Welcome to the Blog Tour for A Gift Like No Other, on tour with SLB Book Tours! I have been enjoying reading so many Christmas books lately, and this one is definitely a keeper!
Her dream is writing.
His is the perfect wife and mother.
Until God fulfills them both with a dream like no other.
Twelve years ago, Faith O’Connor happily gave up her dream as a copywriter to become a wife and mother, clinging to her husband’s promise she could return someday. But when the opportunity arises to write for the Boston Herald again two days a week, her dream hits a snag … along with her marriage.
To Collin McGuire, family is everything because he never really had one of his own. Raised by a father who died early and a mother who didn’t care, Collin is determined to give his children the very best with a full-time mother. But when he denies Faith her dream, he soon discovers he’s denied his own as well … until Christmas day brings a healing through a gift like no other.
This Christmas story was everything I wanted it to be and more. It had just the right amount of passion to keep from blushing, but wanting to have some snuggle time with your hubby. I know some people may be against “passion” in their stories, but I think there’s a time and a place. Obviously I would want it to be with a married couple, and I wouldn’t want it so detailed that I felt uncomfortable reading it. Not to worry – Lessman brings the proper amount of spice to this story.
Here’s the thing – passion is a part of marriages. Right? But it can also be a problem if there is a lack of passion on either side. I cannot thank Lessman enough for writing her stories, such as this, that deal with these emotions and issues that married couple go through. First, it makes me feel like I’m not alone. Second, it encourages me to know that people do make it through the turmoil and get their marriages back on track. I think that is so important in today’s world!
Faith and Collin were fun to read about, and easy to relate to. I’m glad Lessman included both POV’s because it added to the depth of the story. Also reminds you that there are two sides to every story, and we need to be open to see it! Lessman has delivered a delightfully passionate story that will sweep readers off their feet. Highly encourage you to read it!
I received a complimentary copy of this book. I was not required to write a favorable review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Okay, it’s true—I’m definitely what you’d call an “Edgy Inspirational” romance writer, teetering on the edge of what is considered appropriate for the Christian market. But I have a confession to make—yep, I’m afraid of heights. And let’s not sugarcoat this, I’m talking heights of any kind … peering down from those tiny windows at the top of the St. Louis Arch (cold chill) or a knee-knocking trek across a dry creek on a board three feet high. Whether it’s the physical aspect of getting nauseous on the Six Flags ferris wheel or just sick to my stomach over a 1-star review, trust me, it’s not pretty … nor comfortable.
It takes me back to the summer my 12-year-old daughter talked me into an innocent chairlift ride at the Lake of the Ozarks, billed as a relaxing scenic adventure over a pretty ravine of trees and wildflowers. Yeah, right. Pretty? Maybe, if I had kept my eyes open. Relaxing? Not even close for either my daughter or me, the poor, scarred child whose mother had a death grip on her, forcing her to sing Amazing Grace while I hyperventilated and muttered “In Jesus’ name” over and over under my breath. I wanted to throw up once my feet hit solid ground, and I vowed I would NEVER go there again.
So years ago, when a reviewer told her blog audience that she stopped reading my newly released book, A Passion Denied, halfway through because “In my opinion, smut is smut. Even if you slap God’s name in it on occasion, it’s still smut,” I have to admit, it kinda felt like that stupid aerial tram ride giving away, plummeting me into a ravine on a patch of thistle and Missouri primrose. Ouch!
Now before you go feeling sorry for me, please understand that as my Seeker bud, Ruthy, likes to point out, I knew I was going to rock the boat when I hit the Christian market with my brand of passion, so duh! And, yes, I really have developed thicker skin for things like 1-star reviews and nasty comments, neither of which barb me quite as much as before. But I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t tell you that I ache inside at the thought of offending people I love and respect because some of the “passion” in my books made them uncomfortable. And more to the heart of the matter, I bleed inside at the prospect that what I write would in any way offend God.
So if you would be kind enough to humor me today, I’d like to take this opportunity to editorialize just a bit by explaining to both my critics and my supporters just WHY I write the way that I do. It should be no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am a woman of considerable passion—whether for God or romance or even just brushing my teeth, which I do, by the way, ruthlessly, eyes closed and a pained expression on my face. So when God tapped me on the shoulder in a beauty shop (figuratively, of course) while reading a 2001 Newsweek cover article on how Christian movies, books and music were on the threshold of exploding, I was nervous. Now is the time to finish your book, the thought came, and I knew that meant the book I’d begun at the age of twelve after reading Gone With the Wind. But romance? The “subgenre” that literary snobs (myself included) looked down upon? Yes, the thought came again, write for Me. Mmm … passion for God, an interesting concept. Thus was born my tagline—Passion With a Purpose.
I then sent tons of query letters touting the statistic that “nine out of ten women nationwide (90%) consider themselves to be Christian” — American Religious Identification Survey conducted by the Barna Group. Ironically, most of these women who do read romance wouldn’t choose Inspirational romance to save their soul. Why, you may ask? Well, I can only speak for myself and my friends who wanted more heart-pounding, 21st-century realistic romantic tension interlaced with God’s precepts (i.e. on the “edge,” like mine), which in years past, hasn’t been overly prevalent in the Christian market. As a result, most of my friends, Christian and non, read secular romance, which, of course, generally promotes the world’s amoral lifestyle rather than God’s. What’s wrong with this picture? I mean if the world can take something that God created and use it to sell its amoral agenda, then why can’t Christians utilize this God-given passion to promote Him and His precepts?
Look at the world today—it’s obsessed with illicit passion. Hollywood promotes adultery and unmarried couples sleeping together as sexy, and I can count on one hand how many young, unmarried women I know who are still virgins today, Christian or no. Why? Because passion is important! Not just to romance readers, but to everyone on the planet. We were created that way by a passionate God who analogizes His own depth of love for each of us in a very passionate love letter called “Song of Solomon.” And what happens? The world uses this beautiful, God-given gift to shove sin down peoples’ throats, and I, for one, am really sick of it. I want to use passion the way it was intended—to teach people God’s precepts and therein, His love. It’s the cry of my heart, and I hope and pray that for my readers, my stories of romantic passion translate into passion for God.
But those who disagree with me do give me pause to think … and to pray … that I stay the course with God’s plan and not my own. I thank them for their passion for purity, which I assure them, is as fervent as mine and which inspires me to be even more vigilant and careful in future stories I write. And, yes, I do understand the concern and “passion” of those who feel Christian romance must remain chaste and pure.
But on the other side of the spectrum, there are Christians like me, who worry that “chaste and pure” will not reach the majority of Nora Roberts or MTV crowd any more than old-time Gospel music will reach those who listen to Christian rock such as Pillar or metalcore rock like Underoath. The Body of Christ is just that—a body of human beings at varying levels of faith. It’s not one size fits all in reaching people for Christ, but it’s the cry of St. Paul who said “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Salt … in an unsavory world.
But I’ll be honest—in the last few months, I have been going through a really discouraging time regarding my writing, wondering if I was on track with God regarding the level of passion I include in my books. Sure, I’ve received lots of positive feedback, like the 15-year-old who couldn’t talk to her mom about anything, she said, until she and her mom found common ground in their mutual love of A Passion Most Pure. Or the guy who contacted me to get a signed copy for a friend he wanted as a girlfriend. When he told her he wanted a deeper relationship with her, she actually made him read A Passion Most Pure because “that was the kind of relationship she wanted, with God in the middle.” Or the woman who’d “fallen away” from Christianity and wouldn’t read Inspirational books on a dare, but picked mine up not realizing it was spiritual. She wrote that A Passion Most Pure rekindled her love for God and gave her hope again. These are stories that I treasure in my heart.
But life up on the “edge” is still scary for me, nonetheless, because at the base core of who I am as a woman and a writer, I have this deep, primal longing to please and honor my God. So I was praying with my prayer partner about it (AGAIN!) when her 25-year-old daughter stopped by, a girl I hadn’t seen in a long time but knew she had strayed from her Christian roots—living with her boyfriend before they got married, not going to church anymore, heavy drinking, etc. This young women proceeded to tell me that when she read my books, she actually got angry at me. Why? Because the spiritual parts convicted her so much that she wanted to throw the books out. But she didn’t, she said, BECAUSE the passion and intense romance so grabbed her by the throat, that she was compelled to finish the books. And when she turned the last page of A Passion Redeemed, she told me it had brought her up to a whole other level with God. I had tears in my eyes when I learned she is now back at church and trying to live for Him. Call me “edgy” if you will, but for me, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Writing on the “edge” in anything—romance, suspense, young adult, women’s fiction—is a dizzying prospect for any of us who attempt it, especially for those who don’t like heights … or the jolting effect when you crash to the ravine below. But it’s also exhilarating, standing on that cliff, eyes on God instead of the valley below, hoping and praying the wind of the Holy Spirit will help you to soar … for Him. And in that one breathless moment when something you wrote turns the heart of a person back to the Father … oh my … you feel like you can fly!
Julie Lessman is an award-winning author whose tagline of “Passion With a Purpose” underscores her intense passion for both God and romance. A lover of all things Irish, she enjoys writing close-knit Irish family sagas that evolve into 3-D love stories: the hero, the heroine, and the God that brings them together.
Author of The Daughters of Boston, Winds of Change, Heart of San Francisco, Isle of Hope, and Silver Lining Ranch series, Julie was American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and has garnered over 18 Romance Writers of America and other awards.
Voted #1 Romance Author in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards, Julie’s novels also made Family Fiction magazine’s Best of 2015, Best of 2014, and “Essential Christian Romance Authors” 2017, as well as Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction and Borders Best Fiction. Her independent novel A Light in the Window was an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers’ Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner.
Julie has also written a self-help workbook for writers entitled Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Sweet and Inspirational Markets. Contact Julie through her website and read excerpts from each of her books at http://www.julielessman.com.
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Lord have mercy … Faith O’Connor McGuire swallowed a gulp, glancing up as her husband strolled into their bedroom with that look in his eye, a towel wrapped low on his hips rather than his customary pajama bottoms. Which could only mean one thing. Her stomach fluttered along with her heart.
He’d obviously missed her as much as she’d missed him during his week-long trade show in New York.
Teeth tugging at her lower lip, Faith sat in their bed with a book in her lap, skin tingling as always when Collin McGuire entered a room. She took in the sculpted curve of his muscled arms and the hard, lean chest that tapered into a towel tied so low, his abdomen looked like it’d been chiseled in stone.
Tall, dark, and dangerous, he’d been the Southie rogue who’d stolen every girl’s heart, and to this very day, Faith still marveled that somehow, someway, she’d been the one to steal his. Her mouth tipped up. Somehow? Someway? The seeds of a grin sneaked through. More like Someone.
I honor those who honor Me.
Oh, yes, Lord, you surely do, Faith thought for the thousandth time, the whisper of one of her favorite Scriptures—1 Samuel 2:30—a timely reminder that commitment to God’s precepts was the key to bounteous blessing. Heart racing, she sucked in a quiet breath and smiled, enjoying the warmth her husband stirred within. Because even after seventeen years of marriage, the man could still heat her blood with just a look. Like the one he was giving her right now—eyes smoky as they pinned her to the bed with dangerous intent, absolute confirmation there’d be no more reading tonight.
“Tired?” he asked, the clean smell of soap and lime aftershave drifting in the room like an opiate as he approached with his usual confident swagger. His deadly gray eyes never strayed from hers while he plucked the book from her hand and tossed it on the nightstand with abandon. The slow smile she loved eased across his full lips as he turned out the light and sprawled horizontally on the moonlit bed, tugging her out from beneath the covers in one fluid movement to land her on top.
Hungry palms skimmed the length of her satin gown. “Sweet mother of Job,” he rasped in a gravelly voice while his lips wandered her throat, “I love when you wear satin to bed, Faith, and God help me—I love it even more when I can take it off.” He gripped her close while he kissed her hard, his breathing suddenly as ragged as hers. “Tell me, Little Bit,” he whispered in a near groan, “do you have any idea just how much I’ve missed you?” His words blew warm in her ear, punctuated with a teasing flick of his tongue that immediately purled heat through her body.
Oh, yes, my love, I definitely do …. “As much as I missed you, I hope,” she said with a quivering sigh, offering a weak tip of her head to give full access as he suckled the lobe of her ear.
“More.” Burying his lips in her neck, he emitted a low growl while he rolled her over with all the grace of an athlete, his grin rakish as he straddled her with a decadent gleam in his eye. “So much, in fact, I intend to send Brady on all future trade shows out of town because I miss you too blasted much.”
Easing down, he threaded his fingers into her hair and showed her just how much with a slow, languid kiss that both muddied her mind and whirled heat in her belly. “As God is my witness, Faith, you own me heart and soul because no other woman alive could even come close. Which means,” he whispered with a perilous smile, fingers hot as they carefully slid the strap of her gown off of her shoulder, “we have a lot of catching up to do, Mrs. McGuire.” And skimming her collarbone with his mouth, he did just that, heading south with slow, delicious kisses.
“I love you, Collin,” she whispered a long while later, limp and lazy in his arms after they’d made love. Her body still hummed from his touch while her mind began to hum for an entirely different reason.
“I love you, too, Faith.” He pressed a kiss to her head while he idly grazed the satin of her gown, his voice gruff with emotion. “More than I could ever say or do.”
She paused, praying this might be the perfect moment to share what she hoped would be wonderful news. “Maybe not,” she said with a teasing lilt of her voice, fingers feathering across his washboard stomach to tease with a gentle dip in his navel.
He softly pinched her waist. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
Faith sat up with a nervous grate of her lip, butterflies doing cartwheels in her stomach that nearly rivaled the dizzy whirl of Collin’s kisses. “I have good news to share, I hope,” she said softly, bending to gently sway her mouth against his.
He stiffened for barely an instant before he gripped her arms with a wide span of eyes, his breathing suddenly shallow. “You’re pregnant?” His voice was hushed with hope.
Faith blinked, painfully aware she’d just made a tactical error. Of course Collin would assume her good news was a baby because the man was desperate for another boy. With a nervous chew of her lip, she tenderly caressed the scruff of his jaw. “No, not pregnant, my love,” she said, diverting her mistake with a gently probing kiss she hoped would take his mind in another direction. “Although after this homecoming tonight, that’s a distinct possibility.”
“Mmm … one can only hope.” He returned her kiss with a heated one of his own before rolling onto his side to hook her body flush with his. He pressed a kiss to her nose. “So, what’s your good news, Faith?” His mouth quirked into an affectionate smile. “Bren has finally learned to lift up the toilet seat? Or Abby has finally consented to you curling her hair?”
Faith grinned, thinking both of those things would be very good news, indeed, since Abby was a tomboy and Bren a poor aim. “Noooo, nothing to do with the children. This has to do with me.”
He offered a lazy smile as he cradled her face in his hands. “You’ve decided to wear satin to bed from now on?”
“Well, that certainly can be arranged,” she said with a soft chuckle as she idly meandered a lazy finger down the scant line of dark hair that trailed from his chest down his stomach. “If you’re as happy about my news as I am.”
Cocking his elbow to prop his head on his hand, he smiled, eyes in a squint. “Now you’ve got me really curious, Little Bit, so out with it.”
“Well …” Giddy with excitement, Faith skittered up to sit Indian-style, hardly able to believe that after twelve years of devoting herself solely to being a wife and a mother, her dream to return to her job as a copywriter at the Herald could soon be a reality. “Charity happened to mention that Mitch said Father was short on copywriters at the Herald—”
“Oh, no …” It was Collin’s turn to sit up, dark brows digging low as he stared at her in disbelief. “Please tell me you’re not thinking about going back to copywriting again.”
Faith blinked, somewhat taken aback by the scowl on his face. “Well, yes, of course I am, Collin, but I’m only talking two days a week while the girls are in school—”
“I don’t care if it’s only two hours a week, Faith. You have a responsibility to our children, so the answer is no.”
She caught her breath, the sound harsh in the stillness of the night as she worked to contain her temper. “It-wasn’t-a-question, Collin,” she emphasized in a tone far tighter than she intended. “It was an opportunity I thought we should discuss since, as you well know, writing has always been my dream.”
He grabbed his pillow and punched it several times before flopping down on his side, bunching it in a ball beneath his head as he closed his eyes. “Fine, we’ve discussed it. Case closed.”
Jaw gaping, Faith snapped her mouth shut and silently counted to ten while she tamped down her anger. “Collin,” she said quietly, determined to approach this civilly instead of going off half-cocked like her husband. “Can you at least hear me out so we can discuss it like two rational adults who actually care about each other?”
He peered up past shuttered lids, dark lashes so long and lips pursed so tight, he looked like her son refusing to eat his carrots. “I’m listening.”
She expelled a silent breath. “Sean is crazy busy at the store, so he asked Emma if she could help out during the busy Christmas season twice a week,” she said quickly, grateful for the sister-in-law who had once managed Mitch and Charity’s department store, Dennehy’s, where her husband Sean was now the manager. “So, when I heard Father needed a part-time copywriter, I talked to Emma about each of us possibly trading off watching the kids two days a week. I mean, you know how close Bren is with her Daniel, so naturally both of the boys would be over the moon about this arrangement.”
Unlike the sullen, little boy staring at me right now.
She rushed on before Collin could interrupt. “It would only be two half days at the Herald from ten to two, well before the girls arrive home from school, and I’d be helping Father out as well, since he’s in dire need of copywriters.” She gently grazed his arm with her fingers, her voice fragile with hope as she continued. “With a depression on, Collin, the extra income would certainly help, too, taking some of the burden off of you. So really, if you think about it, it’s a win-win all the way around.”
He slid her a narrow look. “I have thought about it and I don’t like it, not one little bit. This isn’t the Roaring twenties where women pushed to do whatever they bloomin’ well pleased. It’s the thirties, Faith, where married women have no business in the workplace, much less mothers. Period. We’re in the middle of a depression, for pity’s sake, where there aren’t enough jobs for men, much less mothers with young children.” He leaned in to pierce her with a hard gaze. “Children who still need them, so you can just get it out of your head right now. Bren is only four years old, and I don’t want him shuffled off or neglected just so you can pursue a whim. And in case you forgot, I am the breadwinner in this family and don’t need your help.”
She blinked, stunned at the harsh bite of his words. “And I don’t need your permission!” she said, voice snapping along with her temper that the man who professed to love her more than he could “say or do” was squashing her dreams without a second thought.
Chest heaving, she battled the sting of tears at the back of her lids, softening her tone in another attempt to corral her frustration. “You promised, Collin,” she whispered in a hoarse voice. “I put my dreams on hold to give you children, and you promised that after I had Abby, I could work part-time when all three girls were in school. Well, now they are, and Bren is close behind. And Father needs me”—her chin rose in her defense—“and I need the chance to pursue my love of writing, so I’m asking you—please—try to understand.”
Gray eyes as cold as slate, Collin slowly rose from the pillow, lips clamped tight as he stared her down. A tic pulsed in his jaw, a rare sign of a temper she almost never saw. “All I understand, Faith,” he bit out in a tone brutal with bitterness, “is that this so-called ‘love’ of yours appears to exceed that for your husband and children.”
She froze, shards of ice prickling her skin at the viciousness of his attack. The tears she’d tried so hard to stall now swelled in her eyes, unleashing a deluge of hurt and betrayal that drowned out all reason. “How dare you!” she hissed, fists clenched tight to keep from striking out.
“And how dare you put your interests before that of our son!” he shouted back, obviously as enraged as she.
Her tears fell, and with them any restraint, prompting a knee-jerk reaction that unleashed a swift slap across his face, the sound echoing like a clap of thunder rife with warning.
His shock was at least equal to her own as they stared at each other through wide eyes, chests heaving and silence ticking away like the thundering heartbeats pounding in her chest. In the blink of his eye, fury calcified every line in that handsome face, distorting it into a man she didn’t know.
Snatching his pillow up, he stalked to the closet to jerk a blanket from the top shelf, not once looking back as he bolted for the door.
“Collin, I’m sorry,” she cried, but his only answer was a deafening slam that left her in a cold and empty bed where she’d just made love to her husband. A painful groan trailed from her lips. From ecstasy to agony in one violent sweep of her palm.
“Oh, God, forgive me,” she whispered, sinking onto her pillow with a painful sob, well aware Collin would be too angry to accept her apology tonight. Heartsick, her body heaved as she lay there weeping, praying this awful rift would be over come morning.
Boom! The door flew open with a crack to the wall, and Faith jolted up in bed, stomach cramping when her four-year-old son flew into the room with terror in his eyes. “M-Mommy, Mommy, I h-heard a loud b-bang,” he cried, voice quivering as much as his little body.
Faith swept him up in her arms, clutching him tightly as she hurried toward the door. “It was nothing, sweetheart, I promise, so let’s get you back to your bed.”
He clung as if he would never let go, small fingers digging into her back with a panic that rivaled the angst in her gut. “B-But it sounded like something breaking, and I’m afraid it might be a monster, so w-will you sleep w-with m-me for a while?”
“Absolutely, sweetheart.” She laid him down in his bed, then crawled in alongside, grateful to escape the terrible loneliness of her empty room down the hall. Pressing a soft kiss to his head, she tucked the covers around them both, snuggling as close to him as he was to her. “I promise there are no monsters, Bren,” she whispered as she swept a tender palm down the whole of his tiny back, “and definitely nothing breaking, my love.” He shivered, and she followed suit, while a single tear slowly slid from her eye.
Unless it’s my heart.