Friday, November 18, 2011

The Long Trail Home; The Wishing Pearl

Long Trail Home

By Vickie McDonough

Long Trail Home is the third book in the Texas Trails series that I'm writing with Susan Page Davis and Darlene Franklin. It is my first book in the series, and it is a stand alone book. For more information about this series, visit the Texas Trails website:

What others are saying:

Hold on to your heart—Vickie McDonough is about to steal it away with an irresistible love story so unique and fresh, it will leave you breathless. It may be a "long trail home," but the pages have never flown so fast! This is prairie romance at its very best—I loved it!

Julie Lessman, award-winning author of The Daughters of Boston and Winds of Change series


A weary soldier returns from the War Between the States to discover his parents dead, his family farm in shambles, and his fiancée married. Riley Morgan takes a job at the Wilcox School for Blind Children and tries to make peace with God and himself. When a pretty, blind woman who cares for the children reaches through his scarred walls and touches his heart, he begins to find renewed faith and hope for the future. But when he discovers Annie feigned her blindness just to have a home, will his anger and hurt drive him away and ruin all chances for a future filled with love, faith, and family?


That one right there—he's your mark."
Annie Sheffield slipped past her daddy and peeked around the corner of the building. A handsome youth with wheat-colored hair stood in the dirt road in front of the mercantile, a shiny pocket watch dangling from his fingers on a silver chain. Annie squinted when a shaft of light reflected off the watch, and she blinked several times, refocusing on her prey. A much younger boy with the same color hair reached for the watch, but the older boy lifted the treasure higher to safety.
The taller boy's look was stern but gentle. "No, Timothy. Remember this watch was Grandpa's. It's very old, and we must be careful with it."

The younger boy's face scrunched up but he nodded. Then the comely youth bent down and allowed Timothy to hold the shiny watch for a moment before he closed it and put it back in a small bag, a proud smile on his handsome face.
Ducking back into the alley, Annie leaned against the wall in the early evening shadows. She glanced at her daddy. "Do I have to?"
"You wanna eat, don'tcha? We need that watch."
"But that boy looks so proud of it."
Her father narrowed his gray eyes. "I'd be proud if'n it was mine."
Annie sighed. If her father possessed the watch, he'd just go hock it or gamble it away.
"Go on with ya." He flicked his thin index finger in the air, pointing toward the street. He tugged down on the ugly orange, green, and brown plaid vest that he always wore. "Scat!"

Annie peered around the building again, taking a moment to judge how fast she'd have to run and where she could hide once she'd taken the watch. She'd come to hate being a pickpocket. Ever since she heard that street preacher several months back in Galveston hollering to a small crowd that stealing was breaking one of God's special laws, it had nagged her worse than a swarm of mosquitoes. But she was hungry, and they had no money.

She studied the boy's long legs. Could she outrun him? And what about his little friend?

Her daddy was an expert pickpocket. He could snitch a wallet and disappear into a crowd like a crow in a flock, but when it came to running away from a target, well, that's where she came in.

The tall cowboy was probably only a few years older than her thirteen years. He motioned to the younger boy, and they hopped up on the boardwalk and strolled toward her, completely unaware they were being spied on. He held one hand on the younger boy's shoulder, as if wanting to keep him close. Now that they both faced her, she could see their resemblance.

They had to be brothers. The big boy glanced at his watch bag, tucked it in his vest pocket, and gave it a loving pat.

Annie jumped back. "He's coming," she whispered over her shoulder.

Her father scowled. "I want that watch. Go!"
He gave her a shove. She stumbled forward and turned. The youth's blue eyes widened. "Hey, look—"
They collided—hard. Annie was knocked backwards, arms pumping, and her cap flew off. The youth grabbed her shoulders, and in a quick, smooth move that had taken Annie her whole life to master, she slipped his watch from his pocket and into hers. She ducked her head and stepped back. "Sorry, mister."

Her apology was more for stealing his treasure than crashing into him. She spun around and ran, hating the baggy trousers her father made her wear so she'd look like a boy. Hating the life she was forced to live. Hating that the handsome youth would hate her. She ran past a bank and a dress shop, then ducked down another alley. Behind the building she turned right instead of going left and back toward her daddy. Right now she didn't want to see him.

"Hey! Come back here, you thief!"

Annie's heart lurched, and she switched from trot to gallop. She could no longer see the watch's owner, but she knew it was him hollering. Bumping into that young man had flustered her. She hadn't expected him to be so solid, not for a youth not even full grown yet. Men grew taller and tougher here in Texas than in the other cities of the South where she'd mostly grown up—a different city every few weeks. A thief wasn't welcome in town for long.

Loud footsteps pounded behind her. She ducked under a wagon that sat behind the smithy, rolled, and then dove into the open doorway. She crawled into the shadows of the building and curled up behind a barrel that had oats scattered on the ground around it. She took several gasps of air and listened for footsteps.
The watch pressed hard against her hipbone, causing her guilt to mount. A horse in a nearby stall snorted and pawed the ground. Annie's heartbeat thundered in her ears as she listened for her pursuer's footsteps. Would he thrash her if he found her?

She peeked around the barrel. The tall boy stood in the doorway, looking around. She shrank back into the shadows like a rat—like the vermin she was.

After a moment, he spun around and quick steps took him away. Annie leaned against the wall, hating herself all over. Why couldn't she have been born into a nice family who lived in a big house? She'd even be happy with a small house, if she could have regular meals, wash up every week or so, and wear a dress like other girls.

But no, she had to be born the daughter of a master pickpocket.

**For more information about Vickie McDonough and her books, visit

Long Trail Home is available in bookstores and online: -

Amazon -


* * *

The Wishing Pearl
By Nicole O'Dell

"O'Dell's heart for young adults shines through. A story of hope in the midst of pain, poignantly-written with vivid characters facing real-life issues, THE WISHING PEARL is a can't-put-down must-read for teens!" --Tosca Lee, author of Demon: A Memoir

Series Description:
Diamond Estates. Three girls are on a journey to find hope and healing. Each coming to Diamond Estates seeking solace… Each with her own unique set of struggles… And each capturing hearts and challenging faith.

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Mansfield dreams of a land far, far away. . .
A land far away from her stepfather's abuse and torment.
A land far away from her mother's blind eye.
A land far away from the haunting memories of her past.

But then reality sets in, and Olivia knows she must make the best of her dire situation—at least until her high-school graduation. But when poor choices lead Olivia to the brink of a complete breakdown and she finds herself dealing with the unexpected death of her best friend, she comes to a crossroads.

Will Olivia find the path to ultimate hope and healing that her heart longs for?
Or will the demons from her past prove too much to bear?

Chapter One
Even the happiest of songs could sound mournful on the oboe when it was played just right.

Olivia Mansfield pulled the instrument from between her lips and traced her fingers along the silver tracks and keys that reminded her of the braces she wore on her teeth last year. The oboe understood her. It sang her somber song. Melancholy and forlorn, her band director once called it. Perfect words to describe its cry and Olivia.

Buzz. Olivia jumped as the intercom in her bedroom suite intruded.

"Are you almost done with that incessant noise?" barked a crackling voice.

Five more minutes had been the plan—but not anymore. She hurried to the wall and jabbed the Talk button. "I'll be at least another half hour, Chuck." Charles hated when Olivia called him that, almost as much as he hated the sound of the oboe. Which wasn't nearly as much as he hated her.

"Well, hurry up." The speaker clicked and fell silent. Olivia tipped the bell of her instrument in the direction of the door and blew a long, angry note, loud enough to make her stepfather's acne-scarred skin crawl just like he made hers every time he came near. She could wait and practice later when he wasn't home, but why should she? Only two more years of high school band and then, hopefully, a prestigious music school somewhere very far away. Making that dream come true required practice—lots of it. It wasn't her fault Charles couldn't tolerate the sound.

The door to her room flew open. Mom rapped her knuckles on the frame then bustled in looking perfect as usual in her designer clothes and impeccable makeup. Her big brown eyes surveyed the room.

"Hi, Mom. Thanks for knocking." Olivia gave her a raised eyebrow then continued her song. If her room were smaller, it might be considered a pigsty. Luckily, the enormity swallowed the mess, making it look only mildly untidy. Hopefully Mom wouldn't complain too much about all the dirty designer clothes littering the walnut floors.

"Sorry. I'm just in a hurry." Mom rushed over to the king- sized four-poster bed and yanked the silk duvet cover up over the rumpled Egyptian cotton sheets. "I wish you'd take better care of this beautiful room, Liv. Charles has been more than generous to pay for all of this and everything else you'd have only dreamed of having."

Yeah, Charles had bought Olivia all that stuff, but only so he'd look good to everyone else—certainly not to make her happy. "I never asked him for any of this." Olivia swiveled in the desk chair she'd pulled to the center of the room and gestured at her expansive quarters. The sitting area looked like a high-tech home theater pictured in a magazine, and the marble and granite bathroom would have satisfied a queen. The jetted tub was nice, but Olivia would never admit that to Charles. "Besides, I'm going to get in the bed in a couple of hours anyway, so why bother?"

Mom's spiked heels clicked as she strode across the room, swept up a pile of dirty clothes into her arms, then dumped them down the laundry chute near Olivia's bathroom door. "You know, Norma can't wash the laundry if you don't drop it down."

Whatever. Norma could come up here and get it if she wanted it—she sure got paid enough. Time to change the subject. "Where are you going anyway?"

"Don't you remember?" Mom turned to the mirror while she spoke and tucked a nonexistent errant hair back into her long dark waves.

When would she cut her hair into a more age-appropriate style—at least shoulder length? "Don't tell me this is your shop- ping weekend in Chicago."

"Yep. Tonight's a fancy downtown dinner with the girls and a night at the Ritz. Saturday is for shopping on Mag Mile and dinner again. Then we'll work off the calories with a lakefront bike ride on Sunday."

Two nights? Home alone with Chuck? "Will Jake be here?"

"Probably for some of the weekend. But he's definitely going to want to get out and have fun with his friends—he's only got three weeks left before he leaves for college. Try not to get in his way too much."

"That's my job. Stay out of everyone's way." Why should this weekend be any different? Olivia slumped in her chair.

Mom stacked some books that had slipped to the floor from Olivia's built-in bookcase. "Just try a little harder to be nice to Charles. He's never been anything but wonderful to you."

Gag. "No, Mom. Daddy was wonderful. Chuck. . .exists." Olivia threaded her fingers through the layers of her silky black hair to find the purple streak she'd added a few days ago. She twisted it around her fingers and put the ends in her mouth.

"Quit that. Do you know how many germs are in your hair?" Mom swiped the clump of hair from between Olivia's lips. "Now give me a hug. I'll be home in a couple of days. Just try to be pleasant. Okay?" She pulled Olivia back to arm's length and smiled as she slid her hand down the back of Olivia's head. "I'll buy you something special—purple to match that streak of rebellion in that gorgeous hair of yours."

Great. A present. Mom's answer for everything—she sure hadn't acted like that when Daddy was alive, and she wouldn't have even if she'd had the money. Olivia mumbled her thanks as Mom hurried from the room, high heels clacking on the wood.

Olivia rushed to lock the door, her plan the same as every other day: stay out of everyone's way. Nothing new. Probably shouldn't have started the weekend off with the oboe serenade though—much better not to draw attention to herself. But it was too late to worry about that. Her eyes drilled holes in the intercom. A shame she couldn't see through it into the rest of the house. Go down and make peace, or stay hidden as long as possible? It would help if she knew whether he was already drinking.

Nicole O'Dell, founder of Choose NOW Ministries, battles peer pressure as she writes and speaks to preteens, teenagers, and parents about how to prepare for life's tough choices. She is the author of a bunch of YA books, including the popular Scenarios for Girls interactive fiction series and her recent release, THE WISHING PEARL, 1st in the Diamond Estates series. Non-fiction for teens includes Girl Talk, 2/1/12, which she wrote with her two daughters based on their popular blog column by the same name, and O'Dell's desire to bridge the gap between parents and teens is evident in her adult non-fiction like the upcoming Hot Buttons series.
Do Not Reproduce without permission.

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