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Untangling Christmas

Today, I thought it might be fun to share my visual inspiration for the characters for Untangling Christmas.

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We first met Mike Clarke in The Coffee Girl (which is free right now if you haven’t read it yet!) He is Brock McCrae’s best friend and provider of some funny lines.

The second book in the Silverton Sweethearts series, The Christmas Crusade, just happened to be about Mike’s only sibling, Levi. The two brothers get along well and have a strong friendship.

When I was writing Levi and Kat’s story, I decided Mike really needed to have his own story. At that point, I didn’t know what it would be.

Then I got the idea of an electrician helping at a Christmas festival.

Years ago, I served on the board of directors for a Festival of Trees. It was a lot of work, but it was also great fun (and it gave me an excuse to get all dressed up for their gala). Because the festival was held where we could find donated space, we sometimes had challenges similar to what is described in the story with faulty outlets and questionable wiring.

I think one of my favorite events was the year the president of the board got the idea of enlisting the help of some inmates who were in a work release program to paint the store front windows – with a gorgeous scene that looked like something from a Thomas Kinkade painting.

Anyway, it was fun for me to draw on some of those memories and incorporate them into the story.

Although we’d previously met Mike’s character, we didn’t know much about how he looked and what was in his heart, other than he was a big guy (with an equally big heart).

In Untangling Christmas, that big heart has been broken and the last thing Mike is looking for is to fall in love.

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I thought Jesse Hutch made a perfect Mike (especially with that hair!)

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Mike has been hurt – publicly and painfully – and struggles to get past that.

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But thanks to the interference of one bubbly redhead and his friends, he finds the spirit of Christmas alive and well in his heart. (Isn’t Jesse a cutie –  exactly how I envision Mike!)

at Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival's VIP screening of Cry_Wolf. The Arclight Theaters, Hollywood, CA. 09-15-05

Lindy Booth makes the absolutely perfect Taylor Taggart. From that red hair and pale blue eyes to her beautiful smile, she’s definitely like the picture I have of Taylor in my head.

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Taylor has experienced more than her share of heartbreak, but instead of letting it make her bitter, it gives her compassion. She lives life on her own terms, no longer concerned what others think of her – but she does it in a way that brings sunshine to others.

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Taylor’s perky, upbeat outlook is infectious, especially during the holidays!

And there you have it!

If you haven’t yet purchased Untangling Christmas, you’ll find it along with 16 other brand-new sweet romance novellas in Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 at these online retailers:

Kindle: http://amzn.to/2aMrYfN

Nook: http://tinyurl.com/sck3sh

iBooks: http://apple.co/2aFTjN3
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2aGREsk
Google Play: http://bit.ly/2baWaSj

SCK3 Blog Tour 2

Ring in the holiday season with 17 all-new, stand-alone stories from New York Times, USA Today, national bestselling, and award-winning authors. Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 takes you around the globe from small-town USA, to London, England, and even to Africa with a foreword written by USA Today Bestselling Author Donna Fasano. Don’t miss out on this sweet romance boxed set that’s sure to touch your heart, make you smile, and put you in the mood for Christmas.

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Join us today for the release party on Facebook. Winners who bring their recipes to share have the chance to win Amazon gift cards in addition to books and other great prizes!

The fun begins at noon (Eastern Time)!

~*~

Mona RiskOn Christmas Eve by Mona Risk

She yanked him out of her heart years ago. But fate throws him in her path again and his tender gaze erases her loneliness. Can they forgive each other and create a new future?






Christine BushChristmas Holly by Christine Bush

Can a lonely single father of five-year-old triplets find love on a South Carolina beach? It might just take a Christmas miracle!






Lyn CoteMistletoe and Sage by Lyn Cote

New deputy in town, a single mom, two wounded hearts with a puzzle to solve together—will love spark under the mistletoe?







Denise DevineA Merry Little Christmas by Denise Devine

Merry Connor and Anthony Lewis search for treasure and find true love.







Raine EnglishThe Christmas Gift by Raine English

When Riley Wayne receives a dog for Christmas, it’s not just the pup that makes her heart flutter, the rescue group’s handsome owner does too.






Untangling ChristmasUntangling Christmas by Shanna Hatfield

Tricked into helping with Silverton’s Festival of Trees, electrician Mike Clarke battles faulty outlets, tangled lights, and a woman determined to share the spirit of the season.






Ciara KnightA Christmas on Miracle Mountain by Ciara Knight

When it takes a miracle to heal a heart.








Milou KoeningsThe Kampala Peppermint Twist by Milou Koenings

A twist of fate. An overbooked flight. Christmas in Africa will flip her life upside down.






Magdalena ScottThe Road Not Taken by Magdalena Scott

Francie Standish Carrington has some tough decisions to make and a lot of questions about a past she thought she understood.






Roxanne RustandA London Christmas by Roxanne Rustand

When Catriona heads to London for Christmas to meet a guy she met online, he steals her purse and disappears, but will a handsome photographer in the pub end up being the man of her dreams?






Alicia StreetHer Christmas Secret by Alicia Street

Desperate to help her sister’s family, Lila courts a cold-hearted investor for her handmade toys, but learns Christmas has a way of bringing surprises where they’re least expected.






Kristin Wallace

Falling For You at Christmas by Kristin Wallace

One expectant mother. One gorgeous innkeeper. Three days that will change her life forever.




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Merrillee WhrenSecond Chance Christmas by Merrillee Whren

A young boy helps his estranged parents find love again at Christmas.






cindy-flores-martinezChristmas Eve Wedding by Cindy Flores Martinez

A maid of honor is swept up in the chaos of planning her best friend’s spur-of-the-moment Christmas Eve wedding.






Victoria PinderSecret Wish by Victoria Pinder

Luke Morgan doesn’t believe in miracles, but this season Christmas brought him Caro Soliz, the family maid.






Josie RivieraCandleglow and Mistletoe by Josie Riviera

A rising pianist and a pro stuntman winding down his career find love amid the glow of Christmas candles.






cbc-1-adjCouple by Christmas by Pat Simmons

Divorcee Derek Washington wants to reconcile with his ex-wife by Christmas. Although he’s got a plan, with the help of his six-year-old son, Derek only has two weeks.




Background With Snowflakes

All 17 authors in this boxed set write sweet romances and are members of Sweet Romance Reads, a group of authors whose books contain no sex, violence, or strong language. While the emotional stakes are high as the characters’ relationships grow, these stories are wholesome. Think movies rated G or PG. Therefore, Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 can be enjoyed by romance readers of any age.

Snuggle into a chair by a cozy fire with a cup of hot chocolate and allow these bestselling and award-winning authors to bring the holiday season alive as they warm your heart.

Purchase the book at your favorite online retailer:

Kindle: http://amzn.to/2aMrYfN

iBooks: http://apple.co/2aFTjN3
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2aGREsk
Google Play: http://bit.ly/2baWaSj

And don’t forget to connect with the Authors at Sweet Romance Reads:

Website/Blog: http://SweetRomanceReads.com

Facebook: http://facebook.com/SweetRomanceReads

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SweetRomanceRds

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/donnafaz/sweet-romance-reads/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/123223-sweet-romance-reads

Or connect with each of the Sweet Romance Reads Authors individually:

A tireless traveler, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Mona Risk, writes contemporary romance, medical romance, and romantic suspense novels, all simmering with emotion, sprinkled with a good dose of humor and set in the fascinating places she visited— or in Florida, her paradise on Earth.

Website | Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

Christine Bush is an award winning author of many sweet romances, mysteries, and novellas. When she’s not writing, she can be found teaching Psychology at a local college, working as a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice, or (mostly) spending time with her twelve grandchildren.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

Award-winning author of over 40 romances, Lyn Cote writes inspirational historicals and contemporary romantic suspense in her distinctive brand, “Strong Women, Brave Stories.” Lyn lives in a cottage on a lake in the northwoods with her real-life hero husband and (for comic relief and furry cuddling) her two cats.

Website | Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

Denise Devine is a USA Today bestselling author of romantic comedy and she also writes inspirational fiction. She wrote her first book, a mystery, at thirteen and has been writing ever since. She writes about true love, happy endings and stories that touch your heart.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Raine English writes sweet small-town contemporary romance, paranormal, and romantic suspense. She’s a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist and a Daphne du Maurier Award winner. Raine lives in New England with her family and two French bulldogs, Bailey and Dolly.

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Convinced everyone deserves a happy ending, hopeless romantic, USA Today bestselling author Shanna Hatfield is out to make it happen one story at a time. Her sweet historical and contemporary romances combine humor and heart-pumping moments and relatable characters.

Website | Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

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.

Website | Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

Milou Koenings writes heartwarming romance novels because she believes sweet stories with happy endings are like chocolate – they bring joy to the world and so make it a better place. She’s lived all over the world, working as an editor and newspaper columnist, but loves staying home with her family most of all.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

USA Today bestselling author Roxanne Rustand is the author of thirty-five traditionally published novels, plus four indie novels. She was a Golden Heart finalist twice, and a Golden Heart winner in 1995. She has won two RT Magazine Reviewers’ Choice Awards, and was nominated for an RT Magazine Career Achievement Award. Her earlier books were secular, but she now writes sweet indie romance, and inspirational romance for Love Inspired.

Website | Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

USA Today bestselling author Magdalena Scott writes sweet romance and women’s fiction with small town settings. She invites readers into her world to find out what’s hidden just below the surface of those tiny dots you can barely see on the map—mystery, romance, and the occasional unexplained occurrence.

Website | Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

Award-winning and USA Today bestselling author Alicia Street writes both sweet and steamy romances and sometimes collaborates with her husband, Roy. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher and is a compulsive reader of every genre.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

~*~

Kristin Wallace is a USA Today bestselling author of inspirational, contemporary and women’s fiction filled with “Love, Laughter and a Leap of Faith.” Her popular series include the Covington Falls Chronicles and Shellwater Key Tales.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

Merrillee Whren is an award-winning author who writes inspirational and sweet romance—stories that stir your emotions. She is married to her own personal hero, her husband of forty plus years, and has two grown daughters.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

~*~

Cindy Flores Martinez is an Amazon bestselling Spanish romance author. She writes sweet romantic comedy and Christian romance. Her debut novel, Mail-Order Groom, started out as a screenplay and movie project, which she shopped around Hollywood, New York, and other parts of the world.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

Victoria Pinder is a bestselling author of science fiction/fantasy and contemporary romance where her stories all include “Bold Women and the Brainy Men who love them.” Her popular series include the House of Morgan and the Collins Brothers.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Free Novella

~*~

Author Josie Riviera writes Historical, Inspirational, and Sweet Romances. She lives in the Charlotte, NC, area with her wonderfully supportive husband. They share their empty nest with an adorable Shih Tzu who constantly needs grooming and an old house forever needing renovations.

Website | Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter

~*~

Pat Simmons is a three-time Emma award-winning author for Best Inspirational Romance. With more thirty Christian romance titles, Pat is the bestselling author of the Carmen Sisters series.

Website | Newsletter

 

Last week was so crazy, I didn’t even get a Grace Lesson posted.

Sorry!

So I’ll share two little thoughts today and hope that makes up for it.

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If you are like me, you probably struggle to accept grace with open arms. There can be any number of reasons for this – a feeling that we don’t deserve it, that it’s too much, that others need it more, that it’s far better to give than to receive. Most of those reasons boil down to a little niggling voice in our head telling us these things.

Grace is… grace – forgiveness, mercy, hope, and love, such incredible love. That’s the awesome thing about love – it looks past the flaws and the “don’t deserves” and all of these negatives – and grants grace anyway.

And when we receive it, when we accept it with a thankful, open heart, we accept the promise to share it with others.

Which brings me to the second part of my post today:

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When we accept the grace given to us and share it with others, some pretty amazing things happen.

And the more “grace” we embrace in our lives, the more generously we give it to others.

It’s an awesome circle, isn’t it?

May you go through this day (and week) accepting the grace held out to you, embracing the love poured out on you, and sharing it with others.

 

Rodeo

Captain Cavedweller and I spent the weekend in Pendleton at the World Famous Pendleton Round-Up.

As usual, it was loads of fun. My brother and his wife, and three of his grandkids met us there to watch the parade together (along with two of my cousins and their families). Then CC and I went off to the rodeo (the others had gone the day before).

I shared a bunch of these photos on my facebook page, but below I’ll include a few more.

Enjoy!

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This is the Cowboy Mounted Band. They do an excellent job and it’s so fun to see them perform on horseback. They ride in the parade and sometimes do an extra performance or two downtown in the morning before the rodeo begins.

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These mounted Marines rode out into the arena on Saturday. Each performance begins with someone singing the Star-Spangled Banner. During the “bombs bursting in air” part, a few fireworks go off. When they did on Saturday, the Marines’ horses got a little squirrelly. Both CC and I were so impressed because not a single one of them dropped the salute they held.

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Check out this cowboy’s hair.

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Pictured here, too, on Friday.

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And look at his hat!

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Bareback riding is wild and hard on the body (as you can see in this photo).

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Nothing like doing the splits while you ride…

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I love the colors of his chaps!

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And this is the Bareback Champion Tim O’Connell from Zwingle, IA.

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This is Cody Kiser. He’s a bareback rider – and a stunt man! He doubled for Bradley Cooper in American Sniper. How fun is that? He’s also a spokesperson for the Oral Cancer Foundation, encouraging kids of all ages to stay away from chew and cigarettes.

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One of my favorite events is Saddle Bronc riding.

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It’s almost an art form to watch the cowboy and horse compete in a dance of wills and skills.

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There is a beauty in the fluid grace of their rides.

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Look at the little kick of dust by the tail.

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This is Jake Wright. His twin brother Jesse won the event. If you aren’t familiar with the Wright family, you should Google them. There are several brothers competing professionally. Cody is the oldest and we watched both him and his son Ryder ride on Friday. Cody didn’t make it to Saturday’s round, but Ryder did.

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And here’s Jesse’s winning ride. In the program, his contestant number was listed as 666, but the number he wore to ride was 700-something. Can’t say I blame him for wanting a different number!

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If you’ve read any of my Rodeo Romance books and wondered what some of the terms referred to, here’s a little tutorial. In The Christmas Cowboy, Tate is a Saddle Bronc rider, so you read bout him holding the bronc rein. That’s what it looks like. It is the only thing he holds onto during his eight-second ride.  In Capturing Christmas, Kash is a stock contractor who gets behind the chutes and pulls flank straps. Those straps are sheepskin-lined or a padded leather strap. It is adjustable to fit each individual horse and released by a quick-release catch. The purpose is to encourage the animal to buck better. It does not cause them any injuries.

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And steer wrestling…

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These guys are strong… and determined!

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I thought this was a fun shot – love the purple leg wraps!

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For those of you who have never been to a rodeo, the guy on the left is the header. He ropes first and catches the head. The guy on the right is the heeler.

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The first day, we were sitting close to the chutes so this is the only shot of Bull Riding I got that turned out.

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The second day we sat across the arena and I got a few shots of bull riding. I thought you might like to see how much air both the cowboy and the bull got on this ride.

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This bull crashed right out of the chute. Both cowboy and bull got up and went on about their business as though nothing had happened.

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This is World Champion Bull Rider Sage Steele Kimzey of Strong City, OK. He was the winner of Bull Riding at the Round-Up.

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I didn’t take any Barrel Racing photos on Friday. Saturday it started to pour just before the Barrel Racing started. I felt so bad for these girls. The arena was a slick mess.

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But they got out there and gave it their best!

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In addition to the regular rodeo events, there were trick riders.

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And the lovely Round-Up Court presenting awards (like these Pendleton Wool blankets).

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The Pendleton Round-Up isn’t all cowboys.

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There is a huge encampment of teepees. Each day, members of the tribes join in the center of the arena and dance.

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Many ride around the track, showing off their beautiful regalia, like this adorable little angel.

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Again, for those of you who’ve never attended a rodeo, these are the pick up men. They help keep the cowboys safe by getting them off the bucking animal as quickly as possible once that eight seconds is up. They help if a cowboy gets tangled in his rigging, and they also herd the bucking animal out of the arena once the ride is over.

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I thought it might be fun for you to see them at work.

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Doing what they can to help out the riders.

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During the timed events (like roping and steer wrestling) the cowboys stand around and watch.

And that’s it for this year’s Round-Up.

Hide it In Your Heart

My friend Annie Douglass Lima has a new coloring book for adults and kids available and I thought you all might like to know about it!

More than just a coloring book, this inspirational activity book will help you relax, unwind, and enjoy some creative fun while hiding God’s Word in your heart. 
The 35 separate verses and passages are printed in colorable word art with decorative borders, blank on the back to make them easier to remove and frame or display, if desired. Each one is accompanied by two different activities or puzzles featuring the verse or key words from it. 

Hide it in Your Heart is an ideal Scripture memorization aid for Christian schools, homeschool programs, Sunday schools, or your own personal use. Children and adults will enjoy learning, practicing, and meditating on these artistically presented verses from the New International Version Bible. 

 
Proceeds from the sale of Hide it In Your Heart will be donated to www.Christar.org to help provide a translation of God’s Word for a particular people group in East Asia who do not yet have the Bible in their own language.
 
Here are a few sample coloring and activity pages from Hide it In Your Heart. If you’d like to color them or complete the word puzzles, click here to access a PDF that you can download and print.
Hide it In Your Heart is available in paperback on Amazon. Click here to order your copy for $8.99. 
HOWEVER, you can get it for 15% off if you order it here on CreateSpace with coupon code JZBVVBH8The code can be used an unlimited number of times and will not expire, so feel free to order as many copies as you like for family and friends. Hide it In Your Heart makes a great gift for anyone who enjoys word puzzles, coloring, or God’s word! 
You’re welcome to share the code with others, too.
Happy coloring!

About the Author:
Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in
Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and
her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at
Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since
her childhood, and to date has published thirteen books (two YA action and
adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, five anthologies of her
students’ poetry, and a Scripture coloring and activity book). Besides writing,
her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction),
scrapbooking, and international travel.

Connect with Annie Douglass Lima online:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sign up for author updates and receive a free ebook of “interviews” with characters from her fantasy series: http://bit.ly/LimaUpdates
 

Untangling Christmas

The other day, I shared the first chapter of Untangling Christmas over on the Sweet Romance Reads blog.

If you missed it, here it is today!🙂

***

Chapter One

“I need a favor.”

Mike Clarke lowered the newspaper he held in his hands and glanced up at the woman who set a warm cinnamon roll on the table in front of him. The spice, redolent of home and holidays, drifted upward to his nose, eliciting a growl from his empty belly.

Brenna McCrae ignored the sound and refilled his empty coffee cup with the steaming dark brew he favored.

Mike leaned back in the chair, fighting the urge to inhale the cinnamon roll in a few hungry bites. Cream cheese frosting melted into a decadent pool around the base of the tender pastry, enticing him to sample the creamy sweetness.

Rather than give in to the indulgence, he studied his best friend’s wife. Since he’d moved from Oregon’s biggest city of Portland to Silverton five months ago, the lovely woman fed him breakfast every morning at her bistro, often packed a lunch to go for him, and rarely asked for anything in return. Brock and Brenna offered him unconditional friendship and acceptance when he’d needed it most. He’d do anything for either of them. All they had to do was ask.

With a smile full of masculine charm, he took Brenna’s hand in his, kissing the back of it. “Whatever you need, coffee girl.”

“Hey! Keep your lips off my wife,” Brock McCrae cautioned, as he stepped inside the bistro and took a seat at the table, scowling at Mike in feigned offense.

Mike laughed and released Brenna’s hand, reaching out to take a giggling toddler from Brock. He tugged off the stocking cap covering the child’s head and made a silly face that produced more giggles.

“You don’t need to lay on the flattery or charm, Mike. I’ll bring your bacon and eggs out in a minute.” Brenna carried a high chair over to the table and settled her son in it. Her hand caressed the boy’s soft curls before she looked to Mike again. “Will you really help me out?”

“You know I will, Brenna. What can I do for you?” he asked, taking a deep swallow of the coffee. It was hotter than he expected and burned all the way down his throat, but he didn’t blink or flinch.

“I don’t know if you heard, but the Silverton Foundation is hosting a Festival of Trees to raise funds for the newly opened community center your brother was kind enough to help establish.” Brenna sank down in the chair Brock pulled out for her. He kissed her cheek and draped an arm around her shoulders.

Mike nodded his head. “Levi mentioned something in passing about it the other day, but to be honest, I didn’t really listen to what he said. That brother of mine is always working on some fundraiser or charity event, so they all sort of roll together.”

Brock laughed and poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot Brenna left on the table. “Don’t let Levi hear you say that. You’ll be in big trouble.”

“Generally, I am anyway,” Mike said, returning his attention to Brenna. “What does my little brother need help with and how did he rope you into another one of his projects?”

“Levi didn’t ask for my help with anything,” Brenna hurried to clarify. “The new foundation director is an old friend, and I offered to help her organize the event. It will take place in the warehouse over on Maple Street. The space has been empty for a few years, but it’s perfect for the festival. The problem is that there aren’t enough outlets and those that are there appear questionably safe to use.” Brenna smiled at Mike. “You’re the best electrician in the area, so I was hoping you’d have time to go over and check it out. Ideally, we could use at least a dozen more outlets. We’d also like assurance the existing wiring won’t catch fire and burn down all the trees before the event.”

Mike sipped his coffee, doing his best to keep an impassive expression on his face. “When do you need all this free labor to be completed?”

“The trees begin arriving the Monday after Thanksgiving.” Brenna spoke with her gaze fixed on a point over Mike’s shoulder, unwilling to look him in the eye.

He straightened in his chair and glared at her. “Are you nuts? That’s next week! With Thanksgiving tomorrow I’m running behind as it is. You are killing me, Brenna.”

“Please, Mike? It would be such a help and give us peace of mind to know the wiring is safe.” The pleading look she gave him obliterated his hastily formed excuses. “Pretty please?”

He scowled at Brock. “How do you tell this girl no?” A sigh rolled up from his chest and out his lips. “It looks like I’ll be heading over to the warehouse this afternoon. Want to come along?”

Brock laughed and thumped Mike on the shoulder. “She’s already enlisted me to repair a section of the warehouse where the roof leaked before they put a new one on last year.”

“You both are terrific,” Brenna said, rising to her feet with a happy smile. “I’ll be right back with the rest of your breakfast, Mike. Do you want your usual, Brock?” Her husband nodded and she disappeared inside the kitchen.

Mike ate his cinnamon roll, four pieces of crispy bacon, and eggs fried just the way he liked while he discussed Brock’s construction business and jobs they’d both work on in the coming weeks. Finished with his meal, he ruffled the baby’s hair, hugged Brenna, and told Brock he’d meet him at the warehouse at two that afternoon.

At five minutes before two, he pulled up at the warehouse and sat in his truck, studying the structure from the outside. Although empty, the building certainly didn’t appear abandoned. A fresh coat of camel-colored paint with deep red trim looked neat and appealing. The parking lot was clean, as though a sweeper had recently cleared the surface.

Mike stepped out of his truck and lifted a toolbox, shrugging deeper into his coat to avoid the chilly November wind whipping around him. The pewter-hued sky promised to bring an unwelcome storm. He just hoped it would wait a few hours until he was home for the night.

His long legs swiftly covered the distance from his pickup to the front door. He yanked it open and walked inside. The lobby was empty, but the muffled sound of voices drew him down a hallway to a door that opened into the large expanse of the warehouse’s storage area.

He stepped into the open space and looked around, aware of the glare and hum of the bright fluorescent lights overhead. Several people worked on various projects. Three women sorted tangled balls of lights. Four high school girls giggled as they looked his way, pretending to busy themselves with plastic storage tubs full of fake pine garlands.

Brock and two of his crew installed sheetrock panels in one corner of the room. Mike ambled toward his friend.

“Hey, man,” Brock called. He hurried down the ladder and held out a hand to Mike in greeting. “Thanks for coming over.”

Mike shook his hand. “Like your wife gave me a choice. Seriously, dude, how do you turn her down?”

Brock grinned and thumped Mike on the back. “What makes you think I possess the superpowers that would require? If you haven’t noticed, when my wife makes a request, we all jump to do her bidding.”

Mike chuckled. “But that’s because her requests are few and everyone wants to keep the best chef in town happy.” He pointed to a nearby outlet. “Do you know where the breaker is located?”

“Step right this way, my good man.” Brock affected an accent befitting a carnival barker and swept his hand toward a room at the far end of the warehouse.

An hour later, Mike had gone through the entire building, made a list of needed supplies to update the wiring, and repacked his toolbox.

“Do we need permission from the owner of the building to do the electrical work?” Mike asked as he held a piece of sheetrock while Brock nailed it to the wall.

“No. Bill Ferrelly owns the building. He told Miss Taggart to do whatever she wanted with the space. He’s providing use of it at no charge and will foot the bill for the utilities as part of his donation to the event.”

Mike stared at his friend. “Who’s Miss Taggart?”

Brock stopped working and glanced at him. “She’s Mr. Ferrelly’s niece and the director of the Silverton Foundation. Miss Taggart happens to be the one organizing this event. Evidently, Brenna was friends with her in middle school. That’s how you and I were roped into helping with this little project. Even if Brenna hadn’t coerced us into volunteering, your brother would have eventually found some way to involve us. He and Kat have promised to donate a tree and attend the auction.”

“With all these bleeding hearts around us, I suppose we are doomed to help with any and all events like this one. It’s a good thing I don’t mind doing charity work.” Mike checked his watch. “I need to drive out to a new job site. I’ll be back Friday and take care of the wiring.” He turned around and nearly dropped the toolbox he carried on his foot.

A red-haired woman hustled toward them, wearing a cheerful smile and an eye-popping outfit. For all appearances, she dressed in an assemblage of clothing appropriate for a belated Halloween party. The bright purple sweater, short blue plaid skirt, and yellow cable-knit tights with gray ankle boots weren’t an ensemble a normal adult would choose to wear on an average day.

Mike stiffened as she approached. He didn’t like redheads, bubbly personalities, or women with the fashion sense of an attention-seeking adolescent.

“That’s Miss Taggart,” Brock said quietly, tipping his head toward the woman.

“And you couldn’t have warned me sooner?” Mike growled in an angry whisper. “Tell Brenna she’ll have to find someone else to do the work.”

“Mike,” Brock placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. “Don’t be that way. Not ten minutes ago, you said it’s a good thing they asked you to come before they started plugging in dozens of strings of lights because the wiring might explode. Think of all the people this fundraiser will help. Focus on that, not the pretty woman in charge of it. You can’t hate every woman with red hair just because of…”

Mike didn’t let him finish before he snapped, “I don’t think she’s pretty. She looks like a flame-headed freak dressed for a frat house costume party.” Although he spoke in a low tone he assumed no one but Brock would hear, his voice carried in the cavernous building.

The woman stopped a few feet away and boldly stared at Mike. “Flame-headed freak?” Her left eyebrow crept upward as her gaze traveled from his scuffed work boots to the shaggy dark hair on his head. “Surely even a cavedweller like you can come up with something more creative than that.”

Chagrined, Mike wanted to squirm under her perusal. So what if he hadn’t felt inclined to shave or get a haircut for a month or… six. It wasn’t any of her business, anyway. However, he hadn’t meant for her to overhear his rude comment. “My apologies, Miss Taggart.”

She shrugged and held a hand toward him. Several bracelets jangled around her wrist, tinkling as she waited for him to accept her outstretched hand.

Reluctantly, Mike shook her soft fingers. A jolt shot from where her palm touched his all the way up to his head then down to his toes. He released her hand and stepped back, alarmed by the sizzling current coursing through him. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought he’d been electrocuted. He’d experienced the zinging sensation enough in his work to know when it happened.

“No need to apologize, especially when you don’t mean it.” She waved a dismissive hand at him and turned to Brock. “Is this the electrician?”

“Yep,” Brock said, slapping Mike on the back. “Miss Taylor Taggart, it’s my pleasure to introduce Mike Clarke, the best electrician I’ve ever met and my best friend. I promise he usually exhibits much better manners.”

The woman eyed Mike again. “I appreciate you coming over. When can you start?”

Although Mike had already decided he’d find someone else to do the job, he was as surprised as anyone to hear the words flowing from his lips. “I’ll get a permit this afternoon and come on Friday to get started. It will take a few days to update the existing wiring and Brenna mentioned you wanted additional outlets. Is that correct?”

“Yes, it is, Mr. Clarke.” She moved away from the two men and motioned for them to follow her as she pointed to where she wanted outlets installed. “Is that a possibility?”

“It is, Miss Taggart, but I have other jobs to do and will only be available to help this weekend.” Mike wondered when his mouth and brain had suffered such a major malfunction. After meeting crazy Taylor Taggart, he did not intend to offer his help. Yet, he’d just committed himself to working all weekend on the wiring.

“I’m sure you’ll be able to finish what is needed, Mr. Clarke. It’s wonderful you’re willing to do this, to help our fundraiser be successful.” She studied him more closely. “Are you related to Levi Clarke?”

“He’s my brother. Can you see a family resemblance?” He rubbed a hand along his scruffy beard.

“Barely. Levi is such a gentleman and looks the part. His wife is absolutely stunning.” Disdainfully, her gaze swept over him again.

“Yeah, Kat is gorgeous and Levi is a lucky man,” Mike said. Genuinely happy for his brother, Levi married the love of his life in a late spring wedding that was the talk of Portland for weeks. Too bad the girl Mike planned to marry turned out to be such a…

Rapidly pulling himself from his maudlin thoughts, he glanced at Miss Taggart again. Red hair, smooth and shiny, swung around her face in sassy layers that put him in mind of a feisty fairy.

Incredibly long, dark lashes rimmed blue eyes the color of frozen winter lakes. Those intriguing orbs held a mixture of intelligence and amusement. Unlike most redheads, no freckles dotted her creamy complexion. A pert little nose sat above a pair of perfectly kissable lips.

Despite her ridiculous attire, he might have given her a second look, if he didn’t so thoroughly loathe redheaded women.

She and Brock stared at him, waiting for his response to a question. Embarrassed, Mike shifted his toolbox from one hand to the other and strode toward the door. “I’ll be here Friday.”

Desperate to get away from the woman, he hurried outside, tipping his face up to the bone-chilling rain that fell in heavy drops laced with sleet. He needed something to distract him from the insane longing he felt to rush back inside and kiss Miss Taylor Taggart. Maybe he’d end up with pneumonia and not have to see the woman again.

***

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Grace Lessons Week 37

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The  last few years I’ve been struggling to hold on to a friendship that brings me more grief than joy.

We invest in people – our time, our emotions, our loyalty. When it’s all thrown back in our faces, it’s hard to deal with that. To find grace in that kind of  hurtful situation.

Last week, I ran into my friend and that meeting made me realize it is far past time to let go.  This person, one I used to be very close to, has admittedly gone through any number of life-changing events in the last handful of years.

Unfortunately, my friend has weathered each situation by growing more bitter while delving deeper and deeper into a self-serving attitude. The combination of those two things, along with a recent bent to “be a better parent” (my friend’s words) by dumping the kids anywhere someone will take them so weekends are free for partying and running around, have created a person I can’t relate to and find hard to like.

I’d love to help my friend. To offer the support needed to help get things headed in the right direction. Each time I’ve tried, a door is firmly closed (sometimes slammed) in my face.

And it’s hard to stand on the other side of that door knowing my friend is a train wreck about to happen.

But after trying to help for so long, I’ve finally concluded I can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves, no matter how much I want to. If the day should ever arrive when my friend is ready to open that door, I’ll be there.

For now, though, it’s time to let go and move on. To extend grace to my friend and grace to myself. Even though it is really, really hard.