I’m very excited to share with everyone my latest release in the NY State Trooper Series: TO PROTECT HIS OWN.
The hero, Jake Prichard, made his first appearance in MURDER IN PARADISE BAY. He was mentioned a few times, but only on stage in one scene. What was interesting for me as a writer was that when he first showed up, I visualized him so clearly and there was something about him that made me go huh, I need to write his story. I had a short chapter I’d written years ago about a horse farm and the owner had been poisoned, bringing his estranged son home. When I originally wrote that opening, the character had a different name, but I remember I had no idea where I was going with that story.
Now all I needed was a heroine, and thanks to my good friend Jennifer Probst nearly falling off a horse on one of our many adventures, I got the idea for Kenzie Chorley, the manager of the farm and Jake’s ex-girlfriend. I just love a good reunion story.
Below is a short excerpt from TO PROTECT HIS OWN. I hope you enjoy and if you can, please leave an HONEST review on Amazon and Goodreads. I read everyone and really appreciate the feedback from readers.
The large American Quarter horse kicked and snarled as soon as Kenzie Chorley closed the stall door. “Relax,” she whispered, holding out a slice of apple. She held her palm flat, raising her hand so that Boots could snag the treat. The giant horse snorted, shaking his head, before he pushed her away with his nose. The piece of apple landed on the floor with a faint thud. She didn’t budge, locking gazes with the horse, who then turned, giving the door one quick kick with his hoof.
In all her years working with horses, she’d never seen one hold a grudge before. But Boots was holding a ten-year-long one and it didn’t look like he was ever going to let it go. “Suit yourself.” She picked up the apple slice and tossed it over the gate along with a few more. The horse would eat them eventually.
She made sure the door was secure. Every evening Kenzie would take him out and walk him around. Occasionally, when Boots was unusually friendly, Kenzie would ride him, letting the old horse trot around the pen. Today had been one of those days, only Boots decided to get ornery the moment she dismounted. She rubbed her ass with one hand while gently placing the other protectively over her stomach.
“Be good,” she whispered.
Boots raised his head, nodding, as if he understood. Maybe he did.
She turned and slowly made her way across the barn to her office, right across from Boots, who served as a constant reminder of the day Jake stormed off the farm, vowing never to come back.
The sun peeked through her office window as it began its descent behind the mountains. She’d spent the day working with the new Thoroughbreds, getting them ready to be shown and then sold. It had been a long day, but she still had some paperwork to do.
She pulled her chair back and as it screeched against the wood floor, Boots grunted and looked over at her, then just stared. He did that all the time, as if she were an interloper in what used to be Jake’s office. “I’m not leaving.” She groaned as she sat down a little too hard and a little too fast, forgetting about the bruise forming on her butt. Boots snorted.
She pulled open the side draw and removed the ledgers from the last two months and a file filled with invoices and sales receipts. Then she fired up her laptop. She rubbed her forehead, deciding a cup of coffee, even if decaf, was just what she needed. After filling the coffee pot with water and stuffing a packet of decaf in the cylinder, Boots squealed, kicking up both hind legs, hoofs hitting the door in powerful strides meant to knock it down. “What is the matter with you?”
“Kenzie?” Ethan’s voice rang out across the barn.
“Back here,” she yelled as Boots continued to kick and squeal. She raced across the barn, her heels clicking on the hard floor, catching the horse’s attention. “Hey,” she said calmly. “Come here.”
The horse stopped kicking and stared at her before scraping his front hoof on the floor a few times.
She climbed up on the gate. “Come here,” she whispered again and Boots turned, taking a few steps toward her, pushing his nose into her chest. “There now.” She rubbed the spot between his eyes. Boots was an American Quarter Horse. Even though he was pushing seventeen years old, he was still well-muscled. His coat chocolate brown and his mane a few shades darker.
“You’re the only one that can get near that beast,” Ethan Prichard said.
“He’s not a beast,” she said, still stroking his long nose. “Just loyal.”
“What got him all riled up anyway?”
“I saddled him and rode him around the pen.”
“I don’t think you should be riding, especially that horse.” Ethan leaned against the wood post next to the stall. He’d aged a lot over the last ten years. Not speaking to his only child had taken its toll, but he was too stubborn to ever pick up the phone. She, on the other hand, was stubborn the other way and she never gave up, reaching out to Jake regularly. Mostly, he ignored her calls. But when she’d showed up on his doorstep a few months ago, he let her in, only to slam the door in her face the next morning.
“The doctor said it was okay for me to ride.”
“I should have sold that horse.”
Boots kicked the stall, letting Ethan know what he thought of that idea. Besides, Ethan couldn’t sell Boots. It was the only connection he had to his son. Sometimes she’d see him come down to the barn and sit with Boots, talking to him for hours.
“You’re not helping to keep him calm,” she said, scratching behind the horse’s ears.
“Have you told Jake about the baby?”
“He hasn’t been at the station. They said he was on vacation and he hasn’t returned my calls or texts. I left him a message earlier that it was very important and that I had to speak to him. Don’t think this is the kind of news you send in a text message.” He was avoiding her, which was normal considering how they’d been with each other over the last ten years, but she wanted him to be a part of his baby’s life. “Maybe you should call him?”
“Not a bad idea,” he said. “Maybe he’ll answer me.”
“You should call him. Tell him your sorry and take that first step to making things right again, but you can’t tell him about the baby. You know that needs to come from me.”
“He has a right to know.”
“That’s real funny coming from you,” she said. “I don’t intend to keep his child from him. You, on the other hand, still have two secrets you’re keeping from your son.” There were too may secrets and betrayals in Jake’s family. She wasn’t going to contribute to that anymore.
“Like your news is only for you to tell, so is mine.”
“This is different and you know it,” she said. “You’d want to know if the tables were turned.”
“Let’s change the subject because we’re only going to end up talking in circles and arguing.”
“Fine. What brought you down here at this hour?” she asked.
“Two things,” he said. “First, I closed the deal on the two thoroughbreds.”
“Quinten bought them both?”
“Yep. I’m really pleased with the work from Timothy Overton, the new breeder you hired.”
“He’s really good. I’m impressed.” She gently stroked Boots’ cheeks.
“We need to prep them for transport tomorrow.”
“Want me to deliver them? I can do that after lunch.” She rubbed her nose against Boots. Sometimes this horse was just a big baby.
“They are going to pick them up, but I’d like you to introduce Timothy to Quinton. I’d like to give him more responsibility,” Ethan said.
“Happy to,” she said.
“Now, the second thing I wanted to discuss has to do with Charlie Masters. He called me a bit ago. Said you took some of the books.”
She closed her eyes, dropping her forehead to the horse’s nose. Charlie didn’t think there was a problem and took it personally that she’d asked for the ledgers. “Some of the numbers don’t make sense to me.”
“Why didn’t you just let Charlie handle it? Your job is to manage the farm. His job is the books.”
“I know,” she said, sliding down the door now that Boots had turned his head and gone back into his corner, no longer wanting her attention. “But this is a large discrepancy and thought a second set of eyes would be good.”
“Not disagreeing, but don’t you think you went about this the wrong way.” Ethan tossed his arm over her shoulder, escorting her back to her office. He did best to hid his limp he developed when he’d taken a fall down the stairs right before he found out he had cancer. “He’s been my CFO for over thirty years. He knows what he’s doing. Just like you know your job. You’ve got to trust others can handle theirs.”
“Charlie, and you, are too old school. We need to make some changes around here and not just technology. We’re missing out on financial growth and new business opportunities.” She shut her laptop down and sat behind her desk, while Ethan poured himself a cup of coffee, putting in two creams and one sugar.
“I take it you want some?”
“Yep, just cream,” she said.
“I’m looking at all your suggestions. But you’ve got to give me a little more time than a week with them and give Charlie more than a couple of days to look over the books.”
“So does Charlie see there could be a problem?”
He laughed. “Charlie found the problem. A transposed number. But he needs the books so he can double check and he doesn’t want to admit you were right, so I’m doing it for him.”
“They are right here.” She piled them, one on top of the other. “I’m just trying to make sure this farm runs properly.”
“I know.” He turned, setting a mug on the desk, and then leaned against the filing cabinet and raised his mug to his lips. He blew and took a long swig. “God, that’s some horrible coffee,” he said.
“Really?” She picked up her mug and took a slow sniff. “It does smell kind of funny.”
“Not worth…” His hand shook, and the scalding liquid tumbled out of the mug.
“Dizzy,” he croaked. “Burns…” He dropped the mug. It shattered when it hit the floor. His face metamorphosed into a pale yellow as he toppled to his knees.
Boots kicked up his hoofs as he let out a long snort with a squeal.
Ethan doubled over, vomiting blood.
“Ethan!” She ran to him, knocking over her chair. She placed her hand on his forehead, cold perspiration slicked under her palm.
“Call…” his eyes lids fluttered closed as he gagged and choked, spitting up blood. His arms wrapped tightly around his middle.
Her hand trembled violently as she pulled her cell out of her pocket. Her eyes burned as she tried to focus on the keypad and dial 9-1-1. “Hang on,” she whispered. “I’m going to get help.”