Chirp and Chatter Pages

Friday, August 18, 2017

Guest Author: Jan Elder

A huge welcome to fellow Pelican Book Group author Jan Elder! You'll be happy to know Jan will be giving away not one, but two electronic copies of her new release, A Semi-Sweet Summer. Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win one of them!

When I first started writing a “New Adult” novella for the Pure Amore line of Pelican Book Group, I was waxing nostalgic about my teenage years. Memories flooded through me and a myriad of feelings, some quite strong, rose up to assault me. There were a great many pleasant remembrances, but what I recall the most about being in those “stuck in the middle” years was that there was a great deal of anxiety, the sensation of being so very different—certainly not part of the “in” crowd.
My thoughts swung to a boy I had the biggest crush on in high school. He was three and a half years older and he was definitely part of the “elite” segment of our church youth group—the cool kids I so longed to be a part of. Sorry to say, I followed him around like a puppy, learned all of his favorite foods, chosen hobbies, etc. I try not to think I actually stalked him, but I was very aware of his presence, and searched for ways to be near him.
In A Semi-Sweet Summer, I tried to transfer some of that raging angst into fodder for Cassidy’s discomfort in finding her unrequited love living right next door. Cassidy never really fit in, hardly that enviable cheerleader, not a person that anyone would notice. Rather, she sees herself as sort of an ugly duckling. Now she’s back ten years later and it’s a tough situation. The pain of those past years rises up to haunt her, and the boy who is now a man was the cause of much of her pain. If she had been prettier, smarter, more engaging, would he have loved her? And what about now? Can she learn to see herself as God sees her and find her value in His eyes?
One of my favorite passages of the Bible talks about how we are wonderfully made. Why would we want to be anyone but the person God created us to be? I like to think that God can use our experiences to help others through similar situations. God makes each of us so different, so unique, so special, and trying to be a copy of someone else makes the world less colorful.

Psalm 139:14-16 - The Message (MSG)
 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

A Mini-interview with Jan:

Which character in your new release did you most enjoy writing? Why?
I had a fine time creating Hunter Gray, the hero in the novella. He’s a great deal like my husband—smart, savvy, droll, witty…just a fun guy to be around. He’s had some ups and downs in his life and he has come through with shining colors, mostly because he has learned to rely on God for his strength.
What I like best about him is that he has a heart to help other, and that includes our heroine, Cassidy. She is quite the handful sometimes, and he always responds with grace and tries to balance her seriousness with a touch of lightness—something she sorely needs in her life. When he finds out that in the past he has hurt her deeply, his immediate response is to ask for forgiveness.
Sure, we all mess up sometimes, but when we ask the Lord for forgiveness, He is quick to respond, welcoming us back with open arms. I like to think that we could all learn something from Hunter, a good-hearted man who longs for reconciliation.
What makes you laugh out loud?
My cats make me laugh on a daily basis. My husband and I have two (he wanted none, I wanted four so we compromised). When I write, I am usually sitting in a lounge chair with my laptop on my lap, and my gorgeous black and white tuxedo cat, Jamie, enjoys sitting on the arm of the chair. Her front paw dangles and she is often patting me in some way, obviously offering encouragement. As she is quite a vocal creature, occasionally, she’ll comment, helping me with word choice (she has an amazing vocabulary for a feline).
When 15-year-old tortoiseshell, Shu-Shu, awakens from her frequent naps, she has a fine time dancing on my keyboard to get attention. She has been known to type actual words, but the meaning is often cryptic. I am sure she has a secret language and have wondered if I should offer her services to the CIA or some such organization who would use her expertise. 
 Please share your conversion experience, if you’re comfortable doing so.
I was immensely blessed to grow up in a Christian family and Mom always made sure we were in church at every opportunity. From the day I was born, I knew that God loved me and wanted the very best for my life.
At the tender age of five, our pastor at church invited those who didn’t know the Lord to come down to the altar for prayer. I remember pulling on my mother’s sleeve asking her if she would go down that long aisle with me. I asked Jesus into my heart that day. Is life always wonderful? No, because we live in this fallen world. But there’s a joy deep down in my soul that can never fade or falter. What a glorious gift!   

About A Semi-Sweet Summer

Cassidy Cooper never wanted to set foot in Crystal Falls again. Ten years earlier, she’d given her heart to a boy who’d, in turn, humiliated her deeply. Now, back in town as the sole beneficiary of her sister's estate, she’s determined to make her sister's dream of an upscale chocolate truffle shop, come true.

Hunter Gray is very intrigued by his new neighbor. His escape artist cow, Marigold, engineers an introduction…but it's not quite the first impression he was hoping for. Baffled by the nagging suspicion he’s seen this woman before, he plots to win Cassidy’s heart at every opportunity.

With the object of her unrequited love living within shouting distance, Cassidy prays for strength to forgive and forget. And Hunter? He just wants to get back to his own dream to grow his farm and get to know the pretty girl next door. If she'll let him.

About Jan Elder:

JAN ELDER is an inspirational romance writer with a passion for telling stories other women can relate to on a deep level. She strives to write the kind of book that will strengthen the reader’s faith, introducing the reader to a loving and forgiving Lord who walks beside us in our daily lives, while also providing an entertaining and engrossing love story.
Happily married for fourteen years to loving (and supportive) husband, Steve, the two live in central Maryland along with Jamie (a chubby black and white tuxedo cat), and Shu-Shu (a willowy tortoiseshell cat). On the weekends, Jan and Steve comb the nearby countryside in search of the perfect ice cream flavor.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Guest Author: Zoe McCarthy

Please help me welcome one of my fellow Pelican Book Group authors, Zoe McCarthy. I love her post on filthy rags of our "righteousness," and I think you will too. Be sure to say hello in the comments (below), and help make Zoe feel at home here on Chirp 'N Chatter!

Scrubbing Our Filthy Rags

Sometimes when a woman has been badly hurt, she raises her jerk-detecting antennae, a daily routine that becomes as common as brushing her teeth. Over time and on a smaller scale, her distrust bleeds over to strangers, her family members, and her friends—to people other than the person who initially wounded her heart. If questioned why she’s so touchy, the story of how someone blindsided her readily comes to her mind and possibly to her tongue. She has grown to consider her distrust a righteous act.
What if God decides it’s time such a woman return to becoming the lovely woman He designed her to be? Only God can orchestrate the right people, circumstances, and perhaps a bit of humor to help her realize what He teaches in Isaiah 64:6. All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
In writing Amanda’s story in Gift of the Magpie, I’ve come to understand from a woman’s perspective what Isaiah was saying. Many times from whatever catalyst, we women have matured into females who nag loved ones, believe people should see us as good examples, or distrust others as Amanda does. Thankfully, God can reveal to us that we aren’t so different than our family members and neighbors, and possibly, that we’re worse!
God loves us as we are, but He’s known as a God who doesn’t leave us wearing filthy rags. He offers Jesus’ work on the cross to clean our rags to be as white as snow, but He also expects us to change and become better people. If need be, God is happy to arrange that to happen.
For me, God has orchestrated my salvation, some callings I resisted, and recently, to devote my Sabbath to worshiping him, spending time with Him and His Word, and loving on others.

What has God orchestrated in your life that you’re now thankful for?

Gift of the Magpie Blurb

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

Zoe M. McCarthy Bio

A full-time writer and speaker, Zoe M. McCarthy, author of Gift of the Magpie and Calculated Risk, writes contemporary Christian romances involving tenderness and humor. Believing that opposites distract, Zoe creates heroes and heroines who learn to embrace their differences. When she’s not writing, Zoe enjoys her five grandchildren, teaching Bible studies, leading workshops on writing, knitting and crocheting shawls for a prayer shawl ministry, gardening, and canoeing. She lives with her husband in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Zoe blogs regularly at

Gift of the Magpie Buy Link

Friday, August 11, 2017

Picnics & Promises: Sweet Delights (Cecelia Dowdy)

A huge welcome to Cecelia Dowdy, with the next Picnics & Promises novella, SWEET DELIGHTS!

Picnics & Promises: Six Delicious Summer Romances

SWEET DELIGHTS by Cecelia Dowdy

Patty-Lynn is stunned when she runs into her wealthy ex-boyfriend, Sam. She’s still haunted by their painful breakup seven years ago. Recently widowed, Sam now wants to fix their broken relationship. Seeing Patty-Lynn, happy in her bakery, gives him hope. Can her prize-winning pie recipe sweeten his new business venture and heal their broken hearts?

Excerpt from SWEET DELIGHTS:

She quickly turned and slammed right into Sam Richardson. Her lips brushed against his shirt right before she took a few steps back. Goodness, she didn’t realize he’d been standing right behind her.
“Sam? What you doing here?” She’d just finished setting up the wedding cake. The guests weren’t due at the reception for another hour.
“My friend Mark just married my sister-in-law Lisa. He sent me to the reception early to make sure everything was set up.”
Lisa. Sam’s wife’s sister. So she assumed Sam’s wife, Lorena, would come strolling in at any time. She imagined the woman was part of the bridal party. Well when Lorena turned up, Patty-Lynn would be sure that she was long gone. No way did she want to see the woman who’d stolen Sam’s heart away from her seven years ago.
He leaned toward her, as if he were going to give her a hug.
No way did she want to hug him. She quickly turned around, ran smack into the table, hard. The table tilted on an incline as pain shot through her knee. The wedding cake slid down the small table, right toward the floor. She reached out toward the cake and screamed. Quick as a cannon, Sam raced to the end of the table and caught the cake in his arms.
Workers in black and white suits appeared from the back, scurried and assisted Sam with the cake, set it back upright onto another nearby table. The manager yelled at his workers in Spanish, pointing at the legs of the faulty table. Apparently one of the legs had not been properly locked into place when they’d set it up. The manager bobbed his head toward her. “So, so sorry ma’am.”
Not half as sorry as she was. After the workers had confirmed that the legs were properly locked into place, she shooed them away. Before she could examine her cake to be sure no damage had been done, she focused on Sam. He patiently stood beside her. His intoxicating cologne wreaked havoc with her frazzled nerves.
She gulped. It’d probably be a good idea to thank him. After all, if it wasn’t for his fast save, her cake would have been splattered onto the floor and then she’d have to explain the terrible fiasco to the bride and groom.
She forced herself to look into his eyes. Dang, he had the most hypnotic eyes she’d ever seen. She used to swoon just staring into the chocolate brown depths. Looked like he still had some effect on her, and that was not good, not at all. She finally forced herself to speak.
“Sam, awful kind of you to rescue my cake like that. I appreciate it.” He’d also helped to save her business. If word had gotten out that she’d ruined a wedding cake, her business would have been affected – she was sure of that.
“You’re welcome.” He gestured toward the table that had caused them so much grief. “Did you need some help?”
She was about to say no, but stopped herself. She could use some help. The white table cloth had spilled onto the floor and she needed another. “Could you ask the manager for a new table cloth? I don’t want to use that one since it was lying on the floor.”
Sam scurried away. While he was gone, she took a few minutes to compose herself and examine her cake.
Surprisingly, the three-tier cake swirled with rosettes and curlicues looked perfect. She saw where Sam’s finger had touched the bottom layer, messing up a small sliver of the fluted icing. She quickly opened her bag of supplies and repaired the damage. There, nobody would be able to tell that this cake had been saved from certain death.
Sam had been quick, that was for sure. She remembered how he’d been a fast runner on his college track team. He could sprint with his long brown legs. She also recalled he ran every day—either early morning or late at night. Good thing he’d come to her rescue this afternoon.
“Here’s the tablecloth.” He rushed from the back of the kitchen and working together, they quickly smoothed the cloth over the table. She was about to get the cake but he stopped her. “Hold on.”
He slammed his hand on top of the table, then forced himself to bump right into it. What in the world was he doing?
“I just want to make sure it won’t topple over if somebody crashes into it again.”
Ahh. Now that was smart. Well, she needed to be smart, too. What if they tried to move this heavy cake and slipped or something? She took the cake boxes and dismantled the cake, carefully setting each tier back into the box.
Sam studied her as she completed her chore. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t trust myself to move this whole cake back to that table. It’s heavy. I know you did a fast save earlier, but I just want to be sure.” She carefully carried each layer back to the table, set one layer on top of the other. Now, all she needed to do was put the figurine of the bride and groom on the cake. She removed the cake topper from the packet and pressed it into the white icing. The sweet delicious scent of vanilla wafted around her.
“You do some nice work, Patty-Lynn.”
“Thanks, Sam.” She needed to be cordial to him. She eyed the dark suit and blue shirt that hugged his trim frame. Oh, how she’d used to love it when he’d held her in his long, lanky muscular arms.
She nodded toward him. Eyed the cake again. She’d finished her duties here. Time to get back to work. “Well, Sam, nice seeing you again. Thanks again for helping me. I’m much obliged to you for doing that.” She gathered her bag of supplies, slipped it over her shoulder. “Have a nice day.” She strolled toward the exit.
“Patty-Lynn, wait.” His deep, sexy voice resonated in the room, making her heart pound. Oh, how she remembered how excited she’d become when her name rolled from his beautiful lips.
“No, Sam. I’ve got to get to work.” She had a special order to fill that day. Fifty banana cream pies for a huge corporate event. She’d been selling a lot of her blue-ribbon banana cream pies lately. Since she’d recently won The French International Pie Competition, her sales had doubled.
“I’ve opened a new office for Richardson Enterprises in Crystal Spring.” Sam moved a step closer.
Lord help her, she couldn’t believe Sam had actually moved to her small town. She recalled he lived near his family, about two hours away, up in Northern Virginia. The thought of Sam being in such close proximity rattled her. “Why don’t we get together for a picnic?”
Oh, no, he had to go and mention a picnic. When they’d dated, her favorite activity was having a picnic in the park. They’d shared thick sandwiches and huge cups of cold iced tea. He’d teased her, telling her how much he enjoyed hearing the southern twang in her voice. He’d loved her southern accent, said that she sounded cute when she spoke. He’d leaned in for warm romantic kisses while they’d enjoyed their treats. Afterwards, they’d eat big, sweet slices of pie.
Those passionate kisses, those picnic dates. That’s what had gotten them into trouble. As soon as his sister, Kelly, had spotted them, ratted them out, things had spiraled out of control. Kelly knew that his parents wouldn’t approve of their relationship. Well, she’d learned to let bygones be bygones, at least she thought she had. But if she’d really let bygones be bygones then why did hearing Sam’s voice make her feel weird, light-headed, almost hypnotized. The memories swirled through her, making her wish her day had gotten off to a better start.
Besides he was married to Lorena, so why would he want to go on a picnic date? She didn’t want to have anything to do with a married man. Kind of sad that Sam had such loose morals.
She needed to focus on leaving. “Sam, it’s been real nice seeing you again.” She swallowed and forced herself to give him her megawatt smile. Not a good idea to let him know how seeing him again affected her. She offered her hand and he eyed her palm, accepting it. Her white skin clashed with his dark chocolate complexion. She gave him a firm handshake before offering another smile. Standing tall, she rushed toward the door and pushed it open. She welcomed the heat from the sunshine as she scurried to her delivery van.

Sam eyed his late wife’s sister, Lisa, as she popped a bite of wedding cake into Mark’s mouth. Seeing his wife’s identical twin get married had been bittersweet. Hard to believe that Lorena had been dead for two years. He squeezed his napkin, so many thoughts ripping through him, too many. He’d just gotten his MBA—his father had insisted he get an advanced degree before promoting him to the Marketing and Food Distribution Director’s position.
Surprisingly, when his father had said that Crystal Spring Maryland was where their new office would be located, he’d wondered if God was showing him a sign. As soon as he’d heard this news, he’d thought about Patty-Lynn, the first woman he’d loved when he was only twenty-one, a senior in college. When they’d dated, she’d told him that she’d been born in Crystal Spring, and that’s where she’d lived during the first seven years of her life. Now, it was late March, and their new office was set to open. It’d been a leap of faith for his dad, allowing Sam to run his own office.
After pictures had been snapped of the happy couple eating cake, the confection was served to the guests. Several slices were also slipped into white paper bags, ready for guests to take home. A server approached and slid a white plate toward him. The cake looked awesome. The white cake, bright red filling, pale frosting. He cut his fork into the delicate cake and popped a large bite into his mouth. Strawberries, sweet sugar….delicious. He closed his eyes, vividly recalling that Patty-Lynn had lived in the basement apartment of an off-campus house. She’d made him a cake in her small oven for his birthday.
His birthday cake had tasted just like this wedding cake.
She didn’t have much money. Only eighteen, and just out of high school, she’d moved to his university town from down south and worked in a fast food place near campus. He’d managed to keep their intense, deeply emotional relationship a secret from his parents. He opened his eyes, the memories haunting his mind. He inwardly cringed, recalling how he’d hurt Patty-Lynn, one of the sweetest women he’d ever met.
Eyeing the crowd, he enjoyed another bite of cake. Man, seeing her again made it seem as if time had stood still. Patty-Lynn still looked the same—petite, pretty. Her smooth white skin was sprinkled with cute freckles across her nose. How he’d loved her rosebud-shaped mouth. Her lips turned down when she was upset or afraid.
Patty-Lynn had had her share of disappointments over the years. When they’d dated she’d struggled with so many problems. She didn’t have the luxury of having a family to back her up. She was used to being by herself.
“Hey, man.” Mark clapped him on the shoulder. He’d been in such deep thought that he didn’t realize the bride and groom were now circulating the room, making sure they greeted every single guest. “You looked like you were a million miles away.” Mark had removed his tuxedo jacket and had loosened his tie. He’d noticed a few of the younger female guests eyeing Mark during the reception. His friend got his share of female attention with his dark skin and striking good looks. Mark had mentioned that Lisa would get mad when females openly admired him in public.
Sam tried to smile. “I was.”
“Is something wrong?”
This was no time or place to tell Mark about all that was on his mind. “Yeah, something happened before the reception.”
Mark gestured toward the stairs in the lobby. “Why don’t we go up to the suite to talk about it?”
Both the bride and groom had a private suite. “Are you sure?” Who took time to talk about a problem during a wedding?
Mark checked his Rolex watch. “I have a few minutes. Lisa won’t mind as long as I don’t stay too long.”
Might as well. He needed somebody to talk to right now. His mind was so full of tumultuous thoughts that he thought his brain would explode. He followed Mark into the posh lobby. Chandeliers dipped from the vaulted ceiling. Plush carpet sunk beneath their shoes as they made their way up the stairs. He followed Mark down a long hallway before he opened a white door marked as Groom’s Suite. Sam followed him into the room.
Mark dropped into a chair, propped his feet onto a stool. “Man, I’m tired. I can’t wait until we leave for Hawaii in the morning. Now, what’s up?”
“You remember you’d mentioned you’d had some problems with the caterers? Lisa wanted me to come to the reception early to make sure everything was set up before the bridal party arrived.”
“Yeah, man, thanks a lot for doing that.”
Sam nodded, rubbed his hand over his head. This was so hard to talk about. He took a deep breath. What he needed was a good stiff drink, but alcohol was something he’d given up when he’d become a Christian. The temptation was just so great—hard for him to indulge without overdoing it. “Well, when I got here, the baker was setting up the cake. It was Patty-Lynn.” He told him how he’d saved the cake in the nick of time.
Mark blinked, frowned. “Patty-Lynn? Who’s that?”
“Lisa never told you about Patty-Lynn?” How strange. He knew that Lisa was aware that he’d broken up with Patty-Lynn right before he’d started dating her twin sister, Lorena. He figured Lisa would have mentioned it to Mark. After all, Lorena was the person he’d married one year after he’d broken up with Patty-Lynn.
Mark shrugged. “I know the baker I hired to do the cake owns a bakery called Patty’s Pie Palace over in Crystal Spring. Other than that, I don’t know her. We were fortunate to get her to do our cake.”
“Really? Why?”
“Since our reception was an hour away from Crystal Spring, we weren’t sure if we were too far away for her to deliver it.” He shrugged. “But she said she’d do it. I thought the cake was good.” He focused on Sam. “Should I know her? The first time I saw her was when I ordered the cake.”
“Lisa wasn’t with you when you chose the cake?”
Mark shook his head. “Nope. She was so busy with other stuff, and you know Lisa, she’s not a big fan of sweets. She left the cake totally up to me. So Patty’s Pie Palace was recommended by our wedding coordinator. I visited her shop, chose a vanilla wedding cake.” He shrugged. “Seemed easy enough. Should I know her?” he repeated.
“I guess not, since Lisa didn’t mention her to you. It was just strange seeing her. I feel so bad.”
“About what?” Mark threw his hands in the air, as if upset that Sam was taking so long to explain what was on his mind.
“I dated Patty-Lynn seven years ago.”
Mark nodded, stroked his chin. “So?” He patiently waited, as if coaxing Sam to open up to him.
“My parents…well my parents and grandparents didn’t approve of her. She wasn’t from a good family…well, she barely knew her family. She was poor, her parents died in a car accident when she was a kid…she was raised by different foster families. She’d been on her own since she was eighteen. She had a deep southern accent, terrible table manners—”
“So she was from the wrong side of the tracks?”
“Yeah, but she didn’t put on airs.”
Mark frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean she was real. So blunt, so open, so…honest. I loved her and she loved me. We dated for a year and, my parents…Well, you know how they are.”
“Yeah, unfortunately, I do.”
Richardson Enterprises had been a big family food distribution business for over one hundred and fifty years. It’d been started by freed slaves within his family and had grown. His parents and grandparents had protected that legacy with an iron fist.
“Can you imagine how they reacted when I started dating a poor uneducated woman? They also objected to the color of her skin.” That had been the biggest pill for them to swallow, especially for his grandparents. They’d been highly vocal about their wanting him to date a wealthy Black woman.
“I’m surprised you found the courage to tell them.”
“I didn’t.”
He frowned. “How’d they find out?”
“Kelly saw us during a picnic date and told my parents.” He dropped his head into his hands. The memories tumbled through his mind like unwanted bricks. The arguments, the discussions, the pain. When they discovered that Patty-Lynn was not just a brief fling, but that he’d been secretly dating her for a year, declared his love for her….they’d made him miserable. His grandmother had threatened to withhold his inheritance if he married Patty-Lynn—if he had any children, they would not be able to be a part of Richardson Enterprises.
The turmoil, hurt, and pain that his family had caused…it was just too much. In spite of his deep love for Patty-Lynn, he didn’t want to hurt her. “I don’t need to explain all of this to you. I think, knowing my family, you can imagine their reaction.”
“So you broke up with her?” Mark asked quietly.
He nodded. “By the time we broke up, she was nineteen and I was twenty-two. Patty-Lynn cried, hard. I cried too. But I just wanted her to be happy. I honestly didn’t think my family would ever accept her.”
They’d been openly rude to the woman he’d loved. He’d brought her to the house for a family dinner and it’d been a disaster. A formal dinner setting, she’d not known which utensil to use. She’d spilled her drink, she’d been so nervous. Then, he’d been upset with himself. Sure, he’d warned her about his family, but he could have at least explained the outward in principal. He’d been so pre-occupied, worried about his family’s reaction that he didn’t think of things he could’ve done to make things easier for Patty-Lynn.
Heck, who was he kidding? Even if he’d taken the time to teach her some of the things he’d known since he was a child, the proper way to act, the way to sit, how to eat, would they still have accepted her? He doubted it. She’d still not meet their high expectations. Although she’d worked in a fast-food joint near his college campus, she’d had no aspirations for college. His parents had cringed at her southern public school education.
They’d openly wondered why he didn’t simply date one of the college students. When his mom had asked her about her educational endeavors, Patty-Lynn had haughtily told his mom that she didn’t have time for school. She did well enough on her own. Plus, how was she going to pay for school? She was barely making a living for herself.
“So seeing her today started you thinking about stuff?”
“Yeah. My life has changed so much.” He’d become saved and now relied on Christ for his decisions. He tried to do everything that his parents wanted and felt they knew best. But for some reason, he always felt as if his dad never approved of his actions. He still thought his dad was a bit harsh with his criticism, and he figured in time, he’d earn his father’s approval. Especially since he’d be opening the office in Crystal Spring.
Mark checked his watch. “Well, I’ve got to get back downstairs. I know Lisa will be looking for me. But if you want my advice, I’ll tell you what I think you should do.”
He sat up straight. This should be good. He’d been friends with Mark for over a year. They’d hit it off after he’d joined Mark and Lisa’s church. Whenever he sought Mark’s advice, he’d never steered him wrong. The man had a good head on his shoulders, so hearing what he had to say would be interesting.
“What should I do?”

Mark cleared his throat. “Give it a few days. If she’s still on your mind, simply visit her at her bakery. It’s easy find, downtown on the main road. When you visit, you might want to try her banana cream pie. Best pie I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

About Cecelia Dowdy:

CECELIA DOWDY is a world traveler who has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember. When she first read Christian fiction, she felt called to write for the genre. She currently has several romance novels published in the Christian market. She loves to read, write, and bake desserts in her spare time. Cecelia currently resides with her husband and young son in Maryland.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Picnics & Promises: Imperfectly Proverbs 31 (Autumn MacArthur)

The next author in my Picnics & Promises highlight series is Autumn MacArthur, with Imperfectly Proverbs 31. Enjoy!

Picnics & Promises: Six Delicious Summer Romances


by Autumn MacArthur

The last thing geeky Samantha Rose planned for was the homemaking blog only her sister was ever supposed to see going viral. After a disastrous picnic, Daniel Novak, the cynical reporter dispatched to interview her, insists he must reveal the truth. But that could ruin everything, including their budding love.


His knock on the door was answered almost immediately. Definitely the woman he’d seen in the store. No makeup, blonde hair in a soft wispy up-do, and a pink flowered apron over her white T-shirt and slim jeans. Instead of the earlier wary glance, she smiled welcome, though the smile didn’t light up her eyes.
And there, in her oven-mitted hand, was the source of the delicious scent. A tray of chocolate chip cookies. They looked as good as they smelled.
“Ms. Rose? I’m Daniel Novak.”
She swung the door wide, revealing an entry hall with braided rugs on the polished wood floors. “Come in. We have a picnic lunch all prepared. As it’s such a lovely day, we can eat by the lake. But I wanted to bake some cookies for the girls to have later. I’ll just set them cooling before we go.”
“Thank you for agreeing to an interview at such short notice, Ms. Rose.”
“Please call me Sam.”
Nodding acknowledgment, though the boyish name didn’t suit her in the least, he followed her into a spacious old-fashioned kitchen. A huge oak table filled the center of the room. As she wielded a spatula to lift the cookies onto a metal rack, he admired her graceful movements and hoped he’d get one of those cookies, too.
He pulled out his small voice recorder and flicked it on. “Do you agree to me recording the interview?”
For a fleeting moment, apprehension gleamed in her blue eyes. He’d been right to suspect she wanted to hide something. He filed the observation away.
Then she nodded. “Sure. That’s standard procedure, right?”
“It makes sure the final article stays factual, which is in your interest. So, the girls are your nieces, staying with you for the summer, correct?” Easy questions he already knew the answer to first, to warm her up.
After that glimpse of her in the store, he’d done more research, read right through her website, Perfectly Proverbs 31. All the pictures were of food, flowers and plants in the garden, or two little girls, usually wearing matching print dresses.
“Yes. Five-year-old twins, Emily and Rose. I’m minding them while their mom is abroad. I started the blog as a record of these months with them, purely for their mother. I never anticipated it would get as much attention as it has.”
Her voice, low and sweet, fell softly on his ear. He didn’t get the sense she hid anything now.
An irrelevant question tickled his sense of the ridiculous. “Rose Rose?”
Samantha Rose gurgled as she deposited the baking tray in the sink and pulled off her floral mitt. “Thankfully, no. Her name is hard enough for her as it is.”
He raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Rose still has a slight lisp, so she says her name as Wose. The girls have a different last name than me. And no, I won’t disclose it, to maintain their privacy.”
She’d answered a question he had no intention of asking. Memories of the way Dad used pictures of him as a kid in mailouts and promotions for his so-called charity still burned in his gut. “Wise. So where are they now?”
Focus on the interview, Novak. Do not reach out and snatch a warm cookie to comfort those memories. No matter how delicious they smell, or how much you want one.
“Next door with my neighbors. As I said, I never expected the site would go viral, and I don’t intend to expose them to any more publicity than necessary. The picnic is all ready to go.” She rested a hand on the large lidded basket sitting on the table. “There’s a perfect spot on the lakeshore.”
“Sounds fine.”
She struggled to lift the basket. “Oops, it’s heavier than I thought since it has everything in it.”
“Let me carry it.” Tucking the voice recorder in his shirt pocket, he took the basket from her and needed to brace himself. No wonder she’d struggled. The thing must weigh thirty pounds. Either her idea of a picnic lunch didn’t involve plastic plates, or she had enough food in here to invite all of Sunset Point.
Or he seriously needed to consider more time in the gym.
Samantha Rose untied her apron and slipped it off, hanging it on a hook behind the door. “I’ll just grab my purse.” She slung a large tote over one shoulder. “I’m ready.”
On the porch, she pulled the front door closed but didn’t lock it.
“No locks?” He couldn’t hide his surprise.
A charming chuckle accompanied the smile she flashed him as she pushed the garden gate open. “I thought the same when I arrived. It seems no one in Sunset Point locks up. I’m told it would be considered downright unneighborly.”
Carrying the basket down the hill without pitching forward limited how much breath he had left to talk. “City girl?”
“Mostly.” She grinned. “We moved around a lot for Dad’s job, but Mom always managed to create a home in the new place within days. She’s a gifted homemaker. Since moving away from home, I’ve continued the family tradition by going where my past jobs took me, most recently Seattle.”
Reaching level ground on Main Street made hauling the picnic basket far easier. She turned right, away from the store.
“Right here. I’m glad we could get a table.” She grinned and pointed to the only unoccupied table among the heavy timber picnic settings scattered along the grassy lake bank. “I’m told that mention in the newspaper has doubled visitors to Sunset Point, despite how out-of-the-way it is. Would you put that on the bench?”
Relieved, he hefted the basket and deposited it where she asked, then clasped his hands together and stretched out his arms and shoulders. Time to get back to the interview. “You can take all summer off to mind your nieces? Great employer.”
Again, she flashed him a bright genuine smile as she opened the basket lid and lifted out a blue-checked tablecloth. “My employer is me. Since I quit my last job and started working for myself, my office can be wherever there’s an internet connection. This summer, I’m working evenings, once the twins are in bed.”
Deftly, she shook the tablecloth open, laid it over the table, and clipped weights shaped like dragonflies to each corner. “To stop the breeze blowing it away,” she explained, answering his unspoken question.
“What can I do to help?”
“Nothing. It’s all done. I only need to lay it all out.” The three thick glass dishes with plastic lids, a set of proper cutlery, cloth napkins, and two Mason jars containing what looked like apple juice explained why the basket weighed so much. “I’ll leave the pie in the basket for now.”
She peeled back the lids to reveal the first two dishes contained a mix of salads, nicely presented on a bed of lettuce, while the third held bread rolls.
“Looks good.” He meant it.
“The vegetables are organic, fresh from the backyard. My neighbor, and her granddaughter who owns the house, had it all planted up before I arrived. You already know Maddie, of course. She and her husband run the store and live behind it, as well as doing the bed and breakfast there.” Frowning at the table, she repositioned a few items. “There, that looks right. I’ll just take a few photos before we eat.”
The camera she pulled from her bag looked professional.
“Why not let me take the pictures, and then you’ll be in them, too?” Unusually, Meg hadn’t insisted he bring a photographer to the interview, instead suggesting he ask permission to use images from the blog.
He wanted at least one of the evasive Ms. Rose.
Samantha Rose’s cheeks pinked. “No, none of me. I hate having my photo taken. I won’t bother with photos today. It’s a habit I’ve gotten into. If something looks nice, I photograph it, in case I can use it in a website. I’m a web designer and using my own images means I produce unique pages for my clients.”
A plausible enough reason, but her breathy tone and the slightly hunted look in her blue eyes suggested she had other reasons to keep herself out of the photos.
His newshound instinct kicked all the way in. Not that he’d let his suspicions show.
Raising a hand, he stood back. With a month here, he’d get the photos he wanted some other time. “Take as long as you need. I can wait to eat. Breakfast this morning was twice what I’d have at home.”
Her musical chuckle sounded again. “Maddie enjoys looking after her guests. I loved the welcome they gave me — two days’ worth of home-cooked meals, to tide me over till we’d settled in.”
He nodded and let her get on with her photos. Food was one thing, but after a few days, all the sweetness and light from his hosts would become cloying.
The shots she took weren’t just snapshots. Not with the way she carefully framed and adjusted things. Then she smiled. “There, done! Now we can sit.”
Once they were both seated, she spread her napkin in her lap then gazed at him expectantly. What did she want?
“Will you give thanks, or shall I?” she asked when the silence stretched uncomfortably long.
Give thanks? He hadn’t done that for years and had no idea what he’d say to God if he did. “Uh, how about we each give thanks silently?”
She quirked her lips to one side and raised an eyebrow. “Okay.”
Instead of praying, he watched her bow her head. Another Christian. He’d figured that already from her blog, with its scattering of Bible verses and mentions of God. If Meg sent him here in the hope he’d regain his lost faith and magically turn into some happy-clappy seeing the best in everyone, she’d be disappointed.
Years of exposure to the seedy underbelly of human nature taught him to be cynical.
Not to mention, his father. People who called themselves Christians could be the worst hypocrites of all, as if playing the God card gave a get-out-of-jail-free pass.
Even Samantha Rose, sweet as she seemed, hid a secret she didn’t want discovered. Somehow, somewhere, she’d lied to the public. His earlier suspicions hardened into certainty.
He was here to uncover her lie. And then, let everyone know.

About Autumn MacArthur:

Autumn Macarthur is a USA Today bestselling author of clean Christian inspirational romances with a strong touch of faith. If you love happy-ever-afters, sweet romance, and Hallmark movies, chances are you’ll enjoy her stories!
Originally from Sydney, Australia, she now lives in a small town not far from London, England, with her husband (aka The Cat Magnet), and way too many rescue cats for their tiny house! You can visit her at her website, on Facebook as Autumn Macarthur, and on Twitter as @autumnmacarthur. She’d love to hear from you!