Sunday’s Spotlight is on my Western historical, Lily and the Gambler, currently free at Smashwords thru July 31.
This story was inspired by a vacation my husband and I took through California’s Gold Country. I fell in love with the old gold mining towns, esp. Grass Valley, which I found especially interesting due to its strong ties to Cornwall. I decided I needed a Cornish heroine and an American hero, in the mold of James Garner’s Maverick.
California Columbia carriage in a real old Western Gold Rush Town in USA
Another trip followed where I did research, including mine tours and visits to museums. At one point, my husband threatened divorce if I dragged him through another mining museum! The curse of living with a writer.
Respectability is in the eye of the beholder. Or so Lily Penhallow hopes when she assumes the guise of the widow Albright. She has learned the price of flaunting convention and is determined to obey society’s rules from now on. After her lover, Nigel Albright, was killed in a duel over a card game, Lily dons widow’s weeds and travels to Grass Valley, California where she plans to marry the man her uncle works for, a respectable mine owner named Hugh Ogilvie. Then, on the riverboat from San Francisco, she meets Creighton ‘King’ Callaway, a professional gambler, just the kind of man she should avoid.
King believes that since life is a gamble, there’s no point in planning for the future. You have to trust Lady Luck. After meeting Lily, King knows he has found his Queen of Hearts. But can he convince her to pass up a sober businessman for a foot-loose card sharp?
Only Lady Luck knows for sure…
Lily smiled at him. “That was quite a trick. Do you tell fortunes, too?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. Is the lady interested?”
“Perhaps,” she said, aware he was flirting with her again and annoyed with herself because she was enjoying it. “There should be a deck of cards here somewhere.”
“No cards required. Just let me see your palm.”
Unable to stop herself, Lily stripped off her gloves and let him take her hand. He held it in his left hand, and with his right index finger, traced the lines on her palm. Shivers ran up her arm at each caressing touch. His scent, a mixture of bay rum, male musk, and a faint hint of tobacco, overwhelmed her.
“What do you see?” she asked, her voice suddenly breathless.
“Health and long life.”
“What, no handsome stranger?” she joked.
He raised his head and stared into her eyes. “Oh, yes, I see romance ahead for you. With a dark haired fellow. But he isn’t a stranger.”
For what seemed an age, she stared into his green-gold eyes while her pulse quickened and warmth stole through her veins. It would be so easy to surrender to the feelings he evoked.
“I also see a fork in the road ahead,” he added softly. “You have a decision to make. A very important decision.”
She snatched her hand away, knowing she couldn’t afford to be distracted by him. It wasn’t as if he had made her any promises. “I think you need to practice your fortune-telling skills, Mr. Callaway.”
He chuckled. “There’s something else I’d like to practice.”
I’m taking a break from my European trip to talk about California’s Gold Country, setting of Lily and the Gambler, now on sale for 99 cents for the summer. (See buy links below.) I’m also spotlighting the #AuthorLove #Romance blog exchange organized by author Tina Gayle.
First the travel bit, and I have to say that it’s nice to remember vacations with my hubby without getting all weepy.
My husband and I toured California’s Gold Country twice some years ago and I fell in love with it. Gold Country is best enjoyed by driving State Highway 49. We started at the southern end, in Mariposa, and drove north to Sacramento, and then Grass Valley and Nevada City, where my book is set Valley in September 1868. I recall scribbling descriptions of the scenery as we drove along.
She watched mile after mile of open spaces pass by, all bathed in brilliant sunlight. In the distance, clusters of dark green trees dotted a hillside, standing out in contrast to the lighter yellow-green of the grass. Wispy white clouds, without a hint of rain in them, streaked the sky, separating shades of blue ranging from pale turquoise to bright azure.
We made the trip twice, first strictly as a vacation, though I kept thinking how I’d like to set a book in the area. The second was a research trip for me, if not for my DH. At one point, he threatened to divorce me if I dragged him through one more mining museum!
A lot of the old Victorian homes have been turned into bed and breakfasts, and we took advantage of that to stay in some lovely old homes.
Interesting stops along the way include:
Sonora, a lovely little town that hosts the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. For the kid in all of us.
California Columbia carriage in a real old Western Gold Rush Town in USA
Angels Camp, where Mark Twain heard a story on which he based his short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
Placerville, formerly nicknamed Hangtown for the zeal of its law enforcement.
If you’re up this way, do take a side trip to Sacramento, the state capital, with its charming Old Sacramento historic area, and the amazing California State Railroad Museum. This is one of my all-time favorite museums. It was fun to climb aboard the old trains and imagine traveling in a different time.
And my favorite, Grass Valley, a charming town with the attraction of having the wonderful Empire Mine State Historic Park, a fascinating glimpse into the lives of 19th century miners.
Grass Valley was especially interesting to me because of the large Cornish population in the 19th century. This area had deep gold veins that couldn’t be panned. The Cornish miners were encouraged to come because of their experience in the tin mines of Cornwall, which were petering out. To this day, the Cornish pasty is a local treat, and the city still celebrates a Cornish Christmas. The Cornish play a major part in my novel.
Lily and the Gambler
by Linda McLaughlin
Blurb: Respectability is in the eye of the beholder, or so Lily hopes. After her lover’s death she pretends to be his widow and travels to California to marry a mine owner. Then she meets King Callaway, a charming gambler. King knows he’s found his Queen of Hearts. But can he convince her to take a chance on a foot-loose card sharp? Only Lady Luck knows for sure…
At last he pulled the buggy off the road at a small clearing by the stream. He set the break and jumped out to help her from the conveyance. As usual, he held her a little too closely, only this time he didn’t let go when her feet touched the ground.
She stared up into his eyes. “King?”
“I can’t get over how lovely you are,” he said, his voice husky.
“You’re quite good-looking yourself.” She reached up to stroke his cheek, still smooth from his morning shave. Her heart was beating faster than usual. Would he try to kiss her?
He turned his head and pressed a kiss into her palm. He drew her closer and lowered his head. Just then she heard the noise of another horse and drew back.
“Anyone could see us. I have to be careful of my reputation.”
He cursed under his breath, grabbed the picnic basket and a blanket from the buggy and led the way through the woods to a more secluded spot by the stream. “Is this better?”
She peered back the way they had come, but couldn’t see the road. “Yes.” Though she knew it was never safe to be alone with this man, she went willingly. She must have lost her senses.
He spread the blanket on the ground and put the basket down before reaching for her. “Now where were we?”
She smiled. “I think you were about to kiss me.”
“So I was.” He pulled her to him, one arm around her waist and the other hand cupping her head. His lips were warm and searching, demanding she respond in kind. She sighed into the kiss. Goodness, she’d forgotten how blissful the act could be. She wrapped her arms around his waist and gave herself up to the kiss, delighting in the sensations coursing through her. How was she going to resist this man?
At last, he pulled his mouth away with a groan. “I want you, Lily, more than you realize.”
“I know,” she whispered, stepping away to stare at the water in the creek rippling below. “But I’m not ready for more than kisses.” She spoke the lie, knowing he needed no encouragement to take her right there. She wanted him, too, wanted to feel his skin against her own, feel his weight on her, the pleasure he could give her. But she was afraid. Afraid of losing control, of being caught in wanton behavior, of being ostracized from society. He’d made her no promises and his advances promised only ruination. “You want marriage,” he said.
She turned to look at him, not sure whether she should be angry or disappointed. “Ideally, yes. I need some assurances. What are your intentions, sir? Do you think to seduce me once and abandon me?”
He stepped nearer and ran a finger down the side of her face and neck. A shiver passed through her. “I doubt once would be enough.”