Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Duke's Promise - Excerpt

A Duke's Promise
B&H Books (September 1, 2012)
Jamie Carie

Chapter 1

London, England—June 1819

The silken curtains around the bed fluttered from the summer breeze that blew through the open windows
of the duke’s bedchamber on number 31 St. James Square. Candlelight flickered across the room, a place she had only passed by while living here with him, peeking inside, won- dering at the depths of his private chambers. The light of the candles made wavy shadows against the creamy paneled walls and Alexandria, the new Duchess of St. Easton, tried to ignore Clarissa’s incessant chatter as the maid helped her out of layer after layer of her wedding costume.

Alex tried to look anywhere but at the bed, and yet she couldn’t tear her gaze from it—the royal blue counterpane trimmed in gold, the massive four posts of carved wood draped with dark curtains, the piles of pillows. She swallowed against the knot in her throat and turned, lifting her arms and follow- ing the nudges of the maid.

“Great heavens, Your Grace, sit down before you faint. You’re as white as a ghost, you are.”

Alex obeyed, relieved to sit and rest her wobbly knees. She stared in the mirror at her reflection and watched as Clarissa took out the spiderweb-thin, diamond tiara from her hair, which Gabriel’s mother had given her as a wedding gift, and brushed out Alex’s long, dark hair. A suspended feeling of dread and terror surrounded her.

He would come in at any moment.

He would come in and find out about everything.

The fact that she wasn’t exactly sure what it was he would find didn’t help at all.

Clarissa clucked and shook her head as she plucked at the delicate chemise, her last article of clothing. “I don’t know why they let a bride wear white on a night like this. It only makes it worse if there’s any bleeding. Saints a mercy, somebody should think of dark bedding and clothing on a night like this.”

“Blood?” Alex whipped her face around toward Clarrisa’s animated frown. “Does one always bleed?”

Clarissa patted her shoulder with a reassuring smile. “Only the first time, Your Grace, and some girls don’t bleed much even then. Don’t you be frettin’ now. I shouldn’t have said anything seein’ how nervous you are, but since I did,” she shook her head in an ominous way, “just know some bleedin’ is normal. It won’t last long.”

Had she bled before? With John that night in Iceland when he had, well, might have violated her body while she was drugged from the cup of tea he had given her? Just thinking back to the details of that night made her stomach fold inside itself and a wave of nausea flooded her throat. Alex closed her eyes and tried to remember as she had so many times since that fateful evening. She didn’t remember any blood. Not on the bed or on her clothing, but she’d been so shocked, so hurt and confused that she hadn’t really looked either. There may have been a little and she just hadn’t seen it.

Father in heaven, help me get through this!

The sound of the door opening made her start. She turned, saw him—saw his beautiful, fierce, and beloved face—which made her heart hammer like the pounding of a horse at full gal- lop. Clarissa bowed, quiet for once, and crept away. Alex stood but took a step back until the backs of her knees pressed against the bench at the dressing table. She tried for a wobbly smile and failed.

Gabriel Ravenwood, the Duke of St. Easton, and now her husband, stepped out from the shadows of the room and walked toward her. Instinctively Alex reared back, her gaze locked with his. Gabriel continued toward her and when close enough gave her that smile that always made her knees turn to mush. One side of his mouth quirked up a little higher than the other, as if he knew his effect on her, his eyes intense with depths of emerald green. His steps held the stealthy grace of the animal people often compared him to—the panther. Dark, lethal, green-eyed enchantment.

She held her breath. Excitement and terror warred within her as he came right up to her and stopped, so close she could see the dark, shadowy beard that had grown across his face over the course of the day and the thick, black eyelashes that were almost too pretty on a man.

“You’re not frightened, are you?” His hand came up to lift her chin so she had to look into his eyes for him to see the truth or lie in her answer.

“No.” A bad lie, but she hoped he hadn’t been able to hear the squeak in her voice.

His hand moved from her chin to trace along the curve of her jaw with a mere brush of his fingertips. “I like your hair this way,” he murmured, taking another step closer, his fingers coursing through her hair, the weight of his hand making her head fall back, her throat exposed. “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are, Alexandria?”

She closed her eyes and shook her head, turning away. How could she be beautiful after what John had done to her? And not telling Gabriel before they married that she was quite possibly not a virgin? There wasn’t anything beautiful about that.

But he didn’t know all of that yet. She stood beneath his exploring fingertips on her face, trembling like a leaf about to give way and drop to the ground. With one forefinger he traced the arcs of her eyebrows, her cheeks, and then the curve of her mouth. She opened her lips to let out the rush of breath. Her head fell back in submission to his touch as his lips finally came down on hers.

Her arms crept up to wrap around his wide shoulders. Love for him, an intermingling of welling emotions, rose to her throat in an aching pulse, pushing aside her dread and fear. She wanted to laugh and weep at the same time, but mostly she wanted to give him everything, all of her.

She was finally his.

Gabriel immersed himself in the feel of her—her petal- soft skin, her quivering lips, her lashes against his face. With his hearing gone, he reached internally for her reactions, reading vibrations from her throat and the thudding of her heart pressed against his chest. She didn’t seem afraid now, not like when he’d walked into the room and seen her pale face. No, now she seemed pliant and eager to be in his arms.

When the back of her legs came up against the feather mattress, he leaned over her, kissing her more deeply, bending her back toward the blue counterpane, the heavy folds of the

bed curtains creating a secret space of flickering twilight. She blinked, opened her eyes as he lifted her and laid her on the blue silken surface. Standing, he saw the questions return to her eyes.

He said nothing. There was no need for words with Alexandria much of the time. They communicated with a look, a touch, their own special body language of signs and signals and long-locked gazes. It had started with letters . . . and become so much more.

Dear God, I love her.

She scrambled underneath the counterpane and he blew out the bedside candle, flooding the room with darkness. He slid in beside her. “Come here, Alexandria.”

Without sound and now little sight, the feel of her in his arms roared through him, making her seem soul-deep close to him. Fragile . . . sweet, delicate, woman . . . wife. His hands roamed over her body, branding her and making her his in truth. She tensed and, he thought, cried out, whimpering against his shoulder. He held her close, running his hand over her hair and murmuring words of comfort. He hoped the worst was over.

Afterward, he pulled her back against his stomach and sighed deeply into her hair. Within moments, a deep lethargy took over and he fell asleep.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Living In Harmony

Living in Harmony
Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2012)
Mary Ellis

Chapter 1

Rock of Ages, cleft for me

Mount Joy, Pennsylvania

The rain’s finally stopped. We’re late. I’d better get you home before your father comes looking for us carrying his squirrel rifle—thunderstorm or no.”

“Hmm,” replied Amy. John’s attempt at humor fell short of its mark.

“With my next paycheck, I should have enough money for a load of insulation to be delivered next week,” he said with great animation. “I’ll check the total weight. If it’s not too heavy for my flatbed wagon, I’ll pick it up at the lumberyard with your daed’s Belgians. That will save us the delivery charge.”

“Mh-hmm,” replied Amy, trying to shake off the odd sensation snaking up her spine. It was probably the two lemon bars she ate after the sloppy joes. Sweet and spicy didn’t always set well in her stomach.

“And I’ll pick up one of those fancy whirlpool tubs with at least a dozen water jets and also a tanning bed so your mamm won’t get so pale during the winter months.”

“That’s nice. Whatever you think would be best for the dawdi haus addition.” Amy laced her fingers together and pressed both palms down on her roiling belly.

John Detweiler pulled on the reins and steered the open buggy to the side of the road. “What has you distracted, Amy? You haven’t heard a word I’ve said since we left the cookout and singing at the Lapp farm.” His expression revealed concern rather than irritation.

Amy straightened against the bench seat, grinning as his previous words took root in her mind. “Mir leid,” she apologized. “I don’t feel quite right. I should watch the combination of foods I eat at get-togethers instead of nibbling on a dozen different treats.” She offered an apologetic smile. “I do believe mamm and daed would frown on the Jacuzzi and tanning bed ideas, so just stick to insulation.”

They laughed companionably as John checked for traffic and then guided their buggy back onto the roadway. “At least I got your attention.” He patted her knee. Even though her legs were covered by a pine-green dress and black apron, it was still an inappropriate gesture.

But Amy didn’t scold him for his affection, because everyone in the district knew they would announce their engagement this autumn and marry in November—the traditional wedding season in Lancaster County. She opened her mouth to ask him to explain his house addition plans when the acrid smell of wood smoke assailed her senses.

“Fire!” she gasped. Alarm turned her voice into a childish squeak. Her mild sensation of unease quickly escalated into full-blown dread.

“Easy, now. We just left a bonfire and s’mores roast. Who’s to say some Englischer isn’t doing the same thing over the next hill?” Nevertheless, he clucked his tongue to the horse to step up the pace.

As they rounded the bend in the road, Amy saw a streaky orange glow reflected against low-hanging clouds. “Oh, dear Lord,” she gasped, half standing in the buggy. “Bonfires don’t light up the entire sky, and that’s the direction of our farm!”

John gently pulled her down to the seat. “There are plenty of houses in that direction, Amy. Let’s not get worked up until we know for sure.” He spoke words of assurance, yet his tone wasn’t very convincing.

She squeezed her eyes shut and began to pray. Over and over silently in her head, she pleaded for the blaze to be a brush fire, or perhaps an abandoned ramshackle barn torched by the volunteer fire department for training purposes. Every few years the fire marshal scheduled an exercise and invited all surrounding fire departments to participate. Amish and Englischers arrived with lawn chairs to watch the volunteers battle the flames.

“Git up there,” John shouted, slapping the reins with urgency. The Standardbred complied, breaking into a fast trot.

The horse’s effort only hastened the inevitable conclusion for Amy King. As they reached the top of the next hill in Lancaster’s famous rolling countryside, she stared across hay and wheat fields at a daughter’s worst nightmare.

Her fervent prayers weren’t to be answered.

Her parents’ farm—her home for all twenty-two years of her life—was fully engulfed in flames. Sparks from the inferno shot thirty feet into the air as the entire yard glowed with eerie yellow light. Paralysis seized every muscle in her body. She tried to scream, to holler for more people to come help, but no sounds issued forth. Hot, stinging tears filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks as the breeze carried smoke and soot in their direction. The horse neighed loudly and fought against the harness, expressing a strong opinion about getting closer to the fire. John slipped an arm around her shoulders as he turned the buggy into the next driveway.

She barely felt his touch as she again tried to speak. “Why is no one ringing the farm bell?” she managed to say between choking coughs.

John jumped out to secure the horse to the hitching post of the house next door—the home of Amy’s aunt, uncle, and grandparents. Then he reached up for her hand. “I’m sure they rang the bell plenty. Everybody who could come is already here.” He also coughed from the bitter smoke that drifted across the yard like a heavy fog.

Avoiding his outstretched hand, Amy jumped from the buggy and sprinted through the meadow separating the two farms. She scrambled over the split rail fences with childlike agility.

John followed close on her heels, trying without success to catch hold of her. “Slow down, Amy! You’ll twist an ankle or break a leg.”

She ignored his warning and focused solely on the total destruction of the hundred-year-old wood-and-stone structure. When the wind shifted, her vision cleared briefly. The back and side yards were swarming with people. Two neighbors aimed green garden hoses ineffectually on the fire. The fire department’s larger hoses rained a steady stream on the back of the house, the side still intact. Firemen in full gear pumped water from the King pond using diesel generators. Some Amish men still clutched full buckets of water, passed to them by lines of women and children from the pond, but the intense heat prevented them from getting close enough to dump their buckets on the blaze. With soot-darkened faces they moved back, acknowledging the inevitable.

Amy stood rooted to the driveway, watching as the roof collapsed in a shower of sparks. Her home was lost. For a minute she stood transfixed, unable to look away. One by one, firemen repositioned the hoses on the barn to keep the blaze from spreading to other outbuildings. She heard the mournful bellowing of cows in the pasture, terrified by sights and sounds and smells they didn’t understand. John again tried to offer comfort with an arm around her back, but his touch merely galvanized her to action. She ran pell-mell through the crowd, amid smoke and sparks and confusion. Hoses and equipment lay everywhere, ready to send the unobservant sprawling.

“Where are my mamm and daed?” she screamed. Yet her strangled wail was barely audible. “Rachel, Beth, Nora—where are my schwestern?”

Several Amish women of their district hurried toward her, but Amy shrugged off their restraining embraces. Headlong toward the inferno she ran, and she might have slipped between firefighters and into the house if John hadn’t caught up to her.

He grabbed her around the waist and dragged her none too gently back from the heat. “Get hold of yourself!” he demanded, pinning her against the trunk of a maple. Even the bark felt warm through the cotton of her dress. “Two of your sisters were with us at the singing. Don’t you remember? Nora and Rachel said they would wait out the thunderstorm and walk home if no one offered them a lift. They chose not to ride with us to give us a chance to talk.” John’s face wavered in front of her, speaking words that took time for her to comprehend. “They are fine, Amy.”

She sucked great gulps of air into parched lungs. “And Beth?” Her voice sounded raw and hoarse from the smoke. “Where is she?”

“You told me your youngest sister was spending the night at Aunt Irene’s. She was disappointed because she’s still too young to attend social events.” John released her shoulders but didn’t step back. He remained vigilant for another sprint toward the fire.

“They’re safe?” Amy repeated the idea before asking a new question. “And my parents? Where are they?”

“I have no idea,” he moaned, his expression a mask of shock and horror.

Slowly, Amy stepped away from the rough tree trunk without her earlier panic. On tiptoes she scanned the throng for several moments before spotting Aunt Irene and Uncle Joseph. Mamm’s sister and brother-in-law had lived next door for as long as she could remember. Uncle Joseph seemed to be supporting someone to keep her from falling to the ash-covered ground. In her stupor, Amy didn’t recognize the elderly woman in the dark-brown dress, soot-speckled kapp and sturdy lace-up shoes. But the tall white-haired man at the woman’s side was very familiar indeed. “Grossdawdi,” she murmured. Her grandfather. With growing horror, Amy recognized the bent, sobbing woman as her grandmother. She could think of only one reason for grossmammi to carry on so. On unsteady legs, she staggered toward her family as John remained at her side, supporting her arm. Onlookers and would-be helpers parted before them like the Red Sea.

Grossmammi, Aunt Irene,” she said as she approached.

Both her aunt and grandmother looked up with red-rimmed, watery eyes, confirming Amy’s suspicion.

“Amy, I’m glad you’re home,” said her aunt as grossmammi wrapped her arms around her. They both patted and hugged and attempted to console what was inconsolable. Amy allowed herself to be enfolded in their embrace, feeling exhausted and numb, as though she’d run all the way from downtown Lancaster.

“Where’s Beth?” she mewed, sounding more like a kitten than a grown woman.

“Your cousins are keeping Beth away from the fire. She’s safe at our house.” Aunt Irene sounded distant and muffled, as though she were speaking underwater.

“And my mamm and daed ?” she asked with her face buried in the soft cotton of her grandmother’s dress.

“No one can locate them in the crowd.”

Aunt Irene’s words were little more than a whisper, but Amy heard the pronouncement clear as a clanging farm bell. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut.

“Amy! John!” A shout pierced Amy’s semiconsciousness.

Amy peered up at two of her sisters running toward her. Stiffening her spine with resolve, she pulled away from her grandmother. As the eldest daughter of Samuel and Edna King, she must be strong. “I’m here, Rachel, Nora.” She opened her arms to them.

Sweating and panting, with dirt-streaked faces, they hurried forward. How long had they been running? The glow from a house fire could be seen for miles in a night sky. The two girls fell into Amy’s arms, crying and hiccuping like young children.

“We’re so glad to see you,” said Rachel. “Is Beth okay?”

“She’s fine.” Amy delivered a flat, emotionless statement, knowing what question would come next.

“And mamm and daed? Where are they?” asked Nora, extracting herself from the embrace.

Amy locked gazes with Nora, younger than her by only two years. “No one has seen them since the fire started.”

Nora crossed her arms over her ash-speckled apron. “That doesn’t mean they are still in the house!” she protested, outraged at such an idea. “They could have gone for a buggy ride or a walk in the moonlight, or maybe they both went to check on the livestock.”

The third oldest sister, Rachel, also crossed her arms, looking hopeful rather than cross. “Maybe we should check the barn.”

Amy forced her mouth into a smile. “That’s true. It’s entirely possible,” she said, even though she’d never witnessed her parents doing any of those things in the middle of the night. “Why don’t we bow our heads and pray they will soon be home?”

Nora and Rachel wrapped their arms around Amy’s waist, and they all took a few steps toward the fire. The girls watched the flames consume the final side of the house with savage fury. Then they bowed their heads in silent prayer. Relatives and friends huddled close to pray, but they didn’t intrude on the sisters’ private anguish.

Amy kept her head down and eyes closed to the stinging smoke as the sound of their home crashing into a pile of embers rang in her ears. But she couldn’t keep her mind focused on her pleas to God. She wondered instead about how she would manage as the new head of the King household. What will I do when others turn to me for direction, support, and comfort?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Face of Heaven - Excerpt

The Face of Heaven
Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2012)
Murray Pura

Chapter 1

Whenever she thought back to that morning years later, or told
friends about how life was before the whole world changed, it was the warm spring sunshine and the brightness of the sky Lyndel spoke of the most. That and the green scent of the grass over which a morning rain had just come and gone, the opening of red snapdragons, and the talk of the men on the porch being lost to her ears as robins and larks opened their throats on that second day of April, 1861, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
The cows had already been milked and Lyndel’s three younger sisters were hard at work with the butter churn in a room just off the kitchen. She was heading to the barn to open the doors and lead the dairy herd out to their spring pasture. A sudden pause in the birdsong allowed the men’s voices to reach her as she crossed the yard.

“Jacob, they have seized the federal forts in South Carolina and Mississippi and Georgia. Their intent is clear. I see no hesitation on the part of the states that have left the Union. They mean to have their own country.”

“Just wait. It’s only a ploy to force President Lincoln to take their demands seriously. All will be right as rain by summer.”

“I’m not so sure, Jacob. They mean to keep their slaves. They are afraid of Lincoln.”

“So you don’t think the president can stop the Southern states, Samuel?”

“I don’t know. Only I don’t think they’re merely spinning tops and playing games. They will have their slaves and they will have their own country.”

Lyndel was surprised to find the cows pushing against the barn doors, more eager than usual to make their way to the pasture. Once she opened them, the herd rushed out, almost knocking her to the ground. Without Lyndel having to say a thing, Old Missus rapidly led the way to the pasture gate so that the young woman had to run ahead and swing it wide.

The cows shouldered through side by side, a few of them bawling, and traveled at least a hundred yards before deciding to stop and crop grass. Latching the gate, Lyndel went back to the barn to see if she could find out what had disturbed them. Perhaps a snake had found its way in among the straw.

Picking up a pitchfork to chase away any pest she encountered, she began to walk through the barn, glancing often at her feet as she stepped through the dirty straw.

Looking into the first stalls, she found they were empty of anything like porcupines or skunks or badgers. She stopped and listened a moment but heard nothing.

Slowly she made her way to the back of the barn, holding the pitchfork at chest height. Sunlight trickled between cracks in the walls and through the dusty skylight so she could make out what was in the corners. But by the time she reached the end of the barn there was still nothing. She didn’t bother taking a look at the last two stalls and turned to head back. Whatever had spooked the milk cows was long gone. But suddenly she heard a groan.

She whirled, fear pricking her chest. Brandishing the pitchfork she stepped toward the last stall on the left, expecting to see a wild dog or a coyote or fox. Instead, in the dim light she saw two sets of human eyes—then teeth as a face grimaced, struggling to breathe.

“We mean you no harm!” a voice cried and a hand shot up to ward off a blow.

Lyndel immediately lowered the pitchfork and stepped closer. “You’re slaves!” she said in astonishment.

“We’re men.”

“How long have you been here? What has happened to you?”

One man was holding the other in his arms. He was the one who spoke to Lyndel, while his friend could only fight for air and wince. “We’ve been on the run from our plantation in Virginia for three weeks,” he said, holding the wounded man close to his chest. “We made good time riding the boxcars. But we had to jump while the train was moving last night and Charlie got hurt pretty bad.”

Lyndel was wearing a traditional Amish dress of navy blue over which she had tied a large black apron. Leaning the pitchfork against the wall, she knelt and took the apron off. The man named Charlie had a deep cut at the side of his chest, and she folded the apron twice and pressed it against the wound to slow the flow of blood. She used the apron strings to tie it tightly.

“Have you had anything to eat or drink?” she asked the man who was doing the talking.

“There’s plenty of water in the streams and rain barrels. But we haven’t had anything to eat. Not for two days.”

“Let me fetch you something.”

A hand grabbed her by the wrist. “Don’t tell anyone. They’re hunting us. This is the third time Charlie’s tried to escape. They said they’d hang him if they caught him running again. They’ll cross the state line and comb this county.”

Lyndel, still kneeling, fixed her eyes on the frightened man. “I will only tell people I can trust. I won’t tell anyone who would go to the sheriff in Elizabethtown. He would feel bound by law to tell the slave hunters if they showed up here.”

“They’ll show up here.” For the first time a smile came over the man’s face. “We may not look like it right now but we’re worth a lot of money.”

“And why is that?”

“Book learning, ma’am. I was taught to read and write by an elderly gentleman at the plantation. He had me read the Bible to him and all sorts of books written in America and England. Seven times I read the Bible through from beginning to end for that fine man.”

Lyndel paused. Smiling back, she patted the man on the arm. “Then we must take good care of you.”

He released his grip on her wrist and she stood up. “I will be a few minutes,” she said. “Please don’t worry. I will not betray you.”

He was still smiling. “I believe you.”

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“My name is Moses Gunnison,” he said.

She reached down and took his hand in hers. “I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Gunnison. I am Lyndel Keim.”

“Pardon me for saying so, but you have large hands for a woman, ma’am. And some strength in them.”

“I have been a farmer’s daughter all my life, Mr. Gunnison.”

“Do you have a husband, ma’am?”

“Oh, no. There’s been no time for that. But I do have a brother. He’s the one I will go to. He will help you. We will both help you.”

“Thank you, ma’am. God bless you.”

Lyndel straightened and brushed the straw off her dress. “Why, God bless you too, Mr. Gunnison.” She adjusted the black prayer kapp on her head and looked down at Charlie. “You are going to be all right.” He stared up at her, his eyes exhausted from fear and pain. “I will be right back with my brother Levi as well as food and drink.”

She thought quickly as she walked through the barn and out into the morning sunlight. The men were still seated on the porch and still talking politics. Her father, the bishop of their Amish community, sat in the middle of them, tall and slender, his beard night-black, listening carefully to the different opinions, now and then leaning forward and interjecting. She loved her father—indeed, she cared for all the men seated with him, several of whom were the church’s ministers. But she also knew how law-abiding they were. If she told them about Moses and Charlie they would offer as much assistance as they possibly could. Yet they would also feel bound to hitch up a wagon and drive into Elizabethtown and inform the law there were two runaways hiding out in the Keim barn. Instantly she decided against confiding in any of them, including Papa. She smiled as she walked past them toward the stable, where she knew her brother was doing the work of a farrier and trimming their horses’ hooves now that it was spring.

Levi was wiping his face with a red handkerchief, sweat running down into the collar of his white work shirt. He was speaking to someone who was bent over and holding a horse’s hoof between his legs and fighting to get the nipper in position to cut. Lyndel hesitated. Even though the man with the hoof nippers had his back to her she recognized his build, and when he answered her brother she knew for certain: Levi’s good friend, Nathaniel King, was the one wrestling to trim Dancer’s left front hoof. She had not expected to see him today but Levi must have asked him to come over and lend a hand with the horses.

Her brother glanced over and grinned as she came into the stable. “Hello, Ginger. You’re just in time to help. Nathaniel can’t get Dancer to cooperate and since she’s your mare, can you reason with her?”

“I can try.”

She walked over and stood in front of Dancer, who whinnied and allowed Lyndel to hold her head and scratch her between the ears.

“That’s better,” grunted Nathaniel. He moved quickly with the nippers and the mare was done. He released the leg and stood up, stretching his back and smiling at Lyndel. “Danke.

“May I call you ‘Ginger’ too?”

“No, you may not. You both know I don’t like it. Only Levi gets away with it.”

“So just plain old Lyndel?”

“Yes, just plain old Lyndel. You make me sound like one of Levi’s horses.”

“My apologies. You certainly deserve better than that. Hair like fire. Eyes like sky.”

Lyndel felt the heat in her cheeks.

Levi laughed. “Are you going to court my sister? I thought you came over to help me.”

“I did,” smiled Nathaniel. “But now we’re finished.”

Ja, well, how about sitting down for a coffee before you ask her to go for a ride in your buggy?”

“Sure, a coffee would be good right about now.”
Lyndel walked Dancer out of the stable and into a bright green paddock with two other horses. “You don’t need to talk as if I’m not here, you two,” she said over her shoulder. “And the older men are sitting on the porch.”

“Still here?” groaned Levi. “What do they find to go on about for so long?”

“The South.”

“Oh, the South. These things work themselves out.” Levi glanced at Nathaniel. “If we want coffee we will have to run the gauntlet. They’ll probably make us sit with them and offer up our opinions.”

Nathaniel shrugged. “I don’t have an opinion on the South. They live what they live and we live what we live.”

Lyndel turned from closing the stable gate. “And what if others can’t live, Nathaniel King? What is your opinion on that?”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Chasing The Wind - Excerpt

Chasing The Wind
B&H Books (August 1, 2012)
Pamela Ewen

Chapter 1

AMALISE TURNED FROM THE WINDOW, LEANED back against it, and surveyed her office. It was good to be back. Her eyes caressed the leather- upholstered furnishings, the vintage mahogany desk and bookshelves, the Black’s Law Dictionary given to her by the firm after her second year of law school, the rows of thick volumes bound in rich, colored leather—red, green, and black with gold lettering across the spines—records of corporate transactions she’d worked on during her first year with the firm, plus a few borrowed from other associates to occupy the spaces she would one day fill with more of her own.

Her eyes landed on a framed photograph on a shelf above the books, and a f lood of emotions—anger, pity, fear, sorrow—hit her all at once. She walked over and picked up the photo of her and her former husband. Phillip Sharp’s dark eyes glowered at her from under his brows, as if he had known even then how things would end. In the picture they sat at the CafĂ© Pontalba, across from Jackson Square, where she’d waited tables every day for three years during law school.

She closed her eyes, and the memories rushed in, swirling and min- gling—Phillip’s slow descent into madness, his hatred of her, his death, and then the accident and the blessed loss of memory in those last few moments. Twenty minutes, gone. Retrograde amnesia, the doctors said.

She’d been trapped in a nightmare with Phillip. Jude had warned her.

And Jude had saved her in the end.

Amalise moved along the bookcase, plucking each picture of Phillip from its place among those of Mama and Dad, Jude, Gina, and one of Rebecca and her in caps and gowns at graduation from law school. Tucking Phillip’s pictures in the crook of her arm, she crossed to the long credenza behind her desk that held the telephone, her daily appointment book, some new yellow legal pads, a box of sharpened number-two pen- cils, and more photographs.

She picked up a box of business cards and pulled one out. Embossed in shining black letters across the center of the card, just above her con- tact information at the firm, was the name “Amalise Catoir.” Sans Sharp. Good. Pushing the card back into the box, she set it down and trailed her fingers across a framed photograph of Mama and Dad at home in Marianus. And another one of Jude.

Jude, her oldest dearest friend. Since childhood, from the time she was six years old and he was ten, they’d been inseparable. She’d tagged along behind him everywhere. She smiled and picked up the photograph, studying it. He’d taught her to swim and fish, tutored her in math, taught her how to dance. Here, he stood on deck aboard a ship at the mouth of the river, poised to climb down to the pilot boat waiting below. His skin browned by the sun, he shaded his eyes with his hand as the camera caught him by surprise.

Her Jude.

And then a question rose against her will: Was he really hers?

Rebecca came to mind. Beautiful, glamorous Rebecca. How casually
she’d introduced Jude to Rebecca, never thinking. Amalise remembered the two of them as they were on that day, two years ago, when she married Phillip. Standing on the veranda, Rebecca had looked up at Jude, green eyes sparkling as he took her hand and led her to the dance f loor.

They had been dating ever since. Yet Amalise had never given much thought to their relationship—until now. For one thing, Jude was too fine a man and too old a friend to discuss his love life. And Rebecca was focused on her career. Driven by her career, in fact.

Amalise’s smile slowly faded. These new feelings for Jude were com- plicating things. During the past few months, while he’d spent so much time at her side as she recuperated, she’d grown conscious of a longing for something more than friendship with Jude, something deeper and differ- ent. She felt a connection with him that went way beyond their childhood companionship.

Was this love?

But how could anyone fall in love with her oldest, dearest friend? He was there in her every memory of youth. Could a person know someone so completely, their every little fault and wonderful thing, and then accept, or even understand, such a fundamental shift in their friendship and then just segue on to romance? Imagining the expression on Jude’s face if she were ever to tell him of her feelings, she put the picture back on the credenza, setting it by the telephone where one of Phillip used to stand.

Jude probably still thought of her as that child.

And then there was Rebecca.

She set her mind to putting these thoughts aside. Jude was her best friend, but Rebecca was a good friend too. They had gone to law school together, becoming the first two women ever hired as attorneys by the prestigious firm of Mangen & Morris. They were the Silver Girls.

Amalise knew she should be happy for Rebecca. And yet, as she turned to her desk, pulled out the chair, and sat down, an empty space opened inside at the possibility of losing Jude to her. She set the pictures she’d gathered up of Phillip face-down on the desk and pushed them aside. She couldn’t imagine life without Jude. He’d had girlfriends over the years, of course. Women loved Jude. But she had always come first, she’d thought, at least since the time she was too young to think otherwise.

And recently, she’d again come to take for granted her supreme spot in Jude’s heart. She hadn’t wondered once about Rebecca during her recu- peration and Jude’s ministrations. Indeed, she’d been so shaken by Phillip’s death, the accident, and the amnesia that sheltered her from knowing what had happened at the end, that she had readily slipped into that old familiar intimacy with Jude, almost as if they’d traveled back in time.

But what about Rebecca?

Amalise reached out, running her hands over the dark, solid desk, steadying herself, reminding the nagging voice inside her head that, since the accident, Jude had spent every moment away from work on the river at her side instead of here in the city with Rebecca.

Enough! She was determined to enjoy her first day back at work.
She leaned down and pulled out the bottom drawer and then swept the pictures of Phillip Sharp inside. One night soon she would take them home and store them in some dark place. For now, she turned and put her hands f lat before her on the desk, ready to go to work.

She recalled once more the glittering prize: partnership at Mangen & Morris in six more years. The unacknowledged fact that hung between Rebecca and Amalise—their competition for that prize—drifted just below the surface of her conscious thought.

She shook off the ruminations and glanced at the stack of files Raymond had left on the corner of her desk. As she reached for the folder on top, she found a note clipped inside. A surge of energy shot through her as she read it. She was ready to jump back into life, into her work. In Raymond’s cryptic scrawl the note read: Welcome back, Amalise.