28 February 2013

Excerpt Thursday: Destiny at Oak Valley by Jeffree Itrich

This week, we're welcoming author Jeffree Itrich, whose latest title is Destiny at Oak Valley. Join us on Sunday, when Jeffree will offer a free copy of the book to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb: 

Imagine flying in a hot-air balloon, getting caught in an eclipse and descending over 100 years into the Wild West of New Mexico, where you meet a strikingly handsome man who challenges every notion you ever had about love. That’s exactly what happens to independent, high-spirited Rachel Kingston, who doesn't know how to get home, but must find a way without falling for his charms.

**An Excerpt from Destiny at Oak Valley**

Rachel felt very strange. Both fear and elation swelled within her. She sensed she had come home. Though she knew she had never been to the house before, or to Oak Valley, it felt strangely familiar.
They found the thick, oak front doors boarded up and posted with “danger of collapsing” signs. Lauren sighed, laying her palms on the door. “This was a lovely home at one time. These people worked so hard to build such an elegant house in this outpost. And now it’s being left to rot.”
Rachel stood back and closed her eyes. “Lauren, can’t you imagine women in bustle skirts and funny little hats holding a tea party on the porch?” She reached back and whisked her thick brown, shoulder-length hair up into a bun on the top of her head, demonstrating a Victorian hair-do.
“Oh right!” Lauren laughed. “This was a gold mining town. I doubt it would have been so civilized.”
Rachel looked back at the porch and garden and tried to re-imagine it with a group of grungy, ill-dressed miners in their place. Somehow that imagery didn’t seem to fit. The buried beauty and sophistication of the home suggested pride and self-respect. She couldn’t explain it, but somewhere deep inside of her she knew the people who inhabited this place were not wild, ill-mannered or poorly dressed, but people who took the future of Oak Valley and themselves very seriously.
“I wish we could see the inside,” Lauren said quietly. “I’ll bet it was beautiful.”
“It was and we can,” Rachel blurted out suddenly.
Lauren stared at her. “What do you mean? How do you know?”
Rachel shook her head, feeling somewhat confused herself. “I don’t know. But I know it was magnificent. Mahogany lined walls, a heavy, carved staircase, stunning imported rugs and tapestry draperies and stained glass windows and-----”
“Hey!” Lauren interrupted her sister who rambled on in a dazed-like manner. “You’re worrying me. You’re always such a no-nonsense person and now you’re babbling on as though you’re in a trance.” She snapped her fingers in front of Rachel’s face. “Hey! How do you know all this? Have you been here before?”
Rachel snapped out of her reverie, smiled slightly and hunched her shoulders. “No, I’ve never been here and I don’t know how I know. I just do. Like I know there’s another way in.” She took off around the corner of the house.
“Huh?” Lauren responded, following her sister.
Rachel ran to a little shed off the northeast corner. With a tug, she opened the door, and then brushed away some old hay that covered the floor to reveal a door in the flooring. When she opened it, she looked up at Lauren who stood behind her with her mouth open in surprise. Before Lauren could say a word, Rachel bolted down a stairwell.
“You coming, Lauren?” she called from deep down inside.
“Well, I can’t let you go in there by yourself, can I?” she answered timidly, stepping down onto the old wooden stairs.
The sisters followed a musty, rank-smelling corridor that led to another door. Rachel pushed on it repeatedly until it opened. They climbed into what was the kitchen.
The two walked through the dilapidated house, being watchful of corroded floorboards and small animals that had taken up residence. Rachel glided through the house as though she had lived there for years.  
The house was a shell, a fragment of its former glorious years. Though they could still see the fine wood, it was greatly decayed and rotted in many places. Shreds of once opulent draperies barely covered the boarded-up windows. When she discovered the staircase was too decayed to risk visiting the second floor, Rachel sat on the bottom stair and plopped her head into her hands.
Lauren looked squarely at her sister and saw her eyes filled to the brim with tears. “Why is this house affecting you so?”
Rachel shrugged. “I feel this uncanny sense of grief here. I know it as well as my own apartment, but I don’t know why. I’ve never felt such a connection to a place before. I can’t explain it.”
“I can’t either and I suggest we get out of here. It’s giving me the creeps,” Lauren declared. She grabbed Rachel’s arm and led her out of the house the same way they entered.
Outside, they walked through the dead rose garden and headed toward the car. Rachel stopped and looked back at the house one more time. “This breaks my heart,” she said, her voice unnaturally quiet. “This home shouldn’t be left deteriorating at the foot of a forgotten hillside.”
At the edge of the garden, Rachel nearly tripped over a small stone plaque, embedded in the ground. Although weather-beaten and worn with age, she could still read “La Querencia.” She smiled. She knew the term well. La Querencia, the place of your heart’s desire. It was a phrase people often used to describe their passionate feelings for the rustic charm of New Mexico.
Rachel thought about how since birth she had heard the term, but had never been able to apply it to herself. Many of her friends relocated to New Mexico because they found that special spirit, that special connection to the land here. Although she had been born and raised in New Mexico, she never felt that bond, never felt that ethereal level of comfort, as though she was meant to be here.
Rachel dropped to her knees and ran her fingertips over the words on the plaque when something shiny caught her eye near the bulging roots of an old oak tree. Digging in the dirt, she uncovered a large, oval cameo on a gold chain. “Lauren, look what I found!”
Lauren joined her sister on the ground. Rachel buffed the face with her shirt until they could clearly see an image. The intricately carved cameo portrayed a very handsome man looking into the eyes of a woman who bore a striking resemblance to Rachel.

Learn more about Jeffree Itrich on Facebook and check out her writing at Amazon.