Books · Excerpt

Celebrating Valentine’s Day: Romance Scene from Led Astray

In continuation of my Valentine’s Day celebration, here’s a scene from the second book published in the New Beginnings Series.

Led Astray:

The hope of a future for the broken begins in Mourning.

When a mining company promises jobs in exchange for the mountaintop where the church resides, a battle erupts between the sister-towns of Mourning and Haven, West Virginia.

Skip-tracer Danita Ballinger races to Mourning before the lives of New Beginnings clients “vanished” to the off-the-grid town are jeopardized.

Pastor Riley Coole refuses the mining company offers, and the help of the brazen woman forcing her way into his business and his towns.

The murder of a key player in the tug-of-war over the mountain puts plans of retaliation into motion. Danita and Riley must put aside their private battle to protect the people relying on them for safety. Will seeing each other in a new light put them on a path of acceptance and true love, or create a further divide ripping apart the town and their own hearts?


Iciness gripped Riley’s insides and twisted them. The pain came so hard and quick, he struggled for breath. Wade Peake hired that person. They knew Riley didn’t have the strength to stop him, but Danita did.

Oh, Lord, what have I done? Riley fell to his knees and clasped his hands together. He’d brought Danita here. He’d put her danger. He placed the well-being of the mountain over the well-being of a woman.

He’d change his mind. Tell them they could take whatever they wanted from the mountain as long as they left the people alone. But of course once he told them, they’d have power over him and the town. What demands would come next?

Once he gave in to this request, Peake wouldn’t stop. Men like him never did. How would he explain to the community, to the residents of Mourning, why he chose the safety of one woman over them? Danita wouldn’t stand back and accept the change of plans. She’d continue to fight and become the advocate for the town of Mourning instead of him.

Lord, how do I keep her safe? No answer came. Riley wasn’t surprised. He wasn’t the type of man people ran to for safety — but Clayton was. Would his brother help him keep Danita safe?

Of course he would. Clayton had already stepped in twice to make sure someone didn’t hurt Danita. Clayton had empathy for the beautiful and tough woman. He knew she needed someone to stand up for her, even though she pushed away everyone who tried.

Riley stood and drew in a cleansing breath. There was no shame in asking his brother for help. Since arriving in town, Clayton had kept a close eye on Danita. He wanted to help. Yes, he and Clayton had differences in the past and it was obvious his brother didn’t trust or think very well of him… but how much of the attitude had Riley brought down upon his own shoulders?

Look at how he talked to Danita. His judgment of her was as clear as a sunny, cloudless day.

Riley opened the classroom door and headed for the sanctuary. The silence, deep and thick, made his heart jump against his chest. Sweat broke out across his forehead, and he tried to keep the alarm at bay. This was a church, a place of worship. Silence should be golden as it showcased hearts filled with prayers and praises to the Lord.

Or could it mean Riley was alone? Did someone come into the building and snatch Danita from the safety of the church’s arms? No.

Riley repeated the word over and over again as he walked to the front of the sanctuary, eyes scanning the area for a sign of anyone else being, or having been, inside. Coldness raced through his body. There was no one. She was nowhere to be seen.

Please, Lord, please let her be okay. His sneakers shuffled across the carpet, making a whisking sound with every step.

“Danita.” His voice echoed off the walls and returned to him. No answer. No movement.

He picked up his pace, continuing to pray, and snatched his cell phone clipped to his jeans. He’d call the sheriff. Connor. They’d find Danita. He’d even call Edgar and Clayton and have them comb the area. Whoever took her couldn’t have gotten far.

Riley stopped in tracks, and his breath hitched in his throat. He drank in the beautiful sight.

Danita laid on the pew, knees curled, one hand pillowing her head. Her shoulders rose and fell with her soft breaths. The mass of curls trickled past her shoulder and down her neck, puddling into the nook created by her other arm.

“Thank you, Lord,” Riley whispered.

She looked so vulnerable and breakable. He brushed a lock of hair from her forehead. A light purple bruise marred her skin. Rage swept through him. He clenched his fists. He wanted — needed — to find the man responsible for causing her pain.

Danita sighed and stretched out.

He focused on her slightly parted lips. Her mouth drew him. A beacon begging Riley to drop to his knee and placed a tender kiss on them. Riley drew back, and averted his gaze. Even asleep, the woman was a temptress.

The front door to the church opened. Every muscle in Riley’s body tensed. He moved to Danita, squatting down, readying to snatch her against him if the person intended to harm her.

“Pastor Coole, is everything all right?” Naomi struggled with a large picnic basket and watched him.


If you’d like to read Danita and Riley’s story, Led Astray is available at:



Barnes and Noble

Available in print this spring.

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