Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 - 1st Chapter of COUPLE BY CHRISTMAS by Pat Simmons

It's countdown to our Sweet Kisses 3 Boxset Facebook Release Party, September 27th. I'll include the link below. I thought I would share an excerpt from Couple By Christmas.

CHAPTER ONE

Maybe it was the holidays or his son’s upcoming sixth birthday on Christmas Day that had him re-evaluating his life. Lately, the what-ifs plagued him every time he had custody of Tyler.
His divorce from Robyn had been so ugly, mean-spirited, and anything but Christ-like. It represented yet another vow they both had broken.
Their antics in the courtroom had caused the judge to decree they communicate through TalkingParents.com—a service designed to document their conversations—in case they returned to court for more litigation.
According to the parenting plan, the judge thought it best that they exchanged custody of Tyler at either of his grandparents’ homes. Most of the time, Robyn’s mother’s house was the drop off and pick-up spot.
“It’s not your child that needs adult supervision, but the adults who are his parents,” Judge Wilson had reprimanded them.
Sitting behind his desk, he couldn’t keep his mind from drifting to that fateful day when he kissed his marriage goodbye. As a quality improvement manager for a Fortune 500 company in West St. Louis County, he had plenty of projects to keep him busy, but he lacked concentration.
At one time, he and Robyn had everything going for them; they were the epitome of a Christian couple at their church, Holy Ghost Temple. People complimented them as an attractive couple. They had the support of their respective in-laws who welcomed them as one of their own, which explained why his mother, Lane, and her mother, Sara, sat unified on the front row in court, giving both of them a disapproving glare once his marriage was dissolved.
It had been two years and he still had past regrets. Did Robyn? 
“Stubborn people are fools,” his mother stated on more than one occasion when he would drop by with Tyler. Of course, she made sure her grandson was distracted before she lit into Derek. “I know you still love Robyn or you would have moved on by now. Talk to her before she moves on. Don’t repeat the same mistakes your foolish daddy did. Now, he’s miserable with that other woman. Hmphed,” she scolded him as if he were eleven years old instead of thirty—almost thirty-one.
Somehow, he made it through the day, operating on autopilot. Hours later, he hurried home to change before picking up Tyler for his weekend visit. He was almost out the door when he received an email alert from TalkingParents.com: I got Tyler from kindergarten instead of Mom. You can pick him up from my house.
Her house—formerly their house. Derek grunted. It had been months since they crossed paths. Their greetings were nothing more than cordial. Would time eventually heal the wounds between them so they could hold a civil conversation and not play the blame game?
After parking in front of the two-story, three-bedroom suburban house, he sat staring at the starter home they had purchased. Neighboring houses were lit from the porches to the trees. Not Robyn’s. Besides the massive holiday wreath on the red door, the only other decorations were battery-operated candles that were displayed in all six front windows.  Living in an apartment, his decorations were scarce too. Be nice, he prepped himself as he stepped out the car, then strolled up the pathway and knocked.
“Daddy’s here!” He heard Tyler scream from inside.
He grinned. At least someone was glad to see him.
“Get your hat and coat,” Robyn said as she opened the door.
Rocking on his heels, Derek stayed rooted in place. The few times they had to alter the arrangements for pickups, she never invited him inside, so he never crossed the threshold—rain, shine, or blizzard.
She didn’t make eye contact with him, but that didn’t stop Derek from noticing everything about her. She was one pretty lady, which was what attracted him to her in the first place. Robyn still maintained her beauty. Her goldish-brown color hair shone under the hallway light and her skin glowed.
There was something else he noticed while she multi-tasked, bundling up their son and slipping her arm in the sleeve of her coat. She was fast, but not without him catching a glimpse of a Red Lobster uniform. Robyn was an executive assistant, so what was going on?
“You’re working a second job? Why? I don’t mind adjusting my child support amount,” he offered with a frown. Money had been the source of many arguments. His wife loved to shop. He liked to save. But he wasn’t going to be accusatory, not this time, not again. He had no say in her financial affairs unless it affected their child. What else was going on that he didn’t know about?
“You’re more than generous with your child support.” She dismissed him when she knelt and opened her arms to receive a kiss and hug from their son. She stood again. “You can drop him off at my mother’s.” She guided Tyler outside.
“Bye, Mommy.” He waved before taking Derek’s hand. As they spun around to take the steps, he glanced over his shoulder. Robyn slowly closed the door without looking his way. He would give anything to earn her smile, a sparkle in her eyes, or her alluring tone when she used to tease him. Instead, he got nothing—no emotion.
Taking a deep breath, he continued to his car. He wanted to cross the line, and break the “don’t use the child as a pawn” rule to find out what Robyn was up to. He didn’t.
As promised, Derek took his son to the park for ice skating. While going around the rink, he kept a grip on Tyler’s hand while his mind stayed on Robyn. She had a liberal arts degree and could adapt to any working environment, but a waitress? No doubt, she had to be the prettiest one on staff. She could flirt without knowing it, and her shape…he groaned at the same time he almost fell, trying to steady Tyler.
Once they regained their rhythm, he thought about Robyn again. She was curvy and her pants did nothing to camouflage her God-given assets.
Forty-five minutes later, he hoped his son had worked up an appetite. “Hungry?” When Tyler bobbed his head, Derek grinned. He had a plan. “How about we go see Mommy at work?”
“Yeah.” His eyes widened in excitement. “Are we going to see Granny Gibson too? Mommy takes me there when she has to work.”
Hmm-mm. That narrowed down the locations. “Not today. After we eat, you’re going back home with me.”
It was two weeks before Christmas and he had planned to take his son to pick out his birthday present. That would have to wait until tomorrow. “Have you thought about what you want for your birthday?” Last year, Derek bought him a LEGO starter kit.
Since Robyn had Tyler last Christmas, he had to wait until the following weekend to play with him. That had to be the saddest Christmas of his life and he wouldn’t wish that same loneliness on anyone, but this year, Robyn would experience it.
“I want you to come live with us,” he stated matter-of-factly as he glanced out the window.
It was a good thing Tyler was strapped in, because Derek jammed on his brakes at the same time the street light turned red. He eased his foot off and exhaled.
“Son, what’s your second choice?” It would take a Christmas miracle for him and Robyn to reconcile for that to even be a possibility.
                                                              ***
It wasn’t his business to know that her long-time position could be in jeopardy. The hand writing was on the wall about possible layoffs and when no one received Christmas bonuses, Robyn refused to cut back on her son’s gifts for Christmas and his birthday. The job was seasonal and the day after Christmas, she would quit so she could celebrate a delayed birthday and Christmas with her son.
Until then, she would endure the constant walking and juggling of dishes. So far, the tips had been worth it.
Plus, shopping was her favorite pastime. Once she married, Robyn sometimes felt guilty about splurging. Then when Tyler was born, she and Derek practiced the Christian celebration of Christmas, but that was before she and her ex began to drift apart.
When her marriage ended, Robyn’s faith faded. She went through the routine of being a Christian, but she felt like a failure. Only being a mother kept her going and distracted from pity parties.
Her ex, Derek Tyler Washington, did make an exceptional father and a good provider, never missing a child support payment or house note. Then last year, without warning, he started sending monthly maintenance checks for her—a perk that wasn’t part of the divorce decree. She didn’t call or text him, but logged on the message board and asked him why.
Because you’re the mother of my son.
After graciously thanking him, she had cried that day—the first time in a long time. She told her best friend, she didn’t know what to make of the gesture.
“Maybe it’s his way of saying he’s sorry,” Erica Williams had suggested.
“Please. ‘Sorry’ is not in that man’s vocabulary. Maybe it’s guilt from being a terrible husband.”
“Well, count your blessings.”
Right. She didn’t trust her ex’s motives. When those blessings arrived like clockwork, she put them in a savings account for Tyler. Her mistake was to mention the money to her mother. Sara Gibson had sung his praises. “I think you two got married too soon and divorced even sooner.”
It was an argument she would never win with her mother, who was the die-hard captain of her ex-husband’s fan club. She was just as vocal about Robyn’s absences from church. “Why punish God for your mistakes? Jesus is our best friend. Proverbs 21:24 says, “He’ll stick closer than any brother.”
She once prided herself on her relationship with God and had sought Him for wisdom in choosing a mate. It took a while not to be angry with the Lord for her decision. Finally, she admitted marrying Derek had been a bad decision. They weren’t as compatible as she was led to believe.
Despite the disappointment, she was willing to give love a second chance in the future. There had to be a man out there who believed in death do they part and would accept her son as his own. She was definitely keeping her options open for the right one. Enough musings, she had tables to serve.
“Rob…” Doris, the head hostess, said, catching her strolling out of the ladies room.
She hated that nickname. There was nothing masculine about her. She wasn’t even a tomboy growing up, but she wasn’t going to be petty.
“I just seated two in a booth in section four. One is a cutie pie. The other is hot. Sizzlin’,” she practically hissed. “Whew!”
Right. As long as they left a big tip that was all she cared about. With sixteen shopping days before Christmas, the crowd was taking advantage of the weather that hadn’t delivered any ice or snow yet. She had three more hours to stand on her feet. Despite the top of the line walking shoes, her back was aching. Straightening her shoulders, Robyn took a deep breath and made a beeline to the booth. She almost stumbled when she looked at the patrons.
“Hi, Mommy.” Tyler grinned and waved.
Recovering from the surprise, Robyn gave her son a warm smile before squinting at her ex. “Derek, why are you here?”
“To get something to eat.” He smirked.
Oooh. She didn’t have time for his sarcasm. Showing up at their places of employment was off limits per their divorce, so why was he crossing the line?
“May we have our menus Miss…Miss…?” His eyes sparkled with mirth. At one time, she fell in love with his playful nature. As their marriage deteriorated, his teasing just annoyed her.
“Humph, it’s Miss for now.” She slapped his menu in front of him and gently placed the other one in front of her son and turned to the kids menu. “Here, sweetie.”
Derek leaned forward and whispered, “Careful, you don’t want to mess up your tip.”
Why was she letting this man bait her? Lifting her chin, she put on a happy face and rambled off the specials as if he was an unknown patron. “Hi, my name is Robyn. Welcome to Red Lobster. Can I start you off with a fruit smoothie, raspberry lemonade, or Boston Iced Tea?” If left up to her son, he would order tea—he wasn’t going to get it. “How about I get you started with our seaside sampler?” The spiel was protocol, but there was no way she was going to let her son eat that much fish this late.
“Mommy, can I have popcorn shrimp and macaroni and cheese.”
She gave Tyler a stern look.
“Please.” He was a carbon copy of his father when he grinned.
“Sure, sweetheart.” She faced Derek. “And you, sir?”
Tyler giggled. “He’s Daddy, Mommy.”
“Hmm-mm. I’ll get your drinks and come back for your order.”
“Hey,” Derek said. “You don’t know what I want.”
“Trust me, I do.” Robyn twisted her mouth and turned around. As she walked away, she heard Derek say, “You have a pretty mommy.”
“Uh-huh. You should marry Mommy.”
“I already did.”
Her heart dropped. Why couldn’t they have made it? Her parents had married for life. She thought she and Derek would follow in their footsteps, but after the first year of bliss, they couldn’t agree on anything. Small disagreements turned into major arguments. She shook off the memories as she walked to the drink station.
She poured milk for her son, then a glass of water with a slice of lemon for his father. Derek’s eating habits were predictable—or they used to be. He didn’t like soda or juices. Health conscious, he preferred water. Returning to the table, she placed their glasses on it, then pulled straws out of her apron pocket.
“Mommy, I wanted a sodie.” He twisted his mouth and scratched his head.
“Milk will help you grow up to be strong and handsome.”
“Like my daddy?” His hopeful expression was amusing.
Anchoring his elbow on the table, Derek rested his chin on his hands. He seemed to be anxious for her to answer.
“Like my daddy—your grandpa.” She patted her chest, then turned to him with a smirk of her own. “So, have you decided, sir?”
When he toyed with the silky strands on his mustache, she knew he was stalling. She excused herself to check on her other customers. Spending too much time at one table could compromise her tips, so once again, she chose for him, and placed their orders.
With two demanding tables, Robyn hustled to please the patrons. In her peripheral vision, she saw the cook going in the direction of her son’s table.
This was the most she had seen of her ex in one day, and it unnerved her.
***
“Yes,” she said professionally with a blank expression. “Would you like a to-go box,” she stated in a tone that wasn’t meant to be a question.
“Actually, I would like to see a dessert menu.” He grinned, hoping it would soften her heart like it used to. It didn’t.
“It’s in front of you.” She lifted an eyebrow.
“Mommy, can I have a brownie?” Tyler’s eyes drooped.
She leaned forward. “You can have some pudding. It’s too late for chocolate. Okay?”
“O-okay.” He pouted. Clearly, his son wasn’t happy with his mother’s decision. Neither was he.
Derek had to get his son to bed, otherwise, he would have stayed until closing. He signaled for Robyn.
Flustered she returned to his table. “Yes, sir?”
He handed over his credit card. She didn’t even look at him and within minutes, returned. “I hope you enjoyed dining with us at Red Lobster.”
Enjoy? How could he, knowing the mother of his child was working two jobs as if he wasn’t giving her enough to survive? Plus, she earned a good salary, if she was managing her money, she wouldn’t need this gig.
“Daddy, I’m sweepy,” Tyler whined and rubbed his eyes.
“Okay, buddy, let’s go home.” He stood and heaved his son over his shoulder. Then, he reached in his pocket and pulled out a fifty dollar bill. Instead of laying it on the table, he went in search of Robyn.
She was at the table where four men were flirting shamelessly as they placed their orders.  “Excuse me, you were a great waitress.” He placed the bill in her hand and his son waved.
“Bye, Mommy.”
Thanks, son, for the backup. He smirked. Yeah, let them know that she didn’t need any more men in her life.
She kissed Tyler’s cheek then faced her customers who seemed stunned. Turning on his heels, Derek walked away with more pep in his step. Checkmate, gentlemen.
.....want more, then join us at our Sweet Romance Reads's release party for Sweet Christmas Kisses 3

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Pat Simmons is an multi-published author of more than a dozen Christian titles and is a three-time recipient of the Emma Rodgers Award for Best Inspirational Romance. The Confession is the latest winner. She has been a featured speaker and workshop presenter at various venues across the country.
As a self-proclaimed genealogy sleuth, Pat is passionate about researching her ancestors and then casting them in starring roles in her novels. She describes the evidence of the gift of the Holy Ghost as an amazing, unforgettable, life-altering experience. God is the Author who advances the stories she writes.
Pat is currently overseeing the media publicity for the annual RT Booklovers Conventions. She has a B.S. in mass communications from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts.
Pat converted her sofa-strapped, sports fanatic husband into an amateur travel agent, untrained bodyguard, GPS-guided chauffeur, and administrative assistant who is constantly on probation. They have a son and a daughter.
Read more about Pat and her books by visiting www.patsimmons.net or on social media. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 - 1st chapter of A MIRACLE MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS by Ciara Knight


Chapter One

Flecks of white snow fluttered around the rolling hills, promising a quiet, beautiful Christmas on Miracle Mountain. Savannah Blake stood at the top of the front steps, closed her eyes, and leaned off the porch of the massive old retirement home turned Miracle Mountain Inn. One leg dangled and one hand gripped a column as she waited for the first drops of snow to reach her skin.  She loved the invigorating feel of cold on her face after a morning of hammering, sawing, and arguing with the GGs over all the renovation decisions. Who knew three women could be so difficult? Especially one’s that call themselves Gaggle Girls.
One of the porch boards creaked then snapped. Her hand slid off the crunchy, peeling white paint. Her feet caught the top step, and she tumbled down to the snow-dusted grassy bed below.
“Ow. Ugh.” She rolled to her side and pressed her hand to the damp soil to hoist herself up.
Before she could climb to her feet, the front door opened and a rug smacked the railing over her head, sending dust, dirt, and old people smell all over her. “Hey, wait. Stop that!” She coughed and waved the air in front of her free of particles then wiped her eyes with her soiled hand, only to cause more grime to smear across her face.
“Whatcha doin’ down there? We ain’t payin’ you to sleep on the front lawn. Besides, you’re gonna track more dirt inside, and I’m cleanin’ the floors.” Cookie sidestepped and peered at the broken porch board with a loud harrumph.
Savannah wanted to argue that cleaning the floors in a construction zone, with bits of plaster, wood splinters, nails, and all sorts of dirty hazards about, was pointless. Yet, one look at the Cookie glare, with its trademark pursed lips and hunched brow, she snapped her mouth shut.
“Now, get outta that dirt and clean off. You don’t wanna be dirty. Not today.”
Savannah wiped her hands down the front of her jeans, spreading the dirt like a layer of frosting. “Why? Dirt kind of comes with the job. I can’t be as congenial as Sunny, you know.”
Cookie huffed and pushed her lips out like a babbling fish. If fish babbled.
“No one’s as perfect as Sunny,” Cookie declared. A hint of agitation over a fellow GG, and best friend, appeared at the mouth lines that deepened when she tensed. “Don’t matter. Now, you get cleaned up.” She swished her lips one more time for added emphasis. “I gotta cake baking, and I might give ya a piece if you’re quick about it.” Then she staccato-stomped through the front door.
Herbie, Savannah’s assistant and once-most-trusted-friend-turned-traitor, crept from behind a bush the moment Cookie’s steps faded away. “Coast clear?”
“Coward.” Savannah pulled herself up, tucked her hair behind her shoulder, and fluffed her flannel shirt free of dirt. “You could’ve saved me from the Cookie Chop.”
“Oh no,” Herbie shook his head. “I don’t get messed up with that. She nearly chopped me in half with that glare of hers last time I tried to help you.” He lifted a few blueprint scrolls into the air. “I fetch, I carry, I hammer, I opinionate. I don’t engage in Cookie Chops. I like my ear attached to my head.”
“As I said, coward.” Savannah grabbed the rolls of blueprints and hopped over the broken step. “Then get that hammer of yours and fix these steps before Sunny sees them or she’s liable to faint.”
“On it.” Herbie yanked the remains of the broken board free. What he lacked in education, he certainly made up for in handyman skills. Wedging his hammer against a nail, he pried it loose. “You think they’re up to something? I saw them in a gaggle earlier, whispering, like they were conjuring that Gaggle Girl power they muster up sometimes.”
Savannah froze mid-step. “The GGs aren’t planning anything. They can’t be. I’d know.” She shook off her trepidation and grabbed her tool bag. “It’s probably just all the fuss over this project. I mean, who would’ve thought three retirees could turn an old folks’ home into an inn?”
“Don’t you remember the GG incident of 2010?” Herbie whispered, like a spy in the heart of enemy territory.
She shivered at the memory. “I remember. The boat, the goat, and the waiter. How could I forget?”
“And the police. Oh, and poor Mr. Stan.” Herbie shook his shoulders and danced around the lawn as if he’d stepped on a rusty nail. “I’ve never looked at a goat the same again. I mean, did they really have to shave him, paint him, feather him, and…and—”
“Red eyes.” Savannah shook off the memory of that goat tied out front of poor Mr. Stan’s butcher shop. “Remember how long it took them to get the toilet paper off the boat and unclog the motor?”
Herbie nodded. “And the waiter.”
“Just a poor innocent victim in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Think he ever got rid of his nervous tick?”
Sunny walked around the corner of the house in her oversized yellow hat and bright pink galoshes. “Hiya, you two. How’s your mornin’?” Her bright smile always seemed to match her manners.
Savannah stiffened then slung her bag over her shoulder. “Fine. Just fine.”
Herbie shifted nervously between feet, and Savannah wanted to backhand him for giving them away.
“Ah, you two talkin’ ’bout the GGs again. You best not let Cookie overhear. What’s it this time? The Flood of ’08? You know, that wasn’t our fault. We were just trying to help the fire department.”
“No, we weren’t talkin’ ’bout that. No, ma’am.” Herbie picked up the broken wood plank, keeping his gaze to the ground.
“No.” Sunny gasped in a delicate little breath. “You weren’t. Not that!” She dabbed at her brow with the back of her gloved hand. “Savannah, you best not say it aloud.” She leaned closer and cupped her hand to the side of her mouth. “You wouldn’t want to start Birdie on her diatribe again, about how she saved goats from extinction.” Her voice was faint and southern and full of charm as always despite her concern. The woman could tell anyone off and they wouldn’t realize it for days.
Clutching the broken wood planks to his chest, Herbie backed away to make his great escape.
Sunny heaved a big breath. “Oh, darlin’! Why you so dirty? And your hair? I mean, don’t you brush it, sweetie? Especially when…” Her voice faded before she cleared her throat and set her gardening tools down on the ground. Then removing her gloves one at a time, she pressed them neatly onto the edge of the front porch.
Herbie stopped in his tracks. “Told ya the GGs were up to something. It’s the GG kidnapping trial of 2006 all over again.” Like a weasel scurrying into the nearest hole, he slinked away toward the barn, leaving Savannah to face whatever these women had in store.
Sunny pirouetted in her galoshes with poise, not an easy task in damp grass, then hurried back around the side of the house.
Savannah stared at Sunny’s abandoned gardening tools and groaned. That sealed it. Sunny didn’t leave anything in the wrong place. Ever. She dumped her blueprints and dignity on the front porch to chase Sunny down. “You best spit it out.”
The older woman bounced like a jackrabbit through the side yard and raced up the back steps.
Savannah paused at the edge of the house. The rush of river water at the bottom of the ravine made her stomach churn. It sounded full and wild from the recent rains. The site of the bridge two hundred yards away that led to the trails her sister took that day stoked her anxiety. She never went in the backyard. Never. Not in the last seven years. Not since the GGs bought the building six months ago. Not since she’d lost her sister. Not since her boyfriend had been accused of murder. Not since her entire life had been churned and swirled and shot down the rapids of loss.
She forced her attention to the house, stomped through the construction zone and gooey mud on the grassless backyard and pushed the back door open. “You need to tell me before I end up on the news for concealing a dead body inside a wall,” Savannah called.
Sunny removed her hat and coat, hung them on a broken hook. “Don’t be absurd. We’ve never hidden a body. Well, not a human body anyway.”
Savannah fought the urge to ask what that meant, but after seven years, she knew better. Plausible deniability had become part of her daily life. The smell of paint, old heater coils, and lies filled the atrium. Sunlight spilled through the sunroom windows, highlighting the chipped and cracked tile. “Confess.”
Sunny waved a dismissive hand and mumbled something, but the circular saw grinding upstairs drowned out her delicate voice. Then she rounded the corner and headed for the front door.
Savannah vaulted strips of wood molding and flung herself in front of the door before Sunny could pull it open. “Tell me what’s going on.”
Birdie descended the stairs with yards of floral fabric flowing behind her. “What’s all the commotion about? This is supposed to be a peaceful retreat, not a football arena.”
Sunny wrung her hands and stopped short of the mahogany reception desk Savannah had finished staining an hour ago. Cookie entered from the kitchen hall, wiping her hands on a towel. The women had GG radar. When one was in trouble, they all flocked together. It was eerie. “I thought we all agreed to get this place cleaned out today so the workmen could finish up the drywall and plaster downstairs.”
Birdie waved her hands, her chunky auburn and blonde highlights fluttering above her head in short wisps.
All three ladies stood in the atrium facing each other. The stern gaze Cookie usually used to cover up something knotted Savannah’s insides. Sunny’s avoidance spoke volumes of her part in all this. And Birdie… “Spill it, you three,” Savannah demanded. “What have you cooked up this time that will likely crumble our lives and land us in jail?”
Sunny quirked her head. “You don’t have to be so dramatic.”
Birdie shrugged. “GGs are innocent. I swear. We haven’t done anything but focus on renovating this place.” She twirled, and her oversized, bright pink kimono puffed out like gaudy angel wings.
Savannah eyed the three of them. She could tell Birdie spoke the truth, but the other two were lying. “What on earth would you two ever be a part of that didn’t include Birdie?” A wave of realization prickled over her skin like crushed glass. “No.” The only time that would happen was if Birdie’s nephew was involved. Savannah choked on her own saliva and construction dust. The gritty, sandy taste invaded her tongue, and she struggled to say his name. “Mason?”
Footsteps sounded out front then Herbie stepped inside. “Ms. Savannah. I ain’t got nothin’ to do with this. I promise ya that.” His tone was filled with fear.
Before Savannah could manage another word, another breath, Mason Harrington entered the atrium. Different hair, different build, different swagger, but the same eyes, the same stellar looks from years past.

Savannah clutched the corner of the registration desk, managing to remain upright. Dizziness swirled her in a never-ending marry-go-round. She forced air into her lungs, contaminated as it was with the fumes of wood stain, sawdust, and regrets.

*****

After seven years of separation, ex-couple Mason Harrington and Savannah Blake are thrust together to save their loved one’s dreams. But can old wounds from tragic loss, accusations of murder, and running away ever mend? It will take a miracle on the mountain to heal their hearts and reunite these childhood sweethearts.

Ciara Knight is a USA Today and Amazon Bestselling author who writes 'A Little Edge and A Lot of Heart' that spans the heat scales. Her popular sweet romance series, Sweetwater County (rated PG), takes readers into small town romance full of family trials, friendly competition, and community love. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Journaling by Julie Jarnagin

Have you ever kept a diary or journal? I've had many different versions of journals throughout the years. I've kept journals about my kids when they were babies. I've had prayer journals, gratitude journals, food journals, and morning pages to increase creativity. Currently, I use online journals at Penzu.com.

There are a lot of benefits to journaling. Depending on the type of journal, they can be good for your physical health, mental health, personal growth, or creativity. Even with all these benefits, it can be difficult to start a new habit. Here are a few tips on getting started:

Start small – Don’t set yourself up for failure. You don’t have to journal every single day. It’s okay if your journal entry is only a phrase or a few words. Consider getting into the habit of journaling by simply listing three things you’re thankful for before you go to bed at night.


Keep your journal close at hand – Where are you most likely to use your journal? If it’s in bed, keep it in your nightstand. If it’s in the car while you wait for your kids in the carpool line, keep it in the glove box. Or if, like me, you're more likely to have your phone or computer nearby, create an electronic journal. 

Free writing – If you don’t think you have anything to say, just write the first thing that comes to mind, and don’t let your pencil stop. Let your subconscious take over. You’ll be amazed at how much it has to say. 

It’s about you – There is no wrong way to journal. It’s simply about having a creative outlet. Be open and flexible and let your own instincts take the lead. If your journal ends up being pages of sketches and doodles, that’s okay. If it ends up being a collection of meaningful quotes you’ve run across, that’s great. If it's a place for you to write down hilarious stories about your family, perfect.  Sometimes my journal is simply a place for me to list the things that are causing me to worry because writing them down helps me put them in perspective. 

Do you keep a journal? What kind of journaling do you think would be most beneficial to you? 

New Release! 
Cowgirl in the Kitchen

Just as she's about to make her dream come true, disaster strikes. The only way she can get back in the saddle is to strike a bargain—with a man her family despises. 

Jentry Lawson's dream of becoming a world-class barrel racer is about to happen—until she and her horse are injured in a terrible accident. Forced to move back home to Texas to recuperate, her Dallas-based brother makes her an offer she can't refuse. He needs someone he can trust to oversee the renovation and grand opening of his new restaurant. If she'll take that on, he'll finance her return to the arena. It doesn't take Jentry long to discover she bit off more than she can chew. Swallowing her pride, she asks for help from Gavin Easton—a man her brother despises. But he's the one person who can make the restaurant succeed. 

People in Glover never thought Gavin Easton would amount to anything. Ever since his own restaurant in town burned down, he's taken odd jobs to provide for his niece, whom he is raising alone. When beautiful and stubborn Jentry offers him the perfect job, his first reaction is to turn her down flat. No way he's going to do anything to help her brother! But there's more at stake than his pride. Can he trust his future to the woman whose brother tried to ruin his reputation—and his life? 

Besides, how can he manage a restaurant, when he can't manage his heart?



USA Today Best Selling author Julie Jarnagin writes sweet and inspirational romance. She grew up in a small Oklahoma town where her family farmed and ranched. These days she lives in a not-so-big city with her amazing husband and two young sons who tolerate all her nerdy quirks. Julie earned a B.A. in Journalism / Professional Writing from the University of Oklahoma and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. www.JulieJarnagin.comSign up for her newsletter to be the first to learn about new releases and free books:http://eepurl.com/5y5k

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 - 1st Chapter of THE KAMPALA PEPPERMINT TWIST by Milou Koenings

Sweet Christmas Kisses 3, our box set of 17 brand-new wholesome romances releases on September 27! While we wait eagerly for it, here's a preview of what's in store: Chapter One of my novella for the set, THE KAMPALA PEPPERMINT TWIST.


The Kampala Peppermint Twist cover in Sweet Christmas Kisses 3


Chapter One


Annie glared at the back of the man sitting in the church pew a few rows ahead, to the left. Once, those broad shoulders had left her breathless. Oh, she was breathless all right, but it was indignation that had her seething with anger now. The organist started playing and the little flower girl next to Annie looked up at her.


Annie nodded and forced a smile. "You're going to be fine," she whispered and gave her a little push. She watched Paige step carefully through the open doors and start her procession down the nave. Paige made it past Chad-of-the-broad-shoulders and kept going. Annie blew out a deep breath. She smoothed her velvet dress and picked up the bouquet of poinsettias. She could do this. She was not going to let that jerk spoil this for her. She glanced back at the pastor's office. On the threshold, Julie, Annie's best friend, was waiting, a beaming vision in white. Annie grinned at her and then stepped in the wake of the flower girl. 


She held her breath until she was past Chad, and kept walking. Step, hold, step, hold... She kept her eyes fixed at the front of the church. Seeing Pastor Ewing up ahead, standing in her father's usual place, was just too disconcerting, so she turned her sights on the groom and his best man. Mac was standing with his back to her, determined, Annie knew, not to look back until Julie was at his side. His brother, Trey, grinned at Annie and gave her a discrete thumbs-up. She breathed again.


When she reached the front, Annie handed her bouquet to Julie's mom and picked up Pete, Julie's son. She hoisted him on her hip, unable to suppress a grin at the one-year-old's adorable mini tuxedo, and took her place as maid of honor. She could feel the congregation's silent "aww" of delight as people realized Pete was going to be as much part of this wedding as the bride and groom. By the time Julie and Mac said their vows, surrounded by their family and best friends, everyone was a little teary-eyed.


"Well, that was tacky," Chad muttered from behind her as everyone trailed out of the blue-painted church and headed to the VFW hall for the reception. Annie spun around, the glorious balloon of joy in her heart popping. 


"What?" she asked incredulously.


"Bringing baby at the altar with them. Seriously?" Chad shook his head, a bewildered sneer on his face.


Annie's jaw dropped.  She almost started to explain that Pete was Julie's son from her first marriage, but then stopped herself. She knew she'd explained this to him before, and in any case, Chad didn't deserve an explanation. He'd been nothing but snide since he'd arrived in Green Pines. 


Annie had invited him to spend the weekend at her parents' house.  "I guess you can't expect a pastor to be able to repaint his house," had been his first comment as he got out of his Porsche in the driveway.  The Larsen's living room was a "quaint piece of Americana."  When he'd spent the evening working over his laptop, instead of hanging out with her in front of the open fire, it had been the Wi-Fi connection that wasn't fast enough for his liking. "Even that's slow in a town this size, I guess."  The water pressure didn't measure up to his own several-thousand-dollar showerhead, did it?  Over breakfast, it was all about how he hadn't been able to sleep at night, it was just too quiet—no wonder people out in the hicks were brain dead and how had Annie ever managed to get enough mental stimulation get into college?


By that point, Annie had been ready to throw him out of the house. But the bride's wedding party had rung the doorbell right then, forestalling the full-blown fight she was itching for. Brides usually came to the Larsens' to get ready, since the rectory was next to the church with a paved, covered walkway between the two.


"Go do some work and stay out of our way," she’d ordered, resigned to having to deal with him later.


Later had just arrived.


She pursed her lips, shaking her head, trying to find the right spark to light a screaming match. Then, all of a sudden, all the fight in her evaporated.  He wasn't worth a fight, she realized. Chad was smiling at her now, a slow, lazy smile with those full lips, completely oblivious that she might resent his just having insulted her best friend. His thick blond hair was brushed back from his forehead. His blue eyes, she noticed, had trailed down to her cleavage.  She pulled her faux-fur jacket closed. She looked at this man in his Armani suit, so handsome that for months she had thrown all caution and good sense to the wind, and wondered what had gotten into her. 


"You know, Chad, I think you better go home," she said evenly.


"What, and miss the reception? Don't be silly, who would want to miss the fascinating anthropological experience of a trailer-trash wedding?" he laughed, slipping his arm around her waist as he started to lead her to his car.


Annie's hand whipped across the air and slapped him before she could even think about it. Chad took a step back, stunned.


"What was that?"


"That was me telling you to go home, Chad. Home as in back to Chicago. I don't want you here. In fact, I don't want you anywhere. Get your stuff from your room and leave. Now, please. I'll wait for you here to wave you off." 


Annie kept up her tough façade as the inevitable consequence of what she'd just done dawned on her.  Sure enough, Chad didn't even argue.


"You're fired," he spat as he stomped toward her house.

****


At least she'd enjoyed the reception, Annie thought as she let herself into the house later that night and was hit with the lingering smell of his aftershave. How had she never noticed before that even the man's aftershave had to overshadow everyone else?  She eased open one of the windows in the living room, struggling a bit with the storm window.

She slipped off the faux-fur jacket, enjoying the luxurious feel of it. It had been a wonderful, Christmassy wedding.  The whole community had shown up to celebrate, and Annie would never have to live with the embarrassment that having had Chad there could have caused. She was glad for that.  And so happy that her best friend had found her second chance.  Annie hugged the jacket to her in the empty room and couldn't help but wonder when she'd get finally her first one.

****


cover of The Kampala Peppermint Twist by Milou Koenings


Don't miss it, in the September 27, 2016 release, Sweet Christmas Kisses 3.  You're invited to our launch party!

Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 release party graphic


 
PRE-ORDER NOW:
Amazon /  iTunes / KoboGoogle


Milou Koenings is a USA Today best-selling author. She writes romance because, like chocolate, stories with a happy ending bring more joy into the world and so make it a better place. 


Her Green Pines sweet romances, Reclaiming Home and Sweet Blizzard are available on Amazon and Amazon.uk








You can find her on her website,www.miloukoenings.com, on TwitterFacebookPinterest, or Instagram.