About Into the Fire
Katherine's daughter, Josephine, and Billy's son, TJ, spark their own romance, challenged by racism and distance. Will their love survive?
Can we ever truly leave our past behind?
Excerpt: Chapter 6 - Best Friends
The pound of Bonanza’s strides were deafening, yet she could hear one more set of hoofs closing in on them. Another hundred yards sat the end of the clearing and her new record! The moment the trail straightened out across the field, Josephine let the reins slide through her fingers and leaned over her mount, lengthening the gelding’s strides. Suddenly she felt a tug on her ponytail just as she entered the stand of aspen.
Josephine sat back and drew up her reins. “I think I made it!”
“Not even close, Walker, maybe next time,” said TJ, circling her like a war party around a captured covered wagon.
“Stop, you’re making me dizzy! And, I did so make it and look you pulled my ponytail out,” Josephine whined, flipping her hair over her shoulder as she turned to face the Blackfeet teenager. “Theodore James Black Feather! Where’s my hair band?”
“You’re not my mother, you know.” TJ pulled Cisco up next to her holding the band out in a teasing fashion. “I like your hair down.”
“Well, I like it up when I’m riding. Besides, I’ll need to put it up when we go swimming later,” she said, holding out her hand.
Flashing his father’s smile, he dropped the hair band onto her palm.
Then she noticed! “Your hair, you cut it!”
“Yeah, I think it makes me look older, more sophisticated, don’t you?” he said in a low masculine voice, turning his head to give her a better view.
“No, I liked your hair long. It’s always been long.” As the pair began walking side by side along the lake trail, Bonanza and Cisco breathing heavily in unison, Katherine snuck peeks at TJ. The geeky and goofy neighbor boy she had played tag and hide-n-seek with since they were toddlers, did look different, more like a young man than an awkward teen. Even though he was three months her senior, he had always looked younger than she did... until now. Was it the shorter hair? For a moment she might have even felt attracted to him. Josephine shook her head, cracking a lop-sided smile to herself -enough silly thoughts.
“What did you bring us?” she asked, sliding her hair band over her wrist. For as long as they had gone on morning trail rides together, they took turns bringing breakfast.
TJ flipped a drawstring bag braided into Cisco’s mane over the gelding’s neck. “Ham biscuits, and they’re still warm, but they won’t be for long.” TJ cued Cisco into a trot leading the way down the trail toward the hunting cabin.
When they reached the log cabin built on stilts not far from shore, they slid from their mounts and tied them to the hitching post out front.
“Give me the sack and I’ll set things up inside while you get us some water,” Josephine instructed.
TJ gave her a smirk, but didn’t hesitate, grabbing the bucket off the front porch and heading to the handpump out back. She had always had the upper hand in their friendship. TJ had never been shy about showing his feelings toward her. As far back as she could remember he’d had a crush on her; kissing her as a toddler, long uncomfortable stares in puberty, and now looking for any excuse to touch her or be close to her, which had become a problem at school.
She didn’t like the strange looks and rude comments made by her friends anytime he stopped to talk to her in the hall. “Why do you even bother with him?” they would say. Sometimes she pretended not to see him or would turn away and begin a conversation with someone else before he could reach her. She felt bad afterward, but TJ seemed to understand and never brought it up. She was glad she wouldn’t have to choose between TJ and her friends at school any longer.
Next week she would be leaving for California! In no time at all she would meet some surfers like the Beach Boys or perhaps an older pre-law or pre-med student who struck her fancy. Josephine was well aware of her beauty, having had her pick of boys through high school, and figured the possibilities would be endless at college.
Josephine pulled plates and glasses from the cabinet and tore a few paper towels off the roll that hung from a wire hanger above the water basin, setting the table for two.
TJ soon joined her, filled their glasses and sat down across from her. Before she could take a bite of her biscuit he leaned across the table and gently brushed a few loose hairs from her face. Josephine’s tummy flipped like a pancake. What was that? Was she going to be ill? She pushed his hand away – sending her full glass of water flying.
“Geeze, Jo, I was only trying to keep your hair out of your food.”
“Look at this mess, would you!” Josephine got up, took her plate to the basin in an effort to salvage her meal and grabbed the whole roll of paper towels. After wiping down her seat she got down on her hands and knees to dry the floor and wall. As she wiped up the corner, something brushed her hand. Stuck between the rough-cut baseboard and log wall was a Polaroid photograph. She pulled it out, got up off the floor and brushed the dust from it. She couldn’t believe her eyes! “What is this?!”
Quick as a bear protecting its cub, TJ rushed to her side. Unlike the time he had pulled a sliver from her finger when they were kids, or when he helped her walk from the bus stop after she sprained her ankle just last year, there wasn’t anything he could do but stare at the photo alongside of her.
Excerpt: Chapter 8 - Santa Rosa
When you know who you are;
when your mission is clear and you burn with the inner fire of unbreakable will;
no cold can touch your heart; no deluge can dampen your purpose.
You know that you are alive....
~ Chief Seattle
AVAILABLE NOW ON AMAZON
On their way to warm-up, horses of every size, color and breed passed them, many of which had already completed their cross-country course. A big chestnut gelding, resembling Cody, his old buddy back home, captured Major’s attention and Katherine had difficulty keeping her mount on track toward the warm-up area. The pair kept to the outskirts, trotting and cantering just enough to warm him up but not tire him out, as they waited their turn at the hand-full of warm-up jumps. Out of a division of twenty-five entrants, Katherine and Major had drawn the last ride.
Katherine’s stomach tightened into a knot when their names were called by the announcer. As they stood on deck, approximately two miles of three-foot plus high and wide obstacles, as well as substantial banks and ditches winding up and down hills and through water, lay before them. The time had come to test the pair’s years of training and conditioning.
Not only did they need to navigate the grueling course cleanly to maintain or move up from fifth position, it needed to be completed within the optimum time or they would receive a time penalty that could push them out of the ribbons. Katherine gazed up at the clear blue skies. Thankfully, it was a clear morning and the course would be dry and fast.
As they waited their turn, Katherine managed to calm herself the way Betsy had taught her, breathing in and out slowly as she spoke to Major in a soothing voice, more for her benefit than for his. The off-the-track Thoroughbred seemed to be taking everything in stride.
“Next up, number thirty-one, Katherine Walker, onboard Major Command,” called the announcer.
“Okay boy, here we go.” Major calmly walked into the start box. Again, her heart began pounding, her chest feeling as if it might burst through her safety vest. She fastened the chinstrap of her helmet and gripped her reins as the announcer counted down to her start. Ten, nine, eight…finger on her stop watch… five, four, three… swallowed hard… The whistle sounded! Off they galloped down the lane toward their first fence. Suddenly, her nervousness disappeared, concentrating only on Major and the challenges ahead.
“We’ve got this, boy!” she said to the big gelding. The wind in her face with Major’s ears flicking back and forth between the terrain ahead and her cues, prompted a vision of her onboard Lady years ago. Suddenly, the first jump lay before them. Major’s ears pricked forward as he locked onto the fence, followed by the exhilaration of feeling his surge underneath her as they sailed over the obstacle. Again, his head bobbed in unison with the rhythmic sound of his long galloping strides as they approached the next jump.
Following a few relatively straightforward obstacles, more difficult questions tested their discipline and balance. They flew over large tables, though a keyhole and spanned ditches. Next came the challenging sequence through the water with its steep bank down and tight turn between the two narrow log jumps in a couple feet of water.
She could feel Major suck back and tense up. “It’s good, boy, we’re good. Nice and easy.” Into the murky water they went, churned up by dozens of horses that went before them. Major had no idea how deep it was or what lay beneath it, only his trust in Katherine carried him forward.
As soon as they cleared the first log and Major’s head shot up questioning the second, the wet reins slipped through her fingers. Major turned wide and by the time she gathered them back up, they were off-line and off-stride, coming into the second jump of the combination too tight, but it was too late to pull up! Somehow the big athletic gelding rounded over the log but brushed the top and landed off balance nearly losing his footing. No sooner than they recovered, they were lunging up the bank to another jump. Once they returned to flat ground, Katherine scrutinized her mount’s movement. Feeling assured by Major’s square and balanced strides, she pressed on, but valuable seconds were lost.
The next obstacle which appeared to be a straight-forward jump the afternoon before, glared ahead of them. The huge log appeared lit up from within, sunlight glistening off its polished finish. It was Steven’s engraved log! Major hesitated, breaking stride and veering to the left. Typical of most off-the-track Thoroughbreds, tracking left was their comfort zone. For that reason, Katherine always carried a crop in her left hand. Quickly, she showed him the tip of the bright blue crop and that’s all it took to straighten him out. “Com’on boy, get-up!” Katherine yelled, backing up her orders with her leg and seat. The pair sailed over the frightening obstacle, over jumping it and clearing it by what felt like nearly two feet. More seconds lost.
As they neared the end of the course, a familiar voice rang out above the crowd. “Go, Katherine!” It was Billy! There was no time to search him out, the crowd a blur as they galloped by, nearing the finish. Was Major tiring? No, he felt good, a little winded, but good. Katherine checked her watch. She knew she needed to make up time and the long stretch between them and the last jump and again to the finish would determine whether they placed or not.
Allowing the reins to slip through her fingers a measured amount, feeling she still maintained some degree of a handle on him, she leaned forward and felt Major respond with lengthened strides and a burst of speed. “Com’on boy, we’re almost there!” The next challenge would be gathering him up in time before the last jump, which was a good size table. She had rehearsed this very maneuver many times at home and at Jessie’s, letting him go and pulling him back up, but would he respond now?