The Farmer and
the Wood Nymph
by JoAnn Smith Ainsworth
We are delighted to welcome back novelist JoAnn Smith Ainsworth to Omnimystery News.
Earlier this month JoAnn visited with us when we discussed several of her recently published books, one of which is The Farmer and the Wood Nymph (Whiskey Creek Press; December 2013 trade paperback and ebook formats), the synopsis of which really intrigued us. We are pleased today to introduce you to this historical western romantic mystery with an excerpt.
— ♦ —
ERNEST NOLAND'S CONTENTED WORLD shattered late yesterday with one bullet. In the front bedroom of the family farmhouse, Cousin Ida Osterbach hovered between life and death. Ida was Ernest's only family in Wyoming. The remainder of the family still lived back East. The doctor couldn't say whether she'd survive the loss of blood. She hadn't yet returned to consciousness when Ernest checked on her this morning. He vowed to pursue Diablo Avilos — the murdering bastard responsible — even if that trail led deep into the Badlands.
In the sullen gloom of pre-dawn, the men of the posse saddled horses and tied on bedrolls and grub for a week. They would ride at first light, following the trail south through the high mountain plains. Ernest bitterly regretted he wouldn't know his cousin's fate until his return.
If I return.
Apprehension tensed back muscles as he threw a well worn saddle over the stallion belonging to Jared Buell, Ida's fiancé and neighbor rancher. The farm's workhorse would never survive a grueling mountain trip. Ernest wasn't a man who relished change or looked to violence. Only family honor forced him to ride away from the predictable farm routines he craved, towards an unpredictable future.
The low conversation of the men, the whinnying of horses and the clank of metal stirrups reminded Ernest that he wasn't hardened to long days in the saddle. A man of the soil, he knew these upcoming days on horseback would test his strength. In his thirty-four years, he'd traveled only once.. After the shooting death of Ida's first husband two years ago, he rode the train from his parents' Illinois farm to Buffalo in northeastern Wyoming. He came to help rescue his cousin's farm from bank-threatened foreclosure. He'd defend Ida again, even if it meant sacrificing his own life.
Ernest tightened the cinch with a powerful tug and checked his gear one last time. Leather creaked as he threw himself into the saddle and adjusted the stirrups to his long legs. He turned the horse in the direction of the other members of the posse assembling around the tracker. He and pressed his lips into a grim, determined line.
Whatever it takes, I'll do.
Lilah's eyelids fluttered open. Gradually, awareness emerged. Slender, green stalks defined themselves from an unfocused haze. Her cheek pushed painfully against lumpy surfaces. Dawning realization transformed the lumps into pebbles and small stones. Bewildered, she rubbed the throbbing and swollen lump beneath her tangled mass of raven-colored hair. By the size of the lump, she might have been unconscious for some time. "It's a wonder I wasn't attacked by animals." She breathed a prayer of gratitude heavenward.
Hand to the ground, she pushed herself upright. The green stalks materialized into colorful patches of bright-pink alpine phlox, yellow buttercups and the bushy, low shrubs of a high plains meadow. She shook her head to get the cobwebs out and dragged herself to her feet, disheveled, with torn clothing matching the bruising and small cuts on her flesh. No memories appeared recalling her circumstances before waking up in this meadow.
God help me.
Anxiously, Lilah looked out over the distances as if seeking answers in the cloud-free sky or from the snow-capped peaks. It was early in the day according to the sun's placement. Birds nesting in nearby trees cheerfully greeted the risen sun. The sounds of fast moving water came from behind a row of cottonwoods and willows, but no human was in sight. No breakfast smells, no subdued voices of people waking to a new day.
She shouted at the top of her lungs. "Where is everyone?"
The birds stopped chirping, but no one answered. Fingers of fear traveled down her spine. She flung her arms wide, jumped up and down and shouted. "Where am I?"
Again, no answer. Dread gripped her when another realization struck. "Who am I?"
The last words jarred to her core.
— ♦ —
Photo provided courtesy of
JoAnn Smith Ainsworth
When JoAnn Smith Ainsworth carried wood as a pre-teen so her Great Aunt Martha could stoke up the iron stove to prepare dinner, she wasn't thinking, "I could use this in a novel someday." Yet, the skills she learned from her horse-and-buggy ancestors translate into backdrops for her historical romance and paranormal suspense novels.
She has B.A. and M.A.T. degrees in English and has completed her M.B.A. studies. JoAnn currently lives in California.
For more information about the author, please visit her website at JoAnnSmithAinsworth.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.
— ♦ —
The Farmer and the Wood Nymph
JoAnn Smith Ainsworth
A Western Romantic Mystery