First off, I want to thank Jadette for having me on her blog. I appreciate it so much and the opportunity to talk about inspiration. Sometimes it all starts with an image. I saw this picture titled Our Path on Dan Skinner’s site a year ago. And I was instantly struck by how much the tall cowboy with the hat looked like Rand Holloway, my rancher from Timing, and how much the smaller, blonder man resembled Stefan Joss. I commented on Dan’s account at deviantART (http://cerberuseros.deviantart.com/) and thought that was the end of it.
It wasn’t the end of it.
Things settle in your brain, in your subconscious, and the more I thought about it the more I started to wonder if Timing was complete. I had never planned to write a sequel to it. I figured that I left them, Stef and Rand, with their HEA so why revisit? But that picture got my plot bunnies all stirred up and the harder I tried to push them away the more persistent they became until lo and behold, I had a dragon. Amy Lane wrote a poem called The Dragon In My Blood (http://writerslane.blogspot.com/2009/04/dragon-in-my-blood.html) that really resonated with me. I feel, as she does, that the dragon sits between the ventricles in my heart and when it roars, like a muse on crack, I write because if I don’t, and I know it sounds dramatic, I’ll get eaten alive.
My husband can always tell if I haven’t written all day when he gets home from work. He’ll squint at me and ask what I wrote and when I say nothing, zilch, nada, not a word; he’ll nod because yeah, he figured. If everything that was in my brain got out, I’m sort of empty and ready to focus on something else. If I didn’t, then there are voices and ideas and pictures and words cluttering up my mind and nothing else happens. And there are real world concerns, dinner for family, homework, activities for the kids, just stuff that as a mother, I do, but if I haven’t written, I do them in a sort of zombie fog because I am not engaged. I’m in my head. Characters are there and because they are, I’m not. So, it’s best if my writing gets done so I can be wife and mommy and not just out to lunch.
So there was this picture of Rand and Stef on Dan’s site that was now burned into my brain and the dragon was riding me to start even as I was really trying to finish Bulletproof. But there was nothing I could do. I worry that I need to have better sticktoitiveness but again, it’s the damn dragon. I kept going back to the picture and thinking about Stefan Joss. I re-read Timing and was struck by what Rand had done for Stef, his faith and love but what had Stef done for him, really, except move? Rand was the one who had to come out, he was the one brave enough to be the man he wanted to be, but what was Stef’s part? As I looked at the picture, I wondered about them and then the story began to take shape. The thing is you never know what will bring on a plot bunny and especially when one of these cute fluffy creatures will morph into a dragon. I am grateful though because from that photo, After the Sunset came to be. And I was ecstatic when I got to have the picture for the cover of the novella.
After the Sunset
I lifted my eyes, and he caught me in his blue gaze.
“Put your head down.”
I stretched out, laid my head on his bicep, and slid my denim clad leg over his thigh.
He grunted. “You know, I know why you don‘t wanna use the joint checking account.”
And just like that, we were back to our earlier discussion.
I was quiet because I didn‘t want to fight. I had worked all my life, depended on no one but myself for anything. My stepfather had thrown me out when I was fourteen. My mother had stood there and watched, slamming the door in my face. When I had pounded on the door to be let back in, it was thrown open and the beating had commenced. And while I had no worry that Rand would ever physically hurt me, there was still the possibility that if he ever got tired of me, learned to hate me, that I could be put out of my home. I could never allow that to happen to me again. Money was my security net, money I made myself.
“Rand, I don‘t wanna talk about ––”
“I won‘t ever tell you to pack your things and go, Stef.”
He knew me so well, knew all the fears that rode me.
“I swear it.”
“Believe me. Believe in me. Stefan… please.”
God, the man knew I doubted him, doubted his love, the depth of it, the forever of it, and still he loved me.
“I know you love me, and I know you wanna be here, and I know you still worry.”
“Look at me.”
I rolled my head sideways, and we were eye to eye, only inches separating us. It was very intimate; there was no hiding that close.
“If you want, I can take my name off the joint account, and it can just be yours, and that way you‘ll know it can never be taken from you. I‘ll still put money in it, but I won‘t touch it at all. Would that be better?”
“That‘s what‘s called being kept, Rand, and no… that would not be better in the least.”
“Fuck,” he grumbled. “I don‘t mean it like––”
“I know how you meant it,” I assured him. “It‘s a very generous offer.”
“Christ, now you‘re making it sound dirty,” he groaned, and I sat up as he moved his hands, raking them through his thick hair.
“Very generous for a guy like me.” I smiled, turning to look down at him, waggling my eyebrows. “A man with my background.”
“Stefan.” He warned me.
“A guy from the wrong side of the tracks.”
“It ain‘t funny.”
“It‘s a little funny,” I chuckled.
“You don‘t… you ain‘t hearin‘ me,” he said, and my laughter died in my throat when his voice cracked. He sat up beside me, crossing his legs so his left knee bumped me. “For a long time, all the guys would go home at night to their wives and their children and lit-up houses that smelled like food and got to hear all the good and all the bad that happened that day. I used to go home, and there weren‘t none of that.”
“Rand,” I began, putting my hand on his knee.
“Lemme finish,” he said gently, taking my hand, sliding his fingers between mine, pressing my palm against him. “After you came, though, suddenly I‘m just as excited to go home as everybody else. I open my front door and the music is on, and the lights are on, and the place smells amazing, and goddamn, Stef, even when I was married before, it wasn‘t like that. Even if you‘re runnin‘ late and I get in first, just you walkin‘ in the house makes it feel different. And I get it, ya know? You‘re it, you‘re my home.”
I looked away because I was nothing. I was an orphan, and he had a home and a family and a ranch and everyone counting on him, and I was just… how could Rand want to build on me? How was I a foundation for anything?
I turned back, slowly, taking a breath.
His hand went to my cheek, his thumb sliding over my bottom lip, and I saw the warmth infuse his eyes, saw them darken, soften, because he was looking at me.
“You don‘t really know what you did today, so I‘m gonna tell you.”
I nodded because my voice was gone.
“When you told me that you weren‘t gonna look for a job in Dallas, I knew for sure you wanted to stay with me and have a home.”
My focus became breathing.
“I mean, before that, when you were runnin‘ back and forth, doin‘ all that driving, well, maybe you were tryin‘ to keep one foot in your old life and one in your new one, ya know?”
I did know and that was exactly what I had been doing.
“I saw you needin‘ air. Saw you gettin‘ all panicky ‘cause your life was fallin‘ into place around you. The happier you got, the more you started fittin‘ in and gettin‘ comfortable, the more you started pacin‘ like an animal that was caged up. You were snappin‘ at everyone, ready to bite and scratch to get away, and sick that you had to. I ain‘t never seen a man who so wanted to belong and who was scared to, all at the same time. It makes me tired just watchin‘ you wrestle with yourself.”
I cleared my throat. “So I‘m a crazy person who––”
“Just… hush. You showed me how it was gonna be ‘cause when it was time to decide, you chose me and the ranch and your life here.”
He narrowed his eyes, and as he squinted, I saw how red-rimmed they were. I had no idea that anything I could ever do would touch him so deeply.
“It‘s why I can barely keep my hands off you. That‘s why I attacked you in your office today, ‘cause it‘s your office. It‘s where you‘re fixin‘ to be because of me.”
I finally understood. To Rand, until he physically saw the reality of my new job, he had not let himself believe it. To me, the space, my cubicle at the community college, was a dump. To Rand, it represented me putting down roots.
“You told me that you wanted to belong to me, and today I believe it.”
I looked away from him because my eyes filled and my vision blurred with hot tears.
“Along with workin‘ there at the college, I still want you to oversee the Grillmaster account, you hear?”
“And if it don‘t work out for you at the school, you can just do that, all right?”
But how would that work?
“Are you afraid of how it will look to everyone if you work at the ranch?”
That was some of it, I would admit to that. “People will think I‘m sponging off you,” I said to the creek instead of Rand.
“But you‘ll know different.”
“I just can‘t be a ––”
“Soon no one will wonder why you‘re on the ranch, once we have kids.”
What? “What?” I asked breathlessly, my head swiveling around to look at him. God, when had I missed him planning his whole life with me in it?
“You‘ll have to stay home and take care of them.”
Even though he had said kids before, in the past, all I had ever heard was child. But I processed the word that time. Kids. As in plural. As in more than one. As in them.
When had he decided that he wanted to have children with me? “I have no idea what you‘re even talking about right now. You ––”
“I wanted you to practice takin‘ care of me so you‘ll be ready to take care of your children, and I was so scared that you wouldn‘t. I was thinkin‘ just maybe you were ready to leave me, but then you took this job so you could keep on seein‘ me and cookin‘ for me and––”
“I am not your wife!” I yelled at him. “And I won‘t be made to take on the role of––”
“I know that, but you have to get ready to take care of your children!”
“You‘re gonna be the one who picks ‘em up from school every day. You‘ll be the one who helps ‘em with their homework and watches them wash up and makes their dinner. I‘ll be the one who plays with ‘em and watches TV and talks to ‘em at the dinner table. I‘ll be their father, and you‘ll be––”
“Oh God.‖ I couldn‘t breathe.
“I asked Charlotte if she would be inclined to help us start our family, and she said she‘d help ‘cause she always wanted to have babies with you anyhow.”
Jesus Christ, the man was planning on putting me into a Norman Rockwell painting. “Rand––”
“No! I will not discuss this with you. The time to talk is over and done. When you asked me if I wanted you and I said yes, I started planning my whole life right then. When you lost your job, you decided to only look as far as Lubbock for a new one so you could come home every night to me. That tells me all I need to know, Stef.”
Running was easy; staying was hard.
“I ain‘t tryin‘ to take anything from you, least of all your freedom.”
“I know,” I told him as he pulled me close. I ended up lying between his legs, my back curled into his chest, his arms draped across my collarbone.
“I drive you nuts, huh?”
“You make me fuckin‘ crazy.”
“I‘m sorry.” I snickered because I wasn‘t at all. He had to deal with me, thorns and all.
“No, you ain‘t.”
“I love you.”
I turned and looked at him over my shoulder.
“Don‘t ever leave me. I won‘t recover, okay?”
“Okay.” He exhaled, like he had been holding his breath. “Christ, you‘re a giant pain in the ass.”
There could be no argument.
After the Sunset