Former bad girl Katie Stone can feel the weight of her reputation settle over her as she drives home for the first time in years. Feeling deeply guilty about her past mistakes, Katie wants to do the right thing for once. But the small town where she grew up is not nearly as forgiving as she’d hoped. Despite it all, she’s determined to help her parents cope with her mother’s recent illness, and Katie finds a surprise ally in the man next door.
Asher Powell never minded being the son of a small-town pastor until a recent breakup leaves him wounded by lifelong members of his church. He remembers his new neighbor as a mean-spirited high school troublemaker, but he senses that her newfound faith and desire for forgiveness are sincere.
Through an unexpected friendship, two people from different worlds find peace, hope, and a second chance they never dreamed was possible.
An SUV pulled into the parking lot near her, and darn if the shaking didn’t start back up. Asher emerged a second later, tall and blond and much too determined. She’d been dying to talk to him for days, and now she couldn’t even think of a single word.
He passed by the green sno-cone hut and walked right up to her isolated table. “I see I’m not the only one addicted to sugar.”
She raised her cup an inch, hoping she didn’t look as completely uncomfortable as she felt. “It’s one of the few things I missed in this town. That and the train parking on the tracks during rush hour.”
His chuckle seemed forced, and she couldn’t blame him. Nothing about the two of them being friendly made sense. He was the golden boy who did no wrong. She was the wild child who left havoc in her wake. He’d grown up in church. She grew up thinking Sundays were meant for beer drinking and football.
The sun blazed overhead, yet Asher hadn’t moved.
“Aren’t you going to get one?” She pointed to the sno-cone hut and raised an eyebrow. The line was starting to grow.
He shifted his weight and tucked both hands into his pockets. “The truth? I saw you sitting here and wanted to say hi. You left church before I could talk to you.”
Katie hung her head, embarrassed. “Yeah, about that. Please tell your dad I’m sorry if I distracted him. I wasn’t feeling well.”
“It’s fine. He can’t even see past the first few rows when the lights are on him.” Asher motioned to the space next to her, a silent request for permission.
She sighed and patted the table top – partially glad and equally terrified that he hadn’t just scolded her and walked away.
He sat and leaned his elbows on his knees. She took another bite, but even the ice dissolving in her mouth couldn’t take away her resurged nervousness.
“I was surprised to see you there.” He stared aimlessly at the church across the street.
“I was also glad.”
They turned to face each other at the same time. She was sure she’d heard him wrong, but his pressed lips and weighty stare told her she hadn’t. “Why?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I was antsy and irritable, and then I saw you.” His laugh was tight, but genuine this time. “Pale as a ghost and completely mortified. And I thought, finally, there’s someone in this building who’s being real.”
Katie’s next bite missed her mouth, and she quickly put her cup under her chin to catch the runoff. Asher handed her a napkin.
“Thanks.” After she’d wiped off the red goo, she set down the nearly empty Styrofoam cup.
He eyed her jerky movements. “I take it you weren’t expecting that response.”
“Um . . . no. You’re the heir to the pulpit. You’re supposed to sing ‘Amazing Grace’ and tell me how wonderful everyone is.”
Asher’s shoulders dropped. “If you’re expecting me to spew rainbows and sunshine every time I speak, then you picked the wrong person. That’s not who I am.” He stood abruptly.
She knew unspoken disappointment. She’d seen it in people’s eyes her whole life. But somehow, seeing it in Asher’s made her want to erase every word she’d just said.
“Wait.” She grabbed his hand before he could walk away. “I went there today because you were kind enough not to treat me like a stereotype. I’m sorry I didn’t give you the same courtesy. You can be as gloomy as you want to be. I promise.”
A stream of laughter echoed from the nearby swings while Katie waited for absolution.
It came with a squeeze to her fingers. “Don’t mind me. I’m extra sensitive today.”
Katie let go of his hand, feeling strangely flushed by the simple touch, and scooted over so he could sit back down…
This story was all kinds of satisfying, and I’m warning you now, this will be a long review. If you want the short review, stop reading after the next paragraph!
You’ve heard the saying ‘Got me in the feels’? Well, this story got me in just about every ‘feel’ I’ve got! My heart alternately ached and swelled, my pulse pounded, my eyes leaked, my soul smiled, and I actually put the book down for half a day when I was about 90% of the way through because I didn’t want it to be over yet. I wanted to savour each and every step of the journey, and I wanted to take those final steps at the end of the day when I could sit down and forget everything but this story.
First of all, don’t let the cover fool you. This isn’t a sunshine and rainbows kind of story. But it is full of hope, and oh! is it rewarding! Katie has never had a great relationship with her parents, and her bad-girl reputation in Fairfield was well-earned. She always considered her best friends, Laila and Chad, and later her boyfriend, Cooper, her real family, but four years ago, after a night of disastrous choices, she fled Fairfield without a word.
She’s never spoken to them since.
Four months ago she finally hit rock bottom and found herself at a women’s shelter where, with the help of Reverend Snow, she prayed a prayer that changed her life. Having so recently broken free of the past, the last thing she wants to do is return to Fairfield where it will confront her at every turn. But her mother has recently been diagnosed with MS and her father has pleaded with her to come home. That, in itself, speaks volumes. And it’s her chance to finally do the right thing; to live the change she has been embracing. And that’s where this story starts.
Asher is Katie’s antithesis in many ways. He’s grown up with the pressure of being a pastor’s son – the example for everyone to follow – and he’s always done his best to meet that expectation; until a year ago, when a lapse in judgement turned into a public crucifixion of his character. He knows he made a mistake, but the lies, judgement, and hypocrisy levelled at him by members of his own church family have left a bitter taste. He hasn’t abandoned his faith, but he isn’t ready to return to his father’s church either.
It was achingly beautiful watching Katie and Asher’s friendship develop and deepen (not to mention downright swoony at times!), and it was refreshing to have a hero and heroine who were so real with each other. Katie has never had the experience of forming a healthy relationship with someone – especially a male – and as much as she wants to leave her past behind, she also struggles to learn healthier patterns for the future. As Asher struggles with exactly what this means for him, his father gives him some very sound advice:
“You need to make a decision. Either be with her and accept the bad with the good, or get out of her life. Because like it or not, you represent Christ to her, and the last thing she needs is for you to walk away when things get hard.”
What wonderful words of wisdom! (I loved Asher’s parents, by the way!) And perhaps the most beautiful aspect of this story was the way in which Asher followed this advice, giving Katie the grace and the space to make mistakes, even as he worked through his own regrets and pain, and being willing to make himself vulnerable in order to be the example Katie needed.
The way in which Katie helped her parents was also a beautiful metaphor for her own journey through the story. At the beginning of the novel, Katie’s parents’ home is a hovel. It reeks of urine, cat litter, chicken stock, and soiled laundry, all magnified by hot, humid air, and every room is stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of wholesale stock her mother has been buying to sell on ebay. It’s difficult enough for an able-bodied person to manoeuvre through the house, let alone someone with MS. And so box by box, day by day, Katie sorts through her parents’ house, throwing, selling, donating; and slowly, room by room, the house becomes habitable again.
Conversely, Katie wants to ignore the past she has ‘boxed’ away, the most confronting aspect of which is Cooper, her emotionally manipulative ex-boyfriend. (I should point out that this book deals openly, but tastefully, with the subject of physical intimacy outside of marriage; both its temptation, and the way it complicates and brings pain when not kept to its rightful place.) With Asher’s help, Katie begins to see that the only way to truly move beyond her past is to open the boxes and deal with what’s in there. And yes, it will hurt; it will take time; and it will make her vulnerable in a way she has never experienced before. But it will also bring her hope and peace like she has never experienced before.
This is such a dynamic, raw, and heartfelt journey. I simply cannot recommend it highly enough. I’m sending this one ‘straight to the pool room‘.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Buy now US: Amazon
Release date: 13 September 2016
Publisher: Waterfall Press
Author’s website: http://www.tammylgray.com/