First Chapter Second Place for Romance: Accidental Promises by Sandra Clarke

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Accidental Promises by Sandra Clarke is the Second Place winner in the Romance category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

Award-Winning First Chapter

     Jocelyn Willoughby refused to cry in front of her father, the almighty Clifford Wallace Willoughby. The real estate magnate owned choice property in downtown Houston and Dallas, as well as Seattle, Vegas, Chicago, Miami, and others.

Jocelyn impatiently tapped one pointed Ferragamo stiletto against the Corinthian-leather seat opposite her. She wanted to be anywhere other than the chauffeured stretched Lincoln dragging her to perdition. The glare she gave her father promised fire and brimstone.

C.W. squirmed.

Jocelyn had never seen her father squirm before, but the resignation in his eyes made her own narrow.

“Please, Sunshine, trust me. Someday you’ll understand I’m only doing what’s best for you.” He patted her hand.

Jocelyn jerked her hand away so fast she almost slapped herself in the face. Her chocolate eyes threatened to swim and she stiffened. Father would not see tears again.

Nor would it do any good. They had been all through this for the last two days. What was she saying? The last two weeks. Nothing made any difference. She knew better than most. When C.W. Willoughby made up his mind, nothing less than the end of the world would stand in his way.

And she knew why he was doing this. She understood how his whole life had created this situation, demanding his action. That he would proceed, even against her will.

She could understand.

But she would never forgive.

Never.

Not even if hell froze over.

A solitary tear slipped down her cheek.

Jocelyn wiped it away before smoothing the skirt of her crisp black Dior day-suit. Then she reached for her Gucci clutch, opening the white-gold clasp, and retrieved a small, diamond-studded compact. Checking her reflection, she smoothed the French twist coiffure of her professionally sun-kissed blond hair.

No one could say she wasn’t properly dressed for her own funeral. A single strand of pearls circled her slender throat. Matching drop pearls adorned her ears. She would rather be in a pair of jeans and an old T-shirt, but such was not appropriate for this nightmare.

Something in the compact’s mirror caught her eye.

She swiveled, finding two sheriff’s cars, as well as a pick-up, trailing the limousine. Jocelyn suddenly became aware of their location—a dirt road, surrounded by nothing.

They had arrived.

She swallowed hard. The necessity of law-enforcement escaped her, and she sent her father a questioning glance. Jocelyn was fairly certain he chose to misinterpret her unspoken query.

“Yes, we’re here.” Triumph and a healthy dose of determination sat on C.W.’s face, but then the façade slipped. Indecision threatened.

He reached for her.

She tensed, feeling all the fury of hell fill her face.

C.W. caught himself, letting his hand settle on an Armani-covered thigh. “I love you, Sunshine.” A flicker of pain sounded in his voice as he repeated, “I really do.”

Jocelyn made a sound of disgust, letting her eyes tell him how much she couldn’t believe him. She’d informed him countless times he would never be allowed back in her life. That she would disown him if he went through with this. This… This…

But right now she was convinced he had left her out of the loop on some things, for she had no idea why he felt the need for the authorities. A knot formed in her stomach. What didn’t she know? Anger made her snap. “Daddy, what have you done?”

Jocelyn didn’t receive an answer for the car had come to a complete stop.

But her use of “Daddy” had caused her father to visibly soften. She only called him “Daddy” when she needed him desperately or loved him just as desperately.

For a split-second, Jocelyn thought her urgent pleas had finally reached her father.

Her heart fell when C.W. stepped out of the car.

Jocelyn glanced around. The Bar T Ranch was lovely. The main house was a beautiful two story log home with a wide, full length porch. Color filled flower beds and several Cottonwood’s provided shade and serenity. Barns, pens, and corrals were situated far enough from the main house so as to not overwhelm, even during this July heat wave.

Dust swirled, finally settling around their entourage. Apparently rain hadn’t blessed Cody, Wyoming in a while, for it was as dry as chalk.

C.W. opened Jocelyn’s door. “Come on, Sunshine. Let’s get this over with.” His smile made a mockery of the steely determination in his tone. Several long moments passed in silence before he bent, peering into the car.

Jocelyn stared straight ahead, legs crossed, arms folded. “You do this, Father. I’ve already told you I won’t have any part of it.” Immediately grabbing the door handle, she yanked it shut.

C.W. started to open the door again but stopped, spinning at the sound of gravel crunching.

The tall, lean owner of the Bar T emerged from the main house, quickly shortening the gap between them.

A strained smile crossed Willoughby’s face. “Ah, Mr. Turner, nice place you have here.” He remained by the vehicle, instead of moving forward to shake the owner’s extending hand.

Jocelyn could tell her father was scanning the gathering crowd.

The man stopped short at C.W.’s words. Jace Turner’s eyes narrowed and his outstretched hand fell.

Jocelyn lowered the window, wanting to hear everything.

“I’m sorry, but you have me at a disadvantage, Mister….” Jace’s deep drawl was shorter than the lengthy Texas drawl she was used to.

“Willoughby. C.W. Willoughby, Mr. Turner. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” C.W. again searched the ranch hands forming behind Jace.

“Well, Mr. Willoughby, you apparently know who I am.” A dark scowl settled on Jace’s handsome face. “What brings you to the Bar T?”

C.W. hesitated for a second and hope speared through Jocelyn. Breathless, she strained to listen, praying her father would, at last, change his mind.

“Please accept my apologies for taking some of your valuable time.” C.W.’s voice was oil slick.

Jocelyn slumped, instantly deflating. A tear slipped down her cheek. The roar created by her silent ‘No’ almost deafened her father’s words.

“I’m hoping for a moment with one of your employees.” C.W’s pale hand swept a wide arch at the men. “Mr. Culpepper and I have a small matter to discuss.”

Jocelyn also skimmed over the faces of the hands, ranging from sixteen to sixty. Each held a hard, rugged visage. She knew, as did her father, Riley Culpepper was nowhere in sight.

“Riley?” Jace stiffened, that dark scowl deepening. “I’m afraid you’ve picked a bad time. Mr. Culpepper isn’t here. If you’d like to leave a message, I’ll be…”

Every head swiveled toward the whine of a two-cycle engine racing into the yard. Each then ducked, turning away from the dust cloud trailing behind it like a widening translucent tail. Only the brave opened their eyes to see who had joined them.

When the dust finally settled, Riley Culpepper threw the crowd a wide, white smile as he swaggered towards Jace and the center of attention. “Man, sure glad I hurried. Wouldn’t want to miss the party. What’s up, old man?” Riley tossed Jace a curious glance.

Jace was about to speak, but C.W. started deliberately toward Riley. He tapped the glass of the limo as he passed.

Riley’s characteristic grin vanished when the driver’s door opened and a mountain of a man dressed impeccably in black emerged. Although gracefully executed, it took considerable time for that much man to unfold. Someone in the crowd uttered a loud expletive, but most wore their lower jaw on their chest. C.W. and the giant strode toward Riley.

Riley’s eyes widened as he absently backed up and into the ATV he’d arrived on.

Jace started in Riley’s direction.

As did a couple of the hands.

The tension in the dry air suddenly crackled. Even the tiny hairs on Jocelyn’s arms stood straight up.

Immediately there was movement in the yard.

Lots of it.

The ranch hands started separating, forming a wide half-circle around the vehicles and strangers.

Jace purposely moved to stand beside Riley.

Riley’s dark chocolate eyes narrowed even as Jace’s face bordered on thunderous. Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, the six-foot four-inch pair made a formidable team, for both were cut from the same hard-bitten western mold that made real men, with real muscle, and an even harder resilience.

C.W.’s smile contrasted sharply with his tone. “Ah, Mr. Culpepper. Thank you for joining us.”

“Who are you?” Riley flicked a glance at Jace, who, almost imperceptibly, shook his head.

“C.W. Willoughby.” He thumbed at his companion. “And this is Lars. If we could have a few minutes of your time, I have a proposition I would like to offer you.”

“What kind of proposition?” Riley crossed his arms.

“One that requires privacy.” C.W. frowned.

Riley cocked an eyebrow, and then planted both fists on lean hips. “Don’t think so. You’re not getting me alone so Hulk here can have his way with me.”

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