Most of the books Mr. Kraft and I write together are steamy erotic romance, typically (but not always) featuring bisexual women. But that’s not where we got our start. When I started this year-long backlist review in my New Years Day blog post HERE, I noted that we accomplished our first goal – to be a published author – in 2005, with a contract for publication in 2007.
That novel is in our other major genre, romantic suspense, where we typically feature a romance between a man and a woman. In the beginning, we attempted to keep a different pen name for each of the two genres, but this quickly became cumbersome, and we brought all our work together under our “Adriana” name in short order.
The press that first released Willow Smoke in 2007 was sold in 2012, so when we received our rights back, we brought it out under our indie imprint in 2014.
Willow Smoke is actually Book Three in our four-book suspense series set in the horse racing industry, Riders Up, but it was the one we polished first, before the other three were fully fleshed out. Each of the books can be read as a standalone, and they can be read in any order.
When we lived in northern Minnesota, our forty acres included a small marshy area that grew willow shrubs. Following my mother’s custom, I always cut some branches early each spring and set them in a vase inside to open as pussy willows, usually the first blossoms of the year. My husband dabbled in wood carving while we lived there, and gnarled willow sticks made inviting projects to carve, sand, and stain.
Enter Daisy Matthews, the waif Cassie rescued through her Chicago group home job in Riders Up, Book One. By Book Three, Daisy is tall and lanky and holding her own as an assistant trainer at Chicago’s Arlington Park Racetrack.
We did not have a title when we began writing this book, but we did know our characters. The much older Nick Underwood has left the stock market, where he made a killing, and he now runs a small company crafting handmade wooden canoes. When he first encounters Daisy in the Arlington Park track barn, he doesn’t know her name, but he’s struck by her smoky eyes and her tall willowy frame. He decides to call her Willow. Our title was born, but we had no idea how important this small shrub genus would become in our story.
As the story gradually made its way onto the page, we sent Nick and Daisy on a canoeing trip to northern Minnesota’s boundary waters, which we so often enjoyed ourselves. On their way home, he stops at a friend’s home (forty acres and a farmhouse, imagine that!). Daisy has often watched Nick working the wood at his shop, and his friend finds an appropriate willow stick and talks her into getting started carving it.
I won’t give away the story’s ending here – I’ll just say that Daisy’s willow stick plays an important role when the chips are down.
Five stars at Amazon “Adriana Kraft has created memorable characters that linger long after the story has ended and I’ve closed the book. She has done what an author should—brought me into the book’s world and made me care about the characters so that my world will not be the same as before their foray into it.” Sheila G.
Five stars at Goodreads “Suspenseful, intriguing and truly romantic! What a fabulous story of the blending of two worlds… the plot twists and turns and keeps you on the edge of your seat and the pages turning.” Risha C “…dreams can become reality, love can transcend age… Exciting, engaging and very entertaining story. The character interplay is spot on and the story is extremely well written.” Donna H.
Willow Smoke (Riders Up, Book Three)
Cover by Rebecca Poole
B&B Publishing, 2014
Length: 88,000 words
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Tags: Horse Racing, Age Gap, Sports Romance
Heat rating: three flames (explicit sex, m/f)
When the chips are down, there’s nobody there.
Apprentice horse trainer Daisy Matthews grew up on the streets of Chicago, and if she learned anything, it was that she could count on no one to help her, ever. She knows she has to tough it out, protect herself, and when necessary, protect anyone she cares about. All by herself. No one else will do it for her.
Wealthy businessman Nick Underwood receives a thoroughbred in payment for a bad debt and is thrust into Daisy’s world. She teaches him about horse racing; he teaches her about love. When Daisy’s seamy brother-in-law threatens Nick’s safety, she doggedly tries to stop him by herself, but flees to the familiar streets when he attacks. Can Nick find her in time – and if he does, will she still want him?
Set Up: An interloper has appeared at the stall where Daisy is soaking her horse’s front legs to cool them.
“So tell me,” Nick said, “where can I find a horse named RainbowBlaze?”
“RainbowBlaze!” Daisy gasped and glared at him again. “Why? What do you want with her?”
“Damn, you’ve got to be the most protective woman I’ve ever encountered. If you must know, she’s my horse.”
Daisy opened her mouth as if to speak. She glanced quickly at the chestnut mare. “There must be a mistake,” she stammered. “RainbowBlaze belongs to Michael Barnes.”
Nick crossed his legs and leaned against the stable wall, giving Daisy Matthews a slow satisfied smile. He’d found his horse. And he had a new employee. This could be more interesting than he’d imagined.
Furthermore, being his employee made Matthews safe to be around. He had a firm rule against personal involvements with employees. He flashed a look at the slender woman’s nipples that showed faintly through an orange tank top. Didn’t she know what she looked like?
Too young. He closed his eyes. He might be old enough to be her father. His eyes sprang open and he appraised her again. Maybe, maybe not.
“The horse did belong to Michael Barnes.” Fright flickered across the blonde’s face and quickly disappeared behind a steely gaze. “Mike’s fallen on bad economic times. Turned out he couldn’t pay his debts. Showed up at my office with a bill of sale for some damn race horse and begged me to take it to clear what he owed me. Against my better judgment, I agreed.” Nick raised his open palms upward. “So, here I am.”
Daisy’s hands, resting at her sides, curled into fists.
“You look like you’d like to slaughter me for your supper.” Nick stood. Ignoring the woman, he pointed at the horse with the oversized socks. “So I take it this is RainbowBlaze.” He glanced back over his shoulder at the woman. She gulped and nodded. “Is the horse any good? How much can I get for her?”
Daisy sputtered and Nick suppressed a laugh.
“She’s a damn good mare. She’ll run her heart out for you, if you treat her right. But she won’t work just for anyone.”
“Sounds like you’ve got a thing for my horse, kid.”
“Suppose so.” Daisy studied the dirt at her feet. “I’ve known her since she was foaled. Was there to help her mother give birth. I’ve been there every step of the way when Rainbow was with Cassie Travers, and then when Michael Barnes bought her it was with the understanding that she’d come to Sam’s barn and be with me.”
When the woman stopped to catch her breath, Nick said, “You didn’t answer my question. How much is she worth?”
Daisy shrugged. “Maybe,” her voice quaked, “fifty thousand. Maybe more.”
“Hmm. Michael said a hundred grand.”
He watched the spirit flow out of the young woman. Her glistening eyes grabbed at something inside him that he hadn’t experienced for a long time. Not thinking, he reached for her chin.
“That horse,” he said softly, “means a lot more to you than a hundred grand, doesn’t it?”
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