Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Judgment Stone by Robert Liparulo

The Judgment Stone
Thomas Nelson (May 14, 2013)
Virginia Smith

Chapter 1


The surface-to-air missile blasted out of a rocket launcher resting on the monk’s shoulder and streaked toward the hovering helicopter. Fire plumed from the rear of the bazooka-like weapon, bright in the nighttime gloominess of St. Catherine’s courtyard, momentarily blinding Jagger Baird, who stood behind it and off to one side. Through the haze of bleached retinas he saw the copter rise and whirl around with the aerial agility of a hawk and the rocket sail past it. Seeming confused, the projectile corkscrewed toward the moon and exploded. The helicopter moved beyond the compound’s west wall, over the monastery’s gardens, and vanished.

Jagger watched for a few more seconds. When it didn’t reappear, he stepped closer to Father Leo. The youthful monk’s splotchy beard, flowing black cassock, and—mostly—the smoking weapon still perched on his shoulder made him look more like a Taliban fighter than a man of God.

Jagger said, “Where’d you get that?”

Leo turned a big grin on him. “If only the rocket had been heat-seeking.”

“Any more?”

Leo let the launcher slide off his shoulder and fall to the stone ground. “I wish.” He reached inside his cassock and pulled out a black shotgun. He pumped the forestock, chambering a shell.

“I need a gun,” Jagger told him.

Leo’s forehead creased. “Where’s yours?”

As head of security for the archeological dig outside the east wall of the monastery, Jagger should have been armed to the teeth—at least better equipped than the monks—but Egypt enforced strict gun restrictions, especially among foreigners. Still, he had petitioned Gheronda, the monastery’s abbot, for a firearm, and the old man had reluctantly given him a Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan, a short-barreled .44 magnum revolver with a wicked recoil. “All the brothers are afraid of it,” Gheronda had explained with a slight smile. It was Jagger’s under condition: he had to keep it locked in a pistol safe in his apartment. Far from ideal—how many bad guys waited around while you ran for your gun?—but it was better than nothing. Or maybe not. Not when you were making your rounds when the action started, as he had been just as someone tried to blow open the compound’s main gate.

Jagger looked up to his third-floor apartment, where he hoped his wife and son were holed up in a makeshift panic room: a small closet with a bolted metal door, which Jagger had installed after the last attack on the monastery. “Beth has it,” he told Father Leo, picturing his wife pointing the weapon at the door in a two-handed grip. Don’t mess with Beth.

Leo reached into his cassock again and produced a semiautomatic Glock. He handed it to Jagger, who ejected the magazine, checked it for bullets, shoved it back into the grip, and chambered a round. That done, the two of them turned toward the gate. The inner iron door—one of three that blocked the entrance—bulged inward. Smoke seeped through the edges and streamed up the wall like a waterfall in reverse. Five other monks—Fathers Bardas, Luca, Antoine, Mattieu, and Corban—stood or crouched in a thirty-foot semicircle around it. Three of them wore black cassocks and caps. Luca, obviously rousted from bed, had on a gray flannel nightshirt that fell to his knees; all he needed was a cloth nightcap—and thirty more years—to be Ebenezer Scrooge awakened by a ghost. Corban wore a brown bathrobe cinched tight around his waist; a silver pectoral cross hung over his chest. Each of them was pointing either a rifle or a handgun at the gate. They looked as incongruous and awkward as Clint Eastwood competing in the Miss USA Pageant.

“Back away!” Jagger yelled. He gestured with RoboHand, his prosthetic forearm and clamping hook. “Hurry! Move!” The only way anyone was coming through would be if they detonated another explosive, which would most likely send the doors and surrounding stone walls hurling toward the monks.

Apparently, when the first explosion failed to breach the gate, the attackers had decided to use the helicopter to get in. Having encountered Leo’s rocket, and with no way of knowing the one shot had exhausted his supply, their next move was anyone’s guess.

“Only six of you?” Jagger said to Leo. “Where’re the rest?”

“Not all of us are fighters. Not the kind you're used to.”

“What kind are they?”

“Prayer warriors,” Leo said. “You can bet they're engaging the enemy at this very moment.”

“Wonderful,” Jagger said. He scanned the grounds. The courtyard was wedge-shaped, about thirty feet at its widest point. It was formed by the front wall; the long basilica, which angled diagonally from the back of the courtyard toward the wall; and a structure built around the Well of Moses. No Disney-cute names here: supposedly it was the very well at which Moses met his future wife, Zipporah. Radiating out from the courtyard was a crazy jumble of buildings—constructed at odd angles, in various shapes and sizes and materials over the course of seventeen centuries—honeycombed by alleys, stairs, walkways, terraces, and tunnels. All of it was crammed into an area the size of a city block, hemmed in by ancient walls sixty feet high and nine feet thick.

Over the multileveled rooftops and terraces he could see the top floor of the Southwest Range Building at the far back of the compound. It stretched the entire length of the rear wall and, situated on high ground—the entire monastery was built on the sloping base of Mount Sinai—it appeared even larger than it was. In addition to a hospice, chapel, and monk cells, it housed a library and icon gallery, second only to the Vatican’s in historic importance and monetary value. Whatever the attackers wanted, chances were it was there.

Behind the Southwest Range Building, the mountain on which Moses had received the Ten Commandments rose like a watchful presence, a charcoal silhouette against a slate sky. Jagger was thankful for the moon, which here in the Sinai always seemed closer to Earth than it did back in Virginia. Even in its current half-lit state, its radiance washed away many of the compound’s shadows and gave the surfaces a silvery luminosity.

He turned in a circle and stopped when he was facing Father Leo. The monk held the shotgun in one hand, its muzzle pointed up. Feet apart, spine straight, eyes slowly scanning the top of the front wall, he looked ready for anything. No fear, just vigilance. Jagger wondered how many times the man had defended the monastery and if he’d known what he was getting into when he joined the order.

Jagger asked, “What are they after?”

Continuing his visual sweep across the wall’s ramparts, Leo shook his head. “I don’t know.”

In the still air Jagger could hear the blades of the helicopter slowing, its engine dropping to a purr, then cutting off. It had landed in front of the gardens, on the opposite side of the monastery from the archaeological dig. He ran toward the compound’s northwest corner, bounded up a long flight of stone stairs, and came to a patio in front of a row of unused monk cells. He climbed onto a railing and hoisted himself onto the porch’s steeply sloping roof. After twice almost losing his footing, he reached the flat roof of the monk cells. It was only about eight feet from the porch roof to the exterior wall; “small” didn’t even begin to describe the private living space the monks allowed themselves. Crossing it, he reached the compound’s outer wall, the top of which came to his chest. He climbed up and crawled to the outside edge.

The helicopter sat in the faded edge of the light from lamps mounted on the outside wall. It was canted on the slope leading to the mountain opposite Mt. Sinai, its blades turning as slowly as a rotisserie. The things scrambling out of its wide side door and running toward the monastery made Jagger’s breath stop in his lungs.

A single word gripped his mind, momentarily paralyzing him: monsters.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Heartbeat Away by S. Dionne Moore

A Heartbeat Away
Abingdon Press (May 1, 2013)
S. Dionne Moore

Chapter 1

September 14, 1862
Battle of South Mountain

Joe opened his eyes to darkness. A shadow moved against the semi-blackness of a window and his senses screamed the warning. He jerked, gasped at the jolt of pain, and fell back. His heart pounded with fear at his weakness as his mind struggled to place where he was. Ben? Where was he? They had stayed close to each other. Too close. Ben had blamed himself when Joe had taken the minie ball in his shoulder. Joe heard his own voice as if from a great distance; his explanation to ease Ben’s guilt; “We’re in a war, what do you expect?”

He blinked as a vision of Ben flashed through his pounding head. He massaged his forehead, felt a hand on his shoulder and swung to his left, rolling to avoid the contact. He fell into nothingness, slammed into the floor. Pain took his breath.


Through the waves of nausea he realized one thing, the voice was soft. Feminine. When the hands touched his shoulder, his face, he felt the softness in the fingertips, reminding him of home and gentler times.

“You’re in a springhouse on our farm,” the voice rushed to explain. “You were injured.”

He gritted his teeth against the weakness of even sitting up. Her hands left arm, though he could hear the swish of her skirts. A flicker of light, then a touch against the wick and brighter light.

“Can you stand?” She went to the bed, yanked the covers back up that had twisted with him to the floor. “I’ll try to help you.”

“No,” he spit the word, and rocked to his knees, fighting for consciousness through ever move. Why was there such searing pain? The minie ball injury? “I’ll get up.”

She guided him down onto the thin mattress and covered him with a quilt. He felt like a child being put down for a nap. Her fingers swiped hair from his brow and he swallowed against a new tightness in his throat. How long had it been since he’d felt a gentle touch?

“I’ll get my grandmother. Perhaps she can—”

“Stay.” He exhaled hard, wanting nothing more than to feel her touch against his face again. To hear the softness of her voice.

She’d made as if to rise, but settled back in the chair and into the circle of light. “You know who you are and what happened?”

“My shoulder. I was shot by a Yank in a skirmish. Ben. . .my brother was with me.”

“He’s not here. It’s only you. You were brought here by. . .a group of people.”

Such a lot of words. Too many for him to make sense of them all. Golden light shimmered against her dark hair and revealed a flash of darkness along her cheek. A dimple? He blinked and felt the grit in his eyes.

“Go back to sleep. It truly is the best thing for you.”

“Ben. . .” He let the word linger, his mouth dry, lips stinging. He raised his hand to touch the burning spot along his mouth but the effort was too much. The woman’s voice was a whisper in his ear, his eyes too heavy to open and he didn’t want to. All he wanted was to know his brother was safe. The woman had to know something, didn’t she? Lost on a rise of pain emanating from his chest—or was it his shoulder?—the question spun away from him. Giving up the fight, he dragged in a deep, shuddering breath and forced himself to relax against the waves of discomfort.
Gerta Bumgartner stood sentry over the inert form of the Confederate soldier, a position Elizabeth had seen her grandmother take many times to heal the sick and suffering. But this, this was different and they all knew it.

"His wound is bad, Grandmama," she worried aloud as she stepped into the coolness of the Spring House.

Gerta's sharp eyes, only now dimming with a fog that made it hard for her to focus, took in the dark interior of the room. Babbling along the floor, a spring ran up through the ground, paused to maintain a pool of water, then gurgled off beneath the wall and out into the bright September sunshine.

Another roar vibrated through the air. The two shared a look, each understanding and mirroring back the worry of cannons and charging brigades moving their direction. The war was edging closer to them every minute.

"The fighting is fierce. The south will prevail."

She should have been used to the shocking things Gerta said by now. It was part of the reason her grandmother stayed to herself and was no longer called on as much among the citizens of Sharpsburg. "How can you say that Grandmama, knowing that your grandson fights for the North?"

Gerta chuckled and wiped her hands on a linen that lay across the wounded soldier's chest. "I say what I think." She shot a mischievous grin. "Tomorrow I'll root for the Yanks."

Beth took in the soldier's gray complexion, the dry, cracked lips. No shoes. His feet were cracked on top, the bottoms splotched with blisters and dirt.

"A right sad lot of men if he's any example," Gerta said. "Did you burn the clothes and the bedding?"

"Yes." She couldn’t help the grimace. She’d been forced to burn the rag of a dress she’d worn while dragging the louse infested mattress and clothes out to the fire. Her ankle and leg ached from the work.

"I stripped him down and scrubbed him hard." Gerta pointed to a long tube hung on a leather string around his neck. "A louse trap."

Beth raised a brow. "Another one of your remedies?"

Another cackle of glee burst from her grandmother. "Can't take the credit for this one. It works and there was plenty of his blood to bait the trap."

Beth stared at the narrow tube and decided she didn't want to know anymore.

Gerta stroked the man's forehead almost as if she feared his skin would tear with the least pressure. She'd felt that tender touch before. Felt her grandmother's gentle pressure against the hollows of the eyebrows that helped relieve pressure in the head, or the massage that eased pain and relaxed taut muscles in the neck. "Tell me about the package."

For a moment she couldn't fathom to what her grandmother referred, then she recalled the brown wrapped package beside the armchair in front of the fireplace. "I haven't opened it yet."

"I can see that, girl, but where did it come from?"

"I brought it with me."

"Your mama."

She managed a stiff nod. "She wanted me to have something of home."

"Yet you haven't unwrapped it?"

Beth shrugged. "I haven't been homesick."

Gerta straightened and put a hand to her back, a grimace tightening her features. "I think I'll sit a spell. We'll need to bake more bread. As much as we can over the next few days."

"I've already started." She didn’t bother to remind her grandmother that she’d said the same thing every day for the last two days, ever since word of the Confederates moving into Frederick had been received.

Elizabeth followed her grandmother's brisk steps outside at a slower pace. Already the September air blew hot. A beautiful day redolent with the rushes of gentle breezes and a mopcap of white clouds scudding along the blue sky. Yet even the warm rays of the sun seemed restless as they stabbed through the clouds, then disappeared, only to reappear within seconds. She wondered, fancifully, if even God was nervous about the artificial white-cloud capping South Mountain and the battle waging there.

She hadn't realized she'd stopped to stare until her grandmother's voice broke into her thoughts.

"There go the Roulette's."

Beth's gaze followed the bend in the road that ran in front of her grandmother's farm and led Northeast to Hagerstown.

"Going to the church, no doubt."

"Aren't you worried, Grandmama?"

"You wanted to train as a nurse and the Good Lord saw fit for those slaves to bring you your first patient." Gerta turned back toward the house. "We'll have more than we can handle if the fighting keeps up."

She traced her grandmother's path into the generous kitchen not quite done with the conversation. "You think they'll come this way?"

"They'll be all over the place. Harper's Ferry is a threat that they'll have to deal with."

"And you're not afraid?"

Gerta snorted. She dipped water from a bucket into a kettle and set it to heat. "I'm seventy-nine years old, sharp of tongue and knowing more than all those Rebels and Yanks put together--"

"All of them?" Beth couldn't help the smile.

Her grandmother shot her a grin and flattened her lips like the bill of a duck. A comical, mischievous expression Beth had seen frequently on her father’s mother’s face, hard times or not. "Well, most of them. Goodness knows there's nothing much to fear at my age except dying and going to the wrong place, and I've had that one settled for years."

"But what if they steal or force you to leave or. . .?" She shuddered, her mind going to the worst possible scenario.

Scooping tea leaves into her favorite cup, Gerta raised another, empty cup, eyebrows lifted in question. Beth nodded.

Gerta measured out tea leaves, her bright, dark gaze unflinching. "Nothing bad will happen, Bethie."

She pressed her lips together, the truth stinging afresh. "Already so many have died."

"And there will be many more who will need our help."

Nursing, she meant. It was the one dream that Beth had clung to in the days since leaving her parents' home to stay with her grandmother, intending to join with the Army of the Potomac and Clara Barton. A dream that had waned a bit as rumors circulated of the coming troops. But the blacks had come under cover of darkness the night before, bringing the soldier and igniting the need to be of more use than sitting and stitching or cooking all over again.

Gerta had never been able to understand why the blacks had come to her, other than her reputation for helping the ailing. Whatever the reason, her grandmother had not turned them or the soldier away.

Gerta slid the cup of tea toward her. Dutifully taking a sip, Beth couldn’t help but smile. No one made a cup of tea like her grandmother, or maybe it was so good because it was made by someone who knew her as well as her grandmother did.

“You’re limping.”

She covered the sigh by blowing the air onto the tea. Her leg. Her ankle. Always a problem. “I want to help.”

“Your mother gave you something to keep your hands busy so you could rest your leg.”

Beth didn’t meet her grandmother’s gaze. Gerta, of all people, knew exactly how much she despised being relegated to tasks that made her sit and rest. “It’s not going to be a problem.” She lifted her chin, pleased to see not an ounce of pity in Gerta’s eyes.

“Then we should get to work.”

Beth took a long sip of tea, dreading another day of baking. Perhaps her pride should be swallowed instead of the tea.

A sagging flour sack beckoned, as did the twenty something loaves of bread already baked, awaiting the inevitable hungry mouths of the enemy whose goal must be Hagerstown to join the rest of the confederate army. They could hide the loaves. Save them for the Union troops that were even now engaging the Rebs. She hoped the enemy wouldn’t decide to loot the Union held garrison at Harper’s Ferry that would take the Confederates through her grandmother’s small town. Sharpsburg would be ravaged by the thieving monsters. She feared her hopes were already dashed though, as reports of the confederates in that part of Virginia had already filtered back, putting the townspeople in a vice of fright, hemmed in on three sides by the enemy.

Allowing herself to be carried off to a more peaceful time by the familiar work of adding water to flour to form a dough, inhaling the yeasty sour dough scent, Beth did her best to blank her mind of the worries that nagged. When she finished kneading enough dough for four loaves, she began another batch, until perspiration dampened her neckline and flour dusted the front of her bodice and her bad foot sent shards of pain shooting into her leg. She dragged up a stool and continued the work. Wiping the flour from her hands, she heaved a heavy sigh when the sticky flour mess mussed her skirts instead of the apron she should have been wearing to protect her clothes. She brushed at the mess and decided it best to let the moist flour dry before picking it off her skirt. She tied on her grandmother's worn calico apron with the pretty stripes. The striped material was a little wild for her mother's taste, but it fit Gerta's personality to a tee. The thought tugged a smile from her as she plunged her hands into another batch of warm, sticky dough.

The yard door rattled open behind her. Gerta opened and shut the door quickly. “The flies are terrible.” She set a cup of tea down on the work surface. "I wanted him to drink some, but he fell asleep again.” She surveyed Beth’s work with a sharp eye that belied her deteriorating eyesight. “You've quite enough there. Add more flour to the sourdough for tomorrows baking. I'll start on some pies while you rest."

Beth finished the dough, placed it in a bowl and covered it to rise. A long line of bowls lined the work surface in front of her.

"Biscuits would be good as well. Maybe a meat pie."

"Are you going to have Harold take the milk cow, chickens, and horse to safety?"

Gerta measured out lard and turned to the flour sack. "He's driving Mrs. Knicks cow too and said adding more wouldn't be a problem."

Beth sighed. At least the animals would be safe should the soldiers come their way and pillage. She’d heard stories of the damage they’d done at Frederick. Finished with the bread, Beth wiped her hands on the apron and picked up the tea she’d left mostly untouched. She tasted it and frowned.

"A pinch of cinnamon and a bit of the hot water," Gerta nodded toward the kettle, "will warm it up just fine."

Ridiculous that tea still soothed on such a warm day, but it did. She inhaled, and the rich cinnamon took her back to a time, years before. Her throat swelled shut as the memories assaulted her afresh. She stared down into the cup. A shell whizzed and shattered. Beth started, the tea splashing onto her hand, the tin mug slipped to the floor and splashed its contents.

A shout rent the air then. Beth caught her grandmother's moment of confusion before she wadded her hands in her apron to wipe the hot liquid from her hand and bolted toward the door, one word spat into the air and left to explain the sudden outburst. "Joe."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Follow the Heart by Kaye Dacus

Follow the Heart
B&H Books (May 1, 2013)
Kaye Dacus

Chapter 1 - Excerpt

SS Baltic
Off the Coast of England
February 9, 1851

You should come back down to the saloon, where it’s warm.” Kate did not turn from the vista of gray, choppy water in front of her at her brother’s voice. The last fourteen days seemed as nothing to Christopher—a lark, an adventure, not the exile Kate knew it to be.

An exile that came with an edict: Find someone wealthy to marry.

“I do not see the point in sitting in the grand saloon, pretending as though everything is fine when I know it is not. I have no talent at pretense.” Kate wrapped her thick woolen shawl closer about her head and shoulders at a gust of icy wind. “If any of those other passengers knew we were being sent to England as poor relations, they would shun us.”

Just as everyone in Philadelphia had. Word of Graham Dearing’s financial misfortune spread like last summer’s great fire that consumed the Vine Street Wharf—quickly and with almost as much destructive force. Kate and Christopher’s stepmother had been too embarrassed to come down to the train station to see them off to New York two weeks ago—too afraid she would see someone she recognized on the street and not be acknowledged. Only Father had come with them to New York to say good-bye. And to remind Kate why she was being sent to her mother’s brother: to find and marry a fortune that would save their family. The memory of their argument on the platform before she joined Christopher to board the ship burned through her like the coal that powered them closer to her destiny.

“What’s wrong with enjoying the trappings of money while we can?” Christopher sidled up beside her and leaned his forearms against the top railing. “Besides, from Uncle Anthony’s letter, it doesn’t sound like he plans to treat us any differently than his own children, just because we’re ‘poor relations,’ as you put it.”

“But they’ll know. Sir Anthony and his daughters and whatever house staff they have—they’ll know that we’re completely dependent upon their charity. It will be written in their eyes every time they look at us. Every time we sit down at a meal with them. Every time they take us to a ball or party. We will be creating additional expense for them.” Kate trembled, not just from the cold.

You had no problem with our creating additional expense for Father when we lived at home. Why start worrying about it now?”

Kate finally turned to look—to gape—at her brother. Certainly he was younger than she, but only by three years. However, he was a qualified lawyer, a man full-grown at twenty-four years old. How could he speak so juvenilely? Did he not realize what Father and Maud had done to afford to send them abroad? Had he not noticed the missing paintings, carpets, and silver—sold so Father could afford their passage? Kate had a suspicion that much of their stepmother’s heirloom jewelry had met the same fate. Not to mention Father’s sacrifice of pride in begging his first wife’s brother, the baronet Sir Anthony Buchanan, to take them in.

Christopher’s light-brown eyes twinkled and danced. “Come on, Kate. I’ve heard that wealthy men can be plucked up on every corner in England, so you’ve nothing to worry about. They will take one look at you and be lining up at Uncle Anthony’s door to court you.”

Heat flared in her cheeks. “You can stop that nonsensical flattery right now, Christopher Dearing. It will get you nowhere.” But she couldn’t stop the smile that forced its way through her worry.

“It got me exactly what I wanted.” He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze, then turned and forced her to walk back toward the stairs leading down to the grand saloon on the deck below. “We will be docking in a few hours, and you’ve been sulking the entire voyage. I insist you come below and enjoy yourself, just for a little while. Or pretend, on my account.”

Tiny snowflakes floated down and landed on Kate’s shawl and the mittened hand holding it to her chin. “Oh, all right. I will come. But only to get warm before we dock.”

It took her eyes several moments to adjust to the darkness of the stairwell. Reaching the grand saloon, Kate slowed and waited for Christopher to regain her side. Though not yet noon, the candles in the hanging lamps and wall sconces had been lit against the gloomy gray skies outside. The large, etched-glass columns in the middle of the room, which connected to the skylights above, brought in little light to reflect from the mirrors lining the walls between the doors to the sleeping cabins.

Several younger men, playing cards in the corner near the foot of the stairs, called out to Christopher, entreating him to come join the game.

He waved them off with a laugh and then offered Kate his arm. “Come, there are a few people who would like to speak to you.”

At the opposite end of the long room, partially hidden by one of the glass pillars from the card players near the stairs, sat a group of middle-aged women and a few men. The rest of the men, she assumed, were in the smoking room.

“Ah, here is your beloved sister, Mr. Dearing.” An older lady patted the seat of the settee beside her. “Do, come sit, Miss Dearing.” Mrs. Headington’s clipped British accent made Kate more nervous than she usually felt before strangers. That, and learning the woman had been governess to their cousins many years ago. Mrs. Headington was so particular and exacting, Kate worried she and Christopher would disappoint their extended family at every turn.

Kate removed her mittens and shawl and perched on the edge of the sofa. “Thank you, Mrs. Headington.”

“We were just speaking of the Great Exhibition.” The plump former governess waved a fan in front of her flushed, moist face, her more-than-ample bosom heaving against her straining bodice with each breath.

The Great Exhibition?” Kate folded the shawl and set it on her lap, where she rested her still-cold hands on it.

“Oh, Kate, I’ve told you all about it. Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition. It’s to be the largest display of industry and arts from all over the world.” Christopher’s eyes took on the same gleam as when he talked about laws governing the railroads. “Imagine—delegations are coming from as far as India, Algiers, and Australia and bringing displays of their industry and manufacturing, their artwork. Some are even bringing wild animals.”

He lost the dreamy expression for a moment. “And I have heard there will be agricultural exhibits, Kate. You may find some exotic plants for the garden.”

She smiled at the memory of her garden, her favorite place in the world—but melancholy and reality struck down the moment of joy. She might never see her garden again. For either she would marry some wealthy Englishman and stay in England for the rest of her life, or Father would be forced to sell the house.

Jennifer: An O’Malley Love Story by Dee Henderson

Jennifer: An O’Malley Love Story
Bethany House Publishers (May 1, 2013)
Dee Henderson

Jennifer: An O'Malley Love Story by Bethany House Publishers

Last Chance for Justice by Kathi Macias

Last Chance for Justice
B&H Books (May 1, 2013)
Kathi Macias

Chapter 1 - Excerpt

THOUGH IT WAS THE MIDDLE OF JUNE AND SUMMER WAS ALMOSTofficially upon them, the day itself seemed as drab and colorless as Lynn Myers’s shoulder-length hair before her Clairol touch-up, and she had no reason to believe that tomorrow would be any different, which for the most part suited her just fine. Sameness represented security to Lynn, and she thrived on it—even pursued it with passion. But opposites attract, as they say, and life with Daniel had contained little, if any, sameness from day to day.

However, Daniel was gone now, and Lynn instinctively had resorted to routine to carry her through. So far, it appeared to anyone who didn’t look too closely that her efforts had succeeded—until the day she returned from grocery shopping and spotted the official-looking letter protruding from the white metal mailbox on the outside wall next to her front door.

She snagged the envelope, along with three nondescript occupant offerings, on the way inside. Smiling, she offered a brief hello to her ten-year-old cocker spaniel, Beasley, who lay in his customary spot on the braided rug next to Lynn’s favorite chair. Beasley opened one eye and wagged his stub of a tail in greeting, and Lynn proceeded to the kitchen and set her groceries on the table. Still holding the envelope, she flipped it from front to back twice and even held it up to the light, as if she could determine its contents in the process. Why didn’t she just open it? She started to, several times, but instead decided to put her groceries away first. No sense deviating from her usual method of doing everything “decently and in order,” as the Bible dictated. But what was it about that envelope that jacked up her heart rate and dampened the palms of her hands?

Lynn’s aversion to change was nothing new. Born and raised in a small town where the annual Spring Fling Festival was the biggest event on the calendar, Lynn grew up believing she would always live in Bloomfield, surrounded by the same familiar friends and walking the same familiar streets. Then she met Daniel, a man too handsome for his own good—and hers, too, she’d been warned—but her heart hadn’t listened. And because Daniel was only in Bloomfield to visit relatives for the summer before returning to his home a few hundred miles away, eighteen-year-old Lynn had a decision to make.

Admittedly, she’d been torn. Her avoidance of change, combined with her loyalty to family and friends in Bloomfield, beckoned her to do the sensible thing and say good-bye to the good-looking young man who had blown in and out of town, capturing her heart in the process. But the letters and phone calls he sent her way once he returned home drew her in a way she’d been helpless to resist. She’d prayed, she’d worried, she’d even argued with herself. Why leave a perfectly good little town with nice people and comfortable surroundings to live in a sprawling metropolis of nearly 100,000 residents, none of whom she’d ever met? She wouldn’t even know which grocery store had the best bargains or the freshest meat, or which stoplights were preprogrammed and which could be tripped by the weight of a car idling in just the right spot. Why not continue to live at home and attend the nearby junior college, as she’d originally planned, and hope that one of the few sensible and eligible bachelors in town would one day notice her and pop the question so she wouldn’t have to make so many adjustments?

But ultimately she acted in a way many in Bloomfield had described as “completely out of character,” and she accepted Daniel’s romantic and urgent proposal of marriage, following him “to the ends of the earth.” When people asked her why—and many did—she simply told them she was in love. She’d known the moment her best friend introduced her to Daniel Myers on that bright June day less than a week after her high school graduation that her heart would never again be her own. And for some unimaginable reason, he felt the same about her. They met in the gentle heat of early summer and were married less than six months later, while the cold, harsh wind of winter blew outside the little church where their friends and family had gathered to wish them well and to place silent wagers on how long they would last.

Thirty-five years, Lynn thought as she reached to slide the new box of baking soda onto its proper place on the spice shelf. We lasted thirty-five years—and then You took him home, Lord. She sighed. I know You have a right, and I know You never make mistakes, and I’m grateful for the time we had together; truly I am. But, oh, Father, You know my heart. You know how much I miss him and wish we’d had just a few more years together.

Blinking away tears, she turned back to let her eyes settle on the old butcher block table in the middle of the room. That table had hosted so many family meals and discussions over the years, but it now appeared as lonely as Lynn felt. The envelope lay where she’d left it, right next to the final bag of groceries. Should she give in and open it? No, she’d finish her task and put away the last of her small purchases first.

She ignored the temptation to sit down and rest, something she never grappled with before Daniel died. Was this nagging sense of exhaustion part of her grief process? She’d heard somewhere that it could be, and since she was only in her midfifties and relatively healthy, why else would she feel this ongoing need to crawl into bed, pull the covers over her head, and just sleep?

She reached inside the bag, emptying the items one by one and placing them in a neat row before transporting them to a more permanent, predetermined spot where they would wait, neatly and quietly, until she needed them.

One loaf of whole wheat bread, which will last for a month if I keep it in the refrigerator. It wouldn’t have lasted a week if Daniel were still around and Rachel lived at home. She shook her head. They’re gone now, she reminded herself. Both of them. So finish what you’re doing and stop daydreaming. You’ll just end up crying again.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Katie's Choice by Amy Lillard

Katie's Choice
B&H Books (May 1, 2013)
Amy Lillard

Chapter 1

Are you ready to go back out on assignment?” The phone line crackled slightly on the last word, but he thought Jolene Davidson, senior editor for Around the World magazine, had said “assignment.”

Zane Carson sat up in a hurry. He’d been lounging on the couch watching reruns of Happy Days when he should have been at his physical therapy session. But he just wasn’t up to another round of incredibly boring exercises with the commando instructor. No sir, he just couldn’t do it again today. He’d been a little contemplative lately.

Okay, so he had been downright depressed. But who wouldn’t be? One bullet and his entire life had been put on hold. His entire life had changed. He’d been sent home, grounded, and for once he’d started to think about the future. His future. His and Monica’s.

“Of course I am,” he lied. But what better way to prove to everyone that he was ready to hit the red zone than jumping on the horse, so to speak?

“Are you sitting down?”

“As a matter of fact, I am.” Jo was always one for drama. If she weren’t such a wordsmith, she could have been an actress instead.

“Lay it on me.”

“Oklahoma Amish country.”

“Come again?” Surely he heard her wrong, because he thought she’d said—

“Oklahoma Amish country.”

He leaned forward. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about you . . . going to Oklahoma . . . and living among the Amish to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be part of such a community.”

“Jolene, I am a war correspondent. That means I cover wars.” He purposefully made his voice sound like he was talking to a fouryear-old. When would they accept that he was ready to go back out into the field? Maybe ready was a bad word, but he needed to get back out there, if only to prove that he could.

“Now, Carson, this is an important assignment—”

“Jolene, there aren’t many wars in Oklahoma, and there certainly aren’t any in Amish territory.”


“Whatever.” He flopped back on the sofa, then grimaced as he jarred his healing shoulder. “Aren’t they conscientious objectors?”

“You’ve been calling every day asking for an assignment.”

He hadn’t called today and look where that got him?

“Now they want to give you one. You can’t turn it down if you ever want to get back into the red zone.”

She was right. But . . . “Did you say Oklahoma?” Did they even have an Amish community? Why not Pennsylvania? Everybody knew about Lancaster County.

“Everybody knows about Lancaster County. We’re looking for something different—smaller settlement, tighter surrounding community. Alternate worship right there in the buckle of the Bible Belt.”

Zane didn’t know if he would call their manner of religion “alternate,” but what did he know about such things? He’d never been to church. His parents had preferred to worship nature and his uncle hadn’t had time for that sort of thing.

“I need you to do this for me.” Those quietly spoken words held a wealth of information. “You do this and I’ll make sure you get the Juarez assignment.”

“I thought Douglas was in Mexico.”

“He’s ready to come home, but he’s willing to stay until we can find a suitable replacement.”

Juarez, Mexico. Where innocent people died for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was dangerous, very dangerous, this war on drugs. And exactly where Zane wanted to be. Jo knew that, and she used that information to her advantage.

He sighed. “When do you want me there?”

“Day after tomorrow.”

That didn’t give him much time. Zane pushed his fingers through his hair. It needed a cut, but it seemed like even that would have to wait. At least he was going back to work. Sort of. He really didn’t consider an assignment like this work. How challenging could it be? Amish. Right. But with Mexico dangling in front of him, what choice did he have?

“You’ll fly Chicago to Tulsa. There’s a driver who will pick you up and take you to Clover Ridge. And . . .” she paused for dramatic effect. “I’ve arranged for you to stay with a host family.”

“Wait. What? Hold on.” Zane ran his hands down the legs of his faded jeans and tried to get a handle on the information she just dumped on him. “A driver? Why do I need a driver? What about a car?”

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wounds by Alton Gansky

B&H Books (May 1, 2013)
Virginia Smith

Chapter 1

Thursday, March 28, 2013


The buzzing bothered her the most. No matter how many times she heard it, no matter the number of times she had seen what drew the insects, the sound still ate at the lining of her stomach.

“Cover him.” Carmen Rainmondi frowned and turned away, giving no outward indication of the discomfort within. Was she losing her edge?

A uniformed officer stood to her right. Tall and lanky, he looked too young to shave. He also looked a little green around the gills. “You don’t want to wait for the rest of the team?” He followed the words with a hard swallow.

Carmen gave the officer a glance, then shook her head. “It’s a public place. It won’t be long before parents will be walking by with their children. I don’t want letters telling the chief how we scarred their kids for life. Now are you going to cover him or do you want to jaw about it some more?”

“Got it. No problem.” He trotted toward one of the blackand- whites, its emergency lights tossing splashes of red and blue in the air. Carmen noticed that he moved with care, following the same path out that they had taken in.

At least the newbie got that right.

She forced herself to face the body again. Face down, arms and legs askew, the victim looked as if he had fallen from a lowflying airplane. She could see he was young. He wore only a pair of brown shorts—no shoes, no shirt, no cap. The same dew that covered the grass dampened the body and clung to his hair. There were no signs of gunshot or knife wounds, but she could see a series of dried blood drops covering his back and the one side of his face she could examine.

Studying the shorts, Carmen saw what she hoped to see: a bulge in the right rear pocket. With a latex-gloved hand she removed the wallet, which felt thin and light. Right pocket; righthanded. Nothing earthshaking in that realization, but details mattered. Sometimes the little things turned the whole case.

Like the officer before her, Carmen carefully retraced her steps and ducked beneath the yellow crime-scene tape that cordoned off a quarter-acre of ground. The smell of eucalyptus trees mixed with the perfume of a dozen different flowering plants followed her. The sun crawled up the blue San Diego sky on the same journey it had made millions of times before.

Many considered Balboa Park one of the most beautiful places in the city and Carmen agreed. She spent a summer of her college years working at the historic park. As part of her training, her employers pounded some of the park’s history into her brain. She knew more about the fourteen-hundred-acre area—complete with quaint cottages, spectacular Spanish Colonial buildings, museums, and stage theaters—than those living nearby.

The park was the jewel in the Chamber of Commerce’s crown. Having a badly beaten body lying on emerald grass dulled the gem.

“I used to love this place.”

The words snatched Carmen from her thoughts. “Huh?”

“Wool gathering, Detective?” Bud Tock had come up behind her. Tock worked homicide too, and they were often teamed together. He would be the number-two detective on the case.

“Yeah, I guess I was. I used to work here.”

“In the park or at the Botanical Building?” He motioned to the long, wide, wood-lathe structure with a rounded trellis for a roof.

“I worked at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. They have a gift shop. Those were some slow hours.”

“I’ll bet.” He paused as he looked beyond the cordoning tape. “Did you take a peek?”

Tock stood tall, lean, and somehow managed to look younger than his fifty-one years. Unlike many men his age, his dark hair had not deserted him, but it yielded to spreading gray. Carmen at forty-six, however, fought a relentless battle against a broadening waist and the appearance of new wrinkles. She did her best to look sharp, professional, and just attractive enough, but she wondered whether a day would come when she just quit caring about such things. Her brown hair showed a tint of red in the sunlight. It always had.

She let her eyes linger on Tock for a moment, like a dieter eyeing a piece of cheesecake, but those thoughts cinched closed. They had history, she and Tock. They had been an item. It began five years ago and ended with brutal honesty thirty days later. Every time she thought of that month she felt the bitterest pleasure and the sweetest regret. Three months later he married another woman. It was his third marriage. She had yet to have one.

“I asked if you took a peek. You okay?”

“I’m fine. Didn’t sleep well last night. Too much caffeine or something.” The lie came easily. “I’m having the body covered. Too many civilian eyes around here. Or there will be soon.”

“We probably have an hour before the crowds arrive. At least it’s Thursday, not a weekend. What have we got?”

“Male, white, young, maybe early twenties. My best guess is he’s been dead for six hours or so. I’ll let the ME give us a better estimate on time.”

Tock pursed his lips. “So someone did him in the wee hours? Three or four a.m.?”


“I think we should close the grounds to the public. The Botanical Building is a pretty big draw. I also suggest we have a couple of officers tape off the walkways.” He paused. “That is, if it’s okay with you. You’re lead dog on this sled.”

“Lead dog? I see you still know how to sweet-talk a woman.”

“My wife won’t let me sweet-talk other ladies. She says it just breaks their hearts.” He pointed at the object in her hand. “Is that his wallet?”