Tag Archives: oregon trail

My Epic Road Trip – Part One

May 07, 2016

Utah MountainsSo anyone who has been following me on Facebook knows that one month ago today, I set out from my cozy little suburban Philadelphia home and began an epic journey. It was a bucket-list journey, something I’ve always, always wanted to do. This was the time. The RT Booklovers Convention was in Las Vegas, NV this year, as a full-time writer, I had the time and the means, so I thought “I’m gonna drive to Las Vegas!”

Well, let me tell you, this epic road trip was worth every second. I learned so much about this country, about the vastness of its landscape and the huge, huge differences between its regions and people. I visited 21 states, 12 of them I’d never been to before, saw a whole bunch of national landmarks, met up with a dozen or more friends I haven’t seen in ages or that I’d never met outside of the internet, and fell in love with a couple of locations that I never would have guessed would tickle my fancy. In the process, I also had a few epiphanies about different parts of this country, and about our nation as a whole.

So for the next few blog posts, I’m going to talk about what I saw and what I thought…

Crossing the Familiar

Pennsylvania: Okay, well, I’m from PA, and I’m also incredibly biased in favor of my state. I always tell people that I’m not particularly patriotic, but I’m incredibly state-riotic! So this wasn’t news to me, but for those who don’t know Pennsylvania, we’ve got it all. Seriously. Everything. I live in a temperate area filled with rolling hills, mass quantities of deciduous trees and forests, more historic sites than you can shake a stick at, and Philadelphia, the fifth largest city in the US. On the other side of the state is those other guys, Pittsburgh (huge Philly/Pittsburgh rivalry going on there), some more mountainy hills, coal and natural gas, more forests, and a super nice guy that I went to high school with and used to date. In the middle is farmland, farmland, and more farmland. And mountains. We call that area Pennsyltucky. Oh, and Lancaster County. Man, I love Pennsylvania!

Iconic Midwest landmark! Plus my Grandma, me, and my Grandma's helper.

Iconic Midwest landmark! Plus my Grandma, me, and my Grandma’s helper.

The Midwest – Ohio, Indiana, Illinois: I was born in southwestern Ohio, in a suburb of Cincinnati. My Grandma still lives there, and I stayed my first night with her. I can’t explain it, but every time I drive through Ohio, I’m struck by how different it feels from Pennsylvania. That’s right, it feels different. It’s much flatter, for one, especially on the western side. Still lots of farms, though. But I have to say—and I hope I’m not offending anyone by saying it—the entire Midwest has a sort of half-panicked feeling to me. Like it’s holding its breath, waiting to see what happens next and not entirely convinced it’s going to be good.

Part of my theory of what might be the root cause of that feeling of desperation is the history of the region. Way, way back in the day, the Midwest was full of excitement and promise. It was the first place that settlers from the brand-spanking new United States picked up and moved to in search of a better life. And they found it! The fertile farmland of the Midwest quickly caused the area to be one of the most prosperous outside of the original thirteen colonies. By the 1840s, Cincinnati was the sixth largest city in the United States. The many rivers and canals that passed through the city and on along the Ohio River to the Mississippi fed that economy. The good times continued into the 20th century, when the Midwest became a hub for industry. My Grandma is a wealth of stories of the middle of the 20th century, when factories and businesses thrived and life was good. Then it all went away. Jobs went overseas, businesses closed, people were laid off and couldn’t find other work. Many people left, but many more couldn’t afford to.

I may be wrong, but the feeling I got from the Midwest was that people there are holding their breath. They’ve been through the wringer in the last two generations, and they’re waiting for things to renew. And there was a lot of potential for renewal in all the things I saw. I sort of considered St. Louis to be the end of the Midwest feeling, and there is definitely a buzz around that city. Oh, and the Gateway Arch (which I’ve always wanted to see) is a lot bigger than I thought it was! If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. I think the Midwest is due for a big, positive change.

Moving into the Unfamiliar

StLouis ArchMissouri: The state of Missouri west of St. Louis was my first big surprise. It was the first state I arrived at that I’d never been to before. And you know what? It’s kind of awesome! Now, that may be because it rained all through the Midwest, but the sun came out when I crossed the Mississippi, and all the redbuds were in bloom. I didn’t realize Missouri was so hilly and woody! And I like me some hills and trees. But it wasn’t just the beauty of the state. It had a sort of positivity about it that the Midwest didn’t. I wonder if that has to do with the history of the economy in the state. I get the impression that, unlike Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, Missouri didn’t have the same industrial dependence throughout the 20th century. Just a theory.

Kansas City: Then I reached Kansas City, and my good friend Laura L. Stapleton’s house. We stayed up way too late talking, then the next day we “did” Kansas City. Well, not the city proper. We went to the Three Trails Museum in Independence, MO. I definitely had the impression that if I was an early settler about to make my journey to the frontier on the Oregon Trail, I would have left that starting point full of excitement and energy, ready to run forward to my new life.

Um, as you’ll see later, I don’t think that feeling would have lasted.

Me and author Laura L. Stapleton in Independence, MO, ready to head West on the Oregon Trail!

Me and author Laura L. Stapleton in Independence, MO, ready to head West on the Oregon Trail!

A Token Trek Through Kansas and Iowa, and Eastern Nebraska: So because I wanted to hit as many states as possible, Laura and her husband, Dirk, took me across the Missouri River to stand in Kansas. Of course, in the process I got a nice picture of Susan B. Anthony’s house, as well as a peek at Leavenworth Prison. My plan was to stay in Lincoln, Nebraska that night, and the road to get there took me through Iowa for about half an hour. But I think I can infer what the rest of Kansas and the rest of Iowa must look like from the states around them. Farmland, I’m guessing. Lots of it.

Because almost all of eastern Nebraska was farmland. Lots and lots of flat, flat farmland! I loved Lincoln, though, and I definitely want to go back there. But what struck me as I drove across the state was how positive the feeling was, in spite of there not being a lot of stuff there. I stopped at Ft. Kearny historical site—because, I mean, I mention it several times in my Hot on the Trail series, and I had to take a look at what I’d imagined—but even more than what remains of the fort, it was the vastness of the landscape that really struck me. I thought to myself, there’s nothing in eastern Nebraska.

Little did I know, I was about to redefine “nothing there.”

Lots of Nebraska. Lots of flat farmland.

Lots of Nebraska. Lots of flat farmland.

Anyhow, it was as I drove through Nebraska along the Platte River—just like my characters in the Hot on the Trail series—that I began to have my doubts. I’m pretty sure if I had been a pioneer on the Oregon Trail, about halfway through Nebraska I would have been thinking “Dude, this is the worst idea in the history of ideas!” The flatness and emptiness of what is now Nebraska as it must have existed then would have been overwhelming! It was, as several of the pioneers’ journals tell us.

But then I got to western Nebraska and Wyoming. I’ll save that for next time, though….

Harry Truman had a really sweet house!

Harry Truman had a really sweet house!

Trail of Aces – Coming Tomorrow!

Nov 09, 2015

It’s almost here, folks! The book you’ve been waiting for, Trail of Aces, book 8 in the Hot on the Trail series! If you’ve read Trail of Redemption or Trail of Passion, you know that Olivia and Charlie had a sudden and unexpected trail marriage. But how did that happen, and can it possibly last? Find out tomorrow when Trail of Aces releases! It’ll be 99 cents for a few days only, just for you, so you’ll want to snatch it up in a hurry. But why wait? You can start reading it now….

TrailofAces_3D

Chapter One

 

Wyoming Territory, 1865

 

She never should have married him.

Olivia Garrett balled her fists at her sides as she marched up the line of parked wagons. Her delicate brow was furrowed with fury and determination. Her gentle heart ached with betrayal. After everything she had been through, after everything they had been through together, after all the promise that had been shown, she’d been betrayed. Her eyes stung with tears she was determined not to shed. She may have been heartbroken, but she was still a woman of honor. She would not break down into the fit of weeping that she was certain would be expected of her. She would not wilt like a daisy. And she most certainly would not let Charlie Garrett get the best of her.

She never should have married him.

“Olivia, is everything all right?” her dear friend, Estelle Ripley, called as Olivia stormed past the wagon train crew’s camp.

Olivia kept her eyes straight forward, zeroing in on the target of her erstwhile trail husband, chatting with Graham Tremaine and Pete Evans, the trail boss, several yards ahead of her. Heaven only knew how difficult it was for her to speak her mind. If she stopped to answer Estelle—and now Josephine Lewis, who had hopped up from her camp at the sight of Olivia’s march—she would only lose her nerve and back down. She couldn’t back down. Not when she’d just learned that the man she’d married, the man who had likely tricked her into marrying him, was a thief and a liar.

“How dare you?” she hurled at Charlie when she came to a stop a few yards away from him. She could feel the deep flush on her cheeks, feel the fire in her eyes. She could also feel the trembling deep in her soul, her heart weeping. Things had been going so well. They had come to an understanding. Charlie’s kisses had become so wonderful, increasing in fervor to the point where she found herself longing to be his wife in every way. “How dare you drag me into your nefarious schemes?”

Estelle and Josephine caught up to her, one on either side, flanking her with support. Olivia’s other friends, Lucy Haskell and Gideon Faraday, lifted their heads from the campfire where they were laughing over something to see what was going on. Charlie broke away from his conversation and faced her.

“Sweet Pea. What’s the matter?” He put on a charming smile, but Olivia was no fool. She could see the panic in his dark eyes, the tension in the lines of his face. She’d seen that look on the faces of countless naughty little boys she’d taught, both at home in Ohio and in her trail school. It was a look of pure guilt.

“I won’t let you call me Sweat Pea anymore.” Her back was straight and her chin tilted in defiance, but her voice shook in concert with the crumbling of her heart. Even now, Charlie stood before her, a perfect picture of everything dashing and forbidden. She’d found him handsome beyond compare from the first moment she’d laid eyes on him. Handsome with that air of wickedness that had sent spirals of longing through her body.

She shouldn’t have trusted those feelings, should instead have paid more attention to the wickedness.

Still trying to maintain his rakish smile, but slipping, Charlie took a step toward her. “Tell me what’s upset you, Olivia. I’m certain we can work through this together.”

Olivia swallowed, closing her eyes to fight back her tears. How many years had she waited to hear a man say they could work through their problems together? But all that meant nothing when the man in question had just been outed as a criminal.

Out of the corner of her eye, Olivia spotted the tall, well-dressed form of Chet Devlin ambling into the scene. He wore a sly smile on his face—a face that was arresting, though not quite as handsome as Charlie’s. Charlie scowled at his old friend for half a second before his attention returned to Olivia. Olivia wasn’t as dismissive.

“If Mr. Devlin hadn’t informed me of—” She paused, sending a quick glance around to the assembly of her friends. “—of the means by which you acquired your wealth, would you ever have told me?”

Understanding, and something far more devastating—confirmation—glowed around Charlie. He dropped his shoulders in defeat. “You knew when you married me that I was a gambler by trade, Olivia. You may not consider those sorts of winnings as an honest living, but—”

“That’s not what I’m talking about.” She lowered her voice, leaning toward him. She waited—waited for him to tell her that the things Chet revealed were lies, waited for a cleaner, more wholesome explanation of the treasure that lay hidden in Charlie’s wagon.

He didn’t say a word. He closed his mouth and pressed his lips together, staring hard at Olivia. But Charlie knew exactly what she was talking about. While the rest of their friends stood around confused, the harsh light of truth and understanding glared between Olivia and the husband she never should have consented to marry. He met her eyes. It didn’t matter how much sadness and regret they held. The admission was right there for her to see. His silence screamed guilt.

Charlie Garrett was a thief and a shyster.

“I never should have married you,” she hissed. Her tears threatened to flow and drown her hurting heart. “I should have gone against my sense of honor and ignored the obligation to deal fairly with you. I know now that there is no such thing as honor or fairness in you. You’re a low-down, dirty cheat, Charlie Garrett, and I don’t want anything to do with you ever again.”

She spun to go, catching a glimpse of Chet with his hand covering his wide, sneering smile, his eyes bright with victory and spite. Before she could take a single step, Charlie was by her side, clasping a hand around her arm to hold her to her spot, close to him.

“Sweet Pea, this isn’t fair,” he murmured, loud enough for her to hear, but not for the others watching. “Let me explain.”

“What kind of explanation is there?” She turned in his arms, looking up at him. The rich, spicy scent of him—so familiar now, and yet still such a mystery—filled her aching heart with needles of regret. She hadn’t set out to befriend him. She hadn’t expected she would marry him. Most of all, she never, ever intended to fall in love with him.

No, she wasn’t in love. She couldn’t be in love with a lie. So why was her heart burning now?

“There is always an explanation,” Charlie told her. “For everything that happens. There is always a reason that things turn out the way they do.”

He didn’t say more, didn’t rush to deny the things that Chet had told her. He didn’t even ask her what those things were. He must have already known, known because they were true.

Still, her tender heart held on to hope. She relaxed in his grip, gazing up at him, longing softening her features. “What explanation? Please, tell me. Please, Charlie.”

She held her breath, waiting for him to brush the whole nightmare away with a few words and a laugh, and to kiss her, once again the man she had let herself come to care for. A cool breeze ruffled the air between them, sending tendrils of her blond hair fluttering. If he could just come up with some sort of answer, banish the suspicions Chet had raised, she would fall into his arms and hold onto him forever. If he would just tell her he was an honest man, this was all a misunderstanding, then they could continue the dance they had begun weeks ago.

Charlie rested his hand against the side of her face. “I’m not the man you want me to be,” he said, simple, heartbreaking. “I am the man that I am, sins and all. I may have been a thief and a scoundrel in my past, but I am not that man now.”

The lump in Olivia’s throat tightened. Her breath came in shallow gasps. She pushed away, heartbroken. “So you admit that you are a thief?”

“I admit that I was a thief,” Charlie answered. He sent a nervous glance to Pete Evans and the others watching. “That life is behind me.”

Once again, Olivia clenched her fists at her sides. “So tell me, then. Explain to me how you got…” Even now, she couldn’t betray Charlie’s secret, even if his old friend had just revealed the origins of that secret. “Explain where your wealth came from.”

Charlie went still, staring at her, face stoic. His gaze darted over her shoulder to Chet. “I’m a gambler,” he said, then looked to Olivia once more. “I took a chance, placed my bet, and I won.”

It wasn’t the answer Olivia was looking for. Heaving a breath, she shook her head. “You’re lying to me, I know it. I won’t be married to a liar and a fraud.”

She turned and began to march away. Estelle followed her.

“Where are you going?” Charlie stopped her with words, but without touching her this time.

“I’m taking my things and going back to the Hamiltons’ wagon,” she said, turning to walk backwards for a few steps. “I never should have married you in the first place. If I could go back and undo it, I would.”

“Olivia,” Charlie began, but she wouldn’t let him continue.

Instead, she turned to face forward once more and broke into a jog, fleeing from the greatest joy and most bitter disappointment she’d ever known. At last, her tears broke with a mournful sob.

If only she could go back and stop this madness from ever happening….

 

Intrigued? Come back tomorrow for the second half of chapter one, and for links to buy Trail of Aces on Amazon for 99 cents for a few days only!

Excerpt Wednesday – Trail of Aces, a First Look

Nov 04, 2015

It’s Excerpt Wednesday! And you know what that means? Time for a look at my next release. In this case, the next release is book 8 in my Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Aces. Trail of Aces is Olivia and Charlie’s story. We already know something fishy happened early on the trail journey that led to them suddenly getting married from reading Trail of Redemption and Trail of Passion. Now we get to find out what that was!

TrailofAces_3D

“I’m heading west to become a teacher at a school that truly needs me,” Olivia answered, focused more on her cards than the conversation. She didn’t really care to remember her other reasons for fleeing home anyhow. She had two queens, and if she drew the right cards on the next play, she could have an impressive hand.

“And you’re going by yourself? No young men following you in search of your hand?”

She peeked up over the top of her cards with a look intended to set him down. Instead, it made Charlie chuckle, the spark in his eyes bright enough to light the heavens.

“I’m dedicated to teaching,” she said.

Charlie shrugged. “Couldn’t you teach as a married woman?”

“It simply isn’t done. Two cards, please.”

“Fair enough.” Charlie dealt two cards from the top of the deck.

Olivia bit her lip in disappointment. A four and a nine. Not particularly useful. She sorted them into place, then glanced up at Charlie. He was watching her with that tricky fondness of his.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

He shook his head, smile wide. “Just admiring the view. And your prowess with cards.”

Was he joking? Worse still, could he be serious?

Of course not.

“You’re trying to break my concentration,” she scolded him, sitting straighter. “My friend, Nancy, used to do the same when she had a poor hand.”

“Did she?”

“Yes. She always assumed that if she could convince me not to pay attention, she could bluff her way into a win.”

His brows flickered up with something between surprise and delight. “You know about bluffing, then?”

“Of course. I have played cards before, Mr. Garrett.”

“Charlie.” Now he was laughing. He slid a nickel into the pot to match hers. “I call.”

With a smile that was more confident than she really felt with her cards, she tipped her hand. “A pair of queens.”

“Impressive.” Charlie showed his cards, a pair of nines. “You win.”

Delighted, Olivia handed her cards back to him and raked her winnings closer. Charlie continued to stare at her, expression unreadable. His eyes narrowed, giving him an even more rakish look. More rakish and more attractive, but she wasn’t about to admit she was attracted to a gambler.

Charlie gathered the cards and began to shuffle them with such speed and dexterity that it send a tingle down Olivia’s spine. No one back home in Fairfield was even remotely like Charlie. She wondered what her mother and half the ladies in town would have said if Charlie had been the one pursuing her instead of Silas. Likely they would have fanned themselves in shock and begged her to go west to teach instead of accepting his attention. Olivia rather liked that idea. It made Charlie even handsomer.

“One more hand and then we’ll call it a day,” Charlie spoke into her thoughts, dealing the cards.

Quick as lightning, five cards skittered across the table to her. She waited until they were all dealt, then picked them up. As soon as she did, she had to hold in a gasp of excitement. One, two, three aces. Just like that. She pressed her lips together to keep herself from showing her luck, sliding a nickel into the pot as her ante. Charlie did the same, whistling as he sorted his cards.

“Any bets?” he asked.

Olivia hesitated, then slid two quarters into the center of the table. “Fifty cents.”

Charlie’s whistled song slipped into one long note. “Well I’ll be.” He matched her fifty cents with fifty of his own. “How many cards, madam?”

Something about his teasing formality, the respect with which he addressed her, tickled Olivia. “Two, please,” she answered with matching formality.

With a nod, Charlie dealt two more cards to her, then three to himself. Olivia nearly choked when she picked up the cards. Another ace and the queen of hearts. She had four aces. Her skin prickled with excitement.

“Well now, would you care to open the bet?” Charlie asked, as calm and smooth as if they were enjoying a quiet afternoon with nothing out of the ordinary.

Of course, from his point of view, nothing was out of the ordinary.

Olivia checked her coins, counting them up as fast as she could. Holding her cards close to her chest with one hand, she pushed the entire contents of her coin collection into the center of the table. “Whatever amount this is, this is what I bet.”

“Ah.” Charlie nodded. “You’re going all in.”

“Is that what it’s called?”

“It most certainly is.” His eyes flashed like balls of lightning.

“Then that’s what I’m doing. Does that mean I win?” She rushed to count his coins. “I have more money than you do, after all.”

“Not so fast.” Charlie shook a finger at her. He reached into his pocket and drew out another handful of coins, adding them to the pile he already had on the table. “I see your fifteen dollars and ninety-five cents and raise you another six dollars.”

Olivia’s jaw dropped. “That isn’t fair.” Not that much else in her life thus far had been any more fair. “You can’t bring more money to the table after bets have already been placed.”

“Indeed, I can,” Charlie answered with a shrug. “It’s done all the time.”

Olivia humphed, not sure if she believed him. She was ready to throw her cards down when Charlie said, “You could always do the same, you know.”

“Bring in more money?”

He nodded. His mischievous grin was as sharp as ever.

“I don’t have six dollars.”

“Hmm.” He tapped a finger to his lips. Something about the gesture, about the way he drew attention to those lips, sent a shiver down Olivia’s back. She wondered what it would be like to touch those lips, what it would be like if those lips touched hers. “You could always wager something else.”

It took her a few seconds to shake herself out of her staring. “Something else?” Whatever it was, it would be worth it. Her hand was unbeatable.

“Absolutely.” He leaned closer to her. “I’ll tell you what. Do you think you’re going to win?”

“I know I’m going to win,” she replied without hesitation.

His grin grew downright sly. “They why don’t you bet the most precious thing you have.”

Olivia sat back in her chair. She ran through the inventory of everything she’d brought from Ohio. She didn’t have much—her clothes, a few books, the necklace her mother had given her. The necklace was the most valuable thing she had, but she would rather die than part with it. It was the only memento she had of her mother, troublesome though she was.

“How about your hand in marriage?”

Charlie’s suggestion was so quick and made with such a casual shrug that Olivia almost didn’t hear him. Once she did, she blinked and shook her head as though she had water in her ears. “My what?”

“Your hand in marriage,” Charlie repeated as if he heard such things all the time.

“Meaning that if I lose, I’ll marry you?”

“Now you’re catching on.”

She could see that he was laughing at her, but with four aces in her hand, it was hard to care. He would be the one who looked like a fool in the end.

She sat closer, leaning into the table. “And if I win, even though I’m playing with your money, you’ll let me keep it all?” The total in the pot was almost forty dollars. That much money would go far to help her set up a new life at the end of the trail.

Charlie straightened, putting a hand over his heart. “As a gentleman of honor, I swear that I will. It would be worth the price to play with such a lovely companion.”

Olivia’s heart stood still. She didn’t dare to breath. Nearly forty dollars against a promise of marriage—a promise she would never have to keep, not with four aces. Fortune was smiling on her that day. Her life was made.

“You have a deal, Mr. Garrett.” She smiled, stretching out a hand to shake his.

“Charlie,” Charlie insisted, catching her hand and gripping it firmly. He had large, warm hands with long, graceful fingers.

“I hope you can afford to lose forty dollars, Charlie,” she said, fanning out her cards before him with a smile so broad she nearly giggled. “Four aces.”

“And a queen of hearts,” Charlie added, looking pleased as punch.

Olivia clasped her hands together in her lap, grinning from ear to ear, ready to take her winnings. Then Charlie spread his cards out on the table. His grin was so satisfied it was downright wicked. And with good reason. All five of his cards were spades—king, queen, jack, ten, and nine.

Only a few hands beat four aces. A straight flush was one of them.

Olivia had lost.

 

Uh oh. That’s how it happened, but what happens next? Can a marriage that starts as a trick ever last? Find out on November 10th when Trail of Aces releases! Be sure to sign up for my newsletter to be notified when this and other releases happen….

Excerpt Wednesday – Trail of Passion – First Impressions

Aug 26, 2015

It’s Excerpt Wednesday! Yep, I may have been terrible at maintaining my blog this summer (but I’ve just been doing so much traveling!), but at least I’m able to keep up with excerpts from upcoming works. Here’s the continuation of the scene I posted last week. Gideon and Lucy finally meet!

TrailofPassion_3D

As he set the last of his crates in order, took out the modified watch he’d constructed to keep track of mileage traveled, and closed the tailgate of the wagon, a bubbly, female voice caught his attention.

 

“Hurry along. 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.”

 
Gideon perked up in spite of himself, searching for the source of the voice. When his gaze fell on a spry wisp of a woman—her auburn hair caught up under a fashionable hat and her green dress a bit too sophisticated for the trail—his heart bounced down to his gut and back.
 

“Yes, Miss Lucy,” one of the wagon train’s crew said as he pushed a trunk into the back of the woman’s wagon.

 

“I can’t wait to get home,” the woman, Lucy, went on. “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,” the crew member sighed.

 

“It’s still dangerous, at least a little bit,” Lucy continued, following the assistant when he finished with her things and tried to move on. They both came closer to where Gideon stood. “I love danger. It makes me feel all shivery inside, like, like….” She shuddered, cheeks flaring with color, and lowered her eyes with a mischievous grin. “Well, never mind what like.”

 

A rush of unwelcome heat flooded Gideon. Lucy was close enough for him to see the flash in her eyes—a scintillating contrast to her otherwise sweet, virtuous face. One lingering look and he had a hard time believing that she was anything other than innocent, in spite of her provocative speech. His heart hammered… and his stomach pinched with guilt.

 

“The Indians are still there, after all,” Lucy went on as the crew member tried to get away. “They’re dangerous. 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.”

 

It wasn’t until Lucy’s gaze zipped across him, stopped, and focused on him that Gideon realized he was staring. Not only that, his mouth had dropped open. Worse, he couldn’t look away. Miss Lucy was beautiful, her delicate features accented by the light of adventure in her eyes. Her auburn hair caught the sunlight and absorbed it, giving her a warm, excited glow. And when she smiled, well, Gideon was as aware as the next man that some chemical reactions went far beyond a laboratory.

 

A heartbeat later, sense—and shame—caught up with him. He closed his mouth, swallowed, and focused on his watch, adjusting the settings. That didn’t stop Lucy from approaching him.

 

“Do you think we’ll encounter dangers on the trail?” she asked, skipping nearer with a lightness that spoke of both dexterity and enthusiasm. “I’m certain there are other things besides Indians and wild animals that we should watch out for. My father is always saying that you never know what you’ll find under a rock or around a crook in the creek.” She laughed suddenly, and Gideon’s eyes snapped up to her, round and wary. “I like the way Papa says that. ‘Crook in the creek.’ It has quite a ring to it, don’t you think, Mr.?”

 

It took Gideon a moment after she stopped speaking to realize she wanted a response. A cold sweat broke out down his back. Aside from the fact that he didn’t deserve to make Miss Lucy’s acquaintance, he’d never had much luck speaking to women before. They weren’t interested in the things he held dear, and since he didn’t have that boldness that other men possessed….

 

He cleared his throat and stood straighter, forcing himself to focus. “Faraday.” He tucked his watch into his trouser pocket and held out a hand. “Dr. Gideon Faraday.”

 

When Lucy blinked and stared at his hand, Gideon cursed himself. It was the wrong way for a man to introduce himself to a woman, especially one who appeared to be from a finer class than most. He should have bowed and possibly kissed her hand. He should have warned her to stay away from him. He should have—

 

She took Gideon’s hand, squeezing it as she shook. Her beautiful, green eyes sparkled as she grinned.

 

“I approve of men who shake women’s hands,” she said. “It shows a real sense of equality. I can’t abide it when a man snakes his fingers under mine and tries to kiss my knuckles. Kissing knuckles. Can you imagine? Other than the fact that that kind of greeting happens when you first meet someone, who wants their knuckles kissed? I can think of much nicer places to be kissed.”

 

Gideon choked at her words. His collar—and trousers—were suddenly too tight. He would have pulled away, but Lucy still had his hand trapped in hers.

 

“Oh,” she gasped, eyes going round. “That doesn’t sound at all proper, does it.” She laughed, pressing her free hand to her chest. “How scandalous of me. But then, I come from a line of scandalous women. You should meet my Aunt Virginia. She would shock the life out of you, I’m sure. She carries a pistol at all times and rides horses like a man. Of course, I can ride horses like a man too.” She winked.

 

Gideon’s heart slipped that much further out of his ability to control it. If he had a shred of decency left, he would turn and run and spare Lucy the torment of knowing him.

 

“I should probably let go of your hand now,” she went on. “And, oh! I haven’t even told you my name yet. Here I’ve gone on, talking about danger and Aunt Virginia and horses, and I haven’t even told you my name. Silly. Typical. It’s Lucy Haskell, by the way. Miss Lucy Haskell. My father is Howard Haskell or Wyoming. I’m heading west to go home, which, I suppose, makes me different from just about everyone else on this wagon train.”

 

At last, Lucy let his hand go. It was a great loss. As great a loss as his loss for words in the face of the avalanche that was Miss Lucy Haskell.

 

“Move on out, folks,” Pete’s cry sounded over top of the din of wagons and people around them. “The journey to your new life starts now.”

 

Gideon would have glanced around to see what was going on and if he needed to take any action, but his eyes were locked on Lucy’s smiling face. A blind man could see that she had energy and drive. He may have spent his whole life studying the Laws of Nature, but a whole different law was at work here, one of attraction.

 

“Miss Lucy,” Pete called from several yards behind him. “Your wagon isn’t going to drive itself.”

 

“Oh. I’d better go.” Before Gideon could get out another word, Lucy picked up her skirts and scurried back toward her wagon. She glanced over her shoulder at him as she went, though, the green ribbons on her hat fluttering in the breeze.

 

Gideon blinked. Lucy Haskell was a whirlwind, and it would take him at least a few minutes to digest what had just passed between them.

 

As he turned toward his wagon and the oxen that were hitched to draw it, his eyes stayed glued to Lucy. One of Pete’s crew members met her at the front of her wagon and handed her a goad, demonstrating how to use it. Lucy nodded and smiled at the man, took the goad, and steered her oxen into place like an expert as soon as she was given the go ahead.

 

Like a magnet drawn to iron, and against his better judgment, Gideon’s mind shifted into action. He retrieved the goad resting on the seat of his wagon and hurried to bring his oxen around and into place as close to Lucy’s wagon as he could manage. He wasn’t fast enough. One other wagon managed to slip into place in the long line that was forming and stretching out toward the western horizon.

 

It took Gideon a moment to see that the man driving that wagon only had one leg. The realization caused him to frown. The man was wearing a Union soldier’s uniform and propelling himself forward on crutches, but why would anyone choose to walk the Oregon Trail with only one leg?

 

As the wagon train pulled away from Independence and out into the vast prairie, Gideon’s mind was filled with all sorts of calculations. He worried about the chemicals in his wagon and reorganized them in his mind for maximum safety. He watched the way the soldier in front of him walked and calculated what it would take to construct a wooden leg to make the man’s journey easier. But above all, he mulled over the problem of whether he dared to get closer to Miss Lucy Haskell or if he would be even more of a villain than he already was for saddling her with someone like him.

 
 

And guess what? You can preorder Trail of Passion now at iBooks, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble!

 
 

Excerpt Wednesday – Trail of Passion – A First Look

Aug 19, 2015

It’s Wednesday! I’m back from the Authors After Dark conference in Atlanta and doing my best to get back on track with writing, revising, and, of course, posting here. What better way to get back into the swing of things than with a sneak peek at what’s coming up next? Here’s a sneak peek at Trail of Passion, Hot on the Trail, Book 7, coming September 7th….

TrailofPassion_3D

Independence, MO – 1865

Gideon Faraday was unlike the other travelers in the wagon train that was busy forming up around him. He was a scientist, an educated man. He was overdressed in his gray wool trousers and fine vest. At least he’d taken off his jacket so that he could prepare his wagon in his shirtsleeves. He still didn’t blend in with everyone else. Instead of furniture and cooking utensils, his wagon was stacked with small, uniform crates, each packed with glass vials and jars containing chemicals. A hand-cranked generator rested at the front of the wagon bed, near the driver’s seat. He was alone—unmarried and without family. But none of those were the true reasons Gideon wasn’t like any of his fellow pioneers.

Gideon Faraday was a murderer.

“All right, folks. Pack it up so we can move it out,” Pete Evans, the trail boss who would lead them all to Oregon, hollered as he moved between the wagons.

Gideon doubled his efforts to stash his supplies and ongoing experiments in his wagon. It was easy to push and shuffle the crates without thinking about them, but the small, fat satchel that rested on the edge of his tailgate was another story. There simply wasn’t any place safe enough for it, and there was no way to stop its contents from being at the forefront of his thoughts. He picked it up, shifted to the other side of the open wagon bed, reached to put it down, then reconsidered. Light as it was, the satchel was like lead in his hands. With a sigh, he put it back where it had been and pushed a hand through his hair, acid eating at his stomach.

He tried to avoid Pete’s eyes as he walked past, but already Gideon had learned that few things and fewer people escaped Pete’s notice.

“Everything okay here, Dr. Faraday?” Pete asked, strolling to a stop beside the tailgate of Gideon’s wagon.

“Okay,” Gideon repeated. It was enough truth for now. He shifted a crate, darting a quick glance Pete’s way. “I’m a little concerned about bumps and rattling, but the graduate assistants at Princeton did a fine job of securing the glass, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Pete eyed the contents of Gideon’s wagon and rubbed a hand over his face. “You sure none of that is dangerous?”

Gideon shrugged, still reluctant to meet Pete’s eyes. “It can be if tampered with. As long as the chemicals remain separate and in their containers, everything should be fine.”

“Should be?” Pete crossed his arms, looking anything but confident.

Gideon attempted a smile. “The only chemical in my inventory that I plan on using at any point on the journey is chlorine, and only if it becomes absolutely necessary.”

“Chlorine?” Pete repeated.

“Yes.” Gideon nodded, the familiar urge to explain the wonders of science nipping at him. “Chemists have been exploring its use in water purification for decades. It has been surprisingly effective at reducing waterborne disease in highly populated areas, though we’re still not sure why. My plan is to introduce its use out west in the hopes that thousands of families can be spared the troubles of unclean water sources, particularly in newer cities where sanitation is a challenge. I’ve been experimenting with it for years. In fact, part of my graduate work at Princeton was developing….”

He let his words trail away as the memory of what his work had actually produced seized him. How could such good intentions have gone so bad so quickly? Lives lost, science turned on its head, and for what? The only choice he had was to go west, to run away from it all, from the lives he’d taken.

“Dr. Faraday?” Pete shook him out of his thoughts. “Everything all right?”

Gideon cleared his throat, turned toward his wagon, and continued working, avoiding Pete’s concerned glance. “Yes, I’m just distracted thinking about the journey. I’ve never been much further west than Pittsburgh.”

Pete’s expression cleared to a knowing smile. “It’s a big, wide world out there, and we’re going to walk clear across it.” He slapped Gideon on the back—causing Gideon to jump half out of his skin.

The motion also caused Gideon to knock the leather satchel off of the tailgate. It dropped to the ground and flipped open. Stacks of crisp dollar bills spilled onto the grass.

Pete whistled and pushed his hat back as Gideon dove to scrape the cash back together and into the satchel. “That’s quite a haul you’ve got there.”

“Yes.” Gideon cleared his throat, face burning, shoving bills and dirt into the satchel, closing it, and standing. “Payment for a… a job.”

“What kind of job, a bank robbery?” Pete snorted.

Gideon’s eyes flew wide and he choked as he answered, “No, no, nothing like that. Scientific work.” A bank robbery would have been a thousand times less sinful.

“Well.” Pete slapped his back once more. “Looks like science pays better than leading wagons trains.”

“It can,” Gideon answered, though as he tucked the satchel of money between two stacks of crates, he doubted if it should.

“You watch out for that.” Pete nodded to the back of Gideon’s wagon, then moved on. “Load it up, folks. We’re leaving in just a few minutes.”

As soon as Pete had gone, Gideon let out a breath and slumped against the back of his wagon. A fine sweat had broken out on his brow. He reached into the pocket of his trousers and pulled out a handkerchief to mop it up. That had been close. Too close. It was one thing to get excited about the things he loved, about the miracles of chemistry and the good it could do for mankind. It was an entirely different thing to slip up and reveal what he’d done, the stain on his soul. The whole point of this journey was to forget those things, to leave the horrors of his past behind him, and to do some good in the world to make up for it. He couldn’t ruin that with a few careless words. The less he said to his fellow travelers the better.

 

Trail of Passion is coming September 7th! Be sure to sign up for my newsletter to be alerted as soon as it comes out….