This month I have a new release, Falling for the Millionaire. It is the third book in my Village of Hope series. In writing this series, I created the Village of Hope by combining three real-life ministries, which provide services for children, the elderly and folks in need of legal advice, job counseling, job training and the basic necessities of life. Each book in the series shows how each of the ministries at the Village serves people in the community. The first book, Second Chance Reunion, is a story about Annie Payton, who receives help through the women’s ministry there. The second book, Nursing the Soldier’s Heart, features Brady Hewitt and his grandmother, Cora who lives in the senior center and nursing home at the Village. In that book, I incorporated a lot of the experiences I had with my mother-in-law, who was in and out of a nursing facility numerous times during the last two years of her life. Falling for the Millionaire is Melody Hammond’s story. She is the head of the women’s ministry and learns a big lesson in trusting God. The experience that I incorporated into this story comes from a professional football game we attended. At halftime, they had a show in which sky divers would land in the stadium. One jumper’s main chute didn’t open. In that split second, when I realized that his main chute didn’t open, my heart was in my throat until I saw his auxiliary chute open. I transferred my reaction to this event to the heroine in my story when she witnesses something similar.
Here’s an a little excerpt from FALLING FOR THE MILLIONAIRE.
Blind dates mimicked test-driving cars. Tonight Melody Hammond had another one to deal with. What would it bring? Her friends kept sending her fancy sports cars when all she wanted was a nice simple sedan.
The doorbell rang. She peered through the peephole in the front door of her small brick ranch house in her suburban Atlanta neighborhood. She couldn’t tell much from the distorted image except that the man was tall and had dark hair.
This was one date that carried some consequences. Tonight’s fundraiser for The Village of Hope Ministries was an event intended to raise money for Melody’s pet project—building more housing for abused and troubled women. Too often the ministry had difficulty finding space for all the women who needed help and had to turn many away. She planned to do everything within her power to see this project funded.
People had paid a lot of money to attend this formal dinner dance, including her date. She hoped it would go well, so she could represent The Village properly. She wanted to believe anyone who had an interest in helping a charity was a decent person. Unfortunately, she’d learned over the years that not all donors to good causes were good people. Some had ulterior motives.
Melody took a deep breath, then tried to produce a genuine smile as she opened the door. That breath caught in her throat as she stared up at Hudson Paine Conrick, the Fourth. In his black tuxedo he was handsome beyond description. His dark hair curled and waved in a rumpled kind of way. The five o’clock shadow he sported gave him a dangerous look—at least where a woman’s heart was concerned.
He gave her a lazy grin. “Ms. Hammond, Hudson Conrick. Nice to meet you.”
Melody nodded, hoping her brain would engage her tongue. “Please come in while I get my wrap, Mr. Conrick.”
“Certainly. You look lovely, though it’s a shame you have to cover that stunning red evening gown with anything.” He stepped across the threshold.
“Thank you, but a pashmina doesn’t cover much. Thankfully, it’s not too cold tonight.” Smiling, Melody tried not to assign any connotation to his compliment as she grabbed her purse and wrap from the nearby hall table.
“Fortunately, Atlanta is having a mild January.” Hudson opened the door for her.
“Thanks.” She threw the wrap around her shoulders, then locked the door. Turning toward the driveway, she stopped short at the sight of a black limousine. She caught herself before she blurted, Wow! A limo! Was he trying to show off? She shouldn’t question their mode of transportation, just enjoy it.
As they approached the vehicle, the driver appeared out of nowhere and opened the door. Melody slid across the black-and-gray leather seats, a combination of butter and silk beneath her fingers. The smell of cleaner permeated the warm interior. A television in one corner broadcasted business news while soft music played in the background. A lighted workstation with a laptop computer and a bar filled with rows of glasses sat across from her.
Melody pressed her lips together to keep her mouth from hanging open at the obvious display of wealth. Who was entitled to this much luxury when people were starving?
She had to stop her judgmental attitude. This man was donating a lot of money to her cause. She had no right to disparage his wealth.
As Hudson slid in beside her, he turned off the TV. “Sorry about that. I’m sure you don’t want business news blaring at you.”
Melody shrugged and let her pashmina fall from her shoulders. “No problem, Mr. Conrick.”
Smiling, he reached for a glass from the bar, filled it with ice and poured water into it. “Would you like one? Or a soft drink?”
“Water’s fine, thanks.”
He poured another glass of water, then handed it to her. “Shall we toast to a wonderful evening?”
“Sure.” She clinked her glass against his and wondered what she should talk about now. Hudson settled back and looked at her, his eyes, the color of maple syrup, filled with amusement. “Let’s set aside the formality. Please call me Hudson. May I call you Melody?”
The tension in Melody’s shoulders began to wither away. “That would make for a better evening.”
“Agreed.” Hudson grinned. “So you and Ian work together?”
Nodding, Melody wondered whether Ian Montgomery, her co-worker who had set up this date, had any idea how mismatched she and Hudson were. “Yes. In addition to being The Village’s legal guy, he’s the administrator of the nursing facility and senior center.”
Surprise registered on Hudson’s face. “That’s interesting. I knew he handled your legal stuff, but I didn’t know about the rest.”
“All of us in the administration at The Village have multiple roles. I came there to head up the women’s ministries, but I also coordinate the children’s one, too.”
“Must keep you busy.”
“It does.” Melody searched her mind for something to talk about that didn’t sound like a commercial for The Village. “Ian said you went to law school with him. Where do you practice law?”
Hudson gave her a lopsided grin. “I don’t.”
“Oh.” Did she dare ask him what he did? Maybe he was one of those trust fund babies who did little work and spent time vacationing in trendy locations. Ian had mentioned that Hudson had been overseas.
He chuckled. “I suppose you’re wondering what I do with my time?”
As a heated blush crept up Melody’s neck and onto her cheeks, she was thankful for the dim lighting in the limo. She might as well be honest. “Yes, I’m curious since you don’t practice law.”
A smirk curved his lips for a moment. “I went to law school because my father insisted on it. Otherwise, he would’ve cut me off without any money, and I couldn’t have that now, could I? Without that money, I wouldn’t have been able to be your escort tonight.”
Was he joking, or was he serious? She resisted the urge to rub away the headache that was forming at her temples. How would she endure a whole night with a guy whose only thought was living off his daddy’s money? She had to be thankful for that money. It was helping to fund this much-needed project.
Melody forced a smile. “That still doesn’t tell me what you do.”
“I try my best to stay out of my father’s hair.” Hudson gave her a sardonic smile.
Another cryptic answer. Maybe he really didn’t do anything, and he didn’t want to admit it. Sounded as if he didn’t get along with his father. Sad. Hudson had a father he didn’t have much use for, and Melody wished her father was still alive. He’d died too young in an airplane crash. “That’s your job? Staying out of your father’s hair?”
Laying his head back, Hudson laughed out loud. When he finally looked at her, his eyes still sparked with laughter. “That’s a good description of what I do.”
“And how does one accomplish that?”
“Excellent question.” Hudson jiggled the ice cubes in his glass as if he would find an answer there. “I work wherever he sends me. I’ve spent the last year in the Middle East looking out for our oil interests. I’ve only been back in the States for a few weeks. My mother insisted that I come home for Christmas.”
Melody’s stomach roiled at the mention of that region of the world. So much trouble. So much misery. So many deaths. “I’m sure your mother was happy.”
Hudson nodded as he smiled wryly. “Yes, and I managed to stay on my father’s good side for all of Christmas Day. You might as well know that my presence at your fundraiser tonight is all about pleasing him.”
There is was—the ulterior motive. Pleasing his daddy. As reasons went, that one wasn’t all bad. At least Hudson was honest about why he was her escort. She realized she was judging the man again. Maybe his daddy was a real reprobate and staying out of his way was a matter of wisdom. She stared at her glass of ice water. Why couldn’t she put her critical attitude on ice? “I’m glad you could join us this evening.”
“Me, too. It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of going out with a beautiful woman.” Hudson’s gaze didn’t waver as he looked at her.
Melody produced another smile that she feared came across as pretentious as his flattery. How did she acknowledge it? Believe he was sincere? “Thank you for sharing your evening with me and contributing to this very worthy cause.”
He set his glass in the cup holder. “Tell me more about The Village of Hope.”
“Sure.” Melody took a deep breath, wondering whether a wealthy man could begin to understand what it was like to be poor or down on your luck and without resources. “It’s a multifaceted ministry. We provide shelter for women who have fled an abusive situation or women who need a helping hand while they recover from addictions. As you know, we provide legal help for those who can’t afford it. We have a dozen children’s homes for abused, neglected or orphaned children. The Village has a nursing facility and an assisted living center. We also have job counseling and job training.”
“Amazing. I had no idea The Village had so many programs. My father only told me about the women’s ministry.” Hudson laced his fingers behind his head. “Do you have a rehab center?”
Melody shook her head. “We help folks after they’ve been through rehab to get back on track with their lives. Many facilities send their clients to us after they’ve completed their program.”
“Looks like we’re at the hotel.” Hudson slid toward the door.
“The dinner’s in the main ballroom.” Melody wrapped the pashmina around her shoulders.
After the limo stopped, a doorman immediately opened the door. Hudson stepped out and extended his hand to her. “Ready for a wonderful evening?”
Her heart racing, she placed her hand in his as he helped her out. The callouses on his palm surprised her. She had expected to feel no signs of physical work. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Hudson tipped the doorman, and Melody guessed from the expression on the doorman’s face that the tip had been very generous. As they entered the lobby, he smiled down at her. That and the warmth of his hand sent a little shiver up her arm and down her spine. Attraction. Should she be feeling it? A sedan, not a sports car. That’s what she wanted, but maybe she should enjoy the sports car just for tonight.
While they walked through the lobby toward the ballroom, Hudson slipped her arm through his. For a moment, Melody felt like a princess on the arm of her prince. People turned to look at them. She glanced up at him. Gorgeous didn’t begin to describe the man. No wonder people stopped to stare. He seemed oblivious to their interest. Did he expect the attention, or was he really a down-to-earth, modest guy?
There was a lot to learn about Hudson Paine Conrick, the Fourth. So far she’d only scratched the surface. Did she want to know him better? What did it matter? After tonight his obligation would be over, and she would probably never see him again. Their circles didn’t intersect.
Surveying the area, Melody hoped to see someone from The Village, but few people had arrived yet. As the chandeliers sparkled overhead, she wished Ian and his wife, Annie, could be at their table to help with the date Ian had arranged for her, but folks who worked at The Village would be scattered throughout the ballroom in order to talk to the donors.
Melody glanced at her ticket. “We’re at table four.”
Hudson raised his eyebrows. “I thought a very important person like you would be at table one.”
“We’re right in front of the speakers. So we’re at a VIP table.” Melody waved a hand toward the front.
As she made her way across the ballroom, she stopped to introduce Hudson to folks she knew from area churches. With great ease, he engaged them in conversation. He seemed to know someone or something that related to every person he spoke to. He should be the fundraiser instead of her.
After they found their seats, Melody set her wrap on her chair. “I hope you don’t mind if I leave you here while I check on a few things.”
“Trying to get rid of me already?” He grinned as he pulled out his chair.
“No. I wouldn’t want to miss another ride in that limo.”
He chuckled as he waved her away. “Do what you have to do. I know this evening is more business than pleasure for you.”
“Thanks. I won’t be long.” Striding toward the doors at the back of the room without a backward glance, she hoped his jovial manner meant he was teasing. Despite their congenial conversation on the ride over and his seemingly pragmatic attitude, being with him put her nerves on edge. She didn’t want to do anything to alienate the man. Although the folks in attendance tonight had already made a substantial donation, the object of the event was to convince many of them to make their support ongoing.
Melody hated fundraising—begging people for money. She struggled with that part of working for a nonprofit entity. Doing cartwheels across the ballroom might be easier. A smile and a prayer would get her through the evening.
Have you ever been on a blind date? How did it go? If you haven’t been on a blind date, is there a date that didn’t go as you planned?
I’m giving away the first two books in my Village of Hope series, Second Chance Reunion and Nursing the Soldier’s Heart, to one person who leaves a comment. The contest will be open until midnight MST April 5, 2016. I will draw the name of the winner on April 6, 2016.
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