Life hasn’t been easy for Sarah Sawyer, but she’s finally found happiness with Jo. On March 29, Sarah rides again and there is sure to be more mayhem as the past comes back to haunt them, threatening everything they’ve worked so hard to build. Without further ado, here’s an early look at the first chapter of her next journey…
One Year Ago-Ketchum, Idaho
My name fell from her lips under the guise of a soft breath. It wasn’t meant for my ears, but I heard it just the same. The reverence in her voice spoke right to my heart, making the hardened piece of flesh in my chest skip a beat. When she turned, something in those soft hazel eyes took my pain away. Hope and forgiveness shone bright in her gaze, giving me a sense of calm, of safety.
The weakness in my knees was no longer from the sight of her. It was from whatever strength I had left that powered me back to Jo, seeping from my body. My feet refused to move, even as she waved me closer. I was desperate to reach her, to hold her, but I was out of time.
Her smile was the last thing I needed. The last thing I wanted. Jo had saved me. The woman had seen the one tiny sliver of goodness left in an otherwise deadened soul. A sliver I had no idea remained within me. A sliver left behind by the lessons of my parents in the innocent days of my youth.
I could die now.
This wasn’t how I wanted to go. No, that was supposed to happen after I killed O’Shea, but who could be upset about taking their last breath in the presence of an angel?
I took one unsteady step toward her, knowing it would be my last, but at least I’d go knowing I hadn’t lost everything my parents had given me.
Present Day- Ketchum
One year ago today, I walked back into Jo’s life. Stumbled back in would be more accurate. That was the day I almost died…for the first time.
I didn’t remember much about that September afternoon, only that I had finally laid eyes on Jo after all those months and it was like I’d died and gone to heaven. Looking back now, that’s nearly what had happened. She was the angel in my darkness and I ran toward her light.
There weren’t many things I believed in. Not God or fate, not even destiny. For all my disbeliefs though, I couldn’t deny that something bigger had forced us back together. I say forced, because I’d fought loving her tooth and nail until I couldn’t fight anymore.
I had never quit a day in my life until Jo. She was, still is, the only thing I’d ever given in to and it was the best surrender of my life. I had to laugh at my concentrated efforts now though, because surrendering to her wasn’t half bad.
Here I was, sitting on a brand new pine porch swing I’d made by hand, looking over the magnificent Sawtooth Mountains. Clover was happy as could be with the stallions and acres and acres of green grass to indulge in. I had the woman I loved more than life making dinner inside and a farm we’d worked hard to build. Best of all, we were surrounded by a trusted group of friends that I preferred to call family. Love and family was something I never imagined having again after the tragedy of my youth. Yes, life was good.
Even with all that happiness, I still found the occasion to question such good fortune. Considering all the heinous things I had done, it did beg the question, was I worthy? But there were fewer and fewer days those doubts clouded my mind, thanks to Jo. Every single day she showered me with love and did her level best to prove I had earned my abundance of bliss. I loved her all the more for it. She made me happier than I ever thought possible. Hidden amongst that joy though, lingered the fear that one day the other boot would drop and all of that joy would be ripped from me, just like it did as a child.
Jo was an optimist, but despite her best efforts, my experiences in life had led me to be quite the opposite. Whether things were good or bad, they always changed. I only hoped we’d have at least ten years of happiness to match my ten of darkness before it all went to shit, because right now, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Her silky voice floated out the open window, reaching my ears like a sweet symphony. I loved the sound of my name when it fell from her lips. Somehow, it always made me feel lighter.
“Right here, Jo,” I called back. She probably thought I was still out in the barn since I spent so much time working down there, but tonight, I just wanted to sit and reflect.
The front door creaked open. I looked up to find those beautiful eyes sparkling at the sight of me and I couldn’t help but smile. Smiling was all I could do when she looked at me that way. I patted the spot beside me and winked. The simple gesture made her beam. Drying her hands on the apron around her waist, she took the offered seat and looked out to the horizon.
The sun was on a fast descent. Night would be here soon, but right now there was an amazing purple color tinging the clouds as the sun dipped behind the ragged mountain peaks. Mother Nature’s beauty was breathtaking, but she couldn’t hold a candle to the exquisite creation beside me.
My hand slipped into Jo’s, giving it a gentle squeeze. Her thumb brushed back and forth across the top of my hand as she snuggled in close, resting her head on my shoulder. We sat in silence until the array of color faded into black and white. This was one of my favorite things about my new life. These little moments with her. I’d made myself a promise to cherish each and every one and I had every intention of holding to it.
She shivered against me as the warmth disappeared with the colors of day and the sun receded from sight. The cool temperatures of the impending winter nipped at our skin. Sometimes the cold still touched my soul, a memory of what I had been, what I would still be, without her.
Jo kissed me on the cheek. Her warm touch bringing me back like so many times before. “Dinner’s ready.”
“Okay. Thanks.” I continued to stare at the horizon and the faint twinkling of stars that had just begun their nightly journey across the sky. “Can we sit another minute?”
I was savoring my new found peace. I’d never taken much time to appreciate anything, but tonight I would. After all I’d been through, I wanted to acknowledge this milestone in my life. I gently pulled my hand free and slid it around her shoulders. Holding her tight to me, I rubbed up and down her exposed arm to bring warmth to her chilled skin.
“Sure. What’s on your mind, Sarah?” She folded her arms across her chest as she pressed closer to me, one hand sliding up her arm to cover mine.
“Nothing too much.”
“Uh huh. I know you better than that,” she pushed with humor lacing her words.
The corner of my mouth tugged up as I glanced out the corner of my eye. She was smiling at me with that all-knowing expression upon her face. Jo really did know me well, better than anyone, but even she didn’t know everything. “I’m proud of what we’ve done with the place, but there’s so much more to do.”
“It’s a farm.” A melodious laugh carried through the cold night air. “There’s always more to do.”
I laughed with her. She was right. There were so many dreams we had for this place that reached far beyond what needed to be done every day.
“But that’s not what you’re thinking about, is it Sarah?”
The heaviness of the simple question erased our smiles. She scooted away and faced me fully.
I sighed at the loss of her warmth, the night air whisking it away much too fast for my liking. “No, it’s not,” I mumbled, casting my eyes down as a fog settled over my mind.
She reached out, taking my hand in hers. “I know what today is.” Her admission was gentle, supportive. She was afraid to spook me. I’d come a long way emotionally, but I’d still shut her out on a moment’s notice no matter how many times she encouraged me to speak my mind.
With tender care, a finger slid under my chin and commanded my gaze. Jo searched my soul the way only she could. Her eyes glistened with emotions, ones we both still fought in the hopes of ending the pain of our pasts.
Her silent pleading to communicate was more than I could bear. For all my strengths, saying no to her wasn’t one of them. I didn’t want to talk about it now, or ever really, but for her, I tried. Every darn day I tried to be better for Jo, to be all she needed and wanted. It was gonna be a long road, but I took it one day at a time.
I closed my eyes. A soft sigh escaped my lungs as the words tumbled out without thought, “It’s the first time I almost died.”
“No.” She shook her head. “It’s the day you decided to live.”
I raised my brow. My attention piqued. “How you figure? I was nearly dead when I got to you.”
“But you came to me. You came for me, Sarah. You finally gave in and let your heart guide you.” Her hand reached up, cupping my cheek with that familiar tenderness, never breaking eye contact as she spoke. “You said it yourself. You were only gonna look through the window and leave, but you didn’t. You wanted more. You wanted us, even if it was only a ghost of a thought in the back of your mind.”
I pondered her words carefully. I hadn’t thought of it that way. They echoed a truth deep inside that I had chosen to ignore. It was true. My heart had made the decision even when my mind had been rebelling against it.
“You’re right.” A small smile pulled at my lips when I looked back at her. “I’d been thinkin’ about you nonstop. Some nights you’d show up in my dreams. Those would be the only nights I’d sleep. There was a time I woulda fought harder against my feelin’s. Hell, I probably woulda died out on the trail from my stubbornness, but you chipped away at my walls.”
She smiled wider as a light blush tinged her cheeks. I loved that even now I could turn her redder than a spring wild flower. “You still continue to break down my walls, Jo.” My hand followed hers upward, lightly taking a hold of her wrist. Her pulse pounded hard against my fingers, matching the one drumming away in my chest.
“Your walls would rival the Great Wall of China,” she said still holding a soft smile.
The comparison pulled an easy laugh from me. I had worked hard to put those walls up. “I painstakingly built them up over the years and in one night you chipped enough away to stake your claim. I wanted you. My heart choose you. It just took me a while to come to terms with that.”
“Sarah Sawyer. Gunslinger, farmer, hopeless romantic. Who knew?”
She wasn’t laughing at me. Far from it. Jo was sincere through and through in her esteem, something that still turned me bashful.
It was my turn to blush and boy did I ever. I dropped my eyes to the ground and tried to pull away. The vulnerability she loved to see was too much to handle. I’d changed, but some things remained the same.
Her hand closed over mine, preventing my escape. Two fingers once again found their home under my chin, turning me back to her. Warm hands slid up and cupped my face. Fed up with the wasted space between us, Jo pulled me in for a deep, passionate kiss.
Time stood still. My fingers sifted through silky hair, gripping her tighter. The familiar flutter of my stomach came to life. Melding her lips to mine, I indulged in the taste of her lips until the dizziness of happiness and lack of oxygen forced me to succumb to the aggravating need for air.
Sometimes I hated breathing. Sure, the action was a simple side effect of being alive, but she was what truly gave me life. Jo was the reason my heart beat. Otherwise, breathing would be unnecessary. So, in my humble and biased opinion, it was unfair the requirement of air ever had to come between me and her lips.
I touched my forehead to Jo’s and held her close, squeezing my eyes shut until I saw stars. The pounding in my chest and her warm hands on my skin only added to the monumental moment I was paying homage to tonight. My emotions in the moment swirled too much to meet her intense gaze. All thought was stuck somewhere between my brain and my lips, but my heart knew what to say. “You did, Jo.” The words spilled out in a breathless whisper. “You did.”
END CHAPTER ONE
If you enjoyed what you read so far, there is plenty more action and romance to come. Mosey on over to “The Price of Payback” on Amazon today to get your copy CLICK HERE.