~ About the Book ~
After a year of grieving her divorce and living a life permanently stuck on pause, Laila Richardson is finally ready to have her own happy ending. Then a listing for a quaint cottage in another town answers her prayers for a fresh beginning—one that will bring her closer to her new boyfriend, Ben. Unfortunately, in her small town of Fairfield, Georgia, letting go of the past is virtually impossible. No one wants to see her move on, including the man who destroyed her heart to begin with.
Chad Richardson has spent years in misery but finally has his life on somewhat stable ground. When he learns his ex-wife is dating, he knows it’s time to go back and fight for the life he abandoned. Bolstered by his newfound sobriety, Chad has every intention of winning back the woman he loves, even if that means facing old demons that are waiting for him to fail.
Passions run deep as two souls searching for a second chance find the courage to let go of old patterns. Can they recognize that their dreams are still possible, even when forged from a broken past?
Release date: 27 June 2017
Publisher: Waterfall Press
~ Excerpt ~
“Why are you here?”
They were still too far apart. At least six feet. The hair around her face blew slightly in the breeze while the rest stayed locked in a tight braid. He wanted to tug out the hair band, loosen the pieces, strand by strand, and pull her to him, like he had in every dream for the past two years.
“For you.” Why else would he have come home? Without her, Fairfield was empty.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath. “But why are you here?” She stressed the word like it was bigger than just their house, like it encompassed the town, maybe even the state.
“You told me to come back when I had my life in order.”
Her lip trembled, and it was all the invitation he needed. Three long strides and he was within arm’s length. His hands itched to touch her skin, to kiss the spot on her neck that would make her purr. To have her run her fingers down his back.
“Laila, I’ve missed you so—” He reached for her, unable to do anything else, but she slipped away before he made contact.
“I can’t . . . No . . . I won’t do this.” As if she were shaken out of a fog, she steadied her gaze. “You need to go.”
That’s not going to happen.
He stepped closer and she stepped back, almost colliding with the tree behind her. She set her hand on the bark and moved until the low hanging leaves were practically a guard in front of her.
“I just want to talk to you.”
“I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want you here.” Her voice was hoarse, as if she’d been yelling for hours.
“You don’t mean that.” He stepped toward her again, wishing they were enclosed so he could keep her from running. He could see she wanted to, and he didn’t blame her, but the guy who had hurt her was gone. That horrible, destructive guy no longer existed. “I’ve changed.”
“You always say that. It’s your favorite line.” Her words came sharper this time, less strangled. “But honestly, it doesn’t matter, because I don’t care anymore.”
For one horrifying second, he believed her, but then moisture filled her eyes, and he knew she cared just as much as she always had. Too much, she used to say, but that was what made Laila so special. Those who had the privilege to be loved by her were forever changed.
He swallowed and glanced up at the live oak they’d envisioned their kids climbing on one day. It’d grown close to ten feet since he left. “She’s gotten tall. You were right about it holding a tree house. It’s perfect.” A dead branch blocked his vision of her, so he snapped it off.
“Are you really talking about our tree?”
Frustration rippled through him. “Only because you keep saying things you don’t mean.” It was torture. Absolute torture standing there, this close, her perfume weaving its way into his senses. He’d picked out the scent himself. Had kissed every inch of the skin it lingered on, and now he couldn’t even touch her.
“I’m sober now.” He said that words like used to say I love you. Maybe that would break through the fortress around her.
But it only made her eyes go cold. “You don’t get to show up here after a year of no contact and say that to me.”
“You kicked me out and changed the locks. You told me not to come back until I had my life together. Well, I’m here and my life is together.”
~ Review ~
Wow. Just wow. I’m going to sum up this novel with three Rs: Raw, Real, and Redemptive. My Hope Next Door blew me out of the water, and if you’ve read that you’ll already know a little of Chad and Laila’s story, but My Unexpected Hope just proves once again that few writers handle raw characters and difficult subjects like Tammy L. Gray.
Chad and Laila have a lifetime of history behind them. Best friends and soul-mates since kindergarten, married at the tender age of eighteen and together for seven hard-fought years of marriage, but driven apart by Chad’s addiction to alcohol and drugs. Well, on the surface, anyway. The truth is that there are issues that go much deeper than addiction or sobriety for both Chad and Laila, and right to the heart of what makes a relationship strong enough to weather the rough times.
I’m not sure I’ve ever cheered two characters on as heartily as I did Laila and Chad. On the one hand, Chad has been sober for nine months and he’s holding a steady job. What he’s achieved is monumental. But Laila’s reluctance to trust him again is also completely understandable. Temptation is always going to be there, and old habits will be crouched, waiting for a weak moment—especially when Slim, the local dealer, has Chad in his sights. Laila has also finally gotten a taste of what a non-dysfunctional relationship is like in her new relationship with Ben. As much as she loves Chad, she can’t go back to what they had. The question is, can they work through their pain and learn to love each other in a whole new, healthier way?
I really can’t overstate how compelling this story was. The consequences of drug and alcohol addiction were portrayed realistically but tastefully, not only in the issues that Chad and Laila need to work through, but through secondary characters such as Chad’s father, Laila’s mother, and a beautiful little girl named Sierra. Yet, amidst the disappointment and heartache, Chad and Laila also demonstrate the beauty that can be forged through all that ugliness and pain.
Having been previously married, there are some references to the physical desire Chad and Laila have for one another, but one of the most beautiful aspects of this story was that they made a deliberate choice to cultivate the emotional intimacy that had been missing from their marriage previously, without the added complication of physical intimacy. It means learning to be honest with each other about their struggles, their failings, and their needs, but also learning how to be the person that the other needs in those moments. As a result, there is a depth to this romance that is not often found in the genre.
My heart was totally and utterly engaged in this story, and I can’t wait to see what’s next from Tammy L. Gray.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has not influenced the content of my review, which is my honest and unbiased opinion.
* Learn more about Laila and Chad in this Character Spotlight.
~ Related Books ~
Read my review for My Hope Next Door.
~ About the Author ~
Tammy L. Gray lives in the Dallas area with her family, and they love all things Texas, even the erratic weather patterns. She writes modern Christian romance with true-to-life characters and culturally-relevant plot lines. She believes hope and healing can be found through high quality fiction that inspires and provokes change.
When not chasing after her three amazing kids, Tammy can be spotted with her head in a book. Writing has given her a platform to combine her passion with her ministry.