Ropes & Reins is releasing in 10 days. Yes, 10 days! October 9, 2015. This is coming up faster than I'd like, and yet not fast enough. I see my to-do slowly getting completed, and the book itself is, for the most part, ready to go, and yet when it comes to marketing and spreading the word I feel as if there is not nearly enough time.
But with 10 days left, that means I'm going to start sharing some excerpts. Who's ready for chapter 1 of Ropes ?
Slipping her left foot into the stirrup, in one fluid motion Tracy swung her right leg over the saddle, lowering herself onto the seat. She settled into the leather that was molded to her body from all the hours spent there. Her name sounded over the loud speaker, and with barely a touch of her feet, Whiskey Jack moved forward into the alley at an energetic trot.
Coming to a halt, she repositioned herself, shortened her reins, evened them out, and ritually placed the tail of the reins across her left hand.
She breathed deeply, drawing in enough air to fill her lungs to their fullest capacity, and slowly let it out. With the exhaled air, her anxiety and nerves left her body, replaced by the energizing thrill of her thundering heart.
Patting Jack on the shoulder, she braced for the clang of the chute releasing.
Sounds of people in the stands filled her ears, rising and falling in a crescendo around her until that moment, the last second before the steer exploded from the chute. Then, it went completely silent.
Jack tensed beneath her, ready to spring forward. Tracy grasped her rope in her right hand, her reins in her left. She looked over the steer in the chute to her partner and caught Daryl’s eye. She nodded. He nodded back before staring straight ahead.
The chute sprang open and Jack hesitated just long enough to give the steer a head start before taking off. Tracy moved as one with her mount, her body seeming to become part of the horse. She deftly spun her rope, expanding the lariat in size with each rotation, and keeping her eyes on the steer running wildly down the arena. Each revolution of her rope seemed as if it were in slow motion, the whirr of it flying through the air just a gentle thrum in her ear. She could hear Daryl loosening his lariat as it flew through the air and caught the steer. She focused on the animal’s back legs, and let the rope fly just as the steer kicked up, furious over its capture. The rope slid effortlessly over the legs and the noose pulled tight.
“And it looks like Daryl Higgins and Tracy Miller are bringing the time to beat at five and one. What a run!”
Tracy loosened her lariat to free the steer’s legs, and grinned, pumping her fist in the air, her rope gripped tightly in her gloved hand and raised high in triumph.
Daryl took off with the steer toward the out gate, so she turned to follow.
“Hold up, folks. It looks as if Higgins broke the barrier, resulting in a time fault of ten seconds.”
Tracy threw up her hands. “Are you kidding me?” Daryl screwed them over at the last three rodeos. He was either too slow or too fast. At this rate, Tracy had no business even considering the Team Roping Finals.
Daryl rode over. “Sorry.”
“This is the fourth time! The fourth time, Daryl! You call yourself a professional cowboy? I don’t even know how you got enough points to get here.”
Tracy dismounted just beyond the out gate.
“Can we talk about this?”
“That’s what I’m doing, talking!”
“Tracy, come on! Don’t be like that!”
“Sorry, folks, but any domestic disputes must be moved away from the out gate,” said the announcer over the loudspeaker.
Tracy stopped and looked up at the booth, a glare blazing in her eyes. She swallowed back a few choice words and clenched her hands into fists to keep from showing the announcer what she really thought of the whole thing.
“Tracy, what’s your problem?”
Daryl’s hand lighted on her shoulder and she spun around on her heel, her fist flying with the momentum of her movement and connecting solidly on his jaw. His hand flew to his face, cradling his injury.
Tracy didn’t get a chance to hear the rest of what she was sure were expletives exiting her partner’s mouth. Two strong hands gripped her arms and dragged her backward.
“That’s enough from you,” growled one of the men holding her arm in a vise-like grip. It hurt, but she’d never admit that. Anger filled her with a fire that fueled her resistance, even though she knew she’d already lost.
Dragging her through the out gate, the arms eventually let her go, pushing her forward. She tripped to catch her balance, and turned to face them with her hands planted on her hips, ready to take on the next person that came at her.
Daryl walked by, Jack’s reins in his hand, and threw them at her as he passed. He didn’t even slow down, or look at her, he just kept walking. Bending down, she picked up her horse’s reins and walked toward the rodeo grounds.
Her anger simmered as she put Jack in his stall and removed his tack. How could Daryl have broken the barrier, yet again? He knew better. He was better than that, and yet he kept doing it over and over. The only reason for it was being sloppy. They were in a losing streak, and she couldn’t afford that.
“You’re done here,” came Daryl’s voice from outside her stall.
“You’re breaking up with me?”
“It’s a bad streak, Tracy. We all have them. But this is ridiculous.”
“I can’t afford them. I don’t have a rich daddy to pay my bills and entry fees.”
“Rich daddy or not, you’re done. The pro association won’t have someone as unstable as you representing them, and even if they let you stick around, no one will ever rope with you again; not after that little show.” Daryl strode away, leaving her alone like every other partner she ever had. They all left sooner or later.
She rubbed her fist against her stomach, and choked back a tear. I won’t cry. This is my own fault. I’ll get the finals next year.
She looked down at her right hand and gingerly touched it. It was swelling up already, and a throbbing burn traveled up her arm.
“What were you thinking?”
Tracy closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting some of the anger cool down, before looking up at the familiar face of Vince Brandon.
“I don’t know what came over me,” she said, reaching up and taking off her hat. She smoothed out her braided hair with her free hand.
“Will he be filing a complaint with the association?”
“Was it worth it?”
Vince opened the stall door. Sliding in, he walked up and wrapped his arms around her, drawing her into a hug. Tracy wanted to melt. She could fall into his arms and bury herself in his embrace. She always wanted to. But he never felt the same, and now, definitely never would.
After an all-too-brief moment, he took a step back, releasing her. “We should get that hand looked at.”
“It looks broken. If you want to continue roping, you’ll have to get that looked after.”
“I’m fine,” she said through gritted teeth.
“You’re not, but you’ll figure something out. There’s more to do out there than just the rodeo circuit.”
Tracy grimaced. Of course, he knew what she was really upset about. Yeah, there was more to life than the rodeo circuit, but she built her whole life around it, and she wasn’t ready to leave it yet. Certainly not because she lost her temper. Or because of one stupid mistake.
“Is this your way of making me fight?”
Vince chuckled. “I’ve never known Tracy Miller to back down from something she truly wanted.”
“I backed down from you,” she snapped, heat traveling up her face.
“I gave you no other choice,” he said, turning around and leaving her alone in the stall.
She collapsed against Jack, and his body heat emanated into her skin. The smell of horse—a sweet mixture of sweat and freshly-cut grass—filled her every sense. It relaxed her more than any drug or bottle of booze could. Horses always were her therapy. She’d grown up on a ranch, and her dad was an all-around-cowboy that got kicked out of the professional circuit after making a run while drunk. He never quite let go of that. But Tracy tried her hardest to make him proud of her becoming a roper.
And now I go and get myself kicked out of the circuit, just like him. Mom was right; I really am my father’s daughter.
Stroking her right hand again, she left the stall, struggling a little to close it while using only one hand.
* * *
“It’s not broken.”
Tracy accepted the news with a huge exhalation of breath, her shoulders slumping with relief. She was fully expecting to hear it was broken by the way it swelled up and bruised.
“What did you do?”
“I punched a guy.”
“You must have a pretty mean punch. What does his face look like?” The doctor shook his head as he made a note in her chart.
“Not as bad as my hand. So, what’s the prescription?”
“You aren’t a patient woman, are you?”
“Do you know many women who are?”
“Good point.” He got up and walked toward the curtain that separated Tracy from the rest of the emergency room. “We’ll get you fitted with a brace and book a follow-up with your doctor for two weeks from now. Hope you heal quickly, Miss Miller.”
“Yeah, me too.”