April and Hale Abercrombie’s love is tender and sweet. While he serves in Vietnam, their marriage is marked by trust and the belief that they will grow old together with a gaggle of grandchildren at their feet. But, their charmed marriage changes in the face of losing their newborn daughter.
On leave from his tour, Hale can barely wait to hold his wife and her help her heal. When he arrives, his embrace, his touch, and his love are as perfect as April remembered. Their reunion is passionate and their physical connection is strong and soothing. But, April’s heartache remains.
Hale stumbles through his attempts to prove to April that their future will be rich and full of wonder. His good-hearted, but take-charge approach causes her to retreat. Even in grief, April can see Hale’s earnestness, yet she finds solace in putting space between them. They must learn trust that real love will endure even in the face of all that has gone wrong.
Set on the beaches of the Outer Banks, Return to Love is the second book in the Endless Love series. Book one, Home Again, was named a finalist in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Buy link for Home Again
Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, Autumn 1970
Hale’s lungs were tight as he gripped his duffel in one hand and held his uniform over his shoulder with the other. He flew up the steps of the small fishing cottage that his wife was renting from the Shelby family and arrived on the wide porch. He had imagined the moment he’d see her so many times that he felt like he was performing a play. He dropped the duffel right there and knocked on the screen door. Why was he knocking? She knew he was coming. He threw the door open and walked into the small entry. It opened into the family room. He wiped his feet while he scanned the space. “April!”
His heart beat fast and heavy. Yes, he was home under difficult circumstances. Hale’s wife was having difficulty coping with the stillbirth of their daughter. He was worried for her and knew if his skipper granted hardship leave that things must be bad. Yet he was determined, sure as he had finally arrived at the Outer Banks, he was confident that he could make her well. He just needed to see her, to hold her, to tell her everything was going to be okay.
The Guess Who’s “No Sugar Tonight” was playing on the radio. The tune brought a smile to his face. He rushed down the hallway and poked his head into two bedrooms and a bathroom before finding the room April had been using. He tucked his naval uniform into the closet, went back to the kitchen, and turned off the radio, straining to hear any noise that might signal April’s location. He went back outside, inhaling the salty air.
Where was she? He leapt off the porch and crossed the gravelly lane called Beach Road stepping onto the sand, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of her. A seagull clipped Hale’s head as it landed off to the side then flipped a whitefish into its mouth. As far as he could
see, the beach was empty, yet he thought he should walk it, search for April. He didn’t know which direction she would have walked, but he started out anyway.
Heading south, a flock of black birds escorted him from above. Scores of them moved together like one great wing flapping in the wind. The whoosh of their collective descent was punctuated by their coarse, throaty screams.
The sand worked into Hale’s shoes, each particle stabbing at the skin below his ankles. He pushed one shoe off and then the other, leaving them near a smattering of driftwood that had been pushed ashore by high tide. The birds dropped, their calls growing louder, drowning out the surf. One by one the black skimmers rained from the sky like bombs, their red beaks bright against the gray sky that had crept in with Hale’s arrival. Some of the birds landed in the shoals and poked and prodded at the sand.
He came upon the largest cluster of birds, the beige sand peeking out in small patches among the blackness, and his eye went to a different form, a woman sitting rod straight, motionless in the center of the black avian shroud. Her blonde hair whipped in the wind like the sea grass at his feet. Hale stopped. His heart thumped. April. He willed himself to breathe, to move toward her. He’d never seen such a sight, the way she seemed partly born of the sand, partly able to sprout wings and fly away.
“April!” he said, waving even though her back was to him.
She did not respond. He called again, his words turned back to him by the stiff ocean gales. He jogged toward her, weaving in between napping skimmers, hopping over those that were too busy eating to move out of his way.
When he had nearly reached April, he halted again. He suddenly felt nervous about his excitement; he felt her sadness as though they shared the same soul. He’d never seen such a stunning sight in his life. Her elegance was apparent even sitting on a beach, in the middle of birds. She turned her head slightly, her profile facing him. His stomach flipped. Oh my God, is she beautiful. The wind tossed her hair, making her appear as though she were posing for a magazine shoot.
Even from a distance, even from the side, he thought he could see the sparkle of her blue eyes. The way they were set, wide on her face, made it seem as though he saw something slightly different every time he looked at her, something more, something alluring, hypnotizing. Those eyes.
There was no woman more captivating, he was sure. Or more lonely. Her sadness seemed to leap over the sand to him, to well up from the soles of his feet, filling him, squeezing the breath from his suddenly heavy lungs. If he felt this, then her pain must be far greater, her emptiness more profound. He’d helped her create life, but he hadn’t been there when it ended.
He moved closer to her, yelling her name again. She sat, splashed by the surf, her shorts and sleeveless t-shirt clinging to her body. Her legs were pretzeled beneath her, her arms outstretched, resting on her knees, her palms turned skyward. Seaweed had wrapped
around her fingers, dangling from them, the ends washing around her with the surf. She appeared fragile, even more so than the year before.
He finally reached her and dropped to his knees. Her eyes met his and he saw a spark in her expression, as though it took her a few heartbeats to realize who he was. She threw her ice-cold arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. Oh, God. The thrill he felt to hold her again shocked him, and the worry crashed away like a spent wave.
He kissed her cheeks and forehead and chin then ran his hands over her arms. “What are you doing out here like this? It’s so cold.” Hale didn’t wait for answers. He gathered her in his arms.
She drew back. “Wait.”
His chest heaved, wanting to wrap her up tight. He leaned in, and she put her hand against his chest, stopping him.
“It’s you, it’s you, it’s you.” Her gaze penetrated his, her words were thin against the noisy surf. Her smile turned electric. He was struck by the thought that his wife was all right, that she had weathered the stillbirth better than he’d been told. He exhaled, not realizing he’d been holding his breath.
Inches apart, they stared at each other. He grabbed her hands as a wave broke, drenching them. The tension dissolved and they laughed, falling into each other, running their hands over every bit of skin they could reach, marveling like they had discovered the lost tombs of Egypt.
“Let’s go.” He squeezed her hands.
She nodded and wrapped her arms around his neck. He stood and she latched her legs around his waist.
Hale moved down the beach, holding her. His excitement, the love he felt for her, spread throughout his body as she pressed her hips into him. He threaded his way toward the cottage, disturbing slumbering birds, whispering to April that all would be well now that he was back, that he would take away the hurt and make everything perfect again.
And as he headed back to the cottage, April nuzzled into him. “I love you, I love you,” she said, her lips moving against his neck, thrilling him. It had been nearly a year since he’d pulled April from the chilled water of the Albemarle Sound, since he had rescued her body and she had rescued his heart. Last year, back home on leave, he’d felt as though somehow he was starting over again, but had been lost, needing to find her as much as she had needed to be found.
She squeezed her legs tighter, finding his lips with hers. He stopped walking and set her down, continuing the kiss.
She pulled away, touching his arms, his chest, his cheeks, her eyes filled with tears. “You’re here, you’re here, you’re here. I can’t even believe it,” she said.
Hale dug his hands into her hair. “You’re okay?” After seeing her so solemn at the edge of the surf, he hadn’t expected her to be gleeful, as though his presence had snapped her awareness to on. She kissed him again.
Hale laughed, talking into her kiss. “Thank God.” He laid his forehead on hers.
She nodded, grabbing his backside, pulling him to her. “Let’s make love. Right here.”
His excitement grew, but in the back of his mind, even with this thrilling greeting, he wasn’t sure they should make love. Had he returned from Vietnam under any other circumstances, he wouldn’t have hesitated. But this was different.
He traced his finger over her lips. He had forgotten just how tall she was until she stood there in front of him. She went up on her toes and kissed him. “Please, Hale. Please. I need you. Please. You’re not going to make me wait? Not after being gone so long. Don’t tease me like this.” She played with the hair at the nape of his neck with one hand and moved her other hand between his legs.
She sat down, pulling him onto the sand with her. “No one’s here. Just us.” She leaned back on her elbows, her eyes full of flirty mischief.
He looked around as he knelt between her legs, caressing her knees, her thighs. “But what about—”
“It’s okay. It’s fine. I am.”
Hale licked his lips. “You’re sure? Usually, I like to woo you first. At least a little, if you recall.”
April threw her head back. “You call fixing my roof an exercise in wooing? No roof to fix here.” She met his gaze again, flinty desire making his stomach flip.
“Consider me wooed, my love,” she said.
Hale shook his head, his cheeks hurting from his wide grin. He held up his finger. “Be serious, for just one second.”
“Oh, serious Hale.” She rolled her eyes, chuckling.
He scoffed at her mocking, their little joke. She seemed like herself. Perhaps she was stronger than everyone thought she was. He finally let the full force of joy and lust hit him. “There’s no one like you, April Abercrombie. No one in the world.”
She sat up and laced her hands around his neck, pulling him down on top of her. His lips met hers. He wanted to take his time and explore her body, take in every bit of her with his eyes, with his fingers, so he could savor the experience once he was back overseas. But even as he kissed her, she was fumbling with the button on his jeans and shimmying out of her shorts. She’s okay, Hale thought, relief rushing through him. Her passion and desire for him nearly made him laugh out loud. He’d been so afraid for her, worried that he wouldn’t know how to talk to her. But here she was, overwhelming him with her excitement, with her resilience.
“Please. I just want you close to me.” She wrapped her hand around him, stroking, making him gasp. She was no longer just part of a scene in his memory. She opened a door that he was free to run through. He kissed her neck, tasting the salt that had dried there. She pushed his pants off and grasped his ass.
He wanted to savor every moment, to slow down time. They pushed against each other, the tingling lit through him like fire, her arousal fueling his. His heartbeat sped up making him think he couldn’t slow things down.
She put her hand on his shoulder, shifting her weight so that she could straddle him. She pulled off his shirt and he leaned back. She bit his ear then kissed him from his neck to his shoulder, onto his chest and belly before taking him into her mouth. “Oh God. April.”
She kissed her way back up his body, every bit of him shuddering as she slipped into his lap. The loose neckline of her t-shirt fell to the side. He kissed her collarbone and ran his hands around her back, unhooking her bra as she moved against him. He lifted her shirt over her head, flung the bra to the side and kissed her breasts. She grasped him at the back of the neck and paused before wrapping her hand around him. She lifted onto her knees and guided him inside her. Hale gripped her hips.
His vision blurred as the warmth of her body around his shocked him. She rose up and down and in a few moments he was close to the end. She dropped her head back, her hair swinging behind her. He pulled her to him, wanting to feel her against his chest. With her in his lap, her arms and legs clamped around him, holding him so tight he could barely find his breath, they finished.
Breathing hard, Hale turned April onto her back, her body nestled under him as though they’d never been apart.
The happiness. It was alive in him, coursing through his veins. His eyes burned. Warm tears slid down his face onto her cheek. He watched her heaving breath settle into unison with his, her face placid with her eyes shut, lips slightly parted. He brushed her hair from her face.
Having her under him, their hearts and bodies joined in this moment of sheer release was what he’d imagined the entire time he was in Vietnam. And best of all, she was okay. He couldn’t believe it, but they had all been wrong about April. She was fine. Thank you, God.
Love, Romance, and a Little Bit of Strife… That’s what romance novels are made of.
Okay, so I’ve always been a fan of sappy romantic comedies. I used to binge on romance novels. And, I’ve adored history since I first noticed my parents’ bookshelves bursting with thick hardbacks; I love the dark, digging into the nitty-gritty details of facts and research. But for some reason I’d never merged romance and history into my writing—well, not until a little over a year ago.
I was invited to contribute a novella to a romance anthology called Bliss. Each author would contribute a story that was set in the same house on the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. But, each story would be set in a different era. I’d never written romance before, although I’d say that some of my novels definitely had elements of “love” woven into them.
Could I do it? Did I want to? Well, I gave it a shot and fell madly in love with writing love. My first draft of Home Again (book one in the Endless Love series) was bulky even in its novella length. My editor, Sue, sent the manuscript back to me with the note “get rid of nearly everyone and everything that is not related to the main characters falling in love.”
Whaaat? Well, okay, I thought. Then what? I was used to shaping and molding 120,000 word historical novels that embodied entire worlds for each character including the secondary ones. I didn’t even know what she meant—how could there be a story without all that other stuff unrelated to falling in love? I panicked. I went for a cleansing walk. And, I felt a calm settle over me as my mind unwound and I realized what she meant. My mind traipsed back through all the books I’d read, the movies I’d seen, my own experiences with falling in love. It was simple and clear—when people are falling in love, there IS nothing else in life for them.
What fun it became to craft this first novella. These characters had lives, of course. Set in 1969 in a place in that which I was unfamiliar, I still needed to do my trusty research. I still needed to build atmosphere and tone into each scene, and my characters still needed something to do. I felt such freedom in crafting a story that always needed to circle back to just two people—falling in love, encountering obstacles, the passion, the worry if they should really be together… the water, the warm North Carolina air, Vietnam, Woodstock, April and Hale—always going back to them.
Well, I wrote the novella, it sits among its sibling novellas in Bliss and it also went into the world on its own, being named a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. It’s been rewarding. But, the real reward has been that I fell in love with April and Hale and I knew their story would not end with that short, but lovely first tale. I’ve written the next chapters of their lives in the novel, Return to Love.
This young couple is separated by war and though the book doesn’t cover them first meeting (that’s in the novella), their love is always fresh and new because each time
they come back together when Hale is on leave, they find familiarity in their embrace, in their touch, in each kiss, but there is an ocean of emotional distance to cross each time. Yes, this couple fascinates me. Writing light, writing romance is just as fulfilling as the heavier, “deeper,” historical fiction stuff. I just hope that readers find April and Hale as fun and captivating as I do.
About the Author:
Amazon Top-100 Bestselling author, Kathleen Shoop, holds a PhD in reading education and has more than 20 years of experience in the classroom. She writes historical fiction, women’s fiction and romance.
Shoop’s novels have garnered various awards in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, Eric Hoffer Book Awards, Indie Excellence Awards, Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the San Francisco Book Festival. Kathleen has been featured in USA Today and the Writer’s Guide to 2013. Her work has appeared in The Tribune-Review, four Chicken Soup for the Soul books and Pittsburgh Parent magazine. She lives in Oakmont, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.
For more information,
FACEBOOK-- Kathleen Shoop