Thursday, August 15, 2019

It's Release Day for The Eagle (Book 2 in the Wild Mountain Hearts Series)

No matter how many books I've published (and it's over 40 at this point), release day is always heart-pounding and nerve-wracking. So many things can go wrong with vendors not cooperating, and I always have this crazy fear that I submitted the wrong file and then readers will get an incomplete book, or a first draft. I meticulously check and check again to make sure that I only have access to the correct file when it comes time to submitting it to Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Apple, etc, but the anxiety kicks in and the fear is real.

So far so good today! The Eagle has been on pre-order for two weeks, and today it is finally live!

I hope you enjoy the story of Tallan Moran, one of the Pathfinders we met in the series prologue (The Pathfinders).

I had a lot of fun revisiting characters from the Yellowstone, Teton, and Wilderness Brides Series, and I hope you will recognize some familiar names! Enjoy!












If you haven't read THE PATHFINDERS (the novella-length prologue to the Wild Mountain Hearts Series) grab your copy HERE:





Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Wild Mountain Hearts Series and First Chapter in The Eagle

Two years ago, the idea for a spin-off series to the Teton Romance Series came to me when a reader asked if I could write a short story about Alex Walker's encounter with the grizzly bear when he first came to the wilderness, and how he met Daniel Osborne (from the Yellowstone Romance Series) as a result. I mentioned that encounter very briefly in Teton Sunrise, and readers were curious. 

At first, I was going to simply write that short story, but as I sat and thought about it, an entire new series came to mind, and the Wild Mountain Hearts Series was "born."

When I planned (and loosely plotted the series, which I see as having six books currently, with the chance of a few more if readers enjoy it), I realized that there would be a lot of repetition to the back stories of the characters in each book, and I didn't want to have to rehash those with each story. So, I decided to do something I haven't tried before, and wrote an entire story that serves as a prequel or prologue for the entire series. This prologue is novella length (the rest of the books will be full novels), and introduces the main characters in the series. It leaves out enough mystery to each character's background that I will explore in their own stories. 




Tallan, Theo, Todd, Keaton, and Connor (along with Alex from Teton Sunrise, Harley Buchanan from Wilderness Brides, and a few other familiar names who already have their stories, or will get their stories in different series), are the Pathfinders, and the Wild Mountain Hearts Series tells their stories. 

Because the Wild Mountain Hearts Series had been on the back-burner in my head for a few years, I knew many of the characters already, and I had fun giving a few of them cameos in books I was currently writing. Two characters, Theo Carrington and Todd Baronette, make appearances in Yellowstone Reflections (Yellowstone Romance Series), and Keaton Barlow has a cameo in Josie's Valor (Wilderness Brides Series)

It has been a lot of fun writing interwoven storylines in four different series! Readers won't miss anything if they don't read them all, but once they do, the four series become one huge world of storylines that cross over. 
My readers have been asking for a timeline for all four series, so they can be read as one huge series. I have to update the file each time a new book gets published. The most current timeline can be downloaded HERE



The Pathfinders was published May 1, 2019, and due to life getting in the way, I was slow to work on the next book, The Eagle. This book is now finished, and will release on August 15, 2019. It is on pre-order at Amazon.

Get THE PATHFINDERS
Pre-Order THE EAGLE




Here is the first chapter in the THE EAGLE (Wild Mountain Hearts, Book 2)



Chapter One


Somewhere in the Jackson Valley, Summer 1829





“How much farther is it to get to the rendezvous point, do you suppose?”

Tallan Moran glanced over his shoulder. He was met with a wide grin from his brother, Connor, who rode several horse-lengths behind him.

“Couple more days at most. Are you eager for some company other than mine?”

Tallan scowled. “No, but I’d sure feel a lot safer in a larger brigade. We’re traveling straight through Blackfoot country, and if they get wind that there are only two of us, they’ll come calling thinking it’ll be easy pickin’s.”

Connor shrugged, even though he had to know that Tallan made a good point. Tallan straightened in the saddle. It was already bad enough that they hadn’t met up with Josiah Butler and his men who should be camped somewhere nearby.

He scanned the clearing ahead with narrowed eyes. The danger of an ambush was always real, and this area had plenty of dense willows and other shrubs where someone could lie in wait to surprise a couple of unsuspecting trappers.

His horse splashed through the marshy grass, making enough noise to send a flock of ducks out of their hiding place along the bend in the wide Snake River. Their wings flapped against the water as they took to the air. Tallan’s pack mule shied, jumping sideways into deeper water. The unexpected yank from the lead rope nearly unseated Tallan. He cursed under his breath and tugged on the line to bring the animal under control again.

“Watch it, or a year’s worth of work will get swept downriver,” Connor called from behind. He drove his horse forward to push the pack mule between his horse and Tallan’s while keeping control of his own pack animal.

“Damn mules,” Tallan muttered. “Time to trade them in for some dependable horses.”

Connor laughed. “Horses are even less dependable. Besides, we don’t have to worry about mules getting stolen by Indians all the time.”

His brother was right. For the most part, they got along with the native tribes, trading for goods and even wintering with them. The Crow prided themselves on being master horse thieves, and it was often a game to them. The only tribe the trappers and even other tribes really worried about was the Blackfoot. War was their culture, and no one was safe.

Tallan guided his mount out of the water and onto drier land. They were making too much noise here in the marsh, but riding through the willows wasn’t any safer. He focused his eyes more closely on the dense vegetation. It was easy to let his eyes wander to take in the spectacular scenery that stretched out before them.

The Snake River made a wide bend here, almost in a U-shape, as it meandered through the expansive valley. Off in the distance, the magnificent mountain range of Le Trois Tetons could take a man’s breath away. The snow-capped, jagged peaks rose dramatically from the valley floor as if someone were lifting them up.

No matter how many times Tallan saw this view, it never ceased to amaze him. It was good to finally be back, almost as if he was coming home. He hadn’t been in these parts in several years, yet even as his eyes feasted on the grandeur of this landscape, something didn’t feel right.

Tallan’s gut had rarely steered him wrong in the last six, nearly seven years, since he and his brother had left civilization behind to carve out their lives in the wild mountains west of the Missouri. His fingers itched to reach for his pistol in his belt, but he had his hands full at the moment leading the cantankerous mule and holding on to the reins of his mount.

An eagle screeched as it soared high above the river, circling in search of fish or some other unsuspecting critter. A large flock of pelicans bobbed on the water further upstream, their white-feathered bodies standing out in sharp contrast to the deep blue of the river.

“We should meet up with Butler and his men before nightfall, Tallan, then you can rest easy.”

Tallan acknowledged his brother’s words with a curt nod of his head, not taking the bait of the light taunt, while still keeping his eyes and ears focused on anything that might be lurking in the bushes. The willows were dense and nearly impenetrable along this stretch of the river, but they had to navigate their way through to get to the clearing ahead.

He allowed his horse to pick its way through the brush, tugging the mule along behind him. Connor brought up the rear and was, no doubt, alert to any noise behind them while Tallan listened for anything out of the ordinary up ahead.

They’d gone no more than half a mile when he abruptly brought his horse to a halt. Connor knew better than to ask what had alerted his brother. Tallan cocked his head to the side to listen. All was quiet except for the eagle’s screech echoing overhead. His hand holding the reins inched slowly toward his rifle hanging from his saddle. Perhaps it would be better to unsheathe his knife. If he needed a weapon, the knife would be quiet.

Had he heard a noise, or was it simply his imagination from having tightly strung nerves and muscles? Tallan held his breath. He couldn’t have been mistaken.

There! The sound he’d heard came again. Cougar? Or was it the warning call of a Blackfoot warrior lying in wait? For all he knew, he and Connor could be sitting ducks in all this vegetation.

Behind him, Connor’s saddle creaked. His brother had clearly heard the noise, too and was dismounting his horse. Tallan wound his mule’s lead rope around his saddle horn, then did the same. He reached for his knife and crouched behind his horse. A quick glance at Connor revealed that his brother had drawn his tomahawk and was tense and ready to fight.

Tallan motioned with his chin that he planned to move ahead to see where the noise was coming from. Connor nodded in understanding, scanning the brush in the opposite direction.

Tallan moved forward, crouching low and taking each step carefully to avoid stepping on any noise-making twigs. His knife was in one hand, while his other was poised and ready to pull his pistol from his belt. He froze when the strange noise came again, this time from just a short distance to his right.

He narrowed his eyes, focusing on anything that might be concealed between the dense willows. Nothing. No Indian could conceal himself that well. A cougar would have attacked already. What was making that noise that sounded like soft cries?

Tallan took another step forward. He moved aside some willow branches and ducked closer to the ground. For the second time in less than a minute, he froze. This time, his eyes widened. A foot. A small, bare foot stuck out from under a wall of branches and foliage.

“Hell,” he mumbled then moved forward and knelt on the ground.

He pushed aside the branches, revealing what he’d already suspected, but his mind had rejected as impossible. A child. A small child curled up on the damp ground, shivering and sobbing quietly. Tallan sheathed his knife and pushed the vegetation further out of the way.

The light-haired boy raised his head then flinched and cowered by curling up into a tight ball.

“I ain’t gonna hurt you.”

Tallan squeezed through the foliage of the willow bush. He’d chosen to speak English rather than Crow or Blackfoot, but had the boy understood? He had light hair and skin. He wasn’t an Indian, but what was a fair-skinned child doing here, clearly lost, in the middle of the wilderness? He had to have white parents.

“Are you hurt, boy?”

He couldn’t be more than four or five years old, certainly old enough to understand and give an answer. The boy continued to cower and didn’t look up again. He stiffened and grabbed hold of a branch when Tallan put his hand on the child’s arm to coax him to come out from under the foliage. He whimpered as if he were in mortal danger.

Tallan hesitated. Two things were clear as rain. He couldn’t stay here much longer. He and Connor had someplace to be before dark. Second, he wasn’t going to leave this child behind, no matter how much the boy protested. Something clearly had him scared for his life. By the looks of his tattered clothes and bare feet, he’d been on his own for some time. Someone must be looking for him.

Tallan cursed again. What if this boy’s folks had been killed, and that’s why he was so scared?

“You’ve got nothing to be afraid of. I’m here to help you.”

Tallan reached for the boy. He extracted his fingers from their grip on the branch, then brought his arm around the slight waist to pull him out from under the shrubbery. The little thing struggled, and his whimpering increased, but in the end, he didn’t put up much of a fight. Tallan held the frail body close to his chest as he freed himself from the branches and foliage, and then straightened.

“It’s gonna be all right. No one’s gonna hurt you,” he murmured.

The boy trembled in his arms. Tallan stared down at him. What was he going to do with a little child in tow? The sensible thing, of course, was to take him along, and get some answers out of him.

Maybe he and Connor could locate the boy’s parents, or at least find out what had happened to them. The thought gave him pause, and he frowned. How likely was it that a white man and woman were nearby? Plenty of trappers took Indian wives, but there was only one man that came to mind who had a white wife and lived in these mountains. Their cabin was a week’s ride away to the north. Much too far for the likelihood that this boy belonged to them.

“Tallan?”

Connor’s quiet voice drifted through the shrubbery. Tallan retraced his steps, ducking under low branches and pushing his way back to where he’d left his horse and his brother.

“Did you find out what was making that noise?” Connor had barely finished the question when his stunned look landed on the boy in Tallan’s arms.

“Yeah, I did.” Tallan glanced at the child, whose eyes were squeezed shut as if he was expecting the worst at any moment.

Connor cursed. He raked his fingers through his hair. “Where did he come from?”

“Good question. He hasn’t said a word, but hopefully he’ll start talking soon.”

Tallan turned to his horse. He lifted the boy into the saddle, then swung up behind him.

“What are you going to do with him?”

Connor’s dumbfounded question brought a smile to Tallan’s face. He shrugged while looking down at his brother.

“Mount up. I still haven’t figured that out, yet. Look for his folks, I suppose.”

Tallan nudged his gelding in the side. No sense wasting any more time. Once they were out of the willows, he could figure out what to do next. He’d be on the lookout for any sign of this boy’s people while heading in the direction where he and Connor were supposed to meet up with Josiah and his men.

In two days, they wanted to be at the summer rendezvous, where they needed to sell a year’s cache of beaver plews and trade for much-needed supplies. Tallan glanced down at the little body nestled in front of him in the saddle. The boy didn’t make a sound and leaned back against Tallan’s chest for support. How was he going to make the kid talk? Maybe he hadn’t understood when he’d spoken English. He’d have to test out some of the Indian languages he knew.

Ten minutes later, Tallan’s horse crashed through the last of the thick willows. He’d barely moved onto the open sage and grassland, followed closely by his pack mule and Connor, when the hair at the back of his neck stood erect, and a sinking feeling moved into his gut.

With instinct born of a half-dozen years spent relying on it to keep him alive, Tallan ripped his rifle from his saddle scabbard at the same moment a shrill war whoop pierced the air. He spun his horse around, stuffed the reins between his teeth to free his other hand, raised his rifle, aimed, and fired.

The Indian charging him with a war club fell from his horse. He scrambled to his feet, clutching at his injured arm. Another warrior followed, but Connor met the charge with his own ax raised. With a swift blow to the side of the neck, he unseated the rider. Several more Indians whooped and hollered, but at the sight of their defeated comrades, ended their charge and came to an abrupt halt.

Tallan ripped his loaded pistol from his belt and aimed in case the warriors charged. He hesitated. Neither he nor Connor had aimed to kill. The six remaining braves hadn’t come any closer. They were clearly unsure what to do after seeing two of their number defeated so easily.

“Next time, we’ll shoot to kill,” Connor yelled in the language of the Blackfoot. One of the warriors raised his war club in the air, let out a shrill yell, then yanked his horse around to gallop in the opposite direction. The rest of the braves followed.

Tallan expelled a relieved breath. He lowered his pistol but didn’t stuff it back into his belt. Not yet. Connor came up beside him, his weapon drawn and ready to fire. The two braves scrambled to their horses and took off after their tribe mates.

Tallan sucked in a quick breath. “Young braves, out for glory and counting coup.”

Connor laughed. “They didn’t count on having the tables turned on them.”

Despite his racing heart, Tallan grinned, which turned into a frown. He glanced at the boy sitting in front of him. His little body shivered so hard, he would probably fall from the horse if Tallan didn’t keep his arm wrapped around him.

Connor scoffed, staring after the retreating war party. “They only attack when they know they’ve got the upper hand and the element of surprise.”

A Blackfoot’s desire to count coup had saved their hides more than once over the years. The practice by the Indians of touching an enemy rather than killing him, and then getting away without being killed themselves, was highly revered as a great act of bravery.

The Blackfoot didn’t like to engage in skirmishes unless they were convinced of a victory without casualties on their side, so when they did lose one of their own, they were usually quick to retreat.

“You don’t suppose they were after the boy?” Connor glanced from the child to meet Tallan’s gaze.

Tallan shook his head. “They wouldn’t have retreated, at least not that quickly.”

By the boy’s fearful reaction, it was obvious he didn’t belong to those Blackfoot.

Connor glanced at the jagged mountains looming in the distance. “Let’s find Josiah and the others before we run completely out of daylight.”

He nudged his horse forward. Tallan’s eyes lingered on the sight before them. The sun was beginning to dip behind the mountains, creating a golden glow on the tips of the Tetons. The sunset created colors that were magnificent in their array of reds and yellows, shimmering like spun gold.

What was he going to do about this child? There was a good chance that the boy’s folks were dead, possibly from an Indian attack, and he had somehow survived. Maybe Josiah and the others would have some answers, or perhaps he’d find out more when they arrived at the rendezvous.

It was getting too dark to look for sign, and the possibility that the Blackfoot might return presented a danger that he’d rather avoid. At least for now, he was stuck with the boy, but what was he going to do with him tomorrow?
  

© Peggy L Henderson 2019

Get THE PATHFINDERS
Pre-Order THE EAGLE



Monday, July 8, 2019

It's been a long time...

I've been absent from this site for way too long. Too many things pulling me in all directions. I'm going to try and do my best to post again at least once a week. The posts might be about my writing process, background and behind-the-scenes information about my books, and my crazy life in Yellowstone National Park.

I'll start off by recapping the last couple of years that have really changed my entire life. If you follow me on Facebook, you'll know that my husband and I now live full-time in Yellowstone National Park. Yes! IN THE PARK! What a dream come true that was!

It all started two years ago when, on a whim, my husband answered an ad for a historical prervation craftsman position with Yellowstone's concessioner. When he was offered this seasonal position, we scambled to get my father-in-law's RV ready to live in for the next five months, and off we went on the adventure of a lifetime! Five months in Yellowstone! It couldn't get any better than that, right?

Lower Falls Summer

Well, it got better. At the end of the season, he was asked to return the following year. Of course we said yes. A month after we returned home, he got a call asking if he would consider a permanent, year-round position in Yellowstone. Um.... let me think about that for a while..... YES!

So, we packed up our house, downsized to bare minimum, and made the move into a tiny one-bedroom company-provided apartment. It was the best decision we ever made. We did know that this move was going to be permanent for us regardless, and knew we would be looking for a house after about a year.

Witnessing and experiencing all the seasons of Yellowstone has been spectacular. Winter in the remote interior is not for the faint of heart. Winter is long, cold, and lonely, and the only transportation is via snowcoach or snowmobile. I learned to snowshoe and cross-country ski this past winter, and look forward to more. For now, though, I'm glad that summer is finally making an appearance, although slowly. Before we know it, winter will be upon us again.


Lower Falls winter



Three weeks ago, we moved into our new home a short distance from Yellowstone, but due to the remoteness of the job, Mr. H still maintains his housing in the park. For now, I divide my time between our new home and the apartment. Life just doesn't get any better than this! Well, maybe once I add a few more cats and dogs to my family (I've missed being surrounded by pets more than I can say)

On the writing front, I've published the last full-length book in the Yellowstone Romance Series last December, added books in most of my other series, and started a new series - Wild Mountain Hearts, which is another spin-off of the Yellowstone and Teton Series.

I'm going to get this blog site updated over the next few weeks until I can put together an actual website, something I've put off doing as well.

Be sure to sign up for my newsletter to stay up to date on all things book related, including Aimee's Journal entries and a new feature that's been hugely popular with the fans in my Facebook group - Campfire Chats with the Characters. I am aiming to make this part of this blog as well as in my newsletters.

Until next time!

~Peggy





Saturday, July 15, 2017

First Chapter of Timeless Hero

Book #12 in the Timeless Hearts Western Time Travel Series is now available!


I want to apologize to all the readers of this series who were waiting for the book. I missed my deadline because of some very unforeseen circumstances, the biggest of those being an unexpected move. My husband took a job working in Yellowstone National Park, and we had to pack up and move within a ten-day span. If you know me through my other books, you know that living in Yellowstone is a dream come true for me! However, everything under the sun went wrong in other areas of my life during that short time we had to pack and leave, and I couldn't get the book finished in time ..... But! It's finally done, and Amazon should publish it within the next few days!

Here is the first chapter! (And don't you just love this cover?)





Chapter One



“I thought I made it clear to you not to show your face around here anymore. What’s it gonna take to get rid of you for good, boy?”
Dark eyes devoid of emotion glowered like the predatory stare of a wolf hovering over a kill. Vin Kincaid stood his ground, his eyes unflinching as he glared back. A slow grin spread over his face.
“Just stopped for a visit to wish you farewell, Uncle Jack.” He intoned the word “uncle” with disgust. “Can’t wait to see you leave and make the poor folks’ lives in Montana miserable, like you made the lives of everyone here in Texas a living hell.”
The older man’s brows rose, then he laughed. He held his hand over his heart. The fingers in Vin’s left hand twitched, but he kept it well away from the holster at his side.
 “I’m touched that your first stop after they let you out of prison would be a visit to me.” Jack’s eyes darted to the six-shooter resting against Vin’s thigh while his voice dripped with false sweetness. “But you shouldn’t have bothered, after all the trouble you’ve caused me.” His glare intensified along with his tone. “You try anything, and I’ve got ten men ready to take you out.”
Vin smirked. “I haven’t sunk as low as you, and I never will. Killing you would only be a waste of a good bullet.” He gritted his teeth, staring at the cold, calculating eyes of his uncle. Jack’s icy glare didn’t hold even a flicker of similarity to Vin’s father. “Someday, you’ll get what’s comin’ to you. Too bad I probably won’t be around to see it.”
Jack moved across the room. He turned his back to Vin, and laid a hand on the shoulder of a youth who stood near the door. The kid’s face was impassive and hardened, as if he’d witnessed too much in his young life already. Vin scoffed. If Jack had anything to say about it, the boy probably had seen and done much more than he should have at his age.
“Your cousin is a prime example of what I’ve been trying to teach you, Son.” Jack’s voice lost some of the cold edge when he directed his words to his only child. “Weak people without gumption get squashed. If you’re cowardly, you get crushed like a cockroach by someone who’s stronger and not afraid. The same goes for showing emotion. It’s a sign of weakness.” He spun back around to face Vin. “Letting matters of the heart rule your head makes you feeble. It’s what happened to my dear brother.”
Vin’s hand clenched at his side. Every inch of him fought to remain rooted to the spot rather than rushing up to Jack and smashing his fist into the man’s face. Jack laughed again, a triumphant laugh.
“My father was a decent man. He didn’t have a black heart like you.” Vin stared into the man’s soulless eyes.
Jack took several steps away from the youth and closed the distance across the room to face Vin.
“Your father was a coward, Vincent,” he scoffed. “I tried to take you under my wing. I thought I could make something out of you, turn you into someone with a spine, unlike your father. Jonathan never had the backbone to run a successful cattle business. He disgraced the family name when he married that waif of a woman.”
“That . . . waif was my mother,” Vin hissed. “My father didn’t want any part of the Kincaid business. There are more important things than money and power. No matter what you think, people ain’t just disposable. Maybe if you’d paid more attention to your wife, she’d still be alive today.”
Vin smiled at the twitch in Jack’s eyes. A brief, pained expression filled his features, but it quickly vanished. The older man ran his fingers through his mustache. His white teeth gleamed with his sneer.
“Jonathan was always weak, and clearly his blood got passed down to you. Despite his bringing shame to the Kincaid name, I gave you a place on this ranch after your folks’ unfortunate deaths. Without me, you would have starved on the streets. I gave you a roof over your head and a job.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed, his stare becoming even colder. “Too bad I couldn’t teach you how to make something of yourself. All the things I did for you, and you chose to stoop to the level of becoming a petty thief and embarrassing me.” His voice rose in anger.
Vin held his ground. He wasn’t going to cower in front of the man he hated. Jack had made it perfectly clear over the years that, even though Vin shared the Kincaid name, he certainly wasn’t considered family.
“Do you really think I’ll take you back after you’ve made me the laughingstock in the county with your shenanigans a year ago? I wish that judge had locked you up for good,” Jack continued.
Vin laughed. “I already told you. I have no desire to come back and work for you.” His voice lowered to a menacing growl. “Since you think I’m such a disgrace to the Kincaid name, it don’t matter to me how embarrassed you get by what I do. I was only getting started when I stole that whiskey.” His smile widened. “Next time, I won’t get caught by the law.” Heck, he wouldn’t have gotten caught the first time, either, if he hadn’t tried to help that strange woman, Miss Amber, find her way back home.
The thought of murder gleamed in Jack’s eyes just as sure as if he’d spoken the words. Vin didn’t move. Jack wasn’t going to kill him, at least not in his own house. It wasn’t his style to get his hands dirty. He’d let one of his men do the deed for him.
Vin leaned toward Jack, his voice low so only he could hear. “One day, I’ll prove that you killed my folks, and when I do, not even your money is going to save you. I hope I never have to see you again, unless it’s at your funeral.”
He spun on his heels and headed for the door. He paused when his eyes fell on the youth still standing there as if guarding the exit. Vin’s jaw muscles tightened. He tore his eyes away and stomped from the study, his spurs jingling and the long duster he wore rustling behind him. He headed down the hall of the house and out the front door into the sunshine.
Anger pierced every inch of him. Never before had he wanted to hurt someone as badly as he wanted to hurt Jack Kincaid. The man didn’t have a shred of decency in him.
Vin squinted into the sunlight. His father had died at the hands of that man because he’d chosen to lead a decent and modest life, and not let greed rule him. Vin had barely been ten years old when his parents had been killed, shot in their own home. Robbers, according to Jack and the law. They’d never been caught.
Orphaned and alone, Vin had tried to fit into the Kincaid cattle empire, but like his father, it wasn’t for him. He’d tried to please his uncle, but hard work was clearly not good enough. Vin refused to stoop to killing people in his uncle’s name. Blood, whether the kind he spilled or the kind that bound them as family, was of no importance to the ruthless man.
It didn’t matter that he’d busted his back, working from sun-up to sundown on the ranch every single day since he’d come to live there. Jack’s reason for taking him into the household was merely to pretend in front of the community that he was a man with a good heart.
In reality, Jack had never accepted him as a nephew. He’d been treated worse than a hired hand. They, at least, earned wages, while Jack had told him that offering him a roof over his head and meals was payment enough. In order to get on the payroll, he’d have to stoop to a different level.
From the time he’d come to the ranch as a ten-year old scared kid, Vin had slept in the bunkhouse. He’d learned to grow up fast among the cowhands. Jack’s hired men were required to show their loyalty in ways other than working hard. Jack ruled without mercy over his cattle business, and anyone getting in the way of what he wanted - whether it was more cattle, more land, or more water rights - was dealt with by his men. Money and power were always more important than family.
Vin untied his horse from the hitching rail and swung into the saddle. The leather creaked as he adjusted his seat.
“Vin.”
Vin sat up straighter and stopped his horse at the sound of his name as he reined his mount away from the grand Kincaid home. He glanced over his shoulder before turning fully in the saddle to look at his young cousin. He guided his horse back to the house, but didn’t dismount.
“Wish you were coming to Montana with us,” the youth said.
Vin smirked. He leaned forward in the saddle, casually draping his arm over the saddle horn. With his chin, he nudged toward the house. “You heard your daddy in there. I’m clearly not fit to walk on the same dirt as him.”
“He’s only looking out for the family business.”
Vin laughed. His cousin was still wet behind the ears, even if he tried to act tough and could shoot better than the average man. “You’d better be careful. Your papa only cares about one thing in this world, and that’s his cattle and his money. He couldn’t care less about family.”
“Where will you go?” The youth stepped off the porch and stared up at him. While he still looked like a boy, the softness had left his eyes. Vin’s gaze drifted to the gun belt at the boy’s waist. Clearly, in the year Vin had been in jail, the boy had been initiated fully into the family business.
“I’m definitely not heading to Montana with this outfit, that’s for sure. Your father couldn’t be happier to finally be rid of me. I’ve been nothing but a burden and a disgrace to him.”
The boy frowned. His mouth opened slightly as if he wanted to say something, but he closed it again and simply nodded.
Vin leaned over his horse and extended his hand, staring the boy in the eye. “Take care of yourself, and be careful. Jack might be your father, but I’m warning you now. If you cross him, it won’t matter to him that you’re his own son. If you’ve got a lick of sense in you, you’ll get out while you still can.”
Vin’s young cousin stood with an impassive look on his face. He shook Vin’s hand, then headed back into the house. Vin stared after him for a few seconds, then reined his horse in the opposite direction and rode from the ranch. He let his horse choose the direction. He had no home, no family, and no destination.
* * * * *
Several days later, he passed a couple of small farms on the outskirts of a little town called Heartsbridge. Vin shook his head and smirked. What had led him to come back to this place? It’s where his troubles with the law had started about a year ago.
When Jack had accused a few young men of rustling some of his cattle, Vin had refused to rough them up, so Jack had told him he no longer had a job there, and to pack his things and get off the ranch. It had turned out the cattle had simply wandered off, and these youths had found them and had been herding them back to the ranch. They’d been found dead a few days later, and Jack had justified their deaths by insisting they had stolen the cattle.
Drifting from one town to the next after leaving the Diamond K, Vin had resorted to petty theft to get back at his uncle, not out of necessity. Stealing a whiskey shipment from the saloon owner in Heartsbridge had ultimately been the reason for his jail sentence. 
Vin smiled, staring into the flames of his campfire. He held a cup of coffee in his hands. It had been worth it. The Kincaid name had been admired as one of the great cattle empires in this part of Texas. Jack was like royalty, or at least he saw himself as such. Although he dealt in underhanded ways with folks, Jack was always one step above the law.
Tainting the family name by letting folks know there was a Kincaid relative stirring up trouble with the law, had given Vin a small measure of satisfaction against the man who’d never been able to treat him as family. 
Vin’s father had been an embarrassment because he’d married a poor woman from the hill country, but since Jonathan had been shunned from the family, Jack had simply disregarded any conversations associated with his brother. Committing minor crimes and becoming a nuisance in the towns he frequented allowed Vin to make the Kincaid name a topic of local gossip and shame.
Vin sipped the last of his coffee as the flames flickered low in his campfire. He moved to his bedroll. Time to catch some sleep. Perhaps he’d visit that crazy woman at the boarding house in Heartsbridge in the morning, the one who’d wanted to send him to a future time a year ago.
He shook his head and chuckled. What a crazy notion. He settled into his blanket. What if it had been true? Perhaps disappearing into some future time was just the thing he needed. Things couldn’t be that much different there than they were now.
The woman who said she’d come from the future, Miss Amber, had worn britches. Vin smiled. There had been something appealing about her. He could certainly deal with women wearing britches. He had no home here. It would be the ultimate fresh start with a clean slate.
An owl hooted in the darkness. Vin pulled his hat over his head and closed his eyes. His horse snorted a short distance away, then moved around, trampling the leaves under its hooves. The gelding snorted again at the same time a twig snapped from the opposite direction.
Vin eased his hand to his gun. Before he had a chance to react, pain seared through his gut as the sharp blade of a knife ripped into him. He fumbled for the gun as his attacker drove the knife into him a second time. Vin raised the weapon and fired at the silhouette hovering over him.
A yell pierced the stillness of the night. Vin slumped back against his saddle, his hand clutching at his stomach as something hot and sticky filled his hands. He fought for air to fill his lungs, and each breath became pure agony.
Seconds ticked by, or was it minutes, or hours? No further attack came. He wouldn’t have been able to fight his attacker off a second time. He’d already dropped his gun and had no strength to reach for it. The sky turned from black to gray, and Vin continued to lie on the ground in his camp, drifting in and out of consciousness.
“Vin Kincaid?”
The faint voice barely registered in his mind. It sounded far away, as if it had come from a deep tunnel. Vin forced his eyes open. The image of a man swam in and out of focus. He looked vaguely familiar. No doubt he’d seen him before, but it was impossible to tell.
“He’s going to bleed to death,” the man said.
“We need to take him to the doc in town, Chris.” The soft voice of a woman was like music to Vin’s ears. He opened his mouth, but no words came. His mother had a soft voice like that. She was dead. Did that mean he was dead, too? The man’s voice interrupted his dream about his mother, whose face he no longer remembered.
“I don’t think the doc in Heartsbridge is going to be able to save him, Francine. No one in this time can, not with those wounds.” There was a slight pause. “Do you remember what happened with Vin last year when Scott and Amber were here?”
“You mean . . . he was supposed to time travel?”
“We need to get him to Cissie Durham.


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© Peggy L Henderson 2017

This text may not be copied or shared without permission

Sunday, May 14, 2017

First book in a new Contemporary Western Series



I'm excited to announce that my first venture into contemporary romance is almost here! I've joined up with four other western romance authors - Shirleen Davies, Kay P. Dawson, Amelia Adams, and Kate Cambridge -   to bring you the Burnt River Contemporary Western Series!

I get to lead off the series with the first book, which is titled Shane's Burden. It goes live on May 18, 2017!
The stories center around citizens of the town of Burnt River, Montana (a fictional town near Deer Lodge, Montana), many of whom were friends in high school. It's now a decade after high school, and they've come together for the memorial of a beloved high school teacher, who influenced or made some kind of impact in their lives. 

Each author is currently committed to writing three books  each. The first set of five books will be published at two-week intervals, and then it goes to every three weeks, until we have a total of 15 books. 

To introduce you to the series, here is the prologue to Shane's Burden.



Prologue




Burnt River, Montana . . . February 2006

Shane Taggart stuffed his books in his tattered backpack, then slammed his locker shut. He tossed the pack over his shoulder and lumbered down the hall, ignoring the kids he passed. His focus was on the door that led out of the building.
Someone bumped into him, nearly knocking the heavy backpack from his shoulders. Shane yelled out an expletive and raised his middle finger at Landon Clark, who ran up the hall as if he hadn’t even noticed.
Stupid punk.
“Hey, are you going skiing this weekend, Shane?”
Shane glanced over his shoulder. Three of his football teammates stood huddled by one of their lockers. Jerry, the one who’d called out the question, waved him over. The other two stood with their heads together, mumbling something while looking directly at him. As if it wasn’t obvious enough they were talking about him.
Shane shook his head. He didn’t bother going over to them. “Got stuff to do at home,” he called, then turned and continued on his way.
He’d probably be the first to the truck, but Mason had the keys. No doubt they’d both have to wait for Raine, who liked to hang out after school and chit-chat with her girlfriends.
A classroom door swung open and he barely missed getting smacked in the face by it. In his effort to side-step out of the way, he almost collided with the short, chubby blonde carrying a stack of books. Her mouth formed an “O” and her eyes opened even wider than they looked behind her dark-rimmed glasses. Those glasses really looked ridiculous.
“Watch out,” Shane grumbled, giving her his best scowly-faced look to make it clear he was annoyed. All he wanted was to get out of the building.
The girl mumbled something. It sounded like “sorry” but she dropped her head to avoid further eye contact, and with dozens of other kids heading down the hall, too, the noise around him drowned out what she said.
Shane smirked, then moved around her. She was in several of his classes, although she was only a freshman, like his sister. Allison Kravitz or Cramer, or something like that, one of those over-achievers who went to school because it was fun. A boy and another girl flanked her, all of them carrying stacks of books. The nerds club must be holding a meeting after school. They clearly had no other social life.
He skirted around the trio without a further glance, but had barely taken three steps when someone threw their arm around his shoulder.
“Hey, Shane.” Boone Macklin fell in step beside him, a wide grin on his face. “What did you do this time?”
Shane scrunched his forehead at his friend.
“Mr. Weiker wants to see you,” Boone clarified. “I just passed him upstairs. He said if I saw you before you left, to tell you to come to his classroom.”
Shane shrugged. “So, tell him you didn’t see me.”
Boone laughed. “You might as well get it over with, or he’ll catch you tomorrow. And he’ll know we were lying to him. He always knows. I swear that man can read minds.”
Shane cursed under his breath. The last thing he needed at the moment was a lecture from his biology teacher, getting grilled about why he hadn’t turned in his last assignments. He already had a good idea what grade he’d gotten on today’s test. He couldn’t care less about oxidation-reduction reactions and metabolism. His twin brother, Mason, wanted to be a veterinarian, so biology was something he enjoyed and was good at. Shane would be running a horse ranch, and that didn’t require knowledge of all that stupid science stuff.
 “Fine, I’ll get it over with,” Shane grumbled. “Can you tell Raine and Mason where I am? I shouldn’t be too long. They’ll be waiting by our truck.”
“Mr. Weiker’s cool, but good luck, anyway.” Boone slapped his back in a good-natured gesture before he continued on his way to freedom from school for another day.
Shane turned around. He sped up to reach the stairwell leading to the second story and took the steps two at a time. He passed the chubby girl with all the books, but he didn’t acknowledge her this time, either.
He entered Mr. Weiker’s classroom, scrunching his nose at the disgusting smell of formaldehyde that always lingered in the air in this room. Glass jars lined the counter, filled with all sorts of gross things, from pig hearts, to a preserved cat, worms, a fetal pig, and other body parts he couldn’t even name. The lab tables were clean and cleared of any test tubes, beakers, or dissecting kits, for once.
Mike Weiker sat at his desk at the front of the room. He looked up over his wire-rimmed glasses when Shane entered. He smiled and stood from his seat.
“Shane Taggart, just the man I want to see.”
Shane rolled his eyes. Weiker acted as if he was surprised at the visit.
“Boone Macklin told me you wanted to see me.” He didn’t have time to play these games adults liked to play. Weiker was just a teacher, and there was no reason why he should be asking to see him after school when he clearly wasn’t serving detention.
“My brother and sister are waiting for me out in the car, and I’m sure it’s pretty cold out there.” Shane looked out the window to make his point. Snow flurries drifted through the sky.
“I won’t keep you long, Shane. I just wanted a private word with you. I know you’ve been having a rough time lately.”
Shane stared. No lecture about his failing grades? No doubt it was coming any second. Weiker held out his hand, indicating for Shane to sit in the chair next to him. With another smirk and a sigh, Shane dropped his backpack to the ground and slumped into the chair.
“With the death of your father last month, I can’t even imagine how you must be feeling. How is your mother doing?”
Shane’s mind went blank. Mr. Weiker’s words brought back memories of that awful day six weeks ago. His father had just finished lunch on a Saturday afternoon. He’d complained that he wasn’t feeling well, but he’d gone to the barns anyway to check on one of the mares that looked to be the first one of the year to drop a foal.
Shane had followed him. On the way down the path, his father had let out a moan, clutched at his chest, then dropped to the snow-packed ground.
Shane blinked, closing his eyes momentarily. When would the images that haunted him go away? He’d landed on his knees beside his father, then run back to the house, screaming for his mother, for Mason, for anyone within hearing distance. Mason hadn’t been home, but at his part-time job at the vet clinic in town.
His mother had rushed out of the house to his father, while Shane had called 9-1-1. The ambulance had arrived too late. While the EMTs tried everything, Shane’s father had been pronounced dead at the hospital. Massive heart attack. He’d never even had any symptoms of heart trouble. None that Shane had been aware of, anyway. Alex Taggart had always proclaimed he was healthy as a horse.
“Any time you want to talk, my door is always open.”
Shane stared blankly at Mr. Weiker, who looked at him with sincerity in his eyes. At the moment, he wasn’t a teacher, but someone who’d seen through the anguish and the things Shane kept bottled up inside.
“My mother’s doing all right. She’s trying to keep the ranch going . . . keep my father’s dreams alive,” he mumbled. “I’m trying to help as much as I can.”
Mr. Weiker nodded. “I’m sure she appreciates it.” He paused, then said, almost reluctantly, “But I’m sure she doesn’t want you to neglect your studies.”
Finally, they were coming around to the real reason for the talk. Shane was ready.
“I’m going to run my family’s ranch someday. I don’t need all this stupid school stuff.”
Mr. Weiker shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not.” He chuckled. “I don’t remember most of the subjects I was forced to learn in high school, either.”
Shane stared up at him. The teacher smiled.
“I liked the life sciences, and that’s what I concentrated on. I think your brother, Mason, is heading in that direction, too.”
“He wants to be a veterinarian.”
“Good profession. Lots of schooling and dedication.”
“My father encouraged it.”
“I bet your father also encouraged hard work and perseverance in you, too.”
Shane nodded. He gnashed his teeth. He wasn’t going to start bawling like a little kid in front of Mr. Weiker. The teacher reclined in his chair and casually crossed his legs.
“School isn’t about liking all the subjects you take, Shane. It’s about getting ready for life. It’s tough out there. You have to learn how to become disciplined. How to start a task and finish it. That’s what school is really all about. Even on the ranch, I’m sure there are chores you like more than others, but you do them all because they need to get done. Am I right?”
Again, Shane nodded. This was not the conversation he’d envisioned. His father had often said similar things.
“School’s about building character, about finishing that task because you have an obligation to yourself  - and not to anyone else - to finish it, regardless of how tedious or difficult it might be.”
Mr. Weiker paused. Shane waited. He glanced out the window at the snow that kept falling steadily. He shifted in his chair, making it squeak.
“You’re a bright kid, Shane. I’d hate to see you fail.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.” Shane stood and grabbed his backpack. “If there’s nothing else, I really need to be going.”
“Thanks for stopping by. I just want you to ask yourself this one question.” Mr. Weiker waited until Shane looked up. “Do you just quit and toss in the towel, or do you continue despite adversity and insurmountable odds?”
 “I’ll think about it,” Shane said, because it’s what the teacher wanted to hear. Mr. Weiker nodded.
“I meant what I said, Shane. My door is always open.”
Mr. Weiker held out his hand. Shane stared at it for a moment, then shook it. There was something weird about a teacher offering to shake hands. He pulled his hand free after a quick squeeze.

 Shane turned and walked out of the classroom, closing the door behind him with a loud click.

© Peggy L Henderson 2017
No parts of this excerpt may be copied or reproduced in any form without permission