Friday, March 16, 2012

Saving Hope, The Baker's Wife

Saving Hope
By Margaret Daley
Abingdon Press, March 2012
ISBN #978-142671483

Blurb for Saving Hope:

When a teenager goes missing from the Beacon of Hope School, Texas Ranger Wyatt Sheridan and school director Kate Winslow are forced into a dangerous struggle against a human trafficking organization. But the battle brings dire consequences as Wyatt's daughter is terrorized and Kate is kidnapped.    

Now it's personal, and Wyatt finds both his faith and investigative skills challenged as he fights to discover the mastermind behind the ring before evil destroys everyone he loves.

"Saving Hope is a story straight from the headlines. Missing teens, a Texas Ranger Dad, and a woman who just wants to make a difference in the lives of the girls she loves, all come together in an explosive story that will make you turn the pages as fast as possible to get to the end--which has a nice twist that you won't see coming. Just make sure you have plenty of time to read because you WON'T want to put this one down. A fabulous romantic suspense." -- Lynette Eason, best-selling, award-winning author of the Women of Justice Series.

Excerpt from Saving Hope:

Rose gripped her cell phone so tightly her muscles ached. "Where are you, Lily?"

"At—Nowhere Motel." A sob caught on the end of the last word.

"Help—me." Lily's breath rattled, followed by a clunking sound as though she'd dropped the phone.

Rose paced the small bathroom at Beacon of Hope. "Lily?" Sweat coated her palms, and she rubbed her free hand against her jeans.

Silence taunted her.

What have you done? But the second that Rose asked that question, an image came to mind of her friend lying on the dingy gray sheets in the cheap motel, wasted, trying anyway she could to forget the horror of her life.

"Lily, talk to me. Stay on the line." Pulling the door open, Rose entered her room. When she saw her roommate, she came to a stop.

Cynthia's wide-eyed gaze fixed on Rose for a few seconds before the fourteen-year-old dropped her head and stared at the hardwood floor. Rose crossed to her dresser, dug into the back of the top drawer, and grabbed a small, worn leather case.
She pushed past her roommate and headed into the upstairs hallway.

Striding toward the staircase, Rose dismissed her room- mate's startled expression and focused on the crisis at hand. "Lily, are you still there?"

A sound as though someone fumbled the phone and caught it filtered through the connection. "Rose, I need—you."

"I told you I would come if you wanted to get out. I'll be—"

A click cut off the rest of Rose's words. No, Lily. Please hang on.

Rushing down the steps to the first floor, she quickly re- dialed the number and let it ring and ring. When she approached the program director's office, she finally pocketed her cell, took out her homemade tools, and picked the lock, a skill she learned to give her some sense of control over her life. In the past she'd done what she had to in order to survive.

Guided by the light through the slits in the blinds, Rose entered Kate's darkened office and switched on the desk light. A twinge of guilt pricked her. If Kate found her in here after- hours, how could she explain herself? Especially with what she was going to do next to the woman who had saved her and taken her in.

Kate's gonna be so disappointed in me for stealing—no, borrowing—the van. She's put so much faith in me. But I've got to save Lily. I promised her. When I bring Lily back here, Kate will understand.

Rose used her tools to open the locked drawer on the right. Pulling it out, she rummaged through the papers to find the set of keys at the bottom, then bumped the drawer closed with her hip.

I have no choice, Kate. Please forgive me.

The memory of the words, I need you, spurred Rose to move faster. She had to get to her friend. Get her out . . . finally. Bring her to Kate.

Clutching the keys in one hand, she turned off the lamp and carefully made her way to the office door. She eased it open a few inches and peered out into the short hallway. The empty corridor mirrored the feeling inside her.

When would it go away? When will I feel whole?

After she checked to make sure the office door was locked, she hurried toward the side exit of the building that housed the residential program for teens like her. Outside the summer heat blasted her in the face even though it was past midnight. Her heart pounded as hard as her feet hitting against the concrete. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she rushed toward the parking lot to find Beacon of Hope's van. The security light cast a yellow glow on the vehicle at the back of the building. Visions of her friend slipping into drug-induced unconscious- ness, no one there to care whether she died or not, prodded her to quicken her steps.

I won't let you down, Lily. She was the reason her friend was where she was right now, stuck in a life that was quickly killing her.

As Rose tried to unlock the white van, her hands shook so badly the keys dropped to the pavement. Snatching them up, she sucked in a breath, then another, but her lungs cried for more oxygen. With her second attempt, she managed to open the door and slip behind the steering wheel. Her trembling hands gripped the hot plastic. After backing out of the parking space, she pressed down on the accelerator and eased onto the street in front of Beacon of Hope. With little driving experience, she would have to go slower than she wanted. She couldn't get caught by the cops. This was her one chance to save her friend. If all went well, she could be back here with Lily before morning.

She tried to clear her mind and concentrate totally on the road before her. She couldn't. Memories of her two years as a prostitute tumbled through her mind, leaving a trail of regrets. One was having to leave Lily behind.

Nowhere Motel—her and Lily's name for one of the hell- holes where they'd had to earn their living. A place—one of several used when they were brought to Dallas—near the highway on Cherry Street. A place where inhuman acts happened to humans—young girls who should be dressing up for their prom, not their next trick.

She'd escaped only because she'd been left for dead on the side of the road when a john discarded her like trash. But the Lord had other plans for her besides death. A judge had seen to it that she came to the Beacon of Hope program, and Kate had given her a glimpse of a better life.

And I'm gonna start with rescuing Lily. I'm not gonna let her die. She's gonna have a chance like me.

Rose slowed as she neared the motel, two rows of units. Bright lights illuminated the front rooms, which maintained an appearance of respectability, while the rooms in the back were shrouded in dimness.

After she parked across the street from Nowhere, she sat in the van staring at the place, its neon sign to welcome travelers taunting her. Sweat rolled down her face, and she swiped at it. But nothing she did stopped the fear from overwhelming her to the point of paralysis. Memories of what went on in the back rooms of the motel threatened to thwart her attempt to rescue Lily before it began.

I owe her. I have to make up for what I did to her.

She pried her hands from the steering wheel and climbed from the van. After jogging across the two lanes, she circled around to the second building that abutted the access road to the highway.
The sounds of cars whizzing by filled the night. People going about their ordinary life while some were barely hanging on. A loud, robust laugh drifted to her as she snuck past the first unit, heading for room three, the one Lily always used at Nowhere.

Someone opened a door nearby and stepped out of a room ahead of her. Rose darted back into a shadowed alcove at the end, pressing her body flat against the rough cinder block wall. Perspiration drenched her shirt and face. The stench of something dead reeked from a dumpster a few yards away. Nausea roiled in her stomach.

Two, sometimes three, of his guards would patrol, making sure the girls stayed in line. She wasn't sure this was a guard, but she couldn't risk even a quick look. She waited until the man disappeared up the stairs, then hurried toward the third unit. With damp palms, she inched the unlocked door open and peeked through the slit.

Dressed in a little-girl outfit that only underscored Lily's age of fifteen, she lay sprawled on the bed, her long red hair fanning the pillow, the sheets bunched at the end. Her friend shifted, her eyes blinking open. Groaning, she shoved herself up on one elbow, only to collapse back onto the mattress.

Footsteps on the stairs sent a shaft of fear through Rose. Her heartbeat accelerated. She pushed into the room and closed the door, clicking the lock in place. She almost laughed at her ridiculous action as though that would keep anyone out. But she left it locked.

The scent of sex, alcohol, and sweat assailed her nostrils and brought back a rush of memories she'd wanted to bury forever. For a few seconds she remained paralyzed by the door as memories bombarded her from all sides. Hands groping for her. A sweaty body weighed down on top of hers. The fog she'd lived in to escape.

She shook them from her thoughts. Can't go there. Lily is depending on me.

Turning toward her friend, she started across the room. Lily's glazed eyes fixed on her. For several heartbeats, nothing dawned in their depths. Then a flicker of recognition.

She tried to rise, saying, "Rose, so sorry . . ." Lily slurred her words as she sank back. "Sor—reee."

"I'm here to get you out." Rose sat on the edge of the bed.

"You've got—"

A noise behind her and to the left cut off her next words. She glanced over her shoulder as the bathroom door crashed open, and he charged into the room.

"Did you really think I'd let you go?"

His gravelly voice froze Rose for a few seconds. King never came to Nowhere Motel. Too beneath him. He should be—

Finally, terror propelled her into action. She scrambled off the bed and ran for the door. She grappled for the lock, her sweat-drenched fingers slipping on the cold metal.

*Do not reproduce without permission

Margaret Daley

Barnes and Noble:

* * *

© 2011 by Erin Healy

"Healy's fascinating plot is fast-paced and difficult to put down once started. The meaningful faith message is communicated through various ways and will help the reader's own faith to grow. The characters are easy to relate to in both their good and bad choices, and the delectable bakery descriptions will have readers hungering for more." –Romantic Times, 4-1/2 stars

To save her husband and son, Audrey Bofinger must rescue her enemy, who has vanished like the morning fog. With only an excruciating spiritual gift, an ex-con, and the missing woman's estranged daughter to help search for clues, Audrey has six hours to find her.


The day Audrey took a loaf of homemade rosemary-potato bread to Cora Jean Hall was the day the fog broke and made way for spring. Audrey threw open the curtains closest to the dying woman's bedside, glad for the sunshine after months of gray light.

Audrey moved quietly down the hall into the one-man kitchen, where she sliced the bread into toast, brewed tea, then leaned out of the cramped space to offer some to Cora Jean's husband, Harlan. He refused her without thanks and without looking up from his forceful tinkering with an old two-way radio. Over the past month, his collection of CBs and receivers had overtaken the small living room. His grieving had started long ago and was presently in the angry stage. Clearly, he loved his wife. The retired pharmacist dispensed her medications with faithful precision but didn't seem to know what else to do. If not for the radios, Audrey believed, he might have wandered the house helplessly and transformed from smoldering to explosive.

As Audrey arranged the snack on a tray, one of her earrings slipped out of her lobe and clattered onto a saucer, just missing the hot tea. She rarely wore this pair because one or the other was always falling out, but Cora Jean liked the dangling hearts with a rose in the middle of each. The inexpensive jewelry had been a gift to the women of the church on Mother's Day last year.

She put the earring back in her ear, then carried the tray to Cora Jean's room, settled onto an old dining room chair by the bed, and steered their conversation toward happy topics.

Cora Jean was dying of pancreatic cancer, the cancer best known for being unsurvivable. Audrey sat with the woman in the late stages of her illness for many reasons: because she believed that people who suffered shouldn't be left alone; because she was a pastor's wife and embraced this privilege that came with the role; because Cora Jean reminded Audrey of her own beloved mother.

She also went to the woman's home because she couldn't not go. In the most physical, literal sense, Audrey was regularly guided there, directed by an unseen arm, weighty and warm, that encircled her shoulders and turned her body toward the Halls' house every week or so. A voice audible only to her own ears would whisper Please don't leave me alone today. It was no pitiful sound, and Audrey never resented it, though from time to time it surprised her. In these moments she thought, though she had never dared to try it, that if she applied her foot to the gas pedal and took her hands off the wheel, her car would take her wherever God wanted her to be.

This five-years familiar experience had not always involved Cora Jean, but others like her, so Audrey had long since stopped questioning how it happened. The why of it was clear enough: Audrey was called by God to be a comforter, and she was glad for the job.

Audrey had a knack for helping people in any circumstance to look toward the brightness of life—not the silver lining of their own dark cloud, which often didn't exist—but to the Light of the World, which could be seen by anyone willing to look for it. In Cora Jean's case this meant not dwelling too long on the details of her prognosis, but in reading aloud beautiful, hopeful, complex poetry, especially the Psalms and the Brownings and Franz Wright. It meant watering the plants (which Harlan ignored) and offering to warm a meal for him before she left. It meant giving candid answers to Cora Jean's many-layered questions about Audrey's personal faith—in particular, about sin and forgiveness and justice.

And about the problem of so much suffering in a world governed by a "good" God. Cora Jean seemed preoccupied with this particular question, and her focus seemed to be connected to the yellowed family portrait hanging on the wall opposite the bed.

There were two brunette girls in the thirty-year-old picture. Audrey judged the age by Cora Jean's bug-eyed plastic-framed glasses, Harlan's rust-colored corduroy blazer, and the children's Dorothy Hamill hairstyles. Audrey had a similarly aged childhood portrait of herself with her parents. She guessed the daughters to be nine, maybe ten, and they appeared to be twins, though one of them was considerably chubbier than the other.

A pendant on a large-link silver chain hung from the upper left corner of the cheap wood frame. The pendant was also silver, crudely hammered into a flat circle, like a washer, that framed a small translucent rock. Audrey suspected it to be an uncut diamond.

It would be rude to ask whether she was right about the stone, but on the day the fog broke and the sun brought a wispy smile to Cora Jean's pale face, Audrey decided to ask about the portrait she often stared at.

Audrey lifted her teacup to her lips and blew off the steam. "Tell me about your family," she said gently, indicating the picture with her eyes.

Cora Jean's smile crumpled, and the soft wrinkles of her skin became a riverbed for tears.

Audrey wished she hadn't said anything. Meaning to apologize for having heaped some kind of emotional ache on top of the cancer's pain, she returned her sloshing teacup to the tray, then reached out and placed her hands on top of Cora Jean's, which were clutching the sheets.

That was the second unfortunate choice Audrey made that day, with a third yet to occur before the sun set. The woman's sorrow—if it could be thought of as something chemical—entered Audrey's fingertips, burning the pads of her fingers, the joints of her knuckles, her wrists. The flaming liquid pain seeped up her arms, searing as it went: elbows, shoulders, collarbone. And then the poison found her spine, an aqueduct that delivered breathtaking hurt to every nerve in Audrey's body. She yelped involuntarily. Here was a sensation that she had never experienced.

She wished that she could save the dying woman from the terror. She also wished that she had never dipped her toe into these hellish waters.

The pain bowed her over Cora Jean's fragile body, a posture at once protective and impotent, and paralyzed Audrey. The women cried together until every last drop of the agony had let itself out of Audrey's eyes.

In time Cora Jean said, "Thank you for understanding" and fell asleep, exhausted.

Audrey, who understood not a bit of what had transpired, said nothing. She tuned the radio to Cora Jean's favorite classical station, then waited, agitated and restless, for the hospice nurse to arrive.

For more information about The Baker's Wife, including a free download of the first four chapters and links to reader reviews, please visit Erin's website. To find a store where The Baker's Wife is sold, please click the "buy now" link on Erin's page at Thomas Nelson.

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