I’ve recieved some notes about my new release, Home for Good, that have said they wished the book was longer. When my manuscript was first submitted it was 23,000 words longer than its published length. That’s 30% of the original manuscript that had to stay on the cutting room floor. One of the parts I was really sad to have to chop was the original first chapter. So, I’ve decided to share it in three small chunks today, Wednesday, and Friday. Thursday I’ll be on Seekerville – I’ll post the link when it goes live!
Original Chapter One – Home for Good – Part One
Horse and rider tumbled into a dustbowl of sand in the arena.
Seconds ago the roar of the crowd hammered through the entire rodeo, wired for the Fourth of July weekend. Now the room buzzed with silence.
And her turn came next.
Working her bottom lip between her teeth, Ali Silver ran a hand over the smooth rawhide cantle of her saddle. Two years. After scrimping and saving she’d finally stormed into Hangdog Saddlery a week ago and slammed down the cash for the Billy Cook Flex Flyer Saddle. The money spent better be worth it. The doors to Big Sky Dreams might stay shut forever if she dared to stroll home empty-handed tonight.
Tension laced the air like smoke after gunfire, and Denny shifted beneath her.
“You’re fine, boy.” Ali patted his neck, cording her fingers into the gelding’s mane. As she traced her hand across the silky buckskin hair of his neck, her catapulting stomach began to soothe. Denny knew the barrels.
Rodeo workers ran past her carrying the injured rider out on a stretcher. The fallen horse, a young chestnut, trailed after like a little sister trying to keep up. Ali tried to feel compassion for the rider. But when a horse fell down it meant the rider messed up somewhere.
And she wouldn’t mess up.
“Our next rider hails from our very own Bitterroot Valley.”
The announcer’s voice snapped Ali back to attention. Her turn. Some riders prayed before a run, but Ali didn’t. God stopped listening to her years ago, if he ever listened at all. She mentally practiced the cloverleaf racing pattern, schooling herself, the only proven way to clear her mind and drive away the fog of adrenaline.
Visualize the set.
Leave a clear pocket.
The official nodded to her.
With a defined kick and the lift of the reins, Ali gave Denny his head and he erupted forward, slamming her into the saddle with a jerk that rattled her teeth. Charging down the alley of the rodeo arena, horse and rider busted through the center entrance at mach speed. They crossed the electronic timer beam and tore towards the first barrel with the power of a fuming bull charging a red flag.
Ali smiled. Because when she rode Denny, the rest of the world slouched out of vision. No sound registered as the duo performed their dance. The ache in her chest dissolved, and for about sixteen glorious seconds she felt whole again.
And their approach? Dead on. She fought against a laugh.
Picking Denny’s speed at the precise moment she arced him, leaving a good pocket to give him an even turn. He swung around the orange and blue painted barrel, his hooves digging into the loose ground. Anchored in the saddle, Ali clenched her abs, her right leg pressing along Denny’s ribcage for support. Half clawing the rawhide horn, she looked through the turn toward the enemy…the second barrel. Raising the knotted reins in her sweaty hand, she allowed Denny to rocket forward across the arena, kicking up a mixture of sand and dirt in his wake.
Clocking left around the barrel, they jolted forward, pounding towards the final one with electric force. Ali moistened her lips as they trampled over the place the previous challengers met their fate. She and Denny hugged the last barrel with practiced accuracy, then turned and let loose down the straight. Ali kicked wildly and Denny galloped towards the finish, crossing the timer.
As the race ended, the real world rushed back in. Applause echoed down the arena’s corridors. Ali’s muscles zinged with adrenaline as Denny clip-clopped down the cement hallway. She guided him outside to cool down. The smells of manure, leather, popcorn, and animal sweat hung together in the summer air. She closed her eyes, breathing in the dream of the rodeo. She sympathized with the men who became addicted to running the circuit despite the dangers. Knew what had possessed Dad to chase after the prized bull-riding buckle like a lover. ‘Cause she would, if it weren’t for the four feet of responsibility waiting for her near the outdoor stall.
“Great ride, Mom!” Her brown-haired son jumped up and down as she swung off of Denny.
“You wanna hold him, Chance?” With an impish smile that displayed more gums than teeth, her almost seven-year-old accepted the reins, his beat up cowboy boots clomping into rich Montana dirt. She pulled off her Stetson, using the hat to fan the short cropped hair from around her face then unlatched the gate. Checking first to see that Denny had water, she turned and pulled off the saddle, propping the heavy leather over the metal railing. She ran her hand down his back, drenched from exertion, murmuring praise as Chance handed her the sweat scrapper. With slow swipes she pulled most of the moisture from the horse’s coat then reached for the curry comb.
Her son bounced on the balls of his feet. “Can I go back and see the scores?”
“Sorry buddy, you have to hang with me.”
“But Aunt Kate is in there. If I promise to sit with her can I go?”
Ali moved the comb in strong circles, drawing the dirt out of Denny’s hair. “I said no.”
“Phu-leeeez, Mom. I want to see the bull riders.”
Throwing down the curry comb she spun around and pressed her hands onto her hips. Her heart squeezed. He might mirror her brown-sugar freckles, but the thick maple hair that stuck up on the side when he woke in the morning, his square jaw, the angular nose and intense pale blue eyes—all belonged to his father. Chance looked just like….
Ali shook her head. She did not want to think about him.
“All right my little bronco, here’s the deal. You may go sit with Kate, but we are not staying for the bull riding. Just until they announce the barrel winners. Got it?”
“Got it?” She cut him off with a scowl.
With a hand on the top of his hat, Chance ran back into the Ravalli County Fairgrounds main arena. The sticky sweet cotton candy, the clowns, and the 4-H pigs held no interest for him—just the broncs and the blood. She shook her head. Such a boy.
Scooping up a dandy brush, she ran her hands over the stiff rice stems as she looked up at the Bitterroot Mountain Range. The snow-capped peaks laughed down at the sweltering festivities in the sun-drenched valley. Rich light painted vivid greens across a tapestry of pines, the hues of the canyon crags vying with the peaks for splendor. The Bitterroots calmed her. Taking them in reminded her that even when life felt topsy-turvy, purpose and beauty remained in the world. She sometimes toyed with the idea of moving away—starting life over—but she couldn’t leave those mountains.
A summer breeze tickled her skin. She turned and gave Denny’s muscled neck a pat. She needed to get back to the arena. They could have announced the winners by now.
Ali put the dandy brush to Denny with quick little flicks that tossed the last of the dirt off his body and into the air. If only memories were as easy to flick away.
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