It’s another book birthday! To celebrate I am sitting at my computer, eating a Dole Whip (alas, not at Disneyland unfortunately) and thinking about some of my favorite scenes in Between Heaven and Earth. This Power of the Matchmaker book was a challenge to write–a fine line to walk with the characters and the all too realistic situations they faced.
I’ve heard from readers already that some are leery to pick this story up, worried that they’ll encounter characters who cross a line they wouldn’t. While I cannot answer for everyone’s personal values, I can assure you that this book holds true to my own. It’s a clean romance about two adults facing some incredibly difficult situations–situations that ultimately (along with the Matchmaker, Miss Pearl) bring them together. But–and here is the key–only after keeping them apart.
To give you a hint of what I’m talking about, I’m sharing one of my favorite scenes today. It’s one that marks a turning point in Matt and Cassie’s relationship, where each realize that the friendship they have could be so much more, if only they would allow it. Starting you mid scene, here’s the background.
Matt feels he’s floundering quite a bit as a parent. He wasn’t around much before his wife died, and he’s paying for it in spades now, as he tries to care for his two little boys. When the youngest gets sent home from preschool with lice (see what serious romance material awaits you!), he’s more than a little freaked out and calls Cassie for help. She comes to his rescue, and after treating the boys and then leaving them in her mother’s care, Matt and Cassie head to his apartment for more lice control. It’s the first time they’ve been alone together, and unromantic as the situation is, they quickly realize it needs to be the last time they’re alone.
“I wanted to preserve something of our old home, something of Jenna’s,” Matt said. “I got the idea that the bedroom would be the place to do it. You know.” He shrugged then walked past Cassie into the room. “This is the furniture and bedding she picked out. That’s the nightstand where she kept her water glass and jewelry at night. The pictures of us—” All traces of lightheartedness fled his expression, replaced by a bleakness so encompassing that Matt dropped to the bed, sitting hunched over as if weary. “The pictures are to remind me of what could have been.”
“What do you mean?” Cassie took a step closer, concerned with the change that had come over him. She knew Matt well enough to recognize his tone of self-recrimination. “There’s nothing you could have done to stop her aneurysm. It’s just one of those things that happened.” For all the times she’d heard such lame sentiments herself, Cassie couldn’t quite believe she was feeding them to someone else now.
“I couldn’t have stopped it,” Matt agreed, “but we could have lived more before it happened. There should be a lot more pictures on these walls.” His hand swept the room, over the dozen or so framed photos that made up his wife’s shrine. “I wasn’t always the best husband.”
“I find that very hard to believe.” Cassie came farther into the room, then sat on the end of the bed, a few feet from where Matt still sat hunched forward, elbows braced on his legs.
“I was caught up in my career and justified it in the name of providing for my family.”
“I imagine that’s something a lot of men do,” Cassie said, strangely relieved to find that was his definition of not being the best husband.
“I don’t want to be like a lot of men,” Matt said vehemently. “I shouldn’t have been. I should have been an attentive husband who loved and appreciated his wife more.”
“But you weren’t, or you think you weren’t,” Cassie clarified. “So you’ve put up all these pictures as a sort of continued self-flogging?”
He didn’t answer, so Cassie stood and walked to the head of the intricately carved four-poster bed and the matching nightstand that held a close up of Matt’s wife. She picked up the photo and returned to the foot of the bed, this time sitting slightly closer to Matt.
“She’s very beautiful,” Cassie said, admiring the picture of the smiling, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman.
“Jenna was beautiful. Inside and out.”
Was. The word struck Cassie’s core. Jenna was never coming back. Matt would never hold his wife again. They’d never have another chance to talk or laugh or make love. There was no hope for recovering the past he’d lost. Cassie’s heart physically ached for him as she tried to imagine how awful that must be. She could still have all those opportunities again. Devon would return to her. Life would go on, happier than it was right now. She just had to be patient and try to do her best during this difficult time.
Part of that best can be helping Matt. Maybe that was the reason she had to wait a little longer for Devon to wake up and come back to her. If he were awake now, she wouldn’t be here with Matt. The possibility brought a sharp and conflicted pain to her chest. She certainly wasn’t wishing for Devon to remain as he was. But since he had… well, she could only feel grateful for having Matt in her life, and not just because he could fix things for her.
Maybe I can fix this one big thing for him.
“How old are you, Matt?”
He turned sideways to look at her, question in his eyes. “Thirty-four. Why?”
“The average life span in the United States is somewhere around eighty years now, isn’t it?” Cassie mused. “Another forty-six years is a long time to be alone, don’t you think?”
“What is it you’re suggesting?”
She wasn’t quite sure. She was sort of making this up as she went, but she hadn’t forgotten everything she learned in school. She relied on that training now, along with the sincere desire to help him.
“Keep all of these pictures up for now but give yourself a deadline for when they need to come down.” Cassie stood and, starting with the pictures on the wall, studied the couple in each. The first two photos showed a younger Matt, dressed as he did now, in jeans and an untucked shirt, but the farther she moved around the room, the more the photos changed. Jenna’s hair was perfectly styled, and she wore more jewelry. Matt’s shirts were tucked in and accompanied by ties and jackets. The locations changed from places like the beach to fancier venues.
“Events through my employer,” Matt said, as if he’d heard her unspoken question. “NBA stuff.”
“Do you miss it?” Cassie asked.
“Not as much as I thought I would.”
She heard the revelation in his voice and turned to see that his face mirrored the discovery of his statement.
“It was an exciting life,” Matt said, “but I was missing out on the real excitement.”
“Like head lice.” Cassie grinned.
“Exactly.” Matt laughed.
She turned back to the photos and finally placed the one in her hand on the nightstand again.
“As you were saying…” Matt prompted.
Good. He wanted to hear this. He wanted to feel better. She’d learned during her internship that there were people who, oddly enough, didn’t want to get better but preferred to remain miserable, though Matt had never struck her as that type.
“Keep all of these up for now,” Cassie repeated, “but give yourself a deadline for when they need to come down. Maybe by the one year anniversary of Jenna’s death. When is that?”
“January.” Matt was looking down again.
“All right.” Cassie surged forward with her plan. “In January, I will come and help you take these down if you’d like, or you can do it gradually over the next few months. That might be better. You can keep one out, maybe this one.” She glanced again at the picture on the nightstand. “And the boys ought to have a photo of their mother in their room or readily available to them, too.”
“So I take the pictures down, then what?”
His interest encouraged her. “With each picture you take down, you have to forgive yourself for something with your relationship with Jenna, something from the past. You need to say it out loud and literally pack it up for good, put it in the box with the picture and tell yourself that it’s in the past. That part of your life is done. Unfortunately, none of us get a do-over.”
Even Cassie realized she wasn’t going to get that. Devon would never be able to live the first five years of Noah’s life. They couldn’t have those lost years back, but they could at least go forward together, just as Matt needed to move forward.
“What we get is a ‘do better.’” That’s pretty good. Her education was kicking in now, filling her with excitement and ideas. “With each picture you remove, you should put up a new one of a memory with you and Austin and Asher, of the things you’ll be doing with them between now and then. These will be your doing better photos.” Instead of punishing himself, Matt would see his successes and the happiness he could have with his boys now. “Along with putting the pictures and the past away, you need to make some long term plans for the future.”
“I did,” Matt said. “I sold our house, bought a new car, got a new job, moved.”
What more could you ask? she imagined him thinking. She was going to ask anyway, going to push him a bit.
“What about pursuing a new wife?”
His gaze was sharp as he turned his head to her again. This time he sat up so they met eye-to-eye.
“You think it’s that easy?”
“I didn’t say anything about it being easy or hard or anything else,” Cassie said. “I just asked you to consider it. You’ve got two little boys to raise, and you’ve got your whole life ahead of you.” What is with the trite phrases tonight? “You could make some woman very happy, and you could be happy, too.”
“I’m happy now.”
“Liar.” The word was out before she realized it. Cassie clapped a hand to her mouth as she uttered an apology. “I didn’t mean that. You’re not a liar.”
“Any more than you are, at any rate.” Matt looked at her appraisingly. “I’d say we’re both pretty good at pretending, though you’ve had a few more years than I have to perfect the deception.”
“Some things make me very happy,” Cassie said defensively. “Like Noah. I love being his mom. We have a lot of fun together.”
“And yet…” Matt prodded.
Cassie shrugged. “Okay, so the nights are bad. I miss Devon. I’m lonely. And sad. A lot.” She released a breath and looked away, not quite believing she’d just told him so much, so easily. How had this conversation been turned toward her problems? This was supposed to be about helping Matt.
“I know you feel all those same things,” Cassie said. “The difference is you have the choice to move on. I get that you’re still grieving right now, and dating probably sounds terrifying.” It did to her. She could only feel grateful that wasn’t her problem. “But you don’t have to do it all right now. I’m just saying that you need to quit punishing yourself for the past. No one’s perfect. Be as good as you can now, for Austin and Asher and for yourself. That probably means figuring out how to not be alone for the rest of your life.”
There. She’d said it. Now let him hate her or not.
Matt leaned closer, bracing his hand on the bed, so close to Cassie’s that their fingers were nearly touching. “The night I called you and asked if we could be friends I figured out how to not be alone.”
“That’s not what I—”
“It’s not a perfect situation.” Their gazes locked. “Some of the kinks are pretty big, but I think it mostly works. I’m happier. The boys are happier— mine and yours— when we’re together. I’d like to think that you do a little better, too, that my friendship maybe eases a bit of that loneliness you just admitted to, or that I’m at least worth hanging onto for my repair skills.”
“You are. You do.” Cassie fumbled for the right words that wouldn’t say too much and finally settled on his. “I am. Happier.”
Neither moved for a long moment. Part of her never wanted to move but wanted to suspend time in this moment, with Matt sitting so close that every nerve in her body was aware of him. His hair was a mess from the many times he’d run his hands through it all evening in various stages of frustration. She longed to reach out and smooth it down for him, the same way she wanted to soothe the hurt in his life.
In his eyes, she read unmistakable desire, which she knew she should have rejected at once, but it felt good to be noticed by a man. Probably without even realizing it, Matt frequently said and did things that made her feel like a desirable woman instead of the frumpy school secretary and soccer mom she worried she’d become.
Her gaze slid down to his arms and hands that were always serving her. How she wanted to feel those arms around her, not in a romantic sense so much as to feel of their comfort. She knew what a hug from Matt would mean because she knew what she’d say with hers if she ever gave him one, which she couldn’t. But if she did, it would mean so many things. I’m sorry for all you’ve been through. You’re such a great person. Thank you for being my friend. I need you. I care about you. I—
“I should go.” Cassie stood abruptly. “Tomorrow’s a school day and—”
Matt pressed a finger to his lips as he stood. “Don’t ever feel like you have to hide what you’re feeling or really want to say to me. We’re not sophomores in high school. We’re mature adults with a tricky situation, and a friendship I don’t want to mess up.”
“Okay.” Cassie nodded, then turned to go. Matt caught her arm.
“We’ll do better with each other if we’re honest. So I’ll say it tonight. Being together like this— alone— while awesome, isn’t a good idea. So we won’t do it again because I find you too attractive; we’re both too lonely, and I, at least, am only too human.” He raked his hand through his hair again and sighed heavily. “It would be too easy—”
“Good summary,” Cassie agreed as she hurried from the room.
This time, Matt let her go.
But maybe not forever Because in addition to writing clean romance, I promise happy endings as well. Though, as in real life, it’s not without some pain and sorrow along the way.
You can find Between Heaven and Earth here in ebook. The paperback will be coming in the next few months as well.
Happy reading and enjoy those last few weeks of summer!