I am so excited to share the first chapter of my new novel, Love's Journey Home, that will be released on February 1st! 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.
Here's the back copy:
Here's the back copy:
Mick Donovan learned at a young age never to let anyone close because those you love never stay. Keeping people at arms-length has never been hard for him---until he meets Olivia Dalton. Mick is caught up in a case she’s prosecuting, and he can’t deny his attraction to her, but when she uncovers the past he’s kept carefully hidden, he’s sure she’ll turn away. Yet, even with all his secrets in the open, Olivia reaches out. Can he let his guard down long enough to let her in and take a chance on love?
Love's Journey Home
by Julie Coulter Bellon
All Rights Reserved
Sometimes helping out a friend didn’t give the warm fuzzy feelings everyone talked about.
Mick Donovan stood behind the new waitress from Rosie’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. If they’d been out front, there would have been plenty of light from the lampposts strategically placed on Lincoln’s Main Street, but there would also be a crowd of witnesses waiting to be seated for dinner.
After a few seconds of silence, when the worst of it was over, he quietly asked, “You okay? Your name’s Adrienne, right?”
She straightened and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. Peering up at him, she blinked a few times, as if he weren’t in focus. “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, her nails digging into his arm. “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 later. “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 owlishly. Her mascara had run, leaving black smudges on her cheeks, giving her the appearance of a child who’d been in her mother’s makeup. “You understand that, right? I mean, Tim can’t fire me for asking for food, can he?”
Tim was the manager of Rosie’s, the only non-fast food restaurant in Lincoln, 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, glancing back at the employee entrance. Mick silently agreed. She was the kind of person anyone would be lucky to know.
He’d met Taunya at the diner six months ago and he’d started to come in when he knew she’d be waitressing. She had a great smile to go along with her long legs and sunshine-blonde hair. But after they’d gone out a few times, he did what he always had and broke it off. She was looking to settle down and have a family, but Mick knew he would never be that guy, so 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 good hearts― except when that good-hearted person involved him with someone 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 helped her in and 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, wanting to double-check the state of her stomach.
She nodded briefly, as if it was too much effort to do more than that. “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, feeling the purr of the engine under his fingers. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you home in no time, though.”
He pulled out onto the street and headed toward the row of duplexes on the south side of town. Lincoln wasn’t big, and Adrienne lived with a few other waitresses at Blue Gables Townhomes. Each duplex had a bright blue roof, so while it was a bit on the ugly side, at least it was easy to find.
When he pulled up outside the duplex at the end of the street, 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, noticing how threadbare her t-shirt was. “You’re home.”
She lifted her head and blinked a few times, looking around to get her bearings. “What?”
“You’re home.” He smiled, and she moved away from him, her brow furrowed as if she was 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 straightened and glared at him, fumbling for the door handle. “I’m fine. I just need to get to bed.”
“Okay.” He wasn’t going to argue with her. He opened his door and quickly 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,” she said grudgingly, looking up at the ugly blue roof, as if to make sure she really was home.
Mick cupped her elbow, not willing to leave her on the sidewalk when it looked like she was having a hard time taking a few steps. “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.” Her expression changed from an angry pout to a grin. She leaned in. “I haven’t had a gentleman around in a while. Tell me the truth, 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 at her best, that that probably wasn’t a good thought to share right now. “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 whatever effect she was going for got 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 rummaged through a pile of receipts until he got to the bottom and felt a key ring. He pulled it out and slid the key 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 help me in?”
He took her arm and walked in, discreetly pushing away a duffel bag and piles of clothes and shoes strewn about, to clear a path to the living room. She was leaning heavily on him, but when they got near enough, she promptly lay down on the couch and closed her eyes. “I’ll just rest here for a minute. You don’t have to stay.”
Mick stood over her, debating what to do. Should he leave her here in this condition? “Are you sure?”
She kicked off her shoes without opening her eyes, then turned on her side to get comfortable. With as lumpy and worn as the old couch looked, that seemed a feat in itself. “Yeah. Thanks for the ride.”
Well, as she’d pointed out, he wasn’t her mother, and she seemed to be doing okay now that she was home. Mick turned to leave, but Adrienne sat up straight. “Wait. You didn’t bring in my food.”
Oh yeah. The food she’d ventured out of the house for that had started this whole mess. 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 to his car and grabbed the takeout bag. He knew he’d never be able to eat Rosie’s famous beef kebabs again. He grimaced and took another deep breath before going back into the apartment. Adrienne was passed out, her bottle-blonde hair sticking out at all angles, the brightness of the bleached yellow standing out against the worn brown fabric. It was obvious nothing would wake her up, not even food, so Mick decided to make his way to the kitchen.
It was small, the linoleum worn in a few places. She obviously hadn’t done dishes for a couple of days. 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, that might improve the odor in 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 was 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 Rosie’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 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 meat 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, trying to start a conversation and give himself an excuse to stay longer. Should he 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 was definitely more interested in eating than talking.
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 little more than one word answers 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 have a convertible and like driving with the top down. 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, as if his mother passing out on the couch was a normal occurrence. It made Mick’s heart hurt. Maybe when Adrienne was sober, he could talk to her about getting a babysitter for the boy when she was at work, 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 staring at the apartment. Will had taken the news of his mother’s condition in stride, as if he was used to taking care of himself. Mick decided he’d done what he could for tonight, but his mind couldn’t shut down the part of him that 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 the 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.
After 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 that kind of detailed work. He’d have to switch to 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 woodshop 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. Mick 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.