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Friday, March 22, 2019

Audiobook Review! The Gate to Eden by Cathy McDavid

The Gate to Eden by Cathy McDavid
Audiobook, 10 Hours and 33 Minutes (also in Paperback and ebook)
Genre: Adult Fiction (Western/Historical Romance)
Date Published: January 12, 2019
Publisher: Self

Expert crackshot Maddie Campbell will do whatever it takes to survive in this female Robin-Hood-of-the-Old-West story - including evading bounty-hunter-for-hire Scott McSween who's intent on bringing her in.

Not your ordinary thief, widow and mother Maddie Campbell likes to think her wealthy victims are merely "donating" to herself and the hundreds of other widows and children left abandoned by the mining company after a devastating accident took the lives of their menfolk. Maddie's secret excursions are quite successful...until ruggedly handsome former lawman Scott McSween arrives in Eden to investigate the recent string of crimes. 

Despite her efforts to throw him off track, they can't resist each other. He knows she's somehow involved and is determined to draw out all her secrets in the most exquisite ways - with soft caresses and passionate kisses. But when finally confronted with the truth - that Maddie is actually the thief he's been hired to hunt down and bring in - will Scott choose the woman he loves or his duty to the law?

The Gate to Eden by Cathy McDavid was like a Western reverse Robin Hood. Maddie steals from the rich and gives to her poor community. They've had tragedy and are close to starving. Scott is sent in to find the criminals. The romance was pretty instant. It seemed more lusty than any true feelings, but they did have some good chemistry. The characters and their world were well built. I could envision it easily. This was an entertaining story. The narrator's style reminded me of William Shatner at times. I heard on the radio that today was International Sound Like William Shatner Day, so it was fun and perfect timing. 

The Gate to Eden by Cathy McDavid was kindly provided to me by Prism Book Tours for review. The opinions are my own.

Edenville, Arizona Territory 1887

THADDEUS NEWLIN DIDN'T LIKE prostitutes. He'd worked too hard and too long building his empire only to risk losing it by succumbing to some dreadful disease acquired from a barroom whore.

He did, however, like women and partook of their pleasure as often as his pressing schedule allowed. Young women with long hair, ample curves, and clear skin were his preference. And innocent — if only in looks. No soiled doves ever found their way beneath his blankets.

His secretary, Zachariah Forrester, had assumed the task of procuring this evening's entertainment, as he always did when the mood for companionship struck Thaddeus. Mr. Forrester recruited from the residences and ranches of whatever town they happened to be visiting. As times were tough and money tight, he seldom encountered any difficulty locating a willing female who fit his boss's exacting specifications. Then, like all good secretaries, he conveniently disappeared for several hours after escorting the young woman to the steps of Thaddeus's private railroad car. Neither did he ask any bothersome questions at the end of the night, regardless of the woman's disheveled condition.

"Very nice," Thaddeus said as he watched the pretty little thing standing in front of him slip the narrow sleeves of her camisole off her pale shoulders. Mr. Forrester had done well tonight, and Thaddeus considered giving his secretary a bonus.

"I ain't never been with a man like this before," the woman said shyly, lowering her eyes to the richly carpeted floor. "You're my first ... you know."

Thaddeus doubted the truth of her statement. She might not be a prostitute in the strictest sense of the word, but she'd certainly done this before. The large nipples visible through the material of her camisole and the roundness of her belly attested to previous childbirth. Not that Thaddeus cared. In fact, he preferred experienced women. Just not worldly.

"You don't have to be nervous, my dear." He played along with her pretense. "I promise to be gentle." And he would be gentle. Until the end.

She lifted one stocking clad foot and placed it on the edge of the pinstriped settee, near to his leg. Thaddeus felt himself stirring and smiled. He might be past his prime and have only half the hair atop his head he did at twenty, but he'd not yet lost his ability to perform.

Reaching out a large hand, he stroked her smooth, and surprisingly muscular, calf. "Why don't we see what we can do about removing this stocking?" The woman — he couldn't quite remember her name — pressed a knuckle to her lips. "It were a long walk here from my place. Can I use the ... the ... chamber pot first?" It clearly pained her to have to ask for the convenience.

"Of course. It's in there." He pointed toward a door leading to his sleeping quarters.

She ducked behind the door, quiet as a mouse. No sense wasting time, Thaddeus thought and kicked off his boots. Next, he stood, removed his pants, and tossed them aside. They landed haphazardly on the elegant cherry wood rocker he'd had shipped all the way from Boston last year. By the time he completed undressing, he'd begun to wonder what was detaining his lovely guest.

Wearing only his long underwear, he walked to the door of his sleeping quarters and knocked. "Are you all right, my dear?"

His only answer was a soft scuffling sound.

"Hello." He knocked again, and the brass knob twisted. Thaddeus smiled and moved away from the opening door. "There you are."

"So, I am."

The door swung wide, and the smile on Thaddeus's face died as the end of a Colt revolver was jammed into his protruding gut.

"Mr. Newlin. I can see by yer startled expression ye weren't expecting me." The muffled voice behind the kerchief mask covering most of the man's features bubbled with false cheer.

Thaddeus instinctively moved backwards, stumbling as he did. The point of the revolver followed his every move. "What do you want?" he demanded, sounding less authoritative than he would have liked.

"Ack, man. Are ye always in such a hurry?"

The end of the revolver continued to prod Thaddeus, forcing him to retreat. Eventually, the backs of his knees hit the settee, and he sat down, rather unceremoniously.

A second man followed the first one into the room, toting a burlap sack, the contents of which Thaddeus found impossible to determine. Just before the door closed, he thought he heard a muffled female cry. They must have subdued the woman in some manner after breaking in and overtaking her. Perhaps the stupid bitch could yet serve a purpose.

"The woman in there. You can have her if you leave this minute without harming me."

The first man turned to the second one. "Did ye hear that? Mr. Newlin has offered us the use o' his lady friend in exchange fer his life. What say ye to the deal?"

Lifting the edge of his mask to reveal his mouth, the man spit on the floor.

"Sorry, Mr. Newlin." The first man leveled the revolver at Thaddeus's nose with a hand steady as an iron post. "Seems me pal isn't inclined to take yer offer, generous as it tis. What else have ye bring to the bargaining table?"

"Money," Thaddeus sputtered. He despised being strong armed. Especially by a pair of thugs. Fury and frustration boiled inside him.

"Money is always good," the man said, a smile in his voice. "We accept. The only question now is how much."

He was of medium height and lanky. No more than a kid, really. Thaddeus took care to observe small details so that he could recount an accurate description of his robbers to the sheriff later. The man's cohort was shorter and stockier and appeared somewhat older. But not by much. They were both dirty and smelled like they hadn't so much as touched a drop of bath water since the ringing in of the New Year two months earlier.

Their clothes were ragged and ill-fitting. Between their masks and hats, only their eyes showed. The first man's twinkled with amusement. The second man's burned with a hatred so strong, Thaddeus's blood ran cold, and he wasn't a man to scare easily. Good God, what had he ever done to inspire such loathing?

"My wallet is in the pocket of my pants," he said, indicating his discarded garment with a slight tilt of his head. "There's a hundred dollars in it. Maybe more."

"Ooh! A hundred dollars. Did ye hear that?" Though he addressed his cohort, the man's gaze didn't veer from Thaddeus.

The second man made a sound of disgust and dropped the burlap sack on the floor.

"I'm afraid I share the same opinion as me pal over there." The first man cocked the revolver and pressed the tip of it into the side of Thaddeus's nose. "Most people would be tellin' ye I'm a poor excuse fer a shot. However, I'm thinkin' at this close range, even I won't miss."

Sweat dripped from Thaddeus's temples. He could feel it slide down his jaw and along the sides of his neck. Yet he couldn't bring himself to disclose the location of his store of cash.

In a move so quick Thaddeus barely had time to flinch, the man lifted his weapon and shot a gilded mirror mounted on the wall behind the settee. Then he promptly returned the revolver point to Thaddeus's nose.

"Shall we try this again?" The eyes drilling into him no longer twinkled and the voice had lost all joviality. "Where's yer money?"

The ringing in Thaddeus's ears was deafening. He was only vaguely aware of glass shards continuing to rain on his head and shoulders. He made an attempt at speech, but the words coming from his mouth made no sense. Taking several short breaths, he tried again.

"The company payroll is being kept in the third car behind the engine. Hidden in an overhead compartment."

"And being guarded by a half-dozen men dressed as passengers. Ye think we don't know that?"

Thaddeus briefly wondered how two such disreputable low lives learned of a payroll transfer he'd thought kept diligently under wraps. Obviously, there was a leak in his office of some magnitude.

"We're here fer yer personal money." The man shifted the point of the gun from Thaddeus's nose to his left eye. "Now, where is it?"

"My sleeping quarters. The wardrobe." He embarrassed himself by gulping. "There's a false bottom."

"Get it," the man barked and instantly, the second man disappeared through the door.

He emerged a minute later waving a fistful of bills which Thaddeus knew amounted to almost a thousand dollars.

"Get the money in his wallet, too," the first man said, still leveling the gun at Thaddeus's eye.

The second man did as he was told and when he had all the bills together, stuffed them into a small leather bag tied to his waist.

"Stand up," the first man said, moving aside, but not lowering the revolver.

"What's going on?" Thaddeus demanded.

"Please don't waste anymore o' me time, Mr. Newlin." The man sighed tiredly. "We're in a hurry."

Thaddeus stood slowly, fear twisting his belly. These men were planning something and instinct told him it wouldn't bode well for him.

"Now strip," the man ordered.

"Just a damn min —" Thaddeus's protest died when the end of the revolver poked into his neck.

"Ye heard me, man. Strip. And be quick about it."

With effort, he lifted his hands and one by one, unfastened the buttons of his long underwear. Shucking his arms out of the sleeves, he pushed the top half down around his middle.

"We're waiting, Mr. Newlin."

The second man bent and opened the burlap sack. He then extracted several lengths of coiled rope.

"What are you going to do with those?"

"Don't worry yerself, Mr. Newlin. We're just havin' a bit o' fun. I promise, no permanent harm will come to ye." The man's voice hardened further, if that were possible. "Unlike yer plans fer the lass in there. Heard tell, yer love makin' leans toward the rough side."

Damnation! Where had they learned so much about his business and his personal habits? First thing in the morning, Thaddeus would have every single employee of his questioned, including his secretary, Mr. Forrester.

"Sit," the man said when Thaddeus had completely disrobed, and inclined his head toward the settee.

Thaddeus did as instructed.

"Feet apart."

"See here!"

"Feet apart, I said." The man stepped ruthlessly on the toes of Thaddeus's left foot with the heel of a boot.

Crying out, Thaddeus complied. The second man came forward and made quick work of tying both Thaddeus's ankles to the decorative wooden legs of the settee.

"Hands next," the first man said, and Thaddeus's wrists were bound in similar fashion to the fabric covered arm rests.

"T'is that not a pretty sight?" the first man asked, stepping back to view the whole of Thaddeus.

All four of his limbs were stretched to their limits, leaving him completely exposed. His face burned with a mixture of anger and shame.

"So help me, God, you will pay for this," he hollered.

"Undoubtedly, Mr. Newlin. But t'will be God and not you who judges and punishes us."

"When I get my —"

"Gag him," the man interrupted and holstered his revolver.

The second man produced a kerchief from his pants pocket, which he attempted to cram in Thaddeus's mouth. Thaddeus refused to cooperate and bit down hard. The man grabbed his chin and wrenched his jaw open. The cloth was filthy, like the men, and tasted vile, causing Thaddeus to retch repeatedly. Then a rope was wound around his head. The rough hemp sawed into the sides of his mouth, and he was convinced his lips bled.

Helpless, he watched in horror as the two men set the burlap sack in front of a window. While the first man opened the window, the second man struck a match on a framed painting hanging beside the window.

Thaddeus fought his restraints. He prided himself on his collection of original artwork, and the landscape had cost him a small fortune. When the second man touched the lit match to the burlap sack, however, Thaddeus went stone still. Were they intending to incinerate him alive? Dear God, no! This couldn't be happening. His eyes began to water uncontrollably.

"Did I not say ye won't be harmed?" The man walked over to Thaddeus. "Rest assured, Mr. Newlin, I am a man o' me word."

Their eyes connected, and Thaddeus experienced a momentary sense of confusion. Something about the man, both men, actually, wasn't right. But he couldn't quite place his finger on it.

The man glanced over at the burlap sack, which had started to smolder. "The smoke will bring help long before those oil-soaked rags catch fire. Someone will find ye."

Thaddeus began struggling again in earnest.

"T'is been a pleasure, I must say, but we'll take our leave now if ye don't mind."

The two men started toward the door to Thaddeus's sleeping quarters. The shorter one went through, but the taller one hesitated.

"On second thought, maybe we will take ye up on yer kind offer o' the lass. Seein' as yer goin' to be rather busy in the next few minutes and will have no time ta properly satisfy her." He made a quick survey of the room, then went over to where the woman's dress had been previously discarded. He picked it up and waved it over his head like a banner. "Top o' the evenin' to ye, Mr. Newlin."

With that, he disappeared through the door.

Thaddeus screamed his rage, but the muffled sound reached no further than the four walls of his private railroad car.

* * *

On the other side of the door, the thieves got immediately down to business. By their calculations, they had no more than a minute or two before the smoke pouring from window roused a passerby's attention.

"Put this on," Maddie Campbell said in a loud whisper and threw the dress she held at her partner, Constance Starkweather. "Newlin will surely give a description of Dora to the sheriff and, I want her wearing different clothing. Dora, you wear Constance's dress."

Constance removed her battered felt hat, setting free a thick black braid which came to rest in the center of her back. She tossed her hat onto the bed and started stripping out of her shirt and pants. Maddie followed suit, removing her hat and clothes as fast as she could. Her own dark blonde hair had been pinned into a tight knot on top of her head. Dora finished dressing first and grabbing the men's clothes, began tossing them into a tattered carpetbag Maddie and Constance had brought along.

When they were all three finished changing clothes, they donned cloaks. Maddie pushed open the heavy metal door leading outside. She winced at the loud screeching sound, but as there was nothing to be done about it, she prayed no one heard and carried on. One by one, the women jumped down from the railed ledge extending out over the mechanism connecting Thaddeus's car to the one next to it. Before Maddie jumped, she tossed the carpetbag into Dora's outstretched arms.

Their dresses were cumbersome and when Constance landed, she caught the toe of her boot on her too long hem and hit the ground hard, landing on her hands and knees.


"Are you all right?" Maddie asked, all trace of her former Irish accent vanished. Without waiting for an answer, she grabbed Constance's arm. Dora grabbed the other, and they hauled Constance to her feet.

"I'm fine," she answered in a voice so high and musical, it couldn't possibly be mistaken for a man's. "Sorry."

The three women linked arms and ran along the train on the side opposite the depot. Maddie's and Constance's too big men's boots hindered their progress, as did the loose dirt heaped beside the railroad tracks. Already, the pounding of running feet on the depot platform echoed through the night. Someone in the distance shouted, "Fire." By the time the women reached the caboose, they were out of breath and panting hard. The cold night air burned Maddie's lungs, and her side ached.

Dora held the carpet bag to her middle, her face contorted with pain. "Sweet Lord in heaven. That were close."

It could have been closer, thought Maddie. All in all, they'd been most lucky. Next time, they might not have the advantage of surprise. "Hurry. Let's get a move on."

She cut the other women no slack. When they'd signed on with her, they knew the risks and knew they'd be expected to keep up or be left behind. The mission would not be forfeited to spare one life. Not when the survival of hundreds depended on the money they'd stolen from Newlin.

While she would have much preferred to return home to Eden and her precious young daughter, Josephine, Maddie guided the other women in the direction of the depot. They'd made it this far. Now was not the time to lose everything by drawing unwanted attention to themselves.

As a sophomore in high school, NY Times, USA Today, and Amazon bestselling author Cathy McDavid won a local writing competition with her self-illustrated children’s book. Who knew that small triumph would eventually lead to a career writing contemporary romances with over 1.3 million books sold? With forty-seven titles to date, Cathy is also a member of the prestigious Romance Writers of America’s Honor Roll. This “almost” Arizona native and mother of grown twins recently married her own real-life sweetheart. After leaving the corporate world four years ago, she now spends her days penning stories about good looking men who ride the range or fight fires or hunt creatures all while sweeping the girl off her feet. It’s a tough job but she’s willing to make the sacrifice.

To learn more about Cathy McDavid and her books, visit her website.You can also find her on Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, BookBub, and Twitter.

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