“I mean,” he emphasized, tone sober, “I need you, Lizzie—
your laughter, your encouragement, your gentleness, your love—
and not just in my bed. I need you in my heart and my mind,
to feel your love like before, when it was just you and me.”
—The Best Gift of All, An O’Connor Christmas Novella
Oh, WOW, did I have fun this week! How? Final proofing my four novellas that are releasing in ONE WEEK!! Click HERE for last week’s post, where you can find BUY links for each of the novellas.
Why? Because I got to revisit the O’Connors, the McClares, and the McCabes, and let me tell, I did a lot of laughing out loud and went through a TON of Kleenex because I forgot just HOW emotional these books are. And hopefully, not just for me, but for my readers too!
I promised you a sneak peek at each novella, and so far, I’ve done one for Grace Like Rain, Blake “The Rake” McClare’s love story, then last week was Charity and Mitch’s Christmas story in A Whisper of Hope. And today, I am going to post the first chapter of Lizzie and Brady’s Christmas novella, The Best Gift of All because it’s the last one I proofed, and it made me cry and laugh sooooo much! That Charity is a pistol, let me tell you, so you don’t want to miss how she deals with Henry when he spits in Gabe’s Christmas stocking — priceless!!
But before we get to the excerpt, I want to let you know about a few things I have going right now so you can put them on your calendar to not miss out on FREE BOOKS, plus a very cool giveaway of 30 BOOKS EACH TO 2 WINNERS and a KINDLE FIRE to a grand-prize winner, and a 99-cent sale on Marcy and Patrick’s prequel love story, A Light in the Window, and the date for my next FACEBOOK LIVE! So check it all out below, then enjoy the excerpt.
HAPPY WEEKEND & HAPPY READING!
HUGE Giveaway, Mon., 8/28 – Mon., 9/4:
Guess what? I have teamed up with more than 30 fantastic contemporary Christian and inspirational romance authors to give away a huge collection of 30 novels to 2 lucky winners, PLUS a Kindle Fire to the Grand Prize winner!
You can win my novel HIS STEADFAST LOVE, plus books from authors like Becky Wade, Susan May Warren, and Melissa Tagg, so MARK YOUR CALENDARS, okay?
Enter the giveaway HERE by clicking here & good luck!
99-Cent Sale on A Light in the Window:
If you haven’t read Marcy and Patrick’s award-winning love story yet — why not? It’s the perfect read to kick off the holiday season with an Irish love story that’s a cross between The Bells of St. Mary’s and The Gift of the Magi by O’Henry, so I hope you check it out.
I just LOVE the video my artist hubby did for it using my daughter on both the cover and in the video:
AND if you have already read it and liked it, can I ask a favor? Good reviews are CRITICAL to indie authors like me, so if you did read it, would you consider posting a 1- or 2-line review for it on Amazon and/or Goodreads? That would be SUCH a blessing for me, not only for A Light in the Window, but ALL of the Isle of Hope series you may have read including A Glimmer of Hope, which is the only IOH book that doesn’t have 5 stars, so I would love to see it pick up a few more good reviews.
ALL authors need the support of their readers, but especially for their indie books since they don’t have a publisher promoting them. And if you do post a review, can you let me know so I can personally thank you? THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH!
My Next Facebook Live:
Gosh, it’s been SO MUCH fun doing these Facebook Lives, so I’m going to do another Q & A WITH A CDQ on THURSDAY, AUGUST 31ST AT 7:00 PM CDT, so I hope you can join me. I will be selecting questions to answer, and anyone whose question I use will automatically win an e-book, so put it on your calendar and come on by!
Excerpt for The Best Gift of All:
Boston, Massachusetts, November 1934
John Brady, where are you?? Elizabeth Brady peeked at the cheery rooster clock over the stove and sighed—almost nine—well past her children’s bedtime and another late night for her husband. Which meant, she thought as she stirred the milk till it boiled, that John Brady would probably be crabby.
“Will Daddy be home soon?” Six-year-old Teddy pushed up the sleeves of his red-striped pajamas. “I’m tired.” He yawned, focusing on his cherished Lincoln Logs sprawled on the oak kitchen table his father had built. Lizzie smiled at her son, his calm and steady focus on the task at hand so like his father. Brown eyes squinted in concentration, he crafted his latest creation with small yet deft fingers. A shock of brown hair tumbled over one eye as he paused with a faint purse of lips, patiently allowing his little sister to position a log, further evidence he was his father’s son—gentle, kind, steady, and strong.
At least lately. Tucking a chin-length curl behind her ear, Lizzie poured hot milk into three cups and sighed again, steam misting her face. In over ten years of marriage, John Brady had been her tower of strength—the perfect spouse, the perfect spiritual mentor, the perfect lover. Heat burned her cheeks as she poured a spoonful of cocoa into each cup, the warmth having little to do with the steam.
Or used to be.
She stirred the cocoa like she wished she could stir up her marriage. Lately something always seemed to stand in the way. Chores or sick children or monsters in the closet, stealing her time and attention as thoroughly as the babe in her womb stole her energy. Her lips quirked as she skimmed a gentle palm across her burgeoning belly. Not to mention Brady’s poor moods.
Lizzie sighed, grateful she’d put baby Sara to bed hours ago and wondering how she’d handle yet another baby come spring. Testing the cocoa to make sure it wasn’t too hot, she questioned if perhaps Charity was right, that passion tended to wane after ten years of marriage. She spooned Marshmallow Fluff into each cup, recalling her sister’s assurance that the trend could certainly be reversed.
Lizzie jolted, more heat broiling her cheeks as she blinked at her brown-eyed daughter clad in a pink polka-dot nightgown, a mop of tawny brown curls framing her cherub face like a misplaced halo. “Sorry, sweetheart, did you say something?”
Crayons fisted in both hands, four-year-old Molly folded stubby arms and arched a miniature brow, the scowl on her tiny, heart-shaped face almost comical. “Teddy wants to know when Daddy will be home, and so do I. I don’t want to go to bed until I show him my picture.”
Offering a tender smile, Lizzie carried their cups to the table, eyeing the clock before setting them down. “I hope soon, Molly, but I never know lately since he and Uncle Collin are so busy at work.”
“Can’t they hire more people?” Teddy asked, a pucker in his freckles. He took a drink of cocoa, oblivious when chocolate dribbled onto his pajamas. “Dad promised to help me make a new toy sailboat for the lake.” Solemn eyes stared back, a miniature of his father’s. “And I miss him.”
“Me too,” Molly said with a pout of pink lips. “He’s gonna make Teddy and me a bee-ootiful treehouse.”
Lizzie drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. How she wished the timing and Brady’s mood were better to broach their children’s expectations with her husband.
Not to mention news of his estranged brother’s visit.
She thought of Michael, the man she’d almost married and the brother who’d betrayed her husband, and shivered at the prospect of telling Brady she’d invited him for a visit. Although Brady had forgiven Michael long ago, the two brothers seldom saw each other, a situation that bothered Lizzie a lot. So when Michael had called out of the blue, the invitation to visit had just popped out of her mouth, shocking Lizzie as much as it would Brady, no doubt. That is, when I finally get the nerve to tell him. Pushing the uncomfortable thoughts aside, Lizzie turned her attention to her son. “It’s a difficult time right now, Teddy, with the depression and all. Daddy and Uncle Collin have to work extra hard because they don’t have the money to hire anyone else.”
“What’s a duh-preshun?” Molly asked, scribbling with great drama.
“It’s when a lot of people are out of work, making our country very sad and grumpy.”
“You mean like Daddy,” Molly said in a matter-of-fact tone, slashing a bright streak of blue across the sun in her Crayola sky.
Lizzie’s heart clutched. Goodness, the children are aware of the change in their father? Gnawing her lip, she hurried to retrieve her own cocoa and sat down at the table. With a deep inhale, she gave Molly a gentle smile, hoping to convince herself as well as her daughter. “Daddy’s just tired from the long hours he works, Molly, but he’ll get better soon, I promise.”
The front door opened, and the baby in her tummy fluttered at the sound of Brady’s voice, causing her to jump. “Lizzie?”
“In the kitchen,” she called, rising to pull a covered plate from the oven.
“Daddy!” Molly shot out of her chair and straight into Brady’s legs. “I drew you a picture. It’s you, Mama, and us on a sunny day, and we’re going on a picnic.”
“We are?” He hiked her up in his arms with a kiss to her cheek. His eyes met Lizzie’s across the room, brown pools of calm that never failed to quicken her pulse. “That sounds like fun.” He glanced at his son, who was putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece for his father’s approval. “That’s impressive, Ted. You’re an architect in the making if ever there was.”
Teddy’s face lit in a broad grin as he hurried over to lean into his father’s embrace.
“Are you hungry?” Lizzie asked. “I kept a plate warm, just in case.”
Brady gave Molly another smooch and put her down. His chest expanded and contracted with a heavy sigh as he kissed Lizzie on the cheek before dropping into the chair and closing his eyes. Blunt fingers massaged the back of his neck where wisps of cinnamon-colored hair indicated a haircut long overdue. “No, Lizzie, thanks. Faith sent a passel of fried chicken that Collin and I devoured.” He pulled Molly onto his lap. “But I’d love a piece of apple pie.”
She stiffened at the sink, suddenly remembering the pie she promised to make. She turned, brows in a slope. “Oh, Brady, I’m so sorry. I meant to bake the pie, honestly, but Faith asked me to watch Abby today, and the girls kept me so busy, and then Teddy had homework …”
He looked up, fatigue evident in the sag of his shoulders and the droop of his eyes. “It’s okay, Lizzie,” he said with a look that somehow made her think it wasn’t at all. “I don’t really need it.” He patted a washboard stomach as firm and tight as the day they married. “We’ve been so busy, Collin and I haven’t had time for the gym, so I don’t need desserts to make me go soft.”
Her eyes trailed from his broad shoulders down muscled arms evident beneath the thin cotton of his rolled-sleeved shirt, and a smile tipped the corners of her mouth. “There’s nothing soft about you, John Brady, except your head if you think I won’t make that apple pie.”
“I can live without apple pie, Lizzie,” he whispered, his gaze meeting hers in a manner that made the kitchen suddenly too warm.
“Okay, munchkins!” Lizzie clapped her hands to quickly herd the children to the door. “It’s past your bedtime.”
Brady snatched Lizzie’s hand. “Teddy, you think you can help Molly brush her teeth and tell her a story? I need to talk to Mommy for a few minutes.”
Teddy grew at least an inch on the spot. “Sure, Dad.” He grabbed Molly’s hand. “Come on, Mol, I learned a great one at school.”
“But I want Mama to put me to bed,” Molly whined, squirming free from Teddy’s grasp.
Lizzie glanced up, her expression contrite. “It won’t take but a few minutes, John.”
“I’ll let you wear my baseball cap if you let me put you to bed,” Teddy bargained, eyeing his sister with a quiet confidence that so reminded Lizzie of his father.
Molly’s gaze shifted from Lizzie to her brother, lip protruding noticeably. “Okay,” she muttered, but not without a pleading look over her shoulder. “But Mama has to tuck me in.”
“I promise,” Lizzie said, blowing a kiss. “Thanks, Teddy—you’re going to be a wonderful dad someday. Daddy and I will be in shortly for kisses and prayers, okay?”
Teddy led Molly from the room, and Brady lost no time in tugging Lizzie onto his lap, where she leaned against his chest as he told her about his day. His voice was as serene and mesmerizing as when Lizzie was a lovesick little girl of thirteen, and Brady was the new business partner of her brother-in-law Collin. Closing her eyes, she smelled the peppermint candy he kept at the shop for children, and the scent ushered back the feelings of awe and hero worship she’d always had for John Brady.
She startled when he buried his head in her neck, his warm sigh tickling her skin. The scent of soap and ink and peppermint filled her senses. “I need you, Lizzie,” he said quietly.
She pulled away, heart racing at the gravity of his tone. “Why, John? What’s wrong?”
He shook his head, a faint smile shadowing his lips as he studied her. “Nothing,” he assured, the dark bristle on his jaw giving him an almost reckless air. So unusual for her rock-steady husband, an unshakable man of God if ever there was. His broad chest rose and fell as he fondled a lock of her hair. “Do you have any idea how long it’s been since we’ve been alone?”
She squinted, trying to understand his question. “But, we’re alone every night, John.”
He traced her chin with the pad of his thumb, his eyes locked on hers with an intensity that made her mouth go dry. “No, Lizzie, I mean really alone, when I can talk to you without interruption and when we’re not too exhausted to connect like we used to. Where I can hold you and share what’s in my heart, pray with you, and make love to you without anything else stealing your attention away.”
Blood heated her cheeks and she swallowed hard. “What do you mean?” she whispered.
His quiet smile heated the rest of her body in a manner she hadn’t felt in a long, long while. Feathering her jaw, his fingers trailed her throat. “Twenty-nine years old, ten years of marriage, three children and one on the way, and you’re still the most innocent woman I’ve ever met.” He leaned in to nuzzle her ear. “I mean,” he emphasized, tone sober, “I need you, Lizzie—your laughter, your encouragement, your gentleness, your love—and not just in my bed. I need you in my heart and my mind, to feel your love like before, when it was just you and me.”
Her eyes drifted closed. Oh, Brady … we’re parents now. It could never be the same as before—didn’t he understand that? She was a mother, with responsibilities to her children …
As if sensing her hesitation, he cupped her face, eyes searching hers with a vulnerability she’d never seen in John Brady before. “Come to bed with me, Lizzie,” he whispered. “I need to be close to you, hold you, talk to you, pray about where I’ve been in my mind lately.”
She stroked his cheek, heart expanding. “Oh, John, there’s nothing I’d rather do.”
With a low groan, he drew her close, his mouth capturing hers with a passion that took her breath away. “So help me, Elizabeth, I grow more desperately in love with you every day.”
Brady’s hold stiffened as Lizzie looked up. Molly stood at the door in her nightgown, feet bare and tears swimming in her eyes. Her little chest heaved as she clutched a ragdoll to her chest. “T-teddy t-told me about Hansel and Gretel, and I’m s-scared a witch is under my bed.”
As always, Lizzie’s heart wrenched at the sight of her children’s tears, and without a second thought, she leapt from Brady’s lap and hurried to sweep Molly up in her arms. Planting a kiss on her nose, she squeezed her tightly. “How ’bout I leave your little lamp on tonight and then we’ll check under your bed together, and the closet too, before I tuck you back in?”
Another pitiful heave shivered Molly’s body as she laid her head on Lizzie’s shoulder. “Can you s-sleep w-with me for a w-while too … please?”
“Molly, no—” Brady began, but Lizzie cut him off with a plea in her tone.
“John, she’s so frightened, she’s trembling. Please—you go get ready for bed and I’ll lay with her for a while, okay? And then I’ll be right in, I promise.”
His gaze locked with hers, and she recognized a glint of the sullen mood plaguing him of late. Lumbering to his feet, he released a weary sigh, fatigue and wariness apparent in a body usually so strong and sure. “All right,” he said quietly, moving toward the door. He kissed Molly’s head, then Lizzie’s cheek with a look that held a hint of warning. “Don’t be long.”
“I won’t.” Her repentant smile begged him to understand while she kneaded his arm with gentle fingers. “I love you,” she whispered.
“I know,” he said dully as he let her pass, but somehow the look on his face said that maybe he didn’t at all.