Welcome, welcome to a new week here at Petticoats and Pistols. As you can see, I’m filling in for Winnie, who is busy, busy, busy at this moment. Hope you will welcome me in her place for today.
Since a new has just been released, THE PRINCESS AND THE WOLF, I thought I’d post another excerpt of the book. I’ll post the blurb for the book so that the scene might make a little more sense, and then the excerpt. Hope you’ll enjoy. Do leave a comment, because as usual, I will do a drawing and gift this book to some lucky blogger.
I absolutely love this cover. What do you think?
Here is the blurb of the book:
TWO HEARTS BETRAYED
Refusing to believe the rumors that the European prince she was forced to marry had died in a far-off land, the princess, Sierra, sets sail to America, bent on revenge and determined to learn the truth. Because she will require a scout to guide her through the wilderness, she calls in a favor from the man who had betrayed her long ago, the man she had once loved deeply and had hoped to wed, the noble Cheyenne scout, High Wolf.
Many years before, a European prince had invited High Wolf to travel an ocean and as a brother, to live as a member of the royal family. There High Wolf had fallen in love with the princess, Sierra. But instead of an engagement and the planned wedding, the princess had treacherously married his friend, the prince. Betrayed and broken-hearted, High Wolf sailed back to America, determined to forget the princess. But a promise given to her years earlier brings her back into his life, igniting a desire he must resist, for to surrender to her again is unthinkable.
Forced into one another’s company, with the threat of life or death around every corner, overcoming their prejudice might be their only means of survival. But can either of them trust in a love, once betrayed? Or will their past force them apart again, this time forever?…
This book has been previously published.
Warning: A sensuous romance that might fan the flames of desire. Be warned. You might fall in love all over again.
And here’s an excerpt from the book. Enjoy!
The Princess and the Wolf
A shadow crept over the water, moving steadily forward. It was looking for something, or someone. But what? Or rather, who?
By evening, Princess Sierra was once again to be found on deck, leaning against the railing, gazing down into the depths of the muddy and frightening waters of the Missouri River.
The boat was in readiness to move into position for its nightly mooring, and every voyageur was involved in the process of maneuvering the Diana through the heavy currents of the river. Perhaps that was why the air was heavy with smoke, much more so than usual. Or maybe it had something to do with the wind, which had shifted from the west to the north.
Dusk had yet to fade into darkness. Indeed, it was still quite light out, despite the fact that the sun was ever so gradually setting. Odd how the land picked up the pink and golden hues of the sky at sunset, the land magnifying the sunset’s intensity by creating the illusion that sky and land were one and the same. It gave a body the feeling of space, as though a person’s troubles gained room, moving away and dissipating.
But Sierra’s problems were far too large for the simple act of gaining space to solve them. The rift between herself and the prince, between herself and High Wolf, was too immense to make the grievance so easily resolved.
Still, glancing away from the sunset, she brought her sights back to the water, noticing how even the river mirrored the sky; the pinks, the blues, the golden hues. For a moment, if a moment only, these sights gave her peace.
Leisurely, she glanced toward a large stick, which had become caught up in the current, the force of the river itself spinning it, making the stick look as though it were dancing…as though it might be a dancer.
It reminded her of another place, another time…a happier time. And without consciously wishing it, she remembered…
Wide-eyed, Sierra Morena Colheart watched the toy ballet dancer spin in time to the tinkling strain of the music box. She stared at the miniature dancer, fascinated, until the music at last slowed and the dancer stopped. Glancing up at herself in the mirror, the sixteen-year-old princess smiled at her own image; her grin, young and fresh, was full of vigor. Indeed, it was the giddy gesture of a young woman in love.
Ah, she thought. Tonight was the night. Tonight it would happen. Dreamy-eyed, she stared out her window, only to witness the reddish rays of the setting sun.
Goodness, how long had she sat here, lost in thought? What was the time? Was it already half past six, the scheduled time she was to meet High Wolf? Was he even now awaiting her in their own secret place?
Glancing at the grand, old clock in the corner of her room, she realized she was “going before herself again,” as High Wolf had often said of her, which meant, she supposed, that she was living in the future instead of the present. The clock read only a quarter to five.
Still, she had much to do to prepare for the evening. Where was her maid?
Arising from her seat at the vanity, Sierra felt the urge to run to the rope that would summon Maria. But instead, she cautioned herself into taking steps that were as precise and dignified as her anxious heart would allow. But even then, a silent voice reprimanded:
“A monarch never hurries. Others will wait. You must learn, Princess Sierra, purred Father Junipero, “to sweep into a room as though you own it, and everyone in it.”
But sometimes, thought Sierra, she wished to simply let go of convention and formality. Wasn’t that what High Wolf often did? And if there were one wish Princess Sierra desired more than anything, it was to do everything that High Wolf found exciting.
Still, the habits of the last sixteen years could hardly be ignored, and she walked as calmly as she could to her door, where she rang for her maid.
Almost at once, Maria knocked gently at the door.
“Yes, Maria, do come in.”
Maria did as bid, bowing as she came farther into the room. “May I be of service, Your Highness?” she asked.
Sierra grinned. “Yes, you may, Maria. I need to dress for this evening, for it is to be a very special evening.”
Maria nodded. “Yes, Your Highness. That it is,” she said. “Have you thought of what you might wear? The yellow gown always looks well on you, as does the blue. Although since this is to be a special night, you might think of wearing the new gros de Naples gown. What do you think?”
“Hmmm. The gros de Naples, I think, but not the brown one. The pink one with the satin flowers and pearls. And of course I’ll need my long gloves, the pink pair.”
“Yes, Your Highness. The pink pair.”
“Oh, Maria, think of it,” urged the princess, holding up a pelisse robe to her bosom while she spun about in place. “This is the night my engagement is to be announced. It is to be the best night of my life. I just know it. I can feel it.”
Maria grinned back happily. “Yes, Your Highness,” she said matter-of-factly, and stepped to the closet, where she extracted a pair of white slippers.
“The pink ones, please, Maria.”
“Yes, of course,” agreed Maria, replacing the white pair. “And your hair? Would you prefer ringlets at the side of your face, as you usually wear, or curls?”
“Ringlets, I believe, as well as…”
“Ah, yes, pearls. Pearls to ornament my hair tonight instead of a coronet or tiara.”
“Yes, Your Highness. It will be beautiful. You will be beautiful.”
“Do you really think so?”
“But we must hurry, I think. I’m to meet with High Wolf and the prince before the ball, and I don’t wish to be late.”
“Heaven forbid, Your Highness.”
For a moment, Sierra stopped, glancing askance at her maid. And then, without a word being spoken between the two of them, both females broke out in laughter.
Maria said, “I think the gentlemen will wait, do you not think so, also?”
“I believe you are right,” said Sierra. “The gentlemen will wait. But still, I would not cheat myself of a single moment that I might spend with High Wolf.”
Maria smiled. “Ah, to be so much in love. I wish it were I.”
“Someday it will be, Maria. But for now we must hurry.”
“Yes, Your Highness. We must. Now, if you would be so kind as to be seated, I will begin work on your hair.”
“Yes, Maria,” said the princess, dutifully taking her place at the vanity. “Anything you say, Maria,” she said, grinning widely and catching her maid’s gaze before both young women succumbed once again to a fit of giggles..
“Princess Sierra? Your Highness, shall I turn down your bed?”
Sierra jumped, startled. Maria’s voice, so close at hand, awakened her from out of the past, but none too gently. She took a moment to compose herself before saying, “Ah, no, not yet, Maria. I think I may watch the sunset for a while tonight. For in truth, you caught me deep in thought.”
“Did I?” asked Maria. “I am so sorry. And yet, it is a beautiful sunset. I can easily see how one could get lost in it.”
Maria hesitated, as though waiting for her mistress to say more, but when Sierra remained silent, Maria spoke up, saying, “If you don’t mind, I believe I will go on below and prepare your bed anyway. Perhaps an early bedtime for me, also, will refresh me.”
“That would be most advantageous,” said Sierra. “In the meanwhile, I think I’ll go topside and have a talk with our captain about this journey and when we might at last arrive at our destination.”
“Ah,” said Maria, “that would be most opportune.”
“Thank you, Maria.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” said Maria, and curtsying, she retreated.
But Sierra never did seek out the captain, nor did she change her position from against the rail. Too many thoughts had been brought back to mind; too many recollections were close to hand. And without consciously willing it, her mind replayed that most memorable night…
“My father said he would be announcing your engagement tonight,” said Prince Alathom.
Both Sierra and High Wolf grinned at each other, while High Wolf took her gloved hand in his, bringing it to his lips, where he pressed a kiss upon it. He said, “You are the most stunning creature in all the world .”
Sierra blushed, then grinned and looked shyly away. “There are many more young women who are prettier still than I. Many.”
“Where?” asked High Wolf. “Show them to me, for I do not think they exist.”
Sierra merely smiled rapturously up at him while Prince Alathom groaned aloud, saying, “I’m going to have to teach you some new forms of flattery, my fine friend, for I tire of hearing the same words said over and over.”
“Tire all you like,” High Wolf objected. “You may go elsewhere if you don’t like it, for I speak only the truth as I see it.”
Despite all her upbringing to the contrary, Princess Sierra giggled. Just then, as though in accompaniment to the merry sound of the three friends’ laughter, the strains of violins and cellos reached out to them.
“Oh, High Wolf, Alathom, the dance begins,” Sierra observed. “And I am so very anxious to dance. Shall we go?”
“We shall,” agreed High Wolf as he linked her arm with his, leaving Prince Alathom to follow along behind them, a circumstance to which the prince had never given objection.
“Alathom?” the princess called out over her shoulder.
“Please, come up on the other side of me, that the three of us may enter into the room together and be announced at the same time.”
And without another word, Prince Alathom did exactly as asked…
Loud bells rang out unpleasantly, interrupting her reminiscence.
What was that? Fire? Here? Now? Was that why there had been a smoke-heavy odor in the air?
“All hands on deck,” rang out the call. “All hands on deck. Fire!”
Without further pause, what had once been a calm evening turned riotous. Men rushed by her, below her, above her. Horses whinnied in the haul, while the hogs shrieked.
Sierra stood still, frozen, watching, barely able to comprehend the danger as being real. It had seemed so quiet only a few moments previous. Where was Mr. Dominic? Where was Maria?
She needed to find them…now. Turning, she backed up from the railing, intent on running away. However, she did no more than set herself into the path of a voyageur, who had suddenly come upon her. Inadvertently, she knocked him to the deck.
“I’m so sorry,” she apologized as she threw herself forward and out of the way. Quickly, she clung to the rail as the man jumped to his feet and sped away, all without uttering a word.
It was Mr. Dominic. Somehow he had found her.
“Your Highness, you must come this way.” Taking hold of her elbow, he gestured toward his left. “I will see you safely into the lifeboat.”
“A lifeboat?” Abruptly, the panic of those around her took substance, became more of a reality. Still, “Surely that’s not necessary, is it? These men are undoubtedly able to put out a fire.”
“That they probably are, Your Highness, but there is still danger in staying here. If the voyageurs do manage to put out the fire, you can always reboard. But first you must be safe.”
“Do you know what has caused this?”
“Yes, Your Highness. The cotton being carried upriver caught fire, and has nearly consumed the lower level. It has been discovered too late, I fear. Now, come. There is no time to lose.”
Taking her arm, he propelled her along with him as he fought his way toward the lifeboat, shoving through the hurrying crowd of voyageurs. Confusion reigned supreme, and men rushed by them with little regard to what they did, more times than not pushing Mr. Dominic and Sierra out of the way.
Within moments, although it seemed to Sierra to take a lifetime, the two caught a glimpse of the lifeboat. Through the haze of smoke, they could see that several other passengers were scrambling toward it.
Sierra stared around her, coughing as she inhaled soot and smoke. “Where is Maria?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” answered Mr. Dominic, “but I am certain she will find her way here on her own.”
“Find her own way?… Mr. Dominic, do not lie to me. If she could easily come here, she would be here. Why is she not?”
Mr. Dominic didn’t answer.
“There must be trouble, I fear. Please, go and see to her.”
“I cannot, Your Highness. My first duty is to you, and we must get you quickly aboard this lifeboat, while there is still room aboard her.”
“Yes, you are right, I must, but you will not stay with me a moment longer. You are to go and find Maria.”
“Your Highness,” pleaded Mr. Dominic, “you cannot not ask me to desert you. It would cause me great alarm, for not only are you my first concern, I am duty-bound to your father, having promised him that I would not leave your side.”
“Mr. Dominic, how could you make a promise like that to my father?”
“It seemed little enough to ask.”
“Yes, well, you can ease your mind, Mr. Dominic. You have done your duty. My father could not have foreseen all situations that would arise on this trip.”
Mr. Dominic didn’t answer.
“Do you not see? I cannot leave this vessel until I can determine what has happened to Maria. What if she has fallen somewhere? My mind would never rest easy if I saved myself and deserted her.”
“But Your Highness—”
“It is either you go to see about her, or I will do it, myself.”
Mr. Dominic looked uncertain.
“Man the lifeboat!”
Eyes wide, Sierra grabbed hold of Mr. Dominic’s sleeve. She pleaded, “Tell me, is there another lifeboat aboard this vessel?”
“No, there is not, Your Highness.”
“Then you must leave this instant. You must find Maria, stay with her and keep her safe. Do you hear me? I will gladly step into this lifeboat, but not until you—”
Suddenly, Mr. Dominic bent over and picked her up, setting her into the boat. Then, straddling one leg over the side of the boat, he began to climb into it.
But Sierra would have none of that. She jumped up from her seat, straddling the boat herself, her pose an obvious dare. “Please. I command you to find Maria this very instant. I would be of little help to her, as I cannot swim, but if you do not go, I will.”
“Your Highness, I beg you. I…” Mr. Dominic trailed off his objection, looking, for all that he was big and muscular, as though he might wail. But at last he appeared to capitulate, releasing his straddle from the lifeboat.
“Now go!” It was Sierra commanding again. “Before more time is wasted, go! I promise that I will ride this lifeboat to shore. Do not worry about me. I will await you both from the safety of the shoreline. Go quickly!”
Mr. Dominic looked as though he would raise yet another objection, but, as the flames climbed higher into the smoke-laden sky, and with little choice other than to obey his monarch, Mr. Dominic turned and fled in the direction of the maid’s cabin.
“ ’Tis said she is the cause of our own prince’s death.”
“Aye,” said the housemaid, “that she is. ’Tis rumored as well that he died rather than return here to her side.”
Gossip between servants at
Prince Alathom’s castle
At the first hint that something had gone amiss, High Wolf immersed himself in the waters of the river, and in doing so, became a part of the river, so much so that not even a swirl could be seen in the water to indicate his progress. Cautiously, he floated toward the ship, practically invisible. He didn’t swim, nor did he float, but rather he executed what could only be described as a dance with the river’s current. Never did he fight the river’s power, but rather he moved with it, letting the water propel him closer to his target.
At last he came up close to the boat, himself a calm influence in comparison to the turmoil aboard the Diana. He could feel the terror there, sense the smoke-induced delirium of the boatmates, but it was not in his mind to aid these men. No, she was the reason he was here; he would find her.
Quickly, he perused the voyageurs, as well as the passengers who were still aboard the steamboat. Some of them were already jumping from the burning remnants of the boat, an action that could bring sorrow, unless a person either knew how to swim with the river’s flow or was strong enough of body to fight it. But perhaps these men were that hardy, for these white voyageurs, who worked the boats, were sometimes admired for the physical marvels they could perform.
Alas, however, High Wolf saw nothing of her.
Making a quick circle around the boat proved to be a waste of time, for he still had not seen her. And so it was that he found himself with little choice but to board the boat. Quickly, he hoisted himself up to the main deck, coming down flat-footed and at a run, aware as he did so that the steamboat was sinking, and with the majority of the Diana’s body enveloped in flames, there was little to be done for her. As it was, her lower deck was flooded, and in places already half submerged.
Still, without losing more than an instant, he found his way around the decks, until as he rounded a corner, something large and heavy fell into the water, creating a terrific splash. But the gray mist of smoke hung heavy over his eyes, and High Wolf found he could see but little.
Swiftly, he trod closer, and looking toward the spot, High Wolf recognized the cause at once: a smaller boat; one he knew to be a lifeboat, had been thrown into the rushing current.
Suddenly, things became worse: A piece of wood from above, engulfed in flames, broke off the Diana’s main hull and fell, streaking, toward the water. And before anyone knew what it was about, the wood, now a flaming dagger, struck the lifeboat. In moments, the boat tipped off balance, catching fire.
A feminine scream split the air, its intensity piercing High Wolf like a knife. Bodies dove off the lifeboat, but not one of these people was female. Where was she?
And then, through the soot-induced haze, he saw her, still aboard the blazing lifeboat, her countenance oddly composed. For she didn’t move, not even to save herself.
What was wrong with her? Was she frozen in place? Although it seemed impossible, he knew that shock could sometimes cause a person to freeze and become unable to save themselves.
Or was the problem caused by another circumstance or a different emotion? Was it her outrageously full dress? Was she afraid, with so much weight upon her, that she might sink, becoming entangled in its mass?
But if that were true, she was surely acting in a poor manner to solve the problem, for she did not remove any of her clothing, or take any action to save herself. Instead, amid the ballet of diving bodies, the princess slowly sank along with the boat.
Quickly, High Wolf plunged into the Missouri’s depths, then came up for breath and caught his bearings. But she was gone, swallowed up by the muddy, swirling waters of the Missouri. That’s when it occurred to him:
Could she swim?
It seemed amazing to him that he had no answer to that; he, who should know her well. Instinctively, High Wolf swam toward the place he had last seen her, and diving deeper into the water, hunted for her, but not with his eyes, for the murky waters of the Missouri did not allow sight for more than a few feet.
No, he searched for her intuitively, spiritually, and in doing so, found her within seconds. But he had no time in which to experience relief. Grabbing hold of her, he kicked out hard, bringing her up with him to the river’s surface, forcing her head above water, where he heard her gasp for breath. She struggled, and down they both went once more.
He kept hold of her with one arm, while with his other hand, he took out his knife, and then he did the unthinkable. As quickly as the water would allow him, he cut off her dress.
In response, she mustered a formidable response. Whereas before he’d seen little life in her, she now fought him with renewed strength, as though he were some sort of madman, or perhaps she, a madwoman. But High Wolf didn’t have time or even the ability under water to explain his actions, and despite her best efforts, he continued cutting away until the dress was removed and the danger had passed.
The weight of her clothing fell away. That this left her attired in little more than her calf-length drawers, hose and corset was hardly discreditable, for she was still almost fully covered.
But their commotion under water had sunk them too low, and an undertow grabbed hold of them. Quickly, he seized her around the chin, and with mighty strokes, fought his way to the surface of the water, not stopping until he heard her sputter.
At least she was still breathing.
He caught his breath, feeling somewhat safer, now that their heads were above the channel’s surface, and he called out, “Do not fight the river’s current, or me, because if you do, this draught will claim us. You must become composed.” He spoke loudly, but calmly, as though the two of them were taking a stroll instead of fighting for their lives. He continued, “You must become one with the water, for if you do, it will protect you.”
But she appeared to be beyond listening, and she fought him with revitalized vigor. Once again, he called out, “Cease your struggles, or you will force me to bind you, so that you do not drown us both.”
He realized that she was obviously unused to the water, and in the end, it required him to use brute strength against her, holding her arms and legs with one each of his own. Meanwhile, he kept afloat, lugging her with him and letting the water carry them back to shore.
After a few moments, she came suddenly alive and howled at him, “I can’t breathe.” She fought him once more. “You…you’re drowning me.”
“I am not drowning you; you are doing it to yourself. Cease your struggle and merge your body with mine. I will not let you drown.”
“And who will keep you afloat?”
“The water, of course. I have no fear of the water. Only those who fight the river’s power ever come to harm in it.”
“Do you see that you are speaking? That you have energy enough to talk back at me?”
All at once, she ceased her struggle. In truth, his words must have had effect, for she at last let her body meld with his, allowing him to repeat his earlier dance with the river’s current, shoving off here, letting the stream take him there, forging through the water as easily as if he were picking his way across lily pads.
It took little time before he managed to set them ashore, appearing, to anyone who might have been looking, that the river had lovingly placed them there. At once, High Wolf left the water, and with her tucked under his arm, he crept into the protection of the bush, where he granted her a moment to catch her breath.
But a moment was all he could afford.
THE PRINCESS AND THE WOLF