My first Harlequin Heartwarming–HER MONTANA COWBOY–will be released on August 1st and I’m very excited. I’m also excited by the fact that the cowboy on my cover looks very much like Prince Harry!
HER MONTANA COWBOY is a city-girl country-guy story and was a lot of fun to write. Here’s an excerpt from a scene where Gus helps Lillie Jean get her car out of a mud hole in the long driveway leading to the ranch. It opens with them riding in the tractor:
Lillie Jean smelled like lilacs, a scent Gus knew well, due to the thick hedge near the ranch house that burst into blossom each spring, filling the air with perfume and sending old Sal’s allergies into high gear.
He hated that he noticed that Lillie Jean smelled good. Hated the way the delicate floral scent made him feel like leaning closer and taking a deeper breath. In fact, it was really annoying to find himself feeling that way, so he was very glad to finally arrive at the car.
Lillie Jean put her hand on the door handle before he’d rolled to a stop, and he automatically reached past her to keep her from opening the door. She shot him a startled look, which he met with a frown, once again doing his best to ignore the lilacs and the incredible color of her eyes.
“Never open the door until the tractor is out of gear.” He made a show of moving the gear lever. “Big tires,” he said in a clipped voice. “Very unforgiving.”
“Is it okay now?” Lillie Jean asked as she eyed the giant rear wheels.
“Yeah.” He put on the hand brake and set a hand on the back of her seat to maneuver himself out of the cab. Lillie Jean took the hint and climbed down the stairs and jumped to the ground, quickly moving out of range of those big tires. Gus followed her and then reached up to drag the chain off the floorboards under the seat.
The mud was deep and water soaked into his jeans as he crouched down to attach the chain to the frame of the big car. Once done, he motioned for Lillie Jean to get into the driver’s seat.
“What do I do?”
“You start the engine and steer. Do not step on the gas.”
“Because it’ll annoy me if you ram that big car into the tractor.”
“Oh.” She moistened her lips—a mistake in the cool weather—and then said, “You don’t have much faith in my driving ability.”
All he did was point a finger at the car in the mud then turn and walk back to the tractor. “Just put it in neutral,” he said, “and let me do the rest.”
“Why even start it?”
“So that the steering wheel works.
From the way her jaw muscles tightened, Gus deduced that she was starting to hate him a little.
“I knew that.” She abruptly turned and headed toward the car, mincing her way across the lumpy half-frozen mud next to the door.
Gus climbed into the cab and, once Lillie Jean was situated behind the wheel, he gently eased the tractor back until the chain was taut. He continued inching backward until the car jerked, then moved forward. Lillie Jean kept the wheels straight until finally the car was free, and he swore he could see her biting her full bottom lip as she concentrated, even though they were separated by twenty feet and two windshields. Once he was certain Lillie Jean wasn’t going to throw the car in gear or anything unexpected, he moved the tractor forward so that the chain sagged.
“There are no more puddles between here and the ranch house, so you should be okay,” he said as he unhooked the chain. “You should be equally okay when you leave, which will be in short order, right?”
Lillie Jean propped a hand on her hip and stuck her chin out. “Enough, okay?”
He stowed the chain back in the cab of the tractor and then turned to her. “Enough what?”
“Enough passive-aggressive stuff. And enough insinuating that I’m not who I say I am, and that I’m here to try to take advantage of your uncle. I’m not.”
“I have no way of knowing that.”
“And you have nothing to do with this situation. It’s between me and Thaddeus.”
“Thaddeus is getting up there in years. I’m his nephew, his ranch manager.”
He gave her a small, not particularly friendly smile. “Meaning that, until Thad tells me otherwise, it’ll be you and Thaddeus and me.”
HER MONTANA COWBOY is available for pre-order right now and will be officially available on August 1st.
Can a Widow in the Wild West …find wedded bliss again?
When Cassandra Stewart fulfills her husband’s dying wish by visiting the ranch he loved, she plans to sell it. But then she meets his best friend. As aloof, ruggedly handsome Wolf shows Cassandra the value of life in the prairies, tenderness begins to grow from their shared pain into something more… Maybe theres a future for her at the Rocking S Ranch after all…
The hero in this story captured my heart. I have a soft spot for the competent, yet brooding type and Wolf is all that. What characteristics say “hero” to you?
I also wanted to share a short book trailer…
And an excerpt from Chapter One ~
Alexandria, Virginia ~ 1879
Cassandra Stewart slipped her had through the crook in her father’s arm and leaned on him for support as she descended the grand staircase of her parent’s estate. At the bottom of the stairs, her mother stood beside their housemaid. “I don’t like this, Cassandra. Not one bit. Are you sure that you want to do this today?”
“No. I’m not sure, but I’ve put it off for far too long. It’s been ten months since Douglas has been gone.”
“You are still weak. Just the work of dressing has taxed your strength.”
She smoothed the wide silk belt at her waist. It matched the dress she had donned. How she hated the color black. “The attorney said it was necessary as soon as I was feeling well enough. Today is a good day. I feel stronger. Besides, Mr. Edelman went out of his way to travel all the way from the city to take care of things. It is time.”
Father patted her forearm—his way of showing support, both physically and emotionally. He was ready for, as he stated, “the entire disaster of her marriage” to be over and done with. He wanted his little girl back and for life to return to the way it once had been before she ever met Douglas Stewart Jr. Father simply wanted to protect her—his only child—and this was his way to do it. He had no idea that she could never go back to life as it once was. Not after all that had transpired. Douglas had changed everything in her life. So had the loss of their baby.
The house echoed with the whispers of her two great-aunts. While she’d been confined to her bed, they’d discussed her in the hallway just beyond her bedroom door. A wayward woman—tainted—they’d called her, speculating whether the death of her husband was a punishment from above because she’d blatantly gone against her parents’ wishes and the mores of decent society to marry so quickly. Most couples were engaged a year before the wedding ceremony.
Cassandra consoled herself with the knowledge that their own marriages had been long and lonely, as their husbands both sought to escape their daily harping and criticism. Her own marriage, although only a few short months, had been a wonder, and she would be forever grateful to have had that time with Douglas. Yet her great-aunts’ harsh judgment stung her conscience. She had never been good enough to suit them. A disappointment—that’s what she was.
As she walked slowly down the hallway, a chill coursed through her. She pulled her tatted shawl tighter around her shoulders with her free hand. Despite the heavy heat of the midsummer afternoon, she was still cold. The meeting shouldn’t take long. All she had to do was sign the official papers, and her late husband’s land would then be ready to sell. She might have sold it long before this, releasing the burden of a property she’d never seen, if not for Mr. Edelman’s insistence that he make sure that no will existed.
And then there had been her daughter. Cassandra had held out hope that the property would be a legacy to pass on, but her daughter had come early—much too early. Her chest tightened at the memory. She didn’t want to dwell on it yet couldn’t help herself. Hope had become despair. And a mad fury had overtaken her. Douglas had been reckless to participate in that boat race. He’d thought himself invincible in all things. The very quality that had drawn her to him had also been the death of him.
Well, today would be one more snip in the rope that tethered him to her. A rope that she both loved and hated at the same time. Her heart had ached for so very long—nearly a year now. Her hopes and dreams had all been dashed the moment the boat he’d crewed with his friends had collided with another.
As she entered the library, Mr. Edelman turned from the floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the lawn and the Potomac River. He was a short, round man, with light gray hair and eyes to match. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Stewart.”
At the sound of her married name, her father’s grip tightened on her hand. After all this time, it still bothered him.
“Thank you, Father.” She released his arm and sat down in the chair he held out for her on one side of the massive oak table.
“Mr. Edelman. Thank you for making the journey today. Please take a seat.”
Her mother and father took seats on each side of her at the long table as if to bolster her for what might be coming.
“Indeed, it is no imposition. It is always a treat to get away from the city for a short break in routine, especially in the oppressive heat of summer.” He cleared his throat and took a seat across from her. “I prepared the paperwork several months ago and simply set it aside, awaiting this moment when you would be ready. All that is needed is your signature in several places.”
He set his leather satchel on the table and withdrew a stack of papers. “Most of your late husband’s finances are tied up in the property. Since he left no will, as his wife, you inherit everything. Once the ranch sells, you should have enough money to choose where you want to live and live there quite comfortably.”
Mother gave her a quick side hug. “You will stay here. As you have since the…incident.”
It wasn’t an incident…it was a marriage. But the courtship and wedding had happened so fast, and then the marriage had been over just as fast. No one’s fault, the captain had written in his report of the boating accident. If not for the months of morning sickness that followed and the lingering ache in her belly, Cassandra might have wondered if the marriage had happened at all.
Mr. Edelman placed the first paper in front of her along with a pen.
Something he’d said gave her pause. “You must be exaggerating the extent of his holdings. Douglas said it was a very small farm. He only had a few cows. Certainly not sufficient enough to keep me for more than a year.”
She picked both papers up and started to read. Halfway down the page she realized she hadn’t understood anything and started over. The inked letters swam before her, the words meaningless.
Mother leaned toward her. “I’m sure Mr. Edelman has everything in order, dear. He’s very reputable, and your father has already looked over everything.”
Cassandra stared at the line where she was to put her signature. It was all so very final—putting her mark there. She should simply sign it and let it go. There was already a potential buyer in Denver waiting for word from her. But all that she could think of was the last time she’d seen Douglas. He’d been in so much pain toward the end, but he’d asked her to do one last thing for him.
Mother leaned toward her. “Sign the paper, dear. Mr. Edelman is waiting.”
Cassandra looked up and caught the worried glance her mother sent her father. Another chill slithered through her. Why did she feel so torn about this? Had she procrastinated, not because of her health, but because of the promise she had made to Doug? Was that the real reason she had put off this moment?
“Before I sign this, I have one question.”
“Yes?” Mr. Edelman said.
“Will I be able to stay on the property after these papers are signed?”
He looked momentarily surprised. “Well…no. Any further contact with the property would be handled by Mayor Melbourne in Oak Grove. He is the attorney there. He has agreed to handle the sale upon receipt of these papers. There would be no need for you to travel there yourself.”
“But…what if I choose to?”
Father shook his head. “We’ve been through all this. You are not strong enough to go.”
“But I will be. Not tomorrow, or even next week. But someday.”
Mr. Edelman leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together over his girth. “I didn’t realize that you had reservations about selling your land. Perhaps you should explain.”
Your land. How could it be hers if she’d never seen it? Never walked upon it? “You see…after his accident and just before he…he passed, my husband asked me to go to the farm. He wanted me to live there—to stay for an entire month. I’m sure he hoped I would come to love it and stay, but of course, that is not possible. I would not want to be there without him.”
“Your parents didn’t mention any of this when they retained my services.”
Of course, they hadn’t. Discussing it in front of Mr. Edelman was their ploy to make sure she felt even more pressure to bend to their wishes.
“It would be sensible if the property were nearby, but to travel all the way to Kansas…” her father interjected.
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Edelman said. “Highly irregular for a young woman of means. Not a good idea to travel on your own. There are ruffians and scallywags out West.”
Cassandra nearly smiled at the exact same words her parents had used when trying to stop her from marrying Douglas. Surely the great Wild West held all sorts of people, not just the social miscreants mentioned time and again by her family and close friends.
“Douglas spoke of the place only a few times,” she said. “He looked forward to showing it to me, but then the boating accident happened.”
“It really is for the best, Cassie,” Mother said. “You belong here. Not halfway across the country stuck on a cow farm with a bunch of rough men.”
Her mother’s words left little uncertainty as to her true feelings. Cassandra glanced up at Mr. Edelman. No doubt he’d heard of her situation, bantered up and down the seaboard by gossipy society matrons. Mother’s inference did not help the slightly tarnished, although completely undeserved, reputation that she’d acquired by marrying Douglas so rapidly.
She suddenly realized that her fingers were clenched around the pen and her teeth were clamped together. Even her chest was tight. She had loved Douglas honorably. It wasn’t fair for others to judge her otherwise.
With that thought, something in the cold ashes of her core sparked. A wisp of the determination she’d once possessed began to glow inside her. Douglas’s memory didn’t deserve to be brushed aside and forgotten as if he’d never existed, as if he were an “unfortunate incident.” Their marriage had happened no matter how hard Mother and Father tried to sweep it under the rug…and push her to forget it.
She was angry that he’d left her alone and reeling from the consequences of his careless behavior, but she still loved him. Their short marriage had been wonderful. Maybe she should do as he asked. A promise, after all, was still a promise, even after death.
She set the pen down, her movement slow and deliberate. “I want to see the grave and make sure that my husband’s interment—” how she hated that word “—was handled appropriately. I believe I will make the journey after all.”
The silence that followed her announcement reverberated like the last gong of a bell.
“Well then,” Mr. Edelman said after a moment, glancing from her to her parents. He gathered the papers together in front of him. “If you are sure that is what you want, I’ll get these in the post to the attorney in Oak Grove. They’ll be waiting there for your signature after you have fulfilled your promise to your late husband.”
“Why can’t I carry them with me?”
He looked unsure. “It’s irregular.”
“It seems sensible to me. They are, after all, my papers.”
“Very well. When you arrive in town, simply leave them with Josiah Melbourne.” He started to close his satchel when he stopped. “Oh, yes. Here’s one more item.” He withdrew a small box and handed it to her.
The crude wooden box was the size of a small rectangle jewelry case and without any decoration. She turned it over. Her husband’s initials—DLS—were burned into the bottom. “Where did this come from?”
“Mayor Melbourne said it was found among your late husband’s papers.”
She frowned. “Why am I only seeing it now?”
“We thought it an oddity,” Mother said quickly. “It’s just an ugly box. Nothing of consequence.”
“But it was important enough to Douglas that he kept it with his legal papers.” Cassandra smoothed her fingertips over the letters. The box was an amateur attempt at woodworking. Was it Douglas’s first attempt? She knew so little of that part of his life. Now, she guessed it made scant difference.
“I took the liberty of opening it, thinking it might hold something of import regarding your late husband’s estate,” the attorney said, indicating she should go ahead and open the box. “As you will see that was not the case.”
She opened the lid.
A folded piece of paper lay on top of a few small assorted items—a lock of auburn hair tied with a bow, a bullet and a leather thong with a small turquoise stone. On the very bottom was a feather. Mementos, she supposed. She wished Doug were here to explain their meaning.
She opened the paper and found a note in her husband’s script, written with a steady, strong hand.
Wáse’ekhaar’a— You will know what to do. Wira’a
“This isn’t for me,” she murmured, confused. They certainly were strange names.
“We could put it in the post,” Mother suggested. “There is no reason for you to hand-carry it all the way to Kansas. You belong here.”
Cassandra closed her eyes. “Mother. Please. I will simply take it with me. Someone there will surely know what it is all about.” She turned to the attorney. “I’m sorry to have brought you all this way only to stop short at the last moment.”
“Quite all right.” He leaned toward her, his gray eyes kind. “Your mother and father do have your best interests at heart. You are obviously still recovering from your illness, and it is an arduous journey to travel so far.” He stuffed the papers and the box carefully back in the satchel. “If you change your mind and end up staying here, then send me word and we will talk again.”
“Thank you, Mr. Edelman.”
He stood, as did her parents. At the library door, he stopped. “Please consider, Mrs. Stewart. A promise made to a man on his deathbed isn’t legally binding. God would not hold you accountable for trying to ease the last few hours of your husband’s life. Good day.” He turned and headed down the hall, followed by her mother and father.
They would, as a matter of course, hold a whispered conversation out of her hearing, trying desperately to figure out a way to keep her here. Whatever plan they hatched would come to naught. She was getting stronger. She had to do what she thought was best.
“God might not hold me accountable,” she whispered into the empty room. “But I do.”
Hello everyone! I hope you’re having a great Wednesday! I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about my latest release. I usually write contemporary western romance. It’s kind of my thing. However, my most recent book is a sweet contemporary set in Marietta, Montana, and since this is my very first (official) sweet romance, I wanted to share it with you.
Originally the story, which is the last book of Tule Publishing’s Holidays at the Graff series, was supposed to take place on and around St. Patrick’s Day, which happens to be one of my favorite holidays. Previous books took place at Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s (waving at fellow filly Marin!) and Valentine’s Day. Since my book was the end of the series, a wedding was in order, so we decided to make my book Wedding at the Graff. (I still worked in St. Patrick’s Day. Yay!) The only problem was that my characters weren’t yet dating. Yikes! The only solution was to make them friends who’d always secretly been aware of the the other. But what’s going to keep them apart? A ‘stolen’ heirloom ring which the heroine has in her possession and which the hero needs to return to his boss, her former fiance.
Enter the Flanigan Stone.
Here’s the prologue:
Garrett Hawley dropped the glossy color photo on the Macassar ebony desk and leaned back in his chair. “Colleen won’t give it up. She’s convinced my great-grandfather stole the ring from her great-grandfather, even though she has no proof.”
Michael Donovan pulled the photo closer. He’d only seen the antique emerald and diamond ring a half-dozen times on Colleen Flanigan’s finger. Once she’d become engaged to Garrett, he’d removed himself from her life. It was the only way he could handle the situation. Tamp down the gut-wrenching sense of loss and move on.
“You know, the only reason I gave her that ring is because of Granddad. He suggested it.”
Michael raised his gaze. He had not been aware. The late Hugh Hawley Sr. had been both generous and business-savvy. He was the reason Michael had his education, and the reason he had a job at Hawley Enterprises. He was also the reason Michael was tied to the company for three more years.
“Yeah. When Dad found out, he came uncorked, but it was too late. Kind of hard to tell your new fiancée you want to trade out engagement rings—especially that ring.”
No doubt. The Flanigan Stone, as Colleen had called the emerald, was a Flanigan heirloom that the Hawleys had gotten possession of, either by purchasing or stealing, depending on who told the story. Colleen and Garrett’s marriage was supposed to put an end to the family feud…but things hadn’t worked out that way. If anything, their failed relationship had thrown gas on the fire.
Garrett’s jawline hardened. “Dad wants to have the emerald reset to give it to Serena as an engagement present.”
“Seems kind of a shame,” Michael said. He meant that in many senses. It was too bad that the pristine stone would be pried from its antique platinum-and-white-gold setting. Too bad that high-maintenance Barlow would be wearing it. But Serena had Hugh Hawley Jr. wrapped around her finger, and what Serena wanted, Serena would get. Which meant that Garrett would do what he could to retrieve the stone, which was why Michael was there for the late-night drink in the offices of Hawley Enterprises.
My life is going to be a nightmare until I get the ring back.”
“No way that Serena would be happy with another more expensive ring?”
Garrett leveled a speaking look at Michael.
“I’ll take that for a no.”
“What you have there is a $50,000 stone. Untreated. Colombian. Do you know how many untreated natural emeralds of that size there are in this world?”
“Not off the top of my head.”
“Point one percent.” Garrett sounded as if he’d just had the statistic hammered into him, which he probably had, since he and his father had been closeted in Hugh Jr.’s office during the latter part of the day. Michael had assumed it had something to do with procuring new financing for their latest condo project, but apparently not.
Garrett smiled the wry half-smile Michael rarely saw anymore, looking for one fleeting moment like his old fraternity friend—a guy he’d respected and liked. The smile evaporated.
“Serena is all about having what other people don’t.” Garrett snorted. “Kind of like Dad.”
And kind of like Garrett, himself. The reason Garrett had swept Colleen off her feet was because she was jaw-droppingly beautiful and Garrett collected beautiful things. Showed them off. But in addition to being beautiful, Colleen was intelligent and hardworking, witty and fun.
The perfect woman in Michael’s mind. Or she had been. Times had changed. She’d changed. But the fact that she’d changed didn’t keep Michael from feeling a stab of alarm when Garrett said, “I’m going to have to unleash .” The head of legal for Hawley Enterprises. “I’ll have to pay for his hours myself.” Garrett reached for the crystal decanter and held it up. Michael shook his head and then Garrett poured another two fingers of Oban into his glass. “No way Dad is going to let the company pay for what he calls ‘my mistake.’”
Garrett grimaced as if mentally calculating the lawyer’s fee. Not that he couldn’t afford it. Michael understood his boss didn’t like to make mistakes, and if he did, he hated his father rubbing his face in them.
“Am I here so that you can unburden yourself?” Michael asked. He doubted that was the case given the way his relationship with Garrett had evolved.
“I want you to talk to her.”
“Excuse me?” Michael now wished he had scotch in his glass.
“She’ll probably listen to you more than she’ll listen to me.” Another of those rare half-smiles. “Our relationship is acrimonious.” Garrett put his forearms on his desk and leaned forward. “If you agree to go to Nowhere, Montana, and convince Colleen to give the ring back—convince her I’m serious about a charge of grand larceny—I will make it worth your while.”
Go to Montana and meet with Colleen? The thought shook him.
“Let’s just say a big chunk of the down payment you just dropped on that condo will reappear in your bank account.”
Michael’s eyebrows lifted, even though he made it a point not to show emotion during business dealings. “That could get into some serious money.” More than the ring was worth, but quite possibly less than the lawyer would charge.
“Totally worth it to get my dad off my back, see Serena happy and…you know.” He gave a small shrug before leaning back and finishing his second scotch, which Michael read to mean that he wouldn’t mind seeing Colleen squirm. She’d hurt his pride and given Hugh Hawley Jr. the ability to say ‘I told you so’ to his son.
“I’ll need a more exact number than ‘a big chunk,’” Michael said. But even as the words left his mouth, he knew that the amount they agreed upon wouldn’t matter. He’d fly to Montana because he was concerned about Colleen doing battle with the Hawleys. She could be stubborn and headstrong, and the emerald was an emotional thing for her. Colleen Flanigan was not above cutting off her nose to spite her face, as his gran would say.
He didn’t want to see her get herself into trouble, because despite his efforts to the contrary, he still wasn’t over her.
So that’s how the story begins. I also made a Pinterest Board showing the inspirations for the story. I hope you’ll check it out!
I just returned home to the Midwest from my folks place in San Diego.
One of my sons’ came to visit me!
When my boys were young we would enjoy road trip s, picking out different routes so that we could see the country. We had some amazing trips but we always ended up in San Diego so that they could visit with my side of the family. On these drives, my mind would always wander and I would try to envision what it must have been like for the early pioneers, settlers and Native Americans. All of it became inspiration for the stories that I write.
A young Arkansas fan in Barnes & Noble (Actually it is nice to have strategically placed relatives)
For many years now I’ve flown. It is just not the same as driving. There is something lost in not being able to roll down my window and smell the sage, or pines, or ocean and feel the wind on my face. When my husband agreed to make the drive this year I was thrilled. I flew out to have a long visit and then he drove out later to spend Christmas with me. My sons also came for a shorter visit. Then together we drove back to the Midwest. It took some planning. We had to dodge El Nino effects and so we stayed SOUTH! Oklahoma roads were completely shut down with ice, Denver was a blizzard, a tornado tore through Texas. and the Mississippi River was flooding all over the place at the time we planned to cross. Never a dull moment. I was glad to get home safely.
How did the pioneers handle this!
I cannot imagine what it must have been like for women in the 1800s. Mail-order brides and those who traveled to a new destination looking for free land to farm or ranch often would never see their loved ones again. They must have experienced terrible bouts of homesickness. It’s no wonder that church and social gatherings played such an important place in their lives. And traveling, they couldn’t check for bad weather on their phone and adjust their route to avoid it the way I could on this trip. I’m so glad I live today and not in the 1800s!
A bit strange to see this site getting closer in front of me! We were both going the same direction–EAST!
How do you like to travel and where would you choose to go in the
continental United States given the opportunity?