A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Magnolia House by Angela Barton- Feature and Review


When you open up your home and your heart 

Rowan Forrester has it all – the happy marriage, the adorable dog, the good friends, the promising business and even the dream home after she and her husband Tom win a stunning but slightly dilapidated Georgian townhouse in London at auction. 

But in the blink of an eye, Rowan’s picture-perfect life comes crashing down around her and she is faced with the prospect of having to start again. 

To make ends meet she begins a search for housemates, and in doing so opens the door to new friends and new beginnings. But could she be opening the door to new heartbreak too?



Magnolia HouseMagnolia House by Angela Barton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Magnolia House by Angela Barton is a 2019 Choc Lit publication.

This story is a little bit like mixing something spicy with something sweet. Somehow, as unlikely as it sounds, the flavors complement each other.

Magnolia House is a gentle read, with a lot of family drama and secrets, but it also has a bit of bite to it as well. There is a little mystery and sinister suspense, intertwined in the story, giving it a little bit of an edge. But the story is also a tender, and emotional, with family and friends working through difficult issues and supporting one another, and maybe a little romantic element to sweeten the pie.

When Rowan and Tom win the bid for Magnolia House, it seems all their dreams are starting to come true. They are busy and working hard, and the house will need some major renovations, but they are happily married and excited about the future.

However, a stunning series of events has left Rowan reeling, unsure if she can manage everything on her plate and deal with all the work Magnolia House requires. But, when she decides to open the house up to renters, her new tenants will bring stunning revelations into light and change the course of Rowan’s life, in ways she never imagined.

This is an engrossing story, touching on realistic topics and issues. Life happens, people are flawed and make mistakes, have trouble coping with stress, keep secrets, tell lies and all the rest, but there is also the hope of second chances, a new start in life, forgiveness and closure, and all of it centers around the love of special friends and family.

Overall, this is simply a wonderful and lovely story, with character development being its strongest suit. I found myself completely absorbed in the story and loved how everything came together in the end. The road to peace, contentment and happiness is not always an easy one, but these characters were willing to work for it and are justly rewarded.




Angela Barton was born in London and grew up in Nottingham. She is married with three grown up children and two spoilt spaniels she calls her ‘hairy daughters.’ Passionate about writing both contemporary and historical fiction, Angela has won and also been shortlisted for several writing competitions. She reads avidly, makes book-related jewelry and loves a nice cup of tea. Having recently planted a field of lavender with her husband in south-west France, she is looking forward to spending more time writing in Charente and watching their lavender grow.
Angela is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Nottingham Writers’ Studio.
Angela writes for both Choc Lit and Ruby Fiction.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin- Feature and Review


Defense attorney Brynn Holloran is right at home among cops, criminals, and tough-as-nails prosecutors. With her sharp wit and pointed words, she has a tendency to intimidate, and she likes it that way. She’s a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom, but in her personal life, she’s a mess.

When a vicious murderer she once helped prosecute resurfaces and starts a killing spree to wipeout those who put him behind bars, one thing becomes clear: Brynn needs to run for her life.

With no help from the police, Brynn is forced to take matters into her own hands, turning to a private security firm for protection. But when Brynn defies advice and gets involved in the investigation, even the former Secret Service agent assigned to protect her may not be able to keep her safe. With every new clue she discovers, Brynn is pulled back into the vortex of a disturbing case from her past.

As the clock ticks down on a manhunt, Brynn’s desperate search for the truth unearths long-buried secrets and reignites a killer’s fury.



Desperate Girls (Wolfe Security #1)Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin

Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin is a 2018 Gallery Books publication.

Laura Griffin is always a solid ‘go to’ author of high- octane romantic suspense. While I do enjoy ‘The Tracers’, I was excited to see LG was starting a new series.

The military alpha male driven romantic suspense is very popular, but I still prefer the more traditional storylines- serial killer on the loose, smart and sassy protagonist, detectives, etc. The old school plot line just feels more sinister and atmospheric, and maybe a little more realistic. This story blends the old with the new, but with mixed results.

Brynn is defending a client whose life hangs in the balance. It’s a high- profile case which should command her undivided attention. However, a killer she once put away has escaped from prison and has gone on a killing spree. As a result, a security team is hired to be Brynn’s bodyguards- 24/7- a hassle she doesn’t need.

Enter Erik- a former secret service agent. In charge of the team guarding Brynn, he takes his job very seriously. So seriously, his protection often interferes with Brynn’s ability to do her job. The two immediately clash, but an underlying sexual chemistry is humming beneath the surface, bringing even more tension to an already volatile situation.

 There were some things about the story I really liked, but once again, here is a book with a few too many characters, which is nearly always a problem for me. The story was just a little too busy. Erik was almost a cartoonish alpha male caricature and laughably over the top, with a very wooden personality. As a result, the romantic chemistry was very flat.

That said, the mystery thriller portion of the book is enough to lay a decent foundation for this new series. Because I do like this author, I’m pulling for this series, and hope it will stabilize and become as popular as her other books are.






New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Laura Griffin started her career in journalism before venturing into the world of writing romantic suspense. Her books have won numerous awards, including two RITA Awards (for Scorched and Whisper of Warning) and a Daphne du Maurier Award (Untraceable). Laura currently lives in Austin, where she is working on her next book.

Moreno and Hart Mysteries
Borderline Series
Alpha Crew https://www.goodreads.com/series/1721...
Glass Sisters

Monday, January 28, 2019

Playing for Keeps by Jill Shalvis- Feature and Review


If you’re planning on falling in loveWhen it comes to the confident, charismatic Caleb Parker, Sadie Lane feels the spark—the kind that comes from rubbing each other the wrong way. She’s yoga pants, he’s a suit. She’s a tattoo artist, he’s a straight-laced mogul. But after they accidentally co-rescue an abandoned dog from a storm, Sadie sees a vulnerable side to the seemingly invincible hottie.

you’d better be sureCaleb doesn’t do emotions. Growing up the underdog, he’s learned the hard way to build up an impenetrable wall. Perfect for business. Disastrous for relationships. He’s never worried about it before—not until he finally gets behind Sadie’s armor and begins to fall.

someone is there to catch you. 

Both guarded and vulnerable, Sophie and Caleb are complete opposites. Or are they? Shocked at their undeniable connection, can they ever admit to wanting more? That all depends on what they’re each willing to risk.



Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay, #7)Playing for Keeps by Jill Shalvis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Playing for Keeps by Jill Shalvis is a 2019 Avon Publication.

I’m always happy to return to the Heartbreaker Bay series. So far, each chapter in the series has been a little whimsical and maybe a bit quirky. This book begins with a similar tone as the other books in the series, with Sadie and Caleb adopting an adorable dog named ‘Lollipop’ and becoming co- pet parents.

However, Sadie and Caleb are complete opposites. Their attraction to each other is like mixing oil and water. Caleb has dealt with some heavy issues in his past, but he’s taken big strides toward maturation, although he still hides behind emotional barriers, and his sister’s overabundance of caution and extreme protectiveness.

Sadie on the other hand-

Well, Sadie is still coping with a lot of baggage she can’t quite seem to shake off. In Sadie, the reader sees someone struggling not only with a haunted past, but with some bitterness, and the immature need to rebel, still trying to shock and offend.

Of all the books in this series, to date, this one feels a little more serious. Shalvis always has an uncanny knack for addressing uncomfortable topics, while keeping the tone light. Her humor always offsets the heaviness in any given situation. This time, however, the whimsy, charm, humor, felt forced and often falls a bit flat.

Despite that, the story is still a very compelling read. Sadie’s issues would test the patience of Job, but so would Caleb’s sisters!! I am glad, however, that Shalvis addressed a topic rarely explored in romance novels of this caliber.

Although I found this couple to be more of a challenge than most, their happily ever after may have been the most rewarding, in some ways. Perceptions, expectations, family, acceptance, and forgiveness are adeptly woven into the story. Caleb and Sadie defy all the odds against them and at the end of the day, this is what makes this book stand out.

  The outcome was worth the extra patience this couple seemed to require. Of course I was, as always, happy to see this couple, and Lollipop, get their long overdue happily ever after.






New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras with her family and far too many assorted quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. 

Visit Jill's website for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.

Connect with Jill on Facebook: http://facebook.com/JillShalvis
Connect with Jill on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/jillshalvis
Connect with Jill on Tumblr: http://jillshalvis.tumblr.com

MANGA MONDAY; The Prince's Mistress by Yu Kohaku- Original novel by Sandra Marton


Chloe, a busy model, is helping out at a charity ball when she meets billionaire Nick. He agrees to make a significant donationif she’ll go out to dinner with him! Chloe isn’t thrilled about this, but she finds herself drawn in by his unpretentious demeanor and ends up spending the night with him. It was reckless of her, but she doesn’t regret it. Chloe has but a little time before she must return to her obligations as the daughter of a sheikh in the kingdom of Calista, and she wants to make some special memories before she goes back. But what she doesn’t know is that Nick is more than just a billionaire—he has a hidden identity of his own!


The Prince's MistressThe Prince's Mistress by Yu Kohaku
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Prince’s Mistress by Yu Kohaku – based on the original novel by Sandra Morton.
Finally, I have a winner!
I was determined to find a Harlequin Manga in which the story matched the quality of the illustrations.
The original novel by Sandra Morton, appears to be a very short story, probably posted as a free online read on the Harlequin web page. As such, I was unable to locate it since it was originally published back in 2009.

That said, this story, if it had been published officially, would probably have been released under the HP line, because of the focus on the wealthy and glamorous, a hallmark HP trope.

Therefore, if you know what to expect, none of the over the top aspects of the story will surprise you. In this case, I’d suggest taking it for what it is meant to be- a fantasy. Pure fantasy. Nothing about this story is realistic or plausible. However, it was sweet, sexy, and romantic, and I have to say Prince Nick is kind of dreamy. Chloe, however, is a harder sell, but she caved nicely.

I thought it was funny that both characters were hiding their true identities, hoping to avoid the marriages their families were expecting from them. Naturally, there are misunderstandings and pain along the way, but the ending is very nice-predicable, of course- but nice- with a proper happily ever after!!



Friday, January 25, 2019

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Witch by Barbara Michaels- Feature and Review


A silent stranger moves in twilight shadows...It was more than her dream house. For Ellen March, buying the secluded old house nestled in the pine woods marked the start of a new life. Now she could put her failed marriage behind her, enjoy the quiet solitude of small town life, and get to know her worldly new neighbor, handsome Norman McKay... But strange visions began to cloud her mind - the shadowy figure of a woman, a ghostly white cat - and Ellen's safe haven slowly became her prison. Had she buried the past? Or had a dark legend come back to haunt her...?



WitchWitch by Barbara Michaels
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This has been my favorite Barbara Michaels novel so far. A ghost story, a lesson on mass hysteria, and a mystery, with a little romance thrown in for good measure. Once I got started, I couldn't put it down. A strong female main character dispels the Gothic critics who roll their eyes at many novels written in this era. There was nothing in here too dated, except for a few older feminist comments here and there, which were common in that era of time, but seem outmoded now. Otherwise, this a fast moving, suspenseful novel. These books can be found at Amazon and used bookstores. If you run across them, pick one up. You won't be disappointed.





Barbara Louise Mertz was an American author who wrote under her own name as well as under the pseudonyms Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels. In 1952, she received a PhD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Late Bloomer's Club by Louise Miller- Feature and Review


A delightful novel about two headstrong sisters, a small-town's efforts to do right by their community, and the power of a lost dog to conjure up true love

Nora, the owner of the Miss Guthrie diner, is perfectly happy serving up apple cider donuts, coffee, and eggs-any-way-you-like-em to her regulars, and she takes great pleasure in knowing exactly what's "the usual." But her life is soon shaken when she discovers she and her younger, free-spirited sister Kit stand to inherit the home and land of the town's beloved cake lady, Peggy Johnson.

Kit, an aspiring--and broke--filmmaker needs to generate funding for her latest project, and is particularly keen when they find out Peggy was in the process of selling the land to a big-box developer before her death. The people of Guthrie are divided--some want the opportunities the development will bring, while others are staunchly against any change--and they aren't afraid to leave their opinions with their tips.

Time is running out, and the sisters need to make a decision soon. But Nora isn't quite ready to let go of the land, complete with a charming farmhouse, an ancient apple orchard and clues to a secret life that no one knew Peggy had. 
Troubled by the conflicting needs of the town, and confused by her growing feelings towards Elliot, the big-box developer, Nora throws herself into solving the one problem that everyone in town can agree on--finding Peggy's missing dog, Freckles.

When a disaster strikes the diner, the community of Guthrie bands together to help her, and Nora discovers that doing the right thing doesn't always mean giving up your dreams.



The Late Bloomers' ClubThe Late Bloomers' Club by Louise Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller is a 2017 Pamela Dorman Books publication.

A Charming story about friends, family, small- town secrets and the bonds of community-

I love stories centered around small towns. The characters tend to be a little quirky, and the secrets are usually a lot juicier!! Not only that, the sense of community, as trying at it can be at times, often reminds me of how rewarding small- town life can be.

This story has all those lovely qualities and is the sort of story that can sand away life’s hard edges for a while. These types of books are good for the soul, and I think everyone should take a break from dark and heavy books every now and then to indulge in something a little fluffy and sweet.

For Nora, life has always been centered around the diner she inherited from her parents. She’s content- or thinks she is. She hasn’t known anything more or different and she’s comfortable doing what she knows. But, when Peggy, the town’s ‘cake lady’, dies in a terrible car accident, and Peggy’s dog, Freckles’ who was in the car at the time, disappears, it sets off a domino effect for Nora and the entire community.

Peggy, a single woman, with no close friends or relatives, left her land, home, and business to Nora and to Nora’s unsettled sister, Kit. It also comes to light that Peggy was selling her land in increments and was thinking of selling everything lock, stock and barrel to a big box store corporation.

With the sell now hanging in the balance, Nora is under pressure to make a choice that will best benefit the town. With Kit being part of the equation, Nora must also cope with her feel wheeling sister, who has no real conception of the sacrifices her sister has made for her, and continues to remain very self-absorbed. Naturally, Kit needs money and plans to vote in favor of the big box development.

In the meantime, as Nora delves more into Peggy’s life and estate, she discovers a few long -buried secrets about the cake lady and many hidden treasures on her estate, making Nora feel even more sentimental about the land. Complicating matters further, the man representing the big box store, happens to be a very nice person, one Nora finds herself attracted to.

There is something a bit whimsical about this story. I loved the way the town kept their eye out for Freckles, the way the debate over allowing the big box store felt so authentic, and of course, I also loved the focus on sisterly bonds and the importance of family and community. Peggy’s story, which appears to run in the background is also significant. While Nora feels her life is far from exciting, she is not impulsive, and hasn't pursued big pipe dreams, or lived by the seat of her pants like Kit, her loyalty to the town, the friends and family she has supported over the years, pays off in a wonderfully uplifting way.

While some moments are somber and a little emotional, or angsty, the story never becomes too heavy or overly sentimental. It’s very light and easy, a ‘feel good’ story, with a lovely, charming conclusion that left me feeling hopeful, a little less burdened, with a more positive attitude- and unrelenting craving for cake!!





Louise Miller, a pastry chef and writer living in Boston, MA, is the author of THE CITY BAKER'S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING and THE LATE BLOOMERS' CLUB. Louise is an art school dropout, an amateur flower gardener, an old-time banjo player, an obsessive moviegoer, and a champion of old dogs. 

You can find Louise posting pictures on Instagram-

get book updates on Facebook and Tumblr-

try out her recipes that she posts on her baking Tumblr--

and chat with her on Twitter-

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Final Reckoning by Margaret James- Feature and Review


What if you had to return to the place that made you fall apart? 
When Lindsay Ellis was a teenager, she witnessed the aftermath of a violent murder involving her lover’s father. The killer was never found. 

Traumatised by what she saw, Lindsay had no choice but to leave her home village of Hartley Cross and its close-knit community behind. 

Now, years later, she must face up to the terrible memories that still haunt her. But will confronting the past finally allow Lindsay to heal, or will her return to Hartley Cross unearth dangerous secrets and put the people she has come to care about most at risk? 

A gripping thriller from this successful historical novelists and creative writing tutor. Perfect for fans of Erin Kelly, Linda Green and Laura Marshall. 



The Final Reckoning: A compelling thriller you don't want to miss this winter!The Final Reckoning: A compelling thriller you don't want to miss this winter! by Margaret James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Final Reckoning by Margaret James is a 2019 Ruby Fiction publication.

A haunting, suspenseful mystery-

This story is a genuine 'whodunit' style mystery, with a cold case element added in, on top of a compelling emotional drama, which gives the story an added dose of depth. Part of what helped to create such a sinister atmosphere, is the secluded village, the hint of religious fervor, and the residents, who range from slightly quirky, to moderately suspicious, to downright strange-

Eleven years prior, Lindsay Ellis found her boyfriend’s father murdered. Naturally, the trauma left a lasting mark on Lindsay. But now, after her mother’s passing, she is forced to return to Hartley’s Cross for the funeral planning, and to put her mother’s affairs in order. Forced to confront her painful past, Lindsay examines her feelings for her old boyfriend, while attempting to find answers to the old unsolved murder, hoping for long overdue closure. However, her arrival back in Hartley’s Cross is not welcomed by everyone…

This an absorbing mystery, with a tense, and surprising twist I didn’t see coming. The pacing is even, with a nice, balanced deepening of the mystery and increase in the suspense. This is a quick, atmospheric novel, all mystery and suspense lovers will enjoy!




Margaret James has been a member of the RNA for 22 years. She has written thirteen published novels, many short stories, and she also teaches creative writing for the London School of Journalism. Margaret's first novel was A Touch of Earth, a family saga set in Herefordshire where she was born and grew up, and her most recent is The Penny Bangle, set in Dorset and published by Robert Hale. But her personal favourite among her novels is Elegy for a Queen, published by Solidus, a small independent which has a varied and fascinating list. Margaret now lives in Devon, which she loves.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Shadows We Hide by Allen Eskens- Feature and Review


In the highly-anticipated sequel to the national bestseller The Life We Bury, Joe Talbert returns to investigate the murder of the father he never knew, and to reckon with his own family's past.

Joe Talbert, Jr. has never once met his namesake. Now out of college, a cub reporter for the Associated Press in Minneapolis, he stumbles across a story describing the murder of a man named Joseph Talbert in a small town in southern Minnesota. 
Full of curiosity about whether this man might be his father, Joe is shocked to find that none of the town's residents have much to say about the dead man-other than that his death was long overdue. Joe discovers that the dead man was a loathsome lowlife who cheated his neighbors, threatened his daughter, and squandered his wife's inheritance after she, too, passed away--an inheritance that may now be Joe's. 
Mired in uncertainty and plagued by his own devastated relationship with his mother, who is seeking to get back into her son's life, Joe must put together the missing pieces of his family history-- before his quest for discovery threatens to put him in a grave of his own.



The Shadows We HideThe Shadows We Hide by Allen Eskens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Shadows We Hide by Allen Eskens is a 2018 Mulholland Books publication.


This sequel to ‘The Life We Bury’, finds Joe Talbert working with The Associated Press. He is enjoying a little heady success, when suddenly his esteemed career is circling the drain. While on a recommended leave of absence, Joe follows up on the stunning report that a man named Joe Talbert was found dead in Buckley, a small town in Minnesota. Joe feels compelled to find out if this man is his long lost father, whom he never met. His rationalization for making this trip is that Joe ‘Toke’ Talbert has a daughter, meaning Joe may have a sister, a sister who is in the hospital, all alone.

He leaves his long- time girlfriend, Lilah, behind with his autistic brother, Jeremy, while she studies for the bar exam. As Joe begins looking into Toke’s suspicious death, asking questions around town, he immediately discovers he and his inquiries are not all that welcome.

Joe employs his investigative skills to figure out if Toke was murdered, while waiting on pins and needles to find out if he is indeed Toke’s biological son. Apparently, Toke was not too popular, but a few people stood to profit from his death, making it hard to decipher the exact motive behind his untimely demise. Joe’s investigation reveals the tangled family secrets and dynamics of Toke’s life, which also involved a land dispute over his deceased wife’s inheritance.

If Joe really is Toke’s son, he could inherit a sizable sum of money, a prospect that dazzles Joe to the point of distraction. If that weren’t enough, Joe’s mother has suddenly popped back up, seeking his forgiveness, while swearing she has turned over a new leaf. All this upheaval has created a new type of tension between Joe and Lilah, setting the stage for a tense, suspenseful mystery and family drama that threatens to upend all the achievements Joe has worked so hard to obtain, both personally and professionally.

Joe Talbert is such a wonderfully drawn character. He is wary and hardened, but also vulnerable and sensitive. In this sequel, our noble hero proves his human susceptibility and faces his own battles with temptation.

While the mystery is very puzzling and suspenseful, full of rich detail, with surprising twists and turns, this story is so much more than a mystery novel. Despite the giant strides Joe has taken in his life, pulling himself up by the bootstraps and clawing his way out of a situation that might have swallowed most people whole, he is still on a journey of self- discovery. Joe must face his own weaknesses and foibles, waking him up from an over confident slumber. The hard lessons he takes away from this chapter in his life will hopefully open the door for second chances, forgiveness, acceptance, and understanding. Joe, at his core, despite teetering, and nearly falling off the edge, is a good, decent man. Now, he has the chance to become a better one.

This is a well- balanced story, so completely absorbing I couldn’t tear myself away from it. I was mesmerized by it from start to finish, but I must say the ending was the relish on top of an already spectacular story.

Overall, this follow up novel was everything I had hoped it would be and more. I do hope we will catch up to Joe Talbert again sometime in the not too distant future.



Allen Eskens grew up in the wooded hills of Missouri and, after high school, migrated north to pursue his education. He acquired a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Minnesota, and a Juris Doctorate from Hamline University School of Law. He honed his creative writing skills in the M.F.A. program at Minnesota State University and took classes at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. 

The Outlaw's Mail Order Bride by Linda Broday- Spotlight Tour + Giveaway!


Title: The Outlaw’s Mail Order Bride
Author: Linda Broday
Series: Outlaw Mail Order Brides, #1
Pub Date: January 29, 2019
ISBN: 9781492651048

When the West was wild
And man’s law favored the few
These extraordinary women could be found…
in the heart of an outlaw.

Former outlaw Clay Colby is abuzz with his mail order bride’s expected arrival. He’s fought long and hard to drag Devil’s Crossing out of lawlessnessso when his homestead is set ablaze by a bitter rival, he’s heartbroken. There’s no woman in the world who’d stand by him now.

But Tally Shannon is no ordinary woman.

After escaping the psychiatric hospital in which she was wrongfully detained, Tally only wants someone to protect her and the little girl under her care. She doesn’t mind that Clay’s home is dang near burned to the ground—not when he makes her feel so safe. So cherished. But it’s only a matter of time before the ghosts of her past come callingand her loving cowboy must defend his new bride—and the family they built together—to his very last breath.


At a young age, Linda Broday discovered a love for storytelling, history, and anything pertaining to the Old West. After years of writing romance, it’s still tall rugged cowboys that spark her imagination. A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Linda has won many awards, including the prestigious National Readers’ Choice Award and the Texas Gold. She resides in the Texas Panhandle where she’s inspired every day.

Buy Links:


Tally followed Clay into his dugout. She liked the strong set of his jaw and broad shoulders. He gave the impression that wouldn’t give under a heavy load. The two-inch scar down his face and the revolver swinging from his lean hip suggested he’d seen trouble too many times to count. His dark hair sported a few silver stands at the temples and curled possessively over his collarless shirt like a gunslinger’s hand around his gun.
She scanned the dim interior of the dugout, not caring that it was part of the hillside. She loved the scent of the earth and the safety Devil’s Crossing represented. A stack of uncut leather laid in a corner, and pink and yellow flowers on the table added an unexpected homey feel.
This outlaw was already surprising her in a lot of ways. Tally motioned to the leather. “What do you make?”
“Saddles, harnesses, boots, you name it.” Clay flicked her a nervous smile. “I know this doesn’t look like much, but it’s only temporary. As soon as I can, you’ll have a real house.”
Her mouth tried to turn up in a return smile but her nerves wouldn’t let it. She sat at the table in the chair Clay pulled out for her. “Don’t say anything you don’t mean. I’ve been lied to enough.”
Sunlight cast his shadow across the plank floor. “Look, Tally Shannon, I never waste words and what I say you can count on. I want something better for you, and already have the land picked out.”
Tally Shannon cleared her throat. “I have some things to ask of you, Clay. Refusal of any will be a deal-breaker.”
“Sounds fair enough. I’m sure you won’t need anything too difficult.”
“I’ll help build your town, share your bed, and raise your children.” She hardened her gaze. “In return, you promise never to put me back in the asylum and you’ll fight anyone who tries. Also extend that promise to Violet and if anything should happen to me, you’ll raise the child. You’ll never collect the reward that’s offered for me and I’ll never collect yours.” She paused before adding. “One last thing—you’ll release me next spring if this marriage doesn’t work.”
Clay brushed his fingers across her cheek that carried the mark. “You have my word on every stipulation.” His gaze shifted to the gun on her hip and she thought she saw admiration and some intimidation. “I only have one simple request. You have to promise never to shoot me, no matter how mad you get.”
“That depends on what you what do.” She leaned close, putting her lips next to his ear. “Hurt Violet and I’ll kill you in a heartbeat.”
He chuckled softly. “Trust me, I’d never be fool enough to cross you. Nor will I ever cause that little girl grief. That’s a vow I’ll never break.”
“Then we’re clear.” She straightened in her chair.
Clay leaned forward and lifted a tendril of hair, rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger. “Are you crazy, Tally?”
She allowed a smile. “Some would say that and at times I wonder. Back in Deliverance Canyon, I’d often wake in the dead of night and stand in the moonlight, letting the breeze brush my face. I needed the reassurance that I wasn’t back in that hellhole.”
“Do you mind if I ask why you were put there?”
“My stepmother put me there to get rid of me so she could steal what was mine. She told them that I was a sexual deviant and preyed on children.” She hated her strained voice.
“I can tell you’re not. I assume she had a ruthless plan.”
Tally’s voice turned cold and hardened. “When my father died, he had quite a large estate that included land, money, and other possessions. He left everything to me which angered my stepmother. She put something in my food that made me deathly ill and unable to fight her or speak. Some men loaded me into a wagon and Lucinda drove me to the Creedmore Lunatic Asylum.”
“I’ve heard of the place. Most never escape—except in a coffin. You were lucky, Tally.”
“A fierce determination helps. I was there a year and suffered—” her voice broke. She forced calm and continued. “Crimes you couldn’t imagine. But it only strengthened my resolve. I watched and waited for the right opportunity and when it came, I took it. Five of us broke out that moonless night. I’ve been back several times, once recently, for others like me.”
“Why do they want to imprison perfectly healthy women? What do they gain?”
“Money. Families pay a good deal to get rid of who they want. Men are getting rich off them and it’s become a big rotten business.” She watched his eyes darken, his anger build.
He let her strand of hair fall from his fingers. “Why was Violet there?” he asked, his voice tight.
“Her parents thought raising a blind child too much trouble.”
“Dear God! Such fools.” Clay rose to stand at the thick window.
She didn’t know what the tall, broad-shouldered outlaw was staring at, but the muscles of his jaw clenched tight, speaking of deep anger. He might convince himself that he was through dispensing justice but she could see that it continued to burn.
Could such a man love her?
An ache filled Tally. Could he make a little room in his heart for her?
She bit back a sob that tried to escape. Would she ever find someone who loved her fully and completely? Or would she have to settle for less as she’d always done? She was weary of settling. She wanted to be all of someone’s world, not just a part. She yearned to fill a man’s heart so full that his love for her spilled out all over the place.
Five copies of The Outlaw’s Mail Order Bride

a Rafflecopter giveaway