Roots Never Die

Excerpt - Chapter 1: Fifty

SAMANTHA PARKER LAID wide awake. A light shower played a soothing symphony on the metal roof of the cabin perched on the western slope of the Continental Divide. The warmth of her lover lying beside her warded off the damp, cool night air. With one arm and leg draped over his masculine frame and her head resting on his chest, she could hear his heartbeat as his chest gently rose and fell to his shallow breathing as he slept.

     It still felt like a dream, to be there… with him again, after so many years.

     A branch began drumming against the metal roof as the wind and rain intensified. She was glad the horses were safely housed for the night. For an instant, a flash of lightning penetrated their safe haven revealing his aged yet still handsome face. A collection of age lines stood testament to his daily exposure to the sun and dust. The heavy rain beating against the window jostled the memory of how she had come full circle. Samantha smiled to herself as she clearly recalled the day her presumptuously successful and fulfilling life was disrupted by the candid observation of a total stranger.

     That day would forever change her life.

Excerpt - Chapter Three: The Cowboy

CONNER WHELAN, STILL wearing his dingy cowboy hat, well-worn chaps and dusty boots from a long day of ranch work, sashayed up to the counter. “Hi Patti. My book come in?”

     Patti Smith, owner of the Once Upon a Time bookstore, smiled coyly as she produced the book from under the counter. “Yesterday.”

     Connor shook his head. Was she going to ask him out yet again? “What do I owe you?”

     Patti leaned over the counter, purposely showing more of her cleavage, as she batted her heavily mascaraed eyelashes at him through sparkling pink eyeglass frames. “Why do you buy these books? You planning on hanging up your spurs and going into sales?”

     He just smiled. She knew buying these books had nothing to do with sales. Patti was easy on the eyes for her age, maybe five years older than him, with long obviously died bleach blond hair and a nice figure. But all that make-up and sparkly outfits didn’t fit his idea of a real woman.

     “That’ll be $16.29,” she said.

     As he pulled a twenty from his money roll, held together by a rubber band, Patti glanced at the photo of the author on the back cover. “She never seems to age. I need to know what face cream she’s using!”

     “Ha, me too,” chuckled Connor.

     Patti’s smile broadened as she shook her head.  “You’re a mystery, Connor Whelan.”  How long have you been coming to my store? Nearly twenty years - never buying anything but her books.”

     “What? You think I’d enjoy one of those Westerns written by some drug-store cowboy?” he said, pointing to a few she had on display.

     “No, I suppose not.” Patti slipped the book into a paper bag. “You know, you should write a book. Tell it like it really is out there.”

     Connor nodded. “Who knows, maybe I will.”

     “Ha! Sure, you will.” Patti snickered. She leaned over the counter again, enveloping him in her cheap perfume as she held the book just out of his reach. “You ever going to tell me the story behind those books… that woman?” she hissed.

     “Maybe I’ll write about it in my book. Don’t want a spoiler now do you?”

     Patti cackled like an old hen that had just laid an egg as she handed him the bag. “You take care now, Connor Whelan. One of these days you’ll ask me out. You’ve dated just about every other skirt west of the divide.”

     “See ya around, Patti.”



Excerpt - Chapter 8: First Visit

Cooley followed her hand in the direction of her car and nodded. “Job pays a hundred a week plus room and board, and no guarantees it’ll go past summer.”

     “That works for me.”

      “Well, we haven’t gotten any other qualified applicants and we have a busy week coming up.” Cooley glanced up and down her. “A girl,” he whispered more to himself. “Okay then, when can you start?”

     “Now!” she said, enthusiastically, smiling ear to ear.

     “Great. Why don’t you pull around back and I’ll show you where to park and you can get settled in before I take you on a tour.” Cooley started for the door he entered from as she headed toward the front door. “Wait a darn minute!”

     Samantha stopped and turned so fast she nearly lost her balance, her heart beating like a scared rabbit. She held her breath.

     Cooley approached her. “Hmm. Hadn’t planned on hiring a girl… you’re a first. We have only one bunkhouse for the guys.”

     “I have a sleeping bag. I can sleep in the barn.”

     “You really want this job, don’t you?”

     “More than you could ever know. Please.”

Cooley worked his stubbled chin between his callused fingers. “There is a bathroom with a shower in the barn, and a microwave, refrigerator and couch that pulls out into a bed in the office. Guess we could make it work, but you’ll have to get up and out of the office by daybreak every morning.”

     “No problem.” Samantha gave the dusty cowboy a hung. “Thank you!”

     Cooley gave Samantha a tour starting with the main guest house. It consisted of a large two-story structure with a balcony and patio below stretching the length of the building which offered a stunning view of the Continental Divide. She learned it contained a commercial kitchen, mess hall and fifteen suites complete with a fireplace. On the way to the barn, Cooley pointed out the bunkhouse.

     “Where is everyone?” she asked, noticing no one in sight.

     “Hands are working, and our guests are out on excursions. You’ll get to meet the staff at super tonight… everyone’s due back today.”

     “For now, let me introduce you to some of the horses,” he said, leading her into an old gambrel roofed barn, with a hay loft above and three one-story extensions; one out the back and one added on each side. “Most of the horses are turned out or working, but you’ll get to know them all soon enough,” continued Cooley.

     Samantha glanced down the long rows of roomy tie stalls. Samantha was glad to see only a few box stalls that housed the owner’s private mounts. The tie stalls would be a breeze to clean. “How many horses are there?”
     “We have a few broad mares that are out to pasture all summer and twenty head of working horses. This is a fully functioning cattle ranch as much as it is a dude ranch, so our horses fill both roles.”  

     Cooley explained the horses are turned out during the day and brought in at night since bear and mountain lions visit the ranch occasionally. The tour ended at the office and tack room where she would be sleeping. He showed her a locker where she could keep some of the stuff and moved the essentials in from her car. Then Cooley promptly gave her lesson on operating the utility tractor and trailer and put her to work mucking stalls.

     “Supper will be around seven depending on when all the parties get in the horses tended to. You’ll eat with the fellas in the bunkhouse tonight,” he called back to her as he exited the barn.

     Samantha looked forward to meeting the crew she would be working alongside all summer. If they were as cool as Cooley, they’d be alright.

    Around five, Cooley found her finishing up the stalls. “Stalls look good. That your last load?”

    “Yes, sir. I mean Cooley.”

     Cooley chucked. “Well, if you’re going to get a shower before dinner, now’s the time. I brought a “do not disturb” sign from the guest house for you to hang on the bathroom door, just in case. I’ll be bringing the horses in. Come find me when you’re done.”

     “Thanks, will do!” As Samantha rushed to dump her last load and park the tractor, she suddenly became anxious. What if the guys don’t like her, or don’t approve of having a girl around? Or worse yet, what if they act rude or inappropriate? Good grief! What had she gotten herself into?


Excerpt - Chapter 9: White River

Work in Progress - Due out 2023

       The small assisted-living room held the few belongings her Uncle Joe had chosen to surround himself with during his final years…and perhaps now, his final days.  As she waited for him to return from lunch, she studied the old photographs carefully hung and placed around the room.  They were a visual testament to the viability of the ‘American Dream’ in the early 20th Century.

     One stood out in particularly. On his dresser was a yellowed print taken from his mother’s passport issued in Hamrun, Malta on September 26, 1925. His mother, the grandmother Samantha never knew,  stood proud with her hand resting on the shoulder of her five-year-old son, Joseph, prior to their treacherous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean together.  From what her father had told her, how could her grandmother know then how much responsibility would eventually fall upon her son’s slender shoulders in the years to come?

     Hanging on the wall next to his bed was a photograph of Andrew, in his early twenties she guessed, with his six younger siblings as teenagers standing out front of an old two-story row-houses rental in the then Maltese section of Detroit. Cork Town. Samantha was shocked to see her uncle with a full head of curly hair, resembling a young Frank Sinatra.  As far back as she could remember he was nearly bald. His premature baldness was no doubt the result of being thrust into the role as head of the household at the age of nineteen. Little did she know then about his near-death experience in World War II. On his dressor sat a model tank beside a purple heart encased in a blue velvet box. Samantha picked up the box to examine it closer.

     “Battle of the Bulge,” said Claire. 

     “Right…” Samantha vaguely recalled bits and pieces of a story she’d heard numerous versions of the years at funerals and weddings that he fought in World War II, but she vividly recall the day she had accidentally entered his room while visiting her aunt and uncle’s summer lake-house as a child.  She found him struggling to pull his pants on over a scared and disfigured leg and hip; the image permanently etched in her memory. He had always walked with a limp, but Samantha had never given it much thought.

       From the dresser, her attention was drawn to a shelving unit sitting opposite a well-worn corduroy chair, where a television would normally sit. The shelves held a special collection of objects that had earned their place amongst the treasures of his life. Samantha could imagine him sitting there for hours on end reflecting upon them, reminders of a life well lived, but she imagined not a life without its share of pain and suffering. She studied the mementos one by one, trying to piece together the man she had known only from snapshots in time, at annual Christmas parties as a girl and later at weddings, family reunions and funerals. Suddenly, she felt compelled to know the story behind each and every one of them.