Wednesday, March 04, 2009
TOUCHED BY LOVE by Tracy Garrett
Have you been touched by love? Since you’re romance readers, I assume the answer is yes, whether through the books you read or in your personal life. I’m one of those luckiest of women, the kind I write about–I met the love of my life, my soul mate, and married him nearly 28 years ago.
I guess that’s why I love romance so much. While I readily admit I’ve always been a hopeless romantic, there’s something about having HIM in my life that fuels my need to share happily-ever-after through my stories.
Touched by Love, my latest western from Kensington/Zebra, is the story of a man who desperately needs that kind of love—though he doesn’t think he deserves it. Jaret Walker is a gun-for-hire, a loner, a man with nothing to live for besides seeing another sunrise. But he’s a good man, with a big heart and a streak of honor as wide as Texas. If any character deserves a HEA, Jaret does.
I enjoy writing the kind of hero that needs to be loved, even as he denies needing anything. It’s a joy to be able to walk in his boots all the way to the woman who wedges her way into his life and into his heart.
Leave a question for Tracy about her prologue posted below along with your email addy (no addy, no entry) and have a chance to win an autographed copy of both Touched by Love and Touch of Texas, Tracy's debut release.
Touched by Love by Tracy Garrett
“Garrett loves the West... Her novel reflects her passion.”
-- Romantic Times BookReviews
Excerpt from TOUCHED BY LOVE
Sierra Madre Mountains, Mexico - February, 1847
Jaret Walker crested the last hill and hauled back on the reins. His exhausted horse stood still beneath him, sides heaving as it tried to breathe in the thin mountain air. Eighteen days on the trail dodging bandits and the Mexican Army had worn the mare pretty thin. Jaret wasn’t in much better shape. He shoved cold hands into his coat pockets and ducked his chin beneath his collar, out of the icy wind. Below him, on the dry plain, spread Perote Prison, a place of death and ghosts.
The once white stone of the Spanish Castle was gray and pitted by the centuries of sand the wind flung at its walls. In the early morning light, the place looked deserted, but Jaret knew better. Within those walls, hopeless men clung to life, if you could call it that. Many of the unfortunate prisoners had been captured in the various raids and skirmishes in the contested lands of Texas. And few would ever know freedom again.
For the thousandth time since he left Texas behind, he questioned his sanity. What he was about to do could land him in that hell-hole for good. But he had no choice. He’d been lied to, duped, and an innocent man was down there, paying the price.
Tugging his hat lower on his brow, Jaret lifted the reins and covered the last mile to the gate of the prison. A deep moat, filled with rocks and bones, guarded the high wall. A single bridge spanned the grisly pond. At its end, two stone soldiers kept permanent watch, the macabre statues portraying the remains of the men after they were hacked to death for falling asleep on duty. He reassured his mare when she sidestepped, picking up on his uneasiness. “It’s okay, girl. I’m just praying I don’t end up displayed next to them.”
He guided his horse across the bridge and up to the imposing gate. Two soldiers came through the small door in the entry, weapons pointing at Jaret. He eased back in the saddle to stop the horse and held his hands out to the sides where they could be seen.
“Me llamo Jaret Walker,” he identified himself in halting Spanish. “Tengo una carta para el General.” He pulled a sealed envelope from his jacket, keeping his movements slow and easy. On the front of the letter was the name of the general in command of the prison. “It’s important. Importante,” he added, hoping to move them along a little faster. He wanted to put this place well behind him before the sun went down.
Jaret handed the letter over to one of the soldiers. Then both disappeared back inside the prison gate. He waited.
Ten minutes passed. Twenty. A trickle of sweat worked its way down Jaret’s neck, in spite of the cold wind that never seemed to stop. If the General figured out the letter was a forgery, he was as good as dead. Finally the door reopened.
“Inside,” the soldier ordered, leveling his rifle at Jaret’s middle. A torrent of Spanish was flung at him as one side of the massive gate opened with a scream of rusty hinges.
Jaret’s command of the language might be limited, but he understood enough to know the General was waiting. The question was did the soldier mean he’d been granted an interview, or would he be trapped inside for good? Jaret dismounted, stomped some feeling back into his feet and led his horse through the opening. He couldn’t stop the shiver that skated down his spine when the gate boomed shut behind him.
He breathed a little easier when the General met him in the promenade. Their business went quickly, and with the exchange of gold, a prisoner was delivered into Jaret’s keeping.
Nick Bennett looked a lot thinner than when Jaret left him here three months ago. This place could do that to a man. Suck him down to dry bones in no time. Jaret had no intention of the giving the General time to change his mind. Ignoring Bennett’s glare, Jaret led him out the gate to freedom. “Don’t say a word,” he hissed under his breath. “Just follow me.”
They mounted and rode double as soon as they cleared the bridge. The mare seemed to want to get away from the prison, too, and kept to a steady trot over the first hill and out of sight. Jaret guided her back to where he’d concealed another horse before he slowed the pace.
“Why?” The single word held all of Nick Bennett’s hatred and fury and confusion.
“You didn’t belong in there.”
Bennett accepted Jaret’s help off the horse, balancing against the saddle until his knees would hold him. “I told you that before you ever brought me here.”
“True, but I expected you to say that. I’d been told different.” Jaret drew a knife from his boot and sliced through the ropes binding Nick’s wrists.
“What changed your mind?”
“I found out someone wants you dead and I was the way they chose to do it. I don’t hire out for murder.” He handed Nick a dark hat to cover his blond hair and dug out the extra coat he’d brought along. It was too large, especially with the weight Bennett had lost, but the dark wool would keep him warm.
The two men mounted up and took to the trail in silence. Jaret wanted as many miles as possible between them and the General. They pushed on into the evening, until darkness forced them to make camp. They ate jerky and hard tack, and washed it down with icy water from the stream they’d crossed an hour before. Jaret refused to light a fire, even when Nick started to shiver.
“It’s damn cold.”
“I know. The bandits in this stretch of hell love to work at night.” Jaret held out a revolver. “Here. I’m going to scout the area, make sure we’re alone. I’ll warn you before I come back in.”
Nick checked the load and tested the weight of the gun. “How do you know I won’t shoot you?”
“I don’t.” Jaret slipped into the night, making three circuits of the camp, varying his route and speed each time. Nothing moved but him and the moon overhead. By the time he got back, Bennett was sound asleep.
The days ran together, each one longer than the last. While Bennett slept and regained a little of his strength, Jaret was wearing thin. He hadn’t slept more than a few minutes at a time, trying to remain alert for the thieves that plagued travelers on this route. It took nearly four weeks, but finally they were so close to the Rio Grande they could smell it.
The morning sun helped raise their spirits. “Will we make the river today?” Bennett groomed his horse and spread the saddle blanket over its gleaming hide.
“Easily. It’s just out of sight, an hour at the most.” Jaret lifted Nick’s saddle to save him the effort.
“I never thanked you for bringing Micah with you.” Nick patted his horse’s neck and tickled its ear, distracting it before tightening the cinch around the reluctant animal. “Stand still, you stubborn mule,” he scolded when the horse sidestepped to avoid the bit.
“You needed a mount. Couldn’t see the sense in leaving him behind and having him disappear before we got back.”
Bennett nodded. “I appreciate it. This horse is a particular favorite of mine. I’d have hated to lose him.”
They fell silent, working side by side in a pattern they’d developed over the long weeks on the trail. Much to their mutual surprise, the two had also developed a friendship of sorts. It probably wouldn’t be a lasting one, but Jaret never expected it to be. No one in his life ever cared enough to stick around.
The closer they got to the river, the faster they rode. “Come on, Walker, pick it up.” Nick laughed as he urged his horse to a gallop. “Last one to get wet buys the whiskey.”
They thundered over the slight rise in the land and straight into a trap. Gunfire erupted from both sides, separating them. Bennett dove from his horse and rolled under some scrub bushes. Jaret managed to find a pile of rocks that offered a little better protection.
From his vantage, he picked off two of the bandits. Bennett took out a third when he presented his back while changing positions to get a better angle to shoot Jaret.
Everything fell silent. “Bennett?”
“Still in one piece. You?”
“Yeah.” Jaret shifted, trying to draw any remaining fire. When nothing moved, he worked his way to where Nick lay sprawled in the dirt, careful to stay out of sight.
“Is it over?
Jaret studied the land, checking out every shadow. “I’m not sure. Stay put.”
He balanced on the balls of his feet, ready to make a run for another spot of cover.
Nick dove at Jaret, hitting him in the back. Jaret felt the bullet slam into Nick as they fell. Jaret rolled away and came up firing. The bandit was dead before he hit the ground. In the silence, Jaret heard the sound of a single horse, galloping away toward Texas. At least one man had escaped to carry the tale.
“Bennett?” Blood was everywhere, running from the gaping wound in Nick’s shoulder.
“How bad?” Bennett was conscious, but just barely.
Jaret did what he could to stop the flow of blood. “Pretty bad. You need doctoring that I can’t do. Let me make sure we’re done here, then I’ll get you across the river.”
“Don’t take too long.” Bennett took a shallow breath and closed his eyes.
Cursing at the delay, Jaret searched out every bandit to be certain they were dead. He removed guns, ammunition, anything that might be used to shoot them in the backs. As he rolled over the last attacker, a chill ran down his spine. He recognized the man. He’d been in the room when Jaret was hired to kidnap Bennett and deliver him to that hell-on-earth. Jaret glanced around, studying the setup.
This trap had been laid for him, to eliminate the only witness to Bennett’s disappearance. Jaret blistered the air with curses. He’d been set up and Bennett paid the price.