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About the author:
A native New Yorker, Andrea Downing currently divides her time between the canyons of city streets and the wide-open spaces of Wyoming. Her background in publishing and English Language teaching has transferred into fiction writing, and her love of horses, ranches, rodeo, and just about anything else western, is reflected in her award-winning historical and contemporary western romances.
She has been a finalist in the RONE Awards for Best American Historical Romance twice, placed in the International Digital Awards twice, and won ‘Favorite Hero’ along with Honorable Mentions for Favorite Heroine, Short Story and Novel in the Maple Leaf Awards. Her book, Dearest Darling, has also won The Golden Quill Award for Best Novella and been on the short list for winning The Chanticleer Award for Best Short or Novella.
What inspired you to write your book?
Like many people who love the West, every year I try to find a pertinent calendar with photos of either wildlife, or western scenes, maybe national parks, and so on. One year I had a ‘Cowboys’ calendar and there was a handsome gentleman named Shiloh Coltrane. I thought, what a wonderful name! I must use that for a hero in a book. And so it began…
Here is a short sample from the book:
She was taking a road through a wooded area and Shiloh knew if he didn’t stay back enough she’d hear him. Heck, it was nigh on impossible not to be heard with fallen trees and branches the horse was dealing with, the early leaf fall like sponge underfoot, twigs crackling and stones being thrown by moving hooves.
Fast moving clouds hid the crescent moon.
He wondered why he was doing this. What was she to him anyway? He had promised himself he wouldn’t get involved with a woman, or anyone for that matter, until he had strung up his no-good brother-in-law and found the men who had murdered his sister and her child. He couldn’t see himself leading any kind of life until those men had paid with theirs.
Anger coursed through him. His ranch was off to the east now and the doctor was headed west. His road home would be a long one. Getting into the fight with Ike had been dumb, but sometimes the anger just came over him in a wave, a hot seething fury so he’d do anything to rile just about anyone, and Ike had been his target this time.
A branch cracked somewhere off to the side and he pulled his Colt.
“You’re not a very good tracker, are you?” Her voice came through the darkness as if it were part of the night air, blanketing him lightly so he felt calmer in that moment, more at ease.
He holstered his gun.
“I know you’re following me and I don’t know why you’re doing this, but I wish you’d go. Go back to your own place. Leave me alone.”
He tried to make out her features but she was back behind a tree, obviously not afraid of him, which surprised him. Her horse grazed for a moment on some scrub as if he had decided to have a late night treat, not mindful of what the humans were up to.
“Well? You seemed to have had enough to say back in my office.”
“How did you know?”
“Like I said: you’re a not a very good tracker. I could hear someone behind me.”
“How did you know it was me then? I might have been someone out to get you, a bandit—or worse.”
“And I told you I was fine on my own. You don’t seem able to listen. Maybe I should have checked your hearing.”
“I don’t like the thought of a woman—any woman—riding out on her own at night. It’s not safe, it’s—”
“Isn’t that for the woman—me—to decide? It’s none of your business, Mr. Coltrane. And you’ve just had a pile of glass removed from your skin. My advice to you is to head on home and get some rest. Get some sleep. And forget about me.”
“I can’t.” He realized those words had two meanings in his mind, one of them nothing to do with her getting home safely.
“You can’t? Seems simple enough.”
“Maybe. But I wouldn’t rest easy thinking you might be in trouble.”
The doctor pulled her horse’s head up sharply and moved in closer to him. Sudden moonlight flickered through the branches overhead and he could see her face now, stern, a wary set to her jaw and eyes.
“I’m gonna see you to your door and then leave. Promise.”
“Do you know how stupid this is? Are you going to see me home tomorrow night, and the night after, and the night after that?”
“You in town all those nights? I thought you came down once a week.”
She sighed with a deep frustration. “All right. Is this going to be your once-a-week ritual then? Because if it is, I’m just going to close up shop and let folks come out here if they want to see me. Makes more sense anyway, the way things are going.”
“I can’t help get you more patients I’m afraid, but I can try to see you’re safe.” His brows arched, daring her to reject him.
“So you’re a self-appointed bodyguard or something.”
She took a breath, and he sensed her study the hard planes of his face, the steel in his eyes.
“Why me? Why don’t you find some other woman on her own to look after?”
“I don’t know any other woman who needs looking after. You do.”
“How arrogant! You’ve decided I need saving from some unknown killer or outlaw or something and so you’ve taken it upon yourself to save me from him. Have I got that right?”
“As I said, I don’t know anyone else who needs saving, but it seems to me you might. You’re taking chances riding up here on your own, doing what you do.”
She leaned in to him so he could feel the warmth coming off her body, saw now she was wearing a slouch hat and her hair was up.
“Why are you dressed like a man if you think you’re so safe?”
She sat back, her shoulders slumping.
He sensed her resignation, watched as she pulled her horse around the tree behind which she had hidden, and got back on the trail. He pulled up beside her as she went on. And stayed there.
* * * *
“Home. I’d like to see you ride off now please.”
“I’ll ride off but I want to ask you: what difference would it make if I said no? Or if I rode off and circled back? You think you’re safe here? On your own? I showed you in the office what could happen. So, what do you think your pleasant little request would do if I, or anyone else, didn’t feel like riding off? What would you do then?”
She pulled the knife so fast she knew he’d hardly seen her hand move. It had taken a lot of practice to learn to do, but practice she had. And she knew just how to use it.
“An Arkansas toothpick? Is that what that is?”
“If that’s what you call it. Back east we just called it a clasp-knife. You see, this one springs out. And before you ask, yes, I know how to use it. I studied surgery, after all.”
“I bet you did, but…”
She closed the knife and slid down from her horse. “I’m tired of this conversation, Mr. Coltrane. I’d appreciate it if you headed off now.” She started to undo the cinch on her horse and pulled the saddle, swinging it over the rail of her fence.
“Tell me one thing—”
She swiveled back to him, squinting across at him on his horse, the moon just lighting his features so she could see his darkening beard and some of the scrapes and nicks from the glass. “No, you tell me one thing!”
“All right. What?”
She knew from his snarl he wasn’t going to be happy about answering, whatever her question was.
“Why, really, are you following me?”
Coltrane made the slightest movement in his saddle as if he were getting more comfortable. His breathing got more pronounced but his hands were still on the reins as he glowered down at her. She could hear him make a decisive smack with his mouth but still he didn’t reply. He looked away as if he were considering what to do, then pivoted back to her.
“My sister inherited our ranch from my father. My father thought I was a good for nothing—”
“And are you?”
“Probably. Maybe then. Maybe not so much now.”
“She then married a man, Oswald Parmeter was his name, maybe is his name if the bastard’s still alive. Had a child by him. A real good-for-nothing who fell in with a bunch of other no-goods, outlaws. Parmeter left her on the ranch. Alone. With the child. Then one night—”
“I don’t think I want to hear the rest.”
“No, ’course you don’t. You know what happened, and you know it could happen to you.”
She moved around her horse to stand just below him and peered up at him. “Mr. Coltrane, I’m not your sister, the outlaws aren’t coming back here. You have to get on home now.”
He ignored her. “They killed both her and the child, those animals. For what? For what reason? As far as anyone can make out, it was because Parmeter had run off with some of their money or something and it was their revenge. He told them, I believe, if he inherited the ranch and some money she had, he could pay them back.”
She felt sick. Men who could kill a child and a woman really were animals. Just as he said. She clasped her forehead, then glanced back up at him. “Where…where were you when this happened?”
He snorted. “I was just as my father said I was: good for nothing. I came back to make a fresh start shortly after and heard the whole thing. The town doesn’t like me much because I asked too many questions, stirred up their shame. Not to mention I went round every damn ranch in the area and got our herd back. Most of them had used a running iron to change the brand but it was plain as day. Others had felt sorry the cattle weren’t being seen to, were honest people, and handed them over. So now I’m waiting.”
“Waiting to decide what to do next. Waiting to see if those bastards come on back. Or Parmeter comes back to claim what I guess is rightly his—my ranch. As her legal husband it should be his, but I’ll be damned and in my grave before I let him have it.”
Sydney got hold of her horse’s bridle and swung the reins over his head to lead him to his stall. She turned back to Coltrane as she opened her gate. “Get home, Mr. Coltrane, and stop worrying—or even thinking—about me. I’ve managed to get myself here and can look out for myself. Seems like you’ve got other things to worry about. I’m fine.”
She could just hear him mumble, ‘Last words,’ as he reined his horse to the east and headed home.
Sydney realized she had never thought of outlaws or bandits or whatever the heck they called them out here. She had just wanted to get away from the east and her humiliations at wanting to be a doctor, the way her parents had more or less disinherited her, and she had been forced to take advantage of the kindness of her professor and his wife, another female doctor. She’d known she could never repay them, but she could make them proud and feel they had accomplished what they had set out to do—make her an outstanding practitioner, serving patients who needed her. Iona, the wife, had passed on now and relations with Garnforth, the professor, had become complicated, but her feeling of indebtedness hadn’t gone.
The cabin was something the Agency let her have, near enough to the reservation but far away enough for her not to be a temptation to the soldiers at the fort. Somewhere in her was a belief soldiers were upstanding, kept the peace, served the good, and would hardly do anything so crass and wrong as to take advantage of a woman. Surely, they knew their commanding officer would deal sharply with them if they even tried. But their words, their language, even the ignorance of the wives who were there and shunned her—that was most puzzling. The women preferred having a male doctor look to their needs rather than a ‘disgraceful’ woman.
The door creaked open and she dropped her bag to get hold of the lantern, opened the glass and struck one of her Diamond matches by feel until the flame blossomed and she lit the wick. The sound of the glass hitting the rim as she replaced it relieved the quiet for a moment before she plopped her hat on the table and turned to the basin whose water had chilled during the day. Too tired to go out and get fresh and heat it, she grabbed the soap and scrub brush and scrubbed her hands before washing her face. As she leant over the basin, she recalled Shiloh Coltrane, the feel of his breath on her face, the hands that seemed almost elegant—too elegant for a man like that—and his resolve she be safe. She found it difficult to think straight, to sort her feelings about a man who insisted on seeing her home safely while he projected the hard countenance and isolation of a loner. It was a conundrum.
She undressed and changed for bed, slipped between the covers, but it was Shiloh Coltrane’s face she saw in front of her, Shiloh Coltrane’s voice she heard. And Shiloh Coltrane’s warning that echoed in her mind.
* * * *
Shiloh drifted off to sleep every few paces home until his horse would stumble and he’d shake himself awake, pull up the horse’s head and give the gelding his spur once more. He wanted his own bed, and he figured Bones would stay up until he got in, and Bones would’ve seen to his stock and had the cabin warm, and maybe a meal waiting. He knew he took advantage of the man, though he tried his best to do his share. And now he had another worry: he just could not get that woman out of his mind. Even asleep he seemed to be thinking of her, seeing her face, hearing her voice. He didn’t need any complications he kept telling himself—the ranch was enough with his intentions to find those men. He had it up and running and Bones looking after things; time to go after them when he found who and where they were.
But how? That was it. He had hoped Parmeter would show up one day and lead him to them, but Parmeter hadn’t come. Not yet. And Shiloh felt he was wasting his time.
A light glowed in the window, and for a moment, he sat the horse whose restlessness reminded him he wouldn’t get into the warmth of his cabin until he’d seen to Whiskey. The animal nickered his impatience and Shiloh could make out Bones peering through the window. He slithered down from his saddle and stood for a moment.
“Well, what the heck happened to you, boss? I was ’spectin’ you hours ago.” Bones pulled the door shut behind him as he faced his employer.
He turned so Bones could see his face. Then he pulled Whiskey’s cinch loose and grabbed his saddle.
“Who done that?” Bones asked, hands on hips.
“I see. And I suppose it just fell out of its frame on its own and come right up to ya, cut ya up, and held ya down for sev’ral hours.”
Shiloh gave a glance to his ranch-hand, the moon giving the dark brown of his skin a sheen like polished wood, the whites of his eyes bright in the darkness. The old man stood waiting for a reply.
“Got the doc to fix me up.”
“Since when we have a doctor in town?” When there was no reply, he continued, “Doc must’ve taken his sweet time. It’s long past supper now, you know that?”
He almost flung his saddle and blanket at Bones and led his horse into the barn, the ranch-hand on his heels. He took the bridle off and got the feed while Bones set the saddle on its rack, pulled the blanket free, and gave it a shake before throwing it over its holder. Shiloh started to curry Whiskey.
“I guess there’s somethin’ I’m not bein’ told here.”
“I guess there is.”
“Your silence speaks volumes, boss, you know that?”
“So what is it saying to you?”
“It’s saying you done somethin’ real dumb, that’s what.”
Shiloh let himself guffaw, turned his head to gaze at Bones for a moment before pivoting back to the horse’s flank.
“Yah. It’s a woman.”
“I thought as much. One of them doves finally get to you.”
“The doc. The doc is a woman.”
Bones shook his head. “That don’t make no sense. How can a doctor be a woman?”
As Shiloh moved around the horse he thought about that but didn’t reply for a moment. “Just is,” he said at last. “Guess she studied and all and became a doctor.”
“Humph.” Bones reached behind Shiloh as he came out of the stall and closed the door. “That there’s jus’ the kind of woman you don’t need to get involved with.”
“I don’t intend to.”