Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Author Visits School - Discovers Budding Writers

Write Integrity author Julie Arduini recently visited the Youngstown Christian School, recently renamed Valley Christian School, junior and high school English classes and shared her writing testimony. During her time there, she gave the students a choice of three writing prompts and ten minutes to complete the story.

When we learned about her experience, we asked to share some of the students' work and we're honored to share them with you here today. 

The following are a few of the stand-outs Julie discovered. They are unedited. The italicized parts are the original prompt.

Jason lifted his fork full of mashed potatoes as he watched the news. He chewed to the rhythm of the anchor’s drone as the man read the headlines. Suddenly the newsman lifted his head and looked straight into the camera.
“Jason. This is an assignment just for you. Lean into the screen to receive your instructions.”
Jason dropped his plate of mashed potatoes and ran toward the TV screen. A piece of paper came out of the DVD player. It read “Jason. Your father has been captured by your History teacher. You need to go to your dad’s office. Instructions will be waiting there. This message will self-destruct in 5…”
            Jason dropped the paper and ran out of his house. The paper blew up, but only caused a little couch fire. Jason got on his bike and rode to his dad’s office. He sees a van pull into the parking lot. He hides.
           Jason sees two guys get out of the back, and three guys get out of the front. They are heavily armed.

~ Javon M. is an actor and an author who been writing since the fourth grade. Right now he’s in the seventh grade. He has several unpublished books that he has been writing since he was 11 years old. Right now he’s 13 years old, and trying to pursue his dreams as an author.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Vince lifted the manila envelope to the kitchen light. Inside were the results to…his cancer test. The results came negative but they showed something else. It was a remarkable amount of Gamma. Yes, the same exact thing that made Hulk---Hulk.
Vince was confused. He didn’t know how that could be. Vince didn’t do anything that used gamma. The closest thing to it was playing video games. As much as he was confused, he was fascinated. He thought he was going to be the next hulk, but actually he was far from that.
He lost all of his hair, he grew extra toes, and his left ear turned purple. He went to the hospital and everyone treated him like a freak, but to be fair, he was one. Dr. Spaceman told him there was nothing they could do except have him take ibuprofen and sleeping. Vince was outraged, he through Dr. Spaceman into the wall and ran out of the building.
Vince felt different, he felt stronger, taller, and he got an extra pinky.

~ Justin G. is a food enthusiast. He’s always liked writing, but never thought his writing would get anywhere. His mom’s a preschool director, and his dad races motorcycles, so that makes a very interesting and diverse life for him, which also influences his writing. They’re also some of the funniest and annoying memories ever. Long story short, there are many parts of his life, but writing is one of his favorites. He is in junior high.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Vince lifted the manila envelope to the kitchen light. Inside were the results to his lifelong question. Are they really his parents?
He held his breath. He opened the envelope. His face became pale. His hands got clammy. The answer was no. Vince’s world was shattered.
But soon after he became determined. He would find his real parents. Vince had always suspected he was adopted. His “father” had a cleft chin, but he didn’t. He had a birthmark in his iris, but neither of his parents do. And so his quest began.
With anger at his adoptive parents and a desire to learn his real ones, he left to confront his family. After a quick drive, he was greeted by his mother. She said, “Hi, honey! What’s wrong?”
As he stormed in the room, “You’re not my mom!” said Vince.
“What?!” said his mom.
“I have the results right here. You’re not my mom.”
“Honey, even if I’m not…”

~ Laura S. is a sophomore at Youngstown Christian School.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jason lifted his fork full of mashed potatoes as he watched the news. He chewed to the headlines. Suddenly the news anchor lifted his head and looked straight to the camera. “Jason, This is an assignment just for you. Lean into the screen to receive your instructions.”
The anchorman said, “I need you to go into your garage, and grab something very important.”
Jason waited for the instructions in suspense, hoping it would be something to save the world.
The anchorman continued. “Go into the garage and open the box that is green and brown. Once you open it read the note and complete your task.”
Jason ran into his room, slipped on his clothes and ran to the garage. He opened the box and there was a lawn mower with a note that said, “Here is your new lawn mower. Cut the grass nicely. Please and thank you.”

~ Jordan M. is a freshman at Youngstown Christian School.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Also, an additional note from Julie:
One of the students, Antonio, wrote a moving piece in just one paragraph about a young man who received a bunch of money. Instead of saving it or buying what he needed, he bought expensive items that would make him look good to his inner city peers. He kept buying like this even though he knew better and suffered consequences. Jason ended up being shot so the shooter could take the belt from him.
I’ve been unable to get a hold of his writing and bio, but two weeks later, I still remember much of it because he wrote a complete story full of choices and consequences in a matter of a few sentences. It was realistic and haunting.

~ ~ ~

A huge thank you to the students and faculty at Youngstown/Valley Christian School for allowing us to publish these stories. We're excited to see what God has in store for all of these gifted young people. And thank you, Julie Arduini, for sharing your exceptional talent and beautiful heart with these budding writers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Invitation for Writers

We're inviting writers to participate in our next collaborative novel, the sequel to The Love Boat Bachelor. This new book will release on Kindle June 15, then in December, we'll release all three stories - A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and the new book in one print volume in both print and digital formats.

As we did with A Dozen Apologies, we're offering the opportunity for writers to submit chapters for the novella, based on the story synopsis and first chapter that we'll provide by e-mail upon request. 

To be considered, you'll write two chapters of 2,500 to 3,500 words each in the specified character's third-person, deep POV. This story will be much like The Love Boat Bachelor and its predecessor, A Dozen Apologies in that the readers will get to vote for the hero they think will be the best man for our heroine. There will be nine or ten authors writing heroine chapters, along with a first chapter written by the creator of the heroine and the final chapter written by the author who creates the winning hero. 

There are eight WIP authors writing chapters. We will select one - and maybe two - contestants to participate in the final project. The winning contestant(s) will be offered the same contract as the other participating authors.

The deadline to submit chapters is April 15, 2015. 

If you wish to enter, please send an e-mail with the subject line SEQUEL INFORMATION, and we'll send you the information by March 1. [UPDATED: Information packets will be sent out March 3.] Send your e-mail to editor[at]writeintegrity[dot]com. 

Learn more about The Love Boat Bachelor, the characters, the authors, and more with these links.

Interviews with the authors of The Love Boat Bachelor:
Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Marji Laine, Joan Deneve, Betty Thomason Owens, and Theresa Anderson:
            Shannon Vanatter’s blog

Julie Arduini:
            The Love Boat Bachelor is Free

Write Integrity Press:
            Dream Valentine Dates

The Love Boat Bachelor on Kindle. Learn who the readers chose as Brent's true love! And see how his story ends? Or is it just beginning?

Monday, February 16, 2015

15 Tips for Writing Romance Novels

Writing love stories takes certain skills, so we asked our authors to share their tips for writing romance novels. It's interesting to note that in these 15 Tips for Writing Romance Novels, none of the tips were repeated.  

From Fay Lamb:

  • Make your heroes and heroine's likable from the start no matter what their issues are. 
  • Don't dump back story; layer it. 
  • Less is more when it comes to writing romance. There is no thin line between erotica and romance. Erotica is lust; romance is love.

From Joan Deneve:
Saving Eric

  • Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Make it natural, believable, with a   healthy dose of humor.
  • Strong characterization. I'm convinced that the things we love about the hero/love interest are the qualities of our savior, Jesus Christ. Every girl wants a hero. Someone who will fight for her, love her unconditionally, and even be willing to sacrifice himself for her if necessary. 
  • Keep it real. Yes, romance is larger than life and easy escapism, but it also serves a purpose. A good, well-written romance novel can illustrate how one is supposed to treat the important people in his life. I found when I was writing my debut novel, I began treating my husband like my heroine treated her love interest. A good novel should inspire one to be his personal best. 

From Jerusha Agen:
This Dance

  • Subtlety, subtlety, subtlety. Don’t fall into the trap of writing in a bunch of physical contact (kisses, hand-holding, back-touching, etc.) with the belief you’re writing romance. Attraction is a must, but the most powerful romances are those that simmer with palpable tension and chemistry that readers don’t see realized (or at least not until the end). Add too much physical contact, and that simmer mundanely cools down before it can boil.
  • Don’t skip friendship. Any smart reader will know the romance doesn’t have a lasting future if your couple doesn’t have the foundation of friendship that will outlast the on-again, off-again romance.
  • Chemistry is key. If your characters don’t click, your readers won’t buy the romance.

From Betty Thomason Owens:
Amelia's Legacy

  • The eyes have it. The very first thing that drew me to my husband was his eyes. I literally lost my train of thought at one point. 
  • Mutual respect: kindness toward the object of their affection, and others, as well. 
  • Humor. This is a strong point for me, especially if one can laugh at their own mistakes.

From Julie Arduini:

  •  Give them a character flaw. 
  •  Conflict. For every action, give a reaction. 
  •  Don’t forget the middle. I love endings as much as anyone but don’t rush to get there. Make the middle as strong as the beginning and end.

Interviews with the authors of The Love Boat Bachelor:

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Marji Laine, Joan Deneve, Betty Thomason Owens, and Theresa Anderson:
            Shannon Vanatter’s blog

Julie Arduini:
            The Love Boat Bachelor is Free

Write Integrity Press:
            Dream Valentine Dates

Don't forget, The Love Boat Bachelor is FREE on Kindle right now! Learn who the readers chose as Brent's true love! And see how his story ends? Or is it just beginning?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dream Valentine Dates

We're celebrating romance all week at Write Integrity, so we asked our authors to share with us their dream Valentine date.

Jerusha Agen: I’ll know when and if it happens. [She added a smiley to that comment!]

Julie Arduini: I’d love to return to the Adirondacks. We went to Lake Placid in Fall 2000, and the place we stayed was beautiful. I’d love to go back to Mirror Lake Inn again and walk the streets and browse.

Theresa Anderson: The sky’s the limit? Money is no object and time is not a factor. I'd travel to Italy or England and cozy up in a cottage along the coast with my favorite man, and live a simple life building relationships with locals and loving on neighbors. Then, I'd pause time so it remained Valentine's Day until I got bored and ready to return home. Ah! just the thought is relaxing!

Joan Deneve: For me, I've found the secret to romance is to take the focus off getting the love and attention one might crave and concentrate on giving it instead. Something I might find romantic would bore my husband to tears. So I would want to pick something we both would enjoy. My husband has mentioned a place that he would like to visit and I have to say, it's one of the most romantic things I could think of. After forty years of marriage, he wants to revisit, and recreate, the night he asked me to marry him. His idea! That's what makes it so romantic. Signal Mountain, Tennessee. It is now four hours away from where we live, and it would be a perfect day. We love road trips. I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it. So here's the key: Whatever you love to do together ... that's romantic.

Fay Lamb: Ha! I just told my husband my Valentine's dream day would be for him to take his mother out all day while I stay at home. And, no, I'm not joking.

Betty Thomason Owens: If I’m dreaming, I dream big: Musha Cay, David Copperfield’s private island in the Bahamas. Valentine’s Day because it’s warm there, but not here. But if we’re not dreaming, I have a favorite little Italian restaurant here in Louisville where they make everything from scratch, including the tiramisu, which is the best I’ve had anywhere. Difabio’s Casapella…

What's YOUR dream Valentine date?

Don't forget, The Love Boat Bachelor is FREE on Kindle right now! Learn who the readers chose as Brent's true love! And see how his story ends? Or is it just beginning?

And check out the author interviews on

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
Spotlight on Author, Betty Thomason Owens: Port of Call: Grand Cayman with Eliana Grayson

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Who Won Brent's Heart? #Free on Kindle The Love Boat Bachelor

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today, find out who won Brent's heart in The Love Boat Bachelor. It's FREE on Kindle Feb 14-17, so grab your copy and help us spread the word.

To celebrate Brent's future, we're going to have some fun blog posts for readers, a couple of blog posts for writers, and announce another contest in a few days. So keep an eye out for all the latest updates.

We asked our authors a few questions, and we'll share their answers today and in the coming days.

Today, we asked, "What's your favorite flower and why?"

Betty Thomason Owens: Lilacs. They’re gorgeous. They smell wonderful.

Fay Lamb: The azalea. My grandmother's yard had azaleas and oaks, and I always wanted to have the same in my yard. Today, my yard as an azalea and oak garden, and the azaleas are blooming beautifully. In my novel, Libby, she had a grandmother who had the same garden.

Joan Deneve: Nothing moves me more than a field full of wild flowers. Planted and designed by God. I love red poppies most of all.

Theresa Anderson: My favorite flower is the pink colored peony. They smell sweet and divine, but beyond that are the wonderful memories from my childhood of mounds of them blooming in our yard. My mother would squeal at the first sight of them each spring, and now it's my turn. I planted two in my own yard several years back. It took four years for them to even produce a bud, but boy oh boy, once they started blooming, they burst with abundant blooms every year now!

Julie Arduini: Lilacs. We had bushes growing up and the smell reminds me of that, and of my dad, who passed away in 2004. Our new house has a huge lilac bush, and I’m so excited.

Jerusha Agen: The red rose. Simply because it’s the most elegant and beautiful flower God created.

Interviews with the authors all week over at

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
Spotlight on Author, Julie Arduini, Port of Call: Cozumel with Nora Laing

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Voting Now Open - YOU Decide the Heroine!

Cast your vote for the heroine you feel is the best fit for our Love Boat Bachelor, Brent Teague. Voting will remain open through Saturday, February 7, midnight (Eastern). The winning heroine will be revealed in the final chapter of The Love Boat Bachelor when it releases on Kindle on Valentine's Day!

In case you missed any of the chapters or any of the heroines, here's a complete list of links:

The Love Boat Bachelor

Chapter One - Departing Charleston with Brent
Chapter Two - Nora Laing, Cozumel
Chapter Three - Eliana Grayson, Grand Cayman
Chapter Four - Renee Kessler, Limon Costa Rica
Chapter Five - Alyssa Laroche, Aruba

Chapter Six - Sadie Graham, Bonaire
Chapter Seven - Lacy Dickinson, Barbados
Chapter Eight - Mercy Lacewell, St. Maarten

Chapter Eight Port of Call: St. Maarten

Poll closes Saturday, Feb 7, 11:59 PM Eastern

We're landing in St. Maarten with Brent and meeting the last of our heroines today!

This afternoon, we open voting for your favorite heroine, because YOUR votes will choose Brent's special lady and determine the ending of the book, which will release on Kindle for FREE on Valentine's Day! Come back this afternoon and vote! The poll will remain open through February 7, so be sure to tell your friends.

After you read Chapter Eight below you can send us your guesses for which author wrote which chapter for a chance to win books and an Amazon gift card! Send your guesses in the body of an e-mail to editor[at]writeintegrity[dot]com. Submit your guesses by Saturday, February 7. Winner will be announced February 17.

For those just joining us, here are links to the previous chapters:

The Love Boat Bachelor

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five

Chapter Six
Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight
Port of Call: St. Maarten

Brent’s thoughts spiraled. So many emotions, and such amazing women. Choosing an inland excursion on St. Maarten that promised relaxation and diversion seemed perfect, especially one likely to attract an older generation. All the women his age hit the beaches or markets.
He hadn’t reckoned on being all alone, though, with only his thoughts to keep him company. Exactly what he’d tried to avoid. Thankfully, his driver doubled as a tour guide and kept up a monologue of island facts in a French accent.
The ride ended in front of a long, low shed needing paint. A muted yellow sign in the shape of a large butterfly identified The Butterfly Farm. Looked like an outbuilding from any number of places back home.
Brent unfolded himself from the rear seat as his guide leaned out his open window. “Ask the owner to call when you are ready to return. I will come.” The man shifted into gear and sped off.
The already humid morning stuck Brent’s t-shirt against his back. Maybe he should’ve opted for a more adventurous excursion. At least on the coast, he’d have a breeze to cool him.
Melodic tweeting filled the air, enough to let him know the world rejoiced in a new day. Why couldn’t he? What was wrong with him? He had beautiful women interested in him. Yet, all he could think about was how quickly life had become complicated.
He eyed the sign again and noted the business hours between nine and three. Great. So much for getting a jump on the day. That gave him an hour to wait and without a French exposé to distract his unruly thoughts.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make it work.” A soprano voice hushed the birds for a second. He scanned the area. The female couldn’t be too far away, and from the edge in her tone, it sounded like she struggled with something.
“This is silly, child. Call for help.” An older voice, slurred, sent thoughts of his father’s drunken bouts. But this man’s response seemed much kinder than anything he’d ever heard from his dad.
“I can do it … ouch.”
He picked up his pace toward the conversation. A silver van perched on the asphalt edge of the two-lane road. A white-haired man sat in a wheelchair beside the front door while a young woman stood above the decimated rear tire. She swung dark, wavy hair over her shoulder and sucked on the side of her finger.
“Are you hurt?” Obviously, she was far too petite to be attempting such a task.
Dressed in blue jeans and a pink-striped top, she jumped and flashed a pair of vivid blue eyes. “Where did you come from?”
“South Carolina a few weeks ago. The Butterfly Farm just now. Waiting for it to open.”
She wiped her finger on her jeans. “It’ll be a long wait. They’re renovating.”
Oh, man. He wiped his palm across his head. Who would call for his ride now? He hadn’t even gotten the driver’s name or a phone number. “Well, at least I can fix your flat for you.” He held his hand out to the man. “Brent Teague.”
The gentleman shook his hand and nodded. “Henry Lacewell.” The s-sound in his name lingered a bit. “Daughter—Mercy.”
“Nice to meet you.” She had gone back to pushing on the jack, though it refused to lift the car.
“She’s stubborn.” Mr. Lacewell chuckled.
“I’ve done this before, Daddy.”
“I don’t mind. Really.” Brent laid his hand on hers on the handle of the jack. Skin soft as silk warmed his fingertips.
Her gaze locked with his before she withdrew her hand and backed up. “I really have changed a tire.”
“I believe you.” He forced the jack into motion with a grunt. “Hmm. That was stuck.”
As he switched out the spare for the flattened specimen, Mr. Lacewell held up the conversation with a description of the butterflies inside the farm. Sounded interesting, but the woman holding the lug nuts in the hubcap intrigued him more.
The man peered at him. “What’s a young fella like you doing atta butterfly farm?”
Brent snapped the hub into place. “I’ve done exciting excursions. I sort of craved something a little slower, more relaxed, today.”
“Should come w’thus.”
“Daddy ….” Pink tinged Mercy’s cheeks.
Mr. Lacewell clasped his hands. “He needs a ride. We’re off t’ Fort Saint Louis.”
“I hate to intrude on your time together.” He stowed the tire in the empty wheel well.
“No trouble. We’re heading your direction afterward.”
How would he know?
The man opened the side door and lifted himself into the backseat. Mercy folded his chair and tucked it into the other side of the van.
“We’ve been visiting an old friend of Daddy’s for a few days.” She took the lug wrench from Brent and dropped it into the cargo bay. “Came in on one cruise ship, leaving on another. This trip has been on Dad’s bucket list for years.” Her tone dropped off, and a tiny wrinkle formed between her brows.
She reached for the jack, but Brent avoided her and set it deep in the wheel well. “Last item on his list?”
Sniffing softly, she nodded and left him to close the hatch. She straightened. “Let’s go find your pirates, Daddy.” The sing-song had returned to her voice as she pulled her father’s door shut.
Her light attitude and a joy-filled countenance covered what had to be deep concern.
They had barely traveled a mile on the narrow road before Mr. Lacewell leaned forward. “S’cuse an old man’s bluntness. Do you know Jesus loves you?” He placed a red ball cap on his head with “Jesus Loves You” emblazed across in a white script.
“That’s very direct.” Brent eyed the man.
“I’m old. No promise of tomorrow.” Genuine joy spilled from his eyes.
“Daddy, please.”
“’S’true. No time for political correctness.” He pointed at Brent. “Jesus loves you more than you can ’magine.”
Brent smiled. “You encourage and shame me, Mr. Lacewell. I’m the chaplain for a cruise ship. I should have been the one asking. But I love the way you took advantage of the opportunity.”
“No tellin’ when my last chance’ll be.” He went on about the Lord’s love, then the items on his bucket list, interspersed with scripture and Bible truth.
Silence from the driver’s seat caught Brent’s attention. A natural glow tinted Mercy’s cheeks. She wiped a finger under one eye.
“So tell me about Fort Saint Louis.” Brent switched topics to ease Mercy’s concern. “I thought that was somewhere in Louisiana.”
The lady beside him brightened and began sharing some tourist facts with a lilt to her voice. The car climbed above the capital city of Marigot. Mercy pulled into a spot where the pavement ended and hauled out her father’s chair.
“This place’s beautiful. You kids go to th’ top. I’ll stay here.”
Brent eyed the well-worn path. A few steps, rocky walkway, but not too steep. “We can get you to the top.”
“Sure we can.” A tender smile lifted her face as again she turned toward him. How fascinating that they matched the color of the bay behind her.
After a minute more of convincing, the three set out for the remains of the fort. Though not a difficult climb, they struggled with ruts and rocks. Mr. Lacewell’s joking left them weak with laughter by the time they finally reached the grass-covered foundation of what had once been a stronghold in the Lesser Antilles.
While Mr. Lacewell ventured from plaque to plaque, absorbing the history, Brent followed Mercy toward a low rock wall broken by small cannon replicas. Painted roofs in Easter-candy colors crowded the wooden pier edging the bay, pressed by the mountain rising behind. The cerulean water echoed the color scheme with bobbing boats.
Breathtaking view, but the lady beside him commanded his attention even more. The ocean breeze tossed her hair about her shoulders. “I can see why my dad wanted to visit this place. Thank you for helping me get him up the path.”
“What’s wrong with your father, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I almost lost him last year to a stroke. He’s come back marvelously.”
“People live with those for decades.” He’d had an aunt who taught school for fifteen years after suffering a stroke.
She looked away with a sad smile. “The doctors have him on meds, but they can’t do everything. Another could come at any moment.”
“Isn’t that true of any of us?”
“I suppose. Only …” She focused on the bay. “Lately he’s been talking about my life after he’s gone. I think he believes it’s time.”
That said a lot. Brent closed the gap between them, hoping his nearness could give her encouragement where his words failed.
Mr. Lacewell buzzed with his newly learned information all the way to the cruise ship, on which they’d booked return passage back to the States. The man was so full of enthusiasm, so brimming with joy over every moment, both good and challenging. Surely, Mercy had been wrong in her estimation of his health.
Brent was surprised to find that Mr. Lacewell and Mercy were setting sail aboard his ship. At the ship, Brent helped her unload their luggage then checked-in their car with a liaison waiting on the dock. By the time he returned to the gangway, they’d disappeared.
He scanned the atrium. They couldn’t have moved so fast. He took an elevator up a deck and used the higher vantage point. A lot of people milled, returning from the island, but not a single chair wheeled across the wide space. Where could they have gone?
Short of stalking the hallways, how would he find them again?
At dinner in the main dining room, he scanned all the tables, intent on finding Mercy. But he was immediately joined, probably accosted was a better word, by two women in their late thirties or so. Despite their battle for his attention, he kept his eyes on the room, observing every new arrival. No Lacewells.
The duo which sandwiched him during the meal did remind him, though, that he needed another souvenir for the sweet sister who sent him on this Love Boat. Maybe a barracuda or a cougar since he’d encountered so many of the female persuasion on this trip.
Turning in, he felt sure he’d run into Mercy again at some point before they arrived back in Charleston. But the next morning on the jogging track was the last place he expected to see her.
Her hair caught in a ponytail, she wore calf-length yoga pants, which showed off her curves, and a baggy gray t-shirt. He sprinted to catch up then matched her stride.
She glanced in his direction and tugged out an earbud. “Hey there. I didn’t know you were a runner.”
“I looked for you and your dad last night. Thought we might have dinner together.”
“That’s sweet of you.” She slowed her pace and stepped off the track. “Dad was pretty exhausted yesterday. He puts on a good front, you know.”
“Maybe lunch?”
“I’d like that. We were planning to go to a musical review this afternoon. Wanna join us?”
Brent smiled and completed their plans. He didn’t continue his jog, though, until he also had her cabin number. She wouldn’t disappear on him again.
That afternoon, their lunch and show stretched into dinner and a walk. Brent enjoyed the banter with Mr. Lacewell and Mercy.
The next day was filled with chaplain duties. Well past dinner, Mercy surprised him, strolling into his office. “Long day?”
“Crazy. I must’ve counseled with six couples today.” He stretched and leaned against the front of his desk.
“Marriage is entered into so lightly these days. Is it any wonder there are so many problems?” She shook her head, then shrugged. “I just came by to say hey.”
“I’m glad you did.” He smiled. “I do have a vow renewal service tomorrow. A couple I’ve talked to a few times in the last couple of days. Gloria and Gerome.”
“That gives me a renewed sense of hope in marriage.”
“Could we have lunch after the ceremony? It starts at noon.”
She nodded. “About two?”
After Gloria and Gerome's vow renewal ceremony, which went very well, Brent met with the Lacewells for a late lunch and browsing through the duty-free shops. Mr. Lacewell came alongside Brent as he eyed a turquoise necklace his sister would probably love. “Got a girl back home?”
“Thought I did. She got married.”
“I understand.” From the look on his face, he probably discerned more than Brent wished.
“My sister sent me on this trip.” He cleared his throat. “To help get my mind off … things.”
“Ha. Or on them.”
Brent warmed. “Probably so.”
“Musta been a special lady. They don’t come around so often. Mine’s been gone a long time.”
“Tough times.”
He nodded. “Had to be mom and dad. Mercy’s a special girl, though.” He glanced in her direction. “Spittin’ image of her mom.”
Brent followed the man’s gaze. “Beautiful.”
“I would do juss about anything for her.”
She caught them gawking and fussed at her dad for peeking at the souvenir she’d picked out for him.
How different from Brent’s experience. His father had never wanted a moment with him. Complained when he made noise. Yelled when he watched TV. Nothing Brent did was acceptable.
Crazy that he still felt the ache of his childhood. What a blessing to befriend a man who was the sort of father he wanted to be someday.
As Mercy stepped away to pay for her purchases, the man turned to Brent. “Think you can get me to my cabin?”
“Are you all right, Mr. Lacewell?”
“Enough to insist you call me Henry.” He laughed and pulled his ball cap from where he’d tucked it in his chair. “Mercy’ll fuss. But I don’t want her hanging around the cabins tonight. Can you take’r to dinner and a movie?” His slurring escalated.
Brent nodded. The activities of the busy cruise could wear out anyone.
Mercy joined them with her bundle, but Henry waved her off. “Brent and I have matters t’discuss.”
Brent touched her elbow. “I’ll meet you here in a half hour?”
Her brows furrowed a bit, but she acquiesced and turned toward the center elevators.
“That’ll do.” The man nodded and released control of his chair. He seemed to relax as Brent pushed him to the elevators. Heavy breathing confirmed he needed a good rest. At the aft cabin, Brent woke him to collect his key card.
“Sorry I drifted off.” He handed over the card. Between Henry’s strong arms and Brent’s athleticism, they got the man onto the bed.
“You’re a good man, Brent Teague. I’m happy to know you.” Henry held out his hand. “Don’t let my daughter worry too much. She deserves … night off.”
“Got it covered, sir.” An electrical charge skinned up his spine at the promise of the evening. Being alone with Mercy had been a hard opportunity to find, though he enjoyed Henry’s jokes and his obvious admiration for his daughter.
Brent made his way to deck nine. The elevator doors opened at the entrance to the cafe. He spotted Mercy near the deli bar. She lifted her fingers in a casual wave.
A large group of scantily-clad women and men in bathing trunks crowded past him. He edged his way through the group. With oblivion and boisterous laughter, they blocked him only to move like an amoeba and create a new barrier. By the time they finally evaporated into the elevators, he’d lost sight of Mercy.
Feeling feathery-light fingers against his elbow, he jerked his head around.
“For a second there, I thought you had joined the party.” Her eyes sparkled with humor as she gave him a side-long glance.
“Ha, not my style. Besides, I have plans with someone already.”
“You don’t think she’d mind me tagging along?” She giggled and Brent laughed as he opened the door to David’s Steakhouse. “Was Daddy terribly tired?”
“Not so much, but enough that he didn’t want to spoil our fun. I thought we could take in the outdoor movie when we’re done eating. I hear they set up deck chairs with extra blankets just outside there.” He pointed to the wide expanse.
Her fingers curled around his bicep. “Sounds perfect.”
He ordered iced tea to cover his near-miss and opened his menu. “Please tell me you aren’t a vegetarian.”
“Nope. A good prime rib is one of my favorite meals.” She glanced at her menu for a moment then clasped her hands on top of it. “I want to thank you for helping my dad. He’s very impressed with you.”
“I like your father. I never spent much time with my own.” Why had he said that? He rarely shared much about his father and his family life. “The relationship you have with your dad reminds me of the one I have with the Heavenly Father. Just like Him, your dad offers his best guidance and highest praise for his child.”
Her mouth formed an O. “That’s the most wonderful description I’ve ever heard.” Her eyes misted. “You’re so right. I had an exceptional example of the Father’s love in front of me my entire life. But I never realized it.”
During the movie, they sat in comfortable silence.
Brent had thought he had problems before he went on the cruise. He never knew someone’s feelings could get this muddled. Only one Person could untwist them and give Brent the direction he needed now more than ever. Brent gazed up at the stars. You’ve shown me I can have feelings for someone again, Lord. But can I risk being hurt again? I don’t think I could take another rejection. Show me what to do.

“Next vacation in the mountains, son.” Henry gave a final shake of Brent’s hand before he let his chair carry him down the promenade. Most of the other passengers made their way to the ramp that would take them across to the disembarking station.
“Colorado. Never been there.”
“If you like crisp mornings and beautiful scenery, you’ll love it.” Mercy gripped the edge of the rail and stared at the waves. This water was a grayer blue than her captivating eyes.
“I do like beautiful scenery.” He trained his eyes on her forehead. What would she do if he planted a kiss on her temple?
She glanced at him then. With a sad turn to her smile and her brows lifting, she reached up and lightly kissed his cheek. “Thanks again. For making this so special for my dad. And for me.”
Words escaped him. The slight pressure of her lips still warmed his cheek. She stroked the place for a moment then turned and joined the fast-moving line of exiting vacationers.
He sighed. Time to get back to the reality of his life.
Brent headed back to his cabin to gather his belongings. Fourteen days had passed, and he still wasn’t sure what God wanted him to do with his life from here on out.
The image of a certain beauty with warmth in her eyes and her smile rushed to his mind with a tingling sensation that spread to his chest. Was the sudden memory a sign from God?
Brent reached the cabin door and went inside to pack as a new certainty pushed away his doubt. Wherever God led him next, Brent was sure he wanted the woman who held his heart to be at his side for the journey. Now he only had to find her and pray like mad that she wouldn’t reject him, too.

Come back this afternoon to cast your vote for your favorite heroine - 
the woman you think most deserves Brent's affections.

Shore Excursions:

Write Integrity: (morning)

Marji Laine’s blog:
            E-mail to Roselle: From St. Maarten

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Elizabeth Noyes:
           In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 7


Write Integrity:
            Chapter Seven Port of Call: Barbados

Marji Laine’s blog:
            E-mail to Roselle: From Barbados

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Betty Thomason Owens:
Elizabeth Noyes:
           In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 6


Write Integrity:

Marji Laine’s blog:
            E-mail to Roselle: From Bonaire

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Elizabeth Noyes:
             In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 5



Write Integrity: Chapter Five
            Chapter Five Port of Call: Aruba

Marji Laine’s blog:

Joan Deneve:
            Interview on Quid Pro Quills

Julie Arduini:
            Least Likely Cruise Heroine Part 2

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Elizabeth Noyes:
             In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 4


Write Integrity: Chapter Four

Marji Laine’s blog:

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Elizabeth Noyes:
             In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 3


Write Integrity: Chapter Three

Marji Laine’s blog:

Julie Arduini:
            Least Likely Cruise Heroine Part 1

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Elizabeth Noyes:
             In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 2


Write Integrity:
            Chapter Two Port of Call: Cozumel

Betty Thomason Owens:  

Marji Laine’s blog:

Elizabeth Noyes:

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
            Port of Call: Cozumel with Nora Laing          


Write Integrity:
            The Love Boat Bachelor Chapter One

Marji Laine blog:

Fay Lamb:

Marji Laine:

Marji Laine:
Interview on Carole Towriss blog: 8 Reasons Romance is a Joke

Julie Arduini:
            Cruising Experiences