“Willow Springs” is a historical romance that was born from a dream Steele had after a late night of family history research.
“When I woke up, I thought ‘That was an interesting dream.’ I started writing it out, and it just blossomed,” she told the Standard-Examiner.
This is the final free peek at “Willow Springs,” which is available in bookstores and from online retailers.
From the author: In this excerpt, Crissa is introduced to the primary romantic interest, Drake Adams. What she perceives as a major obstacle to their romance is revealed.
As they watched, a tall man with thick black hair climbed up onto the porch outside, peering into the dim dining hall. Dressed in denims and chaps and a limp white shirt that pulled slightly across his broad chest, he looked hot and tired. A slight breeze whisked at his back, ruffling his wavy hair. Vic Danello joined him, and together they entered the dining room.
Crissa studied the stranger with great interest as he strode through the room to a table on the far side. A smile turned up the corner of her lips while she tried to make her voice sound casual. “Who’s the stranger with Vic, Marida?”
Marida gave her a sidelong glance that turned into a broad grin. “Drake Adams. He’s Pony Express rider.”
“A rider?” Crissa feigned indifference.
“And the son of Warren Adams.”
“Oh,” Crissa said, crestfallen. Surely, no son of Warren Adams would pass the time of day with an immigrant. Crissa turned to look out the door again. “Well, he is a customer,” she said, cinching the ties of her apron. She smoothed her upswept hair, leaving a few blonde tendrils to curl about her shoulders. “And I am here to serve customers.” She smiled, shrugged pertly, and marched back into the dining room.
Crissa was heading across the room, carefully avoiding Garth and his friends, when Molly Henderson, the owner of the inn, lowered herself into a chair between Drake and Vic. While never a small woman, the effects of two children and years of serving Willow Springs’s heartiest meals had made themselves evident in her robust figure. Though Widow Henderson was only ten or twelve years her senior, Crissa saw Molly as a second mother. Wedged between the table and an inadequate chair, Molly trained her friendly attention on Drake.
Not wanting to interrupt, Crissa stood in front of the big mahogany bar with her back to the room and watched the reflections of the two in the large gilt mirror hanging above the bar. Obviously Drake and Molly had been friends for a long time. Straining to hear snatches of their conversation, Crissa polished the gleaming bar with swift circular strokes.
Molly’s reflection motioned Crissa to the table. She spun around, embarrassed at being caught spying on Molly and her friends. Trying not to seem too eager, too forward, Crissa crossed the room to the table.
“Drake Adams, I’d like you to meet my new girl, Crissa Engleson.”
Unnerved by his deep-set, blue eyes framed by thick, black lashes, Crissa struggled to find something intelligent to say. All thoughts fled from her mind while she studied his sun-bronzed skin, so different from the weathered faces of the men she had known in Sweden. He smiled openly, warmly—not the brazen leer she had come to expect from most American men. Realizing he was studying her as well, she felt a flush erupt on her cheeks, and she dropped her head timidly.