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Living Hope - Large Print - Signed Paperback

Living Hope - Large Print - Signed Paperback

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Will Jake be able to rescue Natalie, or will he be too late to save the woman who stole his heart?

Unfailing Love Book 3.

Main Tropes

  • Starting Over
  • Law Enforcement Romance
  • Fierce Protector


Natalie Burke trudges through life in a daze of work and tending to her ailing mother. Every day is a fight to keep a roof over their heads. She doesn’t have time to date when she works two jobs.

Deputy Jake Sims lives his life to protect others. When the amber-eyed beauty captures his attention at a crime scene, he wants nothing more than to help her. Too bad she’s pushing him away at every turn.

After Natalie loses her mother, Jake makes a vow to help her overcome her grief and get back on her feet. Just as their relationship begins to grow, they discover Natalie’s problems have only just begun.

Will Jake be able to rescue Natalie, or will he be too late to save the woman who stole his heart?

A sweet, Christian romance about holding onto hope even in the darkest times. 

Living Hope is book three in the Unfailing Love series, but the books can be read in any order.

Read Chapter One

Natalie relaxed into the car seat and peeled her white-knuckled hands from the steering wheel. The old 1999 Cutlass was the bane of her existence. The clunker was a blessing and a curse that needed far more work than she could afford, but it was her lifeline, and if it went down, so did the ship. Every safe journey was an answered prayer, but it came with tense shoulders and a racing heartbeat.

The never-ending cycle of repairs was maddening. At least it ran, for now, but the engine made noises that sounded like a mix between a cat trapped in a burlap sack and metal scraping across rough concrete. She didn’t even have an extra penny for a bag of chips, much less car repairs.

The clock on the dash read 4:40 PM. Natalie liked to be early for her shift, and those extra twenty minutes or so helped her get settled in. The weather had been swinging back and forth between sunny and rainy, and the afternoon heat caused steam to rise from the asphalt in the parking lot. Natalie rubbed the tingling from the back of her neck as she stepped out of the car. She couldn’t decide if she should expect a storm later or a clear night.

Bill’s Gas Station wasn’t anything to write home about, and their clientele consisted mostly of locals. Anyone passing through would be better off holding out for a more updated station a few miles up the interstate.

The door chimed above her head as she entered the store, and she spotted her boss and friend, Tammy, at her usual spot behind the counter. They’d been working together since Natalie graduated from high school and talked frequently outside of working hours. She often thought of Tammy like a second mother.

“Hey, Tammy.” Natalie waved and smiled. “I’ll be right back to take your place.”

Tammy turned her attention from the Soap Opera Digest she was reading and gave a half wave in return. “No problem, sugar.”

Natalie stepped into the organized chaos of the back room and opened her locker to stash her small purse and pick up her name tag. She scanned the stock boxes that filled the room like a monochrome maze.

When her tag was securely pinned in place, she smiled and touched the edges of a faded photo taped inside her locker—an emerald sea merged against a blinding white beach. She’d cut the photo from a National Geographic magazine years ago.

Before each shift, she allowed herself one indulgence, but only for a short moment. She closed her eyes and conjured the feeling of gritty sand beneath her feet and between her toes. Today, the water would be cool with only a small bite. More of a refreshing feel. The waves crashed against the shore and gulls shouted as they flew above her in the clear sky.

For that minute, she wasn’t in the stuffy back room of a gas station about to begin a shift for her second job of the day. That beach of her imagination was all around her.

When her time was up, she released a deep breath and closed the locker door on her imagined coastline. The fragment of time was all she allowed herself to daydream. Anything more would be dangerous. Unreachable dreams should always be tempered.

Her first task was checking the bathrooms. Technically, each employee was supposed to clean the bathrooms at the end of the shift, but her co-worker, Linda, always “forgot” that particular duty.

Sure enough, discarded tissue littered the tile floor and the plain mirror was smudged with a creamy film. Gross.

It was no use wasting time huffing and puffing about it. Getting the dirty job out of the way was much more efficient than sitting around complaining about the injustice.

Hopefully, she would eventually progress in at least one of her jobs, but she couldn’t see herself moving up in her life. She was struggling to merely get by, and barely that.

She avoided her reflection as she washed up after cleaning. Natalie never considered herself as typically pretty. A more accurate assessment of her looks was average, but cute. Still, she knew what she would find in that mirror. Her washed-out pallor reflected her exhaustion, and the last thing she needed was that kick in the gut.

She slid in behind the register just before 5:00. “Anything new today, Tam?”

“Nah. How was your day?”

Her mouth slid into a half smile. “Fine. Same job, different day.” Working two jobs day in and day out wasn’t fun, but she kept telling herself it could be worse—if she had leprosy or something.

“All right then. Your till is ready, and I’ll be in the back running numbers. Just holler if you need me.”

“Sure.” Natalie usually ran the storefront on her own. It was a weeknight, and the foot traffic wouldn’t be quite as frequent as a weekend.

The door to the back room thudded closed and the humming of the frozen soda machine droned around her. She didn’t find herself alone often, and the silence was unnerving.

Her solitude didn’t last long before the bell above the door chimed. She tried to smooth the lint from her faded black shirt, but it was useless. It wasn’t as if she were trying to impress anyone.

She looked up just as two men strode to the checkout counter wearing black masks, gloves, and long sleeves despite the sticky heat of the day. The breath she’d been inhaling halted in her throat as the closer man reached up and pointed the business end of a pistol at her head.

“Stay quiet, and don’t move.”

Natalie barely heard the words, but she knew she couldn’t speak or run if she tried. Her body was paralyzed—helpless. Her focus was trained on the hole staring back at her.

Some part of her mind tried to reason that if she stayed perfectly still, the trigger on that gun would remain frozen too. It was silly, but she couldn’t override the instinct.

The beginnings of a plea formed in the fog of her mind. Please help me. In the midst of the shock overtaking her body, she knew the supplication for what it was—a prayer.

She believed in God, but how was she supposed to know how to pray when she’d never tried? Never been taught? Never attended church or tried to figure it out on her own?

Now, learning to pray seemed like something that should’ve been at the top of her to-do list.

“Empty the drawer.” The man’s words were clipped, disguising his true voice.

She tried to force her mind to snap out of it, but she’d begun shaking. Any training she’d received on the protocol for robbery at gunpoint was too far away to access. She couldn’t remember to save her life. Ironically, this was a time when her life needed saving.

The man on the other side of the counter repeated, “I said empty the drawer.” This time, the words registered, and she moved.

Natalie’s shaking hands found the drawer, and she turned the key. She took her time pulling the bills from their designated slots. The drawer was almost empty, since it was the beginning of a shift.

Air. She needed air. Why was it so hard to breathe?

Holding the small amount of money in her hand, she found the nerve to look at the man. She searched him for any identifiable characteristics and found none. She couldn’t even determine the color of his skin under the shirt, mask, and gloves he wore. Hopelessness ran through her veins like ice.

Tears pooled in her eyes as she took in the enormity of what was happening in front of her. The pathetic life she lived was going to end before it ever had a chance to get better. She never got to be free or do anything she wanted to do in her short twenty-four years.

She never saw the ocean.

Of all the things, why did that heartbreak hurt so much? She’d wanted one thing for herself, and now it would never happen.

Putting herself aside, her quiet tears continued to spill for her mother. The mother who wouldn’t be able to get the few cancer treatments they could afford would find a quick, painful, and lonely death soon after Natalie was killed here today. Her mother’s rapidly approaching expiration date would come crashing forward without her help.

Her life, as well as her mother’s, hung in the balance. These disguised strangers would take everything from her, killing two birds with one stone.

Natalie held the money out to the man in one shaking hand. The bills seemed a light and insignificant thing to die for, but it was what she spent her entire life working day in and day out to possess.

Money was destined to be her downfall, and she despised it. The hold it had on her life crippled her from a young age, and she was never able to break away from its curse.

She felt another tear slide down her cheek, and she jolted as the man snatched the bills from her outstretched hand.

In that swift movement, she saw what she needed—a glimmer of hope.

When he reached his arm out to her, a small part of his neck became visible, exposing a red tattoo just above the collar of his shirt. She couldn’t tell anything about the design, but she didn’t need to. A red neck tattoo was unique enough to mean something in an investigation.

A noise to her left caught her attention, and she turned to see Tammy standing in the open door to the back room holding a shotgun leveled at the robbers.

For a terrified moment, she wondered if the men would stand their ground, but they ran for the exit as soon as they saw the weapon aimed in their direction.

When the happy bell above the door signaled their departure, Natalie crumpled to the floor behind the register and sucked in quick breaths. Tammy ran to the glass door to watch the men spray gravel at the pumps as they fishtailed out of the lot.

“Don’t worry, sweetie. I called the police.” Tammy spoke in an even voice. “Those men are long gone though. I don’t guess the cops’ll do us much good now.”

Natalie made a note to add fearless to Tammy’s admirable qualities.

The older woman locked the door and came around the register to wrap her arms around Natalie’s shrunken body. She sank into Tammy’s pudgy embrace and remembered snuggling into her mother’s comforting arms as a child.

As grateful as she was for Tammy’s unwavering kindness, her presence only exacerbated the fears that ran through her head only minutes before as she contemplated her mortality. Her mom was dying, and soon she wouldn’t be able to hug her ever again. Natalie was an adult, but women never stopped needing their mothers.

“Thank you,” she whispered and hugged Tammy a little tighter. Her mom may be gone soon, but she and her mother were both still here now. She couldn’t let the terrible realities of life distract her from the people who would be beside her through anything.

Tammy may have just saved her life. She deserved more than just two small words. “Thank you so much. You’re amazing.” Her voice cracked with emotion.

“Hush now. I wouldn’t let anything happen to you, child. It’s okay now.”

Natalie might’ve been a woman in her twenties, but she felt more like a child shaking and crying about a harm that hadn’t actually come to her. It felt freeing to purge her fears like this. She’d never allowed herself to stop and absorb the enormity of what was going on around her.

She was still wrapped and sobbing in Tammy’s arms when she heard the piercing sound of a siren in the distance. “That was fast,” Tammy remarked before releasing their embrace to unlock the door.

Moments later, she heard a deep male voice and looked up into the slate-blue eyes of a Cherokee County Deputy.

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