by Debra Holland
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Debra first visted Romancing The West a few months ago, and you can read her interview there.
RTW asked how her second book, Starry Montana Sky, came about. Here's her answer:
After I finished my first book, Wild Montana Sky, the members of my critique group and local RWA chapter told me I needed to have a second book ready for when the first one sold. I wanted to continue setting stories in my fictional small town of Sweetwater Springs, Montana during the 1890s, so I chose 1894, one year after the first book took place. Then I had to come up with a story idea.
While attending the Rose Parade on New Year’s day, I saw a small carriage pulled by miniature horse, and instantly knew I had to have them in my story. I sat on the bleachers watching the parade go by, and, at the same time, scribbling notes in my program. I decided my no-nonsense hero, Wyatt Thompson, would disparage the idea of the little horses. Then I had to figure out his backstory to know how he came to have that outlook on life. Wyatt has one daughter, Christine, whom he’s raised on his own, and he’s very protective of her.
I researched little horses and found that the Falabella breed of miniature horses existed in Argentina in 1894. So I had my heroine, Samantha Rodriguez come from Argentina to Sweetwater Springs, bringing six Falabella and her son. Then I needed to figure out Samantha’s life in Argentina, and how she ended up in Montana. I’ll give you a hint. She’s not a native Argentine.
Although Samantha had one son, she dreamed of adopting more boys like Jo March did in Louisa May Alcott’s book, Jo’s Boys. A brainstorming session (put on by my RWA chapter) with author Leanne Banks helped round out Samantha’s story.
As an idea for me, Leanne mentioned an article she’d read about Last Chance Ranch, which was a place for wayward boys. That suggestion clicked with me, and I knew that Samantha needed to have a ranch for her “last chance” boys.
Of course, life doesn’t always work out the way you plan, and Samantha’s boys caused a lot of trouble, turning the town against her family. And you can imagine how Wyatt Thompson felt about having wayward boys on the nearby ranch, all too near his daughter. Yet Christine couldn’t resist those cute little horses. The conflict between Wyatt and Samantha flares up again and again, yet they’re drawn to each other despite the problems. In the end, the Falabella are going to help save the day and bring the two together.
For most of the time I was writing the book, it had the working title of Sam’s Boys. It wasn’t until almost the end that I came up with the title, Starry Montana Sky.
Excerpt of Starry Montana Sky: the scene in Starry Montana where the hero and heroine meet.
Copyright © 2011 Debra Holland
On Tuesday afternoon, Wyatt reined-in by the front of the livery stable, mentally consigning Reverend Norton and his good causes to the devil. Not that he had any fear the minister would actually be facing Old Nick. It’s just that Wyatt had better things to do with his time than play cowboy to a bunch of fancy Spanish horses belonging to the woman who’d taken over Ezra’s ranch--like dealing with the horses and cattle on his own ranch. But, he’d given the preacher his word.
He slid off Bill, looping the reins over the rail. He pushed open the barn doors, then stalked inside, peering through the gloom. Although he wouldn’t admit it to a soul, the idea of these South American horses had tantalized him. Maybe they’d be of high enough quality to add to his breeding stock.
A kitten skittered across the dirt floor, and he did a dance step to avoid tramping on it. “Hey, little fella. Watch where you’re goin’.” He reached down, scooped the kitten up, and cradled the furry body against his chest. Running a finger over the tiny gray head, he remembered his daughter chattering about the litter of kittens she played with whenever she stabled her pony before school. Maybe he should talk to Mack about taking this one home to her.
Still holding the kitten, he looked up. A quick scan showed familiar horses: Cobb’s bay, Banker Livingston’s team, Doc Cameron’s roan, the Appaloosa Nick Sanders rode to town, and a few of the horses Mack Taylor, the livery stable owner, rented out. No South American horses hung their sleek heads over the doors of the stalls.
With a grunt of annoyance, Wyatt set the kitten on the nearest bale of hay, turned on his heel and strode outside, rounding the corner toward the stable office. “Mack!” he bellowed, charging through the door.
Mack Taylor half rose from behind a table, where the remains of a meal rested, and wiped his gray-bearded mouth with his stained brown sleeve. Pepe, lounging against a wall, straightened.
Wyatt didn’t give him a chance to speak. “Where are those Falabellas? Did they arrive?”
Mack and Pepe exchanged glances. Mack straightened, amusement wrinkling his narrow broken-nosed face. He ran a hand through his grizzled shoulder-length hair. “Arrived right on time. No problem et all.”
“Then where are they?”
“In the stable where they belong.”
“No, they’re not. I’ve just come from there.” He took two strides into the room. “If you’ve gone and lost that widow-woman’s horses, the ones I took responsibility for---”
Mack raised a placating hand. “Now, Thompson. I ain’t never lost me a horse in my life. Never even had one stolen. Let’s just mosey out to the stable and have us another look. Perhaps you didn’t see ‘em.”
“You sayin' I’m blind? Those Falabellas aren’t there. I recognized every horse in the place.”
“Let’s us go look-see.” Mack stepped out from behind the table, yellowed green eyes squinting in amusement.
Pepe followed. Although the young man kept his eyes downcast, Wyatt could tell by the set of his shoulders, he, too, found the situation humorous.
Wyatt let them pass, then fell in behind, puzzlement creeping into his anger. Were they playing a joke on him? The top of his ears burned at the thought. While Mack enjoyed a laugh as much as any man, he wasn’t known for being a prankster.
He followed the two men through the doors of the barn. Sunlight filtered through the entrance and an open window above the hayloft--more than enough to illuminate the dim interior. He glanced down the row of stalls, again assessing and dismissing each curious occupant.
Just as he thought, no South American horses. With one part of his mind, he took stubborn satisfaction in being right. With another, he started worrying--a gut churning feeling of concern. Regardless of what he’d felt about the Spanish widow’s acquisition of Ezra’s ranch, he’d taken responsibility for her horses, and Wyatt Thompson took his responsibilities seriously.
He couldn’t even report them stolen. Nobody to take the report. With the retirement of Rand Mather six months before, Sweetwater Springs no longer had a sheriff. Wyatt would have to track the thieves down himself. And how could he explain this to Reverend Norton, much less to the widow?
Mack leaned over the nearest empty stall. “There ya are, little fella. Thompson here worried ya done gone and disappeared on us.”
What the…? Wyatt stepped beside him. It must be a foal, he thought assessing the tiny brown animal with the black mane and tail. But his experienced eye dismissed that thought almost as soon as it came. This compact miniature horse didn’t possess the unfinished stick-legged look of a foal.
Mack glanced at Wyatt’s stunned face and cackled. Pepe’s soft laugher joined his.
“Yep, midget horses. Damned strangest thing I ever did see. Cute little critters, though. Look at the rest.”
Wyatt strode down the aisle, peering over the top of the stalls. Black, chestnut, brown, dappled gray, and a cream-colored one with black legs, mane and tail.... None of them stood higher than his hips.
The burning sensation spread from his ears, across his forehead, and into his cheeks. Why hadn’t that widow woman mentioned midget horses? He ground his teeth. Not a good way to begin relations with his new neighbor.
From Mack’s continuous cackling as the man exited the barn, probably for the nearest saloon, Wyatt knew the story would be all over town in a matter of hours. The heat in his face singed the outside of his skin like a fresh sunburn. He had a reputation in these parts as a calm, logical man of substance. People respected him. He’d built a prosperous life, erasing the disasters and shame of his younger years. Now in just a few minutes, some Spanish widow had managed to overset his hard-earned serenity. And he hadn’t even met the woman! Wyatt turned and stalked down the aisle, keeping a wary eye out for the kitten.
From outside the door, a boy’s voice called, “In here, Mama.”
Before Wyatt had time to step out of the way, a young boy careened into him. Something jabbed into his side. He grabbed the boy’s shoulders before he could hit the ground and set him on his feet.
Wyatt surveyed his captive. A little overdressed for a weekday. He didn’t recognize the child, but he was familiar with the sticky red and white candy clutched in the boy’s hand. His daughter’s favorite. Wyatt glanced down at himself. Just as he surmised, a red stain blotched his once clean white shirt.
The boy’s gaze followed Wyatt’s. A chagrined look crossed his face. “Sentir ... I mean, sorry, sir.”
“Slow down, son, and watch where you’re going.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
A melodic woman’s voice asked, “Is there a problem?”
Wyatt looked up. The Spanish widow no doubt. Clad in black from head to toe, she clutched an armload of parcels and sacks. The shadows near the door obscured her features. He gave a gentle push to the boy, heading him back outside. “Perhaps you should wash up. Use the pump by the horse trough.”
Pepe rushed over. “Señora Rodriguez, let me take those for you.” He lifted the bundles out of her arms and disappeared outside. Popping back in the barn, he said, “Is there anything else I may do for you, Señora?”
“Non, Gracias, Pepe.”
“De nada, Señora.” Pepe hurried back out.
I should have helped her. Wyatt buried the quick spurt of shame under rising anger. She was the cause of his current predicament. “I take it you’re the owner of these midgets?”
She stepped into the light, and her beauty caught him in the gut--like a kick from one of her midget horses. Under her black straw hat, he caught a glimpse of flame-colored hair. Auburn brows and lashes framed wide blue eyes. A flush of peach crept into her cheeks and a determined chin, now lifted several inches higher than before, gave her a spirited demeanor. Not the withered, dark-skinned widow he’d been expecting.
“Falabellas,” she corrected.
“I don’t care what high fallutin’ name you give them. Those horses are midgets.”
“No they’re not.”
“What good are Falabellas anyway? Can’t even ride them.”
He caught the flash of her cornflower blue eyes and watched with appreciation as her bosom swelled with anger. She tightened her jaw and visibly forced herself to give him a civil reply. “They can pull a special buggy. And they’re very playful.”
“Playful?” His words dripped with derision. Shame brushed across his conscience, but not enough to stop him.
“Who needs a playful horse? A good horse is a hard workin' horse.” Didn’t she know anything? She would never make a go of her ranch with her kind of horses.
“They’re very good with children. Although you might not approve of that either.”
He heard the civility slip from her voice and secretly smiled. There was a way to reach past her cool exterior. “If you’re implying that I don’t approve of children, I must inform you I have a daughter. Christine will be out of school in a few minutes, and you can meet her. Perhaps we can get these ... these....”
“I get the name. Falabellas. Do you herd them like sheep or lead them like donkeys?”
“Chico and Mariposa will pull the buggy,” she said, crisping each word. “The rest only need lead ropes. I’ll hire a horse for Manuel, my groom. If we keep the bigger horses to a slow walk, these will be fine. Although I don’t know what business it is of yours, Mr...?”
Beneath the chill in the widow’s icy blue eyes and cool voice burned a passion as fiery as her hair. He could sense it. Like the fires of hell, a man could be consumed by such a blaze. Might even heat up the cold emptiness inside him. He shoved that thought aside. Best focus on the matter at hand. “I’m the help you requested in your letter to Reverend Norton.”
He swept her a mocking bow. “Wyatt Thompson, at your service.”
And there you go--another great book from Debra Holland! Be watching for the third book in her Montana Sky series this winter.