Here’s this week’s excerpt of BIG HORN, leading up to its 6/1 release. Did you miss the first excerpt? Get them here: https://pamelafaganhutchins.com/2022/04/18/sneak-peek-big-horn-prologue/.

For anyone that pre-orders the BIG HORN Kindle ebook, you’ll get BUCKLE BUNNY, a Wyoming suspense novella. Free. Included with your ebook. You can do that here: https://amzn.to/3KSKe5q.

Before I release you to the exciting BIG HORN excerpt, though, I want you to know that my Amazon Top 25 bestselling Patrick Flint novel, SWITCHBACK, will be free in Prime Reading (and Kindle Unlimited) from now through May. If you haven’t tried it, now’s the time. Do it here: https://amzn.to/3xzADMO. Hurry reading it and the other books in the series, because #7, SITTING DUCK, comes out 7/28!

With no further ado, here’s Chapter One of BIG HORN:

Houston, Texas

(Eleven days earlier…)

Aaron Herrington re-arranged a vase of gerbera daisies for the third time. He smoothed the front of his fresh shirt, untucked from his Paige jeans, which he wore for the extra thigh room. He cocked his head and frowned, then repositioned one of the nodding blooms. Finally satisfied, he stood back from the dining room table and surveyed his preparations. A bottle of his wife’s favorite pinot noir uncorked and poured, breathing in two glasses on the granite bar top. A low carb, gluten free veggie lasagna bubbling in the oven, emitting a tomato-and-herb aroma. The Houston skyline twinkling outside the high-rise condo with Sheryl Crow singing in surround. The framed picture of him in a football uniform with his wife in her cheerleading outfit on the sidelines of their last University of Tennessee home game, dusted and moved onto the table beside the daisies. He’d even picked his dirty clothes and wet towel up off the floor and thrown them in the hamper. 

He was ready for Jennifer.

He took a sip of the wine, letting it linger on his tongue while the flavors revealed themselves. Cherry, followed by something leathery. He preferred a good craft beer, but the wine was nice after a grueling day. He’d packed in ten hours at River Oaks Pet Care, the veterinary clinic he co-owned with two partners. It had started with a before-hours emergency call from a crazy woman insisting her poodle was dangerously depressed. He’d dispensed a low dose antidepressant. It would help the dog more if the owner took it, honestly. He’d be plenty anxious and depressed, too, if he were in that dog’s shoes. Or paws. 

How did I end up in this life? 

After his NFL career had ended before it had barely begun thanks to head injuries, he’d planned to be a country vet, à la James Herriot. It was the next best thing to inheriting the family farm he grew up on, which would never happen since he was the youngest of five brothers. Instead, here he was, living the high life, literally—prescribing poochie Prozac. He shook his head. Well, it pays the bills. There were times he wondered whether the injuries and his unfulfilled dreams were punishment for the mistakes he’d made in his late teens. That’s not something I want to think about now or ever. Yet somehow, the secrets of his past stuck with him, like the hot black tar on his bare young feet the time he’d run across a country road one sweltering August afternoon.

Not now. Not when Jennifer was due home any minute.

He forced his mind back to more pleasant thoughts. He’d finished up his workday coaching middle school club football. He loved coaching and ninety percent of the people involved, young and old, but he didn’t love the parents who hovered, obsessed, demanded, and excuse-made, or the behavior of their offspring. I’d be anxious and depressed if I were in the shoes of some of those kids, too. He’d always imagined he and Jennifer would be parents by now, but not those kinds of parents. They’d be the kind that threw the ball around with their kids in the yard and cheered them on but kept it light—because youth sports was just fun and games. But Jennifer had begged off parenthood, so far, because of the demands of her job. Or so she said. They weren’t getting any younger. If they didn’t take the plunge soon, their kids could call him Grandpa instead of Dad.

But tonight, he was putting all that aside, because he’d gotten a text from Jennifer in the early afternoon. The message read: Guilty!!!

The trial that had delayed their Wyoming trip two days was finally over. It was a huge victory for Jennifer in a career that was already becoming legendary in the Harris County District Attorney’s office. One less murderer out there victimizing children—in this case, school kids from the Third Ward, a neighborhood in strong contention for poorest and roughest in Houston. Only one of them had died, but that was one too many. The case had been challenging for his wife. The defendant was an identical twin, which meant standard DNA tests yielded identical results for him and his twin brother. In the end, she’d produced a witness who placed the other brother elsewhere at the time of the murder. That had been enough, luckily.

He was happy for her. Even more, he hoped the end of this trial and beginning of the trip would be like the push of a reset button for them.  

A key rattled in the lock. He pulled a lighter from a drawer in the kitchen and lit a candle, then grabbed Jennifer’s glass of wine. The door opened, and the grown-up version of his blonde-haired, blue-eyed dream girl walked through it. All five feet two inches of her, plus three-or-so more of fancy heels. She carried a briefcase on one arm, and a Neiman Marcus bag dangled from the other. As always, the sight of her put a little squeeze on his heart, to remind him what it was there for.

He smiled at her, holding out the wine glass. “Congratulations.”

Jennifer kicked off her shoes. They fell over on the wide plank hardwood floors. Is it my imagination or is she weaving? “Thanks. One for the good guys today.” She didn’t seem to notice the flowers on the table, but she took the wine.

“You’re home late.”

“Sorry. I went golfing and shopping with Alayah.” She waggled the bag, then dropped it to the floor.

He should have expected that, he supposed. Jennifer and her best friend celebrated their wins and commiserated their losses with golf outings followed by retail splurges. His wife was a shockingly good golfer, with a handicap of five. The tiny woman could drive a ball farther than he could, and she wasn’t even the best golfer in her family. That honor belonged to her twin brother Justin, who was a pro at a golf course in Tennessee. Jennifer had turned down golf scholarships at smaller schools to attend the University of Tennessee, where she’d walked on and made the team, but quit after she decided to cheer. Alayah? Well, she mostly caddied and refilled the drinks. 

He said, “I made a special dinner for you. Veggie lasagna.”

“Oh, you’re so sweet. But I grabbed something to eat when we had drinks.” 

So that was why she was so late. Now he was sure the weaving wasn’t his imagination. “You didn’t text me.”

“Time got away from me.” She made a cute frowny face. “We can have it tomorrow, though, right?”

“We’re leaving for Wyoming in the morning. For Hank’s induction into the Hall of Fame. Remember?” He certainly did since he’d had to rebook their flights twice while they waited on her jury to come back. It was worth it, though. She’d always been close to her bull rider cousin, and the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo Hall of Fame was a really big deal.

Her frown morphed into confusion and then recognition. “Crap. Right. Well, I’ll wrap it up good, and we’ll freeze it.” She walked barefoot into the kitchen and retrieved a storage container from a large drawer. “I do love your veggie lasagna. Was it low carb and gluten free, too?”

He swallowed back the anger building inside him. Now wasn’t the time. He wanted to start their vacation without the lingering sour taste of a fight in their mouths. “Yes. But I’ll put it up. I have to eat first.”

“Oh. Of course.” She floated past him toward their bedroom. “I need to shower and pack. Did you check us in?”

“Yes.”

“Arrange for the doorman to come for our luggage in the morning?”

“Yes.”

“And the concierge service to water our plants and bring in our mail and packages while we’re gone?”

He ground his teeth. “Yes.”

“Great.” From the other room, she raised her voice. “How was your day?”

Before he could answer her, the shower came on. She wouldn’t hear him unless he raised his voice, and he didn’t feel like yelling. He felt like throwing the glass of wine across the room. Like stuffing the daisies in the trash compactor. Like putting his fist through the pantry door. But not like shouting for her attention.

Instead, he drank his wine like a shot and refilled it. Drank it. Refilled it again. Drank it, then drained the rest of the bottle into his glass. Swallowing the last of the pricey vino, he looked around their perfect condo, where everything was expensively in its place, except for the two of them, most of the time.

He couldn’t wait to get out of there.

To lock in your pre-order Kindle ebook and bonus novella, order BIG HORN + BUCKLE BUNNY, here: https://amzn.to/3KSKe5q.

Now, here’s Chapter Two! https://pamelafaganhutchins.com/2022/05/04/17917/

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