Friday, June 29, 2012

Two Crosses

by Elizabeth Musser

The first book in the Secrets of the Cross Trilogy, available June, 2012, along with the sequel Two Testaments.  Two Destinies coming in September, 2012

~One intriguing era in France's history, one unforgettable cast of characters, and one of the best writers in the CBA today all add up to one incredible read!  In Two Crosses, Elizabeth Musser has achieved another literary triumph.
          ~Ann Tatlock, award-winning author of Promises to Keep

~In late 1961, as Algeria's war for independence from France is coming to a close, two crosses, symbolic of another time in history, draw together a host of characters in an unforgettable story of love and war, revenge and forgiveness.


September 1961

Castelnau, France

The sun rose softly on the lazy town of Castelnau in the south of France. Gabriella quietly slipped out of bed, stretched, and ran her fingers through her thick mane of red hair. The tile floor felt cool to her bare feet. Peering down from her tiny room, she watched the empty streets begin to fill with people. Mme Leclerc, her landlady, was the first to enter the boulangerie just in view down the street to buy baguettes and gros pain, the bread essential for breakfast for her three boarding students. 

She watched a moment longer, until a lanky young man in his midtwenties walked briskly up the street. There was no mistaking the next client who entered the boulangerie. Gabriella had recognized him the first time she saw him buying bread a few days earlier, from the description of the other boarders. This was David Hoffmann, the university's handsome American instructor. Gabriella strained to get a closer look. 

Castelnau was a pleasant town, she thought as she moved away from the window. She pulled the duvet up from the end of the bed and lightly fluffed her pillow. She tied back her unruly hair with a large ribbon and then washed her face in the small porcelain sink that sat neatly in the corner of the room. Opening a large oak armoire, she removed a freshly pressed blouse and a simple straight-lined navy skirt. As she dressed, she noted that the skirt hung loosely around her waist—in spite of the boulangerie's bread and pastries.

She had come to Castelnau only two weeks earlier, excited and confident, ready to discover a new land and people. But as the days between her and her family lengthened, pangs of homesickness caught her by surprise. In the midst of a walk through town she would notice a woman with hair like her mother's, or two lithe, tanned girls, carefree and laughing, like Jessica and Henrietta. 

By afternoon she knew it would be blistering hot outside, but the morning was bright and crisp, with a hint of autumn in the air. At home there would be no fall smells. And at home she would not yet be starting her first day at university. But here, in this small French village separated by a sea from the African world she loved, Gabriella knew she must push away thoughts of the past. At twenty-one, she should know that no good would come from giving in to homesickness. 

She reached for the large leather-bound Bible sitting on her wooden nightstand and leafed familiarly through the pages until she found the place she was seeking. Ten minutes later, as she carefully laid the book back on the nightstand, a letter fell from the Bible. She reached down and retrieved it, and as she tucked it back into the book, a line caught her eye: I give you this cross, which has always been for me a symbol of forgiveness and love. 

A shadow swept across her. Instinctively she reached to touch the gold chain that hung around her neck. Paying no attention to the cold, hard tile beneath her bare knees, she knelt on the floor and propped her folded hands on the side of the bed. She moved her lips without a sound escaping. It was only later, when she rose to her feet and smoothed her skirt, that she noticed her hands were wet from her warm tears.


Gabriella finished her breakfast of bread, butter, and jelly dipped into a huge bowl of rich hot chocolate. The first morning, she had barely managed to choke down the strong coffee the French drank in their wide bowls, diluting it with plenty of cream and four cubes of sugar. After that disaster, Mme Leclerc had offered her hot chocolate instead. Gabriella smiled now as she remembered her embarrassment, then swept the breadcrumbs from her skirt, cleared the table, and let the dishes rattle in the small sink.

"Gabriella, please. You are always the last one, helping an old lady like me. But today you mustn't be late. Allez! Go along now and catch up with the others." Mme Leclerc shooed her out of the house. 

Stephanie and Caroline, the two other boarders, had hurried off minutes before, and Gabriella appreciated Mme Leclerc's friendly dismissal. She grabbed her small satchel that lay by the entrance of the apartment. Opening the door, she turned back and said "Au revoir," then placed the expected quick kisses on her landlady's cheeks. "And merci!"

She stepped out into the sunlight and blinked. Quickly she trotted down the sidewalk, past the boulangerie with its smells of fresh bread, past the café where paunchy men were already sipping an early-morning apéritif and women chatted noisily as their dogs strained on leashes. She liked the short walk through the village that led to the imposing church of St. Joseph. The small church was built in the Romanesque style and seemed to Gabriella like a benevolent father surrounding a houseful of children, saying nothing but ever present and knowing.

She stepped through the red-washed wooden side door and down the steps into the hollow nave, where flickering candles testified to the early-morning fidelity of a few parishioners. The church was slowly filling up with young women. Gabriella took a seat on a wooden pew near the front, next to Stephanie. 

By now many young women were scattered throughout the twenty rows of pews. A small woman wearing a black nun's habit walked up the aisle and stood before them. Gabriella had heard that she was over seventy, but the nun's green eyes were lively. She spoke in English, with a heavy French accent. 

"Good morning, mesdemoiselles, and welcome to the church of St. Joseph. I am Mother Griolet, the director of the Franco-American exchange program here in Castelnau. This is my fourteenth year of working with the program, and by now I have, shall we say, gotten used to the ways of American women." She lifted her eyebrows, and muffled laughter echoed through the church. "We try not to have too many rules, for we want you to soak up this region of France and learn the language. However, we do expect you to act becoming of your age and remember that you are representing your country.

"I would now like to introduce our professors." She addressed the woman and three men seated in the front row…

"And finally, M. David Hoffmann, who will be teaching a course he first presented at St. Joseph last year: `Visions of Man, Past and Present.' M. Hoffmann will teach in both French and English, since his course deals with art, history, and literature from both France and England."

When David Hoffmann rose to his feet, every eye in the church followed him. His frame was lean and athletic, and his hair and eyes were jet black. He appeared calm and sophisticated for such a young professor.

Mother Griolet thanked the professors, then turned her attention once again to the young women. "We are delighted to have you with us for the school year. I believe you have all received your course schedules and know where the classrooms are. I will end by saying that I am an old woman and have seen many things. Young ladies can get into all kinds of trouble. I cannot prevent it, but my office is open for a friendly chat if you should happen to need it. You are dismissed."

She left the podium, her face a picture of joviality dusted with friendly concern. The girls offered a smattering of polite applause before they stood up and filed out of the church and into the adjoining building.

Gabriella liked the firm yet humorous style of the director. I can see why Mother grew so fond of her, she thought. Then she hurried after Stephanie to find a place in the classroom of M. Hoffmann. 


Mother Griolet closed the door to her small office and sat down behind the mahogany desk. She picked up the list in front of her, cursorily reading the forty-two girls' names. Over the next few months they would become as familiar to her as her own. But one she already knew. Gabriella Madison. She closed her eyes and saw this now-grown young woman with the fiery hair as a child of six, trembling and sobbing, her face dirty as she clung to Mother Griolet's black skirts.

Mother Griolet did not cry often, but the memory of that scene brought an unexpected sting to her green eyes and sent a sudden chill through her small frame.

"Dear child. Why did you come back here?" She was sure it was a mistake. She was equally sure that she would pray night and day that Gabriella Madison would never discover the story that an old nun had kept to herself for so long.

​~from Two Crosses, by Elizabeth Musser, c1996, c2012, published by David C Cook. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

Available at fine bookstores everywhere, as well as on-line bookstores.,,

For a chance to win a copy of Two Crosses and the sequel, Two Testaments, please visit Elizabeth's Facebook Author Page:

To learn more about Elizabeth and her books, and to find discussion questions as well as photos of sites mentioned in the stories, please visit


 by Marta Perry
HQN Books, June, 2012

Coming home may be more dangerous than she thinks…

Libby Morgan never wanted to return to Lancaster County. She'd made her own life in the city as a news photographer, leaving the slow pace of Amish country behind. She'd left love behind, too, when she fled the old-fashioned ways of Adam Byler. But when the Amish friend of her childhood asks, Libby knows she had no choice. What she doesn't know is that something sinister awaits her…

For Adam Byler, the traditional ways convey safety and order. As police chief of Springville, the former marine strives to keep the peace between the Amish and their modern "Englischer" neighbors—and he will not allow Libby's beauty to distract him from his duties. But when an innocent woman is attacked, they'll confront a danger more threatening than their growing passion.

Available now at bookstores everywhere. To receive a signed bookmark and a brochure of Pennsylvania Dutch recipes, send your mailing address to Marta at

Do not reproduce without permission from the author.

By Marta Perry


Amish buggies weren't built for speed. If the men were following her, she couldn't outrun them.

Esther Zook shivered in the December cold, turning her head to peer behind her, her view cut off by the brim of her bonnet.

Nothing. The township road lay dark and empty behind the dark as every farmhouse she'd passed, surrounded by their blankets of snow. Country people went to bed early in the winter, especially the Amish, without electric lights and televisions to keep them awake.

Libby Morgan would be awake, though. If she could get to Libby, everything would be all right. Libby would know what to do.

If only she'd told Libby more in her letters...but Esther hadn't known, then, just how frightening this was.

The Amish didn't go to the law. They settled matters among themselves. But the Amish of Spring Township had never dealt with a problem like this before.

Esther had shrunk from putting her suspicions down in black and white, thinking that when Libby returned it would be time enough to seek her advice. But now suspicion had turned to certainty, and she feared she had delayed too long. If they were following her—

Even as she thought it, she heard the roar of an engine behind her. Panic sent her heart racing, she tried to think, tried to pray, but it was too late—too late. The roar turned to a scream, to s crash which deafened her, to total blackness.

Chapter One

It was nice to see someone else's love life turning out well, especially when her own was such a train wreck, Libby Morgan decided. Now that her big brother Trey was married, Mom could turn her obvious desire for grandchildren to Trey and Jessica and stop asking her only daughter if she'd met anyone special yet.

Libby put down the bridesmaid's bouquet she'd been clutching for what seemed like hours and picked up her camera instead. She'd discovered long ago that the camera could be useful camouflage. It would help her get through the rest of the wedding reception without, she hoped, too much conversation with people who'd known her from childhood and seemed compelled to try and find out how her life was going.

Then, once the flurry of wedding-related activities were over, she'd be free to dig into the other reason she'd come home to Spring Township, deep in Pennsylvania's Amish country.

Something is terribly wrong. Esther's last letter had sounded almost frightened, and Esther Zook, teacher at the local Amish one-room school, didn't frighten easily. You know the Amish don't go to the law, but I fear this is one time when we should. I must talk to you as soon as you get home. You know the Englisch world. You'll be able to tell me if I'm right about this.

Libby snapped off a few shots, more to keep the camera in front of her face than anything else. She hadn't reached Pennsylvania from San Francisco as early as she'd intended, partly because of the weather, but mainly because of the upset at the newspaper that had led to a final showdown with her in more ways than one.

Well, maybe she could set up in business as a wedding photographer. She framed Trey and Jessica in the pine-wreathed archway of the Springville Inn's ballroom, seeming oblivious of everything but each other, and snapped several quick shots.

"No doubt about how those two feel."

That particular deep male voice, coming from close behind her, made her hands jerk so that she undoubtedly got a great picture of the parquet floor. She turned, arranging a smile on her face. She'd had plenty of practice since fate, in the form of the bride, had paired her with Police Chief Adam Byler for the wedding.

"There isn't, is there? This is one relationship that's destined to last."

As opposed to ours, which lasted for about a minute and a half. That being the case, why did she persist in comparing every man she met to Adam Byler?

Adam's slate blue eyes didn't show any sign he caught an undercurrent in her words. But then, he wouldn't. Strong-features, brown hair in a military cut, equally military posture--stoic didn't begin to describe Adam. Whatever he felt wouldn't be easily read on his face.

"I was beginning to think Trey would never take the plunge, especially after your dad's death, when he had to take over the company." Adam flicked an assessing glance at her face, as if wondering whether she could take a casual reference to the loss of her father, over a year and a half ago now.

She tried for a stoic expression of her own. "Trey's had his hands full, I know." She raised an eyebrow, casually, she hoped. "Or were you implying that I should have come home to take on some of the burden?"

Adam lifted his hands in quick denial. "Never thought of it. Trey probably wouldn't have let you, anyway. He was born for the job."

Trey, the oldest, had been groomed from birth to take over the extensive holdings that made up the Morgan family company. Link, her twin brother, the best man today, hadn't had that pressure on him, but since an injury cut short his military career, he'd come home to recuperate, fallen in love, and stayed to take over the construction arm of the family business.

And then there was Libby, always considered the baby, even though Link had been born only twenty minutes before her. She'd been Daddy's princess. Too bad that role hadn't prepared her very well for the outside world. For an instant a fierce longing for her father's warm, reassuring presence swept through her.

Adam shifted his weight slightly, looking as if he'd rather be wearing his gray uniform on his six feet of solid muscle than the rented tuxedo. Or maybe she had actually succeeded in making him uncomfortable.

"I guess I'd better get back to my groomsman duties." A smile disturbed the gravity of his face. "Your mother gave strict orders. I even have a detailed list."

"That's Mom, all right. She might play the feather-brain at times, but she's the most organized person I know."

Funny, that only her mother could bring that softness to Adam's expression. Or maybe not so funny. Geneva Morgan had looked at a ragged eight-year-old Adam and seen a person worth cultivating instead of the son of the town drunk. Adam wasn't the sort to forget that.

Libby watched Adam walk across the room through the shielding lens of the camera, lingering a bit on those broad shoulders. He was as solid now as he'd been back in high school.

The family had gone to every Spring Township High football game to cheer on Trey, the quarterback. Nobody had known that Libby's eyes were on his best friend, the lineman who'd been that same six feet of solid muscle even then. A crush, she told herself now. It had been nothing but a crush, turned humiliating when she'd thrown herself at him.

In an odd way, when the rumors started going around that he'd gotten Sally Dailey pregnant, she'd felt better about his rejection of her. If that was the kind of girl he wanted, she was done with him.

Only she hadn't been, not really.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Love in Disguise

Love in Disguise

by Carol Cox

"Cox…has fleshed out a fascinating cast of characters that move readers through a novel that dispenses romance and wit in the intriguing context of a Wild West mystery. A most delightful and engaging read." —Publisher's Weekly

Can she solve the crime before they uncover her true identity?

When Ellie Moore wins a job as an undercover Pinkerton operative, she finds that playing a part in real life is far different than acting out a role onstage. Will the man who captures her heart still care for her when he learns the woman he's fallen in love with doesn't exist?

Chapter One

Chicago, Illinois
December, 1881

"O happy dagger! This is thy sheath."

Ellie Moore gripped her hands together as she mouthed the well-known line from the last act of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The words floated out into the dark chasm beyond the edge of the footlights, and an expectant hush filled the theater, followed by a collective gasp at the moment she plunged her fists toward her abdomen and threw her head back with an agonized grimace.

"There rust, and let me die." Ellie let her head fall to one side and held her pose, silent as the grave, while the Capulets and Montagues reconciled, and the prince delivered the final line.

Not until the roar of applause swept through the auditorium of Chicago's Orpheum Theater did she stir again, ready for the curtain call. Ellie waited for the proper moment, then swept one foot behind her and sank into a low curtsey, spreading her arms wide. Her right hand brushed against the back of the red velvet curtain that screened her from the stage.

"Here now. Don't you dare set that curtain to moving."

Startled by the abrupt hiss behind her, Ellie jerked her head around and met the fierce gaze of Harold Stiller, the theater manager.

At the same moment, the actors began to file off the stage. Roland Lockwood, the troupe's Montague, bumped against Ellie's outstretched hand. Arms flailing wildly, Ellie floundered to regain her balance, but to no avail. With a muffled thump, she plopped into an ungainly heap on the wooden floor.

Burt Ragland, one of the stagehands, pushed past, his lip curled in obvious disdain. "That wouldn't have happened if you spent your time tending to your own job instead of pretending you're some kind of star."

Ellie scrambled to her feet, brushing dust from the hem of her skirt and trying to ignore the snickers from the other stagehands who'd gathered nearby.

"At least I intend to make something of myself," she snapped. "You'll be stuck here long after I'm gone." She lifted her chin when she heard the grunts of indignation from the group. Ha! That rocked them back on their heels, all right. And good riddance.

Noting the cleaner area on the floor that marked the spot where she'd made her undignified landing, Ellie swiped at the back of her skirt. "I'll think of you all, languishing here in this dusty hole, when I'm sipping tea in London."

Outright guffaws met her statement. Ellie gave up on trying to swat the dust from her backside, finding it too difficult to twist herself into a pretzel shape and maintain her haughty air at the same time.

Let them say what they wanted. It didn't matter anymore. Before the night was over, she would be gone from their midst and on her way to England. There, in the homeland of the Bard himself, she should find many who would appreciate her acting skills, gleaned from years of observation in the theater. Finally people would look past her drab exterior and see the raw talent that lay beneath. All she needed was a chance—just one! Then she would show them all.

While the other actors dispersed to their dressing rooms, one of the crew opened the house curtain one last time, so Magdalena Cole, Queen of the American Stage, could address the audience.

Her voice filtered back into the wings. "Thank you all for being here. Every performance is special to me, but tonight has a significance all its own."

Ellie glared at Burt and the others while Magdalena continued with the pretty speech she and Ellie had worked out the night before.

"This marks my last performance in your fair city, and not only in Chicago, but in this great land of ours." Magdalena paused to let the murmur of surprise die down before she went on. "Tonight I leave for New York, there to board a ship that will carry me away to share my art with the audiences of Europe."

"Don't make out that you're any better than us," Burt growled. "The only reason you get to go is because you're that woman's toady."

Ellie sucked in her breath. "That's personal wardrobe mistress—thank you very much."

"Good night, my friends, and God bless you, each and every one." Magdalena glided off the stage to thunderous applause, carrying a bouquet of deep red roses in the crook of one arm. She thrust the flowers at Ellie as she walked by. "Put these in water," she ordered, then gave a quick laugh. "What am I thinking? I won't be here tomorrow to enjoy them, so it doesn't matter what you do with them. Throw them away, if you want." She continued down the hallway without breaking stride.

Burt snorted. "Sounds more like personal dogsbody to me."

Ellie tossed the bouquet into a nearby trash barrel and followed in Magdalena's wake, not deigning to give Burt the satisfaction of a reply. She closed the dressing room door, shutting out the post-show flurry.

"Hurry." Magdalena's eyes shone like a child's on Christmas morning. "We haven't time to waste." She spun around so Ellie could unfasten the hooks on the back of her costume. "Arturo will be here any moment. Is everything packed?" Magdalena slipped out of the Juliet gown with practiced ease.

"It's all ready." Ellie draped the costume over the back of a nearby chair and reached for Magdalena's new traveling outfit. She slid the stylish dress over the actress's head and upraised arms and fastened the row of jet-black buttons that ran from neck to hem. Then she stood back to study the effect.

"Well?" Magdalena pivoted slowly. Even in their present rush, she could find time to pause for an accolade.

Ellie reached out to adjust the rounded collar then nodded. "It's perfect. That cobalt blue matches your eyes exactly. Your couturier outdid himself this time."

"And well he should have. I paid dearly for those new gowns. Even though I'm planning to acquire a whole new wardrobe once we reach London, I could hardly begin my grand European tour dressed like a second-rate bit player, could I? First impressions are so important."

Ellie folded the Juliet gown with care and placed it on top of the other clothing in the costume hamper. She lowered the lid, pressed it down with both hands, and then finally sat on it in order to fasten the latches.

"There now, we're all set. Your new dresses are in the two large trunks, along with your other personal effects. Costumes, wigs, and makeup are here in the hamper. We're ready to leave as soon as Mr. Benelli arrives."

Magdalena cleared her throat. "Ellie, there's something I—" A knock at the door cut her off. She leaned back against the dressing table and struck a pose, then nodded at Ellie. "It must be Arturo. Let him in."

Ellie opened the door to find a small contingent of theater workers gathered there. Harold Stiller stood in front of the group.

"We've come to say goodbye." He pushed past Ellie and walked over to Magdalena, who abandoned her dramatic stance the moment she recognized her visitors. "On behalf of all of us at the Orpheum, I want to wish you a safe journey to England and a dazzling career in the theaters of Europe. We will always treasure the memory that we, in some small measure, played a part in your success."

Magdalena's lips tightened, then curved in an expression that would look like gracious acknowledgment to anyone who didn't know her as well as Ellie did. It was obvious to her that the actress had no intention of giving credit for her success to anyone but herself while she stood on the threshold of her greatest triumph.

Their triumph, Ellie corrected herself. How many times had she heard Magdalena say she didn't know what she would do without Ellie's help?

"Thank you for coming to say farewell." Magdalena's tone held a note of dismissal, but Stiller didn't take the hint. He leaned against the chair as if settling in for a long conversation, ignoring the glitter in the actress's eyes that would have warned a more observant person of a pending eruption likely to rival that of Mount Vesuvius.

About the author:

CAROL COX is the author of nearly 30 novels and novellas. A third-generation Arizonan, Carol has a lifelong fascination with the Old West and hopes to make it live again in the hearts of her readers. She makes her home in northern Arizona, where the deer and the antelope really do play—often within view of the family's front porch.

To learn more about Carol, visit her website at or connect with her on Facebook at

Love in Disguise is available at fine bookstores everywhere, and online at,, and

Copyright © 2012 by Carol Cox.
ISBN 978-0-7642-0955-0        Bethany House Publishers
All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Friday, June 01, 2012


By Vickie McDonough

He won a ranch in a card game. She claims the ranch is her inheritance.

He's not leaving—and neither is she.


Endorsement: Far more than your ordinary cowboy story, End of the Trail touches a place deep within you, a place where lies, betrayals, abandonment, and broken promises live. A place where two young people must overcome all of those things and find family, loyalty, faithfulness, and above all, love. You'll cry, you'll laugh, you'll feel. But most of all, you'll enjoy.

MaryLu Tyndall, author of Legacy of the King's Pirates Series

About the Book: Brooks Morgan is quick on the draw, but his weapon of choice is his smile. He's smart and witty and has charmed his way through much of life, but now that he's growing older—and a bit wiser—he wants to stop drifting and settle down. He sees his chance when he wins Raven Creek Ranch in a poker game, but when he goes to claim his prize, a pretty, young woman with a shotgun says the ranch belongs to her. Brooks isn't leaving his one and only chance to make something of his life—but neither is she. Can they reach an agreement? Or will a greedy neighbor force a showdown, causing them both to lose they want most in life?


Waco, Texas


"You're a good son, Brooks, but your father is right."

Brooks stared at his mother, halfway stunned that she'd sided with his pa against him. "You don't feel I do my share of the work around here either?"

Annie Morgan winced and gazed out the parlor window, not looking at him. She might not admit in words that she agreed, but that tiny grimace told Brooks she did. He ducked his head, hating the feeling of disappointing his mother. He'd always been her favorite—her first son. He craved her warm smile, but that was hard to be found just now. Still, he pushed aside disturbing feelings and retrieved his charming smile—the one his ma said could make a die-hard Texas cattle rancher invest all his money in a herd of sheep—and squeezed between his ma and the window.

She flicked a glance up at him then it swerved away. "Don't try to charm me. This is all my fault. I shouldn't have coddled you so much."

His grin faltered. Now she sounded like his father talking. "You didn't coddle me."

"Yes, she did. She still does." Melissa's voice sounded from upstairs, followed by quick footsteps on the stairs.

He spun around, glaring at his bossy older sister. "Nobody asked you."

"I'm getting married soon. That means you'll be the oldest child at home." She reached the bottom of the stairs and shifted the basket of dirty clothes to her other hip, cocking her mouth up on one side. "It's time you start acting like you're sixteen instead of six."

Brooks clenched his fist. As much as he might like knocking that know-it-all look off Melissa's face, he would never hit a female.

"That's enough, Missy. Get the laundry started and then check on Phillip. I'll be out in a few minutes." Ma turned her gaze on him as Melissa—smirking—slipped out the door. Ma's brown eyes were laced with pain and something he couldn't quite decipher. "Your sister is right, but she shouldn't have said what she did. After you nearly died in that fall from the hay loft when you were four, I kept you close. Too close. Wouldn't let you out with your father to do chores anymore. I blamed him for not watching you. He warned me not to be so overprotective, but I was stubborn and wouldn't listen."

"No, Ma—"

"Let me finish." She held up one hand, palm out. "You know how much I love you, but my coddling you has made you soft. Spoiled."

Brooks winced. Never had his ma said such a thing to him, and he didn't like the uncomfortable emotions swirling around inside him because of it. She really thought he was spoiled?

"You're nearly a man now, and you need to start acting like one. Quit taunting your brother and help your father more."

"But I do—"

She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Not nearly enough." She looked deep into his eyes. "What if something happened to your father? Would you know enough to take over running the ranch?"

"Of course I could." He stated the words with vibrato, but inside, he felt less sure. Not sure at all, in fact.

"Well, I've said what needed to be said, now it's up to you. It's time you grow up, son."

Brooks stared at his mother. She'd never talked to him so firmly. So harshly. He felt betrayed by the person who loved him the most. He stomped outside, slamming the door behind him. If he'd been eleven, like Phillip, he'd probably have cried, but like his ma said, he was a man now—or almost one.

He did his share of work. Hadn't he just filled the wood box in the kitchen and hauled in a bucket of water? She had no call to lay into him like she did.

Just because he and his pa had argued after breakfast.

Because he didn't want to mend fences and shovel horse flops. He glanced at the barn then back at the house. Maybe it would be worth cleaning the stalls to get back on his ma's good side—and maybe then she'd make some more of those oatmeal cookies with raisins and nuts that she'd baked for the first time last week. His mouth watered just thinking about them.

Blowing out a breath, he moseyed to the barn. What he'd really like to be doing right now was fishing or swimming in the pond with Sammy or visiting pretty Sally Baxter. He ambled into the barn, dragging his boots and wrinkling his nose at the smelly hay in the floor of the stalls. His pa had left the muck there just like he'd said he would.

Jester lifted his head over the side of one stall and nickered. Brooks strode over to the black gelding and stroked his nose. "Nobody understands me, boy. I'm not like Pa. He likes working hard, getting sweaty and smelly, but I don't."

The horse nodded his head, as if agreeing with him.

"Hey, you want to go for a ride?" Casting aside thoughts of work, he bridled and saddled Jester and led him out of the barn. A long, hard gallop would do them both some good.

"Just where do you think you're going?"

Brooks jerked to a halt at his pa's deep voice. "Uh…riding."

Pa shook his head. "No, you're not. There's work to be done. Get back in there and muck out those stalls."

Hiking his chin, Brooks glared at his pa. "Maybe I already did."

Riley Morgan stared at him with those penetrating blue eyes. "I wish you had, but I can tell by your reaction that you haven't." He shook his head, his disappointment obvious.

Brooks gritted his back teeth together. It wouldn't matter if he had cleaned the stalls, his pa wouldn't be pleased. Nothing he did made Pa happy. "I'm sorry to be such a disappointment to you."

Phillip trotted around the side of the barn. "Pa, Pa, look at the frog I caught."

Brooks glared at his little brother. How come he couldn't do stall duty? He sure had to do it when he was Phillip's age.

His pa's harsh expression softened, and he tousled Phillip's light brown hair. "That's a mighty fine frog, son. Did you finish weeding the corn like I told you?"

Nodding like a little cherub, his brother smiled. "Sure did, and I got some of the beans weeded too."

"Good job, son. Go in and show that nice frog to your ma."

"Look at my frog, Brooks." Phillip held up the commonplace critter.

"Ain't nothin' special about it. Just a dumb ol' toad."

Phillip's happy expression faltered.

"Go in the house, Phillip."

The boy nodded and shuffled to the house.

Brooks ire mounted. When was the last time his pa had told him he'd done a good job?

The smile on Pa's face faded as he spun back around. "That was a cruel thing to do. Just 'cause you're upset doesn't give you the right to hurt Phillip's feelings."

Brooks shrugged, feeling only a tad bit guilty.

His pa reached for Jester's reins but Brooks yanked them away and scowled, matching his father's expression.

"I want that barn cleaned out, or you can go without dinner. The Good Book says if a man doesn't work, he shouldn't eat."

"Fine. I'd rather not eat than mess with that muck."

"I guess I was wrong in giving you that gelding. A man who can't clean up after his horse doesn't deserve to have one. Give me the reins."

"Why?" Brooks backed up another step, tugging Jester along with him. The horse was his best friend.

"You stuffed yourself full of your ma's cooking this morning, but did you even give a thought to feeding your horse?"

Brooks hung his head at that comment. He'd forgotten again to feed Jester.

"Harley Jefferson came by earlier asking if I had a good riding horse for sale. I've just about decided to sell him Jester."

Brooks's eyes widened, and he felt as if he'd been gut shot. "You wouldn't."

"I don't want to, but obviously it will take something drastic to get your attention. You've got to learn to pull your weight and tend this place. It will be yours one day."

"I don't want it. Give it to Phillip since you love him so much." Brooks's frown deepened.

Pain creased his father's face, but Brooks hardened his heart against it. He was sick of being told he was no good. And he wasn't about to let his father sell his horse.

"I love you too, son, and that's why I'm working so hard to teach you to become a man. I just hope it's not too late." He shoved his hands to his hips and stared out toward the plowed field. I joined the war when I wasn't much older than you. It's time you grow up, son."

Tears stung Brooks's eyes in spite of his resolve to not allow such sissy behavior. He was so sick of hearing how his pa had fought in the war. It wasn't his fault there was no war for him to fight in. He was sick of being bossed around. Sick of his whole family.

He threw the reins over Jester's neck and leaped into the saddle. He kicked the horse hard, causing him to lunge away from his pa's frantic attempt to grab the reins.

"Get off the horse, boy. You hear me?"

"I'm no boy. And since no one here realizes that, I'm going somewhere else where I'll be appreciated." He kicked Jester hard in the side again, and the horse squealed at the unusually harsh treatment, but he leapt forward.

"Brooks. You come back here right now. Stop!" Fast footsteps chased after him.

Sitting straighter in the saddle, Brooks ignored his pa's ranting and squeezed away the moisture in his eyes. He'd stay away a few days—maybe a week—and when he returned, everyone would be happy to see him again. And ma would bake those oatmeal cookies to celebrate his return.

At least he hoped they would.

But he knew the truth—they would all be happier without him. All he'd ever done was cause them trouble.

He turned Jester to the west. Maybe by the time he visited every town in Texas his family would forget how much trouble he'd been and welcome him home.

And maybe Houston would get a foot of snow this winter.

Note from the Author: Thank you so much for sending the past few minutes with Brooks Morgan. I hope you enjoyed his cocky personality and his story and will want to read more. God bless! Vickie McDonough

About the author:

VICKIE MCDONOUGH is an award-winning author of 25 books and novellas. She is a finalist in the inspirational category of the 2012 Booksellers' Best Awards, and her books have won the Inspirational Reader's Choice Contest, Texas Gold, the ACFW Noble Theme contest, and she has been a multi-year finalist in ACFW's BOTY/Carol Awards. She is the author of the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series from Barbour Publishing and author of Long Trail Home and End of the Trail, books 3 & 6 in the Texas Trails series by Moody Publishers, in which she partners with Susan Page Davis and Darlene Franklin to write the series which spans 50 years of the Morgan family. Vickie is currently serving her third year as the ACFW treasurer.





End of the Trail is available at,,

and at your local Christian bookstore.

Copyright © 2012 by Vickie McDonough

ISBN 978-0802404084

(River North Fiction by Moody Publishers, copyrighted material)

(Not final file. Not for resale or distribution.)