Friday, August 29, 2014

First Fight Friday: On the Silver Edge of Time by Ciara Gold

Goats solve their differences head-on. They don’t give the silent treatment or yell, they butt heads, and then it’s over.

Cowboy Marvin has learned humans resolve issues differently especially those romantically involved. His curiosity sparked, he has invited authors to stop by on Fridays and share the first fight out of their latest book.






A Fire Writer for the



Ciara Gold 

is here for ...



First Fight Friday 

with a scene from 

On the Silver Edge of Time


Erik Lotharsson is sent forward in time to find 
the mate his people have chosen.

Keelin Haverland discovers her dreams of a Viking lover 

are of a man who claims to be from the past. 

The magic of an eclipse transports her to a time where modern conveniences don't exist, and love is but a heartbeat away.

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Erik reached out a hand. “Keelin?”

“Don’t touch me.” She scooted as far from him as the space allowed.

“Truly, Dame, I meant no harm.”

She broke, shattering into tiny pieces. “What about Irma? My father? He -- he has a bad heart. How will he survive my disappearance?”

Erik’s weight made the ropes groan, but he folded her into his embrace and held her tight. “Time will ease your pain.”

“No!” She pounded on his chest. “Take me home, you bastard. You – you kidnapped me, brought me to a foreign world without my consent. I want to go home. Now.”

“Be still.”

“I want my dad. I want Irma.”

“I know. I wish I could give you …”

“What about my future? My scholarship. Oh God, you stole my dream.”

He frowned. “I am your dream.”

She sagged against his body, failing to feel the familiar stirring her dream usually brought her. “My dream wouldn’t have taken all I hold dear.”

Her cheek rested against his chest, and she inhaled his musky scent. “Whatever my psyche tried to prepare me for, it wasn’t this.”

“I, too, experienced a wealth of emotion at being thrust into your century. I’ll do what I can to ease your way.” He brushed the hair from her face.

Of a sudden, panic bubbled inside, and the enormity of her situation became an oppressive weight threatening to destroy her sanity. Uncontrollable shivers took hold, and her lungs burned from rapid breathing. Time travel wasn’t possible, yet the evidence proved overwhelming. “I – I can’t be here. This – this can’t be happening.”

“Fintan, quick. Do something. Demons have hold of her body.”

“Ach now, ’tis only fear. Just hold her tight and let it run its course.”

Through a fog, Keelin heard the words, felt the strength of Erik’s embrace. She took great, gulping breaths, trying to master her emotions. The dreams had been a warning. If only she’d understood, she wouldn’t have climbed into the car with Erik, wouldn’t have trusted either Sank or Erik. How could she have misinterpreted her visions so poorly? How could she be so naïve?

“Easy now. I truly mean you no harm,” Erik whispered against her cheek.

She calmed her breath, wondering what she should do next. How would she manage? She was among strangers in a place where few amenities exited. How was she going to survive?

The answer was simple. She’d find inner strength and make her father proud. No obstacle ever stopped a Haverland before. Something had propelled her through time, to a past that wasn’t hers. If there exited a portal to the tenth century, there exited one to the future. Erik had found the means to travel forward and so would she. No matter what it took, she’d find her way back home. She blotted moist eyes with the back of her hand. This was but a bump in the road.

Her panic subsided, replaced by a more manageable emotion – anger. She lifted her head to glare at him. “You can let go now. I – I won’t break.”

“You still tremble.”

“No thanks to you and a lack of strong coffee.” She pushed at the bulging muscles that held her prisoner and was chagrined to hear her voice crack. “I – I don’t know what plans you have for me, but you can bet your bottom dollar, I won’t be a piece of clay you can mold at will. Far from it.”

He chuckled and stroked her arms. “I am well pleased you are not clay.”

“Egads.” She shoved a knee into his stomach. “You’re a brute.”

Her actions brought a swift response, one she wasn’t prepared for. He crushed her against his chest and lifted her from the bed. His eyes narrowed. “Best be advised that life is far different here than where you hail. Things will be much easier if you comply.”

“Comply with whom? You?” Her voice came out breathy, tainted with a dose of fear.

“And no other, Maid.” He released her and stepped back. “The collar marks you as mine. Best you not forget.”

She touched the choker and groped for the clasp. The fastening wouldn’t open. After a frantic attempt to remove the piece of jewelry, she planted her angry gaze upon his smirking face. “Take it off.”

“Nei.” His gaze fell to her expose flesh where the overlarge tunic gaped. “I need to find you clothes better suited to your frame. We’ll discuss your position once you’ve had a chance to calm down and accept all that has occurred.”

Calm down? Was he nuts? The cyber gremlins must have carted off what few brain cells the man possessed.

“Come Fintan,” he said. “I’ve a need for warmer company.”

The curtain fell back into place after he and Fintan left. She plopped onto the bed and dug her fingers into the finely woven blankets. A fresh wave of anger filled her heart. All these years she’d been fantasizing about a Viking lover, believing her soul mate was Sank. She assumed the dreams predicted a timeless love, but instead, they’d provided a warning she’d failed to heed. A tear trickled down her cheek, and she wiped it away, determined to weather this new experience without crying. Anger she could deal with. Self-pity she could not.



Copyright © Ciara Gold


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An eclipse yields a powerful force, an energy harnessed by those with magic in their souls. When the moon slips between the earth and the sun, a mighty wizard evokes the elements of nature. With ancient, Celtic incantations, he sends a mighty Viking jarl soaring through time to bring home his destiny.

Erik Lotharsson is sent forward in time to find the mate his people have chosen. He has no idea the journey he travels will be one of heart and soul. Nor can he imagine the trials he must face in taming a modern woman to his point of view.

Keelin Haverland has experienced dreams of a Viking lover for several years and fixates her attention on an acquaintance with a striking resemblance to her dream lover. She soon discovers her dreams are of another, of a man who claims to be from the past. The magic of an eclipse transports her to another time where modern conveniences no longer exist, and love is but a heartbeat away.



Betty Jean Pryor of 
The Pagan and The Pen Book Reviews wrote:


This book is a page turner. Have you ever dreamed of being able to travel to a different time? This book will definitely allow you to do that.

Keely is a college student, on her way to graduation and grad school, studying art. Her erotic dreams have her attracted to a very sexy man. She finds out that the man that she thought was the target of her dreams may not actually be the one. When she goes back with Erik, she finds out that all the things she believed about her life are not as she thought.

Erik is the leader of Njord and is sent forward in time to find Keelin and to bring her back with him. He arrives in the 21st century with no knowledge of English or all the changes over 11 centuries. While in this time, he finds out truths about his life that had been hidden from him.

There are many twists and turns that occur throughout the story. Just when you think that you have things figured out, Ms. Gold throws a curve ball. All of the characters interact very well. 

I believe that, whether male or female, the reader will connect with one of the characters in this book. The author does a great job making the hero and heroine seem very real. On The Silver Edge of Time is a combination of romance and suspense with a dash of science fiction/magic thrown in.


On the Silver Edge of Time
is available on:

Amazon


Ciara's bio:

 I’m a native Texan with the twang to prove it. I consider myself well rounded (in more ways than one) with an interest in dance, music, visual arts, sailing, camping, sewing, gardening, and of course, writing. I hold a BFA with a major in art and a minor in math. Yep, that’s right, math. You know that whole right brain/left brain thing? I tested right down the middle. Oh, and here’s a side note. At one point in time, I worked as a dental assistant. I took a pretty mean x-ray. But that was many moons ago. Now, I just work at my art and write. I’m married to a wonderful man who works as an investigator during the week and a carpenter during the weekend. Our home is filled with pieces of handbuilt furniture. I am also blessed with two wonderful children.

And that, my friends, is who I am. I hope you enjoy reading my sci-fi futuristics and my historical westerns.


Want another taste of Ciara's writing? 
Check out the Written Fireside story Of The Storm


Follow Ciara Gold online

 WEBSITE BLOG TWITTER 



Thanks for sharing Ciara!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sample the first chapters of The Outlaw of Cedar Ridge now!



Check out book 1 of the 

Men of Fir Mountain

and follow 
Ben and Evie on their journey.


Amazon Smart Buy Link




Spring 1891 Cedar Ridge, Idaho

Prologue

The saloon doors slammed open. “That yellow-bellied, four-flusher,” a tall man complained loudly as he staggered out of the Bucking Pony, “needs to be taught a lesson.”

The breeze carried the sound of stomping feet and more raised voices through the night. Benjamin Rolfe, only a few yards away, took a prudent side step off the boarded sidewalk. From where he hid, in-between two dark, empty buildings, Ben could only make out snippets.

“Low down dirty cheater.”

“I warned the boss not to buy that horse from Rolfe.”

Curious, Ben peeked around the corner. Talbert’s men. He counted the figures of at least six men standing by the horses tied in front of the saloon.

“If the sheriff won’t do his job, then someone needs to do it for him.”

Ben moved back into the deeper shadows. He didn’t care what some drunken ranch hands thought of him and wasn’t about to risk his hide defending an already ruined reputation. With his back against a rough wood wall, he let their tirade drift past him, waiting for them to leave.

Minutes passed with aggravating slowness. His mouth dry, thirst nagged by the time the men finally mounted up and rode out of town. Ben lingered out of plain sight a short time to be certain they were gone then continued on his way to the saloon.

Inside the batwing doors, the place was almost full. Ignoring the brief lull in conversation as he walked in, Ben crossed the room to stand at the bar and dropped his saddlebag to the floor. The bartender stared at him for a couple of seconds before slapping down a glass and filling it with cheap whiskey.

His hand curled around the glass but instead of taking the long drink he’d been craving for hours, the cowboy stared down at the golden brown liquid. He should be happy, celebrating. His share of the take would at least half fill the jar he’d emptied at home. Evie wouldn’t even have to know he’d broken another promise.

Ben tilted the glass slightly from one side to the other, watching the alcohol flow. He should go home. It was late and he needed to talk to his wife. The image of blue eyes filled with disappointment flashed through his mind. A muscle worked along his jaw and he tossed back the drink.

The whiskey burned his throat and he put the glass down with a hard thud. Familiar with his routine, the bartender moved over, poured him a refill and left the bottle. His fingers tightened around the glass but before he lifted it to his mouth again, the noisy room quieted.

Braced for a fight, Ben released his grip and turned to face the door, expecting to see that the group of Talbert’s ranch hands had returned. The sight of only two men standing by the door caught him off guard. Damn. He would’ve preferred a fight.

The Nash brothers strode across the room, cocky, confident, as if they owned the place. His decision to hook up with these lowlifes for this last job was one he’d regretted from the moment he made it. They had no good reason to follow him back to Cedar Ridge.

“Rolfe, what a surprise.” Billy’s smile was more like a coyote barring his teeth than anything human.

“Yes, it is.” He offered them an equally insincere smile of his own. “Have you lost Byron?”

“He’s getting patched up.”

“So what brings you out this way?”

“Seth and I were bored.” Billy’s over pleasant tone set his teeth on edge. “I thought we could find a game here.”

A two-hour ride at night for a game? “Is that so?”

“If not, we’ll start our own.”

Billy chuckled and shouted to the bartender for a couple of bottles as he and Seth sat down at the empty table. Ben reached back, grabbed his glass and lifted it in a mocking toast. He drank then slowly turned his back to the outlaws, a deliberate act to show them he wasn’t afraid. With a hand steady through sheer force of will, he refilled his glass.

The fact that Billy hadn’t bothered to offer a believable explanation didn’t bode well. They were here either to rob him or kill him, possibly both. His options were few. Most of the townspeople wouldn’t spit on him if he was on fire and the one man who’d likely help was the one man he couldn’t ask.

Please protect me from the other lowlifes, Sheriff. Yeah that would go over well.

Ben finished off his drink and poured another. He nursed this measure of whiskey and listened to the brothers persuade a few men to play poker with them while he waited for the chance to slip away. A band of pressure coiled around his chest when they started to brag about the robbery. With them running off at the mouth, the sheriff would soon have more than suspicion about his ‘jobs’. And that meant leaving town sooner rather than later.

Ben cursed under his breath. He’d thought he’d have time to break the news about the move gently, to make Evie see that this would be the best option for them. Now he wouldn’t have that luxury. From the slurred speech of his fellow bandits, he knew that escaping the Nash brothers tonight would still be possible. But, with these scumbags in town, it wouldn’t be long before their loose lips would have the law on him or, and his gut clenched at the thought, they’d find out where he lived.

He’d endangered his wife.

More whiskey poured into the glass. Yesterday he’d cut her off when she tried to encourage him to tell her what was wrong. If she knew the truth about his family, about him, Evie wouldn’t have wasted her breath. Ben downed a few drinks in a row then paused, noticing the bottle was now half empty. Shame bled through him even as he filled his glass again.

Ben shifted so he could watch the Nash brothers out of the corner of his eye. He’d never meant for it to go this far. It was just going to be the one time, one job so they could have a home again. After that, for a time, he’d worked damn hard to stay on the straight and narrow and play by the rules. All that earned him was a kick in the teeth for his effort.

The whiskey no longer burned going down. It barely numbed the pain. He’d been a fool to think he could be a better man than his father had been.

Ben squared his shoulders and straightened away from the bar. He needed to go home. He had to explain. His fingers tightened on the glass again. He didn’t know where to start, what to say. He’d lied to Evie about so much, for so long.

Instead of walking away, Ben loosened the glass, grabbed the bottle and turned around. Both Nash brothers were red in the face drunk. He picked up his bag and moseyed over to stand by them. Neither man looked up from his cards. He could slip away without a fight now, that would be the smart thing to do, but the pile of coins on the table captured his attention.

It was enough money to build the home he’d always promised Evie. Ben took a swig from the bottle then pulled up a chair, joining the game. Maybe this time…

Chapter One

Cedar Ridge, Idaho – Spring 1891

Her eyes popped open. In the darkness that enveloped her, Evie Rolfe swallowed hard. Sometime during the night, her lamp had died and left the young woman alone. Her fingers tightened into a white knuckled grip around the rifle while she listened for anything unusual. She didn’t dare move, waiting untold minutes, locked in fear until light trickled through the cabin’s only window.

While the ebony grayed and the shadows faded, she gained a measure of courage. Evie scanned the modest room in search of what had woken her. A simple chair sat beside her in front of the stone fireplace. Cast iron pots and a frying pan were stacked on the hearth by short rounds of pine. Along the walls was a long low bench with towels folded neatly on top, a four-drawer dresser, a metal pail then a bed in the corner. Nothing appeared out of place so far.

Nervous, Evie twisted so she could look at the wall behind her. A gap in the window curtains allowed a glimpse of the crimson sky. The crudely made wood table remained snug against the door with the oil lamp in the center. To the right of that, her cloak and a large tan wicker basket hung side by side. A rough broom she’d fashioned stood propped in the corner. Relief seeped through her, and the breath that she’d held released.

Evie sagged against the chair her grandfather had made. Her left hand lifted, rubbed over her face, then lowered to slide palm down over a scarred, oak arm. Loneliness, a muted ache, haunted. The worn rocking chair was all she had left from her family. She sighed softly, almost without sound.

A distinct thud carried through the log walls. Her short-lived calm vanished. Blood raced through her veins. Heart in her throat, Evie gathered the edges of the quilts close around her. Slow, cautious, rifle cradled to her stomach, she pushed up to her feet then turned to face the window.

A minute passed. Then another. Evie heard nothing, saw nothing. She drew in a breath and stepped close to the glass pane. With the rifle muzzle, she pushed the washed out material aside. Her gaze found the source of the sound, what had likely woken her, right away. Fear evaporated.

Drained, her grip loosened. The blankets slipped, sagging around her waist. Anger whispered. Evie turned around and, jaw clenched, stalked to the fireplace. She hung the weapon back on the hooks above the mantle where it belonged. The hard packed dirt floor chilled her bare feet, hastening her pace as she moved to the corner.

Beside the empty bed, Evie stilled, stared at it for a few seconds, her lips compressed into a hard thin line. With a snap of her wrists, she spread the thin patchwork quilts over the mattress. Sadness, resentment and frustration crashed over her in waves as she pulled her nightgown over her head, tossing it on the covers. Goose bumps soon dotted her skin. In quick, jerky movements, she donned stockings, undergarments, a faded blue long sleeved shirt and a brown ankle length skirt.

Another thud sounded. Evie ground her teeth. She sat down on the bed and pulled on well-worn black boots. Her hair fell across her face in the process. Exasperated, she plucked her hairbrush off the wall where it hung by a leather thong.

With the ease of long practice, she swiftly tamed her waist length dark brown hair into a single thick braid that hung down her back. Evie stood and slapped the brush back in place. Her hands shook as she stomped over, and shoved the table away from the door.

Orange and pink stained the clouds on the horizon when she stepped outside. Tall pine trees populated the landscape to her right, a sea of green as far as the eye could see. On her left lay the road to town and a couple of small cleared fields. Daisy, her cow, called out, impatient. Four hens scratched the grass for bugs. Evie noted it all, but focused on what brought her out at dawn.

A mare, all black except for a short white stocking on each leg stood just outside the barn. Its open door swung in the gentle wind. It hit against the wall, and again created the sound she’d heard while inside. Evie hissed through clenched teeth, irritated, moving with swift steady strides to the horse.

Her temper simmered as she led Sugar into the fenced area attached to one side of the barn. Evie stripped off the mare’s tack, and propped the saddle against a fence post. With bridle in hand, a pat and promise of oats later, she headed to the barn.

Evie stepped into the shadowed interior of the weathered structure. While her eyes adjusted to the low light, she took a couple of hesitant steps forward, one hand on the interior wall for assurance. She hung the bridle where it belonged then moved on.

It didn’t take long before she found him near Sugar’s stall, sprawled face down on some loose hay.

For a second, intense emotion seized her. Evie shook with the force it. Although the desire to turn around and leave held strong appeal, she just couldn’t do that. She knelt down beside him, leaned in and whispered his name. He didn’t react. With both hands, she shook him, calling his name with force. As she half expected, Ben still didn’t respond.

Evie got to her feet and with some effort, rolled him onto his back. Shaggy brown hair fell across his face. She crouched down, reached out and swept the mass to one side. His familiar features stirred up a storm of conflicting emotions.

Tears burned her tired eyes. It’d been some time since they’d been affectionate, intimate and, unable to resist, her fingers ran down the side of his neck, a light caress. Scratches and purple bruises marred his skin. Her hand came back up to rest her palm on his cheek. As upset as she was, Evie savored this simple physical contact.

Caught up in the moment, his groan startled her. She gasped. A hand came up, covering hers. His eyes opened and sorrow pierced her. The amazing forest green eyes that had captured her fancy years ago were so bloodshot that it was painful to witness. A crooked smile spread across his face.

“Hey doll.” His voice was low and rough, yet almost playful.

Strong whiskey fumes slapped Evie, sparking her temper. She reared back as if physically struck. His hand dropped to his side when she pulled away. Words she’d mulled over for months were on the tip of her tongue, about to explode from her when she noticed he’d passed out again. An incoherent sound of pure frustration passed her lips.

Fuming, Evie started to rise, and then noticed a small bag at his side. She leaned over, picked it up and the weight made her stomach churn with nausea. Her hand opened, dropping it on the ground, its contents spilling out. There was no honest way for him to have that amount of coin.

Evie Rolfe sat back on her heels and looked at the mess that was her husband.

Ben’s shirt, ripped and stained, offered further evidence he’d been in another fight. It was hard to believe her husband had become this man. As she watched the steady rise and fall of his chest, her mind drifted to the past, longing for the man of her memories.

One hot August night five years ago, a stranger had walked into a dance at her church. His stance radiated confidence. A crooked nose sat in a face of raw, rugged features that intrigued her. And as soon as he saw her, the man strode directly to her.

Easily towering over her by several inches, with broad shoulders and a wide, well built chest, he instantly made her feel protected.

“Dance with me.” His eyes, the deepest of green, charmed her. Her heart pounded. Without even asking his name, she’d given him her hand, captivated. In his arms, from the first moment, she’d felt a profound sense of belonging.

Daisy voiced loud displeasure, snapping her back to the present. Frustrated, Evie ignored the cow, instead reaching out to shake Ben awake and then stopped herself. She knew from experience that a few hours rest increased the odds that her husband would actually listen to her and last night’s events had made it clear that she needed him to hear what she had to say today. Terrifying memories snaked through her mind. Her hand shook as it hovered between them for a moment then dropped. The day had just begun. She’d let him sleep.

Evie stood, grabbed an old gray wool blanket they had for the horse, covered Ben with it and took one last look at him before going off to care for Daisy. Sun streamed in through the doorway, warming her while she milked. She had a difficult time focusing on the task though as her gaze kept wandering back to Ben.

The bond between them, frayed and strained, was not yet broken. Their damaged relationship left her emotions in a mess, and she couldn’t stop her thoughts from circling around the conversation to come.

When she turned the cow out to graze, the cloudless sky for once failed to boost her spirits. She continued with her chores, checking on Ben occasionally, but misery dogged her. The morning hours passed slowly. Desperate to stay busy she grabbed some laundry and headed down to the creek.

A pair of ravens glided in the cool breeze above her to perch on the upper branches of a maple tree. Evie knelt by the water, reached into the basket drawing out a red and black checked shirt. Tears began to well. Eyes closed, she buried her face in the flannel, breathing in the scent of pine and Ben.

She wondered how it was possible to miss a person with every fiber of your being when that person shared your home, your bed.

After a moment, Evie set the shirt aside and pulled out the rest of the washing. Her fingers, soon reddened from lye soap and aching from the icy water, brought painful but welcome distraction. Faint sounds of movement carried towards her on the breeze as she wrung the excess water from heavy wool. She looked up toward the cabin and caught a glimpse of her husband’s familiar form before he disappeared into the cabin. Although she wasn’t looking forward to his reaction, her conviction remained solid. The time had arrived for a tough discussion.

Nerves stretched taut, she waited for him to come to her.

Clear blue sky peeked through tree boughs that provided a generous amount of shade. She had rinsed her last item for several unnecessary minutes when the dull thuds of footsteps broke the peace. When he sounded close, she glanced back. The sight of him walking through the shadows of the trees caused a sweet flash of memory.

Ben had coaxed their wedding party outside that glorious spring day, with everything green or blooming. His good humor infectious, he’d claimed that nature’s beauty would bless their marriage. Eager to take on the world, life to him had been a grand adventure. As she walked to where he waited with the minister, beneath a canopy of branches, she’d fallen in love with him even more.

Ben stepped out of the shadows. The bittersweet echo of what had been faded. The years had fashioned clear changes. Scarred by hardship, his current expression was typical of the man she lived with now, hard and defensive. Pale from a certain hangover, his steps slow and measured, the contrast to the past wasn’t kind.

“Hey.” His voice was low and tense as he greeted her, stopping about a foot away.

Her fingers curled up in the soaked material she’d been washing. Ben stood so close if Evie stretched out an arm, she’d touch him. Emotions twisted in a knot, each breath shallow, painful, her head throbbed. She felt every inch of the small but deliberate distance he placed between them. The wounds of recent years were raw and her anger at his absence the previous night so fresh that for a second she had a childish urge to ignore him.

Instead, knowing that would solve nothing, she lifted her chin. “Benjamin,” she acknowledged, stating his name stiff and formal.

“I’m sorry.”

His gaze focused past her, his tone flat, the muttered apology didn’t move her. Evie looked down at the shirt in her hands. She twisted it, wringing out water. “No, you’re not.”

“You’re upset.

“Shouldn’t I be?”

Silence, heavy and expectant, hung between them. She didn’t offer her standard angry accusations or tearful pleas. They hadn’t made a difference before. The pattern remained the same. Her husband refused to alter it. She looked back up at him. Now, for better or worse, things would change.

Ben shrugged. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I mucked out the stalls.”

“Good.”

“And put the saddle in the barn.”

“Fine.”

“Brought in some firewood.”

“Okay.” Impatient, irritation crept into her voice.

“What do you want from me?” His gaze met hers for a split second before looking off into the distance again. “ You want me to say I’ll stop drinking?”

“No.” Ben looked back at her, his eyes wide, shocked. Pleased to have his complete attention, Evie was blunt. “I want you to not drink yourself into a stupor whenever life gets a little hard.”

“A little hard,” Ben bit out.

“Yes, like when we lost-”

“I’m not talking about our son now.”

Evie held his gaze, silent, until the ache in her chest subsided. “I wasn’t referring to James.”

“Good.”

“I meant when the Blakes’-”

“Stole my horses.”

“Well, you did catch them on their ranch and-”

“I didn’t know I was on their land.”

She gave him a soft-spoken reassurance. “I know.”

“Months of hard work gone.”

“I know.”

“Then you should understand.” Anger made his words harsh.

“I know it’ll be a struggle to recover, but it’s doable.”

Ben snorted. “Impossible.”

“As long as you continue down the path you’ve chosen, I agree.”

“What do you mean?” Tone wary, his eyes narrowed.

“Well, for one thing, you shouldn’t cheat our neighbors.”

“Excuse me.” His face a study of outrage but in his voice notes of defiance and satisfaction rang clear.

Evie stood. “You sold Spice.”

“We needed the money.” His gaze shifted, wouldn’t quite meet hers.

“You didn’t say he was only green broke and needed more training. That horse was nowhere near ready for a young rider to handle.”

He lifted one shoulder. “Let the buyer beware.”

A sick feeling settled in her gut. Evie shook the shirt she held out hard. To have a moment, steady her thoughts, she moved over to where the rest of her wet clothes hung and threw it over a free branch to dry. She drew in a breath then turned to face him again.

“Eddie Talbert was thrown.”

His face impassive, Ben didn’t say a word, showing no remorse. Her heart sank, but hope died hard and Evie prayed that some remnants of the man she’d married lay hidden under that brittle shell.

“He broke his arm.”

“He didn’t die.”

Stunned, she couldn’t hide her shock. “Ben.”

“What? I should feel sorry some little rich boy took a tumble?”

“Yes, you should, and accept responsibility for your part in it.”

“I didn’t put him on the horse.”

“No, but you didn’t tell-”

“Drop it.” His tone was now stone cold.

Evie held her temper in check, just. Her fingers curled so her nails bit into her palms. “Some of Talbert’s hands were here last night.”

“Oh?” He angled his face away. “What did they want?”

“A pound of flesh? I don’t know exactly but I think you should return Mr. Talbert’s money.”

“Too bad.”

“Ben they were six men - angry, armed, men. Nothing I said satisfied them. I went in the house, shoved the table in front of the door while they rode around outside shouting threats.”

“Just trying to frighten you.” Ben dismissed her words with a wave of his hand.

Her jaw dropped. She’d been scared out of her mind with good cause. Their homestead was a good hour from the town of Cedar Ridge, the nearest neighbor miles away, unspeakable things could happen to a woman alone out here. Ben knew that.

“Well, it worked. I was terrified long after they left, sat up all night with the rifle in my lap.”

“So you were fine.”

Her body went rigid with indignation. “I was not fine.” Her words were slow and precise, each one distinct. “You should have been home. I needed you.”

“I can’t be here to baby you all the time.”

“I don’t expect that.” Anger as bitter cold as the snowmelt fed creek she stood beside knotted her insides. “But when you kick up a hornet’s nest, you should face the consequences.”

“Fine, you made your point.” The cold, hard words, delivered without a trace of regret, shook her to the core. “I’m leaving. I’ve work to do.”

“Like you did last night? Tell me, what sort of horse training is done after dark?” Bitterness, sharp and painful, seasoned her words, crafted to provoke him.

“Don’t start in again.” His gaze locked on hers. “I have to support us.”

“There are other ways.”

“Which I tried, and they earned me a tiny cabin and an almost empty barn. There’s no reward for being good, doll.”

“How about honor and self respect?”

“I’d rather have the coin.”

“If you’re so pleased with this way of life why do you need to soak yourself in whiskey?”

I need a drink or two to unwind.”

“You were full as a tick when you finally came home.”

“That’s my business.”

Her jaw clenched. Evie looked down and brushed a bit of dust off her skirt. A breeze caressed her face, bringing the scents of moss and recent rain. “I don’t want to argue.”

“Good.”

“But-”

“Evie for the love of-”

“But.” Her tone unyielding, she paused, looked up, meeting his gaze squarely then continued. “Things have to change.”

“Like?” His voice sounded dangerous, a confrontation itself.

“No more lying, cheating and-”

“That’s the way of the world sweetheart.”

His sarcasm stung. “It’s wrong.”

“I do what I need to do and I will again,” he growled with conviction.

The day after Evie married, her brother and only living relative, Henry, had taken off in search of gold. She’d never heard from him again. Ben was all she had. It took no small measure of courage to stand firm.

“I won’t stand by and watch it anymore. You’re hurting these people.”

“Well, you don’t have to.”

“You’ll stop?” Hope laced her voice.

“Of course.”

His voice, silky smooth, disturbed her. “That’s a sudden change of heart.”

“Maybe.” Ben moved close. “I only want...” His hand reached out and played with a loose strand of her hair. “ To make you happy.”

The gesture reminiscent of their early days, when simple, affectionate touches were common, made her heart ache. Evie blinked back tears. The back of his fingers left a trail of tingling nerves across her cheek. She allowed it, savoring the moment then stepped back.

“I get the feeling you don’t believe that.” His voice sounded hoarse, shaded with mockery. She shook her head, unable to speak. He’d traded on her love too many times before and her trust was frail.

“Fine, you won’t have to worry about our poor neighbors any longer because we won’t be here. It’s time we moved on.”

Anxiety made it hard to breathe. The thought of starting all over yet again was almost unbearable. “No.”

“What?”

“I’m not moving.”

“Don’t be foolish.”

“I’m not.”

His head tilted slightly to one side, he studied her. “Do you want to see me arrested?”

“For gambling?”

Ben held her gaze but didn’t say a word. The sick feeling she’d tried to ignore for so long threatened to overwhelm her. She sensed he was waiting for her to ask, to bring things out in the open.

“The sheriff suspects you of something?”

“After last night, it’s just a matter of time.”

“What did you do?” Disappointment tasted like ashes in her mouth.

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”

His tone set her teeth on edge. “Of course not.”

“Good then-”

“If this is how you want to live then it’ll be without me. I want no part of it.”

“But I’m your husband.” His expression incredulous, he stared at her as if she’d grown horns.

“Yes, I know.”

“Do you know what would happen if I abandoned you? Do you really want to find out how vulnerable a woman alone is?”

“I already have.” The dreadful pressure around her chest increased. She crossed her arms over her stomach. “Last night.”

Silence stretched between them. For a long moment, the only sound came from the wind blowing through the branches of a straggly oak tree near her. Despite the warm spring day, she shivered.

“Look, Evie I... I’m sorry about that.”

Though his words felt sincere when he stepped toward her she put one hand in front of her, palm out. “Please don’t.”

“All right.” Ben stilled. “Just hear me out. We’ll start fresh. We’ll-”

“Own land as far as the eye can see and you’ll build us a grand home? I’ve heard this before.”

“It’ll be different this time.”

Evie fought the urge to cry. “Like it was supposed to be when we lost the boarding house in Montana, the saw mill in Salmon or the little farm right outside Cedar Ridge?”

“I’ve learned from my mistakes.”

“You were passed out in the barn a few hours ago.”

“What do you want me to do?” His hands clenched at his sides and his voice sounded edgy.

“Stop lying to me. Stop cheating people. And please, please stop doing whatever it is you’re doing that has the sheriff asking questions and is driving you to drink. Remember your dreams? Riding the range in the Wild West? You could make that happen. We have good land. We could have a good life here if you’d just-”

“I can’t chase those dreams here.”

“You won’t know unless you try.” Her tone fierce, Evie scowled at him.

“We have to move.”

“Don’t give up, please Ben.”

“We don’t have a choice anymore.”

“Yes, we do.” Tired and cranky, Evie snapped. “I do.”

“I sold it.”

Her vision blurred. A headache pulsed to life, pounding behind her eyes. “You did what?”

“I sold it.”

“Our home?” Her voice trembled, a whisper, barely audible. Dazed, she stared at him. “How could you do that?”

“I did what I thought was best.”

“Without even discussing it with me?”

“It had to be done and I didn’t want to argue.”

Tears clouded her vision. “You knew I wouldn’t agree.”

“Doesn’t matter, it’s done.” The note of finality in his voice made her stomach clench. “We’re moving as soon as possible.”

Her poise precarious, it took her a second to respond. In a voice soft, but clear, she forced words out. “You are. I’m not.”

“You can’t stay here.”

“Yeah, you made sure of that.” Sick at heart, she averted her face, looking away.

“Evie-”

“I guess that explains the money.” A short burst of ugly laughter escaped her. “I should be relieved it came from a lawful source, shouldn’t I?”

“Sweetheart, I just-”

The gentle coaxing tone caused tears to spill down her cheeks. “No. Excuses.” She choked out, his attempt at softness now made her want to hit him. Pride kept her upright but she couldn’t take anymore. “Just go.”

Ben stood, studying her silently for a long moment then turned and walked away. Evie stiffened when she heard him pause for a few seconds a short distance up the trail. “I do love you.”

His words sparked a heated response. As the sound of his footsteps faded, Evie kicked the basket hard, sending it flying over the rocky bank. She snatched the flannel up and threw it in the creek with a hoarse cry. Her chest heaved. Tears streamed down her face. She collapsed on the ground and wept until it hurt to breathe.

When the emotional storm passed, Evie got to her feet, slow like an old woman. Her hands rubbed her temples as she tried to ease her vicious headache. She shuffled over to the creek, bending down to splash water on her hot face and her swollen eyes. As she straightened, she noticed the shirt she’d flung, tangled on a fallen log some distance downstream. She made no effort to retrieve it. The sweet connection she’d felt moments earlier had soured.

Dread stalked within as she headed back to the cabin. Her steps dragged. The steady breeze chilled her despite the bright sun. She swayed on her feet, exhausted, though it’d been a short walk to the simple log structure. Still and quiet, it seemed to reflect her loneliness.

Her gaze swept the area. As she’d expected, the pasture appeared empty. He’d left. Arms crossed, her hands rubbed over her upper arms.

Ben wasn’t coming back.

Worn, weary, she felt hollow inside.

All of a sudden, Evie heard shouting in the distance from the direction of the road. Her heart raced. She gathered her skirt up enough to run, dashed into the cabin, grabbed the rifle then peeked outside. No one had ridden in.

An ominous feeling settled in her gut. Warily, Evie stepped outside. Normal day sounds greeted her as she slowly scanned the surroundings. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. Though she knew it wasn’t wise, she headed down the road.

A few hundred yards from the homestead, Evie stopped just around the first bend. Shock rooted her to the ground. Sounds evaporated, until only her heartbeat remained. Ben’s flattened hat rested in front of her boot next to a patch of new spring grass, splattered with blood.

Chapter Two

The low rumble of several horses soon became thunder on his heels. His fingers tightened on the reins. Ben twisted in the saddle, looking behind him. The number of riders who approached him at a fast pace didn’t bode well. As he straightened in the saddle, his gaze swept the area.

Flat grassland stretched for miles to his right. A thick stand of pines sat an impossible distance from the other side of the road. His only hope rested in the direction he had chosen just moments before, down the road toward Evie. Although his gut warned him to put his heels to the mare, race around the bend for home, Ben refused. He’d been a poor excuse for a man but whatever trouble was about to descend upon him, he wouldn’t endanger his wife.

Edgy, he pulled up then hunched forward to hide his actions from view. Ben fumbled, his fingers clumsy, to open the hidden pocket his friend Henry had fashioned in the saddle after they’d been robbed one too many times. He stuffed coins out of a small bag in quickly, gauging how long he had to work by ear. When the riders sounded close, he fastened the flap and tossed the last of the money into his saddle horn bag.

Ben turned to face the danger head on. He didn’t have to wait long as within minutes several men rode up, surrounding him. The stench of stale sweat and rotgut whisky filled the air. The man right in front of him with greasy blond hair and bloodshot eyes glared at him for a second then all six of them dismounted.

“Is there a problem?” Ben strove for calm.

“Yeah.” A man to his left cocked his revolver then ordered in a low, lethal tone. “Get down.”

“Why don’t we just talk for a while?”

Ben heard movement behind him and turned to face it a second too slow. Rough hands pulled him from the saddle. He hit the ground hard, pain radiating from his shoulder, side and hip.

A man stood over him, his expression fierce. “Shut up.”

“Look guys let’s-” With effort, Ben got to his feet.

“You cheated our boss.” A fist slammed into his face. His nose cracked. Blood, warm and metallic, streamed down into his mouth. He staggered back. “And cost us our jobs.”

Talbert’s men. “I can make this right. I-”

Another punch landed on his jaw, jerking his face to one side. Ben remained upright through sheer stubborn will. In rapid succession, several punches slammed into him. He tried to defend himself, landed a couple of blows, but the pummeling continued unabated. Outnumbered and overwhelmed, he soon collapsed.

With him flat on the ground, barely responsive to the most vicious kicks, their attack started tapering off. A heated exchange erupted. Disoriented, Ben struggled to focus. It took some minutes before he grasped the meaning of their words. Raw terror struck his heart. They were arguing over which of them would comfort his widow first once they finished him off.

His fingers curled, forming a fist. Ben lifted his head off the hard packed earth. Anger burned. They had gathered to one side and focused on each other, paying him no heed. His gaze found Sugar about a yard to his left. Seconds felt like hours while he crawled to his horse. He painfully pulled himself up into the saddle.

Ben clutched the reins along with a good hunk of mane and slumped forward. He pointed Sugar toward the trees and put his heels to her flanks, his only thought to get the men as far from Evie as possible. Each stride jarred and sent shards of pain through him. He heard angry shouts then the sounds of pursuit. Desperate, he urged the mare on, faster.

Blood roared in his ears, drowning all other sound, still he sensed the men were closing in. Sadness filled Ben. There was little hope of survival. He’d never get to hold Evie again or tell her he was sorry. She’d never know that he’d turned around and headed back home, that he’d wanted a second chance.

Dear God, I want a second chance.

Pain eroded the remnants of strength. Ben started to slip off one side and barely caught himself. For only a moment, the world came into sharp focus then his thoughts clouded. His grip weakened. The mare started to slow. A moment later, he lost his hold, toppling off her.

Ben rolled for some distance over rocky ground before he at last came to a stop. He ended up flat on his back, stunned. It took several seconds for him to remember how to breathe. Limbs leaden, he tried to get up but could hardly move. A shadow fell over him. He looked up to discover the blond man beside him, a smirk on his face.

A boot slammed into his side and his body exploded in pain. The man kicked him a couple more times. Ben felt ribs snap and moaned, a raw animal sound.

White-hot pain pierced his shoulder then rough hands seized him, pushing hard. He had no strength to resist. They rolled him over an edge and Ben tumbled down a hillside, battered by brush and stones. His misery ended when his head hit something with enough force that agony consumed him and he lost consciousness.

***********
Fingers pressed against the rifle stock hard in a painful, numbing grip, Evie stepped forward, moving past the hat that she couldn’t bring herself to pick up. Her gaze studied each stump and bush for any sign of her husband. Minutes passed like an eternity. Reality pressed upon her, ruthless. The land that surrounded her appeared empty of all but small wild creatures.

By the distant tree line, a couple of deer meandered along. Some small brown rabbits played by a rotting log. A turkey vulture flew by so close her nose wrinkled at its stench. Unsure of what to do next Evie started to turn around to head back home, and then stopped cold.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted distant puffs of dust on the previously deserted road. Rhythmic beats of horse hooves against the earth soon disturbed the quiet. Wind swayed tall blades of roadside grass on either side of her. Evie brought a hand up, shaded her eyes and spotted a rider. The image roused hope. She wanted to believe it was Ben, safe and sound, on his way home.

Apprehension swept over her when it became clear the rider wasn’t alone. Evie could make out three, none with a mount that had Sugar’s coloring. With the realization that Ben wasn’t one of them, another possibility occurred to her.

It could be the men from yesterday.

Alarm rooted her to the ground. Her mind screamed run but her feet refused to move. Nausea churned her stomach. Her legs threatened to buckle. Yet Evie stood, a statue, the entire time it took for them to reach her.

As they neared, it became clear she’d never seen these men before but the sight of strangers brought little relief. They slowed then stopped only feet in front of her. Evie kept a calm façade even as her heart raced. Expressions serious, they didn’t look lost and the only destination on this section of the road was her home.

“Gentlemen.”

“Mrs. Rolfe?” The stocky older man in the center wearing a dusty dull white hat moved his horse slightly forward.

Evie cradled the firearm against her mid-section. “Yes?”

“I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m William Talbert.”

“Mr. Talbert.” Nerves sharpened her tone. “Did you know some of your men harassed me last night?”

“I’m aware of that ma’am.” He dismounted with the ease of a man who’d spent a lifetime in the saddle. “And I don’t hold with craven behavior. I let those boys go as soon as I found out what they’d done. It won’t happen again.”

Evie inclined her head, acknowledging. “Thank you.”

“It was the right thing to do.”

“And you rode out here just to let me know?”

“No.” Anger threaded into his voice as he stepped away from his horse. “I’ve business with your husband.”

His long strides ate the distance between them. With each thud of footfall, her anxiety intensified. Evie inched back, keeping space between them.

“Please stop.”

“If you’ll just-”

“I said.” Her stance wide, Evie brought the rifle Ben had insisted she learn to shoot, and shoot well, up to brace against her shoulder. The firearm wobbled in her hands for a second then steadied. “Stop.”

Mr. Talbert stilled. He raised both hands chest high, palm out and spoke in a tone pitched to soothe. “Ma’am there’s no call for that. Put it down.”

“Not another step.” Evie issued a firm command.

The other men started to protest. Mr. Talbert made a sharp gesture and they fell quiet. “Easy now, there’s no need to get upset. I just want to talk to him.”

“Not today.” Evie stalled as she bore the weight of his steady gaze. Like a cornered animal, she felt trapped. Her grip on the smooth wooden stock tightened until her knuckles gleamed white, a finger hovering over the trigger. “Come back tomorrow.”

“No, he will explain himself today.” His tone was firm.

Her lips parted but no words emerged. Evie couldn’t admit she didn’t know where Ben was, that would reveal she was here alone and she couldn’t ask them for help. These men had reason not to wish her husband well. Seconds stretched into almost a full moment of silence while she tried to decide what to do.

Unexpectedly the sound of another rider interrupted the tense standoff. Evie flicked a glance in the direction of the noise. On a dappled gray horse, a lanky man, the tallest she’d ever seen, wearing a battered black hat, was easy to identify even at a fair distance.

“You asked the sheriff to ride out?”

“I just want to keep things civil ma’am.”

“By threatening me?”

“I haven’t.” His jaw tight, his words came out clipped. “Nor will I.”

Evie wasn’t certain she believed him but with the lawman closing in fast, she made a gesture of good faith. She lowered her weapon, pointing the muzzle to the ground. They waited the few moments in awkward silence until Jim Green joined them.

The sheriff positioned himself between Evie and the other mounted men. His fingers tugged the brim of his hat. “Mrs. Rolfe.”

“Sheriff Green.”

“Though it’s a fine day for a walk.” His voice was studiously polite. “Perhaps we should head back to your place. Mr. Talbert and your husband can settle matters there.”

“I’m afraid that isn’t possible.”

“Ma’am?”

“Ben isn’t home. In fact I’m worried he-”

“Where is he?” William Talbert demanded.

“I don’t know. He-”

“Do you know what that horse he sold me did?”

“He threw your son.” Her face stiff and hot, Evie spoke in a soft tone. “I’m truly sorry. I-”

“Your husband conned me.”

“I-”

“My son could’ve died.”

“Again, I’m so sorry but Ben-”

“I’ve no tolerance for lies.”

“Mr. Talbert I don’t-”

“Mrs. Rolfe-”

“Kindly have the good manners to let me finish a sentence.”

He jerked his hat off to hit it against his thigh. “Ma’am.”

“Thank you.” Slow, even breaths eased her agitation. “I don’t know where Ben is.” She held up her free hand when Mr. Talbert started to open his mouth and shook her head. “I don’t but with the sheriff as my witness I give you my word, if it’s possible, I’ll make things right.”

“He should face me like a man.” The older man’s contempt a barb, she flinched. “Not hide behind your skirt.”

“I think you should accept the lady’s offer.” The sheriff’s calm voice of reason entered the exchange.

Seconds passed before Mr. Talbert muttered, “fine.”

“I need to speak to the sheriff first.” Without waiting for agreement, she looked up at the lawman and at last gave voice to her gut-wrenching fear. “Something has happened to Ben. I...”

Her throat closed. Evie couldn’t continue. Her emotions reactive and raw, tears threatened. She bit down on her bottom lip, struggling to keep control. Sheriff Green dismounted and put a hand on her shoulder. She drew in a shaky breath.

“Ben rode off and I...” Evie pulled away. “I...”

“Easy ma’am, take your time.”

“After a time I heard…” Evie paused, drew in a breath. “I thought I heard an argument out here. I came out and...” She shook her head unable to continue, stepped back and gestured to what she’d found.

His face a blank mask, Sheriff Green studied the scene for a moment. “You go on home now and I’ll take a look around.”

“But I-”

“Can you settle things peacefully with Mr. Talbert?”

“Ah yes but-”

“Trust me ma’am, I’m good at my job.” As he walked past Mr. Talbert to his horse, the sheriff addressed him. “Would you escort Mrs. Rolfe home?”

“I will.”

“I could use the help of your men.”

Mr. Talbert frowned, agreeing in a dry tone. “Of course.”

Evie watched the three men fan out. She trusted Sheriff Green. He’d tried to work out a fair resolution when the Blakes’ claimed the wild horses Ben had caught and trained were theirs all because he’d been mistaken about the property boundaries. It wasn’t his fault the judge, a relative of Daniel Blake’s wife, had ruled against her husband.

Her chest ached with intense pressure. Ben didn’t share her good opinion. He blamed everyone who worked with the law as much as the crooked justice for his loss. And for some reason her husband believed that he was about to be arrested. Time would tell if she’d done the right thing sending the sheriff after him.

“Mrs. Rolfe?”

Her eyes burned with unshed tears. Evie knelt down, picked up Ben’s hat and pressed it to her stomach. Although she wanted to believe he was fine, the bad feeling in her gut persisted.

“Yes.” Distracted, her tone was polite, perhaps a little flat.

“Shall we?”

Evie nodded then turned around, starting back toward her home without waiting for a response. “What do you want?” She winced as her question emerged sharp, boarding on rude. “Sorry.” She took a breath then tried again. “What would make us square?”

In a terse tone, Mr. Talbert made his position clear. “I return the horse. You return my money.”

“How much would that be?” The sum he named caused her heart to skip a beat. A lump formed in her throat. “I’m not sure I have that.”

“I understand your husband spends a lot of time at The Bucking Pony.” His tone softened, now holding a note of pity.

Her cheeks heated. “What if you kept the horse?”

“It’s not worth what I paid.”

“I wasn’t suggesting that it was.” Evie cleared her throat, swallowing the urge to cry. “I was thinking we could work out something for the difference?”

They walked without speaking for a couple of minutes. The quiet undisturbed save for sounds from the horse Mr. Talbert led. Leather creaked, metal jingled and hooves delivered soft thuds against the ground. He took so long to respond her belly hurt.

At last, he answered simply, “That’s acceptable.”

“Thank you.” Unwilling to risk saying anything that might change his mind, she held her tongue until they reached her home. “Please excuse me a moment.”

Evie entered the cabin, leaned the rifle against the wall beside the door and moved to a shelf by the fireplace. Doubt crept in. She paused a second. They’d always kept their money in the large clay jar. Inside should be some of the money Talbert had paid for Spice and she hoped Ben had left her some coins from the bag she’d seen that morning. One hand crushed her husband’s hat as she reached out with the other, removing the lid.

Empty. She tried to ignore reason but the stark truth sank in slowly. His hat fell from her nerveless fingers.

Ben had left her with nothing.

Anger and frustration rose up and muted the worry. Evie wanted to scream or kick something hard yet did neither. The effort to restrain emotion caused her to tremble. It wouldn’t do for Mr. Talbert to see her throw a fit through the open door.

Pride stiffened her spine. Shoulders back, chin up, Evie stepped back out into the harsh light of day. She looked over at the animal that grazed only yards from the barn. Her eyes closed a second. She owned little of value other than Daisy.

“Would you consider taking the cow?”

“The cow?”

His incredulous tone caused anxiety to well up. Rigid with tension, Evie broke out in a cold sweat. She forced words out past stiff lips, shame ashes in her mouth. “I’m sorry. She’s about all I have. I could throw in a couple of chickens.”

“No.” He studied her awhile. “The cow will be fine.”

Mouth dry she gave him a quick nod then marched over to the barn. She grabbed a halter and a length of rope. The cow stood placid while she readied her to go. Minutes later Evie handed Daisy over to Mr. Talbert as she blinked rapidly to hold back tears.

“I’m very sorry about your son, Mr. Talbert, about everything.”

“I believe you are. Your husband on the other hand…” He swung up into his saddle. “Well ma’am, out here we consider a man only as good as his word.”

Evie winced at the verbal jab but remained polite. “Thank you for accepting the trade.”

“There seemed little other choice.”

Heat crept up her neck.

“I could stay until the sheriff comes back, if you need.”

Composure held by a thread, she forced a stiff smile. “That won’t be necessary.”

“Are you certain ma’am?”

“I’ll be fine, thank you.”

“Very well.” Despite his clipped tone, his brown eyes reflected not the irritation she’d expected, but pity, which felt worse. “Good day Mrs. Rolfe.”

Tense, she watched William Talbert ride away at a slow pace set to accommodate Daisy. Although Evie sensed he’d honor their deal, she didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until he disappeared from view. In time, she hoped his anger would fade and they could mend fences someday.

Hours passed. Evie mucked out stalls, tended the chickens, washed dishes and swept the floor. Unable to be still, she then trudged down to the creek and retrieved the sun-dried laundry. She folded clothes, put them away, hung the basket and repaired her clothesline. Even with every conceivable chore completed, she couldn’t relax. She paced outside the window in front of the cabin as the day cooled.

It’s been so long.

Her hands twisted in the fabric of her cloak. Evie looked out to the shadowed lengths of forest. A gentle breeze toyed with loose strands of her hair. The peaceful late afternoon was driving her crazy.

Her angst deepened with each moment that passed. A pair of coyotes emerged from the trees to her left, capturing her attention and interest. Frozen, poised to run, they watched her. All at once, she heard the rumble of wheels rolling over the earth. Startled, Evie blinked and the animals melted away.

Her gaze swept to the road, scared and hopeful. She hardly dared to breathe. Minutes crawled by. At last, a team of mules lumbered into view, an old farm wagon pulled behind them. Wheels tossed up a light cloud of dust as the sheriff rode around from behind the wagon, straight up to her.

“Did you find him?”

“Yes ma’am.” He dismounted to stand in front of her.

An arrow of fear shot through her heart at something in his tone. “Is he... is he...?” She couldn’t get the question out past numb lips.

“He’s hurt pretty bad. I sent a man for the doctor.”

His somber expression spoke volumes. Tension twisted her gut. Fear rose up, stealing her speech. Evie could only nod she understood as the wagon pulled up near them. The driver climbed down. He and Sheriff Green walked her to the back.

Evie leaned against the rough wood frame as the men lowered the tailgate. She drew in a long deep breath for courage then looked in at Ben, bloodied and beaten. His face was almost unrecognizable. Tears almost blinded her. Twice, her mouth opened and shut without uttering a sound.

How much can a man lose without dying?

All sound faded to the edge of her awareness. Evie stretched forward to hold a hand above his mouth. Breath feathered her palm and a fraction of her apprehension eased. Her gaze unfocused, she straightened.

“If you’ll step back ma’am, we’ll bring him inside.”

For a second Evie stared at the sheriff uncomprehending then his words filtered through. She moved. “Thank you.”

Adrenalin pumped through her veins. Evie darted into the cabin, ripping quilts off the bed as the men entered. They laid Ben down on his back on the mattress. She thrust a pail at the Talbert hand, John, and asked him to fetch some water from the creek. With hands that shook, she lit the lamp. She set it on the dresser and looked down at her husband.

Ashen skin made a stark contrast with blackened eyes. His nose was easily twice its normal size and new smudges marked his jaw, chin and left cheek. Evie reached down, touched his arm and whispered his name. He didn’t respond.

A single tear ran unheeded down her face as she started to tend her husband. Evie pulled off his worn boots. The sheriff helped her strip off his pants. The long, muscular legs sported a few bruises on his thighs but otherwise seemed unharmed. She moved on to his once green flannel shirt.

Stained with dirt and wet with blood, the fabric clung to his shoulder. She gently peeled it away and uncovered more than a battered body, discovering the source of the blood. Heart in her throat she stared at the ugly wound. Her fingers, one by one, loosened the flannel. The ruined shirt fell to the floor. Death was a real possibility.

“Ben?” Evie touched his uninjured shoulder, soft. He reacted with a low moan. She tried again in a more forceful tone. “Please, Ben, wake up. Open your eyes.”

His eyelids fluttered a few seconds then stilled. Evie picked up a blanket and covered him to the waist. She dug out some towels, scissors and an old sheet then tossed most of the supplies onto the table, impatient. Fear raced along her nerves as she returned to sit on the edge of the bed. She put a folded towel over the weeping hole in his shoulder.

“He was attacked?”

“Yes ma’am.”

John returned and set the pail on the floor beside her. Evie got up, filling a pot with water to heat. While the men built a fire, she cut a few long strips from faded cotton, her usually nimble fingers clumsy.

“Who?”

“Ma’am?”

“Who did it?” With a handful of just made bandages, some washcloths and a bowl, Evie returned to her husband’s side.

“I don’t know.”

Her gaze drifted over Ben. The rise and fall of his chest offered small comfort. Evie reached over, brushed back matted hair and found a good-sized lump near his right temple. Tears stung her eyes. She half filled the bowl with water and started to wash the blood off his face.

Anger snapped along strained nerves. Evie shot a glance over at the sheriff. “What do you know?”

“Your husband is a lucky man.”

“Lucky?” Her gaze became a glare.

“One of your neighbors saw his mare, riderless, if he hadn’t I doubt we’d have found Ben in time.”

“Neighbor? Mr. Talbert?”

He shook his head. “Thomas Sullivan.”

“Was he the one who hurt Ben?”

“No ma’am.” Sheriff Green straightened from his crouched position. He hung the pot she’d filled over flames that danced along sticks.

“But he knew where Ben was?”

“Tom showed us where he’d seen the horse.”

“Had seen? He didn’t go after her?”

“Well, ma’am, I’m afraid Tom spotted her at some distance and didn’t feel inclined to investigate.”

The shame burnt her cheeks. “He didn’t care about a loose, saddled horse because he recognized Sugar.”

“He knew it was your husband’s mount.” Sheriff Green cleared his throat. “Anyway, Ben was near there, at the bottom of a small ravine.”

“How did you know to look there?”

“Just like chasing down a wounded animal, we followed the blood trail.”

Evie turned to stare at John with wide eyes, horrified at the images those words invoked. “You what?”

“I think you’ve helped enough, go on home now.”

John had the grace to mumble an apology as she watched him take his leave. A hand touched her upper arm. “You all right?”

Startled, Evie looked up at the sheriff. “I’m fine.”

“You look-”

“Tired? Scared out of my mind?” Although she attempted to sound calm and in control, her voice emerged thin and strained. “I’ll survive.” Evie got up, walked outside, and tossed the fouled water out of her bowl. “When will the doctor get here?”

“Soon I’m sure.”

All of a sudden, Ben groaned. Evie spun at the sound and hurried to her husband’s side. His eyes open, he stared up at her. Pain etched deep lines on his face.

Her fingers lightly touched his. “Ben.”



His lips moved in a sad attempt at a smile. “Hey. Pretty. Lady.” He drew in a breath between each word as his gaze swept the room. “Where am I?”


"You will want to see how each situation turns out."

"This book drew me in and did not let go until the end!"

"A moving, sweet and believable love story."

"Loved how she made the characters with human flaws and still have us readers capable of loving them and wanting the best for them."

5 star reviews for The Outlaw of Cedar Ridge:
Men of Fir Mountain book 1 by Lori Connelly



The Outlaw of Cedar Ridge 
is available at:
Amazon  Kobo  Barnes & Noble 
All Romance ebooks  Itunes



The Outlaw of Cedar Ridge 
is Book 1 of the 
Men of Fir Mountain 
series
The Outlaw of Cedar Ridge book 1


Follow Lori Connelly online


Friday, August 22, 2014

First Fight Friday: Lily’s Leap by Téa Cooper

Goats solve their differences head-on. They don’t give the silent treatment or yell, they butt heads, and then it’s over.

Cowboy Marvin has learned humans resolve issues differently especially those romantically involved. His curiosity sparked, he has invited authors to stop by on Fridays and share the first fight out of their latest book.








Téa Cooper 





is here for ...


First Fight Friday 

with a scene from 

Lily’s Leap


Propriety is all well and good, but it’s in the way of Lilibeth restoring the family fortune and reputation. So there’s no way she’s going to let some bushranger with delusions of grandeur and his ragtag gang derail her plans.

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Tom clapped his hat back onto his sweat-soaked head. ‘Miss Dungarven, we’re leaving.’ 

Pulling a coil of rope from his saddlebag, he caught the bridle of her horse and managed to slip it through the bit ring before she sprang into her saddle. As he glanced up at her he caught the flash of defiance in her eyes and his breath hitched. She tensed and pulled her elbows tight against her sides and then yanked on the reins.

His head jerked back and he stared wide-eyed as time skewed and the massive black stallion lifted onto its hind legs and reared in front of him. Raising his arms he covered his head. A cold sweat broke out on his face and he ducked below the flailing forelegs. Cradled beneath the steaming belly of the stallion, he glimpsed the blue sky between the muscled hindquarters and the silhouette of its mighty testicles. The bulging veins on its haunches throbbed and pulsated to the rhythm of his shallow gasps, and the overpowering musty smell of horse sweat enveloped him.

The roar of blood in his ears deafened him, and as suddenly as it had begun, the shadow lifted and the stallion retreated, step by practiced step. Tom struggled to his feet, his legs rubbery from shock. A moist rush of air from the beast’s cavernous nostril swept his cheek.

Miss Dungarven stared down at him, her shoulders straight and her proud haughty face striking in the harsh sunlight. ‘I assure you I am quite capable of riding without a lead rope.’

Forcing a tight-lipped smile he let his breathing settle before he spoke, praying his voice wouldn’t crack. ‘I have no doubt, madam, after that display. It’s for that very reason I’ve attached the lead rope. I have no intention of losing you.’

Copyright © Téa Cooper

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From Escape's Queen of Australian historical romance comes a story about a privileged member of Australian's squattocracy, a bushranger, and a very special horse.

Born into the rough, but privileged society of the Australian colonial landowners, Lilibeth Dungarven finds herself married, widowed, and, much to her distress, back under her father’s thumb, all before her twenty-first birthday. Determined not to forgo her dream of breeding the perfect racehorse, Lilibeth ignores propriety and sets out to restore
the family’s flagging fortunes.

When Captain Tom and his mismatched band of bushrangers stumble across a mob of the best horses they’ve ever seen, and the daughter of the famed Dungarven horse stud, they know their fortunes have changed. Their catch is worth a king’s ransom.
All they have to do is hold her for seven days.
How hard can it be to control
the pampered daughter of a colonial upstart?



Reviews for 
Lily's Leap 


From Amazon and Goodreads:

“Forget work, forget all your responsibilities and slide into this delicious story ... a well-written book by a talented writer ... since I doubt I’ll be visiting Australia, it was a treat to feel like I was there, herding horses to market across the Australian Outback. The landscape assumes the position of a character in this exciting romance; playing a pivotal role in Lily’s adventure. 
A fabulous read by a very talented Aussie author … 
I have no hesitation in HIGHLY recommending Lily’s Leap.”

If you enjoy historical romance, and you are hungry for a tale with an real Australian flavour, Lily’s Leap is definitely one to look out for. - My Written Romance

I thoroughly enjoyed this truly beautifully written Australian story.- Sharon's Reviews on Goodreads

Tea Cooper is not yet a household name but with more solid work like this, she is certain to be in time. A great read and recommended to anyone who loves Australian historicals.
A Reader's Heaven

This book had plenty of action and adventure, which is something I’d like to see more of in the genre, too. - Sonya's Stuff

Lily's Leap
is available in both ebook and print on:

Amazon US iTUNES      KOBO     Amazon AUS 


Téa's bio:

Téa Cooper lives in a stone cottage on one hundred acres of bushland, just outside the nineteenth century village of Wollombi, NSW Australia. When she isn't writing, Téa can be found haunting the local museum or chatting to the locals, who offer a never-ending source of inspiration. Both Lily’s Leap and Matilda’s Freedom are set in and around Wollombi.

In October, Jazz Baby, a 1920s rags to riches story set in Sydney will be released and in February, Forgotten Fragrance, Book I of a family saga entitled From the Ocean to the Outback. At the moment she is working on a parallel time-line series entitled The Adventures of Miss Abigail Wynter. She has also written three contemporary romances.



Follow Téa Cooper online


Thanks for sharing Téa!

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