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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Coming August 1st Rule Breaker Black Ops: Project R.O.O.T

Good morning everyone!

I have been super busy this summer, but it's totally worth it. Sometimes, a little pressure doesn't hurt anything, right? And, right now, I've got myself under deadlines and waiting for more edits. ;) Today, I would like to share with you something Michele and I wrote. It's called Rule Breaker. It's the first book in our Black Ops series, and I hope you all enjoy it. We're thinking it should be about 250 pages--give or take a few.

Quick overview. Asher Rainer is the commander of R.O.O.T he takes all the jobs no one wants or when the government suspect foul play, they send in his team to uncover what they're missing. They're kind of like a CSI team crossed with detectives. All of the information along with evidence they collect during their missions, is turned over the Senate Arms committee for a thorough investigation.

In Rule Breaker, what should be a simple observation and report mission, goes horribly wrong. There are two witnesses and one person Asher can't trust but also can't not trust. Michele and I hope you enjoy the story. Here is a sneak peek of what's in store for you.


Asher Rainer, a tough as nails commander, leads an undercover black ops group: Project R.O.O.T. sanctioned by the U.S. government. What should have been a routine mission to obtain reconnaissance, devolves into a mass casualty situation. The whys of which are unknown. His only eyewitnesses to the crimes committed by the rogue mercenary unit are Dr. Rae Kenzie and one of Barclay’s own members, Joseph Franks.

Rae Kenzie, a physician with Doctors Without Borders, is currently on rotation in South American. What should have been a routine inspection by the local guerilla army, turns into a bloodbath.

Without any thought to her wellbeing, Rae rushes to protect the village children in the clinic from certain death—unwittingly thrusting herself and them into the middle an ongoing power struggle. Rae has to trust someone with what she knows, but it doesn’t mean she has to like them—even if she finds Commander Asher Rainer devilishly handsome.

Asher has no time for love. His dedication is to his team, his country, and protecting the innocent. But, when the heart desires what he shouldn’t be lusting after, will one night with Rae be enough to satisfy his baser needs? Or will he be the one to break all the rules?

Excerpt:


“Well, would you look at that.” She pointed to the area where the break had knitted together. “Almost healed. I think we can do a soft cast now. No more plaster.” She guided Isabella back to her room, then went to the storage area and grabbed a soft cast. A couple more weeks and she'd be good to go.
As she opened the door, the rev of jeep engines sounded in front of the office. She closed her eyes. Not now. Today isn't the day for this bullshit. The patient room door behind her opened and the twins' father stepped out.
“Always come. You hide. Kids.” He patted her arm. “We fix.”
“I can't let you do—”
“We fix.” He hurried her to the room. He spoke to his wife who handed over their daughter while Maria gathered up their son. “Go.”
“Get Juan.” She went back to grab Isabella and her mother while Maria went for the other little boy then hurried to their safe place.
The slamming of doors accompanied shouts. Her heart pounded. She had no protection here expect for the police, and she realized quickly they were as corrupt as the guerillas supposedly protecting the jungle around them. More like the cocoa fields. Rae placed her finger to her mouth as she grabbed Isabella by the hand and hurried to the back near the X-ray machine.
The voices grew louder. Anger laced their words. The kids were looking to her for help and she had no idea what to do. In the six months they'd been there, they'd never been subject to anything like this. The only reason she knew about the guerillas was because a couple kids who’d gotten into the cocoa plants appeared at her door sicker than shit, puking their guts up. Those who weren’t sick had been shot or stabbed. Maria had to explain it to her.
Crack! The first shot rang out, followed by another. The screams of frightened children along with the adults rent the air. She hurried to get them to the safe room below ground. “Hurry.” She glanced over her shoulder and watched through the window as the men began shooting each other, which made no sense at all. When standing at the door to hurry more people into the clinic, she saw more men coming down out of the hills in front of them, their uniforms the same as those the guerillas wore. The baby in her arms squealed and cried out, drawing the attention of one of the men.
His eyes narrowed as a slow, devious grin twisted his features. He raised his gun, pointing it at her. Her heart lodged in her throat. She couldn't move. She stared down the barrel of his long rifle, her death becoming an inevitable situation.
None of the stuff people say in the movies happened. Her life didn't flash in front of her eyes. She didn't have a chance to lament about not talking to her mother last weekend when she said she'd call home, but overslept.
Thwack! The man's body fell forward. She expected to see another person behind him, however, no one was there. She muffled her relieved cry and hustled Isabella to the back room. After opening the trap door in the floor, she climbed in with the children. “Stay in the darkness.”


Buy Links:

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#amazonAu: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B073VHV1TY/
 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How much reality do you want in your books.....


I was looking back over some of my posts from years ago and came across this one in particular.... How much reality do you want in your books? 
When I first wrote this post, I was not a published author- but a reviewer and avid reader. I wanted to see if my mind has changed since I added author to my title- it has not. I still love the fantasy, the love at first sight, and of course the hot sex...So, without further ado, a post from 2012.

How much reality do you want in your books.....
I find this to be an interesting question as it can be taken so many different ways.  The first thing that I thought of was watching the news and all the depravity that occurs in less than 22 minutes of a 30-minute program. Robbery, arson, rape, murder…do I want that in a book? My answer is yes and no, so allow me to explain. Most books have a theme involving two or more people who may or may not start out on the right foot, but hopefully by the end of the story have an HEA.  That’s the reality that I want. Sometimes in a book, a rape occurs as a back drop to the story and I can completely understand that, but I don’t want every single detail of the violent act. That’s not my cup of tea.  I am not living in a fantasy world, but when I read I want to escape most of the goings on in the world; otherwise I would watch CNN 24-7. What I want is hot sex! And lots of it. What’s a book without sweaty, hot sex?  I don’t care if it’s M/F, M/M or ménage, as long as it’s a great read with a great story line.

I love the fantasy aspects in most of the books that I read.  Why not try it? You may like it.  I want my books to take me away from everyday life and introduce something that I may not have normally thought I would have been a fan of. That’s’ one of the reasons that I love the paranormal, shifter books. I know the difference between reality and fantasy and sometimes fantasy is what does it for me. I love an alpha character that is possessive, hard exterior and has a killer body, but oh, so tender. So, if that takes me away from reality then so be it; fantasy is a wonderful thing. It gives us a new dimension to the world, opens our eyes, and allows us to say “Calgon, take me away.”


I have to say though that I do want my books to be based on a realistic situation. I know that people can fall in love at first sight, I believe in it so I love when the main characters do this even if they don’t know it.  This is reality. Sometimes we have to work for what we want, simply because that is the reality of it.  All in all, reality and fantasy can blur the lines when choosing a book and only the reader can determine where the line is drawn.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Florida! Hotness and Ole!

This time next week I'll be trucking on down to Buffalo from just outside Toronto, where I live, to spend the night at an airport hotel. We have a 5 am flight to Orlando Tuesday morning. Yep, you read that right...FIVE A.M.

My adult sons and a girlfriends are joining me in Orlando when I attend the Romance Writers of America National Conference. It's gonna be hot! But It will be great to see all my friends and have my kids with me.

RWA is a great time reconnect with all my writing buddies and to meet new ones. I will be signing at the literacy event on Saturday. There will be so many fantastic authors there and I'm going to be sitting beside Heather Graham! #fangirl
At the Harlequin Party in NYC with Heather Graham and Cathy McDavid.
Coinciding with the fun of RWA will be the one year anniversary of my father's death. I simply cannot believe a year has passed us by already. I will continue to miss him forever.


And while I remember my dad, I'll be celebrating the upcoming release of another translation of Working Girl. The French translation came out June 7. And the Spanish translation will be out September 4. I did get my cover and just love it! It's posted below,

Check these next two photo's out! Blast from the past....me with Sylvia Day and Nora Roberts more #fangirl And yes, this is at a previous RWA.


Isn't this the prettiest cover! I just love it. Ola Spain!

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Crossing Genres in When Darkness Whispers



Some books are difficult to describe in one genre. I've found that to be the case in When Darkness Whispers. With mystery, suspense, a military romance, enhanced Marines, supernatural beings, Japanese mythology, and likely more, how would I classify it? Since I often write paranormal romance, I called it PNR, however, early readers called it a mystery or suspense. So I guess you'd call it cross--genre. Take a look at the cover and description and let me know what you think!



When Darkness Whispers

Some memories are better left forgotten…

Haunted by an unclear past, biologically enhanced Marine, Eva Montreaux, can’t be distracted from her mission. With American servicemen being brutally murdered on the island of Okinawa, it’s more than priority. It’s critical. But when her investigation brings her face to face with Marcos Delacruz, it triggers memories. Ones she lost. Memories that somehow include him.

Marcos Delacruz has tried to forget the woman who left him with nothing but empty promises. Even now, three years later, Eva doesn’t seem to express any guilt over breaking his heart. In truth, she seems to barely recognize him. This deployment has been challenging enough with too many restless spirits haunting the island. But when his own investigation forces him to cross paths with her once more, Marcos discovers there may be a deeper truth.

With the number of murders climbing rapidly and the rising need to track the murderer across the tropical island, Eva struggles to reclaim what she lost. But the island holds darker elements–a serial killer. One that doesn’t appear to be human.

Thrust into a world she can’t escape, Eva must discover a way to stop a murderer from destroying anyone else’s future, but how can she succeed if she can’t even remember what role Marcos played in her past?

When Darkness Whispers is a paranormal romantic suspense novel you won’t want to put down! Go undercover with a supernatural team into a world of vampires, gargoyles, shifters, demons, and ghosts. If you like haunting mystery, spine-tingling suspense, and Japanese mythology, you’ll love When Darkness Whispers!

Read now!


Reviews

“Wow If I could give this story more than 5 stars I would... Suspense, Mystery, and Thrills all in one book.” ~ Book Nook Nuts“

"What a fantastic page-turner that wowed me from the get-go! An action-packed, contemporary PNR must read full of suspense that kept me glued to my seat! … This has a fresh, new storyline, with great descriptions, full of surprises and witty dialogue with relatable characters that will keep readers engaged & turning pages just like I did!”

“An awesome read! I couldn’t put it down… Out of all the books I have read from this author, I have to say that this book is now my new favorite.”

“Wow Ms. Carlisle has outdone herself this time. You have action, adventure, suspense, forgotten love, shifters, what more can you ask for.”


Read now!



Sunday, July 16, 2017

Coming Soon! Undercover Lovers, newly revised, even better than before!

My summer has been almost as busy as the school year!  I'm still working my part-time tutoring job 13 hours per week, and my son and his wife gifted us with our first grand-baby, necessitating a visit out two states over, to help them out by holding him while they napped.  I also shopped and cooked for them, since they were out of food.  But they're doing well now.

Then when I got back, it was time to do the edits for a short story that I'll have coming out in an anthology devoted to romances for people with STDs...don't laugh!  With the number of folks who picked up a little something extra along with their college degrees, or their last failed romance, it's not a laughing matter for those who feel like they're tainted by something they didn't realize they were exposing themselves to.  That anthology will be a fund-raiser for a sexual health center.  More information when I know more.

And then I got the edits back for my soon-to-reappear book which is the sequel to my female spies novel, Secret Love, which came out last November.




Sheena has spent 12 years saving the world, one assignment at a time.  She enjoys the work, but is getting bored.  She tries her usual cure; a new man.  But something about this one is different--she develops feelings.  And in her world, even having feelings is dangerous.  Indulging them by falling in love can be deadly...for both of them.



The sequel is called Undercover Lovers, and includes my first attempt at a menáge scene. What gave me the most trouble is that there are two gorgeous, hot men in the story, and the heroine, Ameena, a woman who quit the agency after she helped bring down a serial killer of female agents, has to choose between them.  The man she chooses is not the kind to share easily.  In fact from my observations, when romance novels feature multiple men, even brothers, willing to share the same woman, all I can do is laugh in disbelief. It's easier for me to believe in vampires or shifters, than to believe that males could seriously believe they can live in harmony while sharing one woman. My boys could never even share their toys! 

But some readers told me they were anxious to read about such a scene, once they knew there were two hot men in the book.  I tried many ways to figure out how to include such a scene, but the hero kept insisting to me it wasn't ever going to happen. Sometimes I think we don't write the characters, as much as we channel them...am I right?

 Ameena has never been able to forget what she endured on her last assignment before she left the agency.  She was the only female agent to live through what The Executioner did to his victims, but she still bears the scars, both physical and psychological.  When he escapes from his prison cell, her ex-handler brings two agents with him to tell her that one or the other will be her shadow until her torturer is caught again...only this time he will allow her to kill him.  Having kept herself too busy for romance, she is caught off-guard by the sudden insertion into her life of two gorgeous men, one who actively pursues her and one whom she finds more attractive for his shyness. Will she live long enough to make a choice? And is that the end of the story...or the beginning?

I don't have a publication date yet for this, one of my readers' favorite books.  But when I know more, I'll pass it along.  
Until next month, keep reading and enjoying romances!  Love makes the world go 'round!




Saturday, July 15, 2017

Brand New Release!!!!! - Fire and Fog

Carlisle police officer Dwayne knows what Robin is doing the moment he lays eyes on the young man at Bronco’s club. But he doesn’t know that, like him, Robin also comes from a family who cast him out for being gay, or that he’s still lugging around the pain of that rejection. Robin leaves the club, and soon after Dwayne decides to as well—and is close by when things between Robin and his client turn violent.

When Dwayne finds out Robin is the victim of a scam that lost him his apartment, he can’t leave Robin to fend for himself on the streets. Despite Dwayne’s offer of help and even opening up his home, it’s hard for Robin to trust anything good. The friendship between them grows, and just as the two men start warming up to each other, Robin’s sister passes away, naming Robin to care for her son. Worse yet, their pasts creep back in to tear down the family and sense of belonging both of them long for.

Will their fledgling romance dissipate like fog in the sun before it has a chance to burn bright?


Excerpt:  

Robin’s jaw set and he finally reached into his pocket to pull out a driver’s license. He handed it over, and Dwayne checked it closely. It looked real, and according to the date of birth, yesterday was Robin Cartwright’s birthday.
“Problem?” Bull asked without looking at Dwayne, who handed him the ID.
“It seems legit.”
“Of course it is,” Robin protested. “I’m old enough to be here.”
“Maybe, but hustling isn’t allowed and you know it.” Dwayne stared bullets at Robin because it would be a damn shame for a guy as pretty as him to get messed up with crap like that.
“You can’t blame a guy for trying,” Robin said with a shrug.
“You got this?” Bull asked, and Dwayne nodded.
“If I need anything, I’ll get someone,” he promised, and Bull hurried back to the front door. “You need to quit that shit. It won’t end well.” God, he felt like a father giving his kid a lecture.
“What would you know about it?” Robin snapped.
“Plenty,” he shot back, though he wasn’t up to sharing his personal story with a complete stranger.
Robin studied him and seemed to see what he needed to, because his posture relaxed a little.
“Now, can you play by the rules?”
Robin huffed and nodded. “I won’t try anything. I really came here to dance anyway.” Dwayne wasn’t sure how much of that he bought, but he released Robin and stepped back.
“You know I’ll be watching.”
Robin turned and made his way through the crowd. Damn, Dwayne hated to see him go. There was something in those eyes that mirrored the shock and pain Dwayne had been dealing with, but there was nothing he could do. He’d already learned the hard way he couldn’t fix everything and everyone.
He went back to the table and sat down.
“Hard to forget, isn’t he?” Zach asked.
“Yeah, I guess so.” Dwayne forced his attention back to the guys next to him rather than scanning the floor to see where Robin had gone. He intended to keep an eye on him but figured any misbehaving would happen later in the evening.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Coming Soon: The Filly & the Gambler


"Don't she talk?" Cole asked eyeing Harmon skeptically.

Harmon rubbed his chin, thoughtfully now and shot Cole a sideways glance.

"She talks, talks a lot when she gets going. But she's not used to strangers much. Guess you are wondering who she is, aren't you?"

Cole raised an arrogant brow. "It crossed my mind to ask, I'll admit. I mean she's quite a surprise. Never expected a woman out here. You've never said a word about her."

"You ain't never been out here, have you?" Harmon twisted his head.

"Well," Cole scratched his chin. "No, I guess I haven't visited. But I never seen her here. You just hire her to cook for your or something?"

"No. No, I didn't hire her. And there's a good reason you and no other cowpoke has heard about her." He scratched his chin as though trying to figure out a way to tell him. "She's my daughter." He finally blurted.

"Your daughter?" Cole turned to stare at him. "I had no idea you had a daughter. I've never seen her in town."

"No, she won't go. Says if I can't buy her dresses like I should, she won't go." Harmon shrugged.

"Why don't you buy her some dresses then?" Cole frowned.

"Easy for you to say, with the spread you got. We just barely get by out here, Cole. She's got one dress, it'll do." When Cole frowned at him, he added.  "Aw…I cain't, don't know nothing about women's things. She's been making do with her mother's things for the past few years."

Cole didn't understand Harmon, nor the woman. But it wasn't his business, he kept telling himself. A daughter, that meant he had to have had a wife at one time too. Harmon was just full of surprises. Cole thought it almost funny, but then it wasn't. Why hadn't he ever seen her? And for goodness sakes, why hadn't he mentioned the fact that he had a daughter in all the years he'd known him?

Cole wouldn't be asking the questions that danced in his head right now. Still he couldn't quite get over that Harmon had a life no one knew anything about.
Shrugging the questions away, he turned to Harmon. "Well, let's get that filly…" Cole suggested trying to change the subject although he'd give anything to hear the story. Apparently, Harmon kept a lot of things secret.

"About that…" Harmon paused as Cole was about to go down the porch steps.
Cole turned, there was no filly? Harmon had never reneged on a bet in his life. And he lost most of the time he played. So, what was he up to now?

"Got something you want to tell me Harmon?" Cole asked staring at him through the moonlight. He could see the old man was doing his best to figure a way to tell him.

"A confession I guess you'd say." Harmon nodded.

"I'm listening." Cole told him rubbing the toe of his boot through the small pile of rocks at his feet.

"You see, the filly I was talking about….the one you won in the bet, well, I don't know how to tell you this, but…. Gabby is the filly!" He finally spit it out.

Cole let that sink in. Gabby was the woman…. wasn't she? The woman was his daughter, and the filly? Good grief, what kind of double cross was Harmon pulling on him?

Cole's brows knitted, "Harmon! What are you saying?" he demanded, not realizing his voice took on a indifferent tone. "What are you trying to pull?"

Harmon came to the top of the steps and stared at him. "Look, I thought I'd win. I thought a lot of things. You see…this is something I've been thinking on for a while. I don't know how to take care of her no more. She's not a kid anymore. She's a woman. I don't even know how to take care of me, no more. And it's come to the point that I need some help. You know you are about the only real friend I got in this world."

Cole didn't know what to say to him. He'd never in all his life come across such a situation as this. He hung his head, well, he'd lost that hand, no matter how he looked at it. He could deal with losing a hand or two, but he was a bit put out about his old friend Harmon.

He came closer, trying to stare the old man in the eyes, but it was too dark for that. Harmon didn't lie, so what was he pulling here? "Okay, let's just forget the filly thing. Just quit playing poker Harmon, you can't afford it." Cole started to walk off and get his horse before Harmon got any more bright ideas.

Harmon watched the way he grabbed his reins in his hands. He knew he was upset with him.

"Don't you see, I had to keep her a secret Cole. If I hadn't some young pup would've been out here, messing with her. I couldn't allow that. She's my diamond in the rough, so to speak, Cole. She's the only thing I got that is worth living for."

Cole turned now to stare at Harmon. Now that, made sense!

"Well, maybe you are right about that, Harmon. I don't know. Maybe I'd have done the same…I'm not trying to lay blame. Look, I better get now, thanks for supper."

"You mean, you won't take her?" Harmon hollered after him his voice almost failed him.

"Take her?" Cole whirled about on his boot heels. He was shocked and his voice reflected it. Harmon wanted him to take his daughter? Was he out of his mind?
That didn't make a lick of sense. First, he was protecting her from stray cowboys, now he was trying to barter her off….and to him no less?

He was shaking his head adamantly, "No Harmon, you keep her. I couldn't do such a thing."

"Why not?" He asked almost helplessly.

"Why not?" Cole nearly shouted, turning on his boot heels to face Harmon once more. He needed to control his anger, but damn Harmon was acting way out of character here. "She's not a horse, for one thing."

"I never said she was!" Harmon protested.

"You said you had a filly." Cole reminded him.

"Well, she is a girl."

"That's about the only thing you got right about her." He yelled. If his eyes could shoot daggers, Harmon would be a dead man about now!

Cole grabbed the saddle horn and pulled himself up, "I'm sorry, Harmon…but this isn't my problem. I don't know what you have in mind, but I'm not playing this game."

"You're right of course. But, I have my reasons for this. One being those men that came tonight. They'll be back, and I might not be around to handle it. Look, she'd work hard for you, she's a good cook, and maybe you'd come to like her a bit…"

"Like her?" Cole wanted to laugh. She was so dirty he didn't want to even think about such a thing.

"Well she cleans up right good." Harmon told him. "You don't understand, that girl takes care of this place. Look around you Cole. She's got this place spit polished. She's the only one too. Done it for two years straight. But it ain't right. It's too much for her. She works from sun-up to sun-down. Not a complaint one. But those men will be back and they mean to have this place. After all her hard work, she'd die if she lost this place. It means that much to her. It ain't theirs but they'll take it. They’ll take it away from her, and then where will she be. I won't have her end up in some saloon. She's a good girl, Cole. I raised her right, despite how she might look. I guess I was wrong, I thought maybe you could see through that dirt and dust on her to the real lady she is."

Cole studied Harmon a moment. Then he glanced around at how well kept the ranch was. Was that why she looked so dirty? She'd been out taking care of the place all day, then come in to cook. "She's been taking care of this place? For two years?"

Harmon firmed his lips, took off his hat and dusted it on the side of his leg. "I mean, I ain't able to take care of this place no more. I gotta sickness. So, she does it. All the time. That's why's she's dirty. She cleans up well. She's right pretty when she does, too. Of course, she didn't get that from me."

"I'm sure you are right. And I didn't know that, but no! Not interested. And you owe me twenty dollars." Cole insisted.

He mounted his horse and Harmon grabbed the reins.

"You won't take her?" He asked with a plea in his voice.

Something about the pain and struggle in Harmon's voice had Cole paying attention.

Wanting to mollify Harmon's petulant mood, Cole stared down at him
"Your offer is too generous, Harmon. But no…" Cole stared down at him and thought he saw real tears in the old man's eyes. There was no derision in Cole's voice now, but more empathy. "I will do one thing for you, Harmon, I'll go to court with you to prove the man was cheating and has no claim here. I'll do that. I'll even help you find any witnesses that might be left. Neighbors help each other, and I promise you'll I'll do that."

"I guess, considering, that's very generous of you Cole. That's all well and good son, but, you don't understand?" Harmon struggled with his words, as though it choked him to talk, still holding the reins so he couldn't just ride off.

"Then spit it out plain Harmon because I just don't understand this." Cole was too disgusted with the old man to haggle about anything else.

Harmon scratched his head, and searched through the fading darkness at Cole. He flung his words carelessly now in a low graveled voice. "It's really simple. I'm dying, Cole…." Harmon told him, hanging his head now in resignation.

"What?" 

Cole stopped everything now to look at the old man. But there was something about the slump in the old man's shoulders, something about the way he said that, that had Cole staring at him in shock. He steadied his horse. "What did you say?"

"I'm dying." Harmon stared up at him, then bowed his head. "It's true, you can check with the doc in town. I went to see the him today. I'm dyin'. Got about three months left, the doc said…It's a tumor." Harmon insisted. "Been sick for some time. Been trying to get by, but I ain't got no more time to bide, Cole. I'm bad off, or I'd have never gone in to see the doc. And tonight, I made a bargain with the devil, for my daughter's sake. I ain't done right by her by a long shot. Oh, I raised her right. She's a good lady. But, I ain't provided for her right. I know that. But now that I know I don't have much time, I got to find a way for her to be taken care of. I can't leave her to work this place for the rest of life alone. It's hard work Cole, she'll be dead by the time she's thirty."

"I'm sorry Harmon, I didn't know." Cole couldn't move now. The old man's words paralyzed him, stunned him.

"Well…you see," a tear fell to his cheek now, "she doesn't know either. I can't tell her somethin' like this. Her mother died so long ago, and she ain't got no kin. Once I'm gone, she'll be alone, and I'm worried for her. I'm worried sick. Oh, she can keep the place up alright, but I don't want her to wither away out here, alone with no man to see after her. And I don't want those cheats trying to take this place from her either. She deserves better. The way she works, she'll be dead by the time she's thirty, and you can see that for yourself. And as you can see, no husband. I got to find her a place, so when I'm gone, she'll be alright. Despite how she looks tonight, she cleans up well. She can be right pretty, when she's a mind. That's why I did this. I was hopin' you'd take her. I was hopin' you'd see the quality within her. I respect you Cole, and I don't say that lightly. I figured you'd see the quality in her, right off. You're the only man I'd trust enough to offer her to."

"Hoping I would take her?" Cole repeated with a gasp. He sat there on the horse, feeling bad for the old man, and wondering what Harmon thought he could do with the woman. But he couldn't get involved. And yet, despite his better judgement, he realized the old man was trying to take care of his responsibility to his daughter. That's what this was all about. Now it made sense.

He stared at the old man who was often unkempt, and mud-stained, his heart was made of gold and Cole knew it for fact. Now he understood him. He had to admire him for that. He was afraid for his daughter, afraid that if he died, no one would help her. But how could they, no one knew she existed.

And since no one knew about her, they probably wouldn't.

He was doing the right thing, but he picked the wrong man for the job. He couldn't take on a woman like that, could he? Although Cole was sometimes known to be too soft-hearted he couldn't stand in Harmon's shoes.

No, he had to forget about this whole thing. It was unfortunate but Harmon would have to find someone else.

"Cole," Harmon pleaded now, more desperate than ever. His voice quivering as he spoke. "You're one of the most decent men I know."

Cole almost laughed at that, oh yeah, he was decent. He gambled, he loved the women, and typically raised hell like most men every Saturday night. But decent? He wasn't sure he could call himself that.

Ever since his folks died, Cole thought of only two things, building up his ranch, and enjoying himself on Saturday nights.

Cole shook his head, he didn't have the words right now.

"I don't mind dyin' Cole. But leaving her…like this…with nothing. It ain't right. She's worked her fingers to the bone. And I couldn't stop her if I wanted to. For some reason, she loves me. And believe me, she's the most precious thing I got in the world." Harmon wailed. The moonlight shone on his face now and Cole saw the real tears running down his old wrinkled cheeks. "I ain't done right by her, but by golly I will before I die! Please, Cole, won't you reconsider. Won't you take her. I'm asking as a friend."

"Harmon, what would I do with a woman?" He asked as though there were no answers. "Not just her, but any woman."

"Why…marry her of course." He told him.

"Marry her!" Cole's voice raised to a shout now. The old man was daft! How had it gone from taking her to marrying her in one sentence. He stared for a moment out onto the prairie. How did he tell him, he wasn't the man for this job? He searched for answers he didn't have. He searched for words he didn't have. Naturally, he'd expect marriage, he wouldn't just throw his daughter out to a stranger? But Harmon should know by now that Cole wasn't the marrying kind. He'd made that plain enough to everyone else.

"Why shore…. I gotta know she's gonna be cared for." Harmon told him. "I'd never ask another thing of you, and you could have this place, what there is of it…. There is water on the place, it's worth a little."

"I don't want your place Harmon, and I don't want a wife!" Cole argued.

Cole started to reign his horse into action but the old man threw his hands in the air and fell to the ground, "Then what am I gonna do….?" His hands dug in the dirt, his voice was near hysterics. The sincerity of that helpless plea went right to Cole's heart. Cole didn't want to admit it, but he was a sucker for sad stories, and worse still, Harmon knew it. He didn't know if Harmon was playing him, or if this was all for real. But something about his awkward movements now told Cole that Harmon really was desperate. And the fact that he trusted Cole that much, made a permanent impression.

Harmon laid there in the dirt, crying like a baby.

Cole moved his horse a few feet, then sighed heavily, knowing he couldn't just walk off and leave the man crying in the dirt. He sighed heavily, then he got off his horse and walked over to the old man, but Harmon was in worse shape than Cole expected. He couldn't get him up. He had collapsed.

He looked up in the sky. "Now what am I going to do?"

Looking at Harmon, lying in a heap at his feet, he made a loud sigh and picked him up, threw him over his shoulder, and took him back to the house.
He opened the door, kicking it wide with the toe of his boot.

As the woman whirled around her hat flew off her head and long tresses of red hair shone in the glow of the lamp. He thought he was seeing things for a moment, it was like a soft red cloud, of the most beautiful shiny hair he'd ever seen. Cole stared with an open mouth. The dirt on her face formed a rim on her forehead, but her hair was gorgeous and hung to her waist. Not many women had hair like that. He couldn't quite take his eyes from her.

He couldn't for the life of him put her together. She was dirty but so damned beautiful it took his breath away. How could he have not seen it?

"He's sick," Cole finally found his voice.

She ran to pull the covers back on her father's bed. Then she went to get a pan of water and rag and cleaned him up a bit as she sat by the bed. She talked softly to him and encouraged him to wake up.

"Get me a plug of whiskey girl, I got the pain."

"Be right back, dad." She said obediently.

When she came back, she pulled the cork and let him sip some.

She worked the rag over his entire face gently patting him, while speaking soothing words to him, like a momma would to a child. Cole stared, mesmerized by her gentle ways and her soft voice. For a moment, he thought she was some angel, come to fetch Harmon home.

"He's real sick," Cole told her.

"I know…." She murmured quietly. "He's dying."

Those words echoed in Cole's head. That and the way she said it. She knew?

Harmon's eyes opened and he looked around the room. "You ain't left yet Cole?"

Cole made a guffaw sound and smiled, "No, not yet."

"Will ya do it, Cole?" He asked weakly now.

Cole stared at the old man.

How the hell could he refuse a dying man? 

Then the woman looked at him. "What's he talking about?"

Cole shook his head and knowing he couldn't refuse a dying man's wish he frowned and nodded. "Alright Harmon, you win. I'll do it!"

"You mean it?"

"I mean it." Cole looked at the floor, his expression serious. He could think of a million reasons not to, but the look on the old man's face when he agreed sent some silent message to Cole's heart. The gravity of the moment hit Cole in the heart. Cole hadn't felt anything for anyone in so long, it was like a block of ice began to melt inside him. He cared about Harmon, more than he wanted to admit. Funny how he had gotten used to Harmon being around so much, to think he wouldn't be, numbed him. His emotions shocked him.

"Thank you, Cole." He said and closed his eyes.

"Are you gonna be alright for a while, Harmon?" He asked him.

The old man didn't open his eyes but he spoke, "For a while, Cole."

"Okay, we'll talk later when you are feeling better then." Cole told him.

Harmon nodded.

But as Cole was about to leave the woman followed him, "Excuse me, but what did my father ask you to do?" She stood there, with her hands on her hips, glaring at him.

It wasn't the question, so much as how she demanded to know that had his head turning in her direction.

Cole turned his hat around in his hand and then stared into her dark blue eyes and smiled. "He wants us to marry."

"Marry!" She nearly shouted, then grabbed her mouth.

He almost laughed, she was as shocked as he had been. "Yeah, that's what I said, at first."

She took his hand in hers and guided him onto the porch for privacy.

"Well, that's absurd, I can't marry you." She told him shaking her head and turning away from him. "I can't believe he'd try to barter me off like that."

Cole came toward her, "It's his last wish. Besides, I think he was making good sense. He's only thinking of your welfare, and rightfully so."

"It doesn't matter, I can't marry a stranger." She protested. "Do you think me daft too!"

He glanced at her once more. "Too?"

"I saw how disgusted you were when you saw me, and when you brought him in."

"Well I…. was just shocked! That's all!"

"That's not all. You thought me dirty and disgusting. You have a very easy to read face, mister. It was disgust. Not that I blame you entirely. In yours shoes I might have thought the same." She looked down at herself now and wrinkled her nose. "I am very dirty right now. But there's a good reason. You see I work this ranch, every day. And unlike a lot of ladies, I don't have the time to wash and wear pretty clothes. There's too much to do and only me to do it."

"Maybe, at first I thought that." Studying on it, knowing she wasn't for this anymore than he was made him feel a bit relieved. "Look, I don't want this anymore than you do, but, under the circumstances, we could have a ceremony performed in front of him. To make him feel better. Doesn't mean we'd have to carry through with it."

She turned to look at him. "You mean…kind of go through the motions and not live together or anything."

"Yeah. It would make him die happy. He's really worried about leaving you to fend for yourself. I can understand why, he never let on he even had a daughter."

Her expression changed to one of thoughtfulness as her eyes drifted back to the cabin. "I'll think on it." She told him. "But…wouldn't you rather find someone you could live with? I mean, once we are married, what if you found someone else?"

"Look, you might as well know now, I'm not the marrying kind. But I'd do it for him…" He motioned to the bed where Harmon lay. "I guess until tonight I didn't realize how much that old man means to me. So, let me know what you decide and if he gets any worse." Cole sighed and walked to the edge of the porch.
She followed.

"Alright, I guess— I guess I should thank you for wanting to make his last moments happy." She told him. "He must think a lot of you. He's never brought anyone home with him."

"We've been friends a while…" He smiled.

She nodded, "Well, for the gesture, thanks. Goodnight…"

"Goodnight," He stared for a minute wondering what she'd look like cleaned up. Then he left, feeling as though he had made a huge mistake but not knowing how to deal with it any other way. The old man did mean a lot to Cole and he wasn't sure why. But he knew if he died, he'd miss him in his life.

Funny how people came to mean something to you! But there was more to worry about here than the pretty girl. Those men meant business and were sneaky enough to cause real problems. Harmon had a real concern there. And he would be left to deal with them. Because he made a promise to ole Harmon, he'd see to the girl, somehow!

The Filly & the Gambler will be available at smashwords.com by the end of July.