I can't believe I have written and published 100 books. What a milestone for me. I never thought in 2010 when I first started this publishing journey that I would make it this far. But I've had do much fun writing stories. I pray the Lord will keep me alive long enough to write and publish even more stories and further my writing career.
So, to let you see what book #100 looks like, here is the first chapter of Rubies and Rivers.
Whitney Brooks compares herself to Robin Hood. She steals from the rich to give to the poor. But she only takes money from bad people. However, after she is crippled in a carriage accident, she must change her ways. Now, she is righting the wrongs in her life, and she ends up in Fort Benton, Montana. When she recognizes a man from her past, she fears U.S. Marshal Jake Sterling might just arrest her.
Although Jake Sterling is not a hero, he takes his job seriously and follows an outlaw to Fort Benton. Jake has a gut feeling that the outlaw will steal the rubies coming on one of the steamboats. But the more he gets to know the woman who is lovelier than a desert rose, the more he believes she is a thief and working side-by-side with the outlaw. How can he tell his heart that Whitney isn’t the woman for him when her passionate kisses tell him differently?
Standing still, like the dead, was her only option.
Footsteps shook the floor and entered the study. Panic filled Whitney Brooks as she closed her eyes, hoping the intruder wouldn’t notice she was hiding behind the heavy drapes covering the only window in the room. Her heartbeat quickened, and she took slow breaths to keep calm. Yet, under the circumstances, how could she remain composed when she feared they’d find her? Being locked away in jail – or even hung – was not an option!
The person in the room stopped. Whitney held her breath. It was Mr. Crowley himself. His scent gave him away without having to peek around the drape and look at him. The man’s overbearing cologne wafted thickly through the air, making her want to gag. He smelled like a horse… like the animal’s droppings inside the stalls, no less. How could anyone stand to be around him when his scent was this horrid?
Inwardly, she groaned. She was going to be sick all over his floor unless he left quickly. If he didn’t discover where her hiding place was now, he’d definitely know she was here when she regurgitated.
Slowly, she lifted a hand to cover her nose. Whitney couldn’t blow her cover now.
Because of the thick, blue velvet drape blocking her view, she couldn’t see Mr. Crowley or why he had left his wife’s birthday party to venture into his study. His grumbles vibrated through the room. Whatever he was doing, he wasn’t having much success. She knew the feeling well. If he didn’t leave soon, she wouldn’t have much success stealing from him, either.
Whitney hadn’t originally started out to be a thief. On the contrary, but when her best friend’s father gambled away their money, leaving Constance destitute, Whitney knew she had to help. Constance needed money for the stagecoach to Utah, where her older sister and husband lived and would take care of her. Constance’s grandfather, Mr. Crowley, was a greedy old man and wouldn’t lift a finger to help his granddaughter. He hadn’t even invited Constance or her father to this party tonight.
And so, Whitney would nudge the greedy old man into assisting dear Constance, even if he didn’t realize it.
Mr. Crowley grumbled. He was too close. Whitney could even smell his breath. He’d been eating fish. Her heart sank, and her stomach lurched. Had he found her? Yet, as she waited for him to whip back the drape and catch her, the moment never arrived. A few times, she caught herself holding her breath too long, and so she had to slowly exhale and draw in another breath as silently as she could. So then, who was he talking to just now? Himself?
A low rumble came from the man as he chuckled. Whatever he was doing, he was at his desk, and she specifically heard the rustle of papers. She was tempted to move the drape just a bit to watch him, but she resisted. If he didn’t know she was here, she certainly didn’t want to make him aware of her presence.
A drawer closed, and more papers rustled before his heavy footsteps moved out of the room. Once the door clicked shut, she released a heavy breath. Her limbs shook as she relaxed against the window. However, she couldn’t hesitate for very long. She had money to find and to get herself back downstairs before someone noticed she was missing from the party.
On soft feet, she moved away from the window and resumed her search through the study. Constance mentioned that her grandfather kept some of his money in his favorite room. Because he was always in this particular room, Constance assumed it was his favorite. Unfortunately, her friend didn’t know exactly where the old man hid it. Whitney figured he wouldn’t miss fifty dollars. And, after all, it was going toward a good cause.
Being as quiet as a mouse, she pulled out each drawer of his desk, moving papers aside as she searched for the wad of money. Nothing. From there, she wandered to each scenery painting hanging on the wall and peeked behind them. Still nothing.
Whitney grumbled and shook her head. Where could it be?
Against the far wall stood two ebonized bookcases filled with volumes. The lower fourth of the shelf was a locked cupboard. Immediately, she recalled seeing a skeleton key when she’d searched through the desk. She hurried and retrieved the key and then knelt to see if it fit inside the keyhole.
Her hand shook, making it a little difficult to slide the key into the hole, but finally she accomplished that feat. Moisture beaded her forehead, and she grumbled under her breath. Perhaps she should have found an easier way to get money from Mr. Crowley. Yet, she knew the man's stubbornness, especially toward Constance’s family.
When the lock clicked open, Whitney nearly squealed with delight. Excitement pumped through her as she peered inside. Stacks of money rested in this secret safe. There was no way Mr. Crowley would miss fifty dollars. She nibbled on her bottom lip. Perhaps she should take one hundred dollars, just in case Constance needed more.
After pulling out the money, she carefully closed the safe and placed the key back in the drawer. She shoved the money in her wrist purse and hurried to the door. Slowly, she opened it and peeked into the hallway. Music drifted from the ballroom on the first floor, but thankfully, she couldn’t detect any voices.
Smoothing her palms down her baby blue silk gown, she took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. It was now time to put on a performance of her own – entering the party as if she were the most innocent woman here.
Whitney entered, taking calculated steps as she glided into the room. A colorful whirlwind of silk and satin gowns filled the old man’s ballroom. Available men stood around the single ladies, doing their best to charm them. Whitney didn’t have to worry about being considered one of these women. Being a widow, most men didn’t consider her marriage material, even though she was only twenty-four. They were all searching for a wealthier widow.
She scanned the large room, searching for her friend, Emily. James and Emily Randolph had been good friends of Whitney’s deceased husband.
Since Alan’s death almost a year ago, Whitney’s friends had slowly disappeared. No longer could she consider herself close with anyone. They remained acquaintances instead of friends. She knew it was because Alan had been almost broke when he died. Thankfully, his debts were paid before he left this world. She barely had enough to survive, but she’d make it work, even if she had to gradually start selling off the many artifacts Alan had collected over the years.
As the months passed by, she felt she should find another husband. Being married to Alan was no picnic, but how else would she be able to support herself? She’d never felt so free until after his death, and she hesitated in entering another loveless marriage. It was either that or find a way to make money so that she could continue to live.
The sparkling chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and wide white columns circled the room. The papered walls were beautifully decorated, as were the shelves and end tables where vases of flowers were placed. Mrs. Crowley enjoyed flaunting her wealth, which made Whitney sick. Why have so much money if they wouldn’t share it with their children and grandchildren?
Whitney walked along the wall, still searching for Emily. When she passed a gilded mirror, she glanced at her reflection. Her cheeks were redder than she’d wanted, probably because she felt as though people would be able to read her mind, to know what she’d been doing only moments ago.
Her blonde ringlets were still in place, thankfully. And her face didn’t hold any of the perspiration she’d suffered with while in Mr. Crowley’s study. Guilt still filled her mind and made her green eyes darker. At least that’s why she thought they appeared darker. Either that or it was the lighting in the room.
“Oh, there you are, Whitney,” Emily said, coming up behind her and touching her shoulder. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Whitney spun around to face her friend. The slightly older woman – by ten years – looked lovely in her peach gown. Whitney always thought Emily’s natural beauty was her greatest asset. That, and of course, her cheery disposition. Then again, Emily was in love with her husband, and they had a happy marriage.
“Oh, forgive me, my friend,” Whitney frowned. “I had to step out for a moment. I was feeling very stuffy.”
The other woman nodded. “That’s completely understandable.” She took a deep breath and then turned to the gentleman standing behind her. “Whitney Brooks, may I present Mr. Jake Sterling, a friend of mine. He is the U.S. Marshal in our area. And Mr. Sterling, this is my very good friend Mrs. Whitney Brooks.”
Whitney held out her hand, and Mr. Sterling took it gently in his for a small shake. He was quite handsome if she must admit. Tall, with broad shoulders, and dark brown hair, he was a man who could make women swoon. “What a pleasure to meet you, Marshal.”
“And it’s always a pleasure to meet Mrs. Randolph’s friends.”
It was hard to look away from his handsome face. His gray eyes sparkled when he grinned, and a cute little dimple dented his left cheek. She enjoyed the way his hair waved back on his head as if he had a touch of natural curl. But what captured her attention was the dark shadow of a mustache and beard. She wondered if he had just suddenly been invited to the party and didn’t have time to shave. Although she enjoyed a clean-shaven man, she was certain by ten o’clock at night, his shadow would be fascinating.
The man was dressed in a black tailcoat with matching trousers, a gold vest, white shirt, and a black string tie. By the expensive cut of the material, she knew he was a man of means. The gold color of his vest gave his face a darker hue to his skin and brought out his gray eyes a little more. Whatever it was about him that made him so blindly handsome, she could stare at him for hours without getting bored.
“When I saw you earlier,” Mr. Sterling said, “I knew I had to beg an introduction from Mrs. Randolph.”
Whitney hitched a breath, and at the same time, tried not to look too worried. When did he see her? She hoped he hadn’t witnessed her going into Mr. Crowley’s study – or leaving it. Because of Mr. Sterling’s profession, this was a man she didn’t want to make suspicious. “How kind of you, Marshal.”
“Are you still feeling stuffy, Mrs. Brooks?” he asked.
Her heart flipped. Heavens, she enjoyed the deepness of his voice. “Uh, yes, Marshal Sterling. At times, the heat is nearly suffocating.”
“I must agree. I fear there are too many people for this size of ballroom.”
“You know,” Emily added, “I was thinking that very thing.”
“Mrs. Brooks, if you don’t mind, may I request the pleasure of this next dance? Unless, of course, you are not feeling well enough.”
Her heart hammered. Although she should turn him down, she needed to make him her friend. She couldn’t have him knowing about the money she’d stolen. “Actually, I’m not, but—”
Suddenly, Mr. Crowley’s panicked voice boomed through the room. “I’ve been robbed!”
Fear gripped Whitney’s throat, and she froze. Marshal Sterling muttered his apologies and rushed toward Mr. Crowley. The crowd crept toward the rich man, as well. Suddenly, the room closed in around her, and she couldn’t breathe. Voices were lifted in shock and panic.
Emily left Whitney’s side as well, and moved toward the hosts. She needed to get out of here. Now! What if they started searching their guests? They would find the money in her wrist purse, for sure.
Slowly, she backed away. As the guests pushed forward, she withdrew toward the door. When she made it, she darted outside. Breathing in the fresh night air, she concentrated on hurrying to her buggy before anyone noticed her.
She climbed in and whipped the reins, urging the horse into a fast trot. Once she passed the estate gates, she pushed the animal faster. The turn in the road came upon her too quickly, and she couldn’t slow the horse down. The vehicle bounced on the uneven road a few times before tipping.
She released the reins and gripped onto the seat. She was going down with the buggy, and most assuredly, it would be painful.
The vehicle hit the ground. The motion jerked her loose, tossing her out of the buggy as if she was a rag doll. She rolled a few times on the ground, only stopping when she knocked into a boulder. The buggy tumbled toward her. She scrambled to get out of its way, but it was too late. The vehicle rested on top of her, pinning her legs underneath.
Ripping pain shot through her limbs, and she screamed. She couldn’t move the vehicle. It was too heavy. As tears streamed down her face, she struggled to release her legs, but they wouldn’t budge.
This time, a burning sting spread through her, and her legs turned numb. No! This couldn’t be happening.
“Someone help me. Please!”
Her chest ached with guilt. If she hadn’t taken the money, she would still be at Crowley’s party. Instead, she lay on the ground, unable to move. Nobody would hear her cries, and yet if someone didn’t come soon to rescue her, she feared she’d lose the use of her legs. In agony, she relaxed on the ground and cried out her anguish.
From this moment on, her life would never be the same.
This book is available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and in paperback.