I have been reading, MAGIC HOUR, a novel by Kristin Hannah about a small town in Washington where an apparent feral child, a girl raised by wolves shows up in town.
Peanut glanced nervously at the window, as if the wold were out there, pacing the yard, looking for a way in. "She's gonna try to escape. Those are her words."
Yeah, I cheated and posted three but you haven't seen the depth of my cheating just yet. You see I figure since I have played along on Two Line Tuesdays in so long I might as well add up all those lines and include them now. Actually since a lot of you have do not have Kindles, or have had trouble downloading the kindle PC application, but have expressed interest in reading my Amazon Breakthrough novel excerpt, I thought I'd go ahead and post in here for you to read. It is considerable more than two lines, but I appreciate your asking the time to read and if you are feeling especially generous with your time, head over to Amazon and leave a review afterward.
Waiting On The River
His shoulders ached from the all-night drive, and his eyelids were as heavy as silver dollars. The glowing green numbers on the dashboard taunted him. A quarter ‘til five. Morning. Daybreak would be here before he could sleep, but at least he was close. Only a few miles separated Blue Riggins from his bed, and what he hoped would be a dreamless slumber.
Actually his bed laid but mere feet behind him, hitched to his truck. He could have found a place to pull over and park hours ago, but Blue refused to stop until he reached the very spot he planned to camp. The exact place his wife picked on their first visit to the Tetons.
Staci would never believe he'd given up tents, Coleman stoves, and rock ring fires, for the sake of comfort. She would have teased him about this RV and its king-sized bed, leather couch, built-in fireplace, and shower with overhead skylight. Other than their last trip, when it rained nonstop for five straight days, the two of them always roughed it out in the woods.
The truck and RV had cost Blue nearly twice what they spent to build their house. Of course these days, the pickup and thirty-seven-foot travel trailer were his home. The place back in Texas lay abandoned like everything else from his past. Blue Riggins was a man without roots, and that was exactly what he wanted out of life.
Yesterday he'd packed up and left Las Vegas, Nevada to avoid getting caged in. Today, he would taste the freedom and thin air of Eagle's Rest, Idaho.
Drowsily drifting into the past, Blue recalled the good times he and Staci shared during their annual treks to Idaho. Up here in these mountains he could almost hear her laughter … feel the warmth of her body … smell the pine needles in her hair ...
His neck unsteady, like the legs of a newborn colt, Blue didn't resist as his head tilted forward and his heavy lids slid closed.
The pickup lurched – shook violently.
Blue opened his eyes and jerked the wheels all in the same instant.
Gravel pinged against the fender wells. The travel trailer fishtailed -- yanking the truck to the side.
Headlights flashed against forest trees.
White-knuckled, Blue struggled to keep the truck pointed straight ahead. A vision flashed by in a burst of light. A woman standing on the side of the road.
“Staci,” he whispered as the big black Ford skidded past the apparition and finally came to a shuddering halt thirty yards down the road.
Out of breath, and unsure of what he’d seen, Blue opened the door and peered back into the darkness. The stench of singed rubber hung in the air as he slid out of the pickup. He moved toward the rear of the vehicle before she came into view again.
His heart contracted. He swallowed hard. She stepped closer.
The excitement left in a rush. A stranger.
He should have known better than to believe in ghosts.
The woman paused near the rear of the trailer, where the amber running lights cast an eerie glow across her apprehensive face. Now that he’d gotten a good look, she didn’t much resemble his wife. Maybe in height, but this woman had dark hair, not blonde, and a ponytail. Staci had always kept her hair too short for a ponytail. Not that he had time to notice any of this while skidding past. Hope, not logic, had led to his confusion.
Blue ran his fingers across his stubbled cheek. “You okay?”
The woman nodded. “I think so. What happened?” She wrapped her arms across her chest as if hugging herself.
“I dozed off coming around that corner. The tires slipped off the shoulder and I yanked the wheel too hard. Lucky the whole damn thing didn’t tip.” He shivered, having forgotten how cold it got up here this time of year.
Her eyes darted from side to side.
“Sorry for the scare,” he said, still unsure how he’d confused this woman for his wife. Both women were pretty, but in entirely different ways. The one standing before him had more of an athletic look, or maybe it was the large Nike swoosh across her sweatshirt that gave him that idea.
“It happened so fast I didn’t really have time to be scared,” she answered. “But you did get my heart rate up. I don’t normally see much traffic when I jog.”
Blue frowned. It couldn't be more than a degree or two above zero. A person would have to be crazy to take off before sunrise and jog in the freezing cold. He tried to remember if there was a cabin nearby or some other reason for her to be way out here. She seemed anxious already, but he couldn’t just drive away and leave her stranded on the side of the road without knowing she would be okay. “You need a ride somewhere?” he asked in the same calm, even tones he usually reserved for horses.
She shook her head and took a step back. “No, I’m fine.”
Blue tried to look as harmless as possible, but still he sensed her eagerness to escape. “You sure? I don’t mind.” He was reluctant to leave. Despite their physical differences, something about her still reminded him of Staci.
She nodded. “The jog back to town will do me good. I’ll be fine.” Turning on her heels, she took off.
Standing alone in the middle of the cold black road he watched the jogger until she disappeared around the curve. Now he’d never know why she reminded him of his wife.
Not that it mattered. The biggest difference between them was clear. She was alive.
Staci was not.
Lindsay Parker kept a close watch over her shoulder as she headed back to town. Jogging alone, in the wee hours of predawn, was nothing new to her, but this morning’s encounter had shaken her. Running on the other side of the road, she'd never been in any real danger of being hit, but the incident had unnerved her just the same.
Sure the man had been friendly -- apologetic -- even offered to help, but there in the darkness, she hadn't been able to tell much about him other than he was tall and broad shouldered. It had been his voice that terrified her. That accent. The slow way he drew out his words. No one around here talked like that, which is exactly why his every word sent a shiver down her spine that had nothing to do with the frigid weather.
Running in these icy conditions required a good bit of motivation, but despite the chilly temperatures and the thin air of the high altitude, she cherished the quiet solitude of the area. Until this morning the lack of traffic comforted her. Now she longed for the sight of town and proof that she had friends nearby.
A few stars still glimmered overhead, but the sky had begun to lighten in the east. The padding of her feet provided the only sound.
A decade ago, she put in ten miles every morning before school, and another ten or fifteen in the evening. Regardless of the weather. That had been her sophomore year, when she still dreamed of glory. When she ran for the hope of a cross-country scholarship to Oklahoma State, OU, or at the very least Tulsa. When she still believed in the future. Of course, all of that changed when she slowed down long enough for Rusty Hawkins to catch her.
Lindsay kicked her muscles into a higher gear. Old memories had left her alone these nine months since she'd set up residence in Eagle’s Rest, yet today the past nipped at her heels. A crow called out in the shadow-filled forest. The bird’s wings flapped amongst the bare branches. The Tetons loomed before her. Focusing her attention on the tallest white-capped peak, she pushed harder.
Her Nikes pounded the narrow road until her ribs ached. Until she could focus solely on the physical pain. Until her body overpowered her mind.
If only she could run forever. But her muscles, like her brain, could only take so much abuse before giving up.
Reaching town, she slowed to a walk, laced her fingers behind her head, and filled her lungs with the thin, oxygen-deprived air. Greedily sucking wind, she walked past the handful of houses, the snowmobile and ski rental shop, the town’s lone gas station, and the Kozy-Inn, all quiet at this early hour. Not even the familiar sight of the Talon Café settled the dread which had lodged in her bones. Her workplace and refuge in this town looked strange at this hour without the usual array of battered Jeeps and pickups out front. On a normal day, she would return from her jog to find half a dozen men lined up at the counter waiting on Janine to fill their coffee mugs.
Cutting across the empty gravel lot Lindsay went around back, to the house where she rented a room. She wished Janine were home but her employer, landlady, and friend would not be back until early afternoon.
Janine and The Talon Cafe had become Lindsay’s lifeline. A job. A place to stay. That’s all Lindsay had been looking for when she found herself stranded in Eagle's Rest. Finding a true friend had made the transition easier, but the steady everyday routine gave Lindsay what she needed most.
A place to hide from the things she wanted to forget.
Blue pulled into the clearing and parked. For the next half hour, he lowered the RV, leveled the frame, and chocked the wheels. As he finished the outside work, a soft gray light filtered through the bare tree limbs and replaced the darkness.
Inside, the trailer smelled dusty and stale from lack of use. He never used it while in Vegas, preferring the convenience of the suite the casino offered up in exchange for him playing cards in their poker room.
Despite the cold, Blue opened a kitchen window to let in some fresh air. Later, he would have to stock up on supplies, but for now, he needed rest.
Slipping into bed, he stared up at the ceiling still bothered by ghosts. What would he have said or done if the roadside vision had been his wife?
That answer never came. Neither did sleep. An hour ago he’d been too tired to keep his rig on the road, and now the idea of dozing off seemed as foreign as jogging in the middle of the night.
His drowsiness had almost caused an accident. Had that woman been on the other side of the road, he very well could have killed her. The sober realization of that truth gave his mind more to dwell upon as he laid there wishing for the sort of peace only sleep could bring.
Light spilled into the room despite the closed blinds. Turning over, he piled a pillow on top of his head. His stomach rumbled. He needed sleep, but how long had it been since he ate? Dinner in Vegas yesterday? No, he’d bought some jerky at a truckstop in Utah.
His stomach growled again.
Blue sat up on the edge of the bed, pulled on his boots and buttoned up a clean shirt. Who was he trying to kid? Up here hunting the memory of good times and ignoring the reality of life. In poker, they called it chasing good money with bad. The rest of society called it disillusionment.
His life wasn’t going to get any better. The best had come and gone. Might as well drift away tomorrow after he got some sleep. Blue could find somewhere else to hide. A place where imaginary ghosts wouldn't be lurking around every bend.
But Janine would kill him if he left the area without first stopping at the Talon Café, and he had to eat, so climbing in his truck, Blue headed back for Eagle’s Rest in the hopes a hot meal and good company would settle his unease.
Rounding the curve from this morning, he shook his head. He’d never realized how bad he wanted just one more chance to see and talk to Staci, until he felt the disappointment of seeing that woman jogger.
Even after all these months, Lindsay felt strange being alone inside Janine’s house. Like a trespasser with no right to be there. She never felt this way when Janine was home, but by herself, surrounded by the trinkets of somebody else’s life, Lindsay couldn’t help but think of all the things absent from her own.
Missing the everyday routine more every second, Lindsay sat on the couch and flipped through the television channels in search of a diversion. She smiled at the sight of a giant Snoopy balloon floating by the entrance to Macy’s. As a young girl, she got up early every Thanksgiving morning and sit on the woven rug in her family’s den where she would watch every second of the parade. The balloons were always her favorite. Back then she dreamed of seeing the spectacle in person, but then again she used to dream of a lot of things.
Lindsay turned off the TV and stared at the clock on the wall. Janine had left strict instructions when to put the turkey in the oven, what time to heat the dressing, when to start the gravy, but Lindsay needed something to do now. Before she slipped too deep into the past. This was exactly why she didn’t like to be alone for too long, especially during the holidays.
The cuckoo popped out of the trap door, startling Lindsay. The little birdie sang eight times and then disappeared. Janine was proud of the clock, which her son had sent while stationed in Germany. Lindsay moved her focus to the two pictures perched on top of the television. The sight of Janine’s children was familiar. Hardly a room in the house did not have the image of one or both adorning at least one wall, but these were the latest shots of her offspring. Thus the highly visible positions of honor.
The one of Janine’s son, in full military uniform was taken last month, just before his deployment to Afghanistan. The other photo was several years old. Until yesterday, Janine had not spoken a word to her daughter in over two years. Now she’d taken off on a ten-hour road trip to pick up her daughter and bring her back home.
A knock came from the front door. Lindsay stood, grateful for the interruption of her thoughts. She’d already spent enough time last night lying awake and analyzing the similarities between herself and Janine’s daughter, Missy.
Swinging open the door, Lindsay found herself staring up at the dark, troubled eyes of the man from this morning. Surprise made her step back. She started to shut the door, but for the second time, she sensed he’d expected to find someone else.
He glanced over his shoulder, back in the direction of his black truck. Only then did he return his attention to Lindsay. “I was looking for Janine.”
Again, the familiar accent took her breath. Her eyes drifted down to take in the worn cowboy boots on his feet. Her stomach tied in knots. Squinting past him she stared at the license plate on his truck. Texas, not Oklahoma. She let out a pent-up breath.
“The café was closed,” he continued. “I thought she lived here behind The Talon. Sorry to bother you, and sorry again about this morning.” He stepped down off the porch.
“This is Janine’s house. I rent a room from her. She went to pick up her daughter, but she should be back any minute.” A lie, but Lindsay didn’t want the stranger to know she was alone, and would be for several more hours. In truth, nothing about the man's mannerisms elicited concern, except his tendency to show up unexpected and the slight drawl in his voice.
He turned around and nodded, but kept his distance as if detecting her apprehension. “Knew it had to be something important for her to close up shop.”
“She closed for Thanksgiving.”
“Thanksgiving?” He slowly nodded. “Guess it is Thursday.”
Lindsay smiled at his puzzled expression. How could anyone forget Thanksgiving? The start of the holiday season. “I’ll tell her you came by.”
He nodded. “Name is Blue Riggins.” Stepping back onto the porch, he extended his hand.
She hesitated only a second before reaching out. “Lindsay Parker.”
For the first time, she studied his features. A faint white scar dipped down from just below his ear lobe and disappeared at the back of his hairline. A sprinkling of gray lightened the area just above his temple. Short black hair covered the rest of his head. She guessed him to be in his mid-thirties, yet something in those dark eyes made him seem older. His shirtsleeves bulged and his broad forearms indicated strength. Most likely the result of hard labor, since he didn’t have the polished or snobbish gleam of a gym rat.
“Nice to meet you and Happy Thanksgiving.” He stepped back.
“Same to you.” An idea came to Lindsay. “How do you know Janine?”
“Known her for years. No trip to Idaho is complete without a belly full of Janine’s fried chicken and a slice of her blueberry pie.”
“You should come back for lunch. I’m sure Janine won’t mind.”
He shook his head. “Thanks, but I don’t want to impose. Holidays are for families.”
His words echoed in Lindsay’s ears as she watched him drive away. Holidays are for families.
He was right, which is exactly why she wanted him to stay. No way did she want to be the only outsider.
Blue shook his head as he pulled away from Janine’s. Thanksgiving. That jogger woman, Lindsay, found it amusing he’d forgotten the holiday, but he couldn’t hold that against her. Normal people kept up with such things. He was at least glad to see her smile. Until that point she'd looked at him only with the wide-eyed expression of fear.
Eagle's Rest’s only gas station was closed, but spying a payphone Blue pulled into the lot anyway. It was getting harder to find a payphone all the time but Blue refused to break down and get a cell phone. The last thing he needed was an electronic leash. With a deep breath, he dialed his sister’s number and prepared for a battle. His sister would give him an earful, but this being a holiday he owed both Ruby and Briley a phone call.
“Where have you been? It’s been six weeks since anyone has heard a word from you. We'd never know if something happened. The least you could … ”
He held the phone away from his head and counted to thirty. His sister could rant for hours, but she would quit yelling once she figured out he’d stopped listening. Silence greeted him when he brought the receiver back to his ear. “Finished?”
“No, but what’s the point?”
“I’m going to send some money first thing tomorrow so call the bank and check your account.”
“Guess this means you won’t be home anytime soon. Briley’s birthday is coming and then Christmas.”
Blue gritted his teeth. Blood pounded in his temples. “Don’t start, Ruby. I don’t need you to be my calendar. You know I can’t come back this time of year.”
“Grow up! You’re thirty-three years old. Life’s tough, but you have a little girl who loves you.”
Blue swallowed his pain and whispered, “Buy her something nice. I’ll be there when I can.”
“She needs more than money. She needs her father.”
He hung up and turned his back to the payphone. He’d meant to talk to his daughter – to wish her a happy Thanksgiving. He missed hearing her tiny little voice, but what Ruby, or no one else understood -- there were simply some things he could not do.
A tow truck with a snow blade pulled into the lot and parked next to the building. Blue recognized the vehicle as the owner of the station. He knew the man by sight only, not near as well as he knew Janine, but he was glad to see him, since now he could buy a few supplies.
The driver’s door groaned as it opened.
“How you doing?” Blue greeted the guy as he stepped out. “Blue Riggins.” He extended his hand. “I come up here a few times every year.”
The man nodded as they shook. “I know who you are. You’re that poker player. Totes the fancy camper.”
“Surprised to see you,” Blue said. “Didn’t figure anything would be open, this being Thanksgiving.”
“Running the station would beat spending the day with my in-laws, but I’m just here to grab a couple of bags of ice and a pack of smokes for my wife’s uncle. You can get gas though. If you got a credit card. Put in new twenty-four hour pumps last spring.”
“I don’t need gas. Just a few things here and there to tide me over until tomorrow. I have cash.” Blue opened his wallet wide, hoping the man might be persuaded. “Won’t take me but a second.”
The owner nodded as he unlocked the door. “Make it quick. My wife knows how I feel about her kinfolk. She’ll accuse me of taking too long on purpose.”
Blue grabbed a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and several packs of beef jerky. Given how the day had started he eyed the cooler full of beer, but he knew better than to travel down that road, so instead, he grabbed a gallon of milk and a twelve pack of Dr. Pepper.
The man scratched his head as he looked at the purchases. “Didn’t bring the keys for the register. Let me find a pencil and I’ll add --”
“This ought to cover it.” Blue laid a hundred on the counter.
“I can’t make change.”
“Don’t need any. I just appreciate you letting me in.” Blue reached for the items.
“Let me put this in a sack for you.” The man dug beneath the counter. Now that he’d turned a nice profit, a broad smile covered his face. “I watch a lot of poker on TV. Saw you win that tournament last month. You bluffed and went all in with absolutely nothing. Got Rhett Bachman to fold with three of a kind.”
Blue shrugged. “I got lucky. Rhett is a tough one to get a read on.”
“Then the next hand you pulled a flush to finish him off. Cool as ice. Bachman always came across as kind of an asshole to me. Is he?”
Blue shook his head. “He’s just like the rest of us. Trying to make a living and get by.”
“Wish I had to get by on what you fellows make in those tournaments. But I ain’t got any luck at all. If I bluffed like that somebody would call me for sure.”
“Don’t be fooled. My luck’s not all good.”
The man handed Blue his sack of groceries. “I play once a month with a few old boys up the road. What’s your trick when it comes to bluffing?”
Blue looked him in the eye. “No trick. I just don’t care whether I win or lose.”