The best parts of writing are the magical moments, those unexpected that turn a book into what an author wants it to be. The excerpt below was the magical moment for UNBREAKABLE (<--another excerpt and buy links on this page). Originally, I'd only planned for Casper to find Kevin. But then Clay opened the door, and the rest of the book fell into place. I can't even imagine this book without Clay! Enjoy! Oh, yeah. This one released today. Feel free to buy as many copies as you need to wallpaper your room with that cover!
Before heading from the bank back to the ranch, Casper swung once more by the house. He wasn’t sure why he bothered. Nothing in the last hour had changed. The place was still the nightmare it had been for years. Paint peeling. Shingles ripped away by high winds and branches. Weeds and rotting wood and broken windows and heinous neglect.
It was a home fit for rats and rattlesnakes, spiders and cockroaches—all apt descriptions of the woman who’d had no interest in bringing him up.
He shook his head free of childhood memories no adult should have stuck there, thinking it strange the neighbors on either side hadn’t gone to the city to have something done. Or maybe they had. Before returning to Crow Hill for good this summer, he’d only stopped by twice in sixteen years. Neither time had been to catch up.
The house had seemed an obvious place to recover after getting hung up to a couple of rank bulls. He’d stayed out of sight and mostly drunk. He hadn’t wanted anyone to see him busted all to hell. He sure hadn’t wanted any curious sorts offering to nurse him back to health, coming into the house where he’d lived to do so, sniffing around, getting all nosy and breaking out their holier-than-thou.
Snorting under his breath, he climbed down from his truck and hopped onto the roller coaster of a sidewalk, tripping once before getting his feet solid under him. Most likely, the city had finally found his old lady plying her wares in Vegas, instead of on the interstate at Bokeem’s, and told her to do something with the property before they did. As always, her solution had been to pass the buck, this time leaving him the one in a bind.
And because of that bind, if Faith was willing to talk tonight about the money he needed, because he couldn’t imagining her wanting to talk about fucking him, it might be a good idea to decide where to start spending it rather than jumping into a time-suck of a renovation with no plan. Though really. Talking about the money was easy. Coughing it up was going to be the hard part. The woman was tight with a capital T.
So tight, in fact, he doubted she’d spare a thought to squeezing out the sign he’d told her to give him—even if everything he’d seen in her eyes told him the idea of doing so heated her up. Faith was a prize. More of a prize than he deserved, for certain. That didn’t mean he’d turn her down if she offered, the Dalton Gang’s no-sisters rule be damned.
Really, though, he couldn’t see the two of them together. He was a broken down son of a bitch who owned a ranch on the edge of belly up and a house turned over and waiting to be scratched. What he didn’t have was anything to offer a woman like Faith.
Anything, he mused, but his damn fine cock, nearly losing his footing as he stepped over a tree root and into an ankle deep hole. Served him right for going there, he supposed, and hell if the inspector hadn’t been telling the truth about the grade of the lot.
‘Course since rain wasn’t an issue, neither was standing water, but cleaning the trash from the yard—newspaper, dead leaves and acorns, aluminum cans, cigarette butts, Styrofoam cups and downed limbs—and getting a tractor over here along with a truckload of soil would go aways toward making the place more picture perfect and less of an eyesore.
Set up a couple of spotlights, and he could get it done in three or four days, an hour or two a night as long as the neighbors didn’t complain about the disturbance to their peace and quiet. Though where he’d come up with a generator and fuel to run the lights since the electricity to the place had been turned off ages ago…
Why the hell did everything have to depend on money?
He’d made a good bit on the PBR circuit, blown what he didn’t spend on his gear on good times. But when he’d come back to Crow Hill, he’d poured what was left into the ranch’s empty coffers. That investment could’ve given him more than a third of the ownership, but when Boone and Dax had made the point, he’d told them to make a fist and use it.
The Dalton Gang had always been an all-for-one, one-for-all proposition. As teens, they’d worked the ranch as a group. As adults, they’d inherited the business together. Things should’ve been just peachy. He was doing what he loved best with the guys he loved best.
But money was still making a big fat mess of his life—just as it had every day he’d spent here as a kid. Even after the piece of shit who’d been his old man had split, nothing had changed, he realized, glancing up as he rounded the northeast corner of the house where he’d taken most of his beatings from that man.
And that’s when he saw the dog. Some kind of shaggy mutt, looking about as broken as he was feeling. It hadn’t been here earlier, though with the gate unhinged it would’ve been easy enough for anyone to come through. The question was why? There wasn’t any garbage for it to dig through, and there sure as hell weren’t any enticing smells of home-cooking to lure it close.
The animal had a round head, floppy ears, fur that should’ve been white but was the color of coffee and mud. It lay on the back porch, between the swing hanging from one chain and what was left of the railing, chin resting on front paws right at the edge. Its black eyes were the only part of the mutt that moved, following Casper’s every step as he zig-zagged closer.
A dog meant dog shit and one more thing he didn’t want to have to clean up. He picked up a stick, aiming to shoo the thing on its way, but had only taken two steps when the back door opened, and there stood a kid, maybe thirteen, fourteen, as unkempt as the mongrel and asking, “Who the hell are you?”
Huh. He was pretty sure that was his line.
“If you’re vandalizing, I’m the guy who’s going to call the cops,” he said, knowing he wouldn’t but watching the kid for a response. He got nothing, no fear, no attitude…just nothing. Had the kid and the dog been inside earlier? Watching while the inspector checked the outside of the house? “If you’re squatting, I’m your landlord come to collect the rent.”
The boy let go of the screen door. It banged shut behind him as he disappeared into what had been designed as a pantry and mudroom but hadn’t been used for anything but trash storage during Casper’s day. Grumbling, he headed for the steps, stopped by a growl and a baring of teeth. He didn’t retreat. He’d lost a couple of rounds today already, and sharp canines or not, he was not backing down from this fight.
“Hey. Kid. Call off the dog or I’ll shoot him dead.” He wouldn’t do that either. He wasn’t even carrying his piece, but the kid didn’t have to know it.
“Kevin,” came the boy’s voice from inside the house. The dog quieted, returned to watching Casper with those big dark eyes.
Kevin? Seriously? He climbed the steps slowly, his eyes sticking to the dog as he pulled open the door. Blowing out an audible breath, he passed through the garbage dump into the kitchen. The dog followed him, catching the screen with his snout before it banged closed.
Even without shades hanging over the windows, it was dark inside, the film of dirt on the glass shutting out what light the trees didn’t block, both keeping the room cooler than he would’ve expected to find. The floor tiles, never as white as originally billed, were now as brown as the yard.
Dishes were scattered from the kitchen island to the stovetop to the acreage of counters. Cereal bowls. A pan his old lady had used to heat Chef Boyardee and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle. Beer cans. Aluminum TV dinner trays. Empty bottles of Jose Cuervo and Jack.
A box of Frosted Flakes had been knocked from the top of the fridge and torn open by varmints. Claw and teeth marks showed on the shredded cardboard and Tony the Tiger’s head. And it was quiet. Quiet like a crypt, consuming memories and breathable air and dirty little secrets. A time capsule best left unopened. Or as he liked to call it, home sweet home.
The smells kept him from getting totally maudlin. Mold and rot and urine and things once living that had to be dead. He shook it off—he’d deal when the time came—and followed Kevin, who seemed to know where he was going, from the kitchen down the long first floor hallway to what would’ve been the front parlor had the Jaynes had use for such a thing.
There he found the kid sprawled on a sleeping bag, a paperback thriller in one hand, a backpack for a pillow. Some of the odor was coming from in here. The boy could use a bath. Tough to manage with the water off, but otherwise…
Casper looked around. Kid had certainly made himself at home. Matches, a candle, a flashlight. Crumpled foil and soda cans and takeout containers that looked an awful lot like they’d come from a restaurant Dumpster.
He’d been here awhile. And with no water. Which brought to mind the question of what he was doing about a toilet, and that was an answer Casper wasn’t exactly excited to hear.
He pushed up on the brim of his hat, his hands moving to his hips. “Let’s try this again. What are you doing here?”
“Trying to read,” the boy said, his face hidden behind the book. “Do you mind?”
“And you’re doing it in my house why?”
All he got in response was silence, so he moved closer, kicked at the worn sole of the kid’s tennis shoe. “You answer me or you answer Sheriff Orleans.”
The boy slammed shut the book. “That’s uncool, dude, calling the man.”
“I’m the man you need to worry about,” Casper said, shaking off the idea of being the very authority figure he’d had his own skirmishes with in the day.
“I found the house,” he said, rolling up to sit, legs crossed, shoulders hunched. “It was empty. I needed a place to crash, okay?”
A fourteen year old should not need a place to crash. Casper might not know much, but he knew that. “You got a home? Family?”
“Would I be here if I did?”
Yeah. That’s what he’d thought. “You got a name at least?”
The boy hesitated before offering, “Clay. Whitman.”
Whitman. Casper blinked, frowned. “Do I know you?”
“You just asked me my name, dude.”
Fucking smartass. “Okay, then. One more time. What are you doing here?”
The boy held Casper’s gaze as he gained his feet. He was all gangling limbs, awkward, but a solid five foot eight. Still growing. Still figuring things out, finding his place. On his way to being a man.
“I came looking for you.”