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Colorado Brides Anthology


A western homesteading romance!

Books two, three, and four of the The Colorado Brides Series are together in this anthology. These stories follow the lives of the Hoffman sisters and their adventures out West.

An Unexpected Bride
After reading about her sister Hannah’s success in homesteading to Denver City, Paulina Hoffman decides to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, traveling with an older couple to the Kansas Territory. What she hadn’t anticipated was wagon master, Samuel Tucker, who catches her eye from the start.
An Unexpected Annulment
Louisa Hoffman has just endured a humiliating annulment, which has left her bitter and determined never to marry again. Having tarnished her reputation in New York, she flees to the Colorado Territory to live with her sisters, Hannah and Paulina, who have happily married and settled.
An Unexpected Mother
Excited about the prospect of seeing her sisters again, Fanny Hoffman embarks on a journey west with her parents, meeting her fiancé at Fort Laramie. Mr. Jason Hatch, unfortunately, does not appeal to her at all, but, having promised her hand, she is forced to marry him. In a shocking turn of events, Jason collapses on their wedding night, saving Fanny from an unpleasant encounter.


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“An Unexpected Kiss” is coming soon!

Brides 7 Cover RC1-300

Update:  An Unexpected Kiss is now available at Amazon and is in publication at B&N, iTunes, and Kobo.


In the continuation of The Colorado Brides series, Susanna Hampton, Fanny’s adopted daughter, is about to embark on an adventure of the heart.

She’ll meet the man of her dreams, but he’s not at all what she expected. Russell Wade is a hard-living saloon owner in Denver City, who is struggling to raise two children after his wife left him. There will be twists and turns and surprises, but when it’s all said and done, two people, who truly belong together, will find themselves happily situated.

Here is an excerpt:

I giggled at that, but then gasped, as Mr. Wade appeared in the doorway. He had donned a frock coat and hat, but his weapon remained upon his thigh, remembering how he had pointed it at me earlier. He had come to observe his daughter, eyeing her dancing with a look of stoic acceptance. Grace was oblivious at being observed, laughing and dancing gaily in the arms of the charming Captain Harwood. When the music stopped and another tune began, they remained thus engaged, spinning amongst the other dancers, although Grace had improved dramatically.

It was then that Mr. Wade discovered me, his steely gaze fixed. “He has no reason to be so cross,” I murmured.

Mary had followed my stare. “Goodness, there he is in the flesh, and still, even with the coat, so rough-looking.”

“He doesn’t seem at all comfortable in good society.”

“I would say not.”

A man approached, disrupting our conversation. “Miss Hampton,” said Thomas Stoddard. “Might I have this dance?”

“I…I’m sorry, Thomas. I’m forgoing this one. Perhaps later?”

His favorable countenance fell. “That’s a shame.”

He was the son of the baker, and a known member of our set, but I had wanted to speak to my sister. “I’ll dance with you tonight, I promise.”

This appeased him. “Very well then.”

When he left, I leaned towards Mary. “What do you think he’ll do? He’s standing there quite strangely, wouldn’t you say?”

“Indeed. He has yet to stop staring at you.”

That was true. “He’s coming now!” My heart jumped into my throat. “Oh, I hope he’ll not lecture me. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

“Other than breaking into someone’s home and sticking your nose in their business,” she said acidly, her eyebrows lifting.

“Oh, bosh!”

“Evenin’, ladies,” drawled Mr. Wade.

“You’ve come to check on us,” I said.

“That I have.”

“Well, as you can see, Grace is enjoying herself, and I’m watching over her like a hawk. You needn’t have bothered coming.” I sounded peeved, but then I realized I was.

“You’re a stranger, Miss Hampton. You think I’d trust my flesh and blood to strangers?”

What had happened in his life to warrant such suspicion? “I know, sir. I’ve been responsible for my sister’s children for some time now. No harm has ever come to them under my care. I put their needs above my own, sir.”

“I can vouch for that,” agreed Mary. “I trust her implicitly with Rosalind and Albert. She’ll make a fine mother one of these days.”

I hadn’t expected such praise. “Why, thank you, Mary. I adore your children.” I turned to Mr. Wade. “This is my sister, Mrs. Mary Carlyle. Mary, this is Mr. Wade.”

They shook hands, although his attention remained on me, which was perplexing. “It’s a pleasure.”

She noted this, saying, “Why don’t you dance?”

“I beg your pardon?” Now he had my sister’s undivided interest, but his grey eyes had hardened.

“Ask Susanna to dance.”

“I…” his eyes were on me, “don’t dance.”

Swallowing the lump in my throat, the oddest sensation shimmied down my backbone, leaving me acutely aware of his particular attention. It was like a magnetic pull that had me yearning to be in his arms, but he had refused me. This should have hurt my feelings, but I intuitively knew it had nothing to do with me or perhaps it did. He seemed to be struggling with something, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, itching for…what?

He does want to dance with you.

Maybe he doesn’t know how?

Or he’s angry with me.

No, he’s not really angry.

Then what on earth is the matter with him?

I’d love to find out…

The music stopped, and Captain Harwood returned with Grace, whose face was rosy from the exertion. She beamed at her father. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“How many dances have you had with him?” he asked harshly.


“Find another partner.” He glared at me. “Her reputation is in your hands this evenin’, Miss Hampton. If there’s even a hint of impropriety, I’ll tan your hide.”

My mouth fell open. “Goodness, you’re quite crude, Mr. Wade.”

“I am.”

His behavior firmed my resolve, as anger pricked. “I can assure you nothing untoward will happen tonight.”

Mary held out her hand to Captain Harwood. “I’ll dance the next, if you want. I’ll beg too, if I have to. Someone needs to save me from this inane conversation.”

“You’re not going to ruin the night, are you, Pa? Miss Hampton is without a partner. You could ask her to dance. It’s obvious she loathes you, but if you ask nicely, perhaps she’ll say yes.”

“He’s already refused me.” Mary and the captain had taken their leave, as the next song began to play—another waltz. Thomas Stoddard had asked for a dance, but he seemed nowhere to be found.

Another man approached Grace. “Might I have this dance?”

She beamed. “Of course.” He took her away without another word.

The moment was awkward, as Mr. Wade and I had been left alone. “You needn’t worry,” I said. “I’m watching her carefully.” Didn’t he have a business to mind?

His appearance had been noted, because several sets of interested faces turned our way. Then there had been whisperings amongst the couples, and I could only imagine what they thought. It was unusual to see the Wades at social gatherings and they were conspicuously absent from church as well. Everyone had to be wondering why he was speaking to me.

“Well,” I began, searching desperately for something to say, “I…suppose…”

“We should dance.” His hand was on my back, which made me jump. “I’ve not done this in years. I apologize in advance.”

Stunned, I let him lead me into the crowd, while couples turned round and round, the music light and charming. The glow from a dozen lamps gave off sufficient enough illumination, yet there were still shadows in places, and he seemed to prefer to hide in them, guiding me to a darkened corner. While Susanna whirled in the center, I found myself in the arms of her father, a man I hardly knew, and yet, I was thoroughly intrigued.

“You confuse me.” I had spoken the first thing that came to mind. His arm was around my back, while my left hand was in his. I wasn’t inexperienced when it came to dancing, but I knew enough to determine that he held me too closely.

His lips were near my ear. “This was a mistake.”

My heart hammered in my chest. At this proximity, he smelled of spicy soap or perhaps cologne, but there was whiskey on him too and tobacco, which clung to his clothing. It was an inherently male scent, and I inhaled deeply. We moved half-heartedly, not keeping time with the music at all.

I finally found my voice. “You’re a terrible dancer.”

This insult did not seem to register, our eyes meeting, while his look darkened. “You’re a busybody.”

He was right. “I…know.”

“Do you always walk into stranger’s homes?”


“Why did you?”

“I was curious.”

“About what?”

“Your son. Why he feels the need to steal.”

“I told you why.”

“Out of boredom.”


“That’s not an excuse, sir.”

“Russell. Call me Russell.”

“He should be in school.”

“You should mind your own business.”

“Why did you come tonight?”

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t know, but…I find you…fascinating.” I should have kept that to myself, but the words had fallen from my lips before I could stop them.

The music had ended, yet we were held immobile by an invisible force that neither seemed inclined to break. His chin grazed my temple and he kissed my forehead, which was wholly unexpected. Then his arms fell to his sides, as he turned away, leaving me standing there, staring after him, while he strode towards the doors and quit the room.

I had never been more conflicted in my life and I hadn’t a clue what I was even conflicted about.

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An Unexpected Husband and the Fall Into Winter Romance Giveaway

Fall Into Winter Romance Giveaway *Winners*



Thank you for making the Western Kisses Fall Into Winter Romance Giveaway Hop a smashing success!  The Western Kisses Anthology is in the Amazon Top 100!

#1 Victorian Romance

#1 Western Romance

#1 Holiday Romance

I’ll soon be contacting those who left notes in the comment section of my last blog.  If you want Carré White trading cards, I’ll be happy to send those as soon as they arrive; the printer should be shipping them to me this week.

The winners of the big blog hop are:

Grand Prize $50 Gift Card

Mandy Marie Earles


Ebooks Bundle

Chrisa Changala


Autographed copies of An Unexpected Widow

Shannon Noelle Patch

Paola Zuccaro


Romance Swag Bag

Rachelle Creech


$5 Amazon Gift Cards

Loree Naquin Hayman

Valerie Rhodes

Debbie Ann Hart

Ashley Anne Applebee

Saralyn Miller


Brides 6 Cover RC1-200

An Unexpected Husband is out now!

In the continuing Colorado Brides Series, Mary Hampton, one of Fanny’s adopted daughters, finally gets her chance at love. When Brandon Carlyle arrives in Denver City, he’s in need of a nanny for his six-month old daughter, Rosalind. Jane and Mrs. Hoffman devise a scheme to send Mary to town to interview for the job. Not only is the outspoken girl the perfect fit for such employment, but it’s not long before she charms her way into Brandon’s heart. However, once his sister and her friend arrive, meddling family members test their bond. When they do finally decide to walk down the aisle, will a winter snowstorm keep the groom from his own ceremony? Find out in Mary’s sweet and romantic love story, available now.

Here is an excerpt from An Unexpected Husband:

“Good night, Megan.”

“Don’t forget to turn the lamps down.”

“I won’t. I’ll go to bed soon too.” I had another sip of sherry, feeling agreeably numb. Even my nose was numb. I giggled, marveling at how strange I felt. Finishing the contents of the glass, I left it with the other, reaching for a nearby lamp. I extinguished it and then another, until the parlor was dimly lit. There was enough light to find my room, as I made my way towards the hallway. It was at that precise moment that the door swung open, revealing the imposing figure of Mr. Carlyle. I gasped. “My stars, you scared me!” We had seen him entering the notorious parlour house, and I was certain he would not emerge for hours. This was an unexpected shock.

“I’m sorry about that.” His gaze roamed over me. “I had thought everyone would be asleep.”

“I was just going to my room, sir.” A hiccup escaped.

His gaze sharpened. “Who else is awake?” He towered over me, with his hat in his hands.

“Megan was, but not anymore. Did you have a good night, sir? We saw you from the window.” I closed my eyes, cursing myself for that slip. Oh, dear…ugh.

“Is that so?”

“It’s…it’s quite busy outside. Um…there are lots of drunks at the saloon…I mean, patrons.”

“Have you been drinking?”

Oh, double blasted cow! I could hardly look at him. “I…had…some sherry.” I added desperately, “I’ve never had spirits before in my life! I swear! It won’t ever happen again, sir.” And now he would dismiss me. I’d have to pack my bags and hire a wagon for the ride to Fanny’s farm. How had I gotten myself into this muddle?

After placing the hat on the brass rack, he removed his coat. “I haven’t gone over any of the rules yet. This slight has been my fault.” He turned to face me.

There were tears in my eyes. “I’m dreadfully sorry.” After a noisy hiccup, I continued, “I…please don’t send me away. I’ve not even been on the job a full twenty-four hours yet. I…assumed the evenings might be my own. I only had two…er…three tiny glasses of sherry.”

It was odd, but I got the impression that it was a struggle for him not to smile. He swallowed visibly, his Adam’s apple moving up and down. “What exactly did you see from the window, Miss Hampton?”

“Drunken men.”

“You said you saw me.”

“I did. We did. You…were walking down the boardwalk.”

“Spying on your employer and drinking.”

I hiccuped. “I didn’t know you were out there, honest to God, sir. Megan was the one who drew the drapes aside.”

“Now you’re blaming someone else for your misdeeds. I suppose you’ll say it was Megan’s idea to have a drink.”

It was! “Um…” My shoulders slumped. “Oh, drats. Jane will have the biggest laugh at my expense. I’ve gone and ruined it all.”


“My older sister. It was her idea that I find a job, sir. She gave me the advertisement for the position. She wrote a recommendation as well. She’ll find this amusing,” I muttered unhappily.

“That you failed?”

“That I was let go after less than a day.”

“Do you believe your actions are worthy of such an outcome?”

“I can only assume.” Tears flooded, which was mortifying. “I do so enjoy Rosalind. She’s the prettiest baby I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying quite a lot, because there are a great deal of babies in my family, sir. It would’ve been a lovely job to keep. I had so looked forward to bathing her and watching her learn to crawl and pull herself up on things. Now I’ll never know what her first words are.”

He exhaled visibly, his expression softening, yet he remained quiet.

“What is your decision? Am I being let go?” The weight of something unnamed hung between us, while he stared at me. I wanted desperately to read his mind.

“I’ll give you another chance.”

“You will?”

“I might regret this. I know I’ll regret this, but yes. You’ve another chance. Do try to behave yourself and mind your own business.”

“Yes, sir.” I hiccuped. “Sorry.”

“Good night, Miss Hampton.”

“Yes, sir. Good night. Thank you for not sending me home at this hour. I doubt I would’ve found a driver.”

“Don’t trouble yourself over it. Go to sleep.”

I slipped into the bedroom, eyeing Rosalind, who was resting on her side. Turning down the lamp, I knelt by my bed. “Dear Lord. Please forgive me for—” I hiccuped noisily, “for imbibing spirits. I won’t do it again. I’m ashamed I…I had a drink, Lord. It is possible that Megan is a bad influence. I’ll try harder not to be swayed by sin. Please watch over my family and my brothers and sisters. Keep everyone safe and healthy. Amen.” I was about to stand, when I had another thought. “And please watch over Mr. Carlyle. I’m entirely grateful that he seems to be a merciful man.” I mused, “He is rather handsome, isn’t he?” I hadn’t meant to say that out loud, and I was mildly baffled with myself. “Oh, never mind about that last part. Amen.”

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Western Kisses Old West Christmas Romances

Welcome to the Fall Into Winter Romance Giveaway Hop! Our hop is sponsored by the Western Kisses Old West Christmas Romance Anthology.


We have over 60 participating sites and a great grand prize – a $50 Amazon.com gift certificate.

To enter the Rafflecopter for the $50 Amazon Gift Certificate – Click Here!

To find the other sites participating in the blog hop – Click Here!



Kick off the holidays with five heartwarming romances from bestselling authors Kirsten Osbourne, Carré White and more!

The Man from Cripple Creek by Carré White

After the ravages of Smallpox left her scarred for life, Willow Brady had resigned herself to spinsterhood. A chance meeting with a rugged stranger changes everything, as she’s drawn to his sadness, which mirrors her own.

Almost Lonely by Anya Karin

Lottie Wright’s home town of Almos, Texas, was a vibrant little farming community until just about everyone left, fearing the Civil War coming their direction. Now, she must come to terms with herself and finding love in the most unexpected places when outlaw-on-the-run Colton Howe appears on her doorstep.

Mail Order Matron by Kirsten Osbourne

After a life dedicated to her mother, Julia takes a chance and becomes a mail order bride. Edward, a lonely widower, has no hope that any woman will answer his advertisement. Will this unlikely couple find love together?

Unwanted Bride by Flora Dare

When Heloise’s beau chooses her sister, she decides to start a new life as a mail order bride. But the man who wrote the letters isn’t the one she’s marrying, it’s his errant nephew. Can they move beyond their past and have a loving first Christmas together?

Romancing Rosalie by AnnMarie Oakes

When Rosalie flees Boston and her cheating fiancé for the Colorado Territory, it might be the perfect refuge, if she can accept the hardships of frontier life. Trouble is, Garrett Ballinger, the local marshal, is plenty interested in the pretty Easterner. Can a Christmas miracle warm up Rosalie’s frozen heart?

Western Kisses can be previewed or purchased on the following sites.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | All Romance


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Now available! An Unexpected Love, Book 5 of The Colorado Brides Series

Brides 5 Cover RC2-200

An Unexpected Love is now available on Amazon and is coming soon to iTunes and B&N.

After arriving in Denver City with her four siblings, Jane Hampton has settled in and grown to love her new family. A chance encounter with a stranger, who happens to look like a Native American, sends her perfectly ordered life into a strange and perplexing tailspin. Not engaged yet, but courting Wesley Hornsby, Jane finds herself increasingly attracted to Ryan Hartsock, who works on Hannah and Nathan’s farm.

Through the tumultuous summer of 1865, they are thrown together by a series of events and natural disasters. During the time of the Indian Wars, looking like the enemy was dangerous. Ryan is singled out and tormented wherever he goes, which is upsetting to everyone, especially Jane.

When her beau returns from the mountains, Jane must make a decision regarding her future. Mr. Hartsock has almost nothing to offer besides a tipi, and Wesley has been prospecting, returning triumphantly with the spoils of his endeavors. Jane knows what she will do…and it won’t be easy, but nothing ever is where the heart is concerned.

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“Prairie Madness” is now available!

PM Cover RC1-200

Prairie Madness is a story about a young woman traveling to California on the Cherokee Trail with her husband and parents.  When Indians ambush their caravan, she is injured, affecting her memory. She wakes to find the bodies of strangers all around her, not knowing that her husband and parents are among the dead. Setting out on her own across the prairie, she braves the elements and endures a lack of food and water. When she is at her lowest point, she is mercifully rescued by a passing wagon train.

Charming and attentive Patrick Walker offers her food and shelter, wanting to help the mysterious woman who is now a part of his convoy. A relationship that began out of necessity soon blossoms into something deeper, and, after Patrick proposes, Mena agrees to marry him, hoping that one day her memory would return.  But… the discovery of another survivor threatens her peace, and this stranger might ruin her happiness with the truth.

Here is a preview of Prairie Madness

After Ellie left, I traded places with Ester, sitting in the wagon, while she walked. An hour later, I was on my feet again, although I strolled slowly, until Patrick’s wagon appeared. He grinned when he saw me.

“Making the rounds this morning, eh?”

“I’m hoping the time will go by faster this way.”

“Is it working?”

“A little.”

He patted the wooden seat next to him. “You can sit with me for a bit, if you want.”

For having only met this person a day ago, I felt perplexingly inclined towards him. As a result, a heady warmth crept up my neck, flushing my face. This was more than likely due to sun exposure, or so I told myself. Grasping the seat, I hauled myself up, while the wagon continued to move. This was a dangerous maneuver, as I could have easily fallen and been run over by the front wheel, but I’d accomplished it effortlessly.

“How are the Carters?”

I tried to suppress a smile. “Oh, just fine.”

“I suspect Ester will appear any second now to snatch you away.”

“She’s concerned about my…reputation.”

“You’re in grave danger of having it ruined, sitting with me.” He was teasing.

“Is that all it would take?”

“According to her, yes.”

“Last I saw, she was napping with the children.”

“And you chose that moment to take a walk?”

“I did.” My smile broke free, unable to be restrained.

“Wandering in my direction.”

“You’ve been so kind…and you have…food.”

He barked with laughter. “The truth comes out now.”

“I should be nice to you. It’s your tent I’m sleeping in.” Those words held shocking connotations. “I mean, it’s the tent I’m using for…my…my particular use.” Now I blushed in earnest.

His gaze was on me; his look was thoughtful. “It sounded right the first time around.”

“Oh, goodness. Let’s find something else to talk about.”

“Something safer?”

“Yes, Patrick.”

“Talking about sleeping and tents isn’t safe?” He teased me again.

“Stop it.”

“Are you hungry?”

“I’m always hungry.” The conversation I had with Ellie was a concern. What if I were with child?

“I’ve a bag of jerky here. You’re welcome to have some.”

“Are you certain? I don’t want to eat you out of house and home.”

“I doubt you will.” He reached behind him, grasping a leather pouch. “Here.”

“Thank you.” I took a bite, chewing. “I better keep this down.”

“Are you ill?”

“I don’t know.”

“You were without water for days. You might still be dehydrated.”

“I don’t think that’s what the problem is.”

His hands gripped the reins, although the oxen were well-trained, lumbering forward without prompting. They followed the wagon before us, as the one before that followed the one before it.

“You got a baby in there?”

“I don’t know.” I glanced at him. “It’s possible. I am married. I…was married.” Then I had a thought. “Do you think he survived?”

“The attack?”


“I don’t know. They had all passed on. You were the only survivor.”

“I was by the river when it happened. Maybe he lived and set out on foot. Maybe he’s looking for me right now.”

“We didn’t see anyone walking.”

“I’d prefer that my memory would return. I’m finding this tedious. I need to know things, starting with my name.”

“You don’t like Sarah?”

“It’s fine, but it’s not mine. It feels strange to hear it.”

“I understand. If I were in your shoes, I’d be the same.”

“What if I’m with child? I’ve no money. No family. How will I take care of the baby?” I’d been in good spirits, but the reality of the situation had a sobering effect. I should have kept those thoughts to myself, but I had spoken without thinking.

“You’ll need a husband.”

“What man would want to raise another man’s child?”

“Plenty of men.”

“Really?” That was a surprise. “Would you raise another man’s child?”

“If I loved the mother, yes.” I could feel the weight of his appraisal, and it wasn’t unpleasant in the least. “There are a lot of young widows out west. It’s a hazardous world we live in.”

“I hate to be forced into something out of desperation. That leaves me with no choice.”

“Do you know what you’re going to do?”

“No, but I have to think of something. If I had family, I could go to them, but where are they? Who are they?”

“You’ll have to decide soon. We’re separating in a few days. People are continuing on to California or Utah. I’m stopping before the foothills.”

“I don’t know if I want to go to California. I can’t imagine being on the trail that long, especially if I’m…pregnant.”

“It doesn’t sound good.”

“What’s in Cherry Creek? Is there a town there?”

“A small one, but it’s growing. It’s mostly miners and trappers. I’ve never been, but my sister says there are a few businesses and such. People are building cabins and farming. Betsy and I had talked about coming west.” His expression flattened. “It’s a shame she couldn’t see this. There’s real beauty here. It’s desolate, but breathtaking.”

“It is.” I’d been staring at him, not the scenery.

He sensed my attention. “You could come with me. You could stay with us, until you decide what you want to do. That might give your memory time to return. Then you could maybe…either stay or leave.”

There was no other option, and I knew it. “I think I’d like that.”

He hadn’t expected such an affirmative response so quickly. “Truly?”

“I couldn’t do it, though. I’d be a burden. It’s unfair to your sister.”

“We wouldn’t have to burden them at all. I’m building my own cabin. They’ve been collecting wood for me. It won’t take long to erect.”

A strange tingle went down my backbone. “It would be scandalous, if I stayed with you alone.”

“Not if we were married.”


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Book four of “The Colorado Brides Series” is now available

Brides 4 Cover RC1-200


An Unexpected Mother, the fourth book in The Colorado Brides Series, chronicling the lives of the Hoffman sisters and their bid to find love in Denver City, is now available on Amazon as well as B&N Nook and iTunes.

Now it’s Fanny’s turn to travel west, hoping to marry a man she has been corresponding with for a year. After her husband dies unexpectedly, she discovers that she is a stepmother to his sister’s five children, which he had been caring for. Pastor Jack Bailey has the unfortunate duty of delivering the shocking news, incurring the brunt of her anger.

When the oldest, Jane, goes missing, Fanny and Jack are desperate to find her before tragedy strikes. While on the rescue mission, they discover a surprising attraction that has been simmering, hiding behind a veil of animosity. The bond they share will bring this family together.

I’ve started writing the first book in The Arizona Brides Series. The stories center around four sisters, who have never known their mother, a notorious madam. She gave the babies away at birth. While on her deathbed, she writes each a letter, informing them of their parentage and naming their fathers.

These books are sassier than The Colorado Brides Series and infused with humor. The girls set out to find their fathers, encountering train robberies, gunfights, kidnappings, and love. They will finally meet in the end, but only after surviving outrageous adventure.

The first book of the next series is An Audacious Spitfire. This is slated for a late July release.

Happy reading!

Carré White

The Arizona Brides Series will be available later this summer.

Here is an excerpt of An Unexpected Mother:

We were in the Nave. “Do sit here for a moment. I’m going to find him.” I strode down the aisle, inhaling the light scent of incense. Pastor Bailey was in the small office, sitting behind the desk. He glanced up when I entered; his expression was unguarded for a moment, revealing distaste.

“I’ve brought the children.” He seemed confused for a moment. Had he forgotten our shared responsibilities?

The quill he had been using was left on a sheet of paper. “How can I help you?”

“Truly? You don’t remember?”

“From all accounts, I’ve heard things are going well. When the children are adjusting so beautifully, why would you want to upset everything?”

“Oh, I see. It’s quite all right for my life to be turned upside down, but heaven forbid you’re inconvenienced in any way.”

“They aren’t my children. I wouldn’t uproot them at this juncture. They’re adjusting well—”

“How do you know that? I’m the one dealing with them. My sister’s house is filled with more people than she knows what to do with. She’s been dreadfully inconvenienced. I’ve three girls in my bedroom! I haven’t had a moment of peace since Sunday, when I was told that I was suddenly a mother.” What was it about him that provoked my anger so quickly?

“I…meant to come and—”

“Hogwash! You had no intention of checking on us. How you were named pastor for this community is beyond me. You’ve shown absolutely no compassion at all for your parishioners, especially…especially me! You could care less about the stresses I’ve been suffering.” I glanced around the book-lined space. Everything seemed well-organized. “You’re here in your nice little office, writing letters in peace and solitude, while I’m feeding and washing up after five children. I won’t even bore you with how many hours I spend driving back and forth to town every day.”

He had gotten to his feet, towering over the deck. “Must you provoke a fight each time we meet?”

“I certainly don’t mean to.”

“I’ve been thinking about this situation.”

“That’s refreshing.”

He appeared to be taking a deep breath. “I sympathize with your plight, Mrs. Hatch, but the children aren’t related to me in any way. I’m willing to guide them down the spiritual path to commune with our Lord, but I am not obligated to see to their care and maintenance. With the exception of homelessness, of course, but that’s not the case here. I’ve collected the names of several families who are willing to take them, but none will have all five at once.”

That was the last thing I had wanted to hear. “I see.” My shoulders were back, as I fumed with irritation. “You won’t lift a finger to share in the responsibility, because you feel it’s a hardship for them to go back and forth between our houses, but you have no qualms about splitting them up. YOU WOULD RATHER HAVE THEM SEPARATED!”

“Please lower your voice.”

“Coming here has been an enormous waste of time. I should’ve known you’d be completely unreliable. You—how old are you, if I may ask?”

“I’m not twenty-five yet.” The question seemed to perplex him.

“I assume you’re unmarried.”

“I am.”

“Well, I can see why.”

A hint of pink appeared on his cheeks. “I beg your pardon?”

“You might be capable of delivering a rather tepid sermon, but you lack in other essentials.”

“Before you continue on this path,” his voice held a hint of warning, “I’ll politely ask you not to judge my character by what little you’ve seen.”

“Oh, I’ve seen more than enough. I thought we’d reached an agreement the other day, but you’ve gone back on your word, which means your word is worth nothing.”

Knowing that I would now have to deal with the children on my own brought the reality of the situation into sobering focus. Whatever hopes and dreams I had for my future would have to either be abandoned or postponed.

He must have sensed my distress, because his features softened slightly, as he stared steadily. “I’m sorry for the situation you find yourself in, Mrs. Hatch. I know the children are a shock. I’m appalled that Jason lied to you. Such behavior was beneath him; it really was. I wish I could help you, but, although you find my sermons less than inspiring, others count on me to deliver them. You may not think much of me in that regard,” his brows had drawn together, “but hopefully you’ll see things with greater clarity in the future.” He looked concerned. “Are you all right?”

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