First up is my contemporary romance novella, Dark Horse, part of the Dark Heroes series from Champagne Books.
Dark Horse was fun to write in that I got to write a borderline unlikable, but redeemable hero with a dark side. Brax was fun to get to know. His full name is Braxton Hicks. Yep, named for labor pains. And he tries to live up to it.
Private investigator Vanna Marbury arrives in
to search for a stolen thoroughbred. She boards her daughter’s horse at Big Sky Stables and soon becomes curious about the mysterious black colt the owner keeps sequestered in the barn. Stable owner Braxton Hicks lives up to his name. He can truly be a pain with his grumpy demeanor and arrogant attitude. Lexington
To Brax, Vanna is nosey, over-bearing and too damned attractive, and he considers telling her to take her horse elsewhere. Especially after she tells him she is an investigative journalist. The last thing he needs are more headlines and a snoopy woman looking over his shoulder.
“What the hell is going on in here?” Brax strode into the barn, toward the shrill whinnying and snorting. He stopped in front of a stall where a large, jet-black thoroughbred colt reared up on his hind legs, kicking at the air.
“This horse is just plain crazy.” His brother, Pete, edged out of the stall. “He’s gonna kill one of us—probably me.”
Brax stood with his hands at his waist staring at the colt. “Ever think it’s you that makes him crazy? I think he’s magnificent.”
He cautiously opened the gate and slid into the stall. The young horse stomped and took a few steps back, snorting. His wild eyes rolled as he seemed to study Brax. “Easy, now. Settle down.”
“You’re nuts,” Pete muttered. “As crazy as that horse. And maybe you’d like to let me in on what he cost us and what you plan to do with him.”
“I didn’t buy him, and he’s not costing us anything. The owner prefers to remain anonymous, and he’s paying us good money to take care of his horse while he’s out of the country. He has a vet and trainer in place, and he’s paying to repair the old quarter-mile track.”
“I fail to see the need for all the mystery, unless there’s something illegal going on. Why not just board this colt at one of the local thoroughbred stables and train him there?”
Brax shrugged. “I guess the owner wants to keep him under wraps until he’s ready to race again. Supposedly, he had an injury and is now recovered and able to resume training.” He scowled at his brother. “I don’t ask a lot of questions. We board horses and the owners pay us for it. This owner is paying us quite well, and all I have to do is muck out the stall and give him his special feed.”
As if wanting to end the discussion, the colt reared and rolled his eyes.
“He’s completely wild. Look at him. He’s got the devil in him.”
“I told you I’d handle him. Shhh. Easy, boy. Can’t have you getting injured on my watch.” Brax soothed the frantic animal, his voice low and calm. “You can leave, Pete. I got this.”
Brax rubbed a palm over the colt’s velvety muzzle. “Thatta boy. Easy now. You’re really something. It may take time, but you and I are going to get along just fine.”
“Hello? Is anyone here?”
The colt startled at the high-pitched female voice and whinnied, dancing sideways in his stall.
Brax reached back with one hand and fumbled to open the gate. He stumbled out of the stall and his heel caught, sending him backward onto the hay-covered cement floor. Instinctively, he jammed a foot against the gate to prevent the colt’s escape. He found himself flat on his back, looking up at the blue-eyed blonde who now stood over him.
The woman gasped. “Oh, are you okay?”
He examined his left hand, which had inconveniently landed in manure residue. “I’m fine, no thanks to you.” He scrambled to his feet and reached into a bucket for a rag to wipe his palms. “Why the hell would you come in here and screech like that?”
She gasped again. “I did not screech. I went up to the house and then I walked around outside, but no one was around.” She looked at the agitated colt. “He’s beautiful. What’s wrong with him?”
“There’s nothing wrong with him. You startled him.” He shifted his gaze from the horse to the woman. His quick and not-so-covert evaluation told him she was probably about thirty, just shy of his six foot height, and with the bluest eyes he had ever seen. In horse terminology, she was a fine-looking filly. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m Vanna Marbury. I spoke to someone earlier about boarding a horse.”
“Vanna? Like the letter turner on TV?”
“Vanna as in
. You know, a city in Savannah .” Georgia
He extended his hand, then dropped it when she shifted her gaze from his palm to the rag and then to the spot on the floor.
The corners of her mouth—a very tempting mouth—twitched with the usual reaction. “Did you say Braxton Hicks? You’re kidding, right?”
“Am I smiling? Most people call me Brax. Besides, you’re named for a city.”
“Yes, and you’re named for labor pains.”
* * * * *
Coming the week of May 12 from Turquoise Morning Press is my newest women's fiction novel, Unconditional.
How do we know love is unconditional? When it demands more of us than we believe we have to give.
I'm happy to share this early review from one of my own favorite authors:
"Unconditional is an important story about love, redemption, family and the amazing power of forgiveness. The heart and love can expand endlessly and these characters are setting the pace."
Bestselling Author of A Grand Day to Get Lost
Meg Flores has it all—a loving family, a fulfilling career, and marriage to her best friend, Thomas. She is devastated when her husband announces he wants a divorce so he can pursue a relationship with his secretary—his male secretary. For Meg, the betrayal goes beyond that of a cheating husband. She is losing her best friend and the hopes for adding a child to her life. But when Thomas is diagnosed with terminal cancer and his lover walks away, Meg must decide if she can move beyond Thomas’s betrayal and love him 'til-death-do-us-part.'
“I never meant to hurt you.”
The clichéd words bounced around like a bullet ricocheting in my brain. I stared at my husband. “What? What did you say?”
“I said I never meant—”
“No.” I waved a hand in front his face. “Before that.”
He glanced away. “I said I’m…I’m gay, well bi-sexual, and I think it’s best if we separate. Divorce.”
“You’re gay. You?” A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. “That’s a good one, Thomas. You almost had me going.”
He shoved his hands into his pockets and pressed his lips into a narrow line. “I’m not joking, Meg.”
I regarded him for a moment. Thomas, my husband. My lover. My best friend. The man who knows me better than anyone else. The man I thought I knew. “That’s ridiculous. What? You noticed how good looking some other guy was and now you think you’re gay? That’s normal.”
He shifted from one foot to the other, looking like a teenager who had been caught with contraband beer. “It’s more than that. There’s someone…”
My chest burned as if I’d swallowed too much Italian ice too fast. I grasped the back of the kitchen chair I stood behind and stiffened my arms to steady myself. “You have a boyfriend?” A shrill laugh escaped me. “Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?”
Thomas stepped toward me, but I backed away. “Don’t come near me.” I began to shake. “Don’t…don’t do this.”
“Let’s sit down and talk.”
“I don’t want to sit down and talk. I don’t want to know any more.” I backed up again, literally against a wall.
“Meg, I’ve tried, but I can’t deny who I am any longer.”
My stomach roiled, and I twisted my body around the door frame. I stumbled through the living room and into the powder room in the front hall where my stomach ejected the dinner I had prepared.
Thomas tapped on the door. “Are you okay?”
“Go away.” Tears stung my eyes.
“We have to talk about this. I’ll wait until you come out.”
I sat on the floor beside the toilet, dropped my head back against the wall, and closed my eyes. ‘I’ll wait until you come out.’ Until I came out?
A few hours earlier, I had rushed in from an afternoon at the mall. New thong underwear and a lace-trimmed cami lay in the
’s Secret bag by the front door. I had decided it was time to revisit the baby discussion. Thomas’s announcement did not fit with my plans for our evening. Victoria
I pulled myself to my feet and straddled the fault line that opened beneath me, splitting my life into before and after. Before Thomas spat out his terrible truth. After my life turned inside out. After a shelf of my heart cracked and slid into the abyss.
As I stared at my image, something shifted inside and I snapped. Thomas wasn’t telling me something he had just learned. He was revealing a fact he had known for a long time. Shock gave way to rage. I turned the knob and slammed the door open. The brass knob hit the wall with a loud crack.
I stormed back into the kitchen, blood pounding in my ears. “You son-of-a-bitch.”
Thomas’s eyes widened and he stood. “Let me—”
“Explain? You have an explanation?” I picked up the first thing I could—an empty glass—and hurled it at him. He ducked and the glass crashed into the sink. I shouted above the roaring in my head, “Go ahead. Explain this to me. Help me understand how the man I’ve been with for the past six years—married to for four—has had this sudden epiphany and realized he prefers men.”
He lifted both hands in a gesture of surrender. Or maybe it was self-defense in anticipation of the cutlery flying his way. “Can we please sit down and be civil?” He pulled out a chair opposite me and waited.
I obliged, not because I was in the mood to be civil, but because I wasn’t certain my legs
would hold me much longer. My body shook as if something inside had shorted out.
“Thank you.” Thomas picked up the wineglass in front of him and set it out of my reach. “I know this is a shock. I struggled all day to find a way to tell you, but there was no easy way to say it. I can’t pretend any longer. It’s not fair to you.” He reached for my hand.
I drew back and pressed both hands together in my lap. “No, it’s not fair.” I studied the solitaire diamond set in a platinum band on my left hand. “I don’t understand. You and I have been together for six years. We make love. You make love to me.” I shook my head. “This doesn’t make sense.”
Thomas dragged fingers through his thick dark hair. “I’ve been talking with a therapist. We’ve reached the conclusion that I’m bi-sexual.”
“You talked with a stranger about this, but not with me?”
“I needed objectivity. You’re a therapist, you know how that works.”
I stared at him—his beard-shadowed square jaw, dark eyes, tawny skin befitting his Latino heritage. “Then you’re not actually gay.”
“Technically, no. But—”
“But you want to pursue a relationship with a man.” My stomach threatened a second revolt and I swallowed. I suddenly felt deflated. “If you can choose, why can’t you choose us?”
* * * *