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.

Terri Blackstock's Web Site:




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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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