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WELCOME TO MY

JOURN+AL JOTS BLOG ...

A journal where you can learn what I'm up to on my books, giveaways, fun things I'm doing or even my own personal devotional for the day. It's a broad mix of what's on my mind, allowing me to feel a little bit closer to some of the most important people in my life -- YOU! So please stop by from time to time, and if you have questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you via the "Contact Julie" tab or via my Facebook page.  Hugs, Julie

 

2:19AM

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

 

 

Boy-oh-boy, do I have some great giveaways/news for you!


๐ŸŽ‚ A Birthday Party & YOU Get the Gifts!

First of all, please forgive me for failing to mention in my last Journal Jots that OCTOBER is the 10th BLOGAVERSARY for my group author blog, Seekerville!!

So what does that mean for you? Well, it means you have four chances to win one of FOUR $50 AMAZON GIFT CARDS, a KINDLE FIRE WITH ALEXA, and lots and lots of FREE BOOKS, another KINDLE E-READER, CANDY, and other fun gifts.

Add to this some of our best blogs of the year by guests such as Tamera Alexander, Susan May Warren, editors, and agents, and you have a win-win for anyone that comes by.

How? Just come on by Seekerville and leave a comment, and you're in the draw -- it's THAT easy!! The more comments you leave (one per day is perfect), the more chances you have to win the daily prize, the weekly prize of $50 gift card, and then the monthly grand prize of the Kindle Fire with Alexa. Here's the link -- hope to see you there!

 ๐ŸŽ‰ SEEKERVILLE'S BIRTHDAY PARTY LINK! ๐ŸŽ‰

 

๐Ÿ‘ We Have Winners!

Whew! I've had a lot of giveaways this last month or so, and I have another planned below, so be sure to check it out. In the meantime, SUPER CONGRATS to the winners of the following contests, each of whom will have their choice of any of my indie e-books including my latest, His Steadfast Love, Romance-ology 101, any of my four newly released novellas OR an e-copy of my upcoming novella, For Love of Liberty (see surprise cover real down below for JJ readers only!). If you see your name below, PLEASE contact me through email or my website, okay?

 WINNER OF THE "50 SHADES OF PRAY" GIVEAWAY:

Laurie Wood

WINNER OF MY LAST FACEBOOK LIVE GIVEAWAY:

Kelly Reed Brown

WINNER OF THE IND'TALE MAGAZINE COVER VOTE

(which I didn't win, but am grateful to all who voted!)

Martha Artyomenko

WINNER OF THE "SUITE T BLOG" GIVEAWAY:

Mindy Houng

 

๐Ÿ˜ณ Facebook Live Tomorrow!

Come join me on my FB Author Page for another FB Live Q&A with a CDQ THURSDAY, OCT. 12, AT 7PM CDT. Laura Frantz was supposed to be my guest, but unfortunately she has come down with a flu bug and raspy throat, so I will be reading a few answers to questions y'all asked Laura last time.

But ... I will be sharing one of my favorite TRUE stories, so you'll want to stop by. AND ... if you show up during the actual FB Live, you'll be in the draw for a signed paperback from Laura and an e-book from me! Hope to see you there!

JULIE'S FB AUTHOR PAGE

 

๐Ÿ“” Cover Reveal for New Novella!

Good news, bad news.

The good news is I will be releasing a brand-new novella called For Love of Liberty in the near future.

The bad news is I am behind schedule on it, so I may or may not get it out in time for Christmas. :( 

But stay tuned to Journal Jots because that's where I will announce the release date first, okay? So if you have not subscribed to Journal Jots (which means you receive an email with the blog in it every single time I post), then I highly recommend you do so by entering your email into the SUBSCRIBE box at the top right-hand of this page.

More good news is that I will be giving sneak peeks at the 1st chapter in the near future, so keep your eyes peeled for Journal Jot emails, okay? Meanwhile, here's the blurb:

 

A Match Made in Heaven?

Or Someplace a Whole Lot Warmer? 

She’s stubborn, educated, and looking to give women the vote.

He’s bullheaded, successful, and looking to give her a piece of his mind.

 But when things heat up, they just may give each other

a piece of their hearts.

 

๐Ÿ“น Video Interview for Writers!

On Tuesday, September 26th, I had the privilege of being interviewed via live video on Cara Grandle's Periscope show, which is geared to writers. But I have to admit, I had a blast, so I hope the interview is really fun for both writers and readers.

Almost three hundred people showed up, so THANK YOU to those of you who lent their support. Since the live interview, Cara has posted the video on Youtube, so here's that link if you want to check it out:

JULIE'S PERISCOPE VIDEO INTERVIEW

WITH CARA GRANDLE

 

  ๐Ÿ“š 2 Novels/4 Novellas 99 cents each!

If you haven't read any of the books below, then NOW'S your chance to get a sweet deal, so do check them out!

A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW

ISLE OF HOPE

A WHISPER OF HOPE

THE BEST GIFT OF ALL

GRACE LIKE RAIN

THE GIFT OF GRACE

๐Ÿค— Hugs!

Julie

 

1:48AM

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

And I'll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That You are who You are
No matter where I am ...

Praise You in This Storm by Casting Crowns (GREAT video!)

If you have been reading this blog over the years, then you already know how seriously I take Psalm 34:11 —
"I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth." 

Because frankly, anybody can praise God when things are going good, but it is people of faith and obedience who praise Him in the midst of the storms raging in their lives.

I had just such an opportunity this week when both my daughter and I praised God in the midst of a truly heart-wrenching situation. One that threatened to steal my peace, my joy, and my sleep, as well as my daughter's. But we did what we always do —
we praised and thanked God in the face of our heartbreak and asked Him to make good from it like He promises in Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose."

And you know what? Suddenly the weight lifted off of our shoulders onto His, proving His Word true once again.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation,

by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

--Philippians 4:7

So this situation yesterday was a good reminder for me — and I hope for you too — that there is peace and power in praising God no matter what storm you are facing in your life. It's one of the ways God's given us to defeat our spiritual enemies — be they depression, fear, despair, whatever! By praising and thanking Him in the face of these trials, we can most effectively stomp on the devil's head, channeling all our hurt and frustration into crushing that snake's influence in our lives like God promised we would do in Genesis 3:15:

"He (man) will crush your head, and you (satan) will strike his heel."

Yes, the devil strikes our heels over and over in this life, but WE have the victory in Christ AND the joyous opportunity to grind that slimeball's head into the ground by praising God in the midst of awful situations. Painful situations inflicted by satan himself, not only to "kill, steal, and destroy, but to tempt us to turn on God like Adam and Eve did in the Garden. That jerk hopes our trials will cause us to curse God instead of him, but we have the last laugh by praising God instead — unleashing the Almighty's peace and power to handle anything that nips at our heels.

Many of you will remember several situations in prior Journal Jots blogs when I did just that and came out the joyous victor, whether it was the day I was laid off from my job as a single woman with no other means of support or something as simple as praising God when I stubbed my toe and wanted to scream curse words instead. I crushed the devil's head in both situations, and trust me -- it's a rush of peace and joy unlike any other!

Try it. You'll like it, I promise! ;)

Hugs and Happy Stomping!

Julie

 Check Out My Facebook Live w/Laura Frantz!

WE DID IT! Laura and I did FB Live together as a test, so check out the video below, then be sure to mark your calendar for my next Facebook Live on THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12 —
Q&A with Laura Frantz.
There will be a double giveaway -- one of my books and one of Laura's, so do come by, okay?

 

Blog Giveaway!

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 25 - THURSDAY, 9/28/17:  Want another chance to win any TWO of my indie e-books INCLUDING my (shhh ... it's a secret, but I'll be doing a cover reveal in my next JJ!) brand-new novella, For Love of Liberty that will be releasing December 1st!!

Well, you got it — just leave a comment on the SUITE T Blog of Southern Writer's Magazine on September 25 -28, and you're in the draw! Your odds are always good because comments are generally low, so give it a shot.

I will say, however, that I'm actually a little embarrassed, though, because somehow I inadvertently submitted the same blog to two different magazines, albeit months and months apart. So if you entered my Splickety Magazine blog contest a few months ago, this is the same blog subject. BUT ... ALL THAT MEANS FOR YOU IS ONE MORE CHANCE TO WIN, right? Although I do encourage you to consider subscribing to Suite T blog because it's a fabulous resource for writers. Here's the link:

SUITE T BLOG (NOTE: My blog will not appear until Monday, September 25th!)

 

Quick Contest (Ends Sunday night)!

HELP! I need a favor. My cover for Love Everlasting is currently in the InD'Tales Magazine Creme de la Cover Contest, and I am in dire need of votes, so if you have time (and you like the cover!), can you hop on over to InD'Tale's contest page and cast a vote for Love Everlasting? You have to subscribe to vote, but it's a really easy process and most importantly, it's FREE for a great magazine that will pop up in your email once a month.

And if you do, let me know, and I will enter you in a quick contest to have a character named after you in my upcoming novella, For Love of Liberty, a signed e-copy, and another e-copy of any of my indie books. Here's the link and THANK YOU!!

 VOTE FOR JULIE'S COVER IN IND'TALE'S CONTEST!

 

Fun Video Interview Next Tuesday!

Tuesday, September 26, I am being interviewed on live video (gosh, I'm becoming a video freak, aren't I???) next Tuesday on Cara Grandle's Periscope show. I won't have the link till Tuesday morning, so just check back here for the link if you'd like to see it. Hope to see you there!

LINK TO COME!

 

Get in the Mood for Christmas ...

... with my Christmas re-releases that are only 99 cents, so if you haven't read them yet -- why not?

It can't be the price at only 99 cents each, so I hope you'll check them out. ESPECIALLY the incredible reviews, for which I am INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL to those of you who posted one.

EMOTIONAL GUARANTEE!!  I promise you that these are some of the most emotional novellas you will ever read, guaranteed to make you both laugh and cry. So where else can you get such an emotional ride (with a great spiritual message) for only 99 cents??? Here are the links and THANK YOU!!

The Gift of Grace     Grace Like Rain     A Whisper of Hope     The Best Gift of All

 

10:27PM

Friday, September 15, 2017

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

--Psalm 139:23-24

WARNING!

Do NOT pray the Scripture above unless you mean business because I guarantee when you do — God WILL answer!!

Trust me on this, please! Because He's nailed my butt to the wall more times than I can count, people. But the good news? Well, it's in line four, my friends — the promise of the "way everlasting."

The way to peace.

The way to hope.

The way to joy.

Because in His presence IS fullness of joy, and I gotta tell you right now, the more you pray the Scripture above, the closer He WILL bring you to His presence, and I can testify first-hand. Don't believe me? Well, here's God's take on it:

 You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
-- Psalm 16:11

 "Pleasures forever"?   Mmm ... any takers out there? ;)

Well, I know of at least two, but I will admit, they are fictional. You see, the hero and heroine from my latest book, His Steadfast Love, book 3 in my Isle of Hope series, both undergo a little "searching" of their own at the hand of God, who reveals sin hidden so deep in their hearts, even they didn't know it was there! And believe me — the happy ending for Cat O'Bryen and Chase Griffin IS the "way everlasting," taking them straight to God's "pleasures forever."

So why I am bringing this up? Well, in addition to the fact that my Bible reading this morning triggered it and that "His steadfast love" takes us there, it is ALSO to announce — TA-DA! — the release of His Steadfast Love in PAPERBACK!

Yes, it's true -- you can now put the paperback on your Christmas lists or give it as a gift, so here are the links:

HIS STEADFAST LOVE PAPERBACK -- CREATESPACE

HIS STEADFAST LOVE PAPERBACK -- AMAZON

AND ... anybody that would like a signed bookplate for your paperback copy of His Steadfast Love, just let me know, and I will ship it off to you, okay?

 

Blog Giveaways!

NOW THRU MONDAY, 9/18/17:  Come on over to the Overcoming With God Blog, where my dear friend, Bonnie Roof, wrote some wonderful reviews for each of my novellas! Leave a comment, and you're in the draw for one of THREE giveaways, so here's the link:

OVERCOMING WITH GOD BLOG

 

MONDAY, 9/25 - THURSDAY, 9/28/17:  Want another chance to win any two of my indie e-books??

Well, you got it — just leave a comment on the SUITE T Blog of Southern Writer's Magazine on September 25 -28, and you're in the draw! Your odds are always good because comments are generally low, so give it a shot.

I will say, however, that I'm actually a little embarrassed, though, because somehow I inadvertently submitted the same blog to two different magazines, albeit months and months apart. So if you entered my Splickety Magazine blog contest a few months ago, this is the same blog subject. BUT ... ALL THAT MEANS FOR YOU IS ONE MORE CHANCE TO WIN, right? Although I do encourage you to consider subscribing to Suite T blog because it's a fabulous resource for writers. Here's the link:

SUITE T BLOG (NOTE: My blog will not appear until September 25th!)

 

My Next Facebook Live!

Well, it's about time for me to make a fool of myself on another Facebook Live, so do mark your calendars for THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 21ST AT 7:00 PM CDT!  It will be on my author page — and yes, I promise I will not accidentally do it on my personal page like I did two other times, which means many of you sat there on my author page WAITING for me to go live. YIKES ... I am such a dork sometimes, which you will clearly see in these FB Lives! ;)

So ... not only will you be able to win an e-book if I answer your question, BUT ... I am hoping and praying I will be able to give you the date for a future FB Live with my dear friend, LAURA FRANTZ!  PLUS, you never know — maybe I will be able to get the love of my life to say hello. We'll see ...

SUBSCRIBE TO JOURNAL JOTS AND NEVER MISS ANOTHER FACEBOOK LIVE! The best way to know WHEN these FB Lives are going to happen is to subscribe to this Journal Jots blog if you haven't already because you will receive an email with the entire blog in it EACH time I post. That way, you will never miss any updates, excerpts, contests, giveaways, new releases, etc. that I might have, so I highly encourage you to subscribe.  

TO SUBSCRIBE, ALL YOU DO IS PUT YOUR EMAIL IN THE "SUBSCRIBE" BOX AT THE TOP RIGHT-HAND OF THIS PAGE, AND BOOM! YOU ARE SUBSCRIBED AND IN THE LOOP FOR ANY UPDATES I HAVE.

Here's the link to my author page, where I promise I will be on Thursday, 9/21 at 7PM CDT!! Hope to see you there!!

JULIE'S FACEBOOK LIVE ON AUTHOR PAGE

 

Novellas Update:

Sales are a-jumpin' on my newly released novellas, so if you haven't read them yet -- what's stopping you? It can't be the price because they are each only 99 cents, so I hope you check them out. ESPECIALLY the incredible reviews they are getting, for which I am INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL to those of you who took the time to post a review.

As I often tell you all, good reviews are lifeblood to all authors, but especially indie authors, so PLEASE consider posting a review if you enjoyed one of my indie books. The review can be as short as ONE or TWO lines, stating you liked it if you did, and you can even post the same generic review on each of the books instead of writing a new one for each!! Trust me on this — there is no better way to bless or thank an author you love than to post a good review. And for those of you who do not know how to do it, here's how:

HOW TO POST A REVIEW ON AMAZON:

1.) Go to www.amazon.com and type in the book title and author you’d like to review in the search box at the top of the page with the little magnifying glass in it.

2.) Click on the magnifying glass, and it will take you to the book. Click on whatever version you are reviewing, ebook or paperback.

3.) Click on the “customer reviews” link next to the stars.

4.) Click on the box that says “Write a Customer Review.”

5.) Answer several questions by simply clicking on tabs.

6.) Hover your mouse over the stars to click on the number you’d like to give the book.

7.) Type or paste a short review (can be as short as one line) about how you liked the book and a title in the header box if you want.

8.) Click on Submit.

And that's all there is to it! If it was a good review, you just made an author VERY happy, so THANK YOU from me and all the authors you love!

HUGS & HAPPY WEEKEND, ALL!

Julie

12:03PM

Friday, September 1, 2017

For by grace have ye been saved

through faith; and that not of yourselves:

it is the gift of God.

Ephesians 2:8

Without question, the gift of grace is one of the greatest gifts God has given to man other than His Son. Grace = unmerited favor, something none of us deserve, but God's love makes a way.

Which is one of the reasons I love my latest novella, The Gift of Grace, because it truly is a story of unmerited favor, not only for a woman named Grace, but the man of God who falls for her. As promised, I've included the first and second chapters of The Gift of Grace as an excerpt below, so I hope you enjoy it.

 

Happy Release Day!

And guess what?? TODAY is RELEASE DAY for The Gift of Grace novella, along with my three other novellas, Grace Like Rain (can you tell I like "grace"??), A Whisper of Hope, and The Best Gift of All. So if you preordered them, they should be waiting for you on your Kindle right now, so THANK YOU and HAPPY READING!

If you haven't ordered the novellas yet, I hope you consider doing so since they are only 99 cents each, and I promise at least a few chuckles and tears for that price in each of the books. I mean, come on -- they don't call me a drama queen for nothing, you know! You'll find the buy links below along with a new giveaways, so read on!

 

Can You Help Me Out?

But before we go any further, I have a favor to ask. I know I harp more on reviews lately than I ever have before, but there are a number of reasons for that. For one, I have no publisher promoting my indie books, so good reviews are HUGE to indie authors. And number two, I used to run review contests, but that is no longer allowed by Amazon, so that means I have to rely on good reader friends like YOU to help me out.

So if you read the new novellas or have read any of the Isle of Hope series, from the prequel all the way to my latest release, His Steadfast Love, would you please consider posting a brief review on Amazon and/or Goodreads? It can be as short as one or two lines, just stating you liked the book. OR you can even write a 1-sentence generic review stating you liked the series and plop that same review on each of the IOH books. To be honest, it's the number of stars that people look for first and which have the most impact on whether they will buy the book or not. Now if you want to write a longer review, I truly appreciate that, too, but most people don't have that kind of time, so hopefully a 1- or 2-line review won't be an imposition for you. And if you DO post a review, PLEASE let me know so I can personally thank you, okay?

 

My Latest FB Live!

If you weren't able to make my 2nd "Q&A with a CDQ" last night, no worries, because I have the recorded video right here. And if you have any questions you'd like me to answer in my next Q&A, just leave them in a comment on the video. Then if I answer them during the next FB Live, YOU win your choice of my indie e-books. This video below explains how Keith and I met, so I hope you enjoy our first encounter! :) NOTE: YOU MAY HAVE TO UNMUTE IT BY CLICKING ON THE LITTLE SPEAKER IN THE LOWER RIGHT-HAND CORNER.

 

Fifty Shades of ... Pray??

Join me on SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 2ND on Novel Rocket blog when I get on my soapbox with “Fifty Shades of Pray” … Christian Romance in a secular world where the harvest is great, but the workers are few.  Leave a comment and you’re in the draw for your choice of my indie e-books, including any of the four novellas that just released! You'll find the link HERE (which won't be live till tomorrow, 8/2) so come on by!

 

30-Book Giveaway Ends Sun., 9/3!

Guess what? I have teamed up with more than 30 fantastic contemporary Christian and inspirational romance authors to give away a huge collection of 30 novels to 2 lucky winners, PLUS a Kindle Fire to the Grand Prize winner! 

You can win my novel HIS STEADFAST LOVE, plus books from authors like Becky Wade, Susan May Warren, and Melissa Tagg, so MARK YOUR CALENDARS, okay?

Enter the giveaway HERE by clicking here & good luck!

 

99-Cent Sale on A Light in the Window:

If you haven't read Marcy and Patrick's award-winning love story yet -- why not? It's the perfect read to kick off the holiday season with an Irish love story that's a cross between The Bells of St. Mary's and The Gift of the Magi by O'Henry, so I hope you check it out.

You can buy A Light in the Window in both e-book and paperback at AMAZON and e-book only at B & N.

I just LOVE the video my artist hubby did for it using my daughter on both the cover and in the video: 

A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW VIDEO

 

Grace Like Rain:

A Heart Of San Franciso Novella

Yes, it's true -- Blake "The Rake" McClare has found love in his own novella, so you won't want to miss this one because it's one of my faves. So much so, that I am including the first chapter down below, so do check it out. Here's the blurb:

He’s everybody’s lovable rogue.
She’s nobody’s fool
who hopes to steer clear.
Until a thunderstorm sinks them both
into a sea of love.

Blake “The Rake” McClare has a notorious reputation as a womanizer, which is why soft-spoken Patience Peabody carefully avoids the lovable rogue attorney at the law firm in which they both work.

Until a rare thunderstorm brings them together in a love soaked with the grace of God and a whole lot of lightning!

 ORDER GRACE LIKE RAIN HERE!

 

A Whisper of Hope:

An O'Connor Christmas Novella

Ahhhh ... Charity & Mitch ... two of my very faves, and now they have their very own Christmas novella that you will not want to miss.

I know that Mitch doesn't look a lot like his orginal cover picture on A Passion Redeemed, but it's incredibly difficult to find a historical-looking couple that actually resembles a prior cover, so I did the best I could, even though I realize the couple looks more modern than historical. But I do think the pose replicates the love Mitch has for Charity very nicely, especially after you read the story! ;)  Here's the blurb:

She’s desperate for a baby.
He’s desperate for an empty nest.
And love is desperate to surprise them both.

With a husband dead set against adoption, Charity O’Connor Dennehy has barely a whisper of hope for more children, but if hope doesn’t disappoint … will it be enough to find a precious bundle under her tree?

 ORDER A WHISPER OF HOPE HERE!

 

The Best Gift of All:

An O'Connor Christmas Novella

This is Lizzie and Brady's story because it was a subplot that was cut from A Love Surrendered, the final O'Connor book. Since it was already basically written, I used it instead of writing a Christmas novella for Faith & Collin and Katie & Luke. But rest assured that each year I plan to release another O'Connor Christmas novella until I have covered everyone in the family, including Marcy & Patrick! 

I have to say that this particular novella contains a very important life lesson I learned, so not only is it a good read, I hope, but it contains a powerful lesson as well. Here's the blurb:

 

  She longs to be the perfect mother.
He just longs for his wife.
Until they receive ... the best gift of all.

Everyone knows Lizzie and John Brady have the perfect marriage. But when Lizzie’s desire to be a good mother eclipses her desire for her husband, the honeymoon is definitely over. Can the spirit of Christmas heal their hearts when Lizzie gives John the best gift of all?

 ORDER THE BEST GIFT OF ALL HERE!

 

The Gift of Grace:

A Frontier Christmas Novella

Although The Gift of Grace is basically a Christmas story, I didn't want the cover to be limited to only Christmas. And actually, since Grace almost burns down the hero's house on a number of occasions, I thought the flame-orange sky was somewhat fitting! ;) Here's the blurb:

She’s the Accident
to His Prayers …

Pastor Cole McCabe isn’t sure he’ll survive the holidays with his new housekeeper and nanny. She’s caught fire to the kitchen, dyed his long johns pink, and scorched nearly everything she cooks. But he’s desperate, and she’s a destitute ex-saloon girl.

Even though she’s no good with her hands, Grace sure has a way with her heart. She’s brought a warmth into Cole’s home, added color to his daughters’ lives, and broken down the wall he’s built up since his beloved wife died. But when Grace’s past threatens Cole’s family, she’s given one last chance to be home for Christmas . . . if she hasn’t burned it down yet.

 ORDER THE GIFT OF GRACE HERE!

THANK YOU SOOOOO MUCH for your support and your friendship! Happy Weekend and Happy Reading!

Hugs,

Julie

Excerpt for The Gift of Grace

For by grace have ye been saved

through faith;and that not of yourselves:it is the gift of God.

Ephesians 2:8

 

Chapter One

Last Chance, California, Fall, 1885

Shelter, food, and babies, Lord, that’s all I ask.

Grace O’Malley peered out the window as the railcar groaned to a stop in front of a tiny train station, her stomach rumbling louder than the iron wheels on the tracks. Hand to her queasy middle, she peeked up at an azure sky tufted with cotton and expelled a guilty sigh, almost forgetting her other important prayer.

Oh, and a decent job?

“Last Chance, California!” the conductor bellowed, and a flurry of activity erupted. Grace’s abdomen responded with a ridiculously noisy growl, turning the heads of several people despite all the commotion.

“Hungry?” an elderly woman asked with a sympathetic smile, relieving Grace’s embarrassment over a mortifying trait that plagued her since her youth—an abnormally loud stomach whenever she was nervous.

“Not really,” Grace said, her smile wobbly at best. Yet, oh, how she wished she could say yes! But her days of untruths were behind her. She drew in an unsteady breath. Just like my days in a saloon.

The woman patted Grace’s hand, her rheumy blue eyes soft with understanding. “A new babe for you and your husband then?” she whispered, “causing a wee bit of morning sickness?”

Grace blinked, her cheeks suddenly toasty. Goodness, if only! But the only “morning sickness” Grace had ever known was from stale cigar smoke and late hours at The Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City.

“Second call for Last Chance!”

Relief flooded as she welcomed the interruption, saving her a response while she quickly collected her valise. Offering a smile, she inched past the woman toward the exit when the cry of an infant snagged her attention. Tiny fists flailing, the child squalled in its mother’s arms while the poor woman herded two toddlers to the door. Compassion propelled Grace forward to assist.

“Landon, no!” the mother shrieked when one toddler escaped, plowing straight into Grace’s worn skirt.

Delighted, Grace dropped her bag and swooped up the runaway, her giggles merging with his as she snuggle-kissed his neck. “I think I may just gobble you up, little man,” she said with a squeeze, “but first we need to follow your mama off the train.”

“I am so sorry!” Cheeks blooming bright red, the young mother reached to take her son.

“Don’t be,” Grace said with a smile, cuddling the imp close. “I love children, so I’m happy to help.”

The pinch of the woman’s face eased, and with a tired nod of thanks, she turned to usher her family from the train.

Clutching the squirm-worm to her side, Grace retrieved her bag before hurrying after the boy’s mother, pretending for one blissful moment the little dickens belonged to her.

But that would never be.

“It’s called amenorrhea,” the doctor explained when pregnancy eluded her after eloping with Gabe at fifteen. She’d always known her “womanly time” was different, twice-yearly instead of monthly, but she’d always believed she’d have children despite the doctor’s awful prognosis. Barren. Nonetheless, three years of marriage had produced little but heartbreak, and when Gabe died in a mining accident, she was left with nothing.

No husband.

No income.

No babies.

A delicious giggle feathered her cheek, and her gloom instantly vanished. Hopping down onto the platform, she couldn’t resist a playful whirl or two, Landon’s giggles taking flight along with her blue calico skirt, which billowed in the dusty air. Flush with laughter, she delivered Landon to his mother, who’d already handed the baby to a silver-haired woman of striking resemblance.

“I can’t thank you enough for your help,” the young mother said, the gratitude in her eyes edged with fatigue as she took the toddler from Grace. “Can my parents and I offer you a lift?”

“I’m not sure,” Grace said, scanning with a hand to her eyes, stomach cramping at the possibility that Eileen might not even live here anymore. Her last letter was over a year and half ago when the young mother was expecting her fourth child and begged her to come. But the prospect of a saloon girl paying a visit to a pastor’s wife had been too painful to consider, especially since she’d lied to her childhood friend, claiming to be a “teacher.”

Only not in any school.

Gripping her valise, she squared her shoulders. But . . . she was a new creature in Christ according to Maggie Mullaney, a young nurse who tended her wounds after a barroom brawl. Sweet Maggie’s ministrations had not only helped heal Grace’s body, but also her soul, instilling a hope for a new beginning. One last chance to make things right.

In Last Chance, California.

Her lips tipped up at the corners of her mouth, the irony of the town’s name not lost on her. It had, in fact, been a motivating factor in even considering a visit to a friend she hadn’t seen in years.

Prophetic, she hoped. And God’s will, she prayed.

“I’m looking for the parsonage,” Grace said with a crimp in her brow when she saw no sign of a steeple on the dusty main street lined with a hodge-podge of buildings and pines. “I was hoping it would be in walking distance, but I don’t see anything that even remotely resembles a church.”

“That’s because the Last Chance Chapel is on the west hill, tucked away in the trees,” the silver-haired woman explained, joining her daughter as she jiggled the baby. “You must be here to see the McCabes. Are you a relative?”

The McCabes. A silent sigh seeped out. Eileen was still here!

“No,” she said too quickly, loud enough to mask another noisy churn of her stomach. “Just a friend of the family hoping to help out.” Anxious to avoid further probing, Grace started for the west edge of town, lifting a hand in farewell. “Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.”

“If you’re here to help, they’ll be mighty glad to see you,” the woman called as Grace picked up her pace. Offering a wave, Grace rounded a building that appeared to be a saloon, given the familiar tinkling of a piano and several bleary-eyed cowboys who stumbled out.

“Hey, pretty lady, where ya off to in such a hurry?” one of the men slurred, and Grace bolted down the wooden sidewalk without a glance back, hand plastered to her straw bonnet to keep it from blowing off. Ducking around the mercantile, she backed up to the side wall, hand splayed to her heaving chest. The foul scent of liquor and tobacco assailed her, and she willed the apple she’d eaten for lunch to stay in her stomach.

A wagon rumbled by, and she jerked from the building, spotting a steeple through the trees in the distance. Praying Eileen would welcome her despite the lack of notice, Grace finally arrived at a white clapboard church tucked among a peaceful copse of red maples. The sight literally stilled her soul. A shaft of sunlight illuminated the shingled roof like the finger of God leading her home. Behind it at the top of a hill, a log cabin peeked through the pines, a lazy curl of wood smoke rising from the chimney to fill the air with its welcome scent.

Gaze flicking back to the church, she decided a chat with the Almighty might be wise. “To hedge my bets,” she said, then ruefully glanced up. “Forgive me, Lord—gamblers and saloons are part of my past, not my future, so please don’t let Eileen turn me away.”

Grace carefully approached the cherry-red door as if she were trespassing, the whiff of wood shavings tickling her nose. Sidetracked by the wonderful smell that reminded her of her grandfather, she tiptoed around the corner to see a makeshift workbench beside a stack of lumber. Memories of Grandfather’s carpentry shop tugged, and breathing in the heady scent of cedar and lacquer, she knew this was a sign from God.

She was finally home!

Grateful she was alone, she tiptoed into the tiny vestibule before entering the dim church, blinking to adjust from blinding sunlight to stained-glass shadows. A loud gasp popped from her mouth when something moved in a far corner of the rafters, and her stomach immediately followed with a truly ferocious growl. The sound startled a poor man painting the ceiling, jerking him around so fast, his ladder teetered for several horrifying seconds. Right before his can of stain shimmied off the top, splatting onto the floor with an awful crash.

Along with her hopes.

Dark eyes circled in shock gave way to a tic in a hard-sculpted cheek as he slowly descended, the clamp of a steely jaw not a good sign.

Grace gulped. Finally home? Gnawing the edge of her lip, she groaned—along with her stomach.

Then again, maybe not . . .

Chapter Two

Battling a weary sigh, Colton McCabe gingerly stepped into a sea of mahogany stain, thankful he’d taken the time to put a tarpaulin down. His mouth zagged. This’d teach him to get testy with the Almighty in His own house. He’d been so lost in his mental “negotiations” with the “Boss,” he hadn’t heard the door open, too busy badgering God for divine assistance in caring for four small children and a woman with a broken leg.

He squinted at a small figure who appeared as stiff as a pew and bit back a smile, wondering how such a tiny body could make so much noise without saying a word. “Can I help you?” he asked, unwilling to take a step closer lest he track stain across the floor.

“I am so sorry,” a guilty voice whispered, its owner emerging into the light like a doe from the shadows. “I thought I was alone.”

“My fault, not yours,” he said, swabbing the soles of his boots with an old rag. He tossed it over a rung and approached a young woman who looked ready to bolt. Eyes wide, she, took a step back, hand clutched to the bodice of her faded calico dress as if he were Beelzebub himself. Swiping his palms on his work pants, he offered a warm smile. “I would have greeted you if I’d heard the door, but I tend to get lost in my work.” He extended a hand, his smile inching into a grin. “Name’s Cole McCabe, and I’m the pastor here at Last Chance Chapel.”

She shook it so quickly, it was barely a touch, the blush in her cheeks a nice complement to golden hair the color of winter wheat. “I’m Grace O’Malley. You’re Pastor McCabe, from Virginia City?” She paused as if expecting recognition before more pink dusted her cheeks, setting her face aglow like an angel. “It’s a true pleasure to meet you,” she said softly,  pale blue eyes the exact shade of her bonnet. “Especially after all the good things I’ve heard.”

His laughter—all too rare of late—boomed through the church. “You’ve obviously been chatting with the Irish contingent in our fine community, Miss O’Malley, known for more than a bit of the blarney, but I’m glad to welcome you to our fair town. How may I help you today?”

Her smile faltered as she peeked up beneath a fringe of honeyed lashes. “Actually, Pastor McCabe, I was hoping I could help you.”

His brows lifted in surprise. Help him? His smile twitched, thinking this was one speedy answer to prayer.

“You see,” she continued, those blue eyes searching his, “I’m a childhood friend of your wife’s, so when Eileen sent a letter last year asking for help after the baby was born, I wasn’t able to come until now.”

He blinked, all air whooshing from his lungs.

“I know this is a surprise since I didn’t notify her I was coming . . .”

A surprise? The horrendous ache he’d tried so hard to dispel seared through his chest with a vengeance. No, this is a blow to the head with a two-by-four, Miss O’Malley.

“But my departure from Virginia City was rather sudden, you see . . .”

Cole’s eyelids closed. Yes, he knew all about “sudden.”

“So I hoped—well, prayed, really—that Eileen could still use my help.”

Eileen. The woman he’d been privileged to marry. A woman of God with a heart so pure, she’d been a beacon of light that helped chase away the darkness in his own sorry soul. God knows he hadn’t deserved her, and yet she’d married him anyway, giving him nine wonderful years, four beautiful children, and in the end—her very life.

Gut twisting, he reopened his eyes, loathe to tell Miss O’Malley that her friend now resided on the other side of eternity, as if saying the words would revive his grief all over again. The very grief he’d worked so hard to hide for the sake of his family and congregation for well over a year. But tell her he would, even offering lodging for the night if need be.

“I w-won’t stay long,” she said in a rush, as if sensing his hesitation. “You s-see, I was a teacher in Virginia City, and Eileen wrote such w-wonderful things about your t-town, I decided to resettle here. So I hoped to accept her k-kind invitation till I could find a home of my own. And, of course, I promised to help in any way that I could.”

Promised. His eyelids weighted closed once again. Yes, he’d promised Eileen something too. Something his aunt’s broken leg had made nearly impossible since caring for her and his children took so much of his time. Precious time he’d once devoted to making furniture to earn the price of the promise he’d made to his wife.

“I want a piano for Christmas, Cole,” she’d whispered on that fateful day he’d lost her, her voice so frail, he’d barely been able to hear. “For our girls to play . . . like I did when I was small.” She’d clutched his hand then, as if expending all her energy in a plea he could never deny. “Promise me, Cole, please. Give them music for Christmas . . . just in case.”

Just in case.

“If you need to discuss this with Eileen, I totally understand . . .”

As if the mention of her name had conjured her, Eileen’s sweet face appeared in his brain like a vision, smiling that serene smile that always assured him God was at work and all would be well. In his mind’s eye, he saw her touch her fingers to her lips and blow him a kiss like always whenever he left to work in his shop. And in one violent thud of his heart, he knew. Knew deep down, as if Eileen herself had whispered into his very soul.

Grace O’Malley was not just an answer to his prayer.

She was an answer to Eileen’s too.

He drew in a breath redolent with wood stain and the lemon oil he used on the pews and carefully expelled it again, his lips curving in the barest of smiles tinged with melancholy and awe. He vaguely remembered Eileen mentioning a long-lost friend, but he’d soon forgotten since his wife never brought it up again.

Until now.

He reached to tug Miss O’Malley’s valise from her grip, the stillness of the sanctuary underscoring the peace that slowly seeped into his soul. He ushered her out of the church into the blazing sunlight, grateful for God’s hand in his life.

“I assure you, Miss O’Malley, your help is not only desperately needed, but deeply appreciated as well. Maybe not by my sweet Eileen,” he said quietly, his tone hushed like the moment as he quietly closed the door, “but by the family she left behind.”

3:55AM

Friday, June 25, 2017

“I mean,” he emphasized, tone sober, “I need you, Lizzie—

your laughter, your encouragement, your gentleness, your love—

and not just in my bed. I need you in my heart and my mind,

to feel your love like before, when it was just you and me.”

The Best Gift of All, An O'Connor Christmas Novella

 

Oh, WOW, did I have fun this week! How? Final proofing my four novellas that are releasing in ONE WEEK!! Click HERE for last week's post, where you can find BUY links for each of the novellas.

Why? Because I got to revisit the O'Connors, the McClares, and the McCabes, and let me tell, I did a lot of laughing out loud and went through a TON of Kleenex because I forgot just HOW emotional these books are. And hopefully, not just for me, but for my readers too!

I promised you a sneak peek at each novella, and so far, I've done one for Grace Like Rain, Blake "The Rake" McClare's love story, then last week was Charity and Mitch's Christmas story in A Whisper of Hope. And today, I am going to post the first chapter of Lizzie and Brady's Christmas novella, The Best Gift of All because it's the last one I proofed, and it made me cry and laugh sooooo much! That Charity is a pistol, let me tell you, so you don't want to miss how she deals with Henry when he spits in Gabe's Christmas stocking -- priceless!!

But before we get to the excerpt, I want to let you know about a few things I have going right now so you can put them on your calendar to not miss out on FREE BOOKS, plus a very cool giveaway of 30 BOOKS EACH TO 2 WINNERS and a KINDLE FIRE to a grand-prize winner, and a 99-cent sale on Marcy and Patrick's prequel love story, A Light in the Window, and the date for my next FACEBOOK LIVE! So check it all out below, then enjoy the excerpt.

HAPPY WEEKEND & HAPPY READING!

Julie

 

HUGE Giveaway, Mon., 8/28 - Mon., 9/4:

Guess what? I have teamed up with more than 30 fantastic contemporary Christian and inspirational romance authors to give away a huge collection of 30 novels to 2 lucky winners, PLUS a Kindle Fire to the Grand Prize winner! 

You can win my novel HIS STEADFAST LOVE, plus books from authors like Becky Wade, Susan May Warren, and Melissa Tagg, so MARK YOUR CALENDARS, okay?

Enter the giveaway HERE by clicking here & good luck!

 

 99-Cent Sale on A Light in the Window:

If you haven't read Marcy and Patrick's award-winning love story yet -- why not? It's the perfect read to kick off the holiday season with an Irish love story that's a cross between The Bells of St. Mary's and The Gift of the Magi by O'Henry, so I hope you check it out.

You can buy A Light in the Window in both e-book and paperback at AMAZON and e-book only at B & N.

I just LOVE the video my artist hubby did for it using my daughter on both the cover and in the video: 

A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW VIDEO

AND if you have already read it and liked it, can I ask a favor? Good reviews are CRITICAL to indie authors like me, so if you did read it, would you consider posting a 1- or 2-line review for it on Amazon and/or Goodreads? That would be SUCH a blessing for me, not only for A Light in the Window, but ALL of the Isle of Hope series you may have read including A Glimmer of Hope, which is the only IOH book that doesn't have 5 stars, so I would love to see it pick up a few more good reviews.

ALL authors need the support of their readers, but especially for their indie books since they don't have a publisher promoting them. And if you do post a review, can you let me know so I can personally thank you? THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH!

 

My Next Facebook Live:

Gosh, it's been SO MUCH fun doing these Facebook Lives, so I'm going to do another Q & A WITH A CDQ on THURSDAY, AUGUST 31ST AT 7:00 PM CDT, so I hope you can join me. I will be selecting questions to answer, and anyone whose question I use will automatically win an e-book, so put it on your calendar and come on by!

JULIE'S FACEBOOK AUTHOR PAGE

 

 

Excerpt for The Best Gift of All:

Chapter One

Boston, Massachusetts, November 1934

 John Brady, where are you?? Elizabeth Brady peeked at the cheery rooster clock over the stove and sighed—almost nine—well past her children’s bedtime and another late night for her husband. Which meant, she thought as she stirred the milk till it boiled, that John Brady would probably be crabby.

Again.

“Will Daddy be home soon?” Six-year-old Teddy pushed up the sleeves of his red-striped pajamas. “I’m tired.” He yawned, focusing on his cherished Lincoln Logs sprawled on the oak kitchen table his father had built. Lizzie smiled at her son, his calm and steady focus on the task at hand so like his father. Brown eyes squinted in concentration, he crafted his latest creation with small yet deft fingers. A shock of brown hair tumbled over one eye as he paused with a faint purse of lips, patiently allowing his little sister to position a log, further evidence he was his father’s son—gentle, kind, steady, and strong.

And sometimes crabby.

At least lately. Tucking a chin-length curl behind her ear, Lizzie poured hot milk into three cups and sighed again, steam misting her face. In over ten years of marriage, John Brady had been her tower of strength—the perfect spouse, the perfect spiritual mentor, the perfect lover. Heat burned her cheeks as she poured a spoonful of cocoa into each cup, the warmth having little to do with the steam.

Or used to be.

She stirred the cocoa like she wished she could stir up her marriage. Lately something always seemed to stand in the way. Chores or sick children or monsters in the closet, stealing her time and attention as thoroughly as the babe in her womb stole her energy. Her lips quirked as she skimmed a gentle palm across her burgeoning belly. Not to mention Brady’s poor moods.

Lizzie sighed, grateful she’d put baby Sara to bed hours ago and wondering how she’d handle yet another baby come spring. Testing the cocoa to make sure it wasn’t too hot, she questioned if perhaps Charity was right, that passion tended to wane after ten years of marriage. She spooned Marshmallow Fluff into each cup, recalling her sister’s assurance that the trend could certainly be reversed.

“Mama!”

Lizzie jolted, more heat broiling her cheeks as she blinked at her brown-eyed daughter clad in a pink polka-dot nightgown, a mop of tawny brown curls framing her cherub face like a misplaced halo. “Sorry, sweetheart, did you say something?”

Crayons fisted in both hands, four-year-old Molly folded stubby arms and arched a miniature brow, the scowl on her tiny, heart-shaped face almost comical. “Teddy wants to know when Daddy will be home, and so do I. I don’t want to go to bed until I show him my picture.”

Offering a tender smile, Lizzie carried their cups to the table, eyeing the clock before setting them down. “I hope soon, Molly, but I never know lately since he and Uncle Collin are so busy at work.”

“Can’t they hire more people?” Teddy asked, a pucker in his freckles. He took a drink of cocoa, oblivious when chocolate dribbled onto his pajamas. “Dad promised to help me make a new toy sailboat for the lake.” Solemn eyes stared back, a miniature of his father’s. “And I miss him.”

“Me too,” Molly said with a pout of pink lips. “He’s gonna make Teddy and me a bee-ootiful treehouse.”

Lizzie drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. How she wished the timing and Brady’s mood were better to broach their children’s expectations with her husband.

 Not to mention news of his estranged brother’s visit.

She thought of Michael, the man she’d almost married and the brother who’d betrayed her husband, and shivered at the prospect of telling Brady she’d invited him for a visit. Although Brady had forgiven Michael long ago, the two brothers seldom saw each other, a situation that bothered Lizzie a lot. So when Michael had called out of the blue, the invitation to visit had just popped out of her mouth, shocking Lizzie as much as it would Brady, no doubt. That is, when I finally get the nerve to tell him. Pushing the uncomfortable thoughts aside, Lizzie turned her attention to her son. “It’s a difficult time right now, Teddy, with the depression and all. Daddy and Uncle Collin have to work extra hard because they don’t have the money to hire anyone else.”

“What’s a duh-preshun?” Molly asked, scribbling with great drama.

“It’s when a lot of people are out of work, making our country very sad and grumpy.”

“You mean like Daddy,” Molly said in a matter-of-fact tone, slashing a bright streak of blue across the sun in her Crayola sky.

Lizzie’s heart clutched. Goodness, the children are aware of the change in their father? Gnawing her lip, she hurried to retrieve her own cocoa and sat down at the table. With a deep inhale, she gave Molly a gentle smile, hoping to convince herself as well as her daughter. “Daddy’s just tired from the long hours he works, Molly, but he’ll get better soon, I promise.”

The front door opened, and the baby in her tummy fluttered at the sound of Brady’s voice, causing her to jump. “Lizzie?”

“In the kitchen,” she called, rising to pull a covered plate from the oven.

“Daddy!” Molly shot out of her chair and straight into Brady’s legs. “I drew you a picture. It’s you, Mama, and us on a sunny day, and we’re going on a picnic.”

“We are?” He hiked her up in his arms with a kiss to her cheek. His eyes met Lizzie’s across the room, brown pools of calm that never failed to quicken her pulse. “That sounds like fun.” He glanced at his son, who was putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece for his father’s approval. “That’s impressive, Ted. You’re an architect in the making if ever there was.”

Teddy’s face lit in a broad grin as he hurried over to lean into his father’s embrace.

“Are you hungry?” Lizzie asked. “I kept a plate warm, just in case.”

Brady gave Molly another smooch and put her down. His chest expanded and contracted with a heavy sigh as he kissed Lizzie on the cheek before dropping into the chair and closing his eyes. Blunt fingers massaged the back of his neck where wisps of cinnamon-colored hair indicated a haircut long overdue. “No, Lizzie, thanks. Faith sent a passel of fried chicken that Collin and I devoured.” He pulled Molly onto his lap. “But I’d love a piece of apple pie.”

She stiffened at the sink, suddenly remembering the pie she promised to make. She turned, brows in a slope. “Oh, Brady, I’m so sorry. I meant to bake the pie, honestly, but Faith asked me to watch Abby today, and the girls kept me so busy, and then Teddy had homework …”

He looked up, fatigue evident in the sag of his shoulders and the droop of his eyes. “It’s okay, Lizzie,” he said with a look that somehow made her think it wasn’t at all. “I don’t really need it.” He patted a washboard stomach as firm and tight as the day they married. “We’ve been so busy, Collin and I haven’t had time for the gym, so I don’t need desserts to make me go soft.”

Her eyes trailed from his broad shoulders down muscled arms evident beneath the thin cotton of his rolled-sleeved shirt, and a smile tipped the corners of her mouth. “There’s nothing soft about you, John Brady, except your head if you think I won’t make that apple pie.”

“I can live without apple pie, Lizzie,” he whispered, his gaze meeting hers in a manner that made the kitchen suddenly too warm.

“Okay, munchkins!” Lizzie clapped her hands to quickly herd the children to the door. “It’s past your bedtime.”

Brady snatched Lizzie’s hand. “Teddy, you think you can help Molly brush her teeth and tell her a story? I need to talk to Mommy for a few minutes.”

Teddy grew at least an inch on the spot. “Sure, Dad.” He grabbed Molly’s hand. “Come on, Mol, I learned a great one at school.”

“But I want Mama to put me to bed,” Molly whined, squirming free from Teddy’s grasp.

Lizzie glanced up, her expression contrite. “It won’t take but a few minutes, John.”

“I’ll let you wear my baseball cap if you let me put you to bed,” Teddy bargained, eyeing his sister with a quiet confidence that so reminded Lizzie of his father.

Molly’s gaze shifted from Lizzie to her brother, lip protruding noticeably. “Okay,” she muttered, but not without a pleading look over her shoulder. “But Mama has to tuck me in.”

 “I promise,” Lizzie said, blowing a kiss. “Thanks, Teddy—you’re going to be a wonderful dad someday. Daddy and I will be in shortly for kisses and prayers, okay?”

Teddy led Molly from the room, and Brady lost no time in tugging Lizzie onto his lap, where she leaned against his chest as he told her about his day. His voice was as serene and mesmerizing as when Lizzie was a lovesick little girl of thirteen, and Brady was the new business partner of her brother-in-law Collin. Closing her eyes, she smelled the peppermint candy he kept at the shop for children, and the scent ushered back the feelings of awe and hero worship she’d always had for John Brady.

She startled when he buried his head in her neck, his warm sigh tickling her skin. The scent of soap and ink and peppermint filled her senses. “I need you, Lizzie,” he said quietly.

She pulled away, heart racing at the gravity of his tone. “Why, John? What’s wrong?”

He shook his head, a faint smile shadowing his lips as he studied her. “Nothing,” he assured, the dark bristle on his jaw giving him an almost reckless air. So unusual for her rock-steady husband, an unshakable man of God if ever there was. His broad chest rose and fell as he fondled a lock of her hair. “Do you have any idea how long it’s been since we’ve been alone?”

She squinted, trying to understand his question. “But, we’re alone every night, John.”

He traced her chin with the pad of his thumb, his eyes locked on hers with an intensity that made her mouth go dry. “No, Lizzie, I mean really alone, when I can talk to you without interruption and when we’re not too exhausted to connect like we used to. Where I can hold you and share what’s in my heart, pray with you, and make love to you without anything else stealing your attention away.”

Blood heated her cheeks and she swallowed hard. “What do you mean?” she whispered.

His quiet smile heated the rest of her body in a manner she hadn’t felt in a long, long while. Feathering her jaw, his fingers trailed her throat. “Twenty-nine years old, ten years of marriage, three children and one on the way, and you’re still the most innocent woman I’ve ever met.” He leaned in to nuzzle her ear. “I mean,” he emphasized, tone sober, “I need you, Lizzie—your laughter, your encouragement, your gentleness, your love—and not just in my bed. I need you in my heart and my mind, to feel your love like before, when it was just you and me.”

Her eyes drifted closed. Oh, Brady … we’re parents now. It could never be the same as before—didn’t he understand that? She was a mother, with responsibilities to her children …

As if sensing her hesitation, he cupped her face, eyes searching hers with a vulnerability she’d never seen in John Brady before. “Come to bed with me, Lizzie,” he whispered. “I need to be close to you, hold you, talk to you, pray about where I’ve been in my mind lately.”

She stroked his cheek, heart expanding. “Oh, John, there’s nothing I’d rather do.”

With a low groan, he drew her close, his mouth capturing hers with a passion that took her breath away. “So help me, Elizabeth, I grow more desperately in love with you every day.”

“M-Mama?”

Brady’s hold stiffened as Lizzie looked up. Molly stood at the door in her nightgown, feet bare and tears swimming in her eyes. Her little chest heaved as she clutched a ragdoll to her chest. “T-teddy t-told me about Hansel and Gretel, and I’m s-scared a witch is under my bed.”

As always, Lizzie’s heart wrenched at the sight of her children’s tears, and without a second thought, she leapt from Brady’s lap and hurried to sweep Molly up in her arms. Planting a kiss on her nose, she squeezed her tightly. “How ’bout I leave your little lamp on tonight and then we’ll check under your bed together, and the closet too, before I tuck you back in?”

Another pitiful heave shivered Molly’s body as she laid her head on Lizzie’s shoulder. “Can you s-sleep w-with me for a w-while too … please?”

“Molly, no—” Brady began, but Lizzie cut him off with a plea in her tone.

“John, she’s so frightened, she’s trembling. Please—you go get ready for bed and I’ll lay with her for a while, okay? And then I’ll be right in, I promise.”

His gaze locked with hers, and she recognized a glint of the sullen mood plaguing him of late. Lumbering to his feet, he released a weary sigh, fatigue and wariness apparent in a body usually so strong and sure. “All right,” he said quietly, moving toward the door. He kissed Molly’s head, then Lizzie’s cheek with a look that held a hint of warning. “Don’t be long.”

“I won’t.” Her repentant smile begged him to understand while she kneaded his arm with gentle fingers. “I love you,” she whispered.

“I know,” he said dully as he let her pass, but somehow the look on his face said that maybe he didn’t at all.