I didn’t date any bad guys in high school. Matter of fact, I didn’t date much at all, being a dork. (Although in a major coup, after college I married The Football Team Captain/Boyfriend of the Homecoming Queen and it’s lasted for 36 years.)
And I wasn’t attracted to hippies or bikers or Point Break surf dudes or anything like that. But I found myself more than interested in the outlaws of the Old West. I don’t know why. Maybe because many of them had been scarred by the horrors of the Civil War, parental abuse and deaths, or abandonment. Mental illnesses, which were scandalous and largely untreated at the time, likely played a part. And the dichotomy of the brutal James’ brothers dedication to their mom Zerelda and love for their wives let me think somewhere in the evil there maybe had been a spark of untapped good.
So when I was asked to contribute to the Lawmen and Outlaws Christmas Anthology from The Wild Rose Press (released this week), I decided to invent a hero who was an outlaw and called my story Christmas for Ransom. My first time writing about a baddie. But I knew I personally couldn’t fall in love with a totally wicked guy, so I gave him some sparks of untapped good. Jack Ransom was raised by his beloved gram-maw and upon her death when he was 13, he promised her he’d live a righteous life and learn to read.
Abandoned and alone, though, he found “family” in a gang of other young hopeless, homeless lads, the notorious Ahab Perkins Gang that rides roughshod through the West in many of my stories and wips, stealing horseflesh. The story takes place in the 1880’s in a nebulous portion of northwestern Texas with pretend places of such names as Cahoots, Frying Pan, Sweetcream, Desolation, and Pleasure Ridge. (Thanks to the wonderful Linda Broday for answering many of my questions. However, if I got any geography or facts wrong, it has nothing to do with her.)
Thieving the rich Stony Brook Ranch of its prize Morgans on a Thanksgiving night way back when stalls Jack in his tracks. The old lady owning them reminds him too much of his own gram-maw and his semi-evil heart starts to thaw.
Things really heat up when, unbeknownst, he hires her schoolmarm granddaughter Eliza Willows to teach him to read…and she agrees. Only if he tracks the whereabouts of her granny’a missing horseflesh. And by now, Ahab Perkins is in hot pursuit of his runaway buddy.
Sigh. There some bullets and snow and some really bad guys on the way to the HEA.
I hope you’ll give Christmas for Ransom a whirl. It’ll soon be on Amazon for those Kindles out there.
For an early Christmas present, I’ll be sending one name drawn from today’s commenters a pdf. copy of the anthology. They are all terrific stories, but I hope you’ll read mine first.
(Excerpt from Chapter Two
Pinching herself, Eliza lost interest in everything except seeing what the stranger looked like in the lantern light. Brawny stalwart men were nothing new in a railroad town or on the ranch, but she never minded a good view.
Her breath caught so hard her sore rib tweaked. He was magnificent. The big-brimmed hat and flowing duster reckoned him a wrangler of some sort coming in from the range. Although he needed a bath and truly looked the worse for wear, she didn’t mind one single bit. The scruffy cheeks, the long rag-taggle coat, even the scent of masculine sweat were far more her style than the slick-haired dandies and overdressed fops she’d met at Boston cotillions.
“This here’s Ransom,” Ben said helpfully.
As the stranger moved closer, he removed his hat and tucked it under his arm with a polite half-nod. For a long luscious moment, eyes the color of manly liquor covered her with a mouth-watering gaze. Golden-brown hair touched the mountains of his shoulders like sunlight at dawn across the Guadalupe Mountains.
Air left her lungs. A slow burn started at the top of her spine, her flesh desperate for the days’ worth of roughness adorning cheekbones carved like crags and valleys. She had to hold her hand still to keep her fingers from caressing the deep etches of his face.
Eliza couldn’t move as she stared up at him, aching and eager. Oh, she was no stranger to fine-looking cowpokes and no simpering virgin to boot. Twice, to spite Granny, she’d lain with a hearty, handsome ‘hand from Desolation, but found the first time dreadful. So dreadful truth to tell, she’d been persuaded to try again a month later after she hadn’t turned up with child. Again, not so good. So what had brought on this urgent longing for a man she didn’t know?
Not knowing what else to do, she held out her hand, organizing her trembling lips. “How do you do, Mr. Ransom.”
“No mister, ma’am. Ransom’ll do.”
“Here’s Miz Eliza,” Ben said. “Our schoolmarm.”
Eliza silently thanked Ben for letting Ransom know she was unattached. Married women didn’t teach school.
Slowly he removed his gloves and pocketed them, his gaze never leaving her face. In spite of the cold, heat rushed down from her head to weaken her knees. When their fingers met, her toes exploded. “Where are you from, Ransom?” she managed.
“Sweetcream,” he said without hesitation, his voice low, mysterious, barely hearable. She liked it.
“Why, I’ve got kin there. Luetta Lodge.”
He stiffened at her words, from the cold most likely, and put his hat back on. “Good night now, Miz Eliza.”
The way he said her name, slow, low…why, she’d not be able to sleep well tonight.
If at all.
Some of it might be jitters due to the school’s Christmas pageant, but more was the skittering up and down her spine brought on by his gaze wafting over her like a velvet hand. Her bosoms tingled as she imagined his fingers caressing them.
He tipped his hat. From the outdoors look of him, he was likely a wrangler or a drover. Maybe a bounty hunter. No. The strong chin bespoke the law. She reckoned him a Marshal or a Ranger. Someday soon she’d know for sure.