Friday, February 25, 2011

A Bond Never Broken; A Dad of His Own

A Bond Never Broken

by Judith Miller

Copyright 2010 © by Judith Miller

ISBN 978-0-7642-0644-3

Romantic Times declares, "The final book in the Daughters of Amana series is filled with intrigue and romance. The characters are determined to stay true to themselves no matter what. Fans of Amish and Mennonite tales will appreciate Miller's take on their experiences during the first World War." 4 stars

Ilsa Redlich is disturbed when her childhood friend, Garon, decides to join the army, even though their beliefs forbid taking up arms against their enemies. Jutta Schmidt used to live in South Amana, but now lives in another village. When members of the Council of National Defense coerce her into moving back to spy, she fears that they will harm her parents if she refuses. Jutta takes a job at the Redlichs' hotel. She learns of some anti-war remarks and spots Garon helping a outsider. Will she turn her new friends in to secure her parents' safety?

A Bond Never Broken

October 1917

Amana Colonies, Iowa

Ilsa Redlich

I had failed.

There was no other way to justify our presence at the train station.

My brother, Albert, tipped his head and leaned down to look into my eyes. "Please smile, Ilsa. I don't want this to be a sad occasion. I want to remember your engaging smile and the twinkle in those big blue eyes."

I tried, but even his reference to my eyes didn't help. Gaining control over my trembling lips would be an impossible feat. "Please don't ask me to smile. To see you depart does not please my heart." The headpiece of my woolen cloak had fallen to my shoulders, and I touched my index finger to the black cap that covered my hair. "My head will not accept your choice, either."

Once Albert stepped onto the train, nothing would ever be the same. The war had changed everything, and who could say when I would ever see him again.

As if reading my thoughts, he rested his arm across my shoulders. "They've told me I'll serve all of my time at Camp Pike, and I'll probably get to come home for Christmas."

I nodded. "They told Dr. Miller the same thing. Did that stop them from sending him to Europe?" I didn't wait for my brother's answer. "The same is true for you, Albert. Those people can tell you anything they want, but it doesn't mean they will keep their word."

He tightened his hold and squeezed my right shoulder. "You worry too much, Ilsa. All will be well. You must put your trust in God."

Passengers skirted around us, eager to purchase tickets or locate a seat near the station's wood-burning stove. "Like Sister Miller? When I saw her at the Red Cross meeting last week, she didn't think all was well. She was in tears when she spoke of her husband." I lowered my voice. Speaking against the war was not a good thing, especially for those of German heritage. "And she was angry, too. She said her husband was told he wouldn't be sent overseas because of his conscientious objector status, but still they sent him."

"Ach! Who can know what happened with Dr. Miller? Not me or you. I am only certain of what I've been told: I will serve at Camp Pike and then return home."

He wasn't going to listen, so I bit back any further arguments. Not knowing when I would see Albert again, I didn't want to spoil our parting with cross words. Mother had kissed Albert's cheek, said her good-bye, and hurried to the kitchen to prepare the noonday meal for the hotel guests, but I hadn't failed to notice the tears she'd squeezed back. And Father had murmured a hasty farewell and pulled Albert into an awkward hug before heading to the wheelwright shop after breakfast. Around us, the clamor of conversation rose and fell. A train whistled in the distance. "You promise you'll write? Mutter and Vater will worry if they don't hear from you each week."

He wagged his finger back and forth beneath my nose. "It is not Mutter and Vater who will worry. They have peace because they trust God. But you, dear Ilsa, are not so quick to find that peace."

"Nein. Probably because I prayed you would be spared from the draft, yet you received your notice. Then I prayed you would file a request to be released from military duty because of your religious beliefs, but you didn't. Instead, you only checked the box saying you are a conscientious objector. So then I prayed you would fail the physical exam, but you passed with flying colors. My prayers failed on all accounts, and I find it hard to trust that God will answer my prayers to keep you safe."

"God heard your prayers, Ilsa, but He has other plans for my life, and those plans include serving in the U.S. Army. It's as simple as that."

I glared at a group of boisterous passengers congregated nearby, angry that their lives remained unchanged while mine was being turned upside down.

"I promise I'll write," Albert said, "but you shouldn't expect a letter every week. I don't know what my duties will be, and I don't want you to be disappointed." He grinned. "Maybe you could bake me some cookies and send them."

I forced a tight smile. "Ja. You know I will."

He pecked a kiss on my cheek. "I will be happy to have some, even if you burn them."

I gave him a playful shove. He never failed to tease me about the first cookies I had baked without Mother's help. Tearful when they had burned, I fretted there would be no dessert for the hotel guests. Albert had come home and joined me in scraping off the black crust. He'd declared them perfect, though I don't think the guests had agreed.

Tears threatened and I swallowed hard to keep them at bay. I could cry later. But not now, not during these precious final minutes with Albert.

With only an eighteen-month difference in our ages, we'd been close all of our lives, unlike many of our friends who didn't get along with their siblings. Perhaps that was why I'd taken it so personally when he refused to take my advice to remain at home. Then again, maybe it was because I feared his decision would influence Garon and change my life even more. And it had. Not only had Albert's decision wreaked havoc in my relationship with him, it had also caused problems between me and the man I was pledged to marry.

"Unless the elders tell us the government wants us to use even less flour and sugar than we already do, I will do my best to send you something gut to eat at least once or twice a month." I did my best to keep my tone light.

Please visit Judy at her website at where you can sign-up for her newsletter and discover more information about her writing life.

A Bond Never Broken is available at bookstores everywhere and may also be purchased at;; and; and at your local Christian book store.

* * *


Gail Gaymer Martin

Loved Inspired, March 2011

One Child's Wish

With his Dreams Come True foundation, Ethan Fox turns wishes into reality. Amazing trips. Meeting heroes. But Ethan has come to care deeply for a sick boy whose dream is . . .a dad. And not just any dad. Ethan. Though little Cooper has a great chance of getting well, widowed Ethan can't chance loving---and losing---again. Yet he's spending time with the sweet boy and his lovely, single mother, Lexie Carlson. Could a little boy's wish for a dad of his own come true after all?

Multiaward-winning novelist and author of Writing the Christian Romance from Writers Digest, Gail Gaymer Martin, writes women's fiction, romance and romantic suspense for Love Inspired and Barbour Publishing. She has forty-eight published or contracted novels with over three million books in print. Gail is a full-time novelist, popular keynote speaker and workshop presenter across the United States and abroad. She is the cofounder of American Christian Fiction Writers.

Visit Gail's website at

The novel is available where all good books are sold or Click to Order at

Chapter 1 Excerpt

Lexie Carlson peeked into the meeting room of Mothers Of Special Kids. She hated being late, and the reason for her delay had plunged her spirit to the pits. Despite trying to slip in, her friend Kelsey Rhodes, the moderator, spotted her. She sidled the few steps to Lexie's side, a frown etching her face. "Something wrong?"

Lexie shook her head, uncomfortable with Kelsey's attention especially with the intriguing guest speaker standing nearby. A grin curved his full lips, and smile lines crinkled the edge of his gray eyes canopied by thick blond lashes. His honey-colored hair glinted with copper highlights.

She leaned closer to Kelsey, managing as pleasant a look as she could. "Just a phone call." Hoping to end the questions, she slipped into a chair and turned her focus to the front.

Kelsey had moved away, relief spreading across her face.

Relief. The welcome expression from women who faced life with seriously ill children. Their support brought her here weekly and had become her mainstay.

"As I was saying," Kelsey sent a teasing smile her way, "I'm glad so many of you are here today since we have a special guest." She motioned toward the good-looking man.

Something about him captured Lexie's attention. His gray eyes glided past her with a twinkle that matched his grin. A giddy feeling swept over her. The ridiculous reaction unsettled her.

Kelsey beamed at the women. "This is Ethan Fox who sits on the board of Dreams Come True Foundation, and he's here to tell us about a wonderful opportunity for you and your family."

He swung his hand in a brief wave. "Happy to be here."

The women applauded.

Lexie liked his voice, warm and rich as a cinnamon bun fresh from the oven. Guilty pleasure swept over her, picturing the sugary treat, one of her vices.

Ethan strode to the center, slipping one hand into his khaki-colored pants while the other clutched what appeared to be a stack of brochures. His shirt had thin blue stripes on a white background. Lexie liked the way he coordinated his attire with his beige and navy tie. He looked like a spit-polished executive minus the suit jacket. She grinned at her fashion commentary.

Ethan noticed and grinned back.

A flush warmed her neck, and Lexie glanced away, but the look hadn't escaped Kelsey. She ambled closer to Lexie and arched a brow.

Lexie drew in a breath and gave a quick shake of her head, immediately wishing she hadn't responded to Kelsey's implication.

"I hope most of you have heard about the Dreams Come True Foundation." Ethan scanned the group of women.

His comment yanked Lexie's attention. She'd never heard of it. She surveyed the group to see how many had. Looking around, she noticed only a few nods. Most looked at Ethan with blank looks that probably matched hers.

He shook his head. "I'm disappointed. I had hoped most of you knew about us, but this makes me especially pleased that I'm here today." He handed Kelsey a stack of brochures and refocused on the women.

Kelsey stood at the end of the first row of chairs and counted out the brochures, but Lexie didn't keep her focus on her. She studied Ethan Fox.

"Dreams Come True is a foundation that provides children who are surviving a serious illness with the means to reach a dream. By this, I mean the foundation plans, arranges, and finances your child's wish. This isn't a national organization, but one founded in South Oakland County by an anonymous donor. He doesn't serve on the board, and he is contacted solely through an attorney."

Kelsey appeared, slipped a brochure into her lap and settled into the empty chair beside her. Lexie evaded her gaze. She wanted no more arched eye brows. Instead she scanned the brochure as she listened to Ethan.

Sincerity always captured her attention, and she suspected the man had a love for what he did for kids, but the foundation sounded like a Disney movie. Lexie had given up long ago wishing on a star and singing down a well. Her prince had galloped right past, taking the glass slipper with him, and at this point in her life, she didn't expect another knight to pass by.

Ava Darnell's hand shot upward.

Lexie liked Ava, although her curiosity sometimes took precedence over wisdom. Ava's son and hers shared a similar disease—cancer—and being alone she empathized with Ava's struggle as a single mom.

Ethan acknowledged her, and Ava lowered her hand. "Does the donor live in the area?"

Ethan lifted his shoulders. "I don't know for sure, but I suspect he does."

"Do you think he's a teacher or something? Someone who knows--"

"Those of us on the board have no other information. As I said, he's an anonymous donor." A frown flashed across his face. "But that doesn't diminish the wonderful opportunity that you have as parents to apply for one of these gifts."

Ava looked away, her mumble still heard. "But why? I don't get it."

Kelsey strode to Ethan. "It's difficult to imagine such kindness from a stranger, someone who doesn't know our children, but we appreciate learning about this wonderful charity."

Lexie tried to cover her grin. Kelsey served as the meetings troubleshooter, and Lexie wished she had her friends knack to calm a crisis. She approached trouble with commonsense.

Ethan's tense face relaxed. He gave Kelsey a pleasant nod. "It is a charity, but please know your family's income isn't considered. This donor wants to give a sick child something to look forward to. To experience something that seems impossible. You've all faced family adversity, watching your child suffer from a variety of serious illnesses. The Bible tells us to be imitators of God and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us." His gaze scanned the women. "I think that's what the donor has done. He wants to bring unexpected joy into your child's life and yours."

© 2011 Gail Gaymer Martin

Monday, February 21, 2011

One Child's Wish

One Child's Wish

With his Dreams Come True foundation, Ethan Fox turns wishes into reality. Amazing trips. Meeting heroes. But Ethan has come to care deeply for a sick boy whose dream is. . .a dad. And not just any dad. Ethan. Though little Cooper has a great chance of getting well, widowed Ethan can't chance loving---and losing---again. Yet he's spending time with the sweet boy and his lovely, single mother, Lexie Carlson. Could a little boy's wish for a dad of his own come true after all?

In stores now where ever books are sold or order on line: Click to Order:


Multi-award-winning novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin writes Christian fiction for Love Inspired and Barbour Publishing, where she was honored by Heartsong readers as their Favorite Author of 2008. Gail has forty-eight contracted novels with over three million books in print. She is the author of Writers Digest’s Writing the Christian Romance. Gail is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers, a keynote speaker at churches, libraries and civic organizations and presents workshops at conference across the US. She has a Masters degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and was a licensed counselor for many years. She lives with her husband in a northwest Detroit suburb.

Gail's Video Interview about A DAD OF HIS OWN and a little about her career can be view on her blog at:

Visit Gail's Website at
Gail on Facebook:!/profile.php?id=1429640580

Friday, February 11, 2011

Promises to Keep; A Deadly Game

Promises to Keep

By Ann Tatlock

"A lively narrative….poignant and moving." Publishers Weekly

"A wonderful read….The story threatens to break our heart with its velvet hammer truth, but sacrificial love triumphs!" Rusty Whitener

What 11-year-old Roz Anthony wants more than anything is for her daddy to quit drinking, to be the good man she knows him to sometimes be, and to take his rightful place as husband and father. He promises to change. But should Roz trust him?

Chapter 1

We hadn't lived in the house on McDowell Street for even a week when we found a stranger on the porch, reading the morning paper. Wally saw her first, since it was his job to fetch the newspaper from the low-lying branches of the blue spruce where the paper boy always tossed it. I was in the kitchen setting the table, and from there I could see Wally—tall and lanky and bare-chested in the summer heat--move down the hall toward the front door. He was grumbling about the rain as the soles of his feet slapped against the hardwood floor. He reached for the doorknob, then stopped abruptly. In the next moment, he hollered back toward the kitchen, "Mom, there's an old lady out on the porch."

Mom was frying bacon at the stove. She jabbed at the sizzling pan with a spatula and hollered back, "What's she want? Is she selling something?"

"I don't think so," Wally said. "She's just sitting there reading the paper."

"Our paper?"

"Well, yeah. I think it's our paper."

"What now?" Mom muttered as she moved the frying pan off the burner and untied her apron. When she turned around I saw the flash of fear in her eyes. It was a look I was used to; it showed up on Mom's face whenever she didn't know what was coming next, which happened a lot in our old house in Minnesota. But not because of strangers.

Mom laid the apron over a chair, smoothed back her blonde hair, and ran the palms of her hands over the wrinkles in her housedress. At the same time she tried to smooth the wrinkles in her brow enough to look confident. I followed her from the kitchen to the front door where Wally stood so close to the window the tip of his nose touched the glass. "Can you believe it?" he said quietly. "She's just sitting there like she owns the place or something."

Mom raised one hand to her lips in quiet hesitation. Meanwhile I slipped to the living room window and peered out from behind the curtain, finding myself only inches from our uninvited guest. At first glance she was one huge floral print dress straining the straps of the folding lawn chair on the porch. Her legs were propped up on the railing and her bulky black tie shoes dangled like dead weight over the lilac bush below. I couldn't see much of her face, just a small slice of fleshy cheek and the bulbous end of a generous nose, a pair of gray-rimmed glasses and a mass of white hair knotted at the back of her head. She was reading the Sunday comics and something must have tickled her because she laughed out loud.

That howl of glee sent enough of a jolt through Mom to get her going. She gently pulled Wally away from the door and swung it open. She pushed open the screen door and stepped outside. I saw the old woman's head bob once as though to acknowledge Mom's presence.

"Can I help you?" Mom asked. Her voice was strained, the way it sounded when she was trying not to yell at one of us kids. She waited a few seconds. Then, a little more exasperated, she repeated, "Can I help you with something?"

The stranger folded the paper and settled it in her lap. "No, dear, I don't think so." The corner of her mouth turned up in a small smile. "But thank you just the same."

Mom stiffened at that and all her features seemed to move toward the center of her face. "Well," she said, "may I ask what you're doing on my porch?"

"Just sitting a while," the old woman said, as though she'd been found passing the time of day on a public bench. "Anyway," she went on, "it's not your porch. It's mine."

"Uh oh," Wally whispered in my direction. "She's one of those crazies. You'd better go keep an eye on Valerie."

But I didn't want to go keep an eye on Valerie. I wanted to stay right where I was and watch Mom talking with the crazy lady.

Mom looked off toward the street like she was hoping someone would walk by and help her, but it was early Sunday morning and the streets were quiet, save for one lone soot-colored cat slinking along the sidewalk in the misty rain.

Finally, Mom turned back to the stranger and said, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave, and if you don't, I will call the police."

The old lady pulled her feet off the railing, and I thought maybe she was going to stand up and leave, but she didn't. Instead, she said quietly, "Well now, I wish you wouldn't do that."

"You don't give me any choice. You're trespassing on private property."

"I might say the same for you."

Mom's eyes widened. "What do you mean by that?"

"The law might say you own this house, but it'll always be mine."

"Mom," Wally hollered though the screen, "you want me to call the cops?"

Available from,,

Copyright © 2011 by Ann Tatlock

Published by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Do not reproduce without permission.

To learn more about Ann and her books, please visit her website at

* * *

A Deadly Game

By Virginia Smith

It began as a harmless game, a competition of wits between ten wealthy businessmen. But when one of them is killed, Susanna is drawn into a nightmare like she never imagined. The only person she can rely on is someone she vowed she would never trust: the son of a billionaire, very much like the man who ruined her life three years earlier. And though she hasn't talked to God in years, she must now pray that Jack can help her figure out the clues in an ingenious game with the highest stakes of all — life and death.

An exciting and suspenseful story with some intriguing twists. – RT Book Reviews


The moment she rounded the corner of the building, Susanna Trent knew something was wrong. To her right, darkness shrouded the wooded area that ran the length of the building housing Ingram Industries. Tiny frozen daggers of sleet sliced through the nighttime sky to fall onto the crowded evergreen branches, the contact goading the trees into an eerie dance. To her left, slivers of light peeked through the cracks of closed blinds in the floor-to-ceiling office windows. Sleet stung her cheeks and slapped at the nylon hood of her jacket as she skidded to a halt on the sidewalk.

Behind her, Jack Townsend didn't stop quite as quickly. He bumped into her, and almost knocked her off her feet.

Jack slipped a strong hand under her arm to steady her. "Sorry about that."

Susanna acknowledged the apology with an absent nod, her stare fixed on the windows. A finger of disquiet tapped at the edges of her mind. She'd expected to see her boss standing there, waiting for her to arrive with his new Corvette. Mr. Ingram had been ecstatic when she called him after the auction ended to tell him that she'd succeeded in buying the car he wanted. Why wasn't he watching for the moment she arrived, ready to dash outside to see it? Something definitely wasn't right here.

Jack's head turned as he followed her gaze. "Is something wrong?"

Susanna shook her head, as much to dislodge the uneasy feelings as to answer. "It's just that the blinds are closed. They're never closed."

"Maybe he wanted some privacy."

"From what?" She pointed toward the desolate woods. "Nobody ever comes back here except him and me."

Jack peered into the ice-covered evergreens, then shrugged. "Why don't we ask him?"

His smile tilted sideways, and Susanna couldn't help but admire the guy's strong jaw, chiseled nose and short-cropped dark hair. They'd just met a few hours ago, at the car auction, and she'd noted his wholesome good looks right off. Normally she would have found him attractive, but Jack Townsend was exactly the kind of man she made a point of avoiding. He shared too much in common with someone she hoped she'd never have to see again.

Still, he was doing Mr. Ingram a favor by delivering the new Corvette. She had to admit that was a nice gesture, especially when he had been bidding against her for the same car. Unusual, too. In Susanna's experience, the sons of billionaires were far too self-centered to do something nice for someone else.

She glanced again at the closed blinds and couldn't completely dismiss the feeling of foreboding that bloomed. Hurrying to the heavy metal door, she shrugged the strap of her voluminous handbag from her shoulder. The cavernous interior of the purse held a wealth of useful personal items, with plenty of room for the envelope containing the papers for Mr. Ingram's new car. But it also ate keys. She rummaged inside, shaking to listen for the telltale jingle. Finally, she found them. Her gloved fingers fumbled to locate the right one, and she shoved it into the lock.

The hallway inside was empty, but it would be at this time of night. Susanna led Jack down the short corridor and around the corner. A quick glance toward the front of the building showed that the main lights were off in the accounting department. Stillness filled the office, normally bustling in the daytime. A few safety lights cast a dim glow over the empty desks.

She didn't pause when she entered her own work space, but hurried across the carpeted floor, past her tidy desk. The door to Mr. Ingram's private office had been pulled almost closed. Was he on a phone call, maybe? She halted for a moment, but didn't hear any noise from inside.

"Mr. Ingram?" She tapped on the wood, the sound muted by her gloves. "I'm here with your car."

No answer. Alarm crept like spider legs up the back of Susanna's neck. Something was wrong; she could feel it. She exchanged a glance with Jack, whose brows had drawn together over eyes dark with concern.

"Mr. Ingram? Is everything okay?"

Susanna laid a gloved hand on the solid door and gave a gentle push. It swung inward, and she slipped through the enlarged opening. The desk chair was empty, but her gaze was drawn to the floor.

A body lay halfway hidden behind the big wooden desk. But the head was visible. The image seared into Susanna's brain like a hot brand, and she knew she would remember it as long as she lived. Mr. Ingram's face was purple, his eyes bulging from their sockets to stare at something no living person could see.

A scream tore from her throat.


Copyright © 2011 by Harlequin Enterprises

Copyright © 2011 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 Deadly Game and Virginia Smith's other books, visit

Support your local bookseller! If you don't see A Deadly Game on the shelf, ask them to order it. Or purchase online at: - -

Download the Kindle version -

Friday, February 04, 2011

Beneath the Night Tree; False Money

Beneath the Night Tree

By Nicole Baart

"Beneath the Night Tree is a poignant glimpse of a woman's past merging with her future. Filled with poetic symbolism and lush description, Baart's work vividly portrays an individual at a crossroads, faced with circumstances that force her to examine her deepest motivations...

Baart has the guts to examine what many won't contemplate -- convention and the social norm. Her work combines down-to-earth elements of daily living with abstract concepts meant to be considered on a broad scale. Nothing about this book is cliched and her characters may surprise those who think they know the outcome; for just as in real life, it's the unforeseen events that often bring unexpected results." ForeWord Magazine, 2010

A single mother to her son and younger brother, Julia DeSmit cherishes living with her beloved grandmother and is hoping to be engaged to Michael Vermeer—the man of her dreams—by year's end.

Then a cryptic e-mail from her son's father spins her world off axis. She hasn't heard from Parker since he left her in a college parking lot without a backward glance. But one look at her son—the spitting image of his father—is enough to convince her that, for better or worse, Parker is a part of their story.

Faced with this new reality and the potential unraveling of her unorthodox family, Julia begins a tightrope walk between what was, what is, and what she hopes will be.

Beneath the Night Tree

Nicole Baart

Chapter 1

Daniel hummed in his sleep. It was an unconscious song, a midnight lullaby, as familiar to me as the sigh of my own breath. I fell asleep at night listening to the cadence of his dreams, and when I woke in the morning, his quiet melody was a prelude to birdsong.

I opened my eyes in the darkness and strained to see an imprint of peach on the horizon beyond my open window. It was coming, but when I blinked at the black reflection in the glass, dawn was nothing more than a promise, and Daniel's every exhalation seemed tuned to charm it into being. I pictured him in his bed, arm flung over the pillow and palm opened toward the sky as if God had set an orchestra before his still- chubby fingers. As if God had chosen my son to coax light into our little house.

Maybe He had.

If there was one thing I had learned in five years of being a single mom, it was that the Lord did exactly that: He used the small, the inconsequential, the forgotten to shame the wise. He worked in contradictions, in the unexpected. And I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if He hovered over my Daniel, drawing music from the curve of his parted lips with the gentle pull of divine fingers.

The thought made me smile, and for a moment I longed to tiptoe across the cool floorboards and be a part of it all, to slip into the tiny attic nook that was my son's bedroom. I wanted to feel my way through the shadows, stretch out beside him, and kiss the sugar-sweet little-boy mouth that puckered like a perfect bow.

But I didn't. Instead, I did what I did every day. I got up, grabbed the clothes that I had laid out the night before, and headed downstairs. If Daniel was singing, then I danced: avoiding the stair that creaked, twisting around the smooth-worn banister like a ballerina, waltzing to Simon's room, where I peeked through the crack of the mostly closed door.

My ten-year-old half brother was on his stomach, bare back exposed to the unseasonable cool of an August morning. We had all the windows flung open, and the house whispered with a light breeze. It wasn't cold, not really, but the sight of his skinmade me stifle a shiver. I floated into Simon's room, a part of his dreams, and laid a blanket across his shoulders like a blessing. Schoolboy shoulders, I noticed. Thin and angular, but broadening, hinting at the strong man he would soon become as if the clean line of his skin were bursting with promise. A tight bud about to unfurl. Sometimes I still couldn't believe that she had left him here to blossom.

I touched the mop of his dark hair with my fingertips and thanked God that the child below me slept in peace. That he loved me.

When I spun into the kitchen and switched on the coffeemaker, I couldn't stop the prayer that rose, a balloon lifting beneath the cage that held my heart. Thank You, I breathed in the silence. For Daniel, for Simon, for my grandmother, who still slipped from bed not long after I turned on the shower to whisk pancake batter or fold blueberries into muffins for breakfast. Thank You for the four corners of our family and the way that we folded into each other like one of my grandma's quilts. Edges coming together, softening.

Most of all, I was grateful for the stillness of the predawn hush, for the short reprieve when everything was dark and new, emerging. It was in these moments as the day was still lifting its head that I could believe everything was exactly as it should be instead of the way it was.

Not that life was horrible—far from it. But as the weeks and months circled on, I couldn't deny that our ramshackle family was often more off than on. The whole thing reminded me of Daniel's birthday present: a carved model train track. Though the sleek, red engine could pull a chain of cars around the twining loops for hours on end, there inevitably came a moment when a single wheel tripped off the track. Who knew what caused the quiet stumble? It was a magician's trick, a sleight of hand—everything bustling along one minute and struggling the next. But the train kept going; the engine pulled on. It just dragged the coal cars behind it, clacking unevenly all the way.

I felt just like that engine, hauling everything in my wake. Hauling everyone in my wake.

When I pulled back the shower curtain, it became obvious that the DeSmit family train was already well on its way to derailment. There were worms in the bathtub, a dozen or more squirming in a mound of dirt so rich and black it made me think of cake. Devil's food.

I had specifically told Daniel not to put worms in the bathtub and had even given him an ice cream bucket in which to store his newest collection. My son needed to have his hearing checked again, I decided. But it was an exercise in futility. I knew that what plagued Daniel wasn't a hearing problem; it was a listening problem.

As I deposited handfuls of squirming earthworms into the bucket I rescued from the front porch, I felt the momentary bliss of my morning slackening its fragile hold. Hot on the heels of the stark reminder that Daniel was an angel only when he slept came a familiar twinge of worry for Simon, the boy who earned his wings in a thousand different ways. By the time I finally stepped into the mud-streaked shower and turned it on full blast, I could feel concern overflow my fists like worry stones too heavy to hold.

Handsome as Simon was, and growing more mature by the day, he still wore loss like a chain around his neck, heavy and awkward, dragging his head down. He loved us, I knew that, but he missed her. And why shouldn't he? Janice was a terrible mother to me, and yet I missed her every single day. I felt her absence in the shadowed corners of my heart, where longing echoed. It was a sound track of hurt—soft, but always there.

And Janice had been a good mom to Simon. Or at least, as good as she could bring herself to be. No wonder he bore her ghost like an anchor.

Copyright: Nicole Baart (do not reproduce without permission)

Learn more at:

Buy now at:


Barnes & Noble



5th in the Abbot Agency series

By Veronica Heley

Bea Abbot does not `do' murder, but the disappearance of Tomi, star of an award-winning short film, is a different matter. Bea discovers that Tomi's circle contains a secret so deadly that they are dying one by one, even though none of them will go to the police. Which of them will talk to Bea, and if they do, will that no also put her at risk?

The extract:

Widowed Bea Abbot ran a domestic agency whose watchword was `discretion'. Every now and then people brought her problems which they couldn't or wouldn't take to the police. Occasionally this meant she dealt with murder.

Friday afternoon

Bea walked into her office and found a bouquet of flowers on her desk.

Was it a gift or a bribe?

The flowers wouldn't be from her live-in assistant. Maggie had green fingers and looked after their secluded back garden with energy and style, but Maggie did not care for cut flowers, so it wasn't she who had put the bouquet on Bea's desk.

Bea rarely bothered to buy cut flowers either, being content with one or two strategically placed pot plants which didn't object to central heating.

So, who had brought her flowers?

A name leaped into her mind.

She picked the bouquet up to make sure but there was no card with it. It wasn't an expensive bouquet. It was made up of carnations, chrysanthemums and one rose bundled into a cellophane wrapper, with a sachet of plant food taped to it. It looked as if it had been plucked from a bucket on the way out of a convenience store. Bea could see where an attempt had been made to rip off the price tag.

She weighed the bouquet in her hand, thinking about the one person who was always asking her to do things for him that she didn't want to do . . . and dropped it into the waste paper basket.

She liked flowers. What she didn't like was bribery and corruption, and she could smell that a mile off.

He'd be lurking in the vicinity, of course.

She threw her suit jacket over the back of her chair and stretched to ease her back. She was tired. She'd been out of the office all morning and this was the first moment she'd had to sit at her desk and boot up her computer. In a minute, her elderly and pensionable but refusing-to-retire personal assistant would knock on the door – which was entirely unnecessary, but the elderly Miss Brook liked to observe the formalities – and enter with the few items from the day's post that she felt her employer should see.

Meanwhile Bea accessed her emails.


Of course. He'd concealed himself behind the long curtains framing the French windows.

Bea set her teeth. `No. Whatever it is you want, the answer is "No".'

`You don't really mean it.' Chris slid into the chair before her desk. Nineteen years old, he had a narrow head under a mop of chestnut hair, was of medium height and well-made. He had startlingly blue eyes and charm enough to get his own way ninety nine times out of a hundred. He was out-of-this-world clever in some respects but, in Bea's opinion at least, made up for it by being totally lacking in common sense.

As Bea had expected, Miss Brook now tapped on the door and brought in the post. Chris jumped up and reached out to take the stack of letters from her, fumbled the job and let the papers fall to the floor.

Bea rolled her eyes at Miss Brook, who pinched in her lips and said, `I don't know how he got in.'

`Don't you bother to pick up those letters, Miss Brook. Chris knocked them down, and Chris can pick them up.'

Which indeed, he was scrabbling around on the floor to do.

`I should think so, too,' said Miss Brook, who was one of the few people impervious to Chris's charm. Miss Brook closed the door soundlessly behind her.

Chris dumped a messy pile of papers on her desk and opened his mouth to speak.

`No,' said Bea. `What ever it is that you want, the answer is "No". As I've said many times before, you may not move into the spare room. You may not bring your synthesizer in here to practice, and I am not taking you out in my car to give you a driving lesson.'

`That's not fair. I've passed my test.'

`At the eighteenth attempt?'

`Oh, come on! It was only my fourth try.'

`Is your driving instructor now on tranquillisers?' She held up her hand to stop him. `I'm delighted – though surprised – to hear that you've managed finally to pass your driving test but no, you may not borrow my car under any circumstances. Anyway, aren't you supposed to be out and about, making another of your amazing art-house films that will wow the critics? No!'

He opened his mouth to reply, but she got there first. `Don't tell me. Your next film's held up for some reason, your father's fed up with you hanging around the house, and you can't go back to university till next terms starts–'

`I'm not going back to university.'

`But you will, Chris. You will. In due course you'll see the sense of it. Whatever you decide to do in life, a university degree helps. What's more, it teaches you discipline, which is something you lack. So, the answer is "NO!".'

He grinned. `You haven't heard what it is I want yet.'

`I don't need to,' she said, returning to her computer and deleting some spam. Why did you always have to check your spam nowadays, to make sure nothing has dived into the wrong slot?

He put on his puppy-dog face. `My father suggested that–'

She lifted her eyes from her screen. His father was some sort of high-up civil servant, a grey man with influence. She liked CJ, and she rather thought he liked her – not in that way, of course. But she trusted him, which is more than she did his likeable but harum-scarum son.

`Honest. He did say I should ask you to help to find my library books–'

`WHAT! Get out of here before I lose my temper completely!'

`Oh, and the girl who lost them. She seems to have got lost, too.'


Veronica Heley

Available from Amazon and all good bookshops and libraries everywhere. Do not Reproduce without permission.