Authors: Jennifer Culbreth
Book one of The Wild Heart Series
Copyright © by Jennifer Culbreth
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission or the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Graphic Design and Interior Design by Jennifer Culbreth Designs
Visit my website at: www.facebook.com/jenniferculbrethauthor
To purchase Wild Heart visit: http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Heart-Book-ebook/dp/B00HFWL6AY/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415590060&sr=1-1&keywords=wild+heart+jennifer+culbreth
For all of my Ladies of Karnage,
I could have never done it without you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Of all of the journeys I have taken in my life, this is by far the most adventurous. Each time I have finished a manuscript, I sit back in awe of what I just accomplished. It is a very humbling feeling to see your work go from notes on a page to a full length novel. I wanted to write this book as encouragement to anyone out there who wants to start their journey, but they don’t know how. I want to thank each of you who reach out and ask for advice. I cannot begin to tell you how excited it makes me to see someone else who wants to follow their dreams and take me along on their own adventure. For any of you who aspire to become an author, I want to encourage you to pursue your dreams. If I can do it, you can do it.
I also want to give a tremendous thank you to Peggy Frese. She has been with me from the very beginning. Peggy, you have become a friend, a mentor, and my rock throughout this journey and I cannot thank you enough for all that you have done for me. I look forward to continuing this ride together!
I would also like to give thanks to my amazing group of beta readers! I don’t know where this book would have ended up without your motivation and help. I took a leap off the cliff on this book and you were all there to support me when I needed it most!
Lastly, I would like to say thank you to my family and my amazing husband. It is because of their love and support that I am able to follow my dreams. And though not all of you are related by blood, you are all my family and I love you very much! Thank you for always encouraging me to follow my dreams.
And for Jason, thank you for always being my knight in shining armor. You have taught me what true love really is and I am blessed to have you as the man who loves me.
Enjoy the story…
There are no signs along our road of life. Nothing warning us of misery or guiding us toward love. From the time we are born, until we become adults, we stumble down the path of life, searching, wandering, hoping to find which direction we should choose to take. For a time, we are guided, but like baby birds we must leave the nest and it’s up to each of us to choose our own path. Or is it? What if you choose your path, but fate decides it wants something different?
The invisible aura that is believed to control our future. It takes advantage of our hearts and plays with our minds. It uses those we love and cherish so deeply against us. It plays unfairly by bringing up our past and clouding our future. Some believe our fate is already planned, that no matter what you do, fate will win out in the end. Can you change your fate or is it sealed, destined to play by the hand of an invisible principle? They say fate brings people into our life, but in the end, it is our own choice who we decide to let walk out of it.
BACK TO TENNESSEE
After fifteen hours on the road, anyone would be exhausted. Pushing through the Washington DC traffic was the nightmare she had expected. However, once she hit the state line, each side lined with southern pines, she knew she was almost home. The darkness had already fallen, only making the trip seem much longer than it actually was. However, she was determined to pull into that gravel drive tonight. No matter how much coffee and gummy bears she had to go through, she was going to make it tonight. As she made the last turn onto the dirt road leading to her childhood home, Aiyana Forrest slowed her truck to a roll. Leaning forward she gazed out at the stars that speckled the night sky.
Now this I missed.
There were no stars in New York City and something about gazing up at the twinkling southern sky made Ani feel like she was finally home.
As she turned her black Toyota FJ onto the gravel driveway, she let out a long sigh. In front of her stood a future that she hadn’t planned. She had hightailed it out of here as soon as she’d graduated high school. Coker Creek, Tennessee had been her entire world growing up. This is where she learned to read, how to ride a bike, and how to love. Her parents had made sure that she’d gotten everything she had ever needed, and though it broke their hearts to see her leave, giving her their blessing to attend college in New York had been one of those things.
She’d learned a lot from her parents. Both of them were so much different than the other, but they found a balance in life that made their blissful marriage seem like something from a fairy tale book. When Ani was young, she dreamed of one day having a love like that of her own.
Her father had been a war hero, saving his unit from being captured, or worse, during the Vietnam War. But after suffering an injury from a training mission in Africa, he’d retired from the military and found a more peaceful life. Being in love with the outdoors, her father settled in North Caroline and opened an automotive shop. It was quaint and out of the way, and he found himself helping the same loyal customers he always seemed to see. It wasn’t though, until a fiery Native American woman had come in, cursing to the heavens, for the third flat tire in three months that his life flipped upside down. It didn’t take long and he found himself falling in love with her sassy attitude and her devotion to her culture as well. Three months later, they wed in a small ceremony on the reservation where Aiyana’s mother had been raised.
After a few years of her mother dropping, not-so-subtle, hints, her father finally had a house built for them in the mountains of Coker Creek. They tried for years to have children without success, when finally her mother found out she was pregnant. After nine months of worry, her mother gave birth to a healthy, happy, baby girl.
Aiyana had grown up an only child and instead of brothers and sisters, she had ponies, dogs, and the occasional pet squirrel. Aiyana had embraced her Native American heritage from an early age and loved the traditions and large extended family that came with it.
Now, she was pulling back into the driveway leading to the large wooden cabin that sat up on the side of the Appalachian Mountains. This time though, she wouldn’t be leaving again. After her Aunt Karen called, concerned about her father’s declining health, she had put in her two week notice at the Federal Reserve in New York where she worked, without hesitation. She packed what belongings she had into her truck and headed home. And she now found herself sitting in front of the cabin that she loved so much, but afraid to move; once she stepped down onto that red clay, she was here for good.
She looked up at the large cabin, taking in the worn and tattered look of the shutters. She could see the neglected yard from the light cast out of the windows. One last deep breath and she stepped out into the muggy Tennessee air. Heading to the back of her truck, she carefully opened the back glass of the door in an effort to keep the rest of her items from spilling out onto the ground. With a heave she grabbed her large suitcase and headed for the door of the house. As she hit the lock on her key fob, she saw a shadowed figure step out onto the top porch.
“Is that my baby girl?” her father’s voice was deep and raspy and mirrored the same tired demeanor as the outside of the house.
“Yes, daddy. It’s me,” Ani said with a smile on her face.
“How was your trip, dear?”
“Long,” she let out in a laugh as she made her way up the stairs on the side of the porch.
“Have you eaten dinner yet?”
“Not yet, daddy. I hope you fixed me something good. I haven’t had a home cooked meal in a long time.”
As she made her way toward the light, she could see the same worn and weary look that reflected from the house on her dad’s face. She hadn’t seen him in a few years and life had definitely taken its toll on him. She set her suitcase down and wrapped her arms around him, taking in the faint scent of his cologne that still lingered on the collar of his shirt; she could feel her body relax as he held her tight. But, the man she had once thought was invincible, felt fragile beneath her arms. She stepped back as her father held her out in front of him, looking her over from head to toe.
“You look more and more like your mother every time I see you,” his eyes lit up and he smiled.
He was right. One thing she was thankful for was that even on days when she couldn’t picture her mother in her mind, she could look in the mirror and see so much of her mother reflected in her own face. Her mother was Cherokee Indian and she’d immersed Aiyana into her Native American roots from the time she had taken her first steps.
“Let’s get you inside, baby girl.” He reached for her suitcase, but she grabbed it before he could get the handle. She noticed the sarcastic look in his eyes, but chose to ignore it and followed him into the kitchen. “I fixed your favorites; butter beans, cornbread, and cubed steak.”
“That sounds absolutely amazing. I haven’t had good homemade cornbread since the family reunion a few years ago.” She set her suitcase inside the door and made a beeline for the kitchen, and most particularly the cast iron skillet that sat on the stovetop.
“Be careful, Ani. That skillet is hot,” her dad chimed, with the protective voice of a father. “What the hell you got in here, Ani?” he said panting as he attempted to scoot her suitcase towards her old bedroom. He’d made it about a foot and a half, before giving up and sitting down on the edge of it.
“I’ll get that, daddy. Just sit down and relax a little would ya?” she called out to him. “Daddy, you cooked way too much food. Who were you planning on feeding, an army?” She filled her plate from the buffet of food her father had prepared, not daring to leave a crumb behind if she didn’t have to.
“No, but Cash is supposed to swing by after his shift,” her dad said as he took a more comfortable seat at the table.
Her breath hitched slightly at the sound of his name, Hudson Cash Roberts had consumed her childhood; and apparently he still held a bit of an effect on her now. His parents owned a cabin down the road. Since houses out here were few and far between, Ani and Cash had become inseparable as the only two kids on this road. He had stuck up for her all throughout elementary and middle school, during the time in which she was teased for looking like Pocahontas. When high school came around, the teasing stopped as Ani had finally grown into herself. Her long gangly legs were now the envy of all of the girls, along with her long black hair and her year round tan.
Cash had been there through each break-up, each catfight, and eventually became more to Ani than just a friend. During their last two years of high school, she’d given him more than just her heart, but her innocence too, and from that day until she’d left, she had worshipped him.
It had taken a lot to adjust when she left behind the only world she’d ever known for New York. She had studied hard in high school and earned a scholarship to NYU. She was determined to make something of herself and to make her parents proud. Something about it just never seemed to go right though. One year after starting college in New York, she had gotten the call from her father telling her that her mother had fallen ill. Deciding to take the summer off from school, she came home; and two months later helped her father bury her mother. At the time, it was the hardest thing she had ever done, until she had to leave her father alone to go back to school. But he had insisted that she finish for both her mother and herself. And though her heart ached as she walked out the door, she’d gotten on the plane and hadn’t come back home since.