A Chapter One Sneak Peek!
The preorder is live, and we are about a month away from launch day for When I Lost My Way! In case you don’t know, this is book two in the Big Prairie Romance Series. Book one is When I Come Home Again, and you can check out chapter one of that book here.
Back to When I Lost My Way…
If you’re the read the back cover before anything else type (I am!), here is that:
Their whirlwind romance takes the hard road toward happily-ever-after as disaster tests their love for each other and their faith in God’s goodness.
Sophie Shultz smiles at her future, even when she doesn’t feel like it, but when a country drive leaves this city-girl stranded in the mud, the cowboy who stops to help gives her plenty to smile about. For real. Lance Carson is tall, handsome, and kind, if a little on the quiet side—not to mention the owner of Big Prairie’s celebrated vineyard.
Lance has always had a decided preference for solitude, but when he rescues Sophie he develops a whole new appreciation for companionship. It doesn’t take long for him to lose his heart as she fills the aching void life’s disappointments have left behind. But a family issue has put him in a hard spot, pushing him to a decision that will ruin his relationship with many of Big Prairie’s citizens—and devastate Sophie, who adores her newly adopted hometown. Before he can figure out how to tell her, someone tattles on his plans.
As their relationship is put to the test, conflict presses in from every side. Can this rapidly grown romance sink its roots deep enough to weather the storms, or will Lance and Sophie both lose their way?
Why did I take that left turn?
Sophie sighed, looking down at the nearly black muck that had claimed her car as its newest victim. It had seemed like a good idea. The truth was, she’d taken a drive because it had been one of those days. One of those stuck in the mud—figuratively, at the beginning—days. She’d thought back in August, nearly six weeks past, her life was good. Now there seemed to be a whole lot of blah coupled with a familiar uncertainty—and growing loneliness, something she’d been too familiar with all her life. After her relocation, she’d hoped that both had stayed behind. When, that early afternoon, it became apparent that both emotional companions had found her new life, taking a drive out in the country to clear her head, search her heart, and pray had seemed like an entirely harmless, perhaps exceptionally smart thing to do.
Don’t look now, but your city-girl ignorance is showing.
Yeah, that. Exactly. She should have known better, even with having not grown up country. Rain on a dirt road equals mud, and yesterday the skies over Big Prairie had opened up and wept. That left-hand turn off the highway two miles back had dumped her onto a county road that was a thin layer of gravel over nothing but dirt.
At first she’d thought eh, a few puddles. Road’s bound to dry up past the pocked entrance. Seemed reasonable—after all, this particular country road saw a lot of traffic. In fact, more cars turned down this way than many of the paved roads in town, thanks to that big sign off the entrance that read River’s Edge Vineyard. Surely, given the growing popularity of the successful vineyard Sophie had yet to visit, the only county road leading to the tourist attraction had been put on a special maintenance regimen. Though most of the picking had been done, the tourist season wasn’t finished.
So, she’d continued, confident the road would firm up.
Sophie tested the frosting-textured ground with the toe of her Converse. The gravel-laced soup sank beneath the slight pressure of her foot. Decidedly, that whole hope about the roads firming up had been a fatal miscalculation. She jerked her foot back, shook it above the squishy ground in a failed attempt to remove the muck that had come up with her shoe, and gingerly laid her now-soiled foot back on the floorboard of her car.
“Now what?” Slumping against the back of the driver’s seat, she gripped the steering wheel, tipped her chin up and shut her eyes. “Lord, now I’m actually stuck. Like in the mud. In the middle of nowhere.”
She’d thought it had been bad enough feeling stuck. Again. This… this was definitely worse.
That was the logical solution. The most obvious thing to do. Craig, being the exceptionally nice man that he was, would certainly brave the gooey roads to come to her rescue. That, however, would muddy her mind up more. The paradox was not lost on her with that thought. Having a great guy come rescue you from being stuck in the mud should help clarify her thoughts about said gentleman, not further cloud the whole situation. But, cloudy that whole deal was, and not just because of her personal always stay in the friend-zone track record.
There was Brenna to consider. Whether her best friend would deny that Sophie should add her into the matter or not, a strong thread of things-not-settled ran between Brenna and Craig. Strong enough, in fact, that Sophie felt certain she’d be a fool not to think long and hard about whether she wanted to step into that situation.
She’d been doing exactly that—thinking long and hard. And not loving the conclusion. One more not-the-right-fit in her growing file of nice men she’d dated.
Or was that the pain of a lingering wound putting fear into her heart. It was so long ago…and not everyone thinks the way he did…
“What’s wrong with me, exactly?” Sophie directed her query to the moonroof of her sporty Jeep Renegade. Well, more specifically to the King who reined over not only this muddy mess she’d inserted herself in—the literal one, as well as the figurative one that involved her heart, her future, and her hope.
She pulled in a long draw of air, then sighed again. “I know. I’m being dramatic. It was a couple of dates. And morning coffee. And me thinking maybe he was the reason you’d shut other doors. The reason I’ve been too timid to try again…”
It had been a long time past—and really, that wound not only should have healed up nicely, but it shouldn’t have hurt so deeply in the first place.
Sometimes people are blind, Princess. I mean they see color just fine, but much past that? Not so well, Baby. Don’t let that crush you. Don’t let them tell you who you are.
He father’s words from that tearful evening had stayed with her all these years. Thank God for Daddy. But…
Daddy, I still remember it…
Squeezing her eyelids closed, Sophie indulged in a moment of self-pity. After all, she was stuck on a country road, car lashed tightly in the greedy clutches of mud, and all by herself. It was her party, she could cry if she wanted to.
But not for long. It was late afternoon, and though Sophie had stopped trembling at the unbelievably dark nights she’d fearfully discovered in her newly acquired country life, she still hadn’t acclimated to the cry of the coyotes who liked to populate that thick blackness. She’d no desire to be stuck in her car, somewhere between the vineyard and town, all on her own after sundown.
So, again. Now what?
She sat up, slipped her phone from the dash holder, and tapped the home button. She knew lots of people in town…
Brenna and Grant topped the list of those who she knew would be willing to help. However, neither option felt comfortable when she considered them.
Craig then. Don’t want to.
He’d come. Without a doubt. Wouldn’t even tease her about doing such a dumb thing, getting stuck in the mud. He might ask why she felt the need to go out for a country drive, though.
Might be the right opportunity to have an open talk, without the distraction of his foster boys, their students, or his steady, blue-eyed gaze smiling down on her—because he’d have to drive them out of this mess.
Movement out in the field or pasture—whichever it was—blurred in the periphery of her vision. The back of her mind still fingered that fear of coyotes, and her heart lurched. Jerking her gaze to the right, toward the shadowy movement, she squinted to make out the form near the opposite fence line.
A deer. A harmless deer, raising her head to inspect the lady stuck in the mud. Sheesh, she needed to tame her imagination—and running fears. And also, she needed to get out of this predicament.
“Ugh. Call Craig.” She rolled her eyes at herself, then pressed his name under her contacts list. Done. Phone was ringing.
It would be just as well. The time it’d take for Craig to get her safely back to town could be time she could use to be honest with him. It’d be uncomfortable, but…
The ringing clicked to voicemail.
Sophie held in a groan and employed her Sophie’s always cheerful voice. “Hey, Craig. It’s me. Sophie. Listen, I know this will be such an inconvenience, and the whole thing was really stupid—seriously, I don’t know what I was thinking, and you can totally give me a hard time about it later.” Stop babbling like an idiot! She cleared her throat. “Sorry. I’ll get to the point. I’m in a bit of a crisis. As in, I’m stuck. In the mud. Is there any way you could come rescue me? Please?”
Tugging the phone from her ear like it burned, she smashed her thumb against the End icon. That was perfect. This way he’ll be the one to end this sort-of dating-esc thing. Good heavens, she had a propensity for being stupid. As the monologue she’d left on Craig’s voicemail replayed in her head, a wave of embarrassment washed hot through her limbs. She tapped her forehead with her phone and growled.
Impulse took over—which was something she really needed to work on. Case in point—she was stuck in the mud because of an impulse. She would work on it. Later. At that moment, she yielded to the compulsion, hit Craig’s name and sent another call.
Voicemail again. Whew! Because, what was she going to say? Hey. Me again. I just wanted to say that I’m not actually crazy. I think the last message I left might leave you with the impression that I’m a nuts. I’m not. Not really. I don’t think. But, I am still stuck…
Perhaps there was a reason she had an unquenchable instinct to keep all relationships in the friend-zone. She clearly wasn’t capable of acting like a grown up. Not on a consistent basis. Good thing Craig didn’t answer that second call. And thank you, Jesus that she had enough sense—even if it was at the last second—not to leave another babbling crazy-hinting message.
She was still stuck, though. And alone.
Yes. That was much safer. She could edit any ridiculousness out of the final copy before she hit Send. She tapped his name again, this time hitting the text icon rather than the call button.
Hi. I left you a message that maybe you should not listen to. I have reasons. Anyway. I’m stuck in the mud. It was a bad decision of mine that I am repentant of even as I type. Care to play superhero?
Sophie reread what she’d written. Too… much?
Possibly. He’d go and listen to that message for sure. Either way he would hear her babbling foolishness. Thus, she didn’t need him to read more of it. With a rapid tapping of her index finger, she deleted I left you a message that maybe you should not listen to. I have reasons. Anyway. There. That left three reasonable, grown-up, not babbling sentences. Four, if you counted the one word Hi. Some people didn’t. Maybe there should be a comma there, instead of a period?
Good grief, she was overthinking everything! With an irritated stab, Sophie sent the text off into the cyber world. Craig should get it in a millisecond. Help is on the way. She smiled at the thought. Maybe it was a grimace. Sitting up straight, she checked the rearview mirror. Yep, a smile. Her mom often said Sophie could make people believe she hadn’t a care on earth, because she could smile her way through anything.
Never know if she’s trembling in her Uggs, or ready to break down into a wail. My girl smiles through all of it.
Words Mom had spoken to her daddy—who was technically her stepdad—when Sophie had been thirteen. They’d recently started dating—her mom and Derrick, and Mom had been guarded about it. Didn’t even let Sophie meet the man—or him meet her—until she felt there would be a real reason to make the introduction. Sophie had been curious, though a touch resentful, about the man who had captured so much of her mom’s attention, and she’d been shocked to find out it was the new associate pastor at their church.
Seemed like a lifetime ago. Derrick was Dad now—actually, he was Daddy—and Sophie adored him almost as much as Mom did. But she remembered that description Mom had first given him of herself. Wondered if it had been a thing of pride, or a warning to the new man in their world, when Mom had said them.
Her gaze had wandered toward the field outside while she’d meandered down that bit of personal history. When she came back to the present, she found the deer still stood in that corner, grazing on whatever was left to be had on the autumn ground. Apparently her presence no longer made the animal curious, and the two of them—Sophie and the deer—were to coexist.
A lovely thought. But hopefully they wouldn’t have to coexist for long.
As if in agreement—or maybe insulted—the deer startled. Head came up, ears and eyes darted left and then right, and then she froze, attention pinned in Sophie’s direction. Sophie had the most ridiculous urge to wave, as if a friendly gesture would lull the animal back into the peaceful coexistence they’d been sharing. Before she could, the deer pivoted and fled in one fluid motion, clearing the four-strand fence with no more effort than it would have taken Sophie to flop onto a couch.
Sophie sat forward again, watching while the animal bounded toward the afternoon skyline, losing sight of her when she dipped into a small roll of land. Slouching back, she felt abandoned, though she knew that was also silly.
Why hadn’t Craig texted or called her back?
Smile. It’ll help.
She didn’t know where she learned that. Maybe she’d made it up all on her own? They were her words to live by, for better or worse.
The reason for the deer’s flight found its way into her rearview mirror. On a chance glance into the reflection, she saw a red truck slip-slide toward her on the greasy road.
“Ah.” Sophie kept a wary eye on the nearing vehicle, keenly aware of how unmanageable she’d found the mud. “So there is another fool in Big Prairie. Guess I can’t claim solo hold on that.”
The back of the truck fishtailing in a more controlled version of chaos than she’d managed with her Renegade, the other driver edged beside her.
“Please don’t slide into me,” she muttered. “This cute car isn’t paid for.”
A man wearing a cowboy hat held the steering wheel in the other vehicle, and as he maneuvered around Sophie’s car, he leaned forward, gave her a good long look, and then waved—the country-boy kind of wave common to the Big Prairie locals—two fingers up while the palm stayed anchored on the steering wheel. If she was in North Omaha, she’d have assumed the cowboy was giving her the bird.
Good thing she knew better. Not so good, however, that Mister Friendly Cowboy didn’t seem to understand her situation as he kept crawling on down the slick road.
“You’re not gonna stop?” She asked his tailgate as his truck cleared her car. “Not very Big Prairie-ish of you, Mister.”
As she scowled, those breaklights lit up red, the back wheels slid left, and the driver corrected the skid with obvious experience. Then, as if she’d been heard, the truck settled into a stop, mud oozing up around his tires when they ceased their movement. Yikes. Please don’t let him sink in too deep. Then I’ll be responsible for both of us being stuck.
The driver’s side door popped open, and a pair of long, dark jean-clad legs stretched out toward the ground. The man followed, hat still in place, glanced her direction, and then reached into the cab to snag a brown work coat. His back turned to her as he slipped the sleeves on, giving her a backside view of his lean, tall form, work-formed shoulders, and cowboy cut jeans.
“Not a view you get much back home.”
She bit her lip, taming that girly grin that, had anyone else been in the vehicle with her, would have made her blush. There definitely were benefits to this country life.
Sophie gave her mirror another quick glance, checked her hair to ensure her glossy ringlets hadn’t gone the way of frizz and her black mascara had stayed where she’d brushed it earlier that day.
Yeah. And smile too. That should totally make up for the fact that you’re stuck in the mud, and this good-looking cowboy won’t notice you’re a fool.
Though the thought was sarcastic, she did brush up her always-on-hand smile as the man turned and picked his way over the black slime toward her car. She rolled down her window as he came within a few feet.
“Hey there.” She tipped her chin up to look at him. “Thanks for not hitting me.”
“Interesting place to park.”
“Isn’t it? I thought it would be a nice spot for a nap.”
The corner of his mouth flickered. Maybe a miniscule grin? “Ah. I see. Here I thought you’d gotten yourself stuck.”
Sophie made a who me, no way sort of face.
“Very well, then. Carry on with the napping.” He bumped the hood of her car with the side of his fist.
“Whoa, there cowboy. That was not the truth.” She reached a hand out of the car and smacked the door as if that should make him stop his slow retreat. “I am definitely stuck, and I can’t get ahold of the person I thought could come help me.”
“I see.” His top lip curled a smidge—not as a leer, but in amusement. “So, you’re in need of assistance?”
“I’m in need of not being stuck here. I’m not fond of coyotes.”
“They’re mostly harmless.”
“Perhaps. But they creep me out.”
“Not from around here, are you?”
Sophie chuckled. “Clearly not. But I’m curious, what gave me away?”
He made a slow inspection of her car, the mud slurping up her tires, the road they’d traveled from the highway, and then finally her.
That’s what she thought when his survey stopped on her. Not, help, please. Or, what’s your name? Or, perhaps more important than any of those options, can I trust you? No. The first words scrolling through her quickly muddling brain were green eyes. And that was quickly followed with a deliciously buzzing sensation that started in her shoulders, sank through her chest and then exploded in her belly, sending a charge of heated electricity through her body.
Sophie blinked, then looked toward her dash. Neither did much of anything to clear her head or stop the warmth creeping into her face. How juvenile was she, that when she simply needed help out of a dumb situation she’d landed herself in, all she could think of in that moment was how mesmerizing those green eyes were?
No. Not all. He’s tall, and a little gorgeous in that hat too.
Good heavens, she was a ninny.
“It was your shoes.”
When she jolted her attention back to him, she found he had braced a palm on the roof of her car and leaned toward her.
“What?” What on earth was he talking about with her shoes? And, sheesh, her heart was misbehaving.
“You’re wearing white converse tennis shoes while driving on a muddy road.”
She lifted her left foot as if she needed to confirm his observation. “My shoes?” Lips parted, she looked back up at him.
He smiled. A whole, gorgeous, make her mind numb smile.
“That’s how I knew you’re not from around here.”
Stop gawking. Sophie blinked again, still searching for meaning in what he was saying. Or logic in her own brain. Had she ever been this entirely ridiculous in her life? Not once—certainly she’d remember.
Well, probably. At that moment she could barely remember her own name.
His smile dwindled to a remnant of pleasant memories. “Have I insulted you?”
“I was teasing. About your shoes. Although, they are a puzzling choice, to be honest. Surely they’ll wash, though. Right?”
“Because they’re about to get really muddy. Unless you prefer I carry you? I could. It would be no big deal. Just figured you’d not be comfortable with it, since I don’t even know your name.”
“Carry me where?”
A low chuckle rumbled from his chest, and he pointed toward his red truck. “I can’t pull your car out of here. The road’s still too soft. But I won’t leave you alone with the coyotes, if you’d rather not stay.”
Mud. Coyotes. Alone. Stay…
Snap out of this! Sophie shifted back to her default smile—and yes, it helped. “Right. I’d rather not stay here. Can you get me back to town?”
He shifted his jaw, doubt scrawling on his face. “Not sure how I can turn around, and the vineyard’s not far after the next turn off. Would you be willing to hang out there for a couple of hours? This should firm up by sundown, I’d guess, and then we can get your girly-Jeep out.”
“Oh. Sure. That makes sense. Do you think the owner would mind?”
“Of the vineyard?”
“Yes. I’ve heard the lodge is lovely. Do you think they’d let me stay for a while?”
He chuckled again, the amusement making his green eyes deepen and that smile resurface. “Let me check.” Looking skyward, he tapped his chin, and then his gaze landed back on her. “He says it’d be fine.”
The hand that had been anchored on her car slipped and then he held it toward her. “I’m Lance Carson.”
“You own the vineyard?”
“But you’re like…”
“Too old or too young?”
Oh my goodness, was she really that shallow? Stick a good-looking cowboy in her face, slip some success in his pocket, and she was mush? Sophie Shultz, put on your self-respect. Her Mom would give her an earful and lock her in her room for being so ridiculously mushy-minded. “I’m sorry,” Sophie straighten her shoulders, lifted her chin. “I’m acting like an idiot. I’m not normally this… well, whatever.”
“I believe you. But I didn’t think you were an idiot.”
“Oh, okay. That’s good.”
“I would like to know your name, though.”
She wanted to drop her face into her hands and hide. Instead, she smiled. Again. “Sophie Shultz.”
He pushed the hand he’d offered—and had been ignored—back toward her. “It’s nice to meet you, Sophie Shultz.”