It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Rachel Hauck and her book: Love Starts With Elle
Thomas Nelson (July 8, 2008)
About the Author:
Rachel Hauck is a graduate of Ohio State University, and is a former software trainer. She published her first novel in 2004. Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband, Tony, a youth pastor.
Visit her website by clicking on her picture. And don’t forget her blog.
Product Details(ISBN#9781595543387, 320pp, $14.99)
From the loft of her Bay Street art gallery, Elle Garvey leaned against the waist-high wall, admiring GG Galleyâ€™s â€œArt in Christ-masâ€ show. Visitors and patronsâ€”some Beaufort residence, others curious touristsâ€”milled among the displays, speaking in low tones, sipping hot cider.
The mellow voice of Andy Williams serenaded them. â€œItâ€™s the most wonderful time of the year . . .â€
â€œElle,areyouthequeen,surveyingherkingdom?â€ Arlene Coulter gazed up from the bottom of the loft stairs, her bright red Christmas suit its own fashion work of art.
â€œYes, and are you my loyal servant?â€
Arlene curtsied,her bottle-blonde hair falling forward like silky angel hair, the hem of her skirt sliding up her knee. â€œYours and yours alone, O you of whom Art News wrote, â€˜One of the lowcountryâ€™s finest galleries.â€™â€
â€œBest hundred-dollar bribe I ever spent.â€ Elle descended the stairs, catching sight of her baby sister, Julianne, selling a bronze sculpture to a young woman wearing pearls.
â€œDarlingâ€â€”Arlene linked arms with Elle and led her to the back wallâ€”â€œyour artist eye is truly God gifted.Tell me now . . . is this the work of the great Alyssa Porter?â€
â€œIt is.â€ Elle surveyed the paintings. They spoke to her each time she viewed them. She envied Alyssa and artists like herâ€”the ones who had the courage to chase the dream.
Elle had lost hers a long time ago.
â€œAnd what do you like about this artist?â€ Arlene squeezed Elleâ€™s arm tighter.
â€œHer paintings move me.â€ Elle freed herself from Arlene and moved to Alyssaâ€™s Rose Garden, convinced itâ€™d be a masterpiece one day.
â€œMove you?â€ Arlene studied one of the abstracts through a one-eyed slit, her short, red-tipped fingers squeezing the point of her chin. â€œI suppose they move me too. Iâ€™m just not sure where.â€
â€œYouâ€™re looking for a definite image, Arlene. Donâ€™t be so con-crete. Let your imagination run …â€ Elle hooked her arm around the womanâ€™s shoulders. â€œFollow my hand. See how you just moved out of the sunlight into the shade?â€
â€œNo, but, girl, I really love your bracelets. Whereâ€™d you get those?â€ Arlene grabbed Elleâ€™s wrist to study the tricolor bangles.
â€œYou beat all, Arlene.â€ Elle twisted her hand free.
â€œWell,a good set of bracelets is hard to find.â€ Arlene gazed again at the painting. â€œSo, what should I do about Miss Porter?â€
â€œBuyher.The New York art scene has discovered Alyssa and if you donâ€™t purchase something before her first auction, youâ€™ll never be able to afford it. Here…â€ Elle walked to the other side of the display. â€œThis one on the bottom right is only two thousand dollars.â€
Arlene stood an inch way from the bottom painting,tipping her head to one side. The track lighting haloed the back of her head.
â€œIâ€™m afraid if I buy one of these Iâ€™ll wake up one night with the dang thing hanging over my head whispering,â€˜I see dead people.â€™â€
â€œIf it does, call Pastor Oâ€™Neal, not me.â€
Arlene bent in half as if she hung upside down, then snapped upright. â€œWhat about this artist over here. Coco Nelson. Now this I get. Lookâ€”a womanâ€™s face, with eyes and hair.â€
â€œCocoâ€™s a wonderful artist,â€ Elle said. â€œVery realistic work. This series is called â€˜Love and Romance.â€™â€
â€œVery fitting for you, sugar.â€ Arlene arched a brow at Elle.
â€œThis piece, Proposal, is stunning.â€ Her voice rose and fell into a
Elle ignore her subtle teasing. â€œYes, thereâ€™s something about it.
An ordinary gentleman down on one knee proposing to an ordinary
But the emotion Coco evoked in the scene was anything but ordinary. When sheâ€™d sent in the piece, Elle couldnâ€™t hang it at first. Too embarrassed after last yearâ€™s Operation Wedding Day fiasco when she tried to date every available bachelor in Beaufort. She wanted no reminders of love and romance.
Until Jeremiah Franklin.
â€œOkay.â€ Arlene spun around. â€œIâ€™ll take the Alyssa Porter and this Coco Nelson.â€
â€œYou wonâ€™t regret it.â€
â€œSays who?â€ Arlene passed Alyssaâ€™s abstract piece again, sidestepping the image as if it might spring to life and spar with her.
Elle laughed, leading the way to her desk across the old, former hardware store. She treasured the talented, sometimes whacky, interior designer who landed lowcountry clients like doctors, lawyers, and hotel developers. In the early days of GG Gallery, business from Coulter Designs had helped keep the gallery lights burning and
Elleâ€™s hopes alive.
â€œWhatâ€™s the damage?â€ Arlene flashed her checkbook.
â€œHold on, now, let me add a few more zeroes.â€ Elle jammed her finger on the adding machineâ€™s Zero button.
â€œAdd all you want. Iâ€™m only writing three.â€ Arlene fanned her face with her opened checkbook. â€œSo, howâ€™s it going with the good pastor?â€
The mere hint of Dr. Jeremiah Franklin made Elle feel bubbly. â€œGood.â€
â€œIf the glow on your cheeks is any indication, Iâ€™d say itâ€™s more than good. How long yâ€™all been together now? Few months?â€
â€œTwo.â€ Elle wrote up Arleneâ€™s order with a ten-percent discount.
â€œAnd itâ€™s love?â€ Arlene leaned to see Elleâ€™s eyes. â€œDonâ€™t tell me it ainâ€™t â€™cause I can see it written all over your face.â€
â€œHere.â€ Elle laughed low, passing over the order ticket with the total circled. â€œI appreciate your businessâ€”and nosinessâ€”Arlene.â€
â€œAny time, sugar. Any time.â€ Arlene peeked at the total, then started to write.
He still took her breath away after two months. When heâ€™d told her he loved her in the setting sunlight during a beach walk, Elle had handed him her heart on a silverâ€”no, goldâ€”platter. Key included.
â€œJer, what are you doing here?â€ She met him on the other side of her desk and stepped into his arms. His fragrance awakened her yearnings.
â€œIâ€™m on my way to rehearse tomorrowâ€™s sermon. Couldnâ€™t pass the gallery without stopping in for a minute.â€ His kiss was soft and sweet, a pastorly display of public affection. But enough to make Elle glad to be a woman. His woman. â€œWeâ€™re still on for dinner?â€
â€œAbsolutely. You still havenâ€™t said where you wanted to go.â€
Jeremiahâ€™s hazel wink teased her. â€œPatience, girl. Do you have to know everything?â€
â€œDo you not know me after these few months?â€
â€œExactly . . .â€ He stooped for another soft kiss and backed away. â€œGood to see you, Arlene.â€
â€œYou too, Dr. Franklin.â€ Arlene watched Jeremiah exit the building with a wave. â€œHmm-um, Elle, it must be breaking your heart.â€ Rippp. She handed over her check.
â€œWhat? What are you talking about?â€ Elle brushed the check absently between her fingers.
Arlene gaped at Elle with an â€œUm, what now?â€ expression, then punched the air with a darn-it fist, chewing her bottom lip. â€œMe and my mouth. Shoot fire, my Dirk will kill me.â€ She clutched her buttercolored Dooney & Burke to her chest. â€œJust forget I said anything, Elle. I am so sorry.â€ She whirled around and hurried away with a
swirling, swing-swing of her hips. â€œSee you in church.â€
â€œOh no you donâ€™t.â€ Arleneâ€™s diverse network of informants was infamousâ€”a mixture of truth and town lore, and eerily accurate. Elle scurried after her, blocking her before she reached the door. â€œYou canâ€™t drop a bomb like that then wiggle out of here with a â€˜see you in church.â€™ What were you talking about?â€
â€œFirst of all, I have a very natural swing to my hips. Itâ€™s what caught Dirkâ€™s eye in the first place, mind you. As for the other, well, Elle, Jeremiah can tell you himself. Donâ€™t worry. Itâ€™s good, I think.â€ She squared her red-jacketed shoulders. â€œLike I said, see you in church.â€
Elle watched her go, thoughts racing. Jeremiah had just been here. Heâ€™d acted perfect, like always. What was Arlene talking about? This time her information network must have supplied the wrong details. What did you hear, Arlene Coulter?
â€œElle, Mrs. Beisner is curious about a discount for buying three pieces.â€ Julianne held out an order pad, tapping the total. During art show openings and art fairs, Elleâ€™s baby sister worked part time for GG Gallery. â€œWhat do you think, fifteen percent?â€
â€œSure.â€ Elle raked her hair with her fingers. â€œWhatever she wants.â€
Julianne observed her sister through narrowed eyes. â€œWhatever she wants? Elle, are you okay?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ Elle walked around Jules to her desk and opened the bottom drawer where her handbag lived. â€œCan you watch the gallery for me?â€
â€œWhere are you going?â€
â€œTo uncover a rumor.â€ She didnâ€™t feel like waiting until dinner to hear his newsâ€”if there was any news.
â€œNow?â€ Julianne called after her.
â€œI wonâ€™t be long.â€ But the front door was blocked by Huckleberry Johns and his fish tank of eco art. Oh, please, not tonight. â€œHuck, what are you doing? Youâ€™re dripping muddy water all over my clean floor.â€
With a lopsided grin, he scanned the gallery, vying for attention. â€œI call it Death at Coffin Creek.â€ He raised his composition of reeking pluff mud and marsh grass. â€œDevelopers are ruining our ecosystem.â€
Elle dropped her shoulders in fake defeat. â€œHuckleberry, you are too good-looking and too young to be so weird.â€ She grabbed his shoulders and turned him around. â€œOut. Youâ€™re stinking up the place. Julianne, we need a mop up here.â€
Huck was an art school dropoutâ€”or, rather, theyâ€™d dropped himâ€”and he hit the sidewalk, protesting, â€œI deserve to be heard.â€
â€œNot in my gallery.â€ Elle stepped out after him. â€œRight message, wrong venue, Huck.â€
Elleâ€™s smile broke. â€œSlob. Talk about it later?â€
â€œIt may be too late.â€
â€œFor who? You or Coffin Creek?â€ Elle backed up the sidewalk in the direction of her car.
â€œYou.â€ Huck hollered between his wide grin, spinning off in the opposite direction, disappearing around the corner.
Elle held the sanctuary door so it closed quietly without squeaking or thudding. She paused for her eyes to adjust to the dim light, then spotted Jeremiah up front, striding across the stage as he rehearsed his sermon, his lips moving in silent recitation.
His movement was graceful and controlled, an extension of his inner being.
â€œHe can preach up a storm, that one.â€ A slight, round-shouldered, snowy-haired Miss Anna Carlisle emerged from one of the sanctuaryâ€™s dark pockets, jabbing her finger toward Jeremiah.
â€œThen we should bring our umbrellas tomorrow,â€ Elle said, giving Miss Annaâ€™s shoulders a hug.
â€œBest to be prepared, I suppose.â€ Miss Annaâ€™s pushed open the sanctuary door. â€œIâ€™m praying for that boy,â€ she said with a wag of her finger. â€œAnd you.â€ Her words were intentional and steady.
â€œFor me?â€ Elle asked.
Elle regarded her for a moment. â€œAre you walking? Can I give you a ride?â€ Elle went with the older woman through the foyer to the outer doors.
â€œI do believe itâ€™s a fine, crisp evening for walking.â€ She buttoned the top button of her blue sweater and buried her hands in the frayed pockets. Elle thought the garmentâ€™s spacious weave would do little against the nightâ€™s chill. â€œGood night, Elle.â€
â€œAre you sure you want to walk, Miss Anna?â€
Elle watched her until she disappeared between the trees and night lights. Then, back inside, she slipped into the back pew and watched Jeremiah practice his message. Sheâ€™d never met a man like himâ€”one who breathed in confidence and exhaled all doubt.
Her emotions tugged between the man she knew and Arleneâ€™s slipup. Whatâ€™s going on, Jeremiah? If anything?
Even for a Saturday-night sermon rehearsal, Jeremiah wore gray slacks and a starched cotton button-down. For the hundredth time, Elle wondered how heâ€™d survived three years in the National Football League, three years of Bible college, and seven years of full-time ministry single.
But she wasnâ€™t complaining. God had saved the best for her.
Under the low stage lights, Jeremiah paused as if waiting for a response. He acted out a laugh, making his way to center stage with an even gait. At the podium, he gripped the sides and leaned toward the empty sanctuary, bobbing his head to the beat of internal words. Can I get an â€œAmen,â€ somebody?
Why not oblige? â€œAmen.â€ Elle rose from the pew as Jeremiah squinted beyond the spotlights into the shadowy sanctuary.
â€œElle, babe? Is that you?â€ He came off the stage with a touchdown power stride. â€œIs everything all right?â€
â€œYeah, fine, butâ€â€”she met him in the middle of the aisleâ€”â€œI heard a rumor.â€
He growled, teasing her. â€œIs that ever good?â€ He touched his lips to hers with the passion that came when they were alone. â€œWhat kind of rumor?â€
â€œSomething about you and my breaking heart, Jeremiah.â€
â€œAnd who delivered such almost horrifying news?â€ He locked his arms around her waist, his hazel eyes searching hers.
â€œArlene Coulter, though she stopped herself when she saw I didnâ€™t know what she was talking about.â€
â€œShe heard from her husband, one of our trusty elders?â€
â€œWho else?â€ Elle broke her gaze from Jeremiahâ€™s, smoothing her hand over the crisp surface of his shirt.
â€œYouâ€™d think the man would know better after twenty-five years of marriage.â€
â€œAnd what should I know after two months of dating?â€
He brushed her hair away from her shoulder, letting his fingertips graze her skin. â€œCan it wait for dinner?â€
His touch was fiery to her. â€œYou tell me. Can it?â€
â€œAre we answering questions with questions?â€
â€œAre we?â€ Some time in the past week theyâ€™d started this new back-and-forth questions-with-questions dance.
â€œDid I start this, or you?â€
â€œDoes it matter?â€
â€œOnly if we want to get off this ride.â€ He pressed his lips to hers again, breathing deep.
His kisses defied all bad news.
â€œTell you what.â€ He held up his wrist to see his watch in the stage light. â€œIâ€™m almost done here. Another thirty minutes. What time does the gallery close?â€
â€œCan Julianne close up for you? Weâ€™ll slip off to dinner.â€
â€œIf I pay her.â€ Elle brushed her hand down the sleeve his oxford shirt. â€œThat girlâ€™s all about moh-ney.â€ She eyed him. â€œMonet. Mo-net . . . Get it?â€
â€œYes, I get it. Artist jokes. So, meet me here in thirty?â€ He walked backward to the stage. â€œRemember, I love you.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s up, Dr. Franklin? If I have to remember . . .â€ She caught the high and low contours of his face as he stood under the lights. â€œNot a good sign.â€
His smile dried up the beginnings of her self-pity. â€œJust remember, Elle.â€
Don’t forget to click the bookcover for more info. And look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions on this book in today’s blog postings.