Today I introduce you to a new-to-me author with her entertaining fantasy read. Keep reading to get a glimpse of Little Red by Trista Jaszczak through an exciting excerpt. Make sure to fill out the form for your chance to win books and swag too!
Follow Sam Wentworth through the winding back roads of Louisiana, on a desperate escape from her past, where she falls into the arms of the unlikely and sometimes unwilling hero, Ethan Parker.
When circumstances and fate seal the two together, entangling them with his six older brothers, Sam finds her life changing in ways that she never imagined. Filled with feuding families and a little old bayou magic, can Ethan put aside everything he has ever known to keep Sam safe from the dangers that their lives and their love possess.
This is it. This has to be it! My entire life has been spent with someone holding me back. Always holding my life in their hands and controlling my every move. Not now, not anymore. I’m taking my life in my own hands. This is my new beginning, my long awaited, well-deserved fresh start.
I kick back a little more on the throttle of my motorcycle as the wind whips into my helmet and leather jacket. It’s not quite the January weather I’m used to. The weather is milder and the wind is much warmer down here in Louisiana. It’s nice and kind of comforting. My surroundings have completely changed. I’m miles away from Kentucky. I take a quick peek around. The road has been quiet for a few hours. It’s nearing dark. This also means I risk bigger animals coming out. Surely, they have deer down here in Louisiana. I’ll have to find a place to lay my head anyways.
I’ve been riding for hours. It becomes uncomfortable on a motorcycle and I have to be nearing the end of this tank of gas. Not to mention, my ass just so happens to be killing me. I peer at a few road signs and see the few upcoming towns, nothing more than a local diner or two and a handful of gas stations. Not even your typical cheap motel. I really am in the middle of nowhere. The tent in my saddlebags will certainly come in handy tonight. At least, it’ll do until morning. Another 20 miles until the next town, that doesn’t seem bad if I keep my 75 mile an hour pace. I relax and begin to look forward to a peaceful night’s sleep. Until the loud sputtering from my motorcycle jolts me back to full awareness.
“Son-of-a-bitch!” I cry out from underneath my helmet. I’d misjudged my mileage and with no gas gauge, I had no way of telling when I’d run out of gas. I’m luckily able to roll my bike to a slow and steady stop off on the shoulder of the road. I shake my head, wanting to give myself a good hard kick for not being more careful. I glance around as I hop off. Figures, I am surrounded by nothing but woods and my guess, swamps and nearly 20 miles away from any town. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I said I would make use of the tent in my saddlebags. I let out an exasperated sigh as I undo the chinstrap to my helmet, yanking it off my head and let my hair fall around my shoulders. I bite down on my lip and contemplate. I can’t leave my bike here on the side of the road. I can’t walk 20 miles and back just for gas with it already so dark either. I have no choice. I’ll walk my bike into the woods and set up camp. People do this all the time, right? No big deal. It’s not like the big bad wolf will jump out and get me. I peer into the woods. Darkness has already fallen over the trees. They stand quiet and still as even the animals, it seems, have all gone quiet for the night. I laugh off the thought of the big bad wolf. I guess it’s alligators I have to watch for down here. Or, is it crocodiles? I shiver, put on a brave face and straddle my bike once more. It’ll take all my strength to waddle it down the ditch and into the woods over the uneven terrain. I figure a short way off the side of the road and into the woods and I should be fine. Enough to be out of the line of traffic but not enough to get myself terribly lost. As I wiggle the bike down the small slope I begin to exert myself on the flat but rough terrain as I push the bike forward, throwing my petite body into it as much as I can. I grunt as I give one more strong push forward.
The bike lurches along slowly as my helmet clangs against the already scratched black paint. I groan, aggravated with myself more than ever for letting the gas tank get bone dry.
“What in the hell are you doing?” I stop dead in my tracks. I hadn’t heard a single footstep, not even a twig. I swallow hard and throw myself off the bike, flipping out the kickstand as I do.
I turn slowly to see a rugged looking man staring hard at me. His dark washed jeans are splattered with dirt and debris at the bottom, suggesting that he has been romping in the woods beyond. His heavy boots are caked in a layer of thick mud that’s starting to dry in certain spots. He places his hands on his hips, making his leather jacket open to display a well-fitted tee shirt that I can see defined chest muscles, visible even under the moonlight. His gray eyes shine and shimmer under the light of the full moon as they glare at me in an almost threatening way. No, not threatening. Warning me of something and somehow worried. His brown hair is styled fairly nice, which is surprising considering the 5 o’clock shadow on his face. He’s much larger than me. Well, almost everyone is larger than me, but he must be over 6 foot tall. Huge compared to my tiny 5’5” frame. “You shouldn’t be out here alone.” I glare at him and swallow, not quite sure of what to say. “I don’t have a choice.” I tell him, “I ran out of gas."
His eyes shift to my motorcycle. He lets out an almost mocking chuckle, “You ride that?”
I nod, “How else do you think I got here?” I shoot, now just feeling annoyed with him. I turn back to my bike as I kick the stand up and start on my way.
“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you,” He hollers.
“Good thing I’m not you,” I yell back. This time, the footsteps are unmistakable. They’re loud and pounding on the earth. I have a sudden urge to drop my bike and run, but where? I feel his hands on the handlebars of my bike and I feel myself sigh out of relief. I look over at him and for the first time, I think I catch a smile.
“I can’t let you go into these woods alone.” He tells me as he helps guide the bike forward.
“And just why not?” I ask. “I’m in the middle of nowhere. I don’t have much of a choice and I’m not staying on the side of the road.”
His gray eyes suddenly turn on me. I stop dead in my tracks and stare back. They’re bright, silvery glow almost matches the full moon. I gasp, shocked and almost frightened by their beauty. “The big bad wolf might get you, Red,” He winks. I let out an unsure chuckle. By big bad wolf, he could mean himself or an actual animal. I feel my heart rate quicken as he shoots me another smile, “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.”
“And, just how do I know that?” I ask, now letting him take on the full weight of the motorcycle.
He glances over at me, almost unsure himself. He stops and seems to think about something for a moment, “You just have to trust me, Red.”
“Trust you? A man I just met in the woods.” I say, crossing my arms in front of me.
“I did just meet you in the woods,” He declares.
I think for a moment, lick my lips and give him a nod. “But, I’m half your size. You could take me out in a second,” I tell him. I snap my mouth shut realizing what I’ve just said.
He laughs. “Relax Red, you’re safe. I won’t let the big bad wolf get you,” He winks.
“Red?” I ask, finally.
He takes a moment to nod toward my red leather jacket and helmet. Both are a brighter red. I’m stupid. I feel myself laugh for a moment as he starts pushing the bike forward again, “Where exactly do you want this thing?” He questions.
“Just off the road, where someone passing by can’t see my bike,” I tell him.
“Someone passing by, huh,” He says, coming to a row of trees that he hides the bike behind.
“Would that someone passing by be anyone in particular?” He plops the kickstand down and stands the bike carefully. His silvery-gray eyes meet mine again.
“Just,” I pause. “Just some old ex, he’s sort of a pain in my ass.”
“Ahh,” he breathes out, “Running from the ex.”
I stop and think for a second, “Something like that.”
“That must mean you’re not from around here,” He says.
I shake my head. “Kentucky,” I mumble as I shove my hands into my pockets.
“So, Red, you have a name?” He questions.
“Samantha Wentworth,” I mumble softly. “Everyone calls me Sam.”
“Well, I’m not everyone,” he states matter-a-factly, “I’ll call you Red.”
I stare at him, almost confused for a few moments. “Just who exactly are you?”
“Ethan Parker,” He tells me. “Just call me the keeper of these woods.”
“Am I on your land?” I ask, knowing that back home a few people I know have their land stretching for miles. Some so far that they reach county roads.
He gives his head a slight shake, “Not exactly.”
“Going for a walk?” I ask, glancing again at his simple jeans, tee shirt and leather jacket.
“You could call it that.” His expression changes, he glances at me in a nearly pitiful way, as though he feels sorry for me. I quickly look down at my feet and kick a small stick out of the way. “You really should find your way into town, somewhere safe.”
“I’m not walking twenty miles just to get to some run down motel,” I say. “Besides, that’d be the first place.” I stop myself suddenly and bite hard on my tongue. I refuse to tell him anything too personal.
“That would be the first place he would look.” Ethan finishes suddenly.
I look up and into those gray eyes. They soften as he turns his head slightly to the side. I open my mouth to speak but for some reason not a single sound comes out.
“I’m sorry,” He tells me. “I shouldn’t pry. It’s none of my business.” He looks me up and down, taking me in. His eyes stop on mine and his lips curl up and into a slight smile. Finally, he releases a soft sigh, “Well, I can’t just leave you out here alone.”
“You can’t?” I ask, taking a few steps back.
He laughs, holding up his hands, “Look, Red, I’m not going to hurt you.”
“And, just how in the hell do I know that?” I shoot as I take one more step back.
He laughs again, bringing his hand up to rub the back of his neck, “You just have to trust me. You remind me of someone I knew, someone that I would never hurt.”
“Your girlfriend?” I ask, now finding myself giving him the once over. His dark hair, his silvery eyes that I now feel are beginning to glow under the fast rising full moon. His frame is built, he’s strong. His chest muscles seem to pop from underneath his simple tee shirt. His body tenses for a brief moment and relaxes as he shakes his head.
“I’m sorry.” Now I feel as though I’ve invaded his privacy.
“It’s okay,” He says softly. “She was my sister.”
Was, he’s speaking in past tense. I suddenly get a feeling she’s not among the living and clench my teeth, begging myself not to say another word about it. I fight through my mind for something to say. I don’t have many conversations with people, especially strangers. To my relief, he’s the first to speak.
“How long have you been riding?” He asks.
I feel my jaw relax, “About six years. This is just some old bike that I helped fix up.” I look down at it with it’s now empty gas tank. “Guess I should work harder at judging the mileage on the gas tank.” I let out an annoyed laugh.
“What exactly was your plan once you got it here in the woods?” He questions, staring down at the two meager saddlebags.
“Camp out,” I say, wrapping my arms tightly in front of me. “My whole life is pretty much wrapped up in those two bags.”
His glittery eyes flit down to the bags again and the corners of his lips curl down into a small frown, “Seems sad to have your whole life in just those two little things.”
“Yeah, well,” I start kicking another stick, “I don’t have much.”
“No family?” He looks up at me; his eyes now take on a sad expression. The corners of them crease slightly as he blinks.
I shake my head, “It’s a long story.”
“I’m sorry.” He tells me, “I’m not trying to be.”
He laughs. “I’m just trying to make conversation. I did just find you in the woods, alone, trying to push a bike twice your size behind the trees.” His eyes finally meet mine, “You are in my territory.”
“I didn’t know you had a territory,” I tell him. “What are you, some dog marking his territory?”
He turns his head up and goes into a fit of laughter. “Look, you’re certainly not in your comfort
zone. You’re not from here. You’re in the woods with a complete stranger.”
“Look, I get it,” I say, “I’m in your territory, all alone in the middle of nowhere. How many times can you say it?” I roll my eyes, now annoyed with both my bike and him.
“It’s a full moon, you know.” He says.
I look at him a little confused but finally nod in agreement.
“You look cold.” He says, “I know this place. I could take you there.”
“A place,” I begin, “In the middle of some woods?” I stare hard into him as though I can read his thoughts. He seems sincere enough. He doesn’t have the face of a serial killer. But, then again, neither did Ted Bundy.
“There are lots of places hidden back in the woods,” He tells me, pointing around him. “Would you believe people live in the woods out here?"
Now I just feel like he’s mocking me. “I guess I don’t have much of a choice. It’s either with you in the woods or without you in the woods. And, you at least know where you’re going.”
His eyes turn on me again and his expression changes. He seems to tense and then slowly relaxes.He gives me a silent nod.
I shake my own feeling of uneasiness. “So, that place, it’s warm?” I say, looking up at the night sky.
“I’m going to bet it gets a little colder out here at night.”
He shakes something off as he glances at the ground briefly, “Not much, but you probably will get chilly in just the leather.”
I look at my old and faded leather jacket. The red leather is soft and worn from years of use but I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not to warmest thing on Earth. “So, you lead the way?” I ask.
He quickly looks away from me and nods, “This way.” He trails quietly deeper into the woods. I glance back at my bike and my helmet before heading after him.
“We’ll be able to find my bike again, right?” I call after him, now sprinting to keep up. He gives me a quick nod. “Hey!” I cry out, “Since when are we in a hurry?”
He stops dead in his tracks to look up at the moon. “Can’t keep up?”
I shoot him a dirty look, “Yes, but I just figured we didn’t have to be in such a hurry.”
He turns to look at me and laughs. I can’t keep the uneasy feeling from tying a knot in my stomach.
I feel somewhat ridiculous to even trust him. I feel as though I’m breaking one of the cardinal rules of ‘stranger danger.’ Here I am following some man I don’t know into woods that I’m completely clueless about. I have got to be stupid. Not only am I going willingly but now my guide is laughing like some crazed lunatic. What in the hell is he laughing at? I find myself laughing nervously, “You know, if you’re busy, we don’t,” I stop. “You don’t have to.”
His expression changes once more to a soft, sad and sincere one, “It’s okay, I’ve got time.”
I draw in a long breath and release it slowly. His expression softens again and he shakes his head, “Don’t worry about your bike. I know this place a little too well.”
I finally nod as he begins walking in a slower pace. I catch up to him easily this time and keep a steady pace by his side.
“How old are you, Red?” Now I can hear a smile in his voice.
“Twenty-four,” I glance over at him, “How old are you?” He doesn’t look any more than 25 to be honest. No fine lines, no wrinkles. Just perfectly flawless skin buried under the scruff of facial hair.
“Thirty.” He says, keeping his eyes forward.
I bury my hands in my pockets and send a breath outward, “What exactly do you do?”
“I’m a mechanic,” He tells me. “I work on cars. I have my own business for restoration,” He explains.
“I’m not an idiot,” I tell him. “I know what a mechanic does.” I shoot, now annoyed.
He laughs, “And just what do you do?”
I peer at my feet and lick my lips, “I don’t really have a job. Not a steady one any ways. I work where I can and save what I can.”
I see him nod from the corner of my eyes. “Do you always ride the bike everywhere?”
I give him a nod. Other than my red leather jacket, my bike is my most valued possession. It’s a complete luxury for me, despite its age and I’m very lucky to have it in the first place. “It’s all I have. Besides, gas is cheap.”
He finally turns his head to look at me, “What do you do in the winter?”
I stop and kick a large clump of hardening mud over my boots, “Migrate south.”
This makes him laugh again as he gives me a genuine smile, one that gives me a little pang of excitement somewhere deep inside. I smile back, “It’s supposed to be warm down here, right?”
“Something like that.” He says, as his feet start moving. “So, how long do you plan on staying here?”
I shrug, “As long as my ex doesn’t find me.”
“Is he that bad?” He asks.
I keep my eyes forward and give him a little nod. I suddenly feel something on my back. I peer next to me and realize his hand has gently landed on the small of my back giving me a soft pat. I fight the urge to walk faster, to pull myself way. I swallow hard and feel my heart rate quicken. I look up and into his gray eyes again and I can’t help but to notice that as he moves they seem to bounce light off in the way an animal’s would. I shake out of my thoughts but can’t seem to manage to pull my eyes away from him.
He pulls his hand away and shyly looks away, “Sorry.” He shakes his head, “I get the impression he’s hurt you.”
“He wasn’t nice.” I say, putting a good width of distance between us.
“Sorry,” He says softly. He glances over at me again, “You just remind me a lot of her.”
“Of your sister?” I ask.
He gives me another nod and looks down. I can tell he’s struggling with something. His body tenses and relaxes a few more times. He glares at his feet and shoves his fists into his pockets.
“Sure is light out here.” I say, making a quick attempt to change the subject.
He laughs and looks up, “The full moon will do that, Red.”
I suddenly feel silly and half-stupid. “I just didn’t think it would light up the woods.” Even in total darkness, I can feel the heat beginning to rise off my cheeks.
“What. You mean to tell me you don’t go playing in the woods alone back in Kentucky, Red?” He asks.
I let out a soft chuckle, “Not exactly.”
“It’s just a little bit further.” He states as we both step over a large, fallen tree log. “It’s not too far from your bike, like I said, and we can easily find it.”
I nod as I begin trailing behind him. If I feel a threat, I can at least put distance between us, strategically place him in front of me to easily watch his moves. I’m smaller and may be quick enough to, at the very least, outrun him if needed. It’s getting out of the woods in the right direction I need to worry about if worse comes to worse. I keep my eyes forward and there in a small clearing of trees with the bright moonlight highlighting it, is a small and run down cabin.
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Trista Jaszczak (pronounced Jazz-ick) is a writer, military spouse and a mother. She is originally from Hamilton, Ohio but calls home where ever the military sends her and her family, which is currently Anchorage, Alaska. She has a great love for writing, the outdoors, fitness, guitar and the arts.
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