Release Blitz for Claw Marks & Card Games (Stallion Ridge #2) by Maz Maddox (excerpt)



Book Title: Claw Marks & Card Games (Stallion Ridge #2)

Author: Maz Maddox

Publisher: Self-Published

Cover Artist: Shaleah Poster

Genre/s: m/m romance, paranormal, western, action/adventure

Length: 74 000 words

Heat Rating: 3 flames

Release Date: October 1, 2018

Can be read as stand-alone story.

Add on Goodreads

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

Amazon US

Amazon UK 


Cooper Woodlock is a man who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Between his gambling debt and being a widowed father, he can never seem to get Lady Luck back on his side.

Desperate for a winning hand, Cooper starts hitting saloons and tempting fate in order to keep the blood thirsty Spades at bay.

When a black clad gunslinger enters the game promising a slice of freedom, Cooper realizes all too late what he is actually playing for.


His cards were a sure thing. He was winning. He was about to double his winnings, and it was making his stomach dance, even as he kept his face schooled. This would ease the tension in his shoulders for a good month after tonight. The Spades would be off his back, and he could figure out his job situation. Hell, he’d even get Marybell some sweets to celebrate. His daughter deserved something nice. 

This beautiful stranger not only saved his life, but was also about to make some of his troubles ease for a little while. As their cards were tossed onto the table and Cooper drank in the sight of each hand, a cold pit formed in his gut. 

He had lost.


All the winnings of the night were swallowed up by one goddamn game. Cold sank into his bones as the blood drained from his face, his eyes locked on Gunner’s winning spread. The man didn’t make a move to collect everything. Instead he sat back and pulled a rolled cigarette from his vest and put it between his teeth.

“Guess you were right about your luck,” he said casually, striking a match and lighting his cigarette. The flare of the fire close to his face made his green eyes seem to glow as he focused them on Cooper’s devastated face.

“Fuck,” Cooper whispered, putting his head in his hands, fisting some of his hair in heartbreak. He had been so damn close to getting some peace in his life, and he blew it all in one stupid game of chance. Hell, he had almost died for that pot, and now it was all gone.

Smoke curled around Gunner’s face as he exhaled some smoke from his lips. “Win it back.”

Cooper shook his head, pulling his glasses off to rub at his tired eyes. “I ain’t got it in me. Not after all this.” Cooper huffed. “My head’s turned inside out, and my stomach’s in knots.”

“You have a chance to not leave empty-handed.” 

Cooper glanced up as Gunner reached into his pocket, taking out a stack of rolled bills and tossing it onto the table. If Cooper’s jaw was able to reach the floor, it would have bounced off his boots. That stack was probably hundreds of dollars. Hundreds. Something that would actually put a real dent in what he owed the Spades and give him and Marybell a slice of life back.

Working some saliva back into his cottonmouth, Cooper finally croaked, “I ain’t got that much to wager.”

“What else do you have to wager?” Gunner asked, pulling from his cigarette, his tone deceptively calm. Cooper narrowed his eyes and pulled his glasses back on, sitting up taller to not look so defeated. 

“What are you asking me, exactly?”

About the Author

Maz is an m/m romance fanatic, dabbles in yaoi, adores dinosaurs and writes romance stories with a healthy heaping of adventure mixed in.

When she’s not pairing up Centaurs with bank robbers, she’s plotting new stories and sending inappropriate texts to her friends.

Author Links



Twitter: @mazmaddox  


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Release Day Blitz for To See the Sun by Kelly Jensen (excerpt and giveaway)



To See the Sun by Kelly Jensen

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Release Date: August 13, 2018

Length: Print – 243 pages. Ebook – 295 pages.

Subgenre: Science fiction, western

Reader warnings: past and present violence, and references to past abuse.

For a full list of tags, visit: and click on “Additional Details”


Riptide Publishing:






Book synopsis:

Survival is hard enough in the outer colonies—what chance does love have?

Life can be harsh and lonely in the outer colonies, but miner-turned-farmer Abraham Bauer is living his dream, cultivating crops that will one day turn the unforgiving world of Alkirak into paradise. He wants more, though. A companion—someone quiet like him. Someone to share his days, his bed, and his heart.

Gael Sonnen has never seen the sky, let alone the sun. He’s spent his whole life locked in the undercity beneath Zhemosen, running from one desperate situation to another. For a chance to get out, he’ll do just about anything—even travel to the far end of the galaxy as a mail-order husband. But no plan of Gael’s has ever gone smoothly, and his new start on Alkirak is no exception. Things go wrong from the moment he steps off the shuttle.

Although Gael arrives with unexpected complications, Abraham is prepared to make their relationship work—until Gael’s past catches up with them, threatening Abraham’s livelihood, the freedom Gael gave everything for, and the love neither man ever hoped to find.


Bram pushed up from the table. “I’m going to make tea. Want some?”

“I can make it.”

“Sit. I didn’t ship you all the way out here to wait on me.”

“What did you ship me out here for?”

Bram didn’t answer, and the question burned the back of his neck as he performed the mundane task of making the tea. He selected an herbal blend, his favorite, and spooned desiccated leaves, fruit peel, and flower heads into the diffusing chamber at the center of a battered metal pot. He could program the beverage machine, but he preferred to make tea the old-fashioned way. Leaves and hot water. Sometimes the process of a thing was as important as the result.

He reached toward the shelf of mugs and stopped as a hand touched his shoulder. Warm breath ghosted across the cooling skin at the back of his neck, reigniting his blush. Bram let his fingers catch on the edge of the shelf and rest there, and tipped his head forward. Gael moved closer, the heat of his body evident now as he leaned in.

Lips met the back of his neck in a soft kiss. A small quake shifted the muscles beneath Bram’s skin, his body making ready to turn. He held still a moment longer before following another long-held urge, turning slowly—so slowly—until they were face to face. Well, until his mouth was level with Gael’s forehead. Bram pressed a kiss there, one as gentle as the touch of lips to the back of his neck.

“I didn’t bring you out here for this, either,” he murmured.

“Yes, you did.”

Bram took hold of Gael’s slim shoulders. “Not just this.” And not like this.

In answer, Gael lifted his face, offering up his mouth. Bram’s resolve lasted about a second longer than he thought it might before he bent to taste those lips. They’d been interrupted twice now. No longer.

Gael’s lips were so soft, melting beneath his, opening—though Bram didn’t take the invitation right away. He kissed both lips, together and separately. He tasted them, the scent of Gael mingling with the bitter tang of the outside air. Gael made a small sound: a whimper or a moan. Bram deepened the kiss, still resisting the temptation of Gael’s tongue. He didn’t want to fall all in, lose himself.

Then he was there, falling, his lips and hands operating independently of thought. He craved the warmth of Gael’s skin and wanted to compare it to the feel of his tongue. See if he moved the same way—gently, teasingly. Gael seemed as wrapped up in the kiss as Bram. He shifted, constantly, swaying into Bram, hooking his hands into the back pockets of Bram’s work pants.

Blood shot south to pulse in his cock, leaving Bram in that almost-forgotten state of arousal—somewhere between thought and thoughtlessness. He teetered there, reveling in the anticipation, and let his imagination roam. Oh, to touch Gael’s skin, to taste him. To hear the sounds he’d make when aroused, when brought to climax, when drifting in the aftermath. Would he be loud? Would he be shy and sweet?

A soft click sounded behind him. The tea. Blinking as though roused from a dream, Bram pulled back. Gael leaned in immediately, following him. He kissed Bram’s neck and ground his hips forward. Bram tugged Gael’s hands from his pockets, regret making his movements clumsy.

Gael tipped his head back. “What are you doing?”

“The tea is ready.”

One long, slow blink. “What?”

“The tea.” Bram was still holding Gael’s hands, and stupidly, he didn’t want to let go. But he did so he could turn and collect the mugs. Pick up the pot.

“Did I do something wrong?”


“Then why did we stop?”

Bram had to consider his answer because he didn’t really know, not in a way he could express in words. It would have been so easy to keep going. To have had something fast and dirty in the kitchen, or to have picked Gael up and carried him to the bedroom.

Gael followed him into the HV room and sat beside him on the couch. Waited quietly while Bram poured the tea and handed over one of the mugs. Picking up the other mug, Bram thought a little more. Wrapped his fingers around the warm composite of ceramic and plastic and searched for just the right words.

“We’ve got time.” Bram raised the mug to his lips, but decided the tea was still too hot to take a sip. “Doesn’t all have to happen in one night.”

About Kelly Jensen:

If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared, despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse. Still, she will pack her precious books into a box and carry them with her as she strives to survive. It’s what bibliophiles do.

Kelly is the author of a number of novels, novellas and short stories, including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke. Some of what she writes is speculative in nature, but mostly it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.

Connect with Kelly: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Author Blog | Author Website | Pinterest | Tumblr | Join the newsletter




Enter the Giveaway:

Prize: Enter to win any back catalog Chaos Station ebook by Kelly Jensen and Jenn Burke or paperback of Always and Forever: A Chaos Station Collection by Kelly Jensen and Jenn Burke. Open internationally.

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BA Tortuga With a Special Excerpt from her release Latigo (Latigo #1)


Latigo (Latigo #1) by B.A. Tortuga
Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Alexandria Corza

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have BA Tortuga here today talking about a book we read years ago and still love today, Latigo.  Welcome, BA.

Hey y’all. I’m BA Tortuga – writer of rednecks and cowboys and down home folks that manage to fall in love. It’s my thing. Latigo is a rerelease from years ago and it’s still the story that is home for me.


Latigo Excerpt



Will laughed. “My pop used to take me all the way up to Ruidoso or Elephant Butte to go fishing. He had a thing for trout. Now me? I like a nice bass. They fight like crazy.” He grinned over at Dean, struggling against the sudden, strong urge to invite himself along.

“Shit, yeah. But I tell you what, some butter and lemon and cook it over the fire… sheer heaven.” Dean gave him a sideways look. “You got something set up in Tulsa already, Ace? ’Cause Gypsy’s needing a rider, and God knows another pair of hands on the steering wheel for a piece wouldn’t hurt.”

“Yeah? Because Tulsa’s nice and all, but I wasn’t hankering to stay there.” Wow. Maybe his damned luck was on the way to changing.

“It’s the same six dollars a day whether there’s one or ten, and fishing’s better with someone to jaw with.” Dean nodded, then winked. “Besides, Oklahoma’s no damned place to be stranded, Ace. I mean, to be so close to heaven and just miss it by one state?”

He had to laugh at that. “Yeah. Oklahoma’s, well… there’s a reason the South, the West, and the Midwest all refuse to claim it. That’s really decent of you, Dean.” It was, and he meant it, and he’d do whatever he could to earn it.

“No problem. You a roper by trade?”

“Yeah. I did team roping right out of the gate, but my partner decided to go back and go to college. Then I did calf roping a bit. Now I just do the bareback competitions.” He laughed ruefully, thinking it was no wonder he never made any prize money anymore. Bronc riding wasn’t his strongest event.

“Bareback’s a hard row to hoe. Good money in it if you win, but the competition’s rougher than hell.” Dean finished his Coke and shook his head, tongue swiping the drops of soda off the salt-and-pepper mustache. “Calf roping is my main thing now. The only thing I won’t do anymore is the bulls. That’ll kill a man, sure as shit.”

Oh yeah. He knew that one. “Damned good money there. But I’m lucky. I’m really too damned tall to ride them. Else I’d probably be fool enough to try.” He laughed, sucking down his own Coke.

“Yeah. I got six months in traction that tells about being all kinds of fool.” The George Strait CD stopped, and Alan Jackson came on. “It’s fixin’ to be time to eat, and Sadie needs her walk. You reckon you can drive after? We could bunk down in Enid. There’s a KOA there.”

“Sure. Sounds good, and I was just about to need some roadside relief myself.” Maybe his luck really was changing. Just maybe.

They headed down the road, then stopped at a little rest stop. Dean pulled a loaf of bread and some bologna and cheese out for a quick sandwich before they headed straight on through Tulsa, the Dodge purring down the highway.

He was damned lucky he stumbled on the man, and he figured Dean looked like the salt-of-the-earth type. Because bass fishing with a fine man like that was a heck of a lot better than grease and wood chips. Yeah. Definitely looking up.


Much love, y’all.

BA Tortuga


Official blurb:

Being a hard-core rodeo cowboy means getting by with little money and less of a future. But for two hardscrabble rodeo riders, that might change….

Dean’s been around the rodeo circuit long enough to know when a new kid is down on his luck. Giving young Will a ride to the next event is just the neighborly thing to do, passing on some of the kindness strangers have shown him over the years. Who’d expect Will to be such good company? So good in fact, that Dean figures he might just keep Will around—especially since Will feels the same.

Traveling from rodeo to rodeo, enjoying all the fringe benefits they can, is a dream come true for Dean and Will. Troubles with Dean’s family and Will’s stubborn pride separate them for a while, but they always come back together when the chips are down. These two cowboys are a match made in heaven—now they just need to convince everyone else to let them live the life they love and find their future together.


Latigo first published by Torquere Press, July, 2005.

Bits of Leather first published by Torquere Press, July 2007.

Dreamspinner Press:

About the Author

Texan to the bone and an unrepentant Daddy’s Girl, BA Tortuga spends her days with her basset hounds and her beloved wife, texting her sisters, and eating Mexican food. When she’s not doing that, she’s writing. She spends her days off watching rodeo, knitting and surfing Pinterest in the name of research. BA’s personal saviors include her wife, Julia Talbot, her best friend, Sean Michael, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Really good coffee.

Having written everything from fist-fighting rednecks to hard-core cowboys to werewolves, BA does her damnedest to tell the stories of her heart, which was raised in Northeast Texas, but has heard the call of the  high desert and lives in the Sandias. With books ranging from hard-hitting GLBT romance, to fiery menages, to the most traditional of love stories, BA refuses to be pigeon-holed by anyone but the voices in her head.

You can find BA at:

Fall In Love with Jared’s Family by V.S. Morgan (Blogger Tour and Giveaway)


Title: Jared’s Family

Series: Sequel to The Gift and Sam’s Temptation (can be read as a standalone)
Author: V.S. Morgan 
Genre: m/m, Interracial, Contemporary, Western 
Cover Designer: Tibbs Design
Available Now

“I would definitely read more from this author and recommend it to anyone who likes M/M with kids. Super sweet, lovable D will win your heart as much as the lead men will.” – HappilyEverChapter

“Jared’s Family is a really cute sweet book. I loved the characters, even the supporting characters brought light to the book.” – Goodreads Review

“I liked this book, like really liked it. It is a sweet sweet m/m romance novel with a wonderful HEA.
Thank you V.S. Morgan!! 5 Stars because: ” Love conquers all.” – Goodreads Review

After witnessing his mother’s death, a once outgoing preschooler is now a quiet shadow of himself. The little boy suffers nightmares and rarely speaks, choosing to use the basic sign language he learned in daycare. Desperate to help his little nephew, Virge Stevens takes a leave of absence from the LAPD to bring Donovan, known as D to Montana for the therapy he needs.

A chance meeting at the library changes Virge and his nephew’s lives forever.

Jared Malone is one of five brothers, right smack damn in the middle. He is the peacemaker and the one who gets shit done. When his younger brother gets sick, Jared fills in reading to small children at the library. There he encounters a tall, dark, and handsome stranger and his cute little boy. Jared is immediately drawn to Virge but is still dealing with the betrayal of an abusive ex.

As the Malone family welcomes them to the ranch and into their lives, Virge’s instant attraction for Jared grows, but the cowboy is fifteen years younger than him. Will he be rejected?

Both men have secrets. Secrets that could destroy the connection between them. Can they overcome the odds and find happiness together?

Another blond cowboy stood in the middle, working with a horse. He had a long rope around its neck, guiding it around the ring at a quick clip. The shirtless cowboy spoke in a firm yet quiet tone. Virge nearly choked on his tongue, eyeing the golden skin and muscles on display. This was their cowboy.

The man whistled, and the horse stopped. He rubbed its shoulder, his back to them, as they reached the ring’s split-rail fence.


“Daddy!” D shrieked, and the horse whinnied and shied, bumping into the man as it swung around.


“Whoa, easy, Spike,” the cowboy soothed.


Virge struggled to prevent his nephew from launching out of his arms while the cowboy calmed the large, skittish animal. He’d never been near a horse and was struck by its size and power, which the other man skillfully controlled. As the cowboy turned, Virge saw a tattoo on his chest. A redwing blackbird with a rainbow-hued ribbon dangling from its beak. His heart beat a little faster seeing the colorful ink. Could he be gay? The cowboy handed the rope to a dark-haired man before pulling on a T-shirt that stretched tight over those muscles. He suppressed a disappointed sigh.


Nate chuckled. “You’ve got some explaining to do, bro.”


“Hi, I’m Jared. I remember you from the library.” He approached with a rolling gait Virge found extremely sexy and offered his hand after wiping it against his denim-clad thigh. Damn, he was built all over and tall, just an inch or two shorter than his own height.


Virge shook his hand, hyperaware of the firm grasp of warm, work-hardened skin. “I’m Virge, and this is Donovan. He goes by D.”

“Glad you could make it out—”


“Why did he call Jared daddy?” Nate interrupted.


“He calls all men daddy and women mommy. If he especially likes someone, he adds their first names. D doesn’t talk much, so he must like Jared.” What about this cowboy had inspired his nephew to talk?



V.S. Morgan has lived all over the US but calls Minnesota her home now. Her family includes her hubby, teen son, and a menagerie of pets.
She’s been writing stories since she could hold a pencil and dreams of happily-ever-afters – even for two hot men – because love knows no boundaries. V.S. writes IRMC contemporary, paranormal, and suspense m/m and m/f with heart. 
V.S. is a GLBT ally and a lifetime contributor of The Trevor Project.



A MelanieM Review: A Place to Call Their Own by Dean Pace-Frech


Rating:  4 stars out of 5

A Place To Call Their OwnFrank Greerson and Gregory Young have been discharged from the Army and are headed to their childhood homes. They both defied their parents in 1861 when they joined the Army. After battling southern rebels and preserving the Union of the United States of America, the two men set out to battle the Kansas Prairie and build a life together. Once they find their claim, they encounter common obstacles to life on the Kansas Prairie in 1866: Native Americans, tornadoes, wild animals, and weather.

When a prairie fire destroys their crops and takes their neighbor’s lives, Frank and Gregory are instructed to find their young son’s aunt. Faced with leaving a destroyed claim, the railroad coming through their land, and dwindling funds, Frank and Gregory must decide whether to leave the place they have worked hard to make their own or fulfill their friends’ dying wishes.

When I first started into A Place to Call Their Own the pacing and style of the story was at once both so different from all the other stories I’ve read  (or am reading) and yet so  oddly familiar as well.  It was in the matter of fact tone of the narration, the “plain speaking” manner of its characters, and the precisely lived hours of their days that Dean Pace-Frech lays out for us that niggled at my brain, telling me I recognized, not the story or characters, no…but the old style, slower approach of storytelling and the affection for the past in the author’s heart.

Then it hit me…the author already laid it out for us…right at the beginning…something I had glossed over too quickly.

“Six miles beyond them, two bachelors were living in one house. They had taken two farms, and built the house on the line between them…they cooked and ate together in the middle of the house.” —Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie

Dean Pace-Frech may have used that quote from my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder as inspiration but maybe he loved the matter of fact every day descriptions too.  For some of A Place to Call Their Own conjures up visions of the Little House on the Prairie sage, M/M style, in a wonderful way, making history alive again through the lives of two men who love one another.

As we enter the story, Frank Greerson and Gregory Young are already a couple, albeit a hidden one, and have decided on a course of action, taking their savings and  heading out to the 1861 Kansas territory and making a land grab for the free land where they figure they can be themselves,  a “safe” couple.

Their back story will come along later.  Its their journey, their relatives, their wagons, cows, building the cabin, interaction with the local Osage Indians, that will have a lovely (and well researched ) feel. The author includes the expansion of the railroad and the Homestead act and the villainy associated with claim jumping. Such a life always included its perils, and angst.  And both young men still have much growing up to do, even having served in the Civil War and survived.

This story is low on sex and high on love and survival, in a place where they find that having used their energy to make an extra bed in their first prairie house just might ensure that their reputations stay intact enough for their neighbors to lend them a hand when necessary.

I sank into this story much that same as I did the Little House in the Prairie books and when I came to the end, I was saddened to see that there was not another waiting for me so I could know how the journey continues for Frank and Gregory and others.  That was really my only issue here, that the story  ends too abruptly.

I hope that Dean Pace-Frech  will consider taking it further, letting us know what the next leg in their journey was and how it turned out.  A new M/M Western Historical Saga is just the thing I’ve been looking for.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Consider  A Place to Call Their Own by Dean Pace-Frech a story I absolutely recommend if you love historical stories and a look into the past.  Or even are, as I am, totally fond of Little House on the Prairie.  Pick this up, and prepare to fall in love all  over again.


Cover art by Written Ink Designs.  I like the cover but its too generic and I could swear I’ve seen it used before.

Sales Links:  JMS Books LLC  |  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 156 pages
Published May 31st 2015 by JMS Books LLC (first published July 1st 2012)
Edition LanguageEnglish

A MelanieM Review: Trial by Fire by BA Tortuga


Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Trial By FireOne Aussie. One Texan. One baby. One hell of a fight.

When his sister and her husband are killed in an accident, Aussie cattle station owner Lachlan McCoughney rushes to Texas to rescue their infant daughter, Chloe. He expects to find his niece living in squalor with the Sheffields, a rodeo family.

Instead, Lachlan finds Holden Sheffield, a salt-of-the-earth cowboy running a huge business operation. They want to explore their mutual attraction despite the many problems thrown their way, and together, they must find a way to give Chloe a new family and find a love that spans thousands of acres and two continents.

Once again, BA Tortuga has nailed it with this emotional, funny, heartbreaking romance featuring an itty bitty Texas cowboy and a Aussie cattle station owner. No one, I repeat, no one, does that tiny powerful cowboy like Tortuga.  They exist in rodeos across the nation and in ranches throughout the United States.  Tough as rawhide, tiny as they come and packing a punch that will level you.

And this author gets them at a cellular level.

That’s Holden Sheffield, whose just lost his beloved twin brother, Landon, and wife, Addie, who Holden adored, in a plane crash, leaving him the sole guardian, of their daughter.  Holden, and his entire family are devastated, in pain and in shock, when the Aussie appears demanding to see his niece and more.  You can imagine how that would play out.  But to the author’s credit, she doesn’t go to the places we would expect but takes those scenes to unexpected avenues of calmness and evenhandedness first.  I loved that.  Holden was a perfect explosion of unanticipated character traits…yet the whole of him made perfect sense.  Loved that man!

Lachlan McCoughney is more of a well defined brand, but that works here too.  In fact that may be needed for the drama within the story.  His is the yin to Holden’s yang, the two types of men, the two types of stations/ranch operations and yet on the outside so dissimilar,on the inside, so very much alike where it counts.  If only Lachlan will be brave enough to see and act on it.  I loved and understood Lachlan too because the basis for his actions is also love of family and land.  Something that BA Tortuga also understands deeply and is able to easily  translate into her stories.

Backing up the main characters for their fight for the child are the parents and ranch hands, all of whom are beautifully defined and realistic in their own right.  This book could extend into multiple stories in a heartbeat with all the characters involved.

Grab this story right up and hold on tight.  You will read through it quickly and then want to go through it again to see what you missed.  Its sexy, heartwarming, and one for the comfort chair.  I highly recommend it.

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  So cute, ok baby, adorable.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | ARe | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 228 pages
Expected publication: March 15th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
Edition Language English



Review of On the Trail To Moonlight Gulch by Shelter Somerset


Rating: 3.75 stars

It’s 1886 and Chicago, Illinois is booming.  Everywhere there is construction as new steel structure buildings rise up and more people flood into town for jobs.  Torsten Pilkvist, known as Tory, works for his Swedish immigrant parents in their bakery and boarding home.  Tory and a new boarder, Joseph fall secretly in love only to see it end with a tragic accident.  As Tory works through his grief, he happens upon Matrimonial News, a periodical where men and women advertised for arranged marriages.  One letter in particular calls out to him, that of Civil War Veteran Franklin Ausmus who lives in the Black Hills in Dakota Territory.  Tory decides to write  Franklin back, hiding the fact that he is male and the two men begin a correspondence that quickly becomes important to the both.  When Tory parents discover the letters, the ensuing argument sees Tory fleeing Chicago and heading out to meet the man behind the missives.

Franklin Ausmus left the Civil War behind when he journeyed out West.  Traveling until he happened upon the perfect place to build a ranch and settle down, a homestead called Moonlight Gulch.  And for ten years, he worked the land with only Wicasha, a Lakota Sioux as friend and company. Driven by loneliness, Franklin writes a letter to the Matrimonial News with low expectations.  He is surprised when the letter from a girl called Torsten P calls to him and he writes back immediately. Soon letters are flowing as quickly as the mail of the times will allow and a tenuous relationship is established between the frontiersman and the young Swedish “girl”  in Chicago.  But the letters abruptly stop leaving Franklin brokenhearted and unaware that the real Torsten P. is about to arrive on his doorstep.  What will happen when Franklin discovers the young greenhorn he hired and become fast friends with is in fact the Torsten P. he wrote all those letters to.  And it’s not just Franklin’s anger and Tory’s subterfuge that must be overcome, someone is trying to steal Franklin’s lands.With so much at stake, will both men survive long enough to get their chance at love?

This book contains many wonderful elements, the main one being the author’s ability to capture the hustle and bustle of Chicago 1886 so authentically that I could feel the awe of the citizenry as Chicago rises from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871 to become one of the largest  cities in the nation.  Somerset’s descriptions of the new metropolis include buildings soon to be known as skyscrapers rising up as thousands of immigrants flood into the city looking for jobs and opportunities.  There are crowded sidewalks, boarding rooms appearing overnight to fill the need  for lodging, dueling cathedral construction and always more people pushing the population to over 1 million, exceeding that of Brooklyn and Philadelphia.  What amazing times to have lived in.  The author captures it perfectly, the research so well done that it meshes nicely with the story without becoming a information dump.  Shelter Somerset has an equally lovely touch with the portrait of Torsten’s parents, the stolidly Swedish Pilkvists and their boarding room guests.  Arriving in America with their hard work ethic and determination to exceed, their son’s flighty nature and “head in the clouds” attitude is neither accepted nor understood.  It is absolutely realistic that such parents would do anything,including burning letters, to  ensure that their son continues on the path they have chosen for him.  The author’s characterizations just add to the flavor and tone of the Chicago setting.  In fact, it is one of my favorite things about this novel.

And while I missed Chicago as the story migrated west, Somerset’s descriptive gifts kept up with the journey as Tory travels by various methods to the Black Hills.  Especially memorable are the stage coach portions of the trip with the carcasses of horses, stagecoach remnants and harnesses lining the trail they travel on, a testament to the treacherous nature of the  passage west.  There are nice touches of Tory’s interludes with “renters” or prostitutes and with other men who prefer “the company of men”.  In many ways, I wish the relationship aspect of the story to have been reduced in importance and the journey itself elevated as the main storyline.

It is with the majority of the main characters that the problems with the story arise for me.  Franklin Ausmus is a wonderful creation.  A wounded veteran, disabled by the Civil War, he has fought hard for his land and to get Moonlight Gulch to the stage where he is happy with his home, barns, gardens and animals.  He is self sufficient and  has a friend in Wicasha, a Lakota Sioux who lives on his land.  The book is at its strongest when it is Franklin’s voice we are listening to.  His love for the land and his travails as a soldier in the Civil War make him easily the best realized character in the book.

Less successful is Tory Pilkvist, a young Swede small in stature and incredibly impulsive by nature.  I found it hard to believe that he had not been robbed or shot at by the time he got to Spiketrout, the town nearest Franklin’s homestead.  At times, I wanted to shoot him myself his naivete was that irritating.  And then the author goes and shoots  their own character in the foot  by having Tory simper.  You heard that right.  Simper. As in “an affectedly coquettish, coy, or ingratiating smile or gesture”, that simper.  I haven’t heard that phrase outside of Cinderella’s stepsisters so it stopped me completely here to see it  in a main character.  We are supposed to find that romantic I think but the context in which that would be attractive totally escapes me.  And it happens more than once.  Sigh. That Tory simpers and it is in keeping with his character tells one all you need to know. Tory never reached the realistic heights achieved by Franklin and the Pilkvists.  Neither does Wicasha, the Lakota who seems to have gone to bed with quite a few men in the Territory.  His character often felt more a means to introduce the research about the third gender  in some Indian tribes than a necessity to round out the storyline and move the narrative forward. And then there is Henri Thibault Bilodeaux, the Snidely Whiplash of the novel.  He pops up every 10 minutes or so, threatens our heros and tells them he is going to steal their land.  He orchestrates every dramatic scene with all the villainous flair of a sneering Yosemite Sam.  I could never take him all that seriously which negated any angst or anxiety he was supposed to trigger with his appearances.

Finally, my last quibble has to do with the sheer length of this book.  It is way too long so by the last sentence you feel like you have slogged through the  tall grass prairies and mountain paths to get to the end, weary and needing to find the nearest saloon.  See? The long way of saying that at 42 chapters, it  felt overblown and unwieldy.  At least a third could have been trimmed and perhaps even more to arrive at a faster paced story where the slight characterizations might not have been as noticeable.

To recap, there are some great elements here, the descriptions of the locations, the great feeling the author has for the times and one terrific main character.  The author has such an authentic feel for settings that I wish we could have lingered in Chicago so vividly did the  city come to life. This was also a nice twist on the mail order matrimony storyline. I just wish it had come in a smaller bundle, complete with better companions and love interest .

Cover art by Anne Cain.  What an outstanding cover.  Perfectly captures the times and place of the story.  Absolutely a favorite cover of the month for me.