Anne McAllister stopped by the Tule blog to discuss the first book in The Cowboy’s Code series, The Stardust Cowboy!
Where did you get the inspiration for The Stardust Cowboy?
I was at a wedding and when the bride and groom left the church people threw glitter as they headed to the reception. Later that evening, I saw glitter sparkling in the lights as people walked to their cars. The memory stuck in my mind. When I was creating my next book, in my mind’s eye, I saw a cowboy walking down a street at night, his boots kicking up glitter that sparkled like stardust. I didn’t know yet that he was Riley, and I didn’t know the significance of the stardust. But then Jake appeared – and everything began to fall into place.
Can you share a fun fact about your hero and heroine, Riley and Dori, to help readers get to know them better?
Riley was not fun! He is quite possibly the most serious, stubborn, old-fashioned hero I’ve ever written. I think it was because he was an idealist as a boy and young man, and then reality hit him between the eyes. When other people were depending on him, he dug in and did what needed to be done. I loved Riley because he was honorable and honest and hardworking and about as steady and down-to-earth as a guy could get. At the same time, because he was being Mr Responsible, it felt like he’d shut the door on his dreams. I loved him too much to let him do that, so I let Dori and Jake shake him up, undermine his resolve, upset his narrow, pretty much joyless life. Watching Riley deal with the curve balls life threw him once Dori and Jake were part of his life was a treat. Rattling Riley was the most fun I had in ages.
When Dori got pregnant with Jake, his father, Chris, wasn’t willing to step up and be a real ‘hands-on’ dad. At the time she thought that getting pregnant had been the worst mistake of her life. Eight years later, she thinks having Jake – being his mom — is the best thing that’s ever happened to her. She’s like Riley in that she takes her responsibilities seriously. And while she may have given up realizing her own dreams, she still believes in them, if not for herself, then for her son.
Your hero’s nephew, Jake, believes in a “stardust cowboy.” Can you explain what that is?
It was Jake’s dad Chris who came up with the stardust cowboy, as a matter of fact. When Jake was two, Chris wrote him a letter filled with grandiose notions about him riding in at midnight and sweeping a little boy up onto his horse and riding off in search of grand adventures, scattering stardust as he went.” Dori began telling Jake stories about a “stardust cowboy” – a cowboy who came into your life when you were least expecting it and offered you a chance to follow your dreams. The stardust cowboy becomes the symbol for hopes, adventures and dreams in Dori and Jake’s lives. Dori knows he was fiction; Jake is still willing, at age eight, to give the stardust cowboy a little more leeway in his life.
What was your favorite scene to write and why?
There are a lot of scenes in that book that I loved writing in The Stardust Cowboy. It’s hard to pick one – and especially difficult to take one out of context. I guess the one where Riley and Dori come face to face the first time is one that I can share more easily than some others because you don’t need a lot of context for it to make sense.
Riley cleared his throat and straightened where he sat. “Reckon maybe someday Jake can realize those dreams,” he said, “whatever they are.”
Dori blinked. “What do you mean?”
Riley shifted, feeling awkward, wishing he’d figured out a better way to broach the subject. “I mean he’s Chris’s heir.”
“Chris’s heir?” She sounded doubtful. Then she smiled. “Does that mean he gets Chris’s guitar?”
“If he wants it.” Riley hadn’t even thought about that. “It’s at the ranch. I can send it. But that’s not what I mean. As Chris’s heir he’ll have resources so that someday, when he grows up and wants to go to college or do whatever he wants to do, he’ll have a stake to get him started.”
“Chris had money?”
“Not money. A ranch. Half a ranch.”
There was a moment’s stunned silence. Then Dori said, thunderstruck, “Jake owns half a ranch?”
Riley bounced to his feet and paced the length of the small living room. “It’s not all that much. Couple thousand acres down in the Big Horns. Simmental cattle. Not a huge herd. We get by. I do, anyway. It’s my life.” The only one he knew or was ever likely to know now. “But it sure ain’t—isn’t—for everyone. So yes, Jake owns half of it, but I’m willing to buy him out.”
“Buy him . . . out?” Dori echoed.
Riley nodded. “It only makes sense. You could put the money in the bank or invest one way or another. By the time he’s grown up, it’d be a pretty good stake for his dreams.”
“Half a ranch?” She looked staggered.
“It’s not the Ponderosa,” Riley said hastily. “Half the time we’re damned lucky to break even.”
“But you want to buy him out?” She looked at him suspiciously now.
“I’m not tryin’ to put anything over on you. I just figured it’d be better this way. It isn’t doin’ him any good ownin’ half of somethin’ he doesn’t even live near. He’d do better with the money. There’s a damn sight more sure things out there than ranchin’. Besides,” he added wryly, “lucky kid that he is, he’ll likely inherit the whole thing someday.”
“He will? Why?”
The weight of a dozen years of loneliness settled down on him. “I haven’t got anybody else to leave it to,” he said gruffly.
She looked surprised. “No . . . wife? No kids?”
“You might have. Someday.”
“No.” He shut the door hard on that notion. “The place will be Jake’s. Trust me.”
He wasn’t sure that she was going to. She looked a little flabbergasted. He supposed he didn’t blame her. She couldn’t have been expecting any of this. He sat down again and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. “Look, Ms. Malone—”
“Dori,” she corrected promptly.
“Dori,” he repeated. He could think her name. Sort of. But it felt funny on his lips. Intimate, somehow. He resisted the feeling. He looked at her earnestly now. “It’s a good deal. You won’t have any money worries. Jake can go to college without gettin’ up to his eyeballs in debt. Or if he doesn’t want to go to college—like his dad—well, he’ll have money to get set up in what he does want to do. He won’t be tied down. Ranches tie you down.”
Still Dori didn’t say a word. She looked as if he’d just punched all the air out of her. “I . . . need to think about it,” she said at last, her voice a little faint.
“Think about it?” What the hell was there to think about? He was offering her thousands of dollars!
“It’s so . . . sudden. I need to . . . to think,” she mumbled.
Well, hell, maybe she did. Maybe she had learned not to be impetuous after her involvement with Chris. He could hardly blame her for that. So he’d just have to swallow his impatience and wait her out. He could do that. It wouldn’t make any difference in the end.
“Fine.” He got to his feet. “You think about it. Take your time. And—” he dug into his pocket and scribbled his phone number on the piece of paper tucked in it “—when you’re ready, you call me.”
Dori stood, too, and took the paper from him. She glanced at it, then set it on the coffee table. “Thank you, Mr.—”
“Riley,” he said quickly. If she was Dori, he sure as hell wasn’t going to be Mr. Stratton!
She smiled. “Riley.” The way she said his name made him feel as if she was tasting it. Tasting him.
Riley jerked off his hat and shoved a hand through his hair. What the hell was wrong with him? He felt heat flood his face. He jerked his gaze away and cleared his throat, then jammed the hat back on his head.
“It was a . . . pleasure to meet you,” he said, his voice ragged. His mother would have been proud. Then he realized that the circumstances of their meeting could hardly come under the heading of pleasure.
“I mean, not why I met you—” he felt his face burn hotter “—well, you know . . .”
She smiled slightly. “I know.”
The way she looked at him—with those big blue eyes, that soft, understanding smile—he wondered that Chris could ever pull himself away. He gave his head a sharp shake and moved toward the door.
He opened it, then stopped and turned back. “Jake’s a fine kid. A son Chris would be proud of.”
Dori Malone blinked, then she smiled a sad sort of smile. “Thank you.”
Riley touched the brim of his hat and went out the door.
There, it was done.
He’d rather have had it settled tonight, but a few days wouldn’t matter, he thought as he started his truck. It was a good offer. A fair one. Once she’d thought about it, talked it over with her parents or her boyfriend or whoever she trusted, she’d see just how good it was.
She looked like a smart woman. She sure as hell was a pretty woman.
He didn’t know why he kept coming back to that.
Well, yes, he did. It was on account of that damned wedding. Weddings made him think about women. And wanting.
But he didn’t want Dori Malone.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading The Big Burn by Timothy Egan about the largest ever forest fire in America which took place in 1910 in Washington, Idaho and Montana. The fire and its aftermath set the stage for the notion that our public lands were America’s national treasure and needed protection. As we’re in August, which is generally ‘smoky season’ in Montana – and the big burn also occurred in August, it’s making me aware of the history of wildfires in America and of the birth of the US Forest Service for which I’m especially grateful as we have 80 acres of partially forested land that my husband just walked with a Forest Service ranger to get his advice. Because I can’t just read one book at a time, I’m also reading My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for his Family’s Past by Ariel Sabar about the history of the Aramaic-speaking Kurdish Jews in Northern Iraq. I knew nothing about these people, but I’m passionate about people learning about their history, so I’m enjoying it a lot – and learning a lot as well. AND… I just started reading The Rake’s Daughter by Anne Gracie. Regencies are my ‘go-to’ books for entertainment and escapism because I don’t try to read them as an author but as a reader. And I love Anne’s in particular because of her delightful sense of humor and wonderful characters. So I’m eagerly dipping in and already smiling.
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