**This book is currently selling on Amazon at the reduced price of $0.99 **
I’ve long been an author who doesn’t linger long in any one genre, so imagine my surprise awhile back when one of my lesser promoted and known books suddenly climbed to the #17 spot on Amazon’s best-seller list in Westerns! A week later it was still sitting at #24, and has received some incredible new reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!
I’ve always considered myself more an Historical writer than contemporary, though in recent years I’ve become very associated with both contemporary and paranormal genres. The thing is, when I am feeling lost about where to go next, I inevitably go back to the Old West. My first heroes were cowboys and the love affair has never died.
Winner Take All is a combination of influences for me, and Dylan Coulter is many heroes rolled into one. He has Paladin’s charm and easy grace, Chris Larabee’s intensity and deadly accuracy with a gun, and probably both men’s tempers when pushed. (For those who don’t recognize those names – Paladin is Have Gun, Will Travel, played by the late Richard Boone, and Chris Larabee is The Magnificent Seven, played by Michael Biehn.) The heroine, Maggie, is a lady with fight, brains, and independence–she’s the heroine I often wished had graced the screen with the heroes I love.
This particular novella has an odd history. It was first published back in 2005, and sold virtually nothing. Once I got the rights back, I filed it away for a number of years. In 2012, I decided it was time to bring it back for readers. It was a disaster, the company I contracted it with was the wrong publisher for it, and it languished again. I think it was on their catalogue for a couple of months, then I requested termination. Winner had lost again, and I put it back in the literary vault. XoXo Publishing asked to publish it months later, and I decided to let it go again. Another doomed release. So, earlier this year, New Dawning Book Fair, a company I love working with, put out a call for Westerns. This is one of my best books, and I am fond of it. I considered it for a time, then decided to take a chance again. This time I think the book has found a home. Less than six months out, Winner Take All has found its audience.
Probably no surprise that I’m creating a new Western, too – one with some amazing and sizzling possibilities. It’s called Parlour Photography, and I think readers will love the idea!
When Dylan Coulter rides into Sparkling Springs, he quickly discovers the woman who runs the local saloon is worth the risk of facing the hangman. Things get ugly fast when Dylan is accused of killing the only son of the richest rancher in the area. Unwilling to leave her behind, Dylan takes Maggie with him as he tries to dodge bounty hunters and a determined Pinkerton agent who just happens to be Maggie's old love...
It was well into the night before Maggie was able to herd the last of the night’s customers out of the Spur and lock the doors behind them. When she dropped the key in her pocket and turned around, she was startled beyond reason to find herself face to face with Dylan Coulter.
“Mr. Coulter, I thought you’d gone upstairs,” she said, feeling instantly foolish when he grinned at her discomfiture.
“Where am I supposed to go upstairs, ma’am?”
Her annoyance with herself went up another notch. “I’m sorry. I’d forgotten that you’ve just arrived. I’m on my way to my rooms, so I’ll show you the way.”
“You stay here?” He sounded surprised and she gave him a sidelong glance.
“Of course. It’s comfortable, and convenient.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded, still smiling broadly.
He took the oil lamp from her hand and gestured for her to lead the way. A slight scowl marring her face, Maggie set her jaw and headed for the stairs, the soft pool of golden light steady at her back as heavier steps trailed hers up the plain flight, and along the shadowy corridor.
“Your room is number three, Mr. Coulter,” she told him, pointing, “at the end of the hall, on the left. I had your things sent up earlier. Your horse is stabled across the street.”
“When did you have time to do all that?” he challenged, pleased, but also curious.
She laughed. “While you were busy taking money from foolish drunks.”
“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Coulter.”
“It’s Dylan, ma’am.” He handed her the lamp and touched the brim of his hat before walking away, humming softly to himself.
Before she could think about it, Maggie stopped him by calling out quietly, “Dylan, have you had any supper?”
He turned, watched her for several indeterminate heartbeats, and then shook his head.
“Would you like to join me?” Some inner voice was already laughing at her, and Maggie ignored it. She never socialized with customers. This was not only uncharacteristic; to her mind it was absurd. Yet… “Jonas Wilkins runs the café a few doors down, and he often stays late for me,” she said by way of explanation.
The amusement in Dylan Coulter’s blue eyes was already making her regret the impulsive invitation, but she bit back the tart words that would retract her cordiality, and waited for him to walk back to stand in front of her.
“I’d be delighted to have supper with you, Miss Watson,” he assured her and offered his arm.
“Maggie,” she said. “If you wouldn’t mind waiting for just a few minutes, I’d like to tidy up before we go.” She knew full well that she looked more than a bit harried after a long shift in the bar.
“I’ll meet you downstairs in twenty minutes, ma’am,” Dylan said with a smile.
* * *
Fifteen minutes after they’d separated upstairs, Maggie was waiting in the main room of the saloon. She heard a heavy footfall on the stairs and swung around to look at him.
For the second time that night, Dylan Coulter took her breath away. He’d changed from his riding clothes into a suit of rich, dark blue. His shirt was pale blue, ruffled at the cuffs and down the front. His silk tie was black, and the jacket he was pulling on drew her attention to broad shoulders and the undeniable impression of strength and power. He hadn’t bothered with a hat, and his dark brown hair was neatly combed, the deep waves gleaming when he passed under a lamp.
As he continued his walk toward her, her eyes drifted over him. Narrow hips flowed into long legs that were muscled from many hours spent on horseback. His boots were polished black leather, and the silver spurs were more ornate than functional. A gold chain dipped gracefully from the pocket of his burgundy vest, and the watch fob was a small, exquisitely carved replica of an old-fashioned flintlock pistol. At his hip, once again, rested a polished black gun, holster and shell belt lacking ornamentation.
A tiny sliver of ice formed at the base of her spine and began a swift ascent, chilling the back of her neck in heartbeats. He knows how to use that gun, too, a tiny voice murmured inside her head. The knowledge scared her a lot more than she wanted it to, though she wasn’t sure why it should.
She actually started at the sound of his quiet, richly timbred voice. His accent, like so much else about him, was something of a mystery; it revealed lingering traces of the south, but also the precision of an education obtained abroad. There was a subtle, growling purr in the texture of his speech A sound that made her feel awkward and vaguely disoriented. She’d felt a shadow of that kind of feeling only once before, and the reminder of it unsettled her further.
“Mr. Coulter.” She tried to smile, and knew it was only a partial success when his eyebrow rose, curiosity lighting the deep azure gaze that studied her. “Dylan,” she corrected softly. “Shall we go?” It was safer than standing around looking at him. She was distinctly certain that too long in his presence would not bode well for her peace of mind.
“Ma’am.” He nodded and offered his arm. “How far is this café?”
“A few doors down,” she said, and waited while he locked the saloon and pocketed the key. She opened her mouth to question the action, then chose not to bother.
“How much money did Billy Madison lose to you?” She asked the question carefully, a deep reticence about the answer stirring something akin to dread in her heart.
“A fair bit,” Dylan replied, his tone casual. “He assures me his daddy will be happy to pay the debt.” He looked down at her, a tiny smile lifting the corners of his mouth. “Is that true, Maggie. Or is the boy really as stupid as he seems?”
She sighed and shook her head. “Unfortunately, both.”
Dylan nodded. “Is this the place we’re looking for?” They’d stopped outside a small building with several windows in the front, and a sign above the door that read Wilkins Café.
She glanced at the door, with its shutter down but a light clearly burning inside. She smiled. “Yes, this is it.”
* * *
“She’s pretty friendly with that stranger, Billy,” Gil Horner noted as they watched from the concealment of an alley across the street from the café. He wasn’t much interested in Billy Madison’s attempts to win Maggie Watson’s heart, but Billy’s father paid him well to keep the kid alive. He had the feeling this would be one night when he had to earn his pay by more forceful means than the threat of his presence. If the kid went after Coulter, Gil knew they didn’t really stand much of a chance. Coulter had an air about him that Horner had encountered before; he was dangerous, cool, and confident. All the things Billy Madison wasn’t, of course. “Why don’t you just leave it, kid?” he advised, knowing as he spoke that the boy wouldn’t be deterred.
“Maggie and me have an understandin’, Gil,” Billy objected. “I don’t aim to leave her alone to face the likes of Dylan Coulter.”
Grinding his teeth in frustration, Horner grabbed the young man by the shoulder and spun him around so he could look Billy in the eye.
“What you and Maggie Watson have is a misunderstandin’, kid,” he snarled. “She’s out of your league, Billy. Leave her alone before it gets you killed!”
He waited, and in a detached corner of his mind, he gave the kid a once over. Billy was a good-looking boy, with light brown eyes and hair as black as his Indian mother’s had been. He carried the best features of both his parents, and there wasn’t a girl within a fifty-mile radius who wouldn’t be eager to marry him. Nature being perversely absurd, the only woman he’d ever expressed an interest in was the one who didn’t want him. Maggie was twenty-five to Billy’s nineteen, and Gil had wondered a few times if that wasn’t her primary objection to the kid. Horner had made a play for her once, and like others, she'd shot him down with kind, but firm words.
“You still hankerin’ for her yourself, Gil?” Billy asked with a sneer. “That why you want me to give up?”
“I’m not a man who likes to be turned down more than once, kid,” Gil snapped. “She said no, and I’m willin’ to leave it at that. Unlike you,” he added pointedly.
“Go home, Gil,” Billy ordered. “If I need backup, I can find Boyd.”
“Billy,” Horner began with forced patience. “The Sheriff’s out of town. Boyd ain’t in a position to be doin’ you favors. He’s the deputy, let him do his job.”
Billy started to object, just as Horner knew he would. Gil’s closed fist rose straight up, clipping the boy soundly beneath the chin, snapping his teeth together and knocking him out cold in a matter of seconds. Sighing heavily, Gil caught the kid’s weight, hefted him onto one broad shoulder, and headed down the alley to the waiting horses. Billy would be madder than a caged bobcat come morning, but that was better than dead. At least in Horner’s book.
* GIVEAWAY *
To anyone who leaves a comment behind, and an email, you'll be entered to win your choice of this lovely handmade lace choker/collar or the bracelet.