Friday, November 30, 2012

Greenwood and Archer by Marlene Banks

Greenwood and Archer
Lift Every Voice; New Edition edition (September 20, 2012)
by
Marlene Banks



Prologue


June 3, 1921

GreenWood District

Tulsa, Oklahoma


The scent of smoke lingered in the air even two days after the horrendous riot. Dazed, many people still wandered around, trying to locate loved ones. It was a time of disbelief that such atrocities happened in their community. Being black in Tulsa had never meant first-class citizenship, but until now it never caused such violent victimization. Murder and mayhem had swept through the successful Negro community of Greenwood District with a deadly and destructive fury. “Why we gotta wear badges?” a black man protested. “Cause that’s the new law,” the irritated police officer snapped. “It ain’t right. After all we been through you is tellin’ us we gotta identify who we is? I always been a free, law-abiding citizen, but when they come in our neighborhood terrorizing us and now tell us we under martial law, it ain’t right!” “Go on and have your employer get you a badge or stay off the streets. That’s the new rule. Now go ahead, boy, before I throw you in jail!” “I ain’t no boy, I’m a man just like you,” he grumbled walking away.

AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH

New laws were being put into effect in Tulsa after the riot, not for protecting the victims but to subdue any thought of retaliation against white citizens. “Curfew! What gives them the right to issue a curfew only on Negroes?” Pastor Scoggins demanded from in front of the pulpit. “It’s not right!” Reverend Matthias agreed. “Is it just in the city, or does the county have a curfew too?” Reverend Metcalf asked, troubled. “They told me my taxis have to be off the street by eight at night,” L. D. Johnson said. “That shorts my money to make a decent living. I make a lot of my big fares after dark, and they know it.” “They don’t care about you making a living. They want us to all go broke,” H. T. Wilson declared. “What is the NAACP doing about this?” Reverend Matthias asked, turning to Ethan Freeman.
“It’s just in the township limits so far, but I think they’ll soon change it to include the counties,” Ethan said. “This is the last straw,” Reverend R. A. Whitaker declared as he stood up. “I’m sick of them harassing us when we’re the injured party.” The preacher stepped out into the aisle. “They burned down Mt. Zion Baptist Church because we dared to prepare to protect ourselves and fight back. They murdered innocent human beings and destroyed blocks of valuable property. Then they try to blame us for the riot. I’m sick of their twisting the facts.”

“Enough is enough,” Mr. French said from the rear of the church. The house was full for this covert meeting. The law was cracking down on every move made in Greenwood District. Police patrolled the area, stopping and questioning its citizens at random. What should have been police protection for the residents of Greenwood District became police persecution. “I can’t find my sister,” Georgia Logan said. “They took her out the house, I’m told, and then burned the house down. I can’t find where they took her. She’s sick and in a wheelchair.” “We’ll help search the hospital and the Red Cross with you,” an older woman volunteered. “I already did and she’s not there.” Tears pooled in Georgia’s eyes. “Maybe someone took her in,” Mrs. French suggested. “I need help feeding the survivors and finding them shelter,” Reverend Metcalf announced. You can use this church if you need to, Reverend,” Pastor Scoggins offered.

Clara Hydecker started crying. “They murdered my poor Sam for nothing! What are we going to do? My husband is dead, we have no home and no food, and everything we owned was burned with our house. I have no money and I have four children to feed!” A young man called out, “Yeah, what are we going to do? The law isn’t on our side. What are we going to do?” Billy Ray Matthias stood up. “We’re going to find food and feed as many people as we can. Then we’ll set up temporary shelter as best we can, tents if we have to for the time being. Then we organize a rebuilding plan. What we don’t do is give up. We don’t accept defeat, because that is exactly what they want.” “Yeah, we can rebuild this neighborhood even better than before if we try,” Vic Brown shouted. “Easy for you to say since your house ain’t burned to the ground,” Manny Griswold muttered. Billy Ray walked to the front of the sanctuary his imposing figure matched only by what he said. “The people of Greenwood District cannot give up. We have to get to work helping each other and rebuilding what was destroyed, but before we worry about any of that . . . we need to pray.”

Eagles Pointe County, Oklahoma

September 1922


The race riot of May 31 and June 1, 1921, had turned a once thriving entrepreneurial community into a bloody battlefield. Hatred and terror reigned throughout the evening and into the wee hours of the night. To the beleaguered residents of Greenwood District, morning’s dawn unveiled the full horror of lost lives and property destruction.

Thirteen months after the racially motivated riot, Greenwood District still evidenced the assault on its citizens and destruction to its infrastructure. The rebuilding process was under way but would never fully heal the scars of that fateful evening. Gradual development was being made to restore demolished businesses and homes. It was not an easy task, but one that would be completed. The spirit of Greenwood would not tolerate eradication by those consumed with violent intent. Prayers were continually being offered for the people and the neighborhood from Christ-loving citizens of Tulsa, black and white, and across the country as well. Greenwood District would not remain a hollowed-out shell of a community but be raised from the dead by the hand and will of God. The county beyond the city limits had not suffered much of the murderous invasions and fiery attacks. Ranchers in Eagles

CHAPTER ONE




Pointe were busier than ever employing people from Greenwood and providing for the many displaced city dwellers. The most disheartening factor was that after all the wreckage, things had not improved and Tulsa’s caste system was still firmly in place. Amos Grapnel’s beady eyes darted around Cordell Freeman’s ranch as he was leaning against the large weathered barn. Grapnel’s short stature and chubby frame sported a protruding belly and balding head. He sporadically rocked back on his heels to show off the fancy boots he’d recently purchased in Texas. Tom Eberly, a frail gray-haired man who accompanied him, stood slightly bent over leaning on his walking stick as he watched Cord lift a bale of hay. Grapnel pulled out a pipe. “You ought to give it some real thought, boy,” he said reaching for the tobacco pouch in his back pocket.

“Told you, I’m not interested in sellin’,” Cord said, hauling the bale toward the barn.

“Why not? Offering you more than twice what you paid. Can’t beat that for profit.”

“Don’t care about profit. I’m doing good right here and I don’t wanna sell my place, Mr. Grapnel.”

“Don’t be so quick to turn up your nose at a lot of money, boy. You could get another place if you want with what you’ll make, or . . . you could sit on your bank account and move back home with your folks.” Grapnel grinned slyly.

“I done told you I’m not interested,” was Cord’s irritated response.

“Plain pigheaded,” Grapnel grumbled, “just like your father.”

“We might as well go,” Eberly said, shifting his weight impatiently.

“Why are you so attached to this place anyway?” Grapnel continued. “It’s not your family’s land. You’re all alone out here except for those hired workers you got from town. Don’t have no family around here to keep you company. I’d think you’d be glad to be rid of this place seeing you lived here with that no-good wife that hung herself.”

Cord’s head jerked up. Lightning fast he dropped the bail and charged. Before Grapnel could react Cord had him by throat. “I’ll kill you for talkin’ that way about my wife,” he shouted, clamping tightly on the man’s throat. Grapnel’s eyes bugged as he desperately groped at Cord’s hand to get free. Eberly straightened up as best he could hollering, “Let ’em go! You’ll choke the life outta him!” He whacked Cord across the back with his cane twice. “Turn him loose!” The blows didn’t faze Cord. He was crazed with fury. “You come on my land talkin’ against my wife, you lowdown snake! I’ll kill you, so help me, I’ll kill you!” Grapnel’s color was starting to drain. Eberly looked over at Grapnel’s car trying to gauge how fast he could make it to the vehicle and retrieve his friend’s pistol. The sound of fast-moving hooves drew his attention and he turned all the way around. “Cord, let him go,” a frantic female screamed from on top of an impressive palomino. “Let him go, Cord!” A large muscular man ahead of her had already dismounted from a huge brown stallion and was hurrying toward the choking man. Eberly stumbled backward seeing the powerfully built black male rushing toward them. “Stay out of this,” Cord yelled, trying to maintain his grip when the man grabbed his hands, prying them loose from Grapnel’s neck. “Cord, please let him go,” the woman pleaded, bolting toward him after she jumped down from her horse. “They’ll kill you for sure if you do this,” the man warned looking Cord in the eyes. “Is that what you want . . . to die for killing this devil?”

Cord stopped applying pressure but he still had hold of Grapnel. “He should die - him and all his rotten kind. They killed those people in town and the law did nothin’ about it! Not one drop of justice to those murdering dogs. He was part of it, you said so yourself. He tried to kill you, didn’t he? So why shouldn’t he die?”

“You’re right, he was part of it and the law did nothing to him or the rest of them but believe me the Lord will do something. He’ll have His justice for all the evil done in this world.”

“Ain’t waitin’ on the Lord. This polecat needs dealing with now. He belittled my wife and I won’t put up with him or nobody else talkin’ like that about her.”

”Make him turn Amos loose,” Eberly demanded raising his cane in the air again.

“He gotta breathe.”

Cord’s sister, Benny, reached her brother and gently put her hand on his shoulder. “Cord, please, please don’t do this. Let him go. Billy Ray’s right, Jesus will have justice for all the wrongs done to our people, but not this way. They will answer to God, and if we wait it out, justice will be done. There’s been too much killing already; please, no more.”

“I oughta snap his nasty neck.”

“Don’t let this man goad you into tangling with the law, ’cause you’ll lose. That’s all they need is for you to get arrested for killing him then they’ll gladly see you in the electric chair. I couldn’t stand losing my big brother and neither could Momma. Please, please let him go.”

Tears filled her eyes. Cord released Grapnel, dumping him on the ground. Grapnel gasped for air, loudly coughing and holding his throat. Eberly limped over to his friend. Cord looked down at his foe with loathing. “I should finish you off,” he threatened. “I don’t care nothin’ ’bout dyin’ in no electric chair. I’d be with Savannah if I did.” He looked at his sister. “But for your sake, just for you and Momma, I won’t.”

“Thank the Lord.” Benny sighed, laying her head on his shoulder. “We love you, Cord, and we need you here with us.” She resented her brother’s devotion to his deceased wife but had learned not to show it. Billy Ray put his hand on Cord’s back.

“You made the right decision, the wise one.”

“He ought to be jailed for attackin’ a white man,” Eberly insisted, pointing his stick at Cord.

“Shut up, old man. Take your no ’count friend and get off my land!”

“Won’t forget this, boy. You wait and see, the law’ll handle your crazy black hide.”

Billy Ray lifted the still coughing victim off the ground. Grapnel couldn’t speak but his expression, a mix of fear and rage did. He jerked away. Billy Ray knew his hateful nemesis would never let this matter drop. Still, he tried to brush the dirt from Grapnel’s clothes as the incensed man rejected his assistance.

“I’m trying to help clean you off,” Billy Ray pointed out.

“Get your big black hands off me, boy,” Grapnel croaked snatching himself free, though barely able to stand.

“I’d as soon see you dead than have you touch me, you big ape.” He walked shakily toward his vehicle with Eberly limping beside him.

“Shoulda let me choke the life out him,” Cord grumbled squinting from the noonday sun.”

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shattered Silence by Margaret Daley

Shattered Silence
Abingdon Press (September 2012)
by
Margaret Daley



Chapter 1

No one sees me. They walk right by me and don’t even know I am here. I’m invisible. But that’s all going to change today. The woman who has agreed to marry me will be here soon. The world will finally know someone cares about me. It was worth all my savings to bring her across the border. I’m tired of being alone. Being nobody.

I’m getting married. I won’t be invisible anymore—at least she’ll see me.


* * *

Maria Martinez lay flat on the dust-covered wooden planks, her right eye pressed against the hole in the floor of the abandoned house. Pedro won’t find me here. I’ll win this time.

A sneeze welled up in Maria, and she fought to stop it. She couldn’t. Quickly she looked through the small opening to make sure Pedro hadn’t come and heard her. Her older brother al-ways thought he could do everything better than her. Not this time. He’d never think to look here. He’d think she was too afraid to hide here. A rattling behind her sent a shot of fear through her. She went still. Her lungs held her breath and wouldn’t let go.

There’s no such thing as ghosts. He just told me that to scare me. I’m not a baby. I’m eight.

Her words fueled her courage, and she popped up to look over her shoulder. Nothing. Just the wind blowing through the broken window. Maria sank to the floor in relief and took up her post again. Watching through the hole. If Pedro came into the house, she’d be ready to hide. He was not going to find her. For once, she would have the last laugh. He was just two years older, but the way he acted, you’d think he was Papa.

Another sound caught her attention. Down below. Footsteps. She started to hop up and scramble to her hiding place nearby, but a gruff, deep male voice stopped her. Not Pedro. Who?

With her eye glued to the hole again, she waited to see who it was. Another voice—a woman’s—answered the man, then she laughed. A funny laugh—like Pedro when he made fun of her.

“Dumb. Evil eye,” the woman taunted in Spanish.

The man raised his voice, speaking in the same language so fast Maria had a hard time keeping up. Mama insisted on only speaking English at home. Now she wished she was better at Spanish. But she heard some words—the ones he slowed and emphasized, repeating several times in a louder voice a few cuss words that got Papa in trouble if he said them at home. The deep gruff voice ended with, “You will pay.”

The woman laughed again, but the sound died suddenly. “What are you doing?” she said in Spanish.

Maria strained to see the two people. The lady moved into her line of sight as she stepped back, shaking her head, her long brown hair swirling in the air. Maria glimpsed the top of a tan cowboy hat that hid the man’s face from her.

The beautiful lady held up her hands. “No!”

The fear in that one word chilled Maria.

Before she could think of what to do, a gunshot, like she’d heard on TV, blasted the qui-et. The lady jerked back. She glanced down at her chest, then up, remaining upright for a few heartbeats before crumbling to the floor.

Maria froze. Her mind blanked.

The man came closer to the still lady on the floor, her unseeing dark eyes staring right at Maria, pinning her against the wooden planks. She saw the gun as he lifted his arm and aimed it at the woman. He shot her in the stomach then the forehead.

Maria gasped.

The man must have whirled away. Suddenly he wasn’t in her line of vision. She bolted to her feet as the sound of heavy footsteps coming up the stairs echoed down the hallway.

Terror locked a vise about Maria and held her in place.

Then her gaze latched onto her hiding place—one she’d found when she’d first come to the house. She’d laughed out loud that her brother would never find her there. Now she wasn’t so sure it was perfect.

But the approaching footfalls prodded her into action. She had no other choice. She clambered toward the couch as quietly as she could. She ripped the seat cushion off and squeezed herself into the small place someone must have used before. The pounding of her heartbeat in her ears drowned out the sound of his footsteps.

The man threw open a door at the end of the hall. The slam of it against the wall startled Maria as she set the cushion over her like a shield a knight used in a movie she’d seen. When he’d stormed a castle, hundreds of arrows rained down on him. He had survived. Could she?

The scent of mold and dust threatened to set off her sneezing. She held her hand over her mouth and nose praying that would stop her from making any sound.

As the man’s footsteps came nearer, her heartbeat reverberated against her skull, again overriding all other sounds. Surely he could hear it. Find her.

Please, Lord, help me. Mama said You protect children.

But not her prayers or her fear calmed her thundering heartbeats. The racket grew louder inside her chest and clamored in her ears. Her head spun. She uncovered her mouth to try and breathe deeply. She couldn’t get enough air.

The door opened, crashing against the wall.

She flinched, hoping the seat cushion hadn’t moved.

Please. Please, Lord. I’ll be good.

The footsteps approached the center of the room.

Lightheaded, Maria closed her eyes as if that would hide her from the bad man. Some-thing scurried over her leg. Something big. A rat? The urge to flee her hiding place robbed her of any thoughts. She curled herself into the tightest ball she could and prayed, her chest rising and falling so rapidly. The darkness continued to swirl behind her closed eyelids.

An eternity passed. A brush of whiskers reinforced her fright. She tensed, expecting any second the cushion being plucked off her hiding place or sharp teeth sinking into her. A warm gush between her legs and the odor of pee heightened her terror. He would smell it and . . .

I’m going to die. Mama . . .

Friday, November 23, 2012

Free From Guilt by Pat Simmons

Free From Guilt
Lift Every Voice; New Edition edition (September 20, 2012)
by
Pat Simmons

Prologue

Cameron Daniel Jamieson wasn’t going down like his brothers and cousins in the romance department. No woman in the world would get him to a prayer altar as a prerequisite for the wedding altar.

Absolutely, he wanted to get married, and he somewhat was on the prowl for a wife. His criterion was she had to be the one his heart refused to let get away. Furthermore, he had a major stipulation. Cameron didn’t believe in mixing religion with politics—at the workplace or in relationships—and definitely not outside of the church walls. That was nonnegotiable.

He did a quick sweep of his relatives gathered in the dressing room of the small St. Louis, Missouri, church. Cameron noted the common thread among the men. Their wives had dug their stilettos into the ground, refusing a diamond ring, unless their Jamieson men humbled themselves to Christ first. How ridiculous was that? Yet, that’s exactly what happened to them.

His cousin Aaron “Ace” and Ace’s wife, Talise Jamieson, were moments away from renewing their wedding vows in an elaborate ceremony. A few months earlier, the couple had married a mere three weeks before their precious daughter was born.

This was a happy ending to their tumultuous courtship. Cameron paused in his thinking. He guessed there were always exceptions to any rule. Maybe, if it wasn’t for Jesus intervening in the couple’s troubled relationship, he wouldn’t be standing there about to witness the renewal of their wedding vows today.

Nonetheless, Cameron took credit for introducing Talise and Ace, even though they eventually split on bad terms. Later, when he learned that a future illegitimate Jamieson child was at stake, Cameron didn’t hesitate to intervene in his cousin’s business. He refused to lose any connections to his ancestral tree.

Once Ace got his act together and proposed, Talise had two stipulations to her holdout of saying yes. First, she didn’t want to be pregnant in a wedding dress. Second, her sister, who was serving in the Persian Gulf, had to be present. Today, Talise had her wishes fulfilled. Women and their demands could really put a strain on a brother.

Oddly, the “groom” was nervously pacing the floor.
“Chill, dude. You’re already married. It’s not like Talise is going to leave you standing at the altar.” Cameron taunted his cousin, who was more like a third brother to him.

“Today is all about my baby. You have no idea how important this is to her. Everything has to be perfect,” Ace replied. With a thoughtful pause, he stared down at Talise’s wedding rings and his band. Now cupped in his palm, those very treasures had been on their fingers a day earlier.

At that moment, Ace’s s cell phone rang and ended the discussion. When he answered, the photographer snapped a picture. Listening to the one-sided conversation, Cameron sensed something wasn’t going as planned.

“She did what? You’ve got to be kidding me!” Ace roared. After listening a few minutes longer, his voice softened. “It’ll be okay, love,” he consoled. Then exhaling, he finished the conversation, “I’ll see you in a few. I love you, babe.”

“Something is not okay. What’s going on?” Cameron, along with the other groomsmen, was ready to spring into action.

“It’s Talise’s stepmother, Donna,” Ace responded. With a quick glance around the room, he checked to see if his father-in-law had returned from the men’s room.

“She’s in the bridal chamber giving Tay all kinds of grief. Among other things, she’s complaining about why she had to wear pink instead of white. You’d think it was her wedding day. If that’s not enough, the woman’s harping on why we couldn’t renew our vows in Talise’s hometown
of Richmond. Her parents still live there, but my wife hasn’t lived there in years.”

Cameron knew Ace didn’t hold his tongue if anyone upset his wife. This was supposed to be a joyful occasion.

“The final straw was when Donna demanded to be escorted down the aisle as part of the wedding party. Thank God, Grandma BB stepped in and put the woman in her place.”

“Yikes.” Cameron stuffed his hands in his pockets. It was a known fact that Talise did not refer to Donna as her stepmother. After the death of her mother, the best Talise could manage was to claim the woman as her father’s new wife.

“Yikes is right. Grandma BB shoved Donna out the door with a warning. Unless Donna wanted to go home with a limp, she’d better not even try to put her big toe in the center aisle.”

Cameron barked out a laugh. He would never get use to the antics of Mrs. Beatrice Tilly Beacon, better known as Grandma BB. Ace shook his head. “We’d better keep an eye on her, or Grandma BB will be fighting in church.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Cameron mumbled, recalling the notorious behavior of the woman who has claimed to be seventy-something for years. Interestingly enough, she vehemently maintains her status as part of the family–even though she doesn’t have a drop of Jamieson blood. The childless widow takes her role as grandma seriously.

The photographer snapped a few more shots and walked out just as Talise’s father entered the room. “Wait until you see her. She’s beautiful and happy.” Frederick grinned and shook hands with Ace. “Keep her that way and there won’t be any problems.”

After that statement, Parke, Cameron’s oldest brother, suggested they pray. Linking hands, the men bowed their heads.

“Father, in the Name of Jesus, we come before Your throne of grace. We worship You today for this opportunity to witness the love between husband and wife. I ask that You bless my cousin’s marriage and bless his life in this Christian journey. Most of all, Father, bless their precious daughter.”
]
Parke paused, before adding, “And, Lord Jesus, please bless every married man and their households represented here today. Help us never to fail You as the strong Christian men You created us to be, in the Name of Jesus. Amen.”

A series of Amens echoed around the circle. One by one, the men patted Ace on the back. Frederick, the proud father-in-law, had the first honor.

Ace tilted his head. “Ah, it appears there’s one man standing in this room who isn’t hitched. Cameron, you’re the lone ranger.”

“Not for long. Even the Bible says it’s not good for man to be alone. With thirty-two knocking on my door, who am I to argue with God?”

“You argue with us about God all the time,” Parke reminded him. “Why stop now?”

“Trust me,” Cameron said with a wink. “I don’t need God’s help on this. I’m fully capable of choosing my own woman. Her body and beauty have to attract me, her intellect has to mesmerize me, her ambition must impress me, and a strong sense of family ties will keep me.”

“She’s taken.” The echoes went around the room, as each Jamieson claimed they had already married that woman.

Cameron confidently asserted, “There’s one more, and she won’t get away.”


Chapter One


Gabrielle Dupree, and her sidekick since college, Denise Rayford, quickly squeezed into the church pew. The processional was about to start any minute. It had been one delay after another. Their flight from the East Coast was late, their rental car wasn’t ready, and then they made a wrong turn. It was amazing they’d made it on time.

Talise and Gabrielle had become extremely close when they worked together at an airline in Boston. Before she relocated to St. Louis, Talise had come to depend on Gabrielle as her confidant for friendship, advice, and prayer.

As a result, Gabrielle wouldn’t have missed Talise’s big day for anything. Denise, on the other hand, had her own agenda for attending the ceremony. Her sole purpose was to verify if she was related to the wedding party. It was a long, complicated story that still confused her.
If Gabrielle could have rearranged her work schedule to be there days earlier, she would have been a bridesmaid along with the others. Still, Talise wanted to include her in the wedding pictures and ordered her to wear pink.

About two-hundred guests packed the sanctuary. Besides the many floral arrangements positioned throughout, silver and pink satin bows adorned the ends of each pew. Suddenly, the lights dimmed and candles flickered.

Romantic was the only word Gabrielle could utter to describe the setting. Minutes later, a minister led a group of five tall, buffed, and jaw-dropping handsome groomsmen to the altar. She had to exhale over the awesome spectacle. Particularly noting the one with a shaved head and a goatee, Gabrielle thought, Wow, bald never looked so good on a man.

With a laser-like focus on the back of the church, the groom stood erect by the minister.

Denise nudged her. Gabrielle was breathless with awe. “The darker ones are almost carbon copies of my brother.”

“Really?” Gabrielle said casually. “I have no complaints about God’s handiwork. They are all fine. My girl has good taste,” Gabrielle whispered to her friend, whom she had dubbed the “wedding crasher.”

Denise was under the impression Talise’s husband and brother-in law could be her half-brothers—all because of the last name Jamieson. There must be thousands of Jamiesons in the world. Still, Denise was on a mission to track down and unite the eleven children her deceased
father, Samuel, had spawned in his younger years.

“But, are you sure?” Gabrielle looked around to see if anyone nearby was eavesdropping. She had never met any of Denise’s brothers, only her older sister.

“Now what?”
Frowning, Gabrielle leaned closer. “What do you mean, ‘now what’? You’re the one who masterminded this scheme.”

“I know. When you said your friend was marrying Aaron Jamieson from Boston, I cross-referenced his name with the information I’ve gathered. There were too many coincidences for me to ignore. But how do you approach someone who is possibly your sibling and say, ‘We have the same no-good daddy. I thought we should meet and get to know each other’?”

This was all Gabrielle’s fault. Somewhat regretfully, she had mentioned an invitation to a Jamieson wedding. When Denise asked her if she was taking a date along, Gabrielle responded no. She had yet to understand why there was an unspoken rule about attending nuptials alone. Yet, she didn’t think having one of her brothers to escort her was necessary. All of that gave Denise a perfect opportunity to invite herself.

Gabrielle glanced around at some of the guests. Many were coupled off. A few seemed to be in hushed intimate conversations. Love was thick in the air. She sighed. It had been awhile since a man who put the Lord first in his life had come her way. Being the romantic that she was, Gabrielle believed just witnessing the ceremony would renew her hope that true love was still possible for single Christian women.

As the music shifted to the wedding march, guests turned their attention to the back of the church where the double doors slowly opened. As though she were the main attraction, an elderly woman stood smiling and then slightly bowed her head. With what appeared to be a death grip on her usher’s arm, the woman began her slow, unsteady walk. Watching her proudly holding her chin high, one would have thought it was a runway performance.

Murmurs increased with her every step. As the distinguished matron neared her pew, Gabrielle blinked. Although elegantly dressed, she raised a brow at the woman’s peculiar choice of footwear. Two-tone burgundy-and-white Stacy Adams shoes seemed to swallow up her delicate feet. The shoestrings were replaced with pink satin ribbons that complemented her rose-colored evening gown. Eccentric was the only word to describe her.

“Who dressed her?” Denise whispered.

“I think she did. I believe that’s Grandma BB. Talise told me about her. The woman is a force to be reckoned with.”

“I’ll remember that if she’s related on the Jamieson side.”
Next, as a memorial to Talise’s deceased mother, a female usher slowly walked down the aisle, carrying a single white candle with a pink bow around the base. She paused at the altar and then proceeded to light a large candelabrum nearby.

Waiting in the wings was Talise’s mother-in-law. Sandra stood regally in a pink satin dress that wrapped around her slender but shapely figure. No one would believe she was in her mid-fifties.

Watching her walk down the aisle, Gabrielle hoped she had a body like Sandra’s when she hit fifty. The stately woman’s legs rivaled Tina Turner’s. Talise told her it was a long story why her mother-in-law had never married.

Oohs and ahhs could be heard as Sandra moved in step with the music, cradling Talise and Ace’s infant daughter in her arms. Ten-week old Lauren was also adorned in a long, pink satin dress and bonnet. She looked more like a porcelain doll than a baby.

“Wow.” Gabrielle sighed, as she followed the graceful glide. Her eyes misted in happiness that her friend had found the love of her life, even if Ace had to beg for her forgiveness. Talise called him a jerk during most of her pregnancy.

“Do you think I should say something?” Denise asked, breaking into her reverie.

“Huh?” She blinked, not appreciating the interruption of her thoughts. “What? I don’t know. This is a festive occasion. If they don’t already know about you, then I don’t think now is the time. Saying something that might dampen the mood, I’m sure, will not go over well. You’re only supposed to be an observer, remember? Not an interloper.”

Gabrielle placed her finger to her lips. “Shhh. I’m trying to get caught up, surrounded by all this love.”

After the five bridesmaids and the flower girl made their entrances, two musicians rose to their feet and blew their trumpets. Throughout the chapel, the guests also stood. Beaming with a proud look, Talise’s father escorted his ecstatic daughter down the aisle. From the expression on her face, one would never know that she had been married already for more than two months.

But Gabrielle had witnessed firsthand Talise’s heartaches that came before the bliss. Standing on the sidelines, she had cheered the couple on. She was a true believer that love would find its way. Unfortunately, it hadn’t made it to her yet.

With Talise’s move to St. Louis, Gabrielle felt the void. As close friends, they had become inseparable. Often complimented on their beauty, there was no competition between them. Now staring at Talise in yards of tulle and satin, Gabrielle doubted if she would ever duplicate that spectacular look if God blessed her with a mate.

Turning her attention to Ace’s face, Gabrielle sighed at the tender loving way the man was looking at Talise. Her mind captured another wow moment to pen in her handbook of romance. It was one of those silly notions she had started as a teenager when she began writing fanciful ideas in a spiral notebook.

Gabrielle loved weddings. It didn’t matter if she was a guest or part of the bridal party. It was the atmosphere, the romance, the gaiety, the peace-on-earth feeling that always engulfed her.

She withheld a chuckle. Gabrielle was the only girl in a family of three brothers, and none of them were married. Since her brothers welcomed her to the thirties club last month—she wondered what her siblings were waiting on. For her, it was definitely the perfect God-fearing man.

Her main requirement in a mate was that he had to be a practicing Christian man, not a Sunday morning pew warmer . . . Add to that description, the love of her life must be highly romantic . . . Okay, for her future children’s sake, she definitely needed to add good looks.

Ace’s eyes sparkled as he locked on Talise’s every movement. Even when Lauren whimpered in his mother’s arms, he never took his attention away from his bride. When Talise was close enough, Ace stepped forward and reached for her hand. Lovingly, he escorted her to the altar.

Admittedly, Talise’s pregnancy was the reason behind their hasty nuptials a couple of months ago. The couple’s initial vows had taken place in a pastor’s office back in Boston. However, there was no doubt in Gabrielle’s mind that Ace loved her friend. God blessed them in a mighty way after they repented for their sins and followed the Lord’s complete plan for their salvation, which includes: repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. From now on, they have the power to live godly.

Unexpectedly, Ace knelt before Talise and looked up into her glowing face. Gabrielle thought she would faint from his public display of seduction and admiration. She strained to hear every word of their renewed vows.

“Baby, you gave me everything when I met you. You’re beautiful, you love God, and you love me. I promise to cherish you—”

“Hey,” Denise whispered, nudging her again, “he even sounds a little like—”

Gritting her teeth, Gabrielle shushed Denise. Bringing her along was definitely a bad idea.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Too Far To Say Far Enough by Nancy Rue

Too Far To Say Far Enough
David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2012)
by
Nancy Rue



***Chapter 1***

Every Monday morning I quit.

Before I even crawled out of bed, sometimes even before I clawed all the way from dreams to the mental pile of stuff I was going to have to try to make a dent in, if it was Monday, I said, out loud so there could be no misunderstanding: “God, you’re going to have to find somebody else to be your prophet, because I’m done. You got a recovery group I can get into?”

Sometimes I’d imagine such a group—a place where I could sit in a circle with other people who were in way over their spiritual heads and say, “Hi. I’m Allison, and I’m a recovering prophet.”

Seriously. The women of Sacrament House could nobly go to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and Prostitutes Anonymous (okay, I made that one up), and begin to see them¬selves healing. Ninety meetings in ninety days was a requirement for them.

But there was no Prophets Anonymous. There was no recov¬ery from being one—although at times I would have given up my Harley to escape it—and there was nothing anonymous about it. I knew. I’d tried that.

That particular Monday, however, I skipped quitting. I didn’t even give a nod to the stack of not-yet-done stuff teetering just beyond my reach, waiting for one more thing to topple it over. Because that late-August Monday, almost exactly one year since I’d caught twelve-year-old Desmond Sanborn trying to steal my house key, I was standing in front of a judge, about to adopt the boy.
It was enough to make the whole precarious pile disappear.

The Honorable Charles Walton Atwell the Third swept his eyes, decidedly reminiscent of a basset hound’s, over the crowd gathered in the gallery behind Desmond and me. Normally a transaction such as this would have taken place in his chambers, but there was nothing normal about our group. We had everything from a social worker, two attorneys, and a real estate broker to a row of recovering ladies of the evening and another of HOG members in sleeveless T-shirts, holding their motorcycle helmets respect¬fully under their arms. One elongated look at the motley cloud of witnesses overflowing his office, and Judge Atwell had ordered us all into the courtroom. Desmond gave that his signature stamp of approval by high-fiving said judge and saying, “Good choice, Mr. Your Honor, sir.”

Judge Atwell now dragged his ancient face down with his hand and went into a pause as lengthy as his chin. I remembered that about him. You could practically go out for a cappuccino during one of those conversational gaps. Beside me, Desmond shifted his negligible weight from one lanky leg to the other. I put a cautionary hand on his shoulder and prayed he wouldn’t blurt out, “Mr. Your Honor, sir, you takin’ a nap up in there?”

Finally His Honor nodded gravely at Chief, who stood look¬ing even taller than his six-foot-plus on the other side of Desmond. I suspected that judicial gaze was as much about Chief’s graying ponytail as it was about the solemnity of the occasion. He must have been satisfied with the fact that at least Chief was clad in Brooks Brothers all the way down to his black wing tips, because he said, “Mr. Ellington, you may proceed.”

“Who’s Mr. Ellington?” Desmond whispered to me. His version of sotto voce was like sandpaper on a two-by-four.

“Do you have a question, son?” the judge said.

“I was just askin’ who’s Mr. Ellington,” Desmond said.

“That would be your attorney.” Judge Atwell moved his head in slo-mo to regard Chief. “I assume you’ve introduced yourself to your client.”

I could see the spray of tiny lines at the corner of Chief’s eyes crinkling, but he nodded with the proper sobriety.

“Oh, you talkin’ ’bout Mr. Chief,” Desmond said. “No, he intro¬duced hisself to me a long time ago. We go way back.”

“I’m relieved to hear it.”

The judge indulged in another snail-caliber pause and then nodded once more at Chief. Behind us, I heard Jasmine’s nervous giggle, followed by Mercedes’s unmistakable shushing. Like most of the Sacrament House Sisters, they were both virtually allergic to all things judicial. Mercedes wasn’t going to take a chance on being escorted to a cell.

“Your Honor,” Chief said, using the courtroom voice that made people involuntarily improve their postures, “I introduce Allison Chamberlain to the court.”

His Honor and I nodded at each other. I was no stranger to the man or his courtroom.

“Ms. Chamberlain, would you state your name?” Chief said.

“Allison Eugenia Chamberlain,” I said, and then squeezed the lifeblood out of Desmond’s shoulder. Even though we’d rehearsed this so he wouldn’t go into convulsions of hysteria over my middle name, I couldn’t trust him not to at least snicker. He remained snicker-less.

“And do you verify that you have appeared today to adopt this child, Desmond Edwin Sanborn, born August 26, 1999?”

“I do,” I said.

“Do you know any cause that would legally prohibit this adoption?”

I knew none whatsoever, although everybody and their sister had tried to make one up. “No, I do not,” I said.

“The rights of Desmond Sanborn’s biological parents have been terminated?”

I couldn’t help cringing at that one. His mother herself had been terminated. As for his father, the monster had never had any rights as far as I was concerned.

“Yes,” I said.

But I still stopped breathing and sneaked a look at the judge. Chief had assured me this was all a formality, that there was no way anybody was going to protest the adoption at this point. Still, I’d been blindsided on this before.

Judge Atwell nodded as if his head was too heavy for his neck, and I allowed myself a breath. According to Chief, one more ques¬tion and I would be Desmond’s mother.

“Ms. Chamberlain,” Chief said. “Would you please tell the court why you want to adopt this child?”

I felt more than saw the sudden slant of Desmond’s huge brown eyes, made browner by his cinnamon-shaded, half-African face. During our rehearsals I had threatened to come out with, “Because who else is going to put up with him?” or “I’ve invested too much in groceries for the kid to kick him out now.” I never had told Desmond exactly what I was really going to say, and at that moment I still didn’t know myself. I’d rejected “Because his mother wanted this,” and “Because I want him to survive to adulthood.” Even though both were true, nei¬ther was adequate, and if I said, “Because I love this boy more than I have ever loved anyone in my life,” I would have, to use Desmond’s words, “gotten all emo.” I had assured him there would be no emo. As for telling him I had been nudged by God … Judge Atwell and I had been down that road before.

Evidently endless pauses were the sole privilege of His Honor. He squinted down at me from the bench and said, “Not having sec¬ond thoughts are you, Ms. Chamberlain?”

“No, sir,” I said. “I just can’t seem to find the words.”

“Now that is a surprise.”

I looked at Desmond, who despite his new, manly cut-close¬to-the-scalp haircut and the tiniest of hairs sprouting on his chin, seemed suddenly as vulnerable as a four-year-old. Then I did what I’d learned to do in situations of the utmost importance: I opened my mouth and let God come through.

“I want to adopt this young man because he’s been given to me to love,” I said. “And to love him is a privilege.”

Yeah. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

The little-boy Desmond popped away, and my adolescent Desmond slipped cleanly back into place and presented a fist for me to knock mine against. Somebody, probably one of the HOGs, whistled through his fingers. Judge Atwell banged his gavel, though not much louder than Mercedes’s “Y’all got to hush up now. We ’bout to get throwed out.”


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Thousand Sleepless Nights

A Thousand Sleepless Nights
Realms (October 16, 2012)
by
Michael King


Chapter 1





Nena Hutching loved being out on the porch first thing in the morning; it was her favorite time of day. On clear mornings the sun peeked above the black willows and painted the sky brilliant shades of pink and orange. Sometimes deer would gather in the front lawn as they crossed from one pasture to the next. She’d seen upwards of thirty or forty at a time. And if the temperature gradient was just right, a low mist would settle across the ranch, hovering like slow-moving water, giving the whole property a dreamlike appearance.

But Nena’s dream had long ago been shattered. Gathering her legs under her, she pulled the blanket up to her shoulders and took a long slow sip of her tea, letting the mug linger at her mouth so the steam could warm her face.

As a child she used to sit here with her father and watch the sun rise, listening to the sounds of the ranch stirring. The smell of cut grass and her dad’s coffee, the sounds of Spanish chatter and horses nickering for their morning meal, the hum of truck engines and men shouting . . . it had all been so familiar, so com- forting. There was a sense of peace here, of purpose and right- ness that she had come to rely on.

But now the place was a ghost town. The pastures were over- grown, the stables empty. The hands had moved on long ago, finding work and fulfillment elsewhere. The black willows, once the landmark of the St. Claire ranch, had aged without care. Some had died and been cut down; others were in desperate need of pruning. And the ranch house, once so noble and pris- tine, the signature of the success of Jack St. Claire, had fallen into disrepair. Porch paint peeled like an old sunburn, one of
the steps needed a new board, and the wisteria had long ago stopped blooming.

Jim did his best to keep up with the place, but it was just too much work for one man. Nena took another sip of tea and listened to the silence. There had been no sunrise this morning; the sky was heavy with dark gray, furrowed rain clouds. A storm was on the way, and in her bones Nena felt it would be much more than just a meteorological event.

The bleeding had started three weeks ago. At first it was spotty, nothing too alarming. But as the days passed it increased, until finally an appointment was scheduled, a colonoscopy performed, a tumor found. Now Nena could do nothing but await the results of the biopsy. Nothing but sit here haunted by regrets, sipping her tea, reminiscing about the better days the ranch had seen.

The sound of tires rolling on dirt broke the morning silence, and Nena saw an SUV making its way down the lane. She knew immediately who it was—Dr. Les Van Zante—and called for Jim to join her on the porch.

Les had never made a house call before. Of course, she told herself, maybe it wasn’t a house call. Maybe he was just stop- ping by to say good morning and tell them he hadn’t gotten the results yet, so she should stop fretting and breathe easy. He’d been their family doctor for well over thirty years; more than just a physician, he’d been a friend. But the lump in her throat and the chill that crept over her skin told her this was more than a cordial visit.

Jim emerged, coffee mug in hand, hair still disheveled, face unshaven. “What’s the matter?”

Nena nodded toward the vehicle halfway up the lane. Jim sipped his coffee and said, “Les.”

“Why do I feel like an innocent defendant about to receive a guilty verdict?” Nena said.

Jim rested his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “Don’t do that, Nena. You don’t know why he’s here.”

The SUV stopped in front of the house, the engine shut off, and the door opened. Les stepped out and closed the door behind him. He nodded. “Jim, Nena.”

Nena noticed the absence of a “good morning.” Clearly it wasn’t a good morning.

“Morning, Les,” Jim said.

As Les made his way up the steps, avoiding the rotting sec- tion of the first board, he neither smiled nor frowned. His face was as stone-still as any world-class poker champ. He shook Jim’s hand then Nena’s.

The knot in Nena’s throat tightened, preventing her from swallowing, but her mouth had gone so dry there was nothing to swallow anyway.

“No ‘good morning’?” she said.

Les was a tall, handsome man, with a long face and sharp nose framed by a thick crop of woolly white hair and a neatly trimmed beard. His deep-set eyes were such a light shade of blue they almost appeared to be gray. Creases outlined his eyes and mouth, and deep frown lines appeared when he was in thought. He shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels. “Nena, Jim, we received the biopsy results.” He scanned the land around the house as if searching for a way out of deliv- ering the news.

Nena tilted her head to one side. “And?”

Les rubbed his nose, ran his hand through his hair. “I’m sorry, Nena. You have colon cancer.”

The last two words that registered before everything blurred were “colon cancer.”

Les kept talking, but Nena heard little of it, just bits and pieces, like scattered raindrops that occasionally land on your nose, catching your attention. She heard “MRI” and “ultra- sound,” “surgery,” and “chemotherapy.” But they were just isolated words, foreign almost. Her ears picked up the sound of them, but to her brain they made no sense.

She looked at Jim, her husband, the man who had fought for her all those years ago and risked his life and won. The man who had never left her side because he’d promised he never would. His eyes were glassy and distant. He nodded in time to what Les said, but he too appeared to be in some other place, a place where couples grew old together and enjoyed reasonably good health, where they traveled and spent lazy afternoons walking outside or sitting on the front porch, where they spoiled their grandchildren. A place where people weren’t blindsided by cancer. He held her hand, but she didn’t feel it. Her body was numb, paralyzed. She wanted to get up and run off the porch, find a safe place in the stables, but she couldn’t. It was as if she were glued fast to the seat of the wicker chair.

Memories came clanging into her head, just images really, her father sitting atop Warlord, his prized Arabian. Her mother hanging laundry as her hair blew in the breeze and a smile crinkled her eyes. Her three children, running, laughing. Rocking her baby girl, her youngest daughter, and singing her a lullaby—Baby, my sweet, don’t you cry. Baby, my sweet, don’t you fear. Mommy will take care of you, I’m here. Her children, grand- children . . . how long had it been since she’d seen them?

As these thoughts drifted in and out, that word, that awful word clamored like an old noisy cowbell. She hated that word. It had taken her father and her grandfather, the only man she genuinely admired (except for Jim, of course). The word itself sounded like a sentence, like Les was not really telling her “You have colon cancer” but “You’re going to die.”

The porch began to spin then, slowly at first, in a perfect circle, then faster and faster and off-center. Her head suddenly felt as light as helium, and she thought she would vomit.
“Nena, honey, are you okay?”

Jim held her with both arms. She’d slipped from the chair. Had she fainted?

Somewhere in the distance, in the pasture behind the house, she heard a horse whinny. Or was it only her mind playing tricks, hearkening back to a time of simplicity and innocence?

“That’s enough for now,” Les said. He too was near her, his hand on her shoulder. “Nena, we’re going to fight this thing. We’re going to throw everything at it.”

Jim helped her to her feet, but her legs were weak, and the porch undulated beneath her.

“We’ll set things up for the MRI, CAT scan, and surgeon,” Les said. “Someone will call you with the appointment times.” He bent forward and looked Nena right in the eyes. “Nena, are you sure you’re okay? We can bring you into the office and check things out right now.”
She shook her head. “No. I’m fine. I just need to get back in the chair, have some tea.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m fine. Jim can help me.”

But could he? Could he help her this time? It was cancer, after all, the same cancer that had taken her father and grand- father. A monster that had tasted blood, and not just anyone’s blood, but her family blood.

She drew in a deep breath, but the air was so heavy with moisture and the promise of rain she had a difficult time filling her lungs. Les said his good-byes and left, promising to call later and see how she was doing.

When the SUV had disappeared down the lane, Jim stroked Nena’s hair and said, “Nena, it’ll be all right.” His other hand rested on hers, but she still couldn’t feel it. It would be all right. How did he know? He didn’t. That was the plain truth. Those were the words everyone said, the words everyone would say to her. It’ll be all right.

Jim said, “Did you hear what Les said?”

She shook her head. “No.”

Her throat felt like it was the size of a straw.

“He’s going to set you up for tests to see if it’s spread to any other organs. Then we’ll see a surgeon and talk about getting it out of you.”

It. He couldn’t bring himself to say the word: cancer. “The surgeon will set us up with the oncologist,” Jim said. “And then what?”

“Radiation, chemo.”

“More tests, prodding, poking, cutting.”

“Probably. But I’ll be right next to you the whole time. We’ll beat it, Nena. We will.”

“Maybe it’s not that bad,” she said. “Maybe it’ll just be a matter of cutting out the tumor and being done with it.”

The words sounded so hopeless, like someone lying there with a compound fracture, bone jutting through the skin, leg cocked at a sickening angle, saying maybe it was just a sprain.
Jim looked out over the ranch, his eyes so distant and worried.

“Maybe.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Beyond the Storm

Beyond the Storm
Abingdon Press (October 2012)
by
Carolyn Zane



Chapter 1


7:00 a.m.

“Good morning Rawston, heart of the American Midwest! We’ve got seven a.m. straight up on your Saturday, May 3rd, and you are listening to Mike and Julie on 101.5 K-RAW. Keep it right here for traffic and weather on the tens as head meteorologist Ron Donovan’s got some breaking news about a thunder boomer headed our way, right after this!”

* * *
The bell over the Doo Drop-In Hair Salon’s front door jangled as it opened. “I got wings!” Isuzu Nakamura shouted as she did every morning when she arrived for work. As usual, she gave the door a healthy window rattling slam.

“Mmph.” Twenty-seven-year-old Abigail Durham, the salon’s owner/operator jerked awake and blinked around the break room. Ah, man. She’d been dozing. And the day hadn’t even begun. What on earth had possessed her to stay out so late last night? Isuzu’s massive purse crashed on her workstation table and moments later, Abigail could sense her standing at the door, frowning as Abigail sat up and peeled a granola bar wrapper off her cheek.

“You look terrible.”

Abigail yawned up at Isuzu-fresh-as-a-lotus-flower-Nakamura. She might be tiny in stature, but the dainty Japanese national was as tough as the acrylic she used for her customer’s French-tip nails. Isuzu rummaged through the cupboards. “I make more coffee. You stay out too late at Kaylee Bachelorette party, last night?”

“Golly, mom. Why do you ask?” A person would never guess that Zuzu was three years younger than Abigail, the way she acted like such a granny at only twenty-five.

Isuzu dropped the metal coffee pot into the sink and turned the water on, full blast. “You wear two different shoes.”

“Oh?” She frowned at her feet. “Oh. Don’t worry. I’m not actually here yet. I just came down to check my appointment calendar. I don’t have anyone till 8:30.”

The smell of the coffee beans Isuzu ground began to tease Abigail awake. “So? How was party?”

“Kaylee hated it . . . so, it was fun.” Dancing and party shenanigans had never been the virginal bride’s bag. Probably would have left before the whole thing started, but Kaylee wasn’t one to hurt anybody’s feelings. Had Kaylee been an animal, she’d have been a dainty, coal black poodle, all soft curly hair, soulful brown eyes and perfect manners.

“Too bad you miss Friday service at church last night. They dedicate big, fat baby to Jesus. Baby cry and smack pastor in nose. Blood everywhere. Very exciting.”

“Ah. Yeah. Well. Next time.” As if. Abigail ducked her head and crossed her eyes. Church on Friday night? Isuzu needed to get a life. Sunday morning was enough for any normal person and even then, only if one couldn’t come up with a good excuse for sleeping in.

The door jangled again and Isuzu glanced up. “I do prom nails for my niece, Brooke, this morning. She invited to prom dance with nice boy tonight. Fresh coffee in two minutes, okay?” Isuzu pointed at the hissing machine and then rushed to greet her niece, leaving Abigail to mull memories of last night while she waited for her java to perk.

Kaylee’s bridesmaids had gone all out. A piñata filled with party favors and gifts, line-dancing lessons, and some dude named Bob Ray Lathrop—part-time personal trainer—had dressed as a cop, arrested Kaylee, for “breaking hearts everywhere,” and then proceeded to do a dance that had everyone howling. They’d all taken a turn on the dance floor with Bob Ray, and he’d passed out business cards and coupons for one free personal training session down at his gym, The Pump.

But, to Abigail’s way of thinking, the best part of the night had arrived too late. “Whoooie! Get a load of the Marlboro man!” one of Kaylee’s bridesmaids had shouted over the blaring country music, just as Abigail staggered off the dance floor and flopped into a chair to rest up. Craning to see, Abigail had snapped to attention. Oh, my. Yes, indeedy. Cute, cute, cute. Real cute. He wore his plaid shirt untucked, and his Levi’s and cowboy boots gave the impression that he’d just climbed off the rodeo bull. In her professional opinion, he could use a good haircut, but it was hard to tell as he’d covered most of the offense with a backwards ball cap. She ignored the niggling voice of caution that cried, Anybody that good-looking has to be a womanizing jerk. Don’t you have enough scar tissue on your heart from meeting guys like him in places like this? Feeling rebellious, Abigail had pointed her fingers, like twin revolvers at cowboy-man and pulled the trigger, then blown at her fingertips.

“Abigail! He saw you!” the bridesmaid had shrieked and ducked her head in a fit of laughter.

“Uh-oh,” she’d said and laughed. Right about that time, the bride, killjoy-Kaylee, began making noises about heading home. Seemed the bachelorette had family arriving from Seattle over the weekend and wanted some beauty rest. Plus, her fiancé had called her twice, which Abigail had razzed her about, teasing that he was probably worried about Kaylee’s virtue.

“Marlboro,” as the girls had nicknamed the newcomer, stood just inside the door, arms folded—making it obvious he spent time in the gym—and surveyed the joint for a few minutes. Then, much to the bridal party’s delight, he strode across the room and asked Abigail to dance. It had been like something out of a movie.

“My hero!” she’d shouted for the benefit of the girls. They’d all catcalled and whistled as she’d skipped out to the dance floor after him. Abigail’s hands had felt feminine in his work-roughened ones, but his touch had been gentle and polite and his smile genuine. He was all beautiful teeth and twinkling eyes and five o’clock shadow. He’d taken enough time to slap on a little aftershave that morning. Armani. It wasn’t cheap. Abigail knew this because she carried it at the salon. Mm-mm. Such deep, blue eyes. And eyelashes? Long enough to sweep her off her feet.

As she reminisced, Abigail found a mug and poured herself a cup of coffee.

“Come here often?” he’d asked in a deliciously rich baritone.

She’d leaned back in his arms and grinned at the dopey line. “Nope. You?”

“To be honest, the only reason I’m here now is because I just finished some work I was doing on a charity project and I’m starving. If I come here at all, it’s usually with a group of work buddies for burgers and to catch the game scores.”

“Sounds fun.” Charity thing. Yeah. Sure. Whatever. It was true, however, that Low Places offered burgers as big as your head and a trough of fries for a song.

“Your boyfriend mind me asking you to dance?”

She’d laughed. “No boyfriend. No husband.” He’d seemed inordinately pleased,
which pleased her. Inordinately. “You?” she ventured.

“None of the above.” He was probably feeding her a load of baloney, but she was a sucker for a pretty face.

“Ah. What about a girlfriend or wife?”

“Nope. I’m relatively new to the Midwest. Haven’t lived here a full year yet.”

“Welcome to Rawston,” Abigail murmured and smiled into his shirt. Oh, yes. He was a great dance partner. Nice and tall, which made her 5’ 6” plus heels feel perfect.

Just as things were getting interesting, Kaylee appeared at her shoulder and announced that the clock had struck midnight and she was leaving the ball. And, since Kaylee had driven most of them, it was time to bid Prince Marlboro adieu. Abigail’s friends were all laughing as they’d pulled her off the dance floor.

“Goodbye,” Abigail had mouthed and thrust out her lower lip in disappointment.

“Next Friday?” he’d answered, seeming just as disappointed.

What the hey? Maybe this time, it would be different. Maybe he was that rare combination of good-looking, unmarried good guy. Eeh. Probably not. But she’d nodded anyway, grinned, given him a thumb’s up and that had been that. Abigail couldn’t wait for Friday. She opened the fridge for some creamer and suddenly remembered.

“Oh, no,” she muttered and stared at the refrigerator door. “I forgot to ask his name!”

“What?”

“Nothing. Hey, Zuzu? I’m gonna go home and shower.” She headed to Isuzu’s nail station. “I’ll be back in by 8:15 for my first appointment. Aunt Selma is scheduled for 8:30. Oh, and if she gets here before I do, put her in the chair and give her a magazine.”

“Okay. Look at this polish Brooke pick. Nails going to be perfect for tonight.” Isuzu held up a bottle of sparkly color and waved it at Abigail.

“Hey, Brookie-cookie. How you gonna dance without any ice under your feet?” The Olympic hopeful and her figure-skating twin brother were the local celebs. “Excited?”

Brooke snorted and laughed. “Uh, yeah? To finally dance with a normal boy, and one who won’t be tossing me into the air and then not catching me? Totally.”

“What’s his name?”

“Nick Gleason.” Her face flared crimson, and Abigail had to wonder if there was more to the story than that. “He’s my best friend.”

“That’s cool. Friendship is more important in a relationship than the mushy stuff, trust me.” Abigail sighed. “Not that I’d know. I haven’t had a date with a friend in . . . ever. But hope springs eternal.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Accidentally Amish

Accidentally Amish
Barbour Books (October 1, 2012)
by
Olivia Newport

Chapter 1

His kiss was firm and lingering as he cradled her head in one broad palm.

“Annie,” he murmured as he took in a breath. His hand moved to brush her cheek. He kissed her again.

Annie’s stomach churned while her lips went on automatic pilot. Kissing Rick Stebbins was nothing new and, frankly, less exciting every time. But in the moment, it seemed the safest choice among miserable alternatives.

She pictured where her blue Prius was stashed in the parking lot behind the modest glazed-brick office building. A small red duffel lay on the passenger seat and a compact suitcase on the floor. The denim bag she had carried since high school, on the desk she was leaning against, held her laptop in its padded case. Car keys hung from a belt loop on her jeans. Her cell phone was in a back pocket.

Annie Friesen was ready.

Rick would never admit to what she suspected. More than suspected. She was no lawyer, but she knew it would take more evidence to make an accusation stick.

And Rick was a lawyer. Her lawyer. Her intellectual property lawyer. If only he had not slipped that extraneous document between the pages of the last contract awaiting her signature in triplicate. Whatever she thought she felt for him dissolved with that test of her attention to detail. He was the one who failed. She would sign nothing more from Rick Stebbins.

Rick took another breath. The air he exhaled on her neck was hot, and his fingers moved down to the front of her neck, toying with the gold chain resting on her collarbone.

I am so out of here, she thought, and ducked her head to avoid further lip contact. She stroked his tie before putting her fingers lightly on his chest and pressing him away gently.

“I have work to do,” she said, “a meeting tonight. I told you about it.”

“You can be late.” Rick put his hands on her elbows.

She had seen him when he did not get his way—the weight of his hand slamming the desk in frustration, the set of his jaw, the frenzy of work that ensued. This time Annie did not plan to be anywhere in sight. He would calm down once he accepted that his plan would never happen. And then they would be over.

Annie shook her head and squirmed out of his grip. “You’re the one who said I have to protect my copyright at all costs.”

“Isn’t that what you pay me to do?” Rick asked. “Are you sure
I shouldn’t be with you tonight?”

To Annie’s relief, he did not move toward her again. “I want to try the civilized approach,” she said. “Barrett and I have worked together a long time. Surely we can still talk to each other.”

“He’s adamant the new program was his idea. He even retained his own counsel.” Rick laughed. “I guess he doesn’t trust me any more than he trusts you.”

“Our relationship has been no secret to anyone working here.” Annie picked up the denim bag and slung it casually over one shoulder. But it’s over now. That was your last kiss, buddy.

“Don’t sign anything I wouldn’t want you to sign.” Rick raised his dark eyebrows at her.

What he wanted her to sign was precisely the problem.

Annie opened her office door, stepped through, and waited for Rick to follow. She locked it behind him and concentrated on breathing evenly. No one would think twice about seeing them together at the end of the day leaving the building that housed Annie and Barrett’s small company.

They were more than successful. The first financial security software program Annie wrote, which Barrett marketed, sold rapidly. First, small credit unions bought it, then large ones, then conventional banks. Before long, a firm specializing in serving the financial industry recognized their program for the gem it was and bought them out. Annie was twenty-seven and had more money in her bank account than her parents had seen in all their working lives—or would ever see. She and Barrett decided to open another company and see if they could do it again, this time with a program that used store discount cards to track grocery inventory movement according to customer shopping habits and product placement. They also served a number of local companies with website design and custom software. These clients provided a working lab. Sometimes the problems she solved on a smaller level became just what Annie needed to get past a glitch in the bigger project.

Annie just wanted to write software. She was happy to see Barrett get rich right along with her. He was brilliant with the marketing and sales side and had earned his share of the fortune.

But Barrett wanted it all. He couldn’t write software to find his way out of his gym socks, in Annie’s opinion, but now that she was on the verge of a breakthrough, he wanted to squeeze her out of the latest deal.

And Rick was helping him. Annie was sure of it. She couldn’t prove it, but that didn’t mean she was going to lie down and let it happen. She merely needed a few days where she could think clearly and make a plan to fix this mess.

Outside the building, she pushed the button on her clicker, and the lights on her car flashed.

“Call me later?” Rick’s brown eyes glimmered in familiarity and suggestion.

“It might be late.” More like never!

“It’s never too late if it’s you.”

Aw. He can say the sweetest things. Not.

Annie let him peck her cheek and then walked briskly to her car while he seemed to saunter toward his on the other side of the lot. She navigated out of the maze of look-alike buildings in the complex and pulled out onto Powers Boulevard, a north-south arterial. Early on a mid-July evening, the Colorado Springs sky was still a stunning blue. The rush-hour traffic that glutted Powers in late afternoons had thinned—as much as it ever thinned on Powers—to midweek moviegoers, diners, and chain-store shoppers. Annie whizzed past one shopping center after another, a progression that also thinned and gave way to industrial complexes.

She glanced in her rearview mirror and glimpsed Rick’s bronze Jeep two lanes over and six cars back.

Maybe she should hire a private eye. Or another intellectual property attorney. Someone who had a clue what to do. But she could do nothing with Rick Stebbins hovering over her every move, waltzing into the office at his whim, and making plans for them every night. A room in a bed-and-breakfast in Steamboat Springs awaited her, but she had to slip off Rick’s radar.

Barrett was waiting—supposedly—and Rick was following. He was not even going to wait for a report from Barrett, apparently. Annie may have been trusting and naive up to this point, but she was not going to walk into a trap now.

Would he hurt her? Annie did not intend to risk finding out.

Heart racing, she turned right just where Rick would expect her to turn and headed west around the south edge of the city. A few seconds later, his Jeep slowly made the same turn. If she deviated from the predicted route too soon, Rick’s suspicions would go into high gear. And if she made the wrong turn, she would hit a dead end. Neighborhoods of Colorado Springs were not tidy little squares on a grid. They were full of curves and angles and cutoffs and one-way streets and dead ends. Annie had grown up in this town and had been driving her own car for almost ten years. At the moment, she wanted to slap herself for not being sure where these side streets would take her.

Annie jerked the wheel to the right and swung into a sedate neighborhood of lawns and front porches, as if decades ago builders were determined to recreate the Midwest in the high desert climate. She couldn’t squeal her tires without raising attention, but she pushed over the speed limit as much as she dared.

A moment later, Rick’s Jeep appeared. Was it her imagination, or was he following more closely?


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Walk With Me

Walk with Me
River North; New Edition edition (September 1, 2012)
by
Annie Wald


I dreamed a dream of love, and in my dream I saw a lonely traveler, Celeste, and another lonely traveler, Peter. Each was walking on the way to the King’s City, for they wanted to live life as it was meant to be, whole and holy in a world set right.

Celeste had just started on the journey, for she had grown up in Slouching City where no one ever talked about the King of Love or the rule of His realm. The inhabitants there were clever and cunning, and they were always inventing new machines to do the work of living. But in recent generations the once-magnificent city had begun to sink into a slow and dismal ruin. When it rained, the old drains overflowed with sewage and left a perpetual odor in the air. The outer ramparts were crumbling, and the fences were in dreadful condition. Still, people liked to boast about how wonderful it was to live in a place where they could do whatever they pleased.

As a child, Celeste had often walked among the broken ram- parts. If she pushed away the ivy and scraped off the moss, she found, chiseled into the stones, fragments of ancient songs that told of a King’s love for the torn world and His Son who came as the Servant to mend the tear. Like almost everyone else in Slouching City, Celeste’s parents thought the songs were nonsense. But Celeste’s grandfather still knew the old melodies. Every time he sang songs of the Servant’s selfless love and the restored wholeness He wanted to give, Celeste felt a deep ache in her soul.

After her grandfather died, she tried to hold on to the prom- ise of the beautiful songs. But her friends teased her when she mentioned the King or the hope of His city. So she grew up and learned the ways of the world: how to push to get ahead and how to grab all she could. Most of the time, she thought she was happy enough, but there were moments when she realized that deep down she felt very lonely. Although life in Slouching City was full of comfort and ease, there was no machine that could create love or keep it alive when it began to fade. As the years went by, she yearned to find a love that would never change or die.

Then one day she found the King’s guidebook her grandfather had left. She went back to the broken ramparts to read it. Captivated by the poems and history and visions and stories, she hummed along as she read, for she could hear the echo of her grandfather’s songs. Soon tears began to stream down her cheeks; to her grown- up heart the old songs sounded even more hopeful than before.

Every afternoon Celeste returned to the ramparts to study the guidebook and learn more about the King. Just as the songs had said, He loved every person in the world. He had sent His Son, the Servant, not to condemn men and women, but to bring them back home to His city where they would be part of His family for- ever. For He loved them enough to give them His life, first by dying for them and then by giving them His very Breath.

The more Celeste read the guidebook, the more she longed to experience the love of the King and to make her way to His city. But every time she thought about starting the journey, she gave up the idea. All of her outfits were stained and ripped from years of playing in the back lanes of Slouching City. She didn’t see how she would be allowed into the King’s City wearing such shabby clothes. The doorkeeper would think she was an imposter—not a daughter of the King—and turn her out.

But one day when she came to the ramparts, she found a spotless cloak of fine white linen. “This is My robe of righteousness to cover the stains of your guilt,” she heard the King say to her. “Come and take it, because I want you to be My beloved daughter.”

Celeste gazed at the bright, radiant robe which was perfect in every way. She could hardly believe that the King would let her wear it. Then she became very sad. “But I have no money to buy such a wonderful robe.”

“You cannot pay for it. It is a free gift,” the King said. “My Son purchased it for you.”

Celeste hesitated a moment, then she took the robe and put it on. The transformation was instantaneous: she had become a member of the King’s family. She beamed with delight. Now she could start her journey to His city. “Thank you, thank you,” she told the King.

“As you follow the trail I have blazed to My city, go with joy and remain always in My love. Your great adventure begins!”

Like a powerful wind pouring through her being, the Breath of the King filled Celeste—never had she felt so light and free. Then, on the other side of the ramparts, a path opened before her. Hurrying to it, she started on her way. As soon as she stepped out of Slouching City, a glorious country appeared before her, and it seemed that she was looking at the world for the very first time. The sky was bluer than she had ever seen, and there were so many birds singing, it sounded like a symphony. The air held a fra- grance whose sweet-smelling bouquet was deeper and fuller than any perfume made in Slouching City. She took one last look at its tumbled-down walls. Now in the bright sunlight, she could see what a small, dark place the city was. Then she turned. Grateful to leave it behind, she set her gaze on the far horizon, and headed to the King’s City.

That first day of Celeste’s journey the path was straight and flat, bordered with soft ferns. She swung her arms as she walked, singing the King’s songs out loud and smiling at the beauty she saw all around. She expected the journey would be smooth and easy the entire way. However the next day, the trail became studded with tree roots and stubby stones. The years she had spent pacing the dead-end alleys of Slouching City had left her legs weak. By early afternoon, she was exhausted. But she pressed on, working to strengthen her flabby muscles.