In honour of my upcoming release, Iron Will, I’d like to do a giveaway. In order to entre, just comment with your favourite Wild West movie below. I’ll choose a winner at random. Winner can either get a copy of Iron Will when it releases mid July, or can choose a book from my backlist. I’ll announce the winner on here on Sunday night.
The Wild West…
Note… Iron Will is an MMF novel, where the men interact.
Sheriffs, Marshalls, Gunslingers. Men who were tough as nails, in a land just as rough. The heroes of the old west aren’t strangers. Hollywood has given us more hot men than we can count. Sam Elliot. Clint Eastwood. Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Leonard DiCaprio, Kurt Russell… the list is endless. But today, I want to talk about the ladies.
Being a woman in 1890—wow, now that would have been an adventure. And far more difficult than it is today. Modern technology aside—while women still don’t have true equality in many aspects, can you imagine what it was like for those brave women who traveled first by wagon train, then later by stream train, to make a new life? The battles and resentment they faced if they dared to dream of a life outside the social norm?
Maybe that’s why most of my leading ladies from my old west books are on the fringes. Doctors, Marshals, Gunslingers… they not only brave the wilds of the landscape, but the views and beliefs of the people around them. Female doctors often traveled thousand of miles just to get work—places so desperate for any kind of medical training that they’d hire a woman because no man would take the job. And once there, often every new case was another test they needed to pass, or be asked to leave.
But they persevered. Forged new territory for those of us who followed, regardless of our occupation. We all have some pretty big shoes to fill…maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to that era, and why I keep coming back to the courageous men and women of the 1890s.
In my upcoming release, Iron Will, my leading lady has one advantage. Those tough-as-nails heroes I mentioned? Dr. Hollis Chambers is lucky enough to have two larger-than-life men that realize she’s their mate. Did I mention they’re bear shifters? And that they’re in the midst of trying to finish a railroad? But if they think she’s going to be easy to tame…they’re about to meet their toughest match.
Here’s a bit more about it and a quick excerpt.
I’m not a patient man. It’s not a secret. I don’t hide this quality, and I don’t care if people don’t like it. I’m trying to build a railroad, not win a contest. I don’t do contests, because when I see something I want, I hunt it down. Whether it’s the bear lurking beneath my skin or just my dominant personality isn’t clear. Not that it matters. Because I get what I want, and there’s nothing I want more right now than Lucas Quinn and Hollis Chambers. Hot. Naked. Laid out before me like a sacrifice. Lucas knows my thoughts, my desires. We’re mates, even if he hasn’t allowed me to consume him. Own him in a way only his mate can. He was waiting. But the wait’s over.
Hollis doesn’t know what she’s gotten herself into. We might have handled our initial meeting poorly, but that doesn’t mean we’ll let her go. She belongs to us. Our missing piece of the puzzle we can’t let slip away. She might try to distance herself, but like our bears, we’re relentless. We stalk, we circle, we pounce. We’re going to make her so damn desperate to have us claim her, the only words she’ll be able to shout are, “Yes,” and, “more.” I don’t know if she’s a virgin—don’t really care, because she won’t be once we get out hands on her. And we will. It’s just a matter of time.
The West isn’t the only thing that’s wild in town. And we’re going to use that to our advantage. Let the chase begin.
Devil’s Gate rail camp, Southwestern Colorado, 1899
“What the Hell do you mean we lost two more men?”
Cullen James turned, ignoring the way his voice seemed to bounce off the walls of the sheriff’s office as he grabbed his hat, clenching it in one hand as he scrubbed the other down his face. He hadn’t been gone more than forty-eight hours, and somehow they’d managed to suffer another setback, making his job that much harder.
He crushed the growl rumbling through his chest. This day was quickly taking a turn for the worse, and the sun hadn’t even set, yet. That’s when the liquor started talking, making otherwise calm men act like bullies with something to prove. And he couldn’t afford to let a stupid fight over cards or a working girl at the saloon lead to more injuries.
He set his jaw, staring at the man off to his left, wishing his feelings for the guy didn’t lessen some of the anger coursing through his veins, but it was pointless. Just looking at Lucas eased the tight feeling in his chest. Took the edge off the uncertainty gnawing at his gut. “I sent three men on horseback as guards. How did those idiots manage to get themselves shot?”
Lucas leaned against the wall just inside the doorway, arms crossed over his massive chest, one foot braced against the wood paneling. He gave Cullen an arch of one brow as he shrugged. “Dangerous times, Cullen. You know that. For every armed man we send out to stand watch, three more gunmen are waitin’ in the trees, ready to attack whenever the situation looks promisin’. We should consider ourselves lucky. Could have lost the whole damn crew.”
Cullen tilted back his head, fighting the urge to slam his fist into the wall, or drown his anger in a bottle of whiskey. Ten weeks. That was how long they had to finish the damn spur before the heavy mountain snow set in, and if the men weren’t having shootouts in the saloon, the bloody gangs were raiding the town or ambushing crews on their way back from the rail.
He raked a hand through his hair, cursing under his breath when it flopped back into his eyes. “Any others get injured?”
“Not this time. I just happened to show up before those bandits had gotten off more than a couple of rounds each. Managed to convince the gunmen it was in their best interest to leave, though they did manage to help themselves to some of our supplies. But it was just dumb luck I was headed back from the outpost, otherwise we’d be faced with a room full of patients with no one to treat them.”
“What you mean is you’re damn lucky you didn’t get yourself killed.”
Lucas grinned. “You almost sound as if you’d miss me.”
“Fuck off. You know what you mean to me.”
Lucas’ gaze dropped to Cullen’s crotch. “You keep promisin’—”
“And you keep turnin’ me down…mate.”
The other man’s shoulders drooped, his smile fading into a thin line. “You know why.”
“You still think we’re missin’ a piece of the puzzle.”
“Not a piece…a third.” He huffed at Cullen’s glare. “Don’t give me that look. I know you sense it, too. If you didn’t, you would have pressed the subject far more than you have.” He released a rough breath. “I’m not saying I’m not your mate. Trust me, my damn grizzly is feeling more than a bit possessive where you’re concerned. It doesn’t like waitin’ anymore than your Kodiak does. But… We both know we have another mate out there. And somehow claimin’ each other first… It doesn’t sit well with either part of me.”
Cullen sighed. Fuck, he hated when Lucas was right. And the man was definitely right. Cullen had known the moment they’d met he was bound to Lucas. His scent, his skin, his sheer presence affected Cullen in a way he’d never experienced before. But he also couldn’t deny that he’d sensed something was off. Lucas hadn’t been lying. The fact they’d been around each other for several months and hadn’t yet given in to the fury involved with mating—that was proof enough. Though damn if the other man didn’t make Cullen want to put that theory to the test. Slam Lucas against the wall and taste that cocky mouth of his. Feel the man’s tongue tangle with his, the hard planes of his body firm against him.
Lucas grinned, the smug tilt only fueling Cullen’s possessive feelings. “I know that look, too. And Hell yeah, I want all of that and more…just as soon as we find that missin’ piece, as you put it.”
Cullen fisted his hands, breathing deeply in the hopes of stemming the fire beneath his skin. Keep his other half from seizing control. A hint of claws scratched at his palms before he managed to pull the animal back—temper it with token promises. Ones he wasn’t sure would ever come true. A hand landed on his shoulder, and he turned to gaze at Lucas.
His mate smiled. “I won’t be able to fight the urge much longer, either. But until my damn bear decides it’s done waitin’…”
Cullen nodded, giving the man a good-natured shove to help calm his beast. “So…do I have a couple of bodies out on the spur I need to tend to? Or did they manage to make it back before succumbing to their injuries?”
“I managed to drag their asses back on the wagons. Wounds weren’t all that bad, but without any form of treatment…they bled out.” Lucas shook his head as he paced to the other side of the room before turning again. “We need a doctor, Cullen. A real one. Not some drunk barber who thinks bleedin’ the men with leeches is the answer to every damn problem that stumbles through his doors. The jackass hasn’t saved a single life since that holier-than-thou physician the company hired packed up his clinic and rode out of here three months ago. And we don’t have the resources to keep replacin’ these men.”
Lucas walked over to him. “Word’s getting ‘round. Everyone knows Buford’s gang is shootin’ up every damn town within a hundred miles of Durango, and rail camps and lines are easy picking—gives them a steady supply of explosives and ammunition. It’s getting harder and harder to find good people to fill these spots. This isn’t a large-scale undertaking like some of our previous jobs. Being privately commissioned as we are means limited funds, which in turn means smaller crews, less support. We can’t afford to lose any more men…not like this. Work’s dangerous enough without worrying a trip to the clinic will kill ya.”
“I’ll send more guards. Ride out myself if I have to.”
“And when one of those bastards clips you with a bullet?”
“Cold day in Hell, my friend. We both know that.”
“Not if half your attention is focused on worrying about how far we got on the line instead of which scraggly bastard is hidin’ behind the next hill.”
“Even if that happened, I’ll heal. We’re not like the others, Lucas, you know that. And I’m far from an easy target.”
“Being a shifter doesn’t make you invincible.” Lucas clasped Cullen’s shoulder. “I suppose we could get a few more of our kind out here, seeing as they wouldn’t really need medical support, but—”
“But that would end in bloodshed of another kind. If we were fully bonded, we could tolerate having other shifters cross over into our territory, but in our current situation…”
Lucas nodded. “I’ll see to the crews. Find more men if we need to, but it won’t mean much without a doctor.”
“You think I haven’t fucking tried?” He stomped across the room, kicking at a chair. It clattered to the floor, the loud sound soothing some of raw feelings burning in his gut. “I’ve requested a replacement every day for the past three months. No one wants the job, simple as that. Hell, they don’t even get off the damn supply train, just stare at the makeshift town through the window and go right on back to Boston or New York or wherever the Hell else they came from. Face it, the kind of man that’d be willin’ to come this far and work in these conditions quit after the war. And these new doctors simply don’t want to make that kind of sacrifice. Not when they can find work in the big cities or established towns. The kind with money and shops and federal marshals.”
“The war’s been over for thirty years.”
“Land’s still tainted with blood. You don’t clean that kind of horror away in a hundred years. The farther we go, the worse it gets.” He scrubbed a hand through his hair, pushing the damp mass out of his eyes. “I’ll send another telegram. Maybe if they believe the line’s in jeopardy, they’ll find someone who won’t quit before they’ve stepped onto that platform.”
“The line’s always been in jeopardy.”
Cullen scowled when the door squeaked open, the glare of the setting sun streaming through the open space. He raised his hand, shielding his eyes from the light as a dark figure walked through the doorway, a long shadow stretching across the floor.
“Bloody Hell.” Cullen shoved his hat back on, adjusting it low over his forehead. “Shut the damn door before we all go blind and the room fills with dust.”
The floor creaked followed by the slamming of the door. Cullen blinked as the room dimmed, staring at the person standing just inside the doorway. Blue eyes held his gaze, tousled strands of brown hair fluttering around her face. She took a step forward, placing a couple of bags beside the door before removing a black Stetson and shaking out a mass of long hair across her shoulders. It disappeared down her back, the lazy curls bouncing as she settled her weight on one foot, the other tapping restless against the wooden floor. Her oilskin jacket covered her body, the open section in the front displaying a white shirt and tan trousers. He didn’t miss the belt slung low over her waist, or the twin handles resting against her hips.
Cullen gave her body a long slow sweep, then focused on her face. “Can we help you?”
She glanced between the men then stepped over to him, the hollow echo of her footsteps ringing through the room. “They told me I could find a Mr. Cullen James in here.”
Cullen smirked. “Guess that depends on whether you’re here to help me or issue a duel.”
Her lips quirked, a hint of a smile lifting one corner. “I try to avoid killin’ people unless it’s absolutely necessary.” She rocked on her heels, seemingly uncertain before tilting her head. “Mr. Gilmore sent me. The name’s Hollis Chambers.”
Cullen glanced at Lucas, but the man merely shrugged. Shit. Cullen really didn’t have time for journalists or whatever this woman had to offer. He motioned to his partner. “This is Lucas Quinn, the resident sheriff. Now, with all due respect, Miss Chambers, it’s been one Hell of a day. Raidin’ parties are attackin’ my crews, and I’ve got a barber who thinks he can cure men by bleedin’ them dry. I really don’t have time for riddles.”
Her expression never faltered. “Sounds like you have more than a few issues at Devil’s Gate so I’ll get straight to the point. Mr. Gilmore hired me to fill that position you’ve had vacant for some time.”
She reached into an inner pocket, removing a telegram. “I believe this will clear things up for you.”
Cullen took the paper, unfolding it before holding it up. He read through the short sentences, his gaze rising to hers once he’d finished. He gave Lucas a sideways glance before crossing his arms over his chest, her telegram still clenched in one fist. “Are you serious?”
Those perfect lips quirked again as humor crinkled her eyes. “Do I look as if I’m jokin’?”
He snorted, handing the paper to Lucas, smiling when the man had a similar reaction. Cullen nodded at her. “So, you’re telling me my boss hired you to be the resident doctor? You?”
Her eyes narrowed slightly, the line of her jaw firming. “Tell me, Mr. James, which part do you find incredulous? That Mr. Gilmore actually found someone to come out to this Hell hole, or that it’s me?”
“I see. Then let me put your fears to rest. Yes, I really am a doctor. I graduated from Philadelphia four years ago, and I’ve been workin’ in small towns and camps just like this one ever since. No, I didn’t travel all this way on a ruse or a whim or to admire the scenery and yes…I know how to use the guns strapped to my hips.” She arched a brow. “Did I leave anything out?”
He resisted the chuckle that bubbled in his chest. “I admire your tenacity Miss Chambers—”
“It’s Dr. Chambers, or Hollis.”
He glanced at Lucas, slowly releasing a harsh breath. “Dr. Chambers—”
“But?” She scoffed at him. “There was definitely a but coming, so…”
“While I’m not saying you aren’t qualified, I’m not sure how well-received you’ll be.”
She smirked. “So you’re saying that the men in this camp would rather die at the hands of a barber pretendin’ to be a doctor than be saved by a woman who really is one.”
It wasn’t a question, and he didn’t miss the piercing tone.
He sighed, leaning back against a desk. “That’s one way of putting it.”
“Then the men here have all spent far too much time in the hot sun.” She pointed at the telegram. “None of which matters. I was hired, plain and simple.” She leaned in closer, her breath rustling the edge of his shirt. “And just to make things clear, even I didn’t want to come out this far. It’s no secret how many men you lose on a daily basis, or the risks involved in merely taking the train to get here. There isn’t anyone else willin’ to apply for the job. As it is, Mr. Gilmore had to guarantee my wage for the next three months regardless of whether I stay or not. Thinkin’ it’s in your best interest to show me to the clinic—put me to work.” She straightened, plastering on a sweet smile. “Unless you’d rather have the barber continue on as he has. I know where you can get a whole jug full of leeches for next to nothing.”
Lucas took a step forward, offering her the scrunched paper. “With all due respect, Doc… We can’t force the townsfolk to accept you, regardless of your credentials. Afraid the men that work the rails aren’t quite as forward thinkin’ as other, more refined folks. They tend to think a woman has a certain place.”
She hitched out one hip. “Let me guess. On their backs with their legs spread wide?”
He coughed, glancing at Cullen as if seeking help.
Cullen pushed to his feet. “Right or wrong, it’s the way things are in a rail camp, being they’re so transient. The women that travel with us up the spur are either wives or painted ladies. Maybe a teacher or a seamstress if we get lucky. Other than that…”
Hollis laughed, the tension easing from her body. “I see. Well then, I suppose I’ll just head on over to the saloon. Bide my time until I can catch another train out of here. As I said…I’ve been paid either way.”
She placed the telegram on the desk behind him, giving him one more long sweeping gaze. Then she tipped her hat and spun, making it to the door before looking back at them. “Shame, though. The railroad can’t afford to send you anyone else. Guess that means you’ll need those leeches, after all. Good day, gentlemen.”