A town of nothing but outlaws…Women needing protection, love, and hope
…People living in the shadows in desperate need of saving.
I’m launching a brand new series January 29, 2019 called Outlaw Mail Order Brides and here is the gorgeous cover for the first book!!
By the way, it’s available for preorder. Not that I’m begging or anything.
The Outlaw’s Mail Order Bride is about Clay Colby and Tally Shannon. These are both characters from my Men of Legend series. Clay was Houston Legend’s right-hand man in The Heart of a Texas Cowboy and I’m thrilled to give him his own story. In fact, I’m beyond excited for my Legend series to bleed over into this one. Readers weren’t done with my Legend men and neither was I, so they’ll appear some in these. Luke probably will more than any because he and his wife Josie have formed a private mail order bride service to match men and women living outside the law for whatever reason.
I received a lot of mail asking if I’ll free the women in hiding. Yes, in this book.
You first met Tally Shannon and her band of women living in Deliverance Canyon in To Love a Texas Ranger (the first Men of Legend.) They’re in hiding after escaping the Creedmore Lunatic Asylum—only none are crazy. They were put in there by family members wanting to get rid of them. In fact, there’s quite a lucrative racket going in that horrible place.
Tally knows they can’t live in hiding forever and it’s time to walk in the sunshine. She volunteers to go first and try marriage. The outlaws can protect her but she’s struggling with trust issues. She doesn’t trust anyone—not even Clay. And this causes big problems between them. Still, she sees Clay’s huge heart and begins to lose her fear.
Tally begins to feel safe in Devil’s Crossing and loves working by Clay’s side in making it a town. He needs this as much as she. But there are lots of potholes in the road.
Can they smooth them out and stay alive long enough to make this marriage work? It’s anyone’s guess.
This cover perfectly depicts their rustic life. The big fire is in the center of the town where all the people gather and a lot of nights one of the men gets out his fiddle and they dance. I modeled Clay after the real life gunfighter and outlaw, Clay Allison, who loved to dance more than–well, shoot bad guys. So….do outlaws really dance? You bet’cha.
When we think of a Wanted poster, we think of the Old West when those handbills were tacked on the sides of buildings or poles, declaring the name of the alleged criminal and their crime, often with a grainy illustration, a reward and inscribed “Dead or Alive.”
In truth, the Wanted posters had much humbler beginnings. From about 1840, they originated as a letter or a postcard with the specific information listed (physical description, crime, locale, etc.) and were distributed among frontier lawmen, who kept the paper folded in their pockets. Occasionally, the information was printed in newspapers, but rarely were the letters circulated widely or even to the public. Travel was difficult, slow and assumed hindering to most criminals; thus, the posters were kept within a small area of local towns and counties.
The Pinkerton Agency was instrumental in improving the Wanted poster as a means of spreading the word in hopes of capturing a known lawbreaker. The admonishment of “Dead or Alive” was merely a disclaimer that if it came right down to it, shooting the guy if necessary kept the bounty hunter or vigilante virtually blameless.
And those rewards? The amount was dependent on the outlaw’s ruthlessness and how much someone was willing to pony up for it. The money was usually split between the arresting lawman and the one who had compiled the information and distributed it.
As time went on, about the turn of the century, photography improved and photos were added. With more years rolling by, Wanted posters were even used as a form of propaganda throughout the world toward capturing Adolf Hitler, and later, Osama Bin Laden, who warranted a hefty $25 million reward in 2001. In the 1950s, the FBI created their Ten Most Wanted Fugitive list, including a broader range of criminals dictated by the unfortunate sophistication in their methods, namely terrorists and fugitives as well as missing or kidnap victims.
So you could say the Wanted poster was one of history’s first form of social media, right?
In my brand new re-release, WANTED!, Lark is a former outlaw turned responsible citizen and bank teller, who through circumstances beyond her control, finds herself under the care and protection of the man who once tried to arrest her.
Here’s a peek at how a Wanted poster complicates Lark’s life… or does it?
He strode into his bedroom and closed the door. He kept assorted pharmaceuticals on a shelf above his washbasin. But it was the bureau he headed for, and the bottom drawer he kept under lock and key.
Once he opened it, he found the flat, rectangular box he was looking for. He removed the lid, tossed it aside, his urgency growing as he rifled through the papers he kept within. Reports he’d penned. Payments he’d received. Documents from his past life as a bounty hunter.
He yanked out one in particular.
And there she was.
Lark Renault. Alias Wild Red. Once part of the notorious Reno gang. The artist’s drawing was at least seven years old, crude at best, but it was her. Thick, wavy hair, spilling from beneath a wide-brimmed hat. Eyes, dark and direct. She looked young in the drawing. Thinner, too.
But it was her.
She’d been there that day at the Turf Club. Ross was hell-bent on arresting her, but things turned ugly. Out of control. He never intended to shoot her down.
Catfish Jack took care of matters with his shotgun primed and ready. Ross never saw him coming.
He shut off the memories, dragged himself back to the present. Now, at last, he could finish the case he never solved, and the one person who could help him do it was sitting on his couch at this very moment.
The Wanted poster slipped from his fingers. He rose, strode to the door and yanked it wide open.
But Lark Renault had disappeared.
At this point, poor Lark and Ross are both caught up in quite a dilemma. I hope you’ll want to read more. #kindleunlimited
For some reason, I’ve always loved stories in which a hero or heroine helps the other one heal — either physically or mentally. I think it’s because there is a vulnerability, a tenderness when one person takes the time to help another heal, even though it might not be a quick or easy process. A lot of emotion and eventually love can be born out of those moments. I don’t know how many westerns I’ve read where the heroine has to help the loner/farmhand/gunslinger/you name it heal from some illness or wound. They’re alone in a cabin, quite possibly during a blizzard, and the forced intimacy of the space just lights a fire — whether a slow burn or a raging inferno — under their attraction.
So it was to this story trope that I gravitated for my new release, A Cowboy’s Kiss. There’s no trapped in a snowy cabin story thread, but my hero is a doctor in addition to having a ranching/cowboy background. Here’s the blurb:
When librarian Anna Kenner wakes up in the hospital, she’s stunned to learn that she’s been in a coma for a week, and her life has been turned upside down. Anna has always been quiet and self-reliant, but now she must ask for help. To make matters worse, the man she’s coming to rely on is a casual friend from high school, whom she always wished could be more. As Roman helps her recover, Anna wonders if this time she will be braver and have a different outcome—Roman in her arms.
Dr. Roman McQueen leads a busy life between his work at the hospital and his time spent at his family’s Montana ranch. And yet, he finds himself sitting night after night at Anna’s bedside reading her a mystery and hoping that somehow she knows that, even though she has no family, she is not alone. When Anna wakes and begins the long process of recovery, Roman finds himself by her side. He tells himself he’s being a friend even as he tries not to notice how her kindness, quiet wit and subtle beauty make him dream that someday they can have more.
Because this is the second in my Once Upon a Western series, it also has that tie to a classic fairy tale — this time Sleeping Beauty. Anna and Roman’s story falls more onto the slow burn end of the spectrum, first because, well, she’s in a coma. But even when she wakes up and even though she isn’t officially his patient, he has to be careful not to give the impression of any impropriety between a doctor and a hospital patient. But they do know each other, so at first their friendship builds even though each is attracted to the other. There are also things in her past that make her hesitant to act on her attraction to Roman, even after she’s back home. Still, no matter how much she might fight it, the pull between them is just too strong. They are just too right for each other. I’m smiling now just thinking about how I gradually brought these two together.
To find out more about this series or for buy links, check out my website.
Now I’d like to hear from you — do you like the healer story trope in romance? What are some of your favorite stories that have used this?
Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
To Celebrate these golden days of Autumn, leave a comment about your favorite things about fall. The golden and orange leaves. Bright pumpkins. Children in costumes and buckets of candy. The cool evenings. The end of mowing and bugs. The oncoming holiday season.
One lucky commentor will win a copy of The Reluctant Warrior:
…Union army officer Cameron Scott is used to being obeyed, but nothing about this journey to Lake Tahoe has gone as expected. He’s come to fetch his daughter and nephew, and seek revenge on the people who killed his brother. Instead he finds himself trapped by a blizzard with two children who are terrified of him and stubborn but beautiful Gwen Harkness, who he worries may be trying to keep the children.
When danger descends on the cabin where they’re huddled, Cam is hurt trying to protect everyone and now finds Gwen caring for him too. He soon realizes why the kids love her so much and wonders if it might be best for him to move on without them. When she sees his broken heart, Gwen decides to help him win back their affection–and in the process he might just win her heart as well. Click to buy
Recently, I had to research different types of cattle here in America for my story, Wedding at Rocking S Ranch that takes place on a ranch. Oak Grove was a railroad town that blossomed as a result of its location and the cattle drives from Texas. Sure, Longhorns came from Texas, but was that the kind of cattle that would be found on a ranch in Kansas? My grandfather and uncle raised Black Angus cattle here in the Midwest their entire lives and I have yet to see a Texas Longhorn this far north. So when, and where, did the switch occur? I also had to check the history of barbed wire.
1870 marked the start of the big cattle drives into Kansas. 300,00 arrived that year. The next year that amount doubled. Three-fifths of the cattle were “stock cattle” which means they were yearlings, heifers, cows and steers younger than four years old. Abilene, Kansas, Wichita and Dodge City became the towns (and later cities) that truly boomed with the transporting of cattle to market.
Many of the Longhorns didn’t immediately board the train and head to points farther east, but wintered in Kansas, existing on the buffalo-grass prairie. Although barbed wire had been invented and was in use, the sectioning off of large parcels of land hadn’t happened yet in Kansas in 1879 at the time my story takes place. Cattle still roamed free and had to be watched over by cowboys. At the Rocking S Ranch, the ranch-house and the crops had fences around them to keep the cattle out of the corn and alfalfa and off the porch. This was known as “fenced out.” Further east, a farmer would use wood and barbed wire to enclose a pasture, which was known as “fenced in.”
In my story, I have the owner of the ranch looking into crossbreeding his longhorns with another breed of cattle to make a healthier, more profitable herd. He has brought in Black Angus to give this a try. Black Angus first came to Kansas in 1873 when George Grant transported them from Scotland. Where the longhorns were hardy, they were a tougher meat and had a wild-streak and could be difficult to manage. Angus had a gentle nature but were more susceptible to extremes in weather. Their meat is more tender and has a better flavor that the longhorns. Angus weigh between 850 and 1000 pounds when mature.
When Grant took his four Angus bulls to the fair at the Kansas City Livestock Exposition that year, the local people didn’t know what to think of them. These cattle had no horns! (Called polled, which means naturally hornless.) But Grant had the last laugh when he successfully crossed his bulls with native Texas longhorns. The calves were hardier, hornless, and weighed more. They were also a bit more docile. Between 1878 and 1883, twelve hundred Angus cattle were imported to the Midwest. Cross-breeding has steadily improved the hardiness of the Angus here in America.
And there are Red Angus! Red Angus occur as the result of a recessive gene. They are the same as their black relatives except they are actually more tolerant of the hot weather. At one time, The Angus Association barred the registration of Red Angus in an attempt to promote a solid black breed. Likely that is one of the reasons they are fewer in number. Eventually, The Red Angus Association of America formed when breeders searched out and collected the Red Angus from the black herds.
Although I used a lot of this information in Wedding at Rocking S Ranch, it was sprinkled in with a light touch. After all, in historical romance it is the relationship between the two protagonists that carry the story!
* * * * * * * * * * *
And now for my New Release!
Three festive stories ~ Christmas in the Wild West!
A Western Christmas Homecoming
CHRISTMAS WITH THE OUTLAW by Kathryn Albright
SNOWBOUND IN BIG SPRINGS by Lauri Robinson
CHRISTMAS DAY WEDDING BELLS by Lynna Banning
In Christmas Day Wedding Bells by Lynna Banning, buttoned-up librarian Alice is swept away by US marshal Rand Logan on a new adventure.
Then, Welles is Snowbound in Big Springs in this novella by Lauri Robinson, where he must confront Sophie and their undeclared feelings…
Finally, rugged outlaw Russ rescues Abigail from spending the festive season alone in Christmas with the Outlaw by Kathryn Albright!
Hello everyone, Jodi Thomas here.
In a few weeks MISTLETOE MIRACLES will be out as the 7th book in the Ransom Canyon series. I’m very excited about this one.
Hold on to your hats this is going to be a wild, funny ride.
I had a series of events, like every writer experiences sometimes, tumble down on me when facing the deadline on this book. One roadblock after another happened. Sometimes the real world interrupts my fantasy world. 😉 So, all of a sudden I had a book due, I was suffering from exhaustion, and the holiday season was nearing.
“Rest.” The doctor insisted. Great. No talks, no travel, no lectures. I stayed in my pj’s and wrote. The book took over my brain—in truth it wasn’t much of a fight.
All at once the characters were living in my mind, not just subleasing a few hours a day.
I got better and finished the book. My editor loved it. Christmas, three love stories, a horse ranch. I turned it in right after Christmas, getting to live both in real life and in my mind for the holidays.
Then life rushed in. Travel, talks, business, relatives. I’m behind again. This time on Number 8 that will be out in 2019.
No problem. Then came the head-on car crash. I’m back at home–with a broken leg. Not in fantasy this time. I wrote half the book in a month with my leg propped up.
I’m starting to see why BREAK A LEG means good luck. Maybe whoever made it up was talking to me.
So, I googled it:
A phrase of encouragement typically said to one who is about to perform before an audience, especially an actor. It is thought to be used due to the superstition that wishing one “good luck” will result in the opposite, but the exact origin of the phrase is unknown.
I also researched jobs and found that being a cowboy ranks at the 4th more dangerous job in America. All of us who’ve been tossed from a horse are yelling, “Amen” right now.
So ladies and gentlemen, enjoy my MISTLETOE MIRACLES this fall with my three cowboys on the Maverick Ranch because next spring while I’m writing book number 9, one of my heroes is going to break a leg for a change, and I plan to stay healthy.
Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of Mistletoe Miracles to kick off your holiday reading. I’d love to hear what your lucky saying is.
And don’t forget to sign up for a three-day stay at my hideout in Red River, New Mexico. You pick the season, they’re all beautiful. Just check the rules on my website: jodithomas.com.
Beth Garrison is the top hostage negotiator in Rocky Ridge, Texas. She’s called to serve on a task force to investigate a killing that is a copycat of her first bust as a rookie.
Tate McCade has a reputation for steamrolling anyone who gets in his way and he’s had a run-in with Beth and her oversized ego before. He’s got a bruise on his face to prove it.
They have to work together and sparks are flying that aren’t all about the job.
Two more to go but we take a break in releasing them now because next month I’ve got book #2 of the High Sierra Sweethearts series, The Reluctant Warrior.
The Reluctant Warrior
Union army officer Cameron Scott is used to being obeyed, but nothing about this
journey to Lake Tahoe has gone as expected. He’s come to fetch his daughter and nephew, and seek revenge on the people who killed his brother. Instead he finds himself trapped by a blizzard with two children who are terrified of him and stubborn but beautiful Gwen Harkness, who he worries may be trying to keep the children.
When danger descends on the cabin where they’re huddled, Cam is hurt trying to
protect everyone and now finds Gwen caring for him too. He soon realizes why the kids love her so much and wonders if it might be best for him to move on without them. When she sees his broken heart, Gwen decides to help him win back their affection–and in the process he might just win her heart as well.
Connealy’s Latest Filled with a Blend of Humor, History, and Cowboys
• “Connealy crafts relatable characters who will inspire readers with their love,
loyalty, and fortitude.”—
• Bestselling author Connealy reaches her fans regularly on popular book
• In 1860s Lake Tahoe, a band of high mountain cowboys must overcome a
The fun thing about my two books is one is contemporary, one is historical. They are both, I think, romantic comedy with cowboys. Although my contemporary ‘cowboy’ is a cop. But they hero and heroine are both from Texas and they go home to the family ranch for the happily ever after.
Today, let’s talk contemporary romance vs historical romance. Why do you like one or the other. Westerns, more than most other genres, can span historical and contemporary, as many modern day western romances as historical.
Which is your favorite. No right or wrong answers, just a fun conversation. Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for an ebook copy of Loving the Texas Negotiator.
When courting a woman don’t ask advice of a bachelor.
-Cowboy Charm School
I’m excited that my next book Cowboy Charm School will be published September 4th (but can be ordered now.) I played with the idea for four or five years before I actually got around to writing the book. Book ideas generally come to me in scenes. I’ll suddenly visualize someone atop a runaway stagecoach or scrambling over a roof and then have to figure out who, what, and why.
The scene that popped into my head for Cowboy Charm School was a wedding scene with a handsome stranger running down the church aisle yelling, “Stop the Wedding!”
It took me awhile to figure out that the man was Texas Ranger Brett Tucker, who thinks he’s saving the bride, Kate Denver, from marrying an outlaw. He’s mistaken, of course, but the groom jealously jumps to all the wrong conclusions and the couple breaks-up.
Brett feels terrible for what’s he’s done and is determined to set things right. Since the hapless groom hasn’t a clue as to how to win Kate back, it’s up to Brett to give him a few pointers–and that’s when the real trouble begins.
For a chance to win a copy of the book, tell us the best or worse advice anyone ever gave you. (Contest guidelines apply.)
For those of us living in the Midwest, we are hopelessly landlocked. No oceans within easy reach for us. We do, however, have some breathtaking lakes, and among some of the most beautiful are in northeast Iowa–West Okoboji, East Okoboji and Spirit Lake in the Great Lakes Region.
This summer, my family–all 19 of us–had a memorable vacation in Okoboji. We stayed in Arnold’s Park, specifically Fillenwarth Beach. Honestly, if you have a chance to go there and stay for even a few days, GO! It’s the perfect family getaway.
While there, my husband and I went on a History Cruise, narrated by the widowed husband of Julie Fillenwarth, whose grandparents developed the resort in 1918. (Yes, this year is Fillenwarth Beach’s 100th birthday.) On the cruise, the narrator told of a museum within walking distance of the beach–an 1850s cabin that belonged to a family that had been massacred by Sioux Indians.
He explained how bitter cold winters forced bands of Sioux to find food and warmth. On March 8, 1857, they attacked pioneer settlers who were trying hard to survive, just like they were. In all, 33 settlers were killed and four females kidnapped, three of them married women and the youngest, a girl barely fourteen.
That girl was Abbie Gardner. After her family’s murder, she endured 84 days with the Sioux where she witnessed the murders of two of the women until finally, she was ransomed and freed. She married shortly thereafter at the (shockingly) young age of 14. Though she struggled with what we now know is PTSD, she went on to live a relatively happy life with her husband and three children. During that time, she wrote a book of her ordeal, The Spirit Lake Massacre and Captivity of Abbie Gardner. The book earned seven printings and Abbie enough money to return to Spirit Lake and buy back the cabin her father built. For many years, she worked at the cabin museum, selling her book and sharing her story.
I could not put this book down, it was so riveting.
There was even a movie made of her experience in 1927.
Abbie’s story reminded me of my newest book–without the massacre of course. My first contemporary western romance will be released in January, 2019, by Tule Publishing. Ava Howell comes to the Blackstone Ranch to develop a resort on the Paxton family’s ranch. The resort has a beautiful lake, too, and a hero, Beau Paxton, who resists her efforts but can’t fight the love that grows between them.
I’ll tell you more about Ava and Beau’s story as details are finalized. We’re working on the cover now–and Tule has some of the best! Can’t wait!
Until then, tell me about your favorite family vacations! Do they include a beach, too, like mine do?
Although the title doesn’t say it, I will be giving away a free e-book of BRAVE WOLF AND THE LADY, so read our guidelines for giveaways — off to the right here — and leave a comment.
So…steamboats — for all practical purposes, they opened up the West. Starting with the first Steamboat, The Yellow Stone, they traveled up and down the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers, bringing people back and forth, and carrying on a business in terms of trade and furs and many, many other items. George Catlin traveled on the first steamboat, The Yellow Stone, in 1834. In his book, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and conditions of NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS, Catlin word paints the time and place, as well as the details of travel upon the Steamboat at that time. He makes it come alive.
In my newest book, BRAVE WOLF AND THE LADY, as well as the book, THE PRINCESS AND THE WOLF, there are scenes aboard a steamboat at that particular time and place. Both scenes go into some detail on the very real danger of travel aboard these boats. Another of my books that involves a steamboat is WHITE EAGLE’S TOUCH. The Commerce of a growing Nation flowed over these rivers during this time period, and these boats provide a rich look at a by-gone river culture.
So I thought I’d post an excerpt that takes place aboard the steamboat, Effie Deans. Enjoy!
BRAVE WOLF AND THE LADY
The scent of fishy, muddy water overwhelmed all other odors in this place, Mia thought as she climbed the necessary stairway that allowed her to gain access to the highest point on the steamship. Every day, as had become her routine with Brave Wolf, she arose early so that she might welcome in the new day with prayer. Ascending to the upper deck of the boat, she took up a position that looked eastward, toward the light, silver sky. Briefly, she said her prayer, then shifted her position, strolling toward the starboard side of the boat, gazing out westward. It was here on most every day that she hoped to see Brave Wolf, always wondering if he might still be out there, following the boat. Today was no different.
The day was only beginning, yet already the warmth of the early morning sun beat down upon the top of her bare head, for she wore no hat. However, its heat did not bother her; the gentle wind that was created by the forward motion of the boat blew into her face, causing the loose tendrils of her hair to fall back behind her ears. It was a cooling breeze and it seemed kindly, animated, as if it endeavored to cleanse her spirit.
But such friendliness was wasted on her. Her life had forever changed. Too much had happened in this last month to allow the naivety of her former life to regain a foothold over her again.
Was such a shift of personality for the good, or was it bad? She couldn’t be certain.
Where was Brave Wolf, she wondered. Then she answered her own question. He would be setting a trail for his home; he would be hastening back to the arms of another woman….
Would Walks-in-sunshine welcome him home with love in her heart? She would do so if she were wise. Trustworthy, honorable men like Brave Wolf didn’t happen along every day.
“Ma’am,” hailed the captain, a Mr. Wentworth. He raised his hat to her as he stepped by her.
Jerked back to the present moment, Mia smiled, hoping that the gesture covered her surprise. She had been so lost in her own thoughts, she hadn’t noticed the captain’s approach.
“Ye look so sad, ma’am. But don’t ye fret. We’re only a couple of weeks out from Leavenworth. We’ll make it thar all safe and sound, don’t ye worry.”
“Yes,” she replied, as she forced herself to look happy. “I believe that we shall.”
“How did ye get yerself all stranded in this part of the country, ma’am, if’n ye don’t mind me askin’?”
“I…my husband and I were part of a wagon train heading for the Oregon Territory when our party was attacked by—”
“No, sir, although I did think so at first. But the butchers turned out to be men dressed up as Indians. They killed my husband. Indeed, I fear that they murdered all the people on that train except me. I don’t believe that they saw me at first.”
“But they did discover yerself?”
“Undoubtedly, they did.”
“Pardon, ma’am, but then how did ye escape? Did ye play dead until they left?”
“No, sir. Real Indians came to my rescue.”
“Real Injuns? Ma’am?” He grabbed his hat from his head and whacked it against his knee. “We’s at war with them Injuns in these here parts. Cain’t imagine one of ’em rescuing ye.”
“I know. Yet, what I tell you is true. The man who bought that ticket from you is the same one who not only rescued me, but who brought me here so that I might return home.” She paused for a moment, then added, “I think, sir, that you might have cheated him regarding the cost of that ticket.”
The accusation, though softly spoken, was met with silence, and she let the complaint stand without further explanation. Captain Wentworth seemed honestly surprised; however, at last he uttered, “I’m right sorry about that, ma’am. But I’m under orders t’ charge high enough fees so that them Injuns don’t beg an easy ride. I’ll return the full two hundred dollars to ye, ma’am.”
“That would be most appreciated,” replied Mia, “for I lost all of my possessions at the wagon train fight. But, although I appreciate your kindness, please ease your mind. It is unnecessary. I have enough food to sustain me until we reach Fort Leavenworth, and my clothing washes well. Besides, once we arrive at Fort Leavenworth, I can send word to my father, who will ensure that I am taken care of and escorted home safely. Keep your money.”
“No, ma’am. Couldna live with myself if’n I was to do that,” he said. “Wait here, ma’am, while I get yer two hundred dollars.”
Mia nodded and watched Captain Wentworth’s departing figure as he disappeared down the stairs, taking two of them at a time. She breathed in deeply, and was about to lean out over the railing, when two incidents happened at once.
A wet, nearly nude, but achingly familiar body knocked her to the deck at the same time a bullet whizzed by her. The whir of that discharge, and its ugly blast splintered the wood at the exact place where she’d been standing, its impact showering her and her rescuer with the sharp fragments.
“Stay down!” ordered Brave Wolf. She could do little more than that, for he lay over her, using his body to protect her. Only a single instant passed before another deadly shot shrieked past them, this one aimed lower than the first.
Then came another round of gunfire, followed by a slight pause, then more of the same. On and on it roared, the howl of the noise and the racket going on for so many minutes that Mia felt as though the entire world were engulfed by the barrage. Suddenly, as quickly as it had started, it stopped. No shots. No backfire. Nothing.
“He…reloading. Quick, follow me!”
Brave Wolf plopped off of her, scooting onto the deck. Lying flat on his stomach, he used elbows and hips to inch forward; Mia followed, using the same manner of crawling, and could see an open cabin door ahead of them. This must have been his destination. But what followed next precluded all attempts to attain safety.
A huge man, who might have been twice the size of Brave Wolf, fell upon her. She screamed, then again, and she kept on shrieking as he raised a knife. Even while she yelled out, “No,” she felt certain that this moment spelled the end of her life. It might have been true, too, but for an arm that came up to block that blow.
“Go! Move! Run to cabin!” shouted Brave Wolf.
But she couldn’t get away from the monster, for he held her down; he was probably three times her weight. She squirmed, she tried to get away, but she couldn’t shake him off her.
What followed could only be an act of God, for it was humanly impossible. Yet, as she watched the events unfold, she saw Brave Wolf rise up as though with super-human strength; he picked up the man as though this two-hundred-and-fifty-pound bully weighed little more than a feather. Instantly, she was free, but it wasn’t over. Brave Wolf hurled the monster across the deck. The fiend’s weapon, his knife, fell to the deck, but not so the beast’s gun.
As quick as an instant, the would-be assassin slid his pistol from his holster. He pointed it straight at her head, for she had not run away.
In a fraction of a second, Brave Wolf executed a quick, high leap, landing on the assassin and pushing him down, forcing him into a sitting position. Taking hold of the man’s pistol-carrying arm, and forcing it high into the air, Brave Wolf ensured the bullet shot harmlessly into the sky. The two men wrestled with that gun, their muscles straining under the assault, and the struggle that waged between the two of them outlined every muscle in Brave Wolf’s body.
Boom! Crash! Blast!
What was that? It sounded as if it were an explosion on the below decks of the boat? Was it? Was the boat, itself, under attack?
What could she do? How could she help? She couldn’t leave Brave Wolf to fight this monstrosity all on his own. Or should she?
Was she in the way? Should she leave here as quickly as possible?
But no. She couldn’t leave him, even though he had told her to. As she had often said to herself: whatever Brave Wolf’s fate might be, so too would be her own.
This decided, she darted into action, and, sprinting toward the wrestling figures, she jumped up into a flying leap, and added her weight against the bully’s arm. The momentum of her fall caused the beastie’s grip to come apart and loosen. The pistol flew out of his grasp, but the firearm was cocked, and it fired as it hit the deck…
…Away from them.
In a show of power and brute force, the monster flung Brave Wolf off, and Brave Wolf rolled as he landed, coming up onto his feet, unsheathing his only weapon, his knife. Then, without even a fraction of a second passing, Brave Wolf hurled himself forward, attaching himself to the fiend’s backside, his knife at the bully’s throat. But the monster threw off Brave Wolf’s grip, and the knife fell harmlessly to the deck.
It wasn’t finished, and what followed, Mia could hardly believe. Weaponless, Brave Wolf used feet, hands, fingers, teeth and his jaw as weapons. He spit, clawed, bit, scratched and threw his arms around the assassin’s neck while his nails bit into the brute’s face. Though the beast tried to shake him off, he couldn’t budge Brave Wolf.
Mia watched, shocked, as Brave Wolf bested the man who was as big as a bear. Like a weasel, he scratched the swine, bit him, choked him and kicked him as he wrestled him to the ground. The bully couldn’t throw a punch; in fact, it looked as though he could hardly breathe. Already, his face was turning bright red, then it was blue.
All at once, it was over. The monster drew his last breath. He flopped to the deck and lay there unmoving. Brave Wolf, however, didn’t wait to examine the result of this struggle for life or death. He grabbed up both his own, and the bully’s knife, seized her by the hand and sprinted toward the ship’s railing, dragging her with him as he fled port-side.
Mia ran as fast as she could, though she was stunned, having never witnessed such a bare-handed, tooth-and-claw fight against such uneven odds. Brave Wolf was easily the smaller of the two men by a hundred or so pounds, yet he had won and…what was probably most astounding, she was still alive.
Boom! Crash! Blast! Crack!
Another explosion from the below decks shook the boat, and she realized the craft was blowing out from within. Huge bits of wood flew everywhere, the shower of deadly and heavy splintered logs a real threat. Worse, a massive fire licked to life only a few feet away from them; it was swiftly consuming the deck on which they stood. The floor was going to give.
“Oh!” Mia gasped. Had Brave Wolf won the struggle, only to lose the war? If the floor beneath them gave, they would be swept below as it crumbled; they’d be impaled and crushed beneath fallen rubble and knife-like timber.
Frightened into immobility, Mia could only stare. But not so Brave Wolf. He swept her up into his arms and sprinted around a corner, ignoring the deck crashing about them. He endured the burning heat, and somehow he kept ahead of the ever-rushing fire, veering toward the port side of the boat, the side away from the paddle wheel. Still holding her in his arms, he scrambled up onto the railing, and without hesitation, he knifed feet first into the river, taking her with him.
Down, down they shot into the mildly cool and welcoming, but muddy water. Brave Wolf didn’t wait to touch bottom. Kicking out, he swam down deep underwater, heading north, away from the boat. A deadly tow pulled at him, yet he evaded it, and dove down deeper only to have a whirlpool tug at them, threatening to drown them. Yet it didn’t happen. Brave Wolf forded the underwater death trap with what appeared to be so much ease that one might have thought he were part merman. He held her by the waist now and pulled her along with him. Once he surfaced for air and she gasped in the needed oxygen; a bombardment of bullets met them from the shoreline, and he dove down, down deep, deeper, kicking out in a stroke that propelled them to the bottom of the river, swimming as fast as the water would allow him. She felt the path of a bullet as it nicked him, for it was to that arm where he held her. Although the shot didn’t draw blood, it must have stung him. But if it did, he showed no signs of feeling it.
Faster they swam, she kicking out now to help him. North and east they fled, away from the deadly assassin bullets. But how long could she hold her breath? She felt as though she were turning blue, and she tapped Brave Wolf on the shoulder to indicate that she needed air. Once again, although this time more cautiously, he came up for breath, but he allowed her only a second to suck in that air before he dove back under the surface, knifing toward the very bottom of the river once again.
Surprisingly no one appeared to be following them beneath the waves, and she was reminded of the danger of the deadly whirlpools, currents and underwater tows beneath the surface of the Big Muddy River. It had claimed many a man’s life. It had tried to take theirs. Was this why no one was giving chase?
Those deadly traps confronted Brave Wolf over and over. She felt their pull, was certain she and Brave Wolf would never survive this. Yet, they did. How he managed to use these dangers to his advantage, she might never know, for he swam through the tows as though he danced a jig with them. They pushed onward, Mia having to remind Brave Wolf on more than one occasion that she needed to breathe air, not water.
It felt as though hours had passed as they shot through these muddy depths, although it was probably not longer than minutes. Always it seemed to her that they headed north and, she hoped, out of range of those assassin’s bullets. She was aware that Brave Wolf could hold his breath longer than she could, and he seemed to forget that she was not part fish; many more times than she could count, she had to tap him on the shoulder as a reminder. At last, when they surfaced for air, it appeared that they had put enough distance between themselves, the shoreline and the steamship, for nothing met them but the smoke of a boat that would never sail the Missouri waters again.
They both looked on at the wreckage, which was even now still afire.
“Why did the boat explode?” she asked softly, more to herself than to Brave Wolf.
But he answered her quickly, saying, “Man who try kill you use fire to blow up boat.”
Shock caused Mia to remain silent, and, when she didn’t answer at once, Brave Wolf calmly dove again beneath the waves.