On Saturday, 7 October, 4 weeks from today, I’ll (re)release Somewhere, Book One of The Sawtooth Stories. By now, you probably know the story of the original publication of this book, but if you don’t, you can read about it here.
I won’t do a preorder for this one, but I’m going to do a few teasers in the next month, in addition to sharing Chapter One with you here as a preview.
Somewhere is a contemporary, small-town, western romance. I really love Jasper Ridge, Idaho, the town I created as the locus of this world. It reminds me a little of Signal Bend–without the meth and drug cartels, lol. I also love the Cahill family, who are the heart of Jasper Ridge. The younger Cahill son is the male lead of Somewhere.
But first, you meet the female lead. So, without further ado, here’s the synopsis and Chapter One of Somewhere.
After a cataclysmic tragedy leaves her alone in the world, Gabriela Kincaid climbs into her father’s ancient pickup and strikes off on her own, turning her back on everything she knows. No destination in mind, moving toward nothing but distance.
Fate chooses her destination, and she finds herself in Jasper Ridge, Idaho, a small town in the shadow of the Sawtooth Range. With nowhere else to get to, and no way to get anywhere else, she decides to make her home there.
Heath Cahill is fighting the demons of his own horrific past. A son of the most important rancher in Jasper Ridge, he’s tethered to the town, so he’s made his escape inward, turning his back on any new chances for a happy life.
But he sees something in the eyes of the young woman who walks into the town saloon: a guarded pain he recognizes as like his own. He tries to resist the pull he feels, but with a nudge from Fate, friends, and family, Heath opens his heart again.
Together, they find love and hope for happiness. First, though, they must face a past that neither has escaped.
She’d been in courtrooms countless times during the past two-plus years, and in this one almost daily for weeks, but every time she sat down in the gallery, she felt the same sense of ill discomfort.
Nothing good happened in a room like this. Even if justice was served, whatever that meant, that justice was only offered because something terrible had happened.
It was an awful room, a room where awful things were relived and happened all over again, and where the only kind of hope that could breathe was a black hope for someone else’s pain.
That black hope was the only thing she knew how to feel anymore. It radiated from her scars and wrapped around her organs. It leaned on her thoughts every day and on her dreams each night.
But today would be the last day she’d have to sit on this hard seat and square her shoulders against the room’s ill air. Tomorrow, perhaps, she’d be able to shrug herself free of the past.
One more day in this room.
The first time she’d sat down in a room like this, she’d been too terrified of what loomed ahead of her to really notice the room itself, or the people in it—besides the one who sat at the table on the left, facing the bench. Him, she always noticed. He seemed to fill that chair even when he wasn’t in the room.
In all the days since the first day, in the many long lulls between horrors, she’d had ample time to memorize this room—the walls, the seats, the tables, the seal on the wall behind the bench. This courtroom in the District Court in Santa Fe, New Mexico looked much like the courtrooms they showed on television. And yet it lacked the imposing substance of those make-believe rooms, even though, in this one, real cases were tried, and real people’s lives hung in the balance.
It was just a room. Empty, it was nearly featureless. One might even mistake it for innocuous.
When she’d sat down on this day, the room had been nearly empty. She liked to arrive as early as allowed, because she’d discovered that people noticed her less often when she was already seated. They paid attention to those who came in after them, not those who’d arrived before, and she didn’t want to be noticed. She’d had enough of notice in this room.
Today, she knew, she wouldn’t be able to avoid it. It might have been better to stay home and watch the news, or wait for a phone call. But she wanted to hear the words when they were spoken.
So she sat in the back row and watched the lawyers at their seemingly bland prep work, and watched the people file in, the looky-loos and reporters, and waited to hear the words.
By the time the defendant was brought in from a side door, wearing the one Men’s Wearhouse suit he owned—black—the one good dress shirt—white—the one silk tie—yellow—the one pair of dress shoes—black—and the ankle and wrist shackles—silver—the courtroom had filled to capacity, and the deputies had closed the doors. There was a rumble of rumor and gossip as the shackled man was led to his chair and the bailiff locked his bonds to the table. Even over that excited hum, she could hear the metallic jingle of the chains.
Between the heads of the spectators filling the distance between them, she saw him turn and scan the room. He always did that, every day. Normally, she did what she could to be sure he couldn’t pick her out of the crowd, and normally she was successful.
Today, though, she didn’t try. When he found her, their eyes locked, and for the first time in weeks, perhaps months, they really saw each other.
He smiled. She didn’t.
And then the bailiff called everyone to rise, and the defendant turned away.
The judge entered, and everyone sat again, and she stared at the back of the man in the Men’s Wearhouse suit. Normally, she didn’t bother to pay attention until the lawyers began to talk; she had the beginning part of each trial day memorized.
But today was different. The main part of the trial was over. A guilty verdict had been rendered. Evidence in the sentencing phase had been presented. Today, they had all gathered to hear the sentence imposed.
So once the bailiff had finished calling the case, the judge—a tiny woman with a grey bob and a white lace collar—said immediately, “The defendant will rise.”
And in the back row, it was all she could do to keep her seat.
The defendant rose, his shackles jingling. She noticed that he’d gotten a fresh haircut over the weekend. His iron-grey hair was military short, and the skin above his collar was baby smooth.
“Mr. Kincaid,” the little judge began, in her husky, two-packs-a-day voice, “You have been found guilty of three counts of capital murder, and one count of attempted murder. Evidence has been presented in this sentencing phase, and I am ready to rule. Before I do, is there anything you would like to say to the court?”
The defendant turned and scanned the gallery again, but his lawyer nudged him, and he returned his attention to the judge. “No, ma’am—uh, Your Honor.”
“Very well. Stuart Donald Kincaid, for the capital murders of Edgar Sandoval, Gloria Sandoval, and Maria Sandoval Kincaid, I sentence you to three life sentences without any possibility of parole, to be served consecutively. For the attempted murder of Gabriela Kincaid, I sentence you to eighteen years, to be served consecutively, following the capital sentences. You shall return immediately to the custody of the State of New Mexico to serve your sentence.”
The judge slammed the gavel, and the gallery erupted in chatter. Some people applauded.
From the back row, she could see that reporters were texting the verdict to their editors, or tweeting it, or whatever, and getting ready to find their interviews. She stood, intent upon leaving the room, and the building, as quickly as she could. If she hurried, maybe she could disappear before anyone thought to look.
She paused to watch as the defendant was led back to the door from which he’d been led in only a few minutes before. He struggled against the push of the deputies and turned to scan the room again.
Their eyes met. “Gabby!” he yelled. “Gabby! Baby, I love you! Please!”
Heads began to swivel her way.
Gabriela Kincaid turned away from her father and ran for the courthouse door.
Mrs. Brant was old and hard of hearing. She hated her hearing aids and only wore them when she was away from home. At home, she compensated for her failing ears with volume—the television, the radio, the ringer on her telephone, all at maximum. When the windows were open, Gabby could hear everything Rush Limbaugh or Fox News had to say over at her neighbor’s house. Not to mention most of her side of her phone conversations.
On this afternoon, as she sat on the front porch with a bottle of Corona, she could hear the local news. Now that the story was no longer “breaking,” the reporters had had a few hours to put together an in-depth report, telling the story of the night her father had lost his mind.
No, that was too kind a way to say it. He had not lost his mind. He had been, he continued to be, perfectly sane. He had been drunk and angry. He had often been drunk and angry, but on that night, he had also had a commercial kitchen’s worth of weapons at his disposal.
How strange to hear strangers speak so knowledgeably, so matter-of-factly, about her own life. No one could know what it had been like, what it still was like. Only she. And, she supposed, her father.
Gabby closed her eyes and tried to drown out the calmly interested tones of the reporter describing the scene on that night more than two years earlier. Her father, barricaded in the kitchen of her grandparents’ cantina, holding his wounded daughter hostage, a carving knife to her throat, sitting in the spattered and pooling blood of his wife and in-laws.
She didn’t need a stranger to draw a picture for her. She could still feel the bite of the blade into her neck, could still feel the blood pulsing from her side, growing sticky as it spread over her skin and cooled. She could still feel the desperation as her breath became blood and began to drown her.
When she closed her eyes, she could see her mother’s body, drenched in red, her eyes open, one hand out as if reaching for her. She could see her grandfather, burned by frying oil, his head caved in. She could see her grandmother lying in a nearly perfect halo of her blood. She had been the first to die, her throat slit before anyone had known there was trouble.
The brave girl fought for her family and was nearly killed herself. By her own father.
Gabby chuckled bleakly at the sensationalized truth of the reporter’s words. She had fought, she supposed that was true, but ineffectively. She’d loved her father. Even in the ugliness of her parents’ separation, even as his anger grew and flared, she’d remembered her daddy and loved him. She hadn’t believed him capable of such things, and she’d sought to find him behind those chaotic, killing eyes and bring him back.
When her grandmother had fallen, and her father had gone for her mother, Gabby had lunged between them and tried to hold him off. The wound in her side had happened in the scuffle. The blade had sunk into her lung, and she’d fallen, desperate for breath, choking on blood, watching as her father fought her grandfather, threw hot oil in his face, and then beat him with a skillet until his head no longer looked like a head.
Gabby’s mother was dead because she hadn’t run when she’d had the chance. She’d tried to bring Gabby with her. Her father had pulled her mother off of her and stabbed and stabbed and stabbed.
And then, as police sirens and lights flashed, he’d gathered Gabby up and put the bloody knife to her throat.
The last thing she remembered before she’d passed out—she’d thought she’d been dying—was him whispering, “You weren’t supposed to be here. Why are you here? Why are you here?”
Ms. Kincaid had no comment for reporters today, but when the trial began, she sat down with our own…
Unable to take it anymore, Gabby drank down the rest of her beer and went back inside to close up all the windows. Better stale air than refreshed pain.
The next morning, Gabby stood in the living room with her third cup of coffee. She stared out the window at the news van. Just one, but it wasn’t yet six o’clock in the morning. There would be more. They hadn’t been happy with her headlong no comment the day before. She’d turned off the ringer on the landline phone last night, because there was no one in the world she wanted to talk to, and the only people who’d been calling had been reporters. So at least the house was quiet.
She took another sip of coffee and stared through the sheers at that blue van with the bright logo on its side and the satellite dish on its roof.
The mug she held was a cheap dollar-store thing with a generic pink rose glazed on one side, and the cheery pink words I Love My Mom! on the other. Gabby had given it to her mother when she was in grade school. She could remember using her allowance that Christmas at the dollar store, trying with the little bit of money she had saved to find something good for all the people she loved.
Everywhere around her was memory of a life she no longer had. She still lived in the house she’d lived in all her life; she hadn’t even changed bedrooms. Everything about the house was as it had always been, except that she was alone in it.
When she’d gotten out of the hospital, her whole family dead except the man who’d killed them, she’d had nowhere else to go, and she simply hadn’t cared enough about anything to dredge up the will to change the situation. At the hospital, she’d told the cab driver her address, and when he’d brought her there, she’d walked up onto the only porch she’d known, into the only front door she’d known, and had begun the motions of the life she’d had.
Her parents’ landlord was a decent guy, and he’d let her keep renting. She’d been the beneficiary of her grandparents’ life insurance, and, although after the funerals and her medical bills it hadn’t exactly been a huge amount of money, she’d been able to live on it. Not for much longer, though.
She’d had friends, but they’d been part of the life she’d lost, and they hadn’t known how to be with her in this new, numb place, so she’d let them fade away. It hadn’t taken long.
She’d dropped out of school—she’d only been going to community college anyway and hadn’t figured out why yet—and she’d hunkered down to the one thing she’d yet cared about. She’d devoted her days to her father’s trial.
And now that was over.
And she had no life.
But she was surrounded by the life she’d had—her parents’ furniture, her mother’s crucifix and generic painting of Jesus hanging on the wall near the kitchen door, the braided rugs her Nana had made, the neatly aligned, cheaply framed eight-by-ten school photos chronicling her advancement through public school, kindergarten to high school graduation.
The bed in the room that had been her parents’, and then only her mother’s, still made by her mother on the last day of her life, the purple chenille tucked neatly under the pillows, the vibrant throw pillows arranged just so.
Her own room, last decorated by a nineteen-year-old whose life had known no greater stress than her parents’ separation. She still slept in that room every night, but she couldn’t remember the last time she’d really noticed anything in it.
Gabby stared down at the cup in her hand, at that cheap pink rose, and knew with a flash of clarity that she could not spend another day in this non-life, walking like a ghost through her own past.
A sound beyond the window caught her ear, and she looked up to see another news van pull in behind the first.
Enough. There was nothing for her in Santa Fe now but broken history.
It was time to go. It didn’t matter where—just somewhere. A new place. A new life.
Looking around the room again, Gabby understood that there was truly nothing for her, not even in this house.
One thing. There was one thing she wanted.
And one thing she would take because it seemed fitting that she should.
An hour later, she propped an envelope addressed to the landlord against the cookie jar on the kitchen counter, set her house key in front of it, and dug a ring of keys out of the junk drawer. She picked up her old duffel bag, packed with nothing but a few changes of clothes, and walked out the back door, locking the knob behind her. She crossed the small yard to the garage and heaved up the overhead door.
Her father’s 1970 Chevy pickup sat quietly. He loved that truck like a child. In the last months of her life, her mother had tried and tried to get him to take it away, but he’d procrastinated and refused and delayed. Gabby had known then that he believed that if the truck stayed, he might have a chance to come back home to stay as well.
She climbed up into the lifted truck and pushed her duffel to the passenger side. Before she turned the ignition, she picked up her mother’s gold crucifix from her chest and pressed her lips to it.
Gabby wasn’t particularly religious, especially not these days, but her mother had been devout. She’d worn this crucifix every day. She’d been wearing it on that last day; Gabby had had to clean old blood from around the body of Christ before she’d put it on.
It was the one thing Gabby wanted from the house as a memory to keep close.
She wanted the truck because it felt right to get away from her father in the thing he loved best. To take that from him as well.
She tucked the cross back under her t-shirt and turned the ignition. The truck had sat for more than two years; by all rights the battery should have been dead, but it caught, and the engine tried to turn over. Tried. For a few minutes, Gabby thought it wouldn’t start. As she tried without success to prime the old engine and nurse it to life, she began to feel deep panic, as if this big beast of a Chevy were her only chance for salvation.
Just as tears threatened to overtop her eyes, the engine caught and coughed, then roared to life. Gabby goosed the gas pedal until the truck settled into a fairly smooth idle. Then she put it into Reverse and backed down the long, narrow driveway.
She waved at the news teams as she shifted to Drive and left Santa Fe in her rearview mirror.
She had no idea where she was headed; she’d never in her life been farther from Santa Fe than Albuquerque—which was where she headed first, because in her mind, you couldn’t get anywhere from Santa Fe unless you started at Albuquerque. Once in that city, though, the farthest reaches of what she knew, she had to pull over and think for a minute.
All she had to do was figure out which direction to point the truck.
South felt backward. She supposed she had family in Mexico—she knew she did—but she’d never met any of them, and she barely spoke any Spanish. Besides, she wanted to own her memories of her mother and grandparents, and she could only do that if no one else shared them.
West was more of the same and then California, basically, and all she knew about California was what movies and television said about it. Fake and bright and loud. Not even a chance to see the ocean could draw her through that.
East, from all she knew of it, was just crowded. People everywhere.
So she went north. Maybe she’d end up in Canada. Maybe she’d go so far as Alaska. She didn’t know, but the thought of going somewhere green and lush, getting away from the desert scrub of the southwest, made her feel calm.
So she went north, and she decided she’d know where she was supposed to stop when she got there.
© 2016 Susan Fanetti