Hi friends!
I’m excited to share with you the first chapter of Holding On to Hope! I HOPE you like it! Yikes! I’m always nervous with each novel. This novel is much lighter than Healing Skye, but you should recognize some the of the characters 🙂

Chapter 1
Could loving someone physically hurt? It must be possible. Because anguish seared Caleb Donnelly’s chest, scorching his heart like a white-hot flame. And Caleb knew pain—had an intimate relationship with it after years of surgeries, skin grafts, and laser treatments.

Sitting at the oak table in the rented Florida beach house, he struggled to rip his gaze away from this woman. Hope Rodriguez. He should quit staring before she noticed. Except, he couldn’t seem to stop. Ever since that summer before ninth grade, when she’d directed her sweet smile his way, he’d been smitten.

The feelings had been reckless, really. A disfigured guy falling for a homecoming queen echoed the story of Beauty and the Beast. But in the real world, happy endings rarely materialized. His early years in and out of hospitals and foster homes had taught him that few fairytales came true.

If anyone deserved a happily-ever-after, though, it was Hope.

Despite her tireless work on yesterday’s destination wedding—a five-hour drive from their hometown, Dauphin Island, Alabama—she floated around the kitchen like a ballerina. Her sky-blue beach dress highlighted her tanned skin and dark hair as she checked to make sure everyone had what they needed.

Flower arrangements she’d designed adorned the table that was set with coastal-themed dinnerware, along with the napkin rings she’d made and covered with tiny seashells. The whole event she’d created for the couple had been a masterpiece. But why did she continue to serve this morning? The wedding situation with Pete and Skye must have been a nightmare for her, and she had a long drive ahead today. Yet, she kept being so gracious.

And perfect.

And gorgeous.

She’d orchestrated a lovely ceremony and wedding reception here yesterday—a wedding for the man she’d always loved, while he married another woman. Then she’d gone all out and cooked this homemade breakfast for everyone involved. The smell of bacon permeated the rental home’s dining room. No doubt the woman could cook like a gourmet chef, but she had to take care of herself too.

At last, she took a seat a few feet away from Caleb and spoke with Pete’s mother. Though Hope smiled, the expression appeared forced. With the entire family circling the table, including Pete and his new wife, angst crawled over Caleb’s scarred skin like a swarm of gnats. Hope’s feelings for Pete Thompson had been obvious since they were teens running around the beaches of Dauphin Island. Obvious to everyone but Pete, that was.

Why had Pete not felt the same? Any man would be blessed to have a woman like Hope.

Suddenly, her almost-ebony gaze swept his way. “Can I get you anything, Caleb? More coffee? Another biscuit or piece of bacon?”

Rats. She’d caught him gawking like a weirdo. Cheeks scalding, he lowered his focus to his empty plate. His mouth became a sand dune. “No. Thanks. But everything was…faultless.” Could he sound more like a dufus? “I’ll start washing the pots and pans.”

A loud screech resonated through the room as he quickly scooted back his chair. Scratching a chalkboard with a metal rake would have sounded less obnoxious.

“Wait.” Pete’s brother Andrew stood. “I need everyone’s attention before we head to our various homes.”

A long sigh came from his mother, as if she knew what was coming.

Andrew cleared his throat, looked at the ceiling, and then cleared it again. “I realize this will be short notice.” He scrubbed his fingers through the top of his hair, causing a few brown wisps to stick straight up. “I didn’t want to detract from Pete’s wedding, but I’m getting married, and I’d like you all to come. If you can.”

Married? Had anyone mentioned Andrew having a girlfriend? Why wasn’t she here?

Stunned silence smothered the room. Then Hope rose and walked the few feet around the table to fold Andrew into one of her usual friendly hugs. “Congratulations! I’d love to come. How can I help? When is it? What’s her name?”

Face puckering, Andrew’s posture stiffened, and his fingers twitched. Caleb bit back a chuckle. Between himself and Andrew, there’d be a close tie in a socially awkward contest.

Finally, Andrew answered. “Two weeks. Her name is Caroline. Yes, you can plan the event for us.”

Hope’s full red lips parted, and a rare case of speechlessness struck her.

Caleb couldn’t blame her. Two weeks? Pete’s little wedding had been put together in a month, but two weeks would strain even someone as capable as Hope.

He should help her, but how? No good ideas sprang to mind. “Congrats, buddy. Where do we need to be for this shindig?” Making his way over to Andrew, Caleb offered a handshake, allowing Hope a second to regain her composure.

Andrew popped his knuckles before accepting. The man’s palm felt as clammy as a fish out of water. “In Wyoming. The Grand Tetons.”

Hope gulped. “A wedding across the country in two weeks?”

“I understand if it’s too much on you, but Caroline is set on having it there. I’ll try to facilitate the event through another avenue.”

“No. No. You’re like family to me.” She held up both hands and presented a pleasant expression, those beautiful dark lashes fluttering. “I’ll rearrange my schedule and figure it out. My mom might have a connection. She’s arranged plenty of destination weddings with her event planning company. What type of ceremony does your fiancée have in mind? Indoors? Outdoors? When can I meet her?”

“We’ll fly into Wyoming the week before the wedding.” His mouth tugged almost to his chin. “Caroline has a lot of…concepts she can present to you, perhaps through a phone call or video conference. I’m just not certain her ideas are feasible at this point.”

A nagging in Caleb’s gut told him Andrew had landed in a tricky situation. In deep water with a broken motor, even. Whatever was going on, Pete had too much on his plate with a new job and new family to delve into this. Pete and Andrew’s mother had suffered a stroke earlier this year, so their parents had enough to deal with. But someone should dig in and figure out what was afoot.

Caleb tucked his hands in his pockets. After the loss of his charter boat in a storm last month and Pete’s, his business partner, relocation, he had spare time on his hands. Looked like that someone might be him.


Always the wedding planner, never the bride.

A familiar ache lodged in Hope’s core. Which was ridiculous. She loved arranging weddings—had been assisting with her mother’s event planning business most of her life. There was nothing more special than helping a bride become a princess for a day.

If only Michael had been able to take the weekend off and come to Florida with her, she’d have felt a little less…single. A little less alone.

She and Michael had been seeing each other for a few months now, and they’d gotten close. He was fun, affectionate, and so very attractive. She had feelings for him. She enjoyed kissing him. Okay, she relished kissing him. A lot. But she wasn’t quite certain where she ranked on his priority list. It seemed to her like a distant third behind his work, family, and a few other hobbies. In all fairness, this wedding had been short notice.

But not as short notice as Andrew’s.

He still stood there, that quirky look on his face while he prattled on to Caleb about why his fiancée had chosen Wyoming for their wedding. Something about loving nature and having vacationed there with her family as a child. But why in two weeks? Had they even applied for a marriage license? Found a venue? A caterer?

Hope stifled a groan. As much as she wanted to be happy for Andrew, she’d barely made it through coordinating his brother’s small wedding. Spending more intimate time with this family so soon would be hard. When Pete’s first wife tragically lost her battle with cancer, Hope couldn’t help but wonder if he’d finally see her as someone besides a childhood buddy. She’d been there for him and his precious daughter in every way she could. For years.

But as usual, she’d been relegated to the friend zone.

A deluge of guilt landed on her shoulders as she watched Pete dote over his new wife, Skye. They made a lovely couple. Still, Hope blinked back the burn behind her eyes and propped up a smile. God knew she wanted the best for Pete. It was just that she longed to find her own little piece of happiness too. Someone to look at her the way Pete looked at Skye. Someone to love her like that. Someone to belong to.

Would Michael be that someone? She hoped so.

“I’ve got time off, Hope, and I was already wanting to get away for a while to pray about my next move.” Caleb’s voice floated into her wallowing. “I could go to Wyoming as soon as I can get a ticket to do some of the legwork, if that could help.”

“Legwork?” She blinked, trying to make sense of what he was saying.

“Dumb idea.” His face turned crimson, and he ducked his chin. “Just didn’t know if you needed someone—never mind.”

Sweet Caleb. Such a tender soul, and somehow, she always said the wrong thing to him. He was so thoughtful and kind. “That’s a fine plan if you truly want to. How soon could you get there? We could video chat from venues, caterers, and cake bakeries. Oh, and florists.” There was so much to do in so little time, she could hyperventilate and faint right now. And Caleb in a store full of flowers? She could hardly picture the muscular fisherman shopping for bouquets. “Unless that would be weird for you?”

“Whatever you ask, Hope. I’ll do it.” His chin lifted a notch and his blue-green eyes met hers. Wow, he had long lashes. A lot of women would pay good money to have those. Funny, she’d never noticed. She’d been friends with the guy for going on two decades.

“I’ll pay for everything. For all of you.” Andrew fumbled around the back of his loose-fitting khaki pants until he produced his wallet. “Use my credit card for travel expenses, hotel, flights, and meals. And let me know your fee.”

She wouldn’t ask a close friend to pay the normal rate she and Mom charged. But she’d have to collect some money to cover her time. Was Andrew paying for the wedding instead of the bride’s family? Working for a tech company in California, he probably made a nice salary, but these events could end up costing a small fortune. Did he comprehend the possible price tag?

Hesitantly, Hope took the card. “I’ll take it, just in case, but I prefer to email invoices so you can pay deposits electronically. Do you have a budget in mind? Will Caroline’s family contribute?”

Andrew fiddled with his hair, pulling at the front of it. Was this a new habit or was he anxious? Either way, he shouldn’t do that. He’d have a bald spot for the pictures.

She caught his hand and held on. “That’s bad for your scalp, my friend.” She kept her tone soothing. “Mom reminds her clients to breathe and enjoy the journey. It’s all about love.”

The tightness of his expression loosened, but not much.

“Send me Caroline’s number, and I’ll call her today.” Hope released his hand and scanned the counter for her phone. “I have a job interview in Destin on the way home, but it shouldn’t take too long. Then I’ll put my whole focus on your wedding.”

“Job interview in Destin?” Caleb spun from his post at the sink. His jaw slackened as if someone had slapped him.

“My dad has tried to get me to move there for years. He searches for positions he thinks I’d be interested in.” Hope waved her hand. “Every now and then I feel like I have to go hear about one of the jobs, so I don’t hurt his feelings, but Mom would be upset if I left Alabama.” Especially if she left to be near Dad.

“I… I…would too.” Caleb stuttered, then his forehead crinkled. “We all would, I mean.”

Caleb was being kind, but Pete had already moved away and left them. Most of their friends had families of their own now and lived off the island in bigger cities. Nothing was the same anymore. Who cared if she left, other than Mom?

Michael might. She’d find out tonight how he felt.

They had a dinner date when she returned home to Dauphin Island. She wanted some answers about the direction of their relationship. Coming in last place was getting old. Or even worse, no place at all. And she wouldn’t waste years or even months waiting on a man to love her. Like she had with Pete.

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Hope your day is good! God loves you more than you could ask or imagine!