Howdy, Partners. Before you dig into this next free excerpt, I’d like to share part of an email from Jody D., a fan who’s reading Darlin’ Druid, quoted with her permission.
“I spent many years in theatre and I do not give praise unless it is truly deserved. I can watch a person audition on stage and tell within seconds whether or not they can act or direct. I can also tell within three paragraphs whether or not a person can write. You can write. So far I have loved every word of Darlin’ Druid and I put your style and quality right on par with such queens as Linda Leal Miller and Jody Thomas. I’m looking forward to reading all of your westerns. When I’m finished I will leave a review on amazon for you.”
Tye laid aside his saw and stepped over to the water bucket for a drink. He took a long pull from the dipper, hung it back on the bucket and sauntered toward Lil. She was arranging covered dishes on a cloth-covered table. With her back to him, she didn’t see him approach.
“Good morning, Miss Crawford,” he said, halting a couple of paces behind her.
She whirled around, lips parted, brown eyes wide. Her chaotic mix of emotions – surprise, wariness and perhaps a hint of excitement — blasted him, bringing on a dull pain behind his eyes and causing his smile to slip for a moment. Seeing her nostrils flare delicately as if testing his scent, she made him think of a frightened doe poised to leap away.
“H-how do you know my name? I never . . . .” She paused, then answered her own question. “David and Jessie told you.”
“Aye, colleen, and I’ve been wondering, is it Lil for Lilly?”
“Th-that’s none of your business.”
Tye cocked an eyebrow but didn’t press her for an answer. “Ye look very lovely this fine day, if ye don’t mind me saying so.”
She stiffened and scowled at him, her color heightening to that angry, beautiful shade of rose he remembered so well. “Save your smooth words, mister. I know how I look, and I’m not lovely.”
“What?” He stared at her in disbelief, detecting the deep well of hurt from which her anger sprang. “Of course you’re –”
“Hello, Lil,” Jessie interrupted, startling him as she walked up to him. “I understand you’ve met my brother once before.”
Lil shot her a sharp glance; then her dark eyes drilled into him. “Yeah, we met a while back. Guess you heard all about it.”
“Aye, I mentioned getting directions from ye,” Tye said before Jessie could reply. He registered Lil’s anger at him for talking to his sister about her and felt her resentment toward Jessie. Mystified as to its cause, he went on, “But I neglected to properly introduce myself that day. The name’s Tye Devlin, and delighted I am to be seeing you again, Miss Crawford.” He winked, hoping to lighten her mood.
Her gaze darted uncertainly from him to Jessie and back again. She licked her lips and seemed to search for words. Before she managed to reply, a short, stout older woman marched up and clutched her arm. Her skin was darker than Lil’s, her features broader, but the two were plainly related.
“Come and help me,” she snapped, ignoring Tye and Jessie completely and paying no heed to Lil’s dismayed expression.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Crawford,” Jessie said with forced sweetness, “but I’d like ye to meet my brother, Tye Devlin. Tye, this is Rebecca Crawford, Lil’s mother.”
The woman’s black gaze whipped toward him. Hatred poured off of her, causing Tye’s mental barriers to slam shut against her.
“’Tis a great pleasure, ma’am,” he forced out, inclining his head.
Her features turned stone-hard; she said not one word in reply, only boring into him with her hate-filled glare. “Come,” she ordered, yanking on her daughter’s arm.
Embarrassed color stained Lil’s cheeks, her eyes were downcast, but she offered no protest as her mother practically dragged her away. Baffled, Tye stared after them.
“Did I do something to offend the mother?” he asked.
“Aye! You’re my brother. That’s enough to make her wish ye dead, I’m sure,” Jessie said acidly.
“What’s this? Why d’ye say that?”
She tossed him a sour glance. “Oh, ye haven’t heard the tale yet? Well, ye may as well know. Everyone else does.”
Tye had wanted to know why Lil carried such sadness in her heart but the answer came as a shock. He listened with growing dismay as Jessie spoke of Lil’s youthful attachment to David, and how she and her parents had believed he would eventually marry her.
“David admits he kissed her a few times, but ’twas only boyish shenanigans. He was put up to it by her brother. Unfortunately, she took it to heart. I suppose she was smitten with him to begin with.” Jessie smoothed a hand over her rounded belly and sighed. “Anyhow, David swears he never made her any promises, and I believe him. But the Crawfords can’t forgive him for leaving home to fight for the Union and deserting Lil, as they see it.
“As for Lil herself, I’m certain she hoped David would come back for her someday. ’Twas a bitter pill for her to swallow when he returned with me as his wife, I can tell ye.” She shrugged. “At least she and her father are civil these days, but I fear Rebecca will never stop hating us. Lil’s brother was killed in the war and . . . well, ye see how things stand.”
Tye saw, and he experienced a flare of anger at David for hurting Lil, no matter how unintentional it may have been. He also recognized another emotion – jealousy. But that was absurd. He barely knew Lil Crawford. To be sure, she had often occupied his thoughts since their first meeting, but he had no reason to feel jealous over her. Yet he did.
“Stay away from Lil, Tye,” Jessie admonished. “Her father, Del, has a devilish temper, and I couldn’t bear to see ye get hurt.”
He met her worried gaze. “Och, don’t fret, sis. I only spoke to the colleen, and in case ye didn’t notice, she’s none too fond of me. Her folks have nothing to worry about.” Turning away, he ordered himself to stop thinking about Lil. She could never be his. He didn’t deserve any happiness after letting his best friend die. Nevertheless, his gaze immediately sought the dark-haired beauty whenever he looked up from his work.
* * *
As the day progressed, Lil avoided Tye in order to keep peace with her mother and because she wanted nothing to do with him, she sternly told herself. But once, when his gaze snagged hers, her heart thundered like a herd of longhorns, and she couldn’t keep herself from furtively watching him. She noticed his fluid movements as he worked and his engaging grin when the men shared a joke. She took in the midnight locks clinging to his damp forehead, the corded throat above his partly open shirt, and the muscled forearms revealed by his rolled up sleeves. The combination made her feel oddly weak. When his deep voice reached her ears, it hummed through her like wind blowing across the prairie.
Later, after the noon meal, he removed his soggy shirt in the afternoon heat, and Lil was mesmerized by the play of muscles across his broad shoulders and tapering back. She wondered how it would feel to run her hands over that hard, sweat-slick expanse. When he turned around, she found it hard to breathe. The curly black hair plastered to his sweat-slick chest fascinated her. Narrowing across a lean, contoured belly, the dark trail disappeared beneath his belt buckle. How far down did it go? Shocked by her brazen thought, she hastily turned away – and met Thea Knudson’s knowing gaze.
“He’s an eyeful, isn’t he,” her friend said slyly.
“I . . . I don’t know who you mean.”
“Don’t you? I guess I must have imagined all the times I caught you staring at the man, hmm?” Thea giggled and leaned close to whisper in Lil’s ear. “Don’t worry, I won’t let on to anyone, ʼspecially your ma.” With a teasing little grin, she hurried off to corral her children.
Afire with embarrassment, Lil vowed not to look at Tye Devlin again. He was a sweet-talking Irish scoundrel. Ma had ordered her to stay clear of him, and she was right.
I am pushing hard to put Dashing Druid on Amazon by Thanksgiving. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Please!