Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Halloween is nearly here and, having regaled you in the past with haunted hotels and spooky sites, I thought I would just entertain you with a pertinent excerpt from one of my latest books, Always on My Mind.  Since it covers over four years from 1972 and, in more detail, nine months from May, 1972, Halloween was bound to pop up at some stage—and it does.  But first, here’s the blurb:


1972 - Vietnam, the pill, upheaval, hippies.
Wyoming rancher Cooper Byrnes, deeply attached to the land and his way of life, surprises everyone when he falls for vagabond hippie Cassie Halliday. Fascinated and baffled, he cannot comprehend his attraction—or say the words she wants to hear.
Cassie finds Coop intriguingly different. As she keeps house for him and warms his bed at night, she admits to herself she loves him but she misinterprets Coop's inability to express his feelings.
Parted, each continues to think of the other, but how can either of them reach out to say, "You were 'always on my mind'?"


And now, as the housekeeper Mrs. Craven walks in on my heroine, Cassie:


Mrs. Craven found her in the kitchen, carving her third jack o’ lantern.

“If those are for Halloween, you may as well stop right there. Cooper Byrnes will never let a bunch of kids come marching up to his door, never has, never will. Just like his daddy before him.”

“Why not?” She held the knife in mid-air but soon continued to slash out triangle eyes.

“Why not? Why not? Good heavens, girl, you been living with the man these near on six months, pretending you’re sleeping alone in the guest room, and you stand there thinking he celebrates Halloween?”

“He doesn’t have to celebrate Halloween. I do.”

“Well, there ain’t nobody gonna come up your drive to the house, jump out, say trick or treat, grab candies and go off again on their merry way. That much I can tell you.”

“Because it’s too far or because of Coop?” He isn’t that scary!

Mrs. Craven heaved a sigh and leaned back against the worktop watching Cassie push out the nose. “A little of both, I reckon. Some of the parents around here drive the kids about but they all know Coop is single and doesn’t do nothing for them so there’s no real reason to come on up.”

She attempted to think of a way to say Cooper was no longer single, but it appeared as far as anyone else was concerned, she didn’t count. “Well, maybe I’ll make a sign with an arrow on the road by the gate.”

“You’d do better to please him by maybe selling those lanterns. Put one out on a crate by the gate with a sign saying lanterns for sale. That’s what I’d do.”

Cassie looked up and smiled. “Good idea. Maybe it is too much to expect trick-or-treaters to come all this way up to the house.”

“I’d say.” Mrs. Craven put a hand to her hip and watched her for a few moments before grabbing a dishtowel and wiping some plates in the rack. “You are a weird couple, you with your cooking and gardening and college degree, wearing your heart on your sleeve—”

“I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.”

“No, everything is written all over your face. You’re like some great big puppy wagging its tail and trying to get a morsel from that man, and he’s about as giving as a headstone on a grave.”

She snorted a laugh. “Well. I’m beginning to understand him better after all this time. We have a working relationship.”

“Yeah, but, you at your age, you want a little lovin’, a little more than a ‘working relationship.’ And Cooper being the product of two of the most tight-lipped, harsh, cold-blooded parents there could be, he’s not ever gonna change.”

Cassie held the finished pumpkin out to admire, tried to seem disinterested. “What were—I guess are, as his mother’s still alive, isn’t she?—what are they like? Did you know them well?”

“Well, I guess I knew them about as well as anyone here about; worked for them twenty years or so. His daddy was all right with me and others but one of these hard-bitten men, thought ‘his way or the highway’ all the time, tried to instill in Cooper a sense of the value of the ranch—oh, not in money terms ya know, but as his inheritance, land. Land and cattle, that’s all that man knew. I never saw him once praise the boy, even when he came in with trophies from 4H or FFA. Then Coop won a scholarship to go on to agricultural college and Byrnes nixed that; told him he was learning everything he needed to know right here.”

Cassie placed the pumpkin on the kitchen table where the assorted group had different faces. She stood back and admired her handiwork, one with a huge smile and round eyes, another looking positively evil, the third with a lopsided grin. She took up another, pulled a clean bowl over for the pulp and seeds, and started cutting the lid. “What is his mother like, then?”

“Oh, mean bitch. You haven’t met her yet?”

“No. Coop goes over to his sister’s on his own.”

“Well, then he’s protecting you from her I’d say. How the sister turned out so sweet and good is beyond me. ’Course, she did go and get herself hitched real young, got away from her daddy and mama quick as she could. Then she goes and takes her mother in. Beyond me. But you want to stay well away from that one, his mother. I don’t know if Byrnes changed her with his lack of love or she was always that way, but she was worse than he was. Heartless is what she is.”

“Well.” She struggled to get the knife around, her hand now aching. “I guess I never will—”

The door banged open and Coop marched in, a smile on his face, which vanished when he spotted the pumpkin lanterns. “What are you doing? You said those dang pumpkins were for pies to sell.”

She stood, the knife poised in her hand as she studied him. “Well, I had more than enough pumpkin for pies and there’s no point in wasting the remaining shells. I thought I could sell the jack o’ lanterns as well. Maybe put them on a crate by the road or something?”

“Hmm.” Coop stood there, his mouth puckered in thought. “I guess that’ll be all right.” He sauntered off to a small room by the kitchen he called his office.

She exchanged glances with Mrs. Craven, each getting on with their chores when Cooper reappeared, two rifles in his arms.

She stood back and looked at them. “Where . . .where are you going with those?”

“Hunting, of course. Dusty and I—”

Cassie grimaced. “Who’s Dusty?”

“Oh, Cassie. You know Dusty. The older puncher who works here. Jeez, how long you been livin’ here?”

“So, what are you hunting?”

Mrs. Craven coughed.

“I’m hunting my dinner, of course, just like the cave men,” Coop snarled. “You got a problem with that?”

“You’re going to kill things?”

Coop glanced over at the finished pumpkins and for a terrible moment, she thought he was going to bring the rifles down on them. 

He switched back to her. “Listen to me,” he said in a low, steady voice. “If I don’t hunt, that wildlife eats my cattle’s feed, grazes my cattle’s land, drinks my cattle’s water. I don’t kill anything that don’t need killing here. You have a coyote in the hen house, you think you just let him be? This is the way it is on a ranch: the land and the cattle come first. Always have, always will, and no little city girl is gonna tell me how to live. You got that?”

She blinked back tears and took the knife to her pumpkin with renewed vigor.



Always on My Mind is available in both eBook and paperback from:









Patti Sherry-Crews said...

This is an excellent excerpt, Andrea! Not only is a sample of your writing skills, but it really gets to the heart of the tension between Cassie and Coop. You've showed us their true character, and gives us an understanding of the rather complicated Coop. Bonus, you bring in Halloween! Cheers! I loved this book and I enjoyed reading this part of it again.

Andrea Downing said...

Patti, what a lovely thing to say! Thank you so much--Coop is complicated, but I think of him as lovable despite it all. Thanks for stopping by.