Release Day! Trail of Redemption

Jun 28, 2015

It’s Release Day! Trail of Redemption, book 6 in the Hot on the Trail series, is now available!

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You can pick it up at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and more!

Here’s a little bit to get you started…..

Chapter One

Independence, Missouri – 1865

Estelle Ripley was used to a quiet life. Her days growing up in Georgia had been filled with southern heat, the buzz of insects mingling with birdsong across humid cotton fields, and the rich voices of slaves singing at their labor. She’d enjoyed it all from the isolated security of the big house. They never had many visitors—the master of the house, her father, hadn’t been inclined to entertain with his wife constantly ill—so Estelle’s days had passed in relative peace.

Independence, Missouri, the start of the Oregon Trail, was the exact opposite of everything Estelle had ever know. There were people and wagons, oxen and other livestock, everywhere she turned. Noise rushed at her from all sides—the squawking of chickens here, the high-pitched giggles of children there—drowning out any thoughts she tried to put together. Once they started their journey, the wagons would spread out in a line, but for now, everyone was crammed next to each other, bumping and dodging as they made last minute preparations.

“I bought few extra sides of bacon,” Mr. Pete Evans—the trail boss and her employer for the next few months—said as he approached Estelle. He had a cloth-wrapped side of bacon over one shoulder that he heaved into the back of the trail crew’s supply wagon. “The boys will load up most of it.”

“I can do it if you need me to,” Estelle straightened from where she’d been organizing a crate of tools. “I’m stronger than I look.”

“Thanks, Miss Ripley, but save your strength for the long walk.” Mr. Evans tipped his hat, then strode on to see to one of the dozen other tasks he needed to complete before they could move out.

Estelle smiled as she watched him walk away. It was a huge stroke of luck that she’d found Mr. Evans when she did. She had been at the end of her rope, the suspicions of the women who worked with her at the hotel in St. Louis on the rise. It had been time to move on. Before it was too late.

Pete Evans had handed her a golden opportunity. Move on to the West. Far away from those curious eyes and the judgment that always followed. He needed a cook for his wagon train and she needed an excuse to run far away, where no one would care about her past. Folks could forgive a lot of things in the West, or so she’d heard. Busy hands and strong backs were needed so desperately in places like California and Oregon that everything else was overlooked. The West would be the perfect place for her to bury her past and reinvent herself.

“Here you go, Miss Ripley,” one of Pete’s crew, Hank Newman, nodded and smiled to her as he dropped another side of bacon in the wagon. “Just a few more barrels of salted beef and a few sacks of flour and we’ll be ready to roll.”

“Thank you.” Estelle smiled and nodded, then went on with her work. Hank was young and, as far as she could tell, innocent. The kindness in his eyes, the complete lack of curiosity, as he looked at her told Estelle he wouldn’t bother her.

She was amongst kind souls with most of the wagon train, if her initial impressions were right. With her simple, calico dress and her hair tucked away under a wide-brimmed bonnet, she looked like every other pioneer woman about to set out on the trail. There were too many people and too much chaos for anyone to single her out. She lifted the box of tools and carried it to the back of the wagon, sliding it into place along one side. That done, she stepped away to stretch her back and study her fellow travelers.

Estelle was impressed by how many women were heading west. Aside from the usual bunch of farmer’s wives, there were several single women. They ranged in age from past their prime to hardly out of short skirts. Miss Josephine Lewis was perhaps the most noteworthy of the bunch. She looked to be in her forties, and dressed like she would be attending tea with the President later that day. Silver streaked her dark hair, but her eyes were as bright as any young woman.

“Be careful with those crates,” she charged one of Pete’s assistants, Ted. “They contain my grandmother’s china. My grandmother loaded cannons during the Revolution, so if you break her things, I’m certain her ghost will show up to make you miserable.”

Estelle chuckled at the command. It was given with gusto, and more than a little teasing.

“Hurry along,” a younger woman with auburn hair and a dusting of freckles across her nose called out to another of Pete’s assistants, Lyle, smiling as she did. “My father’s waiting for me to come home to Wyoming, and if we are held up, he’ll have words for all of us. No one holds up Howard Haskell, and no one holds up his daughter.”

“Yes, Miss Lucy,” Lyle grinned as he pushed a trunk into the back of Lucy’s wagon.

“I can’t wait to get home,” Lucy Haskell spoke on, hovering beside Pete’s man as he shifted her trunk into place. “I miss my Papa and my Aunt Virginia, and even my bratty little brother, Franklin. When I got Papa’s letter telling me Franklin had been injured, I had to come right away. Mama took the train, but I need more adventure than that. I wish I’d been alive twenty years ago, when the first pioneers came out this way. It would have been dangerous and exciting, don’t you think?”

“Yes, Miss Lucy,” Lyle sighed.

“It’s still dangerous, at least a little bit,” Lucy yammered on, following the assistant when he tried to escape her chatter. “The Indians are still there, after all, and there’s always wild animals. I bet we see a herd of buffalo once we get to the true West. I’ve seen them. They’re everywhere, but not so much as before.”

She continued to babble on. When Lyle moved away, Lucy turned to a second man, one of the pioneers, working with some sort of gadget in front of his wagon, and continued her discourse about how dangerous the West could be. The young man glanced up to her with wide, almost frightened eyes.

Estelle shook her head and walked up to the front of the supply wagon. The oxen had already been yoked. She checked the tongue holding them in place, checked the yoke itself, and patted one of the oxen’s back. She didn’t know much about the large animals, but she would learn soon.

Another woman worked to get her wagon ready nearby. She was as close to the opposite of Miss Lucy Haskell as it was possible to get—small and quiet, with a long, blond braid down her back. Estelle thought she had heard Pete say her name was Olivia, and that she was single as well. She would be traveling with a family from her hometown rather than on her own. Olivia glanced around at their fellow travelers with eyes that reminded Estelle of a wary rabbit. The woman caught Estelle staring at her and blushed. Estelle nodded and smiled in acknowledgement, and the shy woman smiled back. It was a nice start.

A child’s shriek from a few wagons farther down caught both Estelle and Olivia’s attention.

“Luke Chance, I swear to God in Heaven above, you will be the death of me,” an elderly woman shouted at a boy in his teens.

Estelle didn’t get a chance to see what the boy had done before he darted off. The older woman and her wagon were surrounded by wriggling, shouting, laughing children—more than a dozen. Estelle brightened with curiosity. Pete Evans was known for allowing some interesting sorts to come along in his wagon trains. Single women were one thing, but from what Estelle had heard earlier, the older woman was a Mrs. Gravesend, and the children were all orphans on their way west in the hopes of being placed with new families. Estelle hadn’t realized there would be so many of them. Mrs. Gravesend reminded her of the old woman in the shoe, only without the shoe.

Estelle made a mental note to help out with the orphans in any way she could, but for the time being, she had her own work to do. She turned to head to the back of the wagon, and took two steps before running square into a man.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she started, bracing herself as the two of them slammed into each other, her shoulder wedging into his broad, firm chest.

Rather than righting himself, the man sagged against her and muttered an oath. Surprised, Estelle found herself supporting far more of the man’s weight than she would have expected. He struggled to right himself, and in a flash, she saw why.

The man wore a crisp, clean Union officer’s uniform. The coat had recently been brushed and its buttons glimmered in the sunlight. His uniform trousers were neat and pressed—at least, the left leg was. The right leg was carelessly knotted just below the man’s knee. The rest of his leg was missing.

“No, I’m sorry,” the soldier said, his voice low and full of gravel. He pushed away from Estelle and leaned against his wagon. He hopped a few times to scoot closer to his wagon’s front wheel, then balanced and bent over to pick up a crutch that had fallen to the grass. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.

He straightened and tucked his crutch under his right arm. When he lifted his face to look Estelle in the eye, she caught her breath. He had the most handsome face she’d ever seen. His hair was dark, as black as her own, but his eyes were a dazzling blue—so blue they fairly glowed. He had a strong jaw with just a hint of dark stubble, and proud cheekbones. But it was the pain in his eyes that drew Estelle in completely.

“It’s my fault,” she said. As much as she wanted to stare down at his missing leg, she kept her eyes on his. “I was careless. It’s just that there are so many people to see, so much going on.”

The man stared at her. Estelle waited for him to get that look in his eyes—that look that told her he could see right through her lies and false pretense. There was no earthly reason that he would look at her that way, but she’d lived with that fear so long that she saw it everywhere now. He only smiled at her, a little sheepish.

“I’m not used to this,” he explained, patting his crutch. “It’s new and I’m clumsy.”

New. And he was a soldier. The war had ended in April, but the battle scars would be there forever. This handsome man’s scars were fresh.

“Everything’s new out here, isn’t it Mr. …?”

“Tremaine,” he said. He hopped closer to her, securing his crutch under his arm and holding out a hand to her. “Graham Tremaine. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Estelle Ripley,” she replied, taking his hand. It was warm, and slightly calloused. As soon as it closed around hers she felt a thrill of expectation pass up her arm. “The pleasure’s all mind, Mr. Tremaine.”

“Graham, please,” he said. He smiled, but the expression didn’t meet his eyes.

Estelle’s heart held still in her chest in spite of the buzz of activity all around her. What hardship must this soldier have gone through to have such pain in his eyes? And if she could see his pain, what could he see in her?

 

Want to read more? Pick up your copy at Amazon, B&N, iBooks, and coming soon to more retailers!

Lessons from a Sunflower

Jun 25, 2015

balcony gardenSo for the last two or three summers, when I was living at my apartment, I built up a lovely container garden on my balcony. The way my apartment was situated, I got full sunlight all day, so I had varying degrees of success with different kinds of plants.

This is not a story about those plants.

Because this past winter, for the first time, I bought a birdfeeder. I plunked said birdfeeder into one of the dormant containers of dirt, and all winter long, my cats went nuts as they watched birds turn my balcony into the coolest bird hangout in the area.

This is not a story about those birds.

birdfeederWhen I moved to my temporary home for the summer, I brought my containers, complete with dirt, with me. They ended up scattered all around the garden at this house, the house I grew up in. I kind of had plans to plant flowers and stuff, but I never really got around to putting in the effort.

But someone had other plans.

Shortly after I got settled here, I noticed a couple of sprouts in one of the containers. I kind of knew what they were right away, but with an excited little grin, I let them grow, curious to see if they would actually GROW and end up blooming. Much to my surprise, they actually did grow. Very, very tall! I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. That’s what sunflowers do.

But as I stood admiring the first of the two sunflowers when it finally burst into bloom the other day, I was struck by an amazing lesson that that simple flower had to teach me. That flower was not supposed to be there. I didn’t plant it and I didn’t plan for it. That seed was not supposed to grow and flourish. It was meant to be eaten by birds, not to have a life of its own. But somehow, through fate, the nature of seeds, and a little luck, what was supposed to end up destroyed for someone else’s good ended up becoming tall and glorious and wonderful.

sunflower

We may think our lives are destined for one thing. We may be convinced, by ourselves or others, that we’re no good or meant for nothing more than to be someone else’s tool. We might feel hopeless because of the odds stacked against us. But sometimes the extraordinary happens. Sometimes we are able to rise above the crappy circumstances we are thrust into to become something beautiful and glorious. It can happen, whether we see it coming or not.

So now, next summer, when I move into my new apartment, I’m going to plant sunflowers. A lot of them. Sunflowers will forever be a reminder to me of the amazing things we can accomplish, whether we are “supposed to” or not.

 

G is for Goodreads

Jun 22, 2015

Not gonna lie. As an author, Goodreads scares me. Sure, it’s a fantastic site for readers, and I love it as a way to keep track of the books I’ve read and what I think of them. I adore their yearly book challenge, where you set a goal for yourself about how many books you’re hoping to read during the year, and then it keeps track of that for you. But when it comes to reviews and the freedom that readers and reviewers have to talk about books and authors, I quiver in my boots.

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Now, let me quickly stress that that doesn’t mean I disagree with the freedoms that readers and reviewers have there or that I think they’re horrible or mean or anything. Not at all. Quite the contrary, actually. I think Goodreads is a great place for people to get out there and say what they really think. There’s a place for that. At the same time, I shudder to think what people might be saying about me. That’s why I don’t read my reviews anymore.

Goodreads is the ultimate book cocktail party where someone put just a little too much of the good stuff in the punch. Because it doesn’t get policed and reviews aren’t taken down if they cross the line. So it’s like a raging party. Some people can handle their alcohol superbly, and it makes them incredibly fun to be around. Some people do not mix well with that kind of freedom, and it goes to their heads, starting painful downward spirals.

And I’m not just talking about reviewers here.

Take the sad tale of the sci-fi/fantasy writer about two or three weeks ago who went off the deep end over a 1-star review that was left on his book. The reviewer was just a reviewer. She didn’t like the book. She reviewed it with her one star and stated the reasons she didn’t like it. So far, so good. I have some 1-star reviews that are far less kind than the one she left. We all do. It’s part of the job of writing.

Unfortunately, this author broke the cardinal rule of reviews from an author’s point of view. He responded.

Cardinal Rule of Getting Reviewed: NEVER RESPOND

*sigh* Someone failed to tell this poor guy the rule. Not only did he respond, he launched an all-out battle with this reviewer. I’ll spare you the gory details, but this author had a meltdown of epic proportions.

Not just a little meltdown, mind you. In going to war over one tiny review, one person’s opinion expressed on Goodreads, he ended up going viral, getting splashed across the internet, his story swapped by a lot of the writers and readers I know as a cautionary tale of why you never respond to reviews, and, lo and behold, getting hundreds of new 1-star reviews because of his bad behavior. And I seriously wonder if his career will be able to survive the onslaught.

The saddest note of all is that one of my author friends pointed out that over on Amazon, the exact same book has quite a few good reviews, and it might actually be a good book. But the world will never know, because this reactionary author engaged a Goodreads reviewer when he should have just taken a walk around the block and shaken it off.

Yep. Goodreads is a scary place for authors. Because it has power. It’s an important venue for readers to voice their opinions the same way they would if they were hanging out with friends. It’s absolutely vital for that open exchange of ideas to have a home…just as it’s vital for authors to respect what goes on there.

I actually really like Goodreads. I do giveaways there (here’s a link to one if you want to throw your hat in the ring!) and I keep track of my reading habits there. Heck, I think this blog post even feeds over to my Goodreads author page. But at the end of the day, Goodreads is for READERS, not for we humble authors. So thanks for taking care of the place for us!

Excerpt Wednesday – Trail of Redemption – First Kiss

Jun 17, 2015

It’s time for another juicy excerpt today, since it’s Wednesday. And you know, I’m in the mood for a yummy first kiss. So here’s how it all happened for Graham and Estelle in my next release, Trail of Redemption….

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“It’s all right,” Estelle reassured Tim as she lifted him into the back of Graham’s wagon. “There you go.”

She was already soaked to the bone. The rain pounded from the sky with a fury that they hadn’t yet seen on the prairie. Her dress clung to her, and rivulets ran down her face. She thanked them for cooling her otherwise blush-hot cheeks. Between Isaiah’s commands and Graham’s rescue, so many conflicting emotions filled her that she felt as helpless as the prairie grass in the storm.

“Can you get up on your own?” Graham asked, having to shout to be heard above the din of the rain. He leaned his back against the open tailgate of the wagon, ready to hoist himself up. Frustration darkened his expression. He wanted to help her, but he couldn’t.

“I can,” she replied. He would have helped her if he could, that was all that mattered.

She turned to mimic his position, hefting her backside onto the tailgate. The supply wagon was directly behind them, and just before she pivoted to retreat into Graham’s wagon, Estelle caught sight of Isaiah climbing inside. His face was a mask of anger, and the look he sent her right before pulling the edge of the canvas closed to block out the rain made Estelle’s blood run cold.

She turned away, scrambling deeper into Graham’s wagon to escape that look, that demand. It terrified her more than the storm.

“Help me,” Graham began, scooting closer to her. He had flipped up the wagon’s tailgate and pulled the canvas closed, but now that he was seated, he wasn’t going to be able to get up easily.

Estelle tossed her fear aside and scrambled to the back of the wagon. The wind was merciless as it pulled at the canvas. She had to fight to muscle the back flap into place, blocking out both wind and rain. Graham managed to balance against a trunk, lifting to his knees enough to assist her. As soon as Estelle was certain he had the back flap in hand, she climbed through the crowded wagon to secure the front of the canvas. She passed Tim—huddled between two crates, hugging himself into a ball—as she did.

The storm continued to rage once the canvas was secure, and as soon as they had closed up all the gaps, Estelle’s body relaxed. She flopped to sit in the center of the wagon bed, catching her breath. Graham scooted his way over to her. They sat side-by-side, panting and wiping rain off of their faces. With the wind still howling and rain drumming against the canvas above them, soaking it through, Estelle was well aware that the sense of safety was an illusion, but she clung to it anyhow.

“We made it,” Graham panted, breaking into a hesitant smile. “Now all we have to do is wait it—”

A crash of lightning and thunder sounded so close to their wagon that Estelle felt an electric jolt. She jumped toward Graham, reaching for him.

Graham closed his arms around her without hesitation, pulling her close. They were soaked to the bone, chilled, and frightened, but the sudden clasp of body to body felt so right that all tension drained from Estelle. She breathed in the rich, damp scent of Graham, pressed her fingertips into the wet fabric of his shirt to feel the firmness of his muscle. Her face was mere inches from his, and when she lifted her chin to check on him, their mouths brushed close. So close that she could almost taste him.

So close. So warm. So safe. She couldn’t help herself. With a surge that started in the pit of her stomach and lifted her up, she pressed into him, bringing her mouth over his. The tender touch of lips and the whisper of her tongue against him sent deep cords of wanting through her. She tightened her grip on him, closing her eyes and pouring her soul into that kiss.

Moments later, his arms circled further around her, hands spreading across her back. Graham lifted her across his lap, turning her so that he could kiss her more thoroughly. A deep groan rose from his lungs as he held her closer. One sudden kiss had opened the floodgates, and like the storm that raged around them, they couldn’t stop. His kiss was powerful, demanding, drawing passion up from the depths of her soul. She opened to him, moaning in delight at the thrust of his tongue, aching with the need to draw him inside of her in so many ways. His hand slipped to cup her breast, which only increased the fervor of her kiss. She wanted this man in her arms, she wanted Graham, more than anything she’d ever known.

Another flash of lightning and thunder burst so close to them that Estelle’s cries of pleasure turned into a frightened gasp. Hers wasn’t the only shout of fear. She and Graham both stiffened in shock as they remembered Tim was huddled there in the wagon with them. Estelle shifted from her position clasped tightly in Graham’s arms to reach for him.

“It’s all right, sweetheart,” she told Tim, breathless with passion still. “Come to me.”

Tim launched out of his hiding place and pressed himself into Estelle’s arms. Just like that, the rage of passion that had carried Estelle and Graham away without warning had become something more. Tim shook with terror as Estelle and Graham both closed their arms around him and each other. He buried his face against Estelle’s chest.

Estelle met Graham’s eyes over Tim’s trembling form. The desire was still there, burning strong, calling to her, but with it was regret and sharp frustration.

 

Oh yeah, you can pre-order Trail of Redemption at iBooks and Barnes & Noble right now! Click on over to reserve your copy today!

Changes Afoot at Amazon

Jun 16, 2015

amazon aI’m not sure that I would usually write about this here, but since a lot of my writer friends are experiencing varying degrees of panic or euphoria about the email Amazon sent out regarding the new way they’re going to do payouts for their KDP Select program, specifically for Kindle Unlimited (KU), I thought I’d take a second to share my thoughts. And my thoughts are good, happy, positive thoughts.

Because it’s clear as day to me that these changes are intended to curb the tide of “dino porn” shorts, which routinely suck up far, far more of the KU funds than they have any right to. Although, yes, this does have consquences for people who write serials (which I’m about to do later this summer) and for authors when the reader doesn’t finish the entire book.

Here’s what Amazon said:

We’re always looking at ways to make our programs even better, and we’ve received lots of great feedback on how to improve the way we pay KDP authors for books in Kindle Unlimited. One particular piece of feedback we’ve heard consistently from authors is that paying the same for all books regardless of length may not provide a strong enough alignment between the interests of authors and readers. We agree. With this in mind, we’re pleased to announce that beginning on July 1, the KDP Select Global Fund will be paid out based on the number of pages KU and KOLL customers read.

As with our current approach, we’ll continue to offer a global fund for each month. Under this new model, the amount an author earns will be determined by their share of total pages read rather than their share of total qualified borrows. …

(And then they give some examples)

We think this is a solid step forward and better aligns the interests of readers and authors. Our goal, as always, is to build a service that rewards authors for their valuable work, attracts more readers and encourages them to read more and more often. ….

Okay. Some of the authors I know responded to this initiative with panic. The way they see it, Amazon is punishing authors of shorter works—serials, novellas, short stories. There is also some question about whether this could spell doom and gloom for authors of longer works if a reader doesn’t actually finish the book.

On the one hand, yes, this could cut into the profit of serial writers. I’m going to be publishing a serial later this summer myself, and this kind of makes me go “Oh, guess that’s not going to look like I thought it would look.” But I’m cool with that, because the serial was mostly a way I was going to entertain myself anyhow. And the whole earning a royalty that is higher than the retail price of the book thing was not going to last forever anyhow.

This also might seem scary if you suspect people are borrowing your books but not finishing them. But then, if they aren’t finishing them, that says something right there. I predict the rate of on-finished book payouts will be equivalent to the rate of returns that we see on our books. Because those returned books happen.

Not gonna lie. I downloaded it, read it, giggle-snorted a lot over it... I don't want to be lumped in the same category or compete with it

Not gonna lie. I downloaded it, read it, giggle-snorted a lot over it… I don’t want to be lumped in the same category or compete with it

Now, the reason I personally think this is GREAT is because it will stop all those people who are churning out unedited, 15 page, “dino porn” shorts from taking over the market and pulling away funds from serious writers who are attempting to write “for real.” I hope that this will deter hacks from throwing those things up all the time because it’s no longer free money. That would mean that the amount more serious writers take home each month would increase.

But here’s the other thing, my final thought, if you would. Everybody likes to hate on Amazon like they’re the Evil Empire. Like they sit around in board rooms thinking of ways to screw up the lives of indie authors who are trying to make a living like this. Nah. That doesn’t float with me. Amazon is a company. They are a distributor. They have their producers (that’s us) and their consumers (that’s readers), and it’s in their best interest to keep everyone happy.

Furthermore, Amazon wants to lure as many writers as possible into their KDP Select program. But you don’t do that by making it a miserable deal for writers. They have to maintain some sort of very attractive incentive for authors to want to join their program. Apple keeps making leaps and bounds to draw authors out of Select, so it’s not like there’s no other alternative. So my theory is that this will actually look better for our bottom lines once we see these changes in action.

And that’s what I think.