Please enjoy this excerpt from Claiming Mariah by Pam Hillman
“A sad case, that one.”
Slade glanced at Mr. Thompkins.
“He lives down on the other side of the tracks. Got a timid little wife and two kids. A boy and a girl. He’s done a few odd jobs around town. Does a good job too, but he don’t stay sober long enough to work no more’n one or two days, and he’s at it again.”
The shopkeeper shook his head and turned away to finish Slade’s order. Slade tried to ignore the man slumped against the porch steps of the mercantile, but his thoughts wouldn’t let him. The whole situation reminded him too much of his own father. His father had stayed drunk, hardly knowing, or caring, if the rest of them had anything to eat or clothes to wear or even a roof over their heads.
He thought of the little boy he’d given the money to. Could this man be the boy’s father? More than likely. There probably weren’t too many drunks in a town the size of Wisdom.
“All right, mister, here’s your order,” Mr. Thompkins said.
“Put it on the Lazy M tab, will you?”
Slade picked up his supplies and headed out the door, Buck right behind him. A little boy stood beside the drunken man.
The man grunted. “Wha’? Wha’cha want?”
“It’s time to come home, Pa.”
The man brushed the kid away. “Leave me ’lone. Can’t you see I’m sleepin’?” He curled himself up on the porch.
Slade stuffed his saddlebags with his packages, unable to ignore the child as he tried to rouse his pa. As he suspected, it was the same boy he’d met down by the railroad tracks. Somehow he’d known those kids were hungry. They hadn’t asked for money or a handout. But he’d known.
“Pa, you’ve got to come home.” The youngster tugged on his pa’s sleeve. “Ma’s got some rabbit stew cooking. Don’t you want some stew?”
“Don’ want no stew.”
Desperation clouded the boy’s expression. “But, Pa—”
The shopkeeper stepped through the door. “Better get him out of here.” He sounded apologetic. “Or I’ll have to call the sheriff. Can’t have him running off all my customers. Especially the women. They won’t come in here with him plastered all over my porch.”
“Please, Mr. Thompkins, don’t call the sheriff.” Fear shot across the boy’s face. “Ma don’t want Pa to go to jail again. He’s almighty mean when he gets out.”
“I know, son, but he’s got to go.” Mr. Thompkins glanced at Slade, clearly in a quandary.
Slade looked at the boy. “How about if I help you get your pa home?”
“Would you, mister? I’d be mighty obliged.” A light of hope shone in his eyes.
“What’s your name, son?”
“Jimmy—” He drew himself up tall. “Jim Denton.”
“I’m Slade Donovan, and this here’s my brother, Buck.”
As Slade pulled the man to his feet, Jimmy’s pa glanced around wildly. “Where we goin’?”
“Goin’ for a little ride.” Slade helped him up on his horse. Denton groaned and slumped over the saddle horn.
Buck jerked his head toward his own mount. “You want to ride out to your house, Jim?”
Jim nodded, his too-long bangs flopping into his eyes. “Yes, sir.”
Buck helped him up onto the gentle horse, and Jim led the way out of town. Just as Slade suspected, they crossed the railroad tracks past the church and headed down a rutted lane. Less than a mile from town, they came to a dilapidated shack.
Jim slid off Buck’s horse and ran toward the house. A thin young woman with light-brown hair came to the door. A look of relief eased her tired features when she saw her husband.
“Mr. Slade and Mr. Buck brought Pa home.”
“Ma’am.” Slade touched his hat.
It didn’t take much effort to haul Denton off the back of the horse and propel him toward the porch steps. He disappeared inside.
The woman turned to Slade, her gaze not fully meeting his. “Thank you.”
Little Jim studied the ground.
Slade ruffled his thick shock of hair. “Jim, we could use some help out at the Lazy M. Would you be up to doing a little work this summer?”
“Could I, Ma?” The boy’s face lit up.
Mrs. Denton glanced toward the open door of the shack and twisted her hands in her faded apron. “You’d have to ask your pa.”
The boy’s face fell.
“You do that, Jim.” Slade gathered up his horse’s reins. “I’ll be by later in the week and we’ll see about it, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” Jim mumbled, head lowered as he toed the dirt.
They rode home in silence. Slade knew he and Buck were both thinking about the abject poverty the Dentons lived in. The kind of poverty they both were familiar with. The kind that seeps into your pores and stays with you for a long, long time.
Slade took a deep, cleansing breath. But not anymore. His mother no longer lived in a drafty shack on the edge of town. He fingered the letter in his pocket, anticipating the day she’d arrive. He couldn’t wait for her to see the Lazy M ranch house. It might need work, but it was a mansion compared to where she’d lived for as long as he could remember.
Only one thing tempered his bright new future.
Mariah and her grandmother would pack up and leave as soon as his mother arrived, and he only had himself to blame.
Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in
and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that’s the kind of life every girl should dream of! Claiming Mariah is her second novel. www.pamhillman.com Mississippi
Buy Links for Claiming Mariah
Amazon link: http://tinyurl.com/apnzl5n
B&N link: http://tinyurl.com/ays6fq7
CBD link: http://tinyurl.com/bvjx3m7
Goodreads link: http://tinyurl.com/d9u2k6j
1st Chapter: http://tinyurl.com/ageh54r