Loving Chloe: A Novelby Jo-Ann Mapson
When thirty-four-year-old Chloe Morgan appears on Hank Oliver's doorstep in Cameron, Arizona, she arrives with more than her old white German shepherd, Hannah, and a rambunctious young horse in tow. Chloe is pregnant with Hank's child, and she's as tough-talking and vulnerable, skittish and tender as when last we saw her in Jo-Ann Mapson's acclaimed first novel,
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When thirty-four-year-old Chloe Morgan appears on Hank Oliver's doorstep in Cameron, Arizona, she arrives with more than her old white German shepherd, Hannah, and a rambunctious young horse in tow. Chloe is pregnant with Hank's child, and she's as tough-talking and vulnerable, skittish and tender as when last we saw her in Jo-Ann Mapson's acclaimed first novel, Hank & Chloe. As Chloe and Hank settle somewhat uneasily into domesticity, a local Navajo legend named Junior Whitebear returns home to collect his father's ashes and renew his own spirit after years spent in the art-world fast lane. When Junior arrives at the reservation, he doesn't expect to find a son he fathered unwittingly nine years ago; nor is he looking to fall in love with Chloe and to deliver her baby girl. Both events change his life, and the lives of those around him, forever. A passionate love story, Loving Chloe explores the emotional complexity of a love triangle with sympathy, humor, and compassion.
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"Ow, dammit!" For one lengthy, inarticulate minute, Hank Oliver wondered if he might be hallucinating. As was his habit, left over from a scholarly life lived with great deliberation, he gathered evidence before committing himself to any one belief.
His thumb throbbed from accidentally striking it with the claw hammer he'd been using to drive the last few nails into the corral fence. There were black-and-yellow California plates on the old pickup and horse trailer pulling to a halt out back of his cabin. It appeared startlingly out of place, like one perfectly assembled establishing shot from a period movie. Hank stood at the edge of the handmade corral, listening to the drone of the old truck's steady engine. To his left stood the small, newly roofed cabin, and above, the blue-black Arizona sky was rapidly changing into night. On this remote stretch of country road there were no other houses, no porch lamps or streetlights, nothing to illuminate Chloe Morgan's expression and deliver him a clue as to what she was feeling. All he'd managed was her brief profile in the headlights, her face pale and startled, her eyes as fixed as a jackrabbit's.
Three tries and he finally managed to hang the hammer on the fence rail and to begin to believe she was here, that Chloe had indeed, as he'd so often wished, come to him from California. She opened her driver's-side door and the white shepherd dog leaped over her and out of the cab, running off to mark her territory in the scrub. Chloe slid out of the truck right after Hannah, but instead of coming to him directly, which was typical of her horsewoman's style, she hung back in the glow of the headlights. Turning her body sideways, sheplaced her right hand flush against her ribcage, just below her breasts.
Did she have heartburn from eating junk food while crossing the desert?
It wasn't until she turned her head and gave him a tentative smile that he recognized the posture for what it revealed. From the Mona Lisa on down to women he held the door for in the supermarket aisles, he understood: Chloe was pregnant. And considering their history together, that meant he, Hank Oliver, was pregnant, too.
From the raw-cedar fence posts to her truck lay ten feet of red dirt and sandstone. How long should it take a grown man to cover such a distancefive strides, four? To Hank each step erased their three months of separation. As soon as he took her into his arms, he felt the assertive little speed bump of her belly against his own, announcing itself. It was mid-August, the kind of flawless northern Arizona weather that went down as easily as lemonadeand now felt like it might come right back up. The cabin was only partially insulated. The pipes needed wrapping if anyone was going to attempt winter here. Since June he'd been behaving like the proverbial grasshopper, living each day loosely, avoiding the hard look he needed to take at his fractured, jobless life. But with the arrival of the truck, all that fooling around had come to a halt. Nearby he heard the dog barking and the horse in the trailer bang an impatient hoof against metal. He took hold of the woman he loved and buried his tear-streaked face in her hair. Late this year or early the next, Hank Oliver was going to claim his first breathing tax deduction.
"Happy birthday," he remembered to say.
"Look here," she answered, patting her belly and laughing in that whiskey-barrel voice that never failed to make his blood run hot. "Look what you already gave me." Then she grinned and stuck out her tongue, and after that Hank was good for nothing.
After they'd unloaded the horse, walked him around the property, and let him sniff all the edges of the new corral, Hank shut him inside the fencing. He tossed the colt a flake of hay from the trailer while Chloe dragged a trash can over and filled it with water.
"You want to come inside?" Hank asked.
"No, I thought we could stand out here all night."
Nervously Hank led her to the cabin his grandmother had left him. Chloe might only be passing through, using him as a rest stop on her way to a new life elsewhereand who could blame her, after last year? Since their lives had intersected the previous winter, Chloe'd lost a great deal. Her beloved old horse had died an ungraceful death, she'd been arrested for slugging a cop in that ridiculous land development debacle, and Hank's own jealousy hadn't helped. Now there was the complication of a baby. A million options existed, and each sat like a separate stone in his stomach.
From the old Germantown blanket he had hanging on the wall to the secondhand rocker he'd in a fit of whimsy painted robin's egg blue, Chloe sighed her approval. "Whoa," she said softly as she kicked off her Tony Lamas onto the wood floor. "If this was my place, you couldn't pry me out with a crowbar."
He thought of saying, It is yours, if you want it. Or nailing the door shut to keep her to himself, like some well-intentioned feudal overlord willing to sacrifice whole countries in the name of love. But if in the last eight months Hank had learned anything at all about this woman, it was that turning locks and demanding covenants were the quickest way to spook her. He stood dumbly by, watching her inspect his quarters, which all at once seemed so like her own digs back in the California canyon that he felt certain in his heart she'd stay. He showed her the three-legged metal horse he'd found in the cabin wall when he replaced some dry-rotted boards. He drew back the curtains to reveal the spectacle of the Arizona night sky. With no city lights to compete against, so many stars pierced the canvas it still took his breath away.
"I can't tell you how small it makes me feel when I look at that every night," he said.
She took hold of his hand and cupped it beneath her breast, swollen by the pregnancy. "I know what you mean."
Her ways were always this direct. Her anthem could have been "Let's Cut to the Chase." To Hank's surprise they made it all the way to the bed.
By a stroke of divine luck, he'd changed the dirty sheets that morning, replacing them with a worn-to-softness set bought at the thrift store. The smooth cotton was chilled to crispness against their bodies. At night the temperature dropped swiftly, five and ten degrees an hour. Chloe shivered and said, "It's colder than I thought it would be."
Hank pulled an old Pendleton blanket over her shoulders. "Two months from now, everyone tells me 'cold' takes on an entirely different meaning. Think you're up to it?"
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Meet the Author
Jo-Ann Mapson, a third generation Californian, grew up in Fullerton as a middle child with four siblings. She dropped out of college to marry, but later finished a creative writing degree at California State University, Long Beach. Following her son's birth in 1978, Mapson worked an assortment of odd jobs teaching horseback riding, cleaning houses, typing resumes, and working retail. After earning a graduate degree from Vermont College's low residency program, she taught at Orange Coast College for six years before turning to full-time writing in 1996. Mapson is the author of the acclaimed novels Shadow Ranch, Blue Rodeo, Hank Chloe, and Loving Chloe."The land is as much a character as the people," Mapson has said. Whether writing about the stark beauty of a California canyon or the poverty of an Arizona reservation, Mapson's landscapes are imbued with life. Setting her fiction in the Southwest, Mapson writes about a region that she knows well; after growing up in California and living for a time in Arizona and New Mexico, Mapson lives today in Cosa Mesa, California. She attributes her focus on setting to the influence of Wallace Stegner.Like many of her characters, Mapson has ridden horses since she was a child. She owns a 35-year-old Appaloosa and has said that she learned about writing from learning to jump her horse, Tonto. "I realized," she said, "that the same thing that had been wrong with my riding was the same thing that had been wrong with my writing. In riding there is a term called 'the moment of suspension,' when you're over the fence, just hanging in the air. I had to give myself up to it, let go, trust the motion. Once I got that right, everything fell into place."
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After reading Hank and Chloe I was thrilled to discover there was a sequel since I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to either character. Loving Chloe picks up exactly where Hank and Chloe ended. But along with the 2 main characters we are introduced to a whole host of other ones as Hank begins teaching grade school and they both become friends with several of the people living on a nearby reservation. The meaning of love in all its forms is explored in this book. It is truly an amazing book! I totally love the author's writing style and I'm already planning my next purchase.