Ride the Fire (Kenleigh-Blakewell Family Saga, Book 3) is out today! After almost four years of being out of print, it’s back.
Here are all of the places you can find it, in addition to your local indie bookstores, which can probably order it if they don’t have it in stock:
For Kindle: http://amzn.to/14P7054
At the same time, the first two books in that series — Sweet Release and Carnal Gift — have been given new covers and issued in trade paperback through Amazon.com. Carrie from Seductive Designs did the cover design, while Jenn LeBlanc shot the original photographs. I think they covers are pretty amazing. They were made to match artistically with Ride the Fire.
So my first trilogy is back in print again! I’ll raise a glass that! But to celebrate I decided to share something with you that fans of Ride the Fire might appreciate — a scene that I deleted from Defiant where Nicholas Kenleigh meets Connor MacKinnon and Sarah Woodville in the wilderness.
Ride the Fire takes place in 1763, after the MacKinnon's Rangers books end. So Nicholas Kenleigh is wandering around in his self-imposed exile in the wild during the time that Iain, Morgan and Connor are fighting the war. I figured they might happen to cross paths...
Nicholas is one of my favorite heros, so I couldn’t resist the idea of writing the scene once the idea came to me. What would happen if these two protective alpha males crossed paths in the wilderness? I had a lot of fun with it — and then realized that it slowed down the narrative of Defiant without adding anything to the store more than a “squeee!” moment for hard-core fans of my books. It was a great act of writerly self-control to delete it.
Now, I can share it with you!
When Connor MacKinnon Met Nicholas Kenleigh
From somewhere nearby, a horse snorted.
In a heartbeat, Sarah found herself on the ground, Connor shielding her body with his, rifle already in his hands, tompion between his teeth.
Then from among the trees before them, a man appeared. Tall with long, dark hair and a long beard, he stepped forth, animal skins draped over his horse’s back, a dead deer hanging over his shoulder. He was dressed head to toe in buckskin, and Sarah thought at first that he must be a French trapper. But when he spoke, his accent was cultured and very English.
“Save your lead. The name is Nicholas Kenleigh, a loyal subject of His Majesty King George. Have you anything to go with this buck?"
# # #
Connor leaned in close to Joseph and spoke in Mahican. “I do not like it. See how he watches her?”
Kenleigh was skinning and gutting the buck, his hands bloody to the wrists, his gaze drifting time and again to Sarah, who gathered kindling nearby apparently heedless that she was the center of so much male attention.
Joseph nodded. “A deserter?”
Such men, both French and English, prowled the forests, unable to return home for fear of being hanged. Cutthroats and thieves, they had no honor and lived outside the law, attacking farmsteads, stealing, raping, killing.
“Aye, what else would he be? Look at his horse.” Connor had never seen a stallion of such quality, surely beyond the means of a mere trapper. He’d likely stolen it. “There is war in his eyes. And his musket—it is the weapon of a soldier. ”
Even as they spoke, Kenleigh looked away from the buck, his gaze seeking Sarah. The man had like as not gone months, perhaps years, without a woman and might at this very moment be imagining all the ways Sarah might serve his lust.
“We could kill him now or wait for him to kill us and take her.”
Connor knew Joseph was right, but the thought of slaying a man in cold blood was repugnant to him. They had no proof that Kenleigh was deserter, after all. The only thing he’d done thus far was to gaze upon Sarah a bit too long and a bit too often.
Then again, maybe they should kill him.
Connor reined in his anger. “We must remain watchful and ready.”
Without needing to speak further, Connor and Joseph kept Sarah far beyond Kenleigh’s reach, one of them ever at her side as cuts of venison were set to roast above the fire, cornmeal was mixed into ashcakes, and more firewood was gathered. If Kenleigh made any move to take her, they would kill him before he touched her.
Kenleigh said little but went about his business, watching the venison, brushing his horse, speaking to it in soft reassuring tones. The chestnut stallion, which he called Zeus, nuzzled him, nickering softly, the affection between the two helping to reassure Connor that Kenleigh wasn’t entirely evil.
Men could be easily fooled; animals were not.
An hour later, they sat around the fire, Sarah between Connor and Joseph—and across the fire from Kenleigh.
The man cut off a sliver of roasted venison with his knife and ate it with uncommon grace, his manners sharply at odds with his rough appearance. “Obwandiyag of the Ottawa speaks of uniting the tribes to throw the whites out. When this war ends, I fear we shall face another.”
Joseph seemed to consider this. “It will be hard to bring the tribes together. The Haudenosaunee and Wyandot will never stop fighting, and my people will never ally themselves with the Mohawk.”
“I’ve heard Obwandiyag speak. He is metai—a spiritual leader—and holds the respect of many.” Kenleigh cut off another slice of venison. “Some among the Ottawa believe he was born to rid the Americas of Europeans.”
Then his gaze shifted to Sarah, who had stopped eating to listen. “I apologize if my words frighten you, miss.”
“She’s my wife.” Connor spoke the words with more force than he’d intended.
Kenleigh met his gaze. “What brings you out this far?”
And Connor saw that Kenleigh trusted them no more than they trusted him. Why then had he approached them? There could be only one reason—Sarah.
Connor’s hackles rose.
“A Mequachake Shawnee war party took her.” Connor cut Sarah a slice of meat and held it out for her, using the gesture as an excuse to move closer to her. “We came to get her back.”
Kenleigh looked from Connor to Joseph and back again. “Just the two of you against the entire village?”
“Aye.” Connor cut a slice of meat, the juices hot on his fingers. “You’ll find a dozen or so dead Shawnee a good day’s journey to the south.”
Kenleigh seemed to study him, as if taking his measure afresh, then his gaze shifted once more to Sarah. This time, his voice was gentle when he spoke. “Is what this man says true? Is he your husband?”
“Aye, sir.” A blush crept into Sarah’s cheeks. “We are… We are newly wed.”
“Felicitations.” Kenleigh’s gaze shifted back to Connor. “I’ve given you my name. ’Tis time I learnt yours.”
Joseph spoke first. “Joseph Aupauteunk, war chief of the Mahican.”
“I am Connor MacKinnon, and this is my bride, Sarah.”
Kenleigh’s eyebrows rose. “Connor MacKinnon? Major Connor MacKinnon of MacKinnon’s Rangers?”
“Aye, the same.”
“Why didn’t you bloody say so in the first place? With deserters running rampant through these woods, I saw the woman and feared she was your captive.”
Sarah gaped at him. “You thought to rescue me?”
Connor gave a snort. “Is that why you contrived to share your kill wi’ us—so that you could discover the truth about her?”
“Aye.” Kenleigh grinned, reaching out to cut another slice of meat. “And I suppose you thought I was a deserter.”
Connor met his gaze. “Are you?”
“Nay.” Kenleigh cut off another slice. “I fought beside Colonel Washington as a volunteer in the Virginia Regiment early in the war until I was taken captive by the Wyandot.”
Connor concealed his surprise. Few taken by the Wyandot escaped being burnt alive in their fires. He might have asked Kenleigh how he’d avoided that fate, but the haunted look that came to Kenleigh’s eyes stopped Connor cold.
# # #
Master Kenleigh journeyed with them for the rest of the afternoon. He insisted Sarah ride while he walked, but Connor would allow this only if he sat upon the horse with her, apparently trusting neither the stallion nor its owner with her safety. He climbed onto the beast’s back, then drew her into the saddle before him, positioning her so that she sat astride.
But Sarah had never sat a horse in so bold a fashion before. Heat flooded her cheeks as her already short doeskin skirt was pushed up, leaving her legs exposed from the top of her leggings, which tied off just below her knees, to the middle of her thighs. “I cannot sit like this. ’Tis indecent and—”
“Stop thrashin’ about, or you’ll frighten the horse.” Connor steadied her, taking the reins from Master Kenleigh, who held the bridle, speaking to the stallion in low, reassuring tones.
Though Sarah couldn’t be certain because of his thick beard, it seemed to her Master Kenleigh was smiling.
Then Connor spoke softly for her ears alone. “This journey has been hard on you, lass. Rest while you can. Besides, ’tis no’ as bad as being bare-breasted, aye?”
And Sarah’s cheeks burned hotter.
For a time, they moved through the forest without speaking. Birds filled the forest with song, their staccato chirps and trills a merry chorus. The sky was still blue, warm sunlight filtering down through budding branches onto a carpet of wet leaves, last summer’s crowning glory now a faded carpet. A warm breeze blew through the trees, carrying the mingled scents of damp earth, moldering vegetation, and sunshine, mountains and valleys stretching out around them as far as the eye could see.
Oh, how Margaret would have loved to paint this for one of her landscapes! Yet, even Margaret with her eye and her skill with the brush would have struggled to capture such beauty on canvas. How could any art depict a wilderness as fierce and vast as this?
Sarah’s gaze dropped to Master Kenleigh, who walked beside them. What a mystery he was. In appearance, he seemed every bit the wild man, a trapper of little means, crude and unkempt, a haunted look in his eyes. Yet his speech was refined, his manners those of a well-bred gentleman.
It touched Sarah that he had thought to rescue her. A stranger, he’d been willing to risk his life to save hers. Yet, how fortunate it was for all of them that he’d chosen to seek out the truth of her situation before striking. Who’s to say who might have emerged the victor had he attacked Connor and Joseph? Of a similar height to Connor, he clearly knew how to fight and survive.
She’d often heard her father say that Britain was well rid of the riffraff who emigrated to the Americas—the poor, convicts, traitors, heretics, zealots. But it seemed to her that the American frontier bred men of uncommon strength and courage, men who were every bit as gallant as they were rough.
And something Joseph had said came back to her.
In this land, nobility comes not from one’s fathers or a title or from the land one owns, but from one’s actions. The MacKinnon brothers are the highest nobility to those who live on the frontier—true warriors, men who know how to fight and survive, men who put the lives of others before their own.
Sarah could see that now. Though Connor, Joseph and Master Kenleigh would not have been welcome in her father’s halls, they were noble men, possessed of skills and qualities few London gentlemen could match.
It was Master Kenleigh who finally broke the silence, pointing through the trees toward sun-dappled hills beyond. “When you reach the valley between those two mountains, veer east. The Delaware are gathering at the northern end of that valley, most of them ready, like the Shawnee, to abandon their peace with Britain. Unless I am mistaken, MacKinnon, there is still a price on your scalp.”
There was a price on Connor’s scalp?
“Aye, so there is.”
The men began to speak of the land and the surest routes to Fort Edward, their knowledge of this forest beyond her comprehension. How they could tell one stand of trees, one mountaintop, one valley from the next, she could not say. And lulled by the motion of the horse and the fresh, warm air, Sarah drifted off to sleep.
She roused sometime later—how much later she couldn’t say—to find her head resting against Connor’s chest, his arm wrapped gently around her ribcage just beneath her breasts. She felt safe in his embrace, sheltered, cared for. Not wanting that feeling to end, she let herself doze, her mind catching snatches of quiet conversation.
“Have you seen the great river?” Connor’s voice rumbled in his chest.
“The river the Ojibwa call Mshi-ziibi? Aye, I’ve seen. I’ve crossed it, in fact, and journeyed west beyond it for most of a year.”
“What lies beyond the river?”
“Plains so vast they seem like an ocean of tall grass and beyond that mountains that make these peaks look like mere hills.”
And for a time she dreamt she was floating over waves of grass in the birch bark canoe, her head lying against Connor’s chest as he rowed.
“Your wife is a gentle creature. Why in God’s name did you bring her out here? You of all people should know the frontier is no place for a woman.”
“My reasons are my own affair, Kenleigh.”
They were talking about her, she realized. But then she was drifting again.
“Where are your men? Why are you out here alone? You’ve long leagues yet to travel and just the two of you to watch over her.”
“We hadn’t yet mustered for the season. Most of the Rangers are winterin’ wi’ their families. I sent for volunteers, but I dinnae think they’ll be able to find us ere we reach Fort Edward. They’ll track us as far as Mequachake, but whether the village will still be there or they’ll be able to find our tracks leading westward, I dinnae ken.”
When next Sarah opened her eyes, she saw Master Kenleigh set his rifle against a tree and draw his buckskin tunic over his head as if he’d grown overly warm from his exertions. The shirt of white linen he wore beneath it got caught in the supple leather and nearly came off, too, giving her a glimpse of his bare back.
It took a moment for Sarah to understand what she was seeing.
His body was covered with them. Cuts. Pinched flesh. Burn marks. It looked as if someone had tried to cut him to bits or burn him alive. Or both.
She sat upright and might have gasped had Connor not covered her mouth, his lips pressed against her ear as he whispered an almost inaudible, “Shhh.”
And Sarah’s heart filled with pity for Master Kenleigh. Someone had hurt him horribly, and his flesh bore the marks of that cruelty. Now he lived alone on the frontier with no home, no family, no one to call his friend. How lonely he must be! And yet, even in the midst of his loneliness he had turned aside from his own path for her sake.
But who had hurt him and why?
# # #
Joseph, who had been scouting ahead, was waiting for them as planned at the top of the next ridge. He acknowledged Connor with an almost imperceptible nod.
“It’s here we part ways, Major.” Kenleigh took the stallion’s bridle. “A good day’s journey east of here, you’ll find an old farmstead where your wife can take shelter.”
“Are you certain you willna travel wi’ us?” Connor dismounted, then reached up for Sarah, setting her on her feet beside him, strangely pleased by this fiction of his being her husband. “You can trade at Fort Edward, build up your stores. There’s always room in the Rangers for a man wi’ your skills and knowledge.”
Kenleigh took the reins and rubbed the horse’s muzzle, answering without meeting Connor’s gaze. “You honor me, Major, but I have seen enough war.”
’Twas as final an answer as a man could give, and having seen the scars on Kenleigh’s body, Connor did not begrudge him.
“Should you ever be in need, seek me out.” Connor adjusted his tumpline pack, then reached for the rifle he’d tucked behind Kenleigh’s saddle. “Thank you for sharin’ the venison—and your horse. I hope we didna take you too far out of your way.”
“I have no destination, so you needn’t fear on that account.” Then Kenleigh faced Connor, holding out his hand. “’Tis not every day a man meets a living legend.”
Connor shook Kenleigh’s hand, feeling vaguely discomfited by the praise. ’Twas Iain and Morgan who were legends, not Connor. “I bid you farewell and a safe journey.”
Kenleigh’s gaze came to rest on Sarah, and he bowed his head. “Ma’am.”
He turned away and began to mount his horse.
“Wait!” She hurried over to him. “You would have risked your life for mine, and for that, I am most grateful. I’ll not forget your courage. May God bless and keep you and guide you on your journey, wherever it may lead. I shall keep you in my prayers.”
Then she stood on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to the man’s cheek, much to Connor’s astonishment. Kenleigh’s gaze dropped once more to Sarah’s face, but it wasn’t lust Connor saw in his eyes. It was soul-deep longing, loneliness, regret.
When Connor glanced over his shoulder a few minutes later, Kenleigh still stood there atop the ridge, watching them as they made their way down the mountainside.
~ ~ ~
Speaking of Defiant, I got the fantastic news that it won Best Historical Romance (not set in the UK) in All About Romance’s 17th Annual Readers’ Poll. That was a huge thrill! I’m sure Connor would be gratified — and suitably smug — if he knew. Thank you do all of you who voted for it. There was a time when I thought the MacKinnon’s Rangers series was dead. You helped ensure that it lives on.