Wednesday, September 30, 2015


By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

“As far as the eye can see…”
That's what my grandfather said when I asked him, “How big is Texas?” Now, some might say he was bragging – something Texans have been known to do when talking about everything from the size of the fish they caught to the size of their state. But, just to set the record straight, let me tell you that he was telling the truth.

Very often people ask me the same question, confused why it takes so long to drive somewhere. Impressive as the State of Texas may appear on a map, one doesn’t always get the true perspective, comparatively speaking. Superimposing the size of Texas over a map of Europe (pictured), helps to better understand how much land we are talking about.

I have also had discussions with people in the United States and other countries, who never knew Texas was once its own independent country. So, today – since the wonderful State Fair of Texas is underway -- I am going to give a little Texas History 101 lesson which may help many to understand why Texans are so proud of their state and its heritage.

Geographically-speaking, Texas is the largest among the lower 48 states in the United States of America. It is second in size among all 50 states to Alaska (which became the 49th state in 1959).

Covering 268,820 square miles, the State of Texas has 11 ecological regions, 14 different soil regions, and 10 different climate regions. Consequently, dramatic changes in weather are commonplace. Understandably, the Texas Panhandle (located far north bordering New Mexico and Oklahoma and considered part of the High Plains of the Western United States) and the Texas Gulf experience weather as different as night and day. In terms of the spectrum of elevation, the Texas Gulf is sea level and 90 miles east of El Paso in western Texas is Guadalupe Peak at an elevation of 8,751 feet. Texas even has two time zones, Central and Mountain. From Coastal Plains to the High Plains, lush Hill Country and Grasslands, Piney Woods and Forests, Mountains and the ocean waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the landscape of Texas has something for everyone.

An interesting point to consider, however, is that the Republic of Texas was even bigger than the present-day State of Texas. So, for anyone reading (or writing) a historical novel in the time period 1836-1846, these facts might come in handy.

As mentioned above, the Republic of Texas was an independent country in North America. From 02 Mar 1836 until 19 Feb 1846, its dominion [see map pictured] covered 389,166 square miles. Its borders included all 268,820 square miles of present-day Texas, plus parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico.

Boundary lines between Mexico and the Republic of Texas were defined in the Treaties of Velasco. The eastern border between the Texas Republic with the United States remained the same as had been established by the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 between Spain and the United States. Also known as the Florida Purchase Treaty, the treaty had ceded Florida to the United States and defined precise boundary lines between the United States and Spain, then Mexico, and ultimately the Republic of Texas.

A key player in the fight for Texas Independence was Sam Houston [pictured]. Born in Virginia in 1793, Houston remains the only American to have served as governor for two different states. He moved from Virginia to Tennessee, fought in the War of 1812, and in 1827 was elected Governor of Tennessee. In 1829, he relocated to Arkansas. By 1832, he moved to Texas. Along with Stephen F. Austin, James Fannin, Frank W. Johnson, and Edward Burleson, Houston became a commander and leading figure in the Texas Revolution.

On 12 Apr 1836, (5 weeks after the Battle of the Alamo, and 2 weeks after the Goliad Massacre), spurred by war cries of ‘Remember the Alamo!' and ‘Remember Goliad!’ General Sam Houston led his Texian army to defeat Santa Anna in the Battle of San Jacinto that lasted only 18 minutes. [Pictured: The Battle of San Jacinto (1895) by Henry Arthur McArdle]

Now a country unto itself, the Republic of Texas elected a Congress of 14 senators and 29 representatives. Although David G. Burnet served as Interim President from March 1836 until October 1836, the first elected President was, understandably, Sam Houston. Houston also served as the third President for the Republic of Texas.

Despite its victory of Independence from Mexico, and the treaty signed by Santa Anna, tension remained between the new Republic of Texas and Mexico. In particular, the southern and western boundary lines, as well as control of the Rio Grande, were still being disputed.

Texas claimed the Rio Grande, one of two principal rivers in the southwest United States and Mexico. With a total length of 1,896 miles, the Rio Grande extended from south-central Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. Mexico claimed the Nueces River, the “southernmost major river in Texas, northeast of the Rio Grande”. Tensions continued from the time the Republic of Texas was established until after Texas joined the United States.

Sam Houston supported the statehood of Texas, perhaps foreseeing the situation with Mexico had to be ended once and for all, and that war was a distinct possibility. Not surprisingly, when Texas became the 28th state of the United States on 29 December 1845, the Mexican-American War ignited four months later on 25 Apr 1846.

With the strength of the American government now protecting the interests of Texas, victory was realized exactly 1 year, 9 months, 1 week, and 1 day later on 02 Feb 1848. Not only did the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo end the Mexican-American War, but Mexico finally acknowledged Texas (and other territories that were part of the Texas Republic) were NOT under their control, and the Rio Grande became the defining border between the United States and Mexico.

With Texas now the Lone Star State, Sam Houston became its senator, serving as such from 1846-1849. Ten years later, on 31 Dec 1859, Houston became the 7th governor of the State of Texas. However, when Texas joined the Confederacy and seceded from the Union in 1861, Houston refused to swear loyalty to the Confederate States of America. Houston then retired to his home in Huntsville and died there before the end of the Civil War, on 26 Jul 1863 at the age of 70. Yet his impact on Texas history and his legacy continues to live.

Should you ever find yourself driving on Interstate 45 outside of Huntsville, be sure to see the Texas-sized statue of perhaps its greatest forefather, Sam Houston. There are also five USA Navy vessels named in his honor, an United States Army Base, historical park, national forest, university, memorial museum and…oh yeah…the fourth largest city in the United States—Houston, Texas.

As for Texas, as someone whose ancestors date back to the days of the Republic, I am very proud of Texas, its heritage, and its people. Whether I am in my yard, walking my dog around the lake near my house, or driving down that long stretch of I-35 to Austin and San Antonio, all I have to do is look up at the cornflower blue Texas sky and remember that long ago talk with my grandfather.

How big is Texas? "As big at the eye can see."

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope you found the post informative. ~ AKB

Monday, September 28, 2015


Hi everyone! I wanted to talk a little bit about my brand new single-author western romance anthology, WINTER MAGIC.

This is a collection of three stories that appeared in some of Prairie Rose Publications’ anthologies over the last year. Sometimes, it's hard to tie stories together with a logline, but I love this one we came up with: Three criminals who’ve lost everything…three women who have nothing to lose…is it love or magic that bring them together in these three romantic tales of the old west?

The first story, HEARTS AND DIAMONDS, was a part of the Cowboy Cravings anthology (June 2014). Hired gun Nick Diamond is determined to ruin the life of his nemesis, Carlton Ridgeway, by claiming Ridgeway’s bride at the altar with a damning lie. He never gives a thought as to how his actions might affect the bride, Liberty Blankenship, who is ready to sacrifice herself for respectability—though she longs for love with all her heart. When Ridgeway comes looking for a fight, Nick obliges—and all hell breaks loose—but will Liberty get her heart’s desire in the end?

Since I had brought the subject of brothers up in Nick and Libby’s conversation, and since Jake, the youngest brother, made a short appearance in HEARTS AND DIAMONDS, I decided to introduce the middle brother, Brett, in SPELLBOUND, my contribution to the Cowboys, Creatures and Calico II (Oct. 2014) anthology. We had so many wonderful submissions for our Halloween anthologies in 2014 we had to make a second volume! My story appeared in this anthology because of the element of magic—and the fact that the heroine, Angie Colton, is a witch—but it actually takes place closer to Christmas. In fact, the Christmas tree is the entire reason the showdown happens like it does between safecracker Brett Diamond and the villain, Teller Magdon. Without a bit of magic, things might not have turned out as they do!

Finally, in LUCK OF THE DRAW, the youngest brother, gambler Jake Diamond gets his own story. This tale appeared in WILD TEXAS CHRISTMAS (Nov. 2014) and I love the fact that “family” is the theme—with it being so close to Christmas. Jake has a bit of a history with the heroine, Lainie Barrett. She’s been held hostage with him for several days in Brett’s story, SPELLBOUND. They’ve said some things to one another under duress that maybe shouldn’t have been said. But when Jake accompanies Lainie back to visit her mother to let her know she’s all right, they make an incredible “find” that shows them Lainie’s odd “gift” and solidifies their relationship. Can a gambling man and a novice witch risk everything on each other?

Here’s an excerpt from the first story in the collection, HEARTS AND DIAMONDS. Nick has just forced Libby to marry him. They’re in the honeymoon suite having their first “heart to heart” talk…

“Be honest, Libby,” Nick said softly. “You weren’t any more in love with Carlton Ridgeway than you are with me. So what difference does it make you which one of us you marry?”

Libby was surprised at how quickly her little ladylike hand uncoiled from her proper stance and unerringly slapped his handsome face, only inches from hers. The noise it made was like a gunshot, and he flinched as he stepped back, his own hand going automatically to his cheek.

“You’re right, Mr. Diamond. I’m not in love with Carlton Ridgeway. The most I had to look forward to was a scrap of respectability—if not for myself, then for my parents. Now, that, too, is gone. So, the only choice is to go forward from this point and—and make the best of things between us. But I will not be used, any more than I have been already, Mr. Diamond.”

“Nick,” he corrected unthinkingly. “And we—can get an annulment, if that’s what you want.”

Libby’s smile held all the promise and danger that was stored in the reckless wildness of her spirit.

“I wouldn’t dream of disappointing you so, Nick,” she said sweetly. “No, we’ll make our dreams come true together,” she continued. “A home of our own, filled with children and, of course, true love.”

His lips quirked at her words. “That sounds pretty damn good to me, Libby. Uh…you do know what makes babies, don’t you?”

Though she only had a vague idea of how it was done, she wouldn’t give him the upper hand. She nodded sagely. “Oh, yes. And I’m looking forward to it.”

As if he knew her secret, Nick Diamond had the audacity to laugh aloud at that. Her face burned.
“I believe you’ll enjoy it more with me than you would have with Ridgeway.”

She moistened her lips and tried to settle the frantic pounding her heart had begun. “Well, then. Perhaps we should—start—immediately. With our family. Our baby.”

Nick stood silent as she floundered. Finally, he said, “Let’s have some dinner first, shall we? I’ll have the bellboy lay a fire for us so we’ll be comfortable when we come back from eating. You’ll need your strength for tonight…when the ‘baby making’ begins. I have a hell of an appetite—for good food and…good sex,” he added wickedly.


The Diamond brothers are cast out into the world by a crooked business deal at a young age. They’ve lost everything—including their father. Although they are forced to make their own way, brotherly bonds remain unbreakable: It’s all for one and one for all.

HEARTS AND DIAMONDS—Revenge sets hired gun Nick Diamond after a bride, and nothing will stand in his way. But when that bride happens to be outspoken firebrand Liberty Blankenship, all bets are off. Anything can happen when HEARTS AND DIAMONDS collide!

SPELLBOUND—Safecracker Brett Diamond and witch Angie Colton take on a border gang leader who is pure evil. Can Angie’s supernatural powers save them? No matter what, Brett and Angie are hopelessly SPELLBOUND.

LUCK OF THE DRAW—Handsome gambler Jake Diamond and beautiful fledgling sorceress Lainie Barrett make a last-ditch effort to reunite Lainie and her mother for Christmas. Along the way, Jake and Lainie realize there’s no escape from the powerful attraction they feel toward one another. But do they know each other well enough to become a family when they rescue an abandoned infant? With their own particular talents, they discover life is one big poker table—and love can be had if they are willing to risk it all!

Thanks to everyone for stopping by today! I will be giving away a digital copy of WINTER MAGIC to one lucky commenter, so be sure to leave your contact info in case you win!

BUY LINKS           Barnes and Noble Nook(coming)       Smashwords       Kobo

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Don't miss the giveaway at the end of the post!

Research is a large part of a writer’s world, especially when he or she writes historical novels. I confess I love delving into a subject and have trouble keeping on task. One of the fun parts is the day trip through North Texas' mountains.

Years ago my husband and I took a trip to Palo Pinto County, Texas for a driving tour and that’s when I fell in love with the area. No, actually I already loved driving through the valleys and the mountains that look more like hills. This tour, however, convinced me this was an area in which I would set many books. So far, I have two series set here—Stone Mountain and Bride Brigade—and a time travel, OUT OF THE BLUE.

Valley view on Johnson's League Ranch
As I mentioned, to most people, these would be considered hills, but geologically, they are true mountains. Don’t ask me why, I’m just a writer. There are many picturesque areas and I enjoy driving through at any time of year. Now, however, is a prime time because the leaves are changing. You find it’s easy to see why the Native Americans dubbed the trees “painted posts”.

Although many live oaks dot the forests, most trees are smaller scrub oaks which turn colors and lose their leaves. Live oaks lose leaves, but they’re quickly replaced and have dark green leaves year around, hence the name. Also in the area are cedars and they provided fence posts material as well as small logs for cabins. Add in a smattering of cottonwood, hackberry, bois d'arc, and elm.

In Palo Pinto County are many springs, the most famous of which is the "crazy water well" near Mineral Wells. According to accounts, a family with a mentally disturbed wife moved to the area and the husband dug a well. While drinking that water, the woman was cured. It should be called sane water, but that doesn’t have the ring to it that crazy water does.

Historic reproduction of cabin and well in Palo Pinto County
The original well went through a lithium deposit and that provided relief to the woman’s condition. People came for miles to get water from that well. To this day, Crazy Water Crystals are available for sale. Frankly, I doubt these are from the lithium well due to the FDA controlling that substance. Likely they are useful as little more than laxatives from minerals. The town isn't named Mineral Wells for no reason.  

One of my favorite ranches is the Belding-Gibson Ranch, which has a spring that never dries up and was a favorite Native American campground. This is a beautiful ranch that has been continuously run by the Belding family and descendants since 1859. The original cedar log cabin dating to 1854 has been incorporated into the ranch home, as has the smokehouse and the dog trot and second cabin. Fortunately, this family is lovingly protecting their heritage and have been generous in sharing with the public.

The Gibson home on the Belding-Gibson Ranch,
which includes the original cabins
I enjoy this county, although I’m glad I live in a Fort Worth suburb with all the shopping and medical conveniences I prefer. While visiting Palo Pinto, I can visualize life as it was in the last half of the nineteenth century. A drive there sets my imagination cog wheels turning and generating new ideas faster than I can write them.

Do you have special areas that inspire you? I’ll give away a copy of my first Bride Brigade romance, JOSEPHINE, to one person who comments today.

Thanks for visiting today. Don't forget to comment if you want to be included in the drawing for a copy of JOSEPHINE!

Caroline Clemmons is an Amazon bestselling and award winning author of historical and contemporary western romances. A frequent speaker at conferences and seminars, she has taught workshops on characterization, point of view, and layering a novel.

Caroline and her husband live in the heart of Texas cowboy country with their menagerie of rescued pets. When she’s not indulging her passion for writing, Caroline enjoys family, reading, travel, antiquing, genealogy, painting, and getting together with friends. Find her on her blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google+, and Pinterest.

Subscribe to her newsletter here to receive a FREE novella. 

Photos by author; cover by Skhye Moncrief.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Changing of the Seasons

The leaves on the big oaks surrounding our yard are no longer bright green. They have already started to transition to various shades of yellow, brown, and red, and a few have dropped, littering the grass and driveway.  The acorns that fell last month no longer crunch beneath my feet as I carry out the trash. Between the deer munching on them and the squirrels gathering them, they are almost as forgotten as the lawn tractor-sprinkler that dutifully pulled the garden hose behind the last couple of months.
I know we’ll soon put away the patio furniture and complete the other needed chores to prepare for the winter months, but that is about it. There is no large fall harvest that we need to complete in order to know we’ll have a pantry full of food this winter. In thinking about that, I was reminded of one of the Little House on the Prairie books—The Long Winter

I read these stories as a child, and of course watched the series (and still do on cable), but it wasn’t until I was older and looked at those fictional books more as research that I realized  The Long Winter was about survival at its core. The story talks about how the family moved from their shanty a mile away into the small town in preparation of the bad winter that was being predicted. And later about how the snow was so deep they had to dig tunnels from building to building in town. The first snow had fallen in October and by Christmas the grocery store was out of food. The weather made it impossible for the train to deliver much needed supplies. Laura talks about how the family only ate two meals a day because Ma said the days were short and there wasn’t time for more than two meals, and how funny Pa looked. That is eyes sunken, he was thin, and not nearly as strong as usual. She talks about how tired they all were and how dull everything seemed. 

They were all starving. 

She talks about grinding wheat in the coffee grinder to make flour, and how Almanzo and another man braved the elements and travel 20 miles in order to get a few bushels of wheat.  Winter didn’t end until May that year. That’s when the supply train finally arrived and Ma cooked their belated Christmas dinner. 

Meteorologists have confirmed that the winter of 1880-81 was very close to what Laura Ingalls described in that book. This story really is documentation of life during a very severe winter back then.  

It’s also a book of perseverance and of being grateful for what you have, no matter how small.

So as fall arrives, I readily admit how grateful I am for the resources we have in place that assures we will never have to wait until May to have Christmas dinner.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Fur Trapper's Wife

By: Peggy L Henderson

Life in the early 1800's was extremely difficult for both men and women. The life of a fur trader was even more difficult as he tried to survive in the uncharted wilderness to make a living as a trapper. Women of European descent were virtually unheard of in the fur trade. The very few women, usually wives of managers of fur companies such as the Hudson’s Bay Company or the Northwest Company, who accompanied husbands to remote outposts, were considered “tender exotics.”

Because of society’s class structure in those days, most of these women didn’t last longer than a year on these posts before suffering from mental health problems or returning to cities in the east. Wives of managers were expected to associate only with other wives of other managers, and in those remote posts, these were far and few between. The women were not allowed to associate with Indian women or half-breed women, even if they could communicate somehow. Servants (Indian women) were usually available to perform domestic duties, so there was nothing for a wife to do to even relieve her boredom. Her only duty was to her husband and family, and most of the time the husband wasn’t even at the post, traveling for months at a time.
Fur trappers in the Rocky Mountains often took Indian women as wives. An Indian woman’s primary responsibilities in her tribe was that of housekeeping, which included child rearing, butchering, cooking, the labor-intensive task of tanning hides, collecting firewood, preserving food for winter, setting up and maintaining camp, and sewing clothing.

A man who wanted to take a bride would have to provide the woman’s father (or oldest male relative if the father was dead) with certain trade goods such as horses, guns, blankets, etc., in exchange for the woman. The bride price was determined by the father based on the value he placed on his daughter’s loss of productivity around his lodge.

Many Indian women considered it an honor to be chosen as the wife of a fur trapper. It offered the woman a different way of life which was often easier physically and offered her more material things. An Indian woman married to a trapper either remained at her village, or moved to the fort or trading post with her husband. She might also accompany him on his wanderings. If a woman remained with her village, her life probably didn’t change much, except that she had access to many luxury items which were not available to the other women.  Items such as kettles, knives, awls, wool and cotton fabrics greatly eased the domestic burdens of the women.

Because there were no preachers or priests to perform wedding ceremonies, marriages were “after the customs of the country,” or a la facon du pays. This arrangement met both the needs of the Indian and the trapper. By making their women available to trappers and traders, the Indians were able to forge trade alliances and social bonds, and expected access to trading posts, provisions, and trade goods.

Trappers also realized the benefits of marriage to an Indian woman, especially the daughter of a chief or highly respected hunter. Such an arrangement provided the trapper with a translator and cultural liaison within the tribe. The domestic chores the wife performed freed the trapper to spend more time trapping and trading.

Marriages were easy to terminate by either the man or the woman. A man could simply “turn off” his wife by leaving her behind, and a woman who wanted a “divorce” would indicate this by leaving the man’s belongings outside their lodge. Statistically, most marriages lasted up to 15 years, and most ended with the death of one or the other spouse.

Anyone who has read any of my Yellowstone Romance Series books knows that I fudge with the  historical accuracy quite a bit, but hey! It's fiction. And romance! And the location and era make such a great backdrop for a romance series. My mountain men heroes live in the remote Yellowstone region year round, which most likely never happened, and even more far-fetched is it that they would marry a white woman and raise a family there. My Teton Romance Trilogy is set a little south of Yellowstone in the Teton/Jackson Hole region, and I introduce a new mountain man hero, and the woman who proves herself strong enough to endure all that the wilderness (and the people of the era) can throw at her. 

Peggy L Henderson
Western Historical and Time Travel Romance
“Where Adventure Awaits and Love is Timeless”

Author of:
Yellowstone Romance Series
Teton Romance Trilogy
Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series
Blemished Brides Western Historical Romance Series

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Feast of Western Christmas Romance

By Lyn Horner

I’m so excited to be part of an upcoming Christmas anthology featuring ten western romance authors, several of whom are best sellers AND members of Sweethearts. Titled Silver Belles and Stetsons, the anthology is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Silver Belles and Stetsons


Ten Western Romance Christmas Novellas
Available as a boxed set for a limited time

A savings of more than 75% if the books were purchased separately.

Amazon Bestselling authors bring you ten western romance novellas featuring cowboys from the past and the women who loved them. This boxed set will take you back in time when men were rugged and handsome and the women courageous and daring.

The Greatest Gift: A Montana Cowboy Christmas by Kathleen Ball. Amazon Bestselling and Award- Wining Author. Looking for the man who ran out on her, Ginger finds a cowboy worthy of love but he doesn't want or need love.

Catherine’s Cowboy by Cait Braxton, Amazon Bestselling and Award-Winning Author. During a supernatural dust storm, Fate steps in when rugged army tracker Elam helps Catherine deliver her child.

Stone Mountain Christmas by Caroline Clemmons, Amazon Bestselling and Award-
Winning Author. Can Celia restore the town's Christmas spirit? "A beautifully written
story about love and hope and all the emotions Christmas brings out in people." Karren Lucas

Angel and the Texan from County Cork by Carra Copelin. Amazon Bestselling and Award-Winning Author. Does Angel trust marriage to the man she suspects of killing her husband or the stranger who promises to pay off her debt and set her free if she decides their marriage of convenience won’t work?

The Drifter’s Proposal by Kristin Holt, Amazon Bestselling Author.

The Perfect Gift by Lyn Horner, Award-winning author. Friendship has blossomed into young love, but it seems destined to die on the vine...until an unexpected Christmas gift promises happiness.

Marshal Mistletoe by Susan Horsnell. She married the wrong man. Will fate intervene?

Christmas Redemption by Paty Jager, Amazon Bestselling and Award-Winning Author. Can two battered hearts find solace or will the past continue to haunt their lives? "A story of forgiveness that has a wonderful hero who has worked hard to redeem himself."

A Hard Candy Christmas by Hebby Roman, Amazon Bestselling Author. Two damaged souls. Can their budding love and the healing power of Christmas bring them together?

Christmas Cowboy by Margaret Tanner. Will a miracle Christmas baby unite two tortured souls, or will it forever keep them apart?

Now here's a little taste of my Christmas novella The Perfect Gift.
Nora stood on the front porch watching for riders. Goshdarn! What was taking Mr. and Mrs. Crawford so long? Uncle Tye and Auntie Lil had come early to help Mama and Daddy get ready. Lil’s parents were to come later with their men, but surely they ought to be here by now. What if something had happened to prevent them from coming?
No! Don’t even think that! They have to come, they just have to!
Smoothing the front of her Mother Hubbard, a short, baggy little girl’s dress she hated, she wished for a grown-up gown, but Mama had decreed she couldn’t start dressing like a woman until she turned fourteen. At least this Hubbard was made of pretty pink calico printed with sprigs of white flowers, and she liked the ruffled shoulders and neck. The color set off her black hair, which Mama had helped her put up, and her black stockings and high tops. She hoped Vito would approve.
She stuffed her hands into deep side pocket and glanced at her brothers and cousins. She’d shooed the four boys outside so Grandda Seamus could nap in his favorite chair in the parlor. Together with Maria’s younger children, they were playing ring taw, a game she’d once loved but now considered babyish. Crouched around a circle drawn in the dirt, they took turns shooting marbles, trying to knock each other’s marbles out of a small inner circle. Her brother Reece, less than two years younger than her, was winning judging by the pile of marbles he’d collected. Not surprised, Nora scowled, remembering how many marbles the little fiend had won from her and their baby brother Seamus in the past.
A faint thudding sound caught her ear. Shading her eyes, she spotted a cloud of dust in the distance. Then she made out a buckboard and horsemen. Finally! The expected company was almost here. Heart thumping wildly, she whirled and ran inside to alert her parents.
“Mama! Daddy! The Crawfords are coming,” she yelled, forgetting about her napping grandfather. At his grumble of complaint, she said, “Sorry, Grandda.”
Aunt Lil stepped out of the kitchen holding a large bowl and spoon just as Mama walked in the back door.
“Are they here?” both women asked.
“Not yet but almost. Should I tell Maria?”
Her mother nodded. “Aye, and your father and uncle. Lil, let’s greet your folks outside.”
“Right, you go ahead. I’ll set the cornbread on the stove and be right out.”
Nora was already dashing for the courtyard. “The Crawfords are almost here,” she announced to her father and uncle as she raced toward the cookhouse.
“What’s your hurry?”  her father called.
“I have to tell Maria that Vittorio’s coming.”
Hearing the two men chuckle, she tore into the steamy little building. “Maria, Vittorio’s nearly here!”
“Sí, I heard you, niña,” the cook said with a broad smile. Tall and rather plump, with gray-streaked black hair, Maria was one of Nora’s favorite people. She was kind and good-natured and always ready with a tasty snack for all the children. And she was Vittorio’s madrecita, making her special.
Setting aside the huge kettle of gravy she’d been stirring, Maria mopped her sweaty face with her red-checked gingham apron – only worn on Christmas – and motioned for Nora to lead the way. “Let us go and welcome my son.”
By the time they joined everyone out front, Auntie Lil’s folks were pulling up in their buckboard followed by several riders. Nora had eyes for only one, a slim young cowboy with dusky skin and raven hair. Drawing rein, he gave her a bright smile, a smile she had seldom seen since he’d gone to work as a wrangler for the Crawfords and Uncle Tye a few months ago. Four years older than she was, Vittorio had been her best friend all her life.
She watched him dismount and greet his younger siblings who danced around him like eager puppies. Then it was her turn. Bounding down the porch steps, she launched herself at him. He laughed and caught her, lifting her off the ground in a tight hug.
“Hola, pequeña.”
“Hola, Vito! I’ve missed you so much!”
“I suppose I have missed you a little bit too.” He winked and whirled her around, making her squeal and laugh with joy. Caught up in him, she paid not a lick of attention to laughter and teasing remarks from their audience of cowboys, family and friends.
On the porch, Jessie shared a smile with Maria, whose husband Luis stood nearby with David and Tye. Short and wiry, Luis was the River T’s head horse wrangler. He glanced at his wife, grinning over Nora and Vittorio’s exuberant reunion. “I think maybe they are glad to see each other.”
Maria nodded. “Sí, they are each other’s best Christmas gift.”
“Aye, and always will be,” Jessie said under her breath.

I guarantee this collection will put you in the mood for Christmas. Pre-order now on Amazon: