In honor of St. Patrick’s Day

My huPioneerInstinctCoverArtsband’s great-grandmother came from Ireland, and some of what we learned about her in our family history research provided some of the most dramatic elements of Pioneer Instinct. Here is an excerpt from this Irish immigrant heroine’s story. Except for the time-traveling enemy, the homesteading story in Wyoming is very much true to her life.

From Pioneer Instinct: Eliza pushed the broad-brimmed hat back off her forehead with the shove of a gloved hand. From the back of her tall mare she looked over the rolling hills at animals that dotted the landscape and grazed in McWhorter’s pastures.

It had been a good spring. There were at least two hundred new calves in little circles of safety, where the mothers watched over them. The kids and lambs were a little more active, leaping and weaving within the flocks of goats and sheep.

The snowstorms last year had taken a toll on the spring newborns, but this year the early spring rains turned the pastures lush with green despite it being only March. A good year indeed.

A flash of movement caught her eye. Something circled in the grass, upwind from the animals, and stalked closer. She squeezed her knees and lifted the reins, signaling Fancy to step forward. She and her horse moved quietly, as one, across the uneven land.

There, a flash of red and white. A fox, ready to feast on one of her newborn lambs. Not today. Not if she had anything to say about it.

As soon as the fox was in range, before the wind shifted and it caught her scent, Eliza pulled her rifle from its scabbard on her saddle. “Steady, Fancy,” she whispered as she stood in the stirrups. With practiced ease, she leaned forward against the horse’s neck and took aim.

Fancy stayed stock still. Even when the shot rang out, and the closest animals started and scurried away, her well-trained mount didn’t move. The fox dropped where it stood. Eliza sat back in the saddle, holstered the rifle. She gave the reigns a little shake and they moved toward the fox. She wanted to see it up close.

The head shot had gone through almost perfectly. Eliza had a good eye, McWhorter had told her time and time again, and her early morning and just-before-dark trips around the pasture edges often yielded one or more of the predators that stalked his animals.

She turned her head away from the fox to the animals now peacefully grazing and smiled to herself. Some of these would be her animals soon.

Eliza dismounted and took the knife from the other side of the saddle where it was sheathed. She made quick work of skinning the fox, not in the least bit squeamish with the task at hand.

Mr. McWhorter had made the right choice, setting Allen up with indoor tasks to pay his passage off, while he allowed Eliza the freedom she’d always craved to work the animals and the land. It was unconventional, certainly, and the moment her day on the range came to an end her trousers were replaced with a dress.

Mrs. McWhorter would not allow her at her dinner table otherwise.

Eliza didn’t mind at all. As much as she thrived outdoors, she likewise enjoyed the fact she was a woman now. A woman full grown.

She shook out the fur and eyed it. Yes, this fox fur would bring a good price at market.

It had been three years now since McWhorter had bought their time from the other farmer and taken them both under his wing. Eliza thanked God every day that Papa had gone back to Wyoming. When they finished their time here they would both be well-trained for life on the homestead there. There was a large part of her that never wanted to leave the warmth, protection, and love of the McWhorters, but something– something compelled her to embrace her future in a land she’d never even seen. It would not matter if her father had squandered his coin or not, because Mr. McWhorter had promised Eliza could take enough animals to start their herds in Wyoming. Her head spun when she thought of the value of the promised livestock. A bull or ram or boar and ten females for each species. A fortune that would let her build up enough not just to survive but to thrive in their new life, without having to depend on her father or brothers.

She smiled to herself. Mr. McWhorter told her and Allen, repeatedly, they had earned every hoof.

She draped the skin on a fallen branch to dry, then lay down beside it to watch the clouds drift across the sky, and allowed herself the rare time to simply daydream.

Eliza frowned. How odd, she could see herself, as if from above her own body. She had the strangest sensation of being far away. Her eyes, half open, slipped shut and images — clear, sharp images — of a place she’d never been flashed through her mind.

A man and a woman lay in a large bed. The room they were in looked ancient. Walls of stone had sconces drilled within them with candles that provided a flickering golden light. Tears ran down the woman’s cheeks, and the man — her husband? — lay behind her, clutching a long wound on his arm. Eliza’s heart pumped hard against her breast as she watched the scene play out. A dream, but not like a dream she’d ever had. The images switched from the man and woman to another woman in the room. She could not make out her face, but her hair looked burnt auburn in the candle light. The woman held a long, sharp looking sword in front of her, the blade tip dripping red with blood. A bright light filled the room, and drew all eyes its way.

Eliza woke with a start and sat up, relieved to see she was here, where she belonged. A chill slipped through her and she wrapped her arms around her middle. Dream or vision or something else? It had seemed — felt — so much more real than a dream. She shook her mind away from the disturbing images and stood. She grabbed the mostly dried pelt and threw it over the back of her saddle then swung onto Fancy’s back.

Change simmered in the air. Something more than the upcoming journey to their new home. Eliza did not understand exactly why she felt thus, but she was sure of it. As she and Fancy trotted toward her current home, Eliza shivered despite the hot afternoon sun. The odd dream had signaled a shift in Eliza’s world, and pointed her into a new direction, one that pulled her to her destiny.

Buy Pioneer Instinct today at Amazon or Dessert Breeze Publishing.

Winners announced: Goodreads contest

Announcing book winjoy coverners, Goodreads contest: Krystyna Smith, New York, Wanda Snow Porter and Emily Stemp, California, Wend Holland from Ontario, Canada and Anthony Ingram from Washington state. A copy of The Return of Joy is going in the mail. Watch for a chance to win Book 1 in the Starting Over Series, More Than a Job, coming tomorrow.

Get your copy at Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.

Sabrina’s Animal Helper

Sabrina was tied to a hard backed chair, and each of her ankles tied to a leg of the chair. Her knees throbbed from the awkward position. Her back against the chair ached from the hard surface and the ill treatment that must have preceded her arrival to this place.

Her bottom lip throbbed, and she tasted blood.

Clearly she had been beaten.

What she did not know was why?

She fought through the fog clouding her brain, struggling to remember how she’d come to be in this dire situation.

A sense of urgency knotted her stomach, a feeling that there was something important she needed to do.

But what?

The more she tried to remember, the harder her head pounded. She ached more with every beat of her heart, with every pulse of blood through her sore body.86485493

Something jumped onto her lap. Her throat slammed shut with terror, imagining a rat or some other such outbuilding animal attacking her. She attempted to push up and away, but the chair didn’t budge. She was too weak. What could she do to escape it?

The sound of purring broke through her panicked thoughts, and she realized a cat was now shifting itself on her lap, apparently thinking to make itself comfortable.

The sound and steady vibration of the feline’s deep purr helped to calm her, and its weight, although not a large cat by any means, warmed her lap, a fact which she was significantly grateful.

“I don’t know where we are, little one, but I’m glad you’re here.” Her hoarse whisper was rewarded by a small, soft meow.

Download the rest of the story August 11 from Amazon or Desert Breeze Publishing.

Animal Helpers, Wyoming Style

226868899949994132_wOvbIobW_bFancy had worked a full day even though it was only noon. Before Eliza cleaned up for dinner she gave Fancy a long drink, then took her to the barn where Frank had said she could give her a stall. She forked some hay into the manger, added a little grain, then backed Fancy into the stall. She took her saddle off and brushed the horse from head to tail in long, steady strokes. Shep lay at their feet and watched, his head resting on his paws, while Fancy munched contentedly.

Suddenly Fancy’s head came up and Shep came to his feet, both facing the barn door. The hairs on the back of Eliza’s neck prickled, just like the ones that stood up on Shep’s neck. The dog growled, a long, low growl. Fancy pawed the ground with one hoof, as if itching to move toward the shadow in the barn doorway.

“It’s just me,” came a woman’s voice. “Honestly, Shep, you’d think you’d get used to me by now.”

Frank’s sister stepped into the light that came through the open window. Eliza let out the breath she’d been holding.

“Well, hello,” she said. She dropped the brush with the other tack and stepped out of the stall to greet Jude. She latched the stall, removed her gloves, and extended a hand. “I’m Eliza O’Malley.”

“I’m Julia McGee.” The grip on her hand was firm – firmer than any other’s woman’s handshake, at least in Eliza’s experience.

Especially firm considering the young, slight woman before her. She couldn’t be twenty. Her light red hair was pulled back in a simple clasp at the back of her neck. Her skin was pearlescent, not a wrinkle in sight.

“Happy to meet you, Julia.”

“Jude, actually. Everyone calls me Jude.”

“Jude, then. I just finished putting my horse up. I hear dinner is ready. Was Allen useful to you in the kitchen?”

“More than useful. He is a master with a paring knife, and his pie crust may be the best I’ve ever had.” Jude’s mouth turned up in a smile and her green eyes shone with pleasure.

Eliza laughed. “I’m glad. I’m next to useless, so I figured you could use his help.”

“You didn’t look useless out there in the herd,” Jude countered. “You and your horse moved like one, and with Shep’s help you made quick work of sorting out the calves.”

Shep was still on all fours, hair on the back of his neck at alert. Behind her Fancy’s hooves struck the ground again. If these were the animal helpers…

But no, this couldn’t be the evil Mildreth. This was Frank’s sister, born in his household when he was a young man, not a time-traveling enemy. She shook off her discomfort.

Download from Amazon or Desert Breeze Publishing to read the rest of the story today.

Another Calico Animal Helper

86485493As soon as the going gets rough for Winter, look who shows up.

Winter swiped a heavy hand against the sandpaper abrasion wetting her cheek.

A cat meowed

Her brows drew into a frown. Meow?

More sandpaper, then a nudge on her cheek from a wet, somewhat smelly head.

The sound of the ocean registered, and as she struggled to pry her eyes open, memories of the early morning events filtered through her brain.

She squinted up to the sky. The sun was at about ten a.m. Obviously, she hadn’t made the start of her shift, first day.

She could still smell rain in the air but the storm had passed and now the skies were blue. Only in San Francisco.

Another meow.

She turned her throbbing head and met the unblinking golden eyes of a calico cat. “Scat Cat?” she asked in confusion, realizing the second drug hadn’t targeted her vocal cords.

The undernourished, soaking wet cat purred, long and loud.

“You can’t be Scat Cat,” she murmured, reaching up and scratching the feline under its chin.

It couldn’t be the same cat. It was impossible the alley cat who had followed her to and from school since kindergarten, followed her back and forth from her part time job each and every day, then even to the bus stop the very day she had left town, was the same cat.

Scat Cat, because Winter had shouted the words to the cat, along with a hissing noise and a stomping foot, each and every day, worried the fool cat would get hit by a car by following her around everywhere.

Everywhere, that was, except her home. Oddly, when Winter was home, the stray cat never lingered.

She shook the cobwebs from her head and sat up. She had been wedged between two large boulders, completely hidden from the spread of beach where she and her captors had gathered earlier this morning.

Download today from Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.

Animal Instinct – Animal Helpers

     Each of the Heartmark women has an animal helper, and so does the man meant for them. Dr. Al’s animal helper is modeled after my own sweet calico cat. Meet ChaCha.IMG_0606

Excerpt:

     ChaCha made an entrance, sauntering toward Allison, winding between her feet, pressing against her, then turning haughtily to stare at Meredith.
“You just can’t trust a man, any man. They are…” Mer’s ramble stumbled to a halt. She pointed at the Calico, now seated by Allison’s foot, still staring. She came to her feet, sputtering.
“Send that cat outside. You know she gives me the creeps.”
The rude tone jangled and raised the hair on the back of Allison’s neck. She shivered. When Allison didn’t respond, Meredith began to talk again. As always.
“She is evil, I tell you.” Meredith stepped toward ChaCha, hands extended as if she was going to pick up the cat.
The cat came up on all fours, arched her back, fur standing up along her spine. She looked about three times her size, and didn’t break eye contact with her arch enemy.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Allison kept her voice even but inside she was seething. ChaCha was the sweetest, most mellow cat she had ever known. The cat evil? What about the woman stalking her? “This is her house, Mer. Let her be.”
She stepped in front of the cat, a mug of tea in each hand, and nodded toward the table.
“Sit. We have time for a couple of biscotti each before I have to get ready for work.”

Download today from Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.