“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have drawn you with loving-kindness.
Again I will build you up again, and you will be rebuilt …”
That sound is a huge sigh of relief that book 2 in my Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, is finally finished and on its way to publication, so WHOO-HOO!!!!
Now, I’m not sure how I’m going to transition from Isle of Hope in 2016 … to Virginia City, Nevada in 1885 for book 1 in my Western series that will release next year, but hopefully it won’t be too difficult. You see, I took a sneak peek at the first chapter I’d written for Love’s Silver Lining, book 1 in the Silver Lining Ranch series that I sold to Gilead, and I’m happy to say it got me revved for the Wild West. Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that there’s a near-naked cowboy clad in only a sheet at the waist, a runaway bride, and a crotchety nun. Pique your interest? Hope so, because it should be fun!
But I digress because TODAY is the day I promised sneak peeks at the hero and heroine of Love Everlasting and the first and second chapters. But first, here’s the jacket blurb:
He sets hearts on fire.
She’s been burned by love.
Can hope survive the flames of the past?
School teacher by day, ghostwriter by night, sweet and shy Shannon O’Bryen doesn’t mind writing romance on the sly, but to live it? No, thank you, not since the man she loved turned out to be a player who broke both her heart and her spirit. Now focused more on her faith and her fiction, she vows the next time she falls in love, it will be safely—through the pages of a book.
Dr. Sam Cunningham is a charismatic player who breaks hearts as regularly as he washes his pearl-white Corvette. Abandoned as a baby, Sam was an orphan shuffled through the foster-care system, bitterly driven to prove he is worthy of love—the kind that lasts forever. Once he learns Shannon is a romance writer, he coerces her into helping him win back his ex-girlfriend. Shannon teaches him about faith and the true definition of love, and he soon discovers he’s been seeking it in the wrong place all along—and with the wrong girl. But can he convince a woman who’s been burned by love to open her eyes—and her heart—to a love everlasting?
THE HEROINE, SHANNON TERESE O’BRYEN:
Okay, since Shannon and Cat are twin sisters, I needed to find one actress or model who could appear both sweet and shy like Shannon and then sassy and sexy like Cat (whose faith in God went south when her pastor dad deserted the family years prior). And I think I did pretty well. Shannon and Cat have strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes, which matches the actress below, whom I’m sure you’ll all recognize.
The top shot is how I see Shannon — shy, sweet, serious, and caring. And the bottom shot is how I see her twin sister Cat, who is sassy, flirty, spunky.
THE HERO, DR. SAM (HAM) CUNNINGHAM:
I’ve had a real struggle finding Dr. Sam Cunningham because he has dark curly hair, brown eyes, and was the “heartthrob of Memorial Hospital” before Jack ousted him, so he’s supposed to be incredibly hot. Here’s what I came up with, but if any of you out there send me a pic that you like better of what Sam could look like and I use it, I will send you a signed copy of Love Everlasting.
Okay … ready to read Chapters One and Two? Okay, Chapter One can be found HERE at the end of the blog. And Chapter Two follows at the end of this blog, so I hope you enjoy this sneak peek at Love Everlasting.
Hugs and Happy Weekend! Julie
99-CENT SALE ON A GLIMMER OF HOPE! I’m gearing up for the release of Love Everlasting with a sale on the prequel novella to Isle of Hope, A Glimmer of Hope, so if you haven’t read it yet, now’s a good time! It has a 5-star rating on Amazon and will give you a sneak peek into Isle of Hope, plus the first chapter, so I hope you check it out!
Chapters 1 and 2 of Love Everlasting!
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 …
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.
Stupid fly. Sam Cunningham swatted at the insect, its stupid buzzing getting on Sam’s last nerve. It landed again, and he literally growled, flailing his arm to shoo it away. “Beat it, before I nail your butt to the wall.”
“Now that I’d like to see.”
Sam jolted up with a groan, drool smeared on the side of his mouth as he squinted into the eyes of an angel.
Okay, he couldn’t be dead because his head was pounding too hard, and dead people didn’t feel pain, right? Not unless … He shot straight up, head in a vice as he groaned in misery, kneading his temples. His stomach burned like the devil and his throat was so parched, it felt like it was on fire.
Uh-oh … fire!
Yep, he was dead.
And now he was going to pay for his sins.
“You’re not going to throw up, are you?” A quiet voice asked, soft with sympathy.
He glanced up at the angel through slits in his eyes, voice barely a croak. “I might. Where am I?” he rasped.
“The back seat of my car, and I’m Jack’s sister in case you don’t remember.” She gently tugged on his arm, obviously hoping to remove him from her vehicle. “Which would be a miracle, given the brain cells you destroyed tonight.”
He grunted, gingerly attempting to unfold himself from the car while bowling balls ricocheted in his head. “I don’t believe in miracles.”
“You should—it’s a miracle you’re even alive after the alcohol you consumed.”
“Wish I wasn’t,” he muttered, hand to his eyes as he teetered on the sidewalk, limbs as limp as the crumpled tie dangling around his neck. He sniffed. “What’s that awful smell?”
“Vomit. You puked on your tie and shirt,” she said, the empathy in her tone now laced with a hint of a smile.
He groaned. “Noooo! This is my best tie—a Ralph Lauren black.” One eye opened a sliver. “Not in your car, I hope?”
“Nope, that’s miracle number two—you puked in the parking lot, so Jack and I cleaned you up first with wet wipes I keep in my glove compartment.”
“For sloppy drunks you happen to cart home?” He managed to scrape his eyes open all the way, noticing for the first time just how pretty she was.
“Nope, you’re my first.” She hooked an arm to his waist. “Ready?”
“Always,” he said with a smile that was worth the pain, “when there’s a pretty woman by my side.”
She paused, face in a pinch as she stared up with mouth agape. “Seriously? You’re going to hit on me when you can barely walk and smell like puke?”
He gave a faint shrug, smile sheepish. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
“I guarantee you, Dr. Cunningham,” she said in a stern tone tempered with tease, “the only thing you’re going to gain with comments like that is a whop alongside the head.”
“Ouch.” He grinned while she steered him toward his luxury villa with a strength and determination that belied her small size. “I can take it from here—Shannon, is it?”
“Yes, but I have strict orders to get you inside and down for the night before I leave, so I’m here till I get the dirty deed done.”
He chuckled. “Ah yes, the ‘sober and sensible twin.”
“That’s right, Dr. Love,” she said, employing Jack’s nickname for him while she turned the key in his door, “which means the party’s over and you’re done for the night.”
“Wait …” He spun around, heart in his throat. “Where’s my car?”
“Jack’ll deliver it in the morning, Doc, so move it inside, please.” She nudged him into his spacious marble foyer that never failed to elicit a feeling of pride, always reminding him he’d finally arrived. A far cry from a flea-bitten room over a bar on the wrong side of the tracks, Sam’s villa—along with his “preowned” pearl white Corvette—were his pride and joy. Absolute proof he was worth something, despite desertion by a two-bit mother and the rantings of a foster father who claimed he’d only amount to a pile of dung.
He fumbled to turn on the light, then reveled in the gasp that popped from Shannon’s lips, her voice tinged with an awe he never tired of hearing. “Wow, this is some place, Doc,” she whispered, eyes peering up the vaulted foyer with its sleek chrome and natural teak stairway that zigzagged against a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass. Cream walls resplendent with equally pale modern works of art were beautifully complemented by a central circular mirror and a lush spray of white calla lilies in a tall pottery vase. Each and every piece deliberately designed to evoke the clean and simple beauty he so craved in his own life.
“It’s so striking,” she whispered, leaving his side to wander the entryway with a look of awe as if she were Alice perusing Wonderland for the very first time. “Utterly clean and pure. Not at all what I expected of a notorious bachelor.” She turned, the look of astonishment on her face making him grin and wince at the same time. “Wow! You didn’t do this yourself, did you? I mean a designer put it together for you, right?”
“Nope, all mine,” he said, chest swelling with pride even as his stomach rebelled with a twinge of nausea. He fought it off, suddenly aware he smelled like a pub on payday.
Her jaw actually dropped. “I don’t believe it.”
He forced a flirtatious smile, barely minding the throb in his head. “Every shade of paint, every stick of furniture, every piece of art,” he said with a hand to his heart, “straight out of my depraved brain, I promise.” He suddenly steadied himself with a hand to the wall, a flashback from his childhood making him dizzier than the booze in his body.
“I’ll come back soon, I promise,” his mother always said, night after night, the stench of alcohol on her breath making him nauseous. Only she never did, leaving a skin-and-bones five-year-old to fend for himself in a rat-infested room over a dive of a bar. And when her lush of a boyfriend gave her a choice between Sam and him? Sam’s teeth ground hard as he swayed on his feet. No contest. Because his so-called mother was weak—seeking her self-worth in a loser who had absolutely no worth at all. While giving her son promises that were worth even less.
“No,” Sam stressed with a hint of a slur, focusing glassy eyes on a woman who for some strange reason, he wanted to know the truth. “I give you my word,” he emphasized with surprising clarity, “because you see, Miss O’Bryen, promises are nothing more than a puff of air. But my word is my unbreakable bond, as honest and pure as I can ever hope to be.” The dizziness passed, and he stood up straight and tall, the “player” in play once again. “Because despite my notoriously black reputation, I am inexplicably drawn to things that are simple and pure, honest and clean, and completely unblemished by my own sordid life.”
Her gaze met his and held. “It’s beautiful,” she said softly, head tipped as if she couldn’t quite figure him out.
“Thank you.” He leaned on the knob of the open door, making every effort not to waver on his feet. “Unlike its owner at the moment, I’m afraid. It seems I’m in dire need of a shower.”
She simply stared, her calm look of compassion so disarming that the smile slowly dissolved on his face. All at once, he felt his shoulders relax, the need to impress suddenly as absent as his sobriety. “Thank you, Shannon,” he said quietly, somewhat baffled by the calming effect that she had, “for putting up with me tonight and getting me home.” He took a stab at a smile that came out more as a flinch. “I’ll be happy to have the inside of your car fumigated and detailed, so just send me the bill.”
For some reason the kindness in her eyes put a hitch in his throat he could only blame on the booze. She slipped her purse off her shoulder and laid it on the teak half-moon table. “That won’t be necessary,” she said with a faint smile, “but I suspect a pot of coffee will be. Can you direct me to the kitchen?”
He studied her through bleary eyes, wondering if the aura of innocence he detected was real or just the effect of the alcohol on his brain. “You don’t have to do that, Shannon. The vomit was already above and beyond the call of duty, so I’ll give Jack a good report.”
She huffed out a sigh bigger than her. “Sorry, Doc, blame it on the curse of being the sensible and sober twin because that means I follow orders, and Jack asked me to make sure you go to bed and don’t go out again. So if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to follow through with coffee and even lend an ear if you like.”
He stared for several dizzy seconds, then shut the door, figuring a cup of coffee was preferable to a vertigo spin in bed. “Sure. Kitchen’s down the hall, and it won’t take me three minutes to shower.” He eyed the lofty staircase with a dull gaze. “Now the stairs? Might be more like twenty.”
She paused halfway to the kitchen. “Need help?”
“Nope.” He made his way to the staircase, trying hard not to weave. “The hangover will be wicked enough without Jack’s fist if I get one of his sisters into my bedroom.”
“O-Okay.” She spun on her heel and all but sprinted down the hall.
But not before he saw the delicate rise of color in her face that lured a smile to his lips. He shook his head as he methodically scaled one step at a time, fisting the steel banister to hold himself up. He sure didn’t blame Jack for banning him from his sisters, especially Shannon. There was something so sweet and wholesome about her that it almost made him want to protect her himself.
He paused at the top of the stairs to catch his breath, the thought of Jack’s sister in his “lair” quirking his lips. Obviously Jack was concerned about Sam’s welfare enough to put his sister in harm’s way, which only deepened his gratitude to the man who was quickly becoming a close friend. His mouth crooked. Even if he was annoyingly bent on saving Sam’s soul.
Plodding into his massive bedroom, he peeled off his clothes, leaving a trail on his way to the master bath before turning the shower all the way to scalding. Woozy, he braced his hands on the vanity, mind as foggy as the steam billowing behind him like thunderclouds portending a doozy of a storm. He peered into the mirror, muscled arms taut with his weight while bleary eyes and a sagging face shadowed with bristle confirmed the storm was already here.
And it was a stinkin’ category five.
He dropped his head, the pain in his chest suddenly making the throb in his brain look like lollipops on immunization day because he’d lost Jazz again.
A second time.
And losing always left a bitter taste in his mouth.
You’re nothing but a loser, kid, just like your old lady.
Kind of like spewing in a parking lot, only this time the nausea was in his heart.
Peering up, he saw a ripped body honed at the gym and chiseled features Jazz once likened to a Greek god, and determination steeled his bones. Because inside he knew his feelings for Jasmine and hers for him went far deeper than a pretty face. “You’ll be back, Jazz,” he whispered, “because I’m the one you come to when you’re hurting, and the one who makes you laugh when other makes you cry.”
Like Jack when he dumped you for Lacey.
An odd mix of resentment and regard churned in his gut along with the booze, reminding him that it had been Jack who’d stolen Jazz away the first time after Sam cheated on her. But then it was Jack who’d sent her running right back after Jack up and married Lacey. Jasmine had been devastated, but Sam had been ready, wooing her back with love and understanding and an iron-clad resolve to never stray again.
Until she dumped him for an intern.
Sam’s eyes shuttered closed. Just like his so-called fiancée dumped him in college.
Right after she had an affair with his professor, destroying Sam’s confidence along with the man’s marriage.
Mind and body wobbling, he quickly opened his eyes, desperate to purge the memory from his brain along with the alcohol from his system.
Stepping into the shower, he welcomed the hot water that battered his body raw. Well, he’d lost Jazz twice, but he’d also won her twice, and if it took every trick in the book, he’d do it again. His jaw automatically hardened, resolve to win her back pummeling through his veins as hard as the steaming water pummeled his body. But right now he needed to numb the ache in his heart, so he’d start with a cup of coffee with a pretty woman who just might help fill the hole in his chest.
At least for a while. He lathered his body, aching with the need to feel worthy and clean. He suddenly thought of Shannon, and his body instantly relaxed, the thought of coffee with her suddenly the only thing he wanted to do. After all, he could use an honest sounding board after all the angst Jasmine had put him through. And he’d begin tonight by picking Shannon’s brain as to how he might win her back. Because Shannon did mention lending an ear.
Stepping out of the shower, he expelled a burdensome sigh. And maybe, if she realized just how badly he was hurting, she’d lend him even more. Like a few innocent kisses—and only kisses—from a woman who could help ease his pain. Sagging over the sink, he kneaded the throb in his temple, desperate to free himself of this awful loneliness that always haunted his brain. His eyelids weighted closed. Because he had to.
Jack’s sister or no.