Once the effervescent leader of the pack, Amy Maxwell should have had the perfect marriage. Instead, she escapes with nothing but the clothes on her back and her daughter, Pyper.
Once the shy teen, Tyler Brock has evolved into a powerhouse in Christian music, and when he returns to Woodland for a benefit concert, Amy can't believe he is as faithful and tender as ever. He even manages to touch the heart of a doubtful Pyper.
But Amy can't escape her own self-doubt, and she questions the wisdom of her heart when it comes to the charismatic musician who is so different now, yet so much the same.
Can the key to their hearts unlock a lifetime of love?
About the Author
Marianne Evans is a multi-award-winning author of Christian romance and fiction and an active member in a number of Romance Writers of America chapters. Her hope is to spread the faith-affirming message of God’s love through the stories He prompts her to create. She is the author of Devotion which won the Bookseller’s Best Award from Greater Detroit RWA and the Heart of Excellence Award from Ancient City Romance Authors. She lives in Royal Oak, Michigan.
Read an Excerpt
By Marianne Evans
Pelican Ventures, LLCCopyright © 2011 Marianne Evans
All rights reserved.
"Mr. Brock, we're pulling in at Woodland. You all set? Ready to go?"
"And then some." Tyler Brock moved to a nearby window next to Anthony, their driver. "Hey, Anthony? How long have we been on tour together?"
"Almost three years, sir. Why?"
Even as they spoke, the enormous tour bus swung into the parking lot of Woodland Church. The first landmark of Tyler's arrival home was the familiar, beautiful brick bell tower, topped by a gleaming, simple cross. The sight filled him with warmth. He smiled. Opposite the church crested the pristine, diamond-tipped waters of Lake Saint Clair.
"Well I'm just wonderin'. D'you think it might be possible for you to call me Tyler?"
Anthony chuckled. "No, sir. Sorry."
"Glad we got that settled." Tyler spared him a wry look.
The chauffer shook his head and grinned. "Likewise, Mr. Brock."
Theirs was an age-old back and forth. Tyler gave up the battle and instead looked outside the rectangular window as Anthony navigated the vehicle to a slow, shimmying stop. Tyler took note of familiar surroundings. Michigan. Saint Clair Shores. Woodland Church. Home.
He really had been gone too long.
Excitement filled him, dancing across his nerve endings like a live wire. A crowd of people converged on the bus and the equipment semi that followed close behind.
The first face he saw belonged to Ken Lucerne. The pastor of Woodland Church stood at the front of the gathering of about a hundred or so people. Rimming the crowd were members of the local news media. Kiara, Ken's wife, stood next to him. The happiness that expanded in Tyler's chest increased.
He knew the drill. He had lived it repeatedly over the last four, almost five, years. But never here. Never at the heart of where he had been raised, and never at Woodland, his faith-home since birth.
He prepared to exit the bus. "Thanks for the smooth ride, Tony. As ever."
"Pleasure, as ever. Have a great concert, Mr. Brock."
In passing, before he trotted down the bus steps, Tyler gave Tony's shoulder an affectionate clap, and they traded nods. The rest of his team — both musical and technical — gathered up and prepared to walk out with him.
The doors whooshed open, unfolding into a world of smiling faces, camera lights, cheers, colorful poster-board signs, and desperate calls for his attention. The instant his feet hit the asphalt, the focus was on him, and it was chaos.
"Tyler! Tyler we love you!"
"Tyler, over here, please."
"Can you look this way?"
"How does it feel to be back in Michigan?"
"How long will you be here?"
"Tyler! Can we have an autograph? Please?"
"Can you comment on the addition of a second show tomorrow night, since this one sold out in hours?"
Tyler walked smoothly through the din — the strobes of cameras, the video floodlights, the shouts and jostling. He went straight to Pastor Ken, his mentor in so many ways. He had to weave through clusters of young ladies who carried glitter-covered signs, and wore bright, hopeful smiles. He had to dodge a few other bodies along the way, but he made it.
Suddenly he was seventeen years old all over again — shy but eager — hoping desperately to take on the world, and his dreams ...
"Hey, Pastor Ken." Tyler found himself instantly enfolded in a hug that he returned with equal force and conviction.
"It's so good to see you again, son."
Tyler didn't allow the hubbub to decrease meaning. He paused to look right into Ken's eyes with heartfelt emphasis. "You too. You look great."
Ken groaned in a self-deprecating manner, drawing Kiara close to his side. The gesture made Tyler feel good. They were such a great pair. A team in love and in life. "Well, there's a bit of fresh gray around the temples these days, but I blame that on our little Annie. Wait until you meet her. She's a pistol."
"And I happen to like that subtle touch of silver," Kiara said before she, too, hugged Tyler close. "I've missed you!"
A spring breeze, sweetened by an undercurrent of fresh flowers, lifted Kiara's long, straight hair. She gave Tyler a smile sparkling with delight and so beautiful — just like her. "How are you doing with the youth group?" he asked. "I hear you're the director now."
"Great ... and we're growing! I love it. In fact, about twenty members are waiting inside for the meet and greet. You good with that?"
"Absolutely. Lead the way."
"We figured the kids would appreciate that you were such a vital part of Woodland's youth ministry years ago," Ken continued, "and give the S.T.A.G.E. group some added impact. After the meet and greet, you'll have time for a sound check, and a bite to eat before the concert."
S.T.A.G.E. The acronym for Woodland's youth group left Tyler swept through by nostalgia. Super Teen Angels Go Evangelize. By God's grace alone, he had been given the opportunity to heed that call. As they moved toward Woodland's activity center, Tyler paused, signing CD covers, photos, and posters for whoever happened to be closest.
"Today and tonight are crazy." Ken gave Tyler a look that bordered on apologetic. "I promise tomorrow will be much quieter. Dinner, at our place, with you and your family. If you're game."
"You better believe it. Thanks!"
"Do you ever get used to this ... this ... frenzy?" Kiara viewed the assemblage with wide, disbelieving eyes.
Before answering, Tyler paused just long enough for a quick photo-op with a doe-eyed fan who wore an earnest, dazzled expression.
"Sort of, but never completely." He lifted a shoulder. "What matters most is the fact that I get to share my music, and my own kind of ministry. That's all I ever wanted."
"I remember." The corner of Kiara's mouth curved. She arched a brow. Tyler didn't need a roadmap to recognize that her thoughts had gone back in time, to a mission trip to Pennsylvania during which they had all grown to know, and love, one another.
He remembered as well. That's why — despite Ken and Kiara, despite the media frenzy and solid press of fans — Tyler searched for one face. One person. Despite the five years that had gone by, there was no way he'd miss the one he sought. None at all.
Would she be here? Was she even still around the Shores? What was she doing now? He was too shy to be obvious about his interest and ask. Ken would have unlocked the answers to those questions better than anyone else. A more active, engaged pastor Tyler had never come across in his life.
But he wanted the matters of his heart to unfold on their own. He trusted God to reveal her — or not — according to His intent.
Nonetheless, Tyler couldn't help hoping. Was she the same compelling, beautiful girl of his memory? He really hoped God's will was to have their paths intersect once more. In large part, she was the reason why he had come back to Woodland in the first place.
"We've only got about an hour and a half for the meet and greet," Ken said. "We've given everyone the rules, but once these kids see you, the excitement is going to be difficult to contain. They're going to be all over you. Timetables might fly out the window."
"No worries, I'm used to it. It'll be OK. If we have to shorten the sound check to make sure everyone is taken care of, that's not a huge deal. The tech crew is setting up as we speak, and they're the best. They know what they're doing."
Inside the activity center, multi-colored streamers, balloons, and music notes in shimmering silver and gold foil hung from the ceiling. A couple dozen teens and their parents milled about — after completing a meal, judging by the used plastic dishware on the tables and stuffed into trashcans. Others sat on metal folding chairs surrounding long, tables.
Spontaneous applause erupted, along with a chorus of cheers and greetings. Tyler waved and walked toward a podium at the far end of the room. A sense of honor and awe worked through him. It never failed to humble Tyler that the message, and impact, of his music ignited this kind of response, this kind of loyalty and affection.
"Hey, everybody! Thanks ... thanks." He waited for the noise to diminish. "I appreciate you coming out tonight." He gestured both to stem the additional applause and to encourage folks to return to their seats. "Of course I want you to know how much I appreciate your support of the new album, and your encouragement. It truly does keep me, and the rest of my team, motivated to do our best both for you, and for the glory of the God we serve."
Applause broke out once again. While Tyler waited, he scanned the room, taking in faces and smiles and affection. A doorway at the rear of the room came open just far enough to admit a stealthy, sheepish-looking newcomer.
Tallish, and slender — almost too slender — she entered the room. Long, blonde hair fashioned into a utilitarian braid, trailed in a thick line down her back. Large, blue eyes, more guarded, a bit more tired than he recalled, completed the picture. A white Oxford shirt, sleeves rolled up to her elbows, revealed petite arms. Tucked into a pair of low-slung blue jeans cinched by a thick leather belt, the shirt modestly accentuated a shapely figure. She slid the neck strap of her camera into place as she took a fast sweep of the room.
She looked right at him and Tyler's throat went dry. It only took a heartbeat, a breath really, and Amy Maxwell reentered his life.
But the hesitance he detected was shocking. The Amy Maxwell who lived in the memories of his heart was the epitome of self-assurance and spunk.
Just one thing kept him from stumbling: a hard-won sense of perseverance and smooth polish. "Beyond the music, beyond any kind of acclaim people might offer, I consider this a ministry. My music is something I feel honor-bound to share with believers and non-believers alike in a spirit of love, hope, and faith. Look at tonight, for example. The good works you're supporting through the Macomb County Shelter are for the benefit of everyone — no matter what their situation, life circumstance, or faith. I'm proud to be just a small part of that endeavor, and support Woodland Church as we do our best to bring Christ to the world. Thanks for joining me on this journey, folks. I hope you enjoy the concert, and I'm looking forward to meeting you one-on-one."
The concluding words shot a circuit of electricity through the orderly, but expectant, assembly. Tyler, meanwhile, barely managed to cohesively finish his introductory speech.
Amy kept her distance. She tucked into a corner and alternated between fiddling nervously with her camera and stealing glances at him every now and again. How odd was that? How come the bubbly, take-charge girl he remembered from high school now acted like a timid fan? The irony of such a thing almost made him laugh out loud. Tables surely hadn't turned that much. Sure, he was building a career as a Christian music artist, but just one look at Amy Maxwell and he instantly fell back to the days of being a shy, gangly boy who wanted nothing more than to spend time with the sweetest, and most popular girl at Saint Clair Shores High School.
A growing press of people forced Tyler to snap to proper attention. Meet-and-greets were one of his favorite parts of being on tour, but this hour-long window of sharing with his fans tended to be fast-paced and excluded any focus but the people who came up to meet him. In many instances, they had waited hours to simply shake his hand, or get a picture, or an autograph. As such, Tyler refused to shortchange a single soul.
After all, Amy was here — with a camera, no less. That didn't surprise him much. She had been the official photographer on the mission trip to Pennsylvania years ago. And now, she was headed his way.
Still, she approached slowly. She didn't make direct eye contact for any appreciable amount of time. Instead, she focused on Ken and Kiara who stood nearby and ushered the group into a reception line.
Just like in high school, Tyler's heart reacted to Amy's presence by skipping into an impassioned form of overdrive. Just like in high school, he experienced that bittersweet yearning for a woman who captivated him ... yearning, and that inexhaustible heat of longing.
But the nearer she moved, the more Tyler realized she didn't just act different, she looked different, too — as though she carried an enormous weight. Oh, she was as beautiful as ever, and her eyes, when she dared look his way, seemed as clear and as vibrant a shade of blue as he remembered, but she seemed drained. Her posture and movements, formerly brimming with confidence, now spoke of being browbeaten and cautious in the extreme.
Something had robbed Amy of the joyful spirit she had possessed, the spirit that had drawn in, and touched, everyone who came into contact with her. To so deeply impact a person of such strength, it had to have been something harsh. She looked like a changed woman.
Now more than ever Amy sought refuge behind the filter of a camera lens. Viewing the world from the safety of a photographer's eye created distance, an emotional and physical buffer that enabled her to create the pictures of her heart often without having to engage in the deeper aspects of what she saw and cataloged. Far safer that way, she knew. Far less a chance of getting hurt.
That is, until the moment she walked into the Woodland Church Activity Center and began her commission as the evening's photographer.
"Amazing," she murmured, dazzled somewhat by the atmosphere, but even more so by the man who stood at the center of the festivities.
Tyler Brock had come a long way since the last time she'd seen him. He was now a polished, confident man. That recognition hit Amy right between the curves of her tender, broken heart and set butterflies free.
Instant infatuation. She knew the symptoms, and infatuation was the last thing she needed. Additionally, infatuation with an acclaimed Christian music star? Yeah. Like every other woman on the planet.
For now, she needed to release past history and get to work. She was here for the youth group members who had been given the opportunity to meet Tyler Brock, nothing more.
When Amy walked up, Kiara waved to garner everyone's attention. "Before we begin, let me take you through the way things will work. First of all, you're in line, by family, to have an opportunity to share a few words with Tyler, get an autograph, and a picture." Kiara turned to Amy.
Amy took a nerve-stilling breath, which didn't work in the least toward calming her nerves.
Kiara smiled and gave a nod. "In an effort to give you each the most time allowed with Tyler and to keep the line moving forward at a fair pace for everyone else, no cameras are allowed. Instead, to capture the moment, Amy Matthews will be taking pictures for you, and they'll be posted tomorrow morning on the Woodland Church website where you'll be able to download them for free."
Ken stepped up to the table where Tyler stood and handed him a can of pop. Sure enough, it was Vernors. She remembered how much Tyler loved the Michigan-made ginger ale.
Tyler sat casually on the edge of the table, his legs dangling while he watched and waited. After popping the lid of the can and downing a long sip, he settled the beverage next to him. The vision of this more developed version of the high school friend she had cared for, was dramatic.
"Amy and Tyler have the common history of being members of STAGE, just like you. In fact, they attended a mission trip to Pennsylvania years ago. They know and understand where you're coming from, because they've both been there."
"You used to hang out with Tyler?" the first girl in line piped up. "Boy, are you lucky."
Amy blushed and Tyler laughed while Ken and Kiara gracefully covered that ebullient comment. There was no chance to speak with Tyler directly, of course, so instead she focused on her mental walk-through of who Tyler had once been versus the man he had become.
To say Tyler Brock had come of age, to say he had outgrown the cocoon of quiet, gawky but straightforward teenager, was gross understatement.
Kiara gave Amy a nod, letting her know her job had begun. Camera at the ready, Amy stepped up and began framing shots, clicking away while Tyler welcomed his fans. He filled her lens, in more than just a literal way. Tyler was sculpted beautifully, and handsome. He wore his hair just a touch long in back, but combed away from his face in well-styled waves of light brown. Jeans and an un-tucked, deep green shirt emphasized his hazel eyes.
Which were presently focused on her.
Or, her camera, to be more precise. Amy broke loose from her thoughts and realized the family standing near Tyler waited on her. She executed a nicely framed shot of them as they concluded their visit with Tyler.
When she lowered her camera, Tyler's attention remained fixed on her, and he gave her a private, quirked smile. Amy felt the power of it clear down to the farthest, most aching regions of her heart. She lowered her gaze and sighed, double-checking her equipment, fiddling unnecessarily with calibrations. The past came calling once more, eating away at her resolve to think of nothing else but her photography duties.
Excerpted from Hearts Key by Marianne Evans. Copyright © 2011 Marianne Evans. Excerpted by permission of Pelican Ventures, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A beautiful story that will leave you breathless,smiling and even shed tears of joy !! Marianne Evans is the christian fiction author who will be making movies in the near future. I cannot wait to read more from her
Amy Maxwell seemed to live the perfect life. She was popular in high school and by all appearances seemed to have the perfect marriage. However, the marriage was anything but perfect; it was abusive and she managed to escape with just the clothes she and her daughter Pyper were wearing. Shy teen Tyler Brock, is now a popular Christian music artist in Woodland for a benefit concert. It was strange seeing Tyler so brave instead of shy. Amy and Tyler had once been close together in high school, but after Amy married someone else, Tyler took off to Nashville to see if he could make it as a singer. Imagine the surprise when they both found out they were back in Woodland together! Tyler believes this is a second chance for them to find love and be together again, but Amy is so full of doubts after her failed marriage that she doesn¿t know what to do. Then there is Pyper, who is not so sure about Tyler because of living with an abusive father. This is the fourth book and an exciting conclusion to the wonderful 'Woodland Series' by Marianne Evans. We are reacquainted with our friends Tyler and Amy whom we met in "Hearts Surrender" in a slightly different way. Amy has been through a horrible divorce and Tyler has turned from an insecure shy boy to a famous Christian singer. Ms. Evans creates real life characters that have real life problems, making the story seem, well, just real! I love the way the story unfolds and the characters come to life as we follow Tyler and Amy¿s lives. With a wonderful storyteller telling this story, my eyes were glued to the book till the very last page. I just couldn¿t wait to find out what was going to happen. I encourage you to grab a copy of this sweet and intriguing romance to read and enjoy for yourself. You will not be disappointed at all.
I read this book out of sequence in the series, but that little error in no way lessened my enjoyment of the story. Having watched Tyler Brock and Amy Maxwell tiptoe around their feelings for each other in Heart’s Surrender, I was pleased to revisit this couple in the heartwarming finale to the Woodland Series. Amy’s abusive marital situation bursts into existence from the first page. Her courage in the last moments of that mistaken union puts the reader firmly on her side, and longing for something better for her and her adorable little girl, Pyper. When Tyler, now a rapidly rising Christian music artist, re-enters Amy’s life, the sparks from five years earlier burst into flame. This author has an incredible insight into human emotion, and what makes people tick. She makes it easy to feel Amy’s hesitation about entering Tyler’s Nashville-colored world, and her simultaneous longing to be with him, wherever he is. Little Pyper’s heart-breaking fear of men, fostered by her father’s shameful abuse, is poignantly painted and beautifully handled. Tyler’s constant and undying love for Amy, his gentleness with Pyper, his consecration to Christ…he’s a beautiful picture of Christian dedication and true love in its purest form. Once again, I am utterly “wowed” by a Marianne Evans novel. Evans knows how to write, and how to keep readers reading. Absolutely, unequivocally, unconditionally, without question…recommended!
This story is wonderful! Oh my goodness, I can't tell you how many times it made me smile, or laugh...or cry. Ms. Evans touched on many sensitive subjects in this one story, and handled them with tender loving care. The way she develops Amy's personality and shows the depth of her love, as well as Tyler's is indescribable. Amy is such a spiritual work-in-progress, and after all she's been through it's like watching a flower blossom - then start to wilt - then come to full bloom. It's beautiful. And the patience Tyler shows, after waiting a lifetime for this love to come to fruition, can only come from God. Wonderful story! Don't miss it!
Book 4 in the Woodland series is a fitting and beautiful end to the series. So glad I discovered Marianne Evans!