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.

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.

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.

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

Pioneer Instinct Released Today

PioneerInstinctCoverArtDesert 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?

Excerpt:

“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.

Download today from Amazon or Dessert Breeze Publishing.

Coming Soon – Survival Instinct

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Speculative Futuristic Romance

I am so excited! Our second book in the Time After Time Saga follows the enemy of the women of the Heartmark, Meredith, as she jumps through time from 1970, in Animal Instinct, to 2020 in Survival Instinct. (Hint: the third book, Pioneer Instinct, will be released in December. This time Meredith takes a jarring journey to 1890s Wyoming.)

Winter has just been promoted to detective — and she is at risk of losing it all. An evil from the past threatens to destroy the love developing between Winter and Mike. Will ancestral memories hold the key to freedom, or overwhelm them with fear? Join us when Survival Instinct releases in April.