Wednesday, July 27, 2011

writing tip of the day

Be willing to write badly.  Be willing to make mistakes. Get words on the page and then fix them--or do it better the next time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Vision of Lucy: Margaret Brownley

Trouble follows Lucy wherever she goes. So does a vision of second chances . . . and love.

Lucy Fairbanks dreams of working as a photographer at the Rocky Creek newspaper. Her deepest hope is that her father will see her as an artist, the way he thought of her deceased mother, whose paintings still hang on their walls.

But disaster follows Lucy on every photo assignment: a mess of petticoats and ribbons, an accidental shooting, even a fire.

When Lucy meets David Wolf-a rugged, reclusive man who lives on the outskirts of town-she thinks she can catch the attention of the town with his photograph. She doesn't count on her feelings stirring whenever she's near him.

Two things happen next that forever change the course of Lucy's life. But will these events draw her closer to God or push her further away? And how will David accept this new vision of Lucy?

I had this book lying on my nightstand, looking forward to reading it as soon as I finished my own book. Since I've been a Margaret Brownley fan since the beginning of time, it was torture waiting. But Ms. Brownley never disappoints, and the story was as fun and captivating as I've come to expect.

A Vision of Lucy starts off with a bang and never lets up. I especially like a character with a secret, and David fulfilled that theme for me. Rocky Creek took on a personality of its own and became a character in its own right. Forgiveness is always a theme that draws emotion, and I especially appreciated that aspect of the plot.

 I'll be looking for a story about Lucy's brother Caleb in the future!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Aspen Grove, Colorado, 1865

I'm tellin' ya the same thing I told ya last week an' the week before: there ain't no job for ya here." Uncomfortably, Emery Parks glanced past Tye Hatcher as if he wished he'd disappear before any respectable customers discovered the town pariah in his store.

Even though Emery'd had a help wanted sign in his front window since the first time he'd inquired, Tye didn't argue. It wouldn't do any good to challenge the mercantile owner. It had been the same everywhere he'd gone in the five months since he'd been back in Aspen Grove.

The only one willing to give him work had been Jed Wheeler, and Tye had taken the position of part-time bartender, part-time piano player with the intention of getting out of the Pair-A-Dice Saloon as soon as he found something else. Round up was growing near; one of the ranchers would need him, even though they couldn't afford an extra hand right now. "I'll take some papers."

Emery reached behind him and impatiently tossed the packet of cigarette papers on the counter.
Tye plunked a coin on the counter. "Thanks."

Sometimes he wondered why he'd come back here after the war. He could have ridden anywhere in the country and started his life over where no one knew him, where he didn't have a past. . . or a reputation hanging over his head. Sometimes he wondered why he'd chosen instead to return to the town he'd grown up in, the place where he'd never been accepted. His mother was dead now, and there was nothing physical binding him.
More than once he'd lain on his lumpy bed at the boarding house and wondered what had drawn him here. Something more than sentiment or lack of? Something less tangible probably. Something like pride.

The bell over the door clanged, and Emery glared at Tye. Tye leaned insolently back against the counter, crossed his ankles and watched three women enter the store and pass through a dusty patch of sunlight streaming in the window.

Edwina Telford, hair as steely gray as iron, her stiff black skirts rustling up dust motes, led her two daughters-in-law into the mercantile. Tye had rarely seen Edwina in any color but black. She'd worn it after the death of her parents and after the death of her husband. And now she wore black following the death of her eldest son, Joe.

Joe's widow, Meg Telford, and her blond sister-in-law, Gwynn, trailed behind the stalwart woman like ducklings on their way to a morning swim.

"Good morning, Mr. Parks," Edwina called.

"Morning, Telford Missus," the shop owner called, addressing the trio. "What can I do for you today?"

"We're shopping for Forrest's birthday celebration," Edwina said with pride.

"How old is the little fellow?"

The woman had reached the front counter, and Edwina skirted Tye as though he were a barrel of rat poison. Her powdery verbena scent made him want to sneeze. "My grandson will be four tomorrow. His father is surprising him with the pony he's been asking for. Harley went to great pains to find a well-trained Shetland."
"The little guy will like that, won't he? He must be glad to finally have his daddy home from the war." Emery spoke conversationally, as though Tye weren't standing there.

Gwynn, too, stepped deliberately past Tye and replied, "We're all grateful to have Harley home safe."
Meg reached the spot where Tye stood, but instead of pretending he didn't exist, she nodded and gave him a hesitant smile. "Morning, Tye."

Her use of his first name caught him by surprise, but he held securely to his nonchalant expression. A knot of humiliation burned in his gut, and he resented feeling it. No reason why this woman seeing him spurned should make any difference. "Morning," he returned.

Meg received a scathing look from her mother-in-law, and hurried to join her.

Tye studied her straight back in the plain black dress, and remembered her in vivid colors, remembered her dancing with Joe at socials, remembered her as a young and smiling girl. She still had the curviest figure in town. And though her hair was bound in a knot shaped like a figure eight, he recalled the rich tresses the color of dark honey that had flowed down her back in her school days.

The women gave their list to Emery and chattered among themselves.

Tye replaced his hat after tipping it to the ladies. "Nice chattin' with ya."

Meg smiled apologetically, embarrassed for him and for her rude in-laws who didn't acknowledge he'd spoken.
Emery looked up from the list with a scowl.

With a discernible limp, Tye sauntered from the store.

"Of all the impertinent men," Edwina huffed, pressing her hankie to her nose as if she could keep Tye Hatcher's taint from entering her bloodstream through her nostrils.

"Been in here ever' week askin' for a job," Emery said. "Think he'd take the hint by now that nobody wants him in town and head out."

Meg studied their disapproving faces, then glanced at the door Tye's tall form had disappeared through. Why had he come back? Surely, the rude treatment he received had discouraged him long before now. Even in school the kids had snubbed him because of their folks' attitudes toward his illegitimacy and his mother's questionable vocation.

He was regarded a trouble maker; whenever there'd been a brawl in one of the saloons, he'd reportedly been present. In Meg's company he'd always been reserved and mannerly, so she had a difficult time relating the solemn-faced young man with the haunted eyes to those tales of carousing and drinking.

Edwina was going over the list of things they'd need for baking that afternoon. Meg's attention wavered to the jars of hard candy lined across the counter, and an acute ache stabbed through her chest. She would never come in here without remembering her Joe's fondness for peppermint sticks.

It had been nearly a year since she'd received news of his death at the battle of the Potomac. But the reality of him never coming home hit her afresh at every turn. Why him? Why her Joe?
She steadied herself against a rough barrel exuding the sharp smell of salted meat and tried not to wonder what was going to become of her without him. It was the same quandary she faced every day. Even her well-meaning in-laws and her own family added to her dilemma with their constant insistence that she sell the ranch and move in with them.

"Meg? Are you all right, dear?"

At Gwynn's gentle touch on her sleeve, Meg blinked away her oppressive thoughts and conjured up a smile. "I'm fine."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure." She busied herself with looking at skeins of colorful yarn in a nearby bin. I'm fine. Just fine. I've never been so fine. A tear fell on the back of her hand, and she brushed it away quickly. "I just need some air. I'll be outside."

Not caring what her in-laws might think, she hurried out the door, the bell clanging behind her.

The rustle of clothing and a scrape on the wooden floorboards alerted her to someone's presence. She turned, just as Tye Hatcher flicked a cigarette butt end over end into the dusty street. The mellow smell of tobacco drifted to her.

His dark gaze met hers. "Ma'am," he said, politely, thumbing his slate gray hat back on his head. He took an awkward step forward. "I never had a chance to tell you how sorry I was to hear about Joe. He was a good man."

Silence stretched between them. A buggy clattered past on the deeply-rutted street.
"I'm sure you saw a lot of good men die," she said softly.

His dark gaze revealed no emotion. "Yes, I did Ma'am. On both sides."

For some reason it sounded odd to hear him call her Ma'am. She'd known him since she could remember. She hadn't known him well, but he'd always been there, always been a part of Aspen Grove. "We had to send for his body after the war, you know."

"I know." He looked out across the expanse of the street, offering her the opportunity to study his face, his smoothly shaven square jaw. His brows and sideburns were as black as the waves that curled over his collar. He was a man now; a handsome one, regardless of the unsmiling slash of his full lips. The sadness she sensed had always been there. But now it was more, more than just the disillusionment of a young boy.

Would Joe have looked that much older, too? Would the war have etched similar years on his face?
"I've always wondered if we really got the right one," she blurted. "If the man we buried was Joe." She hadn't expressed that doubt to anyone before, and she wondered why she'd revealed it now. She looked away, but she felt him swing his gaze back to her face.

She realized then she had no reason to feel embarrassed in front of this man. Somehow she knew he understood her apprehension. She raised her chin and met his eyes. She could have sworn she recognized a measure of vicarious emotion this time.

"They tagged 'em the best they could," he said. "Long as the body was identifiable, and someone knew him, they should have been certain. Did you get his things, too? I mean the things he had on him. His saddle bags?"

She nodded.

"You can be certain, then."

Meg closed her eyelids briefly, a considerable flame of comfort warming her at his words. "Thank you." Even if it was a lie, thank you.

The bell clanged a warning and Edwina plowed her way across the boardwalk, Gwynn behind her. "Meg! What are you doing out here?"

"I needed a little air, Mother Telford. I feel much better now." She glanced up at Tye. His deep blue gaze held their secret, and a touch of appreciation. "Much better."

"You shouldn't stand out here alone. The rif-raf is lurking along the streets, even in broad daylight." She handed Meg a paper-wrapped package and towed her away.

Tye tugged his hat brim back over his eyes and watched them cross the street. Meg lifted her hem and delicately traversed the riveted road. She followed her in-laws into the post office.

No doubt, she'd marry again. Damned shame Joe Telford had died and left her a widow. A woman like that deserved happiness. A husband. Children. She was too young and pretty to spend her life grieving. Some lucky fellow would snap her up before much longer.

He tried to think of any young unmarried men in town or on the surrounding ranches, but he couldn't come up with any who'd make a suitable husband for Meg Telford. The war had pared the possibilities down to nothing.
He discarded the thoughts and headed to the livery for his horse. A good ride would clear his head and prepare him for a long night in the smoke- and perfume-filled saloon. He needed a lot more money than he made there in order to carry out his plans.

The land office had nothing he could afford until he multiplied his meager savings. And Aspen Grove was makin' that possibility difficult.

The birthday boy, Forrest and his older sister, Lilly, had eaten their fill of cake, and now led the Shetland pony around the newly green rosebushes in the door yard. Harley Telford and his younger sister, Wilsie had spent hours supervising rides on the pony Forrest had named Cinnamon, and now engaged in a bickering game of checkers. After washing and drying the Sunday china, Meg, Edwina, and Gwynn joined them on the shaded porch Edwina called a veranda.

Meg studied the tree-lined street and neighboring houses, feeling sorry for the pony who would have to spend all but Saturday and Sunday afternoon at the livery stable. Children and animals needed wide open spaces.
She'd been so glad to move to the ranch with Joe. From the very beginning, the hills and fields, the wide sky in all directions had appealed to her dreams of escaping town life. After growing up in a house full of siblings, and helping her father in his accounting business, she'd been eager to have the space and the freedom.

"Meg, I've prepared a room for you," Edwina said. "You'll be quite comfortable in the front bedroom that overlooks the street. There are two windows, and it stays quite comfortable even in summer."

"Mother, that's your room," Wilsie said in surprise.

"It was our room when your father was alive," Edwina corrected. "Meg will need the space to keep some of her things she doesn't want to part with."

"That's generous of you, Mother Telford, but I can't impose on you."

"Nonsense. It's just Wilsie and I now, since Harley and Gwynn have their own home, and we ramble around in this big old house. Before long Wilsie will marry and leave me, too."

"Not unless some prospective husbands show up," Wilsie said with a petulant pout.

"I am afraid the war has left us short of eligible young men, my dear," Edwina sympathized. "In any case, Meg, the house has plenty of room, and it's high time you gave up your silly notion of staying out there on that patch of dirt in that rustic house and moved in with us."

"Mother's right," Harley said. "It's highly improper for you to be living out there with only a couple of ranch hands who should have been put out to pasture long ago. They can't keep up the work, and neither can you."
Meg drew a steadying breath and lifted her chin a notch. "I have Hunt and Aldo, too."

"They're boys," he scoffed.

"We've done all right so far."

"All right? Talk around town is you've had to sell Joe's guns and your silver to pay the help, make the mortgage payments and buy feed. What will you sell next?"

Meg resented the question because it was time to buy garden seed and another bank note was due, and she'd been pondering the dilemma herself for weeks. She'd learned how to run a business from her father; keeping the books and managing was no problem, but she couldn't handle the physical work alone.

Thirty years ago Gus and Purdy had traveled the Chisolm trail. They knew cattle and they knew horses. They worked hard and were as loyal friends as she'd ever had. But they were old men. The bank notes came due regular as clockwork, and the stock had to eat. Since Joe'd been gone, she hadn't been able to cut and rake hay.

Meg pursed her lips and refused to get angry at Joe for leaving her in this predicament. It wasn't his fault that the war had broken out and he'd gone and lost his life honorably. It wasn't anybody's fault. And that's what made accepting her situation all the harder. She had no one to blame. No one to get angry at.

And no one who understood her desire to keep the ranch and hang onto something she knew and loved.
The ranch had been Joe's dream. It had become hers, too, and she wasn't about to let another dream die. She'd sell the furniture if she had to. She'd sell her bed and sleep on the floor. As a last resort she'd sell some stock. But she wouldn't sell their dream.

"I've started asking around at the bank and the land office, seeing if anyone's in the market," Harley said. "Niles can get you a good price for the place."

Niles Kestler, junior owner of Aspen Loan and Trust, had been Joe's best friend since childhood.
"You can do your own dealings on the stock," Harley went on. "You'll get enough money to live on for a good many years."

Meg closed her eyes against the Telfords' manipulations. A good many years. Years of sleeping in the room upstairs, taking her meals with her widowed mother-in-law, and passing the days doing needlepoint and volunteer work? The stifling idea horrified her. She'd feel like that Shetland would cooped up in a confining stall.
Meg's widowed mother had remarried and moved to Denver several years ago, and her brothers and sisters were married and scattered from Colorado to Illinois. There wasn't a one of them she'd want to live with or impose upon.

The whole worry was so unfair. This wasn't supposed to be happening. She and Joe should have been stocking the Circle T by now, having children, seeing all their plans come to pass.

"Meg," Harley said. "You can't keep the ranch going with no man."

"Harley," Gwynn cautioned her husband, gently.

His words were not a revelation. They were simply a fact Meg had been unwilling to face.

"Well, it's the truth," he said. "And a truth she'd better take to heart before she has nothing left to sell. A woman can't run a cow ranch alone."

Meg strengthened her resolve. Harley was only looking out for her interests. He thought he knew what was best for her. The life he had planned for her would have been best for Gwynn if he hadn't returned. It would have been best for a good many women.

But it wasn't for her, and she knew it. "I appreciate your concern, Harley. Yours too, Mother Telford. But I can't sell our ranch."

They exchanged a look she couldn't quite decipher. Out of breath and giggling, Forrest and Lilly scrambled onto the veranda. "Papa, come gives us rides again! Watch us, Nana!"

Edwina turned her attention to her grandchildren.

The subject was not forgotten. Meg would hear about it each time they were together. Nothing short of a miracle would keep them from chipping away at her until she conceded. And she wasn't willing to do that.
But Harley was right. She thought about it as she drove her wagon and team home before dark. She couldn't keep the ranch going without a man.

Someone to shoulder the work load. Someone strong and capable and willing to put in the long hours and back-breaking work required. Someone she didn't have to pay.

Meg almost smiled at that one. Where would she ever get an able-bodied man willing to work without pay? She could barely keep Gus and Purdy and two young hands fed and she paid them only a meager salary.
The man she was imagining sounded like a husband. A man to take on responsibilities and have a stake in the ranch's success.

A year hadn't passed since Joe's death. Since the war, many widows had already married again to provide for themselves and their children. Meg didn't have children, which she saw as a mixed blessing. It would have been comforting to have something of Joe left behind. But she wouldn't have wanted the added burden of raising and feeding them alone.

Ranch was a glamorous word for ten thousand acres of grass, several holding pens and barns, and the modest house she glimpsed as she topped a rise, but the sight gave her the same warm sense of accomplishment and belonging it always did.

Joe's mother had always been chagrined over the fact that Joe had concentrated on the stock and the outbuildings before building an acceptable home.

But Joe'd convinced her that all they'd needed was a place to cook and sleep while they got the ranch on its feet. A more stately house was something they could build in the future. With affection, Meg studied the corrals, the barn, and efficient house where she lived. She and Joe had spent their wedding night in the tiny bedroom. They'd eaten their first meals as man and wife in the long kitchen. They'd planned and dreamed as they walked the land, and lastly they had prayed beside the back door before he'd gone off to fight.

So much of Joe was in this ranch. They would have to drag Meg off this land. If finding another man was what it took to keep it, she'd do it. Nothing would stand in the way of her keeping the Circle T. Nothing.