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Lorana Hoopes

Love Conquers All

Love Conquers All

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Will his secret past destroy their future?

Lanie Perkins Hall never imagined being divorced at thirty. Nor did she imagine falling for an old friend, but when she runs into Azarius Jacobson, she can't deny the attraction. As they begin to spend more time together, Lanie struggles with the fact Azarius keeps his past a secret. What is he hiding? And will she ever be able to get him to open up?

Azarius Jacobson has loved Lanie Perkins Hall from the moment he saw her, but issues from his past have left him guarded. Now that he has another chance with her, will he find the courage to share his life with her? Or will his emotional walls create a barrier that will leave him alone once more?

Find out in this heartfelt, multiracial, emotional fourth book in the Star Lake series. This sweet romance can be read stand alone or as part of the series, so click above and join the journey today.

First Chapter

Lanie Hall’s footsteps echoed in the now half empty house. True to his word, Denny had cleared out his half of the furniture. The rusty orange recliner she had always hated? Gone. The glass topped coffee table she had always imagined children breaking and cutting themselves on? It was gone too. The fact they had never had kids to break the coffee table hadn’t deterred her fears over the years. 

All that remained of the living room furniture now was the couch her parents had given her when she first moved out. Faded and slightly stained, but otherwise in decent shape, it had lasted through college, and without kids, had held up well over the years as well.

Lanie wandered into the kitchen. Most of the appliances remained on the counter, but she noted the absence of the coffee pot. She might have to replace that as Denny’s morning coffee habit had rubbed off on her some time in their ten years together.

With a heavy heart, Lanie followed the hallway into the bedroom which had felt empty for the last few years anyway. Somewhere around their fifth year of marriage, she and Denny had stopped touching and kissing. Forget sleeping in the same room at the same time. She would turn in and read a new book or get lost in a tv show until she fell asleep. He would fall asleep in the living room and leave for work without even saying goodbye. And that’s how the last few years had passed.

Lanie crossed to the closet and opened the door. The small room had once been bursting with both their clothes, but now only hers hung on one side, creating a haphazard effect like a sinking ship. With a sigh she thought back to the last conversation she’d had with Denny.

“I can’t do this anymore, Lanie. We hardly talk, and when we do, it’s short and curt. I want to experience something again.”   

“Let’s try counseling, Denny,” Lanie said, curling her hands against her legs. “I don’t like feeling like roommates either.”     

“We could.” Denny nodded and ran a hand through his short brown hair, “but I don’t expect it would help. Neither of us is getting anything out of this marriage any longer. I think it best we go our separate ways.”        

Lanie blinked at him but nodded. A part of her had hoped he would fight, that he would agree to counseling or something else, but his adamant stance informed her he no longer cared to try. It saddened her a little, but she didn’t have the energy to fight for them both.     

She shut the closet door, hating the reminder of her failed marriage. Though the divorce wasn’t official yet, it was only a matter of time. Denny was gone, and the paperwork was filed. As they hadn’t wanted any of the same things and they planned on selling the house and splitting the profits, the smooth process had taken no time, and now she was simply playing the waiting game. 

Suddenly, the house felt too empty, too condemning, and Lanie needed a break. She retraced her steps, grabbing her keys at the door, and hurried to her car. With no idea of where to go, she let her mind wander and her hands do the steering, but it wasn’t much of a surprise when she pulled into Mic’s, the radio station hang out. 

It had been where she had spent many Friday nights, belting out karaoke until Denny decided he no longer wanted to go out. He had never insisted she not go, but there had been a silent request coupled with a heaping of guilt, and she had eventually stopped showing up.

Lanie paused with her hand on the door handle. What if this was no longer the hangout? What if she stepped inside and recognized no one there? Squaring her shoulders, she decided she didn’t care. It couldn’t be any worse or feel any lonelier than her empty house.  

The darkened club looked exactly as she remembered if a little emptier, but a check of her wristwatch revealed the hour was still early. She sidled up to the bar for a drink, not because she was much of a drinker, but because she needed something to do.

“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked. His bald pate contrasted with a full, thick beard, which formed an interesting contrast. Large gages created gaping holes in his ears, but his kind smile softened the hard image.

“Can I have a sprite please?”

The bartender raised one eyebrow at her, but turned and grabbed a glass.

“Lanie? Lanie Hall?”

Lanie looked to the left where the voice had come from, and her breath caught. Azarius Jacobson, a blast from her past, stood there dapper as ever in grey jeans and a darker grey shirt that accentuated his finely-toned arms.

They had once worked together at the radio station, though he had quit and done something else shortly after her marriage to Denny.

“Azarius? How have you been?” The words were barely out of her mouth before she threw her arms around him. They hadn’t been close when he worked at the station years ago, but he was a familiar face on a day she needed one. 

He chuckled as her weight knocked him a step backwards, and his arms surrounded her to keep them both from falling over.

Though purely innocent, she hadn’t had a man’s arms around her in so long that it ignited a flame deep inside her, and a heated flush crawled up her face as she registered his touch. “Sorry, I’m just excited to see someone I know, and I haven’t seen you for what? Six years?”

“Eight,” he said, dropping his arms. “You look fantastic. Just as I remembered.”

Just as he remembered? The flush climbed higher up her face. She had only a vague memory of him from when he worked at the radio station, but he appeared to have a much better memory of her.

“You look great too. Why don’t you get a drink and join me? I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.” Why did the simple thought of him joining her send her heart racing?

“Sure, I’d love to catch up with you.” 

He ordered a Vodka Tonic and led the way to an empty table.

“When did you get back to town?” she asked as they sat. The light above bounced off his dark skin, creating a glittering caramel effect.

“About six months ago,” he said. “I’m not working for the radio station this time though.”

She smiled as she sipped her soda. “I figured you weren’t. I’m still there, and I would have noticed if you were back.”

“Would you have?” His dark brown eyes bored into her soul, and she dropped her eyes and bit her lip.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” she said, stirring her straw in a circle. “Things have been crazy.”

“Oh yeah? What’s been going on?”

His gaze never wavered from her, and the intensity of it sent a shiver down her spine. When was the last time someone had looked at her like that? As if he really saw her? Years, she decided. It had been years, and the simple act not only made her feel beautiful but lowered her emotional walls.

“My marriage fell apart,” she sighed. “I guess it had been going that direction for awhile, but we finally decided to stop fighting the lack of feelings and call it quits.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, but something about his expression made her wonder if he really were sorry.

“So, what about you?” she asked, changing the subject. Her failed marriage was a topic she wanted to forget, not rehash. “How has life been for you?”

He shrugged. “It’s been. I re-enlisted for awhile. You knew I was National Guard, right?”

Lanie blinked and shook her head. She’d had no idea he was in the service. Wow, she really had been clueless about him. That was a pretty big piece of information to miss about someone. 

“Oh, well I needed a change, so I re-enlisted for a few years. My time just ended, so I’m back here as a civilian again, doing some contract work.”

The shifting of his eyes led her to believe there was more to the story, but she didn’t press the issue. It felt like prying and that seemed rude after not having seen him for so long.

“Do you sing?” she asked, gesturing at the karaoke book on the table in an attempt to change the conversation.

A small smile pulled at the corner of his lips. “No, but I’d love to hear you sing. I always enjoyed watching you belting it out in the booth.”

Unsure how to respond to that tidbit of information, Lanie felt her face flush again. Had Azarius had a crush on her? If so, did he still? And did she want him to? These questions circled through her brain, but all she could manage was, “You watched me?”

“Only a few times,” he said. “You always looked like you were having fun, so go ahead and pick something. I’ll cheer you on.”

* * *

Azarius kicked himself as Lanie’s auburn head dropped to scan the binder of songs. He had almost spilled how attracted he was to her. He had been for years. In fact, her marriage was what drove him from the station and to re-enlist. Though he’d never gotten up the nerve to tell her how he felt, seeing her married to another had been unbearable. 

Now here they were back in the same town and both single. He finally had the chance to show her how he felt, if he didn’t mess it up too badly.

“Okay, I think I’ll try this one.” Lanie pointed to a song in the book.

He smiled and nodded at her as she scribbled the choice on a piece of paper. Azarius didn’t care what she sang; she had the voice of an angel any time she opened her mouth.

Lanie stood and made her way to the stage, handing over the piece of paper to the DJ. He scanned it and motioned for her to take the mic on the small raised platform that served as a stage. Looking a little timid, she stood in front of the microphone and offered him a small smile.

Azarius flashed her a thumbs up and smiled as the music started. She probably had no idea the Duran Duran song she chose reminded him of her. He thought back to the day he had accidentally stumbled upon her singing it in the booth.

“Azarius, can you look at the board in control room three?” the station manager asked. “It’s been frizzing out again.”

“Of course, sir,” Azarius said. He grabbed the tool box from the closet that housed it and headed downstairs to the control booths. Lanie was on in control room three, which made the job even more appealing. Azarius didn’t believe in love at first sight, but from the moment he had met Lanie, she had affected him in a way no other woman had. Now if he could just get up the courage to tell her.

Duran Duran’s “Come Undone” was billowing out of the room as he approached. He knocked on the door, but when the music didn’t lower, he assumed she hadn’t heard his knock, and he pushed the door open slowly.

Lanie stood behind the board in a pair of cutoff denim shorts and a red tank top. Her auburn hair flowed freely down her shoulders and bounced with the movement of her head from side to side. 

Her beautiful soprano voice belted out the lyrics, mesmerizing Azarius. He could have stood there all day watching her. “Can I believe you’re taking my... Oh!” Her voice stopped as she turned and spied him standing there. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.”

“That’s okay.” He smiled and held up the tool box, so she would realize he wasn’t being voyeuristic. “I knocked but …” he shrugged. “I need to check out the control panel.”

She lowered the music and stepped back. “Of course. You have about two minutes until this song ends though.”

“I’ll be quick.”

“I love singing,” she said as if trying to explain her actions. “And since the booth is soundproof, I often test my range since no one can hear me. My singing doesn’t go out over the radio.”

Azarius bit his lip to hide his smile at her nervousness. “Even if it did, no one would mind,” he said. “You have a beautiful voice.” He watched the soft pink color climb her face before turning back to the control panel.

“Was it okay?” Lanie asked as she finished the song and returned to the table.

“It was amazing,” Azarius said.

A rose color flooded Lana’s cheeks, and she dropped her eyes. “You don’t have to say that.”

“No, I don’t, but you are an amazing singer.” Her eyes lifted, and he felt himself falling into the hazel depths. “Lanie, I’d love to hang out with you again,” he began. “Are you into eighties music?”

Lanie blinked at him. “Am I into what?”

“Eighties music. I know it sounds silly, but I love to watch old music videos, and I thought maybe you’d like to hang out and watch them with me.”

“Like a date?” she asked, one eyebrow arched in the air.

Azarius realized how silly that sounded. Yeah, come hang out and watch videos with me, but it was who he was. “Like two old friends reconnecting,” he said. “With the possibility of more.”

She smiled at him and placed her hand on his, sending tingles down his arm. “I’d like that. I could use an old friend right about now.”

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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.