Sunday, October 30, 2011

Maggie's Journey

Maggie's Journey
Realms (October 4, 2011)
Lena Nelson Dooley

Excerpt of Chapter 1

Margaret Lenora Caine sat in the library of their mansion on Beacon Hill. Because of the view of Puget Sound, which she loved, she had the brocade draperies pulled back to let the early September sunshine bathe the room with warmth. Basking in the bright light, Maggie concentrated on the sketch pad balanced on her lap. After leaning back to get the full effect of the drawing, she reached a finger to smudge the shadows between the folds of the skirt. With a neckline that revealed the shoulders, but still maintained complete modesty, this dress was her best design so far, one she planned to have Mrs. Murdock create in that dreamy, shimmery green material that came in the last shipment from China. Maggie knew silk was usually a summer fabric, but with it woven into a heavier brocade satin, it would be just right for her eighteenth birthday party. And with a few changes to the design, she could have another dress created as well.

Once again she leaned forward and drew a furbelow around the hem, shading it carefully to show depth. The added weight of the extra fabric would help the skirt maintain its shape, providing a pleasing silhouette at any ball. She pictured herself wearing the beautiful green dress, whirling in the arms of her partner, whoever he was. Maybe someone like Charles Stanton, since she’d admired him for several years, and he was so handsome.

“Margaret, what are you doing?”

The harsh question broke Maggie’s concentration. The charcoal in her hand slipped, slashing an ugly smear across the sketch. She glanced at her mother standing in the doorway, her arms crossed over her bosom. Maggie heaved a sigh loud enough to reach the entrance, and her mother’s eyebrows arched so quickly Maggie wanted to laugh . . . almost, but she didn’t dare add to whatever was bothering Mother now. Her stomach began to churn, a thoroughly uncomfortable sensation. Lately, everything she did put Mother in a bad mood. She searched her mind for whatever could have set her off this time. She came up with nothing, so she pasted a smile across her face.

“I’m sketching.” She tried for a firm tone but wasn’t sure it came across that way.

“You don’t have time for that right now.” Florence Caine hurried across the Persian wool carpet and stared down at her. “We have too much to do before your party.”

Of course her mother was right, but Maggie thought she could take a few minutes to get the new design on paper while it was fresh in her mind. She glanced toward the mantel clock. Oh, no. Her few minutes had turned into over two hours. She’d lost herself in drawing designs again. No wonder Mother was exasperated.

She jumped up from the burgundy wing-back chair. “I didn’t realize it was so late. I’m sorry, Mother.”

Florence Caine took the sketch pad from her hand and studied the drawing with a critical eye. “That’s a different design.”

Maggie couldn’t tell if she liked the dress or not, but it didn’t matter. Designing was in Maggie’s blood. Her grandmother was a dressmaker who came up with her own designs instead of using those in Godey’s Lady’s Book or Harper’s Bazar. And, according to Mother’s sister, she never even looked at a Butterick pattern. Aunt Georgia had told her often enough about all the society women who wouldn’t let anyone but Agatha Carter make their clothing. They knew they wouldn’t be meeting anyone else wearing the exact same thing when they attended social events in Little Rock, Arkansas. Not for the first time, Maggie wished she could talk to her grandmother at least once.

With the news about people being able to converse across long distances with something called the telephone, someday she might talk to her that way. But Maggie wanted a face-to-face meeting. Knowing another dress designer would keep her from feeling like such a misfit. Mother kept reminding her that she didn’t really fit the mold of a young woman of their social standing in Seattle. At least, Daddy let her do what she wanted to. She didn’t know what she’d do without him to offset Mother’s insistence, which was becoming more and more harsh.

According to Aunt Georgia, the business Grandmother Carter started was still going strong, even though her grandmother had to be over sixty years old. Maggie planned to go visit her relatives in Arkansas, so she could tour the company. She hoped her journey would happen before she was too late to actually meet Agatha Carter. Her deepest desire was to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, since she had inherited her talents.

The sound of ripping tore through her thoughts. Aghast, she turned to catch her mother decimating her sketch. She lunged toward the paper, trying to save it, but Mother held the sketch just out of her reach.

“What are you doing?” Tears clogged her throat, but she struggled to hide them.

Dribbling the tiny pieces into the ornate wastepaper basket beside the mahogany desk, her mother looked up at her. “Just throwing it away. You had already ruined it anyway.”

Anger sliced through Maggie’s heart, leaving a jagged trail of pain. She still wanted to keep the sketch. She could use it while she created another. Her plan was to ask her father to help her surprise Mother. The design would set off her mother’s tall stature and still youthful figure. She planned to ask him for a length of the special blue satin brocade that would bring out the color of Mother’s eyes. The dress would make Mother the envy of most of her friends when the winter social season started in a couple of months. Now she’d have to begin the drawing all over again. So many hours of work and her dreams torn to shreds.

“Darling.” That syrupy tone Mother used when she was trying to make a point grated on Maggie’s nerves. “When are you going to grow up and forget about your little pictures of dresses?”

Little pictures of dresses? The words almost shredded the rest of Maggie’s control. She gripped her hands into fists and twisted them inside the folds of her full skirt.

They’d had this discussion too many times already. She gritted her teeth, but it didn’t help. In a few days she would be eighteen, old enough to make decisions for herself—whether her mother agreed or not.

She stood as tall as her tiny frame would allow her. “Those aren’t just ‘little drawings,’ Mother. I am going to be a dress designer.”

The icy disdain shooting from her mother’s eyes made Maggie cringe inside, but she stood her ground.

“Margaret Lenora Caine, I am tired of these conversations. You will not become a working girl.” Mother huffed out a very unladylike deep breath. “You don’t need to. Your father has worked hard to provide a very good living for the three of us. I will not listen to any more of this nonsense.”

Maggie had heard that phrase often enough, and she never liked it. Mother swept from the room as if she had the answer to everything, but she didn’t. Not for Maggie. And her sketches were not nonsense.

She tried to remember the last time she pleased her mother. Had she ever really?

Her hair was too curly and hard to tame into a proper style. And the hue was too red. Maggie wouldn’t stay out of the sun to prevent freckles from dotting her face. She could come up with a long list of her mother’s complaints if she wanted to take the time. She wasn’t that interested in what was going on among the elite in Seattle. She had more things to think about than how to catch a husband.

Maggie wanted to get married someday. But first she would follow her dream. Become the woman she was created to be. That meant being a dress designer, taking delight in making other women look their best. If it wasn’t for Grandmother Carter, Maggie would think she had been born into the wrong family.

The enticing aroma of gingerbread called her toward the kitchen. Spending time with Mrs. Jorgensen was just what she needed right now. Since she didn’t have any grandparents living close by, their cook and housekeeper substituted quite well in Maggie’s mind.

She pushed open the door, wrinkling her nose and sniffing like the bunny in the back garden while she headed across the brick floor toward the cabinet where her older friend worked. “What is that heavenly smell?”

Mrs. Jorgensen turned with a warm smile. “As if you didn’t already know. You’ve eaten enough of my gingerbread, for sure.”

Pushing white tendrils from her forehead, the woman quickly sliced the spicy concoction and placed a large piece on a saucer while Maggie retrieved the butter from the ice box. Maggie slathered a thick coating on and watched it melt into the hot, brown bread.

“Here’s something to drink.” Mrs. Jorgensen set a glass of cold milk on the work table in the middle of the large room.

Maggie hopped up on a tall stool and took a sip, swinging her legs as she had when she was a little girl. Mother would have something else to complain about if she saw her. That’s not ladylike and is most unbecoming. The oft-spoken words rang through Maggie’s mind. But Mother hardly ever came into the kitchen. Mrs. Jorgensen met with Mother in her sitting room to plan the meals and the day’s work schedule. “This is the only place in the house where I can just be myself.” Maggie took a bite and let the spices dance along her tongue, savoring the sting of spices mixed with the sweetness of molasses. “Ja.” The grandmotherly woman patted Maggie’s shoulder. “So tell me what’s bothering you, kära.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The 13th Demon

is introducing
The 13th Demon
Realms (October 4, 2011)
Bruce Hennigan

Chapter 1 Excerpt

Lakeside, Louisiana

Along the western horizon the sun settled, bloodred—the very eye of Satan glaring down upon the man who stood in front of the horror that had once been his church. Alone on the second floor balcony, his voice echoed into the coming night.

“God, what have I done to deserve this?”

He backed up to the wrought iron railing, then gasped as he realized he was leaning against the bent, misshapen portion of the railing where it had all begun. He pushed away, bit his thumbnail, and looked around at the huge white columns and across the empty balcony. In front of him were the two intimidating wooden doors that led into the foyer of his church. Four windows were on each side, coated with caked dust. No one had been inside the church in weeks. But that did not mean it was empty.

He had to get to his office.

A squeaking filled the silence. The man watched in horror as the doorknob began to turn. He backed away until he felt his heels at the top of the stone stairs. Sweat poured down from his forehead, and he felt his dress shirt sticking to his ribs. The squeaking stopped. Silence descended.

“Is someone there?” he whispered. There was no answer. He sighed and pushed his glasses back up on his nose. His heart slowed, and he wiped his coat sleeve across his forehead. The coat swallowed him. He had lost twenty pounds in the last month. “I’m not walking away this time,” he said to the lifeless door. “You won’t scare me away!”

The door burst open with a rush of wind, and a red mist engulfed him. He could taste the red liquid in the air; it was coppery, salty. Blood! Through the tiny red droplets on his glasses, he watched a river of it surge through the open doorway. His foot slid as he tried to stumble away, and he fell backward, bouncing off the stone banister, rolling down onto the steps. He slowed his fall halfway down the stairs and looked up at the open doors. Blood cascaded over the top step and poured down the steps, tendrils of crimson coming after him.

He slid back, tumbled once again until he came to a halt on his back on the sidewalk in front of the church. The blood came down the stairs, pooling at the base just inches from his feet. He scooted back away from the pool, watching it grow into a large circle of shimmering red.

“Do you think this is going to scare us away?”

He watched as the girl and her child appeared around the corner of the stairway. The girl’s yellow hair rested on her shoulders, and she wore the same cotton dress with sunflowers as on the day she had wormed her way into his life. She couldn’t have been over sixteen, but that didn’t seem to matter to the toddler who held her left hand. The boy was dark-headed and somewhere between a year and two years of age. His nose was running, and he wore only a disposable diaper. The young woman picked up the child.

“No! This is not my doing. Don’t you know what is going on around here?” The man pointed a bloody hand up the stairs.

“You know what I want. Time is running out,” she said. The toddler smiled.

“It’s in my office, and I can’t get inside because of ”—he gestured at the pool of blood—“this!”

“I’m not leaving, Thomas. We’re in the nursery.” She disappeared from sight, back toward the door under the stairs that led into the basement of the old church.

A fly buzzed by his head and landed on his glasses. He swatted at it. Another fly circled his head. He shook his bloody hair as more flies appeared and moved toward the pool of blood. One landed on the shiny, crimson surface and instantly burst into flame. More flies dove into the pool until a circle of flame hovered above the blood. It gently floated higher, growing larger with each dying fly until it was the size of a beach ball.

More flies filled the evening air, circling in dizzying arcs, until they surrounded the ball of flame. A hole opened in the front of the fly ball, and the flames showed forth from within. The man blinked as the opening turned toward him. It was a huge flaming eye! More flies arrived and flew about the flaming eye to form a spiral that pulsated and spun around it.

“We know about the girl,” the raspy voice proclaimed as the eye lifted higher in the air.

At that, the man lost all reason, all civility, and scuttled backward like a crab into the road in front of the church. The hot asphalt blistered his palms. The buzzing grew louder as the voice spoke the words over and over. His heart pounded. He heard a high, keening whimper and realized it was his own voice.

Suddenly, against the insane noises, there came another roar, approaching fast, and then the sound of squealing brakes, the whoosh of hot wind, the smell of burning rubber, and the grill of a recreational vehicle as it stopped just inches from his face.

The man glanced back at the flaming eye with its pulsating spiral. It had disappeared, leaving only a pool of blood behind. The doors of the church were shut. The sudden silence was punctuated by the creaking and popping of the RV to his left. A long shadow fell over him as a figure stepped into the man’s sight.

He was six feet tall with wiry muscles and dressed in a V-neck T-shirt, blue jeans, and work boots. His hair was reddish blond and short, his face tight and expressionless. His eyes were hidden behind mirrored sunglasses.

“How long has it been bleeding?” His voice was barely above a whisper.

“It just started.” The man wiped blood from his face. “Are you Steel?”

“Get up.” The figure disappeared into the RV.

He grabbed the grill of the RV with bloody hands and pulled himself shakily to his feet. He walked around the vehicle and entered through the open door. Inside, a table with two laptops and one large monitor sat where he would have expected the kitchen table to be. The man he presumed to be Jonathan Steel reappeared with a black backpack in one hand and a plastic container of disinfectant wipes in the other. He handed him the wipes.

“Clean up. You stink.”

“Hey, I asked you a question.” He pulled wipes from the container and wiped the blood from his hands. “Are you Steel?”

Steel opened a cabinet and took out a huge flashlight. “Are the lights working inside the church?”

The man wiped blood from his glasses. “I don’t know. Listen, you haven’t answered my question.”

The mirrored sunglasses turned in his direction. “Yes. I am Jonathan Steel.”

“I’m . . . I’m Thomas Parker. And this is my church.” He tossed the bloodstained wipes into the sink.

“I know,” Steel answered.

“What are you going to do?”

“We are going inside.” Steel pushed past him toward the open door.

“But don’t we need to sit down and talk about this?” Parker followed the man out of the RV. “Maybe over a cup of coffee? Maybe after I’ve had a shower?”

Steel ignored him and paused at the pool of blood. A fly landed lazily on the surface of the pool and then burst into flames. “Now there’s something you don’t see every day.”

Parker grabbed the man’s arm to turn him. He swallowed. “No one has been inside for six weeks.”

Steel took off his sunglasses, and Parker was shocked by his bright, turquoise eyes. Steel glared at him. “Whose blood is this?”

Parker looked at the blood and then back into Steel’s penetrating gaze. “I don’t know. It just appeared.”

Steel nodded and slid the sunglasses into a pocket of his T-shirt. “Then we need to find the source. Let’s go.”

Parker watched in horror as Steel squished through the puddle of blood and started up the stairs. He hurried after him, trying his best to avoid the rivulets of blood on the stairs. They arrived at the upper level, and Steel paused in front of the closed doors. Blood still trickled from the threshold. His head turned as he studied the walls, the windows, and finally the wrought iron railing that ran around the huge balcony. Parker followed the direction of the man’s gaze and felt a chill when it stopped on the far railing. He knew that if Steel went to the edge and looked down he would see the impression where the body had landed in the soft, grassy soil. The grass still had not grown back. Steel reached for the doorknob and paused.

“Wait a minute!” Parker said. “Do I have to go with you?”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Attracted to Fire

Attracted to Fire
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (October 1, 2011)
DiAnn Mills

Washington, DC

“If he doesn’t muzzle his daughter, he’s going to lose the presidential nomination.”

Special Agent Meghan Connors cringed at the TV anchor’s analysis of Vice President Hall’s campaign, even though the statement rang with validity.

“Although early popularity polls indicated Hall to be a strong contender for the presidential race, his ratings are dropping daily.” The blonde reporting the news gave the camera a tilt of her head. “We are currently waiting for a statement from his office regarding Lindsay Hall’s appearance on The Barry Knight Show last evening, where she made the following statement, ‘My father is a poor excuse for the office of President of the United States.’”

The screen flashed a clip of Lindsay Hall sporting cleavage and lots of leg.

“And she’s our new assignment?” Special Agent Bob Lawson eased back in his chair and stuck his thumbs inside his pants pockets. “I’ve heard she swears like a convict. Smacked a couple of agents in the face.”

Meghan kept her opinions in check. She focused on the TV mounted in the corner of the coffee shop, the one located not far from the White House. Thank goodness the shop was empty except for the barista moving to whatever was playing on his iPod.

The news anchor continued her report. “Take a look at Lindsay Hall’s escapade three nights ago.” The screen reverted to footage taken in a local nightclub. Lindsay toasted the camera with a bottle of beer. Clearly inebriated, she sat in a booth enjoying media attention. The news anchor shook her head with a smile, an obvious display of her political preference. “Many are asking, ‘If Vice President Hall cannot control his daughter, how can he effectively run our country?’”

Ouch. That nailed the situation. Meghan wrapped her fingers around the loop of her coffee cup and walked out onto a patio filled with umbrella tables and chairs. A steady mist filled the afternoon heat with humidity. She needed to focus on her new assignment—and the challenges ahead. Protecting the VP’s daughter was supposed to be a promotion. If she failed, this could mean a permanent stall in her career.

Sensing Bob standing beside her, she turned to give him her views about their situation. “We’re made of better stuff than the agents dismissed from Lindsay’s protection team.”

“I keep telling myself that.”

“They let her manipulate them. Plain and simple.”

“But we’re not babysitters. We’re Special Agents for the Secret Service.”

Meghan didn’t know the agents who’d been reassigned as a result of Lindsay’s latest antics, but Bob had called them friends. She took a sip of her strong coffee, ignoring the raindrops gaining momentum. “Escorting her to the TV station and not informing the vice president was poor judgment. Her statements severely damaged the VP’s image. Maybe even his chances of securing the party’s nomination.”

“Everything she says and does chips at his ability to lead the country. The Barry Knight Show and that entire TV network are out to crucify him and the party.”

“So we’re back to our assignment.” Meghan stepped under the coffee shop’s canopy to avoid the rain. “I’m committed to protecting her, and I know you are too.”

“I have to be.” Bob set his cup on an empty table. “Taking a bullet for her would qualify as above and beyond . . . .” He pressed his lips. “But that’s what we do. Right? Can’t let personal opinions get in the way of duty.”

“Absolutely, and I’m sure there are plans to curb her actions. In fact—” Her phone rang, and she reached inside her shoulder bag. A quick glimpse told her it was Supervisor Tom Warrington from the Secret Service office.

“Bob there with you?”

“Yes sir.”

“I need both of you in my office at 1400. Ash Zinders, the SAIC for this assignment, needs to brief you and the other agents assigned to the protectee.” Meghan slipped her phone back into her shoulder bag and relayed the information.

Bob whistled. “Good old A2Z isn’t wasting any time.”

The nickname for the Special Agent in Charge assigned to Lindsay Hall’s protection detail wasn’t a title any agent would say to his face. He was known for his obsession with detail and his domineering personality. Meghan hadn’t met the agent, and she didn’t look forward to his browbeating.

“It really bothers me that she now has six agents protecting her when any other VP family member has three.” Bob pulled a dollar from his wallet and anchored it beneath his cup. “Did I say I regret accepting this assignment? Hasn’t been two hours since the call.”

“There’s a reason, Bob. We were chosen because the VP needed agents who could get the job done. But I question the number of us, too, and what it means.”

The potential to fulfill her dreams, the circumstances surrounding Lindsay Hall’s unpredictable behavior, and the nightmare of working under Ash Zinders had Meghan wondering if the challenges ahead would be worth it.

# # #

Ash believed in Vice President Hall, known as the Shield by the Secret Service. He respected his commitment to his country and his devotion to his family. Books had been written about his political views, and one had been on the bestseller list for six months. How could a man of such integrity have a daughter who was a source of embarrassment for the whole country? International media laughed at her irresponsibility, and critics used her for comic relief in their opening monologues. Four years of protecting Lindsay Hall, and the situation had grown worse. Why couldn’t the VP and his wife control their daughter’s behavior? Ship her off to the Peace Corps, Siberia . . . anywhere but in the media’s playground.

Across the desk sat his supervisor, Tom Warrington.

“Ash, I need to brief you on a few changes in protocol prior to meeting with your team.” Warrington shuffled papers in front of him. “They’ll be here in thirty minutes.”

“Changes, sir?”

Warrington drummed his fingers. Not good. “You’ll continue your role as SAIC for Lindsay’s protection team, but the vice president has made a request. After last night’s unfortunate incident on The Barry Knight Show, we’ve decided to bring in a woman agent.”

A woman agent? “Why?”

“Special Agent Meghan Connors has an excellent reputation for getting the job done. And we think she’ll be able to help keep Lindsay out of trouble. Possibly provide some direction with her medical issues.”

“In what way? Our job is to protect her, not help her buy lipstick.”

Warrington lifted a brow. “Connors will be a part of the six agent team.”

The addition of more agents, including a woman, ground at him. “Why six agents for a VPs daughter?”

“That will be explained in depth when the VP arrives.”

“Sir, I don’t understand the changes.”

He cleared his throat. “Note that Agent Connors will be assigned to Lindsay seven days a week, 0800 to 1700.”

A woman agent wouldn’t work with the way Ash managed his team. Why was she being assigned his hours?

Warrington handed him three files. “These are the new agents. You’ve worked with Bob Lawson and Rick Norris before.”

“With all due respect, sir. I prefer to work with men.”

Warrington frowned. “The VP is desperate. We need to give her a chance for Lindsay’s sake. For the VP’s sake.”

“I understand, but—”

“You and I go back a long way, and I know why you feel this way. I’d like to think you could get beyond judging every woman agent because of one bad experience. Agent Connors has a stellar record. She’s tough, and she’s dedicated to her job. Do this for the vice president, Ash. She might be the one person who could turn Lindsay around. And that would help the VP and this country.”

“I’ll do my best. However, I’d—”

“Deal with it, and do your job.”

Resentment seeped into Ash’s bones. He had a spotless record, and he’d been reduced to taking care of two women? She might be a dynamic personality, a fine person, but women had no place in the Secret Service.

“The Vice President has located a working ranch in Texas for Lindsay.” He turned his computer to show a satellite image of a large ranch-type house, a barn, horse stables, and a couple of outbuildings.

“She can’t run there.”

“I agree. It’s about a hundred miles west of Austin. She won’t have access to a phone or computer. Just fresh country air.”

“I’m assuming the VP needs her out of sight.”

“There’s more to the problem. A call was made to the VP about 0300 this morning. A man said he had a bullet with Lindsay’s name on it if she didn’t pay up. He claimed she owed him for meds.”

The situation grieved him. Lindsay had so many opportunities to better herself. Maybe another woman would help. “She’s in deep this time.”

Warrington handed him another file. “Here are the details of the ranch, photos, list of employees. The VP and his wife are deciding on a doctor to treat Lindsay at the ranch.”

“I knew they’d been investigating an alternative method of treatment. I saw the short list of the psychologists and psychiatrists.” Ash studied Warrington’s face— obviously he’d been awake since the threatening call. “So this is crisis intervention in a big way.”

“And the media have to stay out of it.”

“Any leads on the caller?”

“Not yet. Working on it. The transfer will be made in the next couple of days.”

Lindsay did need to be out of the public’s eye.

“One more thing here. President Claredon is back in the hospital. Looks like VP Hall will be taking on more responsibilities.”

Ash had heard rumors that the cancer had spread. “I’ll do what needs to be done, sir.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wonderland Creek

Wonderland Creek
Bethany House (October 1, 2011)
Lynn Austin

Wonderland Creek

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Love on the Line

Love on the Line
Bethany House (October 1, 2011)
Deeanne Gist

Love on the Line

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reclaiming Lily

is introducing
Reclaiming Lily
Bethany House (October 1, 2011)
Patti Lacy

Reclaiming Lily

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Wedding Invitation

A Wedding Invitation
Bethany House (October 1, 2011)
Alice Wisler

A Wedding Invitation

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

House of Secrets

House of Secrets
Bethany House (October 1, 2011)
Tracie Peterson

House of Secrets

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Mercy

The Mercy
Bethany House (September 6, 2011)
Beverly Lewis

The Mercy