Shey Darcy, a 39-year-old former top model for Vogue and Sports Illustrated led a charmed life in New York City with a handsome photographer husband until the day he announced he'd fallen in love with someone else. Left to pick up the pieces of her once happy world, Shey decides to move back home to Texas with her three teenage sons. Life on the family ranch, however, brings with it a whole new host of dramas starting with differences of opinion with her staunch Southern Baptist mother, her rugged but overprotective brothers, and daily battles with her three sons who are also struggling to find themselves. Add to the mix Shey's ex-crush, Dane Kelly, a national bullriding champ and she's got her hands full. It doesn't take long before Shey realizes that in order to reinvent herself, she must let go of an uncertain future and a broken past, to find happiness--and maybe love--in the present.
Release date: August 23, 2010
Publisher: 5 Spot
Print pages: 404
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She's Gone Country
—Susan Wiggs, New York Times bestselling author of The Summer Hideaway
Praise for the Novels of Jane Porter
EASY ON THE EYES
“Porter just keeps getting better and better. Timely issues and realistic characters propel the story.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Touching and unpredictable, Easy on the Eyes is a real winner.”
—Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star (VA)
“Entertaining, gratifying chick lit distinguished by a realistic look at aging in a business that values youth and beauty above all else.”
“A great summer read… Porter doesn’t disappoint in this novel.”
“[Jane] Porter ensures that Easy on the Eyes is fortified with a stimulating intellect and emotional message, strong conscience, and pure heart.”
“Jane Porter is a master of the buoyant, blissful read, often incorporating issues that almost all women face in a highly readable way… this is a breezy read about the entertainment industry and its never-ending fascination with youth and beauty.”
“An entertaining tale.”
—Bellevue Reporter (WA)
“Delightful women’s fiction with strong romantic themes.”
“Jane Porter writes endlessly entertaining and yet deeply thoughtful novels. Easy on the Eyes is a perceptive, tender page-turner—a joy to read.”
—Laura Caldwell, author of Red Hot Lies
“A page-turning novel about love, loss, friendship, aging, and beauty (not necessarily in that order). I couldn’t put it down.”
—Karen Quinn, author of Holly Would Dream and The Ivy Chronicles
“Jane Porter knows a woman’s heart as well as her mind. Easy on the Eyes is a smart, sophisticated, fun read with characters you’ll fall in love with. Another winning novel by Jane Porter.”
—Mia King, national bestselling author of Good Things and Sweet Life
“Witty and observant—Tiana’s search for love and meaning amidst shallow celebrity will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.”
—Berta Platas, author of Lucky Chica
“A fun, poignant story about searching for life and love on the other side of forty.”
—Beth Kendrick, author of The Pre-Nup
“Great warmth and wisdom… Jane Porter creates a richly emotional story.”
“Porter’s authentic character studies and meditations on what really matters make Mrs. Perfect a perfect… novel.”
“Porter scores another home run.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Fans will appreciate Ms. Porter’s strong look at what happens to relationships when the walls come tumbling down.”
—Midwest Book Review
“More poignant than the standard mommy lit fare.”
“Compulsively readable… a delicious treat.”
“Real life hits trophy wife right in the Botox, in Porter’s empowering page-turner!”
—Leslie Carroll, author of Choosing Sophie and Play Dates
ODD MOM OUT
“Jane Porter nails it poignantly and perfectly. This mommy-lit is far from fluff. Sensitive characters and a protagonist who doesn’t cave in to the in-crowd give this novel its heft.”
“With a superb sense of characterization, a subtle sense of wit, and a great deal of wisdom, Jane Porter writes about family and friendship, love and work.”
“Funny and poignant… delightful.”
“Odd Mom Out is an engaging tale that examines important issues of today’s world. Behind the entertaining, witty prose are insightful observations about real life.”
“Marta is an intriguing heroine.”
“Keenly emotional and truly uplifting.”
FLIRTING WITH FORTY
“A terrific read! A wonderful, life and love-affirming story for women of all ages.”
—Jayne Ann Krentz, New York Times bestselling author
“Calorie-free accompaniment for a poolside daiquiri.”
“Strongly recommended. Porter’s thoughtful prose and strong characters make for an entertaining and thought-provoking summer read.”
Shey Lynne, you’ve been here three months now and not once have you taken those boys to church.”
I look up from the bacon frying on the 1950s-era Sears stove to see my mother standing in the kitchen doorway with her blue wool coat over her arm and her ancient black vinyl purse on her wrist. It’s hot out and humid, yet Mama’s got her coat—and it’s an old coat, not one of the gorgeous ones I’ve given her. My mother has a closetful of designer pieces she’s never worn. I don’t know why she won’t wear them, but I swear, it’s as if she takes pride in rejecting everything nice I give her.
“No, I haven’t, and I’m not,” I answer, grease sizzling and splattering the back of my hand. Mama’s been here eight days, and it’s been a power struggle from the moment she arrived. But she’s going home later today, and I can keep my cool for another few hours. “You know I don’t make the boys go to church. If they want to go, great. If they don’t, fine. It’s their choice.”
But my mother, the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher, fixes her cool blue gaze on me in silent rebuke. “If you went to church, then maybe they’d go.”
The grease splatter burns, and I press my hand against my side. I don’t want to argue with her, not today, not after the fight my son Bo and I had last night. “I know it shocks you, Mama, but I haven’t gone since you sent me away to St. Pious to finish high school—”
“Then I failed you, Shey Lynne.”
I shake my head. My mother can do guilt like no other. “You didn’t fail me, and God’s not going to blame you for whatever mistakes I make. But I’d be a hypocrite to make the kids go to church now when it’s something I don’t even do.”
“I’d call it being a good role model. Your boys could use some religion along with some serious attitude adjustment.”
I grit my teeth to keep from saying something I might regret. I love my mother, I really do, and I appreciate everything she’s done for us since we moved back home after Cody’s funeral last June—loaning us her house here in Parkfield, giving me Pop’s old truck. But I’m not a kid anymore, I’m a woman with children of my own, and I’m going to raise my kids my way.
Mama sees my silence as a chance to press her case. “The Bible commands us to come together and worship—”
“I know what the Bible says!” Impatiently, I turn the heat down beneath the cast-iron skillet before reaching for the chipped ceramic bowl with the waffle batter. “I grew up going to church every Sunday and youth group every Tuesday night and Bible camp every summer. That’s how you raised all of us, but John and I chose to raise our boys differently—”
“And maybe that’s why you’re in this mess, Shey Lynne. Maybe that’s why your boys are out of control.”
Oh, those are fighting words. They are. I face her, bowl clutched to my middle, one hand on my hip. “They’re not out of control!”
“I’ve been here a week, Shey Lynne. I’ve heard plenty.”
It hurts biting my tongue this hard, but I do it for the sake of peace, as well as the preservation of my sanity. It’s been a rough year. It pretty much broke my heart, but things will improve, things are improving. “Mama, go to church. Brick and Charlotte will be here any minute. You’ll feel better once you’re out of the house and heading to the service, and frankly, I’ll feel better, too—”
Great. I’ve offended her and wounded her.
I set down the bowl, but I don’t go to her. We’re not a touchy-feely kind of family. Stiff upper lip. German-Irish-Scandinavian stock. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight with you, and I don’t want to be disrespectful. But I’m trying so hard and I don’t feel like you even care—”
“Of course I care! I’m worried sick about you all. I lie awake at night, unable to sleep with all the worrying.”
“I don’t want you to worry. Worrying won’t change anything. The only thing that will get us through is getting through, and we’re doing it, Mama, one day at a time. It might not be pretty, but it works, and I’m lucky. My kids are good kids. Yes, they’re having some problems adjusting to all the changes, but they’re twelve, fourteen, and fifteen, and boys. Life’s not easy for them right now.”
“You aren’t the only one to raise boys. I raised three, too…” Her voice cracks, and she falls silent. We’re both suddenly, achingly aware that although she raised three, we just buried Cody, the brother closest to me in age and my best friend growing up.
The loss is still too new, the grief too raw. It was hard enough losing my brother. I can’t even fathom losing a son.
My mother has paled, but she finds her voice. “Boys need discipline. They need a firm hand.”
“And I’m trying.” I feel a surge of fury. Fury at John for falling in love with someone else. Fury at the economy that went south just when I had to become financially self-sufficient. And most of all, fury at me for coming home. I don’t know why I thought coming back to Parkfield would be a good idea. I don’t know how I thought moving back to Texas after Cody’s death would help anything. It hasn’t. I’m the first to admit that I shouldn’t have left New York. Don’t know what I was thinking. Don’t know that I am thinking. But I don’t need Mama rubbing it in my face. “I have a different relationship with my boys than you had with yours.”
Mama’s chin lifts, hands clasped prayerfully together. “You don’t think Bo was disrespectful last night? Shouting at you? Cursing at his brother? Slamming doors?”
“I think he’s fourteen and he melted down. He lost it. It happens.”
“Your brothers would have never shouted at me, or slammed a door in my face.”
I throw up my hands. “You’re right. My brothers wouldn’t have talked back to you, not with Pop around. But my boys’ dad isn’t around, and I have a different relationship with them than you had with Brick, Blue, and Cody. I want my kids to talk to me—”
“Talk back, you mean.”
I never fight like this, never raise my voice, and I hate that I feel so out of control now. “I’ve never been able to please you. Nothing I do is right.” My eyes burn, but there are no tears. I haven’t cried since last December, when I discovered John wanted out. I couldn’t even cry at Cody’s funeral. “But I’m not useless, Mama. I’m smart and strong, and I’m going to get my boys through. You just watch me.”
I’m saying the right things but I’ve used the wrong tone of voice, and my mother’s lips press tight. She’s not hearing anything I’m saying, only the way I’m saying it.
Mama, Louisiana born and educated, is a true southern mama, and she throws back her shoulders. “God doesn’t like your tone, Shey Lynne.”
That’s when I give up—arguing, that is. She’s going to win this one. But then she always wins. I don’t know how to fight with my mother. “No, He might not, but maybe today when you go to church you could remind Him that I’m doing the best I can considering the hand I’ve been dealt.”
With the faintest shake of her head, she marches out of the kitchen, back stiff, silvery blond head high, down the paneled hallway for the front door, where my brother Brick is probably waiting to take her to church.
I lean my weight against the counter, eyes tightly closed as I gulp a breath, and then another.
This is not the life I wanted.
This is not the life I planned.
But this is now the life I have, and I’m going to make it work, so help me God, I am.
Eyes still closed, I hear the front door open with a squeak and then shut. Mama’s gone. I exhale, and sagging with relief, I reach for the waffle batter.
Ladling the buttermilk batter onto the sizzling iron, I hear an engine and see a flash of blue as Brick’s Chevy passes on the way down the drive.
Thank God she’s gone. And thank God for Brick. Firstborn, eldest son, he’s always done his best to take care of Mama. But I know it’s not easy. He hates going to church. He goes only because it makes her happy, and when she’s in Jefferson at my grandmother’s, he doesn’t attend.
A few moments later, Cooper, my youngest, slinks into the kitchen, shoulders hunched. He’s only twelve but already five ten, and it’s a body he can’t quite figure out. “Gramma gone?” he asks, still in the rust-colored T-shirt and jeans he wore during his morning ride.
“Yeah.” I rescue the bacon from the frying pan and line up the pieces to drain on a stack of paper towels. “What do you want to drink for breakfast, milk or juice?”
“Then go ahead and pour it, and call your brothers to the table. Breakfast is almost ready.”
He fills his glass with orange juice and drains half before even bothering to shut the refrigerator door. “Gramma doesn’t like us much, does she.”
I’m pulling off the first waffle and am about to ladle more batter onto the griddle when I hear him. It’s not a question, it’s a statement, and it makes my chest squeeze. “Grandma loves you,” I say fiercely, looking at him over my shoulder.
Cooper at twelve has my height and pale complexion, along with a smattering of freckles across his nose. He and Bo could probably have handled being tall and thin if they’d escaped the Callen red hair. But both of them inherited it, and being a redhead is about the worst thing they can think of.
Coop’s shoulders hunch further. “Doesn’t sound like she loves us. She makes us sound like we’re the spawn of Satan.”
“Her daddy was a preacher, Sugar. Grandma was raised in the church, going to church, and she’s just worried about us.”
“ ’Cause we don’t go to church?”
“That, and Daddy’s and my separation, as well as Uncle Cody’s death.”
“And going to church will change all that?”
“No. But it’d make her feel better.” I drop a kiss on the top of his head. Another few months and he’ll be taller than me. And he’s my baby. “Go get your brothers. Breakfast is ready.”
Brick calls me on his cell about an hour later. “That was the most boring sermon ever, Shey. You owe me.”
I grin at the misery in his deep voice. He might be the oldest and I might be the youngest, but we’ve always been tight. “You don’t have to pretend to like church just because she’s here,” I answer, taking a step outside the house to stretch and stand on the screened porch with its view of the oak-lined drive. More oak trees dot the pasture between the house and the six-stall barn. There’s not a lot else to see but trees, cows, and land. Mama and Pop lived here for fifty-some years, and Pop’s parents before that.
“It makes her happy,” he says.
“That’s why you’ll go to heaven and I won’t.” I laugh and ruffle my hair. I’ve always gotten along well with all my brothers, but I enjoy teasing Brick most, probably because he takes his job as the oldest so damn seriously. “You all on your way home now?”
“No. We’re going out for breakfast. Mama’s still worked up, and Charlotte thought a good hot meal would put her in a better mood, especially since she’s driving back to Jefferson this afternoon. Don’t want her on the road when she’s in a mood.”
“No, we certainly don’t. So where are you going, and are we invited?”
“Um, Shey, you’re the reason Mama’s in a bad mood. You’re probably better off staying at the house.”
“Gotcha.” My lips twist in a rueful smile. My mother and I have a funny relationship. Given that I’m the only daughter and the baby of the family, you’d think we would have been close. Only it didn’t work out that way. Mama prefers boys. But I can’t complain. I certainly wasn’t neglected growing up. I had three brothers to chase after and always was the apple of my daddy’s eye. “We’ll see you later, then, and don’t rush your meal. We’ll be here when you return.”
I pocket the cell phone in my snug-fitting jeans and push through the screen door to step into the yard. Now that I’m back on the ranch, I wear only jeans, T-shirts, and boots, which makes getting dressed every morning easy.
The heels of my cowboy boots sink in the muddy drive as I walk from the shade of the house into the sun. We’ve had a few days of rain, which is good for the land but not so great for the property. The driveway is more mud than gravel these days, and the mud sticks to everything.
The Sleepy Acre Ranch hasn’t changed since I was a little girl. Pop never saw the point of spending money to fix up the house or yard—this is a working cattle ranch, after all—and when Brick married Charlotte twenty-five years ago, they built their own house on our family ranch, and that’s where Charlotte’s energy and design skills go.
Now kicking around the scraggly front yard, I wonder yet again how I could have thought the answer to our problems was moving back home.
How could I have imagined that Parkfield, Texas, population sixty-seven, would solve anything?
But then I am a Texas girl, born and raised on our ranch—literally born on the ranch, since for the birth of her fourth baby, Mama didn’t even bother going to the hospital—and when I came home last June for Cody’s funeral, I felt better than I had in a long time. I’m crazy about all the fields and oak trees and big sky, and I love the relaxed pace as well. Even the boys seemed happy to be out of New York, and they’re East Coast, private-school-educated, field-hockey-and-lacrosse-playing kids.
But three months into our new “adventure,” I’m beginning to question my impulsive decision to relocate us all here. Cooper has settled in fine, but Bo and Hank are struggling. They miss their friends and their sports—no one here plays lacrosse or field hockey—and I can’t help wondering if maybe I shouldn’t move us back to New York.
But my husband, John, is in New York. And John’s no longer in love with me. He’s living with his new partner—a man—and I can compete with another woman, but how on earth do I compete with a man for my husband’s affections?
My heart sinks and I dig the toe of my beat-up boot into the mud, watching the reddish brown earth ooze around the scuffed, pointed tip.
We would have been married seventeen years this year. I was happy with him. We’d had a good marriage, and at times a great marriage, until this.
I’ve known for nine months now that John’s in love with someone else, but it’s still bigger than I can get my head around. I’m mad. Confused. But maybe the worst part is that I still love John. I don’t know how to stop loving him. Don’t know if I should. I don’t want a divorce, but I sure don’t want to share him. Thus, we’ve filed for divorce, but it all feels so hideously wrong.
The phone in my pocket vibrates and I fish it out, grateful for the distraction, and see Marta’s name and number. Marta. One of my buds. “Hey, Ta,” I say, taking Marta’s call. “How are you?”
“I’m good. Eva’s at a birthday party and the other three are all napping, so I thought I’d call you, check in, see how things are going.”
Marta’s one of my two best friends from boarding school. We met in Monterey, California, when we were attending St. Pious. She lives outside Seattle now, although for nearly ten years we both lived in New York. I’ve missed her ever since she moved away.
“You’re an answer to a prayer, girl,” I admit, crossing the sticky muddy drive to sit on the open tailgate of my dad’s old truck. “I think I’m losing my mind.”
I push my long hair from my face and discover that my hand is trembling. It’s just stress and fatigue, but I don’t like it. “My mama’s been here a week visiting us, and living with her is like attending a church revival. It’s Jesus this, and Jesus that, and nothing I do is ever right or good enough. Why didn’t I remember this before I moved us all home?”
Marta laughs on the other end of the line. “Moving home always sounds so idyllic until you do it.”
“It did seem idyllic—empty ranch house, no rent, free schools, Pop’s truck—but Mama keeps showing up on the doorstep, and my brothers seem to think I’m still sixteen, not thirty-nine!”
“If it’s any consolation, I was miserable when we first moved back to Seattle, too. Eva was lonely. I despised the wealthy stay-at-home moms. You were the one who gave me the big lecture about how I needed to make more of an effort to fit in—”
“You did. On the ferry coming back from the San Juan Islands.”
My brow clears as I remember our weekend away three years ago. “That wasn’t a lecture, Ta. That was a pep talk.”
“The point is, my first year I was really unhappy in Bellevue. I was missing New York. Missing you. Missing the life I’d left behind.”
“But you had a reason to stick it out in Bellevue. And you didn’t move back because you were running away from anything.” I swing my legs and soak up the autumn sunshine. After the past two days of rain, I’ll take every bit of sun I can get. “I’ve never run away from anything before. Why am I running now?”
“You didn’t run away from New York. You just wanted change. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“But Parkfield? The ranch? I pulled my kids out of the best private boys’ school in the city and dragged them out to the sticks. And they hate it, at least Bo and Hank do. Cooper’s a country kid at heart and loving life here. He and my brother Brick have totally bonded, but my older two… they’re unhappy. They don’t know what to do with pasture, tractors, and cow patties.”
Marta stifles a laugh. “Can’t say I blame them. I’d hate being stuck in the country.”
“I don’t think Bo and Hank are really trying, though. It’s like they think if they fight it long enough, I’ll eventually cave in and take them back to New York.”
That’s when I lose steam.
I don’t want to return to New York. It feels good to be out of the city, away from the traffic and noise and stress. I love having a horse again and going riding every day and waking up to the crowing of our rooster. After sixteen years of living the high life as a glamorous fashion model, it’s a hoot bouncing around in Pop’s ancient work truck in my boots and jeans and cowboy hat. I might complain about my overprotective big brothers, but I adore them. I also happen to think it’s good for my boys to have their uncles around, especially in light of their father’s recent identity crisis.
“If I had to,” I say slowly, “I would. But I’m not ready to throw in the towel. Not by a long shot.”
“Can you afford to buy a new place on the Upper East Side?”
“I could. It’d be smaller than what we had before, but I’d rather sit on my little nest egg instead of purchase real estate, because it’s not long until the boys go to college and that’s going to be expensive.”
“So you’re okay financially?” Marta asks.
“I’m good. I’ve always been careful with my money, and since John and I kept separate checking accounts, it was relatively easy dividing our assets.” I pause, think of John now living with his boyfriend, Erik, try not to cringe. “John’s hurting financially, but Erik’s supporting him so I guess he’ll be okay.”
“Why are you still worrying about John? He was the one who wanted out, not you.”
“I can’t help worrying about him. He was my partner, my husband—”
“Was,” she interrupts flatly. “And you need to move on and focus on you now. Which leads me to my next question. Are you working?”
“Brick’s hired me to do the ranch books, but that’s only a part-time job.”
“I meant modeling.”
I swing a leg, flex my foot, and study my scuffed boot. These are my favorite pair. They’re so comfy that they feel better than slippers. “I signed with Stars of Dallas but haven’t been booked for anything yet.”
“They’ll call you. You’re still gorgeous.”
I flex the other foot. “I think I’m getting lazy, though. The idea of commuting to Dallas isn’t appealing.”
“How long a drive is it?”
“Ninety minutes or so.”
“That’s not lazy, that’s being real. It’s hard enough working without spending hours in the car.”
“How about you? Working a ton?”
“Not as much as I used to. I can’t, not with Zach and the twins. I don’t know what happened to me, Shey, but I’m beat. Tired all the time now.”
“That’s because you have babies. The twins still waking up at all hours of the night?”
“Sorry, Ta,” I commiserate, lifting my face to the sun, concentrating on the warmth against my skin. I can’t get enough sunshine. I need it, crave it, depend on it. “I remember those days. Couldn’t do it now. Need my sleep too much.”
“This is why women are cranky, you know that, don’t you? We’re tired. Our bodies are trashed and we’re seriously sleep-deprived.” Marta hesitates. “So how are your three? Coping better with John’s lifestyle, or is that still an issue?”
I sigh and open my eyes. “They don’t really talk about it, but I know it’s a struggle, especially for Bo. He doesn’t want to get on the phone when his dad calls, and he definitely doesn’t want to hear about John’s life with Erik.”
Marta digests this. “And Bo’s depression?”
I feel a swift, hot shaft of pain. Bo’s the one I have to watch. Bo’s my worry. “Seems okay for now. But I’m keeping an eye on him. Determined to stay on top of it this time.”
“Sounds like we’ve both got our hands full.” Marta’s voice is full of sympathy. “But we can do this. We’re strong. Damn tough. And besides, you’ve got the best heart, Shey, you really do. No one loves more than you do.”
My eyes suddenly burn, and I’m glad she can’t see me because my lower lip quivers. I bite it, hard. “We are tough. And Bo’s going to be fine. We’re going to get through this. It’s just going to take some time.”
“Love you, Shey-girl.”
“Love you, too, Ta. Let’s get together soon.”
And then, ending the call, I jump off the back of the truck and walk a brisk, fierce circle around the yard, my heart thumping like mad.
Bo isn’t crazy. Bo isn’t like my brother Cody. Bo is going to be okay.
I walk another frenzied circle, and another, and another, until some of the suffocating fear in me fades and my pace slows and my pulse returns to normal. It’s only then that I head for the house.
This is life. Life is full of ups and downs. We’re going to be fine.
And my boy Bo is going to be fine, too. There’s no way I’ll let him become another Cody.
Later that afternoon I see my mother off, and the moment she’s in her car, heading east for Jefferson, I feel a weight lift from my shoulders. Sounds mean, but hosting Mama for a week felt like a root canal without anesthesia. I’m just glad she’s gone and won’t be back until Thanksgiving, which is still—thankfully—over nine weeks away.
In the house I strip the s. . .
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