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 One of the book right here on the blog. Come back to get more chapters from now until release on January 9!
“So you broke up with Farrah?”
Darren bristled at his oldest brother’s question. He’d only told his twin, Logan, about the break-up, and he should’ve planned better for Sam’s visit to Island Park.
“She broke up with me,” Darren said to the dregs of his cereal bowl. Steps sounded behind them, and he hoped when Sam’s wife entered, the conversation would be over.
“She broke up with him,” Sam said upon Bonnie’s arrival.
Darren sucked in a breath and nearly threw his cornflakes at his brother. “Can we not make it a national event?”
“When did that happen?” Bonnie asked, totally ignoring his question. “I thought you guys were happy.”
“Apparently only one of us.” Darren slid her a glance but couldn’t truly meet her eyes. He’d been existing in this painful without-Farrah state for sixty-four days now.
Sixty-four days since she’d ended their eight-month relationship. Sixty-four days since he’d spoken to her. He’d seen her at church, of course, which was almost enough to convince him to study the gospel at home.
Most of the time, he made it through his morning chores before he remembered he wouldn’t be texting the beautiful blonde through his lunch hour.
Rambo, his brother’s dog that got left behind when Logan moved to California seven months ago, whined as if he could sense Darren’s discomfort. He would never tell his brother, but he’d been letting Rambo into the farmhouse-and onto his bed-at night. The outdoor Australian shepherd loved having his belly rubbed at bedtime, and Darren liked the companionship.
No, he didn’t live alone. But Ben lived in town with Rae now, and Sam had moved all the way to Wyoming with Bonnie, and Logan and Layla had gotten married a few months ago and gone across the country to California.
Darren hadn’t gone anywhere. Hadn’t done much more than saddle horses, and feed horses, and talk to horses.
Shouldn’t have tried to get Farrah to do the same, he thought. If he hadn’t pushed so hard about her riding in the Island Park Independence Day parade, maybe she wouldn’t have called things off between them.
“…you’re coming, right, Darren?”
He looked up at Sam’s question, having completely missed the conversation for the past several minutes. “We’re doing what?” he asked, not even trying to hide his lack of attention.
“The cemetery,” Sam said, giving him an older brother look as he buttered toast and slid it to Bonnie.
She smiled, but her eyes didn’t crinkle around the edges, didn’t hold the same level of happiness as usual. Darren didn’t blame her. She had traveled one thousand miles six months pregnant. Afraid to fly, she’d insisted Sam drive them in his pickup truck, and the trip had taken three days.
And they’d come to visit her son’s grave. So all in all, the trip couldn’t exactly be called a vacation.
“Yeah,” Darren said. “I’m coming to the cemetery.”
The other two cowboys who’d replaced Logan and Sam came thundering upstairs. Cody and Wade were also brothers, also unmarried, and also not in a relationship. Darren didn’t need to feel so isolated, but as the last of the Buttars brothers, he did.
“Morning,” Sam said, stepping out of the way so the Caswell brothers could get breakfast.
“Hey,” Cody said, grabbing his coffee mug from the dish drainer.
“We’re clearing out,” Darren said as he stood and danced around his brother to get his dishes into the sink. He followed Bonnie and Sam out to the truck though the cemetery was only about a mile from the farm.
The hay fields that sat between the farm and the cemetery weren’t exactly easy to navigate, so Sam went out to the main road and turned north, going back toward town. They drove in silence, and Darren kept his eyes out his window trying to find something about the landscape in Vermont to dislike. He couldn’t.
He loved it here; didn’t want to leave the way Sam had. Didn’t want to start a different career the way Logan had. He loved being a horseman, though the pull of owning his own farm or ranch or boarding stable was appealing. He had enough money from his inheritance to get a decent start, but he didn’t want to leave Vermont or Island Park.
So he hadn’t even looked-at least until Farrah broke up with him. Then he had seriously considered relocating to a farm of his own. Nothing had caught his eye yet.
Sam parked near Jeffrey’s grave, and they all piled out of the truck. Darren hung back, giving Sam and Bonnie their private moment. Bonnie really, who had been married previously, had a child, and then had to bury him after a terrible accident at the park.
Sam kept his arm around Bonnie’s shoulders almost protectively, and Darren’s heart squeezed at their intimate contact, the easy way they loved each other. Sure, he knew it hadn’t always been easy, but everything about them seemed so perfect.
Jealousy lodged in his throat, making it nearly impossible for him to breathe. His lungs kept operating somehow, and he stepped next to Sam and looked down at the grave.
Jeffrey Jones Sherman.
Bonnie bent and ran her fingers along the top of the stone, a sense of sadness in her very movement. Darren took a long drag of air and found a sense of peace in this cemetery he hadn’t expected to feel.
He glanced up at the perfectly blue sky, with the wonderfully puffy clouds. The breeze blew across his face, flirted with the brim of his cowboy hat, and he was really glad he was here, in this moment, with his brother and Bonnie.
He wasn’t sure how much time passed before he became aware of Sam elbowing him.
“What?” he asked in a voice near a hiss.
Sam jerked his head to the right, and Darren’s gaze went that way. Another woman had come to the cemetery that morning, and his heart and lungs and every other internal organ seized.
“Farrah,” he whispered. What was she doing here? They’d dated for eight months, and never once had she said anything about anyone dying. Island Park was a bustling town, but he would’ve heard of a funeral-especially if she was affected.
“Go on,” Sam said under his breath. “We’ll be a while anyway.”
Darren looked at his brother. Found hope in his dark eyes that seemed to be swelling within him too. Sam’s lips twitched upward. “Be nice to her.”
“She broke up with me,” Darren reminded him as he stepped around his brother and walked away.
Farrah Irvine had intoxicated him from the moment he’d met her. So what if Logan had set up the meeting? So what that it had been in the lobby of the church? Darren hadn’t been able to think straight since last fall, and he actually enjoyed the skiwampus ways his thoughts went when he was with Farrah.
He approached her slowly, his hands way down deep in his pockets. He didn’t want to scare her off. Didn’t want to intrude. Didn’t want to let her get away.
Her dark caramel-colored hair made his stomach ache. He could feel the ghost of it between his fingers as he kissed her, and the temperature suddenly skyrocketed. With his pulse drumming in his ears, and his breath clogged somewhere in his throat, he stepped next to her.
Held very still.
She finally turned her head to look at him, but he kept his gaze on the headstone at her feet.
Gary Karl Lewis.
Darren had no idea who that was, but he’d passed away three years ago, just before the brothers had come to Island Park.
“How’s Bolt?” Darren asked, his voice barely adding its tone to the symphony of wind. He didn’t particularly like her cat, but Farrah adored the gray tabby. Today, though, she stood as straight and still as a statue.
The birthdate on the grave marker was today. So Gary had been born today, July seventeenth, sixty-four years ago. Crazy ideas about how it was sixty-four years ago today that he’d been born, and sixty-four days ago that Farrah had broken up with him started circling Darren’s mind.
He’d never been one to believe in fate or signs, but everything in him wanted this reunion to be meant to be. Orchestrated by God. Something other than a chance encounter.
Farrah turned back to the marker without saying anything about her cat. Darren stood two feet from her, but he felt like an ocean separated them.
“Who is he?” he tried next.
“No one,” Farrah said.
Yeah, right. Darren didn’t believe her though she spoke in her usual calm way. In all the time he’d known her, he’d never seen her so subdued. She didn’t exactly call attention to herself, but she usually wore a quick smile, and engaged in lively conversation, and had candy quirks Darren wanted to explore until he knew them all.
He knew she liked to drink soda with a red licorice straw. He knew she liked to separate her fruit candy by color, mixing the reds and oranges, the greens and yellows, and eating the purples all by themselves. He knew she ate chocolate every day, even if it was just a single square from her stash in her pantry.
“I can probably find out,” Darren said.
That finally got a reaction from her. She stepped in front of him, blocking his view of the headstone. He looked right into her eyes, and dang if he wasn’t excited to be so close to her after being so far apart for so long.
“Don’t do that,” she said, an edge in her eye that matched the hard tone of her voice.
“I just want-” He cut off so he wouldn’t allow the desperation he felt to color his words. “It’s a small town,” he finally said. “I’ll find out anyway.”
She cast another look at the stone and then focused on him again. “Don’t,” she said again. “If I find out you’ve searched this out, I’ll never speak to you again.”
He had no doubt she meant what she said. Farrah always had. The horseback riding in the parade she said she’d never do proved it. So what if he’d found an old picture of her as Island Park’s rodeo queen? Leading the princesses on their horses, that glittery tiara on her head? She said she wouldn’t ride in the parade-and she hadn’t.
Hot, electrical pulses shot through his body when she touched his fingers, then his arm. “Please don’t make me do that.” Her voice wafted across the inches between them, and he was still trying to figure out what she meant and how to get his muscles to stop twitching from her electrifying touch when she stepped past him and strode away.
After several moments, he got his body back in order long enough to turn around. Farrah had already ate up the distance to her car, and she slid behind the wheel of her sleek, black sedan and put on a pair of oversized sunglasses that only made her more exotic, more like a celebrity.
He couldn’t tell if she was looking at him or not, but he lifted his hand in a half-hearted wave, wondering if she’d just said she wanted to talk to him again.