Friday, January 27, 2012

(`Tis the Season)

When personal chef Nikki Tronnier moves back home to Cary, North Carolina, she plans to fulfill a lifelong dream and buy back the family home built by her great-grandfather for his bride. But before she is able to make an offer, someone else buys the house. Just as she prepares for a fight, she learns that the very person who stole her dream is the man who has also stolen her heart. Unaware, handsome new owner, Drew Cornell, seeks Nikki's help in restoring the home to its historic beauty in time for Christmas.

Award-winning novelist Trish Perry has written nine inspirational romances for Harvest House Publishers, Summerside Press, and Barbour Publishing, and she has co-authored two devotionals. She has served as a columnist and as a newsletter editor over the years, as well as a 1980s stockbroker and a board member of the Capital Christian Writers organization in Washington, D.C. She holds a degree in Psychology.

Trish's latest novel, Love Finds You on Christmas Morning, written with Debby Mayne, released November 2011.
Excerpt from `Tis the Season:

Do Not Reproduce without permission.

"Have I ever told you why I stole you away from Armand, Nikki?"
Nicole Tronnier dusted flour off the tip of her nose and gave old Mr. Fennicle a smile. "Of course you have, Harvey. I amazed you with my culinary prowess and sparkling personality."

She placed a basket of warm rosemary biscuits near his plate. The pumpkin-potato puree and veggie medley looked perfect next to his rack of lamb. The rich winter colors were almost as important to her as the fragrance and taste of the food she served. "If anyone deserves the very best personal chef in North Carolina, it's an absolutely spoiled multimillionaire like you."

She saw him fight against the twitch of a smile.

"I resent your insinuation about me, young lady."

"I call 'em as I see 'em, Harvey."

"I'm an absolutely spoiled billionaire, at the very least. And that's not why I lured you away. I've always been very fond of Armand and his fine restaurant. It's one of the reasons I opened a plant in Charlotte, so I could visit him and still make money. Pilfering his star chef gave me no pleasure, and I could have found an equally gifted chef elsewhere, I'm certain."

"But?" She crossed her arms. She adored this old man, and it had taken so little time to settle into fond banter with him once she joined the staff of his spacious Cary, North Carolina, mansion almost a year ago.

"But I saw you do something that put you over the top, in my book. Do you remember that odd fellow who made off with a dish full of food the day I met you?"

She frowned. "Odd fellow. No. What do you mean he made off with—oh, you mean the homeless guy in the fake waiter suit."

"I was outside in my limo when that happened. I was on the phone with one of my more boring advisors. I saw that fellow rush out of the restaurant, glancing back, forth, and behind. He was protecting that plate of food as if eagles would swoop down and carry it off."

"Poor guy," Nikki said. "I think he just wandered in off the street to beg—from our customers or from the restaurant. But he was in that old black suit, and a customer handed her dish to him to bring it back to the kitchen for reheating or something. She thought he was a waiter. And he thought he hit the jackpot."

Harvey laughed. "When you stormed out the front door after him and nearly tripped over him, sitting there—"

"You never told me you saw all that, Harvey!"

"I did indeed."

"Yeah, I remember it now. It was just like you said. He was so hungry he didn't even run beyond the front stoop. Broke my heart. I had to redo the customer's order anyway. No sense in wasting food. And that's why you hired me?"

He focused on cutting his lamb. "Says a lot about a person, the things they'll do when they think no one else is watching. If I'm going to have someone join my live-in staff, I want to make sure she's made of the right stuff, not just able to make the right stuff."

"Yep." She nodded. "I'm pretty special, all right."

Nikki rested her hand on Harvey's shoulder. "Okay, I'll leave you to it, then. Do you need anything else?"

"Only the fountain of youth, dear."

She squeezed his shoulder and almost gave him a kiss on his feathery-haired head. "I'll check on you in a little while. I have something special for your dessert."

She returned to the kitchen and started tidying up. Harvey's panna cotta was ready in the refrigerator. She only needed to drizzle the rose syrup over it before she served it to him. He loved trying new flavors, and this would be exactly that. Her old boss, Armand Gaudet, had introduced her to Italian rose syrup while she apprenticed under him in Charlotte.

Not for the first time, Nikki felt the tiniest twinge of guilt about leaving Armand, even though he had been completely gracious when Harvey offered her this job. There had simply been too many "God things" involved for her to ignore the opportunity.

Although she had moved away from Cary years ago in order to attend college and then train under Armand, she was definitely a family girl. She loved the city but missed her hometown. So for the location alone, she gave Harvey's offer serious consideration as soon as he made it.

But there was another reason she couldn't refuse the offer to work as personal chef to the eccentric Harvey Fennicle. He had doubled her income with a stroke of his pen on her employment contract. Nikki wasn't money-hungry, but as long as she could remember, she had saved for a specific goal in mind.

Her family's old home here in Cary—the home her great-grandfather William Tronnier and his brothers built for William and his new bride, Lillian—had been on the market for a year or more. Neither her parents nor her grandparents had maintained ownership of the Tronnier home.

But Nikki's fondest early childhood memories were wrapped up in that home. As a little girl, she'd thought Granny Lillian, Grampa William, and the entire family would spend every holiday, especially Christmas morning, celebrating in their home. She wanted to bring those memories back into her family's lives and futures.

The house was still beautiful but needed considerable refurbishing. Until Harvey Fennicle came into her life, Nikki had little hope of saving enough to purchase and remodel the home. Now she was close to having saved a sizable down payment. It wouldn't be long before she could make an offer to the current owner. The house had been vacant for quite a while. Nikki had confidence in her chances.

She couldn't think of anything or anyone that would stand in her way now.

~ Trish Perry ~ True Love. Real Laughs. Pure Fiction.

Buy Love Finds You on Christmas Morning at fine bookstores or online at,, or

Excerpt copyright 2011

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By Jeff Gerke


My glove turned bright orange as I grasped the glowing chunk of ore. Funny how it twisted in a my wrist a bit as I plucked it from its eternal tumble through weightlessness. Almost as if a billion years of perpetual motion gave it a bit more inertia than its mass would suggest.

The nebula was spectacular here. All purple and teal laid like a semitransparent layer over the endless stars beyond. I tucked the ore into my pouch and then just hung there, drifting in a slow cartwheel. Depending upon where you were viewing it from, the Butterfly Nebula resembled a crescent wafer, a dented basin, or some long-extinct insect that had evidently had wide wings.

For me, it was just a gold mine of free-floating armalcolite ore.

I let my own motion spin me away from the nebula. The respiration system on my suit gave its quiet squew every time I took a breath, sounding like a leisurely laser battle far away. My samples pouch was full, but if I happened to spot any other chunks of ore floating around nearby, I'd snag them. Who knew how long this would be my own private cache?

The stars around me were mostly galaxies, I knew. I loved the variety in their form. Some were white, while others were yellow or orange or blue or pink. Some seemed like glowing orbs, while others were dots or spirals or dyads or crosses or lines with a bulging middle like pregnant uikke worms. Then there were the clusters, smash-ups of three or five types merged by a trick of distance. In one blink, I took in ten thousand galaxies, which translated to more habitable planets than I could fathom.

I sighed, suddenly melancholy.

My eyes caught a flash of something big. I thought at first it might be a gleaming boulder of armalcolite, but then I saw it was just the Hector. Wallop, I'd drifted off a long way.

I extended my legs and hit the goose-jets. The tubes circling the soles of my boots shot a burst of my expelled carbon dioxide out the bottom, propelling me toward my ship. The jets always felt like someone smacking the bottoms of my feet with a crossbeam, but I had at least learned a position to get into so the burst didn't send me into another vomit-inducing tumble across the heavens.

Slowly, the Hector grew in my vision. The green numbers displayed on my faceplate spun down through the kilometers as I approached the cruiser. I gave the jets another burp and then shut them down. I could go faster, but then I'd spend too much time and CO2 slowing so I didn't hit the ship like a meteor. I wasn't confident enough yet to try that. Better to just go slow and enjoy the ride.

Squew. Squew. Squew.

The Hector was a beautiful ship. More ship than I deserved, actually. It was white and sleek. Refined. Curved sinuously like the hip of a beautiful woman.

Instantly, heat flared in my suit and a yellow warning corona glowed at the edges of my faceplate display. Overheating. Too funny. I needed to find a place with some women my age, if only for pleasant conversation. Space could be a very lonely place.

Red and yellow lights blinked periodically off the ship's bow, aft, top, and bottom. Its twin Gexule-Hyath rockets swam in my vision as the plasmanites encircled them, itching to push the ship wherever I needed it to go.

The long slope of the cockpit Emul-glas reflected the aquamarine of the nebula. Even from this distance, I could see the amber of the dash panel displays bathing the interior. It almost looked as if the embers of a relaxing campfire smoldered within. The observation panels along the side of the ship stood like black trapezoids against the white hull. The ship had lots of room. More than enough for a companion.

Time to decelerate. I did the tuck-and-flex move I'd figured out over the last several weeks, deftly flipping until my feet pointed down at the Hector as if I were going to land on it. Now the ship was my "down." When I got old, would my brain still be fluid enough to handle hemispheric changes like that?

With a last pfft of the goose-jets, I touched down on the hull right at the side egress panel. I pressed the button on my right forearm, and the panel slid open.

Thirty seconds later, I was safely inside the ship, breathing without my helmet, and enjoying the d-com spray. Uncle Wyatt had somehow given the spray a fragrance—something called mint—that always made me feel invigorated.

I peeled out of the suit and stuffed all the pieces into the netting against the bulkhead. In my grey flightsuit I floated into the interior of the ship, pushing the bag of ore before me. As I entered the main cabin, the lighting blossomed from all around, giving the empty space its customary shadowless illumination. The central stripe light along the ceiling hissed when it came on, like it was booing me. Or about to burn out.

Either way, it didn't bode well.

I pushed off the engineering pod and stopped at the science table. A press of a button, and the bag of armalcolite adhered to the white tabletop as if under gravity. It was some combination of magnetics and resonance differentials—Wyatt had tried to explain it once—but all I cared about was that it held stuff down even in zero-g.

I had twenty-six pieces, all emanating a vaguely orange luminescence. They ranged in size from one twice as big as the last one I'd grabbed all the way down to one barely bigger than the tip of my pinky. I stared at them feverishly.

I was rich.

I planted my feet on the wall and launched myself headlong toward the cockpit, laughing like a lunatic. Finally, something I'd done myself! I grabbed the bulkhead over the instrument board and hooked my feet through the restraining belt. As I hovered over the keyboard, I called up the interface to stake my mining claim on this sector of space.

The combination of conditions in this quadrant—the mathematical formula I had devised and bet my last peptoles to test—had, in fact, resulted in a find so rich that ore was just floating around to be picked up by hand. And if the thermal emission spectrometer could be believed, I would be picking it up for a long time to come.

My mind spun even as I logged the coordinates for my claim and submitted the application for approval. I would need to hire miners to come here to harvest everything. Then it would have to be transported for sale. Or should it be refined first? Where was the best place to sell the stuff? But I couldn't hang around here to oversee this find. The formula worked! I had to be out using it to find other undiscovered sectors and staking those claims.

But the formula—I had to hide it. Bury it. It was an industrial secret that corporations would resort to anything to obtain. Whom to trust?

Ah, the possibilities! I could hire people to do all of this for me. I could retire before I'd even really had a job. It was too much.

And surely some beautiful woman would be enticed by a young man of wealth and good looks. Or at least wealth. Security, she'll call it when explaining to her mother why she's marrying someone like me.

 I drifted back toward the ore I'd plucked from the ether, floating like a dust mote toward my source of wealth. Something about its warm glow, almost as if it were not entirely of this universe, sent my mind to a place I rarely went anymore.

Um, God, it's me. Reedophilus Graaber. Most people call me Reed. You can too, I guess. I just, you know, want to thank you. For…for letting me be smart. And for how Uncle Wyatt helped me. Oh, if you see him— I mean, of course you see him. Wait…would you? Aw, I don't know that stuff. Anyway, if you see him, tell him thanks. Tell him I did good with his stuff and…and…I'll try to walk tall and keep my nose clean and stuff. Aw, that's no good. I should quit. But…bye. For now.

I found myself staring out the ob-portal at the Butterfly Nebula. From here it looked like a blue and green splash thrown up by a comet slamming into the edge of space. Fiery and violent and beautiful.

I had my future to seize now. Time to go.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

False Report, Broken Sight

False Report
By Veronica Heley

While Bea Abbot worries that she's lost control of her domestic agency, she's asked to find some domestic help for an eccentric little musician falsely accused of murder. She doesn't realize how dangerous this might be until Jeremy – fleeing from attempts on his life – lands on her doorstep.

As a business woman and owner of a thriving domestic agency, Bea Abbot knew that there was no such thing as a free meal. And, if she'd realised this particular invitation was going to involve her in a murder, she'd have said, `Certainly not!'

`Nance, where are you?' A man's voice, hoarse. `Josie's dead!'

`What! You shouldn't have let her out of your sight.'

`I couldn't lock her up, could I? I told her punters never carry through their threats, but she said if I didn't give her the cash for a ticket home, she'd get it from someone else. She ran out, on the phone to the music man—'

`Him? He wouldn't help her, would he?'

`I ran after her, down the alley. She was begging him to meet her. A crowd of drunken yobs came storming through, and I lost her. I looked everywhere, tried the little man's flat, rang his doorbell, no reply. Came back through the alley, saw her lying in the bushes. She's dead, all right.'

            `If he killed her, use a public phone, tell the police you overheard a young girl pleading with a man on her mobile, and later saw her body in the bushes. Give the police his name.'

The Abbot agency had a reputation for providing reliable domestic staff, but – although she couldn't put her finger on it – Bea felt something was amiss. She was not the sort of person who blamed other people for her mistakes. Somewhere along the line she'd made a bad decision . . . but exactly what had it been?

She needed advice. So when she received an invitation to tea from an old friend, she jumped at the chance. She took the afternoon off work, brushed her ash-blonde hair so that her fringe lay slantwise across her forehead, and renewed her make-up, paying attention to what her husband called her `eagle's eyes'.

CJ was a mandarin used by the police as an expert in matters too complicated, he said, for the ordinary man or woman to understand, but no one talked of such things while having tea at the Ritz, that prestigious, if slightly stolid hotel. Did they? The clients were dressed in their garden party best, the d├ęcor was over the top with gilding and stands of orchids, the waiters wore tail coats, and a pianist entertained at a grand piano.

Bea relaxed. What a treat! Just fancy: there was a whole menu devoted to different types of tea. There were six different kinds of sandwiches; three different pastries; two of cake. Would madam like a refill of tea, or perhaps another sandwich or two? Is there anything else madam fancies?

`That was just wonderful, CJ. I'd been letting things get on top of me at the agency —'

`Ah. Hmm.' He steepled his long fingers, and gave her a sideways glance.

She felt the first intimation of disquiet. He'd helped her agency to clear up a couple of nasty criminal cases in the past, so she owed it to him at least to listen to what he had to say.

`I was visited this morning by the police, asking if I could provide an alibi for a man called Jeremy Waite, who's accused of having killed an underage girl. I confirmed he'd been with me all evening, upon which they said I'd been set up to provide Jeremy with an alibi, while he arranged for someone else to kill the girl.'

The head waiter tendered the bill, and CJ paid it with a card. `Have you seen the latest exhibition at the Royal Academy? A stroll around the pictures is just what we need after that tea, don't you think?' It wasn't a question.

She was almost as tall as CJ when he held the door open for her. A grey man, well-brushed, well tailored.

`I went to a concert by a string quartet at the parish church last night. I thought I recognised a man sitting nearby, but couldn't place him.'

CJ steered Bea across the road, as if she were incapable of judging for herself when the traffic lights had turned red.

`Afterwards, he went up to speak to the cellist. She cut him dead, saying in a loud voice that he'd got a nerve approaching her, when he'd seduced an under-age girl, been thrown out by his wife and sacked from his teaching job.

`I remembered where I'd seen him before; at a fund-raising event. He taught music at a school in Kensington, but had begun to write for films and television programmes under another name.'

CJ turned Bea into the quiet of the Royal Academy courtyard, and ushered her to a pair of isolated chairs.

`Shall we sit awhile?' Again, it was not a request. `I was intrigued. So, as we left the church, I introduced myself and asked if he'd like to join me for supper.'

`In spite of what he'd done?'

`I thought it unlikely he'd seduced anyone. We adjourned to my place for coffee after supper, where he received a phone call from a girl – I could hear her high, clear voice – on his mobile. He refused to meet her, and shut her off.

`He explained that a young girl he'd befriended had been causing him no end of trouble. She'd lost him his teaching job but he had plenty of other work on and he wasn't going to let it get him down. He's renting a small flat near you, but he's not domesticated. I said you'd find him someone to come in several times a week to look after him.'

Bea gave him an old-fashioned look. `You doubt that he's really squeaky clean, and want me to spy on him?'

CJ got to his feet as an attractive little man approached them. `Judge for yourself. Jeremy, this is my good friend Bea Abbot, who runs a domestic agency and may be able to help you out.'

Veronica Heley

Available from fine bookstores everywhere.
Do not reproduce without permission.

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Broken Sight: A Rescue Ops Adventure
by Steve Rzasa

The dark days are over.

The secret religious police, Kesek, no longer holds sway over the Realm of Five. Freedom of belief is returned. Now Lieutenant Commander Brian Gaudette of Rescue Operations doesn't have to hide his own beliefs. He can read his Bible in peace.

Too bad he doesn't even want to look at it.

He has a new, state-of-the-art starship ready for its maiden cruise— but the first officer is an ex-pirate, and the crew fight over suddenly legal religious differences. The Crown Marshals want their people aboard to hunt down Kesek's remnants. His wife has taken his daughter away for fear of his beliefs. And Brian has to wonder whether his God—who never seems to be around—will ever give him a straight answer.

When his ship responds to a distress call on a remote planet, Brian will find his faith and duty challenged in ways for which he is unprepared.

Because Kesek is not gone. They are biding their time. And they have found a weapon that can threaten the balance of power in the galaxy . . .

Katarina ran.

She stumbled through the shadowy corridor. Her feet padded on the deck tiles—white flesh on silver metal. Pale orange lights flickered every few seconds, illuminating the immaculate, polished deck and the glistening pine panels inlaid on the white bulkheads. Framed images of mountains, forests, coastlines, and entire worlds were interspersed among the hatches and access panels.

It wasn't much farther.

Muffled gunshots barked somewhere. A deck or two above her? Katarina couldn't tell. She paused mid-step. Shouting—more than one voice. Two? Or three? Or more? Thudding boots. The sounds were moving away from her. She released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding and continued on.

A narrower corridor crossed the main one at an intersection ahead. Katarina eased up to the bulkhead. The corridor ahead of her was dark, except for more orange pinpoints of light. She saw no one to her right—it led back toward cargo storage. Katarina peered around the corner to her left. Nothing.

She wished her heart would stop hammering so.

Her stared back at her from the shining surface of a landscape painting. Her cheeks were pink and taut. Katarina's fear diminished as her anger grew. How dare they? Boarding her own ship! If she could, she would fight them all off herself. Make them pay. Her father had been a fusilier. She remembered his legion's motto—more like a toast, actually.

Na smierc. To death.

Katarina looked down at herself. She doubted any fusilier had gone into battle wearing a loose, flowing satin robe of crimson and black. No weapons on hand, either. She reached into one of her pockets.
The journal was there. Its ruddy cover was supple and not yet worn from use. It was safe. She exhaled.

Footsteps. Behind her.

Katarina pressed flat to the bulkhead. Her hands ran over a surface that was colder, smoother than the rest of the bulkhead—a cabin hatch? The control panel must be nearby. There it was. She pressed the switch. The hatch hissed open.

The boot steps were getting closer. But she couldn't see anyone. Whoever it was stayed out of sight around a distant, shadowy bend in the corridor.

Katarina slipped inside the hatch. She was in a crew cabin. Two bunk beds were attached to one wall. A small desk with its accompanying chair sat in the corner. A bathroom cubicle took up much of the rest of the space.

She went to close the hatch and hesitated. This running had to stop.

Na smierc.

She hauled herself onto the top bunk and pressed herself into the darkest recess against the bulkhead. Her legs tightened behind her. She was ready to spring. Hardly dignified.

It would have to do.

The boot steps grew closer—and slowed. Orange flickers failed to penetrate the open hatchway into the dark cabin. Then the shadow appeared.

Katarina held her breath until it hurt.

A silhouetted figure loomed in the hatch. Male. Stocky, wide, and muscled. She could tell that much. And he had a gun.

He stepped through the hatch with practiced ease. His weapon swept the interior in slow arcs. This man was well-trained. Disciplined. No pirate.

That only infuriated Katarina more.

She waited until he had turned slightly away. He reached to his belt for an oblong object.


Katarina kicked off from the wall. She saw his face for an instant before her arms jammed against his shoulders. It was a blur of features she could not recall. They went to the deck in a heap.

The gun clattered into a corner. Somewhere. She couldn't see it.

They wrestled for advantage. A boot struck Katarina's shin, but she refused to cry out. Tears stung her eyes. She jabbed an elbow. It dug into something soft and unresisting. Her assailant choked, a terrible sound.

His throat.

Katarina's hands scrambled for capture. She caught hold, felt the jagged Adam's apple and coarse whiskers. His breath carried a hint of ning. Fine coffee.

She gave a mental cry for strength from her ancestors and squeezed hard. Then she twisted her hands sharply.

The man's hands stopped grappling with her. He went for her wrists. She could feel the desperation in his grasp. She ignored it. Made herself cold. For all she knew this man had shot and killed her crew.

She twisted harder.

A sickening crack shattered the silence. The body slumped.

It was over.

Katarina's chest heaved. She gasped and choked. Then she vomited on the decking. Chills shook her. She wiped the sour liquid from her mouth with the back of her hand.

He was dead.

She scrambled to her feet. Where was the gun? She felt for it on the deck but couldn't—all she felt was cold metal. Katarina didn't dare waste more time. She had heard more voices before. Go, now!

Silence outside the hatch. Katarina peered out. No one. She stepped out and sealed it. She slid along toward the intersection.

"Mama!" The whisper flitted to her through the air.

They were all right. Thank the stars.

Katarina slipped into the short corridor.  She saw an open hatch at the end. A small, scared face peeked out.

"Mama! Hurry!"

Katarina stumbled silently through the hatch and over the arm's length threshold. Her eyes were drawn to a boxy console of flickering lights and buttons hanging from a strut above the seat opposite the hatch. There were five seats altogether, pressed in one circular bench around the edge of the room. Each was perched over a small cabinet with recessed latch. The seats were home to webs of straps and restraints that reminded her of the leash she used for her pet Rozsade gyrpanther. She wondered if she'd ever see Lotny again.

Thank her great-grandmother's spirit, both her children were crouched in the middle of the rough decking, unhurt. They wore identical tight fitting survival jumpsuits of brown and midnight blue. Her daughter seized her about the legs. "Mama!"

Katarina bent and wrapped her in a crushing hug. When she pulled back, her daughter's eyes were bright with tears. She was pretty, with blue eyes that were lovely even when she was frightened. Katarina brushed a strand of curly blond hair from the girl's face. "It is all right, Elzbieta. I'm here. My little Ela, be brave."