YeeHaw! I’m celebrating the release of HIGH STAKES BRIDE, Men of Stone Mountain, Book 2, in print and e-book. Of course I love this book, and I so hope readers will too. To show my appreciation to my readers, I’ll be giving away two copies of the e-book Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. All you have to do to enter, is to leave a comment that includes your email address. For a second entry, sign up for my newsletter that will be emailed to readers next week. I only send these when I have a new release or special news, so you won’t be buried with emails from me. If you follow my blog, that counts extra, too.
ABOUT THE BOOK AND SERIES
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I developed the premise for this trilogy while visiting the historic Belding-Gibson Ranch in Palo Pinto County. This is a large ranch, but only a fraction of the original size due to divisions among family members through the generations since 1859. The original home site is inhabited by Barbara (Belding) and Charles Gibson. The occasion of their opening their ranch to visitors was the release of Barbara’s book about the ranch, PAINTED POLE. I am so happy that I was able to tour this historic property in the beautiful (to me) Palo Pinto Mountains. The Gibsons have been good stewards of their heritage. The horrid fires of last summer almost destroyed the ranch, and the Gibsons lost cattle and grazing land, but the home was spared.
In the first Men of Stone Mountain book, BRAZOS BRIDE, the ranch was the setting for Hope Montoya’s ranch, but with a Spanish-style hacienda instead of a western ranch house. The smaller ranch owned by Micah Stone cozied up to the vast Montoya acreage, but without access to the river. Most ranchers at this time did not use wire to enclose their land, but Hope’s father had fenced in all of his property except that adjoining the Brazos River. When he was murdered, Micah was accused, and barely escaped with his life. For convenience, I slipped in the town of Radford Crossing a few miles away.
In HIGH STAKES BRIDE, Alice Price is on the run from dangerous men. She had known that when her stepfather died, she would have to hurriedly escape her stepbrothers. Hadn’t she heard them promise her to the meanest man in Texas as payment for high stakes gambling losses? One misfortune after another devils her until she links up with Zach Stone. He looks sturdy as his last name and invites her to his ranch where his two aunts will chaperone them. She figures life finally dealt her a winning hand.
Photo by Serpentina for iStock Photos
Zach Stone has the sweetest ranch in all of Texas, at least he thinks he does. All he needs is a wife to build his family of boys and girls to carry on his ranch and name. He’s been jilted and vows he will never even speak to a woman again unless she's a relative. Then he comes across Alice Price and comes up with a crazy plan. He’s figured everything out, and is sure nothing can go wrong with his plan.
But life holds surprises for Alice and Zach...
Doesn’t it always? HIGH STAKES BRIDE has several incidents based on real life, a first for me. Characters and stories pop into my head unbidden, and I don’t use anything specific from life. I qualify the statement because I believe our subconscious is a pool of combined experiences from our lives and those of people we know or have heard about. In other words, a writer's muse steals from the well of subconscious memories. Must be more than that, because characters pop into my head that are very different from anyone I've ever known.
For this book, though, several things fit the book to perfectly to ignore. The first was an incident that happened to my brother’s ex-fiancée once when she was hunting a day after Thanksgiving. The second is in the excerpt below and happened to my neighbor when her bull--who was just being affectionate--pushed her into one of those large round hay bales. Lastly, I used an historic incident and had a real life hero help my fictional hero. No, I just thought of a fourth one, and that was when a friend tried to dye her hair darker, just as Alice has in the book--and the same thing happened to my friend as happened to Alice.
Now here’s a long, long excerpt from HIGH STAKES BRIDE:
Zach Stone cursed to himself. If this didn’t just round out his week from hell. All he wanted was to sleep out here alone and sort things in his mind before he went home. Even the approaching storm didn’t worry him. He’d almost welcome the discomfort to take his mind off his predicament.
Although the desire for uninterrupted time alone had sent him toward the little cabin where he’d lived before acquiring the Warren’s vast spread, he’d changed his mind. When he rode across this spot, he’d decided to camp here a few days then head on home. Now icy wind whipped down the valley and he regretted he wasn’t snug in the cabin with the door bolted against the world.
Zach had seen Solomon’s head raise up and ears prick forward, the big gelding’s silent announcement of visitors. Plus, Zach’s years as a lawman meant he had a keen sense of trouble dogging him. He didn’t know who watched him but someone sure as hell lurked in that stand of live oaks. Probably waited to strike until he fell asleep. Well, any two-legged varmint who thought he’d catch Zachariah Greenberry Stone unaware had damn well better think again.
Mary Alice had smelled coffee and wood smoke and decided to investigate. She had parked the mules, winced as she’d slipped out of Pa’s big coat, and crept closer. She rued the bad luck that had plagued her these last couple of days. Even trees hadn’t been too friendly of late, but she’d managed to climb this old live oak due to a low branch that almost dipped to the ground and acted as a step to climb higher.
“Hurry up, mister,” she muttered softly.
She lay along the live oak’s limb and watched the man named Stone cook his dinner—and hers, she hoped—and settle in for the night. When she’d first seen him in Russell Springs yesterday, she’d thought him a rancher but hadn’t any idea where he lived.
Definitely the same man she’d seen in Russell Springs, but he appeared to have been camped here a couple of days. She heaved a sigh and once more wished Pa had taught her something about the area when he taught her to shoot, but he wanted her safe at home. Safe? She almost snorted to herself.
She’d heard her two stepbrothers promise to deliver her to that devil Fernando Vargas. All to satisfy their gambling debts, as if she counted no more than a hand of cards or coins. Vargas had probably cheated at poker as he did at other things.
She remembered overhearing Vargas brag about the women he’d used. If he got his hands on her, she’d be a goner for sure. Assuming she lived until that monster tired of her, she’d wind up chained in some Mexican brothel with no hope of escape until she died of disease or mistreatment.
Fear dragged at her weary body. Not since Pa took sick three years ago had she had a good night’s sleep. If not for Pa’s illness, she would have gone east when Mama died.
Back then, Pa could still control the boys and prevent them from following her, but a few weeks before Ma died, he started coughing up blood. He hid it from the boys for a couple of years, but he’d finally had to tell them he was sick from stomach cancer. A few months back he was forced to take to his bed.
“Poor Pa.” She looked heavenward, hoping that’s where he’d ended up. “Sorry I couldn’t even see to your burying.”
The Stone man on the ground moved and reminded her she needed to pay attention to her quarry. Shoulders wide as a door and one of the tallest men she’d ever seen let her know he’d be hard to beat in a struggle.
Something told her he was a nice person, though she couldn’t say why.
Just the same, Mary Alice thought, she’d better bide her time and wait for this giant to sleep. Pa was the only kindly man she’d met since she was old enough to remember. She couldn’t take a chance on this one being any better than the rest who’d come around.
The Stone man placed the coffeepot on a rock at the side of his campfire then did the same with a pot of what looked like beans. Next he took several slices of bacon from a frying pan and laid them on top of the beans. The grease sizzled as he dumped it onto the sand. A frigid breeze carried the pungent aroma of bacon and coffee mixed in with woodsmoke.
Her mouth watered and her belly rumbled so loud that she feared the man might hear. She’d been without food since yesterday. First she’d feared taking time to eat more than a few cold biscuits, then she’d ditched her food when her horse ran away. Now the smell of this man's dinner had her near fainting--provided she didn’t freeze first.
Why didn’t he give up and climb into that fancy bedroll he’d spread out earlier? Then she could slip down and get something to eat. If, that is, she could stay in this tree and not pass out from a combination of pain, fear, hunger, and fatigue.
Clouds rolled in from the north to mask the full moon and the temperature dropped rapidly. She smelled the coming storm on the wind. Lord, but she wished he’d settle in before the storm reached them. At last he finished his preparations and crawled into his bedroll. Now all she had to do was wait until he fell asleep. How long could that take?
Zach slipped into the bedroll and waited, pistol in hand. He feigned sleep, wondering what kind of man tarried nearby. Whoever it was could have picked Zach off, so the sidewinder must not have murder on his mind.
Probably up to no good hiding out like that, though, because any Westerner would share his campfire and vittles with anyone who rode into camp. Zach wriggled into a comfortable spot and lay motionless. Anger at recent events helped him remain awake.
The footfalls came so softly he almost missed them. He opened his eyes a slit, but enough to see a thin shadow move toward the fire. About then heavy clouds overhead parted and the moonlight revealed a boy who scooped up a slice of bacon and slid it into his mouth.
The culprit set Zach’s tin plate on the ground near the fire, ladled beans into it, and picked up a fork. He squatted down and balanced the plate on his knees before he commenced eating. Zach noticed he kept his left hand in his pocket the whole time.
Something must be wrong with the thief’s left arm. Looked too young for it to have been a casualty of the War. Lots of other ways to get hurt out here. Whatever had happened to his left arm, his right one worked well enough. He forked food into his mouth like he hadn’t eaten in a week.
Zach let him shovel beans for a few minutes. Crook or not, anyone that hungry deserved a meal. When the kid stopped eating, Zach couldn’t figure out what he was doing. It looked as if he used the fork to scratch around on the ground, so he must have eaten his fill. Zach slipped his hand from beneath the cover and cocked the pistol.
“Hold it right there, son. I’d like to know why you’re eating without at least a howdy to the man who provided the food.”
The boy paused, then set the plate down slowly. “I left money here on a rock to pay for it.”
Odd sounding voice, but the kid was probably scared. Zach slipped from his bedroll and stood, but kept his gun pointed at the food robber. “Maybe.”
Zach walked toward the kid, careful to train his gaze so the firelight didn’t dim his eyesight. Sure enough, he spotted a couple of coins on the rock beside his pot of beans, or what remained of them, and his empty plate.
He faced the intruder. “Why not just come into camp earlier instead of sneaking in after you thought I was
“I—I was afraid you weren’t friendly.”
Zach thought he also heard the kid mutter what sounded like “...or maybe too friendly.” Must be the wind, he thought, as he neared the boy.
Zach motioned with his free hand. “I don’t begrudge anyone food, but I hate dishonesty and sneaking around. Stand up so I can see you.”
The kid stood, hat low over his face and his good hand clenched.
Zach reached to push the brim back. “What’s your name?”
The kid stepped forward. “None of your business, mister.”
A fistful of sand hit Zach’s face. He heard his assailant run. Mad as the devil, Zach brushed grit from his eyes and set out in pursuit. The kid was fast, he’d give him that, but so was Zach. His longer legs narrowed the distance between them. With a running lunge, he tackled the kid.
“Oof. Let me go.” The lad was all wriggles and kicking feet as he squirmed trying to escape.
Zach wasn’t about to let that happen. They rolled in the dirt. In one move Zach pinned the boy’s good arm.
The hat fell aside and a mass of curls spilled around the kid’s face. His jacket parted and unmistakable curves pushed upward where Zach’s other hand rested. Zach stared in disbelief. Registering his hand pressed against a heavenly mound shocked him and he jerked his paw away.
“Well, I’ll be damned. You’re not a boy.”
The woman glared at him. “Right, and you’re not exactly a feather. Get off me.”
Zach stood and bent to help her but she curled into a ball where she lay. “Ma’am, you okay?”
“Just dandy.” She sat up, moving like a hundred-year-old. She glared at him while holding her stomach with her good hand. The other arm dangled uselessly. “You’ve likely broken the few uninjured bones I had left.”
His temper flared. “Hey, lady, don’t try to put the blame on me. If you’d been honest and come into camp like any other traveler, I’d have shared my food with you.”
“Yeah, well a woman on her own can’t be too careful and I don’t know you or anything about you.”
Zach saw her point. Though most Western men would respect a woman, it wouldn’t help if she ran into one of the exceptions. “What’s wrong with your arm?”
She glared at him and appeared to debate with herself before she said, “Fell out of a tree. My arm caught in the fork of a branch. Pulled it out of socket and I can’t get it back.”
Well hell. As if he didn’t have enough on his mind. Now that he’d decided not to speak to another woman unrelated to him, this bundle of trouble showed up needing a keeper.
Resigning himself to one more stroke of bad luck, he said, “Take off your coat and come over here to my bedroll.”
The campfire sparked less than her eyes. “I’ll do no such of a thing. Don’t be thinking you can take liberties because I ate your food and I’m injured. I paid for the food.”
Zach exhaled and planted his fists on his hips. “Ma’am, there’s not enough money in Texas to pay me to take liberties with you. If you’ll move to my bedroll and lie down, I’ll put your arm back in place. You’ll likely have to take off your, um, your shirt.”
She looked him up and down as if she weighed him and found him lacking. “I figured you for a rancher. You a doctor then?”
“Ranchers have to know a good bit about patching people.”
She straightened herself and swished past him as if she wore a ball gown instead of a man’s torn britches.
Watching the feminine sway of her hips as she sashayed to the other side of the campfire, he wondered how he ever mistook her for male. He followed her and tried not to appreciate her long legs or the way the fabric molded to them like a second skin.
When she reached the blasted bedroll he’d been stuck with, she slid out of her jacket. A grimace of pain flashed across her face as the weight of the light coat slipped down her injured arm. In one graceful move she plopped down on the bedroll.
“You’re sure you can do this?” she asked and looked up at him.
Flickering firelight placed her features in shadow. Moving closer, he figured the poor light played tricks on him, for he couldn't tell the color of her hair. He decided she had light brown or dark blonde curls. Whatever color her eyes were, maybe blue or green, they were big and watched him with suspicion.
“Yes. Sorry, I don’t have any spirits with me to deaden the pain.”
“I never touch alcohol. If you’re sure you can do this, just get on with it.” She unbuttoned her shirt and winced as she slid the injured shoulder and arm free, and then stuck her chin up as if she dared him to make an improper comment or gesture.
He knelt beside her, keenly aware of the differences that proved her womanhood. A chemise of fabric worn so thin as to be almost transparent pulled taut across her breasts. He swallowed and willed himself to ignore the dark circles surrounding the pearly peaks thrusting at the flimsy material. The memory of the lush mound he’d touched briefly wouldn’t leave him. He’d been alone too long and had better concentrate on the job at hand.
“Stretch out and try to relax. I’ll be as gentle as I can, but this will hurt.”
“Hurts already, but I better put my bandana in my mouth so I don’t scream. I’m not a whiner, mind, but wouldn’t want to draw attention if there’s others nearby.” She slipped the cloth knotted around her neck up to her mouth like a gag, then laid down.
She moaned but didn’t fight him. Zach had seen this done numerous times over the years and had performed it twice. He probed her shoulder gently, then rotated her arm to slip it back into place.
He listened for the snick of the bone reseating itself in the socket. When he finished, he massaged the muscles of her upper arm and shoulder. She’d likely be sore for weeks, but the harm she had done wasn’t permanent.
“Have to give it to you, ma’am. You were the quietest patient I’ve ever seen.”
She lay with her face turned away from him. When he leaned over, he realized she’d passed out.
And it’s no wonder, is it? I'll bet having her shoulder reset hurt. If this post has intrigued you, here are the places you can buy HIGH STAKES BRIDE in E-Book:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/STAKES-BRIDE-Stone-Mountain- ebook/dp/B009F7JLTK/ref=sr_1_27?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1348783897&sr=1-27&keywords=caroline+clemmons
If you wish to be included for the giveaway, please leave your contact email in the comment. And take advantage of the extra entries. Good luck. I'll announce the winners on Monday.
Thanks for stopping by!