At long last, my current WIP is getting closer to a reality! Life has kept me from getting much writing done, but lately, I have made significant progress! Yeah me! My next book, entitled Texas Winds, will, hopefully be out this fall. It's a contemporary romance involving a single dad of a reserved four year old and the woman who shows them what true love is. I got the idea for the story from a picture I saw online from one of those photo sites. It was this man on horseback, overlooking this valley, and the expression on his face just caught me.
My story ideas always come to me character first, and I knew the minute I saw this photo, his name was Jake and he had a story to tell. As I looked at that photo, my writers brain started asking questions. Why is Jake sitting there? What does he see? Is he unhappy? Is he mad? For the next three days, Jake would not leave me alone. He invaded my dreams, interrupted my conversations and generally made himself known until I started writing his story. Once I started, things just clicked and I knew what to write.
It is unedited at this point, but thought I'd share the first chapter here with you today and see what you think.
Texas Winds - Chapter One
Guilt is a bitch; betrayal is her twin sister.
Storm clouds silhouetted thirty-seven-year-old Jake Holloway in the saddle, unmoving and silent, near the edge of a deep ravine. The cry of an eagle overhead and a jackrabbit scampering in the distance went unnoticed.
A rumble of thunder pierced the gloomy silence, and the horse whinnied softly.
Saddle leather creaked as Jake shifted his muscular six-two frame to assess the approaching storm before returning his gaze to the chasm below, his thoughts on the past. His chestnut mare, Misty, shook her head and snorted as though complaining about this ritual immersion in self-blame.
How many times had he sat here? How many I should haves, and I’m sorrys clogged his throat? “Too damn many,” he muttered as another roll of thunder interrupted the quiet. “Dammit,” he barked at last and tugged on the reins, turning Misty toward the ranch, the yawning abyss of answered questions as troubling today as they were four years ago.
They’d argued that morning. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time they hadn’t started the day with angry words. But that one began differently.
Jake jerked Misty to a stop and let the past consume him once more because the pain was better than nothing.
Forever etched into his brain, that fateful day remained a vivid memory.
A plate of scrambled eggs and bacon had greeted him when he entered the kitchen. Mary was busy at the stove, wearing her usual attire of black leggings and a long, loose-fitting top. Those nut-brown curls he loved were pulled back in a low ponytail with a dark blue bandana. Several wayward locks framed an ageless face. Emerald eyes glistened when she offered him a nervous glance. Suddenly, the woman he fell in love with at sixteen stood before him.
Pain and regret vied for dominance as the morning played out in his mind.
Mary had placed a mug of coffee beside his plate and sat across from him.
“You’re not eating?” he’d asked.
She’d shaken her head and took a deep breath. “We need to talk.”
Something in her voice made him pause as he scooped a bite of eggs. “Okay.” He motioned with his empty fork. “About what?”
She spun the saltshaker on the table, eyes downcast. “I think it’s safe to say things haven’t been…the same between us for some time.”
“You mean because you’ve slept in the guest room the last three months, and we—”
“I’m tired of fighting,” she interrupted softly. “I can’t….” She inhaled deeply. “I don’t….”
The air around them sizzled with tension as he put down his fork and swiped his mouth with a napkin. “Don’t what?”
She inhaled deeply. “I don’t…”
His heart rate jumped, and the instant rush of blood swooshed in his ears. Silent, his chest tightened, and he barely breathed.
He didn’t need a psychic to tell him disaster loomed like a hidden predator, ready to pounce.
The steady tick of the wall clock highlighted the uneasy silence.
Mary sighed and shook her head sadly. “I can’t—I won’t pretend anymore, Jake.” She straightened her shoulders and faced him. “I want a divorce.”
His heart skipped a beat, then raced onward. What? She can’t mean that. The swirling in his ears intensified, and his vision blurred as he tried to make sense of the words that circled his head like angry bees. She wants a divorce.
“There’s someone else.”
It took a moment for his brain to untangle the words. A single heartbeat thumped hard against his chest before anger, white-hot and ferocious, blindsided him. “Who?”
She flinched but didn’t look away. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Bullshit!” He slammed his fist on the table. “Who the hell is he?”
Back stiff, she didn’t break eye contact. “People change, Jake. We aren’t the same people anymore. It’s time to accept it and move on.”
He shoved his chair back so hard it toppled over. “Seems to me you’ve already done that.” He stomped to the sink and gripped the edge of the counter.
“You’re angry, I—”
“No shit,” he shouted as he faced her. And I’m devastated by your betrayal.
Anger clashed with hurt as he paced in front of the sink. Finally, he righted the chair and clutched the back until his knuckles turned white. Gaze fixed on his hands, he slowly shook his head as reality hit home. She wants a divorce.
Okay, so things were a little strained lately, but he couldn’t see any reason for such drastic action. Whatever their problems were, they loved each other once; they could again. Right?
Heartbroken, he faced her. “Why, Mary? Why?”
Eyes averted, she continued to fiddle with the saltshaker. “We’re not the same people anymore, Jake.” Mossy green eyes glistened with unshed tears when she met his gaze. “We want different things now, have different needs.”
He blew out a grief-stricken breath and ran long fingers through dark, unruly hair. He paused a moment, then gripped the chair again. “Is it what I said about wanting a kid? Is that it?” He drank in a deep breath. “I won’t push anymore. I promise. I want a child, but I can wait until you’re ready.”
Her eyes flicked left and right before reconnecting with his. “We both know this ranch is all you’ve ever wanted, Jake. Or needed. But I need more.” She stiffened her back. “I don’t love you, Jake.”
Stunned silent by the declaration, her words bounced inside his head like pinballs. I don’t love you.
Chest so tight he could barely breathe, he stared. “You don’t mean that, Mary. You can’t.”
A single tear rolled down her cheek. “I’m truly sorry, Jake. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“How the hell can seeing someone behind my back not hurt me?” he bellowed.
She hesitated, then squared her shoulders and stood. “I’m going to say bye to Honey Bear, and then I’m leaving.” She turned for the door and stopped. “Please don’t be here...for both our sakes.”
Anguish produced a bitter taste in his mouth and forced out words better left unsaid. “Fine. Go.” Hands fisted at his side, he stepped back, the urge to shake some sense into her almost too strong to resist. “Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.”
Mary hesitated, then whispered, “I’m so sorry,” before she bolted out the back door in tears.
Jake watched her leave, fists clenched so tight they throbbed as he struggled to come to terms with her announcement.
He went to the sink and splashed his face with cold water, ignoring the droplets dripping down his shirt. How do you fall out of love with someone you’ve been with since your teens?
He splashed his face again, but the water did nothing to alleviate the soul-crushing pain eating him alive.
She wants a divorce.
She doesn’t love me.
Emotions in turmoil, he tried to pinpoint when things got so far off track, but nothing specific came to mind. More than likely, a lot of petty things morphed into bigger ones, but he was too busy with the ranch to notice.
Maybe it was the cruise he postponed last summer. One of the hottest on record, temperatures passed triple digits daily, with little rain. He spent every waking hour ensuring the ranch and his stock survived. He succeeded in saving them, but did he lose Mary in the process?
We need to talk things through, that’s all. We can work it out.
With that thought in mind, he stepped off the porch and headed for the barn in time to see her exit astride her favorite mare, Honey Bear. When she passed the edge of the barn, she kicked the horse into a run.
What happened next replayed in his mind like a slow-motion reel. Honey’s right front leg buckled, and the horse went down, throwing Mary to the side.
The blood froze in his veins when he saw her fall, hitting the big iron ore rock that rested against the fence. He ran toward her, shouting for his ranch hand Cody, to call an ambulance.
She lay motionless on the ground, blood pooling under her head, her right arm lying at an awkward angle. He yanked off his shirt and pressed it against the gaping wound on her head, crying and praying for her to be all right.
The rest of that day and the weeks that followed became a blur of doctors, specialists, and well-meaning family and friends who only wanted to help.
He muttered a curse and spurred Misty forward, unable to quash the one memory that haunted him to this day.
Mary lived long enough to give birth to a premature daughter.
A child that may not be his.