Two new Career Soldier Books! Are you ready?

I have a super-fun surprise for everyone who loved the sexy six soldiers and their strong and sassy women in the first Career Soldier books.

The next two books are about to be released. Evergreen: A Career Soldier Christmas and Army Blue: A Career Soldier Wedding, will both go live on Tuesday, September 25th.

You can preorder the books on iBooks, Amazon, Nook, Kobo and Google . . . OR you can buy them now right here on my website.

But wait, there’s more! If you buy Army Blue on my web store, you’ll get a special bonus chapter won’t be available anywhere else. Ever.

Three more Career Soldiers will release in 2019, too. You’ll meet some of those characters in Army Blue.

So grab your copies now or place your preorders.

BUY THE BOOK Web Store  iBooks  Amazon  Nook  Kobo  Google  D2D

BUY THE BOOK Web Store  iBooks  Amazon  Nook  Kobo  Google  D2D

Why West Point?

When I wrote SCHEME OF MANEUVER, the final book of the first six in the Career Soldier series, I realized fairly early in the process that Owen Hughes, the lead soldier, was a West Point grad. It was really only a matter of time that one of these soldiers would be a grad, after all; the Academy is such a part of my family and who I am that it would’ve been odder if I’d avoided idea. 

My dad and his roommate, my uncle Mitch, in the barracks

I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t know what West Point was. I can’t remember when Army wasn’t the football team closest to my heart. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know what Duty-Honor-Country meant. My father had graduated in 1965, two years before I was born, and that was so much a part of him that it naturally became part of me.

When I was a teenager, my dad began to do some unofficial, volunteer recruiting for USMA. I became used to cadets visiting during breaks and holidays, as they often visited local high schools to speak about the Academy. When I was a sophomore in high school, a guy from a nearby high school started visiting my father to talk about attending West Point. They became friends after this kid was accepted to USMA; now he too came by during school holidays. 

Graduation, right after commissioning 
Ten days before our wedding!

And then one Christmas break, when I was a senior in high school, he asked me on a date. Little did I know that my entire life would changed based on that date . . . and that once again, West Point would play a huge role!

For the next two and a half years, I spent most weekends up at USMA. As a matter of fact, I think it’s probably fair to say I spent more time there than I did at my own college, University of Richmond. And there is no doubt that I’ve always felt more affinity

It wasn’t surprising, then, that Owen and Jacey decided to get married at West Point. I was excited about setting a book there, revisiting many of my old haunts and the places I’d heard about but could never see. Many of the experiences they have in the book were things that happened to me or to people I knew. Memories that Owen mentions are based on our own. 

My initiation into being
an Army wife

If you are not an Academy grad or the child of a grad or the wife of a grad, you can’t understand what it means to be connected to West Point. But I hope that Owen and Jacey’s story gives you a glimpse of the old gray home by the Hudson.

You can preorder ARMY BLUE on all vendors now–OR you can buy it right here from my webstore, Buy The Book. Buying it here means you not only get it early–you also get exclusive added content not available anywhere else!

Tell Me Your Love Story: My Love Story

I’ve been waiting for a special day to share this one, and today is that day. This is my very own story of true love and happily-ever-after.

In 1984, I found myself at one of those cross-roads in life. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, which may seem as though it should have been a carefree time of fun, but I was always old for my age, and at that point, I was tired of high school. Tired of the needless drama, tired of the games and ready for my life to really begin. After years of straight living and toeing the line of good-girldom, in my junior year I’d gone a little wild. Now, trust me, ‘a little wild’ in my vernacular and in the mid-80’s was not today’s wild. It involved a little bit of alcohol, a little bit of dating–but ONLY dating–a series of boys, but I never did anything that would negatively impact the rest of my life.

Still, in early August before senior year, I was restless. I was done with high school guys, I knew that. I didn’t want to party away my senior year. Craving something more solid and real, I returned two stalwarts that had never failed me: books and my relationship with God.

Yes, I still have it!
Yes, I still have it!

I remember very clearly standing in the local Christian bookstore, looking for something to read, when a small wooden plaque caught my eye. It was Psalm 37:5: “Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you.” That verse resonated with me that day, and I bought the little wall hanging. I remember clearly the odd sense of rightness I felt. As I drove home, I also realized I needed a hook for the plaque, so I stopped at a store I’d never visited before, even though it had been around forever in our town. Kandle Lumber and Hardware just had never been on my radar, but it was on the way to my house, so I ran inside to find what I needed.

The man who helped me was the owner of the store, and I’d met him before. Actually, I knew the whole family vaguely: their son had begun West Point the year before, and he’d come to our house a number of times to chat with my dad, both before he’d started at USMA and then after, to share experiences. But up until then, Clint had been just one of many cadets coming in and out of my house. My father mentored quite a few.

I don’t remember exactly what Pete Kandle said to me that day, but it was something about his son, hinting that I should consider seeing him the next time he was home for a visit. Did I say I would? I don’t know, but that day stuck in my memory as a turning point in my life. I thought about it over the next few months.

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The Army-Navy game had long been a huge deal in my family, and we were pumped in early December of my senior year. For the first time in a long time, Army had a real shot at winning. My family had been invited to a post-game party at the Kandles’ home, and I brought along some of my friends, at Mrs. Kandle’s request. But what I remember most clearly was the hour I spent talking to Clint, leaning up against his dad’s desk in their den. The house was filled with people, and there was no place else to sit. Clint saw me on the floor and ran to grab a down-filled blanket to make me more comfortable. I didn’t know it then, but that was totally who Clint is: serving others, reaching out and giving of himself is at the core of his character.

I didn’t hear from Clint after that celebration, at least not immediately. But about a week before Christmas, he called and asked if I wanted to go Christmas shopping with him. He’d just gotten home on leave, and he needed to buy his mother a gift. What I remember about that day is that I’d never laughed more or felt immediately comfortable with any boy ever.

We went out a few more times over his Christmas break, but I wasn’t sure if we were just friends or . . . more. That is, until New Years Eve, when we went to a party at his friends house. As the clock struck midnight, ending 1984 and ushering in 1985, he kissed me for the first time.

Over the next months, we exchanged hundreds of letters, shared long phone calls (to the chagrin of Clint’s parents, who were footing his phone bill!) and I visited West Point as often as I could. He gave me an A-pin on March 1st that year. I was thrilled, and we were both deep in the throes of young love.

I started college that fall at the University of Richmond, but my heart was up in the mountains along the Hudson. Every Friday, I’d get on a train north, get off in Philadelphia, spend the night at my parents’ house, set my hair . . . and the next day, I’d drive three hours up to West Point, going to football games, dances or other social events, or just sitting with him in the lobby at the Hotel Thayer, doing homework and talking. The rules at West Point were very strict: no PDA, and no cadets were allowed above the mezzanine level at the hotel. Most weekends, Clint couldn’t leave post. But we always enjoyed just being together.

On Sundays, after chapel, I’d drive back home to New Jersey, repack and get on the train south, usually back in my dorm about midnight. It’s no wonder I failed calculus that semester, is it? I was miserable at college most of the time I was there. We knew once Clint finished at West Point, he’d be stationed somewhere in the world, and I’d still have two years of college left. At that time, this future seemed impossible.

And so we did what any two kids in love might: on Christmas Eve of my freshman year, after we’d been dating just about a year, Clint proposed and I said yes.

13391372_10153898748049145_8377456114474310888_oWe were married in June of 1987, ten days after his graduation. We spent our first six months together in Richmond as he attended Officer Basic and I got in another semester at Richmond, and then we moved to Hawaii for his first duty assignment.

That was four children, one son-in-law, many cats, dogs, homes and almost 30 years ago. We’ve lived in Virginia, Hawaii, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Florida. We’ve lost all of our grandparents and all but one parent between the two of us. We’ve weathered parenting, illness, homeschooling, many different churches, changes in career, moves and so many challenges . . . but 1610095_10152032355924145_1033576462_nthere is no one in the world I can imagine sharing my life. Clint has always been the first one to support me, the first one to tell me I can do anything I want. I know without a doubt that he would–and does–move mountains to make me happy. He’s still the same boy who will do anything to make me a little more comfortable.

312560_10150295218589145_1551940_nAnd almost 32 years after that very first date, he still makes me laugh more than anyone in the world.

I’m more in love with my husband today than I was when we got married. Then, I had no idea what love really was. Now, I think I’m beginning to catch glimpses of it. I think we need at least another thirty years to really get it down. I pray that we have those years together. When you’ve lost parents relatively young, you realize that nothing is guaranteed, and so I am grateful for every day we have together, and I am also greedy for even more.

This is a real happily-ever-after. It’s not all sunshine and cloudless skies; as my grandmother told me 12920242_10153768715739145_5181692080328787979_nonce upon a time, you must have just enough clouds to make a beautiful sunset. There must be rain to enjoy a rainbow.  But we’re living out our happy ending, day by day. That’s the very best kind of story in my book.

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Using the Pain

I’m veering away from bookly goodness this week to talk a little about my life beyond the page.

This weekend, I’m leaving the Sunshine State to drive north–a little further than normal. Next week I’ll be at the United States Military Academy at West Point as a guest at my father’s 50th class reunion.

1965CrestcolorWhen the planners of the reunion contacted me a few years ago, inviting my sister and me to attend in place of our father, I was glad to say I’d be there. After all, 2015 seemed a very long time away.  But as the time has crept up on us, and the reunion is more reality than it was, I have to admit to a little emotional panic.

I was close to my dad, and our bonds were built around books, a love for history and nostalgia, a passion for popular music and a shared enjoyment of football and baseball. Army football was the pinnacle for us; I can’t remember a time when I didn’t fully understand and fervently believe the phrase “Go Army, Beat Navy!” My father was a ’65 grad (Strength and Drive!), and for me, West Point, the old gray home in the mountains of New York, was always a touchpoint, no matter where we lived.

My mother and father dated all through his years at the Academy, so she always claimed to be part of the class, too. And she was.

We watched the Army-Navy game every year, mostly together, but sometimes only together in spirit, depending on travels and Thompson25688where we lived. I remember the last game we watched together; I’d stopped to drop something off at my parents’ house, and the game was just beginning. We sat in the dwindling light of a December afternoon, glum witnesses to the Army loss.

The following June, my father left this life on the 41st anniversary of his USMA commencement. That was not a coincidental date. It was a different sort of graduation.

The next year, my mother was fighting leukemia and about to go into the hospital for a stem cell transplant. My father’s class invited both my mother and me to be their guests at the game. My mother was thrilled, even though it was a bittersweet day for us both.

The following June, her funeral was held on the first anniversary of my father’s death, 42 years after his West Point graduation.

Next week will be the first time I’ll be at West Point since losing my parents. I’m looking forward to being there, to seeing places that are memorable to my husband (class of ’87 grad) and to meeting my parents’ friends. But I’m also dreading it. In a very real, I’ll be saying goodbye again.

We use our pain as writers. We use the grief, and we channel it into our stories. Even now, as I’m growing anxious about next week, what am I doing? I’m writing about it.

I had more than one person tell me that they thought I’d modeled Michael from The King Series after my dad. I didn’t do it consciously, but perhaps. There have been goodbye scenes that have come from painful days. And the dialogue between Ava and her mother, before her brother’s wedding, was directly from my own experience.

With everyone pitching in, clean up didn’t take long. My mother and I were leaving the restaurant, heading home, before I knew it.

            “I thought Daddy was coming with us.” I climbed in as my mother turned the ignition.

            “He’s riding home with your brothers. I wanted to have this time with just us.”

            My heart flipped over. “Oh.” I struggled for something to say, anything to keep her from talking about Liam and me. “I’m sorry the rehearsal was such a disaster.”

            “Not me! Bad rehearsal, good wedding. Trust me, it never fails.”

            She backed out of the parking lot and turned onto the road. “I’m happy for your brother. I love Angela like she’s one of my own. She practically is, as long as she and Carl have been a couple. This is a happy day. Tomorrow will be even better. But you know. . .” Her voice trailed off, and a sob caught in her throat. “Every happy day from now until forever will always have some sadness, because our Antonia should be here with us.”

            Tears blinded me, and I put my fist to my mouth. My sister had been on my mind all day: she should have been cutting onions with me at the table, making faces at the rehearsal, fussing over her daughter’s dress for tomorrow. But she wasn’t. All the places she should have been were empty.

            “I miss her every day.” My mother dashed at the tears running down her face. “Every day, I talk to her while I’m getting up, getting ready. When I go over to open the restaurant. When I drop Frankie at pre-school. But it’s worse on days like this, when everyone’s together.”

            “I miss her too, Ma.” I sniffed. “So much.”

            “I know you do. That’s why I wanted this time with you. My sisters, my mother, of course your father and the boys, they miss her. But not like us. And I needed to just be with you, and cry a little. Remember.”

            I reached across the seat and gripped my mother’s hand. “Wouldn’t she have loved all the family together today?”

            “She would have. But I’ll tell you something, she would have hated those pink dresses Angela picked out for all of you. Can you just hear her now?”

            And so we drove home, laughing through our tears, remembering, and somehow it brought Antonia closer to us again. I could almost hear her giggle and smell her perfume.

            When I climbed out of the car, still wiping away tears, my mother gripped me and pulled me to her for a hug.

            “I’m proud of you, Ava. Proud of your hard work and what you’re doing.” She stood back and patted my cheek. “Don’t think I don’t know things are hot and heavy with you and Liam. I don’t like it. . .but I like him. And I understand. I remember what it was like to be young. It makes me lighter to know you have someone who loves you like that.”

            “Ma, it’s not like that. Not yet. It’s new.” I glanced up to the light in my bedroom, where Liam was probably getting ready for bed.

            “Don’t tell me what I don’t know. He looks at you with love. When you know, you know.” She took my hand. “All right now, let’s go in, and watch your father and the boys pretend they don’t see our wet faces. Because don’t think they weren’t doing the same thing all the way home.”

Next week, while I’m getting through this time of remembering, part of me will be tucking away the sadness and feelings. They’ll show up in one book or another. They always do.