Wicked Good takes place in a small rural town in south Georgia. It was nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year Award for Fiction for 2013 and I’m hope you’ll like it too.
Liddy James is determined not to waltz into middle-age without her chance to reclaim the dream she gave up twenty five years ago of owning her own French patisserie . Now a widow with her only child just off to college, Liddy has her chance again. Unfortunately, just when she’s about to fly to Paris to gather the necessary information and consultation from the City of Light’s finest bakers, an accident derails her plans. Just like her husband and her son so many years ago, her elderly mother needs her now. Will Liddy find a way to be a good daughter and still have her dream? And what about love? Is that chapter over for her too?
Excerpt from Wicked Good:
Tucker went from a standstill to a controlled gallop in the direction Sugar had gone. One minute he was there, panting, the sounds of squeaking leather and Traveler snorting filling the woodland air, the next, Liddy lay in the mud and the rain with the encroaching darkness closing relentlessly in on her, and the only sound that of the rain hitting wet leaves.
She sat up and steadied her breathing. She could still feel the sound of Tucker’s horse’s hooves on the path as it radiated up into her diaphragm and slowly faded away. Now the only sound in the woods she could hear was the rain pounding down on her. She moved her legs under her and found herself grasping for a nearby sapling to help support her effort to stand. When she put her hand out to touch the tree, pain shot up her arm and made her gasp. She pulled her hand back to her chest and looked around the darkened shadows of her surroundings.
How were they ever going to get back in the dark? They must be miles away from the barn. Her hand began to throb painfully. Between the rain and the darkened wood interior, visibility had shrunk to mere feet in front of her. She looked down the path where Tucker had gone hoping to see him appear. She saw the gray downpour of the rain, and a large shadowed shape of some animal moving across the path.
Oh my, lord…Were there bear here? It’s the woods. Of course, this is where bears live.
Liddy struggled to her feet, every part of her body complaining now. Her hip, where she’d fallen, hurt even more than her hand. Her clothes clung to her in a sodden mass and she was shivering so hard from the cold that she had to lean against a tree to stay upright. She stared down the path, willing Tucker to return.
A flash of lightening illuminated the path for one terrible moment, distorting it in a picture of shadows and looming stark trees on either side. Liddy decided the woods appeared less terrifying when things just stayed dark.
What if he’s fallen? she suddenly thought.
Galloping into the woods in the dark and in the rain on a terrified horse is a great way to end up impaled on one of the many jagged tree stumps in the woods. Liddy started to walk in the direction he’d gone. Maybe he needed her. Maybe he was lying just around the bend, broken and hurt. Liddy was limping but the thought of Tucker injured quickened her steps. She knew she was going in the direction of where she’d seen the shadowy shape and wondered, for a moment, if she should fashion a sharpened stick or something for protection.
How could this have happened? she thought miserably. One minute everything was just heaven, and the next—oh, Mama will never let her hear the end of this.
Liddy stopped to rest and let the various pains in her aching body subside before moving forward again. She moved around a gentle bend in the path, craning her neck to see if she could hear or see Tucker coming from around the other side. What she saw made her gasp and draw back.
A huge dark structure stood directly next to the bridle path.
It might have been used as a barn at one time but there was no recognizable road or track leading to it now to suggest it had been used as anything for many years. Now it was a hulking black monster that loomed out of nowhere, forbidding and unwelcoming. Liddy found herself not wanting to walk past it. It had a long, single window in the upper level between the matching slopes of its roofline. There was a pair of floor to ceiling windows on its broad side, both with most of their panes broken out. The front of the house had a large sliding barn door flanked by two long windows, again with their panes mostly gone.
It looked as close to a ghost house as anything Liddy could’ve imagined in her worst nightmares. There was an air about it beyond abandonment and disuse. An air of something sinister. She found herself staring at it, immobilized.
That was when she heard the noise, separate from the rain against leaves, apart from her own labored breathing and moans. A sound of horse hooves coming toward her. She turned away from the house and focused on the path that was swallowed up by darkness a scant twenty feet from where she stood. She held her breath, feeling the icy rain inch its way down her collar and even into her eyes. When she used her good hand to wipe the rain from her face, he was there, trotting down the path toward her, riding one horse and leading the other.
Liddy didn’t think she’d ever been so glad to see anyone in her life.
She walked into the middle of the path and watched him swing down from his horse. He reached her in two strides. “You are hurt,” he said.
“No, I’m…I’m…” Liddy was shaking so badly, she couldn’t get the words out.
He put his arms around her and it was all she could do not to just fold up into them and let him take care of her.
She glanced at Sugar who looked as docile and bored as if he’d never gone screaming into the woods with the devil on his tail not fifteen minutes before.
“You found him,” she said, realizing she was whispering, and also realizing she didn’t want to say or do anything that would prompt him to remove his arms from around her.
Tucker bent his face to her hair for a moment almost as if to reassure himself that she was okay and Liddy’s knees nearly gave way.
Becket snorted loudly and pawed the ground. Tucker pulled back and looked into her eyes. “You’re walking so that’s not it. What did you hurt?”
She wouldn’t bother lying to him. For some reason, she didn’t feel like being all invulnerable and strong with him at the moment. For some reason, she wanted him to take over.
“My hand, is all,” she said, moving her hand where she held it against her chest. “I think I sprained it or something.”
He touched her hand but it was too dark to examine it properly. “You can ride?” he asked. Liddy had no idea if she was up for that. “Is that the best way, you think?” she said uncertainly.
“If we want to get home tonight, yes,” he said moving over to where Sugar stood. He quickly checked the girth and pulled down the stirrup. “I’ll give you a leg up.”
Liddy hesitated, clutching her hand tightly against her. “How about steering him?” she said. “I’m not sure I can…”
“You just need to stay upright in the saddle,” Tucker said. “I’ll lead him. You know you have to, Liddy.” He grinned at her. “It’s not just an old saying. There’s merit to it.”
“I know, I know,” Liddy said, now feeling some healthy irritation coming into her. “I’m chafing every place there is to chafe and it’s so cold. And what is that place anyway? It’s major creepy.”
Tucker looked over at the barn and then back at her. “It’s just a barn, Liddy,” he said. “Quit stalling.” He held out a hand to her.
The rain had slowed to a barely perceptible drizzle. Liddy walked over to where he stood next to Sugar. As much as she was focusing on a hot bath, preferably with a little rum and Coke on the side, how she forced herself to walk to the horse with the intention of remounting was by using a motivation she never would have imagined herself having: She didn’t want to disappoint Tucker.
“If I yell as I get on him, just ignore me,” she said, grumbling.
“I intend to,” he said.
She faced Sugar’s left side, keeping her hurt hand protected against her chest and gripped the pommel with the other. She bent her knee and Tucker took it and hoisted her effortlessly up on top of the horse.
“Good job,” he said, grinning. “No screams at all.”
“More importantly and a lot more surprising,” Liddy said, “no cussing either.”
She turned her head away from the looming structure of the ghost barn and focused on Tucker’s back. He held Sugar’s reins in his hands and remounted Becket. As they moved down the road in single file, he turned around and grinned at her.
“Having fun?” he said.
Liddy laughed, happy to be off the wet ground and moving in the direction of warmth and dry clothes. But the funny thing, she realized when he turned away, was that she was.
She really was.
I hope you’ll want to read the rest of the book, so I’ll stop right here!