Saturday, June 20, 2020

Excerpt & Giveaway: THE KEY TO EVERYTHING

Valerie Fraser Luesse

Contemporary Christian Romance
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: June 2, 2020
Number of Pages: 352

Scroll down for the giveaway!

Based on a true story, Valerie Fraser Luesse’s new novel takes readers on an incredible journey of self-discovery. The poignant prose, enchanting characters, and captivating settings in The Key to Everything make this a moving story that readers won’t soon forget. Peyton Cabot’s fifteenth year will be a painful and transformative one. His father, the reluctant head of a moneyed Savannah family, has come home from WWII a troubled vet, drowning his demons in bourbon, and distancing himself from his son. When a tragic accident separates Peyton from his parents, and the girl of his dreams seems out of reach, he struggles to cope with a young life upended.

Pushed to his limit, Peyton makes a daring decision: he will retrace a slice of the journey his father took at fifteen by riding his bicycle all the way from St. Augustine to Key West, Florida. Part loving tribute, part search for self, Peyton’s journey will unlock more than he ever could have imagined, including the key to his distant father, a calling that will shape the rest of his life, and the realization that he’s willing to risk absolutely everything for the girl he loves.


The Key to Everything, Excerpt I
Chapter One

Uncle Julian, the middle son, was doing what he always did—trying to sell Granddaddy Cabot on one of his big ideas: “We could parcel off a thousand acres over by Reidsville and turn it into a residential development. We’d make a fortune. Can’t you see that?”

“Julian, Reidsville’s not close enough to anything—not Atlanta, not Savannah. All those vets settin’ up housekeepin’ want to be close to a city where they can find work.”

Nothing about Peyton’s Uncle Julian was genuine—not his smile, not his concern, and certainly not his devotion to the family. Whenever there was any heavy lifting to be done, you could count on Uncle Julian to be needed elsewhere. Peyton’s mother had once said that he was “doomed to go through life feeling cheated” because he believed any good fortune that fell on someone else rightly belonged to him. He fancied himself a statesman but so far couldn’t even win a seat on the Savannah city council.

Peyton spotted two of his cousins on a quilt underneath the Ghost Oak and decided to join them. Their grandfather had named the tree long ago, and the moniker was apt. Sit beneath it on a breezy night—better yet, a stormy one—and the rustle of leaves did indeed sound like a swirl of specters communing overhead. When they were children, Peyton and his cousins would dare each other to sit under the tree on windy evenings while the others hid in the azaleas, calling out into the darkness, “Ooooooooo, I am the ghost of Ernestine Cabot, dead from the fever of 1824 . . . Ooooooooo, I am Ol’ Rawhead, swamp monster of the Okefenokee . . .”

Peyton had never been afraid of the family ghosts or the tree they supposedly haunted. There was something to be discovered way up in those branches, and he had always been more curious than fearful.

Stepping off the porch, he dipped himself some homemade ice cream from a wooden freezer that was probably older than he was and sat down on the quilt with his cousins Prentiss and Winston.

“Somebody’s goin’ home mighty early.” Prentiss nodded toward Peyton’s mother, who was walking slowly up a dirt road that led from the main house to a pretty lakeside cottage about a quarter mile away.

Peyton watched his mother’s back as she moved farther and farther away from the family, now and again raising a hand to her face. Just then his father appeared, following a path that led from the back of the house, through a pecan grove, and out to the stables. In one hand was a highball glass, already filled. The other held his ever-present companion since he had come home from the Pacific, a bottle of bourbon.

Peyton’s aunts said it was “the worst kind of stupid” for the Army to draft men in their thirties, but once everybody younger was already over there, they had no choice. Peyton’s father was gone for just over a year before the Japanese surrendered, but by then the war had done its damage. The war was still doing its damage.

“Don’t look good, does it?” Winston asked him.

“No,” Peyton said, watching his father disappear into the pecan trees.

Winston swatted at a bee circling his head. “Hey, Peyton, how come you didn’t bring Lisa?”

“To face the whole clan? Way too early for that. Might scare her off.” Peyton finished his ice cream and stretched out on the quilt. Closing his eyes against the sun filtering through the branches overhead, he pictured the girl who was never far from his thoughts.

Lisa Wallace had transferred to his school in January, when her family moved to Savannah from Augusta. She was the prettiest girl in the whole town, the prettiest girl Peyton had ever seen. But there was more to her than that. For one thing, she didn’t flirt, a rarity in a Georgia beauty. Then again, she didn’t have to. Every boy in school wanted to go out with her. Her hair was deep auburn and fell in long glossy waves down her back. Her eyes were blue, with just a hint of green, and she had a complexion like ice cream.

The minute she walked into his homeroom class, he knew. He felt it in his gut or his heart or whatever you want to call it. While all the other guys were working up their nerve, Peyton made a beeline for Lisa in the lunchroom that first day and offered to carry her tray to her table. She had smiled up at him and said, “You don’t waste any time, do you?”

As beautiful as she was, Lisa wasn’t interested in sitting on anybody’s pedestal and looking pretty. Once, Peyton had invited her to a skeet shoot Winston put together. After watching all the guys complete their first round, Lisa had tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Don’t I get a turn?” He handed her his gun and watched her take down every clay.

Peyton often found her sitting next to unpopular kids in the cafeteria so they wouldn’t feel lonesome. One girl in their class was a little slow and didn’t have the nerve to ask the teachers questions, so she came to Lisa, who would spend her whole study hall tutoring instead of doing her own homework. When Lisa was excited about something, she talked with her hands, and Peyton found himself staring at them as they lithely fluttered in the air, waving her timid pupil toward the correct answer.

Winston interrupted his reverie. “Lisa and Peyton sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, then comes marriage—”

“Oh, shut up, Winston.” Peyton threw an acorn at him.

The truth was, he was already thinking about marrying Lisa—daydreaming about it anyway. He had asked her out right after she moved to Savannah and just about every weekend since. Only a month ago, he had taken her to the spring formal, when his whole life seemed as close to perfect as it would ever get . . .

Again his cousins pulled him away from Lisa and back into the fray of a Cabot family picnic. “Listen—here it comes,” Prentiss was saying, pointing toward the porch.

To read Excerpt 2, visit All the Ups and Downs on June 21

Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of Missing Isaac and Almost Home, as well as an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse received the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society for her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana. A graduate of Auburn University and Baylor University, she lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Dave. 

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One Winner: Copy of The Key to Everything, Necklace, $25 B&N Gift Card; 
Two Winners: Copy of The Key to Everything + $10 Starbucks Gift Card
June16-26, 2020
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1 comment:

  1. Glad you posted this excerpt from the book. I think it sets up Peyton perfectly. Reading this made me smile and convinced me that I'd enjoy his story.