April 4, 2016

Suped Feature: Under the Desert Sky by Sara Luck + Chapter 1

Under The Desert Sky
Sara Luck
Western Historical Romance
Pocket Books
March 29, 2016

Sara Luck is known for her “well-developed characters, accurate historical settings, and hot naked men” (RT Book Reviews), and Under the Desert Sky does not disappoint! Fans will love this story of a widowed frontierswoman and the ranch hand who might be all that stands between her and ruin.

Phoebe Sloan isn’t afraid of hard work—she couldn’t have survived on the Arizona frontier if she were. But ever since her husband was killed in a ranch accident, she’s struggled to make ends meet and preserve her young son’s birthright. Her last gamble was to start raising ostriches—the plumes are prized by fashionable city ladies—and it could work, but someone’s determined to sabotage her efforts.

Enter Christian de Wet, a South African importer who finds himself drawn to the fragile but determined Phoebe. He begins helping her around the ranch as a kindness, but the two quickly find that the heat rising between them has nothing to do with the Arizona desert! When the saboteur finds a way to endanger not just the ranch, but Phoebe’s family, will she have to forsake her happiness to save her son?

When I watch the “street interviews” on TV such as when Jay Leno did his “Jay Walking”, or now Jimmy Kimmel’s “Man on the Street” or Jesse Watters’ “Watters’ World,” I am at first amused . . . then greatly disturbed. When an interviewee agrees that an organized crime boss would “be a good nominee for a Justice of the Supreme Court,” or that our nation’s capital was named after Abraham Lincoln, I am stunned by the historical disconnect of so many.

I believe that historical novels, when well researched, can be a more effective way of learning than any text book. In a novel the reader interacts with the characters that people the world developed by the author.

All of my reviews point out that Sara Luck’s signature is “well-developed characters” and “accurate historical detail.”

I have continued that trademark with Under The Desert Sky, a novel about ostrich farming in the Arizona Territory of 1900, not for the meat, but for the feathers which brought a lot of money because of their use in the haute couture fashion. Before I start writing, I read as many books and contemporary newspapers as I can find . . . not only the news articles, but the editorials, and letters to the editors. I’m not looking specifically for information about ostriches; I’m looking for articles that would be little “time-travel capsules” to provide color, tone and tint, of Phoenix in 1900. Here is one such story found in the Arizona Republican, published June 12 of that year.

“Friday night, June 8, the Mesa brass band were tendered a reception by one of their members, B. F. Johnson, at his residence, south of the city. Mr. Johnson had decorated the lawn with Japanese lanterns, under which chairs and tables were stationed. The evening was spent pleasantly by the assembled families and friends of the band.”

Even the advertisements are fair game for research, such as this one. Are you dry? If so, call up telephone number 24 and order a case of good soda. Tempe Bottling Works.

After I have spent several weeks of research I find that I am occupying two time periods, the present, and the past. The letters and feedback I have received from many of my readers, tell me that, while immersed in my books they, too, become a part of that time period.

When you read Under The Desert Sky, you will be considerably more than a detached observer following the trials, romantic encounters, and ultimate triumph of Phoebe Sloan and Christian De Wet. You will be an inhabitant of Arizona’s Salt River Valley, and thus a neighbor and a friend. In the book, you will shop with Phoebe at the Chicago Store, which was very much a part of the 1900 Phoenix scene. When you go with them on the train, and then by stagecoach to Castle Hot Springs, you will be visiting the resort favored not only by the citizens of the time, but by Zane Grey and such wealthy personages as the Rockefeller family. As an aside, after World War II, John F. Kennedy came to Castle Hot Springs to recuperate from his ordeal in the Pacific, and begin thinking about his book PT-109.

Any book is a symbiotic relationship between the writer and the reader. As you read the words I have written, we are, for that moment, sharing the experience, for you, the reader, must use those words to create the world you have entered. Come with me as, together, we visit this fascinating period of our history.



Christian De Wet paced back and forth in the library of the house of Mrs. Marie Van Koop-
mans, the woman who’d raised him. Nineteen years ago he’d been living on the docks, sur- viving by his wits and the occasional handouts of strangers. Called Jacktar by the sailors, that was the only name he had ever known. When he was injured by a horse, Cecil Rhodes, a Brit- ish businessman who had just stepped off a ship returning from England, took the injured boy first to the doctor, then to his good friend Mrs. Van Koopmans.
Rhodes and Mrs. Van Koopmans had named him, Rhodes calling him Christian, and Mrs. Van Koopmans giving him the surname De Wet, which had been her maiden name. She had assigned

4 Sara Luck

him the age of ten, by which reckoning he was now twenty-nine.
Mrs. Van Koopmans became his surrogate mother and Rhodes his mentor, providing an education for him at the Oriel College in Oxford. After graduation, Rhodes employed him in the offices of the Chartered Company in London for eight years.
Over the last few years Christian had been caught up in the Boer War, which pit the Dutch against the British. What made the war particu- larly painful for him was that he was a child of both cultures. Mrs. Van Koopmans was Dutch, Rhodes was British, and Christian spoke both languages with equal facility. Because he knew nothing about his birth, he had no idea whether he was Dutch or English.
Today, a troubled Christian had come to see Mrs. Van Koopmans, saying, “During the siege, when we were trapped in Kimberley, I was sure the Boers were the aggressors. I saw how they dropped shells into the civilian population, hop- ing to do as much damage as possible.
“But when the siege was broken, I left Kimber- ley to be attached to the British columns—and what did I see? The British are burning houses to the ground and putting the displaced people into concentration camps where they dont give them enough to eat. In Kimberley we were rationed because we were running out of food, but the British  are  doing  this  deliberately.  They  are

Under the Desert Sky 5

starving their prisoners, who are mainly women and children.
“I think you need to leave South Africa for a while, Mrs. Van Koopmans said. “Does Rhodes have someplace else for you to go?”
“No, hes  hiding out  in  Rhodesia. After 126 days in Kimberley together, he and Colonel Keke- wich are no longer on speaking terms.
Mrs. Van Koopmans laughed. And thats bad? I think I have more respect for the British officer just hearing that.
“I have to say, I thought when I was Jacktar and living on the docks, I had a hard life. But this war is much worse.
“What do you plan to do?”
“I’ve written my letter of resignation and I intend to deliver it to Groot Schuur myself. I’m sure Gordon Le Sueur will be happy to accept it. Hes never liked me—I never quite had the right pedigree.
“If you do this, you know you cant stay in South Africa. Rhodes doesnt like people whom he considers to be disloyal.
“I know. Theres a steamer that should be leav- ing for New Zealand in a few days.
Tell me, do you really care where you go?”
“I dont. New Zealand, Australia, India—it doesnt matter.
“What about America?”
America? I hadnt thought of that. I’m a Brit- ish citizen, and I only considered the colonies.

6 Sara Luck

“It wouldnt have to be permanent, but I do have something that might interest you. What do you know about ostriches?”
“Ostriches? I know during the early part of the siege some men brought in some eggs that made a fine breakfast.
You wont be eating eggs, my boy. You’ll be escorting two pair of ostriches to my old friend Yhomas Prinsen. He bought an ostrich farm in Phoenix, Arizona Territory, and he wants to intro- duce some new stock into his flock. He asked me to arrange getting them out of the country.
“The exporting of ostrich feathers to the United States is a big business for the Cape Colony. Now Yhomas thinks he can take some of that business for himself. Hes found the Salt River Valley in Arizona to be a perfect place to raise ostriches. The only problem hes encoun- tered is that the colonial authorities only allow birds to be exported for exhibits in zoological gardens.
Christian smiled. And so you are facilitat- ing getting an exhibit out of Cape Town. Is that right?”
Mrs. Van Koopmans nodded. “I just hadnt found someone I could trust to get them to Yho- mas. Will you do it?”
“Shouldnt I know something about these birds?”
Would you do it if July went with you?” “July? Is he still working for you?”

Under the Desert Sky 7

“Of course. Hes worked for me for twenty years. Why wouldnt he still be here?”

Maricopa County, Arizona Territory 1900

Phoebe Sloan took off her brown felt hat and wiped her brow with the back of her sleeve as she rested on her rake. It’d been a long time since the last rain, yet a cloud was gathering in the west. She looked over to see that Trinidad was still mowing the alfalfa, so she began waving her hat to get his attention.
“Dont you want me to finish the mowin’, Miss Phoebe?” her hired man asked.
“No, I want you to help Cornello get whats cut into haycocks.
“Its not dry yet. Shouldnt we leave it in the swath?”
Yes, but if it rains, its ruined. So stop and help Cornello.
Yes, ma’am.
Trinidad lifted the sickle bar and moved toward Cornello, who was at the other end of the field. Soon the two men, who were both in their sixties, were pitching the hay into mounds.
Phoebe had been out in the sun for most of the day. She’d made a pallet for Will in the shade of a mesquite tree, and the two of them had eaten lunch together before her son had fallen asleep. She walked over to see if he was awake.

8 Sara Luck

There was Will, her beautiful four-year-old, resting innocently on the patchwork quilt. She smiled when she saw where he’d built a house out of sticks, and fences out of seed pods. All his carved ostriches were separated into pairs.
Phoebe shook her head, wondering how many children would find enjoyment by playing with carved ostriches. She looked toward the sky. The cloud was getting darker, but she was reluctant to wake the sleeping child. Instead, she walked to the other side of the tree and knelt down beside her husbands grave, where she began rearrang- ing the rocks that outlined the site.
“I need to talk to you, Edwin. She said the words conversationally as if her husband were sitting beside her. “I went to see Mr. Forbes this week to renegotiate the loan. He said he’d drop the interest rate to four percent if I could pay five percent by the end of the summer. Her voice began to shake. “I dont know if I can do it. Buck tells me Mr. Prinsen wants to buy every ostrich in the valley, but if I sell our birds now, I wont have any way to make a living.
You’re a fool, Phoebe.
Phoebe jumped when she recognized her brother-in-laws voice. “Frank, what’re you doing here?”
“I came to talk to you. Charles Forbes told me you’d been in to see him.
“Thats none of your business.
“Oh, yes it is. Thats my nephew over there, and I wont let you kill him like you did my brother.

Under the Desert Sky 9

Phoebe took a deep breath, but didnt speak. They’d had this conversation before.
You know what he did was because of you and your big ideas. What fool thinks theres money to be made in ostrich feathers?”
“Mr. Prinsen thinks theres money in it.
“He grew up in South Africa—he knows some- thing about ostriches, and theres one thing he has that you dont: money. Havent you learned that it takes a lot of money to keep this place going?”
“Our first birds are mature now—all it takes to keep them is alfalfa.
“Thats a lie. You keep those two old men around. What do you pay them?”
Again Phoebe didnt answer.
“Whatever it is, its too much. You should sell out and move into town.
“I wont do that. Not as long as theres a breath in my body. Phoebe gritted her teeth.
“It wont be long until you’ll be lying right there beside Edwin. Have you looked at yourself lately? You look like a dried prune. Your hair is always a mess, your clothes are in tatters. What money you do have, you pour back into this worthless piece of sand.
By now, tears were streaming down Phoebes face.
“I’ve told you before, I’ll take care of you. Franks voice softened. You dont have to be here.
Yes, you have told me before, and you’ve told

10 Sara Luck

me what I have to do to earn it. But no matter how desperate I might get for money, I’ll never warm your bed, Frank Sloan.
Frank stepped up to Phoebe. He wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Never say never, my dear Phoebe. You might find my bed much more to your liking than you ever found my brothers.
Phoebe slapped Frank hard.
A sardonic smile crossed his face. A spit- fire—thats what I like about you. If only it had been me that came to your bed that night, Will would’ve been my son.
Just then, in the distance, thunder rumbled.
Phoebe left Frank standing by his brothers grave as she gathered Will in her arms and ran to the house.

Sara Luck taught school in Alaska for six years, spending much of that time in Point Hope, two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. Married to a retired army officer (also a novelist), Sara and her husband live on the beach in Alabama with a Jack Russell terrier named Charley.

They travel frequently to research their books, most recently to a mountain top in Wyoming, where they encountered mountain lions, wolves, and bears...fortunately from a safe distance. Throughout their marriage, she has been a writing partner, editor, and research assistant for her husband's many books.

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  1. I love it when a book can pull you into their world and make you forget about yours for a while. I have never heard of ostrich farming before but it sounds like it would be fun to read this book and picture it all.

  2. thanks for the interesting guest post, I didn't know about this book!

  3. I love it when I can be taken not only into another world, but another time as well. And historical romances have a certain 'gentle' feel about them that work really well.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

  4. I love escaping into a different world and time!!! Thanks for sharing!
    bloglovin: erinf1

  5. Yes, getting all that setting and backdrop is one of my biggest reasons to love historical romance or fiction. This story sounds engaging with her doing ostrich ranching at the turn of the century in AZ.

    Thanks for the giveaway opportunity.

  6. Thanks for the guest post I love learning more about an author. Great guest post!

  7. I love immersing myself in history...learning things I didn't know, getting a feel for living during that time period. I will check out Under the Desert Sky - I had no idea about ostrich farming - and I truly appreciate the hardships frontiersman, and especially women, endured trying to get by in the West. Thanks for sharing a new-to-me author, Braine!

  8. Okay I seriously had no idea they were being farmed for their feathers! that is actually kind of neat. Great guest post!

  9. i love reading about how things were done in historical women were supposed to be and men too

  10. I LOVE historical books that are historically accurate because I feel like I'm learning from them as I'm transported back in time. I want it to be an authentic experience, I suppose.
    I love that this is about ostrich farming because I grew up on an ostrich ranch! Though feathers are no longer valuable like they were. :( But the meat was worth something and we loved our birds.

  11. I had no clue they raised ostriches for their feathers. It makes sense though! :)

  12. That's why I love this genre; I learn something new every time I read it. Never knew about the ostrich farming. Thanks for sharing!

  13. You so hit on my favorite type of historical romance... ones which do research! I'm also simultaneously entertained and horrified at those "street interviews" that show the lack of education. I just hope that they are just caught off guard by the question and just aren't thinking... I hope. ;)

  14. I always love a historical book that is accurate, if it isn't it drives me nuts and I am googling stuff. I would totally read this as I used to live in AZ and I have seen the Ostrich farms.

  15. This sounds wonderful and I loved the excerpt. This is one I think I would enjoy :)

  16. I do enjoy some historical romance here and there, but I prefer fantasy :) The writing seems pretty good, from what i read from the excerpt. Thanks for sharing! :D

  17. I think it's great when an author has done their research about the time period and you can really feel that when reading the book. I agree that reading a book can be a great way to learn about history as well. I haven't read a lot of historical romances so far, but I do enjoy them.

  18. I love to hear this author tries to accurately depict the historical romances she writes! I don't know how many times I've read historical fiction - or other fiction genres) where the details are off or incorrect in some way. Sure it is fiction, but I like it to be realistic enough!

  19. Ahhh yes those questions on the streets can be rather horrifying. lol The book looks so good!

  20. Wow Braine, this sounds like an interesting read. I like that the author says that the reader is sharing the experience with her. I never thought of it that way before! Just that I was on for the ride!! lol


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