You guys with books to promote should really take advantage of #ExcerptWeek, you know. But as long as it’s this slow, I’m going to fill in with excerpts of my own, so be forewarned. This is the first scene of Chapter 2 in my latest book, Finding Hunter, which is Book 2 of the Riverbend series. Hunter Painter is a quirky, shy man, who carries a lot of secrets close to his heart. Some of them are tragic, and some pertain to how he feels about Willow Greene. Namely, that he’s loved her since high school, and never had the nerve to tell her, or anyone else, before confessing to his best friend. He has just hung up the phone and realizes he’s agreed to lunch at her house. Blind panic is all he feels. (And in this book, there is a poem at the start of each chapter that relates to the prologue, and hints at a mystery to come.) Enjoy!
Before, I never thought about taking a life. Not once.
Now, the thought fills my mind day and night, and
I wonder how I’ll hide that terrible need,
As an old car swings to the shoulder,
~ Traveling Man ~
8:15PM Friday, December 28, 2012
“OH, MY GOD, Biscuit. What have I done?” Hunter Painter flung himself backward on his bed, and stared at the ceiling in shock. His dog immediately took this dramatic event as an excuse to leap onto the bed and begin administering first aid. This mostly consisted of lots of very warm, very wet licks to Hunter’s face.
“Stop, Bisk! If you’re staying up here, lie down and be still.”
The smooth-haired collie lowered himself, head on paws, concerned eyes watching every move Hunter made, in case more attention was needed. But it seemed the drama was over, except for some muttering and grumbling.
Hunter scratched his tan and white companion behind the ears as he replayed the phone conversation in his mind. He had only intended to test the waters, just wanting to see if he could handle a one-on-one conversation with Willow and not turn into a gibbering idiot. Like a moon-drunk fool, he had confessed to Gunnar Wolfe that he had been in love with Willow since the eleventh grade, and Gunn had urged him to call her. After a week of long, hard thought—and fortified by three cold beers—he had decided he would.
Of course, he had only meant to thank her for inviting him and his brothers to Gunn’s wedding. Just that. “Hi, great party, thanks, goodbye.”
He figured that would be enough for a start. When had he lost control?
“Soon as she said hello, that’s when,” he muttered. “Never, ever thought she’d ask me over. How in God’s name will I handle that? Can’t be in the same room with her, even in a crowd, without breaking out in a cold sweat. Don’t know if I can do this, Biscuit. Can’t just waltz into her home, tour her garden, and have lunch with her, like we’ve been hanging out together for years. She screws up my brain, you know. Years and years gone by, and still—one smile from her and everything in my head short-circuits.”
Biscuit leaned forward and offered one more lick on the cheek, making Hunter laugh even as he pushed the dog away. Then he grew serious again. “I’m doomed, you know, no matter what I do. Break the date, I’m an ass. Go, and I’ll do or say something so stupid, I’m still an ass. Doomed. That’s all there is to it.”
Groaning, he got up and headed for the door, dog at his heels. “Let’s go for a walk, boy. Need to think about this.”
They headed downstairs to the kitchen of the old farmhouse, where his dad was putting away the dinner dishes.
“Hi, Dad. Help you with that?”
“Thanks, Hunter, but I’m good for now. You takin’ Biscuit for a walk?”
“Yeah. Got some thinking to do.” He took a leash off the hook by the screen door, and clipped it to his dog’s collar. “Rest of the pack rounded up and in the kennel?”
“Yeah. Forrest fed ‘em and put ‘em away for the night, before headin’ back home.”
Forrest and Jackson shared an apartment closer to town, though it looked like Jackson would need a new place pretty soon, if he and his girl, LeeAnn, got married in the spring, as planned.
Stopping at the kitchen table, he bent to kiss his mother’s head.
She looked up at him, eyes filled with questions. “Why, Hunter … how’d you get so tall? Weren’t you just here eating your oatmeal before heading to school? I put your book bag right here, next to …” She gazed around the table, confused, and then stared off into space again, lost in her own world, where none of them could follow.
Hunter glanced at his dad. “Been pretty quiet today, hasn’t she?”
“Um-hm. One of her better days, really. Now don’t you worry, son. Just go on and have yourself a walk. I’ll wait until you get back to put her to bed, just in case.”
“I won’t be long, Dad.”
A few minutes later, Hunter and Biscuit were sitting on a rickety old dock that jutted out into a pond on the far side of their property. Growing up, the Painter brothers had spent countless hours fishing from this spot, using cane poles cut from tall stands of bamboo along the edge of their land. The three of them would stare at their red and white bobbers as though they could call up bluegills and bream by willpower alone.
They were always tempted to jump in the water to cool off on those long, summer afternoons, but none of them ever dared. A six-foot alligator was often seen basking on the opposite shore, and no one was brave enough to tempt fate. They’d cool off in the old cattle trough on the way back to the house, instead, and spray each other with the garden hose. Not quite as much fun, but at least they didn’t have to worry about sharing the water with anything bigger than a bullfrog.
“Time, and time, and time. Where does it go, Biscuit? Plans always on hold. Dreams fading more every day. You never feel it happening, but it does. And what am I doing with my life?”
It was cool enough that the frogs were silent, and any gators were down deep, staying put until warmer weather. The still, black surface of the pond reflected the face of the moon. It was huge again, nearly full. Imagine that. Another week, another month, another year gone by, and here he was, still living in the house where he’d grown up—sleeping in the same narrow bed he’d had as a boy.
It wasn’t what he’d wanted for himself, but somewhere along the line, it had become the course of least resistance. The occasional afternoon at their hardware store, days spent helping his dad around the house or taking care of his mom, and most Friday nights at the Riverbend Grill & Tap with his brothers.
He had been lulled into a routine that, while unexciting at best and downright boring at worst, felt safe. Sometimes, he didn’t even care. The safety net of the routine kept him too busy to think about the things he was missing—the life that was passing him by. Less of a risk involved, too, and Hunter was always aware that everything he did came with a certain risk, even if he tried not to dwell on it.
“Been ignoring the ship that sailed without me for a long time, and gotten pretty used to the idea, I guess. And yet, look what I’ve gone and done, now. Going to have lunch with Willow Greene. Pretty funny, in an ironic sort of way. All those lunches at school, wishing I were sitting beside her, sharing some fries, laughing easy together. How many hours spent watching that girl eat, I wonder, never once able to go near her. And me near to thirty-four and thinking I can do it now? Like I’m different, somehow?”
Biscuit whined, nuzzling his neck.
“Yep. You know it, too, doncha? Doomed.”
With his dog at his side, Hunter walked back to the farmhouse, knowing there was no way out of this predicament. Every beat of his heart seemed to echo his thoughts.
Doomed. Doomed. Doomed.