Release day is coming up next week for my first full length Regency romance! I'm excited and terrified all at the same time, but the reviews thus far have been so encouraging <3 I'm sharing this here to give a taste of what the book will hold for anyone who's curious. Take a read through the first chapter, and let me know what you think!
Berkshire, England – July 1815
James Barrington, Duke of Norland, was doing his best not to lash out, irritation roiling in his chest. It took his every effort to maintain the proper decorum and respect for his mother that society demanded, but she sat there smiling innocently as if nothing were wrong, sunlight pouring happily through the windows of the drawing room.
His drawing room.
“What are you doing here, Mother?”
She raised a withering eyebrow at his tone, but it did nothing to diminish her smile. “I told you, I’m here for the house party, same as every year.”
“Yes, but you’re entirely too early. We did not expect you until August.”
“Well, Parliament let out early. Which you would have known had you been in attendance.”
James ground his teeth. There were a myriad of reasons he did not participate in Parliament, but he was not in the state of mind to discuss those reasons with her, of all people.
“And you didn't consider for a moment to inform me so I could ready the house?”
“I did write, darling, but apparently, I travel before it.”
Her flippant manner made him want to growl. “A lot of good that did. Mrs. Arnold and the staff have been running themselves ragged trying to accommodate seven unexpected guests, not to mention the arrival of the Duchess herself.”
“But that’s what Mrs. Arnold and the staff are for, my dear.” She waved her hand dismissively,
“Damn it, Mother!” James pounded his hand on the arm of his chair. “I already have guests. I have meals planned, days booked, work to do. I have no time for your frivolity and nonsense. We’ve had no time to prepare, and I will not have you shame this house further.” He hoped his words were pointed enough.
Finally, the Duchess of Norland’s smile fell, and she narrowed her eyes at him. “Mind your tongue. I’m still your mother. Besides, if I am the duchess, then I will use my husband’s fortune as I see fit. That was part of our arrangement: one month out of the year, I require the use of this house.”
“You are the dowager duchess,” James reminded her under his breath.
“A duchess, nonetheless.”
His nerves fraying with anger, James stood from his seat and moved toward the door, unable to bear her insolence a moment longer.
“I also expect you at dinner this evening,” she called after him. “Your friends are welcome to join us.”
He paused for a moment by the door. “Part of our bargain was that you give me ample notice, Mother, and since you have failed to keep your lot, I’m not obligated to keep mine. As I said, I’ve already made plans. You can speak to Cook about your dinner arrangements.”
“Come now, James. You must join us for a few appearances. Three or four, at least. You know your reputation will continue to suffer . . .”
She was one to talk about reputation. Closing his eyes and shaking his head, he let himself out of the drawing room. The next four weeks would undoubtedly be a torment, attempting to hide from her house party, but at least he had his two friends to suffer with him.
James couldn’t even make it out of the room before blindly knocking into someone in the doorway. Opening his eyes, he half expected his butler, Kingsley, or some innocuous companion or lady’s maid. Instead, it was an elegant young miss with an intelligent gaze and brown hair tucked back into a perfect coif. Her eyes widened in surprise, but he was the one surprised to see how small she was. Almost an entire head shorter.
“Out of my way, child,” he grumbled.
Her brown eyes flashed in indignation. “I am no child.”
He examined her further before speaking, noticing a rise of pink in her cheeks. “You are short and slight, you have no respect for your superiors, and you meander through this house aimlessly with no thought of who you might inconvenience.”
She narrowed her eyes, bracing her shoulders with bravery. “I am a guest here, and I was not expecting to be attacked by a cantankerous man. I was simply looking for the duchess, who had summoned me.”
James wanted to admire her retort, but he couldn’t allow any of his mother’s guests to expect his kindness, else they would begin to seek out his company. He simply stepped aside and said, “Then you are a child who has found her way.”
Turning down the corridor, James stormed away. The sooner the house party started, the sooner they could all leave.
Isabel Hastings let out a deep breath, pressing a hand to her pounding heart as the duke stalked away. She was certain she had left an impression on him, but Isabel was grateful her own mother wasn’t there, for it was not the kind of impression she would have wished for a young, unmarried woman like Isabel.
“There you are, my dear!” Anne Barrington, Dowager Duchess of Norland, came crashing out of the drawing room. “I’m sorry you had to find my James in such a foul mood. We did seem to catch him quite off guard.”
“Of course, Your Grace. I’m not in the least offended.” Isabel felt she probably should be, the way he talked down to her and dismissed her, but she had no desire to seek the favor of the Undesirable Duke, as he had been dubbed in London. Still, that didn’t keep her parents from pushing her into every possible connection for a chance to win him.
“Now, tell me the honest truth.” The duchess tugged on Isabel’s arm, gently pulling her into the room and seating her on the settee. “What do you think of him, my pet? Is he not the most handsome of men?”
Isabel fought hard to maintain a believable smile. “Indeed, Your Grace. Very handsome.” She would not argue the fact, for it was true. Despite his sour temperament, his attractive features were obvious. Dark hair framing a handsome face, piercing blue eyes, and a strong jaw. The title and expansive wealth of course added to his appeal, but Isabel knew there were more important things than these attributes. Her siblings had married similarly situated spouses and were all equally miserable. The wealth and title meant nothing, except to those in society who did not have to live the life day in and day out. The life of the wealthy and noble often included a life without love, and Isabel was determined not to fall into the same trap.
“I hope you will forgive his reclusive nature.” The duchess sat back in her seat and sighed. “He’s been so isolated since the death of his father and has mourned him bitterly. But I think he could use a girl like you to cheer him up. Pull him out of the darkness and back into the light.”
Isabel had expected this. It’s what her mother had trained her for––luring a wealthy, titled gentleman into the arms of matrimony. But Isabel could not have hoped for a better situation. Clearly this man did not want to be caught, so she could give the appearance of trying to win him, and then, when the end of the house party came, she could walk away unattached. Because the truth of it was, she couldn’t become engaged to the Duke of Norland when she was already secretly engaged to someone else.
“I’ll do my best, Your Grace.”
I don't update this blog very much, but it's a place I can share info about new releases! This is the first glance at chapter one of my new Regency novella. Her Sister's Suitor. The official release date is Monday 4/19, so keep your eyes peeled!
“I don’t believe we’ll be taking any more trips to London, my dear. At least, not for some time.”
Diana Gibbs hadn’t meant to overhear what Uncle Hubert was saying in his study, but the words made her freeze. With the door open a crack, she paused in the corridor, unable to keep from listening.
“What makes you say that?” came Aunt Susan’s voice.
“We’ll be fine for the rest of the year to continue as we are, but the trip took a larger sum than I had planned, and I don’t want to dip into the children’s dowries should we have any additional expenses.”
“Very well.” Aunt Susan sighed. “I thought for certain Diana and Helen could find themselves decent husbands, that the Season would do them good. They’re such good girls and I’d be sad to see them go, but they deserve to be happy and settled.”
“Yes, and I know Eloise and Miriam will miss them a great deal when they do someday marry. But until then, we must try to keep a balance. I don’t want to pull Alexander or Phillipa out of school.”
“No, of course not. We can hold off on any trips to London until Phillipa’s own come out.”
Diana’s shoulders sagged, her stomach turning sour. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Had the prolonged stay of Diana and her sister become a financial burden for her relatives, even threatening for her cousins? It made her want to pull down all the luggage still fresh from their trip back from London and leave that very instant. But that was impossible. She and Helen were entirely dependent on their aunt and uncle.
A chair stirred in the study, urging Diana to hurry up the stairs to her bedroom. Worrying her lip with her teeth, Diana wondered how much she should share with her sister. Helen didn’t need this added pressure to urge her into a hasty marriage. That’s what had found Diana so unhappily matched herself, only to have her husband die and leave her a poor widow at age twenty-three. She would not force that same fate on her sister.
In truth, Diana was lucky she had such obliging relations. When her aunt and uncle had gained guardianship of Helen, they had insisted Diana come along as well, after the carriage accident that claimed their parents, and the fatal illness that took Diana’s husband. Her aunt and uncle, The Franklins, were well-placed in society with a decently large estate, Bellstone, and a moderate amount of wealth. But their half a dozen children had to take priority, and Diana would not allow herself to be an additional expense for long. Her meager widow’s jointure from her marriage could not cover the living of both Diana and Helen, and Diana couldn’t return to her late husband’s family in shame. No, they would find another way to solve the problem.
When Diana opened the door to her bedroom, Helen was just as she left her, prostrate on the bed. “I see you’ve made great progress getting settled,” Diana said with a pointed smile.
“I’m still exhausted,” Helen exclaimed. “If I ever leave this bed again, it will be too soon!”
Diana opened the traveling trunk before looking up at her sister with a raised eyebrow. “Then I suppose we’ll have all your meals brought to the room? And you won’t be able to visit Mary Jackson anymore?”
Helen sat up quickly, wisps of brown hair falling into her eyes. “You know what I mean. For going out to dinners or dances. I’m grateful that Aunt and Uncle took us to London, but I can only hope we never have to go again.”
Diana felt the urge to laugh bitterly, knowing that wouldn’t be a problem any time soon, but she had to agree. While they were blessed to have the opportunity, neither of them enjoyed parading around London. Still, Diana was pleased Helen had at least been introduced into society. It was more than Diana could have managed on her own, and at least now Helen had an idea what was expected of her. Set to inherit seven thousand pounds, Helen couldn’t throw around her affections to just anyone.
Not that she ever would. Helen was far too practical and level-headed for such things. She preferred to spend her time alone, studying science, history, and philosophy, and had no problem keeping her feet firmly on the ground. She understood the logistics of the world around her, but perhaps not the demands of society, which would be needed to secure a proper husband. And if Diana had anything to say about it, that required he be wealthy in his own right, and of good moral standing. For she knew first-hand how a marriage could deteriorate without those two very important factors.
“If it were up to me,” Helen said, lounging on the bed while Diana unpacked their things, “I’d have my dowry already, so we wouldn’t have to depend on Uncle or wait for me to get married. You and I would split the money and have a house of our own, and the only guests we’d allow is Aunt and Uncle’s family, and Mary’s family. What would you say to that?”
“In this imaginary home of ours?” Diana said with a smirk. “It sounds lovely. I’ll not keep Mary or her brothers from visiting. Besides, who else would you talk to about these science books of yours?”
Helen grinned, reaching for the beautiful hardbound book on the nightstand. “This is better than any muslin gown Aunt Susan could have bought for me.” Then she sat up with excitement sparkling in her eyes. “Maybe we won’t have to go back to London at all. Perhaps there is a young man nearby who will have the perfect library, who wouldn’t have to go to any great lengths to persuade me into matrimony.”
“Yes, that would be ideal, wouldn’t it?” For more than just Helen. But of the men Diana knew in the area, none of them were worthy of her sister. Could anyone be?
Helen must have noticed her reserve, for she knitted her eyebrows. “And I wish you didn’t have to worry for me so. Are you sure there’s nothing we can do to hurry up the inheritance? It seems ridiculous for us to live off Uncle’s kindness when I have plenty enough for the both of us, only to be curtailed by some silly stipulation.”
“I know, dearest.” Diana had written to her late father’s solicitor while they were in London to ask if the will permitted an early allowance, but his reply confirmed it was impossible. Helen either needed to marry, or wait until her twenty-first birthday, to receive her dowry. Her lack of desire for society meant marriage was likely not the answer, but knowing Helen’s impatience, neither was waiting another four years.
A knock sounded at the bedroom door. “Come in,” Diana called.
Aunt Susan appeared, waving a letter around. “I have the very best news, my dears!” The sparkle of excitement in her eyes could only mean an invitation to another dinner party or a crowded ball, which Diana was certain Helen would be plotting for a way to escape.
“Do you remember the Rowley family? The elder Mr. Rowley was a solicitor for some of the wealthy families here in Mayford before he died, and his son, Lucas, was a playmate to Edward as a child.”
The name was vaguely familiar, summoning the memory of a boy with light shaggy hair, but Diana couldn’t envision a face. “I believe so.”
“Well, it seems one of the estates Mr. Rowley managed, Coverley Hall, has been left to his son. How miraculous. Lucas has been away studying the law for some time, but now that he’s returned to inherit, his mother is hosting a dinner at the estate in his honor.”
“How lucky for him,” Helen mumbled. Diana pressed her lips together to stifle a laugh.
“And best of all, they’ve invited us! Next Thursday evening, the three of us and your uncle. It will be so nice to be amongst friends again after the hustle and bustle of London. But it was lovely, wasn’t it?”
The word lovely was perhaps too generous, but Diana gave her a smile. “Indeed.”
“Well, take your rest, and I’ll send a servant when it’s time for dinner.” Aunt Susan paused to look around the bedroom. “Are you sure it’s not too drafty up here?”
A sliver of guilt cut through Diana’s stomach. “Please don’t worry yourself, Aunt. This room is perfectly suitable.” Regardless of the status of the guest room, Diana would feel better when she didn’t have to impose on her aunt’s kindness at all.
“Very well.” Aunt Susan smiled at the girls before leaving the room and closing the door behind her.
“Must we really go?” Helen mourned.
Diana moved to sit beside her sister. “Such invitations cannot be avoided forever. At least it can wait until next Thursday. Besides, what if this is the man with the expansive library you were talking about?”
Helen rolled her eyes, then moved to pull the pins from her hair. Diana would also need to change out of her traveling clothes and eventually dress for dinner, but the more she considered her own teasing words, the more she liked the sound of them. What little she remembered about Lucas Rowley was in a positive light. He had been good-natured as a child, and if he was still friends with her cousin, then he must be a person of decent moral standing. Perhaps he really could be a prospect for Helen. Diana trusted such a man would treat her sister respectably, and if he had inherited an estate, it likely came with a sum of money as well, which meant he wouldn’t need to depend on Helen’s dowry. Diana wouldn’t get her hopes up until after they’d reacquainted themselves at the dinner, but he just might be a perfect match for Helen.
If they formed an attachment and decided to marry, that would be one less worry for Aunt and Uncle. Then Diana could look for employment as a governess or a lady’s companion, and she could live the rest of her life as a poor widow. Which would suit her just fine, for she had no inclination to ever marry again.
Want to know what happens next? Coming soon to Amazon, so be sure to follow me on social media below, or join my newsletter for the announcement!
The next book in the Little Creek series is coming soon! Check out this glimpse of the first chapter here:
The sunset filled the sky with streams of oranges and pinks, casting the western mountains in a purple shadow. He should have recognized the mountains, but he didn’t.
A cold wind woke the man where he slept, unprotected from the elements. His body ached as he leaned forward to stand, producing a groan; now his shaking legs could barely hold him upright. He stared at the mountains, willing them to be familiar, wishing for some sense of certainty, but nothing would fill the emptiness he felt.
His mind raced. How had he come to be alone in an unfamiliar territory?
Another cold wind blew from behind, and his instincts told him a storm was coming. He turned to face it, barely taking in the darkening sky ahead before the scattered shambles on the ground below captured his attention.
The scene was nothing short of hellish.
There was an overturned stagecoach with charred edges, and smoldering flames dying in the cold winds, all its contents smashed and shattered, strewn across the path.
And the bodies…
Four men lying still, blood puddling beneath them in patches of snow. There was no stench, but the man knew if it had been a hot summer day, there would have been no hiding from the smell of bleeding, burning carcasses.
Why did he know such a gruesome detail?
He brought a hand to cover his mouth, but instantly pulled it back when he felt a sticky moisture on his face.
Even in the disappearing sunlight, he could clearly see his hands and forearms covered in blood.
His heart began to pound.
Rubbing his fingers against his palm, he grew nauseated. He needed to get the blood off his hands.
Each of his senses were on alert. He squinted his eyes, scanning the horizon for some sign of life while the sun dipped down, leaving him shivering. With his mouth dry and his heart pumping, he strained to listen, turning his ears toward a sound… like rushing water.
He moved as quickly as his aching body would allow in search of the source. When he came across a nearly frozen stream, his hand reflexively went to his hip, intent on using his gun to break through the ice, but his holster was empty. Shouting in frustration, he brought his boot heel down, breaking the thin layer of ice to reveal crystal clear water.
Plunging his hands in, the cold widened his eyes and made him hiss, but he scrubbed vigorously to remove the stain. When he pulled them out of the water, remnants of blood still lingered in the cracks of his skin.
He looked beyond his hands and saw his own reflection in the water, now murky and swirling with blood. Tousled hair, bearded jaw, confused eyes… who was he? Panic rose within him as he didn’t recognize the face staring back at him. Mentally he dug for answers… the missing gun, the blood on his hands, the massacre behind him… but it was only grasping at emptiness. The man swallowed deeply, not knowing if he were the kind of man who would be responsible for the scene behind him.
Flurries of snow started to fall on the water, the ripples disrupting his reflection. The man shook his head as he realized he didn’t have much time. His panic did not subside, but his innate sense of survival and self-preservation had taken over. He needed to find shelter. Quickly.
Tucking his hands beneath his arms to hide them from the wind, he gazed across the horizon, searching for salvation. The path northward would take him to the tiny town at the base of the eastern mountains, barely visible in the distance, but he knew he would never make it on foot before the snow overcame him. He turned again, blinking to focus his vision through the snow. Just beyond the road was a rising spiral of smoke, different from the dark gathering clouds. It could very well be a house and a warm fire that produced the smoke.
The man took a deep breath and swallowed hard. He could make it if he hurried, but his conscience made him pause. He couldn’t leave the dead where they lie. He reached out to move the first body, but a sharp pain in his chest made him recoil. Pulling back the front of his shirt, there was a dried bullet wound in his left shoulder. The man huffed, but he managed as best he could with one arm, moving the bodies to rest under the stagecoach remnants. It felt a familiar task, and he wondered what kind of life he had led to have such an experience.
When he reached for the last body, he caught a glimpse of white paper peeking out from the man’s vest. On closer inspection, it wasn’t a paper, but a playing card. A seven of diamonds. Anger surged as the man questioned if the carnage was the result of some saloon brawl, but he pocketed the card as perhaps the only clue to his identity. The dead body wore a hefty coat, so the man begged his pardon and took it for himself, along with the hat, to shield against the oncoming cold.
Boots crunching in the collecting snow, he made his way toward his last chance. His head throbbed powerfully behind his eyes, but he pressed on, the smoke in the distance calling to him with the promise of a warm fire. Through the mist of snow, he could make out a log cabin, cradled by trees and surrounded by farmland at the foot of the mountain. He tried to keep his emotions in check, but he couldn’t keep from hoping to find answers there.
Trekking across the plains began to wear him down. Biting wind blew against him, so he pulled the coat tight around his neck. His legs shook from the exertion, and his hands still ached from the wet cold. It couldn’t be much farther now, but the snow in his eyes made it almost impossible to see.
Eventually he came up to the barn, a short distance from the cabin. The man was tempted to sneak in and sleep in the hay with the animals, then disappear before daylight. But he remembered the bullet wound in his shoulder and knew it needed attention before an infection set in, if one hadn’t already.
The snow was now up to his ankles as he approached the house. His head was swimming, and worrying he might not make it to the door, he called out, “Hello! Anyone home?”
A dog’s bark filled the air, and the door opened to reveal a woman with curled brown hair about her shoulders, holding a shotgun. The dog at her side gave a vicious growl to support the threat.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
The man stumbled. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to startle you…”
“How did you get out here?” she demanded. “Who are you?”
The man swallowed. He couldn’t give her that. “I mean you no harm, ma’am. I can hardly stay upright… I’m injured, and there’s a storm coming…”
She leveled the shotgun at him. “You didn’t answer my question.”
His vision began to slant and swirl. In desperation, he said, “Please, help me.”
Then the darkness came up to greet him.
Want to read more? You can see what happens next in The Widow's Hope!
It's almost time for this story to greet the world! I've been working on this story since last year, the first full length story in the Little Creek series. It's included a lot of research, a lot of revisions, and a lot of learning to prepare this book for readers. But I'm so excited and I can't wait any longer, so here's the first chapter, introducing Nate and Adelaide!
Little Creek, Utah Territory – 1873
Adelaide Bradshaw wriggled uncomfortably in the church pew as a droplet of sweat trailed down her neck and disappeared into the collar of her dress. This earned a glare from her mother beside her, so Adelaide corrected her posture and waved her fan more furiously. No matter that it was only May; there would be no sweet, gradual welcoming of spring. The sweltering sunshine was already peering in through the chapel windows with its unrelenting presence.
The preacher went on about hellfire and brimstone, as if the Lord’s house wasn’t already an oven itself, and it brought Adelaide’s gaze to the sunny outdoors. She wondered if she could take Papa’s horse, Mickey, for a ride down by the creek. He didn’t like her going riding on a Sunday, said it didn’t suit for a young lady to be out riding alone, and Mickey was a work horse for the mail services anyway. If her brother Mark had been home, he would have let her take his horse, Biscuit, but he was still gone on a cattle drive.
As she glanced around the chapel, it felt empty without all the cowboys from Hamilton’s ranch. So many empty seats that would have been filled by dusty, rowdy young men. Instead there were only parents with eyes fluttering closed and children bickering in the pews. Adelaide’s eyes landed on her best friend, Molly Masterson, who sat beside her younger sister Betty. Molly smiled widely and mouthed “after” as she nodded toward the door. That could mean a great many things.
Mama’s elbow met with Adelaide’s side, pulling her attention back to the front. As she turned, Adelaide couldn’t help noticing the gaze from one certain man on the opposite side of the room. Mr. Patrick Johnson, the banker’s son. Patrick offered a small nod and a forced smile, which did not go unnoticed by his new wife Susan. They exchanged whispers, and then the new Mrs. Johnson frowned in Adelaide’s direction. The heated glare beneath that bonnet didn’t bother Adelaide. It wasn’t her fault Mr. Johnson was a scoundrel. After pursuing them both in private, the choice was made for him when Susan was found to be with child. The shotgun wedding that quickly followed ensured Adelaide would never have to deal with him again.
For all the heartache Adelaide had suffered, she wouldn’t want to change places with the married woman.
At length, the choir stood to sing a closing hymn, and Adelaide was ready to sing a Hallelujah with them. One final prayer, and the congregation began filing out the door.
“Thank you for coming today,” said Reverend Taylor as Papa shook his hand. “How are you faring without your boy?”
“He’s hardly a boy anymore, Reverend,” Papa mumbled beneath his beard. “He’s his own man.”
“And when do you expect him to return?”
Mama lifted her eyes to the east, looking wistfully from under her bonnet. “Any day now. Three months is plenty long for a mother’s heart.”
The words on Adelaide’s tongue were cut short when a desperate hand tugged on her arm, pulling her into the cooler shade beside the chapel.
“I have news!” Molly whispered, shadowed by little Betty behind her.
“Well, good morning to you too,” Adelaide said with a chuckle.
“Don’t be long, Adelaide,” said Papa with a stern eyebrow.
“Yes, Papa,” she said, then turned back to her friend. “Now what’s all the fuss, Molly?”
“Only the best news ever!” Molly shrieked. “Mr. Sharp came to call last night!”
Adelaide raised an eyebrow, dismissing the familiar pang of jealousy. Though they were both the same age of seventeen, Molly had so many more suitors compared to Adelaide’s one or two. She conceded it made sense when comparing her own straw-colored hair with her friend’s fiery red curls, or her pale blue eyes with the bright green of Molly’s.
“Mr. Sharp, the hotel owner?” Adelaide asked. “I didn’t know he was one of your callers. Isn’t he a bit old?”
Molly tossed her hand. “He’s barely thirty, and so attractive!”
“And so much nicer than all the dirty miners,” Betty chimed in, only to be shushed by her sister when the miners exited the chapel.
“Come along, Adelaide,” Papa called, and she looked up to beg a few minutes more, but she noticed a large cloud of dust billowing just outside of town. It wasn’t just a dust devil…
“Now who could that be?” Molly muttered.
A strong breeze blew, almost knocking the bonnet from Adelaide’s head, but she placed a hand over it to keep it still. She needed a shield from the sun to make out what was headed their direction.
As the thundering sound of horses grew closer, Adelaide held her breath. She could see four riders amidst the kicked-up dust. She focused hard, not on the riders, but on the horses. The heat glazed everything at a distance, but she could tell one of the horses had a white diamond on the forehead, just like Biscuit.
“It’s Mark!” Adelaide shouted.
She took a step forward, but Papa caught her hand. “Leave them be, Adelaide. They’re covered in dust.” But she couldn’t be still. She waved frantically, then took a stance beside Mama and locked their elbows together.
The riders pulled to a stop right before the crowded church yard, and the first dirty cowboy lowered himself from his horse. He greeted her parents before wrapping Adelaide in a hug, lifting her from her feet. “Welcome home, Mark,” she said.
Mark’s dark eyes danced, and when he lowered the dusty bandana that covered his mouth, his smile radiated. “I missed you, sis.”
There was a nudge at her shoulder, and Adelaide turned to see his horse’s slender face. Reaching out to pet her affectionately, Adelaide said, “Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you, Biscuit.”
When Mark turned back to Mama and Papa, it left Adelaide amongst the horses. She recognized three of them, but the fourth she couldn’t place, an older Palomino. She looked around and saw Jameson Cobb, one of Mark’s oldest friends, greeting his own mother and brothers, Roy and Wesley. Then she turned, and in the glare of the sun, she saw a smile she’d been expecting; Sawyer Hamilton, the rancher’s handsome son.
“There you are,” Adelaide said, her throat going dry as he grew close to her.
“You were looking for me?” Sawyer asked in a low drawl.
“Well, your horse was here, but you were nowhere to be seen,” she said with a shrug.
He removed his hat to reveal his sandy-colored hair was a shade darker with all the dust gathered from their trek across the country.
“I’d say you’re a mite prettier than the day I left, Addy.” He glanced down at her with open admiration in his eyes.
Adelaide shook her head. “Oh, stop it, Sawyer. Flattery doesn’t suit you.”
“And if I’m being sincere?” Sawyer stepped closer. “Ain’t there some saying that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder?’”
Adelaide’s face grew warm, though not from the sunny afternoon. She was lucky to have such a handsome and attentive young man courting her.
“Your mama taught you better than to be saying, ‘ain’t,’” Adelaide said with a smirk.
Sawyer chuckled. “What can I say? The drive has made me lazy.”
“Mama, look who we found in Wichita!” Mark said, drawing everyone’s attention.
When Adelaide looked over, Mark threw his arm around the shoulder of a tall, bearded man that Adelaide couldn’t quite place. But recognition dawned over Mama’s face, and she gasped. “Why, Nate Hawkins, as I live and breathe!”
Adelaide felt her own breath leave her chest. She wanted to move, to get a better look at him, to hug him like Mama and Papa were, but she was frozen to the spot. As if sensing her distance, Mark turned and pulled Nate toward her. “Addy, you remember Nate?”
Did she remember? The way her body was reacting, the better question would have been, had she ever really forgotten him? With pounding heart, Adelaide’s mind summoned memories of when she was but a child, when she had formed an innocent attachment to him, and that determined affection refused to die. The day he left Ohio, he had taken a little piece of her heart with him, even for one so young. She never expected to see him again, but now almost ten years later, though his shoulders were wider and he wore a full beard, beneath the dust and history, his velvety brown eyes were ever the same.
“Howdy, Nate,” Adelaide greeted him in a shaky voice.
Nate’s eyes grew wide and he pulled off his hat. “Mark, this can’t be your kid sister. She’s so grown up!”
“It happens to all of us.” Adelaide smiled, trying to appear unaffected.
Mama and Papa appeared beside them. “I think we’ve occupied the church yard long enough,” Papa said. “Come along, Adelaide.”
“Now, Nate,” Mama said. “I want you to come join us for dinner tonight. I’m sure Mrs. Hamilton is planning on you, but she gets you for the rest of the season, so I want you to come spend tonight with us.”
Nate nodded. “Thank you kindly, Mrs. Bradshaw. I’ll be sure to come with Mark.”
Giving the cowboys all a wave, Adelaide hurried behind her parents and headed for home. She would have lamented not spending more time with them upon their return, but the prospect of having Nate over for dinner softened the blow.
Nate Hawkins couldn't shake the smile from his face as he watched Adelaide Bradshaw saunter down the street, lithe and wispy as a prairie flower. Once they were out of hearing range, Nate threw his arm around Mark’s shoulder.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Nate said. “Mark, who knew your sister would grow up into such a pretty little thing?”
Mark turned in surprise, but before he could speak, Sawyer tipped his hat back and folded his arms across his chest. “You might want to rein in there, Nate. I’m calling on Addy Bradshaw for the time being.”
“Don't worry about him, Sawyer,” Jameson said, throwing an arm over Nate’s shoulder. “He's just starved for the attention of any woman after being out on the range too long.”
Jameson's breath reeked of chewing tobacco, and Nate shoved him away. “Why do you use that stuff? It's vile.”
“Keeps my mouth busy while my stomach is empty,” Jameson said with a shrug before spitting out the juices into the dirt.
“Gentlemen, please do not loiter around my establishment,” came a shrill woman’s voice from behind them. “This is a boarding house. The saloon is to the west of town.”
Mark pulled his hat off, and they all followed suit. “Thousand apologies, Mrs. Pinnock, Miss Frances.”
The elderly Mrs. Pinnock looked about as pleasant as a rattlesnake that had just been stepped on, and Miss Frances, who Nate assumed was the woman’s daughter, could not have appeared more different. Though she wore a tight bun like her mother, she had large eyes and a small smile, all shining in Mark’s direction.
“We were just coming to see family after a long cattle drive,” Mark explained.
“Well, there’s no sense in lingering if your families are no longer present, is there?” she said pointedly.
“It’s not our fault the boarding house is located practically in the church yard,” Jameson mumbled under his breath.
Mrs. Pinnock’s steely gaze hovered over him. “A cowboy without manners. How original.”
“We’ll be on our way, Mrs. Pinnock,” Mark said as he mounted his horse and tipped his hat. “Good day, ma’am. Miss Frances.”
After the ladies disappeared into the boarding house, Nate turned and quietly said, “Well if she isn’t a chilly breeze on a summer day.”
Mark laughed and shoved his arm. “Come on, we better quit loitering. You coming, Jameson?”
He shook his head. “Ma’s expecting me for dinner at home, so I’ll see you all in the morning,” he said, waving his goodbyes.
“I ought to be getting back too,” Sawyer said, mounting his horse. “Just do me one favor, Mark.”
“Keep an eye on Nate, so he doesn’t get too comfortable with Addy.”
Nate smiled. There was a tease in Sawyer’s voice, but an edge of warning in his eyes.
Mark just laughed. “I’m not getting involved.”
“No, I won’t be interfering,” Nate said with a shake of his head. “You don’t have anything to worry about.”
Sawyer raised an eyebrow like he didn’t believe him, then clicked the reins on his horse and tipped his hat in parting.
But Nate just couldn’t help himself, and loudly said, “Hey Mark, will you save me a seat next to Addy for supper?”
Sawyer immediately pulled on the reins, turning his horse sharply. “That's it, I'm throwing you in the creek.”
Cheers to the little novella that could!
I'm such a newb in the self-publishing world, even though I've been studying and preparing myself for years. It's the business side of things that's new, the marketing and the planning. So I feel like I've been throwing spaghetti against the wall and finding out what sticks. Apparently, all the things I've been trying are working, because in the one week that THE MINER'S BRIDE has been available on Amazon, it's sold over 100 copies, and given away almost 200 more! That means there are potentially 300 people who are reading my words and hopefully enjoying Oliver and Lydia's story!
So I'm ecstatic at all the news so far. I don't have a firm date yet for book one in the series, THE COWBOY'S GIRL, but sometime this fall, in October or November. Fingers crossed that the story comes as quickly and painlessly as possible! Until then, happy reading. And sláinte!
Here it is! The book cover I've waited my whole life to see! Special thanks to my beautiful cousin Emma for being the perfect model, and the talented cover designer Les for bringing my vision to life. ♥
I'm still making some finishing touches on the manuscript before hitting publish, but the big day is coming up soon, likely sometime in August. So to celebrate this milestone of inching closer to becoming a published author, I've decided to share the first half of the first chapter of my little novella. Give it a read below, let me know what you think, and sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the big announcement! :)
Lydia Howell slumped her shoulders in disappointment, trying to accept the fact that she would not be getting married today. Looking out the carriage window, all she saw was the bright full moon peeking over patches of clouds, barely enough to light the valley below. It was too late now.
She wished she could ask the driver of the jumbling stagecoach just how much longer it would be, but Lydia didn’t want to shout. The woman who sat beside her, Carol Bowman, was now asleep after hours of travel. She was a sweet older woman, and had helped Lydia after she got lost at the end of the railway in Ogden. However, Mrs. Carol later revealed symptoms of severe nausea from all the bumping around in the stagecoach, and it was all Lydia could do to console her. Now that Mrs. Carol rested peacefully, Lydia was grateful for a moment’s respite before arriving. So she leaned back in her seat and pressed herself for more patience.
Reaching into her coat pocket, Lydia pulled out and read again the letter from the man she had agreed to marry. Responding to an advertisement for a mail-order bride was something Lydia never would have imagined for herself, but it was her only option. Her new stepmother had made that perfectly clear. Though her tender-hearted father was hesitant to have her leave, Lydia knew she couldn’t stay and continue to be a burden as another mouth to feed. So she had kissed her five younger siblings goodbye, buried her sadness, and turned her face toward adventure in the wild, untamed west.
Though she was loathe to leave them, Lydia knew it was needed. She had longed for romance, but there was no time for it while raising her siblings after her mother’s death. Now at the age of nineteen, it was time to search out a love of her own. Her prospects in their small farming town were slim, and from his letters, Mr. Fitzgerald seemed to be a kind gentleman, just rather lonely. His advertisement had read: Thirty year old miner with a promising silver claim seeking a young Catholic woman to be a wife and companion. She considered it the best offer she might receive, or so said her stepmother, so she left with hope in her heart. Pocketing the letter again, Lydia straightened her shoulders. The start of her trip had not been promising, but the deed was done, and she wasn’t going back.
The stagecoach began to shake as it slowed, and the driver called out, “Little Creek, Utah. End of the road!”
Mrs. Carol stirred, snorting as she woke. “What’s that now?” she asked.
Lydia smiled but had to swallow first, her heart pounding in anticipation, before responding. “I believe we’ve finally arrived.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Mrs. Carol said, straightening in her seat. “You know, I’ve been to see my sister many times, but this ride never gets any shorter.”
The driver opened the door, and offered a hand to help them down. Lydia was grateful to stand and stretch her legs, but she still wished they had arrived sooner so she could catch a glimpse of her new home. The moonlight did nothing to illuminate what appeared to be an empty dusty town at the foot of the mountains.
“Thank you kindly, Mr. Jensen,” said Mrs. Carol. “If you’ll bring my bags over to the General Store, I’m sure my sister is waiting up for me.”
Mr. Jensen nodded. “I’ll be back to help you with your things, ma’am,” he said to Lydia, who nodded in response.
“Best of luck, Miss Lydia.” Mrs. Carol waved with a smile, though her eyes were still quite droopy with sleep. “I hope you’ll come visit soon, when it’s not so late in the evening.”
Lydia waved goodbye with a smile, but grew uneasy. It was indeed late. She looked up and down the dark streets, but there was no sign of him. Hadn’t Mr. Fitzgerald stated in his letter he would be present to receive her when the stagecoach arrived? She had no indication of where he lived within the town, and there did not appear to be any housing nearby. Should she find herself a place to stay, hoping the sparse change in her pocket was enough for a night with a roof over her head? Worry wound her tightly, but she pursed her lips to calm herself.
“There now, where to, ma’am?” Mr. Jensen asked when he returned.
“Would you happen to know where the miner’s housing is?”
Mr. Jensen raised an eyebrow. “That’s a good hour or two up the mountain canyon. Are you sure that’s where you’re headed?”
Oh, what a predicament! She couldn’t stay with Mr. Fitzgerald as an unmarried woman, but she didn’t know where else to go. She could have followed Mrs. Carol, but she didn’t want to impose with her still recovering. Lydia took a deep breath. “There was supposed to be a man waiting for me. A miner… I suppose he’s given up due to the late hour.”
“My apologies for that, ma’am,” Mr. Jensen said. “Those mountain ranges are the devil to get through sometimes, so it delayed us quite a bit.”
“I understand. It just appears I am without a place to stay. Would you happen to know anyone in town?”
He shook his head in the darkness. “I usually stay a night at the saloon, but that’s no place for a lady like yourself.”
Lydia nodded. “Would you mind asking around to see if anyone knows of the man I’m looking for?”
“Of course, ma’am,” he said, picking up her luggage. “This way.”
Lydia fell into step behind him, hoping Mr. Jensen was trustworthy. What other choice did she have? There wasn’t another soul on the street. The town lay dark and still, windows shuttered and doors closed. The only sign of life came from the saloon. Dim light leaked onto the street, the sounds of off-key music and coarse laughter meeting Lydia’s ears. Her chest tightened, and she wrung her fingers in knots.
Mr. Jensen stopped a few feet from the saloon doors and put her bag down. “Who’s the man?”
“His name is Jack Fitzgerald.”
There you go! I hope you've enjoyed this little intro to Lydia, and I can't wait for you to meet Oliver! ;) Stay tuned for more news coming soon!
I'm going to be 33 years old at the end of this summer. Now I've done a lot of things in my life and I'm extremely thankful for all the opportunities I've had, but the one thing I've wanted to do that I haven't yet been able to do is start publishing all the stories in my head. I've been writing since I was about 12 or 13 years old, so this is about 20 years in the making.
I've made mock covers for my stories with my limited Photoshop skills in the past, just to keep me motivated:
But after drafting so many different stories, and saving money for editing and cover design, I think I'm finally ready to step out into the world with the big kids. I thought I would have to keep waiting and waiting, but no more. Today I received my first official book cover. I fell asleep waiting for the designer to contact me saying it was done, then woke up at 4:30 am. Instinctively I checked my phone, and when I saw that notification, I was wide awake! No going back to sleep for me! I stared at the cover for an hour, contemplating how beautiful it was, how different it was from how I expected, but how perfect it was for me and my story.
It's not quite ready to release yet, but I want to remember this feeling. I'll probably have lots of firsts in the publishing world over the next few weeks and months, but I want to remember this day forever.
The Miner's Bride - Coming soon!
Here's hoping for more news soon! Until then, happy reading!
Gossip Girl, er.... Courtney