I am a writer and avid reader of romances particularly historical romances. Please join me on my journey through time
Title: Straight to Heaven
Author: Christine Young
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
Buy at: www.roguephoenixpress.com
Running from demons, Alexandra McMurdie stumbles into Forbidden Ground where up is down and elements of nature are contested. Though a strong independent woman in the twenty-first century’ she is unprepared for life in the 1800s. Her first sight of the formidable James Lawrence makes her heart skip a beat, giving her cause to reconsider her desperate need to find a way home.
Born with a silver spoon, James’ life was torn apart during the War Between the States. Moving west he vows to put the life he once knew in the past. When he discovers a half-frozen woman near Gold Hill, his heart begins to thaw. His love for Alexandra and his need to keep her from a man who has pursued her through time might cost him his life as well as hers.
We not only live among men, but there are airy hosts, blessed spectators, sympathetic lookers-on, that see and know and appreciate our thoughts and feelings and acts.
Henry Ward Beecher, Royal Truths
Jacksonville, Oregon 1868
Midnight…the witching hour, a time to ease one’s conscience and look to the next world for answers. Wild tales of a vortex told by the Native Americans where up was down and large was small, intrigued the valley settlers. One had only to expect the unexpected and it would occur. A ball could roll up hill but not down. No one ventured through the vortex unchanged, simply because the site defied the human mind. Here there were no limits set and no boundaries defined.
Mysterious tales ran rampant among the Native Americans. Fantastical stories portrayed visitors from other ages, other worlds, and even other dimensions passing through time and stopping here for a moment of rest before continuing their journey. Difficult to comprehend, impossible to believe unless one met his fate head on at the appropriate hour. Midnight. When spirits roamed the earth, anything could occur and anyone could vanish.
Midnight…an hour to be wary of, to remain at home and hope it passed by without illusions floating on the stairway, of distinctive flickering in the candlelight, or a hesitant knock on the door from some invisible apparition. No one would wander out at this hour or challenge another, unless faced with no other choice.
Captain James Lawrence had sworn to uphold the law. Tonight, he might have to venture into the unknown; meet any challenge. He might stumble upon an innocent unsuspecting traveler, perhaps encounter a miracle and find a path straight to heaven.
The deserted countryside lay as a freshly painted picture bathed in the moonlight, and the crystal ice that coated the laurel trees shimmered, sending prisms of light toward the heavens. Even February’s freezing rains paused as if paying homage to the hour.
James watched the moisture hover in a mindless drizzle of mist; low lying clouds floated and swirled in gossamer veils near the earth, entwining themselves in the manzanita and laurel, around the blackberry bushes, and the fields of grasses and weeds that dotted the hillside.
“Not tonight. Not again…” He pounded his fist against the railing, hoping he heard wrong.
From the west, James Lawrence could hear the low baying of hounds and the steady beat of horses as he stood on the porch of his home surveying his land. Charles Majors would bring his hounds, six of them, merciless in their intent, and trained to hunt man. They did not give up and he’d never known them to fail.
“Son of a bitch!” he said fiercely, “not tonight!” His fist landed squarely on the wooden beam holding up the roof. He stared into the night, cursing the situation. Duty and honor in the forefront of his mind, he knew he would join the posse.
Soon the men would stand at his porch expecting him to mount and ride with them. They were law-abiding men from town. A couple of them owned stores, some panned for gold. One was the saloon owner and another owned the town newspaper. He owed the community, knew he couldn’t avoid this responsibility. If they would only come without the dogs, the nightmares might stop.
He rubbed his temples and wished the hammering within would vanish, but the pounding hooves grew louder, the hammering worse. His muscles flexed and as a brittle tension radiated through him, he held his breath, purposely waiting.
Staring into the cold night, he reflected on another time. A time during the war when the dogs had hunted him and they had come so perilously close to his heels. Now, on this moonlit night, even his home offered him no protection, no safe retreat. They came to him for his help—for his expertise. James shivered, yet the sensation wasn’t caused by the cold.
He had hoped they wouldn’t call on him again, but now it seemed as if the trail lay fresh and in his direction. He hated the look in a man’s eye when cornered with nowhere to go; loathed the utter despair that accompanied it.
And the fear.
“Poor wretched soul,” he said. “He’ll know what hell feels like before the morning sun rises.”
James turned and entered the warmth of his home. The blast of hot air from the well-tended fire hit him squarely in the face. After standing in the cold for so long, the sudden change in temperature raised goose bumps on his arms and sent chills up and down his spine. He stopped. A log crackled and hissed in the fireplace. In the following silence he heard a creak from the bed directly above him as Jessie turned over in her sleep. His gaze traveled to the ceiling and he smiled. Thoughts of Miss Jessica erased the hollow feeling that so often tormented him. His dead sister’s six-year-old child. Family, his family.
The little girl had made him whole again and taught him to love and laugh, even when the War Between the States had taken so much from her. She always had a warm smile for him.
And at this moment, he wanted nothing more than to forget his commitments to the town. But he couldn’t. Civic duty or pride—he wasn’t sure which—obligated him to join the party hurtling this way. His muscles, stiff from the cold, hindered his movements up the stairs to check on the little lady.
“Sugar plum,” he said softly.
From inside the house, he could hear the stamping of the horses’ hoofs and the men shuffling in their saddles. A shrill whinny pierced the night. The dogs barked and he knew they strained at their leashes fighting the hand that held them back. Above the din he heard his frightened tabby cat hiss, knew the cat would seek protection from the horses with his old basset hound.
“Crazy old cat,” he said to no one in particular. “Rupert can’t protect you.” James heard the old dog groan. He chuckled then forced his mind back to the job that waited.
“Jessie.” A moment later he was in Jessie’s room gazing into her doll-like face. Coal black hair framed the tiny head, and if she raised her lashes, he’d gaze into deep blue eyes that held a subtle hint of mauve, Lawrence eyes, eyes the color of his own.
“Miss Jessica, my little mischief maker,” he grinned, reaching for the portrait by her bedside. Just two weeks ago today he’d had the picture taken. The precocious child had refused to look solemn and austere. Instead, her bright smile lit up the daguerreotype. He remembered how hard Peter Britt, the photographer in Jacksonville, worked to coax her to sit still. Nothing had helped until he’d offered a peppermint stick as a reward.
Watching Jessie had long been a favorite hobby of his. She was a paradox of contrasting values. Jessie was every inch a girl, feminine to the tips of her little toes, yet at times when she forgot herself, she managed to turn his household upside down. He watched her because he loved her so very much. The child appeared in ruffles and lace, and the moment he turned his back, he’d find her covered in dirt. She found mischief everywhere, keeping him eternally on edge.
After placing a chaste fatherly kiss on the little girl’s forehead, James strode to his room. He picked up his hat and gloves then walked down the back servant staircase. Headed for the laundry and the slicker he’d tossed over the huge sink, he moved with a determined purpose.
The little girl’s clothes, all lace and ribbons, dotted the area. With concern and a tender look, he bent over to pick up a doll Jessie had dropped inadvertently then forgot. Jessie would want the treasure, and she wouldn’t remember where she left it. Her little face would pucker up in a pretty sob and copious tears would run down her cheeks until someone found the lost possession.
James pulled the slicker and his heavy coat close in an attempt to ward off the tremors that threatened. The cold held so many reminders of a past he’d rather forget. Nothing would ever cleanse his mind of the long sleepless nights spent huddling in ditches, waiting the dawn of the next battle; the days on end without food, shelter, or a warm jacket to fend off the icy hands that ripped at him. Nor could he forget the winters that greeted him with soleless boots and tattered clothing, only to turn to the sweltering heat of summer and a staggering need for a cold drink or a pleasant swim in a long forgotten pond. So many times his mind had returned to the waterfall at his ancestral home then he’d wake finding only a dry dusty road.
“James! Get your lazy carcass here before they get away!” Charles bellowed. James could picture Charles sitting on the horse; pushing his hat back, waiting impatiently for him, his smile stretching from ear to ear.
Silence followed Charles’s loud greeting. James, in no mood to answer, ignored the man and continued his preparations, peeking his head into Kim’s apartment located near the kitchen. Already she’d set dough to rising for the meals tomorrow and the odor of cinnamon and cloves permeated the air. He pushed a bundle of dried lavender hanging from the ceiling away from his eyes and ducked into the room.
Jessie’s doll, he still held next to his heart.
“Kim, wake up.” Even to him, his voice sounded weary. Kim would have to sleep in Jessie’s room until he returned, but he knew she didn’t mind. Plagued with nightmares Jessie would, at times, wake in a cold sweat, in tears, and crying out for her mother.
“Mr. James?” Kim sat up in bed. After brushing her long black hair out of her eyes, Kim stared at the doorway where he stood watching. Light filtered into the room. She looked tired, exhausted from chasing Miss Jessica around the pasture. Lines, age lines, he hadn’t noticed before crinkled around her eyes.
“God, Kim, I…”
“They’ve come again?” she cut in. “One minute, I’ll be with her. Go on and don’t worry, I’ll see to Miss Jessica.” Reaching quickly for a wrap, she put it on. Without hesitating, Kim stood swiftly then looked his way and nodded. She pushed him away, gesturing. “Go now.”
“I owe you, Kim,” he said quietly, because there was more truth in those words than he liked to admit. Oh, he wished he didn’t take such horrible advantage of her warm heart, prayed also he could find a way to give her back all she’d lost.
“Oh, no.” She laughed, but her eyes glistened with the hint of unshed tears, “You’ve given me the daughter I lost. You know that…Miss Jessica.” Her small hand, wrinkled and so very fragile rested on his arm; he gathered it in his, kissing the top.
“Give this to Jessie,” he said and placed the doll at the end of Kim’s bed. “She’ll want her baby when she wakes up.”
“Of course,” Kim promised.
James had turned from Kim’s room, leaving without another word. Determined to get this over, he strode to the front of the house listening to Charles bellow his name.
“James! Time to rise and ride. We’ve got two criminals on the loose,” he yelled from his horse, and the animal danced skittishly on the front lawn, pawing the grass.
As he opened the door and stepped on the porch, rain pounded against the roof. Fog gave way to more rain that froze as it hit the earth or whatever lay in its furious path, thundering against the mud in a never-ending torrent. Gusts of wind shook the naked branches of an ancient oak tree that stood sentinel over his house. Shards of ice exploded from the branches and shot to the ground.
His voice was wary. “Two?” James studied Charles. Handsome, his blond good looks enhanced deep set blue eyes the color of a summer sky, but the blue eyes were cold and hard.
“One’s a lady, James, but she’s dressed like a man. Just as bold too. She shot a man in cold-blood tonight.”
“Was the lady defending herself?”
“No.” Charles pushed his hat back. “That’s why she’s coming in for a trial. After she pulled the gun on Skinner, her partner shot up a couple of people in the Eldorado Saloon, and they took off before anyone could stop them. Old Harvey Skinner doesn’t look as if he’ll make it through the night. Took a bullet in the gut, not much the doctor—”
“Where are they headed? I assume you have some idea.” He cut into Charles’s dialogue impatiently.
“Sure do. Folks say he talked about a little cabin up near Gold Hill, just off Sardine Creek. Tracks led that way too. At least one set does. The tracks separate about a mile up the road. The lady is on foot.”
“Is that so?” James moved casually. His strides carried him swiftly down the steps of his house.
“Folks here want to string the pair of them up soon as we catch them.” Charles’ hand raked his hair and the lead hound bayed.
“Not if I ride,” James voice carried to the posse and they all heard the subtle threat. “When we find the killers, they will come back for a trial, a fair trial. And keep your hounds off because I want the man and the woman in one piece. Everyone knows what those dogs can do to a person.” James was determined that every man understood.
The posse stilled, horses and riders froze.
The silence following sent chills to every bone in his body and scared the hell out of him, if the truth meant anything. Charles held his hands up in supplication. “Whatever you say.”
“I mean it, Charles!”
“That’s a bad fix, but there’ll be no lynching if you don’t stand behind the hanging.” He turned for confirmation, “All right, men?”
They answered in unison. James heard the disappointment in their voices and understood it was only because the thirst for blood had grown strong on the ride to his home. James appreciated they’d rallied around each other convincing themselves the pair deserved to hang. But James also comprehended the power he held over them. His voice was strong, and his influence powerful.
James studied the men. Twelve in all and he could name each one, their families, and children. Some had marriageable daughters they had thrown at him.
Just this morning Belinda Parker and her mother had cornered him outside the Wells Fargo Station. Belinda flirted with her large brown eyes, batting her heavy lashes at him, assuming a pose meant to entice. She had looked up at him, her face delicately tipped so her best side showed to advantage. Her stance did bring his gaze directly in line with her large bosom. When he looked up, she’d turned the conversation to her favorite topic—herself. “Do you like my new hat?” It was a flirtatious, inviting question, whispered in a seductive tone when her mother’s back was turned.
“Son of a bitch.” James reflected on the incident. He loved women but he didn’t want Belinda Parker batting anything at him. He’d seen enough of her, enough to last a lifetime—perhaps two; besides he never saw women for any length of time. Jessie needed him and she would always come first.
“What?” Charles looked confused.
“Do you have a description, in case we run across some poor fool who is innocent?”
“Yes,” Charles spoke ever so slowly in his deep southern accent. “Red hair, bushy red mustache, quite the lady’s man I hear tell. One of the tavern whores…a, ladies of the evening, helped them out the back door or they’d never made it past the deputy. Average height, green eyes, and slender build, fast with his colt too. Some who know of him say he’s dangerous.”
“They’re all dangerous, Charles,” he scoffed. “What about the lady?”
“No one remembered much. One of the other gals said she was new around these parts. No one recognized her.” Charles hesitated a moment, his clear blue gaze hard and unrelenting. “It’s best if you go after the lady.”
Charles nodded. “And James—don’t take any chances.”
Resigned to his fate now and his task, his steps turned to the stables. “I’ll saddle General Lee and meet you by the front gate.” He moved swiftly across the yard. Entering the stable, he waited a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness.
He heard the men in the posse turn their horses. Excitement, the thrill of the chase, and the hounds baying set up a ruckus the town could probably hear. Horses pranced and he knew the men tensed and readied themselves for action.