A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Monday, February 10, 2014


The Marriage Pact (2011), Regrets Only (2012), and Baggage Check (2013)
M.J. Pullen

Author Bio:
M.J. (Manda) Pullen studied English Literature and Business at the University of Georgia in Athens, and later Professional Counseling at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She practiced psychotherapy for five years before taking time off for writing and raising her two young boys. Since high school, she has also been an executive assistant, cashier, telemarketer, professional fundraiser, marketing guru, magazine writer, grant-writer, waitress, box-packer, HR person, and casual drifter.
She reads and writes across many genres, and learns something from everything she does. No matter what she’s writing, M.J. believes that love is the greatest adventure there is, and that hopeless romantics are never really hopeless.
She loves to hear from readers and other writers – so drop her a line!

Author Links - 

Website: mjpullen.com
Twitter: @MJPullen

Giveaway -

One set of autographed paperback copies of the Marriage Pact trilogy (winner can choose a custom inscription for the first book). US Only, Ebook International

The Marriage Pact

Book Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Flourish Publications (Self)
Release Date: June 2011
Buy Link(s):
Book Description:

Marci Thompson always knew what life would be like by her 30th birthday. A large but cozy suburban home shared with a charming husband and two brilliant children. A celebrated career as an established writer, complete with wall-to-wall mahogany shelves and a summer book tour. A life full of adventure with her friends and family by her side.

Instead, Marci lives alone in 480 square feet of converted motel space next to a punk rock band, hundreds of miles from her friends and family. She works in a temporary accounting assignment that has somehow stretched from two weeks into nine months. And the only bright spot in her life, not to mention the only sex she’s had in two years, is an illicit affair with her married boss, Doug. Thirty is not at all what it is cracked up to be.

Then the reappearance of a cocktail napkin she hasn’t seen in a decade opens a long-forgotten door, and Marci’s life gets complicated, fast. The lines between right and wrong, fantasy and reality, heartache and happiness are all about to get very blurry, as Marci faces the most difficult choices of her life.


In her mind, she had ended it a thousand times. She would spend hours rehearsing three versions of the parting speech:
Doug, I can’t do this anymore. Neither of us intended this to happen, but it has to stop. I love you [should she say that?], but I can’t be responsible for breaking up a marriage, however unhappy it might be. I deserve better than this. I need someone free to make a life with me, and you are not. I know in my heart that part of you still loves Cathy, and I think you should return to her and really invest in your marriage.”
Magnanimous and melodramatic:
Listen, Doug. This has been wonderful; it really has. But it’s wrong and it’s been wrong from the start. It’s tearing me apart. I am not an adulteress; I deserve to be more than ‘the other woman.’ I can’t live with myself for another day this way, and I can’t let you do it, either. Go back to your wife, your home, the life that you chose all those years ago. I will treasure our time together and you have my word that I will never tell anyone about us.”
Jealous and generally pissed off:
Doug, your little weekend getaway with your wife gave me time to get clarity and realize that I am better than this situation, and better than you. If you loved me, you would no longer be married. If you loved your wife, you would not be with me. You act like this is torture for you, but really you’re just a typical cheating sleazebag who wants to have his cake and eat it, too. I want you out of my life forever. If you try to speak to me again, I will call Cathy and tell her everything. Get out.”
This last version was the most emotionally satisfying. She would march into work armed with these words, confident, resolute and ready to take back her life.
Until she saw him. She’d find a sticky note on her keyboard: “It was awful. I missed you.” Or he would pick her up at lunch, and instead of going back to her place, they would drive to the top of Mount Bonnell and look over the Texas hill country and talk. She would feebly threaten to end it, crying pathetically and remembering none of her kickass speeches.

So they limped along in a relationship netherworld—not together, not apart, each day full of the twin possibilities of limitless passion or goodbye forever. With stacks of invoices and mindless tasks in front of her each day, Marci had entirely too much time to contemplate both ends of the spectrum.
Today was no different, except for the fact that she was officially no longer wasting her late twenties in a hopeless relationship. Thirty had arrived, and a new decade was waiting. And there was an e-mail from Jake.

The Marriage Pact (The Marriage Pact, #1)The Marriage Pact by M.J. Pullen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Marriage Pact by M.J. Pullen is a 2011 publication. I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Marci gets a temp job and meets Doug. For six months they have been seeing each other. The problem is Doug is married. Marci puts up with all the clichés of having an affair with a married man. They can't see each other whenever they wish, they have to meet in secret, and of course, he has to slip away to call his wife whenever they are together leaving Marci feeling bad about herself. Just when it looks like things might be looking up, Doug drops a bombshell on Marci.
Heartbroken and humiliated, Marci takes off to visit her parents and reunites with her best friend from college, Jake.

Now, there is quite a bit of history between Jake and Marci. In college they made a pact that if neither of them were married by their 30th birthday, they would marry each other. Since Marci just turned 30 and it appears she is once again single, the old pact is looking better and better all the time.

This contemporary romance switches back and forth between the present and Marci's college days. Now that time has sort of crept up on her, Marci is remembering the relationship she and Jake had and thinks that maybe the two of them are compatible enough to make a marriage work. So, why not?

Things aren't that simple of course. Doug keeps trying to find Marci and truthfully she needs a get all that mess straightened out before she marries Jake. But, Marci's meetings with Doug cause Jake to begin having second thoughts.

Should Marci cut her loses and start all over with a clean slate? No Doug, no Jake? When a family situation takes over Marci's life, the truth about how she feels and how others feel about her will set her life onto a new and much more stable course that will leave you feeling very good about Marci's future.

I had heard a little bit about this book when it was first released. I kept wanting to find out what the buzz was all about, but with so many books in the TBR, it got lost in the shuffle. I am glad I finally got around to reading it. This was a good story with a great deal of character growth for Marci. She matures, realizes what is really important to her, learns that she can make it on her own, and gets her own HEA in the end.
If you enjoy contemporary romance I recommend that you check this one out. This is the first book in a series. Overall this one is an A.

Regrets Only

Book Genre: Women’s Fiction/Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Flourish Publications (Self)
Release Date: July 2012
Buy Link(s):
  • Amazon Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Regrets-Only-Sequel-Marriage-Pact/dp/1478362111/
  • Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Regrets-Only-ebook/dp/B008QD09P4/
  • Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/regrets-only-mj-pullen/1113648443
  • Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/362801
  • Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/regrets-only-1

Book Description:

At thirty-three, Suzanne Hamilton has it all.  A successful party-planning business with an elite client list.  A swank condo in a hot Atlanta neighborhood and a close group of friends – especially her longtime best friend Marci. A list of men a mile long who have tried to win her heart and failed. Plus, she’s just landed the event that will take her career and social status to the next level. What could she possibly have to regret?

Then a freak accident changes everything, and Suzanne discovers that her near-perfect life is just a few steps away from total disaster. She is humiliated and at risk of losing it all… except the surprising support of her newest celebrity client. With nothing else to go on, Suzanne follows him into an unexpected job and unfamiliar territory. Soon she will question everything – her career, her past, her friendships, and even her own dating rules.

But when her catalog of past relationships turns into a list of criminal suspects, she is faced with the horrifying possibility that she may not live to regret any of it…

Excerpt :

She smiled broadly at him, remembering to show her teeth the way she’d been instructed before beauty pageants as a child. She could almost taste the Vaseline her mother made her rub on her top teeth to ensure they didn’t get smudged with lipstick. Smile. Be open.
Rick returned the smile with warmth. He also seemed to notice he’d been talking about himself for too long. “So tell me how you got started in the party planning business.”
Suzanne recounted briefly how she had been an art history major at the University of Georgia, desperately wanted to work as a museum curator, and how she’d taken the job on the event staff at the High Museum right after college. “Originally, I hoped the foot in the door at the museum would land me a job in procurement or something, but it never happened.”
Oh, I’m sorry,” Rick said sympathetically.
Suzanne shrugged. It turned out she had a knack for event planning. Something about the combination of creativity and crisis response. After a couple of years at the High, she had been hired away by a large event planning agency. She stayed there for a few years before creating her own boutique agency. Now she had one of the most successful, prestigious agencies in the city. People were often shocked to discover she and Chad were the only permanent staff. “We actually won an award last year,” she told Rick.
Sounds like you are quite the little rock star in the event planning world,” he said. “Or do you just plan events for rock stars?”
Normally very discreet about her clients, Suzanne couldn’t resist the opportunity to brag a little. “Actually, I am doing a benefit in a couple of weeks for Dylan Burke. Of course, he’s more a country star…”
Seriously? I was kidding about the whole rock star thing.”
A Southern lady is always modest, her mother’s voice chided her. “Well, it’s not that big of a deal,” Suzanne hedged. “It’s at my old stomping grounds at the High, which is probably why I got the job.”
Don’t sell yourself short,” Rick countered enthusiastically. “That’s awesome. He’s totally famous.”
She waved away the words with a manicured hand, but Rick was undeterred. “Seriously, you should be really proud of yourself. That’s a huge deal. Obviously you’ve earned quite a reputation for someone like Dylan Burke to choose you.”
His eyes held hers sincerely. Okay, Rick, ease up. We’ve already slept together. You can dial it down a tad.
Really, his manager chose me. I haven’t actually met him yet. We’ll see how it turns out,” she said, and pretended to be engrossed in the highlights of spring training on the TV over the bar. “How do you think the Braves will do this year?”

Regrets Only (The Marriage Pact, #2)Regrets Only by M.J. Pullen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Regrets Only by M.J. Pullen is a Flourish publication. I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Suzanne has reached her thirties and still does not have the desire to marry and do the traditional family thing. She is very career oriented. She is a successful event planner although her first love has always been art.
After her best friend Marci gets married and settles into her happy ever after, Suzanne finds herself feeling resentful of Marci's life. Then Marci announces she is pregnant. Suzanne wants to feel happy for her friend but for some reason she just can't. This leads to an incredible blow up between the two women who have been close since they were children. Marci declares that Suzanne is self absorbed and Marci needs a break from Suzanne for awhile.
After this terrible fight, Suzanne tries to absorb all that Marci accused her of. She makes a list of all the guys she has been involved with and attempts to figure out why she can't seem to stay in a long term committed relationship.
If that weren't upsetting enough, Marci makes a MAJOR blunder with a new client. A country music superstar named Dylan gets Suzanne flustered and she makes some rather unfortunate remarks. But, Dylan's sister is getting married and Suzanne is supposed to work the wedding.
This of course puts Suzanne in contact once more with Dylan. They continue to trade barbs off and on, but they also find they can really talk to each other. But, Suzanne is no where near ready to get into a relationship and Dylan has a girlfriend.
What else could possibly add to Suzanne's stress? Well, it appears she has a stalker. Someone has been setting her up to have accidents, none of which were terribly serious, but all the same Suzanne has managed to make someone really mad.
As Suzanne works on her issues, she finds she has a gift for helping people and begins to shift the focus off of her own self and become a good listener and friend. But, her attraction to Dylan is really making it hard to avoid falling into the old habits she is trying to change. Dylan is the last person on earth she could ever hope to share a long term relationship with. It was all wrong. He was a celebrity, he had women all over him, he was always on the road and on and on. But, try as she might to deny her feelings for Dylan, if Suzanne really wants to make improvements in her life she is going to have to admit her feelings for Dylan and deal with the situation like a mature adult. No More Running Away!!
Can Suzanne change a lifetime full of bad habits? Will she and Marci mend their friendship? Will Dylan and Suzanne be able to work out their differences and make a commitment to each other? Well, first Suzanne will have to survive the wrath of her stalker!

I enjoyed Suzanne's story. All of us are flawed and in Suzanne's case she had commitment issues. Some of this stemmed from her parents disappointment in her career choice, and from a relationship that could have given Suzanne a life much the same as Marci's. But, Suzanne had freaked out and from that point on she had drifted into one short term affair after another, always finding some small reason to break it off. I don't think Suzanne really thought of herself as being self absorbed, but she found that Marci was right at least to some extent. It takes a lot of work for Suzanne to examine her life and vow to improve herself. Character growth is important to a story and Suzanne wasn't the only one with issues to work on. Dylan also will have to make some big choices if he is going to ever have a chance with Suzanne.
I also like the secondary characters. Kate, Dylan's sister, is also having some problems and finds a confidante in Suzanne.
Sadly, a tragedy will lead Suzanne into a field she never would have pictured herself in. She showed true grace and selflessness by putting others needs before her own.

This was another great chapter in this series. I give this one an A.

Baggage Check

Book Genre: Women’s Fiction/Romance
Publisher: Flourish Publications (Self)
Release Date: November 2013
Buy Link(s):
  • Amazon Paperback: www.amazon.com/Baggage-Check-Marriage-Pact-Volume/dp/1493697439/
  • Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Baggage-Check-The-Marriage-Pact-ebook/dp/B00GS8HSSA
  • Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/baggage-check-mj-pullen/1117442130
  • Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/377701

Book Description:

At thirty-five, Rebecca Williamson is surrounded by happy endings. Her friends Suzanne and Marci are living out their own personal fairy tales in Atlanta, Georgia. But despite Rebecca’s best efforts four years ago, her adorable college friend Jake Stillwell has officially slipped through her fingers and broken her heart. Even though her job as a flight attendant fits perfectly with her orderly nature, and brings her into contact with lots of eligible men, she can’t seem to find a man who is Jake’s equal.

Then a frantic phone call from her mother in Oreville, Alabama turns Rebecca’s structured life on its ear. She will find herself back in the tiny town she worked so hard to leave behind, and thrown together with Deputy Alex Chen, a face from the past who’s made it clear he thinks of Rebecca as more than just an old friend’s kid sister.

But Alex is nothing like what Rebecca had in mind; and in the meantime, she has other battles to fight, including her painful family history. Can she navigate the chaos and get her life back to normal? Will Alex prove himself to be the friend she's always needed? Or will she discover that the door to Jake is not as tightly closed as she thought?


Rebecca Williamson picked up a smooth, rust-colored clay bowl for the fifth time in as many minutes. She ran her hand along the sloping curve from the base to the rim, and then bounced it lightly in her arms for heft. It was two pounds, she decided. Maybe two and a half once they had wrapped it for the plane. She put it down again and stepped back to look at the rest of the artist’s display, dusting her hands together.
Oh, just buy it already!” Valerie said from a few feet away. “I’ve gotten married after shorter courtships than you’re having with that bowl.”
I don’t need it,” Rebecca said.
It would look nice on your kitchen table. You never buy anything, Becky.” Valerie had been calling her “Becky” since she joined the airline three years before. For the first several months, Rebecca had corrected her. Now she just accepted it.
What would I do with it?” Rebecca said. “I mean, you can’t serve food in it, not that I ever cook anyway. I don’t have anything to store in it. And I’m never home to look at how my apartment is decorated. How is a red clay bowl necessary?”
Valerie rolled her eyes and patted Rebecca’s shoulder with a veined hand. “Life needs beauty, doll. Every girl should have something beautiful and useless in her life. Like my first husband, for example. That man was pure eye candy, but the poor idiot couldn’t change a light bulb.”
Rebecca laughed. She had never asked outright how many husbands Valerie had been through, but her current guess was four, and at least two of them had been pilots. Valerie was in her late sixties, ancient by flight attendant standards, and a legend among all the younger women they worked with. Rebecca had been paired with her during the first week of training and they had flown together more often than not since then. At first, Rebecca had resisted becoming Valerie’s protégé, but through sheer force of will and nonstop chatter, Valerie had become Rebecca’s only real friend at work. Tonight, they were in an artists’ co-op in New Mexico, killing time during an overnight layover.
Are you ready to go to the bar?” Rebecca asked her.
What’s your hurry?” Valerie said. “You never take anything home from there, either.”
Don’t start with that.”
What? Come on, you know I’m right. And don’t use me for an excuse, either. I may be an old lady but I know how to make myself scarce when I see a brassiere on the doorknob.”
An aproned woman behind the counter looked up, smirking.
Shh...” Rebecca hushed. But even she could not help but smile at the way Valerie said “brassiere on the doorknob” in her New York accent. Rebecca herself had never used this signal, but it had been a frequent sight in the sorority house at the University of Georgia. She tried to imagine finding one of Valerie’s big beige contraptions hanging on their hotel room door and shuddered.
Ready to go?” she asked again.
Oh, alright,” Valerie said. “Just let me add this to my collection.” She held up a blue-glazed mug that had been formed to look like the squished-down face of an old man.
Several of Rebecca’s coworkers kept little collections from places they visited—postcards, spoons, shot glasses, snow globes, you name it. There was a sort of unspoken code that it was only acceptable to collect items from cities you had truly visited, meaning you had to leave the airport for more than a couple of hours. Even so, Rebecca could not understand this tradition. Yes, it was cute in the moment, but they went so many places. What did you do with all that crap? Put it in a box so you could re-live your glory days of passing out peanuts? Have it gather dust on the shelves while other people pretended to be interested at parties?
Once or twice, something had caught Rebecca’s eye, particularly when they flew to exotic locations. A tiny but exquisite crystal vase from Waterford in Ireland. Hand-carved candlesticks painted black and inlaid with gold in Toledo, Spain. A set of Russian dolls in Moscow. Each time, she had stood paralyzed in the gift shop, debating why she needed this thing and where she would put it and how often she would really look at it. Then she would sigh, and to the dismay of each patient shop owner, return the item to the shelf and walk out. Except for an irresistible silk scarf from Milan and an emergency t-shirt she’d been forced to buy in New York, Rebecca had not bought souvenirs anywhere. Once in a while she regretted this, but never for long. She would deposit the amount of the foregone purchase into her savings account with satisfaction and move on. Always move on.

Baggage Check (The Marriage Pact #3)Baggage Check by M.J. Pullen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Baggage Check by M.J. Pullen is a November 2013 publication. I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Rebecca hasn't had the most charmed life. She fled her small town for city life and tried desperately to fit in with a certain social circle. Rebecca became friends with Marci and Suzanne and fell in love the man Marci eventually married. Now if you have read the last two books you will know that before Marci and Jake married, they were having a little misunderstanding and Rebecca tried to take advantage of the opportunity to see if there was a chance with Jake. Try as she might you just can't force someone to feel something they don't. Jake loved Marci and that was that. Rebecca and Marci's relationship cooled off after that incident and it never has really recovered. Now, Rebecca is working as an airline attendant and is taking a vacation with the girls before Suzanne gets married. But, when she arrives there seems to be a lot going on, especially with Marci and Jake. But, before Rebecca can get it figured out, she gets an urgent phone call from her mother. Something is terribly wrong. Her mother claims she is being forced out of her home so Rebecca phones her father who for some reason is off on a vacation sipping cocktails and playing golf. So, Rebecca heads home for the first time in many years. What she discovers is a major shock. Her mother is unwell and has been for quite some time. As Rebecca realizes she is going to have stay and get things settled she become reaquainted with an old friend, Alex.
Meanwhile, Marci and Jake are going through a rough patch. Marci has become convinced Jake is having an affair and the first person she thinks of is Rebecca. Suzanne is in the big middle of wedding plans and is less involved in this installment.
While Rebecca comes to terms with the past, the present,  and begins to look toward the future, many old wounds will begin to heal, forgiveness will take over, and a much happier , stronger and contented Rebecca will emerge with her very own happy ever after on the horizon.
I have just loved this trilogy. Starting with Marci and Jake, then Suzanne and Dylan, now Rebecca and Alex, each book tells a funny, emotional and inspirational story as each of these women featured learns important life lessons and is able to turn loose of the issues that are holding them back and keeping them from living happy contented lives. I loved how we got to see the relationship with Jake and Marci after a few years of marriage and becoming parents. They are now dealing with that stage in a marriage when so much of your life evolves around your children and the freedom you once had becomes a thing of the past. So often a story ends with the HEA and we never see a couple going through the growing pains of a real life relationship. So, this was a fun side story.
Obviously, the main story is on Rebecca.  She left her hometown due to a heart wrenching tragedy. She didn't see herself ever living in a small town again after living in the city with all it's hustle and bustle. This life just wasn't for her, but her mother is seriously ill, and Rebecca must step up and take care of some things before she can return to her usual lifestyle. The issues brought to light here are not the usual ones you find in novels. A mental illness that is often depicted in the worse possible way on television and is a massive embarrassment to family members has Rebecca left with a great deal of work ahead of her. During this time of crisis, Rebecca learns she has many people in her life that care about her and stop what they are doing to come give her a hand. This is also an opportunity for Rebecca and Jake to have a heart to heart conversation that will once and for all establish the type of relationhip they will have. We can't turn our feelings off and on like a light switch and some mixed signals were not all Rebecca's  fault, but it was way past time for Rebecca to at least try to open her heart up to someone who would give her the kind love she deserves.
I will confess that of the three women, Rebecca wasn't my favorite because of the stunt she pulled on Marci back in book one. Sure, she can't help who she has feelings for, but she knew that the situation with Jake and Marci was unsettled, but not over. She didn't want Jake under those terms anyway, but because Marci was one of her best friends it felt wrong on so many levels. In this story Rebecca still finds her feelings for Jake just as strong as ever, and there is a moment or two of real temptation for Rebecca.  Thankfully, Rebecca will find love in with the most unlikely of people. The rip in her friendship with Marci will begin to heal and Jake and Rebecca will both realize they have a wonderful friendship. Some of the most painful moments in Rebecca's life will be revisited and she will find a peace finally and the ending of the book will have you feeling a little emotional. I warmed up to Rebeccal a little more once I read her story and if Marci can forgive her then I guess I can too. Overall this one is an A. I give the entire series together an A+.

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  1. Thank you so much for the very thorough, thoughtful reviews. I'm glad you liked the Marriage Pact series!


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