Someone, the fourth installment of The Sawtooth Mountains Stories, is coming on Saturday, 2 May 2020–six weeks from today! All things being equal, a preorder will be up in three weeks. You can add it to your Goodreads TBR now.
Today, I’m revealing the cover and description and offering a little preview.
Someone is Ellen Emerson’s story, and one of my gentler romances. After Thunder, I thought something sweeter and less heartbreaking was in order.
If you’ve been reading this series, you know Ellen had a little heartbreak in Anywhere, and I wanted her to find love. She’s been a steady secondary or tertiary character in the series since Book 1, Somewhere, unfailingly supportive and good, and she deserves her happiness.
She finds it with Luke Taylor, another character who’s been in the background of the series since the beginning. Luke was so far in the background we don’t really know much about him. Getting to know him as I wrote this story was a real treat. He is a gentle giant who’s lived his whole life not quite fitting in among the people of his hometown.
Here’s the description:
Ellen Emerson has lived in Jasper Ridge, Idaho all her life and has never wanted to be anywhere else. She loves her town, her family, her friends, and her job managing the Moondancer Ranch. But she’s been unlucky in love, and after years of trying, she’s just about run out of options for romance among the men of her tiny town. Lately, she’s been trying to adjust her expectations for her future, to embrace the life she has and give up her dreams for a love and a family of her own.
She doesn’t need love. She’ll be okay on her own.
Luke Taylor is also a lifelong resident of Jasper Ridge. He and Ellen have known each other always, and they’ve worked together at the Moondancer for years. Ellen’s one of his favorite people; she’s fair and forthright. But Luke doesn’t really think the way most people do; he’s never been good at understanding people or being understood by them. So he doesn’t think much about romance. His mother’s always insisted that there’s someone for everyone, but a life of awkwardness and rejection has convinced him she’s wrong.
That’s okay. He’s just fine—better off—on his own.
Then one day, something between them changes. Maybe it’s the trouble Ellen has with a wealthy and insistent guest. Maybe it’s the trouble that’s risen up suddenly between the people of Jasper Ridge and the people of the Sawtooth Jasper reservation. Whatever it is, their world shakes. And Ellen and Luke, friends for years, see each other differently for the first time.
Maybe there’s someone for everyone after all.
And as a preview, here’s the scene with the moment Ellen, who has known Luke all her life, sees him for the first time as something more than a friend:
Not in the mood for the Jack after that meeting, Ellen drove back to the ranch. It was quiet. One or two bunkhouses had lights on at the windows, but everyone was off the clock tonight, and most of the seasonal staff, who lived on the premises, had fled for town. The twilight felt strangely heavy. Even the cicadas and pond frogs sounded slow.
There was something off about the Moondancer Ranch so still and dark on a hot summer night. Like she’d stepped through a rift and wasn’t at her own Moondancer but another dimension’s version.
Or maybe she should stop streaming weird sci-fi shows when she couldn’t sleep.
It wasn’t all that late, not even full dark yet, and the moon was blooming almost full. Ellen stood on gravel outside the garage and took in a deep, full breath of summer mountain air. For a moment, she considered going to the stable and saddling Zelda, but the thought of all that work to ride around the grounds—Luke would have a stroke, on Zelda’s behalf more than Ellen’s, if she rode out too far in the dark—made her tired.
This week had been so strange and tiring. Between fending off Jameson Cabot and watching Jasper Ridge get caught up in the kind of irreconcilable political nastiness that belonged in a big city, and now the ranch like a ghost town, she was starting to feel like she didn’t know where she was. Maybe she had stepped through some sci-fi interdimensional portal, where everything was the opposite of what she could understand.
Maybe she should have told Cabot yes. Maybe home wasn’t so great after all, in balance with the whole rest of the world.
Depressed and lonely, Ellen trudged up to the big house. Except for the lights at the main door, and the slight glow of the off-hours lights inside, the big wraparound porch was as dark as everything else.
She didn’t see Luke sitting at the far corner until he said, “Hey, Ellie.”
Ellen screamed and spun around. All she saw was a dark shadow lurking at the edge of her sight. Titan, Luke’s dog, barked his barrel-deep bark.
“Jeez, Luke. You just took ten years.”
“Sorry. I was just gonna let you go on in, but then that felt rude. I’m real sorry I scared you.”
“What are you doing here? I thought you were in town with everybody else. Your truck’s not in the garage.”
“I got the truck in for maintenance. Jerk drove me back out this afternoon.”
Her heart was beating again, so she walked to the corner, where he sat on one of the country-cute but sturdy wooden rockers. Titan, who was some kind of breed that looked like a yellow Lab had had a one-night stand with a grizzly, thumped his heavy tail, brushed his slobbery jowls over her hand and shoved his head under her palm.
For humans he liked, he was all Labrador. For humans he didn’t like, he was entirely grizzly. If he didn’t know someone, he assumed he wouldn’t like them. He was well trained and not necessarily a threat, but, like his owner, he looked like he was considering it. So Luke kept him away from the public parts of the ranch most of the time.
“Hey, buddy.” She patted his boulder of a head and wiped the slobber off her hand and onto his short fur. To Luke, as she rested her ass on the porch rail, she said, “Why are you sitting out here in the dark?”
“I like it. It’s peaceful.” His gaze turned to the rolling hills and whispering woods. “Doesn’t happen too much that the ranch is quiet like this on a warm night.”
Ellen looked the same way. The moon gave enough light that she could see the grass swaying in the breeze. “No, it doesn’t. I was just thinking how off it feels, to be so quiet on a night like this.”
“Not off. Right. This is what it’s supposed to be like. Without all those people who don’t get what all this is, out here.”
Ellen turned and studied the man before her. She knew exactly what he meant. It was why, more than any other reason, she couldn’t find a spark with Cabot. He didn’t get it. To him, Idaho was a place to visit. An adventure to have. A photograph to frame. To the people who came from this earth, it was so much more.
She wanted Luke to say it out loud. Suddenly, she wanted that more than anything. She needed to hear that he knew the same thing she did. “What is all this, to you?”
He looked at her. The moon gleamed in his dark eyes. “God.”
Just that one word. Said in earnest, without humor or self-consciousness. A truth spoken.
Ellen nodded—and then began to cry.
Luke was on his feet at once, and Titan, too. They both came to her. “Ellie, what?” the man asked as the dog shoved his head at her hip in a canine attempt at comfort.
Luke didn’t touch her; he simply stood close, like he was making himself a shield behind which she could collapse. What he was shielding her from, she couldn’t say. The frogs were unlikely to care she was an emotional wreck all of a sudden. Yet it was comforting, to have that massive body protecting her from the world for a moment.
She shook her head and grabbed hold of her careening emotions. “I’m okay. It’s just been a hard week, I guess.”
“That Cabot guy, he was on you, wasn’t he?” Luke handed her a clean, perfectly folded bandana from his back pocket.
Wiping her eyes, chasing after the last few straggling tears, she nodded. “He didn’t hurt me, though,” she managed to say. “He was just … insistent.”
“Those rich guys like him, they think they can take whatever they want. Pisses me off.”
A growl rumbled into the air. Ellen wasn’t sure if it came from Luke or his dog.
Feeling the need to be clear, she said, “He didn’t take anything, Luke. It didn’t go that far. It’s just that he was relentless, and exhausting.”
“I knew it. I’m glad he’s gone.”
“Me too.” Ellen’s bones felt heavy as lead. “I’m tired. I’m going to go in to bed.” She refolded the now-sodden bandana and handed it back to him.
When he took it, their hands grazed.
Hardly the first time their hands had touched in a lifetime of acquaintance and nearly that long of friendship.
But this time, a bolt of heat went through Ellen, from her fingers through every vein and nerve, like a static shock but hot as fire. A nuclear bomb of a spark.
A wild impulse, a biological imperative, overtook her, and what she wanted more than anything else in the world right then was to kiss him.
Kiss Luke Taylor.
She yanked her hand back and looked up at him. Black beard. Black eyes. Resting Murder Face. Ridiculously, disproportionately big. Preferred animals to people. A reputation for being the most boring date in Idaho.
Never had one romantic thought of him strolled through her brain in thirty-five years. As far as she knew, he’d had the same not-feeling for her.
But right now, she was a heartbeat away from going spelunking in his mouth. Which she absolutely could not do. Under any circumstances.
“El?” he asked in that low, soft, molasses drip of a voice.
When she’d snatched her hand back, the bandana had stayed with her. Now she pressed it to his chest—he was huge—and stammered, “S-sorry. Static shock. I’m turning in. Good night, Luke. Thanks for listening.”
It was all she could do not to run for the door.
©2019 Susan Fanetti