Archive | April 2017

Z: Zodiac Rising Series, by Margaret Lake


A ‘Z’ book? Ugh! Here we are, down to the last day of the A to Z challenge. Most of us (those of us that are still in the challenge that is) are already stressed. We’ve had ‘Q’, ‘U’, and ‘X’ to deal with. We’ve gotten through those difficult letters and here we end up on the final day of the challenge with…Z!

While scrolling through my friends websites looking (yes, trolling) for books, I couldn’t find a ‘Z’ book in the lot. If there was one, I certainly missed it. But then I stumbled upon the Zodiac Rising Series, by Margaret Lake. Yes! Score! There they are, a series of twelve books, each one corresponding to the twelve zodiac signs. A perfect ending to wrap up this 2017 A to Z challenge.

cnj air signs

The twelve books in the series are:

Ariel (Zodiac Rising – Aries)

Tori (Zodiac Rising Series – Taurus)

Gina and Gemma (Zodiac Rising Series – Gemini)

Cancey (Zodiac Rising Series – Cancer)

Leah (Zodiac Rising – Leo)

Virginia (Zodiac Rising – Virgo)

Libby (Zodiac Rising – Libra)

Schuyler (Zodiac Rising – Scorpio)

Sage (Zodiac Rising Series – Sagittarius)

Cappy (Zodiac Rising Series – Capricorn)

Aquaria (Zodiac Rising Series – Aquarius)

Pixie (Zodiac Rising Series – Pisces)


You can also get the books in sets of three:

The Earth Signs

The Water Signs

The Fire Signs

The Air Signs

cnj air signs about

I’ll have to admit that I haven’t read these. Yet. Since I just discovered them, they’re on my TBR list for now. If you’d like to check the series out, you can read a short snippet from each and see for yourself. Personally, Tori is going to be the first one I read.

Thank you for following along with us through the A to Z challenge. If you’ve missed any of it, go check out some of the posts in the archives. Each day features a book by a variety of different authors.


Y: You’re My Necessary


We’re almost done. We’re down to Y, almost to the end of the alphabet. Today, Davee Jones returns to share one of her books with us – You’re My Necessary.

youre my necessary

Andrew pulled her close and leaned down to find her mouth with his own. He kissed her softly, yet thoroughly. “I will always reach your lips.” Bea craved intimate human contact, and he was more than happy to oblige. She normally lived in overdrive every day, never heeding her deep feminine desires. But on vacation in the tropics, he helped fulfill her hopes of escape for a few days of wickedness. Andrew was there waiting to seduce and surprise her piquing curiosities Bea never before imagined. Energized, Bea slipped into a short affair with an eager Andrew, ready to feed her every yearning. Could he really want more? When Bea returned to reality, would she leave Andrew behind- as if he was only a dream? An odd coincidence led her face to face with his masculinity again and this time, she had nowhere to run. Could she return to an ordinary life, when Andrew offered her so many other ways to escape?

Want to read more? Here’s a link to a free sample of You’re My Necessary.

You’re My Necessary FREE SAMPLE

You can get You’re My Necessary from these retailers:


Barnes and Noble

Davee Jones iTunes

X: X – Rated X? Heat Levels in Romance Books

X: X – Rated X? Heat Levels in Romance Books


Ha! I’ll bet you wondered what people are coming up with for ‘X’ in the A to Z Blog Challenge. I mulled over that one for quite a long time myself. This is one of the trickier letters to write about. So in a bit of a stretch, I went with Rated X and the heat levels in romance books.

Most people know what ‘Rated X’ means when talking about movies. But what about books? Romance stories run the gamut from where nary a kiss is seen, all the way to graphic scenes that hold nothing back. How are books rated?

Romance heat levels are subjective and the descriptions vary with different publishers, and also from author to author. Readers also can rate books differently. What’s too racy for one reader may be too tame and boring for another. Publishers rate their books on different heat levels, so readers can find books in the styles they most like to read. Unfortunately, each publisher has their own heat ratings, so they can vary from book to book.

rated x

Chris and Cecelia have a good blog post where they discuss what makes one romance sweet and another erotica. Here’s what they have to say about it:

Sweet Romance doesn’t contain any sexual scenes. We have an understanding that the main characters have sex but there is no description of the acts. There might be sexual tension throughout the story.

Sensual Romance has an increased level of sensuality in love scenes, which are consummated, and an integral part of the story. The love scenes are not explicitly described even though they might occur more than once on the course of the story. Emotion and conflict run high. No graphic language or violence is used in love/sex scenes’ descriptions.

Erotic Romance is a step up from Sensual where the sex scenes are hot, the language graphic, and the love/sex scenes thoroughly described. There is an abundance of sexual tension and sex/love scenes abound. Erotic romances can push the envelope almost to the edge of erotica but the characters in erotic romance are generally in monogamic relationships and the stories are expected to end in HEA.

Erotica usually means no holds barred. Ménage/multiple partners, BDSM and other less discussed taboos are frequently explored openly. The sex is plentiful, sporadic, intentional, chaotic and VERY explicit. Language can be often crude. An HEA is not required. The only no-no for publishers of this heat level seems to be illegal or some taboo subjects (usually described in the publisher’ submission guidelines).

And that’s our ‘X’ post for the day!


W: White Flower Books


Today, to celebrate the letter ‘W’, author Susanne Matthews returns with excerpts from three (yes, I said three) of her White Flower books. Lots of fun, tempting writing follows in today’s A to Z Challenge post. Enjoy!

Welcome back, Susanne! (passes the mic over to our guest)

Today’s letter is W and I would like to introduce you to my white flower books: The White Carnation, The White Lily, and The White Iris. Some of my readers have asked if I plan to write more “white flower” books, and the answer is a definite maybe. Writing a series of books where the characters continue to search for answers, while the main characters change and new characters are introduced isn’t a task to be undertaken lightly. My respect and admiration go out to J.K. Rowling who managed to do this so well in her Harry Potter series, not once but eight times.

The “white flower” books are part of the Harvester Saga. In each book, there is a self-contained romance. For The White Carnation and The White Iris, books one and three, I chose to work with second chance at love stories, both of which revolve around the issue of trust in a relationship. In The White Lily, book two, I decided to write about two broken souls who’ve suffered abuse at the hands of others and yet aren’t destroyed by it, but rise above their circumstances and find love and comfort together.

While each book is a self-contained love story, it’s also another step in the search for the serial killer known as the Harvester/Prophet, who himself undergoes a metamorphosis as the books progress. Like many megalomaniacs, the Prophet doesn’t act alone. As world events show us, there are many people who feel their beliefs are the only ones that count. Many of these groups of fanatics are led by charismatic men who can convince them to do anything. If you think back to Jim Jones, Charles Manson, or Adolph Hitler, you’ll get the idea. Unfortunately, nothing happening in today’s society shows that will change anytime soon.

The biggest challenge I faced in writing this series was ensuring that each book was as good as its predecessor. As all authors know, readers expect to be entertained when they read, and my job was to see to it there were as many shivers in The White Iris as there had been in The White Carnation and The White Lily. I introduced the concept of the Great Burning briefly in The White Carnation, expanded on it in The White Lily, but it’s not until The White Iris that the absolute horror of the plan is revealed. As I researched and learned more about the various aspects of weapons of mass destruction, the more I leaned toward biological warfare, but keeping it honest, possible and plausible was a must. I had to balance the technical aspects of the situation in such a way that the reader understood the dangers, but I couldn’t get so complicated that only a doctor would understand. There were also a number of loose ends that had to be resolved and clues planted in previous books that needed to be pulled together in the last one. To be honest, the research for this book taught me many things and I consider that a real bonus.

Because each book can be read as a stand-alone novel, I also had to make sure, the reader of book three had enough information not to find the book frustrating, but not so much information as to bore the reader who’d read the previous novels. This isn’t always an easy task, and there’s a danger of making something an info dump, an unforgivable sin as far as my editor was concerned. Giving too much information is a crime on equal par with not giving enough.

The white flower books are available individually in both e-book and paperback, but you can get a cost effective bundle for less than a US dollar.

Amazon UK:


Here are the blurbs and an excerpt from each book

The White Carnation:

The last person disgraced reporter Faye Lewis wants back in her life is Detective Rob Halliday, the man she blames for ruining her career and breaking her heart. But when she finds an old friend murdered, he’s the one she calls.

For the past year, Rob and his team have been hunting the Harvester, a serial killer who ritualistically murders new mothers and vanishes with their infants. What Rob doesn’t need is another case, especially one involving his ex-fiancée.

Then Faye is assaulted, and Rob realizes the cases are connected. She may hold the answers he needs to find the elusive killer. But the more they investigate, the more complex the situation becomes. Can they set the past aside and work together, or will the Harvester and his followers reap another prize?

Excerpt from The White Carnation:

Twenty minutes later, the unmarked police sedan pulled up behind the black and white outside the brownstone. The paramedics were parked farther along the street, just ahead of the police car, reducing traffic to a single lane. The coroner’s van pulled up behind them. Rob got out and approached the coroner.

“Amos, I didn’t expect to see you here so soon. I called for a bus, not the meat wagon.”

“Paramedics were nearby so Logan got here quickly. He radioed in—exsanguination due to a lacerated throat. He’s still up there. Nothing he can do for the victim, but your fiancée is taking it hard.”

“The victim was like a second mother to her.”

Your fiancée—Amos’s words were true once, but never again. There was no way Rob would hitch his wagon to a woman who could believe he’d betray her like that, a woman who’d put her job so far ahead of him, he’d barely been on her radar at times. The sex had been great, but love was supposed to be more than that. Still, she’d reached out to him. He took the stairs to the brownstone two at a time, his lean, muscular body having no problem with the climb. He flashed his badge at the officer who stood guarding the door. “Anyone showing any interest?”

“No, Detective. According to the concierge, the people in number five are in Europe, and I don’t think the rest of the residents are home from work yet. Looks like a robbery—the place has been tossed pretty good—and there’s no damage to the door, so she must have let them in. Logan says her throat’s been slit from behind.”

“Where’s Ms. Lewis?”

“In the living room with Logan. He wanted to take her to the ER—claims she’s in shock. I told him she had to stay put until you arrived. He’s pissed at me. Says I’m interfering with his job. He seems pretty friendly with her. I heard she’s some big shot investigative reporter.” He chuckled. “Some crime reporter—she’s puked a couple of times already.” He continued to laugh. Rob’s face must have reflected the anger moving to the surface because the guard choked it off.

“Rick Logan is one of the best paramedics we have. For the record, McMillan,” Rob read the nameplate on the policeman’s uniform, “the next time he says someone has to go the ER, you’d better damn well listen to him. And as for Ms. Lewis, the victim was a personal friend. It’s different when the victim’s someone you know.” His voice was clipped, his displeasure obvious.

Rob turned and entered the apartment. He’d learned the need to remain objective in order to do the job properly, but as he’d told the young officer, it was different when it was personal. Not only had the victim been an acquaintance, Faye was in there. He swallowed and tried to find the emotional distance he needed.

The place was a mess, just as the officer had said. He looked around quickly, his trained eye taking in everything in an instant—the wallet on the table, money on the floor mixed with the victim’s blood, the take-out bag, Faye’s purse and its scattered contents. Whatever this had been, it hadn’t been a routine robbery. Someone had been looking for something other than the usual snatch and grab items, so what were they after? What could Mrs. Green have that was worth dying for?

The White Lily

The Harvester is out there…watching, waiting, biding his time.

FBI cult specialist Lilith Munroe lives in dread that one day the man who tortured her when a case went bad will find her again. So leaving her sanctuary in Quantico to join the Harvester Task Force in Boston is her version of hell. But the Harvester is kidnapping babies, and Lilith’s profiling skills may mean the difference between life and death for the most innocent in society.

Australian millionaire and former member of the New Horizon commune Jacob Andrews returns to the United States searching for his sister. Instead of the happy reunion he expects, he discovers she is dead and his twin brother may be responsible. He agrees to lend his law enforcement skills to help find his former cult leader before the man can implement his plan to kill millions.

Now uneasy partners, Jacob and Lilith must learn to trust each other even as they fight their growing attraction. But when Lilith’s greatest fears materialize, will Jacob be able to set aside his anger and save the woman he loves?

Excerpt from The White Lily:

“For God’s sake, Halliday, slow down. My legs aren’t as long as yours. Where’s the fire?” Lilith said as she headed down the stairs. “And why the hell couldn’t we take the elevator?” Since Rob was a good foot taller than she was, she was running to keep up, and with the four-inch heels she’d chosen to wear this morning, she was apt to fall and kill herself.

So this is why they call it breakneck speed.

“And please don’t call me Lily. I prefer Lilith or Munroe.”

He slowed slightly. “Sorry, Lilith. I’ll try to remember that. As for the elevator, it would be awkward considering my behavior toward Mr. Andrews this morning,” he said, and she could see the embarrassed flush on his face.

“It’s okay. He isn’t going to press charges. He’s actually been quite nice about the whole thing. So, where are we off to in such a rush?”

“We’ve got a multiple homicide on Lawrence. Tom left early—it’s his wife’s birthday. His daughter has been planning this surprise party for weeks. The murder falls under Boston PD jurisdiction, but since the rule of two applies, Trevor said I could take you with me—as an observer, so keep your hands to yourself. That being said, if you have any profiling thoughts while you’re there, feel free to share.”

Standard operational procedure dictated that two people handle any calls that came in. This was for their protection as well as for that of the victims. Her father, a career cop, had drilled that concept into her. His partner had chosen not to wait for him and had walked in alone on a domestic. The man had gone out in a body bag.

“Besides, I figured you’d want to come along. You’re still trying to make sense of the Richardson case. The 9-1-1 caller was almost incoherent, but she did mention that there’s a child or children missing. I want you to focus on similarities between those crime scene photos you memorized and this one.”

“Will do, but you do realize I’ve never actually been to an active crime scene, don’t you?” she asked, hoping her nervousness didn’t show.

“I figured as much, but you’ve got to lose your cherry sometime. You’re a field agent now, and that means you visit the crime scenes yourself. Just remember, if you’re going to vomit, try not to contaminate anything.”

Great. Just great.

The White Iris

 Time’s running out for Special Agent Trevor Clark and his FBI task force. They’re no closer to uncovering the identity of the Prophet, a dangerous serial killer who has been murdering new mothers and vanishing with their infants. If Trevor can’t unlock the clues, the killer’s threats to unleash what the FBI suspects is biological warfare could mean death for all of them. His only recourse is to swallow his pride and reach out to his former fiancée, the CDC’s renowned virologist, Dr. Julie Swift.

Two years ago, Julie ended their engagement after Trevor abandoned her when she needed him most. Now, faced with the possibility of the greatest epidemic since the Spanish flu, she has to put her faith and her safety, as well as that of countless others, into the hands of a man she doesn’t trust. Can they set aside their differences to stop the Prophet, and in doing so, will they find the love they lost?

From the streets of Boston to the wilds of Alaska, this thrilling conclusion to the Harvester Series takes several turns you won’t see coming!

Excerpt from The White Iris:

Shutting down the computer, she got up, twisted her hair back into a chignon, and fastened it with her clip. Pulling open her bottom drawer, she removed the makeup bag there and took out the compact and lip gloss. As soon as she’d done what she could to make herself look fresher, she grabbed her lab coat and put it on to hide the overly casual outfit. Satisfied this was as good as she’d get, she headed up the two flights of stairs to the director’s office. She might not be ready for the cover of Vogue, but she could probably manage Science World.

Knocking on the door, she opened it. “Sorry I’m late…”

Her throat closed, preventing her from saying anything else, her pride coming to the rescue and keeping her from falling flat on her face. No. This wasn’t happening, not to her, not today. The man standing next to Brad was Trevor Clark. This was a storm alright, one worse than any Colorado blizzard might be.

I’m going to kill Ellie.

“Julie,” Brad said, coming forward, buying her a few precious moments to get herself under control. “Thanks for helping out like this. Dr. E.J. Swift, meet Special Agent Trevor Clark.”

“We’ve met,” Trevor said, his voice husky, but he didn’t look surprised. His shadowed, deep blue eyes bored into hers as if he was searching for something.

She gritted her teeth, wishing the floor would open up and swallow her. Her thumb rubbed the base of her ring finger as if the band she hadn’t worn in two years was there again, only this time it pained her. Whatever Trevor was looking for, she’d be damned if he’d find it. She pulled herself together, refusing to allow even a muscle twitch to show seeing him again upset her.

The man responsible for so many tears and sleepless nights stood there, stone-like, his face not betraying a thing. He’d always been good at hiding his feelings, and now it seemed he’d perfected the ability. The only sign that he might not be as relaxed as he pretended to be was his clenched jaw.

He’s uncomfortable—the son of a bitch should be in abject pain and agony.

As always, Trevor was impeccably dressed in a pale gray suit with a coordinating shirt and a blue, gray, and silver silk tie. His light brown hair, as thick as ever, was cut short, and he wasn’t wearing his glasses. He looked tired, but when he was working a case he rarely got more than a few hours’ sleep each night. He was clean-shaven, and the faint scent of the woodsy aftershave he always wore tickled her nose.


People have asked me what the hardest part of writing a trilogy like this was. The answer is simple. Keeping track of all the story threads and making sure that all of them were neatly tied together by the end of Book Three. Many of those who’ve read the Harvester Saga ask me when I’m going to write the next white flower book. Some even provide titles, such as The White Rose, The White Poinsettia, or The White Lilac. It’s tempting to reunite the team and solve more crimes. I do have an idea in mind, but time will tell.


About the author:

Amazon bestselling author Susanne Matthews was born and raised in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. She is of French-Canadian descent. She’s always been an avid reader of all types of books, but with a penchant for happily ever after romances. A retired educator, Susanne spends her time writing and creating adventures for her readers. She loves the ins and outs of romance, and the complex journey it takes to get from the first word to the last period of a novel. As she writes, her characters take on a life of their own, and she shares their fears and agonies on the road to self-discovery and love.

Not content with one subgenre, Susanne writes romance that ranges from contemporary to sci-fi and everything in between. She is a PAN member of the Romance Writers of America. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, or traveling to interesting places she can use as settings in her future books. In summer, she enjoys camping with her grandchildren and attending various outdoor concerts and fairs. In winter, she likes to cuddle by the fire and watch television.

Follow Susanne on her:  Website    Blog    Facebook page    Twitter @jandsmatt

Amazon author page    and    Goodreads author page




V: Venetian Masks #AtoZChallenge

Today, for ‘V’ in the A to Z Blog Challenge, Jillian Chantal takes sends us to an international world with a little suspense and a lot of love in her book, Venetian Masks.


American oil painter Charlotte Bolling travels to Venice, Italy to study the architecture of the old city and paint. She meets Vincente Canaletto, an Italian man who owns a water taxi and gondola business. Charlotte ran away from home at age thirteen when her mother, who was a madam in a house of ill repute, offered Charlotte’s virginity to the highest bidder.

Vincente’s son was abducted and Vincente’s been on a quest to find him for years. When the boy is located by an investigator in Bangkok in a bordello, Charlotte insists on accompanying Vincente to the capital city in Thailand since she believes her own past will be invaluable in winning the child’s trust. They embark on a dangerous rescue mission in the back streets of that city.

venetian masks.jpg

The next morning after having slept as if she were in a coma, Charlotte got up later than she’d planned. The jet lag had caught up to her and she overslept. She’d wanted to walk the city before dawn and get a feel for the morning light. She liked to observe and sketch for several days the areas she planned to capture on canvas. It helped to know when and where the sun rose and for Venice specifically, she wanted to know about what time the glints of morning sunlight would shimmer across the Grand Canal. That was the first thing she wanted to paint and she wanted to capture the exact right moment of sunrise.

She could hardly contain the excitement rising in her chest as she dressed for the day.

She tossed on a pair of khaki shorts and a blue shirt. She pulled her hair up in a knot and secured it with a large metal clip. She shoved some Euros and her room key in her pocket and slid on her shoes. Grabbing her sketchpad and a pack of charcoal pencils, she left her room and clattered down the stairs.

Once in the street, she turned left toward the coffee shop she’d seen on her trek across the city the day before with Guilia. She ordered a large black coffee to go along with a sugary cannoli. Breakfast had always been a grab it as you go affair for her even when she was a teen. She could count on less than one hand how many times she’d actually had a full sit-down morning meal in her life.

She took her little feast and went down to the harbor. She found a seat on the seawall and decided almost immediately that she needed to invest in one of the little stools that she’d seen other artists sitting on as they worked. She set her coffee down beside her on the concrete and studied the grouping of gondolas in front of her as she ate her cannoli.

When she swallowed the last bite, she sipped her coffee, then flipped open the sketchbook. Using the side of one of the pencils, she shaded an area that would become a few of the gondolas.

Engrossed in her work, she nearly leapt into the water when someone sat beside her and cleared his throat. As it was, her pencil skidded across the front of her drawing and left a mark.

She glared at the man beside her. “Look what you made me do.”

“Sorry. Surely you can fix it?”

“Surely that’s beside the point, isn’t it? It shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Why’d you have to sneak up on me anyway?”

“I wasn’t sneaking. I walked up like any other person. Can I help it if you’re so easily startled?” the water taxi driver from the day before swung his legs over the water.

“Aren’t you late for work? Or is today your day off?”

“Truth be known, I’m out here stalking former passengers to make sure they’re out of their rooms so I can go in and take all their property.” He winked.

“Oh good grief, you’re unbelievable.”

“Why? You’re the one who gave me the idea. A life of crime may be more lucrative than what I do now.”

“Do taxi drivers in Italy make very much?”

“Surely not as much as criminals, right?” 


You can buy Venetian Masks here.

U: Unpredictable Love #AtoZChallenge

Today, for ‘U’ in the A to Z Blog Challenge, Jean Joachim joins us with an excerpt from her book, Unpredictable Love.


Uh oh. Amber signed her sister’s name on a pen pal letter to a Marine. As usual, Jory Walker was stuck fixing her sister’s little white lie.

When letters poured in from SSGT Trent Stevens in Afghanistan, Jory had no choice but to correspond. Sure he’d be drooling over Amber’s bikini photo, thinking it was Jory. Since they’d never meet, what harm could it do if she sent him a few letters?

Would her charade boomerang replacing happiness with pain? What started off as an innocent ruse, morphed into a monstrous web of deceit. Maybe unpredictable love was destined to break her heart.


Short excerpt:

Anger bubbled up inside her. She made a beeline for the house, only to collide with her sister.

“Amber! What the hell?” She waved the envelope in the young woman’s face.

“I just sent him one letter.”

“This is the fourth you’ve gotten from him. When are you going to write back?”

“It was a mistake…”

“You can say that again. Especially the part where you signed my name!”

“Laura was so convincing. I thought she meant one time. Only one letter.”

“She asked people to sign up to write to guys in the military. Not to write only one letter and include a lewd photo.”

“It wasn’t lewd, whatever that means. Just me in a bikini. I’m not good at writing. Much better at pictures.” Her beautiful, blonde sister, with a Miss America figure, grinned.

“And the reason you signed my name?”

“I always liked yours better. Besides, if he wanted another letter, I knew you’d write it for me. So, it might as well have your name on it.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit smile. I’m on to you. And the answer is ‘no.’” Jory shoved the envelope from T. Stevens into Amber’s hand.

“Please? Pleeeaassseee, Jory. You’re the writer. Not me.”

“That’s right. You’re the pretty sister, and I’m the smart one.”

Amber nodded. “I don’t mean it like that. You’re so much better than me.”

“Than I.”




Buy links:


iTunes/Apple Books

T: Tramp’s Bride #AtoZChallenge


Welcome to the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge. During the month of April, Chrys N. Jay shares snippets from friend’s books, and takes a peek at love.

Today, for ‘T’, Kathleen Tighe Ball joins us with an excerpt from her book, Tramp’s Bride. Kathleen shares exciting news with us – she now has nine books in Amazon’s Top 100  Western books.

tramps bride

Handsome Cowboy Tramp Hart left his home and friends over a year ago. He’s finally back to make amends and take his place on the ranch. That is until he walks into the house he designed and finds a woman living there. He needs a plan to get her out so he can move in.

Mail Order Bride Ilene Duffy traveled from New York City to Asherville, Texas only to find out her marriage contract was no longer valid. Rancher Cinders and his wife Shannon offer her an empty house on their land. Ilene has no intentions of getting married.

Join me in Asherville, Texas and watch Tramp’s antics as he tries one thing after another to get Ilene out of his house. Tramp had finally met his match.

Here’s an excerpt from Tramp’s Bride:

Urging Jack, his bay quarter horse, forward until they reached the spot he’d yearned for, Tramp Hart then pulled on the reins slowing his mount, to a stop. From his location on top of a hill, he could see the expanse of the ranch, a ranch he’d helped to build. He’d been gone over a year, and he wasn’t sure what type of reception would be waiting for him.

The ranch looked great. Better than great. There were plenty of cattle and a few more houses on the property. Cinders always seemed to have a magical touch with both horses and cattle.

Tramp felt bad the way their friendship had ended. He sure hoped he’d be able to mend fences. He needed to be home.

Taking a fortifying breath, he loosened the reins and pointed Jack in the direction of the main house. One of the new houses on the property was the design he and Cinders had planned for his home. He did own a quarter of the ranch and had been foreman until he’d left. A smile spread over his face. Cinders must have known he’d be back. But despite the smile, the lump in his throat remained.

He dismounted, tied Jack to the wood railing, and slowly walked up the steps to Cinders’ house. He hesitated before knocking taking a moment to close his eyes and hope he’d find himself welcomed. He knocked and waited but no one answered. In the old days he’d have just walked in but not now.

With hat in hand he walked across the yard to his house. He opened the front door and it surprised him to see it furnished. Cinders had always been a generous friend. He’d take a quick look around and then brush down Jack. Taking his hat off, he nodded, admiring the workmanship on the house. He walked farther inside and stopped short. There in the kitchen stood a willowy, dark-haired woman. She wore her hair up but a good amount of it had escaped, and a few enchanting ringlets hung down. She was busy making candles. He couldn’t help but notice how lovely she was.

She jerked her head up and her mouth formed an O. “Listen mister, I don’t want any trouble with you. I have a shotgun and I ain’t afraid to use it.”

Tramp peered around and didn’t see a gun let alone a shotgun. “What are you doing in my house?” he asked annoyed at the way she stared at him.

“Your house? I think you have the wrong idea cowboy. The bunkhouse is just to the left of my house. So, if you don’t mind, I have to finish dipping these here candles and hang them to dry. Good day.” She went back to her candles making him feel as welcome as a polecat at a picnic.

He ran his fingers through his hair and frowned. “I do believe there’s been some type of mistake made. This is my house—”

“Nope, absolutely not. Now please leave.” She hung the candles she was working on to dry and the next thing he knew, he was looking down the barrel of a shotgun. “Git!”

He instantly put his hands up. “Listen Miss— Heck, I didn’t get your name. I’ll just leave you be until Cinders comes back.”

“It’s Ilene, Ilene Duffy”

“I’m Tramp.” He saw a spark of recognition in her eyes. “See ya around.” Offering a polite nod, he turned and walked back to the door, grabbing his hat on the way out. Perhaps Cinders hadn’t wanted him to come back after all. He’d half expected it, but still his heart dropped.

The last year had been spent soul searching and mourning his friendship with Cinders. They’d grown up together and they’d always had each other’s back until Charlotte. She was the prettiest gal this side of the Mississippi and he had loved her with everything within him. He tried to be happy for Cinders and Charlotte when they wed. Heck, he was even the best man. Some best man.

Once his betrayal became known, he couldn’t face Cinders anymore and he’d lit out. It ripped out his heart and his soul. He never realized how much his friendship with Cinders meant to him. Charlotte’s grave was over yonder under a big cottonwood. He never could bring himself to visit it.

He’d known he was taking a chance coming back but he wasn’t ready for the disappointment that coursed through him. He ambled over to Jack and untied the reins. “Looks like we’re going to have to go on for a few more hours.” He patted Jack’s neck.