Fashion designer Faith McClendon is back in Chicago to start over. She put her promising career on hold for too long, and she’s ready to get back in the game. Her heart is another matter. She’s not willing to put that on the line again—it’s still far too bruised from her failed marriage for that. So when a renewed childhood friendship starts to make her think about second chances at love, she’s more than a little hesitant.
Photographer Michael Montgomery was Faith’s biggest cheerleader when she decided to move to New York City, and he’s been her shoulder to cry on since she came home to Chicago. The timing has never been right to tell her how he feels, but maybe now is his chance. First, he’s going to have to break down the walls Faith has around her heart and convince her they can be so much more than friends.
Each book in the McClendon Holiday series is STANDALONE:
* A McClendon Thanksgiving
* The Christmas Promise
* A Husband by New Year's
* Be My Valentine
About the Author
Sean began writing romance at the encouragement of her dear friend Christian Fiction Author Jacquelin Thomas. After the release of her first two novels TOTAL BLISS and WITH THIS RING in 2005&2006, Sean continued to work diligently at her craft and her next novel.
FROM THIS MOMENT, the second installment in the Hearts and Flowers Series, was released in January 2011. At an early age, Sean found that she loved words and tried to read everything she could get her hands on. She joined her first book club “Sweet Pickles” at the age of 7. Writing would come later, when she wrote short stories for her own enjoyment, then she wrote the Easter play for the youth at her church at the age of 12.
Sean, a graphic/web designer loves building websites and graphics almost as much as she loves writing her stories. She loves working in her church and lives in Northwest Indiana with her family.
Read an Excerpt
Faith McClendon's contralto joined her sisters' soprano, alto and mezzo-soprano as they sang along with the updated, Grammy award–winning version of "Lady Marmalade", by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, and Pink. Faith had also chosen Lil' Kim's part because of her husky lower register. Their melodious voices filling the interior of the minivan caught the attention of other drivers, through the open windows, when Jennifer stopped for a red light.
It was late August and downtown Chicago was pulsing with energy from pedestrians and motorists taking advantage of the warm weather. Singing with Jennifer, Patrice, and Renee as they headed for Bevy, her favorite club, Faith knew she'd truly come home.
A young man sitting in a dilapidated sedan stuck his head out the passenger-side window and waved to Jennifer. "Do you girls have a record deal?"
A single mother of twins, Jennifer leaned out the driver's-side window, flashing a friendly smile. "No. Why?"
The man returned her smile, revealing a number of missing teeth. "If you pull over at the next light I can give you the 411 on how you can cut a demo."
Faith leaned forward in the second row of seats. "Close the window, Jenn, and drive on."
"Word," drawled Patrice. Slender, with shoulder-length hair, sparkling brown eyes and flawless light-brown complexion, the aroma therapist attracted men like bees to honey. Patrice, a perfumer, was responsible for the day-to-day operation of Good Scents Aromatherapy and Day Spa and had recently been certified as a massage therapist.
Renee shook her head. "Why do men who have nothing to offer a woman but a boatload of problems always look to take advantage of them?"
Faith gave Renee a sidelong glance. The marketing executive with a fashionably cut bob, parted off-center, tucked several chemically straightened strands behind her right ear. She wanted to tell Renee she was only half-right. Faith didn't blame her ex-husband for taking advantage of her inasmuch as she'd believed in his dreams more than she'd believed in her own.
She'd become the dutiful wife who hosted elegant dinner parties for Kevin's friends and clients, and accompanied him whenever he was invited to various fund-raisers. Her ex wasn't like the man attempting to hustle some unsuspecting victim. Quite the opposite. Kevin was ambitious, an overachiever, and would stop at nothing to attain his goal for what he deemed ultimate success: becoming a multimillionaire. He didn't mind working, but it was the means with which he gained his success that made Faith uncomfortable.
Jennifer took off in a burst of speed as soon as the light changed, the sudden momentum causing Faith to hold on to the driver's headrest.
"Slow down, Jenn. I'm not in that much of a hurry to get to Bevy."
Tapping a button on the steering wheel, Jennifer lowered the volume on the satellite radio. She eased up on the gas pedal and took a quick glance up at the rearview mirror. "You may not be in a hurry, because I know after living more than ten years in the Big Apple you did hit the clubs. However, between me raising twins as a single mother and managing the salon, I can't remember what the inside of a club looks like."
Patrice rolled her eyes at Jennifer. "Please, Jenn, don't get maudlin on us. We agreed to go to Bevy to celebrate Faith's homecoming, so there will be no pity parties tonight."
"Here, here," Faith and Renee chorused from the second row of seats.
Faith wanted to tell Jennifer that she had gone to a few popular Manhattan clubs, but that was before her marriage. Once she married Kevin, their social calendar included dinner parties, gallery showings, and private get-togethers in palatial homes, hotel suites, or at upscale restaurants. And at no time had she worn the same outfit twice. As a buyer for Esplanade, an exclusive Madison Avenue boutique, she alternated every other year with another buyer, traveling to Paris, Rome, and Milan to catalog the upcoming fashion trends. All eyes were on her whenever she entered the room, clinging to Kevin's arm, because the invitees wanted to see what and who she was wearing. Patrice was right, Faith mused. There would be no pity parties tonight, or if she could help it, ever again.
She'd returned home three days before, but for Faith it was as if she'd never been away and she knew it had everything to do with her sisters. They'd always been close when growing up, but that was not to say they didn't occasionally have squabbles. It was their mother who refused to have her children at one another's throats like in some families. If Myra McClendon suspected any hostility between them, then all were grounded. Myra's method proved successful because her daughters learned to work out their differences enough to compromise with one another.
"It feels good to sing with you guys again," Faith said after a comfortable silence. "I can't believe I feel so free."
Patrice shifted on her seat and stared at Faith over her left shoulder. "That's because you no longer have that jerk riding your back."
"Amen to that," Jennifer and Renee said in unison.
"What took you so long to get rid of him?" Patrice asked.
Faith stared out the side window at the passing landscape. "I suppose some of us wake up a little later than others."
Jennifer shook her head. "Now, don't you go and beat up on yourself. At least you woke up. I overhear some of the conversations at the salon where women stay in toxic relationships for more than half their lives because they don't want to be alone, or they make some asinine excuse that the kids need their no-good, trifling daddies."
Faith closed her eyes. "I thought we were going to celebrate my homecoming, not talk about men."
"You're right," Patrice agreed. She smiled, the gesture reaching her eyes. "Talking about singing. Now that Faith's back, what do you think of making a demo record? Just for us," she added quickly. "We can play it for everyone at family get-togethers."
Faith exchanged a fist bump with Patrice. "I like that idea." She and her sisters had sung in the church choir as kids, and although they weren't classically trained, their voices were strong and harmonious. "What are we going to sing?"
"Nothing nasty," Jennifer said. "Remember, I have kids and when they're older I don't want them to know their mama was ratchet back in the day."
Patrice patted Jennifer's back. "You couldn't be ratchet even if you tried, sis. I think you're the most conservative out of all of Mama's daughters."
Jennifer snorted. "Yeah, and the only one who's a baby mama."
"Babies mama," her sisters corrected, laughing.
Jennifer rolled her eyes. "Y'all know y'all ain't right." She laughed with the others, maneuvering down a narrow street where former warehouses were converted into condos, lofts, and Bevy nightclub.
They took advantage of valet parking, and after showing their IDs, the hostess escorted them into the dimly lit club and over to a table seating four not far from the bar and dance floor.
Patrice ordered a bottle of champagne and Faith didn't have the heart to tell her sister that she wasn't overly fond of the sparkling wine because it usually left her feeling headachy. When she'd complained of this to Kevin, his comeback was she probably had drunk the cheap brand. Cheap or expensive, the result was the same, and therefore she always limited herself to one glass.
Faith took the responsibility of ordering appetizers. As soon as they arrived, she and her sisters lifted their glasses in a toast to celebrate her homecoming and served themselves from the tray with wings, pot stickers, baked clams, fried calamari, and spinach- and-artichoke dip.
A waitress approached the table. "Ladies, since you appear to be celebrating, the gentlemen over there would like to buy you a bottle of champagne."
Faith stared at the four men sitting at a table several feet away. Seconds later she felt Renee kick her foot under the table.
As if connected by mental telepathy, the McClendon sisters smiled and chorused, "No thank you."
Not trying to be obvious, Faith forced a smile when meeting the grin of a man wearing a bright-green suit. "What is he thinking? It's not even St. Patrick's Day," she said under her breath.
Jennifer smothered a giggle. "Check out his friend in red," she whispered.
Patrice took a sip of champagne before setting down her flute. "Well, I'll be damned. They look like M&M'S. Who does that? And where did they find green, red, yellow, and orange three-piece suits? And in polyester, no less, while I'm willing to bet they're wearing fake gators to match."
Renee coughed into her napkin to stop the laughter bubbling up in her throat. "Like Jenn, I've been working too hard and not getting out enough, but I know now not to come to a club to meet a man." She placed her napkin on the table beside a plate and pushed back her chair. "I'm going to the ladies' room."
Jennifer stood. "I'll go with you."
Faith watched her sisters until they disappeared from her line of vision. "You know they're going there to laugh until they bust a gut."
Patrice chuckled. "I think I'm going to join them, because every time I glance over at the M&M'S, I'm afraid I'm going to embarrass myself."
Faith nodded. "I'll stay and watch the drinks." It had been preached to her at a very young age by her parents that if she ordered a drink and took her eyes off it for even a few seconds, then she wasn't to drink from the glass again.
Spearing a piece of crisp calamari, she slowly chewed it, unaware that the four men in the colorful suits weren't the only ones staring at her.
Michael Montgomery's eyes narrowed as he watched the group of women at the table not too far from his. They were talking, giggling, making faces, clinking their champagne glasses together, and seemingly having a good time. From where he sat, they were beautiful, vibrant young women who looked familiar to him. They looked like the McClendon sisters, but he wasn't sure. Michael bent forward in the chair, with his elbows resting on the table, so that he could get a better look at them.
He couldn't believe his luck — of all the days he'd gone to Bevy for a drink, he chose tonight. With his drink halfway to his lips, he paused when he noticed the lady sitting with her sisters. They were celebrating something, with their champagne flutes held up in the air in a celebratory toast.
"Faith McClendon," he whispered to the air.
When did she get back? How long would she be here? They were the two questions that immediately popped into his head as he studied her from afar. He had no idea she was even in town, and wondered if she would have told him anyway that she would be coming. Maybe his eyes were deceiving him and it wasn't really her, because it had been several years since they'd seen each other. But even with the flashing neon and dim lighting, he'd recognize those beautiful features anywhere.
He watched closely as she took a sip from her glass before throwing her head back in laughter, proving that she was truly enjoying herself. Her long hair now caressed the sides of her perfectly oval face, and immediately he wanted to go over and rejoice with them.
Michael absently turned his short glass filled with a premium vodka left and right as he contemplated whether or not he should go over and say hello. At one time, Faith had been his most trusted friend and confidante. The only person in the world he'd ever told his secrets to ... all but one. The fact that he'd been in love with Faith since they were adolescents wasn't something he wanted to reveal to her at that time. Never wanting to take the chance of losing her friendship, he'd kept quiet.
But one summer while he worked in New York as an artist in residence at a community college, Michael ran into her in Central Park and his biggest fear came true. He suffered a devastating blow when his precious Faith announced that she was getting married in the fall. That fateful day, Michael lost his love and his friend to another man.
Since Faith valued his opinion, she asked him to spend the weekend with her and her fiancé because, as she put it, she wanted her fiancé, Kevin, to get to know her dearest friend.
Disappointed and hurt, Michael hid his true feelings for her and agreed to her request because she would always matter to him, married or not. But when he discovered that he didn't care for the man his dear friend had fallen in love with, he knew he had a problem.
Michael had to carefully think through his opinion of Kevin Harrington, to be sure that it wasn't based on selfishness. He told himself that his dislike for the tall, well-dressed investment banker wasn't because he'd be taking Faith away from him, but because of the arrogant and unrelenting behavior Michael saw in him. He would have told Kevin about his friendship with Faith, but out of respect for her, he didn't bother. It would only cause confusion and he didn't want Faith to have a problem with her fiancé because of him.
A woman like Faith deserved a man who would love and cherish her, but the only thing Michael felt as he observed the couple those three days was that Kevin was only out for himself and what he could get. Faith was tall, slender, and beautiful, thus would look good on any man's arm.
By the end of the weekend, Michael had deduced that Kevin didn't have a heart, or if he did, it only beat a couple of times a year. He just wasn't a good man — at least not good enough for Faith.
Michael dreaded telling Faith the truth about how he felt about Kevin and at first hoped that maybe she wouldn't ask him to reveal his thoughts about her fiancé. But Michael knew better because for many years he had been Faith's confidant. When it came to matters of the heart she valued his opinion.
Once he and Faith were alone at a little restaurant in the village near her luxurious apartment, she asked him what he thought of Kevin. She was so giddy and her eyes sparkled with excitement.
Michael didn't want to answer, but he knew she wouldn't back down. He gave her his honest opinion about the arrogant, self- centered, controlling, and greedy man. A person who didn't deserve Faith's love and support, but she was so eager and willing to give it to him.
Even though Michael knew Faith would be disappointed in what he had to tell her, he never imagined her reaction would be so mean and hurtful. He could still hear her stern voice accusing him of being jealous because she'd finally found true love and he had not, further damaging Michael's already scarred heart.
In fact, Michael had found love with a woman whom he loved with all his heart. The problem was Faith didn't know that she was the woman he loved. Deep within his heart, Michael recognized that he was right about Kevin, but was disappointed that after asking for his opinion, Faith didn't heed his warnings. She didn't want to hear another word about Kevin.
Michael wasn't asking her to choose between him and her fiancé, but it was evident that she'd chosen Kevin when she walked out of the restaurant. And without another word between them, she left him to process his own thoughts, wondering if he could have handled the situation better.
It was the truth, Kevin only cared about himself, and after that day, Michael wouldn't speak to Faith again nor would he be included on the guest list of her upcoming wedding. He didn't mind that so much because he didn't want to witness her making the biggest mistake of her life.
Today was the first time Michael had laid eyes on Faith since that day.
Pretty soon, he noticed the sisters were walking away from the table, leaving Faith alone. It was a sign.
Gripping the edge of the table, Michael swung his legs around and drained his glass, placing it back on the table. He stood, rubbed his hands together and threw caution to the wind. With deliberate steps, he walked over to Faith's table.
"She's beautiful," Michael whispered as he moved closer to her, his pulse racing with anticipation of their impromptu reunion. There she is, in the flesh, he thought to himself. The woman who'd captured his heart and had never been far from his thoughts since they were teenagers was right in front of him.
"I don't believe it," Michael said, approaching the table. "I thought I was hallucinating at first," he said, then stretched his arms out.
Faith looked up at him and Michael hadn't realized that he was holding his breath until she slid from the booth and into his arms. He wrapped them around her, feeling her step closer to him, resting her head against his shoulder like she used to do. This was his friend from way back; he'd known her for twenty-five of his thirty-one years. They used to do everything together — he had even taken her to her senior prom — and right now hugging her felt so good.
Excerpted from "A McClendon Thanksgiving"
Copyright © 2017 Sean D. Young.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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