Sunday, March 17, 2024

Excerpt Reveal: The Helping Heart by Annie M. Ballard

 The Helping Heart
Annie M. Ballard
(Sisters of Stella Mare, #4)

Publication date: March 15th 2024
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

Helen comes home and everything should be wonderful. Even if she’s returning due to a divorce. But there is more…

The Madison sisters, once close, are suddenly alienated as oldest Helen returns to Stella Mare. Her desire to help everyone includes keeping them at a distance, so her own secrets stay private. Her plan backfires, making her persona non grata and upsetting her father. To keep the peace with Dad, she suggests a group activity: the four sisters will hike the Fundy Footpath, an iconic and challenging backpacking trip along the Bay of Fundy. Why not? They’re young, they’re strong, and besides, they’re Madisons.

Despite each sister’s reservations, the desire to reconnect pulls them into this adventure. The hike is arduous and not for the faint of heart. Daunting cliffs, deep forests, rushing rivers and unpredictable tides accompany the gorgeous views, stunning sunrises, and the sheer power of nature. The challenges, though shared, fracture things further, and even Helen’s campfire confession doesn’t heal the breach. But when crisis happens, Helen is called to rise to the occasion and be the sister they need her to be.

Returning to Stella Mare was hard. Regaining her place in the family was harder. Come home to Stella Mare with Helen, as she, Rett, Evie and Dorie learn once again how to be sisters.

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“Earth to Helen! Come in, Helen,” Evie said, in good humour.

Startled, she jumped and snapped, “What?”

“We’re just checking in. See how everyone’s doing.” Evie’s voice stayed even, unperturbed.

“I’m fine,” she snapped again. Her sisters gazed her way. The fire popped, and a frog started singing up the creek.

“Helen —” Rett began. 

Helen interrupted. “Sorry. I’m fine, really. Except I didn’t get much sleep last night, and today has been really long. Really long.” She took a long shuddering breath, shocked to find tears forming. Rett moved closer on the log.

The frog abruptly quieted. Into the silence, the sound of ragged breathing came with intense pressure on her chest. Darkness closed in fast, until all she could see was the licking flame of the campfire.

“Helen!” Her shoulder got a rough shake. “Come back,” Rett said.

Turning her head to look at her sister restored her vision, eased the pressure. She drew a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m here. I’m okay.”

“Are you gonna tell me what just happened?” Rett was in no-nonsense mode.

Hell, no, she wasn’t. “I told you, I’m just tired. More than I expected because of no sleep. I should hit the hay now. You guys should consider it, too,” she said precisely, and got up.

As she headed away from the fire, she listened hard. What would they say about her? It didn’t matter, really. Everything was fine, her, the hike, all of them. Fine.

Author Bio:

Annie M. Ballard writes about women and family ties in the small villages that feel like home. With one foot in the Canadian Maritimes and the other in New England, she digs deep into the lives of her characters. When she’s not writing, she’s happily baking, gardening, powerlifting and trying to make friends with every dog in her neighbourhood.

Annie’s stories include strong women living real lives, good men trying to do better, and always a happy ending.

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