Sunday, February 27, 2011

When All My Dreams Come True - Chapter 1

When All My Dreams Come True
Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2011)
Janelle Mowery

Chapter 1

Colorado Territory 1872

I’ll be dead in a minute. Maybe less.

Bobbie McIntyre spurred her horse. “Faster, Mack. Hurry.” She peeked over her shoulder, saw the man’s gun poised at her back. Her heart thudded harder than the beat of Mack’s hooves.

“Go, Mack!” The wind swallowed her plea.
The bandit was gaining ground fast. She leaned lower over the saddle. The cold mountain air blurred her vision and whistled past her ears. Mack’s chest heaved and sweat streamed down his neck. He stumbled, then righted again.

She veered left toward the boulders, pulled her pistol from her holster, then turned in the saddle and aimed.

Something slammed into her back. Her gun blasted before it slipped from her grasp. She hit the ground, knocking the breath from her. A heavy weight pressed her down, then rolled off her. She lay dazed.

What happened?

The click of a gun hammer set fire to panic. She scooped up a fistful of soil and stones, pushed to her knees…and stared into the steel barrel of a pistol. The dirt in her hand trickled through her fingers to the ground.

She peered around for her own gun and faced another barrel. Two men. At least that answered her question of what threw her from the saddle. The second man must’ve been hiding behind the boulder she’d planned to use for protection. She stilled while her mind scrambled for a way out of her mess.

The tall, scruffy man grinned. “Well, looky here, Jace. We chased a man and caught us a gal.”

Jace? Could this be Jace Kincaid?

The man named Jace shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. An outlaw is an outlaw be it male or female.”

The tall man snorted. “Outlaw? This slip of a woman?”

“Well, look at her. She’s sure not dressed like a girl.”

Bobbie grabbed her hat out of the dirt, resisting the urge to fling it at Jace, and shoved it on her head as she stood. “I don’t know who you expected to find, but I ain’t her. And I sure ain’t no outlaw.”

The tremor in her voice didn’t make her sound as ominous and convincing as she’d hoped.

“Get her horse, Grant,” Jace said. “Let’s head on back.”

“So we’re not gonna hang her?”

Bobbie felt the blood drain from her face. “Hang? For what? Look, I’m—”

Jace swung his pistol toward her again. “Stay quiet, miss. You’re already in trouble for prowling around on land that isn’t yours.”

“This is the Double K, ain’t it?”

He scratched his forehead with his thumb. “Yes.”

“And you’re Jace Kincaid?”

Jace squinted and cocked his head. “Right again. But then, I’d expect you’d know that, what with all you’ve been up to.”

“I ain’t been up to nothing.” She glared at him, brushing dirt and dead grass from her coat sleeves.

Jace took a deep breath and stood straighter, making him appear even more threatening. By the look of him, he could wrestle a steer and lasso a calf at the same time.

“Why’d you chase me, anyway?” she said. “I wasn’t prowling. I was on my way to meet you.”

“Likely story.” He motioned to the horses. “Mount up. The next man you meet will be the sheriff.”

Bobbie scowled and took several angry breaths through her nose. “Fine. Maybe he’ll listen to me.”

Grant lifted the strap on her saddlebags.

“Hold on there, that’s private,” Bobbie said.

He smirked. “Not anymore.”

A gun barrel to her back kept her from taking more than a step. She raised her arms. “Those are my things.”

Jace moved beside her. “Leave it be, Grant.”

“I only plan to look.”

“I said quit.”

The tone of Jace’s voice would’ve halted a stampede. Grant stepped back, hands poised in surrender, though a trace of a smile still pulled at his lips.

“Let’s mount up,” Jace said.

Bobbie looked around for her pistol, and Jace pushed the barrel into her back. “Get moving.”

“I want my gun.”

Grant pulled it from his waistband and handed it to Jace. “You mean this?”

Jace holstered his pistol and then pointed her gun at her nose. “Mount up.”

She headed toward Mack.

“Hold it.”

Jace’s growl halted her in her tracks. He tucked her gun into his belt, jerked a piece of rope from his saddle, and tied her hands in front, then moved past her and yanked her rifle from the scabbard.

“Now you can get on.”

Hoofbeats pounded toward them, and Jace turned to look.

“Great. Hank Willet and his two henchmen. Just what I need.”

The lead man astride a dappled horse reined to a stop in front of them and gave Bobbie the once-over. Long gray hair sprawled from under his fine black hat, and his leathery face showed the number of winters spent in the brutal mountain wind. He leaned his forearms on the horn of his fancy saddle as if he had all day.


Jace pulled his gloves from his coat pocket. “What can I do for you, Hank?”

Hank bumped his hat up with his thumb, and a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. “Heard some gunshots. Thought you might need help. I always figured a ranch like this was too much for a boy.”

Jace smacked his gloves against his thigh. “I’ve been doing just fine without you, Hank.”

“That’s not what I’ve heard. At the rate your herd is dropping, you’ll be out of the cattle business by summer.”

“They aren’t dropping from lack of care. Someone’s been stealing them.”

One corner of Hank’s mouth pulled back in a sneer. “Call it what you want, boy. The fact remains that you’re in over your head.” Hank eyed the rope on Bobbie’s wrists. “Who’s your friend?”

“She’s not a friend.”

“Obviously. Having trouble with your women now?” Hank snorted and slapped his leg. “You sure know how to pick ’em.” He tipped his hat. “I’ll leave you boys to your fun.”

He nudged his mount into a gallop and departed with the two other men the way he came.

The scowl on Jace’s face deepened with the glare he pinned on her. He grasped her arm and led her toward Mack. Before she could climb onto the saddle, he spun her around to face him.

“I’ve got to admit that you don’t fit the type of person I figure could be callous enough to steal another man’s cattle.” He crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes as he leaned toward her. “But sometimes it’s the innocent-looking people who need watching the most. So I have to ask, just what’s your business here?”

“I have a note for you.”

“Is that right?” He took a step closer. “Let’s see it.”

“It’s in my coat pocket.” With a nod of her head, she indicated the pocket on the right side of her jacket.

Jace reached carefully into her pocket and found the piece of paper, which he took out, unfolded, and began to read. While he read, she watched his face. His eyes widened as they traced the lines scrawled over the page and then narrowed when he glanced up.

“You’re Bobbie McIntyre?

She licked her dry lips. “Yes.”

“From Roy Simms’s ranch?”


His gaze hardened.

“Is that a problem?”

The muscles along his jaw jumped like a horse with a burr under its saddle. He crushed the letter in his fist and shook his head. “You bet there’s a problem. I was expecting a man.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Operation Bonnet - Chapter 1

Operation Bonnet
David C. Cook; New edition (February 1, 2011)
Kimberly Stuart

This Little Light

I didn’t set out to be the town luminary. True, there wasn’t exactly a lot of competition in Casper. I nailed that down halfway through fifth grade with Mrs. Potts. She was an apple-shaped woman with a tight perm and cankles. I remember her as a round, fluttery circle, her hands fanning herself when excited, which was often, and her double chin quivering with joy when we started the unit on Important Literature. Now that I’ve read all Dickens’s work, I find it a tidge insulting that she pretended we were reading the real Great Expectations instead of that condensed rot in our reading workbooks, sandwiched between poems about caterpillars and rainbows.

“Children.” She rapped a few pudgy knuckles on the chalkboard for silence. Completely insulting, calling us children, even though Lyle Woodruff had just been sent to the office for accidentally sealing his lips with rubber cement. “Group work should not be this noisy.”

My group that day was a threesome, a horrible mistake given the rules of adolescent friendship. One of the three is always a runt, and that day I was conspicuous in my social station. I remember staring at Misty Warren and Angela Hopkins, both of them well into their full-throttle journey toward uselessness. Misty paused in a detailed analysis of her own cuteness and narrowed her eyes in my direction. She scanned my side ponytail and freckles with a practiced disdain.

“What are you looking at, Orphan Annie?” She cocked her stilllife Aquanet bangs, eyes flashing.

Angela snickered, too hard, so it sounded like a snort. She turned nearly as red as Mrs. Potts, who had waddled over to our group.

“Young ladies, how are you finding Mr. Charles Dickens?”

Missy shrugged. “Boring.”

Angela nodded gravely. “I don’t get it.”

Missy added, “Yeah, I mean, why can’t we read what we want to read? Like the Sweet Valley High books?”

Angela snicker-snorted.

“You really should stop that,” I said, staring the way my mother always said made her nervous. “I can hear the snot rumbling around in your nose.”

Misty turned slowly to face me, as if just then, regrettably, she’d remembered I was there. She pulled her upper lip into a sneer and said, “You. Are. So. Disgusting.”

I turned to Mrs. Potts. “I like the book.” I pointed to the open Dickens on my desk. “Estella seems like an interesting character.”

Mrs. Potts raised what was left of her overplucked brows. “How so, Nellie?”

I shrugged. “It looks like she’s going to represent something. Maybe the conflict between rich and poor, or the irony of being beautiful but having nothing going on between the ears.” I tapped my own head conspiratorially and nodded toward my group mates. Angela and Misty slouched within their diminutive desks, chins tucked into their necks in indignation.

“Oooh, well, let’s use building-up words,” Mrs. Potts said, but her fluttery hand went back to work near her throat. She began to splotch. “Nellie, I must say, in all my years of teaching sixth grade, never has someone had such an excellent and astute literary analysis so early into our Dickens unit.” The jowls were in full quiver now. “Frankly, I’m shocked. Impressed, that is. Delighted. You’re quite the literary luminary.”

I could feel she was waiting for my response to that word, which sounded pretty good but had not come up yet in my word-of-theweek flip calendar. So I shrugged, as if luminary was as frequently used in reference to Nellie Monroe as weirdo, dork, and nut job.

Misty Warren popped her gum to break the spell. Mrs. Potts dispatched her to the trashcan at the front of the room, and Angela jumped up to shuffle alongside though she couldn’t chew gum with braces and rubber bands.

Mrs. Potts patted me on the head as the bell rang for lunch. “Excellent work, Nellie.”

A luminary, I thought as I picked up my Trapper Keeper. Later that year, I’d flip my calendar to the word swagger, which was precisely what I did on my way out to the cafeteria.


Mrs. Potts might have admired my literary prowess, but she was conspicuous in her affection. Most people in town seemed confused by me (clergy), scared of me (teachers) or irritated by me (peer group). Misty Warren, for example, seemed perpetually annoyed whenever I raised my hand in class, took a stab in the dark and smiled at her, or asked for a pinky dip into her Carmex. That last one sent her through the roof.

I had my theories on the reactions I brought out in folks. For one thing, people in Casper didn’t know what to do with a person with two middle names. Provincial, I know. But Nellie Augusta Lourdes Monroe was just one too many names for them. I’ve had a few grandmothers in my day, and my name shows the wear and tear of that whole family drama. Grandma Nellie died long before I was born but grew up on an unyielding farm in Nebraska before marrying my sinfully wealthy grandfather. Nellie was known for a sharp tongue and flaky piecrusts. Such a shame which of those gifts my own mother inherited. Augusta was my paternal grandmother who smelled like cinnamon and Old Spice, her favored cologne because she believed it to prevent cold sores and bad breath. (I assure you she was incorrect on both counts, though it does attract mosquitoes.)

And Lourdes was just an afterthought tacked on during Mother’s brief flirtation with Catholicism.

As a nod to my childhood demographic, I didn’t even make people flip the r in Lourdes. They should have out of respect for the French and Mary and all that, but I knew to pick my battles around this town. Even without the French r, official ceremonies were always struggles. The pastor at my confirmation kept calling me Nellman Augusta Loor-deez, even though he’d known my family for years and even dated my mother in high school. When I got my driver’s license, the woman at the counter burst into laughter when I pronounced Lourdes the correct way. I was rather offended, though I felt better when Pop assured me it was a great honor to get an Ohio DMV employee to laugh.

The only people who said my name correctly were Nona and Tank. Nona deserved extra kudos, as she was the one grandma I was not named after. She was the last in an impressive line of divorcee grandmas, lucky number four of the wives who endured my grandfather, Allistair Byrne. Alli, as I’ll call him since I never had the pleasure of meeting his smarmy self, was quite the ladies’ man. It helped that he inherited a pot of money from his own father, Casper’s railroad tycoon and town miser, Seamus Byrne. Nona met Alli, married Alli, and was disdained by Alli all within the space of five years. Just after the divorce was final, however, Allistair clutched his heart during an otherwise uneventful board meeting, slumped in his maroon leather chair, and was gone. My mother, newly postpartum and burdened by grief, asked Nona to move into the Byrne estate with her and Pop and the new, colicky baby named Nellie. Mother’s only explanation at the time was that Nona was “the only one that had been worth the Byrne name,” presumably nixing her own mother and perhaps her father, too, though no one clarified. She was in mourning, after all. At any rate, Nona arrived with a trunk of clothes and a strong hug the next day and had never left.

So Nona knew how to say my name. And Tank, well, he was just about the only person who didn’t irritate me over long stretches of time. This was the reason I continued to work for him at a ridiculous job with ridiculous people.

“Morning, Nellie,” he called out when he heard the screen door slam that first day of the summer season.

“Good morning,” I said as I fished out my time card from the slot and gave it a decisive stamp of entry. “First day of summer, Tank. How are you feeling?” I asked the question but could have lip-synched the answer.

“Eighteen holes to be CONQUERED, and all is well with the world.”

Tank’s response, the same every season opener for all the years I’d known him, reminded me of my high school phys-ed teacher, Ms. Stricken. An unfortunate name for a woman in her place of employment— a high school, the land of the unforgiving. Ms. Stricken was memorable for two reasons, neither of which had anything to do with my education under her wing: (a) her adult acne, another blow to the name issue, and (b) the joke she told every single first day of class. In total, I heard her gravel-voiced delivery eight times in four years. It never improved: “Wear gym shoes only, no black soles. Three tardies equal a detention with me in the wrestling room. I promise it will stink. And lastly, don’t wear shirts with beer logos on them. Makes me thirsty, heh heh.”

After decades of this pep talk, Ms. Stricken still taught at Casper Senior High. If I had any passion for children, which I didn’t, I’d try getting her fired. But I had other aspirations, serious aspirations that had nothing to do with this sleepy town.

“Nellie? You listening to me?” Tank leaned over the front counter, poking his head down where I crouched on the floor folding a pile of chamois.

“Sorry, Tank. I was just thinking about high school.” I continued stacking the towels but heard Tank sigh.

“Oh, man, were those great years or WHAT?” Tank tended to raise his voice on words he deemed in need of emphasis. I’d seen it annoy people, but I kind of liked it, particularly when he yelped my name. It was an affectionate yelp.

“Your dad and I, that year we won state, good GRAVY, were we on top of the world.” The sun-carved wrinkles around Tank’s blue eyes framed an animated jog of his memory. “Last hole of the day, down by two strokes, and your dad had to putt. Nobody can PUTT like your dad.” He shook his head, lost again in the glory of state championship golf, ’77.

“I don’t know about that, Tank,” I said. “I’ve seen you dominate the green.” Part of being a luminary is knowing how to speak other people’s languages, even if it’s something as inane as golf. Multilingualism isn’t just about el español, people.

“Ah, NELLIE,” he barked, slapping the counter. “Just one of the reasons I love ya, kid. You know how to build up an old man.” He clapped me on the side of the head, a habit I’d tried in vain to break in him.

“Tank. The head.” I pointed to my afro. “Please.”

“Sorry, sorry,” he said, striding toward the line of golf carts standing sentry outside. “What am I supposed to do, though? Hug you? I’m not a hugger.…” I heard him mutter to himself as the screen door slapped behind him.

In his defense, no one really knew how to respond to my hair. Perhaps slapping it was Tank’s way of trying to tame it for me. For starters, I was definitely Anglo-American—three-quarters Irish and one-quarter Miscellaneous Pale, to be exact. That could throw a person straight off, because the wiry curls on my head weren’t often seen on the kind of girl who burned to a crisp every single summer, beginning on Memorial Day and barreling right through Labor Day. Secondly, my hair was orange. Not auburn, not strawberry blonde, not russet or anything else out of an Emily Brontë novel. It was orange, and I’d come to peace with it. There were a few years in there when I let Mother drag me around to hair salons in the area, once even driving as far as Cleveland in an effort to straighten, dye, thin, or otherwise subdue the mop she was sure came from someone of dubious moral standing on my father’s side. I was fairly positive the expenses incurred ran into the thousands, all of which would likely come out of my inheritance. Around about ninth grade, though, I put a stop to the whole charade and told my mother I was happy with my hair. I remember her literally choking on her biscotti, her eyes bugging as she said, “Happy with it? I don’t understand.” Not many do, I suppose, but I just didn’t see any point in trying to make me look any different than I do. It’d be like trying to clear a patch of rainforest to plant a prissy English garden. Sometimes nature just keeps kicking back, in the jungle and with kinky Irish hair.

I twisted one strand around my finger and slapped it back with a bobby pin. I kept a plastic case of them next to the cash register for just that purpose. By three o’clock on a high humidity day, if I had nothing with which to rein it in, my hair extended to the size of a Thanksgiving platter all around my head. Men and women alike, filtering in after a hot round of eighteen, had been known to find the strength to gasp.

I was pulling out a fresh box of mini-pencils and a stack of scorecards from the storeroom when I heard a human or large animal rustle behind me. I whirled around, screeching like a ninja, and slugged the rustler right in the gut.

“Aaargh!” I yelled again, even after I saw the rustler was a young guy in jeans and a T-shirt, doubled over and not looking particularly dangerous. Still, a girl needed always to establish the Alpha Dog in an attack situation.

“I am sorry I am late,” he said, struggling to get a full breath. It really was a great punch. “The walk was longer than I thought.” He looked up at me from his hunched position, and I could sense immediately that this was no predator. I wasn’t sure he’d even started shaving.

“Are you hurt?” I helped him straighten up.

“No.” He cleared his throat. “But you are a strong kind of woman.”

I rolled my eyes. Flattery would get this kid nowhere. “You really shouldn’t sneak up on people. I’d recommend speaking rather than skulking.”

He looked at me. “Skulking?”

This was the kind of conversation common to a literary luminary. Always, always defining words. I was a walking, afro-ed dictionary.

“To move in a stealthy or furtive manner.”


See what I mean?

“Like you’re hiding something.”

“Ah,” he said, nodding. “No, I don’t hide things.”

“Good to hear. Now, what can I do for you?”

He jumped when Tank came slamming back in the front door. “You must be Amos.” Tank charged for the boy, hand thrust out for a vigorous shake. “Glad you could GET here.” Tank turned to me and winked very slowly, which is something no grown man should attempt. Could make a person think he’s having a stroke.

“Nellie,” he said slowly, “Amos here used to be AMISH, isn’t that right?”

Amos nodded once and started scanning the room with a pair of enormous blue eyes.

Tank continued talking in his helpfully slow speech. I wondered if he thought Amos had also fallen out of a tree and needed to be spoken to in a might-be-a-few-coconuts-short voice. “He, like so many of his people, is very good at CARPENTRY. So I’ve asked him to help me fix up a little mini-golf course down by the koi pond.”

“I see,” I said, relieved to finally hear about The Project. Tank masterminded one every year. The koi arrived a few summers back, though the first two batches died unceremonious deaths due first to overfeeding and then to a chlorine incident. We also had the windenergy experiment, which was shut down by the electric company, and last year’s karaoke night, which will likely resurface down the road.

“Mini-golf, eh?” I said, watching the blond kid through the slits of my eyes. I’d been trying out that look lately to inspire intimidation in the interrogated. “You know a lot about mini-golf, Amos?”

“Absolutely, no, I do not.” He shook his head. “Mr. Tank said he wrote the plans for me to make.”

I rolled my eyes, disgusted by his honesty, so typical of people around here. “That’s cool,” I said by way of good-bye. I returned to my counter, hearing Tank enunciate his plan to Amos as they left through the back door.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Save The Date - Chapter 1

Save The Date
Thomas Nelson (February 1, 2011)
Jenny B. Jones


It was a good night to get engaged.

The moon was full. The candles lit. And Lucy Wiltshire wore a new black sheath that would have made Audrey Hepburn jealous. Her friends might say it was just another old find from the secondhand shop, but Lucy had known from the moment she’d spied the dress that it had been something more. Found on a tightly crammed rack between an avocado peacoat and an acid-washed denim skirt that had seen one too many Bon Jovi concerts, the dress had just called out to her. Buy me. I’m yours. We belong together.

And buy it she did. Despite the fact that the bodice was a bit tight, and she’d had to let out the waist a few inches, the dress just felt right. It made Lucy want to twirl in her tiny kitchen, letting her kitten heels slide across the gray tile floor.

It was the perfect outfit to wear when getting proposed to. She had dreamed of this day since she was six and had thrown a wedding for Barbie. And now her own Ken doll was four feet away, acting nervous as a man with marriage on his mind and a solitaire in his pocket.

Matthew tugged his navy tie loose and sat down at the kitchen table. “Good day?” Lucy asked, as she put some garlic bread in the oven, humming to herself.

“It was fine.” His voice was distracted, his focus on the stack of mail she had yet to move. “What’s this?” He held up a gold embellished card.

She glanced his way then quickly turned back to the oven. “It’s nothing.”

“It looks like a class reunion invitation. I thought you didn’t graduate in Charleston.”

Her childhood in South Carolina was the last thing she wanted to discuss tonight. Or ever. “Obviously it’s a mistake on someone’s part.” Or a cruel joke. The daughter of a maid, Lucy had been on the very bottom of the social food chain at the elite Montrose Academy. Her mother had cleaned the homes of her classmates. And they had never let her forget Lucy wasn’t one of them. But now, back in Charleston, life couldn’t be sweeter.

“Or maybe they just want to see you.”

Lucy sat down and stared at the man who had asked her out one year ago today. Matt’s fingers drumming next to his plate seemed out of sync for someone who was normally as calm as a morning sunrise. She adored his predictability. His sandy-blond hair always parted to the left. His white shirts starched and perfectly creased in the sleeves.

The timer over the stove dinged, and Lucy jumped up to take out the bread. “I hope you’re hungry. I made your favorites.”

“I noticed.”

Lucy threw the bread in a basket and placed it on the table. Grabbing his plate, she loaded it with her homemade noodles, her own secret-recipe marinara sauce, and a salad—easy on the dressing, just like he liked. Lucy could envision them sitting together thirty years from now, sharing a meal and talking about their day.

“Maybe you should go to the reunion.” Matt neatly placed his napkin in his lap. “If you’re wanting to start that girls’ home, you’re going to need to rub elbows with as many people in the community as you can.”

Lucy watched him as she sat down. “I’ll get the funding from somewhere else. That’s what federal grants are for. And besides, it’s the same night as your award ceremony.”

Matt was going to be honored for his charity work with senior citizens. An accountant, he had donated countless hours helping the older folks in Charleston with their taxes and providing free financial counseling. Every day she gave God a big “thank you” for sending Matt her way. He was . . . perfect.

He called his mother twice a week. He led a Bible study and played on a baseball league at church. He read autobiographies and watched CNBC. The guy drove a Volvo. What more could she ask for?

“Lucy?” Matt’s face was taut as he reached for her hand.

This was it. She was going to become Mrs. Matthew Campbell. She hoped her lip gloss was still on. And where had she put that camera? If any occasion called for a “extend arm and take your own photo,” this was it.

He swallowed and folded his fingers over hers. “I have something I need to talk to you about.”

Her vision blurred with unshed tears. They would have a boy and a girl. They’d name the girl Anna, after her mother. He could name the boy. It didn’t really matter to her. As long as it wasn’t Maynard. After that uncle he liked so much.

“Lucy, we’ve been together a while now.”

“A year,” she said. “Our first date was a year today.” Which was all part of his thoughtful plan.

His grip loosened on her hand. “And it’s been great. I’ve enjoyed our time together. And I think you are one incredible person.”

Matt reached into his pocket.

The ring. He was going for the ring. Marquis, pear, princess, round—she didn’t care.

“Matt”—Lucy sniffed—“I want you to know I’m so happy God put you in my life and—”

He opened his hand.

And placed a business card on the table.

Lucy’s pink lips clamped tight. Those were not wedding bells pealing in her head right now.

“What is this?” She picked up the card. “Matthew Campbell, senior accountant, Digby, Wallace, and Hinds?”

His smile was hesitant. “I got a job offer.”

“Offer?” She ran her finger over his embossed name. “Looks like you’ve already progressed beyond that. When were you going to tell me?”

“I’ve tried.” He pushed his plate aside. “You’ve just been so busy with the shelter.”

“Residential home,” she corrected. “Saving Grace is a residential home.”

“You’ve been so occupied with getting that started, I haven’t been able to get your attention lately.”

“You’ve got it now.” Something was very wrong here. “What’s going on? I’ve never heard of these people. Are they new?”

His green eyes focused on the candle in the center of the table. “No. They’re quite old, in fact. Very prestigious.”

“And where are they old and prestigious?” She couldn’t relocate. He knew that. Not with mere months before Saving Grace opened. Was he going to move—without her?

“In Dallas.”

Lucy’s heart fell somewhere to the vicinity of her shoes. “When are you leaving?”

He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Lucy.”

“You’re going to have to do better than that.”

“I think we’ve been moving too fast.”

Lucy thought of the bridal magazines under her bed. “Then let’s slow it down. I’m okay with that. I think if we just—”

“I’m leaving next week. This is an opportunity I can’t pass up.” He spoke low and patiently, as if talking to a child. “I think we need to take a break. My relocating is the perfect opportunity to give ourselves some space and see what happens.”

The white-picket fence was collapsing before her. Was it too much to ask, God? Was it too much to want a family of my own? To finally have that home? For the first time in her life, she had let herself believe she could have it all.

Her laugh sounded pitiful and strained. “Can you believe”— tears clogged her throat—“that I thought you were going to propose tonight?”

Matt stood up, walked over to her, and kissed her forehead. “I think I should probably go.”

She grabbed his hand as he leaned away. “Is it me?” Because wasn’t it always her?

Reaching out, he pushed a stray curl behind her ear. “No. I know you’re ready for a permanent commitment, but I have to put my career first now—whether I want to or not.”

The smells in the room—the food, her life decaying—made her want to throw up. “I could wait, you know. We could do the long distance thing.”

“I’m sorry.” He grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. “For what it’s worth, I believe you’re the right girl—it’s just not the right time.”

Two minutes later Lucy stood in her living room and watched Matt drive away.

No ring. No engagement.

No happily ever after.

She walked upstairs to her bedroom.

Sucked it in as she unzipped the Audrey Hepburn dress.

Peeled it off her body.

And threw it out the window.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Words - Chapter 1

B&H Books (February 1, 2011)
Ginny Yttrup

Chapter 1

“In the beginning was the Word.”

John 1:1

“All those things for which we have no words are lost. The mind—the culture—has two little tools, grammar and lexicon: a decorated sand bucket and a matching shovel. With these we bluster about the continents and do all the world’s work. With these we try to save our very lives.”

Annie Dillard

Chapter One


I collect words.

I keep them in a box in my mind. I’d like to keep them in a real box, something pretty, maybe a shoe box covered with flowered wrapping paper. I’d write my words on scraps of paper and then put them in the box. Whenever I wanted, I’d open the box and pick up the papers, reading and feeling the words all at once. Then I could hide the box.

But the words are safer in my mind. There, he can’t take them.

The dictionary is heavy on my lap. I’m on page 1,908. I’m reading through the Ss. When I finish the Zs, I’ll start all over again.


I like that word. It means something extra, something special, something you don’t need. It’s super. But you don’t need super. You just need good enough.

How does it sound when someone says it?

I didn’t really think about how words sound until I stopped talking. I didn’t mean to stop talking, it just sort of happened.

My mom left.

I got scared.

And the words got stuck.

Now I just read the words and then listen for them on the little radio in the kitchen, the only superfluous thing we have.

As I read, my hair falls across my eyes. I push it out of the way, but it falls back. I push it out of the way again, but this time my fingers catch in a tangle. I work for a minute trying to separate the hairs and smooth them down.

When my mom was here, she combed my hair most mornings. Our hair is the same. “Stick straight and dark as soot.” That’s what she used to say.

It hurt when she pulled the comb through my hair. “Kaylee, stop squirming,” she’d tell me. “It’ll pull more if you move.”

Sometimes I’d cry when the comb caught in a knot and she’d get impatient and tell me to stop whining.

Maybe that’s why she left. Maybe she got tired of my whining.

That’s what he says. He tells me she didn’t love me anymore—that she wanted out. But I don’t believe him. I think something happened to her, an accident or something.

She probably has amnesia. I read that word in the dictionary.

That’s when you hit your head so hard on something that you pass out and have to go to the hospital and when you wake up, you don’t remember anything. Not even your name.

Not even that you have a daughter.

I think that’s what happened to my mom. When she remembers, she’ll come back and get me.

So I just wait. I won’t leave. If I leave, she won’t know where to find me.

And when she comes back, I’ll be good. I won’t whine anymore.

I was nine when she left. Now, I’m ten. I’ll be eleven the day after Christmas. I always know it’s near my birthday when they start playing all the bell songs on the radio. I like Silver Bells. I like to think about the city sidewalks and all the people dressed in holiday style. But Jingle Bells is my favorite. Dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh sounds fun.

It’s not near my birthday yet. It’s still warm outside.

As the sun sets, the cabin gets dark inside, too dark to read. He didn’t pay the electric bill, again. I hope he pays it before Christmas or I won’t hear the songs on the radio.

Before I put the dictionary away, I turn to the front page and run my fingers across the writing scribbled there. “Lee and Katherine Wren. Congratulations.

Lee and Katherine are my parents. Were my parents. Are my parents. I’m not sure.

My mom told me that the dictionary was a gift from her Aunt Adele. Mom thought it was kind of a funny wedding gift, but she liked it and kept it even after Lee left. We used it a lot. Sometimes when I’d ask her a question about what something was or what something meant, she’d say, “Go get the dictionary Kaylee, we’ll look it up.” Then she’d show me how to find the word, and we’d read the definition. Most of the time she’d make me sound out the words and read them to her. Only sometimes did she read them to me. But most of the time when I asked her a question, she told me to be quiet. She liked it best when I was quiet.

I miss my mom. But the dictionary makes me feel like part of her is still here. While she’s gone, the dictionary is mine. I have to take care of it. So just like I always do before I put the book away, I ask a silent favor: Please don’t let him notice it. Please don’t let him take it.

I put the dictionary back under the board that makes up a crooked shelf. The splintered wood pricks the tip of one finger as I lift the board and shove the dictionary under. The shelf is supported on one end by two cinderblocks and by one cinderblock and three books on the other end.

I remember the day she set up the shelf. I followed her out the front door and down the steps, and then watched her kneel in the dirt and pull out three concrete blocks she’d found under the steps. She dusted dirt and cobwebs from the cracks and then carried each block inside. She stacked two blocks one on top of the other at one end of the room and then spaced the last block at the other end of the room, under the window.

“Kaylee, hand me a few books from that box. Get big ones.”

I reached into the box and pulled out the biggest book—the dictionary. Then I handed her the other two books. She stacked them on top of the block and then laid a board across the books and blocks.

Even at seven, I knew what she was doing. We’d move in with a boyfriend and Mom would get us “settled” which meant she’d move in our things—our clothes, books, and a few toys for me. She’d rearrange the apartment, or house—or this time, the cabin—and make it “homey.”

After she made the shelf, she lined up our books. Then she placed a vase of wildflowers we’d collected that morning on the end of the shelf. She stood back and looked at what she’d done. Her smile told me she liked it.

The cabin was small, but of all the places we’d lived, I could tell this was her favorite. And this boyfriend seemed nice enough at first, so I hoped maybe we’d stay this time.

We did stay. Or at least I stayed. So now I’m the one arranging the shelf and I’m careful to put it back just as it was. Our books are gone. In their place I return two beer bottles, one with a sharp edge of broken glass, to their dust-free circles on the shelf. I pick up the long-empty bag of Frito Lay corn chips and, before leaning the bag against the broken bottle, I hold it open close to my face and breathe in. The smell of corn and salt make my stomach growl.

Once I’m sure everything looks just as it was on the shelf, I crawl to my mattress in the corner of the room and sit, Indian-style, with my back against the wall and watch the shadows. Light shines between the boards across the broken front window; shadows of leaves and branches move across the walls, ceiling, and door. Above my head I hear a rat or squirrel on the roof. Its movement scatters pine needles and something—a pinecone, I imagine—rolls from the top of the roof, over my head, and then drops into the bed of fallen needles around the front steps.

This is the longest part of the day—when it’s too dark to read.

When I read…

I forget.

That’s how it works.

Once the sun goes down, I don’t leave the cabin. I’m afraid he’ll come back after work and find me gone. He’s told me not to leave because he’d find me and I’d be sorry.

I believe him. believe --verb 1. to take as true, real, etc. 2. to have confidence in a statement or promise of (another person).

My legs go numb under my body and my eyes feel heavy, but I don’t sleep. Sleep isn’t safe. Instead, I close my eyes for just a minute and see flames against the backs of my eyelids. They burn everything my mom and I brought to the cabin.

I remember the hissing and popping as the nighttime drizzle hit the bonfire. And I remember his laughter.

“She’s gone for good, Kaylee. She ain’t comin back.” He cackled like an old witch as he threw more gasoline on the flames.

The smoke filled my nose and stung my lungs as I watched Lamby, the stuffed animal I’d slept with since I was a baby, burn along with most of our clothes and books.

The only exceptions were the three books he hadn’t noticed holding up the shelf. My tears couldn’t put out the fire, and I finally stopped crying. I wiped my nose on my sleeve and stepped away from the blaze. I squared my shoulders and stood as tall as I could. Something changed in me that night. I couldn’t be little anymore. I had to be grown up.

I open my eyes and reach my hand under the corner of the mattress. My fingers dig into the hole in the canvas, feeling for the music box that had been inside Lamby. I’d found it in the ashes the morning after the fire. I tug it free, then wind the key and hold it up to my ear. As the music plays, I remember the words of the song that Grammy taught me just before she died. Jesus loves me, this I know…

The song makes me feel sad.

I don’t think Jesus loves me anymore.

Eventually, I must fall asleep, because I wake up startled—mouth dry, palms damp, and my heart pounding.

I hear the noise that woke me, the crunching of leaves and pine needles. I listen. Are his steps steady, even? No. Two steps. Pause. A dragging sound. Pause. A thud as he stumbles. Pause. Will he get up? Or has he passed out? Please let him be out. A metal taste fills my mouth as I hear him struggle to get back on his feet.

“Kay—leeee?” He slurs. “You up? Lemme in.”

He bangs his fist on the front door, which hasn’t locked or even shut tight since the night he aimed his .22 at the doorknob and blew it to pieces.

The door gives way under the pressure of his fist. As it swings open, he pounds again but misses and falls into the cabin. He goes straight down and hits the floor, head first. A gurgling sound comes from his throat, and I smell the vomit before I see it pooled around his face.

I hope he’ll drown in it.

But he won’t die tonight.

Instead, he heaves himself onto his back and reaches for the split on his forehead where, even in the dark, I can see the blood trickling into his left eye. Then his hand slides down past his ear and drops to the floor. At the sound of his snoring, I exhale. I realize I’ve been holding my breath. Waiting…waiting…waiting.

Chapter Two


Cocooned in crocheted warmth, I slip my hands from beneath the afghan and reach for my journal—a notebook filled with snippets of feelings and phrases. I jot a line: Like shards of glass slivering my soul. I set pen and journal aside and warm my hands around my ritual mug of Earl Gray, considering the phrase. I like the cadence of the alliteration. I see shining slivers piercing an ambiguous soul. I see a canvas layered in hues of red, russet, and black.

A memory calls my name, but I turn away. There will be time for memories later.

I close my eyes against the flame of color igniting the morning sky and allow my body the luxury of relaxing. I breathe deep intentional breaths, exhaling slowly, allowing mind and body to find a like rhythm. With each breath I let go, one by one, the anxieties of the past week.

Prints—signed and numbered. Five hundred in all.

Contract negotiations with two new galleries. Done.

Showing in Carmel last night. Successful.

Mortgage paid. On time for once.

Van Gogh neutered. What did the vet say? “He’s lost his manhood—be gentle with him. He’ll need a few days to recoup.” Good grief.

A whimper interrupts my reverie. The afghan unfurls as I get up and pad across the deck back into the bungalow. Van presses his nose through the cross-hatch door of his crate—his woeful expression speaking volumes. I open the cage and the spry mutt I met at the shelter a few days before staggers toward the deck, tail between his legs. I translate his body language as utter humiliation and feel guilty for my responsible choice.

“Sorry pal, it’s the only way I could spring you from the shelter. They made me do it.” His ears perk and then droop. His salt and pepper coat bristles against my hand, while his ears are cashmere soft. He sighs and drifts back to sleep while I wonder at the wisdom of adopting an animal that’s already getting under my skin. I consider packing him up and taking him back before it’s too late. Instead, I brace myself and concede “Okay, I’ll love you—but just a little.” He twitches in response.

The distant throttle of fishing boats leaving the harbor and the bickering of gulls overhead break the morning silence followed by the ringing of the phone. I smile and reach for the phone lying under my journal.

“Hi, Margaret.” No need to answer with a questioning “Hello?” There’s only one person I know who dares calling at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday.

Laughter sings through the phone line. “Shannon, when are you going to stop calling me Margaret?”

I dubbed her that after the indomitable Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of her homeland. Her unwavering British accent, even after nearly half a century in the United States, and her strength under pressure inspired the nickname. It fits.

“Well, as I’ve told you, I’ll stop calling you Margaret when you stop calling me Shannon. Need I remind you that I haven’t been Shannon in over a decade?”

“Oh, right. Let’s see, what is your name now? Sahara Dust? Sequoia Dew?”

I play along. “Does Sierra Dawn ring a bell?”

“Right, Sierra Dawn, beautiful name. But you’ll always be Shannon Diane to me.”

The smile in her voice chases the shadows from my heart. “Okay, Mother. I mean Margaret.” I pull my knees to my chest and reach for the afghan as I settle back in the weathered Adirondack for our conversation.

“Sierra, I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“Of course not. What is it you say, ‘You can take the girl out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.’”

“That’s my girl. Your daddy’s been out in the fields since 6:00 but he let me sleep. I just got up and thought I’d share a cup of tea with you.”

I do a quick pacific/central time conversion and realize with some alarm that it’s 9:00 a.m. in Texas.

“You slept until 9:00? You never sleep that late. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, darling, I’m simply getting old. I had to get up three times during the night and by this morning I just wanted to sleep. So I indulged.”

“Well, good for you. I’m glad you called. You know my favorite Saturday mornings are spent with you and Earl.”

“I’m not drinking Earl.”

A startling confession. “You’re not? What are you drinking?”

“Sierra, I’m drinking Lemon Zinger!” Her declaration is followed by a giggle that sounds anything but old.

I stretch my long legs and cross them at the ankles and lean my head against the back of the chair. I feel as though my mother, with gentle skill, has distracted me while she’s worked to remove a few of those slivers imbedded in my soul. But unless I stop brushing up against my splintered history, the slivers will return—or so she tells me.

Just before we hang up, she says, “Shannon—” there’s such tenderness in her voice that I let the slip pass— “are you going to the cemetery today?”

Her question tears open the wound, exposing the underlying infection. I imagine her practicality won’t allow her to leave the wound festering any longer; instead she lances my heart.

I lean forward. “Yes, Mother. You know I will.” My tone is tight, closed. But I can’t seem to help it.

“Darling, it’s time to let go—it’s been twelve years. It’s time to grasp grace and move on.”

The fringe of the afghan I’ve played with as we’ve talked is now twisted tight around my index finger, cutting off the circulation. “What are you saying? That I should just forget—just let go and walk away— never think about it again? You know I can’t do that.”

“Not forget, Sierra— forgive. It’s time.”

“Mother, you know I don’t want to talk about this.”

“Yes, I know. But you need to at least think about it. Think about the truth. Ask yourself what’s true.”

I sigh at my mother’s oft repeated words and grunt my consent before I hang up— or “ring off” as she would say.

I left Texas at eighteen and headed to California, sure that was where I’d “find myself.” On the day I left, my daddy stood at the driver’s door of my overstuffed used station wagon gazing at the hundreds of acres of soil he’d readied for planting in the fall and gave me what I think of now as my own “Great Commission.” In the vernacular of the Bible Belt, my daddy, a farmer with the soul of a poet, sent me out into the world with a purpose.

“Honey, do you know why I farm?”

At eighteen I’d never considered the “why” of what my parents did. “No, Daddy. Why?”

“Farming’s not something that can be done alone. I till the ground, plant the seeds, and irrigate. But it’s the rising and setting of the sun and the changing of the seasons that cause the grain to grow. Farming is a partnership with the Creator. Each year when I reap the harvest, I marvel at a Creator who allows me the honor of co-creating with him.”

He’d stopped staring at the fields and instead looked straight at me. “Look for what the Creator wants you to do, Shannon. He wants to share his creativity with you. He wants to partner with you. You find what he wants you to do.”

With that, he planted a kiss on my forehead and shut the door of my car. With my daddy’s commission tucked in my heart, I left in search of my life. My older brother, Jeff, was already in California completing his final year in the agricultural school at Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo. Tired of dorm life, Jeff and two friends rented a house in town and told me I could rent a room from them for the year. I was thrilled.

Our neighbors and Mother and Daddy’s friends couldn’t understand why they’d let me “run off” to California. In their minds, California was a dark place where drugs and sex ruled. But Daddy assured them California was not the Sodom and Gomorrah they imagined. He should know. His roots were in California. He was born and raised there. Jeff and I grew up hearing about the Golden State and were determined we’d see it for ourselves one day. College in California seemed a logical choice to both of us.

As I headed west, I thought of my parents and what I’d learned from each of them through the years. Daddy taught me to see. Where others in our community saw grain, Daddy saw God. He always encouraged me in his quiet and simple way to look beyond the obvious. “Look beyond a person’s actions and see their heart. Look for what’s causing them to act the way they act, then you’ll understand them better.”

When I was about twelve, Mother and Daddy took us with them down to Galveston for a week. Daddy was there for an American Farm Bureau meeting. After the meeting, we stayed for a few rare days of vacation. I remember standing on the beach and looking out at the flat sea, Daddy pulled me close and pointed at the surf and asked, “What do you see?”

“The ocean?” I asked it more than stated.

“Yes, but there’s more. You’re seeing God’s power.”

I must have seemed unimpressed because Daddy laughed. “It’s there Shan, someday you’ll see it. But, I’ll admit it’s easier to see it in the crashing surf and jagged cliffs of the California coastline.”

I didn’t understand what he meant then—and I’m still not sure I fully understand—but back then my daddy’s description of the California coastline followed me as I was off to see it for myself.

My mother taught me to look for something else. “What’s the truth, Shannon?” she’d ask over and over, challenging me to choose what was right. She taught me to analyze a situation and then make a decision that represented the truth foundational to our family.

Most often the truth she spoke of was found in the big family Bible she’d brought with her from England. She’d lay the book out on the kitchen table and open it to the book of John in the New Testament and she’d read from the King James version: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

“There’s freedom in the truth, Shannon. You remember that,” she’d say.

Again, I’m only now beginning to understand what she meant. But these were the lessons from home that I carried with me to California.

So why hadn’t I applied those lessons? Why I had I wandered so far from my parents’ truth?

Those are questions I’d ask myself many times over. I’d yet to find the answers.