Please welcome Zahra Owens to my blog today! She’s touring for the release of her new book Moon and Stars, a contemporary cowboy romance that sounds sweet & lovely. It came out on Monday – check it out here at Dreamspinner Press! I love wild, wide-open spaces, and Zahra is here today to talk about the appeal of infinite horizons.
Thank you, Layla M. Wier, for hosting me on your blog today!
Layla spent some time at my blog as well, go check out her new novel Homespun too!
More than once I’ve been asked why I chose Idaho for the location of my cowboy stories. The answer isn’t terrible straight forward, I’m afraid.
I live in a country where cities merge into each other and we have concrete as far as the eye can see. As contrary as I am, I love wide open spaces (hence the name of my website/blog). There’s something very restful about staring out into the distance and seeing the horizon. With that I mean the straight horizon, where the earth touches the sky.
I’ve traveled extensively across the world, and many parts of the US as well, but I’ve never been to Idaho. So why did I choose it?
The short answer would be I love terrible weather. So the south of the US, Texas and New Mexico, were out. Not enough rain. When I started out writing the first story (Clouds and Rain) I set it in Kentucky on one of the many horse ranches there, but somehow it didn’t fit. Then a friend showed me pictures of the Tetons and I knew what I missed: majestic mountains. I asked her for more pictures and since she lives in Idaho, she told me about weather patterns and how much snow they got in winter and I was sold. I thought it would be a great place for my cowboys to live because the weather could become an extra character in the story.
I also like the variety of the terrain. There are flatlands and large mountains. Lots of rivers run through the area and the temperature can be quite extreme: scorching and dry in summer, to the point where the grass turns yellow, very wet in spring and fall, with luscious growth of trees and grass, and long winters with (sometimes) extensive snow cover, leading to floodwaters running down those mountains during the thaw in spring. Just add horses and rugged men and you’re all set!
I had a bit of debate with myself about using a real town. St. Anthony actually exists (you can look it up on Google Maps), but everything but the name and the location is fictional (just like the disclaimer says). My first intention was to change the name after I’d written about it, but once it was there, it stayed. I just hope nobody in that town ever reads the books and goes: “There’s no grocery store on that street!” or “That’s not where the sheriff’s office is located!” Maybe I should have changed the name after all! LOL!
Excerpt from Moon and Stars
A little backstory. Kelly is a Deputy Sheriff and married to Nina, who is confined to a wheelchair because of a terminal illness. Nina has always known what side Kelly’s bread was buttered on as her time comes to an end, she pushed Kelly toward Cooper, who was the love of his life fifteen years earlier.
KELLY picked Nina’s light frame up out of her wheelchair, spun around, and gently put her on the bed Teo had turned down before Kelly had told him he had Nina covered. Although most days Teo took care of Nina’s evening routine, Kelly’s movements showed the fluidity of years of practice. While he undressed her and changed her into her nightgown, his thoughts were on the road they’d traveled together from the first symptoms to the state she was in now. He was grateful he’d never really had a physical attraction to her body, because what was left of it was none too appealing, and it made it easier for him to care for her. It didn’t mean he didn’t love her. Even when they still slept together, he enjoyed the physical closeness, the warm body, and the way she looked at him much more than the sex. She was a true companion and a great conversationalist. It wasn’t an ordeal to spend time with her, and he’d never regretted marrying her.
“You miss him, don’t you?” Nina asked, returning Kelly’s thoughts to the present.
Nina sighed, her eyes closing slowly only to open again much faster. “Cooper, you dork.”
“Cooper was just here.” He tried to sound cheerful, although he didn’t feel it, because Nina was right. Cooper had barely left, and he already missed his presence.
She looked at him as if he was an idiot, and Kelly felt like one for trying to hide his feelings from Nina. “It’s nice to be living closer to him again.”
Nina shook her head, as if to say she knew he was still not telling the truth.
“Yes, I missed him, Nee.”
“So, go after him. You’ll probably catch him before he goes to bed. Tell him how you feel.”
“What?” Kelly shook his head. “That’s stupid. It’s been fifteen years. He left and met the love of his life. If he looks mournful, it’s because he’s still grieving his DA.”
Nina’s mouth went thin. “If I could, I’d grab your shoulders and shake you.”
Kelly grabbed the oxygen mask from its peg and tried to put it over Nina’s mouth.
“Don’t you dare gag me with that, Kelly Freed.”
Kelly pulled it away from her face.
“I know you don’t want to hear this, but I’m not going to be around forever. If you don’t talk to Cooper now, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. I’m giving you permission to pursue him, Kelly.”
“But you’re my wife. I vowed to take care of you in sickness and in health.” Kelly swallowed away the tears he’d been fighting successfully for most of the stressful evening. He knew he was losing the battle now.
“And as selfish as I am, I know you’ll do just that. But don’t let Cooper get away this time. You two need each other, and Cooper and I have always been close. He’ll have to tolerate me, but somehow I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”
“And how will that make you feel?”
Kelly couldn’t hold her gaze, because instead of answering right away, she was piercing him with her eyes.
“I’ve always been your second choice. I’ve been fine with that thought for fifteen years, Kells. When my sister still dared to show her face, she always told me how she was jealous of me being married to my best friend. I never dared to tell her I had two best friends. Before you, there was Cooper. When Cooper seduced you, I resigned myself to being the fag hag. Everything extra was a bonus. When he left and we remained close, I figured I still had you. You’re the best husband I could have ever had.”
“You deserve better. You deserve a man who really loves you. All of you.”
“And how long would that perfect man have stayed around after I got sick?”
“My sister was right, you know. A good friend is better than a lousy husband. You stayed around when I got worse. You’re still here, taking care of me, and I hope you won’t leave me now either.” She stopped to catch her breath. It betrayed how much it moved her. “I think I owe it to you to tell you to go get your man. You’ve waited long enough.”
Kelly was standing next to Nina’s bed, cheeks wet with tears. He let go of Nina’s hand to wipe his face, but it didn’t make him feel better. He couldn’t run out of the room to go to Cooper, no matter how much he yearned to. Nina was his rock, his anchor, and he couldn’t leave her, no matter how much she urged him on. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”
Nina sighed. Even though her limited mobility didn’t allow much body language anymore, Kelly could tell she was frustrated with him.
“Nee, if he returns my feelings, then they’ll still be there in the morning. If.”
“Just don’t forget to give him a chance for the when too.”
Kelly nodded, holding up the oxygen mask Nina needed during her sleep. “Night,” she dismissed him. He kissed her on the lips before setting up the breathing aid and tucking her in warmly. Then he walked back to his own room, where he changed into his pajamas and crawled into his own bed. As he lay awake, all he could think about was Cooper
and how he needed him back in his life, but also about all the time that had passed and everything that had happened. Was Nina right? Did Cooper still have feelings for him? And if he did, could they start up their relationship again? What would the town think of their sheriff being gay? Not to mention married and not asking for a divorce. No, divorce was out of the question.
Sleep kept evading Kelly, so he got up again and walked to his closet. At the bottom stood a cardboard box he hadn’t unpacked yet. His journals. He picked out 1996 and opened it, knowing what he’d find. He hadn’t looked at the pictures of the three of them since Cooper left. There they were, all three of them, skinnier, healthier, and without gray streaks in their hair. Especially Cooper looked a lot younger, with reddish brown hair that curled over his forehead and a wicked smile on his face. His arm was around Nina, but his hand was in Kelly’s dirty blond hair, and the way he looked at Kelly over Nina’s shoulder spoke volumes. That was way back when they loved each other so much they couldn’t stand being apart for more than a few hours. The memories spread warmth through Kelly’s stomach, but chills on the back of his neck. At the time, it seemed only natural that they were going to spend the rest of their lives together. But just a few weeks later, Cooper accepted a job halfway across the country and left Nina and Kelly behind. Kelly was so gutted, he almost blew his year, and if it hadn’t been for Nina, he would have.
That’s why he couldn’t go back to Cooper. He needed someone he could depend upon, especially if he was going to start something with a man again. No matter how much Cooper had reawakened his flame, he couldn’t risk it.
Kelly went back to bed and rolled himself into his duvet. He grabbed the second pillow and hugged it, feeling warm and secure enough to fall asleep.
Moon and Stars, like the three first books in the Clouds and Rain series, is available at Dreamspinner Press in paperback and all eBook formats.
Zahra Owens is a multilingual globetrotter who loves big cities but also has a weak spot for the wide-open spaces that are so rare where she lives.
She likes her men every which way they come and never tries to change them. Men who are tough on the outside but have a huge soft center get extra credit, though, as do the strong, silent types who think they hide their damage well… but don’t. She makes it her personal goal to find them their happily-ever-after, even if the road toward this leads via hospital beds, villas with gorgeous vistas, or ranges full of horses.
Zahra is a proud member of the Rainbow Romance Writers, a special interest chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and won’t quit until M/M romances are treated like every other romance story. RWA allowed her into its Professional Authors Network, but she hasn’t quit her day job yet since it allows her to work in a man’s world. And what girl can resist that?
If Zahra had her wish, a day would have at least thirty-six hours, because how else would she find the time to finish all the novels still inside her head?