In Glory, Kansas, the best bakery in three counties not only brings together ingredients for sweet treats, but is the place wherethrough the powerful mix of friendship, community and a well-stocked kitchena wounded hero can forge a forever kind of love.
Back in the hometown he left behind five years ago, Jack McConnell has returned battle-scarred and feeling like half a man. But Betsy Lewis only sees the hero who once saved her life and set her heart on fire. Now she's burning to save him in return. She'll use every trick she's got up her sleeve, from her generous natural assets to her talent for baking, to coax Jack out from the bottom of his whiskey bottle.
At first, Jack responds to Betsy like any red-blooded man would. He's always denied his attraction to the innocent girl he used to know, but he's returned to find Betsy's grown into a full-on woman with strength enough for both of them. Until Jack realizes the only way to conquer his demons and be worthy of the hero's mantle she's pinned to his shoulders is to save Betsy one last timefrom himself.
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Betsy Lewis never planned on staying in Glory. There was a big world out there with so much to be seen, done and most important, tasted. For one brief year, she'd escaped to the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.
If anyone were to ask her, she'd say freedom tasted like New York. Specifically, coffee and cheesecake from Junior's before class. Sometimes, after class, too. For a city that was supposed to have horrible water, coffee didn't taste the same anywhere else. Neither did the pizza crust, but that was another matter entirely. Her mouth watered just thinking about it. New York was freedom, success and happiness.
Paris, on the other hand, Paris tasted like Glory. A brew of bitter failure and broken dreams. She had gone there after graduation from the institute, one of the few chosen to be mentored by the famous Chef Abelard. Instead of being the jewel in her crown and the beginning of her career, it was a black stain. For her first dish, she and the other students had been told to prepare mushrooms bordelaise. They had to hunt for the mushrooms themselves, and rather than paying attention to what she was doing, she'd been too busy soaking up the countryside, the culture and Marcel to notice that she'd gathered death cap mushrooms. If not for Chef Abelard's highly sensitive caninelike sense of smell, she might have killed someone.
After the incident, she'd told herself she never wanted to cook, she never wanted to be a chef, she was a baker. An artist who wrought beauty out of sugar and flour. Not someone who worried about brisket.
So she'd returned to Glory and the small-town life that always seemed too small. But after the incident, New York was too big.
Except for Jack McConnell. Yeah, she'd rather think about him than how she'd blown her dreams out of the water with both guns blazing. He was the only thing about Glory that was big-screen.
Jack. Even thinking his name made her insides flutter like a thousand butterfly wings. Of course, that fluttering nonsense had been cordially invited to stop when his letters stopped. The butterflies didn't take the hint, but she hadn't found a way to effectively serve them an eviction notice.
They were the reason she hadn't slept. Or more accurately, Jack was the reason she hadn't slept. The butterflies were hosting a rave at the prospect of seeing him again. Jack had come home and as of this particular moment was barely three blocks away. The knowledge they were even in the same zip code had each nerve ending on high alert. Betsy was sure her eyes were open so wide she looked like some kind of speed freak.
She'd replayed every memory over and over again until the edges seemed tattered like an old quilt, and just like that old quilt, she'd wrapped herself in those memoriesespecially of his kiss.
Betsy hadn't been kissed like that sincean electric current she felt all the way through to her toes. Not that many had gotten close enough to try. Betsy didn't trust easily. She was friendly and warm, but few were invited to her inner circle. Almost drowning as a child had been a hard lesson. When it had happened, Betsy could see the people who were supposed to be her friends through the heavy wall of water that held her down. They'd simply stood immobile and watched as her life slipped away. The EMTs said inaction associated with fear in that kind of situation was common, but rather than offering comfort to Betsy, it drove home the idea people weren't to be trusted.
All except Jack. He'd rescued her. That memory replayed itself more often than his kiss.
This constant cycle of thoughts had been set to "spin" since she found out Jack was coming home. Now he was here, and today they'd welcome him home in the same gym where they'd said goodbye.
She rolled over and over, trying to get comfortable, but sleep was elusive. Betsy gave up trying. Her bakeshop, Sweet Thing, would open soon. While she loved her shop, it was still the consolation prize because it was in Glory. She had a small staff, but Betsy still had to finish the cookies she was taking to the ceremony. She wanted to do those herself. They were Nutella cheesecake, Jack's favorite.
She slipped into the dress she'd made just for today. White with a bright red cherry print sewn in her favorite pattern. It accentuated her assets while kindly camouflaging her flaws. Betsy draped a crisp apron over the creation and headed downstairs to the shop.
The scent of glazed donuts and maple coffee greeted her when she walked through the door. Betsy inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, as if she could keep more of the scent with her. There was a kind of Zen for her in the bakeshop. Simply walking through the door was a tonic for Betsy that eased her hurts and soothed her mind.
A blond head poked out from the walk-in cooler. India George was a newly minted addition to the Glory P.D. and her brother's partner. India was supermodel gorgeous, with high cheekbones, long legs and wide blue eyes. But she'd never been one for dresses and frills; she was rough-and-tumble all the way. She'd been back only for a few months, but it was as if she'd never left. This morning she'd agreed to be Betsy's minion and help run the shop while Betsy handled the orders for the ceremony. In return, Betsy promised no cop/donut jokes for at least a week.
"Didn't sleep, did you?" India asked as she pulled out a tray of donuts ready for frosting and set them on a prep table.
Betsy grabbed some icing bags and handed one to India. "Sleep is overrated."
"Have you seen him yet?" India didn't look at her as she accepted the bag and began icing a donut.
India wasn't only her brother's partner, she was also his best friend and had been since the first time she made him actually eat dirt on the playground after taking her ball. India was the big sister she'd never had.
"No," Betsy admitted. "I almost went to see him the day he came home, but I thought he'd need some time."
"That was smart. Adjusting to civilian life is hard, even without his challenges. His parents' deaths " She shrugged and kept icing.
What India hadn't mentioned, but left hanging in the air like a contagion, was the stark reality of Jack's injuries.
"I remember when I got the call last year," Betsy said quietly. "After his parents died when he was first deployed, I was his emergency contact. The nurse asked me if there was anything I wanted her to tell him. She thought he was going to die."
India had a donut halfway up to her mouth but put it down. "I didn't know that. What did you say?"
"He promised to come back to me, India." Betsy nodded silently as that last and most hated memory churned to the surface. She'd been avoiding that one, pushing it out of her head every time it struggled forward. She'd rather drown a thousand times than ever take that call again or remember how it felt. She found her voice and lifted her chin. "I told her to remind him of his promise."
"Oh Bets." India covered Betsy's hand with her own. "That was a long time ago. Maybe even another person. He"
"It's not like I spent the last five years waiting for him." Betsy turned back to her work.
"Isn't it?" India asked in a careful tone.
"No, that would be stupid." Or maybe just pathetic. She hadn't waited for him, but Jack McCon-nell had the set the bar by which she measured a man pretty high.
"When was the last time you went out with someone?" India had latched on to the idea that Betsy had waited all these years for Jack. Like a rabid dog, she wasn't going to let it go any time soon.
"Not who, when?"
Betsy cringed at the answer. "Last year."
"And before that?"
"There was that guy in Paris." She thought about Marcel and how he'd broken her heart right after she'd broken her own dreams. She sighed. Marcel didn't matter. What would she have done with him anyway? Stayed in France? Married him? And never been good enough, smart enough, pretty enough or talented enough? She'd always be the wide-eyed girl from America who liked to play in the kitchen. Why had she ever put up with that from him?
"Right about when Jack stopped writing and calling?" India eyed her. "You still have his dog tags, don't you?"
The tags were in her nightstand. "I still have my yearbook, too. That's not especially significant." Now, Jack, he was the one she would've married. If she were with him, Glory wouldn't be such a bad place to end up. In fact, when she was a little girl, she didn't dream of France. She dreamed of him and Glory.
"A yearbook is nowhere near the same thing as a soldier's dog tags."
Betsy could admit India was right about that, but Betsy didn't think there was anything wrong with keeping his tags. He'd been a big part of her life. The breath in her lungs was there only because he'd given it to her. Keeping his tags didn't seem above and beyond reasonable.
"Look, I know Jack isn't the same guy who left. He couldn't be. But that guy made me feel like a live wire and see stars where I knew there weren't any because my eyes were closed. If someone makes me feel that again, then I'll go out with him. I won't settle for less."
"Honey, if Scott Meyer didn't make you see stars, you're a lost cause," India teased.
Betsy could admit Scott was a catch. He was a fireman. It was some unwritten law that all firemen had to be sexy. He was smart and funny, country-boy sweet with a pair of shoulders like Atlas. Betsy had kissed him on their third date. It had been nice, but it had reminded her of chocolate. Godiva to be exact. She liked Godiva and enjoyed it, an excellent product, but it didn't do things to her senses the way Andre's Confiserie Suisse did. Having had Andre's, she was spoiled for anything else.
"Didn't you go out with him a few times after you got back? I don't see any follow-up dates that you had, either. You must be a lost cause, too," Betsy deflected.
A haunted look flashed across India's features, only to fade into a brittle smile. "I am at that, Bets." She nodded.
"India," Betsy began haltingly.
"I'd rather deal with your mess than mine." India's expression softened. "I know you and Caleb love me. If I need you, I'll ask, okay?"
There was so much Betsy wanted to say. India was just returning to civilian life after deployment as a military police officer. While she'd come home physically whole, something catastrophic had happened to her that was more than just the reality of war.
"Okay," she agreed softly. "But you better hurry up in the dating department. Otherwise you're stuck with my brother." They'd made an oath at fifteen that if neither of them was married by thirty, they'd bite the bullet and marry each other. Betsy's mom had been thrilled and suggested they start dating as a practice run.
"More like he'd be stuck with me." India managed a real laugh. "Don't you have cookies to bake?"
Betsy let it drop. "Are you sure you can handle the counter? The morning rush is kind of crazy."
"I'm a cop." India shrugged. "How bad can it be?"
"You're tempting fate with that question."
"She can go ahead and bring it?" India screwed up her pretty features into an expression that said she was indeed ready for anything that came her way.
That was old-school India, and Betsy was happy to hear it. "If you're sure. If you need me, I'll be in my laboratory?" She pronounced the last word with what her brother had come to call "evil genius inflection."
Betsy had to admit that baking sometimes made her feel like a mad scientist, or a witch brewing spells and potions. It was part of what she loved about baking. Quality baked goods were all about chemistry and reaction, but not just of the ingredients themselves. It was about how those things interacted with the people combining the ingredients and those who would partake of the results.
Betsy tried to stay calm and happy while she worked. In the early days of her shop, she'd taken out her frustration on bread dough, and even though she'd done nothing different, when she was unhappy, the bread tasted like a scoop of used kitty litter.
As she mixed the dough for the cookies, Betsy let go of everything that weighed her down. She surrendered to the initial feelings that always enveloped her when she walked into the shop. Peace. Joy. Home. She kept each one on her mind and in her heart while she formed every cookie.
It was a blessed respite until several hours later. When all the batches had cooled and she packaged cookies for Jack and some for the ceremony, it occurred to her that maybe Jack wouldn't want to see her at all. Her heart twisted in on itself, the cruel hands of possibility wringing it out like a sponge.
She crushed that thought beneath her vintage high heels. It didn't matter if he wanted to see her or not. With all he'd lost, he needed someone. Even if it was only to let him know he wasn't alone. It was possible and even likely he'd changed more than she could ever know, but underneath it all, he was still Jack. Betsy owed him her very life, and if he needed her now, nothing would keep her from repaying the debt. She might not be able to make mushrooms bordelaise, but she could help Jack.
Betsy kept her focus on that determination while she closed up Sweet Thing, loaded the bakery van with India and even after she'd taken her seat inside the community center.
But then her first sight of Jack obliterated all her good intentions. Any notion of debts and repayment quickly morphed into a familiar hunger. Her breath caught and time stopped.
A tsunami-like surge of emotion crashed over her now. She devoured the sight of him, as if any second he'd disappear and she'd have only these few precious seconds to remember him.
He was harder now, aged in a way deeper than skin. His shoulders were wider, his chest thicker and his jaw harder. His close-cropped hair now accentuated the high-angled sharp lines of his cheekbones and cinder block jaw. His mouth was set in a grim line, scar tissue crisscrossing in a haphazard melee across the left side of his face. When he turned his head, she saw that the scars ran down his neck and disappeared beneath his uniform.
Tears welled up in her eyes for him, but not because of how he looked. Even with the scars, he was as handsome as he'd ever been. Maybe even more. His scars were proof of his strengthof his courage. The spray of white-ridged marks across his skin, and tributaries and valleys of twisted, ropey sinew and puckered flesh, horrified her not because they were ugly, but because she couldn't imagine the pain he'd suffered.
Betsy tried to look away. But try as hard as she could, there was nothing else she could focus on but Jack. Just as it had always been.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My emotions ran wild on this book. Jack returns to Glory broken and scarred but Betsy is there to redeem Jack out of his whiskey bottle. They find their love is still in hot zone and Jack is responsive to Sara but is afraid to bring his true feelings forward. You are in for a emotional and wonderful read as Sara brings this book together. You will love this as I did and definitely will keep up with the series.
The Sweetest Thing I've read in a while...no pun intended. This was my first time reading Sara Arden. I have read books by her other alias, but not this one. This was an excellent book to introduce me to her style. This book is sweet. Really sweet, without being full on tooth ache. But to cut through the sweet is a lot of great heat. Both of these characters are very likeable. Something I've noticed is hard to find in romance books these days. I often don't like the heroine, but Betsy is great. She's just the right combination of sweet, naive, and feisty and smart. Not to mention, she has a fashion sense I can really support. And Jack. Oh, Jack. Beautifully broken and damaged Jack. He's the perfect mix of vulnerable and strong. Not often are those traits written so beautifully has they are here. Jack is truly a romance book hero. This was definitely a 5 star read for me, and highly recommended if you love a sweet and steamy story with extremely well-written characters.
3 STARS I liked the characters, the family relationships. The drama of PTSD and coming back home changed. Also dealing with dreams and facing fears. There was a lot sex scenes and talk that was suggestive. Jack McConnell has returned to his home town. They want to welcome him home as a hero but he does not feel like a hero. Every Sat. he plays Russian roulette with his gone. He can't stand to look at himself or his new leg. Jack is a US Navy Seal and he does not know what the future will bring. Betsy Lewis has her own bakery shop. She has loved Jack forever. She is excited for him to be home. Betsy has not been sitting at home just waiting for him to come back. She spent time in New York and Paris learning. Caleb Lewis is Betsy' older brother. He is a cop. Caleb's two best friends from childhood are Jack and India. All three joined the service. Only Caleb came back the same. Caleb's family has welcomed both India and Jack into there family. I like how Betsy went to the VA every Monday with her day old bakery items. She spent time there too not just dropping them off. The setting for this book is Glory, Kanas I do plan on reading more of this series. I was given this ebook to read by Net Galley and Harlequin. In return I agreed to give honest review of Return to Glory.
It's hard to put into words how feel after reading this book. Sara Arden has crafted an amazing masterpiece that will rip you to shreds and the put you back together piece by little tiny piece. There are so many things that stand out in this book that it's going to be hard to identify them. Let me start with the realism. This book, while not shoving your face in it, delivers a realistic view of what some of our returning soldiers endure on a daily basis. This is not the fairy tale of the returning hero even if the town wants it to be that way. Jack comes back damaged, emotionally, mentally and of course physically. We walk through a small part of the nightmare that he has to live with each day. We get a glimpse of what our soldiers come home with and how some of them deal with it. I loved that a session at the VA was included in this story and I hope we get to see more as the series progresses. It's so important to be reminded that just because they come home doesn't mean they leave the desert behind, some bring back more than they bargained for. I think it's also important that we get to see what the people around him see so we get a full circle view of Jack. He's good at hiding from most. The depiction of him not being able to taste....that's brilliant....that's truth and it was delivered to us in beautiful, heart-wrenching prose. If you are not affected by this then you just aren't human. Now to the love....it's all there, every kind of love you can think of and experience is contained between the covers of this amazing tome. We are also assured that no matter the wounds love can maybe not "fix" it but it can give you the strength and courage to at least want to move forward. But...it also shows that accepting that love through all the pain isn't always the easiest thing to do but true love for each other can and does win, if we give it a chance. Of course, the book would be nothing without Betsy. Sweet, wonderful, damaged Betsy. She suffers from what many of us do. We all believe that the fairy tale will make everything alright, will fix everything but she learns that the tapes that run on repeat in our heads can't be silenced by anyone else, that we have to silence them. She shows what I've always felt, it's so easy to be strong for someone else, it's easy to ignore our own pain and try to make everyone else's pain better, that way we don't have to look at ourselves. She was successful at that with all the people in her life but then we see her growth, her move to wanting to help herself. There are so many ups and downs, 2 boxes of Kleenex worth for me but they were so worth it. I feel better and stronger for having met these characters and I can't wait to see what's next in Glory.