Hello InspyRomance Readers!
We are less than a month away from the release of For the Love of Joy! I wanted to offer you a sneak peek of the romantic comedy. You’ll see this novel has a very Southern flavor–okay, all of my novels do, but this one even more so! The heroine is not just a Southern girl, she’s a country girl. :)
Weddings—the best of times, the worst of times, depending on one’s vantage point. In his own case, marriage had been a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
Davis Donnelly tugged at the stiff collar of his white button–down. Why on earth did people have outdoor receptions in Florida, anyway? He needed another glass of punch. Or a gallon. Condensation dripped from the crystal bowl on the table in front of him. He knew the feeling. Officiating his first wedding had been an honor, but he felt like he was standing in soup out here in his friends’ yard.
He’d spent the last few years studying to work in ministry, so he might as well get used to these shindigs. At least this small, hot gathering was almost over. The aroma of boiled shrimp still hung in the salty air, but most of the twenty or so guests seemed to have had their fill.
“Hey, you.” A woman’s voice turned Davis around. His friend Star made a beautiful bride. Except right now, her face scrunched up like that time she’d accidentally eaten a scoop of wasabi thinking the green lump was an avocado.
Still in her wedding dress, she marched toward Davis with Pastor Bruce on her heels. She stopped only inches away, all up in his personal space. “I just heard you aren’t on staff at the church yet? I thought you were starting a week ago.”
“I have a few things to work out first.” A trickle of perspiration beaded on Davis’s lip. Star’s wedding reception didn’t seem like the time or place to plunge into his more–messed–up–than–she–knew life history.
“Like what?” Star’s gaze bounced between Davis and the poor senior pastor from their home church back in St. Simons, Georgia. No doubt Bruce had been put on the spot.
Davis swiped at a pesky horsefly buzzing around his head. Speaking of pesky, he might as well get this explanation over with. Star had a thing for sniffing around like a blind dog in a meat market until she found her answers.
For real, why outside in this bog of humidity? He pressed the back of his hand to his forehead. “I might be married. I’m not sure.” He blurted the blunt truth, and then pulled at the stupid collar again.
“What?” Star shrieked, then popped her hand over her mouth.
The news went over like a flock of fat chickens. Exactly as he’d expected.
A few of the guests glanced their way. Waving, she smiled at them, then leaned closer, the edge of her white veil fluttering in the breeze. “How could you not know? Either you’re married or you’re not. And why didn’t you tell me?”
Pastor Bruce lifted his palms. “Davis wants to take care of the…issue. Once things are settled, he can take the position as the outreach pastor.” The sturdy preacher turned toward Davis. “If he so chooses. He wants to start ministry with a clean slate.”
Thank the good Lord for backup. Because the sharp furrow of Star’s brows said she wasn’t letting go.
Yep, she pushed a fist to her hip. “Explain. Please.” At least she kept her voice low this time.
Maybe humor would work. “Don’t you need to go chew the fat with your guests, Bridezilla? You just said I do. Your groom might be looking for you.”
If his friend’s gaze had been a nail gun, he’d be full of holes right about now.
Fine. “Here’s the short version.” Davis blew out a puff of air. “Married young, went into the army, got a Dear John letter with divorce papers, waived my active–duty service–members rights to delay the proceedings and signed them. Not long after, I was in an IED explosion and came home. There’s no actual paperwork that says the divorce went through. I want to set it straight before I start as a minister.” As soon as he’d filled out the official application for the position, he’d realized his marital status could become an issue, especially at a church.
“Ooooh.” Star’s lips rounded, and her expression softened. “Sorry. When I heard someone say you hadn’t started the position, I thought maybe they were giving you the run–around.”
Davis shrugged. “I’ve been avoiding the problem. Burying my head in the sand for ages. If I were an ostrich, I’d have been smothered a long time ago.”
Bruce clapped a big hand on Davis’s shoulder and squeezed. “You’ve been fighting many battles and conquering. With the Lord’s help, you’ll manage this one too.”
“Everything okay over here?” Paul Kelly stepped into their little group and wrapped an arm around his bride. The tall pilot gazed at Star, totally gooey–eyed.
“All good.” Star brushed a kiss on his cheek. “You about ready to head out on our honeymoon?”
Grinning like a possum eating a sweet potato, Paul bobbed his head, gaze fixed on Star.
“I’ll make the announcement.” Davis strode toward the front of the crowd. This couple had fought hard to get here, but they were a good match. His own wedding to Joy Lynn Jennings hadn’t been under such joyful circumstances. Thinking about facing his former bride again twisted his insides. Too much heartache in those memories. Too much loss.
His marital status with Joy needed to be cleared up so he could move forward in his life. He was excited to start the new outreach ministry, and he didn’t want anything to cast a shadow on it. After a ton of internet searching, he’d found what he believed to be Joy’s address—in Atlanta, of all places. He’d never expected the country girl to land in such a big city, and only a few hours away from where he’d settled in St. Simons, Georgia. First thing in the morning, he’d man up and hit the road.
No more head in the sand. But with Joy Lynn Jennings, his head might end up someplace worse.
“For the love of all that’s good. If I get assigned another patient with lice, I might shave my head.” Joy Donnelly stripped off the layers of medical attire and pushed them into the receptacle in the hall of the ICU. She’d learned to double gown and double glove after she and Hankie ended up with the wretched vermin for the second time.
“I hear ya.” Her friend and coworker, Amber Ross, waited several feet away, and Joy couldn’t blame her. “You do seem to be the chosen one for the hard cases. That means management has confidence in your abilities.” Amber pushed a loose strand of wavy ginger hair behind her ear. “Speaking of, you ready to turn my patient?”
“Mr. Walters? My lands.” Had it been two hours already? Joy checked her watch. Yep, only five minutes away. The kind man had a perforated bowel that had become septic. Not even that old—maybe forty—he’d been a popular pro baseball player. Everyone loved him. Yet, he was also a large man for two petite women to roll over. Every two hours.
Amber’s lips quirked up. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
“You’re not hilarious.” Nothing was flying in here other than the guy who’d rolled by on the pain pump. Only halfway through her shift, and Joy couldn’t stop a huge yawn.
Chuckling, Amber waved her on. They headed down the hall toward the sliding glass door where the mostly unconscious patient waited. “Are you going to make it between work, studying, and Hankie? Have you considered putting off school until the little guy is…older?”
What Amber meant was until Hankie became less of a handful. Would that ever happen? Apparently, she wasn’t only getting the tough cases at work. She’d been doled out a tough case in the toddler department too. Her precious cherub was a Houdini forty ways to Sunday, penetrating every child lock known to man. No matter. Joy could take care of herself and her son and do her job, even while taking classes to become a nurse practitioner.
She had to.
There was no one else to help them. And she needed the better income and schedule the clinic job offered in the NP position. Hankie could go to private school, and she could work week–day office hours.
“Don’t you worry about me, Amber. I’m hanging in there like a hair in a biscuit.” Never mind that she dropped onto the couch plum tuckered out by the end of every day.
“Oh, Joy. That’s just gross.” Sticking out her tongue, Amber pretended to gag.
“You know you’ve seen worse.” Joy shot her friend a quick smile, then pointed at the computer monitor on the cabinet between the patient rooms. “Let me stop and log in my documentation. I don’t want to end up staying as late charting as I did last night.”
Once she’d readied herself, she and Amber set to work pulling and pushing the draw sheet for the man. They settled him on his side and placed pillows behind him to keep him in place.
A moan slipped from his lips.
“I’m so sorry you’re hurting.” Joy caressed his shoulder. “We’ll get you something for the pain.” She and Amber exchanged glances. They’d hoped he would have improved by now.
When they were finished, Joy cleaned up and she moved on to her other heart–rending patient— a young mother who’d been a victim of a hit–and–run while jogging, which caused massive internal injuries.
Near the entrance of the room, the doctor on the case met Joy. “She’s dying. The family is down the hall. They’ll be in to be with her.”
“Oh no.” A burn started in her eyes. “Did I miss anything? I’ve done my best to care for her.”
The doctor shook his head. “The damage was too extensive. We all did what we could.”
She couldn’t let herself cry, but this hit so close to home. There was a toddler—not much older than Hankie—losing his mother.
Within moments, the young husband entered the hall, tears streaming down his face. His crumpled button–down shirt hung out of his khakis. His steps dragged.
Joy met him and walked at his side. “I’m sorry. I’ll be with you however you need me to be.”
“Thank you.” His voice was barely audible. “You’ve been so kind. If you could sit with us…”
“Of course.” Her two words tasted bitter, felt useless in this situation. Each death was difficult, but some seemed particularly poignant. The man obviously loved his wife.
When he reached the bed, he fell to his knees, took his wife’s hand, and sobbed.
What would it be like to be treasured that way? Her own husband had taken off faster than a jackrabbit as soon as they’d said I do. Joined the army without asking her opinion. Obviously, he’d been an eager–beaver to get away from her.
Pushing away the painful thoughts of Davis Donnelly, Joy quietly waited while the man grieved.
Two hours later, the husband and other family members had said good–bye, and the young mother had passed away. Joy stood alone in the room. Another patient would be arriving soon. Another difficult story. Despite the fact that she tried not to get too attached to her ICU patients or their families, this one hurt. If she allowed herself to get close to all of them, she’d go home and fall apart every night. But this one gutted her.
She couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to her own toddler if something happened to her. At least this patient’s child had a loving father. Her Hankie would be all alone in the world.
“Hey. Sorry to bother you.” Amber poked her head in the room, interrupting Joy’s somber deliberations. “You’ve got a phone call at the station.”
Joy’s stomach dropped quicker than a deer on opening day. “Oh, please, don’t let it be about Hankie.”
“Maybe it’s something else?”
Her friend was sweet, but there wasn’t anyone or anything in her life other than Hankie, the hospital, or her apartment complex.
Maybe someone had hit her car in the parking lot or their apartment had burned down.
One could hope.
Of all the days for Hankie to get “released” from daycare. Again. Joy exhaled slowly, trying to think. Now that she’d picked him up, she needed to figure out who could keep him for the rest of the day. And quickly. Her coworkers could only cover for a little while.
“Here ya go, sugar booger.” She placed sliced bananas, a sippy cup of juice, and his favorite interactive book on the coffee table. “Momma’s gonna change and make a phone call. Or a dozen.” She mumbled the last part.
“Okie dokie.” He trained his attention on the book.
Thank heavens. She’d love to give Brainy Tots a piece of her mind for dumping them like an old hunting dog. Finding another good sitter or daycare on short notice would take some finagling. They didn’t come cheap either. Especially the ones near the hospital. And only the best was good enough for her boy. She’d not leave him with just anyone.
Why did toddlers even get kicked out? After all, they were just learning the ropes of life. So Hankie wanted to go outside even when it wasn’t playtime. And kids put things in their mouth to see how they tasted, to discover the world. Hankie couldn’t help it if he bit every now and then. That’s what she’d read, anyway. But there appeared to be a limit to the number of times a kid could bite and do that escaping–the–building thing.
Once she’d checked the deadbolt on the apartment door, Joy headed to the small bedroom she and Hankie shared in their third–floor flat. She stripped out of her scrubs and put on clean yoga pants and a T–shirt. The last thing she needed was to bring home germs from the hospital and get either of them sick.
Sitting on the edge of her bed, she scrolled through texting and calling. Her lunch hour would be over any minute. Between her shifts as a nurse, her online NP courses, and Hankie, she’d made a conscious effort to help her friends and neighbors when they needed something if she could, but it seemed no one wanted to return the favor. Especially when it came to Hankie.
There had to be someone, though.
A dozen texts and phone calls later, still nothing.
Joy raised her head, and the quiet in the apartment registered. Too quiet. Gasping, she jumped to her feet. “Hankie!”
Things could never be this silent with her boy around. Sprinting, she rounded the corner into the den. A chair sat next to the open door, and a pile of toddler clothes lay on the landing outside at the top of the third–story staircase.
“Oh, for the love. Help! Hankie!”
I hope you enjoyed and want to find out how the sparks fly between these two!
Your turn! These two use a lot of country colloquialisms! Do you have a fun one?