I’m crazy. It’s that simple. I’m flippin’ insane—certifiably, round the bend, toys in the attic CRAZY!
November is always crunch time for the fall semester at the university where I teach freshman English, so what did I do? I decide to do NaNoWriMo. Yep…I’m crazy. For those of you reading this blog who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it is National Novel Writing Month. In other words, committing to NaNaWriMo means I’ve committed to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days. I should be committed! Crazy…said to the tune of the Patsy Cline hit…
I’m about 20K words into a work in progress. It’s rough. Really, really rough, but that’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo. Shut the internal off and start writing. A long time ago, I wrote a contemporary romance that I know will never be published—aside from the fact the thing is so incredibly dated now it’s not funny. But, I love the hero. And the heroine. Love them both so much they still haunt my dreams. If you look up “alpha male romance hero” in the dictionary, you’d find my hero’s picture there. But, despite being an alpha, he is broken. Incredibly broken…shattered and damaged and so full of self-loathing and recrimination it’s a wonder the man can function at all. And she is more than his equal. She’s tough as old shoe leather when it counts, but full of belief in him. She literally pulls him out of the depths of a hell he’s allowed others to create for him.
So, for NaNoWriMo, I decided that as an author, and therefore the Great Creative God in my hero and heroine’s world, I was going to pick them up and transport them into an historical romance. I toyed with the idea of a time travel. I mean if I was going to pick them up and plop them down in a train careening westward across Nebraska (NEBRASKA????) to the Wyoming Territory, maybe it should be a time travel romance.
Nah. That wasn’t working for me. So, 10K words into that, I pitched that idea out the window of that rapidly moving train (when it wasn’t stopped about every 90 minutes to take on more water and fuel for the steam engine) and started playing the old “who, what, where, why, and what-if” game.
I’ve always had an affinity for those men who donned Confederate grey and homedyed butternut. Not the generals, or the politicians involved, mind you, but those men who fought out of a sense of duty and patriotism for their home states. (Robert E. Lee turned down the command of the Union Army and said he had to be faithful to his state of Virginia.) I read somewhere that more than 90% of the men who donned the grey never owned more than five acres and never owned a single slave. They were fighting for State’s rights. Like Rhett Butler, when he leaves Scarlett so he can go off and join the Southern Cause, I find my heart belongs to lost causes and underdogs.
So, my hero became a Confederate. And she’s a Yankee…damned and all. Well, maybe not damned. I’m still trying to figure out if I can get a dragon into this whole mess.
At any rate, here’s a small blurb from this work in progress:
Allison Webster ran out of the train station, cursing herself. How had she managed to miss the porter’s call for everyone to board? The train was belching black smoke from its massive diamond stack and pulling away from the station.
“Wait!” Allison ran as fast as her heeled boots would allow her, small carpetbag banging against her leg. “Please, wait!”
She caught the caboose, but the train was picking up speed. Allison gave a burst of speed and closed on the last boxcar. A man poked his head out of the car. Even running for all she was worth, she caught his grin.
“Toss that bag up here and give me your hand,” he shouted, holding his hand out to her.
Without thinking of the consequences, Allison tossed her little bag into the car and grabbed the offered hand. With one pull, he lifted her into the air and swung her into the livestock car. Momentum carried her forward, and she fell to her knees in the straw. At least the bedding was clean, she comforted herself, and she hadn’t landed in anything distasteful. She knelt in the straw for a few moments to catch her breath.
After several gulping breaths, she pushed herself to stand and turned to the man who had rescued her. He stood in the open doorway, leaning a shoulder against the frame, his back to the landscape beginning to move faster past them. He wore a threadbare grey greatcoat, the elbows patched, the cuffs frayed. The remains of gold braid spiraled along the collar and cuffs. A battered, sweat-stained cavalry styled hat covered his head and shaded half his face. Even though she couldn’t see his expression, Allison had the most uncomfortable feeling she was being looked over and sized up. Self-conscious, she ran her hands down the front of her skirt. “Thank you,” she managed.
He dipped his head. “First time we stop to take on water and wood, you can go on up to the passenger cars.”
The train lurched as it picked up even more speed and Allison stumbled forward, falling into him, the length of her upper body pressing against the wall of his chest. She grabbed his upper arms to steady herself and looked up into his face. Eyes the color of cobalt Italian marble bored into her. Dark beard stubble covered his lean, hollowed cheeks and hard jawline. She couldn’t look away from his face and seemed frozen in place.
A muscle clenched in his jaw and something icy filled the depths of his eyes. His hands closed on her waist. She couldn’t stop the small squeak stealing from her.
Without any seeming effort, he lifted her and set her down a foot or so away. “Go sit down over there on that hay bale, before you fall out the door, or worse, knock me out the door.”
Allison nodded vigorously and cautiously walked to the hay bale in a corner of the car. She sat down, then dropped her head to the wall behind her and shut her eyes, all the while trying to recreate a semblance of order to her hair where several strands had escaped the chignon at the back of her head. A few moments later, she glanced over to the opened door. Her brusque rescuer had his back to her.
“Do you know how long before we stop to take on more water and fuel?”
He twisted his head to look at her over his shoulder. “Probably about an hour.”
“Thank you, again, sir.”
“Try not to make it a habit of missing the train.”
When the train stopped to take on water at the first jerkwater little town, Allison admitted to herself that it had been the longest hour of her life. Her attempts at any conversation were met with silence at the worst and at the best, noncommittal grunts. He grabbed her bag and set it next to the door and waited for her to walk to the wide door. Allison slid down from the car, took the strategically placed bag and before she could offer her thanks, he stepped back into the shadows. A moment later, the door slid shut.
A.J. watched the little slip of a woman make her way from the boxcar with as much dignity as it appeared she could muster. The memory of that tiny waist in his hands and the slightness of her build had startled him. When she met his eyes, he’d been taken back. Eyes the color of melted chocolate widened and her slender, feathered brows lifted. Bright color flooded her cheeks when he told her to have a seat on the hay bale.
He had watched her discreetly tuck several strands of gold kissed walnut hair back under that ridiculous hat perched on her head. Realizing he had been staring at her, A.J. turned his back, letting the rapidly moving landscape occupy his gaze. She was lovely, he had to admit that. And, it had been a very long time since he had looked at a woman and not compared her to Cathy. He had sworn, as he knelt at Cathy’s grave that there would never be another. Now, a little slip of a thing had gotten in past his carefully constructed battlements and stirred something in him he would have sworn an oath to be long dead and buried beneath a live oak in Kentucky.
Sliding the door shut in her face hadn’t been the most gentlemanly thing he could have done, but he had long ago given up being anything that might even resemble a gentleman. Hell, he’d given that up somewhere in upstate New York, in a hell on earth called Elmira. If he’d harbored any hopes of regaining anything that came close to gallantry after watching men fight one another like animals for a scrap of moldy bread, egged on by not only their captive brothers in arms but by the guards who placed bets on the winners and losers, all hope died when he collapsed to his knees at the graves of his wife and daughters.