Tag Archives: the brides of paradise ranch

Status Update – Why Series End

Mar 01, 2017

In my writing career so far, I have written eight different series (and a few odds and ends). Of those series, I only have two “active” right now (The Brides of Paradise Ranch and Nerds of Paradise). Four of those series are definitely done (The Noble Hearts, Montana Romance, Hot on the Trail, and Culpepper Cowboys). And the other two (Second Chances and Grace’s Moon)? Ugh, that’s where my heart and my head get into serious debates.

But first things first….

Why does an author choose to end a series? If you’re a reader, it might be heartbreaking to say goodbye to your favorite characters and a world you’ve fallen in love with. The same is true for the author too, but sometimes things have to end. Like with my Noble Hearts series. That decision was easy, because I realized Medieval Romance wasn’t the way I wanted to go. Or with Montana Romance, I felt like I’d told all the stories I needed to tell in that world and wanted to move on to other things. Hot on the Trail was a slightly different story, because I just got burnt out of writing about the Oregon Trail. I mean, there are only so many stories you can tell about people headed west in wagons. But you’ll notice, I sort of just rolled that world into Paradise Ranch, so it doesn’t really end, it just shifts.

Incidentally, I’m thinking that later this year, I might spin-off Paradise Ranch into a 3-5 novella series about the girls that Bonnie has rescued, educated, and helped to find a new life. And thanks to Elspeth and Gunn, those lives are as servants in British households…which would be a great transition from my historical westerns to the British Victorian stories I really want to start writing. It’s all organic, and everything fits together!

But I digress. For me, the Culpepper Cowboys books ended because the well went completely dry for those books. I got to the point where I was just blank. I had no new ideas for the length, tone, and atmosphere of that world. But that sort of rolled into Nerds of Paradise, which are longer, deeper, more complex, and deal with more serious issues. So if that’s the case for those books, what about Second Chances, my contemporary series set in Maine?

This is where I start to cringe on an emotional level. Because I LOVE those Maine books. I love Maine! And I’m very proud of what is now a trilogy. I have people asking me if I’m going to write more in that series all the time. And I hate to say it, but the farther away I get from the last one of those that I published, the less likely I am to continue the series. Because the thing about writers is that their writing brains are not static. I am constantly coming up with new ideas, new worlds, and new characters. Which is a wonderful thing! But the consequence is that other things can be left behind because there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Also, when other series and types of books start to pick up in sales, it’s really hard to forego that income to write something that will need a bigger marketing push. We gotta eat!

And finally… Grace’s Moon. *epic sigh* So, so few people have read my Sci-Fi books or even know they exist. The thing is, I love that genre. I love the books that I’ve already published in that series, and I love the ones that are still floating around in my head. And I keep saying that someday I AM going to come back to that series and write more. Unlike Second Chances, I’m unwilling to say, willingly or grudgingly, that I’m done with Grace. Because I have generation after generation of those characters already planned out. In my mind, that world is epic! Someday I’ll get back to it. Someday!

Release Day – Opposites Attract

Jan 30, 2017

Guys, you have no idea how happy I am that Opposites Attract, the first book in my Nerds of Paradise series about contemporary Haskell, Wyoming is out! I’ve wanted to write this series for so, so long, and it’s finally here! I’m, like, literally jumping up and down! But make sure you get out there and purchase Opposites Attract for the low, low price of 99 cents TODAY, because as of tomorrow, it’s going up to its regular price of $3.99! And if you want to get started reading, here’s a chunk of Chapter One!

Casey Flint loved her family more than anything on earth, but there were times when she wanted to strangle them.

“So let me get this straight,” she said as she sat between her father, Roscoe, and her brother, Ted, in Roscoe’s truck as they drove into town. “You went ahead and actually sold off five acres of our ranch to some stranger?”

“He’s not some stranger,” Ted explained, an edge of impatience in his voice. Roscoe merely frowned at the icy road in front of them. “He’s one of the engineers from Paradise Space Flight.”

The explanation did nothing to soothe the sting of betrayal pricking at Casey’s already unsettled heart. “You sold off a part of our family ranch, a ranch that has belonged to the Flints since the late 1880s, to some dorky engineer who probably wears a pocket protector and Spock ears all the time?”

Ted huffed a laugh. “I think that guy you met at the grocery store last month wasn’t the typical Paradise Space Flight employee.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Casey couldn’t stop herself from grinning just a little bit at the memory. The man she’d run into was a hoot. Nerdy as the day was long, and as far as she was concerned, typical of the wave of new residents in Haskell. They’d been a simple, although unique, ranching town since the original Howard Haskell founded the place in the 1860s. But now, a fresh crop of engineers, mathematicians, and astrophysicists had shown up to knock the whole town off-balance.

No one more so than Casey. And her life was already off-balance enough now that her mom was gone.

“My point is—” she went on.

“Oh, you were making a point?” Ted teased her.

Casey frowned and elbowed him hard. “My point is,” she repeated, “that all these guys—”

“And girls,” Ted quickly added.

“—that Howie Haskell is hiring to build his spaceships—”

“Supply rockets and independent vehicles to launch commercial satellites,” Ted butted in once again.

“—are not the sort we’re used to in Haskell,” Casey finished in a growl.

“Now, Casey,” Roscoe said in his gruff but steady voice. “I didn’t raise you to be prejudiced against anyone for any reason.”

“I’m not being prejudiced,” Casey insisted. “I’m just saying that Haskell has a certain rhythm, a certain pace and feeling. We’re a town of cowboys and we always have been.”

“If we’re such a town of cowboys, why did you stop competing in the rodeo?”

Ted was teasing, but his question struck straight to her core, filling her with guilt and regret. “I grew out of it,” she lied, gut twisting. “That’s not the point. We’re a traditional town full of traditional people, and it should stay that way.”

“Actually, Haskell has always been on the cutting edge of social justice issues and inclusion of new and sometimes radical ideas,” Ted corrected her.

“Shut up, nerd.” Casey elbowed him again, even as her heart swelled with pride in her brother and their hometown.

“Ah ha!” Ted laughed. “So by your own admission, nerds have always been an integral part of this town. I mean, if you consider one of your closest family members to be a nerd….”

Casey blew out an exasperated breath. “Brothers,” she muttered, as if that explained it all. She shook her head and went on with her train of thought. “All I’m saying is that I don’t like all this change. Things are changing way too fast. Why can’t everything just stay the way it was? We were all happy the way things were. Life was simple and easy. The town was like one big family. Now….” She shrugged, feeling a shiver race down her spine. The ache in her heart that had been there since her mother’s final, painful days throbbed. She sighed. “I just don’t like the way things are going.”

Rather than cracking a joke, Ted glanced over her head at Roscoe. Roscoe glanced briefly back. They both wore looks of deep concern and sorrow.

“What?” Casey asked.

Neither of them answered right away.

What?” Casey pressed when the silence grew too awkward.

Ted cleared his throat. “Ah, sis? Are you sure you’re not confusing your feelings about Mom’s death with everything that’s going on in town?”

“No,” Casey answered right away. “And keep Mom out of this. She wouldn’t like all the changes around here either. She certainly wouldn’t approve of you ripping out a part of the ranch and feeding it to the wolves.”

“Princess, we’ve talked about this,” Roscoe said, his voice as calm as ever. “Ranching is hard work. The market is getting tougher and tougher out there. We’re a small operation, and we’ve reached the limit of our capabilities. Unless we get a cash infusion, our whole operation will collapse. If that happens, we’ll lose the ranch entirely, not just a piece of it. Scott Martin has offered us a generous price for those five acres.”

“Scott Martin,” Casey grumbled, even as the prickly, uncomfortable feeling that her father was right about everything he was saying twisted her insides. “You’re selling a piece of our heritage to a man I’ve never so much as laid eyes on?”

Roscoe nodded patiently. “You would have laid eyes on him if you’d been at the meeting with Ted and me last week.”

“Last week was the week before Christmas,” Casey explained. “I had a ton of shopping to do, not to mention dozens of cookies to bake and volunteering at the senior center.”

“I’m not laying any blame on you,” Roscoe assured her. “Just sayin’ it like it is. The price Mr. Martin was willing to pay ensures that the ranch will continue to operate for at least another five years. After that, we’ll see how the economy is doing and reevaluate our position.”

Admiration and despair mingled in Casey’s gut. Her dad was a man among men. He’d worked hard his entire life, keeping the ranch functioning at peak productivity in a rapidly-changing world. Of course, her mom had been right there by his side, shouldering as much of the load as he did. They’d all been hit hard by her cancer, but Roscoe had continued to get up every day and tend to the herd in all weather and conditions. But Casey would have to be blind not to notice the strain around her dad’s eyes and mouth in the year since her mother’s death, or the way he moved just a little slower, his shoulders stooped just a little more.

“I can step up my game and work harder,” she blurted as the blossom of grief flowered in her chest. “I can take on more responsibility, do more than office work and dealing with distributors. I’ll get up early and help manage the herd too. Will you undo the land sale if I do that?”

A tired smile touched Roscoe’s lips. He reached a hand over to squeeze hers as it lay balled into a fist on the truck’s seat. “I love you, Princess. I know you’re doing everything you can and that your heart is in the right place. But I also know good and well that a broken heart can only take on so much before it breaks down.” He paused, then added. “Selling those five acres was the right thing to do.”

Casey ground her teeth, but there was no way she would contradict her dad. Even though every fiber of her being wanted to scream and thrash and battle against the horrible forces of change that left her feeling helpless and hopeless. It was that same helplessness that made everything she did these days seem somehow hollow and pointless. If only she had something she could do that would make a difference. If only she could really sink her teeth into a cause that would put her family back where it deserved to be and heal the wounds they all had. She had to find something to throw her energy into that would make her feel like she was fighting back, for her mom’s sake.

“Good Lord,” Ted said, laughing, as they pulled into the parking lot of the flashy, new Paradise Space Flight building. “Was everyone in Sweetwater County invited to this thing?”

Roscoe grunted, lips twitching to a grin, as he circled around, looking for a parking space.

Casey’s heartache and frustration were pushed to the back of her mind as she glanced through the windshield at the rows of cars and trucks. “Howie’s email said it was an all-town mixer.”

“All-county is more like it,” Ted said.

Roscoe found a spot to park as Casey said, “Well, you know the Haskell family. They’ve always thought it was their responsibility to entertain the whole town along with providing jobs and homes.”

“True,” Ted laughed. “Remember ‘Ice Cream Social 2013?’”

Casey snorted. “Remember how livid Howie was that we were ten gallons short of the world record for biggest sundae?”

“Or how about that masquerade ball last Halloween?”

“I think they’re still vacuuming up glitter at The Cattleman Hotel.” Casey burst into a fit of giggles as Roscoe cut the truck’s engine and opened the door.

Casey slid out the passenger side after Ted, hugging her vintage men’s pea coat close as a burst of icy air hit her. She, Ted, and Roscoe started walking up through the rows of cars and trucks together. The front door of the garish, five story, glass Paradise Space Flight building was illuminated with colored lights. It was December 29th, so Christmas decorations were still up, but already there were signs of New Year’s Eve decorations. Apparently, Howie had some sort of a light show planned. Cheerful music poured out of the front door every time an arriving guest opened it.

 

There you have it! Wanna read more? Opposites Attract is available now at all these fine retailers:

Amazon – http://amzn.to/2iuIzGv

B&N – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/opposites-attract-merry-farmer/1125453825

iBooks – https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/opposites-attract/id1192996998

Kobo – https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/opposites-attract-29

Release Day! – His Christmas Bride/Holly: The Christmas Bride

Dec 09, 2016

I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to say this, but His Christmas Bride (spicy)/Holly: The Christmas Bride (sweet) is here! At last! For those of you who’ve been dying to find out more about George, here’s your chance! And who doesn’t like a good Christmas story to get them in the mood at this time of year? Wanna get started on the first chapter? Here you go! (buy links at the bottom)

hischristmasbride_holly

Haskell, Wyoming – December, 1876

Rev. George Pickering stood on the platform of Haskell’s train station, bundled against the cold nip in the air. The scent of imminent snow filled his senses, and he hunkered down into the scarf wound around his neck. He’d had the foresight to dress warmly enough so that he wasn’t standing there shivering as he waited for his mail-order bride to arrive on the next train, but even if he hadn’t, embarrassment would have kept him warm as toast.

Half of Haskell had turned out to wait with him.

“This is so exciting,” ranch-owner Virginia Piedmont commented to her best friend, Josephine Evans. The two women were liaisons with Hurst Home, the safe place for women in Nashville where most of the mail-order brides who had come to Haskell were from. They were the only ones who had a right to be there. Not that that stopped the others.

“I know,” Jill Abernathy, the wife of one of Haskell’s two doctors answered. “Imagine, our very own reverend finding true love at last.”

George sent her a modest smile, though he could barely manage that. Sending for a bride in the mail was hardly a recipe for true love. He hadn’t asked for that and he didn’t expect it. All he wanted was a companion to share his load, both temporally and spiritually. He’d agonized for weeks over whether it was cold-hearted of him to bring in a woman to marry simply because his congregation was getting bigger by the day and he needed help ministering to them. But help was needed. And his hope was that he and the woman Mrs. Breashears had picked out for him from the many unfortunate women taking refuge at Hurst Home would be someone he could come to care for deeply, make a life with, have children with. He’d always pictured himself as a father.

“Oh! I think I hear the train whistle,” Josephine announced.

A ripple went through the crowd—and it was a crowd—behind George. Sure enough, a few seconds later, the faint shriek of the train sounded faintly in the distance. George took a deep breath. This was it. His new wife was on the way. He prayed that this time his wedding would go better than the last time.

“Ah, Rev. Pickering. There you are.”

George turned to find Howard Haskell striding toward him, the crowd parting as if he were Moses and they were the Red Sea. A tall, somber man in black with a thick beard walked slightly behind him.

“I’d like to introduce you to Rev. Alexander Robbins,” Howard went on before he’d fully reached George. When he did, he stopped and gestured toward Rev. Robbins as though showing off a prize bull. “He’s the minister I’ve brought in to perform your wedding ceremony.”

George smiled and extended a hand to Robbins. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much for stepping in to help.”

“It is important for a man to be married properly in the eyes of God.” Robbins shook George’s offered hand, his grip almost too firm. His voice was solid and deep as well. Everything about him radiated stoicism and severity. “As God has decreed, it is better to marry than burn,” Robbins raised his voice, drawing the attention of some of the onlookers. “So you shall be married in His eyes and according to His laws, avoiding the sinful path that is so easy for man to walk.”

George blinked. “Yes.”

Howard raised a brow at the man, as if he was unsure whether to be shocked or impressed. A moment later, he cleared his throat. “Rev. Robbins here comes highly recommended by some of my new associates in the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.”

“Isn’t the WSGA that horrible organization that Rex Bonneville belongs to?” Josephine asked.

“It is,” Virginia—who was Howard’s sister—answered with a snort. “I told him not to join.”

“Unfortunately, my dear,” Howard grumbled, “it’s become apparent to me that all ranch owners worth their salt who want to be a voice in this territory must belong to the WSGA.”

“Oh, dear,” Josephine sighed.

The train whistle sounded again, closer this time, bringing George and everyone else back to the moment at hand. He sent Robbins a nod and a smile, hoping it wasn’t too dismissive, and turned to shield his eyes from the sun as he looked down the train tracks.

The tracks had originally been built to one side of town, meaning that the entire town of Haskell rested on the north side of the tracks. Up until recently, everything on the south side had been privately owned ranchland, uninhabited except for an occasional drifter or two setting up a tent when the weather was fine. But just a month before, Robert Petty, the old man who owned the land, had sold a huge parcel to Rupert Cole. Rupert was not only the husband of one of George’s oldest friends, Bonnie, he was also half of a construction company that operated out of Everland, a town down the line from Haskell. Already, the land on the opposite side of the tracks was laid out with parcels for half a dozen buildings, and George had it on good authority that Rupert was planning to build even more.

“Margaret says she’s the sweetest thing.”

George yanked his thoughts out of speculation about Haskell’s imminent growth and paid attention to the conversation Virginia, Josephine, and Mrs. Abernathy continued to have just behind him.

“She is.” Eden Chance wedged her way through the crowd to join the conversation, her baby on her hip. “Holly was one of the sweetest girls I knew back at Hurst Home. I’m so excited she’s coming here.”

“Such a tragic history, though,” Josephine went on. “Although all of you ladies from Hurst Home have tragic histories.”

“That’s the point of the place, I suppose.” Mrs. Abernathy nodded sagely.

“And yet, every one of the women who have come out here to marry one of our boys has turned out to be a splendid person,” Virginia added.

“And we’re all so grateful for it,” Eden said. She bounced her baby boy and grinned. “Every one of us has been blessed with the life we’ve found here.”

“I’ve no doubt Holly Hannigan will be the same,” Josephine said. “Margaret writes that she’s a quiet sort, somber after an unhappy marriage.”

A knot formed in George’s gut. Unhappy was the ladies’ code for cruel and abusive. Margaret Breashears had made no secret of the fact that Holly had endured much pain in her first marriage, that fear of bodily harm was what had driven the poor woman to flee from her husband. The brutish husband in question had died several months after Holly took shelter at Hurst Home, but that was as much as George knew.

“I’m certain she’ll make a perfect minister’s wife,” Virginia continued. “Margaret says she’s pretty and intelligent, that she’s efficient and helpful. Apparently, she once worked in a shop.”

“She did,” Eden confirmed. “Her family owned the store where she worked, and a couple more besides.”

A prickle raced down George’s back. He shrugged it off. It must just be the chill and the threat of snow in the air. Beyond that, it had to be a coincidence. He’d known a woman named Holly once. Before, in his old life. She’d been a shop girl too. She’d almost been his wife. She would have been his wife. His entire life would have been drastically different…if she hadn’t left him at the altar.

 

Ready to read the rest? Here’s where you can get it!

His Christmas Bride (spicy) is available at AMAZON, IBOOKS, KOBO, and BARNES & NOBLE

Holly: The Christmas Bride (sweet) is available exclusively at AMAZON and for KU

Weekend Excerpt – His Christmas Bride/Holly: The Christmas Bride

Dec 03, 2016

It’s coming! Not only Christmas, but the release of His Christmas Bride (Spicy)/Holly: The Christmas Bride (Sweet)! For all of you who have been wondering about Rev. George Pickering, now is your chance to find out so much more about his past, his present, and his future. This one is very much a book about second chances and righting the wrongs of your past. Here’s a taste….

hischristmasbride_holly

Busy-work could only serve as a distraction for so long.

“I send the marriage certificates and other official documents executed by the church to the territory’s governmental offices in Cheyenne,” he explained to Holly—without looking at her—after everyone else left.

“What kinds of other documents?” she asked, following him into his office at the side of the chancel.

“Birth certificates, death certificates. Anything official goes through me, for some reason.”

He turned to look at her as he reached his desk and set their marriage certificate on the desktop. She had stopped a few feet inside of the doorway and looked around, her hands clasped in front of her, holding the gloves she’d taken off to sign the document. She still wore her wool coat and scarf. So did he, for that matter. Holly’s cheeks were still tinted pink from the cold. Or maybe it was from shock over what they’d just done. Her hazel eyes took in the room with an assessing gaze that revealed her quick mind. But it was that curious streak of white in her hair that held his attention. It wasn’t a sign of age. The rest of her hair was as dark and lush as ever.

Her gaze made its way around the room, then landed squarely on him. Their eyes met. Her brow lifted a fraction, as if asking what he was staring at. George cleared his throat and focused on the papers arranged in neat piles on his desk.

“Filing paperwork with the territory should be a town council job,” he fumbled on, pretending he hadn’t been so curious. “But Howard thinks I do a good job of it and wants me to continue doing what I’m doing. Howard is like that. He started the town and he more or less runs it the way he wants to. It’s been a boon for people with unusual backgrounds, like Wendy Montrose or Graham and Estelle Tremaine.” He paused for a moment, then added, “And Bonnie.”

An awkward silence followed before Holly said, “I see.”

George waited. She was sure to ask about Bonnie, pry into the details of how the two of them knew each other, what he was doing with a madam for a friend, question just how far their relationship went. He scrambled to come up with answers that would absolve him of any guilt while explaining how important it was to him that even marginalized people, like Bonnie and her girls, feel welcome at God’s table.

It wasn’t until she continued to watch him in tense confusion that it dawned on him she didn’t have the first clue who Bonnie Cole was. He was working himself up over nothing.

He cleared his throat, leaving their marriage certificate on the desk as he stepped back to Holly. “The long and the short of it is, Haskell isn’t your average frontier town. We like to think of ourselves as progressive while maintaining the community feeling of places back East, inclusive of all people while promoting the values of honesty and hard work.”

“It sounds delightful.” A faint smile flickered across Holly’s face, but her flush wasn’t going away. She looked as out of place as if she was standing alone on the platform at Baltimore Union Station.

He shouldn’t have married her. He should have let her go on with her life the way she’d obviously intended to. Now here she was, a fish out of water, swimming in all the water that flowed under the bridge of their past.

He was saved from having to conjure up something to say by a knock coming from the door in his apartment. “Hello?” the muffled voice of Hubert Strong followed. “Rev. Pickering, are you home? Should I bring this around to the front of the church?”

Holly blinked rapidly, surprised. George answered her questioning look by striding for the door that connected his office to the apartment where he lived. “Come,” he invited her. “This is where I live, at least for now.”

“Rev. Pickering?” Hubert continued to knock.

George checked over his shoulder to make sure Holly was with him, then headed for the door. He opened it to reveal Hubert standing on the church’s back steps, a medium-sized trunk at his feet.

Hubert smiled in relief. “Oh good. I’m not interrupting anything.” He bent to lift the trunk. His young face dropped as he carried it through the doorway. “At least, I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“No, no, not at all.” George stepped back and gestured for Hubert to bring the trunk all the way into the room. “Holly, this is Hubert Strong, son of Athos Strong, the stationmaster.”

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am,” Hubert was quick to add with all of his boyish enthusiasm.

“Likewise.” Holly’s smile was warm and genuine, and a sign that she was recovering from her initial shock. “You look so young to be working so hard.”

Hubert straightened with pride. “I graduated school this past spring, ma’am, and begged my pop to give me a job working at the train station. But what I really want to do is get a job as a porter. I want to travel and see the world.”

Holly’s smile brightened…so much so that George was struck with a strange pang of jealousy. Had she ever smiled at him like that?

“I’m sure you’ll do just that,” she told Hubert.

“And I’m sure you’ll make a great preacher’s wife,” Hubert returned the compliment. He peeked to the side and must have caught the conflicted look on George’s face. His eagerness vanished. “Oh, sorry, is that not the right thing to say?”

It was George’s turn to smile as if everything was perfectly fine. “Not at all, Hubert. It’s very kind of you to support Miss…uh, Mrs. Pickering that way.”

A chill passed down his spine. Mrs. Pickering. After all these years.

“Thank you…Hubert was it?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Hubert touched the brim of his cap, then backed toward the door. “If you’ll excuse me, we got a lot of bags and parcels in on that last train and Pop needs me to help deliver them.”

“We won’t keep you,” George said, escorting him to the door. “Thanks again.”

As soon as Hubert was gone and the door was shut behind him, the room crackled with tension once more. George took his time turning to face Holly. He needed to gather his thoughts so that he could figure out what to do next.

His Christmas Bride (Spicy)/Holly: The Christmas Bride (Sweet) comes out on Friday, December 9th. That’s less than a week away! Stay tuned!

Release Day! – His Secret Bride (spicy)/Bonnie: The Secret Bride (sweet)

Nov 04, 2016

The day has finally come! I know I’ve been looking forward to telling Bonnie and Rupert’s story for a while, and now you get to read it! Man, these two have so much water under the bridge! Here’s your chance to enjoy it all. His Secret Bride (spicy)/Bonnie: The Secret Bride (sweet) is (are?) available now! (Links at the bottom)

hissecretbride_bonnie

Between Haskell and Everland, Wyoming – 1876

There was only a short distance between Haskell, Wyoming and Everland, but every inch of the journey, every second that the train chugged along through wild territory, filled Bonnie Horner with dread. She’d known this moment would come. Known for years. She knew that she couldn’t keep her head buried in the sand forever, pretending everything was as it seemed and there were no secrets creeping under the surface. She just hadn’t thought everything would come to a head so soon.

Everything had been fine, rambling along as steadily as the train, until Honoria Bonneville finally did what Bonnie had been wishing and hoping she would do for years. The brilliant young woman, her friend, had broken away from her family—the family that had bullied and belittled her for as long as Bonnie had known them. She’d followed her heart and married the man of her dreams, Haskell’s unique, black banker, Solomon Templesmith. Bonnie had cheered and helped the couple in every way she could, but all that help had come at a heavy price for her. The carefully constructed relationship she and Honoria’s father, Rex Bonneville, had developed—a relationship as artificial as it was beneficial to them both—had reached a crossroads. Honoria wasn’t the only one who had put her foot down. Rex had issued his ultimatum, and now Bonnie was stuck.

“Are you all right, Miss Bonnie?” Lyle, the porter who worked the Wyoming train line asked. He knew Bonnie well, knew her because whenever the train stopped over in Haskell for more than an hour or so, Lyle jumped off so he could visit her establishment and spend time with her girls. He paid them generously and treated them kindly, so Bonnie approved of him.

She sent him a weary smile. “I’m fine, Lyle. Thanks for asking.”

Kind, if not exactly gentlemanly, Lyle sniffed and pressed on. “Because you look a might peaked.”

Bonnie reached out to pat Lyle’s arm. “I’ll be fine.”

She expected Lyle to move on, and, in fact, he swayed forward with the motion of the train. Then he stopped, his expression pained. “Um, congratulations on your engagement to Rex Bonneville.” It came out as more of a question than genuine felicitations. Worry clouded Lyle’s eyes.

“I’ll be fine,” Bonnie repeated, softer, less convincing.

Lyle nodded and moved on. Bonnie watched his back as he moved down the train’s aisle, checking on passengers. Then she sighed and glanced out the window. Would she be fine? That was a question she had yet to answer for herself. On paper, life as Mrs. Rex Bonneville would be a good one. She’d never lack for anything—except affection, kindness, and human decency. She would be one of the most well-placed women in the state, in spite of her scandalous background. Most importantly, she would have all the funds she needed to continue her work at her Place. The young women under her care could continue to be safe, learn, and flourish. They could escape the fate life had handed them, make something more of themselves. As long as Bonnie was willing to sacrifice everything.

It all looked wonderful on paper.

It was a shame that paper was her biggest problem.

She let out another, painful sigh and smoothed her hand over the carpetbag on the seat beside her. The paper in question was tucked neatly inside, along with a couple of changes of clothes. Its corners were dog-eared, and it was beginning to yellow with age, even though the document was a scant four years old. She’d struggled to get the bloody thing—begged, bullied, and pushed it through all of the legal channels she could, expending more money than she should have in the process. And once the courts had granted her the blasted thing, what had she done with it? Nothing.

Until now.

The train’s whistle sounded, jerking Bonnie out of her increasingly morbid thoughts. “Everland,” Lyle shouted from the front of the car. “We’re approaching Everland. Get yer things in order.”

The train began to slow. Outside, the wilderness gave way first to ranchland, then to the inexplicably lush farmland that had always mystified Bonnie. Wyoming, as far as she had traveled it, was mostly high prairie filled with scrubby bushes, grass, and rocks, but Everland was a different story. Things grew there. She’d even heard tell of a lake, Lake Enchantment. It was enchanted indeed if it was all the way out in the middle of the wilderness. Almost like a magical land in a fairy story.

Well, she thought as she scooted to the edge of her seat, fussing with her carpetbag so that she’d be ready to disembark as soon as the train stopped, she could use a little bit of fairy magic right now. Because the task that awaited her was right up there in the category of curses that couldn’t be broken. And if she was being honest, it was a curse she’d hexed herself with almost ten years ago.

Ten years ago, when she was nineteen, wide-eyed, stubborn as a mule, and as stupid as one too. When she’d thought the best way to spite her overbearing family was to answer Rupert Cole’s advertisement for a mail-order bride.

The train’s whistle blasted again, and its brakes screeched. Buildings now slid past the windows. Bonnie stood, gripped her bag firmly, and marched up the aisle to stand next to Lyle by the door, waiting for the train to come to a complete stop.

“So, uh, is it true that Honoria Bonneville up and married that negro…uh…” He cleared his throat, flushing. “That fine banker man, Mr. Templesmith?”

“It is.” Bonnie smiled. “And they’re very happy.” Honoria and Solomon were happy, and all signs pointed to them continuing to be happy. They had supportive friends who had rallied around them, and now they were expecting a baby.

Her smile dropped as she wondered whether friends would rally around her after she married Rex. No one liked the man, not even the people who walked around ready to lick his boots. And as for a baby? Well, Rex might need to come to Everland to have the town work its magic on him if he thought he was even slightly up to the task, as it were, all his demands for an heir aside.

With one final screech of the brakes and cry of the whistle, the train came to a stop. Bonnie sighed, spared one last, weak smile for Lyle as he opened the train’s door and hopped down onto the platform to help passengers disembark, and wondered once again how she’d managed to get herself tied up in this impossible knot.

 

You can purchase Bonnie: The Secret Bride (sweet) at Amazon or read it through Kindle Unlimited – http://amzn.to/2ev6g1k

His Secret Bride (spicy) is available wherever eBooks are sold:

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iBooks – https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1172336292

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