Focus on Love
by Candee Fick
Free-spirited Elizabeth Foster turned her back on her father’s photography business to pursue musical theater, but with a one-show contract, she’s a few weeks from unemployment forcing her home. Meanwhile sought-after photographer Ryan Callahan has put his career on hold to help his sister’s family while her husband is deployed, but the promise of a bigger assignment could lure him away from building a family of his own. If given the choice, what dreams would develop? Or will they learn to focus on love instead?
How would you describe your main character(s)?
Elizabeth (Liz) Foster is a redheaded photographer turned actress at a musical dinner theater. She’s a bit feisty and free-spirited. Ryan Callahan is a Montana cowboy turned award-winning freelance photographer. He is a solid family-man with a strong faith.
What is the problem your character(s) face in your book?
Liz is on a one-show contract meaning she could be out of work in a matter of weeks, but past problems at home have made it virtually impossible to return there. Once she gets another taste of photography, she can’t decide which dream to pursue for her future. Meanwhile, Ryan has put his career on hold to help his family. He loves them, but misses the freedom—and income—from his former life. Can he have both or will he need to sacrifice one dream for the other?
What would you like readers to know about your character(s)?
Liz has exceptional talent behind the camera, but because her past issues with her father and an ex-boyfriend, she doesn’t believe in herself. She’s also turned her back on God and all the religious rules her family expected her to live by. On the other hand, Ryan might seem like a swoony, book-boyfriend candidate (and he certainly is all of that!), but this Superman has his kryptonite.
Amazon (Print) – https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946016411/r
Read a free excerpt!
Elizabeth Foster ripped the Christmas wrapping paper from the box on her lap. It wasn’t heavy enough to be the camera she’d asked for, but when she lifted the lid, she grinned regardless.
“These are great.” She ran her hand over the Foster’s Fotos design on the front pocket of the royal-blue shirts inside. Not the first color she would have chosen as a redhead, but she’d wear anything if it meant stepping into the family business as the third generation of photographers—to finally build on the foundation Grandpa O’Neill began when her mother was a child. To be who Liz was meant to be. “And you even used my logo design.”
“Your design? No, Jerry came up with that.” Dad rocked back on his heels from his position near the fireplace. “Isn’t it great? Thanks to your recommendation, he’s been quite a talented addition to the company.”
Liz’s eyes darted to Jerry on the other end of the couch—and his smug expression. Merely an hour ago, she’d awkwardly endured his monotone proposition, er, proposal: “Let’s merge our talents. I can do even more professionally if you’re behind me.” He’d claimed it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. Except she had refused … and now this. Fueled by her ideas—the creative brainstorming she’d shared via e-mail and Skype calls this semester—her long-distance boyfriend had ambitiously climbed the ladder from intern to more.
Dad chuckled. “Told you she’d be speechless. Bet this will change her mind about a wedding, son.”
Liz’s face heated. “Son? No, he’s a thief. I showed him this very logo idea a month ago.” While she’d been off at college, he had apparently been stealing her family’s affection too. How could she have been so blind to his ambition?
“Now, now, dear. You’re just confused. The stress of your classes must be getting to you.” Jerry had the gall to reach over and pat her arm as if she were a toddler in need of comforting. He glanced at her dad. “I showed her an early sketch back in October.”
Liz pulled away from Jerry’s hand and took a deep breath, and then another, to calm herself. It would be unforgivable to cause a scene before the elaborate holiday dinner her mother had fixed. She’d already caught a glimpse of her grandmother’s wedding china on the dining room table…four place settings’ worth.
Another deep breath in through her nose and slowly released…
At least she’d finally seen Jerry’s true colors. But was it too late to fight for her place? If she needed to stay, completing her degree would have to wait.
She squared her shoulders and faced her dad. “Logo designer aside, do these shirts mean I can finally start working with you? Because I’d love to see us expand into new areas and revamp our website.”
Dad waved a hand dismissively. “Jerry’s full of ideas for doing all that. What we really need is office support.”
More of Jerry’s words came flooding back to her. “You don’t need a business degree to answer the phones and stuff envelopes.” Liz’s stomach clenched along with her fists.
Better to know the truth than to cling to hope. “Are you ever going to give me a chance to step behind the camera?”
“That’s ridiculous. You can’t handle this kind of job on your own. It’s a shame your grandparents encouraged those foolish dreams.” Dad shook his head. “Besides, a woman’s place is in the home, or at least supporting her husband in practical matters.”
With those dreams shattering into a thousand pieces around her, Liz tossed the box of shirts onto the coffee table and stood. “What I can’t handle is this right now.” She headed toward the doorway to the kitchen. Hopefully Mom wouldn’t be too upset if she—
“Just where do you think you’re going? We are not finished discussing this.”
Tears flooded her eyes as she turned back to face her frowning father. “Why can’t you understand? I just want to use the talents God gave me—to see the beauty in the world and share my joy with others. To do more than take pictures of snotty-nosed kids.”
“Those school pictures pay the bills, and it’s about time you grew up and started contributing around here.”
Rage at the injustice dried her tears. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do, except that you would rather listen to the lies of an outsider than the truth from your own daughter. He probably stole the rest of—”
“Enough!” Dad’s bellowing voice punctuated the vicious slice of his hand through the air. “This is my house, and you will not speak poorly of our guest and my new business partner. Submit to my authority and apologize, or else you are no longer welcome here.”
A gasp behind her echoed the stabbing wound in her chest while Jerry smirked from his relaxed position on the couch. Liz spun on her heel, then rushed past wide-eyed Mom and up the stairs toward her bedroom, chased by Dad’s final diatribe about rebellion being like witchcraft and God reserving a place in hell for the devil worshippers.
Liz slammed her bedroom door. No way could she spend another minute around the man—men—who had betrayed her, let alone another night under this roof. Even if it was Christmas, she’d head back to campus and stay at a friend’s apartment for a few days until the dorms opened up again. Sorry, Mom.
Upending the laundry basket, she dumped her clothes onto the heap still sitting in the suitcase she’d left on the floor. With most of her belongings already at college, what else did she need?
On the bookshelf nearby, Liz spotted the camera Grandpa O’Neill had given her on her twelfth birthday—back when he’d talked about her taking his place in the studio. Back before a fatal stroke turned the running of the business over to his son-in-law, her father, with the slow transition to packages of school pictures. She shoved the camera and case into the bottom of her backpack along with a few books of her photographs.
Sorry, Grandpa. Dad killed the dream. From now on, it’s just a hobby.
She glanced around the room, her eyes skipping over the Confirmation Bible sitting on the nightstand as her stomach churned. What kind of God would let this happen?
Grandma’s framed painting on the wall above her bed soon found a home in the cradle of clothing inside her suitcase, a precious memento from her fourteenth birthday before a heart attack reunited her grandparents in heaven. She paused to run a finger over the image of a young dancer swirling in joy in the middle of a gorgeous park, which had been divided into quarters on the canvas to show the beauty of the seasons. Grandma had said the girl reminded her of Liz and her spontaneity, but the scenery inspired other creativity, as Liz taught herself to see life through a camera lens.
Only two things had ever given her that sense of deep joy and freedom: dance classes with Grandma and photography with Grandpa. She paused a moment in thought. If she couldn’t take photography into her future, perhaps she could recapture the joy of the stage instead, to fill the gigantic hole she felt.
Liz gathered a few stray items before zipping the suitcase shut as she pondered the possibilities. What if she dusted off her dancing shoes and auditioned for the theater department’s spring production? Nothing said she couldn’t also change her major and hide her broken heart behind the mask of a fictional character.
Liz nodded as she shouldered her backpack and picked up her purse.
It was time to pursue a new dream.
Almost three years later
Liz grabbed the potential offer like the lifeline it was. “Yes, Mr. Sheridan. I’ll do it.”
“You haven’t even heard the details.” The Wardrobe Dinner Theatre’s director smiled, and his green eyes twinkled. “But I assume your enthusiasm means that you don’t have any employment plans after Sunday, when 42nd Street ends?”
“No, sir. I still haven’t been able to find another job.” And not for a lack of trying.
“Well, Liz, it just so happens that we’re in need of another actress for White Christmas and would like to extend your current contract through December. We can take it from there later.”
She cleared her throat. “Thank you.” Liz leaned against the front of the stage, vaguely aware of other cast and band members mingling around the lower level of the auditorium, as her boss spoke about getting her a script and scheduling a few extra rehearsals before the new show opened the day after Thanksgiving.
Instead of the usual three weeks of rehearsals, she’d have just over a week to learn the show before opening night … but at least the other girls could help her back at their shared apartment. And any job involving the theater was worth the extra effort.
Actually, any job at all.
“Still think you can handle it?” Mr. Sheridan broke into her musing.
“I’ll do my best.”
“That’s all I can ask.” He reached out to shake her hand. “Glad to have you back on board.” He checked his watch. “If you’ll excuse me, I have some things to check on before our pre-put-in review in a half hour.” In addition to preparing for the next show, the sudden loss of an actress also meant blocking adjustments for the current production.
As he walked away, Liz moved on shaky legs to claim a seat at a nearby table before sucking in several deep breaths. To be rescued only four days away from unemployment meant she didn’t have to slink home after all. The thought left her light-headed with relief. It was an answer to prayer even if she hadn’t been the one doing the asking.
A burst of giggles pulled her attention to the right just in time to catch her former boyfriend whispering into the ear of his future costar before pulling her close for a lingering kiss.
Liz stood and headed for the stairs.
The only good thing about leaving at the end of 42nd Street’s run had been not having to watch Trent the Traitor’s defection in person.
While Jerry the Jerk had used her to open the door to a business opportunity, Trent had only wanted the convenience of a girlfriend inside the theater company. The moment Liz’s name had been missing from the White Christmas cast list, he’d started looking for a new flame.
Liz felt so foolish for being used by another loser. She held back her redheaded impulse to punch something and squared her shoulders instead.
Why waste her energy on what might have been, when she’d just been handed a second chance?
On the second level, Liz passed a cluster of actors who were eagerly dissecting the past hour’s juicy revelations that there had been a thief among them … and claiming to have always known something was not quite right about their coworker. Just yesterday, the same people had targeted Liz’s roommate, Dani, with their rumors and accusations. Yet today’s sudden eviction of the thief from the company was the very reason Liz now had a contract extension.
Liz half jogged toward the exit, desperately craving a breath of fresh air outside the circle of egos jockeying for position like politicians on a campaign trail. She could do without the backstage “show biz” drama for a few minutes.
Pushing through the auditorium doors into the lobby, Liz glanced around. To her left, her roommate hugged various members of the Sheridan family while their trumpet-playing, orchestra-leader son watched. Liz’s heart clenched as Alex’s eyes never left Dani. While she could rejoice with Dani that her boyfriend was back in town, when would her own turn come? Would a guy ever see her heart and talents and love her for herself? Or desire to give her the world instead of taking her dreams away?
Liz rolled her eyes and turned from the sentimental scene. Better to focus on the blessings in her life, especially the miracle of having a job to pay the bills and keep her in Colorado.
The outside door opened then, and a tall man in a flannel shirt and blue jeans entered. He removed his tan cowboy hat as he strode toward the empty box office. Since another quick glance to her left confirmed that Mrs. Sheridan was still occupied with her family, Liz detoured to the right to greet the visitor.
“Hello, and welcome to the Wardrobe. What can I do for you?”
The stranger ran a hand through his dark hair, ruffling the imprint of the hat band, as he glanced around the room with equally dark eyes. “I didn’t think there would be so many people here today.”
“It’s true that we don’t have a show tonight, since it’s a Wednesday, but the cast still has rehearsals.” Rehearsals she was officially part of again.
“You look happy.” The man’s intense gaze swept over her face and she resisted the urge to squirm when he nodded, as if he had her figured out.
“I just got a miracle. Didn’t think God did those anymore, at least for me.” She really needed to thank Dani for praying.
The man smiled, and the serious expression on his face transformed into a look of one who enjoyed life. Laugh lines emerged beside his eyes, along with a deep dimple to the right of a crooked smile reminiscent of Grandpa O’Neill. “I believe He’s got a few more miracles up His sleeve. At least I hope so. Actually, that’s why I’m here.”
“Are you an actor?” With this handsome man around, the theater could get interesting.
His eyes widened in surprise and then shifted toward the ticket window with its display of show posters. “No.”
“Oh, right. Never mind.” If she hadn’t been so distracted by his smile, she’d have remembered where they stood. “If you’re looking for tickets to opening night of White Christmas next Friday, you’re in luck. We still have a few seats available if you’re not too picky about where you sit.”
“Not that. I’m setting up a business in town…”
“Business?” Liz eyed his worn Wranglers and green flannel shirt open over a white T-shirt. The charmer with the amazing smile couldn’t be that much older than her, maybe in his late twenties. “I’m not sure the theater needs a cowboy for anything, unless you really are an actor looking for a part in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. That show starts in January.”
“Cowboy? What?” He frowned for a moment as if confused.
She pointed to the hat he gripped in one hand and gestured toward the rest of his attire with a raised eyebrow.
He glanced all the way down to his scuffed boots and then laughed, a deep heartfelt sound that stirred a sense of longing within her heart. “Nope, nothing like that, although I was raised on a ranch in Montana and it seems to have rubbed off more than I intended.” He raised his eyes to hers. “Let’s start over, shall we?”
“That might be a good idea.” Liz gave her best impression of a regal nod with a slight tilt to the right. “Welcome to the Wardrobe Dinner Theatre. I’m Liz. How may I help you today?”
He extended a large hand. “I’m Ryan Callahan.”
Of course he’d get the Irish name while she was stuck with the red hair.
“Nice to meet you.” She placed her hand in his for a quick shake but found it securely trapped.
“The pleasure is all mine.”
Warmth from his words mixed with the tingles racing up her arm as she found herself captured by the intensity of his gaze and a peaceful sensation settling around her heart. Was he feeling the same connection?
She cleared her throat. “Um, you were saying something about a business?”
“Yes.” He blinked and released her hand. “Well, I normally do a lot of freelance work that takes me around the country and beyond. But when my brother-in-law was deployed last month, I put my contracts on hold for a bit and moved here to help my sister with her kids. I’m trying to drum up some income … although if nothing comes through soon, I’ll either be babysitting while my sister goes back to work or end up becoming a waiter.”
“Good luck finding something in this college town.” She should know, after spending the past three weeks filling out countless applications “just in case” something opened up. Thankfully, she’d gotten an extended contract instead.
“All that to say, this morning I had a crazy idea.”
Liz grinned. “I’ve been known to have a few of those myself.”
“That’s a story I’d love to hear someday.” His dimple flashed again, along with his sense of humor. “But, actually, I’m a photographer.”
“Oh.” She fought to keep a smile on her face and the memories in the past.
“Have you ever been on a cruise?”
“What? No.” Talk about a random subject change.
“On cruises, they often have photographers roaming around, taking pictures at dinner and other places. Then guests can buy professional photos of their families that are already printed out, often with a promotional logo or date in the corner.”
“They do that at Disneyland too.” Usually with a cheesy pose and a rip-off price to take advantage of gullible tourists.
“Exactly. I wondered if the owners here might be interested in having someone take pictures of couples and families, especially before your Christmas show. With the right packaging, it would make a wonderful Christmas card photo.”
He looked so hopeful that she almost hated to burst his bubble. But if anyone was going to take pictures at the theater, it should be her. “Um, I’m not sure.”
“Are they around to talk to?”
She glanced across the lobby to where the Sheridan family was still talking with Dani. Liz shifted her attention back to the hopeful photographer. “They’re busy right now.”
“That’s okay.” Ryan pulled out his wallet and thumbed through the contents before drawing out a business card. “Would you pass along my information and maybe even tell them about my idea?”
“Sure.” She took his card and glanced at it long enough to notice the “Freelance Photographer” title and a website. Did he really make a living taking pictures, or was this a glorified hobby? Was he even any good with a camera?
“But no promises.”
“Of course.” He took one of the Wardrobe’s season brochures from the stack on the small ledge at the box-office window and turned it over long enough to nod at the phone number on the back. “Just tell them I’ll call tomorrow.”
“Okay.” He certainly was persistent.
Ryan settled his hat back on his head. “It was nice to meet you, Liz, and thanks for your time.” He turned for the door with a rolling gait likely earned from time in the saddle.
Too bad he was a photographer. Even if she’d once dreamed of being the same.
She flicked his card with her fingers and shoved it into the back pocket of her jeans. Today she was an actress, and if she didn’t hustle to grab a change of clothes from her car, she’d be dancing in denim during their emergency rehearsal.
And making her boss question the contract extension before Liz even had a script.
So, you want to know more about this dark-chocolate-loving bookworm? I’m glad you asked!
I’ve been married for 21-plus years to my math-teaching, football-coaching husband. We have three kids ranging in age from 13 to 20 including a daughter with Cornelia de Lange syndrome and a son with allergy-induced asthma.
I learned to read at age 4 and haven’t been far from a book since. With my love of books, putting my own thoughts onto paper came naturally. While blogging, writing articles, and self-publishing my non-fiction books and devotionals came relatively easily, my dream was to someday be traditionally published in fiction. In December of 2014, I got my first fiction contract from Bling! and am eagerly preparing for the launch of my third novel in February 2018.
In addition to my personal writing, I’ve also started The Author Toolbox, an online coaching business, to help other authors find the practical tools to build a book, a platform, a business, and a career. Along the way, I discovered how much I LOVE brainstorming plot possibilities with other authors and have added novel critiques to the services I provide as a writing coach. I’ve also spoken at schools, writer’s groups, and women’s gatherings on a wide variety of topics including faith, family, and fiction.
Speaking of faith, I’m a pastor’s kid and grew up in church. My relationship with Jesus Christ is the glue that holds the rest of my crazy life together and pops up in everything I do.
I’m a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and a founding member of Front Range Christian Fiction Writers. I have been honored to be an ACFW Genesis Finalist in 2009 (women’s fiction), Semi-Finalist in 2011 (contemporary fiction), Double Finalist in 2014 (short novel category), and Winner in 2014. I’m also a member of Novel.Academy (formerly My Book Therapy) where I continue to hone my craft so I can write better stories faster.
Currently, I blog about once a week and am active on social media the rest of the time. You can find links to social media outlets in the header and check out the sidebar to sign up to receive the latest news via email.
Thanks for stopping by! May your life’s journey be filled with stories of faith, hope, and love.