Olivia Darling is her own woman—self-sufficient, intelligent, and wise to the ways of the world. She’s also beautiful enough to rile other women and garner unwanted attention from men, which could bring more danger down on her than living the outlaw life she’s taken to. Headed home to Colorado, she’s ready to put her past behind her—but what kind of reception will she get?
Kit Traver is headed home to Colorado, giving up his law practice back East to return to the place he loves—and the woman he intends to marry. His life neatly planned, this journey will give him the time he needs to be alone with nature before he takes on the responsibilities of practicing law again and being a married man.
When Kit and Olivia meet in Denver, it’s not the best first impression—for either of them. But, they are traveling the same trail, so it’s only natural they ride along together. It’s obvious to Kit that Olivia needs his protection—if only from herself!
But traveling together ignites a fire between them that can’t be ignored, especially once they arrive, only to discover that everything has changed while they’ve been away. With her father mysteriously murdered, Olivia has her hands full trying to keep the big ranchers from pushing her off her family’s small spread. Can Olivia and Kit make a home together? Will Kit walk away from his socialite family for the love of HIS UNEXPECTED COMPANION?
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I've always been interested in the Hideaways on the Outlaw Trail used during the old west by outlaw gangs. I've drawn on this research for a few books. For this book I was inspired by Brown's Park, Colorado and the ranchers who consorted with outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. Also of interest to me are the boomtowns that sprung up quickly and sometimes faded away during the gold and silver mining days. This book is set in and near the boomtown of Leadville.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My heroine, Olivia Darling, is inspired by the real life character from Brown's Park, Anne Bassett–or Queen Anne, as she was called. Though raised on a homestead, she educated having gone to boarding schools along with her sister, Josie. Both women were raised to be the equal of men and could ride, shoot, and rustle cattle with the best of them. When Anne's fiance was murdered by a big cattle baron, she went out on a path of revenge that lasted for years. And she won!
The hero, Kit Traver was out of my own imagination! I wanted my heroine to challenge Kit, who was raised in polite society, on his notions of what he thinks he wants in a romantic partner–someone who will help him break out of the mold he was put in. Olivia finds Kit wild, fun side.
Like a warm welcome from an old friend. Presented on a plate of the finest bone china, and floating on a sea of pristine, white linen, the offering seemed to speak to him, saying, All yours. I’m here for you and you are here for me. This moment is ours. His tongue darted in and out of his mouth, moistening his lips. The impulse to lunge forward and pounce held in check by the desire to draw out and savor the pleasure for as long as possible.
The thick slice of ham, glistening in rich brown gravy, had his mouth watering in anticipation of the sweet, salty, smoky goodness. Still steaming roast potatoes, crispy skins lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Emerald green peas in a neat pile on the side. Heavy, scrolled silverware reflected the light from the crystal chandelier hanging above the table. A feast fit for a man of his station.
Kit Traver looked down at the meal before him with reverence. He studied it until the image planted in his brain, taking in a deep breath through widened nostrils to pair the scents with the vision. If he were an artist, he’d immortalize it in oil paints.
“You gonna eat that or are you fixing to write a tribute to it?” Smoothing down his mustache with one hand, Henry grinned at him from across the table.
Kit glanced up, a contented smile lifting the corners of his mouth. “Well, I’m sitting here thinking two things. First off, this is the last full dinner I’ll get in days. Second, I was thinking that even the food tastes and smells better in Colorado. It must be the fresh air.”
“I don’t envy you for the trip you have ahead of you, my friend. It will be beef jerky and hard tack from now on.”
He leaned forward barely able to control his excitement. “Oh, I’m looking forward to it! I’m itching to get back in the saddle—”
Kit looked up to the ceiling. “Sleeping under the stars—”
“On the cold, hard ground.”
“Besides it won’t be jerky and hardtack, I can hunt for my food and have some fine meals out in the wilderness as man is intended.”
“Will you be using bullets or do you think your hopes and dreams will be enough to persuade the critters to jump on your plate?”
“So cynical, Henry. You can’t imagine how hemmed in I got to feeling in that city. Boston. You don’t know how lucky you are to be so close to wide open spaces free of human congestion. A man can get out there in nature and really think. Get to know himself.”
“I’m happy here in Denver. I do get out in the backwoods occasionally, which is just about right. So, are you telling me you’re back to stay?”
Kit had to suppress the mirth bubbling up inside him, but his traitor lips quivered into a grin. “I am. Can I let you in on a little secret?”
He paused long enough to get his friend’s full attention. “I’m going to get married and settle down back home.”
Henry perked up. “When’s the wedding?”
“I don’t know. I have to ask the lady first.”
Henry relaxed back into his seat. “Another Kit plan based on idealistic notions. Do you know which lady you plan to propose to?”
Disappointment flickered across Henry’s face, but he staunched it so quickly, Kit chose to believe he’s misread his friend.
Henry scratched behind his ear and glanced at the table. “When did this happen? Last I heard from you, you had just got yourself engaged in Boston.”
Kit waved a hand in front of him, the episode a distant memory to him now. “I was, but by mutual agreement we decided to end things. Millicent was too…opinionated. Now, I don’t mind a lady speaking her mind, but Millicent made a competition out of it, and when the opinion expressed rarely agrees with your own….” He picked up the cut glass goblet and swallowed a sip of wine. “Oh, that’s divine.”
“How does Emily come into this? When’s the last time you saw her?”
“I haven’t seen her in a couple of years. But what happened is, I was kind of low after parting ways with Millicent, and Emily and I have always corresponded—she is a dear friend of my little sister. When I told her what happened with Millicent she expressed her sympathy and worried about me, so we wrote to each other more often. Gradually, I discovered I felt more than a passing affection for her. I would go so far as to say we have an understanding. But the engagement isn’t official yet.”
Henry’s toffee brown eyes registered concern. “Don’t do anything rash, Kit. Exchanging letters with someone isn’t the same as seeing them in person and holding a real discourse.”
“But, I can tell by her writing she’s everything I want in a wife. She’s kind and gentle. She seems to know just what to say. I appreciate a person who puts thought into their words before speaking. She’s a very…” He thought about her for a moment, sights on the plaster scroll-work in the ceiling. “She’s a very measured young lady.”
“Well, yes, she’s a nice enough girl, but I have to say this as your friend and don’t take offense.”
Kit sat back and folded his arms across his chest. “What?”
“You can be fickle where the fairer sex is concerned. I wish you’d pick one girl and stick with her.”
“Says the other bachelor at the table.”
“I don’t plan on being a bachelor forever, but when I meet the right girl I’ll…..” Henry’s eyes lit up and his jaw slackened like the incarnation of his every hope and dream had just stepped into the room wrapped in ribbon and carrying a birthday cake.
Kit turned in his seat to see what had caused such a reaction.
A vision. A woman with hair the color of mahogany piled in curls on top of her head and large eyes set in an intelligent face, where all features rested in perfect proportion. Her creamy skin had a hint of rose across the cheeks. Her dress was almost the same shade of brown as her hair, only iridescent, with a silver panel on the bodice filled with pink seed beads and narrow ribbons of light green and pink. She stood in the doorway, looking from side to side.
“That’s her. That’s the woman I’m going to marry,” said Henry, his Adam’s apple rising and falling above his stiff collar.
“Hang on, sport. She’s probably looking for her husband. A lady wouldn’t be here on her own.”
Just then a waiter approached the woman and said something in a low whisper. Kit turned back around.
“…Beautiful,” muttered Henry.
The lady’s voice carried sure and clear across the room. “No, I will not sit in the lounge until my husband gets here. As I am not married, that wait could put me well beyond any dinner time in the foreseeable future.”
Kit turned sideways and cocked an ear in the direction of this unseemly display.
“Madame, I’m sorry we cannot serve unaccompanied ladies in the restaurant. Perhaps you’d like dinner sent up to your room?” said the waiter, still speaking in a quiet voice.
“I don’t think I would like that. Do you know how long the evening can be when you’re trapped in a room? Hmmm? Thought not. No, I’m going to sit at a table right here.”
The waiter bent and said something so low, Kit couldn’t hear him. Henry was staring, his face frozen.
“I have one particular talent. Do you want to know what that is?” She continued to the waiter, her voice louder now.
Kit and Henry exchanged wide-eyed looks. Faces turned as other diners honed in on the conversation taking place. And though he hadn’t been aware of it until it's deafening silence, the chatter of silverware on bone china ceased. The waiter must have asked her what her one talent was because she answered with her voice very loud now.
“I can shout longer and louder than anyone else in my family. Came in handy when Ma wanted everyone called in from outdoors. Want to hear me? No? Thought not…” she leaned toward the man whispering in her ear. “Yes, get the manager by all means. The service here is appalling.”
Kit spun around again to get a glimpse of this trouble-making woman, who must surely be ashamed of herself. She stood tall and straight, her chin tilted upwards. In the dim room, lit only by candles and gas lights on the walls, she shimmered from head to toe.
The image of a rainbow trout of many hued scales stilled in a mountain stream came to his mind. Oh, he knew this was not the most romantic description but seeing her now, he could almost smell the pine trees and hear the tinkling of water running down a brook. Wild, yet majestic. Holding its own against an opposing current.
She looked at her audience with an unflinching countenance. The maitre d’ made his way toward her and all prepared for the next act in the drama.
Henry leaned in. “Oh, here we go. It’s time someone put her in her place.”
Though not his concern, Kit blushed with shame on behalf of the woman. Sometimes you just get yourself in a situation that was hard to dig out of. He understood that. He wanted to look away, but he was riveted to the unfolding scene. The maitre d’ tilted his head sideways as he quietly explained something to the woman.
She sucked in her cheeks. “I see. Thank you for explaining why a woman traveling alone cannot sit down to a nice meal.” Her voice raised as if addressing the room. “However, though you haven’t exactly voiced this, what I infer from your explanation is you appear to take a dim view of your fellow beings. Either my presence is likely to result in the gentlemen here to behave in base ways—which I very much doubt since as you say yourself this is a respectable establishment not a saloon—or I am here to procure more than a meal. Rest assured I am not a prostitute.”
The sound of cutlery hitting plates filled the room. Someone choked on their food.
She met the flustered maitre d’s eyes. “I have money of my own and intend to spend it lavishly in your establishment. Now if you will kindly see me to a table… You may tuck me in a corner if that makes you feel better, and we shall see how well everyone behaves themselves.”
He thought she was going to get shown the door for sure. But, instead the maitre d’ gave a slight bow from the waist and led the way to a table.
When she passed their table, Henry ducked his head and put up a hand to shield his face, but Kit couldn’t look away. She turned her face to him as if deigning to acknowledge his presence. His mouth went dry and his chest expanded, holding a deep breath when their eyes met. She raised her eyebrows in surprise. She had startlingly light blue eyes, he noted.
When she was seated at a table, everyone went back to their meals and companions with an uneasy caution.
Henry patted his moustache down again. “Well, hell, that was really something you don’t see everyday. Talk about your opinionated woman.”
“Extraordinary,” was the only expression Kit managed to utter.
The woman now sat at a table across from him in his direct line of vision.
She unfolded the linen napkin and placed it in her lap with great calm as a waiter approached. “I’ll start with the oysters, please. And follow that with the biggest steak you have, so rare it calls for mercy when I stick my fork in it.”
“Yes, madame,” the near-terrified waiter said.
“Oh, and bring me a brandy, please.”
“I’m sorry. Women aren’t served alcohol here.”
Henry put down his fork on his plate with a loud clunk. “Here we go again.”
Rather than go into another triade, the woman sat with a dumbfounded expression on her face as the waiter scurried away.
“Excuse me!” An elderly gentleman seated with his wife caught the waiter before he got far. “I’d like a snifter of brandy, please.”
The waiter returned and handed the gentleman his brandy, leaving with a quick bow. Shock fell over the room again when the man stood up and took the brandy over to the woman seated alone.
“My dear. Do enjoy your brandy,” he said, putting the glass on the table in front of her.
At his table, the man’s wife beamed with pride at her husband.
The single lady smiled, and when she did so, Kit felt his insides shift downward. She had a dazzling smile.
He breathed out a sigh of relief the drama ended and went back to his food, which had grown cold. Annoying. His last good meal in the near future almost ruined. He thought about asking the waiter to reheat his plate, but then decided the poor man had been through enough this evening. He grudgingly cut off a piece of ham and shoved it in his mouth.
As he chewed he felt someone watching him. He startled when he looked up and found the mysterious woman boldly taking a bead on him. When their eyes met, she closed one eye in a slow, lazy wink.
Brazen! Bold as Brass.
He quickly looked down at his plate. He felt shaken to his very core. Appetite gone.
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