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Lorana Hoopes

Defending My Heart

Defending My Heart

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Originally Titled: Her Second Chance Forever Groom

The man who broke her heart. The second chance she's not sure if she wants.

Emmitt Brown's demons are even bigger than he is, and as a defensive lineman for a pro-football team, that's something. When the team captain tasks his defensive line to go home for Christmas and get rid of their biggest past regret, Emmitt finds himself returning to the small town he grew up in to find the woman he never should have left. Too bad she hates him and tells him to go away.

Mia Carter can't believe Emmitt Brown is back in town. She does not need this right now. Especially since he's been the ghost who won't leave her conscience alone for the past five years and especially since she recently lost her husband. But when the pro football player steps up and offers to help her son fight cancer, she finds herself reluctantly agreeing.

Now, they have to make a choice: dig into the past and let the truth bring them together, or lose the Christmas miracle right in front of them.

Another heart tugging, swoon worthy romance from USA Today best-selling author Lorana Hoopes. This first book in the Texas Tornadoes series will have you laughing, crying, and applauding at the grace of God. Grab your copy and prepare to see God shine today by clicking above.

First Chapter

Emmitt Brown tossed in his bed, sending his sheets tangling around his feet. Figured. At least now they matched his feelings. He stared up at the white ceiling, wishing his mind could be as blank as the canvas above him. The conversation from a few hours earlier replayed in his mind like a broken record. An accusing broken record.

“You know what I’ve decided?” Matt Johnson, the defensive line leader asked as he lifted his glass. 

Around the table, the men shook their heads. It had been a long day after attending the funeral for their owner’s wife, who’d almost been like a surrogate mother to them all. She always invited new recruits over for dinner and often brought cookies to practices. She was a ray of light for the team of mostly men who often let practice and games wear them down.

Two months ago, she had been fine. Then she’d announced that she had a rare form of cancer. She’d told them all with a smile on her face and a confidence in her voice that made them believe she would beat it. But it had taken her instead. 

Something in the chemo treatment had set off an infection in her body, and within hours, Leo, the owner, was taking her off life support and saying goodbye. The rest of the team didn’t even get to make it to the hospital before it was all over.

“I’ve decided life is too short to live with regret. Diana always lived life to the fullest and though she was taken too soon, maybe we can all have the second chance she didn’t get. I know I’ve got things in my past I wish I had handled differently, and I bet you all do too. So, I’m going to spend the time off making those things right. Who’s with me?”

Emmitt glanced around at his fellow teammates. He too had things in his past that he wasn’t proud of, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready to face his greatest regret.

Matt held his fist over the center of the table, like he always did before they exited a huddle and ran out onto the field. “What do you guys say? How about we spend this time before Christmas making things right? Making Diana proud of us?”

Jordan White, middle linebacker, nodded and placed his hand on top of Matt’s. “I’m in.”

Andrew Markum, always the hesitant one, leaned back and ran his hand across his chin. “Matt, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s better if stuff in the past stays in the past.”

Emmitt could understand that viewpoint. The stuff in his past was more than he was sure he could face again, much less in just seven days.

Sid Lawson, strong side-back and the epitome of the strong, silent type, grunted in his usual manner but put his fist in too. “Fine.” 

That meant it was Emmitt’s turn. He couldn’t say no. It would raise too many questions, but how could he respond without having to face his shameful past? Deflection. It worked wonders on the field. Maybe it would work with the guys too. “We always have things we can ask forgiveness for.”

Andrew sighed but placed his hand in as well. “You know we’re always in this together.” He punctuated his words with a friendly eye roll.

Matt smiled at them as he looked from one man to the other. “We make amends. For Diana.”

“For Diana,” the men echoed, and for a moment Emmitt was bolstered by their camaraderie. Maybe he could do this. 

So, Matt had regrets, but didn’t they all? Still, why did he have to recommend they go home and face them? And why had Emmitt agreed? He had spent the last few years running from his regrets, and he wasn’t sure he was ready to go back yet. Had he changed enough?

He’d been working hard on becoming a better man. In fact, it was what had driven him to God, and he knew that part of making that transition completely was apologizing to those he had hurt. Still, every time he thought about it, he chickened out. Mantras of what he’d done was too awful, he hadn’t changed enough, or apologizing wouldn’t change anything blazed in his head. Though Emmitt knew none of those were true, the words played over and over, crippling him. His kryptonite.

With a sigh, he reached for his Bible. When the demons reared up in his head like this, the only way to quiet them was to immerse himself in God’s word. His fingers traced the seam around the Bible and caressed the leather. Most people at his church never brought Bibles anymore, they just whipped out their phones or tablets, but Emmitt enjoyed the feel of the physical book. The weight, the smell, and the peace it brought when he held it in his hands, when he cracked it open, and when he quieted his heart enough to let God speak to him through it. That would be hard tonight with his thoughts careening all over the place like pinballs in an arcade machine, but he would try.

Before he opened the book, he closed his eyes and took a moment to reach out to God. Emmitt wasn’t even sure the prayer had words as much as a desire for God to show him what he needed. Though he didn’t often, tonight he let the book fall open, and wouldn’t you know it, he landed in Ephesians chapter four. He read over the words, and when he got to verse twenty-five, he knew these were the words from God.

“What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body, we are all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.”

Oh, how fitting those words were. He was lying to himself. His teammates called him “The Reverend” or “Rev” for short because he was always praying or using scripture, but he was lying to them the same way he was lying to himself. The same way he had lied to Mia over five years ago.

Emmitt knew he had to go back. He had to make amends though he didn’t even know where to begin, but that knowledge didn’t tame the twisting flame in his stomach. He would just have to trust that God would open Mia’s heart. At least long enough for Emmitt to apologize.

He replaced the Bible on the nightstand and turned off the light. It was going to be a long night, and an even longer tomorrow.

* * *

“Carter, it’s time for bed,” Mia called as she turned off the sink and dried her hands. There hadn’t been many dishes tonight as she tried to cook the dinner in one pot, but still she missed the dishwasher. Washing by hand every night was killing her skin, and it gave her too much quiet time to think.

“But Mom, I’m not tired.” His whiny protest was punctuated perfectly with a large yawn as he looked up from his tablet. Mia was glad she and Marcus had purchased it for his Christmas gift last year. She would never have had the money to get it for him this year, and while she didn’t give him much screen time, it was her saving grace when he was extremely needy. And he’d been extremely needy a lot since Marcus’s death. Not that she blamed him, but she was already stressed trying to be both the mom and the dad as well as the sole breadwinner. She just had no patience left to deal with neediness.

“Uh huh, I see that, but it’s still bedtime. Let’s go, sport.” As she ushered him down the hall of their tiny one-bedroom apartment, she wondered if life would always be like this. Five and a half years ago when she’d married Marcus, they’d had big dreams. He was going to open his own business and become a wealthy entrepreneur, but after his third business idea failed, he had given up and taken a job at the local high school. It hadn’t been the fame and fortune he had hoped for, but they’d been content. At least until a drunk driver took his life.

After Marcus’s death, Mia had been forced to sell their modest house and move Carter into this tiny apartment. She’d taken a job at the restaurant down the street because the tips generally paid better than a traditional minimum wage job, but she was working overtime just to keep a roof over their heads. And she missed spending time with her son. Time, she knew, was the one commodity you never got back.

She helped Carter change into his pajamas, sighing as she realized he was outgrowing these as well. He only had two pairs and both were now well above his ankles. She’d have to stop at the Goodwill soon and see if they had any a size up.

“Momma, when will Daddy be back?” he asked as he climbed into the bed and snuggled his bear. It was a question he asked at least once a week, and while Mia knew his nearly five-year old brain just wasn’t capable of processing her response, she was tiring of giving it.

She brushed his hair back from his forehead and flashed a small smile. “Carter, baby, Daddy’s not coming back. He had to go live with God.”

“Forever?” His sad eyes pulled on her heartstrings.

“Forever, buddy, but you and me? We will be just fine.” At least as long as nothing happened to her job. Or her car. Or the apartment. Or herself. That was a lot of things hinging on those last five words.

He yawned again and his eyes shut for a moment before pulling open again. “Do you think God will ever send me a new daddy?’

This was another question he asked often. “I don’t know, bud. We’ll have to wait and see.” His eyes closed again, and she placed a soft kiss on his forehead before pulling the blanket up to his chin and tiptoeing out of the room.

Would God send another man her way? She didn’t know. For the first few months after Marcus died, she couldn’t imagine ever marrying again, but now, almost a year later, the thought had popped in her mind once in a while. She still wasn’t sure she could marry for love, but if he was a good man, a believer, she could consider marrying to have someone by her side. A friend to share the evenings with and someone who could help her provide a better life for Carter than the one she could by herself.

She sank down on the couch, not bothering to change her own clothes, and grabbed her Bible from the nightstand. Mia knew a lot of people in her situation would have turned from God, claiming He didn’t exist or didn’t hear her prayers since it appeared her life wasn’t improving, but He was all she had and she refused to turn her back on Him. Still, she did wish He would reveal His plan for her. She didn’t think she could keep going this direction much longer.

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Lorana Hoopes

Lorana Hoopes is a USA Today Best Selling Author and now an Award Winning Author as well. She's had two books earn a Page Turner Award Finalist badge and she recently won the Reader's Favorite Book Award for Romantic Suspense.