Woo hoo! It’s release day! It’s finally here! Trail of Kisses is now officially on sale wherever eBooks are sold (okay, well, almost)
Here are the links:
Barnes & Noble: (coming)
And to whet your appetite, here’s a chunk to get you started…
Independence, Missouri – 1863
The first glimpse Lynne Tremaine had of the mass of wagons that would take her west was enough to sink her heart. As far as she could see, big, bulky “prairie schooners” with covered beds, driven by teams of dull-eyed oxen cluttered the starting-off point at the end of town. The oxen lowed, anxious to get moving. Hawkers shouted about their wares in a last-minute attempt to sell supplies to plainly dressed pioneers. Wagons creaked as they inched toward the line their trail boss was trying to make to impose order. Horses clopped and children shrieked as they vented their excitement. The smell of animals and dirt was everywhere. It was almost more than Lynne could bear.
“Please, Papa.” She clutched her father’s arm as he escorted her through the chaos. A pair of children being chased by a dog cut in front of them. “Please don’t make me go. I want to stay with you, my papa.”
Judge Thomas Tremaine, tall, distinguished, and out of place in the bustle of pioneers, patted his daughter’s hand, eyes sad and shoulders stooped. “Now, Lynne, we’ve discussed this. It’s safer for you to accept your Uncle George and Aunt Marion’s invitation to move to Denver City.”
“We did not discuss this and it isn’t safer,” Lynne argued. She was too old to pout, but her heart broke at the thought of leaving her family, her home. “We don’t know who any of these people are. How is it safer to send me off to the middle of nowhere with a mob of strangers?”
Judge Tremaine stopped and turned to her, leaning closer. “My dear heart, threats have been made against us, against you, of a serious nature. The Briscoe Boys are not some mischievous ruffians out to pull pranks. They are a vicious, organized gang. They’ve killed men, they’ve burned farms, they’ve….” He shook his head, as if the rest was too horrible to speak aloud. “Sentencing two of them to death this winter was just and right,” he went on, “but if I had known they would see justice as a call to threaten my family, to threaten you? Well, I would have still passed the sentence, but I would have made sure you were protected from threats before the verdict instead of after. Violet and Marie write that they’re settling quite nicely in Lexington with your Aunt Philomena. It’s time you sought your own safety as well.”
“And leave you alone?” Lynne protested.
“I would rather be alone for a time than continue to see you lock yourself in the house, only going out under guard, like a prisoner. If accusers become prisoners in their own homes for fear of reprisal from gangs, then nothing I do as a judge means anything.”
“I can take care of myself, Papa,” Lynne argued. “I always could. When we moved to St. Louis, when Mama died, when the war broke out. I’ve always been able to take care of myself, and I could take care of you too.”
Her father smiled, pride beaming from him. “Yes, I don’t doubt it. My brave girl.”
Lynne’s heart swelled, in spite of the fact that he was still calling her a girl when she was twenty-two. She loved him so.
“The Briscoe Boys won’t come anywhere near me, you’ll see,” she said.
Her father sighed and took her arm, starting forward through the rows of wagons once more. “If only it were that easy. When explicit threats are made to slit the throats of all my children, I can’t pretend the threat means nothing. George and Marion have established themselves well in Denver City. They own a mining company and have done quite well for themselves. You’ll be happy there.”
They dodged around a group of running, laughing children and past a wagon full of rough, wiry men, who watched them with curiosity.
“How can you say that, Papa? I’ll be hundreds of miles away from you, from Robert and Graham, from Violet and Marie,” Lynne said.
“Robert and Graham are off fighting for the Union,” her father said and shook his head. “Violet and Marie are happy where they are. They are prolific writers, and with the speed of the mail these days, it should only take a few weeks for you to get their letters.”
“We would all be better off together, as a family,” Lynne insisted. “If I have to go, then we should all go as one.”
“If only we could,” her father said. “Now, here we are.”
They stopped in front of a wagon that looked like every other wagon in the sea of eager pioneers spreading out around them. It was long and sturdy, with large, metal-rimmed wheels and a thick canvas cover over tall loops. Through the opening in the back, Lynne could see the trunks she’d been forced to pack in the last week. All of her clothes that could fit were folded into a large black trunk, while anything else she had wanted to take, from books to linens to sewing supplies, were crammed into a wooden hope chest. The wagon was stuffed with other boxes as well, crates and barrels of supplies for the journey and a few boxes that her father was sending to Uncle George. The sight of it all made Lynne’s shoulders sag in defeat.
“Do I have to go as part of a wagon train, Papa?” She tried one last defense. “Why not send me to Denver City on a stagecoach? It’s much faster.”
Her father smiled. “My dearest, if you think a wagon train is cramped and uncomfortable, then you wouldn’t want anything to do with a stagecoach.”
Lynne crossed her arms and turned her sad frown from him to the back of her wagon, reluctant to admit that he was right.
“Besides,” he went on, “I’ve heard far too many tales of stagecoaches being robbed by highwaymen or attacked by Indians since the war started. Too many of the soldiers that used to man way stations along the trail have been called back East to join the war. There is safety in numbers, and so you will go to your uncle and aunt this way.”
“No, my dearest, no more arguments. It has been decided.”
Lynne let out a breath, dropping her arms to ball her fists at her sides. She was not used to losing arguments, particularly when the stakes were so high.
“Now, let me introduce you to the men who will be watching out for you on the journey,” her father said.
Lynne’s brow flew up at the unexpected comment. “Men? Watching out for me?”
Her father led her to the front of the wagon. A boy who couldn’t have been older than fifteen sat on the wagon’s seat, whip already in hand. He had dirty brown hair and the barest hint of scruff on his chin and upper lip. He took one look at Lynne and fumbled to stand in the wagon, scraping his shin on the buckboard. A broad grin spread from ear to ear across his blushing face. He had freckles peppering his cheeks under the scruffy growth.
“This is Benjamin,” her father explained. “He’ll be your driver. He came highly recommended by the man who sold the wagon to me.”
“How do you do, Benjamin?” Lynne held up a hand to him with a polite smile.
Benjamin blushed brighter and took her hand, pumping it up and down. “Right well, ma’am.”
Lynne was charmed in spite of herself. She just hoped the boy knew which end of the oxen should point forward.
“And this is Cade Lawson,” her father went on. “Your uncle hired him to be your escort.”
Lynne turned to see another man striding toward her, leading two horses. One was her own mount, Clover. Cade Lawson was a sight to behold. Tall, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, he walked as if he owned the wagon train. Sunlight caught golden highlights in his hair and teased tiny lines around his blue eyes. He smiled with a confidence that bordered on arrogance. It was the kind of smile that could send a girl’s heart fluttering. It was also the kind of smile that screamed trouble. Lynne felt her cheeks warm in spite of the wariness that too-charming smile brought her.
“Mr. Lawson, I’d like to introduce you to my daughter, Miss Lynne Tremaine.” Her father took a half step back to present her with a proud smile.
“Miss Tremaine.” Cade nodded, eyes flashing. He didn’t extend his hand to her. It was as rude of him as it was challenging.
“Mr. Lawson,” she replied, accepting the challenge. She folded her hands demurely in front of her. If he wasn’t going to be a gentleman, then she wasn’t going to go out of her way to teach him manners. She turned to her father. “What do you mean, Uncle George has hired him to be my escort?”
“I mean just that,” her father replied. “Mr. Lawson has been charged with accompanying you on your journey and seeing you safely to Denver City.”
Lynne took another look at Mr. Lawson. He was solid and strong, like trouble in reasonably well-kept clothes. He’d been sent to mind her, like a nanny minds a child. It didn’t matter how tempting he was, Lynne bristled.
“Thank you, Mr. Lawson,” she said, tilting her head up, “but I won’t be needing an escort to Denver City. I am brave enough to make the journey on my own.”
Mr. Lawson lost his smile. “Excuse me?”
“Now Lynne.” Her father hooked his thumbs into his vest pockets. “This matter isn’t up for discussion. It is far too dangerous for a woman to travel in a wagon train alone. Far too dangerous and far too scandalous.”
“Is it any less scandalous for me to be traveling in the company of a man I don’t know?” she asked. “There’s the scandal, if you ask me.”
Her father frowned. “I have informed the trail boss, Mr. Evans, of the purpose of Mr. Lawson’s presence. He has assured me that he will make certain no untoward rumors are circulated amongst your fellow travelers.”
“Yes, my dear. So long as you behave yourself.”
Lynne crossed her arms, glancing from her father to Mr. Lawson. She was outnumbered. She was being trundled off to relatives like a helpless child, and how it stung. All she could do was swallow her sadness and harden her heart enough to bear it. “I see.”
“I’m glad you do,” her father replied.
He was teasing. She wasn’t in the mood to be teased. What had started out as a bad idea on her father’s part was already on the verge of becoming a catastrophe, as far as she was concerned.
Be the first on your block to get your copy today!
Want to hear about my newest releases first? Sign up for my quarterly newsletter to receive special content, sneak-peeks, and treats that only subscribers are privy to. And thank you!