Sunday, May 27, 2012

Spring Hope

Spring Hope
( Realms (May 15, 2012)
by
Martha Rogers


Chapter 1


Porterfield,
Texas

February 1891


COLDEST NIGHT of winter thus far chilled Deputy
Sheriff Cory Muldoon to the bone as he made his rounds in the alleyways of Porterfield. Cold wind howled around the corners of the buildings now closed up for the night. Most everyone in Porterfield had gone home to their families and warm homes. This was all the winter he cared to experience, and even this would be only a few days, as the weather in Texas could change in a heartbeat, summer or winter.

Lights and music from the saloon rang out and mocked the dark silence of its neighboring buildings. Friday nights found cowboys and lumberjacks both squandering their hard-earned money on liquor and women. Tonight would be no different despite the cold, near freezing temperatures. Most likely at least one or two of them would end up in the jail for a spell.

Cory turned up the collar of his sheepskin-lined jacket and shoved his hat farther down on his head. When he rounded the corner of the livery, the gentle nickering and snorts of the horses boarded there broke the quietness of the night.

A cat skittered out from behind the general store, and a dog barked in the distance. Ever since the bank robbery last fall, he or the sheriff had roamed the alleys behind the main businesses every night to make sure everything remained locked tight and secure. So far he’d seen only a typical Friday night, with everything as routine as Aunt Mae’s boarding- house meal schedule. Of course, being Friday the thirteenth, anything could happen.

They already had two men put up for the night back at the jail. Sheriff Rutherford took the night duty to keep the jail cells warm so Cory could have Saturday off for his Aunt Mae’s wedding. Ole Cooter probably got drunk and disorderly just so he’d have a warm place to sleep tonight and not have to go out to his shack. Cory held no blame on the man for that. Durand, the saloon owner, caught the other man cheating at cards and had him arrested. Maybe the card shark would move his game on to some other town.

He shivered despite the warm coat and hoped Abigail and Rachel would have dinner waiting for him back at the board- inghouse. What with Aunt Mae’s wedding tomorrow, those two women had taken over mealtimes until his aunt returned from her wedding trip.

What appeared to be a pile of trash sat outside the back
door of Grayson’s mercantile. Ordinarily the store owner wouldn’t leave a heap out in the open like that. Cory hesitated in making an investigation, but the snuffling and nickering of a horse grabbed his attention. His hand caressed the handle of his gun. No one and no animal should be here this time of night.

The horse, a palomino, stood off to one side. He wore a saddle, but the reins dangled to the ground. Cory went on alert, his eyes darting about the alley in search of a rider. He reached for the reins and patted the horse’s mane, then ran his hand down its flank. “Whoa, boy, what are you doing out wan- dering around?” No brand on his hindquarters meant he didn’t belong to a ranch around here, and Cory didn’t recognize the horse as belonging to any of the townspeople.

Then the pile by the back door moved, and along with the movement, a moan sounded. With his hand on his gun, Cory approached the mound. An arm flung out from the heap, and another cry. This was no animal. He knelt down to pull back what looked like an old quilt.

When the form of a young woman appeared, Cory jumped as though he’d been shot. Every nerve in his body stood at attention as he reached out to remove more of the cover. A woman lay huddled under the quilt, and her body shook from the cold while a cough wracked through her chest, followed by another cry.

On closer inspection he realized she was younger than he first thought. Her smooth, unlined face and tangled hair were that of a young woman. She couldn’t be more than twenty, the same age as his sister Erin.

He bent over her to pick her up, and she started to scream, but another coughing spell prevented it. When her blue eyes peered up at him, they were so full of fear that they sent dag- gers of alarm straight to his soul. This girl was in trouble.

“Don’t be afraid. I’m the deputy sheriff. I won’t hurt you, but tell me your name and let me take you to the doctor.” He pointed to his badge in hope of reassuring her.

Instead her gaze darted back and forth as she pulled the blanket up under her chin. Her ungloved hands trembled with the cold. He removed his glove and reached out a hand to touch her forehead then yanked it back. She burned with fever.

“You’re sick. We need you to get you to Doc Jensen’s right away.” He slid his hands beneath her to scoop her up into his arms. He almost lost his footing as he rose, thinking she’d be a heavier burden than she was. Light as a feather meant she was
probably malnourished too.

She moaned against his chest. “I’m so cold.”

Her voice, weak and hesitant, touched a nerve in him. He had to get her warm. Cory made sure the blanket covered her then grasped the horse’s reins. A low whistle brought his own horse closer. “Follow us, Blaze. We’re going to the infirmary.”

He held the girl tight to his chest to transfer some of his warmth to her. The quicker he could get her to the doctor, the quicker Doc could warm her up and treat that cough.

No time to worry about drunken cowboys or lumberjacks tonight.

***


The man who called himself a deputy carried her in his arms. With his gentle touch and voice, this man wasn’t like others she had known. Her body burned with heat then turned ice cold with shivers. So much pain racked her body that she didn’t have the strength to resist him anyway.

The man cradled her to his chest. “We’ll be at Doc Jensen’s in just a few minutes. Hang on, little lady.”

Little lady? Little, maybe, but certainly no lady by his stan- dards. Another cough wracked her chest and set her throat afire with pain. Her thin jacket and the quilt had been no match for the cold, especially after she’d crossed the river. Not enough heat in the day to dry her clothes before chilling her to the bone and causing this cough. She’d lost count of the days since she left home and had no idea how far she’d come. She’d avoided towns as much as possible, only entering long enough to pick up food at a mercantile.

Pa had to be on her trail by now, or he’d have others searching for her. Either way, she didn’t plan to get caught and be dragged back to Louisiana. Even now the memory of all that she had endured because of Pa made her stomach retch. She’d die before she let anyone take her back to that.

The man called for someone named Clem to go get the doc, and he’d meet him at the infirmary. Maybe he was a sheriff after all since he was sending for help. She didn’t dare open her eyes, lest he’d see her fears again. Until she could be absolutely certain he meant her no harm, she’d stay still and quiet.

She inhaled the masculine scent of horses, sweat, and leather. He smelled like hard work and not a trace of alcohol. Unusual for a man, even a lawman. In the background raucous music came from a saloon. She’d recognize the tinny sound of saloon piano anywhere. It disappeared in the distance, and they proceeded down the street and up what felt like stairs or steps onto what must be a boardwalk or porch.

He set her on her feet, and she peeped with one eye while he fumbled in his pocket then pulled out a ring of keys. In the next minute he had the door open and strode through it, car- rying her once again.

Antiseptics, alcohol, and carbolic acid greeted her nose. This must be the doctor’s office. Not until he laid her on a hard surface did she open her eyes, half expecting him to be leering over her. Instead he had walked away to light a lamp, which filled the room with flickering shadows dancing on the walls. A glass door cabinet stood against the wall, and another bed sat a few feet away from where she lay.

He returned to stand beside her, and she almost shrank in fear at his size. Well over six feet tall, he’d removed his hat to reveal a mass of dark red hair curling about his forehead. His hand caressed her forehead, but she did not flinch, even though every inch of her wanted to. No need for him to know her fears.

“I see you’re awake. The doc will be here in a minute. He’ll fix you right up.”

Instead of resisting, her body relaxed at the gentle tone of his voice. He certainly didn’t fit her idea of a lawman or a cowboy. No one but her ma had ever treated her so kindly. Most people treated her like trash under their feet and didn’t care whether she was well or sick. Still, he was a man. She had to be careful.

A woman’s voice sounded, along with another man’s. She turned her head to find a beautiful red-haired woman and an older man entering the room.

The one who must be the doctor stepped to her side.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Anniversary Waltz

The Anniversary Waltz
Realms (May 15, 2012)
by
Darrel Nelson


Chapter 1


July 1946

Adam Carlson shifted in his seat on the Greyhound bus and stared wearily out the window. He couldn’t remember being this tired, not even during the heaviest part of the fighting in Italy. But he was too excited to close his eyes now. He had finally received his discharge and was almost home. The return voyage across the Atlantic by army transport ship made him seasick, and the four-day journey across the country by train seemed to last forever. But that was all behind him, compartmen- talized in his memory along with a thousand other images he would just as soon forget. All that remained was the thirty-mile bus ride north from Great Falls.

Running a hand through his wavy, brown hair, he studied the landscape he hadn’t seen in four years—except in his dreams. And he had dreamed about his hometown of Reunion, Montana, a great deal, especially while lying under the stars at night and smelling the earthy aroma of freshly dug foxholes. Those were the times he wondered if he would ever see the Great Plains again or feel the wind on his face. He ached to see the Rocky Mountains and gaze at the foothills as they merged with the plains and stretched eastward into infinity. This was the country he loved, the country for which he had fought. Big Sky Country—a corner of heaven.

He noticed a hawk in the distance, riding the invisible current on graceful wings, circling above a stand of cottonwood trees. At that moment, he decided, it had been worth it—all of it.

Even though he had enlisted against his father’s wishes.

As the son of Hector Carlson, dry land farmer, Adam hadn’t needed to enlist. But he wanted to satisfy his sense of adven- ture. He wanted to see the world outside the farm’s boundaries, to answer the call of plain, old-fashioned patriotism. Remember Pearl Harbor! Laborers could be hired to bring in the harvest, he’d told his father, but who was going to go overseas and fight for a cause greater than one family’s run of bad luck?

Hector hadn’t accepted this reasoning, however. He tried to talk Adam into staying and helping run the farm. When his efforts proved futile, he gave up talking to his son at all. He didn’t come to see Adam off, nor did he write once in the four years Adam was away, not even a quick note scribbled at the bottom of the regular letters Adam received from his mother, Maude.

Adam shook the memory away and felt his heart rate quicken as the bus made the last turn leading into Reunion. The anticipa- tion of meeting his parents made him feel strangely nervous. It was dreamlike, as unreal as the world he had just left.

His thoughts went to those who would not be returning. Sixteen of his friends and comrades had fallen in Europe and were now permanent occupants. They would be forever denied the thrill of a homecoming and the anticipation of getting on with their lives. They would never see the mountains again or watch the maturing fields of wheat sway in the wind like a planted ocean. In their memory he closed his eyes, fighting his emotions as the Greyhound turned onto Main Street and headed for the bus stop in front of the Reunion Mercantile.

Several people were waiting on the sidewalk, anxiously craning to see inside the bus. A face appeared in the barbershop window next door to the Mercantile, peering out to study the scene. Two doors down a woman clutching several garments paused before entering Yang’s Dry Cleaners and glanced toward the bus stop. In a small rural community like Reunion, where grain prices and the weather were the main topics of conversation, the arrival of the Greyhound attracted attention.

Inside the bus the driver announced, “Reunion. Please remember to take all your personal belongings. I’ll set your lug- gage on the curb.” He opened the door, and those who were get- ting off made their way forward.

Adam remained in his seat, looking out the window. He watched as each person emerged and was immediately engulfed by waiting arms. It was heartwarming to see people embrace, cry, and laugh all at the same time. He wondered if his father would be this demonstrative, but he already knew the answer to that.

The bus driver reappeared in the doorway a few minutes later. “Isn’t this your stop, soldier?” He smiled sympathetically. “Sometimes it’s as hard coming home as it is leaving, isn’t it?”

Adam nodded and eased his six-foot frame out of the seat. He put on his service cap and adjusted his uniform before making his way up the aisle.

“Good luck,” the driver said, patting him on the shoulder.

Adam stood in the door of the bus for a moment, watching
the happy scene. A woman in a blue cotton dress made her way through the crowd. It took Adam a moment to recognize his mother. She had aged during the past four years and looked so frail that he wondered how she got through the crowd without being snapped like a dry twig.

“Adam . . . Adam!” she called, her voice filled with so much emotion she could hardly speak. Tears formed in her eyes and ran down her cheeks as Adam quickly descended the bus steps. She took him in her arms and embraced him with surprising strength. “Oh, my son, God has answered my prayers and brought you back to me.”

Adam held her for a long time, his eyes closed, his lips quiv- ering. Maude silently wept on his shoulder and rubbed the tears with the back of her thin hand. Finally she held him at arm’s length as if unable to believe her eyes. Adam smiled reassuringly and gazed out over the crowd.

“He didn’t come,” she said, in answer to his unspoken question.

Adam looked into his mother’s face. “But at least you came.”

She reached up and stroked his cheek, her hand trembling.
“Of course I came. Wild horses couldn’t—” She changed the topic abruptly, likely realizing it would only serve to emphasize her husband’s absence if she didn’t. “Where’s your luggage?” she asked. “Let’s get you home so you can rest. You look exhausted.”

So do you, he wanted to say, but he just smiled at her. It was obvious that the intervening years had taken their toll on her too. Adam led her toward the passengers who were sorting through the luggage, which was now sitting on the curb. He had no dif- ficulty identifying his two suitcases. They bore little resemblance to the ones he’d purchased four years earlier at the Mercantile. They were now held together by rope and packaging tape, and both of them showed evidence of journeys they’d taken aboard buses, trains, ships, army trucks, jeeps, and, on one occasion, an Italian farmer’s hay cart.

Maude had no difficulty identifying her son’s luggage either. As she reached for one of the suitcases, Adam quickly intercepted her. “I’ve got them, Mom,” he said, picking up the suitcases and adjusting his grip on the sweat-stained leather handles.

“The truck’s parked in front of the dry cleaners,” Maude said, taking hold of his arm and leading him through the crowd.

Adam nodded to the bus driver, who gave him a thumbs-up gesture, and followed his mother down the sidewalk, answering her questions and asking a few of his own. He realized the words of greeting he practiced on the bus were unnecessary. He hoped it would be the same when he finally met his father. But somehow he doubted it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Annie's Truth

Annie's Truth
Realms (May 15, 2012)
by
Beth Shriver



Chapter 1


The dinner bell rang just as one of the milk cows slapped Annie’s kapp with its tail. Now she was late for the evening meal. She pulled the black kapp off her head.

When Maggie swatted Annie, the pins were knocked loose. She wiped off the dirt and cow manure then hastily twisted up her hair into a bun and pulled the kapp over her mess of hair.

“Need some help?” John Yoder’s dark eyes smiled at her.

She jumped at the sight of him looking down at her with a grin. “Nee, I can finish up.”

Her mamm would scold her for her tardiness and her unruly hair, so she quickly grabbed two containers of milk, clutching them to her chest. When she turned around, John was removing the cups from the Guernsey’s udders.

“Danke. The boys must have missed a couple.” The cover of one of the containers lifted, causing milk to spill out onto her black dress. Annie wiped her hand on her white apron. Frustration bubbled up and burst out in an irritated groan.

“Now what?” John opened the barn door and shut it behind them.

Annie pointed to the milk stain and slowed her walk so he could catch up. Her mamm wouldn’t be as upset with her if she saw Annie with John.

“I spilled on myself, my hair’s a mess, and I’m late.” She juggled the containers to keep them in place as she walked.

John’s smile never left, just tipped to the side while she listed her worries. “You’re never late.”

“You will be too if you keep talking to me.” The milk sloshed around in the containers as she adjusted them again.

“Taking the long way home?”

“Jah, thought I’d come by to say hallo.” He took one from her then reached for the other.

She turned slightly so he couldn’t reach the second bottle. “I’ve got this one.”

“Suit yourself.” He shrugged as his grin widened.

They walked together toward their houses, which were down the path from one another, divided by a dozen trees. John was three the day Annie was born and had been a part of her life more than her own brothers were at times. His brown hair brushed his collar as he walked with her, holding back to keep in step with Annie.

“Aren’t you late to help with cooking?” He nodded toward her white clapboard house. A birdfeeder was hung at the far end of the porch, which had a peaked black roof, and daisies filled her mamm’s flower garden in front of the house. Mamm created a colorful greeting of flora for every season.

She shook her head. “Nee, Eli’s helping the Lapps, so I’m helping the boys with milking. What were you doing, cutting tobacco?”

He nodded. “Nice day for it too. The sun was bright, but there was a breeze that kept us cool.” He lifted his strong, handsome face toward the sunshine and took in a deep breath.

He was just trying to irritate her, so she ignored his jab. John knew she preferred being outdoors and that she would trade places with him in an instant. When the time was right she would help with the tobacco harvesting and, along with many others, would then prepare the meal after the task was done.

“It looked warm outside to me.” She took the milk from him and kept walking. The last of the warm summer days were coming to an end, and soon it would be time for fall harvesting.

They reached the trail that led to John’s home on the far side of a stand of tall oak trees. “Not as hot as in the kitchen.” He snapped his suspenders and turned onto the trail leading away from her.

“John Yoder . . . ” was all she could say this close to her daed’s ears. She watched him continue on down the roughed-out dirt lane thinking of what she would have said if she could. Her gaze took in the many acres of barley, corn, and oat crops and then moved to the Virginia mountainside beyond, where the promise of fall peeked out between the sea of green.

Annie walked up the wooden stairs and into the kitchen. The room was simple and white, uncluttered. A long table and chairs took over the middle of the large room, and rag rugs of blue and emerald added color and softness. For a unique moment it was silent.

“Annie?” Her mamm’s voice made her worry again about being late, with a soiled dress and unkempt hair.

Her tall, slender mamm stopped picking up the biscuits from a baking pan and placed both hands on the counter. She let out a breath when Annie came into the kitchen. “Ach, good, you brought the milk.” Mamm’s tired gaze fell on Annie.

“I was talking with John.” She opened the cooler door and placed the milk on the shelf.

Her mamm’s smile told Annie she wasn’t late after all, so she continued. “He said it was a good day for baling.”

Hanna and her brother strolled in, and he grabbed a biscuit, creating a distraction that allowed Annie time to twist her hair up and curl it into a tight bun. A tap from their mamm’s hand made her son drop the biscuit back into the basket with the rest.

“I’m so hungry.” Thomas’s dark freckles on his pudgy face contrasted to his light hair and skin, so unlike Annie’s olive-colored complexion, which was more like their daed’s.

She tousled his hair. “You are always the first one to dinner and the last one to leave.”

“I’m a growing child. Right, Mamm?” Thomas took the basket of biscuits to the table and set them next to his plate.

“That you are. Now go sit down and wait for the others.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chameleon

Chameleon
Realms (May 15, 2012)
by
Jillian Kent



Chapter 1


We should come home from adventures,
and perils, and discoveries every day
with new experience and character.

-HENRY DAVID THOREAU

London, 29 March 1818

St. JAMES PARK loomed in front of them, shrouded in a mist that created difficulty for horse and driver as the coach and four maneuvered its way into the park.

Inside the vehicle Victoria leaned toward the window, straining to see the outline of trees. "Such a disappointment," she sighed. "This is not what I expected my very first morning in London. I'd so hoped to see more on the ride through the park, something exciting to tell Devlin when we get to his home."

"Don't despair, my lady." Nora, her maid, pulled a heavy shawl tighter about her shoulders. "'Tis sure to be the same mist that abounds in Yorkshire. This nuisance will lift eventually. It always does."

Victoria patted the sleek head of her dog. "Even Lazarus grows bored." She marveled at her best friend, a behemoth of a mastiff, as he lowered his bulk to the floor of the coach with a loud groan and laid his head across her slipper-covered feet, creating a comfortable warmth. He'd been with her for years, and she couldn't leave him behind. The poor dear would cry himself to sleep every night.

Victoria allowed the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves and Nora’s penchant for humming songs to lull her into a light sleep. Nora’s humming had comforted her all those years she’d been sick at Ravensmoore. While everyone else lived their busy lives out around her, she’d done little but survive, taking comfort in the small things that brought her joy.

A sudden crash caused the coach door to vibrate. Victoria screamed and bolted upright as Lazarus pressed his nose and giant paws against the carriage window. A low growl rumbled in his throat.

She grabbed the dog by the collar. Heart pounding, she turned to
Nora. “What was that?”

“Highwaymen!” Nora’s hand crept to her neck, and fear filled her eyes.

The coachman drew the horses to a halt and opened the top hatch. “I fear I may have run someone down, my lady, but in this fog I can’t tell.”

“We must find out at once. Someone may be hurt.” Victoria threw open the door, and Lazarus bounded into the mist. “Lazarus! Find!” She called after him, but he was already well on his way. She stepped from the coach, nearly tripping in her haste.

“Wait, my lady,” Nora cried. “’Tis not safe. Come back!”

The driver’s voice echoed through the mist. “You’ll lose your way, my lady. Stop where you are.”

But the warning wasn’t necessary. Victoria could hear Lazarus snuffling the ground someplace nearby. She bit her lip and told her- self to be brave, even as her heart slammed against her chest.

At the same time Lazarus let out a warning bark, the mist shifted.

Victoria’s hand clamped over her mouth.

A man lay on his side only a few feet in front of her.

She shouted back to the coach. “I’ve found him! I need help.” She dropped to her knees and touched his shoulder. He didn’t move.

She touched his arm and gently shook it. “Sir, are you conscious? Are you injured?” But before she could investigate further, strong arms lifted her and turned her away from the sight. She assumed it was Mr. Smythe, the carriage driver.

“This is not something a lady should see,” the man said.

But as he turned her from the body, she caught a glimpse of the man’s head. She gasped. There was just enough light to see streaks of blood upon one deathly pale cheek.

“We hit him,” she cried. “The coach—” She lifted her head expecting to see the kind eyes of Mr. Smythe and met the warm, brilliant, gray eyes of a stranger. “Who . . . who are you? Who is he? Did we kill him?” She buried her face in her rescuer’s shoulder to rid her mind of the sight.

“It does not appear so, my lady,” he said, his voice low and comforting.

He deposited her inside the coach. Before she could speak, Lazarus bounded in next to her, rocking the vehicle precariously. She patted his head to calm him, and when she looked up at the man again, she saw only icy gray eyes and a rigid jaw line.

She studied those eyes momentarily and heard Nora say, “You poor dear. What is it that you saw?”

“Not the sight any young woman should witness, miss,” the stranger said. “But I believe I prevented her from viewing the worst of the man’s injuries.” He hesitated, then added, “This was no fault of the driver. Take care of this young woman. I’ll get help for the gentleman. Carlton House is nearby.”

“Nonsense,” Victoria whispered. “Use the coach. Our driver will take you.”

He nodded and bowed. “You’re very kind.”

She wondered if it had been her imagination or if his eyes fre- quently switched from an icy gray coolness to a warm molten gray in only moments.. She wondered what this meeting might have been like under different circumstances.

“Be still,” Nora said. “You’ve had a shock.”

She heard the stranger and Mr. Smythe lifting the injured man to the driver’s seat. “God have mercy,” the driver said.

“I’ll show you to Carlton House through this heavy fog. He can get the help he needs there. Who am I indebted to?”

“I’m taking Lady Victoria Grayson and her maid to the lady’s brother.”

“And that would be?”

“Lord Ravensmoore, sir.”

They approached Carlton House a few minutes later. Victoria clutched the edge of the seat, attempting to recover from what had happened and what she’d witnessed. As if he understood, Lazarus licked her hand. The coach came to a halt.

The fog still lay heavy on the ground. Victoria could barely make out the two figures moving toward the door and into the palace. But even as their images faded, her thoughts returned to the stranger who’d lifted her away from the bleeding man and carried her back to the coach. The stranger with strong arms and fascinating gray eyes.

Victoria found her strength as the fog lifted and patches of sun- light appeared through the trees, dappling the ground with their shadows. London came alive. Though her curiosity remained keen, she turned her thoughts to her brother and kept her mind on the joy it would be to see him again. He’d only been absent from their home at Ravensmoore for two months, but it seemed far longer.

She stared in unabashed awe at the sea of activity that sur- rounded them as their coach merged with others, making its way through the muddy, rutted streets. The crowded sidewalks teemed with people of all classes. Women in brilliant gowns of color swirled

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Submerged

Submerged
• Bethany House Publishers; Original edition (May 1, 2012)
by
Dani Pettrey


Submerged

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Soul Saver

The Soul Saver
• Barbour Books (May 1, 2012)
by
Dineen Miller


Chapter 1



The tremble of wind chimes roused her from slumber,beckoning with their familiar call. Darkness blanketed the room in peaceful silence. The last vestiges of her dream seeped away like sun-kissed mist, leaving only the clear image of a seedy bar—and her trepidation.

Where was God sending her this time?

As she freed herself from the covers, Lexie Baltimore touched Hugh’s arm, whispering a prayer of blessing and protection over her husband. His sleepy warmth tempted her to snuggle next to him, but her fingers itched to reveal the face of her next mission.

She stepped into her slippers and slung a cotton robe over her shoulders then left the room and her husband undisturbed. At the end of the hallway, she peeked into the small bedroom that once belonged to her as a child, confirming the rise and fall of her son’s chest. In sleep, Jeremy’s lips still puckered like they did when he was a baby. Awake, he was all boy and a “young man of eight” by his own definition.

Last night’s salmon dinner met her nose at the bottom of the stairs. She crossed the kitchen to the door leading into the breezeway. The wind chimes sang in tune with her steps and spurred her to the opposite door. A familiar urgency drove her on.

In the pale moonlight, her studio appeared more like a surreal world of shadows and deceptions than a small garage made into a workroom. On a small pedestal sat her latest commission—the bust of Pief Panofsky, the renowned physicist who’d passed away last year. Hugh had gotten her the gig for the symposium to honor his life next month. But tonight God called her to a mission, the face of which he would reveal through the work of her hands.

The basic form of a head stood on another pedestal, covered in plastic, waiting for her to release its identity. She’d sensed God would send her into action yesterday and had prepared the clay ahead of time.

After trading her robe for an apron, Lexie lifted the plastic. The earthy smell of red clay filled the small room. As she kneaded the ball of clay set aside to build the details, she studied the featureless head staring back at her. The clay warmed in her fingers and softened. Her hands tingled and took on a life of their own. She broke off pieces to form the nose, cheeks, and brow. Slowly a face began to form. The process captivated her, like a bystander observing, yet she remained fully aware of her hands doing the work.

A strong forehead—her first indication of a man. Sculpted jaw with an indent in the chin. Heavy-lidded eyes above high cheeks. Short hair, average ears, thinnish lips. With precision she moved over the rest of the structure, using either her fingers or various tools to fine-tune the face into the image forming simultaneously in her mind.

As she smoothed the last bit of his features into place, the urgency left, signaling completion. The ache in her shoulders registered in her consciousness like an ignored child, petulant and demanding. Her eyelids blinked across sandpaper. By the glow coming from her one small window, dawn had broken. She’d already worked for hours, and the day had just begun.

She rinsed her hands until only her cuticles remained the orange color of the clay and removed her apron. Just as she’d seen her mother do so many times when the studio had been hers. This time she was the one who stepped back to admire her creation.

This face seemed different, yet oddly familiar. The eyes kept drawing her in—kind and unassuming. The lips seemed to perpetually smile. No obvious reasons why God wanted her to reach out to this one. She leaned on her worktable, chin cupped in her hands. How many of these images had she created over the last few years? She never kept count. The only ones she recorded were her commissioned pieces. But God most certainly knew.

The aroma of coffee chased away the earthy smell of clay. A mug slid in front of her. With a slow and somewhat sleepy gaze, she traced her husband’s long fingers, broad palm, and sleeved arm up to his familiar face. “You are a godsend.”

“So you’ve told me.”

Oops. She’d done it again. Hugh’s evasive replies to anything faith related were her signals to back off. She sipped from the mug, anxious for the caffeine to hit her bloodstream. Almost time to get Jeremy up for school.

Hugh tilted his head to look over her shoulder. “How’s old Pief coming along?”

She rested her free hand on the plastic-covered bust. “Good. I’m almost done.”

He stood in front of her unknown subject, studying the features. “Is this another commission or one of your practice pieces?”

“Practice.” How could she tell him it represented a living, breathing person somewhere out there—one she would soon meet? He’d think she was crazy. And in reality, it was practice. Physically, because she honed her talents each time she did one, and spiritually, because each mission taught her more about obedience and strengthened her trust in God. It’d all be so much easier if Hugh believed.

The deep ache hit her again. She longed to share this aspect of her faith with him more than anything—the exhilaration of God’s touch, the satisfaction of helping another human being, and the completion and peace she felt when she did what God asked of her. How could she share the deepest part of herself when Hugh didn’t even believe God existed?

She set down the mug and wrapped her arms around her husband, catching the snuggle she’d relinquished earlier. Anything to feel close to him in some way. “Don’t go to work. Stay home with me.”

A soft rumble vibrated his chest. He kissed the top of her head. “My students wouldn’t appreciate that.”

“They’re adults. They need to learn to deal with disappointment.” She smiled and let a giggle bubble up. “Besides, it’s Friday. I bet half your class won’t come.”

“Lex, this is Stanford, not community college. If I don’t show up, I guarantee you my students will hunt me down. Physics students are the most tenacious of all, I think.” He kissed her full on the lips.

His familiar smell and touch wrapped her in indescribable comfort. Could she just stay in that place for a while? For a moment, she had not a care in the world.

Then he let her go. “I’ll try to get home early for our date night. Did you get a sitter?”

“Yep. All set.”

“See you later then.” With a wink, he smiled and went out through the breezeway, grabbing his briefcase along the way.

Lexie stayed by the door until he drove off, praying her usual prayers for protection and salvation. She probably sounded like a recording by now. Four years had passed since she’d run back to God, and Hugh had chosen a different direction.

When, God, when?

She wandered into her studio, clinging to her last few moments of peace before waking her eight-year-old dynamo.

The bust stared back at her.

“See you soon. Whoever you are.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012