It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Karen Baney, in addition to writing Christian historical fiction and contemporary novels, works as a Software Engineer. Her faith plays an important role both in her life and in her writing. Karen and her husband make their home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their two dogs. She also holds a Masters of Business Administration from Arizona State University.
Visit the author’s website.
Social butterfly, Caroline Larson, longs for adventure. Since her best friend left Texas, she grows dissatisfied with her life. A little lie to her parents sends her on the journey of her life. Stranded in the Arizona desert, far from her final destination, she must rely on a stranger who gets under her skin.
Thomas Anderson has always struggled with making good decisions. A twist of fate, or Providence, leads him to Arizona to take a job as an express rider. Dealing with the ghosts of his past threatens to overshadow his future—until he meets a woman needing his help. Sparks fly as she grates on his nerves.
As they both struggle to move beyond their past mistakes, will they find their lives restored?
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 330 pages
Publisher: Karen Baney (August 28, 2011)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“No harm, Miss.” A smirk played on his lips causing the jagged scar on his right cheek to wrinkle unattractively. She wondered how he got the scar. The hint of laughter in his voice indicated he was enjoying this.
Caroline stifled a snort of disgust as she turned to look out the opening with a small canvas cover secured to the top of the window frame. The dust billowing up from the front wheels obscured much of the view, filtering into the interior of the stage. The small town—if one could call it that—of Wickenburg faded behind them. The only good thing about facing the rear of the stage was that she did not have to endure a face full of dust with each breath.
The stage jerked violently, propelling the man across from her forward, landing awkwardly in her lap. She turned her shocked green eyes towards him, narrowing them slightly until the red of embarrassment tinged his cheeks. He offered profuse apologies as he tried to return to his designated seat.
She should have listened to Millie. She and her father had acted as chaperones, escorting Caroline west. Unfortunately, their travels ended in Wickenburg. Millie and her father assured her they would take her the rest of the way to Prescott by mid-September. But, she had come this far and did not want to wait another month or more before being reunited with her brother Adam and her best friend Julia.
As the stage crossed over a huge bump, sending Caroline airborne for a few seconds, her mind returned to her present circumstance. Despite Millie’s concern, she boarded the stage this morning headed for Prescott. Things were just fine. She could handle the inquisitive looks of these men.
Abruptly, the stage skidded to a halt, propelling Caroline into the arms of the man across from her. Her almost apology died on the tip of her tongue.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Rifle fire echoed in her ears. Her head snapped towards the window. The driver fell from his perch on the front of the stage. As she jerked forward, the young man with scar clasped his hand down on her arm. She turned her eyes toward him. He lifted a finger to his lips and shook his head. He pushed her back against the seat, out of the view of the window.
“What’d ya do that fer?” another voice sounded.
“I told him not to reach for his gun.”
Caroline froze. The stage was being robbed!
“Y’all come out slow like,” the first man shouted.
“Miss,” the man with the scar whispered. “Let me go first to make sure it’s safe for you.”
A lump formed in her throat. She watched as he exited the stage. Maybe she had been too quick to judge him earlier.
“How many more of you are in there?” the first robber’s voice asked.
“Just four more,” the man with the scar answered.
That was not true. There were four more men. And her. What was he doing?
“Come out nice and slow.”
The rest of the men did as instructed. Caroline hesitated in the shadows, wondering if the scar-faced man—now she wished she would have asked his name—was trying to protect her. Tapping her finger against her temple rapidly, she tried to figure a way out of this situation. Scanning the landscape offered no solutions. Nothing but vast open desert presented itself. There was no place to hide.
For the first time in her eighteen years, Caroline had no solution. No plan.
“Bart!” the first robber yelled. “Check out the stage. Make sure no one else is lurking around.”
She heard the distinct sound of a man dismounting a horse. Moments later, shuffling feet sounded just outside of the stagecoach door. Flattening herself into the shadows as much as possible, Caroline wished she had not worn her bright yellow dress this morning. Her dark green would serve much better to hide her now.
“Looksee here,” Bart said with a broken toothed smile. “Come here missy.”
He leaned in and caught hold of her foot.
“Unhand me,” she said before realizing she had destroyed any hope of hiding her presence from Bart’s boss.
As Bart tugged harder on her ankle, she slid off the seat, landing with a thud on the floor of the stage. Kicking his face with her other foot, she freed herself long enough to make a somewhat graceful exit. Bart’s beefy arms clamped around her shoulders as soon as her feet hit the ground. He shuffled her to the line of passengers.
Bart flung her toward the scarred man who helped her earlier. The force was so hard she lost her balance and landed at his feet with a whimper. When he knelt to help her up, the robber cocked his pistol, stopping him in mid-crouch. All she could see was the scar on the passenger’s face as she tried to control her breathing. It wasn’t as noticeable now as it had been before. For some reason, she found that comforting.
The air rushed from Robert Garrett’s lungs. In all his life he had never been this lucky. There was no mistaking those flashing green eyes. The young woman Bart just pulled from the stage was definitely Caroline Larson.
As his lackey, Bart, pushed her forward, she fell at one of the passenger’s feet. Robert cocked his gun, leveling it at the passenger.
“I think she can stand on her own,” he said, covering his momentary shock.
When the passenger made no further move to help her, Robert pointed his gun at Caroline. His sinister smile hid behind the red bandana covering his face. She straightened with that defiant look she always had etched haughtily on her face. He would relish wiping that expression away later. He had to finish the business at hand first.
He spoke with an exaggerated accent to further disguise his identity, not that Caroline would recognize his true identity if she saw his full face. “Now, I want y’all to empty your pockets of all yer valuables and place ‘em in the bag Bart has. We don’t want no trouble, so just do as yer told. Otherwise, I might decide to empty my pistol into this little gal.”
Robert plotted his next move, while Bart went down the line taking all the valuables from each of the passengers, including Caroline Larson. He hated her blasted brother, Adam, almost as much as he hated Will Colter. Almost. Patience. You’ll have your revenge soon enough.
A slow plan was always much better than a hurried one. In fact, robbing this stage had been a bit hurried—it’s how he ended up doing it himself, instead of hiring it out. It was a dangerous move to get his hands dirty. After this, he would distance himself from the execution of his plans. Too risky. But, if he hadn’t been here, he wouldn’t have seen Caroline and the ideas taking shape in his head would be a missed opportunity.
First things first. He had to finish this job then rendezvous with his other men. He would have his associate pay off Bart before taking the stage horses to La Paz to sell. He would instruct his associate to return to the stagecoach, where he would leave Caroline alive, and have his associate fetch her and take her to the small shack on the outskirts of his property. He’d let the men have fun with her, as long as they kept her alive. He needed her if he was going to ransom her for money.
Oh, Adam Larson wouldn’t have anywhere near enough funds to rescue her. That would be part of the fun. And it would be what would force Will Colter to get involved.
The best part was that no one would have any idea he was involved in any of this. He would clean up, shave, and change into his fine clothes after his meeting with his associate. Then he would head back into Wickenburg and spend the night at the hotel before heading out to Prescott tomorrow as the respectable Robert Garrett.
Inwardly, the swell of anticipation for the next phase of his revenge sent giddy shivers up and down his spine. He would come back despite all that Colter and Larson took from him and he would do it while destroying them.
When Bart stopped in front of her, Caroline realized she would need to part with her items as well. Slowly she unfastened the broach her mother gave her and let it slip into the bag. Then she emptied her reticule, thankful she had taken the time to discretely hide half of her money elsewhere on her person this morning.
Once the man had a full bag, he began dumping luggage from the back of the stage, littering things everywhere. He picked through her trunk, strewing her clothing on the dusty ground. Finding nothing of worth there, he went to the next trunk. After several minutes ticked by, he announced he was finished with his search.
Then the boss man dismounted his horse. He came straight towards her. With a small bandana in his hands, he shoved her over to one side of the stage.
“What are you doing?” the scarred man asked, making a move towards the robber.
The robber turned and shot him.
Caroline gasped as the man’s body fell limp in a pool of blood. As his face relaxed, the scar became almost invisible. A tear trickled down her cheek.
“Any more questions?” the robber asked. When no one moved, he added, “Good.”
He turned her back towards him, pushing her face into the side of the coach. She tried to struggle, but stopped when he pressed the barrel of his pistol against her neck. When she stilled, he yanked her hands behind her back and tied them together with the bandana. Then he shoved her to the ground.
“Stay,” he commanded. “And don’t give me no trouble.”
Her heart pounded loudly in her ears as she watched helplessly. He unhitched the team of four horses from the stagecoach. He barked another command to Bart, who then led the remaining four men to the other side of the stage.
At the first rifle shot, Caroline jumped. Looking through the undercarriage, she saw two of the men who sat across from her lying in a heap on the ground. Blood soaked their clothing and the odd angle of their bodies suggested they died from the same shot. Two more rapid rapports of a pistol were followed by the harsh thud of another man hitting the ground.
Tears streamed down her face as she heard the pleas of the last man. The echo of a rifle cut off his cries. Glancing over to the other side of the coach, she saw his body land on the others.
Quickly, she looked away. Fear squeezed her heart. She would be next.
Raising her knees to her chest, she buried her face in the folds of her skirt, as well as she could with her hands still tied behind her back. Lord, help. I shouldn’t have lied to papa. But, I need you. I don’t want to die.
The sound of men mounting their horses brought her eyes up.
“Boss, ain’t ya fergetting something?” Bart asked.
The robber turned dark eyes on her. “Naw. I ain’t about to kill a woman. Let her be.”
“We just gonna leave her?”
“Yeah. Desert will kill her soon ‘nough.”
Those were the last words she heard before the robber’s loud “Yaw” forced the unhitched stage horses into motion between him and Bart.
Caroline stared after their dust cloud for what seemed like hours, still stunned that she had come out of the ordeal unscathed.
When she was certain they were gone, she stood, arms still tied behind her back. Looking around, she found a rough metal edge to the harness system on the front of the stage. Kneeling awkwardly, she rubbed the bandana against the metal until her hands were free.
Flexing her fingers in front of her, she stopped short at the blood on them. Reaching down to her petticoat, she ripped off a strip and wrapped her cut left hand.
Her stomach revolted at the thought of what she must do next. Taking a few deep breaths, she walked toward the scar-faced man. Crouching down beside him, she searched for any sign of life. There was none. She didn’t even get to thank him. She wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her dress.
Caroline proceeded to the other side of the stagecoach. Three of the men’s bodies were piled one on top of the other. She wasn’t strong enough to move the first to check on the other two, though she could see no evidence that any survived.
The last man lay prostrate nearby. As she approached, she thought she heard him groan. When she kneeled next to him, his body shook violently. She managed to turn him over just as the last spark of life slipped from his eyes.
Jumping to her feet, she staggered to the other side of the wagon. Sinking to her knees, she let the tears fall down her face. Her stomach roiled at all she witnessed. Crawling on her hands and knees she moved only a few feet before she lost the contents of her stomach.
Wiping the back of her hand across her mouth, she despaired. Was she going to die before ever reaching Prescott?
Then the guilt settled in. If only she had stayed in Texas and married Nathan Finley. She wouldn’t be in this fine mess.