Date Published: January 2016
A blood-stained journal holds the answers to secrets her mother took to the grave, but an enigmatic old man knows the answers–truths she never expected.
Another round of turmoil isn’t on her agenda, but when Ryleigh Collins discovers a blood-stained journal among her deceased mother’s belongings, her curiosity leads her to a puzzling Mark Twain look-alike who shatters her family history–and her sense of belonging.
Bearing a treasure chest of secrets and a deeply scarred heart, Ryleigh returns home to her ex-husband’s appeal to take him back. Overwhelmed, she seeks refuge in the quiet majesty of the Rocky Mountains. But as the snow deepens, so do her feelings for Logan Cavanaugh, the distinctly reserved resort owner.
Two lost souls collide in a paralyzing snowstorm, but when the skies clear, Logan surrenders to a deepening guilt he can’t fight. Ryleigh’s sense of abandonment is further compromised with his sudden departure, though she refuses to believe they’ve left their shared memories frozen in the mountains of Colorado.
She’s struggling with shocking truths while trying to move on; he’s caught in a crossfire of a battle he doesn’t know how to fight.
One woman. Three promises–one honored, one broken, one pledged.
Other books in the Whisper of the Pines Series:
Whisper of the Pines, Companion Novel
Publisher: Four Carat Press
Published: March 2016
Their paths never crossed, but their destiny is bound by blood.
Strangers separated by forty years and a bloody war, their only bond is a name engraved on The Wall. He walked in the shadow of fate. She stepped into the shadow of love.
A restless intimacy followed Ryan through the jungles of Vietnam, the fear, loneliness, and death camouflaged by the beauty of a country twelve thousand miles from home. He walked courageously toward his destiny and left his legacy—words written in a bloodstained journal—for the woman he loved and their infant daughter.
Encouraged by an enigmatic old man who sends her a journal identical to her father’s, Ryleigh composes her words when a second chance at love is cut short by ghosts from the past. No blood stains her journal, only the souvenirs of a broken heart.
Whisper of the Pines, Book 2
Publisher: Four Carat Press
Published: December 2016
What if the price of your wish is living without it?
Rachel Gowen wishes for nothing more than to escape the past decade—to safely lock away the memories that keep her from a future she can only dream about. But a Native American butterfly legend, Ambrose, a mysterious stranger who knows things he can’t possibly know, a cast of quirky characters long past their prime, and Nico, a tenacious and caring nursing assistant, plunge her down a path that will ignite the very memories she’s desperate to escape.
Rachel begins her new life as a nurse in a retirement facility. After all, how risky can it be working with the elderly? She quickly forms deep attachments to her patients, helping them in ways far beyond her duties. And when a casual stroll turns into a budding relationship with Ben, the handsome British doctor who’s too busy, too unromantic, and too distant—it may be exactly what she’s looking for.
But Rachel can’t conform to the rules. Nor can she deny the connection she shares with Nico. With her job in jeopardy, Rachel’s priorities and relationship with Ben are challenged. But one thing is certain—Ambrose knows the wishes she sent on the wings of the butterflies will be granted, but the price she’ll pay will upend her life.
Rachel is promised a thousand butterfly wishes—but all she wants is one.
Dreams die every day
Some drown in the endless churn of a washing machine,
some get lost under an avalanche of responsibilities
and still others suffocate in the wake of a broken promise.
Dreams die—disappearing with the sun in the western sky.
But a sprig of grass will sprout from a blanket of snow,
new life will be born when two become one,
and a phoenix will rise from the ashes left behind.
Dreams reborn—blooming with dawn’s radiant new light.
SCARRED CORNERS FRAMED the small journal she pulled from the old shoebox. She
traced the cover with one finger, dark stains and pebbled leather disquieting, yet as oddly
familiar as the stale odor of cigarettes her mother promised to quit smoking and never did. Now
the tenuous reminder, void of the peppermints her mother nursed to disguise the smell,
threatened to unravel the tethers holding her together.
God, how she wished she could rewrite the last year.
With her legs crossed beneath her, Ryleigh Collins clutched the journal to her chest,
leaned against the wall of her mother’s apartment—as empty of her possessions as the world was
of her—and let the shadows of the waning morning swallow her.
“I can’t do this.” She grabbed a loose thread in the denim stretched over her knees and
Two feet bundled in thick navy blue socks appeared in front of her. “Can’t do what?”
Ryleigh raised her eyes, moist with remembrance.
“Ah.” Natalie crossed her feet, lowered herself with the grace of a toned dancer, and
placed a firm, yet gentle hand on Ryleigh’s arm. “The personal stuff’s the hardest.”
After a pause, Ryleigh tucked the knot of emotions neatly back where they belonged and
turned. “I’m such a wimp.”
“You’ll get through this.” Natalie Jo Burstyn’s perfectly manicured brows knitted
together in a scowl that masked her usual playful grin. “I intend to see you do.”
The lump in her throat strangled the words she’d rehearsed since Natalie had offered to
drop everything to help. Of course she would. Her meddling best friend always seemed to know
exactly what to do. Or say. She grasped Natalie’s hand and squeezed.
Sometimes words got in the way.
Ryleigh released a long breath and straightened her legs. The journal tumbled to her lap.
She swiped a hand across the journal’s cover and then wiped them on her jeans. “An old
journal,” Ryleigh said, brushing away the dusty handprint.
“Don’t just sit there fondling it, open it.”
The binding creaked. Timeworn pages fanned in a graceful arch as if her touch had
resurrected them. Faded ink swirled across the unlined parchment, and the musty balm of old
paper and ink tapped at a recollection, distant and unformed, yet ripe for picking—but couldn’t
pluck it from her memory. Smudged and watermarked, the words danced across the aged pages.
She turned each one with care.
Nat leaned in. “Well?”
Ryleigh frowned. “Looks like a collection of poetry.”
“I didn’t know your mom wrote poetry.”
“This isn’t her handwriting,” Ryleigh responded without thought, “and my mother never
wrote anything more literary than a grocery list.”
Natalie peered over her shoulder. “Then whose?”
“Don’t know. Just an ‘R’ at the end of the entries.” The pages crackled as Ryleigh turned
each one. “And the year. ’66. ’67 on some.” A shiver feathered its way from her neck to the tips
of her fingers.
“Want to read it?” The familiar weight of Nat’s head settled on her shoulder. “Like old
She’d never considered not sharing something with Nat and quickly harnessed the
prickling urge to slam the book shut to prying eyes.
Careful not to damage the pages, she smoothed them flat, the tickle of selfishness
nibbling at her consistent, rational side. As she scanned the pages, she muttered lines at random,
the only autograph the watermarked scars of blurred ink. “The air is thick, gray ashen snow, the
ghost returns, its presence unfought.” She flipped the page. “Fireflies flicker against azure skies,
frolicking hither in reverent riverdance.” The weight against her shoulder anchored a covey of
troublesome thoughts, but Ryleigh continued to pluck lines from the pages. “Sodden showers of
infected rain, across crystal skies littered with fire.” She dragged a finger across an eyebrow.
“They dance to their reticent song.”
Natalie frowned. “Who?”
“Fireflies.” She tapped the page with her index finger. “One of the poems is about
fireflies. I wonder if they’re really like that.”
Ryleigh tucked a strand of hair behind an ear and closed the book with a finger marking
her place. “I’ve never seen one.”
“C’mon,” Nat said, crossing her arms. “Kids catch fireflies in jars all the time.”
“Not this small-town, sheltered Arizonan.”
“Come to think of it, I’ve never seen one since moving here.”
“They’re on my bucket list.”
Natalie opened and then shut her mouth. “You added to your bucket list without telling
The concentrated effort Nat used to curb her bewilderment caused Ryleigh to forget her
grief for a fleeting moment. “I’ll see one someday,” she said and reopened the book to the last
“Read to me, Riles.” Nat folded her long legs beneath her, anticipation deepening her
eyes to warm chocolate. “Like when we were kids.”
Ryleigh glanced sideways at her. “I had to explain them to you.”
“So?” Nat said, the short word long on sarcasm. “It’s nostalgic.”
“Okay.” Ryleigh took a deep breath. “This is the last entry. It’s called ‘Lost.’”
“‘I placed my love inside your heart
and softly called your name—
I placed a hole inside of mine
as God’s heavenly angels came.
I placed a kiss of golden tears
upon your tiny chest—
I placed a rainbow at your door
the day you came to rest.
I placed a single pure white rose
upon your tiny feet—
I placed my hand against your cheek
and said good-bye, my sweet.
I placed a gentle autumn breeze
within your tiny space—
I placed with you, a piece of me
and let you go in God’s embrace.’”
The words stuck in her throat with painful intensity. Ryleigh dragged her finger over the
‘R’—the last letter in the journal. “Forty-three years ago.”
Natalie picked at a stray thread in the shredded knee of her True Religion jeans. “I’m not
very good at analyzing poems, but—”
“Whoever wrote this lost a baby.” Careful fingers traced the cover, the stained leather
unsettling, yet somehow comforting beneath her touch. Ryleigh’s neck prickled. A tear trembled
on the edge of her eye. “I feel like I’m eavesdropping,” she said and closed the book. Sheer will
eased the roiling in her stomach.
“Sounds like something you’d write.”
Ryleigh shook her head. “Cozy articles for The Sentinel on county fairs, care packages to
our soldiers, and Mrs. Grayson’s baby quilts don’t count. I haven’t written fiction or poetry in
Ryleigh raised the journal. “This is raw passion,” she said, sniffing back the telltale signs of
her emotion. “Emotion stripped naked.”
“Your work is like that. Peeking inside the places of your heart no one ever sees.”
“Maybe I don’t want anyone to see.”
Nat paused, and then wrapped her arm over Ryleigh’s shoulder. “Things will get better. I
Nat’s words soothed her, a spoken ointment soothing a fresh wound.
* * *
The women sat cross-legged in the empty apartment sorting a mish-mash of items. One
scrap at a time, Ryleigh placed the pieces of her mother’s life into neat piles, turning each one
front to back, puzzled at how little she knew about the odd trinkets, mementos, and letters
safeguarded inside worn-out cardboard boxes. With one pile marked “Save” and the other to be
discarded, it occurred to her what a parallel her mother’s passing was to the death sentence
Chandler had given their marriage. Nothing remained but the pompous flashbacks of one and a
handful of useless trinkets from the other, and with one flick of the wrist (or philandering penis
in Chandler’s case), they are tossed aside with yesterday’s trash. Yet the part that remained—the
part that had wrapped itself around her heart—seemed useless to try to dismiss. Love doesn’t
stop with someone’s absence. Sometimes it grew heavier, the ache deeper, until the hurt no
longer gave in to tears.
The gravity of grief had exhausted her, and she felt as overused as the boxes that held her
mother’s meager belongings. Ryleigh pressed her fingers hard against her temples as if the
pressure would numb the ache and quench the niggling urge to leave it all behind and walk away.
Yet that wasn’t entirely true—the impulse to run bulldozed past any rational thought.
Ryleigh rubbed the back of her neck. “Just tired.” Her hands fell to her lap. “It’s just,”
she said with a sigh, “none of this makes any sense.” Ryleigh picked up a patch embroidered
with an open-mouthed eagle’s head and tugged at the broken threads. “Who keeps junk like
“Or this?” She held up a single brass button. “Mom had hundreds of orphaned buttons.
Why isn’t this one with the others?”
“Don’t know,” Natalie said, straightening, “but I’m curious about the letters.”
Ryleigh stilled. “What letters?”
Natalie reached for the stack bound with a rubber band. “These,” she said, “postmarked
forty-something years ago with no return address.”
Fragments of Eleanor’s life lingered in Ryleigh’s hands—tokens she never bothered to
share. Or had she simply not paid attention when her mother spoke of these things? In either case
it was a moot point: she’d never bothered to ask. And now it was too late.
The items were meaningless, but an ambiguous feeling tapped at her like the annoying
click of a retractable pen. “I don’t want to save this crap, but it feels strange to think about
throwing it away. Does that sound weird?” She voiced the question with no expectations of a
“Of course it does,” Nat said, the usual lilt returning in her tone. She rose and brushed the
dust from the backside of her jeans. “But it doesn’t surprise me. You are weird.”
“Thanks,” Ryleigh said, reaching for the shoebox. The penciled sketches on the front had
faded, but the drawing of the stylish low-heeled dress shoes remained intact. Over the years, the
corners had become torn and sloppy and the lid slipped easily free. She placed the items inside
and then pressed the lid into place, concealing portions of her mother’s life, remnants absent of
An empty feeling swept over her. “Something isn’t right, Nat.” In truth, it felt as if she’d
been yanked from the pages of a fairy tale and didn’t know how to find her way back.
Or if she truly wanted to.
“We’re almost done, Riles.” Natalie offered a hand up, her deep brown eyes glistening
with tiny flecks of copper in the afternoon light. “All that’s left is the desk.”
Ryleigh’s shoulders slumped. “I forgot.” She clasped the journal with one hand and
grabbed Natalie’s outstretched hand with the other. Nat had been her rock when she needed a
steady hand, yet waggish enough to celebrate the good times with all-out regale. Always there.
No matter what. With an achy groan that migrated through every forty-three-year-old bone, she
allowed her best friend to pull her upright.
A photograph fell to the floor between them.
Ryleigh reached it first. They rose together and turned toward the apartment window,
light spilling across the photograph. Yellowed and creased, and deckled edges crimped in several
places, it wore the markings of time.
“Wait…is that your father?”
“Where’d this come from?”
“Must’ve been inside the journal.” She pushed the hair from her eyes. “Why didn’t Mom
ever show this to me?”
“Don’t know, but check out your father’s friend. The Kodak is faded, but he’s gorgeous.
Killer eyes,” she said, letting loose an exaggerated whistle.
Ryleigh flipped the photograph over. “Look at this,” she said, tracing a finger over faded
ink, a ghostly impression of time long passed. “Today this may be nothing, but tomorrow it may
be all that’s left.”
“An ‘R’ and 1967.” Natalie raised an eyebrow. “Just like the journal.”
“I wonder if my father’s friend is still alive? Is he the author?”
“Be fun to find out.”
“Fat chance. I’m a fair hand at research for inconsequential feature articles for my
column, but I’m no sleuth. I can’t find my phone half the time.” Ryleigh slumped. “Or keep track
of a husband and where he’s sleeping. Or with whom.”
“Ouch.” Natalie paused, cleared her throat, and then pointed to the photo. “The jungle
background. The dates. This was taken in Vietnam. It’s as good a place as any to start.”
Ryleigh tapped the photo three times against her fingers. She worried her bottom lip in a
series of successive tugs and slipped the photograph into the shoebox.
Natalie grinned. “Well, Sherlock? Shall we find him
About the Author
Susan Haught–award-winning author and Australian black liquorice addict–lives in Arizona’s Rim Country with her husband and spoiled Shih-Tzu, Mercedes, who believes her princess status earns her the right to sleep on pillows, ride shotgun, and train her peers in the fine art of squeaky toys. Her husband is almost as spoiled and almost as noisy with a proficiency in elk bugling. Susan and her husband have one son.
Susan writes contemporary women’s fiction & romance with the belief that Love is Ageless and has the power to change lives–one step, one touch, one kiss at a time.