BY: CAROLE AVILA
A psychic leaves her a present—but is it a blessing or a curse?
When Mandy Ruhe receives a sacred amulet from a mysterious woman she’s never met, she is suddenly swept back in time to Texas 1845 and wakes up in the body of Carmena Luebber, owner of the Holiday Ranch. Until she can return to her own time, Mandy must assume Carmena’s role. As she endeavors to discover why she was sent into the past, Mandy is caught up in the lives of the people who work for Carmena—their struggles, hopes, and dreams—and ends up torn between the two men in love with the woman she portrays. But Mandy is forced to admit that she can’t have either one of them, no matter how much her heart wishes otherwise. Trapped in the past, she must complete an unknown task and find her way back to the present—before she screws up the future for everyone!
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Eve’s Amulet ~ Book 1 by Carole Avila, Mandy Ruhe is given a necklace by a mysterious woman she has never met—a woman her cousin, Nicole, calls a psychic. Mandy doesn’t believe in psychics, especially ones that try to tell the future, but she becomes suddenly unsure of herself when the woman’s strange predictions begin to come true. When she finds the antique necklace hidden under the sash of the window in her new apartment, recently vacated by said psychic, Mandy gets an uneasy feeling, which is only compounded by the strange note the woman left for her in Nicole’s keeping. Then while fiddling with the amulet at dinner, Mandy is suddenly thrust back in time to 1845 Texas, where she takes up the life of Carmena, the owner of a prosperous ranch.
Mandy spends the next several months trying to figure out why she has been sent to the past—and how to get back to the present, of course—while falling for the two—count them, two—men in love with Carmena. Of course, both are hunks. One is what she calls a “hot” older guy, and the other she calls “military Jesus.” Gotta love it! Even though she’s been warned she can’t stay in the past, she still has a difficult time controlling her hormones. And who can blame her? The plot is strong and has enough twists and turns to keep you riveted.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The premise in Eve’s Amulet ~ Book 1 by Carole Avila is fascinating and something I’m sure most of us have fantasies about—finding a magical amulet that can take you back in time. In this case, our heroine, Mandy, doesn’t get to choose the time in the past that she is sent to, doesn’t know why she is sent there, and has no idea how to get back to the present. She also knows that she can stay there, as much as she might like to. She has to go back home and face reality even though she’d rather not. Kind of like I feel when I finish reading a good book. I had a great time while the adventure lasted, but now the dishes are waiting and the laundry still needs to be done.
Avila has a good handle on characterization. I especially liked the fact that Mandy knew she couldn’t stay in the past, knew she couldn’t have either of the men she had the hots for, and knew she would screw up not only her future but everyone else’s if she disobeyed. But still she was very, very tempted. Well, as Taylor says, who could blame her? I thought that was incredibly human. The plot is intriguing, the characters charming, and the writing very well done.
Did you hear that?”
Carmena inclined her head toward the distorted glass panes over the steel-lined sink. She stared through a column of steam spiraling over a dainty porcelain cup, but the freshly brewed coffee never reached her lips.
Angela, the housekeeper of Holiday Ranch, and her nine-year-old daughter, Gracie, turned to the open window, and they all heard it again. Martino’s warning, distant but clear enough.
“Sound the alarm!” Carmena shouted. She jumped to her feet, and her seat toppled over. “God willing, the men will hear it up in the canyon!” Chair legs screeched across the adobe tiles. Angela and Gracie hurried after Carmena to the enclosed rear porch. Carmena slipped on her muddy boots, and the frantic group bolted out the door. They looked up at Turtle Hill.
From the back patio, Martino, Angela’s eleven-year-old son, was only a dark speck against the backdrop of the small mountain. The boy ran like a jackrabbit over scrub and rocks down to the ranch, yelling as loud as he could.
“Soldiers are coming! Soldiers!”
Carmena sprinted toward the stables, issuing orders to Angela over her shoulder. “When you see any of the men, stop ringing the bell and head over to the barn. Get at least three milk cows up on the ridge!” In the same breath, she pointed at Gracie and yelled, “Get on upstairs to your hiding place!”
The wide-eyed girl pouted at the harsh reprimand and gripped her mother’s skirt as Carmena dashed to the stables. Angela struck the rod inside the iron triangle, and the wild dinging alerted Jesse, one of the wranglers. She saw him hotfoot it from the farrier’s shed, holding the top of his hat on his silvered head as he raced to the stables after Carmena. Just as Martino staggered to the base of the immense hill, Angela dropped the metal baton and spun around. Ignoring her daughter’s tears, she stomped her foot and fisted one hand on her wide hip.
She pointed at the house and spoke in her heavy Spanish. “You heard Carmena. Go up to your room and hide!”
Angela’s cotton skirt fanned in a circle as she hurried out the back gate. The housekeeper made her way to the barn and scuttled past the stables where Jesse was sliding a thick pad onto a nervous stallion.
“Hold still now, Dandy,” Jesse said to his horse as he hefted a worn leather saddle, carefully setting it on the pad. Veins bulged on the back of his hands as he gave a sharp tug and secured the leather straps around Dandy’s belly. Normally standing stock still while being saddled, the horse stomped his hooves, and his ears flipped forward and back.
Jesse recognized the tension in Carmena’s clenched jaw as she yanked lead ropes off the tack hooks outside of each stall. He helped her unlatch the doors and attach one rope after the other onto the halters of their best studs and broodmares, a few of which were in foal.
“Who’s goin’ up?” Jesse asked.
“You take this bunch. I’ll get the other mares out of the paddocks. Maybe they’ll follow Dusty up the hill.” Carmena unlatched the bar on the last stall and hooked a lead rope onto Dusty’s halter. “Damn it! I should’ve taken them up the hill like Carlos said!”
The wrangler kept silent and gathered the rest of the lead ropes as Carmena guided the horses out of their stalls. The animals fidgeted, and like Dandy, they nervously flicked their ears and pounded their hooves. Jesse’s soft cooing gentled the horses a bit as he coaxed them to the center of the outbuilding. Once the muscular equines were gathered behind Jesse’s mount, Carmena wasted no time in throwing a pad and saddle on Dusty.
“Where the hell is that boy?” she demanded.
A moment later, Martino stumbled into the stables. He hunched over and planted his hands on his knees, his chest heaving as sweat dripped off his grimy forehead.
Carmena pulled the knot out of her bandana and tied her long, unruly hair into a frizzy bundle. “Where are they? How many?”
Still out of breath, Martino drank in air between his words. “No more—” he gasped, “—than a dozen. They’re comin’ at a—slow gait. Still—a couple miles out.” His slim body heaved up and down, fighting to regain his breath.
Jesse climbed onto his saddle and checked the horses behind him. In a level voice he said, “Lucky thing they ain’t in the mood fer breedin’.”
Carmena snapped at Jesse. “Do you have to be so damn calm all the time?”
He smiled and pressed his thighs into Dandy’s sides, and the powerful stallion strode forward, leading a parade of horses out of the stables just as Gracie staggered inside. She cradled a baby goat in her arms, and its wooly nap bulged between her short fingers. Tears streamed over her pudgy cheeks.
Martino held a hand in front of his sister and gently pulled her out of harm’s way as the procession of horses filed out of the barn. The weight of the goat threw Gracie off balance, and she tottered back a few steps over the hay-strewn floor. “Carmena, are they gonna take Hannah?”
“Dammit, Gracie!” Carmena scolded. “Put that kid down, and go on up to your room!” Then she turned her furious gaze to Martino. “Grab some of those ropes!”
A jerk of her chin indicated the lassos hanging on a large metal hook. Martino fetched them while Carmena placed a bridle over Dusty’s head. In a single movement, she jumped up, swung a leg over her mount, and sat atop the mare. She hung the offered lassos around the saddle horn then glowered at the little girl still clutching the wooly baby goat.
“I won’t tell you again to get on up to your room and hide, Gracie. Now! You need to follow orders so you don’t get hurt!” She turned to the boy. “Martino, help your mother tie up some goats with the milk cows and get them up to the ridge. Then run over to the high meadow and tell the men what’s happening. They probably didn’t hear the alarm.”
Carmena gripped her bridle with one hand, held the lassos in place with the other, and squeezed on the horse’s flanks with her thighs. “C’mon, Dusty!” The beautiful tan mare galloped into the sunlight toward the paddocks.
Gracie stood her ground near the large wooden doors. The tiny goat uttered a “ma-a-a” in her arms.
Martino ushered her outside, speaking tenderly the way his father would when his sister didn’t want to go to bed. “You heard Carmena. Go on up to your room.”
“But what about Hannah?” Gracie rubbed her cheek against the animal’s short bristles.
“The captain doesn’t want a baby goat, so take Hannah up to your hiding place, but keep her quiet, and I’ll tell Carmena I said you could bring her inside. Now get a move on.”
“Gracias, Martino!” Gracie smiled and wobbled away, the pet goat snuggled in her arms. Martino walked backward, watching his sister until she disappeared through the side gate leading to the back patio off the kitchen.
Then he rushed to help his mother gather the cows and goats penned in the barn.
“What was that?” Carlos, the ranch foreman, stared up toward the tree line.
Javier, Angela’s husband and father to Martino and Gracie, tilted his head. “Sounds like a woodpecker.”
“I thought it was the alarm,” Carlos said.
Javier shook his head. “Nah. Believe me, I can hear the chow bell in my sleep. I didn’t hear nothin’. Besides, them woodpeckers can imitate anything.”
Both men faced the direction of the ranch in the valley below and listened. Steers grunted as they basked in the sun-warmed grass, ground squirrels twittered under the oaks, and scrub jays chirped from the high branches overhead.
Javier squinted at the cloudless sky. “Got a couple hours to go yet. I still say it woulda been easier to take the cattle and sheep to the east meadow down below instead of bringing ‘em up here.”
Carlos scanned the area. “I’ve been keeping a record each time the soldiers visit. It’s been just over eleven weeks since they were here last. I don’t want to take any chances.”
“I bet that scalawag Franz is havin’ a hog-killin’ time helpin’ hisself to more of our stock,” Javier said. “But why thieve from us? There’s lots a good ranches between here and San Antonio.”
“We’re about the only ones in Texas who breed thoroughbreds and saddlebreds.”
“I bet the captain’s out to sea when it comes to the lieutenant takin’ our best horses and cattle or else I’d wager he’d clean Franz’s plow for sure.”
Carlos rubbed under the rim of his hat. “Even if they do come in the next few days, I’m pretty certain the cattle are safe up here.”
“Only ’cause Franz is too dim-witted to send his soldiers to search up here for anythin’. Maybe you shoulda convinced Carmena to bring the horses up, too.”
Carlos kneaded the tension out of his neck. “Let’s give it another quarter hour before we see how Martino’s doing with the sheep. Then we can all head down to the ranch for lunch.”
Gravel crunched under hooves as Lieutenant Franz and ten of his men rode up the lengthy tree lined drive to Holiday Ranch. The lieutenant scoured the distant paddocks and corrals. It was a poor choice of pickings—a few old nags and too many yearlings, far too small for riding.
The soldier, too young to grow a beard, rode to his commander’s side. “Yes, sir?”
“Take half the men and see if there’s anythin’ more than buzzard bait in the stables and barn.”
“Yes, sir!” Scott shouted in a deeper voice. He urged his horse forward. “Squad Two, move out and follow me!”
Four soldiers pulled out of line and followed the corporal away from the courtyard toward the outbuildings on the eastern side of the property. The rest of the men rode straight to the front of the villa where an enormous Mexican-tile fountain dominated the main entrance.
The men kept a few feet behind the lieutenant until he motioned for them to dismount at the hitching post near the adobe steps. Two sturdy pine doors with iron hardware barred the entrance. One door opened slowly, and the barrel of a long gun preceded Carmena.
Franz’s soldiers raised their weapons and put her in their sights, but Carmena didn’t back down. She leveled her rifle at the lieutenant’s chest. It was futile to hold the man at gunpoint while the rest of his armed squadron had him covered, but she had to buy time for her ranch employees to hide their best income-producing animals.
“Miss Luebber. Well, ain’t you the big sugar?” Franz tipped his hat. His gaze roamed down the line of her form-fitting gauchos, his eyes lingering on the bodice of her cotton blouse.
“What the hell do you want this time, Franz?”
“I was jest wonderin’ where all yer purdy horses were at.”
“I sold nearly all of our stock before you could get your stinkin’ filthy hands on any more of them.”
“Now, that ain’t a polite way fer you to address a military officer, is it?” The lieutenant leaned against his saddle horn. “Why, accordin’ to the Republic of Texas, I got me a perfect right to confiscate yer stock. President Jones knows it’s better ta let some of his constituents lose a few horses and steers in exchange for military protection.”
“I’m sure the president doesn’t encourage the military to steal private property for personal gain.”
The lieutenant pushed up the rim of his hat. More dirt clumped in the creases of his forehead than his neck. “Surely, Miss Luebber, you understand how we’s protectin’ the citizens of this great republic from sufferin’ at the hands of them no count Comanche Indians to the west—” He pointed north. “—Cherokee to the east, and them Mexicans to the south, who still think Texas belongs ta them. Why, I’m doin’ you a favor. The less you have, the less them Indians is likely ta steal from you. Y’all should be showin’ me how much you appershiate what I’m tryin’ ta do fer you.”
The heavy weapon remained steady in her hold. “Spare me your bullshit, Franz. You’re just a pathetic four-flusher interested in filling up your own purse.”
Hardened eyes locked onto the woman. “Corporal Boyce, McFaddin. Please help Miss Luebber here with that terrible heavy gun.”
Carmena confidently raised the rifle and pointed the single barrel between the lieutenant’s eyes. “I’m warning you, Franz.”
“Well, now, the way I see it, if you shoot me, my men will shoot you and take e’vra animal that’s left on yer property. No doubt yer ranch hands will come an’ rescue you but a course, they’ll have ta be shot for innerferin’ with the law.”
“You’re not the law. Not here or anywhere else!”
Franz slid off his horse and took a single step toward her. He peered into the barrel of Carmena’s gun and stopped. “Cureton, Tankersley, Burnell! Take a look around. I recollect seein’ a couple of youngins out back last time we visited. In fact, that little girl looked like she was just startin’ ta ripen up.”
The three soldiers shared confused glances.
“Move it!” the lieutenant shouted, and the soldiers scuttled toward the back of the house to search for the children.
Carmena clenched her jaw and curled her lip. “You’re a disgusting pig!”
Franz noticed the infinitesimal droop in her shoulders. “Lower your weapon, Miss Luebber, and no one’s gonna get hurt.” He nodded to Boyce.
Boyce glanced at the Winchester, formidable in her hands. His steps were reluctant and heavy up the stairs. Carmena didn’t flinch. Her well-aimed one-shot rifle focused on no one but Franz. The young soldier apprehensively pushed the steel barrel downward. Carmena never saw his apologetic eyes as her own were clouded with fury.
Boyce whispered to the enraged woman. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Jest doin’ my job.”
Long before Boyce tugged the weapon from Carmena’s grasp, Angela and Martino made it to the east side of the high meadow. They fumbled with ropes and set the small animals to graze with the sheep atop Turtle Hill. Then Angela sent her son across the ridge to find his father and Carlos with her desperate plea.
“Tell Carlos the captain is no here. Tell him it’s the lieutenant!”
Halfway down the rugged terrain, Angela spotted Jesse following some soldiers into the barn. She forced herself to jostle to the bottom of the hill as a sharp pain speared her side. She leaned on a fence post and filled her lungs. The housekeeper heard a heated argument blare from the front of the house. Carmena’s voice caught on the wind calling someone a disgusting pig. Though out of breath from her run up then down the hill, Angela sprinted across the yard. She reached the front of the house in time to see Carmena charge the lieutenant with a tightened fist shooting out like a locomotive toward his nose. Franz dodged the blow, and it grazed his jaw instead.
He raised his gun. “You stupid bitch! Yer gonna pay fer that!”
Carmena spun on her heel but didn’t have time to distance herself from the officer’s six-shooter. The solid steel barrel smashed against the back of her skull.
“No!” Angela screamed, her arms stretched forward.
Carmena tumbled, and her forehead smacked the edge of the fountain. Her body folded like a ribbon onto the gravel.
The lieutenant holstered his pistol and took in the disapproving frowns of his men. Boyce and McFaddin, enraged by the man’s brutality, looked to one another for direction.
Franz rubbed his bruised jaw. “Serves her right fer attackin’ a military officer.”
Angela dropped beside Carmena and cradled her head on her apron. She barely heard Carmena say, “Get inside with Gracie. Don’t let him touch her.”
Blood oozed from the back of Carmena’s scalp and dripped onto Angela’s hand. “But, mija, you’re bleeding!”
“Go,” Carmena whispered just as she lost consciousness.
Angela’s tears dripped onto Carmena’s blouse. The housekeeper tenderly removed the young woman’s head from her lap and with careful hands set the injured woman onto the ground, then scrambled to her feet.
“The captain will hear about this!”
Franz laughed. “Who’d ya think sent me?”
Angela cursed the man and ran through the open front door, pushing it nearly shut before she bounded up the stairs in search of her daughter.
Franz grabbed Carmena by the arm and hauled her limp body up the front steps, disregarding her head as it lobbed to the side.
“Stand guard!” he ordered his men.
Boyce pressed his lips together and grimaced at the rough hold the lieutenant had on the woman. McFaddin looked down and shuffled his feet.
Franz kicked the heavy door open. “Now I’m gonna show ya how ta treat yer superiors.”
He dragged Carmena over the threshold and slammed the door behind him.
© 2019 by Carole Avila