Western Wednesdays—RANGE QUEEN + Giveaway

Jane Candia Coleman is a six-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, three-time winner of the Western Heritage Award, two-time winner of the Spur Award, a Willa Award winner, and a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award finalist.

Say that five times fast.

Today, we’re previewing Range Queen, available now in trade and for the first time in e-book.  Previously released as The O’Keefe Empire, the novel is meeting a new generation of Western readers and making one heck of an impression.

Take a look for yourself…

Happy Reading,
Allison Carroll
Editorial and Web Coordinator

Giveaway: What’s in a name? Many UK novels have their titles americanized for the U.S. editions, and here we are with Range Queen—a new title for a successful and in-demand backlist book. I’m itchin’ to give away a copy of the book, so share your thoughts and get your name entered to win!

Chapter One

The man who boarded the train in El Paso had been staring at her for hours, and Joanna O’Keefe, choking on smoke and cinders and swatting flies, was nearly at the limit of her patience. She wished she’d had the sense to stay at home and wait until her husband came for her, instead of embarking on a journey comparable to a descent into hell.

Outside the open windows of the car the land stretched—dry, brittle, embroidered with creosote and here and there a field of nameless, tawny flowers on slender stems. In the distance she could see mountains, also nameless, and as foreign to her—raised as she’d been in the Texas hill country—as the surface of the moon.

In his letters Alex had described a lush valley—“high desert,” he called it—but covered with grass for hundreds of miles and watered by a river and streams that formed in the mountains where oak and juniper grew. Had he been lying? Writing his dreams, blind to reality as he was apt to be? She shook her head in a small gesture of denial. Could he have lied to her about such a thing? No, he was her husband, her lifelong friend, and a wife did not think ill of her mate— or, if she did, she banished the thought before it grew into anger or the silence of despair.

That was how she felt now—desperate—with the blue eyes of the stranger watching her. An infant wailed somewhere in the car, the cry of a child who had passed the limits of frustration and refused to be comforted.

Comfort! It was four walls and a roof, and a cool breeze skittering off the creek and through the pecan trees. It was Alex coming home for supper, full of talk and his usual dreams to share with her. She could see him seated across the table with its homespun cloth, his face lit by lamplight, his eyes sparkling.

“I’ve met a man, Joanna. A Scot. He’s going West to make his fortune raising cattle. He’s already found a place near the Mexican border, and the land is free for the taking. Think of it, my dear! Land! Freedom! Room to do as we choose, live as we’ve dreamed. There’s money in cattle, and the range isn’t crowded like here. And there’s grass, empty range, and we’ll be there first.”

 Those had been his words that day nearly two years ago. She’d heard him, and a shiver had run down her spine. She was the practical one, content within her house, the boundaries of the farm that had come to her when her parents had died. She knew the soil, the cycles of weather, the ways of crops and animals. And she knew her husband, that strange man with dreams always in his eyes.

Still, she had asked: “Is there a town? What will you do on a ranch when you even hate farming? Won’t it be much the same thing?” And had seen his gray eyes harden to slate at the implied criticism.

“John McLeod wants a man with knowledge of the law, not a hired hand. We’ve spent the last week in discussion and have agreed. He and I will go out and get settled, and then I’ll come for you. I’ve already promised money for our share.”

“And you didn’t tell me? Didn’t even ask?” Her voice, soft but with the ring of steel, had echoed between them.

“Not until I was sure.” He put his elbows on the table and leaned across it. “Don’t refuse me this, Joanna. I’ve made up my mind. This is our chance. I’ve never liked it here, never belonged. You know that.”

She had known. She had remembered when he and his father had arrived, remembered the skinny, wide- eyed little boy whom all the kids had mocked for his attention to his studies, and how she, feeling swift pity, had stood up to them, ten years old but sure of her own strength. She had stood in the school yard, hurling stones with deadly accuracy. “Leave him be! You hear me! You’re all a bunch of ”—she had struggled for the word insulting enough—“pigs!”

After that she had mothered him, the scholarly kid with the shiftless father. Some weakness in him had brought out the toughness in her, a ferocity that, as they had grown older, had turned to passion. He was hers, had always been. They both had known it and married in spite of the misgivings of her parents. It had seemed to her that each had what the other lacked and that, she told herself, was what their marriage was about.

“Do I get a chance to meet this man?” she asked, her voice heavy now with irony. “This dream seller?”

“It’s not a dream, Joanna, and, yes, I want you to meet him. He can explain better than I can, so I asked him to supper tomorrow.”

Her temper flared. Without a word, without discussion, the entire course of her life had been altered, and now she had to cook supper for the man responsible. “Nice of you to tell me,” she snapped, then regretted her irritation when she saw Alex’s face.

“It’s all right. I’ll make do,” she said. Hadn’t she always, and her mother before her? Hadn’t she been the silent strength in their union—until now, with the coming of a stranger and his visions?

Yet, in spite of herself, she was drawn into those visions. John McLeod, with the soft burr that made his speech alluring, and a practical streak that appealed, won her over by the time they’d finished supper.

“Land for the taking,” he said, looking her straight in the eye. “And a fortune to be made on cattle. The market is out there. The towns, the forts, the Indian reservations all want beef. The miners, too. What’s needed are suppliers, and close at hand. The place I’ve found is made for cattle, so if they want beef, we’ll give it to them.”

It had made sense. Then. Now, looking out, she wondered if they’d all taken leave of their senses, if they’d come to this forlorn place only to dig their graves in the rocks and sand.

It had been months since she’d gotten a letter from Alex, months of loneliness and the fear she attempted to smother before it blotted out reason. Suddenly, after a week of sleepless nights, she had made up her mind. Her place was beside Alex, wherever he was. With typical determination, she found a buyer for the farm, packed the things she needed or couldn’t bear to leave, and sent off a note announcing her arrival.

Now, with the arid land spread around her, the pale sky made paler by blowing dust, and the interior of the train car a smoke- filled oven, she wondered if she hadn’t made an irrevocable mistake, cut her traces, left the overwhelming green of the hills for a seared plain, a husband vanished.

And all the while the stranger watched her out of blue eyes shadowed by the brim of his hat, a constant reminder that she was a lone woman, prey to advances in spite of the gold band on her finger.

He had never seen a woman as lovely as this girl in her dark green traveling dress and a bonnet that framed her face like a pair of cupped hands. He would have liked to ask her questions— who she was, where she was going— but he was a gentleman, and she, obviously, was a lady brought up never to speak to strangers even in a situation such as this where the rules could be eased just a little, formality dispensed with.

Damn, it was awkward, the two of them facing one another, knees almost touching, the silence like a glass wall between them, while outside the land 6 seemed to move, empty, unshaped by human hands, challenging, like a dare. And he’d never refused a dare in his life. That was why he was on his journey—in response to a call for help from his brother. He was needed, a fighter like all the men in his family, and ready for what ever challenges there were to be faced in this new country.

He smiled to himself. Up to any challenge, was he? Why then hesitate to speak to his fellow passenger, regardless of the fact that she sat there guarding her virtue, refusing to meet his eyes, her shoulders set square under the green jacket?

The engine lurched. A cloud of smoke and ash blew in through the open window, and Joanna dabbed at her eyes that filled with tears, her courage finally blotted out.

Moved by the sight of her distress, he spoke before he thought. “Don’t cry, lass.”

Startled, irritated at the visible sign of her own weakness, she looked up. “I’m not.”

“That’s good, then.” Her eyes were greenish, full of intelligence in spite of the tears.

“It’s the smoke,” she said. Having broken the silence, she was not willing to resume it. What, after all, could happen on a train filled with passengers?

He didn’t disagree. “I’ve been wondering if your Columbus didn’t feel like this in the middle of the ocean. As if he’d be sailing the rest of his life with never an end.”

She looked out the window. Columbus, indeed! “I think I’d like the ocean better,” she said with a shaky smile. Then her curiosity, which her mother had always prophesied would lead to trouble, got the better of her. “Your Columbus,” he’d said with a familiar whir in his words like water running over stone.

“Where are you from?”

“Glasgow. In Scotland,” he added, having met many without any notion of geography.

Her tears dried, as much from excitement as from the wind that blew in the window. “How odd. My husband’s partner is from there. Maybe you know him. John McLeod.”

He laughed, a great roar rising out of his chest that caused the other passengers to turn and stare. “I do, indeed,” he said, smiling into her shocked face. “He’s my brother. The youngest of us, come West to make his fortune in the cattle business. But he wrote saying there was trouble, and so here I am. But you . . .” He hesitated as he remembered his brother’s words: Thieves, murderers, rustlers, and Indians, all taking what ever they want, killing whom they please, and no protection from the law.

“It’s no place for a lady,” he said finally.

Her chin went up. “A lady’s place is with her husband. I’m not afraid.”

Perhaps she was foolish. Or courageous. Or a mixture of both. In any case, she was here, and it was too late to stop her, not that he could, with that determination written all over her face.

He shrugged. “Fear has its place.”

“Perhaps. But there’s no sense conjuring ghosts or worrying ahead of time.” 

Brave. And practical, too. He found himself liking her more than was proper, and she another man’s wife.

“Hasn’t your husband written to you of . . . of difficulties?” he asked.

“He said he’d found paradise. But that was months ago. I . . . I haven’t heard from him for a while.” She hated the admission, hated the fact that her voice shook.

The husband was either a fool or a dreamer, Angus thought. Most likely a fool to let a young woman come into a land where murder was commonplace. Still, John had liked him well enough. Steady he’d written about Alex O’Keefe. And with knowledge of the laws.

“I hope it’s all you expect,” he said lightly.

His words, his attitude, irritated, as if he were ridiculing her, and who was he to do that, as innocent of the future as she was?

“I have no expectations,” she answered shortly. “Only to be with my husband. For the rest, I’ll deal with what ever happens.”

He accepted her rebuke with a smile. “I, too. But, so far, everything has been strange. This country. It’s so big. Anything can happen.”

“And probably does.” She smiled back, for hadn’t she been thinking the same? “It’s an adventure, Mister McLeod. I was trying to see it as one, anyway. Except for the smoke and the flies.” She swatted her forehead, then rubbed her fingers on her soiled handkerchief. “I guess it’s different from Scotland?” 

He looked out at the red earth, rocks blackened as if scorched by fire, stunted trees with their frail, moving leaves, and was stricken with homesickness so acute he was, for a moment, speechless.

She read his face. “I know,” she said gently.

“Do you?” He recovered himself. “And do you know that in Scotland at this time of year the sun scarcely sets before it’s up again, and the lochs are as blue as the sky?”

“Lochs?”

“Lakes, ma’am. Deep water, and the hills around them prettier than a painting. And when the heather blooms, it’s a sight, and none to match it.”

In her mind she saw it—in opposition to the country beyond the window. Probably a fantasy but vivid, nonetheless. “It sounds lovely,” she said.

“It is, ma’am. It is.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his watch. “And if I’m right, we’ve only a few hours before we get off and begin a real adventure.”

“Here?” Looking, she saw a vast expanse of glittering sand, distant mountains rising blue and lavender. “It’s . . . it’s not what I thought,” she stammered, the fear she’d denied earlier grabbing her throat.

Angus chuckled. “Not even my brother, who’s a bit of an optimist, would have fallen for such a place. I believe the ranch is several days’ journey to the south.”

Irritation replaced her fear. A dreamer and an optimist, she thought bitterly, and her life in their hands. And with the sale of the farm she hadn’t any 1place left to go. She’d cut her traces blindly, putting faith in a few words on paper.

Tears welled up again, but she forced them down. Self- pity was weakening, and she had never allowed it, nor would she let this man with the boisterous laugh and honeyed tongue see her unguarded. Keeping her head bent, she rummaged in her basket and pulled out two apples, handing one to him. “If that’s true, we’ll need our strength,” she said.

His stomach wanted beefsteak or venison roasted over the coals, and a glass of good whiskey tasting of the bog to wash it down, but he accepted her offering and bit into it with good grace. From the beginning there had been women with apples, and men to eat them, even here, as far from home and civilization as he’d ever been. Still, he thought, there was something to be said for the mountains that rose at the farthest edge of vision, fading, changing color as the sun rose and began to descend, something poignant, a loneliness that struck to the heart as the dazzle of white sand they were crossing pierced the eyes.

One would never know all, he decided, never discover the secret places in those rocky barriers, never be able to grasp the splendor of the whole. He thought he might come to love this place with the same kind of love it was possible to have for a woman whose mind was her own, mysterious, alluring, and with that he glanced across at Joanna who, like him, was staring out, the look on her face indecipherable. 

She caught him, smiled, the corners of her mouth turning up like a cat’s. Then she said: “We might find beauty even here. Not your lochs or my trees, but something else. Something you can touch like those mountains. Earth’s bones.”

And with that speech, Angus McLeod fell in love.

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2 Responses to Western Wednesdays—RANGE QUEEN + Giveaway

  1. Lad castle says:

    “Much like Angus, I think I too am in love.”

  2. Christy says:

    I’ve fallen in love with the place and would love to read the whole book.

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