Usually I set my books in Texas, which is where I live. My latest release, AMANDA’S RANCHER, is part of a Kindle World for which Debra Holland set the parameters. She chose eastern Montana, which is where her Montana Sky Series is set. To provide a visual aid for authors participating in this project, author Lou Nelson put together a map of the small mining town central to the books, Morgan’s Crossing. I set my hero’s ranch a half hour’s wagon ride from that small town.
Writing in another person’s world is more difficult than in my own. I like challenges and stretching myself occasionally to keep growing as a writer. This book gave me the opportunity to delve into a new setting and expand my writing. But, I still wrote about my favorite cowboys, ranchers, and mail-order brides.
Books about mail-order brides are very popular. I believe it’s the unknown, fish-out-of-water aspect that keeps us entertained. In truth, there were many mail-order brides from the end of the Civil War up to the turn of the century (and beyond). Men moving west settled and wanted a wife, but there were not enough single women in the west. Women in the east wanted to marry and have a family, but there weren’t enough eligible men.
Enterprising people set up as matchmakers to connect the men and women—the early form of Match.com, eHarmony.com, and others. Like today’s online matches, some were happy and some were disasters. Of course, those in my mail-order bride books are successful, but only after enough difficulty to keep the plot going.
Like most romance readers, I read to relax and dive into another world that guarantees a happily-ever-after ending. You’re guaranteed a happy ending with my books. At the same time, I strive to be factual as far as locale, dress, customs, and so forth for the time period in which I’m writing.
In planning AMANDA’S RANCHER, I first came up with my hero, Preston Kincaid. He moved to Montana Territory from Texas with his father after the death of his mother. Although Preston was happy in Texas, his father was determined to move to assuage his grief and Preston didn’t want his father starting over on his own. At the opening of the story, they’ve been in Montana for seven years and Preston is twenty-eight. He ranch is firmly established and he’s ready to wed and have a family. His father has encouraged him to write for a genteel Southern belle from Atlanta, which is where Preston’s mother grew up.
For my heroine, I wanted someone the opposite of what Preston requests, a woman in jeopardy and on the run, Mara O’Sullivan. I chose to make her the daughter of a prostitute in a small town near Atlanta, Georgia. In spite of her mother’s background, Mara is virtuous and hard-working. When she testifies against bank robbers, they vow to kill her in retaliation. On the way to prison, they escape and kill a guard. She knows she has to disappear. When the woman seated next to her on the train dies, she fulfills a deathbed promise by taking that woman’s identity and child.
Here’s the blurb for AMANDA’S RANCHER:
One desperate young woman.
A chance meeting.
A life-changing outcome.
Growing up in a brothel, Mara O'Sullivan battled public disdain and contempt, but always remained virtuous, kind-hearted, and gracious. After testifying against vicious bank robbers, her life is threatened and Mara must find sanctuary far from everything she knows.
One train ride changes her life as she fatefully meets a half-sister and a niece she never knew existed. But when circumstances end her sister's life, Mara makes a deathbed promise that she'll raise her niece Iris as her own and take her sister Amanda's place as Preston Kincaid's mail-order-bride. As Mara and Preston grow closer, their marriage no longer seems like a ruse, but a relationship of love, passion, and desire.
Mara's past comes back to haunt her and she finds herself in danger—will her new husband forgive Mara's deceit and protect her as his own?
Here’s an excerpt from AMANDA’S RANCHER:
They reached the church and Preston jumped down from the wagon and came around to help her alight. With a smile, he lifted Iris high over his head before he set her on the ground. Her giggle brought tears to Amanda’s eyes.
That was the first time she’d ever heard the child make the girlish sound. Iris had smiled, spoken, but never laughed until she met Preston Kincaid. For that alone, Amanda would be the best wife she knew how to be.
Inside the church, Mrs. Norton handed Amanda a bouquet of daisies secured with a white ribbon. The sanctuary interior was plain with wooden benches and an altar raised one step above the rest of the floor. Although there were several windows, none had stained-glass as did the churches she’d seen in Georgia.
The minister was waiting at the front of the church and wore a black frock coat and matching string tie. His brown hair and beard were thickly streaked with gray. He stood at a simple lectern with what looked like a Bible in one hand while he conversed with another man.
Amanda was surprised only one other person besides Reverend and Mrs. Norton was in the sanctuary. She’d supposed Preston had many friends in the area and thought at least his ranch hands would attend. The second man turned and came to greet them. He proved to be an older version of her groom.
Preston cupped her elbow. “Amanda and Iris, this is my father. Most folks call him Tom, but I call him Papa.”
Amanda smiled at the handsome man who must be around fifty. He was tall, but maybe an inch shorter than his son. Silver sprinkled the same dark hair. “May I call you Papa, too?”
He beamed his pleasure and his blue eyes crinkled at the corners. “I’d be honored. And in the absence of your father, may I walk you down the aisle?”
“Would you? I’d be ever so grateful.” She laid her hand on his arm. Nerves had set in and she needed his support or her knees might give way.
Preston said, “Iris, why don’t you stand with me while my papa walks Mama to meet us?”
Iris shook her head. “Mommy, not my old mama?”
Preston frowned. “Old mama?”
Panic sent bile into her throat that threatened to choke her. Don’t throw up on your wedding dress. “Perhaps you remember my mother recently died.”
Sympathy shone from his blue eyes. “Of course.” He took Iris’ hand in his and strode to the front.
Mrs. Norton began playing the piano. She nodded toward Amanda. Papa Kincaid gently led her up the aisle.
Walking toward her husband, Amanda was conscious of Preston’s stare, as if he could see into her mind and knew her for an impostor. Although he held Iris’ hand, the intensity of his blue gaze unnerved her. She wondered if he was disappointed or if he were as numb as she.
Thankful for the presence of her future father-in-law beside her, she tightened her hold on Mr. Kincaid’s arm.
In response, he patted her hand her where it laid on his sleeve. Without looking at her, he whispered. “Steady as you go. We’re almost there.”
Iris gave a tiny wave and Amanda couldn’t resist smiling at the child. The little girl truly was a blessing. Focusing on Iris gave Amanda a target she could face.
When they reached the front, Mrs. Norton ceased playing.
Preston took the bouquet from Amanda’s hands. “Iris, would you hold this for Mommy so she and I can be married?”
Iris looked at him adoringly and reached to receive the flowers. Reverend Norton opened his Bible and began the ceremony. Preston took Amanda’s hands in his. She was conscious of his calluses, but also of the size and strength of his palms dwarfing hers.
When the minister indicated, Preston slipped a ring onto her finger. This new one belongs to me, even if my groom doesn’t know my true name.
After the ceremony, Preston brushed his lips gently against hers.
Iris clapped her hands across her mouth in surprise then said, “Mommy? That man kissed you.”
Preston knelt eye-to-eye with her. “I’m your new Daddy, remember? Mommy and I were just married and now I can kiss her whenever she says it’s okay. Do you think you can call me Daddy?”
Iris nodded. “Are you gonna kiss me too?”
He smiled broadly. “I certainly am.” He leaned forward and gave her a loud smack on the cheek.
The child giggled. Twice in one day this kind man had made Iris happy. Amanda owed Preston all her wifely devotion.
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Caroline and her husband live in the heart of Texas cowboy country with their menagerie of rescued pets. When she’s not indulging her passion for writing, Caroline enjoys time with family, reading, travel, antiquing, genealogy, and getting together with friends. Find her on her blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google+, and Pinterest. Subscribe to her newsletter here to receive a FREE novella of HAPPY IS THE BRIDE.