Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Vexed in Vermont

My third book in The Lovelorn series will be here in a few weeks, so to entice you to add this book to your pre-order list, I'm giving away Chapter One for FREE!

Nicolette McFarland will do anything to prove her worth as a Veterinarian, but when a man from her past comes back to interrupt her life, she doesn’t know what to do. Desperate, she sends a letter to a newspaper article for advice. While waiting for The Lovelorn to respond, Nicolette tries her best to show everyone around her how good she really is. Unfortunately, the vexing man from her past, Captain Adrian Robinson, ends up getting shot, and it’s up to her to help him even if she doesn’t want to. All she knows is that The Lovelorn had better hurry and reply to her letter because Nicolette is in grave danger of losing her heart – or having it broken forever.


Vermont, 1880

Dear Lovelorn,
I have just received some unsettling news, and I’m not sure how to handle it. I’ve lived with my aunt since I was nine years old, and although my aunt and her husband have treated me well and raised me to be a lady, those first few years with her family were not pleasant. My aunt’s stepson was a thorn in my side since before he joined the military several years ago. Now he’s coming back and he’ll stay at his father’s house until he can start a new life. I have been enjoying life and the rituals of courtship, but I still haven’t found anyone to love, so I must continue to live with my aunt. Please, Lovelorn, tell me how I can handle my aunt’s womanizing stepson who has no morals. I fear he’ll return to his childhood tactics that made my life intolerable, and I might not have the patience to put up with him. What if I strangle him… or shoot him? I’m anxiously awaiting your advice.
Sincerely, Vexed in Vermont

Nicolette McFarland set her writing pen down and reread her letter to The Lovelorn who wrote a daily column in the St. Louis Gazette. She’d been following the column for quite a while and enjoyed reading the responses from The Lovelorn. It was her turn now. She needed advice.
Adrian Robinson, her aunt’s stepson, would be surprised to see how much Nicolette had changed. No longer was she the simpering little girl who cowered every time Adrian came near, nor was she the cry-baby who went bawling to her aunt whenever Adrian hurt her. But Nicolette had grown to be a strong, self-assertive woman. Nobody stopped her from accomplishing her goals, not as long as she could use the brain God had given her. If Adrian dared try to go up against her this time, he would discover quickly what kind of a monster he’d turned her into. Revenge would be sweet, indeed!
It didn’t matter that he was seven years older than her, she’d show him that he couldn’t hurt her anymore. However, it would be difficult to forget how many times he locked her in the cellar late at night, telling her that the devil would find her if she cried or made a noise. Thankfully, she grew to realize that Satan didn’t work like that – only the evil Adrian Robinson did.
And what about those times he had shortened Nicolette’s dresses or ripped the seams right before her parties? She’d been humiliated in front of her friends. There were even times he had tied her up in the backyard behind the tall hedges and singed the edges of her long light-brown hair. She reached up and stroked her palm down her wavy locks of hair. Luckily, her hair had grown back long and was now soft and silky like it should be.
Nicolette quickly slipped the letter in an envelope and addressed it to the St. Louis Gazette. She held it tightly in her hand as she tiptoed out of her bedroom and headed downstairs. Mornings were usually quiet in the Robinson household. Teddy, Adrian’s father, owned a profiting lumber store in Woodstock, Vermont, where they had been living since Nicolette first came to stay with them.
Teddy and his oldest son, Jacob, were already at the store this early in the morning. Aunt Betty was probably still sleeping since the middle-aged woman usually stayed up late at night attending social functions. The few servants the Robinson’s had knew that they weren’t really needed until Aunt Betty was awake, especially since Nicolette could dress herself and fix her own meals – and had done that since she was nine.
She moved into the kitchen and found an apple. This would work just fine for breakfast. Of course, she also didn’t want to waste another minute eating when it was most imperative that she get this letter to the Post Office.
The family dog, Bandit, jumped on her several times in the stable to get her attention, but she ignored the long-eared, furry animal and moved to a horse. Trying to eat and saddle a horse at the same time was a little more time-consuming, but soon she was on her horse and heading quickly to deliver her letter. The roads were quiet this morning, thankfully, because usually when riding to town, people were out and about, which meant that someone would want to stop her and chat.
Thankfully, she made it to the Post Office and gave them her letter without any interruptions. She mounted her horse and took off toward home. Another bonus about being an early riser and going into town without many people around, was that she could wear her trousers. Riding astride was much easier with pants. Of course, most men hadn’t understood her need for comfort. Neither had they understood how she enjoyed going fishing and actually gutting the fish herself. Nicolette figured that stemmed back to days of yore when her father took her fishing and taught her so many things that most girls never learned. And speaking of fishing…
She eyed the Ottaquechee River, and slowly, her mouth turned up into a grin. She hadn’t been fishing for over two weeks, and suddenly, the prospect of being one with nature – and getting her feet wet, of course – became too much of a temptation, and she urged her horse a little faster.
As she came almost to the edge of town, she saw a tall man with wide shoulders, walk out of the bank. Nicely dressed in his long over-coat, hat, and of course, his fancy boots, was the mayor’s son, Eugene Dickson. The man with blondish-brown hair was the most recent gentleman to take an interest in her. He was sweet and not as serious as the last man to court her, but Eugene was also not exactly her type of man. He didn’t enjoy getting his hands dirty… and unless a man was all right with getting his hands slimy from fish guts, she lost interest in him quickly.
Ducking her head, she urged the horse with her heels, trying to get the animal to go faster so that Mr. Dickson wouldn’t see her. He would be absolutely appalled if he saw her wearing trousers, and she didn’t want to embarrass him in any way.
As she kept low, she pushed her horse faster. Soon, she was out of town and in the wooded area, so she pulled gently on the reins to slow the animal down. At that moment, a jackrabbit zipped across the road, startling the horse. The horse came to a sudden stop and reared, lifting his front legs in the air. Not prepared for this sudden action, the reins slipped out of her hands and she fell back, tumbling to the hard ground.
Her breath was knocked out of her, and for a few moments, she couldn’t breathe. Nicolette struggled to a sitting position, trying not to panic as she tried to force her lungs to start working again. Finally, her body allowed breath to come into her lungs, but then other places on her hurt. Her ankle actually throbbed.
Great… just great. Nicolette frowned. A sprained ankle was something she didn’t need.
She pulled her knee up to her chest, and tried to feel her ankle without taking the boot off. She didn’t dare do that right now. The swelling would keep the boot from going back on, and if she had to walk home she needed the boot.
She moved her attention around her and through the trees on both sides of the dirt road, searching for her horse. Dagnabbit! This was not a good place for her horse to run off, because now she couldn’t see him.
As she tried to stand, she gritted her teeth against the pain shooting through her leg coming from her ankle. She couldn’t allow the pain to halt her goal, and yet, if she couldn’t stand, she couldn’t walk, and therefore she’d never get home. She applied pressure to her foot, but the pain had her crumbling back to the ground and crying out.
So perhaps crawling back home was her only option. She’d do whatever she must, but after a couple of crawls in the direction of home, she realized her knees weren’t made for this kind of rocky road. Still… she must keep moving, even if she huffed and puffed the whole way. At least she realized why Uncle Teddy had named the animal Bucky.
The rush of the nearby Ottaquechee River was louder than normal. Of course, they had gotten a lot of rain lately, which was probably the reason why there was so much water, but it was difficult to hear anything else. She grumbled under her breath again, knowing that she wouldn’t be going fishing anytime soon – not with her sprained ankle.
The neigh from the horse followed by the crushing of footsteps on the rocky road, caught her attention. She stopped and swung her attention over her shoulder. The sun nearly blinded her, but a man’s tall, broad-shouldered figure was silhouetted in the gleam as he pulled his horse behind him holding the reins. He was dressed in a blue soldier’s uniform.
“Pardon me, but do you need assistance?”
His kindness warmed her heart, but she was sure she looked a fright… and wearing men’s trousers, no less. “Thank you. I was bucked from my horse and in my fall, I twisted my ankle.”
“Then allow me to help.” He walked closer and stopped, bending down and scooping her in his arms.
She gasped from the suddenness and wrapped her arms around his neck, holding tightly for fear of him dropping her. Immediately, she noticed his masculine – and clean – scent, as if he’d just taken a bath not long ago.
Once he situated her in his arms, she glanced at his face. He was too handsome, and being this close to him made her nervous. His short hair was black as coal, and his eyes were hazel. In fact, he reminded her a little of…
When recognition hit, she lost her breath. Realization turned her blood cold and made her stomach churn. She prayed the fall on the ground had somehow knocked something loose in her head, because she didn’t want to think of Adrian Robinson being this handsome… or sweet. He was exactly opposite.
He lifted her on top of his horse to where she sat sideways, and she quickly made the switch, swinging her legs astride as she tried to get further away from him when he mounted. That’s when she realized her hands hadn’t been as cold as the blood flowing through her. In fact, she felt quite flushed, and just thinking about jumping into the river to cool off became tempting as each second passed.
“Th-thank you,” she said, almost having to spit the words out. She’d never had to thank him before. It was hard to start now.
He glanced up at her and smiled a devilish, wicked smile. “I couldn’t leave a stranded woman helpless, now could I?”
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him that he’d done this very thing several times when they were younger. Instead, she gritted her teeth, not daring to say anything at all as he situated himself behind her.
His arms reached around her as he gripped the reins and urged the animal into a trot. As much as she tried to hold herself still, her body couldn’t stop from bumping against him. The ride home would be agony.
“Are you going to tell me where to take you?” he asked in a deep voice.
Warm shivers ran over her back. Even his voice had changed from what she’d remembered. She would just have to look at his face while talking to him, because then she’d be reminded of how utterly mean he’d been to her before he’d left the house to join the military.
It bothered her that he didn’t recognize her. Then again, it had been almost ten years. She’d been a girl in pigtails the last time he had seen her.
“I suspect,” she kept her voice steady, looking over her shoulder, “that I’m going in the same direction as you, Adrian Robinson.”
His gaze dropped to her face. Confusion filled his expression as he studied her face, slower this time.
She waited for him to remember, but he still showed no signs of knowing her. It appeared as if she would have to help his memory along.
“It’s been nearly ten years. I’m surprised you don’t recognize your stepmother’s niece.”
His eyes grew wide and his mouth hung agape. This time when his gaze moved over her, it was faster, and she could finally see the light of awareness in his eyes.
“Lottie? That can’t be you.”
Inwardly, she groaned. She really hated that nickname he always used to use. Not once had he called her that name using a pleasant tone. “Yes, it’s me, Nicolette.
Even with the stunned expression across his face, his mouth stretched into a grin. “The years have been very kind to you. I cannot see the imp I used to know.”
Imp? She fisted her hand, wanting to punch him in the face. However, she refrained. Making him upset right now wasn’t a good idea. How else would she get home?
“And I must admit,” she replied in a tight voice, “that those years in the military has turned you into a strapping man.”
He straightened, smiling wider. “I made it to the rank of Captain.”
“Congratulations. What made you want to return home?”
The light in his eyes dimmed enough to notice. Even his smile slowly faded. “I knew it was time I did something else with my life.”
Part of her wanted to know what had brought him to that decision, and yet, another part of her didn’t really care. As long as he found his new life quickly and left the house, she would be very happy for him. Unfortunately, her luck had never been good when Adrian was around.
“And what about yourself?” He arched an eyebrow. “Have you made some man happy by becoming his wife?”
Nicolette hesitated, thinking she heard a touch of sarcasm in his voice. “It’s really none of your business, but no, I haven’t. I’ve had other things directing me.”
He blinked with wide eyes. “Other things? What could they possibly be?”
“That’s for me to know, and you never to find out.”
She wasn’t sure what it was about Adrian that grated on her nerves all the time, but she was tired of this conversation, and tired of feeling as though he thought less of her just because she wasn’t married.
He shrugged and moved his attention back to the road. “As long as it makes you happy, I suppose you can do whatever you’d like.”
She fisted her hands in her lap and gritted her teeth. In her letter to The Lovelorn, Nicolette worried that she might strangle – or shoot – Adrian. At this very moment, she wanted to do both, and she didn’t care what kind of problems it would cause. All she wanted was him out of her life, and she’d do anything to make it happen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Nursing of the Heart - NEW SERIES!

I'm so excited to be part of this new series about nurses. I have so many nurse friends, and in these troubled times with the virus going around, our nurses are doing all they can to help us. What would we do without them? I dedicate my story to all nurses who selflessly put their hearts into their work!

Here is the list of authors involved with this series, and of course, the Amazon series link -

My book, "A Nurse for Mitch" is book #2 and comes out 6/18.

Nurse Lydia Simmons is assigned to a hospital in Laramie, Wyoming. She’s dedicated her life to caring for the sick and wounded, but when she meets a soldier, known only as Mitch, she is particularly drawn to him. Mitch has lost his memories and is desperate to re-discover himself. Lydia strives to help him, and soon finds herself falling for this lost soul, despite the fact that her heart belongs to another. A part of her fears what will be discovered if she helps Mitch find his memories. What secrets lurk in his darkened mind? Does he have a wife? A family? As glimpses of his past begin to surface, Lydia begins to wonder if helping him uncover his memories will be his downfall... or hers?

Fort Laramie, Wyoming 1868

With both arms full of bandages and creams, Lydia Simmons hurried to the operating room to stock the cabinets. The room was long and filled with many tables. Several shelves and cabinets hung on the wall, all loaded with supplies. This evening, only one lamp was lit since most of the doctors had retired for the night.
Putting these supplies away was the last thing she had to do before going home, and she was anxious to complete her duties. Although she loved being a nurse at Fort Laramie Hospital, and had been for a few months now, tonight she and three other nurses were getting together and would attend a ball given by the governor. Lydia couldn’t remember the last time she had attended a ball. The Civil War ended when she was seventeen, and nobody wanted to hold social functions like that anymore. So many men had been killed or injured, and there weren’t many men to dance with.
Regardless, she and her three friends were using tonight’s ball as an excuse to dress up pretty and mingle with healthy people for a few hours. It was difficult not to hurry and still stack the supply cabinets neatly.
Doctor Hatchett stood at the doorway with his beefy arms folded over his very round middle. The older man was stern, but he taught the nurses well and was a good example to the other doctors.
Lydia paused. “Yes, Doctor Hatchett. Do you need something?”
“When you’re finished here, I need you to go upstairs to Captain Lewis’ room. He needs his bed changed.”
Her heart sank. Captain Lewis had been in and out of the hospital several times since the war ended, according to the doctors she’d talked to. Captain Lewis was a sweet man, but his mind wandered much too often, and most of the time she couldn’t get him to stop talking.
Tonight, she would need him asleep, but she doubted that was going to happen. “Yes, Doctor.”
She finished with stocking the cabinet and hurried out of the room and up the stairs to the third floor. Hopefully, her friends wouldn’t go to the ball without her. She wanted to fix her hair differently, and that would take a while, she was sure.
Nearing the room where the captain stayed, she adjusted the white apron with the red medical cross that pinned to her dress’ bodice, and smoothed her hands over the bottom portion of the apron as it covered her front down to her knees. She was finally used to wearing the apron, but the hat seemed to never stay on her head.
Captain Lewis had shrunk in size over the years, she was told. He’d once been a robust man who rode a horse perfectly and led his battalion with courage. A cannon had nearly blown off his leg. The army surgeon should have removed it, but for some reason, the captain kept his leg. However, infection kept setting in, and every time it happened, the man lost weight. Lydia feared the middle-aged man would be a skeleton soon.
A few other beds had patients, but they looked to be sleeping. She walked past the captain to the shelves against the far wall and pulled out some bed sheets. She peeked over at the man. His thinning blonde hair lay limply on his head, matching the rest of the man’s un-working parts on his body.
“Good evening, Captain Lewis.” She brought the sheets over. “Doctor Hatchett said you were ready for your bed to be changed.”
“Yes, I am.” He gave her a wide smile. “You look absolutely radiant this evening.”
A blush warmed her cheeks. “Captain, I’m appalled. What would your wife say if she knew you were talking that way to another woman?”
He chuckled. “She would thank you for not being twenty years older, that’s what she’d say.”
“All right, Captain Lewis. Enough flirtation. I’m here to change your bed.”
He scooted to the side of the bed. She set the sheets down before sliding an arm around his waist, helping him to stand and moving him to the closest chair.
“Thank you, nurse. I appreciate your help.” He cocked his head. “I cannot recall your name.”
“I’m Lydia Simmons.”
“Ah, yes. Miss Lydia.”
It was still hard for most men – and even women – to comprehend that she had a title. She’d gone to school and was trained by Clara Barton, as was many other women like Lydia. They all graduated with certificates in nursing. And yet, she still had to remind some people to call her Nurse Lydia. The urge to correct the captain was strong, but she fought it. She didn’t want to waste any time changing his sheets.
“Will you get me a newspaper, Miss Lydia?”
She took a quick glance around the room and spotted one on the other side of the eight-bed chambers. She hurried over and snatched it up, quickening her step to bring it back to the captain. “Is that all?”
“Yes, for now. Thank you.”
She was grateful that he would read it while she changed the bed. At least she wouldn’t have to hear him talking much.
After a few moments, he sighed heavily in sadness. She glanced at him to make sure he wasn’t getting ill or something. His expression was pulled into a deep frown as his gaze stayed on the newspaper.
“Is something amiss, Captain?”
“The war has been over for three years, but the newspaper still reports men who have deserted the army.” He shook his head. “Sometimes I wonder if these men are dead and their families don’t know.”
Lydia nodded. “It would be so hard on their families if they didn’t know.” She turned back to the bed-making.
He was silent for another second before he gasped loudly. This time she thought he was in pain, but he still stared at the newspaper.
“I don’t believe it.” He grumbled and shook his head.
“What’s wrong, Captain? Did you see a name you recognize?”
“This man, Peter Mitchell, is listed as a deserter. He was younger than most of us, but he had connections and made it to Lieutenant very quickly. I worked under him and he put his men through…” He cleared his throat. “Pardon me, but I won’t cuss around a lady.”
She smiled. “I appreciate it.” She turned back to the bed, tucking in the sheets under the mattress.
“This young man,” he continued, “was a cocky fool and thought he knew everything. Sometimes, he thought he could run the war by himself. He whipped us like animals and sometimes he starved us. He told us that was his way of teaching us a lesson.” He paused, scrubbing a hand over his unshaven face. “Before I was wounded, he was reassigned somewhere else.”
“How young was he?” she wondered, caught up in the conversation.
“At the time, he was probably in his late twenties. He came from a family with money, which is probably how he was able to work himself up in rank so quickly.”
“I remember Lieutenant Mitchell.”
One of the other men in the room sat up in his bed. “Most everyone hated him. He had a glare that made you want to crawl under a rock and hide.”
“I remember he thought he was God.”
Another man in the room stood from his bed and leaned against the wall. Mr. Heath’s face was covered in sores, and it reminded Lydia that she should give him some cream.
“He thought he was God?” she asked Mr. Heath.
“Mitchell’s father was a minster, and sometimes Mitchell was heard quoting scriptures that talked about hell and damnation. Some men in the regiment wanted to take their own lives just because they couldn’t bear Mitchell’s torture.”
“Oh, dear.” She held the pillow in her hand, pressing it to her chest. “And the deserter is still missing?”
Captain Lewis shook his head. “I pray he’s found and arrested… or he’s dead.”
“Do you think he’s in Wyoming?”
“Possibly.” The captain shrugged. “Why else would they have his name in the newspaper?”
It made Lydia nervous to think there was a madman walking the streets who was that dangerous. “What does he look like?”
Mr. Heath chuckled. “He was a woman’s man, that’s for sure. The young ladies thought he was quite handsome. He knew how to charm, but that was not his real side. He just showed the ladies what they wanted to see – a perfect and kind gentleman – but when he was away from them, he turned into the devil himself.”
“I heard he was married,” the captain said.
“The poor woman.” Mr. Heath shook his head.
“Well,” she said, releasing a heavy sigh as she turned back to finish making the bed, “I hope they find him soon.”
“He’d be easy enough to spot,” Captain Lewis added. “The authorities would have to look for a man with sandy brown hair.” He paused, tapping his finger on his pointy chin. “Oh, and Peter Mitchell also has the greenest eyes you’ve ever seen. The eyes of the devil…”
A half-hour later, Lydia left the hospital, clutching her cloak around her throat and rushing to her one-horse buggy. It wasn’t the small wind that night that chilled her, but the tale of the madman who was still on the loose. It was nights like this when she wished she didn’t have to return home by herself. The sooner she could get home, the safer she’d feel.
Curse you, Captain Lewis, for frightening me so.
It comforted her to know that her uncle and guardian, Albert Wilkinson, would be waiting for her, just like he always did on the nights she worked late. Albert’s wife, Beatrice, would be in bed. She wasn’t one who liked to stay awake after the sun had gone to bed. But Bea was like a mother to Lydia, since her mother had died during the war. Lydia always knew it was heartbreak for losing her father in battle that killed her mother.
At times Lydia wanted to experience that kind of love with a man – a love that was the reason you woke up every morning and went to bed every night… a love that made you happy and made your children happy. But then, Lydia never wanted to feel so heartbroken over the man’s death that it literally killed her.
She guided her horse around a bend. Through this section of town, the trees were extremely dense and shadows were everywhere. Her chest tightened with an eerie feeling, and she urged the horse faster. Thankfully, the sun hadn’t quite disappeared, and she could still see the road.
By the time the end of the road was in sight, she tried to calm her fiercely beating heart. But suddenly, a shadow moved in front of her buggy.
Panicking, she tried to stop the horse, yet at the same time, tried to keep the buggy from running the person over. Luckily, the horse missed the man, but she felt a heavy thump on the right side of the buggy. Her heart sank. She’d hit them!
Once she was able to stop the horse, she jumped down and searched for the person lying on the road. It was a man, and he lay motionless near the edge of the road, lying on his chest with his head turned to the side. She prayed she hadn’t killed him.
The blood oozing out of the side of his mouth and a spot of blood coating his shoulder and spreading quickly, kicked in her nurse’s senses and she hurried to his side, kneeling down next to him. His ragged clothes looked to be at least two sizes too big. His shoulder-length brown hair was dirty, and bits and pieces of twigs were stuck in his ratted locks.
“Sir?” She touched his hand as her fingers searched for his pulse. There was one, but it was weak. “Sir? Can you hear me?”
Gently, she turned him over as she continued to check him for injuries. His face was covered with dirt and he sported an unkempt beard that covered the lower half of his face and even hung lower to cover his neck. Obviously, he hadn’t shaved for several months, maybe even a year.
“Sir? Can you hear me?” she repeated, shaking him, but not enough to cause serious damage.
He groaned, but he didn’t open his eyes. This man needed a doctor, and yet, Uncle Albert’s house was closer than the hospital. Not to mention, she was a nurse. She could help him until a doctor arrived.
She stood and moved toward his head. He looked thin as if he hadn’t eaten for a while. Hopefully, she’d be able to lift him to her buggy. She bent and slid her arms underneath his shoulders. When her hand grazed the blood on the shirt, he moaned again. Blowing out a frustrated breath, she wasn’t sure how she could move him by herself, especially not knowing how serious his shoulder injury was.
“Ma’am? Do you need help?”
She released a frightened scream and stumbled back, turning to look behind her at the man standing so very close to her. When recognition hit, she sighed with relief. He worked on her uncle’s farm. He continued to wear the tribal headband of the Sioux Indians. He also seemed to be a good example to the others of his race who wanted to be part of the great state of Wyoming.
“Oh, Samuel.”
“Miss Lydia? Is that you?”
“Yes, Samuel. I need you to help me carry this man to my buggy. He’s hurt and I need to get him home to Uncle Albert.”
“But the hospital,” he motioned in the opposite direction, “is that way.”
“I know, but this man is hurt. I need to bandage him first, and then I’ll take him to the hospital.”
“But Miss Lydia, you cannot help this man. He has been living in these woods. He is not fit to be at the farm with you fine folks.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m a nurse, and I will help anyone who needs medical attention. He’s bleeding, and I don’t want him to lose too much blood or he will die. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Miss Lydia.”
Samuel was tall and built like an ox. He lifted the stranger as if he was a sack of flour. He placed the man in the buggy as she climbed up and took hold of the reins.
“Miss Lydia? Do you want me to ride with you?”
“Yes, please.”
Since there was no place on the seat for Samuel to sit, he hopped on the back of the buggy and rode to the house with her. As soon as she stopped, Samuel jumped down and lifted the man in his arms again.
She hurried into the house. Uncle Albert walked out of the kitchen. When he saw Samuel and the unconscious man in the worker’s arms, he gasped.
“I don’t have time to explain,” she told her uncle. “This man is injured and I need to get his bleeding stopped before he dies.”
Nodding, Albert rushed into the guest bedroom and pulled down the blankets on the bed. Samuel laid the stranger on the mattress.
“Uncle Albert? Will you help me remove the man’s shirt?”
Between Samuel and her uncle, the man was stripped from the waist up while she prepared the water, and the soap, along with the bandages and ointment. Lydia turned up the lamp to get a better look at his shoulder wound. Immediately, she went to work removing the blood and the dirt. Once the spot was visible enough to see what kind of wound it was, she gasped and straightened. Her heartbeat hammered in a different rhythm.
The man had been shot! Her mind clouded with thoughts of what could have happened to him, but the one that stood out most was that he was running from the law. Inwardly, she groaned. Had she just brought an outlaw into her uncle’s house?

Monday, June 1, 2020

Callie's Calamity - Mail-Order Bride Series

I'm excited about my second mail-order bride romance! And I just adore the book cover!! The book is available in Kindle and Kindle Unlimited - and in paperback.

All Callie Cartwright knows is that she's got to get out of town fast. Her husband is dead and she's pregnant. If the truth comes out to how her husband died, she won't live to see the day her baby is born.

Thankfully, she went through an agency to find a man in search of a mail-order-bride. Callie is a city girl, but perhaps living out in the country on a horse ranch is what she needs right now. One week later, she travels to meet the man she has arranged to wed but is sidetracked when the train she is riding breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Time is running out and she's desperate, but can she rely on the handsome stranger with the dreamy eyes to help her?


Texas 1889

It had been three days. Three very long and tiring days of running.
And hiding.

Callie Cartwright clutched her satchel with one hand and secured the edges of her cloak at her neck with the other hand. Peeking around the wall of the train station office, she watched for anyone who resembled a lawman. Men with silver stars on their coats frightened her.

The train heading to Colorado would be leaving in ten minutes. She would wait until the last minute before boarding. She couldn’t take any chances of getting caught, not only for her wellbeing, but for her unborn child’s.

Callie pressed a hand to her belly. She had realized her delicate condition two weeks ago, so she hadn’t started showing yet. She prayed her slender figure would keep the pregnancy from showing for at least another four or five months. Her soon-to-be husband couldn’t know, yet.

She glanced at her left hand. The ring Bill Donovan had given her on their wedding still circled her finger. Scowling, she tugged it off. The dirty rat hadn’t deserved the quick death he’d received. If it had been up to her, she would have put him through something more difficult and torturing.

Unwanted memories flashed through her mind of him lifting his heavy hand in an attempt to make her bend to his will while she cowered in front of him. Closing her eyes, she prayed those terrible memories would disappear. She was starting a new life and finding a new husband… one that would care for her and her unborn child… the child she’d convince her new husband was his.

The loud whistle of the train brought her out of her thoughts. Once more, she peeked around the corner of the station office and scanned the platform. Several people hugged their loved ones and said goodbye before they boarded the train and prepared to make the next few days journey as comfortable as they could be. Not Callie. She would only relax once she was out of Texas.

Shifting from one foot to the other, she waited for the conductor to give the last boarding call. A woman with two children holding onto her hands hurried to the train and up the stairs. A man rushed from the other end of the station and climbed onboard. Not far from where Callie hid, a man walked out of the station office. His steps were slow as he headed for the train, and he held a newspaper in his hand. He stopped before lifting his foot to the small landing on the train, and looked down the wooden platform as if waiting for someone. He was dressed nicely in a gray suit jacket and matching trousers with a dark blue vest and white shirt. His brown hair was slicked back off his forehead, and from what she could see of his face, he was remarkably handsome. He appeared to be several years older than her husband, but she was certain the stranger wasn’t much older than thirty-five.

Her first impression of him was that he wasn’t the type of man who would angrily strike a woman. But then, Bill hadn’t appeared to be that kind of man when she first met him, either. Alcohol had poisoned his mind and his heart.

The stranger’s gaze did another sweep of the platform before he released a noticeable sigh and his shoulders sank. He proceeded up the landing and into the passenger car.

The whistle blew again, and the conductor made the final call. Callie glanced around the nearly empty platform once more before hurrying toward the train. The conductor saw her and reached out a hand to help her on board.

Callie’s heartbeat hadn’t calmed yet, but it probably wouldn’t. Not until she was out of danger and far away from Texas.

As she wandered through the railcar, she searched for an empty seat. A few faces glanced up at her, but then the people returned to what they’d been doing. Callie searched for a seat near an older woman or even a woman with children. She didn’t want to stand out, just in case someone was looking for her.

Callie clutched her satchel so tightly to her chest that her fingers turned white, but since this was the only thing she had left in this world, she didn’t want to lose anything. She only had a little money to live on until she reached Fort Collins, Colorado.

When she saw an empty spot on the bench across from a woman with two children, Callie breathed a sigh of relief. She reached the bench and smiled at the slightly older woman looking up at her.

“Is this place taken?”

“No.” The woman motioned toward the empty space. “Please sit.”

Callie smiled the best she could under her duress and sat. “My name is Mrs. Cartwright.” She decided not to give the woman her married name, only because until death do you part. “I’m widowed.” She didn’t want to lie about everything. Besides, an unwed woman traveling by herself was unheard of.

The other woman nodded, wearing a pleasant expression. “I’m Mrs. Linda Butters. I’m also widowed.” She motioned to her two children who looked very much alike and the same age. “This is Matthew and Margaret.”

“Twins?” Callie asked.

The two children nodded.

“Yes. They are eight-years-old,” Linda said.

“Nice to meet you all.” Callie relaxed slightly. “Where are you traveling?”

Linda adjusted the bonnet on her head, pushing back some locks that had fallen across her forehead. “Denver, Colorado. I have family there. And you?”

“I’m heading to Fort Collins.”

“That is a nice place. Have you been there before?”

Callie shook her head. “My first trip. I’m also meeting up with family.” Of course, her family consisted of her soon-to-be-husband and his daughter.

“I wish you a pleasant journey.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Butters. And I wish you and your children a happy journey, as well.”

“Please, call me Linda.”

Callie’s smile didn’t seem as forced this time. “And you must call me Callie.”

From up the aisle, the conductor made his way toward them, collecting the tickets. She dug through the homemade pocket she’d added to her cloak before she left home, looking for her ticket, but when the ticket wasn’t there, her heart dropped. Had she put it somewhere else? She quickly opened her satchel to see if it was on top, but it wasn’t.

Her heartbeat quickened as panic filled her. They would kick her off the train without a ticket, and yet, she had purchased one, so where was it?

She set the satchel down and stood, removing her cloak and shaking it. She then shook out her skirt, but still, the ticket didn’t magically appear.

“Tickets, please.” The older man wearing the conductor’s uniform held out his hand.

Linda handed over hers and the children’s tickets. The conductor ripped off the bottoms and gave the tickets back. When he turned to Callie, she looked at him as her eyes filled with tears. She couldn’t have come this far only to be stopped. Why couldn’t her life go smoothly for once? When would it finally be her turn for happiness? But apparently, that was asking the impossible.

“Your ticket?” the conductor asked.

“I…” Her voice shook. “I had it before I got on the train, but now…” She shook out her cloak, hoping the ticket would appear quickly. Yet, she was prone to receiving bad luck. Why should today be any different?

“Excuse me.” A man’s voice came from across the aisle. “I believe this is yours.”

Callie snapped her gaze to the handsome man with the deep voice. He was the one she’d seen climb on the train a few minutes before she had. He stood behind the conductor, holding a ticket.

“I saw this on the floor.” He motioned toward his feet. “I’m suspecting it’s yours.”

Relief flooded her and she nearly sagged to the ground. With a shaky hand, she took the ticket from him, looking into his kind eyes. “Thank you, sir.”

He nodded. “Glad to help a lady in distress.”

She tried to regulate her breathing as she handed the ticket to the conductor. “I’m sorry about that.”

He took her ticket and ripped off the bottom before handing it back. “I’m glad it was found, ma’am.”

The conductor walked away, and she looked at the man who saved her… Inwardly, she cringed. No, she couldn’t think of him as doing that. He saved the moment. That’s all.

“Thank you again, sir. I thought for sure the conductor would kick me off the train.”

His bright smile only enhanced his handsome looks and made his blue eyes sparkle, his thick, dark brown hair appeared soft. He was a tall man, and had very broad shoulders, but was slender enough to fill out his clothes quite well.

“I’m just glad I noticed it on the floor. I would have hated to start a fight with the older man. After all, throwing a woman off a train is very disrespectful, if you ask me.”

She hitched a breath. Could this man be real? Or maybe he was a figment of her imagination. She hadn’t been sleeping well at all since her husband’s death, and especially since she’d been running. “How kind you are. I’m relieved to know there is a real gentleman on the train.”

“I’m here to assist you in any way, ma’am.”

Her heartbeat stalled, if only for a moment. What made him think she needed his assistance? She had once relied on Bill and look how that turned out. No, she wouldn’t fall so easily for a man again – even if he had a sweet smile as this stranger had.

She muttered another thank you and stepped back to her seat. Once she was comfortable, she turned her head away from him to look out the window. For a moment, she’d forgotten how it had been when Bill had hurt her. He had smiled so sweetly at one time, too. She couldn’t trust smiles. They were fake, just as hers was.

When she and Bill were first married, she was so in love, and had been optimistic about their future. Bill had worked in his father’s bank, and he’d been determined to make a life on his own for him and his bride. Not more than six months later, she realized he wasn’t the man she thought he was while courting her. He didn’t love her as much as he loved his whiskey. At that point, she wasn’t a wife to him, but instead, she felt more like his slave.

The train’s rhythm seemed to slow slightly before the steam engine gained speed again. She tore her gaze away from the moving scenery and picked up her satchel. Just inside was the newspaper article she’d found not more than a week ago, advertising for a mail-order-bride.

Westward Home and Hearts Matrimonial Agency looking for unmarried women who would like to become mail-order-brides. Contact Milly Crenshaw.

Five telegrams later, Callie was getting ready for her trip to Fort Collins, Colorado, to meet a rancher and his five-year-old daughter, Daisy. Callie was confident that she and her unborn baby would find a new life with Everett Lindon in Colorado. Now with her husband dead and a baby growing inside her, and with no money to help them, she didn’t care how she found a husband, as long as she found one who could support them. Love didn’t have to enter the marriage at all. Of course, she had lost hope in love, anyway. That emotion was only for dreamers.

Tears stung her eyes, so she quickly turned her gaze back to the window. The rhythm of the train felt different than before, which was odd. She’d never been on a train before, and yet she could tell something wasn’t right.

She shook her head and adjusted in her seat. Perhaps she was worried over nothing. If something was wrong with the steam engine, she’d let the engineer fret about it. She had other things to concentrate on.

“Mrs. Cartwright…eh, I mean, Callie?”

The woman she’d just met tapped Callie’s arm. She swung her gaze to her. “Yes?”

Linda chuckled. “Forgive me for pulling you out of your thoughts.”

Callie blinked quickly, trying to focus. “Please, don’t fret. I’ve just been overly tired lately.” She sat up straighter. “What do you need?”

“I’m wondering if it’s all right with you if my brother-in-law joins us. He’s by himself and it’s a long ride. I figured he would like the company.”

“Of course, I don’t mind at all.” Callie glanced at the empty seat by Linda. At least the seat wasn’t by Callie since one of the children occupied it.

“Splendid.” Linda turned toward the man who had found Callie’s ticket, motioning her hand toward him. “Wayne? Please, come and sit with us.”

The handsome man looked up from the newspaper he was reading, and his gaze met Linda’s before switching to Callie’s. Inwardly, she seethed. It would be very difficult sitting so close to a man whose dreamy eyes held her attention. But she must resist. She needed to prove to herself that she wasn’t the type of woman who swooned over a man with eyes that made butterflies dance in her stomach.