Part of the fun of writing a story is creating the secondary characters who support the action and help define the main characters through their interactions. In my new Dreamspun Desire Bad to the Bone, one of my favorite secondary characters is protagonist Alex Morrison’s Irish setter, Buck.
One of the inspirations for Buck’s character was a television commercial for a popular brand of dog food that shows a character and his dog growing up together, from toddler to teen. I wanted to show that same progression in Alex’s life, though I changed the scale from his teen years to adulthood. Buck’s age is a reminder to Alex of the passage of years from his “golden days” to the present.
Buck is based in large part on my own Irish setter, Tara. She was a Christmas present from my husband before we had children. Like most setters, she had a slender build, long legs, floppy ears, and a flowing red coat. Tara was sweet-tempered and energetic. She loved to run around in our large backyard in Chicago. When we moved to Texas, we helped her deal with the heat by giving her a kiddie pool of her own to splash around in. My husband helped burn off her energy by taking her for long, long walks after the sun set every night.
When our children were born, Tara was a gentle protector and playmate. Her one flaw was that she loved to chew, especially when she got bored. When we went out, we’d keep her on our enclosed sun porch, which had an old sofa we didn’t mind if she laid on. Tara liked to gnaw on a corner of the sofa and was starting to tear the fabric. Someone told us to sprinkle a bit of hot sauce on the spot to discourage her from chewing on it. My husband tried it one day when we were going Christmas shopping. We came home to a porch ankle-deep in fluffy white fiberfill. We’re not sure if the hot sauce burned a little or if she liked the flavor, but she proceeded to rip the cover off the couch completely and shred the stuffing out of it. It looked like it had snowed inside.
On another day, I was planning to make pizza for dinner and had taken a pound of bread dough out of the freezer and set it on the counter to thaw. I had to run to the store to buy some ingredients, and when I got home, the bag of dough was gone. I was checking the freezer in case I’d forgotten to take it out after all when Tara wandered into the kitchen, looking guilty. I found a shred of plastic bag on the floor and realized she’d grabbed the dough from the counter and eaten it. A little while later, she was starting to look pretty uncomfortable, and I was worried that the dough was rising in her stomach! I called our vet, who told me she might be pretty miserable for a while, but it wouldn’t hurt her. Unfortunately the discomfort wasn’t enough to teach her not to snatch food from the counter in the future.
Alex’s setter, Buck, isn’t quite as manic as Tara could be, but he shares her high energy. Even in his senior years, he loves to accompany Alex on his morning runs and thinks every time the door opens, it’s to let him outside. He’s a good judge of character but a bad judge of what he hits when he wags his tail, and he loves a good ear-scratching. And he doesn’t forget a friend.
Incidentally, Buck is named after a semi-famous movie character. Bonus points to anyone who can guess who that is in the comments before they read the book.
A second chance at first love—if he has the courage to take it.
Alex can’t think of himself as anything but a failure. In high school, he was on the fast track to a career in pro football when he forged an unlikely friendship with a half-Comanche boy from the wrong part of town, Ricky Lee Jennings. Their shared love of books could have grown into more—but a homophobic teammate attacked Ricky Lee, and Alex wouldn’t risk his scholarship to defend him. Ricky Lee was kicked out of school, and Alex never heard from him again.
Now Alex’s glory days are nothing but a memory. An injury ended his football aspirations, his marriage fell apart, and his dreams of making a difference as an environmental lobbyist are as dead as his fantasies of sports stardom.
But all that could change in one magical night, when Ricky Lee shows up at their high-school reunion.
Alex rose and moved through a few stretches before pulling on a pair of shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt and lacing on his running shoes.
Buck danced around him as soon as he opened his bedroom door and followed him into the kitchen, the feathery sweep of his long tail betraying his eagerness. Alex nodded a greeting to Alanna, who was nursing a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. “Get this overgrown dust mop out of here,” she groused when Buck laid his head in her lap and nudged. Alanna gave a good scratch behind each of the setter’s floppy ears, bringing him to an expression of blissful idiocy. “I don’t want to have to fish his hair out of my corn flakes.”
“Might be too late for that.” As soon as Alex opened the door leading to the stairs, Buck raised his head and darted out in front of him, then waited impatiently at the bottom of the steps for Alex to unlock the heavier outer door. “You’d think we never let you outside, you big goof.”
The mid-October morning air carried a chill hint of cooler weather to come, but Alex knew he’d be pushing up his sleeves before the end of the run. He started off slowly, Buck loping easily at his side, until he left the streets of the Freeland business district—such as it was—behind him. As the buildings thinned, giving way to more open field, he picked up the pace, letting the breeze waft away the last of his sleepiness.
Running had always been his catharsis, his way of releasing stress and clearing his head. He’d sat through enough sport physiology lectures during his playing days to know that the endorphins it released were not only analgesic but also mood-elevating—the so-called “runner’s high.” Pounding along the quiet country road, he consciously freed his mind of thoughts, focusing on the rhythm of his footfalls and the regular cadence of his breath.
It worked for the first few miles, but the unsettled feelings raised by Ricky Lee’s return refused to stay at bay for long. Running might provide a temporary distraction, but it couldn’t resolve issues or make them disappear, Alex knew. The only solution for that would be to face them.
He paused at the crossroad that marked his midpoint, slowing his breathing and pushing up the sleeves of his T-shirt as the sun and his exertion warmed him. Buck had wandered off to answer nature’s call, but as he bounded back he halted and turned his head to glance down the road, his ears perked up.
The throaty rumble of a motor broke the morning silence before a black dot appeared against the horizon, growing larger as it approached. The cycle rolled to a stop and the rider pulled off his helmet. Before he could speak, Buck leaped forward and jumped up at Ricky Lee, barking furiously.
Alex grabbed the dog’s collar and pulled him back before he could knock the bike over, wondering if Buck could possibly remember Ricky Lee.
Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.
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