Title: Dances of the Heart
Author: Andrea Downing
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Successful, workaholic author Carrie Bennett lives through her writing, but can’t succeed at writing a man into her life. Furthermore, her equally successful but cynical daughter, Paige, proves inconsolable after the death of her fiancé.
Hard-drinking rancher Ray Ryder can find humor in just about anything—except the loss of his oldest son. His younger son, Jake, recently returned from Iraq, now keeps a secret that could shatter his deceased brother’s good name.
On one sultry night in Texas, relationships blossom when the four meet, starting a series of events that move from the dancehalls of Hill Country to the beach parties of East Hampton, and from the penthouses of New York to the backstreets of a Mexican border town. But the hurts of the past are hard to leave behind, especially when old adversaries threaten the fragile ties that bind family to family…and lover to lover.
Carrie let the screen door close quietly behind her and sat on the steps, the cool glass still in her hands. Peering up at the canopy of heaven, she suddenly experienced a sense of being so small, infinitesimal; it was as if the world loomed over her, spreading out from the one axis of her being. Rather than celestial entities in the infinity of space above her, to Carrie, the stars were holes in the fabric, entries to the endless expanse beyond, gateways to other worlds of which she would never be a part.
The lights inside switched off and, for a moment, it appeared as if Ray had gone to bed.
“I’m sorry.” His voice came through the screen. The words were hoarse with drink and pain. “I... Can I join you?”
He came out and carefully lowered himself onto the step, the coffee in his hand slopping slightly over the side.
“Don’t burn yourself.”
He set the mug down and stretched his legs forward, hands coming to rest on his thighs. “Robbie died in Afghanistan,” he started. “He was my eldest. It was five years ago, you know, and the pain is as fresh now as it was then. You never expect...you never think your kids are gonna go before you and all. And then Jake went off to Iraq, well, see...” He hesitated. “I told them, I said you take, but you give back. That’s what we do, we give back to our country, we serve. Robbie, well, Robbie just wanted to breed his horses—those damn Arabs meant everything to him, but I told him he had the...” There was a gulp of tears fighting to come out, the assault on a man’s pride he tried to cover. “I told him he had the rest of his life to breed those horses. I said every man in this family has served his country, and he wasn’t going to shame me, he wasn’t going to be the exception.”
“You served in Viet Nam, didn’t you?” Carrie lowered her voice to the whisper of a secret.
“Yeah. Right at the very end. I was lucky, I guess. Got over there just about in time to get out.” Ray tapped his hat back, then must have thought better of it and took it off, laying it carefully on the step beside him. Strands of damp hair lay plastered down the side of his face, but he made no attempt to push them back.
“Do you know how... I mean...”
“He was on guard duty, him and another kid. Some truck driven by them suicide bombers came at them laden with bombs, trying to get into the compound where all his buddies were. ’Course the two of them could’ve run away, could’ve stepped out of the way, but that’s not what you do, is it? They blasted the truck to stop it, blew it up outside to save the lives of the men inside that compound. Now, his mama has his Distinguished Service Cross and the flag that draped his coffin, as if that would make amends.” Ray cleared his throat, a sob mixing with his speech and anger. “But you know,” he went on, covering his mouth as if it would stop the tears, “you know it was my damn fault. I mean, what the hell difference would it have made if Robbie hadn’t gone, hadn’t of served? And what the hell are we doing there anyway? I mean, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq, what the hell are we fighting in those countries for? It’s meaningless, it’s just dang foolishness is what it is, kids dying for nothing...nothing at all.”
“Ray, you don’t believe that. Of course it made a difference, his serving. It made a big difference. You don’t believe that it was meaningless for one second.”
“Well. Tell you the truth, I don’t know what the hell I believe anymore. I criticized you for wanting to do the right thing, that business ’bout the designated driver an’ all, but, well, I guess it’s me. I just always tried, you know, I tried to do the right thing, but it never seemed to come out straight.”
“Of course it has,” Carrie assured him. “If Robbie hadn’t gone you would—”
“Oh, I know. I would’ve been angry with him for the rest of my life, been thinking what son of mine could do that, stay back. I’d’ve been shamed.” He sighed and glanced over as if noticing for the first time she was there. “I married Leigh Anne ’cause she was pregnant—that’s what you did, the right thing. You get a girl in the family way, you damn well married her. I’d been a kid when I went to Nam, and when I got back, I was quite a hell-raiser. Went all over the place, doing the rodeos, workin’ ranches. Then I got back here, and I was just taking over the ranch. Hardly had a dime to my name in those days, but you did the right thing. Well...” He ran a finger along the line of a crack in one of the steps. A hint of his earlier humor flashed on his face. “Is this when you New York folks say, ‘Thanks for sharing?’” he quipped.
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A native New Yorker, Andrea Downing divides her year between the canyons of city streets and the wide-open spaces of Wyoming. Her background in publishing and English Language teaching has transferred into fiction writing, and her love of horses, ranches, rodeo, and anything else western, is reflected in her award-winning western romances. She has twice been a finalist for the RONE Awards, winner of the Favorite Hero along with several Honorable Mentions in the Maple Leaf Awards, and winner of the Golden Quill for best novella for Dearest Darlin.
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Twitter: @andidowning https://twitter.com/AndiDowning
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Andrea-Downing/e/B008MQ0NXS/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
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