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A Glimmer of Hope: A Novella Prequel to Isle of Hope

By Julie Lessman

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For I know the plans I have for you,
declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.
—Jeremiah 29:11

Chapter One
Isle of Hope, Georgia, Spring 2007

“Come on, Lace, I dare you.”

Eighteen-year-old Lacey Carmichael glanced up in the bathroom mirror through red-rimmed eyes, her cousin Nicki propped against the door behind her with a threatening fold of arms. The challenge in Nicki’s hazel eyes was as potent as the bottle of Jack Daniels peeking out of her purse. With a ghost of a sigh, Lacey’s swollen lids flickered closed, her gut instinct to tell Nicki no. The last thing she wanted was to go to a party, especially one given by heartthrob bad boy, Royce Barrister, who didn’t take “no” for an answer.

At least when it came to Lacey.

Not unlike Nicki.

“Just look at yourself—blotchy face, red eyes, and a face so pitiful, you look like you just lost your best friend.”

A heave caught in Lacey’s throat. That’s because I did …

Nicki stamped her foot. “For crying out loud, Carmichael, get a grip! Jack O’Bryen is not worth it. I could maybe see you blubbering over somebody like his cousin because let’s face it, Matt Ball is flat-out hot, but his preacher-boy cousin? No way! So I think this could be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

The best thing that’s ever happened to me? The heave in Lacey’s throat bullied its way into a choked sob, slumping her shoulders as she put a quivering hand to her eyes. That would be Jack.

But it sure isn’t me for him.

At least, according to Daddy.

“Aw, Lace …” Nicki hugged her from behind, sweeping Lacey’s long blonde hair aside to rest her chin on her shoulder. “I know you’ve been over the moon for Jack forever, but you can’t let him run your life, sweetie, which is what he’s trying to do. You need a boyfriend, not a minister, always badgering you to do what he wants you to do.”

“What’s going on, Lacey?” Jack’s voice came back to haunt, their argument a painful reminder that she’d just broken up with the guy she’d been crazy about since the age of twelve. “Matt said Barrister was all over you at that party last week, and it’s gotta stop, Lace, or else ...”

Or else. A single tear slid down her face to well in the corner of her lips, the taste salty like all the tears she’d wept in Jack’s arms the last two years after she and Daddy had fought. Only these tears belonged to sweet, level-headed Jack O’Bryen, who had given her an ultimatum that all but guaranteed “or else.” She blinked in the mirror, barely seeing her tear-stained face for the resistance roiling in her mind. He, better than anyone, should have known ultimatums always triggered her temper, detonating that streak of rebellion she usually reserved for her father.

“Or-else?” she had bit out in a tone as threatening as Jack’s, “or else what, Brye? I already have one father trying to control my life—you trying to make it two?”

“You’re my girlfriend!” Jack shot back, the hint of temper in his voice matching her own, “I should be the only guy hanging all over you and nobody else.”

“Yeah, but that’s just it, Jack, you never do. You’re too busy protecting your own precious virtue to worry about mine.” Her jibe had been almost a hiss, still ticked that he’d put her off his last time home, when all she wanted was to give him her love. Well, Royce Barrister sure wouldn’t turn her down, and Jack needed to know that. Needed to know she was desperate for love from a man who actually thought she was worth it.

Because Daddy sure didn’t.

“Come on, Lace,” Nicki whispered, jolting Lacey back to the present when she squeezed her in a side hug. Her hazel eyes pleaded in the mirror. “Royce Barrister is crazy about you, and most girls would kill to go out with him, so this is your chance.” Nicki’s lower lip protruded in that pouty look she always used to get Lacey to see things her way. “And I promise, if you’re still hung up on Jack after that, then I will personally call him to plead your case, telling him I was to blame for leading you astray.”

A shadow of a smile hovered over Lacey’s lips. “He already knows that. I sure never went to any parties before you moved to Isle of Hope.”

Nicki’s chin nudged up. “And never had any fun either. Not with some stuffy preacher’s kid, who only gives you a peck on the cheek and calls it a kiss.”

“Knock it off, Nick,” Lacey countered, wondering why in the world she was defending a boyfriend whose prudish notions were holding their relationship back. “Jack kisses way more than my cheeks, and you know it.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right.” Nicki’s short punky curls wagged back and forth as she bobbed in time. “On your forehead … on your nose … on your hair …”

Lacey finally chuckled, shaking her head. “I’ll have you know, Nicolette Phillips, that Jack O’Bryen’s kisses are deadly, melting me into a puddle every time he lets himself go.”

The smile on Nicki’s face faded. “But that’s just it, Lace, he never does, does he?” Sympathy softened her tone. “He’s too busy saving himself for God while his girlfriend is starving for love.”

“I am not starving for love—”

Nicki arched a brow, and Lacey puffed out a sigh, slumping in the mirror. The truth was Nicki was right—she was starving for love. Yes, she and her mother were close when bouts of depression didn’t drag Mom down. But as far as having the love of a father that every little girl craved? Lacey was an emotional anorexic, starving for the love of a male figure that cherished her, thought she was pretty, wanted to love her, protect her. A glaze of saltwater welled in her eyes, and she quickly blinked it away. All Daddy ever wanted to do was berate and belittle her, making her feel like she was worth nothing at all.

“Don’t think you’re anything special. Any street walker can get ’em excited.”

Her jaw automatically hardened at Daddy’s favorite phrase, and bitterness coursed through her bloodstream like adrenalin because it wasn’t true—she was special. At least to Jack. She closed her eyes to ward off another sheen of moisture. Jack was the only one who made her feel that way, like she was worth loving at all. But even he couldn’t fully understand why she needed so much of his love. His was a loving family, where laughter and encouragement were as common as air. He didn’t know the type of emptiness she felt in her soul. The hurt. The rejection.

As a daughter.

As a woman.

“Wipe that black stuff off your eyes—you look like a prostitute.”

She squeezed her eyes tight, unwilling to let any tears fall over a father who had already bled her heart dry. No, as kind and sweet as Jack was, he couldn’t possibly comprehend why she craved his affection to the extent that she did. Which hurt all the more when the boyfriend who claimed to love her refused the closeness she needed to feel that love.

Nicki gently turned Lacey around, compassion etched into every pore of her cousin’s face. “Look, Lace, Jack loves you, we all know that. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s on his way home right now after your fight despite the fact he has finals next week. But the truth is he needs a wake-up call, and going with me to Royce’s party tonight could do the trick.” She ducked her head, peering up with soulful eyes. “He’s already jealous of Royce, so why not use it to your advantage? You do want Jack to commit to you, don’t you?”

Lacey nodded, chewing on the edge of her lip. Of course she wanted Jack to commit—body as well as soul—because that would bond them together, proving he loved her, wanted her.

Wouldn’t it?

“Well …” Nicki moved around to plop her purse on the bathroom counter, yanking out the bottle of Jack Daniels to retrieve her makeup bag. She shoved the bag at Lacey with a slant of a smile. “Then I suggest we try a new tactic, kiddo, because you’ve been trying to light a fire under Jack O’Bryen since I came home, which means whatever you’re doing isn’t working, agreed?”

Sucking in a shaky breath, Lacey released it again in a show of consent, well aware she needed a little more than pouts and peach bath oil—Jack’s favorite—to make her his girl all the way.


“Well then, I say we take advantage of this breakup, which we both know won’t last, right?”

A tiny grin tickled the edge of Lacey’s lips, confirming Nicki was right. Because heaven knows if two people were ever crazy about each other, it was Jack and her, and although Lacey’s temper always prodded their breakups, they both knew it wouldn’t last. From his very first kiss on her sixteenth birthday, they’d known they were soul mates forever.

Nicki stashed the Jack Daniels deep in her sack purse and headed for the door. “So get dolled up and let Royce Barrister fawn all over you tonight, because when his cousin runs back to tell Jack he could really lose you this time, I think jealousy is gonna build a bonfire under our boy like you have never seen.”

“You think?” Lacey nibbled a piece of dead skin at the edge of her smile, biting it clean through.

“Oh, honey—I know.” Nicki opened the door and gave her cousin a knowing wink. “And I can smell the lighter fluid right now …”

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