Top 5 Habits of the Most Successful Writers I Know

Nov 30, 2015
My Facebook Page Today

My Facebook Page

After four years of working really hard at this writing thing, I think I’m finally at the point where I can say I’m doing a few things right. More than that, I have made a bunch of friends who are wildly successful. They’re definitely doing things right. It’s been a pleasure to watch them, to adapt my own practices to become more successful, and to really get a clue about best practices in self-publishing. So I thought it would be nice to share some of the things I see people doing that really, really work. They might not be things that you’ve considered before. Here goes…

They Put the “Social” in Social Media – Possibly the biggest mistake I see newbie…um, and seasoned…writers make is viewing social media strictly as an advertising tool. This means that on release days, they will post-bomb every Facebook page they’re a member of and Tweet every ten minutes about buying their book. Not just on release days either. All the time.

The truly successful authors I know use social media as a way to virtually hang out with fans. Not just their fans either, but fans of the genre in which they write. They interact on a meaningful level with fans, get to know them, post silly, fun things, post serious, personal things, and generally treat their readers like buddies. They even get together for special dinners with fans in local areas and beyond. Talk about a way to build loyalty!

They Work Together – The whole thing about socializing goes way beyond fans. The most successful authors I know hang out with each other—online and in the real world. I can’t tell you how many epic projects have been hatched over late-night (or early-morning in my case) Facebook chats, or across the dinner table in an Irish pub in Manhattan at a conference (for example). We are all creative, but when you mass that creativity together to bounce ideas off each other or come up with group projects, amazing things happen.

Remember, books are not a zero-sum deal. Readers are not limited to buying one book or one author. As such, we are not in competition with each other. It goes far beyond never saying anything bad about another author or their work. When we actively help each other, we help ourselves. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD'Tale crew!

Me near the middle with the amazing and talented InD’Tale crew!

They Travel (and Give Stuff Away Where They Go) – Conferences are an amazing thing. Whether it’s a professional conference—Like RWA Nationals or RT Booklovers Conference in the Romance world—or a smaller reader event, the most successful authors I know will make a point to get out there. There are so many choices for readers these days. Actually seeing an author in person and having them go out of their way to talk to them is a fantastic way to go from digital name to real, live person.

To that I would add that you can’t just sit in your signing spot watching the world go by at events like these. It’s all-important to smile and greet everyone who walks by your spot. Everyone. Even people who look like they’re ready to snap someone’s neck. Actually, those are the people I’ve had the best surprise responses from. It’s also important to give things away—pens, postcards, bookmarks, and, yes, BOOKS. Being stingy with your paperbacks is not going to help you. Give those suckers to everyone! Even if they don’t read it, they’ll give it away, and that book will be out there in the world, waiting for a reader.

Also, as I mentioned in number 2, conferences are where that bonding with your fellow authors happen and where projects are magicked into existence. Yes, conferences can be expensive. But they are worth every penny. EVERY PENNY!

They Plan Ahead – Don’t worry, I’m not necessarily talking about plotting. Although I have noticed that a lot of the most successful writers I know do actually plot at least a little bit. No, what I’m talking about here is making a business plan, of sorts. 2016 is fast approaching. Many of my author friends already have a schedule of what books they will be writing under what names and in which series when. I know I’m planned out about 15 books ahead, and I already have my next three books outlined. Super hard work? Not as much as you might think. It’s work that has me organized to a T so that I won’t have to dilly-dally about what I’ll be writing.

It goes beyond planning the books you’re going to write, though. I’m talking about financial planning too (the credit cards WILL be paid off in 2016!), and lining up conferences and stuff. All of that helps keep your eye on the prize, and lets you see where you’ll need to allocate your funds and your time going forward.

They Move On – One thing I have never seen any of the top, top most successful authors I know do is get their panties in a twist—over a bad review, over a missed deadline, over a harsh critique, or over a promo that didn’t work. I rarely even see the really successful authors bellyaching over Amazon and it’s Amazon-y ways (although short, sighing gripe sessions do tend to happen when the ’Zon makes a change that adversely affects us all). Why? To quote that awesome meme, ain’t nobody got time for that!

The really successful authors I know have already moved on to the next book, the next idea, and the next promo opportunity by the time negativity comes their way. It’s far, far easier to shake it off when you already have something else you’re excited about working on. It lessens the impact of all that criticism and sales disappointments. Disappointment is part of this job, but it doesn’t have to be your focal point. There’s always another mountain to climb.

I’m sure I could come up with five more habits that I see my really successful friends engaged in, but I’ll leave you with that for now. Also with this…patience is key. It takes putting all of these things into practice over a long time to reach the point where you can kick back, relax, and know you’re successful. Even then, we tend to redefine success every time we hit a milestone. So keep writing!

Release Day – Willow: Bride of Pennsylvania

Nov 20, 2015

I’m so proud to introduce you all to Willow today! At last, my contribution to the American Mail-Order Brides is out. It’s been a privilege to be part of this epic, 50 book collection. But that’s enough from me. I’ll let Willow speak for herself. You can get started reading her story here, then pop on over to Amazon to buy the book or download it through Kindle Unlimited


Willow caught her breath as the train slowed in its approach to the Strasburg station. Her heart pounded against her ribs. She could feel it as she clutched the handles of her worn, old carpetbag to her chest over her heart. This was it. Somehow, in less than a month, she’d gone from being an ordinary factory worker to the fiancé of a man she’d never met. By tonight, she would be his wife…and she had never even laid eyes on him.

All that was about to change.

“Strasburg,” the conductor called as he walked down the aisle from the front of Willow’s train car to the back. “Strasburg station.”

The train rocked and jerked as it slowed, the pull of motion hitting Willow right in the stomach. She peeked past the sleepy matron who she shared the bench with to look out the window. She was sitting on the side of the train facing away from the platform, so she couldn’t see the people waiting, just the quaint town itself. Its whitewashed buildings and neat windows filled her with rare confidence.

With a final puff of steam, the train stopped, and Willow stood, launching herself into the aisle. Other passengers stood as well—reaching for bags and trunks, quieting fussy children, and chattering with the friends and family they’d traveled with. Willow continued to clutch her carpetbag to her chest, forcing herself to take deep breaths. This was a good decision, the best decision she’d made in her life. Being someone’s wife would give her the chance to redeem herself, to make up for the disaster she’d caused.

Because the fire was her fault, no matter what her friends said.

“You need to stop blaming yourself if you’re ever going to lead a happy life,” her friend Emma had advised her on the train platform in Lawrence, just the day before. Emma, Gillian, and Rose—the precious, wonderful friends who had been her roommates in the factory’s dormitory, then shared an apartment with her after the fire—had escorted her to the train station to wish her well as she set off for her new life.

“There’s no proof that you caused the fire,” Gillian seconded.

Willow went bright pink at the ease with which her friend showed her support. “There’s no proof that I didn’t cause it either,” Willow answered. “What if I left my work too close to the lamp? What if I didn’t clean my area properly? There was so much dust and fiber near the flame. You know how clumsy I can be. What if that clumsiness was the end of things this time?”

As soon as she burst out with her worries, Rose stepped forward, reaching for her hand and squeezing it. From Rose, that was as good as a bear-hug. “I don’t think it was you. You’re more careful than you think you are and twice as competent.”

“But what if—”

“Don’t think about the past,” Gillian cut her off. “Think about the future.”

“Yes,” Emma agreed. “This Amos sounds like a lovely gentleman, and well off, too. You’re so lucky to have found a man of means who will provide for you.”

“I suppose,” Willow replied. Her stomach fluttered with nerves. “As long as I don’t ruin things.”

“You won’t,” Gillian said.

“I just know you’ll be happy.” Rose smiled.

“Me too,” Gillian agreed. “Now hurry along before the train leaves without you.”

“Yes, hurry.” Emma took her arm, Gillian took her other one, and with Rose completing their group, they rushed to the train.

That last goodbye had been over before Willow could blink. She’d hugged and kissed her friends, promised to write as much as possible, wished them well in their own search for a better future, then hopped onto the train. Granted, she missed one of the steps, tripped, knocked her shin and dropped her carpetbag as she did, but the conductor had been there to help her.

He was there to help her now as she inched her way down the aisle to the back of the train and the steps that would take her down to the Strasburg platform and on to a whole new world. Her heart beat so thunderously in her chest that it made her dizzy.

“Watch yourself there, missy,” the conductor said with a knowing wink. He took her arm and helped her descend the stairs. She blushed, but secretly, Willow was glad for the help.

And then she was there. Hardly able to breathe through her fear, Willow took a few steps across the wooden platform to get out of the way of the other passengers disembarking. She scanned the area, looking for Amos Stoltzfus. The platform was crowded with farmers and businessmen, women in calico and matrons wrapped in shawls to keep out the early-October chill. There were several Amish men and women as well. A strange tug of curiosity and longing struck Willow’s heart at the sight of the women in their plain dresses and white prayer kapps, men with straw hats and suspenders. The sight of them calmed her by a fraction, as did the fact that they stared at her as much as she stared at them.

“Willow Miller?”

Willow caught her breath and turned with a start. A numb buzz swept through her body as she caught sight of a man walking toward her. He was tall with broad shoulders and arms that stretched the fabric of his simple blue shirt. He was clean-shaven, with walnut-brown hair and hazel eyes that crinkled as he smiled. His clothes were similar to the Amish men on the platform, but just different enough to mark that he was not one of them. All-in-all, he was a very handsome man. And he held three apples in one of his large hands.

“Willow?” he asked a second time.

Willow opened her mouth to reply, but only a squeak came out. She wouldn’t let herself ruin things so soon. Instead, she nodded vigorously, face hot with a blush, until she found her voice. “Yes. Amos Stoltzfus?”

His smile widened. “That’s me.” He paused, shifted his weight, studied her for a moment, then said, “Well, that wasn’t as difficult as I worried it could be.”

“Oh?” She swallowed. He had been worried? Had he somehow gotten wind of her reputation for ineptitude?

He reached for her carpetbag with his free hand. “I thought maybe there would be so many people on the platform I wouldn’t be able to find you, or that I would search and search and you would be standing right in front of me, disappointed. Or that you would change your mind and not come,” he added in a quieter voice. “Apple?”

The tight fluttering in Willow’s heart resolved into a warm, melting sensation. He had been worried she would change her mind, not that she was a mess. How…how sweet of him.

“I made a promise to you, Mr. Stoltzfus. I would never go back on that. Of course I am here to marry you.” She gave him her best smile and surrendered her carpetbag, reaching for the apples. “Let me take those.”

He gripped her carpetbag firmly, but as she moved to take the apples from his hand, she fumbled them, dropping one to the platform with a thunk.

“Oh dear,” she squeaked, flushing scarlet, and leaned over to scoop up the fallen apple. Amos bent for it at the same time, and their heads knocked together.


Want to know what happens next? Zip on over to Amazon to purchase or borrow Willow! And be sure to check out the home page for the American Mail-Order Brides series so that you know what’s coming up and where to get any books you might have missed….

Willow: Bride of Pennsylvania – A First Look

Nov 18, 2015

Okay, technically there are only two days until the release of Willow: Bride of Pennsylvania, Book Two in the American Mail-Order Brides series, and I usually wait and post the first chapter on release day, but I just couldn’t wait! Here’s a sneak peek at what’s going on with Willow and Amos. Remember, you can pre-order the book right now on Amazon!


Willow craned her neck to see if she could get a better look at the man striding across the field that separated Amos’s yard from the stretch of woods and hill. The man was Amish, his beard indicating he was married, and he had his hands tucked into his pockets and a smile on his face as he walked in the afternoon sun.

Amos took one look at him out the window, frowned, let out a rigid breath of frustration, then turned to march out of the room. His heavy footfalls rushing down the stairs sent Willow blinking. Curiosity propelled her after him, down through the cozy house that had given her such a good first impression, and out to the back porch.

“What are you doing here?” Amos barked at the Amish man as he strolled into the yard. His unfriendly tone was enough to stop Willow halfway down the stairs. She gripped the rail and watched, heart beating as fast as it had when the train pulled into the station.

“Amos.” The Amish man nodded. His smile stayed in place, but it was strained. He and Amos were close enough to the porch that Willow could see a streak of sadness in the man’s eyes. “Can’t a neighbor and an old friend stop by on a sunny afternoon to pass the time of day?”

Amos didn’t answer. He snuck a peek at Willow on the porch. The same sort of strain and sadness that she saw in the Amish man’s eyes filled his. He pressed his lips into a tight line, then turned back to the Amish man. “Mark, I’d like you to meet Willow,” he said without answering the question. He held his arm out toward Willow, inviting her to come forward.

Willow hadn’t had much cause for social interaction with men in her last two years at the factory, but she knew an uncertain relationship when she saw it. Her heart leapt at the chance to do something good, to present a kind and welcoming spirit to this neighbor. She smiled and stepped up to Amos’s side with a shy, “Hello.”

“Willow is my wife,” Amos continued. The faint blush that painted his cheeks and the self-conscious flash in his eyes was perfectly understandable.

The Amish man, Mark, raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t realize you were engaged.” He paused, rubbing the back of his neck. “Saul Byler just told me he saw you greeting a woman at the train station in Strasburg.”

Amos’s expression darkened. “So you share gossip with Byler now, do you?”

Willow caught her breath at the sudden rise in tension, darting a look between the two men.

Mark held up his hands and let out a careful breath. “We share a property line on the far end, down by the creek. I was mowing that section of hay when Saul drove across the hill on the way back from the market, and he mentioned it.”

Amos said nothing, but crossed his arms and grunted. Willow’s back itched with the need to know what was going on between these two men. If they were enemies, then why would Mark have come to ask about her the moment he heard about her arrival from someone else? But if they were old friends, like Mark had said, why would Amos be so cold to him?

“I’m sorry, where are my manners.” Mark shifted his focus to Willow. His smile returned, and he held out a hand to her. “Mark Lapp, your neighbor over the hill.”

Willow peeked at Amos before taking Mark’s hand in a quick shake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She added a smile, checking again with Amos to see how he would react. “Perhaps we should have you over to supper sometime.”

Amos’s expression darkened, and tiny lines of strain formed around his eyes and mouth. Willow felt the impact of that expression as if he’d scolded her. She hadn’t been at the farm for more than half an hour, and already she was muddling things and making a fool of herself.

“I mean…that is….” She had no idea how to fix the mistake she’d made.

“If I had known Amos was getting married, I would have invited both of you over for supper at our place,” Mark rescued her. “My wife, Beth, is the finest cook in the district and loves to entertain.”

“Thank you, but we won’t be taking you up on any offer,” Amos answered. Willow’s heart sank. Amos must have noticed. The color in his face grew more pronounced, as if he regretted his harshness. “What I mean is, it’s still the end of the harvest season, and we have a lot to do around the farm. Willow has just arrived here and needs time to settle in.”

“But it was a lovely invitation,” she added, surprised by her own daring. It was pleasant to think that there was another woman, another wife, just over the hill.


Interested? Like I said, you can pre-order Willow right now on Amazon. Release Day is Friday! And be sure to check out all of the other books in the American Mail-Order Bride series, listed here. This is a cool page, and you can also download the prequel to all 50 books for free.

Villains You Love To Hate…And Those You Just Hate

Nov 13, 2015
Image courtesy of Roman Soto via Flickr

Image courtesy of Roman Soto via Flickr

Never underestimate the power of the antagonist. That’s easily the most valuable lesson I’ve learned about the craft of writing through my publishing journey in the last four years. Heroes are crucial for drawing your readers into a story, heroines even more so. In romance, your reader wants to identify with the heroine and fall in love with the hero. But without an effective villain, a story lacks punch.

Ah, but there’s the catch. Every good story needs an effective villain. Not all villains are created the same. There are villains that we love to hate, and then there are villains that we just hate. The different between the two is one of subtlety and realism.

In the last two years, I’ve read over a hundred books—everything ranging from New York Times bestsellers from big name authors to manuscripts that I’ve beta-read for newbie authors. In the process, I’ve read some truly awful, cardboard cut-out, cartoon villains. If any of the authors I’ve read for and made comments about their villains happen to be reading this, I’m not secretly singling any one of you out and pointing fingers, because bad villains are a rampant problem at all levels of writing, and I keep seeing the same problems over and over.

What problem is that? It’s the villain who is so dastardly, who is so disgusting and loathsome, that he’s just not real. We’re talking about the villain who lusts after the heroine to the point of insanity and abuse, the diabolical fiend whose actions are so over the top they would make Snidely Whiplash proud. This villain is usually balding, stinky, and drools. I’ve seen too many of these guys who are drawn like a Scooby-Doo villain, and my reaction is always the same: eye-rolling and laughter.

I’m sorry, but these kinds of clearly deranged, dime novel villains are an insult to the intelligence of the reader. They’re up there with click-bait headlines that proclaim “You’ll never believe the shocking depravity that this man stooped to!” in terms of sophistication. Their two-dimensionality brings down the caliber of the entire story.

There’s a common saying in writing that the villain of any book is a hero in his own story. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to constructing an antagonist that will provide tension and conflict for your novel. Remember, the point of an antagonist is to oppose the goals of the hero and heroine and to get in the way of their being together. Sure, that can be done Snidely Whiplash style by tying the heroine to some train tracks, but are those truly the things that keep two people who should obviously be together from their happily ever after?

groom wantsI recently read a book that has one of the finest examples of a villain that I’ve ever read, What the Groom Wants, by Jade Lee. Granted, the book was a little too dark for my taste—and the villain was definitely part of that—but Demon Damon was drawn so well that I have to give Lee snaps. Damon had every horrible character flaw that all the cartoon villains I’ve read had. He was spiteful and lustful. He wanted to hurt and destroy the heroine and viciously murder the hero. He had done and continued to do some truly vile things. But he was so amazingly charming at the same time that even the heroine caught herself wondering if it wouldn’t be so bad if she just gave in to him.

Another thing Damon had going for him was a well thought out backstory that realistically explained exactly how he ended up as the charming, sadistic devil he was and showed a step-by-step progression of how he got there. He was the snotty, left-behind kid. He had a chip on his shoulder and the drive to do whatever it took so that people would never ignore him again. The rush he got from hurting people was completely identifiable, because it was couched in experiences and feelings we’ve all had. Sure, he was unredeemable, but it was also easy to see how he got that way…and to identify with it.

Another of my favorite villains is President Snow from the Hunger Games trilogy. He’s sly, he’s manipulative, and he’s trying to hold a country together…whether it should be held together or not. He’s also hurt himself in the process of annihilating others. The books are dystopian, but come on, who hasn’t watched politicians during an election year and gotten the same sort of chill?

By now you may have recognized certain pieces of advice you’ve been given over the years about writing villains. They are the hero of their own story. They have human flaws beyond just being ridiculously evil. They remind us of people we know, maybe even ourselves. The reason all of these things work to create an exciting and memorable villain that doesn’t make you roll your eyes is because these guys hit you on an emotional level that goes much deeper than shock and revulsion. What makes them so effective is not that they commit acts we would never, ever commit ourselves, but that they skillfully engage in behavior that we might just be tempted to partake in ourselves, if the price was right.

So really, if the heroine is who we want to be and the hero is who we want to be with, the villain should be the person we fear becoming. That’s where the real impact of an antagonist lies.

Trail of Aces – Release Day!

Nov 10, 2015

It’s here! Trail of Aces is here! Book 8 in my Hot on the Trail series! I know you’ve been waiting for it, and for a very limited time (we’re talking days here) it’s available to you for the low, low price of 99 cents! This price is until Saturday only, though, when the book will return to its regular price of $3.99. So how about we continue with the rest of chapter one today?


Charlie clenched his jaw, heart thumping hard in his chest as he watched Olivia run from him. He wanted to chase after her, draw her into his arms, and stop her. He wanted to assure her that whatever lies Chet had spilled to her, they were just that, lies. Chet Devlin may have been one of his oldest friends, but as he flicker his glance in Chet’s direction, the only thing he saw was a vicious trickster having the ultimate revenge. Charlie wanted to tell Olivia that this was all a bad nightmare and, in truth, he was everything she had come to believe he was in the last several weeks of their journey across the prairie and into the West along the Oregon Trail.

He wanted to, but he couldn’t. Because whatever Chet had said, it was probably true. He was a liar and a crook.

But he wasn’t defeated. Not yet.

“What did you say to her?” He rounded on Chet, marching up to him with such intensity that his dear old “friend” backpedaled, nearly tripping over a traveler’s crate. He reached out and grabbed a fistful of Chet’s fine, linen shirt, raising his fist. “What did you say?”

Behind him, Charlie’s true friends sprang into action.

“Whoa, whoa, hold on there.” Pete leapt forward, Gideon beside him. The two rushed to pull Charlie off of Chet before any blows could be landed.

“Take it easy,” Gideon advised in his gentle, scientific voice.

Chet merely laughed, brushing his sleeves once Charlie was restrained. “Looks like I’ve got you good and riled this time,” he said, an infernal light in his eyes that made Charlie’s skin crawl. “Don’t worry, boys,” Chet went on to Pete and Gideon. “Wouldn’t be the first time old Charlie and I came to blows over a woman.”

“That woman is my wife,” Charlie insisted.

“In name only,” Chet teased, his smile bordering on a sneer. “Unless there’s something I don’t know.”

Charlie froze. True, he’d never intended things to go as far with Olivia as they had. Theirs was an unusual marriage, born of a bet, a jest. It had become so much more, in spite of everything.

As the tension left Charlie’s body, Pete and Gideon let him go. Charlie pulled out of their grip, shaking his arms to straighten the sleeves of his expensive, tailored jacket. Panic and anger may have ripped through his insides, but that was no excuse not to look his best. He straightened his hat, rolled his shoulders, then resumed glaring at Chet as though he could strike the man down with a glance.

“What did you say to her?”

Chet shrugged, relaxing into the kind of smile that sent female hearts beating. “Only that you have a tendency to gamble with kindly older gentlemen who have fortunes to bestow.”

Charlie’s scowl darkened. Behind and around him, Pete, Graham, Gideon, and the women looked on with as much confusion and uncertainty as if Chet had started speaking in Russian. They may not have had a clue what Chet’s cryptic words meant, but Charlie did. He was no fool. Chet had revealed something to Olivia that he would have given his right arm to keep secret.

“You’re a lying, cowardly snake,” he growled.

Chet only laughed. “You would know snakes, wouldn’t you, my friend.”

It took everything Charlie had not to snap that Chet had no right to call him a friend ever again, that they’d never been friends in the first place—not the way he’d come to be friends with the likes of Pete and Graham and Gideon. He ground his jaw tightly shut, forced a grin. There was an old saying about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. If ever he needed to heed those words, it was now.

“You sly devil,” he growled, narrowing his eyes at Chet.

“Yep,” Chet chuckled. “You can thank me later.”

The snake, in all his conceited glory, touched the brim of his hat, then turned to go.

As soon as he was out of earshot, Charlie hissed, “I’ll murder him.”

“No, you won’t.” Pete was quick to step in. “Not in my train, at least.”

Charlie turned to him, frustration warring with the sore temptation to fall back into every devious, destructive way he’d put behind him for as long as it took to get revenge.

Pete caught the look and went on. “I told you before, I don’t give a hoot what your past was as long as you keep your nose clean in the present.”

“Sometimes you’ve got to get a little dirty in order to keep everything else clean,” Charlie warned him.

Pete raised his hands. “Be that as it may, sounds to me like you’ve got bigger problems on your hands right now.” He nodded over Charlie’s shoulder.

Charlie turned, spotting Olivia marching between wagons at the far end of the parked train. She had her carpetbag in one hand and a sack of other belongings over her shoulder. Her cheeks were red with anger and misery.

The sight of her looking so distressed—even from a distance—shot an arrow through Charlie’s heart. She was a sight to behold, his Olivia. When he’d joined up with Pete’s wagon train, he’d heard a few of the farmers and pioneers say that Olivia wasn’t much to look at, that she was too pale and delicate. They couldn’t have been more wrong. She was an angel, with hair the color of corn silk and eyes as blue as the sky on a sunny day. She might not have come up to his chin, but she had a height of character that towered above any woman he’d ever known.

And he was on the verge of losing her.

He wouldn’t have it. Squaring his shoulders, he started off in her direction.

“Hold on there.” Pete stopped him as Graham made a sound to stop him as well, and Gideon reached out to grab his arm.

Scowling like a thundercloud, Charlie whipped back to them. “Unhand me,” he told Gideon.

Gideon did as he was asked, but the solidity of his stare was as tight as any grip.

“Don’t go kicking a hornet’s nest, son,” Pete counseled him, though the man couldn’t have been ten years older than him.

“I need to speak to my wife,” Charlie replied, pulling himself up to his full height. “I need to set things right before they get any worse.”

“Let us go talk to her,” Lucy spoke up, glancing to Josephine. “Sounds like she needs the company of other women right now.”

Charlie blew out a breath, wiping a hand over his face. How had things gotten so out of hand so quickly? It seemed like only days ago that he and Olivia were getting along like a dream, growing closer, enjoying each other’s company, each other’s kisses. Where had things gone so wrong?

He knew the answer to that as soon as the question popped into his head. Chet Devlin.

“I should have shot that bastard the moment I saw him again at Ft. Laramie,” he finished his thought aloud.

“It wouldn’t have done any good,” Pete told him. He nodded to Josephine as she and Lucy sent Charlie one last look before hurrying off to find Olivia.

“It would have made me feel better,” Charlie insisted. Now that the ladies were gone, he wanted to use far more colorful language to describe the kinds of things he wanted to do to Chet.

“Give her a chance to cool off,” Graham advised him. “A woman has a right to be in a temper when she’s had a shock.”

“And when she hasn’t,” Gideon added. He and Graham exchanged looks, then burst into guilty laughter. And no wonder, seeing as the two of them had both landed themselves fine examples of femininity in the form of Estelle and Lucy.

Pete broke the momentary light mood. “Do you know what Chet told Olivia?” he asked.

“I have a pretty good idea.” Charlie planted his hands on his hips, wishing he had a revolver to reach for.

“And is it that bad?” Pete asked on.

Charlie hesitated. “Could be.”

In fact, if what he suspected was true, if Chet had revealed the source of his fortune, it could be devastating. Because, of course, Chet wouldn’t tell the true story. Chet didn’t know the true story. He only knew enough to bring Charlie down in the eyes of the only woman he’d ever cared about.

He had given up his heart and soul to Olivia. These past few weeks had been a revelation. They had changed everything. At least they had changed everything for him. His heart went all soft, like a loaf of warm bread, fresh from the oven, when he thought about the journey so far. It wasn’t just the landscape that had changed as they traversed every mile. He’d changed too.

“I still say that if you give her some time, she’ll come around,” Pete said, thumping Charlie on the back.

“She won’t come around on her own,” Charlie replied. He shifted his weight, staring at the back of the wagon train, hoping to catch a glimpse of his wife.

Olivia hadn’t wanted to marry him in the first place. Even though she did, he’d had to win her over. He’d tried every trick up his sleeve to turn her head and make her smile. She’d kept him up nights and shaken him down to his soul. His mind and body had been unsettled since the moment they’d met, but he prided himself on the fact that he’d managed to stir her up as much as she’d stirred him.

It had taken work, effort, charm, and class to get his surprise wife to smile at him with fire in her eyes, to turn her head up to him and soften her lips in hopes of a kiss. He’d coaxed her along, losing his heart to her in the process. It had been worth it.

It would be worth it again. He’d been able to win Olivia once before, he would be able to win her back now.

All he had to do was retrace his steps….


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