I have been busy getting back into the writing thing I do - I just submitted a short romance novella, a western historical, to the national romance writers organization for a new anthology that will come out next year. At 20 pages, it took me a quick two weeks to write, edit, seek corrections/advice from two fellow author friends, and submit it. If it isn't accepted (I will find out in May), I plan to extend it by another 20 pages and put it out there to you, my readers.
Mixing genres seems all the rage lately, and I've been thinking of combining a foreign character into a Regency historical romance. A good friend of mine is Indian, and she laments the lack of strong Indian heroines in traditional romances. An idea has been forming in my adventurous brain and I see a wealthy girl hoping to escape an arranged marriage and seeking the help of a confirmed bachelor who is an English sea captain working for her fiance.Some of my first attempts at romance novels involved international locations and non-English characters, and I'd like to revisit that. Maybe readers are over the tortured duke and kilt-challenged Highlander!
I hope your winter is almost over for you, and you are looking forward to new books and travels in the spring. Please enjoy the following excerpt from my new novella, RETURN TO ME, set in the American west:
“I’d heard you were back.” The lump of tears swelling in the back of her throat threatened to spill over. She inhaled a sharp breath and tasted the dust of the street. “Good for you, Garrett Kincaid. You finally made something of yourself. Goodbye.” She led Johnny by the hand and walked past him.
“Laurel, wait.” His boots scuffed the ground behind her.
“I have nothing to say to you.”
A small crowd had gathered outside the dry goods store and saloon across the street to stare at the living proof of a man who’d struck it rich in gold country. She continued toward the boarding house without looking back. Her behavior would cause speculation, but she was beyond caring.
“I have plenty to say to you, Laurel.” He strode beside her and kept pace as she broke into a slightly panicked jog.
She stopped in her tracks to confront him, not caring if she made a scene. “Get away from me, Garrett! I never want to speak to you again. What you did….”
She shivered as if she stood in the shade and the blazing sun wasn’t searing the tops of her shoulders.
“I wasn’t the only one down by the river, as I recall.” He pulled off his hat and held it to his chest. Everything around her faded. All she could see were his sharp eyes gazing steadily into hers. “We may have made a mistake back then, Laurel, but you and I both know it came out of something.”
“Came from what? Love?” She closed her eyes against the image of his face, which had been etched into her brain. “Don’t talk to me about love, Garrett. I hope that’s not why you came back here, to try and….”
“I came to make my peace with Emmett,” he interrupted. He shoved his hat upon his head again. “I’ll accept whatever punishment he wants to give me. Hell, if he wants to shoot my knees out, he can. God knows, I deserve it.” His frown deepened. “I’m not that kid I used to be, Laurel. I want to prove it to him. And to you.”
“You can’t. Prove it to him, at any rate.”
“Why not?” He glanced around the busy street–at the saloon on the corner and all the way down the dusty road to the church at the end, as if he expected Emmett to walk out of either building; two places his brother had never been. “I went to the ranch first, when I got in this morning. Some fella I never met told me Emmett had let the place. Where is he, anyway?”
“In Texas. Or Kansas.” She allowed a bitter smile to reach her lips, wallowing in the burden of misery she was about to thrust upon his broad shoulders. He could take it. He’d always been strong. Strong enough to break her heart and destroy his brother.
“When’s he coming back?”
“He’s not. Not in this life, anyway.”
“What are you saying?” His bronzed cheeks paled. The narrow creases at the corners of his eyes–brought on from years of hunting for gold–deepened. He no longer looked like the rowdy cowboy who’d stolen her heart right from under his brother. Something in his eyes changed, and, for the first time in his life, he looked strikingly like Emmett.
“He died. I don’t know how.” The words blurted from her in a torrent. “I received a letter from a doctor. I can’t recall now where he was. He’s buried there, in whatever little town he ran off to.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed and he blinked rapidly before clearing his throat. “What happened?”
She shrugged. The memories flooded her in all their familiar violence, hurling her back to the cool spring morning when she’d awakened to find every trace of Emmett gone. His horse, clothes…even his Sunday suit were missing. He’d even taken their wagon but left her with the orneriest mule that ever kicked out the back wall out of a barn. A rancher and his cowboys showed up a few days later with a lease written in Emmett’s hand, hastily scribbled on a scrap of paper, granting them permission to work the land. The rancher gave Laurel enough money to put her and Johnny up at the boarding house in town. She had enough to get her back to Boston, but she had nothing there anymore. Numb, she’d found a job as the schoolmistress when old Mrs. Henley up and died that winter.
“He left us. I don’t know if it was to find his fortune elsewhere…” Her voice dwindled off. Emmett had abandoned her just as Garrett had done. Except Emmett caught a fever in some little town somewhere and was buried in a town whose name she couldn’t remember.
Garrett shook his head slowly. “I can hardly believe it, Laurel. That doesn’t sound like Emmett.” His gaze pierced hers. “Leaving his wife and child like that. I thought if I left, he would…you’d both….” His face flushed.
“You didn’t know him the past few years, Garrett. He changed.” She bit her lip. Changed was too mild a word. In Garrett’s absence, Emmett’s pleasant moods had vanished overnight. He took to a whiskey bottle and spent less time on the ranch and more time riding the range, arriving home late at night when he thought she was asleep.
“I should have been there.” His eyes glistened. “I should never have gone.”
“No one stopped you from leaving.”
He broke her stare by focusing his attention on the shiny toes of his new rattlesnake skin boots.
“We both know why I had to go. I wasn’t doing anybody any favors sticking around.”
She straightened her shoulders and tried to remember how brave she’d been the last few years, when all she wanted to do was crawl into a hole somewhere and forget the world. But she had Johnny to care for. Sometimes, she wondered what might have happened to her had it not been for her little boy’s trusting smile. Johnny fidgeted, anxious to get out of the sun.
She nodded toward the boarding house across the street. “I can’t stay out here talking to you like this. I’m taking Johnny to our rooms. I’m glad you survived the gold fields.”
Garrett remained immobile, but his jaw clenched and unclenched a few times. He glanced down at Johnny, as if noticing the child for the first time. He dropped to one knee and held out his hand.
“Hey, there, Johnny. I’m your…your Uncle Garrett.”
Johnny stuck out his hand before Laurel could stop him. “Pleased to meet you, sir.” His little baby voice quavered.
“I want to take you and your mama to have dinner with me.” Garrett spoke solemnly to Johnny. He ignored Laurel’s shake of her head and mouthed no.
“Can we have candy, too?” Johnny bounced on his heels.
“Sure, son, we can have all the candy you want.” His face went scarlet.
Son. Although any other man could have used the term innocently enough, Garrett’s use of it jarred her. She would have held onto her stomach if she’d had a free hand. She suddenly feared she would lose her breakfast all over the street.
Garrett straightened to his full height.
“That is, if you’re willing, Laurel. I’d like to go over the situation at the ranch with you. I want to buy that rancher out of his lease.” He stuck his hands into his pockets, ruining the line of his expensively tailored coat. “I’ll take over the place. Make it the kind of ranch Emmett always wanted.”
The women by the store huddled in a group, darting disapproving glances at their usually proper schoolmarm who was now chatting away in the middle of the street with her dead husband’s handsome brother.
“Fine. You can fetch us at six. Johnny goes to bed at eight.”
He tipped his hat and gave Johnny a brief salute. He smiled at last when the little boy saluted back.
“Six it is.” He held his hat in both of his hands as they walked away.
She steeled herself not to turn and take a final look at him. Her heart thudded like a hammer in her chest, but she busied herself with balancing her packages in one arm and holding tightly to her son’s hand in the other, all the while telling herself it was good that Garrett Kincaid was ready to take on responsibilities. He might become an upstanding citizen. Maybe run for mayor, should the town fathers ever agree on the sort of governing body they wanted.
She stepped onto the shaded porch of the boarding house and steered Johnny past the men smoking their pipes and crowding the entrance.
Garrett was welcome to start all over in Broken Junction. She would just have to find a way to avoid him for the rest of her natural life.