Cavalry scout Judson Stone needs to warn Lawrence, Kansas, of the impending threat of Quantrill and his raiders. Shot and left for dead, he awakes in a strange new time and place. Guilt riddles him over his failed mission as the days pass and he struggles to find a way back to his own time –and overcome growing feelings for a woman who doesn't trust him.
Sadie Winters has her hands full juggling a full-time job, a start-up business, and the chore of keeping tabs on her mischievous grandfather. She doesn't need the further complication of caring for the stranger Gramps brought home. Little by little, the mystery surrounding Judson is revealed, and she throws herself into helping him find his way back to his own time. But how can she send him back, knowing she's fallen in love?
|Publisher:||Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.43(d)|
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Kansas, August 21, 1863
The humidity hung over the night like a descending cloud as Judson Stone raced across the dry terrain. A trail of sweat snaked down his temple as another trickled along the indention of his spine. The moonless night echoed heavily with the sound of cicadas composing their music. He hissed an urgent command to his horse and leaned over Storm's neck as his mount picked up speed. The horse's hooves reverberated the message too late. Lord, he didn't want to be too late.
He was tired. Weary beyond belief. The constant threats made to the Union forces from the bushwhackers and the war had drained him. Peace, that's all he wanted. Was a little serenity too much to ask for?
A few hours ago, he'd been ready to crawl into his bunk after he'd returned from a scouting mission. He'd barely unsaddled his horse when summoned by his commanding officer. Minutes later, he entered the commander's office to see Colonel Thomas Ewing pacing.
"Sir, you wanted to see me."
"Stone. I need you to go back out. We've received word Quantrill and his raiders have planned a raid on the City of Lawrence."
The threat wasn't an unfamiliar one. He had heard this one before, but the concern written on Ewing's face created a foreboding chill to race down his spine. His gut twisted with a knot of fear.
"Do we know when, sir?"
"No, dammit. That's what has me worried. I need you to go to Lawrence and warn Mayor Collamore of the looming threat."
He had received his orders a few hours ago, and he'd raced toward Lawrence since. His orders were simple. Arrive in the town before Quantrill and warn the mayor.
His stomach churned, and his chest tightened. He swallowed hard as he fought the tension eroding his self-control. Would he make it in time? Could he thwart the plans before they were carried out? He squinted into the night as he determined his location from the terrain he passed. He'd always made this trip in the daylight, and the night shadows played tricks with his eyes.
He reined in his mount and glanced about to get his bearings. He fumbled with his canteen with impatient fingers before he dragged the container to his lips. He took a long draw but choked as water rushed in. The tepid liquid didn't relieve the dryness taking up residency in his mouth. He swiped a hand across his lower lip and replaced the cap. He believed he was in the vicinity of Eudora. Just a little past the settlement of Hesper.
The problem he faced was he didn't know if he was ahead of Quantrill or behind. The question had started to rattle around in his brain when the distinct sound of horses approaching reached his ears. He swiveled in his saddle and eyed the dark shadows of the road he had traveled. Had someone spotted him? He jerked on the reins and urged Storm off the road into the nearby trees. He placed a reassuring hand along the horse's neck and eased himself out of his saddle. A crop of trees provided cover as he crouched low and waited. The cicadas heavy song ended on an abrupt note, as the low murmur of voices carried on the night air.
He rose, tiptoed to pick up his horse's reins, and led him deeper into the shadows of some nearby trees. He tied him off to a low branch and crept back toward the road to resume his crouched position. Minutes ticked by before he caught movement from the corner of his eye. Two men on horseback rounded the bend. At first glance it was obvious the men weren't Quantrill or his band of raiders. He needed to keep moving. He eased away from his hiding spot but froze as one of the men chuckled and said Lawrence was in for a surprise.
Under his breath, he uttered a curse. In one fluid movement, he untied his horse's reins and swung up into the saddle. He had wasted precious time. He dug his heels into Storm's sides with a soft nudge and weaved through the trees to distance himself from the two riders. They were scouts for Quantrill. But how far were they ahead of their leader?
A mere second later, the report of a rifle pierced the night. He jolted at the sound and braced himself for the impact. Pain tore through his right shoulder. He clutched at the injury and drew back his hand to find his fingers sticky with blood. Damn. Slumping low over his mount's neck, he murmured a couple of reassuring words in an attempt to calm his edgy companion.
Twigs snapped a few feet away. His end was near ... sooner than he'd planned. The peace he prayed for was almost upon him, but he hadn't meant to gain serenity in this manner. He twisted in his saddle and stiffened his spine, as he waited to face the enemy.
Two shadows on horseback emerged. "Mister, doesn't this just cap the climax?" The speaker spewed something from his lips, and a deep chuckle rumbled in his chest. "Ol' Earl and me wonderin' what brings ya to this neck of the woods?" Another stream of spit emerged. "Better make your story good."
The other rider shifted in his saddle and shot an uneasy peek at his companion. "Les?"
"Clam up. We've got a job to do. No time for ya girly insecurities."
Judson cleared his throat. "Les? Do you always shoot first and ask questions later?"
The other man squinted at him in displeasure before he leaned over and decorated his boot with tobacco juice. "Mister, last chance. Why ya here?"
He forced a smile. "Well, there's a lady ..."
He cut him off. "Bullshit. Ya the law? A soldier? You're dressed like one. Spill. Where ya going?"
He didn't flinch as he stared into Les's steel gaze. He clenched his jaw, but didn't break his eye contact, even as the other man drew his pistol. He aimed the barrel at his chest.
"I'm assumin' ya were headed to warn the good ol' people of Lawrence." He leaned forward and growled, "Get off ya horse."
He hesitated a moment before he swung out of the saddle and dismounted, holding his injured arm steady. He stared at both men in defiance. "You won't get away with this."
Spittle flew from Les's lips as he laughed. "Mister, I think we will." He pointed toward his companion. "Ya know of anyone here to stop us?"
Earl shook his head.
"Mister, turn around."
He stood firm.
The sound of a pistol being cocked reverberated through the stillness of the night. "Move it."
He shuffled about in slow motion, closed his eyes, and sent a quick prayer to his Maker. A saddle creaked and interrupted his plea. He opened his eyes moments before pain ricocheted through his head as Les brought his pistol down hard on the back of his skull.
He crumbled to the ground as he lost consciousness. He had found the peace he needed at last.CHAPTER 2
Lawrence, Kansas, August 15, 2019
Sadie Winters flipped her turn signal on as she entered the Lawrence Memorial Hospital complex. She controlled the panic gripping her as she followed the signs toward the emergency room. Twenty minutes ago, she'd received a disturbing call. The nurse stated her grandfather, Walt Winters, had arrived at the hospital and requested they phone her.
She shoved the truck into park, grasped the door handle, and gave the lever a firm yank. She teetered as she jumped down before she settled onto the ground. With a flick of her hand, she slammed the door. Please, oh please don't let the problem be his heart. Nearly running across the parking lot she slowed her pace as she waited for the automatic doors to slide open.
Calm. She needed to remain cool. She glanced about until she spotted the registration area. The sound of her boots echoed on the linoleum floor as she crossed the room. The waiting area was void of anyone expecting to be seen. She stopped in front of the desk and shifted. She wrestled down impatience as she balanced herself from one booted foot to the other waiting for the clerk to finish a phone call.
The clerk smiled as she replaced the receiver in its cradle. "Can I help you?"
She tried to smile, but the fear of her granddad seriously hurt prevented the action from making an appearance on her lips. She glanced at the lady's nametag. "Yes, May. Someone called me to let me know my grandfather Walt Winters is here. Can you tell me where I can find him?"
The clerk glanced at her computer screen. "He's in exam one." She pointed down the hall. "First room on your right."
She mumbled a polite thank you before she rushed down the corridor. As she approached the curtain, she paused a moment, closed her eyes, and took a deep soothing breath. Whatever had happened she would get through. She hauled the curtain back and stuttered to a stop.
Her grandpa lay propped up on the exam table, a well-endowed nurse bent over him fluffing his pillow. His gaze sparkled as he peeked down the middle-aged nurse's shirt, a lecherous grin on his wrinkled face.
She was going to kill him.
He jumped, guilt in his startled gaze as it met hers. "Sadie girl. Come in. Come in. Nurse Joyce made me comfortable."
"I can see that," she muttered. She approached the side of the bed and glanced at her grandpa's left foot propped up by several pillows. "Goodness, what have you done?" The fear riding shotgun since she had received the call from the hospital slipped away. She hadn't found him on his deathbed. And if she had to judge by the twinkle in his eye, he wasn't anywhere close. She touched his hand to reassure herself he was okay.
He chuckled and scratched his chin, "How did work go?"
She leaned in, poked her finger continuously into his chest, and spit out in rapid fire. "Quit. Trying. To. Change. The. Subject."
"Hey, that hurts. I'm not a young pup anymore, you know." He rubbed his chest with a tentative hand and gave her a sheepish glance. "I don't think ya are going to like how this happened."
She tilted her head and studied his flushed face. She couldn't believe it. He shifted as he contained his embarrassment. This story had to be good. An impatient sigh escaped as she crossed her arms across her chest. "Come on, Gramps, spill. What did you do?"
He waited until the nurse left the area before he peeked at her and cleared his throat. He lifted his hand and wiggled several fingers for her to come closer. If possible, his blush deepened. "Remember the young filly, Rita, I've had my eye on down at the senior center?" He waited for her to nod before he continued. "Well, I convinced her to go out." He stopped before he stated, "Promise you won't get mad."
Geez, did she want to know the story? If he relayed a kinky exploit tale, she'd end up more embarrassed than her grandpa. She took a moment before she waved her hand in a go-ahead motion.
"I made an attempt to impress her, show her how agile I am. You know that's a plus for a man my age."
A blush stirred on her cheeks. Dang it, she didn't want to talk about his sexual encounter. She wasn't ready for this confession. She stumbled on her words, "I'm fine if you don't want to tell me. I don't need to know."
"No, no, Sadie girl. Confession, I hear, is good for the soul." He snuggled down on the fluffed pillow and fiddled with the blanket hem.
Was he stalling? "Come on already. What happened?"
"Well, she invited me over to her place for drinks."
"Wait." She held up a hand to stop him. "Hold on a cotton-picking minute. Are we talking leaded or unleaded drinks here? Please don't tell me you had alcohol."
He shot a hesitant glance in her direction. "I know I told you I wasn't going to indulge after the tequila incident, but she had these delicious Jell-o shots. ..."
She gasped, "You didn't? You know you're not supposed to have alcohol. At all. Period." She inhaled a deep breath before her blood pressure skyrocketed. She relaxed her jaw before she chipped a tooth. "How many did you have?"
He shrugged and didn't answer at first. His gaze met hers and he mumbled, "I lost track."
She closed her eyes for a moment before she ran a hand through her short locks. A groan escaped as she leaned over and whispered, "You haven't gotten to the part of the story on how you broke your foot."
"Oh, but it's not. Broken. According to the x-rays. Doc said it's a bad sprain."
She counted to five before she replied, "Okay, I'm glad your foot is still intact, that's a bonus. Please, continue."
"Well, after who knows how many Jell-o shots we decided to jitterbug. My mom's favorite dance if you didn't know. We used to dance a lot when I was a young pup." He shook his head. "Have I already told you that?"
She gritted her teeth in frustration. "Gramps, I'm not a total idiot. I've seen you doing the jitterbug around the house when you thought I wasn't around."
"Yeah, well, I'm not sure how the accident happened, but I was kicking some serious jitterbug behiney when the next thing I knew I landed flat on my back and stared up at the ceiling."
She straightened and stared at her grandpa for a few moments before she realized she couldn't hold the laughter at bay. Her amusement started as a small guffle and grew. She took a moment to try to contain her merriment. The picture she'd drawn in her mind of her grandpa kicking hiney and downing jello shots was too much. She swiped at the tears as they streamed down her face.
After a few seconds, he joined her in laughter.
She sucked in a breath and shook her head trying to get her merriment under control. She placed her forehead against her grandpa's. "I only have one question. The fair Miss Rita, did she dig your moves?"
He smiled and winked. "Totally."
She shook her head again. For a sixty-eight year old man his activities always made her question who the grown up was in their household.
She tucked the blanket around his frame. "Has the doctor indicated when I can bust you out of here?"
Before he could answer, a commotion from the other side of the curtain shattered the quietness of the ER. She drew the partition back and peeked around to see the staff rush to the entrance as an ambulance arrived in the outside bay.
Seconds later a gurney wheeled through the sliding doors as a man thrashed against the restraints strapped across his chest.
The patient yelled, "Let me go, damn it. Take these ropes off. I've got to get to Lawrence. You don't understand. Their lives are in danger." She could feel the raw panic in the man's deep voice from across the room.
As the ER team drew near, the man's desperate gaze locked on hers. She tried not to gasp at the unkempt man. Twigs and dirt clung to a scruffy beard that would've rivaled the Robertsons from Duck Dynasty. Thick curly black hair adorned his head and needed a good trim. Grime about two inches thick covered the rest of his features. A deep red stain had taken up residence on his dark blue shirt. A shiver crept down her spine as his haunted gaze conveyed to her a terror she couldn't comprehend.
She overheard the paramedic state the victim had a gunshot wound and lost a lot of blood. Shot. Backing away, she veered from the scene outside the exam room. She trembled as she brought her hand to her brow. What could have happened?
"What's the problem, Sadie girl?"
She turned and forced her unease away. "Someone has been brought in by ambulance. I believe we may be here awhile."
He rubbed his chin and replied as another blush colored his cheeks, "You got distracted by the activity outside in the hallway. The doc wants me to stay overnight."
"For a sprained ankle?"
"Well, I bumped my noggin' when I slipped and fell. I have a goose egg on the back of my head. Guess the doc wants to make sure I don't have a concussion or something else wrong."
She leaned over and gave him a kiss on his grisly cheek. "I think you jarred loose a few marbles. I'm glad the doctor is erring on the safe side." She picked up her purse and glanced at her watch. "I'll be back in the morning. I need to tend to the horses. Please, don't give the nurses a hard time. I can't pick you up in the middle of the night for bad behavior."
He indicated his foot. "What trouble could I get into?"
She shook her head. What trouble indeed? "I'll see you tomorrow."
* * *
The faces leaning over him blurred as Judson struggled to stay alert. Unfamiliar sounds and sights tripped his heart faster than a jackrabbit flushed out by a coon dog. He had awakened in some box big enough for himself and two others. When he had struggled to exit, they slapped leather bands across his chest and he had yet to figure a way out. What hell had Quantrill's men placed him in?
A woman's voice fought in his clamoring brain to be heard. "Sir, you've been shot. They are taking you into surgery to remove the bullet. Please, try to relax and the operation will be over soon."
He had to escape this rolling bed. Images from the war flashed in his brain as he remembered fellow soldiers missing limbs because some field surgeon hacked on them. He renewed his struggle against the binding that imprisoned him and begged, "No. Don't let the ol' sawbones near me."
He cringed as something sharp pinched his arm. "What are you doing to me?" He fought to keep his eyes open. His fingers slipped as he tried one last tug to gain freedom before he lost consciousness.
Excerpted from "Raider of Her Heart"
Copyright © 2019 N. Jade Gray.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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