Home :: Romance :: Sterling Lakes Series, Book 4: Glory of the Heart (ebook and print) by Regina Andrews (Contemporary Inspirational Romance)

Sterling Lakes Series, Book 4: Glory of the Heart (ebook and print) by Regina Andrews (Contemporary Inspirational Romance)

Sterling Lakes Series, Book 4: Glory of the Heart (ebook and print) by Regina Andrews (Contemporary Inspirational Romance)
 
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Perrin Stafford, a war hero, has based his life on the ideals of his father and pursued a livelihood in the realm of stonework and masonry. Returning to Sterling Lakes, he finds the truth about his past.

CC Cogshell has started a new life in Sterling Lakes, but will that move lead her to places she never dreamed of going?

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Sterling Lakes Series, Book 4: Glory of the Heart (ebook and print) by Regina Andrews (Contemporary Inspirational Romance)
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1 Most useful customer reviews (see all reviews):
ROBERT KLEINER
Jun 3, 2015
Wonderful. Story ..........great characters in a very nice setting......a must read for romance writers......
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Sample Chapter

Chapter One

When she heard the steady pounding again, CC Cogshell realized it wasn't the bass beat of the Christmas music blaring in her earphones. Someone was knocking on her front door.

"Be right there," she called, dusting off her hands on her favorite holiday apron then brushing her blond curls away from her face.

Who could be visiting her? She wasn't expecting anyone. She hardly knew anyone after moving in to her cozy house in Sterling Lakes a few months earlier.

More than likely it was probably yet another visitor looking for Patty O'Malley's Bed and Breakfast, just around the bend and a bit further down the pine-laden road from her Sterling Lakes cottage.

"We have company, Bella!" She gently elbowed her elderly black and white cat, reclining lazily against the bowl on the counter. "Mind that icing for me, will you? You know that's for the cookies later on."

Bella glanced up her way then snuggled in closer to the glass bowl while nonchalantly grooming her paw.

Peering through the sheer curtain, CC craned her neck to get a look at who was outside. All she could see through the fairytale snowfall was a broad back in a sheepskin jacket topped with a knit hat.

"Who's he? He came on foot, not in a car? What's with that?" Right then her cell phone rang. She plucked it out of the pocket in her apron and glanced at the caller ID. "Hi, Patty."

"You busy, CC?"

"Still making the cookies for the potluck supper. And getting the door. There's a guy outside."

"A guy? You're a detective. Who is he?"

"I don't have a clue!"

"Are you getting repairs done on the house?"

"No. I have no idea who he is."

"Is he cute?"

The teasing tone of Patty's voice made her smile. "Hard to tell. Looks like he might have nice shoulders."

"Well keep him then, honey. Grab him. Time's marching on, you know. Maybe he's your Christmas present, coming a little early. The answer to your prayers."

"No way, Patty, you know me better than that," CC answered quickly. "How many times have you heard me say 'I just turned twenty-six, I'm single, and I'm loving it?'"

Patty's hearty laugh rang out. "Maybe so many times I'm starting to wonder why you keep saying it. Call me later about the potluck tonight. I'll be getting to the church in a little while."

"Okay." CC slipped her phone into her pocket, and after another check saw that the man was still standing on her front steps. His breath was making steam vapor clouds against the crimson December twilight.

Opening the creaky wooden door, she gave a small smile. "Hi. Can I help you?"

He turned around and faced her. A friendly smile lit his ruddy face, then flickered and disappeared. "Hello." His expression remained pleasant as he removed his cap and slipped it into his jacket pocket.

She caught her breath. Snowflakes danced and swirled around him, settling on his dark hair and longer-than-legal eyelashes. He seemed to be around thirty from what CC could guess. What wasn't up for guessing was the fact that she definitely categorized him as the walking definition of gorgeous.

With his smoldering eyes that danced with energy and intelligence, the strong lines of his clean shaven face, and his aristocratic nose, he made her think of the classic knight in shining armor from her days of reading fairytales. Only today she was all grownup.

"Are you looking for Patty O'Malley's?" she managed to ask, mentally kicking herself for letting her voice sound so squeaky.

His dark eyes seemed to shimmer as he shook his head 'no' to her question, yet there seemed to be a glimmer of something sad in them, too. "Actually, I've found what I'm looking for right here."

"You did? What do you mean?"

She searched his features intently but did not recognize him. That face, she would never have forgotten.

"Do we know each other?" she persisted.

With a shake of his head, he answered, "No, we haven't met yet. I'm Perrin. Perrin Stafford. Nice to meet you."

She took his hand. "Nice to meet you, too. I'm Cydney Cogshell. CC to my friends."

"Didn't mean to talk in riddles, CC."

She opened her mouth to answer him, and at that instant Bella scooted out the door and into the front yard.

"Oh no--Bella!" She pointed to the track her elderly cat had taken.

"Hang on."

CC watched as Perrin moved confidently across the snow-covered ground toward the huge oak tree where Bella had scampered. The cat, as if baiting him, turned and looked his way, then lifted one paw in the air.

"It's like she's saying 'hi' to him," CC murmured, viewing the scene.

She covered her mouth with her hands as Perrin drew closer to Bella. "Careful, she's skittery," she whispered. She sure didn't want to be bothering the Sterling Lakes Fire Department tonight with a call for a cat up a tree.

Before she knew what happened, the visitor had reached Bella, and in one smooth motion scooped her up in his arms. She watched him as he strolled back to her front stoop. His broad shoulders and well-formed hands seemed to dwarf her. Not that the cat seemed to mind. Her eyes were closed, and she was snuggled up against him as he toted her along in the crook of his arm.

He held her out to CC. "Seems like she has a mind of her own."

"That she does. Plus she knows good people when she finds them."

She accepted Bella from him, making sure that she brushed her hands against his.

Just as she had expected, they were so warm it made her smile.

Cradling the bundle of purring warm fur in her arms, she gave Perrin a big smile, knowing he had no clue he had been the one to inspire it.

His eyes held hers for an extra-long, extra-sparkling minute. CC felt a special warmth coursing through her. There was something so charismatic about him.

"Her motor's still running." Perrin nodded knowingly.

Bella turned her head towards him and stretched her neck his way, flicking her pink tongue skywards.

"Look at that." CC widened her eyes.

"We have chemistry. Unpredictable. But wonderful when it kicks in." He looked down at the ground.

"That's true. Well, thanks for getting her out of the yard and back here with me. She's older, and not used to the chilly weather."

Perrin looked at her, a thoughtful look on his face as he listened to her. "My pleasure."

She waited for a moment to see if he was going to say anything else. There must have been a reason that he showed up at her door. Then the smell of burning cookies woke her up out of her fog.

"Oh no--my cookies!"

His eyebrow went up. "Another emergency?"

"I'll be right back." She pushed Bella against his chest and took off. Hopefully, she would get there in time to save that last batch.

Reaching the kitchen in record time, she flew over to the oven and opened the door. "Oh!"

Grabbing two potholders, she pulled first one baking sheet, then another, then another out of the oven, until everything was out of the stove. She lined them up on her countertop and examined them closely. "No smoke. Nothing burned. I am so lucky!"

She slumped up against the island for a second then got a hold of herself.

Reaching for a festive holiday paper plate, she piled on a high stack of cookies and wrapped foil around it.

"He deserves something for rescuing Bella," CC said to herself. She noticed the time. Patty must already be at the church waiting for her.

Hurrying down the hallway, she saw Perrin standing in the entryway by the front door, still holding Bella.

"I'm glad you came in. It's cold out there."

"Looks nice in here. Very warm. Very homey. Everything okay with the cookies?"

"Just in time, but you tell me." She held the plate out to him.

"They sure smell good." He released Bella, who hopped to the wooden floor, and took the plate from CC. "Thanks."

"Thanks for keeping her cozy." She nodded toward Bella, who strutted down the hallway and out of sight.

"She's a very nice cat."

"She is. We've been together for a long time. I hope the cookies taste all right. They're for the potluck supper at the church tonight. I'm supposed to be there in a few minutes."

Perrin raised his hand. "I'll be on my way. I don't want to make you late. You've already been very neighborly."

"That's okay." CC paused for a second. "Are you a neighbor?" she ventured.

He broke into a broad smile. CC felt her toes tingling at the sight of his white teeth and vibrant good looks. "You have a nice way about you, CC Cogshell. No, I'm not really a neighbor. Technically."

"Why'd you come over, then?"

He eyed her squarely, something warm flickering in his expression. "I used to live in this house, growing up. That's quite a while ago. I haven't been back to Sterling Lakes in a very long time, but I'm passing through now and I was wondering if I could take a look around. You know, see the old homestead again. For old times' sake."

Moistening her lips, she said, "You used to live in this house?"

"Yup." His eyes roamed across the dark wood beam floors and up the newly painted walls to the crown molding on the high Victorian ceilings in the entryway. Giving a sigh that sounded full of nostalgia, he focused back on her. "Lots of nice memories. Like I never left."

"A house can do that do you, I understand what you mean. Especially if you were happy here." She glanced at him from the corner of her eye, noticing the faraway look on his face.

He seemed sincere, but the detective in her never took anything for granted. CC flipped back in her mind about the title search. Try as she might, she couldn't remember any owners named 'Stafford'. Her defenses went up. He'd have to wait for his tour. Better safe than sorry.

"We were happy here. Very happy."

She thought he sounded like he was thinking out loud, rather than talking to her directly. He seemed lost in his thoughts.

"That, I can hear; it's coming through in your tone of voice. So nice. It's good to have happy memories."

"You're right, it is."

Flashing her brightest smile, the phony one her colleagues found so annoying and teased her about all the time, she said, "I've only lived here for a few months, and it's been great. Already made some happy memories, myself." She glanced at her watch. "The thing is..."

"You need to get going. I get it. Thanks for the cookies."

"You're welcome, Perrin. Maybe some other time."

"Sure thing, let me know."

"You're sticking around?"

He nodded. "For a couple of days."

"Good. I'll be interested in your cookie feedback."

His expression brightened. "You got it. Bye, CC Cogshell." He slipped his cap out of his pocket with one hand and tugged it down over his head.

Snow swirled outside when he opened the front door, and starlight twinkled against the glistening snow. He took off into the darkness, a solitary figure in a snow globe, hunched against the storm, holding his paper plate of cookies and trudging along a path that led to a place unknown.

When she couldn't see him anymore, CC closed the door and turned around.

To her surprise, she found herself face to face with Bella, who gave her a reproachful look.

*****

Transformed into a winter wonderland, with decorated fir trees and artificial snow, the basement of St. Luke's Church bustled with activity for the annual Christmas potluck supper.

"There you are!" Patty O'Malley greeted CC the minute she walked in, taking the big shopping bags full of cookies from her as CC shook off her coat and scarf.

"Last minute tonight 'cause of my unexpected visitor. I nearly burned that last batch, it was a close call."

"Not to worry, we have it all under control."

She did a double-take, noticing Patty's sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks. "You look great, Patty."

"Thanks."

"Like there's something...different about you."

"Not really."

"Anything going on?"

"I know what that tone of voice means, and the answer is a big, unqualified...maybe." She hustled away, tossing a mischievous laugh over her shoulder.

CC hurried into the kitchen after her, and in a stage whisper demanded, "You have to tell me! What's going on? Is it you and Elwood?"

Patty nodded. "He's the man of my dreams! Details later, too many eyes and ears here now."

"Such good news!" she whispered. Elwood Stewart was one of the wealthiest widowers in the area. Recently dumped by his fiancé, TV journalist Maryanne Lynch, Patty had hinted to CC a few times that they had hit it off over the summer. This was the first time she had mentioned it directly.

CC looked around the crowded kitchen, teeming with Women's Guild workers and volunteers and understood exactly what Patty meant. It was a potential rumor mill. With one comment being overheard by the wrong individual, there was no limit to the kind of story that could emerge. Patty was right. Some things were better left discussed in private.

Quickly removing the bundles of cookies from the bags, Patty passed an armful off to CC and said, "Follow me, we'll go set these up on the dessert table."

"Sure thing."

On her way over to the far wall, CC felt someone tap her shoulder. Turning, she saw Millie Humboldt in her signature gingham dress and beehive hairdo. As head of the St. Luke's Women's League, she was feared by all as far as CC could tell from her short six months in the parish. Fascinated by the woman's frozen smile, she almost missed what she was saying.

"Hi, Millie. What was that? I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you."

"I said I was glad you could make it tonight, CC. Did you make those cookies or buy them?"

"Oh, they are totally homemade. Baking is one of my hobbies."

"Really? I wouldn't think a big Boston detective would have much time for hobbies at all."

"Guess it's like anything," CC answered as good naturedly as she could, despite her confusion at the woman's probing attitude. "If you really are interested, you find the time, right? Have a good time tonight!"

Moving past her, she joined Patty and began arranging the trays of cookies. "Seems like it took me forever to get over here."

"Lots of us feel like that after an encounter with Millie."

"Thanks for reminding me." CC laughed at her friend's antics. It wasn't the first uncomfortable exchange she had had with Millie since moving to town, and no doubt it wouldn't be her last.

Apparently, lots of folks in the parish had experienced run-ins with Millie. CC remembered hearing from Patty about Millie's antics the previous summer concerning her behavior toward one of the families in town, the Lazarus's. Apparently, she had made maligning comments about them, enough for several parishioners to call it to the attention of their pastor, Father Greene. Finally, her actions had been so bad that it had led to a showdown after the parish fundraiser, where Father Greene actually had to remind everyone publicly just exactly what the Golden Rule meant.

"Charity begins at home," Patty murmured.

"It's like you're reading my mind."

With a smile, Patty squeezed her hand. "I'm so glad we're friends, CC."

"Me, too, Patty. You've been so wonderful to me, ever since the first day I showed up here in Sterling Lakes. I'll always remember that."

"Look who just walked in." Patty's grip on her hand tightened.

CC turned to see who Patty meant. "That's the guy who was at my house!"

She watched him move through the crowd in the auditorium. Men shook his hand, women embraced him, and children danced gleefully at his feet. It seemed to CC that he was more popular than Santa Claus.

Grabbing her other hand, Patty said, "Perrin Stafford? He was at your house?"

"Yeah, that's why I was late. Wait a minute--you know him?"

"Of course I do. He's staying at my Bed and Breakfast."

"Really?"

"No kidding. Let me tell you, the guy is a legend in this town. He's practically a national hero."

"What do you mean?"

"He's a war veteran, CC. I don't have all the facts, but I do know he served in Afghanistan and was decorated for bravery."

CC felt a sinking feeling start in her heart. This is the guy she had decided to check out before she let have a nostalgic tour of his old house. No wonder Bella had been miffed at her.

Ouch.

"What's that in his hand? Looks like a plate of your cookies."

"It is. I told you, he's the guy who was at my house, Patty. Remember when we were on the phone, I said there was a guy on my front steps? It was him. He said he used to live there and wanted a tour for old times' sake. I said I was too busy because I wanted to check him out and make sure he wasn't a madman or something. Boy, do I feel like a heel now."

With a shake of her head, Patty answered, "Don't worry about it. You didn't know him from Adam. I'm sure he understood. It's good you were cautious. I, for one, am very glad you were careful. Plus, you were really running late to get here. That part was totally true."

"Thanks, Patty." CC couldn't shake the feeling that she had rushed to judgment about him. Remembering his gorgeous brown eyes and warm smile gave her a shudder. Picturing him carefully cradling Bella made her feel completely foolish. As if a guy like that would really be a sicko.

"Don't beat yourself up, it's over. He'll be out of town in a few days and back to his wild lifestyle anyway."

"What do you mean?"

Holding her palms up in the air, she replied, "I don't want to play on Millie Humboldt's team, but I have heard that he, well, let's just say, gets around. Look at him, it's not hard to believe. I don't know. I'm just passing along what is supposed to be the truth about him. I don't have any personal experience."

"Sounds scandalous. And delicious." CC couldn't help chuckling.

Just then Perrin looked up from his conversation, and his eyes met hers across the room. She smiled at him, and his expression warmed.

"What's this? Look at the two of you," Patty challenged.

"Just being neighborly."

"Making eyes at each other across a crowded room? Like you're the only two here?"

"Relax, Patty, it's nothing."

"Come on, CC Cogshell, don't try to snow me. You are flirting with him."

"You've nearly got me rolling my eyes. You know me better than that. I don't flirt. I'm totally up front, black and white, take it or leave it --"

"Enough with the clichés. Here he comes."

Busying herself with the dessert table, CC stole furtive glances as she watched him stroll confidently across the church hall towards her. She was careful not to let him catch her watching him.

Honestly, though, CC had a hard time taking her eyes off him. His whole persona, from his physique to his personality, seemed to radiate a relaxed approachability that she found irresistible. No wonder Bella was smitten. The guy was 100% animal magnetism.

"Quick, tell me, what's he back in town for anyway?"

"He's working on the renovations of St. Luke's Church." Patty scampered away as Perrin stood across the table from CC.

"Doing what?" she squawked, but her friend was gone.

"Doing good, thanks. How about you?" His eyes danced as he looked at her, and CC felt her cheeks turning bright red.

Even though dinner hadn't even started yet, it seemed to CC that suddenly a lot more people began milling around the dessert table. She noticed some of the women in the Women's Guild tossing curious glances in her direction and noticed some of them whispering among themselves. The phrase, 'The walls have ears' came to mind.

She moved to the far end of the table where there were less people, and Perrin mirrored her motion. "I'm doing good, thanks," she answered.

He held out the plate of cookies she had given him earlier and proclaimed, "These are delicious."

"Good. There are a lot more where those came from. You can have some for yourself."

"That's very generous, CC. Thanks."

"You're welcome."

Letting her glance linger on him, she waited for what he was going to say next, but he didn't seem to be in any particular rush to keep talking. CC rather liked that, finding his relaxed attitude a bit different from what she was used to in her day to day life. Detective work kept her focused, energized, and intent on a purpose. There wasn't much down time.

Now she was noticing how pleasant it was simply standing around with him. What was getting into her?

"I was hoping I'd see you here." Smooth as caramel, his voice slid into her thoughts, returning her to the present moment.

*****

Perrin viewed the cozy scene in the church hall and felt a tugging in his heart.

Some of the sophisticated folks he knew from his life in California would sniff at the decorations in the humble basement, for sure. He could just hear them scoffing, calling the heartfelt, handmade adornments 'cheesy' and the decorated church basement 'dingy'.

Compared to the unbridled opulence of California, perhaps they had a point. After all, who could ever compete with the gorgeous Neiman Marcus catalog, and all the seductive luxuries they hawked?

Well then. Maybe they had a point. That California way of life had an élan and a panache that was unmatched anywhere in the world. At least the stereotype felt like that.

But not to everyone, and certainly not to Perrin. Some might call that way of life 'tacky', including some of his long-lost neighbors here tonight...and some of his new friends like CC Cogshell, whom he spotted by the dessert table, deeply engrossed in a conversation with another woman.

"Now welcome back to you, Major Stafford." Millie Humboldt smiled up at him.

"Thank you, ma'am," he answered politely. His eyes never left CC, who was still by the table. She might be leaving soon though, he thought, because dinner was nearly ready to go.

"Tell us, please, Major, why you're not wearing all those gorgeous camouflage outfits the women all love?"

Tightening his hands into fists, he managed to answer her. "With all due respect, being in the military is more about a way of life and a mentality, about preserving a sense of values and beliefs, ma'am, than it is about the clothes."

Recoiling as if she had been snake bitten, Millie replied, "I see." Then she moved off into the crowd like a scorpion, disappearing into the attendees and scuttling proverbially under the sands of her neighbors.

Perrin wondered how some folks could seem to be so oblivious to what the military really meant but turned his thoughts from that tract for the present. He wanted to focus on the here and now and the heartfelt scene before him which he had missed for so long.

It gratified him to see the handmade touch in everything around him. As an artisan himself, it meant so much to him. To him, to see handicrafts and home spun goods in this mass-marketing day and age--he knew how much work, effort, love, and care went into everything that was handmade.

Coming back to Sterling Lakes this Christmastime showed him that nothing much had changed at all. On the other hand, even though so much about Sterling Lakes looked the same to him, he was someone for who so much had changed. His heart had been broken, his dreams shattered, his vows...vanished.

None of that was the fault of his dear little hometown, though. In fact, he thought as he had so many times in the past, that it was the good, solid start he had in Sterling Lakes that had given him the strength and fortitude to meet the challenges of life he had encountered since he had left so many years ago.

He smiled to himself, watching a pair of five-year-old twins jump up to see the treats on the dessert table.

He was finally home. It was that kind of honesty that made this place truly special. It had its own unique charm. To him, that was something to be celebrated. Something to be revered. Something to be infinitely treasured.

He took in the decorated trees in the church hall, with its tiled floor and wood- paneled walls. What could ever be cozier than this? He inhaled deeply, appreciating the true evergreen smell, so fresh and true.

Part of him felt sorry for those folks in his California circles who would never understand the sentimentality and depth of meaning to something that appeared to be as simple as the scene before him now. In his heart, he lived its meaning every day. He would never forget how deep the real message of a place like Sterling Lakes really was.

His thoughts turned to Diane. She would have loved this. He pictured his late wife, her blond, sun-streaked hair fluttering in the wind, meeting the folks of Sterling Lakes. She knew how much this town meant to him. She would have respected all of his connections. Coming as she did from a small timber town in Canada, she also would have understood the importance of such a close knit community, centered around God, just like Sterling Lakes was. It almost seemed too cruel that she was not here with him now. It had been four long, agonizing years.

How could an all-loving God take her from him? From a world where she was doing so much good as an advocate for the homeless?

Blinking rapidly, he asked himself for the ten thousandth time why he had accepted Cascade Preston's invitation to work on the renovations of St. Luke's Church. A renowned stained glass artist from town, she had her own issues with the area, who had turned a blind eye to her and her siblings when it was clear their father was abusing their mother.

She knew about his tours of duty in Afghanistan, she knew about his reputation as an exquisite marble sculptor, and she knew him from their good old days in Sterling Lakes. What she didn't know about was his profound heartbreak at the loss of his beloved wife.

Get over it, his California friends advised. It's been nearly four years. Diane wouldn't want you moping around. She'd want you to live your life.

Perrin knew all these things in his heart, his head told him they were all true, but somehow putting them all together had been impossible for him. Sometimes he thought he didn't really want to move on; it was more comforting to hang on to his memories of the past and stay shrouded in its cozy shadows. At least, it was a lot easier than facing the light of day.

What would Cascade have said if she knew about his loss? Would she condone his attitude? Would she chide him into joining the human race again and seeing the real world of today for a change, instead of looking back with his tunnel vision to a life that had passed him by?

With a small sigh, Perrin knew the answer. "A brave heart never stays in the shadows," one of his commanders had told him. Remembering the losses he had experienced in the war, and the horrible tragedies he had witnessed with his fellow soldiers getting killed, he knew many families had things a lot worse off than he did. Some women lost their husbands, kids lost their daddies, parents lost their children. A common sense of valor united all of them as one, in one mind, one heart, and one cause.

But none of that meant anything to him. There was no valor, no romance, no glory in the fight he had fought with Diane and lost. To him, his wife was just gone, the victim of a horrible, debilitating and arbitrary disease that only served to rob the human race of beautiful, caring souls. In this case, the love of his life. The sadness was just too much for him. Perrin only wished it had been him to go instead of her.

He smiled and accepted some eggnog from a smiling senior citizen in a vintage 'Holiday' sweater, complete with bells dangling from it. All of his musings were basically senseless. What he wanted, needed, or wished had happed was a moot point anyway in light of the reality around him.

He knew that it was time for him to admit the truth: he was a widower, his wife had died of cancer, and that had been the end of everything he had ever lived for, everything he had ever treasured.

Observing the crowd milling behind him, he noticed old Father Greene had just entered the church hall. Something told him it wouldn't be long before he faced the truth and started living his life once more.

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