If you’re searching for a fast-paced summer romance to read, one filled with family ties, danger, suspense and love, check out my 2011 release from Champagne Books, Kinfolk. Three years ago this month when I signed my first novel contract, this is the novel. It debuted in July 2011 and by then, I had several other titles out from two other publishers but it remains special to me.
After all, how can a girl go wrong with a former NAVY SEAL as the hero or a setting in the lush, beautiful Ozarks where I just happen to make my home. Kinfolk also earned a five star review from The Romance Studio and ranks as one of their sweethearts!
Here’s the details, blurb, and first chapter followed by purchase links and the review. Enjoy the free chapter read and if it leaves you wanting more of Katherine and Ben’s story, you’ll know just where to go!
contemporary romantic suspense
Publisher: Champagne Books
Publication Date: July 4, 2011
contemporary romantic suspense
Publisher: Champagne Books
Publication Date: July 4, 2011
Now also in paperback $14.95
Word Count: 74, 143
When Katherine Vaughn flees California, she returns home to her native Arkansas, a place she barely remembers. As she settles in at the family farm with her aunt, she finds herself growing closer to her late cousin's husband, Ben Hatfield. Ben is a lot more than the country bumpkin she first takes him to be and when the men who threatened her follow her to Arkansas he will rely on his skills as a former Navy SEAL to protect her.
As their feelings toward one another grow, so does the danger and in the end, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen or if anyone will be safe.
Katherine’s life is in jeopardy as she wonders if there is any hope left in her heart.
Kinfolk is a novel about the power of love and the strength of family ties
After forty-eight hours of relative safety, Katherine was reluctant to leave the bus. From the moment she climbed aboard in Hollywood, the Greyhound had cocooned her with anonymity. Danger from death threats seemed distant but it took an effort to step down at the station on School Street in Fayetteville. On the horizon, the landmark towers of Old Main on the University of Arkansas campus reared above the skyline, alien and unfamiliar after palm trees.
In retrospect, the outfit was a mistake. Something about the turquoise tunic top and bright Capri pants smacked of California. So did the mirrored sunglasses she wore in an effort to hide her identity but she had ditched them at the bus station in Oklahoma City after the other passengers gave her no more than a passing glance. Now that she had reached her destination, she felt more vulnerable than she had since leaving California.
As she stepped down from the bus, a cold wind whistled around the station and she shivered, and then rubbed her arms to remove the chill. After two days en route from California, she was weary but the panic that propelled her to buy a bus ticket had faded to a constant unease.
Other passengers grabbed suitcases and departed the drab bus station but she huddled at the entrance, eyes searching for Ben Hatfield. The name conjured up an image of an old farmer, someone in faded overalls with a bandana tucked in a side pocket and a can of Skoal in his bibs. No one fitting her conjured description was visible but since she had no real idea what the man looked like, she decided to wait.
When she phoned Aunt Ruby from a pay phone in Amarillo, her aunt was delighted to have Katherine as a guest. She did not ask any questions but promised to send Ben Hatfield to meet the bus when it arrived in Fayetteville.
Two women waited inside the station but she saw no one other than a man who leaned on a blue and white pickup truck across the street. His hand curled around a cigarette and he smoked with lazy indifference. His faded jeans contrasted with his dark blue denim jacket. After one last pull on the cigarette, he ground it out beneath his boot and crossed the street. He carried himself with a confident air and her first impression was that he could be dangerous. The interior of the bus station seemed inviting and she squared her shoulders as she reached for the door.
Katherine hesitated at the sound of his voice.
He can’t mean me, she thought as she opened the door.
“Are you Katherine Vaughn?”
Startled, she spun around and almost tripped over her sandals. She pitched toward him and he caught her arm to prevent a fall.
“Then let’s go. Do you have a suitcase?”
“What?” Fear returned and her breath became rapid.
“I asked if you have a suitcase.” His voice was strong but not harsh.
“Who are you?” Her recent experiences made her wary but she had a growing suspicion that this might be the man sent to meet her.
“Ben Hatfield. Your Aunt Ruby asked me to pick you up.”
Embarrassment flooded her face with heat. Feeling thick headed and silly, she extended her hand.
“I’m sorry and I’m pleased to meet you. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“No problem. Let’s get your stuff.”
He carried her two suitcases and placed them in the bed of his pick-up. Although she was no expert, she judged the truck to be a vintage Chevy that dated to the early 1960s but after her faux pas, she wasn’t going to ask. She shivered again as the wind rattled dry leaves in the gutter and Ben Hatfield stripped off his denim jacket.
He tossed it across the seat and she caught it. “You can wear this.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hatfield.” Too cold to quibble, she slipped her arms into the sleeves. His jacket smelled of tobacco smoke, faded aftershave, and faint perspiration. The scent comforted her as he drove down the street.
“Call me Ben.” He almost smiled but didn’t. “Ruby told me you’d be tired and hungry when you got here. If you want something to eat, say so. We’re about an hour and a half from her house.”
Her last meal had been breakfast in a small Texas town and consisted of cookies from a vending machine.
“Actually, I am hungry.”
He nodded. “We can stop if you want or I can drive through someplace. Is this okay?”
With a fresh cigarette smoldering in his hand he indicated the nearest fast food restaurant.
“Wendy’s is fine,” Katherine said as she peered from the window at the busy thoroughfare. “And if you don’t mind, I can eat as we travel. I’m tired.”
His truck, although old, was in perfect condition. No trash littered the floorboards and the seats were intact. The blue body of the truck and the white cab were both bright, the paint so perfect that it must have been repainted in recent years. She made a mental reminder to be sure not to drip ketchup or mustard on the seat and to remove her trash when they got to Aunt Ruby’s farm.
She dug in her purse to pay for the meal but he shook his head.
“Keep your money.”
Hungrier than she thought, she finished the cheeseburger and polished off the fries. By the time she finished eating they had left the business district behind and soon exchanged the four-lane highway for a winding two-lane road. Ben turned on the radio and country music, studded with static, sang across the miles. Katherine relaxed and might have drifted into an easy sleep had not Ben spoken for the first time in several minutes.
“This is a pretty drive in the daylight. You can’t see the hills tonight, though.”
She roused herself to be polite. “How much farther is it to Aunt Ruby’s?”
“It’s still a fair piece. We’re not to Decatur yet. That’s close to Ruby’s farm. She thought you might like to go see Decatur tomorrow but it won’t seem like much, not after L.A. Arkansas’s going to be quite a change from sunny California.”
Although his tone was even, she felt a brief anger at his insinuation that she was a California girl who could not adapt to northwest Arkansas. Still stressed and very tired, she sat up straighter.
“I’m from Arkansas. I was born at Gravette.”
He didn’t take his eyes from the road.
“I know that. So was I.”
“And even after my mother moved away we lived in Gallup, New Mexico. It’s certainly no metropolis.”
“It’s likely to seem like one after you see Decatur. There’s not much there but the chicken plant. How long did you live in L.A.?”
Although he didn’t laugh, his voice was light and she sensed a hidden amusement beneath his words. Every emotion was raw, however, and his words stung.
“Seven years.” She wanted to dish a little back so she said, “Are you Aunt Ruby’s employee or what?”
“Am I the hired hand?” The laughter vanished from his voice. “You can call me that if you want. I live on the place to help Ruby with her cattle and the farm. Your cousin Jill was my wife.”
Although she had not given her cousin a thought in years, she remembered Jill now. Despite being five years older, Jill had been her first playmate. On one occasion, the girls had rolled in the woods and contracted poison ivy. Sometimes they played tea party on the wide front porch of the farmhouse. She wondered how much Jill had changed and if they might be friends. A friend would be nice so she asked, “What’s Jill doing these days?”
Ben kept silent until the song ended and turned the radio off with a snap of his wrist.
“Not much.” His voice was flat. “She’s dead.”
Too late, Katherine noticed he used the past tense and she recalled her mother telling her about Jill’s death. She could not take back her careless words, however, and tears burned in her eyes. Embarrassed at her gaffe, she could not think what to say except to mumble an apology. Ben nodded but he did not look at her nor did he speak again.
As they passed through Decatur, Katherine saw a few businesses scattered along the main street but in the darkness, she could form no impression of the place. She thought he might point out a few of the sights but he was mute.
After leaving the small town they traveled north on what she identified as Highway 59 from road signs then turned to the left. She noticed the terrain changing as the road began to curve and the hills began to seem more rugged. The truck’s speed increased enough to alarm her. Katherine said nothing, unwilling to say anything more that might upset or offend him again. . The road crossed a railroad track and then veered across a narrow bridge that seemed unstable. After a hard right, Ben drove across a newer bridge and the paved road gave way to graded gravel.
Katherine had no idea just where they were or how near they might be to the farm. The road hugged the base of a hill. In the darkness, she could see little save rocks and trees.
The truck headlights slashed through the gloom and illuminated the road ahead. Without braking, Ben turned down a long dirt drive and the truck rattled over a cattle guard. Ahead, at the base of another tall hill, a two-story frame farmhouse was illuminated. Lamps glowed in the downstairs windows and for the first time since arriving, Katherine remembered something. The house was familiar and she looked up at it with wonder.
“We’re here.” Ben’s voice cut into her reverie. “You’re home.”
Before she could open the door, he was at the passenger side and offered a hand so she could step down. She grasped his hand as she looked up to see a woman silhouetted by porch light. She was small and slight, much tinier than Katherine expected. On the phone, her voice was the same but the woman on the porch had aged. Her once-dark hair was now a mass of salt-and-pepper curls and her face was as wrinkled as a dried apple doll. Two decades had passed since she had seen Ruby and her strongest memories were more than thirty years in the past.
Images of a Sunday dinner filled her mind. Aunt Ruby had cooked the meal: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and biscuits. Katherine could taste the crisp flavor of the chicken for a moment and she remembered that Aunt Ruby had given her a bowl of chocolate pudding after the meal. Her aunt’s voice cut into her reminisces.
“Come up, Katherine, and let me look at you.”
“Oh, Aunt Ruby, I’m so glad to see you,” Katherine said and enfolded the older woman into her arms.
Aunt Ruby stepped back to gaze on her niece.
“You look like a Vaughn.” Her voice was pleased. “You favor your daddy.”
“Where do you want these suitcases?” Ben asked, heaving both bags onto the porch.
“Front corner bedroom, Ben,” Ruby said, wrapping an arm around Katherine’s waist. “It’s cold so let’s go inside.”
In the hallway, Katherine removed the denim jacket and when Ben clumped downstairs, she handed it to him. “Thank you.”
He took the jacket and looked at her, his gaze deep and unreadable.
“I’m sorry if I offended you earlier.” It seemed that she should say something to make amends but the words came hard.
He shrugged his shoulders. “You didn’t.”
She watched him bound down the porch steps and her eyes burned with tears at his brusque words. Angry that she cared, she wiped the tears away.
“Don’t mind Ben,” Ruby said. “He’s been offish since Jill died but he’s a good man.”
“I asked about Jill and it seemed to upset him. I know she died but how?”
Talking to Ruby was easy, the way speaking with family should be. Relief that she had made the right choice in coming here eased some of the tension Katherine carried within her soul.
“She died in a car wreck about ten years ago. Ben took it hard and I doubt he will ever get over it. It’s been too long and he’s set in his ways. Never mind all that. I’m happy to have you home and I know you’re tired.”
Ruby climbed the stairs. “I’ve put you back in your old room, honey, but there’s not much there you would remember. You were awful little when you left.”
“I was five,” Katherine said. An antique bed and dresser dominated the room. Her two suitcases sat before the closet door.
“The sheets are clean and the bathroom is down the hall, same place it always was. I’m in your mom and dad’s old room. I ought to move to town--this house is too big and empty with just me here. I tried to get Ben to in move in but he won’t. He stays back there in that mobile home he bought when he married Jill.”
Uncertain and emotional, Katherine told her aunt good night. She snatched a nightgown out of one bag and turned down the sheets. The worn linens were clean and she slipped into bed but although she was weary, she could not sleep.
Tomorrow she would unpack her clothing. Nothing she brought seemed suitable for Arkansas because she had packed in a rush. Her cell phone was in her purse but she had turned it off on the way from California. Katherine planned to leave it off for a while. The laptop would stay in the bag for a while, at least until her level of concentration could tolerate writing again. Since Devon’s death, she had been unable to write a single coherent sentence.
Her stash of cash was in the smaller suitcase; she could use some of it to buy proper clothing and a jacket. Using credit cards didn’t seem like a safe option. Although Aunt Ruby had asked no questions, Katherine expected that she would in time and she had no doubts that Ruby suspected trouble had brought her home to Arkansas.
The bed creaked as she shifted position, a familiar sound she now remembered. Shadows on one wall were something else she recalled and memories crowded her thoughts with people from the past. Early mornings on the tractor seat with her daddy came to mind and she recalled the security his presence once brought. The lingering smell of Ben Hatfield’s jacket remained in her nose and she felt an odd sense of a similar comfort.
When she woke, morning light filled the room but she felt disoriented until she saw the framed picture of The Last Supper on the wall. As a child, she had often stared at the picture as if to will Jesus to lean out and speak to her. He never had and she had forgotten about the picture until now.
After a bath in the old claw foot tub, Katherine dressed in simple jeans and T-shirt before finding her way to the kitchen. The house grew more familiar as she roved through the rooms.
“Well, it’s about time you woke up! I guess you slept well. I thought we’d go into Decatur today but I don’t guess we’ll make it there.”
“I’m not usually such a late sleeper,” Katherine said, glancing around for a coffee pot. “Is there any coffee?”
“It’s on the stove,” Ruby said. “I was just finishing a sandwich for lunch; it’s after twelve.”
After a cup of strong coffee, Katherine felt revived. “It’s not that late. Why couldn’t we go to Decatur?”
“We couldn’t go and get back before Ben has to leave for work.”
“Work?” Katherine was confused. “I thought Ben Hatfield worked for you.”
Ruby laughed, a surprisingly young sound, and a smile eased some of the wrinkles in her face.
“He helps me out but I can’t pay him a thing. He helps run the cattle or I would have sold the herd a long time ago. Most of them are his anyway, now. He works at the Peterson poultry plant in Decatur.”
“He does?” That surprised her.
“Well, yes, he does. He drives me when I need to go to town. I just can’t see well enough to drive anymore but he won’t have time to take us today.”
Her early impressions of the taciturn man were shifting. She had taken him for hired help at first but during the ride from Fayetteville, she sensed that there was more substance to Ben Hatfield than was apparent. Mystified by the idea that he helped her aunt without compensation and acted as chauffeur when needed, Katherine wondered anew just who--and what--this man was. Most widowers lacked such loyalty to their former mother-in-law, especially after a decade.
“I can drive us if you have a car, Aunt Ruby,” Katherine said, sipping more coffee. Her tone was mild but her emotions were in turmoil. Ben Hatfield might be a widower but she was a recent widow although she had never applied the phrase to herself. Damn Devon, she thought, damn him to hell for this mess he’s put me in!
Ruby did own a car, a 1960 Cadillac Sedan de Ville. Although old, the vehicle ran well and handled like a dream. Behind the wheel, Katherine pondered her predicament as she half-listened to Aunt Ruby’s chatter. Decatur was even smaller than she imagined. A tiny grocery store, a feed and farm store, a beauty shop, a video rental shop, and a small café made up the brief business district.
“There’s the First Baptist Church where I go on Sundays,” Ruby said, as she pointed out the sights, “and there’s the graveyard just behind. Lester’s buried there and your daddy, too.” Lester, she remembered well as Uncle Les. He liked to play horseshoes and go coon hunting but she didn’t remember much more than that.
Although she recalled much more about her daddy, she was not ready to discuss Joe Vaughn but she wondered if Ruby was her sole remaining family member on her dad’s side.
“Do we have other family?”
Ruby laughed. “Honey, there’s your Aunt Vivian, the baby of the family. She lives over to Fayetteville and I imagine she’ll want to see you sooner or later.”
She didn’t remember another aunt and that puzzled her. “I don’t remember her. I wonder why not.”
“Your mama and Vivian got along like two cats tied in a bag,” Ruby said. “I imagine that’s why. I stayed in touch with your mom but Vivian didn’t.”
Family matters had little to do with her present situation so she focused on Decatur. An odor clung to the town, a slightly unpleasant aroma and she asked her aunt about its origin.
“That’s the chicken plant. Drive over there across the railroad tracks and take a look. It’s behind the business district but the smell blows right up here when the wind’s right.”
The large building was the center of activity. Large trucks with trailers stacked with crates containing live chickens waited to unload the birds for processing and refrigerated trucks at the opposite end of the plant carried away fully processed and packaged chicken headed for the supermarket. A shift change was in progress because a large number of people wearing knee high black rubber boots and paper hairnets raced for the parking lot.
En route home they met Ben in his blue pickup. He waved as he careened around the curves at reckless speed.
“You would think he would drive with more care.” She couldn’t resist the comment; a man who lost his wife in a car accident would seem to be an advocate of safe driving.
She felt her aunt’s curious gaze but Ruby didn’t say anything more about her son-in-law. After supper, the two women settled into the living room where an aging color television dominated the room.
“Thanks for supper, Aunt Ruby,” Katherine said during a commercial break. “I want to do some of the cooking while I’m here. I love to cook.”
“That’s fine with me, honey. I wouldn’t expect you to be a good hand in the kitchen, though, after living the high life in Los Angeles so long. I figured you were a busy career gal who didn’t care about cooking.”
When Devon threw parties for his drug-loving friends, she retreated to the kitchen. It had been an escape, a method of denial to cook pot roast with homemade noodles or bake peanut butter cookies. As long as she was cooking, she could pretend that life was sane, that Devon was a good husband, and that she was happy. Looking back, she saw her method of preserving sanity had been almost insane.
Rather than contemplate the life she had fled, Katherine excused herself to unpack. As if she were home to stay, she hung her dresses in the closet and filled the empty bureau drawers with her garments. With the need to shop in mind, she jotted down a list that included both clothing and toiletries and wondered where she would shop. Decatur was too small but she didn’t relish the idea of driving to Fayetteville.
In the silence, she could hear each tick of the alarm clock on the bedside table and the echo of Ruby’s television program. Too keyed up to sleep and with nothing to occupy the time she retreated downstairs to watch banal television programs with her aunt.
“Aunt Ruby, I need to buy a few things,” Katherine said just before the ten o’clock news. “Is there somewhere closer than Fayetteville where I could go?”
“Bentonville’s the closest. There’s a Wal-Mart Super Center and a lot of shops. Tomorrow’s Saturday and if you want to go, I expect Ben will take you in if you ask him. He goes every Saturday and you’re not familiar yet. He’ll be up to take coffee with me in the morning and you can ask him then.”
“I will. I think I’ll go on up to bed.”
“Good night, Katherine.”
“Good night.” Halfway out of the living room she hesitated. “Aunt Ruby?”
“What time does Ben come home?”
Ruby’s attention shifted from the program to her niece. Her piercing gaze rattled Katherine and she felt like a little girl caught in mischief.
“He gets off around midnight most nights. Katherine, I wouldn’t get my drawers in a knot over Ben Hatfield. He’s not been himself since Jill died and he’s never had a girlfriend since then that I know about so I wouldn’t get any ideas in that direction.”
“I’m not. I just wondered if he slept late.”
“No, he’s an early riser. No matter how late he gets home, he’s up by seven or so. He’ll be up here by 7:30 or 8 and I imagine if you ask, he’ll take you to Bentonville. Just don’t get any ideas about him.”
Awake more than two hours later, she stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep. A distant rattle and the sweep of headlights across the room heralded Ben’s homecoming so she rose and peered out the window. As the blue and white Chevy truck rolled past she saw the glow of his cigarette and admitted, widow or not, she might have an idea or two about Ben Hatfield.
Five Star Review from The Romance Studio:
Katherine Vaughn is running away. Before she could get a divorce, her husband had run up a $300,000 debt to a high level drug dealer, and the man is now after her for the money. To hide, she left her empty Hollywood life for her late father's home in the hills of Arkansas. Moving in with her Aunt Rudy, she tried to get over her fear and restart her writing career.
Ben Hatfield is a widower. He'd married Ruby's daughter when she was his nurse as he recuperated from injuries that he'd suffered as a Navy SEAL. After her death, he stayed on, in a trailer on Ruby's farm, taking care of the place and basically living as a recluse. When he learns of Katherine's situation, he can't help but want to protect her.
This is a great romance. Nothing is rushed in the growing relationship. They slowly learn about each other and how to open up to someone again. Katherine's marriage had been a disaster as her soap opera actor husband slipping further and further into drugs. Ben's last memory of his wife was their fight just before she drove off and died in a car accident. I like the way Ms. Murphy brings them back from their pasts. They both need to start living again to be able to appreciate each other.
Ben's closest family, the grandfather who raised him and is now dying, and his police officer cousin, Kenny, are secondary characters who bring great reality to the story, especially Ben's relationship to his grandfather. The book is about romance, not sex, and Ms. Murphy does it very well. There are some love scenes but they are mild and appropriate for the book. You'll really come to care for Katherine and Ben as their personalities come through and they learn to love each other. The action at the end of the book is also very well done. This is one that I'm marking as a keeper to reread. I know you'll enjoy it.
Sensuality rating: Mildly sensual Reviewer: Kathy F.
June 24, 2011