Western Wednesdays—RIDE FOR RULE CORDELL by Cotton Smith

It’s not often you come across a female antagonist in Westerns, but Cotton Smith’s villainous Lady Holt in Ride for Rule Cordell is a triple threat—she’s smart, mean, and ambitious to the point that she’s just about got the whole of Texas under her greedy thumb. Only the Texas Rangers stand in her way, and they’ll have to form an unlikely alliance with a notorious outlaw if they’re to break Lady Holt’s stranglehold on the great state and its people. Get in on the action with this preview of Ride for Rule Cordell by Cotton Smith.

Happy Reading,
Allison Carroll
Dorchester Publishing

Chapter One

Texas Ranger John Checker saw the two gunmen coming in the darkness before they saw him. Like a cat, he dove toward the short buffalo grass pushing against the right side of the ranch shed. He rolled until he was lying chest-down in a shallow creek fifteen feet away. His long black hair brushed along the shoulders of his Comanche tunic.

Moonlight shivered on the dark water that fed upon most of his pants. He laid his Winchester against the edge of the creek itself. Hidden from the gunmen until they got close. Swiftly, he lifted the thong from the hammer of his short-barreled Colt carried in a reverse holster on a double-rowed cartridge belt. His hand gripped the black handles, carrying an embedded elk-bone circle on each side, and drew the fine revolver.

If they saw him, the short gun would be faster to bring into action. He froze in place as they came closer. He was certain they hadn’t seen him. A shooting encounter now might prove fatal for his old friend, Emmett Gardner. The smarter move was to determine what exactly was going on and where.

He and fellow Ranger A. J. Bartlett had come as soon as they received the wire from the gray-haired rancher. The two Rangers had hit town and learned from a loose-lipped cowboy that Lady Holt riders would descend on Gardner’s ranch tonight. They stayed only long enough to get fresh horses.

Right now, Bartlet twas somewhere on the other side of the ranch yard, waiting for Checker’s signal to close in. If he wasn’t fussing with his new socks; things like that mattered greatly to his partner. He even kept a detailed journal of recipes of meals that could be prepared on the trail. Probably the result of growing up with schoolteacher parents.

So far, there had been no shooting. Most likely, this meant the old rancher and his sons had been surprised and subdued. Or it could signify something worse. A lone light in the ranch  house gave no clue to what was happening inside, but Checker thought it was encouraging. He wasn’t certain how many gunmen were at the ranch, but guessed it was ten to twelve. Bartlett was uncomfortable with any estimate, especially one like that; Checker reminded him they wouldn’t know for certain until the attack was over.

The two gunmen finally stopped and stood above him on the grassy bank. Their rifles were carried casually in crossed arms. Both were looking back toward the ranch  house. It appeared their only objective was to stay out of the way of others.

Checker dared not lift his head enough to see them any better. He had learned well from Stands-In-Thunder how a man could remain unseen by his enemies when actually in plain sight. No movement was the first requirement.

Courage was the second.

Third was to avoid staring directly at the person; such eye contact would often make the man realize he was being watched.

Ranger reports indicated Lady Holt had forty gunmen in her employ, including the notorious Tapan Moore and the half-breed Luke Dimitry. Were they all  here? He didn’t think anything near that, but  wasn’t certain. So far, his first guess of ten to twelve seemed right. Forty gunmen didn’t count all the regular cowboys who handled her vast herds. There was little in this part of Texas the English woman didn’t own—or control. There was talk of her employing the new devil’s rope to stop open grazing. Barbed wire would change everything, most agreed—and few liked the idea.

The two gunmen’s conversation was casual in the tense darkness.

“Looks like the ol’ lady’s gonna get her wish.Gardner’s spread’ll make it just about complete. The ol’ man’s got some fine water. Grazin’ land ain’t bad, neither. Sil said he’s gonna make him sign over his place—or start hangin’ his sons.”

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Pardon the Interruption—Selling books by amputation!

Prepare yourselves! This is by no means your ordinary book trailer. With unsuspecting charm and grace only the most skilled of surgeons can master, author Max Barry lends a satirical twist to the usual trailer with a sneak peek (literally) of Machine Man. While not a Dorchester title, a trailer of this finesse deserves spotlight attention!

Don’t try this at home. So help me—if I start getting e-mails that you’ve all gone and hacked off your limbs, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ll certainly be impressed, but lacking in sympathy.

Signing off—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL Discussion Questions

Ahhh, bookclubs. Don’t you love them? Friends, a good book, great conversation, and insights into a book you might have missed on your own (and hopefully a Cosmo or two!). If you’re part of a bookclub and are looking for your next engrossing read, consider The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker  from award-winning author Leanna Renee Hieber. Think Victorian Ghostbusters + mythology + Mr. Darcy/Elizabeth Bennet-esque romance + the camaraderie and magic of Harry Potter. Really, there’s nothing like it out there. Your bookclub will thank you.

To get you started, Leanna has kindly provided some discussion questions to keep you on track during your obsess-fest (’cause you surely will be obsessing!). Right click the image to print or click the link below for a printable PDF.

Strangely Beautiful Discussion Questions

NaNoWriMo: Tips to Cross the Finish Line!

Happy belated Thanksgiving, y’all!

The infamous Turducken!

Perhaps you’re reading this while waiting on line at your favorite retailer for their Black Friday deals. Maybe, like me, you’re reading this while lying on the couch, half asleep in a turkey coma—still trying to recuperate from indulging in too much fried turkey or Turducken, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie—or for all you vegetarians out there, too much Tofurky®. Well, fellow NaNos, you and I have got to snap out of it! We’ve got writing to do! There are only five days left until our deadline! Let’s do it to it!

I’ve cracked the whip and buckled down. My last update expressed my concerns with finishing the NaNoWriMo challenge. With the help and support of my friends, family, colleagues, and NaNoWriMo community, I’ve gone into a writing frenzy. I’ve put off some of my favorite shows…only the ones that show reruns online :). But, I’m happy to report that I’m getting closer to beating the clock! Plus, I’m not just tossing words on the page (well, computer screen). I’m actually developing the characters and plot. Now, my only problem is…how do I end this? I want the ending to be memorable and unique. Maybe my problem is that I don’t know what is going to happen yet. Wasn’t it J.K. Rowling who said she knew exactly how the Harry Potter series was going to end? Apparently, I’ve made a rookie NaNoWriMo mistake. I’m toying with the idea of stretching my novel into a series; but, it took me nearly 25 days to simply get going on this novel. I can only imagine if I attempted a series! It would then be called NaNoWriYr! Any and all suggestions from the NaNo community are greatly appreciated!

How cute are these Bugle® cornucopias!

During this entire process, I’ve been wishing there was more time. “There aren’t enough hours in the day,” I’d complain. So, for my final piece of motivation I turn back the clock. As Winston Churchill said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” In the Churchill spirit, I’ve found thirty NaNoWriMo tips from last year. I wish I knew about #14 and #20 before I started all these shenanigans! Maybe I’ll have to start catching up on #25, ha! Anywho, I thought these thirty tips were helpful, encouraging, and funny. What do y’all think? Do you have any other pieces of advice for our last stint in NaNoWriMo?

This is our last leg, our final hurrah! So, let’s put on our thinking caps and bust out the quill pens! Homestretch, here we come!

Word Count: 31,717 and counting!

Hot off the presses! Well, oven.

First and foremost, from all of us here at Dorchester, we sincerely wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! Now, what’s the recipe for success you ask, oh ravenous blogging lurkers? The following is a delightful compilation of our favorite office recipes. Feast your eyes on this, dear readers, and be sure to share your own recipe as well.

Hannah starts us off with her mother’s homemade candied yams!

LouAnn’s Candied Yams

  • 8 yams
  • ½ stick unsalted butter
  • Half & Half
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly chopped thyme and/or rosemary
  • Mini marshmallows

Roast the yams in the oven at about 350 until tender and oozing (30-45 min). Separate flesh from peel and put in large mixing bowl. Add about 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, a splash or two of half and half; about a 1/2 cup to 1 cup of brown sugar (taste as you go…add more or don’t depending on the sweetness level you want). Add freshly ground pepper and kosher salt to taste. Add a few teaspoons of freshly chopped thyme and/or rosemary. This makes it a sweet and savory dish, all in one. Mix/mash thoroughly. You can use a food processor, but using a hand masher gets the ‘rustic’ texture. Put into large baking dish and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Cover with a layer of mini-marshmallows. Put in oven EITHER under broiler for just a minute to brown (don’t walk away or the marshies will expaaannnddd, then deflate horribly) or at 350 for approx. 15 minutes until browned and slightly melted.

Renee goes on to suggest Paula Deen’s version of ‘Turducken’—the three-bird extravaganza only the bravest of culinary experts can hope to achieve. (I’ll nab the stuffing while the rest of you can have the meat. Savvy?)

Paula Deen’s Turducken

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 gallon water
  • 18 to 21-pound turkey, skin intact and boned except for drumsticks
  • House seasoning, recipe follows
  • Cornbread Dressing, recipe follows
  • 3 to 4-pound duck, boned
  • 3 to 4-pound chicken, boned
  • Paprika

To make the brine: Mix salt and sugar with the water. Brine is ready when the mixture is completely dissolved. If the water is heated to quicken the process, make sure it is cooled to room temperature before placing meat in. Let the 3 birds sit in brine in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat roaster to 500 degrees F.

Lay turkey skin side down on a flat surface. Dust turkey with House Seasoning and add 1/4-inch layer of cornbread dressing. Lay duck skin side down on top of dressing. Dust duck with House Seasoning and add 1/4-inch layer of dressing. Repeat with the chicken. Read more!

Sam spares no expense when it comes to her former roommate’s superb dessert recipe.

Strawberry Frangipane Tart

Filling:

  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup blanched almonds, ground fine
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon Amaretto (your preference)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Topping:

  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled
  • 1/4 cup strawberry or raspberry jam, melted and strained
  • 2 cups melted dark/milk chocolate

(Note! Trader Joe’s almond flour works just as well as ground up almonds.)

Place the dough 1/8″ thick into a 10-or 11-inch round tart pan with a removable fluted rim, and chill the shell while making the frangipane. In a small bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar and beat in the egg, the almonds, the almond extract, the Amaretto, and the flour. Spread the frangipane evenly on the bottom of the shell and bake the tart in the middle of a preheated 375°F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the shell is pale golden. (If the frangipane begins to turn too brown, cover the tart loosely with a piece of foil.) Let the tart cool. Heat the chocolate in a microwaveable bowl until melted, stirring periodically. With a spoonula, spread the melted chocolate on top of the cooled tart. Place tart in the fridge to cool for another 20 minutes (or until the chocolate hardens). While waiting for the tart to cool, cut the strawberries lengthwise into 1/8″ thick slices, arrange the slices, overlapping, decoratively in rows on the frangipane. Warm up the jam, then brush it over the fruit. It makes it really shiny and pretty!

Tressia presents her signature Southern dish!

Crazy Crust Peach Cobbler

  • 1  8oz. can of Delmonte peach half in heavy syrup
  • 1 cup of self rising flour
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon of  vanilla flavor
  • 3 dashes of nutmeg
  • Square baking pan glass or aluminum disposable square 9×12

In large mixing bowl add flour, sugar, the 3 dashes of nutmeg and lightly blend so that contents will be well mixed. Add milk and blend all together—can use mixer or by hand. Next, pour mixture into the baking dish of choice. Add can of peaches with most of syrup from the can in no particular order, hence the name crazy crust cobbler. Now slice up stick of butter on top over the entire mix and bake until golden brown at 350 degrees F.

What are your favorite turkey day traditions? Let us know on your way to the table! :)

Signing off—

(A very hungry) Jillian, The Zombie Intern

Western Wednesdays—NOT A RUSTLER by John D. Nesbitt

I’ll make this short and sweet since I hope everyone is on their way to visiting family and friends, or preparing to host the main event themselves. Either way, may this holiday weekend be filled with those you love and good food. Take a breather from packing or cooking and enjoy this preview of Not a Rustler by John D. Nesbitt, a story of a working ranch man falsely accused of being a rustler. Will the conspiracy be uncovered before it buries him? Find out!

Happy Reading,
Allison Carroll
Dorchester Publishing

CHAPTER ONE

Spencer Prescott reined his horse to a stop when he saw a rider come over a hill on the trail ahead. The man was leaning forward and had his horse let out at a gallop, leaving a low cloud of dust in his wake.

Spencer moved his horse off to the side of the trail and waited. The oncoming horse was a common-looking sorrel, rigged for ranch work, and the man aboard, in addition to his intent posture, had the appearance of a seasoned range rider. His clothes were dusty, creased, and worn-looking in the sun.

As the man brought the horse to a jolting halt, Spencer recognized the upturned hat brim, the blond mustache, and the hard cheekbones of Kent Anderson, one of the men who rode for George Farrow. The rider worked his reins to each side as the horse, heaving deep breaths, shifted its feet and settled down.

“What news?” called Spencer.

“Nothing good.” Sunk into the flushed, sun-weathered face, the man’s blue eyes showed alarm. His chest moved up and down. “Someone’s killed the boss,” he announced.

Spencer felt his pulse jump. “When did that happen?”

Anderson’s voice quavered. “This morning, it looks like. He sent us hands out to gather horses. We left at first daylight and come back about noon. Looked like he’d been dead a few hours.”

“Right there at the ranch?”

“As he stepped out the front door. Hadn’t even pulled it shut.”

Spencer shook his head, slow and thoughtful. “That doesn’t sound good at all. Any idea who might have done it?”

Anderson gave a hard stare, and his eyes showed bloodshot. “Your guess is as good as mine.” He paused, as if to let the comment sink in. Then he went on to say, “You know as well as I do that anyone who isn’t part of the Association gets called a rustler and is liable to show up on a list somewhere.”

Spencer thought it sounded like an exaggeration, but he said, “I’m sorry for that.”

The upturned brim and the drooping blond mustache moved back and forth in an agitated motion, and Spencer couldn’t tell if it was from anger or fear.

With another heave of the chest, Anderson spoke. “Nothing personal to you, Spence. You ride for wages just like I do. But you know damn well, what they do to one man, they can do to another. Brand him a rustler, and take it from there. Now, you, you work for a member, so you’re on the safe side. For right now.”

Spencer frowned. “You think it would come around to me?”

“Oh, hell, who knows? I was thinkin’ of myself and the other two boys. If the big cattlemen put it out that George was rustlin’, then it’s a short step from there to say that the men who ride for him are doin’ the same thing. And it could happen to anyone, if the big shots had a mind to do it.”

“Well, I sure don’t have a part in it.”

“Oh, I didn’t think you did, or I wouldn’t have said this much.”

Spencer nodded and said nothing.

Anderson lifted his rein hand from the saddle horn. Worry showed in the blue eyes now. “Well, I’ve got to get along. I don’t like to be the one to do it, but someone’s got to carry the news to town.”

“Good luck.” Spencer raised his hand in farewell.

“Same to you.” The upturned brim leaned forward as the rider touched a spur to the horse’s flank, and the sorrel with three white stockings moved out in a rising trail of dust.

Spencer shifted in the saddle and nudged his horse forward. The dun stepped into a fast walk, and as Spencer settled into the rhythm, rocking in the smooth leather of the saddle, he went back through the news he had just heard. George Farrow was dead, shot down in his own ranch yard. Spencer recalled an image of Farrow—a quiet, dark-featured man with deep-set eyes and a bushy mustache. Now he was lying on his back, his eyes closed forever. His men would have taken him inside and laid him out with his hands folded on his chest, with his hat on a chair nearby.

Spencer brushed away some of the dust that had settled on his eyelids and cheekbones. He felt the warmth of the sun on his back, the energy of springtime as the grass was growing out and life was coming back to the rangeland. Raising his eyes to scan the country around him, he took a long breath and thought about the man who would not be able to see it anymore.

It was a bad way to go, even if Farrow had branded a few slick calves, which he might have done. Turnabout was supposed to be fair play, at least when it came to branding strays. The way Spencer had seen things in the last few years, everyone lost a few and picked up a few, and so it all came out even. That was the way things went on the open range. But now the men who ran the Association wanted to do things their way, and their way only. Cattlemen whose men mavericked through the winter, as Spencer had done for five dollars a head, wanted to outlaw anyone who didn’t participate in the Association’s roundups. Even a man who was branding his own stock could be called a rustler, while the Association kept all the mavericks in their gather so they could divvy up the proceeds among themselves.

Spencer tried not to concern himself with things that went on in higher-up places. A man who worked for a living liked to think that the man he rode for was on the square. As for branding stray calves or killing a steer that had wandered too far from its own range, those seemed to be common practice. Al Jerome had never asked his men to change a brand or slaughter someone else’s beef for sale. He had just followed the custom of the country. If he was a member of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, as he was, that was his business, and it helped protect his interests. As Spencer saw it, the bigwig politics didn’t reach down to the cowhand’s level. Besides, a man needed to work somewhere, and most of the good work was with men like Al Jerome.

Meanwhile, George Farrow was dead, shot down, and his hired man Anderson blamed the big ranchers. He made a point of saying he didn’t hold it against another ranch hand, but Spencer was left feeling uneasy. He felt the man’s bitterness, and he knew how the elite cattlemen hung together. Still, he was not going to jump to conclusions. He was in a position to stay calm and keep his eyes and ears open. Then, if he didn’t like the look of things, he could ease out and go look for work somewhere else.

Spencer had another fleeting image of George Farrow laid out, eyes closed, hatless, his weathered complexion fading into the pale forehead and tousled hair. He would never again see this greening rangeland, never again feel the warmth of the sun as the country came out of winter. Anderson said it could happen to anyone.

He also said Spencer’s guess was as good as his, and he didn’t mean all guesses were possible. It was clear that he meant there was one good guess if a man chose not to ignore it.

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ReCOVERy Room: THE RUBY KISS

Click to see the original cover copy

Mondays just got a whole lot better! I’m tickled to introduce ReCOVERy Room, a new series on the Dorchester Community Blog. Now, it can be said that a book’s blurb, or cover copy*, especially among the genre fictions, is already quite comical in its own right. But this takes it a step further and puts you in the driver’s seat.

Easy to play, alone or with a group, ReCOVERy Room is inspired by the beloved childhood word game we all seemed to have played on long car trips growing up—Mad Libs®. But instead of filling in the blanks for newscasts and history reports, you exploit your vocab to turn already steamy cover copy into hilarious, and perhaps even steamier, cover copy—the perfect word game to bring a chuckle and a chortle to any genre lover’s lunch hour. And who knows—you might just find your next read!

Every Monday we’ll post a new edition ReCOVERy Room for your enjoyment (we realize today is indeed Tuesday, however yesterday belonged to The Ruby Kiss as well with this Sexy Snippet). So grab your co-workers, friends, enemies and what have you, then print and fill in those blanks (the more wicked the better)!

Cheers,
Hannah

*For those of you not familiar with the industry term ‘cover copy,’ it simply refers to the descriptive blurb on the back cover of a book.

Right click the image to print or click the link below for a printable PDF.

 
Like this cover copy? The Ruby Kiss is now available in e-book!

Sexy Snippet: THE RUBY KISS

It all started with a magic knot, a mystical ring that contains the essence of its owner’s body, mind and spirit, an item capable of bonding two souls as one.

In The Ruby Kiss, the 3rd title in Helen Scott Taylor’s award-winning Magic Knot Fairies series, the fairy courts are off-balance, and only the fated bond between a powerful nightstalker and a fiery mortal can make things right.

Read on for a steamy glimpse into the magnetic relationship between Nightshade and Ruby, guaranteed to leave you wanting more—but don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long. The Ruby Kiss comes out later this month!

Warning: this sexy snippet is for mature readers only!

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NaNoWriMo Update: Day 18

Hey All,

We’re halfway to the NaNoWriMo deadline! I can’t believe it! While excitement is still in the air during this marathon writing session, I’m gathering that other NaNos are running into similar obstacles as I am. The task of writing a 50,000 word novel is a daunting one. At the beginning of this process, I thought I could manage work, life, and writing. I scheduled when I was going to write, where, and which part of my plot outline I would tackle each day. Apparently, my eyes are bigger than my stomach, or, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew…and all other applicable clichés. Or, there’s my grandmother’s theory: I don’t have any willpower other than when it comes to football. So, I confess—I’m not meeting my word count goal, and it’s all cable TV’s fault!

No, I can’t blame my TV. I can only blame myself. Well, I can blame the Giants for playing some really close and exciting games these past couple of weeks. It doesn’t help that the G-Men play the Eagles this weekend to continue their domination of the NFC East!

During this writing process, I’ve had flashbacks to my time in graduate school. You really have to be disciplined in order to succeed in NaNoWriMo. I procrastinated on some projects while I was in school, and that trait is rearing its ugly head during my writing now. So, to get myself out of a funk, I scour the Internet for fellow NaNos’ encouragement. My go-to-guy, Nathan Bransford, had a guest writer on his blog, author Shawn Thomas Odyssey. The post’s title, Success and Motivation, really struck a chord with me, as Shawn asks fellow writers to “take a moment every so often to remind ourselves what we are doing all of this for.” My goal for NaNoWriMo was to finally get a chance to write something fun. I want to enjoy the process and feel joy after accomplishing this goal. This has reminded me why I started all this madness. I feel rejuvenated, and ready to continue.

The Dorchester team has also been über supportive. Hannah even loaned me her writer’s block! There are even more people out there taking on the challenge with encouraging stories. Check out some of the inspiring stories of these Northwestern University students taking the NaNoWriMo challenge! I’m excited to keep on keepin’ on! Wish me luck NaNos!

Word Count: 13,488 and counting!

Thriller Thursdays: BLOOD KIN

There’s something to be said for vicariously experiencing suspense. You get that heart racing, edge of your seat, wide-eyed experience without being put in any sort of actual danger. If you know what I’m talking about, and you can’t get enough, well then let me introduce you to Judith E. French.

An award-winning author of over 30 novels, French writes suspense, she writes romance, she writes adventure-packed tales of intrigue. In her Blood series, of which the critically-acclaimed  Blood Kin is the first, the romance only serves to heighten the suspense. So if you’re looking for a thrill, read on suspense seekers, and thank the fiction gods that it isn’t you facing the dangers in these ominous pages.

Like what you read? Blood Kin, along with all of French’s contemporary suspenses, are the deal of the week! Snag each one for $3.99.

PROLOGUE

Tawes Island,Valentine’s Day

Frowning at the slash of orange that had caught his attention, Daniel eased off the marshy bank and out onto the surface of the frozen gut. Ice splintered ominously under his right boot, and he swore. The water here was at least chest-deep, with a good yard or two of black silt beneath—not a spot he wanted to claw his way out of in twenty-degree weather with a fifteen-knot wind. The Chesapeake Bay country was beautiful, but it could kill a man if he wasn’t careful.

Like the senator …?

Senator Joseph Marshall’s disappearance while duck hunting on New Year’s Day had launched a three-week rescue attempt that had drawn worldwide media attention. The coast guard, volunteer fire companies, and the national guard from three states had unsuccessfully searched the bay and every square inch of shoreline of the island and neighboring mainland, to no avail.

Daniel took another step toward the flash of color beneath the ice. Nausea rose in his throat. He exhaled slowly through clenched teeth and swallowed. Joseph Marshall’s face was pressed grotesquely against the underside of two inches of ice. Those shrewd blue eyes were open wide; his mouth gaped in a silent scream. The thick, dark hair he’d worn so fashionably cut and styled streamed out on both sides of flaccid, fish-bellywhite cheeks and a ragged protruding tongue.

Daniel let his gaze travel down the senator’s submerged body. His guess was that Joe Marshall’s political ambitions had been cut short by a single blast from a twelve-gauge shotgun.

Some might call it island justice.

CHAPTER ONE

June

Bailey clutched at the side of the boat and watched as the dark line on the horizon grew to a vivid patchwork of green and brown. “Is that Tawes?” She raised her voice to be heard above the chug-chug-chug of the smoking motor.

“That’s her.” The only other occupant of the shabby wooden skiff squinted into the sunshine from the shelter of a worn baseball cap, tucked a dab of snuff under his lip, and nodded. “Tawes Island. No other.”

The stubble-chinned skipper’s reply came out as “Nother,” but Bailey was beginning to understand his quaint speech patterns. He’d identified himself as “Cap’n Creed Somers, but Creed’ll do,” back at the Crisfield Dock where she’d left her car.

“Not what she was,” the garrulous waterman continued. “Ursters and cray’abs about played out. Not like the old days, when my daddy could make a decent living fer his family. You shoulda seen Tawes then. Real ferryboat run ever’ day but the Sabbath, hauling groceries, tray’ctor parts . . .”

Bailey nodded noncommittally as Creed rattled on, his words nearly drowned by the slap of waves and the chug of the noisy motor. She thought she’d smelled alcohol on Creed’s breath and never would have boarded his boat if she’d known that she’d be the only passenger. The trip from Crisfield had taken the better part of an hour, but the aging skiff, which had seemed disreputable back at the dock, had performed faultlessly.

Being out on the water was a novelty for Bailey, and she’d been captivated by the feel of the salt breeze on her face and the haunting cries of laughing gulls. Of all she’d expected to do on summer break, spending a few days on an isolated island in the Chesapeake was definitely at the bottom of the list; but now that Tawes was a reality and not just a name on the evening news, she felt her excitement rising.

Was it possible that she had been born and put up for adoption here on this tiny island? After years of intense curiosity about her birth family, receiving the letter from Attorney Forest McCready informing her of an inheritance seemed like the plot of a made-for-TV movie. Was it going to be this easy to find the answers she’d been seeking all her life? And how had Mc-Cready located her if her adoption records were sealed?

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