Saturday, July 15, 2017

First Chapter of Timeless Hero

Book #12 in the Timeless Hearts Western Time Travel Series is now available!

I want to apologize to all the readers of this series who were waiting for the book. I missed my deadline because of some very unforeseen circumstances, the biggest of those being an unexpected move. My husband took a job working in Yellowstone National Park, and we had to pack up and move within a ten-day span. If you know me through my other books, you know that living in Yellowstone is a dream come true for me! However, everything under the sun went wrong in other areas of my life during that short time we had to pack and leave, and I couldn't get the book finished in time ..... But! It's finally done, and Amazon should publish it within the next few days!

Here is the first chapter! (And don't you just love this cover?)

Chapter One

“I thought I made it clear to you not to show your face around here anymore. What’s it gonna take to get rid of you for good, boy?”
Dark eyes devoid of emotion glowered like the predatory stare of a wolf hovering over a kill. Vin Kincaid stood his ground, his eyes unflinching as he glared back. A slow grin spread over his face.
“Just stopped for a visit to wish you farewell, Uncle Jack.” He intoned the word “uncle” with disgust. “Can’t wait to see you leave and make the poor folks’ lives in Montana miserable, like you made the lives of everyone here in Texas a living hell.”
The older man’s brows rose, then he laughed. He held his hand over his heart. The fingers in Vin’s left hand twitched, but he kept it well away from the holster at his side.
 “I’m touched that your first stop after they let you out of prison would be a visit to me.” Jack’s eyes darted to the six-shooter resting against Vin’s thigh while his voice dripped with false sweetness. “But you shouldn’t have bothered, after all the trouble you’ve caused me.” His glare intensified along with his tone. “You try anything, and I’ve got ten men ready to take you out.”
Vin smirked. “I haven’t sunk as low as you, and I never will. Killing you would only be a waste of a good bullet.” He gritted his teeth, staring at the cold, calculating eyes of his uncle. Jack’s icy glare didn’t hold even a flicker of similarity to Vin’s father. “Someday, you’ll get what’s comin’ to you. Too bad I probably won’t be around to see it.”
Jack moved across the room. He turned his back to Vin, and laid a hand on the shoulder of a youth who stood near the door. The kid’s face was impassive and hardened, as if he’d witnessed too much in his young life already. Vin scoffed. If Jack had anything to say about it, the boy probably had seen and done much more than he should have at his age.
“Your cousin is a prime example of what I’ve been trying to teach you, Son.” Jack’s voice lost some of the cold edge when he directed his words to his only child. “Weak people without gumption get squashed. If you’re cowardly, you get crushed like a cockroach by someone who’s stronger and not afraid. The same goes for showing emotion. It’s a sign of weakness.” He spun back around to face Vin. “Letting matters of the heart rule your head makes you feeble. It’s what happened to my dear brother.”
Vin’s hand clenched at his side. Every inch of him fought to remain rooted to the spot rather than rushing up to Jack and smashing his fist into the man’s face. Jack laughed again, a triumphant laugh.
“My father was a decent man. He didn’t have a black heart like you.” Vin stared into the man’s soulless eyes.
Jack took several steps away from the youth and closed the distance across the room to face Vin.
“Your father was a coward, Vincent,” he scoffed. “I tried to take you under my wing. I thought I could make something out of you, turn you into someone with a spine, unlike your father. Jonathan never had the backbone to run a successful cattle business. He disgraced the family name when he married that waif of a woman.”
“That . . . waif was my mother,” Vin hissed. “My father didn’t want any part of the Kincaid business. There are more important things than money and power. No matter what you think, people ain’t just disposable. Maybe if you’d paid more attention to your wife, she’d still be alive today.”
Vin smiled at the twitch in Jack’s eyes. A brief, pained expression filled his features, but it quickly vanished. The older man ran his fingers through his mustache. His white teeth gleamed with his sneer.
“Jonathan was always weak, and clearly his blood got passed down to you. Despite his bringing shame to the Kincaid name, I gave you a place on this ranch after your folks’ unfortunate deaths. Without me, you would have starved on the streets. I gave you a roof over your head and a job.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed, his stare becoming even colder. “Too bad I couldn’t teach you how to make something of yourself. All the things I did for you, and you chose to stoop to the level of becoming a petty thief and embarrassing me.” His voice rose in anger.
Vin held his ground. He wasn’t going to cower in front of the man he hated. Jack had made it perfectly clear over the years that, even though Vin shared the Kincaid name, he certainly wasn’t considered family.
“Do you really think I’ll take you back after you’ve made me the laughingstock in the county with your shenanigans a year ago? I wish that judge had locked you up for good,” Jack continued.
Vin laughed. “I already told you. I have no desire to come back and work for you.” His voice lowered to a menacing growl. “Since you think I’m such a disgrace to the Kincaid name, it don’t matter to me how embarrassed you get by what I do. I was only getting started when I stole that whiskey.” His smile widened. “Next time, I won’t get caught by the law.” Heck, he wouldn’t have gotten caught the first time, either, if he hadn’t tried to help that strange woman, Miss Amber, find her way back home.
The thought of murder gleamed in Jack’s eyes just as sure as if he’d spoken the words. Vin didn’t move. Jack wasn’t going to kill him, at least not in his own house. It wasn’t his style to get his hands dirty. He’d let one of his men do the deed for him.
Vin leaned toward Jack, his voice low so only he could hear. “One day, I’ll prove that you killed my folks, and when I do, not even your money is going to save you. I hope I never have to see you again, unless it’s at your funeral.”
He spun on his heels and headed for the door. He paused when his eyes fell on the youth still standing there as if guarding the exit. Vin’s jaw muscles tightened. He tore his eyes away and stomped from the study, his spurs jingling and the long duster he wore rustling behind him. He headed down the hall of the house and out the front door into the sunshine.
Anger pierced every inch of him. Never before had he wanted to hurt someone as badly as he wanted to hurt Jack Kincaid. The man didn’t have a shred of decency in him.
Vin squinted into the sunlight. His father had died at the hands of that man because he’d chosen to lead a decent and modest life, and not let greed rule him. Vin had barely been ten years old when his parents had been killed, shot in their own home. Robbers, according to Jack and the law. They’d never been caught.
Orphaned and alone, Vin had tried to fit into the Kincaid cattle empire, but like his father, it wasn’t for him. He’d tried to please his uncle, but hard work was clearly not good enough. Vin refused to stoop to killing people in his uncle’s name. Blood, whether the kind he spilled or the kind that bound them as family, was of no importance to the ruthless man.
It didn’t matter that he’d busted his back, working from sun-up to sundown on the ranch every single day since he’d come to live there. Jack’s reason for taking him into the household was merely to pretend in front of the community that he was a man with a good heart.
In reality, Jack had never accepted him as a nephew. He’d been treated worse than a hired hand. They, at least, earned wages, while Jack had told him that offering him a roof over his head and meals was payment enough. In order to get on the payroll, he’d have to stoop to a different level.
From the time he’d come to the ranch as a ten-year old scared kid, Vin had slept in the bunkhouse. He’d learned to grow up fast among the cowhands. Jack’s hired men were required to show their loyalty in ways other than working hard. Jack ruled without mercy over his cattle business, and anyone getting in the way of what he wanted - whether it was more cattle, more land, or more water rights - was dealt with by his men. Money and power were always more important than family.
Vin untied his horse from the hitching rail and swung into the saddle. The leather creaked as he adjusted his seat.
Vin sat up straighter and stopped his horse at the sound of his name as he reined his mount away from the grand Kincaid home. He glanced over his shoulder before turning fully in the saddle to look at his young cousin. He guided his horse back to the house, but didn’t dismount.
“Wish you were coming to Montana with us,” the youth said.
Vin smirked. He leaned forward in the saddle, casually draping his arm over the saddle horn. With his chin, he nudged toward the house. “You heard your daddy in there. I’m clearly not fit to walk on the same dirt as him.”
“He’s only looking out for the family business.”
Vin laughed. His cousin was still wet behind the ears, even if he tried to act tough and could shoot better than the average man. “You’d better be careful. Your papa only cares about one thing in this world, and that’s his cattle and his money. He couldn’t care less about family.”
“Where will you go?” The youth stepped off the porch and stared up at him. While he still looked like a boy, the softness had left his eyes. Vin’s gaze drifted to the gun belt at the boy’s waist. Clearly, in the year Vin had been in jail, the boy had been initiated fully into the family business.
“I’m definitely not heading to Montana with this outfit, that’s for sure. Your father couldn’t be happier to finally be rid of me. I’ve been nothing but a burden and a disgrace to him.”
The boy frowned. His mouth opened slightly as if he wanted to say something, but he closed it again and simply nodded.
Vin leaned over his horse and extended his hand, staring the boy in the eye. “Take care of yourself, and be careful. Jack might be your father, but I’m warning you now. If you cross him, it won’t matter to him that you’re his own son. If you’ve got a lick of sense in you, you’ll get out while you still can.”
Vin’s young cousin stood with an impassive look on his face. He shook Vin’s hand, then headed back into the house. Vin stared after him for a few seconds, then reined his horse in the opposite direction and rode from the ranch. He let his horse choose the direction. He had no home, no family, and no destination.
* * * * *
Several days later, he passed a couple of small farms on the outskirts of a little town called Heartsbridge. Vin shook his head and smirked. What had led him to come back to this place? It’s where his troubles with the law had started about a year ago.
When Jack had accused a few young men of rustling some of his cattle, Vin had refused to rough them up, so Jack had told him he no longer had a job there, and to pack his things and get off the ranch. It had turned out the cattle had simply wandered off, and these youths had found them and had been herding them back to the ranch. They’d been found dead a few days later, and Jack had justified their deaths by insisting they had stolen the cattle.
Drifting from one town to the next after leaving the Diamond K, Vin had resorted to petty theft to get back at his uncle, not out of necessity. Stealing a whiskey shipment from the saloon owner in Heartsbridge had ultimately been the reason for his jail sentence. 
Vin smiled, staring into the flames of his campfire. He held a cup of coffee in his hands. It had been worth it. The Kincaid name had been admired as one of the great cattle empires in this part of Texas. Jack was like royalty, or at least he saw himself as such. Although he dealt in underhanded ways with folks, Jack was always one step above the law.
Tainting the family name by letting folks know there was a Kincaid relative stirring up trouble with the law, had given Vin a small measure of satisfaction against the man who’d never been able to treat him as family. 
Vin’s father had been an embarrassment because he’d married a poor woman from the hill country, but since Jonathan had been shunned from the family, Jack had simply disregarded any conversations associated with his brother. Committing minor crimes and becoming a nuisance in the towns he frequented allowed Vin to make the Kincaid name a topic of local gossip and shame.
Vin sipped the last of his coffee as the flames flickered low in his campfire. He moved to his bedroll. Time to catch some sleep. Perhaps he’d visit that crazy woman at the boarding house in Heartsbridge in the morning, the one who’d wanted to send him to a future time a year ago.
He shook his head and chuckled. What a crazy notion. He settled into his blanket. What if it had been true? Perhaps disappearing into some future time was just the thing he needed. Things couldn’t be that much different there than they were now.
The woman who said she’d come from the future, Miss Amber, had worn britches. Vin smiled. There had been something appealing about her. He could certainly deal with women wearing britches. He had no home here. It would be the ultimate fresh start with a clean slate.
An owl hooted in the darkness. Vin pulled his hat over his head and closed his eyes. His horse snorted a short distance away, then moved around, trampling the leaves under its hooves. The gelding snorted again at the same time a twig snapped from the opposite direction.
Vin eased his hand to his gun. Before he had a chance to react, pain seared through his gut as the sharp blade of a knife ripped into him. He fumbled for the gun as his attacker drove the knife into him a second time. Vin raised the weapon and fired at the silhouette hovering over him.
A yell pierced the stillness of the night. Vin slumped back against his saddle, his hand clutching at his stomach as something hot and sticky filled his hands. He fought for air to fill his lungs, and each breath became pure agony.
Seconds ticked by, or was it minutes, or hours? No further attack came. He wouldn’t have been able to fight his attacker off a second time. He’d already dropped his gun and had no strength to reach for it. The sky turned from black to gray, and Vin continued to lie on the ground in his camp, drifting in and out of consciousness.
“Vin Kincaid?”
The faint voice barely registered in his mind. It sounded far away, as if it had come from a deep tunnel. Vin forced his eyes open. The image of a man swam in and out of focus. He looked vaguely familiar. No doubt he’d seen him before, but it was impossible to tell.
“He’s going to bleed to death,” the man said.
“We need to take him to the doc in town, Chris.” The soft voice of a woman was like music to Vin’s ears. He opened his mouth, but no words came. His mother had a soft voice like that. She was dead. Did that mean he was dead, too? The man’s voice interrupted his dream about his mother, whose face he no longer remembered.
“I don’t think the doc in Heartsbridge is going to be able to save him, Francine. No one in this time can, not with those wounds.” There was a slight pause. “Do you remember what happened with Vin last year when Scott and Amber were here?”
“You mean . . . he was supposed to time travel?”
“We need to get him to Cissie Durham.

Purchase on AMAZON

© Peggy L Henderson 2017

This text may not be copied or shared without permission

Sunday, May 14, 2017

First book in a new Contemporary Western Series

I'm excited to announce that my first venture into contemporary romance is almost here! I've joined up with four other western romance authors - Shirleen Davies, Kay P. Dawson, Amelia Adams, and Kate Cambridge -   to bring you the Burnt River Contemporary Western Series!

I get to lead off the series with the first book, which is titled Shane's Burden. It goes live on May 18, 2017!
The stories center around citizens of the town of Burnt River, Montana (a fictional town near Deer Lodge, Montana), many of whom were friends in high school. It's now a decade after high school, and they've come together for the memorial of a beloved high school teacher, who influenced or made some kind of impact in their lives. 

Each author is currently committed to writing three books  each. The first set of five books will be published at two-week intervals, and then it goes to every three weeks, until we have a total of 15 books. 

To introduce you to the series, here is the prologue to Shane's Burden.


Burnt River, Montana . . . February 2006

Shane Taggart stuffed his books in his tattered backpack, then slammed his locker shut. He tossed the pack over his shoulder and lumbered down the hall, ignoring the kids he passed. His focus was on the door that led out of the building.
Someone bumped into him, nearly knocking the heavy backpack from his shoulders. Shane yelled out an expletive and raised his middle finger at Landon Clark, who ran up the hall as if he hadn’t even noticed.
Stupid punk.
“Hey, are you going skiing this weekend, Shane?”
Shane glanced over his shoulder. Three of his football teammates stood huddled by one of their lockers. Jerry, the one who’d called out the question, waved him over. The other two stood with their heads together, mumbling something while looking directly at him. As if it wasn’t obvious enough they were talking about him.
Shane shook his head. He didn’t bother going over to them. “Got stuff to do at home,” he called, then turned and continued on his way.
He’d probably be the first to the truck, but Mason had the keys. No doubt they’d both have to wait for Raine, who liked to hang out after school and chit-chat with her girlfriends.
A classroom door swung open and he barely missed getting smacked in the face by it. In his effort to side-step out of the way, he almost collided with the short, chubby blonde carrying a stack of books. Her mouth formed an “O” and her eyes opened even wider than they looked behind her dark-rimmed glasses. Those glasses really looked ridiculous.
“Watch out,” Shane grumbled, giving her his best scowly-faced look to make it clear he was annoyed. All he wanted was to get out of the building.
The girl mumbled something. It sounded like “sorry” but she dropped her head to avoid further eye contact, and with dozens of other kids heading down the hall, too, the noise around him drowned out what she said.
Shane smirked, then moved around her. She was in several of his classes, although she was only a freshman, like his sister. Allison Kravitz or Cramer, or something like that, one of those over-achievers who went to school because it was fun. A boy and another girl flanked her, all of them carrying stacks of books. The nerds club must be holding a meeting after school. They clearly had no other social life.
He skirted around the trio without a further glance, but had barely taken three steps when someone threw their arm around his shoulder.
“Hey, Shane.” Boone Macklin fell in step beside him, a wide grin on his face. “What did you do this time?”
Shane scrunched his forehead at his friend.
“Mr. Weiker wants to see you,” Boone clarified. “I just passed him upstairs. He said if I saw you before you left, to tell you to come to his classroom.”
Shane shrugged. “So, tell him you didn’t see me.”
Boone laughed. “You might as well get it over with, or he’ll catch you tomorrow. And he’ll know we were lying to him. He always knows. I swear that man can read minds.”
Shane cursed under his breath. The last thing he needed at the moment was a lecture from his biology teacher, getting grilled about why he hadn’t turned in his last assignments. He already had a good idea what grade he’d gotten on today’s test. He couldn’t care less about oxidation-reduction reactions and metabolism. His twin brother, Mason, wanted to be a veterinarian, so biology was something he enjoyed and was good at. Shane would be running a horse ranch, and that didn’t require knowledge of all that stupid science stuff.
 “Fine, I’ll get it over with,” Shane grumbled. “Can you tell Raine and Mason where I am? I shouldn’t be too long. They’ll be waiting by our truck.”
“Mr. Weiker’s cool, but good luck, anyway.” Boone slapped his back in a good-natured gesture before he continued on his way to freedom from school for another day.
Shane turned around. He sped up to reach the stairwell leading to the second story and took the steps two at a time. He passed the chubby girl with all the books, but he didn’t acknowledge her this time, either.
He entered Mr. Weiker’s classroom, scrunching his nose at the disgusting smell of formaldehyde that always lingered in the air in this room. Glass jars lined the counter, filled with all sorts of gross things, from pig hearts, to a preserved cat, worms, a fetal pig, and other body parts he couldn’t even name. The lab tables were clean and cleared of any test tubes, beakers, or dissecting kits, for once.
Mike Weiker sat at his desk at the front of the room. He looked up over his wire-rimmed glasses when Shane entered. He smiled and stood from his seat.
“Shane Taggart, just the man I want to see.”
Shane rolled his eyes. Weiker acted as if he was surprised at the visit.
“Boone Macklin told me you wanted to see me.” He didn’t have time to play these games adults liked to play. Weiker was just a teacher, and there was no reason why he should be asking to see him after school when he clearly wasn’t serving detention.
“My brother and sister are waiting for me out in the car, and I’m sure it’s pretty cold out there.” Shane looked out the window to make his point. Snow flurries drifted through the sky.
“I won’t keep you long, Shane. I just wanted a private word with you. I know you’ve been having a rough time lately.”
Shane stared. No lecture about his failing grades? No doubt it was coming any second. Weiker held out his hand, indicating for Shane to sit in the chair next to him. With another smirk and a sigh, Shane dropped his backpack to the ground and slumped into the chair.
“With the death of your father last month, I can’t even imagine how you must be feeling. How is your mother doing?”
Shane’s mind went blank. Mr. Weiker’s words brought back memories of that awful day six weeks ago. His father had just finished lunch on a Saturday afternoon. He’d complained that he wasn’t feeling well, but he’d gone to the barns anyway to check on one of the mares that looked to be the first one of the year to drop a foal.
Shane had followed him. On the way down the path, his father had let out a moan, clutched at his chest, then dropped to the snow-packed ground.
Shane blinked, closing his eyes momentarily. When would the images that haunted him go away? He’d landed on his knees beside his father, then run back to the house, screaming for his mother, for Mason, for anyone within hearing distance. Mason hadn’t been home, but at his part-time job at the vet clinic in town.
His mother had rushed out of the house to his father, while Shane had called 9-1-1. The ambulance had arrived too late. While the EMTs tried everything, Shane’s father had been pronounced dead at the hospital. Massive heart attack. He’d never even had any symptoms of heart trouble. None that Shane had been aware of, anyway. Alex Taggart had always proclaimed he was healthy as a horse.
“Any time you want to talk, my door is always open.”
Shane stared blankly at Mr. Weiker, who looked at him with sincerity in his eyes. At the moment, he wasn’t a teacher, but someone who’d seen through the anguish and the things Shane kept bottled up inside.
“My mother’s doing all right. She’s trying to keep the ranch going . . . keep my father’s dreams alive,” he mumbled. “I’m trying to help as much as I can.”
Mr. Weiker nodded. “I’m sure she appreciates it.” He paused, then said, almost reluctantly, “But I’m sure she doesn’t want you to neglect your studies.”
Finally, they were coming around to the real reason for the talk. Shane was ready.
“I’m going to run my family’s ranch someday. I don’t need all this stupid school stuff.”
Mr. Weiker shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not.” He chuckled. “I don’t remember most of the subjects I was forced to learn in high school, either.”
Shane stared up at him. The teacher smiled.
“I liked the life sciences, and that’s what I concentrated on. I think your brother, Mason, is heading in that direction, too.”
“He wants to be a veterinarian.”
“Good profession. Lots of schooling and dedication.”
“My father encouraged it.”
“I bet your father also encouraged hard work and perseverance in you, too.”
Shane nodded. He gnashed his teeth. He wasn’t going to start bawling like a little kid in front of Mr. Weiker. The teacher reclined in his chair and casually crossed his legs.
“School isn’t about liking all the subjects you take, Shane. It’s about getting ready for life. It’s tough out there. You have to learn how to become disciplined. How to start a task and finish it. That’s what school is really all about. Even on the ranch, I’m sure there are chores you like more than others, but you do them all because they need to get done. Am I right?”
Again, Shane nodded. This was not the conversation he’d envisioned. His father had often said similar things.
“School’s about building character, about finishing that task because you have an obligation to yourself  - and not to anyone else - to finish it, regardless of how tedious or difficult it might be.”
Mr. Weiker paused. Shane waited. He glanced out the window at the snow that kept falling steadily. He shifted in his chair, making it squeak.
“You’re a bright kid, Shane. I’d hate to see you fail.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.” Shane stood and grabbed his backpack. “If there’s nothing else, I really need to be going.”
“Thanks for stopping by. I just want you to ask yourself this one question.” Mr. Weiker waited until Shane looked up. “Do you just quit and toss in the towel, or do you continue despite adversity and insurmountable odds?”
 “I’ll think about it,” Shane said, because it’s what the teacher wanted to hear. Mr. Weiker nodded.
“I meant what I said, Shane. My door is always open.”
Mr. Weiker held out his hand. Shane stared at it for a moment, then shook it. There was something weird about a teacher offering to shake hands. He pulled his hand free after a quick squeeze.

 Shane turned and walked out of the classroom, closing the door behind him with a loud click.

© Peggy L Henderson 2017
No parts of this excerpt may be copied or reproduced in any form without permission

Saturday, April 15, 2017

First Chapter of Timeless Bond

Wow! The Timeless Hearts Series is moving right along! As you may know, I've teamed up with three other authors for this series, with each author writing a minimum of three books. The series as a whole revolves around the fictional town of Heartsbridge, Texas, and two women with magical watches that send people through time to meet their heart's true match. Each book in the series is a standalone, but some authors (including me) have created their own mini-series within the series with their characters. 
Tomorrow we release Book 7, Timeless Hero, and I've just completed my second contribution to the series, Timeless Bond, which comes out on April 30th! 

The series is currently only available on Amazon, but once each book's 90-day exclusive obligation is over, it is my understanding that each author will publish their books wide. (Barnes&Noble, iBooks, etc) That means the first book should be rolling out at other retailers around the middle of May. 

Today, I've got the first chapter to Timeless Bond for you. Enjoy! 

"She gave up on herself, but he’s not going to give up on her."

Chapter One

“I’m going to do this, and no one is going to stop me or talk me out of it.”
Amber Milligan paced the slick faux-wood floor in the living room of her tiny apartment, holding her cell phone to her head. She could almost glide across the floor in her fuzzy socks. Her other hand trembled as she stuck the end of a cigarette in her mouth and took a long drag.
“Have you completely lost your mind, Amber?”
Her cousin, Ashley, screeched in a raised voice through the speaker of the phone.
“I’ve had enough. There’s nothing anyone can do for me. I’m not exactly sure yet when and how, but I thought you should know, since you’re family. I was hoping I could count on you to help me figure it out.”
Amber exhaled, then took another quick drag before squashing the cigarette butt next to the half-eaten sandwich on the plate that sat on the coffee table.
“Are you smoking something? Don’t lie to me that you’re not. I can hear it in the way you’re breathing. I’ve warned you before, those things will kill you.”
Amber laughed. “Like it’s going to make a difference in the end.”
On the other end of the line, Ashley huffed. “You’re right about one thing, Amber. I’m family, not to mention your best friend, and that is exactly why you are out of your mind if you think I’m going to support you in this cockamamy idea. I understand things are rough, but there’s got to be a different solution.”
Amber stared up at the ceiling, her eyes stinging from the second-hand smoke that hovered in the air. She blinked away the burning feeling and sniffled. Why couldn’t anyone understand?
Maybe it had been a stupid idea to confide in her cousin what she’d planned to do. It was probably better if no one knew. Truth be told, though, she was scared, and she’d wanted to tell someone. Clearly, telling Ashley had been a mistake.
“Amber, don’t do anything impulsive. Do you want me to come to Texas? We can talk and have girls’ night, like we used to.” A slight laugh came from the phone. “If you want, I’ll invite my friend, Morgan, too. I know you and she got along really well before.”
Amber nodded. She hugged her arm around her waist and continued pacing the room.
“Sorry. Yeah, I heard you.”
She reached for her pack of cigarettes on the table, glanced at it, then tossed it aside. Maybe later she’d smoke the entire pack. Right now, she’d only get another scolding from Ashley about the dangers of smoking. She squeezed her eyes shut and laughed silently.
“What happened with that guy you were seeing, Chris?”
Amber opened her eyes at the unexpected question. She clenched the phone in her hand, pressing it against her ear.
“It didn’t work out.” No need to go into detail. 
“You said you really liked him.” Clearly, Ashley was trying to change the subject and divert her away from the reason for the phone call.
Amber ran her hand under her nose. “Yeah, well, some things just aren’t meant to be. Especially not for me. I certainly can’t have a long-term relationship with a guy, now can I?”
“Did you tell him?” Obviously, Ashley was ignoring the last remark.
Amber paused. “No, I never told anyone, other than you.”
After a slight pause, Ashley continued in her enthusiastic voice, “Well, if you really like this guy, maybe you should tell him. Maybe you two could get back together.”
Amber shook her head. She held her free hand up in front of her face, rotating it to study her trembling fingers without really seeing them.
“It’s really not fair to him, is it? Even if he does know. Either way, it’s too late for that. He’s moved on.”
“How do you know?”
Amber shook her head. Ashley was always so optimistic.
“The last time I saw him was a few weeks ago. He showed up out of the blue to tell me he’d moved on, that he’d met someone and he was going to a better place.” She laughed, a dry, sarcastic laugh. “Sounds like what I want to do, too.”
Despite all her efforts, the tears began to fall. She squeezed her trembling lips together, as well as her eyes. “I wish I had been honest with him, of all people. He really was a good guy.”
“Amber, you need someone like that in your life. It can make a world of difference.”
Amber scoffed. “Not in my case. Besides, I messed up too many times. It’s too late for me.”
“Stop talking like that.” Ashley’s voice rose. She was getting agitated. Good thing she was hundreds of miles away in California. “It’s never too late. What exactly happened between you two?”
Amber shrugged. It really wasn’t important. Her only regret was that she hadn’t been honest with Chris.
“I didn’t talk to him at all after we broke up.” She laughed softly. “Actually, I’m the one who broke it off. To this day, I’m surprised he didn’t break up with me first. I was horrible to him.”
She cleared her throat, which had developed a painful lump, making talking difficult. She swallowed before she continued. “When I told him I didn’t want to be together anymore, I asked him to come and pick me up from a party later that day. On the way there, he was in an accident. His friend, who was driving, got killed.”
A soft gasp came from the speaker. Amber didn’t wait for a comment from Ashley.
“Chris pretty much fell off everyone’s radar after that. He was in the hospital for a while, then in rehab, and he refused to see anyone, especially me.  Then he showed up out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, saying he forgave me for everything, and to have a good life. He disappeared after that.”
“And now you’re trying to find him? Why would you do that unless you think you want to get back together with him?” The hopeful tone in Ashley’s voice was unmistakable.
Amber laughed. “No. You’re the one who brought him up, remember?” She ran her hand through her hair, pushing the strands out of her face. She’d recently gone from having black hair to dying it a coppery color, and she’d cut half the length off. No use having all that hair, anyway.
“I want to disappear, like Chris. He sounded weird, like he knew he’d never be coming back. He was happy and upbeat, not like the angry guy he was weeks after the accident.”
Amber heaved a sigh, then stared up at the ceiling again. 
“How’s your friend, Morgan? She had a baby a few years ago, didn’t she?”
There was a silent pause on the other end. Amber held her breath. Would Ashley go along with her and change the subject, or would she insist on talking her out of her plans?
“Morgan is doing great. Her son, Logan, is almost three years old now. She’s happily married and living on a horse ranch in Montana. Can you believe it?”
Amber sighed. “Chris is originally from Montana, too.”
Ashley giggled, which sounded more like a cover-up for thinking she’d said the wrong thing. Ashley was clearly under the impression that she hadn’t gotten over the break-up. While Chris had been a great guy, and she’d messed up big-time, it was better that they’d gone their separate ways.
It wouldn’t have been fair to him if they had stayed together. She should have never gotten involved with him in the first place. There was only one thing she regretted where he was concerned.
“Those Montana cowboys sure are the best.” Ashley’s cheerful voice blared through the phone. “One of these days, I’m going to find myself one like that.” She laughed. “Although, Gabe was a bit strange at first. He kept joking with Morgan that he was from the nineteenth century.” She giggled. “More than likely his brain cooked a little too long in the desert heat.”
Amber’s eyes opened. Her forehead scrunched. “The nineteenth century? Sure does sound crazy.  Does he think he time traveled?”
She frowned. Chris had said something rather odd to her the day he’d told her he’d forgiven her.
“Chris said something weird to me, too, that he was going to a different time and place. It must be a Montana thing to say when they want to be left alone.”
Ashley sighed dramatically. “Gabe was the real deal. A genuine cowboy in every way… well, except that he was nuts and talked about time travel.”
“And Morgan trusted him?” Maybe he’d seemed safer than her previous relationships. Ashley had told her years ago that Morgan had been in an abusive relationship with her son’s father.
“She trusted him enough to marry him. She really likes that he’s old-fashioned in the way he acts and thinks. Truthfully, it’s really very appealing. Not like some of the guys I’ve gone out with over the years. It turned out that he owns a huge ranch in Montana. They’re both madly in love with each other.”
“Well, I guess fairy tales are real, then,” Amber mumbled. “As long as he doesn’t decide to time travel again and go back to where he came from.”
Ashley laughed, obviously recognizing the sarcasm. “If he does, I’ve already told him and Morgan that he needs to send one of his friends my way.”
There was a long pause, then she said, “Amber, I’m going to book a flight out to Texas. We need to talk face-to-face. I don’t like talking on the phone like this. You’re really scaring me with what you said earlier. Promise me you won’t do anything impulsive.”
Amber scrunched her face. Why had she even opened her big mouth at all? She should have simply carried out her plans quietly, without dragging anyone with her.
“I’d like to see you, too, Ashley. Then I can explain everything better, and I hope you’ll be my friend and support me. In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can find out where Chris went. I think it’s important for him to know the truth.”
“Okay.” Ashley sounded hesitant. “I’m running late for work, but I will call you later when my shift ends, all right?”
Amber nodded.
“All right?” Ashley repeated, a bit more forcefully.
“Yes, all right.”
“Hang in there. It’s going to all work out, you’ll see.”
Amber ended the call. She fell back against the couch and raised her eyes to the ceiling, staring into nothing. She ran her hand under her eyes and blinked away the new threat of tears. She couldn’t go on like this. Each day was worse than the one before.
 “I just came from a little town in the middle of nowhere called Heartsbridge. I need to get back there, but first, I wanted to tell you I’ve moved on. No hard feelings. We all make mistakes, but it’s time to forget about the past and move forward. I’ve made a choice for a positive change in my life, and I hope you will, too.”
Chris’s words echoed in her mind.
“If only you knew, Chris. I can’t move forward. I’m glad you did, though, and found happiness.”
Amber clutched her phone in her hand, then raised it to look at the screen. She wasn’t going to wait for Ashley. It would be several days at the earliest before her cousin would even get here. Besides, she’d only try to talk her out of her plans. She’d already made up her mind, and no one and nothing was going to change it.
It was time to carry out her plans, no matter how scary it sounded. She wasn’t going to waste away in this college town with nothing to do while she waited. In the end, it really wouldn’t matter, but there was some unfinished business to take care of first.
Amber tapped the button on her GPS app, and typed in the word Heartsbridge.

© Peggy L Henderson 2017

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If you missed my first book in the series, Timeless Healing, you can get it on AMAZON