A sneak preview of my new novel. You're gonna love it!
Waiting for the Rain
Willow Mackenzie was looking for an eagle.
She crept along the winding dirt road, her hopeful gaze sweeping across the horizon. It wasnít like her to be impulsive, but eaglesí strength and quiet majesty had always captivated her. Magical and magnificent, the eagle was the only animal brave enough to stare into the face of the sun, or so the legend said. Willow had always wanted to see one in flight. Since her visit with Dr. Chan the month before, the desire had magnified in importance. But then, everything sheíd ever wanted to do had magnified.
She shot a glance into the dense, pine forest on her left, another into the open meadow on her right, then up at the darkening sky. The newspaper article said the bald eagle had been spotted in a quarry outside of Murphyís Crossing, less than fifty miles from the city, but she had the sinking feeling sheíd made a wrong turn and was lost.
A dull headache nagged at the base of her skull, and she pressed down on the accelerator, deciding to call it a day. Less than a mile later, she heard a loud pop and her SUV jerked to the right. Feeling the thump, she eased off the gas and coasted to the side of the road. A flat tire. Damn!
"And here you are, Willy," she murmured, "miles from civilization. Perfect." She flipped open her cell-phone and punched in her best friendís number. Since it would be more than an hourís drive from the east side of the city, she was going to owe Sid big time for this. When the call didnít ring through, Willy realized with a sinking feeling that she was too far out of range to obtain a signal.
She threw the phone back in her purse and sat for a long moment, rethinking her situation. There was no point in backtracking. A mile behind her, the road dead-ended in a gully. She scanned the length of the rutted dirt road that stretched out ahead. Not a house in sight. With a sigh, she climbed out of the SUV, opened the tailgate, and retrieved the tire iron and the jack from their compartment. She spread the objects out on the floor and stared at them. OK, now what?
She had never, in her twenty-eight years, learned to change a flat tire. For the first twenty-three, she hadnít owned a car, and for the last five, she had counted on Tom to deal with such inconveniences. Tom, who was supposed to love her in good times and in bad. The good times were fine, but he ran, like the coward he was, when things got tough.
Sadness welled up inside her, followed by anger, and she firmly pushed them away. There was no point in falling apart. Self-pity certainly wasnít going to help her out of this jam. And sitting on the side of a dead-end road wasnít going to get her anywhere either. She would just have to walk. With no other options, she grabbed her purse and umbrella, a garish, pink thing Sid had bought in New York City the summer before, locked the SUV, and set off down the road.
After the first mile, Willyís feet began to ache. An earlier thought came back to mock her, the thought that had set her on this ill fated journey in the first place: From now on, every day will be an adventure. She chuckled. Some adventure, she thought, removing her sandals. A wave of dizziness engulfed her, and the road blurred before her eyes. Oh, Lord, please... donít let me faint. Taking it nice and slow, she pulled herself upright, taking deep breaths. She scanned the adjacent field in search of a place to sit and rest. A rotted tree stump peeked out from the weeds, and Willy crept toward it. You can do this, Willy, she told herself. Just put one foot in front of the other. Thatís the way.
Halfway across the field she heard a tremendous crashing in the brush and froze. A bear? The sound grew louder as the animal, or whatever it was, approached. Willy felt her knees buckle. Get a grip, girl! As she peered in the direction of the noise, a creature bounded from the woods, a creature with a monstrously large head and a big, furry body. Using the only weapon available, Willy flapped her umbrella at it.
"Get out of here!"
The creature stopped in mid-stride and stared at her, and the breath Willy had been holding whooshed from her chest. It was a dog. A very old dog, at that. Willyís threatening stance, coupled with her harsh tone of voice, caused the animal to cringe. He cowered before her, tail between his legs. Heíd merely been coming to say hello, and now Willy felt like a bully. "Iím sorry. Did I scare you?"
The dog answered with a hesitant flip of his tail. He was a chocolate lab, his muzzle almost completely gray. A patch of white ringed his neck beneath a ratty red collar, as though years of chafing had rubbed the fur away. An old, worn out dog, Willy thought. Certainly not any kind of threat. As the dog regarded her with his cloudy eyes, a thought came to Willy and she smiled. If there was a dog, then an owner had to fit somewhere into the equation. Someone who fed and cared for the animal. Hopefully someone with a phone.
She dropped to a squat and stretched out her hand. The dog approached cautiously, sniffing the air. "Where do you live, boy? Can you show me?"
He licked her hand, as if to say that all was forgiven. Willyís sense of vertigo returned, and she eased herself down to the ground. The dog sat at her side, quietly licking his feet and waiting. After a few moments the dizziness passed, and Willy stood. "Okay, come on, boy," she said, lightly slapping her thigh. "Letís go home."
Willy talked to the dog as he trotted along beside her on the road. She felt easier now, less alone. "You certainly do live in the boondocks, donít you? Nice for a dog, but it canít be very convenient for your owner. I mean, if she should run out of bread or coffee." Willy paused for a moment to survey the quiet beauty around her. "Itís pretty, though. Peaceful. Iíve always lived in the city. My whole life."
They came upon the rotting carcass of a woodchuck, and the dog stopped to investigate. Willy wrinkled her nose as the stench of decay assaulted her. "Oh... thatís disgusting."
As if in agreement, the dog moved on, and Willy resumed her conversation. She knew her constant stream of chatter was foolish, but the morningís events had unnerved her, and talking made her feel less anxious.
"Youíre probably wondering what Iím doing way out here."
The dog moseyed to a tree, lifted his leg, squirted, and returned to Willyís side.
"The truth is I was hoping to see an eagle. I read in the paper that one had been spotted somewhere out here. I donít think it was this road, though. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Iím really very bad at--"
The dog made an abrupt beeline to the side of the road and disappeared into a thick tangle of brush.
"Where are you going?" Willy called, hurrying after him. "Hey, wait! Donít leave." She scrambled through the brush in pursuit of the dog, brambles grabbing at her long hair, while branches slapped her face and hands. She stopped for a moment to finger the angry welt rising on her cheek but continued on, fear of losing sight of the dog propelling her through the scrub. Keeping her eyes on his retreating figure, she didnít notice the tree root jutting from the ground until it caught her heel and sent her sprawling. She crawled the last few feet until the brush thinned and she found herself in a meadow. Rising slowly to her feet, Willy surveyed her surroundings with wonder. Across the field, a small cottage sat nestled in a grove of trees. The sight of it nearly took her breath away.
"Oh... how lovely," she murmured. Even the famed English cottages sheíd seen in Devon could not compare to the beauty that lay before her. Sheíd never seen anything quite as striking, and she silently cursed herself for having left her camera in the truck.
It wasnít the cottage itself that captivated her. The dwelling was small and ordinary, and what she could see of it was unpainted. What caused her to stare was the veil of profusely blooming, blood red roses that had overtaken the entire front of the house. It was strange and serene, as if nature had wrapped the cottage in a loving embrace. The foliage that concealed the front door was so thick and lush that Willy wondered how it would even be possible for anyone to get inside. Studying the house, she realized with an inexplicable thrill that no one lived there.
From the looks of it, no one had for quite some time.
The windows were dusty and bare of curtains, and the small wooden broom that rested beside the door was tangled in vines. Her gaze wandered to the sign that was propped in the tall grass against the propane tank. Bold black letters shouted: For Rent. Walking over to it, she pushed away a handful of weeds and made a mental note of the name listed on the sign. Hanrahan Realty.
This is it, an inner voice whispered. This is the home I have searched for. The home I have waited a lifetime to find. The thought came with an intensity that surprised her. She certainly hadnít come up Bakerís Gully Road looking for a cottage to rent.
A crack of thunder tore through the quiet, pulling her from her thoughts. The dog barked. Gazing across the yard, she saw him waiting just beyond the house, at the end of a rutted dirt path, his tail beating furiously. Feeling the first drops of rain splash her face, she opened her umbrella and hurried toward him.
The path led through a grove of pine trees, then to a covered bridge that spanned a wide, chortling river. Just beyond the bridge, Willy could see another cabin, this one made of logs. Most of the dwelling was concealed by trees, but the thin curl of smoke escaping the chimney told Willy the cabin was inhabited. The dog stopped in mid-stride and pricked up its ears, then took off on a dead run toward the cabin. Willy followed at a slower pace, wondering where the old dog got his energy.
~ * ~
Fine looking were the first two words that came to mind.
Unusual was the third.
Darby Sullivan stood on his front porch and watched as the woman approached. Her pink umbrella flapped in the wind, and her long, strawberry blonde hair danced across her shoulders as she walked. She made a lovely, if comical, picture and he couldnít help wondering what her business was. As far off the beaten track as he lived, he didnít get many visitors. And definitely none as attractive as this one.
Lucky bounded ahead of the woman. He reached the porch moments later, barking joyfully and shaking the rain from his coat. With his tail whirling, he looked over his shoulder at the approaching woman, then back at Darby, as though expecting praise. As though heíd brought his master a wonderful gift... a succulent rabbit, or a plump pheasant.
"Iíd like to thank you for the shower, sir," Darby said, affectionately scratching the old labís head. "And just so weíre straight, animals and birds, fine. People... not so fine." With a last swish of his tail, the dog settled himself at Darbyís feet to wait.
By the time she reached the porch, the girl was out of breath, and her pretty face, drained of color. In an instant, Darbyís gaze skimmed her five feet, seven inches of height, processing the way her blue jeans hugged her nicely rounded hips and the pleasant fullness of her breasts before returning to her amazingly green eyes. He noticed the way her hand shot out to grasp the railing, as though she were dizzy. He watched all this, and waited.
"Hello," she finally said.
"My nameís Willow Mackenzie. Willy, for short. Iím sorry to trouble you, but Iíve had a flat tire a few miles back. I was wondering if it would be all right to use your phone." Her gaze looked beyond him into the open door of the cabin and he firmly pulled it closed.
"What sort of car do you drive?"
"Itís an Explorer." Her long, slender fingers moved through her hair, coaxing it back into place. "I have a spare. I just donít know how to use it. If youíll let me use your phone to call a friend, Iíll get right out of your hair."
He liked her hair, liked the wild, sun-drenched look of it, and the way it curled in damp little ringlets around her face. He liked the flecks of gold in her eyes, which at the moment were staring at him, waiting for an answer.
"Wait here," he said. "Iíll bring the truck around."
"Oh, you donít have to--"
Ignoring her, he stepped from the porch and walked around the back of the house to the barn, where he kept his truck. He certainly didnít need a woman hanging around, asking questions, though he had to admit she looked as though a spot of rest would do her a world of good. He didnít like the pallor of her skin. Young, healthy woman like her, he thought, hiking a few miles shouldnít do her in like that. But of course, that was no concern of his. Just do your good deed for the day, Sullivan, he told himself, and then send her on her way.
She was waiting on the porch, and stood when he pulled up in front of the house. Letting the truck idle, he got out and opened the passenger side door for her. "íBout five miles back, did you say?"
"Not more than that." She started to climb in, lost her balance, and stumbled. His arms shot out, encircling her waist.
"You all right, Sis?"
"Iím fine." She gave him an unconvincing smile. He held her for a moment more, liking the way she felt in his arms, and the sweet smell of her hair, then reluctantly released her. When she was safely in the passengerís seat, he slid behind the wheel. She gave him an embarrassed grin. "Sorry about that."
"No need to apologize. Are you sure youíre all right?"
"Iím fine." She said it forcefully, and he couldnít help wondering whether it was to convince herself, or him. He put the truck in gear and steered it down the driveway, not at all persuaded she was telling the truth.
~ * ~
It took Willy a few moments to regain her equanimity. She searched beside her for a seat belt. Not finding one, she gripped the armrest. As the truck lumbered down the overgrown path, she shot a sideways glance at the driver, taking in the strong line of his beard-stubbled chin, his serious gray eyes, and the mop of longish, chestnut-colored hair, tied back in a careless pony tail. He had a sexy, wind-chapped look about him that she found appealing. He was quite possibly the best looking man she had ever met.
And old fashioned, too.
She thought of the way he opened the door for her. When was the last time anyone did that? And the way he had caught her up in his arms, breaking her fall. A delicious shiver rippled through her body.
Uncomfortable with her current train of thought, she studied the dials on the dashboard. The truck was old. Something out of the 1940s, she guessed, though she didnít know a lot about such things. Hoping to break the awkward silence, she asked him about it.
"What sort of truck is this?"
"Itís a í48 Willys."
"It certainly is in great shape for its age. Do you ever show it? I mean, at antique car shows, and such?"
A hint of a frown pulled at the corners of his mouth. "No."
Seeing the conversation was headed nowhere fast, Willy turned and looked out the window. The truck crawled past the rose-covered cottage, and she caught a glimpse of the back yard. It was woodsy, sheltered by lofty evergreens and stately white birch trees. The tall grass that grew along the riverbank was speckled with wildflowers of blue and gold. Not content to stay in their beds along the riverbank, recalcitrant plots of tiger lilies sprawled into the yard, claiming it for their own. The sight filled Willy with a longing she could not fathom, and she cursed herself again for having left her camera behind.
"Do you know anything about this place?" she asked.
"I noticed it earlier. The truth is, Iíve been looking to move out of the city, and Iíve kind of fallen in love with this little cottage. It seems so peaceful. So--"
"Itís abandoned. No one has lived there for a long, long time."
"I noticed a For Rent sign in the yard, beside the propane tank. I just wondered--"
Without warning, he slammed on the brakes. She faced him in surprise, and saw anger flashing from his eyes.
"You shouldnít have been snooping around up there!"
Willy felt her own anger flare. "I wasnít snooping. I was only--"
"Trespassing. That sort of thing might fly in the city, Sister, but not out here."
Willy stared at him, utterly flabbergasted. A hot retort burned on her lips, but she remembered she was at his mercy. If she angered him further, he might just dump her out and be on his way; then where would she be? She struggled for a moment with her temper, then said, more calmly, "I didnít mean to trespass. Your dog ran into the yard, and I followed him. Thatís when I noticed the sign."
The explanation seemed to satisfy him. He let off the brakes and the truck resumed its slow journey down the path. She assumed the subject was closed, and was surprised when he brought it up again.
"The real estate company has probably given up on it by now. A few people have moved in. None have stayed. Not for long, anyway."
"Because itís so far out?"
"Because itís haunted."
"What?" She gaped at him, trying not to smile. "Are you serious?"
He shrugged. "Thatís what they say."
She turned and peered out the back window for one last glimpse, but the heavy brush concealed the cottage from her view. She glanced at the man again. She would have liked to ask him a few more questions about the cottage, but his stony demeanor told her the discussion was over.
After a short drive, they came upon her Explorer. By that time it was raining profusely. The windshield wipers beat furiously at the steady stream of water, trying to clear a path across the glass. As the old truck pulled in behind hers, Willy opened the door. She pulled her key ring out of her purse and pressed the unlock button. The Explorer responded with two spastic beeps. "Stay put," he said, getting out of the truck.
Willy watched as he retrieved the spare and the jack and went to work. Within minutes, he was soaked through. Despite her earlier irritation with him, Willy couldnít help admiring his muscular build; couldnít seem to take her eyes off of his large, capable hands, as he jacked up the SUV, loosened the lug nuts, and replaced the tire. Fifteen minutes later, he returned to her, looking sexy and angry, rain dripping from his hair.
"Youíre all set."
"Iím sorry to be such a nuisance. Here," she said, opening her purse. "Let me pay you for your time." She pulled out a twenty-dollar bill.
"Put your money away, Sis. I donít want it."
"Oh, please. I insist."
"You might better put that toward a new set of tires," he growled. "Especially if youíre going to be out gallivanting on roads like this." He turned away from her and started the truck. "Have a safe trip home."
Seeing sheíd been dismissed, Willy climbed out of the truck. The man waited for her to fire up the Explorer, then drove away without a backward glance. Willy stared after him until he disappeared from view. "Mister," she murmured, "you are a whole lot of unusual." Driving away, she realized she hadnít even gotten his name.
WAITING FOR THE RAIN -- A ROMANCE THAT WILL MAKE YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES! NOW AVAIALBLE AT CHAMPAGNE BOOKS!