Today I’m interviewing Dana Nelson, redhead heroine of Second Chance Heart, the new romance short story by award-winning, best-selling author Marie Lavender. Welcome, Dana. Let’s begin with the blurb, to give readers a chance to understand what’s going on.
(Readers, please note that I have not yet read the whole story, only the blurb and excerpt. However, I did research book reviews and an author interview from Google page one results to prepare for this, my first-ever character interview.)
BYH: So Dana, tell us a little about yourself. Like me, you’re a blue-eyed, freckled redhead. What do you do? Are you self- or other-employed? Home or office? How do you take your coffee? What car and devices are you traveling with? How much do you travel? Do you have any pets? If so, do they work with you? Do they travel with you at all? What’s your housekeeping style? How easy would it be to fit a partner into your present lifestyle?
DN: Whoa…all right, I’ll tackle one question at a time. I specialize in criminal law, and work in Charlotte. However, I usually represent the victims of heinous acts, not the criminals. I work pro bono, if necessary, to get the job done. And I love coffee! Back on the farm, it was the only thing that kept me going, having to get up at the crack of dawn every day. I take it straight black with a hint of sugar. Since my time in the city, though, I have to admit, I’ve warmed up to the idea of cappucinos and frilly beverages like that. I travel now and then for my job. As an attorney, my job can take me into a lot of different places. I own a red Chevy Cruze, and I can’t leave town without my laptop and my iPhone. No, I don’t have any pets right now, but we had a lot of animals on the farm. I miss my mare, Serenity. I am a pretty organized person so my house is spotless. I guess having a romantic partner would work all right, though I’m not exactly looking for anything serious.
After a wild storm forces her to take shelter in a small town inn, Dana Nelson thinks that all she has to worry about is a brief stay before she heads back to the city. She gets far more than she bargained for…
The last thing she expects is to run into an old flame, and even worse, the man who broke her heart twelve years ago. She’s sure that the only thing remaining between them is a strong attraction for another.
She can’t be more wrong…
The more time she spends with Vince Reynolds, the more she begins to believe she can trust him again. But, can she put her faith in the one man who captivates her, body and soul, or are some wounds too deep to heal?
BYH: So you’re safely checked in and in comes your old flame, Vince Reynolds. Tell us about him, then and now. What are your likes and dislikes about him?
DN: Vince is…complicated. And I don’t mean that he is just because he came from a rough background. He rose above all that, and turned into a great guy. He was always loyal, and a bit overprotective when we were kids. And still, he had these moments when he was incredibly impulsive. It was a dangerous combination for a girl with stars in her eyes, for sure. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into happily ever after. His dark eyes were the worst, though. They still are. I can’t close my eyes without seeing them in my dreams.
BYH: Your story is the same as my grandmother’s and many others: childhood friends become sweethearts, then the guy cheats and crushes her heart. What were your dreams back then? What did you do when those plans changed? How did you pick yourself up off the floor and move on? How long did that take?
DN: I imagined myself as Vincent’s wife. Well, after we got involved romantically. Even though I had ambitions to study law, I thought that our careers would fit well, that we could create a life together. I was wrong about a lot of things. When he cheated, I was broken at first, but I wouldn’t let him destroy the rest of me. I ran from Hertford and never looked back. I tried to make a life for myself in Charlotte. I guess I’m still working on that…
Let’s enjoy the most generous excerpt of this story that I’ve seen, courtesy of the author, Marie Lavender.
The rain seemed like it would never stop, pounding incessantly upon the roof, mocking her. The storm refused to let up. Dana Nelson cursed her circumstances. Just over five hours on her trip back home, she couldn’t see the road well in the onslaught of the rain and was forced to pull into Banner Elk Inn, an establishment off Highway 194. Many others had had the same idea.
It was supposed to be a simple business trip to Lexington. Instead, she was stranded there at the inn, which, according to the proprietor, was named after the town, sitting in the lounge with the last person she ever thought she’d see again. Her ex.
The silence was deafening as they measured one another, and then glanced away as if afraid to get caught. Dana clenched her jaw on the rise of anger. How dare he invade her trip like this? Everything had been fine until they’d stumbled into each other in the hallway. She had already settled in, and he’d just come in the door.
Water droplets dotted his face and he was fairly soaked everywhere else. She remembered those eyes too well. Dark, mysterious eyes to drown in. And, of course, Vince Reynolds still had the muscled physique that would make any woman sigh with longing. He wasn’t just a jock. He had a hard intelligence to him, partly born of the street smarts he’d learned at his father’s side. The rest was from his schooling. But, she also remembered the pain, the heartache he’d left her with. The betrayal. Those feelings came rushing back along with her fury.
He frowned, and his face was hard, unrelenting. He appeared a little older, his dark hair a tad longer. His manner was also more arrogant, much harder than she remembered.
They both exclaimed in the same breath, “What the hell are you doing here?”
And since that moment, after the civilized explanations and after he’d checked in, they’d been sitting in silence. It was unbearable, awkward. If it weren’t for the storm, she would have demanded that he find other accommodations. As it was, all the extra rooms and cottages were taken due to a wedding planned for the upcoming weekend. Before, Vince would have agreed to leave, been considerate of her feelings. But, he was hardly that man anymore. He’d changed, or maybe circumstances had changed him. Besides, she didn’t want him out in that storm any more than she wanted to be. That didn’t mean she cared or anything.
Dana couldn’t care less how he’d fared over the years. She just wanted the moment over so she could go back to her life. She had better options waiting for her back home, including the proposal that Finn Alexander had sprung on her before she left. She had yet to give him an answer, but she knew he was a good man. His compassionate responses to her ideas were evidence of that, and any woman would have accepted his proposal. Her hesitance had nothing to do with the emotional hang-ups of the past. She was just surprised, that’s all. Next time would be different.
She began to wonder what she would’ve said if Vince had ever asked her to marry him. It probably hadn’t even crossed his mind. When she’d been serious about him, she’d found him with another girl. So that was the end. She had shut him out of her life until now, though she had occasionally wondered if he’d regretted his actions. It didn’t matter. She was so over him. Besides, he was like a different person now, definitely someone she wanted nothing to do with.
“I’m going to bed,” she stated with finality as she rose from her chair.
“Fine,” he replied.
She went upstairs to her room, still unsettled, plagued by those dark eyes of his. As she was still in her business suit from the trip, she undressed quickly and donned a pale pink knit nightgown, yanking it over her subtle curves. She glanced around the bedroom. She’d been given the Peach Room, painted in its namesake. It gave off a Victorian appearance with a walnut bed covered in a fine white spread, which was quite soft to the fingertips. Nearby sat an antique desk for writing letters. A Baroque, gilded mirror was nailed against one wall, and she caught the light dusting of freckles upon her nose and cheekbones in the reflection there.
She released a breath, shaking her head at the way her heart raced. It was infuriating that the man still affected her. She’d thought Vince was out of her life for good. She slashed a brush through her thick, shoulder-length mane of flame red curls, and told herself to relax, that the past couldn’t hurt her anymore.
A soft knock could be heard then and with a frown, she went to the door.
Vince stood on the other side. His wavy, dark brown hair was ruffled, as if he’d mussed it with his hands, a habit of his she remembered quite well.
He sighed, didn’t speak for a moment. “I’m…so goddamned sorry, Dana.” His dark eyes were strangely haunted. “I’m sorry.”
She tried to block his view of her nightgown. “For what?”
“You know what for.”
Dana froze, her heart skipping a sick beat. He was apologizing now? After all this time? “It doesn’t matter now,” she said in a hoarse tone.
“The hell it doesn’t. You don’t think I know you, Dana? I know what it looks like when you’re hurt. And that look you gave me downstairs nearly killed me. Those blue eyes of yours always did.” He rubbed at his chest absently, and she looked at the movement like his hand was a foreign object.
She doubted part of what he said, and wondered if he was trying to appear more considerate. Why couldn’t he stay mean? She could hate him easier. “Fine. You said your piece. Now go away.”
She began to shut the door, but he blocked it with his hand. Even as she gasped, he shouldered his way inside and kicked the door closed. He reached for her when she would have backed away, his lips blocking her protests. It was a mistake, a total mistake, she thought in a stunned instant. But, the lure of his mouth was too strong, and she sank into his kiss anyway, whimpering as his tongue swirled over hers. His dark flavor was too enticing. Her breath caught up in her throat, and her body began to burn, to come alive. She remembered the passion between them very well. If she was totally honest with herself, it had been missing with Finn.
“You’re mine,” he muttered hoarsely against her mouth. “I should never have forgotten that.”
Caught between his body and the wall, she could hear the remorse in his tone, but her mind just seemed to stop working. None of it seemed to matter as he kissed the hell out of her. His heat was familiar, so welcome close to her body, and she curled up to it. His arms encircled her and there was a sense of safety, not danger. When his mouth moved over her throat, her eyes closed automatically. After a few moments, her thoughts began to coalesce into something a bit more logical. “This is wrong,” she whispered.
He grunted. “It feels right to me.”
“I won’t be your toy,” she complained, “or a way to pass the time on your vacation.”
“I don’t recall saying that at all.”
It took a moment to find the words. “Vince, I’m the one who’s not free this time.”
He lifted his head at last, his dark brown eyes searching hers. He released her, but rested his hands upon the wall on either side of her. His scent, a mixture of fresh rain and musk, teased at her senses. “Are you implying I wasn’t free when I was with you?”
She hadn’t considered that. “No, but it would make a lot more sense.”
His soft curse was hardly a surprise. She remembered that, too. “I made a terrible mistake, Dana. I know that now just as I knew it as soon as it happened.” He sighed. “The truth is you terrified me.”
“How?” she whispered, hating that she suddenly cared to know the details.
“Things were going well. We had outlined quite a future together, and I…I panicked. I wasn’t ready to get that serious.”
It took her a moment to reply as her emotions went careening into strange territory. She’d be a complete idiot to believe anything he said. “Oh.”
“I’m not explaining my actions away. What I did was inexcusable and I should have talked to you about my misgivings. It still happened. I am sorry, more than you can ever imagine, but it is in the past.” His eyes never left hers and she began to tremble. “Now, you said you aren’t free? You have a man at home?”
She nodded. “I do.” But, a small part of her wondered if Finn had only proposed to her because she claimed she didn’t want to move in with someone without it being serious. Would he have done that? She wasn’t sure. He didn’t seem like the kind of man to be so impulsive.
A flicker of pain crossed Vincent’s face. “Are you happy, Dana?” She hesitated for a moment longer than necessary and it must have shown because he smiled. “That’s rather telling, isn’t it?”
“It’s none of your business,” she snapped, raising her chin. “Don’t be a bastard. Do you want me to be miserable for the rest of my life? Would that assuage your guilt?”
He shook his head. “No, that’s not what I meant. You don’t understand, Dana. Whatever we went through, I do want you to be happy, to find what you’re looking for. If it’s not him, then you need to face it. If it isn’t me, that’s fine too.”
She didn’t like that he was interfering. “So, what was that kiss about?” she managed.
Vince lifted a shoulder. “I was testing myself.”
She cocked her head. “Testing me too, I’d guess.”
He didn’t seem to deny it as the seconds ticked past, the soft click of the nearby clock a mild annoyance.
She sighed. “Look, Vincent, I imagine there will always be a spark between us. But, I can’t exactly overlook what happened.”
He nodded. “I never expected you to.”
“Good, because I’m not sure I can ever forgive you. You broke my heart.” Dana’s voice cracked and tears pressed against the backs of her eyes. She hadn’t realized he still had the power to hurt her. Like he said, that was fairly telling. But, you didn’t exactly get over your first love, she reasoned. Or maybe she should have.
“I deserve that. I really do.” He eased back, and then swept a hand through his hair. She watched as he dug in his pocket, brought out a wallet and unearthed a crisp, white business card. He handed it over to her. “Look, my life is different now. Whether you believe me or not, I’m not that idiot who would throw everything away anymore. I still care about you, Dana, and I always will, though I know you probably think I’m lying. I’m not. Why would I need to? We’ve always had honesty between us. Christ, I still remember you in pigtails at eleven years old.”
He sighed. “Now, I’m leaving in the morning, but if you ever want to talk, I’m here. I’m not asking to get back together with you; that’s far too much to demand of you. I know I hurt you and I deserve any punishment you see fit. But, I am asking you to consider me being your friend. You look like you could use one right now.” He caressed her cheek with a fingertip. “Take care of yourself, kid. Goodnight.”
“Night,” she murmured, blinking in confusion as he left the room. She softly shut the door behind him, then locked it for good measure. Kid. He’d always called her ‘kid’ when they were younger because she was two years his junior, and it was a running joke between them. That he’d remembered that fact perplexed her. But then, they’d had a long history together. Twenty years would do that, though. They were friends as children first before they’d begun to explore the growing attraction between them. They’d played together on the wide open spaces of her family’s Hertford farm in North Carolina. She still recalled swinging on the tire strapped to the tree, which her Daddy had rigged up, and Vince pushing the swing for her. She often reminisced about those innocent days, when they’d explore the woods and creeks together nearby, and walked close to the river on the edge of town. Because she remembered so much, it wasn’t likely he’d forget everything about her either.
She’d tried to put it all behind her. She’d moved away, dated other men, even found Finn. Yet, how could one simple kiss bring it all to the surface again? It had been twelve years since she’d seen him last. The betrayal went deep, though. He’d betrayed more than her trust; he’d done more than hurt her as a lover. He’d killed their connection, their friendship as well. She wondered if he realized that too.
Dana imagined she would never know, and she shouldn’t even worry about it. She grasped his card, about to crumble it and toss it in the nearby trash can. Then a weird urge made her sweep her thumb across the white cardstock and inspect the gold lettering. He was a financial consultant now. Funny, she’d always imagined him at a job more exciting in the end, though he was always good with numbers. Perhaps he had changed, even matured in a way. It didn’t matter in any case. She was just going to move on. Still, something compelled her to slip the card into her purse.
As she went to bed a half hour later, her night was restless. Flashbacks from the past danced on the edge of her consciousness and namely, she remembered the passion she’d had for Vince. Since then, no one had managed to tap into it or bring her to life in bed. She had thought it was about emotional hang-ups, but what if there were just a few people in the world capable of being that kind of fit for her? Even more terrifying, what if only one man would do the trick? One man she really shouldn’t be thinking about. With a groan, she knew she needed to forget Vince…
BYH: Ah, so now there’s an offer on the table from a guy named Finn. That complicates things. How long have you and Finn been an item? You’re concerned that his proposal is more about moving in together and less about love. How do you figure that?
DN: I guess I thought Finn understood that I wasn’t looking for anything serious. I’m loyal to Finn, of course. We enjoy each other and talk a lot. But, beyond that, I don’t know that I’m ready for anything else. He didn’t really pop the question until after I refused to move in with him. That’s what made me wonder.
BYH: Now you find yourself back in Vince’s arms after twelve years. How does it compare to before? There’s a whole lot of pain in the past. How are you dealing with that? How’s forgiveness looking? Is he truly worthy? What’s he doing to earn it?
DN: I think we both have a lot of work through. I don’t know that I’m ready to trust him yet. A few stolen kisses here and there can’t spell out a future. There has to be more than that. I think I need to figure things out on my own first. I know, in some ways, I do want to trust him again, but I can’t go through that heartbreak again. I was convinced Vincent was my soul mate. Now? I don’t know if a soul mate even exists.
BYH: What does the future look like from where you’re sitting now?
DN: Uncertain, for sure. I think that’s why I’ve spent so much time away from home. But, I think I’ll figure it out eventually.
BYH: Tell us about your relationship with your author, Marie Lavender. How did you meet? How exactly do you work together? How do you and her three cats get along? What do you do while she takes a break? Describe a work session with her from your perspective. What do you like/dislike about her writing space(s)?
DN: Marie has been toying with the opening of my story for years. It was only this year when she decided to posit the idea of regret and forgiveness, and if a happy ending was even possible with that kind of premise. I met Marie a long time ago, but this year I guess I finally let her know the deep, dark secrets of my life. It has been a professional relationship that works fairly well. I love her cats! But, then I love all animals. Well…truthfully, her cat Emma has quite an ego so we don’t always get along. LOL. I go to my job while Marie is not writing. And when we reconvene for coffee, or tea in her case, she is like a reporter, asking questions even I don’t feel comfortable answering. As for her writing spaces, some are very nice. But, her desk? Eek! She is messy! However, her method of organization seems to work for her, so who am I to judge?
BYH: How do you feel about the length of your story?
DN: I think it works for me. The thing is, most readers know that stories don’t end with books. They continue on in a reader’s imagination, and that’s what Marie was going for.
BYH: Who would you cast as yourself and Vince on the big screen?
DN: I’m not sure, but Marie has her own ideas. She’s thinking Deborah Ann Woll for me, and Taylor Kinney for Vince. I guess that could work. The man certainly has that ruggedly handsome look, and that grin which makes a woman forget what she’s thinking. Vincent always did that to me.
BYH: Any final thoughts?
DN: Read the book and see for yourself! No, I’m kidding, but I’m sure you’ll find out more in the story…;)
Thank you for joining us to chat with Dana Nelson, heroine of Second Chance Heart, the new romance short story by award-winning, best-selling author Marie Lavender. Thank you for stopping by and sharing with us, Dana. And thanks also to author Marie Lavender for the incredibly generous excerpt.
Amazon Universal link: http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01593TDO6
Book trailer: https://youtu.be/UKYOeFqw5lQ
Bestselling multi-genre author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 21 other books. Nominated in the TRR Readers’ Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015 PnPAuthors Contest. Honorable Mention in the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014 MARSocial’s Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 10 Authors on AuthorsDB.com. Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.
Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for over twenty years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 22 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy, mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. Her current series are The Heiresses in Love Series, The Magick Series and The Blood at First Sight Series.
A list of her books and pen names are as follows:
Marie Lavender: Upon Your Return; Magick & Moonlight; Upon Your Honor; Second Nature; “Lovers Like Us” (featured poem from the book anthology, Poets & Writers in Action); A Little Magick; Second Chance Heart
Erica Sutherhome: Hard to Get; Memories; A Hint of Scandal; Without You; Strange Heat; Terror in the Night;Haunted; Pursuit; Perfect Game; A Touch of Dawn; Ransom; Leather and Lace
Kathryn Layne: A Misplaced Life
Heather Crouse: Express Café and Other Ramblings; Ramblings, Musings and Other Things; Soulful Ramblings and Other Worldly Things