Okay, it’s getting really close to the release of COMING HOME TO STEEPLE RIDGE! I hope you’re as excited as I am. 🙂
Today, I’m sharing Chapter Five of the book right here on the blog. Come back to get more chapters from now until release on January 9!
Missed Chapter One? Go here to read it!
Chapter Three is up too!
Read Chapter Four here.
Darren worked to finish the repairs in the shed, very aware that Farrah had arrived an hour ago. He’d tried to get off the farm before she showed up, as he’d managed to determine her arrival time at five-fifteen each evening. She obviously came straight out to the farm after her shift at the bowling alley. But tonight, Meagan had asked him to fix a few broken panels in the greenhouse from last night’s windstorm.
He couldn’t say no to her, and he’d been circling an idea for the past two weeks. Circling Farrah so their paths didn’t cross. Always circling.
Sam and Bonnie had gone back to Wyoming, and though Ben lived in town with Rae, they hadn’t come out to Steeple Ridge for Sunday dinner like they usually did, citing that Rae was ill. Which was just fine, because neither Darren, Cody, nor Wade could cook much more than a grilled cheese sandwich.
Missy usually brought food, and Rae and Ben usually came, and Darren usually made it through the week by living on the promise that he wouldn’t be alone on the Sabbath. But none of that had happened, which had left Darren feeling vulnerable and irritable at the same time.
So he’d kept his eyes on his work though Farrah’s scent teased him as it got caught up in the air filtration systems and reached him from his position atop the ladder.
By the time he’d replaced the glass and put the ladder away, he didn’t have any willpower left. If he ran into Farrah, he wasn’t sure what he would do. So all he could do was pray she’d already left.
He stepped out of the massive botanical boutique, practically running over her as she tried to enter. He grunted and reached out to steady her. Somehow, though, his arm swept around her and held her against his body, the way he’d done dozens of times before.
She righted herself and he steadied, a zing of attraction and desire cascading through him. “Sorry,” he muttered as he released her and stepped back. He dipped his chin to his chest and moved to the side to let her in.
“You’re not staying for dinner?” she asked.
“Corey is a good cook.”
Darren looked up, betrayal filling his chest. He hadn’t been staying for dinner, because he came before it was time to eat. Again, because of Farrah. He’d already lost so much because of her, and a fire entered his bloodstream he hadn’t felt in a while.
“As good as you?” he asked.
Farrah shrugged, her humility ever-present. It was one of the things Darren had first loved about her. He wanted to taste her pork chops with onion gravy right now; the creamy mashed potatoes she made tasted more like butter than anything else.
“Yeah, I think I’ll stay for dinner.” He took a step closer, his mind swirling around that idea he’d had. “Maybe you’d teach me how to cook, and I’d be able to take care of myself.”
His words had the desired effect as Farrah’s face flushed and she drew in a quick breath. When they were dating, she’d often joked that she needed to give him a few cooking lessons so he’d be able to survive on his own. Darren had always assumed she’d teach him after they were married, or she’d simply tease him about his lack of culinary skills for the rest of their life together.
He wasn’t really asking her for a cooking lesson, and they both knew it. He was asking her out. Right there, right now.
She couldn’t seem to look away from him. Those teal eyes held him fast, and he reached for her. “Farrah,” he said, her name like poisoned honey on his tongue. He brushed his fingers against hers and wanted to grab on and never let go.
“I just want…. Can we just talk?” He had a whole lot more to say, but the words seemed stuck behind a dam in his throat.
A flash of a smile touched her lips for a moment. “I’d—I want—”
The clanging of the dinner triangle interrupted her. She turned back toward the house, just across the field. “I’m starving.” She turned and walked away from him, her hips swinging with every step.
Darren watched her go, wondering what, exactly, she was hungry for. Because he was starving too, but it wasn’t for want of food.
* * *
The next day Darren had just brushed down Paintbrush after working him in the fields when Cody came into the back barn. “There’s a Jim Bybee on the phone, and he says he needs you out at the farm.” Concern crossed the other cowboy’s face. “I told him you were already out on the farm, and he said Alaska’s loose, and then he hung up.”
Darren didn’t hesitate. He reached for his rope hanging on the wall and started for the door. “Alaska’s his horse,” he said. “And Jim Bybee owns the organic farm north of town.” He hustled outside into the bright sunshine, already late and wishing he hadn’t had to wait for the message about Alaska.
He made it to the farm in under fifteen minutes and skidded to a stop next to the stables on the opposite side of the farm from the aquaponics shed. Corey stood there, wringing her hands. “Jim left Slate for you,” she said. “Alaska unlatched the west gate and got out. Jim’s been out for an hour trying to find her.”
Darren glanced at the shiny black sedan parked in the wrong place. He didn’t have much time to comprehend why Farrah had parked all the way over here when her work was in the building on the other side of the farm.
He swung onto the slate gray horse that had been saddled for him and pressed his hat further onto his head. “West?”
“Well, I’m—we’re not really sure.”
Darren gripped his rope and headed out on the horse, his eyes scanning the fields, the horizon, the tree line for any movement, any flash of white against the green. Alaska was a stubborn old horse—Jim’s favorite, of course—who had a soul that couldn’t be contained behind a fence.
Worry wormed its way under Darren’s skin. Jim would be devastated if he lost Alaska. The steady rhythm of hooves lifted into the sky as Darren worked his way along the line between the house and the outbuildings and the pastures.
Another rider appeared from out of the trees, and Darren lifted his hand to Jim. He pointed farther north, and Darren swung his horse that way. Only a moment later, another rider appeared, this time on a bright brown horse named Featherwing.
It wasn’t hard to see the feminine figure despite the distance between them. The woman wore a hat, but her blonde curls cascaded over her shoulders and down her back.
It was Farrah.
Riding a horse.
Wearing a cowgirl hat.
Darren almost slid right off Slate’s back, and his mouth practically hit the dirt. She turned and joined Jim as they moved north, leaving Darren there in a state of shock. Once that wore off, all that remained was anger. She’d sworn to him that she’d never ride again. She’d resisted every request of his to come to Steeple Ridge. She’d broken up with him over riding a horse and carrying the colors in a small-town parade.
He almost turned Slate right around and went on back to the farm he knew. The farm where he’d never have to see Farrah and experience such a tidal wave of fury.
Why could she come here and ride these horses and she couldn’t come to his farm and ride his horse?
The need to leave shot through him with the force of lightning. But he couldn’t do that to Jim. So he made his horse follow theirs. He’d nearly urged Slate to pick up his trot when a noise from the trees to his left caught his attention. A flash of white cut through the shady darkness under the limbs, and Darren swung his horse that way.
“C’mon, Alaska,” he called, approaching slowly. The horse huffed, shuffled in the undergrowth. Darren’s fingers tensed around the rope and he released the loop and let it hang.
“You gotta come on back to the corral.” He paused Slate as Alaska came into full view. The horse had a wild look in her eyes, and her coat was slick with sweat. She had to be tired and thirsty and Darren thought he could get her back without the rope.
Her eyes twitched to his right, and Farrah appeared on her horse. Darren warned her off with a lifted hand, and she stilled. He drank in the sight of her on that horse, and everything in him ran a little hotter. And he hated that, because she’d made her position about their relationship really clear.
She’d walked away last night. Hadn’t said a single word to him during dinner. Darren felt like his heart was being broken all over again, and he wondered how many more cracks he could sustain before the thing would stop beating altogether.
“C’mon,” he said to the horse. He needed to turn away from the sight of Farrah on that horse, and he hoped Alaska would simply come with him. Slate had taken four steps when Darren heard Alaska begin walking too.
She fell into place on Slate’s left flank, and Darren led her back to the corral without throwing his rope at all. Corey dialed her phone as soon as she saw them, and Jim arrived just as Darren closed the gate behind them, Alaska properly contained.
Darren swung off Slate and flipped the reins over the top rung of the fence. He turned his attention to Alaska and started brushing her down, the horse’s eyes falling halfway closed. He wanted to lecture her, pour out his frustration with Farrah to her, but he let the words come out silently in in every brush stroke.
With her properly cared for, he let Slate into the stable too. Farrah stood a couple of stalls down, her hands stroking Featherwing’s neck. Darren scoffed and turned away. He couldn’t even speak to her right now, and he didn’t turn back when she called after him.
As he jumped back into his truck and got out of there, he thought maybe he finally understood how Farrah had felt, why she hadn’t been able to talk to him, after he’d submitted her name for the flag bearer in the parade.
He slammed on the brakes and threw the truck in park. He marched back down the street and right back into the stable. “I’m sorry, okay?” His voice echoed through the building, startling even himself. Farrah turned toward him, her cowgirl hat bathing her face in shadows.
“I said it a dozen times back in May, and I still mean it. I’m sorry I pushed you to ride in the parade.” But she should see herself atop a horse. She was beautiful and magnificent and it was clear she belonged in the saddle. Why couldn’t she see that? Why didn’t she want it?
Farrah took a step toward him, but he backed up to keep the distance between them.
“I hated seeing you on that horse,” he said, bitterness in every syllable. “Why—How—Why can you ride here and you won’t come to Steeple Ridge?” Pure agony carried in his question, amplified with every second that passed. And passed. And passed.
Unbelievable. She still wasn’t going to talk to him, really tell him what was going on with her. Darren ground his teeth together, willing her to say something. Anything.
He finally shook his head. “Whatever, Farrah.” He stepped to the door and practically ripped it off its hinges. “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.” His statement couldn’t be further from the truth, but he couldn’t keep opening his heart to this woman only to get it sliced and diced into bite-sized pieces.
He hated this cycle he and Farrah seemed to be in. This anger was only the first step. Then he’d withdraw for days, maybe even weeks. During that separation, he’d soften and forgive her, and then he’d try to get close to her again. Then she’d say or do something—or not say or not do something he wished she would—and his frustration would get the better of him and he’d walk away from her again.
“Time for a clean break,” he told himself as he reached his truck and fired up the engine. Totally clean.
If only he could figure out how to purge Farrah and all the memories they’d shared as easily as he could drive away from the stable where she still hid.