Today, I'm delighted to welcome back Kaki Warner as my feature guest for BEST OF THE WEST. Her latest book, Where the Horses Run, is out this month. The Library Journal calls it "compelling, radiantly written." I'm adding it to my list of "must reads" for the summer.
Where the Horses Run
Wounded in body and spirit after a shootout, Rayford Jessup leaves his career as a lawman and uses his gift with damaged horses to bring meaning to his solitary life. Hired by a Scotsman in Heartbreak Creek to purchase Thoroughbreds, he travels to England, unaware that a traumatized horse and a beautiful Englishwoman will change his life forever.
Josephine Cathcart loves two things: her illegitimate son and her injured stallion. Faced with her father’s looming bankruptcy, she must choose between a loveless marriage to the man who ruined her, or risk her horse and her future on a handsome, taciturn Texan and a high-stakes horse race.
But as vengeful forces conspire against them, will Rafe’s love and healing touch be enough to save her horse and protect her and her son?
WHERE THE HORSES RUN/Penguin/Berkley
Here's an excerpt:
“Welcome, Mr. Jessup. I apologize for the confusion. I neglected to inform Shipley that you might arrive early.” Smiling, she held out her hand.
His grip swallowed hers. Without the protection of gloves, she felt the warmth of his skin, the roughness of calluses across his palm, the crushing strength in the fingers that held hers so gently. A workingman’s hands. Well used and capable and vastly different from those of the pampered gentlemen she knew. It made her feel almost demure, which was absurd considering her height. Pulling free of his grip, she turned toward the doorway. “If you’ll come with me, I’ll show you to your room.”
He followed without speaking. Yet she could sense his presence behind her. The sound of his boot heels against the tiled floor, the rustle of fabric as his duster brushed against his trousers, the faint odor of horses and damp wool. She wondered if he was looking at her, assessing her figure from behind as they climbed the stairs. The thought unsettled her, drove her to fill the silence. “Your ride from Liverpool went well, Mr. Jessup?”
“The rain didn’t bother you?”
“What are your impressions of the Lake District?”
The absurdity of trying to carry on a conversation with a man who wouldn’t talk finally got the better of her. Stopping on the second landing, she turned so abruptly he almost ran into her. “Is it me?”
He reared back. “What?”
“Or are you this aloof with everyone?”
Confusion gave way to a frown. “I’m not aloof.”
She bit back a laugh. “No?”
“I’m just not much of a talker.”
“Yet you spoke eloquently enough on board ship.”
A reluctant tilt at one corner of his wide mouth. Not a full smile that showed teeth, or bunched his cheeks, or crinkled the corners of his dark blue eyes, but it was affecting, nonetheless, and made her feel she had won something to get even that. “That was different. We were talking about horses then.”
This time she couldn’t hold back a chuckle. They had that in common, at least. “Well, do try to be more talkative at dinner tonight,” she said, continuing up the stairs. “Vicar Bohm and his wife, Agnes, will be joining us, and if you don’t speak up, she will either regale us with the latest London gossip, or he will expound endlessly on the local forester’s attempts to curb the overpopulation of carp in the area’s fishing ponds. Personally, I would rather talk about horses.”
In between her years as a mother, teacher, commercial artist, reluctant collection agent and surly secretary, Kaki fooled around with writing. Finally, after twenty-five years of procrastination, she sent her first manuscript out into the world.
Pieces of Sky won the 2011 RITA for Best First Book, and she was off and running. Now she has eight books in print, one digital novella, an anthology and has just finished book 9, which ends the Heartbreak Creek series.
She and her husband are happily retired on a mountaintop in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state, doing whatever they feel like doing—which in her case is writing and enjoying the wildlife, gardening, and thinking up stuff for her husband to do. It’s a grand life.
Kaki loves hearing from readers. Other than on her mountain, you can find Kaki here:
All of her books are available in print or digital at major book retailers and on-line distributors, as well as the Penguin/Berkley website. Check out the latest reviews on the amazon website: http://amzn.to/1lLdUBI.
Now, on to the questions:
E.E. Who’s your favorite villain?
Kaki: If by “favorite” you mean intriguing and creepy, there are lots. In movies (and books)—Hannibal Lector of Silence of The Lambs. In TV—James Spader of Blacklist. In my own books, Gordon Hennessey of Open Country.
E.E. Which of your characters would you invite to dinner, and why?
Kaki: I love them all for a variety of reasons. But since you said dinner—which assumes that everyone would be fully dressed and the interaction would be limited to conversation—I had to eliminate most of my male characters since they’re not great conversationalists. So I guess I’d pick Lucinda Rylander, because of her intelligence, wicked sense of humor, and troubled background. She’s a very complicated character, and I’d like to get to know her better. My least favorite would be Jack Wilkins, because I know that at some point before the meal ended, he would say or do something that would make me want to reach across the table and thump his head. He’s kind of a doofus.
E.E. What’s your favorite kid joke?
Kaki: It’s a very long shaggy dog story involving a big horse and a little horse and a race. It goes on and on and eventually ends with the agony of defeat, and the totally irrelevant punch line of “I’ll be darned, a talking dog.” I loved it, but most of my listeners wanted to strike me.
E.E. What’s the best birthday (or any holiday) present you ever received?
Kaki: It’s the one coming up this September. I’m going to Scotland! And not just to see Gerard Butler. I’ll also be visiting several castles, ruins and pubs. But I won’t eat haggis. I’ll try not to even look at it.
E.E. What drew you to write in the genre(s) you do?
Kaki: I had nothing to do with it. My editor decided to market me and my first book—PIECES OF SKY—as a western romance. So that’s where I am. I focus more on the story, putting in a lot of characterization, setting, and history…and spend less time on graphic sex. This has disappointed some readers, but my characters do a lot of cussing, so that helps make up for it.
E.E. What is your hope for the future of romance publishing?
Kaki: I love seeing so many new and old romance authors making use of the Indie option. The influx of new blood can only make the genre stronger. However, if ill-prepared books continue to flood the Indie market (poor editing, poor formatting, sloppy POVs, etc.) then I feel many readers will be turned off. I wish there was some way to vet these new authors, even if that marginally raises the cost. I would gladly pay a dollar more for an unknown Indie author if I knew it had been professionally edited. I am also saddened by RWA’s recent RITA category changes. I think it was a mistake to get rid of “Strong Romantic Elements” and the Historical Category (other than Regency). Because Regency is such a huge market, it should have its own category. As it now stands, the smaller sub-genres of Medieval, American-set, and later historical periods are overwhelmed.
E.E.: How did you come up with the idea for your book?
Kaki: Horses have always played a big part in my books, and I decided I’d write a story with a traumatized horse as one of the main characters. I also wanted to change the setting. Even though WHERE THE HORSES RUN is part of the Heartbreak Creek series and includes several characters from previous books (Rayford Jessup, Ash and Maddie Wallace, Pringle—the irascible NY butler, now Ash’s valet, and Thomas Redstone, the Cheyenne Dog Soldier), I decided to send them to England and Scotland to buy horses. It was a fun change of pace. Especially seeing Ash in his new role as Earl of Kirkwell, greeting his clan at his run-down castle in Scotland, and watching how Thomas and Rafe Jessup react to the more proper English culture. It definitely created some awkward, dangerous, and humorous moments. But not to worry, the jail stay wasn’t long and no one was hanged, the stitches will come out eventually, and love triumphs over all. Plus, readers have the added bonus of learning about pin-firing a horse, whether you would ingest Cullen Skenk on purpose, and how to treat gonorrhea back in the 1870s. Fun stuff.
Final thought: In part, I dedicated WHERE THE HORSES RUN to my husband’s and my two mares—Missouri/American Foxtrotters and full-blooded sisters. They were often cranky, contentious, and hardheaded—in kindness, we said they had well-defined personalities and a strong sense of self. But they were also kind-hearted, mostly cooperative, sure-footed, beautifully gaited, and loved chasing cows with us over this beautiful country. They greatly enriched our lives (and flattened our bank account), and gave us wonderful memories. We miss them still.
Do you have horses? Are you afraid of them? Do you still nurture a childhood dream of having a horse of your own?
Share your thoughts, and you’re in the hat for one of two copies of WHERE THE HORSES RUN I’ll be giving away to two commenters. Good luck!