Kris Tualla

Book One: A WOMAN OF CHOICE {Excerpt}

Chapter One

Cheltenham, St. Louis County
Missouri Territory
April 1, 1819

The dogs wouldn’t come back. They yowled and yipped and danced around a muddy heap of fabric lumped beside the receding rain-swollen creek. 

“Can’t you control those mutts, Rick?” Nicolas Hansen growled. Irritated, he reined Rusten toward the hounds and wondered which particular Cheltenham resident upstream had seen fit to discard their curtains into his creek. But when he got close, his gut twisted.

The heap had hair. Long, black, tangled hair.

Nicolas threw himself from the gelding. “Rick! Get over here!”

He knelt beside the crumpled and filthy form. His knees sunk into the chilled creekside mud and the roar of the tumbling water almost drowned the roar of his pulse. He stretched his hand over the still figure and hesitated, hoping for some sign of life. There was none. He gently turned the body toward him.

She exhaled a faint moan.

“It’s a woman, Rick!” Nicolas called over his shoulder. “And she’s alive!”

His gaze skimmed the woman’s mud-smeared face. Dark brows slanted from a bruised temple. Their arches flanked a straight nose with a nasty bump. Her lips were blue and the lower one was split and bleeding. That was a good sign. It meant her heart was beating.

“Å min Gud…” Nicolas moaned. He yanked his hunting dirk from its sheath and held it over the woman’s skirt.

He hesitated again, weighing the ramifications to himself—and her—if he cut away her clothing. But he knew he couldn’t balance her on his horse anchored as she was by yards of mud-saturated wool. In Nicolas’s personal economy, saving her life far outweighed saving their reputations.

If he wasn’t too late already.

Rickard’s voice spilled over his shoulder, “Wrap her in this.” A blanket nudged his arm.

Nicolas nodded his acknowledgement. He severed the full skirt from her bodice in a few quick strokes. He left her chemise intact and his gaze didn’t linger on her bruised and bare legs. He rolled her into the blanket, stood with her cradled in his arms, and faced Rickard.

“Hand her up to me,” he said as he transferred the woman into his best friend’s sturdy grasp. Rickard accepted the burden without pause.

Nicolas mounted his tall gelding and leaned down to gather the limp bundle. He shifted a bit until he felt both he and the woman were secure on Rusten’s back. “Ride ahead, will you? Tell Addie what’s coming.”

Rickard nodded and turned to his own mount. “Do you know her?”

Nicolas frowned. “No. Do you?”

Rickard prodded his stallion closer and leaned over the unconscious woman. “I don’t think so. Hard to tell with all the mud and the bruising, though.”

“Hm.” Nicolas jerked his chin at Rickard. “Go on, then.”

Rickard kicked his horse to an easy canter, waved over his shoulder, and he was gone.

Nicolas followed at a steady walk, afraid to jar his fragile passenger by hurrying the huge gelding. He guided Rusten with his knees while he considered her pale, muddy face.

Lying ten miles southwest of St. Louis, Cheltenham was a small township. Nicolas had lived here his entire life—save for four university years and the year he was obliged to stay in Norway. He believed he knew all of its residents, so he was fairly certain he had never seen this woman before.

And that made her appearance even more puzzling. Where had she come from? Where was she headed? And how did she end up in the creek to begin with? Was she the victim of an accident? Or was something more sinister afoot?

“I suppose if you awaken, you’ll explain yourself,” he mumbled and shifted her position a little. Her eyelids fluttered and she gave a tiny whimper. But she lay as limp as a drowned cat in his arms.

When he reached the manor, his aging housekeeper stood in the doorway beside Rickard, craning her neck and worrying her apron. His friend stepped forward, accepted the feminine bundle once again, and held her while Nicolas dismounted.

“Thanks, Rick,” Nicolas said as he took the woman and hugged her securely against his chest. He faced Addie. “We’ll put her in the room at the end of the hall.”

She nodded and followed him into the house. “Poor thing,” she cooed.

Nicolas topped the stairs without noticeable effort and headed toward the uninhabited room, the furthest one from his. After all, he had no interest in any sort of entanglement and fully expected to return this unexpected and unwanted female to whomever she belonged as soon as she regained consciousness. Once in the room, he laid his mysterious charge on the bed and gave her over to Addie’s competent care.

“Rick?” he called down the staircase.

“I’m here, Nick.” Rickard stepped out of Nicolas’s study and gulped a glass of amber liquid.

Nicolas snorted and started down the steps. “Let’s get back to hunting, eh? Before you finish off my best brandy!”

Rickard laughed and set down the empty glass. “You’ve got more stashed in here than even I could finish and you know it!”

Nicolas reached him, grinned and slapped his shoulder. “Come on, then. If you can manage those dogs, I’ve a taste for pheasant for supper tonight!”


Chapter Two

April 2, 1819 

The frigid liquid world blurred and roared and tumbled around her. Tossed without mercy, she couldn’t figure out where up was, where air was, where water wasn’t. Hard edges battered her. She was tangled in endless sodden wool. Her limbs chilled, her lungs burned, and she couldn’t draw a breath to scream.

Then blackness drowned her senses.

Pain dragged her back toward consciousness. The surge of her pulse slammed her skull with steady sledge hammers. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to think.

Distant voices mumbled through her awareness.

A man, deep and demanding, “Has she awakened?”

A woman, older, “No, not yet.”

“Well, what are we to do with her?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know.”

Had she dreamt it?

Or were they talking about her?

She willed her eyes open and blinked the spinning room into submission. Her blurred gaze staggered over her surroundings and panic squeezed her chest, intensifying the hammers’ pounding.

Where am I? What happened to me?

She closed her eyes and inhaled slowly, defying the tenderness in her ribs, and ordered her heart to slow its frantic warning. Then she opened her eyes again and searched for the whisper of anything familiar.

She lay curled on her side in a bed with clean linens. She could see the carved top of the footboard without moving her head, its edges rubbed light by years of use.

Should she recognize it?

Plaster walls hemmed the wood floor of the unadorned room. Finished logs and cross-planks comprised the ceiling. Dank whiffs of wet bark and moldering leaves leached through the open window past blue afternoon shadow-light.

A stone fireplace dominated the opposite wall, beneath a faded medieval tapestry with images of helmeted warriors and carved ships. A plain bedside table and slat-back rocker were the only other occupants of the room. Under the encroaching outdoor scents, she smelled dust and old smoke. Realization squeezed her temples and dug behind her eyes.

No one lived in this room.

She rolled to her back and lifted onto her elbows. A blade of pain knifed up her neck and ricocheted through her skull. Her world went black again.

To purchase Woman of Choice–    or



(Book Three in the Hansen Series: Nicolas & Sydney) 

By Kris Tualla


Nicolas Hansen has returned from Norway determined to change the world. But when he runs for State Legislator in the brand-new state of Missouri, the enemies he made over the past two years aren’t about to step quietly aside. Sydney has made enemies of her own, both by marrying Nicolas and by practicing midwifery. When a newspaper reporter makes it his goal to destroy them, Nicolas must rethink his path once again. But this time, it’s a matter of principle.


January 2011 Issue – RT Book Reviews – 4 Stars! ««««

“A riveting novel showing that dirty politics have been around for a long time. The story is quite emotional with plenty of action. Nicolas and Sydney may have serious problems, but they also share a deep love and lots of laughter!”




A Matter of Principle


Chapter One

October 21, 1821

St. Charles, Missouri


“It doesn’t look too bad, as whore-houses go.”

Nicolas Hansen had a wide-brimmed leather hat jammed on his head to hide his blond hair. Nothing could be done about his size. At six-foot four, and over two hundred and fifty pounds, he was noticeable. “I’ll go in, then. You know what to do.”

Jaqriel nodded. In spite of the chill in the autumn air, nervous perspiration gave his dark skin the patina of polished walnut. He took Rusten’s reins—Nicolas’s conspicuous stallion Fyrste was stabled elsewhere for the duration—and sat on the edge of the wooden sidewalk. Jaqriel leaned against a lamp post and snuggled inside his jacket; it would be a long chilly night.

Nicolas climbed the steps and knocked on the door. A woman dressed in violet satin, nearly obscured by an eye-stinging cloud of perfume, ushered him in.

“What might a fine, strapping specimen such as yourself be wanting this fine evening?” she cooed.

“I should like to enjoy a brandy by the fire, Madam. Perhaps you might put some of my choices on display?” He fingered the coins in his pocket so that they clinked together.

“Why, of course, sir! Do you have any particular tastes that I might satisfy?”

“Dark.” He looked meaningfully at his hostess. “I prefer dark.”

She smiled and pressed him into a chair. “I’ll see whom I can find.” Turning to a sideboard, she selected a cut-crystal goblet and poured a generous serving of brandy.

He accepted the drink and asked about food. “A slice of beef? A wedge of cheese? Something to sustain me throughout the evening?”

“Absolutely!” She disappeared through a swinging door.

Nicolas considered his surroundings. A brocade factory must have exploded in the room, covering every surface. But, at the least the room was clean.

The swinging door pushed open and a slender Negress, skin the color of caramel, carried a tray of food into the room. Nicolas pulled the brim of his hat down to the bridge of his nose and grunted his thanks. She set the tray on the low table in front of his chair. She didn’t look at him.

The hostess breezed into the room. “Ah, good! You are sustained!” she trilled. “The girls will be down presently. Is there any other wish I may fulfill?” Her hand brushed across the back of Nicolas’s neck. He held out his empty brandy glass. It was promptly refilled.

As he ate from the tray, Nicolas endured the parade of willing prostitutes. Tall, short, thin, plump, some more bold than others. He played along for a bit, as much as he could tolerate, then motioned the madam to his side.

“Yes, darling?” she breathed in his ear.

“The girl who brought the food.”

“Her?” Penciled brows pulled together above purpled lids. “But she’s a Negro.”

“I believe I told you that I prefer dark, did I not?”

“Yes, but she’s a serving girl. A scullery maid!” The woman’s voice took on an important tone. “She’s never been used in that way. She will most likely not be as—pliant—as my other girls.”

She waved her hand toward the women draped in various stages of undress over the colorful furniture. “Surely one of these girls will suit you?”

Nicolas pulled a gold coin from his pocket. “Shall I take my business elsewhere?”

“I, uh…”

He shrugged and moved to stand. She quickly linked her arm through his as he rose. “Might I show you to our best room? She will be up presently, I assure you!”

Nicolas dropped the coin into the woman’s décolletage. “I shall stay the night. Send a bottle of brandy up with her.”




  Sydney slumped into a chair in the Hansen kitchen and brushed loose strands of hair out of her eyes. She felt every speck of the road dust covering her skin and she longed to wash. The Hansen’s housekeeper, Anne McCain, set a cup of chamomile tea in front of her, and then pulled a sweet-potato pie from the oven.

“That smells wonderful, Anne.” Sydney stirred a little cream into her cup. “You’re a gifted cook, that’s certain.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Anne’s dark eyes shifted to hers. “Was it a hard birth?”

“Not hard, really. But slow. How long have I been away?” Sydney squinted at a small clock on a shelf.

Anne’s eyes followed hers. “You left in the middle of the night, and it’s almost two.”

Sydney grunted and sipped her tea. “I’ll lie down and rest before supper. Please don’t let me sleep past six.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The cadence of knuckles on the front door, though feminine, was nonetheless demanding. Sydney pushed to her feet and untied the midwife’s apron she still wore.

“I’ll see to that, Anne.” Moving down the hall, she ran her fingers through her tangled hair and wiped her face with the least filthy corner of the apron. She knew she still looked worse for wear, but there was no hope for it. She grasped the brass handle and pulled open the heavy carved-oak door. Shock traveled to her extremities, and she gripped the door for support.

“Hello.” Pause. “Sydney.”

Lily Atherton was, as always, dressed impeccably. Eyes that swept over Sydney with unconcealed disdain glowed as turquoise as her gown. Her light auburn hair was pinned back, and draped in perfect coils on her shoulders. Sydney felt the prickle of sweat, undoubtedly turning the unfortunate layer of dust into a mud pack.

“May I speak with Nicolas?”

Sydney lifted her chin. “He’s not here, Lily. He’s in St. Charles.”

“Has he left you already?” Lily teased. She didn’t smile.

“Is there something I might help you with?” Sydney asked, though she didn’t intend to be helpful in any way. “Besides delivering your niece this morning, that is?”

“Oh! That was you? Since when are you a midwife?” Lily scoffed.

Sydney was too tired to be polite to this particular woman. “What do you want?”

Lily pulled a face and heaved a slow humming sigh. “My husband and I have only just arrived back in Cheltenham and wish to invite Nicolas and—you—to dinner at my estate.”

“You’re married?” The surprise of it pulled the words from Sydney before she could bite them back.

Lily’s rouged lips quivered and one brow lifted triumphantly. “He’s quite wealthy. Quite.”

“Oh.” Sydney was unsure how else to respond to that. “So… when is this dinner to be?”

“When will Nicolas return?”

Sydney’s brows dipped as she struggled tiredly to remember what day today was. “The day after tomorrow, I believe.”

Lily waved her gloved hands as though the date was unimportant. “Then the day after that.”

“Have Rickard and Bronnie agreed? She’s only just given birth.”

Lily shook her head. “This is my dinner party, not hers.”

“Dinner at Rickard’s estate, then. I’ll tell Nicolas when he comes home. Thank you for the invitation.” Sydney started to close the door but Lily stopped her.

“At my estate,” she corrected. “I do own half, now that our mother has passed.”

Sydney nodded politely and pushed the portal closed. She listened for Lily’s heeled shoes to tap their way out of her hearing.

“Welcome back, Lily,” she whispered. “Now go far, far away.”




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