Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rough Road Home by Audra Harders Excerpt

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Rachel Hill, a burned out stockbroker, realizes she’s sacrificed too much for her career and is searching for God’s direction in her life. Champion bull rider, Nick Davidson, reasons God abandoned him first, so what’s the point of seeking Christ’s will in his life? When Nick suffers a concussion, the road trip to the next rodeo becomes the ride of a lifetime for Rachel and Nick. Secrets revealed; lies exposed. Can the power of love heal even these deepest wounds?

Excerpt:

Ninety-two and a half for Buster McKnight. Give the cowboy from Oklahoma a hand!” Applause roared as McKnight scrambled to his feet, ripped off his hat and flung it into the center of the arena.
Rachel Hill reduced the volume of the music flowing through her headset from the waist-belt MP3 player. With a resigned sigh, she flicked off the power and cheered with the rest of the crowd. Silly of her to think she could ignore the event. This Rapid City crowd sure loved their rodeo.
So did she. Even at twenty-eight years old, rodeo events still sent her blood racing.
The surrounding fans settled back into their seats. Rachel glanced at the program and noticed only one rider left. About time. Normally, she steered clear of the bull riding events. Steer wrestling and barrel racing offered enough excitement. Even the roping action was okay, but when they called in the rough-stock, she’d head for the concession stands. Bull riding was the anchor event and usually reclaimed the crowds long enough for her to grab a hot dog, a cola and be done by the time her uncle called it a day.
They saved the best for last. You ain’t seen nuthin’ till you’ve seen Nick Davidson ride.” Uncle Mitch nudged her with his thick arm as he pointed at the arena. “Nick pulled one of our bulls, too. Ain’t no one stayed on Flapjack this season.”
Your bulls have beat them all today, Uncle Mitch.” She glanced across the arena toward the chutes, skimming over the ads attached to the walls of the arena along the way. “Pretty much all weekend long.”
“‘Course they have.” He slapped his meaty hand across his thigh. “That’s what they’re supposed to do. I ain’t raisin’ no sissy stock.”
Rachel couldn’t help but chuckle. “The ranker the better, I always say.” Her voice lowered to an unnatural gruff. “Rough-stock don’t mean any little girlie can ride ‘um.”
Dog straight, little girlie.” He turned and winked at her. “An’ don’t you go sassin’ your elders.”
You mean don’t go sassing the boss or he’ll boot me out on my pointed backside, right?”
Only doing it out of love.” His grin faded as he sat back in his seat, his program crumpled in his fist. “Thanks for coming to watch the bull ridin’, Rachel. I know how hard this is on you.”
Rachel kept her practiced grin in place, a small defense, but it helped when things got tough. “Not so hard anymore. Besides, look at all the great riding they had today. Even tangle-footed Buster McKnight walked away without a scratch.”
Uncle Mitch, familiar with her diversions, wasn’t buying into the act. “Wrecks happen, Rach. The cowboys train for them.”
I know.” The muscles in her face strained beneath the effort to smile. They both knew better. Nothing protected a cowboy from all injuries. “It’s all part of the sport.”
Rachel, your dad--”
I’m okay with all this.” She shifted in her seat, her gaze darting everywhere except at her uncle. “Mom’s okay with it, Dad’s okay with it, and so am I.”
Honey.” Uncle Mitch reached over and covered her fisted hand with his warm palm. “The good Lord has reasons for all that goes on in our lives. Sometimes we have good things happen, and sometimes they’re not so good. Maybe your dad needed a change in his life. Jesus decided Russ Hill had won enough buckles, and it was high time these younger fellas had a chance at the Finals.”
Sorry philosophy. Rachel raised a brow and offered half a smile, just to make him aware his theory lacked conviction.
Well, maybe.” Uncle Mitch shrugged. “The Lord works in mysterious ways. Look at you here. Who’d ever thought a pretty little thing like you would want to spend her vacation on the road with a buncha bulls and an old man like me?”
It isn’t a vacation, Uncle Mitch. It’s called a leave-of-absence. Besides, I’ve always loved traveling the road with you.”
Her most precious childhood memories included driving stock with Uncle Mitch. Not only were the rodeos exciting, but her uncle loved kids and it showed. Hours on the road trailering bulls across the Western Region left lots of time for her, Uncle Mitch, cousin Polly, and on occasion, Aunt Doreen to talk, laugh and share secrets. They worked as a team. The familiar lump formed in her throat. Too bad all families didn’t work together.
Shaking away the unbidden past, Rachel bent her head and watched across the arena as the rider, Nick Davidson, threw his leg over the top rail and eased onto the waiting bull. Uncle Mitch thought a lot of Nick Davidson and talked about Nick and his ranch, and all the success he’d had breeding a hardier head of Hereford. He accompanied Mitch to the auctions, looking for bigger and better stock. Her uncle loved to ramble on the subject of cowboys.
Rachel narrowed her gaze out of habit until she focused on man and beast. If Nick was that good with bloodlines, and his ranch needed him, why was he chalking up miles on the circuit? Sadly enough, she could answer her own question. Nick Davidson was a rodeo cowboy, even worse, a rodeo bull rider. An extreme sport junkie. No one topped these guys for ego. She should know. Her dad was one of the best.
The crowd mumbled with impatience around her at the delay of the ride. Even from a distance, Rachel saw the corded muscles of Nick’s arm bunch with effort. Flapjack slammed against the gate. The cowboys surrounded the chute and shoved the bull over as Nick wrapped the bull rope around his hand.
The musical magic of Garth Brooks reverberated through the air. Around her, the crowd hooted and whistled, revving anticipation for the final ride of the day. Rachel blinked out of her concentration and corralled her thoughts back to her uncle.
Okay, not a vacation,” Uncle Mitch was saying as he rubbed his whiskered jaw. “What with you haulin’ trailers and muckin’ out pens. You’ve got color back in your cheeks, girl. You sure you want to go back to all those numbers and dollars and stuff? You’ve been the best mucker I’ve had in ages.”
Flattery will get you everywhere.” She grinned and wrinkled her nose. “Bull market takes on a different meaning when you’re cleaning up after the working end of the livestock.”
Brushing away thoughts of bull riders and their quirky ways, she propped her booted foot on the railing ahead of her. Front row seats. Since Uncle Mitch provided stock for the rodeo, he always had great seats at the arenas. She turned her palm into his and squeezed. “I’m ready to go back to work now. It’s time to go if I want to keep any part of my career. Two weeks off approved by Human Resources, with this extra week ‘just to make sure,’ has been heaven.” She leaned over and rubbed her cheek against her uncle’s cotton shirt, loving the smell of cattle, hay and leather. “Thanks for caring about me, Uncle Mitch, but my clients won’t wait forever for their stockbroker to get over a little bit of stress.”
A little bit of stress. Her mouth went dry at the thought of her denial over her mental condition. When the CEO had recommended a leave-of-absence due to exhaustion, she knew she had no choice but to face her problems. Managing percentages and points had commanded all her rational thought. She’d grown irritable, difficult and uncooperative over the last year, a far cry from the eager, enthusiastic intern she’d once been. Her earnestness had founded her career; her insufferable behavior now threatened her future.
No use dwelling on the past. She’d regained perspective. She’d rediscovered Christ and straightened her priorities. She itched to return to Denver and prove her new-found strength.
Uncle Mitch released her hand and ruffled her hair as he’d done when she was a little girl. A lump formed in her throat.
You remember what’s important, Rachel. Keep the Lord Jesus Christ first in your life and all else will fall in place. Remember all the work you’ve done with Cowboy Church over the past few weeks.” He shook his finger at her. “Spreading the word of the Lord, that’s what’s important.”
After a brave smile, Rachel turned back toward the arena. Remember what’s important, she repeated to herself as she looked across the expanse of dirt to the wall of chute gates and the next rider. Flapjack rattled the metal railing as he head-butted the gate. Nick Davidson remained focused as he unwound the bull rope from his hand. After a tug to tighten the rope in place, he began the process again, each wrap a study in precision. Their eight second ride depended on it; if not their lives. If it didn’t feel right, don’t go.
Wise sentiment, she’d always thought. Just like these focused cowboys, she’d become immersed in her fast and furious lifestyle. If it felt right, she went.
Rachel blinked back the burning sensation of tears. She’d made a mess of her life. Uncle Mitch offered open arms and an open heart to any stray who needed a leg up and an earful of hope--even if that stray was his own niece.
Over the past three weeks, she’d spent long hours in prayer and Bible study until her heart and soul cried for her to surrender to Christ. She’d always had faith, but the Lord wanted more. Give up control. Spooky thought until she read through Philippians. I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. Rachel held tight to these words of promise.
Here we go.” Uncle Mitch nudged her and pointed toward the gates. “The last ride of the rodeo. Go get’em, boy.”
Across the arena, Flapjack wrestled around in the chute as the announcer chattered. The age-old knot tightened in her stomach. Rachel watched the men standing on the rails while Nick Davidson tugged on his rope, his motions chillingly familiar. Her dad had gone through the same routine each time he sat a bull, checking and re-checking until things were just right. You can never be too prepared. . ..
Apparently satisfied Nick gave his black hat a final tug, grabbed the top rail and issued a curt nod. The gate sprang open.
The bull leapt out of the gate and twisted to the right as the rider sat tight. The massive bovine body kicked and jumped, and still the cowboy held his left arm high and continued to urge the animal on in true rodeo fashion.
Hoo-whee! Look at Nick ride!” Uncle Mitch yelled as the pair spun a tight circle right in the middle of the arena.
Two, three, four. . .. Rachel counted out the seconds as she’d done since childhood.
Ol’ Flapjack’s not gonna--” Uncle Mitch’s cheer ceased as the bull bucked high and then twisted up, crashing heads with the rider just as the eight second buzzer sounded. The cowboy rolled off, his arm still looped in the rope.
Oh, Lord,” Rachel choked out a frantic prayer as her heart pounded in her chest. “Not again, Lord. . .please.”
The limp body bounced alongside the furious animal. A bull fighter deterred the animal long enough for another one to release the rope, dropping the injured man in a heap. Tension buzzed across the arena. One bull fighter knelt beside the fallen cowboy while the other two worked the angry bull into the exit pen. With the arena cleared of danger, the medical crew rushed to aid.

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