I am so excited to share the first chapter of my new novel, Love's Journey Home, that will be released at the end of January! (The first book in the series, Love's Broken Road, is currently free on Kindle, Kobo and Nook. You can see it here). This book is dear to my heart and it has been a long time coming. Thank you to all my fans who have asked about it. I can't wait to hear what you think of Mick's story!Olivia Dalton has a reputation in the DA’s office---tough, thorough, and fierce when she’s closing a case. Those skills are essential in the courtroom, but not in the relationship department---until Mick Donovan crosses her path. Everyone thinks he’s a player, but when an unexpected situation arises, she glimpses an honorable man instead. Olivia is drawn to him, but he pushes her away, unable to shake the past that still haunts him. Can he ever let down his guard long enough to let her in and take a chance at love?
Here's the back copy:
Here's the back copy:
Love's Journey Home
by Julie Coulter Bellon
All Rights Reserved
Sometimes helping out a friend didn’t give him the warm fuzzy feelings everyone had told him about.
Mick Donovan stood over the new waitress from Sadie’s restaurant, holding her hair back while she vomited on a bush out back. It was late and Mick could only see shadows cast from the weak flickers of a lone streetlight. After a few seconds of silence, he quietly asked, “Your name’s Adrienne, right? You okay?”
She straightened and wiped her mouth. “Yeah. Thanks.” Giving him a drunken smile, she took a step and wobbled. Mick grabbed her elbow to steady her. She held on tight, as if he were a lifeline. “I don’t think I caught your name.”
“Mick Donovan. I’m friends with Taunya, remember?” He guided her toward his car, hoping she’d emptied her stomach enough that he wouldn’t have to clean his seats. “She asked me to take you home.”
“I shouldn’t have come into work, but I was so hungry. I just needed a little pick me up.” She looked up at him. “You understand that, right? I mean, Tim can’t fire me for that, can he?”
Tim was the restaurant manager and he ran a tight ship with his staff. She very well could get fired, but Mick didn’t want to mention that to her right now. “That’s why Taunya asked me to take you home. So Tim didn’t see you.” He held up the paper bag in his hand. “She even sent you with some takeout. For later. When you feel better.”
“Taunya’s the best,” Adrienne said and Mick silently agreed.
He’d met Taunya at the diner and started to come in when he knew she’d be waitressing. She had a great smile to go along with her long legs and silky brown hair. But after they’d gone out a few times, he’d had to break it off. She was looking to settle down and have a family and since Mick knew he would never be that guy, he’d backed away.
They’d remained friends, though, and he was glad about that. A man couldn’t have too many friends, especially ones with a good heart― except when that good heart involved him with someone who was throwing up. He’d never had a particularly strong stomach and with fresh vomit on his shoes, he was starting to feel nauseated. Hopefully he wouldn’t regret being a good friend and doing Taunya a favor tonight.
“I’m going to put you in my car. Tell me if you feel sick so I can pull over, okay?” He opened the door for her and she slid in. He sighed as he shut the door to his Mustang. Luckily, they didn’t have far to go to get to her apartment building.
Mick went around to the other side of the car and got in, immediately cracking all the windows so he could breathe in some of the crisp October air. Adrienne’s eyes were closed and her head was against the window. “You good?” he asked, just to double-check the state of her stomach.
She nodded. “Just need to go home.”
Mick started the car and the engine purred to life. “If I didn’t know the Lincoln police had a speed trap on the street that goes up to your house, I’d get you there in two minutes flat.”
“This is a Mustang, isn’t it?” She opened one eye and looked at him. “Zero to sixty in seven seconds.”
Mick gave a low chuckle. He’d worked hard to get his Mustang and was proud of it. “Yeah. Which doesn’t do me much good in Lincoln. But get me out on the salt flats and I can practically fly in this baby.” He patted the dash. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you home in no time, though.”
He pulled out onto the street and headed toward the apartments on the south side of town. Lincoln wasn’t big and Adrienne lived with a few other waitresses from the restaurant in the Blue Gables apartments, named for the bright blue roof. A bit on the ugly side, but at least it was hard to miss.
When he pulled up outside of the apartment, a soft snore came out of Adrienne’s mouth and he realized she was sleeping. Better than throwing up.
“Hey.” He lightly touched her shoulder. “You’re home.”
She lifted her head and blinked a few times. “What?”
“You’re home.” He smiled, and she moved away from him, her brow furrowed as if she were trying to remember who he was. “I’m Taunya’s friend, Mick. She was worried Tim would see you at the restaurant when you weren’t . . . at your best.” Drunk and disorderly was more like it. Taunya had escorted her out of the kitchen while Adrienne had still been demanding two steaks and some shrimp.
She stared at him, then rubbed her temples. “I wash-sh hungry.”
“How much did you have to drink?” Her speech sounded slurred more than sleepy.
“What are you, my mother?” Adrienne glared and him and fumbled for the door handle. “I’m fine. I just need to get to bed.”
“Okay.” He opened his door and came around to help her out. She stumbled a bit and grabbed his arm, but as soon as she was steady, backed away. “Thanks for bringing me home.”
Mick cupped her elbow, not willing to let her go in this condition. “Taunya wouldn’t forgive me if I left you out here. Let me be a gentleman and take you to the door.”
“Ooh, a gentleman.” She grinned and leaned in. “I haven’t had a gentleman around in a while. Do you think I’m pretty, Mr. Gentleman?”
Mick groaned inwardly. At the moment, her hair was matted, with a little bit of greenery from the bush tangled in it. Her clothes were disheveled and her makeup smeared. He’d seen her sober, however, and put together. She was a pretty woman when she was at her best. Not that he’d tell her that. “I think you’ve had a little too much to drink and you need to sleep it off.”
Adrienne pressed against his side. “Do you and Taunya have something going on? Because I won’t tell if you won’t.” She looked up at him and batted her lashes, but the effect was spoiled by the smell of vomit on her breath.
He turned his face slightly away. “There’s nothing to tell and Taunya’s a good friend to both of us.” He motioned toward her purse. “Can I help you find your keys?”
“All the good guys are taken or not interested,” she grumbled as she handed over her purse. “There aren’t any gentlemen left.”
He pulled out her house key and slid it into the lock. “I’m sure things will look better when you’re sober.”
She looked at the open door for a minute, as if she wasn’t quite sure what to do. “I’m a little dizzy,” she finally admitted. “Can you just help me in?”
He took her arm and walked in, discreetly pushing away a duffel bag and a pile of shoes that were strewn about, to clear a path to the living room. She was leaning heavily on him, but when they got near enough, she promptly laid down on the couch and closed her eyes. “I’ll just lay here for a minute. You don’t have to stay.”
Mick stood over her, debating on what to do. Should he leave her here? “Are you sure?”
She kicked off her shoes without opening her eyes. “Yeah. Thanks for the ride.”
Mick turned to leave, but she sat up straight. “Wait. You didn’t bring in my takeout bag.”
He held up a hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll go get it and put it in your fridge.”
She lay back, satisfied, and closed her eyes again. “Thanks.”
He jogged back out to his car and grabbed the takeout bag. He knew he’d never be able to eat Sadie’s famous beef kebabs again without associating it with Adrienne throwing up. He grimaced and took another deep breath before going back into the apartment. Adrienne looked like she was passed out on the couch, so he made his way to the kitchen.
It was small, the linoleum worn in a few places. It looked like she hadn’t done dishes for a couple of days and the garbage was overflowing and needed taken out. Mick put the takeout bag in the fridge and decided to at least take care of her garbage before he left. If nothing else, it would improve the odor permeating her apartment. Mick opened some cupboards and drawers before he found where she kept the bags, and when he looked up, a small boy was in the doorway, his dark hair tousled from sleep.
“Hey,” Mick said, covering his surprise. “I’m Mick. What’s your name?”
The boy stared at him for an uncomfortably long moment, his brown eyes taking him in, as if Mick were being weighed and evaluated. “I’m Will,” he said finally. “Where’s my mom?”
“She’s in the living room, um, resting.” He changed the garbage bag and tied it shut. “She brought some beef kebabs home from Sadie’s. Are you hungry?”
Interest lit his eyes and he nodded. Mick got the takeout bag from the fridge and when he didn’t find any clean plates, he laid out a napkin on the table with a kebab in the middle. “Here you go.”
The boy eyed him warily, but sat down. He bit into the first bite and barely stopped to chew before he put another piece in.
“Whoa, slow down,” Mick said, as he sat down next to the boy. “You don’t want to choke.”
Will wiped his mouth on his pajama sleeve, but didn’t say anything.
“How old are you?” Mick asked, not wanting to leave the boy with his passed out mother in the other room.
“Seven.” He took another bite, but slowly chewed it this time.
“Do you go to Central Elementary?” It was the only elementary school in town, so chances were he went there, but Mick was having a hard time thinking of topics he could talk about with a seven-year-old who clearly didn’t want to talk to him.
Will finished the kebab in record time and Mick considered offering him the other one, but knew Adrienne would want that for herself.
“You like it there?” Mick asked, trying to draw the boy out.
“It’s okay. I like soccer at recess.”
That little bit of information felt like a victory of sorts, since Mick had gotten more than a yes or a no out of him. “I like soccer, too.”
Will started to smile, but caught himself and frowned. “Mrs. Howard said we can’t play when it snows, so I hope it never snows.”
“Me, too. I like driving in my car with the top down and you can’t do that when it’s snowing.” He balled up the napkin and put it with the empty kebab stick. “Your mom isn’t feeling well tonight. She might sleep for a while.” How much did the boy know about his mom’s condition?
“She sleeps there a lot.” Will turned away and headed for the hall. “Night.”
He didn’t seem upset or scared, so his mother passing out on the couch wasn’t a surprise for him. It made Mick’s heart hurt. Maybe when Adrienne was sober, he could talk to her about getting a babysitter for the boy, at least. He shouldn’t be here alone.
Mick let himself out and took the garbage to the bin in the back before he got into his car. Debating on whether to leave the boy or stay, he sat in his car staring at the apartment. Will had taken the news of his mother’s condition in stride, like he was used to taking care of himself and Mick decided he’d done what he could for tonight. But his mind couldn’t shut down that part of him who remembered himself as a hungry little boy sneaking food whenever his foster mother wasn’t looking. No one had cared about him then. Did Will have anyone who truly cared about him?
Mick pulled into his driveway and turned the car off. The little boy in that kitchen dominated his thoughts, but if he mixed them with his own childhood memories, he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight no matter how hard he tried. Wanting to push it all to the back of his mind, he bypassed the house and went directly to the woodshop he’d built in his garage.
Crossing the large room, he got out his latest project, cradling the piece of wood he’d been working on for months. He’d carved animals and flowers, but this was the first detailed bird he’d attempted. The intricacy of the feathers had been difficult at first and he’d had to give it all of his focus. Tonight, he knew he didn’t have the patience for it and he’d have to work on the face.
Once he had his tools in hand and got his rhythm going, his emotions began to calm down. Wood always had that effect on him, which was part of the reason he loved being a wood shop teacher at the high school. He needed that calm to teach teenagers to see the beauty in crafting something with your own hands into a masterpiece.
He lost all track of time until early morning sunlight started to slant through the windows. He yawned and looked down at the owl’s face. But he didn’t see wise eyes. Instead, he saw the eyes of a hungry little boy alone in a house where his mother was passed out on the couch. No matter how many wood pieces he carved, circumstances like last night brought out the feeling of helplessness he’d experienced as a child.And he knew he needed to have a conversation with Adrienne. Today.