One day, I was thinking about nothing in particular when this popped into my mind:
A man limping along the prairie. He’s been shot and left for dead. He’s bleeding and hurt bad. And thirsty. So thirsty. It’s hot and he wants to rest, but he knows he has to push on. If he collapses again, he’s not going to get up and he’ll die here. But maybe he’s already dead and this is hell. Or maybe not...
That was my introduction to Sam, the hero from my new historical western, Love, Lies and Redemption. That was also how I introduced readers to Sam—lost and hurt and wandering along the prairie.
Here’s the book that came from that initial idea:
Love, Lies and Redemption
Shot and left for dead, Sam Hixton stumbles into a general store on the Nebraska prairie and collapses into the arms of Cassie Wilcox.
Cassie’s world is turned upside down when the handsome stranger drops into her life. Sam is another complication she doesn’t need: her business is dying and her trouble with the townspeople is escalating. Yet she’s determined to keep the store open — no matter what the cost.
As Sam recovers from his injuries, he hides the truth about his identity and convinces Cassie to let him work in the store. He’s attracted to her and admires her independent nature, but quickly realizes Cassie’s in way over her head. They fight their growing attraction, and Cassie questions whether she can trust her fragile heart to a mysterious stranger. Will he accept her once he knows about her troubled past?
Cassie resists Sam’s advances and represses her feelings until one fateful night when they give in to their fiery passion. Together, they work out a plan to save the store, but find their efforts are thwarted — and their lives endangered — by the locals.
Sam’s secret returns to haunt him and pulls him away just when Cassie needs him the most. Will he regain her trust when she learns the truth?
Cassie has everything invested in the store — can she save it and find true love with Sam before it’s too late?
* * *
Believe it or not, that first scene came to me many years ago. When I got the idea for the book, I did all the initial research and wrote a very rough draft. Then the manuscript just sat around. I’m not exactly sure why so many other book projects came ahead of it, but they did. I wrote other romances while this one was waiting in the wings, so to speak.
When I started working on the book, I found that although the basic premise still resonated with me, I wanted (and needed) to make a lot of changes. I always had the opening scene of Sam walking across the prairie in my mind. I knew where he was going (to Cassie’s store), and I had the general idea of how the story would play out and who the characters were, but I didn’t have the specifics of each scene.
As I got further into revising the book, the details became more solidified. I added new scenes, deleted others, and generally gave it a complete makeover. Now it’s a much stronger (and better) book than it was originally.
But before I started writing, I did a lot of research. First, I had to decide when and where the book would take place. I knew it would be on the prairie somewhere (Kansas? Nebraska? Iowa?) and set after the Civil War. Once I picked a time period and a place I researched everything I could about it: what was going on in the country at that time, how people traveled, what their occupations were, what they ate, how a general store was set up…
I enjoy reading about history and exploring what life was like in different time periods, so doing the research part of a historical romance is interesting—but time consuming. I’m always scribbling notes about details I could use in the book. I never use them all, but adding realistic details helps draw readers into the world of the characters, even though it might be very different from how we live now.
Although I have written a lot of historical romances, the time periods are always different. I’ve used Medieval (A Most Unusual Princess), Scottish (The Viking’s Witch) and Colonial (Dangerous Indenture) settings. When I’m writing a historical romance, I never know when (or where) the characters will take me. Love, Lies and Redemption is set on the Nebraska prairie in 1877 and blends a sensual love story with mystery and danger.
Here’s a mini excerpt:
Cassie removed the sling and uncovered Sam’s shoulder. She bent forward, resting her hand on the center of Sam’s chest. His skin was warm, and she felt his muscles ripple beneath his skin. Her heart beat faster, and she closed her eyes. She shouldn’t be in here. It wasn’t proper, and yet… It took all her willpower not to peek at his lower half again.
“How is it?”
She opened her eyes and checked the wound. “It looks fine to me.” A lock of hair came loose from her bun and brushed across Sam’s chest. He reached up with his good hand and tucked it behind her ear.
Before she could protest, he leaned in close and kissed her.
Sam’s lips moved against hers, slow and tender, as if he expected her to pull away or slap him. She didn’t. Instead, she closed her eyes and gave in.
Sam clutched her tighter, pulling her down to him. Her fingertips splayed against his bare chest, and she moaned. God, it felt good to be kissed and held by a strong man again.
A warm pulsing sensation flooded between her legs as Sam slipped his tongue into her mouth. She lost herself in his embrace and everything faded away. After what seemed like forever, Sam broke the kiss.
“Stay with me,” he whispered.
She gazed into his blue eyes. “I can’t. I should—”
“Yes, you can. I’ll treat you right. We’ll only do as much as you want. Kissing and cuddling, that’s all,” he said, then kissed her again.
That’s all? That wouldn’t be enough for her. Once they got down to serious kissing and touching, she wouldn’t want to stop. And she wouldn’t let Sam stop—even if he wanted to. It would be so easy to give in, to say yes, stay here all afternoon and… Lord almighty, what was she thinking? She knew better. After all she’d been through, she knew she should resist him, but...
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I hope you enjoyed Part One of the making of Love, Lies and Redemption. In Part Two, I’ll focus on how I created these troubled characters and share insight into why I included such a powerful sense of realism in the story.
I welcome comments and questions from readers. Be sure to follow me on social media.
Kelli A. Wilkins