Jamie Craig - Writing on the Edge of Erotic Romance

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A Hearing HearT

Now in print, too.

The heart conveys messages beyond what ears can hear.

After the death of her fiancé, Catherine Johnson, a New York schoolteacher in 1902, travels to Nebraska to teach in a one-room school. When violence erupts in the sleepy town, Catherine saves deaf stable hand, Jim Kinney from torture by drunken thugs.

As she begins teaching Jim to read and sign, attraction grows between them. The warmth and humor in this silent man transcends the need for speech and his eyes tell her all about his feelings for her. But the obstacles of class difference and the stigma of his handicap are almost insurmountable barriers to their growing affection.

Will Catherine flaunt society's rules and allow herself to love again? Can Jim make his way out of poverty as a deaf man in a hearing world? And will the lovers overcome a corrupt robber baron who has a stranglehold on the town? Romance, sensuality and adventure abound in this heartfelt tale.

Reviews

The Romance Reviews, J9, 4 stars
Anyone who likes historical romance will enjoy A HEARING HEART. The Western setting was a great backdrop to a heartfelt romance of two people who truly belong together.

Fallen Angel Reviews, Linda L., 5 angels
I found Catherine and Jim robust characters, each with an inner troubled soul. ... The remarkable secondary characters enabled the storyline to flow at a good pace. ... This is a lovely story wonderfully told.

Book Utopia, 9/10
"Favorite Novel of 2009" runner up , "Favorite Hero of 2009" runner up
"...an excellent example of a beta hero’s charms, as well as a heartbreaking romance."

Mrs. Giggles, 92
This one is a slow burn of a romance that manages to be a most satisfying and tender romantic read. While Jim is a larger-than-life hero who is hurt enough inside to make me go "Awww!", Catherine comes off as a smart and nice heroine who is nonetheless restricted by her own prejudices now and then - a heroine with enough flaws to prevent her from being too much of a saint, in other words. Their romance is very sweet, so much so that I feel as if my heart is both hurting and melting as a result.

Just Erotic Romance Reviews, LT Blue, 5 stars
I absolutely loved A Hearing Heart. Catherine and Jim had a way of communicating that showed they were truly meant to be together. I recommend A Hearing Heart as a perfect read for any season.

Love Western Romances, Carol, 5 spurs
What makes this erotic romance a cut above the rest is the multi dimensional characters and Ms. Dee's ability to make romantic heroes out of imperfect men. And it is these imperfections that give her stories the weight and wonder that keep you turning pages. Catherine and Jim will stay with the reader long after the book has been put aside. Erotic and heartwarming, an interesting and tantalizing romantic combination.

Karen Scott's Blog, AztecLady, 8.5 of 10
A Hearing Heart is a very moving story. From the setting to the issues it touches on, A Hearing Heart is definitely worth reading. I particularly enjoyed the fact that both Jim and Catherine face a bumpy ride. They are both good people, but as people do, they second guess themselves, make some unfortunate decisions with the best of intentions, and generally speaking, are human.

Night Owl Romance, Melinda, 5 stars
Oh my Bonnie Dee has a hit with this one. I loved that she produced a storyline that is not traditional and made it very memorable. Jim Kinney is unlike any man Catherine has known but something about him makes him very heroic. Cat is definitely a woman who completed him in every way. I loved that it takes one near experience for them to see that love comes in many forms.

Romance Junkies, Katie, 4.5 blue ribbons
The respect and care these two have for one another is a beautiful thing to read. It was great to see Catherine and Jim’s relationship grow and the way they act with one another is sweet. When Jim and Catherine share that first kiss with one another, you will be smiling and when these two move on to more adult intimacies, those scenes are sexy and very passionate. A HEARING HEART is one book that sticks with you long after you finish reading.

BookWenches, BD Whitney, 4
This is a sweet and sensual story of clandestine love that features a hero and heroine from two different end of society who would never normally come together and who must overcome obstacles both natural and man-made in order to find love and happiness together.

Coffee Time Romance, Cherokee, 5 cups
I adored A Hearing Heart. Catherine and Jim are sweet enduring characters showing a great deal of compassion and love. Bonnie Dee fashions a poignant story that moved this reader beyond words.

Dear Author, Jayne, B-
The scenes of Catherine teaching Jim to read then of them both learning sign language are fascinating. I think you did a great job showing how Jim’s new learning is opening up the world for him. ... The book avoids sugary sweetness. It is matter of fact and down to earth. Brava. Jim isn’t made to be a poster child for pc-ness nor does Catherine treat him like some pet project – she sees him as a man and realizes early on she is attracted to him as more than a friend.

All About Romance, Abi Bishop, B+
A Hearing Heart is all about the personal journeys of these two characters, both separate and as a couple and every aspect of it was a pleasure to read.

Manic Readers, 4. 5 stars
this is a story guaranteed to warm your heart, keep you intrigued from page to page and leave you breathless as the sexual tension between Catherine and Jim take on a life of its own. Two thumbs up to Ms. Dee for giving us a romance that touches the heart and soothes the soul.

Excerpt


Broughton, Nebraska, 1901

Catherine Johnson stepped out of the general mercantile onto the wooden walkway, adjusting her mesh shopping bag on one wrist and the brown paper-wrapped parcels in her other arm. A stiff breeze cut through the fabric of her dress and twisted her long skirt around her legs. Grit scoured her cheeks and stung her eyes. At least the road wasn’t muddy, but she faced a long walk back to the McPhersons’ farm carrying all her purchases. She’d be glad when her stay there was over and she moved in with the Albrights in town. Shuttling from home to home was one of the more unpleasant aspects of teaching in a one-room schoolhouse.

Sometimes she wished she’d never left New York to come to Nebraska. On a Saturday afternoon in White Plains she’d be strolling along a brick path in the park with fountains and flowerbeds gracing the way. Here in Broughton she fought the ever-present wind and choking dust while her shoes tapped an uneven rhythm on the warped boards of the sidewalk.

The town was quiet for a Saturday, the street nearly empty. She was almost to the last building on Main Street, where the dusty road became prairie, when several men erupted from the saloon in front of her. The swinging doors crashed against the wall.

Catherine stumbled backward, dropping one of her packages, heart pounding.

A raw-boned man with no chin and his stocky, black-bearded partner dragged a man between them. Behind them staggered a burly fellow with heavy-lidded eyes. He was shouting curses, using words Catherine had never heard. The only man in the group she recognized was the one the others gripped by the arms. He was Jim Kinney, the deaf-mute man who worked at the livery stable.

Jim glared at his captors through a fringe of dark hair. The burly man moved in front of him and plowed a fist into his stomach. The stable hand doubled over with a whoosh of air.

The skinny man hauled him upright and the bearded one punched his jaw, snapping his head to the side. Jim cried out, a hoarse, wordless sound. Bracing himself against the pair holding his arms, he kicked out with both feet at the man who’d hit him, landing a solid blow to his chest.

“Tie him up,” the droopy-eyed man slurred. “Teach him some respect.”

Catherine stood rooted to the spot, horrified but too shocked to react as one of the men grabbed a rope from his horse’s saddle at the hitching post. When he began tying Jim’s hands, she finally found her voice.

“Stop it! Stop!” She dropped her parcels and bag on the sidewalk and ran toward them. “Leave him alone!”

For a second, Jim’s dark eyes met hers, and then the men dragged him out to the street, whooping in drunken glee and ignoring Catherine as if she was voiceless.

“Stop!” she yelled in frustration, her hands clenching helplessly at her sides.
The black-bearded man blocked her way, and she pushed past him, the sour stench of sweat and alcohol wrinkling her nose.

The leader mounted his horse and wrapped the end of the rope around the pommel of his saddle. Jim struggled to free his hands until the rope stretched taut and jerked him forward, forcing him to keep pace with the horse. The rider kneed his mount and it moved from a walk to a trot.

Jim ran behind, stumbling as he tried to keep on his feet.

Catherine screamed for help. A few men came from the saloon while others stepped out of stores along the street.

“Help!” she cried again, panic swelling in her chest. “Somebody help him.”

Jim couldn’t keep up with the speed of the horse. He tripped, fell and was dragged along the ground. Spooked by the creature on its heels, the horse whinnied and plunged ahead. A cloud of dust from its hooves concealed the body bumping over the ruts behind it.

The rider pulled the horse’s head up, turned and rode back toward where his companions stood laughing and shouting encouragement.

People emerging from the barbershop, the mercantile and feed store all stood watching. No one was going to interfere, risking the drunken men’s anger.

The horse cantered toward Catherine. Without a thought beyond stopping the stable hand’s torture, she ran into the road, waving her arms and shouting. The animal reared on its hind legs, dumping its rider to the ground. For a moment all she could see was hooves flailing and the chestnut body rising high above her. How very tall a horse was when standing on two legs. The inane thought flashed in her mind before the animal came down on all fours.

She seized the bridle and her fingers grazed its warm jaw. The horse blew hay-scented breath into her face with a soft chuffing sound.

“Sh. Easy. Easy,” she crooned, stroking its neck. She moved alongside and reached for the rope tied to the pommel. Even standing on her toes with her chest pressed against the horse’s heaving flank she could barely reach it, and the knot was so tight she couldn’t loosen it.

Catherine glanced at Jim’s dusty body sprawled in the road, and the horse’s rider staggering to his feet, cursing as he brushed off his clothes.

Now that the crisis was past, a couple of men from the feed store came out to the street and grabbed the leader of the thugs, while someone else ran to get the deputy. A few patrons of the tavern collared the other two roughnecks. Mr. Murdoch, the saloonkeeper knelt in the road beside Jim and untied his wrists.

Catherine walked over to the prone body of the stable hand and watched Murdoch feel his limbs for broken bones.

“Is he alive?” She squatted beside the dust-covered body, her skirt pooling around her. The man’s eyes were closed and blood seeped from abrasions on his dirt-streaked face.

“He’s unconscious, but I think he’ll be all right. Damn! If only he’d kept out of their way,” Murdoch said.

“He needs the doctor.”

“Already sent someone to get him.”

Catherine pulled her handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at the blood on Jim’s forehead. “What happened?”

“Drunken fools called for another round. Shirley was tending another table so they shouted at Jim to get their drinks. Of course, he couldn’t hear ’em. He’s there to push a broom, not wait tables. They started yelling, grabbed him and dragged him outside.”

Catherine bit back her question of why it had taken him so long to come to Jim’s aid. Pushing back a lock of the man’s dark hair, she examined the wound at his temple. “I thought Mr. Kinney worked at the livery stable.”

“Works there too. Has a room back of the stables. Christ! Where’s the damn doc? Pardon the language.”

A young woman ran up to them, her skirts held high enough to show striped stockings all the way to her knees. Her red hair straggled from the bun in back to frame her round, red-cheeked face. The neckline of her dress revealed most of her bosom, which rose and fell as she panted. “Doc’s out on a call, Mr. Murdoch. Is he okay?”

“Damn! Hope to hell there ain’t anything broken. Guess all we can do is carry him back to his room.”

Several men had gathered around, and three of them lifted Jim’s body. He groaned, and his eyes opened, his gaze focusing on Catherine.

She smiled. “It’s all right. You’ll be all right.”

He blinked, but she didn’t know if he’d understood. She’d only seen the man once or twice since she’d moved here. People said he was slow as well as deaf and mute.

Walking beside the men carrying him, she kept her gaze locked on his in an attempt to offer encouragement. The eyes that stared back at her were focused and intelligent. She could almost see his thoughts busily flickering in them, but with no voice to give substance those thoughts remained locked inside. Catherine realized he wasn’t mentally impaired at all.

The men carried him through the doors of the livery stable, and Catherine lost eye contact with Jim. Her stomach churned and her nerves jangled, unsurprising since a rearing horse had nearly trampled her. The deputy would probably have questions for her as the main witness of the altercation, but for now she was intent on seeing what she could do to help Jim Kinney. She followed the men into the livery.

* * * *
His body ached in a thousand places. Every bone hurt. Every inch of exposed skin was shredded. He felt like he’d been dragged down the street behind a horse. Jim smiled at the sarcastic thought, then groaned as one of the men carrying him jarred his right side.

Three faces hovered above him. Murdoch frowned. His mouth moved beneath his handlebar moustache as he said something to John Walker from the hardware store. Jim recognized the third man from the feed store. Their faces were strained with the effort of carrying him and their fiercely gripping hands hurt like hell. He wished they’d set him down and let him get himself back to his room. Even if he had to crawl it would be less painful.

Jim glanced past Walker, who was carrying his legs, and tried to catch another glimpse of the schoolteacher. She must’ve left.

He wondered if any of his bones were broken, wondered if someone was getting the doctor, and how he’d pay the man. How soon would he be able to work again? If his body failed him, he was in trouble. That’s why he always took good care of himself, careful to keep healthy and steer clear of dangerous situations. From a lifetime of practice, he’d become adept at avoiding drunks or bullies who wanted to show their manliness with their fists and found him an easy target.

But today he hadn’t been alert. He’d been thinking about Shirley Mae and what she’d done for him the previous night. He’d only paid for a hand job. It was all he could afford, but he was desperate for something more than his own touch. Shirley had given him a blowjob for free. She’d pointed to the rhinestone comb in her hair, the one he’d found one day while sweeping the bar and returned to her, then she’d bent her head and taken his cock in her mouth. With that memory in mind, he hadn’t even been aware of the three drunken men until they grabbed him.

Now Walker and the other men were maneuvering Jim through the narrow doorway of his room. He gritted his teeth to keep from crying out as they jostled his body. When they laid him on his cot, he exhaled in relief.

His small room was crowded with bodies, but soon all of the men left except his two bosses, Murdoch and Rasmussen, the livery owner. They spoke together a moment. He couldn’t see their lips and was too tired to read them anyway. His eyes drifted closed.

They opened again at the pressure of Murdoch’s hand on his shoulder. He explained slowly that the doctor was out on a call, patted Jim’s shoulder and left the room.

Mr. Rasmussen sat on the edge of the bed, pushed his glasses up his nose and frowned, a sure sign he didn’t know what he was doing. He might be able to wrap a horse’s strained leg, but what did he know about people? Jim inhaled a deep breath and pain pierced his side. Something was wrong with his ribs. He gestured to his side, letting Rasmussen know. The man nodded and began unbuttoning what was left of his shredded shirt.

A movement in the doorway caught Jim’s attention. The schoolteacher stood framed there in her blue and white-flowered dress with her daffodil-colored hair. A faint scent of lily-of-the-valley perfume wafted to him. She was like a flower garden filling the dark, stuffy room.

She looked at Rasmussen before entering the room. Only a few paces brought her to the edge of Jim’s bed.

He couldn’t stop staring at her like the idiot everyone thought he was. The sight of her fresh, feminine form in his dingy room was unbelievable, besides which he was dizzy and near passing out from the pain throbbing in his head. His gaze fastened on her lips.

“What can I do?” she asked Rasmussen.

The stableman turned toward her so Jim couldn’t see his reply. Miss Johnson nodded and left the room. He felt pain that had nothing to do with his injured body as she disappeared from view.

Rasmussen lifted Jim’s torso, peeled off his long-sleeved shirt and undershirt, and lowered him back onto the bed. Colors and lights flashed in front of his eyes and the edges of his vision grew dark. Oh God, his worst nightmare was coming true. He would be blinded from the blow to his head and left totally helpless. His pulse beat wildly as panic surged through him. He gasped for breath and could see again. Rasmussen was frowning at him.

“Where does it hurt?”

Jim indicated his head.

“You’ll be all right. I’ll fix you up.”

How the hell do you know? You can barely tend the horses! Jim nodded, his jaw clenching at the pain.

Suddenly the teacher was back. She carried a bucket of water in one hand and some clean rags from the tack room in the other. Offering them to Rasmussen, she glanced at Jim. Her eyes widened at the sight of his bare torso and she quickly looked away.

Rasmussen rose, indicating she should take his seat and wash the blood and dust from Jim’s face and body. He was going to get liniment. The teacher looked after Rasmussen as he walked from the room, her mouth open as if to protest, then she closed it and turned back to Jim. Her smile was tense.

“You. Read. Lips?” She shaped each word carefully.

He nodded.

“I’m going to clean you.” She sat on the cot next to him, her warm hip pressed against his. She dipped one of the rags, squeezed it out and leaned over him to sponge off the blood at his temple. The cloth was cold but it felt good.

He let his eyes drift closed and submitted to the pressure of the wet cloth dabbing his face. She held his chin in her other hand as she bathed his forehead, cheek and neck. Her skin was soft and the scent of lilies much stronger with her so close. Beneath the flowers, he could smell her body, a secret, womanly aroma.

Jim opened his eyes, watching her bend to rinse the rag in the bucket. Her sun-colored hair was pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck. Tendrils of hair curled around her face. Two perfectly arched, light brown eyebrows were knitted in a frown of concentration over sky-blue eyes. Her tongue darted out, wetting her lips, and his heart jolted in his chest.

Turning back to him, she began patting again, this time on the bloody abrasion on his shoulder. The pink blush rising in her cheeks told him she was uncomfortable touching him. A lady didn’t do such things to a strange man. He couldn’t stop watching her eyes even though she refused to meet his gaze. He’d never seen eyes so blue.

All he knew about her was that she was the new teacher. He’d seen her around town a few times. Once, at the mercantile he’d watched as she laughed and talked with a little girl. Her smile and the sweet affection she’d shown the child had made him smile. He’d also seen her walking to and from the schoolhouse. But he didn’t know her name. No one had said it in front of him and he couldn’t ask. There was no reason for him to know it. Yet now he was desperate to have a word for her, a shape of the lips that meant her, even if he couldn’t imagine what the word sounded like.

Jim touched her hand and she finally looked at him. He pointed at her and raised his eyebrows, requesting her name.

“Catherine Johnson.” Her hand touched her chest and her lips moved slowly over each syllable.

Mimicking her, he felt her name with his thrusting tongue and moving lips. Without knowing the sound, he’d never forget the shapes. Memorization came easy to him.

Jim nodded and smiled, accepting the gift of her name.