Never Without Hope<br/>(Sacred Vows, book 1)

Author: Michelle Sutton
Publisher: Healing Hearts Books
Published: 2013-06-14
Language(s): English
Category: Fiction
Audience: Adult
Genre(s): Inspirational, Women's Fiction, Romance & Friendship Read Excerpt >

Chapter 1


I never made friends on airplanes. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. I talked to people all the time, but I never got to know them well enough to carry on a relationship after the plane landed. That was before I met a man who changed the course of my life…forever.

I had just attended a writers’ conference in L.A. and really wanted an appointment with the Book Nook Publishing House, but their rep had not shown up. That really discouraged me. The fact that my husband had refused to come with me and provide moral support hadn’t helped.

James could be a great guy, but he was too cheap to spend money on what he considered frivolous vacation activities. He’d rather use the money to remodel the house. So when I told him I wanted to spend a few more days in L.A., he tried to talk me out of it, probably to spare me the humiliation of being brushed off.

I’d tried to convince James that an editor would agree to see me once they found out I’d come all the way from New York just to present my proposal. I was still shocked when someone agreed to meet with me at the office without an appointment. At least the trip hadn’t been a waste of money.

The editor's assistant had loved my story idea about a college graduate who discovered her one true love while spending the summer traveling Europe. She'd requested the full manuscript. Fortunately I’d brought one with me.

Once I told him my exciting news, my husband would have to devour his words. In fact, I’d wanted to tell him right away, but he wouldn’t answer his phone!  Frustrated, I hung up without leaving a message. Again.

James always answered his cell phone. So why not today?

A heavy sigh whooshed from me and my shoulders sagged with disappointment. I really missed my family and couldn’t wait to return to Crandall, New York, my virtually unknown hometown on the outskirts of Rochester, and give my family a hug.

But back to the reason for my trip. The fact that the publishing house had seemed very interested in my book had produced a manic-like euphoria in my brain. I just knew my husband would be thrilled with the news, though he still preferred a book contract in hand. I always told him these things took time. I guess I’m just more patient than he is.

Anyway, I was bursting with excitement, and I needed to share my good news. I tried calling him again, but no one answered. I glanced briefly at the men seated to my right and my left. I hated bragging, especially to complete strangers, but if the conversation turned in that direction, what could it hurt? 

I smiled at the thought and peered at my seat neighbors. The blond man to my right glared at his PDA, then muttered something before turning it off. The dark-haired man to my left dozed peacefully.

Returning my attention to the blond PDA guy, I noted wire-rimmed glasses sliding down his nose. They made him look mature, like a businessman minus the suit.  On the other hand, the blemishes on his forehead caused him to look younger, more like a college student. I focused on his eyes, reluctant to draw attention to his marred complexion. Nothing bugged me more than when I had a pimple and someone stared at it while they were talking to me.

Yeah, I still get an occasional blemish.

I extracted my Palm Pilot from my purse. “Nice PDA. What games have you got?”

He turned his PDA back on and scrolled through the menu.

Scrabble! I’d always wanted that game on my handheld.

“Want to swap?” I asked.

PDA guy watched as I scrolled through my game list, trying to tempt him with a reasonable trade. “All right, I’ll trade you Bounce Out for Scrabble.”

“It’s a deal.” Rather than shaking on it, we pointed our PDAs at each other and beamed the games while giggling like junior high students. I know, it’s pathetic for a thirty-six-year-old woman to act like that, especially with a young twenty-something guy. Maybe having a child kept me young. That was my excuse today.

Though we had fun swapping games, to my relief, blond PDA guy didn’t flirt with me, and for whatever reason, I never asked him his name. Frankly, I disliked overly-flirtatious men. That coy dog look got old pretty fast.

The dark-haired guy on my left had been snoozing pretty soundly since the plane left the runway. He’d even dozed through the distribution of our freebie drinks. Unfortunately, the plane didn’t have a movie showing, and I’d never liked listening to music over the airline headphones. I literally had nothing to do and was getting bored tinkering with my PDA.

And stupid me, I hadn’t packed an extra book to read. The one in my purse had less than a chapter left. But I picked it up and delved into the story anyway.

My body tingled as the story concluded with a heated lovemaking scene that took my breath away. I just hope no one noticed me panting as I shut the book. I really needed to stop reading those types of stories. They tended to get me worked up. I sighed and slipped the novel into my purse.

Still euphoric from the romance I’d read, I watched Dozing Man for a few minutes as he slept. He had a really nice profile, kind of how I pictured the hero in the book, except with a straight nose and full lips.

His olive skin intrigued me. I noted his jaw line held a trace of shadow.

My body still humming, I admired his lips and wondered what it would be like to kiss him. A jolt shot through me as I realized the scene in the novel had made my mind go places better avoided.

As if he sensed me watching him, his dark lashes fluttered. Still too intrigued to turn away, I gazed at him as he stirred and opened his eyes.

Nodding briefly because I knew I’d been caught, I turned away and did my best to act like I found my PDA fascinating. But first, I had to turn it back on.

I don’t normally stare at people, not even handsome ones.

My PDA made this tiny buzzing noise, and a few seconds later the battery died.


A sudden urge to use the restroom made me squirm. I really hated to wake Dozing Man again, but a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do. So I carefully stood and turned until I faced my chair. Stretching one foot into the aisle, I lunged, missed, and lost my balance.

Ungf, he grunted.

Yep, you guessed right. I’d fallen right onto Dozing Man’s chest and knocked the wind out of him. I wish I were kidding about that.

With now-burning cheeks, I apologized and pointed. “I was just trying to get to the rest…” Before I finished my sentence the man had closed his eyes again, as if totally unfazed. No snapping at me; in fact, no response at all. I was intrigued to say the least.

And more than a little relieved.

Forcing the sensation of his rock hard chest under my palms from my mind, I answered nature’s call in the restroom, and tried not to lose my balance when I stood back up. Seemed like people were destined to experience turbulence the moment they started pulling up their drawers. But I digress.

I hesitated before entering the row of seats. Glancing at Dozing Man, I noticed a trace of a smile on his full lips. He must’ve sensed me standing there because he tipped his legs to the side so I could slide by. This time I fell directly onto my seat instead of dropping onto the stranger’s lap. Doubtful I’d ever live down that embarrassing moment, now I always request an aisle seat.

“Hi,” he said to me as he straightened in his chair.

Clipping my seatbelt, I nodded.  “Nice to meet you. What’s your name?”

With a tentative smile, he extended his hand. “Antonio Perotta. But friends call me Tony.”

“Hope…Williams.” I clasped his offered hand and shook it, unable to keep from noticing how his large hand swallowed mine up. And it felt so warm, and strong. Lingering a few seconds longer than was socially acceptable, I then folded my hands on my lap.

A growl erupted from his abdomen. He laughed and patted his firm abs through a skin-tight Hard Rock Café T-shirt. I peered closer and saw it was from Rome, Italy.

“You miss lunch before boarding?” Lame comment, but it was a conversation starter. A way to keep occupied for the duration of the flight.

“Yeah.” He quirked a half-grin. “You eat yet?”

It was then that I honed in on his accent. I shook my head. “No, not lunch, anyway.”

He smiled and his eyes flashed with delight. “That is very good.”

I hesitated at his enthusiasm, wondering what he meant by that, then licked my lips. “You know, you talk just like this Italian guy I dated in high school.” I pointed at his chest. “I see you got your T-shirt in Rome.”

His grin broadened. “Yes. I move from Italy three years now. My English is not so good, but I get more better with much practice.”

“Sounds pretty good to me.” I smiled in response. “Want to grab lunch in the terminal? I’d love to ask you a few questions about Italy, and I’m starved.”

“Very good, yes.” He glanced at my lips, then his gaze dragged back to my eyes. I couldn’t help noticing he was pretty good-looking. I may have been married, but I wasn’t blind. Of course, handsome men never affected me that much, so I wasn’t worried. Though the physical aspect of my love life had waned a bit, and sex had become more infrequent over the past few months, I got my needs met at home, where they should be.

I had  to admit I’d had a number of men hit on me over the years. They never cared that I was married. Of course I said no to their suggestions and subtle advances, though the attention was a bit flattering at times. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

But I had a loving husband. There was no way I’d jeopardize our relationship for a fling. I couldn’t believe my thoughts even headed in that direction. James was my best friend, despite our occasional differences of opinion. He was my son’s father, and we’d always trusted each other completely. It was as simple as that.

So why try so hard to convince myself? I shook off the thought.

Tony was so good-looking. Maybe I shouldn’t have thought that way about him, but it was true. He also smelled great. Like spices and leather. However, I only asked him to go to lunch with me because I hated eating alone, plus I had a few questions for my book. And he was obviously hungry. How wrong could that be?

Anyway, back to our rendezvous. The pilot had announced that the plane had prepared for landing. Queasiness enveloped me the entire time the plane circled the airport. I had to blow cool air from the above nozzle straight into my face to prevent my stomach from heaving. The last thing I needed to do after falling onto Tony was to lose my stomach contents—meager as they were—onto his lap as well.

Relief swept over me like an ocean breeze when the aircraft finally hit solid ground. Within a few short minutes, I caught my breath and said goodbye to PDA man. He waved at us over his shoulder and took off.

Tony pulled a leather bomber jacket from the overhead bin and slid it on. It smelled wonderful. He stood in front of me while passengers packed the aisles. I tried not to notice his tight jeans. Didn’t do so well, though.

He grabbed my carry-on luggage and draped it over his shoulder as he waved for me to follow him. I did, and soon we stopped at a fast food restaurant. At first I declined food due to nausea, but a vanilla milkshake sounded good. To my surprise Tony paid for my lunch. Of course, it totaled less than five dollars, but I still appreciated it.

“Thanks. That was so nice of you.” I smiled.

He nodded shyly and proceeded to get a table.

While eating we discussed his recent trip to see his family in Italy, how he ended up living in New York, and a variety of other mundane subjects like where he worked, why he’d flown to Dallas, etc. As we chatted about our travels I told him about the novel I’d brought to the conference in L.A. God bless the man, but he asked me about my writing. That’s when things really picked up. I’m very passionate about storytelling.

After indulging him with tales of my favorite plot scenarios, I handed him my business card. He’d said he wanted to read my book but I’d left my only hard copy with the editor. “Here’s my e-mail address. I can send you some of my chapters if you want.”

“Wow, I would like very much. You sound like very good writer. I bet you sell many, many books.” He grinned and his eyes held a distinct sparkle in them. Like he thought I was famous or something. Hardly!

But I liked this guy. I noticed he wore no ring on his left hand.

I also noticed his eyes were two different colors. Not like one was green and the other blue, but more like each were two-toned brown and hazel. Very beautiful.

Amazed I hadn’t realized that before, I just blurted without thinking, “You know, you have such gorgeous eyes. Maybe I’ll have the hero in one of my books with eyes like yours. You don’t mind if I borrow them, do you?” I chuckled.

He looked confused for a moment, but quickly recovered. “No problem.”

I noticed Tony’s eyes trailing from mine and sliding to my lips again, lingering there longer than what seemed normal. My stomach tensed. While accustomed to being flirted with by men, this man seemed more passionate than most. For a brief moment I regretted giving him my business card, but decided he was no threat. I was a happily married woman, right? And he did seem pretty shy around me. I didn’t think he had anything to hide, but I didn’t really know him.

So what if Tony had a hot Italian accent and now seemed to be flirting with me? I could handle it. Besides, I wasn’t flirting with him and it wasn’t like I’d ever see him again. His eyes were merely a prop for me. I’m a people watcher. That’s how I get my characters developed in my head. I model their unique traits after people I either know or have met.

“Ready to go?” I stood.

Tony glanced at his watch and nodded. “We must hurry or luggage may be missing.”

He led the way, walking briskly and glancing at me once or twice on the way to baggage claim. I followed as he still carried my bag. I wondered what he was thinking when his gaze lingered, but would never ask. We searched until we located our bags. His suitcase was large and dark, just like him. Mine was more petite, but not by much. A woman never travels light.

I scanned the tag on his bag. Uh-oh. We lived in the same small town. What was the likelihood? I couldn’t help noticing him sneaking more glances at me as I adjusted my purse. Then he winked at me!

My chest fluttered. Why the wink?

 I forced myself to take a deep, calming breath. During lunch we’d kidded around like we’d known each other for years. He was nice, seemed pretty harmless, and was fun to talk to. I hated to say goodbye, but as they say, all good things must come to an end. In this case it was for the best, since I couldn’t deny my attraction to him.

After shaking his hand, I said the typical “see you later,” of course, never expecting to see or hear from him again.

Not five minutes after I left the parking area my cell phone rang.

I didn’t recognize the number. “Hello?”

“This is Tony. How are you doing?”

My heart skipped a beat at the sound of his heavily accented English. Uh-oh. I never expected him to call me. Just e-mail me. And why did his voice have to sound so sexy?

Now what to do? I decided to try my usual strategy since it tended to be the most effective. But this time I’d talk a bit more about my family. That usually makes my commitment clear to guys, or turns them off.

I chuckled. “I’m just fine. And you?” Come on, mention your faith.

“I’m good.” I heard the smile in his voice. “I drive behind you.”

Glancing in my rearview mirror, I saw him wave. How weird.

“I thought maybe we get together again. Like for lunch.” His voice deepened. “We could talk more. Get to know more.”

Surely his question was innocent enough. I really should talk about my faith. So why haven’t you so far, eh?

I shook off the thought. “Uh, lunch would be okay, I guess. But I’d rather meet at your house…like maybe on a Sunday after church.” Sucking in a deep breath, I released it with a whoosh. “I think it would be nice to meet your wife. I think you’d get along great with my husband, too. Maybe you could even go to church with us.”

He hesitated; his voice sounded less confident. “Is not good idea. My wife, she is very…how you say…possessive? She would not understand.”

That should’ve tipped me off right there. But I can be pretty naïve sometimes. “Okay, well, then I guess you can send me an e-mail. If you think your wife might change her mind, let me know.”

“Sounds good. I send you e-mail.”

“Sure.” I paused. I really didn’t want to meet him in person again. It would be too…awkward. I’d feel like we were doing something behind our spouses’ backs—at least on his end it would be sneaking around—and that wouldn’t be okay. Sure was a nerve-wracking conversation, and I wanted it to end, but was not sure how to do that tactfully, since I really did need his input on Italian culture for my book series.

“Hey! Where you live?” he asked with a smile in his voice, like he was on the verge of laughing.

“Why?” I glanced in my rearview mirror. His large black truck tailed me. What if he was a pervert? My chest tightened.

“Because I drive behind you. I live near Colorado Drive and Miller Road.”

I peered closer. Yep, that was definitely him in the truck behind me. Thankful that Miller Road was over twenty miles long, I considered answering his question, but decided against it.

His signal clicked on and he took a left turn.

“See you later, Bella Speranza.”

Bella Speranza? What in the world?

“That means beautiful hope.”

“Okay, uh, bye, Tony.” I winced. Why didn’t I say something about his comment?

He turned off the road and within seconds was out of sight.

Again, I wondered what had I gotten myself into. He lived less than five miles from my house. Out in the country, yes, but off the same main road. That couldn’t be good, or could it? I decided it wasn’t good. Told myself that, anyway. Even if I didn’t have enough courage to confront him on calling me beautiful Hope in Italian.

I snapped my cell phone shut.

Later that evening I logged onto the computer and checked my e-mail.

I saw an address I didn’t recognize, but I knew it wasn’t spam because the subject line read WE MET ON PLANE. I clicked on it. Thanks for getting to know you in airport. This made my day nice. Tony. He attached an adorable smiley to his signature.

So his grammar was a bit off, but I figured if my first language was Italian I wouldn’t do much better. I knew he was a nice guy. Sometimes I am just too paranoid. I decided since his comment was innocent enough, I’d write him back. Same here. Hope.

His reply came quickly. You still plan to mail chapters for me?

Sure, I replied and attached the completed chapter of my most recent work. Maybe he’d learn something about my faith from my story. After all, that was the only reason I’d keep in any kind of contact with him. At least that’s what I’d told myself.

I’d gotten the impression over lunch that he wasn’t a man with a strong belief system. While I hate to judge anyone, the hints I dropped that would normally draw out that type of conversation had fallen on deaf ears. So I was pretty sure I was right. With a sigh, I logged off the computer and got ready for bed.

After four months of e-mailing back and forth, the contact trickled off. I suppose that was okay, because he’d given me the necessary details about Italy that I needed to enrich the book. Plus, I got a bit nervous after reading some of his comments. Several times he’d reply with a you are beautiful woman comment, or that scene was pretty hot.

Now don’t get concerned. I don’t write trash. I think he was referring to the first kiss in my book. I suppose it was pretty unique, and of course, well written. Honestly, I was thrilled that he liked my story for any reason. Yet he never mentioned the faith thread in my novel, and I had much more to say about that than kissing. Other than those comments, not much communication occurred. After all, we were just friends.


Never Without Hope ~ (Sacred Vows, book 1)   by   Michelle Sutton   |   See Bio >
Book 1 of 4 in the Sacred Vows Series.
Fiction making an impact on real lives...

Hope believes she is above sexual temptation. After all, she is a good Christian and loving mother. She has no reason to stray...until her husband starts neglecting her needs and things begin to look hopeless. 

Though she communicates her pain to her husband, he refuses to get help. She soon learns that she, too, is capable of such betrayal when she succumbs to the unthinkable. What at first seems reasonable given her painful situation soon produces a bitter taste when combined with the overwhelming guilt. 

Hope wants to tell her husband the truth, hoping it might propel him to do something to fix their problem, but she fears his rejection. Yet, she can't continue living such a hypocritical life. She knows that it's wrong even though she continues to crave physical intimacy. Steeped in the quagmire of adultery, Hope must find her way back to solid ground to save her marriage. But will she lose everyone she loves in the process?

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