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



Friday, July 8, 2016

“Love your family.

Spend time, be kind & serve one another.

Make no room for regrets. Tomorrow is not promised & today is short.”

-- Anonymous

Boy, did I have fun last week!

Ten days ago, my hubby and I packed up the car and hightailed it to Birmingham to see my daughter and son-in-law, and we had SUCH a great time!

We biked, boated, manicured/pedicured, ate, watched fireworks with their friends, attended their fabulous church, and just hung out chatting and watching Person of Interest! It's an 11-hour drive from Osage Beach to Birmingham (with food and restroom stops), but oh, SO worth it!!

I will admit, however, that I felt a wee bit guilty it rained/was overcast almost nonstop at Osage Beach the entire time we were gone while Birmingham was sunny and beautiful (albeit hot).

But hot or cold, rain or shine, isn't family just THE BEST???

WHOO-HOO, I am SIX SCENES away from finishing book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, so prayers appreciated that I can get it wrapped up and edited this month for release in September. I do hope to put it up for preorder in August, so I will keep you posted here on Journal Jots. If you are not subscribed to Journal Jots, you may want to to do so in the "subscribe" box at the top right-hand side of this page.

Till then, I promised a sneak peek at the first chapter and am including that below, along with several great sales and a cool contest, so be sure to scroll all the way down!

Here's to a sunny and rain-free weekend!




Blog Giveaway!

WEDNESDAY, JULY 13, 2016: Join me on Seekerville next week when I debunk the “Sticks & Stones” myth for writers and get a chance to win my upcoming release, Love Everlasting, book 2 in the Isle of Hope series OR your choice of Isle of Hope, A Glimmer of Hope, or A Light in the Window. Here's the link -- hope to see you there!



HUGE Sales!

All four of the Seeker Christmas novella collections (two historical, two contemporary) are now on sale for only 99 cents, so if you haven't read Charity & Mitch's story, "A Whisper of Hope" in the Hope for the Holidays collection or Lizzie & Brady's "The Best Gift of All" in the Home for Christmas collection, this is a GREAT time to dive in!

Not only do you get to catch up with the O'Connors again (and all that lovely fun, passion, drama, and angst), you get to read novellas by award-winning authors Mary Connealy, Janet Dean, Debby Giusti, Audra Harders, Pam Hillman, Myra Johnson, Sandra Leesmith, Ruth Logan Herne, Tina Radcliffe, and Missy Tippens as well, and all for 99 cents per collection -- that's less than 25 cents per novella!!

Get a sneak peek at a scene from each of my novellas by clicking on last week's Journal Jot link below and scrolling to the end of the page, then take advantage of this "cool" price for Christmas in July!


(scroll to the bottom of the blog)

 Hope for the Holidays Contemporary Collection

Hope for the Holidays Historical Collection

A Heart Full of Christmas Contemporary Collection

Home for Christmas Historical Collection





Heart & Soul 99-Cent Sale Starts July 11th!

Imagine getting five novels from five award-winning authors for only 99 cents! Now you can with Heart & Soul, a book bundle of novels by Ruth Logan Herne, MaryLu Tyndall, Sally Bradley, Naomi Rawlings, and moi. That’s less than 20 cents per novel, and the sale won’t last long, so check it out HERE!

HUGE Favor & Cool Contest!!

I know most of you reading this blog have read my Marcy/Patrick prequel indie novel, A Light in the Window, and if you haven't, hopefully this VIDEO starring my daughter will convince you!

BUT if you have read it and posted a review, I am asking a favor. PLEASE post that same review for Heart & Soul, and I will give you 10 points in my newsletter contest to have a character named after you in my next book and a free copy.

If you read A Light in the Window and have not written a review, all you have to do is post a 1- or 2-line review on Amazon for it (or for any of the other books if you read them) on the Heart & Soul page, and you will also get 10 points in my newsletter contest to have a character named after you in my next book and a free copy.


Just FYI, the newsletter will be coming out in early September, so if you are not signed up to receive it, here's the link:





Book 2 in the Isle of Hope Series

By Julie Lessman

I have loved you with an everlasting love;

therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.

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

—Jeremiah 31:3-4


Chapter One

Isle of Hope, Georgia, May 2015

“Okay, smile pretty—hot guys at three o’clock.”

Shannon O’Bryen smiled, more because of her friend Margo’s mumbled man alert than the need to charm any “hot guy.” Tugging the neckline of her sequin halter dress a bit lower, Margo casually skimmed a pinky along the rim of her Diet D.P., nonchalantly chatting about a book she’d discussed with Shannon, Cat, and Amy not five minutes ago. When her finger slid from the rim into her soda, Shannon could do nothing but giggle. The sound set off a chain reaction of laughter around the table in the middle of a fancy fundraiser for Memorial Hospital.

Peeking over her shoulder, Shannon expelled a sigh of relief, grateful the “hot guys” were only her brother Jack and his coworker, Sam Cunningham. Because although each of the girls around the table were looking for Mr. Right, Shannon was definitely not one of them. Despite the slinky blue dress and four-inch heels her twin sister Cat had coerced her to wear. Nope, she preferred her Prince Charming confined between the covers of a book, thank you very much, where he couldn’t stomp on her heart.

“Well, one viable ‘hot guy,’ anyway,” Shannon’s twin sister Cat said with a lazy smile, a twinkle in her blue eyes as she fluffed the back of her long strawberry blonde hair. “My brother Jack is taken, but his doctor friend, Sam Cunningham, is still very available.”

“And very, very attractive,” Amy whispered with a gulp while Margo sucked DP off of her finger. Both girls covertly tracked the progress of Jack and Sam as they headed their way through a sea of people and tables.

Too attractive. Shannon watched as Sam flirted with every girl he could on the way to their table, Jack’s warning that Sam was a “player” resonating deep in Shannon’s soul. No matter the boyish twinkle in brown eyes that made every girl feel special or a crooked smile always tipped with tease, Shannon had no doubt that beneath that magnetic façade was a man whose good looks and lust for women spelled doom for any girl sucked into his orbit. Whirling them around and around in a lovelorn spin that only made them dizzy.

And so sick that avoidance was the only cure.

“Heeeeeey, ladies, I’m in dire need of a dance partner, so who’s willing to help me out?” Dr. Sam Cunningham ambled forward with hands in the pockets of his tux, his shirt and tie as disheveled as the dark curls that spilled over his forehead.

“You’re in dire need, all right,” Jack said with a slant of a smile, his eyes far more sober than Sam appeared to be, “of a lift home.” Looping an arm around Sam’s shoulder, he homed in on Shannon. “Shan, would you mind driving Sam home? I’m up next on the podium for some announcements, so I can’t take him right now, and he’s pretty hammered. He’s feeling no pain, but I’ll tell you what—his bar tab will give him sticker shock on the next credit card statement.”

Shannon blinked, stomach roiling over going anywhere with Sam Cunningham. “Uh … sure, Jack, but wouldn’t a cab be better?”

“I don’t wanna go home,” Sam interrupted, a faint slur of his words a perfect complement to the glassy look in his eyes. “I wanna dance.”

“Yeah, well you can dance your way to Shan’s car, dude, because you’re in no shape to do anything but crash.”

“I’ll drive him home.” Cat jumped up so fast, she jolted the table, sploshing everyone’s drinks along with it. She caught her lip with her teeth, giving a waggle of brows while she reached for her purse. “I’ve been wanting to get to know Sam better anyway.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Sam said with a wayward grin. “Jack’s been way too possessive of you girls, if you ask me.” He gave Cat a slow wink. “Forbidden fruit, I suppose.”

“In your dreams, Dr Love.” Jack flashed Cat a wry smile, resorting to his role of annoying big brother that Cat always accused him of. “Sorry, Catfish, but that would be the blind leading the blind, so I’ll stick with the sober and sensible twin.” He zeroed in on Shannon once again, the plea in his eyes weakening her defenses. “Shan, I really hate to ask, but I don’t trust Sam in a cab because he’ll just go to a club and drink.”

“What are you, O’Bryen, my mother?” Sam scowled, and even that looked good on him.

Shannon chewed at her lip, not sure why Jack would put her in a situation like this with a Romeo he’d warned both Cat and her about.

“Come on, Cat, let’s dance …” Sam extended his hand to her sister, practically tripping on the leg of a chair when he rounded the table.

Ignoring Sam’s comment, Jack bent close to Shannon’s ear, kneading her shoulder in a coaxing manner. “Normally I wouldn’t let Sam within a mile of either you or Cat, sis, but he’s hurtin’ pretty bad because Jazz showed up with another guy.” Jack glanced across the ballroom to where Jasmine Augustine—both his and Sam’s ex-girlfriend—laughed and danced with some good-looking guy. “So I don’t trust him to go straight home.” His smile was laced with apology. “Nor do I trust him with any woman in this room but you, Shan. Unlike most players, Ham has an innate kindness and sensitivity that naturally disarms people. I swear he’s so lousy with a bone-deep charisma, the man can charm the spots off a leopard. So I need someone mature and levelheaded, with an immunity to players.”

Shannon sighed. Ah yes, my immunity to players. I’ve definitely been inoculated by the best.

“All right, Jack.” She tossed her purse strap over her shoulder with a heavy sigh as she rose. Pushing her chair in, she gave him a twist of a smile. “But you owe me, big brother.”

“And then some,” Jack said with a kiss to her head. He tucked a finger to her chin. “And don’t let him bamboozle you, Shan. The man has a masters in roguery, so it might be good to lend him an ear, but nothing else.” He tugged on her hair. “He keeps a key under the potted palm by his front door, and his address is 665 Parkway, Apt. B.”

“The operative word being “potted,” she said with more sarcasm than normal.

He grinned. “I have his car keys, so Lacey and I will drive his car home later, okay? Just get him inside and make sure he stays there.”

Shannon’s mouth went flat. “You want me to tuck him in too?”

Jack grinned. “Might be a nice touch, but not necessary.” He leveled a finger at her with a mock glare. “I don’t want you within twenty feet of his bedroom, young lady, you got that?” He winked. “I’m trusting you, Shan.”

“Glad one of us does,” she mumbled, shaking her head when she turned to see Sam dipping Cat in a dance move next to the table, almost dropping her.

“Okay, come on, Twinkletoes.” Jack pulled Sam away from Cat to hook an arm over his shoulder, carefully guiding him toward the door. He tossed Cat an off-center grin. “And if I ever see you dancing with this joker again, Catfish, I’m going to toss you into the river, got it? He’s off-limits to you and Shan because he’s dangerous to women’s health.”

“Yeah?” Sam mumbled, stumbling along beside Jack, “then how come it’s my health that took the hit this time?”

“Have fun, you lucky duck,” Margo called as Shannon followed Jack and Sam to the door. “Sure wish it were me.”

“Me too,” Shannon muttered, wondering if she could talk Jack into putting Sam in the trunk.

“Jack, I’m fine, I swear.” Sam’s argument sounded convincing enough except for a near miss with a chair, and Shannon couldn’t help the ghost of a smile when her brother gave him a Gibbs smack to the back of the head.

Shannon could have kissed Jack when he dumped Sam into the back seat of her car instead of the front, where a low groan coaxed another smile to her lips.

“I think I’m gonna die …” His voice was no more than a croak as he lay face down across the seat of her mother’s 1999 Chevy Impala, his bristled jaw flat against her beige upholstery.

“No you won’t, Ham,” Jack said, employing the nickname Sam had earned in residency because of his practical jokes and show-off tendencies. “You just need to get past this obsession with Jasmine and move on with your life, man. There are other fish in the sea.”

A hiccough interrupted Sam’s moan. “I don’t like fish. I like her. She’s one in a million.”

“Yeah, and so’s the headache you’re gonna have come morning, bro, if you don’t get some decent sleep.” He shoved the rest of Sam’s legs into the car and slammed the door, opening the passenger side to offer Shan a penitent smile. “I can’t thank you enough, Shan. Jazz dumped him for some new intern, and it’s been a rough week for him, you know?”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” she whispered, her heart aching for him despite his inebriated state. “Is there anything else I can do to help cheer him up?”

“Yeah, you can pray for him, and maybe even share some of that wisdom you’re so famous for. Never seen Ham this down before, and it has me a little worried, you know?”

“Sure, Jack.” She peeked into the back seat where snores could be heard while drool puddled on the upholstery. “I feel bad for the poor guy.”

Jack grinned. “I knew you would because of your oversized heart of gold, kiddo, but not too much, okay? Ham has been known to take advantage of the kindness of strangers.”

A grin tugged at Shannon’s lips as she glanced over her shoulder. “Doesn’t look like he could take advantage of much of anything right now.” She wrinkled her nose. “Except Mom’s car seat.”

“Yeah, well that’s when he’s at his most dangerous, I’m afraid, catching woman off-guard with his little-boy charm. So unconscious or not, keep your distance, okay?”

She started the car with its customary sputter and a growl, shifting into gear as she slid Jack a wry smile. “Distance would be a cab, Jack, but I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Good girl.” With two firm taps of her roof, Jack closed the door, hands in his pockets as he watched her drive away.

A snort sounded from the back seat and Shannon had no choice but to smile. A cab, definitely.

In another state


Friday, July 1, 2016

"It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air."

~W.T. Ellis

Oh. My. Goodness!!! I woke up this morning and suddenly the year was half over -- YIKES!!

Happy July 1st, everybody, and I hope you're gearing up to celebrate our great country with a great Fourth of July!

But ... if you don't mind, for today's Journal Jot, I'm going to take my cue from Hallmark Movie Channel and bring you "Christmas in July"!


Because all four of the Seeker Christmas novella collections (two historical, two contemporary) are now on sale for only 99 cents, so if you haven't read Charity & Mitch's story, "A Whisper of Hope" in the Hope for the Holidays collection or Lizzie & Brady's "The Best Gift of All" in the Home for Christmas collection, this is a GREAT time to dive in!

Not only do you get to catch up with the O'Connors again (and all that lovely fun, passion, drama, and angst), you get to read novellas by award-winning authors Mary Connealy, Janet Dean, Debby Giusti, Audra Harders, Pam Hillman, Myra Johnson, Sandra Leesmith, Ruth Logan Herne, Tina Radcliffe, and Missy Tippens as well, and all for 99 cents per collection -- that's less than 25 cents per novella!!

To help get you in the Christmas spirit, I am posting a short clip from both Charity & Mitch's story and Lizzie & Brady's at the end of this blog today, so here are the links if you want to do some early Christmas shopping! :)

Home for Christmas Historical Christian Romance Collection

A Heart Full of Christmas Contemporary Inspirational Holiday Romance

Hope for the Holidays Historical Collection

Hope for the Holidays Contemporary Collection



Mega thanks to all of you who entered my favorite-kiss contest, and I was thrilled to see that the winning kiss was also my favorite -- #2 between Katie & Luke, THE KISS THAT UNLEASHES HIDDEN ATTRACTION.

So without further ado, the winner of an ecopy of both my new contemporary, Isle of Hope, and its prequel novella, A Glimmer of Hope is:


SUPER CONGRATS to Tara, and if you already have IOH for AGOH, I’ll substitute with book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, which releases this September.



And speaking of Love Everlasting, I promised a cover reveal for this upcoming book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, so here it is!  

Love Everlasting is the love story for Shannon O'Bryen and Sam Cunningham, Shannon's brother, Jack's, "player" doctor coworker. 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 enlists her help in winning back his ex-girlfriend. She 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?

I am hoping to release Love Everlasting in September, so stay tuned for the actual date, okay? And come back next week, and I'll give you a sneak peek at the first chapter!



As you know, I am part of the Heart & Soul book bundle of five novels from five award-winning authors, and we need reviews!!

So anyone who has read A Light in the Window (my novel in the bundle) or any of the other four novels can post a short review on only one of the books or more. And if you do, just email me through the CONTACT JULIE tab of this website or message me on FACEBOOK, and I will give you ten points in my contest to have a character named after you in Love Everlasting as well as a copy of that book.

OR ... if you have already written a review for A Light in the Window or any of the other novels in the bundle, PLEASE post that review for Heart & Soul as well.

If you haven't reviewed any of the books but have read one or more of them, PLEASE consider posting a short 1- or 2-line review stating you liked the book or books, okay? That would be a HUGE help to me and the other authors in Heart & Soul. Here's the link where you can post your review and THANK YOU SOOOOOOO MUCH!!




And now, in honor of both Fourth of July and Christmas in July, I thought it might be fun to give you a few "fireworks" with similar love scenes from both Lizzie & Brady's story and Charity & Mitch's.

Happy Fourth, Happy Weekend, and Happy Reading!



Excerpt from

Home for Christmas Historical Romance Collection

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 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. 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.”


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.”

Excerpt from

Hope for the Holidays Historical Romance Collection

Charity gave him a shaky smile and bolted from the room with Runt on her heels, obviously frantic to get upstairs and fall fast asleep. A faint smile shadowed his lips as he sank into the couch. But tonight is not the night, little girl. Between working late, bouts of the flu, and sheer exhaustion, they hadn’t made love in weeks, and Mitch was not a man to be deterred. The edge of his lip crooked. Nor was Charity a woman who could go without his affections for long.

He actually finished the entire paper, but it was a sad attempt at best. The print only blurred in his mind, thoughts of Charity invading without mercy. Gaze glued to a newspaper he didn’t really see, Mitch released a heavy sigh. No, something was definitely up, and he had a sinking suspicion it had to do with more babies.

It always did.

Somehow his wife had always envisioned a houseful of children, but it wasn’t to be, evidently, at least not with children of their own, a fact Charity had finally accepted—or so he thought. Until both Charity’s parents and Sean and Emma had to go and stir the pot by adopting last year. Suddenly Mitch was battling the threat of adoption at every turn, stomach clenching whenever he’d spotted that glint of longing in Charity’s eye. A dilemma that usually occurred after she’d visited the home for unwed mothers with Emma, where she and Sean had adopted Daniel last Christmas.

Tossing his paper aside, he lumbered to his feet, determined to squelch Charity’s plan for more babies once and for all. For pity’s sake, he was sixteen years older than his wife, which meant he might not even be around to provide for another baby, much less his eleven-year-old twins. Jaw grinding, he kneaded the left side of his chest, where he’d recently experienced pain whenever he worked out at the gym. Hope and Henry were only eleven—barely two years older than he’d been when his own father died—and although Charity was a wonderful mother, children needed a father. His mouth sloped off-center as he turned out the lights. Especially a son like Henry.

Locking the front door, Mitch thought of all the years Charity and he had been trying for more children to no avail, and now he was glad. The thought of another baby scared the living daylights out of him. He’d just be that much older, that much closer to dying and leaving them without a father like his father had done to him. For the love of family, if something were to happen to him now, Henry and Hope would already be well on their way, but a new baby? A familiar pain suddenly flared in his chest as a chill iced his spine. No! Glancing at his watch, he made a beeline for the stairs, scaling them as briskly as a man half his age. And confound it, he could keep up with the younger pups if it weren’t for this infernal cramp in his chest.

By now Charity should have both kids tucked into their beds, stories read, and prayers said before cuddling with Hope, one of the most precious times of her day. Avoiding the squeak of the middle step, Mitch quietly ascended, hoping he’d timed it just right. A smile skimmed his lips when he spied her hovering outside Hope’s door, easing it shut in her robe before she gingerly tiptoed toward their room at the end of the hall.

“Ah, perfect timing,” he said, grinning when she jerked around, hand splayed to her chest as if she’d just sprinted a mile. “Oh, sweet heavens, Mitch, you scared me half to death …”

Chuckling, he pulled her into his arms, butting her to the wall with a heated look in his eyes. “Sorry, little girl, but I can always revive you with mouth to mouth if need be—just give me the word.” He bent to nestle his lips to her neck with a low, aching moan. “Blue blazes, Charity, do you have any idea how long it’s been since I really held you in my arms?” She caught her breath when his mouth took hers with a vengeance, and sweeping her up, he strode down the hall into their bedroom, kicking the door closed behind him.

“Mitch, what are you doing?” Her voice was a raspy squeal beneath his wandering lips.

“Putting you to bed,” he whispered, tone husky while he untied the sash to her robe. Side-stepping Runt, he carefully laid her down and buried his lips in the crook of her neck, the scent of lilac water warming his blood. “I swear, Mrs. Dennehy, I love you more with every breath I take …”

“Wait!” Breathless, she halted him with two hands to his chest. “Did you remember to secure the latch? What if Hope or Henry were to come in?”

A growl rumbled from his throat as he jumped up and strode to the door. He locked it and turned, searing her with intent as he jerked off his tie, almost ripping it in two. His eyes all but devoured her as he moved toward the bed, fingers fumbling with the buttons of his shirt—

“Mitch—I didn’t lock the back door! Did you lock the back door?”

He froze, white oxford shirt half off, revealing corded arms still sore from the gym. His facial muscles all but cramped with pain. “For the love of mercy, Charity, I’ll lock it later.”

She sat up, sheet tugged high. “No, Mitch, please! I would worry, I just know it, and wouldn’t be able to relax. Please check the doors and hurry back.” She rubbed her jaw with a sheepish smile. “And do you mind shaving? Your beard feels like sandpaper.”

He groaned and unlocked the door.

She sat up higher. “Oh, and Hope wants you to kiss her good-night.”

He turned, lips as tight as his hand on the knob. “I did—downstairs.”

“I know, but she wants another.” She shrugged, her smile repentant before she stifled a yawn. “And I’m so tired, I think I may have forgotten Runt’s water—can you double-check?”

With an unhappy grunt, he heaved the door wide, brandishing a finger. “Don’t you dare fall asleep, do you hear?” He stormed out, feet bare and shirt flapping.

He checked doors and water bowl in record time, then ducked in to give both Henry and Hope a final kiss before reentering his bedroom. He paused, hand on the lock of the door. “Charity? Are you asleep?”


Friday, June 24, 2016

"You should be kissed and often,
 and by someone who knows how."

—Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind

Oh, honey, can I hear a big AMEN to that???

HAPPY NATIONAL KISSING DAY!! Yep, you heard me right, and as a die-hard romance writer and reader, I thought we should talk about “kisses” in honor of today, so I am reposting a Seekerville post  I wrote for Valentines Day.

Why? Because on the subject of kisses, I am sooooo in agreement with my most flirtatious heroine, Charity O’Connor who said in A Passion Redeemed:

          “You have to be tough and focus on the end result—getting Brady to admit he’s in love with you.”
          “But how do I do that?” Lizzie chewed on her thumbnail.
          Leaning back in her chair, Charity placed her hands over her pregnant stomach, lips pursed in a satisfied smile. “With the most deadly weapon in a women’s arsenal.”
          Both Faith and Lizzie stopped breathing. They leaned forward. “And what’s that?” Lizzie whispered.
          Charity paused, tone hushed with reverence.“The kiss.”   

A Passion Denied by Julie Lessman                          

Ah, yes, “the kiss”!

The very subject people have been talking about for centuries, immortalizing “the kiss” in every medium possible:

The kiss itself is immortal.
It travels from lip to lip, century to century,
 from age to age.  Men and women garner these kisses,
 offer them to others and then die in turn.
—Guy de Maupassant

“A kiss may not be the truth,
but it is what we wish were true.”
—Steve Martin in L.A. Story (1991)

This Kiss
by Faith Hill

A kiss is a secret told to the mouth instead of the ear;
kisses are the messengers of love and tenderness.
—Ingrid Bergman

Make me immortal with a kiss.
—Christopher Marlowe

Well, it’s either kiss me or kill me,
 that’s how I see it.
—Tom Waits

Keith and Julie sitting in a tree,
First comes love, then comes marriage,
Then comes Julie with the baby carriage.

So … I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of my favorite kisses that I've ever written. Well, fun for me, at least … and the other kissaholics out there, maybe!

But first—a caveat. Some in the Christian market have called me “The Kissing Queen,” so it’s no secret I like my kisses way more hot than sweet. You see, before I came to Christ, I was one of the huge majority of women who read secular romance, so for me, romantic passion is key. However, as some of us know from judging Rita books, most of the secular market is prettttttttty passionate/graphic, which is why I don’t read secular books anymore except when judging the Ritas.

So … when I started reading Christian romance over forty years ago, it was like going from five-alarm hot tamales to pabulum, the final straw being a book I read by a top-name author when I was in my fifties, where the hero kissed the heroine on the last page in front of seven people after he asked her to marry him.

Uh, no.

That was the moment I decided to write my own Christian romance for women like me— “hot tamales” who love God with all of their heart and want to honor Him in their reading and writing.

That said, when I combed all the love scenes in my books—and those who have read my books know there are plenty—I only found a few kissing scenes that were “sweet” vs. hot.

Yeah, pathetic, I know.

Therefore … if you like your kisses “sweet” (i.e. almost kisses, non-kisses, mental kisses, all of which you can find on my KISSES, KISSES, KISSES tab of my website) rather than “hot,” then you might want to stop reading after point  #1 below, which is one of the sweetest kisses I have ever written. Shall we begin?


"Now a soft kiss—aye, by that kiss,
I vow an endless bliss."
—John Keats

This is a scene from A Love Surrendered, where the hero, Steven O’Connor, is railroaded by his family to take the heroine, Annie Kennedy, and her five-year-old sister home. When he walks them to the door, the little girl, Glory, is in her sister’s arms and gives Steven a kiss goodnight on the lips, then insists he kiss her sister as well.

         Heart thudding, he did the only thing he knew to do. He kissed Annie right on the tip of her nose. Clearing his throat, he stepped back. “Well, good night, ladies.”
        “No, silly,” Glory said, “like this . . .” She demonstrated with a sweet little peck on her sister’s lips as if he were too stupid to understand, then tilted her head. “See? It’s easy.”
        Too easy, he thought with a trip of his pulse. Way, way too easy . . .
        “Stop it, Glory, Steven doesn’t want to—”
        “Sure I do,” he whispered, his words shocking him as much as Annie. Gaze holding hers, he slowly leaned in, close enough to see the long sweep of her lashes, the pale gold in eyes so green, he felt like he was in Oz, about to be granted a wish. He heard the soft hitch of her breath when she stopped breathing because it coincided with the halt of air in his own lungs. Cupping her face in his hand, his eyelids sheathed closed at the touch of her lips—soft, supple, and just a hint of peppermint from the candy she’d offered him in the car. It was meant to be no more than a peck like Glory had given him, but somehow his mouth wanted to linger and explore . . .
       He stepped in close, body grazing hers and Glory’s till they were one. A little-girl giggle broke the trance, and Annie’s lips curved beneath his.
       “His whiskers are itchy, aren’t they, Annie?” Glory asked, patting his face. “Kind a makes you wiggly all over, doesn’t it?”
       Annie’s eyes glowed as she caressed her own cheek. “Very wiggly,” she whispered.



"Never ask a woman if you may kiss her.
Instead, learn to read body language."
—Neil Strauss

In A Hope Undaunted, while hero Luke McGee is comforting heroine Katie O’Connor, he is shocked to sense her attraction to him despite her prior disdain, a dream come true for the boy who’s had a crush on her since she was eleven. When he kisses her, his suspicions are confirmed, escalating the romantic tension … and “the kiss.”

       As if under a spell, his gaze was drawn to her lips, parted and full, and the sound of her shallow breathing filled him with a fierce longing. “Oh, Katie,” he whispered, no power over the pull he was suddenly feeling. In slow motion, he bent toward her, closing his eyes to caress her mouth with his own.
       A weak gasp escaped her as she stiffened, but he couldn’t relent. The taste of her lips was far more than he bargained for, and he drew her close with a raspy groan. With a fierce hold, he cupped the back of her neck and kissed her deeply, gently, possessive in his touch. His fingers twined in her hair, desperate to explore.
       And then all at once, beyond his comprehension, her body melded to his with an answering groan, and he was shocked when her mouth rivaled his with equal demand. Desire licked through him, searing his body and then his conscience. With a heated shudder, he gripped her arms and pushed her back, his breathing ragged as he held her at bay.
      “We can’t do this,” he whispered. He dropped his hold and exhaled, gouging shaky fingers through disheveled hair. His gaze returned, capturing hers and riddled with regret. “Believe me, Katie, as much as I want to, I’ve learned the hard way to take things slow. I should have never started this, and I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”


"A kiss, and all was said."
—Victor Hugo

Later in the same scene from above, Katie slaps Luke silly despite her obvious attraction to him, unleashing his anger toward the girl who’s mocked him since he was a boy. This ramps his earlier tender attraction all the way to wounded ego, resulting in an angry kiss to not only prove she's lying when she says she's not attracted to him, but to spurn her like she did to him.

       She tried to shove him out of the way. “I’m going home.”
       “Not yet,” he whispered, blocking her in with a push to the wall. “You can turn your nose up at me all you want, Katydid, but we both know that slap wasn’t so much about an innocent kiss . . .” He bent close, his eyes on fire and the scent of peppermint hot against her face. “As how it made you feel. To you I’ll always be riffraff, something vulgar and crude. Well, welcome to my world, Miss O’Connor. And, please, let me show you how we do it on the ‘streets.’”
       In a catch of her breath, he took her mouth by force, his late-day beard rough against her skin. A faint moan escaped her lips and all resistance fled, burned away by the heat of his touch, leaving her weak and wanting. His mouth roamed at will, no longer gentle as he devoured her, ravenous against the smooth curve of her throat, the soft flesh of her ear. With a guttural groan, he jerked her close with powerful arms, consuming her mouth with a kiss surely driven by the sheer will to ravage.


"He kisses like he’s dying of thirst, and I’m water."
—Jennifer L. Armentrout

In this scene from A Passion Denied, heroine Lizzie O’Connor has been in love with hero John Brady since she was fourteen, but he only sees her as a little girl … until she tricks him with a surprise—and forbidden—kiss.

         A fraction of a second became eons as she awaited his rejection. His body was stiff with shock, but no resistance came. And in a sharp catch of her breath, he drew her to him with such force, she gasped, the sound silenced by the weight of his mouth against hers. He groaned and clutched the back of her head as if to delve in her soul, a man possessed. His lips broke free to wander her throat, and shivers of heat coursed through her veins. In ragged harmony, their shallow breathing billowed into the night while his arms possessed her, molding her body to his.
        “Oh, Brady, I’m so in love with you,” she whispered. Her words severed his hold as neatly as the blade of a guillotine. He staggered to his feet, and icy cold replaced the warmth of his arms. Opening her eyes, she saw pain in his and grabbed his arm. “Brady, can’t you see? You love me too … not as a friend or a sister, but as a woman.”
         “God help me, Beth, I can’t love you that way.” He stared like a zombie, chest heaving with jagged breaths that swirled into the cool night air, drifting away.
Just like her dreams.


"A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature
to stop speech when words become superfluous."
Ingrid Bergman

Okay, I’ll admit it—I have never written a cowboy kiss before, but I can still see Mary Connealy’s cowboy kiss in my mind from Sharpshooter in Petticoats, which practically gave me heatstroke.

AND … because I love it SO much, I am posting Mary’s “no-nonsense cowboy kiss” first, then following up with my first cowboy kiss ever, which Mary inspired from her book, Sharpshooter in Petticoats:

“The one thing you don’t seem to know, woman,” Tom surged to his feet, “is that you can’t stop me.” His arm whipped out quick as a striking rattler and he yanked her hard against his body. “You’re mine.” He grabbed a hank of her hair. “You’ve been mine since the day we met. You were mine when you were married to another man. You were mine when you were giving birth to someone else’s child. You’re mine, and I’m through waiting for you.” He sank his heavy hand deeper into her hair and tilted her head back. “We’re married. I will protect you. I will die for you.” He kissed her until her knees went weak and her arms wrapped around his neck to keep from falling. Long moments later he raised his head, his blue eyes burning into hers. “Better than that. I will live for you. That’s all you need to understand.” He swooped his head down.

Quick—somebody give me a fan—please! Okay, I’ll end today’s blog with my own version of the “no-nonsense cowboy” from my upcoming spring Seeker novella, “For Love of Liberty”:

“No, ma’am, I’m tired of your yammering and I mean to go home, so I’m not going to tell you again, Liberty Bell—move that fancy dress of yours out of my way, or I’m going to move it for you.”
          “You wouldn’t!” Those full pink lips parted in shock, and he mentally grazed them in his mind, tasting their softness.
          “Try me.” He singed her with a glare as hot as the fire she’d lit in his belly. Sparks and words continued to fly while that beautiful mouth just jabbered away, but the only thing he heard was the violent thud of his own pulse and the sound of those lips calling him home ...
         “So there, Finn McShane!” she said with a stomp of her foot, “I will not get out of your way, and you can’t make me!”
         He sighed. Poor, misguided little rich girl. “Yeah?” He pushed the brim of his hat up. “Watch me.” Hurling his satchel to the floor, he heard the catch of her breath when he struck like lightning with an arm to her waist, jerking her close to kiss the daylights out of her while her boots dangled in the air.
Unfortunately, the moment he tasted those soft lips parted in surprise, he was struck by a little lightning of her own, electrifying every nerve in his body while his blood simmered to a dangerous boil. When a soft telltale mew escaped her, he was helpless to contain the low moan that scraped past his throat. Butting her to the door, he cradled her face in his hands, longing pumping through his veins as he claimed the sweetest lips he’d ever known, completely disarmed by the scent of her skin, the soft flesh of her ear. He’d dreamed of kissing Liberty O’Shea for as long as could remember, but he never expected this—a kiss that could surely tame his taste for all other woman.
          The very thought bucked like a thorn-saddled bull, and with a shiver of sleet through his bloodstream, he dropped her to the floor like he’d been bit by a rattler. She teetered precariously—along with his heart—eyes glazed and mouth still open in shock. Mustering all the calm he owned—a mite short at the moment—he yanked his hat down low and reached for the knob. She bolted away so fast, Finn had to stifle a chuckle, tossing her a wink as he opened the door. “Told you.”

Okay, that’s it for today, and if you’d like to read some of my favorite kissing scenes in their entirety, be sure to check out the KISSES, KISSES, KISSES and the FAVE KISSING SCENES pages of my website.

Now I'd like to hear from you all—just send me an email through my CONTACT JULIE tab or via FACEBOOK message, naming your favorite kiss of any of those I've written above or in any of my books, and I’ll enter you to win an ecopy of both my new contemporary, Isle of Hope, or it’s brand-new prequel, A Glimmer of Hope. And if you already have IOH, I’ll substitute with book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, which releases this September, so either way, it’s win-win!


Friday, June 17, 2016

"Father! To God Himself,
we cannot give a holier name."

 --William Wordsworth

There is no question in my mind that fathers are a big deal. In a family, in a marriage, and in a person's life. And heaven knows Father's Day is a pretty big deal in the United States.

And yet not all of us had fathers we could celebrate. I know I didn't ... not until God taught me the true meaning of Fatherhood in my relationship with Him.


John 3:16,  For God so loved the world ...

Ephesians 2:4-5, Because of the great love with which He loved us ...

Zechariah 2:8, For whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye--

I'm convinced that no matter what type of father we had, fatherhood is important to God. One of the reasons I believe this is because after I became a Christian, the first mandate God gave me was to forgive my father.

Now let me just say right off the bat, that was no small task. My dad had a vicious temper, so when he would lose it, he would beat us with his belt, his shoe, or a cat-of-nine-tails. Don't get me wrong -- he was no bum. My dad was an eye surgeon who supported thirteen children in style, but as rich as he was financially, he was incredibly poor emotionally, unable to truly express his love to a family who desperately needed it. Which is no surprise since he himself came from a highly dysfunctional background where his mother once took potshot at his father with a gun.

When I was twenty-one, my father kicked me out of the house late at night in a horrendous fight that ended my relationship with him for three years. Fortunately for me, I had a decent job and a car, so my little sister (who was still in high school) and I went out on our own. I was an agnostic at the time, so it was a decadent period of my life where I was so angry at God that I actually used to say I 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. My vocabulary would have made a sailor blush.

Then one day, this annoying gal at work approached me. I couldn't stand her because she came in every day, happy as a lark while I was utterly miserable. And then it happened—one life-altering moment when she and I were alone. She was humming, so I looked up from my typewriter and said, “Just what in the heck (except my language was a bit saltier back then) makes you so happy all the time?” She said, “I’ve been praying you would ask.”

Oh, no, a Jesus freak, I thought to myself, but I found myself going to lunch with her, badgering her with questions and accusations. I don’t remember now if it was weeks or months, but either way, I met Jesus Christ through the remarkable patience of a God-sent angel by the name of Joy—pretty appropriate name, eh?

Poor Joy -- she says to this day that God gave her a superantural patience she'd never had with anyone before, and let me tell you -- she needed it! I was a case, for sure, especially when the first thing she told was that I needed to forgive my father.

Excuse me???

But I did it. Didn't want to, but one Saturday night after three years of silence, I called my estranged father and asked if I could bring him a meal. My dad was a retired widower by that time who spent his days fishing with his black lab, Beau. I was shocked when he said yes, and pretty darn nervous when I went to his house with beef stew -- his favorite. I didn't eat with him, mind you, just brought him the meal and then watched TV with him so I could talk to him during the commercials -- the only time he would speak. One of the shows we watched was the Untouchables, and trust me, the irony of that was not lost on me.

I kept this pattern of meals/TV up for a period of months, always hugging Daddy at the end of the night and telling him I loved him. Of course, he never hugged me back nor said he loved me.

Until ... one fateful night that changed everything. All those prayers, all that forgiveness, all that beef stew finally paid off in a moment I will never, EVER forget. I told him I loved him and hugged him, and in achingly slow motion, his arms inched around my back in a tentative hug as my father told me he loved me for the first time I could remember.

This is the story that is the core of my latest novel, Isle of Hope. It it a story full of so much hope and healing that I cried whenever I edited it. In it, two fathers failed and betrayed their children, but through the grace of our True Father in Heaven, they become the fathers God meant them to be. Just like Him, loving us so unconditionally that we are set free from the bonds of bitterness and hurt.

To be come the daughters and children WE were meant to be.

So in honor of Father's Day, I am including an excerpt below from Isle of Hope that mirrors what happened between my father and me, so I hope you enjoy it. In the clip, Lacey has just had a terrible fight with her father, storming out of his house. She weeps in the car, which is where God finally teaches her to forgive.

And, please, don't forget to tell your own father -- both earthly and Heavenly -- that you love them.




WHOO-HOO, the final test came back 100% that Genevieve does not have the bad chromosone, so PRAISE GOD!! At this point it looks like sweet Gen will only need one (albeit dangerous) heart surgery after she is born that will give her a full life expectancy! But the doctors have said that there are additional tests that will need to be run in the months ahead (it's too early to run them now) that could reveal more problems than they expected. But I am believing for a good report, be it total healing or an easy surgery, so please continue to pray for our little Gen, okay?




I don't know where you're going to be on Saturday night at 9:00 PM EDT/8:00 PM CDT, but I'm going to be on the couch with my honey watching The Convenient Groom by Denise Hunter on Hallmark! Not only is Denise a dear friend, but she is one of my TOP FIVE FAVE authors in the CBA, so if you haven't read her yet, you need to. I absolutely LOVED The Convenient Groom, and the good news is that it's on sale now for only $1.99, so do check it out. And if you want a sneak peek at the movie, check it out HERE!




Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

“Oh, God, I c-can’t do this,” she said with a violent heave, “he’s d-destroyed any love I m-might have ever had …” Fumbling for a Kleenex in her purse, she wept bitterly, heaves ravaging her body while despair ravaged her heart. Time ticked by in painful shudders, and when the tears finally slowed, she was as depleted and torn as the soggy tissue in her hand.

The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Her limbs stilled, fluid and grief sealing the air in her throat. Unfailing love. The kind God had given to her. Unconditional, unmerited, full of hope and forgiveness she didn’t deserve.

Just like her father.

The very thought wrestled in her mind, wringing anguish from her soul and more tears from her eyes. “God help me,” she whispered, “I have no power to do this.”

Out of nowhere, like a feather on a breeze, a still small voice drifted in her mind …

May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Her breath caught in her throat. The power of the Holy Spirit.

His, not hers.

Fingers trembling, she pushed the hair from her face. Her eyelids fluttered closed as His Word—those of the very God who created hope—settled over her like a cocoon of peace and calm, slowing her tears and racing her pulse.


Lost through a tragedy.

Restored through a Savior.

Her head jerked up and she stared at the sky, awed by a million stars that seemed to blur into the glittering promises of God, the ‘Bright Morning Star.’ Swiping her eyes in wonder, she breathed in the cool night air, drinking in deeply of His joy and peace.

And His hope—oxygen to her soul.

Tears pricked. And to her father’s.

“Oh, God, forgive me,” she whispered, voice broken and hoarse. Frantically rifling through her purse for more Kleenex, she blew her nose and patted her face, overcome by a sudden rush of love that chased all of her anger away. With a violent surge of her lungs, she flung the car door wide, not even bothering to close it as she sprinted to her father’s front porch. Her blood pulsed wildly in her ears as she rammed her finger to the bell, the boom of her heart louder than those silly bongs echoing inside.

Eons ticked away like ragged heartbeats until the door slowly creaked open, revealing the haggard form of her father.

“Oh, Daddy,” she whispered, and with a broken sob, she flung her arms around his waist, not even minding that he stood rigid and still. “I forgive you, I do!” Heaves racked her body as she clung with all of her might, the emotion swelling in her throat nearly choking her words. “And I will love you forever, no matter what.”

Quietly, hesitantly, movement inched around her, so slowly, she almost missed it.

And then, for the first time in her life, in one hushed moment of awe …

She wept in the arms of her father.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory:

more and more grace and more and more people,

more and more praise.

— 2nd Cor.4:15, Message Bible

Oh, honey, ain't it the truth!

More and more grace and more and more people = more and more praise.

And, boy oh boy, do I have some praise to share with you!!

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for all of your prayers, because our baby Genevieve has jumped major hurdles this week, and all the praise and glory goes to the God we all serve!!

I literally broke and down and cried when my son called this week to say that they are 99% sure that sweet Genevieve -- and yes, I can tell you now that Genevieve is my granddaughter in utero -- does NOT have the fatal chromosone, so we are dancing in the streets (and on the dock) in Osage Beach, let me tell you!!

And we have more good news as well! The "best-case scenario" of multiple complicated, dangerous surgeries in the first year of life, producing an 80% chance of survival to age 15 has now been downgraded to one complicated surgery after birth ... with a full life expectancy!!

OH. MY. GOODNESS!! Or God's 'goodness,' I should say, because that's what it is when "more and more people" pray to unleash "more and more grace," which equals "more and more praise" to the Alpha and the Omega.

This may sound silly to some of you, but that's why the scene I've posted below from Isle of Hope is SO very personal to me. I actually think it and I pray it often during my devotion time because it's straight from my heart and one of the greatest truths I've ever learned as a Christian. And that is: God is EVERYTHING!

Whether we're happy or sad, experiencing joy or trials, HE is the Bottom Line. The Aplha and the Omega. The Beginning and the End. And when it's all said and done, HE is the only Source of Hope that we have, and the only One Who can carry us through a life of tribulation into an eternity of peace and joy.

So I want to thank you ALL sooooo very much for your prayers for Genevieve, and also for me over the years, because prayer is so critical to our lives. Which is why I pray God's richest blessings on each and every one of you!

Hugs and more hugs,


COME CHAT WITH ME ON MONDAY, JUNE 13 AT THE CHRISTIAN FICTION READER’S RETREAT FACE BOOK PARTY!! Join me, Myra Johnson, Susan Anne Mason, Dani Petry, Shelley Shepherd Gray, Carrie Turansky, Becky Wade and a host of other authors this coming Monday, June 13th from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. eastern time. Giveaways included with each author’s 15-minute segment, so don’t miss out! I'm up first on the segment at 6:30 PM, so here’s the link:  CFRR FB JUNE 13 PARTY

Scene from Isle of Hope

by Julie Lessman

Jack’s jaw felt like rock as he stared, blinking rapidly to fight the sting of emotion. “Why’d you do it then?” His voice cracked. “Why’d you destroy our family?”

A slow, reedy breath escaped his father’s lips that underscored the fatigue Jack saw in his face. “Because I’m a weak man, Jack, and there’s nothing more dangerous than a weak man who thinks he’s strong.” His chest expanded as his gaze trailed out to the water, voice lagging into a low drone laden with pain. “A charming go-getter from the slums who rose to the top of his class in seminary. You know, the pastor most likely to succeed? And I did.”

Head bowed, he kneaded the bridge of his nose, lashes spiked with moisture as he closed his eyes. “Wasn’t long before I climbed the ranks, snagging head pastor at Isle of Hope Assembly after your grandpa died and we moved in here with Tess’s mom. So there I was—a cocky poor kid on high-brow Bluff Drive with a beautiful wife, a smart son, two brand-new baby girls, and one of the most enviable pulpits on the East Coast. Speaking engagements rolled in as fast as pledges and tithes, and Mercer University even courted me for a professorship at McAffe School of Theology.” He sighed, the sound fractured by shame. “It seemed I could do no wrong.” His eyes slowly rose to meet Jack’s. “Until I did.”

He hunched on the edge of his chair, elbows draped over his knees and gaze glued to the weathered boards beneath his feet. “You wouldn’t know this because you were mostly away at college, but your mom and I started having problems. Little things at first—arguments over the amount of time I gave to the church for travel, counseling, you name it, basically leaving the burden of home life to her. My answer was for her to quit her job, so the little I was home, I badgered her nonstop, which only deepened the divide. In my mind, I was right and she was wrong, and I made no bones about it.”

He looked up again, but this time his stare wandered over the water as if he were locked in the past. “I don’t think I fully realized it at the time, but looking back, I can see I was slowly losing your mom’s respect as a pastor …” A muscle twitched in his cheek. “And as a man.” He chafed the back of head. “And because I could do no wrong in my own mind, it was just easier to blame it all on her, to tell myself she was the problem, not me.”

He lowered his head, as if he couldn’t bear to face Jack’s disdain, a shaky hand obscuring his eyes. “So when Karen approached me about counseling … I didn’t see any harm. As a high-profile pastor, I’d had plenty of women tempt me in the past, but I was wise to seduction, at least the sexual kind, so I’d never had any problem saying no. An inflated state of mind that only fed my pride, apparently, setting me up for the fall. I told myself Karen wasn’t a seductress, but a good friend and neighbor that I cared about, a troubled woman who needed my help.”

He grunted, the sound laced with disgust. “The invincible Pastor O’Bryen, straining at a gnat, but swallowing a camel. Adept at reading ‘come-hither’ looks in women, but totally unprepared for the seduction of respect and admiration in Karen’s eyes—the exact opposite I saw in your mother’s. Hero worship in the most sinister form, luring me like a lamb to slaughter …”

His 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—” His father took a step forward, an almost ethereal glow of faith in his eyes like nothing Jack had ever seen, “anything … except Him.”

Unable to speak, Jack couldn’t move a muscle, eyes locked on the father he’d considered shallow and weak. The same man who now radiated a strength and peace that seemed to envelop Jack as well. His father gave an awkward shrug as he approached, hands deep in his pockets and smile sheepish. “Sorry—I get a little carried away at the magnitude of Who He is, Jack, and just how much He loves us. Enough to allow us the freedom to choose. And enough to allow those choices to strip us of everything that stands in the way of our ultimate happiness—Him.”

His smile faded into sobriety while his gaze bonded to Jack’s. “I don’t deserve your forgiveness, Son,” he said quietly, “anymore than I deserve God’s, but I’m asking for it all the same.” He peered up at the sky, as if drawing strength from the shaft of light that split the billow of dark clouds overhead. “I don’t deserve it, Son, but you do. I don’t want to see you make the mistake I made, choosing pride over God. I learned the hard way that pride is man’s greatest weakness. It felled Lucifer at the beginning of time and it will do the same for anyone who relies on his or her own strength rather than God’s. It will rob them of God’s blessings and steal their hope and their future.” He studied Jack’s face in a silent plea. “And it will rob us of the ability to forgive if we let it, so I’m asking you, Jack, please—” He paused, grasping Jack’s shoulder in a firm hold. “Don’t. For your sake as well as your mother’s.”

Eons passed, it seemed, as Jack stared, feeling the battle within to forgive or to turn him away. This was the man he’d loved and revered most of his life. The man of God who’d inspired him. The father who’d taught him to fish and swing a bat. The parent who’d nurtured and encouraged him. His eyelids lumbered closed. And the hero who’d disappointed him, falling from his sky like Lucifer, flinging his family into the abyss.

And yet, here he stood, a man on the precipice of eternity, giving the greatest gift of all.

The truth.

Moisture stung beneath his lids like a flash flood. Mind in a freefall, he struggled to breathe against the anger and bitterness that choked the air from his throat. And then with a violent heave, he gripped his father as if he were a lifeline, clinging as fiercely as the summer his dad had saved his life, a small boy determined to brave the currents of a flooded river. Then, like now, he’d been drowning in the deep, struggling with the swirling emotions that longed to take him down. His father’s hold tightened, and with a shuddering heave, Jack wept against his neck, clutching so hard, his fingers dug into his back. Like a thundercloud heavy with rain, years of grief streamed from his eyes, washing the pain away to nourish a new beginning.

“I love you, Son,” his father rasped, “and if there were anything in the world I could do to make it up to you, I would.”

Eyes burning, Jack pulled away, hands braced to his father’s arms as he searched his face, finally seeing a glimmer of the hero he’d lost through a haze of healing that he knew—in time—would restore what his bitterness had stolen away. He swallowed hard, dislodging the last of his hurt. “There is,” he said, throat thick with emotion. “Will you marry Lacey and me?”

His father stared, his startled look containing a flicker of hope despite the spike of his brows. “I thought Tess said your pastor friend Chase was going to marry you.”

“He was,” Jack said, “but he’ll understand.”

Jaw twitching, his father blinked several times before he gave a short nod. “It would be one of the greatest honors of my life, Jack,” he said, his words gruff and low. He sucked in a deep breath before grinning outright. “Although given my past, I’m not sure I’m the best one to sanction your marriage.” He sifted a trembling hand through his hair, his embarrassment evident in a flustered shrug. “As a man of God, I don’t exactly have the best track record, you know.”

Flashing a gleam of teeth that matched his dad’s, Jack draped an arm over his shoulder. “That’s okay, Dad—neither do I.”