Friday, February 6, 2015

A Slice of Life by Amber Leigh Williams

Sometimes I like to flash forward in my characters’ lives even after the completion of their book and their happy-ever-after. As we all know, the journey doesn’t simply end with a proposal of marriage or the “I do’s.” This is why I’ve found so much enjoyment in writing my contemporary hometown romance series for Harlequin Superromance. I love the characters of these books. Bringing a hero and heroine like Briar Browning and Cole Savitt (from A PLACE WITH BRIAR) back as secondary characters for the second book in the series, my October 2014 release, MARRIED ONE NIGHT, was great fun! I enjoyed giving readers a peek into their married life. Not only that, I liked that although Briar and Cole are married, their relationship never stops evolving. Whenever I read a series of books that brings back characters from previous titles, these people feel so much more real to me if I can see their lives unfold a bit more, even if it's just in small ways, and I see them grow as individuals and together as a couple. 
Book One (Briar & Cole's story)
When I completed work on the third book in the series, HIS REBEL HEART (due on shelves July 2015), I got to do it again – bringing back the whole clan, including the hero and heroine from MARRIED ONE NIGHT, Gerald Leighton and Olivia Lewis. The laugh-out-loud moments between these two and their furry Irish wolfhound, Rex, definitely play a part in HIS REBEL HEART.  But sometimes even this isn’t enough. Sometimes the characters don’t stop talking to me after the series wraps. Sometimes I have to go back to the page to make those voices rest. On my website, I have a special EXTRAS feature which includes an “after-HEA” exclusive scene starring some of my western romance characters, cowboy Casey Ridge and his heroine Josie Brusky from BLUEST HEART. Now, in honor of my favorite holiday – Valentine’s Day – I’m doing it again with my hometown series….

The following scene takes place somewhere between my first Superromance novel, A PLACE WITH BRIAR, and the second, MARRIED ONE NIGHT. It takes place at Hanna’s Inn, the setting for A PLACE WITH BRIAR, on none other than Briar and Cole’s wedding day! I hope you enjoy this after-HEA snippet….

“Oh, dear God. You’re not getting cold feet, are you?” Olivia Lewis, dressed in her canary yellow bridesmaid dress, asked. She set aside the second glass of champagne she’d been ready to down and peered closely at Briar’s face. “I can get you out of here. But it’s not going to be easy with all the guests milling around the place.”

Briar rubbed her lips together. The warm light of humor made her want to smile at her first cousin and maid of honor. Still, she folded her hands together in front of her and kept a straight face. “I’m not getting cold feet,” she explained. “I promise. My toes are plenty warm, as a matter of fact. I just need you to do me this one favor.”

“If it’s his feet you’re worried about, I can sneak some hard liquor into his drink,” Olivia offered. “Just say the word and it’s done.”

Briar did smile now but only a little before her lips fell back into a straight line. “Liv,” she said, lowering her head and eyeing her cousin. “Please.”

Olivia combed Briar’s face once more before giving in. “All right. But it’ll have to be quick. If Roxie gets wind of this, we’re all up a creek.”

“It’ll be quick,” Briar promised. She carefully stopped her hand from squeezing the other. Her wedding planner, Roxie Honeycutt, had worked so hard to schedule a mani/pedi session for her earlier in the week. It hadn’t been easy with Briar’s duties as innkeeper at her second-generation bed-and-breakfast, Hanna’s Inn, and all the last minute wedding details that had to be seen to. She smoothed her palms down the front of the empire-waisted wedding gown Roxie had designed for her. There was no veil to contend with. Her hair had been carefully braided down her back and strewn with white blossoms. Still, she had been instructed not to sit in order to avoid wrinkling the gown’s linen train.

Book Two - Olivia & Gerald's story
As Olivia left her alone in the grand dining room of the inn, Briar walked carefully to the window, keeping herself hidden behind the drape. Her heart rapped nervously when she saw how many guests were indeed milling around the garden where the ceremony would take place. She took a deep breath to tamp down the flutterings under her skin when she thought how soon she would be walking down the makeshift aisle to the jasmine arbor where her groom and their officiant would be waiting.

Briar closed her eyes for a moment and pictured the view from the front of the inn – the one she couldn’t see from this vantage but knew was there beyond the picturesque garden sanctuary she kept well-tended.

It would be sunset when the vows were spoken. Roxie had timed it down to the wire so that the kiss would take place just as the sun was sinking toward the horizon. Sunset was Briar’s favorite time of day. At sunset just weeks after he had come to Hanna’s Inn, Cole Savitt had kissed Briar on the dock overlooking the tepid waters of Mobile Bay. Briar remembered exactly how golden sunlight had slanted perfectly across the water’s surface in a blinding sheen of gilded pinpricks. It had made her feel like they were floating amongst the stars….

Her mother had had a name for the spectacle. Fairies dancing. Briar remembered, too, how as a girl she had stood with her mother on that very same dock, admiring the breathtaking sunset vista. She’d easily been able to imagine that those shiny pinpricks were fairies dancing over the waves.

Her mother wouldn’t be with her today. Hanna Browning had passed away several years ago after battling cancer. But Briar had wanted to take a moment shortly before the ceremony to gather the warmth of her mother’s presence around her. Hanna’s serene countenance was something Briar had always desperately wanted to emulate for herself, especially on days like today. She wanted to keep the feeling of Hanna close so that in some way she could be a part of the nuptials. If not physically then perhaps spiritually….

Footsteps broke her out of her reverie. Briar sucked in a breath and turned to find the man standing in the archway across the room. The dark suit and tie made Cole’s shoulders appear even wider, his waist lean and trim. It suited his dark hair and she knew when she looked into his eyes, they would appear darker, denser.

Her heart rapped again, but not with the nerves she had felt before. All semblance of bridal jitters disappeared as the love she felt for him beamed to life inside her. It spread from her fingers to her toes. It danced against her breastbone as her lips spread into a wide grin at the sight of him. She chuckled quietly when she saw the blindfold over his eyes. “Oh, Liv,” she muttered.

“She made me wear it,” Cole said, his lips curling up at the corners in amusement as his head tilted in the direction of her voice. A moment’s silence passed over them before he added, “Hi.”

“Hi,” she said, beaming still. She tried to tamp down on some of the joy cresting inside her and couldn’t quite manage it. Here was her groom. The man of her dreams. On the verge of marrying her. She indulged in a blissful sigh. “Oh, Cole, you look wonderful.”

“You do, too,” he replied quickly. “I’m sure you do. If I could see you, I’m sure you’d knock me flat.” The smile slowly faded. “Is everything okay? Liv said you had something to tell me.”

Briar’s smile froze on her face as she thought over what she wanted to say to him. She cleared her throat. “It’s fine. I’m fine. We are getting married today, Cole,” she hurried to assure him.

“I know,” he said, his faith in her – in them and what they had already built together thus far – radiating through the simple words. “I know we are, and I couldn’t be happier.”

She sighed again, unable to help herself. “I couldn’t be happier either.” She crossed to him slowly, her heels clacking across the hardwood floor. “But before we do get married, there’s something…” She lost her breath, nerves beating their way back to the forefront. She cleared her throat and tried again. “There’s something I wanted to…” When she faltered again, she searched his face. She scoffed. “I can’t do this. Not like this. Please take off the blindfold.”

His lips parted. “Are you sure? Roxie will tan my hide if she finds out I saw the bride before the wedding.”

“Please,” Briar insisted, the plea wavering as emotions she didn’t know how to tuck behind composure spread clean through her. “I need to see you, all of you. And you’re probably going to need to see me, too—after I tell you.”

He let out a careful exhale. “All right.” He reached up, loosening the knot on the back of his head. The blindfold lowered.

She blinked as his dark eyes latched onto hers. In them she saw all the love and faith she felt as well as trust and a few nerves of his own he was trying to wrangle. His gaze arrested on her face and widened before it ranged over her hair and the flowers in it. He took a step back, stunned, as he glanced over the dress, taking in her full appearance. “Wow,” he said, his voice lost. “I was right. You look…incredible.”

She gave him a small smile. “You're still on your feet.”
"Only just."
Swallowing against the tide of emotions, she reached out with both hands.

He instantly took them, wrapping his warm around them and giving them a squeeze. His eyes had gone soft by the time they locked on hers again. “Now,” he said, his voice lowered to match hers, “what was it you wanted to tell me?”

She took a gulp of air, needing it to clear her head. “Before we speak our vows, there’s something I wanted you to know.”

“Oh?” he said. Concern broke across his face. “You’re all right? I thought you might have looked pale yesterday morning. And you’ve been tired.” When she began to protest, he shook his head. “I know you have. I just assumed it was the wedding on top of everything with the inn.”

Briar lowered her eyes to the lapels of his suit jacket—finely pressed with the boutonniere affixed on the left. She licked her lips and forced herself to keep going. “I…I have been tired,” she forced herself to admit. She hated admitting weaknesses, those of the physical variety in particular. “But it’s not the wedding.”

When she paused, she heard him swallow and saw his Adam’s apple dip as he did so. He tensed, his hands unknowingly squeezing hers again. “Briar,” he said when again she hesitated. “I’m, uh…I’m getting a little worried here. Tell me what’s going on. Are you…” He stopped and had to start again, just as she had before. “Are you sick?” he asked, wrenching the last word out.

Her gaze rose to his. His concern had mounted into fear. She closed the small bit of space between them, lifting her hands to his face. They framed his jaw as she raised her mouth to his for a brushing kiss, desperate to comfort him. “No,” she said and found herself laughing a little as the tense line of his body went slack against her with relief. “I told you I was fine and I am. Perfectly healthy.”

“Thank God,” he said, eyes closed tight as his hands closed over her waist, bringing her closer. He breathed a sigh of relief. “For a moment, I thought—”

He’d thought she was really sick, as her mother had been. She shook her head. “No, nothing like that. I promise. I’m sorry I made you think for even a moment that there was something that troubling going on.”

“It’s not,” he said as much to reiterate the fact for himself as for her. He gave a tight nod and opened his eyes to search her face again, steadier. “What is it then?”

"Since we’ve been planning the wedding, I’ve let the fact that I’ve been more tired than usual go unnoticed. Earlier this week, I dozed off while I was folding sheets. They were fresh and warm from the dryer and I couldn’t seem to help laying down in them and closing my eyes, just for a few moments. When I woke up a half hour later, I realized that I needed to talk to someone about this. I went to Liv and…she said that maybe I should take a test.”

“A test?” he asked, brows coming together.

She beamed when it didn’t click for him automatically. “A pregnancy test, Cole.”

Again, his jaw slackened and his lips parted in surprise. “A pregnancy test,” he repeated. The hands gripping her waist tightened by a fraction when she paused once more. “And?” he asked, features taut with anticipation as he waited for her answer.
Book Three - Coming Soon!

She broke into a full-fledged grin. “Yes,” she said. “I’m pregnant. We’re pregnant, I mean. Nine weeks already. I should’ve realized sooner, but we were so busy—”

“Briar,” Cole said, his eyes still searching hers desperately though beacons of hope were beginning to bubble up for her to see. “This is real? This isn’t some wedding day prank Liv’s trying to pull on me before I officially become a part of the family, is it? I wouldn’t put it past her. She tried spiking my drink earlier....”

She laughed, unable to contain another moment’s happiness or mirth. “That does sound like something she would do, but no. This is real. We’re going to have a baby. We’re going to be a family!”

He made an unintelligible but no less gratifying noise in the back of his throat and wrapped her in his arms as he buried his face against the column of her neck. He held her, breathing her in as she wrapped her arms around him in return. “Briar, ten months ago when I came to Hanna’s as your guest, I thought I’d lost hold of what family I had. But you changed that. If I’ve learned anything since last summer, it’s that you are my family and nothing is ever going to change that. And now we’re having a baby together….” He trailed off in disbelief as he lifted his head to touch his brow to hers. “I don’t have the words to tell you how lucky and happy I feel right now.”

"You're doing just fine." She sniffled, trying her best to blink away tears. If she cried, she would ruin her makeup. And then they’d really be up a creek, as Liv had suggested. "I’m sorry I didn’t wait until the honeymoon. But it felt right to tell you now.”

“I’m glad you did,” he said, grinning. His lips lowered to hers once. Then again. They lingered the second time as he inhaled her, his chest inflating, seeming to grow in size as he swelled with love and pride. “I’m really glad you did. This way when I see you coming down that aisle, I’ll know more than ever I’m looking at my family.”

“Okay, you have to stop now,” she told him, raising a hand to her cheek when a tear slipped past her guard. “Roxie’s going to kill me.”

“Not a chance.” He chased the tear with the pad of his thumb. The faint sound of a string quartet and “Canon in D” wafted through the walls from the garden outside. “Speaking of Roxie…I’ve got to sneak back upstairs. I’m surprised Liv hasn’t come after me already with her bat.”

“Go,” she said, reluctantly letting him back away. She pressed a hand to her heart when he didn’t turn away, just stood looking at her, drinking her in. In turn, she gazed at him. He wasn’t just the man of her dreams, she realized. He was every dream she’d ever had come to life. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Soon,” he nodded and gave her one last, promising smile. “I love you.”

“Love you, too,” she said softly.

The sound of Roxie’s chirpy voice made them both snap to attention. Cole dodged through the swinging door into the kitchen and disappeared. Briar covered her mouth to keep from laughing out loud when she heard Olivia shrieking at him as the door swung closed silently behind him and Cole fumbled through an explanation. Moments later, Roxie entered the dining room through the archway, looking brisk and only slightly harried. “Are you ready?” she asked, handing Briar her hand-tied bouquet of sunflowers. “The procession’s about to start.”

“I’m ready,” Briar said, clutching the blooms. Her hands were steady. Her heart was full. “You have no idea how much.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this bonus “slice of life” from Briar and Cole’s wedding day! Down the road, I’ll be adding more for each of the couples from my hometown series. (I can’t wait to write Olivia and Gerald’s. They’re a riot!) Stay tuned for upcoming details on HIS REBEL HEART’s launch in July. You can add the book to your TBR list on Goodreads. Until then, check out the Inspiration Boards for the first two books on Pinterest!

Happy Valentine’s Day to my fellow Roses and our readers! If you're looking for some love-themed reads, the books from my hometown series are on sale this month for Kindle readers for $3.79. If you're in the mood for a little historical romance, FOREVER AMORE is on sale this month for $2.99 as well as the first two books in my western romance trilogy.

 Happy reading!


Margo Hoornstra said...

Great snippet, Amber. May they continue for you.

Jannine Gallant said...

What a good idea to post AFTER scenes on your website. I'm sure your readers love getting a glimpse of what comes next for the characters. I may have to steal this idea...

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Margo, thank you! And yes, Cole, Briar and all the rest still talk to me and grow inside my head. It's a blessing but sometimes I'd love a little quiet time, LOL

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Jannine, I give you permission to steal, of course! But only because I stole the idea from a few of my favorite authors who regularly post deleted scenes and after-HEA snippets on their websites. Oops!

Leah St. James said...

I think that's why series (seriesES??) :-) are so popular, Amber. Readers don't want to let go of characters either. I think the key is to keep them growing and evolving, as you have. (And yeah...I might "borrow" your AFTER idea too!) :-)

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Leah, I love a good series for this reason, too!