Howard Haskell Takes A Bride – Release Day!

Jul 22, 2016

Okay, so it’s really re-release day, since Howard Haskell Takes A Bride was originally released as part of the Love’s Prelude box set. So if you purchased that box set, you already have Howard. But if not? Woo hoo! Now is your chance to see how the romance of Haskell, Wyoming’s founding father came about! And many apologies for those who prefer the sweet version, because this story is spicy-spicy, and really can’t be told any other way because, well, you’ll see. Why not get started on chapter one now? Then pop over to Amazon to purchase it for 99 cents!

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Cincinnati, Ohio – 1844

 

Spring was a beautiful time of year for a ball. The elite citizens of the burgeoning town of Cincinnati, Ohio all agreed. They had come out to new mayor Henry Evans Spencer’s home in droves to prove it. Spirits were high amidst the swirling colors of ball gowns and the trilling of strings that played the latest dance music. Laughter blended with the melody. Well-dressed black servants—servants, not slaves this far north, although plenty of people in town supported slavery—carried trays of sweet wine and punch through the revelers.

Mayor Spencer’s ballroom windows were open to let in the breeze blowing off the Ohio River and the many canals that had so recently been built. Cincinnati had become a hub of commerce, thanks to those canals and its proximity to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It was the fastest-growing city in the United States, although the length and breadth of the country turned its attention more and more every day to the vast expanse of land to the West—the unknown frontier.

Elizabeth Ayers let out a heavy sigh and peeked through one of the ballroom windows, her eyes searching the western horizon. Whatever was going on in the untamed wilderness, it was probably a damn sight better than the insufferable ball.

“What I heard was that Mr. Bond passed her a secret missive in public, right under her mother’s eyes.” Her friend Madeline related the bit of gossip to their group with eager eyes…and more than a little gloating.

“How scandalous of her,” another friend, Henrietta, gasped.

“What did she do with the missive?” the third friend who made up their group, Isobel, asked.

“Well, first she…”

Elizabeth let her mind drift as Madeline went on with the story. She didn’t care what the snotty Miss Gertrude Havers had done to flirt with an unsuitable gentleman. She didn’t care about gossip and innuendo. Her heart ached in her chest, as if it was being called by some unseen force that she could feel but not hear. The western horizon was dark, but the darkness, the unknown was filled with excitement. The story of the West had only just begun to be written. Handfuls of settlers and trappers had made the perilous journey to places with strange names like Oregon and California. They’d brought back stories of rich land and opportunity for those willing to risk all to take it.

Elizabeth was not a risk-taker. She knew that, just as she knew Gertrude Havers was a fool to accept a love note from a man her parents didn’t approve of. But all the same, she longed for something different, something grander, something…more.

“Why, she must be daydreaming of him now.”

It took several more seconds for Elizabeth to catch that her friends had stopped gossiping and were now staring at her. With a start, she dragged her gaze away from the window.

“What?” She patted her coal-black hair, wondering if a piece of the elaborate style she’d had Trudy, her family’s black maid, fix for her was coming loose.

Elizabeth’s three friends exchanged knowing looks and coy smiles.

“See, I told you. Luckiest girl in Cincinnati,” Henrietta said.

“Or rather, Jonas Armstrong is the luckiest man,” Isobel added.

Ice ran down Elizabeth’s spine. “Yes. My parents are very happy with the match.” She glanced down, hoping to hide how unhappy she was.

“Jonas Armstrong is the handsomest, most enterprising young man in Cincinnati.” Madeline congratulated her. “He’s going to be as rich as Croesus before he’s thirty years old, if his father’s business empire continues the way it has been.”

“And we’ll be able to say that we’re best friends with his wife,” Isobel laughed.

Elizabeth tried to smile. She tried to encourage herself to feel something for her fiancé, to be grateful for the position she was about to take in society. The best she could manage was mild interest, but it didn’t outweigh the mountain of resentment at being handed off to a man she’d hardly had time to get to know as a pawn in her father’s business dealings.

“You can do more than simply call yourself a friend to the wife of the richest man in Cincinnati,” Elizabeth said. “You can rescue her from the drudgery of fulfilling that position.” Indeed, she would need her friends around her once her life was shackled to the rock of responsibility.

Her friends laughed. “You sound as if you’re going to the gallows instead of to a bed of satin.” Madeline cuffed her on the arm.

“I would give anything to be in your shoes,” Henrietta sighed.

“Would you?” Bold as brass, Elizabeth slipped out of her dancing slippers and pushed them across the floor with her toe to her friend. “Here you go.”

More tinkling laughter sounded from her friends, but all Elizabeth could think was how good it felt to wiggle her toes.

Before she could sober up and retrieve her shoes, prickles shot up the back of Elizabeth’s neck. She glanced up, subtly searching the crowded room to discover the source of the prickles. Someone was watching her. The light and color and sound of the ball was a raging distraction, but that didn’t stop the feeling. Her heart beat faster, as if fate was tapping her shoulder.

And then she saw him. Half a room away, standing in the frame of one of the French doors leading to the balcony, stood the most striking man Elizabeth had ever seen. He was tall, inches above the whispering couple that stood beside him. His shoulders were broad and his brown hair perfectly coifed. Most arresting of all was his smile. It was broad, bold, absolutely sure of itself. His smile reached his eyes, illuminating them across the distance. If she hadn’t known any better, Elizabeth would have thought that he was the mayor—no, the president, the king, the emperor. Her heart fluttered up to her throat, and she could feel the heat rise to her cheeks. The regal young man—master of all he surveyed—was smiling at her.

“Who is he?” Isobel asked what Elizabeth’s heart was crying out.

Henrietta and Madeline turned to look as well.

Madeline hummed and tsked. “I think that’s Mr. Howard Haskell.”

“Who?” Henrietta wrinkled her nose.

Howard Haskell. Elizabeth repeated the name in her mind and heart. Something about it sizzled. Or perhaps that was his smile. He looked at her as though she was a rival to the sunrise. No one had ever looked at her with such longing, such appreciation before. Her heart beat double-time.

“Do we know him?” Isobel asked.

“No, and from what I understand, we don’t want to.” Madeline tilted up her nose.

“Why not?” Henrietta asked.

Madeline sniffed. “He’s an upstart nobody from who knows where. My papa says that he’s been nosing around Commerce Street for months now.”

“Why would anyone want to do that?” Isobel made a face.

“Maybe he’s in business?” Henrietta offered.

“More likely he’s looking for a job or trying to get involved in one scheme or another,” Madeline said.

“He could be a businessman himself,” Elizabeth offered. Yes, with a proud smile and confidence like that, she had no doubt he was an entrepreneur of some sort.

Madeline sniffed. “Him? Not likely. Everything I’ve heard suggests he’s loud, brash, and coarse. He’s certainly not our sort, you can be sure of that.”

Elizabeth nodded, but she wasn’t so sure. Howard Haskell had an air of excitement about him, a presence that made her feel as though he was inches away, even though he was at the other side of the room. He gave her a feeling, several feelings, and one of those was that he was indeed completely her “sort.”

 

Howard Haskell Takes A Bride is available exclusively at Amazon and for Kindle Unlimited for just 99 cents!

Veterinarian’s Vixen – Release Day!

Jul 08, 2016

It’s here! Your wait is over! Book Eight of the Culpepper Cowboys, Veterinarian’s Vixen, is here! Come join me on this fun romp of misunderstandings and mayhem. There may even be a port-a-potty involved. 😉 Ready to get started? Here’s a bit of Chapter One…

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On paper, Doc O’Donnell’s world was just about perfect. His large animal veterinary business in Culpepper, Wyoming was booming. Led by his good friends, the Culpepper brothers and top-notch trainer, Ryan Bassett, he was gaining a stellar reputation as the region’s foremost expert in equine medicine and rehabilitation. His services were in demand through Wyoming and all the way down to Colorado and out to Utah, even Idaho. Better still, his big brother, Sly O’Donnell, had recently moved into town—for reasons Doc didn’t entirely understand. The two of them drove out to the Culpepper ranch together, catching up on old times. It was great to have his big bro by his side once more, and there were hints that their younger brother, Arch, might come out for the Fourth of July in a couple of weeks.

But as happy as that made him, there was still a gaping hole in Doc’s life…right about where his heart was. A hole that a certain spunky reporter had left him with a few months ago when she left town and disappeared from his life.

“So my plan is for the Culpepper Stakes to become the area’s most prestigious horse race,” Sly rambled, looking out the passenger-side window as vast stretches of sunbaked ranchland rolled by. It was only mid-June, but already things were heating up. “The Fourth of July is a perfect time to have it each year, and we can coordinate the race with other events in town. Imagine the potential for tourists that could be created.”

“Tourists?” Doc asked, knowing it was what Sly wanted him to say so that he could talk more. In reality, his thoughts were elsewhere, imagining a pretty pair of brown eyes. Was it this hot where she was? Did she miss him as much as he missed her?

“Absolutely. Culpepper is lagging way behind economically.” Sly continued his speech, in his element. “Ranching and wind farming can only take a place so far. I would love to do for Culpepper what I did for Ulrich, California.”

Doc sent him a wary sidelong glance, then went back to watching the road as he drove. “What did you do for Ulrich?”

The grin Sly gave him was half the reason he’d been given his nickname. “I took a backwards, sleepy mountain town, brought in a few boutique businesses, invested in camping facilities, and made it one of the finest family outdoor adventure resorts in Northern California.”

“So you want to make Culpepper into a resort destination?” Doc doubted the residents would go for that. He wondered what a certain Miss Nancy Tilson would think.

Sly shrugged. “Not necessarily, but we can do something with the town.”

“We?”

“Sure. Why not? The O’Donnell family has always gotten more done when we work together.”

“I’ll be sure to tell Arch and Elvie you said that,” Doc laughed. He slowed down to make the turn onto the Culpepper ranch.

Sly sat up, staring at Culpepper Confectionary Creations, the bakery that had recently been started by Grace Wells, Patience Bassett, and Felicity Quinlan, the sister and cousins of the Culpepper wives. “That’s an awful lot of cars parked in front of a bakery that’s all the way out here and not in the center of town,” he said.

Doc snuck a peek, then kept driving. “That’s nothing. You should see them around morning coffee time.”

“Really?” Sly turned to him and Doc nodded. Sly whistled. “See, this is exactly the kind of enterprise I intend to build up. Culpepper needs more small businesses like that, businesses that can be destinations in themselves. We can make something of this town.”

Doc thought about arguing that Culpepper already was something to the people who lived there, but he wasn’t in the mood to get into that debate. Sly always won debates. Always. Besides, thinking about the Culpepper family only made that hole in his chest yawn wider. They all seemed to be getting married, lickety-split. In fact, the Culpepper boys had started a trend. Nobody seemed to want to wait to get married anymore. On-the-spot weddings were becoming a fad that was spreading. In fact, if Nancy was here right now, he suspected he’d drop to one knee without a second thought.

“You should start a wedding chapel, like Vegas,” Doc suggested bumping along the drive that led out to the stable. “I’m sure Brother Anthony would love dressing up as Elvis to marry people.”

Sly laughed. “I can see it now.”

That was the other thing that had surprised Doc since Sly showed up in town. His big brother had started attending church. Although as often as not, Brother Anthony’s services were more like going to the circus than a solemn worship ceremony. Still, it didn’t fit with everything Doc knew about his brother.

Doc pulled his truck into a parking spot beside the stable.

Sly rubbed his chin. “You know, I don’t think there’s any waiting period in Wyoming. We actually could build a wedding chapel in Culpepper. Or maybe an entire wedding complex with different themed spaces for different kinds of wedding.” He chuckled. “I can see it now. The medieval chapel, the outer space chapel, the equestrian chapel, the fairy-tale chapel, the superhero chapel, the sexy chapel. Now that would be a draw!”

Doc cut the engine and shook his head. “Talk to Karlan Culpepper about passing ordinances so you can build you wedding wonderland.”

He opened the door and slipped out. Sly got out on his side, and as he walked around the front of the truck, his expression was lit up with ideas. He spread his arms wide and said, “Wedding Wonderland! I can see it now.”

Doc snorted and walked on to the stable. “Mom dropped you on your head when you were a baby, didn’t she?”

Sly caught up and thumped him on the back. “Yeah. Right into a pile of money.”

 

Veterinarian’s Vixen is available now, exclusively at Amazon and for Kindle Unlimited for the time being, but it’ll be available elsewhere in a few months!

Character Interview – Willow Miller Stoltzfus from Willow: Bride of Pennsylvania

Jul 05, 2016

It’s been so much fun to bring some of my older characters up out of the dust of past books to hang out with them that I’m just going to keep going with it. Here’s a character who I spent a lot of time with last year, and who inadvertently ignited a much bigger fire of inspiration. It is, of course, Willow Miller from Willow: Bride of Pennsylvania, part of the epic American Mail-Order Brides series.

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Me: It’s nice to talk to you again, Willow. 

Willow: (smiles sweetly) It’s nice to be talked to. 

Me: So I understand that prior to the start of your story, you had a connection to the Amish church? 

Willow: Yes. My grandfather was Amish, but he left the church. I’ve always been interested in my heritage, though. As I understand it, there was a lot of turmoil and strife within the Church during my grandfather’s time, as far back as the 1860s. 

Me: But your story takes place in 1890? 

Willow: Yes, it does. Although I understand that you’ve taken a lot of elements of mine and Amos’s story and moved it back to that more tumultuous time period in the history of the Amish church, the 1870s, for another project. 

Me: Shh! Don’t tell about that project yet. 😉 

Willow: Oh! Okay. My lips are sealed.

Me: So tell me a bit about what it was like to work with so many of the other heroines of the American Mail-Order Brides series at the factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts… 

Willow: It was strange and wonderful, trying and hopeful all at the same time. I’ve always been a little shy, and even though circumstances forced me to work for my living, it was simply lovely to become friends with such a wide variety of women. Rose, Gillian, and Emma became my particular friends, and I don’t know if I could have made it through without them. 

Me: As I understand it, you all had to seek situations as mail-order brides after the factory burned down. 

Willow: (blushing) Yes, that’s true. It was tragic and frightening. I still think that I may have caused the fire in some way. It has haunted me, and it caused a bit of stress between Amos and I when we were first married. 

Me: What made you choose to be Amos Stoltzfus’s bride? 

Willow: As I said, I come from Amish roots, and when I learned that Amos did as well, that, in fact, he was still living within that culture even though he was never baptized and wasn’t practicing the faith, I was intrigued. I felt in my heart that we were meant for each other. It has been a revelation to explore my Amish roots and to be drawn toward the faith of my ancestors once more. 

Me: I can’t imagine it was easy, though. 

Willow: Certainly not! Amos was left with a lot of bad feelings toward his friends and neighbors after events that took place with his parents. My poor husband lost a great deal of his family when they moved away in the wake of that conflict. But from the very start, I felt a kinship to our neighbors, and I sought to become better friends with them. They were so welcoming and wonderful, but I confess, I had to drag Amos kicking and screaming into fellowship with the people he had grown up with. 

Me: But did he come along eventually?

Willow: (smiling) You’ll have to read the story to find out. I can tell you, though, that as much as I would have liked for things to be smooth and easy, there was quite a bit of…excitement. I nearly lost my life in the process! 

Me: Wow! That does sound exciting! I’m sure readers will look forward to finding out all about that! 

Thanks to Willow for spending some time with us today. If you’d like to read her story, Willow: Bride of Pennsylvania, you can purchase it exclusively at Amazon here or download it via Kindle Unlimited.

Weekend Excerpt – Veterinarian’s Vixen

Jul 02, 2016

We’re so close! Less than a week until the release of book eight in the Culpepper Cowboy series, Veterinarian’s Vixen! Can’t wait to find out what happens when Culpepper’s hunky large animal vet comes face to face with a certain spunky reporter he’s sure wants nothing to do with him? Well, here’s a sneak peek….

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It was a ridiculous cliché not to be able to stop thinking about a woman. Doc ground his teeth and mentally punched himself for not being able to shake any and all thoughts of Nancy as he walked his horse, Booyah, around the paddock at the Culpepper ranch.

“I think he’s in fine form for a race,” Angus commented as he leaned against the fence on the outside of the paddock.

Doc didn’t hear the comment. His mind was still running in circles. How could Nancy date an ass like Stu? He treated her terribly, for one. And even though Doc wasn’t a choir boy or anything, he’d been shocked by the language Stu used around the ladies.

“Why don’t you relax and let him run a bit?” Angus called as Doc reached the far end of the paddock.

Not to be arrogant or anything, Doc’s thoughts continued, but he was a whole lot easier to look at than Stu. What could Nancy possibly see in a short, squat, pin-head like that? She was the same height as him, and she only came up to Doc’s shoulder. Nancy wasn’t the sort to let appearances guide her choice in men—at least he didn’t think so—but it wasn’t just Stu’s looks. It was the whole package. Why was she—

“What’s got your head in the clouds so far that you can’t hear when a man’s calling you noodles-for-brains?” Angus hollered.

Doc snapped out of his thoughts, wheeling Boo around. “What?”

Angus burst into laughter, shaking his head. “There’s only one thing that could have a man so wrapped ’round the axle like that.”

Doc’s frown darkened. He tapped Boo with his heels and trotted over to the fence where Angus stood. “Don’t you start.”

“Me?” Still laughing, Angus clapped a hand to his chest in a gesture of innocence. “You’re the one who’s so distracted by thoughts of a pretty reporter that you couldn’t hear me trying to talk to you.”

Doc huffed, pulling Boo to a stop beside the fence. “She has a boyfriend. End of story.”

“Hardly.” Angus reached over the fence to pat Boo’s flank. “And I don’t think he actually is her boyfriend.”

“She came out here with him for the race,” Doc reasoned. “And he was…familiar with her at the bakery yesterday.”

“So?”

Angus’s flippant attitude was starting to irritate Doc. At least, he was going to blame his irritation on Angus’s attitude. Anything else made him even more irritated.

“Look, are you going to give me a few tips to help me win this race on the Fourth or not?” he snapped.

Angus shrugged. “You’re the horse expert, mate.”

Boo was restless—probably picking up on Doc’s own restlessness—so he walked him in a small circle. “I’m a veterinary medicine expert, not a racing expert.”

“But you’ve raced before,” Angus said.

“Sure, but nothing formal. Sly and my other brother, Arch, and my sister, Elvie, and I used to race on our family’s ranch all the time.”

“But not competitively?”

“Not really.” Doc smoothed a hand over Boo’s neck to calm his impatient spirits. “A few county fairs and the like. I enjoyed racing, but there wasn’t time once I started vet school.”

“And you really want to win this race now?” Angus arched a brow.

Doc thought back to the arrogance of Stu’s challenge. There was no way he was going to let a weasel like that walk off with any trophies or ribbons.

“Yes,” he answered Angus, more certain than he’d ever been of anything in years.

 

That’s right, there’s a race going on…a race for Nancy’s heart! Be sure to look for Veterinarian’s Vixen this Friday, July 8th! It’ll be exclusive to Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited for the first three months, then available across a variety of platforms, including iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.