Available July 2024

Book 2 in the Heart of St. Mary’s County Series

Becca Garvey’s life has just been burned to the ground by her husband’s announcement that he is abandoning her to pursue his “dream” of becoming a beach bum. Left solely responsible for not only their 25-acre homestead in Hollywood, Maryland, but a free-spirited daughter and her increasingly dotty mother, Becca is determined to face an uncertain future with optimism. She believes that her farm—which is really only Becca’s collection of tamed exotic animals like donkeys, llamas, and miniature horses—might be her ticket to financial solvency. Her plan is to create a unique place where children and adults alike are encouraged to not only interact freely with the animals but also to have weekend “experiences” with them. If she can create that, she just might find herself with a profitable venture. However, animals are not always cooperative, and Becca’s neighbors are not enthused about her vision of a tourist attraction in their quiet, pastoral setting. She must buy new animals, learn how to care for them, train them, and create an experience for customers…all while balancing the concerns of her neighbors and the disruptions of jealous busybodies. Will Becca be able to make her dream a reality before losing her mind and everything she owns? Or is she destined for a very public disaster that will be the talk of not just her neighbors…but all of St. Mary’s County?

Backstory

The idea for this story came from Sarah Copsey, who owns Keep it Simple Stables in Hollywood, Maryland. Sarah is a dynamo who started her little ten-acre, spotlessly clean, farm from scratch more than a decade ago.

When Sarah and her husband, Jae, decide the purchase the property, the seller had his own horse there.  What Sarah and Jae didn’t realize until they took possession of the house was that the seller was planning to include the horse with the property.

Although she had ridden horses as a child, Sarah knew nothing about the actual care and feeding of such an animal, but she learned quickly.

Keep it Simple is in no way a traditional farm, as Sarah doesn’t grow any produce whatsoever.  Instead, Sarah, with the help of her ever-patient husband, began clearing land, building fencing for small pastures, and erecting barns, stalls, and other structures to accommodate her slowly growing collection of horses, goats, and other animals.

Her animals—and let’s be serious, they are all pets—have come to her in various ways.  Sometimes she has rescued animals, sometimes they have been dropped on her doorstep, and sometimes she has actively pursued a purchase.  At this point, I think Jae just sighs with each acquisition and asks, “What do you need built now?”

Several years ago, a photographer friend of hers suggested that Sarah let her do a children’s photo shoot there, offering to pay Sarah for her time.

This gave Sarah an idea: what if she created her own seasonal and holiday-themed vignettes for people to use as photo backdrops when taking their own pictures of children and family members?

An idea was born.

Excerpt

     “You want to do what?” I dropped my pail of horse feed to the ground.  The metal container full of tiny, dark pellets landed in a freshly-laid pile of John Wayne’s particularly mountainous evening droppings, but that was the least of my problems.

     “C’mon, Reb, don’t be like that,” Mark pled, offering that winsome gaze that had once made my knees buckle but now made me want to reach for the crap-covered pail and swing it at his head.  Everyone calls me Becca, but Mark whipped out “Reb” when he wanted to cajole me into something. 

     “Like what?” I demanded, stony-faced.  “You mean, don’t be like a wife whose husband is the biggest idiot in the county, which is really saying something given all of my relatives, and who decides to step it up a notch by doing this on my birthday?

     Mark flashed the smile that also used to give me the tremors.  “You always know how to make me laugh,” he said.  “Anyway, you know I’ve always been a beach bum, not a barn dweller.”

     I didn’t appreciate my husband sucking up to me at the same moment he was announcing that he was leaving.

     “Besides,” he continued.  “It’s just temporary. I think.”

     “You think going back to Florida to pursue your heretofore completely unmentioned dream of being a surfing instructor is a temporary situation?”  I spat the words like an ill-tempered llama whose feeding was late.  Which reminded me that if I didn’t get Doodlebug and the rest of the llama squad fed soon, I was in for trouble.

     Yet I was rooted to my spot as a million images rose unbidden in my mind.  Mark complaining about the cold winters in Southern Maryland, which are cold only by southern standards.  Mark always wanting to take beach vacations and glorifying the surf and sun of the Outer Banks.  Mark’s collection of longboards in the garage and his insistence that they were going to be really valuable one day.  My brother, Bear, shaking his head and saying that Mark was a few burgers short of a barbecue.

     Dear Lord, wait until Bear heard what Mark had planned.  Bear had begged me not to marry Mark but I had dismissed his concerns.  I was a mature woman of twenty, so what could my twenty-five year old brother have said that was of any value?

     Since then, Bear had always privately mocked Mark in subtle ways.  Hearing this news would turn Bear into a full-fledged comedian with a two-hour routine on it.

     I cringed at the thought.

     Shaking that off, I realized Mark was in his own routine, a combination of flattery and whining that only he was capable of pulling off.

     “…You know that these animals were your idea, not mine.  And you’re at your happiest when you’re left alone with them.  Why shouldn’t I have an opportunity to be happy, too?”  He reached out a supplicating hand to me.

     I stepped backward out of his reach.  Twenty-two years of marriage had at least taught me when I was being played.  To think that I had let that hand touch me in intimate ways not two nights ago.

     I narrowed my gaze at him.  “When did you make this decision?” I asked quietly.

     Mark’s expression grew anxious.  Over two decades of marriage had also taught him that when I was deadly quiet I was at my most dangerous.

     “Well, you know, I’ve been thinking about it for awhile.  On and off for a few months.”  He laughed nervously.

     “Where are you staying in Florida?”  I kept my tone even.

     “Oh, you’re concerned for me,” Mark said.  Idiot.  “I talked to Jake about it.” 

     Jake was Mark’s younger brother.  Last I had heard he was on his third marriage to some art gallery manager.  Jake had always had a way with women.  And their bank accounts.

 

Excerpt copyright 2024 Christine Trent.