WELCOME TO MY

JOURN+AL JOTS BLOG ...

A weekly 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

 

10:09PM

Friday, September 9, 2016

"God alone is the Alpha and the Omega.  

He is the beat of my pulse. He is the strength in my bones.

He is my beginning and my end,

and there is no hope in anything—anything

 —except Him.”

Isle of Hope by Julie Lessman

 

OH MY ... HOW I LOVE CHRISTIAN READERS!!

In an amoral world where sex before marriage is the norm, mommy porn is rampant, and we actually have transgender bathroom laws, I gotta tell you — I love readers who want more from their fiction than just a great story. Not only because some of them buy my novels, but because I connect with them on a heart level — women (and some men) who crave a touch of God in their lives and in their books.

If you read last week's Journal Jot and saw all the wonderful pix, you know I had a blast at the Christian Fiction Readers Retreat (CFRR) followed by the American Christian Fiction Writers conference (ACFW) in Nashville a few weeks ago. But without question, the highlight of my trip — other than meeting some of you and spending time with dear friends (and you know who you are!) — was CFRR, where I was blessed to spend a wonderfully jam-packed day with reader friends like you!

WOW, what a privilege and honor to be one of five guest speakers at CFRR — along with Tamera Alexander, Mary Connealy, Laura Frantz, and Ruth Logan Herne! And WHOA! Was that a day I will never forget. Nor will any of the 105 people who attended this truly amazing inaugural retreat, where precious reader friends laughed, prayed, worshipped, ate breakfast/lunch/snacks, and just had a blast with some of their favorite authors.

Ruth Logan Herne and Mary Connealy provided comedic inspiration followed by Tamera Alexander and myself sharing our testimonies while Laura Frantz hosted a unique reader panel where authors asked readers like you the questions! All in all, it was one of the most memorable days of my life, and I thank God — and the CFRR planners/moderators, Bonnie Roof, Annie C., and Carrie Schmidt — for all the hard work they put in and allowing me to be a part.

In conclusion, the event was a resounding success that can be summed up in words like anointed, intimate, inspiring, heart-wrenching, heart-pounding (the Pucker Up panel!), wild (speed chats, which are like speed dating, only with authors!), and a whole lot of fun!

That said, I thought it might be fun to post my speech for you here today following the announcements below (for me anyway, so I could relive this wonderful day in some small way!), so I hope you enjoy it.

Hugs and Happy Weekend!

Julie

 

FREE DOWNLOAD!!

WHOO-HOO ... my prequel novella to Isle of Hope, A Glimmer of Hope is now FREE ON Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, so if you haven't read it yet, now's your chance!!

And if you have read it, can you spread the word for people to download it? The more downloads the better in this biz, so please SPREAD THE WORD!

She’s a wounded girl serving up trouble.
He’s a pastor’s kid bent on serving God.
But can they find a glimmer of hope
for a future together?

From the moment Jack O’Bryen kissed the sixteen-year-old tomboy next door, he knew he would love her forever. Lacey Carmichael was everything he’d ever wanted—intelligent, warm, and brimming with life, the perfect complement to his serious and sensible self. A girlfriend who not only shared his faith, but he hoped his future as well, the perfect mate for a would-be pastor.

Eighteen-year-old Lacey Carmichael has dreamed of marrying Jack O’Bryen since she was twelve years old, the boy next door who always picked up the pieces after her father shattered her heart. But when her cousin leads her astray while Jack’s away at school and her father’s rejection soars to new heights, Lacey finds herself at odds with the boy that she loves, not only jeopardizing their relationship, but Jack’s faith and heart as well.

 

THREE-BOOK GIVEAWAY!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2016 — Join me on Seekerville this next week when I will be sharing even more about CFRR and giving away three of my signed books (paperback or ebook) and a special framed quotation memento that was given out at CFRR. So, hope to see you there on Wednesday and here's the link:

JULIE'S SEEKERVILLE BLOG ON WED., 9/14/16

 

HAVE YOURSELF A VERY MERRY (AND EARLY) CHRISTMAS!!

HO-HO-HOPE you've checked out my upcoming Christmas novella, "Last Chance Christmas," part of the Cowboy Christmas Homecoming collection with Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, and Anna Schmidt. It's a fun and heartwarming story about an accident-prone ex-saloon girl and a pastor that is now available for PREORDER! Here's the back-cover copy:

Accidents happen and then there’s Grace…

         Pastor Cole McCabe isn’t sure he’ll survive the holidays with his new housekeeper and nanny. She’s dyed his long johns pink and scorched nearly everything she cooks—even catching fire to the kitchen. But he’s desperate, and she’s as destitute as they come.

         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.

         When Grace’s past threatens his family, they have one chance to celebrate Christmas together at home. . . If Grace hasn’t burned it down by then.

 

PREORDER LOVE EVERLASTING!

Book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, available for PREORDER HERE!

 

JULIE'S SPEECH FROM CFRR:

Okay, right off the bat, I’d like to get something out there on the table: I am romance addict. Blame it on the fact that I was one of thirteen kids in a very dysfunctional family where there wasn’t a lot of love to go around, but at the age of eight or so, I used to sneak downstairs to watch romantic movies after my parents went to bed.

Even at that tender age, I was so enamored with romance that I wrote sweet, little love stories and illustrated them with innocent kisses. I used to hide them, though, because I was pretty good in art and they were fairly anatomically correct for an eight-year-old. Until my mom found them. You might say that was my first one-star review.

But … my romance-writing career didn’t actually begin until the age of twelve, when I read Gone With the Wind. I was so enamored with the love affair between Scarlett and Rhett that I immediately sat down to write 150 single-spaced pages of what would one day be — some forty years later — my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure.

My little sister Katie and I shared a room, and she’d beg me to read my book to her every night. She loved it SO much that she said I should let Mama read it, so I did. But a few days later when I asked Mom what she thought so far, she said: “Sorry, Julie, but it was so dry, I couldn’t get past the first page.” Needless to say, my writing career took a bit of a nosedive after that.

But I still loved romance, so when I was sixteen, I talked some friends into dressing up like nuns to go see a special free showing of Gone With the Wind for the religious community. Back then GWTW was re-released every seven years, and I had never seen it. So we borrowed nun habits from my friend's sister who was a postulant, and off we went. There I sat, mesmerized, shoving free popcorn in my mouth and drinking free soda while watching Scarlett and Rhett. It was the best day of my life. UNTIL we got in trouble after running into the nuns from our high school, but it was sooooooooooo worth it!

Then the free-love hippie era hit, and I ditched paper romance for the real thing. Back then, I was a 23-year-old hardnosed agnostic who was so angry at God that I actually wanted to burn Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms.

As a wild child of the 60s and 70s, I tried everything to be happy—from astrology and tarot cards … to transcendental meditation and witchcraft—you name it. I had a vocabulary that would have made a sailor blush.

According to the world’s standards, I had everything going for me—a hunky boyfriend with a Corvette and a boat, a great job, my own apartment (at a time when other friends still lived at home), and even some success in writing. I was editor of the yearbook and newspaper, published in the National Anthology of High School Poetry, won a poetry contest in college, and aced an advanced writing course at Washington University without showing up for half the classes.

BUT  … I wasn’t happy. I’d sit on the edge of my bed and stare out the window, feeling a lot like Peggy Lee singing, “Is that all there is?”

Then one day, this annoying gal at work approached me. She had a lesser job than me, was divorced with a kid and no boyfriend in sight. I hated her because she came in humming every day, happy as a lark while I was miserable. One day when she and I were alone in the department—I looked up from my typewriter and said, “Just what in the blank makes you so blankin’ all the time?” I literally groaned when she walked over and said, “I’ve been praying you would ask.”

Oh my gosh, a Jesus freak! But you know what? I found myself going to lunch with her, badgering her with questions and accusations. “Your god — just what has your god done for me?” I’d say, “My mother hated me, my father beat me, and my sisters and brothers made fun of me, so tell me, please—what does your god want me to do to believe because I flat-out don’t. Does he want me to run around the building ten times? Give me something physical I can do because I ain’t buying it.”

So she told me to go home and ask Jesus Christ to come into my heart and be Lord of my life. I remember looking up at my ceiling that night, saying. “She says you’re up there, but I think I’m talking to a ceiling. So on the off chance you are really up there, come into my heart and make me know it. I can’t remember if it was one month or three, but suddenly, I believed with all my heart, and my life has never been the same.

When I was in my 50s, I was reading a Newsweek cover article about Christian music, movies, and books, stating that it was a billion-dollar industry just waiting to be tapped. If you recall, that was when Mel Gibson’s box-office hit The Passion of the Christ made Hollywood sit up and notice there was a Christian market. So I’m sitting there reading, when this thought enters my head that says, “now is the time to finish your book.” I remember blinking in surprise because the thought didn’t come from me. And I knew what book it was talking about — the book I started at the age of twelve.

So I did and started down the path of query letters, contests, and rejections. I’ll never forget this one contest that I entered after I went off hormone replacement therapy. I kept waiting for the judges’ comments, and they never came. I was so crazed to get them, that I bugged that poor contest coordinator to death, even brazen enough to ask if she could have the judges redo their judging sheets and send them to me. Yeah—I was that bad!

“I’ll never understand what happened to those contest results,” I told my husband months later while we were eating dinner out, AFTER I went back on hormones. I suddenly hear this quiet voice from across the table while my hubby carefully cuts his pork tenderloin. “They’re under our mattress,” he said softly, avoiding my eyes. “Excuse me?” I say, and he finally looks up. “Amy and I hid them from you, Julie, because we knew you couldn’t handle it.” I was stunned, but fortunately back on hormones at the time, so I just laughed. I thanked him and my daughter because I did go home and read those scores, and YIKES ... they weren’t pretty!

I don’t have to tell many of you here that trying to get published is hard work. I received 46 rejections on A Passion Most Pure before it sold in a 3-book deal to Revell. I basically went from winning the booby prize at an ACFW conference for the most rejections in a year, waving my hand wildly at the back of the room, so grateful I was going to finally win something — to standing on that same ACFW stage three years later, accepting the award for Debut Book of the Year.

According to Jeremiah 29, God has a plan for every one in this room, and as authors, we automatically dream of Christy awards and bestseller status. I certainly did when A Passion Most Pure broke Revell’s record for the fastest-selling fiction release up to that time. “There’s nothing out there like it,” the Director of Sales at Revell said, and I thought—I’m on my way.

So when Francine Rivers spoke at an ACFW conference I attended, telling us that she took time off from writing at the peak of her career to focus more on God and refused to enter contests or look at her royalty statements, I thought: She’s lost her mind.

Turns out I was the one who lost my mind — God’s mind, that is, for what He wanted for me and my career, a lesson I had to learn the hard way. Because … economies crash and markets change, and things don’t always go the way you plan.

The Bible says “hope does not disappoint,” but guess what? I was disappointed. So I took an 8-month sabbatical from writing, telling my editor that I wasn’t going to pitch another book or series for a while because I wanted to focus more on God, family, and writing for the sheer joy of writing.

And you know what? It’s the best thing I ever did because that’s when I learned the greatest lesson a Christian author can ever learn and probably the most important thing I can tell you today.

And that is—no, hope does not disappoint! BUT … it has to be hope in Him, not in book sales or awards or glowing reviews. It has to be hope and trust that His plan for you as a writer—or a reader—will bring you more peace, joy, and contentment than any Christy award or bestseller list.

It was during my sabbatical that I wrote my latest novel, Isle of Hope, which is why it’s such an important book to me. Important enough to publish it myself even though Revell did actually want it—if I cut it in half and toned down the spirituality. Both my agent and I agreed that I should not because this story was too personal and too deep—based on my own estranged relationship with my father.

So I’d like to end my talk today with a clip from Isle of Hope that relays the most important lesson I have learned as an author.

In this scene, the hero’s father—a former pastor who is dying of cancer—is seeking to reconcile with his estranged son who hasn’t forgiven him for destroying their family through an adulterous affair. These words are actually my heart and my mindset toward the God Who has called each of us to follow Him.But I also truly believe it is a a mindset that all Christians need if we are going to walk the path God has for each of us with true peace and joy.

         His father’s body quivered with a depleting sigh before he rose and walked to the far edge of the dock, hands buried in his pockets while he stared at the river. “Once it happened,” he whispered, “I swore it would never happen again, but of course it did, brick-walling my pride more and more just to keep out the guilt. Until everything came crashing down …”

         He turned toward Jack with a slump of shoulders and a glimmer of pain. “I lost my wife, my family, my friends, and my church. The only way my pride could cope, Jack, was to cling to the lie that Karen and I belonged together, to believe that I was the one to deliver her from her troubled marriage and she from mine.” He inhaled sharply, releasing it again in a slow, tenuous breath. “So we left.”

         “You mean ran away with your tail between your legs.” Jack’s words hissed in the air.

         “Yes,” his father said calmly, “I ran away like the coward I was.”

         The aura of peace and calm Jack had sensed before settled over his father’s shoulders again like the mantle of moonlight that broke through the clouds. “It took losing everything, Son, including my life, to finally understand what I was too blind to see. Everything to liberate me from the same pride that lost Lucifer his soul. And that is—God alone is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beat of my pulse. He is the strength in my bones. He is my beginning and my end, and there is no hope in anything—anything—except Him.”

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

9:38AM

Friday, September 2, 2016

There is nothing better than a friend,

unless it is a friend with chocolate."  

― Linda Grayson, artist

Oh, and trust me, people I had PLENTY of both last week when I attended the CFRR (Christian Fiction Readers Retreat) and the ACFW (Amercian Christian Fiction Writers Conference) in Nashville, Tennessee!

WOW, did I have a blast, which is why I didn't have time to post a Journal Jot last week, so please forgive me. BUT ... I have some fun things to share this week to make up for it, including the winner of my Inspired Reads contest PLUS ... scads and scads of pix from both CFRR and ACFW, so I hope you check them out below.

 

GOOD NEWS!!

WHOO-HOO ... my prequel novella to Isle of Hope, A Glimmer of Hope is now FREE ON Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, so if you haven't read it yet, now's your chance!!

And if you have read it, can you spread the word for people to download it? The more downloads the better in this biz, so please SPREAD THE WORD!

She’s a wounded girl serving up trouble.
He’s a pastor’s kid bent on serving God.
But can they find a glimmer of hope
for a future together?

From the moment Jack O’Bryen kissed the sixteen-year-old tomboy next door, he knew he would love her forever. Lacey Carmichael was everything he’d ever wanted—intelligent, warm, and brimming with life, the perfect complement to his serious and sensible self. A girlfriend who not only shared his faith, but he hoped his future as well, the perfect mate for a would-be pastor.

Eighteen-year-old Lacey Carmichael has dreamed of marrying Jack O’Bryen since she was twelve years old, the boy next door who always picked up the pieces after her father shattered her heart. But when her cousin leads her astray while Jack’s away at school and her father’s rejection soars to new heights, Lacey finds herself at odds with the boy that she loves, not only jeopardizing their relationship, but Jack’s faith and heart as well.

BUT ... I NEED YOUR HELP! If you have read AGOH and posted a review for it, can you please post that same review on both B&N and Kobo? If you do, please let me know via the CONTACT JULIE tab of my website or via a FACEBOOK private message, and I will enter you in a contest to win your choice of an ebook copy of Isle of Hope, A Light in the Window, my upcoming release, Love Everlasting, OR your choice of any of my novellas -- "A Whisper of Hope" (Charity & Mitch), "The Best Gift of All" (Lizzie & Brady), or "Grace Like Rain" (Blake "The Rake" McClare).

 

MORE GOOD NEWS!!

I just received the jacket blurb for my upcoming Christmas novella, "Last Chance Christmas," part of the Cowboy Christmas Homecoming collection with Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, and Anna Schmidt, which is now available for PREORDER! It's a fun and heartwarming story about an accident-prone ex-saloon girl and a pastor, so here it is:

Accidents happen and then there’s Grace…

         Pastor Cole McCabe isn’t sure he’ll survive the holidays with his new housekeeper and nanny. She’s dyed his long johns pink and scorched nearly everything she cooks—even catching fire to the kitchen. But he’s desperate, and she’s as destitute as they come.

         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.

         When Grace’s past threatens his family, they have one chance to celebrate Christmas together at home. . . If Grace hasn’t burned it down by then.


AND EVEN MORE GOOD NEWS!!

A HUGE HUG to everybody who entered my last contest, and as always I wish ALL of you could win! But unfortunately, there can only be one winner, and that winner of a character named after her in Love Everlasting and a signed paperback copy as selected by Randomizer is ...

 MARY PRESTON

SUPER CONGRATS to Mary, and I will be in touch!

And now, here's a glimpse into my wonderful week last week, and I'll just bet you may recognize a face or two!

Have a great Labor Day Weekend, all!

Hugs,

Julie


PREORDER LOVE EVERLASTING!

Book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, available for PREORDER HERE!

 

AND NOW A PEEK AT MY LAST WEEK!

I was privileged to be one of five guest speakers at the Christian Fiction Readers Retreat in Nashville last week along with Tamera Alexander, Laura Frantz, Mary Connealy and Ruth Logan Herne, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. It was intimate mix of about 105 readers and authors who gathered for a full day to mix, mingle, worship God, and discuss books with speed chats, pucker-up panels, and so much more!

Here are the lovely ladies who planned it, who just happen to be some of my dearest blogger friends. Top row from left to right are: Moi, Annie C. from Just Commonly blog, Sydney Anderson from Singing Librarian Books blog. Front row from left to right are: Bonnie Roof from Overcoming with God blog and Carrie Schmidt from Reading is my SuperPower blog

This is one of my favorite pics from CFRR -- Tammy Alexander, me, and Laura Frantz during worship, which was absolutely awesome!!

Boy, was THIS fun!! It was an author panel on kissing called "Pucker up," and let me tell you, I had a blast answering THOSE questions! ;) From left to right: Pepper Basham, Ruth Logan Herne, Melanie Dickerson, Janet Dean, Kristi Hunter, and moi.

One of the worship leaders for the day was the lovely Melony Teague, whose excellent devotional -- As the Ink Flows: Devotions to Inspire Christian Writers & Speakers -- I endorsed and highly recommend.

This is a precious reader friend of mine, Cindy Martin, who lives in Nashville and volunteered to assist in any way she could, be it airport runs or bringing food. Meeting her just blessed the socks off of me!

And, WOW, is this a love story or what? This is Beth and Mike Miller, who came to the retreat together (and Mike was the ONLY man there!) because this was his birthday present to his wife. They are dear reader friends of mine, and seldom have I seen a man so over the moon for a woman! He and Beth could be one of my hero/heroine couples, as romantic as they are! And, of course, Beth reads my novels, so I'd like to think that maybe -- just maybe -- that lends a wee bit of inspiration too! ;)

I LOVED meeting sweet Amy Messer, a wonderful reader friend who made me laugh over her enthusiasm! Thank you, Amy, for your continued support!

 My first Uber ride!! My daughter, Amy, talked me into taking my first Uber ride, and it was fun! That's my son-in-law, Nate, in the front seat.

It was SO fun meeting another dear reader friend, Kelly Goshorn, who actually won a character named after her in Isle of Hope!

And, of course, the love of my life was along on the trip, too, and we enjoyed seeing Nashville with my daughter and son-in-law.

This is another reader friend I was SO thrilled to meet -- Rahcel Dixon -- because I've been praying for her mom, who is ill, so it was a blessing to put a face with a prayer request. :)

And OH. MY. GOSH!! I had SUCH a blast with two of the gals from my new publisher, Gilead! This is Ruth Logan Herne and me shoring up these two young things who are SO darn cute and SO darn smart -- Katelyn and Nichole. LOVED hanging with them ... made me feel young again!!

One of my favorite get-togethers was with Casey Herringshaw -- who won a character named after her in A Heart Revealed -- and her sweet mom, Sue, who also made a cameo appearance in AHR as the character Casey's mom! ;)

And I'll sign off with this fun pic with a real Georgia sweetheart, Patti Jo Moore, who always taunts me with my favorite dessert -- Georgia peach cobbler!

 


1:02AM

Friday, August 19, 2016

“A love everlasting,” she whispered,

the kind of love her soul had ached for with Eric.

And the kind of love that was only rooted in faith.

-- Love Everlasting by Julie Lessman

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!!!!

Yes, it's true, Love Everlasting, book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, is now available for PREORDER!!

And to celebrate, I'm giving you a sneak peek at Tess and Ben's relationship in LE with an excerpt at the end of this blog, so be sure to check it out.

And not only that, but if you preorder Love Everlasting by September 1st, you will earn an extra five entry points in my contest below! So if you have already done so, make sure you check that option in the Rafflecopter box below for a shot at having a character named after you in -- yes, you guessed it -- LOVE EVERLASTING!!

As far as updates, I just finished final edits for my Christmas novella, "Last Chance Christmas," which will be in the Cowboy Christmas Homecoming Christmas collection along with novellas by Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, and Anna Schmidt, releasing in October.

I will give you a sneak peek at that in the weeks ahead, but for now you can check out the synopsis for each novella and if you like, PREORDER it HERE. But rest assured when an accident-prone saloon girl connects with a widowed pastor and his four daughters, not to mention a crochety aunt, trouble follows ...

Right now I am doing final edits on Love Everlasting before it goes to the formatter, then I dive into book 1 of my Silver Lining Ranch series, Love's Silver Lining, which is going to be SO fun, I promise!

Well, I better get cracking, so here's some announcements following by a Ben and Tess excerpt from Love Everlasting -- I hope you enjoy it!

Hugs and Happy Weekend!

Julie

99-Cent Sale!!

99-CENT SALE ON A GLIMMER OF HOPE! I'm gearing up for the release of Love Everlasting with a sale on the prequel novella to Isle of Hope -- A Glimmer of Hope -- so if you haven't read it yet, now's a good time! It has a 5-star rating on Amazon and will give you a sneak peek into Isle of Hope, plus the first chapter, so I hope you check it out!

A Glimmer of Hope

  

 Preorder Love Everlasting!

Book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, available for PREORDER HERE!


Contest!

Win your name in Love Everlasting (which will also be in paperback by Christmas) along with a signed copy!!

How? INSPIRED READS (which is a great Christian freebie/sale ebook site, so I recommend subscribing) is asking its readers to let them know what Christian Kindle books you would like to see more of AND give them the names of your favorite authors! 

SO ... ALL YOU HAVE TO DO TO ENTER IS:

1.) Go to the Inspired Reads Facebook page at the link below and leave a comment telling them who your favorite authors are and what you are currently reading. Please note you are not required to mention me as a favorite author to enter the contest, but if my books are favorites of yours, I would greatly appreciate the mention. Then come back here and enter the Rafflecopter box below. Easy, right?

INSPIRED READS CHRISTIAN KINDLE BOOKS ON A BUDGET

AND ... EXTRA POINTS ARE AVAILABLE BY:

1.) Sharing the contest via Facebook or Twitter daily.

2.) Helping to promote the preorder of Love Everlasting by sharing the promotion graphic above on FB and/or Twitter.

3.) Preordering Love Everlasting yourself.

The contest ends at midnight on September 1st, and I will announce the winner in the following Journal Jot, so GOOD LUCK!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

EXCERPT FROM LOVE EVERLASTING

Sweet Southern tea, what am I doing? Tess slammed two stiff palms to Ben’s chest, hoping he hadn’t heard the moan that almost slipped from her lips when he’d kissed her. “You’re crazy all right, Carmichael,” she hissed with a last-ditch flail of arms, desperate to keep him in line until she could drive her terms home. “And God help you if you think you can waltz in here—”

He cut her off with another kiss so urgent and deep, his groan tangled with hers as she melted against his chest. Her fingers dug into the hair at the back of his neck, trying to decide if she wanted to grab him or gouge him. With a desperate groan, his mouth slid along the curve of her jaw to nip at her ear before smothering her throat with hungry kisses. “God help me is right, Tess, because I want you more than I have ever wanted anything in my life.”

“Ben, wait, please—”

He silenced her weak protest with another ravenous kiss, like a man starving for the only sustenance his soul could abide. “I can’t, Tess—not any longer,” he rasped, voice hoarse with a need he obviously could no longer deny, “I want to marry you now.”

Oh, Ben … She went completely still in his arms, her fingers at the nape of his neck suddenly limp and flat. Me, too, but … She sagged back, facial muscles wilted with a sadness she’d only displayed one other time. The night he’d revealed a past that had almost cost him her love.

Her heart ached as he fumbled in his pocket for the diamond ring he’d so longed for her to wear, holding it out with shaky fingers. “Marry me, Tess—tomorrow, the next day, I don’t care—but soon because I need you like I’ve never needed anyone before.” Her resolve weakened when he cradled her face in his hands. “In my life,” he whispered, nuzzling her neck with a tenderness that immediately lured her eyelids closed. “In my house …” He mated his mouth with hers, exploring until he coaxed a soft mew from her throat. “And most definitely in my bed …” he said with an answering groan, voice husky as he devoured her body and soul.

Her breathing was as ragged as his when she finally pushed him away, soggy eyes revealing the depth of her love.

And her hesitation.

“Ben, I love you, I do,” she said quietly, the deep slash between his brows putting a stranglehold on her heart, “and I want to be your wife so badly, I can taste it—”

“Oh, me too,” he said, diving right back in to nibble her neck all over again.

But …” She squirmed from his grasp with two rigid palms, arms locked to keep him at bay. “I have concerns.”

The air in his chest seemed to slowly seep out. “My temper?”

She shimmied off his lap to slip back in her own chair, the absence of his warmth chilling her as much as the vulnerable look on his face. “Yes, your temper, although it’s not my chief concern at the moment because losing it only twice in a number of years is not a deal breaker.”

His throat convulsed several times before he spoke. “Deal breaker?” he whispered, voice a near croak as he slipped the ring back into his pocket.

She studied him with caring eyes that longed to kiss away every worry line in his face. “Jealousy, Ben,” she said softly, bracing her arms to her waist again as if shutting him out. “I can’t abide jealousy because nothing will destroy a relationship faster than that.” Her gaze veered beyond him to absently trace the shore, a mist of moisture glazing her eyes. “I never fully realized it at the time, but jealousy was one of the root problems in my marriage to Adam. Our fights escalated the last few years because he wanted me to attend conferences with him, you see, but I never wanted to go. I used my job as an excuse, which infuriated him, of course, and it was certainly a factor in the rift between us.”

She swallowed hard as she met his gaze once again. “But it wasn’t the main reason.” She looked away, skimming her arms as if she were cold, not knowing if it was because of the chill of a sudden sea breeze or her guilt, but either way, a shudder rippled her body. “It wasn’t until Adam and Karen got involved that I realized just why I couldn’t tolerate those stupid conferences where women flirted and fawned over Adam like I wasn’t even there. I was jealous and couldn’t handle it, so I chose to turn a blind eye to it all, trusting Adam far more than I should have.” Expelling a shaky breath, she finally faced him again. “So when he ran away with Karen, the monster of jealousy finally took over my soul, blackening my heart until it snuffed out any love I may have had for my husband.”

Ben reached to give her hand a squeeze. “That won’t happen, Tess, I promise.”

She stared at him for several seconds, regret etched into every pore of her face. “You can’t promise that, Ben, because it’s my Achilles’ heel.” A muscle jogged in her throat. “But I can promise you I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t happen to us.”

He gave her a lazy smile while he slowly circled her palm with the pad of his thumb. “Put me under lock and key?”

She didn’t crack a smile. “No, Ben, not you. Your temper.”

He dropped her hand, eyes in a squint. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Huffing out a sigh, she rose to pace the deck, her arms in a tight fold. “It means I have two conditions before I put that ring on my finger, Dr. Carmichael, and you can either comply or we can call it quits.”

“You’re joking.” He stared, mouth dangling.

“Nope.” Her chin jutted up as if to prove her point. “Dead serious, Dr. Doom, and no amount of kissy-face is going to change my mind.”

 He ground his jaw as he leaned back in his chair, elbows on the armrest and fingers laced. “And what exactly are these ‘conditions,’ Tess?” he said, giving her a death glare over the clasp of his hands.

She held up a hand and one finger along with it. “One, I want you to deal with your bitterness towards Cam, because I refuse to marry a man where jealousy blackens his soul like it did mine.”

His lips took a hard twist. “It won’t, Tess, as long as he stays away from you.”

Head cocked, she sucked air through teeth clenched in a tight smile. “Yeah, well, that’s just it, Ben—Cam is my friend and as a widower who’s wife died from cancer, he’s helped me through my grief a lot, which means his friendship is here to stay—”

Ben shot to his feet. “Over my dead body,” he growled, “not if you become my wife.”

She scrunched her nose. “Which is a pretty big ‘if’ right about now, Doc, so you might want to hear me out.” She shrugged. “If not, I’ll be happy to give your eulogy.”

Leaning forward, he stared her down, hands perched low on his hips. “It would be downright irresponsible for you to even consider a friendship with another man, Tess, especially one I can’t stand, and there isn’t a marriage counselor alive who wouldn’t agree with me.”

“Maybe,” she said with a slow nod of her head, remembering that Adam had called her irresponsible once as well, and she supposed she had been. But this was different. Ben’s ring wasn’t on her finger yet, and unless he was willing to rid his heart of the bitterness he still harbored toward Cam, it didn’t look likely. The barest semblance of a smile flickered at the edge of her mouth as she arched a brow, hoping a tease would soften the blow. “But then it’s not the marriage counselors you want to take to bed, now is it, Dr. Doom?”

He turned away, slashing fingers through his hair. “This is nothing short of blackmail, and if you really loved me, you wouldn’t do this.”

“On the contrary, Ben, it’s because I love you that I am doing this.” His eyelids weighted closed as she tenderly touched his arm, her voice soft with the deep affection of a woman in love. “Why on earth would I stand by and allow the man I adore to be eaten up by bitterness when it’s a cancer we can cure?”

His ribcage deflated in one noisy bluster of air. “What else?” he bit out, tone as sharp as the hackles she’d apparently raised.

Silence reigned for several seconds before she whispered her second request. “I’d like for you and Cam to be friends.”

He spun around so fast, it made her dizzy, his eyes dry sockets of shock. “Are you crazy?”

She moved in close to wrap her arms around his neck, tone husky to convey her intent. “Yes. Undeniably, unequivocally, and certifiably crazy in love with an unbelievably stubborn man with whom I hope to spend the rest of my life.”

She stood on tiptoe to sway her lips against his, and he swallowed her up in a raspy groan. “God help me, I love you so much, it aches,” he whispered, taking her mouth with a ferocity that mirrored the love that they bore.

She pulled away to cup his face with her hand, a sheen of tears in her eyes she hoped told him that she felt the same. “That’s what I’m counting on, Dr. Doom,” she whispered, nuzzling his lips with a tenderness meant to drain all the anger from his soul. “But I promise you, Ben Carmichael, that once I say ‘I do,’ I’ll do everything in my power to make the ache go away.”

“You better,” he said with a mock snarl, tugging her lip with his teeth, “if befriending Phillips doesn’t kill me first.” Emitting a growl, he wandered her throat before gently biting her earlobe, obviously to let her know he wasn’t thrilled with her demands. “But you can’t blame me if he spits in my eye.”

“He won’t,” she said with an assurance she felt deep in her soul. “Cam’s a reasonable man, Ben, so all you have to do is dig down for some of that hidden charm you’ve buried beneath the surface like gold. And I know it’s there, Dr. Doom, or you wouldn’t have stolen my heart like you did”

He grunted, tugging her back on his lap after sitting back down. “Yeah? Well you might have to do some pretty heavy convincing, Miss Perky, before I’m ready to share any charm.” He burrowed his lips into the crook of her neck, making her squeal when he wandered back to explore her mouth with his own.

“Well …” She chuckled, twisting to do a little ear-tugging of her own. “Look at it this way. You won’t just be doing it for your future wife, you’ll be doing it for Karen,” she said softly, reminding him of the struggle he’d overcome to forgive his ex-wife. “And yourself, Ben, since making amends to her brother will finally put all your demons to rest.”

He pulled back to pierce her with his trademark Ben Carmichael glare, as if the significance of her statement had just hit him square in the chest. Inhaling deeply, he expelled it again in one long, arduous sigh of surrender. “I just hate to admit when you’re right.”

She feathered his ear with the softest of kisses before her mouth trailed to caress the bristle of his jaw. “I don’t know why, Dr. Doom,” she whispered, her chuckle lost in the sweet depths of her kiss. “I love you more when you do.”


1:25AM

Friday, August 12, 2016

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,

and a light unto my path.

-- Psalm 119:105

Without question, our Scripture quote today is one of my favorites because God's Word has truly been -- from the first moment I cracked the Bible open at the age of 23 -- a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

So when I started writing books, the one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted each of my book titles to be Scriptures, not only to reflect the theme of the novel, but as my own silent prayer that they would somehow shine light on the importance of applying God's Word in our lives.

For instance, my original series title for The Daughters of Boston was “The Wind of God” series, where each book had a Scripture title with the word “wind” in it:

-- A Passion Most Pure originally was A Chasing After the Wind from Ecclesiastes 2:26.

-- A Passion Redeemed originally was Chaff before the Wind from Psalm 83:13-16.

A Passion Denied originally was On the Wings of the Wind from Psalm 104:1-4.

And, yes, I will admit that Gone With the Wind did have a tiny bit of influence on me in wanting the word "wind" in the titles!

But I will also admit that Scriptures titles were SO important to me, that it pained me a great deal to give up my original title of my first book -- A Chasing After the Wind -- for the final title of A Passion Most Pure. 

You see, A Chasing after the Wind was pretty much the theme woven throughout the book, and so I was grateful when Revell let me keep that Scripture on the opening page. For me, “wind” is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, which fit because the heroine, Faith O'Connor was "chasing after the wind," that is, the Holy Spirit or God's leading in her life. But the hero, Collin McGuire, too, is "chasing after the wind," but in his case, it's the wind of futility, chasing after his will (sin) rather than God's, which according to Solomon, is "meaningless" and nothing more than “a chasing after the wind.”

So after Revell said the original title had to go, I came up with the title of A Passion Most Pure … along with about 80 others (yes, I am a bit anal), but I admit that I did not like it at first. My daughter remarked, “Mom, will anybody really buy a romance novel with the word ‘pure’ in the title?” Unfortunately, I wondered the same thing, but Revell knew what they were doing and I now feel the title fits perfectly—reflecting not only romantic passion that strives to remain pure, but passion for God, which really is “A Passion Most Pure.”

Needless to say, when I got the opportunity to Indie publish my own series, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted Scripture titles/themes for all three books. Originally book 1, Isle of Hope: Unfailing Love, was to be Unfailing Love. But I loved the title Isle of Hope soooooo much, that I decided to not only make it the name of the series, but also make it the main title of book 1 with the subtitle of Unfailing Love.

Clear as marsh mud off the shores of Isle of Hope?

Yeah, I can be pretty confusing. But if you think you're confused, you should be inside my mind! Not pretty!

So the Scripture theme for book 1 in the Isle of Hope Series, Isle of Hope: Unfailing Love is:

Many are the woes of the wicked,

but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in Him.

—Psalm 32:10

Which is, as many of you already know who've read it, perfect for the heroine Lacey Carmichael, whose wild lifestyle brings nothing but "woe" prior to her prodigal return to her hometown of Isle of Hope, Georgia. But as Lacey had to learn -- and I, too, in my own life -- God's "unfailing love" does not fail when we turn to Him and His Word.

Which brings me to book 2 in the Isle of Hope Series, Love Everlasting, my September release that you will be able to preorder soon, so stay tuned to Journal Jots! My Scripture theme for LE is:

"I have loved you with an everlasting love;

therefore I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

I will build you up again, and you will be rebuilt ..."

—Jeremiah 31:3-4

A love that lasts forever is exactly what the heroine, Shannon O'Bryen, and the hero, Sam Cunningham, are looking for, although neither really believes it's a reality since both have been badly betrayed in love. But it's God's "unfailing love" that draws them, woos them, and builds them up again, awakening them not only to His everlasting love, but the prospect of a human love that can last forever too.

In book 3, Love Unchanging, we have a rebellious heroine, Cat O'Bryen, who has turns her back on God and His precepts. But despite it all, the pastor hero, Chase Griffin, remains steadfast in his friendship with her, his love changing no matter what she does. Just like God's love for us, which makes the Scripture title/theme below all the more poignant.

Who is a God like Thee, who pardons iniquity

and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?

He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love.

—Micah 7:18

Sigh ... I love romance, and everyone reading this blog today knows that. But as far as I'm concerned, there is no romance more powerful than Christian romance, which not only gives you a great love story to light up your heart, but a lamp to light up your life.

Hugs and Happy Weekend!

Julie

 

99-Cent Sale!!

99-CENT SALE ON A GLIMMER OF HOPE! I'm gearing up for the release of Love Everlasting with a sale on the prequel novella to Isle of Hope -- A Glimmer of Hope -- so if you haven't read it yet, now's a good time! It has a 5-star rating on Amazon and will give you a sneak peek into Isle of Hope, plus the first chapter, so I hope you check it out!

A Glimmer of Hope

  

 

Contest!

Win your name in Love Everlasting (which will also be in paperback by Christmas) along with a signed copy!!

How? INSPIRED READS (which is a great Christian freebie/sale ebook site, so I recommend subscribing) is asking its readers to let them know what Christian Kindle books you would like to see more of AND give them the names of your favorite authors! 

So ALL you have to do is go to the Inspired Reads Facebook page at the link below and leave a comment telling them who your favorite authors are. Please note you are not required to mention me to enter the contest, but if my books are favorites of yours, I would greatly appreciate the mention. Then come back here and enter the Rafflecopter box below. Easy, right? I will announce the winner in the September 2nd Journal Jot.

INSPIRED READS CHRISTIAN KINDLE BOOKS ON A BUDGET

 


a Rafflecopter giveaway
6:05AM

Friday, August 5, 2016

"I have loved you with an everlasting love;

therefore I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

Again I will build you up again, and you will be rebuilt ..."

—Jeremiah 31:3-4

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That sound is a huge sigh of relief that book 2 in my Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, is finally finished and on its way to publication, so WHOO-HOO!!!!

Now, I'm not sure how I'm going to transition from Isle of Hope in 2016 ... to Virginia City, Nevada in 1885 for book 1 in my Western series that will release next year, but hopefully it won't be too difficult. You see, I took a sneak peek at the first chapter I'd written for Love's Silver Lining, book 1 in the Silver Lining Ranch series that I sold to Gilead, and I'm happy to say it got me revved for the Wild West. Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that there's a near-naked cowboy clad in only a sheet at the waist, a runaway bride, and a crotchety nun. Pique your interest? Hope so, because it should be fun!

But I digress because TODAY is the day I promised sneak peeks at the hero and heroine of Love Everlasting and the first and second chapters. But first, here's the jacket blurb:

He sets hearts on fire.

She’s been burned by love.

Can hope survive the flames of the past?

School teacher by day, ghostwriter by night, sweet and shy Shannon O’Bryen doesn’t mind writing romance on the sly, but to live it? No, thank you, not since the man she loved turned out to be a player who broke both her heart and her spirit. Now focused more on her faith and her fiction, she vows the next time she falls in love, it will be safely—through the pages of a book.

Dr. Sam Cunningham is a charismatic player who breaks hearts as regularly as he washes his pearl-white Corvette. Abandoned as a baby, Sam was an orphan shuffled through the foster-care system, bitterly driven to prove he is worthy of love—the kind that lasts forever. Once he learns Shannon is a romance writer, he coerces her into helping him win back his ex-girlfriend. Shannon teaches him about faith and the true definition of love, and he soon discovers he’s been seeking it in the wrong place all along—and with the wrong girl. But can he convince a woman who's been burned by love to open her eyes—and her heart—to a love everlasting?

THE HEROINE, SHANNON TERESE O'BRYEN:

Okay, since Shannon and Cat are twin sisters, I needed to find one actress or model who could appear both sweet and shy like Shannon and then sassy and sexy like Cat (whose faith in God went south when her pastor dad deserted the family years prior). And I think I did pretty well. Shannon and Cat have strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes, which matches the actress below, whom I'm sure you'll all recognize.

The top two shots are how I see Shannon -- shy, sweet, serious, and caring.

 

 

 

 

 And her twin sister Cat, on the other hand, is sassy, flirty, spunky.

 

THE HERO, DR. SAM (HAM) CUNNINGHAM:

I've had a real struggle finding Dr. Sam Cunningham because he has dark curly hair, brown eyes, and was the "heartthrob of Memorial Hospital" before Jack ousted him, so he's supposed to be incredibly hot. Here's what I came up with, but if any of you out there send me a pic that you like better of what Sam could look like and I use it, I will send you a signed copy of Love Everlasting.

Okay ... ready to read Chapters One and Two? Okay, Chapter One can be found HERE at the end of the blog. And Chapter Two follows at the end of this blog, so I hope you enjoy this sneak peek at Love Everlasting.

Hugs and Happy Weekend! Julie

 

99-Cent Sale!!

99-CENT SALE ON A GLIMMER OF HOPE! I'm gearing up for the release of Love Everlasting with a sale on the prequel novella to Isle of Hope, A Glimmer of Hope, so if you haven't read it yet, now's a good time! It has a 5-star rating on Amazon and will give you a sneak peek into Isle of Hope, plus the first chapter, so I hope you check it out!

A Glimmer of Hope

 Contest!

Win your name in Love Everlasting (which will also be in paperback by Christmas) along with a signed copy!!

How? INSPIRED READS (which is a great Christian freebie/sale ebook site, so I recommend subscribing) is asking its readers to let them know what Christian Kindle books you would like to see more of AND give them the names of your favorite authors! 

So ALL you have to do is go to the Inspired Reads Facebook page at the link below and leave a comment telling them who your favorite authors are. Please note you are not required to mention me to enter the contest, but if my books are favorites of yours, I would greatly appreciate the mention. Then come back here and enter the Rafflecopter box below. Easy, right? I will announce the winner in the September 2nd Journal Jot.

INSPIRED READS CHRISTIAN KINDLE BOOKS ON A BUDGET

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Chapter Two

 Stupid fly. Sam Cunningham swatted at the insect, its stupid buzzing getting on Sam’s last nerve. It landed again, and he literally growled, flailing his arm to shoo it away. “Beat it, before I nail your butt to the wall.”

“Now that I’d like to see.”

Sam jolted up with a groan, drool smeared on the side of his mouth as he squinted into the eyes of an angel.

Okay, he couldn’t be dead because his head was pounding too hard, and dead people didn’t feel pain, right? Not unless … He shot straight up, head in a vice as he groaned in misery, kneading his temples. His stomach burned like the devil and his throat was so parched, it felt like it was on fire.

Uh-oh … fire!

Yep, he was dead.

And now he was going to pay for his sins.

“You’re not going to throw up, are you?” A quiet voice asked, soft with sympathy.

He glanced up at the angel through slits in his eyes, voice barely a croak. “I might. Where am I?” he rasped.

“The back seat of my car, and I’m Jack’s sister in case you don’t remember.” She gently tugged on his arm, obviously hoping to remove him from her vehicle. “Which would be a miracle, given the brain cells you destroyed tonight.”

He grunted, gingerly attempting to unfold himself from the car while bowling balls ricocheted in his head. “I don’t believe in miracles.”

“You should—it’s a miracle you’re even alive after the alcohol you consumed.”

“Wish I wasn’t,” he muttered, hand to his eyes as he teetered on the sidewalk, limbs as limp as the crumpled tie dangling around his neck. He sniffed. “What’s that awful smell?”

“Vomit. You puked on your tie and shirt,” she said, the empathy in her tone now laced with a hint of a smile.

He groaned. “Noooo! This is my best tie—a Ralph Lauren black.” One eye opened a sliver. “Not in your car, I hope?”

“Nope, that’s miracle number two—you puked in the parking lot, so Jack and I cleaned you up first with wet wipes I keep in my glove compartment.”

“For sloppy drunks you happen to cart home?” He managed to scrape his eyes open all the way, noticing for the first time just how pretty she was.

“Nope, you’re my first.” She hooked an arm to his waist. “Ready?”

“Always,” he said with a smile that was worth the pain, “when there’s a pretty woman by my side.”

She paused, face in a pinch as she stared up with mouth agape. “Seriously? You’re going to hit on me when you can barely walk and smell like puke?”

He gave a faint shrug, smile sheepish. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

“I guarantee you, Dr. Cunningham,” she said in a stern tone tempered with tease, “the only thing you’re going to gain with comments like that is a whop alongside the head.”

“Ouch.” He grinned while she steered him toward his luxury villa with a strength and determination that belied her small size. “I can take it from here—Shannon, is it?”

“Yes, but I have strict orders to get you inside and down for the night before I leave, so I’m here till I get the dirty deed done.”

He chuckled. “Ah yes, the ‘sober and sensible twin.”

“That’s right, Dr. Love,” she said, employing Jack’s nickname for him while she turned the key in his door, “which means the party’s over and you’re done for the night.”

“Wait …” He spun around, heart in his throat. “Where’s my car?”

“Jack’ll deliver it in the morning, Doc, so move it inside, please.” She nudged him into his spacious marble foyer that never failed to elicit a feeling of pride, always reminding him he’d finally arrived. A far cry from a flea-bitten room over a bar on the wrong side of the tracks, Sam’s villa—along with his “preowned” pearl white Corvette—were his pride and joy. Absolute proof he was worth something, despite desertion by a two-bit mother and the rantings of a foster father who claimed he’d only amount to a pile of dung.

He fumbled to turn on the light, then reveled in the gasp that popped from Shannon’s lips, her voice tinged with an awe he never tired of hearing. “Wow, this is some place, Doc,” she whispered, eyes peering up the vaulted foyer with its sleek chrome and natural teak stairway that zigzagged against a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass. Cream walls resplendent with equally pale modern works of art were beautifully complemented by a central circular mirror and a lush spray of white calla lilies in a tall pottery vase. Each and every piece deliberately designed to evoke the clean and simple beauty he so craved in his own life.

“It’s so striking,” she whispered, leaving his side to wander the entryway with a look of awe as if she were Alice perusing Wonderland for the very first time. “Utterly clean and pure. Not at all what I expected of a notorious bachelor.” She turned, the look of astonishment on her face making him grin and wince at the same time. “Wow! You didn’t do this yourself, did you? I mean a designer put it together for you, right?”

“Nope, all mine,” he said, chest swelling with pride even as his stomach rebelled with a twinge of nausea. He fought it off, suddenly aware he smelled like a pub on payday.

Her jaw actually dropped. “I don’t believe it.”

He forced a flirtatious smile, barely minding the throb in his head. “Every shade of paint, every stick of furniture, every piece of art,” he said with a hand to his heart, “straight out of my depraved brain, I promise.” He suddenly steadied himself with a hand to the wall, a flashback from his childhood making him dizzier than the booze in his body.

“I’ll come back soon, I promise,” his mother always said, night after night, the stench of alcohol on her breath making him nauseous. Only she never did, leaving a skin-and-bones five-year-old to fend for himself in a rat-infested room over a dive of a bar. And when her lush of a boyfriend gave her a choice between Sam and him? Sam’s teeth ground hard as he swayed on his feet. No contest. Because his so-called mother was weak—seeking her self-worth in a loser who had absolutely no worth at all. While giving her son promises that were worth even less.

No,” Sam stressed with a hint of a slur, focusing glassy eyes on a woman who for some strange reason, he wanted to know the truth. “I give you my word,” he emphasized with surprising clarity, “because you see, Miss O’Bryen, promises are nothing more than a puff of air. But my word is my unbreakable bond, as honest and pure as I can ever hope to be.” The dizziness passed, and he stood up straight and tall, the “player” in play once again. “Because despite my notoriously black reputation, I am inexplicably drawn to things that are simple and pure, honest and clean, and completely unblemished by my own sordid life.”

Her gaze met his and held. “It’s beautiful,” she said softly, head tipped as if she couldn’t quite figure him out.

“Thank you.” He leaned on the knob of the open door, making every effort not to waver on his feet. “Unlike its owner at the moment, I’m afraid. It seems I’m in dire need of a shower.”

She simply stared, her calm look of compassion so disarming that the smile slowly dissolved on his face. All at once, he felt his shoulders relax, the need to impress suddenly as absent as his sobriety. “Thank you, Shannon,” he said quietly, somewhat baffled by the calming effect that she had, “for putting up with me tonight and getting me home.” He took a stab at a smile that came out more as a flinch. “I’ll be happy to have the inside of your car fumigated and detailed, so just send me the bill.”

For some reason the kindness in her eyes put a hitch in his throat he could only blame on the booze. She slipped her purse off her shoulder and laid it on the teak half-moon table. “That won’t be necessary,” she said with a faint smile, “but I suspect a pot of coffee will be. Can you direct me to the kitchen?”

He studied her through bleary eyes, wondering if the aura of innocence he detected was real or just the effect of the alcohol on his brain. “You don’t have to do that, Shannon. The vomit was already above and beyond the call of duty, so I’ll give Jack a good report.”

She huffed out a sigh bigger than her. “Sorry, Doc, blame it on the curse of being the sensible and sober twin because that means I follow orders, and Jack asked me to make sure you go to bed and don’t go out again. So if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to follow through with coffee and even lend an ear if you like.”

He stared for several dizzy seconds, then shut the door, figuring a cup of coffee was preferable to a vertigo spin in bed. “Sure. Kitchen’s down the hall, and it won’t take me three minutes to shower.” He eyed the lofty staircase with a dull gaze. “Now the stairs? Might be more like twenty.”

She paused halfway to the kitchen. “Need help?”

“Nope.” He made his way to the staircase, trying hard not to weave. “The hangover will be wicked enough without Jack’s fist if I get one of his sisters into my bedroom.”

“O-Okay.” She spun on her heel and all but sprinted down the hall.

But not before he saw the delicate rise of color in her face that lured a smile to his lips. He shook his head as he methodically scaled one step at a time, fisting the steel banister to hold himself up. He sure didn’t blame Jack for banning him from his sisters, especially Shannon. There was something so sweet and wholesome about her that it almost made him want to protect her himself.

He paused at the top of the stairs to catch his breath, the thought of Jack’s sister in his “lair” quirking his lips. Obviously Jack was concerned about Sam’s welfare enough to put his sister in harm’s way, which only deepened his gratitude to the man who was quickly becoming a close friend. His mouth crooked. Even if he was annoyingly bent on saving Sam’s soul.

Plodding into his massive bedroom, he peeled off his clothes, leaving a trail on his way to the master bath before turning the shower all the way to scalding. Woozy, he braced his hands on the vanity, mind as foggy as the steam billowing behind him like thunderclouds portending a doozy of a storm. He peered into the mirror, muscled arms taut with his weight while bleary eyes and a sagging face shadowed with bristle confirmed the storm was already here.

And it was a stinkin’ category five.

He dropped his head, the pain in his chest suddenly making the throb in his brain look like lollipops on immunization day because he’d lost Jazz again.

A second time.

And losing always left a bitter taste in his mouth.

You’re nothing but a loser, kid, just like your old lady.

Kind of like spewing in a parking lot, only this time the nausea was in his heart.

Peering up, he saw a ripped body honed at the gym and chiseled features Jazz once likened to a Greek god, and determination steeled his bones. Because inside he knew his feelings for Jasmine and hers for him went far deeper than a pretty face. “You’ll be back, Jazz,” he whispered, “because I’m the one you come to when you’re hurting, and the one who makes you laugh when other makes you cry.”

Like Jack when he dumped you for Lacey.

An odd mix of resentment and regard churned in his gut along with the booze, reminding him that it had been Jack who’d stolen Jazz away the first time after Sam cheated on her. But then it was Jack who’d sent her running right back after Jack up and married Lacey. Jasmine had been devastated, but Sam had been ready, wooing her back with love and understanding and an iron-clad resolve to never stray again.

Until she dumped him for an intern.

Sam’s eyes shuttered closed. Just like his so-called fiancée dumped him in college.

Right after she had an affair with his professor, destroying Sam’s confidence along with the man’s marriage. 

Mind and body wobbling, he quickly opened his eyes, desperate to purge the memory from his brain along with the alcohol from his system.

Stepping into the shower, he welcomed the hot water that battered his body raw. Well, he’d lost Jazz twice, but he’d also won her twice, and if it took every trick in the book, he’d do it again. His jaw automatically hardened, resolve to win her back pummeling through his veins as hard as the steaming water pummeled his body. But right now he needed to numb the ache in his heart, so he’d start with a cup of coffee with a pretty woman who just might help fill the hole in his chest.

At least for a while. He lathered his body, aching with the need to feel worthy and clean. He suddenly thought of Shannon, and his body instantly relaxed, the thought of coffee with her suddenly the only thing he wanted to do. After all, he could use an honest sounding board after all the angst Jasmine had put him through. And he’d begin tonight by picking Shannon’s brain as to how he might win her back. Because Shannon did mention lending an ear.

Stepping out of the shower, he expelled a burdensome sigh. And maybe, if she realized just how badly he was hurting, she’d lend him even more. Like a few innocent kisses—and only kisses—from a woman who could help ease his pain. Sagging over the sink, he kneaded the throb in his temple, desperate to free himself of this awful loneliness that always haunted his brain. His eyelids weighted closed. Because he had to.

Jack’s sister or no.

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