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Wednesday, July 08, 2020

First of several excerpts from upcoming release WHAT FREES THE HEART

My Western historical romance What Frees the Heart comes out in a week! It can be read as a stand-alone, but is actually Book 2 in the Cowbird Creek series, following What Heals the Heart. (Seeing a pattern here? . . .)

So I'll be posting one excerpt a day until Release Day, July 15th. Here's the first -- appropriately, the first scene in the novel. It is the most downbeat of the excerpts, reflecting the mindset of young Tom Barlow as the book begins. Not to worry -- he'll be in better shape before too long. Indeed, this scene shows the start of that process, as he sees Jenny for the first time. (Her last name is Hayes, but neither she nor anyone else has much occasion to use it.)

You can preorder the Kindle edition here. To pre-order the paperback, you've got options -- Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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Tom Barlow leaned against the fence for support and tossed the last sack of fall potatoes into the wagon. He could still load a wagon, at least. Not the first time he tried, or the second — and the way he fell the second time, landing on his arm, had made him even more useless for the next week. But he’d got the hang of it now.
Pa came out of the house, putting on his hat as he walked to the wagon. “Coming with me, son?”
That was a puzzle with no good answer. Tom could use the rail of the fence and a handy stump to climb into the wagon without Pa’s help, but getting back down was more of a trick. He could try it, and maybe fall down for folks to laugh about, or stay perched up on the wagon like a cigar store Indian for passersby to stare at.
“I’ll come.” At least, whatever happened, he’d get to see something different for a change, if only the little bit of difference between the farm and town. It was bad enough being stuck around here before, when he could at least sneak off with one of the horses between chores and ride around a bit.
Sometimes, he could hardly believe he couldn’t just hop onto a horse — or a wagon — the way he used to. Other days, he could hardly believe he’d ever done it at all.

After they dropped off the sacks at the train station, Pa drove to the square and parked in a shady spot near the dry goods store, within reach of the water trough. “Keep an eye on the horse and wagon for me, will you, while I go in?” Pa had been thinking along the same lines as Tom, seemingly. And maybe he didn’t much fancy having the people in town see his son stumbling around like a barely-born colt.
Tom gave Pa a short nod just a hair shy of rude. Pa paused, his eyebrows going lower like he was thinking of fetching a strap, before he shook his head a little and headed toward the general store.
Now Tom had nothing to do but feel conspicuous and look around him. The first thing he noticed was a cardinal, landing in the nearest tree with a twig in its beak, bright red against the bare branches. That bird could fly most anywhere, but here it was in Cowbird Creek. It must feel a whole lot different than he did these days.
Tom saw himself working into an even worse mood, and tried to steer another way. It was sunny, at least, and sunshine always boosted his spirits some. And that tree with the cardinal might be bare still, but right under it was a forsythia bush well along in its blooming, the first of many to come.
Then something moving caught his eye from down the street. He turned to see a girl walking up — no, walking didn’t do justice to it. She sort of bounced along, stepping out strong and lively, her yellow hair bouncing too, bright in the sun under a little nothing of a hat. There was plenty of her, all put together just right, and a pretty face to finish off with — not what you’d call refined, but a straight-ahead honest sort of good-looking.
Why hadn’t he seen her before, at a dance or a church social? Or had she been some little stick of a kid and just lately blossomed out?
He’d already got a nice long look at the front of her, and now she headed into the store and let him enjoy the view from behind. He sighed to see her pass through the door and out of sight.
Coming into town did beat sitting at home watching cows, at that.
Another woman came walking past, older, with a little boy skipping alongside her. Skipping, like any child did, like Tom had often enough. He closed his eyes and waited for the pain to ease. But before he got to opening them, he heard the boy’s voice. “Why’s that man got a wooden leg? Was he a soldier, like Uncle Jake?”
Tom ground his teeth, cussing in his head. What with the way he was growing out of his trousers, and sitting high up on the wagon, anyone could see the wood between his trouser leg and his boot.
Meanwhile, the woman was saying, “No, Johnny. He’s too young. He’d have been maybe your age when the war ended.”
“Then what happened to him, Ma?”
The woman glanced up at Tom, looking embarrassed and sorry, as she grabbed her son’s hand and pulled him along, saying something Tom couldn’t hear. But right behind came two men, the barber and some other fellow, who acted like they’d heard it. Because the barber said to the other man, not troubling to be quiet, as if Tom was deaf along with crippled: “Poor lad. At least a soldier who lost his leg gets a pension, and knows he’s a hero. And an old man with a game leg was a young man with two good legs once.”
And all Tom could do was sit there on the wagon like a log, thinking how the barber was right. No honorable war wound for him, no life full of memories. One clumsy moment, and his life was more or less over before he’d done much of anything with it.
And there, finally, came Pa carrying a big sack of provisions, smiling like someone just told him a joke, taking big steps. But when he reached the wagon and got a look at Tom’s face, he all of a sudden seemed to shrink shorter.
They didn’t talk on the ride home.

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Check back tomorrow for another excerpt!

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