Branded by a Song is Available Now!
Branded by a Song is HERE! I cannot believe that we’ve actually made it to Brady O’Neil and his lady love’s release date. I feel kind of nauseous about this book being out in the world because…it’s probably the sweetest, swooniest story I’ve written yet, and I want the characters to be loved as much as I love them.
I’ll just be over here, chewing my lip and constantly refreshing my email to see if I hear from you about it…can you say, “anxious?” Ha. I really, really, really want YOU to like it.
So let me ask:
Do you like rock star stories? How about small-town stories? Or single mom stories?
Because, y’all, that is seriously what Branded is all about. Except…it’s also wrapped in this down-to-earth realism that might make you feel like you KNOW these characters personally.
Or…maybe it’s just me because these characters live in my head…
Stick around till the end of the blog post for the entire first chapter, but for now I thought I’d show you the book trailer in case you hadn’t seen it yet…
You might not know this, but Chris Janson’s DONE was the book’s inspiration. It’s about a man finding the woman who is his everything, and my heart literally stopped the first time I heard it. I forgot to breathe, and I knew the song would make Brady’s story come to life. Is there a song that has done that to you? Literally stopped your heart? Maybe you can write me back and tell me? Maybe it will inspire a different story for me.
“The first time I saw you, done
Like the first dance was through, I was done
That one kiss, I knew
There was nothing I wouldn't do.”
Songwriters: Jamie Allen Paulin / Mitchell Edward Oglesby / Matthew Ryan Roy / Chris P. Janson
Done lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management.
Hearts aren’t limited to just one love song.
👩👧 Single Mom
🎹 Child Prodigy
🔥 Slow Burn
Has this country-rock legend finally met his match? A woman who can fill the aching void for “more” that’s been missing from his life?
Brady O’Neil tells the world he’s temporarily returning to upstate New York to help his sister. While it’s the truth, he’s also searching for the soul his music has lost. Certain his childhood mentor can help, he seeks her out and finds a woman trapped in the past instead. A woman who makes him want to stay like he never has before.
Losing her grandmother feels like yet another blow the world has dealt Cari. Keeping the music store and her daughter afloat is all she can focus on, and Grams’ beloved student sauntering in doesn’t change anything. He’s just another adventure she can’t afford.
Conceding that Brady holds the solution to her troubles doesn’t mean he can have her heart. After all, she buried that bruised organ alongside her husband years ago.
Can Brady convince her that hearts aren’t limited to just one love song?
Author’s Note: This flirty rock star, independent heroine, and adorable child prodigy might just leave a permanent mark on you with their achingly sweet story.
From the award-winning author, LJ Evans, comes a standalone, single-parent romance about the lyrical healing power of love, inspired by Chris Janson's "Done.”
Want to see what reviewers are saying about Brady’s story?? They’re calling dibs on him as their book boyfriend, so you better hurry. Take a look here:
By the way, I’ll be in my Facebook group off and on throughout the day today, CELEBRATING!!!! I’ll be sharing info about Brady, Cari, and their little Chiquita as well as doing some smaller giveaways. So, that’s double the reason to join, right?
If you aren’t on Facebook, or just don’t want to join the group, I won’t be offended, and you can still have a chance at a signed copy of Branded by a Song using the link listed above with the buy links.
BTW, I also just found out that Branded by a Song is going to be in the Romance Reveal Book Boxes sometime after March 24th. Woot, woot! If you subscribe to their boxes, you might get lucky to find one in yours. Do you want to check out their subscription book box service? I don’t get a kickback or anything, I just love that they share romance book love with the world.
Before I go, I just wanted to say THANK YOU, as always, for being on this journey with me. I hope you get a chance to read Brady O’Neil’s happily ever after story. If you do, maybe you could let me what you thought of it by emailing me, shooting me a note on my social media sites, or by leaving a review? I’m often known to respond to reviews as well as social media posts 😉.
That’s it for me today. I hope your day is full of books, love, and BRADY!
Happy Reading and Stay Safe Out There!
♬ "𝒲𝒽𝑒𝓇𝑒𝓂𝓊𝓈𝒾𝒸 & 𝓈𝓉𝑜𝓇𝒾𝑒𝓈𝒸𝑜𝓁𝓁𝒾𝒹𝑒." ♬
AND NOW HERE'S THE FIRST CHAPTER OF BRANDED BY A SONG
WAR OF ART
“And I love the pretty girls and how they sway
In rhythm when I play.”
Performed by Tim McGraw
Written by Warren / Warren / Spillman / Miller
The jet landing on the runway in Albany jerked me out of a fitful sleep. I dragged a hand through my sandy hair and rubbed the sleep from my eyes as I fought against the exhaustion trying to pull me back under. It felt like I could sleep for a month straight and never rid myself of the bone-weary feeling gathered deep inside my soul.
It was due to much more than the long days of the world tour I’d just wrapped up. This tiredness was tangled with the twisting doubts circling through me that the critics might be right. My music was stale and repetitive.
My songwriting partner, Ava, would rant and rave at me if she heard my silent agreement with the naysayers. The lyrics, hers and mine joined together, weren’t exactly the same, but the rhythms and chords blended so precariously close to all the other songs I’d released that it was hard to tell the difference between my first album and my third. There was no growth. No hint of change.
The reviewers had heard the truth I was trying to hide from myself and the world. There was a hole in my world―in my soul―and it reflected in my music. A gaping emptiness that begged to be filled. Knowing it only made me more of a cliché than ever before.
I needed a break from it all to try and find the heart that usually drove me.
As the jet doors opened, I wondered if staying with my family for the holidays was really the smart choice. I was pretty sure it would take the utter fatigue I felt and amp it up by about a hundred watts until every single part of me ached. But I hadn’t missed a Christmas with my family yet, and I wasn’t going to start now. It was bad enough we’d all left Cassidy alone for Thanksgiving. Oddly enough, my little sister had seemed relieved we wouldn’t be there to cut the soy alternative turkey with her.
As my bodyguard, Marco, and I walked down the stairs, high-pitched screaming exploded into the chilly air. My head jerked toward the private airline terminal where a crowd was being held back by rope and security personnel I didn’t know. There seemed to be a revolving door of them these days with Garner’s company. It made me even more grateful for the man at my side, who’d been through the fires of hell and back with me.
A black SUV with tinted windows pulled onto the runway in front of us, blocking me from the crowd at the terminal.
“Your parents are in the SUV and ready to go,” Marco said, his deep voice matching his muscular frame. His black hair and dark eyes almost matched the black he always wore. He was so dark from head to toe, he could almost be a shadow if his skin wasn’t the shade of cut oak instead of deep night.
The crowd grew frenzied as we hit the tarmac. My name squealing out of hundreds of fans echoed around the space. I wasn’t sure I had much to give them today.
“How’d they find out we were even here?” I asked.
Marco didn’t respond, as unsure as I was of how the press and the fans found things out. He just stood there, waiting for my move.
The crew of the private jet set our luggage down, and we moved toward the SUV in tandem. As Marco threw the cases in the back, the only other long-term member of my security team emerged from the driver’s seat. Trevor was as opposite to Marco as you could get. Light hair. Light eyes. Lean instead of Marco’s mean. But they were both smart, savvy, and had proved themselves over and over again, even when there had been gunfire and loss of life. I didn’t know what I’d do if they weren’t watching my back.
“Hey, Trev, enjoy your holidays,” I said, pulling him into a brief hug.
“You too, man,” he said, slapping my back before pushing me away with a fist to the shoulder. He exchanged greetings with Marco before heading off toward the main terminal and the flight he was catching home.
The back door of the SUV opened, and my dad stepped out followed by my mom. Her face lit up at the sight of me, and my heart lurched with regret at my earlier thoughts of not wanting to be with them for Christmas. My parents loved me. I loved them. Love was never a limited commodity in our household—only understanding.
Mom looked older than when I’d seen her in August, but she was as carefully put together as she always was in her tailored jeans and fitted jacket. She was in good shape for a woman closer to sixty than fifty. Her hair had once been the same dirty-blonde color as mine but was now littered with white, making it seem like she’d spent hours getting highlights in a fancy salon.
“Mo leanbh,” she said as she enveloped me in a hug. No matter how old I was, I was still her baby. It was reassuring and disconcerting.
“Hey, Mom,” I said, hugging her back tightly.
Mom let me go, and Dad took her place, wrapping me in a hug of his own. His clipped gray hair and beard made him look a bit like the Grissom character on CSI, the Basque heritage showing in his square face and square body that I’d inherited.
He patted me on the back and stepped away. “It’s good to see you.”
“Marco!” Mom greeted my bodyguard with almost as much enthusiasm as she’d greeted me.
Dad pounded him on the back.
The crowd grew frantic, screams blaring through the cold air that filled the Albany skies with clouds and pending storms.
My mom startled at the screams, glancing toward the group gathered.
“Why are they here?” Mom asked.
I wanted to laugh but kept it to myself. Mom would never get what my life was like since becoming famous. I’d tried to include my parents in it so they could see it for themselves, but they’d only been to a couple of the smaller concerts early on. They’d never seen me in front of tens of thousands of fans.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, heading toward the crowd.
“What are you doing? I thought we were leaving?” Mom called.
I ignored her, almost running to the fans who were smiling and happy to see me. They were already snapping pictures and shooting videos with their phones. Marco was at my side, straight-faced and in mission mode while he scanned the throng.
“Y’all showed up for little ol’ me?” I said to the group, and they were screaming my name in return, shoving out papers and phones.
The first person I reached was a plus-sized woman with auburn hair and brilliant green eyes. Pretty in a way I was sure got overlooked by many of the people in her life. I took the paper from her hand.
“Who should I make it out to, babe?” I asked and wanted to smack myself in the head at the word ‘babe.’ It proved just how tired I was, because it only slipped out of me when my brain and my body were beyond tired these days.
“Deena. D-e-e-n-a. Oh my God. I can’t believe you’re actually here,” she breathed out, eyes awestruck.
“Deena, your gorgeous smile and candy-apple green eyes are gonna be stuck in my head for days,” I told her, giving her back the paper and then grabbing her phone from her other hand.
I stuck my arm out as far as I could, then turned so I was placing a kiss on her cheek while taking the selfie. When I turned back, she was ten shades of red.
“You have a beautiful holiday, Deena,” I said and then moved to the next person along the rope.
I spent about fifteen minutes signing everything, including arms, papers, and CDs. Taking selfies while smiling, flirting, and reminding myself that these were the people who’d made everything happen for me. These were the people who bought my songs, not some stuffy critic, sitting behind a desk, using his words like a knife to my gut.
My phone pinged out my manager’s ringtone. It was my “Ghost” single that had rocketed up the charts off my second album—right before everything had gone to hell with Fiona, the stalker. Right before we’d upped the security details with Garner’s men and they’d given me the code name based on the song title. I’d laughed at the time and said if I was Ghost then Lee was the leader. I’d changed his name on my phone and never changed it back.
GHOST TEAM LEADER: Trevor says there’s a crowd there. Stop signing autographs and go spend time with your family.
Lee was right. I was using the crowd to delay the inevitable―sitting in a car with my parents for an hour while we drove home to Grand Orchard. Pretending for them. Wearing the cheerful face they knew as their son, Cormac, rather than the country singer, Brady O’Neil.
I handed back the paper I was signing and then smiled at the rest of the throng. “Sorry, darlin’s, that’s all I have time for today. I hope you all have a beautiful holiday, whichever ones you’re celebrating.”
I blew the mob a kiss while people continued to clamor my name, disappointment curling through their voices and me. I hated letting them down. But if I didn’t stop at some point, I’d be there for hours, and the longer I stayed in one place, the more people would show up.
On the way back to the SUV, my phone buzzed again.
GHOST TEAM LEADER: Remember they love you.
We both knew he wasn’t talking about the mob. More than just my business manager, Lee was the person who kept me on track whenever I started to derail.
ME: I’ve never questioned it.
GHOST TEAM LEADER: Remember you actually have a family to spend the holidays with.
ME: I’m one of the lucky ones.
GHOST TEAM LEADER: Damn straight.
ME: Hug your parents for me.
Like the rest of my team, Lee was going home to his family for a much-needed break.
GHOST TEAM LEADER: Mom will say you do it better.
ME: She’d be right.
GHOST TEAM LEADER: Smart-ass.
I climbed into the SUV, glancing into the back at my parents. Mom looked frustrated, and Dad looked like he’d been pacifying her—both familiar actions and reactions. Ones that went back decades and had nothing to do with the fact that I’d just made them wait fifteen minutes, although I was pretty sure it was what had started the conversation.
I did the one thing I didn’t want to do. I smiled and asked them how classes were going. It was worth it when Mom’s face changed from an almost scowl to pleasure. She dove into a discussion about the prestigious college in Ireland they were guest professors at for the year. They talked about the differences between the students and the faculty there versus the one at Wilson-Jacobs College here in the States, where they’d taught my entire life.
It was never a surprise to me that my parents were well-liked by their students. They were dynamic, attractive, and impassioned. Mom energized the undergraduates with various Gaelic and Celtic stories and legends, while Dad bestowed the gift of languages and cultures to them.
While they’d been hip-deep in the world of academia, I’d been traveling the world, wrapping up the tour. We’d coordinated our arrival back in the States so we could drive home together.
“How was Japan?” Dad asked.
“It was Paris.” Dad seemed embarrassed by my correction, and I softened it with a smile, adding on, “It was good.”
It had been good—until the critics had started tearing at me.
“When do you leave again?” Mom asked.
“I have to be in New York for the New Year’s Eve show. Then, I’ll be in L.A. for a few weeks, wrapping up the live episodes of Fighting for the Stars and attending a couple of award shows. After that, I’ll have a break.”
“I wish you’d been able to come home more over the last few months,” Mom said, her worry for Cassidy showing as it always did.
When they’d first told Cass and me about the guest professor positions in Ireland, I’d promised to come home more often. I’d promised because Cass had made me. She hadn’t wanted to be the reason they passed up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it had felt like a fair compromise at the time. A lie to my parents to give my sister what she craved: time to be an adult.
In my mother’s book, I’d smashed all my promises to hell when I’d extended the international tour for five more stops. It wasn’t anything new to our relationship. Mom expected me to drop the ball when it came to Cassidy. The trust she gave me was always tissue-paper thin and easily punctured.
My only solace was that Cassidy had insisted she was doing fine. As if she could hear my thoughts, my phone buzzed with a text from her.
CASS: Where are you?
ME: Just leaving the terminal. We should be home in about an hour. Miss me that much?
CASS: I’m freaking out.
Cassidy wasn’t really a freak-out kind of person. She was a buckle-down-and-get-things-done kind of person. She’d gone from graduating at the top of her class at college to spearheading a campaign on nutrition for the local clinic, all at twenty-three.
ME: Why? What’s up?
CASS: Promise you won’t take their side.
ME: Cass, now you’re freaking me out. What the hell?
CASS: I shouldn’t have said anything. Forget it.
ME: Not likely. Did you destroy the house?
CASS: God no, nothing like that.
ME: What could angelic you possibly have done that would upset them?
CASS: I’m hardly an angel, big brother.
Like it or not, our mother would always see her that way.
ME: Tell me what’s going on.
CASS: I’m just nervous. It’ll be fine. I’ll see you soon.
Cass was never nervous. Calm. Driven. But not the anxious type. So, for her to be jittery meant something big was up. But even after multiple prompts, she stayed silent. I stared out the window, wondering what the heck was going on with her. Mom and Dad were chatting in the background, oblivious to my inner turmoil, but Marco looked over at me a couple of times with a raised eyebrow.
I just shook my head. There was nothing I could do about any of it until we arrived.
My phone buzzed again, this time with a message from my friend and PR manager.
DANI: The idiot from The Reporter doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Dani had taken a flight direct from Paris to Georgia, to the waiting arms of the man she loved, a retired Navy SEAL who’d helped with our security for a while. Together, they were carving a life for themselves on an estate that had been in his family since before the Revolutionary War. I could feel her slipping away from me as they made plans for their family-owned business’s new charity. I’d told Lee to expect her resignation any day. We had a bet going on how soon it was going to happen.
ME: Nash actually let you out of the bedroom already?
DANI: Har har. I don’t want you to obsess over the article.
ME: I have plenty of time to prove him wrong.
DANI: You have nothing to prove. You just won two more AMAs in November and are up for two more Grammys.
ME: Go make mad, passionate love with your husband so he continues to let you come play with me and let me worry about myself.
DANI: “Let me come play.” You know how bad that sounds, right?
I smiled as I typed my response, knowing it would not only change the subject, but get a reaction out of her.
DANI: *** slapping head GIF ***
DANI: I owe you at least one when I see you again.
ME: Merry Christmas, Dani.
DANI: You too. Don’t obsess.
ME: I won’t.
DANI: You will. But try not to. Just be with your family.
ME: That’s the plan.
“Does your phone ever stop?” Mom asked.
I laughed. “When I’m with the team, there’s no one else to text me, so that’s when it’s the quietest.”
“Leave him be, Arlene,” Dad said. “He’s a big rock star now. We’re lucky we get time with him at all.”
“Come on,” I said with a smile and shrug. “I’ve never missed a holiday.”
It was the truth. I’d also never missed a birthday or an anniversary without a call and a present. They were important to me, and I tried to show it the best I could amongst the nonstop life I led.
I rolled my neck and went back to staring out the tinted glass.
We were almost to Grand Orchard. The rows and rows of apple trees with their bare branches were the proof. I’d loved escaping into the orchards with my friends growing up. We’d spent many a Friday night partying with the smudge pots as a background. I smiled at the memories of me on the tailgate of William’s truck, playing my guitar, making people swoon, and ending the night with kisses. I hadn’t thought of my one-time best friend or those secret parties in years.
The orchards gave way to the college grounds, which were almost as old as the land itself. Old ivy and brick that had been modernized on the inside. The college gave way to the town, which looked like it should be cast in either a horror movie or a movie from the 1950s. Quaint and cute. Almost too perfect. A stereotypical college and tourist town rolled into one.
Marco turned down the first street past the college and was soon parked in front of the Craftsman-style home I’d grown up in. The single-story house had floors slanting in the kitchen that almost matched the angled roofline of my childhood bedroom. The room had been added on to the house a century ago, and I’d barely been able to stand up straight in it once I’d turned sixteen. No matter how old and beat-up the house was, it was still home.
The wheels had hardly come to a stop before the front door opened, and Cassidy emerged onto the porch. I’d hardly had a chance to look at her before Mom was barreling out of the back and jogging up the stairs. Mom froze on the top step, her mouth falling open, and my body stilled, taking in my sister.
Cassidy shared my tawny, thick mane of hair, and she was almost as tall as me, but whereas I had bulk, she was long limbs and no meat. Now, she looked like she was barely able to keep her center of gravity because her belly was sticking straight out from her almost too-thin frame.
Holy fuck. She was pregnant. My twenty-three-year-old sister with no boyfriend—that I knew of—was pregnant. Far-along pregnant. Pregnant enough to be showing a belly. Pregnant enough to have told us when she obviously hadn’t.
No wonder she’d been freaking out. I was freaking out seeing her like this. I had no idea how off the edge Mom and Dad were going to dive. Dad had joined Mom on the step, and they were both staring at Cassidy as if they were seeing a mirage.
I left the SUV and the bags to join them.
“Cassidy Marie. What on earth?” Mom’s voice was full of unshed tears. I didn’t know who they were for, but it wasn’t what Cassidy wanted, because her chin raised in defiance.
“Surprise. You’re going to be grandparents.” Cassidy tried to make light of it, but her voice was tight and missing the lightness it normally had.
“Who? What? Jesus…” Dad was blustering.
“Who doesn’t matter,” Cassidy said. “I chose to have the baby, and that’s all there is to it.”
“How could you?” Mom asked, hand to her heart. And again, I wasn’t sure what she meant. How could Cassidy get pregnant? How could she do it without having a partner in her life? Or how could she keep it from my mother?
“Can I suggest we go inside?” I asked.
Mom whipped around. “You knew? You knew and didn’t tell me?”
“No one knew,” Cassidy said over me.
“The whole town obviously knows,” Mom thundered out.
“Since when have you cared about that kind of propriety, Mom?” I asked. Mom was not exactly a flower child, but she definitely wasn’t one to buy in to some nineteenth-century rhetoric about babies out of wedlock.
I pushed past both my parents and wrapped my sister in a hug. “Congratulations, Sis! I’m so happy for you. What a great Christmas present.”
That seemed to unlock my parents. They came forward, and we were suddenly tangled in a group hug that wasn’t our norm. All arms and legs and limbs, with a sniffling Cassidy in the middle of it all.
Keep reading now…
FREE in Kindle Unlimited