Author: Karen Templeton
Date Released: 2008
Page Count: 224
Isbn10 Code: 0373249160
Isbn13 Code: 9780373249169
About the Author Since 1998, RITA nominee and Waldenbooks bestselling author Karen Templeton has been writing richly humorous novels about real women, real men and real life. The mother of five sons, she currently lives in New Mexico with her husband and an ever-changing number of kids and pets. Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Eyes narrowed against the low-slung October morning sun, Winnie Porter stood in the open doorway to the Skyview Gas 'n' Grill, sipping strong coffee from a foam cup. Outside, the relentless wind scoured the barren West Texas landscape, the whiny, hollow sound like the cry of a never-satisfied newborn. Fitting, Winnie thought, the constant hum of semis barreling along I-40 a half mile away tangling with the wind's nagging. Come on, girl, get a move on, it seemed to say, echoing a restlessness that had plagued her for longer than she could remember. Except now that she finally could get a move on She shifted on cowboy-booted feet, plowing one sweaty palm down a denimed thigh, the fabric soft as a baby's blanket. Over her cotton cami's neckline, the ends of her wet hair tickled her shoulders and back. Annabelle, her Border collie, nudged her thigh, panting. We go for ride? I ride shotgun, 'kay? "Here you go. And don't eat it all before you get to Amarillo." Winnie's eyes shifted to the bulging plastic sack filled with enough food to see a family of pioneers through the winter. "Thanks," she said, steeled against the barely restrained censure flooding the nearly black eyes in front of her. Winnie took the bag, turning away as Elektra Jones blew a breath through her broad nose. "Miss Ida ain't even been dead a week" "I know" "And all you're doin' is just setting yourself up for more hurt." An opinion offered at least a dozen times in the last two days. "Can't hurt worse than what I've lived through the last nine years," Winnie said softly, hoisting her duffel onto her shoulder. "But all this time, you said" "I was wrong," Winnie said simply. "And don't even start about needing me here, E, you know as well as I do you've been basically runnin' this place on your own anyway. Especially for the last year" Her voice caught as she glanced around Ida Calhoun's legacy to her only granddaughtera run-down diner/conve-nience store/gas station, its proximity to the interstate its sole saving grace. Since Winnie was ten years old the place had variously been a refuge and a prison. And now it was all hers. Even from the grave, the old girl was still getting her digs in. "You won't even miss me," Winnie said, facing the downturned mouth underneath an inch-thick cushion of dyed blond hair. "Now that's where you're wrong," Elektra said, eyes brimming, and Winnie thought, Don't you dare, dammit, giving up the fight when E muttered, "Oh, hell," and clasped Winnie to her not-insubstantial bosom. "It's only for a week, for heaven's sake." "Still." Elektra gave her one last squeeze, then clasped Winnie's shoulders, her hands cool and smooth on Winnie's heated skin. "You be careful, hear?" Afraid to speak, Winnie nodded. Minutes later, with the Dixie Chicks holding forth from the old pickup's radio and Annabelle grinning into the wind from her passenger side perch, Winnie glided onto the interstate behind a big rig with Alabama plates, headed west on what even she knew was likely to be a fool's errand. Hours later, she climbed out of the truck in front of a mud-colored gnome of an adobe squatting in the woods, wearing an incongruous, steeply pitched, tin-roof hat. With a woof of anticipation, Annabelle streaked into the dense, bushy piñons and yellowing live oaks, their leaves rustling in the cleanest breeze Winnie had ever smelled; she squinted into the glare of luminescent blue overhead, nearly the same color as the peeling paint on the house's front door. This, I can deal with, she thought, smiling, as the sharply cool aira good twenty degrees cooler here than homegoosed her bare arms and back. Winnie backtracked to tug a long-sleeved shirt off the front seat, as a white Toyota Highlander crunched up behind her. The real estate agent, she guessed, her thought was confirmed a moment later when a very pregnant, very pretty, dark-haired gal carefully extricated herself from behind the wheel and shouted over, "You must be Winnie! I'm Tess Montoya, we spoke over the phone." She opened her back door to spring an equally dark-haired preschooler from the backseat, then laughed. "I warned you not to expect much!" "Are you kidding?" Winnie shrugged into her shirt, smiling for the adorable little boy, shyly clinging to his mother's long skirt. Then she turned to take in the swarms of deep-pink cosmos nodding atop feathery stems on either side of the door, the pair of small windowsalso blue-framed, also peelinghunkered inside foot-thick walls, like the eyes of a fat-cheeked baby "I love it already!" she said with another grin in Tess's direction as she grabbed duffel and sleeping bag from behind the seat, then followed the chattering agent inside. "Unfortunately, both the electricity and plumbing can be temperamental," Tess was saying, palming her stomach. Winnie looked away. "But my auntshe's the owner's housekeeperstayed here for a while before she moved in with the family. So I knew it would be livable. At least for a week! Although it's still beyond me why you wanted to stay in Tierra Rosa. Now if you'd said Taos or Santa Fe" "This is fine. Really," Winnie said, her gear thunking to the bare wooden floor, gouged and unpolished, as she let her eyes adjust to the milky light inside. In an instant she catalogued the stark, white, unadorned plaster walls and kiva fireplace, the mission-style sofa and matching chair with scuffed leather seats, the oversize rocker, the logheadboarded double bed. The "kitchen" consisted of an old pie cupboard between an iron-stained sink and an ancient gas stove, a battle-weary whitewashed table with two mismatched chairs. A low-framed door, she discovered, led to a bug-size bathroom, clearly an afterthought, with one of those old-time claw-footed tubs. But the place was spotless, with fluffy towels hanging from black iron rings, a brand-new cake of Dove on the sink. And the thick comforter and fluffy pillows on the bed practically begged her to come try it out. "It's cozy," she said, and Tess laughed. "Nice word for it. Listen, sorry I have to scoot, but I've got a million things to do before this little squirt pops out. But there's my card," she said, laying a business card on the table, then trundling toward the open front door, through which floated childish laughter. "Call me if you need anything. Or my aunt, she's just up the hill, I left you her number, too Oh! Miguel! No, baby, leave the doggie alone!" "I think it's the other way around," Winnie said, laughing, as she called Annabelle off the gigglingand now dog-spit-slimedlittle boy. "I keep thinking about getting him a dog, but with his father away and a new baby " Tess sighed. "Anyway enjoy your stay!" Winnie watched the SUV rumble down the dirt road, then went back inside. Annabelle promptly hopped up on the bed, turned three times in place and flopped down, grinning, eager-eyed. We live here now? "Only for a week," Winnie said over the pinch of anxiety in her stomach, Elektra's warning ringing in her ears. "Maybe." She tugged open the back door and walked out into the small clearing carved out of the forest, where the sweet, clean breeze caught her loose hair the way a mother might sift a child's through her fingers. A shrill bird call made her glance up in time to catch a flutter of blue wings. A jay, maybe, rustling in the branches, searching for pine nuts. She shut her eyes, savoring, telling herself even if her reason for being here didn't pan out, that after the past yearyearsthere were worse things than spending a week in heaven. Winnie's smile faded, however, when she opened her eyes and noticed the fresh bicycle tracks in the soft dirt, leading to a path that disappeared into the trees. She turned, frowning, her gaze following the tracks, which stopped just short of the house, next to a woodpile probably loaded with eight-legged things. Or, far worse, no-legged things. With scales and forked tongues. In the woods behind, something cracked. Winnie wheeled, her back prickling, her great fear of slithery wildlife momentarily forgotten as Annabelle joyfully vanished into the undergrowth in hot pursuit only to flinch at the barrage of pine nuts from overhead, courtesy of a huge, and very pissed-off, squirrel. The dog glanced up, confused, then hauled ass back to the house to cower behind Winnie's legs. The sky embraced her laughter. His breath coming in short, angry pants, the child tightly gripped the handlebars of his birthday bikea real mountain bike, just like he'd wantedas he watched the lady and her dog through the trees. He let go long enough to swipe a hand across his nose, a hot burst exploding inside his chest. You get away from my house! he wanted to yell, except his throat was all frozen up "Robbie! Rob-bie!" Robson jerked his head toward Florita's call, her voice pretty faint this far from the house. If he didn't get back soon, she'd get worried, and then she'd tell his dad, and he'd get worried, and that would suck. So after one last glance at the lady laughing at her dumb dog, he turned around, pumping the pedals as fast as he could to get back. To get away. The chickens scattered, clucking their heads off, when he streaked through the yard, dumping his bike and running around to the back. "An' where were you?" Florita asked when he came into the sunny kitchen, the pretty blue-and-yellow tiles making Robson feel better and sad at the same time, because Mom had picked them out. "Just out ridin'," Robson said, panting, going to the big silvery fridge for a bottle of juice. He could feel Florita's dark eyes on his back, like she could see right through him. He really liked Flo, but she saw too much, sometimes. And nice as she was, she wasn't Mom. Mom had been all soft and real-looking, her long, black-and-silver hair slippery-smooth when Robson touched it. Flo's hair was dark, too, but it was all stiff and pokey. She wore way too much makeup, too, and c...
:Several other pages
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