Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scorned Justice by Margaret Daley

Scorned Justice
Abingdon Press (April 1, 2013)
Margaret Daley

Chapter 1 (excerpt)

The pain in her neck and shoulders sharpened its grip on District Court Judge Rebecca Morgan as she left the courtroom. She headed for her office, welcoming the quiet in the corridor. Inside her sanctuary from the madness of this new trial, she shed her black robe and hung it up in the closet. Finally, the end of the day—the weekend was here and she could escape to the ranch. Two glorious days to spend with her brother and his family. She could forget for a short time the case before her—the murder of a businessman by a high-level member of the Russian mob.

With a sigh, she grabbed her purse and started for the door. The ranch was almost an hour away from San Antonio, and as it was, she would be in traffic for a while.

Before she could reach for the knob, the door swung open and her law clerk stood in the entrance. A frown etched deep lines in the forty-year-old woman’s face.

Rebecca stiffened. “What’s happened?”

“You got a delivery half an hour ago from a florist.”

“I did?” She couldn’t think of anyone who would send her flowers. It wasn’t her birthday or any other occasion for a celebration. Then Rebecca focused on the deepening scowl on Laura Melton’s face. “What’s wrong with it?”

“I’ll show you.” Laura turned into her office, which connected with Rebecca’s, and strode to her desk. Lifting the lid on a long white box with Blooms and Such stamped on its side, she tilted it toward Rebecca.

To reveal a dozen long-stem roses—all dead.

Rebecca gritted her teeth. “They are not going to succeed in ruining this trial the way they did the last one.” The first trial, under Judge Osborn, had been declared a mistrial when it was revealed there was jury tampering. “This new tactic will not be tolerated.” As she spoke, though, she tried to decide how she would handle this. “Is there a card with it? Anything to give to the police?”

“Just this box. It was sitting on my desk when I came back in here right before you ended the trial for the day. I called Detective Nelson. He’s on his way over here.”

Rebecca checked her watch. “I need to leave. My brother’s birthday party is in less than two hours. Can you handle it by yourself?”

Laura’s frown relaxed into a neutral expression. “Sure. Charlie has a special interest in this trial and wants to make sure justice is done here. And he isn’t too bad to look at either.”

Rebecca laughed. “Leave it up to you to turn this into checking a man out.”

“I could always give you tips if you’re interested.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I’ll pass.” Especially a cop. She’d been married to a policeman who had died in the line of duty three years ago. She wouldn’t go through that again. She made her way toward the door. “If Detective Nelson needs to talk to me, he can reach me on my cell. Otherwise, I don’t want to deal with any type of business until Monday morning, when jury selection continues.”

“Forget this place. I’ll make sure the detective doesn’t have any questions for you. I’ll use my womanly wiles on him.” Laura winked.

“You do that.” As Rebecca hurried toward the elevator, she realized how fortunate she was to have such a good law clerk and friend in Laura. She made her life so much easier, especially now, with this difficult trial. She would have to take Laura out to dinner next week as a thank-you.


When Texas Ranger Brody Calhoun let himself into his house, Dallas, his black Lab, greeted him at the door, wagging his tail and nosing Brody’s hand. He stopped and knelt to pet Dallas, knowing if he didn’t, his dog would hound him until he did it properly.

“Did you and Dad get along all right today?”

Dallas barked.

“So this was a good day, then?” Brody rubbed behind his ten-year-old dog’s ears.

“Of course we got along okay, Son. I told you he was growing on me.”

Brody looked toward the den, where his father was standing, instead of using his electric scooter. The deep lines on his face revealed a man who appeared to be ten years older than he really was. But three months ago, at sixty-eight, he’d had his second heart attack, and his recovery had been much slower than the last one six years before.

“Where’s Ted?”

“Gone for the day.”

“I must have just missed him.”

“No, I told him to get out after lunch. I don’t need anybody watching me take a nap. A waste of good money.” His dad swept his arm down the length of his body. “See, I don’t need my scooter. I’m capable of getting around under my own steam. You can turn it back in.”

Brody rose slowly, using the time to suppress his anger. Why hadn’t Ted called him to let him know what his dad had done? He pulled out his cell and . . .

“Put that thing up. I told him he’d better not call you. He works for me, not you.”

A denial of that fact was on the tip of Brody’s tongue, but instead of saying anything and causing yet another argument, Brody gritted his teeth and stuck his cell back in his pocket. “Ted is here to keep you company, make sure everything goes all right.” To give me peace of mind. I almost lost you.

His father scowled. “As soon as the doc says, I want him gone. I don’t need a babysitter.”

Brody ignored his father’s usual complaints. “Ted is a nurse, not a babysitter.”

His dad’s eyebrows slanted down even more. “I’m no fool. I know exactly why Ted is here. I’ve been taking care of myself for more years than you’ve been alive.”

“Samantha is bringing dinner for you tonight.”

“Where are you going?”

“To Thomas Sinclair’s birthday party. It started out as a small affair, but it’s turning into a big deal now that Foster Sinclair is coming. Although I’m not officially on duty, I’ll be keeping an eye on the governor. Can’t have anything happen to Foster at the same party I attend.”

“There was a time when I would have been invited when Thomas’s dad was around. At least Tom wasn’t put out to pasture like I’ve been.”

“Dad, Thomas would love to see you. Do you want to go with me?”

“No,” his father quickly replied, “not until I’m back to being 100 percent.”

“That’s what I told Thomas when we talked about it.”

“No reason to leave, especially like this. And for your information I don’t have to have my granddaughter take over for Ted. I can put a dinner in the microwave.” His dad swung around and shuffled into the den.

Brody followed him. “We’ve been over this. Until the doctor thinks you can stay by yourself, you need someone checking up on you throughout the day. I have to work and sometimes get caught up in a case—”

His dad turned up the volume on the television set. Its blaring sound negated any possibility of having a reasonable conversation with the man. Brody stared at him, sitting in his lounge chair in front of the TV with some game show on. His dad had gone from being an invalid part of the time to thinking he could do anything he had done before his heart attack.

Brody headed to his bedroom to change his shirt. He had come back to his hometown of San Antonio to fill a ranger’s position in Company D because his father’s health had taken a turn for the worse six months ago. Then he’d had a heart attack and his dad had required a lot more care than Brody, checking with him every day, could give him. When his dad was released from the hospital, he came to live with Brody.

And to test my patience every day since then.

As Brody finished dressing, the doorbell rang, the sound competing with the TV. He quickened his pace and let his niece into the house. “Are you ready for duty?”

Samantha clicked her heels together and saluted. “Aye, aye, sir. How is he?”

“I’m just peachy.”

Samantha leaned around Brody and grinned at his dad. “Hi, Grandpa. Are ya ready for me to beat you at chess tonight?”

His old man snorted. “When the tropics freeze over.”

“I’ll leave y’all to hash out who’s the best chess player in the Calhoun family. I can’t be late for the governor.”

“Don’t worry about Grandpa, Uncle Brody.” Samantha stood on tiptoes and kissed his cheek. “After I beat him at chess, I think a rousing game of dominos will be fun.”

“In your dreams, Samantha,” his father said with a chuckle.

Brody left, realizing his nineteen-year-old niece was just what his dad needed. Dad had a hard time resisting a pretty female. Maybe that was Brody’s mistake. Maybe he should have hired a woman to nurse his dad back to health, especially now that he could get into and out of bed by himself. His dad was also walking more and only used the scooter when he got tired. Maybe he should think about returning the scooter they’d rented. To his dad it was a symbol of his invalidism. He’d also call the agency tomorrow and check into requesting a female nurse. He had to have someone who wouldn’t let his father dictate what he did. Ted should have called him today and let him know that he had left hours before he should have.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Threads of Hope by Christa Allan

Threads of Hope
Abingdon Press (March 1, 2013)
Christa Allen

Chapter 1

After three years, it finally happened.

Janie Bettencourt announced her promotion. She would be moving from Houston to New York to become Senior Editor of Trends magazine.

The promotion Nina O’Malley had hoped would be her own.

And, as if that news wasn’t enough to justify Nina adding banana splits as main dish items on her diet, ice cream became its own food group after Janie added that joining her would be staff photographer Brady Lambert.

The Brady who, years ago, promised her the moon. The Brady who, later, spun out of her orbit and splashed down in Janie’s. The Brady Lambert whom Nina had hoped would be her own.

When was she going to learn to wait for the other shoe to drop before assuming she could celebrate?

Earlier that morning, when she’d spotted an email message from Elise Johnson, the Executive Editor, Nina allowed herself the luxury of dreaming. Elise’s personal emails were infrequent, at least in her in-box, and generally, no frills, as if she’d be charged by the word count. So, she wasn’t at all offended when she read the brief request: “My office. Nine o’clock. Important matter to discuss. EJ.” In fact, she was elated. And she remained so for the next fifty-four minutes, not counting her elevator time to the seventh floor where she was ushered into Elise’s office.

In less time than it took for Nina to arrive in the starkly modern office of the executive editor, disappointment introduced itself. Later, when the elevator door swished open to reveal Janie, Nina felt like a contestant on a game show who’d guessed wrongly and seen what she might have won.

The weight of Elise’s remarks might have pushed Nina to the second floor almost as efficiently as the elevator: Structurally correct writing, but lacked style and passion. More initiative and less predictability. Network. Move out of your comfort zone. Elise challenged Nina to convince her that she’d be making a mistake not to promote her. “We’re considering other markets like Atlanta and Nashville, perhaps Los Angeles. One of those could be yours. Show me what you can do.”

By the time Janie gathered the staff and squealed her news, Nina had power walked to Starbucks and returned caffeinated and composed. She smiled in Janie’s direction, grateful Janie couldn’t read her thoughts to know her angelic face came from imagining a subway door closing on one of her size 6 Ferragamo shoes.

Just as the image was becoming crystal clear in Nina’s mind, a tidal wave of a voice in her head crashed over that picture and left behind the sound of her mother’s words: “You’re being so petty, my dear. God doesn’t like ugly, you know.” Nina mentally shushed her mother who, even more than twenty miles away, could still inject an admonition into her daughter’s nerve center of guilt.

Sheila Hudson O’Malley married Nina’s father Patrick not long after they graduated from high school and then stayed home to mother two children into semi-adulthood. What would she know about fickle boyfriends and dashed career dreams? “Sure, mother. Easy for you to say,” Nina muttered as she diverted her attention from the fawning frenzy over Janie to rearrange the clutter on her desk. She hoped to unearth her iPad from underneath what looked like an office supply store explosion of paper that had landed there.

“Were you talking to me?”

Nina paused between lifting legal pads to turn toward her cubicle-mate, Daisy Jeffers, who had scooted her desk chair past her partition, and now stared at her. As usual, her dark hair sprouted from the top of her head like sprinkler arms. She was always one strong wind short of being propelled above ground level.

“No. I was talking to my mother.” Nina resumed her excavation.

“Well, I’m assuming the one in your head since I don’t smell Chanel No. 5 in the vicinity. And, anyway . . .” she bit into her apple.

Now that Nina found her iPad lurking in her desk drawer under a stack of folders and three expired restaurant coupons, she focused on Daisy. “Are you aware how absolutely annoying that is?”

Daisy swallowed. “You mean her?” Still holding her half-eaten apple, Daisy bent her arm over her head and motioned in the general direction of the newly promoted.

Nina flipped open the leather cover to find her interview notes. “Not Janie. You. Can you wait until before or after your thoughts, not between them, to eat? It’s so maddening waiting for you to finish chewing . . .” She paused.

Her mother’s voice. She heard her mother’s voice, the one that forever seemed marinated in exasperation, spill out of her own mouth. She looked up at Daisy. “You just got a whiff of Chanel No. 5 didn’t you?” Nina gave way to the defeat and disappointment and flopped into her chair.

Daisy pinched her nose for a moment and grimaced. “A serious overdose.” Not an unexpected reply from someone who smelled as if she’d spritzed herself with bottled spring rain, newly mown summer grass, and a hint of an autumn bonfire. She tossed her apple core into her stainless steel ecolunchbox, wiped her hands with her cotton napkin, and rolled herself closer to Nina. Almost ten years younger than Nina, Daisy exuded a wisdom beyond her age. As a child, she slept in a car for weeks until her single mother found a homeless shelter for them. Daisy figured living on the streets was poverty’s answer to accelerated learning. Nina suspected Daisy’s minimalist approach to the externals in her life—clothing, furniture, car—balanced the burden of her emotional life.

“It’s just not your time,” said Daisy. “There will be a season for you, too.”

Nina felt as if she’d just been patted on the head and told to run along and play. “I’d like to wallow in my pity party a bit longer before you start breaking it up with your New Age-y philosophies,” she responded.

Daisy smiled. A reaction Nina found more annoying than the smattering of applause earlier that followed Janie’s news.

“Well, I wouldn’t be a worthy friend if I didn’t at least try to save you from yourself. And, anyway, how much of a party is it if you’re the only one with an invitation?”

“Speaking of invitations . . .”

Nina was as startled to see Janie materialize as Daisy appeared to be when she heard her voice. Daisy slowly swiveled her chair and looked up at the leggy blonde who leaned against the gray dividing wall separating their desks from the receptionist’s. “Whoa. How did you do that? Is magically transporting yourself part of the new job description?”

Janie tilted her head, placed her forefinger on her cheek, and became a perfect model for “deep in thought.” Except for the smirk. She dropped the pose and looked at Nina. “I suppose having my finger on the pulse of the magazine is a requisite for effective management. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Daisy and Nina exchanged eye contact then stared at Janie.

“So . . . anyway . . . back to invitations.” Janie reached into the pocket of her flouncy skirt and silenced the pinging on her cell phone. “I’m having a cozy going-away dinner at my condo in two weeks. Of course, you’re both invited. Bra and I are hosting it together.”

“Bra,” which she pronounced like “hey” was her special name for Brady, used only when not in his presence. The first time Janie uttered it in the office, it sliced through any thread of expectation Nina held for a future with him. She suspected the affectation was Janie’s unseen electric collar around Brady, but instead of confining him, it zapped a warning to any women on the prowl contemplating new territory. Or one like Nina, who hoped for an open gate.

Over time, most of the staff became adept at avoiding eye-rolls when Janie blathered on about Bra. Though Daisy refused to abandon the idea that she might one day write a story about Bra and Janie’s relationship. She hoped Victoria’s Secret would think it a grand tale of a woman who referred to her lingerie in third person.

Now, faced with the prospect of swallowing food while enduring Brady and Janie, Nina rifled through her mental file of excuses. She barely had time to consider the choices when Daisy said, “We wouldn’t dream of missing an opportunity to send you off on your new adventure.” She glanced at Nina. “Would we?”

What Nina wanted to do at that moment was send Daisy twirling back across the partition. Instead, she mumbled something about making sure she’d be free, grabbed her iPad, and hoped when she swiped her calendar she’d find an event so monumental it would be impossible to attend the dinner. But no. No White House interview, no late night talk show appearance, and no undercover expose planned. Just a reminder to drop off her clothes at the cleaner and buy a case of dog food. Pathetic. My life needs a makeover. She stared at the socially vacant month of April. “Well, I do have two things I’m committed to that day . . .” Nina avoided looking at Daisy and told Janie she didn’t see any reason why she shouldn’t be able to finish in time to attend the dinner.

Janie clapped her hands. “Wonderful! Check your emails because I’m sending e-vites with all the information and directions—” A piano riff sounded from her pocket. She pulled out her cell phone, then excused herself with an, “I have to answer this one.” The rhythm of her stiletto heels click-clacking on the wood floors accompanied her departure.

“Commitments? Since when did you have commitments?” Daisy could have replaced “commitments” with “children” and sounded no less surprised.

It was, after all, a word Nina had iced, figuratively speaking, along with others like engagement, marriage, wedding gown, and honeymoon. If only Nina could remember to forget some commitments in her life as much as she forgot to remember others, she wouldn’t have to place her dreams in the freezer.

“I consider feeding Manny and wearing clean clothes important responsibilities. Especially since they both cost more than I ever anticipated.” She had adopted her hybrid dog with the dachshund body and poodle hair from the local animal shelter almost a year ago. When she brought him home, she named him Manhattan and thought it clever and optimistic. Today, it just seemed ridiculous. The little runt developed severe food allergies and now required a special diet. She didn’t expect him to be so high maintenance. Expectations did not seem to be working in her favor lately.

“If that works for you, then stay with it,” said Daisy as she scooted her chair back to her desk. She closed her laptop, gathered her environmentally-safe assortment of bags, and wiggled her metro-nylon backpack out of the bottom drawer. “I have two more people to interview for the yoga feature, so I’ll let you get back to that one-woman pity party I interrupted.”

“Thanks.” Nina clapped, Janie-like. “It saves me from sending an e-vite.”

“You actually smiled. One small step—”

Nina grabbed a sheet of paper out of her printer and waved it in front of her. “I surrender. I surrender. No more words of wisdom.”

Daisy laughed. “Okay, but the terms of surrender include walking to the stairs with me. You’ve been sitting so long I’m surprised you’re not numb. But, the bonus is you’ll make sure I actually leave. And leave you alone.”

“That, my dear, is motivation enough,” said Nina. She waited until the glass doors of the office shut behind them before she asked Daisy if she noted Brady’s conspicuous absence from the Janie show.

“Probably not as much as you did.” Daisy’s eyes swept over Nina’s face, and Nina knew desperation hovered there. “You need to let go of him in both places,” Daisy said as she pressed her hand first to her forehead and then to her heart. “Remember, ‘There’s a season for everything.’ ”

Nina sighed. “Is that some mantra you chant?”

Daisy pushed open the door to the stairwell. “No, but that’s not a bad idea.” She paused, shifted her backpack, and said, “By the way, it’s not new age-y talk. It’s old age-y. Very old, as in Old Testament. King Solomon.”

“So, you’re telling me I’m in a very long line of people who know what it’s like not to get what they want? I suppose that’s some comfort,” said Nina drily. Comfort and God hadn’t been synonymous for her since before her brother was hospitalized. It wasn’t so much that she gave up on God. She just chose not to give in to Him.

“The real comfort is, the line didn’t end there,” said Daisy. “See you tomorrow. Take care of yourself.”

Nina watched Daisy and couldn’t help but notice that, despite the baggage she carried, Daisy floated down the stairs as if she carried no weight at all.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Survivor by DiAnn Mills

The Survivor
Zondervan (March 5, 2013)
DiAnn Mills

Chapter 1

10:00 a.m. Wednesday

Miss Walker,
Twenty-three years ago, I survived a killer. I must have
my story told. Can you help me?

Amy Garrett, PhD
Freedom’s Way

Finding suspense story ideas could be grueling, but the concept that just landed in Kariss’s inbox could be her next bestseller. She’d been approached by enough eccentrics to recognize a
sender who saw big bucks for a sensational slice of life. She felt sorry for most of them and wanted to help no matter how ludicrous their story. But none of those people had PhD after their name or a phone number listed in their signature.

The e-mail lured her to the place where words and emotion blended into a feverish dance. She’d survived a killer and knew the courage it took to tell anyone about the horror. She reread
the message. Why would Amy Garrett seek her out? Why would she choose to tell a true story in a novel? One way to find out.

She pressed in the number, and a receptionist answered with a greeting from Freedom’s Way. Hurdle number one — Amy Garrett was a real person who worked at an office. Kariss gave
her name and waited for the call to be transferred.

“Dr. Garrett, here. Is this Kariss Walker?”

“It is. I just received your e-mail. Curiosity got the best of me.”

“Thanks for responding so quickly. Are you currently online?”

“I am.”

“Go to the website listed in my e-mail. That tells you a little about me.”

Kariss clicked on the site. Amy Garrett, founder of Freedom’s Way, was a doctor of psychology who specialized in counseling women who’d been victims of violent crimes.

“Now click on ‘About Freedom’s Way.’ That says it best.”

Powerful words drew her into Amy’s world.

At the age of nine, I survived a brutal attempt on my life. I understand your pain and confusion, and I have felt the despair. Through caring counselors, I found healing. Now I want to offer you the same pathway to life.

Freedom’s Way cares about you. We are committed to helping every woman who has ever been traumatized by a vicious crime. Your first step is only a phone call away.

Don’t let finances stop you from overcoming emotional pain. If you cannot pay, we have scholarships.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” — Matthew 11:28

This was a Christian counseling service. “Why fiction?” Dr. Garrett’s desire to relate her story in a novel seemed skewed with her profession.

“Can we meet in person and discuss this? I’m booked until three-thirty this afternoon, but I have an hour window then. Do you happen to have the time free?”

Kariss’s mind spun in a flurry of whether she wanted to get involved. The woman was aggressive, but intrigue won out. “I’d be happy to talk to you — to gather more information. From your address, I see your office isn’t far from me.”

“I’d like to meet outside my practice. How about the Starbucks across the street from Crystal Point Mall?”


“Miss Walker, it’s important that we keep our discussion private.”

“I plan to come alone.”

“Good. But please don’t tell anyone about this. I’ll explain later.”

Strange request, but maybe Dr. Garrett had approached other writers. “Okay. See you then.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wings of Glass by Gina Holmes

Wings of Glass
Tyndale House Publishers (March 1, 2013)
Gina Holmes


He always said if I left he would kill me, but there are far worse fates than death. Guess I hadn’t really known that until I met and married Trent Taylor. I didn’t mind the cuts and bruises half as much as the insults and accusations. Whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” has never been on the other end of a tongue that really knows how to cut.

I hope you never know that kind of pain, Son. More than that, I hope you never cause it. How could you? You have such a soft heart. My sweet Emmanuel.
Surely by now I’ve told you your name means “God with us.” Because he was, Manny. He is. Even if you haven’t realized it yet, you’re lucky to have such a wonderful name. I used to hate mine—Penny—because that’s exactly how much I felt I was worth for most of my life. But God used you to change all that.

It’s important to tell you before I begin this story that it’s not my intention to make you hate your father. He’s a man—fallen, like the rest of us. But I know you’ll ask about him, and I decided when you were old enough, I would share with you all I know. That day hasn’t come yet—you’re just beginning to talk!—but I’d best write it down while it’s fresh in my mind. Although some of it, I know, will never fade.

Reading this won’t be easy, and please don’t feel you have to if it’s too much. I’m not one to believe all truths need to be spoken, but just in case you want to know, need to know, I’d rather you hear it from me as a whole story than get bits and pieces of the puzzle from others and not be able to make them fit together quite right.
Besides, your grandmother told me long ago the best way not to repeat history is to know it. I think that’s probably right.

Chapter One

Trent Taylor sauntered into my life wearing faded blue jeans, dusty work boots, and an attitude I couldn’t take my eyes off.

We had a bumper crop that summer of ’99, so Daddy was able to hire a farmhand to help for a change. We were all so happy to have a little money in our pockets and another set of harvesting hands, we didn’t look a gift horse in his mouth. It was just like that story from the Trojan War. We all let him right in without looking first to see what was inside him.

It’s surreal to think that if the rains hadn’t fallen just right and the price of tobacco hadn’t been up due to a blight that seemed to be hitting every farm but ours, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to hire Trent. How much pain I could have been spared . . . but then I wouldn’t have you, Manny. I’d go through it all a million times just to have you.

Being late August, the air outside was steam and the smell of the roast Daddy insisted Mama cook every Thursday carried past me on what little breeze there was. As usual, our cat, Seymour, kept busy chasing the chickens around the yard. He loved to terrorize those poor birds. I yelled at him like I always did, but he never paid me—or anyone besides Daddy—any mind.

Until that afternoon, I’d never seen those chickens do anything but run from mean old Seymour, but that day the smallest one turned around and pecked him right between the eyes. I still laugh when I think of that cat howling in surprise and jumping back ten feet in the air, tail first, as if God himself had snatched him, only to drop him.

After Seymour tore off and the chickens returned to scratching dirt, I bent over my laundry basket and got back to work, humming something or other through the splintered clothespins tucked between my lips.

Even though we owned a dryer, your grandpappy hardly ever let Mama or me use it. He couldn’t see the sense in wasting money on electricity when the sun and wind would do the job for free. I would have offered to pay the measly expense myself, but in my father’s household, women were meant to be seen working, not heard complaining.

I bent down to pin up my daddy’s undershorts, doing my best not to touch anything but the outermost corner of the waistband, when I felt hot breath on the back of my ear and a rough hand cover my own. Paralyzed, I just stood there staring straight ahead at the dirt road leading from our driveway. I could feel my pulse pounding my temples as I held my breath.

Trent must have taken my lack of protest as encouragement because his other hand wrapped tight around my waist and he yanked me back against him. He whispered in my ear with a voice somehow both rough as sandpaper and smooth as whipped cream, “This better be the last time I ever see my woman touching another man’s underwear.”

I could barely breathe. At seventeen, I’d never been touched by a man except to have my tail whipped for disobeying. I’d never even held a boy’s hand, and here was a man, a grown man, staking claim to me. Just then, the screen door squealed open and your grandpappy’s heavy footsteps pounded across the porch.

When Trent stepped back, I finally got the courage to turn around and look him in the eye. He’d been around for a couple of weeks by then and I’d seen him dozens of times, but until that moment, I hadn’t noticed the crinkles around his eyes that made him look like he was always squinting against the sun, or the small scar cutting into the fullness of his bottom lip. His longish hair was a shade darker than my dirty blonde, and there was something about the way his nose flared just so that brought to mind a fighter plane. People might have said a lot of things about your father back then, but no one could suggest he wasn’t beautiful.

“What are you doing over there?” My father stood on the porch, leaning his hip against the column and holding a glass of water that was sweating as much as he was.

I yanked up my laundry basket, still half full, intending to bound inside, but didn’t make it a step before I felt that rough hand of Trent’s wrap tight around my wrist again.
“Just taking a break,” he said to my father, though he never took his eyes off me. He stared right through me, wearing a smirk. I would get to know that Cheshire grin real well in the years that followed. It was the look he wore when he knew he had won, or was about to. I wonder just what it was he had seen that gave me away.

“You best get on back to work.” Daddy’s voice was loud as thunder, and it shook me.

Trent’s grin only widened. “Now, don’t be that way to your future son-in-law.” His eyes wandered over the front of me like he was eyeing a ham steak he was getting ready to cut into.

Those roving eyes of his sent unfamiliar jolts through me.

Daddy slammed down his glass on the porch ledge. “Are you listening, boy? I ain’t going to tell you again.”

Trent put his hands up like he was under arrest. “Take it easy, man. I’m just talking to her.”

My heart felt like a butterfly caught in a mason jar. No one spoke to my father that way.

What an idiot I was to think Trent’s bravado was because he was so taken with me. In my mind I was the princess, Daddy was the dragon, and Trent, of course, was the knight who’d come to rescue me from the tower.
With my father’s eyes on us, Trent whispered I was the prettiest thing he ever laid eyes on. I twisted my mouth like he was crazy, but inside, I was done for. I’d never had a man tell me I was pretty.
I took the bait. With one pathetic cast of his line, I was snagged, swallowing his words happily as that hook dug deep into my flesh.

When Daddy’s face took on a shade of sunburn and he started down the stairs, Trent pretended to tip the hat he wasn’t wearing and leaned over to whisper that he would be waiting for

me at the well at midnight and his woman had best be there. Woman, I repeated in my mind, liking the sound of it. He reeled me in that night, and before week’s end I’d agreed to elope.

At Trent’s direction, I left a note for my parents telling them they shouldn’t come looking for me.

Despite my fears, though—and eventually, my hopes—my parents never did come knocking to reclaim me. No one did.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Catherine's Pursuit by Lena Nelson Dooley

Catherine's Pursuit
Realms (February 5, 2013)
Lena Nelson Dooley

Chapter 1 (excerpt)

Catherine Lenora McKenna could hardly believe the long-awaited day had arrived. Her eighteenth birthday.

Now she was an adult, and her father would have to stop hovering over her as if she were a fragile china doll in one of his stores. She would be free. Holding her hands above her head like the ballerina in the music box on her bureau, she whirled in a circle that lifted the hem of her blue taffeta skirt to a scandalous height. That didn’t matter, because no one was here to catch a glimpse of her ankles anyway. Not even her personal maid, Julie, who had gone downstairs to grab Catherine a more substantial breakfast from the kitchen before she fainted dead away.

Aunt Kirstin wanted Catherine to eat very light before her party tonight, where a sumptuous banquet would precede the ball. There would be presents to open as well. Catherine hoped her father planned a spectacular gift for her birthday . . . maybe to send her on a tour of the Continent. Of course Aunt Kirstin would probably accompany her, but at least she would be able to see more of the world for herself, not just read about it.

Europe should be beautiful in the autumn, or in any season of the year. Since both of her parents were born in Scotland, she wanted to visit there as well as London, Paris, Rome. She had read every book and magazine she could get her hands on, and she knew so much about Europe. A thrill of anticipation shot through her whole body. Visions of crossing London Bridge, strolling along Avenue des Champs-Élysées, or touring the Colosseum danced through her head. Pictures she’d enjoyed studying with their Holmes stereop- ticon. She wondered if Father would accompany her or if he would allow Aunt Kirstin to be her only escort . . . besides a few servants, of course.

“Where is Julie with my food?” Catherine huffed out an exasper- ated breath. “Am I going to have to go to the kitchen myself?”

She thrust open the door and hurried down the hallway, the sound of her footsteps lost in the thick cushioning of the carpet. At the top of the front stairs she stopped to see if she could figure out where her aunt Kirstin was before she sneaked down the backstairs.

Peering over the balcony railing, she caught a glimpse of her aunt’s face through the partially opened door to the library. Her brows were knit together into a frown as she stared at someone in the room with her. Catherine had never seen such a fierce expres- sion on her aunt’s face.

Father’s voice was muffled as he said something to his sister- in-law. What is he doing home at this time of morning? Catherine wished she could tell what they were talking about. She had never heard her father use that tone with anyone, especially not Aunt Kirstin. As if he were angry or terribly upset.

Catherine leaned farther over but kept a firm grip on the railing so she wouldn’t tumble down. A drop onto a marble floor could be deadly.

Aunt Kirstin gripped each hand into a fist and planted them on her hips. “Just when are you going to tell her?”

Come to think of it, her aunt was using a harsher tone than Catherine had ever heard her use.

Father didn’t answer.

Catherine quickly crept down the stairs, being careful not to place her foot on the second step from the foyer, which would squeak and reveal her presence. At the bottom she straightened and checked her reflection in the gilt-framed, oval mirror beside the front door. When she found everything satisfactory, she tiptoed toward the library.

“I don’t know.” Her father’s words stopped her in her tracks. What did he not know?

“Angus.” Aunt Kirstin’s voice was firm and insistent. “She deserves to know the truth. And now she’s old enough to understand.”

Catherine didn’t hesitate to enter her favorite room in the house. She pushed the door farther open, and both her aunt and her father turned startled eyes toward her. The two looked as if they had been caught in an act of mischief.

“Tell me what? What will I understand?” Her questions hovered in the air, quivering like hummingbirds without a way to escape the net of tension that bound the three of them together.

Her father glanced at her aunt, and then he turned his attention back to Catherine. The deep scowl on his face dissolved, and he dropped into the closest chair, dejection dragging his shoulders into a slump. Tears welled up in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks unheeded. He didn’t even blink.

“I knew this day would come . . . eventually.” Each word sounded as if it had been wrung from his throat.

Catherine had never before seen her father cry. He had always been such a strong man. But right now he was draped in defeat. Her heart hitched in her chest, making her breathless. Something must be terribly wrong. Was he sick with a deadly disease? About to die? How would she live without him? She wanted to grab him in a tight hug and cling with all her might to keep him close.

Aunt Kirstin dragged two chairs closer to where he sat and offered one to Catherine before settling on the other. She smoothed her skirt over her knees and clasped her hands tight enough to blanch her knuckles.

Fear swamped Catherine, trying to drown her in its depths. The strong foundation her life had been built upon shuddered, and then she felt as if a crevasse opened deep within her. Tears leaked into her own eyes, blurring her vision as she stared first at her father and then at her aunt, the anchors in her life.

Her father raised red-rimmed eyes toward her, his face a pale, scary caricature of the man she’d always leaned upon. “There’s so much you don’t know, my precious daughter.”

Such a formal way for her father to talk to her, as if they were separated in some unseen way. Trembling started in her knees. She was glad she was sitting, so she didn’t sink to the floor in a swoon. The tremors rose over her whole body, and she shook as though a chill wind had swept through the room.

Dare I ask another question? When she tried, her tongue stayed glued to the roof of her mouth, so she waited for him to continue.

Aunt Kirstin didn’t utter a single word either.

“I’ve brought Miss Catherine a bit of a snack.” Julie bustled through the open doorway, breaking the unbearable tension for a moment. “There’s enough for all of you . . . and a pot of that new tea you just received from China.” She set the tray on the table that stood beside Aunt Kirstin’s chair, then exited the room.

Mechanically Catherine’s aunt poured three cups of the steaming liquid and added just the right amount of milk and sugar to match each person’s preference. When she handed the saucer and teacup to Father, both of their hands shook, rattling the china.

Catherine received her tea and kept one hand on the cup, warming her icy fingertips.

“Would you like a sandwich or a piece of cake?” Aunt Kirstin’s whispered words were only a bit louder than the clink of the dishes.

Catherine didn’t think she could get a single bite down her throat that now felt like a sandy desert. She shook her head.

Father didn’t glance at her aunt before he handed his cup back without even taking a sip. He turned his gaze toward Catherine and took a breath, releasing it as a soul-deep sigh. “Some things happened when you were born . . . that I’ve never shared . . . with you . . . with anyone, except your aunt.”

She set her cup and saucer back on the tray and waited for him to continue.

“Would you like me to leave?” Aunt Kirstin stared at Father, a look of something akin to pity on her face. “Would that make it easier?”

“Nothing will make it easier.” Father roused more than he had since Catherine entered the library, his voice slicing through the room like a sharp dagger. “And no. Since you’ve opened the subject, you’ll sit right there until I’m finished.”

Her aunt shrank back against her chair and lowered her gaze to the Aubusson carpet where she traced the intricate pattern as if she had never seen it before. Catherine doubted she noticed any of the colors or flowers right now.

If Father didn’t tell her what he was talking about soon, Catherine was afraid she would scream. The atmosphere in the room hung heavy with suspense. She cleared her throat and covered the cough that ensued with one fisted hand.

“There is no easy way . . . to say this.” Father shifted in the chair, the wooden legs creaking under his slight weight. He stared at her. “I’m going to tell you what happened. Please don’t interrupt me until I’m finished. Otherwise I might not get through the whole story. Then you can ask any questions you want.”

Her nose itched, but she didn’t dare rub it. She didn’t want to do anything that might stop this tale from pouring forth from her father. She gritted her teeth, ready to face whatever it was, no matter how grim.

“You know that your . . . mother and I were on a wagon train on the Oregon Trail. Lenora had some . . . difficulties near the end of our journey.” He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing convulsively. “She had to ride in the back of the wagon for a couple of weeks.”

Catherine knew she was born on the Oregon Trail, and she knew that her mother died in childbirth. Their family friend Odette Marshall had told her that much before Aunt Kirstin finally came to California to help her father. Even though Catherine had been only six years old when she’d heard it, the story was burned into her heart.

“When you were born, one of the women who assisted Dr. Horton brought you to me. I held you in my arms, huddled beside the campfire on that bone-chilling night.” A faraway look filled his eyes, and she knew he didn’t see her sitting nearby. “I loved you the moment I laid eyes on you . . . .Curly red fuzz covering your head . . . .Blue eyes.”


He held one palm toward her, stopping her question in midsen- tence. “They didn’t turn green until later.”
She hadn’t known that. Other questions fought to escape, but she clamped her lips tightly to restrain them. The turmoil inside her made her stomach roil. She swallowed the acid that crept to her throat.

“Before long a different woman brought another baby girl to me . . . .Curly red fuzz . . . .Blue eyes. The spittin’ image of you. I cud- dled both of you close to my heart and kissed each of your cheeks.”

Catherine almost gasped. She couldn’t remember the last time her father had held her close and kissed her cheek. She knew he loved her, but he wasn’t demonstrative anymore. That was why he showered her with gifts so often, wasn’t it? To show her he loved her.

“Then a few minutes later another identical girl was brought to me. I didn’t have enough arms to hold all three of you.” He rubbed one hand over his chin, the rasp of unshaven stubble loud in the quiet room.

Three? . . . Of us? How could that be? Did her two sisters die when her mother had? Sisters! She had always wished for siblings. Yearned for them.

Grief ripped through her. Tears streamed down her cheeks. To find out she had sisters and lose them all within a few minutes. She didn’t feel like celebrating her birthday. Instead she wanted to mourn the sisters she lost before she even knew she had them.

Catherine started formulating questions in her mind, waiting for the chance to ask them. Before they were half-formed, her father rose to his feet and walked out the door without saying another word. She waited a few minutes in a silence so heavy it felt oppressive. She realized he wasn’t coming back when the front door opened then closed. Why hadn’t he waited until she asked her questions?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Memory of Murder by Ramona Richards

Memory of Murder
Love-Inspired Suspense
Ramona Richards

Chapter 1

Her every nerve suddenly on edge, Lindsey Presley stared at the blond man confronting Deputy Jeff Gage.

Reaching behind her, Lindsey double-checked the lock on the front door of her restaurant, then hugged the night deposit bag more tightly. She prayed she was wrong about the stranger. After all, he didn't look all that different from other young people in the area. Clean-shaven, short hair, T-shirt, jeans. Barely more than a kid.


Except for that vintage orange Pontiac GTO that waited behind him, blocking Jeff's patrol cruiser.The GTO's front door stood open, waiting. Its motor idled with the distinctive rumble of a pampered muscle car.

The top step of the Cape Cod–style building gave Lindsey a view of the entire parking lot. Empty, except for the three of them and the two cars. She blinked hard, distracted as the kid shook his left hand out to one side, as if trying to fling a bug from it. His right hand remained hidden behind his hip.

Go back inside. This isn't right. A streetwise instinct honed in her childhood urged Lindsey to flee behind closed doors. There a kitchen bristled with knives she could use for defense. But that instinct fought with her reluctance to leave the sheriff's deputy who stood between her and the young man. Jeff had promised to protect her on the nightly deposit runs to the bank and had done just that since she'd opened the diner six months ago. During those short rides to the bank, they'd become close friends. She didn't want to abandon him. She wouldn't.

Friends don't do that. And the guy still hasn't done anything wrong. Logic told her to wait. Friendship begged her to stay. Her gut told her to run.

Jeff, who had been waiting for her at the foot of the front steps at eight o'clock, also seemed to sense something odd about the way the young man had slid the GTO into the parking lot after closing time. He stood with his back stiff, feet apart and firmly planted, his hand on his gun. On guard and wary.

The man's left hand shook harder, and Lindsey's muscles tensed. Now, she thought. It's going to happen now. What do I do?

Trip the alarm. The thought startled her, but she immediately knew it was a good idea. Turning, she thrust her key in the lock, twisted it and cracked open the door. If she didn't close it or enter the code inside within thirty seconds, the alarm would sound.

"Sir, you need to leave." Jeff's firm command echoed over the empty parking lot. "The restaurant is closed."

Lindsey pivoted back toward the parking lot, eyes fixed on the two men. The younger man shook his head, now holding his left hand high and smiling broadly. "I understand. I understand. I just need directions. I drove all the way from…from Chicago. Trying to find a girl I met online. Just a girl." He stepped forward, as if to go around Jeff.

Jeff blocked his path. He glanced warily up at the kid's left hand. "Where are you going?"

The blond never responded. Instead, he swung his right arm around from behind his back. He ground a stun gun into Jeff's chest. With a stark cry of pain, Jeff dropped to the asphalt, his body twisting in spastic seizures.

"No!" Lindsey screamed. She dashed down the steps toward them, throwing the money bag at the man. "Take it!" She lunged toward Jeff.

She never reached him. Fire shot through her skull as the man grabbed her by the hair, yanking her backwards. He punched her in the solar plexus. Lindsey's breath stopped and spots danced in front of her eyes as she collapsed. Her assailant grabbed her arm and slung her over the hood of the GTO.

The restaurant alarm blared through the night, the sirens radiating off every wall in the neighborhood. The man cursed and pressed his arm on the back of her neck. "Stupid woman!"

Lindsey fought for air as he yanked her arms behind her. Plastic ties cut deep into her skin as he secured her wrists. Finally drawing a raspy gasp, Lindsey tried to scream again, but a sharp blow to her ribs cut it off as she curled up in agony. He snapped her ankles together, wrapping the ties around them. He tossed her over one shoulder, her small frame no burden at all to him.

He bent to scoop up the money, then kicked Jeff twice as he passed the struggling deputy—once in the side, once on the back of Jeff's skull. Jeff went limp.

Lindsey found more breath. "No!" She bucked against the man, but he ignored her, shoving her unceremoniously into the back seat of the GTO. "Scream away, darlin'. No one will hear you over this baby."

The guy got in and gunned the engine. The fine-tuned rumble exploded into a roar that split the night air. The orange car spit loose gravel, and smoke bellowed from beneath its tires as it spun out of the parking lot less than five minutes after it had pulled in.

Lindsey pushed herself around, still fighting to breathe normally, regularly. Not an easy task with the pain throbbing through her ribs and head. She struggled against her bonds without success. Sweat coated her back and legs where they pressed against the vinyl back seat of the car. The fury and adrenaline that seared through her made Lindsey's mind spin. Her muscles trembled, but terror and pain kept her sane and focused as the last few minutes played over and over in her head.

God, how do I get out of this? Help me.

Lindsey twisted until she could see her attacker over the low, split front seat of the GTO. His pasty face glowed in the glare of oncoming headlights, and rivulets of water dripped out of the man's hair and trailed down his cheeks and neck.

He's sweating! Despite the open front windows and light chill of the early fall night, the man's hair remained plastered to his scalp. He fidgeted, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and squirming in his seat. He pulled a slip of paper from his shirt pocket to check it, mumbling directions to himself. Over the roar of the engine, Lindsey barely caught the words, "Go slow. Careful. Left after three miles." He shoved the paper back in his pocket. He let up on the gas, and the car slowed.

He's going to turn. Leave the main road. Lindsey knew the road he planned to take. It ran deep into an almost impenetrable Tennessee woodland. In that second's realization, Lindsey knew she was about to die.

No! Her mind screamed the word, and in pure desperation, a rough idea formed in her mind. And insane idea.

He'll be focused on the turn, the other cars…

As Lindsey slowly shifted her body into position, her assailant's words repeated over and over.

"Turn, three miles. Turn, three miles."

Lindsey frowned, then blinked the words away. She must get ready, no matter how crazy her plan seemed.

You can do this. You can do this! Pushing over on her back, she ignored the agony in her hands as she braced her shoulders against the middle of the seat and cautiously drew her knees up to her chest. Her short, petite frame let her curl into a tight ball, and Lindsey had never felt so grateful for being so short—or for taking that Pilates class her sister had insisted on.

Still mumbling, the man braked the car suddenly, shouting at an oncoming vehicle to get out of the way. As he stomped on the accelerator again, heading the car into the left turn, Lindsey shrieked with all her might. Startled, the man's head snapped around to glare at her, just as she kicked both legs with as much strength as she had, thrusting her thick-soled, restaurant-durable shoes directly at his face.

His scream matched hers as blood shot from his crushed nose. He jerked, twisting the wheel to the right, veering the car out of the turn and straight toward the corner where the two roads met. He never had a chance to touch the brakes as the orange GTO crashed through the guardrail and soared into the air. The engine howled as the tires left the road. Lindsey felt weightless, her body floating above the seat as the car arced into the ravine. Then the car plowed into the rock and dirt, landing grill down with a deafening sound of sheared metal and shattering glass.

Lindsey plunged forward over the seat. Searing pain sliced through her as her shins hit the man's head, which slammed forward into the steering wheel with a sickening crack. She crashed into the windshield, then down on the dash, as the car rolled over on its right side. It slid another few yards before the weight of the engine pulled it upright again.

Lindsey's head thudded into the dash a second time, and the darkness of unconsciousness consumed her.

* * *

Jeff groaned as consciousness returned. Rocks and dirt bit into his cheek, and he tried to raise his head, which throbbed with a deep, unrelenting pain. Lindsey! Oh, dear God, what did he do to Lindsey? The silent air around him deepened his sense of panic. What happened to the alarm?

He heard the crunch of hard soles on gravel and tried to push up, only to have a foot land in the middle of his back, shoving him back to the ground. With quick, efficient moves, the man plucked Jeff's handcuffs off his belt and secured the deputy's hands behind him.

"Relax, boy. She'll be dead before you can get to your feet."

Jeff clawed through his memory, trying to recognize the rough voice, but nothing registered. His brain felt as fried as his muscles. But Lindsey couldn't be dead. She couldn't. An agony laced through Jeff's chest that had nothing to do with his physical injuries. "No." His voice croaked.

The man bent closer but deftly stayed out of Jeff's line of sight. "Oh, yes. You're worthless, boy. If that woman were still alive, she'd hate you for abandoning her. Sheriff Taylor should fire you. And he will by the time we get through with you. We'll be watching and waiting for the next chance to make you fail."

Jeff spit gravel out of his mouth and tried to speak. Then he heard the ominous buzz just before the spears of pain hit his shoulder. Lightning shots of current sheared through him again, and Jeff screamed in rage and despair.

* * *

Nothing smells like a wrecked car. Lindsey had been in more than one accident, and the smells always lingered in her memory. Hot oil, burnt rubber, gasoline and stressed metal. Acrid smoke burned her nose. It had startled Lindsey to consciousness, but now she just wanted to get away from it. She tried to move, but her shoulders felt wedged beneath the dash. A low moan escaped her, as each and every inch of her body felt battered and bruised.

It was an old feeling, deep from within her childhood, and she pushed it away, mentally going over her body to survey her injuries. The coppery taste in her mouth and swollen cheek and lips meant a blow to the face, and the slick and sticky liquid coating her hands told her that the plastic ties had cut deep into her skin. Her right shoulder felt twisted. One ankle throbbed with a terrible ache, but nothing felt broken. Her father had dealt her for worse.

While her injuries were excruciating, Lindsey was even more terrified that she stared, face-to-face, at her attacker. Her small, limp frame had crumpled and wedged itself in the passenger floorboard. Unbelted, the man had toppled from behind the wheel when the car went up on its right side. He'd smashed headfirst into the passenger-side window, then slid down in the seat as the car settled back on four wheels. Even unconscious and bleeding from two major head wounds, he felt menacing. Though frightened, Lindsey forced herself to remain still.

Who are you? Ghostly pale, his round face still had a babyish quality to it, like that of a teenager. She'd never seen him before, and from Jeff's reaction back at the restaurant, he hadn't recognized the attacker either. And Lindsey felt pretty certain that Deputy Jeff Gage knew just about everyone in Bell County.

Jeff. Her thoughts flashed back to the restaurant, to the sight of Jeff lying motionless on the ground.

"Please, Lord," she whispered. "Let him be okay." In that moment, Lindsey realized she really wanted Jeff here, to see him, to know he was all right. For him to tell her everything would be all right. "Please. Get us out of this."

Out. I have to get out. Lindsey tried to move, to straighten her legs, but she almost screamed from the pain that shot through her muscles and joints. She gave up, taking comfort in the sound of someone scrambling around in the brush outside the car.

"We're here!" she called out. "Please help us!"

A blinding light hit her face, and Lindsey grimaced, trying to turn away. "Hey!"

"You're supposed to be dead. Again."

Lindsey stilled. "Who are you?"

A gloved hand reached in through the passenger window and fumbled around the body of her unconscious assailant. "Is he dead?"

Fear seized Lindsey now, freezing her tongue. And old memory shot through her, one from her childhood. A voice that had made her stop in her tracks, unable to speak. Words so similar, Lindsey wondered if she were hallucinating. You're supposed to be dead. Is she dead?

She. Not he. Lindsey blinked hard, trying to clear the fog in her mind. Everything felt mixed up, the past and present running together like paint colors. Why can't I remember!

"No matter." The hand kept pulling at the man's clothes until it found the shirt pocket. "If he's not, he will be soon. Stupid…deserves to die for wrecking this car. What a waste. Beautiful machine." Fingers clawed into the pocket, plucking the piece of paper from it. "And for not completing his job with you."

The street-savvy kid who still lived deep inside Lindsey reacted instinctively, and she twisted hard, shoving herself deeper beneath the dash. She screamed just as the light swung in her direction, smashing into the spot where her head had been. The light shattered and went out. The man cursed, condemning her and everything on the planet. He reached through the window and clawed desperately at the glove compartment, but wasn't able to get it open.

Sirens split the night air, and the sound of urgent voices echoed into the ravine. The man cursed again, backing away from the car. "We're not done with you. We're around every corner."

As he crashed away through the brush, Lindsey sobbed.

Another light pierced the car, and Lindsey screamed, terror shooting through her.

"Lindsey! It's okay. We're here to help." This time the warm, soothing tones belonged to Sheriff Ray Taylor, and relief flooded through her as she recognized the baritone voice of her brother-in-law.

"Ray! Please get me out of here."

"As soon as we can, hon. Hang in there with me."

Lindsey closed her eyes, let out a slow, ragged breath, and nodded.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Strands of Deception by Robin Caroll

Strands of Deception
B&H Books (March 1, 2013)
Robin Caroll


The stack of photographs slipped to the floor, splaying across the wood planks like wildflowers over a grassy meadow. Her hands trembled as tears flowed down her cheeks. This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be happening.

Yet the pictures proved otherwise. This was real, very real. Her knees weakened. She slumped into the leather chair behind the desk. Even the familiar whoosh couldn’t comfort her now. The proof of his betrayal assaulted her. On the floor. On the desk. In her hand.

Photographs of him in another woman’s arms. How could he do this to them, his family? To her? Surely he knew this would destroy them, but he cheated anyway. She didn’t understand. Did they mean so little to him?

Her heart ached in a way she never thought possible. Like someone shredded her insides. Another sob escaped her clenched lips. It bounced off the walls and rattled her ears. She never imagined betrayal like this would hurt so badly. So deeply.

She held her head in her hands, her elbows digging into the unyielding wood of the desk. Her lungs fought to push air in and out. Her legs wouldn’t stop quaking.

The morning sun beat past the curtains and flooded the loft with light. How dare such a symbol of joy invade when her entire life had just been destroyed?

Swallowing against a dry mouth, she bit her bottom lip and stared at the photographs. All of a sudden, she felt physically ill. This would destroy not only their family, but his career. His future. Was that why the pictures were taken?

Her heart slammed against her ribs as another thought raced through her mind . . . Why were the pictures here? Everything in her didn’t want to believe what stared her right in the face. But there was no other explanation. The photos were here . . . for what? Money? A favor?


Bile burned the back of her throat. This was all wrong. Everything.

Her mind struggled to comprehend. She’d let him into the family. Trusted him. Thought she loved him and he loved her. Apparently, she was wrong.

Dead wrong.

The pictures mocked her from all sides. This was her fault. She didn’t have a choice now—she’d have to confront him and hear his excuse, not that she’d believe any lie he told. She’d destroy the photographs, all of them, and demand the negatives. Then she’d shut him out of their lives forever, even though it would kill her.

Her legs barely supported the weight of her decision as she ran for the bathroom.

Chapter 1

Two Weeks Ago

“We call Ms. Madeline Baxter to the stand.” Maddie wiped her hands on her skirt and stood. She’d testified at various trials over the years, but never one like this. Only a handful of people sat in the stuffy courtroom, the heat turned too high. She took the oath to tell the truth amid little fanfare before taking her seat in the witness stand.

She glanced over the few people sitting on the very hard, very uncomfortable pews. The judge had closed the hearing to the media, but the hounds waited just outside the oversized doors of the Shelby County Courthouse. Those allowed inside were legal figures, police, family members, and of course, the defendant.

“Ms. Baxter, will you please state your name and occupation for the court record?”

She leaned forward to the microphone. “Madeline Baxter. I’m a forensic scientist specializing in serology and DNA.”

“And you are currently employed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, correct?”

Maddie licked her lips. “In the Forensic Services Division, yes.”

The defense attorney shuffled through pages on the legal pad he held. “Can you tell us a little about your professional back- ground and qualifications, Ms. Baxter?”

Standard questions, but for the first time in her career, she felt like she was in the hot seat. “I hold a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, as well as one in forensic science from the University of Tennessee. I graduated magna cum laude ten years ago and have been working for the TBI ever since. As such, I am a commissioned law-enforcement officer.”

“Would you be described as an expert in your field, Ms. Baxter?”

They always asked the same question, just worded in various ways. Getting it on the record. “Yes.”

“And the lab where you conduct your tests . . . is it accredited?” “The TBI forensic lab is accredited by the American Society
of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board.”

“Good.” The lawyer paused for effect, Maddie was sure, returning to the table where the defendant sat, back straight and shoulders squared. “Now, Ms. Baxter, I’d like to direct you to a recent DNA test you conducted at the request of my office, regarding the defendant, Mr. Mark Hubble.”

And here we go. Maddie licked her lips again. “Yes.” “You recall performing this test?”


“Can you give the court a brief overview for the record?”

“Our lab was supplied a saliva sample taken nine years ago from a crime scene involving a sexual assault. The sample was well preserved. I initially made tests, presumptive tests, for the presence of blood, which is ortho-tolidine. I utilized hydrogen peroxide as the tests reagents. I conducted testing for acid phos- phatase, testing for P30 protein and for amylase, which is an enzyme found in saliva in high concentrations.”

“Go on.” The attorney nodded, as if he understood every- thing she said. He didn’t. Most people didn’t. All they wanted to know was what she would testify to next.

“We were also supplied, by the Shelby County Sheriff ’s Office, a saliva sample of the defendant.”

“And you ran these same tests on that sample?” “I did.”

The lawyer paced slowly in front of the courtroom, paused, then moved beside her. “And you compared the two results?”


“And what was your conclusion?”

Maddie sat up straighter. “That Mr. Hubble is excluded as a match for the saliva sample.”

The attorney smiled as he faced her. “So, in your expert opinion, Ms. Baxter, the tests you ran on the samples concluded the samples were from a different person, right?”

She nodded, then remembered she was in court. “Yes.”

“Are you positive?”

“Yes. Science doesn’t lie.”

The defense attorney smiled broadly. “Thank you, Ms.Baxter.” He grinned at the judge. “I have no further questions, Your Honor.”

The judge glanced at the opposing table. The prosecutor jumped to his feet. “We have no questions, Your Honor.”

“You may step down.” The judge excused her.