Saturday, October 3, 2015


Congratulations to Kathleen Friesen, winner of WOUNDED FAITH in last week's drawing!

Can Austin survive three months at Starfire Ranch or will he lose Samantha…forever?

1st Chapter:

Austin clenched the steering wheel as dust from the winding country road clouded the truck. The grip of his hands matched the tightness in his chest as the ranch rose against the Smoky Mountains to leer at him beneath a brilliant lateafternoon sun.  His  gut  soured  at  the  sight  of  the  thirteenstall  horse barn—a baker’s dozen, the old man had joked at  one  time.  The  barn  looked  the  same  as  Austin  remembered,  except  someone  had  gotten  the  bright  idea to paint it a blaring red. How fitting.  What had the old man been thinking? He must have been out of his mind from the cancer. 

Familiar smells washed over Austin, kindling memories best left buried. The sweet scent of spring hay…a shower of wild onions…dank cow manure. And he could almost smell the leather of oiled saddles he knew hung in neat rows in the barn. 

How long had it been since he set foot on the soil of Starfire Ranch? Not since his mom had dragged him, sobbing, from his bed one morning and told him to get dressed because they were leaving—now.  He was fourteen at the time, and old enough to understand that something awful had happened between her and his dad, something irreparable.

And the passing years had brought an ugly sense of clarity to the picture. The old man loved the open pastures.  His  passion  for  horses and gambling left little room for anything else— including his wife and only son.

The years had passed  with no more than a handful of visits and not much  more  than  stilted  conversation  until  even  that  died  away to a painful emptiness.  And now Austin was home again, although he didn’t think of the ranch as home. The city was his home—a place where he found a sense of peace in the rhythm of rushhour traffic and the constant murmur of blended voices and crowds. He had a construction  business there, too—though it was on unstable ground  due to the recent downturn in the economy—that he’d  reluctantly left in the hands of his partner for the next  several  months. 

As  music  thumped  from  the  radio,  Austin  calculated  and  recalculated  the  days—the  hours—that made up the impossibly long three months  he’d be sequestered here.  June—July—August.  Three  months,  ninetytwo  days,  two  thousand,  two  hundred  and  eight  hours.  I can do this.  I’m tougher—smarter—than the old man ever was. 

A flash of movement in the south pasture caught his eye—a wave of dark hair whipped on a breeze and something silver glimmered beneath earlysummer sunlight. The thud of hooves filled the air as he trained  his  gaze  and  watched  the  woman  riding  a  toffee-colored  mare  close  the  distance  between  them.  Her movements were fluid and sure, as if she was part of the goldenhaired horse whose reins she clung to. For a moment, Austin’s mind went blank and he was mesmerized.  Then he shook his head and quickly retrained his gaze to the road…and the ranch waiting for him like an old, unwelcome memory. 

But the woman was a magnet even more powerful than the ranch. Sable hair fanned through the wind like a dark, restless wave and she seemed one with the horse as the pair flew over emerald pasture grass that sparkled like diamonds. Even from this distance, he  could  see  the  determined  set  of  her  jaw  and  the  intensity of dark eyes that matched the deep black cape  of her hair. 

The probate attorney hadn’t said anything about a woman hanging around the property. Maybe she was a  neighbor, and maybe she knew where he could find  the guy named Sam who was supposed to help him  run  the  ranch  for  the  next  few  months,  until  the  ridiculous stipulation his father had spelled out in the  will was satisfied. 

“‘Live on Starfire Ranch and maintain the property to the present standards, including the summer riding camp, and if you’re not satisfied to remain after three months, you can sell the land and retire a rich man,” his father’s voice haunted him. “Leave before the three months are up, and rights to the property will revert to the state to be set aside as a nature refuge, and you lose everything.’”

He couldn’t afford to lose everything.  Three months on the property and he could sell the place and shore up his construction business. The money would be like a lifesaving transfusion. 

Austin gunned the engine and sped toward the entrance gates, the same direction the woman on the mare headed. The quicker he got things started, the quicker he’d close things out.  He had to hang around for three months, sure, but that  didn’t mean he couldn’t begin to make arrangements  concerning  what  would  happen  when  those  three months were paid in full. He already had a call in to the most high-powered realtor in town, and had placed him on alert. Austin knew investors were chomping at  the bit for a chance to own the land that Starfire Ranch  encompassed,  with  its  acres  of  lush  pasture  back-dropped  by  a  breathtaking  view  of  the  Smoky  Mountains.  He’d pay his three months and then leave here forever with the money…without so much as a quick glance back.   


 Samantha watched the cloud of dust swirl around the pickup truck as it sped along the drive toward Starfire’s entrance gates. Music blared from the open windows as the heavy thud of a bass drum rocked the solitude, and she saw Austin McGill at the wheel. Her  heart quickened, because she knew exactly what he  was bent on doing—sell the ranch, sell out the kids  without so much as a second thought or a tug on his  stonecold heart. 

John McGill had warned her about his son, even while the unmistakable odor of death clouded his room as the cancer ate away at him.

“You’re tough, Sam.”  His raspy voice calmed the butterflies that swarmed her belly.  “But Austin is filled with bitterness. I’ve hurt him badly. Be patient with him— but firm. Take care of things here for me…and for the kids. I know you can do it, Sam, but do you?” 

His confidence renewed her resolve and she’d leaned over the bed to cool his brow with a soft, damp cloth.  Gnarled, withered hands were folded on the patchwork quilt that covered him. Just a few months ago, before the cancer had taken hold, those hands had been strong. Samantha’s breath hitched at the memory. Whatever had happened so long ago between him and his son, she had never known John to be anything less than giving, patient, and gracious. 

“I won’t let you down, John. I promise.”  And she wouldn’t. Not for anything or anyone in the world—including his son. 

She  gave  the  mare  a  gentle  nudge  and  felt  the  cooling lateafternoon breeze against her face as she  rushed  over  thick  pasture  grass  toward  the  truck.  Jenny would be home from school soon, and she’d be  ready  to  tag  along  as  Sam  tended  the  horses,  then  they’d share dinner and a story or two before bath and  bedtime. And hopefully in a few days the riding camp Sam had so painstakingly coordinated for special-needs kids would open and proceed as planned. Jenny was counting on her, and so were the other kids and their parents.  Since John’s death, the decision on whether or not to continue the camp fell into Austin McGill’s lap. So there was no time to waste—no time at all. 

She watched the truck crest the hill to the entrance  and  bounce  over  the  rutted  road  and  through  monogrammed  wroughtiron  gates.  Quickly, she jockeyed for position as the truck eased to a stop. 

“Hey, you’re Austin McGill,” she called when he switched off the engine and the heavy rockbeat died. 

“All day.” His voice hummed low and smooth as  he  swung  long  legs  from  the  driver’s  side  and  straightened to his full height. Waves of coffeebrown hair spilled from a Chicago Cubs baseball cap as he brushed a muscular forearm across his face.  The  shadow of stubble covered his chin and his restless blue  gaze  pierced  her  as  if  she  was  some  peculiar  laboratory specimen. “And who are you?” 

“I’m Sam.”  She slid down from the mare and brushed dirt from the seat of her jeans before offering him a hand. “Sam Lakin. I’m going to help you run Starfire Ranch for the next three months. Would you like me to show you around?”

Be sure to LEAVE YOUR COMMENT below to be entered in the drawing for this week's giveaway.

Purchase Starfire:
Pelican Book Group (ePub or Adobe PDF)


  1. What a great excerpt! I love ranch stories and red barns! God bless you...

  2. Thanks so much for visiting, Tanya! I love YOUR ranch stories!!! Sending blessings your way.


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