New Release and a FREE Book!

Culpepper4The fourth book in the Culpepper Saga – Culpepper’s Rebellion – is here!!!! You can pick it up at Amazon by clicking HERE. If you haven’t yet read any of the Culpepper Saga, you can pick up the first book – I, John Culpepper – for FREE through November 4th by clicking HERE. The four books are the continuing story of the life of John Culpepper, the patriarch of the modern-day American Culpeppers, from his birth in 1606 in England to the end of his life in 1680 in Colonial Virginia. Check out the book blurbs below.

Culpepper_1I, John Culpepper

John Culpepper was born into a privileged childhood, surrounded by abundant wealth, vast land holdings, and stately English manors. As he grew, he was expected to follow family tradition—attend law school and serve in Parliament, following which he would retire to a quiet life as a country gentleman.

John, however, had different desires. He longed to captain a mighty ship, to hear the snap of the sails, to taste the salty spray on his lips. To follow his dreams, John would have to risk being disinherited by his unyielding father. He would have to defy family convention. He would ultimately be forced to choose between the woman he loved and his mistress—the sea.

The Merchant ebookJohn Culpepper the Merchant

For hundreds of years, the Culpepper family backed the monarchy, but when King Charles disbanded Parliament, married a Catholic princess, and appointed an archbishop who was a Catholic supporter, the royalist Culpeppers found themselves at odds with their friends and neighbors.

Years earlier, against his family’s wishes, John had purchased a merchant ship, sailed to Virginia, and spent most of his time there. While on American soil, he received word of the uprisings that followed the king’s actions.

When civil war began, John feared for the safety of his family in England. He was horrified when the king was captured, convicted of high treason, and beheaded. Would John’s family be next? The only way to rescue them would be with his ship, under the cloak of darkness. Would he succeed, or would they all be caught and tried as traitors?

JC Esquire (1)John Culpepper, Esquire

John Culpepper was a prominent figure in colonial Virginia, a merchant in Jamestown for two decades and a resident since the disastrous civil war that shook England to its core. The Culpepper family, decimated by the war, had known great defeat, but none as heartbreaking as the tragic event that abruptly left John in the position of family patriarch.

He struggled with this newly acquired role, marrying off his nieces to eligible colonialists, sending some of the boys back to England, purchasing a ship for his sons against their mother’s wishes.

Upon the collapse of the English Commonwealth, members of John’s family escorted the exiled prince back to London to be crowned as King Charles II. Would the Culpepper family finally reclaim the power and prestige it had once possessed? And how would John hold his family together on two continents?

Culpepper4Culpepper’s Rebellion

John Culpepper thought he had done right by his family when he married off his niece to his childhood friend, Sir William Berkeley, the governor of Virginia. When his cousin Nathaniel Bacon appeared and began an uprising against Berkeley, John was caught in the middle. He did everything in his power to advise his friend, protect his niece, and honor the crown.

He was unaware that during Bacon’s rebellion, his own son was planning a rebellion in Carolina. John had spent most of his life defying his father and the status quo, but when his son was arrested and charged with treason, he was forced to examine every idea he held about his life and his past. The legal training John had rebelled against in his youth would now be the only thing standing between his son’s life and death.

 

Celebrate All Hallow’s Eve with a Shiver up Your Spine!

Happy All Hallow’s Eve to all of you ghouls and goblins.

Just for fun, try the Kindle copy of

The Legend of Stuckey’s Bridge

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Old Man Stuckey is the perfect accompaniment to a frightful Halloween week. He’s a little bit Dexter with a streak of Hannibal, but somehow, he makes me laugh.

 

Pick up a copy…if you dare! Sweet dreams.

Click HERE to go to Amazon! If you don’t have a Kindle, no worries. Click HERE to download the app to your tablet, computer, or phone.

 

 

Saturday Snippet – In Exchange for Your Freedom

Leeds_Maidstone_Fairfax_Doublet_1648In celebration of the release on October 31st of the fourth book in the Culpepper Saga, “Culpepper’s Rebellion,” we’re spending the next few Saturdays re-living moments from the first three books. In the second book, “John Culpepper the Merchant,” John finds himself mostly in Virginia, while at home in England, a deadly civil war has begun. His brother Thomas has been promoted to colonel in the king’s army. In this snippet, Thomas is fighting in his own backyard against General Fairfax of the parliamentarian army. Thomas’s wife and children could probably here the cannons from their house. The photo is the leather doublet General Fairfax wore in the battle. It has been preserved and is on display at Leeds Castle.

 

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The Merchant ebookWhen the afternoon grew late, the heavens opened up and heavy rains fell on Maidstone, but that did not stop Fairfax’s advance. His troops attacked Thomas’s army from behind. Their powder had become wet in the storm so they couldn’t use their muskets, but they fought with their longbows and swords. Fairfax’s men pushed Thomas’s soldiers back street by street, inch by inch. Lightning flashed as the royalists fought near Gabriel’s Hill. Thunder pounded their ears as they were moved back further to Week Street.

By the time evening turned to night, Thomas and his men had been pushed back to St. Faith’s Churchyard. They fought among massive oaks and tombstones, often not knowing which sounds were thunder and which were cannon fire. Thomas’s men held their ground.

As midnight fell, the fighting died down and Thomas’s men found shelter inside the church. The thunderstorm had flooded the cemetery and the torrents had seeped under the door of the church, covering the floor in inches of rainwater. The soldiers lay on the pews, wondering what they would do come morning. They were tired. They were cold and wet. They didn’t know how they would escape from the church that had now become a prison since Fairfax’s army had the building surrounded. What was left of their ammunition was wet and useless.

In the wee hours of the morning, the storms subsided, and the two armies sat in silence until the night gave way to the soft light of early morning. Thomas looked out the window and saw Fairfax, dressed in black, gallop onto the scene on his white horse. Fairfax spoke to a soldier, and though Thomas couldn’t make out their words, he could tell by Fairfax’s gestures that he was instructing the man to allow the royalist soldiers to emerge from the church and then send them home.

Thomas understood the move. Fairfax only wanted to capture the town; he didn’t want to be responsible for a thousand prisoners. Thomas instructed his men to wave a white flag and surrender. He needed them to stay alive to fight another day. Staying holed up in this church with no ammunition would not win the war. They had to keep their eyes on the larger prize.

One of the men cracked open the church door and stuck a white cloth through the opening, waving it at Fairfax’s man. Slowly, the soldiers exited, arms behind their heads.

Fairfax had won Maidstone.

Since St. Faith’s Church was flooded, the prisoners, under the shadow of muskets and swords, were commanded to walk single file up the hill to All Saints Church, where Fairfax’s men would catalog their names and release them, making them promise to lay down their arms and return home.

Thomas stayed with his men but remained silent at the back of the line, his head bowed, his eyes meeting no one’s. At All Saints Church, Thomas stood in the kaleidoscope of sunny colors blazing through the stained-glass windows and gazed down at his uncle Alexander’s tomb. He was certain his men had fought a brave battle, but as he stared at the tomb, he wondered if he could have done more. His men were before him, lined up like cattle ready to go to slaughter. He felt their fate was even worse than death, for they were giving up their pride and their king.

Perhaps he was being hard on himself. Perhaps he was just tired. After all, he had not felt the comfort of a soft bed for the last forty-eight hours.

After staring at his uncle’s tomb for more than an hour and listening to his soldier’s names being taken at the front of the line, Thomas decided to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. They could take his name on this day. They could take his arms and his horse. They could disband his men, but they would never take his spirit nor his ambition to see the king back on the throne. He would live to see these men with their ink pots and quills beheaded for treason. He would fight for his king until his final breath. Today was not the end. In fact, today was a new beginning.

When he was the only soldier left in the church, he raised his head and stepped away from his uncle’s tomb. He marched to the table set up near the door and looked down at the soldier sitting behind it. He found himself gazing into the eyes of General Thomas Fairfax.

“Well, Colonel Thomas Culpepper, do you claim command of these men?”

“No, these are George Goring’s men. I am only here to serve.”

“Goring? That traitor? It seems you have chosen to serve the wrong side.”

“When all is said and done, we’ll see if that is true, but I suspect you’re mistaken.”

Fairfax sighed and scribbled Thomas’s name on the paper in front of him. He spoke without looking up at Thomas. “Colonel Culpepper, in exchange for your freedom on this day, you are to lay down your arms and return to your home. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” Thomas lied without a flinch.

“Then you are free to go,” Fairfax said.

Thomas didn’t move.

Fairfax looked up.

Thomas said, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Thomas Fairfax. It will be a great shame when we change places and you’re forced to give up your talents as a competent military leader, only to find your head on a spike next to Cromwell’s.”

Fairfax narrowed his eyes. “Is that a threat, Culpepper?”

“No, just an observation.”

A bead of sweat appeared on the general’s forehead. He looked around at his own men loitering in the church. “We are finished here.”

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The first three books in the Culpepper Saga are available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.

culpepper saga-001

 

Saturday Snippet – FREE this weekend “An Orphan’s Heart”

AOH%20cover_webThis week’s snippet is the story of a girl who was orphaned during the Civil War and her quest to find the love she lost as a child. Martha Ellen Rodgers, simply Ellen in the book, grew up in a large, loving family in Mississippi. Her parents died of typhoid within days of each other when Ellen was nine. She spent the rest of her life searching for love and a place to belong. Her travels took her to Alabama, back to Mississippi, and eventually to Texas where she found the love of her life – only to have everything ripped from her in a shattering turn of events.

Note: You’re going to need a kleenex for this one.

An Orphan’s Heart is being offered for FREE this weekend (Sept 26-28) on Kindle at Amazon.

Enjoy the video and snippet below and pick up your FREE copy today.

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Ellen is staying at her aunt’s house in Alabama and helping with the children. She met a handsome boy named Milton who has unexpectedly dropped by while no one was at home.

We make ourselves comfortable at the table, and as we sip our coffee, we chat about his family and farm, but his deep brown eyes make it hard for me to concentrate on anything he’s saying. We chat about his siblings and his hopes for the future. He even mentions that he might like to go to a big city someday, which brings up his desire to ride a train. I would tell him of my dreams of riding a train also, but I can’t seem to get a word in edgewise. Throughout the one-sided conversation, he’s very friendly and open, and I think I may like him a lot more than my first impression, especially his penetrating gaze. Nothing else in the world exists while I’m under that gaze.

Hours later, in the middle of a sentence, he suddenly stops and pulls out his pocket watch. “Oh, it’s getting late.” He rises from the table. “I need to get back to the farm, and you probably need to pick the children up from school.”

Reality hits me like a lightning bolt. I hadn’t thought about the time since we sat down. “Yes!” I jump up from the table. “What time is it?”

“It’s almost three.”

“I do have to go get the children right now. I only have a few minutes to get there. Please excuse me, Milton. It’s been nice spending the afternoon with you, but I really must hurry.” In one move, I grab my bonnet and head toward the door, hoping he’ll hurry behind me, but he seems to be taking his time. I stand with my back against the open door, ready to close it the moment he exits.

As he nears the door, I impatiently wait for him to walk through, but he stops an inch from my face. I think he may kiss me and I feel panic rise in my chest and can’t breathe. I close my eyes for a moment, but then think maybe I shouldn’t because it’ll look like I want him to kiss me, so I quickly open them. His full lips, that cocky grin, and those dimples are enough to set a girl’s head spinning. I’m late to pick up the children, but for that split second with his mouth an inch from mine, I really would like him to kiss me. But then I get this uncomfortable feeling that spending this afternoon with him has been highly inappropriate, so I sidestep away from him and move outside onto the porch.

“Thank you for coming by, Milton. It was very nice seeing you, but I really have to run.”

He steps out onto the porch, with his head cocked to one side, looking at me through squinted eyes. The afternoon sun in his face shows the slightest beginnings of lines around his eyes, and I think as he ages, he’ll become more and more handsome. He shrugs and his smile widens. His smile is filled with a knowledge and confidence that’s alluring, but it also unnerves me in a way I can’t explain. I wish I was more attractive, more assured of myself, more experienced with boys.

I slide behind him, pull the door closed, then quickly move around him again to step off the porch. He watches me with the look of a lion stalking his prey as I climb onto the wagon.

“The visit was my pleasure, Miss Ellen, my pleasure,” he says as he strolls over and places his hands on the worn wood of the wagon.

“I really do have to go now. Please come by again anytime,” I mumble. Did I really just say that? Did I just invite him over again?

“Oh, I’ll be back. You can count on that.” He winks and his eyes twinkle.

I snap the reins and coax the horse away from the house. I take off so fast, I almost rip Milton’s hands off, but I refuse to look back and check. I know he’s standing there watching me. I will not look back. I will not. No.

As I reach the bend in the road, I glance back. Sure enough, he is still standing in the yard with his arms folded across his chest, watching me and smiling. And now he knows I looked back. Oh, what a mess.

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An Orphan’s Heart is FREE on Kindle Sept 26-28 at Amazon

Lori Crane is a bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction and the occasional thriller. Her books have climbed to the Kindle Top 100 lists many times, including “Elly Hays” which debuted at #1 in Native American stories. She has also enjoyed a place among her peers in the Top 100 historical fiction authors on Amazon, climbing to #23. She resides in greater Nashville and is a professional musician by night – an indie author by day.

Saturday Snippet – Father/Son Troubles

In celebration of the fourth book in the Culpepper Saga, “Culpepper’s Rebellion,” coming out October 31st, I’ll be reviewing re-living moments from the first three books. Some are triumphant, some are heart wrenching. If you haven’t read any of the story yet, follow along for the next few Saturdays and witness occasional tense and often loving moments between John Culpepper and various members of his family. The following snippet is from the first book in the series, “I, John Culpepper,” which is the story of John’s youth and his turbulent relationship with his father. In this snippet, John’s young niece has died and the family is meeting at the church for the funeral. John’s father, Johannes, has just arrived.

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51hHerBrPbL._UY250_December 3, 1630

John stood in the doorway of the church and watched his father climb down from his carriage. Sporadic blasts of cold wind whipped at Johannes’s thinning, gray hair and ruffled the hem of his cloak. He refused help from his footman and grunted with each movement. He was pale and wrinkled, his shoulders hunched by the weight of his sixty-five years. He leaned on his cane as he hobbled toward the church, favoring one leg over the other. When he reached the door, he looked up at John with tears in his bloodshot eyes. John stepped forward to take his father’s arm and escort him inside.

As they stepped through the stone archway into the church, Johannes grumbled, “Bloody flux.”

John nodded, not knowing if the comment required a reply. “Where’s Ann?” he asked instead.

“She’s visiting at her son’s house. I didn’t have time to go fetch her. I came straight here.”

John nodded again. He led his father to the front pew and helped him be seated. John stood in front of the pew and looked around at the family in attendance. For the first time in John’s life, he felt as if he needed to be the man in control of the family. This was an unusual sensation because his father or brother always filled the role of patriarch, but John accepted it for the time being. He returned to the door, just in time to see Thomas and Katherine enter.

Katherine was holding their eight-month-old baby Anna in her arms. John walked straight toward her, softly placed his hand on the infant’s head, and looked into Katherine’s eyes. “Katherine, I am so very sorry. Mary was such a beautiful little girl.”

Katherine looked down at Anna. Her lip quivered and tears rolled down her cheeks.

“And little Anna is just as beautiful.” John kissed the sleeping baby on the forehead.

“We had hoped for a son,” said Thomas quietly, “but we were happy to have Anna as a playmate for Mary. Sometimes plans and dreams just don’t work out.” Thomas’s voice cracked.

John understood that statement well. He looked into his brother’s face and realized he had never seen his brother so sad. If he could figure out a way to take this pain from him, he would. Katherine began to sob, and the men escorted her to the front pew.

After a long and dismal hour, the sermon finally ended and the family gathered outside in the graveyard, surrounded by stone monuments and chiseled epitaphs. Blustery snowflakes wafted through the air, twirling around bare branches of dormant oaks, as the family placed young Mary Culpepper in her tomb and solemnly left the grounds. John followed Thomas and Katherine home to Greenway Court. He left Johannes to fend for himself.

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The first three books of the Culpepper Saga are available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.

culpepper saga-001

Saturday Snippets – John Culpepper the Merchant

5-star-largeJohn Culpepper the Merchant just received a 5-star review from Readers’ Favorite!! You can read it HERE.

I can’t tell you how much reviews mean to us indie authors…especially good reviews. We often learn something from the bad reviews, but mostly not. Good reviews sell books. Period. So for every book you like by ANY author, please leave a review. We all appreciate it.

 

The Merchant ebookAnyway…back to the matter at hand.

John Culpepper the Merchant is the second book in the Culpepper Saga. The first book is about John’s childhood. In this one, he’s all grown up. His family remains in England while he fulfills his childhood dream of sailing back and forth between London and Virginia. Seems peachy, yes? I’m sure it would have been if the king wouldn’t have been angering the masses. A deadly civil war breaks out in England, and John always seems to be on the wrong side of the ocean at the wrong time. By the end of the war when the royalists (yes, John’s family) have been defeated, John’s ship becomes the only lifeline to save the Culpeppers from certain beheading.

Somehow, between the war and the merchant business, John and his wife managed to raise a family. Here’s a snippet of John taking his four boys upstairs to meet their newborn brother.

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1644

Following a hearty breakfast, John climbed the stairs, followed by his rambunctious sons, all wanting to see the new baby. He cracked the door open and found Mary sitting up in bed holding the newborn, her brown hair cascading over her shoulders. Her color was much better after a good night’s sleep.

“Your sons want to see the baby,” John whispered almost apologetically.

“Of course they do. Bring them in.”

John opened the door and the group ran toward the bed. Mary grinned at them and patted the bed for Robbie to climb up. John thought his wife was a saint, or at least had the patience of one.

All the boys looked like their father, but none more so than the new baby. The boys cooed over the infant, and John reminded them repeatedly to keep their voices down. It was a wasted request.

“He looks like you!” Denny exclaimed, looking at Henry.

“What are you saying? That I look like a baby?” Henry challenged.

The baby scrunched up his face at the sound of the voices.

James laughed. “I’ve seen you make that face. He does look just like you.”

Henry punched him in the arm and James punched back.

“Stop it,” John scolded.

Mary looked down the row of children lining her bedside. “Well, I think all my boys look like their handsome father.”

“You’re handsome,” teased Denny, punching James in the arm.

“No, you’re handsome,” James punched back.

“All right, let’s go and let your mother rest.” John picked up Robbie and coaxed the rest of the herd toward the door. Denny and James began poking each other. John handed three-year-old Robbie to Henry and grabbed both misbehavers by their hair.

“Ouch,” they squealed in unison.

“I told you to be quiet and stop acting like…”

“Acting like what?” Denny said in defiance.

“Well…boys. Stop acting like boys.” John laughed at his own lack of parenting skills. Four years of law school, a momentary career as a lawyer, and a decade of commanding a boisterous crew on a merchant ship were no preparation for raising high-spirited boys. He thought about it for a moment and realized that besides his younger sister Frances, who was now a thirty-six-year-old married woman, he had always been the youngest of his generation. He’d never had any younger brothers or cousins to mind. One thing was for certain—Mary had her hands full during John’s lengthy absences, and he suddenly understood why she often pleaded with him to remain home for longer stretches of time. He was exhausted and it was only nine o’clock in the morning.

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The first three books in the Culpepper Saga are available at Amazon. The fourth book will be released October 2015.

culpepper saga-001

 

Saturday Snippet of I, John Culpepper

I began researching my ancestry as a teenager. I knew my Culpepper line came to America from England in the 1600s, and I knew they were wealthy land owners with much prestige in the English court, but I didn’t understand why they would give all that up to sail to an inhospitable land full of savage Indians, facing the possibility of shipwreck, starvation, and death. How did those aristocratic people end up as the modest family I knew in my youth in Mississippi? The journey to find these answers became a series of four books about my 10th great-grandfather, John Culpepper.

51hHerBrPbL._UY250_Follow the series as John rebels against his father, the English civil war destroys the family, John ends up as the family patriarch in the colony of Virginia, and finally, as John comes to terms with his life and his past. The first book in the series is I, JOHN CULPEPPER. The subsequent books are JOHN CULPEPPER THE MERCHANT, JOHN CULPEPPER ESQUIRE and CULPEPPER’S REBELLION.

Here’s the opening chapter of I, JOHN CULPEPPER, setting the stage with his tumultuous relationship with his dad.

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CHAPTER 1

Fall 1626

“No! For the hundredth time, no!”

John looked down at the intricate grain of the walnut desk beneath his fingertips and shifted his weight to his other foot. He sighed, feeling his dreams disintegrate before his very eyes. The snap of the white sails, the taste of the salty spray on his lips, the smell of the tar that sealed the decks—the visions were quickly vanishing behind the thick fog of his father’s adamant disapproval. He pictured his mighty ship sinking into the black waters of condemnation, bubbling like a cauldron as it disappeared from sight. There was nothing he could do to change his father’s mind, and he wondered whatever possessed him to come to this man for assistance. He should have known better.

His father glared at John from behind the desk. He propped his elbow on the scrolled arm of the chair as his large hand methodically stroked his pointed beard. “Is there anything else?” he snapped.

John didn’t look up. He shook his head and mumbled, “No.” He turned and padded across the thick rug toward the door, listening to the man’s heavy breathing behind him. He reached for the brass doorknob, paused, and turned back. “You know I’ve always done everything you’ve asked of me. I went to school. I studied to be a lawyer. I did it all for you. I never wanted to practice law. I’d never be happy on the bench.”

“Happy? What makes you think life has anything to do with being happy? You are a Culpepper, and as such, you have an obligation to serve your family and your king in a manner befitting your station. This childish notion of owning a ship is nothing but rubbish.”

John released the doorknob and walked back toward his father’s desk. The intimidating man dwarfed the desk, his size exaggerated by the broad shoulders of his leather jerkin, yet he sat up taller in his chair in preparation for the quarrel to continue. It was a wasted gesture, as his opponent already knew the battle was lost.

John made sure he didn’t raise his voice. “Father, you have financed merchant ships for as long as I can remember. What difference does it make if I’m the one who owns the ship?”

“Culpeppers don’t own ships. I funded those expeditions as an investment—a losing investment, I might add.” He rose from his chair and his voice grew louder, echoing off the oak panels that lined the walls. “There has never been a Culpepper placed in a position of experiencing hunger and savages and shipwrecks, and there won’t be one now, not with my blood written on the purchase. I will not fund a ship for you, John, not now, not ever.” He pointed his finger in John’s face. “And if you somehow find a way to procure a ship, mark my words—I will disinherit and disown you. No son of mine will become a common sailor. I am finished with this conversation once and for all. Have I made myself clear?”

John exhaled, beaten. His shoulders slumped as he broke his father’s glare and dropped his eyes to the floor.

“John? Have I made myself clear?”

“Completely.”

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5-star-largeThe recipient of 5-stars at Readers’ Favorite, I, JOHN CULPEPPER is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon. CLICK HERE.

“In I, John Culpepper, you will be transported back to the time John lived and you will feel like you are a part of John’s life. The experience of reading this book was out of this world. … it is a magical experience and you will not want to miss it for anything! Amazing!” ~ Rabia Tanveer for Readers’ Favorite

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Saturday Snippet of STUCKEY’S BRIDGE

Stuckey's cover_webIf you haven’t yet heard about Old Man Stuckey, he’s a little like Dexter, but with less conscience and a lot more lovable. THE LEGEND OF STUCKEY’S BRIDGE got its start when I wondered about the real man behind the ghostly legend I grew up with in Mississippi. I got so many emails and letters asking about the secondary character, Levi, who is a little psychopath in his own right, I wrote the sequel, STUCKEY’S LEGACY: THE LEGEND CONTINUES. There were similar legends around the same time and the same place, so I pulled them all together and finished up the trilogy with STUCKEY’S GOLD: THE CURSE OF LAKE JUZAN. They are best if read in order, but can stand alone on their own.

Here’s a creepy scene featuring Old Man Stuckey in his younger days…

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He stood silent and still for a long time, not knowing what to do next. It wasn’t like he had ever killed anyone before. He didn’t have this planned out. He was certain his father would beat him to a pulp when he found out. He stood with his back against the barn door, gazing down at his dead brother, and came up with a plan.

He gathered piles of hay and arranged them in mounds in the middle of the floor. He then pulled matches out of his coat pocket and set the hay ablaze. He added more hay. And more. The fire came to life and roared as he watched. Black smoke filled the air. He felt as angry as the fire looked. His brother deserved to die and to burn—in hell. This was as close as he could come to creating the real thing.

He felt the flames hot on his face, and the smoke made him cough. He covered his nose and mouth in the crook of his arm, and breathed through his sleeve as he watched the flames grow higher and larger. The fire crackled and hissed as it quickly raced up the dry wooden ladder into the storage loft above. There was nothing up there but last summer’s hay, which lit with a whooshing sound.

He looked up. The dimness of the barn had been replaced by a bright yellow glow. Within a few short minutes, the fire had spread all the way across the loft and the roof. While he watched the loft, he didn’t notice the fire had spread all around him, eating everything in sight. Even with his nose covered, he began to cough violently, and he made his way through the black smoke to the barn door.

He pulled on it. It wouldn’t budge. He pulled it again. It wouldn’t move an inch. His brother’s dead body was lying in a heap in front of the door, blocking his escape. He bent down and grabbed the arms and attempted to pull the body out of the way, but the dead weight was far too heavy for his small, slender frame. He gave up, coughing even harder, and tried to pull the door again. He was having trouble breathing and thought he should have planned this better. He was going to die in this barn with his brother.

Suddenly, he heard his mother’s voice outside. “Is anyone in there? Thomas? Wilson?” She pounded on the door.

“Ma?”

“Thomas?”

“Ma, I’m in here. I can’t get the door open,” he yelled over the roar of the flames.

“Thomas, is that you? Pull the door!” She was screaming now, hysteria building.

“I am! It won’t open!”

The fire was thunderous; it was almost as loud as a train roaring down the tracks. He never realized fire made such a deafening noise. The flames spread quickly toward the door, licking at his feet. He looked behind him, and all he could see were yellow flames and black smoke.

“Push the door, Ma!”

He pulled the door as she pushed from the outside, and it inched open just enough for him to squeeze out. She grabbed his arm, and they ran about a hundred yards before they stopped and turned to look back at the barn. Black columns of smoke billowed into the sky, and the flames were a continuous rumble.

When he took his initial breath of fresh air, he coughed even harder. He wrapped his arms around his mother’s waist, buried his head into her bony shoulder, and hugged her tightly. She asked again if Wilson was also in the barn, and tried to pull away from him to go check. He coughed more through tears and hugged her even tighter. Again and again she tried to pull away from his grasp to go search for her other son, but he wouldn’t let go until he was sure the fire had erased all traces of his deed.

When the walls collapsed and the flames finally began to die down, he released his grip on his mother and said, “Thank you, Ma. I’m fine now.” He glanced at the smoldering rubble, then back at his mother, and added, “I don’t imagine Wilson is, though.” He turned toward the house and walked away, leaving her standing in the field with tears streaming down her smoke-stained cheeks.

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5-star-largeA five-star recipient at Readers’ Favorite, THE LEGEND OF STUCKEY’S BRIDGE is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon. CLICK HERE. Pick up a copy and root for the bad guy for a change. 🙂

The Legend of Stuckey’s Bridge by Lori Crane is a page-turning winner. This is a five star winner and Lori Crane is a must-read author.” ~Trudi LoPreto for Readers’ Favorite
“Lori Crane is a Southern storyteller of the first order.” ~Writer’s Digest

Saturday Snippet of Elly Hays

elly cover_webElly Hays is based on real people and real events. She was my 5th great-grandmother, Elizabeth Hays Rodgers. I wrote about her granddaughter in Okatibbee Creek and about her great-granddaughter in An Orphan’s Heart, but I began to wonder where the strength of these women came from, so I backed up in the family tree and found Elly. She lived in the Mississippi Territory, today known as Alabama, in the early 1800s – through a most frightening time when the South was the unsettled frontier and the Creek Indians fought against the Americans for the rights to the land. Not only is this her story, but we also get to see it through the eyes of the Creek warrior, Tafv (pronounced TAH-fuh.)

Elly Hays is told in alternating chapters of Elly’s point of view and Tafv’s point of view, and from the first few chapters, you can sense their will be an epic clash between a warrior with nothing to lose and a young mother on the verge of losing everything.

Below is a snippet of the first meeting between Elly and Tafv’s brother Eto.

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She angrily plopped down on a rock and yanked dirty stockings from the basket. She dunked them in the water and began scrubbing them hard enough to put holes in them. She could feel her ears buzzing and her shortness of breath and realized she needed to calm down. She stopped scrubbing, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath through her nose, trying to slow her heart. She concentrated on releasing the tension in her shoulders and the knot in her stomach. She felt guilty for losing her temper with her husband, but frustration was taking over her life. Every day brought new problems—life-and-death problems. Her mounting anger was overriding her fear of the Indians and her love for her husband.

She opened her eyes when she heard him clear his throat behind her, and she turned to apologize for her harsh tone of voice. But when she saw the black eyes looking back at her that did not belong to James, she stopped and gasped. They belonged to an Indian, sitting tall on a brown and white painted horse. She hadn’t heard him approach. She jumped to her feet, wondering where she could run.

The Indian was bare-chested, wearing only tan animal hide pants and moccasins. His hair was short, shaved on the sides and sticking up higher on top. Most of the Indians she had seen had this same haircut. His face was covered with lines of red and black paint, and he wore a headband tied around his head with strips of animal fur hanging on either side of his face. His headband was not adorned with any feathers. This was not the same Indian she had seen before.

He stared at her for a long time and did not move. She glanced across the swift creek to the left and right, but there was nowhere to run. She would never be able to outrun a horse. Her heart beat wildly as beads of sweat broke out on her brow. She remained frozen.

“I came to warn you,” the Indian said in a monotone.

Elly was surprised by his English.

He sat motionless, waiting for her response.

She finally blurted out, “Warn me about what? That you want us to leave? We already got that warning.” She could feel her temper escalating again. All of the tension she had felt the last few months, all of the worry for her children, all of the stress of building a new life, was about to explode in this Indian’s face.

“Yes, I’m here to warn you that you need to leave, but not for the reason you are thinking.” He looked down at the reins in his hands, as if trying to gather his thoughts and find the correct words. “My brother and I were the ones who killed your animals.”

Elly threw a wet stocking on the ground. She hadn’t realized she was still holding it, and it had dripped down her blue linen skirt, causing the front of her dress to become dark in color. “You? You did that? How am I supposed to feed my children?” she raised her voice, her temper becoming stronger than her fear.

“This is the least of your worries. When your husband chased us away, my brother’s boy fell from his horse and snapped his neck.” His eyes carried a tint of sadness. “The boy is dead.”

Elly felt her heart soften for a young boy she didn’t even know. Her anger began to subside, as if it were being washed away by the babbling creek beside her. “I’m…I’m very sorry to hear that,” she stammered, wringing her wet hands together.

“You must understand, my brother is the great warrior of our village. He has vowed revenge on your husband and your family for the death of his son.”

Elly’s eyes widened as the Indian continued.

“He told our Great Chief your husband killed his son, and the Great Chief has given him permission to slaughter your family.”

Elly was shocked by the revelation and quickly shook her head. “No. My…my husband would never kill a boy. He’s never killed anyone, for any reason.”

“Our great warrior does not know this.”

“Please tell him. Tell him my husband didn’t kill his son.” She took a step forward as she begged.

The Indian shook his head and looked at her with compassion. “I cannot tell him anything. I can only warn you. You must leave now…before it’s too late.”

Elly placed her hand over her mouth as tears stung her eyes. Her body began to tremble, and she turned her face toward the creek so the Indian would not see her cry. After a moment, she composed herself, wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, and turned back toward the Indian, but he was gone. She looked left and right through the trees, but it seemed he had simply vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

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3booksElly Hays is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.

Elly Hays received Honorable Mention in the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival, it was on the short list of “50 self-published books worth reading 2013/14” at Indie Author Land, and the cover was a semi-finalist in the 2014 Authorsdb Book Cover Contest. It is the third book of the Okatibbee Creek Series, following Okatibbee Creek and An Orphan’s Heart.

Saturday Snippet of An Orphan’s Heart

AOH%20cover_webThe second book in the Okatibbee Creek Series is the tale of one of the orphans lost in the shuffle in Okatibbee Creek, Martha Ellen Rodgers Meek, simply known as Ellen. In An Orphan’s Heart, nine-year-old Ellen’s family has been decimated by the civil war and a typhoid epidemic that swept through the county. She and her siblings are now forced to live with other family members, and Ellen finds herself longing for the love of her mother. She is relocated from Mississippi to Alabama, and upon reaching maturity, she decides to go back to Mississippi. Things are certainly not the same as they were in her childhood. She eventually travels to the great plains of Texas to visit her brothers, and immediately upon her arrival, she meets the man of her dreams and plans for a bright future – but has everything torn from her in a shattering turn of events.

An Orphan’s Heart is based on a true story. The names are real. The events are real. The story is told in first person, present tense. The photo at the bottom of this page is the real Martha Ellen Rodgers Meek, taken sometime around 1880.

Below is a snippet of when Ellen met handsome Sam Meek. The electricity was evident from the first moment.

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The inside of the house is as charming as the outside. A blazing fire warms the room, and the air smells of freshly made coffee. Mollie introduces me to their daughters: Minnie, who is five, and Willie Jo, who is two. What cute little girls! Judging by their nightdresses, they were about to go to bed. They both run up and wrap their arms around my neck as I bend down to say hello.

“Aunt Ellen, how long did it take you to get here?” Minnie asks.

“A couple of days. I traveled on three different trains.”

“Did you bring us any presents?” Willie Jo asks.

I laugh. I didn’t even consider doing so, but I pull two pieces of candy from my bag and they’re happy with that.

I’m so wrapped up in the little girls, I don’t even notice him sitting quietly at the table.

“Ellen, I’d like to introduce you to my brother. This is Sam Meek.”

The man rises from the table to greet me, and I’m immediately taken aback by his rugged good looks and warm smile. Our eyes meet and lock. Suddenly I feel as if I’m drowning in a pool of green—the richest green of a mountainside, the darkest green of the deepest water. Everyone and everything else disappears.

He offers me his hand as I rise from the floor. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

“And you, sir.” I take his hand and feel electricity flow through every vein in my body. I pull my hand away, and just as quickly regret the action. I wish to feel that sensation again, but there is no way to touch him again now. I glance down and admire his tan forearm, half covered by his rolled-up sleeve. “I am very sorry about the loss of your mother,” I offer as I try to compose myself.

He doesn’t respond for a moment, and stares deeply into my eyes. “Thank you. It’s very sad for all of us.” He doesn’t pull his eyes away.

Mollie brings some coffee to the table, breaking the spell Sam Meek has created, and she motions for us to have a seat.

“Would you like something to eat?” she asks.

“No, thank you.” I shake my head, finding it hard to look away from the exquisite creature in front of me.

“Sam?”

“No, I’m fine, but thank you,” he says, not breaking our gaze. “I’ll have to get to sleep in a little bit. I’m exhausted.”

I sink into the chair but have no idea if I’m actually sitting. The thought of him leaving the room is disheartening, and I’m surprised a man I just met is having this kind of effect on me.

“So, how was your trip?” He turns toward his coffee cup as Mollie fills it.

“It was amazing. When I was younger, I traveled through a small town in Alabama that had a train station. I was so enchanted by the women in their fancy hats coming and going, I vowed to myself I would someday travel on a train to a distant place.” I smile. “And here I am.”

“Sounds nice.” He takes a sip of his coffee, watching me over the brim of his steaming cup. His voice sounds like silk.

I watch the way he sips. I watch his strong, callused hands place the cup back down on the table. I watch his tongue lick a stray drop from his lips. I watch his tanned throat as he swallows.

“Did you sleep on the train or did you stop somewhere?”

“I spent the night in Mobile and New Orleans, but the rest of the trip was on a sleeper train that had bunks. The rocking motion of the train was actually very soothing.” I sip the strong, bitter coffee, then glance at him as I place the cup back on the table.

“Well, I’m glad you had a good journey.” He stands. “I’m sorry to interrupt our coffee and conversation, but I really need to get some sleep. I can hardly keep my eyes open. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow with the funeral and all.” He grabs his hat from the side table. “Relatives have been coming into town all day.” He nods to me. “It was a pleasure to meet you, ma’am. I’d love to speak with you more about your journey, and I’ll see you again tomorrow.”

“Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Meek.” His movements are like a stallion running through a field, like an eagle catching its prey, like a…

“Please, call me Sam.” He grins, showing the slightest dimple under his dark stubble. His eyes sparkle in the firelight.

I nod and smile. I can’t stop staring at him.

He bids a good evening to Mollie and Willie, and just as instantly as he appeared, he is gone.

My heart is pounding in my ears. My palms are sweating. I can’t seem to catch my breath. I wish I could follow him. I look down at my coffee cup and shake my head. When I look up, Mollie and Willie are both staring at me, and I blush.

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James daughter Martha Ellen Rodgers MeekAn Orphan’s Heart is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.

An Orphan’s Heart was a finalist in the 2014 Eric Hoffer Awards. The cover was also named a top-ten finalist in the 2013 Authorsdb Book Cover Contest. It was also awarded a Five-Star Review at Readers’ Favorite. It is the second book in the Okatibbee Creek Series. The first book is Okatibbee Creek. The third is Elly Hays.