Sunday Best

Heartsight

On a secluded beach in North Carolina, three lonely people find hope in each other.

Trish Evers is an artist and single mother, who has inherited her grandmother’s Bed and Breakfast in a North Carolina coastal town. Though she must sell the house, she decides to bring her daughter to the beach for one last summer vacation in her childhood town.

Bella is a six-year-old girl who has Down syndrome. Rejected by her father, Trish, is the only parent she’s ever known. Bella likes to explore the beach and has a tendency to wander off. One day, Bella goes exploring on her own, and Trish finds her in the company of an intriguing stranger.

Dan Conway is a U.S. Marine, who had been born into a family of Marines. Now blind as a result of combat injuries and unable to “suit up,” he feels he no longer has a purpose in life. He’s come home to the beach, where he spends his days in solitude. Dan must learn to believe in himself and to love life again, which he begins to do through his interactions with Bella and Trish. When a hurricane strikes, and Bella wanders off again, her only hope for rescue is Dan.

 Working within the confines of his blindness, he must overcome his fear of failure and recall his training in order to search for the little girl and bring her to safety.

EXCERPT:

Using the sound of the surf and the sun’s warmth for orientation, Dan sat on a large rock facing east and enjoyed the sunrise. The kiss of waves on sandy shoreline became louder, more insistent, as the gentle predawn breeze turned into an early morning wind. The air around him warmed rapidly, and the beach life started to awaken as well.

The cries of gulls in the distance held an eerie, human-like quality, which could as easily have been the delighted squeals of children playing or the terror-filled shrieks of children dying.

Dan breathed slowly in then out, and re-oriented himself to his surroundings. The sand beneath his feet was the foot-sucking grain-like consistency found on the beach, not the diamond-hard dust he’d grown used to in the desert. The air surrounding him was humid, not arid.

Beach grasses whispered, stroked by the onshore ocean breeze. Nearby, scuttling ghost crabs bulldozed the sand, each tumbling grain sounding like a rockslide to Dan’s sensitive ears. The air smelled a bit of midsummer rain, hinting of possible relief from the early summer swelter by mid-afternoon.

His hand rested on the old guitar, unmoving, the instrument silent, as he considered a future in the dark. He had few options and limited time to make a decision that would affect the rest of his life. Did he try to maintain a semblance of the life he’d once planned for himself? Or leave all that and carve a new niche elsewhere?

Who was he kidding? No one wanted a wounded warrior, let alone one who could no longer see.

He caressed the low E string with his thumb, frowning at the dull, not-quite-in-tune sound. Automatically, he adjusted the string until he was pleased with the pitch, repeating the process for the rest of the strings.

Leaning over her, Dan hugged the guitar to him in the manner a man should embrace such a lady. She’d been his best friend since he was a kid, had never failed to bring him comfort and healing through the secret language they shared.

Dan played a few soft chords, walking his fingers up and down the fretboard, not playing anything specific, the tones coming more easily than he’d expected them to. He stopped to adjust the G string, then played a few more chords, falling into a slow rhythm, one good for thinking.

Without conscious thought, he inserted a simple, impromptu melody, making love to his lady in earnest now, expressing the deepest, most vulnerable aspects of himself through the movements of his fingers. The lonely sound drifted across the beach to join the cries of the gulls, as he laid bare the layers of pain for the audience of his solitude.

As he lost himself in the haunting music, Dan felt the first stirring of a curious sense of freedom. Recent memories were pushed to the rear in lieu of less troublesome ones from his boyhood, when scuttling crabs had held him enthralled, and thoughts of where driftwood came from had fascinated him. The music swelled under his hands as he revisited that time of innocence.

At his feet, Jack stirred and whined. Dan stopped playing, abruptly pulled back into the present. Barely a second later, he heard something shuffling through the beach grass behind him and the scents of caramel and cotton candy wafted into his awareness.

His private beach had been discovered.

The air next to him stirred softly as whoever it was took a seat on his rock. Dan was about to ask if the intruder had noticed the private property sign at the entrance to the beach, when sticky fingers were thrust against his palm. Startled by the sudden invasive touch, Dan nonetheless instinctively closed his fingers about the delicate hand that had placed itself into his.

“Well, hello.” Dan listened for the sound of someone else approaching but heard nothing. “Is your mom or dad around?”

The only answer he received was a tiny contented sigh. He could feel the rhythmic movement of the child’s feet swinging over the edge of the rock on which they sat.

CAMP WEDDING (part of the Matrimonial Mayhem charity anthology)

This is the story of the Heartsight wedding and is one of six short stories. The anthology is a 100% charitable donation – all proceeds are dedicated to the victims of the 2011 tornadoes in Alabama.

Becoming a wife is an amazing experience, both nerve-wracking and exhilarating. But becoming a military wife carries extra requirements, even as it offers extra joys and terrors. Kay Springsteen continues the story she so richly began in Heartsight, as Dan returns to active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, Trish becomes his military wife, and Bella remains her adorable self.

 EXCERPT:

“Well, I’m about to take off the wedding gown, so you all can rest easy.”

Dan’s grin remained in place and he settled more comfortably against the doorjamb.

Trish chuckled. “What are you doing?”

“Waiting for you.” Dan crossed his arms over his chest. “Did you forget our meeting with Chaplain Higgins this afternoon?”

“No,” said Trish, making a face. “I didn’t forget.”

Dan merely stood against the doorframe, a knowing smile playing around the corners of his lips. Trish allowed her gaze to linger on those lips for a moment, wishing they were alone so she could kiss that smug smile away.

“Okay, it may have slipped my mind,” she admitted with a laugh. “But I had a wedding dress crisis.”

“Oh, well, of course a dress crisis has to be resolved before we meet with the chaplain who’s going to marry us.”

“Okay, I get it. I’m being impractical trying to get everything just right.” Trish struggled to reach her zipper, giving up and presenting her back to Ashley instead. “I know everything can’t be perfect but I at least want to look nice.”

“You always look nice to me.”

Trish whipped her head up to glare at her fiancé.

Dan struggled to control a grin. “She’s giving me the death stare right now, isn’t she?”

Ashley leaned around Trish to check her face. “Umm-hmm.”

Dan sighed. He pushed off the door but made no move to enter the room. “Trish, I really do think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. And I’m talking about so much more than how you look. I see who you are inside.”

Bella looked up from her bucket of shells. “Daddy doesn’t see with—his eyes, Mama. He uses—his heartsight.”

In an instant, Trish’s worries about her dress, about the venue, the preparations, and meeting Dan’s family all fell away. She looked from the daughter she loved to the man she loved and smiled. “And aren’t we lucky he does, baby?”

Heartsight:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Matrimonial Mayhem:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Lifeline Echoes:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Elusive Echoes:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

 

 

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Sweet Saturday Samples

For my first Sweet Saturday Samples, I’m offering a brief taste of Dan and Trish, from Heartsight, and then a quick tease from an upcoming release, Heartsent. If you want to get back to Sweet Saturday Samples, just click on the link at the bottom of the page.

Heartsight:

Nuzzling her neck, he feathered little kisses along her collarbone. “Just try describing them, see what happens.”
“I…” She pulled in a deep breath. “I’m not going to be able to if you keep doing that.”
“Is this you reining me in?”
Trish laughed. “This is me saying if you want me to describe my paintings, you have to stop breathing in my ear. Your choice of how we end this conversation.”

Heartsent (available October 2011):

Was it possible to die from longing? Lina was beginning to think the slow torture Kevin was subjecting her to with the butterfly touch on her lips would surely result in death. Or maybe she’d just go not-so-quietly insane. He kept them poised, just on the verge of the kiss. What was he waiting for? She tried to move forward, to lean into the kiss but he held her in place with her braid wrapped around his hand like a rope. Unable to move forward, she surprised herself by not wanting to step back.

Currently available:

                       

Amazon, Astraea Press, Barnes & Noble

Return to Sweet Saturday Samples blog.

Dreaming In the Movies

I watched the story of J.K. Rowling on Lifeline Monday night. It’s a very inspiring story that should give young writers – especially those with fresh vision and new characters – a lot of hope. Heck, I only write contemporary romance but her story gave ME hope. See, it wasn’t so much WHAT she wrote that I found inspiring, but the way she gave up things along the way and even with the different twists and turns her life took, the obstacles in her way, she still stuck to her dream.

I was talking about J.K.’s story to one of my daughters this morning, and I said something along the lines of feeling like Rowling, that I’d given up things for my writing, that with every one of life’s setbacks recently, I hadn’t been able to shove my writing to the rear seat. Not that I’m anticipating any movie deals for any of my novels, and not that the story of my life is particularly inspiring…

And Dora, always one to dream big, says, “So what if Heartsight DID get made into a movie? Who can we cast?” (Yes, she’s always one to jump on the proverbial bandwagon, too.) She figures we need some really great actors to play the roles of my main characters — why? Because she pictures us taking time from our lives to go watch the filming, and, well, you may as well meet the actors, and thus, they should be actors you like. It’s kind of hard to argue with her reasoning.

With that in mind, we chose Sam Worthington (Jake Sully/Avatar) for the role of Dan Conway, and Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, The Time Traveler’s Wife) for the role of Trish Evers. Hmmm. So, okay Hollywood, Dora and I are so ready for our big break! We’ll still be here waiting for “the call.” But, um…yeah, neither of us have quit our day jobs yet.

“If you’ve got yourself a dream, work hard, believe in yourself because I know dreams can come true.”- Dennis DeYoung/Styx 1997.  Dream big, people. Whatever your dream may be, it’s good to have dreams. Tell me about yours!

Six for Sunday

From Lifeline Echoes – and this week I scrolled through with my eyes closed and highlighted a piece – so this is literally chosen blindly (and then trimmed to 6 sentences lol):

“What was the weirdest run you ever did?”
He laughed again. “This is L.A. There’ʹve been a lot of weird runs.”
“Tell me.”
“I think the strangest was the time the house began shooting at us.”

Hope you enjoyed it! Find more Six Sentence Sunday offerings.

                       

Amazon, Astraea Press, Barnes & Noble

A Journey of Books Blogfest

My name is Kay Springsteen and I write romance. But before I was a writer, I was a reader, and it has been the kinds of books I’ve read throughout my life so far that have influenced the kinds of stories I tell and the way in which I tell them.

I began my journey into books as a reader when I was about 4 years old. My mom, an English immigrant at the end of WWII, was an avid reader and a true Lewis Carroll fan. She started me into the wonderful world of fiction with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

I so loved those fantastical images created by Carroll, I went looking for more. I dug through my dad’s prized possessions and found a very old edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales. Oh, some of these haunted me – we’re talking original versions of the stories, not the cutsied up Disney versions. The Little Tin Soldier, The Little Match Girl.

Of course I had the requisite collection of Little Golden Books – The Pokey Little Puppy, Tootle, and more. One of my most memorable books as a child was my very first Scholastic Book Club book EVER. Flip by Wesley Dennis. I read that and re-read that so many, many times I don’t know how it didn’t fall apart.

From the school library I found escape into the worlds created by Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Beverly Cleary. and Madeline L’Engle.

And of course there were more Scholastic Books. Sometime in the third grade I found one called The Golden Sovereign by Dorothy Lyons. That became another of the books that I would read and reread. I was introduced to mysteries when I discovered Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys.

By the time I was in seventh grade, I was oh, so worldly. Worldly enough to read more sophisticated books like Love Story and The Godfather.

I also found Harlequin Romances about that time. And I remember when most of these formulaic stories included one naive heroine, one alpha male who was also clueless, and a scheming witch.

By high school, it became pretty obvious that my romance habit would have to be an in-closet activity. So I tested science fiction, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Robert A. Heinlein. In college, it was James Michener whose books captured my interest. And by the time I was married and having children, Tom Clancy’s technothrillers had my attention, along with John Grisham’s legal thrillers, and the medical thrillers of Patricia Cornwall. Along about then, I also found the first book to make me cry uncontrollably – The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans. Eventually, I decided I wanted to settle back into a softer, more gentle genre, and I sought out romance again. This time, it was Nora Roberts who commanded my attention. I bought every trilogy and mainstream book I could get my hands on. I scoured used book stores for her out of print Silhouette books. Then one of my friends who owned a used and new bookstore brought me into the world of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and I lost myself in the lives of Jamie and Claire. More recently, I’ve read Nicholas Sparks; the man does know how to tug on the emotions.

And somewhere in all of this reading, probably as far back as my very first Scholastic book (Flip), I began writing my own stories. Now, I wouldn’t want to even find anything I wrote back in those days, and much of what I wrote, even as an adult was more cathartic for me as opposed to being marketable fiction. But more recently, after the last of my children moved out, I had time on my hands, and I decided to start writing in earnest. The results were some pretty pleasing contracts writing the kind of romances I like the most: edgy sweet and emotional, with huge measures of sexual tension and undeniable chemistry between the characters scattered throughout. And it all began one morning sitting at the kitchen table while my mom read to me from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Heartsight:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Matrimonial Mayhem:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Lifeline Echoes:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Elusive Echoes:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Lifeline Echoes print edition

Heartsight print edition

I’m sponsoring a giveaway today. The grand prize is the two-book set of Orson’s Folly stories – Lifeline Echoes and Elusive Echoes along with five stories of your choice from this list:

1. Kim (Wayward Soul)

2. Jean (Sunny Days, Moonlit Nights)

3. Bri Clark (Cafe Seduzione)

4. Stephanie Taylor (Lucky For Her)

5. Stephanie Taylor (The Picture)

6.  Kay Springsteen (Heartsight)

7. Lisa Kumar (Through the Rabbit Hole)

8. Stephanie Smith (Lizzie and the Rebel)

9. Monique O’Connor James (The Keepers)

10. J. Gunnar Grey (Deal with the Devil, part one)

11. Felicia Rogers (The Perfect Rose)

12. Kristine Cheney (Spartan Heart, part one)

All you have to do for a chance to win is tell me what kinds of stories you read when you were growing up. Two randomly drawn commenters will win. Good luck, and I am looking forward to meeting you.
Visit other participants:
<a href=”http://keenlykristin.com“>Keenly Kristin</a>
<a href=”http://KellysLuckyYou.com“>Kelly’s Lucky You</a>
<a href=”http://ketaskeep.blogspot.com“>Keta’s Keep Romance Blog</a>
<a href=”http://kmnbooks.blogspot.com“>KMN Books Blogspot</a>
<a href=”http://www.krittersramblings.com“>Kritters Ramblings</a>

This Sunday’s offering once again comes from just-released Elusive Echoes. Hope you enjoy it!

She slid out a photograph, bent and worn around the edges. In faded color, it
showed the two of them playing on the tire swing that still hung from the tree in the McGee backyard. She sat on top of the swing, clinging to the rope for dear life, and he stood on the swing, one leg on either side of her, his head thrown back in an obvious war cry. They looked incredibly happy.

Sean struggled for breath, remembering exactly when his father had taken the picture. Sean had teased Mel until she climbed on the swing and let him push her higher than she was comfortable going.

Back to Six Sentence Sunday… or  Sunday’s Seventh Sentence:  Then he’d jumped on behind her and together they had whooped and laughed until the swing had slowed down.

Elusive Echoes, now available: Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

They’re two people caught between friendship and something more; they can’t move forward, and they can’t let go.

Drawn together from early childhood, Sean McGee and Melanie Mitchell seemed destined for each other. But at age thirteen, Melanie was wrenched from the people she loved and forced onto a path she loathed. Sean was no stranger to people leaving, but losing Melanie devastated him. When she suddenly reappeared in Orson’s Folly, Sean was overjoyed. The Melanie who came home, though, wasn’t the same girl. She’s got a harder edge and she’s obviously hiding something, but Sean no longer knows how to reach her.

Returning to Orson’s Folly as an adult, all Melanie wanted to do was forget the years she spent away. But she soon learned that going home didn’t mean she could return to her old life—or her childhood sweetheart, Sean. Even their mutual attraction to one another hasn’t rebuilt the bond of trust and closeness they once shared. It’s been seven years since she returned and now everything Melanie wants to forget has broadsided her. She must confront her demons and relive her past in an unexpected way or risk losing the only man she’s ever loved. But even if she succeeds, Sean might be lost to her anyway.

What’s Elusive in Elusive Echoes?

How can two people be on the same road and not even know it?  FROM ELUSIVE ECHOES CHAPTER ONE:

Melanie slipped Sean’s favorite draft in front of him with a smile.

Just being near him made her heart somersault. His pale blond hair, so similar in shade to hers, was longer than usual. It curled on the ends and she wanted to get her fingers tangled in it. His jade green eyes watched her hand where she was wiping up a few droplets of water. She wished he’d watch something other than her hands, but she seldom caught him checking her out these days.

“Ry’s got me on Sandy-babysitting-duty tomorrow morning.” He swirled his beer, eyes down. Amber liquid sloshed against the edges of the mug. Mel reached for the rag beneath the bar, just in case, but he stopped the restless movement and took a drink.

“It can’t be that bad. It’s not like she’s a little kid you’ll have to chase around or even entertain.”

“That’s what she told me.” When he looked up, his engaging grin was back. “Though I’m not so sure about not having to chase her. She’s been on a tear through the house lately, getting the nursery ready, re-doing her and Ry’s room. She reorganized the kitchen cabinets and cleaned up the pantry today. Dad keeps complaining that he can’t find anything in the cupboards.”

Melanie giggled. “Maybe she’ll clean out the attic tomorrow.”

“Aw jeez, I hope not. Ry’ll kill me.” Sean took a drink.

“It’s a light crowd tonight,” Mel said, running a forefinger along Sean’s arm. “LeeAnn can close. Would you like to come upstairs for a while?”

He looked past Mel to the other barmaid. “How’s she working out?”

Mel shrugged and followed his gaze. LeeAnn Shannon wore her dark auburn curls in a pony tail that sprayed from the top of her head like a fountain. She wore heavy blue eyeshadow and dark eyeliner, probably under the mistaken impression that so much blue highlighted her pale blue eyes. She was full-figured and her tight blue jeans only emphasized the outline of her wide hips. A skimpy green top hugged her bustline just a little too tightly, showing off an extra roll under her bra. Earrings that appeared to be made of  multicolored confetti strung together by thin gold wire dangled from her earlobes, almost to her shoulders. Mel could only hope pieces of that confetti didn’t drop into anyone’s drink. She’d stopped asking the girl to wear something with less likelihood to shed after her third day working at Valentine’s, since LeeAnn apparently wasn’t listening anyway.

Mel sighed. Sandy wouldn’t have tolerated the blatant defiance. LeeAnn’s smile looked a bit forced as she slammed a shot down in front of one of the regulars. Mel wondered what the man had said to set the other girl off this time. She didn’t field the sexual innuendo and sometimes outright lewd suggestions very well.

Mel looked back at Sean and shrugged. “Well, she’s no Sandy but she’s a body to help with serving when she doesn’t call out.” Rubbing a finger back and forth along Sean’s arm, Mel was pleased to see goosebumps rise beneath her touch. “So how about it? You want to have some dessert in my place?”

Sean rubbed his chin, his “no” tell. Disappointment flared before he even answered. Most times she hated that her grifter father had taught her to read people so well. It usually just made her disappointment double up on her.

“I’d better get home.” Sean drained the last of his beer. “I don’t know what time Ryan wants to get started tomorrow but I’ll have stock to take care of before they leave.”

He glanced up at her and smiled. It was far from the look of heated desire she craved.

“I’ll walk you out.” She wished her heart didn’t feel like it had been trod on. Rejection sucked.

Mel snagged her sweater from just inside the kitchen while Sean waited. She crossed the room wishing she could carry off Sandy’s sexy saunter. Maybe then Sean would really see her. Sometimes he made her feel like someone’s vanilla-cream little sister.

“How’s the horse rehabbing going?” she asked as they traversed the parking lot.

“Really good, actually.” As he always did when talking horses, Sean became animated. “One of my rehabs is about to be put up for sale. Got some weight back on her. Sweet-tempered little thing now no one’s beating on her. I almost want to keep her for you.” He shrugged. “But you never really get much chance to come out and ride, I guess.”

Mel’s heart did a cartwheel. “I could make time to come out. If you’d like me to, that is.” She looked up at him as they approached his truck. “Would you like me to?”

Sean rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah! If you come out before next week we can see if you and Lacey get along.”

Gosh, he looked so happy. And that made her happy. When he leaned in for a kiss, she took a step forward and tucked herself tightly into his solid embrace where she always felt safe. He sucked in a breath but didn’t pull back. Feeling a little bold, she snaked her arms around his waist and slanted closer still.

The kiss started out very chaste as usual, but Mel was feeling courageous for once. As he began to pull back, she outlined his lips with her tongue. His hands on her shoulders tightened and he pulled her back against him, deepening their kiss, stroking her tongue with his. His breaths came in ragged gasps and he trembled.

Score one for the home team. Finally.

Mel’s nerve fibers buzzed like a hundred honey bees hitting the mother lode of purple flowering clover. She clutched his waist, shivering at the way his muscles jumped under her hands. Sean slipped his hand beneath her sweater, around to the small of her back, and pulled her closer. His hand was hot through the thin material of her blouse.

A physical ache spurred by emotional need welled within her. With a low, feral moan against her lips, Sean turned them around and pressed her against the door of his pickup. Her toes barely touched the ground. Mel angled her head for a deeper kiss and wrapped her arms around his neck. Sean hissed through his teeth when she wiggled. He pulled back slowly, holding himself completely still for a minute. Then he let her slide down his body until her feet rested on the ground again.

“You’re killing me here, Mel,” he whispered, his voice quaking. “One of these days, we gotta do something about this—you and me.”

“It’s not so late yet. My room’s still open.”

That was the moment she lost him and she could have kicked herself. He stepped back a foot or so, kissed her on the forehead. His guard was back in place. They had just shared a very passionate embrace and he’d definitely been turned on. Now, if he felt any sort of desire for her at all, she couldn’t see it. Or feel it, the way he kept himself angled away from her. Darn it! He was so careful with her. Always keeping himself just one or two steps out of reach.

Mel sighed. She couldn’t remember a time since they’d been teenagers when she hadn’t wanted to be Sean’s girl. Yet they never seemed to get beyond a few heated kisses before he hightailed it in the opposite direction. Sometimes it was hard to tell if he really wanted to kiss her or if he was just being polite.
“Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow, then?” As always she felt a little anxious about his answer, though she usually tried to cover her anxiety with an attitude of nonchalance.

He smiled and gave her a peck on the cheek with one last warm
hug. Then he rubbed the back of his neck and cast a sheepish glance her
way. “Hope so.”

She breathed more easily when she caught his “yes” tell. He always seemed just a little on the shy side when he said yes to something that was important to him.

Sean waited for her to cross the parking lot again before he left. He probably didn’t know she routinely stood at the door and watched his taillights disappear.

Mel slid the sweater from her shoulders. A white envelope fell to
the floor and she groaned. Her brother’s letter. LeeAnn must have seen it
by the register and slipped it into her pocket.

Shaking her head, she tore open the envelope as she walked into the kitchen. The letter was typed and unsigned. If not for the address on the letter, written in her brother’s familiar careful script, it might have come from anyone. But it had come from her brother, and read simply, “You should be interested in this.”

Wearing a frown, she looked in the envelope, and pulled out an article cut from a newspaper. For no reason other than this was her family, her hands were shaking as she unfolded the clipping. The headline was to the point: Prominent Oklahoma City Attorney Indicted on Adoption Fraud and Baby Selling Scheme.

Letter and article slipped from Mel’s frozen fingers.
****
The sitting room light was still on when Sean pulled in to the ranch yard. That meant Ryan was waiting up for him. Aw, man, just what he probably needed and didn’t want. Sean kicked the door of his truck closed with more force than necessary.

“Dang, bro. Shoot it and put it out of your misery already,” said Ryan from the shadows. Sean almost dropped his keys. “Jeez, man. If you’re gonna jump
me, can it wait ’til we’re inside? It’s freezing out here.”

“It’s October. It’s supposed to be freezing.” A lighter flared, harshly illuminating Ryan’s face in the glow. The acrid smell of a cigar wafted over Sean. “Didn’t you eat enough smoke when you worked in L.A.?” He started walking for the house.

Ryan took a puff. “You’d think. But I guess a year or so of chatting
with Dad on the porch while he lights up got me in the habit.” He took
another puff. “So what’s eatin’ at you tonight?” He stared at the lit end of
the cigar. The gesture was so like their father’s, Sean groaned.

“Nothing.”

“Horse puckey.”

Sean tried to remember why he’d missed his brother for sixteen
years. He sighed. May as well get it over with. “It’s Mel.”

Ryan frowned. “Get in a fight?”

“Nope. We never fight.” Sean blew out an exasperated breath.

What the heck? Maybe talking it out would take some of his edge off.

“She keeps hinting at wanting something more.”

Ryan stepped back to eye Sean with a critical eye. “More than
what? Like she wants to get married?”

Sean stopped walking at the bottom porch step. “No, not exactly. As in she invited me to her place tonight, and not so we could watch a little TV.”

Ryan’s mouth fell open. The cigar he’d just lit tumbled to the ground in a shower of sparks, and with a muttered oath, he stooped to retrieve it. Then he scrutinized Sean. “And yet the man came home. Interesting. So, you told her no?”

Sean nodded.

“Why?” Ryan’s gaze drifted below Sean’s waist. “Everything—ah—all . . . works, right?”

Irritation flared. “Yes. Everything works. Get your mind out of the
gutter, man. It’s not always about sex.”

Ryan’s face registered total disbelief. “It’s almost always about
sex. You’ve been . . . um, seeing Mel steady for over two years now,
right?”

Here it came. The big brother lecture about getting laid. Sean lifted
a shoulder. “Yeah, ’bout that.”

“And you’ve—never?”

“Nope. Never did the deed,” Sean said impatiently. “Satisfied?”

“No, I’m not satisfied!” Ryan took another puff of his cigar. Then he frowned. “Ah, when you say never, do you mean never-never or just never-with-Mel?”

Sean glared at his brother, just for one second wishing Ryan was
back in L.A. “Jeez, Ryan! Not that it’s your business, but yes, I’ve had
sex. It’s just—things are different with Mel.”

“You don’t like her?”

Sean turned, looked out into the darkness. “I love her. I want everything with her. I want what you and Sandy have with her.”

“Then I don’t get it,” said his brother, as if the answer was just that
simple. “Ask her to marry you.”

Sean turned back. “I got nothing to offer her, Ryan.” There. Now it was out. Sean didn’t know what was up with Mel lately, but something was off and he felt like they were drifting in separate directions. Yet he couldn’t begin to sort things out and fight for her without having his own life together. Every time he tried to bring up the possibility of a future together, she turned it around and made it about something physical. She clearly wanted a physical relationship, and so did he, but he wanted more than that. Sean wasn’t made for casual. He was done with unsatisfying, going-nowhere relationships.

Ryan looked stunned. “Nothing to offer? There’s your share of the ranch. We’re turning things around. You’ve got your horse rehab business. You earn a decent income. You’ll be able to take care of a family.”

“And we can share my bedroom here, all cozy with everyone in the main house.” Sean blew out a frustrated breath and kicked at the dirt. “It’s already crowded with you and Sandy, Dad, Ricky, and now your baby on the way.”

“That can change, Sean.” Irritation had crept into Ryan’s voice.

“You don’t have to live in the main house to keep working the ranch.
Heck, live in town at her place. Just get engaged, let her know you want to
be with her. The two of you can work out the details later. And for the
love of mercy, when she asks you up to her place again . . . go.”

Sean shook his head. “Can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because Mel’s worth more than a few vague promises and getting hot between the sheets. I thought you would get that.” Sean turned on his heel and stomped onto the porch and through the front door, leaving Ryan behind.

****

Heartsight:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Matrimonial Mayhem:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Lifeline Echoes:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Elusive Echoes:  Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Lifeline Echoes print edition

Heartsight print edition

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