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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True love is contagious . . .

This is a bonus love story, in honor of their 41st anniversary. 
 
14212121_1422372777795170_2938044446641630502_nI don’t know all the details of how Aunt Terry and Uncle John met, except that it was in high school, and probably, if I know them, through friends. They’ve been together ever since.
 
I met them in 1985, when I began dating their nephew. He was at West Point, and I was still in high school. When he was home for a weekend, he invited me to a family dinner, which was completely overwhelming. I came from a large extended family, but they were not like this: there is nothing like an Italian family gathering to completely overwhelm a girl! I was sure I’d never remember the names. My only safe spot was with a sweet four-year-old little boy, who invited me to sit on the floor and play cards with him.
That was little Johnny, and before too long, I got to know his parents, Terry and John. Although all of Clint’s family was kind to me, there was just something extra about these two. They were open, welcoming and charming. Pretty soon, their house was my favorite place to visit with my boyfriend!
Over the thirty-one plus years that have passed since our first meeting, I’ve been blessed by this couple in ways too numerous to list. But all the details boil down to this: in their world, there are no ‘in-laws’ or degrees of relation. You are family. Pure and simple. I never call them my aunt and uncle-in-law; long ago, I decided that they are my family, and sometimes I think I forget that we’re not technically related by blood.
Their house is my home in New Jersey. It’s where I feel welcomed and loved and accepted, no matter 13173351_10153842439344145_2850996556114927587_owhat. Their love created this home. They are my children’s safe place, the surrogates for the grandparents my kids lost too early. All of my kids feel this way; I think it was Cate who said recently, “Aunt Terry just wraps me up in love.”
I’ve written them into books. Uncle John is in The Posse as the supplier of the infamous limoncello (he really does make it, and it really IS delicious!). They were the basis for a couple in The King Quartet. From day one, they have both been supportive and encouraging of my writing–they even hosted a signing for me at their dance supply store in New Jersey.
But the point is this: forty-one years ago, these two people committed to love only each other. But in doing so, they started a ripple effect that has changed countless lives, including their family, oodles of friends and their community. The love they share–which is beautiful and still romantic and an example 309843_10150295466734145_6500775_nfor all of us–has reached out to encompass others. They gather in, rather than closing off; they embrace rather than divide. They choose to love, even when that choice is difficult.
And they love in truth. Uncle John will tell you, to your face, when he thinks you’ve done something stupid. But then he’ll pull you in for a hug and do whatever he can to help you fix it. Aunt Terry will defend you to the death, no matter what, even when she’s helping you to solve your problems.
Romance is wonderful. You know that I’m a big advocate! But it’s even more wonderful when it spreads over the world in the form of a love that never ends.
Happy anniversary, Aunt Terry and Uncle John.

Endings are hard. And I don’t like them.

STORIES

It’s late, I’m bleary-eyed and exhausted, but I felt compelled to write this tonight, when it’s still August 27th in some time zones.

One month from today, on September 27th, Days of You and Me, the third and final book in the Keeping Score Trilogy, will release. The book is finished, has been beta’d and is going through its final stages (fun stuff like dedication, acknowledgements and last minute-tweaks) before it heads off to formatting.

Like a mom reluctant to let go of her final baby as he heads off to college, I find that I’m perhaps dragging my feet a bit. Could I add more here? Explain more here? Elaborate more there? To be completely honest–and I’m too tired to be anything else just now–this book is probably the best-constructed one I’ve ever written. Usually in the weeks after I finish a story, I’m thinking of things I wished I’d added, even if they’re not always in the best interest of the plot. But with Days of You and Me, I’m not doing that. I feel that I’ve given everything to this one.

But I’m still not ready to let it go.

I’ve finished a series before. I remember when I sent off Endless, the final book in The King Quartet, my daughter asked if I were sad to see it end. I answered, “No! I’m done with them. I’ve written everything I have to say about this group of characters.”

(Incidentally, I was wrong, as Tasmyn, Michael and company will be back next April in Age of Aquarius. Stay tuned.)

Since that day, I’ve finished trilogies, but usually, I end up writing more in the same world. The One Trilogy continued in the Always Love books. Neither the Perfect Dish Romances or The Crystal Cove Romances have come to a conclusion yet.

Hmmm. Maybe I don’t like endings.

The Keeping Score Trilogy is different than anything I’ve ever written, and as such, it is precious to me. This story began to take root in my mind back in 2009, although it didn’t hit paper until November of 2010. Back then, it wasn’t what it is now. The characters had different names, and it was intended to be one book. But over the years, as I thought about it, the true plot began to emerge, and Leo, Quinn and Nate came to life in a way I’d never expected. They’ve become more than just characters.

These three have been with me for nearly seven years. They are dear to me. And ending their story was hard. It made me cry, like, a lot. More than I cried writing Joss’s scene in Undeniable. (No spoilers, but yeah, I cried.) See the graphic above: as the Prophet Chuck says, Endings are hard.

Yup. It’s official. I really don’t like endings.

But I’m proud of this book and of this trilogy. It is completely what it was always meant to be: the story of three people, three flawed, normal people, who encountered more than their share of life’s pain and challenges. Or maybe it wasn’t more than their share; perhaps they paid for later happiness with their early heartache. They were friends from birth, and between Leo and Nate, there was always Quinn, who was called on to make hard choices that very nearly broke her heart.

My beta readers have been sending me messages like . . .

OMG, thank you for sharing this with us. Thank you for letting me beta read for you. You are such a wonderful story teller. I admit I cried in a few places. 

How am I supposed to beta read if I keep tearing up?

I absolutely loved the book.  There are no other words to describe it than a perfect ending to an amazing love story.

I haven’t had a book make me cry in a really long time, and this one got me 3 times.

So much emotion reading this one. Today at work everyone kept asking me if I was okay my eyes were so swollen from crying.

Gah… I’m crying again. You’re killing me, Smalls… In a fantastic way.

I started reading slower and slower as I felt I was nearing the end, because I wasn’t ready to let go of Mia and Leo. And the epilogue…. What was the line in Steel Magnolias? Something along the line of “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” My reaction through the epilogue was just like my reaction to M’lynn during the cemetery scene in Steel Magnolias….crying so hard I could barely see, laughter, more tears. Tears of happiness, tears of tenderness, and I’m sad to see the end of the trilogy but looking forward to the spinoffs.

Hey, at least I’m not crying alone. No doubt - endings are hard. But then again... nothing ever really ends, does it-

PS: No, nothing really ends. There will be three spin-offs of this trilogy, three Keeping Score Romances. The first chapters of two of the three are included in DOYAM. 🙂

PPS: Days of You and Me is available for exclusive preorder on iBooks. You can also get a sneak peek chapter there. Check it out on iBooks’ very cool promotion, sitting pretty as the very first book in the same row with, oh, you know . . . Roxanne St. Clair. JD Robb. Susan Mallery. Whatever.

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Living a Double Life: How faith and romance coexist

My unusual situation has almost become part of my branding and schtick at author events. I’ll be in the middle of a panel about writing romance, and the question inevitably arises: “Are any of your plot lines based on your own love life?” and the ever-popular “How does your significant other feel about your 46975_452627834144_5854393_nbooks?”

When it’s my turn to answer, I usually play it up, with a deep sigh and an air of sharing a secret. “Well . . . my husband is a priest. So you can probably guess which plot lines are not based on my own life!” As for how he feels about my books . . . that’s a little more complicated.

To be fair, I was a writer long before my husband became a priest. I wasn’t a clergy wife who woke up one day and decided to write romance. I’d been writing for years, and while it’s true that I published my first book (a young adult paranormal romance) the December after my husband graduated from seminary, it had never crossed my mind that our careers could ever be considered incompatible. And for a while, they weren’t. He started out his career as a hospice chaplain, working for corporations who didn’t care what his wife did for a living.

Meanwhile, my first books were quite clean, with almost no language or sexual content. Of course, there were still some Christians who took umbrage with them because The King Quartet was paranormal, featuring witches and psychic phenomenon. From my point of view, though, this story of good versus evil was completely consistent with my beliefs. Christianity has a long tradition of literature that is written in metaphor. Some of the most famous of those books never even mention God by name. While I never intended Tasmyn’s story to be overtly religious, I didn’t see anything in it that should offend Christians.

My next books after The King Quartet were quite different. I’d moved away from young adult lit and into contemporary romance for adults. I was very excited about the story in The Posse, but because it was adult, and because I felt the plot called for it, I included a few love scenes. Oh, let’s not be coy; they were sex scenes, although they were fairly mild. But I found I really enjoyed writing books for adults and then eventually, for new adults, and I didn’t like to close the bedroom door, as they say.

Still, my husband continued to work for hospice at this point, and no one seemed to care about my smutty books, as my kids teased me.

In the summer of 2014, I wrote a new adult romance called The Last One. It would be one of my best-selling books, and it also contained some of my hottest sex scenes to date. That book released in 16423_10151353464799145_1026237428_nSeptember, about two weeks before my husband took his first position in parish ministry. I was a little nervous, but fortunately, I was able to fly under the radar when it came to church. Since we’d been attending the church where my husband was now serving, I wasn’t a new commodity. I was the same lady with purple hair I’d always been.

But then my not-so-secret identity began to crack a little. A few ladies in the church mentioned that they had read some of my books, and after some initial panic (mine!), I realized that the world wasn’t ending. No one stood up in the middle of church and pointed at me in condemnation.

Of course, I don’t necessarily flout my books in certain settings. I’ve had conversations with people who have roundly criticized any books with mystical elements–and sex? No. Just no. When they finish up by asking for a copy of one of my titles, I’m understandably a little reluctant to share. I’ve learned that redirection and stall tactics work every time.

I’m very blessed that my husband supports my work, no matter what. My kids, who are mostly grown, 10678164_10152498592689145_1076123883_odon’t read what I write (because ICK–who wants to read their mom’s sex scenes?), but they’re tolerant. I’ve had a few dear ladies at church whisper to me how much they enjoy my stories. One told me recently, “Father is a lucky man!”

I’m not naive, however, and I realize that there may come a point when we have to explain to someone in the church why I write the books I do. The truth is that although I understand my work will never be classified inspirational fiction, I don’t find it inconsistent with my faith. My love stories are between two consenting adults, who always end up in a committed, loving relationship by the end of the book. The choices they make might be different than those I made for myself and those I’d want for my kids, but they are within our cultural norms. I don’t write violence nor do I glorify irresponsible sex.

All of my books celebrate love, family and the triumph of good over evil. Some of my characters attend church, and it always portrayed in a positive light.

Sometimes I wonder if those who might judge my books harshly have read the Song of Songs in the Old Testament. It’s a love story, a beautiful recounting of a couple coming together, and although it is often described as a metaphor for God’s love for His people, there is no doubt that this is the most sensuous book in the Bible.

So how does it work, being a priest-and-romance-writer couple? Actually, it’s easy. We support each other, and we do whatever we can to help each other. When I’m traveling for work, I often miss Sunday services, but I try to make Wednesday mass. My husband usually can’t make my signings or events, but I know he’s got my back, and when I come home, he makes me dinner and spoils me while I recover.

When it comes down to it, our careers really aren’t that different. They’re both all about celebrating love . . . and could there be anything more beautiful than that?

One Week Until Hanging By A Moment Releases!

BannerHBAMrelease

 

One week!

Seven days!

168 hours!

Yes, I’m literally

HANGING BY A MOMENT

waiting for this release.

Book 2 of the Keeping Score Trilogy

comes out May 24th,

and I can’t wait.

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So since it’s #TeaserTuesday, I thought I’d give you a little sneak peek.

Young sensual couple during romantic evening

“Babe, you awake?” Leo’s voice was low and husky, murmuring against my ear.

I snuggled a little closer to him. “Mmmmm. Kind of.” My bedroom was dark except for the faint glow of the streetlight just outside. Tonight, for the first time all week, I hadn’t dropped right off to sleep after I’d laid my head on Leo’s broad chest.

“I talked to my mom a little bit tonight before they all left.” His fingers moved in small circles on my upper arm. “She didn’t push, but she suggested I give you and your mother some space tomorrow.   She said you two need to talk about some stuff and make decisions.”

Panic welled up inside me, and it was on the tip of my tongue to argue. But I knew deep down that Leo couldn’t stay glued to my side forever. We both had to figure out what was going to come next for us, just like my mom and I had to do the same.

“Yeah.” I swallowed hard. “She’s probably right.” I turned a little, resting my chin on Leo’s sternum, staring up into his face. “But don’t go far, okay? I’m not sure I’m ready to go cold turkey on my Leo addiction.”

He brushed his hand over my hair. “If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll sit in the car outside, just in case you need me.”

I sniffed. “You don’t have to do that. Maybe after breakfast, you could just go home for a little bit.”

“That works.” He crunched up, bending so that his lips could reach the top of my head. “Hey, Mia? We haven’t really talked about anything serious yet. I mean, about us. But I wanted to say this now, before anything goes any further.”

Trepidation gripped my gut. “I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with this.”

“Babe, no.” Leo slid me off him, rolling to lay on his side so that our faces were close together. “Nothing bad. I just wanted to say . . . I love you, Mia. I didn’t say it to you last week. I hoped you understood it, but I thought I better be clear. I love you. I loved you before, and I never stopped.”

I traced his jaw with one finger. “I love you, too, Leo. Still. Always. Forever.”

He released a breath as though he’d been holding it. “Okay. Good.”

I frowned. “Did you doubt that I did? That I do?”

“No, not really.” He nuzzled my neck. “But I wasn’t sure if you were ready to deal with me again. I know you needed me this week, but I was afraid once things started to settle down, you’d think that maybe I wasn’t worth the effort.”

Following my finger with my lips, I kissed his chin. “You’re worth everything, Leo. And I hate that it took my dad—what happened, I mean, to get us back together, but I’m not going to have any regrets anymore. Loving you is part of me, and so are you. I wouldn’t have made it through this week without you.” I paused, enjoying the feel of the late-night scruff on his neck. “That first day, before you got here, I wanted to die, too. It hurt so bad, and I felt like nothing was ever going to be right again. But then you came to me, and I’ll never forget that you were here for me.”

“I always will be.” He tipped up my chin and kissed my lips, softly. “Nothing in my life works without you.”

Want MORE? You can read a sample chapter here . . .

And if you preorder, the full book will show up magically in your ereader next week!

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If you haven’t read WHEN WE WERE US yet, grab it now so you’re ready for next week!

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When We Were Us