Monday, January 16, 2017

FREE first chapter read: Canaan's Land!

It's the day - release day for my latest full length novel, Canaan's Land from World Castle Publishing.  It's available in both paperback and Ebook formats.  Links are after the chapter.  I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing this one!




Chapter One

 

            A light breeze with a hint of autumn cool wafted across the porch as Canaan Moss settled down after a long day’s toil.  He’d bathed in the clawfoot tub upstairs, too stubborn to settle for the shower in the half bath he’d added to the house.  When he needed to clean up quick, Canaan—Cane to his nearest and dearest—showered but after working hard, he enjoyed soaking in the tub.  His long frame fit within it and the water came up chest high, higher still if he slid down to a prone position.  His dark hair remained damp but despite the breeze, temperatures were warm enough it didn’t matter.  On any other evening, he would be settled back on the couch, watching a movie or vintage television show, probably dozing before it got much later, but he wanted to see the lunar eclipse.  Stargazing was an old hobby, one he seldom had time to pursue.

            He sipped sweet Moscato wine from the bottle, not the large one but one of a four pack he’d picked up at the market in town.  Although he preferred a good vintage to malt beverages, Cane refused to drink from a fancy glass goblet like some hoity-toity gentleman.  He needed the wine to ease his lingering tensions.  His bath had eased his weary body but not his mind.  As Cane had eaten his solitary supper, the ever growing stack of bills had seemed taller than a city skyscraper.  He kept them in an old milk glass pitcher on the center of the kitchen table, but lately it brimmed full constantly and he juggled which ones to pay, which ones had to wait.  Inflation made prices higher but cattle prices remained too low to keep pace so he struggled to make ends meet.  Truth was, he’d begun thinking about finding a job in town, at one of the manufacturing plants or maybe the big home supply store, to bring in more money.  Cane hated the idea but he could see the possibility looming large although he’d never wanted to do anything more than farm.

Like his ancestors, he was proud to be a farmer, living on land owned by Mosses since 1890.  He kept the sign up by the road proclaiming Canaan Moss Farm as a Missouri Century Farm in good repair and had it repainted every other spring so the letters wouldn’t fade.  His great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all born here, in the big bedroom upstairs.  Cane’s mother delivered him in the hospital at the county seat but he’d come home at two days old.  He’d never lived anywhere else and didn’t want to.

             Canaan was a name he’d inherited.  His great-great granddaddy had been the first Canaan Moss and the name continued.  Cane’s dad gave it to his first and what turned out to be his only son.  All his life, Cane did his best to live up to it and carry on the tradition.  Someday, he planned to marry and raise a family here but he hadn’t yet.  He’d shared the home with his parents until first his dad passed away from a sudden stroke and less than two years later, his mom died from cancer, the same kind her mother and sister had suffered.  He’d been alone in the rambling farmhouse for two years now.

            Somehow, the high ceiling rooms loomed emptier, and his footfalls echoed louder in the quiet rooms.  At first Cane had savored the solitude, but now he had decided he wasn’t made to be solo. Someday, he thought, as he rocked a slow rhythm in the worn chair his grandfather fashioned for his bride from a fallen tree, someday he’d find a woman to share his home and heart.  Cane possessed particular notions about the kind of woman he needed.  He liked tradition so a woman that  didn’t mind tying on an apron in the kitchen, who could cook up anything from roast turkey to crabapple jelly or a casserole, and knew how to mend and sew would be ideal.  A gal who would gather wildflowers barefooted but could use her smartphone to stay connected appealed to him.  Cane loved long hair on a woman but more important, he craved someone comfortable in faded denim or a sexy evening dress.  Computer-savvy served up with comfort foods, a little sass paired with sweetness, and someone who could be hard-working when necessary but a bit of a harlot between the sheets, offered major appeal. 

            As the shadow of the eclipse darkened the bright face of the moon, Cane forgot about his money worries and his loneliness as he watched with awe.  The natural event, the power of such alignment impressed him, yet a cold chill inched down his spine.  He understood why ancient people feared such an event and why they thought it portended doom.  With the reddish shadow of the blood moon extinguishing the light, a tiny part of his rational mind wondered if something bad might happen.  Then he dismissed the idea as silly, watched as the eclipse covered the moon, and waited until the process began reversing.  Cane finished the last bottle of wine, yawned, stretched, and headed inside.  Tomorrow, he had more fences to repair and a full day of work ahead.

            He didn’t bother to turn on any lights when he entered the house.  Cane had no need.  He knew every inch of his home and could walk through it blindfolded.  The stairs creaked as he mounted them and the worn floorboards in the upstairs hallway did too.  He washed his face and brushed his teeth the way his mama had taught him long ago, but he stopped short of the prayers he’d learned at the same time.  Although he attended church at least three Sundays out of four, Cane’s faith lived beneath the open sky, in the quiet forest glens, on the waters of Shoal Creek and in his heart, not in a building.  In the smaller of the two front bedrooms, he crawled between faded sheets in the old iron bedstead where his great-grandparents once slept.  Within minutes, he drifted to drowsiness and then, dreamless, Cane slept.

****

            Waking early came natural to Cane, and he rose when the first light of dawn peeked over the eastern horizon.  He pulled on a clean pair of jeans and added one of his chambray shirts, buttoning it as he headed downstairs to turn on the coffee and light the oven.  While the coffee perked, Cane put on his boots and picked up a flashlight.  He headed out to the barn and the adjacent corral to check his herd.  Cane counted the cattle and topped up the water levels in the stock tank so they could drink as he moved among the animals.  He watched for any signs of pinkeye or other disease so he could be prepared to treat it before it spread.  The bull, proud patriarch of Cane’s Black Angus herd, snuffed and snorted in a separate pen.  The yearling heifers, too young to breed, were separated from the rest.  The two calves Cane bottle-fed rushed to meet him and he laughed. If they had been dogs, he thought, they’d be wagging their tails.  After he took care of their needs, he turned most of the herd out into the middle field, away from where he would be repairing fence. 

            Cane headed into the barn to milk the Guernsey he still kept, more for sentimental reasons.  No more milk than he drank, he could have bought it in town like he did butter and ice cream, but he preferred the taste of the rich milk and there had always been a milk cow on the Canaan Moss farm.  He fed his small flock of chickens and headed into the house, into the spacious kitchen that filled the length of the house from front to back. 

            He poured a cup of coffee and drank it black while he opened a can of what his grandpa always called “hypocrite biscuits,” then put them into the oven.  Cane fried a few slices of bacon, then two eggs over easy in his grandmother’s well-seasoned cast iron skillet, and then ate his breakfast listening to the farm reports and markets on the radio.  After his meal, he wiped the skillet clean before running dishwater in the sink so his dishes could soak.  Then he poured kibble into an old skillet and placed it next to the back door so his dog, an old redbone hound he called T, short for Trouble with a capital T, could eat.

            His farm truck, a well-maintained 1978 Ford F-150, fired without hesitation when he turned the key.  Cane drove it out to the north pasture, the one closest to his now empty cornfields and parked where he’d stopped mending fence the previous day.  He walked the fence line, checking for breaks or loose wire, and made repairs.  Although the work was tedious and slow, Cane didn’t mind.  He enjoyed the soft breeze that brushed his cheek, the sound of the various birds as they trilled their morning songs, and the occasional animal that appeared.  Three cottontail rabbits dashed out from the fence row and cavorted as he pondered how they would taste in his skillet.  A pair of squirrels chattered as they chased each other up the old sycamore tree on the edge of the pasture, fat from eating corn from the field before harvest.

            A train horn blasted into the quiet morning, as loud as if it passed beside the farm, and Cane figured that cooler weather must be on the way.  He sang old tunes while he worked, some the classic country songs he’d grown up hearing and a few older still, ballads his granny sang to him when he was small, songs so old her granny had carried them with her from the old country across the water.  Cane belted out the refrain of one of them in his baritone until the powerful whirring of a helicopter just overhead drowned out the song. 

            He gazed upward, squinting against the sun at the chopper, and wondered if there had been an accident on the highway.  No sirens wailed, however, and Cane saw no medical markings on the helicopter so it wasn’t a life flight after all.  When the chopper veered toward the woods and creek, he shrugged and lost interest.  He patched fence until midmorning and stripped off his heavy work gloves so he could nibble the biscuit and bacon sandwich he’d brought along as a snack.  Cane washed it down with some iced tea before moving down the fence line to the next break.  He left the gloves off for more dexterity as he worked with barbed wire in a tight corner and caught the edge of his hand on the wire.  It tore through his skin and bit into the flesh.

            Cane cussed as blood flowed.  He tried to staunch it with one of the cotton gloves but when it didn’t slow, he decided to go back to the house.  By the time he arrived, the cut had almost stopped seeping but he washed it out with a little peroxide, smeared antibiotic cream over it, and pasted on an adhesive bandage anyway.  After a glance at the bills brimming out of the pitcher, he decided to head back to the field to finish the task.  Once he caught up mending fence, he needed to inoculate the calves.  His dwindling woodpile needed replenishing before winter arrived, and someday soon Cane needed to patch a couple of places where the barn roof leaked.

            The vintage black rotary-dial wall phone rang, and with a sigh Cane answered it.  As he’d expected, it proved to be a collections call, seeking payment on his overdue truck note.  The old Ford he drove around the farm had long ago been paid off but he owed plenty on the newer Ford pickup he bought after his parents had passed away.  A monthly payment came due with regularity but no one ever seemed to grasp that his money came when he sold a crop or some livestock, not on a weekly or monthly schedule.  When he had the money, he would pay.  He always did, but not timely enough to satisfy his creditors. 

            Thank God the farm is free and clear, Cane thought.  He kept the electric bill current every month, paid the phone often enough to prevent Ma Bell from shutting off service, and did the best he could with his occasional charge card payments.  The propane tank would need to be filled soon, he remembered.  If he bought now, the price per gallon would be less than if he waited, but he’d probably need to sell a few head of cattle first.  He also had a tractor payment to make, county taxes come December, and a vet bill from a difficult calving in the spring.  Thank goodness he’d stocked the freezer with plenty of beef, bought dry goods to line the pantry shelves, and used a well for water.  If he lived in town and had to pay a water bill, it would be one more expense to struggle with.

            If he went back into the fields, he could finish the chore today.  But Cane realized if he drove into town and paid for the propane, it would be delivered before the tank went dry.  Although he heated primarily with a wood-burning furnace in the cellar, he liked hot water for his baths and cooking his meals on the stove.  With a sigh, he changed into a better pair of jeans, stuck his checkbook into the back pocket, and put on his favorite red ball cap, the one with a Cardinals logo.  When he first bought the newer pickup, he’d chosen Race Red because it came closest to the color favored by the St. Louis Cardinals.  At the time, Chase thought it had been an awesome idea.  Now that he was behind in his payments, he wished he’d settled for a less bright color, one that didn’t stand out in traffic.

            After making his first stop at the propane company and paying to have his tank filled next week, Chase sat in the cab and subtracted the total from his diminishing checking account.  By then, it was almost noon so he decided he’d splurge on lunch at one of his favorite restaurants although he wasn’t very hungry.

            Classic diner aromas lingered in the air and Cane inhaled the fragrant smell of coffee combined with other delicious scents.  He slid into his favorite booth, one with a view of the supermarket next door and ordered his favorite, the patty melt with a side of fries.  Although he could fry a good hamburger at home or grill one to perfection, Cane had yet to duplicate the sandwich, a burger with fried onions and cheese, grilled on rye bread.  His efforts, although edible, failed to reach the same scrumptious level.  He sipped from a glass of sweet iced tea while he waited for his meal.

            Robert Wilson, a farmer whose land lay on the opposite side of the creek from Cane’s, lifted a hand in greeting from the round corner table he shared with four other men. “Hey, Cane, come join us.”

            The circular booth in the corner would accommodate another so Cane picked up his tea and joined the group.  “What’s the news?”

            “Not much,” Robert said. “They’re hiring out at the feed mill again and I heard the county road crew may be taking applications soon, with winter just ahead. I’m still building chair frames and probably will be till I retire out at the chair plant.”

            “The city council voted to put up a new traffic light,” Jeff Baker, a slender man who had always lived in town, said. “That makes four in a row out on the highway, and some people are griping.”

            “Why?” Cane asked. “It doesn’t bother me any if I go around that way.”

            “Don’t you usually come in from the north end of town?” Robert said. “I do.”

            “Yeah, usually, but there is more traffic than there used to be so I don’t see a problem.”

            Teddy Kidwell grinned over his cup of coffee. “But you’ve never lived in town so it wouldn’t matter much to you, Cane.  Me, I’ve been working fifty hours a week at the plant and when I get off, I’m dog tired and in a hurry to get home so I don’t like the new stoplights.”

            “There’s too much traffic in this town anymore,” Jeff said. “If I wanted to deal with rush hour, I’d move to Kansas City or Tulsa.”

            “Too many new people keep coming,” the fourth man and the oldest, said.  Dick Dunlap came from a generation above the others. “I used to know about everybody but anymore, there are people from all over and lots of them brown.  Mexican, Chinese….”

            Cane hated anything smacking of racism so he interrupted, “I’m glad we’ve got several new restaurants.  I like having different foods.  I’ve always loved anything with beans but I’ve developed a taste for Kung Pao chicken and Thai food too.”

            “Gives me indigestion,” Dick said with a snort.  He picked up his fork and gobbled has browns from it. “I like plain old American food.”

            Tension tightened around the table like too-tight shoes on tired feet. “I really like this Neosho burger.”

Teddy held up his large hamburger topped with cheese and bacon.  “Here comes your food now, I think, Cane.”

            The waitress placed his patty melt in front of him along with the check. “Do you need anything else?”

            “No, I’m good, thanks.”

            He tucked into the food, grateful for the diversion, while the other men talked of sports.  Cane mulled over the jobs mentioned as he took his first delicious bite of sandwich.  Neither the feed mill nor road crew held much appeal but he needed money so couldn’t afford to be picky.  Even though he didn’t have a wife at home like Teddy, who would leave for his second shift job in a couple of hours, Cane had no desire to spend hours on an assembly line or running heavy equipment.  When he reached for the salt to dust his fries, he realized the conversation had slowed and the others stared at him.

            “Did I miss something?”

            Robert grinned. “I thought I might need to check your pulse.”

            “Wondered if you were still breathing,” Jeff added.

            Cane put down his sandwich with confusion. “What are you talkin’ about?”

            “You’re the only one not looking,” Teddy said.

            “Looking at what?”

            The men laughed. “Not what, who,” Robert told him. “How could you miss her?”

            He pointed at the woman entering the restaurant, a blonde with her hair pulled back into twin tails on either side of her face.  She wore more makeup than Cane liked, heavy green eye shadow, thick mascara, and eyes ringed in black.  Her pouty lips were scarlet and her cheeks blazed deep pink.  Long earrings that reminded Cane of fishing lures dangled from her ears and she wore a heavy gold chain along with a string of faux pearls.  The white peasant blouse trimmed in lace she wore bared both shoulders, and the neckline plunged to display the tops of ample breasts.  She also appeared to have been poured into her tight black jeans as she minced along, her gait slowed by the heeled sandals on her feet.  As Cane watched, more appalled than impressed, her red lips moved as she snapped her gum in a rapid rhythm.  Although he’d seen her around town before, he couldn’t call her by name. 

            “Ain’t she something,” Robert said with deep admiration.  The others at the table stared with the same rapt attention, even Dick who had celebrated his fortieth wedding anniversary last month. 

            Cane snorted. “She’s not my type,” he said.  “She’s all glitter and no guts.”

            The other men erupted into raucous laughter. “Not to me,” Teddy whooped. “Darla hasn’t dolled up that way in too long.”

            Robert, twice divorced and currently single, mimed wiping sweat off his forehead.  “I think she’s hot.  Maybe you need glasses, Cane.”

            “I don’t think so.” His vision ranked as perfect, 20/15, better than the average. “I just know what I like and that’s not it.”

            The strong scent of her perfume followed behind her in waves as she passed their table.  Obsession, Cane thought as the aroma filled his nose, so powerful he almost choked.  He’d dated a woman, once who’d worn the fragrance and like her, she came on too strong for his taste.  Her ass undulated as she sashayed past their table.  Robert waved like a junior high boy in the throes of a crush.

            “Hi, Tammie!”

            She paused in mid-stride and glanced back over one shoulder. “Hi, Robert, how’s it going, guy?”

            Her voice reminded Cane of something so sweet it made his teeth ache—saccharine, not sugar—but Robert grinned at Tammie. “Oh, it’s been fine,” he said.  “Hey, would you like to go to the football game Friday night with me? Our home team is playing Springfield.”

            Tammie shook her head. “I already have a date but maybe some other time, okay?”

            With a waggle of her fingers, she headed back toward the table where she joined another woman, just as garish in dress and makeup.  Robert sighed and everyone else but Cane echoed it.

            He rolled his eyes and picked up his sandwich before it could get cold.  As he savored the flavor, Robert said, “Tell me you wouldn’t like a piece of that ass, Cane.  C’mon, who wouldn’t?”

            Cane swallowed and sipped tea before he answered. “Me,” he said. “Like I said, I’m not interested.”

            Teddy snorted. “Then what kind of woman do you like?”

            Jeff laughed. “I should’ve known you were picky.  When’s the last time you went out on a date anyway?”

            “July,” Cane answered after he deliberately dipped a fry in ketchup and ate it. “I took Maureen Johnson to the fair.”

            “And?”

            “We had a good time, rode the Ferris wheel at the carnival, walked through all the exhibits, and ate cotton candy.  She won a gift certificate from some gift shop.”

            “So when’s your next date with her?”

            This was, Cane remembered, why he seldom ate lunch with the guys.  They could be worse busybodies than old women and twice as annoying.  But he refused to let them get under his skin.  In a level tone, he replied, “We’re better as friends than anything else.”

            Across the room, in the opposite corner booth, Cane saw the woman he fancied.  He knew who she was although they’d never been introduced, but he decided not to mention it to his pals.  They would pick at him relentlessly and probably do something stupid to embarrass him.  He wanted to meet her on his own time, in his way, but he watched, trying not to be obvious to her or his friends.

            Her wavy shoulder-length hair wasn’t quite blonde or light brown but an intriguing and natural mixture of both.  She possessed light gray eyes, framed by darker lashes and arched brows.  Her nose had character and although not petite, it wasn’t large either but just right.  Her full lips had a saucy look and she appeared at the moment to be on the verge of smiling.  As Cane finished his sandwich and managed to make conversation, she tossed back her head and laughed.  The sound, he thought, was as pretty as she was. 

            Kaitlin Koch, pronounced like the soft drink, wrote for the local newspaper.  She’d come from somewhere else, maybe Kansas City last winter, in time to cover the unexpected March blizzard.  Her news stories were professional, to the point, and sometimes hard-hitting.  Her brand of journalism sometimes shocked, often angered the small town, unused to what some called “city ways,” but she demonstrated a softer side in her weekly column, “Potpourri.”  In it, Kaitlin reflected on everything from spending a summer afternoon at the creek to childhood memories and recipes she tried. 

            Cane usually picked up a Sunday newspaper after church but since Kaitlin joined the staff, he read her stories online almost every day.  He’d tried to find a way to meet her without announcing his attraction, but so far he hadn’t figured it out. 

            Teddy’s voice cut into his thoughts. “Hey, are you coming or not?”

            “Where?”

            “I knew you zoned out, man.  Was your patty melt that good or what?”

            “Yeah, so what did I miss?”

            “We’re all heading down to the casino Friday night, late after Jeff and I get off work, second shift.  Wanna come?”

            Once, Cane might have loved the idea but he shook his head. “Money’s too tight.  I can’t,” he said. “Good luck, though.”

            He’d finished his food, wool-gathering over Kaitlin, so he reached for his ticket and slid out of the booth.

            “Are you leaving?”

            Cane nodded. “Yeah, I need to finish fixing fence today.  There’s always something to do around the farm and never enough money.”

            “You should get a job like the rest of us,” Dick proclaimed in a loud voice.  Everyone in the place probably heard him and the ones who didn’t know him, like Kaitlin Koch, would think he was some kind of deadbeat or bum.

            A slow curl of anger fired within but Cane forced a smile. “I may well have to before long, but farming’s enough work for me at the moment.  I’ll see you all around.”

            As he paid his bill, Cane became aware of a soft floral scent beside him.  Kaitlin Koch stood in line, waiting her turn.  At close range, he noticed she came as high as his shoulder and that her body had the kind of curves he found appealing.  He’d never been a man who liked skinny girls with flat chests.  Kaitlin’s generous breasts filled out the dark green blouse she wore nicely and he resisted the urge to pat her bottom with appreciation.  He offered her a smile and when she gave it back, his heart skipped a beat.

            He stepped away, pausing to pick up a toothpick from the counter and would have been out the door if she hadn’t spoken.

            “Are you a farmer?” Her voice resonated, alto not soprano, and rich like chocolate.

            “I am,” he said. “Does it show that much?”

            Cane wondered if his worn boots had given him away but she shook her head.

            “No, no. I overheard you talking about a farm.  I’m Kaitlin Koch and I write for the newspaper.  I’ve been thinking about doing a feature on farm life and I wondered if you might be interested in talking to me sometime.”

            Bullshit, he thought, she’s making this up as she goes along, but it meant she must be interested too.  With a wide grin, he nodded. “Sure.  I’m Canaan Moss and I live on a century farm so I’d be willing.”

            Kaitlin took two business cards from her shoulder bag. “Here’s my card.  Keep one and if you’ll write your phone number, cell or landline on the other, I’ll give you a call to set up a time to interview you.”

            His hand brushed against hers when he took the cards and a sweet little thrill trailed down his spine.  As much as he’d disliked Tammie, he liked Kaitlin, and as he scribbled his number down, Cane knew he wanted to see more of this woman.  He would, too, Lord willing, and if the creeks didn’t rise.

 

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