Over the weekend a new Dyess/Gussman box set audio released! These are some of my favorite audios, and I told my ARC team if I had to choose just one audio as my favorite, this box set would probably be the one. It was my first Christmas series and I was SO over-the-moon excited to get these in audio! Now, we have them in a box set. Sweet.

Check it out below.

Now, I happen to know that Jay has finished at least one more audio and I think he’s working on another, but…where are they??? Seriously, if I didn’t know better, I’d think he has something up his sleeve…

Also, Better Together re-released today!

I based the beginning scene on something that my family had done when I was a kid, and I dedicated the book to my parents. Here is the dedication:  To my parents. Dad power-walked us through the railroad tunnel, and Mom drove the getaway car. I was well into adulthood before I thought to wonder what normal families did for fun. I love you both. Thank you.

You can read an excerpt below.

But first, I wanted to tell a short story about Watson. Like I said above there’s some potty humor in it (the very best kind). 

So, Sunday it was kind of cold. We had a cow – #26 – that had a bull calf the night before and we tagged it without incident Sunday morning before church. We had another cow that had afterbirth hanging out, but we couldn’t find a calf and we were pretty sure she aborted, so we drove up on the hill, looking for a body.

Not really a fun job, but we wanted to make sure our dates were right and we didn’t have a viable calf somewhere that needed help.

Watson and I were up on the hill with the spring herd and we could look across the valley with the creek and behind the house and see the fall herd down on the bottom. Well, I was looking for a body, and Watson was sightseeing, I guess, because he said, “Hey. I think that’s a calf down there.”

So, yeah, some of you might remember last year when we separated our herds into a “spring” calving herd and a “fall” calving herd. That’s what we said we did, but when we were doing it we (the girls and I) said things like, “Well, that cow is good friends with that cow, so even though one’s a spring calver and one’s a fall calver, we should put them in the same herd because we don’t want them to miss each other.”

I don’t know how you all picture “real” farmers separating their cows, but it’s probably not like that. lol

Anyway, we ended up with about ten spring calvers in the “fall” herd. 

Actually I have a picture on Facebook somewhere of 5100’s calf. She was a spring calver in the fall herd. I think we’ve had two of those ten calve so far.

Anyway, that’s what Watson saw – another little calf in the fall herd.

So, we never did find a body, and we drove down the big hill, across the creek, through the gates and across the driveway, down to the bottom pasture where this little cutie was still wet and not all cleaned off. She was brand new.

Sunday happened to be my birthday, and, I know. I’m a child at heart, because I always hope that we’ll get a baby on my day. : ) One year we had two goats and a calf born, and another year we had a whole flock of 20,000 chicks hatch on my date. My husband never remembers my birthday but I have to say, God always takes care of me. : ) So when I saw this calf, you know how your eyes fill up and you just feel so completely loved and spoiled? That was me just basking in the love of my Heavenly Father. : )

Okay, this calf has the most adorable markings. I have a pic of her down below at the very bottom of the newsletter. And there’s another one on Facebook somewhere.

This was the first calf this heifer had and she wasn’t doing a great job with it. The little girl was shivering and still wet and mama wasn’t standing very close and didn’t seem too interested.

We check on her before church and after church and she doesn’t seem to be eating. It’s going to be cold – cold enough for the ground to freeze. So we finally take a quarter of a bottle down to her, (that’s two cups) figuring that we’d get a little something in her belly for night, but not fill her up so full she wouldn’t try to eat from her mom.

I wake Watson up at 1 am when the ground is frozen so he can go out and spread the pulp we got from the paper mill (they’ll give it to farmers. Otherwise they have to pay to have it taken to a landfill.) and I’m lying there, unable to go back to sleep, thinking about my birthday gift and how I don’t want her to die and how I should get up and check on her go give her another bottle.

Did I mention it was freezing (literally) outside? The things farmers do to keep their little ones alive.

So, she makes it through the night, but in the morning Watson and the girls move the cows, but #26’s calf doesn’t go with them.

Watson and I go look for it and we manage to find it (I really didn’t think we would), but it’s clear over on the other side of the hill. So Watson picks it up and carries it to the Gator. I drive while he sits on the passenger side with the sweet little bull calf in his lap.

We’ve gone thirty yards when Watson says, “He just pooped on me.”

I know I should be a good wife and be sympathetic. But I laugh.

Watson’s wearing gloves and most of the…poop…is on the gloves, so he shakes it off out the window.

I’ve gone another thirty yards when Watson say, “NO! Doggone it. The little sucker is peeing on me.”

So, I know you all are super spiritual and you would never say this, but my day hadn’t been going that great, but hearing that made it one of the best days of the year and I spent the rest of the ride laughing and not trying to pretend I wasn’t. 

😁

I had a good time telling the girls all about it, too. 

We got that calf back with his mom, but my birthday calf wasn’t having any luck with getting her mom to love on her. We work with them some, but the mom is getting pretty violent in kicking her baby and slamming it agains the fence with her head. I don’t want to lose this one, so I make the executive decision that my birthday calf is going to be a bottle baby. : )

Alright, there’s a pic of her in the Gator as I’m taking her to the barn way down at the bottom of this email.

Don’t forget to check out the new audio release and also Better Together!

Thanks so much for spending some time with me today!

Love and blessings,

Jessie 💖

Wyatt activated his cell phone light. “There.” He pointed it at the wall. Sure enough, just ahead an arched area was chiseled into the side of the mountain. “Maybe three feet deep, three feet long and,” he looked up, “seven or so feet high. We’d both fit in there easy.”

“Us and the serial killer that eludes the cops by hiding in here.” Harper tugged on his hand. “Come on. Faster.”

“Didn’t you ever hear you gotta enjoy the journey?” Harper could hear the grin in Wyatt’s voice, but he did speed up a notch. For her. Heck, this was child’s play compared to the stuff he normally did. 

But it was Wyatt, and she didn’t have to pretend to be brave. “I’ll enjoy it once we’re out of here.”

“It’ll be over then.” He chuckled. “Oh, except we have to walk back through.”

She stopped so fast her feet probably left skid marks. But she wouldn’t know since it was darker than sin, and she couldn’t see a blasted thing except for the far tunnel opening which didn’t seem to be getting any closer.

“We only have to go to the middle hidey hole. That’s where it’s supposed to be. No one said anything about walking through.” Fear had turned her backbone into an icicle. “I know you’re an adrenaline junkie, but I’m allergic to the stuff.” 

Wyatt snorted. “If it weren’t for me, you’d be moldering under your books and lab rats. How many times have you left the state?”

“Three. And it was three too many. I like being home. I like moldering.” She kept her eyes fastened to the circle of light on the ground from Wyatt’s cell phone until he put it away.

“I like being home, too. But being home is sweeter after you’ve left it for a while.” His thumb moved lightly over her knuckles.

A little of her tension eased. “I always assumed you had itchy feet like your mom.” 

“A little, I guess.” 

“If that’s not it, why not come home? You know Fink and my mom would love to have you back helping out on the farm.” She’d love to have him back, too. Gosh, she missed him. She hadn’t realized how much.

Even though he’d been away more than home the last few years, she still considered him her best friend. They had always told each other everything. 

Well, except anything that even hinted of romance. Growing up, she’d always been very aware that her mother had gotten pregnant with her at fourteen. Harper had determined not to go down the same path, closing herself off to the very idea of boys or boyfriends. Studying instead of dating. She supposed, at twenty-eight, it was probably okay to crack that protective shell. 

“Come on, Pickles. We’re almost half-way. The next hidey-hole is probably close.” His deep voice rumbled above her. 

She smiled at the nickname he had gifted her with years ago. 

Light cut through the darkness parallel to the ground—the wrong angle for Wyatt’s cell phone—just before he tensed beside her. The rumble in the air and the vibration under her feet confirmed what her brain had suspected. She turned to be sure. The entire mouth of the tunnel was blocked out by the massive shape of a train engine. Like a flesh-eating bacteria, magnified, with teeth bared, it bore down on them. 

Acid shards cut through her trembling body. She barely felt Wyatt yanking on her arm. She couldn’t get her feet to move. The engine powered closer like a black avalanche, chewing up the distance between them.

He swept her up in his arms and jogged the two steps to the nook, flattening himself against the side wall so his back was toward the train. The roar of the engine and the squeal of metal on steel reverberated throughout the stone walls. The vibration seemed to be alive, monstrous, so close and big and loud she could almost see it. She pulled her body into a ball and pressed against him. She wrapped her arms around his head, wanting to protect him, too.

Her breath came in short gasps. Panic rolled through her like a bowling ball heading toward the king pin.

She closed her eyes tight, until it was only Wyatt’s solid, comforting warmth pressing into her and the deafening noise all around. He cradled her and bent over slightly. The tangy, heavy stench of diesel exhaust filled the air around them, burning Harper’s nose.

Eventually the engine noise faded away and, although the train was still loud, the cars passing had a more rhythmic feel. Loud clack-clack, then fading out before coming back combined with the occasional earsplitting screech of metal on metal. 

Wyatt’s stubble rubbed her cheek. She closed her eyes and moved her cheek back over his. Her chest tingled. She froze and her eyes snapped open. This was Wyatt. Her best friend. She would not allow their friendship to be ruined because she all of a sudden had some wild ribbon of desire winding through her. No matter how delicious it was.

His breath warmed her ear as he said, “Now we know there’s no air suction.”

“I’m going to poison the next meal I make you,” she hissed into his neck, only half-joking.

“I’ve heard that before.” His heart beat steady and strong against her. The dratted man wasn’t even scared. 

The last of the cars went by. The noise faded.

She loosened her arms from around his head. She didn’t know what she was trying to protect him from anyway. 

It was probably time to remember she was a grown-up. A professor up for tenure vote at the end of the summer. But Wyatt’s warmth and strength were alluring. She didn’t want to pull away from the hardness of his chest or lose the comfort of his touch. But she couldn’t let him stand here holding her forever. 

“Okay, put me down.” She lifted her head and smacked his shoulder lightly, pretending she hadn’t been clutching him like two oxygen atoms on a hydrogen, and praying her knees wouldn’t buckle when he complied.

She wiggled to prompt him to move, but a new sound echoed in the darkness and she froze. A hiss. Followed by a rattle.

“Holy crap.” Her arms tightened around Wyatt’s neck. “Is that what I think it is?”

“Yeah. Someone’s practicing the maracas.” She could feel his head tilt in the darkness. “They’re pretty good.”

Her teeth rattled together, but she snorted a laugh. “That’s a rattlesnake. It sounds close.”

“I don’t think we need to worry. I thought it was a stick when I first stepped on it, but sticks don’t typically wrap themselves around your leg.”

Chills raced up Harper’s spine. Her mouth opened, but it took a minute to make her voice work. “You’re standing on the snake?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The sound like stones shaking in a tin can echoed throughout the tunnel again.

She ignored the note of sarcasm in his voice. “What are we going to do?”

“You’re the one with the doctorate. How about I keep standing on the snake while you think?”

Her throat slammed shut. She struggled to swallow. “I study nutrition. In a lab. That’s what the doctorate is for. Food.” 

“Branch out a little.”

Despite Harper’s all-encompassing fear, she smiled. “Okay.” She took a deep breath. If he wasn’t worried, if he thought it was funny, well, she could do humor, too. “I’m thinking about white sandy beaches, relaxing waves, warm sun…”

“Try again.”

She grinned—still petrified, but Wyatt exuded calm. “Hey, that was helping.”

He snorted. 

Ideas were not exactly filling her mind. Her brain had diverted all her blood flow to the areas that made her want to pee and run at the same time. She went with the only plan she could think of. “How about I grab your cell phone out of your pocket. I’ll shine the flashlight down at your feet…” 

“Um, close your eyes while you do it, just in case…”

Harper twisted gingerly in his arms and felt for the phone attached to his belt, not wanting to make him lose his balance, although he seemed rock solid. Funny, because she still pictured Wyatt as a gangly teen instead of the unflappable man holding her in his arms and not even breathing hard. “Just in case what?”

Silence.

“Wyatt. Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“Not really.”

Not really? That meant there was something. What could be worse than a rattlesnake? “If there was a bear in this hidey hole, I’d have figured it out by now.”

“I’m sure you would have, Pickles.” He shifted ever so slightly. “Would you just shine the light down?”

She paused with the phone in her shaking hand. “What does ‘not really’ mean? You’re standing on the snake, right?”

“One of them.”

“Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.” 

He gave her the password to his phone. She pulled up the flashlight app with shaking fingers. Something caught her eye in a crack in the stone behind Wyatt’s head. Her racing heart jumped. She squinted to see more clearly. She’d forgotten the reason they were in the tunnel in the first place.

“Harper? Tell me you’re not playing Candy Crush.”

“Uh. No. Of course not.” She juggled the phone to her other hand. Once they got the snake figured out, she could examine the crack more closely. There was definitely something there. Faded blue fabric, maybe? 

She shone the light at the ground, keeping her eyes trained on the wall. Now that she knew something was there, she could see the shadow that marked the spot. 

Wyatt shuddered. “Eh, I was wrong.”

“Thank God.” Cool relief flooded her. Her fingers lifted and skimmed the smooth surface of the stone.

“There’s three.”

She tensed. 

Then yelped. 

She dropped his phone. 

Wyatt jerked.

With her free hand, she slapped at the wall. A small object landed in her palm.

This is my birthday gift from God. : ) Isn’t she adorable? See the little white “feathers” in her ears, and her white “eyebrow” and her permanent “milk mustache”? I just think she’s the sweetest thing. ❤️