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About the Author
When she's not time traveling, fighting outlaws, or otherworldly creatures, she creates pre-made book covers to order at Gillian's Book Covers, "Judge Your Book By Its Cover". You can also check out her published cover art designs at Western Trail Blazer and Rebecca J. Vickery Publishing.
Whether your reading fancy is paranormal, historical or time travel, all her stories capture the rich array of emotions that accompany the most fabulous human phenomena-falling in love.
Read an Excerpt
Liberty, Arizona Territory, 1881
"Papa, Papa!" Emma exclaimed as she pounced onto the bed, startling Jace out of a deep sleep.
His hands gripped her shoulders as he tried to make out her features in the dark. "What is it? Are you hurt?" His gaze took in her appearance all at once, even as her long blonde strands shook back and forth.
"No, Papa," she hurried to tell him, but something had startled the child and awakened her before the roosters crowed and announced the start of a new day.
He loosened his grip, relaxing just a tad. He sat up and reached for a sulfur stick on the nightstand so he could light the candle he had there for just such emergencies. Once done, he leveled his gaze on his daughter. She sat on her knees and stared at him with wide eyes. "Tell me what's wrong?" he asked her with a yawn. His hand rubbed over his face, trying to erase the last remnants of sleep.
"Don't be cross, Papa." Emma's lips quivered.
His daughter was only six and a half years old. As much as he didn't like being startled out of a deep sleep, he didn't want Emma to fear waking him if something troubled her. "Come here," he said as he gently pulled her beside him in a hug. "Did you have one of your dreams again, darlin'?" The dreams came often now, vivid accounts of a future event. Usually they were no more disturbing than letting him know a calf would be born or someone was going to propose marriage, but he knew they wouldn't always be so benevolent. The gift of sight always came with a price — along with the joyful occasions, tragedies would also be revealed. His great-grandmother had the gift, then his father, and now his daughter, the gift always skipping a generation in between as if the sidhe or the fae folk, as his father called them, didn't want too many seers alive at the same time.
He would have to help Emma recognize when a dream proved to be a vision and when the dream was simply a dream.
Her head bobbed up and down, giving him his answer. "The dream was about my new mama."
Jace's back stiffened and he inhaled deeply, praying for patience as he did so. This was only a dream, not a vision. Emma's mother died in childbirth and he had no intentions of marrying again, but his daughter seemed determined to find him a wife. Last week, she wanted him to propose to the Widow Gunthry, who was old enough to be his mother. Then she turned an eye toward Samantha Daniels, the pretty little schoolmarm, who had eyes for another fellow.
Maybe he was wrong to deny Emma a mother, but he couldn't see himself falling in love with another woman. Sarah had been his first and only love. With her death, a part of him died too. No woman wanted a man with a broken heart. "Honey," he reached for Emma's hand and patted it, "we've talked about this."
"I know," she said with a long sigh. "You don't want no pickled-faced prune and —"
"Who told you that?" He interrupted her colorful description.
"Well, it's true, isn't it? Beau Bennett says so. When I done told him you wouldn't marry Mrs. Gunthry — even though she don't have a husband no more — he says it's 'cause she's a pickled —"
"I get it," he interrupted his daughter. It's not nice to call people pickled- faced prunes." He'd have to talk to his deputy and tell him not to fill his daughter's head with stories.
"But you don't want a pickled-faced prune for a wife, do you, Papa?"
"Uh ... no. I suppose I don't. But that's beside the point. Mrs. Gunthry is a fine woman and I don't want you calling her names."
She sighed. "Beau told me I shouldn't repeat what he said," she murmured.
"He shouldn't have said it in the first place."
Her small hand patted his chest. "No worries, Papa. You won't have to marry Mrs. Gunthry. 'Cause you're going to marry someone else, and my mama is real pretty, but she don't have my color hair." She chewed on her lower lip. It's not like yours either."
"No?" He'd humor her for now. If he didn't, they wouldn't get one wink of sleep.
"Uh-uh, it's real dark like the ink I spilt on your desk at work."
"You don't say."
"Her hair's real long too, and she has green eyes like the moss on the tree out back yonder."
"She sounds real nice, darlin', but I'm not looking to find a wife even if she's as pretty as you say."
"But my dream has gotta be true," she insisted. "'Cause I wished it."
He frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"Old Mrs. Gunthry told me to make a wish 'cause it was the Christmas season and wishes come true when you wish upon the Christmas Star."
His right eyebrow arched at this bit of news. Christmas Stars and wishes — what was Mrs. Gunthry thinking to encourage his daughter in that way? "Emma, listen —"
"Do you want to hear about my dream or not? 'Cause you keep interruptin' me."
"Sorry, Darlin'." He drew in a deep breath and let it out again. "Do continue."
"My mama will be arrivin' soon," she said. Her brows knitted over the bridge of her nose as she recalled her dream. "You'll have to save her. You might have to use your guns, too."
"Is that so?"
"Well ... I don't think you have to shoot no one. It wouldn't be fitting since you're the sheriff and all, but you do shoot bad outlaws, don't you?"
Shoot bad outlaws? As if there were a good kind. "Emma, I try not to shoot anyone."
"But if they're real bad like a hell-bent soul with no chance of red ... redeem ... shawn."
"Redemption," he corrected.
"And we don't say hell-bent in this house," he gently scolded.
"Reverend Murphy said it Sunday past," she countered.
He cleared his throat. "Well, yes he did, but it's not seemly for a young lady to use such words."
"Don't see why not if it were true." She rested her elbow on his chest and leaned her chin on the palm of her hand as she peered at him with those baby blue eyes so much like her mother's, his heart clenched in response. "You would shoot that kind of man, right?" she insisted.
He didn't know what his daughter was fishing for or why, but he would reassure her of her safety. "If there was a really bad man who tried to harm someone, I might have to stop him."
Her head bobbed up and down. "I thought so. Good thing too. My mama is real scared of this man. He's mean."
Emma sure had one heck of a dream to know all this or at the very least, a good imagination. He had no plans to marry. Her dream could not be a premonition, but it didn't hurt to have all the facts. "Out of curiosity, when am I supposed to meet this dark-haired, green-eyed woman?"
"Soon. You'll know her 'cause she'll carry shamrocks in her pocket."
"Shamrocks, is it?" His lips twitched.
That would be short of a miracle since no green plants could break through the layer of frost covering the ground. They'd most likely have snow for Christmas. "Well, Darlin', I'll keep a look out for her."
"Promise." He scooted so his head rested on the pillow once more. He closed his eyes. "You can stay in here if you want, but you have to settle down. Your papa needs his beauty sleep."
Her giggle had him peeking one eye at her.
"Papa, you can't be a beauty. Mrs. Gunthry says all men are either handsome or as ugly as sin. That must be pretty bad 'cause her face scrunched up, making her wrinkles look like cracks in the dried mud."
"Enough, Emma. Now be a good girl and blow out the candle."
She scooted close to the nightstand, inhaled and let out her breath in a whoosh. It took her a moment to settle in next to him. "Now close your eyes," he told her as he made a mental note to have a word with Mrs. Gunthry too.CHAPTER 2
Jace sipped his coffee as he stood in the open doorway of his office. The sturdy wooden structure of the jailhouse stood smack dab in the center of town. Danby's Mercantile stood across the street next to the barbershop and the print shop. The saloon was situated at the end of the street with Miss Polly Ann's Board and Room on the other end where the post office had opened shop three years ago. The town folk didn't make their money with the mines, but with sheep ranching and lumber. It was a quiet town, unlike the rowdy Bisbee or the infamous Tombstone, which in its heyday had more gunfights than he cared to count. When the Claytons and the Earps' shootout reached their ears, it became the talk of the town for weeks. Liberty lay to the south of them about four days ride, if the weather didn't prove too troublesome.
The beautiful Ponderosa Pines surrounded the town. His house sat among those pines, and a short distance from his backyard lay one of the numerous natural springs the land had to offer. It's why he chose the location. His gaze shifted to the blue sky skimmed with white clouds. The San Francisco Peaks in the distance were covered with white, and he knew it wouldn't be long before they had snow too.
Already the cold brisk wind sent the patrons of Liberty out with scarves covering their necks and with gloves to keep their hands warm. He glanced at his scarf hanging on one of the coat pegs. The blue and red yarn showed frayed areas, but it was still usable. Sarah had knitted it for him, her first try with the knitting needles and the last Christmas present she gave him. The stitches weren't perfect, but he loved it all the same.
The scarf reminded him it was a week until Christmas and he hadn't bought Emma a present yet. She wanted a mother. He hoped she would settle for the porcelain doll displayed in the front window of Danby's Mercantile.
"Hey, Jace." Beau Bennett waved his hat in greeting before crossing the street at a jog.
His deputy was a lanky-limbed man of eighteen with hair the color of wheat and light brown eyes. Beau's father had been the sheriff before him, dying of influenza two years past. Losing a father was a hard thing for a boy. Jace decided to take Beau under his wing, giving him a job at the office. Beau's workday consisted of running errands and keeping the office and jail swept clean, but if he needed Beau to have his back, he could count on him.
"Good morning, Beau."
"Is there more coffee inside?" Beau asked. "It's a cold one today." He didn't wait for Jace to reply. He shrugged off his jacket and hung it on the coat peg against the wall before heading for the coffeepot on the coal stove top. He poured the hot liquid into the cup and took a long inhaled breath over the rim. "Mmmm yep, just what the doc ordered. Warms the bones right up."
"When you're warmed up, you might want to don that coat of yours again and mosey on down to Travis Dean's place and see what damage was done to his chicken coop. He's already filed a report that someone stole his chickens."
"Oh come now, Sheriff Kelly, I done told the old coot he had to keep the gate locked. Them chickens ain't stolen. Most likely some coyote got to them."
"Most likely, but we need to follow up on this anyway."
"Fine." With a tilt of his head, he drained the last of the coffee from his cup. "Okay, I'm on it like flies on sh —"
"Beau," he warned.
"Sorry. Gotta work on them cuss words."
"Please, Emma looks up to you, doting on your every word. You need to set a good example. Gentlemen don't use cuss words in every sentence."
"Don't know why not. What good is the words if you can't use them?"
He opened his mouth to reply, but held the thought when he heard hoof beats, fast approaching. He placed his coffee cup down on his desk and stepped outside to investigate. Beau followed close behind.
Jace spotted three riders, two of them riding on one horse. They only slowed their pace as they neared the office.
"Whoa!" the man riding alone shouted. His mount pranced and shook its head, while snorting in defiance, but finally the man brought the horse under control. "Darn beast," he grumbled.
Jace took in the new arrivals with curiosity. The two men were both middle-aged with beard stubble faces, and both sported a badge on their jackets. His gaze shifted to the third rider — a woman, bound and gagged, sitting defiantly in front of the deputy, who wore a brown hat that had seen better days. Her green-eyed gaze latched onto his like spitfire. His brows lifted in surprise at her spunk. His casual gaze took in the rest of her.
Petite, and possibly with a good figure, it was difficult to tell with the coat hanging on her like a rough worn blanket. But it wouldn't matter if she possessed the curves of a goddess. The feminine façade would never be enough distraction to hide the killer instincts registered in her heated gaze.
All three riders looked like they had ridden hard and long by the dirt and grime layering their faces and clothes. The men appeared plumb wore out, but the woman looked ready to take on anyone who stood in her way.
"You the sheriff around here?" the deputy in charge of the prisoner asked.
"Yes." As if the badge hadn't been a good indicator.
"I'm Bill Tesdall and this here is Jordan Wakefield." He jabbed his thumb toward the man seated on the horse next to him. "We're on official business to deliver this here prisoner to one Sheriff Jace Kelly."
He arched a brow in surprise. "Is that right. Says who?"
"Sheriff Todd over at Middleton. Said you were friends and you owed him a favor."
Sheriff Todd most likely didn't want to watch the prisoner over the Christmas Holiday. Great, now he'd have to take on the responsibility.
"What's she done?" He nodded toward the woman.
"Robbed a stagecoach with Shane Maverick and his gang some ten days back," Bill snarled with disgust. "The gang got away with some gold and silver. The fools at Wells Fargo thought they were clever packing the shipment into whiskey kegs in the mailbags." He shook his head.
"Posse killed two of the outlaws," Jordan piped up.
"Yeah," Bill said, taking over the conversation once more, "but Maverick got away. Lucky for us we nabbed this fine lady. Baby Face Jo or JoBeth Maverick she says her name is, but Sheriff Todd ain't so sure that's her real name." Bill's hand slid down JoBeth's face, making her flinch.
Bill's chuckle grated on Jace's nerves. Prisoner or not, there was no need to be crude.
"I will advise you to keep your hands off the lady." To make his point clear, Jace's hand touched the hilt of his gun. Beau came to stand by him for back up. Beau may look like a baby-faced youth, but his aim with a gun was lethal.
"Don't get all righteous with this one," Bill warned. "She's looking to never see the light of day if she don't help us catch Maverick."
His brows drew together as he glanced at the woman in question. Her ominous expression told him she'd sooner hang than give up Maverick. "How is she suppose to help you when she'll be behind bars?"
"We's goin' to use her as bait," Bill said. "We didn't find them mailbags full of silver and gold. Baby Face claims Maverick buried it somewhere near Veit Springs, but doesn't know the exact location. We need Maverick alive, and it seems the outlaw has a soft spot for her." He sniffed JoBeth's hair and wrinkled his nose. "Don't rightly know why, scrawny and filthy as she is, but maybe she cleans up real nice." His gaze returned to Jace. "Maverick will come for her, but Sheriff Todd wants it on his terms. That's why there's a need to hide her here until the trial in Yuma can be arranged."
Fine and dandy, Jace thought. Just what he wanted to do: play babysitter to a pawn, who in the end would be useless in finding the real mastermind behind the robbery. As for Maverick, he would be a fool to try and rescue his — He wondered what JoBeth's relationship was with Maverick. Was she his wife? Lover? Just because one of her aliases was JoBeth Maverick didn't necessarily mean she married the man. He pursed his lips. It didn't matter. One glance at the woman told him all he needed to know. She wouldn't help them. There had to be trust and she didn't trust them one iota.
"I bet Maverick is just itchin' to find you," Bill said. "Isn't that so, fine lady?" Bill's hand roamed beneath her jacket.
"I said keep your hands to yourself," Jace warned. "Don't make me repeat myself."
Bill lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "Fine. She's yours anyhow." He slid off the horse, yanking the woman down with him. She lost her balance. Only grit and stubborn determination kept her on her feet. Bill then shoved her forward and she whirled on him with a lunge. If her hands had been free, Bill would have felt her sting. Instead, she was the one who suffered. The deputy's hand whipped out with a sound slap across the cheek, sending JoBeth to her knees.
"See here." Jace came forward, helping JoBeth to her feet. "I'll take things from here."
"Suit yourself. She won't appreciate no kindness." Bill narrowed his gaze at JoBeth. "The woman has less manners than a wildcat and a mouth that will make a man blush. Geez, we had to gag her to get some peace from her constant swearing and damning us to hell and back."
"Mmm-hmm." He bet they deserved most of what she called them, but kept the opinion to himself.
Excerpted from "Wanted"
Copyright © 2015 Karen Michelle Nutt.
Excerpted by permission of CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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