Two excerpts below from the New LAND OF FALLING STARS
LAND OF FALLING STARS
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Land of Falling Stars, Keta Diablo
Excerpt No. 4
Set-up: Sophia sees a stranger walking toward Arbor Rose. Believing the man has come to steal or worse, she grabs her father’s Springfield and shoots him.
The bedraggled specimen of a man on the road advanced at a foot-dragging pace. Sophia’s heart sank. Not one speckle of gray covered his lean form. "Another Yankee," she spat. "Thanks to your friends, there's nothing left."
She fled toward the house, raced up the porch steps, and scurried into the parlor.
Retrieving her father's Springfield, her heartbeat gathered speed. From the porch, she lowered the musket to the floorboards and loaded the cartridge, maybe not fast enough for the army, but the outcome would be the same. She rammed the cartridge twice and then lifted the gun level with her chest. With one eye on the stranger, she inserted the primer cap and cocked it.
“Lord above, the man moves slower than tree sap.” Hatred roiled in her bosom.
“Come on, Yank, keep on walking. Your kind destroyed my home, reduced my family to beggars and took Jesse from me. I won’t tolerate one more smidgen of degradation.” She drew a bead on the listless form, set her sight on the left side of his torso. With any luck, she’d hit his villainous heart. Pulling back on the trigger, she tasted sweet revenge. Seconds later, the muzzle exploded and the Yankee toppled to the ground in a heap. Ol' Nap and Daddy Brister hobbled from the barn, their dark eyes bulging.
Ol' Nap clasped the sides of his head. Stout and beefy, his skin weathered by years
of picking cotton, the darkie shouted across the distance separating them. ,"Lawdy, Miss Sophia, has ya done lost your mind? Ya shot a man!”
“Coming to plunder and steal. Or worse.” She rushed down the steps with a prayer on her tongue. "Lord, if I make it to heaven, forgive me."
Dropping to her knees beside the man, she glanced at the haversack slung over his shoulder. “Let it hold food or Union money. Confederate notes aren’t worth spit.” She pulled the bag from his still form and rifled through it. Beside her, Ricochet whined and licked the man’s face. Dread rumbled in her stomach. Why would Ricochet lick his face? She flipped the hat from his head and gasped. "Sweet Mother of Jesus! Gavin!"
Her gaze traveled to his wound. Blood soaked his blue shirt and seeped into the waistband of his trousers. Pain-filled eyes opened and blinked, and a hard-earned smile parted his lips. Mindless of his wound, Sophia fell against his chest. “Dear God, I didn’t know. Gavin, oh, please don’t die. Stay with me.”
"Sophia." Coughs racked his frame and his eyes rolled in the sockets. "Walked for miles."
"Don't speak, Gavin. Save your strength. I thought you were one of them."
He chortled and gasped through another faint smile.
"You are one of them, but . . . Gavin, the Yankees came, took everything.”
He struggled to lift his head. "Beautiful Sophia.”
The pewter buttons scattered when she tore his shirt open. God, so much blood.
"Discharged, head wound. I came to tell you . . . ." One hand went to his chest, the other to her face. “Dreamed of you every night.”
"Shush now." His bloodless face loomed before her. Soon he’d lose consciousness or, the Virgin save her, die.
He frowned when another cough ripped through him. “Thought of you every day; ever since I pulled you from the Rappahannock.”
That undid her. She touched his cheek and blanched beneath his cold skin. "Please don't try to talk."
"Jesse," he moaned. "Jesse is . . . ." His head lolled to the side and his eyes fluttered shut.
EXCERPT No. 3
Land of Falling Stars, Keta Diablo
Excerpt No. 3
Set-up: Gavin is wounded from a knife fight with one of the villains. He finds Sophia hiding in a barn after the fight.
Sophia pressed her back against the rough-hewn planks of the stable wall and inched her way down to a bed of hay at her feet. With her heart thudding, she closed her eyes and willed the brutal images to leave her mind. Gavin could be dead, his blood seeping into the ground. The irony. Three years he'd been gone, fought in a hundred battles only to be killed after he'd come back . . . back to her. Oh, God, she couldn't think about it, couldn't stand to watch him die. She ran hard and fast the second Billy sliced through the soft, golden skin she longed to touch again. Sweet Mother of Jesus, what if he was dead and she’d never . . . .
"I found you."
She lifted her head and looked into Gavin's eyes. A horse neighed several stalls
over and the moon spun out from a patch of clouds shrouding his lean body. His bare chest oozed blood and trickled into his waistband.
Relief flooded her and then panic. "You're bleeding again."
"Am I?" He glanced down at the wound and back to her face. "It looks worse than
She hesitated when he held his hand out. She didn’t know what would happen when her skin come into contact with his. Beneath his bold perusal, she lifted her trembling hand.
"You're frightened," he said, his forehead creased. “Of me, Sophia?"
She shook her head and hoped he didn't see through her lie. After witnessing his
rage moments ago, she didn't know what to expect from him.
"I would never," he said in a hoarse tone, "harm you." Moving in, he forced her back against the wooden planks. His warm breath fanned her cheeks. "I don't want you to fear me, ever." His chest rose and fell on torn breaths, and his mouth hovered over hers, mingling their breaths. "Kiss me, Sophia."
She looked into his eyes, transfixed by the depth of passion residing there. He placed his hands on the wall and bracketed her head. Their lips met. In the aftermath of the violence, she expected a harsh, demanding kiss, but it was anything but. Gentle and languorous, it shook her to the very core. His tongue caressed her lower lip seeking entry. She responded without thought, parting her lips on a small moan. The erotic dance against the tip of her tongue sent a stream of wild sensations through her limbs. Her hands sought the warm flesh of his chest, every inch ridged muscle. He flinched when her fingers made contact with the fresh wound. Astounded by the emptiness she felt when he broke from the kiss, she gathered her battered senses and looked into his eyes.
“Is that how it felt when Jesse kissed you?"
Trapped between the wall and his body, she looked away from those wicked eyes.
Deliriously weak, shocking images of him crushing her beneath him stormed through her mind. Dear God, what's the matter with me? Promised to Jesse, bound to him heart and soul, I can’t allow myself to think about Gavin's powerful limbs tangled in my bed sheets, his head thrashing in delirium, or his hot, feverish eyes. Since Gavin had returned, her mind swam with carnal thoughts of the man.
A hand came down and lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him. "Hmm, Sophia, is it?"
"I'm so befuddled." Tears pooled in her eyes. "What about Jesse? I promised I'd wait no matter what happened, but . . . ." To speak her heart would be the epitome of betrayal to the person they’d both loved since the day they sailed the Rappahannock dressed as pirates.
He kissed her eyelids. "If he returned tomorrow, you'd fall into his arms; pretend you feel nothing for me, deny this passion between us?"
"Gavin, don't . . . ." She averted her face.
He tightened his grip on her chin, his tone harsh. "Would you, Sophia?"
"Yes," she whispered. "I'd go to him, banish this from my mind."
"It would be that easy?"
"Not easy, Gavin, but . . . ."
"You need to leave Arbor Rose!" His raised voice startled her. "There's nothing left for you here! Your parents are dead and Jesse isn't . . . ."
Without conscious thought, she slapped him. "Don't say it! I can't leave Arbor Rose. Jesse will return and−”
"He's not coming back and you have to face it." He brought a hand to her cheek. "The entire country is about to explode, and if you had any god-given sense, you'd go to your mother's people in Illinois."
She narrowed her eyes, her tone icy. "Let me go. Jesse's coming back and when he does I'm going to keep my promise and marry him.” Her voice softened. "We must forget this, whatever it is."
She shivered from the volatile emotion in his eyes. The same feral snarl that came over him when he crushed Billy and his companions spewed from his lips. He grabbed her wrists, pinned them over her head, and took her mouth, hard. His tongue plundered her lips and forced them apart. She writhed to free herself, but he held her fast, imprisoning her in their mutual desire. Erotic pleasure surged through her veins. Her fingers moved to his long, black hair and she seemed incapable of stopping the moans from the back of her throat.
Clinging to him like a child, she whimpered, "Gavin . . . please."
"You want me, admit it," he said against her mouth.
He clutched a length of her skirt and shoved it over her hips, allowing his fingers to slide up the hot flesh of her thighs. A sound erupted from her throat again, no longer a moan of pleasure but a sob. He stopped on a heartbeat, stepped back and dropped his hands to his sides. Their eyes locked. His shone with lust and anger. She wanted to draw back, knew she should flee but something powerful held her immobilized. Warning bells rang in her head yet she longed to return to his kiss, feel his body against hers.
He drew a deep breath. "Leave, Sophia, now!"
She inched her way along the wall, turned to look at him one last time and scurried through the door.
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