I write alone, often in the middle of the night. Insomnia tends to lend itself to writing in the small, wee hours of the morning. Even as I write those words, I have a slightly overweight, incredibly spoiled calico cat dozing on my lap. Occasionally, she pries one green eye open to be sure I’m not totally ignoring her, butts her head against my elbow, and resumes purring. Her name is Alabama, and she was named for the state she went to when she was less than twenty four hours old. She was an orphaned kitten when she was given to me—still slightly wet—and I was on my way to the Collie Club of Alabama shows. I didn’t have a choice but take her with me for the weekend. She traveled to Alabama in a small cardboard box, her heating pad plugged into the inverter in the rig, and was such a hit at the show, I literally had to put a sign over her little box in my grooming area that said, “My name is Alabama. My human mommy is Lynda. If I’m sleeping, please don’t wake me up. If I’m awake and my Mommy is in the ring with a dog, my bottle is in the cooler and the water heater is plugged in next to me.” I think every collie person at the show that weekend fed her at least once.
The competition in the show ring is fierce and can be nasty (seldom in my chosen breed—but in other breeds—OY!), but this little orphan revealed a much softer side to all the people I compete against on a regular basis. People who are highly competitive were seen sitting in a folding chair, bottle-feeding a tiny mewling ball of fluff, cooing and murmuring softly as they snuggled Alabama. Even people who said they don’t really like cats were caught in the act.
And, it’s that softer side as an author that I have to find in my characters. It’s all too easy to write the damaged hero who keeps his heart well-guarded behind a stony façade because he isn’t about to risk the kind of pain that heartache brings, but what is it that breaks down the protective stone and reveals the vulnerability and longing? What is it that takes down the walls, whether tiny chip by chip or with a massive wrecking ball (as Alabama proved to be for some people)? In The Devil’s Own Desperado, the work I’m currently working on with my editor, Susan Yates, at The Wild Rose Press, Colt Evans’s Alabama turns out to be Amelia’s little sister Jenny, a young girl traumatized into silence by witnessing her parents murder. Amelia has been chipping away at the façade, but it’s Jenny who is the wrecking ball, bringing all of his defenses crashing down.
The following is an excerpt from the upcoming novel:
Colt found Jenny in Angel’s stall, knees drawn to her chin, arms wrapped around her legs. She was shaking with silent sobs. He hung the lantern on a nail, and let himself into the horse’s stall. Colt sank next to Jenny in the clean straw. She looked up at him, her eyes welling with frightened tears. He slipped his arm around her and she dropped her head to his side, her tears dampening his shirt. “Aw, Jenny, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
She sniffled, and wiped the back of hand across her nose. Angel nosed the girl, his warm breath rustling the bright blue ribbons in her braids. Colt pushed the gelding’s head away. “Amy said you saw your momma and daddy killed by some very bad people.”
Jenny lifted her head and nodded, memories darkening her already dark eyes. Her lower lip quivered and tears spilled down her cheeks.
“Jenny, not everyone who carries a gun is going to hurt you.” He caressed her slender arm. “Learning to hunt is something a lot of boys do. It’s part of growing up.”
She shook her head vehemently, and then buried her face against his side. Her arms snaked around him and hugged him tightly, her slender frame shuddering.
With a finger under her slender chin, Colt tilted her face up. “Do you think I would ever let anyone hurt you?”
Those huge brown eyes searched his face, and then, slowly, she shook her head.
He drew a deep breath. “Do you think I would give Saul a rifle if I thought he was going to hurt you or Amy with it?”
Again, she slowly shook her head.
He brushed her bangs from her forehead, and tugged slightly on one of her long pigtails. “You know, Miss Jenny, when I came here a few days ago, I was wearing a gun.”
She swallowed and nodded.
“Do you think I’d ever hurt you?”
There wasn’t a second of hesitation before she shook her head. Colt folded her into his side again. “I promise, Miss Jenny, so long as I’m here, no one will hurt you or Saul or Amy. I swear that to you.”
Her thin arms tightened around his waist and Colt’s throat clenched. He sat with her for a long moment, the weight of her head against his ribs filling him with a protectiveness he hadn’t felt in a long time. He slipped her long braid through his fingers.
“You know what, Jenny?”
She shook her head against his side, her tiny hand catching his in the sling. Her fingers tightened around his palm.
“A man could get real used to living in a place like this with a couple of kids like you and Saul. That used to be something I dreamed of having…a couple of great kids, a beautiful wife like your sister would be, a small ranch with a few head of cattle. I used to dream about it so much, I had the floor plan for the house all laid out in my head. I could almost feel the sun on me as I watched it sinking behind a mountain range in those dreams.”
Jenny pushed back from him, and her brows lifted in silent query.
“I don’t know what happened to those dreams. I guess, somewhere along the line, I realized someone like me will never be able to settle down and have those dreams come true.”
She shook her head vehemently.
“No, what? No, I’ll never be able to settle down…”
She shook her head again. The blue ribbons danced and shimmered in the lantern light. Rain falling from the roof pattered to the ground in a soothing rhythm.The horses shuffled in the stalls and the cows contentedly munched hay.
“I should see to making those dreams come true.” Here, he silently added.
She bobbed her head and a smile darted over her tear-streaked face.
“Wish I could, Jenny.” Colt eased a deep breath in. He dropped his head to the wall behind him. “But that gun I wore isn’t going to let me.”
Her brows lowered.
“I’ve done some really bad things. I will always be looking over my shoulder. And if I stayed here to try to make those dreams come true, you and Saul and Amy could be hurt because of the things I have done. I’ve done some really bad things,” he repeated.
She shook her head again.
“Yeah, Jenny, I have.” He drew another deep breath. “I’d better get you into the house and take the tongue lashing I know is coming.” Colt stood, holding his hand down to Jenny. When he straightened, Amelia stood silently a few feet away. Tears welled and glistened in her eyes.
Colt brushed a hand over Jenny’s head . “Go on into the house, Jenny. And tell Saul to give that puppy a bowl of water.”
He waited until Jenny left the barn before he said, “Well, go on. Have your say. I should have asked you before I bought Saul a rifle, and I should have warned Jenny before she saw it. This is all my fault, and I overstepped my bounds as a guest in your home.”
A small girl, traumatized and terrified of guns, becomes Colt’s Alabama. So, if you’re an author, ask yourself, what is your character’s Alabama?