Journal Jots – Blog

Welcome to my Journal Jots blog! This is 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! From news on sales, freebies, giveaways, new releases, and excerpts from works in progress … to my thoughts on my walk with God, daily devotionals, or photos of my family, this is where you’ll find the most current glimpse into my books and my life. I invite you to subscribe in the “subscribe” box on the right side of this page to automatically receive an email whenever I post a blog. Till then, God bless and HAPPY READING!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

 

A Hope and a Prayer Ready for Pre-Order!

21 Days of Prayer!

A Julie Lessman Non-Fiction? You Bet!

Excerpt for A Hope and a Prayer!

 

You may want to check out the following prior blog posts HERE:

So, What Have I Been Up To?

Family Fun!

My Writing Tips in Sky’s the Limit Press Literary Journal

Steady-On Podcast Interview!

Recommendations for Authors Who Write Like Me

Cool Trailer/Video for my latest, The Secret of Emerald Cottage

Pix of Characters from The Secret of Emerald Cottage!

1st Chapter from The Secret of Emerald Cottage!

 

A Hope and a Prayer Ready for Pre-Order!

Whooooo-Hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!

Yep, Hope Dennehy’s story is finalllllly here!

Book 2 in The Cousins O’Connor WW2 Series, A Hope and a Prayer, is coming to Amazon on October 1st and YOU can pre-order it NOW at a discounted rate HERE!

And, WHOA, BABY, let me tell you, it took a LOT of both “hope” and especially “prayer” to get to this point! What I had intended to be a spring 2022 release will now be a fall release because of reasons I discussed in my last blog, which you can read HERE under the So, What Have I Been Up To? header.

I don’t mind telling you that this was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever written, if not the most difficult book!

Why?

I think because I wanted to implement a difficult lesson that God taught me in the last year, that He is our All-in-All. He is our peace, our joy, our hope, and our strength, and we cannot run to anything else on this earth to provide those things.

Because He is also a jealous God.

Consequently, I discovered that if I run to or esteem anything before or higher than Him—be it family, friends, talents, money, success, movies, TV shows or other entertainment, sports, alcohol, or even innocent pastimes like books or music—I risk elevating that thing to a higher place in my life than Him. Risk running to it to lift me up, to encourage me, or to make me happy instead of to God. And I risk allowing that thing to have more control and influence over me and my actions than God and His precepts.

A difficult lesson to learn? Well, for me, kind of. But especially for the hero, Lieutenant Brendan O’Neill. But the good news? That lesson made it all the clearer for me—and to Bren—that God is absolutely crazy about us! Loves us SO much that He created us to be His family, made in His image and likeness. That’s why He sent Jesus to redeem us and why He blesses us with wonderful things like family, friends, talents, etc.—all true gifts from Him.

But when we run to or prefer the gift over the Giver, we run the risk of not only limiting God’s blessings in our lives or in the lives of those we love, but limiting a relationship with the very God who made us for Himself—to be His family—and in whom “we live and move and have our being.”

That is a lesson I learned recently and one lesson that the hero in A Hope and a Prayer—Lieutenant Brendan (Bren) O’Neill—has to learn too. A critical lesson that has opened my eyes to not only how very much God loves us, but how much He wants to bless us with good things. Because He IS the key to good things—not the good things themselves! He is the only key to more joy, peace, and hope than I ever dreamed possible, as Bren also eventually finds out. Although let me just say—”Lieutenant Love” is a hard nut to crack! But then, Lieutenant Hope Dennehy is just the one to do it.

Here’s the jacket blurb:

She’s in love with her best friend.

He’s in love with her cousin.

But when the war reveals a gift so rare,

Will they be saved by a hope and a prayer?

As Head Nurse at 2d Hospital in Nancy, France, Lieutenant Hope Dennehy is known for her healing touch, especially when it comes to mending the wounds and spirit of her best friend, Lieutenant Bren O’Neill. When Hope’s cousin breaks Bren’s heart, Hope is always there, helping to heal him with a friendship so anointed and deep, it threatens to break her heart too.

Flying high as a daredevil aeromedical evac pilot in the European Theatre, “Lieutenant Love” O’Neill crashes and burns when the woman he loves falls for another. Depending on the support and prayers of Nurse Hope Dennehy to save him, Bren re-evaluates his free-wheeling lifestyle when he witnesses the heinous atrocities of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Suddenly nothing in life is as important as taking care of those he loves … or is it? Battling demons from his past, Bren learns that only one thing can truly save him from himself.

So, check out the excerpt at the end of this blog for a sneak peek and Hope and Bren’s story.

 

21 Days of Prayer—Aug. 7-27, 2022!

 

Twice a year, Keith and I embark on 21 Days of Prayer online with my daughter’s church, The Church of the Highlands, and I have to say, it’s one of the most powerful things we do each and every year.

And you know what? We absolutely LOVE it, and trust me, that’s saying something when we have to get up at 6:00 a.m. five days a week (and 9:00 a.m. on Saturdays) to watch a live 1-hour service that has changed our prayer lives! OR you can watch the recorded version anytime after 9:00 a.m.

I promise you that not only will it be the fastest hour you have ever spent, but the most beneficial in each of your 21 days. So if you are interested in learning more, check out this blog post I wrote about it HERE, and then here is the church’s link where you can find out all the details:

CHURCH OF THE HIGHLANDS 21 DAYS OF PRAYER

 

A Julie Lessman Non-Fiction? You Bet!

UH-OH, she’s venturing out of fiction!!

Almost.

As mentioned in my last blog, I am writing a memoir-type devotional that I am loosely titling, A “Novel” Approach to Practical Christianity, which will begin with a short personal story from my life of how God taught me a particular spiritual lesson, and then the “novel approach” where I include a scene from one of my books where I actually taught the lesson to one of my characters, followed by a prayer, pertinent Scriptures, and takeaway.

Let me be the first to say that I don’t like reading OR writing nonfiction, but God kind of pushed me to the wall on this one with an interesting story you can read about in my last blog HERE under the So, What Have I Been Up To? header.

So, prayers appreciated that I get this puppy done by the end of the year! 😉

 

Excerpt for A Hope and a Prayer

Another reason I think A Hope and a Prayer was difficult to write is because I like feisty characters (Gabe, Katie, and Charity, anyone?), I guess because I’m one, too, so I know them well, which is why sweet, shy, and quiet Hope Dennehy was a bit of a challenge.

Yes, I’d done it before with both Lizzie O’Connor in A Passion Denied and Shannon O’Bryen in Love Everlasting, but Hope is definitely the quietest of the three. And yet, ALSO one of the  godliest of my heroines, on par with both Faith O’Connor from A Passion Most Pure and Emma Malloy from A Heart Revealed.

But what surprised me the most was how much Hope’s spirituality and gentle character blessed me, so I hope she will bless you too. She certainly blesses Bren O’Neill in more ways than he ever dreamed possible!

Here is the prologue to A Hope and a Prayer—HAPPY SNEAK PEEK!

 

Therefore if any man be in Christ,

he is a new creature: old things are passed away;

behold, all things are become new.

— 2 Corinthians 5:17, King James Version

 

PROLOGUE

2d General Hospital, Nancy, France, January 1, 1945

“So help me, O’Neill, I will throttle you if you die!” The irony of her rare hiss of a whisper was lost on Nurse Hope Dennehy as she hovered near Lieutenant Bren O’Neill in the dimly lit surgical recovery ward. Breathing in the pungent scent of disinfectant, she sat glued to the edge of her wooden chair in the wee hours of the morning. His handsome face was as pale as the sheet draped across his heavily bandaged body while she gently grazed a thumb over the gauze on his arm, near as comatose as her best friend in the bed.

My best friend.

Tears burned along with the fatigue in her eyes. A dear, dear friendship that had slowly evolved when her cousin Gabe—the woman Bren had hoped to marry—broke off her relationship with him after she returned to the States. Still recuperating from a near-fatal sniper gunshot during the Liberation of Paris as well as the threat of a summary court martial, Bren had been devastated at the time, sinking into a depression that had worried Hope sick.

And so, she did what she always did when someone she cared about was hurting—she tried to alleviate their pain. A sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on, a gin rummy game or two during free time … and prayer.

Oh, lots and lots of prayer!

To heal Bren’s heart, yes.

Her heart skipped a fractured beat. And to safeguard mine.

“I swear you’re my guardian angel, Hope, you know that?” he’d said more than once over the past year. And every single time had caused her to smile over what a captive audience he’d been, confined to a hospital ward until he could return to duty as an aeromedical pilot. But it certainly seemed as if she might be his angel, her endless prayers most likely the reason he was still alive after risking his own life to save a fellow evac buddy. A feat of heroism that would earn him yet another bronze star or air medal to add to his collection.

Hope glanced across the ward to where his close friend, Lieutenant Michael Graves, was sleeping like a baby with nothing more than a grazed shoulder and broken arm. Bren had borne the brunt of enemy fire when he’d tackled his friend to the ground, taking the bullets meant for him. Eyes moist, she turned her gaze back to her best friend. But then, that was Bren. The wild daredevil who didn’t seem to fear danger, especially when it meant giving his all for a friend.

Like he so often did for her. Emotionally, if not physically.

Their time together had served both him and the casual friendship they shared well, deepening into the closest relationship she’d ever had with a man—or anyone, for that matter—outside of her family. He’d even allowed her to pray for him on occasion—that the frequent letters he wrote to Gabe would somehow change her mind from friendship to more—although it was clear spirituality wasn’t his suit. But her heart had rejoiced when he’d begrudgingly attributed his light sentence from the court martial—a week in the brig—to her intervention with the Almighty.

“What am I going to do without you, Dennehy?” he’d asked more than once prior to his transfer over 400 miles away to the Air Holding Unit at Toul, France, evacuating wounded from the Battle of Hürtgen Forest east of the German border.

“Get into more trouble, I suppose,” she’d teased, but she couldn’t help but wonder the same for herself. Naturally quiet and shy, Hope had always thrived on both Gabe’s and Bren’s passion for life, reveling in their fun and fervor. Their engaging personalities had always been like a light to her soul, painting her world with beautiful colors. Her heart squeezed over the memory of the day Bren had finally left last October, a day of gloom and drizzle, leaving her skies gray and bleak ever since.

Until now.

Gently sweeping back his dark curls from his damp forehead, she was almost ashamed at the joy she felt inside to be able to nurture him once again, both as a patient and a friend. Which is why, she decided as she attempted to cover his six-foot-three frame up with the too-short blanket, she had no intention of leaving his side until he woke up from his surgery, safe and sound.

“Best to keep a close eye on him,” Dr. Martin had said after Bren’s difficult surgery, where they’d almost lost him a second time from a critical chest wound sustained during the Ardenne’s Offensive. As an evac pilot, Bren had been in the thick of that major German offensive to push the Allied front line west from France to Belgium. Dubbed the “Battle of the Bulge” by the press, it was a campaign that had almost ended his life. Moisture pricked Hope’s eyes.

And our friendship.

Issuing a low groan, she laid her forehead on Bren’s arm, so tired she could fall asleep right here and now. But she couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Because even though she was off-duty and should be sleeping herself, as Bren’s friend, she wanted to be there when he awakened. The post-operative hours were the most critical, she knew. He needed careful monitoring. For his pulse, his respiratory rate, systolic blood pressure. A keen eye on his temperature and level of consciousness, as well as pain assessment or any deterioration in his condition. Expelling a silent sigh, she sat up to check her watch.

“Ahem.” Her friend and fellow nurse Cindy Hyatt prodded her way in between Hope’s chair and Bren’s bed, arms locked in a stern fold as she gave Hope a menacing lift of her brow. “You’ve been here long enough, my friend, and need your sleep, so go to bed—now!

Offering a weak smile, Hope peeked up, well aware Cindy could be pushy when she wanted. But what Cindy didn’t know was—contrary to popular belief—so could Hope. At least when it came to people she loved. Shimmying back into her chair with the faintest square of her shoulders, Hope met her friend’s gaze directly, some of her exhaustion dissipating with the barest lift of her chin. “We both know Doc Martin said it was a difficult surgery and that Bren would need ‘round-the-clock care,’ so as a nurse and his best friend, Nurse Hyatt, I’d like to sit with him till he wakes up.”

Cindy nodded over her shoulder to two other nurses on the night shift. “That’s right, Nurse Dennehy, and as the nurses on duty, we are the ‘round-the-clock care’ tonight, replaced, I might add, by fresh and rested nurses such as yourself on the 0800 shift.”

Squatting to face Hope head-on, Cindy gently jiggled Hope’s knee, the sympathy in her eyes pricking moisture in Hope’s own. “He’s going to be fine, Hope, difficult surgery or no. And with the boatload of prayers you prayed for him, no doubt, how could he do anything but recover? For crying out loud, you’re St. Hope, after all, the nurse with healing in her hands, remember? But I’m afraid neither you nor your hands will be much good unless you get some sleep.”

“But I want to be here when he wakes up—” Hope said again, not comforted at all by the nickname the other nurses had given her when the patients she prayed for often made miraculous recoveries.

“And you will be,” Cindy assured with a somber smile, “because Doc Martin prescribed a hefty dose of sodium amobarbital, so our boy won’t be waking up anytime soon, I promise.”

Hope blinked, Cindy’s words registering in slow motion. “He did?” She rose to look at the chart at the end of his bed, her eyes so blurry, she could barely read it. “Where?”

“Right here,” Cindy said, tapping the faint scrawl that Hope had failed to recognize as Dr. Martin’s illegible handwriting. “Said he wanted Bren on a steady dosage for a few days to keep him calm and still.” Her mouth tipped up on one side as she studied the sleeping pilot with a reputation for charming every nurse at 2d. “Obviously he knows our boy as well as we do.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize that.”

“Yes, I know, because you were not on duty when Doc wrote the order after surgery, sweetie—we were. Which means we are his round-the-clock care, not you, all right?”

Giving a limp nod, Hope issued a weary sigh as she moved to take Bren’s pulse. She caught her breath when Cindy grasped her by the shoulders, her friend’s tone much softer than her hold. “Go to bed, Hope,” she whispered. “You’ll have all day tomorrow to spoil him to your heart’s content.”

“I don’t spoil him—”

Cindy arched a brow that defied Hope’s resistance, and she sighed again, well aware that Cindy was right. She did spoil Bren. Just like she’d spoiled her cousin Gabe all of her life, the best friend who had come to their family as an abused orphan at the age of eight. From the start, Hope had seen right through Gabe’s hard exterior into a heart that had been wounded almost beyond repair.

Almost. A faint smile shadowed Hope’s lips. One quiet word that held the promise of God in a Scripture near and dear to Hope’s heart: Love never fails.

Glancing at Bren, Hope felt a tenderness surge she couldn’t seem to help. From the first moment he’d flashed that heart-melting grin so many of the nurses swooned over, somehow she’d sensed a deeply wounded soul beneath that handsome demeanor. Like Gabe, he hid it well with a charismatic and devil-may-care personality. But Hope’s sixth sense had pierced right through his rakish façade into a heart she suspected needed God’s love and healing as desperately as Gabe’s had. A weary breath seeped from her lips in reluctant surrender. “Okay, maybe I do, but he’s been through a lot, Cindy, with two near-death surgeries and a broken heart, you know?”

Cindy’s face softened. “I know, sweetie, and he’s very lucky to have a friend like you.” She glanced down at the sleeping pilot, his dark curly hair all askew while his muscular chest rose and fell in soft rhythm, those deadly dimples lost in repose. “With a heartbreaker like Bren, most women are looking for way more than friendship because even in a dead sleep and wrapped in gauze, the man’s still gorgeous.” She sighed as she pushed another stray curl off his forehead. “But you?” She turned to offer Hope a gentle smile. “You genuinely care for him as a friend, Hope, and nothing more, so he’s a very lucky guy because frankly, I don’t know how you do it. Now scoot.”

With a tired nod, Hope bent to give Bren’s hand a soft squeeze before she eased by her friend with a smile of thanks, thinking she couldn’t agree with Cindy more.

Because frankly? She didn’t know how she did it either. She cast a final glance over her shoulder, tenderly mixed with a silent prayer.

Except for the grace of God.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

 

So, What Have I Been Up To?

Family Fun!

Cover Reveal for A Hope and a Prayer!

(The following are prior blog posts you may want to check out)

My Writing Tips in Sky’s the Limit Press Literary Journal

Steady-On Podcast Interview!

Recommendations for Authors Who Write Like Me

Cool Trailer/Video for my latest, The Secret of Emerald Cottage

Pix of Characters from The Secret of Emerald Cottage!

1st Chapter from The Secret of Emerald Cottage!

 

So, What Have I Been Up To?

Hello, my friends — long time, no see, and yes, I have been AWOL for a while, so I apologize. But I have a good reason, I promise, and it all begins with two of the most important things in each of our lives: God and family.

You see, in January, I was happily writing away on book 2 in my Cousins O’Connor series, A Hope and a Prayer, and was over a 1/3 of the way in when . . . BOOM! I hit the wall big time. Hated the plot, hated the book, and hated feeling that way.

So I did what I always do — I prayed for God to give me a good plot and asked my prayer partners to do the same. After all, this worked like gangbusters on A Passion Most Pure, A Hope Undaunted, and A Heart Revealed, so I had no reason to think it wouldn’t work here.

But it didn’t.

So I prayed some more and guess what I heard in my spirit?

“Lay it down, Julie.”

What?

“Lay it down.”

“But, Lord, you don’t understand — I’m releasing this book late this spring, so I need to get it done.”

(Uh, very hard to do when you hate the plot.)

“Lay it down, Julie, and give the time to Me and your family.

I blinked. Prayed some more, thinking that couldn’t possibly be what God wanted me to do.

But it was.

So . . . I spent the last four months doing just that — focusing on God and family in total peace. I must say it was WONDERFUL for both me and my family, and I have  pictures below to prove it!

By early April, I hadn’t written anything in over 3 months and was hoping to jump back into Hope’s story, but it seems God had other ideas. It’s been confirmed to me several times that I am to write a nonfiction piece (memoir-style devotional?) that correlates the personal spiritual lessons I’ve learned in my life with the companion scenes from my books where I teach the lesson to my characters.

The idea came to seed when I attended a Bible study in late March where I told the group of ladies (in near tears) one of the personal lessons God taught me in my life. Afterwards, two of the women took me aside to tell me that my story did more to teach them about about forgiveness than a sermon or Bible study. Whoa … what?? They then proceeded to tell me I needed to write those stories down to give practical application of God’s precepts to people like them.

Ooooo – kay . . .

I’m telling you, if they pressed this idea once, they pressed it at least five times each, so I promised I would pray about it. But I wasn’t thrilled because frankly, not only do I not like to read nonfiction, I don’t like writing it either. 😳

The next day when I was praying about it, all of a sudden I had this overwhelming urge to read one of the spiritual scenes from one of my books (the scene in A Passion Denied where Marcy is bitter and venting to Mrs. Gerson because Patrick has been sleeping at the Herald for over a month). Well, the next thing I know I’m sobbing my heart out!

I guess it hit me so hard because it was SO personal to my own life and the spiritual lessons I’ve learned, and so anointed, that suddenly it occurred that maybe God DID want me to tackle this devo project the ladies had pressed me on. I asked Him for one more confirmation and within an hour or so, I got the following amazing email from a sweet woman named Jacqueline:

“Dear, Julie,
I am new to your books and absolutely love them! I just finished A Hope Undaunted, and it changed my spiritual life. I found the freedom to place my life in God’s hands, something I used to be so scared to do. The book also assured me of the power of prayer. I found a calm reassurance when facing uncertainties after reading this book, and I credit God working through your book, showing me that prayer can sustain. Thank you for eternally impacting me. Your influence goes beyond your books and lasts forever.”

Okay, the woman made me cry, because if ever there was a confirmation for me, this was it.

So, yes, I am writing a memoir-type devotional that I am loosely titling, A “Novel” Approach to Practical Christianity, which will begin with a short personal story from my life of how God taught me a particular spiritual lesson. Since I have put most every spiritual lesson I have ever learned into the lives of the characters in my books, I will then include a clip from my novels where I wrote about this spiritual lesson in relation to my characters, followed by a prayer and pertinent Scriptures. I have three chapters and an outline written, which I hope to complete this fall, so your prayers are greatly appreciated for this project.

 

Family Fun

I have to tell you that we had a great time with family and friends in Florida this winter, so here’s a few of my favorite pix. But brrr . . . then we came back home to the cold, where I had to wear jackets and blankets in my office (on our deck) and all my tulips, hyacinths, and lilacs were decimated by the deer. 🥶

 

Cover Reveal for A Hope and a Prayer!

I was hoping to release A Hope and a Prayer this spring, but as I mentioned above, God had other plans for me.

BUT … He gave me the go-ahead two weeks ago, so I am back at it! And, boy, oh boy, can I feel God’s anointing on this one now. First of all, He revamped my plot for me, which I LOVE and secondly, I FINALLY have a cover after months of trying to find an appropriate model, all to no avail. But just last week, when I started back on the book, God gave me a cover just like that. So the bottom line is — His timing is everything, right?

So, here it is, and I hope you like it as much as I do. I needed a sweet and innocent model in a WW2 nurse uniform, which is NOT easy to find, trust me. But we did it (God, me, and Killion Publishing), so onward and upward!

I am halfway through writing A Hope and a Prayer and now the story jumps from the European Theater to Boston for the second half of the book, WHERE I get to rejoin ALL the O’Connors, so WHOO-HOO! I have a feeling this second half is going to fly by, hopefully for a early fall release, God willing.

TA-DA!

So here’s Lieutenant Hope Dennehy, Head Nurse for Ward B of the 2d Hospital in Nancy, France, 1945!

Drum roll please . . .

So stay tuned for pre-order and release dates soon AND prayers appreciated for supernatural speed and anointing!

HUGS AND MORE HUGS!

Julie

______________________________________

Prior Blog Information

My Writing Tips in Sky’s the Limit Press Literary Journal

Aspiring writers, come on over to Sky’s the Limit Press Literary Journal, where I share all “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of the writing biz.

A faith-based and Spirit-inspired digital publisher of stories and poetry by young and aspiring authors, Sky’s the Limit Press has one goal: to exceed the limitations put on young Christian writers. So I encourage you to sign up because it’s a great resource for writers of all ages and skill levels.

SKY’S THE LIMIT LITERARY JOURNAL

SKY’S THE LIMIT PRESS WEBSITE

 

Steady-On Podcast Interview!

💁‍♀️ SO … what do YOU think? Does romantic PASSION belong in Christian romance? Check out my podcast on the Steady On online “Christian Growth Classroom,” whose tagline is, “Where Change Happens on the Inside,” invites you to listen in on this discussion of purity and passion with me and three bright and godly young women who run this fascinating “classroom.

STEADY-ON PODCAST INTERVIEW LINK

 

Recommendations for Authors Who Write Like Me

Periodically I’ll get emails from readers who ask me if I know of any other Christian authors who write Christian romance like I do — with a higher level of both romantic passion and spiritual passion. So I’ll usually toss out a few names.

But I was recently approached by a new website that allows you to not only find out the top authors on any given subject or genre, but also allows you to find out who your favorite authors recommend. It’s called BETA SHEPHERD and you can read all about it at Beta Shepherd Home Link.

My page is entitled, The best Christian romance with spiritual and romantic passion, so if you if you would like to check it out to find out the five Christian authors who I think write more like me, here’s the link:

Julie Lessman’s Page for  The Best Christian Romance with Spiritual and Romantic Passion

 

 

Trailer/Video for my New Murder Mystery!

CLICK HERE TO SEE VIDEO

 

 

Characters from The Secret of Emerald Cottage

Allow me to introduce you to the main characters in The Secret of Emerald Cottage! Let’s begin with the heroine, Molly Stewart, a sweet-natured former Navy nurse with an aversion to men who are players and a penchant for reading and writing cozy mystery.

And then we have our rogue hero, Breccan McGill, Aunt Lilly’s celebrity soccer-star great nephew, who is a gourmet chef with a delicious Irish brogue.

Next, we have precious Aunt Lilly, an 88-year-old backwoods dynamo with a love for the Lord, Brec’s gourmet desserts, and poker.

And finally, Detective Sloan Kennedy, the 2nd guy in the love triangle in this book who will be my hero in book two IF I decide to do another mystery.

 

Excerpt From The Secret of Emerald Cottage!

Here is Chapter One  of the book, so I hope you enjoy it!

It is He who reveals the profound and

hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness,

and the light dwells with Him.

—Daniel 2:22

CHAPTER ONE

Savannah, Georgia, Late Spring

“I was a fool, Molly. Forgive me? Please?”

Forgive him? Body numb, Molly Stewart stood rooted at Miss Lilly’s front door, staring at the man who had broken both her heart and her trust, and wondered if she actually could.

Today was to have been their wedding day at a pretty little church in Charleston. Instead here Tyler stood on the wraparound front porch of Miss Lilly’s secluded cottage on Lake Loon, more handsome than a louse had a right to be. Those piercing gray eyes were as repentant—and deadly—as she’d ever seen. Hands plunged deep in the pockets of his favorite Rock Revival jeans, he offered an awkward shrug, his rolled-sleeved, buttoned-down shirt emphasizing broad shoulders and a well-defined torso. “These last six months without you have been awful, babe, convincing me I made the biggest and most brainless mistake of my life.”

Yeah, me too. Cocking her hip, Molly slapped her arms into an impatient fold, not about to let Tyler Madsen disarm her again. “Well, I certainly concur with brainless.” Her eyes narrowed to slits, as thin as her patience. “What do you want, Tyler?”

That hard-sculpted jaw tensed as he threaded a hand through wheat-colored hair shorn on the sides. His Adam’s apple ducked twice, a sure sign she’d rattled his confidence, which wasn’t easy to do. “I rather hoped it would be obvious,” he whispered, catching her off-guard when he reached to caress her face with tender fingers. “I want ‘us’ back.”

She jerked away, arms glued to her waist in self-defense as she took a step back, warning bells going off in her head over the warm shiver he’d produced. She’d been head over heels for a solid year, ready to spend the rest of her life with him, so naturally his touch still affected her. Her mouth compressed in resolve. But she was also ready to spend the rest of her life forgetting him, too, and had a six-month head start, thank God. “There is no ‘us,’ Tyler. I wonder if there ever was.”

“There was and you know it, Molly,” he said quietly, gently tugging one of her hands free to draw her close. “Because despite my asinine mistake, we still love each other.”

Loved!” she hissed, breaking free to thump him hard on a chest that felt like rock. “Past tense, buster, so you can just take your seductive song and dance and—”

Her gasp was silenced when his mouth took hers, melting her to the door with a kiss that reminded her of all she had lost.

A friend.

A husband.

A love for a lifetime.

“Forgive me, Molly—please?” He gently touched his forehead to hers. “Give me another chance, and I swear I will do everything in my power to make it up to you.”

“Ty …” She felt herself weakening, memories of their last year resurrecting the faintest glimmers of love and hope that she’d worked so hard to bury beneath a mountain of hurt. “I don’t think—”

Her resistance was swallowed up in another dangerous kiss so possessive, all her walls came tumbling down when he pulled away. Suddenly, his handsome face dissolved into a haze, disappearing into the same nightmare she’d lived for the last half year. A groan trailed from her lips as her head thrashed back and forth in her bed. “No, don’t leave again, please,” she murmured in her sleep, “just kiss me, please …

Her body finally relaxed when he did—gently, softly—vaguely aware it had to be a dream because the scent was all wrong—not the vanilla musk scent of Ty’s Stronger With You cologne she’d given him for Christmas. No, this was more of a peppery scent with a hint of lilac and lavender, confirming it wasn’t Ty she was kissing at all, but someone else.

Lost somewhere between semi-consciousness and a slumber induced by a bleary-headed cold and a 2:00 a.m. dose of Nyquil Severe Cold & Flu, she burrowed deeper into the downy softness of her bed, never wanting the kiss to end. Definitely had to be a dream because Ty was her past, and yet this tender brush of lips against hers felt so real! So right.

Breathing in the heady scent of pine trees that surrounded both Miss Lilly’s Emerald Cottage and the glimmering glacial lake outside her open window, she allowed her subconscious to fade back into sleep, desperate to return to Prince Charming.

“Wake up, Princess.” A husky voice with a hint of a brogue breathed into her ear, accompanied by a trace of that delicious peppery scent, and she literally groaned out loud, unwilling for the magic to end. Rolling on her side, she yanked the cover sheet over her head, longing to slip away once again …

“Uh, excuse me, Goldilocks, but I think you’re sleeping in my bed.”

Her eyes snapped open beneath the sheet while she gasped, frozen for a split second before she jerked her Glock 36 from under her pillow. Launching from her bed, her limbs shook like Jell-O as she stood there in her ratty tank top and penguin shorts, arms extended. “Who are y-you?” she rasped, heart pummeling her ribcage while she trembled, taking shaky aim at a man in a sculpted T-shirt and jeans who made Prince Charming look like a frog.

Light blue eyes flared in surprise as he raised massive palms in the air, a lazy smile easing across lips way too full and sensuous for a man. “Whoa, take it easy, lass. I’m Miss Lilly’s great nephew, Brec McGill, but you can call me Papa Bear if you like.”

“How did you get in?” she demanded, snatching her cell phone from the nightstand before backing toward the door, punching 9-1-1 in just to be ready. Hands quivering, she tucked the phone into her shorts, rattled that a Greek god had entered her room and she’d never even heard him come in.

With an impressive bulge of a bicep, he casually scratched the back of his head, his smile patient as he tossed a set of keys in the air. He slipped them into the pocket of jeans so snug, they bordered on indecent. “A key. From Aunt Lilly. A long time ago.”

“Wait a minute.” She swallowed hard as she wiped her lips, gaze narrowing when the memory of her dream came back. “Did you … kiss me?”

“Depends.” One edge of his mouth crooked as he tipped his head, flashing the deepest, most dangerous dimples she’d ever seen. “Did you like it?”

Stance stiff, she jerked the gun higher, satisfied when it wiped the smile right off his face.

Taking a quick step back, he thumped a taut chest with a blunt thumb while he stared her down. “Look, Goldilocks, this is my room, and you were sleeping in my bed, so suppose you tell me who you are, aye?”

Her chin jutted up. “I am Miss Lilly’s temporary caretaker and companion, Nurse Molly Stewart. The one who left umpteen voicemail messages and a telegram that you never bothered to answer, I might add.”

He actually winced, which gave some small comfort that there may be a shred of concern somewhere deep down in this great nephew who hadn’t visited his aunt in years.

He cuffed the back of his neck. “About that,” he said with a sheepish look, “I’ve had a bit of bother lately with the press, so I’ve been off the grid, so to speak.” He gave an awkward shrug. “New cell phone, new apartment, dodged voicemail, you know?”

Expelling a silent sigh, Molly slowly lowered her gun. Yes, she knew. Miss Lilly had already filled her in on her notorious great nephew, the infamous Irish soccer star embroiled in a nasty scandal. The same nephew Miss Lilly’d been praying for since he went astray after college—both from her and from the faith she’d tried so hard to instill.

“But I finally got the telegram,” he continued in a rush, a definite apology lacing his tone as he buried his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans. Those broad shoulders lifted briefly. “So, here I am.” His thick, dark brows tented in concern as he pinned Molly with a pointed gaze that held a touch of vulnerability. “How is she?” he whispered.

“Better.” Rolling her neck, Molly felt the tension slowly seep from her body. “She’s out of the coma and resting comfortably—”

“Coma?” His voice cracked as his golden tan bleached to pale. “She was in a coma? The telegram just said she’d fallen and was in the hospital, for criminy’s sake.”

Molly arched a brow, her manner cool. “She did fall, Mr. McGill—into the lake, as a matter of fact. Which resulted in a coma when she almost drowned. But she came out of it before I sent the telegram—which was a last resort, mind you, after all the phone calls.”

A groan rattled from his throat as he tunneled thick fingers through short curly hair—almost black—appearing as if he actually cared or at least putting on a pretty good act. He glanced at his watch. “Where is she? I want to see her right now. And I want to know everything.”

“All in good time, Striker Boy,” Molly said as she waved the gun toward the door, adding her own twist to his team nickname of “Striker Man” since he was his team’s primary scoring threat. “It’s barely six a.m. and we’re not going anywhere till I’ve had a shower and a cup of coffee, so don’t be in such a hurry.”

She suddenly remembered the brazen pass he’d made by kissing her while she was sleeping, and both her ire—and her gun—rose to new heights. “Oh, wait—you weren’t in a hurry, were you? Since you just arrived a week after the fact.”

Those blue eyes thinned to slits of sapphire. “It’s ‘Striker Man,’ for your information, Goldilocks,” he said in a gravelly voice as tight as hers, “and I detest guns, so stop waving that  thing at me. I took the redeye as soon as I got the blinkin’ telegram, so don’t act like I don’t care about my aunt.”

Eyes wide, Molly feigned surprise as she placed a hand to her cheek. “Oh, forgive me, please, but I didn’t realize seeing your aunt once every ten years qualified as ‘caring.’”

Too late she saw the flicker of pain in his eyes, pools of regret and guilt that shamed her before he quickly looked away, shoulders slumping while he gouged the bridge of his nose. “It was twice,” he said quietly, the weariness of his manner reminding her he’d just flown twelve hours on a cramped plane in the middle of the night. “But I’m here now, Miss Stewart, and I would very much like to see my aunt.”

Oh, way to welcome the prodigal home, Molly, she thought with a pinch in her chest, heat warming the back of her neck over kicking a man when he was down. She was the Christian here, after all, and he was not, a point that caused Miss Lilly great pain whenever they’d discussed her wayward great nephew.

The same wayward nephew who’d just kissed me while I was asleep, for pity’s sake!

For pity’s sake, indeed. And Brec McGill’s, apparently. Because if Molly knew one thing for sure about Miss Lilly, it was that no matter how infrequently she saw her nephew, she longed to see him healthy and whole, both spiritually and emotionally.

“Deep down he’s a good boy,” she’d often say with that faraway look that told Molly he was her number-one priority before she went home to her Savior—that the nephew she loved would return to his, restoring the faith she’d worked so hard to instill. And that sure wouldn’t happen if Molly didn’t reflect the love of the merciful God she also espoused, forgiving this lost soul for abandoning the aunt who loved him all of these years.

Unleashing a heavy sigh of regret that mirrored that in his eyes, Molly placed her gun on the nightstand and gave a side nod toward the door. “Visiting hours are at ten, so you can either catch a few winks in the guest room before we leave, or you can wait for me in the kitchen. Where,” she said with a quirk of her brow, “I will happily whip up breakfast—something fast, hearty, and nutritious—plus coffee while I fill you in on the state of Miss Lilly and her affairs.”

A sense of peace settled over his features like a truce, making him appear all the more fatigued. Offering a tired smile, he nodded to the novel splayed open on her bed, her favorite Agatha Christie cozy mystery that she’d been reading before nodding off. He tilted his head to read the title. “Sparkling Cyanide?” he said with a scrunch of his nose.

“Research,” she said with a slight heft of her chin, “for a book I plan to write.”

He gave a slow nod with a twitch of a smile. “And hopefully nothing to do with breakfast, I trust?”

Head tipped, she crossed her arms with a shadow of a smile. “The jury’s still out, Soccer Boy.”

He gave a slow nod, mouth sliding into a smile that instantly slid into a yawn. “No wonder you were out cold, then. Cozy mysteries are better than a sleeping pill in my opinion—too sweet for my tastes. I like a lot more action, so I’m a Steven King fan myself.”

She angled a brow. “Makes perfect sense. And your favorite is Misery, is it?”

He paused on his way to the door to shoot a wry smile over his shoulder. “Hilarious, Goldie.” Hand on the knob, he turned, his weariness belied by a twitch of a smile that reminded her all over again just how handsome he was. And dangerous to a woman’s emotional health per the tabloids she’d read.

“Breakfast would be absolutely grand, lass,” he said in a husky tone that held more than a hint of tease. “And if you’re willing to forgive me for both my abominable lack of attention to Aunt Lilly and stealing a kiss?”—he had the audacity to give her a wink—“I’ll forgive you for stealing my room.”

“Forgiven,” she said with a pert lift of her chin, matching his shadow of a smile with one of her own. “The lack of attention to Miss Lilly, that is, Strike-Out Boy. But the sheer annoyance from the other?” She wrinkled her nose as she crossed her arms in a taut fold, dismissing him with a nod of her head to close the door. “Something tells me I’ll need that for self-defense.”

Sunday, March 13, 2022

A Wing and a Prayer on Sale St. Pat’s Weekend, MARCH 17-21!

Win an e-Reader and 35 Inspy Books in Book Sweeps Giveaway!

Giveaway at Romancing History Blog!

My Writing Tips in Sky’s the Limit Press Literary Journal

Steady-On Podcast Interview!

Winner from Past Contest!

Recommendations for Authors Who Write Like Me

Cool Trailer/Video for my latest, The Secret of Emerald Cottage!

Pix of Characters from The Secret of Emerald Cottage!

1st Chapter from The Secret of Emerald Cottage!

 

A Wing and a Prayer 75%-Off Sale 4 Days Only, March 17-21!

In honor of St. Patty;s Day, I am offering my WW2 O’Connor novel — originally $7.99 — for only $1.99 for a short time only, so if you haven’t read it yet, here’s your chance because I doubt it will ever be this low again!

BUY LINK FOR A WING AND A PRAYER MARCH 17-23

 

Win an e-Reader and 35 Inspy Books in Book Sweeps Giveaway!

😍 Love is in the air…If you haven’t read my award-winning novel, Isle of Hope, you can enter to win it on BookSweeps today — plus 35 heartwarming Inspirational Romances from a great collection of authors AND a brand new eReader!

All details and contest link can be found at the following link, so GOOD LUCK!

https://www.booksweeps.com/giveaway/march-2022/inspy-romances/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giveaway at Romancing History Blog!

March 17-23: Celebrate St. Patty’s Day with me at Romancing History blog for a chance to win your choice of any of my indie books or novellas. Just tell me your favorite O’Connor book in a comment and you’re in the draw.

Here’s the link and hope to see you there!

ROMANCING HISTORY BLOG MARCH 17-23

 

 

 

My Writing Tips in Sky’s the Limit Press Literary Journal

Aspiring writers, come on over to Sky’s the Limit Press Literary Journal, where I share all “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of the writing biz.

A faith-based and Spirit-inspired digital publisher of stories and poetry by young and aspiring authors, Sky’s the Limit Press has one goal: to exceed the limitations put on young Christian writers. So I encourage you to sign up because it’s a great resource for writers of all ages and skill levels.

SKY’S THE LIMIT LITERARY JOURNAL

SKY’S THE LIMIT PRESS WEBSITE

 

 

Steady-On Podcast Interview!

💁‍♀️ SO … what do YOU think? Does romantic PASSION belong in Christian romance? Check out my podcast on the Steady On online “Christian Growth Classroom,” whose tagline is, “Where Change Happens on the Inside,” invites you to listen in on this discussion of purity and passion with me and three bright and godly young women who run this fascinating “classroom.

STEADY-ON PODCAST INTERVIEW LINK

 

We Have A Winner!

👏  MEGA hugs to everyone who entered Tell-Tale Reviews Feb. 28th giveaway. I wish you all could win, truly, but there’s always more contests in the future.

SUPER CONGRATS to the following winner whom I have contacted directly:

SHELIA HALL

 

Recommendations for Authors Who Write Like Me

Periodically I’ll get emails from readers who ask me if I know of any other Christian authors who write Christian romance like I do — with a higher level of both romantic passion and spiritual passion. So I’ll usually toss out a few names.

But I was recently approached by a new website that allows you to not only find out the top authors on any given subject or genre, but also allows you to find out who your favorite authors recommend. It’s called BETA SHEPHERD and you can read all about it at Beta Shepherd Home Link.

My page is entitled, The best Christian romance with spiritual and romantic passion, so if you if you would like to check it out to find out the five Christian authors who I think write more like me, here’s the link:

Julie Lessman’s Page for  The Best Christian Romance with Spiritual and Romantic Passion

 

 

Trailer/Video for my New Murder Mystery!

CLICK HERE TO SEE VIDEO

 

 

Characters from The Secret of Emerald Cottage

Allow me to introduce you to the main characters in The Secret of Emerald Cottage! Let’s begin with the heroine, Molly Stewart, a sweet-natured former Navy nurse with an aversion to men who are players and a penchant for reading and writing cozy mystery.

And then we have our rogue hero, Breccan McGill, Aunt Lilly’s celebrity soccer-star great nephew, who is a gourmet chef with a delicious Irish brogue.

Next, we have precious Aunt Lilly, an 88-year-old backwoods dynamo with a love for the Lord, Brec’s gourmet desserts, and poker.

And finally, Detective Sloan Kennedy, the 2nd guy in the love triangle in this book who will be my hero in book two IF I decide to do another mystery.

 

Excerpt From The Secret of Emerald Cottage!

Here is Chapter One  of the book, so I hope you enjoy it!

It is He who reveals the profound and

hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness,

and the light dwells with Him.

—Daniel 2:22

CHAPTER ONE

Savannah, Georgia, Late Spring

“I was a fool, Molly. Forgive me? Please?”

Forgive him? Body numb, Molly Stewart stood rooted at Miss Lilly’s front door, staring at the man who had broken both her heart and her trust, and wondered if she actually could.

Today was to have been their wedding day at a pretty little church in Charleston. Instead here Tyler stood on the wraparound front porch of Miss Lilly’s secluded cottage on Lake Loon, more handsome than a louse had a right to be. Those piercing gray eyes were as repentant—and deadly—as she’d ever seen. Hands plunged deep in the pockets of his favorite Rock Revival jeans, he offered an awkward shrug, his rolled-sleeved, buttoned-down shirt emphasizing broad shoulders and a well-defined torso. “These last six months without you have been awful, babe, convincing me I made the biggest and most brainless mistake of my life.”

Yeah, me too. Cocking her hip, Molly slapped her arms into an impatient fold, not about to let Tyler Madsen disarm her again. “Well, I certainly concur with brainless.” Her eyes narrowed to slits, as thin as her patience. “What do you want, Tyler?”

That hard-sculpted jaw tensed as he threaded a hand through wheat-colored hair shorn on the sides. His Adam’s apple ducked twice, a sure sign she’d rattled his confidence, which wasn’t easy to do. “I rather hoped it would be obvious,” he whispered, catching her off-guard when he reached to caress her face with tender fingers. “I want ‘us’ back.”

She jerked away, arms glued to her waist in self-defense as she took a step back, warning bells going off in her head over the warm shiver he’d produced. She’d been head over heels for a solid year, ready to spend the rest of her life with him, so naturally his touch still affected her. Her mouth compressed in resolve. But she was also ready to spend the rest of her life forgetting him, too, and had a six-month head start, thank God. “There is no ‘us,’ Tyler. I wonder if there ever was.”

“There was and you know it, Molly,” he said quietly, gently tugging one of her hands free to draw her close. “Because despite my asinine mistake, we still love each other.”

Loved!” she hissed, breaking free to thump him hard on a chest that felt like rock. “Past tense, buster, so you can just take your seductive song and dance and—”

Her gasp was silenced when his mouth took hers, melting her to the door with a kiss that reminded her of all she had lost.

A friend.

A husband.

A love for a lifetime.

“Forgive me, Molly—please?” He gently touched his forehead to hers. “Give me another chance, and I swear I will do everything in my power to make it up to you.”

“Ty …” She felt herself weakening, memories of their last year resurrecting the faintest glimmers of love and hope that she’d worked so hard to bury beneath a mountain of hurt. “I don’t think—”

Her resistance was swallowed up in another dangerous kiss so possessive, all her walls came tumbling down when he pulled away. Suddenly, his handsome face dissolved into a haze, disappearing into the same nightmare she’d lived for the last half year. A groan trailed from her lips as her head thrashed back and forth in her bed. “No, don’t leave again, please,” she murmured in her sleep, “just kiss me, please …

Her body finally relaxed when he did—gently, softly—vaguely aware it had to be a dream because the scent was all wrong—not the vanilla musk scent of Ty’s Stronger With You cologne she’d given him for Christmas. No, this was more of a peppery scent with a hint of lilac and lavender, confirming it wasn’t Ty she was kissing at all, but someone else.

Lost somewhere between semi-consciousness and a slumber induced by a bleary-headed cold and a 2:00 a.m. dose of Nyquil Severe Cold & Flu, she burrowed deeper into the downy softness of her bed, never wanting the kiss to end. Definitely had to be a dream because Ty was her past, and yet this tender brush of lips against hers felt so real! So right.

Breathing in the heady scent of pine trees that surrounded both Miss Lilly’s Emerald Cottage and the glimmering glacial lake outside her open window, she allowed her subconscious to fade back into sleep, desperate to return to Prince Charming.

“Wake up, Princess.” A husky voice with a hint of a brogue breathed into her ear, accompanied by a trace of that delicious peppery scent, and she literally groaned out loud, unwilling for the magic to end. Rolling on her side, she yanked the cover sheet over her head, longing to slip away once again …

“Uh, excuse me, Goldilocks, but I think you’re sleeping in my bed.”

Her eyes snapped open beneath the sheet while she gasped, frozen for a split second before she jerked her Glock 36 from under her pillow. Launching from her bed, her limbs shook like Jell-O as she stood there in her ratty tank top and penguin shorts, arms extended. “Who are y-you?” she rasped, heart pummeling her ribcage while she trembled, taking shaky aim at a man in a sculpted T-shirt and jeans who made Prince Charming look like a frog.

Light blue eyes flared in surprise as he raised massive palms in the air, a lazy smile easing across lips way too full and sensuous for a man. “Whoa, take it easy, lass. I’m Miss Lilly’s great nephew, Brec McGill, but you can call me Papa Bear if you like.”

“How did you get in?” she demanded, snatching her cell phone from the nightstand before backing toward the door, punching 9-1-1 in just to be ready. Hands quivering, she tucked the phone into her shorts, rattled that a Greek god had entered her room and she’d never even heard him come in.

With an impressive bulge of a bicep, he casually scratched the back of his head, his smile patient as he tossed a set of keys in the air. He slipped them into the pocket of jeans so snug, they bordered on indecent. “A key. From Aunt Lilly. A long time ago.”

“Wait a minute.” She swallowed hard as she wiped her lips, gaze narrowing when the memory of her dream came back. “Did you … kiss me?”

“Depends.” One edge of his mouth crooked as he tipped his head, flashing the deepest, most dangerous dimples she’d ever seen. “Did you like it?”

Stance stiff, she jerked the gun higher, satisfied when it wiped the smile right off his face.

Taking a quick step back, he thumped a taut chest with a blunt thumb while he stared her down. “Look, Goldilocks, this is my room, and you were sleeping in my bed, so suppose you tell me who you are, aye?”

Her chin jutted up. “I am Miss Lilly’s temporary caretaker and companion, Nurse Molly Stewart. The one who left umpteen voicemail messages and a telegram that you never bothered to answer, I might add.”

He actually winced, which gave some small comfort that there may be a shred of concern somewhere deep down in this great nephew who hadn’t visited his aunt in years.

He cuffed the back of his neck. “About that,” he said with a sheepish look, “I’ve had a bit of bother lately with the press, so I’ve been off the grid, so to speak.” He gave an awkward shrug. “New cell phone, new apartment, dodged voicemail, you know?”

Expelling a silent sigh, Molly slowly lowered her gun. Yes, she knew. Miss Lilly had already filled her in on her notorious great nephew, the infamous Irish soccer star embroiled in a nasty scandal. The same nephew Miss Lilly’d been praying for since he went astray after college—both from her and from the faith she’d tried so hard to instill.

“But I finally got the telegram,” he continued in a rush, a definite apology lacing his tone as he buried his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans. Those broad shoulders lifted briefly. “So, here I am.” His thick, dark brows tented in concern as he pinned Molly with a pointed gaze that held a touch of vulnerability. “How is she?” he whispered.

“Better.” Rolling her neck, Molly felt the tension slowly seep from her body. “She’s out of the coma and resting comfortably—”

“Coma?” His voice cracked as his golden tan bleached to pale. “She was in a coma? The telegram just said she’d fallen and was in the hospital, for criminy’s sake.”

Molly arched a brow, her manner cool. “She did fall, Mr. McGill—into the lake, as a matter of fact. Which resulted in a coma when she almost drowned. But she came out of it before I sent the telegram—which was a last resort, mind you, after all the phone calls.”

A groan rattled from his throat as he tunneled thick fingers through short curly hair—almost black—appearing as if he actually cared or at least putting on a pretty good act. He glanced at his watch. “Where is she? I want to see her right now. And I want to know everything.”

“All in good time, Striker Boy,” Molly said as she waved the gun toward the door, adding her own twist to his team nickname of “Striker Man” since he was his team’s primary scoring threat. “It’s barely six a.m. and we’re not going anywhere till I’ve had a shower and a cup of coffee, so don’t be in such a hurry.”

She suddenly remembered the brazen pass he’d made by kissing her while she was sleeping, and both her ire—and her gun—rose to new heights. “Oh, wait—you weren’t in a hurry, were you? Since you just arrived a week after the fact.”

Those blue eyes thinned to slits of sapphire. “It’s ‘Striker Man,’ for your information, Goldilocks,” he said in a gravelly voice as tight as hers, “and I detest guns, so stop waving that  thing at me. I took the redeye as soon as I got the blinkin’ telegram, so don’t act like I don’t care about my aunt.”

Eyes wide, Molly feigned surprise as she placed a hand to her cheek. “Oh, forgive me, please, but I didn’t realize seeing your aunt once every ten years qualified as ‘caring.’”

Too late she saw the flicker of pain in his eyes, pools of regret and guilt that shamed her before he quickly looked away, shoulders slumping while he gouged the bridge of his nose. “It was twice,” he said quietly, the weariness of his manner reminding her he’d just flown twelve hours on a cramped plane in the middle of the night. “But I’m here now, Miss Stewart, and I would very much like to see my aunt.”

Oh, way to welcome the prodigal home, Molly, she thought with a pinch in her chest, heat warming the back of her neck over kicking a man when he was down. She was the Christian here, after all, and he was not, a point that caused Miss Lilly great pain whenever they’d discussed her wayward great nephew.

The same wayward nephew who’d just kissed me while I was asleep, for pity’s sake!

For pity’s sake, indeed. And Brec McGill’s, apparently. Because if Molly knew one thing for sure about Miss Lilly, it was that no matter how infrequently she saw her nephew, she longed to see him healthy and whole, both spiritually and emotionally.

“Deep down he’s a good boy,” she’d often say with that faraway look that told Molly he was her number-one priority before she went home to her Savior—that the nephew she loved would return to his, restoring the faith she’d worked so hard to instill. And that sure wouldn’t happen if Molly didn’t reflect the love of the merciful God she also espoused, forgiving this lost soul for abandoning the aunt who loved him all of these years.

Unleashing a heavy sigh of regret that mirrored that in his eyes, Molly placed her gun on the nightstand and gave a side nod toward the door. “Visiting hours are at ten, so you can either catch a few winks in the guest room before we leave, or you can wait for me in the kitchen. Where,” she said with a quirk of her brow, “I will happily whip up breakfast—something fast, hearty, and nutritious—plus coffee while I fill you in on the state of Miss Lilly and her affairs.”

A sense of peace settled over his features like a truce, making him appear all the more fatigued. Offering a tired smile, he nodded to the novel splayed open on her bed, her favorite Agatha Christie cozy mystery that she’d been reading before nodding off. He tilted his head to read the title. “Sparkling Cyanide?” he said with a scrunch of his nose.

“Research,” she said with a slight heft of her chin, “for a book I plan to write.”

He gave a slow nod with a twitch of a smile. “And hopefully nothing to do with breakfast, I trust?”

Head tipped, she crossed her arms with a shadow of a smile. “The jury’s still out, Soccer Boy.”

He gave a slow nod, mouth sliding into a smile that instantly slid into a yawn. “No wonder you were out cold, then. Cozy mysteries are better than a sleeping pill in my opinion—too sweet for my tastes. I like a lot more action, so I’m a Steven King fan myself.”

She angled a brow. “Makes perfect sense. And your favorite is Misery, is it?”

He paused on his way to the door to shoot a wry smile over his shoulder. “Hilarious, Goldie.” Hand on the knob, he turned, his weariness belied by a twitch of a smile that reminded her all over again just how handsome he was. And dangerous to a woman’s emotional health per the tabloids she’d read.

“Breakfast would be absolutely grand, lass,” he said in a husky tone that held more than a hint of tease. “And if you’re willing to forgive me for both my abominable lack of attention to Aunt Lilly and stealing a kiss?”—he had the audacity to give her a wink—“I’ll forgive you for stealing my room.”

“Forgiven,” she said with a pert lift of her chin, matching his shadow of a smile with one of her own. “The lack of attention to Miss Lilly, that is, Strike-Out Boy. But the sheer annoyance from the other?” She wrinkled her nose as she crossed her arms in a taut fold, dismissing him with a nod of her head to close the door. “Something tells me I’ll need that for self-defense.”

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