Way back in October 2017, I read Picking Daisy, a debut novel by Kimberly M. Miller. I loved it and wrote a review, which you can read on Goodreads. It was a charming tale, full of heart and compassion.
As it turns out, Kimberly M. Miller has written another romance and I am honored to have her as a guest on my blog today. She is a writing and film professor by day, author by night. She enjoys watching movies, making jewelry, and creating fun stories for her readers. Currently, Kimberly has two published novels, Picking Daisy and Forgiving Tess, but she looks forward to bringing more romance your way soon!
She's offered us all a treat today--an excerpt from Forgiving Tess. The book already has many wonderful reviews. So sit back, relax, and enjoy.
Excerpt from Forgiving Tess
The doors squeaked open and Tess Carson stepped outside where a wave of heat hit hard, making her want to dive back into the air-conditioned safety of the bus. She wondered whether her skin was melting as sweat trickled down her arm and dripped onto the pavement with a sizzle.
Tess was annoyed at everything and yet trying desperately not to be. The trouble was that her life, the humidity, the stiff-backed bus seats, and especially Uncle Stu—who’d dragged her along on this mission trip—seemed bent on reminding her of all that continued to war against her. It was the first time she’d been away from Maple Ridge in nearly two years. She wasn’t sure she was ready. Not that she was given a choice. Uncle Stu made sure she was coming along, otherwise, he promised he wouldn’t bail her out again.
And she believed him.
“Come on, let’s get settled.” Uncle Stu walked by, his backpack shouldered on one side of his body. He wasn’t a tall man, but his presence made up for it. He was kind, firm, and lately the only person remaining who was willing to give his niece another chance.
Tess drew a deep breath, certain her hair was rapidly turning to thick and unruly frizz in the humidity. As if she cared what anyone thought of her appearance anymore.
“I still don’t get why you hate me,” Tess muttered as she tugged her backpack higher on her shoulder. While she didn’t care that she’d left a majority of her minimal wardrobe at home, it did bother her that this pit stop after graduation from nursing school meant she was forced to wait even longer to begin applying for work that would take her away from trouble and into the rest of her life.
It was a move she needed desperately.
“That’s not how you change, mouthy,” Uncle Stu said, using his nickname for her—one, he insisted, she deserved.
Humph. Tess never cared much for Uncle Stu’s wisdom, no matter how right he always was.
“I can change without frying to death.”
Stu glanced at the group of people from his church who volunteered to go from Pennsylvania to the small town near Cocoa Beach to help build a youth center for their sister church there. Tess slowly followed him toward the bunkhouse.
“You aren’t going to fry to death,” he muttered. “And I’d stop complaining. Nearly everyone else took time from work-some of them vacation time that they could be spending laying on a beach instead of working near one.”
Tess searched her uncle’s deep brown eyes and nodded. Everyone else danced around the subject instead of getting to it, but not Stu. He told Tess the truth and refused to hold back even when it was hard.
Maybe that was why she trusted him.
“You’re right. I’m working on it. Scouts honor.”
Stu nodded and reached out to give her a big hug. “Love you, kid. Come on.” He started walking toward the large building in front of them. They’d arrived at a church complex that was a neighbor to the church in Cocoa Beach where they were going to be helping rebuild a youth center that was badly damaged by a tropical storm. A neighboring church offered to allow the use of its activities building to feed the workers, who would sleep in bunkhouses around back. Since it was only a short walk to where they’d be working, it was a great set up.
Tess followed her uncle until she realized she’d left a bag in the cargo hold of the bus. “I’ll catch up,” she said. “I forgot the extra Bibles.”
Stu nodded and kept going as Tess turned and ran back to the bus where several members of the team were divvying up their luggage. She hung back, waiting for a chance to grab her bag. She wasn’t likely to make friends with many of the people on the trip, which was better anyway. Tess had burned a lot of bridges in the last few years, and making amends was difficult. Besides, if she didn’t make friends, there would be no problem keeping them.
“Need a hand?” a deep voice asked behind her. Tess turned and found herself facing a broad chest. She raised her eyes and was stunned to find the familiar blue eyes of her childhood friend Joshua Thorne, a man she hadn’t seen in over twelve years.
What was he doing here?
Tess was certain her heart stopped beating and her knees went weak. She drew a breath in an effort to find strength.
Inwardly she groaned. Those sweet dimples were even sweeter now.
Josh lived next door to Tess and her family for seven years of their childhood, and he’d been best friends with Tess’s brother, Brody. The boys played on softball and basketball teams together—and of course a little football too, while Tess, who was five years younger, trailed after them trying to keep up. But the friendship was so much more. They’d hung out together. And if there’s anything to be said about kids, the real learning and bonding takes place in those moments when you’re doing nothing. That’s when you’re doing everything.
In a flash, Tess remembered that his birthday was August tenth, he loved her grandmother’s blueberry muffins, and he hated when Tess taunted him about his terrible pitching record from his sophomore year. All in all, not bad for not having dreamt of him in so long.
And he’d once entered her dreams every single night.
Tess’s mouth opened but she was unable to form any words. Instead she stared up at him stupidly, thinking that he’d gotten even more handsome since he left—when he was eighteen and heading to college and she was mourning the loss of the boy she was certain would one day be her husband. He’d been a cocky boy, followed by a gaggle of giggling girls who were certain he was in love with them all. It made Tess so jealous that she’d gotten into more trouble than she wanted to remember ruining his dates as only smitten teenaged girl could.
Tess worked to say something, cursing herself that the words still refused to emerge. Surely Uncle Stu knewabout this. Why hadn’t he warned her?
“Um, hi…” she said weakly.
“I’m guessing Stu didn’t tell you this is my church?” Josh asked with a smile. Tess shook her head. Why did it appear as if he’d walked straight off a movie set? She swallowed hard, now wishing her hair didn’t looklike she’d taken a bath with her toaster.
“He… didn’t mention it,” she said softly. Josh nodded as Tess turned to grab her bag, glad for the distraction. Her childish love for him was the stuff embarrassment was made of— complete with foolish homemade gifts and ridiculous gestures. Surely he remembered it all as well as she did. Her stomach tied itself in knots as image after image of her pranks played in her mind. It was pointless to hope he’d forgotten.
Reluctantly, Tess turned back to find he was still smiling. “You lookgreat,” he said, eyes twinkling.
So, he was a liar. At least he wasn’t completely perfect. There was some solace in that.
Tess shook her head. Had he grown after he left for college? Staring up at him was giving her a painful neck cramp.
“Your dimples lookgreat too,” she said, cursing herself when Josh laughed. She blew a stray piece of hair from her eyes and continued, hoping he would quickly be distracted by something. Maybe a flash hurricane would make something fall on her. “What…? I mean, you go to church here?”
“Kind of. I’m the youth pastor.”
Tess’s stomach sank. Another score for him, another strike for her. “Youth pastor? Wow. Congratulations, that’s… impressive,” she said awkwardly. “Um… yeah. So, I better go. I’m sure I’ll catch you later.”