When I write, I write lots of words. They flow like the tides that crash against the shoreline. Sometimes they come slowly and other times they come so fast my fingers can barely keep up. This new release is no different other than I found myself with this newest release hero stuck in my head and he’s still there. To me, that’s the sign of a wonderful of a wonderful hero. And this guy has all the qualities that I like in a man. But I’ll let you decide if you will fall in love with him, too.
I have two and a half more books to write between now and the Christmas holiday. I don’t know how I’m going to manage to do it. I have one historical in edits. So it’s almost completed! That just leaves me with the one contemporary I need to finish and two more, a contemporary and a historic western. Will I make such a ridiculous deadline? Cross your fingers for me!
It’s the late 1880’s. It’s a clean romance that you can read with children hanging over your shoulder. But I’ll warn everyone, it is a little sexy. This hero is so wonderful and delicious I had a difficult time keeping this story clean. And don’t worry, it’s not preachy. (I couldn’t do that if I tried!)
I’ll leave you with part of the first chapter.
Morgan’s Crossing, Montana
A new mail order bride, Ellen has now been widowed.
With two young boys to raise from her first marriage, a newly deceased mail-order-husband, no food and no money, she is forced to accept an offer of shelter from the neighboring rancher who found her latest husband’s body. Ellen is no stranger to sacrifice as a means to achieve a better future for herself and her children, but there is something different about Nick.
Ellen stood next to the open grave of her second husband, Joseph Braun, and watched as Nicholas Zapf lowered Joseph’s body into the deep hole. She and Joseph had not been married three weeks when he went out hunting. He never returned that night or the next day. It was four days later when Nicholas came to the ranch and knocked on her cabin door. He had found Joseph’s body at the bottom of a deep ravine. Nick removed the ropes he had used to lower the casket.
She asked, “Is this where I should read?”
Nicholas nodded. “Good a time as any.”
She opened the Bible to the page she had marked. “This won’t take but a minute.” She cleared her throat and tried not to choke. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” She turned to Nicholas and then to her two boys. “Shall we say the Lord’s Prayer together? Our Father/Who art in heaven/”
She was trying not to cry. She barely knew Joseph, but he was good to her and she to him. Now he was gone, and she was alone with two boys and no money. Her tears were for herself, for she was abandoned in Montana.
Nicholas began to shovel the dirt over the casket he had made from some scraps of wood he’d found. The man deserved a proper burial and Ellen was determined to give it to him. She asked Nick to make a wooden cross and he did.
“I’m taking the boys inside. I’ll make soup for all of us.” She turned to her sons. “Today is a day of mourning, that means you are not playing. Go to your cots and stay quiet. Do you understand?”
Both boys nodded.
“Nick, thank you. I’ll see you inside.”
She put a few pieces of wood into the stove and began to boil some water. Then she cut up an onion, the last few potatoes, and added them to the pot. She added a pinch of salt and waited.
Nick opened the door and stepped inside as she was cleaning up. She forced a smile. “This is the end of the food that I have. And there’s only a few dollars in the tin. After that, I don’t know what we will do.”
She watched Nick’s eyes as he glanced around the cabin.
“You have next to nothing. You cannot live by yourself. Pack your things and come with me. I could use two sons and a wife.”
“But I don’t know you.”
Nick shrugged. “You have no other choice.”
“You aren’t married?”
“My wife died two years ago. Our daughter had the fever first and then my wife. I buried them a week apart.”
“Oh, how awful. I’m so sorry.”
“As you read from the Bible, there is a time for everything. The time has come for you to live with me. I promise I am a good, God-fearing man, and will not hurt you. If you stay here, you will starve to death; that is if the Indians don’t kill you first.”
She shuddered at the thought.
“Did you love Joseph?” His gaze was intense.
“I guess. We barely knew each other, but he was a good man.”
Nick nodded. “My mother always said God will open doors, but we must open our hearts.”
“I think she was right. I never dreamed I would find another man after my first husband Tyler died. I had fallen in love with Tyler, and we had made plans for our wedding. It was a fine marriage.” She could feel her cheeks tugging at the corners of her mouth; but as quickly as her smile came with her memories, it vanished. “Then I found myself without a husband or an income. I could sew and began taking in laundry and mending for other women.” She lifted the lid on the pot and stirred the soup. “One day, I saw an advertisement in the newspaper. I wrote to the agency and was sent here. Joseph was thrilled to see me.” She glanced at her boys. “He was good to them, and they liked having a father.”
“Then I will have tough boots to fill.” Nick grinned at her. “I will do my best.”
“This would have been better with some bacon in it. I really do know how to cook.”
Nick nodded. “We’ll go to town one day and get married all proper. You may buy supplies for the kitchen or whatever you need.”
She nodded and ladled the soup into four bowls. “Thank you, Nick. I didn’t want to say I was panicking, but I was. At least when we lived in the city, I could find work.”
“There is no work for a lady here. When we are done, I’ll give you time to pack your things. We’ll take your cart. I’ll pack what your husband left in the shed.” He turned to her sons. “Do as your mother says.”
Nick finished his bowl of soup and left the table without another word. He was a nice looking man with strong features. His dark brown hair had been pulled into a short tail at the nape of his neck. His eyes were the color of the mighty Mississippi River after a heavy storm, golden brown and green-blue. She wondered if they would be called hazel or brown. He was probably about the same size as Joseph, but Nick appeared to be leaner, yet broader through the shoulders. He was also older than Joseph, but she had no idea how much older.
Using some sheeting and the blankets, she packed everything in the little cabin and piled it outside the doorway. All she had left were the mattresses. The tiny wooden building was empty. She swept it clean and placed the broom on the pile. When Joseph described the place, he said it had real glass windows that opened and closed. In reality he had two windows and a door with a latch and a bar to lock it. She wondered what sort of a place Nick had.
She wanted to cry, but she knew she should not. Nick had to be a good person, for he had brought what was left of Joseph’s body back, made a makeshift casket, and dug the grave for him. Before they had taken a spoonful of soup, Nick had said Grace and thanked the Lord for giving him two fine sons and a new wife. She didn’t know Nicholas Zapf. He was a complete stranger to her. At least she had several letters from Joseph to read that told about his life before she came. Worry swirled around her and slowed her steps.
“Ready?” Nick asked.
“The mattresses. And then there is nothing.”
He walked over and wrapped his hand around the edge of the one and then went to the large bed and did the same. “They are filled with grass. Leave them.”
She nodded and followed him out of the log cabin. Bits of sunlight poked between the logs of the cabin, and there was a tiny spot on the roof that allowed sunlight and rain to enter. It wasn’t much, but it had been home. Each change in her life seemed to take her further into poverty. She wondered what she would find this time.
She had heard about the horrible soddies with dirt floors and only a piece of cloth to cover the window openings. Joseph had made his house sound wonderful in his letter, and she knew she should be thankful that it was a house and not something less.
With Nick’s help, she climbed onto the wagon. She had no choice. It was leave or starve. She turned to her boys. “Ty, you are the oldest, be nice to Will. And most of all behave yourselves. I don’t want to discover you’ve fallen out of the cart.”
They rode forever, and the sun dipped behind the mountains. Darkness was descending on them. She looked at the setting sun. “How much further?”
“We will ride until almost morning. Normally, when I go to Morgan’s Crossing I ride down one day and spend the night in a line shack. Then I travel about an hour, do my shopping, and ride home. No point stopping with a cart full of supplies, that’s begging to be robbed.”
“We’re going north?”
“Yes. Joseph’s northeast corner of land touches against the lower end of mine.” He lightly slapped the reins. “Once you are settled in, I’ll try to collect his head and bring them up with mine. There are papers you will have to file for them to be sold.”
“Where are they?”
Nick cocked his head. “The papers or the cattle?”
“Like most of us, Joseph grazed them on open ranges. That land is owned by the government.”
“Oh. I had no idea.”
“Any idea how many head he owned?”
“I have Joseph’s book. All I know is that it contains his notes and some figures. I never paid any attention to it.”
“When you unpack, I’d appreciate being able to read it. With luck he’s recorded what he has so I know what I’m looking for out there. A dishonest man wouldn’t tell you, and a few of the relatively honest ones might just fail to tell you; but those are your heads, and you are entitled to what they bring at market. It’s your money.”
“I have money?”
“Yes, in the form of cattle and land. If those were his sons, it would have passed to them.”
Darkness had coated the land, and the sky twinkled overhead with stars too numerous to count. She sat beside Nick and tried to imagine being with him. Joseph didn’t insist those first few nights that they were together. It was as though he sensed her cautiousness. But he was nothing like her first husband, Tyler. It was like a waterfall of wonderful feelings being in Tyler’s arms. Joseph tried, but she had no lust for Joseph, even though she knew she liked him. He was a good man, except there was no pleasure in his arms.
Would Nick be the same? She wondered and worried. Her anxiety coiled in her stomach. Maybe I should do something to tell him how I feel. It is important to bear a man’s children. I do not mind. She swiped at the moisture that had collected in her eyes. Is it wrong to desire happiness?
Nick was surprised when Ellen placed her hand on his knee. He figured she was hurting from the sudden loss of her husband, and he had uprooted her to take her to his place. But certainly, his house would be much nicer than that pitiful little cabin. He covered her hand with his and waited for some sort of reaction. She was quiet, almost too quiet. He wanted to know more about her.
There was nothing really special about her other than she was easy on the eyes, with medium brown hair that was pulled into a bun high on her head. A few tendrils had escaped and curled in a spiral down her back. Her eyes were brown with well-arched eyebrows. Her lips were slender and nicely bowed. She wasn’t ravishing but simply easy, with a figure that left no question about her womanhood. When he had helped her into the cart, he knew she wasn’t wearing anything to enhance her figure. Under her dress was her soft body. Her curves were all hers.
“You’ve been married twice?” he asked.
“Yes. Tyler was my first husband. We were so much in love when we married. I had just turned sixteen, and he was twenty. He had a good job working on one of the river boats.”
“He ran the gambling tables?”
“Oh, no, nothing such as that. I guess you could say he ran the paddle on the back. He was very mechanical. And from the things he said, paddleboats had their problems.”
“So did he leave and never come back?”
“Horrors! No! He probably argued with the Lord to let him come back to me.”
She fell silent, and he let her steep in her memories for a few minutes.
“Do you know what happened?”
“A piece of wood jammed the paddle. As Tyler loosened it, the paddle hit him. He couldn’t swim. But they said it was the hit on the head that killed him.”
“I’m sorry. I loved my wife so I understand your loss.”
“It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Good people die and others live.”
“We cannot question God’s actions.” A pain stirred within him – one he thought he’d buried. “I cannot be like Tyler or anyone else. I am who and what I am. Each little thing that happens to us shapes us, and changes us until we are what we are.”
They rode for quite awhile and soon came to a wooden archway. “We’ve reached my land.”
“I’m glad. I was beginning to think we’d never get here, Nick. I’m tired.”
A single chuckle burst from him. But he liked how she called him Nick instead of the formal Nicholas. It made it seem as though she was accepting of him. “I’m exhausted. Put the boys in their beds and then come to mine. I will unload the cart before I come in. I promise, you will be safe.” He chuckled again. “I have running water. But not hot water. I need to add that as soon as I can figure a way to do it. And my house is larger than Joseph’s. My roof doesn’t leak.”
“That is good to know.”
Share my bed, Ellen. It’s been a long time since I’ve held a woman in my arms. Can you learn to love again?