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.

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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.

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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.”

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Nick receives the Sgian Dybh

She struggled with all her might. The man atop her laughed, then leaned in, his chapped lips aiming for hers. She squeezed her eyes shut, twisting her neck away from him until her cheek scraped against the forest floor.

“Omph!”

The kiss she thought she would have to endure did not come. The monster’s weight lifted from her in blessed relief. She pushed herself to her feet, darting a look at the two other tormenters, who stood with their mouths agape at the sight before them.

An avenging angel had come to her rescue.

A wide leather thong tied back shoulder length blond hair. Slightly darker whiskers hugged a strong, determined face. He was tall and lean, and his fists pummeled the man until he collapsed into an unmoving mass on the forest floor.

Sabrina hugged herself, unable to take her eyes off her rescuer, whose violet eyes shown with a fierceness which should have terrified her, yet didn’t.

His gaze swung to the other two men, and, with a start, they both shot a panicked look to their fallen comrade.

“Take him.”

Two words, softly spoken, sent a shiver up her spine.

His command startled them into motion. They tripped over themselves getting to their cohort. Grabbing him under his arms they hoisted him to his feet. With looks of stunned disbelief to her rescuer they fled into the forest as fast as they could with their senseless burden.

Sabrina sat up and leaned against a tree. The adrenalin that had sustained her through this latest ordeal began to seep out of her, leaving her weak and trembling. She sucked in air to her lungs, then blew it out, doing her best to fight back tears.

The danger was over, her first kiss had not been stolen from her against her will, and there was no reason for tears now.

Her champion’s eyes met hers and her breath caught in her throat.

He really was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. The beast he’d rescued her from had not landed even a single blow to him, and his perfect face was one that must surely make angels weep with envy.

And those eyes.

They were stunning and unique, a violet that would rival the most spectacular sunset, generously fringed with thick dark lashes.

Something, a vague familiarity, tugged at her mind and she shook the sensation away.

Sabrina pushed to her feet and moved away from the tree on legs not quite steady to stand before the man. “Thank you.”

Piercing eyes met hers, a flash of what could have been regret crossed his face to be replaced with a resigned set of his lips. “Are you harmed?”

His voice was deep, the tone soothing and oddly unsettling at the same time. Her pulse raced and heat rose to her cheeks. Knowing she must look a fright, she put a self-conscious hand to her hair and nodded. “Just some bruises and scrapes, nothing broken.” She dropped her gaze, then glanced at him through her lashes. “And nothing taken from me that should nay have been, thanks to you.”

He nodded, clearly understanding the meaning of her words and the intent of her assailants.

“It’s good I happened by when I did,” he said under his breath.

She nodded. “Aye, it is.” She glanced through the trees where the men had disappeared. “Do you think they’ll come back?”

His lips compressed. “Aye, I imagine so, likely with reinforcements.”

She bit her lip. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

Sabrina looked around, realizing although she was relatively safe at this moment, if her original captors knew she had escaped, they could be searching for her.

“What is it?”

She bit her bottom lip. “Um, well, I thank you for your assistance.” Sabrina could not meet his eyes, so instead stared at the dusty tops of his boots. “But, um, I really have to get going now. There may be, er, others searching for me, and I would rather not be found again.”

“Others?”

Miserable, she nodded. “Aye, others.”

He took hold of her shoulders, ducked his head down a little so he could catch her eyes with his. “You were assaulted twice?”

She nodded, wishing he were not so upset on her behalf. “Four times, all told, in less than a fortnight.”

The grip on her shoulders tightened. His features hardened and he narrowed his eyes.

She gave him a small smile. “Then rescued by a stranger.”

Sabrina’s heart lurched and she slapped both hands over her mouth. Her father’s dying words drifted through her mind like a gentle breeze.

“Give the man who rescues you the Sgian Dybh, daughter. I was supposed to find a deserving man to receive it, but now you must do so. The one who saves you, Sabrina. He will be your destiny.”AnimalInstinctCoverArt72dpi_1 cropped 2

She stared at the man, her eyes so wide the cold air stung them. “It’s you.”

Dark brows made a v of puzzlement. “Pardon?”

She scanned the forest floor. “I have to give you something.”

Thank goodness her attackers hadn’t noticed when the dagger slipped from the strap on her thigh. She spotted her dagger and shrugged out of his hold to retrieve the small weapon.

She held the Sgian Dybh in both palms, savoring the significance of what she was about to do.

She prayed he would also.

Sabrina cleared her throat. “My name is Sabrina Bridges.” She met his gaze fully. “I’m a miss, nay a lady.”

It was important he know that, least he feel ill at ease in her presence.

His simple clothing, clean, yet many times mended if the patches were any indication, marked him the same social status as she herself. She let out a sigh of relief that there’d be no social restrictions to hinder their relationship and smiled up at him.

He returned her smile, his eyes wary. “It’s nice to meet you, Miss Bridges.” He said. “I’m-“ He cleared his throat and his eyes shifted somewhere over her left shoulder. “I’m Nick.”

A small smile tugged at her lips. “Just Nick?”

Color touched his cheeks through what looked like a few days growth of whiskers and he shrugged a broad shoulder. “Aye, just Nick.”

She smiled to herself. He must be very shy.

She met his eyes and held her palms toward him. The amethyst jewel at the center of the bone handle seemed to shimmer and warmed her hands. “Nick, this Sgian Dybh belongs to you.”

He gave her a little smile. “No, Miss Bridges, it isn’t mine. Perhaps one of the other fellows dropped it?”

“No, it used to be mine. I mean it is yours now.” Her hands, still extended with the gift, began to tremble.

He shook his head and took a step back. “Miss Bridges, I cannot take your dagger. I can, however, teach you how to use it to protect yourself.”

Confused by the change of topic she fought back a flutter of panic his rejection brought on and took a step toward him, grasping his hands.

With the reverence deserving of this moment she placed the dagger into them. “It was my father’s, but now it’s yours, Nick.” She curled her hands around his, tightening his hold on the dagger. “Don’t you see? You saved me. You’re the deserving one.”

Available August 11 at Amazon or Desert Breeze Publishing.

Pioneer Instinct: Eliza and Frank

 PioneerInstinctCoverArtEliza O’Malley made her way through the crowds and wondered if her father and brothers had prepared the pens that would be needed to care for so many animals. Well, she would know soon. Her boot heels clicked on the boardwalk as she passed others by, intent on doing the necessary business so they could leave as soon as Papa showed up. After she passed a few shops she saw, just ahead, a building with a large sign that read BANK.

The crowd on the walk had stopped moving – they appeared to gather around something she couldn’t see, all gawking at whatever was at the center of the walk. Eliza gritted her teeth in irritation. She did not have time for this. She stepped off the wooden sidewalk and into the street to bypass them.

Eliza bit back a scream when the sudden sound of hoof beats and the thudding vibration on the hard packed earth beneath her feet alerted her she had made what could be a deadly misstep. So lost in her thoughts, she’d walked right into the path of a galloping horse.

Instinct took over and Eliza stretched out her hand and grasped the bridle, not even realizing there was a man on the horse’s back.

Her heart beat so hard she thought it may beat itself out of her chest. Eliza looked up to the rider. He was a mountain of a man. She couldn’t see his face clearly due to his wide rimmed hat, but his height and breadth blocked the sun and caused her heart to stutter and her breath to catch in her throat.

With a grace that belied his girth, the man leaped from the horse and yanked the bridle from her hand.

“And what do you think you are doing, grabbing my horse? Are ye daft, woman? I came close enough to running you down when I was in control of my horse.”

The adrenalin rush brought on by fear immediately turned to anger. Was this man implying that she was feeble minded?

She jerked her gaze up to meet his eyes. “I’ll have you know I had perfect control, sir.”

“A woman in control would not step in the path of a moving horse,” he scoffed. His voice was deep and rumbled out of his strong, broad chest, and despite her anger with him, his voice did strange things to her tummy, turning it all warm and jumpy.

She grit her teeth again, embarrassment now mixed with irritation, but she wasn’t backing down.

“The sun was in my eyes, sir. I didn’t see you at first.”

He glared down at her, looking for all the world like he might wrap those large hands around her neck, and her breath caught in her throat. Oh, my. She was being taken to task by the most beautiful man she had ever seen. His eyes were a deep, dark blue, almost midnight blue with flecks of green scattered in the depths. The sandy lashes that framed them were longer than any man had a right to sport. His hair, a dark copper color, curly and unruly, brushed his collar and framed a strong, square face. His lips, currently pressed together in annoyance, were full, and his complexion was deeply tanned with a slight ruddy cast.

Eliza stepped back from the sheer impact of his physical beauty and caught her heel on the raised sidewalk. With a quickness which belied his mass, he reached out and caught her by the arm before she fell backward.

He shook his head, the look he gave her one she was sure was reserved for those not quite in their right mind. “Lass!”

Her arm, where his hand steadied her, burned and tingled at the same time. She did not hear the lecture that spurted from his mouth. No, instead she busily cataloged every detail of this irate but handsome man. His tapered waist and strong, very long legs were impressive, as long, wide and sturdy as tree branches, and she gulped back a sigh. He released her arm and put one hand on his hip, while the other held the reins and bridle to his horse. A black and white sheep dog sat at his side and watched her intently. The dog stood and ambled closer, sniffed at her hand, then leaned in, pressing its body close to her. She gave it a pat and scratched behind its ears before she looked back at its stern owner. When she returned her gaze to his face, his lips were turned down in a stern frown. He raised an imploring hand.

“I could have killed you, lass. It is a rough and tumble town, Cheyenne. You’ll need to be more careful.”

“Yes, sir, I will.” She swallowed, more confused by her awareness of this man than the fact she had indeed almost been killed. “Thank you.” She began to step back onto the boardwalk, but once again he took her arm and held her in place.

“You’re new here.” It wasn’t a question.

She leaned her head to one side so she could look up at him again.

He blew out a resigned sigh. “Let me escort you. What is your destination?”

Eliza’s mouth went dry at the unexpected offer and she had trouble forming the words. She nodded the direction she’d been going. “The bank,” she finally squeaked out, “but you don’t have to.”

He gave his head another shake, his lips curled into a small half smile as he studied her. “Yes, Miss, I think I do.

The mountain of a man nodded and flipped the reins of his horse over a hitching rail before he assisted her with the step, then offered his arm and walked her into the bank.

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Mike’s First Impressions of the Grown Up Winter

Survival Instinct — Book 2 of the Time After Time Saga, is set in the future in San Francisco.SurvivalInstinctCoverArt

Because Mike and Winter have known each other all their lives, there isn’t exactly a first meeting scene, but here is their first grown-up meeting:

Mike found her at her captain’s desk. The blue light of the flashlight reflected off the no-glare, paper-white computer monitor and showed her face, casting sharp shadows over the planes and valleys of her features. Her pin light was clenched in her teeth, and she murmured around it, likely speaking into her neural cell memo pad.

Not giving himself time to overthink, or her a chance to notice she was no longer alone, he sprung, taking her down to the floor with a forearm to the front of her neck and an arm around her tiny waist.

She had not seen him coming.

He reached inside her jacket and unclipped her weapon from its holster, pulling it out and shoving it into the waist of his jeans at the small of his back.

The pin light landed with a loud clang on the tile floor and its light popped, leaving the small office in complete darkness.

Mike had the advantage, of course, not only having surprise on his side, but his size and the fact he could see whereas Winter was blind.

Nether spoke, only fought.

Mike’s view of her glowed green with his night vision contacts. Her body moved like poetry in motion, her focus was absolute, her chin set and determined. Blind or not, she fought him like a wild cat. Her Tai-Chi was expert, she was clearly using the sound of his breathing to ‘see’ him and landed some outright painful hits and major kicks to his body with her size five combat boots before he’d had enough and slammed his full weight on her, pinning her to the floor.

“I have a name!” she shouted. “Call J. D. off from my grandmother now!”

Mike stilled.

What?

“I’ve already logged Baker’s name in my memo pad, and set up automatic email delivery of it from my Neural cell.” she tried to knee him. “My Neural stops transmitting, those emails will hit every law enforcement agency and news station on the west coast.”

Her eyes narrowed. He knew she could not see him but that didn’t stop her from glaring, then her full lips pulled into a smirk and admiration welled within him for her courage and nerve.

“You are so screwed,” she scoffed. “You guys dropped the ball bringing J.D. within your corrupt little fold. He’s weak. You know he’s your teams’ weak link, that’s probably why you put him on granny duty. It won’t take anytime at all during interrogation for the threat of penal colony 867 to get to him. I can see it now. He turns on all of you to keep himself earth bound!”

Pieces of the puzzle fell into place while she yelled. Yes, he’d seen her talking to the key suspects this past week, but from what she was saying now, thinking she was being attacked by one of the bad guys, it was glaringly clear she had known about the corrupt cops and had been chatting them up to get a handle on who all was involved, the same as he had been.

Knowing what he did of the Parkers’ little girl, she likely planned to take down the rogue cops single-handedly.

He squared his shoulders, clinched his teeth in determination. She wouldn’t have to now. No, now she had him in her corner. Although, she didn’t know it yet, they would somehow gather the evidence they needed to positively confirm the identity of the twelve preps he’d tagged, and stop them in their dirty tracks.

Relief her impromptu speech had cleared her as a suspect distracted him. Mike swallowed as she continued to thrash beneath him, his body responded accordingly even though his mind was far removed from the physical.

Winter Parker was a victim, not a villain.

Against all odds, her grandmother had somehow become another victim.

Their interest in Winter and her grandmother didn’t make any sense that he could see.

It was high time he asked her what was going on.

“Listen to me, Winter,” he hissed in her ear. “We don’t have much time before they override your block on the doors.”

She went perfectly still and quiet.

He pressed his advantage, easing his weight off her just a bit. “We need to talk, and I think it’s in both our best interests if we are not found here together until we compare notes.”

She frowned at him, her eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”

Sounds of doors unlocking clicked through the building, the lights flickered then snapped on.

He blinked twice to set his contacts into normal mode and Winter, her ice blue eyes haunted and huge, stared unblinking at him.

His lips pulled into a half smile. “It’s Mike, Winter, Mike Hunter. And we’ve got to get out of here.”

First meeting — Sean and Dr. Al

   Dog inspection Doctor Al was a woman. That was the first thing that registered. She was petite, with very small but competent hands examining King’s body. “Carol has given your dog a dose of an
antihistamine to quiet what appears to be an allergic reaction.” She flicked her gaze to him.     “How long ago did this bite or sting happen?”
Her presence was calming. He shook away the tears that formed in his eyes at the thought of how close he’d come to losing his partner, his best friend. “Only a few minutes.” He cleared
his throat in an effort to dislodge the fear and grief clogging it. “Maybe ten minutes ago. I was a couple of blocks from here, and figured it was faster to run in than to risk going home for my
car.” He looked down at his running sweats, gave her what he hoped was an apologetic grin. “I know I stink and I don’t have any I.D. with me.” Embarrassed heat warmed his cheeks. “Or
money, because we were out running. But I don’t live far,” he assured her with a quick gesture of his hands. He hoped he could count on small town acceptance. “As soon as we have this situation
under control I’ll go get them.”
She nodded, continuing her examination. “Has this ever happened before?” When he shook his head she added, “Looks like there is only the one sting. What’s your dog’s name?”
He slid a glance to his dog. “King Solomon, but I just call him King.” At the sound of his name King raised his head, then got to his feet on the exam table, standing eye level with him
and a head taller than the doc. He leaned in and licked at his master’s face. Sean laughed, partly in relief, partly in the surging joy that his dog really would be okay. He put his arm around
King’s neck and the dog rested his chin on his shoulder.
Doctor Al lowered the stethoscope and looked into his eyes, and his breath locked in his lungs when he realized how beautiful she was. Auburn hair brushed her shoulders and framed
her face, and eyes the color of the bluest sky met his. His knees went weak. He swallowed.
A hint of pink touched her cheeks and she averted her gaze from him back to King. “I’d like to watch him for a couple of hours, make sure we don’t have any further reaction.” With
gentle fingers, she touched King’s face above the swollen eye. “I also want to clean this wound once the swelling has gone down, make sure we have the stinger and that we don’t risk infection.
Can you come back after lunch?”
Sean nodded. He usually didn’t have so much trouble thinking of something to say, but Doctor Al left him speechless. He cleared his throat. “I’ll have a break at work around 2:00.
Would that be okay?”
She nodded. “I’m sure that will work. Check with Carol at the front desk before you go.”
She smiled, and dimples appeared on both sides of her mouth. Kissing dimples. Where that thought came from, he had no idea, but he wanted to brush his lips against those smooth
cheeks, flick his tongue into the little crevasses and claim them, claim her, as his own. He shook his head, a wry smile touching his lips. Boy, oh boy, he had it bad.
She had been so serious before now. Then that smile, wow, it hit him in the gut with joy.
She started to turn away and he wondered how he could get her to stay just another minute. As if she heard his mind call out to hers, she turned, tilted her head a little, and put out
one hand. It shook, just a bit, and his heart sang. Maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t the only one affected by this — whatever it was which had tossed him into a sea of want — of need.
“In our hurry to get King taken care of we didn’t introduce ourselves. I’m Allison Green.” He engulfed that dainty hand in his own. It was cool, smooth, and soft. “Sean Barnett. I’m
more glad to meet you than I can ever say.” He covered their joined hands with his other hand, hoping to warm her a little, hoping to keep her close just a moment more. “Thank you so much,
Doctor Allison Green.”
There was that smile again, those irresistible kissing dimples winking out at him. “You are very welcome, Sean Barnett.” She took the end of King’s leash, which dangled from his
collar. “See you in a few hours. King, come. Heel.” King didn’t look back, just dropped down to the floor from the exam table and meekly followed the Doc without even waiting for a release
command from Sean. She did have a way with animals.

Download Animal Instinct, the first of the Time After Time Saga, from Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.