Monday, May 31, 2010

Steadfast Soldier


Rescuing people is his job…But the one person pararescue jumper Chance Garrison can't seem to help is his own ailing father, who refuses his much-needed physical rehabilitation. That is, until Chance hires unconventional occupational therapist Chloe Callet. To his surprise, Chloe and her sweet black Lab, Midnight, work wonders. And not only on the elder Garrison. Chance just may have met the woman who can get through his own toughened exterior. Can he persuade the lovely Chloe to take a chance—on him?
Excerpt available here:


Barnes and Noble



Author BIO
Born Valentines Day on a naval base, Cheryl Wyatt writes military romance. Her Steeple Hill debuts earned RT Top Picks plus #1 and #4 on eHarlequin's Top 10 Most-Blogged-About-Books, lists including NYT Bestsellers. Her books have won a Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for the Best Series Love Inspired in 2009 and garnered a Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence final. Find out more:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa; Predator

PREDATOR, by Terri Blackstock

The murder of Krista Carmichael's fourteen-year-old sister by an online predator has shaken her faith and made her question God's justice and protection. Desperate to find the killer, she creates an online persona to bait the predator. But when the stalker turns his sights on her, will Krista be able to control the outcome?

Ryan Adkins started the social network GrapeVyne in his college dorm and has grown it into a billion-dollar corporation. But he never expected it to become a stalking ground for online predators. One of them lives in his town and has killed two girls and attacked a third.

When Ryan meets Krista, the murders become more than a news story to him, and everything is on the line. Joining forces, he and Krista set out to stop the killer. But when hunters pursue a hunter, the tables can easily turn. Only God can protect them now.

Excerpt from Chapter 3, after the funeral for Krista's fourteen-year-old sister, who was found murdered.

The house filled up quickly with friends, relatives, and strangers, armed with casseroles and offering hugs and tears. At twenty-five, Krista had had little experience with funerals, except for her mother's. She supposed they'd done the same the day they'd buried her, when Krista was eleven, but she hadn't been expected to host them then. When she'd locked herself and the newborn Ella in her bedroom to insulate them from shattering condolences, no one had forced her to come out.

Today she felt an obligation to welcome people in and help them when they didn't know what to say. Their struggles to make sense of such a senseless death drained her, and she longed for them all to go home and leave her and her father to their grief. But relatives had traveled long distances and were determined to stay, and the teen girls from the Eagle's Wings ministry needed some reward for coming. Most of these teens were middle-school dropouts, their parents in prison or on the streets with needles in their arms. Those who were privileged to have at least one parent who loved and cared for them were alone most of the time, as their parents worked two and three jobs just to provide a moldy apartment for them to live in. Some were pregnant, some tattooed, some were on drugs themselves. They didn't fit in with Krista's relatives, but she was moved by the fact that they would come. That meant that all the seeds she and Carla had planted in their lives were beginning to flower. It moved her to tears that they would risk their own discomfort in order to comfort her.

She didn't want to break down in front of them. They needed to see her strong, courageous. They needed to see a peace that passed all understanding.

But inside, a silent rage boiled, threatening to ruin her ministry and her image. Worse yet, it threatened to ruin God's image.

When the girls finally left, she breathed relief, no longer feeling she had to be the mature, settled one. While her relatives talked quietly among themselves, she slipped into her bedroom and turned on her computer. As soon as it was fired up, she navigated to GrapeVyne, the online community that had occupied so much of her sister's time. Signing in with her sister's name and password, she brought up her page.

Friends had posted hundreds of notes to her dead sister, so many that they'd pushed Ella's final Thought Bubbles far down the page. Krista scrolled down and found her sister's last public thoughts.

Thinking about becoming a brunette.

Krista smiled. Ella was never satisfied with herself. A real blonde dyeing her hair brown? Her friends responded by telling her she was crazy.

The Thought Bubble before that made her smile fade. It was the statement that might have cost Ella her life.

Riding my bike to Sinbad's. Dying for a soda, and Dad won't keep them in the house.

Ella had never come home from Sinbad's. Her bike had been found overturned in the street near the convenience store, her cell phone and purse lying on the ground. Some of the contents of her purse had scattered out, and her hand mirror was shattered into dozens of pieces.

Any predator with a computer would have been tempted by that information. Why had Ella felt compelled to tell everyone where she was going and when?

She scrolled down as she'd done so many times since her sister's disappearance and saw Ella's habits and schedule posted in various Thought Bubbles throughout the day. She'd posted dozens of pictures of herself, some with her school jersey on. Some of her posts mentioned her school, her teachers, her after-school activities, her friends … She posted often during the day using her cell phone.

The killer had access to this information, and he was somewhere here, hidden among her GrapeVyne friends. She clicked on Ella's friends, and saw a list with pictures of over eleven hundred people. What had her sister been thinking, to post private thoughts to over a thousand strangers? Why hadn't Krista realized it and stopped her? She'd tried to give her sister her space, but she should have been spying on her, demanding to be added to her friends list so she could monitor what was going on.

She scrolled down through the faces, looking for someone who looked evil. Someone who could stalk and rape and murder, and bury a young girl in a shallow grave out in the woods.
The friends all looked benign and young, but it was subterfuge, she knew. He was there, somewhere. He was watching, enjoying the fallout. He may have even added his condolences to the others on her Vyne.

Then it hit her. She could talk to him. If she posted a note to him, he would read it.
An inner fire hit her face, burned her eyes, tightened her lips. Her heart kicked against her chest. She put the cursor in Ella's Thought Box, and typed:

You think you got away with this, but I'll find you. I'll hunt you down like the animal you are.
She hit send. There was a 140 character limit, but she had more to say. She waited for the box to empty and her note to flash up on the screen. Then she added:

You'll wish you'd never heard the name Ella Carmichael, and you'll suffer the way she suffered.
Then she signed it, Krista Carmichael. She hoped he was reading it already.

Buy Predator at your local bookstore, or order at:
To see the Predator book video, go to
Do Not Reproduce Without Permission

* * *

"Melanie Dobson weaves an extraordinary slice of history and a unique setting into a charming love story that will captivate your imagination and create a yearning for the simple life of the old Amanas."—Judith Miller, author of The Daughters of Amana series

Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa

By Melanie Dobson

Times are hard in 1894. Desperate for work, former banker Jacob Hirsch rides the rails west from Chicago with his four-year-old daughter, Cassie. When a life-threatening illness strands the pair in Homestead, Iowa, the communal Amana villagers welcome the father and daughter into their peaceful society. Liesel, a young Amana woman, nurses Cassie back to health, but Jacob's growing interest in Liesel complicates his position in the Amanas. Will he fight to stay in the one place that finally feels like home, even if it means giving up the woman he loves? Or will Liesel leave her beloved community to face the outside world with Jacob and Cassie at her side?

Chapter 1

July 1894, Chicago The morning fog lingered in the alleyways and draped over the iron palings that fortified the row of saloons along Harrison Street. At the corner of Harrison and LaSalle, a gas lamp flickered in the mist, its yellow flame spreading light over the alley tents. Only a few more blocks until they were safe in the depot. In the distance, the station's clock tower glowed like a beacon, beckoning him to hurry, and Jacob Hirsch patted the back of his daughter, asleep on his shoulder, before checking his breast pocket. The two train tickets were tucked safely inside. Adjusting the strap on his satchel, he took a deep breath and hurried toward the train that would take him and his daughter far away from Chicago. Cassie squirmed against his chest and lifted her head. "My throat hurts, Papa.""I know, Pumpkin." She tried to smile. "I'm not a pumpkin." "You're my pumpkin," he replied softly. He put her down for a moment to shift his satchel to his other arm before he picked her up again. Laying her head back on his shoulder, her breathing deepened as she drifted back to sleep. Shivering in the morning air, he pushed himself to walk even faster to get her into the warm station. Almost a week ago Cassie had started complaining of a sore throat, and he felt useless to help her. His money was almost gone, and they were just two among thousands who had no place to sleep tonight. This city was the only place Cassie had ever known, but there was no future for them in Chicago. Tens of thousands were unemployed—strong men willing to work and educated men who could no longer provide for their families. These men walked the dirty streets during the day, searching for work, and a tent housed them and their families at night. A tramp lay sprawled across the sidewalk in front of Jacob, inches from the door of a saloon. He stepped over the man, but a familiar queasiness clenched his gut. So many people were struggling to survive while others tried to drown the country's economic depression by drinking themselves to death. He'd considered the latter himself, using the last of his money on liquor instead of train tickets, but the streets in Chicago were already crowded with children who'd lost both of their parents—he couldn't think about what would happen to Cassie if he weren't here to protect her from the scum who patrolled for orphans. Jacob's stomach rumbled, but he ignored it. Cassie was the one who needed to eat. Cassie and the other young victims of the financial tsunami that had hit the East Coast last summer and swept across the plains and mountains, devastating families and businesses and farms in its wake. Jacob checked his pocket again for the train tickets. They were still there. He'd pawned the last of their furniture along with Katharine's wedding ring to buy these tickets and garner two additional dollars to buy Cassie food during their journey west.

Three months had passed since he'd lost his job at the bank, and almost a year had passed since he'd lost… He shook his head, focusing on the depot's bright clock tower instead of drowning himself in the past, for Cassie's sake. They would take the early morning train to Minneapolis and then on to Washington State, where there were jobs waiting for men willing to work. He was more than willing. Someone tugged on his trousers, and he looked down to see a young girl not much older than Cassie's four years. Her hair was matted against her head, and tattered rags hung over her shoulders. "Can you spare a nickel?" she whispered. Behind the child was a row of tents in the alley. "Where are your parents?" Her scrawny finger pointed toward one of the tents. "Mama's in there." "You hungry?" She nodded, blinking back her tears. The New York Stock Exchange was eight hundred miles away, yet the impact from its crash trickled down to the least of these on the streets of Chicago. The pain wasn't in their wallets. It was in their bellies.He couldn't spare a nickel but— Cassie lifted her head in her sleep and snuggled into his other shoulder. What if it was his daughter begging for food? The girl stepped back, her head hung with resignation, and he couldn't help himself. Digging into his pocket, he pulled out one of his precious nickels and handed it her. "Buy some bread when the bakery opens." "Yes, sir," she replied, the strength returning to her voice as her fingers clenched the coin. "Thank you, sir."

During the colder nights, swarms of homeless slept in the hallways of city hall or in the basements of the saloons, and when those got overcrowded, the chief of police opened the doors to the station and crammed people young and old into cells alongside the criminals for the night.

A jail cell was no place for a child. He shifted the leather bag on his shoulder again and Cassie stirred, coughing against his suit jacket. He rested his hand on her back until she stopped coughing and then turned the corner toward the station and the passenger train that would take them west.

For most of his life, he'd respected the power of a dollar. Even more than providing for his family, it was his livelihood, and he thought he'd understood its worth. But he didn't truly understand it until most of the bank's reserves were washed away in the Panic of '93 along with his salary. Never before had he known what it was like to have the future obliterated, to have only two dollars to his name. Nor had he understood real desperation—the need for money because of the love for his daughter and the hunger in his own belly. And now here he was, on this chilly summer morning, afraid that thieves might steal a measly two dollars from him. And even more afraid that he might be tempted to steal like them if he didn't find work soon and provide for his daughter.

More information about Melanie Dobson's books and information about the Amana Colonies is

available at Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa can be purchased at bookstores, Wal-Mart, or online at and
Excerpted from Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa by Melanie Dobson. Copyright 2010 by Melanie Dobson. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Shades of Morning

By Marlo Schalesky
Published by Waterbrook-Multnomah Publishers
Shades of Morning is Marlo’s third “Love Story with a Twist” (think a Nicolas Sparks type love story with an M. Night Shyamalan type twist!).

Marnie Wittier has life just where she wants it. Quiet. Peaceful. No drama. A long way away from her past. In the privacy of her home, she fills a box with slips of paper, scribbled with her regrets, sins, and sorrows. But that’s nobody else’s business. Her bookstore/coffee shop patrons, her employees, her friends from church - they all think she’s the very model of compassion and kindness. Then Marnie’s past creeps into her present when her estranged sister dies and makes Marnie guardian of her fifteen-year-old son—a boy Marnie never knew existed. And when Emmit arrives, she discovers he has Down syndrome - and that she’s woefully unprepared to care for him. What’s worse, she has to deal with Taylor Cole, her sister’s attorney, a man Marnie once loved—and abandoned. As Emmit—and Taylor—work their way into her heart, Marnie begins to heal. But when pieces of her dismal past surface again, she must at last face the scripts of paper in her box, all the regrets and sorrows. Can she do it? Or will she run again?

Top Pick! 4 ½ Stars! “Schalesky has a knack for weaving a surprising spiritual twist into her tales. The touching plot will make readers examine how they deal with past regrets, and how God moves them through it. A not-to-be-missed, stunning novel!”

Marlo Schalesky is the award winning author of numerous books, including her latest novel Shades of Morning, which combines a love story with a surprise ending twist. Marlo’s other books include the Christy Award winning Beyond the Night, and its sequel If Tomorrow Never Comes. Marlo is also the author of nearly 700 articles, the mother of 5 young children, and holds her Masters in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. When she’s not changing diapers, doing laundry, or writing books, Marlo loves sipping Starbucks white mochas, reading the New Testament in Greek, and talking about finding the deep places of God in everyday life.



Author of:
SHADES OF MORNING, Love Stories With a Twist!, coming JUNE 2010
IF TOMORROW NEVER COMES, Love Stories With a Twist!, 2009
BEYOND THE NIGHT, Love Stories With a Twist!, 2008 (Christy Award Winner!)
VEIL OF FIRE, Historical, 2007 (ACFW Book of the Year Winner!)
EMPTY WOMB, ACHING HEART, nonfiction, infertility
And more . . .

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Shades of Morning; Listen


By Marlo Schalesky

"Schalesky has a knack for waving a surprising spiritual twist into her tales. The touching plot will make readers examine how they deal with past regrets, and how God moves them through it. A not-to-be-missed, stunning novel!" – 4 ½ stars, Top Pick, Romantic

Times review

Marnie Wittier has life just where she wants it. Quiet. Peaceful. No drama. A long way away from her past. In the privacy of her home, she fills a box with slips of paper, scribbled with her regrets, sins, and sorrows. But that's nobody else's business. Her bookstore/coffee shop patrons, her employees, her friends from church - they all think she's the very model of compassion and kindness. Then Marnie's past creeps into her present when her estranged sister dies and makes Marnie guardian of her fifteen-year-old son—a boy Marnie never knew existed. And when Emmit arrives, she discovers he has Down syndrome - and that she's woefully unprepared to care for him. What's worse, she has to deal with Taylor Cole, her sister's attorney, a man Marnie once loved—and abandoned. As Emmit—and Taylor—work their way into her heart, Marnie begins to heal. But when pieces of her dismal past surface again, she must at last face the scripts of paper in her box, all the regrets and sorrows. Can she do it? Or will she run again?


Autumn snow fell like fat angels fluttering to earth.
Emmit sat on the snowbank, his eyes closed, his head tipped back. He was a snowflake too, drifting on the breeze. Cold nibbled at his wings. Ice kissed his lashes. He stuck out his tongue and caught a flake. Why did the snow always melt away just when he finally got some? He reached up and scratched his too-small ears with a too-small hand. Then he adjusted his heavy, coke-bottle glasses.

Something whispered in the wind. He held his breath and listened with all his might. He could almost hear the voices telling him that today he was fifteen years old. It was a big number. They all said so. He was a big boy now. All grown up.

And that meant it was time for the prayer to be answered. Not some little prayer about sniffly noses and friends at school. Not one about nice weather or where to park a car. This prayer was important. It was about love. It was about family. And God always answered those.

Especially today.

Emmit wiggled deeper into the snow. The flakes fell in heavier clumps. He opened his eyes
and waited.

The pretty light would be coming soon. The big whirring one on top of the truck that picked up the garbage from the cans on the street. He liked the light. Round and round. Round and round. It would come.

A screen door slammed. He looked back, over his shoulder. A puffy white coat stood on the doorstep with a matching hat perched atop wisps of brown hair. The coat waved.

Emmit waved back. That's how a mom should look. White coat, pink smile peeking from between collar and hat.

"Mighty cold out here, sweetie." She motioned toward the snow as she spoke.
Emmit grinned. "I wait for pretty light."

She nodded and trudged to the mailbox by the street. The box creaked when she opened it.
Then the pretty light came with a chug, a squeal, and the grinding of gears. The light turned and turned, made its way around the corner and up the street.

Emmit watched it. "Pretty light! Pretty light!" He called out to her, but she didn't turn.
Instead she stood there, hunched over a stack of white envelopes in her gloved hand.

The wind gusted.

The whirring light rumbled closer. Closer.

Then it happened. A little thing. A simple thing. It shouldn't have mattered at all. But it did.
An envelope skittered from her hand, blew into the street. She went after it.

He stood up. "Stop!" But he couldn't stop it. Couldn't stop her. And worse, he couldn't stop the lights.

Her boot hit ice. It slipped from under her. Envelopes mixed with the angels in the air.

Fluttering, flying, drifting on the breeze.

But they weren't angels. Not at all.

Emmit yelled and yelled. But it didn't help. So he closed his eyes, plugged his ears. He held his breath. But that didn't matter either. He still heard the terrible squeal. The dull thud.

And then, the awful silence.

He peeked out and saw her, a still, white blob on a dirty, white street.

The whirring light stopped.

Emmit sat down and cried into the drifting snow. But that didn't make any difference either.

She didn't get up. She didn't move. No matter how much he cried.

Later other lights came. Red and blue and more yellow. Lights on a black-and-white car.
Lights on a big red fire engine. Lights on a white van with the letters A-M-B-U-L-A-N-C-E

printed real big on the side.

They weren't pretty lights. He didn't like them at all.

He shivered. But no one noticed him. They just buzzed around the new lights like bugs.
They weren't bugs. But they still buzzed and shouted and flew away.

And he just kept sitting there, tears freezing on his cheeks, a cold fist rubbing his wet nose.
How could this be the answer? This didn't seem like any answer at all.

This seemed like everything gone all wrong.

He wiped the ice from his face, laid back in the snow, and moved his arms and legs up and down, up and down. Three times to make the image of an angel in the bank.

A perfect angel. A snow angel. Just for her. Because she was what a mom should be.
Because he loved her too. Because she was gone.

The new lights took her.

And then, the snow stopped falling.

* * *

Marnie Helen Wittier hated baby showers. She also hated her middle name, but that was another story. What mattered now was that despite her intense dislike of powder pink balloons, little crocheted socks, and cheap plastic baby bottles, she now wove in and out of handmade tables at her own coffee shop, offering flowered-dressed women fresh pumpkin-shaped cookies and specialty lattes.

The only thing worse would be if she had to wear one of those foo-foo dresses. But a gal had to draw the line somewhere. If not at pink balloons and pastel teacups, then at least at swaying dresses and—gasp!—high heels. She wouldn't be caught dead in heels.

But she could put up with pretty tulips on the tables, the pink and white streamers, and that ridiculous "It's a Girl!" papier-mâché sign, because this shower was for Kinna Henley. And if anyone deserved the perfect baby shower, that woman did. After all last year's troubles piled onto years of infertility, Kinna had earned the best shower Marnie could think of.

That's the only reason she'd said "of course" when those ladies from the church asked to hold the event here.

Still, that didn't stop her from snatching a pink napkin, scrawling the words hosting a baby shower…what was I thinking??? on it, and stuffing it in her pocket. The napkin would go into her box of regrets later. A reminder to never, ever to do anything this stupid again . . .

For more information about SHADES OF MORNING and Marlo's other books, visit You can also find Marlo on Facebook at, and on Twitter at
Shades of Morning will soon be available for purchase (and is now available for pre-order – sorry, the release date was pushed back by a month!) at:
Christian Book Distributors:
And fine bookstores everywhere! Go to for numerous purchase options.
Copyright: Marlo Schalesky, 2010

* * *


By Rene Gutteridge

Someone is listening... The quaint, close-knit community of Marlo was the ideal place to live...until someone started posting private conversations online for everyone to read, word-for-word. Now it's neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, as careless comments and hurtful accusations turn the town upside down. Violence and paranoia escalate, and the police scramble to find the person responsible before more people get hurt, or even killed. But what responsibility do the residents of Marlo have for the words they say when they think no one is listening? ** "From it's captivating prologue to its powerful ending, my friend Rene Gutteridge has written an engaging and memorable story. Listen concerns a theme of immeasurable importance to us all. Don't miss it!" -- Randy Alcorn"Marlo is a small town in trouble, with a capital T. The premise of Listen is fascinating and the execution tightly crafted. The author's script-writing skills are evident in the snappy, realistic dialogue, and her talent for suspense keeps the pages turning. From first chapter to last, Listen explores a town's journey toward redemption with humor, grit, and heart." Liz Curtis Higgs

Present Day

Damien Underwood tapped his pencil against his desk and spun twice in his chair. But once he was facing his computer again, the digital clock still hadn't changed.

In front of him on a clean white piece of paper was a box, and inside that box was a bunch of other tiny boxes. Some of those boxes he'd neatly scribbled in. And above the large box he wrote, Time to go.

This particular day was stretching beyond his normal capacity of tolerance, and when that happened, he found himself constructing word puzzles. He'd sold three to the New York Times, two published on Monday and one on Wednesday. They were all framed and hanging in his cubicle. He'd sent in over thirty to be considered.

He'd easily convinced his boss years ago to let him start publishing crosswords in the paper, and since then he'd been the crossword editor, occasionally publishing some of his own, a few from local residents, and some in syndication.

The puzzle clues were coming harder today. He wanted to use a lot of plays on words, and he also enjoyed putting in a few specific clues that were just for Marlo residents. Those were almost always published on Fridays.

A nine-letter word for "predictable and smooth."

Yes, good clue. He smiled and wrote the answer going down. Clockwork.

He glanced over to the bulletin board, which happened to be on the only piece of north wall he could see from his desk at the Marlo Sentinel. Tacked in the center, still hanging there after three years, was an article from Lifestyles Magazine. Marlo, of all the places in the United States, was voted Best Place to Raise a Child. It was still the town's shining moment of glory. Every restaurant and business had this article framed and hanging somewhere on their walls.
The community boasted its own police force, five separate and unique playgrounds for the kids, including a spray ground put in last summer, where kids could dash through all kinds of water sprays without the fear of anyone drowning.

Potholes were nonexistent. The trash was picked up by shiny, blue, state-of-the-art trash trucks, by men wearing pressed light blue shirts and matching pants, dressed slightly better than the mail carriers.

Two dozen neighborhood watch programs were respon­sible for nineteen arrests in the last decade, mostly petty thieves and a couple of vandals. There hadn't been a violent crime in Marlo since 1971, and even then the only one that got shot was a dog. A bank robbery twenty years ago ended with the robber asking to talk to a priest, where he confessed a gambling addiction and a fondness for teller number three.

Damien's mind lit up, which it often did when words were involved. He penciled it in. An eight-letter word for "a linear stretch of dates." Timeline. Perfect for 45 across.

So this was Marlo, where society and family joined in marriage. It was safe enough for kids to play in the front yards. It was clean enough that asthmatics were paying top dollar for the real estate. It was good enough, period.

Damien was a second-generation Marlo resident. His mother and father moved here long before it was the Best Place to Raise a Child. Then it had just been cheap land and a good drive from the city. His father had been the manager of a plant now gone because it caused too much pollution. His mother, a stay-at-home mom, had taken great pride in raising a son who shared her maiden name, Damien, and her fondness for reading the dictionary.

Both his parents died the same year from different causes, the year Damien had met Kay, his wife-to-be. They'd wed nine months after they met and waited the customary five years to have children. Kay managed a real estate company. She loved her job as much as she had the first day she started. And it was a good way to keep up with the Joneses.

Until recently, when the housing market started slumping like his ever-irritated teenage daughter.

The beast's red eyes declared it was finally time to leave. Damien grabbed his briefcase and walked the long hallway to the door, just to make sure his boss and sometimes friend, Edgar, remembered he was leaving a little early. He gave Edgar a wave, and today, because he was in a good mood, Edgar waved back.

Damien drove through the Elephant's Foot and picked up two lemonades, one for himself and one for Jenna, his sixteen-year-old daughter, who had all at once turned from beautiful princess or ballerina or whatever it was she wanted to be to some weird Jekyll and Hyde science experiment. With blue eye shadow. She never hugged him. She never giggled. Oh, how he missed the giggling. She slouched and grunted like a gorilla, her knuckles nearly dragging the ground if anyone said anything to her. A mild suggestion of any kind, from "grab a jacket" to "don't do drugs" evoked eyes rolling into the back of her head as if she were having a grand mal


So the lemonade was the best gesture of kindness he could make. Besides offering to pick her up because her car was in the shop.

He pulled to the curb outside the school, fully aware he was the only car among the full-bodied SUVs idling alongside one another. It was a complete embarrassment to Jenna, who begged to have Kay pick her up in the Navigator. Some lessons were learned the hard way. But his car was perfectly fine, perfectly reliable, and it wasn't going to cause the ozone to collapse.

She got in, noticed the lemonade, asked if it was sugar-free, then sipped it and stared out the window for the rest of the ride home. It wasn't sugar-free, but the girl needed a little meat on her bones.

"Your car's ready."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Almost Forever; Wildflowers of Terezin

Almost Forever

by Deborah Raney

"...beautifully written and enthralling...made my heart sing, dance, cry, and turn more than a few flips!"
––Cindy Woodsmall, New York Times best-selling author

"As a fan of the very talented Deborah Raney, I expected a great read and I got it in the richly emotional Almost Forever, a story of faith, forgiveness and redemption. It began with a gripping scene and proceeded to hold me enthralled to the end. Don't miss this one!"
––Karen Young, author of Blood Bayou and Missing Max

Unearthing a lost memory may cause her to lose everything she holds dear… But could it also set her free?

Volunteer Bryn Hennesey was there at the Grove Street Homeless Shelter the night five heroic firefighters died at the scene. Among them was her husband, Adam. Now a terrifying absence of memory has her wondering if she might, in some way, be responsible.
Garrett Edmonds' wife, Molly, was the only female firefighter to perish in the blaze. He was supposed to protect the woman he loved…now she's the one who's died a hero. How can he go on in the face of such unbearable loss?

And what started the fire that destroyed the dreams and futures of so many? Investigators are stumped. But someone knows the answer….
Bryn drew the queen of diamonds from the stack of playing cards on the wobbly table between her and Charlie Branson. The grizzled Vietnam vet eyed her from his wheelchair as she discarded an ace. She put on her best poker face and pretended to rearrange her hand. From somewhere behind the peeling paint on the west wall, the pipes clanked in the bowels of the old hospital-turned-homeless-shelter and the furnace kicked on. Not that it would raise the temperature in this mammoth icebox by one degree, but something about the hiss of radiators was comforting.

Charlie pulled a card from the tattered deck and flung it away too quickly. He must be close to going out. Good. It was two in the morning, and Bryn was hoping to catch a few hours of sleep before it was time to get breakfast going for the shelter's residents.
Her husband's twenty-four-hour shift at the fire station ended tomorrow. Adam had said something about taking her to a matinee, and he'd be suspicious if she fell asleep during the movie. Of course, his invitation had come before their big fight. Knowing him, he'd still be brooding and they would stay home and sulk––or argue.
She shifted in the chair and rubbed the small of her back. She'd foregone sleep to stay up and play cards with Charlie in an effort to settle him down. He and the new guy had gotten into it again, and Charlie had been too worked up to sleep. He'd balked at her suggestion to read, but she knew the real truth––he was lonely. Just needed someone to sit with him.

Bryn had met Charlie at the library where she worked part-time. He was the most well-read man she knew, a fact that endeared him to Myrna Eckland, the library director at Hanover Falls' public library. Myrna had given Charlie a few odd jobs in exchange for the right to spend his days reading in a quiet corner of the stacks before wheeling to the shelter each evening––after securing his word that he wouldn't miss his daily shower, of course.

Bryn slid the jack of diamonds from the draw pile and discarded it, but something made her stop and listen. Somewhere above them she heard an out-of-the-ordinary noise. She looked at Charlie. "Did you hear that? Shhh…"

He put his free hand to his ear but shook his head. "I don't hear anything, sis, but that don't mean nothin'. My ears are no good." He craned his neck toward the hallway, listening again. "It's not the dogs, is it?"
Zeke Downing, a new client at the shelter, had brought a bulldog pup named Boss with him when he checked in two weeks ago. The pup had nipped at Charlie's dog, Sparky, the first day Zeke was here and Charlie had gone ballistic.

Sparky was a stray that Susan Marlowe, the shelter's director, let the old vet claim. Susan made Charlie keep the dog chained outside and buy its food out of his VA disability pension. But Charlie loved the mutt, a Labrador mix. Any friend of Sparky's was a friend of Charlie's, and any enemy of Sparky better watch out.
More than once, Zeke and Charlie had almost come to blows over the dogs. Bryn thought Sparky could take Boss without much effort, but Zeke was able-bodied and twice the size of Charlie. It would not be a pretty picture if the two men ever actually duked it out.
Charlie's eyes narrowed. "So help me, if that SOB let that mutt loose again…"
"Charlie…" She shook her head and feigned a stern look. "You'd better not let Susan hear you use that kind of language."
"What? Mutt's not a bad word."
"You know what I mean." His smirk made it hard not to laugh. Bryn was mostly teasing, but Susan did have a zero-tolerance policy when it came to cursing.
"I didn't actually say anything."
"Yeah, but you know Susan…even initials are pushing it with her."
He rolled his eyes and fanned out his cards.

"I don't think Zeke's even here tonight." She held up a hand, listening for the sound again. "Besides, it doesn't sound like dogs. Maybe it's just a siren, but it sounds different...more like a squeal. You don't have a battery going out in your hearing aid, do you?"
Charlie laid down his cards, put his thick pinky finger to his ear, and twisted. "That better?"
She shook her head. "I still hear it."
"This old building has so many creaks and groans I'm surprised anybody can sleep here. That's the only good thing about these blame things"––he adjusted the other hearing aid––"I can just turn 'em off."
The noise didn't sound quite like distant sirens, but nevertheless, she shot up a quick prayer for her husband the way she always did when she knew he might be out on a run. Guilt pinched her. Adam wasn't even supposed to be on duty tonight. He was only there because she'd talked him into pulling an extra shift. Ironic, given all the grief she'd thrown at him about the long hours he worked.
With Adam being low man on the totem pole, he always had to work holidays, and too many weekends. Sometimes Bryn wondered why they'd even bothered to get married if they were never going to be together. She thought she would go crazy if she had to spend one more long night alone in their little cracker box of a townhome. That was the whole reason she'd started volunteering here, taken the night shift. And how much worse would it be when they had kids?
The faint noise droned on. She looked at the stained ceiling. "It almost sounds like it's coming from upstairs."
Charlie shook his head and a glint of mischief came to his eyes. "Listen, girlie, if you're just trying to weasel your way out of this game, you can forget it." He drew another card and wriggled bushy eyebrows at her. "I'm about to clean your clock."

DEBORAH RANEY is at work on her 20th novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Almost Forever, first in her new Hanover Falls Novels series, will release in May from Howard/Simon & Schuster. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, enjoy small-town life in Kansas. They are new empty nesters with four grown children and two precious grandsons, all of whom live much too far away. Visit Deb's website at
© 2010 Deborah Raney
Published by Howard/Simon & Schuster
Do not reprint without permission


Wildflowers of Terezin

by Robert Elmer

In Denmark's darkest days, is it duty, faith… or love? Historical fiction from Abingdon Press.
When nurse Hanne Abrahamsen impulsively shields Steffen Petersen from a nosy Gestapo agent, she's convinced the Lutheran pastor is involved in the Danish Underground. Nothing could be further from the truth. But truth is hard to come by in the fall of 1943, when

Copenhagen is placed under Martial Law and Denmark's Jews—including Hanne—suddenly face deportation to the Nazi prison camp at Terezin, Czechoslovakia. Days darken and danger mounts. Steffen's faith deepens as he takes greater risks to protect Hanne. But are either of them willing to pay the ultimate price for their love?

"Elmer's work is… unaffected and genuinely heartfelt…" —Publisher's Weekly

chapter 1:

Bispebjerg Hospital, København
Friday morning, 17 September 1943

"I live in a crazy time." —Anne Frank
Hanne Abrahamsen awoke with a start in the middle of a bad dream, something about being in nursing school once again and a man who looked like Adolf Hitler (but with the face of a codfish) announcing at her graduation that she was a Jew, and didn't everyone already know that? The graduation had stopped, and she remembered wanting desperately to escape but not being able to move.
Hanne had never thought much about dreams, or cared. Until now.
Somewhere outside her window she heard what had awakened her: a line of cars and trucks roaring through the narrow streets of København, on their way to the devil's business. And even louder at this time of the morning, when the only ones awake were the skrallemænd, emptying garbage.
She shivered and pulled up the covers to her chin, but couldn't put away the feeling that something was not right. It was not the first time she'd heard German vehicles at odd hours, so maybe it was just the dream. Still, she slipped out of bed to check the window that faced Tuborgvej. Of all the nurses' apartments on the Bispebjerg Hospital campus, hers commanded the best, and sometimes the noisiest, view of the city. She shivered at the September predawn chill, reaching the window in time to peek through the heavy blackout shade and see a pair of brake lights flash as a vehicle careened around the corner.
"Well, they're in a hurry, aren't they?" she mumbled, pushing at the upper pane of her window to keep out the draft.
A Dane? Not likely. No dansker would dare make so much noise at this time of the morning—especially not after all the troubles and tension they'd seen here in Copenhagen over the past several months. After the strikes and all the troubles this past summer, no one wanted to make themselves a target.
No, she'd heard German vehicles—and then another truck screeching around the corner confirmed what she's feared. This one carried armed soldiers in back, holding on for dear life. This could only mean that the Germans had stepped up their campaigns against the Danish Underground—and that they were flexing their muscle in an early morning raid somewhere in the city.
Hanne drew back as the little cuckoo on the wall of her kitchen sounded four… five… six times.
"Too early, my cuckoo friend," she told the clock with a sigh. "Though I suppose I needed to get up for the morning shift, anyway."
But she stood there, shivering in her nightgown and bare feet, unable to move and unable to forget her dream—or the nightmare outside her window.
* * *
Here's the fine print: ©2010 Robert Elmer – Abingdon Press, Trade Paperback, $13.99 • ISBN 978-1-4267-0192-4
Available at your local Christian bookstore, wherever good books are sold, or online at Just paste this link into your browser if it doesn't take you there immediately:
Please be sure to visit Robert's website: to learn more about his writing. And finally, please do not reproduce this chapter without permission, but that goes without saying. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Almost Forever

Almost Forever

by Deborah Raney

A Hanover Falls Novel
from Howard/Simon & Schuster

Unearthing a lost memory may cause her to lose everything she holds dear. but could it also set her free?

Volunteer Bryn Hennesey was there at the Grove Street Homeless Shelter the night five heroic firefighters died at the scene. Among them was her husband, Adam.

Now a terrifying absence of memory has her wondering if she might, in some way, be responsible. Garrett Edmonds' wife, Molly, was the only female firefighter to perish in the blaze. He was supposed to protect the woman he she's the one who's died a hero. How can he go on in the face of such unbearable loss? And what started the fire that destroyed the dreams and futures of so many? Investigators are stumped. But someone knows the answer...
Deborah Raney books always captivate me! Almost Forever is a beautifully written and enthralling read. It made my heart sing, dance, cry, and turn more than a few flips!

~CindyWoodsmall, New York Times best-selling author
As a fan of the very talented Deborah Raney, I expected a great read and I got it in the richly emotional Almost Forever, a story of faith, forgiveness and redemption. It began with a gripping scene and proceeded to hold me enthralled to the end. Don't miss this one!

~Karen Young, author of Missing Max and Blood Bayou
DEBORAH RANEY is at work on her 20th novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Almost Forever, first in her new Hanover Falls Novels series, will release in May from Howard/Simon & Schuster. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, enjoy small-town life in Kansas. They are new empty nesters with four grown children and two precious grandsons, all of whom live much too far away.

Visit Deb on the web at

Order her books here:

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Indivisible; A Daughter's Legacy

"Part mystery, part romance, and part psychological thriller, "Indivisible" is Kristen's most challenging work to date. You can't zip through this one. A multi-layered feast for the imagination. One of the richest novels I've read so far this year, and the message still lingers like a sweet aroma in my mind. "Indivisible" is most definitely a must read!"

Heitzmann follows an embattled police chief as he investigates an act of animal cruelty in a small Colorado town, which escalates into a discovery that could wreak havoc on the tranquil mountain town.


by Kristen Heitzmann

Wrapped in a woolen throw, Jonah stared out through moon-silvered evergreen spires. He drew in the clean, sharp air of the rugged mountains, the piercing stars visible to an amazing depth, the sickle moon casting the clearing in stark relief. He had not expected to sleep—didn't dare with memories tugging so hard.

He shut his eyes and let the night enclose him. The chilled tip of his nose stung as he breathed the piquant scents of wild grasses, earth and pine, a heady overlay with a hint of moisture condensing in the cold and dark.

The beam above moaned with the motion of the porch swing, a rhythmic counterpart to the rushing creek out of sight in the dark except for flashes of white where water struck rock. He felt something brush against his hand and looked down. A white, powdery moth fluttered at the lighted face of his watch. The fluffy whoosh of an owl passed, a silent shadow in search of a small, beating heart.

His pulse made a low throb in his ears. He moved the breath in and out through his lungs, filling his senses easier than stilling the thoughts.

Somewhere in the rocky crags a coyote yipped, one of the few predators that had enlarged its range in spite of human encroachment, a bold and canny cohabiter, bearing ever bolder offspring. A long howl sailed into the night, a territorial declaration, signaling roving males to stay away, any females to come hither. He pressed up from the swing and leaned on the rail, trying to get a bead on the coyote's location. After a time, he turned and went inside.

* * * *

Piper loved morning, the brightness, the cleanness of a new day. But morning started with the sunrise, not when the sky was still black and the room shivery. She burrowed her feet deeper beneath the down comforter, avoiding for one more moment the cold floorboards. It was too brief a moment.

Crabbing her hand across the lace covered bed stand, she stopped the alarm on the cell phone before it could nag her. She groomed and dressed without shedding the film of sleep, slipped on her jacket and turned up the collar, then switched on the iPod in her pocket and inserted the ear buds. Enya's Only Time accompanied her out the door.

The first gasp of cold air pierced her fog. She drew a flashlight from the other pocket and trudged behind the beam down the steep path, weaving through the pines. Streaks of deep magenta broke through the black tree silhouettes, announcing dawn, but, around her, darkness clung. Over the music, she detected the rushing of Kicking Horse Creek that paralleled the main street through old town. Neither dark and muddy nor sluggish and green, the creek ran frothy white and clear down to the rocky bed.

She couldn't see it from the path even if the sun were up, but its voice carried up the stony crags as she picked her way down the steepest stretch of the path. Her nostrils constricted. She slapped a hand to her mouth and nose to block a putrid scent carried on the sharp air. She swung her light and the beam caught a furry mound of carnage.

* * * * *

Breathing the honey scent of beeswax, Tia lowered the candles into the clear amber liquid,

curbing her natural impatience. Any pause or jerk would leave a flaw each ensuing dip would reinforce. She worked hard to keep her hand steady. Dipping tapers had trained her in self-control better than any scolding instructor.

She raised the wooden bar looped with six double wicks. As soon as the air touched the wax, it paled to ochre. She fitted the bar onto the side braces to cool the tapers before lowering them again, each plunge having the potential to reclaim with greedy heat what solidity the cool air had bestowed. The life metaphor struck her again. The destructive power of pain; the strength of endurance. She would give them all they needed to stand strong, even though their fate was to burn away, the glow and aroma of their passing a benediction.

A knock brought her out of her thoughts, and she wended through the dim shop where little by little she had replaced the former knick-knacks with candles, scented oils, and hand-thrown melting pots. She looked around, satisfied that nothing she saw was made in China. "Just a sec," she called through the door, tangling with the keys since she hadn't opened yet.

"Try this." Piper raised the drooping croissant.

Tia bit into the buttery, melted-cheesy pastry, savoring a chewy tang of sun dried tomatoes and fresh basil. She leaned her shoulder to the door jamb and sighed. Not all of Piper's creations worked, but this one . . . "Mmm."

"You like it?"

"Oh yeah."

"You're not just encouraging me because you hope I'll get better if I keep trying?"

"No, it's really—"

Piper snatched the croissant out of her hands, turned the bitten end around in the parchment and held it out to someone else. Tia leaned out far enough to see who.

Lanky in jeans, mountain boots and brown leather jacket bearing the police department emblem, he looked as ragged as a night spent with Johnny Walker, though she didn't smell it on him, had not, in fact, for years. Even so, every muscle in her hardened, a visceral reflex as automatic as breath.

His features were edged, and in an instant she realized what day it was. His gaze flicked over, weighing, measuring her. Sometimes they went weeks without crossing paths, but every time the encounter arced between them like a chemical adhesion, the two parts of epoxy that did fine until combined, then interacted toxically.

Backing into the shop, she closed and locked the door, returning to complacent tapers that had forgotten the burn of the wax.

* * *

A Daughter's Legacy

By Virginia Smith

To receive her inheritance and make peace with her late mother, Kelli Jackson must abide by the woman's will. Even though it means working as a zookeeper for six months -- with animals that terrify her. How can she possibly explain her fears -- and her past -- to her handsome boss, Jason Andover? The glimpses of kindness -- and painful secrets -- she sees in his eyes have her sharing everything. But then she makes a startling discovery--one that may tear them apart forever.

"Kelli and Jason's budding romance and her discoveries about a mother she spent little time with make this a wonderful story of love in its many forms." – Susan Mobley, Romantic Times

(4 1/2 Stars)


Of all the ways she could have chosen to spend a Thursday morning, attending a stranger's memorial service wasn't at the top of Kelli Jackson's list.

Especially when that stranger was her own mother.

Kelli faced the front of the open-air amphitheater clasping a completely dry tissue in her lap and trying to ignore the curious glances being cast her way. Apparently everybody wanted to get a glimpse of the outsider who claimed to be Lillian Mitchell's daughter. As people had filed toward their seats among the rows of semi-circular wooden benches in the moments before the service began, more than one puzzled whisper reached her ears.

"I never knew Lillian had any family. Did you?"

"Can't say as I did. Looks like her, though. Wonder why Lil never talked about her."
Kelli kept her face schooled in the detached, professional mask she wore when preparing a tax return for a new client. Wouldn't do to show dismay at the humiliating affirmation that her mother hadn't even cared enough to mention to those she worked with that she'd given birth to a daughter twenty-six years before. As person after person stepped up to the podium on the center of the stage to recall incidents from Lillian's life, Kelli's gaze kept stealing to the table where the polished wooden box holding her mother's ashes rested, a single vase of flowers beside it.

The deep roar of a lion exploded in the distance, and a wave of gooseflesh rose along Kelli's bare arms as the primeval cry reverberated in the air around her. The sound echoed across the years from childhood nightmares she'd thought safely forgotten long ago.

What am I doing here, Lord? This is no place for me.

The man standing behind the podium paused in his tribute and raised his head to listen until the roar died away. His smile swept the crowded amphitheater.

"Apparently Samson would like to speak a few words on Lillian's behalf. He always was an attention hog."

The crowd's chuckle held an indulgent tone. Obviously Samson was a favorite among the mourners. Kelli shifted on the rough wooden bench.

"Actually, it's fitting that Samson be included in this service to honor Lillian. She dedicated her life to making sure that he and the rest of the animals here at Cougar Bay Zoological Park receive nothing but excellent care and the highest quality of life."

Of course she did. Kelli's lips tightened, despite her efforts to keep her expression impassive. She cared more for those zoo animals than she did her own child.

Which was one reason she wanted to get this ordeal over with as quickly as possible and get out of here. Back home in Denver life could return to normal. She could go to work and lose herself in the comfort of her clients' finances. All the questions she encountered there were easy ones, with concrete answers, like, "Can I deduct the clown I hired for my daughter's birthday since I invited my boss to the party?" ("Uh, no, Mr. Farmer, I'm sorry but that's not a legitimate deduction.")

"The first time I laid eyes on Lil, she was cleaning out the chimp house." The man eulogizing Lillian—Kelli couldn't think of her as Mom—smiled, and from her vantage point on the first row Kelli recognized genuine affection in his face. Tall and fit, with sun-kissed brown hair curling around the collar of the tan shirt with the zoo's logo over the breast pocket. Nice looking, probably only a few years older than Kelli. What was he to Lillian? An employee, no doubt, since Lillian ran everything here at the zoo.

"I shouted through the bars that I was there to interview for the keeper position. She let me in, handed me a hose, and told me to show her my stuff." An appealing grin twisted his lips. "I must have looked hesitant, because she barked, "You're not afraid of a little poop, are you?""
Everyone around Kelli laughed. She couldn't hold back a smile herself. Judging from the voice she'd heard over the phone during their stilted, twice-yearly conversations, the guy had Lillian's gravelly, no-nonsense bark down pat. He must have known her pretty well, then. Kelli cast a quick glance over her shoulder at the sparsely filled benches. No doubt these people knew Lillian better than her own daughter. How sad was that?

"I didn't bother to point out that she was wearing rubber boots, while I was in a suit and had just polished my shoes. Knowing Lil as I do now, she wouldn't have cared. It's a good thing I took the hose and got to work." His head dropped forward, and when he continued his voice sounded choked.

"Landing this job six years ago was the best thing that ever happened to me. It gave me the chance to work with someone whose devotion to animals went far beyond anyone I'd ever met, or likely will again. Lil changed my outlook on my job, and on my life. I'll never forget her."
A hushed murmur of agreement rose from the mourners as he left the stage to return to his seat on the front row, a few feet away from Kelli. She watched him covertly as the minister stepped up to the podium for his final remarks. The guy sat with his head drooping forward, hands dangling between his knees. When he brushed tears from his eyes, Kelli experienced a twinge of self-reproach.

What's wrong with me, God? My mother is dead. Why can't I grieve, like this guy?
But Kelli's soul felt leaden, numb, as the minister led them in a closing prayer. How could she grieve the loss of her mother today, when the real loss had taken place years before?


Copyright © 2010 by Harlequin Enterprises

Copyright © 2010 by Virginia Smith

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.

For more information about A Daughter's Legacy and Virginia Smith's other books, visit

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Love Lessons, To Darkness Fled

Love Lessons, a Love Inspired for April, is the first in a series centered around homeschooling. The second book (Heart of a Cowboy) in the series will be out in July and the third one (A Daughter for Christmas) in November.

You can read full excerpts from Margaret Daley's books at my web site and learn more about her and her writing.

Home schooling his daughter is new to devoted single father Ian Ferguson. To ensure his child gets a good education, the busy CPA hires a temporary tutor for the tax season. Twenty-three-year-old college student Alexa Michaels is too young--and too pretty--to be right for the job. Yet his daughter is coming out of her shell and learning. Still, Ian is traditional, and sweet Alexa--who graduated from the school of hard knocks--is challenging some of his old-school ways. Can this dad learn some valuable lessons about love, family and faith from the least likely teacher?

Love Lessons
by Margaret Daley
"Don't die on me."
Alexa Michaels patted the dashboard of her twelve-year-old car as it chugged toward its destination, only a half a block away.

At least the car had gotten her to the street where she needed to go, and she was thirty minutes early to her interview for the tutoring position. The vehicle bellowed a plume of smoke from its tailpipe, the wind whisking it away as it sputtered past another sizable dwelling. Finally, her car died two houses away from her objective, a single-story Mediterranean home on an acre.
She pushed the car door open. Its creaking sound protested the action. With a sigh, she retrieved her large purse from the floor and stood. A brisk breeze caught her long, multicolored skirt and whipped it about her legs. Holding it down while clutching her bag, she hurried toward the house.

Halfway up the sidewalk to the front entrance, a plastic liter bottle fell from the sky and splattered two feet from her, clear liquid splashing and wetting the bottom of her skirt.
What in the world!

Stunned, she stopped, her purse slipping from her fingers to plop on the concrete next to her, the bag's contents pouring all over the ground. She stooped to scoop up her items—lipstick, cell, brush, pen…
A man charged around the side of the house and hurried toward her. Jumping up, she took a step back, the few personal objects in her hand landing in the pile on the ground.
Maybe I've got the wrong place. Maybe I should leave…
Then she saw a young girl appear, not far behind the man, and relaxed, taking stock of the pair as they approached. Tall, lean, the male's long-legged stride ate up the distance between them quickly. His tanned features were set in a look of concern, but as his gaze roamed down her length, his eyes widened briefly before he managed to school his expression into a neutral one.

He came to a halt, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses up his nose, framing beautiful Nordic blue eyes with long black eyelashes. "Are you all right? The rocket didn't hit you, did it?"
With her gaze held captive by his, the questions barely registered on her mind.

"Were you hit?" the man asked again.

She mentally shook herself out of the daze and focused on what he'd said. "No. It just splashed my skirt." She peered at the smashed liter bottle. "What was in it?"

"Only water."

The girl who looked about ten years old, with copper-colored hair pulled back in a ponytail, skidded to a stop next to the man. "I can't believe it went over the house, Dad. That was awesome!" She threw her arms around her father, not seeming to notice Alexa.
Returning the hug, he peered down at his daughter, grinning. "Yeah, definitely the best one yet. You did good."

At that moment a gust of wind sent Alexa's skirt dancing about her legs and played with her long mane, whipping it across her face. She reached down, grabbing up as much of the rayon fabric as she could while trying to keep her hair out of her eyes.

Hunched over, Alexa looked up through her curly strands at the man whose own short, black hair stayed in perfect place, complementing the impeccable clothes he wore, tan slacks, navy blue long-sleeved shirt and a jacket. "I'm here for the interview."
"You're early." He turned his grin on her and stuck out his hand. "You must be Alexa Michaels. I'm Ian Ferguson and this one—" he nodded toward the child "—is my daughter, Jana."

His smile lit his whole face and reached deep into his eyes. It set her heart to beating fast until she noticed the way Jana had stepped a little behind her father, gripping him tighter. Was the girl really that uncomfortable around strangers?

Straightening and hoping her skirt stayed down, Alexa fit her hand in his and shook it. The touch of his fingers around hers made her pulse speed up, but she quickly regained control. Being attracted to a potential employer wasn't in her plans. She needed this job.
*Do Not Reproduce without permission.

* * *

To Darkness Fled (Blood of Kings, book 2)

By Jill Williamson

To Darkness Fled is the second book in the Blood of Kings trilogy. It's about Achan, a young man

who wanted to become a knight, and Vrell, a girl who is dressed as a boy to hide from the man who wants to marry her. Book two picks up right where By Darkness Hid left off as Achan, Vrell, and the Kingsguard knights flee into Darkness.

"Williamson pens an action-packed, imaginative second installment in the Blood of Kings trilogy. All the familiar epic elements and emotions are freshly rendered, with Vrell and Achan especially memorable as they grow during their journey. The pace gallops along, leaving readers hungry for the concluding book." —Publisher's Weekly

Chapter 1

What do you mean she's gone?

Vrell Sparrow smiled at Esek Nathak's sharp tone. She'd been hoping to intrude upon this moment. She twisted the false prince's silk sleeve in her hands and held her breath, thankful she'd kept the scrap of fabric. Personal items made it easier to look in on someone's mind like this, as did her tar-black surroundings.

Though she floated with four men in a small wooden boat gliding west across Arok Lake—and Darkness—she nevertheless looked through Esek's eyes. The former heir to Er'Rets reclined on a cushioned chaise lounge in his solar in the Mahanaim stronghold. The blazing fire from Esek's hearth warmed Vrell's…Esek's right side. Her hands trembled with the fury coursing through his body. She forced herself to ignore it, knowing it was Esek's anger and not her own.

It galled Vrell that she had to share this man's mind. The man she had once thought to be Prince Gidon Hadar. The man who had demanded to marry her, putting so much pressure on her mother that Vrell had gone into hiding disguised as a stray boy. A disguise she still wore six months later.

Esek rose from the chaise lounge and circled his steward like a prowling dog. How can this be, Chora? Did you not tell me yourself Sir Kenton posted three guards at her door?

Chora, a short, dark-haired man in brown robes, seemed to shrink whenever Esek addressed him. His b-best men, Your Highness. He swears no man left his post. But the chamber is empty. She must have escaped another way.

Yet Lord Levy assures me that is impossible.

F-Forgive me, my king, Chora croaked out. The lady must be a mage. First taking on the appearance of a boy, now v-vanishing altogether.

Esek threw back his head and groaned. I am surrounded by fools. She's no mage, you nitwit. Both my prisoners have gone missing in the same hour, and only I can see the truth: the stray helped her. He means to steal my life—my crown and my bride. Find them!

Of course, Your Majesty. Right away. Chora scurried to the door but paused.

Esek fell back on his chaise lounge and crossed his ankles. He snatched a handful of grapes from a tray. Why are you still here?

The steward turned, trembling. F-Forgive me, Your Highness. It's only…the guards have s-searched the stronghold already. Th-There's no sign of them. I d-don't—

The door burst open. Sir Kenton, the Shield, personal bodyguard to Esek, strode into the chamber. A chill draft swept in behind him, followed by a group of New Kingsguard soldiers dragging two of their own—bound and gagged—between them.

What's this? Esek sat up, swinging his feet to the floor.

Sir Kenton shook his curtain of black hair at the guards, who yanked the prisoners to their feet. These are two of the men who escorted the stray to the dungeons. They were found in the privy on the north wing, bound to one another.

Esek stood and strode to the prisoners. He waved a finger at the gag on the taller man. Sir Kenton withdrew a dagger from his belt and cut through the cloth.

Well? Esek said. What have you to say? Report.

It was Trizo Akbar, Your Highness. The prisoner took a deep breath, as if winded. He's turned traitor. Maybe always has been. Sir Rigil and his squire too. Trizo led the prisoner away while Sir Rigil and his squire bound us and stuffed us into the privy.

Esek's temperature rose. How is it a mere stray has garnered every competent servant in Er'Rets? Has not the Council voted me king? Take these fools to the dungeons, Sir Kenton. The rest of you, find the stray, find the boy called Vrell Sparrow, find Sir Rigil and his rosy squire, and bring them to me. Now!

The chamber fell out of focus. Vrell's head tingled, her body tipped forward. She gasped, and musty, rotten-smelling air filled her lungs. She gritted her teeth and concentrated, putting a hand on the bow of the boat for support. Using her bloodvoicing gift for long periods of time always weakened her. If she could only stay connected long enough to learn Esek's plan. She concentrated on his face and pressed the wrinkled silk sleeve to her cheek.

The chamber came back into view. A door slammed. Esek and Chora were alone.

Issue a decree. Any traitor will stand before me to be judged. Then a bounty. Five golds for information on the Mârad, Sir Rigil, or his squire's whereabouts. Twenty golds for the man who brings me Achan Cham alive. Ten if it's only his head. Fifty golds for Vrell Sparrow, unharmed.

F-Fifty, Your Majesty?

Have you written it down?

Yes, Your Majesty. Chora lowered his voice. But why not disclose that the boy is really Lady Averella Amal?

Because it would work to the stray's advantage. Should the people discover Averella travels with him, they might think the duchess supports his claim to my throne. No. Let them keep their secrets. The money will be enough to bring them both to me. The sooner the better. I am loath to marry Lady Mandzee Hamartano. Now that woman is a mage. Do you recall how she—

A sharp pain shot through Vrell's ear. She moaned and forced her eyes open. Blackness surrounded her, like the deepest, darkest cave. She no longer sat on the wooden bench of the boat but found herself scrunched in the bow, head bent awkwardly to one side, sleeve still clutched in her hand. Mosquitoes buzzed nearby. The boat rocked softly on the lake's surface.

A voice came from the darkness above. "Sparrow?"

Vrell jumped at the volume of Achan's voice. Noises always seemed louder after bloodvoicing, like her head had been wrapped in bandages that fell away all at once.

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