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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 20

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 20

Unable to just sit in the silence while she waited, Shelley walked to the big picture window on the other side of the room and looked out over the parking lot. Dillon was down there, leaning with his back against the building and one foot propped up on the wall, James Dean style. Dean with longer hair and a beard, anyway.

Reluctantly, Shelley moved away, not wanting him to see her. She understood needing space all too well, and also what happened when she couldn’t get it. She couldn’t imagine how he was feeling.

Going to the back wall of the room, she paced slowly back and forth, back and forth, not really paying much attention to the TV. It felt like hours before she heard footsteps in the hall. Her watch confirmed that it had been just a little under nintey minutes since Dillon had walked out. She hoped it was him coming back.

“Shell-EY? Shelley-stein?”

She winced at the sound of that too-familiar voice and took a deep breath before the cloud of cheap perfume and bad manners hit.

“Shelley Frank, where the heck—there you are. Where’s my Tabby-cat? And why aren’t you in her room? Oh right. You leaving her alone is the whole reason she’s here. Be a doll and point me in the right direction, Steiny.”

Shelley moved toward the diminuative red-headed tornado,  masking her surprise at Aunt Jane’s lack of four-inch heels. Intensely self-conscious about her four-foot-five height, Jane never left the house without her stilts, at least not that Shelley had ever seen.

“She’s still in surgery, so she doesn’t have a room yet. I haven’t heard from the doctor yet either. It’s been…” Shelley checked the clock on the wall, “Wow. It’s been nearly four hours.”

“That’s just unacceptable,” Jane shook her head, digging around in the big leather purse she carried. “Where’s the nurse? You should have heard something by now. I’ll go ask. They won’t dare deny her mother information. I’ll bring the wrath of God down on this place.”

Shelley was relieved to see a doctor come into the waiting room behind Jane. He looked haggard and ready for a nap.

“Ms. Franks?” He waited for Shelley’s nod. She gestured in Jane’s direction.

“This is–”

Jane stepped forward, impatient. “I’m Jane Thomas,  Tabitha’s mother. So you can talk to me from now on.  How is she? Is she going to make it?”

“It’s still very touch and go, Ms. Thomas. Your daughter sustained extensive injuries to her leg, and in order to save her life, we had to amputate it. She’s still in critical condition, but if she does okay in the next twelve hours or so, then I think the prognosis is good. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Jane trembled, and Shelley pushed a chair behind her knees just before she fell.

“Oh my God. You cut my baby-girl’s leg off? Without even asking me? You monster — how could you?” She doubled over, putting her face in her hands and sobbing loud enough to wake the dead. If that was possible, Shelley thought wryly. Guess they’d find out.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Shelley said, trying to process the news that Tabby’s leg was gone. “Can we see her?”

“Not just yet,” he said. “She hasn’t quite woke up yet. But a nurse will come and get you just as soon as she’s awake.”

Shelley nodded. “Thank you. I know that was a lot of work, and we appreciate everything you’ve done to save Tabitha’s life.”

Jane looked up from Shelley to the doctor and back, her eyes wide.

“You’re thanking this guy for taking Tabby’s leg off? I knew you were desperate, Steiny, but hitting on your cousin’s doctor is a new low.”

“How about I just check on you later when Tabitha is awake? Then I can answer any questions you might have about her therapy and rehabilitation.” He gave Shelley a look of compassion before he left, and she was grateful.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Jane murmured, swiping tears off her face. “She’ll be ugly now, with a fake leg, and no man is gonna want someone who can’t take care of herself. “

Shelley reached out and gave her aunt’s shoulder a squeeze. “I’m sure she’ll be back to her old party-girl self soon enough.”

Jane looked at her as though she’d forgotten Shelley was there.

“Oh dear…you should go home. I’ll take care of Tabby, but you’ve done quite enough for her lately, don’t you think? You go get some rest. There’s no reason for you to be here anymore.”


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 21!

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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 19

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 19

Dillon had taken the pack off his back and was digging through his supplies. He tossed her a small package that looked like a rectangle of foil. An emergency heat blanket, the label said. When she looked back at him he was already opening one, and he spread it over Mike.

“We’ll treat for shock and hang tight for a bit. The guys have already radioed for medical personnel, and they’re on the way. We don’t want to do anything that might make any of these wounds worse.”

Shelley nodded and opened the packet, spreading the foil over Tabby’s still form. Dillon rolled up a towel next and put it under Mike’s feet, so she did the same for Tabby. Then they sat, for what seemed like hours until the medical team finally came over the rise. She checked her watch as she moved out of their way, surprised that it had only been 20 minutes. But they were pretty close to camp, relatively speaking.

The next few hours were a blur, as they followed the EMTs down the mountain, helping to carry the rescue litters. Tabitha and Mike were loaded into an ambulance and Shelley followed with Dillon in his truck. They finally settled into worn out hospital chairs with fresh cups of waiting-room-coffee and a sigh.

“The doctor didn’t look too hopeful.” Shelley took a small sip of the strong but watery brew. “He looked kind of green around the gills when he saw the maggots, actually.”

“Well, that’s what he has nurses for.” Dillon tossed his coffee down in one gulp. “I just hope we got to them in time. There’s only so much these folks can do. Only thing for us to do now is wait.”

Shelley nodded, and then fished her cell phone out of her purse. “I need to call Tabitha’s mom — I can’t believe I didn’t think about that before. She’ll want to drive over. Does anyone in Mike’s family need to know?”

Dillon shook his head. “He doesn’t have any — just me.” He didn’t seem interested in sharing further, so Shelley gave him a small nod and stood up.

“I’ll just be in the hall over there. I shouldn’t be long.”

When she got back, Dillon was standing with a doctor in scrubs, and her stomach roiled. Surely it was too soon for news…good news, anyway.

“Thank you,” Dillon said, slumping into his seat as Shelley walked over to them. The look on his face said everything, and she turned to the doctor.

“Tabitha or Mike?”

“Mr…uh, Mike didn’t make it, I’m afraid. I’m sorry.”

Shelley nodded and slipped down into the chair beside Dillon. He leaned forward, elbows on his thighs and head in his hands. His shoulders shook slightly, and she put an arm over them, lightly, not knowing what else to do.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

He sat there for another moment, and then abruptly stood, not looking at her.

“I need some air, and some space. I’ll be back later.”

Shelley nodded at his back as he stalked out of the waiting room. Leaning back in her chair, she closed her eyes and reflected on the harsh words Tabitha’s mother Jane had yelled into her ear just a few minutes ago.

This is all your fault, she’d said. You were supposed to be a calming influence for her. You were supposed to watch her, and keep her out of trouble. Where were you when all this happened? Why would you let her just go off with a strange guy into the mountains? Why? 

And now the ‘strange guy’ was dead, Tabby was fighting for her life, and none of it would have happened if she’d just said no to the whole trip and talked Tabby down. Or maybe if she hadn’t left the speed dating night so early. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so concerned with her own boredom, and stayed closer to Tabby instead…

Opening her eyes, she shook her head. None of that mattered right now. All that mattered was Tabby making it through this. As long as she survived, everything would be okay.

Somehow.


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 20!

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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 18

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 18

“Tabitha!” Shelley pushed past the men, slapping their hands off as they tried to stop her. The grade was steeper than it looked, but she leaned back and kept going, zig-zagging down the hill to slow her momentum. Heavy footsteps pounded behind her and Dillon called her name. Why did he want her to stop? Why wasn’t he rushing down to help his friend too?

A distinct coppery smell wafted past her on the breeze, followed by the smell of rotting meat. She refused to believe Tabby was dead. She couldn’t be. Not after all they’d done together. All they still had left to do. She just…couldn’t be dead.

“Shelley, you have to stop! Look across the fire!”

Dillon’s voice finally penetrated and she looked up, seeing nothing across the firepit except another hill, that one covered in trees and shrouded in the dimness of a forest in daytime. Just a few more steps and she’d be right next to Tabby…

Just then, she saw the glowing eyes. Smelled the stench of rotten meat, and knew it wasn’t coming from either of their friends.

Bear-breath was much, much worse than she’d ever bothered to imagine. And those eyes were fixed straight ahead, locked onto her as a long tongue licked drool from black jowels.

A shot rang out from somewhere behind her and the eyes and muzzle went sideways. The animal grunted and the earth vibrated as his body hit the ground with a solid thud.

Shelley couldn’t take her eyes off the beast. It was bigger than she’d thought a black bear would be, and she imagined a breath, maybe two even though the shot had run right through the head. When a heavy hand fell on her shoulder, she nearly jumped out of her skin and gasped.

“Just me. The bear’s dead. Are you okay?”

She finally turned her head to see the concern in Dillon’s eyes. Swallowing hard past the lump in her throat, she nodded.

“Who shot it?”

Dillon pointed to John, now standing way too close to that carcass for comfort.

“He circled out the moment you started running — hit the hill full speed and didn’t stop until he found his mark. Thank God.”

A low groan from the bodies on the ground pulled them both back to the reason they were there in the first place, and Shelley whirled around, kneeling on the ground beside Tabitha while Dillon went to Mike.

“Tabby? Are you okay? Wake up — talk to me!” Shelley grabbed her shoulder and gently pulled Tabby from her stomach to her back, earning another groan in the process.

“Shelley?” Tabby blinked up at her, but didn’t seem to see her. “Is that really you? You’re like a mirage. All fuzzy or wavy or something…” Her head lolled to the side and Shelley gave the rest of Tabby’s body a quick glance, expecting the blood to be on her torso. But it wasn’t.

“Tabitha — wake up Tabby! What happened to your leg?” When she got no response, Shelley put two fingers to the side of Tabby’s neck and prayed.

Her heart was beating, but it seemed weak. Shelley moved to look at the wound on her leg, and that’s when she realized that the putrid smell she’d been trying to ignore wasn’t bear breath, but rather a long, obviously infected gash across Tabby’s thigh.

“Oh God,” she breathed, wondering how long the two had been laying in this spot. The wound was dirty, and…were those maggots?

Momentarily at a loss for what to do, she glanced over at Dillon and Mike, now on his back too. Mike’s wounds were considerably more substantial — long gashes across his chest, and apparently in worse shape than Tabby’s.

“What do we do?” she asked, looking helplessly at Dillon. “I don’t even know how to help.”


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 19!

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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 17

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 17

“Got something!”

Shelley and Dillon both turned as the man just above them appeared in the trees. He was waving at them, motioning them to join him. Dillon stood and offered Shelley a hand. When she took it, her eyes met his and he smiled. He may have pulled a little harder than necessary when he helped her up, but she didn’t complain when she stumbled against his chest.

Neither did he, she noticed.

The second guy came running from up below the trail and just kept running past. Shelley frowned.

“Come on.” Dillon took a step back, but still kept her hand in his. “Let’s go see what they found.”

Shelley followed him up through the underbrush and tried not to think about what they might find. It was almost anticlimatic when they reached the other two, and saw nothing out of the ordinary.

“What are we looking at, John?” Dillon asked. The man held out his hand, palm up, to reveal a heart-shaped locket Shelley had never seen before.

“That’s not Tabby’s,” she said, a glimmer of relief easing the tighteness in her chest. “It’s not hers. Someone else must have lost it.”

She glanced at Dillon, and saw the tightness in his jaw as he reached out to pick up the locket.

“It’s Mike’s. He keeps a picture of his mother and his daughter in there, and carries it in his pocket.” He put it in his own pocket. “He was definitely up here then. Any signs of where they might have blazed a trail?”

John nodded. “Broken branches and scuffed dirt all over the place. I hiked a little ways back and found blood, but it looks like they’re covering it as they go. Probably trying to confuse any prey animals who might be after a meal.”

“Would that work?” Shelley asked, earning three rather dubious stares.

“Probably not,” John answered. “But won’t hurt either. Just makes it a little harder to tell when the bleeding started and stops. But we’ll be able to follow the trail. Are you ready?”

Dillon looked at Shelley. “Are you sure you want to do this? I think we’re getting close, and no one would blame you if you wanted to wait back at camp….”

“I should smack you for that,” she replied, moving past him. “I’m going. Come on.”

John took the lead again and Dillon fell into step by Shelley. “I didn’t mean to insult you,” he said as they walked, watching the path appear almost magially as John cleared broken branches and dirt piles out of the way.

It wasn’t long before they saw the smoke. Practically running, they made it over the next rise just to see an impromptu campsite at the bottom and two people laying motionless beside a dying fire.


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 18!

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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 16

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 16

The day was beautiful as Shelley trekked across the mountainside with Dillon and the others. Too pretty, really, she thought, her gaze drifting across tall grasses swaying around blooming flowers, tall trees rattling their leaves, and the occasional tiny woodland creature darting back into hiding. Didn’t nature know her friend was missing, and probably hurt? Why was everything so…normal?

She’d first caught the sound of running water fifteen minutes back, faint in the distance. It was getting louder now, and her tired steps quickened, anxious to reach the old ranger station. If Dillon was right, Tabby was close, and maybe they weren’t too late.

Though it seemed like a long way to travel from the bear carcass.

Lots of questions, and the only two people with the answers were out here somewhere, waiting for help.

“Hold up.” The man in front stopped, and Shelley about ran into Dillon’s back. Stepping to the side, she looked around him at the leader, and then just beyond.

Across the next clearing was a wooden shack — or the remains of one, anyway. The roof had collapsed and was partially in, partially out of what was left of the gray plank walls. The fallen structure wasn’t capable of providing shelter any longer. Firewood was about all it was good for now.

“This doesn’t make sense,” Shelley said. “If Mike knew about this place, then he would have known they were close to the trail when he killed the bear. They would have gone the other way, toward camp, not farther up the mountain.”

The three men all looked at her for a long moment.

“What about the sweatshirt? We found it first, closer to the camp…” Dillon’s voice trailed off as the words came out, and understanding widened his eyes. “She took the sweatshirt off after, maybe used it to try to stop the bleeding. Though we don’t know if she was the one injured or Mike.”

One of the other men frowned. “If they were headed back toward camp, they should have been there by now. Before we left, actually. What the hell happened to them?”

“Only way to find out is to find them.” Dillon breathed a heavy sigh. “And we’ve been looking in the wrong direction for over an hour. Let’s head back to where the sweatshirt was, and we’ll figure out how to proceed from there.”

When they finally reached the correct site, Shelley collapsed on a fallen log, almost as good as a favorite recliner after a hard day.

“I can’t imagine what they were feeling like when they stopped here,” she said, speaking slowly as she tried to catch her breath. “Actually, I can’t believe they made it all the way here, considering one of them is hurt. That’s quite a jaunt just from the attack site. Is that even possible with a bad injury?”

Dillon shrugged, taking a seat beside her. “You’d be surprised by what a good shot of adrenaline can do. But it is pretty amazing they made it this far. Shock would have been setting in for someone hurt and bleeding that badly. It is odd that we didn’t notice any bloodstains or drops between here and there though. There should be some sign of them passing through, and it’s like they were just picked up there and dropped here.”

Shelley sat up a little straighter. “Or, they didn’t use the trail. Maybe they were confused, or avoiding the trail for some reason.”

“I’ll check for some sort of sign above the trail,” one of the other men offered. He pointed to the fourth man. “Why don’t you check below the trail?” The other man nodded and they set out, leaving Dillon and Shelley to rest.

“Are those guys rambo or something?” Shelley was only half-kidding. “They don’t seem to ever get tired.”

Dillon’s lips turned up in a small smile. “They’ve probably had more sleep than us.” His smile faded, and he cocked his head to the side, giving her a searching look. “They weren’t in a car wreck just the other day either. How are you feeling? You must be in a lot of pain with all the walking…”

Shelley shrugged. “It hurts here and there, but nothing I can’t handle. It actually hurt less when we were moving. Mind over matter, I guess.” She looked away, her gaze drifting over the small clearing. “You’d think it would be easy to find someone these days, with all the technology at our disposal. But here we are, searching a mountain for two people who could be anywhere. You’d think there was a better way to do this.”

Dillon was quiet for a long moment, and she wasn’t sure he was even listening. Then he looked up, eyes wide and face flushed.

“Maybe there is,” he said, putting two fingers in his mouth and letting out a long, loud whistle. “We need to get back to the camp.”


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 17!

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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Ch. 15

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing….


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 15

Turning her back to the wall, Shelley slid down to sit on the floor. Her whole body was shaking — she couldn’t help it. Dillon sat down beside her but she didn’t look at him.

The image was burned into her mind. Even in the dim hall light, she’d seen the big dark stain on the front of Tabby’s shirt. Cuts and slashes seared through it like grill marks, and all Shelley could think about was what kind of an animal could have done that, and whether Tabby could have survived it or not.

Or anyone, for that matter.

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Her small, shaky voice sounded foreign even to Shelley’s own ears.

Dillon put an arm around her, pulling her into his side. “We don’t know that. People have sustained some very rough treatment and still lived to tell the tale. Don’t give up on her yet.”

Shelley nodded against his chest, soaking in the warmth of his comfort for a few more seconds. Then she gently pushed away, swiping the tears off her face and getting to her feet.

“There’s no way I can sleep now — not when she’s out there hurt and in pain. We have to find her, Dillon. What can we do now? Check maps and make a plan for first light? Go scouting the trail? I need to do something. I can’t just sit here.”

He got to his feet as well. “I know. Mike’s still out there too. I hope he’s with Tabitha, and that they’re somewhere safe tonight. Let’s go back down to the command room and see what we can figure out. I promise we’ll leave at first light to explore the section of trail where her shirt was found.”

Shelley nodded. “I’ll get my shoes.”

A few hours later when the sun was just barely peeking over the horizon, she shouldered a pack full of supplies, turned her headlamp on and followed Dillon and three other men through the woods and down a narrow trail that wound back and forth across the side of the mountain. The birds had a lot to say, it seemed, and the hiking was anything but quiet. There was an old, earthy quality to the fragrance each step kicked up, mingled with the fresh scent of pine needles and the occasional not-so-fresh smell of scat. If she hadn’t been desperate to find Tabitha and the guy she’d run from, Shelley might actually have enjoyed the walk.

They passed the spot where the sweatshirt was found about an hour into the hike, but a thorough examination revealed absolutely nothing. Not even blood droplets leading away from the site.

The sun was finally warming through the trees when the man in front called a halt. She looked ahead past Dillon to see why, and it was immediately obvious.

“Oh God,” she muttered, coveringher mouth with one hand. “Is that –?”

“Black bear,” Dillon said, moving to block her view. “Looks like someone killed it. Human, not animal. Mike usually has a hunting knife on him, but he wouldn’t do something like this unless  he had no other choice.”

“Like saving Tabby.”

He nodded. “We’re not too far from an old ranger cabin close to the creek. He might have taken her there if he had the strength.”

“Any idea which way that cabin is, Sir?” One of the men had a compass out, and the other was searching the bushes for a possible trail leading out.

“It’s been awhile, but I think I can find it. I’m pretty sure the creek is north-east from here, so that might be a good place to start.”


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 16!

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Priorities & Forced Balance

Last week wasn’t nearly as bad as the week before in general, which is kind of odd since work was decidedly difficult. The difference is, I dealt with it much better, and while I didn’t stay caught up all the time, I did prioritize a lot better. It’s amazing how much just setting solid priorities can alleviate so much stress – and allow us to get more done than we might otherwise.

The poetry challenge was especially “challenging” this past week, but I managed to end Saturday caught up for the week (I’m behind a poem again as of right now, but I’ll catch up tonight). Poetry is all about “flow” and ironically, fitting it into my schedule has been exactly that. Looking for the proper flow, so I can slot it into each day at some point.

I think I mentioned that I was trying to use some of my nightly knitting/crochet/TV time to catch some of the overflow, and my body told me very quickly that it was just not going to happen. My eyes went downhill again, my brain refused to work, and pretty much every night sitting there with the computer on my lap, I eventually just gave up and shut it while I finished my hour-long TV show.

Incidentally, we’ve been watching Iron Fist and Wynonna Earp on Netflix. Iron Fist is entertaining, but I highly, highly recommend Wynonna Earp. So, so good!

In any case, that hour is very necessary down-time, and my body & brain were quick to correct me when I tried to use it for work. So…it would appear that time is just as sacrosanct as my writing time. This week, I’ll get the knitting back out while watching TV.

My neck is healing, but very slowly, and I’m kind of to the point where it feels like it just needs gentle stretching and then to build up the muscle around that nerve to protect it from being pinched again. I have to be careful, as it still won’t really “work” at several angles, but I’ve started doing light weight training in my shoulders/arms again. We’ll see how that goes, but hopefully it will be helpful. Stupid neck.

In any case, my writing output increased again last week, and no matter how much this poetry thing stresses me out, I am *loving* what it’s doing as far as just getting me back in the daily writing habit. That right there was worth the cost of the workshop (though I’m obviously learning so much more…).

And for those who have been following along weekly – yes, my taxes are done and will be in the mail on April 18th. I’m not efiling because I owe the feds money, and they can just wait for my check to get there, thank you very much. This coming Friday night, I’m adding some dedicated bookkeeping time to my weekly business hours.

I’ve been thinking lately of pulling a couple of shelved drafts out and reworking them for publication. The basic plot is sound enough, but they need revision/additions to work. I do believe that might be something to work on after poetry month is over. I’m excited at the prospect, and I hate revising with a passion. So there’s gotta be something there, right? We’ll see.

Serial story chapter coming Friday, and another week’s worth of poems Saturday. Stay tuned!

Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Chapter 1

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing! 


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 1

It’s not easy being right all the time.

Shelley Frank watched the fourth guy of the night walk away and for a second, pretended to wonder what would happen if she just played “normal” with the next one. But she already knew. Guys were so predictable. Which made them boring, which made this whole evening a complete waste of time.

Maybe not a complete waste, she thought as that annoying bell rang and the next speed-dater approached. He wasn’t particularly interesting at first glance, other than the fact that he didn’t actually seem interested at all. Well, that and the five-o-clock shadow that darkened his jawline with a perfect amount of shade. He sat down across from her with a bored look that probably matched her own.

He met Shelley’s gaze with two startlingly-green eyes and she was surprised at the confident dismissal reflecting back.

“I don’t mean any offense, but I’m only here ‘cause my buddy needed backup and you don’t look like you’re any more into this than I am. So if it’s okay with you, we’ll just skip the whole getting-to-know-you bit, and I’ll get a little work done before the next switch. Is that cool?”

Shelley nodded, but didn’t figure he even saw it considering his smartphone was already in hand and his thumbs were moving a mile a minute. The vibe he gave off was clearly a don’t-talk-to-me one, and Shelley pondered that for a minute.

Was it a ploy to catch her interest by appearing to be uninterested? Or was he really not into this whole thing — and if that was the case, why didn’t he just leave? Then again, she was still here too. The clock was ticking, and considering he was the only challenge she’d seen all night, she decided it was worth the risk.

“Let me guess,” she started as she had with all the others. He was wearing worn, comfy-looking jeans and a semi-wrinkled teal button-down shirt casually untucked with just a hint of curly chest-hair showing in the vee at the top. His black hair was a little long and naturally wavy, and a few errant strands kept falling across his eye.

With those looks and that always-on attitude, it was hard to draw conclusions without knowing more, but she’d give it a try.

“You’re an IT geek with a boner for the latest gaming system and a God complex. A programmer, maybe, which gives you a sense of purpose and at the same time, takes away your ability to connect with other humans on any meaningful level.” Okay, maybe not that last part, Shelley thought. But if it got his attention…

He didn’t even look up from the small screen and his fingers never stuttered. Shelley figured he hadn’t even been listening, so her assessment was just wasted breath. By the time the bell rang again, she’d decided to call it a night and move to the other side of the bar while her cousin finished running the event.

Her partner for that round got to his feet before she could, and finally looked at her, a sharp, appraising gaze that made her want to take a step back.

“Bored, smart woman who somehow got roped into attending this thing against your better judgement, and you’re trying to make the best of it, but you’d rather be at home curled up on a couch with a book and your beloved…leopard gecko or something. Maybe a glass of wine. But you definitely don’t want anyone here taking a liking to you, because that would make him ‘not boring’, and that might make you think you have a chance for half-a-second. Which you don’t, of course, because you always push people away before they have a chance to do the same to you.”

He paused for a minute, started to say something, and then appeared to change his mind. He reached into a back pocket and pulled out a card, dropping it on the table.

“Just for the record – your first assessment was a little off. Might want to brush up on those people-reading skills.”

Shelley watched him walk away and grabbed the card, moving away from the table to avoid yet another round. Holding his card under one of the dim bar lights, she peered closely at the tiny print.

“Dillon Riley — Outdoor Enthusiast/Tour Guide/Owner at Rattlesnake Falls Lodge and Resort.” There was a PO Box listed in Big Timber, and a cell phone number she assumed was his. She had never heard of Rattlesnake Falls, but there were a few different camps up that way and it was beautiful country for it.

Brow furrowed, she looked up and scanned the room, trying to spot Dillon again. Outdoor enthusiast? Really? He didn’t look even remotely outdoorsy with that pale skin and slender frame. Did he have enough muscle to lift a hiking pack?

She knew she was being both unfair and bitchy, but she couldn’t seem to stop, and that was as good a cue as any to leave.

Slipping the card into her purse, she searched the crowd again – this time finding her target, and pushed through the people to where her cousin was holding court from a bar stool.

“Hey Tabby – I’m gonna head out. Do you need a ride?” She only asked to be polite. Her cousin never needed a ride, and rarely came home on nights like this anyway. Shelley wasn’t sure why Tabitha felt the need to drag her along. Tabby insisted it was to keep her company until the party ‘really got hoppin’, which took all of about ten minutes in any bar her cousin had ever set an insanely-high-heeled foot in.

Tabby shook her head. “You chased everyone off again, didn’t you?”

Shelley just shrugged and smiled. “I’ll see you in the morning,” she yelled over the jukebox and elbowed the ribs of a guy with roaming hands on her right. “Take care!”

“In the morning- sure…maybe!”

Tabby turned back to her adoring fans and Shelley pushed her way back through the crowd, somehow managing to find the door. A gust of cool air hit her face as she pushed it open, and she immediately lost her balance as the lower-but-still-substantial heel Tabitha had insisted Shelley borrow caught on a crack in the concrete just right.

Helpless against both gravity and momentum, she reached for the railing she knew was attached to each side of the three-steps down to the parking lot. Her fingers hit the cold metal and slid off just before her shoulder slammed into something warm and solid. She grabbed on for dear life, hoping whatever or whoever it was would at least slow her fall as the momentum kept carrying her sideways.

And right into a thick, steel band of an arm that encircled the center of her back as if she’d been meant to roll right there the whole time. Strong fingers wrapped around her ribs, and she gasped when the world finally stopped spinning and she found herself staring into the same startling green eyes she’d seen at the table inside.


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 2…

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That Could Cause Cancer, You Know…

…and water is wet, and the sky is blue.

But we’ll get to my rant on supposedly well-intentioned cancer warnings in a minute. First, a bit of blog news:

If you were/are a fan of my blog serials, I have good news! I’m around 6 chapters into my next romantic suspense novel, and I’ve decided to serialize it again. One chapter every Friday, right here on the blog. Keeps me motivated and accountable, even if I know there are only two people reading. And since I rarely look at my stats (too lazy), I can pretend there are at least two people reading, which keeps me writing. Ignorance/fantasy is bliss, you know.

So, if you’re interested, stop back on Friday for Chapter 1 of…hmm. That’s a pickle. I should probably pick an actual title for this book, eh? I’ve been calling it Rattlesnake Falls Book 1, because the series will be Rattlesnake Falls, and this is the first one (I know, so logical). But I haven’t come up with an actual title for it yet. I’ll think on it, and hopefully have one by Friday.

I currently have subscription options for either “all posts” or “non-fiction only”. I’ll have a “fiction only” option as well by Friday, so those who prefer to get each chapter (but not these rambly weekly posts) via email can do so.


Alrighty then. Admin business done, now back to the rant o’ the week:

As I understand it, cancer isn’t really a disease so much as a cell mutation, and the things that turn it on/off are varied and individual to specific people depending on their own genetics and lifestyle. Cells mutate, and those mutated cells spread through the body and left unchecked, it will eventually kill us. Odds are incredibly good that a high percentage of us will eventually be killed by cell mutations (cancer) at some point (hopefully very late in life when our bodies are worn out, but that’s if we’re lucky).

Why am I thinking about this, you ask? Because I was challenged about my tattoos twice last week, and one of the arguments used was “tattoos can cause cancer, you know – and especially lymph node cancer”. The reason that last part was tacked on, obviously, is because Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma runs in my family, and it was an attempt at emotional manipulation. Scare tactics. Needless to say, I didn’t appreciate it, nor do I respond to such things all that well.

There are a *lot* of things out there that can cause (trigger, really) cancers. And we have a lot of warnings all over the place alerting us to that danger. The main cancer that runs in my family is genetic, and has a tendency to hit the same oldest (or only) child of the family in the same place on the body (lymph nodes at the side of the neck) at the same time in life (one week before a 50th birthday). It’s been very predictable for at least three generations on my dad’s side, and I’ve lived a great deal of my life knowing that one week before my 50th birthday, a lump will probably appear on the side of my neck, and it will be my turn to get radiated/chemo-ed/poisoned/whatever-the-current-treatment-happens-to-be in order to keep my body from killing me in the process of turning into a giant mass of monster-cells.

We humans are nothing if not hopeful, though, and to that end, I’ve done and continue to do a lot of things in order to reduce the risk of my genetic switch from “flipping”, or at least to prolong the process. With the occasional lapse, I workout fairly regularly and do my best to keep my weight under control (all previous generations where the cancer triggered, the “victims” were quite overweight). I eat as healthy as I can stand to, which is pretty healthy and includes a high-fiber, low carb diet, I stay away from most extra sugars, all artificial sweeteners, and I try to keep my indulgences to a minimum. I drink the equivalent of six cups of tea per day, no sugar added, and I do my best to get a proper amount of water for good hydration.

I read labels religiously, do my best to avoid potentially harmful chemicals in skin care, makeup, soaps/cleaners, household cleaning products, and personal care items. I use herbal-only hair dyes, and my nail polish is all “big-three-free” (which means it has less toxic chemicals, but it’s still not perfect). I don’t use plastic water bottles or storage containers if I can help it – everything is metal, glass or ceramic. I stay away from commercial drugs as much as possible, and use herbal/holistic remedies whenever I can.

You’d think I’d be confident in my ability to prolong or circumvent my family’s genetic curse, but honestly? I have no idea whether or not any of it will even help. And there’s a very good possibility that nothing I can do will stop that genetic mutation from triggering in my body in exactly the same way, at exactly the same time as my dad, and his mom, and her dad before that. Even if I can prolong it, there’s no guarantee that it won’t trigger differently, maybe at some other time, in some other place. That’s the thing about cancer. If the genetics are there, there’s no guarantee that anything we do differently will ever be able to stop it from actually manifesting.

I have tattoos. One of the few things I indulge in knowing full well that it isn’t the healthiest thing for my body, and that some of the pigment particles *will* settle in my lymph nodes. And I fully plan on getting more tattoos. Because I love them, and because no one can guarantee me that any of the things I do to keep my cells in line is actually going to work against my base genetics. I could live as pristine a life as possible, and still end up with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma one week before my 50th birthday. Or, the curse could mutate differently in me, and manifest as some different sort of cancer at some different time of my life too. Earlier, later…impossible to say. The potential is there, dormant (hopefully) for now. The possibility that something will eventually trigger it is high. If not my tattoos, it will be something else.

At some point, you have to just stop worrying so much, live your life, and deal with things as they come.

Well, you don’t have to, I guess, but it’s sure a lot more fun/less stressful than constantly worrying about every single thing that could go wrong and trying to control things that really are pretty much out of your control.

I’m keeping the tattoos and nail polish, thanks. My two main unhealthy vices, and the nail polish has been one since I was a young kid, way before they thought about things like avoiding toxic chemicals (nail polish is derived from automobile paint, you know, and then there’s polish remover, of course…), so I’ve certainly absorbed my fair share of those along with all the tattoo pigments.

Yes, I know tattoos could/may trigger cancer, thanks. I’ll take my chances.

2015 in Review

Normally today’s post is when I’d go back to my 2015 resolutions and see how I did (okay, normally I’d have done that Monday, but last weekend got away from me yet again – funny how they do that). I’m posting the link there so you can go back if you want, but the year got derailed almost as quickly as it started, and just spiraled right out of control from then on out. I had challenges in pretty much every part of my life, and I’m annoyed but not too proud to admit that I didn’t deal with them nearly as well as I should have. In any case, I’m not going to go back point by point on last year’s resolutions, because it seems…pointless, given the year I’ve had.

But, water under the bridge. I learned a lot, made some pretty significant changes, and kept going, which is ultimately all any of us can really do.

I also started three serial novels in newsletters that are not, and will not be finished. To those who may have actually been reading along, I apologize for that. It was a great idea, poorly timed, that got caught up in an existential writing crisis of sorts, and while I could go ahead and force myself to finish those stories, I’m not going to. In fact, I’m leaving behind serialization altogether in the new year, as well as several other writing projects that I was working on for the wrong reasons.

As a matter of fact, I don’t plan to publish any of the stories I wrote in 2015. They weren’t wasted, by any means – in fact, all three are very significant in the fact that each of them revealed something very important to me about myself as a writer and the direction I want to move in as far as storytelling goes. Some hard decisions came with those realizations, but I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

I kicked off last year with a new tattoo – my first in 13 yrs or so. You wouldn’t think you could learn much from getting an image inked into your skin, but I got two more tattoos as the year went on, and I actually did learn a lot about myself, and who I have been vs. who I want to be in the process. The last one especially was very…defining for me, and even a relief, in a way.

My job has changed over the past year too – “evolved”, if you will. I make a point not to talk much about specifics of my job or the people I work with online (for obvious reasons), but as difficult as it was there for awhile, I end the year very contented/satisfied with what I’m doing and the environment I’m in.

In my personal life, I did a lot of things wrong last year. But the biggest “sin” was putting my obligations (most often self-appointed) above my personal needs. I spent a lot of time resenting all sorts of different things, and way too much time trying to decide how to deal with it all rather than just…well, dealing with it all. It took a week-long “vacation” just this past month to get my head screwed back on straight, and as annoyingly enlightening as it was, it really clarified things for me and allowed me the “reset” I desperately needed. Hopefully I can carry those lessons through the next year and not let things get so mentally “out of hand” again.

Surprisingly, the key to prioritizing/managing my personal life has simplified itself through the menu “plan/system” I adopted this past fall (the only one I’ve ever managed to follow for more than a week or so). Odd how inspiration comes from the strangest of places, isn’t it?

In any case, the year is basically over, and I’m ready for the new one to start. Onward to 2016!