Getting Back in the Saddle!

Things have been insanely busy around the McClure household. Like most, we had some setbacks in 2020–mostly health related–but I think we’re back on track. 🙂

My daughter, Sarah, and her husband, Joe, just moved to our sleepy little town, so that was awesome! She’s a teacher and he’s a deputy sheriff. And yes, he’s already flashed his lights at us to slow down, so there’s no benefits there. LOL I personally think he’s just itchin’ to give me a ticket. I’ll keep y’all updated.

My other daughter, Katie, is still at University and in ROTC (Air Force). She graduates next year. She was accepted into the nursing program, so she’s been doing clinicals and working at a nearby hospital. She was one of the first to get her Covid vaccine. Not sure how I feel about all that yet. No… I don’t think Bill Gates is trying to control us (LOL!), but it’s just so NEW. You know? But, so far she’s still alive and kicking, so I’ll think about getting it.

Next year. Maybe.

All that said, I’m working on Dakota Sunshine (my free read to lure unsuspecting…well, they probably suspect…readers to sign up for my newsletter). Should be done in a few months, and Dakota Thunder a few months after that. Sunshine will then be sold for .99 thereafter. Here’s the first chapter for a sneak peak (Excuse any typing errors, I’m still in first-draft mode!):

Chapter One

The summer before The Storm.

Julie leaned forward, her expression borderline bitchy. “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.

By the looks of him, 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, dirty, and stretched tightly across 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. Most women didn’t give a rat’s ass that a cowboy hat was actually designed to keep the sun off your face and neck.

Truth was, thanks to the cowboy hat, that man was a living, breathing fantasy standing ten or so feet away from her, leaning against his raised truck. Mostly because it shrouded the man in mystery.

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 with corded muscles in his forearms and rounded muscle in his shoulders.

She could sit there all day and just watch him.

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 leaned 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. Something she was good at. Most women stressed a non-issue to death. She wasn’t most women.

From what Julie said, the Garner Pipeline had been absolutely vibrating over this new resident, though Brooke never had much time for gossip. Her best friend loved gossip, though, and according to her recent sleuthing, the New Guy was a thirty-six, recently divorced, hardworking father of two young girls. Not her type in any way, shape or form. That type of man was looking for a wife. A mother for his kids. A domesticated woman willing to fix him and his rug rats 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 as she twirled a thick strand of brown hair around her finger. She kept her gaze locked on New Guy. “When did you lose your sense of excitement? Do you see him? He looks like he could 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. A few hired hands that pitched in during harvest and when her family needed to move cattle. 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.

In fact, she was looking to acquire a hell of a lot more work here in the near future. A man with a couple of kids would only get in the way.

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

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

Julie looked wounded. “It was.”

Brooke started to slip out of the booth. “The hell it was,” she muttered. “And if it really was—which it wasn’t—I’d have to start wondering which one of us has really lost their excitement. Because if you were looking at him and wondering if the man went to church, I can’t begin to tell you how screwed up you are.”

Julie huffed as she scooted out of her bench seat. “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.

Which was why she was buying her own land in just two weeks’ time. Her parents’ spread was a little too small for all three of their kids, and since she was the youngest sibling, that meant she needed to move on. No one in her family had ever told her that—and they never would. But splicing the earnings four different ways—and more, when they had to hire out—wasn’t going to fill anyone’s bank account. She didn’t need to be told. She just knew.

Things at the ranch moved along pretty well right now, but once her brothers married and started a family, their paychecks would be too small, and she knew it.

And only her brothers and father were aware she’d attempted to purchase Ray’s spread. The hot cowboy leaning against his truck had counter offered with a price she’d been unable to match.

But that was okay. She wasn’t going to hold it against him, mainly because she had another shot at a few thousand acres just down the road. If that land hadn’t popped up, she might want to skewer the bastard, but she’d let it slide because of this new opportunity.

“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 have an office, not a cubicle,” Julie pointed out. “I have plants, chairs, and even a nice view of Main Street.”

Brooke would rather have a view of the vast plains, cattle dotting the horizon, and complete physical access to both. Like most women Brooke’s age, her best friend liked things a little less rough. Julie 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 literally 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 dirty blonde hair was smooshed down under her ball cap, a half-hazard bun coming through the hole in the back, strands escaping this way and that.

Frankly, she rarely gave a shit what she looked like, and today was no different.

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 and fingers moving deftly.

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 nineteen. She’d been heading into middle school when Brooke and Julie had graduated high school. She always had her auburn hair pulled back in a messy bun, and the woman never seemed to sit still. Always moving from table to table. Always busy, even when she wasn’t at work. And she knew all the juice in town, since most of it was spread right here at the Roadhouse.

Julie pulled back, a frown on her face. “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.

The 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, they grew quiet within the span of a millisecond, 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.”

Lord Jesus, he had a deep voice. Brooke chose to ignore it even though her hormones chose not to.

Both Julie and Pam—even though Pam already pointed out that she was too young for him—smiled with more than a little flirt in their gazes. 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 ‘til, so she needed to get a move-on.

“This is your neighbor,” Julie blurted, smacking Brooke in the arm. She then whispered in a conspirator’s tone to the man, “Just FYI, 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. But she was too busy staring Pam down to give him her full attention. There were times when she wanted to strangle the life out of her best friend. This was one of those times.

Happily single,” Brooke added, frowning at Julie. “Isn’t your lunch break over? 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, which never happened. But Julie had caught her off-guard.

“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 a while. You’re as safe as can be with me.”

It was her turn to smile. She roughly shook his hand and released it quickly. His eyes were a dark shade of blue, and now that she saw him up close, he had a bit more than a few days’ worth of whiskers. He probably hadn’t shaved in a week, and it looked good on him. He was even more handsome face to face. Rugged. But she ignored that as well. “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.”

Bet he loves being divorced. “Don’t have to behave at the bar.”

“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 or 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 wave, following after Julie. Julie had just walked through the door, and Brooke was right behind her when New Guy called out, “Hey, Brooke.”

She stopped with her palm on the handle to the front door and turned to him. 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? Had Julie mentioned it? She didn’t think so. She could have sworn Julie had used the word neighbor to describe her. 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 doubted she’d have forgotten him. “Remember you?”

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

Her brain cells 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. She was suddenly dizzy, as though a vacuum leak in her body had just been fixed, and all the air had gotten sucked back to where it belonged, and she was left without enough oxygen to keep her upright.

Thankfully, she was holding onto the door handle.

A decade ago, eleven years difference in age. She’d been a teenager, and he’d been a twenty-something hired hand that helped on her family’s ranch. He’d been clean-shaven and 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, dredged 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. He reminded her of sunshine and hot summer days. To this day she could recall the feeling she used to get when he drove his rust-encrusted white Ford onto her property every morning.

Elation. Excitement.

He’d always made the first pot of coffee early in the morning, because her mom had allowed him access to the kitchen. Brooke remembered because she’d always made a point to be down there in that kitchen—primped and smiling. He’d always taken his cup of coffee out onto the porch, completely 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 somehow 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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