By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
"Clocks slay time...time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. ~ William Faulkner
As March comes to a close, I thought about what special woman in history I would like to profile. The members of Sweethearts of the West site have done an extraordinary job this month telling us about women who not only pioneered the Old West but whose lives have often become the stuff of legends. In many cases, their spirit, courage and determination remain an inspiration to this day.
But is it just 'real' women that inspire us? For example, I did a post several months ago about Laura Ingalls Wilder, her life, her struggles, and the amazing gift she gave readers all over the world when she sat down at the age of 65 and wrote her Little House series. As much as I love and appreciate her writing talent, I became captivated by the characters in her books. Yes, Mary, Laura 'Half-Pint' and Carrie Ingalls were based on real people who lived long ago. However, there are many characters from books of fiction that have remained with me throughout my life. How many of us have read a book where the characters seem to jump off the page and become so real and vivid to us that we are not only captivated by their story, but invest our emotions in the challenges and fears they face?
So, as I contemplated what woman in history I would like to talk about in this post, one particular young woman came to mind. Her name is MOLLY MAGEE and she is the heroine in my Historical Time Travel titled WHISPER IN THE WIND.
When Molly is swept back in time, she finds herself in the Old West with Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Luke 'King of the Gamblers' Short and a Pinkerton detective named JORDAN BLAKE. Needless to say, in an age of gunslingers and Victorian ideology toward women, 21st century Molly faces challenges everywhere she turns. It is a hundred times more difficult when--to avoid answering questions from the seductive Pinkerton--she fakes amnesia. As Molly struggles to understand what happened to her and survive until she can find a way home, she soon realizes the biggest threat of all is the one Jordan Blake poses...to her heart.
JORDAN BLAKE has lost everyone he's ever loved. As a Texas Ranger turned Pinkerton Detective, Jordan has become a cynic about people and justice, and is ready to walk away from a life that has lost its meaning. He never knew that a prayer whispered in the wind would bring him an angel of mercy and a love he'd never hoped to find.
From the open splendor of 1885 Texas to dark decadence and murder in New Orleans, Molly and Jordan learn that when fate takes a hand, finding the love of your life is often just a matter of...Time.
For anyone who has been following my posts here at Sweethearts of the West, you may recall articles about such subjects as "THE PEACEMAKER: The .45 and Samuel Colt's Revolvers", 'WE NEVER SLEEP: Allan Pinkerton and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency', as well as posts about the Fort Worth Historic Stockyards and Luke Short aka King of the Gamblers and the Undertaker's Best Friend. My interest in these subjects arose from extensive historical research I did for WHISPER IN THE WIND, and you will find their influence in the crafting of this passionate, heartwarming, and suspenseful love story.
Here are just a few comments preview readers have made:
"Tremendously charming heroine and a hero I will never forget. I loved the story!"
"I got goosebumps so many times reading this!"
"Molly and Jordan are a sexy, strong, believable couple in an unforgettable romance."
"A really terrific plot and JUICY characters."
WHISPER IN THE WIND is the first book in the Windswept Texas Series, and is scheduled for release in print and Kindle format on April 13, 2013.
A gentle breeze lifted strands of unbound hair to caress the nape of Molly’s neck. She moaned, then coughed—feeling as if she’d swallowed a truckload of dirt. Opening her eyes, she found herself sprawled face first on the ground. Following a brief moment of confusion, she remembered the tornado. She attempted to push herself upright, at least into a seated position, but a sudden wave of dizziness made her pause. Nausea threatened as well, but she focused on breathing slow and steady until it, too, passed. Eventually, she managed to sit up.
A throbbing pain at the back of her head caused Molly to gingerly touch the spot. She felt no blood, only a raised knot. Grateful she'd not been injured more seriously, she closed her eyes and gently massaged the area. Then, as if a veil were slowly being lifted, other things penetrated her senses.
The pungent odor of stock pens, damp earth and musty wood were gone. In fact, the air smelled fresh, remarkably sweet. More than anything else, a feeling of openness seemed to surround her to such an extent that although still feeling a bit unsteady, she managed to stand then stared at her surroundings.
The tunnel that sheltered her no longer existed. Daylight had turned to dusk, which meant she must have been knocked out for some time. Far more disturbing was the total devastation caused by the violent storm. Amidst quickly fading deep violet hues and the ever-increasing shadows of night, she saw a vast panorama of open land where before there had been shops and restaurants. Even stranger, no debris had been left in the tornado’s wake.
Just when it seemed she might be the only survivor, a small group of buildings could be seen outlined against the horizon. Faint music from an out-of-tune piano drifted toward her on a stilted breeze.
It must be the White Elephant Saloon.
Mindful of coiled rattlers—and Lord knows what else might be hidden beneath her feet—Molly cautiously made her way toward the famous saloon, a favorite tourist attraction in the Stockyards. The distance took longer than she’d thought—especially since she had to keep stopping to catch her breath. If she lived long enough to get the blasted corset off her body, she fully intended to burn it on the spot. However, the moment she entered the White Elephant Saloon, discomfort from wearing the stays vanished.
Apart from much anticipated air-conditioning not working, the saloon’s décor gave new meaning to the word rustic. What appeared to be brass spittoons were placed everywhere, most in desperate need of cleaning. The bar itself was made from a rough, unfinished wood—not the centerpiece of polished extravagance she’d expected to find at a famous western saloon. On the brighter side, someone had a sense of humor judging from the outrageous painting of a rather plump, naked woman behind the bar.
Then there were the patrons, most of whom were filthy, unshaven and staring at her as if she had two heads. From what she could see, they’d been either playing cards, cavorting with barely dressed barmaids, or drinking themselves into various stages of oblivion. A wretched combination of stale liquor, unwashed bodies, and other unpleasant odors filled the air—but the way they kept staring at her made Molly the most uncomfortable.
Self-conscious about her appearance, she brushed off the dust from her dress and attempted to finger-comb her snarled, long hair. It was then she felt the calico sunbonnet still perched atop her head at a somewhat odd angle. Struggling with knotted bonnet ties only seemed to make matters worse. After a moment more of intense frustration, which found her sorely tempted to rip the fabric altogether, she managed to pull the knotted ties slowly up over her face and yanked the bonnet off backwards. Of course, this absurd action only made a buxom, orange-haired saloon girl laugh out loud.
For what seemed the longest moment in her life, Molly stared back at the woman, refusing to be cowed. After everything that had happened today she was not about to let anyone else insult her or her costume. Besides, this woman was in no position to criticize.
The purple, black, and red silk dance hall dress she wore left little to the imagination. A drooping black lace neckline revealed everything but the woman’s nipples. Black net stockings were patched in more than one place. Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of her costume was the frayed red garter with the Queen of Hearts peeking out. And judging from the large perspiration stains under the woman’s armpits, she must smell as ripe as she looked.
With a derisive snort and toss of riotous frizzy hair, the saloon girl turned her attention back to a man seated nearby, slapping his arm when he did not immediately return her regard.
In no mood to be bothered by anyone in this unsavory crowd, Molly raised her chin and walked over to the bar. “May I have a glass of water, please?”
The bartender frowned. “Water, ye say?”
With a handlebar mustache that made him look like a moonlighting member of a barbershop quartet, he shrugged then poured her a shot glass of water. At least she assumed it was water. She didn’t want to know what those particles were floating around in it.
Raising the glass to her lips, she detected the faint smell of rotten eggs.
Great, survive a tornado and die from tainted water.
With determination, and because she felt so uncomfortable beneath the bartender’s scrutiny, she plugged her nose and swallowed the water in one quick gulp.
“Could I have another, please?”
When the bartender reached for the shot glass, she touched his weathered, freckled hand. “How about a double this time, partner? I’m really thirsty.”
Sitting at a table against the back wall, trying to forget Danny Norton’s hanging, Jordan Blake studied the scene taking place at the bar. When the men at his table had stopped playing poker and the rest of the room fell quiet, he’d been too curious to not look up. Now, he couldn’t look away.
The prettiest flower this side of heaven had walked into the Trail’s End Saloon, sweet as you please, and asked for a glass of water. Even more surprising, she got old Frank Wilson to smile. But what he couldn’t figure out was where she came from. No decent woman walked around by herself during daylight let alone at night, and she sure didn’t look like a whore.
Leaning back in his chair, Jordan folded his arms across his chest and watched Frank fill a beer glass with water then set it before the beauty in blue. She accepted the glass and daintily plugged her nose again before drinking.
When the piano player began to hammer out another tune, the mysterious angel turned about with a start. A man seated nearest the bar belched, smiled at her like a drunken oaf then passed out—hitting his forehead on the table hard enough to give him an egg-sized knot come morning. She started to laugh, but obviously thought better of it and turned back around to face Frank.
Maybe she fell off a stagecoach somewhere between Dallas and Fort Worth? It seemed the only plausible explanation.
Her unbound hair was thick and wild looking, the color of wheat when sunlight hits it just right in the morning. And the way she was dressed…
Jordan grinned, remembering when women used to dress that way. All she needed was a parasol, veranda, and a glass of lemonade to complete the vision of womanly perfection. Granted, her dress was no longer in fashion, but there wasn’t a man in the saloon that cared. They saw what he saw—a waist small enough to span with his hands, lush breasts to tempt the imagination, and a sweet, unforgettable face that would haunt any man’s dreams.
“I’m out”, he said then finished his red-eye whiskey with one swallow.
The moment he drew up alongside her, the young woman visibly tensed. With the glass of water poised at her lips, she slowly turned her head to look at him.
“Howdy, little lady,” he said with a wink.
“Wow, the Marlboro Man does exist.”
Jordan crooked a brow. “Beg pardon?”
“Sorry, I-I didn’t mean for you to hear that.”
She stared at him to such an extent he couldn’t help but smile. At that point, her wide-eyed gaze went from focusing on his mouth to his left cheek. Hell, maybe she’d never seen a man up close before. “You sure you want to be in a place like this tonight, sugar.”
She blinked. “I’m sorry, w-what did you say?”
“I was saying you look a might out of place in here.”
“Well, to be honest, I was too thirsty to find a water fountain in the dark.” Looking about the saloon she smiled. “I’ve never been in here before. I thought more people would have sought shelter here when the storm hit. But I bet the owner is glad he went for the authentic look; all these oil lamps and that chandelier paid off tonight.”
Jordan studied her thoughtfully. She didn’t appear to be injured, but she sounded mighty confused, especially since there hadn’t been rain in Fort Worth for well over a month, and he hadn’t seen a water fountain in a coon’s age.
“You just out taking an evening stroll?”
Leaning toward him, she spoke in a half whisper. “Actually, something hit me in the head and knocked me out. I missed the train. Do you believe it? Even worse, I’m stranded here with just the clothes on my back. How’s that for dumb luck?”
She nodded and took another sip of water. “Yep, next time I’ll drive, although I seriously doubt there will be a next time. Yes sir, I’ve made up my mind to start a new life.”
Jordan began to think he should just forget this filly and return to his poker game. Then she looked at him with the most beautiful pale blue eyes he’d ever seen. Somehow he didn’t think a man would ever be able to forget this gal. In fact, she seemed strangely familiar to him. Had they met before somewhere?
“Do you think the hotel will give me a room tonight?” she asked. “I’m so turned around, I came here first. I couldn’t tell if they were closed or didn’t have power. I just hope they'll give me credit, and still have my card number.”
“There ain’t no hotel here about, missy,” Frank said. “You’d have to cross the Trinity and go on up to Fort Worth. But I’m fair certain they ain’t gonna give no room on credit.”
Molly’s head suddenly began to pound with an incessant rhythm. Whether caused by the sound from the out-of-tune piano, squealing laughter from Miss Piggy in the purple dress, the fistfight that erupted across the barroom, or the knot on the back of her head, she didn’t know and she didn’t care. Then again, maybe it was the tainted water after all.
She pressed a shaky hand to a now clammy forehead and tried to soothe the throbbing pain from what promised to be a sick migraine. “Well, I’ll go across the street and ask anyway. Thank you for the water, sir.” Turning to leave, a sudden wave of nausea swept over her. Swaying slightly, she tried to focus on now blurry saloon doors.
Just take one step, then another, she told herself. "Now is not the time to fall flat on my face.
It was taking the third step that proved an impossible feat. Just as she began to sway into a swirling mist, she heard someone curse under their breath and scoop her up. A heartbeat later, darkness enveloped her.
Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you will enjoy reading WHISPER IN THE WIND as much as I enjoyed writing it. ~ AKB