It's always exciting when a new book releases, and Safe in His Arms is in bookstores right now. I am going to give away 3 copies, but I'd like to do something a little more fun with this giveaway, so I'm posting the Reader Letter for the book, and the first chapter. I'd like you to share either something you've had to work on about loving yourself or something you particularly like (or dislike) about the character. Ready, set, GO!
I hope you enjoy Safe in His Arms as much as I did writing it! There’s a lot of me in Margaret. Growing up, I always felt awkward and unattractive. I was taller than every boy in my class until I was in the seventh grade. I hated my wavy hair and ironed it when I got to high school in the sixties. I wanted blue eyes not brown. My feet were too big, and so were my hips. Sound familiar? :)
Women are indoctrinated from infancy about beauty. We feel we must be superwoman and have it all: beauty, brains, a good work ethic, great with children, a good cook. The list is long, isn’t it? I think it’s particularly hard for women to accept the unconditional love God offers. We are so used to being held to such a high standard—and failing—that we feel we can never measure up.
What a blessing when we realize that we don’t have to. God loves us, warts and all. We are safe in his arms. Safe to tell him our dreams, our fears, our failings. Safe to relax in his uncondi- tional love.
I love hearing from you! E-mail me anytime at colleen@ colleencoble.com.
The town of Larson, Texas, was busy on this warm February day. Cowboys in their dusty boots eyed the women attired in their best dresses strolling the boardwalks. Margaret O’Brien strode down the boardwalk in front of the feed store toward the mercantile. Things seemed to change daily with new stores sprouting like winter wheat. It seemed daily more cowmen arrived to Larson, drawn by the lush grazing land and the water in the Red River.
Pa should be around here somewhere. She nodded to the ladies clustered in front of the general store, the familiar discomfort washing over her. Why couldn’t she look like them? No matter how hard Margaret tried, she remained what she was: too tall and more at home with her hands gripping horse reins than a teacup. She ducked into the store and inhaled the aroma of cinnamon, bootstrap, sweat, and pickles. She busied herself with collecting material for their housekeeper, who had a bee in her bonnet about making curtains.
A cluster of women were talking in hushed whispers about the latest Zulu atrocity in Africa. These early months of 1879 had been full of the bloody battles. Hearing such things always made Margaret wince, remembering her brother’s death at the hands of the Sioux. At least a national monument had been established earlier this year in memory of those who fell during the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The women fell silent when Margaret paused. “Good morn- ing,” she said in as confident a voice as she could muster. “Anyone know what kind of material to buy for curtains? I thought this was pretty.”
When she held up a lilac-flowered material, one of the women tittered, a tiny blonde Margaret had never seen before. Her face burned, and she put the bolt of fabric back.
“How about this one?” a woman said behind her.
Margaret’s heart leaped at the sound of her friend’s voice, and she whirled with a smile. “Lucy, I didn’t know you were in town today. Should you be riding in a wagon in your condition?”
The blond woman laughed again at Margaret’s indelicate mention of Lucy’s pregnancy. Lucy linked arms with Margaret. “I feel fine. You like this fabric? I think Inez will love it.”
Margaret eyed the red-and-white plaid. “It’s a little . . . loud.”
“Cheerful,” Lucy corrected, smiling. Her head high, she led Margaret out of the group. “Silly twits. Now don’t start moaning about how they don’t like you. They don’t know you.” Lucy shook her head. “And they won’t bother to get to know you if you don’t take a little more care when you come to town.”
Margaret smoothed her hands on her rough skirt. They had come after cattle feed, and she had work to do in the barn when she got home, so she hadn’t bothered to change. She’d nearly put on a nicer dress. “It was too much bother since I had to help load feed.”
“It’s worth it, Margaret.” Lucy glanced at the watch pinned to her dress. “Nate is going to be looking for me.” She hugged Margaret. “I’m so glad I saw you. You’re coming to the party, aren’t you?”
“Sure. I’m not going to dance, but I’ll come keep you company.” Smiling, Margaret watched her friend waddle away. Dear Lucy. She had barreled past Margaret’s prickly exterior, and they’d become fast friends. Lucy was easy to trust. She was all heart.
Margaret had her purchases put on account, then stepped out into the sunshine.
Cattlemen had driven herds of cattle through here more than an hour ago, but the dust and odor still lingered in the air. Her father motioned to her from in front of the stagecoach station. Calvin stood close behind him.
She started toward them, but the man beside him arrested her gaze. He was tall, even taller than her father, which meant he had to be at least six foot three or four inches. She guessed he was in his early thirties. The man’s Stetson was pushed back on his head, revealing shiny brown hair, and his bronzed face was chiseled with planes and angles that spoke of confidence and determination. He cast a lazy grin her way.
Immediately, Margaret’s hackles rose. That kind of self- assurance—arrogance, really—always reminded her of her uncle. She’d had to assert herself strenuously with him around the ranch because he thought a woman’s place was in the kitchen, not in the stockyard. This man was the same type, the sort of man who would demand to be catered to and obeyed. No one who looked that strong and proud would listen to a woman.
She forced a smile. This man was probably nothing like her uncle. But her trepidation slowed her steps. Her father motioned her forward, though, and she reluctantly moved to join them.
Her father put his hand on her shoulder. “Here’s my daughter, Margaret.”
The man’s gaze swept from the top of her head down to the dusty boots just peeking out from underneath her serviceable skirt, and Margaret’s lips tightened. People in Larson were used to her attire, but this man’s eyes widened. He’d probably never seen a woman dressed for ranch work. She wore a man’s chambray shirt, and her red hair hung over her shoulder in a long braid. The bits of cow manure on her skirt and boots didn’t add much to the general picture either. He’d really be shocked if he saw her in her britches when she was helping with the cattle.
She lifted her head and stared him down. His dark eyes betrayed none of his thoughts. She didn’t think she’d ever seen eyes that shade. Like a buckeye nut they were, a rich brown color. Heavy brows accented the strong planes of his face.
Margaret thrust out her hand. “Pleased to meet you. And you are . . . ?”
He could have stared over the top of her head without taking notice of her at all. But he didn’t. He gazed straight into her eyes, and her breath caught in her throat as she felt the magnetic pull of the man.
“Daniel Cutler.” His handshake was firm and as self-confi- dent as his appearance.
Margaret pulled away her hand. “You been in town long, Mr. Cutler?” He’d given his name but not his business here in Larson. Pa seemed almost proprietorial toward him, but she clamped her teeth against the questions clamoring to escape.
“He just got in today,” her father put in eagerly. “He’s our new foreman.”
“New foreman?” Margaret’s heart dipped like a bronco about to arch its back to the sky. “We don’t need a new foreman, Pa. I can handle things by myself. I’ve spent the last ten years of my life proving it.”
Their ranch hand Calvin straightened as well. “That ain’t right, O’Brien. You said if I did a good job, you’d promote me. This shavetail”—he gestured toward Cutler—“ain’t what the ranch needs.”
Her father glared at Calvin. “Get that feed loaded and keep your nose out of my business.” Her father skewered her with an even sterner stare. “Now, Margaret, I told you it’s time you let go of some of these notions about running the ranch by your- self. I’m getting too old to be of much help, and I’d sure like for you to set your mind to finding a husband and giving me some grandchildren.”
Her father’s gaze traveled over Margaret’s apparel, and dis- pleasure shone in his eyes. “Though what man would have you when you make no attempt to look like a woman is another con- cern altogether.”
She had begun to find her composure, but at her father’s words, the blood rushed to her face. They didn’t need to air their disagreements in front of this stranger. Pa had never understood how his words burned her spirit like a brand. She never let on how he hurt her, and she didn’t now. She narrowed her eyes at this stranger who was set to disrupt her life.
Daniel Cutler seemed to be taking it all in with interest, and a small smile played around those firm lips of his. He probably agreed wholeheartedly with her father’s assessment. Like all the rest of the men in her acquaintance, he would be looking for some dainty young thing with a simpering smile and golden curls.
She tossed her head and glared at him. His smile faltered, and she felt a stab of satisfaction. “I’m sorry you’ve come all this way for nothing,” she told him. “But we really don’t need a foreman. Not you and not Calvin.”
“The thing’s done,” her father said. “Toss your belongings into our wagon, Daniel. We’ll head back to the ranch as soon as we get this feed loaded.”
She caught her breath at her father’s blatant dismissal. “Pa . . .”
He held up his hand. “Enough, Margaret. Daniel is here. Zip your tongue and help get the wagon loaded.”
She would not cry. Biting her lip, she walked to the back of the wagon.
Daniel threw his satchel into the wagon. He didn’t wait to be asked but went to the pile of feed sacks and began loading them. His muscular arms handled the heavy bags with ease. For a moment Margaret stared at the muscles in his back as they rip- pled beneath his shirt. In spite of her dislike of the man, he was a fine specimen of masculinity. Other women strolling by paused and cast surreptitious glances his way. Glances he seemed not to notice.
She helped load the sacks, but he threw the heavy bags into the back twice as quickly, with not even a labored breath. She bristled at his strength. He was probably trying to show her up in front of her father. She’d teach him she didn’t need his help—not for loading feed and not for running the ranch.
She and Daniel worked side by side for several minutes until all she could smell was burlap. Daniel tossed the last of the feed into the wagon and turned to her with a grin. “What now, Boss?”
Boss. The way he said the word with a hint of mockery made her grimace. Just as she opened her mouth to put him in his place, shots rang out down the street. Five men, their revolvers blasting at anything that moved, rushed out of the bank and mounted their horses. The horses came thundering toward Margaret.
“Get down!” Daniel tackled her to the dusty ground.
The breath puffed out of her as he fell on top of her. She strug- gled to free herself, but his strong body kept her pinned beneath him. She could smell the clean scent of soap underneath the scent of his skin. Never in her life had she felt so helpless and dependent. And protected. The word whispered through her brain with a gentle allure.