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Duck ChatCome on in and have a seat for another Duck Chat!

Harlequin Historical month continues today with Jillian Hart.

Jillian grew up on her family’s homestead on Washington state, near Carnation, Washington, where she raised cattle to pay for her college tuition, rode horses through the pristine foothills of the Cascade Mountain range and scribbled stories in her spare time.

After earning an English degree from Whitman College, she traveled, worked in advertising, taught Sunday school and volunteered before becoming a writer.

Jilian’s latest release is Blind-Date Bride from Steeple Hill, which is part of her McKaskin Family series, which has branched out into four separate series now.

She’s got several books coming out over the next year and she’s going to talk to you about that today. So read on, think of a question or comment or two to leave because Jillian will be giving away two copies each of her current Harlequin Historical anthology, Stetsons Spring & Wedding Rings, which also features Stacey Kayne and Judith Stacy, and her releases, Gingham Bride and The Soldier’s Holiday Vow, in November and December this year! So let’s chat!

Jillian HartDUCK CHAT: You’re going to have a busy year, Jillian! Let’s talk about your newest release, Blind-Date Bride, first. It’s a Love Inspired story and is part of your McKaslin family series and it hits the shelves this month. Can you tell our readers about the series as a whole and then a little about the book itself, please?

JILLIAN HART: First of all, thanks for having me and for all these wonderful interview questions.

My McKaslin Clan series is broken down into sub-series. Each series is a different branch of the McKaslin family, which is set in Montana and centers around not only the romance of each McKaslin heroine but their love and connection as siblings too. Series 4 launches with Bree’s story in Blind-Date Bride. Bree is recovering from the effects of being shot in a robbery the year before and is struggling with post traumatic stress. She gets stood up by a blind date in the same restaurant as the hero, Max, who is stood up too. Max is a detective and has recently moved to Montana to get his teenaged brother he’s raising into a better environment. Max and Bree share a lot in common, and I think their romance is sweet. The rest of the McKaslin family, series 4, is introduced in Bree’s book. I hope readers fall in love with Lil, Colbie and the fam just like I have.

Blind-Date Bride

Excerpt from Blind-Date Bride:

It happened again. Another blind date gone wrong. No, worse than wrong. It hadn’t even started.

Brianna McKaslin let the edge of her sleeve slip into place, hiding the watch that said her supposed-to-be perfect match was thirty-five minutes late. And counting.

Thirty-five minutes? Too late to be caught in traffic, not in this part of town. Bozeman, Montana wasn’t that big of a place, so anything over half an hour meant she’d been officially dumped.

Guess what, Bree? He’s not coming. She leaned back in the chair and stretched her feet out under the table. Time to de-stress. This was, what, the third first date in a row to leave her solo in a restaurant? What was with men, anyway? Were they that commitment shy? Or was it something about her?

She took a sip of cooling tea but the soothing heat and sweetness didn’t comfort her. Not one bit. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirrored display case. An average looking girl stared back at her. She might not possess a stunning fashion sense and or spend hours at a mirror trying to enhance her appearance with a mascara wand and a curling iron. But all in all, she wasn’t so unattractive that she’d sent three poor men running to escape her, was she? Or did men come equipped with x-ray type vision that could see past her plain straight hair and the average girl she was to the deeper flaws inside?

She let out a frustrated sigh. She had a lot of frustration pent-up at the male gender in general. Whatever committed, stable, loving men were out there, they seemed to avoid her like an IRS audit.

She wanted to be married. Settled. Secure. Loved. Was that too much to ask?

Maybe. She straightened up in the chair, brushed the too-long bangs out of her eyes and gave the dregs in her teacup a final sip. I’m not destined to be alone, right, Lord? No answer came blazing down from above. She sure hoped it wasn’t true. Alone was a painful place to be. She set the cup in its saucer with a clink and looked around at the other customers. She studied the few couples, obviously out on dates, seated on opposite sides of the tables, holding hands, leaning over their desserts and specialty coffees, chatting, their gazes locked together.

Could she help it if a sigh of longing escaped? Those couples had been able to find each other. And here she sat alone, the vision of romantic doom.

Maybe chocolate would help. A girl might not be able to count on a man, but a good piece of chocolate never let her down. She twisted in her seat to get a good look at the bakery’s display case packed with comforting sweets. It all looked so good. Maybe she would spring for a slice of triple chocolate cake with fudge frosting. It was one of her favorites, and she had decorated it this morning, since this was also her place of employment. She was working her way very slowly through college.

A blur of movement flashed in the display’s mirror. The blur became a guy lumbering up to the front door–a single dude. Could it be her mystery date? Did she dare hope? She whipped around to get a good look. There was a lanky, rather shorter guy around her age–twenty twoish–with dark shades and slicked back hair. With the black leather jacket and tight pants, he wouldn’t look out of place in a twenty-something motorcycle gang or a gang of any kind.

Definitely not her kind of guy. He was not the man she’d come to meet, right? She ought to go order that wedge of cake, but curiosity kept her watching. The gang guy planted his heavy biker’s boots and scanned the length of the bakery’s dozen bistro tables, wearing the reserved look of a man about to meet with his tax accountant.

She gulped; she couldn’t help it. What if he was looking for her? What if he was Billy, the man her half-sister swore was The One? No, no, no, no. She clutched the wide ceramic mug in panic.

His gaze locked on hers through the glass for one brief, mind-numbing moment. The nose ring dangling from his left nostril twinkled in the late evening sunlight. Not that she was interested, but she couldn’t help wondering. How does one go about kissing a man with a nose ring? Wouldn’t it get in the way? Being a woman looking for marriage, this was an important question.

His black eyes flashed wide in what had to be terror. He jerked his head away, plunged his fists in his jacket pockets and hurried away as fast as his untied boots could carry him.

Disaster avoided. Whew. And if that was Billy, then what had Colbie been thinking? Her sister had described him as a nice Christian man. That’s what Brianna wanted–and one with a good job and an excellent credit history, of course.

Mr. Nose Ring was long gone, but he had been a good reminder. The next time she agreed to a blind date, she would have to be sure and add “no body piercings” to her long list.

Her watch said forty-four minutes after six.

“I notice you’re still sitting alone.” Brandilyn, her twin, set a fresh pot of hot water with a new tea bag on the table and cleared away the empty one. “He didn’t show up?”

Brianna shook her head and reached for the sugar. “He got a good look at me through the window and kept on going. Next time I’m going to sit in the back against the wall, so the dude has to come in and reject me face to face.”

“What kind of guy in his right man would reject you? Goodness.” A great sister, that’s what Brandilyn was, and Brianna cherished her more than anything on this earth. The chime above the door jingled. “Wow. Take a look over your shoulder at the hunk just walking in. Maybe he’s Billy.”

“I see him.” No nose ring. And he looked good. Too good. He was the right kind of tall–not gargantuan but tall enough to look up to with a sigh. His wide shoulders and his granite profile were a dream. He was Mr. Perfect. He could have stepped off the front of a magazine, all rugged good looks and presence. He exuded masculine appeal from twenty feet away as he ran a well-shaped hand through his dark hair.

What would it be like to feel his broad palm against hers? For a nanosecond, she let herself dream that he had come to meet her. That she was the woman he had been waiting for, the one who would capture all of his heart.

Then she decided to get real. “There’s no way he’s Billy. My track record isn’t that good.”

“But prayer is, and I’ve been praying hard for you, Bree. There’s no reason why you can’t find a great guy and be happy ever after.”

If there were any great guys out there. If she didn’t wind up with their mother’s pattern with men. Brianna bit her tongue. Hadn’t she decided to banish those difficult thoughts? She was trying to think positively. After all, she and her sister had something their mother didn’t–faith and prayer.

Brandilyn had a point. There had to be happiness out there for them somewhere. “Isn’t that God’s promise? That He has happiness in store for us, a good future and hope?”

“You’re right,” she told her sister, knowing Brandilyn needed to hear it more than she did. “I’m sure God has something very special in mind for both of us.”

Maybe the kind of close family life that had always eluded them. It was hard when a girl had to raise herself. Bree was infinitely grateful for her twin. They had each other, and that had helped cushion some of life’s harder moments. She had to believe that God would one day lead both of them to good husbands and the family life they both hungered for.

If this dating thing would ever work out, that is. Bree rolled her eyes. Back to the man at the front. She twisted in her chair to get a better look at him. He had stalked up to the counter, waiting his turn in line. As he studied the menu high on the wall behind the counter, his head was tilted back just enough that she could see a cowlick at the crown of his head. He had thick hair that was nicely kept and brushed at the collar of his jacket. He was too gorgeous. No way was he here on a blind date.

“Why don’t I ever get set up with a guy like that?” Brandilyn lamented. “Wait, I already know the answer.”

“A man like that doesn’t need to be set up.” And a girl like her did.

“Waitress?” someone in the back called out.

“Gotta go.” Brandi gave a “too bad” look before she slipped off to check on the customer.

Yes, it was totally too bad. Brianna went back to reading her inspirational romance. Forget Mr. Perfect and concentrate on fictional happy-ever-afters. Those happened much more frequently. She wasn’t even sure if girls like her–who had grown up poor with a childhood full of chaos–ever had the chance for happy endings. All she had was blind faith. And– she smiled up as her twin walked by and left a plate on the table’s edge–chocolate cake.

Excellent. She nudged the plate closer, and a pair of hiking books, scuffed and masculine, came into her field of sight. A strange prickle skidded down her spine, like a warning of doom or a sign of good things to come–she didn’t know which.

“Excuse me. You wouldn’t happen to be Alice, would you?”

It was the handsome guy. His voice rumbled as dark as midnight and deep as an evening storm. With one look into his captivating blue eyes, the power of speech abandoned her. Fabulous. Since she wasn’t Alice, she managed a slight shake of her head.

“No? That’s too bad. All I know is that she’s supposed to be blond.” He shrugged a wide shoulder beneath the dark shirt he wore. “Sorry to bother you.”

“No problem.” Thank the heavens her power of speech returned. “I was waiting for someone too, but I think he spied me through the window and ran away in terror. I must have scared him off, the poor guy.”

“Seems like a dim bulb to me.”

What a nice guy to say that and what a nice grin he had, softening the craggy ruggedness of his features. Wow. “Trust me, it’s for the best. He had a nose ring and a gang attitude. There’s no way it would have worked out past the introduction.”

“I’ve had that happen before.” The left corner of his mouth hooked in a small grin. “That’s why I’ve given up on blind dates. No, don’t say it. This is an exception. One of my best buddies promised I wouldn’t regret this. I hope Alice wasn’t that woman with an orange Mohawk I passed by in the parking lot.”

“Maybe she was looking for the Nose Ring guy.”

“I guess there’s someone for everyone.” When he smiled wider, dimples cut into his lean cheeks.

Double wow. The din from the surrounding tables faded away into silence. For one instant, just for one little millisecond, nothing existed but the tall, righteous-looking man towering over her. He could have walked off the pages of her romance novel. If perfection were a ten, this man was a twenty.

Yep, definitely out of her league. Too bad. She had to get real. She was turning over a new leaf with her realistic but positive thoughts and finding stability in her life–or least she was trying to. That was the plan. The right man was out there somewhere. She had faith, right? A movement outside caught her attention. “There’s someone coming up to the door now. Maybe Alice?”

“She’s not blond. I know it’s none of my business, but why are you waiting for a blind date? You don’t need to be set up. Guys must flock around you.”

“Yes, of course.” She gestured to the space around her table where there where no men flocking. What a thought! She couldn’t picture it. Guys had a tendency to walk right on passed. “I’m surprised you could approach the table with all the guys crowded around me.”

“Beautiful and a sense of humor.” Although he was a tough looking guy, his dimples deepened. Triple wow. “I’m Max.”

“I’m Brianna. It’s nice to meet you. Now tell me why you are on a blind date?”

“I’ve gotten cynical and I can’t keep a girlfriend.” His smile belied his words, and a hint of sadness cut into his face. There was a story there, one she suddenly wanted to hear. Had he been unlucky in love, the way she had? Had he been hurt or deceived? Or did relationships simply never work out for him? “I had a tough break up a long while back and some of my work buddies think I should get out more.”

“Me, too. That’s the argument my sister Colbie used to get me here.”

“Have you ever noticed that the people who set you up on a blind date actually never go out on them?”

“Yes. They don’t have to go through the torture of trying to make conversation with a complete stranger, or finding out again that no, it’s just another date failure.”

“I’ve had a lot of date failures.” He straightened his shoulders a bit as he said that, and she thought maybe he was the problem, she should be glad he wasn’t Billy after all. But then she sighed a little, taking in the responsible, protective look of him.

That was what she wanted, a real man who would treat her right. Who would protect her and make her feel completely safe. After all she had been through over the past year and beyond, that thought felt as welcome as paradise.

“I don’t believe it.” She shook her head. “You are not the kind of guy to have date failures.”

“I hate to break it to you, but everyone has a bad dating tale to tell.” He curled his hand over the back of the chair and gave it a tug. “Do you mind?”

“Please, sit and tell me what could possibly have been more disastrous than being rejected on sight by three dates in a row.”

“There was the time I met my work buddy’s wife’s best friend.” He eased into the chair with a fluid motion and an athlete’s confidence. His dark shock of hair tumbled over his brow, making him look rakish. “We all went to the county fair together.”

“Sounds like fun unless you are the type of guy who doesn’t like livestock and fair burgers.”

“You say that like you think I’m not.”

“It did occur to me. You might rather go to a ball game or, wait, a car race track.”

“I don’t approve of speeding.” He gave her his best grin. He didn’t know why he was talking to this woman. Okay, maybe he did. She was adorable with big violet-blue eyes and a sweetheart’s smile. But that wasn’t why he had sat down at her table. There was something more to her, something he couldn’t place his finger on. “The problem was that every time she talked, she mentioned weddings.”

“I get it. You’re a guy who doesn’t believe in commitment, right?”

“Hey, wait a minute. You’re leaping fast to all the wrong conclusions about me.”

“Am I?” She folded a stray strand of light blond hair behind her ear. She had an elegant way of moving, and he liked the combination of casual elegance and nice, hometown girl. Not that he believed in appearances, not with his job. As a detective, he had learned the hard way that no one is what they seemed to be, but he liked thinking it was possible to find a truly sweet woman who was as nice and as guileless as her smile. Not that he believed it.

“I’m one of the good guys. Or I try to be.” That was the truth. He tried as hard as he knew how to walk that narrow straight line. Not easy in this world. “Anyway, I’m with my buddy, his wife and her best friend and I’m on my best behavior. Trying to be suave, you know, impress the lady.”

“Did it work?”

“Nope. Talking and walking was beyond me that day. I ran into a garbage can, a utility pole, miscalculated in the crowd and stepped on the back of my date’s shoe, pitching her forward into the sheep tent.”

“Was she okay? How did the sheep handle it?”

“I didn’t know something harmless and innocent could ram a gate so hard. I got her out of the way just in time, but she had sprained her ankle and cut her hand.” He shook his head. Why was he admitting this? “See, we all have bad dates. But I recovered.”

“Oh, so she forgave you and went on a second date?”

“No, no second dates yet, but I keep hoping.”

“You told me a story to make me feel better, didn’t you? That didn’t really happen. I can’t see it.” Her gaze raked over him, as if she were sizing him up and making her own judgments on his character. “I’m sure women fall at your feet.”

“Only unless I trip them accidentally.” He rolled his eyes. “To be fair, I haven’t done that before or since, but I use it as a yard stick to measure my long string of date failures against. No matter how bad things are, it’s nowhere near as bad as that date turned out.”

“Turned out? You mean there’s more to the story?” She leaned forward expectantly.

Call him a fool, but he couldn’t resist making her smile a little more. She was striking, not just beautiful, and totally wholesome. Maybe it was the soft pink sweater she wore. With her blond hair and blue eyes, she looked like a storybook princess. Not that he was looking for that or would fall for that, but a guy liked to think somewhere there was goodness in the world, that someone somewhere was good through and through.

He felt like a fool, but he went on with the tale. What was his dignity next to seeing the hint of sadness gone from her face? “The final straw was when I slipped down two bleacher steps when we stopped to watch the roping competition. She suddenly remembered an appointment and ran in terror.”

“From the looks of you, I never would have suspected you were such a scary dude.”

“Frightening.” He felt comfortable with her, right off. That was something he never felt around a woman. Then again, maybe it was because he wasn’t actually dating her.

Then it hit him. He knew what it was that had been bugging him about her. He’d seen her before. The snapshot flashed into his head. He saw the image of her face but without the smile and the warmth of laughter in her eyes. Her hair had been shorter then, hanging straight and lifeless, thoroughly wet from the rain. Brianna had been a crime victim. He’d worked on part of the case last summer.

The door opened on a gust of cool air and the bell above the door jangled, cutting through his thoughts. He felt a tingle on the back of his neck, as if someone was looking him over. In walked a tall, well-tailored woman. Her thin leather briefcase was tucked beneath her arm and her designer suit skirt swirled tastefully around her slender calves.

She crooked one penciled eyebrow in silent question.

If this lady was Alice, then Dobbs had gotten it wrong again. Best go deal with this. “I guess I had better go see if that’s my date.”

“Sure, you don’t want someone like that getting away.”

With a wink, he rose from the chair, taking his regrets with him. Only when he really knew to look for them did he see the shadows in Brianna’s eyes.

Her smile was genuine as she gave him a finger wave. “She’s pretty. She could be the one. Here’s hoping.”

Hope? He would need more than that. He was going to need Providence to see him through a piece of cake and a cup of decaf with the woman who should be right for any man, but he knew in his gut if that woman was Alice, she couldn’t be more wrong for him.

He gave Brianna a nod for goodbye and let his feet take him toward the woman waiting for him at the counter.

DC: If you could retire any question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.

JH: Where do you get your ideas? I am asked that a lot and I never have a witty or interesting answer. My brain just works that way. Ideas pop into it all the time—grocery shopping, driving, standing in line at the bank. I get a faraway look and people think there is something seriously wrong with me. Growing up, I was always a daydreamer off telling myself a story (while the potatoes boiled dry, crust dried on the dishes and the rest of the family left the restaurant without me). My mom would constantly have to say, “Jill, will you screw your head on tight and pay attention?” LOL. My poor mom . It’s a few decades later (okay, more than a few, but let’s not count, okay?) and nothing has changed.

DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?

JH: This is exactly what happens to me every day. My characters surprise me all the time. I start out a story on page one thinking I know what’s going to happen and that I’m in charge, only to have the characters and the story take over. Mostly I’m just the scribe copying it all down .

DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?

JH: I never argue with my characters. I learned long ago my place as the writer. Since the characters always turn out to be right, I follow their lead and have much less rewrites and revisions as a result. Sometimes I need to nudge them toward difficult things (it’s my theory characters, like all of us, want to avoid painful events like black moments), but I always respect my characters and listen to them. These are their stories, after all.

DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?

JH: Shopping online for books to read. My adorable cocker spaniel (who is very good at coaxing me away from my keyboard for snuggles and cookies). Sunny days.

DC: In June you have a novella, Rocky Mountain Courtship, in the Stetsons, Spring and Wedding Rings anthology. Would give us a look inside Joseph and Clara’s story?

JD: I fell so far in love with Joseph and Clara I did not want that story to end. Rocky Mountain Courtship is book two in my Brooks Brothers trilogy. In this story, the youngest Brooks brother—Joseph—is expecting his mom to find him a pretty bride just like she did for his older brother, Nate. So when a young lady steps off the stage asking for the Brooks family, he assumes she is meant to be his one true love. The trouble is that Clara has come to apply for a maid’s position. She’s down on her luck and hoping for the chance at a good job to improve her life. Clara is sweet and gentle and magical. She’s one of my favorite historical heroines.

Excerpt from Rocky Mountain Courtship:

Stetsons, Spring & Wedding Rings

Montana Territory, 1882

The January snow beat with a fury against Joseph Brooks as he reined his trusty bay to a stop in front of the train depot. Gosh, it was coming down so hard he couldn’t see past Don Quixote’s nose. The stallion picked his way to the hitching post and Joseph swung down, swiping the snow from his eyes. How was he gonna see his new bride in all of this? He would bump into her before he ever set sight on her.

Don Quixote blew out his breath, as if he were warning his master to be cautious. Joseph looped one rein around the log post and rubbed his buddy’s nose. “Don’t you worry. Sure, I’m a sight overeager, but I sure would like a girl of my own. Watching my brother so danged happy is about to do me in.”

Don Quixote stomped his front hoof, as if he had an opinion about why brother Nate was so happy these days. Joseph gave his hat a good tug. The stallion wasn’t wrong. Sure, his brother was happy; he’d married the most beautiful woman in Mountain County and he went to bed with her every night. Not to be disrespectful, but at twenty-two, Joseph sure would have liked to be able to do the same with his own gorgeous wife.

And soon he would. He plowed through the deep snow on the platform steps and felt the rumble of the train through the soles of his boots. Hadn’t his ma and pa been real busy writing and receiving letters the last few weeks? That’s exactly the way it had gone when they had found his sister-in-law Savannah. Ma and Pa had been the ones to bring her out to marry Nate. Nate hadn’t known a thing of it. He thought he was picking up a package for the folks—that was until Savannah stepped foot off the westbound train.

And guess what? His ma had sent him to town to pick up a package. As he tromped closer he could see the faint splash of the train’s red boiler through the snowfall. The westbound train. He wouldn’t be surprised at all if an unbelievably lovely woman stepped off that train and into his arms. With no marriageable females his age in these parts, a person could understand why he was so eager.

“That you, Joe?” A voice called out from one of the package cars.

Joseph squinted. He could just make out a form in the shadowed compartment. “Howdy, Roberts. It’s good to see the train is still running.”

“So far.” The baggage man swung into sight with a box under his arm. “You never know what’s up ahead of us. The summit might be snowed over and we’ll be backing down the grade to spend the night here.”

“I hope you get through.” It was a problem whenever the snow fell so hard: the trains stopped coming until the tracks could be cleared. He thought of the “package” likely to get off the train. Good thing she hadn’t been stranded somewhere. He might not know anything about her, but he knew one thing. Ma wanted pretty grandchildren, so she was likely to pick out an awful pretty gal.

No complaint there. Joseph knocked snow from his hat brim. “Good luck to you, Roberts—”

“Don’t forget this.” He gave the box he carried a toss.

Joseph caught it. A package. How about that?

“For your ma,” the baggage handler explained. “Give her my respects.”

“Sure thing.” Joseph hiked the box under his arm. How about that for a coincidence? He hardly gave it much thought because he saw a slim shadow up ahead of him. The snow veiled her, but she was a petite, delicate lady with one of those fashionable ruffled skirts. She wore a bonnet that hid most of her profile from him. He knew it was her. Joy lit him up down deep.

Now, most fellas didn’t go about letting their ma pick out a wife for them, but he had bought one of those heart-in-hand magazines not long ago and read all the advertisements from women looking for a new life. He had scratched his head, not knowing where to start. Looked like now he wouldn’t have to puzzle it out.

“Howdy, miss?” He used his most polite voice. “Are you looking for the Brooks family?”

“Why, yes I am.” She turned toward him in one slow swirl. He made out the sweet oval shape of her face, a delicate chin and a rosebud mouth before the snow gusted between them, leaving her once again veiled to his sight. If she was half as pretty as her voice, then he was one lucky man.

His heart rocketed around his chest. He fumbled for his hat brim, but his fingers felt stupid and he had to reach for it twice. He swept it off, using what manners he had. “I’m Joseph Brooks. I’ve come to take you in to town.”

“Joseph.” She said his name with a smile.

He liked how that sounded. His blood warmed just thinking of hearing his name on her voice in the dark of night. His chest filled with satisfaction. Gee, but this kept getting better and better.

“I read about you in your mother’s letters.”

“I expect you have.” That pleased him. Ma was good at writing long-winded letters, so it had to be a good sign that this woman knew so much about him and was still glad to meet him. “I’m at a loss, miss, seeing as how I don’t know your name.”

“It’s Clara. Clara Woodrow.”

The snow thinned, allowing him a better glimpse of her face. Big, wide-set eyes stared up at him, unguarded and blueberry blue. A man could lose all common sense staring into those eyes.

Air lodged midway in his chest, and he felt the earth tilt. “That’s a pretty name for a pretty lady.”

“You are a flatterer, Mr. Brooks, but I shall forgive you.” Her voice was gentle with a smile in it. “I can see I will have to have my wits about me whenever you are near.”

“Yes, but I am harmless, I swear it.” A cold arrow of snow slapped against his cheek. He shook his head, suddenly realizing he was standing in the middle of the train platform in a snowstorm. The rumbling idle of the engine, the crunch of pas-sersby in the snow and the bite of the wind had faded and remained in the far distance. All his thoughts and senses seemed held by her.

“Are those your bags?” he asked of the shadows slumped a few paces beyond. When she nodded, he squared his shoulders and did the manly thing: he took care of her. “Let me fetch those for you. I suppose you’ll be staying at the hotel here in town?”

“The hotel? Why, no. I was led to believe Mrs. Brooks had a separate living area for—” She hesitated. “For me.”

“A separate living area?” He hefted up the two rather tattered satchels, careful not to drop Ma’s package. “She must mean the maid’s quarters.”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Well, if that’s what she said, I had best get you home.” He flashed her a grin. “Come with me. I have a horse waiting. It’s too bad it’s so late or I could hire a sleigh from the livery stable. Is horseback all right?”

“Yes, I am simply grateful that you have come, Mr. Brooks. I had fixed in my mind that I would have to ask directions of some kind soul and simply walk until I found your home.”

“Walk? No, it’s much too far. We live miles out of town.”

“Then I’m doubly grateful you are here.” She bowed her head against the resistant wind and followed the wide-shouldered, strapping Mr. Brooks through the drifted snow on the wide platform, a question troubling her. “How did you know I would be here?”

“My mother knew.” He held out his hand. “Careful here, the snow is deep and it’s hard to see the steps.”

“Thank you.” What a kind man. She was not used to this brand of treatment. Her gloved fingertips brushed his broad palm, and through the leather of his driving glove and the wool of her mitten, electricity jolted up her arm and straight to her heart. The step beneath her shoe felt strangely buoyant and she was glad for his steadying hand helping her to keep her balance.

“Are you okay there?” he drawled in his pleasant, smoky baritone.

“Y-yes.” She had no explanation for what had happened. The moment passed and she was on the ground without remembering getting down the rest of the steps. All she could register was Joseph Brooks taking her by the elbow. He guided her through the hail of driving snow and into the wind shadow next to a big bay horse.

“Ma should have told me to bring one of the geldings for you.”

Now that she was close enough without the snow between them, she could see he was charmingly handsome. The broad rim of his Stetson framed his rugged face to perfection. He had a high intelligent forehead, or at least she imagined so behind the fall of his longish brown hair. His eyes were dark and full of good humor. His nose was a masculine slope, not too sharp and not too big, just right for his granite face.

He would look imposing, she decided, if not for the warm ready grin that seemed to permanently shape his mouth. A dimple sat in his chin like a cherry on a sundae, topping off what was perfection. Not that she should be thinking this way about her possible employer’s son.

At least, she hoped she had a chance for the job. Desperate was a word she didn’t like to use, but with less then ten dollars in her pocket she could not be called anything else. She had come here on chance alone, and she wasn’t the most optimistic of girls.

He hung the handles of her satchels over the saddle horn. “Do you know how to ride, Miss Clara?”

“No, sir.” There had been no need living in Chicago, where she could easily walk wherever she needed to go. Walking was probably not something she could easily do here. There had been so many tiny towns along the railroad line through the western territories, she had done her best to imagine what it might be like to live in a place like this, remote and wild, surrounded by nature instead of people and buildings. Trees were everywhere she could see, tall, white-mantled sentries guarding the street.

“Do you at least know how to keep your seat?” His eyes had slight, pleasant crinkles in the corners as if he spent a lot of his life laughing. He must be the sort who looked on the bright side of things.

She liked that in a man. “Mr. Brooks, I have to confess. I’ve never been on a horse. I don’t know how to drive, either.”

“Then I shall teach you.” He secured the satchels and package to his saddle. “You are going have to get used to riding and driving if you plan to spend any time with me.”

“Then I’ll look forward to it.” Why she said such a thing, she couldn’t rightly say, but he didn’t seem to think less…

Last Chance Bride

DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved over your career? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?

Cooper's Wife

JH: This is an excellent question! I have no idea. In a way I think my characters do stay the same. My first hero was Jacob in Last Chance Bride—alpha, embittered, stubborn. My second hero was Cooper in Cooper’s Wife—a good father, easy to laugh, a responsible sheriff. Two very different male characters, but I think representative of the kind of hero I like to write—a good man, decent but flawed, and strong enough to overcome those flaws. A man strong enough to be tender. My heroines, I think, are very similar because I like the idea that good, average girls can be the heroines of their own stories and find true love. That nice girls can finish first.

DC: Your Love Inspired historical, Gingham Bride, is due out in November. May we get a sneak peek into this book?

JH: Of course! I am so excited about this book. It is the first in a series I have wanted to write for several years about six heroines who are best friends and gather together weekly for a sewing circle. Gingham Bride is Fiona’s story, a down-on-her-luck farm girl who learns her family expects her to marry the groom they’ve chosen for her. An arranged marriage is not her style—this is 1883, not the 1700s. But little does she know Ian McPherson is her perfect match in every way and her only chance for happily-ever-after.

DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?

JH: I would love to write bigger books about women’s stories and family sagas.

DC: And to round out the year, you have another Love Inspired being released in December. That’s titled The Soldier’s Holiday Vow and looks as though it’s a spinoff from the McKaslin series. Would you tell us about the new series involving the Grangers and tell us a little about Hawk’s story?

JH: Thanks. I would love to. I’m very excited about the Grangers, who live on a cattle ranch. That’s how I grew up, so writing these stories is like returning home for me. The Grangers are down-to-earth people with strong family ties and a love of their land, and their series is a sweet one as each brother and sister in the series helps their dad find true love.

In The Soldier’s Holiday Vow, Hawk is an Army Ranger who meets up with the former fiancée of his best friend (Tim Granger, who died in service to our country) and helps the heroine, September, move past her grief to begin living and loving again. Hawk is a courageous, deeply good man, and September is compassionate and enchanting. I hope readers think so too.

DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?

JH: Enjoy the journey and don’t worry so much (I’m a worrier).

DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?

JH: I would have finished my schooling and have been a clinical psychologist with my own practice.

DC: Anything else on the horizon for Jillian Hart?

JH: Things have gotten busy for me. I’m finishing my McKaslin series four and I’ve got a fifth and final series of the clan outlined. I’m concentrating on the Granger family, two books are scheduled for 2010, and then there’s my final Brooks brother to write and my historical sewing circle series that I’ve just started (Buttons & Bobbins). All this is keeping me seriously busy for a while. My horizon is cluttered and I’m very grateful!

Lightning Round:

– dark or milk chocolate?   – Dark for a treat, milk chocolate for everyday.

– smooth or chunky peanut butter?    – Smooth. It spreads easier! Chunky, if I’m eating directly out of the jar

– heels or flats?    –  I’m klutzy so I have to settle for flats.

– coffee or tea?    – Definitely coffee by the vat, sweetened with that flavored creamer stuff.

– summer or winter?    – I’m a summer girl all the way.

– mountains or beach?    –  Beach.

– mustard or mayonnaise?     –  Mayonnaise.

– flowers or candy? Flowers.    – Preferably white and pink roses.

– pockets or purse?    – Definitely purses big enough to carry a book in!

– Pepsi or Coke?    – Pepsi.

– ebook or print?    –  I love my e-reader, but it will never replace print for me. There’s just something satisfying about cuddling up a print book in hand.

And just because…

1. What is your favorite word?    – Chocolate

2. What is your least favorite word?    – Cellulite

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?   –  Beautiful summer mornings

4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?    –  Negativity

5. What sound or noise do you love?    – Birdsong

6. What sound or noise do you hate?    – The beeping sound big trucks make when they back up.

7. What is your favorite curse word?    – Crap. I use it way too much! And I try never to swear. Yikes!

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?   –  Being an English literature professor.

9. What profession would you not like to do?    – Anything in the medical profession—I’m not so good with blood or pain!

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?    – “You were kind–good job.”

DC: Jillian, thank you so much for spending the day with us!