Last week we announced that James Russell Lingerfelt’s The Mason Jar is our Romance of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Romance category: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded The Mason Jar, you’re in for a real treat:
by James Russell Lingerfelt
What if your old college roommate called, raving about a book someone sent her, calling it the most beautiful book she’s ever read? “But,” she said, “it’s about you.” The author is your college ex.
In The Mason Jar, Clayton Fincannon is a Tennessee farm boy raised at the feet of his grandfather. He and his grandfather leave letters for each other in a Mason jar on his grandfather’s desk; letters of counsel and affirmation. When Clayton attends college in Southern California, he meets and falls in love with a dark haired debutante from Colorado. However, when an unmentioned past resurrects in her life and she leaves, Clayton is left with unanswered questions.
Clayton goes on to serve as a missionary in Africa, while he and his grandfather continue their tradition of writing letters. When Clayton returns home five years later to bury his grandfather, he searches for answers pertaining to the loss of the young woman he once loved. Little does Clayton know, the answers await him in the broken Mason jar.
A story about a girl who vanished, a former love who wrote a book about her, and a reunion they never imagined.
Written for the bruised and broken, The Mason Jar is an inspirational epic, romance, tragedy which brings hope to people who have experienced disappointment in life due to separation from loved ones. With a redemptive ending and written in the fresh, romantic tones of Nicholas Sparks, The Mason Jar interweaves the imagery of Thoreau with the adventures and climatic family struggles common to Dances with Wolves, A River Runs Through It, and Legends of the Fall.
Note: In September 2014, a new version of The Mason Jar (distinguishable by the blue title box on the front cover) was released with a redemptive ending. Used versions sold may be the old edition.
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free romance excerpt:
A New Hope
Hundreds of hot air balloons tiered through the evening sky, celebrating the 2009 Colorado Springs Balloon Classic. Purples, yellows, blues, reds, solids, striped, every balloon imaginable lit up the sky. Couples walked hand in hand, children pointed to the air in awe. In the distance, the sun would soon be setting over the snow-capped mountains. At dusk, the pilots would tether the balloons to the ground and pull the gas, blasting the flame and illuminating the balloons. The bright colors pulsated across the sky, drawing out the locals and people from all over the nation.
Eden left the veteran’s clinic with her stethoscope hanging around her neck, and with her arm full of copies of the contracts. Her last day at the clinic was finally over. She had been working toward that day for years, and provided the final signature to give the board full executive authority. Now, the clinic was no longer her concern and she could move on with her life.
For a thirty-year-old girl, being a widow, then burying her mother, and now taking care of her dad in his old age, life hadn’t been the easiest for her.
The clinic’s board had rewarded her a handsome paycheck for her work and part ownership of the clinic. They respected her a lot, as well as her late husband who founded the clinic. Eden did enjoy the work, but there’s a time in all of our lives when even if we want to hang on to the past, we know it’s time to close that chapter in our lives and move on. And she needed to move on. As a licensed nurse, Eden had saved lives, helped heal men and women with various illnesses, and even helped war veterans find new lives after they returned home.
Eden’s dream had been to study Art History. She wanted to study Art History in London, work as a curator, and live on the English countryside. Veterans and their families nodded and said hello as she met and passed them on the sidewalk.
Some reminded her of Victor and the life they shared. But the younger men, the ones who came to the clinic alone, they reminded her of Clayton Fincannon, a boy she fell in love with in college. A boy she could never forget. The sting of hurt and regret pained her stomach. She dropped her chin and closed her eyes, wondering if she could ever put her time with Finn behind her.
Her phone vibrated in her purse. Joanna flashed on the screen. Eden’s old college roommate from Pepperdine University. They hadn’t spoken in ten years, until last Christmas. I had to shut everything down, she reminded herself. Pretend none of it happened. Back then, that was the only way her nineteen-year-old heart could handle all that life had thrown at her.
“Hey,” Eden said into her phone.
“Hey, just checking on you,” Joanna replied. Eden had told her about Victor, his cancer, the depression pills her physician placed her on, everything.
“Thanks. How are you?”
“Good. I haven’t told anyone about us reconnecting. But I wanted to let you know that Finn wrote a book.”
“What?!” Eden exclaimed.
“It’s about your time together. It’s beautiful, Eden. He says wonderful things about you, lovely things. I even cried a few times. He changed your last name, though, to ‘Eden Valmont.’ I think it was to protect your identity.”
“How did you hear about it?” Eden asked.
“Ryan told me. It was written last year, and it just made The New York Times Best Seller list.”
“Oh, no,” Eden moaned. What had Finn written about her?
“Eden,” Joanna said, her voice softening. “Finn loved you. You needn’t worry.”
“What does he say?”
“You just need to read it. Do you have a Kindle?”
“Okay. Good. You can find it on there. I need to let you go, but we’ll talk later.”
“Oh, Eden, one more thing,” Joanna said. “Ryan said Finn’s presenting at Homecoming.”
Eden remained quiet on the other end, thoughts tumbling through her mind. She had never stopped thinking about him. The last she’d heard, he was living in Africa, dating a girl, and working with street orphans.
“Are you still there?” Joanna asked.
“Yeah.” Not once had she returned for a homecoming. And now, if she did attend this one event, her entire life could completely change. But for the better or worse? She couldn’t forget the pain she must have put Finn through. How could he not hate me for what I did, she thought. Fear of his hatred and lack of forgiveness was what had kept her from reaching back out to him. But now he’s written a book about me? It didn’t make sense.
“Okay,” Joanna continued, “I hope you’ll come to Homecoming. It really would be good to see you. I think there are others who’d like to see you, too. Promise me you’ll think about it?”
“Feel free to call after you finish the book, okay?”
“Okay. Thank you, Joanna.”
Fighting through the festival’s traffic, Eden sped home as quickly as she could in her car. Images of Finn played in front of Eden’s eyes like an old movie reel, memories of his soft brown hair and shy smile. She saw him stirring the honey and milk into their hot tea at Dietrich’s Coffee in Malibu. Finn looked over and smiled at her, his hazel eyes twinkling. He kissed her temple, and she remembered blushing. Warm feelings had swept through her body like an ocean wave. Ten years had passed since those days, but when she thought about the good days with him, she still felt an inner twitching, the kind that made her both love and fear falling in love, all at once.
Her brief time with Finn had been lovely, but she couldn’t recall any details of those days together or even what they had talked about. She had hurt him, she knew that. She had never set out to hurt anyone. She feared Finn might seek retribution through his writings. But Finn wasn’t like that, was he? Not that she could remember. Besides, Joanna had said the book was lovely.
When Eden arrived to her apartment, she dropped her purse onto the sofa and grabbed her Kindle charging on the end table. She found The Mason Jar by Clayton Fincannon under the Romance genre and pressed the download key.
Eden walked to the jars of various teas sitting on the kitchen counter. She scooped out a helping of English Breakfast, which she had purchased at the farmer’s market. After dropping the tea leaves into the infuser, she turned on the water to boil in the kettle. When its whistle sang, she removed a mug from the cupboard and mixed the freshly brewed tea with milk and honey.
She took her mug into her hands, slipped off her shoes at the edge of the livingroom rug, and pushed them aside with her feet. A reprint of Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night hung on the wall across from Caravaggio’s self-portrait, which he painted while living in Italy during the sixteenth-century.
Her livingroom window was a sliding glass door with a wooden balcony that overlooked the city. Streaks of pinks and purples painted the western sky and reminded Eden that nightfall approached.
She sank into the soft cushions on her couch, the file finished downloading, and she scrolled to the first chapter of Finn’s book and read.
Everyone has a moment in history, which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person ‘the world today’ or ‘life’ or ‘reality’ he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted itself upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever.
-John Knowles, A Separate Peace
For me, one of the hardest lessons in growing up was discovering how unpredictable life can be.
Life cannot be predicted, planned, or controlled. But when I reflect on my life in hindsight, though the journey has been a rollercoaster, I cannot complain. The good has far outweighed the bad. And for this, I am eternally grateful.
It’s autumn, and these days I spend most of my time writing on our farm in Tennessee. The leaves have fallen off the trees, and I must wear a light jacket outside. The snow will soon blanket the fields, and I’ll have to put the hay out for our Arabian horses.
Our farmhouse is sky blue painted wood with a red door, like something out of a country magazine. I write here daily now. I live alone these days, and reading and writing are the only outlets that have given me peace. In reading, I escape from this world and enter others. In writing, I pull from a thousand memories to create a million adventures, and I encounter again all the wonderful characters I’ve met throughout my life.
I try to live a normal life, if anyone can define “normal.” I begin the morning watering the horses, followed by walking in the pastures and along the edge of the woods. There I can hear the brook gargling.
The sun sets over the pastures, painting the crimson horses black. The Irish green pastures disappear over the hills, and I’m reminded of another reason as to why I chose to leave Southern California. The constant sunny weather can grow boring when one has been raised by the four seasons. The asphalt jungle and traffic can drive a man insane, especially when he’s from a contemporary Walden world of woods, lakes, rivers, ponds, and the wildlife that live and thrive there.
But there were other reasons. Everywhere I went, all I thought of was her. The farm work helps. In the springs and summers, I’ll work out with the dumbbells in the garage, followed by a swim in the creek. In the winters, chopping firewood helps, as do morning workouts at the gym. But no matter what I place my mind or hands on, they only offer temporary distractions. For in the recesses of my memory lives a girl I loved in college, and her disappearance will forever haunt me.
Dear Finn, I had to leave. I love you so, so much. Please don’t hate me. If you ever loved or respected me, please do not contact me or try to find me. I’m so sorry. Just know I truly, deeply love you. -E
Those were her last words, found in a letter at her apartment with all her belongings cleared out. None of her roommates, classmates, or professors knew anything. Letters and phone calls I arranged through others went unanswered.
“I’ve never even heard of something like that,” Grandpa had said. During those days, before he passed away, he was the only true friend I felt I had. My parents and brother were killed in a car accident when I was twelve years old. And I never really fit in at school. So Grandpa became my guardian and my best friend. I’m sure that wasn’t easy for him, but I never gave him any trouble. He was the only loved one left in my life. If I didn’t have him, I wouldn’t have had anyone.
I remember that sunny, autumn afternoon when we talked about Eden for the first time in five years. I had just returned from Africa, where I spent those years working with street orphans. Grandpa and I were sitting on our front porch, rocking back and forth in the rocking chairs he built. The leaves were auburn, fiery red, and a sugar-yellow. Their scent filled our noses through every light breeze as we sat and sipped the sweet tea from our Mason jars.
Every time I sat with Grandpa and held a jar of tea in my hand, I was reminded of the old Mason jar on his cherry-oak desk in his study, where we still left letters for each other. Letter writing, though seldom it had become, was still a tradition we had kept since I was a boy. Over the years my letters were always confessions or questions. His were words of advice and affirmation of the good qualities he saw in me. When I grew older, we wrote more from sentiment.
When he wasn’t working in the garden or re-filling the hummingbird feeders, he might be in his study, where bookshelves and floors were polished with Old English wood conditioner, a dark brown finish that made his entire home look like something out of an old Oxford painting. His study, always tidy, was filled with the scent of books and his pipe tobacco. The stories in his books were as old as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and his bookcase was filled with works by poets and philosophers dating back to the Classical period.
I knew when Grandpa had been reading, because he always ended his quiet time with a smoke from his pipe while his mind digested the author’s words. He stocked his pipe while sitting in his leather swivel chair, which spun around behind his desk. Then he would walk outside and light it during a stroll or while sitting beside the firepit on his back porch. The smoke’s sweetness, vanillas and black cherries, clung to his neck, hair, and hands, an inviting residue.
I outgrew many mentors as life went on, but never Grandpa. Each time we visited, I walked away taking deep, soothing breaths with weight-free shoulders. Some of his quotes to me are like a poster hanging on my bedroom wall:
To gain life, you must first sacrifice it.
If you want something too badly, you often lose it.
Never make philosophy your master – only your mistress.
The finite will never understand the Infinite, so stop trying.
Sometimes the greatest love we can show someone is to just let them be.
Grandpa helped raise my older brother, Caleb, and me. He was a devout Christian, but not the crazy kind. He was educated, with a genuine heart and soul. He taught us to respect God and love Him by loving and respecting ourselves and others; to recycle and take care of the planet, for it was our home; to have the wisdom to never lose control of ourselves by giving in to anger or alcohol; and to stay away from drugs. He always claimed following such advice would save us from a “plethora of problems.”
I had my faith, but it wasn’t as strong or defined as his. I’ve always been one who had more questions than answers. But Grandpa was the gentlest man I ever knew. He always smiled that grandfather smile, the one with crow’s feet beside his eyes and dimples at his cheeks. He patted my back, spoke gentle words of comfort and acceptance, and offered love without conditions. All kids need a man like that in their life, a man to whom you can tell anything and who won’t ridicule or mock you, an honest man who can look at you and say, “I believe you have what it takes.”
“I don’t know if I’m still in love with her,” I answered him, continuing the conversation we had begun before. “But I never loved a woman before I met her, and I haven’t loved a woman since. I wonder if that’s it. You know, if she was the one, but I lost her.”
“But God doesn’t work like that,” Grandpa replied. “He doesn’t plop a girl down and say, ‘Okay, it’s this one or no one.’ Mates die all the time, and people remarry. Sometimes, people marry prematurely or under false impressions, and they later divorce. And we’re to say to them, ‘Well, too bad?’ I don’t think so.
“You know, Finn, you see everything from the younger side of thirty. I see in hindsight from the other side. You might live another fifty or sixty years. If you live until your eighties like me, that means you still have another lifetime in you. So live your life with passion. There’s a lot to see and do in this world. Decide what kind of man you want to be, and the right girl will find you.”
But I thought she had been the right girl. Eden Valmont. That was her name. Valmont pronounced Val-móne with the o emphasized. Very French. Eden’s raven black, silky hair and almond eyes turned young men’s heads. She walked with her shoulders upright, crossed her legs when appropriate, and the tone in which she spoke was wrapped in warmth and eloquence.
When she looked into my eyes, a passionate radiance overtook hers, and flames burned within them. Her passion for life and for love was like an inviting ocean into which I longed to sink.