With No Regrets by Julie N. Ford
Living With No Regrets Is Harder Than It Seems
Finley isn’t exactly sure when her life began to feel unfamiliar. She suspects the transformation started long before she caught her husband and fellow garden club member doing the white-trash-two-step on her new Bernhardt sofa. Now free from the shackles of a loveless marriage, and with her children off to college, she’s finally able to go searching for the missing pieces of her heart.
Finley’s best friend, Cathyanne, is already working hard to ensure that Finley finds true love this time around. But when Finley is unwittingly tossed into the arms of two men—their sexy trainer and her neighbor, a popular country star—Cathyanne fears finding the right guy will be more complicated than she ever could have imagined.
For Finley, building a new life feels as impossible as flying a paper airplane to the moon. But maybe, just maybe, with the right help, she will find her whole heart—even if it’s in the very last place she thinks to look.
Praise for With No Regrets
“The imagery is beautiful, the romance very well done and realistic.” Rachel Ann Nunes.
Finley is a spunky and snarky Southern woman with a lot of sass! The romance is swoon-worthy and satisfying. And underneath it all, it’s got a great message. Definitely worth a read!
A graduate from San Diego State University with a BA in Political Science, Julie N. Ford also earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of Alabama, which has only made her better able to recognize the unhealthy, codependent relationship she has with writing. Professionally, she has worked in teaching and as a marriage and family counselor. She is the author of six women’s fiction novels, including Count Down to Love, a 2011 Whitney Award finalist. When she’s not writing, she entertains delusions of being a master gardener, that is, when she’s not killing the unsuspecting plants in her yard with her good intentions. She lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, two daughters, and the cutest Scottish fold cat you’ve ever seen. She loves to chat with readers.
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Excerpts: With No Regrets
“All right, I think we’ve given Finley enough food for thought on her first day.” Careen waved her arms in a settle-down motion. “As I explained earlier, each week we focus on one step, and then at the following meeting report on the progress we’ve made toward completing that step,” she explained. “So for the benefit of our newest member, how ’bout we recite the ‘Five Steps to a New Beginning’ before moving on.” She pointed to a rolling chalkboard. “All together now.”
“Number one: Subjugate fear,” she started, and the rest of the group joined in. “Take chances. Learn from and consent to the unexpected.”
“Number two: Defy the rules, embrace the guidelines. Rules emphasize the result. Guidelines focus on the journey.
“Number three: Smash the box. Look outside your comfort zone for the best answers and the greatest opportunity for growth.
“Number four: Brimful heart. If one’s heart is hollow, one’s actions are hollow.
“Number five: Letitgo. Leave the past, live the future.”
Following along with the words scrawled onto the powder-smeared chalkboard, Finley felt a cool sweat breaking out on her forehead. Only five goals, but each one felt like one gaping pit of quicksand after another.
Take chances and defy rules? Smash the box? Letitgo? What did any of that even mean? Brimful heart. Finley pressed the heel of her palm to the center of her chest and felt nothing, nothing but an empty hole where her heart should be. Just because she hadn’t been particularly sad to see Roy pack his things and go, didn’t mean his absence hadn’t left a gap in her life. His leaving had been like pulling a random peg from a Jenga tower, only to find that it was the last piece still holding the structure together.
Careen said, “I know these goals can seem overwhelming at first, but taking the first step is the hardest part.”
“Amen to that,” Burlie-Jean agreed.
“Though some of us are further along than others, we’re all on the same path,” Careen went on. “Everyone progresses at his or her own pace. One step at a time, one week at a time until we find our new normal,” she said, then zeroed in on Finley. “So start with number one, only number one . . .”
Finley watched Careen’s lips spill words of hope and encouragement. If only she could bathe in the completeness each syllable offered until the possibility adhered to her skin, remolding her, body and soul, into the kind of woman who knew what it meant to be happy, one who refused to settle for anything less—
“Finley?” Careen said, causing Finley to start. “This coming week, your first task is to identify a fear and then make an attempt to overcome that fear. Do you think you can do that?”
Having already put too much of herself on display for these strangers’ entertainment, what Finley really wanted to do was leave and never set foot inside this circle again. “I’ll surely give it a try,” she promised, though, obviously, she had no intention of doing any such thing.
“Good.” Careen appeared cautiously optimistic. “Okay, who wants to share next?”
Packed like corralled cattle between four wood paneled walls, the riotous crowd filling the bar overwhelmed the echo of Finley’s boots as she made her way through the darkened hallway. Built during the early days of Nashville, Tootsie’s was rumored to have launched Willie Nelson’s career as well as other famous performers like Kris Kristofferson, Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings, and in more recent decades, Quinton Townes.
At the end of the hallway, and through an open door, Finley spied her neighbor.
Jagged locks of ashy-blond hair peeked out from under a worn cowboy hat to poke at the frayed edges of his western shirt. A dimple split his right cheek as he smiled, his head bent toward that of a young woman.
Finley moved closer, watching as the groupie handed Quinton a cocktail napkin. “Will you sign this for me?” she said, adding a coy smirk.
Quinton ran his smoky gray eyes over the woman’s skintight T-shirt as he slipped the paper and pen from her hands, his fingers lingering a touch longer than necessary on hers. “Who should I make this out to?” he drawled in that slow, Texas way of his.
Gazing out from under a pair of mascara-laden lashes, she said, “McKenna,” and then bit down on her plump bottom lip.
Finley rolled her eyes. This one was young, even by Quinton’s standards. Likely, not much older than her daughter Royanne, or Quinton’s own estranged daughter, Annie, for that matter. Because she hadn’t known him back when he was married, it was hard for her to imagine him as anyone’s daddy. But then he’d become a father long before the world had known his name. Before his solo career had taken off and he’d mistakenly boarded a high-speed train running on tequila and cocaine, barreling headlong into the blinding lights of one forgotten arena after another. Before he’d traded the unconditional love of a wife and three children for the fleeting admiration of his fans. Before the cheers of the crowds had echoed into a deafening abyss where there wasn’t enough booze or blow in his empty hotel room to silence the void. And certainly before he’d woken up one morning a homeless, washed-up one-hit-wonder with nothing but a broken-down Mazerati to call his own. The very day he just so happened to have entered Finley’s life.
She turned her face to the warmth of the sun shining through the sheets of glass enclosing her porch, bright but apparently not yet strong enough to warm the room. With a glance down at the cell phone resting on the corner of her mat, her eyes betrayed her desire for focus, to leave the world behind and center. The screen was dark. A blank void. She was alone, and no one cared. But then the only person she really wanted to hear from today was Finley. It had been nearly a week since the night they’d gone to Tootsie’s, and Finley had yet to return any of Cathyanne’s texts or calls. While Finley had been angry with Cathyanne many times before, she’d never gone more than a few days without a call, and never a whole week.
Breathing in against her discontent, she blew the frustration out, raised her hips, and pushed back into downward-dog. Her hamstrings tightened momentarily before relaxing into the pose. Her rebellious body coerced into submission, a sigh escaped her lips, her mind relishing in a moment of peace. Lowering her knees to the mat, she settled back onto her heels, hands in prayer position in front of her heart. Her gaze drifted over to her phone again. Nothing. Irritation seeped its way back in. She didn’t have time for all this foolishness. One more day. If Finley didn’t call by tomorrow, Cathyanne was going to hunt her down and force her to talk.
Getting to her feet, she walked over to the window and pressed her palm against the glass. The heat from the other side bled into her cold skin and traveled up her arm. She closed her eyes, memorizing the feeling while savoring the breath moving in and out of her lungs. “Come on, Finnie, let me help you,” she whispered. Beyond the window, birds actively called to one another. A dog barked. A golf cart whizzed to a stop.
She opened her eyes to see two of her neighbors setting up to putt on the 12th hole. Her 3,200 square-foot house backed up to the exclusive Bluegrass golf course. She’d played regularly when her second husband had still lived here.
Now, she only watched.
The couple spied her and gave a halfhearted wave. She waved back with matched enthusiasm. Cathyanne wasn’t well acquainted with many of her neighbors. She’d never been good at polite chitchat. Plus, her ideas and opinions always seemed a bit too strong, lingering around the outside of normal. To put it plainly, people generally found her to be a smidge odd. As if there were a glass wall between her and everyone else, she could see them—watch their lips move—but an understanding, a real connection couldn’t be formed. The only time she didn’t feel out of place was when she was working. She was good at transforming people, at making them into more acceptable versions of themselves, achieving for others what she’d never been able to do for herself.
Excerpt 4 (romantic):
Fastening the last few buttons on an old pair of coveralls she’d found in what had once been the bedroom, Finley tucked a couple of threadbare towels and another pair of coveralls for Josh under her arm and made her way out into the main room. As she rounded the corner, she caught sight of Josh hovering over the beginnings of a roaring fire. He’d removed his flannel shirt along with the long-sleeved T-shirt he’d been wearing underneath, and had hung them on a couple of pegs to dry. With one arm resting on the mantle, he had the thumb of the other hand hooked in the front pocket of his jeans. The waistband sat low on his hips giving her a peek at the briefs he wore underneath. Apparently Jockey was his underclothing of choice. Something in her chest stuttered, pinged, stuttered, and then turned over again, this time settling into a metrical purring. Her eyes traveled from his jeans up, and on to the hills and valleys of his abs and chest. Baked to a perfect honey brown, his moist skin gleamed in the firelight, his perfectly toned muscles dancing with the flame.
Tearing her eyes from his chest, she took in the strong angles of his face, his serious gaze watching the fire as if anticipating an answer he’d been waiting a lifetime to hear.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked.
Josh’s head whipped up like he’d forgotten she was there. A slow smile dragged up one side of his mouth. “You, and how . . .”—he surveyed her baggy coveralls, his eyes lighting on the name-patch that read, Finnie—“and how sexy you look in even the most unflattering outfit I’m pretty sure I’ve ever seen on a woman before.”
Finley crossed over to him, a swarm of bees, butterflies, and pretty much anything else with tiny, fluttering wings, filling her chest. “You’re an impossible flirt, but thank you,” she said with a touch of false modesty. “I’ve got a pair for you too.” She held out the coveralls and towels.
Josh kept his crooked grin aimed at her while he eased the towels and dry clothes from her hands. She tried not to drool as the muscles of his arms and shoulders tightened and rolled under his skin. “Thanks,” he said, his gaze taking a quick side-trip from hers to look over her offering. Breezing over the patch, his eyes then made a quick U-turn to fixate momentarily on the name. He looked back to her under a questioning brow. “Roy?”
Finley’s focus drifted off-center from his. “They’ll likely be too long and a mite tight in the shoulders, but at least they’re dry, and you won’t freeze.” She offered him a sheepish smile. “I think the temperature has dropped about ten degrees since the storm hit. At this rate, we could have snow again by morning.”
Tossing the coveralls to the hearth, Josh then shook open one of the towels. “I bet I can come up with a way of keeping warm that doesn’t include me wearing your ex-husband’s hand-me-downs,” he said as he wiped the towel over his chest and shoulders.
Finley shifted her gaze from the heady look he was giving her. All of a sudden, instead of gently beating, those tiny wings in her chest felt as if they were desperate to escape a cage that had grown much too small. “I’m sure you can, but . . .”
Taking an end of the towel in each hand, Josh horseshoed it around his neck. “But?” he repeated.