The Promise of Forgiveness

The Promise of Forgiveness

by Marin Thomas

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A novel of love, forgiveness, and the unbreakable bonds of family from award-nominated author Marin Thomas . . .
When it comes to family, Ruby Baxter hasn’t had much luck. The important men in her early life abandoned her, and any time a decent boyfriend came along, she ran away. But now Ruby is thirty-one and convinced she is failing her teenage daughter. Mia is the one good thing in her life, and Ruby hopes a move to Kansas will fix what’s broken between them.
But the road to redemption takes a detour. Hank McArthur, the biological father Ruby never knew existed, would like her to claim her inheritance: a dusty oil ranch just outside of Unforgiven, Oklahoma.
As far as first impressions go, the gruff, emotionally distant rancher isn’t what Ruby has hoped for in a father. Yet Hank seems to have a gift for rehabilitating abused horses—and for reaching Mia. And if Ruby wants to entertain the possibility of a relationship with Joe Dawson, the ranch foreman, she must find a way to open her heart to the very first man who left her behind.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698198685
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/01/2016
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 168,635
File size: 795 KB

About the Author

Marin Thomas is an award-nominated author of more than twenty-five novels, including the Cash Brothers series. She grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin, and attended college at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she played basketball for the Lady Wildcats and earned a BA in Radio and Television. Following graduation, she married her college sweetheart in a five-minute ceremony at the historic Little Chapel of the West in Las Vegas, Nevada. While her two children were young, Marin coached youth basketball. Now that her son has graduated college and her daughter is in graduate school, Marin writes full-time. She and her husband currently live in Houston, Texas. The Promise of Forgiveness is her first women’s fiction novel.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright ©2016 Marin Thomas

Chapter One

Unforgiven, Oklahoma, was as ugly as it was hot.

There wasn’t a soul in sight, but Ruby Baxter’s skin prickled. Someone was watching.

A gust of blistering July heat plastered her overprocessed blond hair to her face. Accustomed to Missouri’s lush green foliage and high humidity, she wouldn’t be surprised if the Panhandle’s harsh sun, blowing soil, and never-ending wind sucked the life right out of its Okies.

She fondled the gemstone dangling from the gold chain around her neck and studied the only paved street in Unforgiven. The side alleys consisted of sparse gravel and packed dirt. The buildings to her left listed slightly—kind of like her single-wide after a fierce storm had blown through Pineville, Missouri, and almost shoved the tornado magnet off its cinder blocks.

“Not much of a town, is it?” Ruby reached out to brush a strand of hair from Mia’s face, but her daughter jerked away. Lately everything she did or said made Mia angry, leaving a sick feeling in Ruby’s gut that never went away.

“Enjoy your stay, ladies.” The bus driver set their bags in the dirt, and then the Greyhound drove off, farting black exhaust in their faces.

Mia kicked a stone, sending it sailing through air, where it pinged off the No Parking sign ten yards away.

This pit stop had been a bad idea. Her relationship with Mia was in shambles, and the last thing Ruby needed was to lose focus on what mattered most—her daughter. There was no guarantee anything positive would result from Ruby meeting her biological father, but the instant she’d opened the certified letter from a lawyer representing Hank McArthur—a man she hadn’t known existed until a few weeks ago—the fresh start in Elkhart, Kansas, that she’d promised Mia had taken a detour.

Hank McArthur had summoned Ruby home to her birthplace to claim her inheritance—whatever that was—and a five-hundred-dollar cashier’s check had been included with the note. Ruby glanced at her daughter. “Maybe I should have bought a used car with the cashier’s check instead of bus tickets.” If Ruby had a set of wheels, they could leave this hole in the wall whenever they wanted. But she’d doubted a clunker would have made the four-hundred-fifty-mile trip, so she’d opted for reliable transportation—bus tickets to the Sunflower State with a layover in Unforgiven.

Ruby wished she and Mia were on better terms, because she had no one to confide in about her reasons for meeting Hank McArthur. Aside from wanting information about her medical history, which was also important for Mia, Ruby wished to know if she shared any traits with her biological parents. After she discovered she’d been adopted, she’d fantasized that the McArthurs were important people and that she hadn’t yet lived up to her potential.

That life had more in store for her than barely scraping by.

“Are we just gonna stand here and look stupid?”

“Give me a minute to think.” The sweltering mid-July temperature might as well have melted the heels of Ruby’s cowboy boots to the blacktop, because she couldn’t have moved her feet if she’d tried. All these years she’d believed she was the biological daughter of a trucker and a self-taught hairstylist. Her parents had gone to their graves in a head-on car crash without ever having told her she’d been adopted.

The answers to her questions were here, but what if she ended up not liking the real Ruby Baxter? Then again, Mia would argue that the adopted Ruby Baxter was nothing to brag about, either.

“We won’t stay long,” Ruby said, whether to reassure herself or Mia, she had no clue. Only two buses a week stopped in Unforgiven—Tuesdays and Thursdays. Today was Thursday. Unless they wanted to hitchhike to Kansas, they were stuck for a while.

“This place is lame,” Mia said.

Annoyance mixed with fear crawled up Ruby’s throat, but she flattened her lips, trapping the F bomb inside her mouth. It wasn’t as if Mia hadn’t heard her mother swear before. F-u-c-k had been one of her daughter’s first words. Ruby had taken her then-eighteen-month-old to Dollar Island, and when she’d refused to buy her a stuffed animal, Mia had blurted, “Fuck you, Mommy.”

Ruby had put the blame for that one squarely on her own shoulders. She’d been seventeen when Dylan Snyder had knocked her up. She’d expected him to do right by her. He hadn’t. Rather than say I do, he’d come and gone as he pleased—his visits ending in slamming doors and fuck yous. She should have ended things between them after Mia was born, but she’d let Dylan stay in her life because she’d been afraid to be alone. He’d been her first bad boyfriend decision and he wouldn’t be her last.

One afternoon when she’d returned home from her hostess job at Carmen’s Chicken Fry, she’d found Dylan passed out naked on the bed with a condom hanging off his ding-dong. That he’d used her trailer to have sex in with some other girl had made her realize he’d never be the kind of father Mia deserved, or the boyfriend she deserved. Ruby decided Dylan had used up his last second chance and with great pleasure and a whole lot of satisfaction, she’d planted her pointy-toed Dingo right up his lily-white ass. From then on Dylan had steered clear of the Shady Acres Mobile Home Park.

“Give it a chance. The town might grow on us.”

Mia snorted.

At the end of the month Ruby would begin a new job as the night manager for the Red Roof Inn in Elkhart. The late hours wouldn’t be easy, but she’d be home when Mia returned from school, and spending more time with her daughter was part of Ruby’s plan for a fresh start.

She shielded her eyes from the sun’s glare and stared down the block. The ramshackle buildings looked as if they’d been abandoned during the Dust Bowl Era and then reclaimed years later. The wooden sidewalks and false storefronts were straight out of an Old West film set. A life-size cigar-store Indian wearing a black-and-blue war bonnet stood outside the Trading Post Mercantile. The faded outline of a Castrol Motor Oil emblem decorated the brick exterior of Dwayne’s Billiard Hall, where a giant cue stick served as the handle on the front door. Hidden in the shadows of the pool hall sat the Possum Belly Saloon, its windows spray-painted black—either to represent the color of oil or to conceal the shady dealings of its patrons.

A pair of rusted antique Chevron gas pumps with their hoses ripped off baked in the sun across the street in an empty lot littered with trash and weeds. A newer station with a repair bay sat adjacent to the abandoned one. The sheriff’s office was located at the end of the block, sandwiched between Panhandle Realty and Petro Oil. No bank—hopefully there was an ATM inside one of the businesses.

“I don’t see any place to eat unless the pool hall has a grill,” Ruby said. They’d boarded the bus at six fifteen in the morning and it was now after one o’clock.

Mia motioned to a silver 1960s Airstream with Jailhouse Diner written in black cursive along the side. A handful of dusty pickups and a patrol car sat parked out front. Yellow plastic ribbons tied to the AC unit in the window flapped in the air, reminding Ruby they stood baking in the sun. She picked up her luggage. “Let’s give the diner a try.”

As they approached the Airstream, a Chevy truck cruised past and the driver stuck his head out the window to get a look-see at Ruby. Yeah, you think you’re gonna get lucky, fella. She’d hitched enough rides with handsome rednecks to leave her with a lifetime of brief relationships.

Mia waved at the drive-by cowboy.

“Knock it off. He’s too old for you.” At fourteen Mia showed signs of inheriting Ruby’s generous bust size. Her blossoming bosom, coupled with honey-blond curls, drew attention from men who had no business looking at girls her age.

A little more than two months ago Ruby had walked in on her daughter and a high school freshman naked in bed. After all of their chats about boys and sex, she’d never expected Mia to lose her virginity at such a young age. Ruby had been no saint in high school, but she’d waited until she’d turned seventeen to get naked with a boy.

Not that it had mattered how long Ruby had waited to pop her cherry. Everyone in Pineville knew she test-drove men faster than an Indy 500 car circled a racetrack. It shouldn’t have surprised her that people would assume like mother like daughter, making Mia an easy target for boys like Kevin Walters. The only way to give Mia a fighting chance to save her reputation was to move out of town and enroll her in a new school, where her classmates wouldn’t know she’d slept with a boy in eighth grade or that her mother had a history of failed relationships.

“Maybe someone in here will tell us how to get to your grandfather’s ranch.”

“He’s not my grandfather. He’s your father.”

Not as far as Ruby was concerned. Hank McArthur had forfeited his fatherhood rights when he’d given her away. She could have done the same with Mia after she’d been born, but she hadn’t. Ruby wasn’t a perfect parent, but she loved her daughter.

When they entered the Airstream, the men seated at the lunch counter—four cowboys and a lawman—spun their red leather stools and sized them up.

Ruby smoothed a hand down the front of her peach sundress and straightened the belt at her waist. The outfit hadn’t been comfortable to travel in, but she’d wanted to look nice when she met Hank McArthur for the first time. Not to impress him but to show him what he’d tossed away.

Before the stare-down between her and the group at the counter grew uncomfortable, the kitchen door swung open and out strolled Elvis—the Native American version. Tall and thin with a wide forehead, flat nose, and tanned skin, he wore jeans cuffed to the ankles, and his black T-shirt sported an image of the infamous icon. One rolled sleeve held a pack of cigarettes, and he’d combed his jet-black hair into the famous pompadour style, complete with wet locks falling onto his forehead and muttonchops.

“You ladies lost ’n’ looking for directions, or are you here to eat?” he asked.

Aware the men at the counter continued to eyeball them, Ruby said, “We’re eating.”

“Seat yourselves.”

Mia picked the booth near the air conditioner, and they shoved their bags beneath the table.

“What’s up with that guy’s hair?” Mia whispered.

“He’s impersonating a singer from the fifties.”

“Weird.” Mia popped her chewing gum while she perused the menu.

The diner walls were plastered with Elvis memorabilia—a framed TV Guide, an artist’s rendition of Graceland, album covers, signed posters, movie photographs, and a display case filled with Elvis bobblehead dolls. The black-and-white checkered linoleum floor was covered in scuff marks, and the old-fashioned jukebox gave the motor home a teenage malt-shop feel. The place stuck out like a sore thumb in the spaghetti-western town.

“I’m ordering dessert and a soda pop.” Mia glared defiantly and tapped a neon-green fingernail against the sparkly tabletop.

“Go ahead.”

“Fine.  I will.” Mia dug out her iPod and stuck in the earbuds.

Ruby had to pick her battles with Mia, and keeping her from turning into a slut trumped concern over a poor diet.. Ruby wished her daughter understood that the choices she made now would impact her for the rest of her life.

After Mia had had sex with Kevin, Ruby had forbidden her from seeing the boy. She’d considered speaking with Kevin’s father, but Biggs Walters was an unemployed alcoholic who had nothing good to say to anyone—especially women—after his wife had left him a year earlier.

Ruby had resorted to one of her lectures on the dangers and consequences of having sex at such a young age, but Mia had shut her out and would never say why she’d slept with Kevin.

If there was one upside to Mia’s rebellion, the timing couldn’t have worked out better for a move. Ruby had split with her boyfriend a week before catching Mia and Kevin in the act. She and Sean had been together nine months—the longest she’d lived with a guy before handing him his eviction notice.

A month earlier Ruby had begun growing uneasy when Sean had ignored several of her text messages. She’d feared that he was losing interest in her, and with each passing day she’d become more anxious. Then one night he hadn’t come home—his reason: he’d stayed at a buddy’s house after drinking too many beers. Ruby hadn’t bought it and had asked him to move out. Sean had begged and pleaded with her not to break up with him, insisting he hadn’t done anything wrong. That the reason he hadn’t returned her texts was because the guys at work had made fun of him for having to answer to her for everything he did. Ruby wanted to believe Sean, but if she let him stay, his buddies at work would keep badgering him until they convinced Sean he could do better than Ruby. So she’d stood her ground, insisting he pack his bags and vamoose. She’d barely caught her breath after he left before Mia had blindsided her.

Elvis delivered glasses of water to their table and Mia removed her earbuds. “Everyone ’round here calls me Jimmy,” he said. “Or you can use my Osage name, Ha-Pah-Shu-Tse. Means ‘red corn.’” He flashed a gilded-toothed smile.

“Is that real?” Mia asked.

“Solid gold.” He dipped his head toward Ruby. “We don’t get many women passing through Unforgiven. Where’re you ladies headed?”

“Kansas. I’m Ruby Baxter and this is my daughter, Mia. We stopped in town to visit Hank McArthur.”

“He’s my mom’s real dad.”

Ruby shot Mia a stern look. She knew not to tell strangers their personal business. “Is the Devil’s Wind Ranch nearby?”

“West of here. ’Bout a half hour by car.”

Ruby should phone Hank and warn him that she’d arrived, but the call could wait until after lunch.

Coward. Okay, she was delaying the inevitable. So what? It wasn’t like she had places to go and things to do the rest of the day. “I didn’t notice any motels in the area.”

“If you want a room, you’ll have to go to Guymon.” Jimmy pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “I got a pop-up trailer out back you can sleep in for twenty bucks a night. I’ll let you use the bathroom in here before I open in the mornings.”

Ruby ignored Mia’s groan. “We might take you up on the offer.” If Hank turned out to be a schmuck, they’d bunk down in the King’s trailer while they waited for the next bus out of town.

The diner door opened and in walked a pair of dusty jeans, a faded red Oklahoma Sooners T-shirt and matching baseball cap. The newcomer glanced Ruby’s way, startling her with his empty brown-eyed stare. He nodded, although it sure didn’t seem like he saw her, and then walked up to the counter, choosing the stool farthest from the others.

“This is your lucky day,” Jimmy said. “You might be able to hitch a ride to the Devil’s Wind with Joe.”

“Joe?” Ruby asked.

Jimmy nodded to the man with the vacant gaze. “Joe Dawson. He’s the foreman of the ranch.”

Chapter Two

Joe Dawson looked more like a cotton farmer than a cowboy. “Can you vouch for him?” Ruby asked the diner owner.

“He’s been working for Hank ‘bout a year and never caused any trouble that I heard of. You gals know what you want?”

“Apple cobbler and a root beer.” Mia stuck her earbuds in and lip-synched to a song.

“I’ll have a cheeseburger—no onions—and a Diet Coke,” Ruby said.

Before Jimmy went into the kitchen, he set a glass of water in front of the Devil’s Wind foreman. Ruby ogled Joe. If he felt her eyes on him, he didn’t care, because he never glanced her way. After a minute she lost interest in the granite statue and gazed out the window while Mia pretended she didn’t exist.

Ten minutes later Jimmy delivered their food. Ruby chewed her burger and recalled the dream she’d had the night after opening the lawyer’s letter. The scene had unfolded in front of a white clapboard house with a rich green manicured lawn and a pot of yellow daisies by the front door. There hadn’t been a single cloud in the periwinkle sky as butterflies fluttered in the air. Hank McArthur stood on the porch, his arms open in welcome as he shared a sad tale of how he’d been forced against his will to give Ruby up for adoption. She’d woken before she’d learned whether she’d forgiven him or not. She shoved a fry into her mouth, then froze when a shadow fell across the table.

“I hear you’re looking for a ride.”

“I’m Ruby Baxter.” She wiped her fingers on her napkin before offering her hand.

“Joe Dawson.” His grip was firm, and she appreciated that he didn’t break eye contact to check out her boobs the way most men did.

“My daughter, Mia.” She nodded across the table. “We don’t want to get in the way of your business in town, but we could use a lift to the Devil’s Wind.”

“I need an hour.”

“That’s fine. As soon as we finish our lunch, we’ll go over to the mercantile and look around until you’re ready to leave.”

After the door closed behind him, Mia spoke. “He’s got sad eyes.”

Not sad—haunting.

Someone at the counter told a joke and the others guffawed. It was time to leave. “Finish your cobbler.” Ruby rummaged through her purse for money.

“He keeps staring at you.”


Mia tilted her head. “The cop.”

There was nothing memorable about the lawman’s face or neatly trimmed brown hair, but when their gazes connected, his mouth curved into a nice smile. Even if she hadn’t put dating on the back burner, the boy next door wasn’t her type. She’d celebrated her thirtieth-first birthday last month, but the crow’s-feet fanning from the corners of her eyes had cropped up years ago—each line representing a bad choice, mistake, or regret. She was way more than the fresh-faced officer could handle.

“Let’s head over to the mercantile and wait there for our ride.” Ruby signaled Jimmy for the bill.

“I don’t take credit cards or personal checks.” He set the ticket on the table. “Cash only.”

“Who are the cowboys?” Ruby asked.

“They ride for the Bar T. Roy Sandoval’s ranch borders the Devil’s Wind.”

“Is Mr. Sandoval a friend of Hank McArthur’s?”

“Just neighbors.” Jimmy took the twenty-dollar bill Ruby held out. “You want change?”

“We’re good.”

She and Mia removed their belongings from beneath the table.

“Excuse me, ma’am.”

She turned and came face-to-face with the boy next door.

He tapped a finger against the brim of his Stetson. “Deputy Paul Randall.”

“Ruby Baxter.”

“What brings you to Unforgiven?” he asked.

“Hank McArthur.”

“You related to Hank?”

“He’s my father,” Ruby said.

The deputy’s lips stretched until his smile vanished into his cheeks. “Didn’t know Hank had a daughter.”

 “Nice to meet you.” She urged Mia toward the door, but the lawman followed them outside.

“Must have been something important to keep you away from home all these years.”

“Unforgiven isn’t home.” Ruby watched Mia’s retreating back. “I’m in a hurry.”

“If you need anything during your stay, feel free to call on me.”

“Thank you, Deputy—”

“Paul.” The nice-guy smile returned. “We’re a close-knit community.” He got into his patrol car and sped off.

“The deputy’s nosy,” Ruby said when she caught up with Mia outside the mercantile.

“Is he joining your boyfriend-of-the-month club while we’re here?”

Ruby squeezed the suitcase handle until her fingers grew numb. Before Ruby’s break-up with Sean, Mia had never voiced an opinion about her mother’s numerous relationships.

“We’re not buying anything.” Ruby opened the door and ushered Mia inside the musty-smelling store.

The sun streaming through the front window illuminated the dancing dust fairies around their heads. Wall-to-wall shelving displayed a variety of goods—canned food, cleaning products, fishing tackle, camping supplies, and boots. Three circular clothing racks held an assortment of men’s shirts, lightweight jackets, and hoodies. Jeans stacked two feet high sat on a table next to a shelf of white undershirts and BVDs. There wasn’t a stitch of female clothing in the entire store.

Mia wrinkled her nose at the stuffed critters mounted on the wall above the checkout counter. Ruby identified the deer head, raccoon, possum, and fox, but the animal with a tubelike head and a bushy tail perplexed her.

“That there’s a South American anteater.” A little person stepped out from behind a display of fishing tackle. The miniature short-limbed senior couldn’t have been more than four and a half feet tall. Grizzled beard stubble covered his face, and a large bald spot on the top of his head gleamed beneath the fluorescent lights. The remaining ring of snowy hair stuck up at angles, and tufts of fuzz sprouted from his ears. His Roman nose, wide mouth, fleshy lips, and dark eyes hinted at a Greek heritage. Taken separately, his features were much too large for his small stature, but together they created a compelling face.

“You two got off the bus.”

Had it been this man’s eyes that she’d felt on her earlier? “I’m Ruby Baxter, and this is my daughter, Mia.”

“Folks call me Big Dan. Name’s a keepsake from my days as a carnie.”

“What’s a carnie?” Mia asked.

“Someone who works for a traveling carnival,” Ruby said.

Mia wandered over to a display of tourist trinkets and examined the key chains, snow globes, and magnets.

Big Dan climbed onto a stool behind the register. “If you need something, say so. I’ll tell you if I have it. If you’re killing time until your ride comes, I got week-old newspapers you can read.”

“How did you guess we were waiting for a ride?” Ruby asked.

He opened a can of Kodiak chewing tobacco and placed a pinch between his cheek and gum. “I know everything that goes on in this town.” The statement was so matter-of-fact that she took him at his word.

“Bought the store in eighty-three. Seen thousands of roughnecks pass through Unforgiven.”

“Are there any women here?”

“The ranchers’ wives shop in Guymon.”

“What about the wives and girlfriends of the oil workers?”

“Most of the men live near the drilling sites. And the married ones leave their families back home.”

“I want this.” Mia held up a magnet of the state of Oklahoma.

“That’ll be two sixty-eight,” Big Dan said.

Mia shoved the trinket into her pocket, then sat on the bench by the front window and listened to her iPod.

Ruby’s daughter had been testing her ever since Sean packed his bags. As much as she wanted to refuse to pay for the souvenir, she forked over a five-dollar bill in order to avoid a public spat.

Ignoring her open hand, he placed the change on the counter. “Enjoy your stay at the Devil’s Wind.”

How did he know where she was headed? She hadn’t mentioned the ranch. Big Dan’s gaze fixated on something over her shoulder, and Ruby spun to see what had caught his attention.


His boot heels thunked against the plank floor, the warped boards popping beneath his weight. He stopped a good distance from the checkout.

“Our ride’s here,” Ruby said. “It was nice meeting you, Big Dan.”

“See you next time.”

Ruby and Mia followed Joe to the black Dodge pickup parked in front of the mercantile. He opened the passenger-side door for Ruby, then slid behind the wheel and waited for Mia to buckle up before backing out of the space. He cruised through the four-way stop at the end of the street and then pressed on the gas when he hit the open road.

She waited for him to make conversation or flip on the radio. He did neither. After a mile of silence, Mia fell asleep. Ruby’s eyes drifted to Joe. He drove with one hand on the wheel, the other arm resting on the door.

“What kind of ranch is the Devil’s Wind?” she asked.

“Cattle and oil.” He shifted toward her. “I manage the cattle.”

“Who handles the oil?”

“Petro Oil leases the pumps, and Hank spends most of his time caring for a few abused horses.”

The sympathetic rancher seemed at odds with a man who’d give his daughter up for adoption. But if neglected horses were willing to trust Hank McArthur, then maybe Ruby shouldn’t write him off too soon.

“Does anyone else live on the property with you and Hank?”

“It’s been just the two of us since he hired me a year ago in May.”

She turned her attention to the giant grasshoppers bobbing across the land and wondered what kind of reception she’d receive from her estranged father.

As a young child Ruby had been the apple of her adoptive father’s eye. Every Friday afternoon when Glen Baxter returned from his weekly truck route, he’d take Ruby fishing, to the movies, or bowling. On occasion they’d stop at the Charlie’s Place and she’d eat cheese popcorn while he drank draft beers with his buddies. Around the age of sixteen, their relationship changed overnight. Her father began working extra hours and stayed away from home. Even though he’d been dead for years, his behavior still haunted Ruby. To this day she’d never been able to figure out what she’d said or done that had caused her dad to pull away from her.

That Hank McArthur had turned his back on Ruby, too, left her with little hope he’d be a better man than Glen Baxter. His summons had ripped open an old wound, and the only way to stop the bleeding was for Ruby to find out why she’d been left behind.

“You’ve probably figured it out by now, but in case you haven’t, I’m Hank’s biological daughter.”

“I heard.”

“I’m surprised. Usually men don’t wag their tongues like women.”

He chuckled.

“I’m nervous about meeting Hank. Care to share any insight into the man?”

“He keeps to himself mostly. Doesn’t have a whole lot to say.”

“Neither of you have to worry about us girls invading your territory. This will be a short visit.” If she could coax the man who didn’t have much to say to talk to her.

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

1. Do you believe the author intended for the Oklahoma Panhandle to be a character in the novel? Does it play the role of villain or savior? Maybe both?

2. There’s a lot of dust in this novel. What does it symbolize for Hank? At the beginning of the book Ruby views the blowing dirt as a symbol of nothingness, bleakness, hopelessness. How does she view the dust particles at the end of the story?

3. Forgiveness is a major theme in this story. Have you ever withheld forgiveness from someone close to you? Does your reason still make sense after reading this novel, or are you more open to the possibility of forgiving your offender?

4. Raising teenagers is difficult. Do you believe Ruby handled Mia losing her virginity at such a young age appropriately? Was it right to move away from their small town? Or do you think Ruby was more concerned with how people would judge her and her motherhood skills? Why is it so difficult for parents to tell their children they’re sorry?

5. If Cora had lived, do you think Ruby’s relationship with Hank would have weakened or grown stronger? Why?

6. Life isn’t always fair and a parent never gets over the death of his or her child, but do you think it’s possible to move on with your life and find some semblance of happiness and peace without feeling guilty?

7. Being left behind is a major theme in this book. Do you think Ruby gives herself enough credit for breaking the cycle with her own daughter?

8. When in the book do you believe Ruby really forgave Cora? When she learned Cora left her the ruby necklace before she fled the hospital? When she found her baby picture in the suitcase at the motel where Cora had lived out her final years? Or when she said her final goodbye at the nursing home?

9. Ruby’s adoptive mother, Cheryl, was afraid to tell Ruby her birth mother wanted to connect with her. What would you do in Cheryl’s situation if your child were rebelling and challenging your authority and another parent wanted to enter their life? At what age do you feel it’s appropriate to tell a child they’re adopted?

10. Why do you think Hank and Mia hit it off right away? How much did it have to do with their shared love of animals?

11. What are some of the traits that Hank and Ruby share?

12. What is the significance of gambling in the book? When did it help Hank and when did it hurt him?

13. Ruby has built Hank up to be a huge obstacle to overcome or to fight against, but he turns out to be a frail man with a pacemaker in his chest. Do you believe it would have been more difficult or easier for Ruby to forgive Hank if he’d been healthy? Why do you think Ruby is so reluctant to forgive Hank?

14. Do you keep a diary? If so, are there any secrets that will turn your loved ones’ lives upside down?

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