Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review ~ Gabriel's Atonement by Vickie McDonough

All Gabe Coulter ever wanted was to live a comfortable life as a successful gambler, but a confrontation with a disgruntled cowboy who’d just lost to Gabe leads to a family man dying in his arms. Even though it was self-defense, the only way Gabe knows to get rid of his guilt is to return the money he won to the man’s wife. Lara Talbot sees Gabe as a derelict like her husband and wants nothing to do with him. But as she struggles to provide for her family and makes plans to claim property in the upcoming Oklahoma land rush, she wonders if God might have sent the meddling gambler to help.

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My Review

Gabe Coulter is an expert gambler who never cheats his opponents. Regretfully, one particular man ended up a dead-head, literally. When Gabe finds out that Tom Talbot, the man he killed in a back alley in self-defense has a wife and son, he feels a tremendous amount of guilt. He desires to make amends by returning the money to Talbot’s widow, Lara. 

Lara Talbot is wise to her husbands gambling habit and has essentially been taking care of her son, grandfather and younger sister for years on her own. She actually feels a bit of relief when she finds out Tom is dead because he was a good-for-nothing husband. When her family is evicted from their rented dwelling, the seemingly only way to achieve a home of their own is to ride in the land rush and try to stake a claim. 

Once again Vickie McDonough has penned an intriguing and historically fascinating tale of greed, repentance, forgiveness, and love. I vaguely remember learning about the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 in school but I was so much more fascinated with the whole process by the action and adventure in Gabriel’s Atonement.  The pictorial scenes ran like an old western movie across my mind’s eye. I could perfectly envision the showdown in the back alley, and I felt like an eye witness as dust rose like clouds from horses hooves pounding across Unassigned Lands.

I believe this easy-to-read novel will appeal to many inspirational and historical western fiction fans. The plot is sound and mesmerizing. The main characters are flawed but easily likable, except maybe Joline (the younger sister), but her story comes next. The spiritual theme of atonement is beautifully presented. I always appreciate the manner in which McDonough weaves Christ into her stories. 

I want to thank the publisher (Shiloh Run Press an imprint of Barbour Books) for offering me a print copy for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review, only my honest opinion of the book, which I have done. No compensation has been received.


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Bestselling author Vickie McDonough grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead, she married a
computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams in her fictional stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen and others living in the West during the 1800s. Vickie is the award-winning author of over 30 published books and novellas. Her books include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, and End of the Trail, which was the OWFI 2013 Best Fiction Novel winner. Whispers on the Prairie was a Romantic Times Recommended Inspirational Book for July, 2013.

Vickie McDonough of Oklahoma is a wife of thirty-nine years and mother of four grown sons. She has one daughter-in-law and is grandma to a precocious little girl. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, antiquing, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website: www.vickiemcdonough.com

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Since I am affiliated with Deeper Shopping, I make a small commission on the sale of the book when you purchase a copy using the link below.



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Take52 & The Barn Collective - Two-for-One


The Week 3 theme for Take 52 was ENTRANCE.

I contemplated the following three photos.

This first photo is looking back toward the entrance to our property. I was pleased with capturing a natural sun glare and not having to manufacture one in PicMonkey.

I wasn't pleased that it came out a bit blurry but that is what I get for taking it with my phone camera. Not too bad, but not great.


This second photo is of a church not far from where we live and the entrance is one I find quite attractive. I love the stonework arched doorway! And as it was taken in the late afternoon, the sun was giving it a nice hue.

I realized after I uploaded the church photo that the bushes are not symmetrical and I felt that took away from the overall image.


So ultimately I went with this third photo. You know I love barns of all shapes and sizes, and rustic old outbuildings. Well this one fit the bill on all accounts! This is such a pleasing entrance to the occupants property. It sits relatively close to the road but far enough back to where I had to zoom a bit. But do you see that tree on the right? It is twisted! That is so cool, and one the reasons I chose this photo. I felt like there was so much interest in this image; fading wood, dappled shade, textured and weathered siding, and that twisted tree.


I'm also linking it to The Barn Collective @ Rose Street Reflections.

Hop on over there to see more gorgeous barns.

Have a blessed day!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Take 52 Catch Up

Week 2's theme was Local. The weather was not cooperating for most of the week, in that it was dreary, cloudy, and rainy...again. But on the first clear day, which was Saturday, I hopped in the car with my son and let him drive to work while I took photos.

This was once a 'local' grocery store but is obviously not anymore. :)
I liked the image but not enough to submit it for the challenge.


Here we have the children's dept at our 'local' library all decorated for Valentine's Day. Isn't it pretty? I was going to use this image until I realized that the bulletins boards promoting "love books" and "sweet reads" are sitting directly above the computer stations. Somehow that just didn't make sense to me. I would like to have seen some comfy couches, chairs, or bean bags and lots and lots of books, but then it wouldn't look so neat and clean, would it?! And I'm sure my son has a little bit to do with it being so orderly and precise looking. He works in that department.

And now for the winning submission photo...

I just love Winnie the Pooh! When my children were little we watched lots of movies and read tons of books about Pooh. I even learned the song so I could sing it to them! 

Well, look who I found reading one of his favorite stories at our 'LOCAL' library. None other than Winnie the Pooh! :)

 I took many photos of Pooh Bear positioned in different areas, with different lighting, but ultimately I liked this one best, even with the "harsh" lighting (as one commenter in Take52 pointed out).

What are some 'local' places you like to visit? 

: : :

Week 3's theme is Entrance and I'll be posting those photos on Monday.

WINNER!!!


You won a copy of Wind in the Wires by Janet Chester Bly!

Check your email for instructions.

Thanks to all who came by and entered the drawing.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Blog Tour ~ Wind in the Wires by Janet Chester Bly w/ Giveaway

 UPDATE: Giveaway has ended.

I'm pleased to be a part of the blog tour for Janet Chester Bly's first solo novel, Wind in the Wires. Janet is also offering a paperback copy to one of my readers in the US and Canada, or a PDF for anyone. Be sure and read the rules for the giveaway! 

Janet has shared a bonus short story, Cicely's Hat's, posted just before the giveaway at the bottom of this post. 


About the Book

A cowgirl searches for love and family. An old man seeks justice for two cold case murders. Their journey together exposes lies and betrayal. Will the truth be too hard for either to bear? 

It’s 1991. Reba Cahill loves ranching with Grandma Pearl in north central Idaho. But there’s a lot of work and only two of them. Reba decides she needs a husband to help her run the ranch. But she finds few prospects in the small town of Road’s End. 

But Reba is also missing something else: her mother. Deserted by her at three-years-old and never knowing her dad, she feels a sense of longing and loss. And bitterness. 

When elderly, quirky Road’s End citizen Maidie Fortress dies, Uncle Seth presents Reba Cahill with an expensive piece of jewelry that turns Reba’s world upside down and leads her down unexpected paths and toward unsuspected admirers. Will the facts also ruin all hope for romance? 


Chapter One

Wind in the Wires

Janet Chester Bly

A Trails of Reba Cahill Novel
 Book 1

A distressed cowgirl seeks to find her runaway mother.
A grieving old man wants justice for his family.
They take a journey together and expose dark secrets that forever bind them together.
This contemporary western mystery is a road adventure with a touch of romance.


Copyright © 2014 by Janet Chester Bly

Dedication:
For my forever Cowboy Honey

He went through the dry, wild desert,
waving his wild tail, and walking by his wild lone.
But he never told anybody.
Rudyard Kipling

Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.
Hosea 2:14 NIV

Chapter One
May 1991, Road’s End, Idaho

She must find the runaway heifer. And get to Maidie’s funeral on time.
Reba Mae Cahill urged her black quarter horse to trudge through the budding spring
green, muddy terrain. Recent rains and snowmelt gummed the pine-dotted, wild flower
sprayed high mountain prairie. Puddles and small ponds, tall grass and shadows made
search tedious. Johnny Poe stalled.
“Come on, boy, Don said he saw her near here. Got to find that cow before Champ
Runcie does. And return home quick.”
They rode the moss-covered wood post and barbed wire fence line as she checked
the steel stays. A strong whoosh of wind made a ringing sound in the barbed wires. She
scanned the long length of Runcie Ranch fencing. Her glance caught at a break in the
fence next to stacked tires filled with large rocks supposed to hold the fence in place.
Certainly enough space for a moon-eyed, red bovine stray to escape. She peered closer
and spied a cut at all five lines, now splayed on the ground. Why would anyone do that?
She slid down from Johnny Poe, pulled on leather gloves from her saddle bag, and
eased the wire out of the way. A long strand was missing.
A quick image of a testy Champ flashed before her. Not the first time, she wished
the Runcie and Cahill Ranches didn’t butt against each other, with so many borders in
common. Especially when one side determined not to be too neighborly. “Women,
especially Cahill women, don’t have what it takes to manage a ranch like theirs on their
own.”
Reba backed the horse up to get him prepped to ease through the opening in the
wires. He balked, as she knew he would. She flicked the reins. His ears flayed back. He
reared and pawed the air. Reba hit the muddy pasture ground hard on her rear. Pain
shot through as she scrambled to her feet and reached for the saddle. She glided on the
old leather before he could bolt and cooed at him. “Come on, Johnny Poe, it’s going to
be alright. Please try. A step at a time.”
She imagined what must loom in his mind. Memories of his mother dying, gashed
and twisted from withers to poll in a barbed wire fence. Found as a colt by her side. His
fear had a firm basis. She patted his neck. “We’ve got to cross over. We can do this. We
have to do this. And now.”
Johnny Poe snorted and dropped his head as if he’d surrendered to her command,
but she knew better. Reba nudged him to a spot a few feet from the fence. “It’s okay.
Don’t be afraid. That wire’s not going to hurt you. I’ll take care of you.”
The horse breathed out, flaring his nostrils, and turned to her like he understood.
“Go. Face your fear.” He ambled forward. “Good boy.”
They crossed a dirt roadway that passed through both pine forest and prairie wheat
fields. She heard moos and spied the Cahill Ranch heifer stuck halfway down a Runcie
Ranch incline. As they closed in, Reba noticed her breathing heavy, head down. Like she
was in hard labor.
In May? Surely you wouldn’t do this to me.
Not the time of year when Cahill bovine delivered their calves. In October and
February, Reba and her grandmother spent most of their days in the stable nursery. Out
here she had no disinfectant. No Vaseline. No cozy shed. Only a weedy, scratchy mud
hole for a stable. Another reason she couldn’t do this ranch by herself.

I can’t oversee it all. A first-time, two-year-old mama. An out-of-season pregnancy.
The worst kind of birth.
Just like mine?
White circles framed the cow’s bulging eyes and dark pools reflected fear and pain.
A coyote howled from the draw, heightening the cow’s quick, frantic pants as she
attempted to raise up. Pain more than fear slit her dark, round eyes. The sound of water
rushing over rocks sent Reba’s gaze beyond the heifer to Broken Arrow Creek. If the
crazed expectant mother charged for that water, she’d drown her newborn the moment
it delivered. Poison ivy and a crisscross of debris and brush booby-trapped the slope
and creek bank.
How much worse can this situation get? Reba glanced at her watch. “I’ve got to
contact Grandma. I’m not going to get to the funeral on time.”
Reba slid off her horse, dropped his reins to the ground, and reached into the
saddlebag. She grabbed a walkie-talkie, pulled up the antenna, and pushed the talk
button. “Grandma? Reba here. Got some trouble. Over and out.” She released the
button and stuck the portable radio closer to her ear to detect the hiss of static or her
grandmother’s voice. She heard neither. She shook the handheld device and tried again.
No connection. She slapped it back into the bag and tried hard not to blurt out the
words she was thinking.
She scowled at both the frenzied heifer and her skittish horse. She tied a rope to
Johnny Poe’s saddle horn and worked her way with care through the weeds and mud
down to the cow. Times like this, she missed Grandma Pearl something fierce. The past
year, she wasn’t strong enough to do much of the physical work, what with her knees or
hip buckling whenever she overdid. But she could provide advice and a calming
influence. They worked the ranch well together. In fact, they had done very well, just
the two of them, since they lost Grandpa Cahill.
“The Dynamic Dudettes,” half-brother Michael called them.
Reba heard her grandmother brag, “My granddaughter can wrangle cows and break
horses as good or better than I can.”
And Reba loved the freedom and fulfillment of hardy outdoor work. But Reba began
to realize the last few months that Cahill Ranch may be too much for one woman to
work mostly alone. They needed a full-time ranch hand. Or a rancher husband.
Someone who would understand the connection to family land and to this lifestyle.
When Michael Cahill showed up three years before right after Grandpa Cahill’s
funeral, claiming to be Reba’s younger half-brother, she’d hoped he might take on some
ranch duties. But he was more interested in blondes, painting, and drums. He wanted to
be an artist. Or a drummer for a rock band.
“Ranching is lonely work. Cows don’t have souls. You can see it in their eyes,” he
told her.
Kneeling in the pungent weeds, Reba stroked the heifer’s head and down the
magenta coat. She slowly reached inside. One tiny hoof was hung up. The mama’s tight
muscles fought against her intrusion.
Like last spring.
A calf died before Reba could pull it. She had to cut out the stillborn animal, piece
by bloody piece.
Please, God, not again.
Clouds covered the sun, graying the landscape, and a breeze kicked up. Reba had
sweaty palms and shivered at the same time, as the cow pushed. Reba grabbed the

calf’s feet, and tugged as hard as she could. The heifer let out a bellow like a long, low
train whistle. They both gave a heave and the dazed calf fell into the muck. A black
Angus calf born to a white-faced red mama. The unexpected timing made sense. The
heifer had been courted by a Runcie Ranch bull. There would be words over this. On
both sides.
She heard a rattle up on the road and an engine idle. She jerked around, halfexpecting
stern Champ Runcie to stand on top, bawling out accusations about the
broken fence and trespass. She waited a moment, a hitch in her stomach, trying to think
of what to say. Soon a male figure appeared.
Reba shook with relief. “Don! I’m so glad to see you.”
“Have you called your grandma?”
“I tried to. No luck.”
“Hold on. I’ll be right back. There’s better reception down the road apiece. I know
she’ll be frantic to know where you are.”
“Thank you so much.”
He turned and she heard the pickup drive away.
Widower Don Runcie, Champ’s son, who telephoned to warn her of the errant heifer
on their property. Her heart warmed at his concern, giving her a chance to rescue the
cow before Champ discovered it. They proved as much as anything his feelings for her.
Perhaps their two recent dates had softened him a bit on her side of the Runcie-Cahill
feud. However, she wondered what Champ thought of them as a twosome.
Her grandmother didn’t mince her disapproval. “He’s old enough to be your father,”
Pearl chided.
“We went to a movie and danced some at the Grange Hall. That’s all.” And he’s a
rancher.
“Almost every dance. Everyone in town is talking.”
“Is that what you’re worried about?”
Grandma pursed her lips tight like she was afraid to say too much. “You can do
better than that,” she concluded.
Not likely in Road’s End, population 400. She’d certainly looked the field of possible
contenders over many times from her cowgirl perch. Those rare few bachelors near her
age were either divorced and in custody fights or not the ranch work type. Like the
McKane brothers who recently moved from California. Jace and Norden bought and ran
The Outfitters Shop as a kind of hobby, best she could tell. Jace made his money in
software programs and wanted to play at wilderness living. Not her type at all.
“I want a guy to help run our ranch,” Reba confided to Pearl and her best friend,
Ginny George. Dependable. Faithful. Not with his career focus and dreams elsewhere.
“He cannot be the type to abandon me.” Or our children. “He will be fully committed to
me, wholly sold out to the rancher lifestyle. Just like Grandpa Cahill.” Didn’t Don fit that
description? A plus on her private Dating Don List.
She thought she had that with Tim Runcie, Don’s son, and her high school
sweetheart. At least, she thought he was. What a perfect pairing. Everyone thought so.
Except, as it turned out, her best friend Sue Anne Whitlow.
She took off her denim jacket, yanked it inside out and wiped herself and the wet
clump of calf legs with the wool lining. She stuck a finger in and cleared the newborn’s
throat and mouth and shoved the baby bundle against the cow’s nose. The mothering
light flipped on. She mooed and rough-tongued her babe clean.

Reba tensed, mesmerized, as she often did at similar scenes. A hazy picture of her
mom popped in her mind. Shaggy, long sable brown and streaked blond hair. Teasing
smile. Circling a barrel on a buckskin horse at a rodeo. She’d seen a few photos in a
scrapbook and had a framed one tucked face down in her bottom dresser drawer, but
couldn’t scrounge up live memories of her own. Abandoned at the Cahill Ranch at age
three left her with the pain of an “I am not important...I am not of value” message.
She tried hard to avoid the questions that stole in. Did her mother know about
Maidie’s death? Will she show up at the funeral? Grandma Pearl revealed how Maidie
and Hanna Jo became very close as her mother grew up. Even Reba spent a lot of time
at Maidie’s house and considered her like another grandma. Pearl told her stories of the
times Hanna Jo tended to Maidie during some of her sick spells. As Reba did with her
guitar playing.
“Your mother showed care-giving skills in her early teens,” Grandma said. “I
thought sure she’d become a nurse.”
She sure hadn’t cared enough to look after Reba. How could her mom run away
from her family and duty? The thought erupted unbidden like a dark, unprotected
wound.
And why would she come to the funeral today? She hadn’t made an appearance at
Grandpa Cahill’s service, her own father’s. She looked again at her watch. “I may not
make it to Maidie’s either. Where is Don? He arrived like the cavalry and disappeared
like Custer.”
Reba tried to direct the calf to its mother’s udders. But it showed no interest in
nursing. “Come on, little one. You’ve got to get some nourishment. Aren’t you hungry
after your ordeal?” She tried again and again without success.
The newborn quivered. Reba wrapped her jacket around it, the cleaner side against
its skin. Then she stood and faced the mama cow. “Recovery time is over,” she hollered.
“You have a hill to climb.”
The heifer groaned to her feet and took a few steps. Reba grabbed the end of the
rope she’d tied onto Johnny Poe’s saddle horn and looped it around the new mother’s
neck. When she jerked on it, Johnny Poe backed up and tugged it taut.
The sound of an engine pierced the mountain air. She peered at the front end of
Don’s pickup on the ridge above, tires splaying mud, too close to the horse.
“Watch out,” Reba yelled.
Johnny Poe reared and raised so high the rope connected to the saddle horn
yanked and twitched free. Reba lunged for the cow as she tumbled and scooted into the
bulging river. “No!” she screamed, as she bound after her. “You can’t drown. Help! Don,
please help!” Panic stretched across her chest and froze somewhere in her lungs.
“Help!” she rasped again, barely above a whisper. She had to save that mama cow.
She splashed into the creek, boots and all, and reached for the floating rope, the
line to life. Everything in her rebelled against the possibility a creature who had just
gone through the agony of birth to a sickly, needy babe would now drown without a
chance to care for the little one. After a slippery plunge beneath the surface, Reba
grabbed traction with her boots on the bottom. The heifer’s head burst above water and
she bellowed in distress.
Reba raced to the bank, keeping her eyes on the cow’s current-drifting pace. She
could hear the calf blurt a weak cry. She twisted to see him try to get on his feet. That’s
good.

After another dip, Reba managed to pull the free end of the rope out of the water
and tugged as hard as she could. In a flash, strong arms encased her with warmth and
comfort and pulled her and the rope to the bank. She didn’t resist the protection and
assistance offered. With Don at her side and some hefty repeated yanks, the mother
lumbered toward them and collapsed a few yards away. Reba trembled both inward and
outward in a confusion of emotions. Relief over the heifer. Not wanting to leave the
cocoon of Don’s arms.
“Thanks so very much.” Reba dropped in a pant as her teeth chattered.
“Don’t thank me too much. Your horse escaped.”
“Why didn’t you go after him?”
“He was okay and you weren’t. Besides, I don’t think that horse likes me much. I’ve
never been able to get near him without the threat of a vicious kick. My dad too. And
Tim. He’s got a thing against Runcies, I guess.”
Is that a sign? The former warm feelings of camaraderie, teamwork, and maybe
something more turned to a chill. “Do you know where he’s headed?”
“Toward Coyote Canyon, looked like to me.”
“I guess I’ll chase him later.” Reba tried not to show her dismay. She focused on
getting to the funeral. “Help me get these two out of here.”
He handed her a canteen. “That I can do. Never been a downed cow I couldn’t get
up.” He lifted his head. “Even up a hill.”
She filled the canteen at the creek. “I’ll carry the calf.”
“No, you won’t. Get up there and I’ll bring him to you.”
Reba stiffened at the command. He sounded and looked a lot like Champ in that
moment. But when Reba started to protest, her alarm increased for the listless, puny
babe splayed on the ground. She gently rubbed drops of water on its mouth as its head
drooped.
Don draped the limpid calf across his shoulders and stumped up the incline while
Reba followed. A raging war grew inside her. Should she have insisted on carrying the
calf herself? Was Don going to claim ownership of the calf, on behalf of Runcie Ranch?
She was reminded again how nice it would be to have a capable man on the ranch. She
looked ahead and admired his muscular, confident stride.
Don would make someone a good rancher husband, as he already had once, with
schoolteacher Marge Runcie. Reba Runcie, that has a ring to it. She imagined him at her
side, plowing the fallow Cahill ground back into wheat fields. Buying more cattle at
auctions.
Reba cradled the calf and watched from the top as Don below worked to nudge the
downed one thousand pound immoveable bovine to get up and go. If they had more
time and materials available, they could manufacture a primitive sling to drag and hoist
the heifer. “How inconsiderate of your mamma to go down at the bottom of a hill,” she
told the calf.
“Stop your muttering up there and give me some ideas,” Don shouted.
So much for romantic fantasies. “Try to push her.”
“She’s too fat. What do you feed those cows of yours?”
Road’s End pasture, same as you. “Then scare her.”
Don stood straight and howled like a coyote. The heifer’s eyes got wild, but she
didn’t move. He kept howling.
Reba didn’t know whether to be impressed or amused. She craned around the calf
to look at her watch. She began to pray for God and his angels to move that cow,

though she knew the heifer would get up when she was good and ready, and not
before. “Try yanking her tail. Come on, we’ve got to go.”
Don pinched her ear and pulled back hard on her tail three separate times. Just
when they presumed this failed too, she heaved her hulk of a self off the ground as
though it were no big deal and moseyed up the hill. Reba set the calf down in hopes he
and the mama would connect. He bawled something pitiful and attempted a wobble on
three legs. Reba scooped the critter into her arms again and swabbed its lips with water
drops. Its eyes closed, legs hung limp, and ears drooped. “This calf is not well. He needs
a warm tub bath.”
It took both of them to corral the heifer through the barbed fence at the broken
line. She and Don pulled back the spliced pieces as best they could.
“You do notice this has been cut,” Reba remarked.
“Did you do it? Or your grandmother?”
“Of course not. That’s ridiculous. Why did you say that?”
“Because Dad will ask me. This part of the fencing is closest to your ranch.”
“But we have no possible motive.” Reba felt the chill of accusation and the
discomfort of confusion. What is going on?
As she headed into Cahill Ranch pasture, Reba tucked the calf on the front bench
seat of Don’s pickup and helped him repair the fence. They crawled into the truck with
muddy boots, stained jeans, and torn shirts.
“If we go like we are, we’ll be only a few minutes late.” Reba tried to imagine her
grandmother’s reaction to her showing up at Maidie’s service looking like something the
pigs drug to the pen. They might be backwoods ranch folks, but Pearl Cahill insisted on
looking cleaned up at social events.
“You look like a drowned fox. A red one, of course. A very cute one.”
“Are you flirting with me?”
He grinned, his rugged face relaxed. “Just stating an obvious fact.”
Reba scooted the jacket wrapped calf between them. “I had a clean rag in my
saddle bag. Have you got anything like that in here?”
“Open the glove compartment.”
She pulled out a large, folded piece of white cotton.
“An old t-shirt of Tim’s. Do what you can. I’m sure he won’t mind.”
But I will. She smelled Lava soup and Tide detergent and something else not so
clean, but pleasant. She didn’t know how she could explain it was impossible to use
Tim’s shirt, to rub it against her skin. Tim Runcie, a classmate, her first and only real
boyfriend. The guy who married her best girlfriend, Sue Anne Whitlow. And a reminder
of at least one awkward part of dating Don.
The clouds cleared and a bright sunbeam sprayed through the scattered Douglas fir
and ponderosa pines. “Thanks, but that’s okay. Just get me home quick. This calf has to
be fed.”
The truck bumped over the three miles of unpaved road to the Cahill homestead as
Reba held on tight to the calf and the truck door. They rolled past charred remnants of a
cabin, struck by lightning and burned to the ground. A wooden water tower for an old
logging camp at the end of a former railroad spur sagged and leaned so far as though a
gentle push would topple it.
A bevy of twenty quails scurried across the road in front of them. They slowed and
passed a guy on the roadside in pullover shirt, Bermuda shorts, and deck shoes
changing a flat tire on a brand new ’91 silver Volvo.

Don rolled down his window.
“Don’t stop,” Reba said. “We don’t have time.”
“It’s not the Road’s End way. You know that.” He yelled out, “Need some help?”
The man turned around and Reba recognized Jace McKane, one of their newest
citizens. In his thirties with blond boyish good looks, he looked nothing like his dark and
ruddy younger brother, Norden. “Thanks, Mr. Runcie. I’m doing fine. I’m real used to
this.”
Mr. Runcie? Even Don’s dad was called Champ by everyone.
They drove on, in sight of the Cahill driveway turnoff.
“I’ve seen him tinkering with his car before. Must be a lemon,” Don said.
“I hear he’s got plenty of money. Why doesn’t he buy a new car?”
“Must be attached to that one.”
As they turned right onto Stroud Ranch Road and another right onto the Cahill
driveway, Reba leaned over the calf. “Oh, dear.”
“What’s the matter?”
Reba checked her charge for signs of revival. At her touch, a muscle moved and he
slit open one eye. She dabbed him with water again. “I’m glad we’re almost there.”
They passed Grandpa Cahill’s sprawling mutant Camperdown elm.
Reba caught sight of a red Jaguar parked behind the bunkhouse. Who in the world
does that belong to?
Reba hugged the calf close as she slipped out of the cab. Tied to the front porch,
Paunch and Aussie, Grandma Pearl’s Blue Heelers, eyed them with disinterest. Scat the
long-haired calico cat crouched nearby.
Don gestured at her. “I’m going to head home and clean up. If I miss the main
service, I’ll see you at the graveside later.”
“Oh, wait. Here’s your canteen.”
“Keep it. I’ll get it later.” He grinned. “Good excuse to see you again.” He backed
down the driveway.
Pearl rushed over as she eased up the steps in front of the house. Salt-and-pepper
hair pulled back in a twist, lips touched with soft pink, dressed in black denim western
cut pantsuit and her Sunday best Nochona black leather boots, her eyes squinted in
worry. “Reba, you okay?”
“Besides being covered with mud and cow blood, just fine.”
Pearl checked the calf. “Get him on a bottle immediately.”
“He wouldn’t nurse.”
“The funeral’s running a bit late anyway. I’ll do what I can. You get yourself
decent.” The calf’s ears drooped when she picked him up.
Reba knew that look of her grandmother’s, steely resignation. “You don’t think he’s
going to make it, do you?”
“The good news is, the vet is here for the funeral. He’ll get Dr. Whey’s immediate
attention.” Pearl wheeled around and called out to the first person she saw. “Joe! Joe
Bosch, go to the barn and get Olga Whey. Send her here to the house. Emergency calf
care needed.”
Joe Bosch, Runcie ranch hand, arrived for the service looking stiff and rigid with
brown hair slicked down, dressed in navy blue suit, navy striped tie and matching
kerchief-stuffed pocket. As he sprinted to the barn, Reba swallowed and tried to smile.
“The heifer’s safely in our pasture and… Johnny Poe ran away.” Reba couldn’t interpret

her grandmother’s response beyond an expected frown. At least she had given her the
full report.
She headed for her bedroom and stopped when she heard strains of Bette Midler
singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” from the guest room. She stepped closer and wafts of
a scent like musk and mulberry misted the hall.
The door from the bathroom at the hall’s end opened wide and Pearl appeared. “I
forgot to tell you that Ginny arrived from California…”
“My Ginny? Ginny George Nicoli?”
Pearl nodded.
The music stopped at “I can fly higher than an eagle” when she knocked. With a
swish of shoulder-length, corkscrew dark curls and a sweep of black and purple faille,
out popped the gal with skin like she’d rubbed it in walnut oil and buffed it to a gloss.
She swept up Reba and swung her around. “Surprise! So good to see you, Reba Mae!”
“Watch out. I’ll mess you all up.”
“Don’t worry. I brought lots of changes.”
“I believe that, but I can’t believe you’re here.” Reba felt as elated as when she’d
given up finding elk on a season’s last trip and stumbled onto a large herd. “You didn’t
mention a word about coming to Idaho at our last phone call.” Reba thought hard. “Did
you?”
“No, it was a last-minute decision. I decided to give myself some time off, the
benefits of working for a family business. Good grief, girl, you look like sunburned spit.”
“I’ve been birthing a calf.” Reba peered down the hall at the bathroom and closed
door. “The red Jaguar. Is that yours?”
“Yep. I drove twenty hours straight.”
“You must be beyond exhausted.”
“I’ll catch up later. I had to be here for Seth and Maidie. And you. And there were
other reasons.” She squeezed a sad face. “I still can’t fathom she’s gone. She and Seth
have been like fixtures here, like the Hanging Tree, and Champ and your grandma. I
can’t imagine Road’s End without her.”
I’d like to see Road’s End without Champ. “Yes, they are Road’s End. Just like
Grandpa was too.” A sudden depression gripped Reba. Life and love so fleeting. And all
will die.
But Ginny nudged her. “Now, hurry. We’ve got to get you to the barn on time.”
“Too late. We’re already fifteen minutes overdue.”
“We’ve been given another fifteen minute extension, by order of Pearl Cahill, the
head honcho around here.”
“Unless Champ Runcie’s on the premises.”
“Oh, he is. He and your grandma were exchanging terse words when I arrived.
Something to do with his part in the service.”
Please, Champ, leave us alone for once. “Grandma suspects he’s going to try
political posturing at the funeral. She’s been firm with him this service is about Maidie
and nothing else.”
“Like what would he do?”
“Oh, give a stump speech for his re-election as mayor, something like that.”
Anything to mix it up and mess it up for Pearl and Reba. But, why bother? He had no
opponents. He was a shoo-in.

Dr. Olga Whey burst into the house in navy polyester and pumps, carrying a black
medical bag, straight brunette hair flowing. Reba pointed her to the bathroom. “I don’t
think I’m going to get a bath or shower,” she informed Ginny as Dr. Whey squeezed by.
“Go out in the backyard and I’ll hose you down like we did as kids.”
“Okay, but this time with my clothes on.”
“And then they come off.” She opened a closet door in the guest room. A half dozen
of what she presumed as very expensive outfits hung there. Strewn across the bed were
charcoal gray silky pajamas, a rose pink pantsuit, and teal green caftan.
“You know we don’t wear the same size.”
“But one of my scarves or jewelry will brighten up whatever little thing you put on.”
“And you know I rarely wear jewelry.”
Ginny sighed. “How did we ever become best buds?”
~~~~
Reba snickered as she peered into her bedroom mirror at the tangle of pine needles
and cobwebs in her auburn hair. Bloody dung streaked her face. No wonder you’re still
single at age twenty-five.
After a quick backyard hose shower, she changed into a blousy, v-neck black
pullover dress and black flats. She blow-dried her straight hair and shook it out.
Pearl Cahill stomped down the hall. “Olga’s going to stay with the calf, bless her
heart. She gave him electrolytes and Sulpha pills. All we can do is wait and pray. I’m
going to the barn.”
Reba peeked in on the calf sprawled in the footed tub. At least his eyes were open.
“I’m sorry you have to miss the service. Thank you so much.”
Dr. Whey shrugged. “It’s what I do.”
Reba knocked and scooted the guest room door open. Ginny had changed into a
brown suede skirt with brown velvet blazer and brown heels with crisscross straps. “The
hug stained my black. This will have to do.” She looked Reba over and pulled button
pearl earrings, single-strand pearl necklace and a black and cream scarf from her
suitcase. “Simple and classy. You’ll look great. And it’s nothing garish, so don’t fuss at
me.”
Reba smiled. “I wouldn’t think of it. Put them on. Dress me up like a doll, just like
you used to.”
Ginny snapped the necklace and earrings on and draped the scarf straight without a
tie.
Reba touched her ears and the pearls. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
Ginny admired her touches with a twirl around her. “You’re good. Let’s go!”
Reba picked up her guitar case as she and Ginny hiked the half-mile to the barn.
“You going to sing?”
“Grandma insisted. I often sang for Maidie when she had one of her spells. Seemed
to calm her down.”
“Seth must feel so alone without Maidie, after all these years taking care of her.
Such dedication for his special needs niece.”
“Grandma and I will look in on him as often as we can. He’s going to speak at the
service and he’s real nervous. I promised to provide him support.”
“We still have the toys Seth carved for me and my brothers back when we lived in
Road’s End.”

“Most everyone in town has something Seth made for them.” They passed Seth
Stroud’s Ford Model T., pickups, SUVs, and motorcycles cluttered around the Cahill barn
and pasture. Reba pushed into the barn and gasped at the size of the crowd.

~~~~

Coming Soon!
Wind in the Wires scheduled for November 15th, 2014 release!
Available in paperback, eBook, and audio

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Stuart Brannon’s Final Shot by Stephen Bly
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and Wish I’d Known You Tears Ago



The Austin-Stoner Files by Stephen Bly: The Lost Manuscript of
Martin Taylor Harrison, The Final Chapter of Chance McCall, and
The Kill Fee of Cindy LaCoste






About the Author

Janet Chester Bly is a city girl with a country heart. She doesn’t corral horses or mow her own lawn. “I’m no womba woman,” she says. But she followed her husband award-winning western author Stephen Bly to the Idaho mountain top village of Winchester to write books and minister to a small church. When she lost him, she stayed. She manages the online Bly Books bookstore, rakes lots of Ponderosa pine needles and cones, and survives the long winter snows.

Janet Chester Bly is the widow of award-winning western author Stephen Bly. Together they authored and co-authored 120 fiction and nonfiction books. She and her three sons finished Stephen’s last novel for him, Stuart Brannon’s Final Shot, a Selah Award Finalist. The family’s story is told on her website blog: http://www.blybooks.com/. Wind in the Wires is Janet’s first solo adult novel, a contemporary western mystery, a road adventure with a touch of romance. It’s Cowgirl Lit. A Reader's Guide for Group Discussion is included at the back of the book.  

Connect with Janet: 
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~~~~~~~~

BONUS: Short Story

Cicely’s Hats
Janet Chester Bly
copyright@2001


On the June morning Neoma Hocking and her grandchildren left St. Joseph, Missouri, no one saw them off. They loaded her late husband’s extended cab truck and fifth wheeler with vacation gear and drove a determined route up Highway 29. They passed twisted hollers, rocky terraces, and thick forest fences, lifetime familiar scenes. Now home was a retreating landscape in her rear view mirror. Home was a shell of a house with all the furniture stored and only a phone still hooked up.
Neoma resisted the strong urge to call one more time before crossing the Missouri border...to check for messages, just in case. She chewed antacid tablets and stole a glimpse at the kids in the back seat. Twelve-year-old Becky met her glance with a glazed, glum look. She crossed her eyes in that way of hers that meant, "Don't dare ask what I'm thinking." Her five-year-old brother, Ned, bounced like a caged puppy against every section of the seat belt.
At least they're not fighting yet.
Two thousand long miles of prairie, mountains, and desert to cross. The corn rows got smaller, dryer. The sky popped open to a full, blazing sweep. Neoma refereed spats and navigated highway signs. Two delays for pickup repairs. A blown out tire in Nebraska. Skies over Nebraska cornfield glowed red, thanks to volcanic particles from halfway around the world. Sunsets took on lustrous tones of red, orange, yellow. Beauty in the midst of chaos. A broken drive shaft in Wyoming when a semi sideswiped them.
They whizzed past Utah.
Nights she called the empty house to listen for a non-existent message, prayed for patience and guidance, then tossed and turned on a flat trailer bunk. Then Neoma stalled at Winnemucca, Nevada, one day short of the California coast.
"I'm headed west," Hank told Neoma and all their friends, two months before he was to retire. "I'm going to be the first descendent of Theodore Hocking to stick my bare feet in the Pacific."
Hank packed Theodore's gold panning supplies and Pony Express Bible in the fifth wheeler while Neoma imagined long visits with her college chum in Utah, a side trip to Aunt Cicely's in Idaho, long novels to read, and lazy evenings of pulling out new sable brushes and an old easel on sunset California beaches. Now Neoma studied a soiled and tattered map at the Winnemucca campground. The closer they got to the California state line, the harder her head pounded.
"Make Ned sleep with you, Nana. It's too crowded. I can hardly breathe." Becky kicked dirt devils, hair strung out over sullen face and freckles.
She so resembled daughter Trish at that age. Neoma shuddered. And just as prickly.
Ned rammed Matchbox cars down dirt lanes, his arms and legs caked with unbathed grime. "Are we almost to Disneyland?" he asked over and over.
Neoma pushed her hand across the map trying to press the crinkles into smooth paths. Fatigue seeped into her bones. The kids beyond restless, she should keep to the route. There were duties to perform. She glanced at the camper that held the urn. Ashes over the Pacific, that's what Hank wanted.
"Aunt Cicely lives in Idaho," she ventured with some hesitation. "A place called Road's End. We might never get by this way again." She avoided the kids' eyes and braced for the barrage of complaints. Just this once. Just for me. But Becky just shrugged and Ned kept playing.
Neoma roused them early the next morning and headed the truck for the minimum ten-hour trip north. She had Aunt Cicely strong on her mind when she edged up the rugged 4,000-foot grind of White Bird Grade. Aunt Cicely, her father's youngest sister, a prominent guest from the west at all family funerals and weddings. She was a colorful memory in Neoma's gray world.
"If Aunt Cicely comes, it's party time," Trish always said.
She lost a daughter too. And three husbands. Aunt Cicely would understand.
When the truck grinded to the top of the mountain they eased across the rolling hills of the high Camas Prairie. Becky pushed her feet into the back of the driver's seat, pounding against Neoma's tense flesh.
Ned yelled, "Nana, Becky's pinching me."
Neoma squeezed the brakes. She pulled to the side of the road and ordered, "Becky, you sit up here with me."
Ned, raccoon eyes wide, cheeks smudged, sat white faced and sucked his finger. When Becky finally got into the front, she slammed the door and cranked her arms tight across her flat chest, face rigid. Neoma didn't know whether to try to hug her or slap her. Instead, she ran a loose hand down the tangle of red hair. Becky yanked back, shaking her hair out.
By the time they reached the Road's End turnoff, the June sky swelled gray and overcast. The rough pavement curved between stands of aspens and groves of evergreens. Sunflowers and Indian paintbrushes burst across a meadow.
Road's End rambled like drifters had claimed temporary squatter's rights and moved on. All the roads were dirt paths. Empty shacks marked nameless residents who left, taking their stories with them. Neoma thought it looked like the sort of place to hide, to be left alone to just exist or sort things out.
Or it could be a restful stop on the way to going somewhere else.
Neoma studied a handwritten chart of directions on the back of a Christmas card. She turned off on a dirt road and halted in front of an old two-story clapboard house. Six weathered steps led up to a large covered porch with wooden benches. The shades were all up. Angels and ivy etched the windows that topped the double front doors.
A breeze whipped around them as they eased out of the truck. Neoma inhaled sweet pine scents and stretched her stiff legs. She pulled jackets out of the trailer for the children.
"Does Aunt Cicely know we're coming?" Becky whispered.
"I wrote her we were coming west. She invited us to stop by, but I didn't promise anything. We'll stay an hour or two and head on down the road."
Dark clouds began to bunch up, like a flock of dirty sheep peering down. The door opened before they knocked.
The house reeked of popcorn and hot caramel and chocolate that covered a woodsy smell. Cicely Bowers swept long, thin arms around them. Bleached white hair swept up into a wide brimmed black hat, cocked to the side, and tied under the chin. A black velvet ribbon circled her neck, holding a white satin rose. Black leggings ended inches above 4-inch black spike heels. Cicely had the quick eyes of a canny mind, yellow cat eyes. Her words came fast, like skipped stones. "Neoma, how delightful. You and the children did come."
"I'm sorry to intrude. . ." Neoma began.
"Nonsense. Your rooms are all ready. You can stay as long as you like." She hugged each of them engulfing them in a heavenly scent of lilacs.
"We've got a trailer,” Neoma explained.
“We're camping,” Ned added.
"There's a squall coming in. It may even snow," Cicely informed them. "It's very warm and snuggy in here."
Becky gave Neoma a look of panic. "But what is there to do?"
Cicely twirled as though waving a magic wand. "You must come to the rec room." She fanned her fingers toward them, nails squared and red, all lacquered the same long length.
They followed her past a large kitchen. A pot of morel mushrooms soaked in salty water on the stove, floating like sea anemones. "Just picked them out of the forest," she reported.
Becky gagged.
Cicely didn't seem to notice as she led them to a room spilling over with books and games and black velvet ottomans. The walls were egg yolk yellow and blank, except for nails where something should be hanging. A window looked out on a large manicured yard with wooden seat and rope swings and a half basketball court. "The former owner had lots of children."
"We're going to Disneyland," Ned announced as he danced around the room.
Becky glared at Neoma, her eyes scratching through to her heart, and bumped against a tower of blocks in the shape of a fortress. The pieces scattered across the shiny wood floor.
Neoma felt the emptiness of depression settling in. She sensed disaster. “You've got to think before you commit,” she could hear Hank say.
Becky picked at the mushroom fritters, fried chicken, and garlic mashed potatoes at dinner, but she relished the fudge sundaes for dessert. Cicely coaxed Becky to play with Ned in the rec room, throwing a rubber ball at ten plastic pins. She brought them homemade caramel corn mixed with peanuts in bright pink resin bowls.
"So, you're moving." Cicely wound her pencil thin legs around a stool in the kitchen.
"We have an option on an apartment. But, I don't know for sure." Oh, why did I say that? Now she'll want me to explain. She attempted to change the subject. “Why do they call this Road's End?"
Cicely laughed. "Nothing tricky about it. It's because the only way to get out is to go back the way you came in. It’s a culdesac."
The guest rooms had double beds lapped with bright colored quilts. The mattress squeezed spongy soft under white cotton sheets. After Neoma tucked Ned in and muttered a prayer, she made her nightly call to St. Joe. No messages from her daughter. As usual.
Neoma slipped into sweat pants and t-shirt. She wadded her pillow into a soft ball and fussed it against her neck. She soon dreamed of climbing a hill to her favorite park above the Missouri River. Hank leaned into her, his skin warm and shower fresh, his eyes bright, his spicy shaving lotion strong. An old longing shivered through her. A silent waltz of memory.
A young woman stormed horseback up the hill with Trish's flowing auburn tresses. She screamed something at them. Neoma couldn't understand the words so she tried to rush toward her daughter. Hank shoved her away before she was crushed under the sharp hooves. Hank took the blow, bloody prints on his chest.
Neoma stirred awake, trembling, with Ned's clean face peering over her. "Nana, get up. We already ate breakfast."
Neoma winced with pain as she rolled out of the bed. She took a quick shower and slipped into the same jeans and pullover she'd worn the day before. She could hear Becky and Ned squealing in the backyard. She peered out the window. Cicely Bowers swung high over them, dressed in bright yellow, her hat tight on top her head.
Neoma surrendered to a moment of release. She embraced the brief elation as she hurried through the house to the rec room door. She stepped out to enter in. Yellow daffodils and red tulips bordered the yard. The taunting scent of pines and raw earth reminded her of the day they moved into the first home of their own. The house had been like an old woman with arthritis, always cranky, always needing repair. And the yard was stingy small. "Trish needs room to run," Neoma kept saying.
But Hank covered the yard of the new house with black plastic and gravel and lined it with evergreen bushes. "I just don't have time," his eyes penitent, full of workaholic guilt.
Cicely eased out of her flying swing, cherub cheeks flushed, and landed near Neoma.
"We've got to go," Neoma said. "The kids are itching for Anaheim."
"No, you don't." Her manner indicated that settled the matter. "We're going to try on hats."
Neoma followed the kids and Cicely upstairs to a dormer room, one huge walk-in closet filled with clothes in three colors: black, yellow, and red. A long wall of rows of hooks hung with flowered hats, ribboned hats, and plain hats. In the middle of the room stood a large mahogany framed mirror.
Cicely studied the hats and pulled several down for Becky. She handed only one to Neoma, a satin floral jacquard brim and sisal crown trimmed with a gardenia blossom. Neoma could almost smell the gardenia fragrance, it looked so real. She imagined on the head of a stylish model in a Renoir painting.
Neoma eased the hat on and tillted it to the side. The grosgrain band felt soft, firm against her head. She expected the kids to laugh. But Becky was too busy trying on her own, a perky panama style held on with a chin strap. Ned climbed up on a dresser to reach for a cotton ducking cap with coffee colored long bill. Cicely pulled it down for him and he pranced around like a cocky young Hemingway.
Neoma peered back into the mirror, startled at the spectacle of grungy grandma at the hat shop. It had been so long since she did anything with her hair. She wondered what some auburn highlights and a little makeup would do. She reached up for the rim, tilted the hat and sighed. This would have been perfect for Trish's wedding.
Everyone they knew in St. Joseph, especially in the church, looked forward to Trish's marriage to Davis Stanton. The women sewed curtains for the social hall and cushioned the pews. The choir director wrote a song for the couple and sang it from the balcony. Trish Hocking, the unwed mother, finally settling down. Davis Stanton, new believer in Christ, formerly into drugs and hard living, now prepared to be a husband. Becky Hocking, six-years- old, ecstatic to have a father.
The marriage lasted seven months. A bed of bitter roses.
"He doesn't know how to treat a woman," Trish remarked.
"I can't keep up with the credit card spending," Davis retorted.
Trish announced she was pregnant and took Becky with her to St. Louis, no forwarding address. Neoma and Hank didn't see Ned until he was three years old. Davis, meanwhile, moved to Las Vegas.
"Did you wear hats when you were my age?" Becky asked Cicely.
"Oh no, I was an old lady of forty-three when I put on my first one. A woman I worked for asked me to do modeling for a client of ours at a charity fashion show. I didn't know until I got there that I would be modeling hats. Every time I sauntered down that runway, I became a different woman. I believed I could charge the world. The client let me buy any hat I wanted at a discount rate. I bought them all, quit my job, and set up my own hat shop and made more money than I ever wanted."
"But how did you get to Road's End?" Neoma asked.
"One day I packed all my hats and aimed east. I wanted to see new sights. But my car heated up climbing the Winchester grade. I limped into Road's End, saw this house for sale, and never got any further. It's felt like home ever since."
Becky twirled once in front of the mirror. She clutched the sides of the panama and made a slight bow, her face as rosy as her hair. "Mama likes hats. I wore one at her wedding."
"Yes, I know. I was there," Cicely reminded them.
"You were at Grandpa's funeral too." Becky stole glances at the panama as Cicely tucked on a green band and bow. "He had a heart attack. I think Mamma did too, though she didn't die. She ran away instead."
Neoma's pulse quickened at the first time she’d heard her talk that much about Trish and what she did.
Cicely untied the yellow hat and slid on a black one with yellow polka dots. "Your mamma couldn't deal with her sorrow. And some people don't know how to embrace joy." Cicely cocked her head toward Neoma. "In grief and in happiness, we're often quite alone."
"You've got a charmed kind of wisdom," Neoma remarked.
"All the better to soar above this little scene of things," Cicely replied.
Neoma was startled into a sudden grin. "You know the old poets."
Cicely chuckled. "I've got lots of time for reading here at Road's End. I've got lots of time for anything I want. And you can keep the hats. My present."
That afternoon it seemed as though a herd of wild horses stampeded the roof. A white plague of hailstones salted the yard. Neoma groaned under the weight of a migraine and napped on the rec room couch. Cicely taught the kids to play Hearts and took them into the forest for mushroom hunting. They smelled of wet wood when they returned.
"Hank seemed so weary those last months." Neoma pushed a broom around the kitchen floor after dinner. "He went to bed exhausted and woke up tired. The morning of the heart attack he was on his way to some kind of business meeting. He dreaded them. . .the friction, the controversies. Hank tried to be the peacemaker, but at a great price." Neoma stopped to watch Cicely bang the dishwasher shut. "Hours later I was at his bedside when the deep lines in his face slowly etched out. He heaved a last shudder and was gone. A year ago tomorrow."
Cicely lowered her head. The hat and its brim covered her face. "I was there when all three of my husbands left this earth. With my daughter too. Leukemia, you know, like her father." She raised up, a spunky look in her eye. "Some folks think I wear these hats to attract a man. They're wrong. I wear them to declare my delight in living, my gumption. It's who I am." She paused. "Who are you, Neoma?" She said it soft like a whispered prayer.
Neoma stared at this whimsical woman who resided in this conventional house in this curious little village. "No one has ever asked me that before. She cleared her raspy throat. "I don't know. I can't relax and just be the kids grandma. I've got to be both mother and father. I think I could have done it with Hank's help." She stopped a moment and then offered a half grin. "I used to paint, years ago."
"Paint? What kind of painting?"
"Oils and water colors, mainly. I've got a dozen canvasses shut up in a storage shed. Bowls of waxy fruit. Sprays of brambly roses, that sort of thing. And one of Trish on her baptism day. That was the last painting I did."
"Maybe you’ll paint again. Sometimes life is like a culdesac, the only way out of a tough situation is retracing the way you got in." Cicely’s eyes clouded in deep thought.
"My way is to keep plodding forward, one foot in front of the other." Neoma scanned the rec room. Two rapt faces stared at a video screen. Ned sucked his finger while Becky wound ringlets in her straight red hair. "The day of the funeral Trish divulged to one of her father’s longtime friends that she owed a score of debts. She said she wanted a fresh break for her and the kids. The man had some means. I’m sure he was caught up in the emotion of losing Hank and mindful of the Scriptures that say to give to those who ask. If he had come to me first, I would have warned him. However. . ."
Neoma stood very small in the room. She frowned as the pain shot through her, sharp, unrelenting. "He bailed her out. And I don't blame him for it. But she took the money and we haven't heard from her since."
Cicely paced the room, her thin arm rubbing her chin. "Some children take a long time to grow up."
"One assumes they will become adults." Neoma leaned on the broom handle. "And care for their own. And give the older generation a break.”
“What will you do after your pilgrimage to the Pacific?"
"I've got to find a place big enough for me and the kids, a place we all like, and a place where. . ." Trish could find us, if she wanted to.
"Wasn't the house you had adequate?"
Neoma took a deep breath. "The friend who gave Trish the money found out he had cancer a month or two after. Medical bills were eating up their retirement savings. I sold the house to pay him back."
Cicely frowned, closed her eyes, and spread her hands on top her hat.
Neoma tucked Ned in bed and read him a chapter from C. S. Lewis' Narnia Tales. Becky covered her head and pretended not to listen. When Neoma turned out the light, Becky called out through the wispy darkness, "Maybe Mom called today."
Neoma was glad Becky couldn't see her face. The tears rose from a deep well within her. She closed the bedroom door and stole into the rec room. She listened for a long time in the lone silence, crouched on the floor, arms cradled around one of the black ottomans until her legs cramped beyond pain.
There had been no time to grieve Hank's loss. No place alone to weep. No moments to deal with past memories and future lost dreams. There were the children and their constant needs along with long hours at the library job, working a full schedule instead of part-time. Now, she felt nothing but acceptance of duty. She kept leaving the windows of her soul and hit a dead end. She imagined Trish in her white baptism dress, then in her wedding gown, full of hope, full of promise.
Some time later she slipped down the hall and picked up the receiver. She punched the numbers without hurry, her evening ritual. She listened to the rings, heard the click of the machine. It was Hank's voice again: "You have reached the Hocking residence. We cannot come to the phone right now. God bless you.” Then the beep.
Neoma placed the phone in its cradle. She sensed someone peering through the darkness. Neoma flipped on the light. She noticed them right away. Three paintings hung on the wall in front of her. In the center was Aunt Cicely's house and fence. On the right was a close-up of the glass over the front doors with etched angels and ivy. The left painting wasn't complete yet. The backyard was peopled but in a shaded, impressionist style. Cicely's unmistakeable form stretched out on the wooden swing. Shadows ghosted the other shapes. Neoma recognized a touch of her own style, but also a flair of light all the painter's own.
Cicely stood beside her dressed in red tights, barefoot, hands behind her back. "Look at the signature."
Neoma stepped forward. She tried to read the scrawl of the autograph: Patricia Rebecca Hocking. Trish? "I don't understand."
"Before I explain, I must ask you a question." Cicely studied her niece's face. Neoma felt faint. "Do you want contact with your daughter?"
"Of course. I call home every night in hopes of a message from her. The children need her."
"But are you ready to see her, to talk to her?" Cicely prodded.
Neoma rubbed her pounding forehead. “She has disappointed me, humiliated me. She's abandoned her marriage and her children. She's abandoned me.” Yes, that's it more than anything. “She left me when I needed her most, her caring and comfort, her love and honor as a daughter. She dumped me with her own added obligations.” Neoma studied the pictures again. The house with the backyard meant for playing and swinging. The lady of the house with her enthusiasm for life. The glass angels. A quiet rage began to grow. But before it could fully erupt, it slowly died. She felt spent, used up. "I didn't know she could paint like this," she commented.
"Neither did she, until a few months ago."
"What do you mean? Did she send these to you?" Neoma stared hard again at the paintings.
"You haven't answered my question."
Neoma searched for some clear words through the fog of confusion. "I do want to know what she has to say. I want to listen to her explanations. Find out what she’s been doing."
Cicely sat on one of the black ottomans and pulled Neoma down next to her. "Trish was here several months this spring, doing chores for me. She vacuumed your rooms and changed your beds. She left a week ago."
"But why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you call right away?"
"She didn't want me to. She's so ashamed."
"Where is she now?"
"In Reno. She found a job there through a friend of mine.” She paused. “I have her phone number."
"Reno's a few hours west of Winnemucca."
"If you want me to, I'll tell her to leave a message for you at the St. Joseph house. Perhaps you could all meet somewhere in Reno."
"I don't know. It doesn't matter. I don't expect her. . ." Neoma's voice trailed away as she chilled under the reality of facing her daughter.
"She'll do it," Cicely said.
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because of the black beret she wore when she left."
Neoma tossed and turned all night but finally drifted into dreamless peace.
The next morning the kids piled into the back of the truck, each wearing their Aunt Cicely hats. Neoma fondled the gardenia with its vintage blossom. She eased it on her head and tugged it into a snug fit. "They don't wear these in St. Joe," she told Cicely.
"You could wear that anywhere, anytime, if you really wanted to. Even in front of two easels out on a California beach. . . with Trish."
They backed the trailer up the way they came in. Cicely waved and ran after them down the dirt road until the truck hit pavement. Neoma and her grandkids headed to Winnemucca and due west to Reno.


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