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This dashing gent (this is done in pencil, can you stand it?) is Renaldo Valle Santos, youngest son of Estebán Santos.  Like most kids who come tail end in a large family, he hasn’t had expectations put on his shoulders aside from watching out for his twin sister Canadarí­a and doing what his brothers tell him.

Life is pretty easy when that’s all you have to think about. And given the isolated nature of the family’s ranch out in San Felipe Del Rio, Texas, he doesn’t have to worry much about things like finding himself a wife. (Which is good, because that’s the last thing he wants.)

A wrench gets tossed in the works in the form of that handsome fellow in the bottom left corner, Henry “Hank” Burnett.

Turns out there’s a reason why Renaldo didn’t want a wife: He’d much rather have a husband. But seeing as this is a much different time than today, (1870, to be exact) how would that even work?

To answer that, you’ll have to read the book. (I’m a stinker. Wait, go check it out for free from the library, if you’d prefer! See? I’m not a complete stinker!) But I thought you might like to see the incredibly dashing telenovela actor (and a model!) who I envisioned in my “fantasy casting” of Bitter Springs.

Meet: Erick Elí­as, if you aren’t already familiar. This is a few years ago, when he would be closer to Renaldo’s age of 21.

Erick Elias gay cowboys

(I have a thing for noses.)

(And pointed, square chins)

(And handsome men with great hair)

Renaldo, it turns out, is not just a pretty face and a hard-working guy without a lot going on upstairs in the think-box (as another main character assumes).  He’s a simple guy with simple needs when we first meet him, true. He doesn’t have any angst, doesn’t have struggles or worries, because what’s to worry about? His family is all around him, he has his animals, the peace and quiet and open land that he craves.  Life has never really challenged him.

Then all hell breaks loose (and remember, this is back in the days when a family’s reputation could make or break your ability to survive), and he narrowly escapes an arranged marriage (again: see the time) and has his career in training as a mesteñero fast-forwarded by several years. More importantly (in Renaldo’s eyes), he is going to have to leave his beloved family and ranch in order to fulfill his obligation.

He’s about to take a massive leap from mama’s boy to independent man in one fell swoop, and do this as an apprentice to a complete stranger, Henry “Hank” Burnett.

Her gaze turned scrutinizing, staring deeply into Renaldo’s eyes. “Maybe you just need to be away from all of this to see.”

“See what?”

“Just remember what I told you,” she said, her hand on the front door knob. “No matter what, you are a part of me, cariño, and I will always accept and love you.”

Calandaría and Renaldo, Chapter Four, Bitter Springs

As our main characters set out on their ride, Renaldo begins to truly come into himself.  Out on the Llano Estacado is where Renaldo learns not only who he is, but who he wants to be.  …and who he wants by his side.

desert flower bloom red

My beloved Ocotillo, in bloom. #itsametaphor

It’s a little high-falootin’, but as I wrote the book, I always envisioned Renaldo as a bit of a desert flower: waiting, dormant, and then a burst of growth in a flamboyance of color and showiness when nourished. Renaldo is like many people I know–no hard thinking until they have to do a whole lot all at once.  And they’re such fascinating creatures to me.

As my grandma would have said, “Still waters run deep,” and Renaldo is just that: deeply loyal, deeply passionate, deeply in love with the whole process of living. There’s a moment in the book where Hank and Renaldo find a mineral pool that butts into a clear stream. It’s November and the water is cold, but Renaldo, being who he is, jumps straight in while Hank, being who he is, eases in slowly.

…too obvious?

Renaldo jumps into everything with both feet forward, immersing himself fully in the world around him, and pleased with the results. He delights in his spoiled brat of a horse, Paloma, (she isn’t really, but he likes to tease her). He finds wonder in the natural hierarchy of a wild band of mustangs. He finds comfort in the presence of his rock-steady twin. He derives pure joy from a hidden springs where he and his brother are allowed to be free from chores and responsibilities. “Bitter” Springs is a place where as a child, he could just be himself, wild, free and happy. And as a man, too, turns out.

His whole world changes when he experiences love, honest and fulfilling love with a partner who respects him equally. You’ll just have to read the book to see how.

Bitter Springs is available at your local library (they’ll get it for you if they don’t already have it in circulation) and available for purchase wherever books are sold, purchase links available in the side bar to your right, in fact!

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