Let me start out my post by saying that I'm hanging my head in shame. I had every intention of having the 3 books in the Texas Hearts series available 1 week apart. I love reading series books one after the other so I'm fully aware of how much I'm frustrating some of my readers by being late with the 3rd installment of THE MORE I SEE. It's okay, you can comment here and tell me how mad you are at me. I won't mind. I deserve it.
But alas, I was being ambitious. Life gets in the way and THE MORE I SEE has been delayed. My hope is to have it uploaded to Smashwords, Amazon and Barnes and Noble by the end of the week. When I do, I will post here and let you all know. So keep checking back.
When I wrote my Texas Hearts series, I always knew that Cody, Beau's brother, was the "handsome one" of the bunch. Girls loved him. He was sexy, successful, arrogant and the to-die-for cowboy hero that makes a woman want to be on his arm. So pairing him up with Lyssa McElhannon, a guide dog training who was a Plain Jane was an interesting dynamic. Having a reversal of roles where she had been blind most of her life and could now see, and he'd had his eyesight was now blind, was also an interesting dynamic. I wondered how they viewed life and what living really was.
I won't say more except to mention that this story was inspired by a friend of mine, who'd been blind for about 8 years, and trained with a guide dog. I'd been so in awe of the relationship between handler and service dog that I knew I needed to write a story about this special relationship. Otis, the wonder dog/guide dog in THE MORE I SEE, was inspired by the real Otis that helped give my friend the freedom of movement while living those 8 years in her dark world.
But this story is so much more than just finding life again after a debilitating accident. It's about confronting the deepest fears we have as humans and trusting enough to allow someone to see the real beauty inside.
While you're waiting for THE MORE I SEE to be released, I want to give you a chance to peek inside this book and see what's in store for Cody Gentry. Here is an excerpt from THE MORE I SEE. Enjoy!
The More I See - Book 3 - Texas Hearts
There was nothing extraordinary about Alyssandra Orchid McElhannon but her name. She was used to being invisible where men were concerned. People for that matter, but men were an unusual breed for sure. This one was no different.
Lowering her sunglasses, she blinked as she peered at the long and lean man stretched out on the lawn chair by the pool. So this was Cody Gentry. The man that insisted she come all the way from the Houston school where she'd worked to personally train him here on the Silverado Ranch.
At least Cody Gentry had a valid excuse not to notice her. He was blind.
He made no move to indicate he'd heard her approach or the soft sound of dog claws scraping on the concrete as she led her guide dog closer. No tilt of his head, lift of his long fingers which were weaved tightly together on his lap, or even a twitch of his booted feet, crossed and slightly hanging over the end of the lawn chair.
Lyssa slid the sunglasses back up the bridge of her nose. He could be asleep, she decided. By the slump of his shoulders and his head cocked to one side, his white straw cowboy hat tilted over his face ever so slightly, it was certainly possible. It would explain why he'd yet to have even a slight reaction to her approach.
She knew how acute the other senses were when one was lost. She'd outfitted herself in the usual garb, a pair of well-worn blue jeans, a cool cotton button down shirt and a comfortable pair of sneakers. She could understand how the soft soles of her sneakers would sound muffled. Lyssa wasn't the most graceful person, but she wasn't a clod. If Cody hadn't heard the sound of her footsteps, he should have at least noticed the telltale sound of Otis' paws on the walkway.
Maybe he wasn't asleep. Maybe he was just being rude. Mike Gentry, Cody's father, had warned as much.
It had only been a week ago that Mike Gentry first approached the Houston Guide Dog School asking for immediate help, insisting his son needed a one on one instructor. If only the school could send someone to the ranch, it might break through the deep, impenetrable depression that had overtaken his son since a freak chemical accident had rendered him blind nearly eight months earlier. Help him get back among the living again.
Lyssa had been in the office the day Mike Gentry strode in with deep pockets and endless arguments about why he needed someone immediately. The director had been insistent that the school offered only month long classes to students who stayed on their campus. While what he was asking for his son was not unprecedented, it was usually reserved for extreme cases.
Mike Gentry's pockets were deep and the money he offered to gift the school spoke of his desperation. Right in front of Lyssa he'd offered what amounted to enough money to service several dogs to those in need. Cody needed to become functional again in his own environment, Without the aid of a guide dog, he wouldn't be able to get around.
He'd assured the school that Cody was eager to work with a guide dog, but given life on the ranch, he felt that training must be conducted in an environment where the dog and handler would spend the bulk of their time.
Lyssa found she couldn't stay quiet. There was time before the next class started. She had a dog ready and even with the limited information Mike Gentry had offered about his son, Lyssa felt the match might work.
Peering over at Cody now, she realized the depression Mike Gentry spoke of was much worse than he had let on.
The desperation, the depression. Lyssa had seen it happen before. Although she didn't remember feeling it herself having lost her own eyesight at such a young age. When she regained eyesight again after twenty years of living in the darkness it was cause for celebration. New miracle surgery. That option wasn't open to everyone. Yet. Lyssa was sure that one day it would be. The advances modern medical science had made still astounded her.
Until that day came, she had the incredible task of trying to pull this six-foot plus man out of his despair by showing him that life was still worth living without his vision.
She sighed, noticing the heavy slump of his shoulders. She had her work cut out for her.
She made a command to Otis to sit and, as the dog was trained, he heeded to the command instantly. Lyssa cleared her throat and the man didn't move.
As she suspected, he'd heard her perfectly well. He simply chose to ignore her.
"I was told I could find Cody Gentry out here by the pool," she finally said.
The muscles on his face twitched slightly. "Who's looking?"
The timbre of his voice was deep, with a faintly ominous edge that reminded Lyssa of the voices she'd heard as a child when she and Kim would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night and watch old horror flicks on cable. She couldn't see the movies, she'd only heard the voices, and that added to the mystery, raised the level of anticipation, sending shivers racing up her spine.
Cody wasn't anything out of a horror flick. She ignored the swell of apprehension that had her confidence faltering.
She knew better than to extend her hand in a normal greeting for her introduction. Instead, she drew in a deep breath and hoped her voice sounded pleasant. "I'm Alyssandra McElhannon."
He didn't move. "What do you want?"
"I brought Otis," she said cheerfully.
"Otis is a who, not a what."
His whole body seemed to stiffen. His voice was controlled, but edgy enough to send shivers chasing over her skin. "I'm sorry you came all the way out here like this. Apparently someone failed to give you adequate information. I'm not training cuttin' horses anymore."
"Oh, Otis isn't a horse. He's a dog. Your guide dog. And I'm here to train the two of you to work as a team." She said the words with the pride she couldn't help but feel. Otis, like many dogs trained as seeing aids for the vision impaired, were a lifeline to independence.
He sat still, unaffected. It wasn't at all the reaction she'd been expecting.
"And you would be Cody Gentry, I take it?" she asked already knowing he was.
"I just said I'm not interested."
"And I heard you. My job is to make you interested."
Confused, she said, "Mike Gentry for one."
He groaned audibly and straightened up in his chair. "My father sent you, huh?"
"That's right. He didn't tell you I was coming?"
"Did he already pay you for your troubles?"
"Well, yes, a portion is—"
"Then you're fired. I'll make sure you get the rest of the money you're owed by mail. I'm sorry he wasted your time."
Lyssa's huff was slightly exaggerated. Cody was as difficult as Mike Gentry had warned but in a totally different way than Lyssa had been prepared for.
"In the first place, the school pays my salary and it is run entirely by donations. Second, training my dogs and students is never a waste of my time. Furthermore, you aren't the one who hired me, your father did. In fact, he asked me to stay on at the ranch until you and Otis were working well together. So, you can't fire me, no matter how much you squawk."
He made a face that almost made her laugh. "Squawk?"
Crossing her arms across her chest, she said, "I call it like I see it."
"Listen, Ms. McElfen er McEllaf… What's your name again?"
"McElhannon," she said slowly. "Alyssandra Orchid McElhannon. If we're going to be working together, I'd prefer to keep things informal. So you can call me Lyssa, if it's easier."
Easier and infuriating, she knew. Just because he couldn't see her, didn't mean he couldn't hear perfectly well. In fact, she knew his hearing was much better now than it had been before he'd lost his eyesight.
"Okay, Lyssa. I appreciate your crusade here, but you really are wasting your time. And mine, for that matter. I don't need a dog, and I don't need you. I need my eyes back. And if you can't give me that, then get out of my way! I don't want you or your dog here."
Anger flared so strong through her whole being that Lyssa could taste its bitterness. Part of Mike Gentry's argument that Cody needed a one-on-one instructor was because of his environment. He'd warned Cody could be difficult to work with, but explained he was there on Cody's behalf and that Cody was anxious to start training as soon as possible. He had attitude, but a strong desire. The only way to show Cody exactly how infuriating he could be was to throw it back in his face, his father had told her. Fight fire with fire. That seemed to be the only way to break through Cody's despair lately.
Lyssa couldn't argue with that. Cody had plenty of attitude. But Lyssa had underestimated the warning and now regretted it. Fight fire with fire? In her estimation she was going to need to set off a case of C4 explosives to even make a dent.
"Otis and I aren't going anywhere," she said calmly. "At least not for the next month."
Anger simmered to a boil just beneath the surface of Cody's exterior it seemed. His movements were quick and deliberate as he sat up straight and dropped his boots to the ground with a thud. She wanted to take a step back to shield herself from the slap of anger she was sure he was about to unleash, but she held her ground.
Lyssa had been too young to feel the anger when she'd lost her eyesight. She learned, just as a child learns to crawl and then walk, how to live in her dark world. Learning to crawl for a child was second nature. Curiosity won over confidence every time, hands down. Get from point A to point B and it didn't matter how you got there as long as you did it.
Learning to crawl as an adult, however, was utterly different.
She stayed rooted in her place and in silence, watching him stumble in disorientation while trying to rise from the lounge chair, and then feel his way around the table to the back of the chair. He lifted his head and an almost imperceptible sigh of relief escaped his lips. Cody dragged in a breath of air and began walking, his body tall and proud, his hands rooted at his side instead of out in front of him as a guide.
He must have memorized the amount of steps. Even in his stubbornness, his instinct for survival took over. Maybe she could use that to her advantage. Make it his. She wasn't going to give him an inch though. She suspected a single step back for Cody would feel more like a mile.
He didn't need her here. Not right at that moment. But she gave it one more try to see if she could make a small crack in his resolve.
"If you'd like, Otis will take you in."
He reached the door and lifted his hands, floating them out in front of him until they made purchase with the outer wall of the house. "I told you I don't need the dog."
"Yeah, I heard you. But counting eight steps only gets you from the chair to the house. What do you do when you're out in the fields? There aren't any chairs out there. Or is that some place you never venture anymore?"
His whole body became rigid. But he said nothing.
She shifted her weight to one hip and crossed her arms as she looked out into the green and gold pastures that rolled deep into the horizon.
"I suppose you could count the fence posts, or even paces to the fence, but turning around would be a bear. You could end up walking all the way to the county line before you hit the other side of the ranch."
"Your point?" he said haughtily.
"Otis can help you get around. Help you climb out of your eight steps and make it a hundred or more."
He dismissed her easily by turning and carefully walking through the French doors.
She released a slow breath, felt her shoulders sag slightly. Guilt should be gnawing at her inside by now for striping down his reality but she had no other choice. In her experience, it was either depression in a comfortable chair for the rest of his days, or it was living again. She was determined to make sure Cody Gentry chose right.
In the meantime, Lyssa had a few strong words for his father.