I’ve got a new release that hit the shelves last week just before Valentine’s Day! Hidden Trails is my latest western historical novella. This was a fun little novella to work on because it was something I hadn’t dealt with before. Though I write a lot of stories with heroes who are of mixed heritage–half white/half Indian, or half white/half Hispanic, I’ve never written a story with a heroine quite like Valentine Reneau.
Valentine’s mother was a slave, a beautiful octoroon, whose cruel master sold her off in a fit of drunken pique–luckily for her! She is able to marry and make a new life for herself, but there is always the uneasy fear that her former owner might find her–even though the Civil War has ended, and she is free. When Valentine is old enough to understand, her stepfather explains it to her, and so begins her burden of constantly looking over her shoulder, as well.
Now that Valentine’s on her own, she has to protect herself. The old fear is there, and it’s very real. But Valentine isn’t alone any longer.
Levi Connor rides into her life with a bullet in his leg, half dead from cold, hunger and blood loss. Once Valentine saves him, will he ride on, or will he stay and help her face her nightmare-turned-reality–the man she must acknowledge as her father?
Valentine intrigues me because I don’t know where she came from in my imagination. I “met” her walking along the road in the blizzard, carrying a wounded collie pup. I just knew she was the one for Levi. Have you ever read a story with an unlikely love match that stuck in your mind? I always am curious about what makes one person fall madly in love with another–especially when the odds are stacked against them.
There’s lots of excitement and action—and a Valentine’s Day hope for new love in this novella! Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of HIDDEN TRAILS today!
Levi Connor has never run from anything in his life, and he doesn’t intend to start now. After killing the two bandits who’d followed him into Indian Territory, he finds himself wounded and riding through a blinding February snowstorm. With no purpose ahead of him and no past to guide him, he discovers a reason to exist—the beautiful mixed-blood girl who takes him in and heals him. Valentine Reneau lives in fear that her father will find her someday in the heart of Indian Territory and force her to return to Mississippi to take her mother’s place—in every way. She knows her time has run out when a stranger shows up on her land with two hired guns—and the devil in his plans. With some unlikely help, Valentine must try to escape the slave’s fate that her mother left behind so many years before. Will Levi kill for a woman he barely knows? The chips are down, the guns blaze, and everything finally comes clear along these HIDDEN TRAILS…but who’ll be left alive?
She pulled the covers away so she could see his leg. Without saying anything more, she took the lantern from the nightstand and turned up the wick, holding it close to the wound.
“I better get to this,” she said under her breath. Then, she glanced up to meet his gaze. “How long have you been carrying this bullet? And what are you running from?”
Levi grimaced as she turned her attention back to the wound and prodded at it.
“Three days. And I ain’t runnin’, ma’am. A Connor don’t run.”
“And you are a Connor, I take it?”
“Levi Connor. Didn’t get a chance to introduce myself earlier,” he muttered, letting go a sharp breath as she laid a warm, wet cloth over the wound.
“Need to get it cleaned up,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt you, but it can’t be helped. Taking out a bullet is always painful, but when it’s been in there for three days—”
“I know.” He waved a hand dismissively. “I’m just obliged to you—and I’ll make it up to you—for bein’ such a bother.”
She shook her head. “No bother. Truly. My father was a doctor, so I do know a little about what I’m doing.”
Levi breathed a slow sigh of relief. This wasn’t his first bullet hole. But thank God, he’d ended up here, with a beautiful young woman who seemed capable of treating him. There had been times before when he would have prayed to be in this circumstance, rather than some of the ones he’d found himself in.
Gentle hands ministered to him, but he suddenly remembered the very delicate location of the bullet hole and tried to re-cover himself.
“Mr. Connor, I’ve seen everything you have—and many others just like it,” Valentine said matter-of-factly. “I can’t very well remove a bullet from a wound I can’t see.” She snatched the covers from his hand and threw them back to his side. “You’re making it harder for me to be able to do what I need to.”
“In a week or two, I’d pay money for you to flip those covers away like that,” Levi answered.
She bent a long, hard look on him. “I’m not for sale, Mr. Connor. Not at any price. You want to keep riding?”
Levi shook his head. “Forget I said that, Valentine. Just the pain and the…damn humiliation talkin’. I didn’t mean it.”
A slow smile quirked her lips. “I can’t imagine you ever being embarrassed.”
“Believe it or not, I was raised a gentleman, ma’am.”
“I believe it, Mr. Connor. I do believe it.” Her voice was soft and sincere, and full of loss for things Levi didn’t understand.
But just then, she pulled the wound open and probed for the bullet, and the pain stripped everything else away from him. There was nothing in Levi’s consciousness but Valentine and her tweezers, delving into the bloody hole in his leg. He swallowed back the cry that threatened to bring the roof down, forcing it away.
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