Working on a FREE book — Dakota Sunshine

coffee on wood table texture with space for text

Despite local restaurants being closed and my favorite store, Hobby Lobby, closed as well, I’ve been staying busy! (Actually, Hobby Lobby is open again. Already been there. Already purchased mad amounts of decor. I’m feeling a little better about life in general as a result!)

So now that I have a little happy purchasing under my belt, I figure I’d tackle something a lot of authors have suggested: write a freebie! It’s what writers refer to as the Reader Magnet. It’s a free book that lures unsuspecting reader souls to sign up for our newsletter so we can inundate you with massive amounts of emails and therefore (hopefully) entice y’all to buy more of our books! Not that I have a massive backlist yet–YET–but I might as well get a move on!

Seriously, though, I don’t send massive emails. I only send out emails when I have a new release or when I put one of my books out there for free. In a few months I will have an incentive for you to sign up for my newsletter…and the title of my incentive is Dakota Sunshine. This book takes place in Garner, my fictional town in South Dakota. The heroine is Matt and Misty’s older cousin.

I made the cover and started on the first chapter last month, which I think is coming along nicely. It’s about a woman named Brooke, who is a total tomboy (works on the ranch with her brothers and dad, fixes trucks and farm equipment, and always seems to have hay and grease on her from something she’s working on) whose teenage crush, Chris (he’s 11 years her senior), moves back to Garner and purchases the ranch next to hers. He’s divorced and raising his two little girls by himself, which makes him a hard pass. The heroine isn’t exactly the motherly type–or so she believes.

What I find endearing about this couple is how Brooke crushed on this older ranch hand when she was in braces, and he hardly noticed her at the time (otherwise ick! He wouldn’t exactly be hero material if he had noticed her), other than she was the boss’s freckle-faced kid. Well, as with many small-town romances–he notices her now! 🙂 The braces are gone, but the freckles remain. What’s shocking and slightly disturbing to her is that his two little girls notice her, too, and all three fall in love with the tomboy next door who’s sworn off relationships and motherhood.

Here’s the first scene (soft-edited, so don’t judge! haha). I’m hoping to have this finished right around the same time Dakota Lightning releases.

And just FYI – you’re going to have to sign up for my newsletter to get your hands on it! 🙂

Chapter One

Julie leaned forward, her expression full of mischief. “Twenty bucks says you won’t go over to his place with a hot dish and introduce yourself.”

Twenty bucks said she’d be right.

Brooke Evans took a sip of her pop and glanced out of the Roadhouse’s window to the impressive, shiny silver truck parked next to hers—and to the more impressive owner, who just happened to be her new next-door neighbor. The mid-summer sun was relentless today, absolutely frying the inhabitants of Garner, town of three hundred—give-or-take a few dozen. The temperature hovered in the mid-nineties with a damn good deal of humidity thrown into the mix. July in South Dakota was hot, dusty and generally miserable, and it looked like her new neighbor had already worked his tail off. He was leaning against the bed of his truck in the parking lot, casually shooting the shit with one of the guys from the implement in town.

His white T-shirt was sweat-stained and stretched tightly against his chest, straw cowboy hat pulled low to shield his eyes. She couldn’t see much of his face, but that was one of the greatest accomplishments of a cowboy hat. For most women, a cowboy hat had nothing to do with keeping the sun’s rays out of your eyes or off your neck. Truth was, thanks to the cowboy hat, that was a living fantasy standing ten or so feet away from her, leaning against his raised truck. A couple days’ worth of whiskers shaded the lower half of his face. Full lips pulled back in a half-grin showing off straight, white teeth. Toned, tanned arms.

That’s all a woman needed—the fantasy. Because once you pulled that hat off, and the cowboy started talking, reality was a hard pill to swallow.

Something about the way he was leaning against his truck triggered something in her memory…like she’d seen him somewhere before. Where, she couldn’t even begin to fathom, so she let it go.

From what Julie said, the Garner Pipeline had been absolutely vibrating over this new resident, though Brooke never had much time for gossip. Apparently, he was a thirty-six, recently divorced, hardworking father of two young girls. Not her type. That type of man was looking for a wife. A mother for his kids. A domesticated woman to fix him and his rugrats meals and do their laundry.

She was a little more laid-back when it came to dating.

As in she didn’t. And even if she did date, she sure as hell wasn’t looking to settle down with a premade family. “I think I’ll pass.”

Julie let out an aggravated groan. “When did you lose your sense of excitement? Do you see him? He looks like he can bench-press your truck.”

“My truck doesn’t need bench-pressing.” And she sure as hell didn’t need another man in her life. She had enough of them back at the ranch. Not that she was dating any of them at the moment, but she’d given a few of them a test drive throughout the years. Twenty-five and single was a great place to be. She’d learned early on in life that adding a man into the mix only created more work, and she had plenty of that.

Julie, still obviously wrapped up in the fantasy, kept gazing out the window at the new guy. “I wonder if he goes to church?”

Brooke barked out a laugh, having known Julie Garwin since the fourth grade, when her parents had relocated to Garner from Aberdeen. “That is not what you were just thinking.”

Julie looked wounded. “I was.”

Brooke started to slip out of the booth. “The hell it was,” she muttered. “I’m starting to wonder which one of us really lost their excitement.”

Julie huffed as she scooted out of her bench. “Guess it is about that time. Too bad you have to work in this heat. Don’t you get sick of it?”

Julie worked at the bank, and there was no place she’d rather be than in an air-conditioned—or heated, depending on the season—office, behind a desk. Brooke was quite the opposite. Sit her ass on a horse, point her to some kind of work on the ranch, and she was usually happy. Even if she had to work in the stifling heat of the barn. She hated being cooped-up. She was certain that if she had to sit in an office all day her soul would wilt and die rather quickly.

“It’s a little hot today,” she said, giving Julie a sideways glance. “But I’d rather be out in the heat than stuck in a cubicle. I’ll probably hit up the lake later tonight.”

The lake was on the edge of her property, and literally no one went to it. Julie didn’t swim in the lake to cool off, she went to the public pool in town. Much like her propensity for indoors to outdoors, she also preferred pool to lake.

“I have an office, not a cubicle,” Julie pointed out.

Her best friend had on slacks and a nice collared shirt, her nails perfectly manicured. Her brown hair was down and curled, since the humidity wouldn’t be given the chance to weigh it down, and she wore makeup.

Not Brooke. She’d gotten a solid farmer’s tan from being outside all day, and any makeup would melt off her face before noon, so she usually forwent that garbage. There was a pound or two of South Dakota dirt under her chipped, unadorned nails. Her blonde hair was smooshed down under her ball cap, a half-hazard bun coming through the hole, strands escaping this way and that.

She’d thrown on a black tank top and a pair of jeans that morning, pulling on her boots at six a.m. sharp. She’d been out in the barn tending to the horses by six-thirty, a hot Yeti mug full of black coffee in her paw.

Life was good when your cubical was as big as the prairie. Not many women would agree. She, on the other hand, had been a tomboy since the doctor cut the cord, separating her from the feminine, and allowing her to run with the males of the family. She hadn’t slowed down since.

It was her turn to pay for lunch, so Brooke tossed her card at Pam, their waitress, when they reached the register.

“Food good?” Pam asked, deftly sliding Brooke’s card through the machine, gaze on her task.

Brooke took her card back. “Always.”

Julie leaned over the counter. “You see that new guy outside?” At Pam’s nod, Julie asked, “What’s his name again?”

“Carl something? Maybe Chris? I can’t remember. From Minnesota. Thirty-six, so he’s a little too old for me, but someone mentioned that he’s lived in town before.”

Pam was the grand age of twenty. She’d been in middle school when Brooke and Julie had graduated high school, and Pam knew all the juice in town, since most of it was spread right here at the Roadhouse.

Julie pulled back. “He didn’t look familiar to me. I heard he bought Ray-Ray’s spread. That’s right down the road from Brooke’s. I told her she should take a hot dish over to him and welcome him to Garner.” She turned to look at Brooke. “I mean, he is your next-door neighbor.”

“And he’s hot,” Pam needlessly added.

All three of them laughed until the front door to the Roadhouse opened, admitting the very person they were talking about. Without it having to be said between the three of them, they grew quiet within the span of a second, lips pinched, if not a little lifted at the corners. It was a non-verbal small-town rule: if you were talking about someone and they popped up within hearing distance, you were supposed to shut up real quick. Her circle called it the snap-to-silence.

“Good afternoon ladies.”

Both Julie and Pam—even though Pam already pointed out that she was too young for him—smiled up at him with a little flirt in their gaze. Brooke slipped her card back into her wallet and glanced down at her watch. She’d told her dad that she’d be back by one to look at the feed tractor. Damn thing was running like shit. She figured it needed a new fuel injector. It was ten minutes to one.

“This is your neighbor,” Julie blurted, smacking Brooke in the arm. She then whispered in a conspirator’s tone to the man, “She’s single.”

Julie smiled like a goof, Pam snorted, and Brooke could tell that the New Guy flashed her a grin from her peripheral vision.

“Happily single,” Brooke added, frowning at Julie. “Aren’t you due back at the bank?” Brooke still hadn’t looked New Guy in the face. Probably because she could feel that hers was now red.

“Yep.” Julie didn’t move.

New Guy held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, neighbor. I’m happily single as well, and I plan on staying that way for as long as I can.”

It was her turn to smile. She roughly shook his hand and released it quickly. “It’s nice, isn’t it? Don’t have to put up with anyone’s shit.”

He grinned. “Don’t have to answer to anyone.”

“Don’t have to check in,” she quipped.

“Don’t have in-laws.”

“Don’t have to behave at the bar.” That was by far her favorite one.

“Don’t have to remember Valentine’s Day or anniversaries.”

“Oh, that’s a good one.” Hell, she might just like this guy. At the very least it seemed as though they were on the same page when it came to dating—it just wasn’t worth the time and effort.

Julie tapped her watch. “Well, now that the two of you have killed romance with a few short sentences, it’s time for me to head on out. Have fun in the sun while I relax in the air conditioning.”

Brooke nodded and gave Pam and the New Guy a farewell, following after Julie. She was in good spirits until he called out, “Hey, Brooke.”

She stopped with her hand on the door handle of the front door of Roadhouse and turned around. After spitting out all those reasons to stay single, she really hoped this guy didn’t hit on her. She’d hate to turn him down in front of a crowd.

Wait…had she told him her name? How did he know her name? “Yeah?”

“You don’t remember me? At all?”

She frowned. She’d never seen this guy in her life. Not once. She may like her single status, but she wouldn’t have forgotten a body like his. “Remember you?”

He removed his cowboy hat, and a strand of brown hair fell into his green eyes. “It hasn’t been that long.”

Her brain aligned with every hormone currently active in her body, and her recollection of the man standing across the restaurant snapped into place like a bolt slamming home in a rifle.

A decade ago, eleven years difference in age. She’d been sixteen, he’d been the twenty-seven-year-old hired hand that helped on her family’s ranch for a summer. He’d been lanky back then, not…filled out like he was now. Same easy smile, though now framed with whiskers. Same height, different breadth to the shoulders. There was more meat to him. Her sixteen-year-old ghost, complete in cut-off jeans and braces, was dredging up memory after memory of hot summer days filled with his shirtless self. His lanky frame leaning against the fence. Drinking tea from a glass covered in condensation. Driving his rust-encrusted Ford onto her property every morning. Ignoring the shit out of her.

“Chris?” she asked, her voice no more than a whisper, as though she were afraid to throw that name out there. Afraid of what he’d say. Afraid he’d know that he was, and had always been, the star of every fantasy she’d ever had.

“It’s nice to see you again, Freckles.”

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