Thursday, June 25, 2020

Always on My Mind


It’s the 1970s and Cooper Byrnes, my hero in Always on My Mind, is not warm and fuzzy.  He’s not one of these cuddly guys everyone likes immediately—and there’s a reason for that.  Coop has a ranch to run, he’s up at 5 a.m., if not earlier, every day, rain or shine, weekday or holiday, blizzard or dangerous heat wave.  This was what has formed Coop. But there’s something else that has shaped Coop the way he is—History.
The 1970s were a time of change and tumultuous happenings Coop would never be able to fully understand. There was a conservative backlash to the radicalism of the 1960s, and these people wanted, for better or worse, to hang on to traditional family values and have less government meddling in their lives. President Nixon began to undo all of his predecessor’s, president Johnson, War on Poverty.  The New Right fought against high taxes, environment regulations, affirmative action, and even speed limits. While the heartland of the south was the center of these ideals, they certainly would have been welcomed by men like Coop in the West.
Then there was the Equal Rights Amendment. Suffragist Alice Paul had, believe it or not, introduced the ERA to Congress every year since 1923.  In 1972 Congress finally ratified it but only 35 of the necessary 38 states passed it. The ERA reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”  Not something many men would have been happy to adhere to in the 1970s, and certainly not on a ranch.
So, yes, Cooper’s world is changing and he has to get used to it.  Whether this makes him a better, more likeable man in the four years’ course of the book is up to you to decide.

1972 - Vietnam, the pill, upheaval, hippies.
   Wyoming rancher Cooper Byrnes, deeply attached to the land and his way of life, surprises everyone when he falls for vagabond hippie Cassie Halliday. Fascinated and baffled, he cannot comprehend his attraction—or say the words she wants to hear.
   Cassie finds Coop intriguingly different. As she keeps house for him and warms his bed at night, she admits to herself she loves him but she misinterprets Coop's inability to express his feelings.
   Parted, each continues to think of the other, but how can either of them reach out to say, "You were 'always on my mind'?"

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As night colored the sky, Cassie pulled open her curtain and peered out as shades of pink and purple streaked across the treetops tinged by a blackness off to the east. Storm clouds. She could feel the sudden September chill, heard the propane heating click on, Coop enter the kitchen with the dogs whining downstairs. He stomped off his boots for the night. She supposed he was looking after himself, just the way he had lived before she ever came on the scene, cooking whatever he liked to eat, having his beers, occasionally watching TV, Elam and Wayne at his feet, before climbing up to bed. And she supposed he realized at some point she would have to come out and start living again, either here, or moving on if she couldn’t forgive him.

Love, to her, had always been difficult to define. She believed it to be something deep inside, something shared, a song in your head playing constantly in the background. Always there. It was your heart skipping and your stomach somersaulting when the person walked in the room, got close. And that was what she felt for Coop now, those were her very feelings every time he got near. Even though she believed those feelings were not returned, she knew the thought of leaving him was painful. He offered her a steadfastness, a certainty, a support she hadn’t experienced before, small kindnesses she enjoyed and wouldn’t want to do without. And maybe that was it: she didn’t like the thought of doing without him, of leaving.

Hearing sports come on the TV, she snuck out to wash for bed, still ignoring the chocolates where he’d left them. Later, she lay in bed and listened to his routine she knew so well now, the clunk of his belt buckle as his jeans hit the floor, the little hop of getting his leg in his pajama bottoms, and his stroll down to the bathroom to wash, and back again before the light clicked off. It wasn’t long before soft snores came through the wall and Cassie realized she missed all that, the way he curled around her in that big, old bed, their feet entwined, his head nuzzled into her shoulder sometimes, the grizzle of his day’s beard growth against her skin. She thought of sneaking into the bed but gave up the idea; he’d probably just throw an arm over her and fall back to sleep, say nothing except maybe ‘I knew you’d come ’round.’

It was a crash of thunder that woke her, followed by the sound of something like a lover throwing pebbles against the window, but this was no lover. Its power was so forceful, she thought the window might break. As she pulled back the curtain, blades of lightening mapped the sky, a deep indigo when lit, the forks like veins in the sky’s skin. She heard the rustle of Coop waking, the creak of him sitting up in bed. For a moment she sat watching, and then realized her garden would be decimated.

She grabbed an old shirt of his she used as a bathrobe, unlatched the door, crashed barefoot into the box of chocolates, sent them flying and scattered all over, as they fell from the hallway, through the banister, into the corridor below. She flew down the stairs. Cooper appeared as he pulled on his jeans and a shirt and followed behind her.

“Cassie, don’t, don’t, it’s too late and there’s lightning!”

She pulled open the kitchen door and ran into the garden, fumbled with the new gate to yank it open, tried to protect her head from the pounding hail, hail the size of her fist. Cooper had pulled on his boots and made a grab for her, but she wrenched away, unsure of what to do to save the remains of her crops.

“You’re not gonna save anything now, Cass,” he shouted above the maelstrom, “give it up, get back inside, I have to go see to the cattle!”

The dogs appeared on the path, out of the kitchen where they’d been sleeping, set up a yowling that added to the din. Sick of seeing all her hard work lay ruined, she turned and pushed past Coop who stood helpless. She grabbed a knife from the kitchen block and came back out, cut heads of cabbage, and whatever else she felt she could save. But it was no use: the hail continued to beat her, and she shivered with the cold, shaking. The shirt stuck to her lithe body until she collapsed in the mud.

“Cassie, you can’t do any more, you best get inside sweetheart, it was the end of the season anyway.” He bent over her, soaked through himself, his hair plastered to his head. “Cassie?” He knelt beside her, watched helplessly as the sobs came, wracked her body, swaying with its pain.

He gathered her up into his arms just as Hank’s pickup pulled into the yard and he and the older cowboy got out, slicker-covered, and looked on.

“We’ll saddle up,” the elder said, his voice drowned in the rumble of the storm. “You come on, Coop, when you can.”

A native New Yorker, Andrea Downing currently divides her time between the canyons of city streets and the wide-open spaces of Wyoming. Her background in publishing and English Language teaching has transferred into fiction writing, and her love of horses, ranches, rodeo, and just about anything else western, is reflected in her award-winning historical and contemporary western romances.

She has been a finalist in the RONE Awards for Best American Historical Romance twice, placed in the International Digital Awards twice, and won ‘Favorite Hero’ along with Honorable Mentions for Favorite Heroine, Short Story and Novel in the Maple Leaf Awards. Her book, Dearest Darling, has also won The Golden Quill Award for Best Novella and been on the short list for winning The Chanticleer Award for Best Short or Novella.

To learn more about Andrea and her books, you can find her at:
Website and blog:
Twitter:  @andidowning


Andrea Downing said...

Alethea, thanks so much for having me here today. It was an excellence chance to talk about Coop and is much appreciated.

Alethea Williams said...

Good to have you here!