Abigail Jones intends to spend just one summer in middle-of-nowhere Montana with her Aunt Lucy. Time away from her job is just what Abigail needs to reassess her life. The slow pace has her breathing deeply for the first time in years. And the majestic scenery encourages her to get reacquainted with herself . . . and God.
What she didn’t count on was the handsome widowed cowboy who owns the ranch where her aunt lives. When the rancher loses his daughter’s nanny, Abigail decides to lend a hand for the summer.
Wade Ryan can’t help being attracted to Abigail. But he’s given up everything to protect his daughter, and he’s not about to risk it all on a pretty face.
Under Abigail’s care, Wade’s home and daughter thrive. And with Wade’s touch, Abigail’s heart feels at home at last. But Abigail knows this elusive rancher is hiding something. Will her own secrets separate her from the cowboy who finally captured her heart?
A Conversation with Denise Hunter
WoF: Welcome back to the Women of Faith Book Club! The last time you were here we went to Sweetwater Gap, an apple orchard in North Carolina. In A Cowboy’s Touch we’re on a ranch in rural Montana. This looks like a trend…do you think the country is more romantic than the city?
Denise: I think either can be romantic, but when I’m trying to find a setting I try to think about where my readers might like to go for a few days. I think people are starting to feel stressed in their own real world; they want to feel that small, tight community. (That might be why Amish fiction has taken off like it has.) Lately I have been picking more small towns and frankly, I like the feel of it, too.
WoF: Secular romance novels often include graphic details about the physical aspect of a relationship. As the author of Christian fiction, how do you decide how much weight to give to the characters’ physical attraction?
Denise: I do think it’s important not to ignore the physical attraction. God gave us those feelings for a reason. However, it is a little tricky in the balance of that: You want to show the characters having those feelings but you don’t want to drag your readers through a lot of detail that’s going to cause them to have improper thoughts. It is kind of a tough balance to strike.
I try my best on the writing end of it and then I trust my critique partner, Colleen Coble. She’s my first reader and I’m her first reader; we depend on each other to catch that kind of thing. Also I have terrific editors at Thomas Nelson that serve as a second eye to make sure I haven’t gone over or under in that area. I don’t always get it right, but that’s what the editors and critique partners are for.
WoF: Your characters are all just delightful. How do you go about creating a fictional person?
Denise: That’s kind of a mystery, even to me. I usually start out with the main character. They’re somewhat formed in my mind before I even start coming up with the story idea. I’ve got to tell you, though, as I start writing they kind of pop onto the page doing or saying something I don’t expect and that becomes part of their personality. In a way it’s like meeting someone in real life that you’ve heard about. You meet them; you know a little bit about them already; but as you start talking to them you get to know more and more about them. As you spend more time with them you find new layers you didn’t know about before. I’ve heard some authors say that their characters come to them fully developed. I don’t know what that’s all about . . . it would be nice, but it would probably take a little of the surprise out of it.
WoF: Speaking of characters, Abigail is driven to expose the truth at all costs—she even calls herself “the Truthseeker” –which stems from an incident in her childhood. Do you think a lot of adults base their sense of who they are from a long-ago childhood experience?
Denise: I think just about everybody does. It’s hard to escape childhood without something happening that changes at least an aspect of who you are. Boy, that can bring on a lot of parental guilt. As a parent myself I’m wondering what I’m doing that’s going to put my kids in therapy in twenty years.
I think a lot of times we don’t even realize until we’re an adult…it can surface unexpectedly. I think at that point a lot of people try to bury it or push it to the side because it brings up stuff they don’t want to think about. That’s a lot of what Abigail did.
WoF: Wade is like that, too, he’s really buried the truth about his past because he has trouble accepting it. That really has him “stuck” emotionally, hasn’t it?
Denise: It does. That happens to a lot of us when we try to bury those feelings or that hurt or that pain from the past. We don’t want to think about it, we push it away and it leaves us a little stunted in some area of our lives.
WoF: Wade’s daughter Maddy is a sweetheart. You’re the mom of three boys, so is Maddy your dream daughter?
Denise: Maybe she is! I’ve noticed I do tend to have a lot of girl children in my stories. That’s funny because they say “write what you know” and clearly, I know boys. I don’t know why I do that. I guess maybe it is that wanting the experience of having a daughter that I don’t get. Maybe someday I’ll have granddaughters.
WoF: Since you don’t work out everything about the characters in advance, do you work out the ins and outs of the relationship before you begin writing or let it progress naturally as you go?
Denise: I used to have a really complete synopsis before I even started writing the story. It would be 9-10 pages, single spaced―the whole story all laid out. I think it was with Sweetwater Gap that I started writing less and less on the front end. I think for me writing that really in-depth synopsis was a security blanket. Slowly, I have taken that security blanket away to see how it would feel, test the waters, and find out if it would work for me to have less material on the front end. I’m finding that it’s working pretty well. It does get a little scary when I don’t know where the story’s going to go, but it also keeps me depending on God because I really have to be asking him for help and trusting him to lead me.
WoF: Other than that it’s a fun, sweet, romance, what’s the main message you’d like people to get from A Cowboy’s Way?
Denise: Of course, the happily ever after is important to me because it is a romance novel and that’s what readers expect. I do want to make it a fun read; I like to entertain myself as I go along. But I really do hope the readers leave the story with a greater understanding of redemption. Abigail is essentially trying to work off her guilt. She thinks if she exposes enough wrong it will appease her guilt. Of course, she finds out that’s a temporary band-aid. I’d like readers to see, in a fresh way, that only God can redeem us.
WoF: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Denise: The only thing is that I have a heart for stay-at-home moms. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom and it’s the world’s toughest job; it sometime gets less respect than it deserves. I know there are stay-at-home moms who have some dream in their heart or something they want to do with their life but they feel kind of stuck. It’s hard to make things happen when you’re home with that kind of responsibility.
I started writing when my kids were really little. I wrote during their nap times and often I would only write for a half hour or an hour. This was before I was published; it was just my dream to write a book. I like to encourage stay-at-home moms, whatever their dream is, to plug away at it whenever they can. Fifteen minutes a day, an hour a day, whatever time they can snatch to work toward whatever that goal is. Keep that dream alive, that part of themselves that’s something of theirs alone they can work toward and achieve.
A Cowboy’s Touch
By Denise Hunter
Abigail Jones knew the truth. She frowned at the blinking curser on her monitor and tapped her fingers on the keyboard—what next?
Beyond the screen’s glow, darkness washed the cubicles. Her computer hummed, and outside the office windows a screech of tires broke the relative stillness of the Chicago night.
She shuffled her note cards. The story had been long in coming, but it was finished now, all except the telling. She knew where she wanted to take it next.
Her fingers stirred into motion, dancing across the keys. This was her favorite part, exposing truth to the world. Well, okay, not the world exactly, not with Viewpoint’s paltry circulation. But now, during the writing, it felt like the world.
Four paragraphs later, the office had shrunk away, and all that existed were the words on the monitor and her memory playing in full color on the screen of her mind.
Something dropped onto her desk with a sudden thud. Abigail’s hand flew to her heart, and her chair darted from her desk. She looked up at her boss’s frowning face, then shared a frown of her own. “You scared me.”
“And you’re scaring me. It’s after midnight, Abigail—what are you doing here?” Marilyn Jones’s hand settled on her hip.
The blast of adrenaline settled into Abigail’s bloodstream, though her heart was still in overdrive. “Being an ambitious staffer?”
“You mean an obsessive workaholic.”
“Something wrong with that?”
“What’s wrong is my twenty-eight-year-old daughter is working all hours on a Saturday night instead of dating an eligible bachelor like all the other single women her age.” Her mom tossed her head, but her short brown hair hardly budged. “You could’ve at least gone out with your sister and me. We had a good time.”
“I’m down to the wire.”
“You’ve been here every night for two weeks.” Her mother rolled up a chair and sank into it. “Your father always thought you’d be a schoolteacher, did I ever tell you that?”
“About a million times.” Abigail settled into the chair, rubbed the ache in her temple. Her heart was still recovering, but she wanted to return to her column. She was just getting to the good part.
“You had a doctor’s appointment yesterday,” Mom said.
Abigail sighed hard. “Whatever happened to doctor-patient confidentiality?”
“Goes out the window when the doctor is your sister. Come on, Abigail, this is your health. Reagan prescribed rest—R-E-S-T—and yet here you are.”
“A couple more days and the story will be put to bed.”
“And then there’ll be another story.”
“That’s what I do, Mother.”
“You’ve had a headache for weeks, and the fact that you made an appointment with your sister is proof you’re not feeling well.”
Abigail pulled her hand from her temple. “I’m fine.”
“That’s what your father said the week before he collapsed.”
Compassion and frustration warred inside Abigail. “He was sixty-two.” And his pork habit hadn’t helped matters. Thin didn’t necessarily mean healthy. She skimmed her own long legs, encased in her favorite jeans . . . exhibit A.
“I’ve been thinking you should go visit your great-aunt.” Abigail already had a story in the works, but maybe her mom had a lead on something else. “New York sounds interesting. What’s the assignment?”
“Rest and relaxation. And I’m not talking about your Aunt Eloise—as if you’d get any rest there—I’m talking about your Aunt Lucy.” Abigail’s spirits dropped to the basement. “Aunt Lucy lives in Montana.” Where cattle outnumbered people. She felt for the familiar ring on her right hand and began twisting.
“She seems a bit . . . confused lately.”
Abigail recalled the birthday gifts her great-aunt had sent over the years, and her lips twitched. “Aunt Lucy has always been confused.”
“Someone needs to check on her. Her latest letter was full of comments about some girls who live with her, when I know perfectly well she lives alone. I think it may be time for assisted living or a retirement community.”
Abigail’s eyes flashed to the screen. A series of nonsensical letters showed where she’d stopped in alarm at her mother’s appearance. She hit the delete button. “Let’s invite her to Chicago for a few weeks.”
“She needs to be observed in her own surroundings. Besides, that woman hasn’t set foot on a plane since Uncle Murray passed, and I sure wouldn’t trust her to travel across the country alone. You know what happened when she came out for your father’s funeral.”
“Dad always said she had a bad sense of direction.”
“Nevertheless, I don’t have time to hunt her down in Canada again. Now, come on, Abigail, it makes perfect sense for you to go. You need a break, and Aunt Lucy was your father’s favorite relative. It’s our job to look after her now, and if she’s incapable of making coherent decisions, we need to help her.”
Abigail’s conscience tweaked her. She had a soft spot for Aunt Lucy, and her mom knew it. Still, that identity theft story called her name, and she had a reliable source who might or might not be willing to talk in a couple weeks.
“Reagan should do it. I’ll need the full month for my column, and we can’t afford to scrap it. Distribution is down enough as it is. Just last month you were concerned—”
Her mother stood abruptly, the chair reeling backward into the aisle. She walked as far as the next cubicle, then turned.
“Hypertension is nothing to mess with, Abigail. You’re so . . . restless.
You need a break—a chance to find some peace in your life.” She cleared her throat, then her face took on that I’ve-made-up-my-mind look. “Whether you go to your aunt’s or not, I’m insisting you take a leave of absence.”
There was no point arguing once her mother took that tone. She could always do research online—and she wouldn’t mind visiting a part of the country she’d never seen. “Fine. I’ll finish this story, then go out to Montana for a week or so.”
“Finish the story, yes. But your leave of absence will last three months.”
“It may take that long to make a decision about Aunt Lucy.”
“What about my apartment?”
“Reagan will look after it. You’re hardly there anyway. You need a break, and Moose Creek is the perfect place.”
Moose Creek. “I’ll say. Sounds like nothing more than a traffic signal with a gas pump on the corner.”
“Don’t be silly. Moose Creek has no traffic signal. Abigail, you have become wholly obsessed with—”
“So I’m a hard worker . . .” She lifted her shoulders.
Her mom’s lips compressed into a hard line. “Wholly obsessed with your job. Look, you know I admire hard work, but it feels like you’re always chasing something and never quite catching it. I want you to find some contentment, for your health if nothing else. There’s more to life than investigative reporting.”
“I’m the Truthseeker, Mom. That’s who I am.” Her fist found home over her heart.
Her mother shouldered her purse, then zipped her light sweater, her movements irritatingly slow. She tugged down the ribbed hem and smoothed the material of her pants. “Three months, Abigail. Not a day less.”