Friday, June 17, 2011

Vicious Cycle, Protecting her Own


by Terri Blackstock

Book 2 in the New York Times Best-Selling Intervention Series

When fifteen-year-old Lance Covington finds an abandoned baby in the backseat of a car, he knows she's the newborn daughter of a meth addict he's been trying to help. But when police arrest him for kidnapping, Lance is thrust into a criminal world of baby trafficking and drug abuse.

His mother, Barbara, looks for help from Kent Harlan—the man whom she secretly, reluctantly loves and who once helped rescue her daughter from a mess of her own. Kent flies to her aid and begins the impossible work of getting Lance out of trouble, protecting a baby who has no home, and finding help for a teenage mother hiding behind her lies.

Chapter One

I should have died.

Jordan lay on her bloody sheets, her newborn daughter in her arms, and longed for one more hit. She had never hated herself more. Her baby had come two weeks early—probably because of her drug use—and she hadn't been sober enough to get to the hospital. Giving birth at home had never been part of the plan, but there was no one in her house whose mind was clear enough to do the right thing.

What kind of mother traded prenatal vitamins for Crystal Meth? Her age was no excuse. At fifteen, Jordan knew better than to get high while she was pregnant. Now she had this beautiful little girl with big eyes and curly brown hair, innocence radiating like comfort from her warm skin. That innocence, so rare and short-lived in her family, made the birth all the more tragic to Jordan. Worse, the baby seemed weak and hadn't cried much, and sometimes her little body went stiff and trembled.

Was she dying? Had Jordan tied off the umbilical cord wrong? Her mother, who had once worked as a nurse's aid, had told her to use a shoe string. What if that was a mistake? What if she'd waited too long to cut the cord? It wasn't like she could trust her mother.

All Jordan's plans were ruined now. She had made up her mind to give the baby up for adoption, even though she'd felt so close to it in the last few weeks as it had kicked and squirmed inside her. While she was sober, she'd come to love the baby and dream of a future for it … one that bore no resemblance to her own. But once Jordan had gone back into the arms of her lover—that drug that gave her a stronger high than the love of a boy—the baby had stopped kicking. For the last week of her pregnancy Jordan had believed it was dead. So she'd smothered her fear, guilt, and grief in more drugs.

Then today her water broke, and cramps seized her. She had responded to her fear as she did every emotion—by getting high. By the time she'd felt the need to push, it was too late to get to the hospital, and there was no one who would drive her.

She craved another hit, but her mother and brother were out of Ice. They'd already burned through Zeke's casino win, so one of them would have to find a way to score. Maybe it was better if they didn't, though. Her baby needed her.

She wrapped the baby in a dirty towel, swaddling it like she'd seen on one of those baby shows. She hadn't expected to love it so fiercely. The baby had big eyes, much larger than the average baby, and now and then she would open them and look up at Jordan, as if to say, "So you're the one who's supposed to protect me?"

The door to her bedroom burst open, and her mother, eyes dancing with drug-induced wildness, swooped in with sheets in her hand. She must have been holding out on Jordan. She had a secret stash of dope somewhere that she didn't want to share.

"Up, up, up," she said with trembling energy. "Come on, girl, you've made a mess. Now let's clean it up."

Since when did her mother care about neatness when rotten dishes festered in every room, and garbage spilled over on the floors? "Mom, I have to get the baby to the hospital. She's not acting right, and I don't know about the cord."

Her mother leaned over the baby, stared down at her with hard, steel-gray eyes. "Looks fine to me. I've called the Nelsons. They'll be here soon. They're deliriously excited."

The Nelsons? No, this wasn't how it was supposed to go.

Her mother released the fitted sheet from the corners of one side of the mattress and pulled it up, clearly trying to roll them both out. Jordan tried to brace herself. "Stop! Mom, I can't."

"Get up," her mother said, clapping. "Come on. We've got to get the little thing cleaned up before it's mommy and daddy come. And if they come back here I don't want them to see these sheets."

"Mom—you don't get to pick her parents!" Jordan got up, clutching the baby. Blood rushed from her head, blotches blurring her vision. "I've worked it all out with the adoption agency. I'll call them and tell them—"

Her mother's face hardened even more, all her wrinkles from hard living starkly visible now. "It's a done deal, darlin'. Baby, we have to do this. It's great for our whole family! This is the whole reason we let you leave rehab early."

"It's not the reason you gave me, Mom. You said you missed me, that I needed my mama while I was pregnant. It was all a lie."

Her mother snapped the sheets. "Forty thousand dollars, baby. Do you know how much Ice that'll buy?"

"Just take her to the hospital to make sure she's all right. Then we can talk about who—"

"No!" her mother shrieked, and the baby jerked and started to cry.

Jordan pulled the baby's little head up to her shoulder and rubbed her back. She was so tiny, just a little ball. Her arms and legs thrashed, as if to say that someone had made a mistake, that she wasn't supposed to enter a world of chaos and madness.

"His new parents can take him to the hospital," her mother said.

"Not him—her!" How could her mother not know whether her grandchild was a girl or a boy? "And they're not her parents. I don't know them. I don't care about the money. They're not on the list the agency gave me."

Her mother flung the sheets into a corner. The blood had seeped through the sheets and now stained the mattress. "Look what you did, you piece of trash! Bleeding all over that mattress."

"If you'd taken me to the hospital—"

"To do what? Let them arrest you because you were high as a kite while you were giving birth to that kid? Let them arrest me? I'm on probation. You know they can't see me like this. And you're fifteen. They might have taken you away from me, put you into foster care, and then where would you be? Worse, they could take the baby away and put it into foster care. Then we got nothing to show for it. I ain't gonna let that happen."

Jordan squeezed her eyes shut. If she'd only stayed in rehab, under the protective wings of New Day.

She felt dizzy, weak, but as she held the baby, her mother threw the clean sheets at her. "Put these on that bed. But first get that stain out of the mattress."

"Mom … I need some things." She kept her voice low. "Something to dress her in. Some diapers. Bottles."

"You can nurse her until they take her. I'm not putting one penny into this. They're paying me!" She yanked the baby out of Jordan's arms. "I'll hold it while you change the bed."

Jordan hesitated, uneasy about the fragile baby in the hands of a wild woman who didn't know her own drug-induced strength.

"Do it!" her mother screamed.

Again, the baby let out a howl. Jordan took her back.

"I will, Mom," she said softly. "Just let me put the baby down."

Breathing hard, her mother watched as Jordan laid the baby on the floor. Then Jordan got a towel and blotted at the blood stain on the mattress, watching the baby from the corner of her eye.

Buy Vicious Cycle Now at

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Protecting Her Own

By Margaret Daley

Bodyguard Cara Madison must protect her own father when an assailant targets him. With the help of an ex-boyfriend, Connor Fitzgerald, she searches for a would-be killer while fighting her feelings toward Connor.

Blurb for Protecting Her Own, second book in Guardians, Inc. Series:

Nothing short of her dad's stroke could bring professional bodyguard Cara Madison back to Virginia. But her homecoming turns explosive with a pipe bomb package addressed to her father. Cara knows two things for sure. First, someone's after either her father or her…or both. And second, this job is too big to handle on her own. Unexpected help comes from Virginia state police detective Connor Fitzgerald. Years ago she'd walked away from him…and love. Now, despite their unresolved feelings, they must join forces—and settle their scarred differences.

Margaret Daley

Heartwarming to Heart Pounding

An Electrifying Read

Excerpt from Protecting Her Own by Margaret Daley, Love Inspired 2011:

"I thought that was taken care of." Cara Madison gripped her cell to her ear so tightly her hand ached as she hurried toward the foyer of her childhood home to answer the door. Exhaustion clung to her as though woven into every fiber of her being.

The bell chimed again.

"No, the State Department still has some questions," Kyra Morgan, her employer at Guardians, Inc., said.

"Hold it a sec. Someone's at the door."

She peered through the peephole, noting a deliveryman with a package and clipboard, dressed in a blue ball cap, blue shorts and white T-shirt. Probably another birthday present from one of Dad's friends. She thrust open the door and cradled the cell against her shoulder to keep it in place.

"So I have to make a trip into Washington, D.C., to see Mr. Richards at the State Department?" Cara asked her boss while she scribbled her name on the sheet of paper then took the box.

Stepping back into the house, Cara shut the door with a nudge of her hip and carried the package to the round table in the center of the dining room to put it with the multitude of others—all presents from people around the world whom her father knew.

"Cara, I'm sorry you need to go at this time. I know that last assignment was rough and now with bringing your dad home from the rehabilitation center, you don't need this complication. Mr. Richards assured me it's just a debriefing about the riots occurring in Nzadi."

She wished she could say that wasn't her fault, but what she did had set the protests off. Guilt swamped her. In protecting her client, a revered humanitarian in Nzadi was killed instead. "Don't worry. I'm tough. I'll survive. I'll call the man and set up an appointment after I get Dad home and settled."

For a few seconds she studied the plain brown box from Global Magazine with C. Madison on the label before peeling back the top flap on the carton. The sound of the tape ripping the cardboard reverberated in the stillness, exposing the top of a gift wrapped in black paper. Black? True, her father was turning sixty tomorrow, but wasn't black wrapping a little too macabre after he suffered a stroke eight weeks ago?

"I'm sure it's only a formality." Her boss's assurance drew Cara's thoughts away from the gift. "My impression from the State Department was you won't have to go back to answer any more questions from the Nzadi government."

The word Nzadi shivered down her length, leaving a track of chills even though it was summer. "I'll call you after I talk to Mr. Richards. Bye." Cara clicked off and stared down at the open box that nestled the new present, wrapped in black paper. Black like people wore to funerals. Black as the dress of the beloved lady who had been killed in the café. Cara shivered again. She wanted to forget Nzadi, but she didn't think she ever would.

The image of the beautiful woman, bleeding out on the floor of the café, nudged those last days in the African country to the foreground. She'd managed to push the trophy wife she was protecting out of the way of the assassin's bullet, only to have it lodge in the woman across from them. Again she heard the angry shouts from the crowd as she'd been driven to the Nzadian airport. The people's grief over the death of Obioma Dia had evolved into fury at Cara and the woman she'd been assigned to protect.

A shrill whistle pierced the air.

Shaking the image and the shouts from her mind, she glanced toward the kitchen. The water she was heating for her tea. The noise insisted on her immediate attention and grated her frazzled nerves. But the sound was a welcome reprieve from the thoughts never far away.

She quickly headed toward the kitchen and a soothing cup of tea along with a moment to rest and think about her father's situation—the reason she was in Clear Branch. She craved peace after the past couple of hectic days—after her last disastrous bodyguard assignment in a country that fell apart around her. Nzadi was still suffering the worst unrest in decades.

Just inside the kitchen she pocketed her phone, wishing she could silence it like she could the teakettle's racket. But her cell was her lifeline, especially when she was on a job. And now also because her dad's homecoming celebration was cancelled because of a reaction to a new medication that made the doctor decide at the last minute to keep him a few more days. She'd planned a small birthday party for tomorrow and would need to finish calling his friends to tell them she'd have to postpone the festivity.

As steam shot out of the spout on the white pot, she snatched it off the burner and set it on a cool spot on the stove. Finally the loud, annoying sound quieted. She turned toward the cabinet behind her to get a mug.

Blissful silence—no angry people in Nzadi yelling words that still curdled her blood, no rehabilitation center—

A boom rocked the foundation beneath her feet. She flew back and slammed against the edge of the counter so hard the air rushed from her lungs. Her momentum then spun her to the side, her hip clipping the corner. Her head swung back against the freezer handle then forward. Darkness swirled before her eyes as bits of wood and plaster rained down upon her, stinging her skin. Her ears rang, drowning out any sound except the thundering of her heartbeat vying for dominance.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pompeii: City on Fire; Second Chance Dad

Pompeii: City on Fire

By T.L. Higley

"Riveting action and compelling characters . . . I simply could not read fast enough!"

—Ronie Kendig , Author of Digitalis

Pleasure-seeking Romans find the seaside town of Pompeii the perfect getaway. But when the rich patrician Cato escapes Rome, intent on a life of leisure, he is unprepared for the hostility he encounters.

In the same place, but at the opposite end of society, Ariella has disguised herself as a young boy to be sold into a gladiator troupe. Survival is her only ambition. But evil creeps through the streets of Pompeii, and neither Ariella's secret nor Cato's evasion is immune to it. Political corruption, religious persecution, and family peril threaten to destroy them, even before an ominous mountain in the distance spews its fire. As Vesuvius churns with deadly intent, Cato and Ariella must bridge their differences

to save the lives of those they love—before fiery ash buries Pompeii, turning the city into a lost world.

From the Prologue

Jerusalem, August 9, 70 AD

Ariella shoved through the clogged street, defying the mob of frantic citizens. Men, women, and children crowded the alleys, senseless in their panic to flee the city. They carried all they could, packed into pouches slung across their chests and clutched in sweaty hands. Soldiers ran with them, as though they had all joined a macabre stadium footrace, with participants who clubbed and slashed at each other to get ahead. Beside her, one of the district's tax collectors tripped and fumbled a latched wooden box. It cracked against the cobbled street and spilled its meager hoard of gold. The tax collector was dead before he hit the ground, and the Roman soldier pulled his sword from the man's gut only to scrabble for the coins.

Ariella turned her head from the gore, but felt little pity for the tax man, cheated of life by the Romans for whom he had betrayed his people. Still, concern flickered in her chest at the sudden violence in the street.

Something has happened.

The city had been under siege for months. Three days ago her mother announced that the sacrifices in the Temple had ceased. But today, today was something new.

Perhaps three days of sins not atoned for had brought the wrath of the Holy One down on them all.

Unlike those who ran the streets with her, Ariella's destination was neither Temple nor countryside. She returned to her home—if the dim tenement could be called such—from another useless excur

sion to secure food.

At sixteen and as eldest child, it fell on her to search the famished city for a scrap of dried beef to feed her brother, perhaps a thimbleful of milk for the baby, crumbs for her father whose eyes had gone glassy and whose skin was now the color of the clay pots he once turned on the wheel.

But there was no food to be found. Titus, the emperor's son, had arrived in the spring with his army of eighty thousand and his siege wall served well its double function—the people were trapped and they were starving.

Not even such a wall could prevent news from seeping through its cracks, however. From Caesarea, word escaped of twenty thousand Jews slaughtered in a day. Fifty thousand killed in Alexandria. Ten thousand met the sword in Gamla. Such numbers were incomprehensible.

Here in Jerusalem, the bodies thrown outside the city were too numerous to count, piled high in rotting mounds, as though the city itself were defiled and would forever be unclean.

Yet we are not all dead. Ariella's hands curled into tense fists as she rounded the last corner. She would cling to life as long as she had strength, and like her untiring mother, she would hold tight to that elusive thread for each member of her family.

She pushed against the rough wood of the door and slipped out of the rush of the street. The home's tomb-like interior had the peculiar smell of starvation. In the corner, her baby sister whimpered as if in response to Ariella's entrance. Micah met her at the door, his sunken eyes fixed on her and his lips slightly open, as though anticipating the food she might have brought. Or perhaps he simply lacked the strength to close his jaw. She shook her head and Micah turned away, hiding his disappointment as all boys of eleven do when they are threatened by tears.

Her father did not speak from his mat on the floor. Ariella scooped the listless baby Hannah into her arms and gave her a finger to suck. Small consolation.

"Where is Mother?" She scanned the room, then looked to Micah. A low groan from her father set her heart pounding. "Where is she, Micah? Where has Mother gone?"

Micah sniffed and glanced at the door. "To the Temple. She has gone to the Temple."

Ariella growled and pushed Hannah into her brother's arms. "She is going to get herself killed, and then where will we be?"

She bent to her father's side. The man had been strong once. Ariella could barely remember. She touched the cool skin of his arm. "I will bring her back, Father. I promise." Her father's eyes sought her own, searching for reassurance. The hunger seemed to have stolen his voice. How long until it took his mind?

She turned on Micah, grabbed his shoulder. "Do not let anyone inside. The streets--" She looked to the door. "The streets are full of madness."

He nodded, still cradling Hannah.

She kissed the baby. "Take care of them, Micah." And then she left to retrieve her mother, whose political fervor often outpaced her common sense.

The mid-summer sun had dropped in the sky, an orange disc hazy and indistinct behind rising smoke. The city burns. She smelled it, sensed it, felt it somehow on her skin as she joined the flow toward the temple – a heat of destruction that threatened to consume them all.

Her family enjoyed the privilege of living in the shadow of the Temple Mount. A privilege that today only put them closer to folly. She twisted through the crazed mob, darted around wagons and pushcarts laden with family treasures, swatted at those who shoved against her. Already, only halfway there, her heart struck against her chest and her breathing shallowed, the weakness of slow starvation.

She reached the steps to the south of the Temple platform and was swept upward with the masses. Why were so many running to the Temple? Why had her mother?

And then she heard it. A sound that was part shrieking anger, part mournful lament, a screaming funeral dirge for the city and its people. She reached the top of the steps, pushed through the

Huldah Gate, dashed under the colonnade into the Court of the Gentiles, and drew up short. The crowd pressed against her back, flowed around her and surged onward, but Ariella could not move.

The Temple is on fire.

Read the first three chapters, watch video trailers, and dive into Tracy's adventures at

Pompeii: City on Fire can be purchased at Amazon,, and wherever books are sold.

© 2011 T.L. Higley

* * *


ISBN: 978-0-373-87673-0

Love Inspired

June, 2011

Roxanne Rustand

He Was A Challenge She Couldn't Ignore...

The minute she steps foot in his dark, miserable house, Sophie Alexander knows Josh McClaren

is not her usual patient. But the single mom and physical therapist is desperate to make a life for

her and her young son. And she's definitely no quitter! It's obvious to Sophie that handsome,

cantankerous Josh hides his pain behind a wall of grief. Little by little, Sophie and her son,

Eli, do more than help Josh find his faith again. They make Josh wonder if there's a family in

his future after all....

Aspen Creek Crossroads: Where faith, love and healing meet.

Sophie stepped out of her ancient Taurus sedan but lingered at the open door, staring at the massive dog on the porch of the sprawling cabin. The dog stared back at her with laser-like intensity, head lowered and tail stiff.

It was not a welcoming pose.

Set back in the deep shadows of the pine trees crowding so close, the cabin itself--with all the windows dark--seemed even more menacing than a wolfhound mix with very sharp teeth. So what kind of person would be sitting in there, in all that gloomy darkness?

"Don't worry about the dog," Grace Dearborn had said with a breezy smile during Sophie's orientation at the county home health department offices. "He's quite the bluffer. It's the owner who is more likely to bite."

Sophie looked at the folder in her hand again. Dr. Josh McLaren. Widower. Lives alone. No local support system. Post-surgical healing of comminuted fracture, right leg with a knee replacement. Surgical repair of fractured L-4 and L-5 lumbar vertebrae, multiple comminuted fractures, right hand.

Had he been hit by a truck? She shuddered, imagining the pain he'd been through. The surgeries and therapy had to have been as bad as the injuries. The only other documentation in the folder were scant, frustrated progress notes written by her various physical therapist predecessors. The last one had ignored professional convention by inserting his personal feelings into his notes.

The man is surly and impossible.

Ten minutes spend arguing about the need for therapy. Five minutes of deep massage of his right leg and strengthening exercises before he ordered me out of his house.

And the final note...

I give up. Doctor or not, McLaren is a highly unpleasant client and I will not be coming back here.

Sophie scanned the documents again, vainly searching for a birth date or mention of the man's age. Maybe he was an old duffer, like her grandfather. Crotchety and isolated and clinging to his independence.

The job was just temporary--three months covering for the regular therapist

who'd gone to Chicago for some advanced training. But if Sophie did exceptionally well, Grace would try to push the county board to approve hiring her on a permanent basis.

The thought had lifted Sophie's heart with joy, though now some of her giddy excitement faded. She set her jaw. If her ability to stay in Aspen Creek hinged on those stipulations, then no one--not even this difficult old man--was going to stand in her way. Far too much depended on it.

"Buddy, I'm going to overwhelm you with kindness, and your mean ole dog, too," she muttered under her breath as she pawed through a grocery sack on the front seat of her car. "See how you like that."

Withdrawing a small can, she peeled off the outer plastic storage lid, pulled the tab to open the can and held it high. "Salmon," she crooned. "Come and get it."

It took a minute for the scent to drift over to the cabin. The dog's head jerked up. He sniffed the breeze, then he cautiously started across the stretch of grass between the cabin and driveway.

She stayed in the lee of her open car door, ready to leap back inside at the least sign of aggression. But by the time the dog reached her front bumper his tongue was lolling and his tail wagging.

She grabbed a plastic spoon on her dashboard--a remnant of her last trip to a Dairy Queen--and scooped up a chunk of the pungent, pink fish. She dropped it on the grass and the dog wolfed it down, his tail wagging even faster. "Friends?"

She held out a cautious hand and he licked it, his eyes riveted on the can in her other hand. "Just one bite. When I come out, I'll give you one more. Deal?"

His entire body wagged as he followed her to the cabin door and watched her knock..

No one had peered outside. No lights shone through the windows. What if...what if the old guy had passed on? Her heart in her throat, she framed her face with her hands and pressed her nose to a pane of glass, trying to peer into the gloom. Knocked again. And then she tentatively, quietly tried the door knob.

It turned easily in her hand. She pulled the door open, just an inch. "Hello? Anyone here?" She raised her voice. "I'm from the home health agency."

No answer.

Thundered rumbled outside, heavy and ominous. A nearby crack of lightning shook the porch beneath her feet. She opened the door wider, then bracketed her hands against the inner screen door and tried to look inside. "Hello?"

The dog at her side shoved past her, sending the door swinging back to crash against the interior wall. So much for subtlety.

"Hello," she yelled. "Are you here? Are you okay?"

If the old fellow had died, she had no business disturbing the scene. The sheriff should be called, and the coroner. If he was in there with a shotgun, she sure didn't want to surprise him. But on the other hand, if he needed help, she could hardly walk away. Steeling herself, she reached around the corner and found a light switch.

Only a single, weak bulb came to life in the center of the room, leaving most of it dark. A figure suddenly loomed over her, making her heart lurch into overdrive with fear. Tall. Broad shoulders. Silhouetted by the faint light behind him, she couldn't make out his expression, but his stance telegraphed irritation.

This definitely wasn't some old guy.

Raising her hands defensively, she backed up a step, but then she saw the dog amble over and sit at the man's side. He rested a gentle hand on the animal's head.

"I-I'm sorry," she faltered, searching his face. He didn't look disabled...but then she saw the telltale signs of tension in his stance, as if he were guarding himself against injuries that probably still kept him up at night.

He said nothing.

"You must be Dr. McLaren. I thought...I thought you were old," she stammered as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. "When you didn't answer, was afraid that you might be dead."

"Unfortunately, no," he growled. He glanced at her upraised hands, then met her eyes with a piercing stare. "So who are you, and why are you threatening me with that can of salmon?"

Do Not Reproduce without permission.

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Author Roxanne Rustand can be found at and her blog,

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Forever After; Cascade


a hanover falls novel

Deborah Raney

Lucas Vermontez was a proud firefighter like his father. Now, not only has he lost his father and his best friend, Zach, in the fire at the Grove Street Homeless Shelter, but the devoted rookie can no longer do the work he loves after being crippled in the tragic event. When friendship with his buddy's beautiful widow turns into more, he wonders what he could possibly offer Jenna. Jenna is trying to grieve her husband's death like a proper widow, but the truth is, she never really loved Zach. His death feels more like a relief to her. But that relief is short-lived when she loses her home and the financial support of her in-laws. Now the secrets of her past threaten to destroy her future.

Lucas Vermontez clutched the mask to his face and forced out a measured breath, scrabbling to remember everything he'd learned in training. His air-pack fed a steady line of filtered, compressed air, but the thick bank of smoke in front of him carried him to the brink of claustrophobia.

The concrete beneath his feet shuddered. Next to him, he felt his partner, Zach Morgan, drop down on all fours. Lucas followed suit. Catching a glimpse of Zach, he wondered if his own eyes held the same wild fear.

He sucked in air and exhaled again, fighting panic. This was no training exercise. This was the real thing. Statue-still in the smoky darkness, he strained to discern the voices he was sure he'd heard seconds earlier. But his helmet and hood created their own white noise and no sound pierced them save the roar of the fire overhead.

A split second later, an explosion rocked the building, throwing him flat on his belly and knocking the breath from him. Debris rained down on them, and when he could breathe again, he scrambled for protection.

Zach motioned frantically behind them toward the entrance they'd come in. In the aftershocks of the explosion, the copper pipes overhead trembled and the thick wooden beams bowed beneath the weight of the building.

Lucas forced out a breath and counted, trying to slow his respiration. If the structure collapsed, they didn't stand a chance. They were in the belly of the beast––the basement of the former hospital that now housed a homeless shelter––with three stories stacked on top of them.

"Go!" He motioned Zach out, his own voice ringing in his ears.

Zach scrambled ahead of him, hunkered low trying to stay in the two-foot clearing beneath the bank of smoke.

Lucas sent up a prayer that they'd gotten everybody out. His father, the station captain, had radioed moments ago that all but one of the shelter's residents were accounted for. He'd ordered the crews to evacuate and had sent Lucas and Zach in to search for the missing man.

It always filled him with pride to hear Pop's commanding voice. Manny Vermontez was the best fire captain Hanover Falls—or the state of Missouri, for that matter—had ever had. And that wasn't just the opinion of a proud son. Pop had worked hard to get where he was, and the whole family rightfully had him on a pedestal, even if it sometimes caused conflict at home. Ma swore her prematurely graying hair came from having a husband, and now a son, who put their lives on the line almost daily.


He spun at the sound of Pop's voice. Not on the two-way like he expected, but insidethe building––down here.

"Pop?" He turned back, straining to see through the thick smoke. He saw no one. "Zach?"

His partner must have gone ahead to the entrance. Good. Zach would make it out okay. But what was Pop doing down here?

"Pop? Where are you?"

Nothing. The crew from Station 1 must have arrived. Either that or somebody was still trapped inside the building. Pop would never leave the control engine otherwise.

The smoke banked downward and he had no choice but to crawl on his belly, commando-style. He still had air, but everything in him told him to get out. Now.

But he couldn't leave. His dad was down here!

The building groaned and shuddered again.


There it was again. He rolled over on his back and propped himself on his elbows, trying desperately to figure out which direction the shout had come from. He listened for a full ten seconds but heard only the deep roar of the fire above him.

He started belly-crawling again, but in the orange-black he was confused about which way he'd been headed. He needed to follow the sound of Pop's voice. His dad would lead him out. But where had they come in? Everything around him looked the same. Panic clawed at his throat again.

Once more, he heard the voice. Weaker this time, but he didn't think he was imagining it. The old-timers told stories about hearing voices, seeing things––hallucinations––in the frantic moments where a man hung between life and death. But he wasn't in full panic mode––not yet. And he knew his father's voice.

He crawled deeper into the blackness, forearm over forearm in the direction of the voice, grateful for the heavy sleeves of his bunker coat. But he heard nothing now. Nothing except the raging fire and the ominous creak of beams somewhere above his head.

He stopped again and listened. He smelled smoke and the unique odor of the air-pack, but there was something else, too. Something had changed.

A new sound filtered through his helmet. The clanging of engines? A crew from Station 1 had been requested. That must be them arriving. But the sound was coming from behind him. He'd been heading deeper into the building.

He reversed his direction. Thank God for those engines. Their clamor would guide him out. The taut thread of fear loosened a bit. Help was on the way.

"Pop?" he shouted. "You there?" He waited for a reply before moving forward. His air supply seemed thinner than before. Smoke choked him. He couldn't stay down here much longer. He would have sold his soul for a two-way radio right now. He prayed Zach had gotten out...that his buddy would let them know he was still down here.

At that moment, a faint glimmer caught his eye. The voices of his fellow firefighters drifted to him. He crawled faster, heading toward the light.

"Hey! It's Vermontez!" Molly Edmonds shouted. "Lucas is out! Tell the chief!"

Lucas collapsed on the damp concrete outside and felt strong arms pull him out, then help him to his feet.

He stripped off his mask and hood, gulping in the sooty air. "Where's Pop? Where's my dad?"

"He went in after you!" Molly yelled over the roar of the blaze. "Didn't you see him down there? What about Zach?" She jogged back toward the building.

"Anybody seen the captain?" someone yelled. "Where's Manny?"

"Morgan's still in there, too!"

Yanking his headgear back on, Lucas stumbled to his feet and jogged after Molly.

He heard the men shout for them to retreat, but he didn't care. His father was in that inferno looking for him.

Molly disappeared into the mouth of the building. He followed. A split second later another explosion rocked the earth, knocking him to his knees. Oh, dear God! No! God, help me!

From Howard/Simon & Schuster

© 2011 Deborah Raney

Do not reproduce without permission.

Available in bookstores everywhere, or order online at, or other bookstores online.

Visit Deborah's website at

* * *


by Lisa Bergren

What if you not only fell through time, but fell in love too?

Gabi knows she's left her heart in the fourteenth century and she persuades Lia to help her to return, even though they know doing so will risk their very lives. When they arrive, weeks have passed and all of Siena longs to celebrate the heroines who turned the tide in the battle against Florence—while the Fiorentini will go to great lengths to see them dead. But Marcello patiently awaits, and Gabi must decide if she's willing to leave her family behind for good in order to give her heart to him forever.

"A romantic tale that twists and turns with every page, Cascade is the ideal sequel to Waterfall. A riveting tale to the very end, this adventure follows Gabi back into the arms of the dashing Marcello as history unfolds. Bergren leaves us with only one question: Can their love transcend time? Read this book—you won't regret it. I could hardly put it down!"

—Shannon Primicerio, author of God Called a Girl and the TrueLife Bible Studies series

An excerpt from CASCADE….

"Mom, there are two castles within two miles of this site. The one we pass, every day, on our way in here, and the one over the hill, past the tombs." I reached out and took her hands. "We've been in both. But they were whole—full-on homes for people. Lots of people. Lia could sketch them both for you. One was inhabited by a man who fought for Firenze; the other, by a family who was loyal to Siena."

I glanced to the tent doorway, its flap still and hanging, and rose. I lifted the edge of my gown and showed her my wound, now nothing but a white scar on my skin. "Look, Mom. Check out the length of it. How it looks old? Like I got it five years ago, right?"

She blinked rapidly, as if she was seeing things. Trying to make sense of it all.

I dropped my gown and gestured to the bloodstain, directly over my scar. "It's bloody because I was bleeding like crazy, just a half hour ago. I got the wound in that castle," I said, gesturing in the direction of the Paratore ruins, "when Lia and I were fighting for our lives. There's something about the tomb, coming through time, that heals. It healed me."

She bit her lip, still looking at the blood.

I shook my head, irritated at how long it was taking to convince her. "How else could I get that scar? Without you knowing about it?"

Her eyes met mine. "It makes no sense."

"No," I said. "It doesn't. But look at the facts, Mom. Haven't you and Dad always taught students to catalog the facts and then move to theory?" I had her there. I'd heard her say the exact same thing a hundred times.

Her eyes flitted between us and then down at her hands, back and forth, still trying to puzzle it through.

If only Dad was here… He'd always been the more impulsive of the two. He followed his heart. Mom liked to consult her brain first, and there was no way that our story was going to be figured out logically. No way. Hadn't scientists been trying to figure out the whole time/space continuum thing for centuries?

Mom looked up at us then, unblinking. "Show me," she said slowly. "Let's go to the tomb now."

"In front of Manero?" I frowned.

"No," Lia said, shaking her head. "We just got back."

But I was nodding. "I need to go back."

"For what…forever?" Lia spit at me. "There's so much we don't know, Gabi. What if you get sick again, going back?"

"I won't get sick again. I was healed. Time has passed, both here and there."

"You don't know that."

"I do. We `left' about twenty-five minutes ago. But what'd we experience back in 1342? About twenty days, right? If we go—"

Mom held her hands up, silencing us both. "No one's going anywhere," she said. "I simply want you to show me exactly what happened. On site."

"She thinks she's in love with a dude named Marcello," Lia said accusingly, her distrusting blue eyes on me. "She'll do whatever she has to to get back."

Mom looked at me. "Is that true? You think you're in love with this Marcus person?"

"Marcello Forelli," I corrected, each lilting syllable twisting my gut. "And, uh, yeah. I fell pretty hard for him."

Mom's eyes moved from my face to my clothes again, as if she was trying to remember that there was scientific evidence to support our story. Otherwise, she probably would have dismissed it as some wild dream…like we both hit our heads or something.

"That's how she got hurt," Lia said, pressing now, sensing she had the upper hand. "I mean, she got hurt in a battle and I had to stitch her up, but she's in love with a guy who already has a girl. And then that chick poisoned Gabi!" She walked over to me, hands on her hips. "You really want to go back? Back to where I almost lost you?" She shook her head. "I can't do it, Gabs. Not after Dad. I can't deal with it. I'll lose it, seriously lose it, if something happens to you."

"Nothing is going to happen to anyone," Mom said, stepping up beside us.

I eyed the computer screen. Another ten minutes. Another ten days, for Marcello, thirty now that I'd been gone. Was he giving up? Giving in to Lady Rossi and the pressure to follow through on their marriage agreement? Had he guessed that she might have been poisoning me?


Copyright 2011 Lisa T. Bergren; do not reproduce without permission

Cascade, by Lisa T. Bergren, is the available now at fine bookstores everywhere, as well as online. Book One, Waterfall is out too, and Book Three, Torrent, releases September 1, 2011.

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