Today I am so pleased to welcome Victoria Sue to Joyfully Jay. Sue has come to share an exclusive excerpt from her latest release, The Strength of His Heart. She has also brought along. a backlist book to give away. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Vance inhaled as he walked in. This store was fabulous. They ground their own coffee and even had a little coffee shop in the corner. He’d seen it online plenty of times.
Sam walked straight to the fruit and vegetables. “What do you like?” Vance ignored him because there was an older woman in a motorized wheelchair trying to reach a whole pineapple from the display.
“Can I get that for you, ma’am?” Vance reached up and picked it out for her, ignoring the way she had jumped a little when he spoke.
“That’s very kind of you,” she said.
Vance sniffed at the bottom of the fruit he had picked and then instead of handing it over, got another one and did the same to that. Then he handed the second one to her.
She was beaming at him. “That one better, son?”
“What are you doing?” Sam burst out.
The lady chuckled. “Sniffing a pineapple’s butt is the only way to tell if it’s ripe. If it smells sweet, then it’s ripe.”
“And if it smells of nothing, it was likely harvested too early,” Vance added. “Let me know if I can help you with anything else, ma’am.” He turned to Sam.
“You were a Boy Scout, weren’t you?” Sam narrowed his eyes.
“Nope.” Vance grinned. “I didn’t have time for anything other than sports. Football and baseball especially, but I loved bowling as well. My granddad got me into that. Of all the kids, I was the only one interested.”
“And you didn’t keep playing ball?” Sam winced as soon as he’d said it. “Shit, I’m sorry.”
“No”—Vance touched his arm without thinking—“it’s okay. I take it as a huge compliment you don’t see the mark first, but no. I had to give up any dreams of college ball.”
They carried on for a few minutes in companionable silence. It was ridiculous, but Vance was enjoying himself. He used to love shopping on a Saturday with his mom when Dad worked. Knowing his dad trusted him to help his mom made him feel like he was important. Responsibility had always been a big deal in his house. Being thought of as responsible was like an honor, but taking responsibility for yourself—especially if you messed up—was just as important. If you did something wrong, you owned up right away and took your punishment. Not that Mom or Dad had ever laid a finger on any of the kids. It had never been necessary. None of them wanted to be the one who disappointed his dad or hurt his mom.
“I’m sorry, sir.”
Vance came to a stop as a small worried-looking man in a suit and a badge, announcing he was “Hugo Robertson, Customer Service Manager,” interrupted them.
Vance looked him up and down. A bead of sweat broke out on the man’s wrinkled temple, and Vance nodded. He knew.
“Is there a problem?” Sam asked and glanced around as if half expecting there to be a robbery in progress or something.
“I’ll wait for you in the car,” Vance said and turned but stopped when Sam grabbed his arm.
“What’s the problem?”
Vance opened his mouth to answer, but Sam wasn’t looking at him; he was looking at the manager.
“I’m afraid we are going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Why?” Sam asked mildly, but his grip on Vance was tight.
“Oh, not you, sir,” the manager added quickly, thinking that was better.
“He means me,” Vance mumbled, trying to get Sam to let him go. “It’s okay.”
“No, it really isn’t.” Sam was horrified. “We haven’t done anything wrong.”
The manager leaned a little closer to Sam, as if he was going to share some confidential information, but Sam took a determined step away from him, which brought Sam flush with Vance. Not that Vance minded in the least.
“Are you the manager?”
They both turned, and it was the lady in the wheelchair.
“Yes, ma’am,” the manager said. “I will be with you in one moment.”
The lady smiled sweetly and then dug in her purse, got out a card, and handed it to the manager. He read it and flushed immediately, breaking out into a flustered smile. “Mrs. Vine, I am so honored to meet you. How can I be of assistance?”
Vance looked at her with interest. That couldn’t be a coincidence. The store was called Vine Street Produce and was owned and operated by the Vine family. It was a huge operation in the Southeast that had started—he thought—from a single market stall in Atlanta, like, sixty years ago or something. His mom loved their goods because they were always careful to locally source. In fact he was pretty sure she had some contacts with their personnel department and often arranged internships for ex-foster teens.
“You can explain to me why you were asking this gentleman to leave my store.”
Yep, definitely not a coincidence.
“We have had some complaints from customers,” Hugo said, like he had a nasty taste in his mouth.
“I’m not surprised,” she countered. “The customer service in here is abysmal.”
Hugo blanched. “But—”
“As you know, even though I retired some years ago, I make it a habit to do spot-checks on all our stores. My driver is waiting for me outside while I visit this one. I have been unable to get around easily for three years, and I am interested in seeing what challenges our stores are for someone in my position.”
Hugo blustered, “We have had all the appropriate parking lot spaces reserved and have accessible restrooms.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “but that is easy, is it not?”
He very wisely kept his mouth closed.
“I have been in the store for thirty minutes, and I deliberately chose to select from displays that were impossible for me to reach without help. Apart from a delightful girl called Shannon on the deli counter and one other customer, the only person to notice I needed help was this young man.” She gestured to Vance. “I counted at least four members of the staff who didn’t even seem to see I was struggling, and that is giving them the benefit of the doubt. I would hate to think they were ignoring me deliberately.”
Hugo opened his mouth, but her raised hand silenced him. She turned to Vance. “Young man, my name is Elspeth Vine, and my father started this business over fifty years ago. You are exactly the sort of customer we need in this store, and should you ever be looking for work, please know this company would be glad to have you.”
Vance smiled widely and pushed out his shoulders. “Thank you, ma’am, but I actually work in law enforcement.” He glanced at Hugo. The man turned another shade whiter.
Elspeth smiled and put out her hand. “And your name?” She leaned in. “Unless you’re undercover, of course.” Even Sam laughed at that.
Her eyebrows lifted. “Any relation to Connie?”
Vance grinned. He noticed she’d left his mom’s last name off. His mom always declared she nearly called the wedding off when she first realized she would be called Connie Connelly. The jokes were legend in their family. “My mom.”
Elspeth beamed. “Of course she is.”
She eyed Hugo, who still looked like he was going to be sick. “And now, Mr. Robertson, we are going to have a conversation about how you are going to save your job.”
Vance and Sam both shook hands with her. She pressed Vance’s for a long few seconds. “I lost my son when he was a baby, and I was never blessed with another, but if I ever had been, I would have hoped he would turn out just like you.”
Vance swallowed around the huge lump in his throat and watched her go.
To protect and serve…. All Vance Connelly ever wanted to do was continue his family’s tradition and join the Tampa Police Department, but his dreams were crushed the day he woke with the enhanced mark on his face. After years of struggling to adjust to life as an enhanced human, by a stroke of luck, he met Talon Valdez and became a proud member of the FBI’s Human Enhanced Rescue Organization.
Samuel “Angel” Piper is eager to leave his DEA undercover work behind as he joins the HERO team as Vance’s regular human partner. But Sam’s painful past is ever present, just below the surface of the life he has built for himself as an ambitious young agent. When the team investigates rumors of a new drug using enhanced blood, the case’s mysterious connection to Sam threatens not just his life but Vance’s.
Trust doesn’t come easy for Sam, but Vance is willing to fight to convince his partner that the strength of his heart might be the salvation they both need.
Victoria Sue fell in love with love stories as a child when she would hide away with her mom’s library books and dream of the dashing hero coming to rescue her from math homework. She never mastered math but never stopped loving her heroes and decided to give them the happy ever afters they fight so hard for.
She loves reading and writing about gorgeous boys loving each other the best—and creating a family for them to adore. Thrilled to hear from her readers, she can be found most days lurking on Facebook where she doesn’t need factor 1000 sun-cream to hide her freckles.
Sue has brought a choice of backlist book to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Friday, December 14th at 11:59 pm ET.
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