurely enjoyed the Bennett Ranch’s bunchgrass as if they’d always called the place home.

      The nearest ranch was located so far from their own that Jess had never seen another brand within a mile of the compound. That uncomfortable realization, coupled with the fact that none of their ranchmen, mustangs, or cattle were in sight, fueled her apprehension.

      Something was very wrong.

      The men whistled the Thoroughbreds on, and finally, over the tops of the sagebrush, the ranch buildings came into view. The massive stable should have been the first building they saw. It was gone, and no smaller structures that had once huddled beside it remained to block their view of the barn.

      Jess felt rather than saw Jake tense beside her.

      The Paiute village that had stretched along the riverbank lay dismantled and scattered, as if the wigwams had been forcibly torn apart and the branches dragged beyond the outskirts of the camp.

      Taggart and Diaz exchanged troubled glances, but drove the horses the final distance into the compound.

      Where the workshop, supply shed, and stable had once sat, large black smudges marred the ground. Only one of three corrals that Jake had built remained.

      In silence Jake, Taggart, and Diaz guided the stallions into the sole corral, and, having a care for her ribs, Jess closed and latched the gate.

      The men stepped to the ground then tied their reins over the top rail of the corral. While Taggart and Diaz began to unload and unsaddle their horses, Jake gently lifted her down.

      Like the hired men, Jess untied her saddlebags and set them aside then loosened the cinch strap. Though the buildings that had stood on the east end of the compound had been destroyed, the barn to the north and the smithy and cookhouse to the immediate west of it seemed to be in good condition, though no inviting, fragrant smoke rose from the cookhouse chimney. South and west of the cookhouse, the bunkhouse lay low and long as it always had, and south of that—between her and the initial slope that led up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains that she loved—rose the pine logs that formed the two stories of the ranch house. Its wide front window, brown with dust, would benefit from cleaning, and the porch and its two steps looked weathered and in need of repair.

      By all appearances, the ranch had been deserted, except that to the west, beyond the bunkhouse, the garden had been planted, and beyond it, on what had been their property, someone had built a new house.

      The silence shattered with the loud metallic cock of a shotgun.

      All of them spun toward the ranch house.