Sneak Peek Chapter!

Sep 22, 2021
Copyright Jared Morrison

Welcome, Dear Reader!  So glad and grateful you’re here.

Of Dreams and Angels launched earlier this year, and I couldn't be more blown away by the reception.  Whether it was the glowing Kirkus Review (no small feat, based on how some NYT-bestsellers have fared!), the Finalist Award at the 2021 American Fiction Awards, or the recent appearance on national TV via CTV's Your Morning, or hitting Bestseller status on Amazon, I've been absolutely overwhelmed.

But do you know what means the most?

When you tell me about what Joe & Claire's story has meant to you.

"After reading this book and balling my eyes out, I sat in the same spot for at least 30 minutes wrapping my arms around what I just read and what I was feeling. If you embrace what is written on these pages, trust me when I say you will never forget Joe and Claire's story, because Love Always Wins. I pray that one day Of Dreams and Angels is on the big screen, because everyone needs to experience this poetic love story."

Wow.  No critic's review, award, or appearance could compete with that.

Of course if you're here, that probably means you haven't experienced their story.  Yet.  Maybe you're on the fence.  Maybe a debut, indie author's book leaves you feeling dubious.  And I wouldn't blame you, friend; after all, even The Time Traveler's Wife (to which Of Dreams and Angels is often compared) was rejected 25 times by the "experts."

So.  What better way to honour the words than by letting the words speak for themselves? 

Enjoy the exclusive sample chapter below, and see if you don't fall in love with these reluctant soul-seekers as they have fallen for one another. 

The goodbye at the airport hadn’t been without emotion, but in contrast to Joe’s former experience this was imbued with the cautious hope of new lovers, of anticipation of the next meeting.

Claire was curious about the massive hiking pack; Joe skirted the issue with a half-truth that after investing so much in hiking apparel, he hadn’t seen the need to further expend on traditional travel ware.  She’d offered a laugh and a slight raised eyebrow, accepting the quirk at face value.

It was a reminder for Joe of that which had conveniently faded to the background over the preceding days: the strange magic that had brought them together.  It hadn’t come close to sitting right with him, the thought of forever avoiding the truth, yet he still hadn’t any idea how he would—or could—tell her.  For as far-ranging as their conversations had been, nothing so far had broached the paranormal, and in yet another instance of the tightrope tentativeness of early love, he’d been petrified of disturbing the delicate balance.

He knew the crux of her pain was the deception she’d endured, and it felt irreconcilable to begin their relationship under anything resembling false pretenses—but all at once, what was he supposed to say?  Claire, up until about two months ago my nighttime visions were only ever nonsensical scenes.  But then, a few weeks ago, I found myself in your kitchen.  With you, your sister, your children.  Looking through your eyes.  That’s right—not in your eyes, but through them.  And then your workplace.  And then in the shower…  

Good lord.  How insane that would sound, even if it was the absolute truth.  There had to be some kind of moral or ethical special clause in this situation, no?  That when the truth sounded ludicrous—bordering on delusional—was it then okay to take to the grave?  Was this one of those things that would cause more damage by its disclosure than by its omission?  

I’m sure David says the same thing to himself about his indiscretions, one of the internal trustees said.

This was quickly becoming the new, maddening train of thought, one that threatened a fall from the clouds on which his heart danced as his plane soared among those beyond the windows.  Paradoxical, irreconcilable, hypocritical, ironic—he wasn’t sure which of those fit right now, just that none of it fit exactly right.  None of it, except for her.  

Though it took a tremendous force of will, Joe was able to still the voices of doubt with a single, overarching thought: something had orchestrated this into being.  But not him.  Not even close.  

It wasn’t just the dreams, either.  It was everything about their encounter.  The way her hand fit in his.  How their bodies came together in a language as fluent as the words they spoke.  The ease and familiarity with which they did speak.  These things had been as close to perfection as Joe had ever experienced, no less than the forests and mountains he revered.  If this week with Claire hadn’t been perfection, he would need to abandon hope of ever knowing what was.

In the entirety of his life, if Joe had ever been asked to simply “have faith” in an idea, it would have been tantamount to asking a fish to believe in oxygen outside of water.  The language itself wouldn’t have absorbed, let alone the concept.  Yet here he was, hurtling thirty-five thousand feet above the ground, coming back from a place where he’d discovered a woman to whom he’d been introduced in dreams was not only real, but was becoming the essence of his heart.  Though he couldn’t begin to comprehend the how or the why, faith seemed like the only practical option.

The following weeks saw the tangible worlds surrounding Joe and Claire evaporate—even if for most of it, half the world kept them apart.  In the course of alternating early morning calls for him and late night calls for her, they’d spoken the hours away like teenagers, falling just short of the “you hang up first,” “no you hang up” routine.  At their age, pride wouldn’t permit debasing themselves with the actual words, even if their hearts longed for them to say no better. 

In their early phone calls, someone (later on they playfully argued over whom) had eventually located the courage to float the idea of getting together between Christmas and New Year’s.  Before he knew it, Joe was back on the phone with the airline and hotel making arrangements for another week.

He flew out on Boxing Day, arriving in London the day after, Claire meeting him at Heathrow.  Is there a better feeling than seeing the face of one’s affection after walking through the Arrival doors? he could remember thinking.  After a stop at his hotel to check-in—but mostly to check in with one another—they’d gone to her house in Queen’s Park.  

They had debated how to approach the matter with Claire’s children, understanding that in the lifetime of a relationship, three weeks was but a blink.  Despite what their hearts had to say in the matter (during one of their sunrise-sunset calls, Claire had said “Soul time feels different than actual time,” with Joe in complete agreement), both wanted to tread delicately with Jackson, Ainsley, and in particular, Holly.

Of the elder boy, Joe hadn’t conversed beyond a greeting during the previous week in London.  After about the third date, Audrey insisted Jack emerge from his bedroom cave and at least say hello.  The teen had obliged with a cursory grunt before heading back to his music and video games.

Ainsley remained excited by the new suitor, even if it was unclear what significance post-divorce, grown-up romance held in the world of a six-year-old.  As with most children her age, she held greater concern for the universe of friends and playdates and school and Christmas that occupied her days.  She seemed to find Joe an amusing curiosity.  A new, unwitting ear to listen to the stream-of-consciousness tales her older siblings ignored, and that her mother and aunt—despite best intentions—often only heard with half-awareness.  When asked by Audrey what she thought of Joe, Ainsley merely remarked, “He’s nice and kind, and he listens to my stories.”  When asked for her official assessment of the time Joe was spending with her mother, she’d said, “Mummy smiles a lot.”  That seemed to be enough, by her standards.

Holly continued to be wary, and when Joe showed up with Claire that first Sunday for dinner, she’d retreated to her room.  She emerged only when summoned for mealtime, asking to be excused after the main course and declining dessert.  Joe second-guessed every interaction, replaying for Claire the limited dialogue between him and Holly.  Claire responded by recounting family counselling sessions following David’s affair, moving out, recoupling, and blending of houses.  Most of Holly’s trauma appeared related to that dysregulation, and likely little to do with Joe himself.  The therapist had forewarned that most children will rebel at some point against any new partner, forever maintaining their loyalty to the parent, and allegiance (conscious or not) to the original relationship.  

Claire spoke of Holly’s strained relationship with David.  After her ex-husband’s emotional grenade-juggling act, all involved sought to downplay the event and avoid outright discussion of the affair.  Their reasons for doing so were disparate from one family member to the next, and some succeeded better than others in maintaining decorum and diplomacy (with Joe correctly assuming this was a reference to Audrey).  Though Claire was guided by the motive of not outwardly disparaging their father, Holly and Jackson were still old enough to understand what had occurred behind closed doors.

Holly blamed David for the destruction of their home, yet couldn’t help her feelings of love and loyalty to him.  The concurrent, diametric emotions were impossible to reconcile for a twelve-year-old.  Claire surmised that Joe’s presence was probably a further reminder of a terminally ill world that had been lanced with upheaval one otherwise unremarkable night at the kitchen table three years ago.  Claire assured Joe these factors were likely the nucleus for Holly’s reticence, and not to take them on as his own shortcomings or responsibility.

These discussions were fraught with their own reticence; for as open as Joe and Claire had become with one another, some topics were still broached with tentativeness and caution.  Spending time around the kids might not have been a factor so soon, had Joe just been a bloke from work or the neighbourhood.  It seemed irresponsible for Claire to disappear completely to his hotel during that Christmas break, and just as reckless to start playing at anything resembling house.  Joe, for his part, was content to follow Claire’s lead on this, having no direct experience of his own.

They decided to proceed delicately, and contented themselves with evenings in his suite after Claire had spent the day with the children.  Of their nights alone, they passed the time amid thousands of words both spoken and unsaid.  Enwrapped in a million more embraces, some passionate and unrestrained, others delicate and tender.  They half-jokingly wondered whether they ought to have done more with the time, taking in more sights (with or without official tour guiding), and providing Joe with a more authentic London experience.  He admitted the only experience he wanted was to be in her atmosphere, absorbing every moment, every word, every touch.  Claire confessed feeling the same.

He did return to her house for dinner on Thursday, New Year’s Eve.  It was clear Ainsley had decided to adopt Joe as a new best friend, leading him upon arrival to her room for introductions to an array of stuffed and plastic friends, insisting he remember the names of each.  Holly was slightly less cool this time, and while Joe didn’t force any interaction, he’d greeted her with a gentle “It’s nice to see you again” and she’d replied with a quiet “You too”—with the three adults privately considering it a small victory.  Jackson maintained his indifference, acknowledging Joe with little more than sideways glances and occasional mumbles during the meal.  At this, Claire beamed as though they’d just engaged one another in spirited, philosophical discourse.  When Jack responded with more than one word to Joe’s questions about school and upcoming football tryouts, she had been practically elated.

Audrey appeared to serve as an unofficial ambassador during these encounters.  Joe hadn’t a clue what he’d done to endear himself to her, thinking she might have been the most significant voice of caution or doubt.  Yet she seemed positively pleased with his arrival, even if (in Joe’s mind) that was merely from the stark contrast between him and David.  

If that contrast afforded Joe time to demonstrate his honourable intentions (if not the clandestine circumstances that brought him here), he would take it.  After dessert, while Claire helped Ainsley with bath time and had a private debrief with Holly, Joe stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes as Audrey dried.  He ventured small talk, which was cut off almost instantly once listening ears departed the room.

“Joe, I don’t imagine I have to give you the talk, do I?” she asked.

“Which talk is that, Audrey?”

“The ‘If you hurt my sister, I’m going to hurt you’ talk.”  She picked up one of the butter knives in need of drying and waved it in his direction.

“Ahh.  No.  I don’t believe you do.”

“I don’t know how much Claire has told you, nor what the two of you do in all those midnight hours you’ve crammed together on these visits—though I do have an active imagination.  But she’s been hurt before, Joe.  Badly, at that.  Way more than she’s let on, I imagine.”

Choosing his words carefully, he said, “I’ve gotten that sense, yes.”

“Claire is my big sister, and through my entire life, a little bit my hero, too—though I’ll never tell her that.  And what David did, and the things she’s endured since, well, they nearly broke her apart.”  Audrey continued drying and stowing dishes away as she spoke.  

Joe kept his eyes on the casserole dish he was washing.  “She’s also the strongest woman I’ve ever known,” Audrey continued, “and it would take more than the likes of David, or any other obstacle thrown her way once he left, to bring her down.

“But—” she pointed a ladle in his direction, flinging soap suds that landed on his cheek.  They laughed as he dried it away with an elbow.

“Had to know there was a ‘but,’” he said.

“You’re damned right there was a ‘but,’ Joe.  I like you.  I don’t know what it is, and maybe that makes me less of the castle guard I’ve sought to be ever since that—” she paused, as though attempting to censor herself, “that arsing louse threw a bomb on this entire family.  But at all rates, I haven’t seen her face look the way it did when I first saw her looking at you, in a very long time.”  Audrey put the ladle away, leaned against the counter and looked out the window over the sink.  “That beautiful smile of hers never disappeared.  She never allowed it to; would never have allowed David or anything else that kind of power.  Especially not when it came to the children.  

“But these last years there’s always been a hesitation behind it, an unadmitted pain.  Even though the smile was formed by her mouth, it was like it had disappeared from her eyes, which is where it really counts.”

She turned to face Joe.  “But when I walked up to the two of you at the gallery—and after we shooed away that idiot—I saw the smile return to her eyes, even before I saw it on the rest of her face.  And though it may have been reckless, in that moment and afterwards, I thought, ‘Well that’s good enough for me.’  

“I can’t believe I’m about to say this,” she picked up another foam-covered serving spoon and once again held it in front of his face, “but it felt right, you being there.  Like you were supposed to have wandered into my little show like a random tourist taking in the London sights on a Saturday night.  I could see and sense it by what I saw on my sister’s face.  

“And I thought, ‘I know I promised her—and myself—that I would stand guard against her pain,’ and maybe I ought to have been harder on you, or given you the third degree.  But after I saw how she looked at you, I thought ‘I am not about to stand between her and whatever this is.  This shot at what I hope—and God help you, Joe, if you end up proving me wrong…"  She waved the spoon, flinging more suds about.  “But this shot at what could be a good man, at what could be a return to…  Well, a good feeling, anyway.

“So you’re just going to have to pardon the lecture, Mr. Riley.  If my sister is willing—after everything she’s been through—to let you into her heart, then I suppose I’ll allow it, too,” she winked.  “But if you are careless with it…  If you…  She’s just—she’s just too good, Joe.  She was too good for that man we shall not mention again tonight.  She’s been too good for the various louts that have come calling ever since we were in primary school.  And she’s too good, even, for most of us in her life.  I’m not speaking ill of myself, nor her friends, and certainly not of the children.  But she has a heart that’s pure, Joe.  I’ll never tell her this, but she’s the woman I would like to be, if I could ever get out of my own damned way long enough.  And I am absolutely petrified that one more failed promise, or one more bad result, or one more drop of her heart is going to break it for good.”  

Joe continued to listen, though he too had taken his attention away from the dishes and regarded Audrey directly.

“She’s sacrificed everything, Joe.  And every time we think there’s about to be a reprieve, a new chance for her to maybe regain all she gave up when that snake-oil salesman purporting to be Prince Charming swooped in and stole it all away, there’s another setback, another sacrifice.  And she was just beginning to get to a stable place this last year, when you arrived.  So I don’t know if that’s perfect timing, or horrendously bad.”  She paused and Joe remained quiet, giving her space to say that which he sensed had been stored up long before he’d ever arrived.

“Well?” she finally broke the silence.

“Well?” he asked in return, breaking into a grin.

“Which is it going to be, Joe?  Perfect timing, or are you going to make me regret letting my guard down?”

He considered his words.  “Everything about this has been perfect so far, Audrey.  That’s not me calling Claire perfect—nor myself, that much is certain.  But the timing of this, the way it came about…”  An internal voice said Watch it. 

“I’ll tell you what, Audrey,” Joe said, changing tone.

“I’m listening.”

“I believe something led me to Claire.  And I’ve never been the type to ever believe in anything remotely resembling that.  I don’t know what it is; I won’t even pretend to know.  But for the first time in my life, I believe I was meant to find someone—for Claire and I to find one another.  I don’t know what the future holds, and I am not going to predict outcomes I have no control over.  I also don’t believe that I’m here to rescue her, or fix anything that happened before.  As you know, and as you’ve said, your sister doesn’t need rescuing.  She’s too strong for that.”  

He fidgeted with the dishcloth for a moment, looked down to gather thoughts that raced within.  “But for as long as she affords me the privilege of being let into her heart, I am not going to walk away from that.”

Audrey took her own pause.  “That’s easy to say when things are easy, Joe.  But what are you going to do when it’s no longer perfect?  Because things happen, life happens, and as wonderful as you seem—and as I have an intuition you are—you’re not perfect, as you said.  As much as I love my sister, I know she’s not either.  And there is more than just you, or even her, at stake here.  There are other lives involved.”

Joe regarded her again, searching his heart.  “I’m going to choose to believe,” he said at last, “that whatever led me to her, will lead us then.”

“That’s a pretty woo-woo answer for a guy who likes probabilities and numbers and maths.”

“If you only knew,” he said with a smile.

She considered this.  “Well, I guess that’s as good an answer as any.”  She half-squinted, as though sussing him out.  “And as woo-woo as it sounds, I do believe that you believe it.”

“I do.”

They heard shuffling behind them; turned to see Claire standing at the foot of the stairs.  “What are you two talking so dreadfully about?” she said, with a cautious smile.

“Just you, behind your back,” Audrey said without pause.  They all broke into a laugh.  “I think I like this one, Claire,” she added, affecting a dreadful tone.  “I think he can come back.”

Claire looked at Joe, their eyes closing the distance across the room.  “I think he can, too.”

Can't wait to find out what happens next?  Click here to keep reading the rest of Joe & Claire's story today.

©jaredwrites 2021

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