Tuesday Sampler: When You Make It Home by Claire Ashby

When-You-Make-It-Home-800-Cover-reveal-and-Promotional

In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Tuesday’s Sampler features an excerpt from When You Make It Home, a heart-felt romance from Claire Ashby.

As one reviewer said: From the love of books comes the path to love. The fairytales come true, but you have to understand their meaning. The Prince may seem a frog and the princess is clumsy tripping over a shoe, but it is the acceptance and patience that make the love great.

The Story

Meg Michaels, a bookstore owner, has already walked away from two cheating exes. She’s learned her lesson and has her mind set on success—until she gets knocked up. Embarrassed and unwilling to discuss her situation with friends and family, she wears layers to hide the pregnancy.

When Meg gets sick at a party, she’s mortified. Even worse, Theo Taylor, the guest of honor, discovers her secret. Theo, an Army medic wounded in the war, agrees not to reveal her condition, and the two forge a bond of friendship that blossoms into love.

Theo is soon filling all of Meg’s late-night cravings—and not just the pregnancy-induced ones. But can their love overcome all the obstacles that stand between them and creating a happy family?

The Sampler

Claire Ashby
Claire Ashby

I first caught sight of Theo at his welcome home party. A mob shifted around him, jockeying for a position next to the guest of honor. I lingered near the door to the living room and listened to the joyful words and murmur of good wishes directed toward him.

Someone whispered, “… lucky to be alive.”

The doorbell rang and crowd parted. For a moment, he stood alone. Tears burned the
backs of my eyes. I couldn’t see the luck in what was left of him.

Ellie pinched my arm. “Don’t stare,” she said on her way to the door.

I bit my lip, turning away. But my attention found its way back to him, and I sneaked
another look at his arms, surveying the road map of scars trailing away from bandages. My gaze traveled to his face, and I gasped. Theo glared at me with defiant hazel eyes, as if to say, Go ahead and look all you want; I can take it. I knew he’d lived through much worse than I had and that my own problems paled in comparison with his. I could use some of his strength. But, of course, I couldn’t tell him that.

“What’s wrong with you?” Ellie hissed, using the same voice as when she caught me
eating the cookies meant for story time at our bookstore.

She steered me into the dining room, and once she had me cornered, she snatched a box
of tissues and pushed them at me. “Get control of your hormones. We already went over this.

If you want to keep your secret, you can’t get all teary eyed.

“I know.” I blinked rapidly, waving the tissues away. “I’m not crying. I’m sorry. I don’t
know what’s wrong with me.” I pressed my lips together, trying to clamp down on the list my
brain rattled off. I had plenty wrong with me. But a party wasn’t the time for a self-directed
lashing. I could save that for home, after I dispensed a generous share of support to my best
friend, who was desperate to give her brother-in-law the hero’s welcome he deserved.

Ellie hugged me, and the tension between us evaporated.

“Don’t let Theo see you looking at him with those weepy eyes. He gets pissed whenever anyone shows him an ounce of sympathy.”

“Deal. But I wish we could do something for him.” I hadn’t meant to gawk at the guy.

With all the progress updates Ellie had shared with me, I knew far too many details about
his surgeries and struggles. Theo often woke up screaming, but no one said whether his cries came from pain or nightmares. That knowledge haunted me until my overactive imagination filled in the blanks. I knew too much about the man, and I’d never met him before today. Worse, all I could do about it was put on a happy face.

I stepped back and reached out to touch the soft cotton of Ellie’s new yellow dress. “You
look fantastic.” The fabric hugged the curve of her belly, erasing any doubt she was pregnant and not just packing on the pounds.

“Thanks.” She scanned the crowd. “Jake got back late last night,” she whispered. “He
picked Theo up at the rehab facility and brought him to their mom’s house.” The lines around
Ellie’s mouth deepened. “Jake offered to let Theo stay here, but fortunately, their mom didn’t
like that at all. Jake’s optimistic, but I never met Theo before he deployed, you know? I wish I
had.” Ellie rubbed her belly. “Theo’s quiet.”

The doorbell chimed, and Ellie hurried off. I used the chance to slip into the bathroom. I
flipped the exhaust-fan switch and sighed with relief that the hum muffled the noise of the
partygoers. With trembling hands, I turned on the cold water and let the icy stream rush over the insides of my wrists. I took a deep breath and checked my clothes in the mirror.

My new Marc Jacobs jacket covered the basic black T-shirt that hid a waist-contouring
camisole. Skinny jeans and burgundy, open-toed heels completed my look. Almost anywhere
else in the country, my outfit would’ve been perfect for a casual spring evening.

But not in Texas. Early May, and the temperatures had already soared into the mid-90s. To make matters worse, my jeans fit tighter than they had the week before. I’d expected they would loosen after I wore them awhile. At least the cut of the jacket hid my growing belly. My secret is safe for another day.

I licked my lips and swallowed the lump in my throat before rejoining the party. The
chatter and laughter had risen to competitive levels. I couldn’t face trying to fit in, and I fell back into a trance. Theo fumbled around Ellie’s living room, gripping his crutches. One of his arms was heavily bandaged, and he had a thick square of white gauze taped below his ear.

But what sent a shiver through me was the sight of his leg. He had only one.

“Come on. I’ll introduce you,” Ellie said from behind me. She hooked her arm through
mine and pulled me along. “Theo, this is my friend, Meg Michaels.”

“Hello.” He gave a slight nod, shifting on his crutches to extend his hand to me.

Despite the fact that I’d had my eyes on him for most of the last half hour, I’d failed to
notice his hit-the-pause-button good looks. Theo’s injuries drew attention away from his athletic build, but there was no hiding the tall, rock-solid composure. Close-cropped dark hair added to his dangerous edge. But when his full lips lifted into a smile, I could barely stand still at the unexpected warmth that surged through me. That surge skidded to a halt when his brooding eyes locked onto mine.

Theo cleared his throat.

I reached for his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Did he have any idea how much I
already knew about him? My face heated, and I felt like a big dummy while he appraised me as though he had all day. Ellie had disappeared, and I didn’t know the proper protocol for
socializing with a man I inexplicably felt intimidated by. Not that Theo seemed to mind.

He appeared all too comfortable with silence, but I needed to speak, if he wasn’t going to.

So I wouldn’t have to yell over the noise of the party, I leaned into him, despite the fluttering in my chest that made it hard to inhale. “Would you…” Background music and clatter from the
growing crowd swallowed my words.

He angled in closer. “What?”

I kept my eyes on his, refusing to glance at any other part of him. “Can I get you
something to drink? Do you need anything?” I cringed at my voice—too pitchy, too polite.

He shook his head and looked past me.

I mumbled an excuse about helping out with dinner, stepped away from him, and fled to
the back of the house.

Melinda, Ellie’s mother-in-law, darted around the kitchen, yanking covered casserole
dishes from the fridge and shoving them in a row along the counter. How had Theo and Jake
come from such a trim little woman? Her white hair fell in waves around her flushed cheeks.
“Hey there.” I huffed shallow breaths to fend off the strong aroma of browned butter. My
stomach clenched.

“Hi, Meg.” Melinda’s puffy, dark-ringed eyes surveyed the spread in front of her.

“You’re doing an amazing job, but don’t you want to go sit with Theo?” I wrapped my
arm over her shoulders, giving her a squeeze, suddenly aware that no one was looking after her needs. I wasn’t qualified for that job; mothers were not my thing. “Tell me what to do. I’m here to help.”

“Why did I insist Jake and Ellie give Theo a party?” Her voice cracked and her lip
trembled, but she continued to work, tearing foil off macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and corn on the cob. “Theo used to be so popular. He always wanted his friends around—they were all so wild—but only a few of them replied to the invitation.” She slammed her hands down on the table and lowered her head. Her pale-blue eyes were wet and red rimmed, but she held back her tears.

“It’s okay. He’s going to be fine,” I promised, even though I had no clue if that were true.

“He’s not alone. There are tons of people out there. Ellie invited the staff from the bookstore, and Jake has plenty of wild friends.”

Melinda turned to me, nodding. “You’re right. You know, I accepted what Theo had been
through… how he had changed. But that was at the hospital and at rehab where he was
surrounded with guys he could relate to, people who were going through the same thing he was.

It’s different here.” She blinked, and tears slipped in two straight lines down her face. “Every
time I look at a young man I think: Theo should be like that. He shouldn’t have to go through
this. It’s not fair.”

“It’s not, and I’m so sorry.” I moved to hug her, but she wiped at her face and turned
away from me.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related Posts