I am so excited to share that my second novel, HOME, is out now! This novel is scheduled for a wide release on May 26th, 2020, but you can get your copy in either e-book or paperback directly through www.bywaterbooks.com!
These books are gorgeous. Ann McMan designed another incredible cover, once again capturing the book perfectly. When my author copies arrived last week, I recruited my daughter, Addie, to help open the box of books. She immediately claimed the first copy for herself, but there are plenty more to go around!
I will be blogging more about this book in the next few weeks, but for now, here is the back cover blurb and the opening scene!
What do you do when the heart wants what it wants?
Rowan Barnes never planned on living in Texas, and she’s not sure she likes it. She tells herself that her dream job as grill chef at a new up-and-coming restaurant was worth the relocation from her Portland home, but she feels out of place and alone in the lone star state.
Kate Landreth, on the other hand, is Texas through-and-through. Rowan meets Kate while picking up beef from a local cattle ranch, and is immediately drawn to the woman whose heart is as big as the state she loves. As the two women become closer, Rowan begins to see Texas through Kate’s eyes, but Kate is hesitant to fall too deeply for a woman who makes it clear that Texas will never be her home.
When Rowan finds herself at a crossroads, she must decide if she wants to stay in Texas, or if she wants to return to Portland—to the family and friends and familiar places that she has so desperately missed. The question Rowan has to ask herself is whether or not home is where she grew up, or whether home really is where the heart is.
Rowan Barnes couldn’t figure out why Texans were so scared of hellfire when they seemed to already live and thrive in it. How is it so damn hot outside? She wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her arm, and then continued pushing the shopping cart across the parking lot. The inhospitable heat reflected off the pavement, making the air feel like an oven, and she couldn’t help but believe the metallic clanging of the cart’s wheels were the warning bells of a doomsday harbinger. The walk from the grocery store to her car was a short distance, but even that short walk felt like an unending trek across the desert. The sun beat down relentlessly without even a single puff of cloud to absorb the intense burning glare.
“I’m gonna die,” she said to no one in particular. “All these damn little black birds are gonna peck the flesh from my body. They’re all gathered up there on those power lines waiting for an outsider like me to keel over from heat exhaustion.”
She managed a single bitter laugh. It was official. Her brain was being fried. She’d been in Fort Worth, Texas, barely a week and already she was talking to herself.
By the time she reached her car, her shirt was damp with sweat, clinging to her uncomfortably. She hurriedly tossed her groceries in the trunk, returned her cart, and then slid into the metal broiler of a car that was at least fifty degrees hotter than the outside air, by her estimate. She didn’t close the driver’s side door. She turned on the car and cranked the air conditioning up as high as it would go. The vents only blew more hot air. It would take a while before the engine had cooled enough for AC to have even the slightest hope of counteracting the exterior heat, so she rolled down all the windows, hoping that the drive would at least generate enough of a breeze to prevent heatstroke.
“You’re so brave moving to Texas alone.” Rowan had lost count of the number of friends who had said that to her. She had thought they were talking about taking the leap to move to a new state. She hadn’t known that she’d need bravery for when driving from the grocery store became a survival mission.
By the time she pulled up to her apartment complex, the car-oven had cooled down from deathly “broil” to merely an uncomfortable “keep warm,” which she supposed was the best she could ask for in Texas. Cold was clearly not a temperature that existed there.
She parked in front of her building as close to the stairs as possible in an attempt to minimize her time outside. She pulled in next to a truck with a bumper sticker that read, “Pro-God. Pro-Gun. Pro-Life.” Her little Civic hybrid was dwarfed by the vehicle which belonged in a monster truck rally, not driving through the city.
At least my car will be out of the sun, she thought. The truck’s shadow neatly covered the entirety of her car.
She took a breath of the merely “keep warm” air to brace for the scorching heat. Then she turned off the ignition, went around to the back of her car, and started grabbing her bags of groceries from the trunk. She wanted to spend as little time outside as possible, so she gathered all of the bags at once, attempting to balance the weight evenly for each arm. She strained with the weight of all the bags, but the last thing she wanted was to have to make a second trip.
Rowan was already en route from her car to the stairs when she heard the deep voice, thick with a Southern drawl. She turned.
“Do you need help with those?” An early middle-aged man climbed down from the driver’s seat of the truck, tugging his jeans up and over his beer belly with his belt.
“I’m good, thank you,” Rowan said, but the man was already making his way over to her.
The next thing she knew, he was pulling a couple of bags of groceries from her hands.
Rowan’s tired arms thanked him, but she was fairly certain she didn’t want this pro-God, pro-gun, pro-lifer knowing where she lived, on the very good chance that he was anti-feminist, anti-atheist anti-lesbians. She was too hot and tired to protest, though, so all she said was, “Thank you. I’m up on the third floor.”
She led the way, rolling her eyes at the situation she found herself in, while uber-Texan followed with her groceries.
“Y’all new ’round here?” uber-Texan asked.
Y’all? She looked around to confirm it was, in fact, just her. There was no all.
“Yeah,” she said. “I moved here last Tuesday from Portland for work.”
“Portland,” uber-Texan echoed. “That’s quite the change. Well, welcome to Texas. I’m Dave.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I’m Rowan.”
Dave kept talking. “I live down in 2b. Don’t hesitate to holler if you need anything. I’ve been here two years now, since my wife and I split. It’s a friendly bunch ’round here.”
Too friendly, if you asked Rowan. Apparently incessant small talk was another Texas thing she’d have to adjust to. She reached her apartment and fished for her keys.
“Thanks for helping with the groceries,” she said as she unlocked her apartment door.
Dave set the groceries down, but didn’t make any move to leave. She hoped he didn’t plan on carrying her groceries all the way inside and into the fridge. She tried to think of how to politely tell him that she was good from there, but Dave spoke first.
“Have you found a church ’round here yet?”
She wasn’t sure if she should laugh at the absurdity of the assumption, or if she should be outraged. Instead, she shook her head and said a simple, “No.”
“First Ministry down on Panhandle Street is close,” Dave answered, oblivious to the offense Rowan took at his question. “That’s where I go. It’s a pretty good group there.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she lied, feeling the Bible belt tighten constrictively around her.
Dave tipped his hat, told her that he hoped he’d see her there one Sunday, and then wished her a nice day while she tried to recover from the conversation. Finally, she was able to open the door and step into her apartment, where she was greeted with blissfully cool air from the AC which had been running all day. She kicked off her shoes and sank into her couch. Her floor lamp provided a soft light. She had chosen the apartment for its large floor-to-ceiling windows that filled the rooms with natural light, but one of the first things she had bought after the move was a set of blackout shades. The sun was insufferable. She’d pulled the shades tight as soon as they were hung, and hadn’t cracked them even slightly since. The cool dark was so very welcome.
She could feel the heat leeching out of her pores. Her skin had a reddish tint, not from sunburn, but from its raised temperature. The back of her neck was sticky with sweat, and she already needed a second shower for the day.
But she didn’t move from the couch. Instead she fished her phone out of her pocket and dialed the familiar number.
Rowan closed her eyes at the sound of her best friend, Alycia’s, voice. She’d hardly been gone over a week, and yet it felt like forever.
“Remind me again why I moved here?” she asked.
“I’m serious,” Rowan said. “I met my neighbor today. Ultraconservative uber-Texan with a bumper sticker declaring all of his right-wing world views.”
“Well, if I recall, I did warn you that Texas comes with Texans.”
“You did.” She was reluctant to admit that maybe she should have taken that point into more consideration before booking the U-Haul.
“And what did you say to me?” Alycia pressed.
Rowan sighed, repeating the mantra she’d said to all her friends and family as she’d packed for the move. “That this was a great opportunity. The type that would launch my career, get me out of being a prep cook cutting potatoes forever, put me on the map.” This time, the mantra lacked all of her prior enthusiasm.
“Exactly,” Alycia confirmed. “And you were right. You maybe should have prepared yourself more for the whole Texas aspect, but Rowan, this is your dream job. You get to cook with Daniel Stanford. Chances like this don’t pop up every day.”
Rowan nodded as her friend spoke. Alycia was right. She’d been working as a prep cook for four years, after working as a dishwasher for three. Meanwhile, she’d finished her culinary arts degree and continued to take every cooking class she could. She watched videos online to learn new techniques, spent hours practicing her knife skills, and read cookbooks cover to cover. She wanted to make a name for herself in the culinary world, and landing the job as grillardin—the grill chef—at Daniel Stanford’s up-and-coming new restaurant opening in Texas was a golden ticket opportunity. It was her in.
“But it’s a million degrees outside,” she complained. “I’ve had to institute a strict ‘no-sunlight’ policy in my apartment. I feel like a vampire. Also, I’m pretty certain I’m the only person in this complex who doesn’t own a gun. Based on the bumper stickers I’ve seen, I’m surrounded by a fucking militia. And have I mentioned it’s a million degrees outside?”
“Hey, if you can’t take the heat . . .”
Rowan felt the small smile that formed on her face. Alycia always had been able to find the perfect mix of empathy and humor to lift her spirits, able to vacillate between the two as needed.
“You’ll be fine,” Alycia promised, her voice softening around Rowan like a warm hug.
“You mean, ‘y’all will be fine.’ Apparently, I’m a y’all now.”
“Oh God,” Alycia said with a laugh.
Rowan laughed as well, the discomfort melting as some of her earlier excitement for this new adventure sank back in.
“When do you start work?” Alycia asked.
“We have a soft opening on Friday, and everything officially kicks off next weekend. But I start tomorrow. We’re getting everything ready for this soft launch, so the kitchen staff are meeting in the morning to finalize the details of the menu and then my boss has me scheduled to go out to a cattle ranch. Is that not the most Texan thing you’ve ever heard?”
“That is officially the most Texan thing ever.”
“Right? Talk about farm-to-table. I get to go assess the cuts directly from the ranch.”
“You’re going to kill it,” Alycia said. “The opening. Not the cow I hope.”
“Thanks,” Rowan said with a laugh. She shifted so that she was lying across the couch with her feet up. She could practically imagine herself sitting in Alycia’s apartment, perhaps with their friends Kris and Hannah there as well, making beer flights to taste test their latest craft beer finds and talking about their weeks. She didn’t feel a thousand miles away.
“I’ve got to run, but I expect a phone call Saturday morning to tell me all about how the soft launch went,” Alycia said. “And also all the juicy details about this cattle ranch adventure you’re going on.”
Rowan already looked forward to their next conversation. “Will do. Bye, Aly-cat.”
When the call clicked off, Rowan pulled her cell phone into her lap and stared down at it.
“This is a great opportunity,” Rowan reminded herself, believing the words more than her earlier tired recital of the phrase. “The type that will launch my career, get me out of being a prep cook cutting potatoes forever, and put me on the map.”
It was also the adventure of a lifetime. Before now, she never could have imagined herself visiting a Texas cattle ranch. She didn’t have to live in Texas for the rest of her life. A year or two to get some experience working with a high-profile chef was all she needed. When she returned home, she’d have all sorts of stories to tell.
Finally, she got up from the couch. Her skin still felt warm, but it no longer burned. No longer quite so drained from the heat, she began putting her groceries away.
The apartment was littered with boxes, everything but the essentials still packed. She contemplated opening one of the boxes and starting to organize her place, but that made the move too real. She grabbed a beer from the fridge, trying to tell herself that she was too tired and that she’d unpack later.
She could pump herself up to be ready for her Texas adventure, but she wasn’t ready to live in Texas.
It wasn’t home.