Trail of Kisses – Release Day!

Woo hoo! It’s release day! It’s finally here! Trail of Kisses is now officially on sale wherever eBooks are sold (okay, well, almost)

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Here are the links:

Amazon: http://smarturl.it/TrailofKissesAmazon
iBooks: http://smarturl.it/TrailofKissesiBooks
Smashwords:http://smarturl.it/TrailofKissesSW
Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/trail-of-kisses-3
Barnes & Noble: (coming)

And to whet your appetite, here’s a chunk to get you started…

Chapter One

Independence, Missouri – 1863

The first glimpse Lynne Tremaine had of the mass of wagons that would take her west was enough to sink her heart. As far as she could see, big, bulky “prairie schooners” with covered beds, driven by teams of dull-eyed oxen cluttered the starting-off point at the end of town. The oxen lowed, anxious to get moving. Hawkers shouted about their wares in a last-minute attempt to sell supplies to plainly dressed pioneers. Wagons creaked as they inched toward the line their trail boss was trying to make to impose order. Horses clopped and children shrieked as they vented their excitement. The smell of animals and dirt was everywhere. It was almost more than Lynne could bear.

“Please, Papa.” She clutched her father’s arm as he escorted her through the chaos. A pair of children being chased by a dog cut in front of them. “Please don’t make me go. I want to stay with you, my papa.”

Judge Thomas Tremaine, tall, distinguished, and out of place in the bustle of pioneers, patted his daughter’s hand, eyes sad and shoulders stooped. “Now, Lynne, we’ve discussed this. It’s safer for you to accept your Uncle George and Aunt Marion’s invitation to move to Denver City.”

“We did not discuss this and it isn’t safer,” Lynne argued. She was too old to pout, but her heart broke at the thought of leaving her family, her home. “We don’t know who any of these people are. How is it safer to send me off to the middle of nowhere with a mob of strangers?”

Judge Tremaine stopped and turned to her, leaning closer. “My dear heart, threats have been made against us, against you, of a serious nature. The Briscoe Boys are not some mischievous ruffians out to pull pranks. They are a vicious, organized gang. They’ve killed men, they’ve burned farms, they’ve….” He shook his head, as if the rest was too horrible to speak aloud. “Sentencing two of them to death this winter was just and right,” he went on, “but if I had known they would see justice as a call to threaten my family, to threaten you? Well, I would have still passed the sentence, but I would have made sure you were protected from threats before the verdict instead of after. Violet and Marie write that they’re settling quite nicely in Lexington with your Aunt Philomena. It’s time you sought your own safety as well.”

“And leave you alone?” Lynne protested.

“I would rather be alone for a time than continue to see you lock yourself in the house, only going out under guard, like a prisoner. If accusers become prisoners in their own homes for fear of reprisal from gangs, then nothing I do as a judge means anything.”

“I can take care of myself, Papa,” Lynne argued. “I always could. When we moved to St. Louis, when Mama died, when the war broke out. I’ve always been able to take care of myself, and I could take care of you too.”

Her father smiled, pride beaming from him. “Yes, I don’t doubt it. My brave girl.”

Lynne’s heart swelled, in spite of the fact that he was still calling her a girl when she was twenty-two. She loved him so.

“The Briscoe Boys won’t come anywhere near me, you’ll see,” she said.

Her father sighed and took her arm, starting forward through the rows of wagons once more. “If only it were that easy. When explicit threats are made to slit the throats of all my children, I can’t pretend the threat means nothing. George and Marion have established themselves well in Denver City. They own a mining company and have done quite well for themselves. You’ll be happy there.”

They dodged around a group of running, laughing children and past a wagon full of rough, wiry men, who watched them with curiosity.

“How can you say that, Papa? I’ll be hundreds of miles away from you, from Robert and Graham, from Violet and Marie,” Lynne said.

“Robert and Graham are off fighting for the Union,” her father said and shook his head. “Violet and Marie are happy where they are. They are prolific writers, and with the speed of the mail these days, it should only take a few weeks for you to get their letters.”

“We would all be better off together, as a family,” Lynne insisted. “If I have to go, then we should all go as one.”

“If only we could,” her father said. “Now, here we are.”

They stopped in front of a wagon that looked like every other wagon in the sea of eager pioneers spreading out around them. It was long and sturdy, with large, metal-rimmed wheels and a thick canvas cover over tall loops. Through the opening in the back, Lynne could see the trunks she’d been forced to pack in the last week. All of her clothes that could fit were folded into a large black trunk, while anything else she had wanted to take, from books to linens to sewing supplies, were crammed into a wooden hope chest. The wagon was stuffed with other boxes as well, crates and barrels of supplies for the journey and a few boxes that her father was sending to Uncle George. The sight of it all made Lynne’s shoulders sag in defeat.

“Do I have to go as part of a wagon train, Papa?” She tried one last defense. “Why not send me to Denver City on a stagecoach? It’s much faster.”

Her father smiled. “My dearest, if you think a wagon train is cramped and uncomfortable, then you wouldn’t want anything to do with a stagecoach.”

Lynne crossed her arms and turned her sad frown from him to the back of her wagon, reluctant to admit that he was right.

“Besides,” he went on, “I’ve heard far too many tales of stagecoaches being robbed by highwaymen or attacked by Indians since the war started. Too many of the soldiers that used to man way stations along the trail have been called back East to join the war. There is safety in numbers, and so you will go to your uncle and aunt this way.”

“But, Papa—”

“No, my dearest, no more arguments. It has been decided.”

Lynne let out a breath, dropping her arms to ball her fists at her sides. She was not used to losing arguments, particularly when the stakes were so high.

“Now, let me introduce you to the men who will be watching out for you on the journey,” her father said.

Lynne’s brow flew up at the unexpected comment. “Men? Watching out for me?”

“Yes.”

Her father led her to the front of the wagon. A boy who couldn’t have been older than fifteen sat on the wagon’s seat, whip already in hand. He had dirty brown hair and the barest hint of scruff on his chin and upper lip. He took one look at Lynne and fumbled to stand in the wagon, scraping his shin on the buckboard. A broad grin spread from ear to ear across his blushing face. He had freckles peppering his cheeks under the scruffy growth.

“This is Benjamin,” her father explained. “He’ll be your driver. He came highly recommended by the man who sold the wagon to me.”

“How do you do, Benjamin?” Lynne held up a hand to him with a polite smile.

Benjamin blushed brighter and took her hand, pumping it up and down. “Right well, ma’am.”

Lynne was charmed in spite of herself. She just hoped the boy knew which end of the oxen should point forward.

“And this is Cade Lawson,” her father went on. “Your uncle hired him to be your escort.”

“My escort?”

Lynne turned to see another man striding toward her, leading two horses. One was her own mount, Clover. Cade Lawson was a sight to behold. Tall, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, he walked as if he owned the wagon train. Sunlight caught golden highlights in his hair and teased tiny lines around his blue eyes. He smiled with a confidence that bordered on arrogance. It was the kind of smile that could send a girl’s heart fluttering. It was also the kind of smile that screamed trouble. Lynne felt her cheeks warm in spite of the wariness that too-charming smile brought her.

“Mr. Lawson, I’d like to introduce you to my daughter, Miss Lynne Tremaine.” Her father took a half step back to present her with a proud smile.

“Miss Tremaine.” Cade nodded, eyes flashing. He didn’t extend his hand to her. It was as rude of him as it was challenging.

“Mr. Lawson,” she replied, accepting the challenge. She folded her hands demurely in front of her. If he wasn’t going to be a gentleman, then she wasn’t going to go out of her way to teach him manners. She turned to her father. “What do you mean, Uncle George has hired him to be my escort?”

“I mean just that,” her father replied. “Mr. Lawson has been charged with accompanying you on your journey and seeing you safely to Denver City.”

Lynne took another look at Mr. Lawson. He was solid and strong, like trouble in reasonably well-kept clothes. He’d been sent to mind her, like a nanny minds a child. It didn’t matter how tempting he was, Lynne bristled.

“Thank you, Mr. Lawson,” she said, tilting her head up, “but I won’t be needing an escort to Denver City. I am brave enough to make the journey on my own.”

Mr. Lawson lost his smile. “Excuse me?”

“Now Lynne.” Her father hooked his thumbs into his vest pockets. “This matter isn’t up for discussion. It is far too dangerous for a woman to travel in a wagon train alone. Far too dangerous and far too scandalous.”

“Is it any less scandalous for me to be traveling in the company of a man I don’t know?” she asked. “There’s the scandal, if you ask me.”

Her father frowned. “I have informed the trail boss, Mr. Evans, of the purpose of Mr. Lawson’s presence. He has assured me that he will make certain no untoward rumors are circulated amongst your fellow travelers.”

“Has he?”

“Yes, my dear. So long as you behave yourself.”

Lynne crossed her arms, glancing from her father to Mr. Lawson. She was outnumbered. She was being trundled off to relatives like a helpless child, and how it stung. All she could do was swallow her sadness and harden her heart enough to bear it. “I see.”

“I’m glad you do,” her father replied.

He was teasing. She wasn’t in the mood to be teased. What had started out as a bad idea on her father’s part was already on the verge of becoming a catastrophe, as far as she was concerned.

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Wild Western Women – An Excerpt from The Indomitable Eve

It’s excerpt Wednesday! But this week, instead of bringing you a bit from my next release, Trail of Kisses, first book in the Hot on the Trail series, I thought I’d show you a little bit of another release that both came out last year and is coming out November 1st! I’m privileged to have my novella The Indomitable Eve included in a box set of historical western novellas put together by some truly brilliant ladies. Here we are!

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So without further ado, here’s Eve:

 

At the front of a wide sanctuary lined with polished new pews, a cluster of children stood in varying degrees of white and yellow and gold costumes, singing their hearts out. A pair of women fussed over a few of them. They adjusted a costume here, or tried on a pair of wings there. The children sang through it, fresh faces turned up to catch the light streaming in through the windows.

Eve had seen almost every stage from California to London, but not one of them could come close to the pure beauty that stood at the front of that church.

“Very good, very good, children.” A man in a simple black suit with sandy-blond hair stepped forward, applauding the children. “Now, once you finish the carol, you will cross the front of the church—yes, just like that—and come to stand over the manger where the baby Jesus will be resting.”

“Rev. Andrews, shouldn’t the shepherds be the ones looking at the baby Jesus?” one of the little angels asked.

The entire group shuffled from one end of the stage—the church, rather—to the other, the mothers with costumes in tow.

“You’re exactly right, Annie. The shepherds will be looking at the baby Jesus, but I bet that the angels couldn’t help but steal a peek as well,” Rev. Andrews answered.

The chorus of angels giggled at his answer, smiles shining.

Eve’s heart caught in her throat. They were all so dear, so marvelous. A few were unruly, twirling or giggling as they took their places above the empty manger. A pair of boys dodged through the others, their hands in the shape of guns that they fired with all the accompanying sounds. One little girl, who couldn’t have been more than three, stared up at the high stained glass windows, her thumb in her mouth.

A bittersweet twinge seized Eve’s chest. Her throat closed up and a hint of tears stung her eyes. She lowered a hand to press to her abdomen. The scar wasn’t noticeable through the layers of her corset and skirt and the wide belt she wore, but she could feel it all the same. It cut her with a finality that went beyond the surgeon’s knife.

“Hello?”

Eve blinked to find the sandy-haired man staring at her from across the church. She dropped her hand and smiled to hide the grief she knew was painted on her face. It was foolish of her to break character in public, no matter what caused it.

“Hello,” she answered.

The sandy-haired reverend smiled.

“What are you doing?” a woman’s voice snapped behind her.

Eve turned to see a handsome older woman in a serviceable blouse and skirt about ten years out of fashion yanking the church door open behind her. She had gray hair pulled back in a bun and lines on her face that revealed that she smiled a lot. At the moment, however, she was scowling at Eve as though she were a rabble-rouser.

“I’m terribly sorry.” Eve kept her eyes bright and her chin up. “It’s so cold outside that I assumed you would want to keep the door closed.”

The old woman continued to scowl. “Well you assumed wrong.” She pulled herself to her full height and narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know you,” she went on. “I know everyone in town, even the new people.”

“I’m not from town.” Eve continued to feign ease, though it was a difficult role to play.

“I know.” The woman nodded and crossed her arms. “You’ve got an English accent.”

“It’s because I’m English,” Eve said. She tried leaning closer to the woman and sharing a conspiratorial wink the way she had with Lewis Jones and countless admirers before.

The woman crinkled her nose and leaned back. “You’re not one of the new girls Paul Sutcliffe hired to work at the saloon, are you?”

“No, no, not at all.” Eve tried a breezy laugh.

The woman’s scowl deepened. “Well you look like a whore with all that paint on your face.”

The sting of the accusation dug as deep as the emotion she had felt at the sight of the children. Eve’s act dropped.

“I most certainly am not a whore,” she said, hands on her hips. Indignant as she was, her denial still felt like a lie. “I am Lady Eve deLaurent. The Indomitable Lady Eve,” she went on, convincing herself as much as the outspoken woman.

“Well, I am Sadie McGee,” the woman fired back at her. “And I can assure you that I’m as indomitable as any woman that ever set foot in Cold Springs.”

Eve started, not sure what to make of her declaration.

“Ladies, what seems to be the trouble here?”

She was spared having to come up with an answer to Sadie McGee by the interruption of the reverend. She switched back into the role of charming lady and turned to introduce herself.

Her act evaporated. Up close, the reverend was a sight to behold. He had soft blue eyes to go with his sandy hair, strong jaw, and graceful nose. Tiny lines radiated from his eyes, giving him an air of kindness and humor. He could have played Hamlet or Algernon Moncrieff both and made the audience fall in love with him at a word.

“Just keeping the door open like you wanted, Rev. Andrews,” Sadie said as Eve scrambled to collect herself.

“But why?” Eve stammered. “It’s so cold outside.”

“It is,” Rev. Andrews replied, “but with the door closed people passing by can’t hear the children singing and be drawn in like you were.”

He ended with a smile that was as good as a wink. Butterflies danced in Eve’s gut.

 

Wild Western Women comes out November 1st, but you can preorder it now for just 99 cents! That’s 99 cents for five novellas, plus a few bonus short stories. And guess what? One of those short stories is a never-before seen story from Cold Springs, Montanta! A Hero’s Heart is a delightful little peek into the life of Cold Springs’s stationmaster, Lewis Jones, who is ready for love. You can preorder the Wild Western Women box set here.

Frontier Politics – Part Two

Kevin CostnerRemember that scene near the beginning of Dances with Wolves when John Dunbar shows up in the frontier office to accept his new posting? You know, where the commanding officer asks him why on earth he would want to be stationed so far out west? And Dunbar says he asked to go there because he wanted to see the frontier while it was still there to see (and because the war back East disillusioned him)? Well, it turns out that Dunbar’s attitude was actually very common and true to life for many men after the Civil War was over.

You can’t go through the American educational system without spending at least an entire semester studying the Civil War. And usually those history classes jump right into Westward Expansion as soon as you learn about Appomattox Courthouse. The thing that we don’t generally hear a lot of, though, is the social and political history that connects those two dots. Yes, a lot of people headed west because it was the land of opportunity, but the whole reason so many people were seeking opportunity—the reason they left everything for an unknown, potentially hostile land—was because it was better than what they had back home.

But first, it should be noted that in a way, the Civil War started in the West before war was declared after Ft. Sumter, and fighting ended in the West after the war was declared over. I think I mentioned in my first Frontier Politics blog post about the skirmishes that broke out between nominally pro-Union and Pro-Confederacy gangs in Kansas. “Bleeding Kansas” came about as a result of what amounted to thug armies shedding blood over the issue of whether Kansas would be admitted as a free or a slave state. It’s interesting to note that I’ve used these violent, trouble-making gangs in my next book (coming out a week from today!). The Briscoe Boys, who have vowed to kill the heroine, Lynne, are modeled on these outlaw gangs who brought the Civil War to the West long before it was officially a war. And the last battle of the Civil War was fought at Brownsville, Texas after peace had been declared. Ironically, it was a Confederate victory.

So the war ended, the Union was restored, Reconstruction began in the South, and we all lived happily ever after, right? Ha! The wounds of the Civil War still ran deep, even after the fighting had stopped. Lives and families had been destroyed as a result of the men who were killed and the land that was destroyed. And for what? To preserve a union that would support that kind of war in the first place? Yep, if we think we’re bitter about politics today, just imagine how people were feeling after a conflict of brother versus brother that changed everyone’s lives forever.

Like John Dunbar, a lot of people just wanted to get away. In the same way that the United States experienced a boom after WWII because no battles were fought on our soil and therefore our infrastructure was still in place to resupply Europe, so the West was a more or less untouched land of fertility that could be drawn on to create a new life for the country as a whole. The push west was limited by the means of transportation at first. My Hot on the Trail series is actually about the very end of the Oregon Trail era in the mid-1860s. The trail continued to be used, but it was supplemented by stagecoach and ocean travel. The Panama Canal wouldn’t be built until the 1880s, but there was an overland railway that routinely took settlers across. But as soon as the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, the floodgates opened.

The Oregon Trail, by Albert Bierstadt

The Oregon Trail, by Albert Bierstadt

Okay, what does this have to do with politics, you ask? It’s not like the country had to worry about whether the new territories and states would be slave or free states in the post-Civil War world.

Ah, but the thing is, the land wasn’t actually as open and unoccupied as disillusioned, opportunity-seeking pioneers wanted it to be. Even before the Civil War ended, the politics of the West were all about what to do with the Native Americans.

And thus begins one of the most controversial and bitter chapters of our history. Treaties were made and broken, made and broken. Native people were persecuted by some military officers (Colonel Chivington, who famously said “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice” is one big, fat example). Other officers did their best to find compromises and solutions. But bit by bit, tribe by tribe, the native population of this country was cut down, resettled, and reprogrammed. It kind of horrible when you think about it, but at the same time, the West was able to develop into the economic and social powerhouse that it is and was because a new culture swept in. It’s one of those horrible, bittersweet paradoxes of history.

I should also make one other mention of what could be a startling reality of the post-Civil War West. There were actually a fair number of African Americans who went west, both in the military and as pioneers. Their story isn’t often told either, but in a sparsely-populated land where every pair of hands was welcome, African Americans who could afford the journey found themselves in a much better position than their counterparts back East. At first. I really need to stress that at first bit, because by the end of the 19th century, after an economic depression and the institution of Jim Crow laws in the South, their situation worsened. In the military, the Buffalo Soldiers became the first peacetime African American regiment in the US. Unfortunately, they were part of the persecution of the Native Americans.

I’ll talk more about how the West was shaped in the years after the railroad was completed next time. In the meantime, here’s a shameless plug for Trail of Kisses, the first book in my Hot on the Trail series, which makes mention of those nasty gangs of Civil War-ish thugs that brought the conflict to the frontier. You can pre-order Trail of Kisses now for just 99 cents, but as of next week, it’ll be at the regular price of $3.99!

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A Pioneer Hearts Exclusive!

It’s Friday, and usually I post something about writing on Fridays, but today I’m super privileged to be a part of this absolutely wonderful group of writers who are bringing you a deal and a steal!

I’m so happy to announce the first ever Pioneer Hearts 99c Western Romance Event!

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This sale includes dozens of books for your Kindle, and a selection for your Nook or iBooks libraries, as well. And you know what else is fun? You can win some pretty snazzy prizes! Yes, that’s right, PRIZES!

Take this opportunity to discover your new favorite author….

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Want to win one of two $10 Amazon gift cards? Share our sale and follow our authors! You could also win signed books, a beautiful turquoise pendant necklace (voted a favorite by the Pioneer Hearts Readers Group!), and more! See Rafflecopter here and win!

See Nook links here

See iBooks links here

Wednesday Excerpt!

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time for an excerpt. Here’s a cute little scene from Trail of Kisses…

TrailofKisses

“I’ll have you know that I am an prize-winning sharpshooter.”

“Are you?” She intended her tone to be teasing, but was genuinely interested. “What award did you win?”

Cade settled back in his saddle, brushing the revolver in its holster at his hip. “Couple years back, there was a competition around the Fourth of July in Denver City. Your uncle hosted it and offered a prize to the winner, a contract to work with him.”

“Oh?” Lynne perked up. “What a good idea. And you won?”

Cade nodded. “I did, but it was a close contest. Jerry Poole, a prospector turned supplier, came close to outshooting me in the last round. It was a fine contest.”

As his eyes unfocused, he smiled. The tiny lines around his eyes added to his smile instead of making him look tired. The sight sent a satisfied thrill through Lynne’s chest.

“They had to keep moving the targets back, first five feet at a time, then ten, and finally five yards. Jerry and I, we kept shooting and hitting the mark.”

“So how did you win?”

His smile grew wider.

“Bessy Harding.”

“Who?” Lynne asked, her voice suddenly flat, her stomach knotting.

Cade chuckled. “Bessy ran a boarding house on the west side of town. She was so sweet on Jerry that you didn’t have to put sugar in your coffee when they were within fifty feet of each other.”

“Oh.” Lynne relaxed, her smile returning.

Cade’s grin grew wider. “Jerry liked her too, but never worked up the nerve to say anything about it. Come the final round, Bessy found a place at the edge of the barrier separating the contestants from the shooters. Just as Jerry was taking aim, she leaned over to wish him luck. Poor Jerry took one look at her….” He cleared his throat. “At her attractions,” he went on, “and fired off before he was in position. You better believe we’ve never let him live that one down.”

Lynne laughed, but she had the distinct impression there was more to the joke than she’d caught.
“I take it you made your shot?” she asked.

He brushed the edge of his hat’s brim. “Oh, you’d better believe that I never fire too early and I hit that mark every time.”

He was teasing her. She didn’t know how, but he was definitely teasing her. The dancing light in his eyes and the ease of his smile gave it away.

He shook his head and went on. “Turns out your uncle had already decided to hire me, contest or no. He’s friends with my father. So both Jerry and I got jobs. It was a good day.”

There you have it! Trail of Kisses, coming October 27th to anywhere eBooks are sold.

Guess what? You can pre-order it now! Not only that, while it is in pre-order status, you can buy it for the low, low price of $0.99! But act now, once the official release date gets here, the price will go up to the regular $3.99.

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Like what you’ve read? I love the fact that you read it! I’ve got more for you too. Sign up for my quarterly newsletter to receive special content, sneak-peeks, and treats that only subscribers are privy to. And thank you!