by Caroline Clemmons
Do you live where the winter storm has locked you indoors? Lovely if you don’t need to leave home. Here in North Central Texas, we recently had “thunder sleet”(a new term for me) that left two inches of ice. We were housebound for several days. Being iced in was a cozy treat for me, and a good time to snuggle with a cup of hot chocolate, a good book...and my husband. Our pets also gathered around for cuddle time. Of course, I worry about those who have to commute in that kind of weather—doctors, nurses, paramedics, police, firemen, etc.
Weather often plays a part in my romance books. Bad weather can isolate a couple, present a huge obstacle, or propel the story forward. Think of the tornado in THE WIZARD OF OZ, which certainly moved that story forward (no pun intended).
A storm that starts as rain, then sleet, then heavy snow is definitely a character in HIGH STAKES BRIDE. The inclement weather helps the heroine, Alice Price, escape from the two men pursuing her. That is, with the aid of rancher Zach Stone. What could be cozier than being snowed in a warm cabin with a kind and handsome man? There are a few surprises for Alice Price and Zach Stone: (1) the battered little boy who looks as if he and soap are strangers, (2) his injured dog, and (3) the biggest surprise...the dead man on the cabin floor.
Those aren’t the only surprises in store for either Zach or Alice. She’s one of my favorite heroines. Like me, she is incident prone. ☺ I’ve never dyed my own hair the peculiar color Alice did, but I once accidentally dyed Darling Daughter 2’s hair lavender. Talk about panic! Whew, no wonder she won’t let me color her hair now.
Here’s a blurb about HIGH STAKES BRIDE:
Now that her stepfather has died and can no longer protect her, Alice Price is on the run from two stepbrothers who wagered her in a high stakes poker game. But she’s only been off her stepfather’s ranch once in over twenty years and has no sense of the landscape or direction. Determined to catch the stage to Atlanta, she has two mules loaded with her belongings. From the first, she encounters one setback after another. She is certain fate has dealt her a losing hand...until she teams up with Zach Stone.
Zach is through with any woman not related to him. He camps out for a little time alone before he heads home and admits he’s been jilted by his mail-order bride. When he meets Alice and learns she is on the run, he lets her tag along with him. Their ride through a freezing storm when she is already exhausted leaves Alice with a case of pneumonia. Obviously, she needs some place safe where she can recover. That’s when Zach comes up with a crazy plan--Alice can pretend to be his mail-order bride until she recovers, make his family hate her, then he’ll send her away Sounds easy enough.
Alice and Zach find a young boy named Seth in Zach's old cabin. In order to convince the boy he won't be sent to an orphanage, Zach hires him to be his new ranch hand. Seth’s dog, Harry, accompanies the boy everywhere. Life appears rosy, but lies tangle Zach and Alice into a web of deceit that grows more and more complicated.
Of course, HIGH STAKES BRIDE, Men of Stone Mountain, Book 2, is available in print and e-book and is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. Readers have loved this book. If you aren’t familiar with it, I hope you’ll read it now. too. Here’s the url at Amazon:
Here’s an excerpt from HIGH STAKES BRIDE of when Zach meets Alice while he’s camped out:
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 asleep?”
“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.”