Monday, October 24, 2011

Christmas Gifts


including Small Town Christmas

Love Inspired Duet - November 2011

Mini-Matchmakers And An Old Fashion Christmas

When the new second grade teacher, Amy Carroll, meets the precocious twin sisters, she knows she has her hands full, but when she learns they live on the street where she is staying with her grandmother and they have a single father who is handsome and needs help, Amy’s hands are beyond full. But Amy’s from Chicago and falling in love with a small town man is not part of her plan. Can God waylay Amy’s desire to return to the big city? Can Mike Russett open his heart to love?

Martin’s story contains strong characters and touching scenes - Romantic Times

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-nine 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 was recently named one of the four best novelists in the Detroit area by CBS local news.

This duet novel also includes Brenda Minton's Her Christmas Cowboy

Excerpt Chapter 1

“Mrs. Fredericks.” The office secretary leaned into the room. “Mr. Russet is here to see you.”

“The twins father.” A heavy sigh whisked the air. “Ask him to wait a moment.”

Amy took another step toward the door. No doubt the sigh signaled trouble.

“Please wait a moment, Miss Carroll. “The twins will be in your class. It might help you to meet the girls. They have a propensity for getting into trouble.” She motioned.

“They’re right across the hall in the cafeteria. It’ll give you a heads-up for Monday.”
Trouble. Amy swallowed. “I suppose that would be. . .practical.”

“Yes, and you’ll keep an eye on them while I talk with their father.” She chuckled and motioned her to follow.

Amy followed her across the hall and spotted the girls seated on each side of a cafeteria bench, cuter and sweeter looking than she’d imagined. Though not identical twins, their features were similar with bright Caribbean blue eyes.

The child with a tawny ponytail swung her legs over the bench. “It wasn’t me, Mrs. Fredericks.”

“Yes, it was.” The blonder twin slipped from her seat, her hair gathered into a ponytail on each side of her head. “Holly tore up my drawing in art class.”

“Please sit for a moment.” She gestured to the benches. “I want you to meet someone.”
They scrutinized Amy with a mix of speculation and determination. “Miss Carroll. This young lady is Holly.” She rested her hand on the one with honey brown hair and the deep frown. “And this is Ivy.”

Ivy gazed at her, curiosity written on her face.

Holly and Ivy? Amy wondered. She stepped closer. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Neither responded.

Mrs. Fredericks eyed them. “Miss Carroll will be your new teacher on Monday.”

Holly’s ponytail flipped as she swivelled toward Amy while Ivy stared at her wide-eyed.
“I’ll leave you with Miss Carroll, and you can have a nice talk.” She turned to Amy. “I’ll be back shortly.” She strode away but paused before exiting. “When I return, I’ll introduce you to the girl’s father. I’m sure you’d like that.”

“Our dad?” Two voices rang in unison.

Amy wasn’t sure she wanted her first parental contact to be with an irritated father, but she offered a nod. When she turned, the twins were peering at her again, Holly with her arms crossed at her chest and Ivy with her fist jammed into her waist.

She slipped around the end of the bench and sat at the table. Behind those sweet faces, Amy sensed sadness. She looked from one girl to the other. “What are you doing in the cafeteria.”
Holly looked away. “Mrs. Fredericks made us sit here.”

“Hmm?” Amy tapped her finger against her cheek. “I wonder why?”

Ivy bit her lip. “Kids who misbehave have to sit in here and wait.”

Holly’s frown deepened. “I didn’t do anything bad.”

Ivy pressed her face closer to Holly’s, her look searing through her sister. “You tore up my drawing.”

“But you said it wasn’t any good.”

Ivy fell back to her seat. “If I wanted to tear it up, I would have done it.”

“That’s right, Ivy.” Amy focused on Holly, monitoring her tone. “What kind of pictures were you drawing?”

Holly’s shoulders relaxed. “Pictures of Pilgrims and Indians for our social studies.”

Amy nodded. “For Thanksgiving.” Blending learning with fun was good classroom planning.

“Uh-huh, and. . .” A movement by the door caught her attention.

“Daddy.” The girls shot from the bench and ran to a harried looking man who stood inside the doorway, his hands tucked in his jacket pockets.

Amy’s heart gave a twinge. A five o’clock shadow encompassed his lean jaw, his chestnut hair tousled as if he’d run his fingers through it many times. His straight eyebrows stretched above his caramel brown eyes, flashing with emotion.

He rocked on his heels. “You must be Miss Carroll, the new teacher.” He strode toward her. “I’m the girls’ father, Mr. Russet. It’s nice to met you.” Frustration winked behind his pleasant grin.
Amy met him halfway while the twins hovered at his side. She dropped her palm into his, aware of his warm grip. “Good to meet you, too.”

Behind him Mrs. Fredericks grinned. “I’ll see you on Monday, Miss Carroll.” She gave her a wave and vanished.

When she looked back, the man studied her with curiosity. “I’m sure we’ve met.”

Amy drew back. “Met?”

“Years ago at Ellie Carroll on Lake Street.”

“Yes, that’s it.” Amy’s memory gave a tug.

“We live across the street.” The twins voices melded together.

“She stood bewildered.

His grin widened. “Maybe eleven years ago.”

“I don’t think so.” Yet a memory shimmered in her mind. “I was eighteen then.”

“I was twenty-three, working as a handyman.” He grinned. “Maybe you’ll remember me as Mike.”

“Mike?” The recollection jarred her. “You dug out Grams old shrubbery and planted new ones.” She pictured him in the summer sun, his muscles flexing while his shirt hung on a deer ornament in the tree-sheltered yard.

“The same.”

Amy studied his face. His unruly hair hadn’t changed. She remembered how it ruffled in the breeze, his lean handsome face taut with concentration. She’d flirted with him. But when she went inside, her grandmother notified her he was newly married. Heat rose up Amy’s neck with the recollection. She hoped he didn’t remember she’d toyed with him.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011



Robin Lee Hatcher

"Belonging is vintage Robin Lee Hatcher: a touching, tender love story, filled with genuine conflict and characters that quietly build a nest in your heart. A skillful blend of description, emotion, and spiritual reflection, Belonging will sweep you away to late nineteenth-century Idaho, glad to have a seasoned novelist driving your buckboard wagon with a sure hand. By story's end you'll no doubt sigh with relief, smile with delight, and turn back to page one for a second visit with our determined Miss K. Loved it!"
— Liz Curtis Higgs, New York Times best-selling author of Mine Is the Night

In the high desert town of Frenchman's Bluff, Idaho, Felicia Kristoffersen has set out to create a future for herself that is better than her painful past. Alone in the world with only her faith to sustain her, she must prove herself as this tiny community's new school teacher. She cannot, must not, fail. But there are those who never wanted her there to begin with. Five years after the death of his wife, local merchant Colin Murphy cares about just one thing: raising his daughter, Charity. Colin wants to give her the educational advantages he never had. The new schoolmarm's inexperience doesn't sit well with him, and if this teacher up and marries like the last one did, Charity's heart will be broken once again.

A woman who hasn't known love. A man who lost the love he had. In the midst of the wide, sage-covered plains, each is about to discover that life's bitterest circumstances truly can work together for good.


Boise, Idaho, 1897

The journey by train from eastern Wyoming to western Idaho hadn't been a long one. Only a single night and a part of two days. Nonetheless, Felicia Brennan Kristoffersen felt bone-weary by the time she stepped from the passenger car onto the platform, where a hot August breeze tugged at the skirt of her black dress. She longed for a cool drink of water. But first she had to find Mr. Swanson, the president of the Frenchman's Bluff school board. He'd stated in his letter that he would be at the depot to meet her.

Whatever would she do if she couldn't find him, if he hadn't come for her after all? Her heart fluttered at the thought, but she quickly pushed the rising fear away. She wouldn't give in to it. Not even for a moment. She'd allowed too much fear into her heart through the years. Never more so than in recent months. But no more. God had not given her a spirit of fear.

Tightening her grip on the valise, she walked toward the doors leading into the station. Just as her hand reached to open it, she heard someone speak her name.

"Miss Kristoffersen?"

Relieved, she turned to face a short, squat man with generous white muttonchops and a friendly smile. "Yes, that's me. Are you Mr. Swanson?"

"Indeed I am. Have you been waiting long?"

"No. I disembarked only a few moments ago."

"Good. Good. And your luggage? I assume there's more than what you carry."

"Yes. I have a trunk." One trunk that held everything she owned in this world, although there was no need to tell him that.

"Why don't I take you to the wagon, and then I'll get it for you."

She nodded. "That's very kind."

Wordlessly, he held out his hand for her valise. She gave it to him and then followed him to the end of the platform, down a few steps, and around the side of the depot, where a buckboard pulled by two black horses awaited. Once there, Mr. Swanson dropped her valise into the wagon bed before helping her up to the seat.

"Be back directly, miss."

After Mr. Swanson disappeared inside the station, Felicia felt herself relax. Her journey was almost at an end. No catastrophe had befallen her. Soon she would be settled in a home of her own and could begin making a new life for herself. All would be well.

She sat a little straighter on the wagon seat and looked about. The terrain was similar to the area in Wyoming where she'd spent the past sixteen years—sagebrush and sand-colored earth in abundance—except Boise City had come to life along a river at the base of a pine-topped mountain range. That river now watered farms throughout the valley via a system of canals and creeks, bringing a lush green to land that was otherwise baked brown by the late summer sun.

"Right over there."

She turned to see Mr. Swanson walking toward the buckboard. Behind him was a porter pushing a cart that held her trunk. Thank goodness, for the heat was becoming unbearable, especially in her black gown and bonnet. She prayed it wasn't a long journey to Frenchman's Bluff.

Within minutes, Mr. Swanson had joined her on the wagon seat and the horses were turned away from the depot. They traveled east, leaving the city of Boise behind them. The road they followed was filled with ruts, and more than once Felicia wondered if her bones would be jarred from their sockets before they reached their destination.

"Folks are mighty excited that we'll have ourselves a schoolteacher again," Mr. Swanson said after a long period of silence.

Not for the first time, Felicia wondered how many other teachers had applied for the position before it was awarded to her. The salary was small, to be sure. It couldn't possibly support a man with a family. Which meant most, if not all, applicants would have been unmarried women like herself. Why the school board had chosen Felicia was nothing short of a miracle. An answer to prayer, surely.

But what did it matter why they'd offered her the position? She had employment, and she was out on her own. She'd even been promised a house to live in rather than having to board with a different family each month. Such a luxury. She would no longer be dependent on the whims of others. She wouldn't be responsible to anyone but herself and her God. And more important, she wouldn't have to deal with another member of the Kristoffersen family ever again.

"Like I told you in my letter," Mr. Swanson continued, drawing her thoughts back to the present, "we've been without a teacher since Miss Lucas moved away. Some of our womenfolk took over the instruction of the children as best they could to finish out the session, but the school needs a trained teacher. Right glad we found you when we did."

She offered the man a smile and a nod, but inside, turmoil erupted, as it often had since receiving the letter from Mr. Swanson, offering her the position. What if she failed as a teacher? It had been years since she'd completed her training. How would she support herself if she didn't succeed? For years she'd longed to leave the Kristoffersen homestead on the eastern plains of Wyoming, to experience a little bit of the world, but obligation had held her there. Now she had what she'd wanted, and she found herself scared half to death.

But could anything be worse than what I left behind?

She pictured Gunnar Kristoffersen, his face flushed. She heard his angry accusations and harsh demands. A shudder raced through her. No, it couldn't be worse. Whatever lay ahead of her had to be better than what she'd left behind.


For more information about Robin and her books, please visit Belonging can be purchased at Christian Book (, Amazon (, and fine bookstores everywhere.

Copyright 2011 RobinSong, Inc. Do not reproduce without permission.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lonestar Angel; The Lady'sMaid

Lonestar Angel
Colleen Coble
Copyright 2011 © by Colleen Coble
ISBN: 1595542698

For Eden, hope is rekindled when her estranged husband delivers the astounding news: that their lost baby girl has been found.

Years ago Eden and Clay Larson's baby was stolen. Kidnappers demanded a ransom, but something went horribly wrong at the exchange: the kidnapper's car crashed into the river and was never recovered. Eden blamed herself, Clay lost himself in work. Their young and rocky marriage ended. Or so Eden thought. Now she and Clay must work together to reclaim their child—and their lost love—all while escaping the danger swirling around them at a remote ranch in Texas.

Excerpt from Chapter One

Silverware tinkled in the dimly lit dining room of Twenty, an upscale restaurant located inside a classy boutique hotel. Eden Larson smiled over the top of her glass of water at Kent Huston. His blue eyes were filled with intent tonight, and she had known what he had planned from the moment he suggested this place for dinner.

The piano player's voice rose above the music as he sang "Waiting for a Girl Like You." Kent had spoken that very phrase to her often in the year they'd been dating.

"Warm enough?" he asked.

"It's a perfect night."

"In every way," he agreed. "I want to—"

"Kent." She reached across the linen tablecloth and took his hand. "I need to tell you something."

Before he asked her to marry him, he needed to know what baggage she carried. She'd intended to tell him before now—long before. But every time she tried, the pain closed her throat.

Kent smiled. "Are you finally going to tell me what brought you to town? I don't really care, Eden. I'm just thankful you're here. I love you."

She wetted her lips. "Kent . . ." The sense of a presence behind her made her pause.

"Eden," a man said.

Her heart seized in her chest. She'd recognize the deep timbre anywhere. It haunted her dreams and its accusing tones punctuated her nightmares. The deep vibrancy of that voice would impress any woman before she ever saw him.

She turned slowly in her upholstered chair and stared up at Clay Larson, who stood under the crystal chandelier that was the centerpiece of the intimate dining room. "Clay."

How could he be here? He hadn't changed a bit. His hair was still just as black and curly. His dark blue eyes were just as arresting. And her pulse galloped the way it had the first time she'd set eyes on him.

"I need to talk to you," he said, stepping toward her. "It's important."

Oh, she should have told Kent before now. This was the wrong way for him to discover her past. He was beginning to frown as he glanced from her to Clay, whose broad shoulders and vibrant presence loomed over their table. Her pretend life vanished into mist. What had made her think she could escape the past?

"Who are you?" Kent said. "And what right do you have to interrupt a private conversation?"

"The right of a husband," Clay said, his gaze holding her.

"Ex-husband," she managed to say past the tightness of her throat.

"No, Eden. Husband." He held up a sheaf of papers in his right hand.

"What are those?"

"I never signed the divorce papers," he said quietly, just to her. "You're still married to me."

She heard Kent gasp in the silence as the song in the background came to an end. "That's impossible." She stared at Clay, unable to take in what he'd said. "We were divorced over five years ago."

"You sent the papers over five years ago," he corrected. "I just never signed them."

She stared at the blank signature line he showed her. Why had she never followed up? Because she'd been too busy running. "Why not?"

He shook his head. "I had my reasons. Right now, there's something more important to discuss."

"What could be more important?" she asked. Fingers clutched her arm and she turned her head and stared into Kent's face. "I . . . I'm so sorry, Kent. I was just about to tell you."

"Tell me that you're married?" Kent's eyes held confusion and hurt. "I don't understand."

She shook her head. "I'm divorced. Or at least I thought I was. I haven't seen Clay in five years."

Kent's frown smoothed out. "I think you'd better leave," he said to Clay. He scooted back in his chair.

She laid a hand on his arm. "Let me handle this," she said. Anger was beginning to replace her stupor and shock. "Why are you here, Clay?"

"Would you like to step outside so we can continue this in private?" Clay asked, glancing around the room.

Heat flamed in her cheeks when she saw the interested stares from the two nearby tables. "Just go away. We can talk tomorrow."

His firm lips flattened but he stayed where he was. "I've found Brianna, Eden. She's alive."

She struggled to breathe. She searched his face for the hint of a lie but saw only implacable certainty. She shook her head. "That's impossible. She's dead." She could almost smell the sweet scent of her lost baby, even though she'd been dead for five years.

Beside her, Kent jerked, his eyes wide. She half rose.

"I never believed it," Clay said. "Her body was never found so I kept looking. She's alive, Eden."

She studied his expression. He returned her stare. His face was full of conviction, and she felt a tiny flutter that might be hope begin to stir. "You're serious?"

"I know she's alive. I can't retrieve her alone. I need you to come with me."

"How do you know these things? I don't understand anything."

"I'll explain all of it. But come with me now."

She wanted to believe him, but it was impossible. "I need to talk to Kent first," she said.

"I'll wait outside your apartment."

"How do you know where I live?"

"I know everything about you. I always have." He strode away through a gauntlet of interested stares.

Lonestar Angel is available at bookstores everywhere.

Visit Colleen's website at

* * *

The Lady's Maid

By Susan Page Davis

The Lady's Maid is Susan Page Davis's new book from Barbour Publishing. It's first in her new Prairie Dreams historical romance series. Elise Finster accompanies her young British mistress, Lady Anne Stone, on a voyage to America in 1855. Lady Anne's father has died, and her Uncle David is the new Earl of Stoneford—if he steps forward and claims the title. But David disappeared into the American West when Anne was a baby. Now it's up to her and Elise to find him. They join a wagon train in Independence, Missouri, not realizing they're leading a killer straight to David.

Reviewer Patsy Glans says in the October 2011 issue of Romantic Times Book Reviews: "Davis hits a grand slam with her new historical romance series, Prairie Dreams, which has romance and mystery, with some thrills thrown in. The characters are well rounded and the hero has grit and determination."

An excerpt from The Lady's Maid:

January, 1855--Stoneford, near London

"Come with me, Elise. I can't face him alone."

Lady Anne gripped her hand so hard that Elise Finster winced. She would do anything to make this day easier for her young mistress.

"Of course, my lady, if they'll let me."

The two walked down the sweeping staircase together, their silk skirts swishing and the hems of their crinolines nudging each other. Lady Anne kept her hold on Elise's hand until they reached the high-ceilinged hall below.

Elise paused at the doorway to the morning room and looked at her mistress. Lady Anne said nothing, but straightened her shoulders. A pang of sympathy lanced Elise's heart, but she couldn't bear this burden in the young woman's place. Anne Stone had to face the future herself.

"Good day, ladies." Andrew Conrad, the Stone family's aging solicitor, leaped to his feet from the velvet-upholstered sofa and bowed. "Lady Anne, you look charming. Miss Finster."

Elise murmured, "Hello, sir," while Lady Anne allowed Conrad to take her hand and bow over it.

From near the window, a tall, angular man walked forward—Anne's second cousin, Randolph Stone. Ten years older than Anne, the studious man lived in a modest country home with his wife and two young children and eked out a living on the interest of his father's meager fortune. Elise gritted her teeth, a reaction he always induced in her. With great effort, she had managed to keep Lady Anne from guessing how much she loathed Randolph.

"Anne." Stone took his cousin's hand and kissed it perfunctorily. He nodded in Elise's direction but didn't greet her.

"Randolph. I didn't expect to see you here." Lady Anne arched her delicate eyebrows at the solicitor.

"Mr. Stone had some questions, and I thought that if he came with me today, I could explain the situation to both of you at once."

Lady Anne said nothing for a long moment, then nodded.

"Er, if it pleases you, my lady, this is confidential business." Conrad shot a meaningful glance Elise's way.

Elise felt her face flush, but held her ground. She wouldn't leave until Lady Anne told her plainly to do so. Besides, he'd brought along an extra person. Why shouldn't Lady Anne have that right as well?

"I would like Elise to stay." The lady smiled, but with a firmness to her jaw befitting the daughter of an earl.

Conrad nodded. "As you wish. Shall we begin, then?"

Lady Anne sat on the upholstered Hepplewhite settee and signaled for Elise to sit beside her. Elise arranged her voluminous skirt and lowered herself, avoiding the direct gaze of Randolph Stone. He didn't care for her, either, and Elise knew exactly why, but she didn't believe in letting past discord interfere with the future.

"You must have news," Lady Anne said. "Otherwise, you wouldn't have come."

"That is astute of you, my lady." Conrad reached inside his coat and brought out an envelope. "I've had news that is not really news at all from America."

"America?" Lady Anne's tone changed, and she tensed. "Is it my uncle David?"

Conrad sighed and carefully extracted a sheet of coarse rag paper from the envelope. "You are aware, dear lady, that I sent letters the week after your father died, hoping to locate your uncle—that is, David Stone."

"Earl of Stoneford," Lady Anne said gently.

"Yes, well, that's the point, isn't it?" Conrad sounded tired and the tiniest bit cross, as though he hated being beaten by the Atlantic Ocean and the American postal system. "If your uncle were alive, and if he were here, he would inherit your father's estate and be acknowledged as Earl of Stoneford, it's true. But after three months of dilly-dallying, all we have is a letter from the postmaster in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. of A., declaring that while a Mr. David Stone did reside in the city some ten to fifteen years ago and apparently ran a business at that time, no one by the name of David Stone has been found living there now."

Anne's shoulders sagged. "Surely they're mistaken. The last word we had from him came from there."

Conrad shook his head. "I'm afraid we've reached the end of our resources, my lady. I had that letter a couple of weeks ago stating that the city had no death record for your uncle."

"That was a relief," Lady Anne said.

"Yes, but all it tells us is that he did not die in St. Louis. Now, the courts agree on the procedure. The trustees will continue managing your father's estate, but the peerage will remain dormant until your uncle is either found or proven to be deceased."

Lady Anne stirred. "And why is Randolph here?"

Conrad sighed. "You cousin is next in the line of succession, provided David Stone is proven dead and does not have a male heir. However, it is my duty to tell you both that those things may be impossible to prove."

"And the title will stay dormant and the estate unclaimed for how long?"

"As long as it takes." Conrad brought out a handkerchief and patted at his dewy brow. "There are titles that have been dormant for decades—one for more than a hundred years. It will probably never be claimed."

"But the estate, the property—"

"The crown may decide to dispose of it in time."

"Surely not, if Uncle David is still out there."

"The trustees will not spend your father's fortune in an attempt to find his heir. If you or Mr. Randolph Stone wants to spend your own money trying, that is your affair."

The Lady's Maid, copyright 2011 by Susan Page Davis, published by Moody Publishers. All rights reserved. No part may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Visit Susan's website at:

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Building a Family

Lawyer Eleanor Washburn defends wayward teenagers and supervises volunteers for Habitat for Humanity without missing a beat. But she is unnerved by fascinating single dad Pete Beck—especially since his chaotic life includes a little girl wishing for a mother. Sweet Cassie has Eleanor yearning for what's been missing from her lonely existence. Soon, both dad and daughter are chipping away at Eleanor's defenses. Can she find the courage to risk losing her heart to this ready-made family?

Lyn Cote
2011 ACFW Carol Winner for Her Healing Ways
For the latest Christian Fiction Market Update

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Shadw in Serenity; Valley of Dreams

Shadow in Serenity

By Terri Blackstock


Blackstock is a masterful writer; highly recommend this excellent title to fiction fans--Christian Retailing Magazine

Carny Sullivan knows a con artist when she sees one, and she's seen plenty, since she used to be one. But Logan Brisco is the smoothest fraud Serenity, Texas has ever seen. From his Italian shoes to his movie-star smile, he has them snowed. Carny's the only one in town who has his number, and if it's the last thing she ever does, she's going to expose him. But is she really a match for him?

Chapter 1

Logan Brisco had the people of Serenity, Texas, eating out of his hand, and that was just where he wanted them.

He worked hard to cultivate the smile of a traveling evangelist, the confidence of a busy capitalist, the secrecy of a government spy, and the charisma of a pied piper. No one in town knew where he'd come from or why he was there, and he wasn't talking. But he made sure they knew he was on a mission, and that it was something big.

From the moment he drove his Navigator in, wearing his thousand-dollar suit and Italian shoes, carrying a briefcase in one hand and a duffel bag in the other, tongues began wagging. The most prevalent rumor was that Logan Brisco was a movie producer scouting talent for his latest picture. But the weekly patrons of the Clippety Doo Dah Salon were sure he was a billionaire-in-hiding, looking for a wife. And the men at Slade Hampton's Barbershop buzzed about the money he was likely to invest in the community.

Two days after he arrived, the UPS man delivered two large boxes marked "Fragile" and addressed to "Brisco, c/o The Welcome Inn." One of the boxes had the return address of a prominent bank in Dallas. The other was marked Hollywood, California. The gossip grew more frenzied.

For two weeks, he talked to the people of the town, ate in its restaurants, shopped in its stores, bonded with its men, flirted with its women. As soon as speculation peaked, Logan would be ready to go in for the kill.

This one might be his biggest score yet.

The next step would be to hold one of his seminars, the kind where people came in with bundles of cash and left with empty pockets and heads full of dreams. That was what he was best at. Building dreams and taking money.

On his second Saturday in town—which consisted mostly of four streets of shops, offices, and restaurants—the sun shone brightly after a week of rain. It was the day Serenity's citizens filled the streets, catching up on errands and chores. Perfect.

His first stop that morning was at Peabody's Print Shop, where yesterday he had talked Julia Peabody into printing a thousand fliers for him on credit. "I'm not authorized to spend money on this project without the signatures of my major investors," he'd told her in a conspiratorial voice. "Can you just bill me at the Welcome Inn?"

Julia, the pretty daughter of the print shop owner, glanced over her shoulder to see if her father was near. "Well, we're not supposed to give credit, Mr. Brisco."

"Logan, please," he said, leaning on the counter.

"Logan," she said, blushing. "I mean … couldn't you just write a check or use a credit card and let your investors pay you back?"

"I'm in the process of opening a bank account here," he said with the hint of a grin sparkling in his eyes. "Thing is, I opened it yesterday, but they told me not to write any checks on it until my money is transferred from my Dallas bank. Now, if I were to write you a check and ask you to hold it, that would be exactly the same thing as your giving me credit, wouldn't it?"

"Well, yes, I guess it would," she said.

He smiled and paused for a moment, as though he'd lost his train of thought. "You know, they sure do grow the women pretty in Serenity."

Julia breathed a laugh and rolled her eyes.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Logan said. "I changed the subject, didn't I?"

"That's okay."

"So … would you prefer a postdated check or credit?" While she was thinking it over, he dropped the timbre of his voice and said, "By the way, are you planning to be at the bingo hall tomorrow night?"

"I think so."

"Good," he said. "I was hoping you would."

Flustered, she had taken his order. "All right, Logan, I'll give you credit. You don't look like the type who would make me sorry."

"Just look into these eyes, Julia. Tell me you don't see pure, grade-A honesty."

Today, when he went back in to pick up the fliers, he turned the charm up a notch. "Not only are you the prettiest girl in Serenity, but you're the most talented too. These are excellent fliers."

Julia giggled and touched her hair. "Uh, Logan … I meant to ask you … what project is it that you're working on? I looked all over it, but the flier didn't say."

He shot her a you-devil grin and brought his index finger to his lips. "I can't tell you before I tell the rest of the townsfolk, now can I? It wouldn't be fair to cut you in before anybody else has had a chance."

"Oh, I wouldn't tell anyone," she promised. "Discretion is my middle name. Secrets come through this shop all the time, and I never say a word. Politicians, clergymen, what-not. Everybody in town knows they can trust me."

Chuckling, he handed her back one of the fliers. "Come to the bingo hall early tonight, and you'll hear everything you want to know. Now don't forget to send me that bill."

With a wink he was out the door, leaving her staring after him with a wistful look.

Stepping out into the cool sunlight of the May day, he looked down at the box of fliers. It shouldn't be hard to pass all of them out by tonight. And having the seminar at the bingo hall in the town's community center was a stroke of genius. That place drew hundreds of people on Saturday nights, and tonight they would just come a couple of hours early to hear him. By tomorrow, he'd be riding high.

He would hit the hardware store next, since it seemed inordinately busy today. Easy marks there—he'd hook every one of them.

He stopped, waited for a car to pass, then started to dart across the street. The sound of a Harley hog stopped him. It growled its warning as it tore its way up the street, breaking the relative quiet that he had come to associate with the town. He stepped back when it passed, but as its wheel cut through a puddle, it splashed mud onto the shins of his pants.

"Hey!" he yelled. The driver apparently didn't hear. Logan stared after the bike, which carried a woman and a little boy. The petite biker's shoulder-length blonde hair stuck out from under her tangerine helmet, softening the impression created by the powerful bike. As she went up the street, people looked her way and waved, apparently pleased to see her rather than annoyed at the disruption.

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Valley of Dreams

By Lauraine Snelling

In the first book of Lauraine's Wild West series, Cassie Lockwood is alone in this world, except for the performers of the Lockwood and Talbot Wild West Show. When the show goes bankrupt, she decides to look for the valley, her father always spoke about. But she has only one clue-three huge stones that resemble fingers on a giant hand. With Chief, a Sioux Indian, who's been with the show for twenty years and Micah, the head wrangler she sets out on a wild and daring adventure to find her father's Valley of Dreams.

Who am I, daughter of the wind,

The wind that brings rain,

The wind that brings life?

I am she who breathes deep of that wind,

Drinks until full of the rain,

Lives so that others

Yearn for the wind.

"Just get through today," Cassie told herself, as she did every October first.

As far as she could figure, hard work was the only antidote to the grief that threatened to paralyze her. So far, on this day that had started, as every day, before dawn, she had given her trick-riding pinto, Wind Dancer, a bath, brushed him dry, and made sure not one tangle remained in his black-and-white mane and tail. She had cleaned and polished his hooves and would have brushed his teeth, if that were possible.

Her tent on the grounds of the Lockwood and Talbot Wild West Show would meet military standards for order and cleanliness, the supplies in her trunk all folded or placed precisely. Her guns gleamed from polishing; no trace of gunpowder or dust would dare adhere to stocks or barrels. All were wrapped in cotton cloths and returned to their cases.

If George had allowed it, she would have scrubbed him too, but while the ancient buffalo bull enjoyed a good grooming, he didn't care for bathing. Even Cassie knew better than to push her friend too far. Her dog, Othello, on the other hand, had been scrubbed to the point of nearly losing his wiry hair—and his dignity. While he stayed near her in the corral, he kept his head turned the other way.

It was only three o'clock. If there had been a show today, she could have handled the memories better. Digging into the grooming bucket, she pulled out a carrot and fed it to George. The crunching brought Othello over to sit by the bucket, hinting that he'd like one too but was too miffed to ask.

Would the tears never cease? Such was the case every year, no matter how hard she fought to control her emotions. All the other performers had learned to leave her alone if they didn't want to lose their head.

Her mother and father had both died on October first, five years apart. For Cassie Lockwood, at age ten, losing her mother had taken the light from her world, but when she was fifteen and her father died, her life nearly went with him. Each of the five years since, she had struggled through this day of memory, praying for peace and comfort, feeling that God had left her right along with her parents.

George nudged her with his broad black nose, so she petted him some more too. Safe between her three animal friends, she wiped her eyes on her shirttail before tucking it back into the waistband of her britches. With her mother no longer around to force her into the niceties of womanhood, Cassie wore pants to work around the animals. As the star of the show with her trick riding and shooting, she pretty much did as she pleased, but when she entered the arena, she was all professional. Her mother and father, who headlined before her, had taught her well.

"Miss Cassie." Micah—he never had given a last name—waited patiently for her outside the corral.

"I'll be along soon."

"You are all right now?" While slow of speech and movement, Micah had a way with animals that bordered on legendary.

"Yes, thank you." Or at least I soon will be.

"The supper bell rang."

Really? I didn't even hear it. "Long ago?"

"Food will be gone soon. You hungry?"

Cassie thought a moment. Yes. That rumbling in her belly was most likely hunger now that the pain of grief had retired to await another vulnerable time. "I guess. You know what's for supper?"

"Smells like pork chops."

Othello whined, so Micah dropped a hand down to the dog's head. "I'll save you my bones. Don't worry."

October was usually the final month of the show season before they headed south to winter in warmer weather. When her father ran the show, they did enough gigs in the winter season to keep all of the cast and crew employed. Not so with Jason Talbot, her father's former partner and Uncle Jason to her, an honorary title for the family friend she'd known all her life. He'd promised both her and her father that he would see to Cassie's care as long as she needed him.

"Something strange going on." Micah held back the flap for her to enter the cook tent ahead of him.

"I know." But what? Cassie thought back as she returned greetings, making sure she smiled to let her friends know she was all right. When had she first sensed the feeling?

"John Henry is back."

"Good thing." Cassie grinned and headed for the serving line. John Henry had left the troupe to return home for a few days to bury his father. His second in command could make good soups, but the quality slipped on other entrees.

With their trays full, Cassie and her cohort made their way back to the table without incident, but several conversations had hushed as they passed. Folks always thought she belonged more on the management side, a slight cut above the performers. She might call him Uncle Jason, but the man had never shared business information with her, still thinking of her as that cute little pigtailed girl who used to sit on his knee. At least that was Cassie's take on things.

Halfway through her meal, weariness rolled over her like a huge wave, leaving her foundering in the backwash. She set the remainder of her plate on the ground for Othello, bid the others good-night, and headed for her tent. Tomorrow would be a show day, a better day for sure. So why was she so anxious?

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