Read-a-Chapter: A Texan’s Choice by Shelley Gray

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the Christian fiction, A Texan’s Choice by Shelley Gray. Enjoy!

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  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press (October 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426714653
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426714658

When notorious outlaw Scout Proffitt wins a rundown ranch in west Texas, he expects to find the home he’s never had. Instead, he finds a run-down shack, a barn in dire straits…and a lovely woman who’s in no hurry to give up her ranch.

When Scout discovers that Rosemarie has nowhere else to go, he   reluctantly allows her to stay with him for two weeks until she can find another home. But soon the locals get involved and insist they marry.

Determined to do at least one thing right in his life, he marries Rose. Then people from his past come back and give him an offer he can’t refuse. If things go well, he can make a fresh start. If not, he’ll be even worse off than before.

Which was something he never thought possible…

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Chapter One

November, 1874

West Texas

They’d been waiting for her father to die for five days.

Only a strong sense of duty drove Rosemarie back into the darkened room, where the scents of whiskey and sickness grabbed her the moment she crossed the threshold. When she coughed, both to adjust her nose and eyes to the dim, thick air, six faces turned to her in surprise. The seventh occupant  was oblivious.

“Sorry,” she murmured around yet another cough.

“Rosemarie. Hush now,” her mother ordered. “You’re gonna disturb your pa.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Yet-as much as Rose could tell-Pa continued to lay motionless. The only sign he was still alive was the faint fluttering of collar of his nightshirt. Though she hadn’t been invited to do so, Rosemarie edged closer to the bed.

It wasn’t easy to do. There were a lot of people packed into the too-small bedroom, and the place had never been much to begin with.

Of course, it went without saying that their whole house had never been much. Her father had built it from a slew of cast-off boards from someone else’s broken barn. Judging by the gaps in the planks, Rose had always assumed the former owners had known what they were doing when they’d left the wood for scrap before heading back east.

Her family had settled into the place eight years ago, in the midst of the war, and had promptly named it the Circle C. Though the red dirt and loads of dust didn’t look like much of anything, Pa had said it the land was as good as any.

He was happy to settle and escape the fighting, though Rose never had exactly understood what was wrong with him.

Her mother had slapped her silly the one time she’d asked.

Now, though, her father seemed dwarfed by his past as much as the old iron bed frame above his head, the pair of oak rocking chairs to his left, and group of bodies surrounding him.

Rosemarie stood in the perimeter, looking in, trying to see her father’s face. Even if it was for one last time.

But all she saw was the jumble of covers covering the majority of his chest. A wide splotch of brownish liquid that had soaked into the warring rings making up the quilt. The once pristine white and soothing pink rings looked pretty pitiful, and that was the truth.

His breathing was labored.

“How is he doing? Any change?” she finally asked, unable to bear the silence anymore. Unable to bear the idea that the waiting would continue. And continue.

“Ah, Rose.” Doc glanced her way over a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. “I’m afraid I have no good news for you. He’s about the same.”

“His breathing slowed,” her mother added, somewhat hopefully.

With a weary nod, the preacher nodded. “I believe it has. He’ll be with the Lord soon.”

“That’s good.” She said the words without thinking, really.

The comment had come from a sense that too much had happened that could never be repaired. They’d known for days now that their father wasn’t going to get better, and since they’d begun the deathwatch, the atmosphere among all of them had turned into a helpless sense of inevitability.

And sickness.

Actually, the air in the room was so thick with the mingling of warm bodies, the light so dim, and the smell of sickness and despair so overpowering, Rose knew death would have to be better than the current situation.

But she probably should never have acknowledged that.

To her right, her sister Annalise gasped. “Rose, how could you say such a thing?”

Though Rose knew Annalise had probably felt the same way-as did everyone else in the room, she apologized. “I’m sorry. I spoke out of turn.”

“You certainly did.”

“However, I dare say that heaven is a whole lot better,” Rosemarie said, not quite able to hide the irony she was feeling. After all, this place had never been good.

At least not for her.

Since Annalise only blinked, looking determined to pretend that they were in the middle of one of those fancy homes owned by the cattle barons-and the others looked grateful to have something to think about besides her father’s labored breaths, Rose continued. “Heaven is supposed to be a wonderful place, right? A whole lot better than this?” When her sister merely continued to look shocked, Rose looked to the preacher for support.

Pastor Grant, however, was bent over his clasped hands and praying.

“You need to learn to keep your thoughts to yourself, daughter,” her mother murmured. “No one wants to hear your opinions.”

No one ever had…well, not since her brother Pete had died under her watch. “Yes’m.”

The atmosphere relaxed a bit as all eyes turned back to Bill Cousins. With bated breath, they continued watched Pa gasp and struggle to wheeze. No one touched him, not the doctor or the preacher. Not Annalise. Not even her mother.

Maybe not especially May Cousins. Rose couldn’t blame her mother for that, though, because her Pa had never been much of a good man. In many ways, he hadn’t been bad one either.

No, more like, her father was more a study in what-could-of-beens. He could have been brighter, smarter, handsomer, or even nicer. Maybe even meaner. Instead, he’d often faded into the woodwork, not doing much of anything.

The thing was, no one expected him to do much, anyway. Not even to stay fighting in the war.

If Rosemaire was a betting woman, she’d pretty much bet all her worth that no one had actually ever liked Bill Cousins, except, perhaps, his momma.

After all, what did you do with a man who clung to dreams like strings from kites and who’d made promises with the smallest amount of hope possible? Dreams only got you so far in the middle of November when the wind was howling, the fireplace was bare and there wasn’t a thing in a rickety house worth eating.

Once, when Rose had been supposed to be sleeping but it hadn’t been possible because her parents were going at it something fierce, May Cousins had let forth a stream of dire words. “You’re nothing but a waste and a wastrel, Bill. Day after day I’ve been waiting for you to go do something of means, but all you do is say that you don’t feel well, or that you’ve got plans in town. You’re nothing but a worthless mass of bones and skin.”

Rose knew that to be a pretty fair description.

Pa had been all of that and more. Full of shiny smiles and made-up promises. A shell of a man, his pride and confidence as brittle and fragile as one of the eggs the hens laid on a good day.

Now, as he lay dying, he wasn’t much better.

Predictably, he was taking forever to meet his maker, holding up a mess of chores and work in the meantime.

Maybe Jesus wasn’t in a real hurry to visit with him, neither?

As if reading her mind, May Cousins looked up from her perch next to her husband’s side, the damp rag limp in her hand. Five other pairs of eyes stared at her, as well, each looking more vacant than the last. “Rosemarie, do something. Fetch more water, would you?”

“Yes, Mama.”

Rose knocked into the thick door as she hastily walked back out. Her clash with the door’s frame ringing out a racket, drawing her older sister’s scorn. “Can’t you even walk right?”

Her sister’s impatience was no surprise. Annalise Cousins Petula was only three years older, but comprised of a lifetime of different choices. At twenty-two, she was married, was nursing a new baby, and still managed to look fresh and beautiful. ‘Course, Annalise had always managed to look perfect, even when she’d lived with them.

In contrast, Rosemarie, with her riot of brown curls and murky blue eyes, always seemed to be in need of a mirror.

She’d never had a patient nature, had hardly ever been able to sit still. That was surely why she’d spent the day brewing coffee, frying flatbread, and fetching for everyone else. It was why she’d gotten up early to take care of the chickens and Sam, the pig. It was why her hair was falling out of its hastily pinned bun and her bare feet were dirty.

Even in November.

Knowing that even if she got a pail of water and brought it back without dripping a drop, her mother would still find fault, Rose passed the pump and just kept going. She threw open the rickety back door, raced down the four steps, and welcomed freedom.

Dirt, cold and hard and unforgiving, spat up underfoot, mixing with the hem of her calico, puffing up in dismay around her toes. Pebbles scattered, flaying in her path. One hit the wheel of the doctor’s buggy, the sharp sound spurring his horse to lift his ears in annoyance.

But, oh, it felt so good to be outside.

The sun was setting, bringing with it a riot of color in the otherwise mud-brown horizon. In the distance, an owl hooted, signaling his dismay about the intrusion to the peaceful silence.

Rose didn’t care. With eager feet, she passed the doc’s buggy and the preacher’s mare. She scurried by chicken pens. Around the gate to the garden. Finally with care, she  approached the lone fence post. Pa had pounded it in the earth years ago, back when he’d intended to fence in their property. He’d never gotten any farther. It was as good a symbol as any, showing the world that the Cousins never’d had much, and weren’t likely to, neither. Just beyond their land was opportunity. Rose clasped it gratefully.

As the sun continued to set, she spoke, praying and talking. Communicating with the only one who seemed to care about her. “Why’s is it taking so long, Lord? I’m thinking Pa’s suffered enough.”

The wind howled, slapping her in the face, bringing her shame for even wishing her Pa would hurry up and do the inevitable.

After all, their neighbors the Wilsons, had crops to tend to. Annalise needed to get on home to her snooty husband. And, well, everyone else just seemed plumb worn-out from all the waiting.

Was wishing for death so wrong? Rosemarie wasn’t sure. But there had to be hope in death if there wasn’t in life, right?  And, well, Doc said Pa’s condition wasn’t going to get better. Ever. Everyone had been on deathwatch for days. Rose couldn’t remember for certain the last time her Pa had been awake. One week ago? Ten days? Too long, for sure.

So shouldn’t they all be hoping that Pa’s glorious salvation would come sooner than later?

Life, such as if was, needed to go on.

As the sun sank and darkness flooded the plains, a stillness rose. No moon, or even a star deigned to keep her company. Only the wind, that howling, never-ending factor that was always present. Cool air sank into her bones. Crept in, teasing her with its company. Spurring her to duty, no matter how unpleasant. It was time to go back.

But then, in the distance, a shadow appeared. As it got bigger, Rose felt the vibration of horse hooves on the ground. Who now?

Unafraid, Rose watched the rider approach. Was it Mr. Kowalsky, their Polish neighbor to the north? Mr. Benedict, the sheriff?

Annalise’s husband? No doubt he would be looking for his dinner and his wife.

But as the shadow formed a man in a black Stetson and the type of posture that could drive nails in a wall, Rose sensed he was unfamiliar.

He came closer.

Rose noticed his boots were black. The horse’s bridle had a bit of silver. His duster was long and black and worn.

Who was he?

His horse slowed as he approached, then finally came to a stop a good four feet away. Under the brim of the hat, gray eyes met her own.

For the first time in her life, Rose was afraid to speak. This man looked powerful and strong. Vaguely threatening.

“Ma’am?” His voice sounded scratchy, like he wasn’t used to talking. Very slowly he tipped the rim of his hat.

After swallowing hard, she found her voice. “What do you want?”

Before he could answer, a scream tore through the night, spooking the horses, even the stranger’s. For a good two minutes, it danced a bit as he fought to control it, dust flying up into her face all the while.

After the man gained control, he glanced at the window, then looked at her in concern. “What’s going on? What just happened?”

Rose knew. She knew as sure as if she’d been asked to stand by the bed, been allowed to hold her Pa’s hand. Loosening her right hand’s death grip on the post, she pointed behind her. “I do believe my pa just died.”

The sound of crying curled through the chinks of the old barn’s boards then dissipated into night air. To her surprise, Rose found she was not immune. Tears trekked down her cheeks-though maybe her eyes were watering from the dust?

In front of her, still mounted on his very fine, very tall horse, the man in the black hat cursed under his breath. Finally, he spoke again, his voice low and husky. “Now, don’t that beat all? My timing never was worth beans.”

“Mister, who are you?”

After a lengthy pause, he spit out the words. “Name’s Scout Proffitt.”

Reprinted with permission from A Texan’s Choice by Shelley Gray. © 2012 by Abingdon Press

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