Sunday, March 9, 2014

Take a Walk on the Fevered Side: New Fevered Hearts

Meet Jason Kane. The third son, the secretive one, the keeper of lies—he’s driven by personal demons he can’t outrun. A man on a mission, he wants what he can never have.

When the spirit fever struck a town, a village, or an outpost, it left few—if any—
survivors. The white man blamed the Indian, saying they used their mojo on them.  The Indians blamed the white man for angering the spirits.  The survivors knew it didn’t matter.  The Fevered were forever changed.

Threats overshadow everything they are trying to build…

Jason’s always been the outsider, the one with dreams and aspirations to leave Dorado. Rising from the ashes is bittersweet, but he keeps his grief private. His enemies know where he is and his family wishes he was gone, so he throws himself into building the town they love even as his heart remains decimated.

She left to pursue a dream and returns to a nightmare.

Olivia Stark grew up in Dorado, the town darling despite the severe handicap of blindness. When Jed Kane offered to pay for her admission and expenses at a special school for the blind back east, her parents sent her away. The four years gone from Dorado were a struggle, but nothing can compare to returning home to find everyone—everything—she knew in ashes.

Conspiracy, controversy, and craving block him at every turn.

When Olivia arrives in the half-built town, Jason’s world turns upside down. Her grief rends his soul, but he rejects her lest anyone discover what she means to him. Desperate to send her away, he’s not prepared for her steadfast refusal. Olivia’s waited for Jason most of her life and she won’t leave him now.

His desire. Her determination. Their destiny.

Excerpt Below

Jason hadn’t intended to come to the ranch. In fact, when he’d strode away from the saloon with Cody damn near nipping at his heels, he’d planned to go west until he was too exhausted to think. Buy his unsettled, and erupting emotions, time to slot back where they belonged. Instead, he’d turned east and ridden straight to her. A fool’s errand, but he couldn’t not go and see her. Her loss and her return tangled up inside of him like a festering wound, hot and painful.

A flash of gold in the corner of his eye alerted him to the wolf’s continued presence. He’d skipped a horse and simply changed while Jason saddled the mare he kept stabled in town. They’d made the river crossing and good time. He lost sight of the wolf only when he’d let the mare gallop, unwilling and unable to resist just laying eyes upon Olivia.

And that was all he intended to do. See her, assure himself she was fine, and then go back to town and deal with the rest. That was before he’d found her not in the house, but in one of the groves near a small pond. His father kept a watchful eye from a distance. When he spotted Jason, he’d inclined his head and then turned on his heel and headed away.

That left Jason little choice—he had to approach her. Then she’d said something about Boston, and mentioned an Adam… Reasonableness fled. Had Adam MacPherson found her? Had they used her in some way? The fact that he couldn’t get into her mind didn’t mean others couldn’t or that she was immune to all gifts.

Good God, she was alone in the dark with all the monsters. It didn’t matter that she had always been blind, couldn’t know the monsters on sight—he knew they were there. He was one, a fact he’d proved when he saw the fear ripple across her face followed by her almost pleading with him.

Then she kissed him. Everything within him stilled, the constant hum and buzz of the ranch, a sound he could never quite escape there had diminished the moment he approached her—all went completely quiet. The tentative brush of her lips against his jarred him from the ice burning in his veins.

“You are why I came home,” she told him, and he was in no way prepared for the brush of her mouth to his once more. Could his blood boil and freeze in the same instant? A distant part of his mind noted the sound of her stick hitting the ground. It made the barest of thumps. She pressed her hands against his chest and his heart thudded under the contact.

An internal alarm rang insistently. The last thing he should be doing was kissing her. Too young. Too fragile. Too dangerous. Only the taste of her made it past the velvet curtain of silence wrapping around the usual cacophony. She pulled back from the too fleeting contact and he gazed down at her.

Olivia had lost her bonnet at some point, and the thick dark curls escaped their pins to fall in ringlets around her porcelain face. She could have no idea how exquisitely beautiful she was, a masterpiece of perfect features, crowned by the rich midnight hair.  Instead of setting her away from him, he dragged her closer and her mouth opened to him. The scent of her surrounded him, drew him in and settled the rage licking through his veins.

The icy rage chained, it retreated into the dark and slept. Dragging his head up, he sucked in a deep breath and flexed his hands against her waist. Olivia opened her colorless eyes and the opaque surface seemed almost silvered.

“I shouldn’t have done that.” He recognized the greed in his action, and still made no attempt to push her away.

“You didn’t.” Her lips were swollen, and a deeper shade of rose than before she’d kissed him. Fascinated by the change, he stared at the way her mouth moved. “I kissed you—rather improperly—and I won’t apologize for it.”

Amusement curled through him at the defiance in her tone. “I don’t recall requesting an apology.” Far from it, even if he was the one who should be offering her an apology and getting the hell away from her.

“Well, you won’t be getting one from me.” Color bloomed in her cheeks and her smile fled from mortification. “Oh. Your father was watching me.”

Catching her chin when she would have lowered her face to his chest and hide it, he stroked his thumb over the curve of her jaw. “He saw me when I arrived and headed back to the house. He gave us privacy.”

A flash of gold at the periphery of his vision drew Jason’s attention. He glanced at Cody as the wolf padded through the trees and paused to study them. Ignoring the unwanted attention, he refocused his gaze on the delicate woman still caught in the circle of his arms.

“Oh,” Olivia’s exhale carried a distinct note of relief. To his surprise, her expression turned mutinous. “I shouldn’t be holding onto you because I’m upset with you.”

That she made no move to pull away from him deflected some of the heat in her statement. “I’m sorry you’re angry, but you are safer here on the ranch.”

“You’re not remotely sorry I’m angry,” she scowled. When he chuckled at her fierceness, she thumped him. Olivia was as threatening as a spitting kitten and every bit as adorable. “Now you’re laughing at me.”

“No.” He captured her fist when it struck him again. The vibration thrummed through his voice and her scowl disappeared behind a sudden smile and she burst out laughing.

“You used to let me do that,” she reminded him.

He nodded, though she couldn’t see the gesture. Lifting her captured fist to his lips, he kissed the knuckles. “You liked the way it made me sound.”

“I still do. It breaks the ice out of your voice.” Irritation and amusement flowed like quicksilver across her expression. She made no effort to constrain her thoughts or her emotions, they played out like a symphony of motion. The average person managed to master polite neutrality, but not Olivia. She turned her head in the direction of the wolf. “Someone else is here.”

 Jason’s eyebrows rose and he glanced at Cody. The sandy colored wolf tilted his head, betraying his own surprise at Olivia’s attention. He couldn’t introduce her to the wolf, but the Morning Star brother made no move to withdraw.

“Who is it, Jason?” Only her fingers tightening on his betrayed a sense of worry.

“A very large and annoying dog.”

Cody sneezed and gave him a cool look from a pair of blazing yellow eyes. Keen intelligence glimmered in the animal’s gaze, but Jason turned Olivia and threaded her arm through his.
“Can I pet him?”

Let her run her hands over another man? No. “I don’t think that would be wise.”

The wolf, however, seemed to disagree. He padded over to them. Larger than most natural animals and then some, Cody ignored Jason’s warning look to nudge his nose at Olivia’s free hand.

She let out a startled gasp and then traced her fingers over the wolf’s face. Tugging her hand from Jason, she held her palm out and Cody bumped her free fingers until she used both hands to scratch his head. Jason frowned, but Cody simply sat and studied Olivia as she petted him.

“He’s very soft.” She laughed. “And dirty.” If the wolf was affronted by the description, he didn’t show it.

“He likes to run,” Jason commented. Olivia relaxed and canted her face to ‘look’ in his direction. “You didn’t used to do that.”

“Do what?”

“Turn your face to where someone was speaking.” It was a difference.

“They taught us,” she murmured with another half-smile. “It makes the sighted more comfortable.”

He liked that it allowed him to see her face, to watch the emotions. Beyond that, he didn’t give a damn if it made someone else comfortable. “What else did they teach you?” It was a neutral topic and one he didn’t mind if Cody listened in on. The wolf seemed to be a natural protector. If he looked after Olivia, all the better.

“To use the walking stick.” She paused. “Which I dropped.”

“I can see it,” he assured her. “We won’t forget it.”

Cody darted away and Jason caught her arm when the wolf’s abrupt departure upset her balance. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No.” He watched, bemused as Cody fetched the long stick and carried it back. He set it down a foot away and then gave Jason a long look. Nodding at the animal, he mouthed ‘later’ and the wolf raced away. It bought him some time, but not much. Maybe the Morning Star brother would do him the courtesy of a human interaction with his questions. “He brought your stick.”

“You trained him to do tricks?”

Startled, Jason laughed. Her expression turned wondering. “What?”

“You haven’t done that since I arrived.” Had it really only been a few hours before that she’d righted his world by turning it upside down?

“I haven’t had a great deal to laugh about.”

She sighed and began to kneel down, hand outstretched to search for her stick. Balancing her, Jason retrieved it and pressed it into her palm. When it was firmly in her grasp, she tugged free and paced a couple of steps away. He felt her absence more keenly than he had anything in a long time.

“Where are you going?” He asked, more curious than upset.

“Not far,” she told him. Pausing, she reached up to free her hair and shook it out. The mass tumbled loose from the pins and spilled down around her face like a dark cloud. Threading her fingers through the loose strands, she let out a little sigh and he stared, captivated. The wild fall of erratic curls was more Olivia than the properly pinned bun. “We’re going to have an argument, but I plan to win this one.”

“All right,” he agreed to her reasonable tone and smiled. She had that effect on him. Arguing with Olivia had always been a deep source of enjoyment.

Her nose wrinkled and she made a face. “I mean it. You’re not going to win this argument.”

“I didn’t dispute you.” He clasped his hands behind his back before he reached over to drag her close and kiss her until they were both breathless.

“No, I suppose you didn’t, but you already proved to be less than forthcoming today when you dumped me in the wagon for the ranch and sent me away like a child.”

“You’re safer here.” Nothing else she wanted to argue would change that fact.

“So you keep saying.” She squared her shoulders and shifted until she faced him, walking stick clasped in both hands. “What are Fevered?”

All the oxygen left his lungs and he forgot how to speak. He would answer any questions, but that one.
His silence didn’t sit well with her. “No sir, you do not get to ignore the question. I heard the others talking—and I heard you say something similar. Olivia doesn’t know about Fevered. Remember that. She doesn’t know about the Fevered. We have to be quiet. They’ve all kept whatever this secret is, but they aren’t so good at remembering what I can and can’t hear. What are Fevered, Jason? What happened? Is it my parents? What?”

Instead of answering her, he chose deflection. “It’s not important and won’t affect you.” Nothing would be allowed to touch her. “You were telling me about what you learned at the school.”

“I learned that the best lies are told by changing the subject.” The cool accusation landed like a slap across his face. “Please don’t lie to me, Jason. I’m still me.”

Yes, and that was the rub. “Yes,” he told her. “You are still you.” Still his everything. “However, I’m not the same. Not anymore. Olivia, believe me when I tell you some answers are better left undiscovered.”

“Not when you are so very alone,” she told him with a piercing insight so few possessed. “I need to know what has happened. Your father is worried and very distracted. Scarlett told me I had to wait for you to answer the question. Jimmy wouldn’t answer it either, even when he gave me a ride to the house. Buck and Delilah did their best to try and distract me from it. They are trying to do as you asked them to do, so I need you to tell me.”

He latched onto one piece of information. “Jimmy wasn’t with Buck or Delilah.”

“No, he rode up when I was walking. The wagon was uncomfortable and I didn’t want to stay in it, so he offered to let me ride behind him on his horse.” A small smile turned up the corners of her mouth. “I haven’t done that in a long time. It wasn’t the same as riding with you, but I found that I missed doing it.”

Something dark, hot, and violent opened up inside of him. “You rode with him?”

Open rebellion settled on her face. “What are Fevered, Jason? Has the illness that took the town not been contained? Is there the possibility of another outbreak?”

Closing the distance between them, he cupped her chin carefully. He’d sooner cut off his arm than hurt her. “You went off with Jimmy alone? A man you don’t know?”

“You want answers?” She pulled his hand from her face and he let her, but instead of releasing him, she kissed his palm. “You have to give me answers in return.”

“Olivia…” It was a warning. He’d forgotten the tenacious side of her nature, the single-minded focus to attain a desired goal. It was, after all, how she’d elicited his promise of a marriage proposal once upon a time.

“Jason,” she mimicked unrepentantly.

“This is not a matter for you.” He ground his teeth together.

“You do not get to decide what I need to know or not,” she reminded him. “You are not my father nor my husband.”

“That can change.” The words left his mouth before he could stop them. Her smile halved his anger and he sighed. 

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