Bill McKenzie’s yearly cattle drive brings more than the normal challenges…
The oldest and most responsible of the rowdy McKenzie brothers, Bill is in charge of their biggest task of the season. But while wrangling cattle, he crosses paths with a beautiful red-haired woman in a tattered dress in desperate need of help.
Is she as harmless as she is beautiful?
Suspicions arise when the red-haired beauty—who calls herself Sparrow—withholds the story of how she came to be in the woods. All Bill knows is she’s headed for Cricket Bend, where his brother was murdered a year earlier. Though he vowed to steer clear of that dusty town, he can’t let her run straight into bandit country with no protection. First, they have to make it through the cattle drive—and the mysterious woman is going with them.
Women are bad luck on the trail…
Though they’re strangers, the magic of the Wild West brings the pair together with a passion they can’t fight. But when her journal is stolen by Bill’s brother, Andrew, he discovers her true identity—and two scandalous secrets.
One thing Bill learns is the open range is full of possibilities. Neither of them imagined their paths would cross, but once they had, there was no turning back.
Is her tainted past enough to tear them apart? And if not, what will come of their blazing romance when that same past threatens their future?
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‘“This life—the drives—it ain’t the future. Folks are buying land. Soon there won’t be open land, maybe there won’t even be cattlemen. If I’m being honest, this is likely the last drive we’ll ever do.”
“Cattle travels by trains now, mostly. And folks are switching over to stockier breeds of cows that are easier to raise than longhorns. Things are changing. My mama says it’s progress. There’ll always be ranches, and folks’ll always eat beef, but life sure won’t be like this much longer.”
A hawk swooped overhead, and Bill pointed at it. Sparrow watched the bird fly off into the open sky that stretched on for miles and miles, a blanket of blue as far as the eye could see. He watched her as she took in everything around her, even the stomping cows trailing behind them. Finally, she spoke. “That’ll be a sad day, I suppose. The end of something simple and beautiful.”
“A man’s gotta keep moving.”
“Speaking of moving,” he began. “Where will you go once you’ve caught up to the man you’re seeking? I’m guessing it’s a man. Correct me if I’m wrong.”
“He hurt you?”
“No,” she said. “He stole from from me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to get it back.”
“I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”
“What will you do after you get it back?”
“After? I…don’t know, honestly.”
“Between not knowing how you’re going to get back your money, and what you’re going to do after, I have to say your plan might not be too well laid-out.”
“My plan also didn’t involve cattlemen.”
Watching Andrew’s cocky smirk as he dealt a hand, she knew he wasn’t expecting much of her abilities. But she could also tell the moment he cheated. With what he thought was skill, he slipped a card up into the sleeve of his shirt. It was a basic cheat. Emma had pulled it herself and seen it done a hundred times.
Over her shoulder, she knew Appie watched as he cooked. Maybe Andrew needed to be brought down a notch, faced head-on and left in the dust. She intended to do just that, and was happy when Pete arrived to witness the action.
She would take Andrew down, and it would be a show.
The cards she held weren’t bad, though Andrew had obviously cheated with the intention of giving himself better cards. Had she been a less skilled player, he’d have been able to win instantly. It was a good trick. Whoever had taught him how to cheat had been pretty good.
Emma, however, had been taught to cheat by the very best.
Poker face, Emma.
That voice came to her mind once again, spurring her to sit up tall. It was time to be The Sparrow. She adjusted the cards in her hand as she spoke. “You ever planning to play that queen?”
“The one in your sleeve.”
She lay down a pair of jacks and waved a finger absent-mindedly toward his arm. “Saw you tuck it. The left sleeve. Queen of diamonds, I’d wager.”
“What would you wager?”
Emma looked across the table with a flat expression. “More than you’ve got, cowboy.”
Pete whistled, and Andrew glared at him. Emma kept her face unreadable, though she felt like giggling and clapping. Nothing was as much fun as busting a bad cheater. “The card.”
Emma set down her cards. “Am I? Show me what’s in your left sleeve.”
“Show her,” Pete said. “You wouldn’t cheat a lady, would you?”
Andrew reached into his sleeve and pulled out a card. It was, indeed, a queen of diamonds.
“Woo!” Pete exclaimed in triumph. “She schooled you.”
“Shut up,” Andrew grumbled, grabbing his cards back.
“The big shot got called out by a woman. No offense, ma’am.”
“I take no offense at being called a woman. After all, I am one.” Emma watched Andrew try to hide his fury. It didn’t work, and he damn near exploded as he leapt to his feet.
“Will you dance with me?” Hope shone in her lovely eyes.
Accompanied by the soft music, Bill reached out a hand and set it on Emma’s waist. Gently, half afraid she’d startle and run off, he stepped closer. She lay one hand in his waiting palm, the other on his shoulder. They began to move.
They danced simply but well, two people who fit together. For a large cowboy, Bill knew how to lead, and she allowed him to do just that. Thinking of her foot, he lifted her a little, which allowed her to lean her weight on him so as to keep it off her injury. The dance turned into two bodies swaying together. He became vividly aware of how she pressed her whole body to his.
“You dance quite well,” she whispered. “I’ll admit I’m surprised.”
“My mama insisted we boys all learn,” he replied. “Said it was a good way to woo the ladies.”
“And was she right?”
“Why don’t you tell me?”
“Consider me thoroughly wooed.”
Bill took his hand from her waist and let it slide lower to rest on the curve of her hip. Once it was there, he dragged his fingers over the bare skin just below the hem of the shirt. Emma pressed herself tighter against him. Knowing that only a little fabric separated them charged Bill with desire he could barely restrain. He wanted to know her in whatever way he could. Emma brought her arms up and draped them around his neck, urging him closer to her. Bill moved his hands to her waist and took a hard grip of the fabric of the shirt. “Your lips are a little blue,” he said.
“I’m soaked through,” she replied. “I am a bit cold.”
“Someone should warm you up.”
“Someone should. If only there were someone near who was up for the chore.”
“It’d hardly be a chore.” Even if kissing her was a stupid thing to do, it was the only thing in the world that seemed right at that moment, and he was going to do it, and he wasn’t going to stop there unless she told him to. He knew she wouldn’t. Wanting each other wasn’t a crime. The lean majesty of her body trembled against him when he pressed his face into her hair. With his fingers splayed against her lower back, he brought their bodies tighter together.
Lord, what had she done to him in just a few days?’
‘Emma’s Blaze’, reads brilliantly as a standalone but connects well with ‘Haven’s Flame’, book 1 in the series and answers a few of the outstanding questions posed there. The setting on a cattle trail with the McKenzie’s, is atmospheric, full of vivid imagery and characterisation.
Emma is a strong woman, who has survived many hardships, by using what she has and thinking on her feet. Her connection with Bill McKenzie is not what it first seems and ends up surprising everyone, even her.
There are twists in the plot that mirror the twists on the trail and the characters are interesting and memorable. The romance is sensual and the emotional connection between Emma and Bill believable; as is the fraternal bond between the McKenzie brothers.
‘Emma’s Blaze’, is true Wild West action with the perfect light, shade, pace and tender romance; a pleasure to read.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review
Marie Piper lives in Chicago, but writes Romance and Erotica usually set in the old west. Her short pieces are available in anthologies from LoveSlave, House of Erotica, Coming Together, and Torquere Press, as well as via NineStar Press. The full-length steamy Western trilogy, FIRES OF CRICKET BEND, is being released by Limitless Publishing. (HAVEN’S FLAME, Book #1, is out now. EMMA’S BLAZE, Book #2, comes out on March 15th!) When Marie isn’t writing, she’s likely out exploring the Windy City, gathering more books for her hoard, or happily drinking coffee and reading. There’s also a strong possibility she’s wasting time on Twitter.
The fateful day Mimi Marcus has dreaded begins with a phone call…
The wife of a U.S. Marine, Mimi spent countless nights worried that her husband Joel would fall in the line of duty. He had fought valiantly and served his country with honor. That’s exactly what they tell her when they deliver the news—Joel was taken by the enemy in Afghanistan. Her husband is dead.
In desperate need of closure, Mimi travels to the one place Joel still has ties—The Marcus Ranch in Texas, inherited by his handsome younger brother Austin.
New beginnings are only an illusion…
The closer Mimi grows to the Marcus family, the more she considers it home. But when suspicions of Joel’s past surface, Austin refuses to disclose family secrets—even to his brother’s widow. It’s only by accident she uncovers evidence of Joel’s tainted past. Devastated by his lies and betrayal, she slowly opens up to Austin, and together they unfold layers of pain and grief.
Mimi is sure she’ll never love again, but is Austin the man to prove her wrong? Then the unthinkable happens…
Just as Mimi finds new hope in a future with Austin, Joel returns home from war. Enraged, traumatized, and teetering on the edge of insanity, Joel confesses to a history of deception, revealing yet another secret—this one too terrible to forgive.
In an awful twist of fate, Joel proves marriage vows are made to be honored.
No matter what.
This story isn’t what I expected but it’s enthralling and I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished. At the beginning I expected a supernatural element but the story’s twist, is more down to earth, yet keeps you guessing and gasping right to the end.
Mimi and Joel’s serendipitous meeting and whirlwind romance is like a fairytale. Joel’s imminent deployment to a war zone is the only darkness on their horizon. Mimi’s heart rips apart when the unthinkable happens. With more questions than answers when her best friend offers her a lifeline, she grabs it. Meeting her husband’s estranged brother really blows her life apart.
The characters are complex and force you to take sides. Fast paced, the plot is full of surprises and interwoven into the intricate story, romance gives sweet relief to the angst and darkness. Full of impact the ending devastates but the hopeful little twist at the very end made me smile.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
Novelist, movie addict, and animal lover, Cristina Slough is the author of:
Till Death Us Do Part, her debut novel.
Cristina has always been a bookworm, rarely seen without a pen and paper in her hand, she loves delving into a literacy fictional world of her own.
At the age of 11, her junior school teacher told her mother that she would be wasting her life if she didn’t become an author. Throughout her teenage years and beyond, her parents spurred her on to keep writing. She later began a career in commercial real estate, working in London’s West End, a corporate bubble where she was unable to fuel her passion to write.
It was on her Californian honeymoon in 2012 that the bug to write was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. After visiting Yosemite National Park she was inspired by the natural beauty of the land that surrounded her. Holding a special place in her heart, Yosemite would later be written into her debut novel.
She finally gave up the ‘big smoke’ when her son, Lucas, was born in October 2013.
When Lucas was a newborn, Cristina was told to sleep when the baby sleeps. She never could. There was a calling inside her to write. After getting to grips with her new role as a mother, she began working a psychological thriller, but she couldn’t fully connect to the characters she created. She ditched the manuscript and started Till Death Us Do Part(Limitless Publishing, 2015).
Cristina is married to Adam, who runs a successful business; together they share their Bedfordshire home with their son, crazy white German Shepherd and three spoiled cats. They can be found trekking through woodlands, or around the many shops Cristina loves to explore. As a family, they love to travel frequently, the United States being a firm favourite.
This weekend the paperback version of The Dangerous Gift went live on Amazon. This was a noteworthy moment for me. This is my third published book, but it’s the first available as a paperback and that feels like a step forward.
I still think there is a misconception that an author is not properly published until they can hold a copy of their book in their hand. Is this how other authors feel? It seems out of sync in this technological age. Where almost everything can be done in a virtual setting.
I hardly ever read paperbacks or hardback books now, for me its far more convenient to use my Kindle, which I can even read with the lights out, because it’s back-lit. 🙂 I do most of my reading at night and I often have insomniac tendencies, so an electronic reading device is perfect for me.
I was sent a paperback from a publisher just before Christmas for review and although it was great to look at the cover in colour, (not possible on my type of Kindle), I couldn’t honestly see any other reading benefits and now I’ve read it, I have to make space for it on my oversubscribed book shelves.
So for me eBooks are preferable to paperbacks both in terms of usability and storage. Yet the myth lingers that I am a ‘proper’ author now I have a paperback version of my book. What do other author’s think?
Comment below or chat with me on Twitter at @jolliffe03 #authorchat.
My eBook version of The Dangerous Gift releases tomorrow 9 February , so I’ll leave you with my short and simple book trailer …
I still need supporters for my #thunderclap campaign which has about 18 hours to run . Please sign up for a tweet, FB post or Tumblr post or all three at https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/37283-the-dangerous-gift
I want to thank everyone who shared my cover reveal post yesterday.
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Last week I promised more news about The Dangerous Gift.