All the Right Reasons [Damaged Heroes Book 3]
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by Sandy James
Description: Can love heal all wounds? Lucas Mitchell returned from Iraq a bitter, changed man, wracked with guilt over his friend's death. He buys an old mansion and deals with his injuries and grief by restoring his new home and rehabilitating retired racehorses. Joy Kovacs falls in love with Lucas at first sight. Descended from gypsies who are still influenced by the lingering effects of the Holocaust, her family follows the traditional ways. A husband has already been selected for her, and her father insists she work at their ethnic restaurant. But Joy wants to use her talent and be an artist, and she wants no one but Lucas. How can Joy find a way to help Lucas break out of his prison of grief? Although they've committed their hearts to each other, can the growing love and passion between Lucas and Joy survive her family's insistence that she marry within her culture?
eBook Publisher: Siren-BookStrand, Inc./BookStrand Mainstream Romance, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
17 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [517 KB]
Reading time: 323-453 min.
"CTRR Award: What an emotional story, filled with anger and bitterness, love and joy, heartache and pain, acceptance and trust. Lucas and Joy's story is all that. Ms. James takes you into the most intimate parts of her characters and shows you the real essence that makes them come to life. In turn capturing the reader's attention and holding on till the last word. This is a book that you will want to add to your bookshelf. This reader is ready to explore the other stories in the Damaged Hero Series."--Matilda, Coffee Time Romance Reviews
"5 HEARTS--Reviewer Top Pick: "Ms. James knows how to tell such an emotionally driven story and she just tears at your heart while allowing you to personally get to know Lucas and all the challenges he's facing since returning home from the war in Iraq. This author writes her stories from the heart and each one is compelling in its own way. Ms. James did a fabulous job in telling this story and I would highly recommend the Damaged Heroes series to other readers. This is the third book in the series and as I understand it, there will be another one on the way. I eagerly look forward to reading the next installment in this wonderfully written series. Well done, Ms. James!"--Diana Coyle, Night Owl Romance
"5 BLUE RIBBONS: All the Right Reasons is the third book in Damaged Heroes series. Dan Patch Raceway and the characters from Murphy's Law are back as secondary characters, along with a whole set of new ones. As the series title suggests, Sandy James pens each of her main characters with adversities they must cope with. Lucas and Joy were so believable and likable. Joy's quirky carefree attitude, and Lucas's schooled cautious one were such a delightful contrast. I have had the wonderful opportunity to read all of her releases in the series. My only problem is deciding which one I'd pick if I had to choose a favorite. Sandy James is a truly talented author who does a magnificent job with creating works that touch the heart. Every time I pick up one of her novels, it's like stepping into spring time, warm and refreshing. I look forward to book four."--Pamela Denise, Romance Junkies
"5 KISSES, Recommended Read: This is book three in the Damaged Heroes series and by far one of the best. You don't have to read them in order to get the scope of the story. I really loved how this is a stand alone story. When you want to believe in true love you really want to pick up All the Right Reasons it is truly a beautiful sweet read to remember."--Tina, Two Lips Reviews
"5 CUPS: What an emotional story, filled with anger and bitterness, love and joy, heartache and pain, acceptance and trust. Lucas and Joy's story is all that. Ms. James takes you into the most intimate parts of her characters and shows you the real essence that makes them come to life, in turn capturing the reader's attention and holding on till the last word. This is a book that you will want to add to your bookshelf. This reader is ready to explore the other stories in the Damaged Hero Series."--Matilda, Coffee Time Romance & More
"5 HEARTS: Sandy James has once again surpassed my expectations with this third book in the Damaged Heroes series. This was by far the best one I've read and I absolutely loved the others. The differences in these two main characters were so profound it seemed nothing could ever work out between them. Each of them came into their budding relationship with a myriad of circumstances which weighed heavily on any actions they might take. The two were emotionally involved long before their physical connection. When they came together, their encounters sizzled. James gave us this story in such a way that it moved quickly, was poignant and definitely a page turner. I didn't want to put it down. The storyline offered several shocking actions which kept me mesmerized. This is definitely James at her best. I highly recommend this book (and this series) to anyone who enjoys confrontation with an unlikely ending. You'll definitely be thrilled you read this book."--Brenda Talley, The Romance Studio
There was a strange man in her house.
After months of sketching the beautiful old mansion, Joy had grown accustomed to having peace, quiet, and privacy whenever she visited. Although the place was literally falling apart, every classic line, every nuanced shadow called to her, shared its ancient story with her heart. And those whispers had inspired her hand. She had come that morning to catch the sunrise, the intricacies only that time of day created in the magnificent structure. She was rewarded with a brilliant spray of color on the horizon.
She hadn't wholly realized how important her trips to the place were until it dawned on her that they might have abruptly come to an end.
Now she could see him hauling long planks of fresh wood toward the stone foundation that had once upon a time supported a barn. Joy watched him from the distance, taking in his movements and illustrating him in her mind. She watched him pound each nail, measure and cut each board.
Probably in his early twenties. Tall, but almost painfully thin. His movements were fluid, yet somewhat hesitant, as if there was some unseen flaw dragging at him.
Her fingers itched to sketch him, so she sat down in the concealing tall grass and whipped a charcoal pencil from her bag. Hauling out her new sketchbook, Joy committed her mind to paper. The lines of his face were sharp, the planes of his body straight. He carried himself with the regal bearing of a man who had been trained to be constantly aware of every part of his body.
Military, Joy realized. This man was a soldier.
She tilted the sketchbook to get a better angle to depict the once impressive house that silhouetted his movements. For each shadow she drew of his body, she created another for the building. Every time she let her hand produce a detail of his face, it quickly moved to illustrate an intricacy of the mansion. Suddenly, as it always did, the inspiration washed over Joy in waves. It called to her gypsy heart.
This man and my house are the same.
Time had weathered the mansion. Life had changed the man. There was so much more to both of them than what their worn exteriors allowed the world to see.
She stopped sketching and just watched him as he worked. How much time had passed? The shadows changed as the minutes slowly turned to hours. Joy wiped away the sweat that had formed on her brow. She had been too absorbed listening to her muse to notice the heat and humidity of the Indiana summer creeping up with the sun. Fishing a scrunchie from her bag, she gathered her hair into a thick ponytail and let the soft breeze cool her damp neck.
The man stopped long enough to take a drink from a bottle of water. Then he wiped his own brow with the back of his long sleeves. Joy waited in anticipation for him to remove the obviously confining garment. She wanted to draw his bare chest, to set it to paper. But he made no move to take it off. He simply went back to his labors.
Why would he wear long sleeves in this heat?
Joy finally took the time to glance at her watch.
Damn it. Late again.
She picked up her supplies and jammed them back in her bag. Rising to her feet, Joy glanced around to make sure that, for once, she wasn't leaving anything behind.
Her shoes. She had forgotten to put her shoes back on. Of course, she hadn't remembered taking them off, but... Joy's inspirations always took precedent over her conscious thought.
"Oh, Jozsa," she said to the wind, "you'd forget your head if it weren't attached."
"Szivem," the wind whispered back to her in her father's native Hungarian tongue.
She whirled back around to take a long, last look at the man and the house. They both continued on unaware of her scrutiny. Or of their destiny.
* * * *
Lucas Mitchell shifted his ten-month old niece Chelsea from one hip to the other. "Let's go see if there's something nice out there I can get for your mom's birthday. She'll pummel me if I don't get something she likes."
Prowling through the tables set up at Dan Patch Raceway for "Arts Day," he grew more discouraged by the minute. Between doing his best to keep a curious Chelsea from grabbing everything that took her fancy and dodging the middle-aged women who seemed intent on crowding several of the tables, he was drenched with sweat. Beads of perspiration dripped from his brow and trickled in a tickling stream down his back.
For a moment, he longed to take off his long-sleeved shirt and just wear the lighter t-shirt beneath it, but he pushed that idea aside. Better to suffer the heat and humidity than the embarrassment.
Having given up on finding an appropriate gift for Samantha's birthday, he hadn't been paying much attention to anything in particular as he meandered his way out of the maze of tables. Lucas suddenly saw the painting and stopped in his tracks.
In vivid colors, his house was depicted in the waning light of the setting sun. Framed in a dark wood, the image drew him like metal to magnet. He marched over to take a closer look as his niece finally grew tired enough to lay her head on his chest and surrender to her fatigue with a simple sigh.
Cradling Chelsea's sleeping body, Lucas stared not only at the artwork but at the other sketches strewn on the table. All of them showed the same focus for each scene.
No way. No one even knows where the damn thing is.
But he kept staring at the art. It was his house all right. Lucas bristled at the violation of the privacy he'd gone to great lengths to ensure. He was just about to have a pointed discussion with the lady manning the table when he glanced up and saw her face for the first time.
As she turned away from the patron who had obviously purchased one of her framed watercolors, she locked gazes with Lucas. Her deep brown eyes suddenly went wider. She opened her mouth as if to speak and then closed it. Her cheeks flushed bright red before she averted her eyes.
The little Peeping Tom was embarrassed.
Lucas didn't say anything to her. He was too busy sizing her up, trying to come to some conclusion as to her connection to him and his ancient mansion. To his well-trained eye, everything about her reaction told him that she recognized him. Her response only served to pique his already growing curiosity.
Balancing his precious little burden with one arm, he took his time picking up and perusing each of the sketches. They were very good, making the old mansion seem more than a rundown collection of brick and wood. Lucas assumed the woman was the artist but then wondered at the folly of leaping to any conclusion. She didn't look very old, obviously not old enough to have cultivated such a talent. What was she? Twenty? Twenty-one? Surely no older.
She was dressed in a cream-colored peasant shirt with a round neck that loosely hugged her throat. Bright blazes of red and green embroidery highlighted the light, gauzy material. Lucas shook his head at his own obstinate choice of wardrobe, knowing she had to be much more comfortable in the Indiana summer heat than he was in his long sleeves. A red skirt of the same cotton fabric flowed around her hips and legs as the hem brushed the ground. The shirt wasn't tucked in, but instead was belted by a wide embroidered black sash complete with gold silk fringe. Tiny naked feet peeked from under the red cloth, and for some peculiar reason, knowing she was barefoot made him smile.
The woman had very long, thick hair that was loosely tied into a ponytail with a red ribbon. Curly and midnight black, the hair didn't seem to want to remain in its restraint. Little wisps of dark curls framed her round face.
"Your daughter is beautiful," the woman finally said as she brushed back a stray ringlet from her cheek with the back of her hand.
Lucas didn't correct her misassumption. He simply nodded and continued to look at the drawings.
She pushed away some more stray curls that fell against her forehead. "How old is she?"
"Almost one," Lucas replied as he held one of the sketches and showed it to the woman. "Did you draw this?"
She nodded, shaking a few more dark curls loose. "All of them. I created all of them."
He nodded again as he put the paper down and picked up one of the smaller framed paintings of his new home. An attractive watercolor showed the place surrounded by snow. Lucas wondered for a moment just how long she had been visiting the neglected building. He wondered why he wasn't annoyed or angry at her. "How much?"
The woman walked out from around the table to see the painting. She was tiny, the top of her head barely reaching his shoulders. Before she looked at the artwork he was holding, she ran her hand over Chelsea's blond head.
"I beg your pardon?" Lucas asked. While he had grown accustomed to hearing only English again, for a moment he had a quick flashback to his last two years of listening to a litany of different languages. He didn't immediately recognize the one she used. Her voice contained no timbre of accent to help him place her origins.
"She's a little angel," the enigmatic woman replied before turning her attention back to the art. "The frame is worth more than the painting."
"Oh, I don't know. The painting looks pretty good to me. Must've taken a lot of time."
She waved her hand in dismissal. "Thank you, but it's one of many exactly like it. I'd take ten for it."
"You mean dollars?"
"It would be hard to spend something else. What did you have in mind?" she asked with a saucy smile.
"Sorry." The question slipped out before he remembered he was back in the states and didn't have to shuffle more than one currency. He shifted the still sleeping Chelsea to his other shoulder so he could reach into his back pocket and retrieve his wallet. Unable to sort through the wallet with only one hand, he finally held it out to the woman. "Could you please take a ten out for me?"
The sweet sound of her laughter floated around him as she took the wallet. After retrieving a ten-dollar bill that she held up as if to show him that she was taking the correct amount, she folded the wallet and handed it back to Lucas. He tucked it back into his jeans and picked up the painting. "My sister-in-law will love it."
"Thank you. I hope she does." She appeared a bit contemplative for a moment. "Would your wife be interested in any of the other pieces? You know, I could do a sketch of your daughter sometime."
"You could? How long would it take?" Her suggestion seemed like an even better idea for Samantha's birthday. Plus he could keep the painting of his home for himself.
A frown darkened her face for a moment. Lucas had no idea what had upset her. She shook her head, muttered something he didn't understand, and suddenly regained some of her enthusiasm. "Not long. I'm packing things up here in a minute. I was going to stay and watch a few races. If you're staying, I could sketch her when she wakes up."
"I'm staying. And I'd be grateful if you'd draw Chelsea. Her mother will love it. I'll be hanging around by the fence," he said as he pointed toward the silver chain-link separating the fans from the racetrack. "Just come get me when you're ready."
Still holding the painting, Lucas headed away from the track toward the parking lot so he could throw it in his truck.
Joy's eyes followed him until he disappeared into the sea of vehicles. "You can't be married. You just can't. I'm not wrong." She shook her head and banished the troubling notion. "Until later, Szivem."
"Who was that?"
Joy jumped at her brother's question then narrowed her eyes in annoyance. The guy had a nasty habit of sneaking up on people and scaring the wits out of them. Unfortunately, he seemed to enjoy catching his sister off guard most of all.
"A customer," she replied resisting the urge to scold him. "He bought one of the paintings. I'm going to sketch his daughter later."
Her tall and very dark brother gave her a stern glare. "Tamas wouldn't like you calling another man 'my love.'"
She swatted at his shoulder. "Quit teasing, Janos. I didn't call him that."
"You most certainly did!"
"Slip of the tongue."
"No, Freudian slip. And I'm not teasing. You should have married years ago. Time is slipping by. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Everyone knows you and Tamas are supposed to be together." He began to stack together the paintings she hadn't sold.
Joy helped him by piling the loose sketches and pushing them into a big portfolio. "Everyone except me. Sweet Jesus, am I tired of hearing about Tamas. Are you trying to sound like Papa? Because you do. Twenty-three isn't exactly over the hill."
He gave her another harsh look with his big brown eyes. She refused to take him seriously. "Not according to Papa. You two should have at least a kid or two by now."
"Barefoot and pregnant," she mumbled.
Janos finally laughed, dropping the seriousness that just wasn't part of his nature. "You're always barefoot anyway. Might as well be pregnant, too. At least then you would've had some fun getting that way." Joy narrowed her eyes at him for a moment before he tried to make peace with her. "Just pushing your buttons, Joy. What good is a big brother who doesn't tease his little sister?"
After they gathered together the rest of her art and put it into the already overcrowded backseat of her gold Saturn, Joy retrieved her bag and her sketchbook. "I'm going to do some sketches of the horses until I draw the little girl for that man. Do you want to stay?"
Janos nodded. "Yeah, I'll stay. Someone needs to keep an eye on you and...Loverboy." He wiggled his thick eyebrows at her, and Joy felt her cheeks grow warm in response. "I might as well see if I can make some money while I'm at it. I'm going to play the ponies."
He trotted off to the betting windows as Joy found a seat at an empty picnic table and dropped her supplies on its surface. She fished out her charcoal pencil, opened the sketchbook to the first blank page, and tried to lose herself in her art.
But a nagging doubt haunted her. How could she have been wrong? Her intuition seldom failed her, and her stranger hadn't been wearing a wedding ring. Could the man Joy was destined to love really be a married man?