This is an excerpt from my book Hope Heals (mfm) which is available from Siren-BookStrand and other third-party retailers.
Sarah’s world shatters when her husband’s killed in the wreck that injures her young son, Jason. Worse, Sarah discovers painful betrayals that make remaining in New York City with her hateful mother-in-law impossible. Moving home to Florida to live with her widowed father is their only option.
You can go home again, but it’s not the home she remembers. The hunky next door neighbors are also her new employers, cousins Sam and Pete Hope. She went to school with the men but they’re all grown up. It’s soon clear they have their sights set on winning her heart.
Unfortunately, her mother-in-law doesn’t give up quite so easily. She’s determined to get Sarah and Jason back to New York by any means necessary. Despite an escape-artist steer nicknamed Moodini, asshole ninja assassin pet goats, and learning how to love again, Sarah rebuilds her and Jason’s lives and soon discovers that, just maybe, two Hopes can heal her heart better than one.
Sarah followed him out the front door and down the driveway. Then her feet came to a halt all on their own as she stared out into the southern pasture. “Since when do you have a cow?”
“Oh, that’s Big Mac.”
As she stared, the huge, golden brown beast realized she was looking at him and began slowly ambling their way, slobbery nose and all.
Horns over a foot long gracefully curved away from its skull on either side.
Stuck on the tip of the left one was a yellow tennis ball.
“You’re not going to…butcher him or anything, will you?” she nervously asked. She desperately didn’t want Jason to grow attached to it, and he would, just to have to break it to him that it was going in the freezer.
He let out a snort. “Hell, no. He’s old. Nearly nine. He was your momma’s pet. I’d started out thinking we were going to fatten him up and have him butchered, but I just couldn’t do it.”
“Because he was Mom’s pet…cow?” Her mother had never mentioned having a pet cow that she could remember. She also didn’t remember seeing it when she’d come down for the…
She cut off that thinking.
“No, because she went and named the damn thing. How am I supposed to eat something she named?”
“But…” Her brain hurt. “But she named it after a fast-food sandwich?”
“Yeah. Your mother had a really mean, twisted sense of humor sometimes. She was trying to get me to cut back on my burgers.”
She gave up trying to process that. “Okay, that’s all good, but he still has a tennis ball stuck on his horn.”
“It’s not stuck.”
Sarah blinked a few times before looking at her father. He wore a totally deadpan expression.
“I said, it’s not stuck.”
“What do you mean it’s not stuck? I’m looking right at it, Dad. It’s stuck on his horn.”
“It’s not stuck. He’s missing one.”
More time needed to process that tidbit. She turned back to him. “What?”
“I said, he’s missing one.”
She closed her eyes and rubbed at her temples and forehead. “Okay, Dad. Let’s start over. Why do you put tennis balls on the cow’s horns?”
“Well, just one would look silly now, wouldn’t it?”
She stared at him. “What?”
“I put two on. Matched set. I stick them on with Gorilla Glue. He usually manages to rub one or both off after a while. I have more in the shed. I go over and buy them in bulk from a guy at the flea market. I have all different colors. Sometimes, I would put two different colors on him, just to aggravate your momma.”
He sadly smiled as he reached through the fence and scratched the cow between the eyes. “So now I always make sure the colors match.”
Maybe he had Alzheimer’s and she’d somehow missed that. It had been a long time since they’d spent time together. And she was so out of it while he was in New York that he could have been walking around naked with a tin foil hat and she might not have noticed it.
“Dad. Focus. Why do you put tennis balls on the cow’s horns?”
“To keep him from poking the crap out of me or anything else. You don’t chop off a cow’s horns. It’s like ripping off your damn toe. And he’s not a cow, he’s a steer. You’re going to hurt his feelings.”
“I’ve got a hot news flash for you. If he can tolerate you sticking tennis balls on his horns for the past nine years, then he doesn’t have any feelings.”
“Well now, that’s just a plain mean thing to say, isn’t it?” The beast tipped his head toward her father and closed his eyes as he scratched his muzzle.
She closed her eyes and counted to ten again before opening them. “Why didn’t I see him when I was here the…last time?” She couldn’t bring herself to say “for Mom’s funeral” out loud.
“He was next door, at the Hopes’ place. They borrow him and the goats from time to time to graze.”
“Goats. Plural.” He started to walk away and she turned to follow him.
“Goats, as in more than one?” She scurried behind him.
“Well, plural is how you normally refer to more than one goat, isn’t it?”
“Why do you have goats?”
“To keep the pigs company. And Big Mac. He likes them. Plus they’re great for keeping the weeds down in the pasture.”
He kept walking while she came to a standstill again. He realized she wasn’t following him and turned. “What?” he asked.
She finally started toward him again. “Anything else I need to know about?”
“Well, there’s the chickens.”
She felt like she’d stepped into a bad SNL skit. “Chickens?”
“Chickens. Didn’t you notice all the fresh eggs in the fridge?”
“Well, I did notice you had a lot of eggs in the fridge.”
“I give them away, mostly. Man can only eat so many eggs.”
“Oh. Well, of course.”
He smiled. “You look stunned.”
“Are we eating the pigs?”
“No. Bacon and Hammy were—”
“Mom’s pets,” she finished for him.
He smiled. “Yep. We’d just got them a few weeks earlier when she…”
His smile faded and he jammed his hands in his pockets. “We were going to raise a new pair every year. She wasn’t as attached to them as she was Big Mac. But I just couldn’t do it.” He shrugged. “She’d named them.”
“So why didn’t I see the pigs when I was here?”
“They were out in the pen behind the barn. I don’t think you went out there.”
No, she hadn’t. “And the chickens? Not eating them, are we?”
“Oh, those are new. I just got them about a year and a half ago. And no, only the eggs.”
“I didn’t hear a rooster crowing this morning.”
“I kept everyone penned up last night so he wouldn’t crow and wake you and Jason this morning.”
“You’ve been busy.”
He shrugged. “They keep me company.”
They continued their walk down to the front gate. When they reached it, she looked to the north, to their neighbor’s driveway. An older woman, maybe her dad’s age, emerged from the driveway and checked her mailbox.
He held up a hand and cackled. “Afternoon, you old bitch!”
She straightened and flipped him a bird. “Good afternoon, you fucking old bastard!” she hollered back.
Sarah wasn’t sure, but it sounded like the woman laughed. She was too far away to tell.
Mortified, Sarah stared at her dad. “Dad! What the hell are you doing?”
He grinned and flipped his neighbor off in return. “Eggs?”
She changed her bird to the V of two fingers.
He flashed her an okay signal in return. Like obnoxious senior citizen gang signs.
“Two dozen. I’ll bring ’em over shortly,” he called.
She waved and trudged back up her driveway.
He looked at Sarah. “Oh, don’t look so shocked. She likes it.”
“Who is that?”
“Betty Lazarra. Our neighbor. Nice broad.”
She’d never heard her dad call any woman a “broad.” “How long has she lived there?”
“Four years now, I guess it is. Widowed and retired. I give her eggs.” He grabbed his newspaper, checked the mailbox, and started up the driveway toward the house after closing the gate, leaving Sarah staring at his back.
What the everlovin’ hell?
Things certainly had changed a lot since she last lived at home.
After a slow shake of her head, she followed her father up the driveway.