My Review: Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz

Courting Morrow Little
by Laura Frantz

Christian Fiction /
Historical / Romance

Revell Publishing
Copyright 2010


Caught between the wilderness and civilization, Morrow Little must find her way to true love
Morrow Little is haunted by the memory of the day her family was torn apart by raiding Shawnee warriors. Now that she is nearly a grown woman and her father is ailing, she must make difficult choices about the future. Several men--ranging from the undesired to the unthinkable--vie for her attentions, but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to a forbidden love that both terrifies and intrigues her. Can she betray the memory of her lost loved ones--and garner suspicion from her friends--by pursuing a life with him? Or should she seal her own misery by marrying a man she doesn't love?

This sweeping tale of romance and forgiveness will envelop you as it takes you from a Kentucky fort through the vast wilderness of the West. 

What I thought:

This is a tough review for me to write.  Though I was excited to read this book when I first saw it was gonna be released, I was also wary of requesting it to review.  Reading about the battles/massacres the Indians had to fight/endure are very hard for me; I don't enjoy how it makes me feel.  It really upsets me to read how horribly they were mistreated by my very own countrymen, and it breaks my heart to see what they were forced to go through, especially the women and children.  That being said, I did enjoy this book, to a certain extent.

Getting to know Morrow, her Dad, Surrounded, and Red Shirt, and seeing the events take place through their eyes, made everything so real.  The story moves right along and had me on the edge of my seat quite a bit.  I was in tears on more than one occasion, and even found myself laughing at some of Morrow's antics a couple of times.  For the most part, I felt heartsick over what everyone was forced to endure.

There were a few people I abhorred with all my heart and would have gladly killed with my own two hands had I been given the chance.  They were just simply disgusting, and didn't deserve to live, even though I know it's wrong to kill another person.  However, in circumstances such as these, I think it's completely justified.  On the other hand, I fell in love with Morrow, her Dad, Libby, Abe, and Red Shirt, along with a few others.  Their journey touched my heart on so many levels that I can't begin to explain it all.

One thing I LOVED about this book, was the fact that Morrow actually got to marry her true love well before the end of the story.  It annoys me to no end that most couples get together on the very last page of the book, never to be heard from again.  UGH!  I was ecstatic to be able to read about their married life, and how they were planning for the future.  It was a very nice change from the normal romance "pattern".

Even though I had a hard time with parts of this book, I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to give it a try.  I don't think you'll be sorry you took the time to read it -- I know I'm not.  If you'd like to find out more about Laura Frantz and/or her books, be sure to drop by her blog and see what she's been up to.

***A sincere "thank you" to Revell Publishing for allowing me to read/review this book.***


FIRST Wild Card Tours: Beautiful Bandit (Lone Star Legends, #1) by Loree Lough

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Whitaker House (August 3, 2010)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***


At last count, Loree had 73 books (fiction and non-fiction for kids and adults; one novel optioned for a TV movie; and many more slated for release), 63 short stories, and more than 2,500 articles in print. Her stories have earned dozens of industry and "Readers' Choice" awards. A frequent guest speaker for writers’ organizations, book clubs, private and government institutions, corporations, college and high school writing programs and more, Loree has encouraged thousands with her comedic approach to ‘learned-the-hard-way’ lessons about the craft and the industry.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (August 3, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603742255
ISBN-13: 978-1603742252


May 1888

San Antonio, Texas

The hot, sticky air in the banker’s cluttered office made it hard to breathe. Josh ran a fingertip under his stiff collar as the image of cows, dropping by the thousand, reminded him of why he’d come to San Antonio. Selling a couple thousand uncontaminated acres from his family’s ranch, the Lazy N, was the only way to protect the land that remained until they were able to get the anthrax infection under control.

He did his best not to glare at the decorous Bostonian, Griffen, sitting beside him. It wasn’t the Swede’s fault, after all, that the disease had killed so many of the Nevilles’ cattle. In his shoes, Josh would have snapped up the land just as quickly. Trouble was, now this la-di-da Easterner would move to Eagle Pass, bringing his never-been-out-of-the-city wife and children with him. Worse yet, Josh had a sneaking suspicion that the former printing press operator would make a regular pest of himself by asking about the Texas climate, irrigation methods, when to plant, and only the good Lord knew what else. If that didn’t earn Josh a seat closer to the Throne, he didn’t know what would.

Few things agitated him more than sitting in one spot. Especially indoors. Confusion at how these fancy gents managed to look so calm and cool only added to his restlessness. He hung his Stetson on his left knee, mostly to occupy his hands in some way. Now, as the banker explained the terms of the agreement, Josh stared hard at the bloodred Persian rug under his boots and searched his mind for something else to focus on, anything other than the wretched document that would transfer ownership of Neville land to this foreigner. Moving his Stetson to his right knee, he remembered the day he’d bought the hat, and how he’d purchased another just like it one year later, when business at the Lazy N had put him back in Garland. One for riding the range, one for his wedding.

Strange, he thought, how Sadie could appear in his mind’s eye from out of nowhere, even after three long years without her. He forced her from his mind. This get-together was more than painful enough without his dwelling on the most agonizing period of his life. Josh exhaled a harsh sigh, hoping the banker and the Swede hadn’t heard the tremor in it. For his agitation, he blamed the oppressive heat. His empty stomach. The ten-day ride from Eagle Pass that had left him so bone-tired, he couldn’t sleep, even on the hotel’s pillow-soft mattress. A body would think that an establishment with Persian rugs and velvet curtains could afford to provide some cold water for its clients, he thought, loosening his string tie as Griffen asked yet another inane question. Father, give me the strength to keep from grabbing those papers and hotfooting it out of here without making the deal! he prayed silently.

Sadly, his thoughts were doing little to distract him from the grim truth.

He had cast the single dissenting vote at the family meeting, and the decision to sell the land had become even more odious to him when it had been decided that, as the only Neville with a law degree, Josh would be responsible for transacting the sale. He groaned inwardly at the sorry state of affairs, leaning forward to hide the tears that burned in his eyes. He loved every blessed acre—especially those acres—that made up the Lazy N. He’d built a small but solid home for Sadie and himself on that section of the ranch, and having to hand it over to someone else hurt almost as much as burying Sadie had.

Griffen, God bless him, had been the one to suggest that Josh hold on to the precious acre where she had been buried, along with their twins, who had died at birth. When Josh had asked permission to visit their graves from time to time, Griffen’s pale eyes had darkened a shade, and he had said, “I’d be a wreck in your position. We will build a fence around the land to make sure your little family is never disturbed.” But Josh had known, even as he’d nodded in agreement, that having to cross Griffen property to reach his family would only heap one misery atop another.

Josh grabbed his Stetson and, with his elbows propped on his knees, spun it round and round as he watched, through the window, three men and a woman dismount sweaty horses. They looked as tense and restless as he felt, and he wondered what unfortunate family business had brought them to the bank today.

“If you’ll just sign here, Mr. Neville,” Thomas Schaeffer said, redirecting Josh’s attention to his own, unfortunate family business.

He accepted the banker’s fountain pen. As its freshly inked nib hovered over the document, a bead of sweat trickled down his spine, and he felt a disturbing kinship with the fat hen his ma had roasted for dinner last Sunday.

Outside, the wind blew steadily, swirling street grit into tiny twisters that skittered up the parched road before bouncing under buggies and scurrying into alleyways. Even the burning breeze would feel better than this choking heat. “Mind if I open the window? I’m sweatin’ like a—”

“I’d much rather you didn’t,” he said, peering over the rims of his gold-trimmed spectacles. “The wind is likely to scatter our paperwork hither and yon.”

Hither and yon, indeed. Josh had read sayings like that in literature, but what kind of person actually used that sort of language in everyday speech? His musings over the annoying situation were interrupted by the sounds of shuffling footsteps and coarse whispers from the other side of the banker’s office door.

The commotion put a stern frown on Schaeffer’s heat-reddened face. “I declare,” he said through clenched teeth, “I can’t take my eyes off that fool assistant of mine for fifteen minutes without some sort of mayhem erupting.” Blotting his forehead with a starched white hanky, he continued grumbling, “Looks like I’ll have no choice but to replace him.” Shoving the eyeglasses higher, he lifted his chin and one bushy gray eyebrow—a not-so-subtle cue for Josh to sign the paper.

So, gritting his teeth, Josh inhaled a sharp breath, scratched his name on the thin, black line, and traded the pen for the banknote Schaeffer handed him.

On his feet now, Griffen grabbed Josh’s hand. “T’ank you,” he said, shaking it, “been a pleasure doing business wit’ you, Neville.”

Unable to make himself say, “Likewise,” Josh forced a stiff smile and pocketed the check. “You bet.” God willing, the worst was behind his family now.

The burnished, brass pendulum of the big clock behind the banker’s desk swayed left with an audible tick as the men prepared to go their separate ways.

It swung right as gunshots rang out in the lobby.

Schaeffer and Griffen ran for the door, but a flurry of activity outside drew Josh’s attention back to the window.


It was the foursome he’d seen earlier, now scrambling up into their saddles. A lumpy burlap sack rested on the meaty rump of the biggest man’s mount, and sunlight glinted from his pistol.


Now Josh knew why the bunch had looked so nervous before. They’d been just about to rob the bank! He yanked out his sidearm, pulled back the hammer with one hand, and threw open the window with the other, hoping to get off a shot or two before the robbers were swallowed up by the cyclone of grit kicked up by their horses’ hooves.


Perched on the sill, Josh took aim at the shoulder of the fattest bandit, just as the woman’s pony veered right, putting her square in the center of his gun sight.


She looked back as Josh released the pressure on the sweat-slicked trigger.


Quick as you please, she faced front again, her cornflower blue skirt flapping like a tattered sail as she was swallowed up in a thick cloud of dust.

What I thought:

I haven't read any of Loree Lough's books in quite a few years, but I used to love reading her Heartsong Presents and Love Inspired stories.  I gotta tell you -- I really enjoyed Beautiful Bandit!  It's a very touching story of heartbreak, forgiveness, and learning to trust again.

The Neville's are a wonderful, easy-to-love family, and I fell for them from the very beginning.  It's easy to see why Kate couldn't help falling in love with them, too. Even though she tries her very hardest not to, because she knows that she'll soon be leaving them, as she doesn't want her horrible past to catch up with her and risk them getting hurt in the crossfire.

Kate had a very hard life growing up, loosing her mother at a very young age, and having to endure her hateful step-father, until she finally set out on her own when she was only twelve years old.  Unfortunately, her life didn't get any easier.  She ended up falling for Frank Michaels, a lying, thieving outlaw, who turned out to be her worst nightmare come to life.  When she finally escapes his dangerous clutches, while fearing for her life, she meets Josh Neville.

Josh is the nicest man Kate has ever met, and even though her first instinct is to trust him, she's never been able to trust any of the men in her life.  She decides to give him a chance and agrees to let him to help her get to Mexico (without telling him why), where she intends to hide from the Texas Rangers, since she is WANTED as an accomplice in a bank robbery and the murder of bank employees.  The truth is, she's not guilty of these crimes, but doesn't have anyone to vouch for her.

One of my favorite characters was Josh's "Mee-Maw", Esther!  She reminds me a little of my own Grandma, with her tell-it-like-it-is attitude.  Her relationship with Kate was a blessing to see.  Esther made Kate feel loved, and did her best to show her that even though it didn't seem like God was looking out for her, He was still there for her, if Kate would just look deep in her heart.

I really hope this is the first of many books, as there are LOTS of Neville siblings and cousins who's lives would make great stories!  I can't wait to read more about them.  :)

Be sure to check out Loree's website to find out more about her and her books.


The Daughters of Jacob series by Sharlene MacLaren

I can't begin to tell you have much I LOVED this series!  I read all 3 books in less than a week, which is a true accomplishment for me, and, these are some pretty thick books!  :)  I've decided to review them all in one post, instead of each book individually -- I hope y'all don't mind.

Aren't these covers absolutely stunning?  I think they fit each Kane sister perfectly!

Hannah Grace starts off the series, as she is the oldest of the 3 Kane sisters, and she's a real "outspoken" gal -- her story happens to be my favorite.  ;)

When we first meet Hannah, she's being courted by the town doctor, Ralston Van Huff, or "Huffy" as Maggie Rose calls him.  LOL  Her family really can't understand why she spends time with him as they are completely mismatched.  He is very self-centered and spends every spare moment talking about himself, and his plans for his practice.

Hannah enjoys spending time with her family, but especially running her father's general store, Kane's Whatnot.  It's here that she first meets Gabriel Devlin, and Jesse, under some pretty exciting circumstances.  However, her first impression of Gabriel has her judging him quite harshly.  It was so much fun watching Hannah and Gabe's relationship unfold, as well as Gabe and Jesse's.

Gabe and Jesse's budding relationship adds quite a bit of excitement to the story, and will keep you on the edge of your seat at times.  It all goes back to something Jesse saw in his past, but has buried so deeply that he doesn't remember the intimate details for quite some time.  He's such a sweet boy that I couldn't help falling in love with him from the very beginning -- in fact, the whole Kane family will work their way into your heart if you'll let them!


Next is Maggie Rose's story, and it's quite riveting from the very first page!  Maggie Rose is the "entertainer" of the family, and she had me in tears (of laughter) more than once, especially with her many attempts at singing.  :)

She's always had a soft heart for children, and has been steadfastly praying for the Lord's guidance in her life.  As it turns out, He sees fit to send her to New York City to help out at an orphanage, Sheltering Arms Refuge.  Here she meets, and quickly falls in love, with a houseful of orphans who are waiting to find permanent families to love and care for them.  Sheltering Arms also transports these homeless children across the country, via the railroad, searching for qualified families.

Not long after arriving at Sheltering Arms, Maggie Rose meets Luke Madison.  Luke is a newspaper reporter who has been sent to write an article about the shelter, and their effort to match the orphans with loving families.  He isn't too thrilled about his new assignment as he would rather be working on another article that is close to his heart -- maybe too close, which is why his boss saw fit to relieve him of that particular duty.  He doesn't think Luke is capable of writing an unbiased story, as his heart is completely tied up in the tragic event.

Maggie Rose and Luke work together to help Maxine reunite with her dear friend, Clara, otherwise, she refuses to leave on the next orphan train.  She's not leaving without her!  Luke devises a plan to rescue Clara, and Maggie inadvertently ends up tagging along, much to Luke's dismay. Maxine and Clara's stories are heartbreaking, as are all the orphan's, but they make the overall story that much better, in my opinion.

You won't be able to help falling in love with these dear children!  They had me laughing, and crying, right along with them.  :)


And last, but not least, we have the youngest Kane sister, Abbie Ann.  I would have to call her the "spitfire" of the family, as she leads her local Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WTCU) chapter.  They help promote women's suffrage and Prohibition.  It seems they have been ruffling a few feathers, as Abbie Ann has received several threats, which are being investigated by Sheriff Gabriel Devlin, Hannah Grace's husband.

When Abbie Ann meets Noah Carson, a renowned shipbuilder, and his adorable six-year-old son, Toby, they find themselves caught up in an instant attraction.  Abbie Ann tries her best to ignore her feelings, especially after she finds out Noah is a divorcee, nor does he seem to be a devoted Christian.  He is harboring hatred and unforgiveness towards his own father; not to mention his rage at the people involved in the events that caused his sudden and shocking divorce.  Along with his divorce, he also lost his lifelong best friend, and his highly successful shipworks business.  Needless to say, he arrives in town with a very sour outlook on life.

One of Abbie Ann's dreams for the WTCU is to eventually be able to open a shelter for battered and abused women.  She knows for a fact that there are a few living in her relatively small town, and would love nothing more than to be able to help them.  As she works hard to put her dream in motion, she is forced to deal with even more threats, which in turn cause her father and Sheriff Gabe to recommend she drop the WTCU meetings until things calm down.  They want nothing more than to keep her safe.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the Kane sisters, I have to tell you that Abbie Ann's story was my least favorite.  It seemed to move along much slower than the first two and I had to make myself buckle down and keep reading a few times.  I'm so glad I did though, because everything came together just fine in the end.  I'm really sorry to say good-bye to all the wonderful folks I met along the way -- I'll really miss them!

If you've not had the pleasure of reading Sharlene MacLaren's The Daughter's of Jacob Kane series, I highly recommend that you give them a try.  Be sure to check out Sharlene's website and blog to find out more about her and her books.

***A special "thank-you" to FIRST Wild Card Tours for providing my copy of Abbie Ann for review. ***


My Review: Love on a Dime by Cara Lynn James

(Ladies of Summer Hill, #1)
by Cara Lynn James

Christian Fiction /
Historical / Romance

Thomas Nelson
Copyright 2010


In age of elegance and excess, Lilly Westbrook longs for a love both true and eternal.

Newport, Rhode Island, 1899, is a place of shimmering waves, sleek yachts, and ladies of leisure. Of opulent mansions that serve as summer cottages for the rich and famous. Home of railroad magnates and banking tycoons--dashing young men and the women who aspire to marry them.

But it's not the place for lady novelists. Especially not those who pen disreputable dime novels. This poses a problem for Lilly Westbrook, because that's exactly what she does.
No one in Lilly's social set knows she pens fiction under the nom de plume Fannie Cole. Not her family or the wealthy young man about to propose to her. And especially not Jackson Grail, the long-lost beau who just bought her publishing company...and who stirs her heart more than she cares to admit.

But Lilly must put aside her feelings and follow the path that will maintain her family's social stature and provide the financial security that everyone is depending on.

Now Lilly faces a double dilemma. Can she continue to protect her secret identity? And will she have the courage to choose the man who will risk it all just to win her heart?

What I thought:

I was so excited to read this book when I first saw the premise -- finally, something a little different!  It was interesting to read about a "famous" author, who kept her identity a secret, but there were some slow parts as well.  Overall, I would still recommend you give it a try.  :)

Lilly Westbrook has always loved to write, whether it was poems, short stories, or her surprisingly popular dime novels.  Her competition has upped the ante by holding public signing for her books, and Lilly's publisher would like her to do the same.  However, Lilly is terrified by the likelihood of her family being shunned or even ostracized were anyone to find out that she is the famous Fanny Cole.  The only person who knows her deep, dark secret is her very best friend in the world, Miranda Reid.  Lilly wishes she could share her secret with her family, but she can't seem to get past her fear.

Jackson Grail was Lilly's first, and only, true love back in her teens.  He and her brother George were the best of friends, and she slowly fell in love with him over the years.  Though they discussed the idea of marriage, Jack didn't feel that he was good enough in the eyes of Lilly's parents, and his decision to leave for college just about broke Lilly's heart in two.

Years later, Jack and Lilly are together again, but only in the sense that he's come to visit George and is staying at Summerhill as his guest.  Jack has finally come to realize that he still has feelings for Lilly, but she is now being courted by Harlan Santerre, a powerful railroad man, who I thought to be a pompous jerk throughout most of the book.  I gotta tell you though -- his mother is even worse.  Whew, that woman is horrible!

What I got from this book is that even though things in our life may sometimes seem to have gotten completely out of control -- and others may be hurt by the end result -- the only thing we can do is turn it all over to God, and trust Him to work everything out as He sees fit.  This is something I struggle with on a daily basis, but I'm trying to trust God as Lilly did.

If you haven't had the opportunity to read Cara Lynn James' debut novel, be sure to pick up a copy the next time your out shopping for something new and interesting to read.  You can also visit her at her website to find out more about her and her book.

***I would like to say a special "thank you" to FIRST Wild Card Tours for providing me with a copy to review.***


FIRST Wild Card Tour: Hope's Promise (Sierra Chronicles, V2) by Tammy Barley

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Whitaker House (August 3, 2010)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***


With Cherokee heritage and such ancestors as James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, Tammy Barley inherited her literary vocation and preferred setting: the Wild West. A longtime freelance writer and editor, Tammy is also an accomplished equestrian who homeschools her three children. Book One of her Sierra Chronicles, Love’s Rescue, sold out its first printing within a week of its release in 2009.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (August 3, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603741097
ISBN-13: 978-1603741095


Western Nevada Territory

May 1864

“Would you care to rest awhile, Jess?”

Withholding a smile, Jess leaned forward in the saddle as her horse clamored beside Jake’s to the top of the rocky bank. When the ground leveled out, she glanced at the progress of the small herd of Thoroughbred stallions close behind, then tossed a lightly accusing gaze to her husband.

“Rest awhile? Are you coddling me, Bennett?”

In the shadow of his hat brim, Jake’s whisky-brown eyes sparkled at her as he grinned the crooked grin she loved. “No, ma’am, I wouldn’t dare.” He nodded sagely to Taggart and Diaz, the hired men with bandanas pulled up against the rising dust, who wrangled on the opposite side of the herd. “But the boys haven’t stood on their own feet twice since sunup, and they’re looking peaked.”

“Peaked?” Jess looked to the burly, orange-haired Irishman and the sinewy, born-in-the-saddle Spaniard and burst out laughing. “Those two wouldn’t walk to their dinner plates if they could ride!”

The sleek, long-limbed Thoroughbreds continued, heads bobbing, toward the mountains, whistled on by the two cattlemen. From her position riding flank, Jess took in the beauty of white nose blazes and white socks flashing amid the bays, chestnuts, and blacks, framed by the red earth and green pines of the Sierra Nevadas.

They were going home.

Jess quieted, but her smile remained. “I couldn’t stop now, Jake. We only have ten miles before we reach the ranch.”

Ten, out of seventeen hundred, she mused, and eight months since she had seen this part of the country. When they left the ranch, they hadn’t been married and she hadn’t been certain she’d ever come back. Even so, she hadn’t forgotten the beauty of the mountains, her love of the ranch in Honey Lake Valley, and her dream to raise horses with the good man beside her.

Jess’s horse stumbled, then recovered. Amid the scattered rocks and fragrant clusters of gray-green sagebrush around them, desert flowers added brilliant splashes of purple, red, and orange. When they left the ranch, the land had been brown, dry from a year of heat and draught. Clearly winter snows and spring rains had come, for now life bloomed everywhere.

Well, almost everywhere. With a twinge of sadness, Jess pressed a gloved hand to the flatness of her stomach.

She and Jake had married in the fall, on one of the most beautiful autumn days God had ever created. As a wedding gift, Jake had given her the herd of Thoroughbreds, which grazed in the Bennetts’ paddock while the pastor stood with them beneath an arch of trees and joined them as husband and wife.

All she had wanted was to give Jake a child in return. And now, it seemed, she was barren.

“What do you suppose they’re thinking, your horses?”

Jess dropped her hand and smiled. “Our horses,” she corrected. “They’re probably wishing they had taken a train instead.”

Jake chuckled, his broad shoulders threatening the seams of his white cotton shirt. “Is that what you wish, Jess? That the transcontinental was nearly finished instead of only beginning?”

“No, I wouldn’t want to be packed into a noisy passenger car any more than you would. I’d rather see the land, be a part of it.”

“Well this land looks as though it’s seen some rain this year.”

“I was just thinking the same.”

“What else were you thinking?”

Jess glanced at him. Since the day they met in Carson City more than a year before, she’d often been startled by how closely he paid attention, how he seemed to know her thoughts. “Mostly I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the ranch,” she evaded. “Ho Chen, Doyle, all the Paiute women, and Two Hands. I wonder how many of the mustangs Lone Wolf was able to breed.”

The Bennett Mountain Ranch. Their ranch. Tickled by the thought, Jess laughed out loud in pure joy.

“Jess?” The curiosity in Jake’s voice pulled her gaze to his.

“We’re going home,” she said, a pleasant tightness in her chest. “I feel . . .” She lifted a hand, uncertain how to describe it. “I feel like a young falcon, about to leap into the wind for the first time.”

He smiled his understanding, then suddenly turned tense, alert. He drew his Remington. An instant later, Taggart and Diaz did the same.


A rock burst on the ground beside Jess. The sharp report of rifle fire echoed across the desert. All at once shots exploded, pelting the road around them with shattered stones and dust plumes. Drawing her own revolver, Jess whipped her mare around and looked past Jake to an outcropping of rocks where rifles barked and gun smoke curled away.

The mare abruptly jerked then reared high, spilling Jess’s hat and tumbling her long braid free. The horse teetered on its hind legs then went over backward.

Pain exploded through Jess’s back and lungs.

Then, darkness.

An image flashed through her mind—the ranch, only not as they left it. Where the workshop, supply shed, and stable had once sat, large black smudges marred the ground. Eerie dread filled her at the vision, and at the realization that though she could see the ranch compound, she heard no wind, no movement, no sound at all.

A flash of daylight, then Jess felt sharp rocks beneath her back and smelled the pungent tang of gun smoke. Pain seared her right arm. Beside her, its neck bearing a bullet hole and spattered with blood, her horse thrashed once more then lay still.


Her gaze shifted to the back of Jake’s boots which stood rooted a few feet away, his long legs and broad shoulders tense. Jake had positioned himself and his horse between her and the outcropping. The gunfire had stopped. “I’m all right, Jake. You?”

His hat shifted with his answering nod, but his attention remained fixed on the distant rocks. Finally, he turned and went down on one knee near her hip. “The gunmen are gone.”

“And the Thoroughbreds?”

“Taggart and Diaz just rode after them. They’ll bring them back.” With great care, he leaned over her and felt her ribs, but pain whorled through her side, and she winced and caught her breath. Then winced again. “Anything feel broken, Jess?”

“I don’t believe so, but my ribs hurt when I breathe in.”

He pressed gently on her left side where she indicated, shifted his big hand, then pressed again. “I can’t feel any movement through your corset. I suspect that contraption just saved you from anything worse than bruising. Your ribs will likely hurt for a few weeks, especially when you breathe in, but they should heal fine.” He glanced at the cut on her arm that had begun to burn like fire, then stood and retrieved a bottle of whiskey and a clean bandana from his saddlebag.

With her good arm, Jess carefully pushed herself up, forcing herself not to groan at the pain in her side. Ranchmen never complained, even when shot. She had become one of them, and she wasn’t about to fuss over a little bruising and a cut.

Jake walked a few paces to where her hat had fallen on the other side of the dead horse then hesitantly returned it to her. She pulled it on, sensing his concern for her with the simple gesture, and felt overwhelming relief that he hadn’t been injured in the attack. “Jake, those men couldn’t have been outlaws. They must have been Paiute.”

He looped his horse’s reins around his arm and handed her the folded bandana. “That was my thought as well. If they’d been outlaws, they would have gone after the horses.”

He’d known, Jess realized. That was why she’d seen him fire only warning shots into the ground; she and Jake had friends among the Paiute. Several families worked at their ranch.

“Bands of Paiute have been trying to warn off immigrants for the last few years,” he said, “shooting from the hills along the Lassen Trail and north of Pyramid Lake. Apparently things have gotten worse, and the Paiutes have gotten bolder. You’re wearing britches and your braid was up under your hat. When your hat fell and your braid came free, they took off, so apparently they’re just warning folks away. None of the Paiutes I’ve met have ever killed innocent settlers.”

“But why attack this far south? You’re not the only rancher around here who employs them.”

“I agree; it doesn’t make sense.” Jake looked to where Taggart and Diaz had regained control of the Thoroughbreds less than a mile away. One man rode on either side of the herd, heading toward them at an easy pace to calm the skittish horses. “Let’s see your arm.”

Blood had soaked into the blue flannel shirtsleeve along her forearm, and from the feel of it dripping down her arm and the throbbing pain, she knew it was more than a simple cut.

Something flickered in Jake’s eyes. “You were shot?”

“No, I wasn’t. I must have hit it on a rock when I fell. Come to think of it, I lost my gun.” She briefly scanned the ground for it, but then he eased the sleeve up her arm and she looked away, certain that if she saw the wound, it would hurt more. “How bad is it?”

Jake held her forearm in his hand and gently turned it from side to side. “It’s a gash, but I won’t have to stitch it.”

The cork made a dull thunk as he pulled it from the whiskey bottle. The bottle glugged, then searing liquid ran over her arm with the piercing sting of a branding iron. She drew in her breath. Her ribs screamed.


“Do you know you only call me Bennett when you’re put out with me?” He poured again.

Jess hissed through her teeth, then smiled a little at the tease in his deep, mellow voice. “I think it’s a habit.”

“To be put out with me?”

For the sake of her ribs, she fought against a chuckle. “No, to call you Bennett in front of the men.” Jess knew he intentionally kept the conversation light. “If the men hear me call you Jake, it might change your status in their eyes. They don’t need to see you as my husband; they need to see you as their boss.”

“Only on the range, Jess. When the doors close at night, there will only be you and me.”

Jess stiffened as though she’d been struck. He’d wanted to reassure her with his words, she knew, yet it was a painful reminder that she still wasn’t expecting after nearly seven months of marriage. But, she told herself, what mattered most right now was the ranch, and building it with Jake. A quarter of a mile away, Taggart and Diaz had stopped and stood talking together, keeping a casual watch on the desert while the horses grazed. Their horses, hers and Jake’s. Horses which would enable them to be less dependent on cattle for their income, and to be one of the first ranches in the northern Sierras to raise horses to sell. If only . . . Now that they were out of danger, she allowed herself to ponder the odd vision. The cold fear returned, and her knees and legs trembled.

“Jake, I saw something . . . in my mind, when I fell.”

In the shadow of his hat brim, his sun-bronzed face turned thoughtful. Jake corked and set aside the whiskey, took the cloth from her hand, and bound the wound. “What is it that you saw?”

“The ranch compound, except some of the buildings were gone, and two of the corrals,” she recalled. “Only one corral remained. Where they had stood, the ground was black as though barrels of gunpowder had spilled. Seeing it scared me, Jake. I only saw it for a second or two, but in that instant, it felt as real as if I was actually there. Then I opened my eyes and saw the horse beside me, and then you. I think something bad is going to happen.”

Rather than wave away or make excuses for what she’d told him, he remained beside her, elbow on his knee, as he considered. She loved him for always listening to her.

“Has this ever happened before?”

“No. I have felt strongly about the outcome of various events, though, so strongly that I knew what would or wouldn’t happen. A year ago, when Ambrose was listed as missing in the war, I knew my brother wasn’t dead. I knew it.”

“I remember. You also told me last autumn that you believed outlaws would attack the ranch, and then they did.”

“So you believe me?”

“I don’t doubt that you saw what you say you did. Yes, I believe you.” He briefly scanned the foothills; there was no unusual movement among the rocks and sagebrush. “Do you remember my pa’s neighbor, the older lady who walked with two canes?”

“I only met her once, but I remember her.”

“When I was a boy—no more than nine or ten—she hurried over one night in a fluster and told my pa a tornado was coming, no more than an hour out. Almost exactly an hour later, it struck and took out half our corn before it dissipated. Later she told my pa that she occasionally had feelings about such things, and even saw a number of events before they happened. Premonitions, I reckon. I’ve occasionally heard similar about other women, whether or not their husbands had the good sense to listen to them. No, I won’t discount what you’ve told me, Jess.”

“But you don’t believe it.”

“I won’t lie to you, Jess. I’m not sure if I believe it or if I don’t.” He reached over and lightly squeezed her good arm. “Let’s just take things as they come.”

Jess struggled with disappointment, but she was glad Jake had listened. Within hours, they would learn firsthand if what she envisioned had, in fact, happened.

As Jake helped her to her feet, she dearly hoped they would find the ranch to be just as they left it, but she didn’t believe it would be.


At Jess’s insistence that she would not ride double due to her injuries any sooner than Jake would in her place, Jake had pulled the saddle, bridle, and gear from Jess’s dead horse and saddled the Thoroughbred stallion he would ride while Jess rode his calmer quarter horse—the only concession she would make.

Jess was more willful and determined than a Chicago storm.

Lord above, he loved that about her.

Unfortunately, it also made his guts churn in agony.

When her horse went over and crushed her beneath, his heart nearly exploded. Then, injured and struggling to rise, the gelding rolled over her again before it thrashed then lay still beside her. Years ago, about twenty miles to the south of where they rode now, his first wife and their baby daughter were on their way to visit family when outlaws attacked and killed them both. He nearly died himself when he discovered their bodies, Olivia’s and Sadie’s. He couldn’t endure losing Jess or seeing her harmed again.

What she had said about a premonition sat like a passel of thorns in his mind. He could work through whatever came, but what about Jess? She had been raised the daughter of a horse breeder in Lexington, Kentucky, and when the Hale family had moved west, she had kept books for his import business. She had not been raised to this life. She was strong and determined now, but what if years of hardships of living and working on a ranch in the wilderness became too much for her as it did for many ranchers’ wives? The fear entered his mind weeks ago when he lost several of their Thoroughbreds to Plains Indians, and the gunmen’s attack—and what she suffered as a result—solidified that fear. Would he eventually lose her?

“Bennett? Your face has turned grim and stiff as iron,” she said. “You’re worried about something. What’s on your mind?”

Rimmed with long, sooty lashes, Jess’s sage-green eyes bore into his as she brushed loose strands of her brown hair from her face. Her soft, rose-red lips revealed she was all woman, though she rode with the ease a man, albeit having a care for an injured side. He and Jess hadn’t been alone a single moment in weeks, even after nightfall, and now her ribs were injured. Though he’d waited with great patience all this time to be alone with her in the ranch house, what he’d had in mind would have to wait until she’d healed. All that mattered was that he keep her safe and give her a horse ranch to replace the one she’d loved and left behind years ago in Kentucky.

He eyed her revolver which was holstered once again in the gun belt at her narrow waist. Seeing to it that she was safe and happy was no small task. Trouble seemed to follow her. That is, when she wasn’t out looking for it.

One of the Thoroughbreds started to break from the herd. Jake changed its mind with a quick wave of the coiled rope in his hand, and forced a new thought into his own mind so he could answer her without dishonesty. “Well, Missus Bennett, I was just hoping there’s been enough rain that the river’s running high again. I plan to sink right into it, boots and all.”

Jess’s rosy lips curved into in a smile. “You’ll rust your spurs.”

“Hardly. After riding for weeks behind this herd amid all the dust they’re raising, my spurs’ll need a good soaking just as much as I will.”

“Perhaps,” she agreed, “but that’s not what turned your jaw to iron, and a muscle in your neck stood out when you glanced at my gun.”

Jake sighed. A dozen or so yards ahead of him and Jess, Taggart and Diaz rode in comfortable silence, their attention on the herd they wrangled. There was little chance they would overhear. Even so, Jake discreetly lowered his voice.

“What’s on my mind is that for the past few years you held your family together despite the war trying to pull you apart, and you were strong for your ma before she died. You didn’t have anyone to depend on but yourself for a long time, and I respect all you did for them. But—”

“But I’m impulsive.”

“No. Courageous.”

Jess blinked. She hadn’t expected that.

“You weren’t born to this life, Jess, and the Almighty must have known you’d need plenty of courage, because He surely gave you a barrelful.” He grinned, then more soberly looked to the bandana he’d knotted as a bandage on her forearm. “I’d just like you to tell me if this life becomes . . . hard for you. I’ll do whatever I can to keep that from happening, even if we have to give up the ranch and move on.”

Her eyes flashed green fire. “Not born to this life? Bennett, do you think I’d rather be dungeoned up in the dank corner of a store tallying rows of numbers than be here with you? And what about Olivia? You married her.”

“Times weren’t hard for Olivia and me. Besides, she was born to this.”

“I grew up in the South amid political stirrings and secessions, and the knowledge that during my lifetime war would come and possibly destroy all I held dear. What would you reply if I had said that to you?”

Jake lifted a shoulder, acknowledging her point. “I probably would have said that trials build character. But I was brought up this way. You and I are different.”

“Look again.” Jess huffed indignantly. “I thought I was the one who fell off a horse and had the sense knocked out of—”

“I don’t want to lose you.”

At his confession, her anger abruptly vanished, and her face held only understanding and love. “Then I’ll be careful not to get ‘lost.’”

Jake returned his attention to their herd. Her words sounded nearly as soothing to his mind as the smooth, Southern accent with which she had spoken them.

Lord above, he loved that about her too.


“Hey, boss,” Diaz called over his shoulder to Jake. “Those vacas are on your ranch, but they don’ carry your brand.”

Jess peered at the herd of eighteen or twenty cows grazing about an acre’s length distant. Diaz was right. Instead of Jake’s sideways B brand with the flat side down, each red-and-white hide bore a circle with an M in the center. They leisurely enjoyed the Bennett Ranch’s bunchgrass as if they’d always called the place home.

The nearest ranch was located so far from their own that Jess had never seen another brand within a mile of the compound. That uncomfortable realization, coupled with the fact that none of their ranchmen, mustangs, or cattle were in sight, fueled her apprehension.

Something was very wrong.

The men whistled the Thoroughbreds on, and finally, over the tops of the sagebrush, the ranch buildings came into view. The massive stable should have been the first building they saw. It was gone, and no smaller structures that had once huddled beside it remained to block their view of the barn.

Jess felt rather than saw Jake tense beside her.

The Paiute village that had stretched along the riverbank lay dismantled and scattered, as if the wigwams had been forcibly torn apart and the branches dragged beyond the outskirts of the camp.

Taggart and Diaz exchanged troubled glances, but drove the horses the final distance into the compound.

Where the workshop, supply shed, and stable had once sat, large black smudges marred the ground. Only one of three corrals that Jake had built remained.

In silence Jake, Taggart, and Diaz guided the stallions into the sole corral, and, having a care for her ribs, Jess closed and latched the gate.

The men stepped to the ground then tied their reins over the top rail of the corral. While Taggart and Diaz began to unload and unsaddle their horses, Jake gently lifted her down.

Like the hired men, Jess untied her saddlebags and set them aside then loosened the cinch strap. Though the buildings that had stood on the east end of the compound had been destroyed, the barn to the north and the smithy and cookhouse to the immediate west of it seemed to be in good condition, though no inviting, fragrant smoke rose from the cookhouse chimney. South and west of the cookhouse, the bunkhouse lay low and long as it always had, and south of that—between her and the initial slope that led up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains that she loved—rose the pine logs that formed the two stories of the ranch house. Its wide front window, brown with dust, would benefit from cleaning, and the porch and its two steps looked weathered and in need of repair.

By all appearances, the ranch had been deserted, except that to the west, beyond the bunkhouse, the garden had been planted, and beyond it, on what had been their property, someone had built a new house.

The silence shattered with the loud metallic cock of a shotgun.

All of them spun toward the ranch house.


My Review: The Homecoming by Dan Walsh

by Dan Walsh

Christian Fiction / Historical

Revell Books
Copyright 2010

(from Amazon):

No sooner is Shawn Collins home from the fighting in Europe than he's called upon to serve his country as a war hero on a USO bond tour. Others might jump at the chance to travel all around the country with attractive Hollywood starlets. But not Shawn. He just wants to stay home with his son Patrick, his aging father and to grieve the loss of his wife in private. 

When Shawn asks Katherine Townsend, Patrick's former social worker, to be Patrick's nanny while he's on the road, he has no idea how this decision will impact his life. Could it be the key to his future happiness and the mending of his heart? Or will the war once again threaten his chances for a new start?

What I thought:

I thought this was a fitting ending to the Collins' family's story.  It was nice to catch up with all of the great characters we first met in The Unfinished Gift.  Patrick has settled in nicely with his crotchety old grandfather, and they seem to be getting along relatively well.  Mr. Collins' spry old neighbor, Mrs. Fortini, makes sure they're eating properly by whipping up some delightful Italian dishes.

Katherine Townsend misses Patrick terribly!  Now that she's no longer on his case, she doesn't have a legitimate reason to spend much time with him.  She still worries that he and his grandfather may not have settled in quite as quickly as everyone seems to think.  Imagine her surprise -- and delight! -- when she gets a call from Shawn, out of the blue, asking her to be Patrick's full-time nanny while he's away for four months.  She can't believe he chose her for this wonderful job!

There's a lot more "action" in The Homecoming, and though I'm not a big fan of war-themed stories, this one turned out quite well.  The romance is very low-key, but I thought it fit the story well.  The Unfinished Gift is definitely my favorite, but I highly recommend this one, too.

If you'd like to find out more about Dan Walsh, and/or his books, be sure to visit his website and blog.

***I received my review copy from Donna @ Revell Books -- thank you!***