Tag Archives: sexy times

Writing Spicy and Sweet

Sep 20, 2016

sweet-spicyA lot of people who have read my Brides of Paradise Ranch series have been intrigued by the fact that I’ve been doing both a sweet and a spicy version of each book. People love the idea of being able to choose which heat-level they’d like to read, but I’m often asked “How do you do that? How do you write two versions?” 

The first and most important part of the answer to that question is that I start out knowing that I’m going to be writing two versions all the way in the conceptualization phase.  

But let me back up a little bit further to answer the question of why I started doing this in the first place.  

I generally write spicy. I like to write spicy. I like to read spicy. Not erotica, mind you, but sizzling. When I first started reading romance novels all those years ago, I read spicy pirate romance novels. That level of spice just seems natural to me. But as I started writing historical westerns (and I never intended to write historical westerns when I started out, it happened by accident—but that’s a whole other blog post), I came to see that a lot of readers preferred the sweet stuff. And I’ll confess, I looked at the success of my sweet historical western-writing friends and thought, “Well, I’m trying to make a living off of this, and I’ve got to pay the bills somehow.” 

So I decided to give sweet a try…without sacrificing the spice. Because anyone who knows me knows that the spicy side is a huge part of who I am. =D 

Back to how I do it… HisHeartbrokenBride_Libby

Like I said, I know going into a spicy/sweet novel that it’s going to have two versions. I thought about going back and rewriting some of my older books in sweet versions, but it didn’t take long to realize that it wouldn’t work. In so many of those books, major elements of the plot and the characters’ journeys center around what happens in the bedroom. It’s impossible to take that out without changing the focus of the plot entirely. 

So keeping that in mind, when I set out to write books with both sweet and spicy versions, I knew I had to include the spice in such a way that it wasn’t the pivot point of the plot. The major thrust of the action (no pun intended) had to focus around something that could still be told without following the characters into the bedroom. In other words, the tension of the plot needed to be something other than “will they or won’t they.” 

I think that plotting this way has actually made me a better writer. In the past, I’ve always considered external plots to be the weak point in my writing. Well, here I was writing stories that needed to depend on external plot rather than just the relationship between the hero and heroine. At the same time, that relationship has to play a major role in the story. After all, the spicy version wouldn’t work if the schmexy scenes felt tacked on or superfluous. 

That leaves me with a complex dilemma for each book. How do I write one version in which sensual scenes play a major part in character development without the entire plot hanging on them? And how can I remove those scenes and still maintain an intimacy between the characters while keeping the story sweet? 

HisTemptingBride_Miriam_2coversI think the answer lies in my process of writing. When I draft each of the Paradise Ranch books, I draft the spicy version. The first draft is spicy. Actually, the second and third drafts are too. Once I have everything just the way I want it, I send it off to my editor. And then I go back and start working on the sweet version while she works on the spicy one. 

The sweet version is all about subtracting and adding. I go through and take out everything non-sweet. Gone are the schmexy scenes, gone are any swear words or even references to alcohol. I have a kind of silly list of words that I do a search for when I’m writing that sweet version. But of course, most of the time if you take something out, you leave holes. That’s when I go back through and add many more Christian references and rewrite any sensual scenes to be emotionally powerful, fully-clothed, upright scenes. 

This is another area where preplanning is key. When I’m writing the schmexy scenes in the first draft, I always have a point where the action will veer off into the sweet scene in later drafts. I build that jumping off point into the draft to save myself the work of rewriting tons and tons of words later. I keep both versions in mind even as I’m spicing it up. 

Once the spicy draft comes back from my editor, I go through and make all the changes she suggests in both versions. After that, they go off to various proof-readers and beta-readers I have, depending on which draft they prefer. Once those come back, I make final changes and corrections, and voila! Two versions. 

I’ve had a lot of positive response from readers about the fact that two versions are available, even though they prefer one or the other. And I also get a lot of questions about whether I will be going back and writing sweet versions of my older books. The answer to that is no, it would be way too much work, and I’d rather focus on writing new books.  

HisBewilderingBride_Wendy_2coversThe second question I get is “Will you be doing sweet and spicy versions of new books/series?” That’s a much harder question to answer. Harder not because I have to think about my answer, but I’m afraid my answer will disappoint people. Because the answer is no. No, this series has taught me that I really do prefer writing spicy. It comes more naturally to me, and so I’ll be sticking with just the spicy in all new series. BUT, I’m going to continue to write both sweet and spicy versions of the Paradise Ranch series, and that has many, many, MANY more books to come! 

I want to add one final note before ending, though, based on a few private comments I’ve had from readers. I do not think sex is dirty. That’s why I will never refer to a sweet novel as “clean.” I take offense to that term. I don’t think sex is shocking or scandalous or evil, and especially not dirty. It’s a natural part of human relationships and intimacy. I don’t think it should be treated as an unmentionable topic, because I believe that that way lies dysfunction and fear. So all those 1-star reviews that say “This book has too much sex in it?” Those are like 6-star reviews to me! For those who like to leave those reviews, just know that those kinds of reviews sell more books than the best of the best 5-star reviews.

Check out all of the books in The Brides of Paradise Ranch series on my “Other Works by Merry Farmer” page!

Weekend Excerpt – Drifter’s Darling

Sep 16, 2016

It’s almost the weekend, folks, and you know what that means. It means it’s time to take a sneak peek at something up and coming! And I know you’re eager to get a little taste of the next Culpepper Cowboys book, Drifter’s Darling. So here you go!

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“Here you go, Raspberry Rush.” Denise Bonneville pulled a tube of lipstick from its display in the cosmetics aisle of Culpepper’s one and only convenience store and handed it to Elvie’s newly-minted sister-in-law, Nancy, Doc’s wife. “This one will match your complexion much better than the shade I saw you wearing the other day.”

Nancy took the lipstick with a dubious expression. “I’m not used to wearing make-up in the first place.” She rolled the tube in her fingers, reading the ingredients, of all things, on the back.

Denise snorted and brushed away Nancy’s comment. “Honey, I’ll help you out all you want.”

“You will?” Nancy’s eyebrows inched up.

“Sure I will. I’ll do your colors too. Oh! Then maybe we can go on a big shopping trip to Cheyenne or something!”

“You planning to do my colors too?” Elvie asked. Her smile reached all the way down to her gut. She hadn’t had a fun group of girl friends since high school.

“I’d love to.” Denise brightened. “Although you’ll be easy to beautify. You’re so pretty already.”

Elvie blushed. The last thing she ever felt was pretty. Competent, yes. Powerful, occasionally. But pretty just wasn’t something she’d ever cared about.

“Thanks,” she managed at last. “I credit whatever prettiness I have to the O’Donnell genes.”

“You’ve sure got a lot of them,” Denise grinned, that look coming into her eyes that all women wore when talking about her brothers. “I had such a crush on Doc all these years. Not that I do now,” she rushed to add for Nancy’s sake, holding up her hands to prove her innocence. “He’s all yours now, and I don’t believe in chasing other women’s men.” She paused. “At least, not anymore.”

Denise’s lighthearted expression drooped. Elvie reached out to squeeze her arm. “We know you don’t.”

“Yeah, and you’re right about the O’Donnell genes.” Nancy deftly steered away from the painful subject. “I still can’t believe I managed to bag such a hot guy.”

“They’re all hot, Doc, Sly, and Arch.” Denise perked up a little, then burst into a full, naughty grin. “I don’t know how you ever manage to leave the bedroom.”

“Let me tell you,” Nancy drawled, arching on eyebrow. “There are days when we don’t.”

“Eew, eew!” Elvie clapped her hands to her ears, laughing. “That’s my brother you’re talking about.”

“Yes it is,” Nancy teased her, licking her lips. She held up her tube of lipstick. “And pretty soon, he’s going to have Raspberry Rush marks all over his body, including his—”

“No!” Elvie laughed even louder. “Who do you think you are, Chastity Culpepper?”

The three of them giggled like a pack of teenagers talking about the guys on the football team. It was the kind of thing that helped Elvie’s soul breathe. The few friends she’d made in Denver didn’t understand why she wanted to leave the vibrant city for Nowheresville, as they called it, but this was it. There was just something about the friendships a girl could make in a small town. These were the ladies she would call in the middle of the night if her crying baby was running a fever.

Not that she had a baby.

Not that she was likely to anytime soon.

“So what shade would you recommend for me?” She turned back to the shelf of cosmetics. “Ooh! I like this one. Cinnamon Sunset.”

She reached for the tube, but Denise pulled it out of her hands. “Not with your coloring. This one is too warm. You need a cooler shade.” She put the Cinnamon Sunset back and reached for a dark rose tube. “This one. Dusty Rose Dreams.”

“Ooh!” Elvie took the tube, and turned to the tiny mirror built into the display, holding the lipstick up to her face. “I like it. Now all I need is someone to make kissy marks all over.”

The other two laughed.

Only two weeks to wait until Drifter’s Darling is out!

Release Day! – Tycoon’s Tryst

Aug 19, 2016

It’s here! It’s release day for Tycoon’s Tryst, book 10 in the Culpepper Cowboys series! You can go grab your copy now at Amazon and for Kindle Unlimited. It’ll be available on all other platforms in about three months. But why not celebrate now by getting started on Chapter One?

TycoonsTryst_small

“I plan to make big changes around here,” Sly O’Donnell commented to his sister, Elvie, with a leonine grin. He turned his convertible to exit the highway and drove onto the scenic country road that would lead them into the center of their hometown, Culpepper, Wyoming.

The late-summer sun baked the ranchland all around them. In the distance, a herd of cattle chewed on wilted grass, and further beyond that, a collection of windmills turned lazily in the faint breeze. As hot as it was, Sly drove with the top down. The car was a leftover from his time in California and admittedly out of place in Wyoming. He figured he should get a truck soon, but for now he still liked the jazzy, silver sign of his success. Especially if it put that scrunched up look on Elvie’s face as her wild, long hair blew around as they drove. She was his sister. Irritating her was his job.

“You really think folks in Culpepper are going to let you walk in and make a bunch of changes?” She turned her pinched and doubtful look on him.

“Once they see what I’ve got in store, sure.” He nodded to emphasize his point. Elvie was only in a bad mood because her engagement had recently fizzled out. Not only was it his job to irritate her, it was his job as big brother to take her mind off her troubles. “They sure did like the Culpepper Stakes,” he argued.

Elvie’s grumpy look softened to a considering one. She shrugged, using both hands to smooth her flying hair back and hold it behind her head. “I’ll give you that much. Arch told me the race was fun, that he was glad to have come out here for it. And of course Doc loved it.”

“Because he won.” Sly grinned.

“No, stupid, because he got the girl.” Elvie let go an unladylike snort. “All you guys ever care about is winning.”

“That’s not true.”

“Ha! I know you, Sly. You’re going to argue with me until I admit that you won the argument.”

He put on his most charming smile for her—the smile that closed deals and had made him a fortune like no one else in Culpepper, Wyoming would be able to imagine.

“Not buying it.” Elvie shut him down.

Sly laughed out loud. He was so freakin’ happy that his sister was moving back to town—to help Doc expand his veterinary business—that it was borderline embarrassing. The O’Donnell family had always done better when they’d stuck together. He loved his siblings like some people loved money and power, and he would gladly have given up all of the latter to keep the former.

It would have been great to find a woman who felt the same way. Too bad there were none in his circles in California. He’d be lying if he said that wasn’t part of the reason he’d moved home to Culpepper. But as it turned out, women of any kind were as rare in Culpepper these days as polar bears were in Punta Cana.

He cleared his throat and pushed his thoughts back onto the track they’d been heading down. “I’m pretty sure that once I’ve gotten started, folks will love my plans for this beautiful old town.”

Elvie arched a brow and sent him a sideways look.

“First was the Culpepper Stakes,” he elaborated. “And you’d better believe we’ll be doing that next year and every year. Then there’s the rodeo next week.”

Elvie let out a breath, giving him a break. “I still don’t know how you managed to get the premier rodeo association to hold an event in Culpepper when the town doesn’t even have a proper facility for it.”

“Yet.” Sly raised a finger. “I’m working on that too. And it’s not a full competition, just an exhibition event.”

“Mmm hmm.” Elvie swiped at her hair again to gather up the ends that had escaped.

“But besides the rodeo, I’m bringing in all sorts of businesses. There’s this guy, Bob, who wants to start a restaurant, Bob’s Burger Barn. That’s definitely going to be a hit.”

“Bob’s Burger Barn?” Elvie grinned.

“Sure, why not? And after that, I want to find a way to bring a top-rated chef in to set up a five-star restaurant. Maybe someone who won one of those cooking competition shows.”

“There you go again with the competitions.” This time Elvie laughed.

Sly loved the sound. It reminded him of some of the better days of their childhood. Heaven only knew there’d been enough bad days, what with all the problems their parents had—with each other and with the bottle. Most of the time, it had been the four O’Donnell children against the world. It still was, as far as he was concerned, but in a far more positive way than those dark days.

“Why don’t you do something charitable?” Elvie asked. “I mean, you’ve got me and Doc working together at Doc’s clinic now. Maybe we could all band together and do something to protect wildlife.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Sly nodded, then rushed on with, “but I’ve got an even better one. A wedding chapel.”

“A what?” Elvie’s voice rose an octave.

“A wedding chapel. You know, like they have in Vegas. Wyoming is a no-wait state too. And everyone around here has taken to getting married at the drop of a hat, without long engagements. Heck, the Culpepper brothers all had marriages that were arranged by a matchmaker.”

“I heard about that. Not sure what to think.” Elvie’s face darkened, and she fell into chewing her lip, an old habit when she was upset.

Sly reached over and squeezed her arm. “Hey, it’s okay, sis. That guy was a jerk. I’m glad you didn’t marry him. Your time will come, though. I just know it. I mean, you’re the best woman in the world. How could it not?”

Elvie’s tight frown turned into a look that was partway between rolling her eyes at Sly’s praise and thanking him for it. If she continued to doubt herself, Sly would have to intervene. Not that she’d like that much.

“And what about you?” Elvie turned the tables on him. “Are you going to marry the first woman you see in town now?”

Sly laughed. “I don’t think marriage is for me.”

“No?”

He shrugged and used the excuse of keeping his eyes on the road to hide the disappointment he was sure was written on his face at the prospect. “I’ve never met a girl I cared about enough to marry.”

“That’s just sad.”

“Maybe.” It was sad. He’d dated more than his fair share of women, some of them rich and gorgeous, one or two that were a little famous. None of them had given him that feeling of home that he’d always longed for.

“Okay, so why not test the Culpepper waters, now that you’re back?” Elvie pressed him. “There’s got to be some awesome single women here.”

Sly laughed out loud. “Actually, there isn’t.”

“No single women?”

“Let me put it this way.” He shifted in his seat, sending her a quick, teasing look. “The second you step foot in town and put out your shingle, you’re going to have three dozen lonely cowboys and ranchers banging on your door with flowers and chocolates. The men of Culpepper are so desperate for women that they’re willing to import them.”

Elvie crossed her arms. “Well, after Andrew, I’m not ready to date yet. They’ll just have to accept that.” Sly was on the verge of attempting to say something comforting or asking about it—which he had no idea how to do right—when she went on with, “Although the chocolate and flowers wouldn’t be so bad.”

He laughed. “Give it time.”

She sighed and reached up to gather her hair again.

“Anyhow, I have plans to fix the girl situation in Culpepper.” He grinned from ear-to-ear over the plan he’d already started to put in place.

Elvie gave him a wary look. “Sly, what did you do?”

Her scolding reminded him of the ones they would get as kids when they’d crossed the line with their mischief. He put on the same pretend innocent face that he wore back then. “Nothing. I just got to the root of the problem.”

“What’s the root of the problem?”

“Korpanty Enterprises.” He broke into a wolfish smile.

“Oookaaaay.” Elvie drew out the word. “What’s that?”

Sly’s predatory grin grew. “Korpanty Enterprises is the company that held that underwear ad shoot a couple winters ago.”

“The one where all the women in Culpepper got snowed in with a bunch of underwear models for two weeks?” Elvie laughed as she spoke.

“That’s the one.” Sly slowed down and made another turn onto the road that would take them right into the center of town. The spattering of businesses that made up Culpepper proper rolled into view, the relatively new hotel rising up on the other side.

“Korpanty Enterprises is to blame for there not being enough women in Culpepper for all the men who live here,” he went on. “So I’m suing the company.”

“You’re what?”

“I filed the lawsuit last week.”

“What could you possibly sue them for? Theft of hearts? Breach of promise?”

“Willful negligence,” Sly answered triumphantly. “I’m making the case that Korpanty Enterprises was willfully negligent in failing to bring a suitable production staff for that photo shoot, and for employing locals without full disclosure of the dangers of the job.”

“Uh, the danger of meeting a smoking-hot guy and marrying them?”

“Exactly.”

Elvie shook her head as they slowed down and headed for Doc’s office. “You know how stupid that sounds, right?”

“Of course it’s stupid.” Sly chuckled. “Just stupid enough to gain some attention from the media.”

Elvie quirked an eyebrow, so he went on.

“It’s a frivolous lawsuit that I have no chance of winning. But it will gain attention—attention for Culpepper. Not only that, I plan to highlight some of the single, desirable men in town who are now without any prospects locally.”

“Why?”

“Because there are a lot of women out there in the world who would give their eye teeth to relocate to a town packed full of hot, single cowboys, that’s why. And they’ll bring their businesses and spending dollars with them. It will be the perfect boost to the economy and morale of Culpepper. It’ll make the guys happy too.”

“So you’re suing someone to get attention.”

Sly’s grin faltered. His little sister sure did have a way of raining on his parade.

“It’s a win-win situation,” he argued, pulling into a parking spot in front of Doc’s building. “I’m not going to win the lawsuit, so I won’t be hurting Korpanty Enterprises, not really. Just helping Culpepper.”

“You’re sure about that?”

“Of course I am. I’m—”

Whatever he was going to say faded. He turned his head, following a flash of sunlight on golden blonde hair as the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen rose from staring inside the hood of a car just outside of the Culpepper Diner. It was like an arrow hitting him in the heart.

 

Yep! You can keep reading by running over to Amazon to pick up your copy of Tycoon’s Tryst today!

Release Day! – His Remarkable Bride/Elspeth: The Remarkable Bride

Jun 24, 2016

It’s here! The sixth book in The Brides of Paradise Ranch series is here! The spicy version (and it got a little extra spicy this time) is His Remarkable Bride, and the sweet version (still as sweet as sugar candy) is Elspeth: The Remarkable Bride. And here’s how both versions start….

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Haskell, Wyoming – 1876

Everybody in Haskell, Wyoming knew that Athos Strong, the town’s stationmaster, widower, and father of eight children, needed a new bride. Everybody in Haskell had been encouraging him to petition Charlie Garrett, Virginia Piedmont, and Josephine Evans to send for a mail-order bride for him from Hurst Home—a harbor for women who were endangered or had been ill-used—in Nashville, Tennessee. Everybody clucked and shook their heads behind Athos’s back, worrying that his vast brood was getting out of hand without a mother to guide them, and that Athos’s sister, Piper, could only do so much to keep the children in line. But it wasn’t until after church on a breezy day in April that matters finally came to a head.

It was the first post-church, potluck lunch of the season to be held outside. Everything started out innocently enough. The spring air still had a nip in it, but the sun was out, the grass was beginning to turn green and reach for the sky again, and the men were talking baseball.

“The Haskell Hawks might have won the league last year,” Solomon Templesmith, the town’s banker, a black man of distinction, and one of the town’s wealthiest citizens observed, “But with all the babies you lot are having or are due to have, I can’t imagine you’ll have the time for adequate practice.”

“Not to mention the fact that one of our star outfielders up and moved into town,” Mason Montrose, the Hawks’ captain, grumbled.

“I’ll be playing for the Eastside Eagles this year,” Travis confirmed, slapping his brother’s back, then shifting to stand next to Solomon. “Although Wendy is due halfway through the season.”

Travis grinned from ear to ear as he looked out over the sunny churchyard to his wife, Wendy. Sure enough, Wendy’s middle rounded in a good-sized bump. A few months more, and she would bring her and Travis’s first child into the world. She wasn’t the only one. Wendy stood talking with Corva Haskell, wife of Franklin Haskell, son of the town’s founder, cradling her newborn, while Eden Chance was showing off her own brand-new baby. Libby Montrose rounded out the trio of new mothers, though her little girl was a few months older.

Athos Strong grinned along with the rest of the men, but a different kind of emotion rose up through his gut. It was warm and tender, but also hollow and lost. He glanced past the new mothers to his own children. All eight of them were lively and excitable. The younger ones were tearing around the churchyard with their friends—perhaps a little too close to where the adults stood talking or helping themselves to plates of food that had been set out for the potluck. The older ones were in mischievous spirits themselves, by the look of things. Sixteen-year-old Hubert was in a huddle with his buddies, Freddy Chance and Noah Kline, discussing something Noah held, with little Minnie Faraday looking in. Fourteen-year-old twins, Ivy and Heather, were loitering around the church’s front stairs with Muriel Chance, Henrietta Plover, and Penny Albee, most likely giggling about boys. Vernon was off in the tall grass with Petey and Matthew Simms. Which left Lael, twins Geneva and Millicent, and four-year-old Thomas, the youngest of the Strong brood, charging through the after-church gathering like a thunderstorm.

“We don’t have that problem on the Bonneville Bears.” Athos only barely registered Rex Bonneville’s comment as he watched the children playing. “I’ve been strict about letting my men associate with any ladies. Well, other than Bonnie’s girls. A man has to have some female attention.” He smirked at Bonnie Horner herself, who held Rex’s arm with resignation. She gave him a brittle smile in return.

“Your men will play ball again someday,” Solomon went on, speaking to Mason. “Take Athos here, for example. His kids are older. He could play easily. Right, Athos? Athos?”

“Hmm?” Athos snapped his thoughts away from his precious, lively, wild children and focused on the conversation.

Solomon, thumped him on the back. “I was saying that you should join the Eastside Eagles this year. We could use your strong arms to replace Charlie’s, now that he’s retiring.”

“You’re retiring from baseball?” Athos turned to Charlie Garrett, another of the town’s more successful businessman and owner of Hurst Home.

Charlie chuckled. “These old knees have had enough of running bases. It’s time a younger man with muscle replaced me.” He nodded to Athos.

Conscious that he looked a bit silly doing it, Athos glanced down at himself. True, working as the stationmaster, loading and unloading crates and shipments and luggage all day, every day had bulked him up, but perhaps there was a little too much extra bulk around his middle. And while he was at it, his clothes were shabbier than they should have been. The hem of his jacket was starting to fray. Perhaps Piper would have some time to fix— No, Piper barely had time to put up her hair in the mornings, let alone mend his clothes on top of the kids’.

Athos shook his head. “I wish I had time to play baseball, but the train schedule is full and I only have so many hands and hours in the day. I can barely get home for supper every night as it is. I couldn’t ask Piper to give up her few free hours just so I could play baseball now and then.”

“Yes, but do you have any free hours?” Charlie asked, studying Athos and rubbing his chin.

Athos laughed. “No, no I haven’t had free time for, oh, nearly ten years now. After the fourth was born, Natalie and I barely had time to say hello to each other, there was so much to do. And of course it’s four times busier now. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have Piper. The whole house would come crashing down.”

As if on cue, there was a loud rip, then a crash, and a trio of female screams. The men jerked and twisted, looking for the cause of the disturbance.

Across the yard, one corner of the tent covering the tables of food had come down. Underneath it was a pile of silk and lace, petticoats and tablecloths. And more than a few splattered plates of buttered peas, cherry cordial, and apple pie. The screams had come from the four women who had been knocked over and splashed with bright red and greasy green. They struggled to get up, dresses ruined, gloves stained, and faces smeared with the spoiled part of the feast.

It would have been an alarming curiosity to Athos…if it wasn’t Lael, Geneva, Millicent, and Thomas standing around the disaster with wide eyes and dirty hands.

“Oh, no.” Athos winced and rushed toward the scene, along with the men he’d been talking to, most notably Rex Bonneville. It was his daughters who had ended up as the victims of the accident.

“Papa! Papa!” one, or maybe two of them, screamed. It was hard to tell which young ladies were talking underneath all the frills of skirts and underthings, tablecloths and tent. “Help!”

Several men jumped forward to extract the Bonneville sisters from each other and from the remains of the table. Vivian Bonneville leapt into her father’s arms as soon as she was free, squashing half an apple pie between them. Melinda and Bebe Bonneville were helped to their feet—both in tears—and immediately set about picking remnants of peas and pie crust off of what were undoubtedly expensive dresses. Solomon Templesmith reached down to help the last sister, Honoria, to stand. Honoria had been at the bottom of the pile, and although she’d escaped most of the food, she looked decidedly flattened and unwell, and broke into a coughing fit.

“Are you going to be all right, Miss Honoria?” Solomon asked, his arms still half around her to help with her balance.

Honoria coughed and pressed a hand to her pale face, then nodded.

“Get your hands off my daughter,” Rex snapped.

“Rex,” Bonnie tried to both scold and soothe him.

Rex ignored her, grabbing Honoria’s arm and yanking her away. He caused her to lose her balance and almost stumble into the remaining mess on the grass. Rex didn’t notice. He was too busy snapping at Solomon. “Who do you think you are? Money doesn’t make you any less of a trained monkey.”

Solomon straightened his tailored suit, fixed his dark eyes on Rex, and held himself with more dignity than Athos could ever have mustered. But as soon as he opened his mouth to protest, he was cut off.

“It was terrible, Papa,” Vivian wailed. She shifted her stance to stand in such a way that the most people could hear her as she went on. “Those ragged little mongrels charged at us out of nowhere.” She thrust out her arm and pointed dramatically at Lael, Geneva, Millicent, and Thomas.

Athos gathered his kids into a tight group around him, resting his hands on Neva and Millie’s heads as if that could protect them. “I’m sure they didn’t mean anything by it, did you?”

“No, Papa,” they answered.

“We were being a train,” Lael said.

“A runaway train,” Geneva answered, eyes flashing with excitement. “The brave stationmaster was trying to save us by switching the tracks and preventing certain doom.”

A grin tickled Athos’s lips. Ever since they’d read the phrase ‘certain doom’ in a dime novel after supper the week before, Geneva had been using it in all of her games. “Is that so?”

“Yes, we—”

“Those children are a public menace,” Melinda yelped, cutting off Geneva’s explanation. “They should be locked in the town jail.”

“They should be hung, drawn, and quartered,” Bebe added.

“They should be sent off to darkest Africa,” Melinda went on.

“Yes, and fed nothing but gruel and roasted rats,” Bebe finished.

If they had hoped to frighten the Strong children, they were sorely disappointed. From Lael down to Thomas, they all laughed.

“Roasted rats! Roasted rats!” Little Thomas shouted.

“What’s going on here?” Piper came running to join the scene from the other side of the tent. She pulled up short when she saw the Bonneville sisters covered in food and stained with grass and cherry cordial. “Good heavens above.” Before she could stop herself, she burst into laughter, then slapped a hand over her mouth.

“Vagrants, the lot of you!” Vivian shouted. “No good, pitiful, filthy vagrants.”

“Now see here.” Athos stepped forward, intending to defend his children to the death if he had to.

His attempt was cut short by a cracking boom and a high-pitched whiz several yards beyond the tent. Several ladies screamed. A half-second later, there was a sharp fizzle, then the opposite corner of the church tent caught fire. Another rash of screaming followed as women and children dashed out from under the tent and Dr. Dean Meyers and Aiden Murphy grabbed several glasses of lemonade to throw on the canvas. The fire went out quickly, which shifted everyone’s focus to the cause of the sudden conflagration.

It wasn’t difficult to find the culprits. Hubert stood with a box of matches in one hand and a burnt-out stub in the other. At his feet was a stick—the kind fireworks were attached to in order to assure a straight launch. Freddy and Noah stood several feet back. All three boys wore startled expressions on their pale faces.

“Vagrants!” Vivian called, even louder. “The younger ones tried to murder me and my sisters, and the oldest tried to burn down the—EEK!”

Her tirade came to an abrupt halt as Vernon rushed into the crowd to see what was going on, a grass snake in each hand. It was the Bonneville sisters’ bad luck that he squeezed between Vivian and Melinda to get a good view of the fuss. Only, Vivian’s shriek shocked him just enough for him to simultaneously jump and let go of the snakes. One fell on the ground and slithered under Bebe’s skirts, but the other leapt right for Melinda’s bosom. It just so happened that with her bodice sticky with apple pie, the snake stuck to her for the split-second it took for her to clap a hand to her chest in fright. The snake used that split-second to wriggle against her hand and up through the row of buttons on the front of the dress, disappearing under the fabric.

The shriek that erupted from Melinda was loud enough to wake the dead. “Get it off me, get it off me!” She bolted from the crumpled side of the tent in hysterics, ripping at her bodice.

Two of Bonneville’s ranch hands chased after her and began helping relieve her of her bodice by tearing through it. It was only when the snake plopped to the ground and raced away that Melinda realized two rough men had divested her of part of her clothes. She let out an even more piercing scream and slapped the one closest to her with a resounding smack.

Bebe, meanwhile, had broken into a flat-out run, wailing in misery, “It’s in my petticoats! Help! Help!” as she took herself as far as possible from the spot of grass her snake had landed in.

“This is an outrage,” Rex Bonneville boomed. He advanced on Athos, fist raised.

Athos’s first and only reaction was to throw both arms wide to shield his children. “It was an accident.”

“Vivian is right,” Bonneville went on. “Those children are conniving, evil-minded, wretches.”

“They are not!”

“They’re no better than beggars in the street, and you, sir, are unfit to be a father to them.”

“Rex, calm down,” Bonnie hissed from the side. She was ignored.

All of the grit and energy Athos had saved up to defend his children deflated under Bonneville’s comment. As much as it hurt, the man might have had a point.

“My brother does the best he can,” Piper stepped in to defend him. “He’s a good father and a hard worker.”

“Ha!” Bonneville barked.

His exclamation was underscored by Vivian’s weeping and Melinda’s and Bebe’s continued shrieking as they fled the scene. Honoria—who had been standing by Solomon’s side, watching the scene with wary eyes—hesitated, then rushed after them.

“You’ll regret this,” Vivian shouted, pointing a cherry cordial-stained finger at Athos. “The whole pathetic lot of you will regret this! Tell them, Papa.” She didn’t wait for her father to speak. She lifted her ruined skirts and fled after her sisters.

“You will regret this,” Bonneville vowed in a far more menacing voice. He narrowed his eyes at Athos, taking one last threatening step toward him, then turned and stormed off, head held high.

 

Be sure to pick up your copy of either super spicy His Remarkable Bride or lovely, sweet Elspeth: The Remarkable Bride today!

His Remarkable Bride is coming soon to iBooks, B&N, and Kobo too! Elspeth: The Remarkable Bride is exclusively at Amazon and for Kindle Unlimited.

(Unless otherwise noted, links are for Amazon. B&N and Kobo links coming soon!)

 

 

Release Day! – Scotsman’s Siren

May 27, 2016

I know, I know, I’ve been falling way behind in the blog department lately. But my spring travels are over, and it’s time to get back to work on a regular schedule! And what better way to start than with the release of Scotsman’s Siren, out today (exclusively at Amazon…for now!) Here’s the first chapter to get you started!

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Chapter One

Angus MacFarlane owed everything to the Culpepper family. Seriously, everything. They’d given him a job, a home, and more affection than his own family could have drummed up if they had a kindness factory that manufactured respect, with a side of common decency, stacked next to all of the other factories in Glasgow. Angus was the last person anyone would expect to find on a ranch in western Wyoming. He was a Glaswegian, a city boy, definitely not one of those romance-novel-worthy Highlanders that the ladies seemed to love. Glasgow was industrial, not rural like Culpepper, and Angus had fled from the city, the country, and the continent as soon as he received his acceptance letter to study agriculture at the first American university that would give him a scholarship. He’d never looked back.

He didn’t look back now as he strode across the spring-wet ground that separated the stables and the working part of the Culpepper ranch from the houses. Linda’s house in particular. He was on a mission—a mission born out of longing so deep he couldn’t name the place it came from. And there was only one person who could help him.

His heart thumped with determination in his broad chest as he stepped up to Linda’s front door. He took a moment to wipe his boots on the doormat, run his fingers through his thick, ginger hair in an attempt to tame it, and to brush whatever dirt he could off of his lightweight summer work shirt before knocking on the door.

A few seconds later, Linda’s voice murmured something on the other side before she threw open the door. “Angus! You know you don’t have to knock. You’re welcome in my house any time.”

Angus smiled from ear-to-ear. “I wouldnae want to intrude.” He emphasized his accent just for Linda, and had ever since the day she confessed that she liked the way he talked. In reality, he’d been losing his Scottish brogue since the day he set foot on American soil.

Linda cuffed him on his arm and gestured for him to follow her inside. “You’re right on time. I just finished making some sweet tea. You like sweet tea, don’t you?” The spark of mischief that lit Linda’s eyes was unmistakable.

Angus grinned, feeling that same mischief himself. “Aye, I do.”

“Well then, come on in and plop your butt down.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

Angus and Linda rounded the corner into the kitchen, and Linda gestured for Angus to take a seat at the kitchen table.

“Actually, Linda—” It was still a challenge for him to call her by her first name instead of ‘Mrs. Culpepper’ the way his manners dictated. “—I’ve come to talk to you about a matter of some importance.” If Angus had a hat with him, he would have been twirling it nervously in his hands.

“Some importance?” Linda shooed Angus toward the table and went to grab glasses and a pitcher of sweet tea from the counter. “That sounds serious.”

“Well, it is. Probably more serious than I know.” He sat down, feeling, as usual, like he might smash the kitchen chair to kindling. He raked a hand through his hair, wishing it would settle down and lay flat. “I wanted to talk to you about women.”

“Oh?” Linda’s brow flew up. She returned to the table with sweet tea and a wide grin. She set the glass down and squeezed Angus’s shoulder before sitting across from him. “Talk to me, cutie.”

It was a term of endearment that his own mother never had and never would use with him, so Angus glowed. “I’ve been thinking about taking a wife.” He leaned his thick forearms on the table and put on his most serious face.

Linda burst into a smile. “That’s fantastic. You got your eye on a young woman in town?”

Angus winced. “No, no there’s not really time for dating with all the work that needs to be done these days.”

Linda studied him, nodding. “True. Those underwear models really did a number on Culpepper’s female population.”

“They sure did,” he agreed.

“So what’s your plan, then?” Linda leaned closer. “Do you want me to give Dr. Lachele a call for you?”

He scrunched his face and hummed. “I don’t know if it’s come to that yet. I was hoping you might know a fine young lady you could set me up with.”

“Me?” Linda sat straighter, pressing a hand to her chest.

“Aye, you.” Angus laughed. “I figure any girl who meets Linda Culpepper’s standards is good enough for me.”

Linda blushed and waved off his compliment. “Shucks, Angus. I can’t remember the last time anyone said anything that nice to me.”

“But it’s true,” Angus went on. “You’re a fine judge of character. If you say a woman is grand, then I’m sure she’s grand.”

“Thanks for putting so much trust in me.” Linda beamed.

“It’s well-deserved.” Angus nodded, then kept his head lowered, fighting the heat that came to his face. “And the fact is, well, I’m not the best with the ladies.”

“Psht, I find that hard to believe,” Linda said. “A handsome and sweet guy like you?”

The praise settled uneasily on Angus’s shoulders. “Oh, they like me well enough, but…well, I dunno. I’ve never been able to get anything to work out. At this point, I’d rather trust in someone else’s judgment.”

“I see.” Linda settled back in her chair, giving him a once-over. “And watching my boys get hitched through a matchmaker has turned you on to a whole new way to find a bride.”

“If you want to put it that way.”

She hummed and tapped a finger to her lips. “I’ve got an idea.”

“You do?” Angus sat straighter. He knew it’d been a good plan to come to Linda.

“You know that the quads have younger sisters, right?”

“Aye.” He nodded. “I’ve heard your boys talking about them.”

“Well, they’re coming out here in about a month. Joy has this idea that she wants Grace to marry our lawyer friend, Marcus Wells. That leaves Honor on her own.” She narrowed her eyes and studied Angus a bit more. “I think you would like Honor.”

“Honor.” He spoke the name aloud, liking the way it sounded. “What do you know about her?”

Linda shrugged. “Only that she’s a bit of a tomboy. She does woodworking and makes all the cradles for Faith’s doll business. Reading between the lines, I think she took the brunt of their parents’ scolding, but from what I can gather, that’s probably because she’s the most different of the girls.”

“I see.” Angus leaned back in his chair, rubbing the coarse stubble on his chin. “Does Honor have an email account?”

“One her parents don’t know about?” Linda added, guessing perfectly where his thoughts were going. “I’m sure Joy would know.”

“Could you find out for me?” Angus was beginning to feel more excited than he’d felt in years.

“Sure.” Linda grinned and reached across the table to pat his hand. “Hey, if everything works out between you and Honor and the two of you get hitched, you’ll be family for real.”

Something huge and warm exploded in Angus’s chest. He would have given just about anything to be a real part of the Culpepper family.

“I’ll email Honor and start talking to her right away.” He paused in the middle of getting up. “You don’t think she’d find me too forward, talking about marriage right off the bat?”

Linda chuckled. “If the quads can get married at the spur of the moment because of a matchmaker, and if Grace is thinking of marrying Marcus because Joy says she should, then I don’t see why Honor wouldn’t be open to marrying you after a few emails.”

That gave Angus hope. He finished standing. “We’ll see, then. But it sounds like Honor Quinlan and I might be just what the other needs.”

 

Be sure to pick up Scotsman’s Siren at Amazon today! Also available for Kindle Unlimited!