Okay, to know what the sweetest thing is, you have to know what the NOT sweetest thing is. And as a newbie novelist, it’s having ONE book out there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so FREAKING grateful to have a published book, sometimes, I just squeal for no reason. Or for that very reason. I didn’t have anything else for readers who say, “What else do you have for me to read?” And while I thank GOD for my fabulous editor at Penguin, sadly I’ve had to say to readers, “the new book will be out next AUGUST.” BTW, Palmetto Moon does come out 8/5/14. YAY!
But in a world when our baked potatoes can’t bake fast enough in the microwave, that’s too long for some people, I know it is for me. All of that changed today! Scratch that, all that changed at a cocktail party when I met the amazing author and rebel girl, Jane Porter. Being a rebel girl, Jane is making sense out of this crazy publishing business with her new company, Tule Publishing Group, which offers a better way. Like you can put out a book almost as fast as your can write it better way.
Jane’s first imprint is Montana Born Books, about a small fictitious town, Marietta, Montana, that is chock full of hot cowboys and heroines, with fabulous authors writing those stories like Jane herself, Lilian Darcy, Megan Crane, and C.J. Carmichael, and a whole bunch more!
When Jane suggested I write a novella for her, I laughed because I didn’t think I belonged in the same sentence with those lovely ladies. I’m still not so sure about that, and I’ll be the first person to confess I know nothing about Montana. Never been there, but I’ve seen pictures, and let me tell you it’s beautiful and now on my bucket list.
Anyhoo, Jane said, “write me a story about a sassy South Carolina hairstylist who goes to Montana for some reason.” Good thing Jane is a whole lot smarter than me, because this novella is a good example of an an editor, publisher, and friend giving you wings and then giving you a gentle shove off of the cliff. And that’s what it felt like writing Steal Me, Cowboy. Soaring.
With Jane’s vision and Rainey Brown’s great big sassy southern voice I was hooked and so caught up in writing Beck Hartnett that I found myself sighing A LOT. And when my husband gently reminded me I’d been writing for twelve hours and it was time to make dinner, I took one hand off the keyboard, just for a second, mind you, and shooed him away. Because, once Beck Hartnett gets hold of you, you really don’t want to let go.
So here’s what I’m going to do to celebrate the release of Steal Me, Cowboy, I’m cutting and pasting the first chapter, which I know makes this blog very LONG, but hey, it’s Release Day. But before you dive into this fun little book, know this–there are people in our lives, good people, who come along when we need them. They give us gifts beyond measure, a gentle nudge, and then they step back and watch us fly. Thank you so very very much, Jane Porter. Thanks forever.
STEAL ME, COWBOY by Kim Boykin
My last client of the day meticulously inspected her razor sharp bob, trying to find a reason to stay in my chair. This was a language I knew well, usually a sign that something was going on in a client’s life, something they would never tell their sister or their mother or even their therapist. They tell me because I’m a hair stylist. For most women, that trumps everything, but for god’s sake, why did Katie Mills have to wait until now to start her therapy session?
She handed the mirror back to me and looked into the big round one on my station. “Jackson’s cheating. Again.” This was something Katie couldn’t tell anyone, or at least that’s what she swore to me. She attributed it to the fact that she was one of my first clients when I got out of beauty school six years ago and we were friends. And we are, but that wasn’t it. There’s some kind of transfer of trust that takes place when you snap a cape on a client, when you stand over them with a pair of scissors and their wet hair, either giving them what they want or saving them from making a huge mistake.
I looked at her, knowing if things went the way they normally did when her husband couldn’t keep his pants zipped, we’d end up getting coffee or at the tapas bar two doors down, drinking wine and talking for hours. No wonder she’d asked for the last appointment of the day. I glanced at the clock; Adam would be landing any minute, waiting for me at baggage claim with that tall delicious body, that beautiful smile. Then he’d spend the rest of the weekend making me forget how tired and frustrated I’d been lately with our relationship.
Katie knew as well as anyone that I hardly ever got to see Adam. I’d met him four years ago when he was playing minor league baseball for the Tampa Yankees and instantly knew he was the one. Since then he’s lived with me here, in Columbia, SC when he wasn’t bouncing around from farm system to farm system, trying to make it to the major leagues. But moving up the baseball ladder is the equivalent of winning the lottery, and as much as I loved Adam, since I met him, he’d been steadily moving down the ladder. “Katie, I’m sorry, really I am–.”
“I’m just so sick of Jackson’s shit, Rainey. I know it’s some girl in the athletic department. She’s probably twenty something with tits up to here.” If they were up to her neck, the girl must look like an alien. “Wanna grab a coffee?”
Jackson was a serial cheater, but as athletic director at the University of South Carolina, he made a lot of money. Katie liked the money so much she had put up with his antics at three different universities. She’d had babies thinking that would keep him home and monogamous, but all she had to show for her efforts were three tow headed little boys and a chronically broken heart.
“I can’t, Katie, I have to pick Adam up.” She looked like I’d stuck a knife in her back. “We haven’t seen each other in three months.”
Katie’s chin quivered as she held my gaze in the mirror, tears pooled in her chocolate brown eyes. She was still a beautiful woman, a Mississippi belle who’d somehow lost herself along the way. I could have told her she was still gorgeous, that she was bright and funny, and sexy when she turned on her Ole Miss charm.
But the look in her eyes reminded me of myself lately. I thought I was used to loving Adam Harper any way I could get him. Lately, I’ve wanted more. Needed more. “I’m sorry, Katie.” I couldn’t look at her when I unsnapped the cape. “I can meet you for coffee Sunday afternoon after I drop Adam off at the airport.
“What am I going to do now?”
What you always do. You go back to Jackson. I wish you wouldn’t, but you do the insanity dance over and over again, losing weight, shopping, Botox, trying to change yourself in hopes that your husband will change, but he can’t or he won’t. I put my hands on her slender shoulders and said the words I’d wanted to say to her since I met her, the words I thought were too pushy or too dangerous.
“Katie, you are beautiful. You are valuable. And if that bastard can’t see that, to hell with him.”
“Are you saying I should leave my husband?”
Yes. No. These are the moments when I feel the truth, that I’m a hair stylist and not a trained therapist. I don’t want to be responsible for a broken marriage, hell broken marriages, because Katie isn’t the only client who has a spouse like Jackson, but I had to leave. Now.
I rifled through my station and found the business cards Ruthie Cox gave me. She was a therapist and said I’d probably never need to pass out her cards because in many ways, Ruthie felt I was better equipped to help clients than she was. It took several visits, sometimes months for Ruthie’s clients to trust her enough to tell her their problems, and yet those same people could sit in a hairstylist’s chair they hardly knew and bare their souls.
“Call Ruthie. She’s a wonderful therapist. She’ll help you sort this out. I love you Katie, I do.” The tears were coming. Again. I’d cried a lot lately missing Adam so much, wishing just once that he’d pick me over baseball. “It’s just been so long since I’ve seen him, and I only have thirty-six hours before he flies out again.” I choked out the last words, grabbed my purse, and left without looking back.
Columbia is a small city, but the rush hour traffic near the airport was horrendous. I checked my cell phone to see if Adam’s plane had landed. A jolt of electricity zipped through me when I saw his text. Just touched down. Big news. The frustrations that had bordered on doubts about us were gone, or at least pushed aside. It would just be the two of us all weekend.
My phone buzzed. I knew what was coming and almost didn’t pick up. “So you left, just like that, without saying goodbye?” Antwan asked in his pissiest voice, and believe me that was saying something.
“I work with you every day, it’s the weekend. It’s not like I’m going away for good.”
Antwan owned the Vista salon where I worked; he was my rock , my confidante, and as my best friend he was determined to hold my feet to the fire about Adam.
“Whatever. Just know this, baby girl, if you don’t tell him–.”
“I’ll tell Adam.” At least I thought I’d tell him that it was time to put up or shut up. The only problem with that was the moment he looked at me with those piercing blue eyes, the moment laid his hands on me, I forgot everything–my myself, my name, how lonely I’d been for him. Everything, including the ultimatum I should have given him years ago.
“Rainey Brown, this long distance shit is getting to you and has been for a long time. I’m tired of seeing you all mopey and sad. If he loved you as much as you think he does, he’d see what this relationship is doing to you and man up.”
“Adam does love me.”
“Okay, so who doesn’t? You’re gorgeous, you’re funny, you’re perfect. I’m just saying–.”
“I’m at the air port, Antwan, I’ve got to go.”
“Just do it.”
“I will.” And then there he was, all six feet three inches of him. Gorgeous. Blond. He watched my car ease up to the curb with that crooked grin that gets me into bed every single time. How do you give that face an ultimatum? How do you give him anything except exactly what he wants?
I shoved the car in park and jumped out, giddy like a sixteen year old and twice as horny. He picked me up, crushing me into him with a long hungry kiss. “God, I’ve missed you, Adam.” I caught my breath and then kissed him again like I was starved for him.
He came up for air, smiled. “I missed you too. Let’s get out of here and get you naked. I’ll drive.”
Control. Antwan had preached the importance of keeping my senses about me so that my brain didn’t fog up with mind blowing sex and I could say what I needed to be said. “I’ll drive.”
He looked surprised, shrugged and got in on the passenger side of my piece of shit Honda civic. “I can drive from here,” he said with a wicked grin.
The traffic was still stop and go. My apartment was fifteen minutes from everything in Columbia, including the airport, but this was going to take a while. He leaned in close and breathed me in, kissing a line along my jaw to my ear. “I am going to eat you up,” he whispered.
I’d always hated those people who cheat to get off the interstate exit, the ones who go along the shoulder and bypass the line. But we weren’t moving and I wanted to be eaten up in the best possible way. Just as I started to pull onto the shoulder, a big pickup sat on his horn because he had the idea first. A few cars back, a policeman, turned on his light, so I stayed in line, grateful the truck was getting pulled instead of me.
“So what’s the big news?” I think I said the last word, I ‘m not sure because his hand was sliding up my thigh at a slightly faster pace than the traffic was crawling.
“Later,” he said.
There was something about the way he said the word. It wasn’t later, as in I’m too busy pushing your panties aside, later. It was more like later, as in, I want to get laid and don’t want to kill the moment. I shoved his hand away. Adam sighed, sat back in his seat like a normal passenger, and stretched his long gorgeous frame. “What’s going on, Adam?”
“I won’t be playing ball anymore.” He sounded glad, almost excited, and not at all like I thought he would be when he hung up his cleats.
“Oh. My. God. Adam. You’re good with this? You seem like you are.” Because I was ecstatic. “Wow, I can’t believe you’re done with baseball.” I leaned over the console and kissed him. God, I loved this man.
“I’m not done with baseball.” He had the gall to smile against my lips. “I got a job coaching in the Pioneer League in Missoula. Montana.”
“Montana?” I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.
Just last season, the front office of the Blowfish minor league team here in Columbia had offered Adam a job as an assistant coach. Adam turned them down, said his shoulder was good and he was going to play baseball a few more years, maybe forever. Now all of a sudden, he’s going to coach in a lesser league two thousand miles away?
“Yeah, babe, I rented a house. Montana’s gorgeous, you’re going to love it, and when you come visit–.”
I was not having this talk in a car. I gave him a look to make sure he kept his gifted hands to himself and yanked the car onto the shoulder. Cops be damned.
A few minutes later I pulled into the driveway of my tiny little house and sat there collecting my thoughts. Adam got out like he always did, grabbed his bag, and opened the door with his key. Buster, our black lab bounded to greet him. In the throes of their love fest, neither of them realized I was still in the car. I killed the engine, opened the door and steadied myself for the moment of reckoning.
“He’s gained weight.” Adam laughed as Buster snaked in and out of his legs. Normally I would like to have done the same thing, but not now. “You have to keep his weight down, Rainey, or he’ll have problems when he’s older.”
I was never a drama queen, that’s Antwan’s thing, but I slammed the door to get Adam’s attention. But I don’t know why I was surprised things had gone the way they had, this was what Adam and I did. We had lots of sex or we talked about having sex, and we talked about Buster. We never talked about us, and then he would leave me wondering how I could live without him until the next visit. Well, not this time.
“Buster’s fine, Adam, but we’ve got problems”
“Come on, Rainey.” He looked at me, trying to make me smile. “Don’t do this. I don’t’ have much time.” He brushed his knuckles over my cheek. “Come here.” He reached for me, but I pulled away and sat down on the couch, which he thought was an invitation. He sat down next to me and pulled me onto his lap. His breath was on my neck, his lips by my ear. “I need this.” He was talking, unbuttoning my shirt slowly making me weaker by the second. “You need–this.”
I needed. I needed Adam. I needed Adam to commit. I needed a relationship that didn’t include of sporadic visits over four years. Phone sex just wasn’t doing it for me anymore, no wonder I was always distracted by the real thing.
And what in the hell did Montana mean? Did it mean more of the same? Ever since I’d known Adam, he’d always had roommates or couch surfed, but now he had rented a house by himself? It sounded like he was putting down roots. And lucky me, I could visit.
“Stop.” I pushed off of him and wiped his kisses away. “You took this job without even talking to me. You rented a house, which you never do.”
“I wanted to surprise you, babe.”
Consider me surprised. Floored. “I love you, Adam. I do. I understood when your playing baseball kept us apart. I wanted you to chase your dreams.” Even though I’d been to at least a dozen of those stupid baseball weddings complete with the bride and groom walking under an arch of baseball bats. Some of those marriages made it, most of them didn’t, but at least they tried. “If you want to coach now, I’m all for it. Montana? I’m not so sure about. But you’re still thinking of me as a visitor?”
Adam threaded his fingers in mine. “You’re not a visitor, Rainey. You’re my home team.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means I love everything about you, about us. I love the way we are.”
“But I miss you. All the time. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t breathe because I need to have you with me. Why can’t I come with you?” Why can’t you marry me?
“You have your work here, and my job is crazy, I’m all over the place. You’re my home base, baby.”
“I need to know where this is headed.”
“Well, I’m not ready to get married, if that’s what you mean. I want more stability in my career before I make that move.”
“Stability. In baseball? You’re kidding.”
“Rainey, don’t do this. Not now. We’ll talk about it when you come out to Montana. But right now, I’m dying for you.”
I’m sure if I’d gotten laid recently, I would have kicked Adam Harper to the curb, but three months is forever. He started kissing me, rounding first base, as one deftly talented hand slid slowly up my rib cage to Second base, the other pushing my panties down. He barely touched third base and I was gone. So gone. A whimpering, needy sports cliché.