Paloma and the Horse Traders ($14.95, 256 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-990-9), is book 3 of Carla Kelly’s historical romance series, The Spanish Brand. As with books 1 and 2, The Double Cross and Marco and the Devil’s Bargain, this novel takes place at the end of the 18th century during the decline of the Spanish Empire in the New World. A brand inspector and his wife face a new threat to their ranch when a renegade Comanche begins to wreak havoc in the vicinity, putting a tentative truce in jeopardy. On their way to a final showdown, they gather together a ragtag army that includes some unlikely allies and a ghost from Paloma’s past.
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4 1/2 stars, Top Pick: “Kelly knows historical romance, and she also knows how to reel readers in from the get-go. This book will take one’s breath away with the deep, emotional romance and highly likable characters. The story is adventurous and totally out of the ordinary, which makes it a splendid read and a completely satisfying experience.”
—RT Reviews (November, 2015)
“I am totally captivated by this series. Marco and Paloma have formed such a strong love, that it’s breathtaking. The descriptions of the characters and places are vivid. The plot is riveting and the action is exciting. I am totally invested in this couple, and I’m thrilled to hear that there is at least one more book coming in the series. I would recommend reading the first two books of this series to get the maximum enjoyment. Paloma and the Horse Traders is pure artistry and a sheer delight. I give it my highest recommendation.” Read more….
–Lady Blue, Romantic Historical Reviews
Paloma and the Horse Traders is an Editors’ Choice title in November’s Historical Novels Review:
“Set in the 18th century in what is today New Mexico, the novel is much more than a romance. It is, in fact, a rousing and exciting Western that will appeal to all readers…. Kelly knows her subject matter; her historical research is impeccable. But her research never gets in the way of her spinning a good yarn. This is a great read, and it is highly recommended.” Read more….
–The Historical Novel Society
“A friend encouraged me to read this series of books, and, at first, I was reluctant to do so. I have read and loved Carla Kelly’s regency romances and historical romances, but New Mexico in the 1700’s? Hostile Comanches? Uncivilized living? Not for me, I thought. Boy, was I wrong! This is truly some of the best historical fiction I have read…. The Spanish Brand Series weaves a lot of historical information into Marco’s and Paloma’s love story. Carla Kelly doesn’t shy away from the harsher aspects of life, yet these stories are fast paced and exciting and beautiful. There is subtle humor as well, the kind I enjoy, humor that doesn’t hit you over the head, but nibbles at you, causing you to smile. Every book here is a winner, and a keeper. All receive my highest recommendation.” Read more….
—Roses are Blue, Romantic Fiction Reviews and Discussions
“Carla Kelly proves a later book in a series can outshine its predecessors with Paloma and the Horse Traders. Bringing back the authenticity of the old Spanish West and the hacienda of Marco and Paloma while introducing additional enemies and newfound friends, Kelly turns Paloma and the Horse Traders into a must-read…. Marco and Paloma open their hearts and their home to a cast of characters that bring smiles, tears and life-changing surprises and revelations in this series set at the end of the 18th century.” Read more….
—Tara Creel, Deseret News
Kelly is the recipient of two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America for Best Regency of the Year; two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America; a Whitney Award for Best Romance Fiction, 2011; another Whitney for Best Historical Fiction, 2012; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times.
The first two books in this series were enthusiastically received by the critics.
Of Marco and the Devil’s Bargain, Publishers Weekly said, “Though la viruela is, in some ways, the story’s main character, the love between Marco and Paloma, equal parts strong attachment and mutual high regard, takes emotional center stage, a satisfying oasis of beauty in the midst of stark harshness.”
All About Romance gave it a Grade A: “Although I didn’t read The Double Cross first, as I should have, I still managed to fall head over heels for Marco and Paloma. To me, that is a good testament to Ms. Kelly’s amazing writing. I can’t wait to get my hands on another one of her books.”
“Life at this time was hard and unpredictable, and this beautiful love story interwoven with history makes for an outstanding read.” wrote Lady Blue in Romantic Historical Reviews of The Double Cross, making it a 5 Star Top Pick.
ForeWord Magazine wrote, “[In The Double Cross], Kelly skillfully invites readers to share in this romantic adventure that is played out amidst scenes depicting the harsh landscapes and living conditions on the frontier—all punctuated with an assortment of unsavory characters pitted against the heroic.”
As the eighteenth century draws to a close, the Kwahadi Comanches seem to be making their peace with the settlers of the Spanish Colony of New Mexico. No one is as relieved as Marco Mondragón and his adored wife Paloma Vega, whose ranch, the Double Cross, sits on the edge of Comanchería. Their tranquility is short-lived, however, for other Comanches are terrorizing the plains, led by the ruthless renegade, Great Owl.
At the annual fair in Taos, Marco and his Comanche friend Toshua arrange to buy a team of bays from horse traders who sometimes wink at the law. Marco can’t complete the purchase because he spends all his money to buy a slave from Great Owl, thus saving her life. Graciela accompanies them back to the Double Cross, along with Diego Diaz, one of those traders Marco still owes for the team.
Great Owl’s threat to tentative peace between the Kwahadi and the Spanish must be squelched. Marco and Toshua bolster their small army of two with an unexpected ally in Joaquim Gasca, a disgraced former lieutenant with the Royal Engineers. They are joined by Diego Diaz, who turns out to be a key figure from Paloma’s past. Adding two shady horse traders and the secretive Graciela, Marco leads his small but determined army north to land contested by both Utes and Comanches. Though woefully outnumbered, they must defeat Great Owl or die trying.
“Writing this series is fun for me,” Kelly says. “I’ve enjoyed watching Paloma and Marco interact with their children, and showing the little details of domestic life in eighteenth-century New Mexico. It’s not an era well represented in fiction, which seems a pity. I’m doing what I can to change that.”
A well-known veteran of romance writing, Carla Kelly is the author of thirty-five novels, numerous short stories, and four non-fiction works. Carla enjoys writing historical fiction, which she sees as a byproduct of her study of history. In addition to her works centered on the American West, she has written many books featuring the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Click here to find Carla online.
Keep reading for an excerpt:
“What do you see?” Paloma asked, after a pause that seemed to stretch for hours.
“Many horses and a few riders. Maybe they are going to the trade fair in Taos,” Eckapeta replied, making no effort to speak quietly. “Still, we will stay here until ….”
She stopped. After another long pause, Eckapeta spoke again, quieter this time. “But they are being followed by Nurmurnah, The People. Don’t move or make a sound. These are not Kwihnai’s people and I fear them.”
Paloma did as she said, bowing her head over her darlings, keeping them silent. She wished that Marco was there to wrap his comforting bulk around the three of them. Calmly, she tucked the foolish wish away and prepared to fight to the death for her children.
Eckapeta was too silent. “Tell me what you see,” Paloma pleaded.
She could have screamed with the silence, but she only clenched her jaw tighter. Claudio began to whimper, so she opened her bodice and nursed him; weaning could wait. He suckled and was comforted, while Soledad burrowed closer.
Paloma closed her eyes, remembering blessed moments of nearly four years, moments that would never have been hers, if Marco Mondragón had not ridden to Santa Fe to take his yearly records to the governor, and gone in search of a little dog to keep his feet warm at night. If this was all the joy she would know, it was better than none at all. She thanked El Padre Celestial for his kindness to her and put her terror away, too.
To her relief, Eckapeta nimbly retraced her way down the swaying cottonwood and joined her. She put her hand gently on Paloma’s neck and gave her a little shake. “Be calm, dear one!” she murmured. “The smaller dust cloud has met up with the horse herd. I think they are fighting. They are closer to Santa Maria than to us, so let us ride for the Double Cross.”
Silent, Paloma picked up Claudio and ran with him to her horse, Eckapeta close behind with Soledad in her arms. The Comanche woman helped Paloma put the cradleboard on her back again, stuffed in Claudio, then heaved them onto Paloma’s horse with no fanfare. Eckapeta handed up Soledad next and Paloma seated the little one firmly in front of her.
“Ride and don’t look anywhere but ahead of you,” Eckapeta ordered. “I will follow behind you and stop anyone who might see us.” She took out the knife she wore in her belt at the small of her back. “Go!”
Paloma jammed her heels into her normally sedate mare, which started in surprise at such unexpected treatment from her mistress. She was not a speedy horse, but maybe she sensed trouble. Perhaps she smelled strange horses. Whatever the reason, the mare shot away from the bosque and thundered toward the place where the road forked toward the Double Cross.
“Fun, Mama!” Soledad said as she leaned back against Paloma, enjoying the wind in her baby-fine hair.
“Yes, fun,” Paloma said as she crouched lower in the saddle, wishing she could turn herself into a Comanche rider. Her skirts billowed well above her thighs. She knew Marco would tease her if he were here, but he was not, so she struggled to keep her tears inside.