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 Six 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.
Chapter Five is out too!
I don’t want to talk to you anymore.
Darren’s words lashed her insides with hot tar. Just as quickly as that pain came, more of what he’d said made her muscles cramp.
I hated seeing you on that horse.
Her body hadn’t particularly liked it either. Holding herself upright in the saddle required muscles she hadn’t used in a long time. But Jim and Corey had wormed their way into a soft spot in her heart, and when his prized horse had gotten out, Farrah hadn’t even hesitated.
It was nice to know that saddling and swinging onto a horse was like riding a bike. Though she hadn’t done it for a dozen years, she still knew how. Her fingers still knew exactly what to do.
She finally managed to move her feet enough to get her out of the stable. Darren was long gone. So were Jim and Corey. Farrah felt the same way she had those twelve years ago when she walked away from Steeple Ridge, vowing never to return.
Deflated. Defeated. Depleted.
Darren wanted to ride with her so badly, share his farm life with her so much, and she’d denied him that. She hadn’t understood until ten minutes ago, with his handsome face contorted with pure agony, his questions lifting into the rafters, how much she’d hurt him by refusing to go out to Steeple Ridge.
But how could she explain to him what had happened there? She didn’t talk about it with anyone—she never had. She’d bottled everything up and left Island Park for college in another state.
She slid into her car, her muscles tight tight tight, and her mind whirling. So she’d need to adjust to horseback riding again. She’d realized after only a moment in the saddle how natural it felt. How much more like herself she felt. How big of a piece of herself she’d thrown away all those years ago.
“Who cares that Paul Fletcher wasn’t your real father?” she asked herself as she started the ignition. She sat in the idling car, contemplating where she should go. To Burlington, where her mom and dad lived? But not her biological parents. The thought still brought a pinprick of breathlessness to her lungs.
To Steeple Ridge, where the only man who’d ever made her feel loved was probably storming around, saddling his own horse so he could escape into the forests beyond the farm and try to forget the argument he’d just had with her?
She backed away from the stable and set the car down the dirt lane back to the highway. Farrah usually smiled as she passed the Bybee’s Botanical Farm sign, with the slogan “From Scales to Strawberries” along the bottom.
But today, the words she’d fallen in love with blurred as her eyes filled with tears. When she got to the highway, she didn’t turn north toward Burlington. She’d been back in Island Park for over a year, and she’d gone to see her parents once. They’d come to Island Park to board their horses at Steeple Ridge once, and they’d met her for lunch afterward.
That was all she’d been able to do. She thought about them every day, and with each passing hour, she knew she’d be able to forgive them one day soon. She glanced in the rearview mirror, but nothing prompted her to turn around.
She swung into the grocery store parking lot and kept her sunglasses on all the way into the produce section. Only then did she push them up to examine onions, microgreens, and garlic cloves. She shopped slowly, deliberately, going through her mental grocery list dozens of times to ensure she didn’t miss a single ingredient.
On a whim, she tossed a package of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and a super-sized bar of chocolate in the cart. She wasn’t sure if the farmhouse at Steeple Ridge still boasted the large fire pit she’d sat around as a teenager, but if it did, she wanted to be armed with s’mores ingredients.
The fact that a perfectly toasted s’more was one of Darren’s favorite treats didn’t have anything to do with her decision. She sighed as she recognized the internal lie. Darren seemed to influence every decision she made, whether he knew it or not. Whether she consciously acknowledged him in her decision-making process or not.
But as she’d been researching the agribusiness degree at the University of Vermont this past week, Darren waited right there in her mind. The university was in Burlington; she’d only have a half an hour’s commute. Maybe Darren would be able to help around the botanical boutique in her absence.
And if she taught him to cook, maybe he’d have dinner on the table when she got home from classes.
The fact that she was thinking of him as if they were married was absolutely ridiculous. He had a full-time job at another farm and could barely boil water. She lived in a small house in an older section of town, with dozens of bushes and flowers she enjoyed cultivating through the spring and summer months. With the exception of the past few weeks where she’d been eating with the Bybees, Farrah made dinner every evening. Cooking relaxed her, brought her closer to her center, helped her know her true self.
She hoped it would do so tonight, but the way her stomach turned and her heart jumped in her chest, she suspected it wouldn’t.
She pulled out her phone and sent a text. I’m coming out to do your first cooking lesson. Does four-thirty work?
He didn’t answer while she loaded her groceries onto the belt and paid. He didn’t answer on her drive home, or as she took the groceries into her house. Four o’clock came, and he still hadn’t answered.
Maybe he’d done exactly as she’d predicted and saddled his horse for a long ride through the forest, where he didn’t have cell service.
Maybe he’d meant it when he’d said he didn’t want to talk to her anymore.
Maybe his agony had finally been too much to overcome, and she’d never see him again.
The thought hurt too much to think about for more than a few seconds, and Farrah pushed it out of her mind. She loaded up what she needed to make his favorite meal, put it in the backseat of her sedan, and got behind the wheel.
She thanked the Lord for air conditioning as the minutes ticked by and she still couldn’t get herself to put the car in drive.
If she didn’t leave now, she’d be late.
But did it really matter? Darren hadn’t confirmed that she could even come out to the farm at four-thirty.
Just go, she told herself. But she couldn’t. So she switched her plea toward heaven. Please help me to go out to Steeple Ridge.
For a while in California, Farrah had slept through church on Sunday mornings. Done things she’d never done before. Spoke about being married. Being away from the presence of God had alerted her to just how much she craved His influence.
Now, she was able to put the car in reverse and get herself on the road. By some miracle, she navigated to Steeple Ridge Farm with ease, seemingly in the blink of an eye. She knew which road to take to go to the farmhouse instead of the general public parking lot.
As she turned onto the road before the curve that led around the farm, she gripped the steering wheel as memories assaulted her from every side.
She’d performed in dozens of horse shows out at this farm. She’d had her first kiss with a junior champion around the corner of the main barn while her dad loaded up her horse. She’d fixed fences for Jamie Gill, the woman who used to own the farm before she’d retired a few years ago. She’d spent as much time at Steeple Ridge as she did at school, and both of those more than she had at home.
She pulled into the dirt driveway behind Darren’s truck, wondering if that was a smart move. He didn’t like feeling trapped, something Farrah understood better than most.
A man stepped out of the farmhouse, but it wasn’t Darren. Another cowboy who wore jeans and a red shirt along with a black cowboy hat. Darren always wore a charcoal-colored one, the exact shade Farrah preferred on men.
This guy leaned against the pillar on the porch and tipped his hat at her. A golden retriever emerged from the house and sat at his feet.
With nothing else to do, Farrah got out and lifted her hand in a wave. “Is Darren here?”
“Out in the fields,” the man said. “He left his phone on the kitchen counter, and I’m assuming you’re Farrah Irvine.” His lips quirked up in a quick smile Farrah supposed most females appreciated. He possessed a quiet handsomeness and a gentle spirit, both things that had drawn her to Darren too.
“I am,” she said, opening the rear door. “I brought groceries to make dinner. He’s supposed to be here for the lesson.” She picked up the bags and headed up the sidewalk.
“I’m Cody.” He came down the steps and took the bags of groceries from her. “And I doubt Darren will back before nightfall. He was…in a mood when he went out, and he saddled Paintbrush and took a backpack.”
Nightfall. That was at least five hours from now. Could Farrah spend five hours on this farm without Darren’s comforting hand in hers? Her throat closed as Cody opened the door and waited for her to enter the farmhouse first.
She steeled herself and straightened her shoulders before walking inside. Absolutely everything and nothing was the same as she remembered it. The new owner—a man named Tucker Jenkins—hadn’t done any home improvements. The furniture was different, but the walls were still whitewashed, and the nail hole where a picture of her and the male junior champion had hung above the fireplace remained.
Farrah rubbed her arms as if cold, glancing around like ghosts would come swooping up the stairs and engulf her in sharp knives and spiders.
“You could get started,” Cody said. “Or I could take you around the farm.”
“No,” Farrah said quickly. She definitely didn’t want a tour of the place she knew like the back of her hand. She didn’t want to see how much it had changed while also staying the same. “I’ll just get started on dinner.”
Maybe the scent of pork chops with onion gravy would entice Darren in from wherever he’d gone.
Please let him forgive me one more time, she prayed as she started removing ingredients from plastic bags. Give me the strength to finally be honest with him.
But Farrah had never felt so weak. At least she had five onions to chop to hide her tears.