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Why Willow? #Giveaway #MFRWauthor #BookHooks

Our monthly autographed print book giveaway for January is Willow Smoke (Riders Up, Book Three). Contest details at the end of the post, and of course, Willow Smoke is always free to read on Kindle Unlimited.

Be sure to check out the rest of this week’s Book Hooks authors!

Why Willow?

When we lived in northern Minnesota, our forty acres included a small marshy area that grew willow shrubs. I always cut some branches 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.

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 with it.

We 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.

When the chips are down, there’s nobody there.


Willowy blonde Daisy Matthews has survived the Chicago streets with this mantra, but she’s unprepared for the much older Nick Underwood’s urgent pursuit.  The wealthy businessman 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?


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.


Here’s the opening scene:

“I won’t let anything hurt you.” Daisy Matthews finished wrapping the ankles of the chestnut mare and sat back on her haunches to evaluate her work. The mare’s ankles were cooler than they’d been two hours earlier.

It wasn’t easy to convince a horse to stand in buckets of ice, but after three years of being a groom and an exercise rider, she could do it about as well as anybody at Arlington Park. At least that was what her boss said when he promoted her to assistant trainer.

Daisy grinned. There wasn’t much prestige associated with being an assistant trainer for a fellow with a string of only twenty-some claimers and allowance horses, but it was something, particularly for a girl from the wrong side of the tracks.

RainbowBlaze took a step forward.

“I know.” Daisy groaned. “Step one: pay attention. Sorry, I got lost daydreaming. You’re right. Taking care of you is an important job.” She chuckled. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.”

“Hey kid, do you always talk to horses?”

The horse reared and pawed.

“It’s okay, girl.” Daisy kept her voice soft and ran her hand slowly along the mare’s neck.

When the mare had stopped trembling, Daisy stepped out of the stall, shaded her eyes from the sun and faced the interloper. She scowled at the man’s new sneakers, monogrammed shirt and neatly pressed slacks. He looked like he’d be more at home on a sailboat than in a barn.

The man peered over wire-rimmed glasses like he knew something she didn’t. Or was he appraising her? Why? His dark hair set off a chiseled face; it was hard to guess his age, but she could see a few gray hairs at his temples. He was money. Understated, but money. Probably the stock market. What was he doing in her barn?

She thrust her jaw at him. “So who the hell are you? Don’t you know better than to sneak up on someone who’s working with a horse?”


Willow Smoke is available on Amazon as a print book or an e-book, and is always free to read at Kindle Unlimited:


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Why had he come? #Sunday8 #wewriwa #SundaySnippet #MFRWAuthor #Contest

Our giveaway of an autographed print copy of Willow Smoke lasts all month – of course, you can always read it free at Kindle Unlimited!

Be sure to visit Weekend Writing Warriors to check out the rest of today’s exciting excerpts!

Contest details after our Sunday Snippet:

Riders Up

Book Three:

Willow Smoke

This May/September romantic suspense follows the teenage waif from the group home where Cassie worked in Book One. No longer a teenager, Daisy is carving a life for herself in spite of threats from her past.


The sputtering sounds of the apartment buzzer penetrated Daisy’s sleep. She rolled over and pulled a pillow over her head. The buzzer continued ringing sporadically. “Go away,” she grumbled. “It’s Monday. It’s my day off.”

Scrambling off the futon, she grabbed her robe and poked her arms through the armholes as she strode angrily toward the entry. She’d have to remember to get the landlord to fix that damn buzzer. Maybe she should just snip the wires.

Daisy peered through the peephole and grew deathly still. Why had he come? She didn’t want him to know this part of her world. With fingers trembling slightly, she turned the knob and opened the door.

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A Piece of Ourselves #RomanticSuspense #Giveaway #MFRWAuthor

Our autographed print giveaway this month is Heat Wave, Book Two in Riders Up. Contest details below, after the excerpt.

There’s always a piece of us in any story we write, but I suspect there are far more than usual in our Riders Up series. You already know both my husband and I loved horses long before we met, and you might know that as adults we were finally able to own or partially own six horses, one or two at a time. Five of these were racehorses; the sixth was not, and we’ve saved him for the final book in the series, Detour Ahead.

So it goes without saying we’ve poured what we learned about caring for and training race horses into this series, but there’s more. Just as Cassie’s Hope (Book One) drew on our ancestor’s family farms in McHenry County Illinois, Heat Wave draws on early family history in rural central Iowa, somewhat north of Des Moines. It’s set in the year 2000. Iowa farm values had dropped precipitously during the 1980s and were beginning to recover, but many family farms were still struggling and went under, especially as corporations moved in to purchase them. We used this knowledge to place our widowed heroine’s family farm in danger and force her to make a bold decision.

Our hero, Ed Harrington? We ourselves have never been horse trainers, though we co-owned our racehorses with a local trainer. But Ed has struggled with alcohol, and Heat Wave focuses on his recovery journey – a journey we’ve walked alongside some close family members. They helped us out with those sections of the book for authenticity. We hope some of the depth, struggle, and love from our own journey shines through as Ed and Maggie come together to save her farm.


Ed didn’t blink, staring at the single shot-glass of whiskey and a stein of beer sitting on a tiny, circular table.

He gripped its pedestal between his knees. The darkened corner of Mel’s Tavern in Beaverhill provided a welcome hiding place. Almost as good as a cave.

He’d driven for hours after leaving the farm—after running as quickly as he possibly could from that menacing woman. That night had been spent in his car…

He ran a finger around the rim of the shot glass. Long moments dragged by while his mind resembled a blank slate. He knew if he drank enough, he could make those blank periods last longer. Blackouts—they enticed him and terrorized him. He would be able to function, but not remember. Was that bliss, or a coward’s way out? It wouldn’t take long, if he only had the courage to take that first drink.

Hah. So many people in those meetings he’d been attending talked about the courage necessary to avoid that next drink. Here he was asking himself if he had the guts to lift a single glass to his lips and let the stinging, hot whiskey glide down his throat. He could practically feel the familiar burning. So why didn’t he just gulp the damn stuff down and get on with it?

He could leave them all behind. No Maggie harping at him, wanting more than he could give. No worrying about which kid was going to get injured next. No wondering when they’d all figure out he didn’t measure up—that he was some kind of fake, a figment of their imagination.

Ed glanced furtively around with renewed awareness. His senses sharpened. How long had he been sitting like that, gawking at his future? The waitress and bartender were staring at him as if he were an alien. He scratched the two-day growth of beard. He swore inwardly at the booze. He swore at the memories.

Why couldn’t he just walk away from her? He didn’t owe her anything. Not anymore. He’d paid his debt. But she wanted more, much more.

The bouncy, buxom waitress stood in front of him. “Listen, Bud, if you’re gonna drink, drink up. We’re gonna be closing soon. And don’t forget my tip.” Leaning over, jiggling huge breasts, she whispered, “Or maybe you’ve got something else in mind. You’ve got possibilities. I can see that.”

She withered under his icy glare. “Okay, I get the message, Bud. Why don’t you just get out of here? You give me the willies. Any man who buys whiskey and beer and then just stares at them for more than an hour can’t be much of a man in my book.” The waitress brushed back curly brown hair and then flounced off to serve other customers.

Ed hardly knew she’d left. He wet his lips. Trying to steady his hand, he reached for the whiskey glass. Lifting it, he paused, and then slammed it down, splashing its contents over the scarred table.

He might be able to run from all of them, but he knew he’d never be able to run from himself.

Pushing his chair back, Ed stumbled getting up. He threw some coins on the table and rushed toward the exit.

Outside, Ed gulped for air. His hand shook like some ancient reminder of what used to be and could so easily have been again. He placed a hand in his pocket and curled his fingers around the ninety-day chip.

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© 2020 Adriana Kraft. All Rights Reserved.
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