A new feature on the blog that I hope will become a regular feature is what I call a First Look, where I showcase an author's first page of their book or a favorite scene. First up is Rain Trueax, with her newest book Arizona Sunset, which will release on August 31st.
Tucson, Arizona Territory-- June 1883
She leaned against the wood frame door, arms crossed over her chest, watching dust devils whirling up the street. The faint breeze that had kicked up the spinning spirals did nothing to cool her skin. The sun blazed down with an intensity that seemed to suck the life from all living things. She shifted her gaze to the distant mountains, a hazy purple, their outlines jagged against the intense blue of the sky. Somewhere up there, they said it was cool. She’d have to take their word for it as her world allowed for no such escapes.
In the office behind her, the uneven clicking of Martin Matthew’s typewriter told her he was struggling with the report for her father. Loud voices carried up the street from one of the string of saloons that began at the corner of Congress and Meyer Streets. Apparently, she thought with a cross between amusement and disapproval, there were a few activities that weren't affected by heat.
A woman’s voice rang out with joy—most likely coming from one of the bawdy establishments north of Congress, the Tenderloin, which no gentle woman was supposed to know existed. As to why it was called by such an odd name she could only speculate because she could never ask anyone apt to know.
Farther away she heard the steady beat of a blacksmith's hammer, a horse's nicker. A heavily loaded wagon lumbered past, accompanied by the clip clop of hooves, muffled curses of the driver, and squeak of the springs. The heat put man and beast in a foul mood… well, except for those in the Tenderloin.
"Abigail, I could use help on this," came Martin's whine. She moved farther onto the boardwalk. Holding her dress away from her skin, she wished for the hundredth time since April that she could wear the loose cotton blouses and skirts of the Mexican women. At this time of day, they would be down along the Santa Cruz, their colorful laundry stretched across bushes to dry while they chattered and enjoyed the shade of big, overhanging cottonwoods.
Changing one’s station in life, however, was not an option. She sighed. A woman was born where she was; and from that time on, important decisions were taken from her control. She either washed clothing along a river bank or she wore clothing ill suited to the climate. Little of it mattered what the woman wanted.
Martin’s complaints penetrated her thoughts. Why on god’s green earth, not that there was much of that in this land, was it a threat to his manhood for her to dare to go outside for a few moments?
She heard his chair squeak as he rose from it. She waited. “What are you doing out here?” he protested as he squinted at her against the glare of the sun.
"Nothing, Martin. Absolutely nothing."
"You should come inside."
“It’s not cooler inside.”
“Abigail, ladies do not stand on boardwalks.”
“How do you know that?”
When he had no answer for her, his irritation grew and turned his face pinker. It wasn’t as though she should blame him for what he was. He was doing what was written out for him also. She wondered if he thought he was going to be able to grow a full beard and mustache. The scanty effort on his face seemed rather sad. Was he fond of those starched shirts, tidy ties. Perhaps he was as trapped as she. Did he even think of such things?
Despite what she knew had to be a mutual lack of attraction between them, she had begun to believe he was the man her father hoped she would marry whenever he, instead of hinting, got around to doing something about it. Of course, she would be expected to approve the convenient arrangement.
She knew she was not a pretty woman. Beyond marriageable age, she had no prospects to change that. The fact that she wanted no prospects was beside the point. She had spent her twenty-five years obeying her father’s dictates; and with such a opportune marriage, she could continue to take care of him, merely adding a husband and any children that might be immaculately conceived.
She was determined that there would be no marriage-- not to Martin Matthews, nor any demanding, unappreciative male creature. She didn't know how she would escape the trap that had sprung closed on her long deceased mother and, so far as she could tell, the spirits of all women; but she would find a way.
Martin’s eyes reflected nervousness as he glanced down the street and back at her. "I must insist you come into the office.”
She smiled, raising her eyebrows. "No."
He glared. "I cannot accept that, Abigail."
"I don’t see what you can do… other than tell on me."
He opened his mouth like a fish; then shut it. She expected more arguments, but he swung on his heels and headed into the office, the footsteps not stopping at the front desk, but heading for her father's inner sanctum. She almost laughed. He was going to do it. He was going to tell on her.
She turned her gaze to the street where she noticed for the first time men coming out of the Pedrales Bar. They were roughly garbed, laughing, their boisterous voices and crude words carrying on the heavy air.
If she hadn't known that to go into the office now would make Martin believe he had won, she might have ducked inside when she saw several of the men mount their horses and wheel them up the street, a route that would take them past her.
A tall man, garbed in black, strode from the cantina, cast a last laughing comment behind him, and gave a quick running leap to vault into his saddle. The whole movement had been like that of a big cat. She found her attention held by the grace of the man's seat on a large black horse that showed its spirit by rearing up, then settling down under a sure hand on the reins.
In seconds the man had wheeled his horse and was heading up the street at a fast canter. Abigail pressed herself against the wall. She could not explain the mix of emotions-- repulsion and fascination-- in equal parts. She didn’t turn her gaze away even when she saw his head turn toward her. He wouldn't see her, wouldn't notice a mousy woman like her even if he had, but she felt a sudden fear.
A heavy gun belt hung on his hip, slung low. That gun identified him as clearly as her own plain, gray cotton dress and tightly bound hair would identify her. He was a gunman; she was a spinster.
Startled, she saw him wheel his horse to a sudden halt in the street in front of her. Good Lord. His black shirt was open almost to his waist and she saw through the opening a bare chest. Good god. She should look away but she couldn’t tear her eyes from him. He took his hat from his head, ran a muscular forearm across his forehead as he turned and looked straight at her. No gentleman would have done such a thing; he would’ve pretended not to see her. Not that she had any reason to suspect such a man to be a gentleman.
Their gazes met and then to her shock, he looked her up and down, giving her a clear view of an angular face. Beneath his bold stroke of a mustache and heavy beard, she could not tell if he was smiling. She sensed for one wild moment that he was considering coming toward her, saying something, but he settled his hat onto his head and kicked his horse into a gallop, leaving a cloud of dust and hundreds of tiny dust devils in his wake.
In moments he was at the head of the other men. Like the pack of wolves they resembled, they raced, yelping for the outskirts of town, woe unto the human or beast in their way. She watched until the desert haze swallowed every sign that they had passed. Only then did she go into the office.
Available on Amazon in kindle and paperback August 31st
In the meantime, you can find Rain here:
In the meantime, you can find Rain here: