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Review Drive for Mine to Break

In case you didn’t notice, print editions of The Connaghers are going live!  Dear Sir, I’m Yours and Hurt Me So Good are already up and available, and the rest will be coming this week.

Mine to Break (released last July) only has 7 reviews, so I’m trying something a little different. I’m calling it a “review drive.” I set up a Google doc for you to drop links of your reviews.  On April 5th, I’ll random draw 5 names to win the winner’s choice of any signed print book from my backlist. This includes the Connagher books coming this week, the Shanhasson trilogy, or Their Vampire Queen.

If this is a success, I’ll consider doing it for other books in my backlist as well.

To make it easy for you to participate even if you’re not on my ARC list, Mine to Break is FREE this week!  Download your free copy – and your review will count as a verified purchase.

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Never Let You Down Giveaway

NeverLetYouDown120To celebrate Virginia’s book, I’m offering winner’s choice:

  • Signed print copies of all four Connagher books to date, mailed anywhere on the planet.
  • OR digital copies of all four books, any format, and a $35 gift certificate to any online book retailer.

You have two opportunities to win!  Enter via Rafflecopter below, or join my newsletter for a second prize package (same details) to be drawn from the list of subscribers on Jan 16th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Never Let You Down Cover

Mama, aka Virginia Connagher, coming January 6 from Samhain Publishing!

NeverLetYouDown72lgA breath of a second chance can bring a slow-burning flame roaring back to life.

The Connaghers, Book 4

Virginia, Matriarch of the Texas Connaghers, has been alone twelve years since the great love of her life passed away. Tyrell loved her sadist’s heavy hand and the hard inner core she’s dared not show anyone since.

She lives in the past, clinging to all those memories except one. The one she’s determinedly blocked out of her heart and mind for nearly forty years. The one time she was almost unfaithful to her then-fiancé with her best friend, Jebadiah Garrett.

That was a long time ago. They both married and moved on. She has three adult children settling down with their own families. Besides, it was just a kiss. One kiss.

One unforgettable kiss that brought Jebadiah to his knees at her feet.

Now he’s back in town and determined to finally, once and for all, tell her how much he’s loved her all these years. Or, even better, show her by going to his knees once more. If she’ll only give him the chance.

Product Warnings

Friends to lovers, older characters with a second chance at love, and a hard-as-nails matriarch who finally succumbs to a forty-year-old unrequited love.

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Mama Connagher: The End

I’ve written EVERY DAY this month… even if it was only 100-200 words.  And tonight, finally, I finished the last extra scene I wanted to add and then tied it into the ending scene of the book.

Mama C’s complete at 58,578 words.

All I have left to do now is place the last few extra scenes I wrote into the correct order, and then do another read through to make sure I’m happy with everything.  Hopefully I’ll have time tomorrow over my lunch…and praying I won’t have to work late again.  I had to babysit a job this weekend so maybe I can escape a little early tomorrow so I can finish the read through.

YAY!!!!  I’m so happy!!!

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Mama Connagher Day 12

I’ve written every day this month so far, though the last few days have been smaller, around 500 each day.  However, work is super super hectic right now (plus it was Middle’s birthday this weekend so not a lot of writing time).  I’ve got a major Evil Day Job deadline I’m dealing with.  The kind of impossible deadline that’s making me cranky and wish super hard for a winning lottery ticket if you know what I mean.  So no writing over lunch this week and probably longer hours.

However, I finished one of the story-within-the-story scenes and have a good start on the next.  Then I just have one resolution/fun scene that shouldn’t be as hard to write.  I had to figure out the plot for this story, even though it’s not a “complete” story, at least enough that makes sense, so the word count has been a little meager, even though the progress overall was good.

I’ve done one read through of the first draft and it’s pretty darned solid.  I have just a few things I want to layer a bit and then I need to define the chapters and drop in the flashbacks and story-within-the-story scenes.  The timing/placement is tricky but hopefully I can wrap that up this week even though I’ll be putting in longer hours than usual for the Evil Day Job.

So… beta readers!  If you’re interested in taking a look in the next week or so, drop me a note (joelysueburkhart AT gmail DOT com).  I’ll do a second pass this week, give it a few days while I write the synopsis, and then I’ll do a final pass with your feedback.  I’d like to have Virginia off to visit with my editor by next Monday if at all possible.

The end is in sight!

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Mama Connagher Day 8

The bad news:  I was going to post this last night, but I wasn’t feeling the best and I was too busy today.

Today (yesterday) was a take care of the wrists day.  My hands kept hurting throughout the morning, so I put on my wrists splints and worked in them all day.  They helped tremendously, though it did make me slower than usual.  I also feel a weird thing going on with my stomach tonight.

I didn’t want any coffee tonight.  I know, right?  I might be dying! [I’m still off my coffee, sob!]

The good news:  I finished the main draft!  I just have 2 more story-within-the-story scenes to figure out.  Then I’ll need to drag a few scenes around in Scrivener, compile, and see what kind of mess I made.

1947 words.  Mama’s overall word count is sitting at  52,088.  By the time I add a little more on the other thread, that should be around 55K, about what I was thinking.

Snippet:  this is a shorter excerpt – I’ve got to keep *some* secrets, laugh!  It’s a flashback scene with Jeb and Virginia and such a heartbreaker – though you don’t get it all here.  Poor Jeb!

“I still remember the first time I saw you.”  He didn’t sit down, but kept hold of her arm, standing in the shadow of the wall.  “I was in the first grade and you’d just started kindergarten.  We were outside at recess the first day of school and Bobby Wagner tried to cut in front of you in the line for the tallest slide.  I was surprised you got in that line.  Most of the little kids were too scared of it because it was twice as tall as the others, but that’s the first thing you headed for.  When you pushed him back, he knocked you down.  I ran toward you but before I could help, you stood up and smacked him in the mouth.  You said, ‘You got my dress dirty.  I hate this ugly thing but it’s Mama’s favorite.  If this stain doesn’t come out, I’m going to smack you again.’  And even though Bobby was three years older than you and could have beat the crap out of me, he hightailed it out of there lickity split.”

“Mrs. Baker came over to ask what had happened.  Why Bobby’s mouth was bloody.  And you said you’d hit him because he pushed me.  Why’d you lie for me?”

“You burst into tears.  I thought it was because you were afraid of getting in trouble, so I took the blame.  Later you told me it was because you were afraid Miss Belle would think you got the dress dirty on purpose because you hated it so much.”

Virginia laughed.  “Yeah, I hated to wear dresses.  She finally gave up and let me wear whatever I wanted after that.”

“We’ve been best friends ever since.”

Her smile slipped.  She still had her arm tucked in his and it felt so natural to drop her head against his shoulder and just look up at the sky.  The city lights muted most of the stars, but she could barely make out Orion’s Belt.  “Yeah.”

“You used to tell me everything.  If you were in trouble, you came to me.  If you needed help with homework, we did it together.  When Miss Belle upset you, you called me.  If you needed a ride, an ear to listen, anything.  Yet you’re suddenly engaged and I had no idea until my sister told me in passing.”

She turned and pressed her face against his arm.  “I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“You didn’t even tell me you were dating anyone.”

He said it softly, his voice echoing with regret and pain, not recrimination, but she still winced.  “We didn’t date, exactly.  One minute I was smacking him and the next we’re engaged.”

“Yeah,” he blew out a deep breath.  “Knowing you, I can see how that would happen.”  His voice became wistful and younger, like a kid asking for a bedtime story.  “I can see you love him.  I just didn’t expect it to happen.  Not like that. I thought…”  He sighed again and leaned back against the wall.  The movement drew her with him, shifting so she almost faced him.  “What about me, Ginny?”

She pulled back to look into his face.  Illuminated by the streetlight, he gave her a stricken look as if she’d just kicked a dog for no good reason.  “What about you?”

He raked his hand through his hair, tumbling it down over his forehead and roughing it up as if he’d been out on a bender all night.  “Yeah.  What about me.  I guess that says it all.”

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Mama Connagher Day 7

Tonight was harder, although the word count (3,776) looks good.  I wrapped up the last major plot point and moved into the final major sex scene.  Yeah, you know how that goes.  Plus it’s a punishment scene.  I have to get it all right.  It’s vulnerable and painful and raw in many ways, so it’s rough going.  But I refused to go to bed until I broke the 50K mark.

So I’ll finish this major scene.  Then I’ll have the closing image that mirrors the opening scene, probably a couple of hundred words.  I already know what it should be.  Then 2-3 at most story-within-the story scenes and this puppy is DONE.  Those last few story-within-the-story scenes will be a little tricky though.  I have THIS plot solid in my head, but I don’t really have the other one figured out.  It doesn’t really matter, exactly.  It’s the reflection of character that’s important, not the plot itself.  But I do need to spend a little time figuring out what makes the most sense.

Then I need to go back and add some detail that came out tonight that will make those other scenes even better.

Less than 10K for sure.  Probably more like 5K or so.  The end is definitely in sight.  It’s a good thing, too because my wrists were really giving me fits today.  I had to type quite a bit for work, so I’m starting to get tingles tonight.  Not good. I’ll have to do more stretches tomorrow and try to take it a little easier.

Hmm, what to give you for a snippet tonight?  In looking back, I guess I’ve made a pretty critical error.  You’ve not met the hero yet.  Poor Jeb.  It’s all Tyrell, Ty, boo-hoo all the time, even though he died 12 years ago.  There are things that Jeb has endured that will hopefully make you want to blubber like a baby.  He’s one of the most tender, protective men I think I’ve ever written, modeled after the great and totally sexy older Tom Selleck.  Le sigh.

Snippet:  His introduction.

Driving out to the old Connagher place took Jeb back forty years.  Once upon a time, he’d been Virginia Healy’s best friend and accomplice in all her scrapes.  When she needed someone to help her with something risky and no doubt stupid, she’d known exactly who to call.  Most everybody had expected them to get married.  Including him.  But he’d been dead wrong.

He’d managed to keep the friendship, though.  He’d even asked Tyrell Connagher to stand up for him at his own wedding years later.  Jeb and Sharon had moved to California and that should have been the end of his unrequited love affair with his best friend.  They were both married.  Happily.  At least, he tried to be happy.  Sharon wasn’t Virginia, but she was a good woman.  He cared deeply for her and he put all his effort and will into building a life with her far from Texas.

More than a decade passed before Jeb ever heard from Virginia again, when she’d called to tell him her husband had died.  Of course he’d dropped everything right away to comfort his grieving friend.  Something for which his now ex-wife had never forgiven him.

Jeb slowed his truck to a crawl.  He hadn’t seen Virginia since Ty’s funeral.  He hadn’t even called to check on her all these years.  He couldn’t because he’d been too busy trying to save his own marriage in California.  But it’d been too late.  It’d always been too late.  It’d only been his own stubbornness that made him try so hard to stay and do the right thing by his wife.

Now here he was nearly sixty years old and starting out all over again.  No wife.  No family.  A rented condo.  No job.

Well that wasn’t exactly true.  He’d owned his own veterinarian practice for years and had finally sold it in the divorce proceedings.  Now he had time to do all the things he’d put off because of work or his marriage, and the only thing he could think about was an old flame who didn’t even know she’d burned in his memory all these years.

As he neared the house, he saw her sitting on the porch in a rocking chair.  Virginia Healy Connagher, the legend herself.  The years had been kind to her.  She looked as good as she had twenty years ago and more.  Her dark, wavy hair was pulled back at her ears to fall loose and soft at her shoulders, emphasizing her high, angular cheekbones and the dark fire of her eyes.  Sure, there was a little gray sprinkled into that hair and some creases around her eyes and mouth as she smiled a pleased welcome, but she looked damned good.

He parked, but before he got out, he reached over and popped open the dash.  The small ring box was still there.  In some fashion or another, he’d carried it with him for nigh on forty years.

Calling himself a sentimental fool, he slid out of the truck and walked up toward the porch, smiling back but not saying anything.  Not yet.  What could he say?  What would she want to hear?  He planted a boot on the bottom step but just leaned against the railing, sucking in her presence.  Even injured and fresh out of a hospital bed, she made the air sharper, the colors brighter.  She was too alive herself to let anything stagnate around her.

She started to get up, struggling with the sling.  “Jebadiah Garrett, you old dog.  What brings you out here?”

He strode up the last few steps and took her hand, hopefully discouraging her from trying to stand.  “You.”

She snorted.  “You heard about a car accident all the way out in California?”

“I’m not in California any longer.”

She tipped her head back, squinting against the sun to try and read his face.  He kept that cheesy grin in place, too happy to see her to worry about looking like an idiot.  “Well, why don’t you sit down and tell me about it so I don’t break my fool neck trying to look at you.”

She was still letting him hold her hand, so he sat down right where he was on the top step.  “I sold the practice a year ago and moved back here last month.”

Her eyes narrowed.  “You did?  And you never bothered to stop by and let me know you were back in town?”

He reached up and took his hat off, giving him something to do with his free hand.  “I had some things to work out first.”

“Typical man.  Act first without taking time to socialize.  That’s a mighty fine hat, by the way.  Is it a Serratelli?”

“Sure is.”  He passed it up to her, although that meant she let go of his hand so she could turn the black fur felt hat around and examine it from all angles.  He was ridiculously proud of that hat.  It was the first thing he’d bought that was solely and wholly his.  The sterling silver band had cost a mint, too.  Back when he’d been married, Sharon would have had a fit that he’d spent over a thousand dollars on a hat.  Let alone where the money had come from.

“It’s almost too pretty to wear.  You said I’m not in California.  Not we.”

He looked out across the front yard, not really seeing the parallel lines of trees along the driveway or the white-railed fenced pastures of horses.  “No, ma’am.  Sharon and I divorced almost a year ago.”

“Oh, Jeb, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.  It’d been over for a long time but we kept going through the motions.  It was time for both of us to move on.”  He smiled but didn’t turn back to look at her.  “She’s already remarried and is quite happy from what I hear.”

“And you?”

He shrugged.  “I’m starting over.  Moving back here was the first step.”

“Are you going to start a new practice?”

“I might,” he hedged a little, turning back to see her face.  “I’ve been helping Cap Winston out here and there, although he’s already hired on a new young man to take over.”

Virginia harrumphed beneath her breath.  “Yeah, he’s been out here a few times to see the stock.  Not sure I trust someone so wet behind the ears.”

“He’s young, but he’s good.  I’ve seen him work through some pretty sticky situations.”

She nodded, a little more at ease with the new vet.  “Well, if you’re going to be helping out, then I”ll definitely call him instead of trying to find a bigger vet out of Dallas.”

The screen door banged open behind them.  Catching a glimpse of pink skirts, Jeb jumped to his feet and started backing down the stairs.  Virginia’s mother still sometimes popped into his nightmares, not the gun-wielding Marine father he’d dreamed of someday asking for his daughter’s hand.

“You’re just in time for supper, Jebadiah.”  Miss Belle flounced over to grab his hand and tug him back on the porch.  “Boys, come and help your Mama.”

He’d much rather help Virginia inside than escort Miss Belle on his arm, but evidently he didn’t have a choice.  She might be a petite eighty-year-old grandmother but she dragged him right inside as easily as if he were a toddler and not almost two-feet taller than her.  On their way out to help their Mama, her two boys paused long enough to shake Jeb’s hand.  He hadn’t seen neither of them since the funeral, both big strapping young men though they couldn’t match him for height.  Both of them were successful and well-mannered, as if Virginia and Ty would have allowed them to grow up rude or shiftless.  Ty must be beaming with pride at them both.

“So that’s why you insisted we set an extra plate.”  Virginia’s only daughter smiled at him.  “Welcome, Mr. Garrett.  If you need to wash up, come on in to the kitchen.”

Sharon hadn’t wanted kids.  At the time, he’d regretted the decision, always hungering for the chance to be a father.  But after their ugly split, he was relieved they hadn’t had children in the mix, even though they would have been adults by then.  He hadn’t expected all of Virginia’s children to be home, but knowing the family, he shouldn’t have been surprised.  Of course they’d all rally around her after the accident, even though Conn and Miss Belle lived in Missouri.

They all know me.  I’m just an old family friend.

Which was true, but as Jeb washed his hands and prepared to sit down at the Connagher table, he had a feeling he ought to be upfront with at least Virginia’s boys.

How are they going to take the idea of me courting their Mama?

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Mama Connagher Day 6

Big, huge day today.  Got through a tough emotional scene — one I was avoiding, stupidly, because it ended up being a really good scene.  Isn’t that always how it is?  The one thing you really don’t want to do and avoid… is exactly what you need to add?  I’ve also got the final few scenes carefully set up and laid out.  Even ground through another sex scene that wasn’t a “good” one, if you know what I mean.  Virginia’s holding back.  Big time.

But it’s all downhill from here and that makes me a happy camper indeed.

In fact, I thought about staying up half the night to finish the book, but I do have to work tomorrow and it’s going to be a stressful week.  I’ve got a lot of work to do and I can’t blow my hands on a 10K night and then expect to be able to program tomorrow.  Sigh.

6,718 words today.  Told ya it was a big one!  That Man was on the phone most of night or work, so no TV distractions.

Finishing yesterday’s scene:

Virginia jerked so hard she couldn’t stifle a moan at the grating pain in her busted arm.  “What?  Are you insane?”

Ignoring her, Miss Belle continued.  “It’s high time Virginia start dating again.  I’m sure between the three of you brilliant young ladies you know a handsome, courageous man dumb enough to come wrestle with her.”

A speculative gleam shone in Vicki’s eyes.

“No,” Virginia said firmly.  “Dating is something young people do.  I’ve had my time.”

“Now who’s the fool?”  Miss Belle snapped.  “You’ve got half your life ahead of you still.  It’s high time you start living it.”

Virginia could only stare at her mother, both moved and amused by her concern.  Most people had feared her father, Colonel Healy, and yes, he’d been a tough old Marine who didn’t take shit off anyone.  But it only took one look from Miss Belle and that man would have taken the San Juan Hill singlehandedly or died trying.  Miss Belle wore big hats and frivolous pink dresses, but when push came to shove, she was the one who ran the family with a gay laugh and her wickedly keen mind.  She used to joke that God had known exactly what he was doing when he’d put her in a small female body, because if He’d made her a big strapping man, she’d have been one mean bully.

“I bet Mal will know someone,” Vicki said.

Virginia groaned.  “Don’t get the Mistress of Dallas involved or I’ll never have any peace.  You know very well what kind of man that woman would try to set me up with.”

Vicki laughed, a knowing chuckle that spoke volumes.  “A good-looking boy willing to do anything you say for a chance to kiss your toes?  What’s the harm in that?  Although I suspect she’s involved with someone herself right now.  I don’t know if she’s still got her finger on the pulse of Dallas’s submissive male scene or not.”

Rae stared at Virginia a moment with those big, startled eyes.  “Oh.  Oh.”

“Where do you think Victor and Conn got their hard side, Rae Lynn?”  Miss Belle said.

“But that doesn’t mean I want some boy running around my house saying ‘Yes, Mistress, how may I serve, Mistress?’”  Virginia didn’t try to keep the disgust from her voice.  “Good lord.  I’ve got boys older than Mal.  I sure don’t want her to set me up with anyone of that age.”

“Cougar,” Vicki said teasingly.

Virginia growled in response.  “Grizzly bear is more like it, mean and nasty after getting woke up too early from hibernation.”

“And hungry,” her daughter replied, still teasing, but a growing understanding in her eyes that made Virginia avert her eyes.

Hungry.  They have no idea.  She didn’t want them to know exactly how lonely she’d been.  How many nights she’d paced and practiced with the whip or crop just to exhaust herself enough to find a few hours of sleep.

“What do you want in a man?”  Shiloh asked.

I want Tyrell.  Virginia made herself shut the mental door on what she couldn’t have any longer, the fuzzy memories she’d clung to all these years.  “If I were to date again, and that’s a big IF, he’d have to be older, more my age.  A man my age would already be mature and confident.  He’d know exactly what he wanted with the rest of his life and he’d do anything to get it.  The same as me.  He wouldn’t need coddling or teaching or patience, which I don’t have patience for!  A man used to hard work, who’s probably already seen and done more than you children ever dreamed about.  Someone who can stand up to me and tell me when I’m being a fool,” she said that with a smile for Miss Belle, “and won’t get his ego bruised when I tell him the same.”

“Now that will be the challenge.”  Laughing, Miss Belle stood and started herding everyone toward the door.  “Even Tyrell got his ego bruised on occasion.”

“All men do.”

“Let’s finish up dinner so our patient can get some rest.  I’ll see what we can do about your man, Virginia.  You’ve placed a tall order.”

Virginia settled down deeper into the pillows, her eyes already heavy.  She’d done hardly nothing but sleep at the hospital, but there wasn’t anything like coming home to her own bed.  Tall, she sighed, slipping into sleep.  He should definitely be tall.

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Mama Connagher Day 5

I’ve definitely crossed the two-thirds mark and rounding into the final quarter or so of the book.  YAY.  I’ve got a few emotional things to tie up, and then the final surprise for Jeb.  I think I need another scene or two in the story within a story, but I’ll have to figure out what I want to do there.  I’m going to concentrate on pushing the main story line through to the end first.

2104 words today.

Excerpt:  this scene was a fun reunion from all of the other books (except for Mal).  If you’ve been missing Conn and/or Victor, they’ll make brief appearances in Virginia’s book!  And of course Miss Belle has to stick her nose into her daughter’s business too.  This scene takes place one week after the opening scene when she’s released from the hospital.

Virginia paused at the bottom of the porch steps and looked up at the front door.  It might as well be ten miles away.  “Whose idiotic idea was it to put in so many steps?”

“That would be yours,” her oldest son, Victor, said with a smile.  “You wanted to have a good view.  Remember?”

“Of course I remember,” she snapped.  “I’ve got a busted up arm and some stitches, but I didn’t lose my ever-loving mind.  Just my spleen.”

“Well you did have a concussion.”  He wasn’t intimidated by her temper, because he had the same biting disposition. “I’m just checking to make sure.”

She sighed and leaned on him harder.  “I’m sorry, Son.  I don’t mean to bark at you like a mean old junk yard dog.”

He wrapped his arm gingerly around her waist, mindful of her stitches.  “I know, Mama.  If you’d take the pain medication…”

“I hate feeling like my head’s stuffed with cotton.”  She managed the first two steps and then had to pause a minute.  Her head swam and her knees trembled.  “Damn my fool pride.  All right, Son…”

She didn’t have to finish the sentence because he was already sweeping her up against his chest.  Luckily he didn’t say I told you so.

Vicki rushed ahead, shifting an armload of flowers around so she could open the door.  “Mama, how many times do we have to tell you to lock the door?  It isn’t safe way out here in the country.”

“I never…”

“If she’d locked the door, then I would have had to break it down.”

At that voice, Virginia groaned and pressed her face against her son’s shoulder.  “Who called Miss Belle?”

“Nobody had to call me, silly girl.  Bring her into her bedroom.  We’ve gotten everything ready.”


She might be matriarch of the Texas Connaghers, but Miss Belle ruled them all even from six hundred miles north.  Trying not to grumble at people who obviously loved her, Virginia let them tuck her into bed instead of the couch.  At least they propped her up with pillows so she could visit for awhile.  Vicki hovered, Victor and Conn hugged and pounded each other on the back like they were trying to kill each other, while Miss Belle sat at Virginia’s own dressing table like a queen.  Or at least a movie star from the fifties.  Which she was, among other things, not the least of which was her mother.

But Miss Belle had never liked to be called anything but Miss Belle.

She wore a gorgeous cream-colored dress covered with delicate pink roses, either a retro hourglass style or more likely, something she really had worn forty or fifty years ago.  When Virginia had been a child, Miss Belle’s hair had been a vibrant red, but it’d softened over the years to pinkish peaches and cream.  Of course Miss Belle wore a hat—a proper lady would sooner go out without underwear—wide-brimmed straw dotted with pink and cream roses to match her dress.

Which is probably why Miss Belle had despaired of ever turning her daughter into a proper lady.

Conn finally quit hugging on his brother long enough to give his Mama a proper kiss.  She didn’t see him nearly as often as she wanted now that he was a professor in Missouri, but at least he was close enough to keep an eye on Miss Belle who was nearly eighty.  “We would have been down sooner but Vicki assured us you were out of danger, and that you’d rather see us at home instead of the hospital.”

“Definitely.”  She patted his cheek, pleased at the soft light in his eyes.  Conn had always been her poet son, and emotion and angst sometimes hit him hard.  Finding the love of his life had taken the hard edges out of his eyes.  He can be hard when he needs to be, but he’ll never be mean like Victor.  Or me.  “By us do you mean you brought Rae too?”

“I sure did, even if I had to threaten to tie her up so she didn’t try to jump out of the car as we got close to the Texas line.”  Conn laughed and by the glint in his eye, she thought he might very well mean it.  “She’s in the kitchen with Shiloh.”

“Thank God,” Virginia muttered.  “I’d rather go back to the hospital than eat Miss Belle’s cooking.”

“Miss Belle’s cooking would put us all in the hospital,” Conn joked.

“I’ve taught Rae Lynn everything she knows about cooking,” Miss Belle sniffed and removed her hat, then her pretty lace gloves.  “She just happens to execute better than I.”

Conn snickered and ran his finger across his neck in the universal death gesture.  Victor laughed and even Miss Belle had to smile at their antics.  It was hard to believe they were both well into their thirties.  Seeing them laughing and so happy made tears pool in Virginia’s eyes.

Good God, I’m turning into a weepy sap.  She busied herself adjusting the sling supporting her left arm, propping up the heavy cast with a pillow.  She still didn’t remember much about the accident, but they’d told her a drunk driver had T-boned her car on the way to the grocery store.  Her arm had been pinned in the wreckage and she’d almost lost it.  At least it wasn’t my right arm.  I can still write and I won’t have to depend on grueling physical therapy to bring my strength back.

Her mind flinched away from that nugget, refusing to dwell on the reason she needed strength in her right arm.  She hadn’t had a reason to keep her shoulder and arm loose and strong for quite some time.

Thinking about that only brought her back to Ty and that incredible dream.  It’d been so real.  His scent of leather, the roughness of his palm, even the tickling of his mustache.  Could she make up little details like that in a dream?

“You know that wasn’t any old dream.”  Miss Belle said in a low voice as she sat on the edge of the bed.  “He’s been worried about you a long time.”

Virginia concentrated on the cast, absently scratching her fingers beneath the edge.  Miss Belle swore she still talked to Colonel Healy, her husband who’d been dead nigh on thirty years.  She’d always thought her mother was crazy—everybody did.  But now I’m talking to my dead husband too.

“He said you’re always right.”

Miss Belle laughed and it sounded genuine, not girly and deliberately silly like she usually did to fool people into thinking she had a few screws loose.  She wanted people to think she was just a crazy old lady.  Forty years ago, she’d pretended to be an airhead actress without a thought in her pretty little head.  Whether she was playing poker or dabbling in politics or playing amateur sleuth, she managed to fool most people so well that they never knew what hit them while she skipped off into the sunset.

But that laugh… That was real, the rare and special Miss Belle she only shared with her beloved family.

“Tyrell always was too smart for his own good.  Stubborn as a mule, slow and silent and careful until he was sure, he never backed down from a fight, which is exactly what you needed the most.  He was definitely the man God must have created just for you.”

Virginia had to swallow to keep the tears locked away.  Before he’d died, she could have counted the number of times she’d cried as an adult on one hand. Twelve years might have passed, but his loss haunted her like a phantom limb that had been amputated.  “I figured you were going to side with him.”

“I am.”  Miss Belle patted her leg gently.

“But you just said…”

“Do you really think there was never any other man for me other than your father?”

Luckily her children had disappeared into the kitchen to help the girls with dinner.  “Mother!  I so do not want to hear about how many men you might have loved and left over the years.  I certainly don’t want to know that you cheated on Daddy too.”

Miss Belle smacked her thigh, whether for slipping on her name or for the affair comment, she wasn’t sure.  “Who said anything about cheating?  We had a one-of-a-kind love, the kind that lasts down through the years of children and grief, victory and defeat, war and sickness and eventually death.  It was wonderful.  But he wasn’t the only man I loved.  I don’t believe we were put on this earth to love only once and then die.  Else couples would always die together, wouldn’t they?  What kind of God would join two hearts and then leave one cold and alone the rest of your days without a single hug or kiss or affectionate word ever again?”

The kind of God who took Tyrell and left me alone all these years.  Though Virginia didn’t say it aloud.

“Besides, I’ve got the perfect solution.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but Miss Belle was already shouting.

“Girls!  I need your help!”

The three young women came running, probably terrified that Virginia had suffered a seizure or something by the volume of Miss Belle’s voice.

Dark haired and fiery like all the Connaghers, Vicki was a lot like her Mama.  Maybe too much.  It’d taken her years to find the right man and in fact, she’d settled on two.  She needed the explosive fireworks with Elias—the same as her parents—but Vicki also needed the softer, gentler side of her submissive, Jesse.  There was something about that young man that made all the ice and iron in Vicki’s heart melt.

Rae and Shiloh would soon be her daughters in law.  Each head over heels in love with her Connagher boy, both submissive, but yet entirely different.  Rae was shy and too timid for Virginia’s patience.  It was all she could do not to bark at the girl to buck up and put some starch in her spine.  But that wide-eyed doe look appealed to Conn’s protective side.  There had to be more spunk to the girl than was on the surface, because she’d managed to evade Conn for over five years, definitely giving him a run for his money before surrendering the fight.  And of course, Rae not only survived living with Miss Belle, but she also seemed to actually enjoy the woman’s company.  No small feat, because God knew Virginia would probably be ready to murder her mother before she finally went back to Missouri.

Shiloh was completely opposite from Rae:  bright and cheerful and bold.  Yet when the oldest Connagher son touched her—even a simple arm around her shoulders or an innocent touch of his palm in the small of her back—she went on complete and wholly dedicated alert.  If Victor told her to jump off a cliff, she’d do it or die trying, even while cursing at him all the way down.

We done well with our boys.  Virginia closed her eyes a moment and tried to bring up Tyrell’s image in her mind as fresh and vibrant as that vision, but he was still hazy and softened by the passing of years.  You’d be proud of them, Ty.  You’d like these girls too.

“Girls,” Miss Belle declared, “I’m charging you with a most solemn duty.  You must find a man for your Mama.”

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Mama Connagher Day 4

Slowed by finishing a sex scene–and the KC Chiefs playoff game, sobs–I only managed 1363 words today.  But I finished the major sex scene AND killed Ty.  *sobs some more*

Yes, Ty was adamant that I had to write a brief scene leading up to his death.  Now whether this ends up in the final version or not, I don’t know.  But I had to look at it for the sake of Story.

Completing the flashback excerpt:

“Are you spoken for? Promised to anyone?”

She didn’t lift her head.  Should she tell him about Jebadiah?  But why?  So she’d known him her whole life.  So the whole town assumed they were a couple.  The man had never kissed her.  Never held her like this.  Even the few times they’d been alone, nothing had happened.  Which is probably why Daddy trusted the young man to escort me.  She pushed the twinge of guilt away.  “Why?”

“Just figuring out who I need to wrangle for the right to court you properly.”

“Nobody but Daddy and I’ll take care of him.”

“No, you won’t.  That’s my job.”

She tipped her head back so she could see if he was just joking, but his face was solemn.  “You’re serious?  You’re going to talk to Daddy and tell him…what?”

“That I’m done with rodeos for good.  That I’ll do any job he wants as long as he lets me stay on.  That I love you with all my heart and soul and I’ll do anything to make you happy.  I’ll work night and day until I can provide what you want.”

Her heart soared, even though it was crazy.  He couldn’t possibly love her already.  Could he?  Could she love him?  Sure, she’d kissed him.  She’d done more with him than she’d ever done with any man in her entire life.  But…  “Daddy—”

“Nope,” he cut in.  “I’d have to be an idiot not to know your Daddy’s loaded with this fine ranch sprawling out in all directions as far as I’d care to ride.  I won’t take a dime of his money.  You tell me what you want and I’ll get it, and I won’t marry you until I have it.”

“I want you.”  It surprised her, but as soon as she said it, she knew it was the truth.  No one else had the courage to step up and risk her fury—and her parents’—to  find out what kind of man she wanted.  And now she knew that the kind of man she wanted was standing right here.

“And?  What else?”  He insisted, though he tightened his arms around her.  “What will make you happy?  What’s your dream?  Not your Daddy’s dream, not your pretty movie star mother’s.  What’s yours?”

She didn’t have to think about it.  “I want enough land to raise and train my own show horses.  A barn and corral.  Enough equipment to travel properly to the shows until I make a big enough name that people will come find me instead.”


“Nowhere but Texas.”

“You got it.”  He pulled away and reached for his hat and shirt tossed in the corner, as if he were going to go out right now in the middle of the night and start looking for that land they’d make their own.  But she dug her fingers into his waist hard enough he turned back and looked down into her face, eyes narrowed.

“Didn’t you forget something?”

A slow smile softened the hard lines of his face.  “Yes’m, I imagine I did.”

One of those big, broad palms cupped the back of her head and he bent down to kiss her once more.  She pressed up against him, rising up on her tiptoes to get as much of him as she could.  Assured of her choice, he let his hands roam up and down her back.  He molded the curve of her hips, the dip of her waist, and finally, at last, he cupped her breasts in both hands.  His thumbs rubbed her nipples through her shirt and the ache she’d felt watching him earlier came back a thousand fold, spreading fiery heat all through her veins.

When he lifted his head, she moaned.  The knowing twinkle in his eyes made her want to punch him.

“I’d be pleased and honored to return the favor if your folks are going to be gone awhile.”

As if Miss Belle had picked up on the disturbance and threat to her daughter’s virginity, the sound of a car pulling up the driveway made Virginia moan louder.

With a laugh, Tyrell released her and grabbed his shirt, tugging it quickly over his head so he could fasten his jeans.  “That’s what I was afraid of.  I might as well go speak to Colonel Healy now.”

For a moment, she actually felt a sliver of dread stab through her, worried that her proud, hard father might reject her suitor.  “Now?”

“No time like the present.  Don’t you worry none, Princess.”  Tyrell jammed his hat on his head and took her hand firmly in his.  “I know exactly what to say.  I won’t let you down.  I’ll never let you down.”

She didn’t want to admit to worry.  Or fear.  Or that she just might burst into tears if Daddy refused them.  Or if she woke up the next morning and Tyrell’s rusted out truck was long gone.  Instead of voicing her fears, all she said was, “Your mustache tickles.”

Without pausing a step, he threw open the barn door and dragged her toward the house where her parents waited on the front steps.  “Want me to shave it off?”

“Don’t you dare.”