Dear Reader,

When my editor suggested I write a duet set in my fictional town of Larch Valley, I was over the moon. I had so much fun creating the town for an earlier book, The Rancher’s Runaway Princess, and it was a delight to go back and visit familiar places and friendly faces. Since writing the first book, I had wanted to tell Jen O’Keefe’s story. Puzzling out Andrew was a bit of a mystery, but I stumbled on a story for a Rescue Ranch that saved horses from slaughter and it all came together. Having them high school sweethearts only made it more interesting.

Since I was going back to Larch Valley, and since a barn dance played a prominent part in Lucy and Brody’s story The Rancher’s Runaway Princess, I knew I wanted to carry that over into the duet. Jen figures she’ll have one last dance with her cowboy and that will be the end of it – but really it’s only the beginning. I love writing those dance scenes. So much that there’s another one coming up in Her Lone Cowboy, the story of Andrew’s brother Noah, and Lily Germaine, coming in March. There’s something magical about being held in the arms of a hero and swaying to a special tune, I think. Things change. And when the music ends, nothing will ever be the same...

I’m writing this and reminded of a time many years ago when my husband and I were first dating. There was a song we danced to and we were so young and foolish in love. Now the words hold even more poignancy to me, so I’ll leave you with the words of the awesome Garth Brooks:

    “My life is better left to chance
    I could have missed the pain
    but I'd of had to miss
    the dance.”


May you all have that special dance,

Donna



Except from One Dance With The Cowboy

© Donna Alward

“Care to take those boots for a spin, Miss O’Keefe?” He raised an eyebrow, challenging. Daring.

For a moment he thought she was going to refuse. But Suzanne nudged her arm and took the plastic from her fingers. “Go on, I’ll be fine.”

“O...Okay.”

He held out his hand and she took it, coming around the corner of the table.

Her palm was warm and soft in his, and his chest constricted at the sight of her, slightly in front of him, in a pair of well-worn jeans that looked like they’d been made for her figure. She wore a black, form fitting t-shirt that said “Snickerdoodles” on the left chest, in printing that matched the sign above her store. When she turned to him, and placed her hand inside his, he placed his right hand on her waist. It felt warm and lean beneath his palm.

Maybe this was a mistake. A really big one. Because touching was touching and it had the same affect on him no matter if it was in a room of neighbours stomping to music or in a quiet, empty bakery late at night.

Jen fought to keep the smile in place and her hand in his as his grin faded and he stared into her eyes. What had she done now? Unless his touching her was causing the same internal reaction as it did to her. The moment she’d turned and assumed the dance position, there’d been a change. Facing him was too much like when she’d fallen off the ladder straight into his arms. It made her chest hurt from breathing fast and shallow, made her body tingle from remembering being flush against his. And now it felt like half the town was watching them.

For the first time in forever, Jen wished she wasn’t in a place where everyone knew her secrets. Everyone remembered that Jen and Andrew were high school sweethearts. Everyone remembered how she’d mourned the loss of him. She knew that they couldn’t even have a simple dance without there being speculation.

“Stop looking at me like that,” she said, as low as she possibly could.

“What?”

And still their feet refused to move. She saw two more pairs of eyes dance past them, curiously peering over shoulders to see what was going on. She couldn’t possibly repeat herself any louder. She put back her shoulders and lifted her chin. “Just dance with me, will you?”

He heard the command and picked up the beat, leading her backwards at last. The motion of the dance at least kept their bodies from brushing too much, and after going around the floor once, Jen started to relax. She had been staring at a point past his shoulder, feeling awkward. But the rousing music did its job and before long she found herself enjoying it. He was a good dancer, smooth and confident. It seemed the simplest thing in the world when he looped her under his arm and back again.

She stopped staring beyond him and shifted her eyes to his face.

It was like no time had elapsed at all. His gaze was warm beneath his favourite, well-worn Stetson, his eyes laughing at her as their feet glided smoothly over the boards. A tan coloured shirt flowed over his broad shoulders, the colour picking up the gold flecks in his hazel eyes. He was filled out, a more mature version of the boy she’d known, but he moved the same. Smelled the same. Heavens, he even felt the same, she realized as his hand tightened on hers like it had the dozens of times they’d danced before.

This bigger, broader, older Drew was far more dangerous than the boy she remembered.

The two-step ended but Andrew didn’t release her hand. “One more.” He leaned forward and said it in her ear.

“I should get back...”

“Your helper can manage for five more minutes,” he insisted.

She wanted to. She was beginning to realize that the attraction buzzing through her veins was based very little on the past and had much more to do with the man before her now. It made him seem like a familiar stranger, one that knew her better than most and yet something so completely brand new that she was drawn to it. At first she’d only wanted to know why he’d gone and had put up walls, trying to protect herself from the pain. When had that changed? When had she stopped being so angry? Now she craved to know about all the years in between. About the man before her now, who had made such a right angle turn in the path of his life.

It was complicated. Despite a kiss, he hadn’t said a single word about wanting to pick up where they’d left off. Not that they could. But she could have one more dance, here in front of lots of people where nothing would happen. Five minutes. A safe five minutes, where she could be held in his arms and pretend. She would allow herself that.

A fiddle began to scrape and Jen heard the beginnings of a waltz. Deep inside, energy raced through her as they altered their hold and their bodies brushed. After tonight she wouldn’t have the excuse of the job to see him anymore. They would only run into each other occasionally in town. As she held her breath and felt his chest touch hers, she knew she would miss him.

Their feet made shuffling sounds in the thin layer of sand that skimmed the floor. The fiddle sang out a lonesome tune to the one-two-three rhythm, creating an ache in her heart. As she let out a sigh, Drew’s arm tightened around her, drawing her even closer. The backs of her eyelids stung. It was almost as if he were saying I’m sorry with his body. But that was silly, wasn’t it? She was sure he wasn’t sorry at all. She was just being fanciful.

Their feet took smaller and smaller steps, and her head rested against his strong shoulder. In a few minutes the music would stop, and he’d walk away. She wouldn’t be able to feel the muscle beneath her cheek, or smell his scent that was an individual cocktail of man and hay and soap, or hear the way his voice said her name, softly, with the slightest bit of hoarseness in it, like sandpaper.

Like he did now.

“Jen.”

She turned her head to look up at him and he looked down, his lips a firm line but his eyes a tangle of emotion. Her left foot stumbled and he righted her with one strong arm. For a bar of music, everything seemed to hold, suspended. Then he lifted their joined hands so they were clasped between them and dipped his head to kiss her.

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Contest!


Donna's got a special contest for NewsWire readers! Just answer the following question by visiting Donna's website and finding the answer to the following question -

What is the name of Jen’s bakery in One Dance With The Cowboy?

Send your answer to staff@authorsoundrelations.com and be sure to mark the heading at ODWTC. Please also include your full name and mailing address.

The first winner will receive a book from Donna's backlist along with a $15.00 gift certificate from Amazon and other goodies. Another two winners will each receive a book from Donna's backlist and some fun goodies.

Contest deadline is January 24th, 2010.

Good luck!

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