Desert Breeze Publishing has released the third book in the Time After Time series, Pioneer Instinct.
Eliza O’Malley and brother Allen travel from Ireland to join their father and brothers on an 1890s Wyoming homestead. Allen is almost destroyed during the voyage, but Eliza’s benefactors rescue them both from their father’s foolish carelessness and mounting debt.
When she has worked off her passage and built her own wealth, Eliza completes the journey, knowing that she has been called to fulfill her destiny as a Heartmark woman. She is immediately swept off her feet by the neighboring rancher Frank McGee. His sister Jude, her friend and business partner, harbors a secret that will nearly destroy the love between Eliza and Frank.
Clues from an ancient diary, the fierce intervention of animal helpers, and ancient artifacts play a part in the life of all Heartmark women, including Eliza. Will they be enough to overcome the horrible rumors spread by Jude and restore Frank’s love for her? And what about Mildreth’s story? How will she arrive in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1890?
“Hold it right there. Don’t come any closer.”
Mildreth froze at the sound of the woman’s no nonsense command.
“Okay, okay.” With great care Mildreth knelt, placed her sheathed sword on the ground at her feet, then, keeping her movements slow and non-threating she stood and turned and raised both hands in a gesture of meekness while she assessed the distance between her and this farm woman. She was about the same height and build as Mildreth herself, likely around the same age as well. She wore a long skirt, as modest in style as Mildreth’s although clearly not from the same era. A brimmed hat cast her eyes in shadow, yet her vision was clearly not impaired as she held the long gun steadily on Mildreth’s position. The confident stance, steady stare, and familiar way she handled her weapon warned Mildreth she was likely a really good shot. Mildreth would have to tread carefully.
She forced her lips to curve into a timid smile and added a bit of a catch in her voice. “I’m sorry if I scared you.” Mildreth hunched her shoulders, strove to look vulnerable. “I’m lost and when I saw the smoke from your stove I–I hoped someone could help me figure out where I am. I’ve walked for ages and yours is the first cabin I’ve come across.”
The woman’s weapon did not waver. She pushed the rim of her hat up with an index finger and stared openly at the blood stains on Mildreth’s garments. “What happened to you?” Her eyes tracked to the sword at Mildreth’s feet then narrowed. “Whose blood is on your dress?”
She was more than a little surprised her slight injuries from Winter Parker and Mike Hunter’s animal helpers had remained through this last trip through Time. Mildreth pulled back the collar of her shirt and winced when the material of her blouse pulled at the rough, red scratches that marred her skin, left there by a cockatiel turned attack bird. She chanced a glance at the woman, hoping for sympathy.
Narrowed eyes and an impatient shake of her head was her only response.
Hmm, tough audience.
Mildreth mustered up a few crocodile tears, and let them slip down her cheeks. “I’m not sure where I was going or how I ended up out in the middle of nowhere.” She sniffed and pressed a trembling hand to her chest. “I don’t remember. I’ve been wandering around in the hot sun and I can’t think straight. If I could have a drink, maybe sit in the shade a bit, I am sure it would come back to me.”
Mildreth took a step closer, then another. The farmer woman didn’t soften and Mildreth wondered if she would have to change her tactics here. Clearly this woman’s heart was as hard as Mildreth’s own.
She studied her through tear-filmed eyes. She might have to make a grab for the rifle.
Then the farmer stepped back, making sure to keep the same distance between them.
To Mildreth’s relief, she nodded to a spot just past the barn. “There’s a well over there. Bucket’s on the rope, dipper on the side of the well wall. Help yourself.” She lowered the gun a little.
Mildreth smiled her thanks and made to reach for her sword.
“No you don’t.” The gun returned to its position pointed at Mildreth’s chest and the woman shook her head. “I’ll mind that for you while you’re here.”
Despite the suffocating heat of the late afternoon, goose bumps broke out over her skin. Sucking in a steadying breath, Mildreth nodded her acceptance, turned her back to the woman and her gun, and made her way to the well.
Although the woman’s steps were silent, the hair on the back of Mildreth’s neck raised and she knew the woman had followed her, that piercing gaze pinned on her. Mildreth deftly unwound the rope that held the bucket in place and dropped it down the well, controlling its passage. It was several seconds before it reached water. This was a deep well that would have taken considerable effort to dig by hand. She cranked the full bucket up to the edge of the well and set it there, then used the ladle for a deep, long drink, and then another. After she replaced the ladle she scooped up some water and splashed her face, then scrubbed at the grime there.
Her throat clogged with unexpected emotion from doing the familiar task.
Nay, she was not in her own land or Time, had long left ancient Scotland behind, but the routine was the same and a surge of homesickness almost sent Mildreth to her knees.
“If you want a bath the tub is there behind the well. There’s no one around and I’ve got a cow to milk, so you’ll have your privacy.”
Mildreth turned at the sound of the woman’s voice. “I appreciate it.”
She nodded once then turned to walk away. She did not have Mildreth’s sword and she wondered what she had done with her precious companion.
Mildreth was in need of shelter, food, and information, so refrained from asking about it.
She’d best get busy and gain this woman’s trust. She blurted, “My name is Millie.”
The woman paused, and turned back to Mildreth, her expression unreadable. Mildreth shaded her eyes with one hand, blocking the sun’s glare from behind the woman’s shoulder.
Some of the tension left the woman’s stance and the gun resting in the crook of her arm angled at the ground rather than pointing at her. Mildreth pushed her small advantage. “I’m afraid I don’t have anything to wear except this soiled dress. I would offer to buy a set of clothes, but it seems I’m without coin as well.”
Silence met her words and Mildreth’s heart thumped twice against her breast. Had she gone too far and scared her benefactor?
Unexpected empathy filled the woman’s eyes and softened her features. Then, in an almost timid voice, very different from the one that had threatened Mildreth when she approached, she said, “My name is Julia but I’m called Jude. I think we are close to the same size, although you’re taller. Maybe I can add some fabric to a skirt to make it fit.”
Mildreth did her best to hide her shock at the transformation of her host’s attitude.
Not heartless then. Okay, better. Mildreth would do fine here, for now. “Thank you, Jude. That is kind of you.” Mildreth poured the first bucket into the tub, then lowered it for another.
Jude nibbled on her bottom lip and cast an apologetic look at Mildreth. “It will take some time, though.” Her cheeks turned pink. “If you don’t mind trousers, I can bring you some of my father’s to get you by until we can sew something.” Her cheeks reddened further. “Sometimes, well, a lot of the time, I wear trousers to do the chores. It’s a lot easier than trying to run a farm in skirts.”
She snapped her lips shut, clearly embarrassed to have admitted to wearing men’s garments.
The complex woman was beginning to endear herself to Millie. Millie — why on earth had she fallen back on that old pet name? Only Colin had called her Millie. Now, however, she would need to think of herself by that name. Millie, not Mildreth. It was somehow a little kinder, a little more friendly and engaging a name.
Jude smiled at her. “Soap is in that can next to the tub. Better hurry, Millie. As hard as it may be to believe right this moment, the temperature will drop as the sun sets. I’ll be back shortly. I will find you a towel and something to wear, then I need to get the milking done.”
As if on cue, the cow gave a low moo.
Millie smiled and nodded to the cow. “Go ahead and milk first. She sounds uncomfortable.” Jude winced as if in empathy for the cow.
“I will, then.”
She would have to put the gun down to milk the cow. Okay, Millie thought, making friends with Jude, gaining her trust, should not be hard at all. She was pretty good at making friends with people she could use. She’d had lots of experience doing so through the centuries, after all.
Millie paused her tub-filling, and watched after Jude as she untethered the cow. She wondered if, contrary to the past eras, perhaps this friendship might not be a complete lie this time around.