Why do we think of September, nine months into the year, as a beginning? Is it the influence of the school year starting in September? And who thought up that brilliant timing, with all the holiday seasons coming soon? Start now, finish next year. Sounds crazy, right? And yet, those of us with kids or who work in schools, consider September as a time of beginning. Even politicians have jumped on that bandwagon.
So, it seems appropriate to put my two starting-over books on sale. My heroines, Lacy and Annie, are friends who have had some bad breaks. Starting over is their only choice. And where better than a dying mining town in the Southwest? It's a challenge they both tackle in different ways. But falling in love is not part of their plans.
Read part of the first chapter of Under the Desert Sky here. Next month, I'll post the beginnings of Under the Desert Moon. Stay tuned!
UNDER THE DESERT SKY
Holt Henderson pretended to fight the steering wheel to stay on the grueling, curvy road. He made car noises, straight from the kids' car movies, to the amusement of his little daughter. Sofia squealed with delight at every curve and made her own car noises.
The old highway had been bypassed for a more modern and direct route west, abandoning Silver Creek and other small towns along the way. And when the copper mine closed last year, everything went to hell, from what he’d read. Family men had to leave town to make a living. And the women were trying to hang onto their properties because they couldn't afford to walk away.
Holt actually thought Silver Creek held potential and promised a future for him. Silver Creek had a job just right for him. Silver Creek was—he rounded a curve and his destination came into sight—a dusty, empty little town, off the beaten path. He sighed audibly. He'd hoped this was a town that he and Sofia would like. Now, on seeing it, he had doubts. Damned ramshackle place.
If it weren't for Sofia, he'd probably head for Oregon or Alaska. Someplace. . . faraway, distant, remote. But his darling daughter was growing up, starting school, and needed a stable home life. No more apartments and moving with every new job.
They had driven into town early, to canvass the area and make their own evaluation before the job interview. They found the city's business section limited, with many stores boarded or simply closed and locked. The historical section formed a square around the old courthouse. As expected, it was in ruins.
Silver Creek's quiet residential area was composed of once-beautiful stucco houses with turn-of-the- century gingerbread trim decorating the eaves and columned front porches. Most needed paint and repair. When they drove through the neighborhood, Holt noticed Sofia staring curiously at the clusters of children playing in the neat little yards. "What do you think, princess?"
She returned his gaze with a hopeful smile that revealed two missing front teeth. "Are we going to live here, Daddy? Can we grow flowers? And have a puppy? Do they have an ice cream store?"
"I have to get a job, first. That's why we came here today."
"And you brought me so I could help you get a job?"
Holt laughed. "You just leave that part up to me, princess."
Sofia was a secure child who seemed to think that life with Daddy was an adventure, no matter where they were. He tried to make sure that she knew he would always there for her. She didn't remember her mother and didn't seem to miss having one, although sometimes she talked about a "mommy." Holt had no intention of replacing the mother of his daughter, although many had tried. He just wasn't interested in other women, not seriously anyway.
Holt drove back to the courthouse and parked on the nearly empty street. He surveyed the aging brick building as he helped Sofia out of the Jeep."Coloring book?"
"Check. In my purse." She tucked the coloring book under her arm, held the little purse like a big girl, and tried to keep up with her father's long strides.
Holt paused momentarily, his attention diverted by two kids playing basketball on the school playground next door. The scene kindled memories of matching shots with his brothers when they were kids in El Paso.
Holt and Sofia watched as one of the boys dribbled the basketball behind him, switching hands on the ball without missing a step. Then he moved around to approach the basket from the other side. With a graceful sweep of one arm, he dunked the ball then leaped high to recover the rebound.
"Good shot!" Holt yelled and raised a fist. Sofia mimicked her dad.
The kid waved and grinned with pride.
Holt chuckled and pressed forward again, Sofia in tow. He realized the presence of a six-year-old on a job interview wasn't very professional, but her sitter had gotten ill at the last minute. What else was he to do?
"Can I stay and watch the game, Daddy?" She hung back, tugging on Holt's large hand.
"You'd better come with me. You can wait in the office while I talk to the mayor about a job."
"Then ice cream?"
Holt stepped through warped double doors of the courthouse, wondering if this was a good beginning or a bad decision. The hallway smelled musty and old and was badly in need of some paint. The stifling air wasn't much cooler than outside. Holt climbed the creaky wooden stairs, thinking how he’d restore them to functional beauty.
Sofia followed, jumping and dancing on each step. "Oh look Daddy, a black kitty! Can I pet her?"
By the time he looked around, the cat was gone. "Come with me. Sofia." He was tense, losing patience with her.
Inside the mayor's office, a rickety air conditioner sputtered in one window, emitting a spritz of cool air and dripping a small stream of water beneath it into a plastic bucket.
Silver Creek's courthouse had definitely seen better days, just like the rest of the town. Given the wobbly economy, seeking a job here might be risky. But it was a position he couldn't resist. The minute he saw the ad, he knew he had to go for it. Renovating a historic district in an old mining town was a rare opportunity and for him, a treat.
Holt turned and gazed into the face of a knockout red-head with a pale complexion and a smattering of faint freckles across the bridge of her nose. She looked like someone who'd grab your hand and eagerly romp through a field of wildflowers. Holt stared at her for a moment, enjoying the fantasy. She smiled down at Sofia, then turned her attention back to him.
"I'm Lacy Donahue." She extended her slender hand.
Holt took her cool hand and was tempted to hold it a little too long. "You’re the mayor?"
"Yes. You’ll be interviewing with me."
Her smile warmed him like the summer sun.
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