FIRST Wild Card Tours presents Heart of Mercy by Sharlene MacLaren

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Sharlene MacLaren
and the book:
Heart of Mercy (Tennessee Dreams Book 1)
Whitaker House (January 1, 2014)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Award winning romance author, Sharlene MacLaren has released 13 novels since embarking on a writing career in 2007. After a career teaching second grade “Shar” says she asked God for a new mission “that would bring her as great a sense of purpose” as she’d felt teaching and raising her children. She tried her hand at inspirational romance, releasing Through Every Storm to critical and popular acclaim in 2007, and the rest, as they say, is history. She quickly became the top selling fiction author for Whitaker House, has accumulated multiple awards, and endeared herself to readers who can’t get enough of her long, luscious and often quirky tales – both historical and contemporary. Her novels include the contemporary romances Long Journey Home, and Tender Vow; and three historical series including Little Hickman Creek series (Loving Liza Jane; Sarah, My Beloved; and Courting Emma); The Daughters of Jacob Kane (Hannah Grace, Maggie Rose, and Abbie Ann) and River of Hope (Livvie’s Song, Ellie’s Haven, and Sofia’s Secret).

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Mercy Evans has known a great deal of heartache and hardship in her 26 years. She lost her mother at a young age and was only 16 when her father was killed in a brawl sparked by a feud with the Connors family that spans several generations. When a house fire claims the lives of her two best friends, Mercy is devastated, but finds comfort in caring for their two sons, who survived thanks to a heroic rescue by Sam Connors, blacksmith in the small town of Paris, Tennessee. Yet the judge is determined to grant custody only if Mercy is married. Mercy loves the boys as her own, and she’ll go to any lengths to keep them—but what if that means marrying the son of the man who killed her father? Set in the 1880’s, Heart of Mercy is the first book in MacLaren’s new Tennessee Dreams series.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

Series: Tennessee Dreams (Book 1)

Paperback: 336 pages

Publisher: Whitaker House (January 1, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1603749632

ISBN-13: 978-1603749633

 

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

This is a really good historical romantic Christian fiction read that I thoroughly enjoyed! Getting to know the characters and their struggles was heartwarming. I appreciate the way Sharlene MacLaren weaves the promises and truth’s of the Bible into her characters lives. Even though this is fiction, Ms. MacLaren clearly shows the importance of love and forgiveness in our lives. If you enjoy historical fiction with heartwarming romance, you will love Heart of Mercy! This is the first book in the Tennessee Dreams series, and I can’t wait for Book two!

I received this book from the publisher Whitaker House and FIRST Wild Card Tours to read and review.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 55.

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

1890
Paris, Tennessee
“Fire!”
The single word had the power to force a body to drop
his knees and call out to his Maker for leniency. But most took time for
neither, instead racing to the scene of terror with the bucket they kept stored
close to the door, and joining the contingent of citizens determined to battle
the flames of death and destruction. Such was the case tonight when, washing
the dinner dishes in the kitchen sink, Mercy Evans heard the dreaded screams
coming from all directions, even began to smell the sickening fumes of blazing
timber seeping through her open windows. She ran through her house and burst
through the screen door onto the front porch.
“Where’s the fire?” she shouted at the people running
up Wood Street carrying buckets of water.
Without so much as a glance at her, one man hollered
on the run, “Looks to be the Watson place over on Caldwell.”
Her heart thudded to a shattering halt. God, no! “Surely, you don’t mean Herb
and Millie Watson!”
Mercy Evans and Millie Watson, formerly Gifford, had
been fast friends at school and had stuck together like glue in the dimmest of
circumstances, as well as the sweetest. Millie had walked with Mercy through
the loss of both her parents, and Mercy had watched Millie fall wildly in love
with Herb Watson in the twelfth grade. She’d been the maid of honor in their
wedding the following summer.
But her voice was lost to the footsteps thundering
past. Whirling on her heel, she ran back inside, hurried to extinguish all but
one kerosene lamp, snatched her wrap from its hook by the door, and darted back
outside and up the rutted street toward her best friends’ home, dodging horses
and a stampede of citizens. “Lord, please don’t let it be,” she pleaded aloud.
“Oh, God, keep them safe. Jesus, Jesus….” But her cries vanished in the
scramble of bodies crowding her off the street as several made the turn onto
Caldwell in their quest to reach the flaming house, which already looked beyond
saving.
Tongues of fire shot like dragons’ breath out windows
and up through a hole in the roof. Like hungry serpents, flames lapped up the
sides of the house, eating walls and shattering panes, while men heaved their
pathetic little buckets of water at the volcanic monster.
“Back off, everybody. Step back!” ordered Sheriff
Phil Marshall. He and a couple of deputies on horseback spread their arms wide
at the crowd, trying to push them to safety.
Ignoring his orders, Mercy pressed through the
gathering mob until the heat so overwhelmed her that she had no choice but to
stop. Besides, a giant arm reached out and stopped her progress. She shook it
off. “Where are they?” she gasped, breathless. “Where’s the family?”
The sheriff moved his bald head from side to side,
his sad, defeated eyes telling the story. “Don’t know, Miss Evans. No one’s
seen ’em yet. We been scourin’ the crowd”—he gave another shake of the
head—“and it don’t appear anybody got out of that inferno.”
“That can’t be.” A sob caught at the back of her
throat and choked her next words. “They were at my place earlier. I made
supper.”
“Sorry, miss.”
“Someone’s comin’ out!” A man’s ear-splitting shout
rose above the crowd.
Dense smoke enveloped a large figure
emerging—staggering rather like a drunkard—from the open door and onto the
porch, his arms full with two wriggling bundles wrapped in blankets and
screaming in terror. Mercy sucked in a cavernous breath and held it till
weakness overtook her and she forced herself to let it out. Could it be? Had
little John Roy and Joseph survived the fire thanks to this man?
“Who is it?” someone asked.
All stood in rapt silence as he passed through the
cloud of smoke. “Looks to be Sam Connors, the blacksmith,” said the sheriff,
scratching his head and stepping forward.
“Sure ’nough is,” someone confirmed.
Mercy stared in wonder as the man, looking dazed and
almost ethereal, strode down the steps, then wavered and stumbled before
falling flat on his face in a heap of dust and bringing the howling bundles
with him.
Excited chatter erupted as Mercy and several others
ran to their aid. Mercy yanked the blankets off the boys and heaved a sigh of
relief to find them both alert and apparently unharmed, albeit still screeching
louder than a couple of banshees. Through their avalanche of tears, they
recognized her, and they hurled themselves into her arms, knocking her
backward, so that she wound up on her back perpendicular to Mr. Connors, with
both of the boys lying prone across her body. In all the chaos, she felt a hand
grasp her arm and help her up to a sitting position.
“Come on, Miz. You bes’ git yo’self an’ them
chillin’s out of the way o’ them flames fo’ you all gets burned.” She had the
presence of mind to look up at Solomon Turner, a former slave now in the employ
of Mrs. Iris Brockwell, a prominent Paris citizen who’d donated a good deal of
money to the hospital fund.
Mercy took the man’s callused hand and allowed him to
help her to a standing state. By the lines etched in his face from years of
hard work in the sweltering sun, Mercy figured he had to be in his seventies,
yet he lifted her with no apparent effort. “Thank you, Mr. Turner.”
Five-year-old John Roy stretched his arms upward,
pleading with wet eyes to be held, while Joseph, six, took a fistful of her
skirt and clung with all his might. “Come,” she said, hoisting John Roy up into
her arms. “We best do as Mr. Turner says, honey. Follow me.”
“But…Mama and Papa….” Joseph turned and gave his
perishing house a long perusal, tears still spilling down his face. John Roy
buried his wrenching sobs in Mercy’s shoulder, and it was all she could do to
keep from bolting into the house herself to search for Herb and Millie, even
though she knew she’d never come out alive. If the fire and smoke didn’t kill
her, the heat would. Besides, before her eyes, the flames had devoured the very
sides of the house, leaving a skeletal frame with a staircase only somewhat
intact and a freestanding brick fireplace looking like a graveyard monument.
Her heart throbbed in her chest and thundered in her ears, and she wanted to
scream, but the ever-thickening smoke and acrid fumes burned to the bottom of
her lungs.
With her free hand, she hugged Joseph close to her.
“I know, sweetheart, and I’m so, so sorry.” Her words drowned in her own sobs as
the truth slammed against her. Millie and Herb, her most loyal friends. Gone.
Sheriff Marshall and his deputies ordered the crowd
to move away from the blazing house, so she forced herself to obey, dragging a
reluctant Joseph with her. At the same time, she observed three men carrying a
yet unconscious Sam Connors across the street to a grassy patch of ground.
Several others gathered around, trying to decide what sort of care he needed.
Of course, he required medical attention, but Mercy felt too weak and dizzy to
tend to him. Best to let the men put him on a cart and drive him over to Doc
Trumble’s. Besides, she highly doubted he’d welcome her help. He was a Connors,
after all, and she an Evans—two families who had been fighting since as far
back as anyone could remember.
She’d heard only bits and pieces of how the feud had
started, with a dispute between Cornelius Evans, Mercy’s grandfather, and
Eustace Connors over property lines and livestock grazing in the early 1830s.
There had been numerous thefts of horses and cattle, and incidents of barn
burnings, committed by both families, until a judge had stepped in and defined
the property lines—in favor of Eustace Connors. Mercy’s grandfather had gotten
so agitated over the matter that his heart had given out. Mercy’s grandmother,
Margaret, had blamed the Connors family, fueling the feud by passing her hatred
for the entire clan on to her own children, and so the next generation had
carried the grudge, mostly forgetting its origins but not the bad blood. The animosity
had reached a peak six years ago, when Ernest Connors had killed Oscar
Evans—Mercy’s father.
“That man’s a angel,” Joseph mumbled into her skirts.
“What, honey?”
“John Roy was wailin’ real loud, ’cause he saw
somethin’ orange comin’ from upstairs, so he got in bed with me, and after a
while that angel man comed in and took us out of ar’ bed.”
She set John Roy on the ground, then got down on her
knees to meet Joseph’s eyes straight on. His were still red, his cheeks
blotchy. She thought very carefully about her next words. “Where were your
parents?”
Joseph sniffed. “They tucked us in and went upstairs
to their bedroom. John Roy an’ me talked a long time about scary monsters an’
stuff, but then, after a while, he went to sleep, but I couldn’t, so I got up
t’ get a drink o’ water, and that’s when I heard a noise upstairs. I looked
around the corner, and I seed a big round ball o’ orange up there, and smoke
comin’ out of it, and I thought it was a dragon come to eat us up. I runned
back and jumped in bed with Joseph and tol’ him a mean monster was comin’ t’
get us, and I started cryin’ real loud.”
John Roy picked up the story from there. “And so we
waited and waited for the monster to come after us, but instead the angel saved
us. I think Mama and Papa is prolly still sleepin’. Do you think they waked up
yet?”
Mercy’s throat burned as powerfully as if she’d
swallowed a tablespoonful of acid. Her own eyes begged to cut loose a river of
tears, but she warded them off with a shake of her head while gathering both
boys tightly to her. “No, darlings, I don’t believe they woke up in bed. I
believe with all my heart they awoke in heaven and are right now asking Jesus
to keep you safe.”
“And so Jesus tol’ that angel to come in the house
and get us?” Joseph pointed a shaky finger at Sam Connors. The big fellow lay
motionless on his back, with several men bent over him, calling his name and
fanning his face.
Mercy smiled. “He’s not an angel, my sweet, but
that’s not to say that God didn’t have something to do with sending him in to
rescue you.”
“Is he gonna die, like Mama and Papa?” John Roy asked
between frantic sobs.
“Oh, honey, I don’t know.”
She overheard Lyle Phelps suggest they take him over
to Doc Trumble’s house, but then Harold Crew said he’d spotted the doctor about
an hour ago, driving out to the DeLass farm to deliver baby number seven.
A few sets of eyes glanced around until they landed
on Mercy. She knew what folks were thinking. She worked for Doc Trumble, she
had more medical training and experience than the average person, and her house
was closest to the scene. But their gazes also indicated they understood the
awkwardness of the situation, considering the ongoing feud between the two
families. Although the idea of caring for him didn’t appeal, she’d taken an
oath to always do her best to preserve life. Besides, the Lord commanded her to
love her neighbor as herself, making it a sin to walk away from someone in
need, regardless of his family name.
She dropped her shoulders, even as the boys snuggled
close. “Put him on a cart and take him to my place,” she stated.
As if relieved that his care would fall to someone
other than themselves, several men hurried to pick him up and carried him to
Harold Crew’s nearby buggy.
“What about us?” Joseph asked.
The sheriff stepped forward and made a quick study of
each boy. “You can stay out at my sister’s farm. She won’t mind adding a couple
o’ more young’uns to her brood.”
Joseph burst into loud howls upon the sheriff’s
announcement. Mercy hugged him and John Roy possessively. “Their parents were
my closest friends, Sheriff Marshall. I’d like to assume their care.”
He frowned and scratched the back of his head. “Don’t
know as that’s the best solution, you bein’ unwed an’ all.”
“That should have no bearing whatever on where they
go. Their parents were my closest friends. They’re coming home with me.” She
took both boys by the hands, turned, and led them back down Caldwell Street,
away from the still-smoldering house and the sheriff’s disapproving gaze.
Overhead, black smoke filled the skies, obliterating any hope of the night’s
first stars or the crescent moon making an appearance.

FIRST Wild Card Tour presents Call of the Prairie (Pioneer Promises Series Book 2) by Vickie McDonough

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Vickie McDonough
and the book:
Call of the Prairie (Pioneer Promises Series Book 2)
Whitaker House (January 1, 2014)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

VickiMcDonoughHS2 Short Bio & Author Website: Vickie McDonough is an award-winning author of 30 works and a founder of the Christian Fiction Historical Society (www.christianfictionhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com). Book 1 in her Pioneer Promises series, Whispers on the Prairie, was chosen by Romantic Times as a top “recommended read” last summer. A member of ACFW, Vickie served as treasurer for three years and treasurer for her local chapter. She and her husband, Robert, live in Oklahoma and have four grown sons, one daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter. When she isn’t writing, Vickie enjoys reading, shopping for antiques, watching movies, and traveling. The final book in her Pioneer Promises series, Song of the Prairie, releases the summer of 2014.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In her 22 years, Sophie Davenport’s overprotective parents have taken every possible measure to keep her from exacerbating her asthma—she feels like a prisoner in her own house with her activities limited to reading and needlework. Yet Sophie longs for adventure and love, so when an aunt living in Windmill, Kansas, falls ill, she volunteers to travel from St. Louis to help out. Sophie’s new role brings her into contact with two children boarding at her aunt’s home, along with their handsome uncle, Josh Harper. Josh has worked for his family’s stagecoach stop on the Santa Fe Trail for most of his life, but he’s far more bookish than his brawny brothers. It’s his book smarts that recently landed him a job in Windmill managing his uncle’s bank. Josh also looks after his niece and nephew who are living in Windmill to attend school. Josh loves spending time with them, but yearns for a family of his own.

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

I really loved this story. Sophie was an interesting person and I enjoyed following her to take care of her aunt and the adventures she finds in her new surroundings. This historical story with its ups and downs along with the bit of romance was very heartwarming, and I found myself submerged in the story until I finished. You will love this second book in the Pioneer Promises Series by Vickie McDonough!

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99

Series: Pioneer Promises (Book 2)

Paperback: 272 pages

Publisher: Whitaker House (January 1, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1603749624

ISBN-13: 978-1603749626

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

April
1873
St.
Louis, Missouri
Sophie
Davenport held back the curtain and peered out the front window, her heart
jolting as a handsome man exited the carriage. He paid the driver, then turned
and studied her house. He was taller and nicer looking than she’d expected. She
dropped the curtain and stepped back, hoping he hadn’t seen her spying. She
pressed her hands together and tapped her index fingers against her lips,
unable to hold back her grin. Blake had finally arrived!
A
knock of confidence, not apprehension, sounded at the main entrance. Sophie
hurried to her bedroom door, which opened onto the main entryway, then held her
breath and listened. Blake stood on her porch, introducing himself to the
butler. Sophie could barely hold back her giddiness. She bounced on her toes as
Blake told the butler he had an appointment with her. His voice, deeper than
she’d imagined, floated through the open transom window above her like a
beautiful cello solo at the symphony.
She
patted her hair, hoping the humidity of the warm day hadn’t sent it spiraling
in rebellious curls. The swish of silk accompanied her as she hurried across
the room to the full-length oval mirror that stood in one corner. Pressing a
hand over her chest to calm her pounding heart, she surveyed her deep purple
gown. Was the fabric too dark? She’d chosen the violet silk taffeta because her
brightly colored day dresses made her appear younger, but today, she wanted to
look the twenty-two-year-old woman she was. Turning sideways, she checked her
bustle and bow, making sure they were straight. Everything was as orderly as it
could be. Would Blake like what he saw? Would he think her too short? Her light
brown hair too nondescript?
Flicking
a piece of lint off her bodice, she turned and faced the door. She would know
soon enough. After more than a year of correspondence, Blake knew everything
about her, and he had adamantly insisted that none of it mattered. He’d fallen
in love with her through her enchanting missives, and he wanted her for his
wife.
A
vicious knock rattled the glass in the transom, and Sophie jumped. The
apprehension racing through her was less about meeting Blake and more about the
fact that she hadn’t told her parents about him. They would have cut off her
correspondence faster than their gardener could lop off the head of a snake.
But it was too late now. She attempted to swallow the lump lodged in her
throat, but it refused to move.
Her
mother walked in, her whole face pinched like a prune, and quickly closed the
door. She stood there facing it for a long moment, her head down, then heaved a
loud, exaggerated sigh.
Not
a good sign.
Finally,
her mother turned. “You have a guest, Sophia—a male guest.” One eyebrow lifted.
“Would you care to explain to me how you are acquainted with this man,
especially since neither your father nor I have ever met him?”
Sophie
pressed a hand to her throat. She knew this wouldn’t be easy. “His name is
Blake Sheppard. He and I have been corresponding for over a year.”
Her
mother’s brown eyes widened. “A year? But how? I’ve never seen a letter from
him in the mail.”
Ducking
her head, Sophie stilled her hands and held them in front of her. “Ruthie sent
and received them for me. Blake is her cousin—and a gentleman.”
“A
gentleman doesn’t go behind the backs of a young woman’s parents to contact
her.” Maintaining her stiff stance, her mother puckered her lips. “So, you’ve
been deceiving your father and me?”
Wincing,
Sophie turned toward the front window. “Would you have allowed me to correspond
with Blake if I’d told you about him?”
“Proper
ladies don’t exchange letters with men they’ve never been introduced to, and
certainly not without parental approval.”
Drawing
a steadying breath, Sophie turned to face her mother. She’d known this would be
a battle. “Mother, please. Blake is a good man. Ask me anything about him.”
“There’s
no need. We will go out to the parlor, share a cup of tea, and then you’ll make
excuses that will send him on his way. Is that clear?”
Sophie
gasped. “But he’s traveled so far, and I’ve waited so long to meet him.” She
despised the pleading in her voice. Why couldn’t her parents let her grow up
like her sister? A wheeze squeaked out of her throat. She had to stay calm. The
last thing she wanted was to have an attack in front of Blake.
Her
mother moved closer, her expression softening. She took Sophie’s hand. “You
know how things are, dear. You had no business getting that young man’s hopes
up.”
“That
young man is my fiancé, Mother.”
“Fiancé—why,
that’s absurd! You know you can’t lead a normal life.”
Closing
her eyes, Sophie fought back tears. Why did her parents seek to limit her?
Given the chance, she was certain she could be a proper wife and mother, but
her parents just wanted to coddle her and keep her close. “You have to face the
fact that I’m grown up. I want to live a normal life.” She hurried past her
mother and reached for the door handle.
“But
you are not normal, dear. Your father and I only want to protect you. We
couldn’t bear to lose you, and you know we’ve come close to doing that very
thing on several occasions.”
Sophie
shuddered at the declaration. Her mother’s words rang in her ears: You are not normal. Yes, she had a
breathing problem; but, as she’d gotten older, the spells had happened less
often. Maybe in time, they’d go away altogether. Her parents were afraid to let
her live as her sister did. If she didn’t get away from them, she’d become a
spinster—if she wasn’t one already. She stiffened her back and pasted on a
smile, trying to ignore the pain of her mother’s chastisement. Blake was
waiting.
She
opened the door and stepped into the entryway, her gaze searching for the man
she’d dreamed about so many times. Blake stood in front of the parlor sofa,
speaking with her father. He hadn’t noticed her yet.
“I’m
sorry you’ve wasted your time traveling all this way, Mr. Sheppard,” her father
said. “But, as I’ve already stated, my daughter is not in the habit of
receiving male visitors.”
Blake’s
eyebrows drew together, his shoulders slumping, as he looked down at the
carpet. Sophie blew out several breaths and tried to calm herself, then hurried
through the entryway into the parlor, avoiding her father’s glare. Her gaze
latched onto Blake’s, and she saw the confusion in his hazel eyes. He offered a
tentative smile. “Miss Davenport, a pleasure to finally meet you.”
She
smiled, her cheeks warming, as she curtsied. “I’ve looked forward to this
moment for a very long time.” She waved a hand toward her father, and noticed
that her mother had followed her into the room. “I apologize, but I failed to
tell my parents about your arrival.” Because
I knew just how they would respond
. “I fear they are both a bit surprised.”
An understatement of mammoth proportions, if ever there was one.
Sophie
gathered her courage and turned to her father. “I see you’ve met Blake,
Father.” Her throat tightened at his stern stare. Another wheeze squeaked out.
“B-Blake is my fiancé.”
Her
father’s eyes widened, and his mouth dropped open. A pomegranate color climbed
up his neck, turning his ears red. He turned his fiery gaze on Blake. “You
presume a lot, young man. Did Sophie not inform you that she is not fully well?
She is not in a position to accept an offer of marriage.”
Blake
cleared his throat and straightened, as if he wasn’t ready to give up the
battle. “Yes, sir, she told me, but I thought—” His gaze captured Sophie’s, and
then he glanced at the floor again. He shuffled his feet, as if he were trying
to figure out a new dance step. “I thought Sophie—uh, Miss Davenport—was free
to make her own decisions, sir. I’m sorry that she failed to inform you of my
interest in her.”
“Inform
me?” Her father puffed up like a tom turkey whose hens were in danger. “A
daughter doesn’t ‘inform’ a father that she is planning to marry a stranger. A
decent fellow seeks permission before
approaching a man’s daughter.”
Blake
swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I’m sorry, sir.”
As
if an angry fist clutched Sophie’s throat, she felt it closing. She expelled a
wheeze, and Blake shot a glance in her direction. Her father’s tirade blended
with the words her mother had uttered, causing an ache within her so painful,
she didn’t know if she could bear it. She was losing Blake, and they’d only
just met. Was she doomed to live with her overprotective parents the rest of
her life?
No!
She
wouldn’t.
She’d
fight for Blake. He was worth it.
She
opened her mouth to defend her fiancé, but the sound that came out more resembled
the bleat of an ailing goat than her own voice. Humiliation blistered her
cheeks.
Blake
took a step backward, away from her, his handsome face drawn in a scowl.
“You
see, Mr. Sheppard, the slightest excitement can set off one of my daughter’s
attacks.” Father turned to Sophie’s mother. “Ring for some coffee, if you will.
It seems to help our Sophie’s spells.”
Spells. Attacks. What would Blake think?
Sophie
held out her hand to him. Instead of taking it, he cast another worried glanced
at her father. She sucked in another wheezy breath, struggling to stay clam in
the midst of such turmoil. The room tilted. Sophie closed her eyes until the
spinning stopped. All was silent for several long moments, except for her
screeching breaths.
When
her eyelids fluttered open, Blake met her gaze with an apology in his eyes. She
knew in that moment she’d lost him.
He
sighed. “Perhaps I have been too hasty. I sincerely apologize, Miss Davenport,
but I must withdraw my offer of marriage. I hope you and your parents can forgive
me for troubling you so.”
Tears
stung Sophie’s eyes. She held out her hand again, hoping—praying—he’d take hold
of it. “No, please—”
He
skirted around her as if she were a leper, nodded to her mother, then snatched
his hat off the hall tree and rushed out the door.
Sophie
collapsed in the nearest chair and watched her dreams march down the sidewalk
and out of sight. Tears blurred her vision as all hope of a future with Blake
died. How could her parents be so cruel as to not even allow Blake to express
his interest in her? How could they embarrass her so?
Her
father walked to her and leaned over. “Try to calm down, Sophia.”
She
jumped up so fast, her head almost rammed his chin. He stumbled backward. The
room swerved as she struggled for a decent breath. “How c-could you, Father?”
A
wave of guilt washed over his face. “It’s for your own good, you know.”
She
clutched the end table for support for a moment, then stumbled past him.
He
took her arm. “Here, let me help you, precious.”
“No!
Please.” She yanked away. “I can…take care of…myself. I’m a grown woman, and
you both need to f-face that fact.” She inhaled a decent breath and then
charged on, by pure willpower. “I’m twenty-two and not your little girl
anymore. Stop sheltering me…let me live my life. It’s mine to live, not yours
to stifle.”
The
flash of pain in her father’s eyes only made her feel worse. Her shoes tapped
across the entryway as she hurried back to her room—the former library, where
her parents had relegated her, as if she were a pariah. She shut the door and
collapsed on her bed, wanting to cry but knowing that doing so would only make
breathing harder. She slammed her fist against her pillow. “Why, God? Why can’t
my parents let me grow up?”
She’d
had such hopes. Thought that when her parents met Blake, they’d see what a
quality man he was. But they hadn’t even given him a chance. Could she have
been mistaken about him? She smacked the bed, a futile outlet for her
frustrations and disappointments. Blake hadn’t bothered to fight for her one
bit; he’d fled out the door the first chance he’d gotten. She’d tried to
prepare him—to warn him about her episodes—but she must have failed.
She
barked a cough that sounded like a seal she’d once seen at the menagerie in New
York City’s Central Park. Sophie pushed up into a sitting position, in order to
breathe better. Blinking, she attempted to force away her tears, but new ones
came like the spring rains that flooded the banks of the Mississippi River. Why
had God cursed her with this hateful condition?
The
door opened, and her mother entered, carrying a tray. Coffee. She despised the
foul-tasting stuff, but it was thought to be helpful to people with asthma, as
were garlic, whiskey, and a number of other nasty-tasting concoctions.
“How
are you, dear?”
Sophie
slid back down on the bed and turned to face the wall. She didn’t want to
talk—couldn’t talk.
“Don’t
be that way. You need to drink this coffee.”
She
shook her head.
“Turn
over, Sophia.” Her mother’s tone left no room for refusal.
She
obeyed but didn’t look at her mother. Instead, she started counting the thin,
blue lines in the wallpaper—all nine hundred sixteen of them—as she’d done a
thousand other times. Focusing on the task would keep her from weeping and from
lashing out in anger.
Her
mother blew out a loud breath, then held out the coffee cup. “Drink this.”
Sophie
shook her head. “Doesn’t help.” She sucked in a breath, thankful that this
episode was a mild one and already beginning to pass, in spite of the day’s
traumatic events.
Her
mother set the cup back on the tray with a loud clatter and stared across the
room. “Whatever made you do such a thing? Don’t you know that young man must
have spent hard-earned money to come here? Taken time away from his job,
assuming he has one? You gave him false hopes, Sophia, and now he’s wasted a
year of his life pursuing a woman he can never have.”
Sophie
clenched her eyes shut, losing count of the lines. Did her mother not care that
her heart was breaking?
Guilt
nibbled its way into her mind like a mouse in a sack of grain. She hadn’t
thought how things would affect Blake if they turned sour. She’d been so
certain everything would work out in their favor. So certain that she could
persuade her parents to let them marry, that she hadn’t considered the negative
side. But her mother was right about one thing. Blake had taken leave from his
job as bookkeeper for a shoe factory in Chicago so that he could travel to St.
Louis to meet her. He had wasted his time and money to come here.
And
it was all her fault.
She
sucked in a sob.
Her
mother patted her shoulder. “There, there. Things will work out.”
Yes,
her father would go back to running his company. Her mother would attend her
social clubs and church functions. Her sister would continue as a happily married
wife and soon-to-be mother, while Sophie would continue her boring existence as
a lonely spinster living in her parents’ home.
The
bed lifted on one side as her mother stood and quietly left the room. After the
door closed, Sophie sat up and stared out the window, at the very place she’d
first seen Blake. She hated feeling sorry for herself, and she normally didn’t,
but today, her emotions were raw.
She
rose from the bed and crossed the room to her desk, where her Bible lay. She
picked it up and hugged it to her chest as she gazed out at the garden. Bright
yellow butterflies flitted from flower to flower. A big bumblebee disappeared
in a clump of pink azaleas. The beauty of God’s creation never failed to cheer
her, even on the saddest of days.
Sophie
blew out a loud sigh. “Forgive me, Lord, if I’ve been selfish.” She hugged the
Bible tighter. “But please, Father, make a way for me to break free from my
parents. To prove to them—and to myself—that I can stand on my own. That I can
take care of myself. And please, Lord, if it be Your will, send me a man
someday who will love me for the woman I am and overlook my…flaws.”
Tears
pooled in her eyes, and her throat tightened. “But if it is Your will for me to
remain in my parents’ home and to never marry, help me to accept that and to be
content.”
If
that was the Lord’s will, He certainly had a monumental task ahead.

FIRST Wild Card Tours presents Tessa by Melissa Wiltrout

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Melissa Wiltrout
and the book:
Tessa
LIFE SENTENCE Publishing (September 3, 2013)
***Special thanks to Jeremiah M. Zeiset for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Melissa Wiltrout lives in west-central Wisconsin with her two dogs, an energetic terrier named Daisy and a Sheltie named Chester. During the summer months she keeps busy at the family nursery and landscaping business. Writing is her favorite activity, but she also enjoys relaxing with a good book, playing guitar, breeding goldfish, and gardening.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Is there no way out?

Tessa loathes being forced to work in her father’s illegal drug business. Yet her ill-fated attempts at running away only deepen the abuse. Guilt and shame press in, pushing away her real friends and reinforcing her own criminal tendencies.

Tessa yearns for freedom – and something else. Then a neighbor introduces her to God and salvation through Christ. But will faith be enough? Can she overcome the forces that bind her before it’s too late?

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 292 pages

Publisher: LIFE SENTENCE Publishing (September 3, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1622450876

ISBN-13: 978-1622450879

 

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

I loved this book. What Tessa went through as a young girl was horrible, no young person should endure such abuse! I was so happy that she finally found someone to love and help her. This is the first book I have read by Melissa Wiltrout and I sure hope she is planning on a book two to continue the story of Melissa and her family. Unfortunately, the abuse in this book goes on all of the time throughout the world, and its so sad to think about that. I hope that those reading this book suffering abuse can get help. And I will say that I loved the ending of this book two. I appreciate the way Ms. Wiltrout weaves the Scriptures throughout her book in the lives of some of the characters. It was very heartwarming to read.

I highly recommend Tessa. You will find a very interesting and beautiful read!

I received this book from the author and FIRST WildCard Tours to read and review.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“Stop! Thief!”
Fear stabbed my chest. I dodged in
front of a loaded shopping cart and shoved through the outer set of glass doors
at Allen’s Super Foods. The plastic bag of hot dogs and bread knocked against
my leg as I took a sharp left and sprinted down the dark sidewalk.
“Stop, you punk!” Footsteps pounded
close behind me. I could hear heavy breathing. I ran faster, willing all my
energy into my legs. My breath came in ragged gasps. I kept my eyes fixed on
the lights of the busy street half a block ahead. I sure hope there’s a break
in the traffic. There’s no way I’m gonna be able to stop
if there isn’t…
I had cleared the far end of the
building and was racing across the final stretch of parking lot when the clerk
caught up with me. He grabbed my shoulders and kicked me in the legs, slamming
me to the pavement. I screamed as pain ripped through my right ankle and leg.
He threw himself on top of me, closing huge hands around my neck and shoulders.
“I got you now, you punk.”
His sudden weight on my back left
me breathless. I struggled to roll him off, but he tightened his grip. His knee
pressed into my back and his fingernails dug into my shoulder like claws. “Oh
no you don’t.”
“I . . . can’t breathe,” I gasped.
“Get . . . off of me.”
“That’s what you all say. I’ll get
off of you all right – when the police get here.” As he spoke, he shifted his
weight higher on my back. My chest began to hurt.
“No,” I pleaded. “Stop. You’re . .
. killing me.”
“Shut up,” he said. I heard a faint
beep, beep as he pressed the buttons on his cell phone. I was crying. Sharp
pains shot up my leg from my twisted ankle, and I was helpless to relieve them.
Cold pavement bit into my chin. I tasted blood where I’d cut my lip falling. I
made one more attempt to free myself, but it was no use. The guy must’ve
weighed two hundred pounds. At last a police cruiser pulled up with its lights
flashing, and an officer stepped out.
“You Bruce Sommerfeld?” he said to
the clerk.
“I am.”
“You can let go now. I’ve got her.”
Bruce surrendered his grip on me
reluctantly. “I caught this little punk red-handed. And it’s not the first time
she’s pulled this. I can prove it.”
I took a breath and started to push
myself up, but the officer stopped me, pulling my hands behind my back. Cold
metal clamped around my left wrist, then my right. What on earth was he doing?
Handcuffing me? I hoped nobody was watching.
Fresh pain shot through my ankle as
the officer pulled me to my feet. “So you were shoplifting, huh?” he said.
It wasn’t a dream this time. I was
being arrested.
“I didn’t do nothin’. I swear!”
Frantically I tried to wrench free of the steel cuffs. “He’s lying. He hates
me. You all hate me!”
“That’s enough. Settle down.” A
second officer, a woman, stepped close and took my other arm. She began
steering me toward the black and white car. “My name’s Pat. And you are . . .
?”
I didn’t answer. My wrists stung
from my fight with the cuffs. I had never felt so helpless and humiliated in my
life.
Pat opened the rear door of the
cruiser. “Okay, in you go.”
I hesitated as my eyes took in the
hard black seat, the bars over the window, the mesh divider. This was for
criminals, not for somebody like me. Did I have to get in? But the firm
pressure on my arm told me I had no choice. I dropped into the seat, my face
hot, wincing as my hurt ankle bumped the door frame.
I fit in there – sort of. There
wasn’t more than eight inches of knee room in front of that seat, and with my
hands squashed behind my back, I was miserable to say the least. They didn’t
really expect me to ride like this, did they?
Tears pricked my eyes. I bit my lip
hard to restrain them. Through the barred window, I saw Bruce enter the store
with my bag of food. As if he needed it. My stomach growled, reminding me I
hadn’t eaten since yesterday.
“How old are you, kid?” Pat twisted
around to look at me from the driver’s seat.
“Old enough.”
“Old enough to be on your own?”
In the darkness, I felt my face
flush. Is it that obvious I’m a runaway? I thought of the stains on my jeans,
the long, jagged tear in the sleeve of my purple sweatshirt, and the shiny wire
I’d used to reattach the soles of my worn tennis shoes – all things I had
convinced myself no one would notice. I must’ve been crazy.
Heat blew into the back of the car,
raising a smell of sweat and dirty clothes. I tried to flip back the tangled
locks of dark hair that kept falling across my face. My teeth chattered, but
not from cold. I was scared of being put in jail.
The ride to the Northford Police
Station was short. Pat pulled into the garage. From there, she marched me into
a long narrow room. I squinted against the glare of fluorescent lights. Pat
removed the handcuffs and directed me to one of the plastic chairs at a small
table.
I sank into the chair, glad to get
off my hurt ankle. By now it had swollen to the size of a small grapefruit. The
pain was agonizing. Had I broken it? I leaned forward and with one hand
loosened my shoelaces. Even that was a painful operation. Making it all the way
back to the garage where I was staying would be impossible.
“Did you hurt your ankle?” Pat
asked. She pulled the other chair around to sit facing me.
I stiffened. “It’ll be okay.” Did
she have to sit so close to me?
“You sure? You were limping on the
way in.”
I hesitated, torn by the sympathy
in her voice. But did I dare confide in a cop?
“It’s nothing, really. I-I got a
charley horse.”
“I see. How long has it been since
you left home?”
“Awhile.” My eyes traced the green and white
tiles at my feet. If only I could get rid of that lump in my throat that
threatened to make me cry.
“Like a week? Ten days?”
“Yeah, maybe.” It had been longer,
but she didn’t need to know that.
“That’s a long time. Have you been
stealing food this whole time?”
“Some of it.”
“Yes?” she pressed. “How much is
‘some’?”
“Most of it, I guess.”
“You know stealing is a crime,
don’t you? You can be fined and even imprisoned for it. If you need food, there
are better ways to get it.”
“Well yeah, but—”
“No buts. Maybe no one’s ever told
you this, but stealing is wrong. It’s serious. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
I could feel the heat rising in my
cheeks. What did Pat know? She’d never gone hungry or spent the night under a
deck in the drizzling rain. It wasn’t like I’d hurt somebody. The store would
never miss what little I’d taken.
Pat shuffled a few papers on her
lap. “I understand the store is not pressing charges this time. However…” She
paused for emphasis. “If this sort of thing happens again, you will be charged
with retail theft. You’ll have to go to court and pay the consequences. Plus it
will get on your record. Do you understand?”
“Yeah.” I felt a tiny glimmer of
hope. “Does this mean you’re gonna let me go?”
“It means your parents will have to
come get you. I take it you’re not on the best terms with them just now. Am I
right?”
I exhaled slowly. My sweaty hands
clenched in my lap. I should’ve known they’d call my parents.
I felt Pat eyeing me. “It’s that
bad, huh? Want to talk about it?”
My mind raced. For a second I
considered it, but then I shook my head. Talking would only make things worse.
Much worse.
Pat was still watching me. “I’ve
got the time,” she said.
I shook my head harder. “Can’t you
just let me go? It’s not like I’m gonna do this again or something.”
“Sorry, but it’s not my call. Rules
are rules.” Pat laid her papers on the table. “You’re Tessa Miner, am I right?
And your parents are Walter and Julie Miner?”
I gulped. How did she know that?
“Is this phone number correct?”
I had to stop her somehow. “Look,
you don’t hafta call them, okay? I-I’ll just walk home.”
Pat stood up.
“Can’t I? I’ll go right home, I
promise. It’s not that far, and…”
“Ten miles with a hurt ankle isn’t
far, huh?” There was sarcasm in her voice now. She shook her head. “It doesn’t
work that way, Tessa.”
I was trapped. There was no way
out. Even supposing the doors weren’t locked, I’d never escape with this ankle.
The muscles in my chest constricted, suffocating me. I leaned my elbows on the
table and forced myself to breathe. I needed to be at my best to face Walter.
Walter. The name dredged up images
I didn’t want to remember. I could see my father standing there, his hands on
his hips as he screamed at me.
“You idiot, what’d you do that
for!”
“You’re coming if I gotta drag you
there! Now get out here!”
“Guess you didn’t listen, did you.
Well, this time I’ll make you!”
I could see the home place – the
shabby white house with its sagging porch, the huge junk heap in the back yard,
and my dad’s green, almost-brand-new pickup truck parked in the driveway. I
could smell the cigarette smoke and the coffee. I could see, too, the secret
garden by the back fence that was my dad’s special concern. He allowed Mom to
plant hibiscus and hollyhocks along the edge, but the rest was off limits. I
learned this the day I tried to capture a baby rabbit that was trapped inside
the fence. Walter caught me in there and beat me bloody, even though I hadn’t
damaged anything.
I could see the old shed near the
garden, where Walter had locked me up for two days after my last attempt at
running away. I recalled the torture of spending a night leaning up against the
lawnmower, my back aching like fire while I tried to ignore the rodents
scurrying and chewing in the walls around me. I’d be lucky if that was all I
had to face this time.
A sudden noise in the room caused
me to start in fear. Had my father come already? But it was only Pat dropping a
pen. I sank back, my heart still pounding. If only I could awaken from this
nightmare. But try as I did, I could not suppress the memories which played
like a bad movie across my mind.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Tessa, your father’s here.”

FIRST Wild Card Tours presents Living Separate Lives, a novella by Paulette Harper Johnson

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Paulette Harper Johnson
and the book:
Living Separate Lives, a novella
Thy Word Publishing (November 9, 2013)
***Special thanks to Paulette Harper for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Paulette Harper is an award-winning and best-selling author. She is the owner of Write Now Literary Virtual Book Tours and is passionate about helping authors succeed in publishing and marketing their books. Paulette has been writing and publishing books since 2008. Paulette is the author of That Was Then, This is Now, Completely Whole and The Sanctuary. Her articles have appeared on-line and in print.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Four Friends, One Secret and The Weekend That Changed Their Destiny

Candace Walker, Kaylan Smith, Jordan Tate, and Tiffany Thomas have their share of sorrows, but neither of them realizes how deep the sorrow goes. What happens when they agree to meet for a weekend of relaxation in beautiful Napa County? Which one will leave the same or worse?

For Candace Walker, life has left her battered and bruised. Kaylan Smith has struggled with prejudice from her in-laws. After fifteen years of marriage, bitterness is trying to raise its ugly head for Jordan Tate, whose husband wants to call it quits. And for Tiffany Thomas, dealing with rejection has never been one of her greatest feats.

Although they have been friends for years, they thought they knew each other well. But will a secret destroy their relationship and bring the sisterhood to a complete halt? Will they be able to forgive and allow God to mend that which might be torn?

Product Details:

List Price: $8.10

Paperback: 146 pages

Publisher: Thy Word Publishing (November 9, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 098996910X

ISBN-13: 978-0989969109

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

This was a really enjoyable book to read! Highschool girlfriends Tiffany, Candace, Kaylan and Jordan reconnect after many years, each  bringing their own life’s problems with them. Expecting a wonderful week together, these ladies find out more than they bargained for about each other, and tension and anger started to soar and their time together wasn’t so pleasant.

Paulette Johnson does a wonderful job or writing this interesting story. It was fun reading about the memories of the girls younger years, and even the bad and ugly stuff that comes out. the friendship of these ladies was at stake, and they had to turn from their anger and hurt and offer love and forgiveness, forgetting the things of the past. You will enjoy this book, and it is short so it only takes an hour or so to read it! Thanks to Paulette for a wonderful read!

I received this book from the author and FIRST WildCard Tours to read and review.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“Who
cares anyway if I die? I hate my life; I curse the day I was born,” said
Candace as she rolled out of her twin bed to face yet another day of sheer
disappointments. Her feet landed on the beige, shaggy, dirty carpet that had
seen better days. As she sat on the edge
of her bed, she looked around the small apartment as though she was expecting
to see something different, but nothing had changed.
“Lord, can I get a break? Can something good happen in my life?”
she cried as her head collapsed in her hands.
She knew within
herself that today would be like all the rest: gloomy, sad, and most of all,
lonely. After all she had experienced in life, how could she think today would
be any different?
Candace
lived in a small studio apartment off of School Street in the city of
Pittsburg, California, a city surrounded by the beautiful San Francisco Bay
Area. Her apartment had enough room for
only one dresser and a nightstand, which she got at the neighborhood Goodwill
store.
The
walls of her apartment were dirty from years of cigarette smoke that didn’t
escape out of the window. Her kitchen table was made of plywood, which she
covered with a red table cloth. The table was encompassed by two chairs, one
for her and the other one she had hoped would be occupied by someone who
genuinely wanted to be with her. The blue and cream décor in her kitchen came
from visiting the neighborhood garage sales.
Her neighbors knew her so well because of the frequent visits she made
to their sales. Although Candace always had a roof over her head, she did not
like the environment in which she lived. After looking intently at her dwelling
place, she lay back on her bed and stared at the ceiling. Her thoughts shifted
from her disappointing apartment to her anger about the issues she had to deal
with, problems that had been with her for years, issues with her family.
Since
high school, life was hard for Candace. Almost every decision she made never
retuned a good dividend. The men in her life came and went, except for
Derrick. He stayed the longest, but his
bout with kidney failure ended whatever dreams she had of getting out of what
she called the “ghetto.” Derrick was her sure ticket to a better life, she
hoped. The only consolation to his memory was the pictures on the stained walls
and a locket she wore around her neck.
Candace
grew up with both parents and two siblings. Her sister, Monique, was three
years younger than her; her brother, Zach, was two years younger. Candace
always felt that she got the worse end of the stick when it came to Monique.
Monique was light-skinned with long, black, wavy hair, which belonged to her,
by the way. Candace’s skin tone was a few shades darker
than Monique. She was short in stature; five feet, three inches tall, to be
exact. She wore her hair down and straight, although it mostly contained black
hair extensions, which she bought from the neighborhood beauty supply store.
Monique
was the image of her mother minus a few inches of hair. She stood five feet,
eleven inches with a small frame; she could have been chosen as America’s Next
Top Model. But Monique decided to study law, passing the bar on her first
attempt; she then started her own practice and moved it to Los Angeles. Monique and her parents could not figure out
how Candace didn’t make more of herself. To them, Candace was merely existing
and taking up space. They wrote Candace
off years ago.
Her
parents would say they didn’t show favoritism to any of their children, but let
Candace tell the story; she would disagree. Candace didn’t have a great
relationship with her parents, nor did she have one with her sister. She longed
to connect with her mother, Vivian, even dreaming of having meaningful
conversations with her, but that never materialized. Vivian grew up without
love, so showing love was not something she did or knew how to do.
Nothing
Candace did was ever good enough for her parents. She realized long ago that
they would never validate or accept her for who she was. And that always
bothered her. The only relative that
Candace found solace in was her baby brother.
Zach
was the comic relief in the family and the only one who tried to keep Candace
from running away from home when they were teenagers. Despite what he saw from
his family, he found laughter to be a source of comfort. A joke at the right time would always make
Candace laugh instead of crying many days.
Now that he was older, his life revolved around school, his baby, and
opening up his own barber shop.
Zach
had similar features like his dad. He had a body like LL Cool J, muscular in
built, which required him to spend more time in the gym and less time getting
into trouble. His skin tone was the same as Candace’s, and his hair was black
and curly, which he kept cut low.
Their
dad, Robert, didn’t care about too much except a good home-cooked meal and the
wrestling matches that he saw nightly. He was content to spend his time sitting
in his brown leather recliner with a blanket next to the wooden table that had
enough room to hold his can of soda, the remote control, and the cordless
phone.
While reminiscing about one’s family may bring happiness to
others, memories of her family only angered Candace even more. The longer she
lay there, the angrier she got. In order
to avoid another day filled with anger, she started thinking about how much her
life would change for the better if only she could win the lotto or meet a rich
man. But that wasn’t going to happen any time soon, especially if she continued
to linger in the bed all day like she had been doing for the last few days.
Candace sighed and finally decided to climb out of bed. Maybe today would be her lucky day.
Candace made her way to the small kitchen and began fixing
breakfast. Today’s meal consisted of a slice of toast and coffee. Once she finished her breakfast, she stepped
into the shower and let the warm water sooth her. She grabbed a pair of jeans and a tee shirt,
and headed out the door.
Outside her apartment she could hear the normal chanting from the
neighborhood kids. “There she goes,” the kids began to yell. Candace was often
referred to as “crazy Candi” because many times while
walking to the corner store to pick up her soda, cigarettes, and a lottery
ticket, they often observed her muttering to herself. Whenever they mocked her,
she would turn around and yell back at them.“I ain’t crazy,” she would yell. “I
know y’all think I am, but I’m not. I’m talking to God. That’s something y’all
young hoodlums should think about doing sometimes.”
While walking along the street, Candace decided to do something
differently. Instead of passing by the church on the way to the store, she
decided to go in and pray. She made
herself comfortable in one of the pews. The soft music that played inside the
church made her thoughts wander to the first time she went to church.
Candace
was introduced to Christ by one of her friends, Kaylan, To Candace, going to
church was the last thing on her mind or on her agenda. But she figured church
couldn’t be any worse than being home with people who didn’t give love or show
love. “I’ll give church a try,” she said to herself. “Maybe I could find some
answers to my probing questions as to why God didn’t give me a loving family and
why nothing good happened to me. Maybe the church folks would love me and help
me, but most importantly, pray for me,” she said to herself.
She
remembered the first time she walked into New Life Christian Center on
Christmas day. All the people were raising their hands, which was so foreign to
her. It didn’t seem real. She was feeling something, but didn’t know exactly
what to call “it” or if “it” had a name.
This was one feeling she couldn’t identify.
The
church décor was beautifully decorated with poinsettias placed around the stage
area. For the first time in Candace’s
life, she thought that maybe this was exactly the thing she needed. When she and Kaylan entered the sanctuary,
the usher wanted to sit them close to the front of the church, but Candace
would not have it. She leaned toward Kaylan and said, “Oh no, can’t we sit near
the back? I might need to go to the restroom.” Kaylan agreed. Seating them in
the front was not a good idea for more reasons than one. And Kaylan didn’t want Candace’s first visit
to New Life to be her last.
Kaylan
motioned to the usher, “We’d like to sit in the back, if that’s okay.” With
reservations, the usher directed them to the empty seats in the back of the
church. During service, the choir did not sing songs that Candace had ever
heard. Luckily, the words were plastered on the screen for people like her, the
un-churched. Yet the sound that came
from the choir calmed her apprehension.
The choir leader invited everyone to stand and join along. Kaylan turned to Candace, as she stood up to
join in on the praise.
“Come
on, Candace; it’s okay. Let go and let God.” Candace looked skeptical.
“Let
go and let God,” Candace muttered. “What in the world does that mean?” Maybe Kaylan will educate her on the church
lingo later,
she thought. Candace slowly stood on her feet and
joined Kaylan and all the church folks who didn’t have the same problem as her.
Not feeling as comfortable as Kaylan, Candace left her arms by her side.
As
the music continued, people began clapping, shouting, and running around the
church. Candace’s brown eyes widened as big as saucers as she watched all this,
and her focus went from the choir to the little lady doing what appeared to be
some type of praise dance. All Candace
could do was laugh. A nudge from Kaylan on her arm got her attention back on
the choir. After thirty minutes into the singing, the Pastor emerged and took
the podium. “That’s Pastor Jonathon Williams,” Kaylan proudly announced to
Candace “That’s my Pastor,” she said
with excitement.
“Good
morning, saints. This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and
rejoice,” Pastor Williams said in a baritone voice.
“Praise
the Lord,” echoed the congregation to the pastor; well, everyone except for
Candace.
“First,
the usher wanted to seat us in the front of the church. Then they wanted us to
stand. Now we get to yell back to the Pastor?” Candace whispered right before
Kaylan let out a loud “Glory to God.” More claps and more shouting came, and
the applauses became louder. The roar reminded Candace of a sports game when
the winning team finally scored. She
remembered that, but had no idea “church” was anything like that.
“Today’s
text comes from John 3:16. You may be seated,” said Pastor Williams.
Candace and Kaylan
exchanged glances, and Candace’s voice let out a soft “Praise the Lord.” They
immediately started smiling and took their seats.
Candace’s
five-inch, black stilettos were not the ideal pair of shoes to wear to church.
They were cute, but being cute was not good enough. Candace didn’t realize that
it took preparation to come to church, something she’d have to really consider
next time.
Kaylan
reached down into her purse that was located on the floor and pulled out her
notebook, a Bible, and a pen— all of which Candace had none.
“You
taking notes?” Candace inquired. “You
didn’t tell me to bring a notebook.”
“Don’t
worry. Here you go.” Kaylan quietly tore out several pieces of paper from her
notebook and handed them to Candace along with a pen.
“The
words will be up on the screen, or we can share my Bible,” Kaylan said as they
moved closer together on the seat. In his message, Pastor Williams talked about
the reason why Jesus came to the world and why people needed to be saved; in
his message, he explained the real meaning of love. While Pastor was speaking, the ushers were
walking around the sanctuary, offering Kleenex to those who were apparently
shedding tears. Candace declined the offer. Instead, she wiped the tear from
her face with the back of her hand when the Pastor began to talk about love,
something she yearned for from her family and men.
“God
is love, and God showed His love by given the ultimate sacrifice by sending His
son, Jesus,” said the Pastor. At one
point in his message, he stated, “We try to find love in all the wrong places;
the void in our lives can only be filled by God’s love.”
During
his message, Candace’s mind traveled back to all the times she wanted to be
loved by her family, excluding Zach because he did love her. Her mind wondered
about the men who had been in and out of her life. The Pastor was right; she had been looking
for love in all the wrong places. Unable
to stop the flow of tears, she realized the reasons why her life was in such
chaos.
Loud
shouts of “Amens” startled her, and brought her back from her reverie. At the end of the message, Pastor Williams
gave what Kaylan called “an invitation to salvation.” Before Kaylan could ask
Candace if she wanted to accept Christ, Candace was already making her way down
to the altar.
Yes, it truly had been a while since Candace first felt that love
and acceptance from others. After the death of Derrick, it was hard for her to
see that God really loved her. But as she walked into the church this dreadful
afternoon, she decided that it was finally time to make a change.

FIRST Wild Card Tours Presents……Healing Grace by Beth Shriver

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Beth Shriver
and the book:
Healing Grace
Realms (October 1, 2013)
***Special thanks to Althea Thompson for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Beth wrote her first novel in 2002 and a year later it was published. She was a caseworker before starting a family, grew up in Nebraska, and now lives in Texas.

She became interested in writing about the Amish when researching her family history and found she was related to the the Glick families in Europe. Beth also freelances for the local papers in her area, writes columns, devotionals, and novels in a variety of genres in both fiction and nonfiction. Beth followed her passion and now writes full time.

Beth has plenty of company when she writes, with her two cats and a beagle. She visits Amish communities in her area and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When not spending time with her family or friends she helps feed the homeless in South Dallas.
Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Can Abby overcome the pain caused by her father and find acceptance among the Amish? Abby finds more than love and safety when she meets Mose, as she struggles with the faith she left behind after the death of her mother. After time spent with Mose and his family she knows she has to make a choice. Will Abby stay with Mose or go back to her sick father who needs her.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

Series: Touch of Grace (Book 3)

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Realms (October 1, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1621362973

ISBN-13: 978-1621362975

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

I really enjoyed this wonderful story! Beth Shriver weaves together the lives of two people that are so very different, and gives readers many hours of enjoyment in her new book, Healing Grace. I love Amish stories and read a lot of Amish books, and this is one of my favorite. And the way these two lives are pulled together is so heartwarming, and makes you want to keep on reading. This is truly a story of love, grace, forgiveness and healing through faith in the Lord! This is one book you do not want to miss! Purchase your copy asap!

I received this book from FIRST WildCard Tours to read and review.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 55.

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“This is all I have.” Abby flashed the money at the horse trader. It was more than she had planned to spend, but the filly was worth it. Did this man know the value of what he had, or did he just feel sorry for her? It hadn’t been all that long since her mother passed away, but he and everyone else in town knew her dad was a swindler. He wouldn’t be empathetic.“That’s what they all say.” He grinned. “You know your horses.” He leaned back against a wooden post by the stall.She studied him for a moment, trying to decide if she trusted him. Abby did have a knack for picking horses. Focusing on conformation, temperament, and breed, she also had a good eye to go with her knowledge and experience. All of this told her that this equine had bloodlines for excellent breeding. Abby had learned the process from her father, Jim, who once was one of the best breeders around. But Abby’s dream was to train them for shows, something Jim thought was ridiculous. With a horse like this, they could make it happen.

The last bit of sunlight disappeared, darkening the old barn. She didn’t like this part of town, and she was still unsure about this dealer, but he had the horse she wanted. She flipped her long blonde ponytail behind her and studied the filly before locking eyes with the trader. “She hasn’t been used on the track, has she?”

When he hesitated, Abby moved toward the horse.

“’Course not,” he scoffed.

She lifted the filly’s upper lip. No tattoo, the mark of a racer. She didn’t want a three-year-old burned-out horse. “Just checking.”

His dark eyebrows drew together, changing along with his demeanor. “I’m an honest horse seller, unlike your old man.”

Abby froze and stared at the horse until the heat in her face cooled down. She tried to think of how to respond, but she knew he was right, so she decided to ignore the comment. “Can I see the papers?”

“Sure.” He pulled some folded documents out of his back pocket and handed them to her. “Sign this one, and our business is done.” He pointed to the line where she was to write her name.

Abby paused. This was all the money her mother had given her—money Jim didn’t know about. How would she be able to explain this?

She looked over at the bay-colored mare. The brown tones contrasted beautifully with the white socks on all four of her legs, and her sleek body structure was the making of a fine competitor.

“Second thoughts?” His tone was flat, not friendly, but not flippant either.

“No…I—”

“You can wait and come back another time and see if she’s still here.” He almost sounded sincere.

She looked up at him to see a confident smirk appear. She knew the lines and had heard every spiel. Jim was the master of horse-selling tactics.

“You know better.” There was something about him she didn’t trust, so she stuck the money back in her pocket. “And so do I.” He was getting a good deal, and Abby hoped she was too.

He grunted, amused, then conceded with a nod.

She signed the papers and kept her copy. “This way you’ll know I’ll be back,” she said. Abby took one more look at the filly. “Yeah, this is the one,” she whispered, and she walked out of the barn.

FIRST Wild Card Tours presents The Preacher’s Wife by Brandi Boddie

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Brandi Boddie
and the book:
The Preacher’s Wife
Realms (October 1, 2013)
***Special thanks to Althea Thompson for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Brandi holds a juris doctorate from Howard University School of Law and a BA in political science from Youngstown State University. Her love of writing and research has led her to work that includes case management for the Office of the Attorney General in Washington DC and teaching assignments for elementary and secondary students. When she is not working on a story, Brandi enjoys hiking, fencing, and swing dancing. She loves spending time with her family, which includes a cocker spaniel who aspires to be a food critic.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

During the hot, windy summer of 1870 in the burgeoning prairie town of Assurance, Kansas, Marissa Pierce is fed up with her abusive boss. She longs to start a new life and is growing weary of convincing townsfolk that she is most certainly not a prostitute.

Civil War veteran and preacher Rowe Winford arrives in town intent on leaving the tragic memories of his deceased family behind. Although Rowe has no plans to fall in love anytime soon, the plans of God rarely match those of man.

Faced with adversity and rejection from the town and Rowe’s family, can Marissa overcome her past, renew her faith, and experience the life of love that God has planned for her?

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Series: Brides of Assurance (Book 1)

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Realms (October 1, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1616388439

ISBN-13: 978-1616388430

***
MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

The Preachers wife is a really good historical fiction. The characters are wonderful, and with the twists and turns throughout the story each scene was more like real life events. Overall, this is a story of love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation through Christ. If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this book.

***
***

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter 1

July 1870, Kansas Plains

What did I get myself into? Rowe Winford carried his three large valises from the passenger train to the station wait area. He had arrived in Claywalk, Kansas, sooner than he expected. Then again, he had been daydreaming the entire trip, from the carriage ride in Richmond, Virginia, all the way west on the tracks of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.

So this was to be his new home, away from the war reformations, away from the bittersweet memories of his late wife, Josephine, and their stillborn son. The land seemed to engulf every living thing in its wide-ranging vastness. He felt like a tiny speck upon the face of the green, rolling earth.

“Over here, sir.” A tall, lean man in rugged canvas trousers, work shirt, and Stetson hat waved him over to the other side of the wait area. A small schooner and horse awaited him.

“Welcome to Kansas, Rev’ren.” The man’s white teeth flashed in his tanned face as he grinned. “We wouldn’t have expected you this early if you hadn’t sent that letter. I’m Dustin Sterling.” He stuck out his hand. “My friends call me Dusty. David Charlton sent me to come get you and take you to our lil’ town of Assurance down the road.”

Rowe shook his hand. It was rough with calluses. He guessed him to be a horseman or rancher of sorts. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dusty. My name is Rowe Winford, but how did you know I was the new minister?”

He pointed to Rowe’s overcoat and gray trousers. “Clothes don’t get that fancy in these parts. I knew you must be one of them city preachers back East.”

“Richmond.”

“Yep, I was right.” He picked up Rowe’s valises and hoisted them into the schooner. “Well, you’ll get used to this place soon enough, if you have the mind to.”

Dusty drove him away from the train station. The trip toward the “lil’ town of Assurance down the road” turned out to be more along the lines of sixty minutes. Rowe passed the time taking in the nearly treeless plains and the endless open sky. To his left and right he found himself surrounded in a sea of green grass.

“We just got rain last night, after a dry spell.” Dusty chatted amiably along the way about the land. “You have to watch out for the July wind.”

“Wind? There’s barely a breeze out.” As the words escaped Rowe’s lips, a sudden gust blew in his face. He grabbed hold of his hat before it flew from his head. “Where did that come from?” He coughed as the wind forced air down his throat.

Dusty chuckled. “Some say the devil’s in the wind. That’s how come it knocks you off your feet.”

“Well, as long as we can keep him in the wind and out of town, things should be alright.”

The wiry man cast him a wry glance. “’Fraid you might be getting here too late then, Rev’ren’. The devil’s come and set up shop in Assurance. And, sadly, business is sure boomin’.”

“What do you mean?”

Dusty shook his head. “There’s a saloon run by a businessman named Jason Garth. He can get a man to part with his wallet faster than a rattler strikes your heel. His girls help, with their short skirts and paid services.”

“You mean prostitution.”

Dusty shrugged. “I went to the dancehall before it got bad the last year or so. I haven’t been lately, but you’ll hear things. You’ll get your fill of gossip in Assurance.”

Rowe thought about the people who hired him. “What about the church? Haven’t they tried to put a stop to what the saloon is doing?”

“They grumble mostly. Folks here believe they shouldn’t sully their hands with the things of the world. Much easier to judge from a distance, I suspect, but I’m just a hired worker.”

“Aren’t you also a town citizen?”

He shook his head. “I’m all the way from San Antone. David Charlton hired me to tend his cattle, but I used to drive longhorns up here to the railroad.”

“Well, it sounds like the people of the church don’t want to confront corruption.”

The cowboy gave him another look. “Maybe that’s why they hired you.”

Rowe chewed on the inside of his jaw. His first position as head of a church. An apathetic one, from what Dusty implied. He could prove himself by going after the saloon and its seedy practices, but what would be harder, doing that or convincing the church to get their hands dirty along with him?

“Get thee clothed, heathen woman!” A man yelled down at her from the raised dais of the town square. “Thou art the scourge of this fine land, with your harlot’s garments!” He shook his fists.

“I’m not a harlot. I’m just a saloon and dancehall girl.” Words she had repeated all too often.

Marissa Pierce recognized the man as a traveling speaker, clutching his worn Bible to his chest. She hurried along the edge of the main road toward the bank, doing her best to hide her face from the disapproving looks from several of Assurance’s finest and upstanding populace.

They would be right to judge me if I was an evening lady, she thought. I wish they knew the truth.

She walked faster, adjusting her headpiece in a selfconscious attempt to push down the high feathers. Jason Garth, proprietor of the town’s only saloon, sent her out on a last-minute errand while she was getting dressed for the weekly Wednesday Night Revue. The money had to be deposited in the bank before it closed today, he stressed. Well, he could have let her know that earlier, before she changed into the tawdry costume!

More than a few men eyed her in her knee-length ruffled skirt and soft-soled dance boots peeking out from her coat. She knew a number of them as patrons. Those walking with wives, mothers, or another respectable woman had the presence of mind to avert their gazes.

“Have you no shame, lady of the night?” The orator cried in the profession’s flowery prose.

“More than you’ll ever know,” she muttered.

Marissa kept her back straight and face forward, tightly gripping the leather money satchel that held the saloon’s illbegotten earnings. Would that she could put a stop to the corruption and leave the shady establishment today, but soon she would be away from it all. Her saloon contract with Jason was about to end, and she had some money saved for room and board.

She considered her investment in a small share of the general goods store in Claywalk that was up for sale. If she received all the money due her, it would be enough to live off of until she found employment in the nearby town.

A rush of excitement surged through her as she contemplated a new life elsewhere. She would be free, in a respectable position where no one knew of her horrible past.

Marissa slowed her steps as a schooner rolled down the street. A dark-suited man seated atop peered about curiously, shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun.

“That must be our new preacher.” Linda Walsh, the town’s young seamstress, walked up beside Marissa. Always eager for conversation, Linda would speak to anyone who stopped to listen, as Marissa had learned since coming back to Assurance a couple years ago. “We weren’t expecting him for another two weeks. I wonder what made him take off from home so fast.”

Marissa groaned at the thought of meeting another preacher. Every preacher she came across had turned her away once they discovered her profession.

She watched the small schooner pull up to the local inn. She recognized the driver Dusty Sterling seated beside the other man. Dusty hopped down and tethered the horses. The man in black stepped onto the dusty curb. His recently polished boots gleamed.

“Fancy one, he is,” Linda continued. “I hear he comes from a city somewhere in Virginia.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“It was in the paper a month ago. Our advertisement for a new preacher was answered from a man back East.”

Marissa focused again on what was in front of her. The traveler indeed looked foreign to the prairie. Not a hint of travel dust stuck to his long, black frock coat and four-inhand necktie, probably changed into just before departing the train. His gray pants were new and expertly tailored. He removed his hat briefly to wipe his brow, and Marissa saw the dark, wavy hair cropped close to his head.

“He doesn’t have a wife or children with him. Such a shame.” Linda clucked her tongue. “He’s a handsome fellow, for certain.”

Marissa agreed with her on that. He must have stood over six feet tall, with broad shoulders and a powerful build. The man’s profile was strong and rigid, his square jaw and straight nose a true delight for the eyes. Assurance’s former preacher, Reverend Thomas, did not look like this.

“Would having a wife and children make him a better preacher?”

Linda tossed her a look. “That’s got nothing to do with it. One ought to be settled down at a certain age, wouldn’t you say so? Instead of running wild with the barmen?”

Marissa absorbed the sting of emotional pain. Anything she said in response would not sway Linda or anyone else’s notion that she was just a beer-serving streetwalker. She put on a polite stoic face. “I’m sure the ladies of this town will clamor for his attention. Will you excuse me, Miss Linda? I should be going.”

She left the seamstress just as Dusty carried the new preacher’s valises inside the inn. The preacher moved to follow then stopped short, pausing for Marissa to walk past. Marissa saw his blue eyes widen and take in her entire form, from the feathered hat on her head to the dainty-heeled boots on her feet. By his expression she didn’t know whether he admired or disapproved.

His lips settled into a firm line of what looked to be distaste, and she got her answer.

The preacher hadn’t been there for an hour and already she drew out his scorn. Marissa returned the stare until her image of him blurred with beckoning tears.

He jolted from his perusal. His low, straight brows flicked. “Good day to you, ma’am.” He amiably tipped his hat to her.

She paused, not used to being addressed in that fashion. Kindness was in his greeting, not the sarcasm she normally heard from others. Marissa tilted her head to get a clear look at him. His eyes were friendly, calm deep pools. The rest of his face, with its strong, angular lines, remained cordial.

“Good day,” she replied, hoarse. Awkwardness seized her person. Marissa hastily continued on her way to the bank.

Rowe stared after the brightly costumed woman, not noticing Dusty come from the inn until he stood in front of him, blocking the view.

“Your cabin by the lake is still bein’ cleared. The Charltons will pay for your stay here since they don’t have room at the farmhouse.”

“That’s kind of them, Dusty. Who is that saloon woman? I hoped she didn’t think me impertinent for stepping in her path.”

Dusty squinted in the distance. “Oh, Arrow Missy? She’s a dancer down at Jason’s.”

Dancer. That explained the light-stepping gait. “Why do you call her that?”

“She’s got a sharp tongue and even sharper aim with the drinks. That is, before I stopped going there.” Dusty scratched his chin.

“I think I upset her. She looked sad.” Rowe studied her shrinking form as she went inside the bank. She was a lovely young woman, tall and raven-haired. Her features carried an exotic lilt. He guessed her to be in her early twenties.

If he wasn’t the one who caused her to be upset, then what made the tears brim in her eyes?

“You carrying that last bag in, or you want me to do it?”

Rowe picked up his valise. “I’ve got it, Dusty.” He went inside the inn, glancing one more time in the direction of the bank, his mind still on the melancholy woman with the dancing boots.

First Wild Card Tours presents…..Journey’s End by Dora Hiers

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Dora Hiers
and the book:
Journey’s End
White Rose Publishing (May 20, 2011)
***Special thanks to Dora Hiers for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

After a successful auditing career, Dora left the corporate world to be a stay-at-home mom to her two sons. When her youngest son didn’t want her hanging out at school with him anymore, Dora started writing Heart Racing, God-Gracing romance. Dora belongs to the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Carolina Christian Writers. Dora and her husband, her real life hero, make their home in North Carolina.

When Dora isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, family gatherings, and mountain cabin getaways. She despises traffic, bad coffee, technological meltdowns, and a sad ending to a book. Her books always end with a happily-ever-after!

Readers can connect with Dora:

Website – www.dorahiers.com

Email – Dora(at)DoraHiers(dot)com

Blogs – http://seriouslywrite.blogspot.com/ & http://dorahiers.blogspot.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/dorahiers

Twitter – https://twitter.com/DoraHiers

Pinterest – http://pinterest.com/dorahiers/boards/

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Devastated after the brutal murder of her husband, Chelsea Hammond vows never to love another lawman.Intent on rebuilding her shattered life, she turns her focus to helping troubled teens. But when an angry father bent on retaliation, threatens her, Chelsea must turn to the one man she never thought to trust: Deputy U.S. Marshal Trey Colten.

Trey wants only to protect Chelsea, but she blames him for her husband’s death. Trey can relate. He blames himself, also. As danger lurks, Trey begs Chelsea to heed his warnings. He let down one Hammond. He won’t let down another—especially one who now holds his heart.

When Chelsea is snatched from her home, can she put aside her fear, and trust Trey with her life? Can she forgive him for destroying her past and let him help to rebuild her future?

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 232 pages

Publisher: White Rose Publishing (May 20, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1611160804

ISBN-13: 978-1611160802

 

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

Will have my review up asap when I finish the book. I will email the link to you Dora!

 

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The mystery man with haunted eyes was back.Chelsea Hammond placed the lawn chairs next to the cooler in the trunk, but kept her eyes on the man. He stood alone, farther up the hill, tucked under some towering maple trees. Far enough away that she couldn’t make out all his features, but close enough for Chelsea to glimpse his pain. The slight slumping of his expansive shoulders; the hands clenched at his sides; the haunted eyes that stared out into the distance when he removed his sunglasses; the lips set in a straight, hard line.

And the words “Deputy U.S. Marshal” that blazed from the front of his polo shirt. It had taken her three years, but this year she determined to talk to him, to rid her dreams of those haunted eyes. To hear his story. To offer closure if his version somehow connected to hers.

Chelsea closed the trunk of the old Cadillac and turned to her in-laws. “There you go, Henry. You’re all set.”

“Thank you, dear. We appreciate you lugging those lawn chairs for us.” Henry opened the door for his wife while she wrestled to get into the car, sweat beading on her upper lip. Henry and Stella always made a day of it when they visited their two sons.

“You’re welcome. You take it easy going home.” Chelsea peered overhead at the steely gray clouds, swirling into angry puffs. “Looks like a storm is brewing.”

Henry followed her gaze, then turned to look at her. “Oh, we will, dear. We don’t have far to go. Will we see you next year?”

Her stomach lurched. She couldn’t let Doug’s elderly parents face this day alone. Besides, where else would she be on the anniversary of her husband’s death? “Same time, same place, Henry.” Chelsea smiled and leaned into the car to give Stella a peck on her moist cheek. “Bye, Stella.”

Chelsea straightened and Henry wrapped his frail arms around her for a hug. “Glad to see you with a smile on your face this year.”

She slipped away from his embrace, blinking, until Henry started the engine. The giant sedan glided away, their hands flapping through the open windows. She lifted her hand in return, the smile still firmly planted across her lips. Henry was right. This was the first year she hadn’t cried on his shoulder.

Thunder rumbled across the sky, and she jumped, feeling the echo vibrate against the ground. Fat raindrops splashed against her bare legs.

She glanced up the hill. The mystery man was gone.

Disappointment sliced through her chest. Maybe next year.

Chelsea hurried toward her truck and dived in through the open door. Now she wished she’d taken the time to change from her sundress into jeans after the graduation ceremony this morning.

She exited the memorial gardens and headed south on the interstate toward Charlotte. Dark gray clouds dumped rain from the sky, but even the stormy skies couldn’t dampen her spirits. Her sunglasses and an unopened tissue box sat on the seat next to her. She dared a glance in the rear-view mirror. Nope. Not bloodshot. Wonder blossomed in her chest.

Life was turning around. Finally.

She hunched forward and strained to see, the windshield wipers swishing at their maximum speed, her white knuckles gripping the steering wheel. She slowed down to exit the interstate and released a pent-up breath.

She pulled to a stop in front of the barn and cut the engine. Two streaks of lightning pierced the sky, snapping into electrical balls a few feet away. She sucked in a deep breath and pulled the keys from the ignition, chuckling at her shaky hands.

Thunder couldn’t be too far behind.

One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three. A long crack of thunder boomed through the silence, the ground trembling in its wake.

Whew. That was close.

Chelsea waited, peering through the rain pelting the windshield, feeling the truck sway with the heavy winds. She didn’t want to go out in this, but she had to check on Molly. Kalyn, her live-in housekeeper, had fed the fawn earlier but Chelsea wanted to settle her in for the night. Besides, this rain didn’t appear to be lessening. She couldn’t stay in the truck all night.

She glanced to the passenger seat, deciding to leave her purse in the truck for now. She reached under the seat for the umbrella. She couldn’t use it now, but maybe the rain would dwindle enough where she could use it from the barn to the house. She slipped her sandals off. No need to ruin them.

Jerking the door open, she bolted for the barn, gripping her sundress, the wind all but whipping it over her head. Good thing it was just her and Kalyn out here.

She reached the barn and screeched to a halt, digging toes in the wet grass. The door stood slightly ajar. Alarm snaked up and down Chelsea’s spine. Hadn’t she closed it when she left this morning? She knew she had. She’d been worried about Molly roaming around, so she’d locked her up in a stall. A baby deer without a mama was easy prey.

Chelsea shook her head. Enough. Wondering wasn’t keeping her dry. She slid the barn door open the rest of the way and stepped inside. Mustiness and humidity slammed her in the face, along with the comfortable smells of leather and hay. Chelsea flipped on the light switch, but nothing happened.

She squeezed back the apprehension that rippled through her chest. The storm had clearly knocked out the power; she’d seen the fireballs.

Water rolled down the middle of her back. She shook her head, bouncing wet curls to get some of the water off, then gathered long hair in her hands and squeezed. That would have to do until she got inside where she had access to a dry towel. She shivered and rubbed her upper arms to generate some warmth.

Her eyes adjusted to the darkness. OK, so the barn smelled normal, but something didn’t feel right. Chelsea scanned the cool interior. The riding lawn mower and a few garden tools. Some extra straw for Molly’s stall. Looked about the same as it did every other day.

She was acting like a baby. She needed to get over it. Kalyn had probably come out to feed Molly, then left the door open. End of story.

Chelsea gritted her teeth and pushed shoulders back. She wasn’t scared. She couldn’t be. When Journey’s End opened next week, a bunch of teenagers would look to her as a role model for strength and courage. Teenagers could sense cowardice. They wouldn’t see it in her. No way.

Rain pummeled the barn roof. The wind howled, screaming through the open door of the barn and hurling straw pieces from one wall to the other. Another deafening crack of thunder boomed outside. She jumped, a nervous giggle escaping from her throat.

So, maybe she was just a little scared. She’d feel better if she were inside the house sipping a cup of coffee. Something to warm up her insides.

She would check on Molly. Get inside and dry off. Then whip up the latest recipe for apple pie that she’d been dying to try. Oh yeah. She grinned. Sounded good.

With quick steps, she headed toward Molly’s stall and pulled the latch to open the gate.

A streak of lightning flashed from the open door, lighting up the inside of the barn, and she turned to look outside. Blinded, Chelsea blinked and waited for her eyes to readjust, expecting to see Molly cowering in the corner.

But she didn’t. Molly snuggled comfortably next to something.

Someone?

Chelsea gasped, hearing the wild pounding of her pulse over the rain hammering on the roof.

A pencil-thin teenager scrambled to his knees, grabbing something from the straw next to him. Drool oozed from his open mouth, and straw poked out of his black hair. With sleepy brown eyes, he crouched on one knee and brandished a pitch fork at her like it was a rifle. “Don’t co-come any cl-closer.”

Chelsea did what any rational female would have done under the circumstances.

She screamed and threw hands in the air, the umbrella banging against her forearm.

He frowned and shook his head. “I…I’m not go-going to hurt you, lady.”  Squeaky Voice said. He brushed the lone tear sliding down one cheek with his shirt sleeve. “I wouldn’t.”

“I believe you.” Chelsea took a step closer. The umbrella zinged open. Whoosh.

Chelsea rolled her eyes to the open umbrella, then back to the teenager.

Surprise distorted Squeaky Voice’s face until he dropped the pitchfork to the straw and doubled over, laughing. He laughed like he couldn’t imagine a tomorrow, like he couldn’t bear to look at yesterday, like he didn’t want to face today. Tears streamed down his face.

She knew that laugh. Recognized the tears.

Shock.

She needed to get him inside and assess the situation. She lowered her hands, slow and easy, and tossed the umbrella into the corner of the stall. She held out a hand with more confidence than she felt. “I’m Chelsea Hammond. Welcome to Journey’s End.”

He waited a few beats before standing up to his full six foot plus height. In what seemed like slow motion, his hand slid into hers. “I’m Jacob Carpocelli.”

Her stomach threatened to give up the hamburger she had devoured on the drive home. The stall started to spin. She reached out with a hand to steady herself against the door. Maybe she was the one who would need medical attention. “Did you say Jacob Carpocelli?”

He nodded while his face blanched, almost like he didn’t want to be known by his last name. She could understand that. Jacob tugged his hand away from her wet, slimy one and stepped back. “Jacob’s my real name, but I just go by Jake.”

“Jake?” Was that harsh whisper her voice?

Tony Carpocelli’s son?

God, why would you do this to me?

OK. Maybe she wasn’t so ready for closure after all.

****

It wasn’t too late to turn around.

Yeah, well, maybe it wasn’t too late to turn around, but he wouldn’t have a job to turn around to. His boss had made that clear.

Trey Colten spotted the end of the snaking road and blew out a long breath. “Looks like we’re here. I don’t see any signs for the shelter, but this is the right address.”

Renner Crossman, his partner, glanced up from studying the case file and looked at him, sympathy oozing from his face. “Sorry about what happened with the chief, buddy.”

“Yeah.” Trey’s hands clenched the steering wheel. He turned into the clearing used for parking, pulling the Suburban to a stop in front of a house tucked deep in the middle of a forest. Hundreds of chirping birds drowned out any noise that might otherwise have filtered through the trees, like the neighbor’s dog from two miles back that ran back and forth barking at their car. Good ol’ Nowhere, USA.

The chugging of a lawn mower sounded nearby although they couldn’t see it.

Hammond’s widow?

Trey’s gut churned, and he reached in the center console for his roll of antacids, popping one into his mouth with a loud sigh. “Tell me again how Carpocelli’s kid found this place.”

“Chelsea Hammond’s brother.”

“Her brother?”

“Yeah, indirectly. It says here that”—Renner flipped the page in the folder to read the notes—“Chelsea’s brother is the resource officer at Jake’s school.”

“Chelsea’s brother sent him here?” Trey frowned. What kind of brother would send trouble to his sister in the form of Jake Carpocelli? Trey might go looking for her brother when he got back to Raleigh. Sit down and have a friendly little chat with him. Instruct him on the do’s and don’ts of brotherhood. Do not send a kid related to the mob to your sister’s house.

“No. Her brother didn’t send him here.”

Trey rolled his eyes and opened his door, his legs not cooperating. “So if Chelsea’s brother didn’t send Jake…”

“Jake was chatting with the resource officer in his office. The officer was called out for a fight.”

“Let me guess. He left Jake sitting in his office while he took care of business?”

“Yep. Chelsea’s advertising fliers were on his desk.”

“Ah. Pretty slick kid.” Trey still wanted that chat with the brother. It was due to his negligence that Carpocelli’s kid had landed here. That burned his gut. He popped another antacid in his mouth before stuffing the roll in his pocket.

Renner grinned and opened his door wide. “Let’s go, cowboy. Home sweet home.”

Trey glared at his partner. Renner’s joking manner only set him further on edge. Didn’t he know who they were up against? Tony Carpocelli? He wouldn’t put anything past that scum. His drug money would buy anything. Or anybody. Trey knew not to trust Carpocelli, even if Carpocelli was locked up, but nobody else seemed inclined to take Trey seriously.

“Maybe it’s time for a new partner.”

Renner scoffed. “Yeah, right. Nobody else will put up with you like I do.”

“I think it’s the other way around.”

Renner threw his head back and laughed. “Could be. But after your conversation with the chief this morning, I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon.”

Trey gritted his teeth and forced his legs out of the car. “Don’t remind me. I should have tendered my resignation. While I still had a job.”

Renner walked around the car to join him, his dark eyebrows raised. “Meaning you won’t have one after this is over?”

“You never know.” Trey mumbled, looking away from the troubled eyes of his partner to scan the yard.

Two other agents were staged at vantage points around the perimeter, but this area was his worry. He wanted to make sure he knew what he was up against before trouble came knocking. And he was fairly sure it would. It was just a matter of time.

His eyes settled on the wrap-around front porch. Water gurgled softly down the side of a ceramic pot. Giant green ferns swayed gently in the breeze. Rocking chairs, Adirondacks and a swinging bench beckoned visitors to step onto the porch, to relax and embrace the solitude, the serenity.

He took a deep breath, appreciating the scent of freshly mowed grass.

This place whispered peace, quiet, and tranquility. He could see how it would be a beacon to a troubled soul. His lips twisted in a grimace. Too bad it had to attract the likes of Carpocelli’s son.

Most of the time Trey liked kids. But this was Carpocelli’s son. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that the chief had given him responsibility for the widow.

Trey licked his dry lips.

“Nervous, buddy?” Renner said.

Trey shot him another annoyed glance. “Shove it, Renner.”

His gaze jerked back to the front door. Their trip from Raleigh had taken a little over two hours, but now it didn’t seem nearly long enough. With his eyes focused on the front door, he took the first step and willed his mind to cooperate. His boots felt weighted down with mud. Renner’s movement from behind forced him forward.

He licked his lips again. The widow Hammond would be standing in front of him in about four minutes.

Three years and he still wasn’t ready for this. How could he explain the knot in his stomach that grew tighter every time he heard the name Hammond? Like a sucker punch to the belly that produced more pain with every blow.

He had considered quitting after the chief refused to take him off this assignment, even up until he got in the car today. Days like this, he didn’t like his job. Where was the justice in all this?

He blinked and shook his head, hoping to clear his thoughts, to shake off this pathetic attitude. An attitude that could get him killed if he wasn’t careful.

He slowed his steps further, glanced back at Renner. How could he explain to his partner the sudden, urgent desire to…uh, take an extended vacation? Trey reached the end of the sidewalk and started up the steps. It wasn’t too late. They could be in the Suburban and out of here before anybody knew different. But where would they—?

“Looking for Journey’s End, gentlemen?”

That wasn’t good. She already caught him off guard, and he hadn’t even rung the doorbell. How was he ever going to focus on this assignment? He took a deep breath before turning around, hands fisted at his sides.

Renner pushed his back and propelled him forward, but Trey dug his heels in the ground a few feet away from the widow. He’d never seen her this close.

Chelsea Hammond’s simple beauty knocked the breath out of his lungs. Curly auburn locks cascaded gently onto a cream-colored shirt, and faded jeans graced gentle curves. Her lips formed a slight smile, and freckles peeked out from under a hint of makeup. A fawn nestled at her side, enhancing her sweetness and gentle aura.

Panic rippled through his chest at the war going on between guilt and attraction. His memories—and he hated to admit—his dreams hadn’t captured her essence. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but it definitely wasn’t the beauty standing in front of him.

Trey tipped his head forward in a slight nod. “Ma’am.”

“Good afternoon, gentlemen. I’m Chelsea Hammond. Welcome to Journey’s End.” She extended her hand, graceful, poised.

And him? He needed to get his act together before he lost his job. Reaching out to shake her hand required all of Trey’s willpower. “Trey Colten. Deputy U.S. Marshal.” Trey flashed his badge briefly, as he always did.

She tugged her hand from his grasp. Heart racing, he studied her through hooded lids, not wanting his eyes to mirror his own thoughts but wanting, no, needing, to know hers.

Trey tilted his head sideways to introduce Renner, never taking his eyes off Chelsea’s face. “And this is my partner, Renner Crossman.”

Renner shook hands with Chelsea and flashed his badge.

“Please forgive me, but may I take a closer look at your badges?”

“Sure.” Trey reached for Renner’s badge and handed both to Chelsea for closer identification. “We appreciate your caution. You’re tucked out here in the wilderness pretty far.” An understatement for sure. Two miles from her nearest neighbor? The chief had mentioned Chelsea installed a security system specifically designed for the shelter. He made a mental note to ask her about that later.

“Not so far out that Jake couldn’t find me, I guess.”

She had a point there. He caught her biting her lower lip while she studied the badges, and his stomach clenched. Did she recognize him from her husband’s graveside? He visited Hammond’s grave every year, around the same time as her, but he always stayed far enough away where she couldn’t recognize him.

Or maybe she recognized his name from the newspaper? He’d scoured the newspaper for weeks after Hammond’s death, relieved that the Marshal’s office hadn’t coughed up his name to the press.

She couldn’t possibly know him, could she?

Trey stuffed an antacid in his mouth, almost swallowed it whole.

She handed back their badges without a word, and he released the pressure that had been building in his lungs. “I believe you spoke with Joshua Hamilton, our Deputy Supervisor from the Raleigh office who worked out the details of our visit?”

Chelsea nodded.

“Would you mind if we continued this conversation inside?” The hair on the back of Trey’s neck stood on end. Standing outside, exposed, made him feel like a sitting duck. A big, open target, screaming, “Shoot me.”

Chelsea blinked and her eyes grew wide. “Oh, sure. I’m sorry. Come on in. Do you need me to call Jake in?”

“Let me guess. Jake’s the one mowing the lawn?” Renner’s voice expressed the disbelief that threatened to clog Trey’s arteries.

Jake, their key witness, was outside mowing the lawn? In broad daylight?

“Is there anything sweeter than a teenager mowing the lawn?” Summer and sunshine sparkled in Chelsea’s smile. She scooted passed him to wave at Jake, leaving the fawn lazing in the grass. The light scent of jasmine floated around Trey’s head.

Trey had anticipated other emotions from Chelsea. Like coldness. Anger. Contempt. Even had prepared himself for hatred. Those he could deal with, would actually make his job easier. But this sweetness and sugar? It would kill him. If one of Carpocelli’s thugs didn’t get to him first.

Trey waited while their witness, the one they were supposed to be protecting, rumbled over to Chelsea and cut the motor, casting a furtive glance in their direction. Chelsea spoke quietly to Jake before he hopped off the lawn mower. Trey didn’t miss the look that passed between them or the way she placed her hand protectively on Jake’s back while she led the way indoors.

Trey caught Renner’s raised eyebrows and his cocky grin before following Chelsea inside. Once inside the reception area, he allowed his eyes to wander. In the connecting room, sofas and recliners arranged in different settings throughout the massive area beckoned them to relax, and a 52-inch flat screen television played softly over a beautiful stone fireplace. He could imagine the flames frolicking quietly in the fireplace during the winter, adding a touch of warmth to the large room. Balls were racked on a nearby pool table, set and ready, inviting them to play.

Chelsea, still with her hand against Jake’s back, propelled them around, her quiet spirit a healing balm. No wonder Jake had found his way to Journey’s End.

Maybe there were some perks to staying here after all.

Something about Jake’s profile blasted through Trey’s consciousness, reminding him of Carpocelli. Did Chelsea know who this kid was? Did she know that Jake’s last name was Carpocelli? As in Tony Carpocelli’s son? Tony Carpocelli, the murderer who killed her husband? Why hadn’t they thought of asking the chief that important detail?

OK, go with the flow. No sense in giving away Jake’s last name or trying to fabricate one at the last minute. He would never be able to keep up with the lie. All the lies.

He could hardly live with the truth.

Trey stuck out his hand. “I’m Trey Colten, and this is Renner Crossman. We’re from the U.S. Marshal’s office. You must be Jake.”

“Yeah.” The kid squawked, sliding his sweaty palm into Trey’s. Dressed in slim-fitting jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt, Jake didn’t come across as a wealthy fourteen year old. All the money in the world couldn’t help the kid now. He was scared to death. Scared of them? Or retaliation from his father?

Trey would find out eventually. “Jake, I’m sorry about your mother.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” The kid swiped at his eyes with the back of his arm.

Trey turned his head away to give Jake a chance to pull himself together. “We’ll need to sit down and talk with you for a few minutes. Ask you a few questions about what happened and discuss the schedule for the next few weeks.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Another squawk.

“You guys can make yourselves comfortable in here.” Chelsea led them to the seating area in front of the fireplace and then disappeared. Trey sank down into one of the leather recliners and closed his eyes for a moment.

He opened his eyes to see Jake settle on the couch, his white knuckles gripping the arm, while Renner plunked down in the other recliner.

Trey leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He didn’t want to be too comfortable. He had a job to do. “You’ll be spending most of your time with Agent Crossman.”

Renner grinned at the kid. “Just call me plain old Renner.”

“And you can call me Trey.”

“OK.”

So far so good. “Do you have any specific questions we might be able to answer right now?”

“Do you guys know when my mom’s funeral is?”

O-K. That didn’t take long to go south. Trey glanced at Renner, hoping he might want to field that question.

Renner took the bait. “It’s planned for Monday at two.”

“Will I be able to go?” Hopeful brown eyes flicked warily from him to Renner, scanning the two of them for the response he wanted.

Trey measured his answer. Let the kid think about the danger in going to the funeral. “Do you think that would be a wise thing to do?”

Jake’s eyes narrowed and filled. “I don’t care if it’s the wise thing to do. She’s my mom.”

Trey settled back in the recliner at Jake’s sudden hostility and reached for his roll of antacids. He popped one in his mouth.

Chelsea walked into the great room carrying a tray of glasses filled with ice and a full pitcher. She placed the tray on the coffee table and sat down on the couch next to Jake, glancing at the three of them as she poured. “Iced tea?”

“Sure, thanks.” Trey reached to take hold of the glass she offered, then watched Renner and Jake do the same.

Trey took a sip. Sweet, with just the right amount of sugar. Good stuff.

No one said anything. Chelsea looked up, an uncomfortable expression settling on her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude on this conversation.” She started to stand.

Jake stopped her with his free hand. He coughed and seemed to fight to keep control of his emotions. He wasn’t winning. “They’re trying to tell me that I can’t go to my mom’s funeral.” His voice faltered, then exploded, sorrow making his words sound angry. “My own mother’s funeral.”

Chelsea’s censure flitted from Trey to Renner, leaving both of them aware of how she felt. Mama bear.

“How could there be a problem with Jake attending his mother’s funeral?”

A problem? Couldn’t she see that attending the funeral would create just a tiny little problem? As in ambush? “You do realize Jake’s dad doesn’t work by himself? There’s probably six or seven guys waiting for word from him, happy to do his dirty work.”

He heard her soft intake of breath. So he scared her. Good. Now if he could only scare Jake. “Have either of you considered that Jake’s mom’s funeral would be the first place one—”

“Maybe you guys would like to freshen up? Give Jake a chance to catch his breath. I believe your rooms are ready.” Chelsea interrupted. She stood, pointing toward the stairwell. “If you’ll follow me—”

“We have a lot to go over and not much time—” Renner stopped her mid-sentence.

Chelsea flashed her teeth, something between a smile and a warning. “You’re at Journey’s End now. In our little corner of the world we have all the time we need. Right, Jake?”

FIRST Wild Card Tours presents….Ten Million Reasons by Heather Gray

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Heather Gray
and the book:
Ten Million Reasons
Astraea Press (July 25, 2013)
***Special thanks to Opal Campbell for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Aside from her long-standing love affair with coffee, Heather’s greatest joys in life are her relationship with her Savior, her family, and writing. Years ago, she decided it would be better to laugh than yell. Heather carries that theme over into her writing where she strives to create characters that experience both the highs and lows of life and, through it all, find a way to love God, embrace each day, and laugh out loud right along with her.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Money talks, and the way she spends hers tells him all he needs to know…

Richard needs to find a woman he can trust, and he needs to find her fast. He doesn’t have time to waste on getting to know people, which means dating and interviewing are out of the question. So how can he get past that initial mask of good behavior to learn what people are really like? Easy! Give them ten million dollars and watch to see what they do with it.

Genevieve is a free-lance journalist who talks to herself, constantly forgets to put appointments on her calendar and can’t go anywhere without being asked to take a survey. Why on earth is Richard interested in her? She doesn’t know it yet, but he has ten million reasons…

Product Details:

List Price: $1.99

Ebook: 123 pages

Publisher: Astraea Press (July 25, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: B00E5TLMV8

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter OneHow do I always let myself get sucked into these things? Genevieve Mason sat at her own little private booth in a large room with at least a dozen other people. The clock on the wall ticked loudly, reminding her this was not where she was supposed to be. For some reason she’d never understood, Genevieve had difficulty saying no to surveyors. She invariably felt sorry for the ones who had to stand out in the walkway of the mall trying to entice complete strangers into their offices to take the silly things. While she didn’t generally mind completing a survey, she simply didn’t have the time today. Yet, here I am. Taking a survey. When will I ever get a backbone about these things?A tall, model-thin woman, with straight blonde hair and professionally done eyebrows, clapped her hands twice. “Alright ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming in today. I am going to explain what you need to do, and then I will answer any questions you have. The project should only take about an hour of your time, and you will each be compensated with a twenty-five dollar mall gift card. You can use your gift card at any retailer, including the food court.” The woman, who would doubtless look less severe if her eyebrows weren’t quite so brutally perfect, paused briefly before launching into what sounded like a well-rehearsed speech by a drill sergeant.

I wonder what she pays to get her eyebrows done. Surveying must be more lucrative than I thought.

“Today you will receive a windfall.” People gasped in surprise, but Genevieve wasn’t biting. She’d been through too many of these to get pulled in with a line like that. “You will be given a hypothetical amount of ten million dollars,” the woman continued, speaking over the disappointed sighs of some of Genevieve’s comrades-in-arms, “to spend any way you wish.”

Tapping her foot loudly, the woman who Genevieve had begun to think of as Model-Talker stared around the room until everyone was quiet. Then, continuing her speech, she said, “There is a computer screen in front of you with two columns. In the left column, you will give a description of how you are spending your money. On the right of the screen, you will enter the amount you wish to spend. You will see a tally at the bottom. The tally is keeping track of how much you have spent. When you get to ten million dollars, stop and raise your hand. I, or one of my assistants, will submit your entry and see that you receive your gift card.”

Arms raised all around the room as people began to have questions. Model-Talker held up her hand to halt people’s inquiries and added, “Let me give you a couple of guidelines first. Then I will answer your questions. Your survey will be assigned a coded number. When you are done, you will complete a form with your name and contact information in case we have questions at a later date. Your name will never appear on your survey. The information you enter will not be shared with any other companies and will only be reviewed by one other individual in addition to myself.”

Genevieve wondered how efficiently their survey data could be processed if only two people would see it. Reining her wandering thoughts in, she listened to the rest of Model-Talker’s speech. Talk faster! Some of us need to get somewhere.

“The items you wish to spend your money on have to be items you can purchase in a single day. You cannot spend any of your pretend money on buying a house, for example, because the paperwork and closing for a house take several days. While you can invest money in the stock market or a CD, you cannot open a trust fund because the legalities of opening a trust generally take more than a single day.” Three quarters of the hands in the room went down.

“Any questions?” Model-Talker’s chilly, businesslike voice and expression shamed the remaining people into putting their hands down.

For crying out loud, lady! It’s not as if you’re going to get the plague by answering a question. Genevieve stifled her laughter. She didn’t want to cause Model-Talker’s gaze to zero in on her.

“Alright, everyone. You have one hour to complete the exercise. Begin.”

Genevieve began typing away on her keyboard, entering totals, as she thought about all the ways she could spend the money. Ten million dollars… She wasn’t ever likely to have that kind of money, but it was sort of fun to think about.

Within five minutes, a short woman, muscular and dressed like a construction worker, raised her hand to indicate she was done. Genevieve wouldn’t have noticed except that Model-Talker tsked as the woman left the room. Once some of the other people saw how quickly it could be done, they began finishing hastily, too.

They’re probably dumping it all into a savings account or the stock market. Why wasn’t I born with that kind of cavalier attitude?

She, however, wanted to give careful thought to her expenditures. In order for the results to have any value, she needed to answer honestly. Although, at the rate the other people are leaving, I’d say the data compiled from today will be good and skewed.

Despite her best efforts to ignore it, the repeated ker-thunk of the door opening and closing demanded her attention. They obviously haven’t heard the honesty-in-testing lecture enough times. As she watched the next couple of people leave the room, something struck her.

They’re all women. There’s not a single man in this room. Maybe it’s a study into the female psyche. She was sure she’d heard Model-Talker say “ladies and gentlemen.”

Thinking about the lunch date waiting for her, Genevieve swiftly typed in her remaining entries and watched the tally at the bottom of the screen climb. When she got to nine million five hundred thousand dollars she sighed. Who’d have thought I’d have so much trouble spending money? What can I lavish half a million dollars on? Finally struck with inspiration, she entered her final imaginary expenditure and raised her hand. She completed the paperwork and left the room, casting one last pitying glance at the three remaining women who continued to studiously peck at their keyboards.

****

Genevieve sprinted the last twenty yards or so to the food court hoping her date hadn’t left. She clipped a stranger in the side with her shoulder, yelled an, “I’m sorry!” over her shoulder, and continued on her path. Zipping around the corner, she found herself confronted with an overcrowded food court, people spilling over everywhere she looked. How am I supposed to find him?

“Aunt Gen, over here!” Genevieve turned her head this way and that until she saw her nephew waving his hands wildly over his head in a far back corner of the food court.

Relief coursed through her. Thank goodness! She’d been worried he would think she’d stood him up. Poor guy had enough trouble in his life. He didn’t need another reason to be disappointed in those he loved.

“I’m late, aren’t I?” she asked, the sound of her words shaped by her winded voice.

Max laughed at her. “Aunt Gen, you’re always late.”

“Will you ever forgive me?”

“Buy me lunch, and I’ll think about it,” her fifteen-year-old nephew said with a twinkle in his golden brown eyes.

Sliding two twenties across the table to her nephew, Genevieve said, “You know what I like. Get whatever you want. You deserve it for braving the masses to order.” As her nephew jumped over the handrail behind their table and began maneuvering his way in and out of the different lines, Genevieve sat back and closed her eyes.

Thank you for keeping Max here until I arrived. It was a small but heartfelt prayer.

She opened her eyes, looked around at the crowd and caught a glimpse of herself in the large mirror along the back wall of the food court. Why do they insist on using mirrors to make it look like there’s more seating – and more people – than there actually is? She didn’t care to spy on other people while they ate and instead studied her own reflection. Genevieve scrutinized her large green eyes and fair complexion. She had curly hair that her family insisted on calling red even though she always wrote auburn whenever she had to enter the color on a form. It was shoulder-length but tended to stand out away from her head rather than lying down gracefully. I certainly don’t need any of that shampoo advertised to add body! In a family of Irish-Italian descent, she was the only one that actually looked Irish. Everyone else had been born with the requisite bronzed skin and black hair of their Italian heritage.

She sought out Max in the mirror. He stood in line waiting for the slow progression of customers to move him forward so he could place his order. Max looked more like her father, his grandfather, with each passing year. He’s too handsome for his own good. It won’t be long before he realizes how much the girls notice him. Max spent much of his time seeking approval from his family; enough in fact, that he hadn’t yet detected the way the fairer sex was always trying to get his attention. If he has seen it, he certainly hasn’t let on about it.

Genevieve’s sister had divorced three years ago. Max had been twelve at the time, his sister Jenny fourteen. Jenny had fared better in the divorce. She saw her dad a couple times each month, and he doted on her, buying her all the pretty things she wanted. That was his way of making up for his absence, and she was okay with that. Sadly, Max had been much more wounded. He hadn’t wanted the latest toys and gadgets. Instead, he had wanted time, and his dad hadn’t been willing — or perhaps able – to supply it. At an age when he was growing from boy to man, he’d essentially lost the one person who was supposed to be most qualified to help him understand what it meant to be a man.

Maureen, Genevieve’s sister, had done her best, but the divorce had forced her to change jobs in order to support her kids. Instead of working part-time and being home in the afternoons, she now worked fifty or more hours each week and hardly saw her kids at all. Genevieve had always been close to her nieces and nephews, but after the divorce, she went out of her way to try to spend time with Jenny and Max. She and Max did lunch at the mall every other week. She and Jenny got mani-pedis together. It seemed like the least she could do. It sure beats spending good money to get my eyebrows tortured when I can do that at home free of charge!

“You know, Aunt Gen, you’ve never once been on time to lunch.” Max was still laughing at her as he set the food down.

Snagging one of his egg rolls and putting it on her own plate, she said, “What makes you say such a mean thing to your dear old auntie?”

“You were worried I’d think you’d blown me off. I could see it on your face when you came round the corner.”

Genevieve shrugged. “Okay, so I was worried. Sue me.”

“You’ve never stood me up. Until you do, I’ll always believe you’re coming.”

Warmth moved through her middle, but it had an icy edge to it. Genevieve was both touched by Max’s words and saddened that he’d had enough experience with his parents in the past few years to know what it felt like to be stood up. His dad wasn’t the only one who hadn’t always been there for his son. There had been more than one sporting event in recent years where she’d been Max’s entire cheering squad. She always saved a seat for her sister, but the seat was rarely ever filled. Max deserved better, but as Maureen often pointed out to her, Genevieve didn’t know how hard it was to be a single mom working to support two teenagers.

Max and Genevieve ate lunch, swapped funny stories from their week, and discussed schedules for the upcoming month. He had decided to try out for the cross-country team.

“I don’t stand a chance, but I want to try.”

“Why? Running is so boring.”

“You run.”

“Yeah, but only because it’s slightly less monotonous than sitting at the computer when I have writer’s block.”

“The practices are long, and they’re in the afternoons when Mom’s usually working, so this will give me something to do. I get bored killing time at home so much. It’s dull there now that Jenny got a job and is gone all the time.”

“How does she like her job?” Genevieve asked, with interest.

“I don’t know about the job, but she sure does like the money,” Max answered, waggling his eyebrows comically.

Ah, to be a teenager with the simple worries of acne medication and a pretty dress. Then Genevieve corrected herself. And divorce. Don’t forget that simple worry.

“So why were you late today?” Max asked.

“You’d never believe me if I told you,” she answered.

“Try me.”

Rolling her eyes, Genevieve answered, “I got sucked into another survey.”

Max almost spit chow mein at her as he laughed. “You have got to be kidding me! Can you even walk through the mall without taking a survey?”

Trying not to laugh, Genevieve crumbled a napkin to throw at her nephew. “I got a gift card out of this one.” Then, slapping the palm of her hand against her forehead, she said, “I should have used it to pay for lunch! What was I thinking?”

“You can use it next time.”

“Do you honestly think I’m going to remember that?” Her voice was filled with dry humor.

“No worries,” he said. “I’ll remind you.”

“What would I do without you, Max?”

“You’d be lost without me, Aunt Gen, and you know it.”

The two cleared their table, and then Genevieve linked her arm through Max’s as they began weaving their way through the crowd to head toward the front of the mall. “You know, Max, I think you might be right. I would be lost. Who else would know to buy himself an extra eggroll just so I could snag it?”

When they got to her car, Genevieve entered Max’s cross-country tryout into her phone’s calendar and told him, “I can’t promise, but I’ll do my best to be there.”

“It’s okay if you can’t make it.” His voice was rock solid. “I know it’s in the middle of the day.” Max, whose every emotion generally came out in the way he spoke, only sounded this steady when he was trying to mask something.

He doesn’t want me to know he’s disappointed.

“No, it’s not that,” Genevieve said. “You know how bad I am with dates. I need to double-check my desk calendar at home and make sure I don’t have something written down there that I forgot to put in my phone.” Staring at the device in her hand as if the calendar in it would magically give her an answer, she finally shook her head and said to Max. “I’ll text you the morning of to let you know for sure one way or the other, okay?”

Max nodded and said again, “No worries,” as he climbed into her car.

It was a beautiful day in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They drove with their windows down and, since Max was in control of the radio, their music blaring.

Genevieve dropped him off at home. Jenny was still at work, so she didn’t pop in to say “hi”. Instead, she headed back to her own home to try and get some work done.

She was bumping up against deadlines for articles with three different magazines. That’ll teach me to stay up all night reading a book! Releasing a deep sigh, Genevieve admitted to herself that she’d been putting off the articles because they’d all sounded so boring. I have got to start getting pickier about the assignments I accept. What’s the point of freelancing if I can’t stand any of the work I do? I’m not sure this even counts as freelancing anymore.

FIRST Wild Card Tours presents…..I, Saul by Jerry B. Jenkins

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Jerry B. Jenkins
and the book:
I, Saul
Worthy Publishing (August 27, 2013)
***Special thanks to Leeanna Case for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerry B. Jenkins is a New York Times best-selling novelist (Left Behind Series) and biographer (Billy Graham, Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, Orel Hershiser, Nolan Ryan, Joe Gibbs and many more), with over 70 million books sold. His writing has appeared in Time, Reader’s Digest, Parade, Guideposts, and he has been featured on the cover of Newsweek.
Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

A MURDERER who would change the WORLD

From multi-million copy best-selling novelist Jerry Jenkins comes a compelling international thriller that conveys you from present-day Texas to a dank Roman dungeon in A.D. 67, then down the dusty roads of ancient Israel, Asia, and back to Rome.

A young seminary professor, Augustine Knox, is drawn into a deadly race to save priceless parchments from antiquities thieves and discovers a two- thousand-year old connection with another who faced death for the sake of the truth. I, Saul consists of two riveting adventures in one, transporting you between the stories of Augustine Knox and Saul of Tarsus.

Filled with political intrigue, romance, and rich historical detail, I, Saul is a thrilling tale of loyal friendships tested by life-or-death quests, set two millennia apart, told by a master storyteller.

Product Details:

List Price: $24.99

Hardcover: 400 pages

Publisher: Worthy Publishing (August 27, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1617950068

ISBN-13: 978-1617950063

 

 

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

WOW! This is the most interesting book! The the two parallel stories going on in this book really keeps your attention! I enjoyed the  modern-day story of the  theology professor from Texas, but I was especially in awe of the Apostle Paul and how he was treated and how he lived in the final days in that Roman prison. Jerry Jenkins brings the story to life in a way that I could get a better understanding of just what Paul went through. He didn’t sugar coat it at all! How horrible of a life that Paul had. This precious saint of God, that loved and preached the Gospel! I have always thought of Paul being such a humble man, but I will think of him as being much more humble that I ever thought before. Jerry Jenkins has a way with words that surpasses anything we can imagine. While I was reading this, my mind kept going to my precious parents who are in Heaven. I wonder if they have met Paul and heard his story. I know this has nothing to do with the book, but I did think that many times as I was reading it. Praise the Lord that Paul is in Heaven with our Lord. And Praise him for his dedication to preaching the Gospel, no matter what happened to him. And thank you Jerry Jenkins for writing this book. I can’t wait for the next book!
I received this book from Worthy Publishing and FIRST WildCard Tours to read and review.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 55.

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Tor nT E x AS

W EDNESDAy, M Ay 7

“call now. desper8.”

The text appeared on Dr. Augie Knox’s phone at 8:55 a.m., seconds before he was to turn it off—protocol for profs entering a classroom at Arlington Theological Seminary.

Augie could have fired off a “give me a minute,” but the message was not signed and the sending number matched nothing in his contacts. The prefix 011-39-06 meant Rome. He’d traveled extensively in his thirty-eight years and enjoyed many visits to the Eternal City, but such a text could easily portend one of those I’ve-been-mugged-and-need- money scams. Whatever this was could wait until he got the Systematic Theology final exam started and could step into the hall with his phone.

Augie had long been fascinated by his students’ nervous chatter before
final exams. One announced, “I looked you up in Who’s Who, Doc, and I

know your full name.”

“Congratulations for discovering something you could have found in your student handbook four years ago.”

“No! That just says Dr. Augustine A. Knox! I found out what the A

stands for.”

“Good for you. Now, a few instructions . . .”

“Aquinas! Augustine Aquinas Knox! Man, what other career choice did you have?”

“Thank you for revealing the thorn in my flesh. If you must know, that moniker was my father’s idea.” Augie mimicked his dad’s monotone basso. “‘Names are important.They can determine a life’s course.’”

Many students chuckled, having sat under the elder Dr. Knox before he fell ill the year before.

“It also says you were adopted. Sorry, but it’s published.” “No secret,” Augie said.

Another hand shot up.“Was that a hint about the exam? Will we be speculating on Paul’s thorn in the flesh?”

“He’s only mentioned that mystery every class,” another said.

Augie held up a hand. “I trust you’re all prepared for any eventual-

ity.”
“So, what’s your dad’s name?”

“Ed!” someone called out. “Everybody knows that.” “Look it up,” Augie said. “You may find it revealing.”

With blue books distributed, Augie slipped out and turned on his

phone.The plea from Rome had already dropped to third on his message list. At the top was a voice mail from Dr. Moore, who had been filling in as acting department chair since Augie’s father had been hospitalized with a stroke.
Augie would have checked that one first, but next was a voice mail from Sofia Trikoupis, his heart. It was eight hours later in Athens, after five in the afternoon. “Call me at the end of your day,” her message said. “I’ll wait up.” It would be midnight her time by then, but she apparently needed his undivided attention. That would bug him all day. How he longed for them to be together.

His phone vibrated. Rome again. “urgent. call now, pls!” Augie pressed his lips together, thumbing in, “who’s this?” “trust me. begging.”

“not w/out knowing who u r.”

Augie waited more than a minute for a response, then snorted. As I

figured. But as he headed back into the classroom, his phone buzzed again. “zionist.”

Augie stopped, heat rising in his neck. He quickly tapped in, “90 minutes OK?”

“now! critical.”

Few people had been more important in Augie’s life than Roger Michaels, the diminutive fifty-year-old South African with a James Earl Jones voice and a gray beard that seemed to double the size of his pale, gnomish face. Augie would never lead a tour of an ancient city without Roger as the guide.

“2 mins,” Augie texted.

He rushed to his father’s old office, which still bore the senior Dr. Knox’s nameplate on the door. Augie knocked and pushed it open.“Les, I need a favor.”

Dr. Moore took his time looking up from his work. “Number one, Dr. Knox, I did not invite you in.”

“Sorry, but—”

“Number two, I have asked that you refer to me as Dr. Moore.”
“My bad again, but listen—”

“And number three,” the acting chair said, making a show of study- ing his watch, “we both know that at this very moment you are to be conducting—”

“Dr. Moore, I have an emergency call to make and I need you to stand in for me for a few minutes.”

Moore sighed and rose, reaching for his suit coat.“I know what that’s about.Take all the time you need.”

Augie followed him down the hall. “You do?” “You didn’t get my message?”

“Oh, no, sorry. I saw one was there, but I—”

“But you assumed other messages were more important. I said we needed to chat after your first exam.”

“Well, sure, I’ll be here.”

“Part of what we need to discuss is your father. Is that what your call is about?”

“What about my father?” “We’ll talk at ten.”

“But is he—”

“There have been developments, Dr. Knox. But he is still with us.” As Dr. Moore headed for the classroom, Augie ducked into a stair-

well, away from the windows and the relentless sun forecasters were saying would push the temperature at least twenty degrees above normal by 2:00 p.m., threatening the 107° record for the month.

Augie wasn’t getting enough signal strength to complete his call, so he hurried back out to the corridor. Cell coverage was still weak, so he stepped outside. It had to be near 90° already. Scalp burning, he listened as the number rang and rang.

Augie moved back inside for a minute, braced by the air condition-
ing, then ventured out to try again. He waited two minutes, tried once more, and felt he had to get back to class.

On a third attempt, as he neared the entrance, it was clear someone had picked up a receiver and hung up. Augie dialed twice more as he walked back to take over for Dr. Moore. Just before he reached the class- room, his phone came alive again with a text.

“sorry. later. trash ur phone. serious.”

Augie couldn’t make it compute. Had his phone been traced? Tapped? If he got a new one, how would Roger know how to reach him?

Dr. Moore stood just inside the classroom door and emerged imme- diately when he saw Augie. “Talk to your mother?” he said.

“No, should I?”

Moore sighed and opened his palms. “You interrupt my work and don’t check on your father?”

Augie reached for his cell again, but hesitated. If he used it, would he be exposing his mother’s phone too?

“Call her after we’ve talked, Dr. Knox. Now I really must get back to my own responsibilities.”

It was all Augie could do to sit still till the end of class. Before get- ting back to Dr. Moore, he dropped off the stack of blue books in his own office and used the landline to call his contact at Dallas Theolog- ical Seminary, just up the road. Arlington Sem sat equidistant between DTS to the east and the massive Southwestern Baptist Seminary to the west. Arlington was like the stepchild no one ever talked about, a single building for a couple of hundred students, struggling to stay alive in the shadows of those two renowned institutions.When Augie needed some- thing fast, he was more likely to get it from the competition. Such as a new phone.

Like his father before him, Augie was  the travel department at
Arlington. No auxiliary staff handled logistics as they did at DTS and Southwestern. The head techie at Dallas was Biff Dyer, a string bean of a man a few years older than Augie with an Adam’s apple that could apply for statehood. He could always be counted on to program Augie’s phone, depending on what country he was traveling to.

“Calling from your office phone, I see,” Biff said. “What happened to the cell I got you?”

“It’s been compromised.”

Biff chuckled. “Like you’d know.What makes you think so?” “I need a new one.Trust me.”

“I’ll just switch out the chip.You’re not gonna find a better phone. How soon you need it?”

“Fast as possible.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me? I’m not deliverin’ it. Can you come by during normal hours?”

There was a knock at Augie’s door and he wrenched around to see

Les Moore’s scowl. “Gotta go, Biff.”

“Sorry, Les. On my way right now. Or do you want to just meet here?” “Here would not be any more appropriate than your insisting on our being on a first-name basis,” Dr. Moore said, scanning the tiny chamber in which the guest chair was folded in a corner and brought out only

when necessary.

“C’mon, Les. You were only a couple years ahead of me. We hung out, didn’t we?”

“Hardly. You spent most of your free time in the gym with the—

what?—six other jocks who happened to enroll here.”

It was true. And everyone knew the library had been where to find

Les Moore.

Augie looked at his watch. Another final at 11. He followed his interim
boss back to his father’s old office. It wasn’t that much bigger than his, but at least the guest chair didn’t block the door.

“Would you start with my dad?” Augie said as he sat.

“I would have thought you’d have already checked in with your mother, but all right. She called this morning, knowing you were in class. Your father has slipped into a coma.”

Augie nodded slowly. “She okay?”

“Your mother? Sure. It’s not like he’s passed. She just thought you might want to visit this afternoon.”

“Appreciate it.”

“Now then, Dr. Knox, I have some paperwork here that I’m going to need you to sign. Frankly, it’s not pleasant, but we’re all expected to be team players and I’m going to assume you’ll accede to the adminis- tration’s wishes.”

“What’s up?”

“You’re scheduled to teach summer-school Homiletics beginning four days after commencement.”

“A week from today, right.”

“And we have contracted with you for this stipend, correct?”

Why Les felt it necessary to pencil the figure on the back of a business card and dramatically slide it across the desk, Augie could not fathom.

“Yep, that’s the fortune that’s going to let me retire by forty.”

“Um-hm. Humorous. It is my sad duty to ask you to agree to under- take the class for two-thirds that amount.”

“You’re serious.” “Always.”

That was for sure.

“Les—Dr. Moore, you know we do these classes pretty much as gifts to the sem. Now they seriously want us to do them for less?”
“This is entirely up to you.” “I can refuse?”

“We’re not going to force you to teach a class when we have to renege on our agreement.”

“Good, because I just don’t think I can do it for that.”

“I’ll report your decision. We’ll be forced to prevail upon a local adjunct instruct—”

“Like that youth pastor at Arlington Bible—” “He’s a graduate, Dr. Knox.”

“I know! I taught him. And he’s a great kid, but he didn’t do all that well in Homiletics, and there’s a reason they let him preach only a couple of times a year over there.”

“He’ll be happy to do it for this figure—probably even for less.” “And the students be hanged.”

Les cocked his head. “Naturally, we would prefer you . . .”

Augie reached for his pen and signaled with his fingers for the doc- ument.

“I’m glad I can count on you, Dr. Knox. Now, while we’re on the subject, I’m afraid there’s more.You were due for a four percent increase beginning with the fall trimester.”

“Let me guess, that’s not going to happen either.” “It’s worse.”

“What, now it’s a four percent decrease?” “I wish.”

“Oh, no.”

“Dr. Knox, we have seen an alarming downturn in admissions, and the administration is predicting a fall enrollment that puts us at less than breakeven, even with massive budget cuts.We’re all being asked to accept twenty percent reductions in pay.”
Augie slumped. “I was hoping to get married this fall, Les. I can barely afford the payments on my little house as it is.”

“This is across the board, Dr. Knox. The president, the deans, the chairs, all of us. Some departments are actually losing personnel. Mainte- nance will be cut in half, and we’ll all be expected to help out.”

Arlington had been staggering along on a shoestring for decades, but this was dire. “Tell me the truth, Dr. Moore. Is this the beginning of the end? Should I entertain the offers I’ve gotten from Dallas over the years?” “Oh, no! The trustees wish us to weather this storm, redouble our efforts to market our distinctives, and then more than make up for the pay cuts as soon as we’re able. Besides, the way your father bad-mouthed Dallas and Southwestern his whole career, you wouldn’t dream of insult-

ing him by going to either, would you?”

“He bad-mouthed everything and everybody, Les.You know that.” “Not a pleasant man. No offense.”

Augie shrugged. “You worked for him. I lived with him.”

“Do you know, I have heard not one word from your father since the day I was asked to temporarily assume his role? No counsel, no guidelines, no encouragement, nothing. I assumed he was angry that you had not been appointed—”

That made Augie laugh.“He still sees me as a high school kid! Forget all my degrees. Anyway, I wouldn’t want his job, or yours. It’s not me.”

“How well I know. I mean, I’m just saying, you’re not the typical prof, let alone department chair.”

“I’m not arguing.”

Augie couldn’t win. Despite having been at the top of his classes in college and seminary, his having been a high school jock and continu- ing to shoot hoops, play touch football, and follow pro sports made him an outsider among real academics.Too many times he had been asked if
he was merely a seminary prof because that was what his father wanted for him.

Dr. Moore slid the new employment agreement across the desk. “Sorry, Les, but this one I’m going to have to think and pray about.” The interim chair seemed to freeze. “Don’t take too long. If they

aren’t sure they can count on you for the fall, they’ll want to consider the many out-of-work professors who would be thrilled, in the current econ- omy, to accept.”

“Yeah, that would help. Stock the faculty with young assistant pas- tors.”

“May I hear from you by the end of the day?”

“Probably not, but you’ll be the first to know what I decide.”

Back in his own office, Augie popped the chip out of his cell phone and put it in a separate pocket. He called his mother from his desk phone to assure her he would see her at the hospital late in the afternoon, then called Biff to tell him he would try to stop by DTS on his way.

“What’s the big emergency?” Biff said.

“Roger Michaels has himself in some kind of trouble.” “Tell me when you get here.”

During his 11:00 a.m. final Augie was summoned to the administra- tive offices for an emergency call. On the way he stopped by to see if Les would stand in for him again, but his office was dark.The final would just have to be unsupervised for a few minutes.

“Do you know who’s calling?” he said to the girl who had fetched him. If it was his mother . . .

“Someone from Greece.”

He finally reached the phone and discovered it was Sofia. “Thought you wanted me to call later, babe.You all right?”

“Roger is frantic to reach you.”
“I know. He—”

“He gave me a new number and needs you to call right now, but not from your cell.” She read it to him.

“Any idea what’s going on, Sof ?” Augie said as he scribbled. “This is not like him.”

“No idea, but, Augie, he sounded petrified.” “That doesn’t sound like him either.”

“You can tell me what it’s about later, but you’d better call him right away.”

Augie rushed to his office and dialed the number in Rome. It rang six times before Roger picked up. “Augie?”

“Yes! What’s—”

“Listen carefully. I’ve got just seconds. I need you in Rome as soon as you can get here.”

“Rog, what’s happening? This is the absolute worst time for me to—” “Give Sofia your new cell number and text me your ETA. I’ll give

you a new number where you can call me from Fiumicino as soon as you get in.”

“I don’t know when I could get there, Rog. I’ve got—” “Augie! You know I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t life or death.”

First WildCard Tours presents Where Hope Starts by Angela D. Meyer

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Angela D. Meyer
and the book:
Where Hope Starts
CrossRiver Media Group (August 9, 2013)
***Special thanks to Angela Meyer for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Angela D. Meyer lives in Omaha, NE with her husband of  22 years. They have two children whom they homeschool – recently graduating their son. She has taught childrens’ Bible classes for over 35 years. She loves God, her family, the ocean, good stories, connecting with friends, taking pictures, quiet evenings and a good laugh. Someday she wants to ride in a hot air balloon and vacation by the sea. Where Hope Starts is Angela’s debut novel.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

From New York City to the suburbs of Kansas City, a marriage struggles through the fallout of secrets and addictions.

Eight years after saying I do, Barry raises his hand against Karen and she discovers his addiction to pornography bringing their marriage to the edge of destruction.

Karen returns to her childhood home near Kansas City, MO to think through her options, but discovers her first love ready to pick up where they left off so many years ago.

Still in New York City, Barry attempts to fix the mess he has made of his life and his marriage. His choices take him on a downward spiral that leads to brokenness and the possible loss of his freedom.

Will they find their way back to each other or will they walk away from the future God has for them?

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MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

Where Hope Starts is a love story gone bad. For the first six years, Barry and Karen’s marriage was awesome, but then Barry lost his job, and their relationship and everything else goes down hill from there. When Barry comes very close to hitting Karen for the second time, and Karen finds out about Barry’s porn addition, this was the last straw for Karen. She decides to go home to be with her dying mother. But then Karen and her family hadn’t seen each other for years, because of a situation, and Karen had no idea what that situation was. Will Karen have a chance to ask her mom what happened between them years ago? And can Barry and Karen patch their dysfunctional marriage together?

This is a wonderful read! I fell in love with the characters immediately. These characters drew me into the story in the first few pages, and I had a difficult time putting this book down. I love the way God put just the right people in both Karen and Barry’s lives to help them deal with their hurts. This is truly a book about mercy, grace, forgiveness and redemption. Satan tries his best to pull both Karen and Barry farther away from each other, but God had a plan for their lives. And you can read all about this beautiful plan in this wonderful heartwarming romance by Angela Meyer. Even though this is fiction, God can, and will do the same with our lives today. Whether it be marriage, or another area in our lives. He is there to go through our trials with us. What an awesome God we serve! Thank you Angela Meyer for this wonderful story!

I received this book from FIRST WildCard Tours to read and review.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 55.

 

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Product Details:

List Price: $17.99

Paperback: 292 pages

Publisher: CrossRiver Media Group (August 9, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1936501155

ISBN-13: 978-1936501151

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Come home.   Karen Marino choked back a cry as she stared at the words scribbled on the front of the envelope. She slid her fingernail under the flap and gaped at the plane ticket nestled inside a letter. Why now? She gritted her teeth. Heat flushed from her neck to the top of her head as she remembered the look of disgust on her father’s face.

The clash of pans in the restaurant kitchen startled her back to the present. “What the…?”

She glanced at her watch. Almost eleven. She slid the ticket and letter back inside the envelope and tucked it into her purse. She took a deep breath before stepping out of her office.

“Steve, how does the schedule look?” Karen hired him straight out of culinary school. His lack of experience paled next to his talent, and within a year his specialties had drawn in customers from all over New York City’s five boroughs, earning the restaurant a five-star reputation.

“Perfect, my love.” He crossed his arms and smiled. “Now, when are you going to marry me?”

She laughed. “Your mother would be disappointed. I have more red hair than Irish blood.” She enjoyed the attention her hair brought in The City, where she no longer stood out like an apple on an orange tree.

“My ma would love you anyway.” Steve placed his hand over his heart.

She shook her head and waved him back to work, then strode through the kitchen inspecting the line cooks as they prepped for the noon rush. “Be sure and clean up as you go….No, not that dish. Use the glass one. And keep a towel nearby.…How long have you worked here?…Don’t wipe your hands on your apron.”

She stopped. “Jimmy,” she yelled above the din of the kitchen. Her voice carried to the break room where the young man sauntered out with a donut in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.

“Yeah?”

She glared at him. “What’s with all these dirty pots and pans?”

The guy shrugged. “Had somewhere to be last night, so I saved them.”

“Get rid of that donut now and finish your job in the next half hour, or you’re fired, no matter who your cousin is.”

He threw the donut and coffee in the trash can and plodded off to his station.

“Karen.”

“What!”

“You okay?” Her assistant manager, Cathy, raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to snap.” Karen took a deep breath. “Is the dining room ready?”

“No problems there. But…” Cathy glanced over her shoulder. “Barry’s at the bar.”

“Not with the new owner coming in.” Karen clenched her fists. If she talked to her husband now she would lose her cool. “Did you tell him I was busy?”

“Yes. But, he’s got that look.”

Karen rolled her eyes. That meant another of Barry’s money-making ideas. Ideas didn’t pay the rent. “I better go talk to him.”

Barry grinned as she approached and she paused at the sight of his dark wavy hair and strong jaw line. If life were a photo, he would take her breath away. But once you added sound and action, that fantasy vanished.

She bit her lip. A part of her longed for what they used to have. How does a man change so much? He used to lead people. Now he controlled them, like the other night. Karen shuddered, then closed the gap between them. “We’re about to open. You need to go. We can talk tonight.”

“Like all those other times? Please.” He leaned against the bar.

“I said, we’ll talk.”

Barry slid off the bar stool. Although he stood only a few inches taller than her five foot seven frame and didn’t work out enough to have an impressive build, he carried himself with a bravado that demanded attention. “We’ll talk now. You’ll like this idea. It’s a chance to get in on the ground floor of a start-up company.”

Karen caught a whiff of liquor on his breath. “A little early to be drinking, don’t you think?”

“Don’t change the subject.” He banged his fist on the bar.

She jumped. His eyes grew dark. She backed away, her eyes frozen on his hands. “You need to leave. Now.”

“Why?” Barry’s voice grew louder.

“So I won’t lose my job.” The new owner was a powerful man. Barry could blow it for her.

“Miss Indispensable? Lose her job?” His empty laugh bounced around the deserted room.

“Please.” Karen reigned in her hostility.

“I will do as I please.” He took a step toward her.

“If you hope to get your hands on my money, try honey not vinegar.” She crossed her arms and stared at him.

“What are you talking about?”

“This approach will not get you what you want.”

He looked behind her and backed away. “Yeah, maybe we should talk tonight.”

Karen wrinkled her brow. What’s got into him now? She turned. The new owner walked toward her. He reminded her of Danny Devito. Short, stout, and balding. Add a bit of swagger to his walk and you would have her new boss. She groaned. Glancing Barry’s direction she saw him leave through the kitchen. I hope he didn’t just cost me my job.

She turned to face the man. She mustered a smile and extended her hand. “Karen Marino. You must be Mr. Simon.”

The man stared at her. “You’re fired.”  He smiled like a kid who just lifted a trinket from the store and got away with it.

“You can’t do that.” Her throat closed up. Breathe.

“I own this place, I can and will clean house as I see fit.”

His reputation was well earned. She forced herself to unclench her hands. “I built this restaurant into what it is today.”

“There’s no place in any of my restaurants for what I just witnessed. Home stays at home.”

“You’d get rid of me for one incident?”

“It’s not just one incident.”

She bit her tongue and glared at the man. Who talked?

“Leave now. Come back and clear out your desk after lunch.”

“Fine, I don’t need you or your restaurant. I have my reputation.” She regretted the words as soon as she said them.

“When I’m done, you won’t have a reputation.”

She turned and fled to her office. A man that powerful didn’t make idle threats. She grabbed her purse, squared her shoulders, and marched through the kitchen. She would not be shamed out of here. She did nothing wrong.

Her assistant manager barked orders at the staff. The new owner smiled while he watched. So Cathy betrayed me. An old pain grabbed at Karen’s heart. Why do people turn on me?

Letting the door slam on her way out, she rushed into the flow of human traffic. The wall of buildings hid the breadth of the sky and pressed in around her. Exhaust fumes mingled with the aroma of pizza from a nearby kiosk. She jumped when a taxi blared its horn. Two people shoved each other to get in, arguing over appointments. She picked up her pace, needing to escape the surroundings that for the last fifteen years had made her feel so alive. An image of the family orchard in Missouri filled her heart.

Her past caught up to her present and the old emotions, released from their prison, pinballed around inside her. She ducked into a nearby alley and leaned against the wall. Pressing her hands against the wall, she took several calming breaths against the tears welling up in her chest. She needed to think, not cry.

She pressed her fingertips against her eyes. I don’t want to go back to the apartment yet, and I don’t have an office anymore. Where can I go? She fought the desire to throw things and stomp her feet. She would not lose control.

Something brushed against her elbow and she jerked away. A pungent odor assaulted her nose as a man in a tattered jacket stepped closer.

“Some money for food?” He reached out his hands.

She pushed the man away and tucked her purse close to her body as she stumbled out of the alley and hurried away. Her thoughts latched onto her husband and the impossibility of the situation. Lost in a daze she walked several blocks before her stomach growled, reminding her of the time. She paused and looked around. Carnegie Deli looked like a good choice. Crossing the street, she stood in line for her turn, anxious for the line to move, yet longing for a slower pace.

Pressure built up in her right eye and tension grew between her shoulders. She dug through her purse for some pain reliever and popped two in her mouth.

“Next.”

She looked up at the man behind the counter. “Uh, I’m not sure, what—”

“I’ll take a Woody Allen and a coffee.” A construction worker shouldered his way past Karen, slapping some bills on the counter.

Karen glared at him, then raised her voice above the next person trying to steal her place in line. “Give me a Woody Allen, too.”

Within minutes her order sat next to the construction worker’s sandwich. She grabbed her plate and cup of coffee, and turned to find a seat in the crowded dining room. From across the room, she saw two women get up from their table. She rushed to grab one of the empty chair.

She settled in to her seat and thought of the first time she came here. She was on a blind date, and he wanted to share his favorite place to eat. Crowded elbow to elbow with strangers at the shared table, it was not exactly romantic, but the food was delicious and plentiful. Her sandwich was piled so high with meat she ate for several days off of the leftovers.

Now, the deli gave her the anonymity she needed.

Cradling the coffee mug in her hands, she allowed the heat to calm her nerves. The day had not gone the way she planned. Lately, not much had. She rubbed her temples then scooted her plate forward to make room for her note pad. Avoiding the glares of her table mates, she pulled out a pen and began to list her options.

Find a job. In this economy? Right.

Barry find a job. She laughed.

Dip into her savings. She ripped the paper off the pad and wadded it up. Not again. That money was for the future.

Her head pounded as she fought back the tears. Barry’s scheme might be all they had. Maybe not.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the letter. Karen remembered how special it felt to be a daughter of Charles and Annibel Hannigan. They were well respected in the community and at church, and then everything changed.

What’s so important that they want me to come home now? She laid the ticket aside and unfolded the letter.

Dear Karen,

Please come home. Your mother is dying and she needs to see you. She needs to know you understand. You need to hear what she has to say.

We are both sorry for the past and ask your forgiveness. I’ve enclosed a plane ticket. Change the date to what works best.

Love, Dad

Her hands trembled as she held the letter. Mom’s dying?

She laid the letter down and leaned her head onto her hands. She lost their favor with no explanation, and now they offered it to her again on a silver platter. It felt fake. What had she done to lose their favor in the first place? She wiped at tears she couldn’t stop. Did they think an apology could make up for everything?

“Hey lady, if you’re done, why don’t you move on. There’s folks waiting for a seat.”

Looking the bus boy directly in the eye, she reached for her sandwich and took a bite. He waved at her in dismissal and went back to work.

She glanced out the window as a mother bent down to look her child in the eye. She pointed at a large bulldozer across the street. The little boy smiled, looked back at her and nodded. They hugged. She grabbed his hand and continued walking.

She and her mother used to have a relationship like that. Carrying on like they were the only two people in the world. She looked away. Maybe going home wasn’t a viable option either.

She bit her lip. Am I supposed to just forgive them? How could they ask that of her? She hit the table with her fist and the coffee mug jumped, spilling onto the letter.

“Hey, watch it!” The man next to her grabbed his paper and picked it up ahead of the offending liquid.

“Sorry.” She grabbed some napkins and sopped up the mess. Blowing out a hard breath and tapping her fingers on the table, she checked her phone for the time before dialing her best friend.

Megan and Robert Fletcher reserved a table every Tuesday night at the restaurant Karen managed. Over time she became friends with Megan despite her penchant for religion. She always listened and gave good feedback.

And she’s the only person I trust.

Karen wouldn’t get the same attentive ear once Megan and Robert had their baby. The call went straight to voice mail, so she left a message. Megan must be at the women’s shelter she managed.

Karen picked up the letter and airline ticket and stuffed them in her purse. A walk might help her think better. Catching the waitress’ attention, she asked for a to-go bag.

Back on the street, her mind quickly turned to what her lack of employment meant for her life. Stay in New York and try to find another job without a reference. Give Barry’s scheme a chance. Or go home.

She cringed at all of those options. Like it or not, she had to consider them or maybe…her steps faltered as she did some quick mental calculations.

It would be risky and Barry wouldn’t like it, but she didn’t care. She quickened her step. She needed to stop by the bank.

FIRST Wild Card Tours presents…..Battlefield of the Heart by E. A. West

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
E. A. West
and the book:
Battlefield of the Heart
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 1, 2013)
***Special thanks to Opal Campbell for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Award-winning author of sweet and inspirational romance E.A. West is a lifelong lover of books and storytelling. In high school, she picked up her pen in a creative writing class and hasn’t laid it down yet. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, knitting, and crocheting. She lives in Indiana with her family and a small zoo of pets.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

What started out as a bit of research for a sociology paper quickly turns into much more than Cindy ever expected. But can she survive Danny’s PTSD long enough to form a relationship with him?

Cindy Waymire, a college senior in search for a topic for an upcoming sociology paper, finds more than a topic when she meets Army veteran and college freshman Danny Flynn outside the student union. An undeniable attraction to this troubled veteran leads her on a difficult and winding path that brings her to a crossroads — get into a relationship with a man who has serious mental health problems or turn her back on one of the best men she’s ever met.

Can Cindy set her fears aside and follow her heart, or will the ghosts haunting Danny’s mind end their relationship before it begins?

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK
I will post review in a few days….when I finish this wonderful book!

Product Details:

List Price: $10.99

Paperback: 274 pages

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 1, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1492387207

ISBN-13: 978-1492387206

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The late August heat wrapped around Cindy Waymire like a thick blanket as she walked toward Whitcomb University’s student union. As much as she loved New Castle, days like this made her wish she lived in Yellow Knife. The guy standing on the sidewalk just ahead, however, made her thankful she was in Indiana.A dark-haired guy with an athletic build, not more than an inch or two taller than her height of five foot nine, stood scanning the area as though he was lost. Clean-shaven, with just a hint of a five o’clock shadow along his jaw, he wore a T-shirt and jeans, both fitting just tight enough to hint at lean muscles. Cindy considered taking a candid photo and sending it to her girlfriends, but her cell phone was in her purse and digging it out would be too obvious. Maybe she could find another way to share this cutie with them.

His actions reminded her of her own during her first semester there. She’d had to ask someone where to find buildings so many times. Without those sympathetic upperclassmen, she would have been perpetually lost.

If he was a new student, that made her the sympathetic upperclassman. She stopped near him and smiled. “Hi, can I help you find someplace?”

He didn’t seem to hear her. She moved closer, thinking he might not realize she was talking to him. “Excuse me.”

He twisted and grabbed her wrist with startling speed. She screamed as he spun her around, bringing her arm behind her and forcing her to the ground as he said something unintelligible, but undeniably commanding. As he put a knee on her back and pulled her other arm, she heard people running toward them and prayed they could help. The guy was strong and no amount of struggling did any good. He just tightened his grasp on her wrists and applied more pressure with his knee, making it difficult for her to draw in a breath.

“Danny, let her up!” a male voice said as the running steps stopped beside them.

“He’s a threat.”

He? Before Cindy could figure out what the guy was talking about, she felt some of his weight lift from her back.

“She’s a noncombatant, Sarge,” a third male voice said.

The grip on her wrists loosened. “What?”

“You’re in the States, man.”

“Crap!” He released her wrists, and his weight lifted from her completely.

She scrambled to her feet, grateful she could breathe easily again. Turning around, she found two guys flanking the one who had attacked her.

“Are you okay?” the one on the left asked, his brow furrowed.

She drew in a shaky breath and tried to calm her racing pulse. “Um, yeah, I think so. Thank you for rescuing me.”

The guy in the middle looked so remorseful that she couldn’t help a bit of sympathy as he spoke quietly in a pained tone.

“I am so sorry. I didn’t realize what I was doing. Are you sure I didn’t hurt you?”

“Yeah, I’m okay.” Her wrist was starting to ache where he’d held it, but the way he hung his head made her hesitant to admit it. From the look of him, he didn’t need any more guilt. She noticed the two guys on either side of him looked unusually concerned when they glanced at him. Were they worried she’d file charges against him, or was it something more? “Are you okay?”

He dropped his gaze.

The first rescuer nodded toward the student union.

The other guy touched her attacker’s arm, and they walked to the building.

Cindy watched them go, and then returned her attention to the remaining rescuer.

“Danny’ll be okay,” he said, moving closer.

“What happened?”

“He had a flashback. By the way, I’m Josh Teague.”

“Cindy Waymire.” She rubbed her wrist. “What did he flash back to?”

“Probably Iraq. He just got back from his third tour about a year ago.” He motioned to the wrist she still gently massaged. “Are you sure he didn’t hurt you?”

She stilled her fingers. “It just aches.”

“Let’s go inside where there’s better light. I’ll take a look at your wrist.”

“Are you pre-med?” she asked.

“Nope. I’m a former army medic.”

Cindy raised her eyebrows as he held the door open. “What is this, Military Day at the student union?”

“No, the student veterans’ group is meeting here in a little bit.”

“I didn’t even know there was such a thing.” In the bright light of the student union, she got her first good look at Josh. He had short blond hair, hazel eyes, and looked remarkably familiar. “Are we in a class together?”

He led her out of the way of a student heading outside and studied her. “I don’t think so. Why?”

“You look familiar.” After three years at the university, nearly everyone on campus looked vaguely familiar. “Maybe I’ve just seen you around.”

“It’s possible. Now, let me see your wrist.”

She held it out, and he gently examined it. Despite a little redness from Danny’s strong grasp, there wasn’t any excruciating pain as Josh probed and flexed the joint.

Finally, he released her. “I think you have a mild sprain. I can get something to wrap it with to help with the ache, or I can walk you to the medical center so you can get it looked at by a doctor. What would you prefer?”

“I think I’d prefer to know why you’re so worried about taking care of me.”

“I’m hoping I can convince you not to call the campus police on Danny. He meant it when he said he didn’t know what he was doing. When a flashback happens, the real world disappears and he sees what happened in the past. It’s like he’s there all over again.”

“And I happened to take the place of a bad guy?”

“Yeah, it kind of looks that way.” Josh studied her, a glimmer of pleading in his eyes. “So, are you going to take pity on him and not report him to the police?”

Should she call the campus police or not? The university would want a report of the incident, but Danny hadn’t attacked her with any malicious intent. She was fairly certain he hadn’t even realized she was female. And he’d apologized and seemed to feel true remorse. After a little more deliberation, she felt peace about her decision. “I won’t report him, but I do want to talk to him. I have an insatiable curiosity for what makes people tick.”

“You probably don’t want to know what caused him to suffer from flashbacks.” Doubt filled Josh’s face.

“Actually, I do.” She made a quick decision. “I have to write a paper for my sociology class, and I’d like to write it on what it’s like for soldiers coming home and trying to adjust to life after the military.”

“That sounds more like something you’d write for psychology.”

“No, my professor has pointed out how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affect everyone more than we realize, and I think he’d be interested in finding out how veterans handle coming here while trying to recover from being deployed.”

“Recover… that’s an interesting word to use.”

She shrugged off a flutter of nerves. “Maybe, but it makes sense to someone who’s never been involved with the military and doesn’t know anyone in it. Going by what they show on the news and the psychiatrists who get interviewed occasionally, everyone who serves in Iraq or Afghanistan has to recover at least a little before life is normal.”

Josh searched her face. Finally, he gave a single nod. “I know where you can find a group of veterans who can help with your paper. But first, you need to take care of your wrist.”

“Would it be too much trouble for you to wrap it? I’d rather not deal with the medical center.”

“I’d be happy to do it.” He slid his backpack from his shoulders and dug inside it, coming up with a chemical ice pack. After squeezing it a couple of times, he handed it to her and slung the pack over his shoulder. “Put that on your wrist. It’ll help with the ache and any swelling. Come with me to the meeting room, and I’ll wrap your wrist. That should give the ice long enough to do its job.”

Cindy pressed the plastic pack to her wrist, and the chill spread, numbing the ache. Although curiosity rose, she wasn’t comfortable asking why he carried an ice pack.

“Are you busy this evening?” He gave her a questioning look.

“Not really. Why?”

He wasn’t going to ask her out, was he?

“You can hang out with the veterans’ group and maybe get what you need for your paper. So far this year we only have combat veterans, but there were a couple of guys last year who never left the States during their enlistments. They may come back at some point. Anyway, we’re usually out of here by nine, although sometimes we go somewhere else and hang out for a while after the meeting.”

“Will anyone mind me being there?”

“It’ll be fine. I’m sure they’ll be interested in helping you with your paper, too.”

Cindy followed him into a meeting room with half a dozen men in their mid-twenties to early thirties sprawled in chairs at round tables. She spotted Danny off to one side, talking to her other rescuer and an older man.

Josh led her to a black guy with glasses. “Hey, Corbin, you got a roll of self-adhering elastic bandage on you?”

Cindy glanced at Josh, her mind on high speed. She’d expected him to go to the tiny general store on the first floor to get something to wrap her wrist, not ask a friend for it. What kind of guys carried first aid supplies with them?

“Yeah,” he said, his gaze sliding to Cindy. “Who’s your friend?”

“Cindy Waymire.”

Corbin reached into the backpack lying on the floor and pulled out a rolled, light brown bandage. “Here you go.”

“Thanks, man. I’ll bring this back in a couple of minutes.” Josh led Cindy to an empty table and had her sit down. He dropped into the chair beside her, and then loosened the end of the bandage. “Give me your wrist.”

She held out her arm.

The fluid movements of his fingers indicated he’d had a lot of practice. When he finished, he tore the material and gently pressed to make sure the bandage was secure.

“How does that feel?”

She flexed her fingers. There was enough support to prevent most of the discomfort. “Much better.”

“Good. Keep the ice on your wrist for a few more minutes. I’ll be right back.” He carried the remaining bandage over to Corbin.

A tingle of awareness lifted the hair on the back of her neck, and she glanced around, certain someone was watching her.

Danny looked even more contrite than the last time she’d seen him — something she wouldn’t have believed possible if she weren’t seeing it. He must have noticed Josh wrapping her wrist. He said something to the guys he was talking to, and then he walked over to her.

“Mind if I sit down?” Danny asked quietly.

“Go ahead.” She gave him a friendly smile and waved her hand at the chair Josh had vacated.

He lowered himself into the chair, his gaze on her bandaged wrist. “I thought you said you were okay.”

“I am.” She spoke gently. “It’s just a minor sprain, and it doesn’t hurt at all now.”

He glanced toward Josh and Corbin, who were talking a few tables away. “Did he tell you what happened?”

“He said you had a flashback and probably didn’t even realize I was there.”

“Would you believe I didn’t realize you were American until Alex told me you were a noncombatant?”

“Who did you think I was?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Danny shook his head and looked away. “The point is, I’m sorry. Most of the time I’m fine, but sometimes stress will get to me or something will trigger a memory and I relive some stuff.”

“Can anything be done to keep you from reliving it like that?”

“Therapy, time, maybe medication. I’ll know for sure if they ever figure out what works for me.” The vulnerability in his gray eyes made Cindy want to give him a hug. “I hope you don’t think I’m crazy. I’m not. I’ve just seen a lot of stuff, and I’m still trying to deal with it.”

“Josh said you did three tours in Iraq.”

“Actually, only the last two were in Iraq. I was in Afghanistan for the first.”

“I can’t imagine doing even one tour in either place.”

“It’s what I trained for.” He glanced around the room. “It’s what we all trained for. It was our job to go over there and fight for our country.”

She studied him for a moment, sensing his pride as a veteran, and her curiosity prompted her to ask another question. “Would you go back?”

He met her gaze and, for the first time, she saw strength and determination in it. “If they asked me, I’d go back right now. The job’s not finished yet.”

Josh stepped up in front of the group. “I’m glad you all came tonight. Before we take care of business, I’d like to introduce a visitor. Cindy, come up here for a minute.”

Why hadn’t he warned her he planned to bring her in front of the entire group? She’d thought he’d introduce her to a few veterans after the meeting. Fighting back a flutter of nerves, she set the ice pack on the table and joined him, noting the curious expressions. She prayed they didn’t think she was intruding.

“This is Cindy Waymire. She’s writing a paper on veterans going to college while adjusting to life after the military, and she would like to spend a little time with us as part of her research. All in favor of helping her?” Josh paused, and four hands lifted. After some hesitation and an exchanged glance, the other two guys raised their hands as well. Josh turned to her with a smile. “You have your guinea pigs. You can sit down now.”

She returned to her seat beside Danny, relieved they were going to help her. She’d been a little afraid they might feel insulted by being the subject of a paper.

“Now, I’ve been contacted by several local organizations and professors who want someone to come speak,” Josh said, picking up a piece of paper. “Anybody up for telling groups about the military?”

Cindy looked around the room as Josh paired volunteers with speaking engagements. With their apparent willingness to talk about life in the military, it wasn’t surprising they’d voted unanimously to help with her paper.

The older man nodded slightly as he watched the proceedings with an approving smile.

Danny leaned close. “That’s Dr. Logan. He’s our faculty advisor and a Vietnam veteran who went to college straight out of the army.”

She nodded as Josh moved the meeting on to their upcoming fundraiser: a dinner to help raise money to send care packages to those still serving overseas. Cindy remembered seeing the donation jars and boxes for the military for the three years she’d been a student here. Had these guys been recipients of any of the cards she and her girlfriends had donated?

Once the meeting adjourned, several of the veterans introduced themselves to Cindy, including Alex Dugan, her other rescuer. Alex invited her to join him and a few others for coffee.

Although her heart pounded at the thought of going anywhere with this many strange men, she set her nervousness aside and accepted the invitation. It would give her a chance to gather information for her paper. Besides, going out for coffee meant they’d be in a public place. She would be safe enough there.

These guys had all been through things she’d never be able to understand, and though they seemed willing to talk to her about their experiences, she worried it might bring up unpleasant memories for them as it had with Danny. She prayed the evening would be a positive experience for everyone.

As the group headed out of the student union, Cindy walked between Corbin and Danny. The falling dusk washed out the brilliant colors of the campus’s landscaping. A handful of stars already shone in the darkening sky, visible between trees and buildings. A few pedestrians strolled along the sidewalks, presumably taking advantage of the slightly cooler temperature brought by the arrival of evening.

Corbin lifted his eyebrows and waved his hand toward her bandaged wrist. “So, what did you do that required Josh to wrap you up?”

“Sprained my wrist on my way to the student union.” She didn’t feel right talking about Danny’s flashback, especially with him on her other side.

Corbin chuckled. “That takes talent. How did you do it?”

Danny sighed as he turned to Corbin. “I took her down.”

“One of those moments, huh?”

Danny’s jaw tightened and shadows darkened his eyes. “Fallujah, man. I saw flippin’ Fallujah.”

“That sucks.”

“Yeah.” Danny glanced at Cindy and dropped his gaze. “I’m not sure you want to use me for your paper. I’m a bit of a freak.”

Corbin slipped behind her to put a hand on Danny’s shoulder. “Hey, we all have our problems.”

“Maybe, but I have more than the rest of you. I just hope I don’t harm anyone else.”

What had Danny been through? Cindy wanted to give him a hug and maybe remove some of the sadness from his eyes, but she’d just met him — a meeting that had made the evening awkward enough already.

“What about Lacey?” Corbin glanced at the group crowding the sidewalk. “Hey, does anyone know where Lacey is tonight?”

“I think she had a date,” Alex said from behind them as the group parted to let a bicyclist through. “She mentioned something about someone named Matt.”

“She skipped out on us for a date?” one of the others asked.

“Hey, at least she’s going out with someone.”

Corbin sobered, the teasing tone vanishing as quickly as it had come. “I hope it goes well for her. She deserves to enjoy herself.”

What could cause him to look and sound so serious about a girl having a date? Cindy looked from Corbin to Danny and back, her curiosity flaring to life. “Who’s Lacey?”

“Our lone female veteran,” Corbin said, his expression lightening. “You should talk to her for your paper. Get the female perspective.”

“That would be cool.” New possibilities for the paper spread out before her.

“You know, I don’t think anyone ever said what your paper is for,” Danny said.

“Oh, I’m writing it for my sociology class. My professor spends a lot of time pointing out how the War on Terror has affected the way we live and the current state of the world. Lately, he’s started talking about the Department of Veterans Affairs and the issues it needs to deal with in order to provide services to the large numbers of veterans created by the war.”

“Who’s your professor?”

“Dr. Brixton.” A warm breeze blew a strand of hair in Cindy’s eyes, and she swatted it away as they turned onto the street leading toward the diner at the edge of campus.

“You’re writing this paper for Brixton?” Alex asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“Josh was in the same company as his nephew.”

“I should have remembered that.” She suddenly knew why Josh looked familiar.

“What do you mean?” Corbin asked.

“Dr. Brixton showed us a photo of his nephew and a couple of his friends. Josh was one of the friends.”

“Does he know you’re writing the paper for Brixton?” Alex asked.

Should she have told Josh who her professor was for before he offered to introduce her to the veterans group? “Not unless he knows Brixton teaches sociology. Why?”

“I figure if he knew you were writing it for his buddy’s uncle, he might have decided to stay out of it so no one can accuse Brixton of playing favorites if you get a good grade.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “If I get a good grade? Talk about a blow to my ego.”

The guys laughed as they dodged around a trio of students talking on the sidewalk.

She liked these guys and hoped she could develop friendships. With any luck, she could also meet Lacey. The way Alex and Corbin had talked about her made Cindy curious. Most people would consider it morbid curiosity, but she couldn’t help being interested in the human angle of war and all that went with it. If she could bring that down to a personal level, so much the better.

FIRST Wild Card Tours Presents Ruth, Mother of Kings by Diana Wallis Taylor

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Diana Wallis Taylor
and the book:
Ruth Mother of Kings
Whitaker House (October 1, 2013)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Recently named “Writer of the Year” by the San Diego Christian Writer’s Guild, Diana Wallis Taylor has been writing since the age of 12 when she sold her first poem to a church newspaper. A former school teacher, popular women’s speaker and award-winning author, she’s best known for her biblical novels that focus on women such as Martha, Mary Magdalene, Claudia Wife of Pontius Pilate, and Journey to the Well. She’s also published several contemporary novels, a collection of poetry, and contributed to a wide variety of publications.  Diana lives in San Diego with her husband, Frank. Among them, they have six grown children and ten grandchildren.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
The story of Ruth has captivated Christian believers for centuries, not least of all because she is one of only two women with books of the Bible named after them. Now, Diana Wallis Taylor animates this cherished part of the Old Testament, with its unforgettable cast of characters. She describes Ruth’s elation as a young bride— and her grief at finding herself a widow far before her time. Readers will witness the unspeakable relief of Naomi upon hearing her daughter-in-law’s promise never to leave her. And celebrate with Boaz when, after years as a widower, he discovers love again, with a woman he first found gleaning in his field. The story of this remarkable woman to whom Jesus Christ traced His lineage comes to life in the pages of this dramatic and unique retelling.


Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: Whitaker House (October 1, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1603749039

ISBN-13: 978-1603749039

Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK……My review will come later

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Ruth sat with her brother, Joash, on a small rug in the neighbors’ courtyard, listening fearfully as the adults discussed what to do with them. Ruth wanted her mama. Why would they not let her see her? Was she still sick? Her papa had tended her for several days and told them not to disturb her. No one baked any bread for their breakfast.She scrunched up her small face, her lower lip trembling. Yesterday, her mama would not wake up, and her papa began weeping and acting strangely. He struggled to stand up, and perspiration ran down his face. She remembered his words, spoken like he was out of breath. “Joash, you must help me. Take Ruth and go to the house of Naaman. Tell him I need his help. Stay there until I call for you.”Joash grabbed her hand and almost pulled her to the neighbors’ house. She had been holding her mother’s shawl, and she wrapped it around herself that night as they slept in the neighbors’ courtyard. She could hardly breathe for the fear that seemed to rise up from her chest. Why would the neighbors not let them go home? Had Papa not called for them?

Everyone looked at them with sad eyes and whispered to one another. She clutched her mother’s shawl and turned to her brother.

“Why will they not let us go home?”

“I don’t know. Something is wrong.” He looked at a woman standing nearby. “We want to see our mama and papa.”

The woman answered quietly, “Children, your mama and papa are dead. You cannot see them…ever again.”

Ruth heard the word “dead.” A bird fell in their small courtyard one day, and her papa said it was dead. It lay on the dirt, unmoving, its eyes closed. She could not imagine her mama and papa like that bird. She turned to her brother again.

“Mama and Papa are dead?”

Joash nodded, tears rolling down his cheeks. He put an arm around her, and they clung to each other.

Naaman’s wife spoke up. “I have fed them for two days, but I cannot continue to care for them.”

“Do they have family elsewhere?” said another neighbor woman. “I have children of my own to feed.”

Naaman murmured, “Phineas has family near the Plains of Moab, outside Beth-Jeshimoth. He told me before he died.”

“What family? His parents? Are they still alive?”

There was silence. Then, “How would the children get there? They can’t go alone; the boy is only six, the girl almost four. Who would take them?”

“That is something to consider. It is a two days’ journey.”

Teary-eyed, Ruth turned to her brother and whispered, “Where do they want to take us?”

He straightened his shoulders and tried to sound very strong. “I don’t know, but do not be afraid, Sister. I will care for you.”

A couple entered the small courtyard and hurried up to the group that had been talking. The woman spoke. “We just heard about the parents. The mother, Timna, was my friend. Do you know what is to be done with the children?”

Someone said, “Naaman told us they have grandparents, outside Beth-Jeshimoth, but we don’t know how to get them there. They cannot travel alone.”

The man nodded, then said, “I will take them. My wife, Mary, will go with me.”

“But, Gershon, can you leave your shop for that long? It will take at least two days or more, just one way.”

“Ha’Shem will watch over my shop. It is the right thing to do. If they have family, that is where the children should go. I will prepare my cart and donkey.”

The first woman spoke. “May the Almighty bless you for your kindness, Gershon, and your wife also. It is a good thing you do. I will gather food for your journey. The other women in the neighborhood will help.”

Ruth listened to the women click their tongues and murmur among themselves.

“Those poor children were alone in the house with their sick parents for days before Phineas sent them to Naaman and his wife.”

“My husband wondered why Phineas had not come to work in three days.”

“The Lord only knows the last time they had eaten.”

“Both of the children are so thin.”

One of the other men spoke up. “What if you get there and find that the children’s grandparents are dead?”

“We will just have to trust the Almighty to guide us; we will pray that they live and that these orphaned children will be welcomed.”

Joash clutched Ruth’s hand tighter. “See? We will go to Abba’s family. They will take us there.”

Ruth, too frightened to speak again, could only nod, dried tears still on her cheeks.

Early the next morning, they were fed some lentil soup and fresh bread, and then Gershon and Mary took their hands and led them home, telling them they would now gather a few things to take with them. Mary clicked her tongue and sighed as she and her husband looked around the small house. “There is little of value here,” Gershon said. “The girl seems determined to hold on to her mother’s shawl.”

Mary glanced at Ruth. “It is a comfort to her. We must not take the bedding, because of their sickness. I will bring bedding from our house. Oh, Gershon, they were so poor. How did they live?”

“Evidently he made just enough to survive.”

Ruth, with her mother’s shawl still wrapped around her shoulders, clutched a doll made of rags that her mother had sewn for her. She looked around. There was no sign of her mama or papa anywhere. She watched her brother slip a small leather box out of a cupboard when the man and his wife were not looking. He put a finger to his lips and hid the box in his clothes.

When the cart was loaded, Ruth climbed in after Joash and settled in as the journey began. Never having ventured beyond her street, she looked about, wide-eyed, as they passed through the town.

“What is our town called?” Joash asked.

“It is Medeba,” the man answered.

His wife turned around in her seat at the front of the cart. “Have you not been in the town before?”

Joash shook his head.

“It is large. Your father made many fine bricks to build houses with.”

Ruth looked up at her. “I miss my mama.”

Mary sighed. “I know, child. Your mama and papa were so sick from the fever. They just didn’t get better, like so many others. But soon you will be with your grandparents.”

“Will they let us stay with them?” Joash asked.

There was a pause, and Mary looked at her husband. “Oh, of course. I’m sure they will be glad to see you.” She turned around again. “Have you ever met them?”

Ruth looked at her brother, and both children shook their heads.

They spent the night with some other families that were traveling. Gershon said something about it being safer to stay with a group.

Mary made sure Ruth and Joash were settled for the night and then lay down next to her husband. The two adults whispered to themselves, probably thinking that Ruth was asleep. She kept her eyes closed and listened in.

“Oh, Gershon, I pray that the grandparents are still there. What will we do if they are not?”

“We must trust the Almighty, Mary. I feel we are doing the right thing.”

“Then we will do our best, and know the outcome soon.”

“Timna was never well, from what I understand.”

Mary murmured, “If the parents of Phineas had a farm, why did he leave? Would he not work the farm with his father?”

“A disagreement of some kind. I don’t think the parents approved of the marriage. Medeba is a larger town. He probably thought he had a better chance of finding work there.”

She sighed. “Then the grandparents may not even know about the children?”

“It’s likely they don’t. Let us get some rest. We have many miles to cover tomorrow.”

Ruth yawned. What did it all mean? She was so tired. It was too much for her to understand. Moving closer to Joash, she settled down and, despite missing her parents, allowed sleep to draw her into its embrace.

FIRST Wild Card Tours presents…..Beyond These Hills by Sandra Robbins

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Sandra Robbins
and the book:
Beyond These Hills
Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2013)
***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

In the romantic conclusion to the Smoky Mountain Dreams series, Sandra Robbins tells a story of love and loss. The government is purchasing property to establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Laurel Jackson fears she’ll have to say goodbye to the only home she’s ever known. Can she find the strength to leave?

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In the romantic conclusion to the Smoky Mountain Dreams series, Sandra Robbins tells a story of love and loss. The government is purchasing property to establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Laurel Jackson fears she’ll have to say goodbye to the only home she’s ever known. Can she find the strength to leave?

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Series: Smoky Mountain Dreams (Book 3)

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0736948880

ISBN-13: 978-0736948883

 

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK>……will post in the next few days…

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Cades Cove, TennesseeJune, 1935

The needle on the pickup truck’s speedometer eased to thirty miles an hour. Laurel Jackson bit back a smile and glanced at her father. With his right hand on the steering wheel and his left elbow hanging out the open window, he reminded her of a little boy absorbed in the wonder of a new toy.

The wind ruffled his dark, silver-streaked hair, and a smile pulled at the corner of his mouth as the truck bounced along. His eyes held a faraway look that told her he was enjoying every minute of the drive along the new road that twisted through Cades Cove.

If truth be told, though, the truck with its dented fenders wasn’t all that new. He’d bought it a few months ago from Warren Hubbard, who’d cleaned out a few ditches in Cades Cove trying to bring the little Ford to a stop. Rumor had it he kept yelling Whoa! instead of pressing the brake. The good-natured ribbing of his neighbors had finally convinced Mr. Hubbard that he had no business behind the wheel of a truck.

Laurel’s father didn’t have that problem. He took to driving like their old hound dog Buster took to trailing a raccoon. Neither gave up until they’d finished what they’d started. Mama often said she didn’t know which one’s stubborn ways vexed her more—Poppa’s or Buster’s. Of course her eyes always twinkled when she said it.

The truck was another matter entirely. Mama saw no earthly reason why they needed that contraption on their farm when they had a perfectly good wagon and buggy. To her, it was another reminder of how life in Cades Cove was changing. Laurel could imagine what her mother would say if she could see Poppa now as the speed-

ometer inched up to thirty-five. Land’s sakes, Matthew. If you don’t keep both hands on the wheel, you’re gonna end up killing us all.

But Mama wasn’t with them today to tell Poppa they weren’t in a race, and he was taking advantage of her absence to test the limits of the truck. At this rate they’d make it to Gatlinburg earlier than expected. When she was a little girl, the ride in their wagon over to the mountain village that had become a favorite of tourists had seemed to take forever. Now, it took them less than half the time to get there.

She glanced at her father again and arched an eyebrow. “You’d better be glad Mama stayed home.”

Her father chuckled. “Do you think she’d say I was driving too fast?”

Laurel tilted her head to one side and tried to narrow her eyes into a thoughtful pose. “I’m sure she wouldn’t hesitate to let you know exactly how she felt.”

A big smile creased her father’s face, and he nodded. “You’re right about that. Your mother may run a successful business from a valley in the middle of the Smoky Mountains, but she’d just as soon pass up all the modern conveniences the money she makes could provide her. Sometimes I think she’d be happier if we were still living in that one-room cabin we had when we first married.”

Laurel laughed and nodded. “I know. But I imagine she’ll be just as happy today to have us out of the way. She can unload her latest pottery from the kiln and get the lodge cleaned and ready for the tourists we have coming Monday.”

Her father’s right hand loosened on the steering wheel, and his left one pulled the brim of his hat lower on his forehead. “It looks like business is going to be good this year. We already have reservations for most of the summer, and our guests sure do like to take home some of her pieces from Mountain Laurel Pottery.”

Laurel frowned. There would be guests this summer, but what about next year and the year after that? A hot breeze blew through the open window, and she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. She mopped at the perspiration on her forehead before she swiveled in her seat to face her father. “Having the lodge and the pottery business is kind of like a mixed blessing, isn’t it?”

He frowned but didn’t take his eyes off the road. “How do you mean?”

Laurel’s gaze swept over the mountains that ringed the valley where she’d lived all her life. Her love for the mist-covered hills in the distance swelled up in her, and she swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. “Well, I was just thinking that we get paid well by the folks who stay at our lodge while they fish and hike the mountain trails, and Mama makes a lot of money selling them her pottery. But is the money worth what we’ve lost?” She clasped her hands in her lap. “I miss the quiet life we had in the Cove when I was a little girl.”

Her father’s forehead wrinkled. “So do I, darling, but you’re all grown up now, and those days are long gone. Change has been happening for a long time, but our way of life officially ended twelve years ago with the plan for the Smokies to become a national park. Now most of the mountain land’s been bought up by the government, and there’s a park superintendent in place over at Gatlinburg. I guess we have to accept the fact that the park is a reality.”

A tremor ran through Laurel’s body. She clutched her fists tighter until her fingernails cut into her palms. “No matter what we’re doing or talking about, it always comes back to one question, doesn’t it?”

Her father glanced at her. “What’s that?”

“How long can we keep the government from taking our land?”

“Well, they don’t have it yet.” The lines in her father’s face deepened, and the muscle in his jaw twitched. “At the moment, all the land that borders our farm has been bought and is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There aren’t many of us holding on in the Cove, but we’re not giving up without a fight. I have a meeting with our lawyer in Gatlinburg today to see how our court case is going. You can get your mama’s pottery delivered to Mr. Bryan’s store, can’t you?”

“I didn’t know you had a meeting with the lawyer. Don’t worry about the pottery. Willie and I can take care of that.”

A smile cracked her father’s moments-ago stony features at the mention of her younger brother, who was riding in the truck’s bed. “You make sure that boy helps you. He has a habit of disappearing every time I have a job for him. I sure wish he’d grow up and start taking on some responsibility around the farm.”

Laurel laughed. “Willie’s only twelve, Poppa. When he’s as old as Charlie or me, he’ll settle down.”

Her father shook his head. “I don’t know about that. He’s always gonna be your mother’s baby.”

Before she could respond, the truck hit a bump in the road and a yell from behind pierced her ears. Laughing, she turned and looked through the back window. Willie’s face stared back at her. “Do it again, Pa,” he yelled. “That was fun.”

Her father frowned, grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, and leaned over to call out the window. “Be still, Willie, before you fall out and land on your head.”

Willie stood up, grabbed the side of the open window, and leaned around the truck door to peer into the cab. “Won’t this thing go any faster?”

Her father’s foot eased up, and he frowned. “We’re going fast enough. Sit down, Willie.”

The wind whipped Willie’s dark hair in his eyes. He was grinning. “Jacob’s pa has a truck that’ll go fifty on a smooth stretch,” he yelled. “See what ours will do.”

The veins in her father’s neck stood out, and the speedometer needle dropped to twenty. “If you don’t sit down and stay put, I’m gonna stop and make you sit up here between your sister and me.”

“I’m just saying you ought to open this thing up and see what she’ll do.”

The muscle in her father’s jaw twitched again, and Laurel put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. How many times had she seen her no-nonsense father and her fun-loving brother locked in a battle of wills? Her father took a deep breath and shook his head.

“Willie, for the last time…”

Willie leaned closer to the window, glanced at Laurel, and winked. “Okay. I’ll sit, but I still think we could go a little faster. Jacob’s gonna get to Gatlinburg way before we do.”

The truck slowed to a crawl. “Willie…”

A big grin covered Willie’s mouth. “Okay, okay. I’m just trying to help. I know Mr. Bryan is waitin’ for these crates of Mama’s pottery. I’d hate to get there after he’d closed the store.”

“He’s not going to close the store. Now for the last time, do as I say.”

“Okay, okay. I’m sittin’.”

Willie pushed away from the window and slid down into the bed of the truck. Her father straightened in the seat and shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy. He’s gonna put me in my grave before I’m ready.”

Laurel laughed, leaned over, and kissed her father’s cheek. “How many times have I heard you say that? I think you love sparring with him. He reminds you of Mama.”

For the first time today, a deep laugh rumbled in her father’s throat. “That it does. That woman has kept me on my toes for twenty years now.” He glanced over his shoulder through the back glass toward Willie, who now sat hunkered down in the bed of the truck. “But I doubt if I’ll make it with that boy. He tests my patience every day.”

Laurel smiled as she reached up and retied the bow at the end of the long braid that hung over her shoulder and down the front of her dress. “I doubt that will happen. You have more patience than anybody I know. There aren’t many in our valley who’ve been able to stand up to the government and keep them from taking their land. Just you and Grandpa Martin and a few more. Everybody else has given up and sold out.”

There it was again. The ever-present shadow that hung over their lives. Cove residents were selling out and leaving. How long could they hang on?

“Seems like we’re losing all our friends, doesn’t it?” Her father shook his head and pointed straight ahead. “Like Pete and Laura Ferguson. We’re almost to their farm. I think I’ll stop for a minute. I promised Pete I’d keep an eye on the place after they moved, and I haven’t gotten over here in a few weeks.”

Ever since Laurel could remember there had been a bond between her father and the older Pete Ferguson. Each had always been there to lend a hand to the other, but now the Fergusons were gone. Their land sold to the United States government and their farm officially a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

She glanced at her father’s face, and she almost gasped aloud at the sorrow she saw. The court case he and Grandpa Martin had waged over the past year had taken its toll on him. He was only a few months away from turning fifty years old, and Grandpa would soon be sixty-five. They didn’t need the worry they’d lived under for the last twelve years. Why couldn’t the government just give up and allow them to remain on their farms in the mountain valley that had been their family’s home for generations? That was her prayer every night, but so far God hadn’t seen fit to answer.

Her father steered the truck onto the dirt path that ran to the Ferguson cabin. The wildflowers Mrs. Ferguson had always loved waved in the breeze beside the road as they rounded the corner and pulled to a stop in the yard.

Laurel’s eyes grew wide, and she stared, unbelieving, through the windshield to the spot where the Ferguson cabin had stood as long as she could remember. Her father groaned and climbed from the truck. For a moment he stood beside the vehicle’s open door, his hand resting on the handle. He shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what he saw. Then he closed the door and took a few steps forward.

Laurel reached for the leather bag that sat on the floorboard near her feet, unsnapped the top flap, and pulled out her Brownie box camera before jumping from the truck. She hurried to stand beside her father, who stood transfixed as he stared straight ahead. Willie, his face pale, climbed from the back of the truck and stopped next to their father. No one spoke for a moment.

Willie pulled his gaze away and stared up at their father. “Where’s the house, Pa?”

Their father took a deep breath. “I guess the park service tore it down, son.”

A sob caught in Laurel’s throat as they stared at the barren spot of land that had once been the site of a cabin, barn, and all the outbuildings needed to keep a farm productive. “But why would they do that, Poppa?”

Her father took a deep breath. “Because this land is now a part of the park, and they want it to return to its wild state.”

Willie inched closer to their father. “Are they gonna tear our house down too?”

Her father’s eyes darkened. “Not if I can help it.” He let his gaze wander over the place he had known so well before he took a deep breath and turned back to the truck. “Let’s get out of here. I shouldn’t have stopped today.”

Laurel raised the camera and stared down into the viewfinder. “Let me get a picture of this before we go.”

Her father gritted his teeth. “Take as many as you want. Somebody’s got to record the death of a community.”

None of them spoke as she snapped picture after picture of the empty spot that gave no hint a family had once been devoted to this piece of land. After she’d finished, the three of them returned to the truck and climbed in. When her father turned the truck and headed back to the road, Laurel glanced over her shoulder at the spot where the house had stood. She had always looked forward to visiting this home, but she didn’t know if she would be able to return. Too many of her friends were gone, scattered to the winds in different directions. The holdouts who still remained in the Cove lived each day with the threat that they too would soon be forced from the only homes they’d ever known. If her family had to leave, they would be like all the rest. They would go wherever they could find a home, and the ties forged by generations in the close society of their remote mountain valley would vanish forever.

Andrew Brady set his empty glass on the soda fountain counter and crossed his arms on its slick white surface. The young man who’d served him faced him behind the counter and smiled. “Can I get you somethin’ else, mister?”

Andrew shook his head. “No thanks. That cold drink helped to cool me down some. I didn’t expect it to be so hot in Gatlinburg. I thought it would be cooler here in the mountains.”

The young man grinned and reached up to scratch under the white hat he wore. “Most folks think that, but our days can be a bit warm in the summertime.” He glanced at several customers at the other end of the counter and, apparently satisfied they didn’t need any help at the moment, turned his attention back to Andrew. “Where you from?”

Andrew smiled. “Virginia. Up near Washington.”

The young man smiled and extended his hand. “Welcome to Gatlinburg. My name is Wayne Johnson. My uncle owns this drugstore, and I work for him.”

Andrew grasped his hand and shook it. “Andrew Brady.”

“How long you been here, Andrew?”

“I arrived Thursday.”

Wayne picked up a cloth and began to wipe the counter. He glanced up at Andrew. “You enjoying your vacation?”

Andrew shook his head. “I’m not in Gatlinburg on vacation. I’m here on business.”

Wayne shrugged. “I figured you for a tourist. Guess I was wrong. They come from all over now that the park’s opening up. I hear that we had about forty thousand people visit Gatlinburg last year. That’s a far cry from what it was like when I was a boy. We were just a wide spot in a dirt road back in those days. But I expect it’s only gonna get better.”

Andrew glanced around the drugstore with its well-stocked shelves and the soda fountain against the side wall. “It looks like this business is doing okay.” He shook his head and chuckled. “I don’t know what I expected, but I wouldn’t have thought there’d be so many shops here. Mountain crafts are for sale everywhere, and the whole town is lit up with electric lights. It looks like the park has put this town on the map.”

Wayne propped his hands on the counter and smiled. “I guess folks in the outside world thought we were just a bunch of ignorant hillbillies up here, but we been doing fine all these years. We’ve even had electricity since back in the twenties when Mr. Elijah Reagan harnessed the power on the Roaring Fork for his furniture factory. He supplied to everybody else too, but now they say we’re gonna have cheap electricity when TVA gets all their dams built.”

Andrew nodded. “I guess it’s a new day for the people in the mountains.”

“It sure is, and we’re enjoying every bit of it.” He picked up Andrew’s dirty glass and held it up. “You sure you don’t want a refill?”

Andrew shook his head. “No, I’d better be going. I have some things to do before I head out to Cades Cove tomorrow.”

Wayne cocked an eyebrow. “Only one reason I can think why you might be going out there. You must be joining up at the Civilian Conservation Corps.”

Andrew pulled some coins from his pocket to pay for his soda and laid them on the counter. “No, I’m not with the CCC. Just intend to visit with them a while.”

Wayne shrugged. “There’re a lot of CCC camps all over the mountains, and those boys are doing a good job. You can see part of it when you drive into the Cove. They built the new road there. It sure makes gettin’ in and out of there easier than it did in years past. I reckon Roosevelt did a good thing when he put that program in his New Deal.”

“Yeah, it’s giving a lot of young men a chance for employment.” Andrew smiled, picked up the hat that rested on the stool beside him, and set it on his head. “Thanks for the soda.”

Wayne studied Andrew for a moment. “You never did tell me exactly what your job is. What brought you to Gatlinburg from Washington?”

“I work with the Park Service. I’m here on a special assignment.”

Wayne’s eyes narrowed, and his gaze raked Andrew. “Special assignment, huh? Sounds important, and you look mighty young.”

Andrew’s face grew warm, and his pulse quickened. Even a soda jerk could figure out that a guy who looked like he’d barely been out of college for a year couldn’t have gotten this job on his own. But with his father being a United States congressman and a supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, it hadn’t been hard for his father to arrange this appointment.

The worst part for him, though, had been his father’s command that Andrew had better not embarrass him on the job. He swallowed the nausea rising in his throat and tried to smile.

“I guess I’m just lucky they thought I was qualified.”

“Well, congratulations. Come in for another soda the next time you’re in town.”

“That I will.” Andrew turned and headed for the exit.

When he stepped outside the drugstore, he stopped and stared at the newly paved road that wound through the town. Before long that stretch of highway would wind and climb its way up the mountainsides all the way to Newfound Gap that divided the states of   Tennessee and North Carolina. He’d heard that spot mentioned several times as the ideal location for the dedication of the park, but the event was still some years away. His assignment here would be one of the factors that determined when it would take place.

Andrew took a deep breath of fresh mountain air and turned in the direction where he’d parked his car. Several tourists brushed past him, but it was the approach of a young man and woman who caught his attention. Obviously honeymooners, if the glow of happiness on their faces was any indication. Ignoring everybody they passed, they stared into each other’s eyes and smiled as if they had a secret no one else knew.

Andrew shook his head in sympathy as they walked past him and wondered how long it would take them to face up to the reality of what being married really meant. He’d seen how his friends had changed after marriage when they had to start worrying about taking care of a family. He’d decided a long time ago it wasn’t for him. He had too many things he wanted to do in life, and getting married ranked way below the bottom of his list. Convincing his father of the decision, though, was another matter. The congressman had already picked out the woman for his son’s wife. “The perfect choice,” his father often said, “to be by your side as you rise in politics.”

Andrew sighed and shook his head. Sometimes there was no reasoning with his father. He wished he could make him…

His gaze drifted across the street, and the frown on his face dissolved at the sight of a young woman standing at the back of a pickup truck. Her fisted hands rested on her hips, and she glared at the back of a young boy running down the street.

“Willie,” she yelled. “Come back here. We’re not through unloading yet.”

The boy scampered away without looking over his shoulder. She shook her head and stamped her foot. Irritation radiated from her stiff body, and his skin warmed as if she’d touched him.

As if some unknown force had suddenly inhabited his body, he eased off the sidewalk and moved across the street until he stood next to her. “Excuse me, ma’am. Is there anything I can do to help?”

She whirled toward him, and the long braid of black hair hanging over her right shoulder thumped against her chest. Sultry dark eyes shaded by long lashes stared up at him, and a small gasp escaped her lips. “Oh, you startled me.”

His chest constricted, and he inhaled to relieve the tightness. His gaze drifted to the long braid that reached nearly to her waist. He had a momentary desire to reach out and touch it. With a shake of his head, he curled his fingers into his palms and cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry. I heard you calling out to that boy, and I thought maybe I could help.”

Only then did her shoulders relax, and she smiled. Relief surged through his body, and his legs trembled. What was happening to him? A few minutes ago he was mentally reaffirming his commitment to bachelorhood, and now his mind wondered why he’d ever had such a ridiculous thought. All he could do was stare at the beautiful creature facing him.

She glanced in the direction the boy had disappeared and sighed. “That was my brother. He was supposed to help me move these crates into the store, but he ran off to find his friend.” She smiled again and held out her hand. “My name is Laurel.”

His hand engulfed hers, and a wobbly smile pulled at his lips. “I’m Andrew. I’d be glad to take these inside for you, Laurel.”

“Oh, no. If you could just get one end, I’ll hold the other.”

He studied the containers for a moment before he shook his head. “I think I can manage. If you’ll just open the door, I’ll have them inside in no time.”

She hesitated as if trying to decide, then nodded. “Okay. But be careful. These crates are filled with pottery. My mother will have a fit if one piece gets broken.”

He took a deep breath, leaned over the tailgate of the truck, and grabbed the largest crate with Mountain Laurel Pottery stamped on the top. Hoisting the container in his hands, he headed toward the store and the front door that she held open.

As they entered the building, a tall man with a pencil stuck behind his ear hurried from the back of the room. “Afternoon, Laurel. I wondered when you were going to get here.”

She smiled, and Andrew’s heart thumped harder. “We didn’t leave home as early as we’d planned.” Her smile changed to a scowl. “Willie was supposed to help me, but he ran off.” And just as quickly, her expression changed again to a dazzling smile. “Andrew was good enough to help me get the crates in.”

Mr. Bryan helped Andrew ease the crate to the floor and glanced up at him. “Any more in the truck?”

Andrew nodded. “One more, but it’s smaller. I don’t need any help getting it inside.”

“Then I’ll leave you two. I’m unboxing some supplies in the back.” Mr. Bryan turned to Laurel. “If anybody comes in, holler at me, Laurel.”

“I will.”

A need to distance himself from this woman who had his heart turning somersaults swept over Andrew, and he hurried out the door. Within minutes he was back with the second container, but he almost dropped it at the sight of Laurel kneeling on the floor beside the first one. She opened the top, reached inside, and pulled out one of the most beautiful clay pots he’d ever laid eyes on. Swirls of orange and black streaked the smoky surface of the piece. She held it up to the light, and her eyes sparkled as she turned it slowly in her hands and inspected it.

He set the second crate down and swallowed. “Did you make it?”

She laughed and shook her head. The braid swayed again, and he stood transfixed. “No, my mother is the potter. I help her sometimes, but I didn’t inherit her gift. This is one of her pit-fired pieces.”

She set the pot down and pulled another one out. She smiled and rubbed her hand over the surface. Her touch on the pottery sent a warm rush through his veins.

“Exquisite.” The word escaped his mouth before he realized it.

She cocked her head to one side and bit her lip. “Exquisite?” she murmured. She glanced up at him, and her long eyelashes fluttered. “I’ve searched for the right word for a long time to describe my mother’s work. I think you’ve just given it to me. They are exquisite.”

He swallowed and backed away. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

She shook her head. “No, thank you. You’ve been a great help.”

“I’m glad I could be of service.” He searched his mind for something else to say, something to prolong his time with her, but his mind was blank. He took a deep breath. “I need to go. It was nice meeting you, Laurel.”

She smiled. “You too, Andrew. Goodbye, and thanks again.”

“Goodbye.” He slowly backed toward the door.

Outside in the fresh air he took a deep breath and pulled his hat off. He raked his sleeve across his perspiring brow and shook his head. What had just happened? He’d felt like he was back in high school and trying to impress the most popular girl in his class.

He closed his eyes for a moment, and the image of her holding the pottery in her hands returned. He clamped his teeth down on his bottom lip and shook his head. She’d misunderstood. It wasn’t the pottery he was describing when the word had slipped from his mouth.

Exquisite? The word didn’t do her justice.

And she had a beautiful name too. Laurel. He straightened, and his eyes widened. He hadn’t even asked her last name.

He whirled to go back inside the store but stopped before he had taken two steps. His father’s face and the words he’d spoken when Andrew left home flashed in his mind. Remember who you are and why you’re there. Don’t do anything foolish. People in Washington are watching. He exhaled and rubbed his hand across his eyes.

For a moment inside the store he’d been distracted. He was the son of Congressman Richard Brady, and his father had big plans for his only living son.

He glanced once more at the pickup truck that still sat in front of the store and pictured how Laurel had looked standing there. When he’d grasped her hand, he’d had the strange feeling that he’d known her all his life. How could a mountain girl he’d just met have such a strange effect on him?

He pulled his hat on, whirled, and strode in the opposite direction. Halfway down the block he stopped, turned slowly, and wrinkled his brow as he stared back at the truck. The words painted on the containers flashed in his mind, and he smiled.

It shouldn’t be too hard to find out her last name. For now he would just call her Mountain Laurel. His skin warmed at the thought. A perfect name for a beautiful mountain girl.

He jammed his hands in his pockets and whistled a jaunty tune as he sauntered down the street.

FIRST Wild Card Tours presents The Road Home by Patrick E. Craig

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Patrick E. Craig
and the book:
The Road Home
Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2013)
***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Patrick E. Craig is a lifelong writer and musician who left a successful songwriting and performance career in the music industry to follow Christ in 1984. He spent the next 26 years as a worship leader, seminar speaker, and pastor in churches, and at retreats, seminars and conferences all across the western United States. After ministering for a number of years in music and worship to a circuit of small churches, he is now concentrating on writing and publishing both fiction and non-fiction books. Patrick and his wife Judy make their home in northern California and are the parents of two adult children and have five grandchildren.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Author Patrick Craig continues the story of Jenny Springer, the child rescued in A Quilt for Jenna. Now an adult, Jenny begins a search for her long-last parents. As she opens doors to her past, she finds the truly surprising answer to her deepest questions.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Series: Apple Creek Dreams Series

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0736951075

ISBN-13: 978-0736951074

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

 “Du Schlecht’r!”“Jenny Springer! You should not say such bad words! You should be ashamed.”

Jenny’s face burned as she reached behind the quilting frame with her left hand and pushed the errant needle through the quilt to complete her stitch. The finger of her other hand, showing a tiny red drop where she had pricked herself, went into her mouth. She stared angrily at the quilt she was working on. The design was awkward, and the edges of the pattern pieces were puckered where she had attempted to sew them together.

“Oh, Mama, I will never, ever be a quilter like you. I just can’t do it.”

Her mother’s shocked expression softened somewhat, and she put her arm around the girl’s shoulder. “Quilting is a gift from God, and it’s true that you don’t yet seem to have the eye for it. But you’re gifted in so many other ways. Don’t be disheartened. Sometimes you’re a little eigensinnig und ungeduldig, and these qualities do not fit well with quilting. You must learn to still your heart and calm the stream of thoughts rushing through your head.”

Jenny reached behind her head and rubbed her neck. She took a deep breath and stuck the needle back into the pincushion with finality.

“I need to stop for a bit, Mama. This quilt is making me vereitelt!”

Even in her present state, Jenny was a lovely girl of nearly twenty. Her reddish gold hair framed a strong brow and deep violet eyes that could flash with annoyance in an instant or radiate the most loving kindness a moment later.

Jerusha Springer reached down and enfolded Jenny in her arms. “Sie sind meine geliebte dochter,” Jerusha whispered softly into the curls that refused to be controlled by the heavy hairpins and happily tumbled out from under the slightly askew black kappe on Jenny’s head. Jenny turned on her stool, and her arms crept around her mother’s waist. She held on as though she would never let go.

“Are you ever sorry that you got me instead of Jenna, Mama?” Jenny whispered.

Jerusha paused before replying. “I was given Jenna, and then I was given you, my dearest. Jenna was a wonderful little girl, and your papa and I were blessed beyond measure by having her. When she died, we didn’t know how we would ever go on with our lives. But God in His mercy sent us a wonderful child to fill the emptiness in our hearts. That child was you. Sorry? No, my darling, I will never be sorry that you came to us. There will always be a place in my heart for Jenna, but now I have you to love and hold. I couldn’t hope for a better dochter.”

Jenny clung even tighter to her mother. Her mother’s arms had always been a safe haven for her since the day Jerusha rescued her from the great snowstorm so many years ago. Jerusha had kept Jenny alive by holding the child next to her heart all through the long nights until Papa and Uncle Bobby had rescued them. That was the earliest memory Jenny had of her mother. The calm, steady beat of her mother’s heart comforted her, and it was always in this place of refuge and life that she felt the most secure. But today, even in her mother’s arms, she couldn’t still the turmoil in her heart. She pulled away from Jerusha and began to talk in a rush.

“Mama, don’t you ever wonder where I came from and who my birth mother was? Maybe I’m the daughter of criminals or murderers. Maybe there’s a bad seed in me that will come out someday. It makes me afraid sometimes.”

Jerusha stroked her daughter’s hair. “There are some things we can never know, and you must not worry or fret about them. ‘Be careful for nothing—’ ”

“I know, I know, Mama, but sometimes I do worry. I would never want to do anything that would bring shame on you or Papa. But sometimes I think that I’ll never find real peace until I know…and yet that’s impossible.”

Jenny released her grip on her mother and grabbed up a scrap of material. She wiped another drop of blood from her finger, crumpled the cloth, and threw it down.

Jerusha took a breath and then answered. “You are so standhaft in all your ways. Many times your papa and I have had to pick you up and dust you off when you went too far. But that same quality has helped you to overcome difficulties. The accomplishments in your life are proof of that.”

Jerusha reached over and softly stroked Jenny’s cheek. “You’re a gut student. No one in our community has such a grasp of the history of our people as you do. Someday you will be a teacher who can pass down to your children the things that keep the Amish separate and distinct from the world.”

Jenny looked away and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t think I will ever have children, Mama.”

Jerusha stiffened, and a fleeting frown passed over her face. “Why not, my darling?” she asked quietly.

“I don’t think any man could put up with me, for one thing, and for another, I think I’m just too independent. I’m not sure I could ever submit to a husband ruling over me.”

Jerusha’s mouth tightened slightly. “If I were true to our ordnung, I would tell you what my grandmother told me when I was a girl, and insist that you follow it,” Jerusha said. “She used to say that marriage is not built first on love but on the needs of our community and our faith.”

“But, Mama…” Jenny said.

“Let me finish, dochter,” Jerusha said quietly. “I loved your father very much before we were married, and someday that may happen for you. You’ll meet a man whom you will love so deeply that you will gladly surrender everything of yourself into his care and protection. I used to be so bound up in my quilting that I thought there was no room in my life for love or marriage. But the first time I looked into your father’s eyes, I was lost forever.” Jerusha’s face softened, and she smiled at a secret memory.

“Why, Mama! You’re blushing,” Jenny laughed. “I can understand why you lost your heart to Papa. He’s a handsome man.”

“Did I hear someone talking about me?” Reuben Springer came into the room. His face was stern, but there was a smile behind his eyes.

“Papa!” Jenny broke free from her mother and ran to her daed.

Reuben took the girl into his arms. “This is always the best part of my day, when I come home to my girls,” he said as he kissed his daughter on the forehead. “I used to have to bend down so far to reach you. Now you’re all grown up.”

Jerusha smiled at him, a tinge of pink in her cheeks.

“I can still make you blush, eh, Mrs. Springer?” he asked.

Jerusha turned away with a reluctant smile.

A frown passed over Jenny’s face like a small dark cloud, and her father noticed it.

“What is it, dochter?”

“Jenny was asking me about her birth parents,” Jerusha said. “Not knowing about her past troubles her.”

“Jenny, you mustn’t concern yourself with things that can’t be known,” Reuben said. “When your mother found you, there was no identification or any means to discover who you were. The police found a man’s body in Jepson’s pond the next spring, but he had been in the water far too long to make a clear identification. The car was stolen in New York, so there was no way to trace the man. You must be content with the wisdom of God. He sent you to us because He knew you needed us and we needed you. That’s all we need to know.”

“But, Papa, sometimes I feel like a stranger, as if I don’t really belong here.” Jenny saw the pain in her father’s eyes and stopped. “I’m sorry, Papa. I didn’t mean it exactly that way. I don’t know why it’s so important to me to find out these things, but it is. Sometimes I think I’ll never be who I’m supposed to be until I find out who I really am. It doesn’t help that I’m so stubborn.”

“Your Mama was just as stubborn when I first met her,” Reuben said. “Even twenty-four years later, I feel the sting on my face where she slapped me the first time I kissed her.”

“Husband!” Jerusha exclaimed as her cheeks once again turned rosy pink.

Reuben smiled at his wife and then looked at Jenny. His voice took a sterner tone. “Your mama has changed over the years, and you will change too. For the good of our family, you must put these things out of your mind.”

Jenny felt a small flash of anger at her father’s words. She wanted to speak but wisely stayed silent. Then she decided to take a different approach.

“Papa, maybe if I did know, I could be more peaceful inside and not be so much trouble for you and Mama. Maybe if you helped me to find my birth parents I could be a better dochter to you and—”

Jenny’s papa stiffened at her words. “Jenny, I love you very much, but I am still the head of our home, and until you’re married and under the care of your husband, I will decide what’s best for you. There’s much in the world that you’re too young to understand. God has entrusted me with your care and safety for a good reason. The man you were with may have been your father, or he may not, but judging by what the police found in the car, he was not a good man. There were drugs and alcohol—”

“But what if he wasn’t my father and he just kidnapped me or—”

“Dochter! That’s enough! I know what’s best for you. Asking questions that can’t be answered will only cause you heartache and sorrow. I want you to put these wild ideas behind you. We will not discuss this further!”

Jenny stared at her father, and he stared back at her. She started to speak, but her mother placed her hand on Jenny’s arm and squeezed a warning. “Your father is right, Jenny. You must listen to him and obey. Now, is anyone hungry, or should we go on working on this quilt?”

Jenny took a deep breath, looked at her masterpiece, and smiled ruefully. The star design she had labored over for so many hours was crooked and wrinkled, and the colors she had chosen clashed.

“I think we’d better have dinner, Mama. I don’t think there’s anything I can do to fix this mess.”

“Well, let’s go then,” Reuben said. “I need kindling for the stove, and Jenny can go out and close in the chickens.”

“All right, Papa,” Jenny said, still stinging from Reuben’s rebuke. “Do I need to bring in any milch, Mama?”

“Yes, dear,” Jerusha said, “there’s some fresh in the cooling house.”

When Jenny had banged out the back door, Jerusha turned to Reuben. “She’s so impetuous. I worry there’ll come a time when she crashes into a predicament we can’t get her out of. But you must not be so hard on her. She’s still young.”

“I know. But young or not, her curiosity worries me,” Reuben said. “She’s headed for disappointment if she keeps searching for answers that don’t exist. I want to keep her from that as long as I can.”

Jerusha nodded. “I want her to be happy, but in my heart I’m afraid that if she does somehow find her birth parents, she’ll want to be with them more than with us. And their way would be so different from ours. The world out there is filled with danger, and I don’t know if she would be able to understand it. I’m afraid for her, Reuben.”

“I’m afraid for her too, Jerusha,” he said quietly, taking his wife in his arms. “And that’s why I want her to forget about her past. I’m trying hard not to crush her spirit, but the girl doesn’t think things through. She thinks she’s all grown up, but she still has many kindisch ways about her. There may soon come a day when she goes her own way, and the thought of what she might choose…”

Jerusha felt a momentary chill grip her heart, and she pulled herself deeper into the circle of Reuben’s arms.

FIRST Wild Card Tours presents….Unlimited by Davis Bunn

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Davis Bunn
and the book:
Unlimited
B&H Books (September 1, 2013)
***Special thanks to Rick Roberson for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Davis Bunn is a three-time Christy Award-winning, best-selling author now serving as writer-in-residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Defined by readers and reviewers as a “wise teacher,” “gentleman adventurer,” “consummate writer,” and “Renaissance man,” his work in business took him to over forty countries around the world, and his books have sold more than seven million copies in sixteen languages. Among those titles are The Presence, Winner Take All, and Lion of Babylon.
Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Simon Orwell is a brilliant student whose life has taken a series of wrong

turns. At the point of giving up on his dreams, he gets a call from an old

professor who has discovered a breakthrough in a device that would create

unlimited energy, and he needs Simon’s help.

But once he crosses the border, nothing goes as the young man planned.

The professor has been killed and Simon is assaulted and nearly killed by

members of a powerful drug cartel.

Now he must take refuge in the only place that will help him, a local

orphanage. There, Simon meets Harold Finch, the orphanage proprietor

who walked away from a lucrative career with NASA and consulting

Fortune 500 companies to serve a higher cause.

With Harold’s help, Simon sets out on a quest to uncover who killed the

professor and why. In due time, he will discover secrets to both the world changing device and his own unlimited potential.

Product Details:

List Price: $8.99

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: B&H Books (September 1, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 143367940X

ISBN-13: 978-1433679407

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

Will post review in a few days!

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

A hot, dusty wind buffeted Simon through the Mustang’s open top. He started to pull over and close up the car. But the convertible’s electric motor did not work, and he would have to fight the top by hand. When he had started off that morning, the predawn air had carried a frigid bite. Now his sweatshirt lay in the empty passenger seat, covering the remaining water bottle and his iPod.The car’s radio worked, but one of the speakers was blown. The iPod’s headphones were hidden beneath the sweatshirt as well. Simon doubted the border authorities cared whether he listened to music on an in-ear system. But he didn’t want to give them any reason to make trouble.He didn’t know what he had been expecting for a small-town border crossing, but it definitely was not this. An American flag flew over a fortified concrete building. The flag snapped and rippled as Simon pulled forward. In front of him were three trucks and a few vans. One car had Texas plates, one produce truck was from Oklahoma, and the other half-dozen vehicles were Mexican. That was it. The crossing was four lanes in each direction, and all but two were blocked off with yellow traffic cones. The border crossing looked ready to handle an armada. The empty lanes heightened the sense of desolation.

As he waited his turn, a harvest truck rumbled past, bringing sacks of vegetables to the United States. The driver shot Simon a gold-toothed grin through his open window. As though the two of them shared a secret. They were passing through the only hassle-free crossing between Mexico and the USA.

Or so Simon hoped.

To either side of the crossing grew the fence. Simon had heard about the border fence for years. But it was still a jarring sight. Narrow steel girders marched in brutal regularity out of sight in both directions. The pillars were thirty feet high, maybe more, and spaced so the wind whistled between them in a constant piercing whine, like a siren, urging Simon to turn back while he still could. Only he didn’t have a choice. Or he would not have made this journey in the first place.

Simon passed the U.S. checkpoint and drove across the bridge. Below flowed the silted gray waters of the Rio Grande.The Mexican border officer took in the dusty car and Simon’s disheveled appearance and directed him to pull over. Simon heaved a silent sigh and did as he was ordered.

The Mexican customs official was dressed in blue—navy trousers, shirt, hat. He circled Simon’s car slowly before saying,

“Your passport.” He examined it carefully. “What is the purpose of your visit to Mexico, señor?”

“I’m making a presentation to the Ojinaga city council.”

The officer glanced at Simon, then the car, and finally the black duffel bag that filled the rear seat.

“What kind of presentation?”

“My advisor at MIT retired down here last year. We’ve been working on a project together.” He plucked the letter from his shirt pocket and unfolded it along the well-creased lines.

The officer studied it. “Do you read Spanish, Dr . . . . ?”

He started to correct the man, then decided it didn’t matter. The officer had no need to know Simon had dropped out. “Dr. Vasquez, my professor, he translated it.”

“You have cut this very close, señor.” The officer checked his watch. “It says your appointment is in less than two hours.”

“I expected the trip from Boston to take two days. It’s taken four. My car broke down. Twice.”

The officer pointed to the duffel. “What is in the bag?” “Scientific instrumentation.” Simon reached back and unzipped the top.

The Mexican officer frowned over the complicated apparatus. “It looks like a bomb.”

“I know. Or a vacuum cleaner.” He swallowed against a dry throat. “I get that a lot.”

The officer handed back Simon’s passport and letter. “Welcome to Mexico, señor.”

Simon restarted the motor and drove away. He kept his hands tight on the wheel and his eyes on the empty road ahead. There was no need to be afraid. He was not carrying drugs. He was not breaking any law. This time. But the memory of other border crossings kept his heart rate amped to redline as he drove slowly past the snapping flags and the dark federales’ cars.

His attention was caught by a man leaning against a dusty SUV. The Mexican looked odd from every angle. He was not so much round as bulky, like an aging middleweight boxer. Despite the heat, he was dressed in a beige leather jacket that hung on him like a sweaty robe. The man had a fringe of unkempt dark hair and a scraggly beard. He leaned against the black Tahoe with the ease of someone out for a morning stroll. He caught Simon’s eye and grinned, then made a gun of his hand and shot Simon.

Welcome to Mexico.

A hundred meters beyond the border, the screen to his iPod map went blank, then a single word appeared: searching. Simon did not care. He could see his destination up ahead. The city of Ojinaga hovered in the yellow dust. He crossed Highway 10, the east-west artery that ran from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He drove past an industrial zone carved from the surrounding desert, then joined the city traffic.

Ojinaga grew up around him, a distinctly Mexican blend of poverty and high concrete walls. The city was pretty much as Vasquez had described. Simon’s former professor had dearly loved his hometown. Vasquez had spent his final two years at MIT yearning to return. The mountains he had hiked as a boy rose to Simon’s right, razor peaks that had never been softened by rain. Vasquez had bought a home where he could sit in his backyard and watch the sunset turn them into molten gold. But they looked very ominous to Simon. Like they barred his way forward. Hemming him in with careless brutality.

Between the border and downtown, Simon checked his phone six times. Just as Vasquez had often complained, there was no connection. Landline phone service wasn’t much bet- ter. Skype was impossible. Vasquez had maintained contact by e-mailing in the predawn hours. He had claimed to enjoy the isolation. Simon would have gone nuts.

The last time they had spoken had been almost two weeks earlier, when Vasquez declared he was on the verge of a break- through. After months of frustrating dead ends, Vasquez had finally managed to make their apparatus work. Since then, Simon had received a series of increasingly frantic e-mails, imploring him to come to Mexico to present the device to the city council.

What neither of them ever mentioned was the real reason why Vasquez had taken early retirement and returned to his hometown in the first place. Which was also the reason why Simon had made this trip at all. To apologize for the role he had played in the demise of Vasquez’s career. That was something that had to be done face-to-face.

Simon found a parking spot on the main plaza. Downtown Ojinaga was dominated by a massive central square, big as three football fields. Simon imagined it must have really been some- thing when it was first built. Now it held the same run-down air as the rest of the town. A huge Catholic church anchored the opposite side of the plaza. The trees and grass strips lining the square were parched and brown. Skinny dogs flitted about, snarling at one another. Drunks occupied the concrete benches. Old cars creaked and complained as they drove over topes, the speed bumps lining the roads. In a nearby shop-front window, two women made dough and fed it into a tortilla machine.

The city office building looked ready for demolition. Several windows were cracked. Blinds hung at haphazard angles, giving the facade a sleepy expression. A bored policeman slumped in the shaded entrance. Simon entered just as the church bells tolled the hour.

The guard ran his duffel back through the metal detector three times, while another officer pored over the letter from the city council. Finally they gestured him inside and pointed him down a long corridor.

The door to the council meeting hall was closed. Simon heard voices inside. He debated knocking, but Vasquez had still not arrived. Simon visited the restroom and changed into a clean shirt. He stuffed his dirty one down under the apparatus. He shaved and combed his hair. His eyes looked like they had become imprinted with GPS road maps, so he dug out his eye- drops. Then he took a moment and inspected his reflection.

Simon was tall enough that he had to stoop to fit his face in the mirror. His hair was brownish-blond and worn rakishly long, which went with his strong features and green eyes and pirate’s grin. Only he wasn’t smiling now. There was nothing he could do to repay Vasquez for what happened, except help him get the city’s funding so they could complete the project. Then Simon would flee this poverty-stricken town and try to rebuild his own shattered life.

He returned to the hall, settled onto a hard wooden bench, and pulled out his phone. For once, the phone registered a two- bar signal.

Simon dialed Vasquez and listened to the phone ring. The linoleum floor by his feet was pitted with age. The hallway smelled slightly of cheap disinfectant and a woman’s perfume. Sunlight spilled through tall windows at the end of the corridor, forming a backdrop of brilliance and impenetrable shadows.

When the professor’s voice mail answered, he said, “It’s Simon again. I’m here in the council building. Growing more desperate by the moment.” The door beside him opened, and Simon turned away from the voices that spilled out. “Professor Vasquez, I really hope you’re on your way, because—”

“Excuse me, señor. You are Simon Orwell, the professor’s great friend?”

Simon shut his phone and rose to his feet. “Is he here?”

The two men facing him could not have been more different. One was tall, not as tall as Simon, but he towered over most Mexicans. And handsome. And extremely well groomed. The other was the product of a hard life, stubby and tough as nails. The only thing they shared was a somber expression.

Even before the elegant man said the words, Simon knew.  “I am very sorry to have to tell you, Señor Simon. But Professor Vasquez is dead.” “No, that’s . . . What?”

“Allow me to introduce myself. Enrique Morales, I am the mayor of Ojinaga. And this is Pedro Marin, the assistant town manager and my trusted ally.”

“Vasquez is dead?”

“A heart attack. Very sudden.”

“He thought the world of you, Señor Simon.” Pedro spoke remarkably clear English.

The mayor was graceful even when expressing condolences. “Nos lamentanos mucho. We lament with you, Señor Simon, in this dark hour.”

For some reason, Simon found it easier to focus upon the smaller man. “You knew the professor?”

“He was a dear friend. My sister and I and Dr. Harold, per- haps you have heard of him? The professor was very close to us all.”

“You’re sure about Vasquez?”

“Such a tragedy.” The mayor was around his midthirties and had a politician’s desire to remain the center of attention. “You came all the way from Boston, is that not so? We are glad you made it safely. And we regret this news is here to greet you.”

“I . . . we’re scheduled to meet the city council.”

A look flashed between the two men. “I believe they have completed their other business, yes? Pedro will escort you. I must hurry to the city’s outskirts. We are dedicating a new water treatment facility. Long in coming. But so very needed. It is our attempt to aid the poorest citizens of our community. Like the professor’s bold project, no? So very noble.”

Enrique was clearly adept at filling uncomfortable vacuums. “Please join me for dinner tonight. Yes? Splendid. We will meet and we will talk and I will see what I can do to assist you through this dark hour. The restaurant by the church. Nine o’clock.”

Enrique turned and spoke a lightning-swift sentence to Pedro, whose nod of acceptance shaped a half bow. The mayor’s footsteps clipped rapidly down the hall. He tossed quick greetings to several people as he departed, clapped the senior guard on the shoulder, thanked the second guard who opened the door for him, and was gone.

Simon stared into the empty sunlight at the corridor’s end, wishing the floor would just open up and swallow him whole.

Then he realized Pedro was waiting for him. “This way, señor. The council will see you now.”

First Wild Card Tours Presents…Rita L. Schulte and the book: Shattered: Finding Hope and Healing Through the Losses of Life

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Rita L. Schulte
and the book:
Shattered: Finding Hope and Healing Through the Losses of Life
Leafwood Publishers (September 10, 2013)
***Special thanks to Ryan Self for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rita A. Schulte is a licensed professional counselor in the Northern Virginia/DC area. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Counseling from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the host of Heartline Podcast and Consider This radio programs. Her show airs on several radio stations as well as the Internet. Rita writes for numerous publications and blogs. She resides in Fairfax Station, Virginia.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Shattered explores how unidentified or unresolved loss impacts every area of life, especially our relationship with God. The long-range impact of these losses is often obscured, buried beneath the conscious surface in an attempt to avoid pain. This book calls the reader to “notice” the losses of life, and fight the battle to reclaim and reinvest our hearts after loss through faith-based strategies.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.11

Paperback: 224 pages

Publisher: Leafwood Publishers (September 10, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0891123822

ISBN-13: 978-0891123828

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The Necessity

of Brokenness
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?

—Tina Turner
I have come to bind up the brokenhearted.

—Jesus
The Winds of Change
It was a rainy Virginia day, warm enough to sit outside with a cup of tea but  too dark and dreary to really enjoy it. Just the kind of day that surrounds  one in melancholy. And that morning I had a reason to be sad. My faithful  companion—my dog Spanky—had died the week before. Wait . . . Am I really going to open a book about grief and loss by talking about my dog? I am. In the pages that follow, I will share more of my story, about the seasons of heartbreaking loss that led me to write this book. But loss comes in many forms, and that morning on the porch, my sadness was about more than the loss of a pet. Spanky’s death represented the loss of an era, a snapshot of my life that I would never fully reclaim.
Sometimes we don’t notice how loss affects our hearts. It can happen slowly; yet before we realize it, the effects of our grief have become catastrophic and the death of our hearts inevitable. Loss throws us offbalance, sometimes causing us to lose our way. If too much time goes by before we repair the distance between what we know intellectually about our grief and what we feel deep within our souls, we’ll find that along the journey we will have sacrificed something precious in order to protect ourselves from pain. That something is our heart.
The closing of one chapter of life gives way to the birth of another, offering us hope and promise—but not without cost and certainly not without a glance backward and a twinge of sorrow. Which brings me back to Spanky.
We brought Spanky home as a puppy, a gift to our son on his seventh birthday to comfort him after the death of his grandmother. Michael is grown now, a young man beginning his own journey. Our home is quiet, void of the cacophony of children’s voices and the sense of security provided by my parents’ presence. Another twinge of sadness. There was a time not so long ago when my soul was in mortal agony over the very thought of losing them. Where did the years go, and how could the pages of my life turn so swiftly?
Telling the Story
Everyone loves a good story. Stories are full of adventure, passion, love, and mystery. But the stories of grief and suffering aren’t usually happy, and they are not always easy to tell. So we don’t. We bottle them up, push them down, and close up shop. And our pain sits, sometimes for decades. We don’t pull it out or look at it, and so we miss the opportunity to really understand the event or series of events that were responsible for breaking our hearts.
Yet we must tell the story to walk the healing path. That is why I wrote this book—to help you understand your own story where loss and grief have affected your journey and, more importantly, to show you where those losses will help you find and connect with the heart of God. The choices you make will be difficult ones, but if you stay the course, freedom is possible.
How do I know? Because I have walked a journey of loss myself that has spanned twenty years.
The first real tragedy in my life, the one event that broke my heart, started one morning when my children were still young. The day started as usual with my morning devotions. I opened my Bible randomly, as busy moms are prone to do, and I read John 11:25–26, where Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” For some reason, I kept thinking about it all day.
The phone rang late that night—always a bad sign. My dad said something was wrong with Mom; it seemed like she had had a heartattack. At the hospital, the doctors said it was a massive seizure brought on by a malignant brain tumor; she wouldn’t live through the night. My mother had been battling cancer for four years at that point. There was nothing else they could do. So we prayed.
My mom didn’t die that night in the hospital. God granted us two months with her, calling her home on my son’s birthday. Holding her in my arms as she lay dying felt like someone was pouring boiling acid over my soul. Tragic events do that. Try as we may to come up for air, we often find ourselves drowning in fear and overwhelming sorrow, questioning everything we believe.
That verse in John 11 haunted me, gnawing at my soul and pushing me to find answers. Did I really trust that “he who believes in me will never see death” (John 8:51)? I thought I knew the answer—but this loss brought me to a crisis of belief, hammering me to the core of my faith.
Over the next twelve years, the losses piled up. My children suffered a near-fatal parasail accident. Close friends and family died—eight in just one painful year. My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. And then my dad was diagnosed with bone cancer—and that was when the bottom dropped out.
My parents were a secure and comforting presence in my life. After my mom’s death, my dad became an idol. And God will have no idols in our lives. He would use my loss to begin a process that would ultimately shape and redirect my life, but not without even greater suffering.
Caring for my dad in our home for two years was difficult—not because he was difficult, but because so much happened to him. I couldn’t ever leave him alone. His illness consumed my life, and as I watched him stripped of what he once was, it broke my heart. My world became very narrow and isolated. So many dear friends and relatives I loved were dying, and in the process I was losing heart.
The Place of Brokenness
If we are honest, we know that suffering and sorrow are inevitable parts of life. Loved ones die. Dreams crumble. We lose things that were once important to us. The happily-ever-after life we dreamed of is often a far cry from the reality we live.
How we respond to loss and change determines what happens to our hearts. It also determines if we live—really live—the life that Christ has called us to. If I am honest, I will admit I let a lot of living go by trying to make life work, struggling to figure out, make sense of, and answer all the questions. Perhaps loss was a necessary part of my journey; it certainly caused me to see suffering as a necessary ingredient in my life, whether

I had all the answers or not.
As I mentioned, God will have no idols in my life. The place I tried to avoid—the place of suffering—was the very place he led me to so that he could evidence himself right in the midst of it all.
Brokenness must have its way in each of our lives in order to move us from death to life. Every spring, tree leaves come to life as tiny new shoots; they grow and flourish, showing us signs of life and hope, only to die each fall. Life gives way to death, but from death something wondrous occurs. The leaves produce a majestic display of bold and resplendent color. They become most vibrant as they are dying.
Jesus makes a similar analogy in the Gospel of John when he says, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24; italics mine). This is the power of rebirth through the process of death and dying. Jesus, the immortal seed of the Father, chose to take on mortality. His glory, hidden and buried beneath the earth, like the seed, breaks forth from the dust of death to display a bold and resplendent life.
Shall we expect the Master to work any differently in our own lives?
While most of us won’t be fighting for a place in the suffering line, I hope there is comfort in knowing we can move through this journey of brokenness to find healing and wholeness. We need only to change our perspective on loss and suffering. If we are willing to allow them to become our tutors, they can and will produce in us that same bold and resplendent life that Jesus is calling us to. If we have the eyes to see, we will come to know and understand that brokenness purifies our vision and chisels away all that keeps us from fully knowing the heart of God.
Brokenness is not only a necessary process in the life of the believer—it is a gift. I bet that’s not an easy line to swallow, as you read this book ravaged by the effects of loss. I certainly didn’t accept it easily. Early in my Christian walk, surrounded by pain, the idea that God was offering me gifts through my suffering made me angry. Maybe there was something wrong with me, I reasoned, because I didn’t have enough faith to want to walk through a towering inferno with a smile on my face and a song of praise in my heart.
But somewhere along the journey of loss, I began to consider that if God was good, he was not out to break me. Instead, he was out to break my confidence in all the ways I was trying to make my life work apart from him. Loss was simply the vehicle he used to get my attention.
It was then that I began to see suffering and pain in a new light. I could accept this process of brokenness as a gift from my heavenly Father, much like adults who grow to appreciate the discipline they received as children from their parents. Discipline is not pleasant at the time it’s received, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, but it is necessary in the molding and shaping of character, producing righteousness in all who are trained by it (Heb. 12:11).
If you and I want to recover from the losses of life, we must catch a vision for the greater role that we were designed to play and see a bigger purpose beyond ourselves and our losses. In other words, we must slowly begin to see with eternal eyes that which is so difficult to see when loss first assaults our hearts—the story isn’t finished yet. This is a journey, not a race.
How to Use This Book
In many ways, the chapters in this book have written themselves, as the pages of my own life and the stories of others around me have unfolded. To live again, really live, we all had to find the courage to reinvest our hearts into what stirs our passions. The heart of that passion flows from our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is not a traditional book on grief. Our time together will focus on the heart and the phases it must traverse through this journey. We won’t explore the process of dying, nor will we formally address the traditional stages of grief. I won’t list tasks the griever must accomplish to achieve closure or provide a nice, neat formula for recovery. That’s all important information, but “stages” can suggest a sequential order to our movement through life and loss that for many is not experientially true.
The heart can’t always follow rules, so instead many find themselves revisiting these stages or experiencing them in a random order. My own journey with loss has shown me that still, many years later, I have not moved beyond the struggle with some of these feelings. In fact, there are some days I actually feel as if I am falling backward. I don’t understand the “whys” of some of the things that have happened, and some days
I still find it hard to accept them. But through the years, the stages of grief have helped guide me toward the path of acceptance. Anger has thankfully given way to forgiveness, and depression is now an infrequent guest. Sadness, however, still remains, forever standing guard at the doorway of my soul and reminding me that to love deeply always requires something of the heart.
But in order to experience healing, we must be willing to pass through these stages of grief. We must be careful that our work doesn’t become intellectual, mechanical, or task-driven. This is a very real possibility if we are not willing to examine what lies beneath—how loss affects our hearts.
Being sensible or practical about loss will not accomplish this. Attending to the matters of the heart is elusive and abstract, sometimes barely visible even to the griever. Therefore, somewhere along this journey we must develop an awareness of the heart by learning to notice it. We must shift our focus from being rational and intellectual about our losses to practices that will sustain long-term healing. For such healing to be accomplished, we must be willing to crack open the hard shell we have built around our hearts, explore our brokenness, and expose our wounds. Only after that difficult work is complete can we allow Christ to revive our hearts through his healing power. Just as the sculptor carefully chisels through layers and layers of stone to uncover a precious form, so the griever must lend careful time and attention to rediscover the music of the heart buried under the weight of grief.
Our work will not be without task or toil. In the following chapters, we will attempt to find strength and meaning in the midst of our pain.
Part One of the book will help you identify your losses, consider their affect on your heart, look at the defenses you’ve built to protect yourself from pain, and evaluate your concept of God. Part Two will help you fight the battle to reclaim your heart by exploring the healing tasks necessary to move forward: dealing with anger and unfinished business and learning how to surrender. Part Three will help you to rekindle the desires of your heart and reinvest them into the grander redemptive story God is telling.
You will find various exercises throughout the book to help you uncover and process your losses so that through thought, prayer, and meditation you can press into the heart of the Savior.
Be intentional and deliberate with your work, and set aside a time each day to be alone with God, for it will be in those intimate moments that the real healing work of grief will be accomplished.

First Wild Card Tours presents……Vanishing Act by Jennifer AlLee and Lisa Karon

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Jennifer AlLee and Lisa Karon

and the book:
Vanishing Act
(Charm & Deceit series #2)
Whitaker House (September 2, 2013)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Veteran authors Jennifer AlLee and Lisa Karon Richardson have combined their considerable skills to create the action-packed historical romance series, Charm & Deceit, for Whitaker House.

Jennifer AlLee is the bestselling author of The Love of His Brother (2007) for Five Star Publishers, and for Abington Press: The Pastor’s Wife (2010), The Mother Road (April 2012), and A Wild Goose Chase Christmas (November 2012). She’s also published a number of short stories, devotions and plays. Jennifer is a passionate participant in her church’s drama ministry. She lives with her family in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Visit the author’s website.

Lisa Karon Richardson has led a life of adventure — from serving as a missionary in the Seychelles and Gabon to returning to the U.S. to raise a family—and she imparts her stories with similarly action-packed plot lines. She’s the author of Impressed by Love (2012) for Barbour Publishing’s Colonial Courtships anthology, The Magistrate’s Folly, and Midnight Clear, part of a 2013 holiday anthology, also from Barbour. Lisa lives with her husband and children in Ohio.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Pinkerton detective Carter Forbes returns in Book Two of the Charm & Deceit series. Set in Washington D. C. during the Civil War the action revolves around Juliet Button who does not believe in ghosts! She does believe in supporting her makeshift family of misfits. Having spent years as assistant to her illusionist uncle, Juliet possesses skills to make an audience believe the impossible and launches a career as “Miss Avila,” a medium. She wants nothing to do with agent Forbes who has the power to destroy the life she’s built. But when President Lincoln’s youngest son is kidnapped, and the first lady comes to her for help, she can’t refuse, even if it means facing Forbes, who knows far too much about her already.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99

Series: Charm & Deceit (Book 2)

Paperback: 256 pages

Publisher: Whitaker House (September 2, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1603749063

ISBN-13: 978-1603749060

My Thoughts on this Book

Jennifer AlLee and Lisa Karon are new authors for me, and I am really glad I have the opportunity to read this book. I just wish I had read Book One first because I think I would have understood what was going on better. First of all, I love the cover of Vanishing Act. The cover is usually why I read a book, especially if I don’t know the authors, and I would grab this one off the shelf! These two authors make a wonderful team, vividly describing the historical scenes that made me feel like I was there in the story! I love when an author can do this! The characters are well developed, and the excitement, humor and twists and turns kept my eyes on the pages!

Looking for a good clean, fun, interesting and entertaining book? Try Vanishing Act by Jennifer AlLee and Lisa Karon. You will not be disappointed!!  I received this book from FIRST WildCard Tours to read and review.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 55.

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

May 6, 1862

Washington, D.C.

Juliet palmed the thin stack of note cards on the table and slid them up her sleeve. Her fingers trembled as they always did before a “show.” No matter. They’d be steady when it counted.

Grandmotherly Miss Clara smoothed Juliet’s pale skirts. “You’ve got a new sitter. A young fellow.”

“Do we know anything about him?”

“Artie’s checking now.”

Juliet pressed the heel of her hand against her stomach. The queasiness would pass, too.

“This is all I found. It was in the lining of his hat.” Miss Clara passed her a folded ticket stub for Ford’s Athenaeum and a battered-looking letter with countless creases.

Juliet accepted the offerings and opened the letter. No, not a letter. She raised an eyebrow and looked at Miss Clara. “This is a pass that allows the bearer to move through Union lines.”

Miss Clara glanced up from her examination of a tiny stain on Juliet’s hem and met her eyes.

“So, he’s doing war work?”

“Apparently important work. It’s signed by President Lincoln.”

Miss Clara took the paper from Juliet’s trembling fingers.

Why would anyone carry such a document in a place as obvious as a hatband? Though ostensibly he was in the heart of Union territory and it wouldn’t be required, the pass granted access anywhere. That meant he’d come from beyond Union lines, in rebel territory. But, in rebel territory, who would want such a pass on him? Juliet sat down at the kitchen table. Something about this man felt dangerous. The pass identified him as Carter Forbes. The name meant nothing to her, and yet something niggled at the back of her mind. She should know about him.

Artie clattered down the stairs, his brown hair disheveled as usual, and leaped over the last few steps, landing with a thump. “Nothing.”

“Did you try to cross-reference him?”

Artie tilted his head and scowled in response.

Juliet held up a hand. “I had to ask. It seems that I should know the name.” She rubbed the furrows from between her eyebrows. She hated blind readings; they were so tricky. “Did he say how he learned of my sittings?”

Artie shook his head. “I don’t think so. The Professor never said anything.”

The Professor entered at that moment. “They’re all ready for you.”

“Do you know anything about this Carter Forbes fellow?”

The question seemed to pain the old gentleman, and Juliet winced at her own callousness. The Professor used to draw enormous crowds through the power of his observations about people; but now, his eyesight was shrouded by milky white cataracts, which meant he noticed very little.

“He came to the front door and asked if he could attend today’s sitting. He spoke well, and when I took his hat, I noted it was of fine felt. I asked if he had been referred by one of your clients, and he said no. He didn’t seem to want to offer any further information.”

It wasn’t an unusual reaction. Many new clients were hesitant and wanted her to prove her skills by astonishing them with information about themselves.

Juliet inhaled and held the breath for a long moment before letting it out in a rush. She could do this. She had to do this. If she turned away clients, it wouldn’t be long before she and her makeshift family were turned out of their home. She just couldn’t go back to the vaudeville circuit. Not if she was to have any hope of keeping them all together. One day, she would find a better way to support them. But for now, well, she had no choice.

***

Carter covertly examined his companions around the smooth oak table: a half dozen well-dressed ladies, most of them older than he, all but one of whom were in mourning; and a tall, rickety man with a snowy beard that reached his waist. The individuals in the group appeared to have at least a nodding acquaintance with one another, and they sat in companionable silence as they waited for Miss Avila.

The peaceful hush proved to be too much for a twittery sort of elderly lady to Carter’s right. She wore a full dress of black bombazine that looked far too warm for the summer heat. Her hair was frizzled into the semblance of ringlets that wilted on either side of her cheeks. She leaned closer to him and smiled kindly. “I don’t think I’ve met you before. Is this your first visit to Miss Avila?”

One of the ladies sniffed at this breach of social etiquette, but the others looked interested and friendly, as if the mere fact of their gathering in this room conferred a special kind of privilege.

Squelching the desire to educate them on the certainty they were being duped, Carter pasted on a smile for the lady and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Is she as impressive as they say?”

“More so, I think.” She beamed at him. “Miss Avila has such a way about her. She’s so mystical and otherworldly. I completely see why the spirits choose to seek her out.”

The bearded gentleman cleared his throat. “She’s not like some as you’ll find—them show-offs with their painted-up faces and tricks. She’s a good little gal, the kind my Emmeline would have taken under her wing. The kind I would have wanted for my boy.” His words choked off, and he blew his nose into a large handkerchief.

Carter wanted to pat him on the shoulder or offer some reassurance, but he couldn’t allow himself the liberty. The fellow was austere and proud in his grief. Any expression of pity would likely inflict further hurt. How could someone take advantage of these poor people?

The door opened, and a slip of a young woman entered. Her dark hair was pinned up in a neat chignon. She wore a simple cotton day dress with stripes of soft white and pale purple, unadorned except for a strip of lace edging the collar and running from the bodice to the belt line. The sleeves were certainly long, and roomy enough to hide all sorts of goodies. But he didn’t see any telltale bulges. He and the other gentleman stood at her entrance.

“I’m sorry to have kept you all waiting.” Her voice was well-modulated and cultured. There was a whiff of foreign climes beneath the excellent English, but Carter couldn’t quite place the accent.

She circled around the table to the only available seat. Carter had engineered matters so that she would be seated right beside him. Miss Avila lightly touched the elderly gentleman’s arm as she passed. “Mr. Greenfield, how are you today?”

If Carter didn’t know better, he would think she was genuinely concerned.

“Thank you for asking, my dear. I am much as usual.”

“You haven’t had bad news from the War Office about Ben, have you?”

Aha. She was fishing for information.

“No, I’ve had no word. Been at least four months since his last letter.” His voice cracked.

Miss Avila reached out and squeezed his hand. “We will pray for his safekeeping. But, in this case, no news is good news. Keep up your faith.”

She approached her seat but stopped in front of Carter. “You must be Mr. Forbes,” she said pleasantly.

“I am.”

“I am Miss Avila.” She smoothed her skirts as she lowered herself delicately into the chair. “Is there someone in particular you are hoping to reach today?”

“I thought you’d be able to tell me that, and all the mysteries of the world besides,” he shot back.

A sharp gasp came from the lady on Carter’s other side. The disapproval in the room radiated toward him in waves.

Miss Avila, however, maintained her calm. “I’m afraid I cannot read your mind. I suppose there are some who may be able to do so, but my gifts do not lie in that direction. If you wish to get the attention of those on the other side, it would be best for me to know whom to ask for.”

“My father, Jonathan Forbes,” Carter blurted out. Immediately, he regretted it. He didn’t want to sully Father’s memory with anything this woman might say about him. But another idea sprang to mind. “And my sister, Emily.” He smiled then, trying not to bare his teeth in the process. Just let her try to get out of this one.

Miss Avila had a knack for giving a person her full attention. When she turned her lovely dark eyes to her manservant and motioned for him to close the curtains, it was as though a lighthouse beacon had moved away from his soul.

As the room darkened, she leaned forward to light the single taper in the middle of the table. The manservant departed through a noticeably squeaky door. The candlelight flickered, casting grotesque shadows on the walls around them.

“We must now join hands.”

It took all of Carter’s self-control to keep from rolling his eyes. Of course, if they held hands, no one would be free to catch whoever might cavort about in the darkness beyond the edge of the candlelight to help the woman create her weird effects.

He took the hand she offered in his and held it tightly, to be certain she could not pull away. She made no attempt to do so. Her small, soft hand rested warmly in his, neither grasping nor trying to break free of his grip. Her eyes drifted closed.

Carter sat rigid, straining every sense to discover her means of trickery. Except for the occasional tiny pop from the candle, there was no sound in the room. The silence allowed the sounds outside to press inward—a city symphony of rumbling carriage wheels, clip-clopping hooves, and shouting street hawkers. Somewhere across the street, a piano played a popular ditty. The world was going on all around them, but, shut away in this dark and silent room, they were set apart.

At last, Miss Avila began to speak. She brought a message from the dead to each of the ladies in turn—words of enduring love, whether from a parent, husband, or child, that made them dab at their eyes with lace hankies. Finally, she asked for Catherine Greenfield.

The old fellow shifted, sitting taller. “Catherine? Catherine, are you there?”

“I’m here, Harlan.” Miss Avila now spoke with a slight Southern accent.

“My Catherine. I’ve longed to hear your voice again.”

“We talked before I left. You promised you wouldn’t grieve like this.”

“I know. But I’m just not sure how to get on without you. And now, Ben’s gone off, and…and I’m scared he won’t come back.”

“You must live on, Harlan. Ben’s children need a man about to help keep them in hand. Look to the living, my dear. Look to the living.”

Carter raised an eyebrow. That was not the message he’d expected.

Mr. Greenfield leaned toward the candle, his features taut with anxiety. “Are you telling me Ben is there with you?”

“No, dear.”

“You’re sure?”

“Harlan Greenfield, I think I’d know my own son.”

Tears glistened on the old fellow’s face. “Oh, thank God. Thank God.”

Miss Avila spoke again. “Catherine is gone. Is there an Emily Forbes there who will speak with me?”

Carter searched the woman’s face, but it gave away nothing. She waited patiently as the silence in the room again allowed the outside world to intrude.

At last, she shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Forbes; the woman you seek is not on the other side.”

Carter clamped his lips together. She was cunning, he had to hand her that. He had counted on her revealing herself as a fraud by claiming to talk to Emily, who was very much alive and well.

He forced himself to continue the charade. “And my father?”

Once again, Miss Avila appeared to consult with an invisible host.

“He is there but unable to speak to me directly.”

Carter hid a sneer. “He suffered so much during his final illness. I want to make sure he is no longer in pain.”

“There is no illness or suffering in the other world. He says you should not worry about him.” Though she didn’t open her eyes, Miss Avila’s delicate brow furrowed emphatically. “Nor should you be concerned about your disagreement prior to his passing. It was a small matter, and you must not allow it to prey on your mind.”

Carter nearly let go of her hand. How could she possibly know about that?

Miss Avila’s frown deepened, and she shook her head a couple of times. Then her eyes popped open. “They are gone.”  She began to tremble from head to foot and slumped slightly, as if the contact with ghosts had sapped her strength.

She clapped her hands lightly, and the door opened again with another squeal. Carter was nearly convinced that was by design, for all the other appointments in the establishment were in perfect taste. Why would she abide a squeaky door, unless it was a deliberate flaw designed to reinforce the idea that the sitters were entirely alone—that no one else could have entered or exited?

Miss Avila bid her guests farewell, shaking their hands and giving each one a few personal words. She asked about family members and various ills. Took notice of a new bonnet and complimented a handsome necklace. The sitters seemed to brighten under her attention, as if she’d lit a lamp within them.

At last, Carter alone remained with her. He realized afresh how small she was; how her eyes, though dark, were bright and…kind. Once again, she surprised him, and he fumbled for words.

With practiced ease, she stepped in to save him from embarrassment. “Thank you for coming today, Mr. Forbes. I hope you found it enlightening.”

“To be honest, I had hoped for more.”

“Perhaps you are unaware that a sitter’s attitude can affect the ability of the spirits to communicate clearly. Tell me, did one of my clients refer you?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

She cocked her head prettily, waiting for an answer.

Carter decided it wouldn’t hurt to let her stew. He smiled back wolfishly but didn’t elaborate further.

Miss Avila stilled like a rabbit scenting a nearby predator.

***

Juliet didn’t dare move for fear she would give away her agitation. Mr. Forbes was even more than she’d bargained for. A tall man with neatly combed light brown hair and a well-groomed mustache of the same color, he was the sort who might be dismissed if one were fool enough not to notice the intelligence in his gray eyes and the muscular build beneath that stylish coat.

Juliet was no fool. She would not underestimate this man. He wasn’t the type to approach a medium. That meant he’d had a very definite purpose in seeking her out. If that purpose had anything to do with the work that had earned him a pass signed by President Lincoln, she could find her goose cooked.

On the other hand, it could very well have to do with his not-so-dearly-departed sister. As soon as he’d mentioned Emily, Juliet had made the connection. No wonder the name Carter Forbes was so familiar. But did he know of her acquaintance with his sister? At that moment, Juliet remembered something else Emily Forbes had mentioned about her older brother: He was a Pinkerton agent working for the government.

That certainly explained the pass. What it didn’t explain was what he wanted with her.

“I always like to get to know my new clients,” she finally said. “Would you care to join me for tea in the sitting room?”

His smile was thin-lipped. “I’d be delighted.”

Juliet led the way. “Please have a seat. I just need to speak to my housekeeper a moment.”

Once out of sight, she all but ran for the kitchen. Miss Clara and Professor Marvolo were seated at the table.

“All done, dear?” Miss Clara slid a tray of cookies toward her.

“Forbes is a Pinkerton and he wants something. I know it.”

Professor Marvolo turned his clouded gaze toward her. “Describe him.”

Juliet had spent years under the professor’s tutelage. As quickly as she could, she described everything the Pinkerton had said and done, in addition to his appearance. “I had a bad feeling about him from the beginning, so I kept the sitting very simple. No spirit writing. I didn’t want to do anything that he could seize upon.”

“Very wise.” The professor nodded over his fingertips, which he had pressed together as if in prayer. “He’s here on a personal matter.”

“Are you sure? How can you tell?”

“If this were an official investigation, he wouldn’t still be fooling around with tea and verbal sparring. Besides, the Pinkertons are all working for the war effort, in one way or another, and we don’t have a thing to do with that.”

“What should I do?”

“You have to go back in there and talk to him. Find out what he wants. This could be a good thing. Having a Pinkerton on our side might be beneficial.”

Miss Clara patted her arm. “I’ll bring in tea directly.”

Juliet clenched her hands into fists. She could do this. She had to do this. They were counting on her. And while she was not certain they would benefit from having a Pinkerton on their side, it would be a total disaster to have a Pinkerton as an enemy.

She returned to the sitting room. Once again, Mr. Forbes stood as she entered.

“I apologize for the delay. Tea will be brought directly.”

“That sounds good.” He sat as she did. “I’m curious, how long have you had this gift of being able to talk to spirits?”

She smiled. “Anyone can talk to spirits. They are the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that surround us. The real trick is being able to hear them talk back.” She decided to press her luck. “Mr. Forbes, now I must ask you a question.”

“Certainly.”

“Why did you try to make me believe your sister was dead?”

He slid back in his chair. “I think you know the answer.”

“It was a test, then?”

He nodded. “You passed that one with ease.”

Juliet watched him warily. “That one? Was there another test?”

“Oh, yes,” he said smugly. “My father didn’t die of a lingering illness. He was murdered.”

Now Juliet settled back in her seat. “Perhaps you should think over the conversation again. I merely said that there was no illness on the other side, and that he said not to worry about him.”

Artie entered, carrying a tray of tea things.

Alarmed, Juliet sat forward again. She didn’t want him anywhere near this man. “Artie?”

“Miss Clara asked me to bring this to you.” With his back to the agent, he gave her a broad wink.

Juliet refrained from making a face at him.

“And who is this strapping young lad?” Mr. Forbes asked in a too jovial voice.

“This is my son,” Juliet said evenly. “Artie, make your bows.”

Forbes looked from her to Artie and back again.

Juliet answered the unasked question. “He is adopted.”

“I see. It must be difficult, supporting such a large house, as well as a family.”

Juliet felt as if a hand had tightened around her windpipe. “Artie, go on back to the kitchen and help Miss Clara.”  Her eyes warned him not to argue.

When he was gone, Mr. Forbes stood. “Miss Avila, I grow tired of sparring with you. We both know you are a fraud. If I have to, I will send agents by the dozens until someone exposes you. Then I will smear your name in every salon and parlor in the capital. You will never have another client.”

Mouth dry as parchment, Juliet tilted her chin up a notch. “May I know what I have done to earn your enmity?”

“I have a young person I am responsible for, as well. My sister, Emily, whom you introduced to spiritualism.”

Juliet frowned. “Emily sat for me only once, and she was brought by a neighbor.”

“Once was far more than enough. She now believes that she can, in a way, resurrect our parents and keep them close at hand. She’s been taken in by a spurious English nobleman who claims to have powers remarkably similar to your own.”

Juliet knew immediately of whom he spoke. “Lord”  Shelston was gaining quite a following in the area, but he could be cruel and exceptionally greedy, as well, draining his clients of their resources and then discarding them.

“If your worry is with Shelston, why come after me?”

Carter shook his head. “I am not a complete idiot. If I attack her pet directly, Emily will simply consider me too protective. I must tackle this problem at the root.”

“And you believe I am the root of the problem?” She laughed roughly. “Mr. Forbes, my influence is nowhere near as great as you take it to be.”

“Not at all, Miss Avila. I realize your clientele is small, by most standards. But, by shutting down your operation, and those like yours, it lights a fire under Shelston’s feet. He’ll soon find Washington a very inhospitable place.”

Mind awhirl, Juliet sought a way out of this dilemma. “I know Shelston, and I agree with you as to his basic character. I don’t want to see your sister involved with him any more than you do. So, I have a proposal.”

Carter raised a questioning eyebrow, so Juliet rushed on.

“I’ll go with you and tell Emily all I know about him and how he achieves his illusions.”

“And what do you want in return?”

“Your word that you will leave my family and me in peace.”

She could imagine Forbes’s thought process: weighing the pros and cons; deliberating what his sister’s well-being was worth to him; contemplating whether he could live with himself if he let a small fish swim free in order to catch the larger fish he was after.

Finally he held out his hand. “You have a bargain, Miss Avila.”

She grabbed it before he could change his mind and pumped it forcefully. The deal had been struck.

First Wild Card Tours presents….Moon Dancing by Anna Zogg

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Anna Zogg
and the book:
Moon Dancing
Next Step Books (July 14, 2013)
***Special thanks to Virginia Smith and Keely Leake for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Anna Zogg has always been fascinated by the west: ranch life, wild mustangs and the tough men and women who sought to tame it. Her fondest memories are of summers she spent riding her horse, Brandy, and the day she participated in a rodeo. Moon Dancing was born out of her lifelong love of the west and the discovery of her own Native American heritage. Author of numerous articles, Moon Dancing is Ms. Zogg’s debut novel. She and her husband, John, currently live in Utah.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

A rogue black stallion. A sacred white buffalo. Mysterious night voices.

Megan Gillespie returns to Wyoming to fulfill a promise. Nothing more. Yet when the unexplainable happens she is drawn into the intrigues surrounding her uncle’s ranch…intrigues that escalate the longer she stays. How can prized mares simply vanished? Who is the Native American that appears only at night? Why is her uncle determined to keep her from leaving?

Torn between the desire to escape and the need to resolve these long-held secrets, Megan uncovers truths that threaten her life…and stir her to the depths of her soul.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.58

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Next Step Books (July 14, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1937671127

ISBN-13: 978-1937671129

MY THOUGHTS

This is an awesome book for those who love Christian fiction Fantasy! Especially you teenagers out there. This is a really good clean and fun book for you!

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

A scream–long and agonizing–ripped the air. The hair on Megan Gillespie’s neck stood on end while the scent of spring rain filled her senses. She peered through the pickup’s windshield, seeing nothing beyond a mound of pinyon pine and withered grass. Shouts of men and the nervous snorting of horses battered her. What is happening? She flung open the door. As she sprinted up the dusty rise, she tripped on her long jeans skirt.The scene below riveted her.Like a pack of wolves, a group of men circled a black stallion. Head flailing, the horse fought uncountable ropes. He reared, hooves striking blindly. Foam flecked his neck, teeth bared and mouth opened in a silent shriek. The setting sun painted his soaked hide in blood-colored lather. Dust boiled upwards, the air choked with pinpricks of glittering gold.The horse fought in vain. His cry, one of rage and impotence, shuddered through Megan.

Pain! She doubled over, as though punched the stomach. Can’t breathe. Her eyes burned from the agony.

The stallion again reared, legs lashing out.

“Hold him. I said, hold him!” A tall man yanked a lariat from the hands of one of the men.

The next moment, the stallion lunged forward. Men scattered. Rope tore through the gloves of one cowhand, the sound like a zip-line at high speed. He howled.

The stallion’s getting away! Megan’s heart leaped with hope. He’s getting–

Joy crumpled into terror. The horse charged directly at her.

* * *

“Hey, ya hear me? I said, whatcha think of Silver Springs?”

The voice pierced the fog of her mind. Megan shook her head and blinked. A gentle breeze lifted a strand of hair and caressed her cheek. She turned to the speaker.

Miles, the driver of the van, scratched his ribcage as he grinned at her.

Where’s…?

A chill crawled through her. She could have sworn she’d just been standing….

“Cat got yer tongue?”

Miles spat a brown stream of unmentionable liquid into the dirt. She stepped back to avoid being splattered.

He smirked. “Better get used to it, Miz City Gal. Out here, don’t need my spittin’ cup.”

She vaguely recalled the chipped mug and its foaming contents in the truck’s console. Hadn’t she just spent three hours coming from Cheyenne? She remembered thinking how hot the ride had been without air conditioning.

A door slammed. The other passenger opened the back of the van and grabbed his luggage, muttering under his breath.

“Hey, I can get those.” Miles sprang forward to haul the man’s belongings into the building.

A battered sign hung from the eaves of the self-proclaimed hotel, half the words blistered off. Weatherworn rocking chairs squeaked on the porch, propelled by invisible patrons.

As she stared at her grimy feet, Megan remembered stepping out of the van. I distinctly recall worrying about my sandals. Pedicured toenails had morphed from mauve to mud-colored. Dust streaked her skirt. Miles had asked if she were “rump sprung” as she’d gazed down the empty streets of Silver Springs. But after that….

The late afternoon sun beat down, warring with her lingering out-of-sync feeling.

She again glanced down the main street. Twenty or so sad buildings spread out on both sides of a potholed road. Peeling paint, grime and neglect stamped the worn wooden siding. At a distance stood a lonely corral and dilapidated barn. If not for three pickup trucks, Megan could swear she’d stepped back a hundred years into the old west.

I had these thoughts before. The sense of déjà vu hit her again. What is going on?

She remained alone by the van, staring down the vacant street and asking herself why she would voluntarily travel to the wilds of Wyoming. Was she crazy? Obviously, in light of the weird stuff that had happened since the moment of her arrival.

Three months. That’s all I promised my uncle. Megan took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. She could put up with almost anything for three months. Besides, she’d earned it. She’d worked multiple seventy-hour weeks to finish a major project so she could take the time off.

Down the street, a dust devil swirled hypnotically. The tan cyclone bobbed and gyrated, then lifted into the air, passing over her head as though parading out of town. For a moment, the sun blinded her with hazy orange. The cloud of dirt settled and split apart, spraying the horizon in gold and scarlet.

“Wow,” she murmured, entranced by the beauty.

A white calf stood at the edge of town. Is that a buffalo? Nothing had been there a minute ago. Feet splayed, the ghost-colored animal calmly returned her gaze, oblivious to the dust storm. Animals didn’t normally stare at people, but this one did. Wholly intent on her, the calf didn’t move. Megan shivered.

The miniature storm continued to blow at the edge of town, then suddenly shifted, spraying dirt her direction. Dazzling sand particles danced around, without touching her. The storm raged for minutes. Then it unexpectedly died as though someone flipped a switch. She blinked and looked back to the edge of town.

The calf had vanished.

She straightened. Where–?

“Miz Gillespie?” A deep male voice sounded nearby.

Megan ignored the speaker. The calf had been right there!

“Did you–did you just…?” Unable to explain the event, she clamped her mouth shut, still staring.

“Did I what?”

Finally, she gazed at the newcomer.

I’ve seen him before.

The tall cowboy looked like he’d stepped out of a western movie. Sandy hair, blue-gray eyes, and deep tan made her gulp. Not only was he lean and square-jawed, but the huge silver belt buckle, shaped like a horseshoe, large hat and well-worn boots completed the picture.

He grinned. “Don’t tell me you’re overcome by our picturesque town.”

“Heya, Jack.” The voice of Miles boomed as he exited the hotel. “Thought that was you.”

The cowboy turned to the driver. “Where’ve you been? Stop to take pictures or something?” Annoyance roughened the words of the man named Jack. “I’ve been waiting over an hour.”

“I’m sure you found someone to keep ya occupied. Heard the new barmaid has her eye on you.”

“You could’ve called.” Jack poked the brim of his hat back with a thumb.

“Forgot my phone. ’Sides, I was busy talking to the purdiest gal I’ve seen in a while.” Miles winked at her. “This here’s Daniel’s niece.”

The cowboy stuck out his hand. “Jack Crawford. Foreman of the Double O.”

“Megan Gillespie.” As she shook his hand she hissed in a breath from his firm grip.

“Figured. You got his red hair.”

“That ain’t all of his this city gal’s got.” Miles guffawed.

What’s that mean? She pulled her hand away from Crawford’s.

“Course, she don’t have as many freckles. And good thing she don’t weigh near–”

“This your gear?” The foreman stepped up to the back of the van.

Gear. She tucked away the interesting word as she shot him a grateful look. “Yes. Let me–”

“I got it.” He grabbed the three pieces of designer luggage, then stuffed one under his arm. “This all?”

“Let me get my purse and carryon.” She hurried to the front seat to retrieve them.

“That’s one thing about Jack.” Miles dug into a can of tobacco, apparently oblivious to the fact they ignored him. “Always knows how to treat the ladies right.”

“I’m parked down the street.” Crawford indicated the trucks with a tilt of his head.

“So you could be closer to the bar?” Miles stuffed a wad in his lip, then smirked.

The foreman glared. “We agreed to meet at the post office, remember? My pickup’s right out front.”

The driver spread his hands. “How’s I supposed to know we’d have an extra passenger? Jed Harper wanted me to drop him off at the hotel.”

Crawford straightened with a jerk. “Harper?”

“Harper Junior. Returning to the fold, so to speak.” Miles scratched his cheek without a break. “Staying in town overnight. Guess he wants to patch things up a’tween him and the old man.”

Megan raised her brows. The sullen man who’d shared her van ride didn’t seem the type who wanted to patch up anything.

“He tell you this?” Crawford’s mouth hardened. “Or you making it up?”

Miles looked taken aback. “Aw, you know me. Picked it up here and there.”

“And spreading it around.”

“Hey, ain’t still bad blood a’tween you and Harper, is there?”

The foreman’s jaw jutted as he glanced at Megan. “Let’s go.”

“You’re supposed t’forgive and forget, Jack.”

Without answering, Crawford stalked down the street.

She hurried to follow, wondering what Miles meant by bad blood. However, his parting shot distracted her. “Whatever you do, Miz Gillespie, don’t let Jack take the scenic route. He’d ruin your reputation, fo’sure.” His squawking laugh made her wince.

“Thanks again for stopping by.” An overly bleached blond popped out of a building and smiled brilliantly at Crawford. “Don’t forget you got that tab running.”

“You know I’m good for it.” He touched the brim of his hat.

Her smile faded as soon she noticed Megan.

When he reached a blue Chevy, he tossed her luggage into the bed then climbed into the full-sized cab, leaving her to fend for herself. He could at least open her door, couldn’t he? She tucked her carryon under an arm to free her hand. Crawford unexpectedly leaned over and opened the door from the inside.

“Thanks.” Though she was grateful they’d gotten away from Miles, the foreman could be a little more helpful. And not toss her suitcases around like cattle prepared for branding.

He started the truck before she shut the door and began to back out. Megan fumbled to find the seat belt.

“You don’t need ’em around here.”

She glared at him. “I happen to value my life.”

“Nobody uses ’em–trust me.”

She ignored his comment and dug between the middle of the seat. The shoulder strap was missing, leaving her only with the lap belt. After locating the other half, she jammed the gritty ends together, and then struggled to tighten it. Clogged by dirt and disuse, the mechanism wouldn’t budge. Crawford was already heading out of town, acknowledging the wave of another woman who walked along the street.

Megan hated to give up, but finally folded her hands to hide the fact that the belt lay slack. Without a word, Crawford reached over. With one hard tug, he tightened the strap.

“Ow! Enough.” The material dug into her pelvis. She spent the next couple minutes trying to loosen it. “You didn’t have to cut off circulation to my legs.”

He remained silent, staring ahead at the narrow road.

After settling, she studied the landscape. Bare dirt, pinyon pine and spindly grass, all either brown or faded. Nothing else could be seen for miles and miles. What creatures could possibly survive here? Already she missed the lush green of Florida. Forbidding gray mountains dominated the horizon. Though she’d spent the first nine years of her life in Wyoming, nothing seemed familiar. Or inviting.

Megan threw a glance at the foreman. “How far to the ranch?”

“’Bout an hour.”

“That far?” When he didn’t volunteer anything else, she tried again. “Is the road paved all the way?”

“Mostly.”

“Have you lived in this area long?”

“Some.”

“Like it?”

“Yep.”

She blew out a breath. “Definitely not big on conversation.”

Crawford acted as though he hadn’t heard. Fingers choking the steering wheel, he stared ahead. Maybe there was still bad blood between him and Jed Harper.

The subdued drone of tires on pavement began to grate on her nerves. Silence pressed on her, but instead of growing sleepy, she found herself tensing. She almost asked the foreman to turn on the radio. More than once, she unclenched her hands and forced her shoulders to relax. She sighed deeply several times, trying to get enough air.

The shrill ringing of a phone made her jump.

“Sup?” Crawford pressed the cell to his ear. After a pause, he said, “You’re kidding. When? Where? On my way.”

He stomped on the accelerator. When the pickup began to rock, Megan clutched at the door. She glanced at the speedometer. They were doing over seventy-five.

“What’s going on?” Her voice came out a little more sharply than she intended.

“Need to make a detour.”

“Where?” Miles’ warning about a scenic route flashed through her mind. “My uncle’s expecting me.”

“This won’t take long.” Gaze locked ahead, Crawford’s jaw stiffened.

The needle edged eighty. Eighty-five.

“Do you have to drive so fast?” She raised her voice over the whine of the engine. “I’m sure–”

“He doesn’t want me to miss this.” Crawford shot her a hard glance. “Believe me.”

She gulped, saying nothing more.

He slowed only slightly as they came to a dirt road and careened around the corner. The pickup skidded, spraying rocks into the air. They fishtailed. With casual expertise, he righted the vehicle, then sped up again. The truck bounced crazily over uneven ground. Megan banged her arm against the window then grabbed the seat back. Her carryon leaped up, then crashed to the floor several times.

In the distance, men and horses crowded around something. Dread built in her. As the truck hurtled down a hill, she lost sight of them. Her stomach vaulted into her throat. Crawford slammed on the brakes, causing the truck to skid sideways. After shoving the gearshift lever into park, he flipped off the keys.

“Stay here. You’ll be safe.” He jumped out.

For several minutes, she heard only her panting breath. Her arm felt bruised where it had hit the window. Fighting to slow her pounding heart, she rubbed her neck. Megan pushed away the premonition of having been there before.

The sun dipped lower in the sky, the heat growing inside the truck until it became suffocating. She turned the key so she could roll down both windows a few inches. Outside, the blowing wind snatched at the nearby pinyon pine, rustling the twigs, the sound reminiscent of shuffling paper. The breeze moaned its way through the windows.

Help me. Someone, standing outside the cab of the truck, rasped the barely audible words.

“What?” Megan jerked around to look out her window. Imagining she saw a dark form, she shrank back.

No one was there.

“This is creepy.” She rubbed her arms.

The barrenness of the countryside and the utter stillness clawed at her mind.

I’ve been here before. I know it.

She shuddered. Where had Crawford gone? What was he doing? The cries of men and animals gradually welled up into awareness, as though someone slowly turned up the volume on a radio.

The scream of a stallion pierced the air. A shiver slithered down her spine. What were they doing to the horse? Déjà vu hit so hard, she clenched the door handle and dashboard to brace herself. The scent of spring rain enveloped her.

This can’t be happening.

Megan peered through the dirty windshield, knowing she’d done that before. But when? How?

Her hand crept up her throat. The burn of something tightened around her neck. It pulled against her flesh, crushing her windpipe. The agony built and built until she could hardly breathe.

Out of the corner of her eye, a white blur streaked past the truck. Megan gasped in recognition as a buffalo calf ran up the knoll and disappeared.

The next moment, she bolted out of the cab and sprinted up the rise.

FIRST Wild Card Tours presents….Awakened Love by Laura V. Hilton

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Laura V. Hilton
and the book:
Awakened Love
(Amish of Webster County #3)
Whitaker House (September 2, 2013)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laura V. Hilton, of Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas, is a pastor’s wife, mother of five, author and book lover. Her Amish fiction series books have sold thousands of copies and garnered praise from readers and critics for originality and authenticity. This is thanks, in part, to Laura’s Amish grandmother from whom she learned Amish ways, and her husband Steve’s family ties in Webster County, Missouri, who served as invaluable resources in her research. Laura’s previous Whitaker House books include The Amish of Seymour series: Patchwork Dreams, A Harvest of Hearts, and Promised to Another; and The Amish of Webster County: Healing Love and Surrendered Love.  Awakened Love is the final book in the series. Laura is also a homeschooling mother, breast cancer survivor and avid blogger who posts reviews at:  www.lighthouse-academy.blogspot.com.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Katie Detweiler is excited when she’s hired to bake for a local bed-and-breakfast, especially because the shy young Amish woman will be able to work alone in the kitchen doing a job she loves.  Circumstances change, however, and the job requires she also wait on customers, including a private investigator who tells her she is adopted and has a biological sister in need of a bone marrow transplant. She also meets 22-year-old Abram Hilty, an Amish man who has fled the drama of his community in Shipshewana, Indiana, for Seymour, Missouri, where he’s staying with his cousin Micah Graber. Abram is immediately attracted to Katie, but pursuing a relationship with her would be complicated because he’s come to the Amish of Webster County to hide from a girl he no longer cares about—and also from a cold-blooded killer.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99

Series: Amish of Webster County (Book 3)

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: Whitaker House (September 2, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1603745084

ISBN-13: 978-1603745086

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

What happens when a bashful Amish baker and an Englisch man on the run meet? Well for one, they are attracted to each other, but that can’t be happening because Amish and Englisch can’t mix. Or can they? Laura Hilton is typical of intermixing situations that are totally inappropriate somehow finds a way for them to work. Can this mixed up couple find a way to be together, or will the demands of each of their lives cause them to go separate ways?

 

Laura Hilton has done it again in this third book of The Amish of Webster County. I love Katie Detweiler’s character and was glad she had the chance to come out of her shell a bit when she was forced to take over the bakery. Abram was a little harder to get to know, but he really grows on you, and I started really liking his character as the story develops.

And as usually with Laura Hilton’s books, there are secrets that need to be revealed and a lot of twists and turns that will keep you fully involved in this story till the end. This is one Amish fiction you do not want to miss!

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“Today I met the bu I’m gonna marry….” Patsy Swartz’s singsongy voice was too chipper. Bracing herself for an afternoon with the bubbly girl, Katie Detweiler climbed out of her daed’s buggy and turned to lift the cooler from the back. Her not-exactly-a-friend bounced up beside her, still singing away.Katie’s heart ached with a stab of envy.Would she ever marry?Daed snorted, in apparent disbelief. “Bye, Katie-girl. Have fun at the frolic.” He clicked at the horse and then pulled the buggy around the circle drive.

“The new bu in town!” Patsy squealed, as if Katie had asked. “He is sooooo cute! I’m going to marry him. I’m thinking Valentine’s Day. Will you stand up with me? I’m asking Mandy, too.”

Marriage? The new bu in town? Why was she the last to know these things? Katie hadn’t even known that Patsy had a beau. Wait—she didn’t. Just yesterday, she was bemoaning the lack of interesting men in her life.

Katie shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. “Stand up with you? On Valentine’s Day? Jah, I can do that. What new bu in town?”

Patsy huffed. “Where have you been, Katie? There is a world outside that bed-and-breakfast, ain’t so?”

“When did you two meet? You didn’t mention him yesterday.” She adjusted her grip on the cooler handles and started toward the haus.

“He’s visiting the Grabers…a cousin or something. He’s here, right over—ach, I see Mandy! I’ll tell you about him later.” She turned away and glanced over her shoulder. “You’re still standing up with me. Valentine’s Day. Write that down, Katie.”

Patsy ran across the driveway to where Mandy Hershberger stood by the open barn doors.

Valentine’s Day? Was Patsy serious? Most weddings happened between November and January—never February, when the fields need to be prepared for planting. And wouldn’t the bishop have some reservations about Patsy’s marrying a man she’d known for, what, half an hour?

Valentine’s Day was still a long ways off. It was only August. And Patsy probably would’ve moved on three times by then.

But he was here, this mystery man Patsy planned to wed? Katie turned around and scanned the buwe playing volleyball, looking for a face she didn’t recognize. She didn’t see anyone new. Or maybe he just didn’t stand out. Patsy? Getting married? If Katie knew her at all, she’d be promised to this new bu in a short time. What Patsy wanted, she usually got. Even if they ended up calling it quits several weeks into the relationship.

Katie sighed. It’d be nice if someone noticed her. And wanted her as a permanent part of his future.

She headed for the haus to deliver the food. A long row of tables was set up inside the kitchen, already piled full. Katie set the cooler down next to the door, opened the lid, and took out a plate of chocolate chip cookies. She carried them to the table and set them down among the other desserts, then stepped back and surveyed the array of cookies and fried pies. Maybe she should’ve made something else besides cookies. But Daed wouldn’t mind if she brought the entire plateful back home again.

“Hi, Katie.” Micah Graber’s mamm, Lizzie, came into the room. “Glad you made it. Micah’s playing volleyball, if you want to join in. His cousin Abram is visiting from Indiana.” She smiled. “I’m sure you’ll want an introduction.”

Katie wasn’t so sure, except maybe to see what Patsy found so special about this mystery man. It was probably nothing more than that she hadn’t yet been courted by him, since she had gone with almost every other bu in the district.

Oops. That was unkind. Katie found a smile. “Danki. I’ll find Micah.” Later. Their paths would probably cross sometime that afternoon. He usually made a point to say hi to her.

Katie went to get the rest of the food out of her cooler when the door burst open. She gazed into knock-’em-dead blue eyes belonging to the most handsome someone she’d never seen. She stared at the stranger, her mouth open.

He raked his fingers through his brown hair, dislodging his straw hat, and backed up. “Micah sent me to get the coolers and the big picnic jugs.”

Lizzie Graber laughed. “Ach, you walked right past them. They’re out on the porch.”

His eyes met Katie’s again, and he nodded in greeting. Her heart pounded so loud, she worried he’d hear it. “Sorry, Aenti Lizzie. Don’t know what I was thinking.” He shook his head and backed out of the room, his gaze still locked on Katie, then turned and shut the door.

Lizzie laughed again. “Those buwe are all the same. They see a pretty girl and have to kum check her out.”

Pretty? Lizzie believed he’d kum inside because he thought she was pretty? But he hadn’t stayed long enough to say hi. Or to ask her name. Not that it mattered. She probably would’ve been tongue-tied, anyway. Katie straightened, willing her heart rate to return to normal. A gut-looking bu she didn’t know. Micah’s cousin. He must be Patsy’s…whatever she’d call him. Maybe “her intended,” since she’d said she wanted to marry him. So, why did it matter what he thought?

It didn’t.

Her insides deflated like a popped balloon.

Katie studied the dessert selection again. Disappointingly, other than the chips in her cookies, there wasn’t any chocolate in sight—unless some of the fried pies were filled with the delicious comfort.

***

Abram Hilty shut the door behind him and took a deep breath to calm his pulse. He hadn’t even talked to the girl in the kitchen, didn’t know the sound of her voice, but there was something about her that his heart had recognized.

“She’s pretty, jah?” Micah hoisted a cooler in his arms and started down the steps.

“Very.” Abram lifted one of the big yellow picnic jugs and fell into step beside him. “And you can’t get her to pay attention to you?”

Micah shook his head. “Nein. Not at all. But her best friend, Janna Kauffman, told me Katie’s really shy. Maybe I’ll offer to drive her home tonight. Her daed dropped her off.”

Abram chuckled. “You do that. I’ll ask her out, too, and tell her how wunderbaar you are. Between the two of us, we’ll get her talking.”  That would at least give him an opportunity to spend time with her.

Micah raised his eyebrows. “You’d do that for me?”

“That, and I’m currently between girls.” Abram winked. “I told Marianna I want a break.” Sort of. He did owe her some sort of explanation for his silence. After all, they’d been practically engaged—and he’d essentially stood her up.

Of course, he hadn’t revealed where he’d gone. Instead, he’d left a vague note: “Need some time off. Sorry.”

In hindsight, Ouch. But she’d been hounding him to make a commitment, dropping hints he couldn’t help but get. He could do worse, he’d supposed. And yet he’d fled. He needed to think. And that was impossible with her bringing him lunch every day, staying to eat with him, and getting into his buggy after every singing and frolic—without his even asking.

He shook his head. What else could he have done?

“What if she falls in love with you, not me?” Micah’s forehead creased as his eyebrows drew together. “I mean, talking me up is kind of cliché.” He snickered. “And it usually works in reverse.”

Abram shrugged. He wouldn’t complain if it did. “How could she not fall in love with you, with me singing your praises?” Of course, he’d try hard not to sing his own. Not that he had much to sing about. He frowned. How long before he was found out?

Micah set the cooler on the ground next to a table with some stacks of paper cups, then straightened. “I’ll go say hi to her, then, while you get the other picnic jug.”

“Works for me.” Abram set the picnic jug down on the table, then reached for a cup, held it under the spigot, and pressed the handle for a splash of iced tea.

“Hi, Abram,” cooed a feminine voice.

Abram cringed. Not another pushy female. He looked up at not one but two girls—a redhead he’d seen earlier that day, who beamed at him, and another with reddish-brown hair. He preferred Katie and her dark blonde hair.

“Welkum to Missouri!” said the redhead. “I’m Patsy Swartz, and this is Mandy Hershberger.”

He found a smile. “Nice to meet you. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get the other—”

Micah punched his arm. “I’ll get it, after I greet Katie. You stay here and talk.”

“Danki, cousin”—Abram hoped the girls wouldn’t pick up on his sarcastic tone—“but I’ll get the jug myself.”

***

“May I borrow a pair of tongs?” Katie asked Lizzie Graber. “I need to mix up the taco salad I brought.”

“Of course.” Lizzie slid a pan of brownies into the oven and then retrieved the utensil from a drawer.

“Danki.”

Lizzie opened the refrigerator, took out a can of 7-Up, and popped the top. “I need to go check on Emily. She isn’t feeling well.”  She poured the fizzy liquid into a glass.

“Sorry to hear that.” She liked Micah’s little sister.

“When the brownies are done, would you take them out, please?”

“Jah.”

“Danki.” Lizzie left the room.

Katie looked around. Maybe she could find some other way to assist. Helping would give her an excuse not to socialize. An alternative to standing beside the barn, ignored.

At this point of her life, she was part of the scenery, the part no one looked at. Patsy said it was because she was too quiet. Because she wouldn’t cross the room to talk to any of the buwe; she waited for them to kum talk to her. And they wouldn’t. They had enough girls willing to chase them that they didn’t need to pursue the quiet ones.

If that was the case, she’d be alone forever. A painful thought.

But her best friend, Janna, had said that if a bu really liked her, it would be obvious, because he’d be hanging around. Janna should know. Her beau, Troy Troyer, hung around her plenty, and he’d even started baptism classes, so he could join the church—for her.

Abram’s handsome face flashed in her mind. His heart-stopping grin. His easy confidence.

Nein. She wouldn’t think of this—of him. It meant nothing. He was in Patsy’s sights.

Katie opened her cooler and lifted out the salad bowl and a big bag of Fritos. She always waited to add the chips so that they wouldn’t get soggy before the salad was served.

Katie set the bowl down on the table and tugged on the top of the Frito bag to open it. A warm breath tickled her ear. Abram? Her heart jumped, and her hands jerked in opposite directions, ripping the bag and sending Fritos high in the air. A few of the chips landed where they were supposed to, in the taco salad, but most of them now decorated the floor and the savory dishes nearby, including the egg salad sandwiches Patsy always brought.

Katie’s face burned. She spun around, the almost-empty bag clasped in her hands.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Micah said. He stood too close. Why couldn’t it have been Abram breathing in her ear? Admittedly, the end result would’ve been the same.

A chatter of voices neared outside, and feet tromped on the porch. The latch clicked on the door, and the hinges squeaked. Katie resisted the urge to run from the room. It seemed everyone was coming inside to witness her humiliation. Abram entered, followed by Patsy and Mandy and a dozen or so others. Everyone looked at her.

“I was hoping you’d be here,” Micah continued.

There was someone who’d wanted to see her? Some member of the male species? Katie stared at him in shock.

Patsy came over to the table and started picking Fritos off of her sandwiches. The hard kick to the shin she gave Katie was all it took to find her voice.

“Ach, I scare easy. It’s okay, really.”

She had spoken to a bu. Using multisyllabic words. Would miracles never cease?

Patsy shook her head, evidently disappointed in her attempt at conversation. If only she would step in and speak on her behalf. But nein luck. With another shake of her head, Patsy dumped the Fritos in the trash and joined the group of females huddled around Abram. His harem.

Katie frowned. She didn’t want to compete with so many for the minute possibility of a relationship with a man. Maybe it’d be better to find someone steady who paid attention to her alone. She glanced at Micah. He stared at her as if she’d sprouted antlers. Okay, maybe that wasn’t the kind of attention she wanted.

“Janna told me you’re shy. She told me not to give up on you. I’d like to get to know you better. Are you seeing someone?” He lowered his voice. “Maybe I could give you a ride home today. We could stop for a milkshake.”

A milkshake? Was he kidding? Katie glanced at the table, laden with the usual assortment of cookies and fried pies. Brownies still baked in the oven. With all these treats, who in his right mind would offer that incentive?

He hadn’t given her a chance to answer the courting question before asking her out. Maybe he figured that someone as tongue-tied as she couldn’t possibly have a beau.

Still, Katie didn’t know how to answer his questions. Would it be easier to talk just one-on-one? Daed would encourage her to accept a ride from him. If that meant downing a milkshake, too, then so be it. She swallowed. “A milkshake sounds gut.”

He grinned. “I’ll look for you afterward. Sorry about your chips. I hope I didn’t ruin your”—he glanced at the bowl—“salad.”  He turned away and started talking to Natalie Wagler. At least she could carry on her side of the conversation.

Katie frowned. Were there books available for this disorder? She needed to check at the library. See if they had a section called “Basic Communication with the Opposite Sex.”

A buggy ride with a man who wasn’t Daed…. Sighing, she glanced at Abram. His attention seemed to be focused on Patsy, whose hand rested on his upper arm. Katie swallowed and turned away. Micah wasn’t the Mr. Right of her imagination. But maybe he was the Mr. Right of her reality.

Her very first date. Excitement washed over her.

Maybe her life was about to change.

FIRST WildCard Tours presents Whispers from the Shadows by Roseanna M. White

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Roseanna M. White
and the book:
Whispers from the Shadows
Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2013)
***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Roseanna M. White is the author of several novels, as well as the senior reviewer at the Christian Review of Books, which she and her husband founded, and the senior editor at WhiteFire Publishing.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

When Gwyneth Fairchild flees London to save her life, she ends up under the care of Thaddeus Lane in Baltimore. Though their hearts turn to each other, Gwyn and Thad are on opposite sides of the War of 1812. What is God’s plan for them when the war is over?

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Series: Culper Ring Series (Book 2)

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0736951016

ISBN-13: 978-0736951012

MY THOUGHs ON THIS BOOK

Wow,. another wonderful and intriguing historical fiction from Roseanna White. I love the Chesapeake Bay area setting in the early 1800’s. Ms. White does a fantastic job of vividly describing the historical setting, events, and well….just everything historical about this book. I haven’t read a lot of spy stories, so this was different and very entertaining for me! I loved the mysteriousness and sneaking around of the spys, and was in awe of the sacrifice these people would go through for their country. Looking forward to the next installment in this Culper spy ring series.

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

London, EnglandApril 1814The servants hefting her trunks onto the carriage might as well have been loading her coffin. Gwyneth Fairchild pulled her pelisse close and gazed across Hanover Square with a sick feeling in her stomach. Surely she would awaken from this nightmare and walk down to the breakfast room to find Papa smiling at her. He would speak and say something that actually made sense.

Not like yesterday.

She shut her eyes against the image of all that was familiar, all that she might never see again. What if the Scribe went down? Was attacked by a renegade French ship or those dreadful American pirates? What if, assuming she made it to Annapolis, they killed her the moment she stepped ashore?

Annapolis. Had Papa not looked so sorrowful, so determined when he said that word yesterday, she would have thought he had gone mad.

His hand settled on her shoulder now, warm and large. Those hands had steadied her all her life. Capable, that was what General Isaac Fairchild had always been. Capable and steady and so very noble. All that was worthy of love and respect. So surely she could trust him now when logic and reason said she couldn’t.

“I know it makes little sense to you, dear heart.” He touched her chin, a silent bid for her to look at him. She found his eyes gleaming with moisture he would never shed. Not when anyone could see him, though she had heard his heartrending sobs when Mama died last fall. “I wish there were another way, but there is not.”

Another way for what? He hadn’t said, wouldn’t say. Gwyneth drew in a tremulous breath and tried to stand tall and proud, the way Mama had taught her, the way Papa himself had instilled. To convey with her posture that she was the great-granddaughter of a duke, the granddaughter of two earls, the daughter of a general.

A daughter sent into exile for no apparent reason. Separated from all those she loved, the only people left in the world who mattered. “Papa—”

“I know.” He leaned in and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I do. But I cannot entrust you to anyone but the Lanes.”

A light mist descended, heavier than fog but too tame to be called rain. At this moment, a thunderstorm would have better matched her confusion. “Please tell me what is happening. Why must you entrust me to anyone? And if you must, why not Aunt Poole or Aunt Gates?”

His jaw moved for a moment but no words came. Nay, he simply looked past her, his eyes searching for something unseen. Then he sighed. “The Lanes will welcome you and take care of you, Gwyn. I will follow as quickly as I can. A month at the outside. No more.”

Exactly what he said yesterday too. He would give no explanation as to why he was sending her to a nation with whom they were at war, across the Atlantic to a family she had met only once, when she was but a tot.

“Papa, your words hint at danger, but what could threaten me here more than the sea and its pirates? The French, the Americans?”

“The French ought to pose no threat now that we’ve subdued them.” He reached inside his coat of blazing red and pulled out an envelope. “In all likelihood your ship will reach harbor safely, but if by chance you do encounter American privateers, offer them this.”

She frowned as she took the envelope. It was too thin to contain anything but a single sheet of paper. “What—”

“Trust me. ’Twill suffice.” Chatter from the house grew louder, and Papa looked away again, to the nearing housekeeper and gardener. “There are the Wesleys. Time to go.”

A million arguments sprang to her tongue. She didn’t want to leave. Not her home, not him, not all she held dear. Not her first Season, the one that had been put off because of Mama’s illness last year. Not her friends.

And what about Sir Arthur? She hadn’t even spoken to him to tell him she was leaving, hadn’t dared send a note. “Papa, Sir Arthur…”

“It isn’t to be, Gwyn, not now. Perhaps when this has passed, when it is safe for you to return.”

Tears burned, begging to be set loose, but she clenched her teeth and blinked. How had it come to this? Promise had finally shone its light again. Shopping with Aunt Gates had made it feel as though Mama were with her still. Making the rounds with her friends had finally distracted her from the loss. Getting vouchers for Almack’s, and then Sir Arthur’s court—she had, at long last, looked forward to the future.

“Please don’t cry, dear heart.” Papa thumbed away a wily tear that escaped her blockade and kissed her forehead again. “Up with you, now. You must be at the docks soon.”

Instead, she surged forward and wrapped her arms around him. “I don’t want to leave you, Papa. I can’t. Don’t make me go. Or come with me.”

He held her close. “Would that I could. Would that I didn’t have to bid goodbye, yet again, to the one who matters most.” He gave her another squeeze, another kiss, and then he set her back. His eyes were rimmed with red. “I love you, Gwyneth. Go with God.”

He let her go and pivoted on his heel, all but charging back into the house. She almost wished she could resent him, but how could she, seeing his struggle? Whatever his reasons, they must be valid.

And whatever his reasons, they must be dire. A shiver coursed up her spine and made the mist seem colder. Isaac Fairchild was a respected general, a man loved by all. A man of considerable sway in London and beyond. If there were something frightening enough that he must send her away, was planning on leaving himself—

And for America, no less. Would he be going there to take command of troops? Possibly. Though why would he be secretive about it? But then, there was much about Papa’s work he could not discuss. Secrets, always secrets.

“All’s secure, Miss Fairchild,” the driver called down from the bench.

She slipped the envelope into her reticule and took a step toward the Wesleys. They, at least, would provide familiar faces for the journey. They would be an anchor on the foreign seas.

Quick hoofbeats snagged her attention. “Miss Fairchild!”

Her eyes went wide when she saw the dashing figure astride the horse. Sir Arthur reined to a halt beside the carriage and leaped down, fervor ablaze in his eyes.

“Miss Fairchild.” He gripped her hands as he searched her face with his gaze. He had the loveliest brown eyes, so warm and beckoning, the perfect fit to his straight nose and sculpted mouth. “Is it true, then? Broffield just told me that Miss Gregory said you were leaving Town.”

“I…” He was holding her hands. Sir Arthur Hart, Knight of the Order of Saint Patrick, presumed heir to a viscountcy, the most sought-after bachelor in England, grasped her fingers as if he never intended to let go. The mass of confusion inside twisted. “Yes, it is true. My father…”

He eased closer, his gaze so compelling she feared she might drown in it. “Something to do with military business, then? You will return soon?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think Papa knows.”

“Dear Miss Fairchild. Gwyneth.” His fingers tightened around hers, much like the band around her chest. Never before had he spoken her given name. Hearing it in his rich tenor, spoken with such affection, made her fear her tears would overcome her after all. “Why must you go with him? Can you not stay here with your aunt?”

Her attempt at swallowing got stuck in her throat. “I am all Papa has now since my mother passed away, and he is loath to be separated.” True, so true. Why, then, was he sending her an ocean away to a hostile land?

“But surely there is a way to convince him. What if…” He paused and then swallowed before using their joined hands to pull her closer. “What if you were betrothed?”

Her heart quickened inside her, beating a desperate tattoo against her ribs. Would that change anything? Could it? “I…don’t know.”

“Gwyneth.” Oh, he made her name into music. The breeze toyed with his honey-colored hair under the brim of his hat, making her itch to touch the curls. “My darling, I have such a love and admiration for you. If you would feel inclined toward accepting my hand, I will speak with your father this very moment.”

At first all she could think was He proposed! Then she drew in a quick breath and nodded with too much enthusiasm. “Of course I am inclined if he agrees. Only…” She drew away when he moved closer still, recalling Papa’s discomposure mere minutes before. “Let me speak with him first, as he was out of countenance.”

“Certainly. Yes. Anything.” He laughed and raised her hands to kiss her knuckles. As if surprised she had said yes. “I will take a turn through your garden to try to calm myself.”

“Perfect.” If only she could be sure Papa would agree. If only she could be sure that, if not, Sir Arthur would wait for her. She pulled away, but he snagged her hand again.

“Gwyneth. Darling.” He smiled, so bright and handsome it made her doubt trouble could exist. “I will make you very happy.”

A smile stole onto her lips. It melted away again in a moment, but he had turned toward the garden by then.

Mrs. Wesley snagged her attention with a shooing motion toward the door. “You had better hurry, love. If the general does not change his mind, we must hasten on our way.”

Gwyneth flew through the mist up the steps to the door and back into the house. For a moment she paused to breathe in home, but she hadn’t time to savor it. If her mission went well, she needn’t say goodbye to it at all.

Please, Lord. Please let him relent.

She sped down the hallway and around the corner toward Papa’s study. He always ended up there, either busy at work or staring at the picture of Mama she’d painted for him. A professional portrait hung in the drawing room, but he said she had done the better job. Praise which always made her heart expand.

The study door was before her by the time she realized voices spilled out. Two of them—though when had anyone else arrived? Surely no servant would dare speak over Papa like this.

“Isaac, listen to yourself!”

Gwyneth froze a step from the door. It was open a crack, letting her look in, though only the corner of the desk was visible, and just behind it, where Papa stood. But she recognized Uncle Gates’s voice.

“‘Isaac’ now, is it?” Papa’s laugh sounded dry. “Odd how you only remember our familial ties when we disagree. Otherwise it is always my rank to which you appeal.”

A loud bang made Gwyneth jump. Uncle’s fist connecting with wood, perhaps? “Blast it, Fairchild, it’s your rank you are abusing!”

“No! ’Tis my rank I honor. Someone, Gates, must do what is right. Someone must stand for justice rather than—”

“Hang all that noble rot.” A nasty curse spilled from Uncle Gates’s lips as glass shattered. Gwyneth recoiled, staring in horror at the sliver of room. What keepsake had he destroyed? The vase Mama had chosen two years ago? The small porcelain figure Gwyneth had given Papa for his birthday when she was fifteen? Something precious, for only the most special pieces gained a place of honor on Papa’s shelves.

And why? Why would Mama’s own brother do such a thing?

He sent something else toppling. “You are undermining years of careful work! The Home Office—”

“The Home Office, you say?” Papa leaned forward onto his desk, a look of deathly calm upon his face. “Nay. The Home Office has decent men in it yet. A few, at least, though you are not one of them. This evil must be stopped, Gates. You must be stopped.”

There came a shuffling sound, one Gwyneth couldn’t comprehend but which made Papa snap upright. Made him lift his hands, palms out, and make a placating motion. “Gates—”

“I am through reasoning with you, Fairchild. Tell me where they are. Now.”

One of Papa’s hands lowered toward his desk drawer, but another shuffle made him pause. “I am only—”

“You think me so great a fool? I already removed that, dear brother.” More curses exploded from Uncle Gates. Closer now, as though he were rounding the desk, just out of her view. “Tell me where they are!”

Papa’s sharp inhalation was clearly audible. “Gone.”

“Gone? Gone? What do you mean, gone?”

“Just that. Out of my hands and on their way to those who can put a stop to this before you destroy two nations in the name of avarice.”

A cry tore through the room, guttural and animalistic. Light flashed on something metallic as her uncle charged into view, the gleaming length held before him. Still, she had no idea what he wielded until she saw the silver stained red.

She pressed her hands to her mouth to hold back the scream, hold back the horror, but it didn’t help. Uncle still hissed words of hatred. Papa still staggered back, away from the blade. Then he crumpled and fell.

Gates followed him down, muttering, “You couldn’t have, not yet. You must have it.” His hands shoved into Papa’s jacket and searched.

Papa, fight back! But he didn’t. He gasped, seemed to struggle for a moment, and then went lax. No. No, no, no, no, no!

Did she bleed too? She must. She couldn’t move, couldn’t make a sound, couldn’t be. Not anymore.

When Papa’s head lolled to the side, he blinked and his gaze focused on her. There was life yet in those familiar depths, but it flickered. Sputtered. “Gwyneth.”

She didn’t hear it. She just saw the movement of his lips. But her uncle, tossing Papa’s case of calling cards into the wall, snarled. “Now you worry about your darling daughter? Oh, have no fear, Fairchild. Dear Uncle Gates will take care of our precious girl.”

Bile burned her throat.

Papa blinked again as he tried to pull in a breath that choked him. Again his gaze sharpened, caught hers. This time when his lips moved, he made no sound whatsoever. Run!

Then it was gone, all the light in his eyes. Extinguished like a flame left before an open window.

And she ran. She turned on silent slippers and fled back around the corner and down the hall. Out the doors and straight into the waiting carriage.

“Gwyneth? Miss Fairchild?”

All she noted of the voice was that it wasn’t Uncle Gates’s. Nothing

else mattered. Seeing that the Wesleys were already seated, their eyes now wide, Gwyneth pulled the door shut herself. “Go!”

An eternal second later, the driver’s “Yah!” reached her ears, and the carriage jolted forward.

When she closed her eyes, all she could see was darkness yawning before her.

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