Behind the Story

September 2003
Harlequin Historical

I discovered the inspiration for this story long before I ever thought of being a romance writer. During a cross-country trip with my husband, I stopped in a trading post near Cripple Creek, Colorado, and picked up a book about women in the west called The Gentle Tamers by Dee Brown.”

One story in it particular fascinated me. It stuck in my mind and went round and round. It raised more questions than gave answers.

In 1849, a woman named Janette Riker headed across country with her father and brother. When their wheel broke in a mountain meadow, the train moved on leaving them to make necessary repairs. This, in itself, was not very unusual. Wagon team members kept up or were left behind. For the Rikers, this mishap was followed by calamity. Her father did not want to begin the dangerous trip into the Sierra Nevadas without adequate food, so he and his son went hunting, leaving Janette alone with the oxen. Her men never returned.

Can you imagine waiting for your men, in vain, beside a broken wagon? I couldn’t get that image out of my head.

With winter approaching, Janette Riker built a shelter and topped it with the canvas from the wagon. She collected wood, then slaughtered and salted her oxen without benefit of a firearm. Over the bitter winter, she survived blizzards, wolves, mountain lions and near starvation. In the spring, she was rescued by an Indian hunting party. These men were so impressed with her surprising survival that, instead of killing her, they transported her to the closest fort. That is all I could find about Miss Riker.

I kept wondering how this experience would change a woman, and the idea for WINTER WOMAN was born. My fictitious tale begins where the real story ends, at the point Janette leaves her mountain meadow.

So what happens when a brave, half-starved woman, whose only wish is to go home, is forced upon a solitary trapper who wants nothing more than to be left alone? Together, they face nature’s wilds and the fears buried in their hearts.

I’ve answered all the questions I had except one. What would Janette Riker think of this story I invented from her own tale of survival?

Read an excerpt of Winter Woman.

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