Here’s a sneak peak at “Tall Dark and Cowboy” – coming to stores November 1st!

Chapter 1

The higher you fly, the harder you fall—and the harder reality smacks you in the butt when you land.

Lacey Bradford learned that lesson for the first time in high school, when the cheer team fumbled the catch after flinging her in the air. Hair flying, pom-poms a-flutter, she’d struck the grassy sidelines with a bone-rattling thump.

This time her fall was figurative, but it hurt just as much. Standing on the cracked macadam of a gas station in Nebraska, fishing in her purse for the last remnants of her gas money, it was hard to believe she’d gone from trophy wife to transient in one short month.

“Hey. That your dog?”

She turned to see a teenager lounging beside the mini-mart’s smudged glass door with a cigarette dangling from one hand. His hair was overlong and greasy, his jeans streaked with what appeared to be automotive grease and Cheez Doodle dust.

“Better take it if it is.” He flicked his butt into a puddle on the asphalt that was so glossy with oil Lacey half-expected it to burst into flames. “Boss said I should get rid of it.”

He nodded toward a dog standing next to the dumpster. It looked like a rat, or maybe a badger. Did they have those in Wyoming? They had all kinds of weird animals. Lacey had seen a pronghorn antelope a few miles back that looked like a cross between a deer and a prehistoric donkey.

“What do you mean, get rid of it?”

The boy shrugged and looked away as the dog collapsed and rested its whiskered chin in the dirt, sighing as if resigned to its fate. Its body was small, not much bigger than a cat’s, and its head was far too big for its body. A massively plumed tail flailed above its scrawny hind end.

Hell, if she looked like that, she’d crawl behind the dumpster and die.

Wait a minute. She did look kind of like that. Her formerly silky hair was frizzed by the heat and humidity, and her once-creamy complexion was spattered with freckles. But she was proud of the way she looked. She was a real person now—not somebody’s china doll. She’d earned her freckles and she’d wear them with pride.

“Can’t you just call the shelter?” she asked.

The kid looked at her blankly.

“You know. Animal Control?”

“Yeah, right.” He jutted his thumb toward the west. “Closest town’s Grady, and they ain’t even got people control.” He kicked the butt out of the puddle and ground it under his heel, eyeing the dog speculatively. “I’ll just, you know, get rid of it.”

He bent his knees and pointed at her. For a second she thought he was going to do some weird John Travolta disco move, but then he swiveled toward the dog, sighted down his finger, and twitched his thumb.

“Bang,” he said.

Dang. She was headed to Grady, but it was almost an hour away. If the animal rode in the car for that long it would probably infest the upholstery with mites or fleas or something.

The kid blew on the tip of his finger and shoved his hand in his pocket. She stared at him a moment, then patted her thigh and started toward her car.

“Come on, pup-dog. We’re going to Grady.”

***

A half hour later, she heard a disgruntled rumble from the backseat and checked the rearview mirror. The dog appeared to be sleeping. Or maybe he was dead—but judging from the sounds emanating from his belly, his innards were still very much alive. He sounded even worse than the car, which had frequent fits of automotive rheumatism that made it putt-putt along with all the speed and power of a Toro lawn mower. Taking the old Mustang she’d driven in high school on her road trip had seemed like a good idea—after all, it was her car, her own, not her ex-husband’s—but maybe doing a little maintenance on it over the years would have been a better one. A trip down Memory Lane should have been a smooth ride, but I-80 was an automotive ordeal pitted with potholes and scattered with stones.

The dog’s stomach rumbled again. Better pull over, she thought. Don’t want to take any chances.

Yeah, right. She steered the car to the shoulder and slid to a stop, kicking up gravel with a barely controlled skid. She was taking one heck of a chance with this whole trip. Her resolution to swear off the ill-gotten gains her husband had reaped from his real estate scams had seemed noble at first. She’d told herself she was turning over a new leaf, turning her back on the past.

But the past kept popping up like a persistent whack-a-mole she couldn’t hammer down. When she’d hit the job-hunting trail back in Conway, she discovered she’d become an overnight pariah. Nobody would hire the ex-wife of the man who’d cheated half the town. Then Wade Simpson had turned up, looking for her husband, making vague threats that made her uncomfortably aware that she was alone and unprotected.

Her gut had told her to leave, and for once in her life she’d listened.

As her hometown had fallen behind her, a spirit of adventure had taken over and she’d felt footloose—free, like a kid running away from home. Running felt as good as it did back when she was a little girl on the playground playing “kick the can” or “tag.”

Unfortunately, she was “it” this time. But she wasn’t the can, and she wasn’t going to let anyone kick her around.

She was just going to keep on running.

She watched the dog lift his leg on a tuft of grass that had somehow managed to push its way through the gravel by the side of the road. He angled his hind leg impossibly high, almost tipping over in his determination to mark his newfound territory.

“Don’t get too excited,” she said. “It’s not yours just because you peed on it.”

His brown eyes regarded her with an accusatory, bitter gaze, as if it was her fault someone had dumped him at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. His sparse, spiky hair and bushy eyebrows gave him the air of an angry and slightly mad senior citizen. She was glad she’d taken him with her. He made her laugh, and laughing made her feel like something inside her had given way and released the real Lacey from the stiff little Stepford wife she’d become.

“Come on, Sinclair.” Sinclair was the name of the gas station where she’d found him. The symbol for the place was a dinosaur—a friendly green brontosaurus. If it had been a Tyrannosaurus Rex, it would have been infinitely more attractive than the dog, and it would have exuded more warm fuzzies, too.

Naming the dog was a mistake. Naming him made him hers. But why shouldn’t she have a dog? She didn’t have anything else. She gripped the steering wheel and jutted her chin, glancing up in the rearview mirror to see if she’d nailed her I’ll-never-be-hungry-again Scarlett O’Hara impression. With her dark hair and pale skin, her green eyes and sharp, determined little chin, she’d always identified with the feisty heroine of Gone With the Wind, and she’d lived her life by the philosophy of WWSD: What Would Scarlett Do?

Scarlett wouldn’t worry. She wouldn’t torture herself thinking up worst-case scenarios. She’d say “fiddle-dee-dee`” and think about it tomorrow.

But the freckles weren’t helping the impersonation any. Neither was the trembling of her chin.

Scarlett had never been this scared.

to be continued…