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!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

💚 💛 🧡  What You’ll Find in This Blog Today:

✅   Update on my New Mystery/Suspense!

✅   What’s Next for Me?

✅   Romance Readers’ Poll!

✅   Giveaway on Valentine’s Day!

✅   Sales Continue Through January!

✅   NEW Excerpt From my New Mystery/Suspense!

 

A New Year, A New Book!

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE!! I’m a half scene away from finishing my very first mystery/suspense, and I gotta tell you that I really, REALLY like it, which is something I don’t often say after I finish a book. Usually I end up somewhat disappointed, thinking the story or characters are not all that great, but then it grows on me as I edit.

Yep, not this one. For some reason, the more I wrote, the better I liked it, so I hope you do too! And miracles of miracles, it’s over 100 pages shorter than my other books, clocking in at about 400 pages (most of mine are in the 500+ range), so that is quite an accomplishment for this author, as you well know.

Unfortunately, it will be a while before I’m able to get The Secret of Emerald Cottage out to you because I am going to submit it to publishers first, just to see if anyone will bite. If not, I will most likely publish it myself for release this summer, so your prayers are appreciated that this will go the way God wants it to go.

 

What’s Next for Me?

So, what’s next for me? Well, I’ll spend a week or two editing The Secret of Emerald Cottage, then I’ll jump right into writing book 2 of The Cousins O’Connor series, A Hope and a Prayer.  This will be Gabe’s cousin, Hope Dennehy’s, story, so prayers appreciated as I once again navigate the waters of WW2 and post WW2 in the continuation of the O’Connor family saga. If all goes well, I’ll have this one out for you this fall.

 

Romance Readers Poll!

 

And now I have a favor to ask! It’s that time of year for Family Fiction magazine’s annual Christian Romance Readers Poll, where you can vote for up to five of your favorite Christian authors, and I hope I’m one.

But even if I’m not, PLEASE vote to show your support for both Family Fiction magazine and Christian Fiction in general. It’s a VERY simple process, which I’ve listed below. Also, if you know anyone else who loves Christian romance, please feel free to forward this link to them as well.

And if you do vote in the Christian Romance Reader’s Poll, shoot me an email at CONTACT JULIE, and I will automatically enter you in a giveaway for your choice of any of my indie e-books and a character named after you in my next book. NOTE: You do not have to vote for me to be entered in the giveaway.

Here are the steps and the link, so thank you VERY much!

2.) Just scroll down to the pink box.
3.) Enter your email and it will bring up the voting section where you can list five of your favorite Christian romance writers.
4.) You can vote for me and whoever else you like if you have any other choices.
5.) The voting ends on January 24 (only four days to vote!!) so voting before that is greatly appreciated.

 

 

♥️ Valentines Day Giveaway!

 

Want to win your choice of any three of my indie e-books AND a character named after you in my next book along with a signed paperback copy? Well, now’s your chance!
Mark your calendars to listen to my radio interview with Lady Tracey at 8:30 a.m. EST on FEBRUARY 14, 2021 and FEBRUARY 15, 2021 at 1:15 p.m. EST on Unity Live Radio. All you have to do is listen and then send me an email naming one of the things I talked about in this interview, and you’re in the draw! Here’s the link: https://www.topsradiofm.com/

 

 

Sales Continue Through January!

I am ALSO continuing my 50% sale on two of my most recent e-books, A Wing and a Prayer AND Love’s Silver Bullet through January, so I hope you take advantage and check out the trailer/videos for each below along with the buy links on Amazon. 

 

 

 

BUY “A WING AND A PRAYER” HERE!

VIDEO FOR “A WING AND A PRAYER” HERE

💚 💛 🧡 

BUY “LOVE’S SILVER BULLET” HERE!

VIDEO FOR “LOVE’S SILVER BULLET”  HERE

 

 

NEW Excerpt From my New Mystery/Suspense!

 

I thought it would be fun to highlight another scene from The Secret of Emerald Cottage, so here’s a sneak peek halfway through the book.
Hugs and Happy reading!
Julie

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Four

Arms draped over the steering wheel and chin on top, Brec glared straight ahead, watching Bree walk toward his car out of the corner of his eyes, teeth milled so tight he thought they might snap. He hadn’t been this mad since he’d been forced to take an anger-management class when he’d bashed in an opponent’s head after a game. He had to admit the class had worked wonders. He hadn’t lost his temper since. He ground his jaw.

Till now.

Tip #1 in Controlling One’s Temper: Think before you speak. Oh, yeah, and Brec was thinking plenty. Like why in the deuce would a woman as smart as Bree traipse around a mostly secluded lake by herself after having a premonition of being murdered? It was just plain stupid, and Brec planned to tell her straight to her teeth.

Bree opened the car door and got in. “Hey, I’m sorry I took so long, but I wanted to offer my condolences to Pastor Dave about Greg and maybe a dig a little, but he sure didn’t want to talk.”

Yeah? Neither do I. More like scream …

Tip #2: Once you’re calm, express your anger. Yeah, that was a tough one because “calm” was nowhere in sight as Brec ground his thumb against the ignition button and slammed into gear, still so hot under the collar, he was surprised his shirt wasn’t on fire.

Placing her purse on the floor of the of his car, Bree buckled up. “Mmm … going to ice cream at Coldstone sure sounded good, so maybe we can go after shooting, what do you think?”

He grunted his assent. How ‘bout before because I sure in the deuce need something to cool me down.

Tip #3: Get some exercise. In the past, when he lost his temper, the only exercise he’d resort to was his fist, but that wasn’t an option, so he gunned the engine with pedal to the metal instead, all but peeling out of the parking lot.

“Uh, Brec, are you … okay?” Bree asked, concern tingeing her tone as she laid a tentative hand on his arm.

It took everything in him not to fling it away. “Fine.” He stared straight ahead, the burn of her gaze on his profile singeing along with the stupid collar.

“Are you sure?”

Tip #4: Take a Timeout. Good idea! Slapping his blinker on, Brec squealed to a stop on the side of the road and slammed the vehicle into PARK. He spun to face her. “No, I’m not all right, Princess. You promised you would take care of yourself,” he shouted, stunned at the depth of his fear but too angry to be stunned at how much he cared. “Yet off you went, jogging by yourself through woods around a lake where break-ins, arson, and murders have taken place. And all after a premonition about being murdered!”

“Brec,” she began in a conciliatory whisper, “Cat and Chase weren’t around that day, and you’d taken Miss Lilly into the city, so I didn’t have any choice.”

He wagged his head up and down in an exaggerated fashion, his sarcasm gaining both volume and vigor with every word ground out. “Oh, I see—no one was around to even help if you did get in trouble and scream …”

“Listen to me, Brec”—her voice rose to counter his.

No, you listen to me, Breanna Stewart,” he shouted, jabbing a blunt thumb to his chest, “I care about you, Miss Lilly cares about you, and a whole a host of other people care about you, woman, so if don’t have the sense to think about yourself, then at least have the common courtesy to think about us!”

She blinked and then again when a glaze of moisture filled her eyes. “Brec, I … I’m so very sorry … I didn’t realize. Will you forgive me?”

Chest heaving, he stared as a single tear trailed her cheek, thinking he’d be lost if anything ever happened to her, devastated if anyone touched a single precious hair on her head. In one ragged breath, love welled in his chest and with a deep groan, he jerked her close and held on with all of his might, face buried in the soft folds of her hair. “Of course I forgive you,” he said, pressing a shaky kiss to her hair before his lips trailed to the shell of her ear, his breath warm against her skin and his. “But you have to promise to not go jogging alone again, Bree, do you hear?”

She nodded, and the heat of his anger slowly seeped out, only to be replaced by a heat of a whole other kind when his lips wandered to the lobe of her ear, touching, tasting forbidden fruit denied far too long. “I care too much about you, Bree,” he whispered, his senses roused by the scent of her perfume, the taste of her skin, “and I’d be shattered if anything happened to you …” He could hear her ragged breathing, and with a rush of longing too urgent to defy, his mouth took hers with a reverence he’d never felt for a woman before, gently fondling until her soft mew issued an invitation he couldn’t refuse.

And yet he did.

Because this friendship was too important.

And so was she.

Gently pushing her back, he cupped her face in his hands, trying hard to focus on blue eyes spanned wide instead of those wet, lush lips parted in shallow breaths. “I’m sorry, Bree—I shouldn’t have done that because we’re friends without benefits and nothing more, so I guess we both need forgiveness today.” Clearing his throat, he pulled away to buckle his belt, his smile tight as he pressed the ignition. “Am I forgiven?”

She blinked and then nodded while she inched back into her own seat, still staring as she buckled hers as well.

“Good. So, this never happened then, aye?” Yeah, right. Tell that to my heart. He forced a stern look that was painfully at odds with the love in his eyes. “So, if you don’t want this to happen again, woman”—he aimed a warning finger barely punctuated by a smile—“don’t do it again.”

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Happy New Year!

 

And you know what? It believe it WILL be a “happy new year!

Of course, “BELIEVE” is the key word for followers of Christ, especially after such a dark year for the world with the devastation of Covid and terrific turmoil in the United States.  But Jesus is the “Way, the Truth, and the Light,” and I truly believe in my spirit that the “Light of the World” is going to chase the darkness away in 2021 to a large degree.

And as far as I’m concerned, it all begins with prayer! So beginning tomorrow — SUNDAY, JANUARY 3, 2021, Keith and I are embarking on an AMAZING prayer journey with my daughter’s AMAZING church, Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s their bi-annual 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting, and let me tell you — for me (and Keith) — it was life-changing the first year we did it. So much so, that friends and relatives now ask me to remind them when it begins in January. Thus this Journal Jot blog — to remind them and YOU of a life-changing opportunity you will not want to miss!

Begun by Pastor Chris Hodges in 2001, The Church of the Highlands has an incredible beginning that I just have to share because it shows the power of the Highland’s commitment to its annual 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting.

Twenty years ago, Pastor Chris Hodges was a youth pastor with absolutely NO desire to be a main pastor. Fortunately, God didn’t feel the same way because Chris had a dream that shook him so much, he spoke to his pastor about it. The dream went something like this: First Chris was standing on a stage staring at a sea of people and then he was driving down a highway past a huge church that seemed to go on forever. The pastor told Chris something he really didn’t want to hear — that God was calling him to start a church.

Now, not having a clue how to go about that, Chris followed his pastor’s advice and took time off to visit every city in Alabama that God laid on his heart. “You’ll know it when you reach the city God has chosen, and Chris did, because when he arrived in Birmingham, it was like the city was embedded in his heart.

The next thing he knew, Chris and his wife and five kids move to Birmingham in late December of 2001 along with a small contingent of 34 people. Now, everyone expected him to begin services on the first Sunday in January, but Chris decided he wasn’t about to start anything without God’s direction, so he and the church prayed and fasted for 21 days. As a result, The Church of the Highlands’ first service took place on the first Sunday in February of that year — not with 34 people and his family — but approximately 500 people in attendance! Today, The Highlands is the 2nd largest church in the United States with 25 campuses and a weekly attendance of approximately 60,000.

Now trust me, people, when my daughter said to me a few years back, “Hey, Mom, our church is kicking off its 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting this Sunday, and I think you would really like it,” I pretty much froze on the spot.

Why? Well, because I knew the fasting part would be hard and there were certain things I did NOT want to give up for 21 days. “Sure, babe, I’ll check the Sunday kick-off service out online,” I said, fully intending to watch for a few minutes so I could tell her I did, but then letting her know it wasn’t for me because what can I say — I was skeptical.

Sigh. 😳

The pastor reeled me in like a bass on a hula grub in the first five minutes.

Wait … I have to give up what??!!

Yep, “I have to give up sweets, wine, and Amazon for 21 days,” I told Keith in shock, not a bit happy about it.

“What?” Keith stared at me wide-eyed, as if I’d just told him I was giving up writing and reading romance to embark on a career picking up trash on a highway. “Why on earth are you doing that?” he said, jaw dangling considerably. “Because God told me to,” I responded in a mournful tone, never, EVER imagining just how much my life was about to change!

That was the year following my sabbatical to focus more on God, family, and writing for the sheer joy of writing, when I told my editor I wouldn’t be pitching any books or series for a while. Since then, my love affair with God has grown by leaps and bounds, deepening more and more each year after I embark on 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting with Church of the Highlands. As a romance writer, I can now say that the greatest romance of all is the one I have found with my Father in Heaven and my Savior, bringing more joy, peace, strength, and hope than I have ever experienced in over 70 years.

Why am I telling you this? Well, again, because I feel like there may be one or two of you out there that God wants to join me in this endeavor. I meant to tell you about it sooner (duh … before the 21 Days begins tomorrow), but I didn’t, so I apologize. But, it’s not too late because you can start anytime by checking out Pastor Hodge’s kick-off Sunday service to prayerfully decide if the 21 Days is something you want to do. Pastor Chris will explain how there are all kinds of ways to fast other than food, so don’t be intimidated.

For instance, food isn’t a big deal to me, but my nightly glass of wine with dinner and not checking Amazon for reviews and stats definitely are, so that’s what I fast along with sweets and lunch. See? Not too hard, and you know what? Keith and I actually look forward to it every single year like little kids at Christmas because it’s THAT good for our souls and our lives. I know it would be for you too, so pray about it, okay? And if you’re interested, here’s the link to the Church of the Highlands kick-off service for 21 DAYS OF PRAYER & FASTING that will tell you all about it.

Before I go, I wanted to share a few fun pix with you of our rare 2020 get-togethers with our kids and grandkids. I hope you were able to spend at least some time with family to celebrate the birth of our Savior as well.

I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and holy new year!

Hugs,

Julie

2020 Memories for the Lessmans!

Papa and newest grand baby, Caleb!

Our little “heart baby,” Geebie, now 4 years old!

Pirate day at the Lessman’s!

Juju and Wyatt reading!

My daughter’s Christmas pic!

My son’s Christmas pic!

Keith’s and my Christmas pic!

December 17, 2020

A SNEAK PEEK AT WHAT’S INSIDE:

🎄 A New Website!
🎄 Winners!
🎄 Christmas Sales!
🎄 Upcoming Giveaway!
🎄 Christmas Gift Guide!
🎄 Author Elves Shout-Outs!
🎄 Excerpt From my New Mystery/Suspense!

 

YIKES! Can you believe Christmas is only ONE WEEK away??!!  Despite this nasty pandemic and all the upheaval with the election, I hope you and yours have been doing as well as possible. I’ll tell you what — I’m as busy as a one-armed elf trying to get packages bought, wrapped, and sent, so I’m going to make today’s Journal Jot short and sweet.

“Short” because I am repeating some of the info from my Dec. 3rd post, which I suspect many of you did not see since my Journal Jot subscriber list didn’t get notified, so all of the info will be new to you. (NOTE: I recommend you re-subscribe on the right-hand side of this page if you did not get an email notifying you of today’s blog post, just to make sure you’re in the know when I post sales, giveaways, book news, or excerpts.)

And “sweet,” because there are sales and giveaways, and an excerpt from my new romantic mystery/suspense! Oh, and yeah … a new website too, so here we go!

 

🎄 A NEW WEBSITE!

I have a new look — or at least my website does — and I absolutely love it! Mega thanks to my sweet hubby for a great banner above and mega kudos to Savanna Kaiser, who did a fabulous job designing the rest of the website and updating this old gal’s digs!

 

🎄 WINNERS! 

MEGA THANKS to everyone who entered the Christmas Round Robin and my own personal giveaway along with it.

Without further ado, SUPER CONGRATS to the following winners:

 

🎄 Winners of the Christmas Round Robbin are:
Christmas Round Robin Top Winner of $350 Gift Card is: djennings31bags
Christmas Round Robin Top Winner of $250 Gift Card is:  crwg96
Christmas Round Robin Top Winner of $150 Gift Card is: lisaboesehaems

 

🎄 Winners of My A Light in the Window E-Book Giveaway are:
(I’ll be contacting each of you to send an e-book of A Light in the Window)

Donise Cinnamon
Tabitha
BN
Alyson Widen
Erica Luther
Linda Samayoa
Mellisa
Heather Russel
Cinda Taylor
Lora
Michaela
Pam Graber
Bea Rahling
Karen Calder Corvan
Charlotte Perotti
Phyllis Bullock
Caroline Tanner
Rebekah Miller

 

🎄 CHRISTMAS SALES! 

Guess what? I have THREE novels on sale this month, so check each out below along with the trailer/videos!

My award-winning novel, A Light in the Window, is currently on sale for only 99 cents, so I invite you to take a peek at the trailer/video and reviews at the links given below.

Think “The Bells of St. Mary’s” meets “The Gift of the Magi,” then check out the incredible video/trailer my talented hubby did below using my daughter as the model for this feel-good-about-winter Christmas novel.

BUY “A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW” HERE

 

VIDEO FOR  “A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW” HERE

 

I am ALSO running a 50% sale on two of my most recent e-books, A Wing and a Prayer AND Love’s Silver Bullet, so I hope you take advantage and check out the trailer/videos for each below along with the buy links on Amazon.

BUY “A WING AND A PRAYER” HERE!

VIDEO FOR “A WING AND A PRAYER” HERE

🎄🎄🎄

BUY “LOVE’S SILVER BULLET” HERE!

VIDEO FOR “LOVE’S SILVER BULLET”  HERE

 

🎄 A BLOG GIVEAWAY! 

Mark your calendars to join me on DECEMBER 22 on Carrie Schmidt’s “Reading is My SuperPower Blog” for the “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Reads) GIVEAWAY”! I’ll be giving away my latest Christmas book, The Promise of Hope, in e-copy as well as an e-copy of ALL my other Christmas novels/novellas (7 books in all!) to one lucky winner. PLUS … you can go to the link above throughout all the dates in December for other Christmas giveaways as well, so do check it out!

And then, because I LOVE my Journal Jot subscribers, if you come by the “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Reads) GIVEAWAY” and leave a comment, telling me you are a Journal Jot subscriber and answering the question below from my new mystery excerpt at the bottom of this blog, I will automatically send you an e-copy of The Promise of Hope as well, so hope to see you there! Here’s the question:

QUESTION: What did Brec’s aunt say about him to Bree?

 

🎄 CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE!

Looking to add to your romance library this Christmas? Share this gift guide with all the gift-givers in your life! Or support one of your favorite romance authors by choosing one of these gifts from this list!

Plus, if you share this post or a picture of your gift on social media, you’ll have a chance to win your pick of pairings! Just tag @amoststoriedromance and use #thegiftofromance2020 on Instagram or Facebook to be entered.

 

🎄 AUTHOR ELVES SHOUT-OUTS!

Authors need all the help we can get, so whenever I find a supplier who provides me with excellent services, I plan to pass it on to you. Today, I want to tell you about two new author helpers that have been a true blessing to me.

First, there’s CASEY APODACA. You know what a pain it is to take the time out of your busy day to promote sale/freebie books on BookBub and other sites like that? Well, Casey to the rescue because she can do it for you quickly, excellently, and at reasonable price to boot! AND she is having a GRAND OPENING SALE through the end of 2020, good for any promotion scheduled before April 2021, so check out her website. You will be SO very glad you did! CLICK HERE FOR CASEY’S WEBSITE

 

Next, we have SAVANNA KAISER NOCKS, a truly gifted and professional website designer who just revamped my website. And not only does Savanna offer website design, newsletter development, virtual assistant services, and WordPress training, but she is super patient, super kind,  super accessible, and truly gifted with an incredible design ability that left me totally at peace. And the most shocking part of all? Her prices are AMAZING! So do check her website out for a peek at all the other author websites she’s done. CLICK HERE FOR SAVANNA’S WEBSITE

 

🎄 SNEAK PEEK AT MY NEW MYSTERY/SUSPENSE ROMANCE:

OH. MY. GOODNESS!! Who would have thought I would have had this much fun writing a suspense. Not me, for sure, because I don’t even like reading suspense.

But that is about to change! My latest work in progress, THE SECRET OF EMERALD COTTAGE, has won me over, and I’m hoping it will do the same for you.

So I thought it would be fun to give you a sneak peek at the first chapter. It’s pretty rough because it’s unedited, but I hope it whets your appetite for what I think may be one of my best books yet. So, here it is, and HAPPY PEEKING!!

 

🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

 

THE SECRET OF EMERALD COTTAGE

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29

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, Early June

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

Forgive him? Body numb, Breanna 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 rustic log home on Lake Loon, more handsome than a louse had a right 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 and sheepish smile, 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, Bree slapped her arms into an impatient fold, not about to let Tyler Madison 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. “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 two solid years, 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, Bree,” 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, Bree—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 two years 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 on her pillow. “No, don’t leave again, please,” she murmured in her sleep, “just kiss me again …”

She felt her body finally relax when he did—gently, softly—vaguely aware it had to be a dream because suddenly it wasn’t Ty she was kissing, but someone else.

Lost somewhere between consciousness and slumber, she burrowed deeper into the downy softness of her bed, never wanting the kiss to end. Definitely a dream because Ty was her past, and yet the brush of lips against hers had felt so real!

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 delicious hint of musk, and she literally groaned out loud, unwilling for the magic to end. Rolling on her side, she yanked the cover 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 as she gasped, frozen for a split second before she jerked her Glock 36 from under her pillow. Vaulting up from the 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 rib cage as 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 slowly raised massive palms in the air, a lazy smile easing across the most perfect lips she’d ever seen on 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. She punched in 9-1-1 just in case. Hands quivering, she tucked it into her shorts, pretty darn 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 before slipping 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, eyes narrowing to slits when the memory of her dream came back. “Did you … kiss me?”

“Depends.” His lip quirked 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, lass, 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 Breanna Stewart, and the one who left umpteen voicemail messages and 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. “Yeah, 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, Breanna slowly lowered her gun. Yes, she knew. Miss Lilly had already filled her in on her notorious 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.” Thick brows tented in concern as he pinned Bree with a pointed gaze that held a hint of vulnerability. “How is she?” he whispered.

“Better.” Rolling her neck, Bree 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.”

Bree 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 gouged thick fingers through short curly hair—almost blue black—appearing as if he actually cared or jut 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,” Bree 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 I’m 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’ve just gotten here almost 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 bloomin’ 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, Bree feigned surprise as she placed a hand to her face. “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. “You’re right, of course,” 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, Breanna, she thought with a pinch in her chest, heat warming her cheeks over kicking a man when he’s down. She was the Christian here, after all, and he was not, a point that caused Aunt Lilly great pain whenever they’d discussed her wayward nephew.

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

For pity’s sake, indeed. And Brec McGill’s, apparently. Because if Breanna knew one thing for sure about Miss Lilly, it was that no matter her nephew’s indifference to her, 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 Breanna he was her number-one priority before she went home to her Savior—that Brec would return to his. And that sure wouldn’t happen if Breanna 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, Bree 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 one of the guest rooms down the hall 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, hardy, 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 as he slowly moved toward the door. 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, too, according to tabloids, to a woman’s emotional health. “That 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 Miss 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 trace 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.”

🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and holy holiday season!

HUGS,

Julie

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