The celebration continues with an excerpt from my newest release, Rodeo Family. Comment or answer a question at the end of any post dated Jan 5 – 9 to enter the drawing for copy. Deadline: Jan 17th, 11:59 pm central time.
Weights pressed down on Tori’s eyelids. Her head ached. She examined her tender lips with her tongue. Swollen. Split. A moan escaped her. What happened?
She strained to open her eyes until one lid lifted. The other wouldn’t budge. All she saw was a sideways view of the living room from her reclining position on the couch.
Oh yeah. Now she remembered.
She wiggled her fingers and toes to make sure she still could, then raised her hand to her face. Gingerly, she touched her eye and gasped. A massive, throbbing bulge.
How had she ended up like this—just like her mother—beaten and bruised?
Someone pounded at the door. She sat upright. Had he left? If so, was he back? Was he still mad? Her gaze darted to the back door. Could she escape? Or would he only catch up with her and punish her more?
Besides, where would she go? She hadn’t bothered to get to know her neighbors in tiny Aubrey, Texas. The only person she knew was her boss. And her boss was at work where Tori was supposed to be. She covered her face with her hands.
“Tori, I know you’re in there,” Jenna Steele, her boss, called. “Your car’s in the drive and I can see your purse through the window.”
Okay, so her boss wasn’t at work. What time was it?
Still daylight, but dimming. It had to be after the store closed. Jenna must be on her way home.
She held her breath. Russ must have left. Or passed out.
Please go away. Jenna—the paragon of virtue—couldn’t see her like this. And what if Russ woke up or came back? She couldn’t let him hurt Jenna—the only person who hadn’t given up on her.
Other than Aunt Loretta.
“Just a minute.” Head pounding, she got to her feet. A wave of nausea hit her followed by swimming vision in her good eye. Clutching a bookshelf, she waited until it passed and shuffled toward the door.
“I’m fine, Jenna, just sick. I don’t want you to catch it. I’m sorry I didn’t call in this morning.”
“I’m not leaving until you open the door. We need to talk and if you’re that sick, you might need to see your doctor. It is flu season.”
Even though Jenna was probably miffed with her for missing so much work lately, concern tinged her voice. If Tori didn’t answer, Jenna was likely to call the Texas Rangers, especially since her cousin was married to one.
But if Tori answered, Jenna might still call the Texas Rangers. Either way, she was toast.
“You have to promise me you won’t call the police.”
Silence for a moment. “Why would I call the police? Tori, you’re scaring me.”
“You have to promise. It will only make things worse if the police get involved.”
“I don’t see how that can be, but I promise.”
Tori unlocked the door and swung it open.
Horror flashed in Jenna’s contorted expression. Her hand flew to her mouth. “Who did this to you?”
Tori shook her head. Pain knifed through her head and she swayed.
“Sit down.” Jenna took her arm, led her to the couch and headed to the kitchen.
Cabinet doors and drawers squeaked open and slammed shut. Ice clinked in a glass. Jenna was back a few minutes later.
Something cold touched Tori’s swollen eye and she winced.
“Sorry. Should have warned you.”
Her good eye singed and a tear slipped past her lashes.
“Is it possible whoever did this will come back?”
A sob escaped as Tori nodded.
“Then, let’s get out of here.”
“Where?” Tori bit the inside of her lip until she tasted blood. “I don’t want Aunt Loretta involved in this. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“I do.” Jenna helped Tori up.
“I can’t go with you. He’ll come after me. I’ve tried to break it off with him before.” This morning to be exact. Maybe the day after Valentine’s hadn’t been the best plan. But she’d thought if she broke it off this morning when she was expected at work, he wouldn’t hit her. Wrong.
“I live on a private ranch with five houses, an electronic gate with a top secret password and an alarm system. If he comes after you, we’ll know it before he figures out which house you’re in. And we have our very own Texas Ranger less than a mile away.”
Tori blew out a breath. “I don’t want to involve you.”
“I’m already involved.” Jenna moved the ice pack. “Go grab some clothes. We’ll come back later and get the rest.”
Obviously, Jenna wasn’t going anywhere without her. If they didn’t get moving, Russ would come back. And hurt Jenna too.
Brant McConnell punched in the code his friend, Garrett Steele had given him and rubbed a hand across bleary eyes. Past midnight. He’d be glad in the morning with the short drive to church.
The iron gate slid open and Brant drove through—for seemingly endless miles before he saw a road that turned to the right. He took the road and drove more endless miles. Trees lined the fence along each side of the drive and the dark shapes of horses dotted the miles of pasture-land. Some spread, Garrett.
Nine years ago, they’d both tried to catch a break in the Christian music industry in Nashville. Brant had given up after a year and come back home, while Garrett hit it big in Country music. But Garrett’s life had spun out of control.
If he’d stayed in the music industry, would Brant have strayed from God, too? He’d bided his time as the song leader at his church. Until Garrett called a few months ago.
With his life straightened out, Garrett had headlined at Cowtown Coliseum opening the Fort Worth Stockyards Championship Rodeo for two months. And paved the way for Brant to follow in his footsteps. As if everything were falling into place with divine purpose, Garrett’s church also needed a song director. Surely his big break at a mega-church would be just around the arena.
Finally, Brant caught a glimpse of a darkened house with a green metal roof. He pulled in the drive, parked and opened his door. An owl hooted a greeting, then quieted as a pack of coyotes yapped in the distance. Oh, the sounds of the country—always made him feel right at home. He slung his guitar over his shoulder, grabbed his overnight bag and elbowed the door shut.
The rustic porch with pine posts and a swing invited him to sit a spell. As the chorus of coyotes moved out of earshot he imagined having coffee there in the morning.
Silence measured in seconds. The brave owl tentatively hooted as Brant made his way to the door. The key Garrett had given him at church clicked in the lock. He pushed the door open and flipped on the light.
White stucco walls, an Austin stone fireplace, with log beams lining the ceiling. Rustic hardwood floors and leather furnishings. Nice crib. And this was only the guesthouse. Brant set his gear down and headed down the hall.
A darkened room to his right. The bedroom? He stopped in the doorway and ran his hand over the wall to find the switch. A floorboard creaked. He stiffened. Someone lurked in the shadows.
“Don’t move,” a female voice ordered.
“I’m not here to hurt anyone.” His finger grazed the light switch and he flipped it on.
“I mean it.” Some of the confidence in her tone wavered as light flooded the room. “I’ll brain you right out of Texas.”
A small strawberry blonde wielded a fire poker poised to strike. And she was sporting one humdinger of a black eye. Lord, help.
She has ten published titles and is contracted for five more. Her books are available at http://christianbook.com, http://barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, http://harlequin.com, and http://barbourbooks.com. Connect with her on Facebook: http://facebook.com/shannontaylorvannatter, Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/29672798-shannon-vannatter, Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/stvannatter/, and Twitter: @stvauthor.
About the book – Rodeo Family: TORI EATON IS READY TO START OVER
She’s beginning a new chapter in Aubrey, Texas, away from her abusive ex-boyfriend. As she picks up the pieces of her broken life, Tori’s surprised at the helping hand the church’s new song director, Brant McConnell, offers her, and at the warm emotions he inspires.
Brant is drawn to Tori. And as their friendship grows, so do his feelings for her. But Tori is still hounded by her past, and the walls she’s built around her heart are high. Can he convince the wounded beauty that he’s exactly the kind of man she needs—and deserves?
Question: Have you ever almost beamed somebody harmless because they scared you? Care to share?
Come back Jan 12th for Sherri Wilson Johnson!