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.

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

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.

From Ireland to the New World — Pioneer Instinct

PioneerInstinctCoverArtEliza 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?

Excerpt

Could this man be the answer to her prayers? “Oh, sir, I am looking for someone to help me find my brother.” She turned to the door of the men’s quarters the man had just come out of, then turned back to him. “I haven’t seen him since we left port and I’m worried sick.”

The man blanched and alarm flashed across his face, then he gave her a gentle smile and she wondered if she’d imagined that first reaction.

He cast a quick look to the door of the men’s quarters, then cleared his throat and gave her his complete attention. “Well, tell me more about this brother of yours and we will see what we can do.”

Relief and hope eased the knot in Eliza’s stomach for the first time since her father had taken charge of Allen. “Oh, yes, thank you. His name is Allen O’Malley and he’s ten years old. He has dark hair and green eyes and is about this tall.” She put her hand at about her shoulder level. “He is thin and when I saw him last he was crying his heart out at having to leave home.”

A thin man, pale and looking worse for wear, pushed open the doors from the men’s quarters, heading to the rail of the ship. Eliza peered into the darkness below before the door slammed shut again. If only she could see him…

Her companion’s eyes followed hers.

“Tell you what, Lassie. You stand right here at the opening and call out his name. Tell him I’ll bring him to you. Maybe that will help me find him.”

Hope bloomed in her breast and she nodded eagerly. Mindful of his steps on the thin rope ladder, the stranger backed down into the darkness.

Mustering as much confidence as she could, she called out to her little brother. “Allen, I’m here. Come up on deck please. This nice man will bring you to me. Allen O’Malley, I’m waiting to see you, but I’m getting impatient. Do you want me to come down there after you?”

“Eliza?”

The call was so timid she almost missed it completely. Eliza fisted her hands to her chest to keep her heart from pounding its way outside her body. “Yes, Allen, it’s me. Let this nice man bring you up on deck with me and I’ll make sure you don’t have to go down there again.”

*****

Pale circles of light from the few lanterns which were hooked to the rafters were all James McWhorter had to guide him around the mass of humanity suffering from sea sickness below decks. He found the boy huddled in a corner. There was no lantern in this area, and it was too dark to be sure what he saw, but the smell was even worse in this corner. He put a handkerchief to his nose and tried to take shallow breaths. Feces, urine and – could it be blood? – crowded his nostrils and gagged him.

When James knelt beside the balled up little boy, his pant leg became wet with who knew what. “Son, are you all right?”

There was a sniff, followed by a long silence. “They– they hurt me. I’m scared.” The whispered, broken words tore at James’ heart.

Download now from Desert Breeze Publishing, where you can check out Books 1 and 2, Animal Instinct set in Missouri in the 1970s and Survival Instinct set in 2020 in San Francisco.timeaftertimeseries

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.

Pioneer Instinct coming soon — and we LOVE our cover

Cover Artist Gwen Phifer featured — and provides a sneak peek!

J. Morgan, one of Desert Breeze’s most engaging authors, interviewed our cover artist on today’s blog. Check it out.

timeaftertimeseriesAnd see the first public look at our latest cover. The Heartmark woman in this book is an 1890s Irish immigrant in Wyoming territory, loosely based on real events in my husband’s family. More to come!

Buy at Desert Breeze Publishing or on Amazon. All the Kindle books are on sale at Amazon.

Primal Instinct – Coming December 2015

My name is Meredith McCann. I’m but nineteen years of age, yet I’ve lived countless lifetimes.  I’ve been sentenced to spend my existence seeking out the Heartmark women, descendents of my brother Colin and his wife Aleena. Why? There is one reason and one reason only. To destroy their chances of finding, and holding onto, true love.

I am forbidden to harm the women – or the men they love — physically. So for each lifetime where I find the Heartmark woman I must use whatever means may be at my disposal.

Sometimes I shock even myself with my cunning and cruelty.mildreth

Shifted against my will from one Time to another in search of my nieces, I’ve seen things, done things, which would see me condemned to death  if those in my era were to learn of them.

You must be wondering why I must spend lifetime after lifetime searching for these Heartmark women?

I’ll tell you.

As punishment for a crime I committed. Aye, I admit to my crime, having drawn blood from my very own brother with my jealous sword– but I did so in a moment of fear, insecurity and loneliness.

Colin was all the family I had left, you see. My brother was the only one in my heart, and the one I’ll likely never see again. Not that he would wish to lay eyes upon me even if it were possible.

And why would he? After all I’ve done.

I was so afraid the love he held in his heart for Aleena would crowd out any affection he may have held for me, the sister he’d raised since I was five and he seven and our parents slain before our very eyes by an enemy chieftain.

He and I against the world, that’s how it had always been… until Aleena came into his life.

Colin’s heart, his time, his world, shifted from me, his own flesh and blood, to her. Leaving me lonely, so very lonely.

I tried to tell him, I really did. But he brushed off my words, my tears. He ignored my pleadings that he should cast her aside so we could go back to how we were before she came along.

Now, countless lifetimes later, I understand I did not truly have anything to fear from his new marriage. Now, countless lifetimes later, I understand that a man’s heart, a woman’s heart, can hold many different kinds of love in them, for countless people.

If only I’d known then what I know now….

Yet I didn’t know then and now, well, now I’m so tired. Exhausted really, and do you know what? I’m just as afraid, insecure, and lonely as I was that fateful day in Colin’s chambers, where I struck out at my beloved brother and set into motion this wretched life I now live.

I’ve destroyed countless Heartmark women’s loves. I always leave those times feeling almost as empty as the nieces I left behind.

Regret scorches my heart, but what am I to do? My whole purpose in being in their lifetime is to see them fail.

There have been even more Heartmark women and the men who loved them who stood strong against me, halting my efforts to destroy them at every turn. And once they utter the words I fear I myself will never be allowed to utter, the words ‘I do’, I am swept away, to another day and time, to begin my search for the Heartmark woman all over again.Those times when I leave, emptiness again fills my heart, but it is compounded a hundredfold by sadness and bitter regret.For I’ll never have the chance to find my own true love. How can I when I have no control over where or when I will be whisked away?

But just in case I’m wrong, just in case I may someday be able to seek penitence for my crimes against my brother and his wife, I have fiercely held on to my innocence.

Oh, in many of the Times I’ve lived there were those who would swear that innocence was far from me, a thing long past.

They’d have been wrong.

Just in case — just in case pity should ever be shown to me, and I can stop my relentless pursuit of the Heartmark women–at last leave them in peace, then, aye, then I can find the person who fills my heart the way Aleena fills Colin’s.

I vow I will go to my new husband pure– in mind and body, and I will belong to him and him alone forever more…

If, that is, pity should ever be shown to me.

Coming December, 2015

Dog is a key Character in New Release

Oliver Twist is my personal dog, a therapy dog like Atlas in The Return of Joy.download

I didn’t own pets until after my 50th birthday, so they mean a lot to me. (I didn’t engage with the ones in the household as I was growing up — they belonged to other people.)

When I walked into the pet store to get something for the cats that my daughter convinced me we needed, I saw Ollie in a cage with the other rescues. He was looking right at me, and I knew if I looked back I would bring him home, and I did.

So I had to include Ollie as a character in my latest release, Finding Her Voice.

A remarkably talented artist has just finished a statue of him for me to use in promoting Finding Her Voice when he can’t come along in person. And here it is with his actual photo for comparison.

Check out more of Jennifer Rudkin’s art at:

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