It’s release day! I’ve been so busy getting Fool for Love up and available that I haven’t had time to write blog posts. But I did want to give you something. So how about one of my favorite scenes from Fool for Love, which includes one of my absolute favorite side characters ever, Jacinta Archer.
Fans of Jacinta may remember the trouble she caused in Our Little Secrets. Well, good news! She will probably make some kind of an appearance in all of the Montana Romance books because I love her so much. And my dear friend Kristine keeps urging me to write a novella in which she is the heroine. You never know, it could happen!
So here you go, a little slice of Jacinta….
[Eric and Amelia have just returned to Cold Springs, Montana]
“Hell,” Eric muttered. “I don’t hardly recognize the place!”
“And you won’t recognize it still given another year or two,” Michael said.
“Cold Springs is an oasis in the wilderness,” Charlie added and smiled with pride.
Eric swiped his hat off of his head and rubbed his forehead. He plunked his hat back on and took in the new sights of his home as if touring New York City.
The church bell continued to ring. As the citizens of Cold Springs filtered from the church across the field into the heart of the town, several stopped to greet Eric with open arms and wide smiles.
“It’s good to see you back!” a man about Eric’s age thumped him on the back. “Maybe I’ll finally get a decent game of poker this summer.”
He moved on but another friend swooped down on them, shaking Eric’s hand. “Mighty glad to see you, Eric. I got some questions about my herd no one else seems to know the answers to.”
“Well I’ll be happy to help you just as soon as I can, Jasper,” Eric replied with a smile.
“Who’s this?” Jasper asked, nodding to Amelia.
Eric broke into a genuine grin. “Why, this here is my wife, Amelia.”
Jasper laughed. “Well I’ll be! Does Jacinta know about this?”
Eric’s smile faltered. “No.”
Michael and Charlie, Christian and Phineas passed around wide grins and ill-concealed giggles.
Jasper moved on and so did they. They hadn’t gotten more than two feet before a pair of middle-aged women with a cluster of rambunctious children in tow stopped them.
“Eric Quinlan! You’re home!”
“I am. Mabel, Miss Jones.”
“It’s good to see you too, Charlie,” Mabel greeted Charlie, but quickly turned back to Eric with, “I thought you were only going to be away for six months and here it’s nearly June!”
“I got a little side-tracked, ma’am. I’d like you to meet Amelia, my wife.”
Again Eric introduced her with a little too much relish for Amelia’s liking. Her ire could only go so far though. Deal or no deal, it was sweet of him to introduce her so kindly.
“I’m Mabel Twitchel,” the woman extended her hand. Amelia took it.
“How do you do, Mrs. Twitchel?” She nodded to the women.
“Why, I’m just fine. And call me Mabel, for heaven’s sake. Our ranch is next door to Eric’s. We’ll be neighbors. What a pretty accent you have!”
The other woman, Miss Jones, turned to Eric.
“Does Jacinta know?”
“No, Jacinta does not know,” Eric huffed.
“Oh dear,” Mabel laughed. “I trust we’ll see you home soon,” she said to Eric and Amelia.
“Come along children. I think there’s a storm rolling in.”
The only clouds in the sky were white and wispy. A lump of curiosity lodged in Amelia’s throat.
“Who is Jacinta?” she asked Charlie once they had stepped up onto the string of covered porches that served as a sort of sidewalk in front of the town’s businesses.
Charlie’s first and most telling reply was a deep laugh.
“Don’t you start,” Eric warned her.
Charlie ignored him. “Jacinta Archer is…. Oh no, wait. Here she comes herself.”
Amelia pivoted to follow the line of her glance, searching the now busy street for anyone who fit the name Jacinta.
“Hang back if you want to see a show,” Charlie whispered, taking her arm and drawing her to the side.
Amelia’s bewilderment lasted for another two seconds before a shriek sounded from the street.
“Eric! You’re home!”
The source of the cry stood out from the rest of the pedestrians like an orange in a bowl of walnuts. A tiny woman of at least thirty in a bright puce dress danced on the balls of her feet before running full force along the street to meet their group. She had carrot-red hair underneath an ostentatious bonnet replete with feathers. Her pale face was split by a smile that bordered on ecstasy.
“Oh Eric, how I’ve missed you!” the woman launched into a breathless greeting, grabbing the lapels of Eric’s coat as if she could hold him in Cold Springs forever. Amelia’s brow darkened at the inappropriate gesture.
“Jacinta,” Eric said and squirmed to get away. It was to no avail.
“You were gone ever so much longer than you said you would be, and without sending me a single letter! How cruel! And I have been so concerned about you, so worried, what with the troubles at your ranch and all.”
“What troubles?” Eric interrupted her.
“With the cattle and the ranch hands and the state it’s in. I’ve been so terribly worried for you.”
“But you’re here now!”
Jacinta ignored the pale cast that came to Eric’s face. Amelia couldn’t ignore it. She stepped forward, inching to his side.
“Never mind all of that business stuff and nonsense,” Jacinta went on. “You’re home! You’re home and that’s all that matters! Oh you must come over to mother’s house for supper. Right away. I’m sure we have so much to talk about! The town is changing by leaps and bounds, although nobody knows how or why. So many people have been moving in that they’re building a new school, and I hear there are plans to build a new church too! Imagine that! A new, beautiful church, perfect for weddings and christenings and weddings and, oh, so many things!”
Beside Amelia, Eric’s friends fought to hide their snickers. As taken aback as Amelia was by the woman’s antics, she couldn’t condone laughing at her. Jacinta’s enthusiasm reminded Amelia too much of her sister Eve’s vivacity.
Eric cleared his throat and removed Jacinta’s fists from his lapels. He took half a wavering step back then said, “Jacinta, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. This is Amelia.”
Amelia thought of Eve and smiled as Eric swept an arm around her back and brought her forward. “How do you do?” She offered her hand to Jacinta.
Jacinta blinked rapidly, as if noticing Amelia’s existence for the first time. Her lips curled into more of a sneer than a smile. The resemblance to Eva vanished. The cold light in the odd woman’s eyes reminded Amelia of her sister, all right. Her sister Olivia. Jacinta’s pale red eyebrows rose in question and her smile remained plastered in place, just as Olivia’s did when she was looking down at someone. She stared at Amelia’s hand without reaching for it.
“I do rightly well,” she answered with a tight, unfriendly nod.
Eric cleared his throat. “Amelia is my wife.”
Amelia was sure she heard a collective intake of breath from Eric’s friends behind her.
Jacinta’s smile dropped. “I’m sorry, what?” The notes of treacle sweetness in her voice evaporated with each syllable.
“Amelia and I were married over in England,” Eric said. For a change he winced as though the ruse were a bad idea.
“You were what?” Jacinta demanded, all traces of civility gone. Her pale cheeks splotched red, giving Amelia a glimpse of the dragon beneath the frills.
The similarity to Olivia called up every bitter instinct Amelia had. Whatever inclination she’d had to be accommodating to the woman disappeared. “Eric and I are married,” she said.
“I didn’t ask you,” Jacinta replied, mouth tight. “Eric?”
“Yeah,” Eric drawled. He rested an arm around Amelia’s shoulder. “We’re married. And we’re having a baby too.”
“A what?” Jacinta’s question was downright hostile. She glared at Amelia’s stomach, sucked in a breath, then snapped straight. “But what about…? I always assumed…? So many plans were being made!”
“Well, now, Jacinta,” Eric began. He didn’t have a chance to go on.
“Well look who the cows dragged home, girls.” The exchange was interrupted by the appearance of a group of women dressed in colorful skirts and shawls, corsets, and not much else. “If it isn’t Eric Quinlan.”
“Hellfire,” Eric grumbled. He rubbed a hand over his face and stole a sideways glance at Amelia.
“Welcome home, Eric,” another of the girls, spritely with a child-like voice, piped up. “We missed you.”
There wasn’t a shred of doubt who these women were. Amelia stared at her Montana counterparts, heart racing. They were loose and tan with sloppy hairstyles and too much rouge. They were one step away from where she stood now.
She tried to shrug off Eric’s arm and step away, but he held her fast.
“Good morning, ladies,” he greeted them with a tip of his hat. “I trust you’ve kept out of trouble while I was gone?”
“Yes. Oh, yes,” the whores answered in a bunch.
“Really!” Jacinta huffed in outrage.
Before Eric could say another word to the whores, Amelia broke away from him and pivoted to Charlie. “I’m afraid I need to sit down.”
“Amelia.” Eric turned to follow her. “They’re just friends.”
“Like Jacinta?” Amelia stared him down.
“I’ve never been so insulted in all my life!” Jacinta squeaked.
Charlie was clever enough to know when to step between a man and his pretend wife.
“Let’s go over to the hotel and have a lemonade,” she said. “I’m sure Delilah will want to know we’re back.”