Not long ago, I happened to see a gray-haired cowboy crossing a parking lot, hand-in-hand with his sweetheart, and I smiled. There’s something in the leathery face of an old cowboy that hints of open spaces and galloping horses and a generous heart. Something solid and trustworthy, and yet romantic.
I think that’s why Ben Mayfield was so much fun to write. At first glance, Ben is none of those things. He’s a wildcatter from Dallas who spent his life working hard and living high. Along the way, he managed to acquire a boatload of money, three adorable granddaughters, and – count ‘em – six ex-wives. But underneath it all, he’s still the same cowboy who grew up on a ranch, part of a close-knit family, and a part of him longs for the kind of relationship his parents had.
And that’s where Marsha comes in. After a long and happy marriage, she and her husband had big plans after retirement to explore the country. But he died. And now she’s trying to figure out how to rebuild around that gaping hole in the center of her life. When a charming cowboy invites her along on his Route 66 road trip, she takes the plunge.
Detour on Route 66 (available free as an e-book) chronicles their meeting and Recalculating Route picks up on their journey together. Although road tripping is a theme in the book, the main setting of the story is Marsha’s hometown of Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is a special place, with amazing rock formations formed by erosion from weather, wind, and water.
As you may have gathered, Ben and Marsha are a tad older than your typical romance heroes. Like the rock formations in Sedona, their beauty comes from years of life eroding away the surface and shaping them into the people they are today. I’m a firm believer that people of all ages deserve love, and there’s no expiration date on romance.
Here’s an excerpt from about halfway through the story. It takes place on the anniversary of Marsha’s husband’s death. Eric always gave her yellow flowers, even secretly planted a huge swath of daffodil bulbs to surprise her the year before he died.
Lindy met Marsha at the door, as excited as if she had been gone for months. Marsha gave her a chance to go out, and then she settled on the couch, Lindy lying at her feet. Marsha leaned forward to pick up the silver frame holding their wedding photo.
Eric managed to look outrageously handsome even in the silly white rented tuxedo she had chosen. What was she thinking? She smiled broadly in the picture, her poufy veil framing her hair, arranged in shiny wings on either side of her forehead. They looked much too young to be making solemn promises. They had kept their vows, though, their devotion growing throughout their marriage. Good times and bad, they had stayed together and loved one another.
“Hello, my love.” She reached to touch his face in the picture. “We had a good time, didn’t we? We promised ourselves to one another until death do us part.” She sighed. “And even then, I didn’t want to let go. But Eric, I think it’s time.” She reached for a tissue from the coffee table and dabbed her eyes. “I love him, Eric. Not the same as I love you, but a different love, just as special. I wish you could meet him. You’d like each other. I can picture the two of you, sitting under the trees in the back yard with a beer in your hand, swapping stories.”
She laughed. “Ben would love your story about Nicky Flynn, trying to get out of a spelling test by putting an Alka Selzer in his mouth to convince the teacher he was having a seizure. I remember you had to send him out of your office to wait because you could hardly keep from laughing out loud when you tried to discipline him. I’ll try to tell Ben that story, but you tell it better.”
She traced the curving lines in the picture frame. “I’ll always love you, Eric.”
Her face began to grow hot. She sighed, set down the picture, and walked out on the back porch to let the breeze soothe the heat from her skin as the hot flash continued. Lindy followed her out. The climbing rose Eric had planted grew lushly over the trellis at the western edge of the porch, blocking the sun while letting the breeze through, making the porch a shady oasis. Every year, just before Mother’s Day, it covered itself with clusters of apricot buds that opened into extravagant sprays of pale golden roses.
She noticed something yellow on the trellis, and frowned. Once, spider mites had almost decimated the rose, leaving the leaves pale and spotted, but Eric had managed to save it. She went closer to examine the problem.
A single yellow rose blossomed bravely. It shouldn’t have been there, not in September. This rose always bloomed in May, and only in May. Yet there it was: a yellow flower. Each tissue-thin petal was a work of art, deep yellow at the base, shading to a paler tint and almost white along the curving tip, the innermost petals hugging the shaggy stamens at the center of the blossom.
She bent to inhale the lemony-sweet fragrance of this miracle, her hot flash forgotten. A single tear fell onto the leaves of the rose, but this time it was a tear of gratitude, that she should experience so much love in a lifetime.
About Beth Carpenter
When Beth Carpenter was a little girl, she read everything she could get her hands on and entertained herself on the school bus by making up stories in her head. Not a lot has changed.
She’s still consuming books like M&Ms, and spends her days creating happily-ever-afters for her imaginary friends.