FIRST WildCard Tours presents Love Stays True by Martha Rogers

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:
Martha Rogers
and the book:
Love Stays True
Realms (May 7, 2013)
***Special thanks to Althea Thompson for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Martha Rogers’ novel Not on the Menu debuted on May 1, 2007, as a part of Sugar and Grits, a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. Her series Winds Across the Prairie debuted in 2010 with Becoming Lucy, Morning for Dove, Finding Becky, and Caroline’s Choice. Her other credits include stories in anthologies with Wayne Holmes, Karen Holmes, and Debra White Smith; several articles in Christian magazines; devotionals in six books of devotions; and eight Bible studies. Martha served as editor of a monthly newsletter for the writer’s organization Inspirational Writers Alive! for six years and is the state president. She is also the director for the annual Texas Christian Writer’s Conference and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, for whom she writes a weekly devotional.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Can Sallie and Manfred overcome the distance that the war has put between them and find love?

In April 1865, the day following the surrender at Appomattox, Manfred McDaniel Whiteman and his brother, Edward, are released in an exchange of prisoners. They are given a few provisions, and they begin a long journey to their home in Bayou Sara, Louisiana.

At home Sallie Dyer is waiting word of her beloved Manfred. Though just a young girl when Manfred left, Sallie has grown into a caring young woman who is determined to wait for her love—despite her father’s worries that she is wasting her life on someone who may never come home.

On their journey Manfred and his brother encounter storms and thieves and are even thrown in jail. Will he make the journey home before someone else claims Sallie’s hand?

Product Details:

List Price: $11.33

PublisherRealms (May 7, 2013)

LanguageEnglish

ISBN-101621362361

ISBN-13978-1621362364

Product Dimensions8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

I have read many of Martha Rogers’ books and I really enjoy them all. And Love Stays True is another wonderful historical story that was a joy to read. I live about an hour from Appomattox and been there many times, so after reading the back cover and saw Appomattox mentioned, I was excited to read this book.  The story of Sallie and Manfred was captivating in itself, but the fact that they were real people and part of Ms. Rogers historical family was intriguing. Sallie was like so many of us at times, she just couldn’t trust God to help her through difficult times. I always like that Ms. Rogers weaves Bible truths and principles throughout her stories, as she did with Sallie. Take these facts, and add all of the history involved in this story and you will find a historical fiction that will be on your mind for a long time.

I encourage you to give Love Stays True a try, you will be in for a treat! You will be taken back to a period in time that life was more difficult, but people are still the same and struggle with the same issues. Martha Rogers does a wonderful job of weaving it all together to give us a story to love and cherish.

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:

Point Lookout, Maryland, Monday, April 10, 1865Cold air chilled his arms, and a sharp object poked at his cheek. Manfred Whiteman reached down to pull a ragged blanket up over his arms and brushed away the straw scratching his face. A few moments later a sudden brightness aroused him again. His lids opened to a slit. Slivers of sunlight peeked through the tiny windows and dispersed the shadows of the night.

He shut his eyes against the sun’s rays, but sleep would not return. He lay still in the quiet of the new morning and sensed a difference in the air that settled over him like a cloak of peace. Raising his head, he glanced around the room. The same familiar stench of wounds, dirty hay, unwashed bodies, and death permeated the air, but in it all the difference vibrated. Something had happened, he could sense it, but nothing unusual appeared in the confines of the prison barracks.

After being captured in the Battle of Nashville in December, he, his younger brother Edwin, and other prisoners had made the long march from Nashville to Louisville, Kentucky. From there they were transferred to Camp Chase in Ohio. Then, in the first week of February, they had been loaded onto trains like cattle and sent to Point Lookout, Maryland, a prison housing nearly fifty thousand men. Upon their arrival the captured soldiers had been stripped of everything personal, and as the days progressed, hundreds of men died. Manfred mourned the loss of friends but thanked the Lord every day for sparing his life, as well as the life of his brother.

Edwin lay sleeping on the pallet next to him, curled on his side as usual. Others still slept, their snores filling the air with sound. No use in trying to sleep now. Manfred’s stomach rumbled with hunger, but most likely the only breakfast would be hard tack or biscuit.

Several weeks ago an officer with the rank of general had visited. For some reason the general had asked Manfred about the one thing he would most like to have. When Manfred answered he wanted his Bible, the man had been somewhat taken aback. Still, he’d managed to find the Bible and Manfred’s journal, which he returned.

Manfred now pulled that worn journal from beneath his dirty mat. The almost ragged book, his lifeline for the past three years, fell open. Manfred wrote.

April 10, 1865

Three more died the night before last. The nearly full moon shining through the windows gave me light to see. I took one man’s shoes and left him with my holey wornout ones. He won’t need shoes, but I will. Took his socks and another man’s for me and Edwin. God, I never dreamed I would do such a thing, but we are desperately in need. Please forgive me. Help Edwin and me to get out of here and get home safely. I so desperately need to see Sallie and my family.

The scrape of wood against wood echoed in the room. Union soldiers, making their usual morning inspection, checked for any who may have died during the night. Manfred shoved the journal under his mat just before the door thudded against the wall and the guards’ shoes clomped on the wooden floors. He turned on his side once again to feign sleep. The blunt toe of the sergeant’s boot kicked Manfred’s hip and sent a sharp pain through his leg. He grunted in response and raised his head to let the sergeant know he was alive. When the man passed, Manfred sat up on his mat and stretched his legs out in front of him to relieve the usual early-morning stiffness.

Others awakened, and their groans filled the air as they rose to sit on their bedding. Manfred waited for breakfast, not knowing if he would even get rations this morning. The guards exited carrying the bodies of the souls who didn’t make it through the night.

Manfred voiced a silent prayer for the boys and their families who would receive the news of the death of their loved ones. He bit his lip. He and Edwin had to survive. They had too much life to live, but then so had the ones just taken away. What if God chose not to spare him or Edwin? No, he wouldn’t think of that. Instead he filled his mind with Scripture verses memorized as a child. God’s Word stored in his heart gave him the comfort and hope he needed to survive each day.

A little later the guards returned and ordered them to the part of the cookhouse where they would eat what the cooks passed off as food. Manfred accepted the cup of what the men called “slop water” coffee and a hard biscuit that would have to suffice until they brought a lunch of greasy water soup. Weeks ago the putrid smells of death, the filth in the camp, and the lousy food sickened him, but now he barely noticed.

Manfred managed to eat half his biscuit and drink a few sips from his cup then leaned toward the man on his right. “Here, James. You take the rest of mine. You need it more than I do.”

The man clasped a trembling hand around the cup and reached for the biscuit with his other. A few drops sloshed over the rim. “Thank you, Manfred. You’re a true friend.” He stuffed the biscuit into his mouth and lifted the cup to his lips to gulp down the last dregs of liquid. With a nod to Manfred, the young soldier returned the cup.

After they were sent back to their quarters, Manfred breathed deeply and almost choked on the rancid air. What he wouldn’t give for a bath, shave, and haircut. A good meal wouldn’t hurt anything either. His nose had mostly numbed itself to his body odor, but dirt and scum became more visible every day. When he had tried to wash his shirt, the brackish water left stains he couldn’t remove.

When would this nightmare come to an end? A question unanswered for these four long months of marching, fighting, and incarceration. Too many lay ill and dying. The end had to come soon.

He glanced once again at his brother, who cushioned his head on his crossed palms with his eyes closed. Manfred reached over to touch the boy’s shoulder. “You all right, little brother?”

Edwin didn’t open his eyes. “Yeah, I’m okay. Just hungry. I dreamed of home last night and Bessie’s cooking. When I close my eyes, I can see her and Momma in the kitchen, Bessie up to her elbows in flour making biscuits and Momma stirring the fire and making grits.”

“Shh, brother, you’re making me hungry too.” Manfred pulled what was left of his jacket tighter about his thin body. “We’ve been captive four months, but it seems a lifetime. Home, our parents, and Sallie may as well be a million miles away.”

Edwin sat up and pounded his fist into the straw. “Yeah, and sometimes I think we’ll never get back there.” He stretched his legs out on his mat, hugging what passed for a pillow. “I sure pray I’ll get to see Peggy again soon.”

Manfred positioned his body to sit squarely on his mat. “Soon as we’re home, I’m asking Mr. Dyer for Sallie’s hand in marriage, that is, if she still wants me. No telling who she’s met since I’ve been gone.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you, big brother. Sallie loves you.” He smacked his fist into the open palm of his other hand. “I just want to be out of here and out there where the action is, fighting with Lee. They told us the Yanks are fighting Lee in Virginny, and that’s just across the river. Lee has to beat them Yanks. We’ll be hearing about it any day now. I just know it.”

Manfred simply nodded. He didn’t agree with his brother, but Edwin cared more about the war than Manfred. At this point Manfred had resigned himself to waiting out the war.

If only he could somehow communicate with Sallie and let her know he was alive. Almost a year had passed since he’d seen her last summer and six months since he’d been able to send a letter to her or received one. From his Bible he removed her last letter and opened it, being careful to handle it as little as possible. Already small holes appeared in the creases from his folding it so often. She had written from her grandfather’s home last fall before he’d gone to Nashville. He prayed her family was safe there in St. Francisville, Louisiana. He’d been at Port Hudson, Louisiana, two years ago and would have been involved in that skirmish in May, but he’d been among the ones in the brigade deployed elsewhere in March. Major General had been sure he had enough soldiers to turn back the siege, but that had not been the case, and Port Hudson fell into Union hands in early July.

That battle took place too close to his hometown of Bayou Sara and had even damaged Grace Church up at St. Francisville. He’d seen the damage on his furlough home. His two older brothers had been captured at Port Hudson, and Manfred had no idea where they were now.

St. Francisville may have been spared, but it had been a close call for Sallie’s grandparents and the other citizens of the small town. He held the worn paper to his lips. With God’s help he’d get home and claim Sallie for his bride.

The hair on the back of his neck bristled, and goose bumps popped out on his arms. The foreboding feeling from earlier wouldn’t leave and swept over him now even stronger, as though he sat on the edge of something powerful looming in the day ahead.

St. Francisville, Louisiana

Sallie Dyer sat at her dressing table running a brush through her mass of tangled curls. Tears blurred her image in the mirror, and she grimaced as the bristles caught in another snarl. She dropped the brush onto her lap.

“Lettie, what am I to do? Not knowing about Manfred is too painful to bear.” She scrunched a handful of auburn hair against her head. “Nothing’s going right. I can’t even brush my hair. I hate the war and . . . ” Her voice trailed off, and she dropped her gaze to the floor then turned toward Lettie. “What am I to do?”

The housemaid clucked her tongue and fluffed the pillows on the walnut four-poster bed. “I don’t know, Miss Sallie. I hate the war too. Too many are dyin’ out there.”

Lettie’s skirt swished as she crossed the room. She picked up the discarded brush and began smoothing out the mass of curls. “You know, Miss Sallie, you have the prettiest red hair in all of Louisiana.”

Sallie lifted her tear-stained eyes and found Lettie’s reflection in the mirror staring back.

“You got to have courage. God is takin’ care of Mr. Manfred.”

“Oh, but the waiting is so hard.” Sallie swiped her fingers across her wet cheeks. In a letter last fall Manfred had written that he was headed to Nashville. Stories coming back from that area spoke of the volumes of soldiers killed at Franklin and then up at Nashville in December. Reports said the surviving young men had been taken prisoner, but no one knew to which prison.

“Lettie, do you truly believe Manfred will come home?”

“Yes, Miss Sallie, I do, and when he comes, you’ll be ready and waitin’.” In a few minutes Lettie’s skilled fingers had tamed the unruly ringlets and secured them with a silver clasp at Sallie’s neck.

“Thank you. I’m all out of sorts this morning. Here it is April, and I haven’t heard a word since November.” Her fears tumbled back into her mind. “Too many have died, and I don’t want Manfred . . . ” She couldn’t utter the words. Saying them might make them true.

She pressed her lips together and pushed a few stray tendrils from her face. She had to get her fears under control. She once believed God would give her the peace He promised, but no matter how hard she prayed, no answers came. God had abandoned her on that awful day last week when she had killed that young man. He hadn’t protected her that afternoon, and now her prayers fell on deaf ears.

Lettie secured the wayward strands with the others under the clips. “Now, Miss Sallie, I done told you we got to believe they’re alive and comin’ home. We can’t do nothin’ about the war. Your mama and grandma need you to be strong. When Mr. Manfred gets home, he’ll be courtin’ you right proper like. You’ll see.”

Lettie must be more concerned than she let on. She only slipped back to the dialect of her family when worried. Sallie turned and wrapped her arms around the dark-skinned girl’s thin waist. “I want to believe you, I really do, but it’s almost more than I can bear.”

After blinking her eyes to clear them, Sallie stared into the dark brown eyes of her friend. Lettie had been with Sallie since childhood, and they shared so much life with each other. If it had not been for Lettie and her mother, Sallie might never have regained her sanity after the incident in Mississippi that brought them all to St. Francisville.

A chill passed through her body at the memory of the day they had fled from their home. Sallie’s last act of defense would be one that would stay with her the rest of her life. Even now she could see the young soldier with the red oozing from his chest. It was the first time she’d ever seen a dead person, and now, only a week later, the image would not leave her, fresh as the day it happened.

The young servant’s brow furrowed, and she pursed her lips. “Are you thinking about what happened back home?”

How well Lettie knew her. Sallie sniffed and blinked away the tears.

“Then you best stop it. What you did had to be done, and we both know it. You saved all our lives.”

It didn’t matter that Lettie spoke true. The images of war could not be erased from Sallie’s mind. “I just want this war to end.”

“Well now, I want that too, but it’s all in God’s hands. But think how Mr. Charles and Mr. Henry got back from the war only a few weeks ago. Theo’s back home too, so you have to believe the other two will come home before long.”

True. Of the five Whiteman brothers, only Edwin and Manfred remained unaccounted for. Charles and Henry Whiteman had been taken prisoner at Port Hudson but exchanged and sent home. Even Theo now sat safe at home after his last escapade revealed him too young to be in the army. She must have hope for Manfred and Edwin.

Lettie lifted the edge of her white apron and patted Sallie’s cheeks dry. “There now, Miss Sallie. It’s all goin’ to be fine. It’ll all be over soon. I just know it. I feel it in my bones. Besides, Easter’s a comin’, and that means a new season, new life, and new hope.”

“You and Mama, the eternal optimists, but I love you for it. You always know how to make me feel better.” Sallie breathed deeply and reached for a green ribbon to secure in her hair.

She would get through this day just as she had all the ones since Manfred left. Then the memory of what she overheard between her father and mother last night drained away her determination. She peered up at Lettie. “I need to tell you something.” Sallie squeezed the hand now clasped in hers.

At Lettie’s solemn nod Sallie took a deep breath and revealed her worry. “Last night I couldn’t sleep, and I heard Papa come in from his trip back to Woodville. I sneaked downstairs to see him, but he was in the parlor talking to Grandpa.”

Sallie’s lips trembled. “Our house in Woodville is ruined. The Yanks ransacked the place and took all kinds of things from our home. Papa said they’d left it in shambles. Mama’s beautiful things. Oh, Lettie, it’s just terrible.” After Sallie and the other women had fled the land, Papa and her brothers stayed behind until the next day, then joined the rest of the family in St. Francisville. He’d gone back to Woodville a few days ago, a twenty-five mile journey, when he heard the Yankees had moved on north.

Lettie pressed her hand against her cheek, her eyes open wide. “Oh, I’m sorry. Your poor mama. It’s so sad. No wonder you’re feelin’ blue this morning.”

Sallie squeezed Lettie’s hand again and for the next few moments sat in silence. Lettie understood her better than anyone else. The servant girl knew her deepest secrets and could be trusted to keep them.

“You are such a comfort. I don’t know how I’d get through these days without you to share my worries.”

Lettie patted Sallie’s hand. “We’ve been together too long and been through too much for me not to be with you.” She stepped back. “Come, now, let’s get you dressed. Your family will be waitin’, and you know your grandpa doesn’t like cold eggs or tardy children, even if you are his favorite.”

That statement brought a bit of smile. She did love Grandpa Woodruff, but he could be gruff when the occasion arose. She hastened over to a bench by the bed and picked up a green and white print cotton dress. Lettie grasped it and slipped her arms up inside it, and Sallie held up her arms.

“I believe Mama invited the Whiteman family for supper one night soon. I’m anxious to speak to Manfred’s mother. Perhaps she’s heard from him.”

The dress billowed about her as Lettie placed it over Sallie’s shoulders. She pulled the bodice up over arms and let the full skirt fall down over her hips and the myriad number of petticoats. At least Mama and Grandma didn’t require her to wear a corset or hoops with her day dresses. Lettie’s nimble fingers went to work on the buttons lined up the back.

“I think you lost more weight, missy. This dress is looser than it was last week. You sure don’t even need your corset. You have to eat more.” She peered over Sallie’s shoulder into the mirror and shook her head.

Looking over her shoulder, Sallie smoothed the dress around her waist. She gathered the wrinkles from the excess fabric. “It is big, but I’m just not hungry.” At Lettie’s stern gaze she added, “But I’ll try to eat more.”

Lettie sniffed the air. “If that aroma coming from the kitchen is what I think it is, my mammy’s ham and eggs should do the trick. She’ll have biscuits and gravy too.”

Sallie nodded. “I promise I’ll eat some of everything this morning.” A promise she would try to keep, especially with her grandmother’s and Flora’s cooking being so delicious.

The two girls locked arms and walked down the stairs together. At the bottom Lettie headed for the kitchen to help her mother. Sallie forced a smile to her lips and went into the dining room to join her family for breakfast.

FIRST WildCard Tours presents Threads of Love by Andrea Boesharr

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:
Andrea Boeshaar
and the book:
Threads of Love
Realms (May 7, 2013)
***Special thanks to Althea Thompson for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar is a certified Christian life coach and speaks at writers’ conferences and for women’s groups. She has taught workshops at such conferences as Write-to-Publish, American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), Oregon Christian Writers Conference, Mount Hermon Writers Conference, and many local writers conferences. Another of Andrea’s accomplishments is cofounder of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) organization. For many years she served on both its advisory board and as its CEO.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Emily Sundberg has her life all laid out. She has a respectable job as a teacher and an idea of whom she should marry.  But does God have a better plan?

Emily Sundberg considers herself a proper young lady of the twentieth century. But a decade ago she behaved more like a tomboy. So when the neighbor’s grandson came to visit one summer when she was thirteen, they became fast friends. Emily even got her first kiss—quite by accident.

Unfortunately Jake Edgerton told all the boys something else. Rumors circulated, and Emily caved from embarrassment and guilt. Meanwhile Jake returned home to Fallon, Montana and she never saw or heard from him again.

Over the years Emily has worked hard to prove to her peers and the people of Manitowoc, Wisconsin that, despite past mistakes, she is an upstanding young woman, one worthy of being a schoolteacher—and possibly Andy Anderson’s wife. But even with the passing of time, Emily has never forgotten Jake and how he nearly ruined her life…

And now he’s a US deputy marshal and he’s back in town!

Product Details:

List Price: $11.28

PublisherRealms (May 7, 2013)

LanguageEnglish

ISBN-101621362396

ISBN-13978-1621362395

 

 

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

will post tomorrow

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

May 1902

Manitowoc, WisconsinAn explosion of shattering glass sounded from directly behind Emily Sundberg, and a thunderous weight crashed into her. The world spun, and then she fell hard and facedown on the dirty Franklin Street plank walk.

Breathe! Breathe! She struggled to inhale.

“Are you all right, ma’am?” A male voice spoke close to her ear. “I’m terribly sorry about knocking you over.”

He helped her sit, and a moment later a rush of sweet, springtime air filled Emily’s lungs. She let out a breath of relief.

“Are you hurt?”

“I . . . I don’t know.” Emily spit dirt from her mouth. Her left cheek began to throb. Her vision swam.

He steadied her, his arm around her shoulders. “Easy there.”

She took several deep breaths.

“Allow me to help you up and over to the bench. Like I said, I’m sorry ’bout knocking you over the way I did.”

Emily wiggled her toes inside her ivory-colored boots. Nothing broken. She moved her jaw. Despite the pain around her cheekbone, she seemed all right. Her hand moved to the back of her head. Her fat braid had come out of its pinning and her hat—her hat!

She pointed to the paved street seconds before a set of buggy wheels rolled over it, grinding the lovely creation into the paved road. Not once. But twice!

Emily moaned.

“Careful, now.” The man helped her to stand. “There’re shards of glass everywhere.”

Emily thanked God she hadn’t slammed her head into the nearby hitching post.

“Hooligans!” A woman’s voice rang out amidst the strangely silent street. It sounded like Mrs. Hopper’s. “Hooligans, ever’ one of ’em!”

Definitely Mrs. Hopper’s.

The man held Emily securely by her upper arms, and Emily’s gaze fell on his walnut-colored waistcoat. “You sure you’re not hurt?

“I–I don’t think so.”

“Well, I hope you can forgive me, ma’am.”

Emily’s gaze finally reached the man’s tanned and goldenwhiskered face. Shaggy blond hair framed his face and blood stained the corner of his mouth. In his canvas duster and matching trousers, the stranger looked out of place for Manitowoc, Wisconsin. But odd costumes weren’t totally uncommon, given the city’s lively port.

And yet, he seemed a bit familiar too . . .

“Unhand that girl, you hooligan!” Mrs. Hopper rushed forward and whacked the man on the shoulder with her cane.

He winced and released Emily. “I meant her no harm.” As Emily staggered backward slightly, the man caught her elbow. His velvety-brown gaze bore into hers as if to ask yet again if she’d been injured.

Funny how she guessed at his thoughts.

“I’m just shaken.” Emily glimpsed the remorse in his eyes before he bent and picked up the dark blue capelet that her grandmother, Bestamor, had knit for her. He gave it a shake before handing it over.

“And what about my hat?” Sadly she pointed again to the street.

The man collected its colorful but irreparably flattened remains.

“A travesty!” Mrs. Hopper’s age-lined face contorted in rage. “A travesty, I say!”

Travesty indeed! It had taken months for Emily to save for that fine bit of millinery with its silk ribbons, Chantilly lace, and pink roses on a velvet bandeau. Now Andy Anderson would never see it. She took the mangled remnants from the stranger’s hand. “I certainly hope you plan to reimburse me for this. I paid one dollar and fifty cents for it.”

“A dollar and a half? For a hat? I could buy a shoulder holster, cartridge belt, and ammunition for that sum.”

Unimpressed, Emily extended one hand of her torn netted glove. Another casualty.

Resignation softened his gaze before the man reached into his inside pocket and then placed two dollar bills into Emily’s outstretched palm. “This should more than cover it. Again, I apologize.”

“Thank you.” Emily smiled. “Apology accepted.” She folded the money and put it in her reticule, still attached to her wrist.

Mrs. Sylvia Hopper sniffed indignantly, but Emily caught the approving light in the older woman’s eyes. She’d known the elderly woman for a long while, as she had been Bestamor’s best friend back in Norway. She’d come to America just before Poppa was born, and now her granddaughter, Iris, was Emily’s best friend.

A small crowd pressed in on the boardwalk to gawk. Emily’s gaze moved to the man who lay sprawled out and unmoving several feet away.

She quickly turned away. “Is he dead?”

“Probably not.” The stranger bent and grabbed his hat that lay nearby and gave it a whack against his thigh. “My compliments. You took that tumble a far sight better than he did.”

“Who is he?”

“Name’s Wilcox. He’s wanted in five counties.”

Emily glanced at the motionless figure again. He didn’t look familiar.

“It’s actually amazing that you’re not out cold yourself. For a moment I feared I’d killed you.”

“And you could have killed her, you low-life hooligan!”

“Please, Mrs. Hopper . . . ” She glanced around, hating to be the subject of such a scene. “I’m fine. No need to worry.”

Muttering, the elderly woman walked to where several women stood a ways down on the boardwalk, holding parasols and whispering behind gloved fingers.

Emily felt suddenly unnerved. “I guess I’m sturdy for a woman. Even so, I haven’t taken a hit like that since my brothers jumped me and I fell off my horse. Those rascals pretended they were US marshals and I was one of the James Gang.” Emily moistened her lips, her gaze fixed on the handsome stranger. “They flung themselves at me from a tree limb. It’s a miracle we didn’t all break our necks. ”

A moment passed, and Emily wondered why this moment seemed sealed in time.

The man narrowed his gaze.

“Forgive my prattling.” She hadn’t meant to go on like that. “The fall must have shaken my tongue loose.”

Despite the injury to his mouth he grinned, and Emily could swear she’d seen that smile before.

“Both you fellas are paying for this damage to my front window!” Mr. Fransmuller stomped out of his restaurant and saloon. Emily knew him and his family, as young Hans had been in her class just the year before. “Look at what your brawl has done!”

Emily took note of the gaping hole where the two men had crashed through the window.

Mrs. Hopper limped over to the tavern owner. “There ought to be a law against such barbaric behavior in our town. Someone’s going to get killed. Why, Mr. Fransmuller, you should be ashamed, serving strong drink on a Thursday afternoon. Women aren’t safe to do their shopping in broad daylight anymore!”

“Just for the record, I wasn’t drinking,” said the familiar stranger. “Just playing cards is all.”

“And gambling, most likely.” Mrs. Hopper hurled another angry glare at him. “Gambling is a dirty sin.”

Fransmuller frowned and wiped his beefy hands on the black apron tied around his rounded belly. “Now, Mrs. Hopper, don’t start in on one of your holier-than-thou rants.”

“I beg your pardon?” Mrs. Hopper brought herself up to her full height of four feet nine inches. “How dare you speak to me in such a way, Mr. Fransmuller!”

“I’ve got a business to run, and I pay my taxes.” He threw a thumb over his shoulder. “But just look at my front window!” He gave a wag of his nearly bald head. “And you should see the saloon! One big mess!” Mr. Fransmuller marched up and stood toe to toe with the man beside Emily. “Who are you? I want your name. You’re paying for half the damages to my business!”

“Yes, sir.”

Emily watched as the stranger moved his duster to one side. She glimpsed the gun, discreetly haltered across his chest, before he produced his billfold and a silver badge. “Deputy Marshal John Alexander Kirk Edgerton at your service.” After a courteous dip forward, he counted out several large-sum bills. “Will this cover my portion of the damages?”

Emily gasped. Jake? Could it be?

Mr. Fransmuller stared at the money. “Yes. This will do.” He gave a nod of appeasement before walking away.

Mrs. Hopper moved down the boardwalk and continued her conversation with the other ladies.

“Jake?” Emily eked out his nickname, scarcely believing it was him. He was several inches taller, filled out some, and had grown whiskers since she last saw him ten years ago. “Jake Edgerton?”

His gaze slid to her and he smiled. “Well, well . . . Emily Sundberg.” He didn’t look surprised. Obviously he’d recognized her before she’d figured out his identity. “Look at you, all grown up—you even turned out pretty.”

“Hmph! Well, I see you haven’t changed!”

“It was a compliment.”

She bristled. It didn’t sound like a compliment. What’s more, she suddenly recalled that Jake was part of that US marshal stunt her brothers pulled.

Jake Edgerton was trouble. Trouble from the time they were thirteen and fifteen.

“So what are you doing in Manitowoc?”

“Attending my granddad’s funeral.”

Emily felt a sting of rebuke. “Oh, I–I’m sorry. I didn’t know he’d passed. I mean, I knew Mr. Ollie had been ill for a long while, but . . . ”

“Happened just last night.” Jake eyed her speculatively.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Me too.” He glanced away for a moment. “So what about you?” His gaze returned. “Married? Working at your family’s shipping business?”

“Neither. I’m a schoolteacher here in town. I only get home on Sundays.”

“A schoolteacher, eh?”

She nodded as the realization of Mr. Ollie’s death sunk in. A sweeping sadness prevailed. “Again, I’m sorry for your loss. Your grandfather was a good neighbor to our family.” She eyed the rugged man standing before her. Mr. Ollie spoke of him often, and Jake had been especially close to the old man. Oliver Stout, fondly called Mr. Ollie by Emily and her brothers, had been a respected attorney, one who’d boasted many times over the years that his only grandson would one day take over his law practice.

But it didn’t look that way. Not if Jake was a deputy marshal.

“I appreciate the condolences, Em.”

Such familiarity galled her. “So you’re a gambler as well as a lawman?” Emily could only imagine Mr. Ollie, weeping in heaven.

“I partake in a game of cards on occasion.”

“Family funerals being one of them?” She couldn’t squelch the quip.

Jake inhaled, but then seemed to think better of a reply. Instead, he guided her the rest of the way to the bench.

Emily tugged her capelet around her shoulders and sat. She eyed the crowd, praying no one would recognize her as Maple Street School’s third grade teacher or Agnes Sundberg’s niece or Jacob Dunbar’s cousin . . . or Captain Daniel Sundberg’s daughter. With so much family surrounding her in this town, Emily knew the odds were against her anonymity.

“Once again, I am terribly sorry you got in the middle of this whole mess.”

He couldn’t be sorrier than she!

Mr. Fransmuller began sweeping up glass and shooing people away from the scene when shrieks from across the street pierced the air.

Iris. She turned in time to see her best friend making an unladylike sprint from the department store.

“Emily! Emily Sundberg!”

Standing, she cringed. So much for hiding her identity.

Emily lifted a hand in a tiny wave. Iris spotted her and crossed the street. She held her hat in place on her head with one of her slender hands. In the other she clutched her wrapped purchases.

“What’s happened? Oh, my stars!” A pale blue dress hugged Iris’s wispy frame as she hurried toward Emily, while her wire-rim glasses slipped down her long nose. “I heard there was some barroom fight and you got trampled half to death. What would I do if I’d lost my very best frie—”

Iris’s gaze lit on Jake, and she slowed her steps. Giving him a timid smile, she let go of her hat and pushed up her glasses.

He touched the brim of his hat. “Ma’am.”

Iris leaned toward Emily. “Is he the one who ran you over?”

“That about sums it up. But I’m fine, so let’s finish our shopping, shall we?”

Iris didn’t budge. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?” She nudged Emily, who felt a new soreness in her rib cage.

Jake spoke up before she could. “US Deputy Marshal Jake Edgerton, ma’am.”

“Deputy marshal? How impressive.” Iris’s smile grew. “I’m Miss Iris Hopper and Emily’s best friend, going on eight years now. Right, Em?”

“Right.”

“My parents were killed in a horrible mud slide in South America where we were missionaries. I’ve lived with my grandmother ever since.” She pointed to where Mrs. Hopper still stood, recounting the event to an accumulating cluster of women.

“Sorry to hear of your loss.” Jake’s gaze, the color of the brandy he denied drinking, shifted to Emily. “As for Em and me, we go way back too.” A slow grin spread across his mouth. “Ain’t that right? And I must admit it’s been a pleasure, um, running into you today.”

Shut up, Jake. She looked down the block, wondering if he had any idea how much heartache he’d caused her over the years. Because of him and his big mouth, she’d spent half her life repairing her blemished reputation in this town. Worse, Jake never wrote back to her when she’d attempted to apologize for her part in the wrongdoing.

“How’re your brothers?” He gave a nostalgic wag of his head. “That summer I visited Granddad and met all of you Sundbergs was the best in all my life.”

“Eden and Zeb are fine. Just fine.” She couldn’t get herself to say any more. “We’re all fine.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Emily’s never mentioned you.” Iris’s pointed features soured with her deep frown. She leaned closer to Emily. “I thought we told each other everything.”

“No? You never mentioned me, Em?” Jake’s dark eyes glinted with mischief.

Tried half my life to forget you! She clenched her jaw to keep back the retort and realized that it hurt too.

His expression changed. “Maybe you ought to see a doctor, Emily.”

She wished he hadn’t picked up on her wince. “No, I’m fine.”

“She always says that,” Iris tattled. “She’s always ‘fine.’”

“How far’s the doctor’s office from here?”

“I don’t need a doctor, Jake. But thanks, anyway.”

“Well, goodness, Em, you certainly did take the worst of it.” Iris brushed off the back of Emily’s capelet. “And, oh, my stars! Just look at your hat. It’s ruined.”

“Yes, I know. But Jake reimbursed me.”

“How thoughtful.” After a smile his way, Iris examined Emily’s face like she was one of her fourth graders. “I’m not mistaken a bruise is already forming on your left cheek.” Iris clucked her tongue. “You’ll be a sight at the Memorial Day Dance tomorrow night. But if you need to stay home now, I will too.”

“No. We’re still going.” Emily knew her friend looked forward to this community event that honored war veterans as much as she did. In addition, Andy Anderson would be there. Maybe if he saw her in the new dress Momma and Bestamor had sewn especially for the occasion, he’d finally notice her, and not just as Eden’s sister either.

“Andy won’t give you the time of day if you’re all banged up. You might as well stay home.”

Iris had spoken her thoughts. Sadness descended like a fog rolling in from off Lake Michigan. Emily fingered her sore cheek. She’d decided months ago that Andy would make a perfectly suitable husband. Would this ruin her chances of finally catching his eye?

“Might help if you go home and put a cold compress on it,” Jake suggested. “I’ll bet no one will be the wiser by tomorrow night.”

“Sure, that’s right,” Iris’s gaze softened. “Perhaps Andy won’t see any bruising. And we can cake on some of Granny’s concealing cream wherever necessary.”

Glimpsing Jake’s amused grin, Emily blushed. How could Iris speak about such personal things in front of him?

“Excuse me, but are you speaking of Andy Anderson by any chance?” Jake hiked his hat farther back on his head.

“Yes.” Again, Iris seemed happy to provide all the information.

However, the last thing Emily wanted was Jake Edgerton to get involved in her life. “We should be on our way, Iris. Let’s catch up with your granny.”

“Well, I’ll be . . . ” Jake leaned against a hitching post. “Andy Anderson . . . what’s that rascal doing these days?”

“Andy works over at the aluminum factory.” Iris pointed just beyond Jake’s left shoulder and toward where the large, thriving business was located. “He’s quite the lady’s man, but Em hopes to change all that.”

“Iris, really!” Emily gave her friend a stern look.

“Interesting.” Jake gazed off into the distance, his lips pursed as he kneaded his jaw. He seemed to mull over the information before looking back at Emily. “I wondered if I’d see Andy while I was in town.” His gaze focused on Iris. “Andy and I go way back too.”

Every muscle in Emily’s body tensed. If only Mr. Ollie could have waited just a week longer to pass from this world to the next. Her hopes ran high for the Memorial Day Dance tomorrow night, and it vexed her that Jake might have the power to destroy her welllaid plans.

“Emily is counting on Andy to ask her for a dance tomorrow night, but—”

“Iris!” Aghast, she gave her friend’s arm a jerk. “I’m sure Deputy Edgerton doesn’t care about such things.”

“Sure I do.” He straightened, still grinning. “And I’ll tell you what, Em, if Andy doesn’t dance with you, I’d be happy to.”

“Thank you, but I can’t possibly accept.” She tamped down the urge to scowl.

“It’s the least I can do.” After another charming smirk, he arched a brow. “What time’s the grand affair?”

“Aren’t you in mourning?” He just couldn’t show up.

“Of course I am.” Jake rolled one of his broad shoulders. “But I know Granddad fought in the Civil War, and I think he’d want me to attend.”

Iris happily divulged the details, and Emily wanted to scream.

“I’ll be there,” Jake said.

“How grand!” Iris adjusted her colorfully decorative hat. “Then, of course, you must save a dance for me.”

“Iris!” How could her friend be so bold?

Jake didn’t seem offended. “It’d be my honor, ma’am.” He smiled rather sheepishly.

Enough! Emily turned on her heel and strode down the walk, passing Mrs. Hopper and the other women. Her heels clicked hard on the weathered planks. While she walked faster than a lady should, if she didn’t hurry, she’d lose her composure here and now— and right in front of the man who’d nearly ruined her life!

FIRST Wildcard presents Christmas at Holly Hill by Martha Rogers

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:
Martha Rogers
and the book:
Christmas at Holly Hill
Realms (September 4, 2012)
***Special thanks to Althea Thompson for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Martha Rogers’s novel Not on the Menu debuted on May 1, 2007, as a part of Sugar and Grits, a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. Her series Winds Across the Prairie debuted in 2010 with Becoming Lucy, Morning for Dove, Finding Becky, and Caroline’s Choice. Her other credits include stories in anthologies with Wayne Holmes, Karen Holmes, and Debra White Smith; several articles in Christian magazines; devotionals in six books of devotions; and eight Bible studies. Martha served as editor of a monthly newsletter for the writer’s organization Inspirational Writers Alive! for six years and is the state president. She is also the director for the annual Texas Christian Writer’s Conference and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, for whom she writes a weekly devotional. Martha and her husband are active members of First Baptist Church.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Can Clayton Barlow prove he has changed his ways in time for Christmas?

It is October 1898, and Clayton Barlow has just returned home after serving time in prison for his part in a bank robbery. His family welcomes him, but the townspeople are skeptical. Bored with life in the small town but determined to make a new start, he goes to work with his father, hoping to regain the town’s trust.

Clayton recognizes the schoolteacher at the Prairie Grove School as his childhood friend, Merry Lee Warner, and old feelings surface. Still, he doubts that he could ever get a woman like Merry to love him.

As the townspeople prepare for Christmas, their suspicions about Clayton lead to trouble. Will the trusting heart of an unlikely new friend be enough to restore Clayton’s relationships with his neighbors and reunite him with God and Merry?

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK
This is such a sweet story that happens around Christmas time in the small town of Prairie Grove. I immediately liked Clay, there was just something about him that drew me to him from the beginning. And Merry is just one of those sweet gals that lives a simple, quite homey life, and content with her life as it is. But with Clay being an ex-con, was it really smart for the two to act on the attraction that was still apparent between them from high school?
There is truly enough excitement and twists and turns in this story to keep the readers interested until the last page. I always enjoy small town stories and I thoroughly enjoy the people of Prairie Grove and the sweet home of Holly Hill. If nothing else, these children will steal their way into your hearts and draw you into their story in a unique way.
If you are looking for a good sweet story and a little Christmas fun, then you will find it here, in Christmas at Holly Hill. I highly recommend this wonderful book for your reading enjoyment.
This book was provided by Realms Publishers through FIRST Wildcard Tours. I was not expected or required to write a positive review. The opinions in this review are mine only.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Realms (September 4, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1616388374

ISBN-13: 978-1616388379

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Prairie Grove, Kansas, October 1898 Home for Thanksgiving and Christmas! Clay’s heart pumped blood through his veins at a

frantic pace. After serving five years for his part in a bank robbery, he’d be home for his two favorite holidays. The question looming in his soul was whether he’d be welcomed by anyone other than his parents.

The train hissed and steamed its way into the station with a blast of the whistle as Clay peered through the window. When the cars came to a screeching stop, he remained in his seat, fear gripping his heart. The conductor stopped in the aisle.

“Son, this is your stop. Time to get off.”

Clay willed himself to stand and make his way down the aisle. No one would be here to greet him since no one knew he’d be on the train. He’d planned it all as a surprise, espe- cially for his mother. He stepped to the platform, gripping the handle of the small bag containing all his worldly possessions. Around him the trees wore their best fall colors in welcome, and as Clay made his way to the street in front of the depot, he drank in the sight he’d seen only in his dreams for the past five years.

The good citizens of Prairie Grove moved about on their way to one place or another, oblivious to his presence. The livery still stood close to the station with the post office nearby, and right next to it a new addition announced itself in gold letters. The telegraph office was now the Prairie Grove Telephone and Telegraph center. His hometown had grown more than he realized.

He spotted the hotel and the Red Garter Saloon a few blocks away, then he breathed deeply of the fresh smell of baking bread drifting from the bakery next to his father’s store. The green and yellow letters on the sign hanging in front welcomed customers to Barlow’s General Store, still the only mercantile in town. A slight breeze

sent the sign swinging with a creak he heard from his position near the depot. Dust whirls danced across the street where he’d once played with other boys his age.

By Christmas those streets would most likely be filled with snow, and snowball fights would be the game of the day at the school. His days at the red clapboard schoolhouse had been some of the happiest of life. He viewed the bell tower of the school at the end of the street and could almost hear the sound of it clanging in his memory.

Doubt lodged in Clay’s throat, but he kept walking to the store. When he stepped through the door, it could well have

been ten years ago when he helped Pa. He inhaled the familiar smells of coal oil, fresh ground coffee, fabric dye, and pepper- mint candy. Nothing had changed.

Then he spotted his ma. He observed her for a minute or two, savoring the sight of her graying hair and slight frame. She didn’t move as fast as she once had, and she stopped to catch her breath after placing some items on a shelf.

From the corner of his eye he saw his father coming from the storeroom. A good five inches shorter than Clay, Pa’s sturdy frame handled the box in his arms with ease. He turned to set the box on the counter, and Clay cringed the moment his father recognized him. The meeting he both dreaded and anticipated had come.

Pa didn’t move from behind the counter. He simply stared for what seemed an eternity but in reality amounted to only seconds. His words barely reached Clay’s ears. “Son, you’ve come home.”

At Clay’s nod his father stepped around the counter and called to Ma. “Cora, our boy is home.”

A can clattered to the floor, and his mother turned with hands to her mouth. She hurried toward him and hugged him. “Thank You, Lord, for bringing him home safe.” Tears glis- tened in her eyes. “I’ve waited and waited for this moment to come.” She reached up and placed her hands on each side of his face then kissed his cheeks.

Heat rose in his face, but Ma’s arms and kisses were the welcome he’d hoped for in the past few days of travel. His arms went around her thin frame. She’d lost a good deal of weight since the last time he’d seen her, and that bothered him more than his earlier observations.

He glanced up at his father. His graying hair had thinned some, and his eyes held both a welcome and uncertainty. Gaining Pa’s trust would take time.

His parents stood in front of him and shook their heads. Pa wrapped his arm around Ma. “We’ve waited a long time for this day. Thank God you made it home.”

Clay didn’t know what God had to do with anything, since it had been Pa who had turned Clay over to the authorities five years ago. The road back would be long and hard, but then that’s no more than he’d expected.

Ma grabbed his hands. “Are you planning on staying here in Prairie Grove with us? You’re not going to get mixed up with those . . . those . . . thieves again, are you?”

Before Clay could answer, Pa added his own sentiments. “If you do decide to stay, I expect you to stay away from them. If you don’t, you won’t be welcome here.”

Clay stiffened but kept his voice neutral. “I understand, Pa, but I’m not going to get mixed up with Karl’s gang again. I would like to stay as long as you’ll have me.”

Or until the townspeople ran him off. Two older women in the corner eyed him and whispered between themselves. The prodigal had returned, but not everyone welcomed him. He nodded to the ladies, who immediately turned their backs. So much for the town’s greeting.

“Of course we want you to live here with us,” Ma said, not even seeming to notice the ladies. “Now let’s go upstairs and get you settled in. I know you’re hungry. You always were, and I have supper almost ready.” She held onto his arm and led him to the stairway up to the living quarters above the store.

A voice calling his name stopped him at the bottom. He odded for his mother to go on up and turned to find an old riend, Jimmy Shanks, grinning from ear to ear. “It is you, Clay Barlow.” The blond-headed young man reached out to grasp Clay’s hand.

“Yeah, it’s me. I decided to come home, Jimmy.” He grasped the outstretched hand and blinked at the strength in the grasp.

“It’s James now, and I’m married to Grace Ann Higgins.” Clay had to chuckle at that revelation. Grace Ann had run

away from Jimmy every time he’d tried to get close.

“So, you finally got Grace Ann’s attention. I’m glad since you always liked her.”

“You’ll have to come out to the house for dinner some night so we can catch up on old times.”

“I’ll think on that, Jimmy . . . James.” Not much to catch up on from his side since he’d been behind prison bars for five years. “And you’d better check with Grace Ann. She might not cotton to having an ex-con at her dinner table.”

James blinked. “Don’t you worry none about that; we’ll always be friends.” He stepped back and picked up his pur- chase. “Had to pick up some coal oil. With the days getting shorter, we need more of it.”

Clay walked with him to the door and stepped outside with James, who shook Clay’s hand once again. “I’m so glad you’re home. This is one Christmas your parents will be glad to celebrate.” With a grin and a salute he stepped down to the street and mounted his horse. “See you around, Clay.”

If he’d stayed good friends with Jimmy instead of getting mixed up with Karl, things would have been much different. Still, the warm welcome from his old friend and the greeting from his parents lightened the load in Clay’s heart.

If Pa would have him, Clay wanted to work again in the tore. Being locked up with bad food, hard cots, little sunshine, and no privacy motivated him to stay out of trouble. He’d had a lot of time to think in prison, and one thing remained sure and steadfast. Clayton Barlow would not end up behind bars ever again.

Merry Warner stepped onto the boardwalk up the street from the school where she taught. The wonderful aroma of cin- namon stopped her in front of the bakery. Cinnamon buns for breakfast in the morning would make up for her being late this afternoon. She hurried up to the counter where Mr. Brooks placed fresh pies into the case. On second thought, two pecan pies for supper tonight would be even better.

She grinned at the baker, who reminded her of the pictures she’d seen of Santa Claus, right down to the white beard and rosy cheeks. “I’ll have two of those pecan pies. I’m sure Mama will appreciate them for supper tonight.”

“Good choice, Miss Warner. We had a good crop of pecans this year, so Mrs. Brooks is busy with recipes using the nuts.” Mr. Brooks placed each pie in a paper bag then tied the top closed with string. “There, that should make them easier to carry.”

She plunked several coins onto the counter and picked up her purchase. “I hope she makes some of that pumpkin bread for the holidays.”

Mr. Brooks laughed. “Oh, she will. I’m sure of that. You have a nice evening now, and tell your ma I said hello.”

Merry nodded and hurried out to be on her way. She

stopped short when she spotted a man standing in front of the eneral store next door. A gasp escaped her lips, and her heart skipped a beat. He looked just like Clay Barlow, but Clay was in prison. Surely she would have heard if he had come home.

He turned, and his gaze locked with hers. Recognition shot through her with streaks of delight that dissipated almost as soon as they began. No one but Clay had eyes so dark a brown that they penetrated to her very soul.

How could Clay be out of prison already? Then she counted and realized five years had indeed passed since he’d gone away. When Grandma Collins had said she needed Mama and Papa to come back and take care of the orphanage at Holly Hill, Merry’s heart had been torn apart. She loved Barton Creek and wanted to stay there, but the memory of her years in Prairie Grove beckoned for her to return. One of those memories included Clay Barlow and the schoolgirl crush she’d had on him before he got involved with Karl Laramie’s gang.

Shoving aside her misgivings, she gave in to her delight and ran up to hug Clay. “Clay Barlow, it’s been too many years.” Heat filled her face, and she jumped back. She was no longer a sixteen-year-old girl but a young woman who should practice better manners befitting her age.

Clay’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “Merry?”

“Yes. We moved  back to Holly Hill last summer after Grandpa died. I’m so glad you’re home.”

“I’m glad to be here too.” He stepped back. “It . . . it’s nice to see you. I . . . I . . . ” His voice trailed off, and he glanced over her shoulder. Without another word he bolted through the door to the store.

Merry stood with her mouth agape. How rude. Then she urned and saw three women staring at her with disapproval written all over them. Mrs. Pennyfeather, wife of the school superintendent, shook her head and frowned.

Heat rose in Merry’s face again. They’d seen her greeting Clay. No sense in trying to apologize. Mrs. Pennyfeather wouldn’t listen anyway. Merry gathered up her pies and fled up the hill toward Holly Hill Home for Children. Along the way her thoughts whirled. She had never expected to see Clay again, figuring that he’d be too ashamed to come back to his hometown. What could his return mean?

She burst through the door then closed it and braced her- self against the smooth wood. Her heart pounded not only from the long walk but also from seeing Clay again.

Imogene and Eileen raced over to grab her around the waist. The blonde-haired ten-year-old-twins wore matching blue-and-white striped dresses with white pinafores over them.

Eileen eyed the bags in Merry’s hands. “You went by the bakery. What did you bring?” She reached for one of the bags.

Merry held it high. “Not until after supper. Then we’ll have pecan pie.”

Imogene jumped up and down, her pigtails bouncing on her shoulders. “That’s my favorite. Oh, I love you, Merry.” The young girl wrapped her arms about Merry’s waist again.

Emmaline appeared with a stack of silverware in  her hands. “It’s about time you got here. Mama Warner could use your help.”

Merry set the pie bags on a table near the door and unwound Imogene’s arms. “I’m sorry I’m late. I stayed at the school to prepare the lessons for tomorrow. Did you know we have ten different varieties of trees around our school building?”

Emmaline shook her head. “No, and I don’t care right now. Are you going to help me or not?”

“Yes, I’m on my way.” Merry removed her shawl and bonnet then hung them on a hook by the door in the entry hall. She picked up the pies and made her way to the kitchen. Emmaline plunked the silverware onto the table behind Merry. At thir- teen Emmaline had begun to rebel against doing so many chores around the home, but Mama could usually get her to cooperate.

Merry sighed and pushed open the swinging door into the kitchen. She kissed her mother’s plump cheek. “Sorry I’m late. I got detained at school.”

Mama ladled stew into bowls and set them on a tray. “I figured as much. Check the cornbread for me. Supper’s about ready.”

Grandma Collins opened up the bakery sacks. “Pecan pie—now that’s going to make for a good dessert. Thank you, Merry.”

“I figured since I was so late coming home, I might as well contribute something to the meal.” Merry opened the oven door and removed two pans of cornbread. She set them on the counter and reached up to the shelf to grab a plate for serving it. She turned one pan onto the counter then cut it into squares and arranged them on the plate.

“Mama, did you know Clay Barlow came home?”

The ladle stopped, dripping stew back into the pot. Mama stood still for a few seconds, as did Grandma. “No, I didn’t. Has it been five years already?” She shook her head. “Such promise that boy had before he got into so much trouble. Where did you see him?”

“Outside the store. I’m . . . I’m afraid I made a spectacle of myself. I ran up and hugged him because I was so glad to see him back. The problem is, Mrs. Pennyfeather and her friends saw the whole thing. They weren’t too happy about it either.”

Mama laid the spoon aside and reached over to pat Merry’s shoulder. “I’m sure they’ll get over it. How did he seem?”

“I don’t know. Embarrassed to see me, I guess. He didn’t say much.”

Mama nodded sagely. “It’s been seven years since we moved away from Holly Hill and went to Barton Creek. You were only sixteen when you thought you were so in love with him. Being in prison changes a man, so he won’t be that same boy you liked so much back then.”

“I know, Mama. It just seems strange that he would be released and come home not long after we moved back home.” Grandma shook her head. “I don’t know what

happened to that boy. I always liked him. Maybe he’s learned his lesson and will make something of himself yet.”

Papa chose that minute to swing open the back door and enter the kitchen with Henry and Kenny. The boys’ arms were filled with logs for the fire. Papa planted a kiss on Mama’s fore- head then motioned to the boys, who had unloaded their wood into the bin near the stove. “Let’s get washed up and have some of Mama’s stew.”

Merry finished piling the cornbread onto a plate and headed to the dining room with it. More talk with Mama and Grandma about Clay would have to wait until they were alone.

She settled in for dinner with her family. Although none of the children were actually her brothers or sisters, every one of them held that place in her heart after the few months she’d been back here with them. Emmaline and Henry had lived at the orphanage the longest, with Kenny and Robert next, but those two had been babies when her family had left. The rest were new to her, but she’d grown to love them quickly. Each one had their own tale of tragedy and loss.

Papa stood behind his chair and bowed his head to ask the blessing on the meal. Papa never varied his blessing, using the one his pa had taught him growing up. Merry only half listened to the familiar words until Papa took a new turn. “And Father, we ask thy blessings on young Clay Barlow. Guide him on the right path now that he’s served his time and come home. May we act and think kindly toward him. Amen.”

Merry swallowed hard and blinked her eyes. She lifted her gaze to her father’s and saw understanding in their blue depths. Around her the others clamored to know who Clay was and why Papa prayed for him. She bit her lip and bowed her head. No man or boy had claimed her heart like Clay. From the encounter this afternoon, she realized he still pos- sessed a piece of it, and she had no idea what to do with that revelation.

CFBA and Darrel Nelson presents …..The Anniversary Waltz

This week, theChristian Fiction Blog Allianceis introducingThe Anniversary WaltzRealms (May 15, 2012)byDarrel NelsonABOUT THE AUTHOR: A Word from the author:

I am a schoolteacher by profession and have taught school for (thir—ahem!) years. I grew up in Raymond, Alberta, and attended the University of Lethbridge after graduating from high school and serving a two-year mission to Japan. During university, I met and married Marsha Smith, and we are the parents of four children, which has grown to include their spouses and our ten grandchildren.

I have always loved to write. I started writing stories before I was old enough to realize I was writing stories. It seemed a natural thing to pick up a pencil and paper and create a world simply by using words—worlds of adventure in steaming jungles (Tarzan was an early influence on me) or realms of adventure in outer space (Buck Rogers). But as I have grown older, I have discovered that the real inspiration for me is exploring the theme of love and how it can make such a difference in the world.

I’ve had an article published in Lethbridge Magazine and have written several dramatic plays, two of which won provincial recognition and were showcased at a drama festival. I won the CJOC radio songwriting contest two years running, and have had one of my songs receive international airplay. I have written four novels intended for the juvenile market. They are unpublished as yet, but I read them annually to my fourth grade students and my students tell me they love them, the darlings.

ABOUT THE BOOK

At their sixtieth anniversary party, Adam Carlson asks his wife, Elizabeth, for their customary waltz. After the dance they gather the family and share their story—a story of love and courage overcoming adversity and thriving in the face of overwhelming odds.

It’s the summer of 1946, and Adam has just returned from the war to his home in Reunion, Montana. At a town festival he meets Elizabeth Baxter, a young woman going steady with his former high school rival and now influential banker, Nathan Roberts.

When Adam and Elizabeth share a waltz in a deserted pavilion one evening, their feelings begin to grow and they embark on a journey, and a dance, that will last a lifetime.

If you’d like to read the first chapter excerpt of The Anniversary Waltz, go HERE.

 

****Will read and review the book when it arrives……Sounds like a wonderful one!

CFBA Presents Annie’s Truth…by Beth Shriver

This week, theChristian Fiction Blog Allianceis introducingAnnie’s TruthRealms (May 15, 2012)byBeth ShriverABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Childhood memories of her grandfather’s ranch came alive as Beth wrote her first Amish story. Her parents grew up in the country, so she understands pastoral life and respects those who make a living off the land. She frequents a nearby Amish community just south of Fort-Worth for an occasional church service or brunch with the bishop and his wife. And on the way home she stops at the community store to get some plum jam!

In 2003 Beth began writing her first book. A couple of years later it was published and she has been writing ever since. Beth received a degree in social work from the University of Nebraska and was a case worker before starting a family. Beth followed her passion and has written in a variety of genres in both fiction and non-fiction.

ABOUT THE BOOK

After learning the truth about who she really is, can this prodigal daughter be accepted back into the safety and security of home?

Annie Beiler seems to have it all—a loving family in a tight-knit Amish community and the affections of an attractive and respected young man. But when she learns that she was adopted after being found as an abandoned newborn, she sets out on a journey to find out who she is.

Her father is strongly against her decision to leave, as it could mean Meidung, or excommunication from the community and even her family. But Annie knows she must find “the path that has her heart.”

As Annie’s search brings her into the fast-paced world of modern life, she is confronted with all of the temptations she was warned of. Can she make her way back to the order and security of her family? Or will she remain an outsider—torn between her two worlds?

If you would like to read an excerpt from the first chapter of Annie’s Truth, go HERE.

 

******I will read and review this book when It arrives!! Can’t wait to read a new author and one of my favorite genre’s…Amish fiction!

CFBA Tours Presents Chameleon by Jillian Kent

This week, theChristian Fiction Blog Allianceis introducingChameleonRealms (May 15, 2012)byJillian KentABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jillian Kent is a busy writer and the alter ego of Jill Nutter, a full-time counselor.

Jill spent the first semester of her senior year of college at Oxford studying British Literature, where she fell in love with England. During this season, she came to appreciate the written word, the rich imagery of romantic poetry like The Highwayman, and historical novels of many types, including Jane Austen and all things Regency.

Jill received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Bethany College in West Virginia, and her Masters Degree in Social Work from WVU, and she brings her fascination with different cultures and societies into her writing.

Jill has always been a romantic at heart, so readers will find a good dose of romance woven through each of her novels. Jill, her husband Randy, and children Katie and Meghan are animal lovers. They currently own two dogs, Boo-Boo and Bandit and a menagerie of cats, Lucky, Yuma, Snow, and Holden. Critters of all assortments make their appearance in her stories.

ABOUT THE BOOK

How much can you really know about someone?

Lady Victoria Grayson has always considered herself a keen observer of human behavior. After battling a chronic childhood illness that kept her homebound for years, she journeys to London determined to have the adventure of a lifetime.

Jaded by his wartime profession as a spy, Lord Witt understands, more than most, that everyone is not always who they pretend to be. He meets Victoria after the Regent requests an investigation into the activities of her physician brother, Lord Ravensmoore.

Witt and Victoria become increasingly entangled in a plot targeting the lords of Parliament. Victoria is forced to question how well she knows those close to her while challenging Witt’s cynical nature and doubts about God. Together they must confront their pasts in order to solve a mystery that could devastate their future.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Chameleon, go HERE.

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