Thursday, October 30, 2014

AP Author Spotlight: Susan Rush

Susan Rush
Describe yourself in three words:
empathetic, sarcastic, patient
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Just Over the Horizon chronicles the faith journey of a hospice nurse. Of course, the journey's no fun without romance and suspense so that's thrown in for fun.
Short blurb:  While grieving the death of her eccentric nana, Sarah discovers a mysterious, little box. The gift quickly becomes a source of comfort and guidance, but while working as a traveling hospice nurse, her childhood faith is shattered. Will a simple box be enough to restore her faith or will a secret destroy it forever?
What is your earliest memory?
My earliest memory is snuggling up next to Daddy in his worn recliner. It molded perfectly to our bodies- one hand across his belly and the other at my mouth. I was a thumb sucker, and Daddy was one of the few who never minded the obnoxious habit. John Wayne provided the back-ground noise for our night time ritual for years. (Interesting fact: I sucked my thumb until I was in second grade.)
What would you consider the greatest moment in your life?
I know it sounds cliche but birthing three phenomenal children. How can any moment be greater than miraculously bringing new life into this world?
What’s the hardest thing in in life you’ve done?
Waking my mom to tell her that her husband and soul-mate had finished his race well after battling Alzheimer's for many years and was finally free in heaven.There are no words . . .
What have you learned in life so far?
The old cliche holds true. Life is a journey - one filled with unexpected curves, dark tunnels, beautiful mountain views, scary side roads and refreshing beaches. Thankfully, through it all, it is a journey full of promise.
Everyone’s favourite question: if you could invite five people for dinner, who would it be?
Daddy- just to see him one more time, Ruth Bell Graham and Mother Teresa for inspiration, Bryan Regan and Jim Gaffigan, the comedians, to keep us all laughing.
Chance for our readers - what else would you like to know about Susan Rush?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

RELEASE DAY: Tracy Krauss "Lone Wolf"

Thomas Lone Wolf has recovered from a brush with death – and from a broken heart. His work of opening a First Nations cultural center at an archaeological site near the town of Marshdale is almost complete. Once his son graduates from high school, he and his daughter will have to move on to the next project. Just when he has resigned himself to being a single dad for the rest of his life, he meets a woman who seems perfect. But can his wounded heart take a chance on love again?
Tracy Krauss is a best-selling and award winning author, artist and playwright. She is a member of 'American Christian Fiction Writers', 'Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship', and ‘The Word Guild’. Originally from a small prairie town, Tracy received her Bachelor’s Degree from the U of S with majors in Art, and minors in History and English. She teaches High School English, Drama and Art – all things she is passionate about. Apart from her many personal creative pursuits, she also leads worship at her local church. She and her husband, an ordained minister, have lived in many remote and unique places in Canada's north. They raised four children and were active advocates of the homeschooling movement for many years. They currently reside in beautiful Tumbler Ridge, BC, known for its many waterfalls. Visit her website for more info:
Now available on
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Chapter One
Thomas Lone Wolf poured himself a cup of coffee, inhaling the heavenly scent as he clattered the pot back into place on its burner. He cradled the mug in his hands and sniffed, enjoying the warmth and the aroma before taking a tentative sip. He winced and touched his cheek, then let out a whispered oath. Good thing the kids were still sleeping. He didn’t usually swear, but he’d had a toothache for days and the hot liquid touched a nerve. He took another sip, bracing himself against the pain. Once the steaming brew was past the tooth and down his throat he expelled a groan. It was a tossup which was worse, the pain in his tooth or going without his morning coffee. The third sip went down much better. Once the initial shock was past, it didn’t hurt so much. He took another larger gulp and stopped to gaze out the kitchen window. He lifted the faded sheer material away from the frame just a bit more so his view wouldn’t be obstructed.
He’d come to love the vastness of the view before him. Wide open prairie. Some people said it was boring. Table flat with nothing to see. Thomas saw it differently. There was subtleness to the land. It wasn’t flashy or brash, yelling to get attention. Instead the grasses rippled like the waves on a calm ocean, just barely discernible, but moving nonetheless. He loved the change in color, too. Muted browns, rich ochers, vibrant greens, each taking their cue as the seasons morphed against a backdrop of sky. Perhaps this was the most impressive of all. The sky was a living thing here, awe-inspiring in its vastness; sometimes clear and blue, sometimes filled with fluffy cumulus clouds, sometimes flashing with powerful forks of lightning. Magnificent.
Thomas let the curtain drop back into place. He downed the rest of his coffee and set the empty cup in the sink. It was time to wake his children. His daughter, Whisper, was in the second grade at Marshdale Elementary School. She’d been in kindergarten when they moved here. His son, Ryder, was in his senior year at the high school, ready to graduate in just a couple months’ time. Then he’d be off to college. Time sure had a way of flying.
Thomas had decided when he first moved to Marshdale that they would stay put, at least until Ryder graduated. His children had been through enough upheaval in the last five years since their mother passed away from cancer. When they moved to Marshdale so that Thomas could oversee the opening of a First Nations cultural center, he decided then and there that it would be their home until the center was complete. As it turned out, it was perfect timing. The grand opening was taking place this summer. He felt a melancholy mix of relief and sadness. He would no longer have an excuse to stay.
Not that life in Marshdale was ideal. Initial resistance to the center and thinly veiled racism had been a hard obstacle to overcome. There weren’t very many other aboriginal families in the small farming community, and he tended to stick out. At well over six feet, with his long, black braid and dark complexion, it was hard to mistake his indigenous heritage for anything else. Still, they had managed, despite some rough spots, and had since settled into the life of the community.
The fact that Thomas had a strong faith was partly what got him through the first few months. Without God on his side, he wasn’t sure he could have weathered the opposition. His biggest adversary turned out to be a lunatic of sorts, who had stabbed him on the steps of the church shortly after Christmas the first year they lived here. Thankfully, he’d recovered fully. The incident might even have swayed public opinion in his favor, since the culprit was also the chair of the heritage committee.
It had been a tough first few months. He’d even thought he was in love at one point, with his daughter’s teacher no less. Just when he thought he was ready to love again, she’d rejected him. In hindsight he saw it was for the best. He wasn’t ready for a relationship at the time and she ended up marrying a local farmer. It had been awkward at times, since he and Con McKinley, the man in question, were also good friends.

RELEASE DAY: Kathryn Scarborough "This Just In"

Science teacher Gina Thompson is as pragmatic and level headed as the next person except for the perpetual TV announcer that lives in her head and comments on everything she thinks.  Her large family drives her crazy by getting her the worst blind dates on the planet.  Ken Armstrong is an astrophysicist working at NASA.  He is alone except for his grouchy old cat and his grouchy old uncle, Ken’s only family, and he likes it fine that way.  Uncle Johann meets Gina and decides ‘she is the one’.  Through a series of planned mishaps and an icy visit from Mother Nature these two seriously logical people discover that indeed, there is scientific proof of love at first sight.
This past year an article I wrote about my father was published in Flight Journal Magazine as well as several short stories in other magazines.  I have just written a small book on the history of the Methodist Church in North Carolina that will be in a collection for libraries and historical societies to be released this year.  I just move recently to Birmingham, AL. from central NC with my husband.  I taught English in secondary schools and at the college level but now write full time.
Now available on
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Chapter One
If my nose ran any more, it would be in a marathon, mumbled Gina, rolling her eyes at her own silly comment. She groped around in the pocket of her ski jacket for a tissue, and found gum wrappers, scraps of paper, a pen, and at last a piece of tissue that looked like it was used during the Crimean War. With a great sigh, she dabbed at her nose while she waited for her turn to use the ATM.
The icy wind blew through Gina’s down-filled parka and she stamped her feet trying to stay warm. She shivered as she stepped through the glass-doored ATM booth, where she was at least out of the wind. Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed an ad taped to the inside wall:
For Sale:
Kerosene heater.
Brand-new. Never used.
Call 555-2793
Ask for Mr. Glibmann.
Gina stared at the bit of paper as she blew on her cold fingertips. She rubbed her hands against her backside, trying to get some feeling back into the frozen digits as she re-read the ad.
Her little bungalow on the south side of Huntsville, Alabama, was her pride and joy. She had purchased the house during the summer and had worked on the interior as far as her teacher’s salary would stretch. She'd found out, much to her abject misery, that her 40-year-old plus house leaked like a sieve, and the heating system was beyond inadequate. No matter where she sat herself down in the little house, she felt a chilling, never ending draft. Hmm, a kerosene heater… it might just be what she needed. It was Saturday. Maybe this Mr. Glibmann was at home.
Completely forgetting about the money she meant to withdraw, Gina left the glass ATM booth, pulled her cell phone from her pocket, and punched in the number from the notice.
“Hello, are you Mr. Glibmann?”
“And who wants to know if this is Mr. Glibmann?” The voice that answered the phone shook with age and a heavy German accent.
“I’m Gina Thompson, and I’d like to know if the kerosene heater is still for sale?”
“Yes, the heater. You want to look? You can look if you want to. My nephew will be here. I better go to the grocery. If you come now, he’ll be here. So, you want to come now?”
Gina pulled the phone away from her ear and looked at it quizzically. Was this guy for real? He sounded like a bad imitation of those old Jewish guys in 1930s movies. Oh well, it takes all kinds.
“Oh, yes sir. Tell me where you are and I’ll be right over. I’m at the mall near University Drive. Is that far from you?”
“At the mall? At the mall? Always the girls are at the mall.”
“Mr. Glibmann, I’m hardly a girl and…” Who was this old guy? Had he missed all the lectures about the modern woman and how they all hated being called girls?
“Is all right, all right. You can come down the University Drive and turn on… “The old man gave a quick set of directions and Gina decided in the middle of the droning voice that she was glad she had her GPS in her glove box. She would just enter the old fellow’s address and let Stephen Fry, the voice she’d chosen from the many the GPS had to offer, give her directions. Mr. Fry’s lovely English accent intoned, not said, but intoned things like, “There’s an exit on the right and that’s the very one we want.” Or, “To the left if you’d be so lovely.” Or, “On to the motorway we go; fabulous.” Sometimes, she left the GPS on when she was going to work just so the round dulcet tones of Stephen would make her feel a little less lonely.


RELEASE DAY: Kathy Bosman "White Christmas Kiss"

Rachelle runs a little wedding chapel on the Coderica Passenger Liner. Two years on the passenger liner haven’t helped her find peace from past mistakes. Ray brings his girlfriend on the Coderica’s grand cruise to Europe. When his plans to marry her in the little chapel go horribly wrong and the relationship fails, Ray and Rachelle are drawn to each other like moths to a flame. Romance blossoms in Europe, culminating on Christmas Day. But the cruise ends and Rachelle isn’t sure she’s ready to leave the Coderica with Ray. Will the memory of their white Christmas kiss be strong enough to bring them together forever?
Kathy loves reading and writing even more. She homeschools her three kids, so in between unsuccessfully explaining the difference between subject and predicate or how to divide fractions, she enters an imaginary world of troubled and passionate characters whose stories take over the page. Kathy lives in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, where the summers are hot, the winters cool, and bugs thrive. Her first published novel, Wedding Gown Girl, came out in 2012 with Astraea Press. She belongs to the Romance Writers of South Africa Group (ROSA) which has been her greatest support and inspiration the last few years.
Now available on
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Chapter One
Christmas music filtered through the little chapel on the Coderica Passenger Liner. Rachelle ignored the loneliness evoked by the familiar songs. Memories of family Christmases wafted through her mind despite willing herself to forget. Not like she regretted her impulse to join the crew. She’d always wanted to visit Europe and had now seen it many times. The continent steeped in centuries of history still charmed her and wiped away the regret. Most of the time.
She’d begun her eighth cruise and second year on the ship. Her second Christmas away from her family. It was mostly during Christmas that she missed them.
The plush carpet of the chapel shone in the sparkly chandelier lighting. Pink padded walls looked garish yet romantic; gold trim embellished the benches, and silk flowers in an elaborate vase decorated the altar. Everything looked perfect and untouched. The cruise liner offered to facilitate weddings like a little Vegas chapel—the perfect cherry on top to a romantic cruise.
“I paid your way to get a top law degree, and you go on a ship to sign silly legal papers for weddings? You of all people, a runaway bride!” That was what she’d expected her father to say, but he hadn’t. Good thing her parents didn’t say much. Maybe they sensed how ashamed she felt of running away from Blake. And ashamed of how she’d treated Kienna, the wedding gown girl who’d told her not to marry her fiancé. Of course, they didn’t know how mean she’d been to Kienna. Only she knew. And Blake. And their friends.
Her cheeks turned hot with the memories. How could she have been such a witch? Her wounded pride had made her act vindictive and possessive, all for a man she didn’t even love. Kienna had helped her, not harmed her, even though Blake and she had ended up married six months later. She kept on telling that to herself, but really, how could she see Kienna as a friend and not a foe? The woman had gone behind her back and told Blake all her pre-wedding doubts. Yet, she’d done the right thing in the end. For all parties involved.
But she could never admit that to Kienna or even her family or friends. They didn’t need to know how mixed up she’d actually been.
She picked some lint off a chair and brushed the velvet with her hand so the texture would face one way. Argh! She was so bored. What to do?
She’d volunteered her services to the staff and guests all over the ship. Her office desk was full of legal documents—wills, inheritances, and property sales. Everything got done from her cramped little office on a ship. Who would have thought she could find so much legal work on a cruise liner?
This time of year, her work quietened down, though. No one wanted to think of life-changing decisions, only of Christmas with their families.
The door creaked oddly. She expected someone to walk in, but it merely swayed as if in a breeze. Curious, she walked to the carved wooden door and opened it. A male guest stepped back and gasped.
“Sorry,” he said.
“May I help you?”
He peered into the little room.
“You have a chapel on the ship? I was listening to the music, humming with the tunes. Are you a pastor?” His voice rumbled deep and had a certain tone that reminded her of something. What? The first note on her childhood xylophone?
Rachelle swallowed. “Not exactly. Do you need one?”
“No, just curious.”
“May I come in? I like your music.”
“Of course. Thanks.” She provided her usual pleasant smile for potential customers.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

My Town in Three Photos - Los Alamos

by Shirley Raye Redmond
I am blessed to live in Los Alamos, a snug little community nestled on a
plateau in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico. If you know
anything at all about Los Alamos, you will recall that it was once a
“secret city,” where scientists during WWII were frantically working to
develop the atom bomb before the Germans did so. WGN has recently aired a
television drama Manhattan (referring to the top secret Manhattan Project)
that depicts life (sort of) as it was on top of “the Hill” in those
frantic war days.

Today, Los Alamos is the home of Los Alamos National Laboratory, where
scientists from around the world pursue advances in everything from
nuclear energy to biotechnology.

Fuller Lodge, in the heart of downtown, is a national historic landmark.
It was once a dormitory for the Los Alamos Ranch School, home of Boy Scout
Troop 22—the first mounted troop in the nation.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

AP Author Spotlight: L.E. Fred

L. E. Fred
Twitter ID: @marsjaws
Describe yourself in three words:
Vivacious, determined, hilarious
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Lucid is a YA sci-fi fantasy about a young teenager who is transported to another world and becomes a hero.
Devon Alexander is a 15 year-old teenager coping with the monotonous reality of his average life. His life receives an interesting reprieve as he has his first realistic dream of a spaceship. The strangest thing about the dream is that he seems to be the only one on board who isn’t in a dream-like trance. Before he can figure out anything about the dream or his strange shipmates, he manages to wake up. The next day, Devon catches a news story about inexplicable comas taking place all over the world. Devon’s life becomes increasingly interesting as he recognizes some of the victims from his spaceship trip.
Devon and an unlikely group of other teens start devising a plan to find out who is behind the strange dreams and the comas. Their plan is not only successful but immerses them in to the fantastical world that only resides in dreams. While in the dream world, the teens learn about the power of teamwork, a new world of culture, and their hidden potential to be heroes.
Suspenseful, funny at the worst times, and just a hint of teenage romance, Lucid takes a group of young adults and throws them into a fantasy world that they only thought could exist in their dreams. In a sense, they’re right.
I got the idea for Lucid, fittingly, from my first lucid dream experience. I never had a lucid dream before, and it fascinated me. Being able to control my dream self was such an exhilarating idea that stuck with me and prompted me to ask a lot of "What if?" questions about human dreams. Eventually, Devon popped into my head and demanded to be the protagonist. The rest is history!
What is your earliest memory?
My earliest memory is of a Sprite machine in Lake Tahoe. I was about 2 years old going on a Christmas trip with my family. Don't ask me why I know there was a Sprite machine on the second floor of our hotel. Not really sure why I remember that! I also remember a really large indoor pool and feeling snow for the first time,
What would you consider the greatest moment in your life?
While I'm young and always looking forward to the next great moment, my current greatest moment in my life is when I completed a fitness marathon. I am a recent fitness fan who had very humble beginnings. Going from barely being able to jog for 20 minutes to completing 2 hours of mixed martial arts cardio was a really defining moment in my life. I proved to myself that if I try hard enough, I can achieve my goals. Finishing that marathon pushed me to complete other goals in my life, such as finishing my first novel and traveling to other countries in my own.
What’s the hardest thing in in life you’ve done?
The hardest thing in life I've ever done was moving away from home for the first time. I stayed home during college to save money, so studying abroad was my first real flight out of the nest. I lived in the English countryside for only 6 months, but that half-year taught me more about myself than my entire life had. The hardest part was being completely isolated from my friends and family. Figuring out how to buy things for myself, take care of myself when I was sick, and *gasp* learning how to cook on my own were some of the challenges I had to quickly overcome.  The Internet was pretty shaky, so I often spent days to myself walking around campus and thinking about the direction I wanted to take in life. When I returned home, I realized how much my trip had taught me as I became a move independent individual.
What have you learned in life so far?
The one thing I've learned in life so far is that if you want something, you should go for it. Nothing's going to wait for you to make the next move. Life is too short to have a bunch of "what ifs" following you around all day. If you want to move to Thailand, do it. If you want to run that marathon, train for it. If you want to write that romance novel, go for it! It's much better to try something you really want to do than to be stuck doing something that you're only doing because you want to play it safe.
Everyone’s favourite question: if you could invite five people for dinner, who would it be?
Do they have to be real? I'm going to assume the don't. OK, here it goes:
1. J. K. Rowling: this one's sort of a given, but Ms. Rowling opened my eyes to the world of books. Before Harry Potter, I never read a page of anything. Escaping into her world of wizards and magic inspired me to create my own worlds, even at a young age. Writing my first Harry Potter fan fictions (nerd alert!) led to writing my own stories in middle school, which arguably led to my writing now. Harry also helped me during a really rough time in my life, and I'd like to thank her in person one day.
2. Robin Williams: he's been my favorite actor since I was about 4. I'd love to share a joke or two with him and listen to what he has to say. He seems like, underneath that comical guise, a pretty wise fellow.
3. Lara Croft: the video game one, not Angelina Jolie. Lara was my first female role model. I have always been a fan of video games, but she was the first female protagonist that didn't need help from anyone else to get the job done. We need more strong female role models like her, and I'd like to tell her that one of my characters is influenced by her.
4. Jim Carrey: he's another one of my favorite actors who seems wiser than his characters on the big screen. I'd love to share a meal and have a chat with him!
5. Rick Riordan: author of the Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, and Kane Chronicles series, Mr. Riordan is a strong force in the YA fiction genre. I'd love to talk with him about writing for adolescents and also teaching. He was also a middle school teacher; I'm sure we could share some stories together!
Chance for our readers - what else would you like to know about L. E. Fred?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

RELEASE DAY: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy "Ronan's Blood Vow"

Bare knuckles brawler Ronan O’Neill makes a living with his fists as he wanders through the American frontier. But he dreams of a home, a place to call his own. A fight in a tiny Ozarks settlement brings more than he expected and he meets a widow, Jane, who offers to tend his hurts. Without Jane, he’ll never survive but she draws upon all her skills as a healer and fey ways to keep him alive. As he burns with fever and dreams of survival, he’s struck by one thought above all others – he’s come to love this woman. As he heals, he realizes he might – after so long – find his way home if they can overcome a few obstacles along the way.
Growing up in historic St. Joseph, Missouri, Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy scribbled her stories from an early age.  Her first publication – a poem on the children’s page of the local newspaper – seems to have set her fate.  As a full time author, she has more than twenty full length novels published along with assorted novellas and short fiction.  A contributor to more than two dozen anthologies, her credits include Chicken Soup For The Soul among many collections of short fiction.  She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Missouri Writers Guild, and the Ozark Writers League.  Lee Ann earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Missouri Southern State University as well as an Associate Degree from Crowder College.  She has worked in broadcasting, retail, and other fields including education.  She is currently a substitute school teacher.  As a wife and mother of three, she spends her days penning stories, cooking, reading, and other daily duties.  She currently makes her home in the Missouri Ozarks, living in what passes for suburbs in a small town.
Now available on
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Chapter One
With his feet planted on the thick green grass heavy with clover, Ronan O’Neill balled his hands into tight fists and prepared to take on his opponent. Murmurs from the gathered crowd echoed in his ears, but beyond the noise he heard birds singing in the trees at the edge of the grounds. Overhead the noon sun shone down over the gathering. Somewhere Ronan caught the sweet scent of honeysuckle still in blossom in early September, stronger than his own rank stench of sweat and anxiety. No matter how many times he fought or how well he put up a mask of bravado, Ronan always tasted fear until the first punch. Then blood lust, battle instinct, rose up, and he thought about nothing else.
Just as the first contender stepped forward, Ronan saw the woman. She stood apart from the others with a worn shawl across her shoulders and her feet bare. He noticed her dark hair was tamed into a heavy braid descending past her knees. When her dark eyes met his, he noted her pretty face. Few women graced the throng with their presence, and those who did stuck close to their men. But this one stood alone. And unlike the others, she didn’t wear a sunbonnet or hat of any kind. He thought she smiled at him, a sweet, brief expression, and he inclined his head in a brief nod to acknowledge it.
Ronan turned his attention toward the man across from him. He stood more than six feet tall, several inches taller than Ronan, and his broad shoulders made him wider too. Ronan sized up his challenger and, despite the man’s size, detected softness around the man’s middle and what he thought might be weakness in his face. He could take him, he decided with confidence, but it might be difficult.
The master of ceremonies – an older gentleman, someone of importance, if his waistcoat was any indication – stood beside the two men. “Are you goin’ for blood or being knocked out cold?” he asked in an effort to determine in advance what constituted a win.
“Well, Amos, I say I’m for putting this other fella down and out,” Ronan’s opponent said.
Amos turned his gaze to Ronan, who nodded. “Aye, fair enough,” he said, aware how musical and foreign his brogue must sound to the people here. Their countrified accents were strange to his ears. Although Ronan spoke English well enough, Gaelic remained his first tongue, the one his mother whispered to soothe him as a wee wane. His father had realized English, even though it was the tongue of the British oppressors, would be a vital tool for his son’s generation.
“All right then,” Amos said. “You’ll go at it till one of you goes down and out.”
Without any further discussion, Ronan raised his fists and ducked the first attempted blow. He hammered the other man hard with a series of quick punches to the face, and as blood streamed from his rival’s nose, Ronan punched the man’s wide belly. When his challenger moaned and bent double, Ronan knew he would win this match and the prize, a five dollar gold piece. As they sparred, the crowd called out encouragement to his adversary.
“Go get him, George! Take the Irishman!”
Smirking like a fool, another shouted, “Knock him out, George!”
George rallied to their calls and battered Ronan’s face in a fierce attack. In retaliation, Ronan jabbed a finger into the soft spot at the base of George’s throat, and the man choked. Ronan thumped him hard and pummeled his head with a series of blows hard enough his hands hurt with the force of delivery. Their fight continued as they wrestled and did their best to damage each other. Ronan found his feet, and so did George. But, the larger man wavered back and forth. Ronan took him down with a series of well-aimed blows to the head and a final punch to the gut. George toppled like a felled tree and didn’t move.
Ronan, blood streaming from a dozen cuts and aching from too many blows, stood, and after a moment’s hesitation Amos declared the Irishman the winner. He handed over the five dollar gold piece, and the crowd, stirred up with the fight, quieted. Their cheers throughout the battle in George’s favor stopped when he hit the ground, and their mutterings sounded hostile to Ronan. Several men knelt down beside George, declared he was breathing, and carried him away toward town. As the crowd began to disperse, one man rushed forward with a harsh cry and a knife in his outstretched hand.
“I’ll get you for this, you sorry Irish dog!” the man shouted. “George is my kin.”
He slashed at Ronan with the blade, aiming for the chest or gut. Swift-footed, however, Ronan sidestepped the attack, so the knife sliced his outer right arm. Sharp pain burned, but Ronan did nothing. A powerful aroma of homemade corn whiskey rippled outward from George’s relative, and Ronan figured the man far too drunk to spar with. Several onlookers came out of the crowd and maneuvered the attacker away. Blood gushed from the wound. Despite the pain, Ronan did nothing but dig into his pocket for a handkerchief. He dabbed at the flow, but the rag did nothing to stem the tide.
After putting the gold piece into his inner pocket, Ronan assessed his injuries. His head pounded, standard enough after a hard fight, and his stomach muscles ached where he’d been struck. He didn’t doubt his shins would be bruised, and his left knee throbbed from a well-aimed kick. His right eye would blacken, and it swelled already, sore. Ronan’s worst wound, the knife cut, still bled, and he struggled to stop the bleeding before it made him feel faint. Alone, without any friends or kin to call his own, he couldn’t afford to be ill, and the possibility stirred his normally tranquil soul with growing anxiety. He concentrated on the task and didn’t pay any attention to his surroundings until a quiet voice said, “You’re hurt.”
Ronan lifted his head to find the woman he noticed before the fight standing at his side. At close range, he found her beautiful. Her delicate features could have been those of an expensive china doll. He could get lost in her dark eyes, so deep and filled with mystery. Her full pink lips begged to be kissed. With interest, despite his hurts, he smiled at her and said, “Aye, well, it’s never so bad. I’ll fare well enough if I stop the blood.”
“I reckon I can tend to your wounds,” she said. “I don’t have anything here, though. You’d have to come home with me.”
Not one to trust much of anyone unless they earned it, Ronan trusted her. He didn’t understand why. But his instincts did and so did Ronan. Her willingness to bring him home surprised him, though, because most women wouldn’t risk their reputation, especially not with a stranger such as him. “Aye, I will, then,” he said. “I hope home’s not far?”
“It’s a little ways,” she said. “But it’s not so far we cain’t walk it.”
Fatigue and weakness threatened, but Ronan drew on his physical strength and his stamina and determined he could make it. “Let’s go then, woman,” he said. “Before I fall down in a faint. If I’m going home with ye, I should make your acquaintance. My name’s Ronan O’Neill.”
“Pleased to meet you,” she said. “I’m Jane Allen.”
Jane took the blood soaked handkerchief from his hands and peered at the cut. From her apron pocket she took out a fresh rag and applied it. Her light touch on his arm soothed some of his uneasiness, and he didn’t protest. Nor did he object when she tied the cloth around his arm or linked her arm through his uninjured one to provide support.
“Do you live in town then, Jane?” Ronan asked. In his wanderings, he came across the small settlement, and when he heard about the chance to fight, he stayed a few days. Most of Neosho centered on the courthouse square and trailed up the hills just above town. It seemed as likely a place as any to make a little money fighting before moving on to another.
“No,” she said. “I live off yonder. It’s not far to town, and I like it fine off away from the rest. Can you make it? I sure cain’t carry you.”
“I’ll do,” Ronan said, although weakness dogged his steps.
“You’re looking peaked,” Jane commented. “Hold on, Mister O’Neill. We’re nearly there.”
If not, he’d fall on his face. Still, he somehow summoned up enough spirit to say, “’Tis Ronan, woman. There’s no Mister O’Neill here.”
“Ronan,” she said, with a hint of amusement in her voice. “Come sit a spell then, and I’ll tend to your hurts.”
Jane pushed open the cabin door and brought him inside. Her capable hands guided him to a crude bench, and he sank down onto it, grateful. Ronan swayed, and she scooted him until his back rested against the table. She removed a kettle from the hearth and poured hot water into a tin cup. He watched as she rifled through some baskets to the left of the fireplace and put something dry into the hot water. As it steeped, Jane produced some dried herbs and some cloth.
“I’ve got some willow bark steeping for tea,” she told him. “It’ll help what pains you. Let me undo this around the wound.”
Her hands were gentle as she removed the cloth tied over his cut. Although the movement sent daggers of pain through his head, Ronan twisted his head to look. It looked worse than he thought, a deep, wide slice into his flesh, but the bleeding had slacked off. Using water from the kettle, Jane washed the wound out and removed the drying blood. It hurt, but he didn’t mind. After she cleaned it, she reached into a covered bowl on the mantle and took out some short sweetening. Jane added it to the willow bark tea.
He sipped the pungent brew, glad of the sugar to temper the otherwise bitter taste. It would help, he knew from experience, but without the sweetening it would have gagged him.
As Jane washed his face, Ronan squinted out of his good eye, the left being too swollen to allow much vision at his surroundings.
While the warm willow bark tea seeped into his body, his headache diminished to a tolerable level. Jane reached for an opaque glass jar with a tight lid. Ronan watched as she brought it to the table and fished out some leeches. She handled them with care as she applied them to his black eye. So, she’s a bit of a healer, then, he thought as the cool bloodsuckers clung to his skin. The sensation made him uneasy, but he didn’t fuss knowing they could relieve the swelling.
“What else pains you?” Jane asked. “You seemed to favor your knee a bit. Is it hurt?”
“Aye,” Ronan said. “The amadon kicked me hard there.”
“Let me see it,” she said. He bent, head whirling, to roll up his pants leg. Jane made a little cooing sound of sympathy when his puffy knee emerged, and she touched it with light fingers. “Oh, it must hurt terrible bad.”
“It does,” he said, wincing.
“It’s a wonder you could walk at all,” she told him. “I’ll use leeches on it too, but first, I have some witch hazel extract.”
The faint smell of the tincture reminded him of other fights, previous injuries, but as Jane bathed first his knee then some of his other bruises, Ronan grew aware of her touch. When she ran her hands along his sides, checking for sore spots, he stiffened but not with pain. Her touch evoked feelings he’d all but forgotten, and he wasn’t sure if he liked it or not. When Jane touched the worst spots, however, he winced, and she unbuttoned his shirt without a by-your-leave.
“You’re going to bruise something awful,” she commented as she touched the worst places with her fingers. “I’ll put some witch hazel on these, too.”
 She applied it with a soothing touch and one also somehow disturbing. With her body in such close proximity to his, Ronan wanted to hold her. He ached to kiss her, and his loins stirred to life, reviving passions he thought dormant or dead. Although he liked what she did very much, he wondered what kind of woman would bring a stranger home and tend him like family. And he was curious why she did.
After bathing all his bruises with witch hazel and applying leeches to his sore knee, Jane smoothed his hair away from his face. “Now,” she said. “Do you want more tea, or are you hungry?”