Given a second chance,
I write about second chances
*My guest this week is author Jan Scarbrough. Take it away Jan!
When I was thirty-eight, I almost died. I was in the intensive care unit for four days. After I recovered, I decided it was time to make my dream of becoming a novelist come true.
Tangled Memories was one of the first two novels that I wrote after my recovery. It was a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist. First published by ImaJinn Books, a publisher that embraced paranormal romance before vampires became popular, Tangled Memories has had an eventful history hopping from one small publisher to the next. I now have my rights back and have given my old book a “second chance” makeover.
After my life-threatening illness, I wondered “what if” we were all given second chances. What would we do? And especially, what would happen to a heroine if she were given another chance to find her true love? In Tangled Memories, there’s a supernatural suspense element, but there’s also a happy ending. I like to write about heroines who find true love, but grow in the process. My heroines learn from their mistakes and embrace the second chances they are given—as we all should do in real life.
Blurb for Tangled Memories
After losing his wife, Dr. Alexander Dominican is determined his infant daughter will not grow up motherless as he did. Offering sensible, kind kindergarten teacher Mary Adams a marriage of convenience seems like the perfect solution. The widow’s husband left her with a mountain of debt. For Alex, paying it off is a small price to pay for his daughter’s happiness. Until his sensible new wife begins to lose her mind.
On the day of their marriage, Mary starts having frightening hallucinations of medieval England—visions that feel more like the memories of woman who lived centuries before. More terrifying, someone—or some thing—is stalking the new mistress of Marchbrook Manor. Could it be one of the sinister servants? Or Alex himself? Alex is reawakening hidden desires and longings in Mary, but until she can untangle the web of nightmares and secrets, she can trust no one. Not even Alex.
Alex has no idea he’s unleashing a destiny that’s taken him seven hundred years to fulfill.
If Alex and Mary are to salvage their future, they must first unravel centuries of…Tangled Memories.
Excerpt – Tangled Memories
His eyes were gray. I had never noticed before. They weren’t the color of slate but smoky and mysterious.
Swallowing a hard knot of dread that surfaced in my throat, I walked down the silent aisle toward him. Chin held high, very lady-like in posture and demeanor, a trace of smile upon my lips—I was the picture of confidence.
Inside, I trembled.
I stopped in front of the altar. A cloying scent of gardenias assaulted my senses. How curious the delicate white flowers in my bouquet should be so overpowering. Just like the man beside me. Just like the deep, heady gray of his eyes.
I extended my hand. He took it, and I drew a breath and held it. The firmness of his fingers surprised me.
“Friends.” The minister glanced up at us and smiled. “We are gathered together in the sight of God to witness and bless the joining together of Mary and Alexander in Christian marriage.”
Alex was tall, so tall I had to look up to connect with those mesmerizing eyes. I was aware of my breathing, erratic and shallow. I’d married for the second time in my life and, once again, my reasons were more practical than romantic.
How even more ironic was the Methodist minister’s white stole, a symbol of purity and love. I felt neither pure nor in love. His black robes better matched my somber mood.
“I ask you now,” Reverend Watts continued, “in the presence of God and these people, to declare your intention to enter into a union with one another.”
To enter into a union.
Heaven help me. Would it be a union? How could it be? Our union was a business arrangement, plain and simple. I understood that. For some reason though, sadness settled around my heart.
Reverend Watts looked at me. “Mary, will you have Alexander to be your husband to live together in holy marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?”
Alex’s penetrating gaze burned upon my upturned face. “I will,” I said at last.
“Alexander, will you have Mary to be your wife?”
From underneath my lashes, I watched him. He wore his black hair swept back and long, curling at his neck. A stray lock touched his forehead and set off his eyes. His high cheekbones and jawline gave him a classic look. His lips were full and inviting. Enigmatic in his formal black tuxedo, crisp white shirt, and bow tie, he seemed a brooding Byronic hero. Handsome, though austere, his masculine good looks belonged to another century or, at least, on the cover of a romantic novel.
How different would my life have been if I hadn’t become pregnant my freshman year in college…if I hadn’t married Bill…if I hadn’t miscarried? What if I had met Alexander Dominican under different circumstances, before life touched me so cruelly?
“I will.” His deep voice resonated throughout the empty chapel.
Turning from the minister to me, Alex’s eyes brightened as his gaze captured mine. Out of habit, I licked my lips, but nothing eased my tension. The strain I felt surely communicated to the self-assured man who held my hand. Did he feel the hypocrisy of our oath? Or was he simply satisfied with a marriage of convenience?
Daring him with my stare, I narrowed my own eyes in challenge to his casual acceptance of our deceit before God. His black brow lifted to meet my taunt. He cocked his head as if to tell me I could yet back out. I could walk away a single woman. Poor, but single.
I shifted my gaze, unable to continue our silent joust. He knew full well I couldn’t back out. Bill’s death had made my current situation untenable.
“Let us pray. Eternal God, creator and preserver of all life.”
I bowed my head but couldn’t shut my eyes. My dilemma didn’t seem right. Nothing seemed right these last few weeks. Not since the dark-clad police officer had come to my door telling me my husband of eight years had been killed in a car accident.
Bill and I hadn’t been lovers in the end. Or even in love. Oddly, ours had been a pragmatic marriage because of the baby…the baby who died. Yet, we had made a compact and married before God. I had honored our agreement, much as I planned to honor my new one with this man by my side.
When the prayer ended, the minister motioned us to face each other and join both our hands. I gave my bouquet to Gail, my maid of honor. She hesitated as if to object, then took it. I was able to accept Alex’s free hand. The grip of his fingers transmitted tingling warmth through my arms. Trite as it sounds, I felt my heart skip a beat.
What was this reaction? It had been a long time since I’d felt sexual attraction, and I certainly did not expect to feel ardor toward this man with whom I had signed a contract. What good would my feelings do? Although married, we had an arrangement. Ours would be a platonic relationship. Because his wife Allison had died so suddenly, I would be a mother to his infant daughter. He would pay my debts.
Why had I agreed to such a stark and precise agreement? It left no room for this unexpected play of emotion.
“I, Alexander, take you, Mary, to be my wife.”
To be my wife.
My throat constricted. I had met Dr. Alexander Dominican the night I lost my baby. The partner of my regular OB-GYN, Dr. Hilliard, Alex had been on call. Still regretting my teen years, I knew I had been such a fool to let myself get pregnant.
Straightening my shoulders at the thought, I caught the slight narrowing of Alex’s eyes, and turned self-consciously from his scrutiny. What did he really think about me? Did he remember that scared eighteen-year-old-patient of eight years ago? I had changed. Did he know I’d changed? Did he care?
The minister nodded. Summoning all my willpower, I repeated in a hushed voice the same vows. My hands were damp when Alex released them to turn to his best man, Dr. Hilliard. At the same time, Gail handed me a wide gold band. Unable to meet Alex’s gaze, I took his left hand and slid the band across his third finger.
A strange feeling of familiarity enveloped me. In a different time, I believed he would have bowed and kissed the back of my hand. Today, he held onto it and gently slipped the new wedding band into place on my finger. I glanced up to find his eyes appraising me. As I tightened my lips, my returning gaze did not falter. The weight of the ornate, gold ring nudged into my flesh and created a symbolic link between us.
“Bless, O Lord, the giving of these rings, that they who wear them may live in your peace and continue in your favor all the days of their lives.”
Alex smiled a slow, half smile, as if he understood something I had failed to discern. The smile softened his stern features, bringing back my recollection of the gentle doctor who had once comforted and cared for me. I offered a smile in reply and was gratified to see his eyes lighten in response.
The minister joined our hands together again and wrapped his white stole around them. He cleared his throat and raised his voice to include all the guests in his pronouncement.
“Now that Alexander and Mary have given themselves to each other by solemn vows with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings, I announce to you that they are husband and wife; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”
A surprising disquiet pricked my scalp and traced down the back of my neck. What was wrong? I swallowed once, to ease the dryness in my mouth and then looked up from our joined hands. We were husband and wife. It seemed so appropriate, so right. As if it was meant to be. But how could it under the strained circumstances?
“Are you going to kiss the bride?” I heard amusement in the minister’s voice.
Alex released my hands. I felt oddly bereft. He stared at me, his eyes shadowed by coal-colored lashes. I read the speculation in them. He lifted his hands, and I fixed my gaze upon them, charmed by the beauty of his tapered fingers. His hands lingered in the air briefly, and then Alex raised the thin veil from my face. My gaze now held spellbound by his, I watched as he gently elevated my chin with a fingertip and caressed my cheek with a thumb.
For an instant, my heart hung suspended in my chest, then dropped into a relentless beat. Why did I welcome the touch of his hand upon my skin?
He stood so very close. His warm breath touched my face. I saw the flecks of dark in the lighter gray of his eyes. My own eyes widened in dismay as Alex lowered his lips to mine, tenderly touching them with a kiss so poignant it pierced my soul.
The kiss startled us both. I could tell by the way he hesitated, seeming to gasp for breath. With his left hand, he caressed my face, connecting us to each other in an untold way. I found it hard to breathe. I found it hard to move. In the recesses of my mind, warning bells clamored.
I straightened my shoulders and shifted my chin away from his touch. We may be married, but his kiss was not appropriate for two people with a business arrangement. Awkwardly separating, we held each other’s gazes an instant. I felt dazed, swaying from side to side. Alex set his jaw and glanced away.
“Congratulations.” Reverend Watts pumped Alex’s hand.
Gail gave me my bouquet and offered me a swift hug. Her face was strained, her lips pursed. “I hope you’ll be happy, Mary.”
Holding on to Gail’s hug longer than necessary, I then stepped back, embarrassed. I knew she was upset with me for marrying Alex. My friend had tried to talk me out of it, especially so soon after Bill’s death. My reasons were wrong she told me. I was being purchased like a broodmare for the price of my late husband’s gambling debt. A significant gambling debt, I tried to remind her. Bill had owed more than three hundred thousand dollars that became my debt after his death. I had no other way out. Gail and I had argued. It was no surprise we now had so little to say to each other. We treated each other uneasily.
Nearby, Dr. Hilliard congratulated Alex, slapping him on his back.
“How do you capture the pretty ones, my man?” Dr. Hilliard asked. “How do you do it? You’ve got a beauty here for a wife. I ought to know….” He finished his sentence with a meaningful wink.
I thought his remark crude. He was my gynecologist, after all, and, of course, knew me in a medical sense. But I overlooked it and allowed him to congratulate me with what I thought was to be the obligatory kiss for the bride.
It was more like a lover’s kiss. His tongue invaded my mouth. He held me tightly with too much familiarity.
Tasting bourbon, I abruptly ended the kiss, tossing my head as if to fling the flush of outrage from my heated face.
“Why, Dr. Hilliard,” I snapped. “You certainly have a knack for exploratory surgery. Did they teach you that in medical school?”
He laughed. “Yes, Alex, I love a woman with spunk.”
“Or is it just my women you love, John?” My husband’s tone was slick ice.
I tried to assess the undercurrents swirling around me, only to find Alex’s stony demeanor unreadable.
Thankfully, Reverend Watts interrupted our conversation. “Please step into my office to sign the marriage certificate.” He stepped back to allow us to precede him out of the quiet sanctuary.
Alex took me possessively by the hand and tucked it under his arm. He kept hold of my fingers, his own hand warm and sure. I had no trouble keeping up with his deliberate pace. There was something strangely comfortable about the way our strides matched.
“He’s been my doctor for eight years,” I murmured, “but I never realized Dr. Hilliard could be so insufferable.”
“You’ve only seen him on his best behavior at the office. My esteemed partner usually doesn’t come to work under the influence of Maker’s Mark.”
“He’s not an alcoholic, is he?” I asked, thinking about my late husband.
Alex paused and looked down at me. “Let’s just say he’s walking a fine line where I’m concerned. I’ve been monitoring his behavior. Oddly, it has worsened in the months since Allison’s death.”
I gave Alex a slight smile, grateful for his explanation.
“They are waiting,” he remarked. “Let’s go in.”
The minister’s office was hot. Summer sunshine streamed through open drapes. We crowded inside while Reverend Watts went to a window air conditioner unit and turned it on. A blast of cool air erupted into the room. Returning to his desk, the minister shuffled papers for what seemed an eternity, finally producing a formal-looking document. When he nodded at us, Alex released me and stepped forward. Standing slightly away from him, I watched my new husband bend over the minister’s desk and put his signature on the paper.
My situation seemed so unreal. Gail was angry with me. My trusted doctor had a drinking problem, and I was married…again…to a man who mystified but also intrigued me.
Suddenly, a high-pitched, ringing sound shrilled loudly in my ears, growing in intensity until it blocked out other sounds. Was something wrong with the air-conditioning unit? Alex turned toward me, offering me the pen. His mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear him speak. The stuffy little office grew fuzzy. Sweat beaded on my upper lip. I felt weightless—as if I was floating.
Like Fourth of July fireworks, pulsating lights of exploding colors shot before my eyes. I closed them. In the distance behind my eyes, I saw a young girl dressed in a strange yellow gown. The room vibrated….
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More About Jan Scarbrough
A member of Novelist, Inc., Jan Scarbrough has published with Kensington, Five Star, ImaJinn Books, Resplendence Publishing and Turquoise Morning Press. She writes paranormal Gothic romances and heartwarming contemporary romances with a touch of spice. Her favorite topics are families and second chances and if the plot allows, she adds another passion—horses. Living in the horse country of Kentucky makes it easy for Jan to add small town, Southern charm to her books, and the excitement of a horse race or a big-time, competitive horse show. Connect with her here: