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OutOfAgonyCoverArtOut of Agony, Book 4 in the Starting Over Series, is now available in paperback.

Brian Van Pelt has barely survived an anguished year of loss, hiding his sorrows under the facade of a cool and uncaring attorney. Not able to deny his grief any longer, heartache drives him to collapse and his life takes an unexpected turn.

When Jessie Ingram comes to work at his law firm, she is intrigued by the conflicting darkness of Brian’s behavior and the tender inconsistencies that hint at something deeper within him.

Despite her interest, she has her own pain, supporting her niece Sara, who has a virulent cancer with aggressive treatments that take such a toll they wouldn’t be worth it — except they are Sara’s only hope of survival.

Will life’s hardships bring Brian and Jessie together? Will they be able to heal and possibly find love?

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OutOfAgonyCoverArtOut of Agony now available!

I am so excited about the release of Book Four in the Starting Over Series. I hope you are, too.

We are celebrating with some great prizes including an Amazon gift card, a Starbucks/Teavana Gift Card and a free download of one of the other books in this series.

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About this book: Brian Van Pelt has barely survived an anguished year of loss, hiding his sorrows under the facade of a cool and uncaring attorney. Not able to deny his grief any long, heartache drives him to collapse and his life takes an unexpected turn.

When Jessie Ingram comes to work at his law firm, she is intrigued by the conflicting darkness of Brian’s behavior and the tender inconsistencies that hint at something deeper within him.

Despite her interest, she has her own pain, supporting her niece Sara, who is has a virulent cancer with aggressive treatments that take such a toll they would not be worth it — except they are Sara’s only hope of survival.

Will life’s hardships bring Brian and Jessie together? Will they be able to heal and possibly find love?

Excerpt:

Will caught Jessie’s gaze. “Sorry that meltdown came now, of all times. Looks like you may be on your own with Adams, unless something changes very soon.” He bent down and picked up the papers on the floor. When he straightened he handed them to her.

“Sir, may I ask what that was all about?”

“You may, but it isn’t my story to tell. Let’s just say Brian had more than his share of personal sadness in the last year and it’s finally caught up with him.”

“Okay, I understand. But, sir, as I tried to tell Van Pelt, I can’t find the files and depositions from his earlier work. Would it be okay if I looked around in his office? If he isn’t here…”

“You’re right, we can’t wait much longer.” With a short nod, Will headed to Brian’s office, unlocked the main door, and another one in the back of the room — a storage closet?

“Thank you, sir.” Her boss left for his office and closed the door. She looked around the room. Sterile, too neat. Maybe the files in his desk drawers would reveal more.

Brian’s desk chair sat oddly positioned. Not to one side as one would leave it naturally after rising from it, but pushed back against the desk and perfectly centered in the opening. As she had done the day before, Jessie pulled it out and perched on the edge of the too-tall chair. She opened the file drawer on the left, and found it empty. How very strange. She turned to the other side of the desk, and opened the top utility drawer. Empty, too. The bottom drawer held only one thin file, unlabeled. She pulled it out and placed it on the desk. She opened it to find what she least expected.

The picture of a little girl smiled up at her. She was probably around kindergarten age, judging by the one missing front tooth. Was Brian Van Pelt a father? She turned to the next sheet and found a crayon picture of a house, three people and a dog. The people were labeled Mommy, Daddy and Trudy in a child’s crayoned letters. The dog was Ollie. Beside the house was a big tree with a swing hanging from it.

She put the folder back into the drawer and turned to the closet. She didn’t mean to be nosy about his personal life. Will said he’d recently divorced. All the personal connections were probably damaged or at least fragile, even with his little girl. Still, it was mind boggling that he didn’t have a single work paper in his desk. He must have work files somewhere.

She opened the closet door and gasped at the sight of open file drawers, some no longer in the frame but tipped on their sides against the marred walls as if someone had thrown them there. It would take great strength to throw a full file drawer. Papers spread everywhere. She looked over her shoulder at the compulsively neat office, and back at the devastation before her. Could these contrasting areas be the workspace of the same man? It was incomprehensible. How could the cold, calculating, maybe even mean man be the man who saved the kindergarten photo and drawing in the place closest to him?

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First Kiss – Brian and Jessie

“How about a walk now?” Jessie smiled up at him. “It is a beautiful evening. If you let me drop the food in my car and pick up my jacket, I’d love to walk around the plaza.”

“Perfect.” He claimed her free hand in his and they walked out into the gentle spring night.

After he settled the jacket around her shoulders, he buttoned the top button for her. He reached for one of the curls around her face. It was soft and springy to his touch, just as he’d imagined.

“Naturally curly or cuOutOfAgonyCoverArtrling iron?”

“Naturally curly.” She winked at him. “When you meet the rest of the family you will see it is definitely in the genes.”

He’d like to meet her family someday.

He stroked her cheek with one knuckle. She was so beautiful. She watched his eyes as he moved his hand down to her chin. He tipped her face a little closer to his. Her rosy pink lips parted slightly. They simply begged for a kiss and he couldn’t resist. He dropped his lips to hers, continuing the soft, gentle theme of their evening. Her lips were warm and smooth under his. He brushed them lightly and pulled back a bit so he could see her response.

She reached up to cradle his face between her hands, sinking her fingers into his beard, and pulled his face closer. She kissed him back, a sweet, warm, caring kiss.

Her touch soothed the pain in him somehow. She broke the kiss and looked at him. Tears swam in her eyes. “It’s today, isn’t it?”

For a heartbeat he wasn’t sure what she was asking, but connected the tears with his own grief and nodded.

“I thought so. Thank you for sharing this day with me. How difficult that must have been.”

“Not as much as you might think. Want to take a stroll while I tell you about it?”

Buy Out of Agony from Amazon.com or Dessert Breeze Publishing. Available July 21.

Ollie, my own sweet dog, is a character in Voice

When it began to get dark Jen looked for a campsite. She didn’t want to hook things up in the dark if she found a site with electricity. If she didn’t, her generator would take care of them.

The campground wasn’t as empty as she’d thought it would be. More people must travel in the fall than she’d realized. Big RVs and Airstream trailers of all sizes shared the spaces with vans like hers. She signed in at the office, paid for her night in advance, then pulled into her spot.

Once she’d parked, she sat there a long time. She was really doing this. Was she a little nuts? A woman and a little dog, traveling alone. A shiver ran down her spine, and she shook off the fear. Ollie, anxious to get out and explore — or more likely relieve himself — gave a little whine and pawed at her arm.

“Okay, Ollie, okay.” She went into the back of the van and got IMG_0402a towel and her little caddy of shampoo, conditioner, and soap.

“Let’s get a walk, then get a shower tonight, while it’s still light, and then we can lock things down tight for the night.”

She clipped his leash onto the harness, and they hopped out of the van. She locked the doors behind her and they set off to explore the campsite.

“Hey, neighbor, cute dog. What kind is he?” The voice came from the site two down from hers. An older woman, with grey curly hair, stepped out from behind a camp stove. The delicious smell indicated she was grilling burgers for dinner.

“I don’t know what breed his is, but people always ask. He’s cute, huh? He was a rescue, and his name is Ollie.”

If there were lots of women in these campsites, it might not be so bad.

“Hello, Ollie.” The woman leaned down to pat him, and Ollie pulled forward to meet her friendly touch. Well, he seemed to think she was safe enough.

She looked up at Jen and smiled. “I’m Lucille,” she offered. “My sister and I are headed to Northern California. Where are you headed?”

“I’m Jen. Not sure where Ollie and I will end up. We aren’t expected in Illinois for a few weeks, so I think we’ll see how many national parks and monuments we can find between here and there.”

“Sounds like fun, Jen. Just the two of you then?”

Jen nodded.

“Well, be sure to let me know if you need anything — forgot the butter, can’t get the electricity set up, or some creep bugs you — just call out, and we’ll come running.”

Lucille went back to her stove with a wave. Good. No long, nosy conversations, just enough chatting to be friendly.

And to know each other’s names if some kind of trouble came up for either of them. Smart.

“You know, Ollie, this might not be so bad.” The dog looked up at his name, but they kept walking. He trotted with his proud little strut, head up, tail curled, walking in his funny, not quite straight gait. Almost like he used to walk his happy little stride before. She wanted to get at least a mile in so that they both had a good stretch. It had been a long day buckled into the van.

“We don’t have to explain anything. We have neighbors willing to help, and we have the solitude of our cozy little home on wheels.” Best of all possible worlds — or as good as a world could be without Trudy.

Buy Finding Her Voice today from Amazon or Desert Breeze Publishing.

When the first meeting is off to a bad start — Brian and Jessie

Excerpt from Out of Agony:brew-coffee-substitute

Jessie Ingram watched the self-important guy in the grey suit. He was so obnoxious. He butted into the line, and didn’t even look at the woman with a child when he cut them off. He leaned in toward the person behind the cash register. When he slammed his drink onto the counter some sloshed over the top. As if that wasn’t satisfying enough he gave it another shove and the drink toppled over, spilling the hot coffee. The young man jumped at the jerky, angry movements of the suit. He grabbed at the cup to right it and began to mop up the spill.

“This drink is all wrong.” Voice strident, the man continued in an over-loud, angry tone. “It’s too sweet. I wanted one pump of hazelnut. There have to be at least four.” She glanced behind them. Everyone in the place listened in.

“Obviously you are an idiot who can’t count. You are incompetent. I will see you don’t work here after today. There is no excuse…”

That was enough. She could take no more. To pull his attention away from the young man, who was almost in tears, she grasped the customer’s forearm and made him face her instead. “Hey, mister, what is wrong with you? It’s a cup of coffee.”

He turned his frosty blue gaze to meet hers and said brusquely, “This is not your business.” He turned back to the barista and leaned in, opened his mouth to continue his tirade.

Not on her watch. She grabbed his arm again, gripped it hard this time, so he couldn’t ignore her. “So what has your pants in such a wad, mister?”

Surprise crossed his face for a second, before irritation won the day. He opened his mouth but she wasn’t about to let him speak. She stepped into his personal space, right up close. She kept her voice even and clear, but didn’t raise it. “There is a place and time to insist on customer service, but you crossed the line with this public dressing down. Are you just having a bad day or are you always such a jerk? Get out of here. The rest of us would like a chance to get a cup before the day is out.”

He stiffened, looked like he might say more, then closed his mouth into a tight line. Cheeks flaming, he turned without a word and pushed through the crowd to the door. The other patrons broke into scattered applause. Jessie turned to the guy who took the orders and placed her own. “Your largest Earl Grey tea, please. Three pumps vanilla, two percent milk, and extra foam.” When she tried to pay, the harried young man shook his head.

“No charge for you, ma’am. On the house.”

Now that was nice. A perfect way to start her first day at her new job as one of the associates with Barnes and Associates.

Out of Agony is available July 21 from Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.com

How do Jen and Michael meet? On line romance.

Excerpt from Finding Her Voice:

After she and Ollie36451078204185961_HMZmvGgi_b returned, she dried the dog off and settled into warm flannel jammies with some peppermint tea. Ollie burrowed into the covers on her bed, but she wasn’t tired enough to sleep yet. Jen turned back to her computer screen.

She clicked on the icon where she’d saved the grief group to her browser toolbar.

Couldn’t hurt to look in on the conversations. She didn’t have to write anything.

This time the front page held a picture of a young teenager — eleven years old, the caption said. A boy whose birthday was the same day as Trudy’s. His father had posted the story of his son sometime late the night before. The eyes of young Landon pulled at her. There was so much life in those eyes. So much wonder and fun. It was so brutal to see a life cut short.

She took a deep breath. Beth had been right — they knew better than most how precious life was.

Jen clicked the Comment box at the end of the post about Landon.

Your son shares my daughter’s birthday. I can see he was a very precious boy. You are in my thoughts and prayers tonight. Jen

She was startled when, with a ding, a reply popped up.

Thanks. I saw your pictures of Trudy and thought the same thing. I’m not sure about prayer. I gave it up a while back. But I am sending good thoughts your way. Michael.

Sometimes she wasn’t sure about prayer, either. Before she realized it she had replied with those very words. She elaborated.

I don’t understand how a God who cares can take away the one we love the most. And if God doesn’t care, just lets it happen, then He isn’t the God I thought I knew, either. Jen

Had she really written those words right out there where another person could read them? She gasped, a little shocked at her own daring. She had hardly admitted to herself, much less to someone else, that she was mad at God. She slammed the lid of her laptop down before she wrote something else she’d regret.

*****

He hadn’t meant to scare her away, but it looked like he had. “Jen” was off-line.FindingHerVoiceCoverArt

Maybe she wasn’t ready to talk about God yet anyway. He wasn’t.

What faith he’d had was lost at the terrible death of his family.

Like Jen said, “How could a caring God allow it?” And if He didn’t care, what was the point?

There were lots of preachy people who came to his site. They came and went, because their too-rosy response wasn’t a good fit.

Those who continued to participate were grittier, realistic about their loss once they admitted to it.

Like Jen. He sensed a kindred spirit in the few words she’d shared.

He sighed and pushed away from the desk. He put a kettle on for a spot of tea and then added another layer of clothes for warmth. The wind whistled around the house. They were in for some weather.

Buy Finding Her Voice today at Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.