Proud Heart Prologue

Prologue

Mandosa, Mexico 1880

PH WEB mediumRosa sat at her vanity table watching the earrings dangle from her ears; the stones caught the afternoon light, sparkling about her pretty face. Her old nursemaid, Pilar, sighed. Soon the niña would be a young woman.

Rosa prattled, playing in her make-believe world, “I am going to marry an officer and we shall have a fine hacienda with many servants. In the afternoons he will come home and we shall drink spiced wine under the jacaranda trees before taking our siesta. We shall entertain dignitaries from Spain and our children will go to the finest schools in Europe.” She picked up a shiny necklace from a jewelry box and placed it around her fair neck.

Pilar shifted on a hard chair working on the never-ending mending of her charge’s clothes. The nurse’s tired voice agreed, “Sí, mamacita,” as she continued stitching a fine seam. The girl loved spinning her grand dreams. Of course she came by them naturally with the way the doctor fed his daughter illusions of grandeur.

Never forget, Princess, you have noble blood coursing through your veins. You are pure Spanish. When you are older we shall send you to finish your studies in Spain before you marry. That is the way of nobility.

Rosa preened before her mirror. Pilar admired the girl’s fair European features. Her dark brown hair gleamed with red highlights, now pulled straight back showing off the dramatic widow’s peak on her forehead. Jeweled combs sparkled behind her ears. She placed the diamond tiara on the crown of her head. Her full mouth smiled at the dazzling image before her; glittering earrings, combs, tiara and necklace adorned her youthful face.

“I hope Mama comes home soon to see me in her jewels.” Rosa stood and twirled like a ballerina. Her eyes shone with joy. “Pilar, imagine this is a magnificent gown and I am being presented at my first ball.”

Though dressed in a plain, white school girl’s dress, the niña carried herself like a true Princess, bowing to an imaginary prince at her first ball. Pilar’s heart contracted knowing the political winds blowing might very well extinguish her beloved Rosa’s vision of an aristocratic life, the life she’d been born for.

“Papa says I will have the most fabulous wedding, fitting for the daughter of nobility. My dress will be so full with dozens of petticoats, I will hardly be able to get through the door. My cousins will be my bridesmaids and I shall be married in the great Cathedral in Guadalupe. The fiesta will go on for days and then my husband will take us away to live in his wonderful hacienda.”

Pilar bit back thoughts of a different reality. Rosa might be lucky to marry a merchant and run a store. The old doctor was not doing his daughter any favors by filling her head with dreams of days gone by.

Still, she hated to dash girlish dreams. “Yes, yes, you will be the most beautiful bride since Carlotta. Now, it is time to put away your mama’s jewels and get ready for supper. Your papa will be home soon.”

At that moment a great crash resounded from downstairs. Pilar dropped her mending. Rosa gripped the back of the chair. The room vibrated, blurring her image in the mirror as the glass trembled. Shouts and screams sounded above the strange rumbling noise.

Pilar tried to stop Rosa from dashing toward the noise. “No, mamacita, do not go out there!”

But she was too slow to catch her young mistress. Rosa ran down the hall to the top of the staircase and fell to her knees watching the chaos below. Bandits! They rode horses through her house, destroying precious vases, slashing pictures on the walls with their broad machetes. A pair of maid servants crouched behind a large chair, clinging to each other, wailing with fright.

Rosa’s mother ran from the dining room and shouted indignities. A burly bandit dismounted his horse and stalked the small, irate woman.

Immaculately dressed in a full, black gown adorned by an ivory cameo at her throat, she held her ground and commanded, “Get out of here this instant!”

Her eyes widened with horror as the bandit thrust out his grimy hand and ripped the cameo pin from her neck. She gasped and stepped back; her angry courage began to desert her. “My husband will be home any moment bringing the policía with him.”

The bandit regarded her with dead eyes, oblivious to the sounds of destruction going on around him. “Your husband is the doctor?”

“Yes, and he’ll be furious when he sees this invasion. Leave at once.” She pointed to the door. He grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm.

From the landing above, Rosa saw Mama cry out in amazement and pain. Rosa screamed and tried to run to the rescue, but Pilar grabbed her.

The bandit slapped Mama across the face, still holding her arm. “You aristocracy think you are so much better. Your husband would not treat my woman when she was sick. He turned us away and went back to sip his lemonade when he could have helped her. I lost my wife that day and, today, he loses his.” With that, he drove the large knife into Mama’s belly.

The servant girls screamed. Rosa suddenly stopped her struggles as she watched Mama fall to the floor. A dark veil fell over her heart. She shivered with cold. Oh, so cold.

The bandits pillaged the downstairs of the mansion. Wild yells and thundering horses rattled the walls.

Pilar whispered prayers under her breath as she dragged Rosa into the upper reaches of the house. “They will be up here soon. Mamacita, we must get away from here!”

Too stunned to resist, Rosa followed Pilar down the back stairway and out of the house to a copse of trees lining the creek. From their vantage point hidden in the woods, they watched more bandits and peasants converge on the house, breaking windows, removing furniture and family heirlooms. Wrapped in Pilar’s arms, Rosa stood powerless to halt the destruction.

She prayed to her favorite saint. Oh, Santa Teresa, help us in our hour of need.

Rosa thought her heart could not be filled with any more terror until she saw her father running toward the house, waving his cane and shouting at the marauders. They turned on him like a snarl of mad dogs. The peasants surrounded him with their hatred, beat him with their clubs and sticks. Oh no, oh please, oh stop!

The mob cries of blood lust pounded her ears, pierced her soul. Never, never would she forget the sounds or erase the sights from her mind’s eye.

Still wearing her mother’s jewels, Rosa sobbed in her nurse’s arms.

In the midst of despair, her father’s voice echoed in her mind. Always remember, Princess. You are of the nobility.

 

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You’re Fired

ALGsi2lFor several years I worked as my husband’s secretary in his Oklahoma family law/divorce practice. While it proved to be a smart business move, it turned me into a stressed-out insomniac. I was far too empathetic to be living in the midst of the disintegration of people’s lives.

After about five years, my husband took me to lunch and said, “You’re the best secretary I’ve ever had, but I’d rather have a healthy, happy wife than a good secretary. You’re fired, as my secretary, but not as my wife.”

That was probably the best thing my husband ever did for me. He liberated me from a toxic environment and gave me the time at home to finally follow my heart and write.

Where to begin? They say “write what you know.” AIN’T LOVE GRAND? grew from the people I knew best, my husband and me. While the story is entirely fictional, the characters had a lot of inspiration from my friends and family.

It is a beloved story to me and my readers seem to enjoy it also. As far as I’m concerned, love is grand!

Winner “Best First Book”–Golden Quill Awards

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Prologue–Devil Moon

Prologue

 

It’s that old Devil Moon that you stole from the skies

It’s that old Devil Moon in your eyes

                                              from “ Finian’s Rainbow”

Beaver Cove, Arkansas

Newmoon2It was hormone hell Saturday. She’d felt it building all week. The time when the gentle streams of chemicals in her blood turned into a raging flood of estrogen, swelling her breasts, swirling her emotions.

After a small bottle of wine, a large chocolate bar (with nuts), a piece of cake, and three Loretta Young movies, Madeleine Woodbridge Harris was still wide awake and edgy. She hit the remote, bringing silence into her cozy living room, crossed the carpet and looked through the picture window toward the lake. Dousing the lights, she stared at the glistening water reflecting the enormous summer moon.

It beckoned seductively, Come to me…

Drumming her fingers on the windowsill, she said out loud, “Jeez, I’m turning into some kind of hormonal she-wolf, drawn by the full moon.”

Then again, she thought, a swim might relieve some of the tension, take away the gnawing sadness.

Once outside, she grabbed Grammy’s beach quilt that hung on the porch swing next to the back door. Grammy had quilts for all occasions and circumstances, made from every scrap assortment imaginable.

Even now with Grammy gone a year, Maddie could hear that Arkansas twang. “Little sister, things is made to be used. Don’t be making my quilts into museum pieces when I’m gone. You make ’em part of your life.”

So, hugging the beach quilt, a little tipsy from the wine, she padded across the meadow, a willowy figure seeking relief on a hot Ozark night. Clear lake water lapped the bank.  Rhythmic waves sloshed a steady beat. Hidden spots of paradise dotted these hills she now called home. She’d come from up north during Grammy’s last days and never wanted to leave.

Flinging the quilt on the coarse sand, she stripped off her blouse, shorts and shoes. Her breasts seemed to take on a life of their own, pulsing and swollen. Aching in constriction, she released the bra clasp at her sternum. Ah, free at last. The panties went next and lastly the clip that confined her silky honey blond hair. Tumbling soft curls tangled across white shoulders.

Arms raised, she reached for the moon. Woozy-wine thoughts floated by. Free from clothes, free from rules. Just a few moments of freedom…

The warm evening breeze kissed her skin as she walked to the water’s edge. Cool liquid on hot skin. Simmering desire swirled around her like hovering fog on the lake. She was Eve, Lady Godiva, and Delilah all rolled into one. Basic, elemental woman.

The moon smiled at her, whispering again, Come to me. She sank into the pebbly water seeking the arms of a phantom lover.

* * *

Phil Wilcox was having a shitty night. A rambunctious party going on in the apartment across the pool spilled out into the main courtyard. His teeth gnashed at the splashing, music, and laughing. Sitting in his leather recliner in the dark, with only the illumination of the ever-undulating mood lamp, he tapped his fist on the armrest. His sparsely furnished bachelor pad offered little diversion. He hadn’t bothered to hook up cable yet, and local TV at this hour consisted of infomercials and loud Southern preachers.

Resentment poured through him as he relived the phone conversation with his ex-wife from seven hours earlier.

In the little girly voice he once found  endearing, but now churned his stomach, Pam said, “She isn’t coming, Phil.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Don’t get pissy with me or I’ll hang up. She has a slumber birthday party for her best friend. These things are very important to eleven year olds.”

Phil bit back his irritation. “Why didn’t you tell me about this before now?”

“Oh, I’m sure I did.”

“I’m sure you did not!” He tried to take a reasonable tone. “Okay, so are we making the visitation up next weekend?”

“Can’t. I’ve got my family reunion next weekend. You wouldn’t want her to miss that, would you? I really gotta go, Phil.”

He hung up and thought about calling his lawyer. Again. But the damn court system didn’t give a rat’s ass about his lost visitation. He’d been through it too many times.

Another long night of paying for past sins yawned before him. At least he wasn’t ten years younger when he would have screamed obscenities into the phone and gone out and gotten drunk.

Now it was three-fucking-o’clock in the morning and he felt as restless as a caged bear. In the old days he would have been in a pleasant, boozy haze by now. Probably passed out on the couch. Nights like this he missed the good old, bad old days.

A riotous female shriek pierced his walls, followed by the sound of a big, loud splash. The goddamn party was going to go on all night. He stood and ran his fingers across his short-cropped hair.

He shrugged and mumbled, “What the hell, might as well go fishing.”

* * *

Phil steered his beloved 1981 Buick Skylark Convertible up the curving mountain road. At least Pam hadn’t gotten that in the divorce settlement. He turned onto a dirt road leading to the lake. He liked to explore, find new places to throw his line. A buddy had told him about Lake Luna, nestled ten miles from town in the hills. He stopped his car, thinking he could see water beyond the brush and trees. Getting out, he heard the slapping of small waves. Close, definitely close.

Looking up, he marveled at the brightness of the moon, made out the dark craters on the surface. Damned, if it didn’t resemble a wizened face. White light circled the orb, then arced into space. He stood mesmerized, hypnotized.

Thought he heard someone whisper his name, beckoning, This way, Phil…

He shook his head. “Get a grip, Wilcox. Next, you’ll be talking to the Man in the Moon.”

He opened his trunk and grabbed his rod and tackle box. Inhaling the pungent, lakeside air, he spied reflected light on water through the bushes. His feet crunched twigs and leaves as he pushed through branches, drawn to the surface of glistening silver on black.

Oh man, he needed this bad. One night away from complaints, responsibility and guilt. He wore guilt like an invisible cloak. Invisible, but heavy as iron chains.

Maybe he could stare at that huge moon and get lost in it, forget his sins—just for a few minutes. Phil blinked. A shaft of moonbeams glowed like a laser, showing him the way. Optical illusion, no doubt. Still, he followed, the smallest glimmer of excitement warming his belly.

 

Maddie had risen out of the water, the liquid sluicing down her slender body as she padded up the bank. The beauty of the night, the melancholy breezy rustle of the leaves brought an ache to her entire being. Alcohol erased all her inhibitions, plunging her into a wave of drowning emotion.

A schizophrenic conversation whirled in her mind.

“Oh, God I’m lonely. I want to wrap my arms around someone warm and wonderful.”

“Don’t be silly. You don’t need anyone. You’re a self-reliant woman. It’s just your hormones.”

“Shut up! I’m tired of always blaming my hormones for feeling bad. This ache in the pit of my stomach is more than hormones. I want more, I want someone…”

“Oh, just go onto bed. I hate it when you whine.”

A rising tide of tears rose in her throat. “I hate it, too. I can’t help it.”

“Fine, cry all you want. Nobody’s watching.”

Sitting on Grammy’s quilt, she pulled her legs up and hugged her knees. She stopped the mental gyrations and gave in to the emotion. Big, salty drops washed down her cheeks. Her eyes squeezed tight; her throat choked, holding back racking sobs. High-pitched squeaks bubbled from her diaphragm.

Drip, drip, drip. Not nearly there yet. A few crocodile tears weren’t going to do it.

Oh, Lord, I’m going into a full-blown crying jag.

She laid back on the cottony surface, flinging one arm over her eyes. High-pitched mewling followed the erratic contractions of her lungs. She gave in entirely, moaning like a wounded animal.

She sobbed, she wailed.

Wash it all away. Wipe away the humiliation. Forget the betrayal.

Her shoulders heaved in full-bodied crying frenzy. Riding the teary tide, she peaked and rode the wave down to the shallows. Quieter tears trickled.

Rational thoughts splintered into cutting fragments and then dissolved entirely. Her brain dozed as her body still wept, curled into a fetal position. Blanketed in moonlight, blue air warmed her, offering slight comfort. Still, the longing remained; the bone-deep longing for love, for connection.

 

Phil heard eerie, thin wailing. The hair rose on the back of his neck. He remembered the tales from his childhood of “haunts”, the lost souls that wandered the earth in perpetual limbo.

He followed the sound. It was real, not his imagination. Was it a cat? No, it really sounded like crying. Female crying. Hell, he’d heard that enough during his marriage to recognize it all right.

Brush in his path thinned out as he reached rockier ground. Then there were only jagged ledges to navigate as he rounded a bend and came upon her–a pale form in the moonlight, curled on a blanket by the water.

Hair fanned out above her head. Turned away from him, her naked shoulders and back curved down to the rise of hips and a white, beautifully formed bottom.

Christ, Phil knew he should just turn around and look for another fishing spot. But he couldn’t go away, couldn’t stop moving toward her. Drawn…pulled by an irresistible force. He paused for a moment and quietly put the rod and box down, then continued on the path, attracted by a fascination he didn’t stop to analyze.

The sounds she made broke his heart. When he’d heard crying like this before it had been through a locked door. He dimly remembered standing in the hall, slapping at the wood, too drunk to put it together or be any help at all. But tonight he was stone-cold sober.

He dropped to his knees before her shaking body. Loneliness and despair radiated from her, emotions he recognized only too well. His fingers reached and touched a smooth shoulder. He wanted to help. Put an end to the pain–if only for a few stolen moments.  Scooping her up against his chest, he fully edged down on the quilt. Holding, helping, healing. That’s all he meant to do.

 

Maddie drifted in some personal nether world. Half asleep, she saw a kaleidoscope of Thomas moments. The teasing beginning, the happy middle and the betrayal of the end. She gasped, feeling herself suddenly against a warm chest, wrapped in security. Dreaming Thomas had returned to her, she lifted her arms and clasped them around his neck, pressing her face against his shoulder.

Thomas? No, not Thomas. Better than Thomas, warmer. A dream man, then. Exactly what she needed. Sometimes an overactive imagination paid off. Oh, yes, this is what she wanted, longed for. Lord, Dream Man smelled really good, too. Tasted good. Felt good.

She let loose–an explosion of estrogen and emotion. Come on, Dream Man, fly me to the moon.

Her need engulfed Phil. She kissed his neck, entwined her limbs about him. She smelled of sweet wine, chocolate, the lake and woman. He’d only meant to offer comfort, but she dragged him into her tilting, sensual universe.

He struggled against the temptation. Against the rush of desire.

Oh man. Oh man, oh man.

She trailed a line of kisses down his neck and found the material of his shirt displeasing. Buttons flew as she ripped his shirt apart. Hot hands darted over him. He tried to still them. Honest to God, he did.

Never opening her eyes, she nestled against the curly hair on his chest. He savored the feminine scent tickling his nose. Okay, sweetheart, we’d better call it quits.

Before he could pull away, she shoved him flat on his back. Phil found himself covered by a ravenous Moon Goddess. She nuzzled his pecs, making the blood rush to his groin.

Oh, Jeez, when was the last time he’d felt this great? Just another second and he’d put an end to it.

She rose over him; silky hair concealed her face. His eyes lit on a trio of small moles on her white throat. Glimmering light glowed around her milky skin, making it all seem like a dream. How could he resist the bountiful breast poised so close to his mouth? When he encircled her with his lips, the Moon Goddess moaned and writhed.

Then her hand found him, caressing, arousing.

Oh God. Oh, Jeez. Oh, man.

Phil Wilcox gave up the struggle of conscience and accepted the gift. One night of ethereal oblivion, a magic carpet ride to the stars.

On the handcrafted squares of Grammy’s quilt, they entered their personal world of sizzling sensuality. Nobody else existed—only the Dream Man and the Moon Goddess. Cocooned in moonbeams, silvery light sparkled around them, swirling, spinning.

A face on the giant orb in the shimmering sky appeared and grinned. Oh, how he enjoyed bringing these mortals together…That ol’ Devil Moon.

*****

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