Once again, my servant Cat Shaffer has allowed a book to be release without my editing -- and once again, her new novel has no cat in it.
Seriously, now. If ever there was a story that called for cats, it's "Bittersweet," her new historical romantic suspense novel. Yes, there's a hero to fall in love with, a heroine to root for and a bad guy who threatens them and their happiness ... but not one cat.
Since "Bittersweet" is set on a farm in northwest Ohio, there were many opportunities to include cats. When Coulter (he's the hero) goes out to the barn, he's never greeted by a cat. There's never a cat on the porch, or in the parlor.
I attempted to tell Cat about this appalling oversight when she was writing the story, but sometimes she's as dumb as a dog. Instead of taking my suggestion to put a cat in the sickroom with the heroine, she said, "Hush now, Tabby, I'm busy."
I'm not saying "Bittersweet" isn't a wonderful story, I'm simply saying it could have been magnificent with a cat or two in it. Especially if that cat was a sleek, intelligent gray tabby such as moi.
Ah, well, what's done is done, I suppose. Now if you'll excuse me, I just saw Big Stupid heading for the water dish and I need to get there first. Trust me, no one wants to drink after a dog.
Oh, before I forget, here's a taste of the new book for you!
Bittersweet by Cat Shaffer
Coulter Bancroft returns from battle seeking the peace of his family farm. Instead he finds chaos: his stepmother dead, his father dying and his fiancée married to another man. His pain reaches a new level when he learns his father’s will demands a legitimate heir by Coulter’s 30th birthday to keep his inheritance—and guardianship of his teenage half-sister.
Amelia Strong has her own secrets to keep. When Coulter takes her in after she collapses in front of his horse, bruised, sick and frail, Amelia can’t imagine that within a few weeks, she’ll offer to marry him and give him that heir if he will divorce her and set her up to begin a new life after the child is born.
What neither of them realizes is that Amelia’s beloved, listed among the war’s casualties, is actually alive and going mad. When he spots Coulter and Amelia in Cincinnati on their honeymoon and begins to stalk the Bancroft family, the result is a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse game that can only end in death.
October 16, 1865
“Damn that man!”
The wind caught the wooden door, banging it against the side of the farmhouse as Coulter Bancroft stalked into the kitchen and tossed a sheaf of tied papers on the table. The thud of his boots on the wooden floor was as unyielding as the fury in his eyes; the wailing wind echoed his harsh voice as he called for his sister.
His first shout of “Caroline!” brought her running into the room. She came to a dead stop, grabbing a highback kitchen chair for support. Her eyes widened at the fierceness of Coulter’s expression and the tenseness of his stance.
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” he demanded.
“About what?” Caroline stammered, knitting her hands together.
“This!” Coulter shook the papers at her. “What our father did to us.”
Her hands tightened on the chair back until her knuckles turned white. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well, then, let me tell you.” Coulter spread the papers across the table. “There’s a lot of fancy lawyer language in there, but here’s what it comes down to: We’re about to be out of a home. That apple orchard out there? Gone. The cows and horses in the barn? Gone, too. Trust me, our father’s good friend, William Cahorn, Esquire, explained it to me in great detail.”
Mimicking the elderly attorney’s mincing tone, he said, “Your father’s will is quite specific, Bancroft, and he was of sound mind when he made the changes. If you do not produce a legitimate heir by the time you are thirty, the entire estate reverts to your cousins in Illinois. In the meantime, I am authorized to provide you with the funds to continue operation of the farm and to allow for the needs of you and your sister.”
Coulter’s tirade stopped as abruptly as it had begun. He dropped into a chair, staring for a long moment at the blank wall opposite him. When he spoke again, his voice was lower, calmer.
“What it means, my dear, is that our father has entailed the estate. If I don’t do as his will demands, our inheritance is gone.” His eyes moved to his sister, and he winced as her face turned pale with his next words. “You, dear Caroline, will become our cousin’s ward until you reach twenty-one years of age or he finds someone for you to marry.”
Her soft gasp wounded Coulter as bitter words could not. His anger eased into compassion. He had never felt so helpless, not even on the battlefields he’d come to know too intimately over the last three years. He wanted to console his sister and tell her everything would be fine, as he had when she was a little girl. He longed to make things right for her again. But it couldn’t be done. Not this time.
Red-hot anger began to well again. He struggled to contain it before it spiraled out of control. He’d scared Caroline enough.
He swung into the saddle and slapped the reins. Man and horse flew down the long path behind the barn and along the fence line that separated this farm from the next. Low-hanging clouds dimmed the sun, and in the far distance, he could hear the rumble of thunder, driven by the howling wind. He rode hard, mindlessly, losing himself to the smashing of Midnight’s hooves against the ground and the wildness of the oncoming night.
The fierce October wind slashed through the thin cotton of the woman’s dress as she stumbled across the rough ground, her swollen and bloody feet too numb to feel the cold mud between her toes. Each inhalation of the frosty air tore at her tortured lungs; each exhalation brought new pain from a broken rib.
It seemed hours since she’d jumped from the rattletrap wagon. Thousands of miles since she’d begun her run for freedom. She longed to rest for one tiny moment. Or risk looking back over her shoulder to see how many men followed. If any man followed. Yet she knew even a split-second’s hesitation could mean the difference between safety and capture.
She gasped as an errant root smashed against her ankle, sending her to her knees. With the last of her strength, she forced herself up and onward. She didn’t know where she was headed; she no longer cared. As she struggled toward the brightness that must surely signal a break in this endless forest, the gray clouds above her loosened and rain began to fall. In seconds the drizzle began to sheet, turning the leaf-covered ground beneath her into a morass of mud and dying vegetation.
She heard the thunder of hooves as she finally reached the light at the edge of the woods. Her soul cried out, for this surely was the angel of death stampeding toward her, swooping down to take her away. She fell to her knees in surrender, caring not whether she was transported to heaven or hell, only that she be freed from the torment awaiting her if she was captured.
The storm matched his mood. Coulter rode hard until he caught a movement at the edge of the woods. Cursing into the wind, he pulled hard on Midnight’s reins as a woman stumbled out in front of him, falling onto the muddy trail and into unconsciousness. “Whoa, Midnight! Stop, boy!”
Coulter fought to keep from trampling her, his heart in his throat as the big stallion reared up, halting inches from the silent heap collapsed in the middle of the road. Coulter swung down as the horse’s front hooves touched the ground, and ran to what looked like nothing more than a pile of old clothing. He knelt in the mud, oblivious to the cold rain pouring down his worn hat and across his shoulders. His breath caught at the sight of the young woman.
Damn, he could have killed her. Had Midnight been a few steps further along the dirt road, or his pace a little quicker, the horse would have smashed the life out of her. Coulter gathered the fragile body into his arms and set the woman on Midnight’s back. He swung up behind her, shook the reins and raced for home. He rode as if the devil pursued, holding his burden close with one arm. The woman stayed silent except for an occasional moan, her head lolling against his broad chest. Fear traveled alongside as an unseen companion; Coulter’s heart caught in his chest every time her shallow breathing slowed.
The ride home seemed interminable, the way made harder by the unrelenting rain and the slick mud road underfoot. Finally the buildings that made up the Bancroft farmstead came into view. With a thankful heart, he rode up to the house. “Minnie!” Coulter cried as he slid off Midnight’s back, holding tightly to the small burden in his arms. He slapped the horse on the rump, and Midnight headed toward the barn.
“Minnie!” he shouted again, taking the back porch steps two at a time. The housekeeper gasped as he kicked open the door to the warm kitchen.
“Lord, Mr. Bancroft, what have you there?”
Available now from Turquoise Morning Press at e-book retailers; coming soon in print