Monday, May 4, 2015
New Release - The Blackbird by Kristy McCaffrey
I'm so pleased to announce that Book Four in my Wings of the West series, The Blackbird, is now available in digital formats!!
Historical Western Romance
Arizona Territory 1877
Bounty hunter Cale Walker arrives in Tucson to search for J. Howard “Hank” Carlisle at the request of his daughter, Tess. Hank mentored Cale before a falling out divided them, and a mountain lion attack left Cale nearly dead. Rescued by a band of Nednai Apache, his wounds were considered a powerful omen and he was taught the ways of a di-yin, or a medicine man. To locate Hank, Cale must enter the Dragoon Mountains, straddling two worlds that no longer fit. But he has an even bigger problem—finding a way into the heart of a young woman determined to live life as a bystander.
For two years, Tess Carlisle has tried to heal the mental and physical wounds of a deadly assault by one of her papá’s men. Continuing the traditions of her Mexican heritage, she has honed her skills as a cuentista, a storyteller and a Keeper of the Old Ways. But with no contact from her father since the attack, she fears the worst. Tess knows that to reenter Hank Carlisle’s world is a dangerous endeavor, and her only hope is Cale Walker, a man unlike any she has ever known. Determined to make a journey that could lead straight into the path of her attacker, she hardens her resolve along with her heart. But Cale makes her yearn for something she vowed she never would—love.
First Kiss Excerpt
After they ate and cleaned up, Tess excused herself and went behind the mesquite for privacy, limping but determined to not use her cane. After attending to personal matters, she paused to watch the still nearly-full moon shining brightly in the starry sky. The horses snorted nearby, and she went to them for a brief visit. Gideon happily greeted her with a nudge, and to Tess’s surprise, so did Bo.
She reveled in the affection of the two boys, but when she moved to Moses he rebuffed her, which also made her smile.
“I can respect that,” she whispered.
As she walked back toward Cale and the fire, her foot caught on a rock and she tripped. Falling to the side, she landed hard against a boulder with her injured leg. She must have screamed because Cale appeared within seconds.
“What happened?” he asked. “I was getting concerned when you didn’t return.”
“Nothing.” Hating her weakness, she tried to push his hands away and stand, but her leg gave out. He caught her and held her upright. “I just fell, that's all. I'll be fine. Just give me a moment.”
Cale lifted her into his arms and carried her back to the fire. He settled her atop her pallet and knelt before her. “Tess, will you let me have a look at it?”
Panic swept her. “No.”
“What are you afraid of? That I haven't seen anything so hideous before?”
A response clogged her throat.
He removed his vest, then began unbuttoning the placket on his blue chambray shirt. Alarm snaked down her spine. “What...what are you...”
“I want to show you my injury.”
“Oh.” She really couldn't reconcile her ambivalence. On the one hand, any overture by a man that came close to indicating sexual contact set her heart to pounding and filled her with an overwhelming urge to flee. On the other, slivers of curiosity sometimes whispered in her ear, of what it could be like with a man who cared, of what hidden magic such contact could hold. She carried many stories in her repertoire, and there had been those of wild, desperate longings between a man and a woman, of a love so fierce it changed the world. Could those tales be believed? What would it be like to love a man such as Cale?
He pulled his shirt over his head, and shifted to face her better. Her eyes settled onto his right shoulder. Mottled and disfigured, it was covered with scars intersecting like a spider's web. More marks ran across his chest and ribs, prohibiting the growth of hair in places. He twisted his torso to show her a large, disfigured patch of injured flesh just above his trousers.
“The attack must have been thorough,” she whispered, stunned by what she saw. “Are you in any pain?”
“At times, but it's almost a phantom pain, pulsing with a memory of what it once was.”
She nodded, understanding. “Did it reach the muscle?”
“Some. I can't rotate my arm completely.”
“How can you shoot?”
“It's not bad now. I became proficient using my left arm, for many things.”
She swallowed down her reticence, and pulled the skirt to her waist along with the petticoat. Unable to look at Cale, she kept her gaze down. She brought the drawers as high as she could then rolled the stocking to the edge of her boot so that Cale could see her leg.
He shifted closer and brought a large hand to the side of her calf, causing an involuntary flinch from her.
“Easy.” He studied her leg in the firelight.
She tried to suppress her unease, but her body began to tremble. Shifting her focus to his close proximity, she studied his wide shoulders, noticing the sheen of sweat on his muscled arms. Despite his disfigurement, it was obvious he was a strong man. It both unnerved and drew her in.
He brought his other hand to her leg and the warmth of his touch spread across her skin. As he gently probed the long-healed injury, the shaking of her body increased. Her heart drummed swiftly in her chest, and she struggled to breathe.
Cale brought his gaze to hers, and for a moment their eyes locked. The sadness reflected back caught her unaware.
“Tess, I'm not going to hurt you.” He gently repositioned her stocking, then the pantalets, then the skirt, and scooted away from her. He donned his shirt.
Tension began to drain from her, replaced by a bone-draining exhaustion. “I know.” She’d barely gotten the words out.
“Your leg doesn't look that bad.” Using a stick, he pushed the burning fire around a bit.
Tess tried to suppress the tears, but one slid down her cheek. Thankfully, Cale pretended not to notice.
“The injury is much more than the leg,” she said thickly.
He did look at her now, but she kept her eyes on the flames before her.
“You can recover from that, too.”
She hung her head. “How?” The sob escaped before she could stop it.
“What do you dream about?”
She wiped at her face and frowned. “I'm not sure what you mean.”
“What do you normally dream about?”
“I dream of mi abuela.” She shifted her injured leg to a bent position. It was sore but this sometimes helped the pulsating pain to abate. “I dream of her a lot, actually. I also dream of Hank. Those are usually angry, or rather I'm very angry. I act the role of a shrew. And I dream of...Saul. I don't like those. I try not to remember them.”
“The Apache believe dreams are much more than just stories in our heads at night,” Cale said. “Actually, I've met many Indians—and some gringos—who believe the same. Within dreams we can sometimes make peace in a way we can't do in the waking world.”
“How would I do that?”
“Next time you're with Miller, try to move in the dream differently than you normally do. Try to be more decisive. Maybe fight back.”
Rage flared inside her in an instant. “I fought back.”
“No, that's not what I meant.” He held up his hand. “I'm sorry. I'm not insinuating anything. I just meant that slowly, while inside that dream, try to change the outcome.”
“But what would that do? Turn back time? Make it never happen?”
“No, of course not. But it will heal your spirit.” His gaze met hers. “It'll take time, but it can work.”
“Has this technique helped you?”
“It has.” Cale rubbed the back of his neck then rested an arm on a bent knee, releasing a frustrated sigh. “But some wounds are deep. They have to be peeled away layer by layer, much like an onion. I’m still working on mine, and I’ll admit that the remorse and the shame never quite disappear. But the memory doesn’t sting like a wasp anymore.
“How long do you want to keep suffering?” he continued, his voice sympathetic. “Months, years? You’re eighteen years old, Tess. You're a beautiful young woman with an injured leg, who's thinking of joining a convent so no man will never touch you again. If that's what you truly want, then so be it. But don't let that bastard take your entire life from you before you've had the chance to choose. And by bastard, I mean not just Saul, but Hank, too.”
“You speak about it like it's the easiest thing in the world.”
“Of course it's not easy. Life is a shithole sometimes.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry for the language, but I don't like seeing you recoil like a frightened animal.”
Shame flooded her from the trembling earlier.
Cale moved to her and gripped her shoulders. “You can overcome this. Not every man is out to hurt you.” He brought his hands to her face and cupped her cheeks.
She knew he would kiss her.
She wanted him to, but at the same time her body rebelled, so she closed her eyes.
“Go ahead,” she whispered.
She was surprised by the barest brush of his lips against hers. Slowly, he made more contact, kissing her gently, but with each pass he deepened the connection more. For Tess, it was achingly sweet, sweeter than she'd ever imagined. But her body shook, from head to toe, and her ragged breathing made it difficult for her to calm down, to enjoy her first, real kiss.
He settled in closer, kneeling before her. She kept her eyes shut as his thumb caressed her lower lip, as he nuzzled her cheek.
“Look at me, Tess.” Despite the demand, his voice was kind.
She opened her eyes. His face hovered close to hers, and a hint of a smile tugged at his lips. He only touched her face, nowhere else.
His blue eyes held desire, but he seemed in no hurry to move any faster.
Although he made a point to shave every few days, his newly-budding whiskers poked her. Despite his restraint, his mouth met hers with a growing hunger, stirring a longing that grew inside her abdomen. He tasted of coffee and the stew they’d just eaten, and she liked it.
His mouth retreated, but she moved forward and kissed him, not wanting the contact to stop. He responded, molding his lips over hers. Her hands grasped his wrists, wanting to touch him but hesitant to initiate more.
The kiss became more urgent, and when Tess opened her lips his tongue swept briefly inside, shocking her. She stilled.
He pulled back, but his face remained only inches from hers.
“You don't have to worry,” he said. “You can set the pace. You can always tell me to stop.”
She wanted to believe him. “Why would you do this when there are other women with far less difficulties?”
He grinned and leaned away. “None of ’em are you.”
She didn't know what to say.
Did he mean it? Did it matter if he didn't?
Perhaps she could learn to trust again, to decide if life in a convent was truly the best course of action.
Cale called to her like the magic in a story, giving hope in the words that weren't said. The taste of him lingered on her lips, and her body hummed with something other than panic.
“I have something that might help with the pain in your leg,” he said. She watched him retrieve two fist-sized stones from the fire by pushing them from the flames with a stick, then he placed them in an empty grain sack.
He came to her and crouched, and she wondered if he would kiss her again.
“I’m gonna put this around your knee,” he said. “Then you should try to get some sleep. The heat will help relax the muscles.”
She gave a brief nod when he paused for her permission. Lifting her skirt once again, he wrapped the sack and the hot stones around her damaged leg. She settled onto her pallet as he adjusted the bundle, then pulled the skirt back in place and settled a blanket atop her.
He retrieved a plain buckskin pouch from his belongings, opened it and coated a finger with the yellow substance inside.
“Open your mouth,” he instructed.
“What is that?”
“Ha-dintin. It’s tule pollen, and very sacred to the Apache. It’s also thought to aid in healing.”
She let him slide his finger along her tongue to deposit the substance. The dense powder left a slightly sweet taste.
He leaned down and kissed her forehead. She grabbed his hand to keep him near. Impulsively, she lifted her head to bring her lips to his.
Despite the terror that pressed in on her, she wanted very much to show Cale that she welcomed his touch.
“I should’ve heated stones for you sooner,” he murmured against her mouth.
“Gracias,” she whispered.
“Sleep well, Tess. Let me guard the shadows for once.”
He slept near to her, and she was glad for his company.
Copyright © 2015 K. McCaffrey LLC