I wanted to share the first chapter of Hero's Heart with you all. You can pre-order your copy HERE! It will be released on July 31, 2017. I hope you enjoy it!
I know you shouldn’t have a favorite animal. However, for me, Donut my American Quarter Horse was mine. He was given to me by my parents shortly before they died in a car accident. I was five years old, and it’s probably why I love Donut so much. I finished brushing him, grabbed another bale of hay, and settled him for the day. On my way back up to the main house, I double-checked on the chickens and goats. They all seemed to be peacefully happy. My brothers Bryson and Wallace were working with Gramps today. They were moving the cattle and steers into another field. Usually, I would be right next to them, but today I had to take Grammy to the store. “Hero.” Grammy called out from the front porch, standing behind the missing posts. Over the years, I’ve watched the bright yellow paint of the house turn gray and chip away. The red roof looked was rusted now and in desperate need of fixing. I tried to fix the gutters as best I could without having to replace them all. Grammy could be described as the best woman in the entire world, but never, ever make her mad. She had perfect aim in whatever she was throwing or shooting, depending on the situation. I’ve seen many fooled by her short stature and silvery white hair. You had to love a woman who could cut someone down with a sweep of their tongue, all the while wearing a floral dress with a matching jacket. I jogged up the steps of our magnificent home. It was designed and built by Gramps for Grammy. Their marriage came out of a Lifetime movie. Gramps wasn’t from our small town. He was simply passing through on his way to Tulsa when he stopped at the diner. Grammy’s parents owned it, and she happened to be working the day he strolled in. Gramps claims it was love at first sight. Grammy told it as he was a bit too shy for her, but by the time dessert came around they were in love. For the earlier part of my life, I thought they were insane. Who falls in love after thirty minutes? It wasn’t until I was eight years old and a new student walked through the doors that I understood. Even at such a young age, Ranger oozed confidence. I loved him instantly. And I thought he loved me. “Hero.” Grammy’s tone interrupted my daydream. “I’m ready.” “I’m coming.” I bolted up to the second floor and grabbed my keys and purse. “Stop running in the house. You’re actin’ like you’re a kid again.” She hollered at me. “I’m walking briskly.” I corrected her, coming back downstairs. “Little girl.” Her glare was one to make men double her size drop to their knees. “Fine.” I sounded like a small child after being scolded. The grocery store in our tiny town was the core of the local gossip. Who was dating whom? Who started a new job? Who lost their job? Who was pregnant? Or the topic I hated the most, who was cheating on their partner? Gossiping seemed to be a trait every person here excelled in – especially in this town. Simply because there wasn’t anything else to do. In our town of fewer than two thousand residents, there’s a post office, one bar, the diner, the store and a bank. Clearly nothing more goes on here. I used to dream of leaving Langston, Oklahoma – until Ranger. Because of him, I went to the community college two towns over
instead of becoming a Sooner. And because of him I never went out without my brothers or Garrison. The ping of sadness hit my heart when Garrison’s smiling face appeared in the forefront of my mind. Has it already been three months since he passed? It felt like yesterday. Grammy pushed the cart as I picked up the items she told me to, especially the ones on high shelves. People stopped and talked to her and mainly shot glares my way. Although a few gave me a sympathetic smile. I just looked away and pretended not to be there. Silently praying Grammy wouldn’t take long and we’d be out of here. “Hero,” she yelled from across the produce. “Don’t forget the prune juice and the fiber bars.” I rolled my eyes as a few people turned and glanced at me. That old woman will be the death of me. I headed over to the aisle and picked up the items she wanted. “I’m finished,” she said and elation filled me since we could leave now. We checked out and as I loaded the bags into the back seat of her compact SUV, I felt eyes staring at me. I didn’t turn around, but this wasn’t something new. I continued my task as the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I’ve felt this before, but only with… “Hey, Hero.” The deep voice sent shivers through me and took my breath away. Ten years ago, it would be excitement from his voice, now it was anger. I slowly turned to see his green eyes connecting with mine. He looked the same only ten years older. His tall six feet two body was still shined with a deep tan over his ripped muscles. The tight t-shirt highlighted his toned body. His hair coal black but shorter than I remember. However, the last time I saw him he was leaving on a bus for his military training. A gasp broke my connection with him. “Ranger.” Grammy came up next to me. “Son, what are you doing home?” “Um…” His eyes bounced between her and me. “Grammy, we have to go. The food will spoil. That’s what happens when you leave things out too long and don’t do what you’re supposed to do – it rots.” I shut the back door and then climbed into the driver’s seat and slammed my door closed. I started the car and revved the engine a bit hoping she took the hint. The light taps on the window didn’t sway my eyes from staring dead ahead. “Hero, we need to talk.” I remained frozen in hurt and anger. I knew if I even blinked in his direction I would jump out and let him have it. “Hero.” His tone was clear. He was like a dog with a bone. “Hero.” “Saying my name over and over isn’t going to make me listen.” I held the steering wheel tightly causing my fingers to ache. “We need to talk.” “You’re a broken record,” I yelled. “You’ve said that already. Take the hint that my silence is because I don’t want to talk.” “Please.” He lowered his tone to the point I almost didn’t hear him. That lowered tone used to be welcome in my ear, in the dark, in the cab of his truck. Grammy settled into her seat and buckled up. I slammed the vehicle into reverse and drove like a NASCAR driver out of the lot and up the road. I didn’t care about the speed limit or
even if I got pulled over from one of the town’s two police officers. I wanted away from Ranger, and it had to be as far as I could get. I made a beeline up our drive, practically giving my seventy-two year old grandmother whiplash. I heard Ranger’s loud truck coming up the drive and I raced as fast as I could into the house and to the gun cabinet. “What are you doing?” Gramps called out from the living room. “I’m going to kill Ranger.” I loaded the gun and stomped my way back onto the front porch, passing Grammy along the way. “Little girl, don’t you shoot that boy. I mean it, Hero.” Normally, I would never ignore an order from Grammy, especially in the tone she was using now. I continued on with my march toward the front door. Ranger jumped out of his lifted black truck. He was coming around the front of the truck, when I steadied my wobbly knees and fired off the first shot, hitting the tree. “Have you lost your mind?” He ducked. “You could have taken off my head.” “I was aiming lower.” I roared letting off another round. My entire family came running to me and Wallace yanked the gun from my hand. “Fine, I’ll just go break his jaw.” I tried my best to run, but Bryson was holding me back. Ranger held up his hands. “I just want to talk.” “No one wants to hear what you have to say, Ranger. Go on home.” Wallace pointed up the driveway, shooing him away as if he were a fly. “Leave now, you good for nothing jerk.” Grammy slapped his arm, trying to shush him. She might be the only one who still liked Ranger. “I can’t leave. Garrison’s lawyer found me and told me I have to meet him to go over his will.” We all froze. My stomach tightened into knots at the mention of Garrison’s name. “What about his will?” Grammy asked. “It named only Hero and me in it. We have to go speak with him.” He continued. “They wouldn’t tell me what it said. Do you know?” Anger was still boiling in my veins, but I shook my head. “Garrison only gave me medical power of attorney.” “Jacob didn’t tell me that.” He scoffed. “Don’t say his name in my presence. Jacob’s a liar and a jerk.” I clenched my jaw so tight I could grind glass into sand. “He’s my best friend.” “Well, you know what they say about those who run with dogs.” I paused for a dramatic effect. “You’ll catch fleas.” He rolled his eyes and looked up at the sky. “We’re supposed to be there at nine tomorrow. Are you coming?” He paused. “Garrison wanted us to go. He’d want you to go.” Bryson released his grip slightly. “I’m not sure has hell frozen over yet?” He opened his mouth to say something, but I continued trying to keep my voice steady and void of emotion. “Garrison was my friend. Mine. I was the one who took care of him day after day, night after night until the cancer ate him away. I bathed him, fed him, and held him as he became sicker and sicker. Where were you, huh? Where were you when your brother was dying?” I tried my best to hide the burning sting of tears behind my eyes. I won’t let him see me cry. He didn’t deserve to see my tears.
Ranger lowered his head, and I saw his chest rising and falling as he took deep breaths. When he lifted his head, his green eyes stared at me. “He didn’t tell anyone but you and your family. My own parents didn’t know until you called them.” His deep voice was like ice. “And he was more than just a friend to you.” Before I could blink I was right in front of him shoving him with all my might in the chest. “How dare you? You know nothing.” “Jacob told me all about your little rendezvous’ with Garrison and everyone else?” He glared at me. “Oh and Jacob is someone you believe? He’s the one you trust. Not the girl who loved you, cared for you and gave you everything. Not your girlfriend.” “Wrong. You’re a girl who took comfort in my brother’s bed while I was off fighting a war. I lost sleep over you because I thought you were making plans for us.” I took a deep breath, pulled my arm back and it connected right on his jaw knocking him back a few steps. “Get off my land and don’t you ever come back.” I spun on the heel of my cowboy boots and went back into the house – finally letting the tears fall. I pushed my legs to the very limit running out the back door, through the backyard until I reached our pond. Grammy had a couple of benches out there along with a picnic table. We’d had many family events out here, and it was where I came to get away from everyone or my problems. I paced along the edge trying to figure out what in the world is happening right now. It had been ten years since I’d seen his face. We’d spoken on the phone when he first left for deployment, but once a month became once every two months and then it all just stopped. He was distant-vague like I was an afterthought. Garrison was there for me when I would rack my brain trying to figure out what I did wrong. I gave my heart to Ranger along with a promise. I kept my promise but he didn’t keep his. He promised to return to me – to us. So we could finish what we started so long ago. “Hero.” Grammy touched my shoulder. My head fell to her shoulder and I sobbed as if I were a child who just scraped her knee. “It’s okay, Hero.” She ran her hand up and down my back as the emotions still ran out of me. “Why is he here?” I managed to form a sentence. “He told you.” She pulled back a bit, wiping my cheeks. “It’s for Garrison.” “Wrong.” I shook my head. “It has to be for some sort of selfish reason.” “Hero.” She chided me softly. “You don’t know what he’s thinking. However, if the lawyer wants you there too, then you need to go. Not for Ranger, but for Garrison and for you.” She pushed my hair back and kissed my forehead. “It’ll be hard, but you’re a tough girl.” “I don’t think I can do this.” Being in the same room as Ranger would almost kill me. He has done nothing but stomp on my heart. “You can and you will. You know it’s the right thing to do.” I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. She was right – I have to do this. Garrison was my best friend and if he wants me there then I will be.
I COULDN’T MOVE out of my truck. I’d been sitting in here for the past fifteen minutes debating what I was doing. I needed to get out and go in, but my body wouldn’t move. I hardly slept a wink last night. I tossed and turned as the memories of my first love kept creeping up. There were many memories I loved and they brought a smile to my face. The others hurt me. The day he left for his deployment I cried until there were no more tears left in me. Garrison had been there for me the whole time. He was a shoulder for me to lean on because he understood my love and pain for Ranger. Tap. Tap. I jumped at the noise and when I looked out the window, Ranger’s green eyes were staring at me. His jaw was slightly swollen but there was no bruise. Obviously, I didn’t hit him hard enough. I threw up the steel wall to hide my emotions from him. He doesn’t deserve to know the heartache he caused me. I shoved my door open almost hitting him in the process. “What?” “We need to go in.” “Oh do we?” I smarted off at him. “Hero, come on. This isn’t something I want to do.” He sighed. I slung my purse over my shoulder, slammed the door shut and stomped up the sidewalk toward the attorney’s office. I’d been here before when Garrison died. I had to let the attorney know he passed and get the probate started for his will. He had told me his will listed all those important to him, but he never mentioned me. I assumed it to be his parents and Ranger. We were close and I would never deny our bond but being in charge of someone’s will was a different level of friendship. Ranger and I stepped up to the receptionist, telling her who we are and who we’re seeing. We sat on opposite sides of the room. I couldn’t help looking over at him briefly from time to time. No matter how much I didn’t want to. The man was my first kiss, my first love, my first everything. He was my world. Now, I wanted to punch him in the throat and then force him to tell me why he broke my heart. “Mr. Bronson. Ms. Danner.” A young woman stepped out into the lobby. “Follow me please.” We both rose to our feet and kept in step with her until we reached the end of a long hallway where a small conference room was located. Ranger allowed me to go in first. He gently placed his hand on the small of my back. It was a gesture he’s done a hundred times before, but now it made my blood boil. I reigned in my emotions because I really didn’t want to cause a scene at the attorney’s office. At least not yet. “May I get you something to drink? Water? Coffee?” She smiled at us. “I’m fine. Thank you.” I told her. “No thanks,” Ranger said and sat across from me. “Mr. Anderson will be here in a moment.” She nodded and exited the room. The only sound in the silent room was the slow hum of air coming from the vent above us. I picked at a stray thread on my purse, making sure not to look up. “You look nice.” He spoke softly. I scoffed and dramatically rolled my eyes at him. “Do I look someone who’s in the mood for small talk? Or for that matter any talking?” “We need to—”
“Nothing. We need to do nothing but listen to whatever Mr. Anderson has to say and then leave each other alone.” I huffed and crossed my arms. I was trying to protect my heart again. It has been shattered one too many times from him already, and I wasn’t certain I could handle it again. He wanted to say something else, but Mr. Anderson walked into the conference room. “Hero, nice to see you again. You must be Ranger.” He extended his hand to him. They shook hands and then both sat down. “I know you both are wondering why you’re here. I must say it would have been sooner, however, Mr. Bronson, you’re a difficult man to find.” Ranger simply nodded. “Garrison has a unique request in his will. Not the strangest one I’ve ever seen but he felt it was important to be done.” I moved closer to the table and listened more intently as did Ranger. “Garrison was very good with money. Actually, extremely good and he’s leaving it to you both – under one condition.” “What is it?” I asked. I knew Garrison had a little nest egg but nothing of any significance. He glanced at me and then at Ranger. He actually looked nervous. Whatever was about to come had to be more serious than anything I could think of. I’ve known Mr. Anderson for a long time, and I was certain he was aware of Ranger’s and my past relationship. If nothing else Garrison had to have told him since we’re both here now. He cleared his throat, shuffled the papers and then said, “For the next six weeks, you’re to spend as much time together as possible. Garrison wanted you to rebuild your friendship and your relationship. In return, if you both fall back in love and convince me you have, then you’ll receive your portion of the estate.” My mouth fell to the floor. This couldn’t be real. This had to be some sick practical joke. However, Garrison was never comedic. Everything to him was serious. “What?” I breathed out my question. “There has to be a catch.” Mr. Anderson shook his head. “No catch.” “What if we don’t fall in love? What if we don’t want to spend the time together?” The questions kept firing out of me. “Then the money goes elsewhere.” He simply stated. I looked at Ranger. I didn’t care about the money and I certainly didn’t want to spend time with him. “There’s no way I’m doing this. Goodbye, Ranger. Best of luck.”